Lawyers Journal

Roscoe Pound's "Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice" speech still resonates on 100th anniversary

One hundred years ago, Roscoe Pound delivered a speech to the American Bar Association that has been a catalyst for modern court reform efforts like the one underway in Massachusetts.

Pound, a legal scholar who served as dean of Harvard Law School from 1916 to 1936, examined then-modern complaints about the justice system in his speech, "The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice."

The speech highlighted the reasons for the public's poor perception of the justice system, discounting age-old criticisms, for example, that the courts cater to the wealthy.

"Courts are distrusted, and executive boards and commissions with summary and plenary powers, freed, so far as constitutions will permit, from judicial review, have become the fashion," Pound said in the opening portion of his speech. "It will be assumed, then, that there is more than the normal amount of dissatisfaction with the present-day administration of justice in America."

After a lengthy examination of the causes of dissatisfaction, Pound concluded, "… too much of the current dissatisfaction has a just origin in our judicial organization and procedure. The causes that lie here must be heeded. Our administration of justice is not decadent. It is simply behind the times."

In Massachusetts, the speech proved relevant a century later when the Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts produced the "Monan Report" in 2003, determining that the Massachusetts court system was "mired in confusion" and needed an overhaul.

The Court Management Advisory Board and the Supreme Judicial Court Historical Society honored the 100th anniversary of the speech with "a contemporary reassessment" on Oct. 18 at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. The program featured remarks by SJC Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, a keynote address by Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and a panel discussion titled, "Where We Are and Where We Are Going — What Would Pound Say?"

"The goals were to review the progress of the Court Management Advisory Board and all the work they've done in a historical context," said Robert J. Brink, Esq., executive director of the Social Law Library in Boston and moderator of the panel discussion. "The 100th anniversary of Roscoe Pound's speech gave the framework for the big picture about changes in court administration, how difficult it is and how much it's needed."


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