See video of ABA Day award recipients House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)
Four lawmakers received the 2018 American Bar Association Congressional Justice Award at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Wednesday evening during ABA Day, the association’s annual effort to connect policymakers with their constituents in the legal profession.
The award is presented annually to members of Congress to acknowledge their leadership on issues critically important to the legal profession.
ABA President Hilarie Bass kicked off the event by thanking the four recipients, who she said have "stood as champions of the justice system."
This year's honorees are:
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif. 12th): Pelosi has spent more than 30 years in the House of Representatives serving as a powerful voice for equal justice for all and championing issues of importance to the ABA including transgender rights, marriage equality, pay equity and immigration reform. This past year, she has strongly advocated for a path to citizenship for the so-called "Dreamers," undocumented persons who were brought to this country as children and have grown up here. She has also been a leader in opposing legislation that would restrict access to the civil justice system.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa. 8th): The ABA honors Fitzpatrick for his efforts to increase Legal Services Corporation funding and his leadership in efforts to enhance access to the civil justice system. Since joining Congress in 2016, he has been a staunch supporter of increased funding for legal aid and has led the efforts to raise Republican support for it. In 2017, he joined with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) to sponsor the first-ever bipartisan amendment to increase LSC appropriations.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): The ABA honors Cornyn for his work to improve the American justice system, particularly for his leadership in securing LSC funding. The association also recognizes his commitment to ensuring access to justice for domestic violence and trafficking survivors and his co-sponsorship of the Veterans Treatment Courts Improvement Act of 2017.
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.): The ABA is recognizing Feinstein for her support of LSC, her decades-long effort to enact sensible gun safety legislation and for her commitment to ensuring that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have an opportunity to consider the ABA's peer assessments of the professional qualifications of federal judicial nominees prior to their confirmation hearings.
Both Pelosi and Fitzpatrick were present for the award ceremony.
Pelosi spoke on the important role of lawyers. "America's story is one of ever-expanding freedoms," she said. "And lawyers have been on the front line to protect and ensure those freedoms."
Pelosi said she often reminds her colleagues in Congress of the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who quoted St. Augustine 17 centuries earlier: "'Any government that is not formed to promote justice is just a bunch of thieves. …Sometimes it's difficult to define justice, but in doing so we must be aware of the danger of ethical blindness caused by the dazzling power of money and special interest.' That's what you do, as you provide justice for so many people."
Pelosi also thanked the audience for their advocacy work on Capitol Hill during ABA Day, fighting the budget proposals to cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation and for efforts to protect the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. "We, in Congress, stand with you," she said, adding that members of Congress are grateful for the ABA's "steadfast commitment to the independence of the judiciary."
Fitzpatrick also spoke on the importance of legal aid. He said that equality and access to the courts have been the "bedrock foundation of American life" and that LSC stands up for the "little guy," which is "very important, now more than ever."
Fitzpatrick also thanked the audience for its advocacy work during ABA Day. "There are a lot of important decisions made in this city … and our leaders need to learn from you."