Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled held there is no right to counsel in a civil proceeding, even when a defendant faces incarceration. Turner v. Rogers involved a father who was incarcerated for 12 months for contempt of court for failing to pay child support. Although the Court ruled for the defendant on the grounds that procedural safeguards against improper civil incarceration, including notice to the defendant that his ability to pay the fines was central to the contempt proceeding, were inadequate, it declined to find an express right to counsel in civil cases when liberty is at stake.
Given yesterday's ruling, it is unlikely that the Court would find a right to counsel in other potentially life-changing civil cases, such as divorce, child custody, or housing, thus leaving many people to face them on their own. Today, more than ever, we need meaningful solutions for helping the great many people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.