Posted Mar 21, 2006 11:40 am CST
Our legislative advocacy program represents one of the best uses of ABA resources for members, the profession and the public. We utilize the tremendous energy and expertise of our members, supported by a full-time, dedicated and accomplished ABA governmental affairs staff led by Robert D. Evans, to address issues of the utmost importance to our profession and the American people.
Over the past six years, 85 percent of enacted legislation that the ABA has weighed in on has reflected our positions a remarkable success rate. Unlike other large organizations, the ABA does not have a political action committee, make campaign contributions, endorse candidates for office or hire outside lobbyists. Our legislative influence rests on the strength of our positions in support of the rule of law and improvements to the justice system.
Among the hundreds of issues on which the ABA House of Delegates has adopted policy, the Board of Governors each year selects several on which to place greatest emphasis. The ABA currently has 11 legislative priorities for the 109th Congress, ranging from enhancing access to legal services to protecting the independence of the judiciary.
Our advocacy has helped to improve funding for indigent defense in federal courts and ensure legal protections for our military personnel. It has helped advance much-needed loan forgiveness and repayment assistance programs for law graduates. And it has opposed erosions of the fundamentally important attorney client privilege and work product doctrine.
Our most recent advocacy victory to protect the independence of the legal profession came not in Congress, but in the federal courts. Last December, the ABA and the New York State Bar Association, supported by more than 50 state and local bar associations, prevailed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit against the Federal Trade Commission’s mystifying effort to regulate practicing lawyers as “financial institutions” under the Gramm Leach Bliley Act of 1999.
We have helped preserve funding for the Legal Services Corp., and we must continue to advocate for greater resources to address the 70 percent to 80 percent of legal needs of lower-income Americans that go unmet year after year. In the 1980s, I co-founded Bar Leaders for Preservation of Legal Services for the Poor, an organization through which lawyers across the country successfully fought to preserve the LSC from elimination. We no longer face such a threat. But we do face and must combat the steady erosion of LSC resources. Those funds are required to meet growing civil legal needs that have increased in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters.
New issues arise every year, necessitating adjustments to our legislative priorities. In the coming months, the ABA will consider a range of new issues, including domestic spying on Americans and the implications of DNA-sample collection from those detained by federal authorities. As issues like these arise, ABA members from all sections, divisions, forums, committees and commissions will be called upon to help the association form appropriate policies and responses that our governmental affairs staff will then advocate.
The ABA’s policy positions and legislative successes have greatly benefited our society, but we have much more work to do. I encourage you to become active in the ABA’s Grassroots Action Team, which provides valuable opportunities for you to join forces with other lawyers throughout America in expressing your views on proposed legislation to members of Congress.
The voice of the ABA, and of our profession, is strengthened by each new member of the Grassroots Action Team. To join, visit http://capwiz.com/bar/home.
The ABA has among its members experts in every conceivable area of the law. To make informed legislative decisions, members of Congress must hear from you and from all of our 407,000 colleagues. Your contributions to our legislative advocacy process and to the debates on important issues are natural extensions of your commitment to the rule of law, and the pursuit of justice for all in America. I ask you to join our important efforts.