11/12/2003 3:26 PM
THE POLITICS OF EQUAL JUSTICE
people—including 1.35 million children—were homeless at one time or another.7 Forty-two million Americans remained without health insurance.8 The Census Bureau recently reported that for the first time in eight years, the number of Americans living in poverty increased.9 Nevertheless, it has been estimated that only one-eighth of the legal needs of poor people are addressed.10 As Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard University cogently observed, “[t]here is far too much law for those who can afford it and far too little for those who cannot.”11
II. WALKING AGAINST THE WIND
Federal support for legal aid to the poor first took shape as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.13 In 1964, the Office of Economic Opportunity (“OEO”)—President Johnson’s principal warhorse in his battle against poverty—for the first time funded lawyers for the poor in civil matters.14 In the subsequent seven years, the number of poverty lawyers grew more than 600%. 15
Early federal funding for legal services unleashed a torrent of ground breaking legal reform litigation that helped further the assault on unconscionable working conditions, housing discrimination, and denial of access to the courts. One documentarian of the Legal Aid era (pre-1965) noted without intended irony that “[i]t is always the
7. See THE URBAN INSTITUTE, A NEW LOOK AT HOMELESSNESS IN AMERICA, reported in Nina Bernstein, Study Documents Homelessness in American Children Each Year, N.Y. TIMES, Feb. 1, 2000, at A12.
See Robert Pear, Number of Insured Americans Up for First Time Since ‘87,
Y. TIMES, Sept. 29, 2000, at A16.
See Robert Pear, Number of People Living in Poverty Increases in U.S., N.Y.
TIMES, Sept. 25, 2002, at A1.
10. See Roger C. Cramton, Crisis in Legal Services for the Poor, 26 VILL. L. REV. 521, 530 (1981) (citing B. CURRAN, THE LEGAL NEEDS OF THE PUBLIC 4 (1977)).
11. Derek C. Bok, A Flawed System of Law Practice and Training, 33 J. LEGAL EDUC. 570 (1983).
12. The title of E. Clinton Bamberger, Jr.’s inspirational speech delivered at the 1981 University of Pennsylvania Law School Commencement ceremony, excerpted in the NLADA BRIEFCASE, Summer 1981, at 10.
13. William P. Quigley, The Demise of Law Reform and the Triumph of Legal Aid: Congress and the Legal Services Corporation from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, 17 ST. LOUIS U. PUB. L. REV. 241, 245 (1998) (stating that in 1964, as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, Congress created the Office of Economic Opportunity to operate anti-poverty programs).
14. See id. at 245. OEO created the National Legal Services Program, which remained in existence from 1965 until 1974, when the Legal Services Corporation was created. Id. at 247, 251-52.
15. See MARTHA F. DAVIS, BRUTAL NEED 10 (1993) (reporting that poverty law changed dramatically in the 1960s when federal grants were provided to legal services programs).