The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls on President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Sharon Browne to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). On December 17, Obama announced his intention to nominate Ms. Brown, a principal attorney and member of the senior management at the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation and a member of the Civil Rights Practice Group of the Federalist Society.
The Legal Services Corporation is the nation’s principal funder of civil legal aid for the poor. Established by Congress in 1974, it operates by providing grants to—and overseeing—independent nonprofit legal aid programs throughout the US. The LSC operates as a private, nonprofit corporation, with a board of directors composed of 11 members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. By law, the board is bipartisan: no more than six members may be of the same political party.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, in contrast, describes itself as a "public interest legal organization that fights for limited government, property rights, individual rights and a balanced approach to environmental protection." At the PLF, Browne has authored briefs arguing against race-based school district assignment policies. She and the PLF have also been ardent supporters of Prop. 209, the 1996 ballot initiative that ended most affirmative action programs in California.
Not only does the PLF oppose much of what Legal Services stands for, but it has also directly opposed funding for Legal Services agencies. The PLF filed an amicus brief seven years ago in support of litigation challenging the legality of IOLTAs, or Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, which are an essential supplementary funding resource for Legal Services agencies around the country.
While this slot on the LSC Board cannot legally go to a Democrat and while the minority members are traditionally selected by the minority party’s congressional leadership, there is no legal bar and ample precedent for naming an independent rather than a member of the opposition party. At the very least, the president is obligated to nominate someone who believes in the importance of ensuring that the poor be afforded the legal services they need. We note, for example, that the recently-deceased former head of the Legal Services Corporation, William McAlpin, was a Republican who fought vigorously to strengthen it.
The National Lawyers Guild calls on President Obama to withdraw Sharon Browne's nomination and either appoint an independent or invite the Senate Minority Leader to offer a candidate who will seek to strengthen the Legal Services Corporation.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.