This very much not an electoral politics blog. But Tuesday had such strong implications for the access to justice discussion that I think it may be useful to start to think through some of the second level themes and implications that lie just under the headline result and its lesson that people want and need government to work.
Here are some post election themes that I think most important in creating a moment of opportunity for access issues.
Latinos. The almost universal agreement about the major impact that Latino voters had on the result will create a much more sympathetic environment for access issues that are related to Limited English Proficiency. At a minimum, the impact will ensure a lock-in of Democratic commitment on these issues. It may also mean that at least some Republicans, seeing ways to lay a relatively relatively non-controversial foundation with the Latino community, may also embrace LEP access. Its not impossiblethat funding for LEP programs will get easier for courts, and that legislatures will be more generally sympathetic to general cultural and language access issues. It may be that some of the disputes about legal representation for the undocumented may shift. It may even mean that there will be increased focus on sorting out the huge problems in our immigration court system. Moreover, the LEP access issue can lay the groundwork for broader analysis of access barriers and how they can be overcome.
Veterans There is also a sense (although not nearly as strong or at the surface) that the Administration’s focus on veterans’ families and returning veterans themselves has been a political as well as a moral success. Thus, at least in the short term, we may see an even greater funding and programmatic openness to the access to justice needs of veterans and their families. While such programs will surely always be popular, in the longer term, as the wars wind down, such programs may become less visible.
Women’s Issues. The numbers on this are overwhelming. The point here is that the political resonance goes way beyond the so-called “social issues” to the broader question of whether our political and economic system is supporting women in their choices. So issues such as family court access, child support enforcement and domestic violence services and funding might move to the front. (Something tells me that the Violence Against Women Act re-authorization will move now.) The number of women in the House and the Senate is impressive and its impact is not yet fully realized (Bloomberg here.)
Gay Equality. The tipping point in history on Tuesday changes everything. State after state is soon going to be redesigning its family court forms. In the end it’s the little kind of stuff like forms that marks the greatest arcstoward justice.
Perhaps most significantly, and depending on local political configuration, most of these substantive areas offer at least some potential for bipartisan consensus, with both parties having incentives to move forward.
The point is obvious that these topics can and must be addressed not as a political agenda, but as access issues as to which there is now demonstrated broad public interest and sympathy. Access Commissions seem to me as ideal institutions to start to explore opportunities for change that will meet the needs of a broad public.
P.S. I tentatively plan a Part II of this series, in which I will discuss some of the more specific implications for access institutions and budgets — highly uncertain as they are right now, because of the broader fiscal uncertainties.