Two major reports demonstrate the startling reality of a lack of access to justice. While the trends are disturbing, the opportunity to expand help and hope is greater.
In July, Harvard released a significant report on the legal system and needs of the poor. The report’s frank conclusion:
“The administration of American justice is not impartial, the rich and the poor do not stand on an equality before the law, the traditional method of providing justice has operated to close the doors of the courts to the poor, and has caused a gross denial of justice in all parts of the country to millions of persons.” (p. 8)
The truly startling fact of the report is that it was not released in July 2019, but July 1919! 100 years since the first significant study on the lack of access to justice conditions have actually grown worse.
The most comprehensive global report on the rule of law which includes access to justice found the United States ranks 98th in the world. Two years ago we ranked 65th and last year 97th. The Rule of Law report measures 44 areas within 8 categories. One of those is, “People can access and afford justice.” The United States scores 46 out of 100, ranking 98th behind Russia, China and directly below Afghanistan!
Today, the echoes of 100 years ago, ring even more true:
“The effects of this denial of justice are far reaching. Nothing rankles more in the human heart than the feeling of injustice. It produces a sense of helplessness, then bitterness… The poor come to think of American justice as containing only laws that punish and never laws that help… A persuasion spreads that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.” (p. 10)
In 1949, Justice and the Poor was updated. The conclusion was conditions had grown worse in the wake of post war prosperity. The author, Reginald Heber Smith, urged bar associations, government and communities to place priority on equal justice under law. Without fundamental fairness in the access to justice our democracy was at risk.
Significant strides were made by the American Bar Association and the government which led to the Office for Economic Opportunity and its successor the Legal Services Corporation. This history is recorded in a major work titled To Establish Justice for All.
That work chronicles the efforts of individuals who fought for equality under law, including John Robb. John was president of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. He led the charge testifying before Congress and wrangling behind closed doors. John believed justice was a fundamental right. Since taxpayers were required to pay for courthouses, judges, clerks, and were required to use these systems, they ought to have equal access to them.
Like reconstruction following the Civil War this worked. A recent Campbell Law Review article demonstrates the strides since Justice and the Poor, especially in the 1970’s. Like reconstruction, powerful interest gutted the progress beginning in 1981 through the present.
Christian Legal Aid
John Robb came to faith late in life. When God captured his heart, he could not understand why Christian lawyers were not serving the poor. John believed the government had an important role, but he also agreed with Reginald Heber Smith’s conclusion:
“Legal Aid is unquestionably best off, and best managed, when it becomes a community enterprise, with its roots deep in the community from which it draws support.”
John began efforts with the Christian Legal Society. Like the American Bar Association, CLS was a member organization involved in many activities and John believed there needed to be a single focus national organization like he fought for before Congress. He believed Christians should support this work which was close to the heart of God. John was 86 when God gave him a bold vision of 1,000 community gospel justice centers equipped to serve the needs of neighbors. John joined me in co-founding Gospel Justice Initiative.
Open the Gates of Access to Justice
Today there are 91 neighborhoods across the nation who have responded to God’s call to do justice (Mic. 6:8). John ran his race faithfully for 90 years. He passed the torch to all of us who care about justice for all. We have the opportunity to change someone’s story.
Today 80% of the legal needs of the poor go unmet. People feel helpless and hopeless not even knowing whether they have a legal problem. They need a trusted place to turn. Neighbors need a gospel justice center near them that operates like a health clinic to diagnose issues, provide preventative treatment, give good basic advice and counsel, restore hope and make referrals. This is the critical first step in expanding access to justice.
On October 4, 2019 we are holding a fundraiser at Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace. The event will be simulcast across the country as others join my friend Dr. Tony Evans and myself in laying out a bold campaign to Open the Gates of justice and hope for all. Don’t miss this opportunity to be at the front of a Holy Spirit movement reclaiming the heart of God and fulfilling our democratic ideal. If you are not in the Chicago area consider hosting a remote party by e-mailing Kris@gji.org.
God has a role for you in advancing His Kingdom of justice. Discover what that role is and boldly join us in expanding access to justice for neighbors in need.