Acceptance Speech at the Quinnipiac School of Law

Stamford, CT | October 17, 2002

Yes, I do believe that we the people of the United States must recapture our belief that 'national survival and improvement, not national security, depends on a communal, common, united effort in which each of us participates with and helps others'!

Thank you, Attorney General Blumenthal,
Dean Brad Saxton,
President John Lahey,
My law school classmate and friend, David Crawford

It is always a joy for me to be in Connecticut. Why? Well, it's not because of your snow and ice in winter-time, but because I spent 12 years here, at Canterbury Prep School, Yale College and then Yale Law School. I have many marvelous memories of those years. So, I am delighted to be with you, and to receive the prestigious Raymond E. Baldwin Award named in honor of a man whose life was devoted to public service and who served this State and our nation with distinction.

I am especially glad to receive this award from The Quinnipiac University School of Law. In 1995 Quinnipiac University conferred the first Honorary Degree on a person with mental retardation. That person was the Special Olympics Athlete and Board Member, Loretta Claiborne. That was a milestone day not only for persons with mental retardation but for all human beings. It also demonstrated the value which Qunnipiac University placed on the abilities of all human beings. And Quinnipiac courageously and with vision proved that we are all more alike than we are different.

I have been told that this is also the largest gathering of lawyers in Connecticut. That's rather intimidating, but I am going to take the liberty of speaking to you about something which is close to my heart and my own creation. That is, "Legal Services For The Poor".

In the very earliest days of "Legal Services for the Poor", I had an opportunity to visit a brand-new Legal Services Center which had just opened at the University of Detroit Law School. It was run by faculty of the Law School and students. I met a couple there, a man and woman returning from an appearance in a Small Claims Court.

The husband was 71 years old, his wife 67. They were accompanied by a law student and teacher who had helped them in court. They had just won a verdict for $68. I asked them how they felt, and the old man, looked at me and said:

"Mr. Shriver, this is the first time we have ever won anything, the first time we've ever had anyone on our side". Then tears began to fill his eyes. And he took my hand and kissed it! Yes, he kissed my hand!

I didn't deserve or earn that kiss! In truth, the old man wasn't kissing my hand; he was kissing the hand of Justice! Justice which had touched him, and his wife for the very first time in their lives! Justice, one of the most basic necessities for an exemplary society. For without justice, there cannot even be the beginning of a good society.

In the preamble to the Constitution, before that document refers to "domestic tranquility" or providing "for the common defense", or "promoting the general welfare" and "securing the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,” before all of those words, the Constitution says, "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and provide for the common defense", etc.

Thus, immediately after creating a more perfect union, the founders of our country listed "justice" as the first purpose of their new nation! Justice, then, was what the USA was all about. Justice today is what all of us lawyers should be all about.

When I was called upon to create a "War Against Poverty" in 1964, I knew almost nothing about poverty in the USA. And I certainly don't claim to have had the vision to include legal services among the array of programs we were putting together. It was a man named Edgar Cahn who had that vision. I was just open-minded enough to read what Edgar had written in his article called, "The War On Poverty: a Civilian Perspective." That article appeared first in the Yale University Law Journal. It did not take five minutes for me to know that Cahn's article was profound and extremely important. Adam Yarmolinsky, a great friend of mine, had recommended the article to me; so I asked Adam to get Edgar to talk to us.

The next morning at 8:00 a.m., Edgar came, alone, from his GS-15 slot in the Justice Department. He was somewhat small in stature, modest in demeanor, calm and reflective in speech. He impressed me immediately by the clarity and originality of his thought, and by his dedication to the achievement of justice for the poor! On the spot, and before 9:00 a.m, I asked him to leave his job and join us in creating a new effort to establish justice for those in America who never had had any justice at all! He accepted the challenge without hesitation. We never discussed salary or titles! Only the vision enthralled us all: Edgar Cahn, Adam Yarmolinsky, and Sargent Shriver! After we started our Legal Services Program, several things happened that began to change my thinking about government public service, and even about the legal profession. First of all, it amazed me how quickly things happened in our "Legal Services." To help us, came lawyers, young, inexperienced, idealistic, but bright, bright, bright young lawyers in their 20s and 30s eager to take on huge established bureaucracies. There was no doubt about the importance of what they were doing. In "the very first year", eight of their initiatives went to the U.S. Supreme Court. They and their new programs were attacked, challenged and belittled. But they won every case! Their victories were unprecedented! How these young lawyers, some only in their 20s, could bring about so many innovations in the law in such a short period of time, was then, and still is, a marvel, a creation from God.

One of the cases which made a particular impression involved New York State, where there was a residency requirement before poor persons could receive welfare payments. Migrants and others coming into that State couldn't get on the public welfare rolls for a number of years, .about five, I believe, it was. I had grown up thinking that the States were well within their rights to establish their own standards in such matters. Otherwise, the progressive, generous States would be flooded by refugees from the more parsimonious States. But these bright young Legal Services lawyers came along and took that case right to the Supreme Court; and won it! Their poor clients got on the welfare role immediately. That famous decision, (Shapiro vs. Thompson), cost Governor Nelson Rockefeller's budget several hundred million dollars a year! But thousands of poor people were helped immeasurably by that decision. And it was young, unspoiled, visionary lawyers who had the freshness of thinking and courage to achieve that victory. That opened and opened my eyes, and the eyes and hearts of many others.

Just for the record, this case was the first ever argued before the U.S. Supreme Court by any Legal Aid or Legal Services lawyer in U.S. history. Thank God we won!

On another occasion, I got a phone call from Bill Wirtz, the Secretary of Labor in Kennedy's and Lyndon Johnson's Cabinets. He was being bombarded with law suits from our California Rural Legal Assistance Program, which was one of our initiatives in "Legal Services For the Poor". We were contesting the legality of a Labor Department program which imported seasonal, cheap labor from Mexico to harvest fruit crops in California! The young lawyers at CRLA brought suit to require the employment of local labor before importing foreign workers!

So, on the telephone was Bill Wirtz, an excellent labor lawyer, and law professor, my friend from our Chicago days, when we both worked for Adlai Stevenson. He said to me: "Sarge, what the hell are you doing?!" (I used to get a lot of "what the hell are you doing? Phone calls in those days.)

You're preventing my people from doing their jobs." He said.

I replied, `Bill, are you suggesting that I should try to prevent the Legal Services lawyers from pursuing possible remedies at law on behalf of the poor citizens of California? Legal Services was established to help the poor of our own country before we import foreign cheap workers who are not even citizens of our country!" After a long, long pause, Bill said, "Well Sarge, I see what you mean," and he slammed the phone down. And that was the end of the Department of Labor's protest against "Legal Services for the Poor."

These two stories exemplify that no matter how well-motivated persons may be, how eager to do the right thing for the poor, we can have our senses dulled over the years. Sometimes we don't really see the unfairness we are involved in! We need to be shown!

In every society, there is a tendency for those getting along successfully not to be sensitive to the human problems the poor confront every day! That's a universal truth! It was true in Biblical times; it's true tonight, almost everywhere, I believe on earth, even now in the early days of the 21st Century!

As a lawyer, I believe that our government, my government and your government, and my profession and your profession, have positive, moral and legal duties to make sure that legal services are available to the poor on an accessible, affordable, regular, dignified basis, and, if necessary, even free of charge! Which means that I, as a lawyer, believe that some significant part of my money, time, thought and energy belongs, I don’t give it, it belongs to others, not just to me? This means that I believe I am not wholly "independent", not a creature whose self-interest is paramount, nor a person who must be "Number One", or perish. So,

Let me applaud the Quinnipiac University School of Law for creating and marinating a Legal Clinic, an on-campus law office that provides no cost legal services to low-income people living in neighboring communities The three in-house departments of Civil; Tax, and Health Law have provided thousands of low-income Connecticut residents with sound, legal representation for more than 20 years, much like the program at the University of Detroit Law School I described earlier.

Yes, I do believe that we the people of the United States must recapture our belief that "national survival and improvement, not national security, depends on a communal, common, united effort in which each of us participates with and helps others"! A community to which we pledge "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor"! National security without national community is a narrow-minded dream of the military mind!

Yes, I do believe that I, as a professional lawyer, have the obligation to join with other professionals and fellow citizens to struggle against poverty caused by unconscionable laws, or even by legalized greed; to struggle against pollution of the physical and mental environment; against inequalities in education, health and housing, against all those and other evils of our society. I must serve, not I should serve, free of charge, if necessary, with groups organized to attack community problems: homelessness, hunger; teenage pregnancy; dissolute conditions; joblessness; loneliness, especially of the old and forgotten population!

"Legal Services" by lawyers, is essential to solve community problems in our legalistic society. Without lawyers' help, the people of the USA cannot build structures and precedents necessary for success!

All of you who struggle for Justice, please, never forsake this mission. You are the best guardians of liberty and quality of life for all Americans.

Without you, our country will never achieve "Equal Justice Under Law".

The Bible itself says:

"....The learned will shine like the brilliance of the firmament... Those who train many in the ways of justice will sparkle also like stars for all eternity"... So, I say to each and every one of you. Be a star now and for all eternity!