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January 29, 2020

Welcome to the New Year

ABA Advocacy Goals for 2020

This month, as the 116th Congress begins its second session, the Governmental Affairs team continues to work hard to advance ABA policy interests. Last year we saw some definite advocacy successes, and this year we will build upon that momentum to improve access to justice and advance issues of interest to the legal profession. The political environment will be challenging as we draw closer to a presidential election, plus major elections for 35 Senate seats and 435 seats in the House of Representatives. However, we will remain focused on the ABA’s legislative priorities and key goals for 2020 as we move forward in a nonpartisan manner.

The Board of Governors approved the ABA’s top ten legislative priorities for this Congress in February 2019, after considering input from ABA members submitted as part of a governmental affairs survey. Those priorities, which will continue to guide our advocacy efforts throughout 2020, include access to legal services, independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession, criminal justice improvements, and immigration reform, among others.

But what are some key advocacy goals within these priorities? Securing increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation remains one of our top goals. While Congress appropriated a $25 million increase in LSC funding for this year, much more is still needed to ensure that low income Americans have greater access to the legal services they need.

Our immigration reform efforts include advocating for changes in the immigration court system to address serious issues with judicial independence and due process in our current structure.  On January 29th, in testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for a hearing examining the state of judicial independence and due process in U.S. Immigration Courts, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez recommended that immigration court functions be transferred from the Department of Justice to a newly-created independent Article I court. She explained that this move is necessary to ensure that judges have full decisional independence without fear of reprisal and to afford due process to those appearing before them.

In the criminal justice arena, the ABA is supporting a bipartisan effort to ensure that the attorney-client privilege protects email communications between inmates held in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody and their lawyers, and that the inmates are no longer required to waive the privilege as a condition for using prison computers systems. Enacting such legislation would not only benefit lawyers and their clients, but it would also help improve the efficiency of the courts and the prison system by expediting such communications and reducing the need for BOP personnel to support in-person visits.  

While the House and Senate have shown interest in different legislative matters, bills are pending in both chambers that would advance two ABA priorities – reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and modifications to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act. The GAO will closely monitor developments on these and other priority issues, and work with ABA entities to develop strategies for successful advocacy by the association and our members as opportunities present themselves.

Want to add your voice to our advocacy efforts? Join our Grassroots Action Team or follow us @ABAGrassroots.