ABA President Linda A. Klein has recommended to House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that Congress approve $450 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, 2017.
The $450 million funding level would be a $65 million increase over the corporation’s current appropriation of $385 million and would allow LSC-funded offices around the country to continue to provide civil legal services to low-income Americans.
“Funding for equal justice under federal law is a federal duty,” Klein maintained in her statements to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. “The federal funding to promote equal civil justice is the funding for the Legal Services Corporation,” she said.
President Trump’s budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018 proposes to eliminate federal funding for the LSC, but Klein pointed out that the federal government “has legislated — has conferred rights and imposed duties – in all areas important to the lives of our citizens, and justice for all certainly requires access to legal representation in these myriad areas of federal law.” Funding for equal justice under federal law cannot be shouldered by state and local governments as an unfunded mandate, she said.
Klein thanked the subcommittees for previous increases in LSC funding, but pointed out that the corporation still need increased federal funding because other funding sources have diminished since the country’s economic downturn. This includes unusually low interest rates substantially lowering the revenue from Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA). In addition, dozens of studies show that 50 percent to 80 percent of all eligible people seeking legal aid services are turned away due to lack of resources, and the United States is ranked 65th out of 102 countries in the World Justice Project’s 2015 Rule of Law Index for civil justice access.
Klein emphasized that legal aid clients include veterans, older Americans, Americans in rural areas, domestic violence survivors, and natural disaster victims, and that women constitute 70 percent of legal aid clients.
She also cited the cost benefit analyses of funding legal services, highlighting a 2015 Tennessee Bar Association report that revealed $11.21 of economic benefit per dollar invested and noting dozens of other statewide studies all showing similar results. Preventing domestic violence, she said, not only saves a victim the trauma but also the costs of medical treatment, counseling, police protection, and other support valued at over $10,000 per victim per year.
Funding for LSC has been an ABA high priority issue for four decades and has been a featured issue every year during ABA Day in Washington, the association’s annual lobbying event (see front page). Klein noted the establishment in 1920 of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) and a call in 1964 by then ABA President Lewis F. Powell Jr. for expansion of the nation’s legal services. The work of the ABA and many others culminated in President Nixon’s signing of legislation creating the LSC in 1974.
Today, virtually all U.S. Senate and House offices refer constituents to legal aid. State chief justices and court administrators have a consensus in support of LSC, and the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia related at the LSC’s 40th anniversary event in 2014 that he and all of his colleagues on the court supported legal aid. In fact, polls show that over 80 percent of people believe it is important that everyone has access to civil legal help.