Our country has a shameful history of racial injustice and systemic oppression. The devaluation and degradation of Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives in our society has led to unequal treatment and centuries of violence toward people of color. The killing of George Floyd has given rise to a renewed national outcry of frustration, anger, and deep sadness. There is a loud and unified call for overdue change. The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (“Commission”) adds its voice to the stand against racial injustice and inequality.
We are resolved in our mission to achieve equal, fair, and full access to our civil courts. Our work has particular importance at this time of immense pain and the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has laid bare our society’s inability to protect our most vulnerable and at-risk populations, which are disproportionately Black, Brown, or Indigenous. Their struggles as to healthcare, nutrition, housing, education, and employment have only intensified as a result of the current health and economic crisis. As the pandemic has been unleashed, their legal challenges involving basic human needs have grown, but they are without the means for legal representation. Now more than ever, we must work to remove the barriers to achieving access to our civil justice system for those who cannot afford lawyers, speak limited English, or are otherwise underserved.
At this moment of national reflection and action, we must address the fact that the barriers to accessing our civil justice system are founded not only on poverty but also on racism and other forms of discrimination. The poverty and financial burdens of self-represented litigants and the unequal distribution of resources and assistance are themselves the products of systemic racism. To truly achieve our goals, we must advance race equity in all that we do.
To begin, the members of the Commission and its committees and the Access to Justice Division of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts will engage in discourse relating to racism, diversity, and inclusion. Our existing community trust work will amplify the voices in Black and Brown communities and in organizations leading the race equity movement so that we may work together to achieve equal protection. Supporting vulnerable populations means not only providing user-friendly court forms and better qualified interpreters, but also examining court policies, rules, and procedures to determine the points of unfairness and inequality and whether they hinder full and unbiased access to the court system. Our explanations to the understanding and treatment of self-represented individuals will go beyond discussions of poverty. Rather we will tell how systemic racism impacts one’s trust and ability to navigate the court system and achieve a just result. We will also support and assist the efforts of our partners in the judicial branch in trainings for court staff and judges on implicit bias and deliberative decision-making tools.
We call on every member of the access to justice community to reflect on how we can better achieve our vision of achieving full, fair, and equal access to our civil courts without racism, discrimination, or bias.
ATJ Commission and ATJ Division
Please note: Any views or opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Illinois Supreme Court.