The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) had its chance to reform itself and it simply
thumbed its nose at Congress. This scandal-ridden agency deserves to be completely
Congress had planned to terminate LSC last year, but because of bleeding-heart
whining about the "poor," Congress relented and extended LSC's life with some
reasonable restrictions to try to de-politicize it. Congress banned the filing of class-action
lawsuits and prohibited LSC grantees from using non-LSC funds to pursue politically
The handful of Republican "moderates" plus the Democrats who engineered this
life-support system for LSC assured us that LSC would clean up its act and devote itself
to its real mission of helping the poor. Now, LSC has indulged in a raft of new offenses.
One LSC grantee, Texas Rural Legal Aid (TRLA), which gets 80 percent of its
funding from the U.S. taxpayers, is trying to overturn the narrow elections of a
Republican County Commissioner and a Republican Sheriff by filing suit to get a court to
void the absentee ballots of 800 U.S. active duty military personnel and their families.
TRLA's outlandish argument is that the military absentees diluted the votes of Hispanic
U.S. District Judge George J. Korbel has authorized discovery, and so TRLA has
sent a 24-page, 54-question deposition to all Val Verde County, Texas voters who cast
absentee ballots in the November 1996 election. This nosy questionnaire demands very
personal information, including the voter's credit card information and the names of
every organization to which the voter belongs.
On January 8, LSC's Washington office sent a letter to TRLA stating that this
lawsuit "constitutes a substantial violation of the grant agreement." TRLA further defied
Congress by asking for attorney's fees in this complaint, despite a clear prohibition on
Meanwhile, an LSC grantee in New York, Legal Services for the Elderly, persuaded a
New York state judge to rule on December 26 that it is unconstitutional for Congress to
prohibit LSC grantees from engaging in class-action lawsuits or pursuing political
litigation with non-LSC funds. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Beverly Cohen ruled
that Congress has no right to tell LSC grantees what kind of cases they can pursue with
For the last 20 years, LSC grantees have evaded the laws against political
advocacy by claiming that they were pursuing political cases with "non-LSC" money.
This loophole is big enough to drive thousands of lawsuits through because money is
fungible and nobody can identify what money is being spent for which suit.
Most LSC money comes from the federal taxpayers, who pay for LSC attorneys'
salaries and overhead. Since Congress cannot force grantees to open their case files, there
is no way to prove allocation of the funds.
Congress certainly should have the right to appropriate taxpayers' money only to
those who agree not to engage in class-action suits or political advocacy. However, Judge
Cohen showed her bias by ruling that this restriction is just a "thinly disguised attack on
basic freedoms," i.e., the "basic freedom" of tax-funded LSC lawyers to engage in class-action or political litigation.
LSC lawyers are confidently predicting that this decision will inspire other LSC
groups to challenge the new Congressional restrictions. Indeed, this has already started.
LSC lawyers in Rhode Island, Ohio and Florida have already asked judges to
throw out the regulations. A federal judge in Rhode Island and a Ohio state judge have
granted temporary relief to legal aid groups and allowed them to continue work on their
class action suits.
On January 9, five LSC-funded groups filed suit in federal district court in Hawaii
to strike down the new Congressional restrictions. These groups are Legal Services of
Northern California in Sacramento, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, San Fernando Valley
Neighborhood Legal Services, Legal Aid Society of Orange County (CA), and Alaska
Legal Services Corporation.
The suit claims that the Congressional restriction on federal funds violates the First
Amendment and "the doctrine of unconstitutional condition," i.e., the precept that the
government cannot impose a condition on the receipt of funds that requires the recipient
to give up fundamental rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
"We have so many clients who have problems that can only be resolved by
legislative advocacy or by class actions," said Roberta Ranstrom, executive director of
Legal Services of Northern California. Obviously, she plans to use the courts to do an
end-run around Congressional legislation.
This LSC network of leftwing lawyers has no intention of abiding by any
restrictions, and when they bring their cases before Carter-appointed or Clinton-appointed
judges, they have a good chance of outmaneuvering any restrictions Congress tries to
The 1996 Republican Party Platform called for the elimination of the Legal
Services Corporation. It's time to fulfill that pledge before LSC engages in any more