11/12/2003 3:26 PM
JOURNAL OF GENDER, SOCIAL POLICY & THE LAW
powerful among us—those who are poor—receive just as much justice as the rich and powerful. While most Americans would probably identify access to legal counsel as an important, if not the most important, attribute of equal justice, federal funding to insure legal representation for the poor in civil legal disputes continues to be the political equivalent of the Mason-Dixon line—dividing liberal from conservative instead of North from South, and establishing a well- defined political fault line.3 In fact, there are few subjects that engender more vituperative discourse among conservative politicians than the Legal Services Corporation.4 For over two decades this federally funded agency has provided America’s poor a small measure
the nation’s civil justice guarantee equal access.5
That the need for equal justice remains unmet for millions of poor Americans cannot seriously be refuted. The federal government reported that in 1999, during our most prosperous period in decades,
No one, however, doubts that it is the proper function of government to
secure justice. government is
In a broad sense
is the chief one question
thing for which that the highest
obligation of are poor and
government is to secure weak and friendless, find
justice it hard
for those who, because they to maintain their own rights.
3. See HERITAGE FOUNDATION REPORTS, WHY THE LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION MUST BE ABOLISHED (1995) [hereinafter HERITAGE FOUNDATION REPORT], available at http://www.heritage.org/Research/LegalIssues/BG1057.cfm; Rael Jean Issac, Illegal Services, NAT’L REV., Mar. 24, 1997, at 42.
4. Letter from Twenty-seven Representatives to Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House (June 28, 1995) [hereinafter Letter to Newt Gingrich](on file with author).
5. See LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION, TWENTY FIFTH ANNIVERSARY ANNUAL REPORT 8, 13, 15 (1998-99) (stating that seventy-one percent of the legal situations faced by low-income households do not find their way to the judicial system); James P. Lorenz, Jr., Almost the Last Word on Legal Services: Congress Can Do Pretty Much What It Likes, 17 ST. LOUIS U. PUB. L. REV. 295, 300-01 (1998) (asking whether “equal access to the system of justice” means access equal to the kind of representation that middle class American citizens can afford or access equal to that enjoyed by large corporations and government agencies). One report done in 1994 found that nearly eighty percent of all poor Americans did not have access to counsel. LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION, SERVING THE LEGAL NEEDS OF LOW-INCOME AMERICANS: A SPECIAL REPORT TO CONGRESS 12-13 (Apr. 30, 2000); see also U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, POVERTY IN THE UNITED STATES (1999) (revealing that almost one out of every five Americans is eligible for legal services assistance).
6. See 1999 ANNUAL REPORT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, reported in Millions Still Going Hungry in the U.S., Report Finds, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 10, 2000, at 26. The report included the troubling statistics that seventeen percent of all children and twenty-one percent of all African-Americans went hungry or lived on the cusp of hunger. Id.