President Biden knows that timely and affordable access to the legal system can make all the difference in a person’s life—including by keeping an individual out of poverty, keeping an individual in his or her home, helping an unaccompanied child seek asylum, helping someone fight a consumer scam, or ensuring that an individual charged with a crime can mount a strong defense. But low-income people have long struggled to secure quality access to the legal system. Those challenges have only increased during the public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, civil legal aid providers and public defenders have experienced unprecedented challenges in reaching people in greatest need of their services.
On May 18, 2021, President Biden issued a Memorandum directing the reinvigoration and expansion of the Federal government’s role in expanding access to justice. The Presidential Memorandum called for Attorney General Merrick Garland to submit a report to the President outlining the Department of Justice’s plan to expand its access to justice work. The Presidential Memorandum also re-established the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable—co-chaired by White House Counsel Dana Remus and Attorney General Merrick Garland—to convene federal agencies and identify ways to address some of the most pressing legal services challenges that we face today, including those posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing the release of both reports submitted pursuant to the Presidential Memorandum:
- Attorney General Garland released his Report to the President, which describes a phased strategic plan to restore and expand the emphasis on access to justice within the Department of Justice. As part of the strategic plan, Attorney General Garland today announced the restoration of a standalone Office for Access to Justice within the Department of Justice dedicated to improving the federal government’s understanding of and capacity to address the most urgent legal needs of communities across America.
- The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable released its report entitled Access to Justice in the Age of COVID-19, which examines the impact of the pandemic on access to various programs, initiatives, and services across federal government. The Report describes significant challenges faced during the pandemic, including in the areas of housing and evictions, healthcare, consumer protection, immigration, and criminal justice. The Report also describes key lessons learned, creative innovations in access to justice, and areas of continued collaboration for the Roundtable.
This is the Biden-Harris Administration’s latest action to protect vulnerable Americans, reform the justice system, and advance racial equity. On his first day in office, the President issued an executive order establishing a government-wide initiative to put equity at the heart of each agency’s priorities and management agenda. The Biden-Harris Administration has also taken concrete actions to reform the criminal justice system, including by prohibiting certain harmful practices in federal law enforcement and investing in community-based public strategies, stopping harmful prosecution practices, and supporting the reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals. Improving access to counsel, the courts, and federal programs builds on each of these efforts.