Litigation Strategies for Addressing Bureaucratic Disentitlement


“A fella got to eat,” he began; and then belligerently, “A fella got a right to eat.” “What fella?” Ma asked.

J Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

The notion that people should not be allowed to freeze to death or starve runs deep in our culture. These principles also find expression in the statutory or constitutional law of most American states and underlie the complex regulations of dozens of welfare and related programs. Despite these laws, however, millions of Americans are homeless and hungry. For them, the Declaration of Human Rights has a distant and empty ring. It is not unusual, of course, for abstract expressions of values – even when codified into law – to stand in stark contrast to reality. In the abstract, black children have a right to an equal quality of education, poor tenants have a right to procedural due process of law when threatened with eviction, and prisoners have a right to freedom from degradation and abuse. It is in the chasm between ideal expressions of rights and the reality of social deprivation that some lawyers are called upon to work. Their task is to convert the aspirational into the real, to extract an answer to the question, “What fella” has a right to eat?

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