Opening Remarks by Board Chair John G. Levi | Supreme Court Reception

Washington, DC | Supreme Court Reception | April 19, 2016
May 2, 2016

Good evening.  As most of you know by now, I am still John Levi, the 10th Chair of the Legal Services Corporation, and welcome to this wonderful reception.

Weren’t our panels and speakers at the White House tremendous?

I see that many of them are still with us, so let’s acknowledge them with a round of applause.  

And what better way to end this moving day on behalf of equal access to justice than with an outstanding program here at the United States Supreme Court!

I particularly want to thank Chief Justice John Roberts for making this event possible and Justice Anthony Kennedy, who swore in most of the members of the LSC Board six years ago and who we will be so privileged to hear from shortly.

Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who played such an important role in launching LSC by serving as its general counsel during its formative years in the mid-1970s will speak as well . . . followed by Harriet Miers, White House counsel in the most recent Bush Administration and a Locke Lord partner, who is as dedicated as anyone I know to helping LSC succeed in its mission and, as you have heard, is a co-chair of our newly-formed Leaders Council.

It is also fitting that our Forum ends here today because, as we heard so powerfully early today at the White House, members of the judiciary have become some of the most effective spokespeople for ensuring that our civil justice system is accessible to all Americans, regardless of economic means.

As you also heard, through the actions of the Conference of Chief Justices, and in direct outreach to state and federal lawmakers, judges are playing an increasingly important role in promoting an understanding of the consequences of the chronic underfunding of our system of civil legal aid.

As I have traveled the country these last six years as LSC Board Chair, I have been amazed at how little lawyers outside the legal aid community understand about the crisis that exists or the threat it poses to maintaining the confidence of the American people in the fairness and accessibility of our justice system.

Partners in some of the leading firms in this country know little about LSC and almost nothing about the justice gap.

It is not a lack of sympathy; it’s a lack of education.  Most lawyers are shocked when they hear and are eager to help.

As then-New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lipman, who is with us tonight, noted last year at the concluding event in LSC’s commemoration of its 40th anniversary, “Lawyers almost always rise to the occasion, but sometimes we have to whisper in their ears.”

Those of us here tonight, and others who know about these dire circumstances, need to enlighten our fellow members of the bar and, with them, shout — not whisper--from the mountain tops because the promise of equal access to justice is hanging in the balance.

As the late Justice Antonin Scalia so eloquently observed at LSC’s 40th anniversary:

“The American ideal is not for some justice, it is as the Pledge of Allegiance says, ‘Liberty and justice for all,’ or as the Supreme Court pediment has it, ‘equal justice.’  I’ve always thought that’s somewhat redundant.  Can there be justice if it is not equal?  Can there be a just society when some do not have justice?  Equality, equal treatment is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice.”

Every day, legal aid attorneys across our nation can be counted on to pursue this ideal by ensuring that their clients are treated with fairness and dignity in the resolution of their civil legal problems and that low-income Americans have access to justice.