On October 2, thought leaders in the access-to-justice and social justice spheres came together at Fordham Law to consider the state of the movement for civil justice reform. Participants worked to develop vision statements, identify specific reform goals, and craft action plans as a means of sharpening the focus of the movement, and better serving individuals and communities that have the most at stake in the civil and criminal justice system.
“The constitutional and moral mission of the judiciary is equal justice,” said former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in opening remarks. “We’re preaching the gospel of access to justice as judges who no longer are just looking at the four corners of their legal papers and their briefs. We are interactive and responsive to the society around us.”
“We have placed access to justice at the center of what we do here at Fordham Law School,” said Dean Matthew Diller. “Lack of access to justice is not random; it tracks and reinforces other disadvantages in society—such as race and gender—and feeds into other harms that solidify and reproduce inequality.”
“In law school we teach people that courts and the law are the last level playing field, a refuge for those who are vulnerable,” said David Udell, explaining that “what we know from legal services work and what we know from what goes on in the real world is that the courts are sometimes seen as an occupying force, or a system for extracting money from people, and a system of incarcerating people unjustly.” He observed, “we have in this room so many people who are working to make our society live up to the dream of equal justice.”
In a conversation moderated by David Udell of the National Center for Access to Justice at Fordham Law, Robert Rooks of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, and Frank Sharry of America’s Voice spoke, respectively, of steps that activists and community members had taken that have helped the criminal justice and immigrant rights movements to gain traction and build momentum. Summit participants compared the progress in those movements with the challenges facing the civil justice reform movement.
In working groups conducted through the course of the day, summit participants debated hard questions about the focus of the civil justice reform movement, and also discussed the resources and capacities that are needed to realize the visions, and accomplish the goals, that are important to the movement. Lauren Sudeall of the Georgia State Access to Justice Center, moderated a group discussion in the afternoon, at which working group participants shared insights with the full group. Dean Diller brought the day’s events to a close by describing important themes that surfaced during the day. Highlights of the day’s many conversations were memorialized in large poster illustrations drawn by graphic recorder Deirdre Crowley.
The summit is part of the School’s A2J Initiative, led by its co-directors Lippman, Diller, and Udell. The summit was made possible in part by grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Pew Charitable Trust.