According to our President, “Under a Trump administration, no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries.” Various studies by the American Bar Association, state commissions, and private companies make it clear that, more than ever, large swaths of Americans are actually second-class citizens when it comes to access to civil justice. To put a finer point on it, the World Justice Project ranks us 65th in the world for such access.
Notwithstanding, the Trump administration is proposing that we all but eliminate one of our country’s greatest gateways to civil justice, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Founded in 1974, LSC is a nonprofit to provide civil legal aid to low-income Americans. LSC has a particular focus on helping families, children, seniors, and veterans. In their own words, LSC “Provides access to justice—a fundamental American value, reflected in the first line of our Constitution and in the closing words of our Pledge of Allegiance.”
The LSC costs every American a mere $1.55 per year or half the price of one Starbucks latte. Or, if you look at the number of taxpayers who filed in 2016, it’s about $3.57 per taxpayer – still the price of a latte. For this pocket change, the LSC gives people access to the courts on family issues, such as custody, guardianship, adoption, abuse and housing. In 2015, the LSC helped 1.8 million less-fortunate Americans get the civil legal help they otherwise could not afford. Seventy percent were women.
President Trump should love the LSC, as it promotes the fundamental Republican values of supporting families, reducing government spending, and promoting law and order.
On the family front, the LSC helps keep families stable by helping victims of domestic violence, helping parents obtain and keep custody of their children, and assisting family members in obtaining guardianship for children. In the words of Republican stalwart, Rick Santorum:
“The family is the first economy. And the one thing that we do not talk about enough is how stable families are vitally important for the middle of America to be prosperous and to grow and be safe.”
No one works harder and more successfully than LSC to support this first economy.
As for government spending, cutting LSC will likely boomerang into higher spending due to higher court costs. LSC-grantees have served tens of millions of people (1,861,333 in 2015 alone). Blow these underrepresented people into the judicial system and we will quickly face two poor choices: Pay to hire more non-LSC resources like judges, administrators, and law enforcement to move the self-represented through the court system, or we will just lock some portion of them out of the system.
And finally, President Trump has famously called himself the “law and order” President. This is important because, as the President has said many times, “There can be no prosperity without law and order.” But as many historians have pointed out, including Stephen Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, you can’t achieve these concepts unless all citizens have access to them. Pinker calls out the importance of having access to an impartial judge to “inhibit the impulse for revenge,” or in other words, to avoid a Hatfield and McCoy society. Very simply, LSC gives more citizens access to our justice system, which in turn gives us a better shot at law and order. Take away this access, and people will revert to taking justice into their own hands.
To be fair, President Trump is not the first to go after LSC. The non-profit has been in the Republican cross-hairs since Ronald Regan attempted to shutter it in 1981. Instead, he settled for a 25% reduction in its budget. These budget cuts have continued under both Democratic and Republic presidents, but President Trump appears particularly committed to crush the LSC.
Please join me and thousands of other lawyers around the country in signing the American Bar Association’s Defend Legal Aid petition. Let’s all let Congress know how much LSC supports Republican and Democratic values while not costing our country much at all. I mean, half a latte is a small price to pay to help make America great (again).