Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction

Ezra Rosser

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pp. 1-10

The poverty law cases presented here defy easy categorization. They do not fit comfortably into the study of either poverty or the law, and in fact are often excluded from both. That is not to say that the cases are not important. As the essays in this book show, poverty law cases offer scholars, activists, and students a great opportunity to see how the law impacts the lives of poor people and the ways poor people have challenged the practices and laws that arguably infringe upon their rights. Sometimes successful and sometimes unsuccessful, these challenges are grounded in the lived experiences of poor people, and it is by exploring their stories and the stories of their lawyers that we can see law’s potential and its limits....

Part I. Victories

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pp. 11-12

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

Clare Pastore

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pp. 13-31

Fred F. Edwards left his home in Marysville, California, in late December 1939, headed for the tiny town of Spur, Texas. Edwards’ brother-in-law, Frank Duncan, and Duncan’s pregnant wife were destitute in Spur, and Edwards brought them in his car back home to Marysville, 40 miles north of Sacra- mento, where Mrs. Duncan gave birth just three weeks after leaving Texas. On January 3, 1940, when the family entered California, Edwards became a criminal in the eyes of the state. His offense: violation of Welfare and Institutions Code section 2615, which forbade any person from “bringing into the State any indigent person who is not a resident of the State.” Edwards was convicted and sentenced to six months in the county jail....

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

Anne Fleming

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pp. 32-50

On August 11, 1965, the California Highway Patrol pulled over Marquette Frye in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, setting off a chain of events that would lead to six days of civil disorder and leave millions in property damage and 34 dead. Contemporary observers could offer no singular explanation for what sparked and then fueled the fires that burned in Watts and other American cities in the mid-1960s, but they agreed that the credit practices of local merchants were contributing factors. In a subsequent study of the uprisings in Watts and other urban centers across the nation, a federal investigatory commission concluded that city residents had “[s]ignificant grievances concerning unfair commercial practices.” “[M]any merchants in...

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

Henry Freedman

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pp. 51-71

Sylvester Smith, a 34-year-old Selma, Alabama, African American widow with four children, was unaware of a press conference held in Washington, D.C., in February 1966. At that conference, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund lawyers urged the federal government to stop state welfare agencies from refusing to help children of a woman who had a steady male friend:...

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

Elisa Minoff

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pp. 72-90

In December 1966, Juanita Smith moved to Philadelphia from Lincoln, Delaware, with her partner and five children: Johnny Smith (age six), Tabitha Miller (age four), Sophia Paynter (age three), William Paynter Jr. (age one and a half ), and Voncell Paynter (nine months). Smith was not new to the city. Born in 1943 at an army hospital in Petersburg, Virginia, she moved to Philadelphia with her mother when she was one month old. After completing his service, her father joined them. Smith spent her childhood and adolescence in Philadelphia. It was only in 1959, at the age of 17, that she moved to Delaware. But she did not find the opportunities in Delaware that she had hoped for....

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Dignity and Passion: Goldberg v. Kelly (1970)

Melanie B. Abbott

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pp. 91-108

Daily life for people living in poverty in New York City in the late 1960s was daunting. Families ensnared in poverty’s web faced an overabundance of insufficiency—of food, of security, of convenience, of opportunity, of dignity. Thomas Johnson, a New York Times reporter, spent some time in 1966 living with welfare recipients in an apartment house in Harlem and in single-room-occupancy hotels.2 He chronicled their daily struggles, from the constant losing battle with cockroaches, to the children’s disappointment at their inability to eat what they wanted or to share in activities with their friends, to the difficult choices some women made to earn money to feed their children when the welfare benefits ran out. Johnson’s story gave a face to the hardship of those in New York’s poorest communities, the same areas from which the named plaintiffs in welfare rights cases a year or so later would emerge....

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Litigating in the Zeitgeist: Rosado v. Wyman (1970)

Wendy A. Bach

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pp. 109-126

The political world that gave rise to Rosado v. Wyman is almost unimaginable today. Today welfare recipients are stigmatized, targeted, criminalized, and blamed for a wide range of social ills. Depending on welfare to meet basic needs is, in today’s political world, the moral equivalent of a crime. But Rosado v. Wyman was not filed in 2013 or even in the early 1970s. It was filed in 1969, at the apex of the welfare rights movement and in response to drastic grant cuts that were a direct attack by the State of New York on one of the most potent tools of that movement. It was filed at a political moment when actors across the political spectrum believed that the nation was on the verge of instituting a national guaranteed minimum income. By 1970, it appeared that the plaintiffs had achieved a modest win. In response to the Supreme Court opinion in Rosado, the state reversed course and raised benefit levels. But that victory would not hold. Just a year later, citing the very same opinion, the state lowered benefit levels....

Part II. Losses

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pp. 127-128

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

Julie A. Nice

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pp. 129-152

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dandridge v. Williams is one of the most significant cases not only in poverty law but also in constitutional law. 1 Dandridge stands primarily for the proposition that courts should defer to the choices made by the political branches of government regarding how to allocate scarce resources spent on social welfare programs. In the lasting language of Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion for the Dandridge majority, “the intractable economic, social, and even philosophical problems presented by public welfare assistance programs are not the business of this Court.”2...

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

Michele Estrin Gilman

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pp. 153-169

In the spring of 1969, Barbara James walked into a neighborhood legal services office and spoke to attorney David Gilman.1 She told him that she received welfare to support herself and her son Maurice. Her caseworker had recently advised her that she had to submit to a home visit as part of the welfare recertification process. In response, James offered to provide documentation to the Department of Social Services (DSS) to demonstrate her eligibility, but she did not want a caseworker coming to her door. She had attended meetings of a welfare rights organization, where she learned that she might be able to fight the home visit policy. James’ concerns were widely shared among welfare...

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

Marie A. Failinger

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pp. 170-187

The year 1969 was a year of hope and worry for poverty advocates. President Johnson’s War on Poverty, declared only five years earlier on January 8, 1964, had produced a flurry of programs to alleviate the tragic conditions of American poverty, among them Medicare, Medicaid, the Food Stamp Act, the Job Corps, and Head Start. Idealistic young professionals and volunteers led community-based efforts funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity’s (OEO) Community Action Program, Legal Services program, and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) to attack the problems of poverty in depressed neighborhoods in cities throughout the United States. Lawyers in organizations like the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law (the “Center”) were preparing lawsuits to constitutionalize basic welfare rights, such as the right to the necessities of life....

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

Henry Rose

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pp. 188-197

Robert Kras initially was hoping only for a discharge of his debts in bankruptcy, but he and his lawyers ended up seeking to establish an important constitutional right for poor persons in America: access to court. Kras fell behind in paying his debts when he lost his job and his wife gave birth to a child who suffered from a serious illness. Though he desired to start his economic life anew by seeking a discharge of his debts in bankruptcy, Kras could not afford to pay the bankruptcy court filing fee, and the federal law provided that the debts could not be discharged until the filing fee was paid....

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

Camille Walsh

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pp. 198-216

When he was six years old, Demetrio Rodriguez’ farmworker family moved from a Rio Grande agricultural town to San Antonio in search of better schools for him and his siblings. Decades later, he demanded educational opportunity for his own children in a landmark Supreme Court case: San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. Barely a generation after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education had declared the fundamental importance of education, the Court in Rodriguez decided that the poor, predominantly Mexican American children receiving substandard education in San Antonio’s impoverished Edgewood school district had no fundamental right to equal schooling. In doing so, the Court also halted the nascent trend toward the ability of litigants to claim poverty (or “wealth”) as a suspect constitutional classification on par with race or gender.1...

Part III. The Modern Era

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pp. 217-218

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Reflecting and Foreshadowing: Mathews v. Eldridge (1976)

John J. Capowski

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pp. 219-231

Decided in 1976, Mathews v. Eldridge1 was a case about whether a Social Security disability recipient could get benefits while awaiting a hearing challenging the termination of his benefits, but the Mathews decision may be more important as a marker for our changed views of public benefits and the poor. Mathews is a case that foreshadowed the rightward political movement in this country. This chapter not only tells the story of Mathews but also the story of how the economic, social, and political climate influenced the decision in that case....

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Chronicle of a Debt Foretold: Zablocki v. Red Hail (1978)

Tonya L. Brito, R. Kirk Anderson, and Monica Wedgewood

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pp. 232-255

Zablocki v. Red Hail1 is a canonical case in family law jurisprudence. One of the few Supreme Court decisions addressing the fundamental right to marry, it is typically located in family law textbooks immediately after Loving v. Virginia. Positioning Zablocki v. Red Hail in this line of cases makes sense; after all, the case involves a successful challenge to Wisconsin’s “permission to marry” statute. The conventional understanding of the case, however, addresses only part of the story. The narrative threads uncovered as part of our oral history research study of Zablocki v. Red Hail reveal a more multifaceted and complicated story than has been previously appreciated. Unexpectedly, it is also an ongoing story....

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

Kelly Terry

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pp. 256-273

In 1996, a daughter, identified in subsequent court proceedings only as B.L.P., was born to teenage parents Rebecca Rogers and Michael Turner in Oconee County, South Carolina.1 Oconee County is a rural county located in the northwest corner of the state, on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When B.L.P. was born, Turner was 19 years old, and Rogers was 17. Turner and Rogers were not married, and they drifted apart shortly after their daughter’s birth....

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

Nestor M. Davidson

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pp. 274-290

On December 31, 1997, in the depths of a typically damp and chilly northern California winter, the Oakland Housing Authority filed an unlawful detainer action in the Alameda County Municipal Court to evict Pearlie Rucker, a 63-year-old great-grandmother, from the apartment she had lived in since 1985. According to the complaint against her, Rucker’s mentally disabled daughter Gelinda had been arrested for public drunkenness three blocks from Rucker’s apartment the previous March. A search of Gelinda at the time turned up a rock that police suspected was cocaine as well as a pipe for smoking crack cocaine.1 As grounds for the eviction, the housing authority invoked paragraph 9(m) of Rucker’s lease, which required her to “assure that... any member of the household, or another person under the tenant’s...

Contributors

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pp. 291-294

Index

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pp. 295-304