Our Quote of the Week makes a broad and urgent appeal to create a more just legal system from the ground up.
In the 1967 Address to the Cincinnati Bar Association, Sargent Shriver shares the positive aspects of Legal Services, the program of the War on Poverty that provides free legal representation to low-income communities. He makes the point that giving every citizen access to a lawyer has benefits for both citizens and attorneys. He expounds the benefits of a just system, one that all citizens can trust, and one that allows all citizens to seek justice. He also shrewdly addresses attorneys' economic fear that Legal Services could take away business from law firms, noting that Legal Services clients would bring new cases to the system that would require fee-paying clients to engage attorneys, as well. For example, if a Legal Services client who couldn't previously afford legal representation brought a negligent landlord to court, the landlord would need an attorney, generating more for-profit business.
One noteworthy point that Shriver makes is that giving citizens access to justice would give them a greater sense of trust in the system, which would, in the end, make for a safer society:
"Nothing is more likely to stimulate rioting in the streets than the belief that the courts and the law and the police are unfair; nothing is more likely to kill the desire to riot than the belief that the legal system is fair and just. The more confidence people have in the legal system, the less compulsion they feel to destroy the world around them."
By saying these words, Shriver acknowledges that a significant cause of violence is an unjust legal system. It stands to reason, therefore, that creating a legal system that administers true justice for all would make for a more peaceful society.
We take Sargent Shriver's words to heart today as we continue to struggle with unacceptable levels of violence in our communities and within the justice system itself. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of January 31, 2023, there have been 52 mass shootings and six mass murders in the US this year. A total of 3,618 people have died from all forms of gun violence, 22 of them children ages 0-11, and 128 teens ages 12-17. And we cannot forget the pattern of violence we see within the justice system itself, most visibly with police killings of innocent Black men such as 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a Memphis resident who was beaten to death by police.
Let us envision a world whose justice system truly serves and protects all of its citizens, one that administers justice for each of us.