A Year-End Message to LSC-Funded Programs From Chairman John Levi and President Jim Sandman
As we commemorate this year the 40th anniversary of LSC’s founding, we want to express our gratitude for your extraordinary efforts to sustain LSC’s mission to help ensure equal access to justice. Your vital work breathes life into that mission and every year helps thousands of low-income Americans meet legal challenges that threaten their security and safety.
In September, nearly all of you joined us at a special conference in Washington that LSC convened to mark our anniversary. We together heard many compelling ideas for addressing the justice gap — and we will need them all because, unfortunately, as you know all too well, the crisis in civil legal aid continues.
The number of people now eligible for LSC-funded assistance has risen 30 percent since 2007 to an all-time high, but, as you have experienced, federal funding per eligible client has dropped to an all-time low, shrinking your ability to handle cases by more than 20%. Not surprisingly, legal aid providers across the country are being forced to turn away scores of low-income Americans seeking civil legal assistance.
As Justice Elena Kagan said twice, and accurately, at our conference in Washington: We need "more money." Although we are grateful that funding will increase $10 million in the coming year to $375 million, that is far from enough and does not even approach the $400 million LSC received in 1995, which in inflation-adjusted numbers would be nearly $620 million today. As you may have heard us say, LSC’s funding continues to be little more than a rounding error in the federal budget, hardly reflective of its mission to defend a core value and key component of American self-understanding. As Hillary Clinton, LSC’s second Board Chair, emphasized at the conference:
"Guaranteeing legal services for all Americans makes us a better country and a fairer country. It helps by empowering people to solve those problems and it helps to level the playing field. It is not just a fair shot at the justice system, but it is a fair shot at the American dream."
From the earliest days of our Republic the crucial importance of justice has been recognized, as Merck’s remarkable CEO Ken Frazier observed in September:
"Alexander Hamilton said the first duty of society is justice. And when we begin to lose the values that have quintessentially defined us as Americans, and if we have to resort simply to economic arguments as to why our fellow citizens deserve justice, I think we’re going to have given up something very important."
And justice cannot be attained without equal access, as Justice Antonin Scalia stirringly put it in Washington: "Equality, equal treatment is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice."
We at LSC, with your indispensable partnership, will honor and preserve this fundamental value. We will continue to help you stretch every dollar by promoting pro bono and innovative technology, and we are pleased that the FY2015 budget increases funding for both our Technology Initiative Grants and Pro Bono Innovation Grants programs.
During the coming year, we look forward to seeing many of you again as we work together to better tell your and our story and pursue ways to increase and broaden resources to more effectively serve the many Americans who depend on us.
We thank you and your colleagues for all that you have done and continue to do to help our nation realize its commitment to equal justice for all.
John G. Levi
James J. Sandman