Seeking Justice for the Poor

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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