Brooks, Kennedy announce the Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus

The Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus was launched by U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) on Tuesday to expand access to legal representation for low-income families.

Half of qualified applicants for legal assistance are turned away because of a lack of resources, according to the Legal Services Corporation. Brooks and Kennedy, both former prosecutors, have made it a goal during their time in Congress to address such inequities.

“Unfortunately, some civil disputes require the parties to resolve their differences in court, but many of those who face the toughest legal challenges, including low-income families, veterans, and victims of domestic violence, are forced to navigate the judicial system alone, without any legal help or counsel simply because they can’t afford it,” Brooks said. “Without legal advice to help guide them through the complicated judicial process, and with court personnel and systems often overwhelmed, they can face enormous burdens that devastate families, result in a further descent into poverty, and cause homelessness. This caucus will seek to change that, making sure that when civil disputes are brought to our judicial system, those involved, regardless of financial means, have access to appropriate legal resources and representation.”

Brooks and Kennedy, in a letter to their colleagues that urged them to join the caucus, cited a Boston Bar Association report that found that 64 percent of eligible cases in Massachusetts in 2013 were turned away from legal aid due to lack of funding. They added that the majority of cases that would be covered by civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts and Indiana involved housing and family cases.

“Our legal system is where our nation makes good on the sacred promise of equal justice under the law,” Kennedy said. “But too often that promise is far from guaranteed for low-income families, veterans, victims of domestic violence and thousands of other Americans forced to stand in our courtrooms alone each year with their homes, savings and futures at risk. Through this caucus, we can build a strong coalition in Congress to advocate for civil legal aid programs and ensure access to representation is never limited by income.”

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