In response to recent stories that the Administration had LSC on a target list, perhaps the most powerfully bipartisan bodies in the US legal system chimed in in support for LSC funding.
The Presidents of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference Of State Court Administrators wrote on February 24 to the head of OMB, that:
[T}he Conferences urge OMB to promote stable and adequate funding of the LSC rather than a defunding. . . .
Since the great recession in 2008, the Conferences have unanimously adopted several resolutions documenting the shortfall in civil legal aid and reaffirming the importance Census Bureau data show that nearly one in five Americans – 61.8 million people – are eligible for legal aid, a 21% increase since 2007. In 2012, we called upon all members of Congress “to fulfill our nation’s promise of ‘Equal Justice Under Law’, by restoring funding for the federal Legal Services Corporation to the level necessary to provide critically needed services to low-income and vulnerable Americans.” We have reason to believe these efforts have contributed to a stabilization and occasional modest increase in Congressional appropriations to LSC in recent fiscal years. . . .
Our research makes clear that the large number of unrepresented citizens overwhelming the nation’s courts has negative consequences not only for them but also for the effectiveness and efficiency of courts striving to serve these and other segments of the community who need their disputes resolved. More staff time is required to assist unrepresented parties. In the absence of a fair presentation of relevant facts, court procedures are slowed, backlogs of other court cases occur, and judges confront the challenge of maintaining their impartiality while preventing injustice. Clearly frontline judges are telling us that the adversarial foundation of our justice system is all too often losing its effectiveness when citizens are deprived of legal counsel.
Given these facts on the ground, we hope you will support our struggle to increase the availability of legal assistance to the most-needy members of our communities lest we further compromise our nation’s promise of “equal justice under law.”
The sustained work by LSC’s President Jim Sandman to build the bipartisan case, and indeed the extensive multi-organizational collaborations in support on access to justice generally that are now embedded into the justice system, help support much greater optimism about LSC’s future than might once have been the case.
There is a moral here for much of our work. The credibility that the Chiefs bring to access to justice is one of our greatest assets, and we must make full use of that credibility, and must also remember the reciprocal obligations of respect that that support imposes on us.