September 2007: Federal Bar Association 2007–2008 Issues Agenda

Washington Watch | September 2007
By Bruce Moyer

The Issues Agenda is the annual list of policy and legislative priorities to which the Federal Bar Association commits the attention and resources of its government relations program. The agenda is revised each year, addressing topical congressional and executive branch policy issues underlying the federal legal system and federal jurisprudence. Drafted by the Government Relations Committee with input from members, chapters, sections, and divisions, the Issues Agenda for 2007–2008—as reproduced below—was approved by the FBA Board of Directors at its July 21 meeting. The foremost change over the 2006–2007 agenda lies in the addition of FBA support for the restoration of criminal jurisdiction to Indian tribal courts, in accordance with federal, state, and tribal law, over non-Indian offenders in cases of domestic and family violence.

Legislative Issues To Be Actively Pursued
  • Support the federal judiciary consistent with and in implementation of resolutions previously adopted by the Federal Bar Association, including support for:

    • Adequate funding for the general and continuing operations of the federal courts, including an equitable level of rent and facilities expense consistent with actual costs, budgetary constraints, staffing needs, and security considerations, to permit the courts to fulfill their constitutional and statutory responsibilities;
    • Equitable compensation and regular periodic adjustments for the federal judiciary as well as senior officials of the Executive Branch and Members of Congress, to promote the recruitment and retention of the highest quality public servants;
    • Authorization and establishment of additional permanent and temporary federal judgeships, including bankruptcy judgeships, along with support personnel;
    • Full funding of courthouse construction proposed by the U.S. Judicial Conference; and
    • Adequate security measures to protect the federal judiciary, their families, and court personnel inside and outside the courthouse.
  • Support the professionalism and stature of attorneys employed by the federal government, including:
    • Enhancements to compensation packages, including pay and retirement benefits, to assist in recruitment and retention;
    • Elevation of the grade of Judge Advocate Generals for the Army, Navy, and Air Force from two to three stars to ensure that military commanders have the benefit of independent legal advice from experienced military counsel;
    • Expansion, consistent with applicable conflict of interest laws, of policies encouraging full participation in professional organizations and pro bono legal activities, including approval for use of administrative leave;
    • Enhanced federal funding for participation in continuing legal education and training programs, including paid tuition and administrative leave; and
    • Establishment of programs for student loan deferral and repayment assistance for all federal attorneys, including federal law clerks, federal defenders, and judge advocates of the Armed Forces, in support of recruitment and retention efforts.
  • Support efforts to advance fairness and consistency in federal sentencing, while preserving judicial independence and discretion to deal with the particular circumstances of individual cases.
  • Encourage and contribute to a discussion of the competing considerations in the nation’s war against terror between the protection of civil liberties and the interests of national security.
  • Support congressional funding to permit an increase in compensation rates for Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys, consistent with and in implementation of resolutions previously adopted by the FBA.
  • Support the administrative judiciary, through the establishment of an Administrative Law Judge Conference, responsible for the testing, selection, and appointment of federal administrative law judges, as well as appropriate action by the Congress and the Executive Branch to preserve in future statutes the uniformity of process and qualifications of presiding officers contemplated by the Administrative Procedure Act.
  • Support efforts to assure the continued use and independence of administrative law judges in the adjudication of Medicare benefit appeals. 
  • Support efforts by the Social Security Administration to take appropriate steps to ensure the security of its administrative law judges and all others who participate in its proceedings. 
  • Support the aims of the Indian Child Welfare Act to protect American Indian and Alaska Native families by recognizing the importance of tribal authority, culture, and tradition in decision-making for children subject to the Act.
  • Support the restoration of criminal jurisdiction to Indian tribal courts, in accordance with federal, state, and tribal law, over non-Indian offenders in cases of domestic and family violence.
  • Urge Congress to specify when military commissions may be used, what principles of law shall be applied to trial and sentencing by military commissions, and what rights shall be guaranteed to the accused.

Legislative Issues To Be Monitored

  • Support the federal judiciary consistent with and in implementation of resolutions previously adopted by the Federal Bar Association, including support for:
    • Development of strategies to reduce the time required to fill federal judicial vacancies; and
    • Expansion of and enhanced federal funding for continuing legal education and training programs for the federal judiciary.
  • Reaffirm the importance of the independence of the judiciary, recognizing that judicial decisions are not immune from scrutiny, but are to be made solely on the basis of the law.
  • Advocate strict scrutiny of legislation proposing to grant original jurisdiction to federal authorities over crimes traditionally reserved for state and local prosecution.
  • Oppose the division of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, consistent with its capacity to effectively and efficiently render justice. 
  • Encourage and contribute to a discussion of the competing considerations vis-à-vis proposed legislation that would authorize federal judges, in their discretion, to permit photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting, and televising of federal court proceedings in appropriate circumstances. 
  • Address proposals to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice and to make changes to the military justice system. 
  • Oppose proposed “user fees” in Social Security and SSI cases, consistent with and in implementation of resolutions previously adopted by the FBA. 
  • Address efforts by the Social Security Administration to reorganize its disability adjudication programs.
Bruce Moyer is government relations counsel for the FBA.
© 2007 Bruce Moyer. All rights reserved.

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