A Message to Lawyers and Law Students: We Can Always Afford Justice (And No, Your Taxes Will Not Pay for It)

Most Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing: looming fiscal challenges, made more severe by the recent tax cuts, require that something be done about the budget. According to this view, we didn’t have enough money before, and we have less money now, putting ever more spending on the nation’s “credit card.”

Although lawyers and law students might (wrongly) think broad macroeconomic issues such as distribution and entitlements should be left to economists and policy wonks, they should recognize that fiscal policy involves questions of individual rights and justice in a narrow, legal sense. Courts determine what due process requires in part by evaluating the “financial cost.” Cash-strapped government entities rely on fines and fees for funding, inevitably preying on vulnerable communities. There’s also the massive crisis in legal services, with understaffed and underfunded public defender and civil legal aid offices facing overwhelming caseloads. The results are a disaster, and in each instance, individual rights are subject to fiscal considerations.

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