For decades, our civil justice system has been inaccessible and inequitable to millions of people. These inequalities have only grown more severe during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as that system has become more essential for addressing them.

Although many structural and systemic barriers remain, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal could enhance equitable access to civil justice by expanding the ways people engage with the system and increasing access to those options.

The civil justice system is designed to help people protect their safety, family, health, and housing through laws that endow them with rights and protections. Eviction, domestic violence, consumer fraud (PDF), job discrimination and wage theft, child custody (PDF) and child support all fall within the civil legal system. When people have equitable access to civil justice, they can get what they need, when they need it, through a fair process.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, courts, civil legal aid organizations, and other justice organizations turned to technology-based solutions to maintain their operations. Technology is helping modernize the civil legal system, allowing people to submit paperwork electronically and to attend court remotely.

Although these changes are here to stay, they cannot be used unless all people have access to broadband and the internet. More than 30 million Americans, particularly those in rural communities, live in areas without quality broadband infrastructure, and Black and Latinx adults are nearly twice as likely as white adults to lack broadband access.

But even in a world where everyone has access to broadband, some court activities will have to happen in person. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, getting to court by public transportation was difficult for many. And as a result of the pandemic, fewer people are using public transportation options, leading to line closures and reduced service times.

These effects have not been felt equally, with communities of color more likely to take public transportation even though many lack sufficient transit options. If a court appearance is required, unreliable transportation may cause a person to be late for their hearing or to miss it entirely, which could result in them losing their case.

Read the full article about equitable justice system by Sandra Ambrozy at Urban Institute.