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TEXAS RURAL LEGAL AID, INC. v. LEGAL SERVS. CORP.

June 25, 1990

TEXAS RURAL LEGAL AID, INC., ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION, Defendant


Gerhard A. Gesell, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

GERHARD A. GESELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 Plaintiffs in this action are three independent local legal aid organizations participating in programs to assist the poor. Each receives funds from the defendant, Legal Services Corporation ("LSC"), a non-profit District of Columbia corporation created by the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2996 et seq. (the "LSC Act"). Plaintiffs seek to set aside a Final Rule, published by LSC, 54 Fed. Reg. 31954 (Aug. 3, 1989) (the "Final Rule"), that prohibits them from participating in redistricting cases approved by their respective boards under the statutory scheme. Cross-motions for summary judgment have been thoroughly documented, briefed and argued.

 The Court has jurisdiction

 LSC asserts that it is accountable only to Congress and challenges the Court's jurisdiction to review its actions. However, the Court holds that it has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This holding is amply supported by rulings in analogous circumstances. See, e.g., San Juan Legal Services, Inc. v. Legal Services Corp., 655 F.2d 434 (1st Cir. 1981); Spokane County Legal Services, Inc. v. Legal Services Corp., 614 F.2d 662 (9th Cir. 1980); National Paralegal Institute v. Legal Services Corp., C.A. No. 76-1260 (D.D.C. August 12, 1976). Moreover, the Court of Appeals for this Circuit has assumed, without directly addressing the point, that such jurisdiction exists. National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, Inc. v. Legal Services Corp., 674 F. Supp. 37 (D.D.C. 1987), aff'd mem., 861 F.2d 303 (D.C.Cir. 1988). *fn1"

 The statutory scheme

 Before directly addressing the merits, it is necessary to emphasize the nature of the underlying statutory scheme:

 First, there can be no dispute as to the intended purpose of the LSC Act. Congress sought to provide "financial support for legal assistance in noncriminal proceedings or matters to persons financially unable to afford legal assistance." 42 U.S.C. § 2996b(a). This purpose is developed and explicated fully by a series of congressional findings in the Act:

 
(1) there is a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our Nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances;
 
(2) there is a need to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel and to continue the present vital legal services program;
 
(3) providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate legal counsel will serve the best ends of justice and assist in improving opportunities for low-income persons consistent with the purposes of this chapter;
 
(4) for many of our citizens, the availability of legal services has reaffirmed faith in our government of laws;
 
(5) to preserve its strength, the legal services program must be kept free from the influence of or use by it of political pressures; and
 
(6) attorneys providing legal assistance must have full freedom to protect the best interests of their clients in keeping with the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Canons of Ethics, and the high standards of the legal profession.

 42 U.S.C. § 2996.

 Second, it is apparent from the face of the statute that, prior to adoption of the Final Rule, LSC-funded organizations were not prohibited from accepting redistricting cases as a means of effectuating these broad purposes. Congress itself chose in the exercise of its legislative authority to specify the categories or types of activities prohibited under the LSC Act. The statute specifically provides, at § 2996f(b) that LSC shall not make available funds for ten categories of activities:

 (1) certain fee-generating cases;

 (2) felony criminal cases;

 (3) habeas corpus-type cases;

 (4) (A) political activity, (B) transporting voters to polls or "similar assistance in connection with an election (other than legal advice and representation)," and (C) "any voter registration ...


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