Access to Justice

I know a lot of programs are on the chopping block in Trump’s proposed budget; and I know that each one of those programs is vital to our ongoing existence as an educated, safe and healthy citizenry.  But I’m going to take a break from our regularly scheduled program of trying to figure out what the H-E-double hockey sticks is happening to our system of government to talk about one particular such program:  civil legal services. The budget Trump released last week calls for defunding the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) entirely.

First, some history. LSC was created in 1974 with broad bipartisan congressional sponsorship and was signed into law by President Nixon. The purpose of the new corporation was to insure that low-income Americans would have access to what the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the mighty Pledge of Allegiance promise: “justice for all.” For more on the history of LSC, check out this piece from Mother Jones last month, “The GOP Plot to Destroy Legal Aid,” available at

I’ll let the LSC press release take it from here:

“LSC works to ensure that low-income Americans receive the help they need in civil legal matters to ensure their safety, the stability of their families, and their livelihoods. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia emphasized in a speech at LSC’s 40th Anniversary conference in 2014, ‘this organization pursues the most fundamental of American ideals, and it pursues equal justice in those areas of life most important to the lives of our citizens.’
LSC is the backbone of the legal aid system in the United States and is particularly important in serving rural areas. Federal funding for civil legal services provides crucial assistance to hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. The 133 legal aid programs that LSC funds serve every county in every state and the territories. They help veterans secure the benefits they have earned, assist domestic violence victims in obtaining protection orders against abusers, protect seniors from consumer scams, and help disaster survivors get back on their feet. 
‘The Legal Services Corporation is as American as apple pie,’ said John Levi, Chairman of the LSC Board. ‘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 one percent of the federal budget.'”

Yet Trump seems determined to turn his back on that Jeffersonian vision of a government that provides “equal and impartial justice to all its citizens” and use that one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget to, I don’t know? Build a wall? Deport more people? Send troops somewhere new?

Regardless, of what he’ll use the money for, let’s not lose sight of what he is after.  Remember our friends Dick the Butcher and Jack Cade, who believed that getting rid of the lawyers would make their takeover of the government that much easier? Yeah.

Following almost five decades of bipartisan support for the Legal Services Corporation, today’s Senators and Representatives need to be educated about the role LSC has played and must continue to play in safeguarding democracy and individual rights.  Let your Federal elected officials know that you believe access to justice — and specifically to a lawyer you can afford — is part of what makes our democracy function.

And keep paying attention — we’ll get back to looking for Trump’s tax returns later this week.

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