Congressional Justice Awards presented during ABA Day in Washington, DC
The American Bar Association’s annual lobbying event, ABA Day, is in full swing in Washington, D.C. Through Thursday, lawyers from across the nation will convene on Capitol Hill to speak to their members of Congress about issues most critical to the legal profession.
The dual focuses this year will be on the importance of veterans issues and of funding the Legal Services Corp., which President Donald Trump has proposed to eliminate. One piece of legislation in particular which the ABA will advocate for is H.R. 1993, the Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), the bill would “authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into partnerships with public and private entities to provide legal services to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness.” The goal would be to provide assistance to at-risk veterans with housing, family law and criminal defense issues, and to help them apply for appropriate benefits and income support.
On Tuesday night, the ABA handed out Congressional Justice Awards to four lawmakers at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Congressional Justice Award acknowledges “leadership on issues critically important to the legal profession.”
Recipients of the 2017 awards are:
• U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Sen. Hirono has sponsored and introduced bills to improve access to justice for unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings, and to reform the immigration system. She has also introduced legislation to improve gender equity in education and implement Title IX more effectively.
• U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.). Rep. Kennedy has been a strong supporter of legal aid, and established the U.S. House Access to Civil Justice Caucus. He has also been a supporter or equal rights, testifying in favor of his state’s transgender rights bill, and introducing the Fair Calculations in Civil Damages Act of 2016 (H.R.6417) to prohibit awarding damages based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or actual or perceived sexual orientation.
• U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama). Sen. Shelby has been a successful advocate for legal aid funding, increasing the Legal Service Corp.’s budget in 2015 and 2016 as a chair of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee. He also partnered with the ABA in 2013 to protect attorney-client privilege during the bank examination process.
• U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). Rep. Thornberry has been a leader in modernizing and improving military justice. In his position as chair of the Armed Services Committee, he achieved the first major reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 30 years.
Sen. Hirono and Rep. Kennedy attended the dinner, and both spoke of the importance of the ABA’s mission. “Individuals do make a difference, showing up is half the battle, and … it is necessary to get out of one’s comfort zone and take risks to achieve anything,” Sen. Hirono told the audience as reported by the ABA.
Rep. Kennedy spoke of his personal experience doing legal aid work in Boston, and how important it is to not allow the Legal Services Corp.’s funding to be eliminated.
“This would disenfranchise the already disenfranchised,” he warned.
Through the conclusion of the event, ABA state delegations will visit with their congressional representatives to deliver Legal Aid Defender cards in support of funding the Legal Services Corp., and to address concerns of the local legal professionals.
For updates on their efforts, follow @ABAGrassroots on Twitter.