This Director’s Letter was originally published in the spring 2021 edition of The ALI Reporter.

The preparations underway for our 100th anniversary give us a welcome opportunity to take stock of the many contributors who have enabled our extraordinary successes over the past century. Our very first benefactor was the Carnegie Corporation, the philanthropic organization established by Andrew Carnegie to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.” A century ago, the Carnegie Corporation’s backing underwrote the first Restatement series. This year, the Carnegie Corporation made a generous donation of $1 million in support of our work as we prepare to officially launch our 100th Anniversary campaign.

The story of the Carnegie Corporation and ALI actually begins prior to the Institute’s founding. Believing that much of American law was unnecessarily complicated, uncertain, and antiquated, leading legal academics, judges, and lawyers formed a Committee on the Establishment of a Permanent Organization for the Improvement of the Law in May 1922. Notably, the committee’s chairman was prominent New York lawyer Elihu Root, who had succeeded Andrew Carnegie as president of the Carnegie Corporation from 1919-1920 and remained on its board of trustees.

The Committee determined that it should prepare a report on a new organization to address the “general dissatisfaction with the administration of justice.” The Carnegie Corporation approved a $25,000 grant to fund the initiative. This support enabled the Committee to assemble two groups that worked through the fall of 1922: a group of Reporters developed proposals that were then carefully critiqued by a group of advisers (at that time called “Critics”). As ALI’s Council later explained, “The Committee could not have undertaken the work of preparing the Report without financial assistance. It was a work requiring study, constructive thought, painstaking criticism and thorough discussion.”

On February 23, 1923, the Committee presented its findings to prominent members of the bench, bar, and academy, including Chief Justice and former U.S. President William Howard Taft, as well as Associate Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Edward Terry Sanford. The report outlined the mission, organizational structure, and process that continue to guide ALI’s work today.

But the fledgling new organization needed money to bring this program to fruition, and it again turned to the Carnegie Corporation. In requesting support, the Council pointed to “the labor, time [and] expense involved in the restatement of the law” and suggested that the Restatements would do for American law what Justinian had done for Roman law. Impressed with the Committee’s vision and with the legal profession’s support for the new endeavor—and no doubt encouraged by Elihu Root’s support for the initiative—in April 1923 the Carnegie Corporation approved an initial grant of $1,075,000 to be distributed over ten years. Along with the $3,111.46 left over from the original $25,000, this grant funded the first Restatements of the Law in Agency, Conflict of Laws, Contracts, and Torts.

Work on these Restatements progressed more quickly than ALI had expected, however, and the Institute wanted to begin Restatements in other areas of the law. In 1926, the Carnegie Corporation agreed to speed up disbursement of the original grant to allow ALI to continue its existing work while also taking up new projects in Judgments, Property, Restitution, Security, and Trusts. But progress continued to outpace ALI’s budget, and ALI turned to the Carnegie Corporation several more times. The Corporation came to the Institute’s aid, awarding an additional $249,290.40 in February 1930, $232,987.50 in March 1933, $638,000.00 in October 1933, $95,000 in February 1940, and $164,000 in October 1940.

These additional contributions more than doubled the Carnegie Corporation’s original $1,075,000 donation and amounted to almost $2.5 million dollars of support for the first Restatements—more than $43 million in today’s dollars. And the Restatements were not the only ALI projects to benefit from the Carnegie Corporation’s generosity. The Carnegie Corporation also provided $40,000 to fund the Model Code of Evidence (which in turn shaped the Federal Rules of Evidence) and $10,000 to enable smaller states to produce annotations of court decisions so that lawyers could understand how the law in their local jurisdiction related to the position taken in the Restatement.

Moreover, in 1947, the Carnegie Corporation pledged $250,000 to ALI and the American Bar Association to launch a pioneering program of continuing legal education to address the needs of veterans returning to law practice after wartime military service. Today, ALI CLE continues to provide quality continuing professional education to lawyers throughout the United States.

Overall, from 1922 to 1948, the Carnegie Corporation committed grants totaling more than $2.7 million to ALI, allowing for the establishment of the Institute and for the production of its most seminal early work. In addition to direct financial support, the Carnegie Corporation also worked to put ALI’s finances on a secure footing. For example, the Corporation supplied a consultant to survey the Institute’s activities and pressed its leadership to make the work self-sustaining.

ALI also benefitted from Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy through other avenues. In particular, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace provided ALI $5,000 during World War II for work on an International Bill of Rights, which would in turn shape the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Carnegie Endowment also helped to fund a translation of the Restatement of Conflict of Laws into French so that foreign legal scholars could benefit from ALI’s work. This work planted the seeds of a global outlook that has since blossomed with projects such as the Principles of Transnational Civil Procedure, published in collaboration with UNIDROIT in 2006, and our ongoing Principles for a Data Economy project, which is being conducted jointly with the European Law Institute.

Today, we continue to build on the work made possible through the generosity of the Carnegie Corporation during ALI’s early years. My Winter 2020 Director’s Letter showed that even today the Supreme Court regularly cites the early Restatements funded directly through the Carnegie Corporation’s original series of grants, and of course we have continued to update this work in our subsequent Restatement series. We have also taken up new areas of the law not formerly considered for restatement such as Restatements on The Law of American Indians, Children and the Law, and Copyright, as well as Principles projects on topics like Government Ethics, Data Privacy, Policing, and Election Administration.

Looking back, it is hard to see how our efforts to clarify, modernize, and improve the law could have been launched without the Carnegie Corporation’s generosity. And it is gratifying that the Carnegie Corporation recognizes the continuing value of our projects today. By allowing us to assemble teams of Associate Reporters, ALI Fellows, and research assistants; to upgrade our technology for virtual meetings during the pandemic and beyond; and to hold more frequent project meetings, the Carnegie Corporation’s support and the support of all of our donors will help us to do our work more effectively, improving its quality and shortening the time it takes to complete it. And we can therefore launch a greater number of new projects from our long list of compelling topics waiting to be undertaken. The enduring support of our original donor provides a wonderful foundation as we carry our work into another century.

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Richard L. Revesz

Richard L. Revesz, Director of The American Law Institute, is the Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at NYU School of Law. He is one of the nation’s leading voices in the fields of environmental and regulatory law and policy. His work focuses on the use of cost-benefit analysis in administrative regulation, federalism and environmental regulation, design of liability regimes for environmental protection, and positive political economy analysis of environmental regulation. Director Revesz serves as Faculty Director of NYU Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to improving the quality of government decisionmaking.

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