President Joe Biden on Tuesday directed the U.S. attorney general to submit a plan within four months to expand the Department of Justice’s access to justice work.

The President also announced that he and Vice President Kamala Harris would reestablish the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to prioritize civil legal aid and expand access to federal programs.

The directives are part of the administration’s efforts to expand access to legal representation and the courts.

“As President Biden knows from his experience as a public defender, 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 and receive a fair trial,” White House officials said. “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 been under-resourced, understaffed, and unable to reach some of the people in greatest need of their services,” the White House said.

During the prior administration, the Justice Department’s access to justice work, formally launched as an initiative in 2010, was effectively shuttered.

To restore the department’s leadership in this area, Biden is directing Attorney General Merrick Garland to submit a report to the president within 120 days that outlines the department’s plan to expand its access to justice work, according to a memorandum.

The administration also said it is re-committing to the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable mission, which was initially established in 2015 to raise federal agencies’ awareness of how civil legal aid could increase employment, family stability, housing security, consumer protection, and public safety.

According to a White House-issued fact sheet, the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable will be co-chaired by the attorney general and the Counsel to the President or their designees.

“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,” administration officials 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 memorandum is the administration’s latest action to protect vulnerable Americans, reform the justice system, and advance racial equity, the White House said.

On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order establishing a government-wide initiative to put equity at the heart of each agency’s priorities and management plan, the administration said.

“His discretionary budget request called for $1.5 billion in funding for grants to strengthen state and local criminal justice systems, including by investing in public defenders. Improving access to counsel in civil and criminal proceedings builds on each of these efforts,” the White House said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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