Seeking Support for Core Issues
“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve,” George Bernard Shaw observed. And the legal profession deserves a government that is responsive to our core issues. While the ABA’s governmental advocacy is year-round, it is especially energized by bar leaders who mobilize during ABA Day in Washington every April.
The ABA advocates on behalf of all policies adopted by our House of Delegates, but most efforts focus on 10 federal governmental priorities based on factors such as breadth and strength of ABA interest, importance to the practice of law, timeliness and potential for impact.
This year, one of our long-standing priorities—support for adequate funding of the Legal Services Corp.—is all the more critical during these challenging economic times, when Americans need legal help with housing, employment, finances and other issues. And a new lobbying priority supports measures to give unemployed and underemployed lawyers options to ease their educational loan payments.
The ABA’s federal governmental priorities for 2010, with some brief examples of specific provisions, are:
• Access to Legal Services. The ABA supports a strong, well-financed Legal Services Corp. to provide civil legal services for the poor, and it calls for reinstatement of the tax-preferred status of group legal services benefits.
• Anti-Terrorism and Preservation of Civil Liberties. ABA policy calls for terrorism detainees charged with criminal law violations to be prosecuted in Article III courts unless the attorney general certifies this is not possible. Prosecution should then occur in other regularly constituted courts consistent with due process, international law and military law.
• Criminal Justice System Improvements and Protection of Rights. The ABA supports elimination of sentencing disparities for cocaine offenses and strengthened federal habeas review of state criminal convictions. The association also urges reauthorization of a strengthened Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
• Health Care Law. The ABA opposes federal legislation to pre-empt state medical liability laws and to require patients injured by malpractice to use health courts and other venues that deny the right to trial by jury or full compensation for negligence-based injuries.
• Immigration. The ABA supports legal immigration based on family reunification and employment skills, due process safeguards in immigration and asylum adjudications, and judicial review of such decisions.
• Independence of the Judiciary. The ABA recommends that senators appoint diverse, bipartisan judicial nominating advisory commissions and calls for pre-nomination consultation between the president and Senate. The ABA supports enactment of a substantial judicial pay increase and the prompt filling of judicial vacancies.
• Independence of the Legal Profession. The ABA believes that primary oversight of the legal profession should continue to be vested in the court of highest appellate authority of the state in which the attorney is licensed. The ABA opposes policies that would interfere with the confidential attorney-client relationship, including bankruptcy law provisions that impose new liability and regulations on bankruptcy debtor attorneys, unnecessary federal regulation of the legal profession such as the FTC “red flags rule,” and federal agency policies that pressure companies under investigation to waive attorney-client privilege and work product protections.
• Legal Remedies to Eliminate Discrimination. The ABA endorses legal remedies to eliminate or prevent discrimination based on race or ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, or disability. The ABA also supports full federal funding for the Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program to help disadvantaged students obtain a legal education.
• Promoting International Rule of Law. The ABA sup ports funding domestic and international agencies that promote the rule of law, advocates passage of the International Violence Against Women Act, and urges U.S. adoption of international treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
• Responding to the Economic Crisis. The ABA urges Congress, the executive branch and commercial lenders to help students and recent graduates experiencing financial hardship due to deferred or lack of employment by converting private educational debt into more flexible federal loans. The ABA also calls on the use of federal funding to permit students to defer payments or shift to an income-based system for graduates who defer loans during the period of economic hardship.
The ABA’s governmental advocacy is headed by the Standing Committee on Governmental Affairs, which is chaired by Bill Robinson, and our Governmental Affairs Office in Washington. We need your help as well. Please add your voice to our collective voice for the profession by signing up for our grassroots advocacy efforts at abanet.org/poladv.