Justice is foremost in the preamble of our nation's Constitution. The very intent of the United States Constitution is to "establish justice." As a justice system, we recognize the barriers that limit the ideal of justice for all, including the legacy of racial discrimination in our institutions, from the courts to legislatures to administrative agencies. Our mission as lawyers, legal professionals, and legal aid organizations is to provide high-quality, accessible, and responsive legal service to people impacted by poverty and oppression. To do this, we must understand the history of racial oppression in our country and how it continues to be embedded in our laws and legal institutions.
Both governmental and private funders of legal aid organizations have a direct and fundamental responsibility to ensure that sufficient resources are made available so that equal access to justice is available to all individuals. Citizenship or incarceration status should not limit someone's access to life-changing legal services. Adequate funding for such services should be available to all communities without exclusion, restriction, or preference.
Legal aid organizations must treat everyone with fairness, dignity, and respect, including recognition and inclusion of their culture, background, identity, or national origin. As a justice system, we must constantly evaluate and address institutional and systemic racism and our own implicit biases. Ensuring equal justice requires constant vigilance and examination of individual and institutional approaches, processes, and cultures to address their impact on the communities we serve and the community partners who facilitate those services.
The phrase "Equal Justice Under Law" is permanently affixed above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court. Many of these Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid are designed to recognize that far too often in our history, bias, prejudice and oppression have been ongoing barriers to this ideal. While we cannot change the past, we can acknowledge it and change the future. We hope that together we can approach this work with zealous action, fortitude, and hope, and not fear and resistance. These Standards were written in this spirit.