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June 06, 2024 Vol. 46, No. 5

2024 ABA Day in Washington: 50-State Advocacy

By Ken Goldsmith

ABA Day in Washington is the ABA’s annual lobbying event that brings together leaders from state, local, territorial, and specialty bar associations to meet with their members of Congress and advocate on issues concerning the administration of justice and the rule of law. 

ABA Day 2024

This year’s event, which took place April 10-11, provided advocates with the opportunity to lobby their members of Congress in person and by using readily accessible digital tools prepared by the association’s Governmental Affairs Office (GAO). Altogether, hundreds of advocates from all fifty states and D.C. advocated for robust funding for both the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the federal public defenders program. They also advocated for protection of the attorney-client privilege for those incarcerated and shared ways the ABA can assist Congress on emerging legal issues in the use of artificial intelligence.

In addition, the digital program offered information on how proposed changes to student lending will impact future borrowers that advocates could share with their congressional delegation. While the recipe for a successful event involves many components, the secret to ABA Day’s success has always been the people who participate, especially state and local bar leaders. Our campaigns are ongoing and can still use the support of bar and legal professionals around the country. Visit the ABA’s Congressional Messaging Portal to lend your voice! 

All Politics is Local    

Legendary Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas “Tip” O’Neil (D-MA) popularized the phrase “All politics is local.” It has become a cliché in the lobbying world because it captures a truth: constituents hold the most sway over their members of Congress. That is why state and local bar leaders and grassroots organizations are at the forefront of ABA Day’s advocacy on the Hill.

The participation of bar leaders at ABA Day each year has also proven critical with unpredictable turnover in chamber and committee leadership: last year, the House Speaker and Appropriations Chair were from California and Texas, while this year they are from Louisiana and Oklahoma. Advocacy delegations from those states helped ensure that the message seamlessly reached the new leaders and their staff.

Members of Congress no doubt recognize the efforts their constituents have made to meet them in the halls of Congress and that compounds the importance of the message being delivered.  Nevertheless, in-district visits are also effective and even offer some advantages. For example, constituents may be able to spend more time with the member and his or her staff or even have the opportunity to do a site-visit with the member to drive a point home. Regardless of the methodology, good advocacy requires bringing the right information to the right people at the right time to get the right result.

While enthusiasm for advocating in the nation’s capital was high, the ABA Grassroots Action Center also hosted digital toolkits with one-pagers, talking points, and online training programs. Offering a hybrid platform allowed participants to choose an advocacy method most appropriate for each visit -- whether to lobby on Capitol Hill, schedule meetings with district/state congressional offices, and/or participate online. This dual format not only allowed delegations from the few states not present in D.C. to engage with their lawmakers more than 350 times through calls, messages, or meetings. The Grassroots Action Center’s digital broadcast facilitated phone calls and emails, and featured inspiring video messages from Members of Congress like Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Sens. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to support advocates in our support for LSC, federal defender programs, and the attorney-client privilege.

ABA Day and the work of the ABA GAO would not be as successful without bar leader participation. Bar leaders may also use GAO’s enhanced digital capabilities to help make that possible for all members of your bar. If you have questions about ABA Day or any of our offerings, reach out to David Eppstein, director for ABA Day in Washington, or Eric Storey, director for our grassroots and digital advocacy.

Ken Goldsmith is the Senior Legislative Counsel and State Legislative Liason in the ABA Governmental Affairs Office.

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