Category Archives: Access to Justice

News Article: “The Purpose of Harvard Law School”

News Article: Marina N. Bolotnikova, “The Purpose of Harvard Law School,” Harvard Magazine, Sept. 17, 2016.

News Coverage: “Judges Across The Country Are Shaking Down Poor People”

News Coverage: Bryce Covert, Judges Across The Country Are Shaking Down Poor People, Think Progress, Aug. 24, 2016 [extended article on court fees].

New Book: “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”

Poverty Canon CoverI am excited to announce that The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases (Marie Failinger & Ezra Rosser eds., Univ. of Michigan Press, 2016) is now published and available through both the Michigan Press website and Amazon, etc (the library edition is $95 and the paperback is $39.95).

I have a bit more to say about this book, below, but first I want to highlight the contents of the book.  The book came out of a 2013 conference and features a great group of contributors as can be seen from the chapter list:


Introduction – Ezra Rosser

Part I: Victories

When Paupers Became People: Edwards v. California (1941) – Clare Pastore

Remaking the “Law of the Poor”: Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co. (1965)  – Anne Fleming

Sylvester Smith, Unlikely Heroine: King v. Smith (1968) – Henry Freedman

Legal Services Attorneys and Migrant Advocates Join Forces: Shapiro v. Thompson (1969)  – Elisa Alvarez Minoff

Dignity and Passion: Goldberg v. Kelly (1970) – Melanie B. Abbott

Litigating in the Zeitgeist: Rosado v. Wyman (1970) – Wendy A. Bach

Part II: Losses

A Sweeping Refusal of Equal Protection: Dandridge v. Williams (1970) – Julie A. Nice

Privacy as a Luxury Not for the Poor: Wyman v. James (1971) – Michele Estrin Gilman

A Tragedy of Two Americas: Jefferson v. Hackney (1972) – Marie A. Failinger

Denying the Poor Access to Court: United States v. Kras (1973) – Henry Rose

“The Poor People Have Lost Again”: San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973) – Camille Walsh

Part III: The Modern Era

Reflecting and Foreshadowing: Mathews v. Eldridge (1976) – John J. Capowski

Chronicle of a Debt Foretold: Zablocki v. Red Hail (1978) – Tonya L. Brito, R. Kirk Anderson, and Monica Wedgewood

The Movement for a Right to Counsel in Civil Cases: Turner v. Rogers (2011) – Kelly Terry

Public Housing as Housing of Last Resort: Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker (2002) – Nestor M. Davidson


As with any effort to put together a list of important cases, there are cases that arguably should have been included and/or excluded; the chapters represent a combination of the importance of the cases and the interests of the contributors.  But I hope this book will be of interest to those interested in poverty or poverty law in the United States.

“The contributors include some of the best academics who write and teach about poverty. The back stories of these cases are multidimensionally interesting—the clients, the legal strategies, the lawyers themselves, the historical and political context, the effect on the law, the backstage of the Supreme Court and the role of the law clerks.” – Peter Edelman

As one of the editors, I want to thank Michigan Press for taking a chance on this book, Marie Failinger for being such a great co-editor, and all the contributors for their patience as this book made its slow way from idea to something that can be picked up.

I want to end on a personal note.  I see The Poverty Law Canon as being closely related to the Juliet Brodie, Clare Pastore, Ezra Rosser & Jeff Selbin, Poverty Law, Policy, and Practice (2014) in that both are efforts to think through and share the connection between poverty and law in a manner that hopefully will appeal to scholars and students.  The books are linked in my mind, and not only because of the work involved.  I dedicated my role on the textbook to my late father-in-law, Mario Castro, and my part of the dedication page of The Poverty Law Canon reads:

To my students and to my colleagues and mentors at American University Washington College of Law, especially Susan Bennett, Claudio Grossman, and Ira Robbins. It is a privilege to get to teach and write in your company.

Thanks for putting up with this long aside, now buy your copy and tell your librarian to do the same!  =)

Op-Ed: “Adding a legal dimension to multidimensional poverty”

Op-Ed: Paul Prettitore, Adding a legal dimension to multidimensional poverty, Brookings Future Development Blog, May 19, 2016.

New Article: “In Louisiana, The Poor Lack Legal Defense”

New Article: Campbell Robertson, “In Louisiana, The Poor Lack Legal Defense” – The New York Times

New Article: “Court Fees Create ‘Endless Cycle Of Debt’ For Poor”

New Article: “Court Fees Create ‘Endless Circle Of Debt’ For Poor” – The Crime Report

New Article: “State Bans on Debtors’ Prisons and Criminal Justice Debt”

New Article: State Bans on Debtors’ Prisons and Criminal Justice Debt, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 1024 (February 10, 2016).

Upcoming Panel: “Addressing the Gap in Civil Legal Services: Serving Underrepresented Clients & Communities” – Washington, DC, Feb. 13, 2016 at 10:45 am

As part of my school’s celebration of a new building, the school is hosting the following panel, so if you know of people in DC who would be interested, please share:

Addressing the Gap in Civil Legal Services: Serving Underrepresented Clients & Communities
Discussion of the range of public interest law activities and jobs that students and graduates engage in, focusing on how people engage in public interest law at different stages of their careers. Additional topics may include the place of public interest law at the law school, the challenges and rewards of doing public interest work, and how lawyers can find meaning and fulfillment through work and service.

Moderator: Professor Susan Bennett
Panelists: Jeanne Atkinson (’91), Catholic Legal Immigration Network; Lisa Dewey (’93), Pro Bono Partner, DLA Piper; Antonia Fasanelli (’01), Executive Director, Homeless Persons Representation Project; Lora Rath (’91), Director, Office of Compliance and Enforcement, Legal Services Corporation; Naznin Saifi (’92), Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center; Zafar Shah (’08), Staff Attorney, Public Justice Center; Bradford Voegeli (’11), Staff Attorney, Neighborhood Legal Services Project
Student Ambassadors: Alejandra Arias (’19) and Jordan Helton (’18)

More info on registering can be found here (and it is first come first served with registration closing on Feb. 8 at noon).

Call-for-Papers:”A Workshop on Vulnerability and Social Justice”

Call-for-Papers: A Workshop on Vulnerability and Social Justice, June 17-18, 2016, University of Leeds, UK.


Workshop Details:

The Workshop begins Friday at 4PM in the Moot Court Room, the Liberty Building, University of Leeds. Dinner will follow the panel presentation session on Friday. Panel presentations continue on Saturday from 9:00 AM to 5PM; breakfast and lunch will be provided.


Submission Procedure:

Email a proposal as a Word or PDF document by March 1, 2016 to Antony Butcher ( and Rachel Ezrol (


Decisions will be made by March 25, 2016 and working paper drafts will be due May 20, 2016so they can be duplicated and distributed prior to the Workshop.

The terms “vulnerability” and “social justice” have been used with increasing frequency in recent years. Both are often invoked in alternative, sometimes incompatible ways. In this workshop we are interested in exploring what these terms mean, individually and in relation to each other,  in everyday, political, and professional usage, as well as their potential as “terms of art” for furthering substantive progressive change.


The Vulnerability and Human Condition Initiative (VHC) uses the concept of vulnerability to challenge the dominant conception of the universal legal subject as an autonomous, independent and fully-functioning adult. Rather than building our systems of law and justice upon this static figment of the liberal imagination, the VHC approach argues for a socially and materially dynamic vulnerable legal subject, based on a richer account of how actual peoples’ lives are shaped by an inherent and constant state of vulnerability across the life-course. Vulnerability in this approach is a universalizing concept that focuses on relationships, institutions, needs, and shared or collective responsibility. It asserts there should be political and legal implications for the fact that we live within a fragile materiality that renders us constantly susceptible to change, both positive and negative, in our bodily and our social circumstances. Such vulnerability may be realized in the form of dependency on others for care, cooperation, or assistance or it may manifest through our dependency on social arrangements, such as the family or the market and economy.


The Centre for Law & Social Justice (L&SJ) explores the role that law has in addressing inequalities and achieving a more just society. L&SJ provides a home for researchers who come from very different intellectual and theoretical traditions, and whose substantive foci cover the spectrum of contemporary concerns. Yet all members share in recognizing the importance of securing access to a range of rights and resources as a baseline for respecting human dignity. Through a number of different theoretical frameworks – including vulnerability theory, the capabilities approach, human rights, embodiment theory, and Marxist and feminist approaches -L&SJ explores various articulations of standards, needs, and our expectations of both state and non-state actors.


Nevertheless, social justice is a term susceptible to different emphases and meanings, both within and between jurisdictions. Some commentators have pointed out that there may be a tension between the pursuit of social justice and neoliberal tendencies to hold individual freedom or liberty as paramount; others see the development of individual well-being and flourishing as necessary for collective advancement and as such compatible with a focus on freedom and liberty. However, the pursuit of social justice may mean it is sometimes necessary to put collective objectives ahead of individual interests and desires. While such tensions can be overcome, the contemporary emphasis on individual rights and freedoms – particularly in the US – can and have been adopted to undercut arguments for state regulation and intervention. Further, the turn to austerity has weakened commitments to social justice even in welfare orientated states. This workshop aims to explore the relationship between vulnerability and social justice, and the role of the responsive state in promoting both individual and institutional resilience.

New Article: “Charging The Poor: Criminal Justice Debt & Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons”

New Article: Neil L. Sobol, “Charging the Poor: Criminal Justice Debt & Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons,” 75 Maryland L. Rev. (Forthcoming).