The Trump Administration sent its Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal to Congress on May 23rd. The proposal calls for the defunding of the Legal Services Corporation (the current appropriation of which amounts to one ten-thousandth of total federal spending). Granted, presidential budget proposals are opening gambits in the budget negotiation process, and as such reach toward the extremes. From there, as the actual business of producing a budget gets done the numbers, in normal times and circumstances, tend to settle more reasonably.
But at this time and in these unique political circumstances I remain alarmed that the president proposes destroying a program that works so well, and so efficiently, in making sure Americans can access their own justice system.
The president’s LSC-defunding proposal is completely at odds with well-informed views from just about every corner of the legal community. Here’s a sampling – including elected Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals and moderates – of those standing up for LSC. In their own words, they explain how important LSC’s work is to:
- serving our country’s veterans, elders and families by giving them a fair shake in the courts
- making sure the court systems are unclogged and running smoothly
- partnering with the private sector to ensure that non-government support and attorney volunteerism are part of the solution.
LSC Transcends Partisanship Because It Works.
Is LSC worth the 1/10,000th of federal spending that is devoted to it today? Is there a return on this investment of our tax dollars? Good questions, both. The answer, coming from those best positioned to know, is an emphatic “yes.”
- The members of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and its sister entity, the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), are responsible to make the courts work efficiently. CCJ/COSCA wrote jointly in February: “[T]he elimination…of the LSC’s appropriation would have tragic consequences. The LSC enables thousands of citizens to obtain…legal services in matters involving basic human needs….” Further, “Our research makes clear that the large number of unrepresented citizens overwhelming the nation’s courts has negative consequences not only for them but also for the courts.”
- One CCJ member, Texas Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, has been a tireless advocate for LSC: “Justice for only those who can afford it is neither justice for all nor justice at all.”
- A letter from 41 sitting U.S. Senators, including Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Pennsylvania Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. urges colleagues to “…include robust funding for the Legal Services Corporation” in 2018 budgeting. It continues, “research shows that legal aid is a good investment of taxpayer dollars, as it reduces clients’ reliance on other types of governmental aid and enhances their ability to participate in the marketplace.”
- 185 corporate general counsel, from FedEx, Comcast, GM, 3M, and many others from a broad cross-section of American industries, highlighted LSC as a public-private partnership: LSC “supports the countless hours of pro bono representation provided by corporate legal departments…. Without [LSC] many of these volunteer hours would not be possible.”
- 32 State/Territorial Attorneys General, including those from Alaska, Idaho, and Montana, along with PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro, wrote “in united, bipartisan opposition to the…proposal to eliminate” all LSC funding. (One of those AG’s is from Samoa – Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale – and I’m not missing this first-ever opportunity to link to the Samoa News website. #bucketlist)
- Keystone Stater Dick Thornburgh gets his own bullet point. The former PA governor and U.S. attorney general wrote in March: “I am calling upon members of Congress from Pennsylvania to ensure that the LSC continues to provide critical support to legal aid programs in this state and throughout the United States…. The families who benefit from legal aid are our neighbors. They are our co-workers and our relatives…. Fairness in the justice system should not depend on how much money a person has.”
- Add to this laundry list…
- The heads of more than 150 large law firms (including PA-based Blank Rome, Dechert, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, and Reed Smith). They highlight that LSC provides “vital civil legal aid to…homeless veterans [and natural] disaster victims,” and also that their law firms’ “ability to provide pro bono legal services is directly dependent on partnership with legal aid organizations.” [Emphasis in original.]
- The deans of 166 American law schools, including from schools thought of as ideologically conservative.
- And here are 25 deans of Catholic law schools writing separately, and eloquently: “Each one of us could share stories of how LSC-funded organizations in our communities have changed lives for the better, not by government handout, but by equipping a trained advocate to come alongside those whose interests are too frequently disregarded and act as … their counselor, and their champion. The LSC’s work provides a daily reminder of government’s capacity to affirm the dignity and worth of every American. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia stated…the LSC “pursues the most fundamental of American ideals,” for “without access to quality representation there is no justice.”
- Finally, local and state bar associations throughout the country – including, I’m proud to note, the Pennsylvania Bar Association – and the American Bar Association.