Legal services

  • July 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    More than a decade ago federal lawmakers had little trouble coming together to pass a piece of legislation aimed at improving the lives of some the country’s most vulnerable. It was 1994 when Congress in sweeping bipartisan fashion passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), extending government services to victims of domestic violence.

    But reauthorizing that law is mired in what The Hill’s Russell Berman says is a “familiar Capitol dynamic – a political staring contest on stalled legislation that has historically enjoyed strong bipartisan support.”

    While Berman paints an evenhanded picture – both parties are obstinate, can’t work together – a strong argument can be made that what is really going on here involves the intransigence of the Republican Party. The party has moved so far to the fringe, has become so hostile to helping the nation’s most vulnerable that it should come as no surprise that it does not want to work with the Senate to reauthorize VAWA.

    The reason is straightforward: today’s VAWA would expand services for victims of domestic violence.

    The measure the Senate passed in April would bolster services for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, it would strengthen the ability of Native American authorities to prosecute domestic violence, and it would ensure help the LGBT community.

    House Republicans and right-wing lobbying groups have opposed the new services. Longtime right-wing activist Phyllis Schafly, for instance, called the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization a “slush fund for the feminist lobby.”

    When the House passed its reauthorization of VAWA in May it did not include the Senate’s call for extension of services, but also sought to cut existing services. At the time the House Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers blasted the House version for rolling back “existing law” and failing “to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of violence.”

  • May 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The severely conservative U.S. House of Representatives is peddling yet another effort to slash services for the poor.

    As TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports “House Republicans are set to advance legislation to replace automatic defense spending cuts they agreed to last year with cuts to programs for the poor and working class.”

    Yes, the House’s plan is likely only to be symbolic, as Kapur notes the legislation is expected to go nowhere in the Senate. Yet it provides, as if anyone needed it, another example of the conservative party’s extreme opposition to any policy that might raise taxes on the super wealthy.

    Rep. Chris Van Hollen, (pictured) the House Budget Committee’s Ranking Member, in a May 3 report blasted the proposal for advancing “costly additional tax breaks for millionaires while finding savings by ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors, slashing investments that strengthen our economy, and shredding the social safety net.”

    As noted here, a string of commentators have argued that the conservative party has been retooled to focus solely on protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, even as the middle class shrinks and poverty grows.

    A recent study from political scientists at the University of Georgia and New York University reflects a drastically changed political party, noting that the “Republican Party is the most conservative it has been in a century,” NPR’s Frank James reports.

    In a piece for The Huffington Post, Mike Lux said the political scientists “are underestimating.”

  • May 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Slowly the economy continues to recover, with jobs being added over the past 26 months, but that progress is amazing in an atmosphere where one of the two major political parties is concerned only with advancing the outlandish interests of the nation’s super wealthy.

    The Great Recession, underway before the Obama administration was in existence, has shoved millions into poverty and the gap between the nation’s top 1 percent and everyone else is the widest since the 1920s. Last fall, the Census Bureau reported that the number of people in poverty is at its highest in more than 50 years. As noted earlier this week the super wealthy are increasingly out-of-touch, indeed one retired multimillionaire is pushing a book that calls for more economic inequality.

    But how did the country arrive at this point where the middle class is shrinking, the poor is growing and a tiny group of people are amassing most of the wealth? Because, according to some, the nation’s conservative party has been bought by the out-of-touch super wealthy.

    The mainstream media, in the name of objectivity, will continue to blame both parties for gridlock in Washington, but a growing number of economists, academics, lawyers, activists, and others concerned about the well-being of all people are pushing back against that tired line.

    Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, who have studied Congress for several decades, say the Republican Party is to blame for pushing fantastical policy and refusing to budge from it, therefore creating an atmosphere where progress or change is difficult to foster.

    “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics, Mann and Ornstein write for The Washington Post. “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

    One of the group’s to blame for the Republican Party’s unmovable concern about the nation’s super wealthy is Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which pushes conservative lawmakers to sign a pledge against raising any taxes. Norquist (pictured) is all about policy that starves the federal government of revenues, so policies to help the less fortunate dwindle, because those are not the people Norquist or the Republican Party are concerned with.

    In his May 4 column for The New York Times, economist Paul Krugman notes the work of Mann and Ornstein, writing, “Specifically money buys power, and the increasing wealth of a tiny minority has effectively bought the allegiance of one of our two major political parties, in the process destroying any prospect for cooperation.”

    “And the takeover of half our political spectrum by the 0.01 percent is, I’d argue, also responsible for the degradation of our economic discourse, which has made any sensible discussion of what we should doing impossible,” Krugman continued.

    In a piece last year for Rolling Stone Tim Dickinson, said the party of Ronald Reagan has “undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.”

  • April 6, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Laura Abel, Deputy Director, National Center for Access to Justice. This piece is cross-posted at NCAJ’s blog.


    The Department of Justice has released startling evidence that language barriers are leading to serious injustices in courts in North Carolina. In a March 8 letter, DOJ warned North Carolina that its ongoing failure to provide court interpreters in civil cases, and in some criminal cases, violates the federal Civil Rights Act, which bars courts and other recipients of federal funding from providing worse services to people on the basis of English language ability.  

    DOJ reports that prosecutors in Wake and Durham counties ask people with limited English proficiency to plead guilty and then, assuming the role of “interpreters,” convey the guilty pleas to the courts. A judge relying solely on “prosecutorial interpreting” cannot know whether the person is even aware that a guilty plea is being entered, much less whether he understands the charges and consequences. When the federal government then deports the person, it cannot know whether it is deporting an innocent person. 

    The quality of justice is equally in doubt in civil cases. In 2010, a mother in Wake County lost permanent custody of her children after a trial in which she struggled to understand basic facts because she had limited command of the English language. Although she told the judge about her language difficulty, the court provided no interpreter. She also had no lawyer to help. Communication was so poor that at the end of the case she did not even understand that the judge’s ruling would cause her to lose her children.

  • December 9, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Peter B. Edelman, a longtime champion of fighting poverty in American, was honored this week with a humanitarian award from the D.C. Commission on Human Rights and the D.C. Office of Human Rights. 

    The D.C. human rights offices presented Edelman with its annual Cornelius R. “Neil” Alexander Humanitarian Award on Dec. 8. Edelman (pictured), the newly elected ACS Board Chair, is a professor at Georgetown Law. Edelman’s distinguished career has included work for Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was an eloquent and forceful tribune of the nation’s oppressed, especially African and Native Americans or the “disaffected.”

    In a press statement regarding its Award, the D.C. Office of Human Rights says Edelman’s “name is near the top of any list of people who have worked to make poverty and economic justice front-burner issues in the United States. He has spent much of the last four decades working to make the nation focus on poverty and find solutions that would make a difference, including being at the forefront of concerted efforts to make the welfare system more responsible, productive, and accountable, attempting to do so without making it harsh or inhumane.”