ABA Urges Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to Maintain Adequate Funding for Civil Legal Services and the Federal Courts

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 21, 2011 – _ President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III urged the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction in a letter today to “maintain adequate funding for civil legal services and the U.S. federal court system, even during this most difficult economic time.”  Robinson insisted the Committee reject any proposals for major reductions in Legal Services Corporation funding, and to retain funding for federal courts at or close to current levels.

While noting that the ABA shares the same goal of reducing the deficit and ensuring economic recovery for the country, Robinson urged the Committee to recognize that access to justice is essential for preserving freedom and the rule of law. “The entire justice system is diminished when funding cuts threaten the ability of individuals—particularly low-income and vulnerable populations—to gain access to legal services and the courts,” he explained.

Robinson noted that more than 63 million low-income residents, including 22 million children, are eligible for assistance through LSC-supported offices across the country.  He wrote that the LSC, currently funded at $398.5 million, has faced more than a $20 million reduction in funding over the past two fiscal years while other sources of legal services funding—including state appropriations, private giving and Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts—have also declined.

“Further LSC budget cuts at this critical time would gravely undermine the ability for those Americans who are most in need—including many veterans, individuals with disabilities and the elderly—to access legal assistance to help resolve major challenges,” Robinson added.  LSC-supported programs often assist low-income families with foreclosures, unemployment, domestic violence and bankruptcy issues.

Robinson also wrote that by cutting funding to the already stressed federal court system, the nation’s impartial, independent judiciary—one of three co-equal branches of government—could be compromised.  He urged the Committee to retain funding for the federal courts at or close to current levels to enable them to fulfill their role as envisioned by the Constitution.

Robinson warned, “If Congress makes deep cuts in funding for the federal courts, which already are struggling with rising caseloads and too few judges, we jeopardize our core constitutional values and risk forfeiting our claim to be a nation dedicated to equal justice under law.”

Robinson cited the Judicial Conference of the United States and explained that the $150 million funding cuts proposed by the House for FY2012 would result in 5,000 support personnel—clerks, security personnel, probation officers and staff—likely being cut from federal courts across the country.  “This would result in substantial delays in case processing, reduced levels of probation supervision for felons released from prison, and a scaling back of many essential services to the public,” Robinson added.

Robinson concluded, “By maintaining adequate funding for civil legal services and our federal court system, Congress can continue to protect equal access to justice for all Americans and preserve the capacity of our judicial institutions to deliver timely and effective justice for all.”

Robinson’s letter is available here.

With nearly 400,000 members, the _ is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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Please click here for a biography and photo of Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, president of the _.