Representative Joe Kennedy (Massachusetts-4th) will receive the American Bar Association (ABA) Justice Award for his work in Congress to ensure access to justice. He will receive the honor during the ABA Awards Dinner at the Women’s Museum in Washington on April 25th.
Congressman Kennedy was nominated for the award by the Boston Bar Association (BBA) and the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) in recognition of his strong advocacy and support for the civil justice system and his efforts to eliminate discrimination.
At the federal level, Kennedy has been a leading advocate for adequate appropriations to the Legal Services Corporation, to help meet the tremendous unmet need for legal representation of the indigent across the nation. According to BBA’s Investing In Justice report, 64% of qualified applicants must be turned away by legal-services providers in Massachusetts for lack of funding, and Rep. Kennedy regularly cites both that figure and the corresponding national estimate of 80%.
“In addition to being one of the leading voices on Capitol Hill for access to justice, Rep. Kennedy has also been outspoken on the elimination of discrimination,” said BBA President Carol Starkey of Conn Kavanaugh. “The background, the commitment, and the passion that Rep. Kennedy brings to these vitally important issues make him especially suited for the ABA’s Justice Award.”
“From his work as a volunteer legal aid attorney to his nationwide advocacy for legal aid support, Congressman Kennedy has been a champion for the people in our communities who need it most,” said MBA President Jeffrey N. Catalano. “We are incredibly proud to see such a distinguished son of Massachusetts recognized by the ABA for his inspiring leadership and commitment to equal justice for all.”
Rep. Kennedy established the first-ever Congressional Access to Legal Services Caucus, under the bipartisan leadership of himself and his co-chair, Rep. Susan Brooks (Indiana-5th). Speaking at the White House this past spring, he told an audience of administration officials, state Supreme Court justices, civil legal aid advocates and Fortune 500 leaders, “Our justice system – both civil and criminal – is our nation’s ultimate equalizer where money and power should hold no influence. But for our most vulnerable citizens, lack of access to civil legal aid has denied true access to the laws intended to guarantee them justice. That’s why it’s time to reverse the trend of dangerous cuts to legal aid programs and make good on the promise of equal justice under the law.”
He also introduced the Do No Harm Act to help restore the delicate balance between religious liberty and equal protection. In an opinion piece on the Huffington Post co-authored with a House colleague, he wrote: “As men of faith, the ability to freely and fully exercise sincerely-held religious beliefs in this country is a liberty we cherish. But there is a difference between exercising religious beliefs and imposing them on others. Our Constitution fiercely protects the former and expressly prohibits the latter. The Do No Harm Act reestablishes that fundamental distinction and confirms what generations of civic history, constitutional law and American experience have proved true: if civil and legal rights exist only in the absence of a neighbor’s religious objection, then they are not rights but empty promises.”
In addition to Congressman Kennedy, the ABA will also honor Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX).