Congress moves to end restrictions on activism funded by the infamous Legal Services Corporation.
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However, Harkin inserted a measure in his bill that overturns these prohibitions, putting the lie to his compromising spirit. The legislation lifts all restrictions, except those related to abortion litigation, on the use of non-LSC funds. Known as the “program integrity” restriction, the limit on the use of non-LSC funds is crucial. Virtually all LSC grantees, which are private, nonprofit foundations, receive money from private or other government sources. Without the “program integrity” rule, the other restrictions would be rendered virtually meaningless because grantees could simply claim they are using non-LSC money.
By lifting the “program integrity” rule, LSC grantees would be permitted to resume litigation on behalf of illegal aliens, prisoners, and drug dealers in public housing. In short, the Harkin bill would return LSC grantees to the “glory days” of the 1970s and '80s when they could file ideologically-motivated litigation with impunity.
Harkin is also doing for legal services lawyers what they couldn’t achieve in the courts. Since the restrictions went into effect 13 years ago, legal services programs and other advocacy groups filed numerous lawsuits to overturn the rules, especially the “program integrity” rule. However, the courts consistently ruled that the restrictions passed constitutional muster.
In addition to ending the restrictions, Harkin aims to give a huge financial boost to LSC. The “Civil Access to Justice Act” increases the authorized funding for LSC to $750 million, nearly double its 2009 appropriation of $390 million. The rationale for the $750 million figure is that it is approximately the amount appropriated in 1981, adjusted for inflation, which was presumably the high-water mark for LSC funding. The Harkin bill is most generous in that LSC is officially requesting $485 million for fiscal year 2010.
Co-sponsors to “The Civil Access to Justice Act of 2009” include Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John Kerry (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
The bill is supported by the American Bar Association, the George Soros-funded Brennan Center for Justice, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, National Organization of Legal Services Workers and United Auto Workers.
The federal legal services program has served as liberalism’s judicial shock force since it was established 35 years ago. Democratic control of the government has produced in just a few short months an unprecedented explosion in spending and an assault on signature conservative achievements in social policy, most notably welfare reform. Boosting LSC spending and removing the constraints on politically-motivated litigation will only add fuel to this new outburst of government activism.
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