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Analysis Shows Concerted Effort by Congress to Bar Public from Seeking Justice in a Court of Law

More than 50 bills would hollow out key laws that protect public health, civil rights, consumer rights, and the environment
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

Daniel Huizinga / CC BY 2.0
February 8, 2018
Washington, D.C. —

Today, Earthjustice released new legislative analysis showing the 115th Congress has introduced more than 50 bills that would strip individuals of their legal rights to seek justice in a court of law. The data compiled in an interactive tool at earthjustice.org/tracker connects dozens of proposed bills that would weaken laws related to public health, environmental protections, consumer rights and civil rights, preventing individuals from accessing the courts to hold powerful corporations and the federal government accountable. 

“There is a sophisticated and growing movement to restrict individuals’ ability to seek justice in a court of law,” said Patrice Simms, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice. “The courts are meant to level the playing field for people and communities to stand up to powerful corporations and ensure the government upholds the laws to protect people’s rights, their health, and the places they care about. These attacks on access to justice have the effect of hollowing out laws by making it extremely difficult, risky, or impossible for people to go to court to vindicate their rights.”

There are currently:

  • 26 bills with provisions to eliminate judicial review, eroding the role of courts as a check and balance on other branches of government; 
  • 14 bills that could affectively strip people of their right to sue by either forcing them into arbitration or blocking their ability to join together in class action lawsuits; 
  • 17 bills that would make it too expensive to sue, forcing members of the public to bear the burden of costly litigation against the government; 
  • 18 bills that attempt to limit judges’ power by forcing their hand on sanctions, limiting preliminary injunctions, capping rewards and limiting their ability to provide meaningful relief; and
  • 10 bills that meddle with timely resolution through settlements, forcing government agencies to draw out challenges through protracted, costly litigation fights. 

Twelve bills with a combination of these threatening provisions have passed the House of Representatives. The president has already signed one into law — H.J.Res. 111, a bill that repealed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule prohibiting banks, lenders and other corporations from forcing consumers with grievances into arbitration. This law also prevents individuals from joining together in class action lawsuits in federal courts against banks, predatory lenders and other bad actors.

Other legislation contained in the tracking tool include: 

  • S. 951, the Regulatory Accountability Act, which gives federal agencies the power to pick and choose which public protections to implement or not without any judicial review; 
  • H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, which severely restricts people’s ability to join in class action lawsuits of any kind;
  • H.R. 1215, the Protecting Access to Care Act, which prevents people from recouping damages after sustaining injuries after medical malpractice and mistakes; and 
  • H.R. 732, the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Acts, which would allow wealthy corporate polluters to shield themselves from legal action that holds them accountable for harming the health of people and communities. 

Policy and litigation experts from Earthjustice are available for comment and background. Contact Maggie Caldwell, (415) 217-2084, mcaldwell@earthjustice.org.

The full analysis and list of harmful legislation can be found at: earthjustice.org/tracker.

Contacts

Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084