The Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) invites applications from U.S. based social science scholars from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to visit IRP, interact with its faculty in residence, present a poverty-related seminar of their choosing, and become acquainted with the staff and resources of the Institute. The application deadline is June 16, 2014. For more information, see:
Poverty Law, Policy and Practice is the first new poverty law casebook in 17 years and only the second since 1976. With current literature from multiple viewpoints, the book provides an overview of the field, including cases, data and major government programs that map onto important theoretical, doctrinal, policy and practice questions. The book is designed to accompany a survey course, and an online teacher’s manual will be published soon.
Juliet Brodie, Clare Pastore, Ezra Rosser, Jeffrey Selbin, Poverty Law: Policy and Practice. Aspen, 2014.
Poverty law as a distinct field of study and practice did not exist 50 years ago. By the late 1960s, however, lawyers were active participants in a robust and multifaceted war on poverty. With inspiration, example, and tools from their civil rights forebears— and support from the Ford Foundation—they flooded federal courts with lawsuits designed to establish constitutional protections and substantive rights for the poor. They achieved a string of high-profile victories, perhaps best exemplified by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of a due process right to welfare pre-termination hearings in Goldberg v. Kelly (1970). But almost as quickly as it arose, the era of constitutional antipoverty lawyering receded as the Court refused to extend Goldberg’s procedural logic to recognize positive rights to social goods like welfare, housing, or education.
Law school curricula and casebooks during the time reflected the new antipoverty activism. As the tumult of the 1960s swirled outside their gates, law students demanded relevant courses and training. The first poverty law casebook was published in 1969, by which time law schools across the country were opening antipoverty clinics and offering more than 200 poverty-related courses. Responding to growing demand in this emerging area of law and practice, four more poverty law casebooks and a hornbook were published by 1976. But like the antipoverty litigation agenda, the poverty law movement in legal education began to wane almost as soon as it had begun. It would be more than 20 years before the next—and last—poverty law casebook was published, this time in the immediate shadow of welfare reform.
So, why a poverty law textbook in 2014?
First, although the Supreme Court has largely foreclosed an affirmative antipoverty avenue in the federal courts—and federal funding for legal services peaked in 1980—lawyers remain actively engaged in a wide range of antipoverty activities and initiatives. As they have for decades, lawyers for the poor continue to enforce and expand statutory rights, fight bureaucratic disentitlement, and challenge unjust policies in courts, legislatures, administrative agencies, and other settings. Relatively meager federal funding for legal services has helped to drive a more diverse and decentralized delivery system of experimentation and innovation at the state and local levels. Poverty lawyers have responded to the evolving needs of low-income clients and communities by promoting economic development, combating the impacts of criminalization, and partnering with other professionals in multidisciplinary practices.
Second, in the wake of the Great Recession, wealth disparities in the United States are at their highest levels since the 1920s. Living wages, affordable housing, and other basic needs are increasingly out of reach for tens of millions of Americans, including many working families and an eroding middle class. Government retrenchment and disinvestment from decades-old commitments to the poor, elderly, and disabled coincide with a global movement of labor and capital that reverberates throughout the domestic landscape. These developments raise important and troubling legal and policy questions, including the role of law, lawyers, and legal institutions in efforts to address the impact of persistent and deepening economic inequality.
Given the proliferation of substantive and methodological approaches in poverty law, this book is designed for a survey course. The first three chapters introduce foundational concepts about poverty, social welfare policy, and constitutional issues. With these tools in hand, the next seven chapters—which can be taught in any order— explore major antipoverty programs and sites of activity, including welfare, work, housing, health, education, criminalization, and access to justice. Each substantive chapter brings together a mix of data, doctrine, theory, policy, and practice issues. The final two chapters describe innovations and current debates, including market-driven and human rights-based approaches to poverty reduction.
The book includes a mix of case law, social science, and popular press readings from across the ideological spectrum. We hope it will provide students with a solid introduction to the evolving field of poverty law. More importantly, we hope it will encourage them to participate in ongoing efforts to combat the causes and conditions of poverty.
Preface downloaded from the SSRN.
Find the reference to this new case book, and many other useful resources on the War on Poverty, in the collaborative War on Poverty bibliography. Additional citations and comments are always welcome.
The ABA has put the video of the panel discussion following the screening of Inequality for All at Georgetown Law Center, on March 24th, 2014, online. The panel included: Anthony Cook, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law Center; Peter Edelman, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law Center; Antonia Fasanelli, Executive Director, Homeless Persons Representation Project; Chair: ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty; Patricia Mullahy Fugere, Executive Director, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless; Joseph McCartin, Director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Professor of History, Georgetown University.
Watch the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsxsQNm4G8Q&feature=youtu.be
By Earl Johnson Jr.
NOTE: A shorter and different version of this account appears in my recently published history of civil legal aid—TO ESTABLISH JUSTICE FOR ALL: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States (Praeger, 2014). The following draws heavily on events reported in several chapters of Scott Stossel’s excellent biography of Shriver’s life and career—SARGE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SARGENT SHRIVER (2005), while also including information from some other sources and my own personal experiences with him while he was the OEO Director and I was directing and some other sources.
Once Lyndon Johnson decided he wanted to wage and win a war against poverty and declared that war to the nation in his 1964 State of the Union address, he next had to choose a Commander in Chief to plan and execute the campaign. After only a short period, the President settled on Sargent Shriver, then the charismatic director of the highly successful Peace Corps he had launched from scratch three years earlier. From President Johnson’s perspective, Shriver had many pluses—among them, a proven record in taking a new program from concept to reality and a connection to the glamorous Kennedys without really being one of them. But Shriver also had pluses for those interested in adding a legal services arm to the war on poverty, plusses no other likely choices for that position would have had.
Because he so quickly became a businessman after law school, it is easy to overlook the fact Sargent Shriver started out as a lawyer and always thought of himself as one. In fact, as a Yale Law graduate he had no trouble landing a job at a Wall Street law firm when he returned from World War II after service as a naval officer on a battleship and a submarine. It is because Sarge found little value or interest in his work as an associate serving business interests that he soon left the law firm for an editorial job at Newsweek magazine. He had the credentials for that job, too, because as an undergraduate at Yale, he had been the editor in chief of the university’s newspaper. But he left Newsweek after a few months when Joe Kennedy Sr. asked him to look over his late son Joe Jr’s papers for a biography he hoped to see published. That request came after Sarge’s first date with the elder Kennedy’s daughter, Eunice, who told her father that Sarge was an assistant editor at the magazine. Soon the senior Kennedy recognized Shriver had other talents, too, and offered him a position as assistant manager in his latest business venture, the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, a failing enterprise he had recently acquired.
But Joe Kennedy Sr. wasn’t done asking Sarge to shift roles. In the meantime, his daughter, Eunice, had taken a position in government—as head of a new Committee on Juvenile Delinquency in the U.S. Department of Justice then Attorney General Tom Clark had established. Kennedy dispatched Shriver to “help Eunice” in her new assignment and paid his salary while he was a “dollar a year” employee serving as her deputy at the Department of Justice. This job proved to be a nearly perfect preparation for Sarge’s future role as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. In the year they were at the Justice Department, Eunice and Sarge planned a multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary, local community-oriented attack on juvenile delinquency. They were impatient to put their ambitious program into action and soon frustrated by the many bureaucratic obstacles to implementing that plan. After a year, they resigned from the Justice Department—Eunice to travel and work on other passions, Sarge to become the Merchandise Mart’s director and a major figure in the Chicago business and social community. Four years later, when Sarge was 37, Eunice Kennedy became Mrs. Sargent Shriver. From that moment on, Sargent Shriver’s fate – for both good and sometimes not so good–was tied to the Kennedys.
Fast forward to February, 1964. After Shriver proved a loyal and effective campaigner in his brother-in-law’s presidential campaign he then proved himself a charismatic, energetic, imaginative and highly successful leader of one of the Kennedy administration’s signature programs—the Peace Corps. As Sarge was returning from a month long trip reviewing Peace Corps stations in Asia, he was met at the gangway by the agency’s general counsel bearing gifts—two thick briefing books on President Johnson’s new War on Poverty initiative. This was his “draft notice” that Johnson wanted him as the general of his own personal initiative, this War on Poverty.
When Shriver arrived back in Washington, he received a call from the President informing him that there would be a news conference in a couple of days at which Johnson was announcing Shriver would be heading the War on Poverty. Shriver tried every excuse for why that shouldn’t happen. After all, he was still directing the Peace Corps and couldn’t abandon that program midstream. Neither the President nor anyone else wanted that landmark and popular venture to falter. Johnson’s answer was short—you can run both. No matter what objection Shriver voiced, Johnson persisted. The President even tried appealing to Shriver’s pride by saying most of his advisors didn’t think Shriver was the man for the job—good at PR but not at running a program. But he, the President, was confident he was.
So, on a Saturday in early February, 1964, without having ever said yes, Sargent Shriver listened to a press conference at which he was named the man responsible for leading the nation’s War against Poverty. The next day, a Sunday, he spent all day as a draftee not a volunteer beginning the difficult task of creating Johnson’s new program.
That Johnson chose Shriver to head the War on Poverty was critical for the prospects of including a legal services component. For one, he was a lawyer while many other possibilities were not. Second, he was not a bureaucrat, as many logical contenders were. Third, he was not an elected official or a former one, overly concerned with political consequences, which other conceivable candidates might have been. Fourth, while he wanted local community planning and action, he was not a community action purist, unlike many who were part of the team planning the War on Poverty. He knew from his Peace Corps experience that if he were to maintain Congressional support beyond the first year he needed early successes and ideas that would capture the nation’s attention.
The first idea to capture Shriver’s own imagination was what came to be known as “Head Start.” That idea struck Shriver when his wife, Eunice, then involved in efforts to help mentally impaired children, told him of early intervention programs that had proven successful with that population. If early intervention worked with mentally impaired children it should work with normal children who because of poverty didn’t get the same start as middle class children. He consulted some experts in early childhood education, asked them to work with him in designing a preschool program for the poor kids, and launched “Head Start.”
Shriver told President Johnson about this proposed “Head Start” initiative and Johnson loved it, saying they should double its size. But how to fund that program under the legislation they had managed to pass? Most of the available funding was in the Community Action Program section of the OEO budget. But the “head start” idea had not originated in local CAP programs nor had scores or hundreds of those local groups flooded OEO with requests to start their own early education projects. Yet both Shriver and the President were convinced this was just the sort of program that fit the underlying goal of lifting people out of poverty—equipping a future generation with the knowledge and skills to join the mainstream economy.
Shriver’s solution was to superimpose on the community action program what he called “national emphasis programs.” These were to be nationally designed and promoted programs that local community action agencies were encouraged to adopt and adapt—that is adopt the basic concept but adapt it to their local situations.
This made Shriver receptive to new ideas for other national emphasis programs– which put him at odds with community action purists, many of whom were on the senior staff at OEO. They tended to resent the “national emphasis programs” and the incursions they made in the overall CAP budget. But it also helps explain how Shriver became so excited when he read an article to appear in his law school’s law review, written by two young lawyers and outlining a new vision for what lawyers could do to improve the economic and social prospects of poor people That article, of course, was Edgar and Jean Cahn’s Yale Law Review article, “The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective.” Shriver stayed up until 2 AM reading it and called the Cahns early the next morning telling them to come to his office. Within the week, Edgar was Shriver’s special assistant and speech writer and Jean was an OEO consultant charged with the responsibility of putting together a new “national emphasis program”, a legal services program. That program had a long gestation period–a full year before it had a director and was in operation—but from that moment on it was part of the War on Poverty.
Whether any other OEO director would have been so receptive to devoting a slice of OEO’s Community Action Program budget to a legal services program seems doubtful. Not many would even have been willing to deviate from the community action purist position that all wisdom and all ideas resided at the local level or started the “national emphasis programs” that became the centerpiece of Shriver’s War on Poverty. Several other such programs were to come into being—among them, “Upward Bound” which encouraged and supported low income high school students to enter college, and “neighborhood health centers” which gave poor people ready access to health care.
There is another sense in which those interested in legal services for the poor should thank Sargent Shriver for having agreed, reluctant as he may have been, to serve as OEO’s first Director. He understood and supported the role of legal services lawyers as loyal advocates for the interests of their clients and the need for independence from outside pressures, political or otherwise. Two incidents illustrate his commitment.
In the Spring of 1966, the grant proposal for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) was under consideration at OEO. As might have been expected, most rural bar associations opposed the opening of CRLA offices in their counties. But what might seem unusual now, given the strong support the State Bar of California has given legal services programs over the years, in 1966 the Bar’s board of governors passed a resolution telling OEO it should not fund this program. After striking out with OEO-LSP director Clint Bamberger, the Cal Bar’s then president, John Sutro, called Shriver himself to register his personal opposition as well that of the association he headed. Sutro was not just the Cal Bar President but one of the state’s preeminent lawyers, the leading partner in one of San Francisco’s largest corporate law firms. Sutro told Shriver that if OEO made the grant to CRLA, it would be funding one side of an economic struggle between growers and farm workers. Shriver’s reply, “Well, If the members of the California Bar Association will stop representing the growers, OEO won’t provide lawyers to represent the farmworkers.” Sutro had no good answer to that point. Shortly thereafter, Bamberger and Shriver signed the CRLA grant. And, a year later, the State Bar of California supported CRLA’s refunding proposal.
The second incident also involves CRLA. In late, 1967, while I was the OEO-LSP director, we anticipated then Governor Ronald Reagan would be vetoing the CRLA refunding grant. I met with Shriver to find out whether he would be willing to override that veto—a power he retained as OEO director under the provisions of the OEO Act. His answer was unequivocal. “If I didn’t override that veto, we might as well turn the country over to the John Birch Society.” (Shriver couldn’t have known it but he was almost prescient with that comment. Two years later, while Richard Nixon was president, Governor Reagan assigned a dedicated member of the Birch Society, Lewis Uhler, to build the case against CRLA in order to justify the veto he exercised that year.)
Some idea of how much Shriver valued what legal services lawyers did and how much he understood the independence they needed in order to do for their clients what other lawyers do for theirs can be gleaned from what he said years later. Looking back, Shriver was asked which war on poverty program he thought was most important. He answered, “My favorite is Head Start because it was my idea. . . . But I am proudest of Legal Services because I recognized that it had the greatest potential for changing the system under which people’s lives were being exploited. I was proud of the young lawyers who turned down fat, corporate practices to work for the poor, and proudest of them when they dared to challenge state and federal procedures and win.”
That was the kind of War on Poverty director Sargent Shriver was—and the kind the OEO Legal Services Program needed if it were to come into existence and be able to perform its role, the role of the lawyer, in that difficult and controversial endeavor.
Earl Johnson, Jr., Visiting Scholar, University of Southern California Law School and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. He is the author of: To Establish Justice for All: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States (Praeger, 2014).
Johnson, who had served as the Deputy Director of the Neighborhood Legal Services Project in Washington, DC since 1964, was chosen to be the first deputy director of the Office of Economic Opportunities Legal Services Program in October 1965. Eight months later, Johnson succeeded Clinton Bamberger in that position, and served as director of the OEO Legal Services program until July 1968.
By Elisa Minoff
“Selected Readings in Law and Poverty” is a remarkable document. Gary Bellow compiled the bibliography with the help of several law students in 1964, for a course he was teaching at Georgetown Law called Poverty and the Administration of Justice. At the time, Bellow was a young public interest lawyer working at the Legal Aid Agency of the District of Columbia. Bellow would later work at two other organizations funded by the War on Poverty—the United Planning Organization (a community action agency in DC) and California Rural Legal Assistance (a pioneering legal services organization serving California’s farm workers)—before leaving legal practice for academia, where he helped found modern clinical legal education.
In 32 well-organized and quickly-digestible pages, the bibliography transports us back in time to those heady early days of the War on Poverty. It reminds us that what we have come to think of as the intellectual influences on the War on Poverty amount to only a sliver of the popular and scholarly writing on poverty at the time. And it gives us a taste of the ambition of practitioners like Bellow who were considering how to use the law in the fight against poverty.
Part I of the Bibliography, “The Elements of Poverty,” is most interesting to the general historian and reader. In it, Bellow and his fellow contributors list some of the most influential works on poverty from the early 1960s. Notably, the list does not stop at Michael Harrington’s The Other America or Ben Bagdikian’s In the Midst of Plenty. Bellow wanted to stimulate “law students in becoming more concerned with the legal problems of the poor and the urban condition,” as he wrote in the introduction. Accordingly, the selections tend to focus on the underlying causes of poverty, especially urban poverty, and the structural conditions that account for its persistence. Subsections on politics, race, class structure, and psychology include works by Saul Alinksy, Seymour Martin Lipset, Herbert Gans, Oscar Lewis, Ralph Ellison and Charles E. Silberman. These books were not low-circulation editions read by a handful of academics and poverty experts, but trade (and in some cases mass-market) paperbacks that became part of the larger public discourse about contemporary social problems.
As a historian of migration and social welfare, I was particularly excited to see Oscar Handlin’s The Newcomers listed among the “General Considerations.” Handlin was a prolific historian of immigration who had written the pulitzer-prize winning The Uprooted in 1951. In the late 1950s, he had turned to the study of contemporary internal migration. In The Newcomers, Handlin chronicles the experiences of Puerto Ricans and African Americans who had recently moved to New York City. When Handlin published The Newcomers, popular commentators had begun to blame migrants for the struggles of America’s inner cities, and social workers had come to believe that helping migrants “adjust” or “assimilate” to urban life was a prerequisite to solving urban poverty. Migration, in other words, was very much a part of the debate about poverty in the years leading up to Lyndon Johnson’s declaration, and Bellow’s bibliography manages to capture this too.
Considering the trends in anti-poverty research over the last several decades, the subsection on “The Psychology of Poverty” is particularly interesting. Psychology is yet another subject that has been largely missing from discussions of poverty, but was very much a part of the debates in the 1960s. Historian Alice O’Connor describes the “behavioral sciences revolution” that infused poverty research in the 1950s and 60s. During these years, the National Institute of Mental Health funded a number of influential studies and conferences on poverty. Bellows himself admitted to being especially concerned with the psychology of the poor. As he observed in a fascinating interview in 1964: ”It seems to me that poverty is something more than just economic deprivation. It seems to be characterized by a psychological dimension, a feeling of hopelessness, of powerlessness, of an inability among the poor as we call them to belong to any institution or feel a part of our society.” (Bellows and others involved in the legal services movement, believed that the law could help the poor combat this feeling of powerlessness bring them into the fold of American society.) In later years, anti-poverty activists became disenchanted with psychology as a subject that could help explain poverty’s persistence and gravity. After decades of marginalization, however, psychology is once again a part of the discussion, as researchers have started to unveil the long-lasting repercussions of phenomena like poverty-induced toxic stress in early childhood.
(As a footnote on the subject of psychology and poverty, Bellow includes Oscar Lewis’ book, The Children of Sanchez, in the list of works on psychology. In this book, Lewis develops his idea of a culture of poverty—another concept that has recently enjoyed something of a rebirth).
What is most notable about Part II of the bibliography, “The Legal Problems of the Poor,” is how broadly Bellow conceived these problems. Among the legal problems of the poor highlighted in the bibliography are housing issues, such as urban renewal and relocation, zoning, and landlord tenant disputes; consumer protection issues, such as loan and debt problems and purchasing on credit; criminal justice issues, such as arrest and the right to counsel; as well as, to randomly select just a few: juvenile delinquency, unemployment compensation, and discrimination. Part II, which primarily consists of law review articles, includes much more technical works than Part I, which is populated with books by academics, journalists, and activists written for a general audience. But the technicality does not suggest narrow or small mindedness. Poverty law, a la Bellow, addressed any and all issues that arose in the everyday lives of America’s poor. It was far more than the law of public assistance benefits.
Bellow’s bibliography poses something of a challenge to scholars concerned with poverty today: to think broadly, and ambitiously, about the problems of the poor, and to circulate our ideas widely so that they too may become part of the public discourse—fifty years after the War on Poverty.
About the author: Elisa Minoff is a political and legal historian, who will be teaching as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Florida beginning in the fall of 2014. She has conceptualized and developed the collaborative War on Poverty bibliography, which is available as a google doc.
More information about the bibliography can be found on NEJL’s War on Poverty — Legal Services Resources Center website.
Other related resources:
“Selected Readings in Law and Poverty,” prepared by Gary Bellow for a seminar at Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and the Administration of Justice taught in 1964-1965.
Interview with Gary Bellow on the Role of the Lawyer and the Problem of Poverty by Richard D. Capparella, District Roundtable, WWDC, May 9, 1964. Gary Bellow collection, NEJL. Reformatted vinyl recording is available as a streaming mp3 file at: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/707482
Friday, April 4, 2014
11:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
UDC David A. Clarke School of Law
4340 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Room 518
Washington, DC 20008
The Honorable Thomas E. Perez
Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor
22nd Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecturer
In declaring the War on Poverty fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson summoned the Nation to eliminate “barriers to full participation in our society” and strive to give each and every American a “fair chance to develop their own capacities.” In recognizing the Fiftieth Anniversary of that bold but unfinished task, the UDC Law Review has gathered leading policy and legal experts for this full-day symposium that explores new ways to combat the root causes of poverty in the U.S. today that continue to impair economic opportunity and mobility for many Americans. The Symposium broadly addresses barriers to economic equality and mobility in contemporary America, and ways to overcome those barriers. Noted policy and legal experts will present papers and ideas in discussion panels focusing on the following areas (some panels subject to modification):
Access to Justice for the Poor (estimated start time: 5:00 p.m.). Featuring:
* James S. Sandman, President, Legal Services Corporation
* Peter B. Edelman, Director, Georgetown Law, Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy;
* Jonathan M. Smith, Chief, Special Litigation Unit, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice;
* John C. Brittain, Professor of Law, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law
Inequality in Education, Health Care and Housing, including the impact of unaffordable housing on families of the District of Columbia (start time to be determined and precise speakers subject to possible modification). Featuring:
* Edgar S. Cahn, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Law, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law
* Marta Beresin, Staff Attorney, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
* Helen Frazer, Associate Dean for Law Library, and Associate Professor, University of the District of Columbia David A.Clarke School of Law
The Impact of Debt on Economic Mobility, including the effect of bankruptcy laws on American consumers, and proposals to address the growing problem of debt in America (start time to be determined and precise speakers subject to possible modification). Featuring:
* The Honorable Judge Stephen S. Mitchell, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Virginia (RET.) (Invited)
* James Tsai, Attorney and Policy Professional
Proposed Changes in Welfare Policy, the need for income supplements to enhance living standards, and creating more opportunities for poor and low income individuals to join the economic mainstream. (start time to be determined and precise speakers subject to possible modification). Featuring:
* Aleta Sprague, Esq., Policy Analyst, New American Foundation, Asset Building Program
* Spencer Rand, Clinical Associate Professor, Temple University, Beasley School of Law
* Joy Moses, Attorney and Policy Professional
Community Development and the Need to Broaden Access to Capital with emphasis on wealth-sharing and worker-owned pilot projects, the role of public benefit corporations and social enterprises, and examples of recent community economic development initiatives. (start time to be determined and precise speakers subject to possible modification). Featuring:
* Alicia Plerhoples, Associate Professor & Director of the Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic, Georgetown UniversitySchool of Law
* Steve Dubb, Research Director, The Democracy Collaborative, University of Maryland
* Louise Howells, Professor of Law & Director of the Community Development Law Clinic, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law
The Symposium will conclude with remarks delivered by
The Honorable Thomas E. Perez, Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, this year’s
David A. Clarke School of Law’s Annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Lecturer.
Additional Symposium program details forthcoming at http://www.law.udc.edu/event/2014Symposium
Below is an article written for the NEJl blog by Jonathan A. Weiss, the first “neighborhood lawyer” hired by the Ford Foundation-funded Neighborhood Legal Services Project in December, 1964. NLSP was a pilot project serving several low income areas in Washington DC which later became the OEO funded legal services program in that city. Weiss spent the next four decades in legal services including stints as a managing attorney in the DC program, as a managing attorney at Mobilization for Youth and at the Center for Law and Social Policy and then executive director of Legal Services for the Elderly in New York City. Weiss has published articles on the practice and theory for legal services attorneys, including “The Law and the Poor,” Journal of Social Issues 26:3 (1970), Law of the Elderly (1977) and “Should the Government Fund Legal Services? If so, what should the Lawyers Do?” Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics 2 (1999): 401-409.
In the article below Weiss focuses on his early years as a pioneering legal services lawyer in the nation’s capital, when the goals and scope of the program were being worked out.
Earl Johnson, Jr.
My recollections of working for Neighborhood Legal Services in Washington, DC, in the mid 1960s
By Jonathan Weiss
The earliest mention of legal services in my life was in conversations with Gary Bellow, in which we agreed that criminal law representation was not enough for poor people if they had to return to poverty, which had created the conditions of crime. Lawyers had to take on representation of the deprived and oppressed economically in order to make real social progress.
I also thought of legal services as an extension of the Civil Rights movement. Voting and education rights were also crucial, but if there continued to be economic disaster for those who faced discrimination, removing some of the discrimination would not be enough.
Through Gary I first met Ed Sparer, who was then running the legal services component of Mobilization for Youth in New York, and planning to establish the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law. (He offered me the deputy – and probably the one staff — position which I declined later). Gary moved on from Criminal Legal Aid to establish and essentially direct the D.C. United Planning organization which was to provide field offices with components to help people with housing, welfare, social work problems, and even domestic duties. In these field offices, there would also be a legal services office to work with these components. He persuaded Earl Johnson, Jr. to come to Washington, D.C. to run these legal services offices.
Earl interviewed me for a job in legal services. He asked me if I agreed with the Cahn article. I said I did not, for it seemed more of an imposition of an ideology on a community rather than representing members of the community. Earl agreed and that may have been one factor in his hiring me.
Headquarters were on 12th and U St. NW in the Negro Masonic Temple which was not used during the day. Earl asked me to write the basic articles on the ethical rules and limitations of legal services practice. Relying on National Brotherhood of Railroad Workers and NAACP v Button primarily I concluded that as long as there was a direct personal attorney client relationship with no economic preconditions and a social ideal, a structure could be provided to establish the network envisaged.
I then went to the office on 14th and Park Road, which was directed by an experienced and excellent lawyer, Gene Chase, with whom I worked closely. It became clear to me immediately that the clients that came in with grievances often did not know which ones had legal remedies – and that the major skill of a legal services lawyer was to find what was the legal issue with which he could help. Next, it was clear there were whole areas, where there were helpful, even dispositive, laws on the books (including the Constitution), but lawlessness in the poverty ghettos both in the criminal and civil field. It was also clear that poor people’s problems were often intertwined: a welfare demonstration might lead to an arrest, an eviction, loss of child, and then welfare itself. The Gordian knot had to be untied. (I was never aware of Legal Aid in D.C. except when I went to run the office at 14th and Clifton and have a legal aid lawyer assigned there, Marie Klooz).
Earl was initially concerned that not enough test cases or law reform cases were being generated. I told him that we were winning when we discovered the issues and some of the lawyers weren’t looking hard enough. (Years later when Gary Bellow went to California Rural Legal Assistance, he developed a list of 50 cases he would like to bring. I bet him if he reviewed the case files already open he would find them and he did.).
Meanwhile an education program had been set up, primarily by Robert Cipes, I believe, who had written Volumes 8 and 8A of the Federal Criminal Code commentary. Among the speakers was Herman Miller, a landlord’s lawyer, who was delighted to have us litigate against him because he then made more money than all the defaults he had taken at, I believe 50 cents each.
Important cases did start to emerge when there was no choice but to appeal or take affirmative action. Brian Olmsted helped by Bob Cipes and others brought the case which established the right to be free from retaliatory eviction (requiring a jury trial since facts were now central) so that a landlord could not evict a tenant for complaining about conditions to a government agency. The right of Juveniles to habeas corpus and bail was firmly established.
The rights of Juveniles at trials were expanded by the Court of Appeals. In a failure to move one case, the Court of Appeals held that a person wrongfully arrested had a right to swear at the policeman.
We also started handling Social Security disability cases. I think no one had ever appealed before because they had to find special officers and space. We started winning a number and now, of course, there is a whole segment of the bar that specializes in this area.
We did the same in Unemployment.
Tom Willging joined my office, fresh out of law school, but not able to practice because he was not yet admitted to the Bar. As a result, I took on a large number of consumer cases and he drafted extensive and exhaustive discovery, particularly interrogatories which allowed us to end the case with no payment for our client.
Later the National Center for Education in Law and Poverty and the Center on Social Welfare Justice and Law produced material about how to interview, disseminated form annotated pleadings, and discovery, so that these could be used nationwide. They had their genesis in Neighborhood Legal Services.
The most striking aspect was the not just the entanglement of problems, the range of issues never raised, the lawlessness, but how many people there were who needed help. (Getting referral from the Neighborhood Centers, and having them help us, mitigated this factor). One month I did 100 intakes. So I took a year off on a Fulbright in Italy before returning to New York, to work at both Mobilization of Youth Legal Services and the Center of Social Welfare Policy and Law where I started Legal Services for the Elderly which continued for over 35 years.
The NEJL collections includes some of Jonathan Weiss’s papers, including a full set of progress reports on legal services for the elderly, from 1972 until 2002. The Jonathan Weiss papers also include a full bibliography of his writings.
The NEJL also holds the papers of Jean and Edgar Cahn related to legal services. Transcripts and recordings of oral history interviews with Edgar Cahn, Justice Earl Johnson, Jr. , and Gary Bellow are also part of the NEJL collections.
As one of the contributions marking the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, the National Equal JusticeLibrary has launched a collaborative bibliography on the War on Poverty. The initiative grew out of a conference on Poverty Law: Cases, Teaching, and Scholarship at the Washington College of Law in October 2013. Elisa Minoff, a political and legal historian, who will be teaching as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Florida beginning in the fall of 2014, has conceptualized and developed the initial bibliography. The bibliography is designed to be an ongoing collaborative effort, and Minoff encourages others to contribute additional entries, and well as annotations to existing and new entries.
The idea was to highlight some of the most enduring scholarship on the War on Poverty and to present the most recent work being done by social scientists, legal scholars, and historians on the subject. For context, Minoff included a list of useful sources on social welfare in America before and after the War on Poverty, as well as some recent analyses of the legacies of the War on Poverty. We are planning to add a section with literature covering the most significant poverty law cases in the next weeks.
The document is available as a google doc, which is also linked from the NEJl’s War on Poverty — Legal Services Resources Center website:
The bibliography can also be downloaded as a pdf document:
Periodic updates of the bibliography will be posted on the NEJL War on Poverty — Legal Services Resources Center website as pdf documents.
If you would like to contribute citations and commentary, please e-mail Elisa at elisa.minoff [at] gmail.com. Elisa can either give you permission to edit the document directly or add your suggested citations herself.