The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission’s recent adoption of statements on its Mission and Core Values comes at a turning point for Wisconsin. Together, the statements of mission, core values and essential capacities articulate how the Commission will approach the array of proposals and challenges it faces as it works to expand access to justice in Wisconsin’s civil legal system.
Formal work on these statements began at the Commission’s November board meeting and was completed earlier this year. The Commission would like to once again thank Jim Bamberger from the Office of Civil Legal Aid in the State of Washington for his assistance. Wisconsin has a long journey ahead. Already, the support the Commission has received from Bamberger and the staff of the ABA Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives has been invaluable.
How might these statements be used? Recent proposals for reducing or eliminating federal and state funding for civil legal aid make it clear that Wisconsin is facing some serious challenges that will test the strength of our collective commitment to the principle of equal justice under law. At the same time, there are proposals to significantly increase the state’s commitment of resources to meet the basic legal needs of the poor. How Wisconsin addresses these challenges and balance competing interests will say a great deal about what we value as a state. Whether Wisconsin continues to make progress towards that goal, even in challenging times, will be a good measure of everyone’s commitment. The Commission’s mission, core values and essential capacities will certainly be “stress tested.”
*At the recent Wisconsin Equal Justice Conference, State Bar President-elect Jim Brennan offered the quote that is now the title of this post. It is from Article 40 of the Magna Carta (1215 A.D.) and Brennan offered it to help to set the stage for the conference. The quote seems equally relevant to the Commission’s values and goals. The pursuit of equal justice for all did not begin with us; it is ageless. Our obligation is to ensure that it endures and is not diminished.