William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal
Justice or Injustice for the Poor?: A Look at the Constitutionality of Congressional Restrictions on Legal Services
Upon enacting the Legal Services Corporation Act in 1974, Congress created the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which provides federal funding to grantees that perform legal services for low-income individuals. In recent years, Congress has enacted restrictions upon grantees' receipt of such federal funding, limiting the legal services these legal aid attorneys can provide to their clients. This move has sparked great debate. Proponents of the restrictions argue that they are needed to correct abuse and misuse of the legal services program, while opponents argue that the restrictions only harm low-income individuals.
In this Note, the author addresses this controversial issue by first examining the purpose and history of the Legal Services Corporation. The author then examines recent Supreme Court opinions analyzing the constitutionality of attaching conditions to the use of federal funds. In applying the "unconstitutional conditions" doctrine recently set out by the Supreme Court, the author argues that many of Congress's recent restrictions are not only harmful; they are unconstitutional.
The author argues that many of the restrictions Congress recently has enacted interfere with the protected attorney-client relationship and implicate First Amendment concerns. Specifically, the author argues that the restrictions prohibiting welfare-reform advocacy and abortion-related litigation constitute viewpoint discrimination and thus are unconstitutional. Also unconstitutional are the restrictions on lobbying and influencing the government because they are impermissibly overbroad. Finally, the author argues that restrictions requiring affiliate organizations of grantees to satisfy certain program integrity requirements unconstitutionally restrict grantees' right to engage in prohibited speech or activities using non-LSC funds.
The author concludes the Note by arguing that in enacting the recent restrictions, Congress has thwarted the purpose of the Legal Services Corporation Act. Instead of providing justice for low-income individuals, the restrictions only create more injustice.