Remembering Ed Muskie: His Commitment and Contributions to Civil Access to Justice
It is a special honor and pleasure to speak to you today about Ed Muskie and his enduring contribution to the cause of equal access to justice. I am the current Chair of Justice Action Group, an organization that traces its roots directly to Senator Muskie’s efforts in the late 1980s. JAG, as it is known, continues to keep his vision alive. I will speak more about JAG in a moment, but first some brief reminiscences. In the late 1980s, I was a member of the Commission chaired by Senator Muskie that conducted the first comprehensive legal needs study in the State of Maine and issued a report, commonly referred to as the Muskie Commission Report, in 1990. It was a groundbreaking and sobering survey that underscored the profound need for legal assistance for Maine’s neediest citizens. I had never met the Senator before serving on the Commission. My mother, who is a Rumford native, was quite thrilled that I would be serving with him and regaled me with stories of him serving as a substitute teacher in her classes at Stevens High School quite a few years ago. I knew him only by reputation and looked forward to meeting him. He was, as you might expect, gracious and firm, generous and demanding, and a most effective leader for this group. He and his wife hosted the group on a couple of memorable occasions at their home. I met the Senator late in his life, and my initial perception was one of frailty. He moved slowly and carefully, and spoke in very hushed tones. His imposing will was omnipresent, his mind was sharp as a tack, but he left the impression of being physically weak. When the Report was issued, a major press conference was organized. A large podium was set up in the Hall of Flags at the Legislature, and a large crowd and media representatives assembled for the event. The Senator appeared at the appointed hour, stride briskly and confidently to the podium, and proceeded to address the group in positively stentorian tones. His rich baritone filled the hall—no public address system necessary. His important message was delivered in powerful, compelling terms, and all in attendance responded with an enthusiastic and prolonged ovation.