Legal Services Corporation offices at 3333 K Street, N.W. in Washington, D.C. March 18, 2015. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL. (Diego M. Radzinschi)
The Legal Services Corp., created in 1974 under the signature of President Richard Nixon, is once again on the chopping block as another Republican president—Donald Trump— proposes to zero out its funding in his first budget. The group’s 2017 budget request was $502 million.
The largest single funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans, the LSC has been a budget-cutting target of Republican administrations and members of Congress almost since its inception. The organization faced perhaps its greatest crisis in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan and his supporters attempted to disband the agency. The Reagan administration viewed LSC lawyers as misusing government funds to advance a liberal agenda through test cases filed as class actions in welfare, immigration, abortion and other areas.
After an all-out effort by the organized bar and others to save the LSC, Congress in 1982 rejected the Reagan attack, and instead imposed budget cuts that forced the layoffs of nearly 1,800 lawyers.
Now more than 30 years later, a battle for its survival is likely to begin again.
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Linda Klein, president of the American Bar Association:
The American Bar Association is outraged that the administration proposes to eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation in its budget and calls on every member of Congress to restore full funding. LSC provides civil legal aid to people who desperately need help to navigate the legal process. Without this assistance, courthouse doors will slam in the faces of millions of Americans, denying them equal access to justice.
Some of the worthy services the LSC provides include securing housing for veterans, protecting seniors from scams, delivering legal services to rural areas, protecting victims of domestic abuse and helping disaster survivors. Their offices are in every congressional district and they help almost 1.9 million people annually.
More than 30 cost-benefit studies all show that legal aid delivers far more in benefits than it costs. If veterans become homeless, or disaster victims cannot rebuild, their costs to society are significantly more.
LSC has had bipartisan support in Congress since its inception in 1974 because it embodies the principles that for two centuries have defined us as Americans—fairness and equal access to justice. These principles should be for all people regardless of economic status. As the budget process proceeds, the ABA will be working to ensure that Congress provides adequate funding for LSC. It is cost-effective, beneficial to millions of Americans and the right thing to do for our country.
James Sandman, president of LSC:
I look forward to working with Congress to continue LSC’s work. I am optimistic that the bipartisan support we have enjoyed in Congress for more than four decades will continue for years to come.
John Levi, chairman of the LSC board:
The Legal Services Corporation is as American as apple pie. We promote what Thomas Jefferson described as “the most sacred of the duties of government,” which is “to provide equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.” And we do it at a cost that amounts to less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget.
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