Institute of Politics

John Bouman

President of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law & Chairman of the “Vote Yes for Fair Tax” Illinois Ballot Initiative Committee

  • Winter 2020 Pritzker Fellow

  • Seminar Series: “Striving for Equity: Lessons in Anti-Poverty Policy Advocacy”


John Bouman has been president of the Shriver Center since 2007, having been the leader of its advocacy program since 1996. During these years, the Shriver Center has maintained a leading multi-issue law and policy role fighting poverty in Illinois, while also building a national program of training and information for anti-poverty advocates and strong multi- state networks of organizations and practitioners aimed at transmitting state and local strategies and victories across multiple states.

He was a leader in the design and implementation of positive aspects of Illinois’ new welfare law in 1997, and he spearheaded the statewide efforts in Illinois to create both the FamilyCare program, which provides health care insurance for up to 400,000 working poor parents of minor children, and All Kids, the first state plan to extend health coverage to every child regardless of immigration status. He has consulted and co-counseled with advocates in many states; helped draft numerous pieces of legislation; given hundreds of presentations; published extensively; and served as counsel in numerous federal and state cases, including Memisovski v. Maram, which established substantial reforms in children’s health care in Illinois. He led litigation that forced Illinois to continue paying for health care and related services during the 2015-17 budget impasse. He currently leads the Responsible Budget Coalition, an effort bringing together more than 300 diverse organizations to advocate for state revenue and budget reform in Illinois. He chairs the ballot initiative committee, Vote Yes for Fair Tax, which is organized under Illinois campaign finance law to win an amendment to the Illinois Constitution on the November 2020 ballot that would allow the state to adopt a graduated rate income tax.

Before joining the Shriver Center in 1996, he worked for two decades at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, where he spent ten years as a high-volume storefront legal aid lawyer in Chicago neighborhoods, and then supervised public benefits advocacy. Among his honors, he has received the Kutak-Dodds Prize from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award from the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section, Child Health Advocate Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Excellence in Pro Bono and Public Interest Service Award from the United States District Court and Federal Bar Association. A 1975 graduate of Valparaiso University School of Law and former board member of the Chicago Transit Authority, John currently serves on the boards of Illinois Partners for Human Service, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Retirement Research Foundation.


“Striving for Equity: Lessons in Anti-Poverty Policy Advocacy”

Many important public policy issues affecting people in poverty need - or are faced with - significant change, from health care reform to immigration to criminal justice to public finance and much more. How do these issues arise? How do they attain importance on the public agenda? How do advocates for change or reform succeed or fail? Who are the players having an impact on policy? What are their roles and what strategies do they employ? 

This seminar series will examine these questions from the perspective of a non-governmental lawyer and policy advocate with four decades of experience working on poverty issues. Each seminar will be illustrated with examples from successful efforts he has led or participated in, with added context from guest speakers.

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