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Letter on the Modernization of the Criminal Law.

May 08, 1934

My dear Mr. Lewis:

It affords me a great deal of pleasure to send this word of greeting to the members of the American Law Institute upon the occasion of your twelfth annual meeting.

In 1923 you undertook a great public service; namely, the Restatement of the American Common Law. For eleven years you have been engaged upon this important undertaking, and your labors have been fruitful indeed.

With the generous cooperation of one of our leading public Foundations, you have performed and are performing your task in such manner as to merit and to secure public and professional confidence. The success which has attended your efforts has been due in large measure to the fact that you have succeeded in uniting, in the conduct of a great public undertaking in the field of the law, the expert knowledge of the legal scholar and the practical wisdom of the judge and practicing attorney.

The Restatement of the Law has not yet been completed. You have, however, already published the results of your work on Contracts and Agency, and I understand that the completion of other principal subjects of the common law, such as Trusts, Conflict of Laws, Torts and Property, is in sight.

I wish, therefore, to take the liberty of suggesting that, while you continue to carry forward the clarification and simplification of what we lawyers call the private civil law, serious consideration should be given to the question of whether you should not now begin an undertaking of equal importance in the field of the substantive criminal law. There is an urgent need for intelligent, painstaking and patriotic work in this field. There is no organization better fitted for this great task than the American Law Institute.

We all realize, of course, that the problems of our criminal law and its administration cannot be solved by any one agency. Much of the necessary work can be effectively done only by public commissions charged with the duty of making special investigations and recommendations. However, such an organization as yours is peculiarly well fitted for the task of carrying on those intensive and scholarly investigations which educate the public and furnish essential material and suggestions to public commissions and legislative bodies.

I need not point out to you that the adaptation of our criminal law and its administration to meet the needs of a modern, complex civilization is one of our major problems. I believe the American Law Institute is in a position to make important contributions to the solution of this perplexing problem.

Very sincerely yours,

Mr. William Draper Lewis, Director,

The American Law Institute,

Washington, D.C.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter on the Modernization of the Criminal Law. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208675

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