A Message From Our Executive Director, Phil Telfeyan
The scales of justice are supposed to be balanced; Lady Justice is famously depicted wearing a blindfold; the words “Equal Justice Under Law” are etched onto the façade of the United States Supreme Court; courthouses all across the country display countless symbols of an equal justice system.
However, although our nation’s founding principles promise equal justice under law, justice is unequal in almost every corner of our legal system. The millions of people who interact with the justice system every year face a tragic reality: our society currently operates two systems of justice — one for the rich and another for everyone else. We shouldn’t stand for such painful inequality.
Our work at Equal Justice Under Law is designed to bring about the change our justice system needs. We innovate and create, identifying laws and injustices that are too often overlooked. In addition to representing those who are underrepresented, we tackle problems that have gone unaddressed because of fear, inertia, or lack of imagination.
Equal Justice Under Law has filed 12 cases challenging the use of money bail pretrial, and we are the first organization to lead a statewide challenge against wealth-based detention. We believe that there should never be a price tag on freedom, and no person should spend a single day in jail solely because she cannot afford a monetary payment.
Before our work, 39 states suspended driver’s licenses for those too poor to pay fines and fees. We are the first organization to win a statewide preliminary injunction against these unjust wealth-based license suspensions.
Numerous cities across the nation attempt to banish residents if their homes are not expensive enough. We are the first organization to tackle wealth-based banishment.
We continue to succeed in our work against the irrational use of mandatory minimums for victimless crimes, which lead to decades-long and unnecessary prison sentences. We fight the unlawful privatization of probation services, which predictably include abusive practices that prey on people who are poor. We oppose the counterproductive residency restrictions on those convicted of sex offenses, which cause both homelessness and increased recidivism.
The effects of such wealth-based discrimination are debilitating, and our work strives to undo these pervasive injustices. Our successes have already helped thousands of people avoid unconstitutional jailing. If we are successful in our efforts to end wealth-based discrimination, hundreds of thousands of people will be able to live in their homes, drive to work, and live close to their families without fear of being punished simply because they are poor.