Published as a Special Edition of the UC Hastings Law Journal, Representing the Poor: Legal Advocacy and Welfare Reform during Reagan’s Gubernatorial Years examines the contentious and litigious battle over welfare reform in California during the early 1970s between Governor Ronald Reagan and Ralph Santiago Abascal, a legal-aid attorney.
“A main theme that runs throughout the work is the importance of social cause lawyering for the poor within our constitutional democracy,” Aaronson says, “notwithstanding the political intractability of realistically confronting poverty as a societal problem. I hope that my work will stand as a model for social justice lawyers today, as they seek to make this world a better place for all.”
To counter Governor Reagan’s ambition to slash welfare programs during the 1970s, Ralph Abascal aligned with other legal-services lawyers and recipient-led welfare-rights organizations to use court litigation as part of a holistic strategy including legislative and administrative actions.
Delving deep into this conflict, Aaronson offers an extended, multifaceted perspective of social cause lawyering rarely found in scholarly literature. Situating the conflict within the context of American pluralism and constitutionalism, and drawing on ideas from political science and legal history, Aaronson offers powerful insights into the professional and institutional character of group legal representation for the poor as a strategy for political empowerment and social change.
Aaronson then uses the California welfare case study to develop three broader themes about social cause lawyering: (1) social cause lawyering is a systemic necessity for the democratic and equitable functioning of our governing institutions; (2) the client constraints on the role of lawyers for groups or causes have more to do conceptually with understandings about the nature of representation than the applicability of ethical or procedural rules; and (3) the political consequences of such legal advocacy are variable and potentially contradictory.
The book-length article includes as an appendix a full transcript of an interview Professor Aaronson conducted with Governor Reagan on March 6, 1975, during which Aaronson was able to question Reagan on his specific welfare policies extensively.
Mark Neal Aaronson joined the UC Hastings faculty in 1992 and was the founding director of its Civil Justice Clinic. Prior to joining the faculty he had an extensive career as a civil rights and anti-poverty lawyer. For 13 years he served as Executive Director of the San Francisco Lawyers' Committee for Urban Affairs (now known as the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area), during which time he argued a federal welfare rights case before the U. S. Supreme Court. He received his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. Immediately after law school, he was a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow with legal services programs in Chicago and Hartford. He later earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. He has written articles on practical judgment in lawyering, civility, legal education, and social welfare policy and a book on representing the poor.