The Justice Department completed a plan to expand legal services for people who can’t afford lawyers, the White House said Wednesday, providing the first indication President Biden’s effort announced in May is moving forward.
Justice submitted a plan to Biden on schedule, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in a written statement. “We look forward to releasing more publicly in the near future,” he said. A spokesperson for Attorney General Merrick Garland didn’t return a request for comment.
Biden gave Justice until Sept. 15 to give him a plan, including a budget and expected staffing, “to increase meaningful access to our legal system.” The goal, after President Trump left office, is to revive an access-to-justice push President Obama began in 2010.
Biden called for the plan in a May 18 order that said low-income Americans receive no, or inadequate, services for more than 80% of civil legal issues they face each year, based on Legal Services Corp. figures.
Justice established the Office for Access to Justice in the department as part of Obama’s effort. The office existed until Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions effectively shuttered it. “I am committed to reinvigorating that work,” Biden said in his order.
The same day, Garland tasked his two top deputies, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, to engage “all relevant stakeholders,” both inside and outside Justice, “to develop a detailed plan for expanding our role in leading access-to-justice policy initiatives across government.”
Lack of counsel and legal resources often have led to negative courtroom outcomes, and sometimes loss of employment and housing—issues only made worse by the pandemic, Garland wrote.