ABA Day is an annual time for members of the legal profession to make their voices heard regarding the national issues that affect local constituents, particularly in an era of severe budget constraints. ABA Day 2012 took place from April 17 to April 19, 2012, in Washington, D.C. Roughly 300 individuals, including ABA members and leaders from state, local, and specialty bar associations attended and met with members of Congress. These participants included representatives from all 50 states, as well as some federal territories. ABA Day is part of the ABA’s overall goal to promote justice for all people through sound public policy.
This year, ABA Day focused on three main issues: (1) funding for the Legal Services Corporation and the programs it makes possible, (2) federal “tax intercept” legislation to divert income tax refunds of individuals who owe overdue state court debts, and (3) reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the programs and resources it makes available in our communities for survivors of crime. In addition to meeting with Congress, the ABA took time to recognize the winners of the ABA Justice Award at a reception in the Canadian Embassy. The award was presented to Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Lindsey Graham, Jack Reed, and Patty Murray and Representatives Hal Rogers and Elijah Cummings. The ABA Advocacy Award was also presented during an event at the U.S. Supreme Court, hosted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Kenneth Goldsmith of the ABA Governmental Affairs Office notes that previous ABA Days have been extremely fruitful. “ABA Day has been remarkably successful at marshaling support on Capitol Hill for Legal Services Corporation funding, for example. Achievements may be reflected in satisfactory funding levels or turning critics into supporters—something ABA Day makes possible. Members of Congress listen to their constituents and so, by people participating in our event, we are able to cut through the noise on the Hill and make our points. As one measure, last year we were able to double the number of co-sponsors—in both the House and Senate—for the federal income tax intercept legislation.” There is no question that when members of Congress meet face to face with their lawyer constituents about the issues affecting the legal profession, the impact can be tremendous.
Because travelling to D.C. may not be possible for various reasons, lawyers and affiliate leaders can still get involved in ABA Day on the local level. Mr. Goldsmith emphasizes that ABA members “can engage in soft advocacy, by sharing the advocacy information for the issues with the local district office of their members of Congress, showing the constituent interest/tie in the issues. They can help draw attention to the issues—set up a site visit to a legal aid clinic, for example, for local officials or congressional district office staff to see firsthand what the programs do. They can write a letter to the editor of their local paper, and otherwise support the effort through e-mail or on their social media pages, e-mails to their bars, and so on, letting them know how important such advocacy and representation in DC is for the profession.”
Mr. Goldsmith welcomes all who have an interest in ABA Day to participate in the future by signing up on the ABA Day website and joining the delegation from their own state. They can contact him at Kenneth.Goldsmith@americanbar.org or 202/662-1789. For more information about ABA Day 2012, please visit the ABA 2012 website at www.ambar.org/ABADay.