On November 11th, 2015, Jonathan Fanton welcomed the participants of “Making Justice
Accessible,” a symposium of judges, lawyers, and legal scholars concerned about
the state of legal services for the underprivileged. Participants examined obstacles
to access in both the civil and criminal justice systems, evaluated the most recent
research, and discussed possible solutions. This event marked one of the first initiatives
to emerge from the Exploratory Fund.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you to the House of the Academy, and
to our symposium on making justice accessible for low-income Americans—a serious
issue affecting far too many people living in our country.
I am grateful to John Levi for proposing this meeting, to Martha Minow and Lance
Liebman for working with John to fashion our agenda, and to John Tessitore and Julian
Kronick of the Academy staff for bringing us all together.
One of the primary roles of the Academy is to share the scholarship and professional
expertise of our members with the broader public. And so I am pleased that Diane
Wood, Goodwin Liu, and David Tatel will lead a public discussion on the state of
legal services later this evening. The audience will include Academy members as
well as scholars and students from the Boston area. In addition, we will be live-streaming
the event to groups of Academy Fellows and guests gathered together in New York;
Chicago; Washington, DC; and Berkeley. Thank you Diane, Goodwin, and David for extending
the reach of the conversation we are having today.
“Making Justice Accessible” is the first symposium supported by the American Academy’s
The Fund was established earlier this year to assist members who want to come together
to explore pressing issues that are not receiving adequate attention, or to peer
over the horizon at problems and opportunities not yet fully recognized. Future
meetings supported by the Exploratory Fund will include a conversation about the
future of jazz as a distinctive but embattled American art form, an analysis of
the relationship between global studies and area studies, and a discussion of the
best ways to incorporate scientific information into the legal system—a subject
of interest to many of you here today.
Just where the exploration of each topic leads will depend on the meeting participants.
Some groups may come together once or twice; others might propose an issue for the
Academy’s journal Dædalus, and still others might initiate ongoing
projects at the Academy, at universities, or at think tanks. I will be interested
to learn where your conversation these next two days takes us.
Our topic today, “Making Justice Accessible,” brings together two longstanding interests
of the American Academy: a concern for the poor and a determination to strengthen
our independent judiciary.
As an historian, I am always drawn to the Academy’s archives, and to past studies
that may be relevant to contemporary issues. So let me share what I found that may
be of interest to you in your work.
Benjamin Dearborn, an educator and inventor was elected to the Academy in 1794.
Dearborn was a vocal advocate for the poor and the underrepresented. In 1797, he
sent a letter to John Adams asking the Academy to organize a committee to aid widows
and orphans as well as the community at large. He said in his proposal to Adams,
“Of all the arts or sciences, none is more grateful than the art of reducing the
Evils of Life.”
The Academy tried to follow Dearborn’s advice for the next two centuries, seeking
ways to “reduce the evils of life.” Perhaps it is not surprising that the Academy’s
most vigorous efforts to address income inequality coincided with Lyndon Johnson’s
War on Poverty in the mid-1960s. In 1966, the Academy convened a series of seminars
on “Understanding Poverty,” led by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a professor at
Harvard. Moynihan organized interdisciplinary dialogues bringing together scholars
and government officials to discuss the nature of poverty and its cultural and economic
roots. The working groups focused on the effects education, racial discrimination,
and segregation had on poverty. The seminars resulted in two influential publications
in 1969 titled, On Understanding Poverty: Perspectives from the Social Sciences
and On Fighting Poverty: Perspectives from Experience.
More recently, the Academy has been involved in an ongoing conversation within the
legal field and among the broader public about the future of our court system. In
2008, the Academy published an issue of Dædalus entitled “On Judicial
Independence,” with articles by Sandra Day O’Connor, Judith Resnik, and Margaret
Marshall, which spoke to the importance of free and independent courts. In 2014,
another issue, “The Invention of Courts,” edited by Judith Resnick and Linda Greenhouse,
examined the nature of the courts and their relationship to what the editors call
“the society we hope to be.” And next month, at a Stated Meeting at Georgetown University,
our topic will be “The Crisis in Legal Education.” The program will focus on the
important changes affecting the structure and mission of law schools, including
some possible adjustments in training and emphasis that might help to address some
of the issues we will discuss today.
Our symposium will therefore advance many of the ideas addressed in our recent work
on the judicial system, just as it will re-examine many of the issues that Moynihan
and his colleagues brought to light with their seminal work over forty years ago.
But I suspect that the combination of these issues, and the diversity of the participants
we have gathered together today, will yield many new insights as well. I hope that
we will leave this conference with a clear understanding of our next steps. The
Academy would like to be useful to all of you as we try to meet the difficult but
critical challenge of ensuring justice for all Americans, regardless of their means.
So let us now proceed with the program, which I feel certain will reflect the vision
of Academy founder James Bowdoin, who said, “It is the part of a patriot philosopher
to pursue every hint—to cultivate every enquiry which may eventually tend
to the security and welfare of his fellow citizens.”
It is now my pleasure to introduce the lead organizer of this symposium, John Levi.
As most everyone here knows, John is the chair of the Legal Services Corporation,
elected in 2010 after being appointed to the LSC board by President Obama. He is
a partner at Sidley Austin in Chicago, specializing in corporate, employment and
labor law. A full biography is included in your briefing books. We are all here
today as a result of his hard work and passionate commitment to legal services.
And if this meeting results in any positive change, it will be in no small part
a result of his persistence and energetic leadership. Please join me in welcoming
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