Liberals Abandoned Civil Legal Aid. Now They Need to Bring It Back.

A “civil Gideon” is needed to provide publicly funded attorneys for low-income people in cases like eviction proceedings, domestic violence, and public benefits disputes.


Douglas Grant
October 12, 2018

Tags: Civil Right to Counsel

Organizations mentioned/involved: National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), Legal Services Corporation (LSC)


While cities across the country are adopting steps toward a civil Gideon, in Congress, Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III and Indiana Republican Rep. Susan Brooks formed the first-ever civil legal aid caucus. Kennedy says no one “should be forced to stand alone before a judge to argue for their freedom, the roof over their heads, or the safety of their family.” Brooks’ advocacy may have already yielded results for what she calls “life-changing” legal aid: Rather than eliminating the LSC altogether this year, Congress increased its budget by $25 million.

It’s worth noting that black women bear the brunt of the eviction epidemic and are thus disproportionately affected by the dearth of civil legal aid. And civil legal aid undergirds the Violence Against Women Act, providing protections for people under siege in their homes. While Democratic presidents dutifully increase funding for legal aid, they’ve missed an opportunity to champion it as a way to tackle inequality or to invest in it at the level the need demands.