Biden looks to expand legal assistance for minorities, low-income Americans

Biden looks to expand legal assistance for minorities, low-income Americans
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President BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE signed an executive action on Tuesday aimed at improving access to civil legal aid and public defenders for minorities and those from low-income backgrounds, as part of the White House’s broader effort to advance racial justice in the United States.

Biden signed a presidential memorandum that directs Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandHouse Judiciary asks DOJ to disclose remaining gag orders The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Biden frustrates death penalty opponents with Supreme Court request MORE to submit a plan to expand the Justice Department’s access to justice work within 120 days, or four months, according to a White House fact sheet. 

The Justice Department established the Office for Access to Justice in 2010 during the Obama administration to make the justice system more fair and legal representation more accessible to those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The office was shuttered under the Trump administration by then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos Garland strikes down Trump-era asylum decisions MORE in 2018. Tuesday’s memo seeks to revive its work.


Biden is also reestablishing the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, a panel of agency leaders first convened by former President Obama in 2015 that aimed to increase access to legal assistance through better coordination of the federal government.

The roundtable will be co-chaired by Garland and White House counsel Dana RemusDana RemusBiden looks to expand legal assistance for minorities, low-income Americans Biden set to flex clemency powers Overnight Energy: Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process| EPA official directs agency to ramp up enforcement in overburdened communities | Meet Flint prosecutor Kym Worthy MORE and will include about two-dozen agency heads from across government, including the secretaries of State, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor and Health and Human Services.

The White House said in the fact sheet issued Tuesday morning that low-income Americans have “long struggled to secure quality access to the legal system” and that the coronavirus pandemic and related economic recession have exacerbated that problem. 

“The federal government has a critical role to play in expanding access to the nation’s legal system and supporting the work of civil legal aid providers and public defenders,” the White House said. “President Biden’s executive action today will reinvigorate the federal government’s role in advancing access to justice, and help ensure that the Administration’s policies and recovery efforts can reach as many individuals as possible.”

The action represents the latest effort by the White House to reform the justice system with an eye toward addressing racial injustices and economic inequality.


Garland has also opened investigations into police practices at the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments and rescinded a memo issued by Sessions that restricted the use of consent decrees to reform police departments.

Meanwhile, bipartisan lawmakers on Capitol Hill are currently negotiating a potential police reform bill in the wake of the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, among other charges, in the death of of George Floyd.

Biden has called for a measure to be passed by May 25, the anniversary of Floyd’s death. 

Updated at 3:36 p.m.