Justice News

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable
Washington, DC
United States
~
Friday, December 9, 2022

Thank you. Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to see so many friends in the room, and thank you, Attorney General Garland and White House Counsel – Deputy Counsel Stacey Grigsby – for convening us today, and really for your leadership and vision for expanding access to justice across the federal government.

It is, I want to thank all of you Roundtable members. I know everyone is incredibly busy, but these issues are so important for us to spend some time to focus on and for us to be intentional about. And your presence around the table is really important, and your commitment to ensuring equal access for the most vulnerable is really inspirational.

Last year, as the Attorney General mentioned, he reestablished the Office for Access to Justice as a permanent, standalone component within the Justice Department, to formalize and truly imbed this work within the department.

And as many of you know, the Office for Access to Justice, as Rachel said, serves as the staff of the Roundtable. And I want to thank Rachel Rossi and her amazing leadership and the work of all of the staff here from the Office. Could you all just quickly stand up so that people can see you’re here in full force? And we started with nobody. The Office is even bigger, but we know how hard you’ve been working to make the Roundtable more than just a convening or a discussion. This really is a year-round effort and a vehicle for all of us to take back to our agencies what we can do to expand access to justice across the federal government.

If we’re serious about closing the justice gap in this country, we have got use all of the tools that we have at our disposal. And I’m actually excited that the focus of this year’s Roundtable is simplification, in part because it both seems incredibly mundane and obvious and yet remains one of our biggest challenges actually in the way that low-income people can actually access the courts and access justice.

Simplifying government forms and processes can really be the key to unlocking benefits and services, especially when legal help isn’t available. And simplification shouldn’t be and it needn’t be difficult. It really is about using plain language instead of jargon or legalese on websites, forms and other materials. It could be eliminating unnecessary requirements that make access to government services more onerous without any corresponding benefit. And it could be streamlining processes or simplifying forms in other ways.

But I think all of us have work to do in our own homes and houses to make this a reality.

So I think, I’ve really been pleased to see the Roundtable thinking about simplification through a people-centered lens.

And when we're engaging communities seeking access to government programs and initiatives, we really can learn better where barriers exist and identify pain points or unnecessary inefficiencies by actually speaking to people impacted that are seeking to access our programs and services. 

So, we’ve got to do purposeful engagement with historically underserved and marginalized communities, with low-income communities, communities of color, and those who are most often impacted by barriers to access to justice.

It also means regular engagement with legal services providers. And you’ve been such an important partner in making sure that we can help identify systemic issues and provide specific recommendations to improve access, because legal services is working day in and day out in the communities that are seeking to use and access what the federal government provides by way of programming and services.

So, I am looking forward to hearing more. I don’t want to get in the way of Rachel Rossi and her time – her time buzzing.

But we know this is just the beginning, and we really look forward to engaging with you through this process.

Thank you.

Updated December 9, 2022