December 01, 2011
Introducing "Pursuing Justice," Juvenile Law Center's new blog!
Welcome to "Pursuing Justice: The Blog." As we launch our new website, we now wade into this cyberspace of news and opinion, where we hope to bring you our news and views about the ever-changing world of children and the law. We will offer timely and relevant updates on the latest developments in our field and provide expert insights into headline news about children and the law for our readers, friends, and supporters. Juvenile Law Center's unique status as the nation's oldest public interest law firm for children allows us to provide unique perspectives on the stories making headlines and emerging trends.
We founded Juvenile Law Center in 1975. If we close our eyes, we can still clearly see our first office—the half-smoked glass door with the name "Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia" neatly printed on the outside; the three interior rooms configured to include a waiting room, an office, and an examination room; the worn hallway common to older office buildings in downtown Philadelphia in the mid 1970s. This was the first of many homes for Juvenile Law Center, a seldom-used doctor's office that doubled as a medical office a couple of mornings a week where the physician-husband of one of our co-founders conducted insurance physicals.
In 1975, Juvenile Law Center was an idea sprung from the imagination of four new graduates of Temple Law School who, like many of our peers in those heady days, believed that we could change whatever part of the world we wanted to. We chose kids and their status under law. Only eight years earlier, the United States Supreme Court had ruled for the first time that children were 'persons' under the Constitution, entitled to certain fundamental due process protections when charged with criminal conduct, including a right to counsel. We viewed this decision as our call to arms. We set up a ninth floor 'storefront' legal services office where we hoped to serve a steady stream of youth confronting novel legal challenges—from law enforcement, from their schools, from their families, and from public child-serving systems. Our earliest clients' names still echo in our ears: Herbert, Tyrone, Luann, Theresa. We learned as we went—from courthouse to courthouse, school hearing to school hearing, home visits and family meetings.
From the beginning, we understood how each child's story might hold the kernel of a larger systemic problem. We represented individual children, but we also sought to hold the systems they confronted accountable. We successfully challenged the lack of procedural due process in a suburban school district's school discipline process. We pursued litigation to reverse horrific conditions in Philadelphia's juvenile detention center. We obtained statewide reform of Pennsylvania's practices and policies regarding solitary confinement of children in county facilities, and we achieved groundbreaking limitations on the use of pre-trial detention across the Commonwealth. We pioneered a multi-disciplinary approach to the legal representation of children involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems—a model of representation today that is taken for granted.
We filed our first amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in 1984. Our work before the Court has grown substantially since then. In just the last six years, we have participated in three cases that have upended the world of juvenile and criminal justice, paving the way for novel constitutional analyses concerning children's rights under the Constitution. At the same time, we have seen the Court struggle to define our place along the moral continuum of the rest of the world, with increased attention to international law and human rights principles as it applies and interprets our Constitution here.
Thirty-six years ago we had little sense of what Juvenile Law Center would become. We worked tirelessly, often with severly limited resources, to provide a voice to children caught up in our legal system. We grew quite naturally from that walk-in 'storefront' serving Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania to a statewide organization. We grew again to a national public interest law firm for children, extending our expertise and our resources to children and colleagues in jurisdictions throughout the country where children's rights faced the greatest threats or hurdles. As the world became a smaller place, we expanded our reach still more, assisting advocates and policymakers abroad who likewise aim to secure legal rights and protections for children in their own countries.
We continue to imagine a better world for children, and we continue to believe that the law can play an important role in achieving it. We have learned much in the last thirty-six years, and we have lots of opinions that come from that knowledge. Here, in this space, we will share our knowledge and opinions with you.