Equal Access to Justice: Ensuring Meaningful Access to Counsel in Civil Cases, Including Immigration Proceedings
Only a small fraction of the legal problems experienced by low‐income and poor people living in the United States — less than one in five — are addressed with the assistance of legal representation. Many people who are low‐income and poor in the United States cannot afford legal representation to protect their rights when facing a crisis such as eviction, foreclosure, domestic violence, workplace discrimination, termination of subsistence income or medical assistance, loss of child custody, or deportation.
There is no federal constitutional right to counsel in civil cases, including in immigration proceedings. On the contrary, the Supreme Court has created a presumption against appointing counsel in any civil case where physical liberty is not in the balance. In fact, the Court’s decision in Turner v. Rogers refused to find a categorical right to counsel even in some civil cases where lengthy jail sentences are imposed. And despite international consensus to the contrary, the United States Department of Justice participated as amicus in that case to expound on its position that there is no general right to civil counsel. Compounding these problems, the primary mechanism for providing civil legal services to people who are poor and low‐income is both underfunded and severely restricted. The result is a crisis in unmet civil legal needs that disproportionately harms racial and ethnic minorities, women, and immigrants.
Human Rights Institute & Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy,
Equal Access to Justice: Ensuring Meaningful Access to Counsel in Civil Cases, Including Immigration Proceedings,
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/human_rights_institute/42