ABA Day in Washington, the association’s annual lobby day coordinated by the Governmental Affairs Office, drew over 400 bar leaders to Washington, D.C., April 25-27 to meet with their members of Congress.
The event ─ attended this year by participants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands ─ is an opportunity for ABA members to convey the association’s views on priority issues of importance to the legal profession.
This year, attendees urged their members to support increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to assist low-income Americans with civil legal needs and to enhance access to justice for homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness.
The ABA supports a fiscal year 2018 appropriation of $450 million for LSC, which would increase the corporation’s current funding level of $385 million by $65 million. ABA Day participants emphasized that, despite limited resources, legal aid programs annually assist nearly 1.9 million Americans across the country, including veterans, domestic-violence victims, aging Americans, rural populations, women, and natural disaster victims.
Reacting to the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint proposing elimination of LSC funding, the bar leaders emphasized that the LSC is the backbone for America’s civil legal aid and pro bono system. During their visits, the ABA Day participants delivered more than 19,000 Legal Aid Defender cards to congressional members with personalized messages created by their constituents through the Legal Aid Defender grassroots campaign organized by the Governmental Affairs Office.
Bar leaders also urged their members of Congress to enact the Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act, which would expand access to legal services for homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness by authorizing the secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with public and private entities to help fund a portion of the cost of legal services.
In her ABA Day message to participants, ABA President Linda A. Klein said, “Our legislative program is based on the relationships you cultivate at ABA Day. We could not do this without your help.”
The event’s Opening Session included keynote speeches in support of the ABA’s work on legal services by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and LSC President James J. Sandman. A breakfast briefing the next day featured James Burnham, senior associate counsel to the president in the Office of White House Counsel, who told the group that the administration has made filling the more than 120 judicial vacancies a priority. Also appearing was Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who vowed that Congress would not let LSC funding be eliminated.
Each year, the ABA presents deserving members of Congress with Justice Awards recognizing their support for issues of critical importance to the ABA and the administration of justice. This year’s recipients, recognized at a reception and dinner at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, are: Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), for his continued leadership in securing increased LSC funding and protecting the attorney-client privilege; Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), for her commitment to non-discrimination and her efforts to ensure that unaccompanied minors have access to legal and humanitarian protections; Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), for his leadership in passing the first major reforms in over 30 years to the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.), for his commitment to equal rights and his advocacy for adequate funding for LSC.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan welcomed the bar leaders to the U.S. Supreme Court for a reception to honor recipients of this year’s Grassroots Advocacy Awards. Kagan emphasized the importance of LSC and thanked the ABA for supporting the corporation during meetings with members of Congress.
This year’s Grassroots Award recipients are Edwin A. Harnden, of Portland, Oregon, for his efforts to garner lawyer support for the Campaign for Equal Justice and his efforts with political and community leaders to address legal aid funding shortfalls; and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an organization that increases awareness about the rights of unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children and facilitates pro bono representation in deportation hearings. The KIND award was accepted by Laurie Carafone, KIND’S co-director of Legal Services, and Christie Turner, the supervising attorney for KIND field offices in Washington, DC, and Virginia.
“It was inspiring to see so many bar leaders from around the country participate in the legislative process by letting members of Congress know how important it is to foster access to civil justice,” ABA Day Planning Committee Chair Trish Refo said. “Our input and the time we spent educating policymakers on these issues was invaluable to the success of ABA Day,” she concluded.