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November 01, 2011

ABA Urges Congress to Preserve Access to Justice, Courts Funding

ABA Urges Congress to Preserve Access to Justice, Courts Funding

Highlighting two top ABA priorities, ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III urged the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction last month to maintain adequate funding for civil legal services and the federal court system.

The joint committee is racing against the clock to come up with a plan by Nov. 23 to reduce the nation’s deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade. If no plan is reached, automatic government-wide spending cuts will be triggered in fiscal year 2013 to achieve the reduction.

Robinson recommended that the committee reject any proposals for major reductions in Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding and retain funding for the federal courts at close to current levels.

In his Oct. 21 letter, the ABA president emphasized that the demand for legal services is at an all-time high and that LSC is the largest single funder of civil legal services in the United States. The LSC, he said, has endured more than $20 million in funding cuts over the past two years at the same time other sources of legal services funding have declined.

“The entire justice system is diminished when funding cuts threaten the ability of individuals – particularly low-income and vulnerable populations – to gain access to legal services and the courts,” he said.

Robinson stressed that Congress has an obligation to assure that the courts have sufficient resources to function effectively. “If Congress makes deep cuts in funding for the federal courts, which already are struggling with rising caseloads and two few judges, we jeopardize our core constitutional values and risk forfeiting our claim to be a nation dedicated to equal justice under law,” he stated.

“By maintaining adequate funding for civil legal services and our federal court system, Congress can continue to protect equal access to justice for all Americans and preserve the capacity of our judicial institutions to deliver timely and effective justice for all,” he concluded.

In a separate letter to the committee, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman explained the importance of maintaining several other justice delivery and rule of law programs. Specifically, he addressed the State Court Improvement Program, the Violence Against Women Act Legal Assistance Program, Social Security Administration administrative funding, international rule of law programs, and the Second Chance Act, saying that they are but a few of the critical programs that depend on federal support to make the fundamental constitutional ideals of access to justice and the rule of law a reality.

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