From Issue Spot: Our Policy Agenda Reflects Our Range

Monday, September 17, 2012

It should come as no surprise that a one-size fits all approach to policy and advocacy doesn’t work for the BBA. The universe of issues on which the BBA could take a public position is limitless. In some ways, these issues exist on a continuum as illustrated below (click on the image to enlarge it). As issues move along that scale from technical to policy to political, the Council’s role increases.

Our ability to be a leader on things that are timely, important and that resonate with our membership requires a process that is both flexible and practical. The primary consideration for determining whether or not the BBA will speak is how central the issue is to the three main tenets of our mission: access to justice, the administration of justice, and improving the quality of Massachusetts’ laws. The BBA is vocal on those issues that are central to our mission and more inclined to reserve judgment on issues that don’t clearly affect the practice of law or the legal profession.

When the BBA does speak, the organization speaks on behalf of its more than 10,000 members unless explicitly stating otherwise. The manner in which we make our position known varies. We file amicus curiae briefs with the courts (see our amicus history), testify at public hearings on legislative issues, provide technical comments on proposed court rules, participate in official legislative task forces (see alimony), and meet with and write letters to key policy makers (see our NDAA letter to President Obama).

The BBA’s Council agenda for September reflects the breadth of issues the BBA considers at any given time. Here’s a look at three items that are taking distinctly different internal paths at the BBA.

Section Comments on Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines

As we noted last week, the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines are undergoing a federally mandated quadrennial review. These Guidelines clearly affect the quality of our laws and the practice of law. These Guidelines and any changes to them is practice specific, directly affecting family law attorneys and their clients. Therefore, the BBA relies on the expertise of its Family Law Section and its Delivery of Legal Services Section (which is composed of many civil legal aid providers with experience in Probate and Family Court matters) to spearhead the BBA’s response. The Family Law Section solicited input from its membership and drafted comments and suggestions to be submitted to the Court. Though the comments still need to be reviewed by the BBA Council, the heavy lifting is done by our members at the section level.

Update on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Back in August, the BBA filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case urging the Supreme Court to uphold race-conscious admission criteria. This issue originated in the BBA’s Diversity & Inclusion Section. Because of the BBA’s longstanding position that race-conscious admissions policies are vital to integrating the legal profession, we felt compelled to weigh in. The BBA’s Amicus Committee and a small group consisting of BBA Council members worked under an accelerated timeline to draft, recruit signatories and file the brief. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case on October 10th.

Massachusetts Drug Lab

Last month news broke about egregious breaches in protocol at the Massachusetts drug lab, jeopardizing thousands of state and federal cases. The problems uncovered at the state lab clearly affect the administration of justice. This is so closely tied to our work in sentencing reform and touches on principles the BBA formulated in its Getting it Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts. The BBA’s Council will determine if – and when – the BBA should develop a public policy position regarding the issues raised by the breaches.

 

- Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

 

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