Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) announced the introduction of the Office for Access to Justice Establishment Act of 2020, bicameral legislation to re-establish the Office for Access to Justice within the Department of Justice. The Office for Access to Justice was closed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018.
The Office for Access to Justice would promote fair and just outcomes in the justice system that are accessible to all, irrespective of wealth or status. Under this new legislation, the Office for Access to Justice would both promote criminal defense and support the use of civil legal aid. The bill formally authorizes the already-existing Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to promote civil legal aid and defense, to improve coordination and promote federal programs that support vulnerable populations, and to develop recommendations for federal funded programs and policies that will improve access to justice.
“The Office for Access to Justice was built on the principles of creating a fairer and more just criminal justice system by ensuring those most in need had the same access to legal aid as everyone else,” said Chairman Nadler. “The Trump Administration shuttered this office and curtailed this important work. I am proud to introduce this legislation to reestablish this office within the Department of Justice and to restore efforts to ensure everyone has equal access to representation. This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of organizations from across the political spectrum. The Biden-Harris Administration must make this office a top agency priority.”
“2020 has shown us just how deep systemic racism runs across all our institutions, especially in our justice system, and it’s critical we do more to address it. That’s exactly why I’m teaming up with Chairman Nadler to introduce legislation that would reestablish the Office for Access to Justice at the DOJ that the Trump administration shuttered, and authorize the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to promote civil legal aid and litigant defense. It’s clear that our justice system is too often weighted against those without adequate resources to navigate it, which is why we must improve legal resources for all Americans—regardless of their socioeconomic background,” said Senator Murphy.
Under this legislation, the Office for Access to Justice would:
- Provide legal and policy advice to the Attorney General on the issue of ensuring access to justice for low-income and other under-represented groups in the civil and criminal justice system.
- Serve as the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable.
- Coordinate with other divisions of DOJ to ensure each is properly considering issues of access to justice, including on grant and funding decisions.
- Consult with the Secretary of State and serving as the authority on access to justice before international and multilateral organizations.
The Office for Access to Justice Establishment Act of 2020 is endorsed by more than 40 access to justice organizations from across the country, including, the Center for American Progress, R Street Institute, Fair and Just Prosecution, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Human Rights Watch, Juvenile Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, and Christian Legal Society.
The full bill text is available here.
A section-by-section is available here.