May 01, 2012

Washington News Briefs

ABA President Paulette Brown expressed the association’s deepest sympathy to the family of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Feb. 12 at age 79.

Scalia was appointed to the court by President Ronald Regan in 1986, four years after Reagan had chosen him for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

A 1961 graduate of Harvard Law School, Scalia first practiced and taught law before entering government service in 1971 as general counsel of the Office of Telecommunications Policy. He chaired the Administrative Conference of the United States from 1972 to 1974 and was assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel from 1974 to 1977.  He returned to academia and was a law professor at the University of Chicago from 1977 to 1982, when he was appointed to the federal judiciary.

Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court, Scalia was an active member of the ABA, serving as chair of the Section of Administrative Law in 1981-1982 and as chair of what is now the Section Officers Conference in 1982-83.

President Obama has indicated that he plans to submit a nominee to the Senate to fill the vacancy left by Scalia’s death.

Once a nominee is named, the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary will evaluate the integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament of the nominee. The 15-member committee, chaired by Karol Corbin Walker, does not take into account a nominee’s philosophy, political affiliation or ideology. 

LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION (LSC): After the Senate Appropriations Committee voted last month to increase the LSC’s funding level from $348 million to $402 million in fiscal year 2013, the House Appropriations Committee followed that vote with support for a decrease in the corporation’s funding to $328 million. The LSC appropriation is part of legislation that funds the Departments of Commerce and Justice, science programs and related agencies (CJS), and the House and Senate are expected to vote on their versions of the fiscal year 2013 CJS bill this month. The ABA is urging Congress to approve a $402 million appropriation, the amount requested by President Obama in his budget request. According to the association, the need for legal services for poor Americans has never been greater, and that need already far outstrips the federal funding that LSC grantees receive. “We have an obligation to ensure a strong funding level for LSC so that our courts can function effectively and veterans, the elderly, disaster victims and families facing foreclosure have somewhere to turn for free legal advice,” ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III said in a statement supporting increased funding.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: The ABA emphasized to Congress last month that further funding cuts to the Library of Congress, which houses the Law Library of Congress, would not only affect the ability of Congress to do its job, but would severely negatively impact the public, including teachers, scholars, lawyers and small business owners. In letters to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on the Legislative Branch, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman noted that the ABA, through its Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress, supports the work of the Library and in particular its Law Library. Susman urged the appropriators to agree to the Library’s fiscal year 2013 request to maintain funding at the current level with a very modest increase to account for inflation. He explained that when funding was reduced for fiscal year 2012, the Library eliminated 186 positions, and some Library programs already have been adversely affected. Susman pointed out that not only does the Library respond to requests on a wide range of issues, the Law Library has had an important role in restoring world governments. For example, when the Taliban destroyed the legal documents of the Afghan people, the Law Library was one of the few institutions in the world that maintained these historic records and was able to help reconstruct the country’s legal system. The Law Library also helped rebuild the Haitian justice system after the 2010 earthquake destroyed Haiti’s legal records. In addition to advocating for funding to enable the Law Library to preserve hard copies of legal materials and further develop access to materials online, Susman urged Congress to provide full funding for transferring materials to appropriate storage facilities and for building Ft. Meade Mod5, a new storage facility to relieve the overcrowded conditions on Capitol Hill. He explained that this would allow the Library to continue an acquisitions program consistent with its stature as one of the world’s finest libraries. The Library and Law Library, with collections built up over 212 years, are truly “national treasures,” Susman said, adding that the ABA hopes that Congress can find the “means to protect and enhance the value of these treasures for the benefit of all Americans, now and for generations to come.”

IMMIGRATION: The ABA Commission on Immigration released an updated version April 19 of “Know Your Rights,” an educational video for individuals held in immigration detention facilities around the country. The 45-minute video offers information on how to navigate the court system and what to expect while detainees await their day in court. The commission is working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to distribute the video to the 250 detention centers that house more than 400,000 men and women each year, of which 80 percent do not have lawyers. “Our goal is to increase access to justice for the hundreds of thousands of detainees facing deportation and permanent separation from their families. Reliable information is especially important since we know that so many detainees won’t be able to obtain a lawyer and will be forced to represent themselves,” said Karen T. Grisez, chair of the ABA commission, which collaborated on the project with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Projects, Detention Watch Network and the National Immigrant Justice Center. During an event unveiling the video, ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III said, “This new video will provide a crucial tool to thousands of adults held in immigration detention each year, particularly those held in smaller, more remote facilities with no legal orientation program. It will help to promote a fair legal process and to provide meaningful access to justice.”

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