Thursday, March 16, 2017
Last week, the deans of 25 Catholic law schools delivered a letter to Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, objecting to the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation. With today's news, we have decided to release that letter publicly.
March 10, 2017
Director, Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW Washington, DC 20503
Dear Mr. Mulvaney:
We write as deans of Catholic law schools in the United States to urge you to maintain funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in our nation.
The LSC’s 43-year history reflects a bipartisan commitment to address our nation’s glaring access to justice problem. LSC-funded providers have provided a voice to millions of low-income Americans who could not otherwise have afforded legal representation in the midst of some of life’s most harrowing circumstances. The most frequent cases involve family law (e.g., protecting victims of domestic violence, guardianship proceedings), housing (e.g., landlord-tenant disputes, renegotiating loans to prevent foreclosure), helping military families with a variety of legal needs, and consumer issues (e.g., protecting the elderly and vulnerable from being victimized by unscrupulous lenders). These providers help people who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, a category that includes almost one in five Americans.
We recognize the need for difficult fiscal decisions, and the LSC has already worked creatively and diligently to do more with less. From 2007 to 2016, funding per eligible person decreased from $7.54 to $5.85. In 2016, Americans spent millions more on Halloween costumes for pets than on LSC grants.
Further cuts to the LSC would exacerbate a justice gap that remains deeply problematic for a nation committed to the rule of law. According to the World Justice Project’s survey data, the United States ranks dead last (36th out of 36) among high-income countries on the question of whether people can access and afford civil justice. Though LSC-funded programs helped 1.8 million people in 2015, recent studies indicate that 80 percent of the civil legal needs of the eligible population are not being met.
The justice gap should concern all Americans, but we take a special interest in the problem as leaders of our nation’s Catholic law schools. Though we represent law schools of various sizes, with unique histories, serving distinct communities in different regions of the country, we share a commitment to make the justice system more accessible to the poor. This is not just a matter of good citizenship or professional duty, but Catholic identity. As Saint John Paul II explained, “Love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice.” (Centesimus annus ¶ 58) Our legal aid clinics, pro bono programs, and many other school-specific initiatives bear witness to this commitment. Closing the justice gap also relies on support from state and local governments, law firms, foundations, and a broad spectrum of private philanthropy.
The LSC’s support, however, is irreplaceable, not just as a matter of practical reality, but as an affirmation of our political community’s core commitments. The Church teaches that the state is responsible to cultivate the conditions by which “the common good may be attained by the contribution of every citizen.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church ¶168) By helping ensure access to our justice system for citizens who could otherwise not afford legal representation, the LSC empowers individuals and families to contribute to the common good by giving them more control over their own lives. The LSC promotes justice by leveling the playing field for all Americans.
A growing body of research demonstrates that investment in civil legal aid yields significant economic benefits for state and local governments. To cite just three of the conclusions supported by recent research:
- Civil legal aid reduces repeat incidences of domestic violence, thus reducing public spending on medical care, special education and counseling for affected children, and police resources.
- Through representation in child welfare proceedings, civil legal aid saves public money by helping children leave foster care more quickly.
- Housing court representation by civil legal aid attorneys saves public money by reducing evictions, unjust foreclosures, and homelessness.
It also bears noting that our support for the LSC does not emanate from our agreement about politics. Over its history, the LSC has been the subject of debates that have led Congress to restrict the permissible scope and aim of funded programs. Included among the activities that the LSC may not fund are lobbying, criminal cases, habeas corpus actions, labor organizing activities, abortion-related litigation, the representation of non-citizens (subject to limited exceptions), class actions, prisoner litigation, welfare reform, and redistricting. While we may not agree with each other on the prudence of these limitations, LSC’s remaining statutory charge lies largely beyond partisan reproach.
Each one of us could share stories of how LSC-funded organizations in our communities have changed lives for the better, not by government handout, but by equipping a trained advocate to come alongside those whose interests are too frequently disregarded and act as their voice, their counselor, and their champion. The LSC’s work provides a daily reminder of government’s capacity to affirm the dignity and worth of every American.
As the late Justice Antonin Scalia stated in his remarks celebrating the organization’s 40th anniversary, the LSC “pursues the most fundamental of American ideals,” for “without access to quality representation there is no justice.”
We appreciate your consideration of our request.
Mark C. Alexander
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
Daniel F. Attridge
The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law
Kathleen M. Boozang
Seton Hall University Law School
Ave Maria School of Law
Annette E. Clark
Seattle University School of Law
Phyllis L. Crocker
University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
Fordham University School of Law
Stephen C. Ferruolo
University of San Diego School of Law
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico Law School
St. Thomas University School of Law (FL)
William P. Johnson
Saint Louis University School of Law
Michael J. Kaufman
Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Lisa A. Kloppenberg
Santa Clara University School of Law
Gonzaga University School of Law
Duquesne University School of Law
Creighton University School of Law
Rev. Lawrence W. Moore, S.J.
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Nell Jessup Newton
Notre Dame Law School
Vincent D. Rougeau
Boston College Law School
Stephen M. Sheppard
St. Mary’s University School of Law
Andrew L. Strauss
University of Dayton School of Law
University of San Francisco Law School
Georgetown University Law Center
Robert K. Vischer
University of St. Thomas School of Law (MN)
Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.