On Monday, more than 500 Pennsylvania inmates sentenced as juveniles to die in prison learned they’ll have a chance at release after all. For Marsha Levick, 64, of Philadelphia, it’s the culmination of a life’s work, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Levick was co-counsel in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Monday that its 2012 prohibition of mandatory-minimum life-without-parole sentences for juveniles must be applied retroactively. The cofounder of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center has waged a decadelong campaign in the courts to roll back the harshest punishments for children and bring the law in line with science that has proved kids are different from adults.
“She’s been one of the most influential lawyers in the country in terms of changing the courts’ perception of the culpability of juvenile offenders,” said Prof. Steven Drizin of the Northwestern University School of Law. It’s been strategic warfare, said Levick, who saw her chance in 2005, with the case Roper v. Simmons, which ended the juvenile death penalty. “This was an opportunity we needed to seize and push it as far as we could – and we’ve had remarkable success,” said Levick, who provided support in the case, including a brief and a 50-state survey of juvenile justice laws. “The world for kids in the justice system has changed at a phenomenal speed.” Levick and three other Temple Law graduates founded Juvenile Law Center in 1975 in the spare room of a doctor’s office. It was a community legal-service firm, run on a shoestring. They took on cases of kids in the child-welfare systems, in the juvenile and adult courts.