by Bob Carlson
The American Bar Association is always busy, holding meetings, conducting CLEs, evaluating judges, developing model rules and accrediting law schools. But this spring is particularly exciting as the ABA conducts two events just weeks apart that allow lawyers to interact with their government and shape people’s understanding of it.
From April 9-11, ABA Day will bring together ABA leaders with state and local bar members from across the country to take the message of lawyers to Congress. Less than three weeks later, we will celebrate Law Day 2019, with this year’s topical theme of “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.”
Each year, the ABA through its Governmental Affairs Office coordinates ABA Day so that lawyers can come to Capitol Hill and advocate for issues of importance to the legal profession. Lawyers from around the country will make their case as constituents, face-to-face, with their congressional representatives.
This effort has long been successful. In February, more funding ($5 million) was provided for the Legal Services Corp., and an additional $15 million was budgeted for disaster legal aid. Last year, ABA members’ efforts were instrumental in saving the Department of Justice’s Legal Orientation Program for prospective immigrants. The orientation program provides information to people navigating the immigration process.
This year, under the guidance of ABA Day Chair Deborah Enix-Ross, we will request additional funds for LSC to try to meet the growing need, and we will address issues that affect attorneys and the rule of law. We welcome all members to get involved. If you cannot make it to Washington, you can still join our grassroots efforts.
ABA Day also gives us a chance to recognize members of Congress for their commitment to justice. This year, we will honor Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) for his support of LSC funding; Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) for their help saving the Legal Orientation Program; Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) for his backing of Public Service Loan Forgiveness; and Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) for their assistance in upholding the independence of the legal profession.
On May 1, the ABA moves to another noteworthy celebration—Law Day—where this year we will explore free speech and free press, two of the most important foundations for a free society. Significant disagreements between the scope and limits of these freedoms dominate public discourse, and some have been litigated in courts.
Our nation’s founders recognized the significance of these freedoms. George Washington said that if free speech was taken away, “dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
On Law Day, we will examine questions about these freedoms and their place in our society. Should all speech be free? What is the role of government in regulating or protecting the press? Should free speech or the press be constrained through laws? Can a free society exist without these freedoms? Programs will be held around the country.
As part of the Law Day festivities, we will release the results of the ABA’s first national survey of civic knowledge. We want to know how familiar ordinary Americans are with the basic legal and constitutional concepts that underlie our nation’s government, especially the rule of law and, of course, free speech and free press.
Our justice system cannot function without public trust and support. This spring, the ABA offers opportunities to be involved and engaged, so our government remains of the people, by the people and for the people.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt noted, “Government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
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This President's Message was published in the April 2019 ABA Journal .