“Access to Justice: Defending Our Country and Our Courts” Report Spotlights Trump Administration, Congress’ Efforts to Block Public Interest Lawsuits

Administrative policies and 50+ bills take aim at individuals’ rights to have their day in court


Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084

Earthjustice today released a report detailing efforts by Congress and the Trump administration to block the right of individuals, community groups, and others to have their day in court.

The report, available at AccessToJusticeReport.org, lists more than 50 pieces of legislation and several administrative policies that threaten the ability of people in America to use the courts to fight for civil rights and civil liberties, take action against wrongdoing by corporations, uphold environmental protections, and advance public health and safety.

These legislative proposals and administrative actions include:

  • The repeal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arbitration rule meant to protect consumers from abusive or unscrupulous lender practices;
  • Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s settlement directive that creates roadblocks for public interest settlements; and
  • H.R. 720, the so-called “Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA),” which seeks to revive a failed policy that forced judges to issue sanctions in certain circumstances, and was dropped in the 1990s in part because of its chilling effect on civil rights cases.

The report showcases stories of people who faced off against rich and powerful special interest groups in fights for their lives, their health, their livelihoods and the places they love, and who were able to beat the odds because they were able to get into court. Read the report

“We have members of Congress who are willing to do the bidding of powerful industries and corporations to the detriment of the public, and an administration that is hostile to the very rule of law,” said Patrice Simms, vice president of litigation at Earthjustice. “We are seeing a coordinated and insidious effort to diminish the relevance of the judiciary by stripping people of their right to have their day in court. This is nothing less than an attack on one of the pillars of American democracy.”

Of the more than 50 bills the 115th Congress has so far introduced, President Trump has already signed one into law and 13 others have passed the House.

The report includes contributions from the ACLU, Public Citizen, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The contributing organizations offered the following statements: 

“The ability to hold our government accountable is essential to protecting our constitutional rights and values,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Throughout our history and today, our courts have been crucial in advancing justice and safeguarding our rights, particularly the most marginalized among us. That is why we stand with our allies in urging that access to courts be protected.”

“The civil justice system is vital to protecting our constitutional rights and providing a forum for holding wrongdoers accountable,” said Remington A. Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at Public Citizen. “It allows victims of workplace discrimination the right to band together to hold their employers accountable, ensures communities can challenge corporate polluters, compensates victims of medical malpractice, and provides hardworking Americans with the ability to seek redress for rip-offs at the hands of anyone from the cable company to their next-door neighbor. We must remain vigilant against attacks to our rights to access the courts because our rights are at risk.”

“The ability to access our federal courts is under attack. Right-wing special interests, their allies in Congress and the Trump administration have undertaken a coordinated effort to prevent people from vindicating their rights in court. Earthjustice’s important report sounds the alarm on how this harms discrimination victims, consumers, working people, and the environment. We must fight back,” said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy, The Leadership Conference.

To view or download the report, visit AccessToJusticeReport.org.

The Washington County courthouse in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
The Washington County courthouse in Jonesborough, Tennessee. (Joel Carillet / Getty Images)

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.