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March 01, 2011

Legislative and Governmental Priorities: Adopted by the ABA Board of Governors February 2011

Access to Legal Services

Supports increased funding for civil legal services through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) programs, and other federal programs that provide legal services for the poor. Supports reauthorization of LSC and VAWA. Urges increased federal support for quality state public defense systems. Supports strong legal protections and access to legal assistance for active-duty military, their families and veterans. Urges legislators and policymakers, including the bar, to find innovative and effective ways to ensure that veterans, particularly those experiencing homelessness or following a period of incarceration, receive their due benefits and services for achieving self-sufficiency.

Criminal Justice System Improvements

and Protection of Rights

Urges a balance between public safety and protection of our justice system and individual liberties. Opposes mandatory minimum sentences and supports the broad expansion of alternatives to incarceration, particularly for nonviolent offenses. Supports federal funding for indigent defense representation in criminal cases and urges stronger federal habeas corpus review of state convictions and resources to assure capital defendants have representation at trial and on appeal. Supports legislation to reauthorize the Second Chance Act; ensure that convictions’ collateral sanctions are not an undue barrier to jobs, housing, voting or privacy; and address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

Eliminating Discrimination and Protecting

Civil Liberties

Endorses legal remedies and voluntary actions to eliminate or prevent discrimination based on race, origin or gender, and opposes any efforts to roll back current anti-discrimination laws. Advocates for antiterrorism laws and policies that respect our core constitutional principles and preserve essential liberties. Urges that Guantanamo detainees be prosecuted in Article III courts unless the Attorney General certifies that the trials cannot take place before such courts and can be held in other courts, consistent with due process, laws of war, the Geneva Conventions, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Opposes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Supports the transfer or release of detainees who are not enemy combatants.

Health Care Law and Tort Reform

Opposes federal legislation to preempt state medical liability laws to limit compensation to patients injured by malpractice, or legislation to require patients injured by malpractice to use "health courts" instead of jury trials. Endorses the use of alternatives to litigation for resolution of medical malpractice disputes, but only when such alternatives are entered into on a voluntary basis after a dispute has arisen. Supports federal legislation to provide for clear, predictable, and consistent procedures for medical set-aside settlement proposals.


Supports measures to improve the immigration court system and to increase due process safeguards, including access to counsel, for those in removal proceedings. Opposes mandatory detention of those in removal proceedings, supports alternatives to detention, and supports strengthening the ICE National Detention Standards and promulgating them into enforceable regulations. Supports comprehensive immigration reform that promotes legal immigration based on family reunification and employment skills and that provides for new legal channels for future workers, a path to legal status for much of the undocumented population currently residing in the United States, and enhanced border security.

Independence of the Judiciary

Urges prompt filling of federal judicial vacancies. Supports adequate funding for the federal judiciary and legislation to modify the method by which judges receive cost-of-living adjustments. Opposes legislative initiatives that undermine the judicial process, infringe upon separation of powers, or circumvent the Rules Enabling Act. Urges legislative enactment of procedures for federal civil cases involving the state secrets privilege.

Independence of the Legal Profession

Believes that primary regulation and oversight of the legal profession should continue to be vested in the court of highest appellate authority of the state in which the attorney is licensed, not federal agencies or Congress, and that the courts are in the best position to fulfill that important function. Opposes federal legislation or rules that would undermine traditional state court regulation of lawyers, interfere with the confidential attorney-client relationship, or otherwise impose excessive new federal regulation on lawyers engaged in the practice of law.

Promoting the International Rule of Law

Supports the creation of and adequate funding for domestic and international agencies and programs that promote the rule of law, including the prompt payment of U.S. assessments to the United Nations for its regular and peacekeeping expenses, and enactment of the International Violence Against Women Act. Supports ratification of certain international treaties, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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