Equal justice under the law–it’s a critical expectation that underpins the core idea of American citizenship. For all their differences in political opinion, no group on the American political spectrum devalues the concept of equal justice. It’s probably the only ideological point that Grover Norquist, Al Gore, Rand Paul and Rue Paul all agree upon. So why, if it’s a consensus, is it so hard to achieve? For the same reason that it’s written into law: because it’s a hard road where execution and reality meet idealism and ideology.
The Equal Justice Initiative–a nonprofit organization based in Montgomery, Alabama–exists to take this consensus and make it a reality. Injustice plagues American society on both an individual and systemic level in the legal system. Deeply ingrained racism–or at the least its legacy–is just one problem that brings the distribution of justice to a sad halt in practice. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) works primarily in four areas: Children in Adult Prison, Death Penalty, Prisons and Sentencing Reform, and the catchall–Race and Poverty. It provides legal representation–and general advocacy–to the wrongly accused, the overly sentenced, to people on death row and to children locked in a system from which they can’t escape. EJI is literally the last hope on earth for many of these people–who are trying to find justice in a system that by almost all accounts desperately needs reform. (The U.S. prison population has grown to 2.3 million from just 300,000 in 1972.) Run by indefatigable activists like Executive Director Bryan Stevenson and Operation Director Eva Ansley, EJI is committed to ensuring that equal treatment under the law remains a real right, not just a lofty idea. Because it’s a very simple equation: if equal justice doesn’t apply to black teenagers in prison or men on death row, it doesn’t exist at all.