April 26, 2017

ABA Justice Award honorees say lawyers must fight to save legal aid

Four lawmakers received the 2017 American Bar Association Congressional Justice Award at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Tuesday evening, during ABA Day, the association’s annual effort to connect policymakers with their constituents in the legal profession.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA) stand “as champions of the justice system,” said ABA President Linda Klein.

Hirono

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI)

Hirono and Kennedy were present for the award ceremony. 

“These are unusual times,” Hirono said, explaining that President Trump’s proposed budget zeroes out funding for the Legal Services Corporation and that lawyers have an obligation to protect legal aid. “We will be doing a service, we will be doing our jobs,” she said, encouraging advocacy.  “This is what the ABA is about.”

Hirono talked about her background as the daughter of a Japanese mother who left an abusive marriage to come to the United States so that her children could have better lives. She said she could never have imagined that the opportunity would lead to her “serving the people of Hawaii for 30 years.”

Three things, she said, she had learned in her life: “Individuals do make a difference, showing up is half the battle, and that it is necessary to get out of one’s comfort zone and take risks to achieve anything.”

Klein introduced Kennedy as “a staunch supporter of the Legal Services Corporation,” committed to “nondiscrimination and equal justice for all.”

Kennedy said he first learned of the “profound inequity” in access to justice when he was doing legal aid work in Boston for a single mother with three children who kept being evicted -- “an endless and impossible maze” -- when the buildings where she was renting went into foreclosure.

Kennedy

Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA)

He, too, pointed out that Trump’s elimination of funding for the Legal Services Corporation would “abolish it.”

“This would disenfranchise the already disenfranchised,” he said, noting that funding for the service was at its lowest in 40 years in 2013 and that Americans spend more on Halloween costumes for their pets than for access to legal services.

He said that he and the audience of lawyers “carry a JD, which makes this profound inequity our fight – because our laws matter.”

“Lawyers,” he continued, “are compassionate and smart, merciful and fair” and it is their responsibility to maintain the LSC, the “lifeline for working families, for abused women, for homes kept.”

Patricia Lee Refo, chair of the ABA Day planning committee, reminded the audience of the importance of their advocacy, saying that the honorees “take your advocacy and turn it into legislative action.”