Rural state and tribal court judges in the upper US Midwest offer an embodied alternative to prevailing understandings of “access to justice.” Owing to the high density of social acquaintanceship, coupled with the rise in unrepresented litigants and the impossibility of most proposed state access to justice initiatives, what ultimately makes a rural courtroom accessible to parties without counsel is the judge. I draw on over four years of ethnographic fieldwork and an interdisciplinary theoretical framework to illuminate the lived consequences and global implications of judges' responses, which can be read as grassroots-level creativity, as resistance, or simply as “getting by.”.
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My heartfelt thanks to the editors, anonymous reviewers, and Larry Nesper for their insightful and enthusiastic feedback on this manuscript. This article also benefitted greatly from collegial and expert engagement at the 2020 Law & Humanities Junior Scholars Workshop and the University of Minnesota Law School's Faculty Works in Progress forum. I am grateful for these stimulating conversations. Special thanks to Riaz Tejani and Robin West for discussing the paper and offering such compelling and even moving critiques. My thanks as well to Jon Bredeson for his indispensable research assistance. And finally, I am humbled by the profound generosity of the judges whose work I detail here. To be so by very different—and very busy—individuals is something I could never anticipate. I hope this manuscript helps shed light on their important commitments. This research is supported by the National Science Foundation's Law and Sciences Program (award #1729117). welcomed
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