mericans are famous for filing lawsuits left and right, but for litigants living in poverty, justice can be harder to find. When facing civil litigation, a massive gap in legal-aid services reflects and reproduces the very injustices that often drive poor litigants into the courts in the first place. A
Unlike criminal proceedings, in which the indigent are provided with a public defender, in civil cases counsel is generally not guaranteed for those who cannot afford it. While federal authorities have begun exploring corruption issues in lower-level courts—especially scandals over municipalities running modern-day “debtors’ prisons” that impose predatory fines on the poor—there’s less public attention on the chronic scarcity of legal aid in civil litigation, including divorces, labor disputes, and other seemingly banal legal matters with complex social implications.
The 2016 Justice Index, a project of the National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ), scores state courts on how they provide litigants with access to basic legal instruments, analyzing where and how the system is rigged against the vulnerable … The index’s measures of language and disability access also show how social inequality and a lack of public investment intertwine to undermine constitutional rights.
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