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The 115th Congress | Updated Feb. 2

Tracking Congress’ Attacks on Access to Justice

Members of Congress, with support from powerful special interests, are mounting a quiet attack on the American public’s right to access the courts.

The courts provide a means for people and communities to hold wealthy corporations accountable, and serve as an important check on the power of Congress and the executive branch.

In the past year, the 115th Congress has introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation that would restrict people’s ability to use the courts to defend civil rights, civil liberties, consumer protections, public health and safety, and the environment.

In some instances, the legislation appears to be a coordinated effort with the Trump administration to strip people of their legal right to seek justice in a court of law. Without urgent action, these efforts will erect permanent obstacles that will keep people and communities from going to court to defend their rights, their lives, their livelihoods, and the places they love.

The following are among the most serious legislative attacks to date. Learn about the threats, and take action to defend your judicial rights by contacting your senators and representative.

Showing all 52 legislative threats
Became Law (1):
H.J.Res 111: Shielding Corporate Wrongdoers From Consumer Accountability
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Consumer
Summary Unraveled a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would have prohibited banks, lenders and other corporations from forcing consumers with grievances into arbitration. What is arbitration? It is a lot like a casino: the house always wins. This form of dispute resolution tilts decisions in favor of agencies and corporations, because the agency sets the rules and hand-picks the arbitrator—who is likely to side with the agency. This law also prevents individuals from joining together in class action lawsuits in federal courts against banks, predatory lenders and other bad actors.
Passed House or Senate (10):
H.R. 2936: Timber Industry Clear-Cutting the Courts
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
Summary Would eliminate people’s access to independent courts by sending any challenges to forest management actions into binding arbitration. What is arbitration? It is a lot like a casino: the house always wins. This form of dispute resolution tilts decisions in favor of agencies and corporations, because the agency sets the rules and hand-picks the arbitrator—who is likely to side with the agency.This bill also eliminates fee recovery when an individual or group successfully brings the government to court, making it cost prohibitive to challenge decisions related to federal forests. It further restricts the courts’ ability to use preliminary injunctions to stop irreparable harm during pending legal action. This could lead to the forest being clear-cut before a decision is made on the claims. (Section §321, §311, §203 & §312) More Analysis
H.R. 469: Delaying Public Health Protections
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Meddling with Settlements
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Summary Inhibits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies from settling lawsuits, even when the government has acted unlawfully. This drags out legal action, raising costs for plaintiffs and allowing the administration to avoid enforcing environmental regulations. It will lead to more pollution and industrial harm to communities. More Analysis
H.R. 732: Preventing Polluter Restitution to Harmed Communities
Threat Meddling with Settlements
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Summary Prohibits settlement payments to organizations that help damaged communities recover. For example, this bill could prevent the Justice Department from requiring an oil company to fund necessary health services or help small businesses in the wake of an oil spill, such as the Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez disasters. Related to a directive by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to forbid third-party settlements. Text also included in H.R. 10, Blocking Aid to Remedy Polluter and Industry Wrongs, at §393.
H.Amdt.367 to H.R. 3354: Gutting Community Enforcement of Bedrock Environmental Laws
Threat Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Rider language tucked into this fiscal year 2018 Appropriations bill would prevent court settlements under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from awarding attorney’s fees. Aims to deter people and organizations from bringing environmental lawsuits by making them cost prohibitive. The result is more polluted air and water and loss of precious plants and animals.
H.R. 3219
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power
Sector Environment
Summary Rider language tucked into this fiscal year 2018 Appropriations bill would defund a specific 2006 court settlement to restore fish species under the Endangered Species Act in the San Joaquin River in California.
H.R. 1215: Denying Full Justice to Victims of Negligent and Criminal Health Care Providers
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power
Sector Consumer Health
Summary Restricts people from seeking relief for harms suffered from medical malpractice, dangerous drugs or medical devices, and even intentional harms. This bill also caps jury awards for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages, which are meant as a deterrent to bad actors.
H.R. 10: Blocking Aid to Remedy Polluter and Industry Wrongs
Threat Meddling with Settlements
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Summary One section of this proposed financial legislation prohibits settlement payments to third parties. This would prevent settlement money from going to groups that work on fixing the problems caused by polluters and corporations that break the law. Includes language from H.R. 732, Preventing Polluter Restitution to Harmed Communities.
H.R. 985: Stopping Americans from Challenging Wealthy Corporations When They Break The Law
Threat Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Summary Obliterates class action lawsuits through severe restrictions to class requirements—thereby blocking Americans from joining together to challenge wealthy corporate wrongdoing in consumer, employment and civil rights cases. The proposed legislation also includes text that makes it more difficult for victims of asbestos diseases to receive compensation and compromises their privacy by putting their personal data in a public database, exposing them to online scammers. Bill amended by committee to also include text of HR 906, Attacking Asbestos Sufferers.
H.R. 720: Chilling Civil Rights Advancement by Penalizing Use of Novel Legal Theories
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Summary Attorneys who bring frivolous lawsuits are already subject to fines by courts. This proposed policy would take the decision-making out of the hands of nonpartisan judges and let Congress mandate a "one-size-fits-all" penalty regardless of the circumstances. Mandating specific penalties has a chilling effect on legitimate cases related to civil rights violations, employment discrimination claims, privacy suits, equal protection violations, and voting rights claims. More Analysis
H.R. 725: Giving Wealthy Corporations Home Court Advantage
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Summary Allows corporate defendants to find more favorable forums for litigation, which would include pushing cases from state to federal courts, raising the costs for groups seeking to hold powerful corporations accountable for wrongdoing.
H.R. 26: Preventing Federal Agencies From Enforcing the Rule of Law
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Parts of this bill unconstitutionally prevent an agency major rule from taking effect unless Congress approves it. What is a ‘major rule’? Defined by a bill's sponsor as having a $100 million cost to comply by industry, regardless of economic or health benefits.If Congress does approve such a rule, the bill prohibits judicial review of that decision, blocking the courts from keeping check on the legislative branch.
Passed At Least One Committee (4):
H.R. 3131: Restricting Fee Recovery for Wildlife Defenders
Threat Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Would restrict the awarding of attorney’s fees under the Endangered Species Act, making it cost prohibitive to bring cases that protect imperiled plants and animals. It also would shift payer of fees from the U.S. Treasury to federal agencies. This would make the underfunded agencies charged with protecting species, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, more cash-strapped in that work.
H.R. 3668: No Defense for Rare Wolves
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Directs the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to strip protections from the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf on no scientific basis and prohibits any challenge of the decision in court. About the wolves
H.R. 3267
Threat Meddling with Settlements
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Rider language tucked into this fiscal year 2018 Appropriations bill would prevent polluter restitution to harmed communities. (Note: Text also included in H.R. 10 above at §393.)
S. 951: Shutting Down Transparency and Accountability in Federal Rulemaking
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
Summary Would halt most agency efforts to implement critical public health and environmental laws. This provision would allow the presidential administration to tank a rule that it and its polluter benefactors didn’t like, while shielding that decision from oversight by independent federal judges.
H.R. 906: Attacking Asbestos Sufferers
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Meddling with Settlements
Sector Consumer Health
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Makes it more difficult for victims of asbestos diseases to receive compensation and compromises privacy of victims and their families. The victims’ personal information would be stored in a public database, making them vulnerable to identify theft and other scammers. (Note: Language of H.R. 906 included in H.R. 985, which passed the House on Mar. 9, 2017.) More Analysis
Introduced & Of Concern (3):
S. 2160: Evading Public Notice and Comment
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Would eliminate judicial review and access to independent courts at sole discretion of agency by sending case/disputes of forest management actions to binding arbitration. What is arbitration? It is a lot like a casino: the house always wins. This form of dispute resolution tilts decisions in favor of agencies and corporations, because the agency sets the rules and hand-picks the arbitrator—who is likely to side with the agency. Would also privatize agency actions by allowing privately written plans to become agency final action, while also evading public notice and comment, and due process protections; and allow agency to recover attorney fees, while banning same for other prevailing parties.
S. 1756: Fast-Tracking Our Public Lands’ Conversion Into Oil Pumps
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Meddling with Settlements No Judicial Review Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Would block environmental review of energy development proposals on public land and limit judicial challenges to permits to within a tight timeframe. This plays in favor of oil and gas and other extractive industries. The legislation also requires cases to be filed in the D.C. Circuit court and requires that court to “resolve” the case within 180 days. These arbitrary place and time limits are designed as a “get out of jail free” card—when the judicial review doesn't meet the arbitrary restrictions, rules are deemed "unreviewable," and access to the courts is denied. This bill also blocks recovery of attorney fees for successful challengers to these permits and forces the loser to pay the other side’s attorney fees, deterring individuals, communities and small organizations from taking wealthy corporations to court.
H.R. 1179: Blocking Communities From Fighting for Clean Water
Threat Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Would force the losing party in a Clean Water Act case to foot all legal costs—not just for their side, but for their opponents, which could include wealthy corporations and the government. The general rule in American courts is that all parties bear their own costs. This “loser pays” provision would have a chilling effect on people and communities’ abilities to take a Clean Water Act case to court. Low-income communities are more likely than their wealthier counterparts to be exposed to water pollution. A “loser pays” provision makes them less able to risk losing and having to pay the other side’s legal fees.
H.R. 210
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power No Judicial Review Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §5 does the following: restricts judicial review through limits to filing deadlines and venue for ‘energy-related’ causes of action on Indian lands; eliminates the possibility of fee recovery under both EAJA and the Judgment Fund; applies “loser pays” fee shifting on all “energy related actions” on which the plaintiff does not prevail.
H.R. 232
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §6: transfer of federal lands to states not subject to judicial review.
H.R. 424
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Allows agency to delist Mexican gray wolf without being subject to judicial review.
H.R. 527
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Prohibits any effort to list the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act for at least 10 years. Also prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from modifying its 2015 actions on the species, and prohibits Interior from making any changes to resource management plans inconsistent from state plans. Bill also waives National Environmental Policy Act review. All of the above prohibitions are barred from any judicial review or oversight.
H.R. 641
Threat Taking Away Right to Sue Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Civil Rights
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §2(j) prohibits Legal Service Corp. from providing legal assistance to any undocumented non-citizen farm worker, for nonimmigrant farm workers under an arbitration agreement with employer LSC barred from assisting farm worker and access to worker severely restricted.
H.R. 1682
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Consumer Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Amends the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to revise the Energy Star program. Specifically, the bill prohibits “right to sue” via breach of warranty claims or private claims or rights of action against manufacturers of products that are disqualified from the program, if: (1) the product has been certified by a certification body recognized by the program, (2) the Environmental Protection Agency has approved corrective measures, and (3) the responsible party has fully complied with all such measures.
H.R. 1704
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power
Sector Consumer Health
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Reduces injured people’s ability to bring claims for medical malpractice including limits on noneconomic damages, time limits for bringing lawsuits, preempting state law, shielding providers from liability in certain circumstances, constrains use of expert witnesses, and overrides judicial branch rules of evidence. Similar to H.R. 1215: Denying Full Justice to Victims of Negligent and Criminal Health Care Providers.
H.R. 2134
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §4(j)(3) bars from both federal and state judicial review any actions of states to regulate intrastate endangered and threatened species.
H.R. 2233
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Civil Rights
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §101 amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow the Dept. of Labor—with first providing notice to employers—to “initiate an investigation of any … employer that employs nonimmigrants (under the H-1B visa program) if the Secretary of Labor has reasonable cause to believe that the petitioner employer is not in compliance with this subsection,” but then allows the Agency to waive that notice at its own determination which is then non-reviewable in court.
H.R. 2359
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power
Sector Consumer
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Caps monetary recovery in class action lawsuits to $500K and restricts court’s discretion on minimum damages for each member of the class.
H.R. 2437
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Civil Rights
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §4 eliminates, for certain criminal proceedings, court discretion to grant equitable relief from a final judgment when justified; §5 limits injunctive relief, limits non-economic damages against an arresting officer or department, and limits/prohibits recovery of attorney fees in successful actions against arresting officer/department.
H.R. 2613
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §107: review of forest management actions must use binding arbitration instead of judicial review.
H.R. 2693
Threat Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary Amends Clean Water Act to limit attorney fees in citizen suits—§1 limits fee recovery of prevailing plaintiff party to proportion of successful legal claims, cannot exceed monetary penalty imposed against polluter; §1 encourages court to require bond before issuing restraining order/preliminary injunction; §1 encourages “loser pays” fee shifting by court; §3 waives liability to polluter for multiple reasons, including if polluter “exercised due care.”
H.R. 3141
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §2 creates a requirement that federal agencies identify communications about federal programs deemed “advertising” and identify funding sources, but §4 provides no judicial review or other public enforcement mechanism.
H.R. 3608
Threat Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §4 requires annual report to Congress disclosing expenditures for ESA cases including award of attorney fees; §5 restricts the award of attorney fees under the ESA citizen suit provision to EAJA capped rates, rather than judgment fund rates for other citizen suit statutes as determined by court. Also, could shift payer of fees from Treasury to agencies, making protecting species harder.
H.R. 4760
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Civil Rights
To Committee
House vote
Senate vote
To President for signing
Summary §2106 allows agricultural employers to force “foreign guestworker” employees into “mandatory binding arbitration” as a condition of employment, while also forcing the employee to pay for half of the arbitration costs; §3105(a)(3) eliminates all judicial review of agency decisions to “refuse or revoke a visa.”
S. 119
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Meddling with Settlements
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Creates multiple new hurdles to settlements/consent decrees, including changing judicial standing requirements—end result is delayed public protections through delayed agency action on non-discretionary actions required by Congress. (Note: Similar to H.R. 469.)
S. 164
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Allows agency to delist Mexican gray wolf without being subject to judicial review.
S. 237
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Reinstates mandatory Rule 11 sanctions discredited and discarded by federal judiciary 25 years ago. (Note: Similar to H.R. 720.)
S. 273
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Prohibits any effort to list the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act for at least 10 years. Also prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from modifying its 2015 actions on the species, and prohibits Interior from making any changes to resource management plans inconsistent from state plans. All of the above prohibitions are barred from any judicial review or oversight.
S. 333
Threat Meddling with Settlements
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Prohibits settlement agreement with payments to third parties which would be a statutory ban to AG Sessions memo—would prevent polluter restitution to harmed communities. (Note: Text included in H.R. 10 at §393. Similar to H.R. 732.)
S. 368
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Allows agency to delist Mexican gray wolf without being subject to judicial review.
S. 375
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Meddling with Settlements Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary §2 changes judicial intervention rules for ESA related cases and forces a court allowing interveners to refer the case to a mediation program or a magistrate judge, encourages court to apply “loser pays,” prohibits award of legal expenses to plaintiffs under settlement/consent decree, prohibits settlement/consent decree unless no political entity (state, county, town, etc) which the agency “believes a species occurs” objects.
S. 386
Threat Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Requires Dept. of Treasury to post publicly all payments made out of the fund, including the plaintiffs and counsel, the amount, and facts of the case/claim—includes requiring specific language that no funds be paid to a state sponsor of terrorism. (Note: Similar to S. 565.)
S. 565
Threat Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Civil Rights Consumer Environment Health
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Requires Dept. of Treasury to post publicly all payments made out of the fund, including the plaintiffs and counsel, the amount, and facts of the case/claim. (Note: Similar to S. 386.)
S. 879
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary §106 eliminates access to independent courts at sole discretion of agency by sending case/disputes of forest management actions to binding arbitration; §107 requires, for all other legal challenges, bonding requirements which must be met before case can proceed, in effect forcing losing plaintiff party to pay agency legal expenses.
S. 935
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary §4(j)(3) bars from both Federal and state judicial review any state actions to regulate intrastate endangered and threatened species.
S. 1134
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Civil Rights
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary §4 eliminates, for certain criminal proceedings, court discretion to grant equitable relief from a final judgment when justified; §5 limits injunctive relief, limits non-economic damages against an arresting officer or department, and limits/prohibits recovery of attorney fees in successful actions against arresting officer/department.
S. 1514
Threat No Judicial Review
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary §7 and §8: final rule for gray wolves in Great Lakes and Wyoming not subject to judicial review.
S. 1731
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue Too Expensive to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary §7 eliminates access to independent courts at sole discretion of agency by sending certain case/disputes of forest management actions to binding arbitration; §7 also overrides and restricts EAJA process for awarding fees and rate of fees through new definitions determined by the Secretary.
S. 1757
Threat Limiting Judges’ Power Meddling with Settlements Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Civil Rights
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary §564 eliminates class actions pertaining to enforcement of immigration laws, limits prospective relief courts can order, time-limits preliminary injunctions to 90 days, orders independent federal courts to “promptly rule on” motions of the executive branch, limits scope of settlements and consent decrees.
S. 2068
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Environment
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Summary Eliminates judicial review and access to independent courts at sole discretion of agency by sending case/disputes of forest management actions to binding arbitration; privatizes agency actions by allowing privately written plans to become agency final action while also evading public notice and comment, and due process protections.
S.J.Res. 47
To Committee
Senate vote
House vote
To President for signing
Threat No Judicial Review Taking Away Right to Sue
Sector Consumer
Summary Would undo 2017 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’ rule which prohibits banks and lenders from shielding themselves from class action accountability in federal courts through use of binding arbitration agreements which effectively strip judicial review. (Note: Companion bill, H.J. Res. 111, signed into law.)

Take action today to defend your judicial rights by contacting your senators and representative.

Media Inquiries:

Coby Dolan, Senior Legislative Counsel
(202) 745-5207, cdolan@earthjustice.org

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