In 2017, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) received a complaint that the 24th Judicial District Court based in Gretna failed to provide help with language access including interpreters for individuals deemed Limited English Proficient (LEP). On May 13, the DOJ reached an agreement with the Louisiana Supreme Court to develop a plan to guarantee language access for those who come before Louisiana courts, even if they are LEP.
“This agreement is a partnership to ensure that all people, no matter their national origin, can fully and fairly access Louisiana state courts,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser.
The failure to adequately provide translators and other forms of language access for those who are LEP put the Louisiana state courts in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination for reasons of race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal funding. Without language access, “[p]eople suffer because they cannot protect their children, their homes, or their safety,” Judge Eric T. Washington from the DC Court of Appeals said in 2013. “Courts suffer because they cannot make accurate findings, and because communities lose faith in the justice system. And society suffers because its civil laws–guaranteeing the minimum wage, and barring domestic violence and illegal eviction–cannot be enforced.”
The Memorandum of Agreement calls for a number of measures to help Louisiana courts not only do better, but document the efforts to do so. It spells out provisions for publishing and monitoring the success of the plan, and it calls for the creation of a Language Access Stakeholder Committee (LASC) that will work to “develop and implement a language access program that complies with the LEP Commitment and Title VI.”
The memorandum lays out a project that will take at least a year to bring to conclusion, but many of the deadlines including the creation of the committee hit within the next four to six months. It’s disappointing that Louisiana courts treated the rights of its residents so shabbily, but it’s good to know that steps have been laid out to improve the situation.