Tag Archives: president obama

NDAA Dangers Still Loom

In December, BBA President Lisa Goodheart urged President Obama to veto the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA) because it was a radical departure from the rule of law established in the United States.  In particular, the detention principles in the bill pose serious threats to fundamental constitutional principles protecting individual civil rights and civil liberties.  Ultimately, President Obama signed the NDAA into law stating “I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”  In a recent panel on the NDAA at the BBA, one expert described the bill as “the most alarming new law never heard of by most Americans.”  Here’s why.

Sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA allow for the indefinite detention of terror suspects – including American citizens arrested domestically – without a trial or charge.  The authority granted to the federal government by Sections 1021 and 1022 is clearly contrary to the principles of access to justice and civil rights that has served our country from its founding.  It also authorizes the military to make such detentions, holding U.S. citizens in military custody or prosecuting them in military tribunals.  This circumvents the U.S. Justice Department and avoids the federal court system which has successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorism-related cases – including several here in Massachusetts.

Another troubling part of the bill is Section 1028.  This Section places undue roadblocks in the way for Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared of wrongdoing and are trying to be transferred to foreign countries willing to accept them.  There are more than 170 men left in Guantanamo Bay – 89 have been cleared of wrongdoing and could be transferred immediately.  Section 1028 requires certain additional certifications and compliance in the use of funds to transfer detainees that only prolong the unjust detention of individuals found innocent of alleged crimes against the United States.

So where are we now?  The NDAA went into effect on March 1st.  In late February, President Obama issued Presidential Policy Directive 14 which sets out procedures for implementing Section 1022 of the NDAA.  Directive 14 contains a broad set of waivers that could be understood to mitigate the controversial Executive powers granted by the NDAA.   However, it is not a permanent solution.  Just because this President vows to not abuse the powers vested in the Executive by the NDAA, it does not eliminate the possibility of the next President – be it next January or 4 years from now – interpreting the NDAA differently.

The NDAA threatens our American ideals of civil rights.  Every time our rights are changed, our enemies win another victory.  Although the President has expressed his discomfort with the NDAA and issued Directive 14, this affront on our adherence to the rule of law is unacceptable and must be reversed.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Legal Services Corporation Seeking More Federal Funds

On Monday, President Obama released his budget for Fiscal Year 2013.  The $3.8 trillion budget included $402 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) – which is a 15% increase over LSC’s current budget of $348 million.  While any increase can be viewed as good news, President Obama’s plan provides $68 million less than the LSC budget request of $470 million for FY 2013.  As we’ve written about before in Issue Spot, Massachusetts has four LSC-funded programs: the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Justice Project, Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services and the New Center for Legal Advocacy.  These programs provide essential services to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

LSC funding was approximately $404 million in FY 2011 before falling to $348 million last year.  According to the LSC press release sent out on Monday, that drop has resulted in attorney layoffs at legal services programs across the country and the closure or projected closure of 18% of LSC-funded programs.

How is the BBA helping?  As part of our commitment to LSC, we participate in a grassroots legislative advocacy effort coordinated by the American Bar Association (ABA).  We’ve been doing this since 2002 when the BBA Council voted to join the ABA in advocating on behalf of civil legal services provided through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding.

When the ABA approached the BBA to get involved, Senator Edward Kennedy – a leading advocate for the creation of LSC back in the 1970’s – and Senator John Kerry were already very involved in this issue.  The ABA hoped to get enough support in the Senate to help build a broad based coalition in the House during the final budget deliberation.  Since then, the BBA has joined with the ABA and other bar leaders in lobbying efforts for LSC funding every year.  In April, we will travel to Washington D.C. again to take part in ABA Day.  We will spend time with our congressional delegation discussing the importance of civil legal aid.

In most cases, we will be thanking our delegation for their continued support of legal services and describe the current state of civil legal services in Massachusetts.  We’ll also ask them to make funding for LSC a priority and discuss it with their colleagues who may not hold support for civil legal aid in the same regard.  Being from Massachusetts, we’re often told how different our experience is from our bar colleagues in other parts of the United States.  There isn’t always a shared appreciation between the bar and members of Congress for the need for funding for civil legal services.  Even though the BBA’s job may be comparatively easier, it’s just as critical that we are there in person delivering the important message to our delegation.  This year we will ask our delegation to support a 35% increase to bring LSC funding to the requested level of $470 million.

-Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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