More than 350 lawyers from across the country convened on Capitol Hill April 14-16 for ABA Day in Washington, an annual opportunity coordinated by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office for bar leaders to meet with their members of Congress.
This year, participants focused attention on the following two core issues during their more than 400 visits to congressional offices:
LSC Funding. The need for legal services for the poor in the United States has never been greater, and LSC funded programs help the most vulnerable in society, including veterans returning from war and domestic violence victims. Members of Congress were asked to increase LSC funding from the current level of $375 million to $452 million, the amount requested by the Obama administration.
Over-incarceration: Juvenile Justice and Sentencing Reform. It is crucial to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act with provisions to end jailing of youth for non-criminal status offenses, implement steps to reduce racial disparities, and strengthen access to counsel. In addition, Congress should pass strong sentencing reform measures, including the Smarter Sentencing Act, to reduce mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses and to permit judges to sentence below mandatory minimums in qualified cases.
“Your advocacy in support of these causes is vital to their legislative success,” ABA President William C. Hubbard said in welcoming the participants, adding that the personal meetings with their congressional delegations help the ABA forge lasting relationships that can be called upon when other important issues arise.
ABA Day also featured the Justice Awards, which recognized senators and representatives who have supported issues of critical importance to the association, and the Grassroots Advocacy Awards, presented to individual lawyers for their efforts to improve the American justice system.
Senators receiving the 2015 Justice Awards, which were announced April 14 at the National Archives, were: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), for her role in sponsoring and enacting the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), leadership in addressing sex trafficking, support for legislation to reduce gun violence, and her cosponsorship and support for the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; and Sen. Angus S. King Jr. (I-Maine), for his leadership in enacting legislation authorizing credit unions to insure Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) at the same level of coverage that banks provide, and opposition to mandatory accrual accounting legislation.
The House members recognized were: Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), for his role in enactment of the IOLTA legislation, his opposition to mandatory accrual accounting legislation, and his longstanding and unwavering support for efforts to fight human trafficking; and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), for his longstanding support for LSC and his leadership in assuring that Native American women receive protection under VAWA.
The next evening, attendees gathered at the U.S. Supreme Court for a reception hosted by Justice Samuel Alito and the presentation of the Grassroots Advocacy Awards to Patricia Apy of New Jersey, Nan Heald of Maine, and John Rosenberg of Kentucky.
Apy’s career has focused on the legal needs of military families, including child custody disputes, and she worked tirelessly toward enactment in 2014 of international child abduction legislation. Heald has been an innovator in making legal services more accessible to underserved rural and native communities and was recognized for her leadership and initiatives addressing the unmet legal needs of active duty military members, veterans, their families and caregivers. Rosenberg, as founder and director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky Inc. (AppalReD) for three decades, provided free legal services to low-income residents in eastern and south central Kentucky. He was recognized for his outstanding work throughout his career in providing access to legal services and working toward increased funding for the LSC.
The final day was highlighted by remarks from White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, who emphasized the importance of pro bono work and recognized the ABA’s support for LSC and criminal justice reform. He also thanked the ABA for its assistance in the judicial nomination and confirmation process and for collaboration with the administration to address the veterans claims backlog and to provide pro bono assistance as part of the Clemency Project 2014.
Calling this year’s event a great success, ABA Day Planning Committee Chair Robert M. Carlson said, “The ABA is at its best when we bring people together to advocate on issues of fairness and equal justice under the law. The dedication and hard work of our lawyer volunteers, who take days out of their offices, and for the most part, pay their own way to Washington, to seek justice on behalf of people who might not otherwise have a voice is an inspiration to all.”