Nov 22, 2021
When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, he was determined to eliminate legal aid to the poor. He pressed Congress not to reauthorize the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), established in 1974 by President Nixon to provide lowest income Americans with access to high-quality legal counsel in civil cases. Congress stopped short of eradicating LSC but drastically cut funding and restricted the use of class action suits, viewed by conservatives as the gateway to broader social impacts. Maryland Volunteer Legal Services (MVLS) was created in 1981 to represent Marylanders in cases involving evictions, child custody and loss of homes to tax liens. While MVLS is a key player in a robust statewide network, the demand remains overwhelming. As MVLS executive director Susan Francis explains, it is expensive to be poor. And public policies are not race neutral in their impacts. Black Marylanders are disproportionately hurt by payday lenders, lead poisoning and loss of homes due to flawed title transfers. MVLS recruits and trains private bar attorneys to represent clients and advocates for reforms to unjust policies. Their work transforms lives and proves what intentionality can generate.