October/November 2015: FBA Issues Agenda for 2016

Washington Watch | October/November 2015
By Bruce Moyer

The issues agenda represents the blueprint for the Federal Bar Association’s government relations and advocacy efforts. It is a prioritized list of legal and public policy issues that are of significant interest and concern to the FBA because of their impact on the federal legal system and their relationship to federal jurisprudence.

The FBA Government Relations Committee (GRC) is responsible for oversight and coordination of the issues agenda and related FBA advocacy efforts. It designates issues as either active or monitored. Active issues are subject to active and ongoing attention by the FBA. Monitored issues are not subject to active attention but continue to remain monitored in the event of renewed attention.

Drafted by the GRC with input from members, chapters, sections, and divisions, the issues agenda for 2016 was approved by the FBA Board of Directors at its July 10, 2015, meeting.

Active Legislative Issues
Independence of the Federal Judiciary. FBA reaffirms 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.
Funding for the Federal Courts. FBA supports 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.
Federal Judgeships and Caseloads. FBA supports the authorization and establishment of additional permanent and temporary federal judgeships, including bankruptcy judgeships, along with support personnel, as proposed by the Judicial Conference of the United States, when rising caseloads in the federal courts threaten the prompt delivery of justice. FBA also supports efforts to educate Congress, the legal profession, and the general public about how the overwhelming caseloads threaten the ability of the third branch of the federal government to function.
Federal Judicial Vacancies. FBA calls upon the president and Congress to act promptly and responsibly in nominating and confirming nominees to the federal appellate and district courts. FBA supports the development of strategies to reduce the time required to fill federal judicial vacancies.
Courthouse Security. FBA supports the adoption of adequate security measures to protect the federal judiciary, their families, and court personnel in and outside the courthouse, while preserving meaningful public access to judicial proceedings.

Federal Judicial Pay. FBA support 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.
Respect for the Federal Courts. Declining public confidence in our courts undermines public respect for the courts and the legitimacy of their rulings. To counter that influence, FBA supports programming and other efforts to educate the public about the federal courts and the role they serve in assuring a just society.

Professionalism and Stature of Federal Attorneys. FBA supports and promotes efforts to improve the professionalism and stature of attorneys employed by the federal government, including: enhancements to the compensation packages of federal attorneys, including pay and retirement benefits, to assist in recruitment and retention; the expansion, consistent with applicable conflict of interest laws, of policies encouraging full participation of attorneys employed by the federal government 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 the 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.

Social Security Disability Appeals Backlog. FBA supports adequate funding and resources for the Social Security Administration to remove the significant backlog of disability benefit appeals awaiting adjudication and to ensure the fair and timely administration of justice for all appellants.
Authority of Bankruptcy Judges in “Core Proceedings.” FBA supports amending bankruptcy law to expressly allow bankruptcy judges to issue proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law in core proceedings in which they are otherwise barred from entering final judgments under Article III of the U.S. Constitution.

Commission on Nazi-Confiscated Art Claims. FBA supports the congressional creation of a commission to address identification and ownership issues related to Nazi-confiscated artworks, pursuant to the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, as signed by the United States and the international community.

Article I Immigration Court. FBA supports the transfer of responsibilities for the adjudication of immigration claims from the Executive Office of Immigration Review within the Department of Justice to a specialized Article I court, as established by Congress, for the adjudication of claims under the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

Federal Criminal Sentencing. FBA supports efforts to advance fairness and consistency in federal sentencing, while preserving judicial independence and discretion to deal with the particular circumstances of individual cases.
Military Spouse Attorney Mobility. FBA supports state-level legal licensing accommodations, including bar admission without additional examination, for attorneys who are spouses of service members, i.e., members of the uniformed services of the United States as defined in 10 USC § 101(a)(5), when: (1) those “military spouse attorneys” are present in a particular state, commonwealth, or territory of the United States or District of Columbia due to their service members’ military assignment; (2) they are graduates of accredited law schools; and (3) they are licensed attorneys in good standing in the bar of another state, commonwealth, or territory of the United States or District of Columbia.

Patent Litigation Reform. FBA supports legislation that curbs abusive patent litigation practices and other responsible measures to improve the quality and clarity of patents. The FBA opposes legislation that reduces judicial discretion in adjudicating patent actions or circumvents the Rules Enabling Act by mandating changes that depart from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in patent cases.

Monitored Legislative Issues
Courthouse Construction. FBA supports the full funding of courthouse construction proposed by the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Cameras in the Courts. FBA encourages a discussion of the competing considerations vis-a-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.

Division of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. FBA opposes the division of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, consistent with its capacity to effectively and efficiently render justice. Continuing Legal Education Funding for the Federal Judiciary. FBA supports the expansion and enhancement of federal funding for continuing legal education and training programs for the federal judiciary.

Expansion of Federal Jurisdiction Over State and Local-Prosecuted Crimes. FBA advocates strict scrutiny of legislation proposing to grant original jurisdiction to federal authorities over crimes traditionally reserved to state and local prosecution.

Criminal Justice Act Panel Attorney Compensation. FBA supports congressional funding to permit an increase in compensation rates for Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys. National Security and Civil Liberties. FBA encourages the discussion of the competing considerations in the nation’s war against terror between the protection of civil liberties and the interests of national security.

Prevention of Epidemics and Civil Liberties. FBA encourages and contributes to a discussion of the competing considerations between governmental restrictions to guard against epidemics and pandemics and the preservation of individual rights, as well as the use of technology to ensure the continuance of participatory governance.

Safety of Administrative Judges. FBA supports the efforts by the Social Security Administration and the Executive Office of Immigration Review to take appropriate steps to ensure the security of their administrative law judges, immigration judges, and all others who participate in its proceedings.

Veteran Disability Claims Adjudication. FBA supports legislative and administrative improvements to the veterans disability claims process in the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure equitable and expeditious determinations. Attorney Fee-Based Representation of Veterans. FBA supports proposals to expand the availability of fee-based representation of veterans in the disability claims process and to oppose any efforts to repeal the authority of attorney representation to veterans in the furtherance of such claims.

Frivolous Litigation. FBA opposes legislative proposals to eliminate judicial discretion in the imposition of sanctions for frivolous litigation, including proposals to revise Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by imposing mandatory sanctions and preventing a party from withdrawing challenged pleadings on a voluntary basis within a reasonable time.

Bruce Moyer is government relations counsel for the FBA. © 2015 Bruce Moyer. All rights reserved.

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