Op-Ed: It’s Time for Candidates to Address the Justice Gap

Millions of Americans are fighting legal battles alone without any access to legal help, compromising the fundamental fairness of our society. Yet we hear nearly nothing about it on the campaign trail.

Martha Bergmark
October 4, 2016

Tags: Justice for All

Organizations mentioned/involved: Voices for Civil Justice


The latest data show that in three-quarters of potentially life-changing civil cases for issues like domestic violence or evictions, people do not have legal assistance, which puts them at enormous risk of losing their home, family or livelihood. Unlike in criminal cases, there is no guaranteed right to an attorney in civil cases for those who can’t afford one, as many people discover only after disaster strikes. Civil legal aid groups across the country are stepping up to help as many people as they can, but we don’t give them the resources to assist everyone in need. The sad result is that many simply fall through the cracks.

A surprising fact of this election is that of the Democratic candidates for the White House and their spouses, three of four dedicated parts of their careers to civil justice. Hillary Clinton was a civil legal aid lawyer in Arkansas and later chair of the Legal Services Corp., the federal funder of civil legal aid. Sen. Tim Kaine fought discriminatory housing policies as a pro bono attorney, advocating for families who couldn’t afford legal help to protect their rights. His wife, Anne Holton, was a well-regarded civil legal aid attorney in Virginia before becoming a judge.