Obviously, the results of yesterday’s election are potentially very bad news for legal aid funding (broadly defined). Notwithstanding the generally bipartisan support demonstrated for LSC at its recent 40th anniversary, the risk of cuts to the LSC budget is very real.
But the passage of the minimum wage referenda, often by overwhelming margins, by very red voting pools in several states such as South Dakota and Alaska, as well as in bluer Pennsylvania and Illinois, suggests that the unfairness of income inequality is well known and understood as an action item by huge swathes of even this red electorate.
So, while I would obviously not advocate branding legal aid as “the legal arm of the minimum wage increase movement,” we should think about how to build on the fairness arguments (“Civil legal aid helps ensure fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money you have.”) which came out of the legal aid communications research.
Given that this communications research indicates that support for legal aid depends on the sense that it will be available to those in the middle, the minimum wage referenda might be explained by the widespread fears that they, or their family members, may need the protection of minimum wage. It might also be true that people understand that, to misquote, “a rising minimum wage lifts all boats except the heaviest.” Or it may just reflect the power of very simple fairness arguments even in this very angry and bad tempered electorate.
In any event, time for careful thinking on how to apply these fairness arguments most effectively to the access context.