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August 01, 2014

New policies adopted by ABA delegates address array of pressing legal issues

The ABA House of Delegates, meeting Aug. 11 and 12 during the association’s Annual Meeting in Boston, adopted a range of new policy positions, including resolutions supporting greater access to legal services, cybersecurity programs, and steps to establish workplace policies addressing domestic violence.

In addition to adopting numerous legislative resolutions, the delegates approved a package of amendments to the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools but postponed action on language that would retain a standard prohibiting law students from being paid for internships that grant academic credit.

During the two-day session, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. kicked off the ABA’s celebration of the 800th anniversary of the 1215 signing of the Magna Carta, which he said helped lead the United States “down the path to constitutional democracy.” Roberts also remarked that this is an “era in which sharp partisan divides within our political branches have shaken public faith in government across the board,” and the judiciary “must look to the bar for broader assistance in maintaining the public confidence in the integrity of our legal system.”

"Lawyers fulfill their professional calling to its fullest extent when they rise above particular partisan debates and participate as problem solvers, whether through the ABA’s committees, through pro bono work, through public service or simply by helping the public understand the nature of the role that courts play in civil life, a role distinct from that of the political branches,” Roberts said.

Other highlights included presentation of the ABA Medal, the association’s highest award, to retired Gen. Earl E. Anderson, an ABA member for 64 years who at age 95 continues to be active in several ABA entities and is a member of the ABA House of Delegates. The medal was awarded during the Opening Assembly, which featured a keynote address by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.

Johnson provided an update his department’s initiatives and said that, absent congressional legislation, the president will be announcing reforms through executive action to address the unprecedented influx of unaccompanied children coming across the southwest border of the United States (see article, page 3).

Another major event was the first public hearing of the new ABA Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education. The task force, appointed in May and chaired by former ABA President Dennis W. Archer, is examining the cost and financing of law school, student loans, and educational debt.

At the conclusion of the meeting, South Carolina lawyer William C. Hubbard succeeded James R. Silkenat to become ABA president for 2014-15 (see article, page 5), and Paulette Brown, of New Jersey, became president-elect. Others moving into leadership roles included House of Delegates Chair Patricia Lee Refo, treasurer G. Nicholas Casey and secretary Mary T. Torres.

The following is a summary of legislative resolutions approved by the House of Delegates.


Federal Court of Appeals Jurisdiction. Urges Congress to amend 28 U.S.C. §44(c) to include the word “territory” to ensure that all states and territories within the jurisdiction of the federal courts of appeal may be represented on the appeals court bench. Also urges the president to nominate judges to federal courts of appeal that are representative of the geographic areas over which they exercise jurisdiction and to nominate a Virgin Islands judge or attorney for a current vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and to nominate a Guam or Northern Mariana Islands judge or attorney to the next vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

ABA Standing Committee on the American Judicial System. Amends §31.7 of the ABA Bylaws to eliminate the Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements and the Standing Committee on Judicial Independence and create one entity, the Standing Committee on the American Judicial System, which includes a Subcommittee on State Courts and a Subcommittee on Federal Courts.

Right to a Civil Jury Trial. Opposes the suspension or delay of the fundamental right to a civil jury trial in the face of difficult fiscal circumstances.

Judicial Recusals. Urges state and territories to adopt, in order to assure fair and impartial judicial proceedings, clearly articulated, transparent and timely procedures to ensure that judges disqualify or recuse themselves in instances where conflict or bias or other grounds exist to warrant recusal. These procedures should take into account the fact that certain campaign expenditures and contributions, including independent expenditures, made during judicial elections raise concerns about possible effects on judicial impartiality and independence. Further urges the adoption of a mechanism for the timely review of denials to disqualify or recuse that is independent of the subject judge.

Criminal Justice

Wrongful Executions. Urges each federal, state and territorial jurisdiction where capital punishment is permitted to adopt a statute or rule providing an appropriate judicial procedure whereby successors or a legal entity, on behalf of an executed individual, may bring and litigate a claim that the individual executed was in fact innocent of the capital offense. 


Cybersecurity Programs. Encourages private and public sector organizations to develop, implement and maintain an appropriate cybersecurity program that complies with applicable ethical and legal obligations and is tailored to the nature and scope of the organizations and the data and systems to be protected.

Disability Rights

Marrakesh Treaty. Supports prompt ratification, by the United States and other nations, of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print-Disabled, designed to address “book famine,” which excludes hundreds of millions of visually-impaired and other print-disabled persons from access to more than 95 percent of all published works.

Domestic Violence

Workplace Policies. Adopts the Model Workplace Policy on Employer Responses to Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking. Encourages all public and private employers – including governments, law schools and the legal profession – to enact formal policies on the workplace responses to domestic violence, dating violence sexual violence and/or stalking which address prevention and remedies, provide assistance to employees who experience violence, and which hold accountable employees who perpetrate violence.

Forced Marriages. Condemns forced marriage as a fundamental human rights violation and a form of family violence and of violence against women. Urges governments to amend existing laws or enact new laws to prevent forced marriages in the United States or involving U.S. citizens or residents and to protect and supports individuals threatened by forced marriage. Urges governments to collaborate with legal, social services and advocacy organizations to develop victim-centered legal remedies and to promote training for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, child protection authorities, victim-witness advocates and attorneys.

Elder Law

Social Security. Urges Congress to reallocate payroll tax revenues between the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance Trust Fund as needed to prevent depletion of the reserves of either trust fund.

Election Law

Contingency Plans. Urges state, localities and territories to develop written contingency plans to preserve the election process in the event of an emergency. Urges federal, state and local officials to enact measures to ensure that voters assisting in recovery efforts, including those who travel outside their state or residence to assist in a recovery, are able to vote by absentee ballot or otherwise.

Accessibility. Urges governments and the courts to ensure that the electoral process, including voter registration and voting methods, is accessible to persons with disabilities and that polling places are free of physical, technological and administrative barriers. Urges use of all appropriate means to improve enforcement of voting rights for persons with disabilities, supports accessibility training for election personnel and volunteers, and urges election officials to encourage persons with disabilities to serve as election officials and volunteers.


Detention Standards. Adopts amendment to the 2012 ABA Civil Immigration Detention Standards to, among other things, include provisions to limit the use of segregation, particularly solitary confinement, except as a last resort for a limited time period and in compliance with other limitations.

Individual Rights

Crimes Against Humanity. Urges Congress to enact legislation to prevent and punish crimes against humanity and urges the United States government to take an active role in negotiation and adoption of a new global convention for the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity.

LGBT Rights. Recognizes the rights of individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) as basic human rights and condemns laws, regulations, rules and practices around the world that discriminate against them on the basis of their LGBT status.

International Law

Signature Verification. Supports modernization and simplification of the requirements, procedures, laws and regulations related to verification of signatures in cross-border contexts in order to increase reciprocal recognition among jurisdictions, taking into account relevant levels of service, new technologies and assorted costs, as well as the need for appropriate privacy, data security and fraud prevention.

Legal Education

Veterans Legal Clinics. Encourages all law schools to create veterans law clinics to ensure that all veterans who cannot afford legal services can access them.

Loan Forgiveness. Opposes proposed changes in current educational debt loan forgiveness programs for public services lawyers and urges Congress and the administration to support and continue public service loan repayment and forgiveness programs. Urges Congress and the administration not to create, in student loan repayment programs, greater burdens for married couples than for similarly situated couples who are cohabitating.

Legal Services

Pro Bono. Urges the highest appellate courts in each jurisdiction to adopt a rule permitting and encouraging in–house counsel already authorized to engage in the practice of law, while in the exclusive employment of an organization in a jurisdiction in which they are not licensed, to provide pro bono legal services in that jurisdiction subject to applicable rules, including rules of professional conduct, and other law.

Unmet Legal Needs. Urges national, state, local and territorial bar associations; foundation; courts; law schools; legal aid organizations; and law firms to create and advance initiatives that marshal the resources of newly admitted lawyers to meet the unmet legal needs of underserved populations in sustainable ways.  

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