July 10, 2017

Legal services funding and veterans issues at the heart of ABA Day 2017

The American Bar Association will conduct its annual effort to connect policymakers with constituents in the legal profession this week during its ABA Day 2017 from April 25-27.

This year, lawyers from all 50 states will come to Washington to speak to members of Congress and their staffs and inform them of the importance of funding Legal Services Corporation, which provides civil legal aid to nearly 1.9 million low-income people annually who desperately need help to navigate the legal process so they can get equal access to justice. LSC serves the most vulnerable individuals and families in every congressional district. That includes children, seniors, veterans, victims of domestic violence and victims of disasters. 

ABA lawyers also will speak to congressional members about issues affecting veterans. The ABA will advocate for legislation (H.R. 1993, the Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act) authorizing private-public partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve access to justice for homeless veterans.

 The ABA will also present four members of Congress with its annual Congressional Justice Award on April 25 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts to acknowledge their leadership on issues critically important to the legal profession. 

 This year’s awardees are:  

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
    The ABA honors Sen. Hirono for her efforts to improve access to legal services, pass immigration reform and eliminate discrimination. She was an original sponsor of S.2540, the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016, to make counsel available for unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people. She was one of the “Gang of 8” that introduced 2013’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform (S.744) and she led a 2014 delegation to the Texas border to call attention to thousands of unaccompanied children. She also introduced bipartisan S.733, the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Act of 2015, which led in June 2016 to President Obama creating a parole program to reunite families of Filipino World War II veterans. In July 2016, Hirono introduced the Patsy Mink Gender Equity in Education Act to provide resources for implementing Title IX and reducing sex discrimination in education.
  • Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA 4th)
    Rep. Kennedy is being honored for his dedication to legal aid and access to legal services as well his work for equal rights. He established and co-chairs U.S. House Access to Civil Justice Caucus and spoke at the 2016 White House Legal Aid Conference. He has served as a legal aid volunteer and has written articles and convened meetings to gain support for more federal dollars for legal aid. In 2016, he testified for a Massachusetts state transgender rights bill that is now law and introduced the Do No Harm Act to balance religious liberty and equal protection. He also introduced the Fair Calculations in Civil Damages Act of 2016 (H.R.6417) to prohibit awarding damages based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or actual or perceived sexual orientation.
  • Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
    The ABA honors Sen. Shelby for his efforts to increase funding for legal assistance. As chair for the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, Shelby increased Legal Services Corporation funding for 2015 and 2016. Also, in 2013, as Ranking Member, he successfully worked with the ABA and with chair Tim Johnson to preserve the attorney-client privilege during the bank examination process, and has voted in support of the ABA’s position on tort reform.
  • Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX 13th)
    Rep. Thornberry is being honored for his efforts to improve military justice. As chair of the Armed Services Committee, he helped pass the first major reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 30 years (FY17 NDAA). He modernized the code to improve efficiency and transparency, while also enhancing victims’ rights; preserved the right of a service member to choose whether to be sentenced by court members or by a military judge alone; and avoided efforts to impose sentencing parameters in the military justice process and to rescind certain appellate rights without compelling justifications which went against Senate and Department of Defense proposals.

The association will also present the American Bar Association Grassroots Advocacy Awards on April 26 at the United States Supreme Court Building to Oregon attorney Edwin A. Harnden and the Kids in Need of Defense organization.

Harnden has spent two decades advocating for increased access to legal aid for Oregonians. A past Bar president, he has worked to encourage lawyers to support the Campaign for Equal Justice and has worked extensively with political and community leaders to address funding shortfalls and seek long-term solutions.

Kids In Need Of Defense advocates for vital services that help unaccompanied children in the United States, including facilitating pro bono representation for deportation proceedings. It has also increased awareness among policymakers and the public about the rights and needs of unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children, using social media and creating a Children’s Speaker’s Bureau.