The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 11

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Decent Housing is a Fundamental Right
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered
a famous speech in which he delineated four freedoms:
freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear
and freedom from want.9 Then to bolster his proclaimed
freedoms from fear and want, President Roosevelt
proposed, on January 11, 1944, a Second Bill of Rights
"under which a new basis of security and prosperity
can be established for all-regardless of station, race or
creed." 10 Of the nine listed rights, one was: "The right of
every family to a decent home." 11
Unfortunately, FDR's proposal died with his death a
year later. However, in a civilized society, decent housing
has to be considered a fundamental right, one that cannot
be denied without due process of law. Desmond is correct
when he writes that not having the assistance of counsel
in housing court means "due process has been replaced by
mere process: pushing cases through."12
Now that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has
taken its unprecedented step in Kuren, is it such a leap
to judicially impose publicly funded civil Gideon in
housing cases in order to accomplish due process? It is
not enough to think MidPenn and the Berks County
Bar Association's pro bono program are able to provide
the necessary representation. The local statistics reveal a
caseload that would overwhelm the existing programs, if
most tenants were represented.

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The Trumpet Calls
Jonathan Lippman, while Chief Judge of the
New York Court of Appeals, had written that Gideon
v. Wainwright "is a call for our society to give legal
assistance to human beings facing life-transforming
legal crises. The title of Anthony Lewis's Pulitzer Prizewinning book about the case, Gideon's Trumpet, resonates
with the moral force of the Supreme Court's decision
as well as biblical overtones of righteous justice. That
trumpet sounds for all those whose basic human needs
are at stake in a legal system...The issues at stake in civil
cases involving the necessities of life can be every bit as
critical to one's existence and well-being on this earth as
the very loss of liberty itself." (Footnotes omitted.)13
Quoting from Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Judge
Lippman concludes: "The biblical command from
thousands of years ago resonates just as strongly today-
'Justice, Justice shall you pursue for rich and poor, high
and low alike.' That pursuit of justice defines us and is
absolutely critical to the future well-being of our nation
and its people."14
That pursuit will only succeed when attorneys are
standing with the poor in housing court just as they are

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now standing with the poor in criminal court.
It is time we answer, in full, the trumpet's call.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Mr. Smith, the current executive director of the Berks County Bar Association,
continues to serve on the Board of Directors for MidPenn Legal Services.
9
Cass Sunstein, The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It
More Than Ever, (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 2.
10
Ibid., 12-13.
11
Ibid., 13.
12
Desmond, p. 304.
13
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, New York's Template to Address the Crisis in Civil Legal
Services, 7 Harvard Law & Society Review (2013), p. 27.
14
Ibid., 29.

Winter 2017 | 11


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Berks Barrister Winter 2017

The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 1
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 2
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 3
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 4
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 5
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 6
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 7
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 8
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 9
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 10
The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 11
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The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 14
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