Biden moving to improve legal services for poor, minorities
President Joe Biden plans to take executive action Tuesday to ensure minorities, low-income Americans and others have better access to quality legal representation after services dwindled during the Trump administration.
Biden will sign a memorandum directing the Department of Justice to restore key functions of the shuttered Access to Justice Office and to reestablish the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable.
The plans are laid out in a presidential memo first shared with The Associated Press. The White House said that Biden was directing the roundtable to examine the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on access to justice in both civil and criminal matters.
The pandemic “has further exposed and exacerbated inequities in our justice system” as legal services were curtailed, Biden wrote. He added that the problems “have touched the lives of many persons in this country, particularly low-income people and people of color.”
Tuesday’s memo is Biden’s latest step to work toward reforming the criminal justice system and advancing racial equity. It comes almost a year after the death of George Floyd sparked global protests and demands for action to address structural racism.
It builds on an executive order Biden signed on his first day in office establishing an initiative to prioritize equity in government operations. His proposed budget seeks $1.5 billion to strengthen state and local criminal justice systems, including public defenders. White House officials said the latest step will build on those efforts.
Civil rights organizations and leaders have been pressing the Biden administration to reestablish the Access to Justice Office and its work. The memo doesn’t explicitly reopen the office but requires Attorney General Merrick Garland to submit a plan within 120 days to expand work on access to justice.
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