A Victory for Justice
Its hard to believe, but after more than a quarter century of proving its worth,
the Legal Services Corporation (LSC)the federal program that provides funding for
legal aid for the poorstill has to battle for survival. Like the old Western movies
where the cavalry rides to the rescue, LSC repeatedly has been harried to the edge of the
cliff but so far has been pulled from the abyss.
This years melodrama was no exception, with LSCs opponents focusing largely
on trumped-up charges of false case reporting. Those charges were put to rest by
development of the facts and presenting them to individual lawmakers.
These efforts were so successful that a bipartisan majority in Congress approved $300
million in level funding and then, at the Presidents insistence, boosted funding to
With more than 35 million Americans living in poverty, and another 10 million on the
brink of poverty, the reality is that the need for legal services has never been greater.
LSC provides a lifeline to individuals who otherwise would have no other place to go.
Examples include a 20-year-old battered wife and mother of three small children from
Alabama, who was able to obtain a protective order against her abusive husband; an ill,
elderly North Floridian, confined to a wheelchair, who faced foreclosure on her house
after she contracted with an unscrupulous home improvement company; or a West Virginia
woman who would have lost her Medicaid eligibility, which would have cost this
impoverished dialysis patient her life.
Lawyers across the country understood the importance of assuring that all Americans
have access to justice. In letters, phone calls and personal visits, lawyers focused
Congress on the "big picture," pointing out that while millions of clients are
being served, millions more must be turned away because of inadequate funding. To the
credit of Congress, when presented with the unvarnished truth, an overwhelming majority
was convinced of the merits of this program and the important role LSC plays in ensuring
access to justice for all Americans.
Support for LSC runs long and deep. For example, John Robb is a current ABA grass roots
advocate for the LSC. As a Republican lawyer, he headed the ABAs LSC Committee in
1967 and helped to create the LSC in 1974. In a recent interview, he told the Albuquerque
Journal of his work in those years:
"What was happening," he said, "was that the poor had too long been
denied access to the halls of justice. Were all part of the justice system.
Its not Republican, its not Democratits American. And any
civilization that operates under laws and expects everyone to observe them has to provide
access to the institutions that administer them."
"The proposition is so fundamental to our system," he added, "that it is
unimaginable to me that it would not continue."
Apparently a majority in Congress still agree with his assessment. Thanks to all of
them, millions of impoverished Americans continue to have access to a basic right of all