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A Victory for Justice

A Victory for Justice

By William G. Paul
American Bar Association


It’s 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 poor—still 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 year’s melodrama was no exception, with LSC’s 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 President’s insistence, boosted funding to $305 million.

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.

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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 ABA’s 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. We’re all part of the justice system. It’s not Republican, it’s not Democrat—it’s 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 Americans—justice.