Address to The Yale Law School Association

Washington, D.C. | June 21, 2000

For all who struggle for Justice, please never forsake the work you do! You are the best guardians of liberty and builders of quality life for all Americans.

Members of the Yale Law School Association of Washington, D.C.
Amy Jeffress, President
Jeb Boasberg, Vice President
My good friend, Harris Wofford

Dear Anthony T. Kronman, thank you for the revelations about the Law School faculty and students today."Custodians of the Public Trust," the Legal Civilizations daily emphasized.

When I came to grips with the reality that I would be speaking to extremely successful lawyers, most of whom were graduated from Yale, I decided in self-defense to bring with me this big photo which appeared in Life Magazine, yes, that's the old and famous. "Life" Magazine, in May 1966!!

I like to look at it from time to time, not just because I weigh the same today as I did then, but most of all I like to reminisce about my days at Yale Law School, the friendships formed, the fun times, and the hard times, cramming for exams.

When I look at this particular picture, I am also reminded of how many of those who were at Yale Law School with me used their law degrees to help others, many through public service.

Can you believe that in this one group of Yale Law students, there were two men who became Justices of the United States Supreme Court; one became President of the United States, five became U.S. Government Officials; two United States Senators; twenty Heads of Law Firms, and many others became superb, imaginative leaders in other projects.

I hope, Dean Kronman that the excellence of Yale Law School Classes is just as great now as it was then, but from my point of view our group would be hard to surpass.

Luckily for me, twenty-five years after this picture was taken, Yale Law School published then, just as it does now, an extremely brilliant magazine, The Yale Law School Journal. In that Journal, a man named Edgar Cahn had a vision, which inspired me to create "Legal Services for the Poor" as an integral part of the famous "War against Poverty". Edgar Cahn's article was entitled, "The War Against Poverty: A Civilian Perspective". It did not take ten minutes for me to know that his 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, before 9:00 a.m., I asked him to quit his job and join us in creating a new effort to establish justice for those in America who never 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 the Legal Services Program, several things happened that began to change my thinking about government, about 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. In the very first year, eight of their initiatives were challenged by experienced lawyers. Those challenges went to the U.S. Supreme Court; and our lawyers won them all!!!

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 the States could not get on the public welfare rolls for a number of years, about 5, 1 believe. I had grown up thinking that the States were well within their rights to establish their own standards in such matters. Otherwise, I thought the progressive, generous States would be flooded by refugees from the more parsimonious States! But these young Legal Services Lawyers came along and took that case, with a different approach, right to the Supreme Court: and won it! Thousands of poor people were helped immeasurably by that decision. It was young, unspoiled, visionary lawyers who had the freshness of thinking and courage to achieve that victory.

On another occasion I got a phone call at O.E.O. from the Secretary of Labor. He was being bombarded with lawsuits from the California Rural Legal Assistance Program, one of our newest initiatives! They were contesting the legality of a Labor Department Program which imported seasonal, cheap labor from Mexico to harvest crops in California. CRLA brought suit to require the employment of local labor before importing foreign workers!

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

"You are 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! Finally, after a long, long pause, Bill said, "Well Sarge, I see what you mean", and he slammed the phone down. 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 in 2000 A.D.!!!

Where do we as citizens of the USA stand today? Have our early efforts in the 1960's achieved nationwide success? Does Justice with a capital letter "J" reign everywhere in our land?

The answer to these questions is "NO".

Richard Nixon disbanded OEO, but he didn't kill the programs: HeadStart, The Job Corps, VISTA, Foster Grandparents, Green Thumb, Community Action, Upward Bound, Migrant Services and Neighborhood Health Clinics all exist even now!

In the early 1970‘s I received a call from a young Legal Services Lawyer. He said, "Mr. Shriver, the Administration has just shut down "Legal Services for the Poor". I told him to come over and meet with me. That young man, Mickey Kantor, the former Secretary of Commerce, and I, worked to put together a group of lawyers to lobby the Congress, and our "Legal Services for the Poor" continued as The Legal Services Corporation. Then Reagan tried to kill the Legal Services Corporation completely! He zero-budgeted the program 5 times! But Congress prevented him from achieving his objectives.

As a lawyer, I believe that our government, my government, and your government, and my profession and your profession, have a positive, moral, and legal duty to make sure that legal services are available to the poor on an accessible, 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! It 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!

Yes, I do believe that we the people of the United States must recapture our belief that "national survival and improvement", not just 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 dream only 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; 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: the 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 Lawyer's help, we cannot build structures and precedents necessary for success for us all.

So

For all who struggle for Justice, please never forsake the work you do! You are the best guardians of liberty and builders of quality life for all Americans.

Without you, our country will never fully achieve "Equal Justice Under Law"; nor will we fulfill our pledge in the Declaration of Independence to give to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honor.