State court leaders laud renewed federal focus on access to justice


Molly Justice
Director of Communications & Online Media
National Center for State Courts

State court leaders laud renewed federal focus on access to justice

a2jWilliamsburg, Va., Oct. 29, 2021 - State court leaders today praised the release of two new reports from the U. S. Department of Justice and The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, aimed at restoring a greater role for DOJ’s access to justice efforts.  In particular, state court leaders, including the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), agree wholeheartedly that access to justice for all Americans will be furthered when, as one of the reports states, “partnerships and consistent communication with outside stakeholders, other agencies, state and local entities, and the private sector” are prioritized.

“State court leaders across the country stand ready to work with the Justice Department and the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable in their efforts to restore and expand its access to justice function,” said Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell, President of CCJ. “State courts have long been concerned about the “access gap” and welcome continued engagement and collaboration from our federal partners, and we can share and promote best practices, lessons learned, and ideas for reforms going forward.”

“The pandemic underscored that a lack of reliable transportation, safe and affordable childcare, or the inability to get time off work are often barriers to accessing justice,” said Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, who serves as the co-chair of the CCJ-COSCA joint committee on Access and Fairness. Court leaders are cognizant of the challenges presented by the digital divide, however.

“State courts are also committed to ensuring that technology itself does not become its own barrier to access to justice,” said Jeff Shorba, President of COSCA.

In 2015, CCJ and COSCA adopted a policy resolution calling for “100 percent access to effective assistance” in civil cases. Long before the pandemic, low-income households, people of color, people with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities faced systemic barriers to accessing justice and legal help.  Such challenges have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. In the state courts, which manage 97% of the nation’s litigation, 30 million people each year lack legal representation.