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HORNSTEIN_FINALMENTE.DOC

11/12/2003 3:26 PM

1090

JOURNAL OF GENDER, SOCIAL POLICY & THE LAW

[Vol. 11:3

democracy

such

as

ours

is

a

commitment

to

ensure

that

the

least

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

of access

to

necessary

to

the nation’s civil justice guarantee equal access.5

system—but

far

less

than

what

is

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,

thirty-one

million

people

were

food

insecure—that

is,

they

experienced

or

feared

hunger.6

During

the

same

year,

3.5

million

No one, however, doubts that it is the proper function of government to

secure justice. government is

In a broad sense

organized.

Nor

can

that any

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.

Id.

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, NATL 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.

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