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May 01, 2022 Vol. 47, No. 5

Student loan debt relief, privilege for attorney-client emails, and more: ABA Day 2022

The staff of the ABA Governmental Affairs Office collaborated on this article.

ABA Day is the legal profession’s largest lobby day of the year, when hundreds of ABA, state, local, and affinity bar leaders and participants from across the country meet with members of Congress to advocate on behalf of the profession on issues of great importance.

The 2022 event, held April 5-6, celebrated the 25th anniversary of ABA Day. It included video messages from such national political leaders as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, and Sens. John Cornyn, Joni Ernst, Ron Wyden and Tim Kaine. Also offering messages were other stalwart supporters of ABA initiatives, including Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, Brian Fitzpatrick, Brendan Boyle and Hakeem Jeffries. In addition, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs and Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie offered remarks.

The ABA Day 2022 Planning Committee, under the leadership of Chair Bill Bay, worked hard, along with the Governmental Affairs Office, to prepare this year’s program. For the third year in a row, the event was held virtually because of ongoing health and security concerns.  Fortunately, the ingenuity and determination of participants enabled the ABA to host another highly successful conference.

Almost 400 people participated in the event online. There were more than 1,200 advocacy actions taken over two days: Hundreds of participants emailed, called, or met remotely with their congressional leaders or staff, while thousands communicated on social media about the issues. ABA Day was mentioned about 2,000 times on Twitter and garnered 19,600 likes and retweets.

ABA President Reginald M. Turner opened the event by welcoming participants and expressing the ABA’s support for Ukraine. “Our commitment to justice and democracy extends beyond our borders,” Turner said, “and we stand with the Ukrainian people as they face Russia’s unprovoked invasion.”

Turner traced the 25-year history of ABA Day, which started in 1997 as a result of the ABA’s alarm over Congressional efforts to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). “That one-time event soon transformed into the annual ABA Day advocacy event to bring together the ABA members and bar leaders from across the nation to Capitol Hill to advocate for issues before Congress that are of critical importance to the legal profession,” he said.

Bay thanked participants in the 2022 ABA Day, acknowledging 25 years of partnership with bar leaders, and laid out the priorities of the event.

Many issues require lawyers’ advocacy

Increased funding for LSC, which helps fund civil legal aid offices nationwide, was a core programming feature and the focus of a thank-you campaign directed to the many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle who have protected the program.

The two primary advocacy issues were urging Congress to pass the Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act  and to provide more student loan debt relief. “The need for student debt relief is well known by many of you,” Bay noted. “We need to keep the pressure on the administration and Congress to find long-term solutions to this important problem.”

The remaining issues—enhancing judicial security, creation of Article 1 immigration courts, and funding for the recently reauthorized Violence against Women Act—were featured for online grassroots lobbying.

ABA President-Elect Deborah Enix-Ross and former ABA presidents also extended their welcome and offered reflections on past ABA Days. Enix-Ross shared what is so special about ABA Day to her: the “collective power of lawyers in the American Bar Association coming together, united, to advocate and speak for those who are unable to do that for themselves.”

In her keynote address, Jolie, who worked to help pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act—signed into law in March by President Biden as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act—made a powerful plea on behalf of domestic victim survivors and their children. She referenced her two decades of work with victims and survivors of conflict around the world, which she said opened her eyes up to the crisis of domestic violence in the U.S. She spoke in support of VAWA, which the ABA has advocated on for years.

“The Violence Against Women Act as it stands will not be the final word on this subject, but I hope that you will do everything that you can to ensure that it is implemented and upheld,” she said. “Without exaggeration, what you are able to do may make a difference.”

In a session to prepare participants to advocate on behalf of legislation to enhance judicial security, Judge Childs spoke movingly about the rising number of threats facing judges, including threats against herself. She also cited the tragic case of Judge Esther Salas, whose son, Daniel Anderl, was killed and husband, Mark Anderl, was wounded by an assailant who found her home address online.

Childs pointed out how easily assailants can obtain judges’ personal information, including their home addresses and information about their families, on the internet. “Protecting the security of judges protects the rule of law,” she said.

ABA Governmental Affairs Office Deputy Director Denise Cardman urged everyone to advocate with their senators and representative on behalf of Senate Bill S. 2340, the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a unanimous vote. The legislation would enhance the security of federal judges and their families and therefore protect our impartial courts in two ways: by restricting the disclosure and publication of judges’ personally identifiable information and by assuring that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the U.S. Marshals Service have the capability to secure the safety of federal judges and their family members. 

But the bill faces an uphill battle. Some members of Congress want floor action on the bill to be postponed until Congress determines how to strengthen security for its own members. ABA Day participants understand the seriousness of Congressional safety concerns, but nonetheless urged them to swiftly consider and pass S. 2340.

Jeffries (D-NY), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, spoke in support of the ABA-backed Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act. The bill has passed the House by a strong bipartisan majority and is now before the Senate. “This legislation, like all the initiatives the ABA backs, is designed to just make sure that we can defend and protect the rights that have granted to all in this sacred democracy of ours,” Jeffries said.

While traditional letter mail, unmonitored telephone calls, and in-person meetings between attorneys and their clients incarcerated in Bureau of Prisons facilities are communications protected by the attorney-client privilege, emails are not. The Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act would ensure that electronic communications between attorneys and their incarcerated clients are also protected by the privilege.

The Hon. Bryant Y. Yang, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, spoke with LSC President Ron Flagg about the ABA’s role in defending LSC and the acute need for increased funding. As a result of the  pandemic, legal needs among low-income Americans have soared.

“ABA Day gives a voice to lawyers from around the country to educate members of Congress about the critical role that legal aid plays in making real America’s promise of equal justice under the law,” said Flagg. “And the voices of lawyers are really quite credible and persuasive because who knows best firsthand the value of legal representation and the cost of its absence?”

Scanlon (D-PA) and Fitzpatrick (R-PA), co-chairs of the Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus, pointed out the importance of fighting for LSC funding, particularly now as Congress heads into the appropriation process.

On student debt, Abre’ Conner, speaker for the ABA Young Lawyers Division Assembly, stressed the importance of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to young lawyers, especially those in public interest work.

The ABA has been advocating for PSLF since before its creation in 2007. Last September, the ABA hosted a Student Debt Week of Action when thousands of social media posts and messages to Congress helped highlight the critical need for student debt relief and improvements to the PSLF program. 

Speakers also emphasized the importance of the ABA-backed loan forbearance program, instituted under the CARES Act and extended several times since then, which suspended federally held education loan payments and reduced loan rates to zero. On April 6, the Biden Administration extended the moratorium through Aug. 31.

In their remarks, Durbin (D-Ill.) and John Cornyn (R-TX) urged participants to support their Fresh Start Through Bankruptcy Act, which would restore the ability of struggling borrowers to seek a bankruptcy discharge for federal student loans after a waiting period of 10 years.

Schumer (D-NY) thanked the ABA for its leadership in the effort to alleviate the student debt crisis, including organizing the ABA Student Debt Week of Action.

Kaine (D-VA) highlighted the importance of the PSLF program to the LSC because many LSC lawyers, as well as many lawyers working in prosecutors’ and public defenders’ offices, “are carrying a crushing burden of student loan debt.”

In the session on advocating for legislation to create independent Article 1 immigrations courts, backed by the ABA, Karla McKanders, chair of the ABA Commission on Immigration, and Karen Grisez, past chair, stressed the need to support H.R. 6577. It would establish an independent Article I court for immigration removal adjudications. On April 5, the ABA wrote a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders urging them to approve the bill and move it forward. Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate soon.

A look ahead to next year, and what you can do now

In the closing session, Bay assured participants that ABA advocacy does not begin or end on ABA Day. These issues continue to be the focus of a coordinated, multipronged digital and in-person campaign.

The ABA “advocates all year round for issues important to the legal profession,” Bay said. He urged everyone to join the Grassroots Action Team for regular updates on Capitol Hill issues that need the legal profession’s help.

Bay also looked ahead to the next ABA Day. “Digital advocacy will remain a vital component of our efforts,” he said, “but rest assured that in-person ABA Day events will return in 2023.”

ABA GAO team members are available to connect with bar leaders on any issue as well as provide resources. Follow us on Twitter @ABAGrassroots. And it’s not too late to take action on the ABA priority issues discussed during ABA Day and in this article: The ABA Congressional Messaging Portal has everything you need to start or continue your important advocacy work.

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