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My Fight to Preserve Legitimate Access to Our Courts

By Congressman Mike Simpson

My Fight to Preserve Legitimate Access to Our Courts

By Congressman Mike Simpson

Washington, D.C. – “The United States judicial system should be structured to successfully process legitimate cases as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately, many Idahoans are burdened by a serious backlog within the federal judicial system, limiting their access to a timely trial.  This is due in part to loopholes being exploited within current federal policy and is made worse by organizational issues within the federal court system.

“One example would be the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which was enacted in 1980 and was designed to curb federal overreach and wrongdoing and allow wider access to the federal judicial system.  One key aspect of EAJA was to allow plaintiffs to seek reimbursement from the federal government for attorney’s fees related to the cases brought against the government.  The EAJA program provides a crucial service to many small businesses, individuals, and veterans with limited resources to seek redress against the wrongs of the federal government. 

“Unfortunately, this law has also allowed some special interest groups to create an endless cycle of litigation and clog the federal courts, all while enriching themselves with taxpayer dollars.  In the case of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), for example, some environmental groups have been able to take advantage of EAJA by repeatedly alleging violations of the ESA.  In fact, repeated lawsuits appear to have become a business model for many environmental groups.  The groups will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violations of the ESA, benefit from using their lawsuit as a fundraising tool, and then have their attorneys’ fees paid despite having the means to do so themselves.  Such frivolous lawsuits require time and funding from federal agencies that could be better spent on more critical priorities, such as authentic conservation efforts for endangered species. 

“In an effort to shine a light on EAJA abuse in my past role as Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, I included language in appropriations bills directing the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Forest Service to make legal fees paid to litigants under EAJA publicly available.  Astonishingly, last year, the Department of the Interior awarded $2.5 million[1] in EAJA reimbursements, and has historically paid for hourly rates as high as $865 per hour.[2]

“Throughout my time in Congress, I have continued to push for EAJA reform to prevent special interest groups from creating excessive backlogs and wrongfully taking advantage of the EAJA program.  In the 113th Congress, I cosponsored H.R. 3037, the Government Litigation Savings Act, which would have restricted EAJA reimbursements to parties with a direct and personal interest in an adjudication or if those parties unnecessarily prolonged a final resolution.  The courts should never be ‘Plan A,’ and the judicial process should never be used to enrich groups, entities, or individuals.  Rather, mediation and arbitration can often avoid costly and lengthy legal battles and resolve issues in a mutually beneficial manner.

“In addition to reducing inappropriate use of the federal courts, we must also ensure that United States District Courts are equipped to process increasingly high caseloads.  As the U.S. population shifts out of cities and towards states like Idaho, not every federal district is authorized enough judgeships to meet the demand on the courts.  In fact, the federal district of Idaho has had just two federal district judges since 1954, when the population of the state was only 600,000.  It is now at 1.7 million and counting, and as Idaho’s population grows, so does the number of court cases.  The imbalance is so severe that the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States has formally recommended that Congress authorize one new permanent district judge in Idaho consistently since 2003.  To alleviate this crisis, I introduced H.R. 319, a bill to add an additional judge to the Federal District Court of Idaho.  Adding a third judgeship would provide Idahoans easier access to federal courts and further decrease backlogs within the system.

“I have also pushed for legislation to address the backlog in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington.  The Ninth Circuit has more than six times the population than the First Circuit[3] and caries five times the case backlog of most U.S. Appeals Courts.  That is why I introduced H.R. 320, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judgeship and Reorganization Act, on January 13, 2021.  This legislation would divide the Ninth Circuit into a Ninth Circuit composed of California, Guam, Hawaii, and Northern Mariana Islands and a new Twelfth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals composed of Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.  Similar legislation has also been introduced by Senators Crapo and Risch in the Senate.

“Access to the courts, legal representation, and justice are core American values.  However, misuse of civil litigation and an overburdened judicial system prolongs resolution of disputes and wastes precious resources and time.  I firmly believe that justice delayed is justice denied, and I remain committed to improving and reorganizing the federal judicial system to protect the legitimate rights of all.”