By Elizabeth Holland
Law libraries provide access to timely, reliable, and accurate legal information and services that can be used by anyone, regardless of background. As trusted institutions, law libraries play a fundamental role in providing members of the public with the resources needed to preserve their legal rights and helping to ensure the effective functioning of the judicial system. With the number of self-represented litigants steadily increasing, law libraries, particularly public law libraries, have positioned themselves as key contributors to ensuring access to justice for all.
AALL is again working to support the funding request of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Established by Congress in 1974, LSC is the country’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. LSC is a grant-making organization, distributing nearly 94 percent of its federal appropriation to eligible nonprofit organizations that deliver civil legal aid. With more than 800 offices nationwide, LSC promotes equal access to justice by funding high-quality civil legal assistance for millions of low-income individuals, children, families, seniors, and veterans.
Adjusted for inflation, the LSC budget is near its lowest funding level in its 40-year history. Congress provided the LSC with $365 million this fiscal year, a meaningful boost of $25 million from the previous year. Still, that number is far below the $420 million appropriated in FY 2010. President Barack Obama’s budget request of $430 million would enable LSC to better meet the overwhelming demand for legal aid.
Earlier this month, the White House convened a “Forum on Increasing Access to Justice” with LSC. Administration officials including Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, Associate Attorney General Tony West, and Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Tina Tchen underscored the administration’s commitment to increasing access to justice, while LSC Program Counsel for Technology Glenn Rawdon gave an inspired speech about the role of technology in achieving this goal.
The American Bar Association also came out in strong support of increased funding for LSC with an op-ed published in The Hill this week. In it, President James Silkenat writes, “Access to justice is not an abstract right…Congress can help Americans live safer, more productive lives by giving them access to legal aid.”
AALL members, including President Steve Anderson, urged their members of Congress to support the FY 2015 funding request of the Legal Services Corporation as part of AALL’s Lobby Day event on March 27. The Associations’ Access to Justice Special Committee is working to complete a White Paper on the participation of law libraries in the access to justice movement for presentation to the Executive Board. You can lend your support by writing your member of Congress in support of LSC funding for FY 2015.