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Chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court discusses civil justice gap at Senate Judiciary Committee

Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and the longest-tenured Texas judge in active service, testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
Courtesy of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and the longest-tenured Texas judge in active service, testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Though the Sixth Amendment provides a right to counsel in all criminal cases, no equivalent exists for civil cases.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill held a hearing Tuesday on the need to close the civil justice gap in America.

Low-income Americans do not get the representation they need for 92% of their legal problems. This includes veterans' benefit, tenant's rights issues, custody proceedings, and restraining orders on domestic violence.

Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"People's needs for simple legal services greatly exceed their availability because of costs," he said. "The poor and people of limited means cannot afford lawyers, and so they are denied justice. Pure and simple."

The discussions also focused on how three quarters of low-income U.S. households face at least one civil issue a year.

Hecht said that the civil justice gap affects more than indigent defendants.

"The justice gap burdens society, the economy, business, taxpayers, who must pick up the costs of people's inability to make due because of unmet civil legal needs, as study after study has confirmed," he said.

Hecht added that courts in Texas have worked to identify specific groups that need help and employ innovative technologies, like artificial intelligence, to help bridge the gap.

Other witnesses who spoke at the committee included Ronald S. Flagg, the president of Legal Services Corporation in Washington, and Nikole Nelson, the CEO of Frontline Justice.

Watch the full committee hearing below:

Copyright 2024 Texas Public Radio

Marian Navarro