ACS Speakers Series: Chief Judge Lippman – The Right to Civil Legal Services

Jeremy Kreisberg

The HLS American Constitution Society was honored to be joined by Chief Judge Lippman of the New York Court of Appeals today.  Chief Judge Lippman spoke about New York’s efforts to fund civil legal services for low-income New Yorkers who are at risk of losing the essentials of life, including but not limited to housing, health care, and employment income.  He began his remarks by laying out the steep problems faced by a growing population of impoverished New Yorkers and Americans, who face dire legal challenges including mortgage foreclosures and landlord-tenant disputes, without access to an attorney.  In order to address this growing need, Chief Judge Lippman has secured funding from the state government in New York to provide civil legal services to this at-risk population.  Chief Judge Lippman reported that for every dollar spent on civil legal services in New York, five dollars have been saved due to the subsequent decrease in homelessness and poverty that would push low-income New Yorkers into social service programs.  Throughout his remarks, Chief Judge Lippman argued that legal services for indigent parties should be recognized as a fundamental right, just as we view emergency health care and public education, due to the inherent ethical considerations and our notions of justice.

We look forward to continuing this discussion in the comments section:

  • Should all civil litigants have a right to an attorney?  Should a certain class of civil litigants have such a right?
  • How does the right to civil legal services fit within the paradigm of due process?
  • How should we prioritize civil legal services among the needs of low-income Americans?  If funding for civil legal services is net-beneficial for state budgets, do we need to ask this question?
  • Where does the current case law leave us on this issue?  How will Turner v. Rogers be applied?

Please feel free to add additional questions in the comments section.


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