A report that President Donald Trump could take an ax to the Legal Services Corp. has been greeted with concern, but advocates for equal access to the courts say it's too soon to write the agency's obituary.
The Trump administration is eyeing the elimination of LSC as part of the 2017 federal budget, according to a Jan. 19 report in The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper covering the U.S. government. But if Trump does attempt to eliminate the 42-year-old agency, its many supporters in Congress would be expected to come to its aid.
LSC, which seeks an appropriation of $502 million for Fiscal Year 2017, distributes funds to local organizations that provide legal aid in the 50 states. The proposal to cut LSC funding was part of a report that also called for eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, among others, The Hill reported. The newspaper said the proposed cuts mirror suggested cuts in a report issued last year by the Heritage Foundation, which has long been critical of LSC.
"Even the fact that out of the gate the Trump administration is targeting legal services made me sick to my stomach," said David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works, a Washington organization providing public service opportunities for lawyers. "I never take any of these risks lightly. The fact that the president has targeted [LSC] has me worried. I think the main thing to take away is we have a lot of friends on both sides of the aisle," Stern said.
LSC is no stranger to battles over federal funds, but in past budget battles, a bipartisan group of supporters have come forward to support the agency, Stern said. But restrictions on the use of LSC funds have helped the agency win friends among conservatives, he said. The agency's funds can't be used toward filing class actions, or advocating policy reforms, and there are restrictions on use of funds to represent immigrants, he said.