Federal cases: About this list

Suggestions welcome for additional federal cases

We invite suggestions for additional federal cases — civil and criminal — that we may consider adding. Please send them to Alan Houseman at the Consortium. Ideally, lists are in electronic format and the Consortium would have the right to use the information freely. But we will consider lists in any form. See the criteria below. Important: We are especially interested in curated lists of “Greatest Hits” rather than long lists of important cases that may not meet our criteria.

Federal first — Due to limited resources, the Consortium has started with federal cases, mostly from the US Supreme Court. We also welcome suggestions for state cases.


Civil — We seek cases that: created new rights or preserved existing rights of the poor; improved the lives of the poor; or, substantially changed how public and private agencies and entities and courts dealt with the poor. These include cases that forced welfare and public housing agencies, schools, hospitals, private landlords, private businesses and other entities to act according to rules and laws and to treat the poor equitably and in a manner sensitive to their needs. These also include cases that addressed: domestic violence, predatory lending, wage confiscation or discrimination, denial of health care or health services, scams targeting the poor, or other practices harming the poor. Civil cases selected so far.

Public defender — We seek cases that enhanced the rights of indigent criminal defendants and augmented the power of public defenders to assist their clients. Criminal cases selected so far.

About the selected cases on this website

A full list of important cases is beyond the current scope of this website. The purpose of this website is to highlight selected cases of interest while developing the methodology and technical aspects of the site with the Consortium’s limited resources. This case section is a work in progress, and the criteria below are evolving.

Selection criteria: Primary

  • Case aimed to improve the lives of poor people or marginalized groups
  • Case sought to create new rights or protected existing rights of the poor
  • Case is seminal and had enduring impact
  • The Consortium can easily obtain good, usable text summarizing aspects of the case

Selection criteria: Secondary

  • Legal aid/public defense lawyers played key role — But we include some where they did not.
  • Case was a win, not a draw or loss — But we include some important cases that were partial or major defeats although the cases were attempts to improve the lives of the poor.

Acknowledgements for sources of federal cases

The Consortium has used its own criteria to select cases from various sources. See the Collections field on this website’s pages to learn at least some of our case sources. Some cases were obvious or were suggested by multiple sources. We did not include all cases suggested by any one source. The Consortium acknowledges the following sources of cases to consider:

The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases. Edited by Ezra Rosser and Marie A. Failinger. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016. This is a collection of essays about 15 cases (1941-2002), mostly from the US Supreme Court. There is a also a Case Supplement. Amazon

The Poor in Court: The Legal Services Program and Supreme Court Decision Making, by Lawrence, S.E. (1990). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. — Covers especially the period 1968-1974.

Poverty Law: Policy and Practice (Aspen Casebook Series) First Edition, by Juliet Brodie, Clare Pastore, Ezra Rosser, Jeffrey Selbin. Walters Kluwer, 2014. Amazon

Cases and Materials on Poverty Law: Theory and Practice (American Casebook Series) 1st Edition, by Julie A. Nice and Louise G. Trubek. West Publishing Co. 1997. Amazon