Thank you, Larry [Tribe]. It is an honor to stand with you – and with so many committed leaders, advocates, and partners – as we take a critical step forward in fulfilling our nation’s promise of equal opportunity and equal justice.
I want to thank Vice President Biden and Larry – and the outstanding teams that they lead – for their work in organizing this event and bringing us all together. And I want to thank each of you, and all of our speakers and panelists, for being here. I am grateful for your willingness to share your expertise and personal experiences. And I am inspired by your commitment to the principles that define who we are, and who we can be, as a nation.
As you all know – and as you’ve heard this morning – across the country, too many homeowners now struggling to avoid foreclosure simply do not know where to turn for help. Too many soldiers and veterans are fending for themselves as they confront life-altering financial and legal difficulties. Too many workers who have been mistreated by their employers do not have the means necessary to access the legal assistance that they need to fight back.
For these vulnerable Americans – and for their families and loved ones – we are here today. And, for them, we must renew our commitment to closing – once and for all – what Larry Tribe has described to you as, “the justice gap.”
Of course, this problem is not new. In fact, generations of Americans have worked to overcome it.
Nearly a century ago, Chief Justice Taft noted that, “ashamed as we may be,” equal opportunity had not yet been achieved in our nation’s justice system. Fifty years later, my most famous predecessor – Attorney General Robert Kennedy – called the justice gap, “one of the most challenging problems confronting the legal profession.” And he offered, “the Justice’s Department’s pledge of full cooperation in meeting that challenge.”
Today, that challenge remains. And, today, the Justice Department’s pledge lives on.
In the early days of this administration, President Obama called for an aggressive, and historic, effort to expand access to legal services. And today’s Justice Department is fully committed to answering this call.
As a prosecutor and former judge, I know that the fundamental integrity of our criminal justice system, and our faith in it, depends on effective representation on both sides of the courtroom. And I am proud that, for the first time in its history, the Department of Justice has an office dedicated exclusively to increasing access to justice for all Americans – regardless of income or circumstance. As you have heard, our new Access to Justice Initiative has hit the ground running – pursuing an agenda that will help the growing number of poor and middle class Americans in need of legal advice and representation.
In addition to the breakthroughs announced this morning for foreclosure victims, for veterans needing legal services, and for workers with claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family Medical Leave Act – the Access to Justice Office is working to close the justice gap in many other powerful ways.
Larry and his team have met with federal judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, advocacy and policy organizations, community groups, local and state representatives, and – as you saw today – everyday people who need help now. They have identified and begun to implement projects that focus on community-based solutions. They have called for additional research on the most effective ways to deliver legal services – and worked to make these services more accessible for residents in Indian Country and rural areas. They have sought to put rules in place to avoid “worst case scenarios” when a lawyer cannot be afforded. And they are endeavoring to transform the civil-legal aid system – one collaboration at a time.
This work represents a new vision – for our legal system and for our country; a time when people like Mitchell Green, David Jemmott, and Richard and Phyllis Shimmin can easily access quality, affordable legal services; an America where citizens in need can get the help they deserve without having to wait – and without having to worry longer than they should or sacrifice more than they can.
But if that is going to be the American legal system of tomorrow, then there are goals that we must set, partnerships that we must forge, and commitments that we must make - today. I am grateful that the President and Vice President, leaders like Larry Tribe and my fellow Cabinet members, and agency partners across the Departments of Commerce, Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development are moving us forward by launching and advancing the initiatives you heard about this morning.
With the strides we have made – and with the additional steps soon to come – I am confident that we can, and will, build a fairer and more effective justice system.
But, as Vice President Biden pointed out earlier, the problems that we face cannot be solved overnight. And they cannot be solved by government alone.
By working together, I am confident that we can make a meaningful – and, in many cases, life-altering – difference to people and families across the country.
So, let us seize this opportunity to return to the beliefs that guided our nation’s founding. Let us come together to renew the strength of our justice system. Let us make the progress that we dream is possible – and make the impact that our fellow citizens deserve.
Once again, I want to thank you all for being here today – and for the work that you do every day to strengthen our justice system and to empower your fellow citizens.
Thank you all.