Scanlon Applauds President Biden’s Directive to Expand Access to Justice

Equal justice under the law cannot be achieved when the deck is stacked against those who do not have access to counsel. Whether protecting the rights of an accused individual in our criminal justice system, keeping families in their homes, helping vulnerable children, or ensuring access to the ballot, the support and guidance of legal professionals is often critical to accessing government benefits and vindicating human and civil rights.

Despite decades of study showing that over 80 percent of Americans cannot obtain legal counsel when they need it, our most vulnerable citizens are still relying upon a patchwork of underfunded legal services agencies, volunteers, and self help. That is why I am so thrilled President Biden has recognized this fundamental need with the directive issued today — a memorandum outlining two critical steps that the federal government can take to expand access to the nation’s legal system and support the work of civil legal aid providers and public defenders.

In the memorandum, Attorney General Garland is asked to submit a report to President Biden within 120 days outlining a plan for the Department of Justice to expand its access to justice work. It also reestablishes the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR), which coordinates interagency collaboration to more effectively support the needs of underserved individuals and advance a range of federal objectives — such as employment, housing, and consumer protection — through civil legal aid.

The Department of Justice previously elevated the issue of legal aid through the Office of Access to Justice, and I am hopeful that President Biden’s new directive will put us back on a path towards expanding opportunities for representation and ensuring equity in our justice system.

I look forward to advancing this important work with the Biden administration and my colleagues in the bipartisan Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus.

Mary Gay Scanlon currently serves a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.