Restricting Actions of Legal Services Lawyers
In 1974, Congress created the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) through the Legal Services Corporation Act. The LSC’s purpose is to fund nonprofit organizations allowing them to serve indigent people in legal matters.
Since its creation, the LSC prevented grantees from providing certain legal services. These initial restrictions included the prohibition of legal assistance in fee-generating cases, criminal cases, certain abortion matters, desegregation of elementary or secondary schools, and proceedings involving violations of the Selective Service Act.
In 1996, Congress included new restrictions preventing LSC grantees from providing service to several populations. The 1996 prohibitions included class action lawsuits, attorney’s fees collection, representation of certain immigrants, representation of incarcerated persons, representation of people evicted from public housing because of drug-related activity, and challenges to laws related to welfare reform.
The LSC would allow restricted services only if non-LSC funds were used and activities were conducted in separate facilities with separate leadership and separate staff using separate equipment.
LSC grantees challenged the 1996 restrictions on First Amendment grounds. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a circuit court ruling that upheld most of the restrictions. A provision that precluded lawyers from challenging welfare laws during representation in a denial of benefits case was ruled as impermissible viewpoint discrimination.
In 2004, the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, ordered a preliminary injunction preventing the LSC from requiring grantees using non-LSC funds to maintain separate offices for restricted activities. The injunction was granted because the separation requirement was an undue burden on free speech.
Cases and Statutes Cited
- Velazquez v. Legal Services Corporation, 164 F.3d 757 (2d Cir. 1998)
- Velazquez v. Legal Services Corporation, 531 U.S. 533 (2001)
- Velazquez v. Legal Services Corporation, 349 F.Supp. 2d 566 (E.D.N.Y. 2004)
- Legal Services Corporation Act, 42 U.S.C., Section 2996 et seq.
- Regulations Governing the Legal Services Corporation, 45 C.F.R. Part 1600 to 1644
- Restrictions on LSC Grantees, 42 U.S.C., Section 2996f
See also Viewpoint Discrimination in Free Speech Cases