Seeking Justice for the Poor
Michael Waldman is a nationally prominent public interest lawyer, government official, teacher and writer. He became director of the Brennan Center in October 2005.
Mr. Waldman was Director of Speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995-1999, serving as Assistant to the President. He was responsible for writing or editing nearly 2,000 speeches, including four State of the Union speeches and two Inaugural Addresses. Previously, he was Special Assistant to the President for Policy Coordination (1993-1995). Mr. Waldman was the top administration policy aide working on campaign finance reform, one of the Center's signature issues, and drafted the administration's public financing proposal.
He is the author of several books, including My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of American Presidents (Sourcebooks, 2003); POTUS Speaks: Finding the Words that Defined the Clinton Presidency (Simon & Schuster, 2000); and Who Robbed America? A Citizens' Guide to the Savings and Loan Scandal (Random House, 1990).
Prior to his government service, Mr. Waldman was the director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, then the capital's largest consumer lobbying office. After leaving the White House, he was a Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government (2001-2003), teaching courses on political reform, public leadership and communications. Most recently he has been a litigator in private practice in New York. Mr. Waldman appears frequently on television and radio to discuss public policy, the presidency and the law. Michael Waldman is a graduate of Columbia College (B.A., 1982) and New York University School of Law (J.D., 1987), where he was a member of the Law Review.
Quesiton: Does our legal system serve the poor equally?
Michael Waldman: Well the other piece of all this is that critical to any democracy is the rule of law. And in very basic ways, we don’t make it so that our courts worked for people who don’t have a lot of money. For example, if you have committed a crime, you have a right to a lawyer. That’s called the Gideon Case. But if you are somebody who has a risk of losing your home or losing your child, you don’t have a right to a civil lawyer. We don’t do nearly enough to help people get access to lawyers in court when it makes all the difference in the world. None of us would voluntarily walk in and risk losing our child without a lawyer, but a lot of people just can’t afford the lawyer. So we are engaged at the Brennan Center in a big push to try to make more legal services available to the poor, to lift some of the restrictions on the legal services corporation that helps provide law and legal services for poor people. There’s a justice gap in the country where many, many Americans simply don’t have access to the benefits of the justice system. If we want to have a real working democracy, that’s gotta be part of the answer. Well the government should be doing it, and the private bar should be doing it and private business should be doing it. There’s no necessarily one answer. You know not every problem deserves a lawyer. But there are just basic ways that we could be spending, not much more money, but having a much bigger impact on helping those people in these high stakes matters. Someone said if you rob a bank, you have a right to a lawyer. If the bank robs you, you’re out of luck. When we see the consequence of the sub prime mortgage disaster where millions of Americans are at risk of losing their homes, very often for things that were no fault of their own, and they don’t have a lawyer, that’s crazy.
Michael Waldman says the government needs to step up and provide equal protection for the poor.
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