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Abstract

In 1995, the threat of a major cut in federal legal services funding loomed over legal services programs. Conservative members of Congress advocated not only the "Contract with America" and the end of funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, but also the demise of legal services for indigent Americans. Ralph Reed, the Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, compared the end of funding for legal services to Ronald Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers: while legal services was a relatively small budget item, its "formidable constituency" meant its demise would be a "dramatic and symbolic" gesture of the triumph of the new conservative government and would help pave the way for further, larger program cuts. In addition to drastic funding reductions, Congress contemplated imposing unprecedented restrictions on all remaining legal services funding, a change as devastating to legal services programs as the funding cuts themselves. These restrictions prohibited legal services programs from doing much of their most important and efficient work, including litigating class actions on behalf of poor people, addressing welfare reform issues, and advocating for poor clients regarding legislation and regulations that would have wide impact on their lives. Moreover, the proposed restrictions were not limited to programs' federal funds, but would apply to any funds legal services programs received, such as state and local funding, foundation grants, and private contributions.

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