American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 49, Issue 1 (2013)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


When courts and poor communities interact, they sometimes seem to move on different planes and speak different languages. The reality is that most judges are alienated from poor communities. We don’t understand their problems, their needs, and their aspirations, because we don’t generally have a background in poverty, whether personal or professional. But we are, after all, public servants and, as such, we must transcend this alienation and truly get to know the communities we serve.

This, however, is not an easy task, because these communities are not all the same nor do they have the same problems, characteristics, and ideals. In fact, the idea of the inclusive community, the supposedly homogeneous society whose common good was the law’s goal and whose moral consensus was the content of the law, has been shown for the myth it is and always was. I think we have always known, but failed to acknowledge, that we live in myriad groups, whose members are united by common interests, sympathies, objectives, and, very often, by common struggles. These groups may be based on professional interests, and thus be more or less cohesive; they may be temporary, for instance, groups of students at a college or university; or they may respond to deep, life-conditioning and historical reasons, such as race, ethnicity, culture, sexual preference, or poverty. When these profound conditions are present, the bonds are not temporary nor are they taken lightly, and what we have is a true community. Society is, in effect, a cluster of different communities.1