CITY OF WASHINGTON (October 5, 2021)—The Justice Department announced it resolved a civil rights review of the South Dakota Unified Judicial System (UJS) that will improve access to state courts for people with limited English proficiency (LEP).
The Justice Department’s review began after it received a complaint from East River Legal Services alleging that UJS courts discriminated against LEP court users based on their national origin in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. The department’s review uncovered language barriers and higher court costs within the UJS that made it difficult for LEP individuals to participate in state civil cases and proceedings.
“State courts are fundamental to the integrity of our justice system and it is important that any barriers that prevent individuals from accessing these institutions be removed,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to work with state courts to remove language barriers that deny access to justice and violate federal civil rights law. We thank the South Dakota Unified Judicial System for working cooperatively with the Justice Department to resolve this matter and taking prompt action to ensure that all court users can understand and participate in cases, regardless of their English language ability.”
In response to the department’s review, UJS introduced a bill in the state legislature to expand access to court interpreters and translators for LEP individuals in all civil cases. The legislation became law on July 1. To implement the new law, UJS secured additional funding in its budget to provide interpreter services at no cost to LEP parties and witnesses. Additionally, UJS has updated the language access plans for all state judicial circuits, appointed a language access coordinator and created a language access complaint process. The coordinator and complaint procedures will help ensure that individuals can provide feedback to UJS. UJS has also agreed to continue working with the department to improve fairness and nondiscriminatory access to the courts for LEP individuals.
This case was jointly investigated by attorneys in the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota. Enforcement of Title VI is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division.