Legal Learning: Lawyers are popular again and defending LSC
It made me proud to see the way so many lawyers responded to President Donald Trump's travel ban. Hundreds of attorneys rushed to the airports. They worked for days, around the clock, for free, to protect people with green cards, people with visas, people who were following their dreams of the promise of America.
Federal and state government lawyers and judges refused to enforce exclusion orders they concluded were unconstitutional. Lawyers let America know that the rule of law and the Constitution, not the edict of any president, are supreme in this country.
We are, after all, a nation that believes in the rule of law. As former Vice President Walter Mondale wrote in the Star Tribune recently, "The phrase 'Equal Justice under Law' is engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. 'Equal protection of the laws' is mandated by the Constitution. Our Pledge of Allegiance ends with the promise of 'liberty and justice for all.'"
It is lawyers who help enforce the Bill of Rights. They are the guardians of due process, equal protection, jury trials, right to counsel, protection against illegal searches, the right to bear arms, and more.
And it is lawyers who are standing up for the Legal Services Corporation, now that Mr. Trump has proposed to eliminate all federal funding for legal aid. President Richard Nixon (a Republican) signed the law that created the LSC in 1974, and it now supports more than 800 legal aid offices nationwide. Congress has provided funding for the LSC every year, with bipartisan support.
One of the first LSC grantees in the nation was Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM). Although headquartered in Duluth, the office serves Lake County and the 10 other counties in northeast Minnesota. They even have a full-time self-help attorney at the courthouse law library in Duluth. They provided civil legal services last year to 2,795 people, including 47 who live in Lake County. Cases include child custody, domestic violence, eviction, disaster relief and veterans' benefits.
More than 60 million Americans are eligible for legal assistance through the LSC. This means that they have annual incomes at or below $15,075 for an individual and $30,750 for a family of four. However, two out of every three people who are eligible for services are turned away because of the lack of resources available to provide assistance. They call this the "justice gap." Fortunately, there is a Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) through which lawyers, working for free, help to chip away at the justice gap in Northeastern Minnesota. Pro bono attorneys provide excellent services to those who would otherwise go without help. Nationwide, lawyers provide more pro bono hours than any other profession, tens of millions of hours a year.
All of this good work has not gone unnoticed. It seems that lawyers are popular again, and people all over America, Republicans and Democrats alike, are joining the fight to save the Legal Services Corporation. If you want to help, go to www.DefendLegalAid.org.
James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota's Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills, and probate in and around Lake County, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and are not to be attributed to his employer.