An Intersectional Examination of U.S. Civil Justice Problems
58 Pages Posted: 13 May 2023 Last revised: 9 Aug 2023
Date Written: May 11, 2023
Millions of Americans face civil justice problems each year, and most of these problems never make it to court, let alone to a legal expert. Although research has established that race and class are associated with a person’s chance of experiencing a civil justice problem, detailed intersectional examinations of everyday people’s justice experiences are largely absent. A more in-depth empirical understanding of the access to justice crisis can equip lawyers, policymakers, and other designers of justice interventions to create higher-impact, more efficient, and better- targeted programs to meet the justice needs of everyday people.
This Article fills a critical gap in the access to justice research. Using data from a representative sample of over 3,600 Americans, we conduct a granular analysis of the factors associated with the most common civil justice problems in the United States. We illuminate the scope of inequities in everyday legal experiences, point to key paths of legal and policy intervention, and show the importance of intersectional factors in understanding diverse needs for access to justice solutions.
In addition to investigating how gender, race, age, and class shape people’s chances of facing a civil justice problem, we investigate several less-examined characteristics: queerness, disability, rurality, parental status, and experiences of trauma. These identities turn out to be significantly correlated with civil justice needs as well—independent from, and in addition to, race, class, and gender. We show that the kinds of civil justice problems vulnerable populations face are not always intuitive and often transcend people’s status as members of a particular population.
We also use predicted probabilities to reveal enormous disparities in civil justice problems within groups that extant research has generally treated as monolithic—for example, showing that accounting for other identities and experiences can predict whether a low-income Black American has a 6% chance or a 45% chance of facing a family structure problem in the past year.
To shrink the U.S. civil justice gap, we need a more detailed picture of the landscape of civil justice problems experienced by everyday Americans. This Article provides that picture and is intended to serve as a springboard for access to justice policy reform.
Keywords: access to justice, inequality, poverty, legal empowerment, intersectionality
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