Democrats Prepare for a New President Favorable to Justice Department Reform

December 22, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress are preparing legislation intended to capitalize on President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to reform the Justice Department.

The most recent examples are bills introduced last week in the House and Senate to reinstate the Justice Department’s Office of Access to Justice.

The Obama administration’s Justice Department established the Access to Justice program in 2010 to make civil claims and criminal defense more accessible to low income persons.

Its staff was supposed to ensure federal grants to help low-income persons were used appropriately at the state and local level. Often the effort meant helping low-income persons find representation through legal aid programs.

The Trump administration’s former Attorney General Jeff Sessions phased it out in 2018. A Justice Department statement explained Sessions’ reasoning by calling programs like the Office of Access to Justice “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”

He also said it was established administratively without appropriate permission from Congress. “That’s wrong and it’s not good government,” Sessions said.

The bills introduced last week leave no doubt that Democrats in Congress want the Office of Access to Justice reestablished.

“The Trump Administration shuttered this office and curtailed this important work,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “The Biden-Harris Administration must make this office a top agency priority.”

The bill would require the attorney general to raise equal access to the legal system for indigent populations to a higher priority, particularly in grantmaking decisions. Other provisions would expand the office’s authority to decide how to use its federal funds, particularly to assist crime victims and women stuck in abusive relationships.

“It’s clear that our justice system is too often weighted against those without adequate resources to navigate it,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in a statement. “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.”

Murphy introduced the Senate version of the same bill pending in the House.

Its supporters include the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy foundation.

The need for the program was revealed during the coronavirus pandemic as laid-off workers struggled unsuccessfully with debt collectors and landlords seeking to evict them, according to the Center for American Progress.

Others have been convicted of crimes as their desperation spills over into thefts or violence.

Providing them with legal assistance is “a critical goal that has only become more clear as Americans across the country have struggled to survive the Trump administration’s devastating mismanagement of the pandemic,” said Maggie Jo Buchanan, the Center for American Progress’ legal process director.

Biden is expected to announce his choice of an attorney general within days while he responds to calls in Congress to reform a Trump administration Justice Department accused of being overwhelmed with political partisanship.

Its efforts in recent days have included challenging the November election results in lawsuits and considering whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Biden’s son, Hunter. He is suspected of using his relationship with his father to advance his business interests with China and lying about his income on tax returns.

The president-elect’s statements so far indicate he would prefer an attorney general who favors programs like the Office of Access to Justice.

During his campaign, he responded to nationwide protests over racial injustice by pledging sweeping reforms.

He said he would end mandatory minimum criminal sentences and use of private prison contractors. He proposes $20 billion in incentives for states to reduce prison populations. Part of the money would fund mental health and substance abuse programs.

In The News

Health

Voting

Political News

Final Candidate List Released for Newsom Recall
In The States
Final Candidate List Released for Newsom Recall
July 25, 2021
by Dan McCue

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber has released the final list of 46 candidates who qualified for the upcoming gubernatorial recall election.  The recall election seeking to remove Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will take place on Sept. 14, 2021.  Among the candidates that qualified were nine... Read More

New Jersey Chief Justice Seeks Consensus Candidate for Redistricting Panel
Political News
New Jersey Chief Justice Seeks Consensus Candidate for Redistricting Panel
July 24, 2021
by Dan McCue

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has asked Democrats and Republicans to reconvene the state’s redistricting commission and come up with a consensus candidate to act as the tiebreaker in upcoming districting decisions. Rabner first made his desire for a consensus candidate known in... Read More

Runoff Election to Decide Texas' 6th CD Race Coming Tuesday
In The States
Runoff Election to Decide Texas' 6th CD Race Coming Tuesday
July 24, 2021
by Dan McCue

Voters in Texas’ 6th Congressional District will decide which Republican candidate will fill the vacancy left by Rep. Ronald Wright, R-Texas, who died of COVID-19 related complications on Feb. 7. On the ballot Tuesday are Susan Wright, the representative’s widow and a longtime player in GOP... Read More

Republicans Vow to Keep Raising Jan. 6 Questions, Despite Committee Quarrels
Political News
Republicans Vow to Keep Raising Jan. 6 Questions, Despite Committee Quarrels
July 23, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - As a select committee prepares to open its investigation Tuesday into the events leading up to and during the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill, a trio of House Republican wonder what might have been. Everyone expected some controversy when House Minority Leader Kevin... Read More

Ohio Utility Settles for $230 Million After Bribing State Officials
Justice
Ohio Utility Settles for $230 Million After Bribing State Officials
July 23, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

Electric utility company FirstEnergy Corp. agreed to settle a Justice Department complaint Thursday by paying $230 million to avoid a federal wire fraud conspiracy charge. Company officials admitted they conspired with former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder to pay millions of dollars to his political nonprofit... Read More

Iowa Democrat Finkenauer Seeking GOP Sen. Grassley's Seat
2022 Elections
Iowa Democrat Finkenauer Seeking GOP Sen. Grassley's Seat

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Democrat Abby Finkenauer, a former congresswoman, is running for Republican Chuck Grassley's U.S. Senate seat, hoping her blue-collar credentials will propel her forward in a state that has grown more conservative over the years. The 32-year-old former state lawmaker, who announced... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top