Rep. Davis Statement on Defunding of Legal Service Corporation
April 27, 2017
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in defense of the Legal Services Corporation whose existence is threatened by zeroing out its funding in the budget put forward by President Trump. I view this budget proposal as part and parcel of a general attack on notions of equal justice and our Justice system itself: singling out Muslims and the undocumented for exclusion from equal justice protections, renewing attacks on voting rights and the reproductive rights of women, rolling back legal protections for workers, consumers, and members of the LBGT community, accelerating executions, reversing course on the need to reform police practices, attacking internet privacy guarantees, eliminating transparency in government.
Mr. Speaker, I rise because, like Maya Angelou, I believe that equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it.
Legal Services Corporation funded programs help people who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines - in 2015, $14,713 for an individual, $30,313 for a family of four. Clients come from every ethnic group and every age group and live in rural, suburban, and urban areas. They are the working poor, veterans, homeowners and renters, families with children, farmers, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Women comprise 70 percent of clients. LSC has offices in every Congressional District in the nation.
Mr. Speaker, I rise because it is impossible to find equal justice in our Justice system, criminal or civil without competent legal representation.
I rise because, like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia put it at LSC's 40th anniversary just a few years ago:
"The American ideal is not for some justice, it is as the Pledge of Allegiance says, `Liberty and justice for all,' or as the Supreme Court pediment has it, `equal justice.' I've always thought that's somewhat redundant. Can there be justice if it is not equal? Can there be a just society when some do not have justice? Equality, equal treatment is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice."
The American Bar Association has issued a statement staunchly supporting a robust Legal Services Corporation to assure access to justice for all, the very idea that propelled our nation to independence. Our nation's core values are reflected in the LSC's work in securing housing for veterans, freeing seniors from scams, serving rural areas when others won't, protecting battered women, helping disaster survivors back to their feet, and many others.
I rise because the Legal Services Corporation serves some 1.9 million families annually in every Congressional District. Over the years, since the LSC was signed into law by President Nixon after long negotiations with the Congress, the LSC received on-going bipartisan support in Congress.
Census Bureau data show that nearly one in five Americans - 61.8 million people - are eligible for legal aid, a 21% increase since 2007. The Conference of Chief Justices has pointed out that since the great recession in 2008, there has arisen a "Justice Gap." They have documented the shortfall in civil legal aid and reaffirming the importance of the Legal Services Corporation.
The Conference of Chief Justices released a policy paper which they say
"makes clear that the large number of unrepresented citizens overwhelming the nation's courts has negative consequences not only for them but also for the effectiveness and efficiency of courts striving to serve these and other segments of the community who need their disputes resolved. More staff time is required to assist unrepresented parties. In the absence of a fair presentation of relevant facts, court procedures are slowed, backlogs of other court cases occur, and judges confront the challenge of maintaining their impartiality while preventing injustice."
They remind us that frontline judges are telling us that the adversarial foundation of our justice system is all too often losing its effectiveness when citizens are deprived of legal counsel.
Mr. Speaker, I rise because I believe, like 185 leaders of corporate legal departments across the country who have urged this Adminstration to "support the preservation of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and provide funding at a level of $450 million for FY 2018, which would be consistent with the appropriation received in FY2010, adjusted for inflation."
I will not read the names of all 185 but I append their names and corporate affiliations to my written remarks for inclusion in the journal.
Mr. Speaker, the withdrawal of funding for the LSC is nothing less than an attack on our democracy and this Congress and each of its members, by their oath of office, has the responsibility, to stand against that attack.