The current administration’s proposed budget released on March 16th eliminates federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The LSC serves a similar role in civil cases as public defenders serve in criminal cases. The 6th Amendment requires public-defender systems to exist, but there is no constitutional mandate for civil legal-aid programs. LSC helps Americans with troubles including domestic violence, housing and foreclosure, and predatory financial practices such as debt traps.
So this week, we donated to LSC, which is a nonprofit organization that receives federal funding. Since 1974, LSC has promoted equal access to justice and provided grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans making at or below $14,713 for an individual or $30,313 for a family of four. LSC-funded programs help about 2 million people per year, but demand far outpaces supply — evidenced by legal aid offices needing to turn away 50% of those seeking help. In 2015 alone, out of 62.5 million eligible Americans (based on income), LSC was able to handle 755,774 cases including 116,074 domestic violence cases.
Even though there is no constitutional mandate for civil legal-aid programs, we believe that access to legal aid is a basic right that every American deserves — for civil cases as well as criminal cases. Can you imagine trying to handle a court case on your own, without being able to afford legal help? Without equal access to legal representation, the principals of justice and freedom that our democracy is built upon will begin to erode. That is why Legal Services Corporation is so vital to our nation, and why this organization needs our support to continue their important work even if their federal funding is eliminated.