“It Is Here We Are Loved”: Rural Place Attachment in Active Judging and Access to Justice

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In the United States, rural economic marginalization and corresponding gaps in employment, affordable housing, health care, nutrition, and education put individuals at high risk for legal need. Yet many rural regions are “legal deserts” with few, if any, attorneys, and prevailing access-to-justice initiatives tend to neglect the unique challenges posed by rurality. The efforts of rural tribal and state court judges, though often overlooked in scholarship and policy, offer a compelling response to this inequitable access-to-justice context. Building on emergent work on “active judging, ” or when judges step away from a traditional passive role to assist unrepresented parties, this manuscript explores how rural place and place attachments shape diverse judges' interactions with litigants. It draws on mixed-methodological research across seven tribal and state courts in the upper Midwest to shed light on rural judges' efforts, how these efforts are regarded by unrepresented parties, and to what extent a shared experience of rurality provides a meaningful form of “access.” In so doing, it offers a novel spatial intervention in scholarship on access to justice and active judging and contributes to more rurally relevant justice practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-277
Number of pages31
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 22 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Bar Foundation.


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