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This essay, written for a symposium on the life and legacy of Charles Reich, explores how Reich came to be interested in the field of poverty law and, specifically, the constitutional rights of welfare recipients. The essay emphasizes the influence of two older women in Reich’s life: Justine Wise Polier, the famous New York City family court judge and the mother of one of Reich’s childhood friends, and Elizabeth Wickenden, a contemporary of Polier’s who was a prominent voice in social welfare policymaking and a confidante of high-level federal social welfare administrators. Together, Polier and Wickenden helped educate Reich about the facts on the ground, including potential constitutional violations, and encouraged him to write about these issues. Subsequently, they used their powerful networks to circulate Reich’s writings and amplify his arguments. This history showcases Reich’s deep connections to left-liberal reformers who came of age during the New Deal: although he famously critiqued some of their handiwork, he relied heavily on their ideas, expertise, and good will.


Constitutional law, poverty law, welfare law, social welfare policy, Charles Reich, public assistance, Justine Wise Polier, Elizabeth Wickenden, civil rights and liberties, public benefits, The New Property, Aid to Dependent Children, public interest law, midnight raids, liberalism

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Touro Law Review

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36 Touro L. Rev. 807 (2020).