This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and the Clearinghouse Review. Fifty years after it began, the Clearinghouse continues to reach thousands of civil legal aid and equal justice advocates across the country with timely, practical resources and information on poverty law practice.
To celebrate, throughout this year the Clearinghouse will take a monthly dive into the Review’s archive to examine how things have—and have not—changed in the field of poverty law and policy since 1967. We begin this “reCollection” with an earlier retrospective article—one from 25 years ago when we looked back at the first 25 years of the Clearinghouse Review and its ties to the beginning of the legal services movement.
Our Roots: The War on Poverty
As the article explains, Pres. Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1964 and appointed Sargent Shriver to head the newly created Office of Economic Opportunity to administer federal antipoverty programs. The Office’s Legal Services Program began the following year. By 1967, this federally funded program of legal aid offices across the country was gaining momentum, but it had no formal way of sharing information and staying connected. To fill this need and “[t]o encourage programs to join in innovative legislation and litigation,” the head of the Office of Economic Opportunity created the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services.
The Clearinghouse built and cataloged a repository of case documents, legislative materials, and publications for the use of the national civil legal aid community. To let legal aid programs know what was available, the Clearinghouse began publishing a monthly newsletter, the Clearinghouse Review. The Review contained summaries of the files and documents that could be requested, updates on important poverty law developments, and requests for attorneys to contribute their own noteworthy cases to the Clearinghouse. Looking back through these archives offers a glimpse of the early stages of some cases that proved noteworthy as they progressed, cases such as Kelly v. Wyman, better known by its name as it later appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court: Goldberg v. Kelly.
An Evolution: An Opportunity Out of Crisis
Over the years the Clearinghouse Review evolved to meet the needs of its readers. It published regular updates from specialists at the national support centers (e.g., the National Consumer Law Center and the National Health Law Program). It reviewed poverty law developments in all issue areas every January. And in 1992 the Review began publishing an annual recap of the previous Term of the U.S. Supreme Court and its decisions implicating access to the federal court system.
Although the legal services movement and the Clearinghouse had adjusted to fluctuating funding and support levels over the decades, the year 1996 brought unprecedented changes to both. Congress came down hard on federal programs for low-income people (e.g., “welfare reform”), and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which at that time funded the Clearinghouse, did not escape unscathed. Congress imposed restrictions on what LSC-funded programs could do, slashed LSC’s funding, and eliminated funding entirely for several of LSC’s programs—including the Clearinghouse.
At that time the Clearinghouse joined forces with some attorneys from the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago to form what is now the Shriver Center. Having those practitioners on staff informed the content of the Clearinghouse Review and gave the attorneys a channel to share their successful strategies with a national community of like-minded advocates. The Review continued to serve as a vital communication channel for the legal aid programs across the country that were reeling from funding cuts and restrictions on their work; the Review published articles advising LSC-funded attorneys on how they could continue to have an impact while staying within the new restrictions.
I first encountered the Clearinghouse Review during this period. I was a new attorney at the LSC-funded Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky in 2001. The Review arrived every couple of months and wound its way attorney-by-attorney through the office. We had a sticky note on the cover to check off after we had read it so we could pass it on to the next attorney. When an issue had made its way through the office, it was placed in a three-ring binder and shelved by volume number in the office conference room. It was a large and precious collection of information.
Today: Continued Response, Continued Community
As it did during the post-welfare-reform years, the Clearinghouse Review has continued to respond to changes in the political landscape, such as the treatment of immigrants after September 11, the move toward privatization of social services, and changes in presidential administrations. And as communication channels evolved to digital formats, so, too, did the Clearinghouse Review. Now a searchable website—the Clearinghouse Community—with access to a complete archive of 50 years of articles, the Clearinghouse connects the national civil legal aid community with interactive online broadcasts and webinars in addition to its thoughtful and practical articles on current poverty law topics.
Through all of these changes, the Clearinghouse has continued to be a hub of information that brings together advocates to strengthen the work they do for people living in poverty. Roger Wolf, the first director of the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, wrote in the very first issue of the Clearinghouse Review, “Through the publication of this monthly newsletter, we hope to facilitate the meaningful exchange of ideas among those involved in the poverty field.” Fifty years later, that goal still drives the Clearinghouse.
Help us plan the future installments of the reCollection. What Clearinghouse Review articles affected your practice or personal approach to advocacy? When did you start reading Clearinghouse Review? How has the Clearinghouse helped you better represent your clients? Let us know.