President's Message

ABA Day 2016 marks 20 years of advocacy and lobbying for justice on Capitol Hill

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Paulette Brown

Photo of ABA President Paulette Brown by Marc Hauser.

"Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent."

That simple truth voiced by Napoleon Bonaparte identifies the key to the success of ABA Day on Capitol Hill, when association members from all jurisdictions show up in force to visit the offices of their elected representatives and other lawmakers. This year, I hope you can join me for the 20th Annual ABA Day in Washington, D.C., April 19-21, and make some noise on important issues.

Led by former House of Delegates Chair Robert Carlson and organized by the ABA's Governmental Affairs Office, ABA Day gives members an opportunity to join together and educate Congress on issues vital to the justice system. ABA Day allows our members to hone their skills in the art of persuasion and to level the justice playing field for everyone.

Through our advocacy, the ABA has been able to make a difference in the funding for the Legal Services Corp. At ABA Day 2015, more than 400 bar association volunteer leaders from around the country lobbied for increased funding. Thanks to their efforts, Congress appropriated $10 million more over the previous year to the LSC. But it's not enough.

Current funding levels may not meet the demand of the growing population of 1 in 3 Americans eligible for LSC legal aid. It is imperative that those eligible for aid be able to receive it.

Through its advocacy efforts, the ABA can make a difference assisting Congress with criminal justice reform. We want to continue encouraging bipartisan efforts. The United States has the highest incarceration rate and largest prison population in the free world. The ABA's support for federal sentencing reform that could eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and expand alternatives to incarceration exemplifies the principles that make our association great.

ABA support for reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, as well as the Second Chance Act, represents concrete ways to eliminate barriers produced by the collateral consequences of conviction and to deal with racial disparities in the justice system. This legislation can help slow the school-to-prison pipeline, a problem that the ABA's Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, chaired by Leigh-Ann Buchanan, has been addressing and helped bring to light.

ABA Day also includes events recognizing members of Congress and grassroots advocates for their support of the legal profession and justice system. This year, Senators Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, will receive our Justice Awards for leadership on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and juvenile justice reform. Justice Awards will also be presented to Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., for introducing the Voting Rights Act and Second Chance Reauthorization Act, and Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, for support of equal rights and efforts to bring affordable housing to distressed communities of color.

Grassroots advocacy awards will be presented to Neal Sonnett of Miami for his years of service on issues concerning civil liberties and criminal justice reform, and to the Military Spouse JD Network, which has advocated for licensing accommodations for military spouse attorneys. A special Presidential Citation will be given to Wade Henderson of Washington, D.C., who for decades has been an ally and advocate for civil and human rights.

ABA Day is the ideal opportunity to leverage the power of our more than 400,000 members to make our justice system one that everyone believes is fair and available to them. The ABA does important work. We develop policies through our House of Delegates that improve the justice system and people's lives. ABA Day is our opportunity to persuade members of Congress to make those ideals live.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt once told a business delegation after a meeting, "Okay, you've convinced me. Now go out there and bring pressure on me."

I am looking forward to this April, when we all can demonstrate just how convincing we, as members of the ABA, can be applying that pressure to lawmakers to effectuate positive change. We can make a difference.

• Follow President Brown on Twitter @Brown4Lawyers.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Working Together Makes a Difference: ABA Day 2016 marks 20 years of advocacy and lobbying for justice on Capitol Hill."
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