To help run the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the nation’s largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor, Senate Republicans have picked an attorney from a far-right legal organization that has a history of ideological opposition to legal-aid work.
The White House announced yesterday that it had nominated Sharon Browne of the Pacific Legal Foundation as one of three Republican board members of the LSC. Minority party nominees for the LSC board are traditionally generated by the Senate leader of the party that doesn’t control the White House, and Don Stewart, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, confirmed to TPMmuckraker that McConnell’s office had recommended all three GOP nominees.
Some progressives were knocked for a loop by the news of Browne’s nomination. “We’re still a little stunned,” one told TPMmuckraker.
A member of the right-wing Federalist Society, Browne has worked on behalf of a panoply of conservative legal causes while at the industry-funded PLF, including opposing race-based school district assignment policies, and supporting Prop 209, a California ballot initiative to end most affirmative action programs in the state.
A look back at history makes clear that PLF, which describes itself as a promoter of free enterprise, private property rights, and limiting the role of government, is ideologically opposed to the mission of the LSC, a non-profit created as part of President Johnson’s Great Society initiative to provide free or low-cost legal services to the poor, and which was chaired in the late 1970s by Hillary Clinton, then an Arkansas lawyer.
When President Reagan took office in 1981, his administration sought to abolish the agency, and to eliminate direct federal funds for legal aid for the poor. As part of that effort, it nominated PLF president Ronald Zumbrun to chair the LSC’s board. A PLF official told the New York Times (via Nexis) at the time that Zumbrun and the Reagan administration shared the belief that ”it’s not a proper function of legal services lawyers to seek redistribution of the wealth” and to pursue ”social activism.” Zumbrun’s nomination was so controversial that it was ultimately withdrawn.
According to a bio put out by the White House, Browne joined PLF right out of law school in 1985. Her only stint away from the far-right foundation came from 1991 to 1995, when she worked at Zumbrun, Best, and Findley, a law firm founded by Zumbrun and two other former PLF officials.
LSC’s 11-member board consists of 6 members of the president’s party, and 5 of the opposition party.