By John G. Levi, LSC Board Chairman,
And Frank B. Strickland, Immediate Past Chairman
During the past year, the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) Board of Directors has had the opportunity to hear from legal aid programs funded by LSC across this nation on the enormous struggles confronting low-income families. These 136 local nonprofit programs in every state provide civil legal assistance to persons improperly foreclosed upon, victims of domestic violence, veterans dealing with a myriad of legal issues after returning from service abroad, and a host of other civil legal matters confronting low-income Americans.
Nearly 57 million Americans are now eligible for LSC-funded services and the numbers are growing because of hardships created by the nation’s weak economy. LSC-funded programs are making every effort to extend their resources as far as they can possibly go, but because of the enormous need, they have had no choice but to turn away far too many people because of inadequate resources, as documented by previous Justice Gap Reports issued by LSC. Many of these programs have already suffered a significant decline in state and local funding.
At a time when more Americans are eligible for civil legal assistance than ever before in the Corporation’s history, the House Appropriations Committee unfortunately has proposed an extraordinary and immediate cut of $75 million—or 17 percent—from the White House’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request for LSC.
As Chairman and immediate past Chairman of the Board of an organization charged with being one of the keepers of the flame of equal justice in this country, it is our responsibility to let the country know when that flame is flickering far too low. We do not know how a budget cut of this magnitude allows us to keep faith with the founding values of our great country. Regardless of fiscal pressures, we must never lose sight of our primary responsibility—to support the values of our Constitution and to provide equal access to justice for all Americans.
This is the time to reflect on the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr: “Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists…it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”