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Improvements in Language Access in the Courts, 2009 to 2012

Laura K Abel and Matthew Longobardi


Title VI of the Civil Rights Act mandates that institutions in receipt of federal funding must ensure equal access to their services irrespective of “race, color or national origin.” Prohibition of discrimination based on national origin has been interpreted to include impediments to access based on Limited English Proficiency (“LEP”). Historically, some courts have inadequately complied with this federal mandate. The authors observe August 2010 as a pivotal point, where the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) publicly reaffirmed its commitment to enforce Title VI. Consequently, many state judicial systems improved the level of access granted LEP individuals. 

The Clearinghouse Review article discusses two broad groupings: states that improved their institutional structure to enhance LEP access in response to a formal investigation, and those that improved their system in the absence of a formal complaint/investigation. Colorado is an example of a state that was subject to a formal complaint. The complaint averred that Colorado completely failed to facilitate LEP individuals by providing interpreters or other means of language access during the judicial process. Following a Memorandum of Agreement between the DOJ and the Colorado Judicial Department, significant improvements were made with respect to language access. For example, interpreters were provided to primary litigation parties and vital documents were translated.

Tennessee and Utah have not been the subject of a formal complaint or investigation; however, in response to the DOJ’s renewed commitment to enforcing Title VI, argued the authors, they improved the level of access granted to LEP individuals to the judicial system in their respective states.


The purpose of the article is to chronicle the improvement of various state courts, attributable to pressure exerted by various Federal, State and Local actors, in complying with their obligations under Title VI to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. 

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