"Justice - A New Vision"

September 27, 1972

The failure to provide justice is not just an abstraction. It has serious consequences. Justice releases creativity, spurs us to action and generates harmony. Injustice causes anger and frustration. Injustice festers and rankles. It makes life intolerable and bereft of dignity. Injustice breeds violence, sows the seeds of rebellion.

In his State of the Union Message in 1971, Richard Nixon presented proposals to reform our federal structure. He called his suggestions a new American Revolution.

Yet, the astounding thing about Mr. Nixon's plans was not what he sought to change, but what he left unchanged.

Unchanged were the Departments of Justice, Defense, State and Treasury. These four departments are the chief policy making centers in our government and the largest repositories of manpower and money. They are also the source of our major problems. It tells us a lot about Mr. Nixon's mind and philosophy that he kept these departments intact — not even recognizing the need to reform and change them.

I want to deal with each of these areas — Justice, Defense, State and Treasury — and tell you how they should be changed to serve our nation — as they are not now doing. And tonight, I shall begin with Justice.

"Justice," Daniel Webster said, "is the greatest interest of man on earth." Our nation was conceived in justice. The American Revolution was a revolt against injustice. Our Constitution places the duty "to establish justice" even ahead of "domestic tranquility."

And so it should be. A democratic nation's duty must be to secure justice for all its citizens. And when an Administration fails in this obligation, it does not deserve to govern.

Today, the quality of justice in this nation under Richard Nixon is lower than at any time in modern history.

The failure to provide justice is not just an abstraction. It has serious consequences. Justice releases creativity, spurs us to action and generates harmony. Injustice causes anger and frustration. Injustice festers and rankles. It makes life intolerable and bereft of dignity. Injustice breeds violence, sows the seeds of rebellion.

Today, I charge Richard Nixon for having failed the cause of justice in three major respects:

First, he has subverted justice by politicizing it.

Second, he has failed to expand justice and deliver it to the million of our citizens who suffer injustice.

Third, he has failed to initiate and press for the needed reforms in the administration of justice.

I shall discuss these failures today and tell you also the vision that George McGovern and I have – to change Nixon’s defeats for justice into American victories for justice.

The indictment of Richard Nixon’s performance in the field of justice begins with his persistent politicization of justice.

A cardinal axiom of any system of justice is that it must be evenhanded. This is why the Goddess of Justice is pictured with balanced scales and a blindfold over her eyes. In a just society, the rights secured by justice are not subject to the calculus of political bargaining.

But, under Richard Nixon, justice has not been evenhanded. It has been weighted in favor of the powerful special interests and tipped on behalf of the political contributors:

  • An ITT, a Lockheed, a grain industrialist get favored treatment — but the small businessman does not.
  • A contribution from milk producers is received — and the donors receive higher milk supports.
  • Lawyers and lobbyists representing big business have ready access to the top officials of the Department — but lawyers providing legal services for the poor are threatened and browbeaten by so high an officer as the Vice President of the United States.

Such politicization of justice is destructive. It breeds cynicism and corruption. It destroys the citizen's faith in his government. It engenders lawlessness in others.

It is no wonder that justice has been politicized — for Nixon has chosen men of small legal stature and large political ambition to run his Department of Justice.

Once it was otherwise. When Robert Kennedy became Attorney General, he took his office as a sacred trust. He chose men to run it who were not politicians, but men of superb ability and passionate commitment to law — a Byron White, a Nicholas Katzenbach, a Burke Marshall, a Louis Oberdorfer, a John Douglas, a William Orrick, a Lee Loevinger, and others of similar caliber.

But, John Mitchell made the Department of Justice Nixon's campaign headquarters. Six out of the seven top Department officials were politicians. And their caliber and morals were deficient. They included:

  • A Deputy Attorney General who admitted that he received a bribe offer from one Robert Carson which he failed to report at the time, — allegedly because he "did not recognize the offer as a bribe." This man is now Attorney General.
  • An Assistant Attorney General in charge of the sensitive Criminal Division who resigned under pressure when it was revealed that he was heavily in debt to the central figure in a major Texas bank scandal.
  • An Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division who is tied to the defendant in the Watergate burglary and bugging and is suspected of massive destruction of campaign financial records.

With such men at the helm of justice, it is not surprising that politics courses through the Department. The examples abound:

  • An antitrust suit against the Warner-Lambert Corporation is suppressed contrary to staff recommendations. The head of the company is Elmer Bobst, Mr. Nixon's "adopted father."
  • Dubious price rulings favor Combined Insurance Company of Chicago. The head of that company, a friend of Mr. Nixon's, contributed about a half million dollars.
  • The dereliction of a U.S. Attorney in San Diego is ignored despite Mr. Kleindienst conceding that a shocking breach of trust had taken place.

In this kind of atmosphere, even mine and job safety enforcement become subject to manipulation. The average fine for safety violations in the Nixon Administration is $30. Safety enforcers are tapped to head political campaigns.

In this way, Mr. Nixon has subverted that very Department of our government which, above all others, should be free of taint, scrupulous in its fairness and dedicated to principle.

There is much more to deplore in the Department's conduct. The Department should not be politically dominated, but it also should not be a Department:

  • which recommends a Haynesworth and a Carswell to the Supreme Court, plus numerous others judged unqualified by the American Bar Association;
  • whose recommendations for federal judgeships abound with mediocrities and worse;
  • which engages in massive arrests of peaceful protestors without cause and in flagrant violation of individual rights;
  • which fails to enjoin widespread violations of voters' rights in Alabama and Mississippi;
  • which condones political attempts to undercut legal services for the poor;
  • which knowingly juggles crime statistics to claim decreases in crime at a time when crime has risen by more than 30%.

All of these are forms of injustice. All of these dishonor the very name the Department bears.

This is what the Department of Justice should not do. Let me tell you what it should do.

Our people deserve a new and genuine Ministry of Justice. I have a vision of a ministry of justice which sees as its responsibility the expansion of justice for all of our citizenry and which perceives its task to confront injustice wherever it is found. One which opposes private lawlessness by a slum land-lord and official lawlessness by a General Lavelle, bombing cities against orders. One which chooses civil rights and liberties over regressive tactics and suppression of dissent. One in which the guaranty of justice to every American is regarded as a pervading continuing mission.

As I conceive the role of the Department, it should have two Deputy Attorneys-General — one would be in charge of the traditional law enforcement activities. The other would head a new office charged with the duty of expanding justice for our citizens.

The expansion of justice encompasses many avenues.

It means, for example, that the Department's duty would be to seek out new means to confront the sources of injustice in our nation.

Health authorities spend huge sums to search for new discoveries to eradicate disease.

The Department of Defense spends $8.2 billion annually to develop new capacities of warfare.

Yet, when it comes to creating new methods of combating injustice, our expenditures are frugal and minimal. To improve justice for our people, we spend a mere $26 million dollars per annum — less than 1/2 of 1% of the amount spent to improve our capacity to kill our enemies.

I believe that there is an enormous potential to improve our system of justice. A nation that can devise vehicles that travel faster than the speed of sound can devise means to speed trials. A nation which can launch communication satellites in space should be able to find ways to teach citizens their legal rights. A nation which can devise complex multimillion dollar computer systems should be able to devise systems to prevent arbitrary denials of benefits and cumbersome procedures when citizens seek to exercise their rights.

We advocate preventive medicine. But what of preventive justice? Why should we know so little about how criminal tendencies develop, about what stimulates acts of violence, about what causes recidivism? We are only at the frontiers of knowledge about preventive justice, when we should be well within the gates.

The Department of Justice should be taking the lead in these endeavors. It should be creating and stimulating new ideas. It should be encouraging scholarship and research. It should be the nation's catalyst in the quest for Justice. This is part of what I mean by an expanding vision of justice.

Some time ago, I proposed the creation of a National Institute of Justice, devoted to the improvement of our entire legal system, the coordination of legal research and long range planning, needed revision of our system of legal education, the reform of criminal and correctional systems, the development of new techniques in neighborhood courts, citizen mediation panels, arbitration techniques and other methods of bringing justice close to the people. I shall not elaborate on the proposal here, but it is gratifying that the concept of such an Institute of Justice has now been endorsed by Chief Justice Burger and the Executive Director of the American Bar Association. What is distressing as a lawyer and as a citizen, is that none of this innovation stems from the present Department of Justice.

Another role for this branch of the Department of Justice would be the obligation to deal with official injustice.

We know of such injustice — agencies arrogant with power, failing to protect the public interest, neglecting to carry out the law, callously submerging citizens in delay and mind-boggling red-tape.

We have all seen such injustice — agencies summarily evicting families from housing, cutting off medicare, denying claims, barring citizens from voting, refusing children free lunches, removing students from schools, and many more.

Sometimes injustice comes from high quarters — a Ronald Reagan cutting off services to the poor, a John Bell Williams exonerating murder at Jackson State, a Claude Kirk usurping police functions in Florida.

Such official injustice is the most frustrating of all — because when officials themselves disregard the law, private citizens are often left hopeless, able to turn to no one.

As Sir Thomas More reminds us, If the guardians of the law break down the trees of the law, where will we find sanctuary then. — What is left but a Wasteland?

Now, such official injustice is attacked only by private citizens, courageous young legal services lawyers and public interest advocates such as Ralph Nader. These men and women have won many battles against injustice. They have won the right to vote for Spanish-speaking people; the right to counsel for indigent accused; the right to a hearing before a landlord's eviction, and many more. But why weren't these actions brought by the government itself? The Department of Justice should have been the first to ferret out these injustices and to initiate remedial action.

This, too, is part of expanding justice. When government itself roots out injustice in its midst, it renews faith in the rule of law and makes people feel that they have a stake in the institution of law. What better way of strengthening America!

Another role in expanding justice would be in the private sector. It is vital to have justice mean safe streets and safe parks. But justice also means safe food and safe drugs, safe housing and safe appliances, safe job sites and safe air and water.

Why shouldn't the Department of Justice act to stop the slumlords who victimize our children and the merchants who pass off shoddy wares? They, too, rob their victims — even if they don't appear in the crime statistics.

Why shouldn't the Department of Justice act to stop those who rob our air of its sweetness and our water of its purity and our landscapes of their beauty? They, too, rob us of our possessions — even if these robberies do not appear in the crime statistics.

Why shouldn't the Department of Justice act to apprehend the false advertisers, the purveyors of phony drugs, the manufacturer of built-in obsolescence, the sellers of bad insurance. They, too, victimize the people — even if the victims don't appear in the crime statistics.

In my concept of expanding justice, we would also address ourselves to institutions where today courts and lawyers rarely wander, — but where injustice often walks. The hospitals and institutions for the mentally retarded where patients are neglected or maltreated or experimented on, the schools where children are abused. We must also find ways to establish justice within these closed systems which affect our daily lives. Here, too, a ministry of justice can innovate and lead.

In the more talked about and traditional areas of the Department's work, there is also no bold vision of justice.

The greatest deterrence to crime is justice that is speedy. The criminal court is the central, crucial institution in obtaining that objective. Yet, virtually everywhere, we find a shortage of judges, of prosecutors, and of accessory help for them both; we see hopelessly inadequate court facilities in almost all urban communities and in many others. We find larger and larger dockets and heavier and heavier backlogs. Congestion and undermanning force prosecutors to take emergency measures to reduce the dockets. Guilty pleas and reduced or even suspended sentences are sought on an almost desperation basis; plea bargaining, reduced charges, and dropped cases become the practice. And courts try to hear an inordinate amount of cases in one day in "assembly-line" justice. Such a system is not designed to further justice or promote respect for the law.

Yet, the Department of Justice has done virtually nothing to remedy these deplorable conditions. It neither leads others nor innovates on its own. It expends its effort on dubious measures such as preventive detention and no-knock authority, when it should be focusing on securing speedy trials, on training fair and efficient prosecutors, and defenders, on equipping courtrooms and obtaining sufficient and able judges so that justice will be meted our surely and quickly. This would do more to reduce crime than all of Mr. Nixon's tough rhetoric.

We know, too, that crime is greatest among our youth and in our ghettos. Almost 40% of arrests are for persons under 18. Some 70% of persons convicted under 20 years of age are rearrested within five years.

But why should such statistics surprise anyone? Our neglect in this area has been unconscionable.

Throughout our country, we still jail first time offenders with hardened criminals. Our juvenile detention homes are obsolete, crowded and understaffed; often they become schools in criminal practice rather than institutions where rehabilitation can take place. We release offenders without aiding them to get jobs, or caring about the effect on them and their families of having to seek employment with a prison record.

Our archaic jails lack facilities to teach gainful work and are destructive of the human spirit. Their doors have become turnstiles for the return of recidivists.

Who better than the Department of Justice can take the lead in reforming our jails, in obtaining funds to train gang workers, in reforming our juvenile offender procedures? But these are enterprises which require vision and will. And in our present leaders of the Department, we have neither.

I should mention here a truth which seems to be fundamental, but which the present Department has shamefully glossed.

There are many reasons why young people turn to crime which do not lend themselves to hasty simplification. But not the least of them is a failure "in the opportunity structure,"— the disillusioning experience of discovering as they grow up that the promise of decent housing, good schools, and attractive job opportunities apply to most Americans but not to them.

Some time ago, a television interviewer talked with some youngsters at a stage when their future was still in balance. The question temporarily unresolved was whether theirs would be a life of crime or a life of obedience to law as part of the general community. And as so many, their message was clear — they could be brought away from crime; the price was only a decent job at a decent wage.  A first order of our business, then, must be — as it is with George McGovern — to create jobs. But even more. A job is not a job — not a job — not a job — unless it, too, is vested with justice; justice in conditions of employment, in treatment within the job, in opportunity for advancement. In such a society, the young and disadvantaged will have less incentive to become law breakers and more incentive to become contributors and participants in our communities.

Finally, there is the need to deliver justice to our people. Health services are meaningless unless they can be delivered. Consumer goods are valueless unless they can be distributed to customers. So it is with justice. Rights are empty unless they can be enforced. There is no justice unless it is available and felt by the people.

When I was head of OEO, we made encouraging advances in providing legal services for the poor. We began to show the poor that the law was not a vehicle of the establishment, for the establishment, by the establishment. That equal justice was not just an epigram chiseled on the facade of the Supreme Court Building, but a force to be felt and a right to be enjoyed in one's daily life.

Much of that program is in jeopardy now because of undermining by Spiro Agnew. And this Department of Justice silently condones these vicious attempts to destroy the Legal Services Program. I assure you that when George McGovern is President, the Department of Justice will champion the cause of legal services to the poor.

And not only the poor. Millions of Americans in low and middle income America cannot afford the high cost of legal services today. Yet, their need for such services is great and the injustices they suffer for lack of them are many. We need to establish group legal services, new types of legal insurance, neighborhood offices, and many other means of bringing the instruments of justice to the masses of our people. The Justice Department I see would pioneer and lead here, not sit by supinely and do nothing.

Justice should be an exciting idea and a fruitful reality. I believe a whole new spirit of justice can infuse the work of our government. I believe our Justice Department would be one for whom men and women would again be proud to work.

The challenge of confronting injustice — of making justice pervasive in a country of our size and perplexity is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time. Nixon and Agnew have shown no sensitivity to that challenge, no capacity to understand it, no will or ability to meet it. But for George McGovern and me, it is a challenge which we eagerly accept and which we will meet.

It was Albert Camus who said: "I should like to be able to love justice and still love my country." That is the goal we pursue!