Access to Justice: A Principle derived from the Mayflower Compact?

No matter what happens in the elections next Tuesday, on next Wednesday, at 3:00 p.m. on November 5th, people from around the state will converge on the South Carolina Supreme Court steps to hear the much anticipated South Carolina Access to Justice Commission’s final public hearing.

Why should people care about Access to Jusice? Because it affects our freedom. When we deny any person the right to their “day in court” we turn our back on principles of the founding fathers. I recently reviewed “The Mayflower Compact (1620)” – or the text presented in the writings of Pilgrim William Bradford.

Statue of Pilgrim William Bradford
Statue of Pilgrim William Bradford

The words that especially spoke to me were

. . . enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony . . .

Bas Relief of the Signing of the Mayflower Compact
Bas Relief of the Signing of the Mayflower Compact

Although concepts of equal including women and minorities were not de rigueur 388 years ago, the modern United States concept of equality has broadened to encompass all. Today, there are laws prohibiting discrimination based on religion, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, age, and national origin.

Well then, you may ask, why all the fuss about access to justice? And I say, because the one piece that’s missing from this list is income

Income or lack thereof is currently prohibiting hundreds of thousands of people from accessing the civil justice system.

In South Carolina, lack of moneys bars people from resources for:

  • communication – telephone, computer, cellphone, newspapers, magazines.
  • transportation – gas prices, insurance, a working automobile, no public transportation.
  • legal representation – filing fees, attorney fees, court reporter costs.

These are just a few of the ways in which lack of finances affects individuals living in poverty. Many states, including South Carolina, are working to improve access to the civil justice system for all. JUSTICE FOR ALL. Period.

If you want to learn more about the efforts of the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, please join us at the South Carolina Supreme Court next Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. Real South Carolinians will speak out about the barriers they or their clients have faced.

-RFW