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Government-Paid Lawyers Gone Wild

Attorneys working for the taxpayer-funded Legal Services Corporation may soon be free to litigate in an effort to make government bigger, writes John Carlisle, director of policy at the National Legal and Policy Center, a nonprofit foundation based in Falls Church, Virginia.

Carlisle, a former editor of Capital Research Center’s Organization Trends and Foundation Watch, writes in the American Spectator that

The Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress may soon gain another valuable ally in their effort to radically expand government. On March 26, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced legislation that ends the restrictions on the ability of legal services organizations, funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), to file ideologically motivated lawsuits. In addition, Harkin’s bill, “The Civil Access to Justice Act of 2009,” nearly doubles the LSC budget from $390 million to $750 million. If Harkin’s bill is enacted, thousands of legal services lawyers will unleash a barrage of lawsuits in the nation’s federal and state courts to advance a liberal political agenda.

The Harkin bill comes as no surprise. Liberal groups started lobbying Congress at the beginning of the year on LSC’s behalf. On January 6, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights sent a letter to members of Congress calling for the abolition of restrictions on LSC-funded activism. The Washington Post ran an editorial on March 14 calling on lawmakers to “unshackle Legal Services from congressionally-imposed restrictions that have kept it from working more efficiently and broadly.”

The restrictions were enacted by Congress in 1996 in response to legal services lawyers systematically using taxpayer money to advance liberal policies. These restrictions included bans on representing undocumented aliens, abortion-related litigation, prisoner advocacy, class action lawsuits, challenges to welfare reform, and congressional redistricting cases.

The restrictions did have a significant effect in reducing LSC-funded activism. However, legal services lawyers were still able to push a political agenda within the confines of the law. In several cases, they brazenly violated the restrictions. For example, in 2008 the LSC inspector general subpoenaed client records from California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) to determine if it violated the restriction on representing undocumented aliens. A former CRLA lawyer said the organization had a policy of providing aid to illegal aliens. CRLA refused to release the names to the inspector general, citing attorney-client confidentiality. […]