Limited English Proficiency

LANGUAGE ACCESS AT NCSC

The Language Access Services Section (LASS) provides state courts with resources to overcome language barriers in the courts and to ensure that providing individuals with limited English proficiency with access to the courts is a core function of the courts.

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Issue: Limited English Proficiency

Impact:

State courts receiving federal funds are required to take reasonable steps to assist parties and witnesses who are not proficient in English.

Position:

Court leaders encouraged adoption of the revised ABA’s Language Access Standards proposal. (CCJ/COSCA Resolutions 11-B-1).

Summary:

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), government, private, and non-profit entities that receive federal funding must comply with Title VI and the Title VI implementing regulations, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs that receive federal financial assistance.  To comply with the Title VI prohibition against national origin discrimination, Federal funding recipients must take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs.

On 8/11/00, President Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, which directed federal agencies to publish guidance on how their recipients can provide access to limited English proficient (LEP) persons.  A LEP individual is one who does not speak English as their primary language and who has a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English.   On 6/18/02, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued final guidance to federal fund recipients regarding the requirement under Title VI and the Title VI regulations to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. 

Status:

The DOJ Civil Rights Division has ramped up enforcement of all Title VI requirements, including LEP.  DOJ conducts administrative investigations and provides technical assistance regarding the provision of meaningful access.  Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Thomas Perez sent a letter to Chief Justices and State Court Administrators on 8/16/10 stating DOJ’s interpretation of the obligations of state courts.   

CCJ/COSCA leadership requested that Attorney General Eric Holder encourage his staff to work with the Conferences to explore strategies for implementation of the Act.   Representatives of the Civil Rights Division participated in a discussion on 10/2/09 at the CCJ/COSCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference and in the educational program for the COSCA 2009 Midyear Meeting.  Also, AAG Perez met with the COSCA Board of Directors on 11/20/09. 

CCJ/COSCA leadership met with AAG Perez and DOJ staff on 11/17/10 to discuss the 8/16/10 letter and potential strategies to achieve the shared goal for access to justice and ways that DOJ can assist state courts to secure needed resources.  

In a meeting with Attorney General Holder on 7/6/11, CCJ/COSCA leadership raised concerns regarding DOJ’s recent interpretations/expectations of courts.

The same concerns were raised in a 7/7/11 letter to ABA President, Stephan Zack in response to proposed ABA Standards for Language Access in State Courts.     

Following the CCJ/COSCA Annual Meeting, CCJ/COSCA leadership met with ABA leadership at the ABA Annual Meeting to discuss CCJ/COSCA concerns with the proposed ABA Language Access Standards.  As a result, the standards were pulled from the ABA House of Delegates’ agenda.  A CCJ/COSCA/ABA/NCSC working group successfully negotiated revised standards that address the CCJ/COSCA concerns.  The CCJ and COSCA Boards of Directors approved a resolution in support of the revised standards on 12/8/11.  ABA resolution 113 and the revised standards were adopted at the ABA 2012 Midyear Meeting on 2/ 6/12.        

The need for a cooperative collaboration was again raised with Attorney General Holder by CCJ/COSCA leadership on 6/4/12.  Follow-up conversations continue.