Conyers Defends Senior Citizens, Veterans, and Environmentalists’ Access to Courts
Washington, DC, October 12, 2011
Today, the Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law held a hearing on H.R. 1996, the “Government Litigation Savings Act”. The bill would prevent our veterans and elderly from recovering their legal fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which for 30 years has helped to ensure that senior citizens, veterans, environmental groups, and other non-profit organizations can vindicate their rights against unreasonable governmental action. House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) released the following statement in response to the hearing:
“H.R. 1996 is yet another flawed measure masquerading as reform that this committee is considering this Congress”, Conyers said. “I have three principal concerns with this bill:
"First, the legislation may prevent those who are the most needy in our society – namely, senior citizens, veterans, and disabled individuals – from securing legal representation. Many attorneys take cases pro bono if they know their clients may be able to recover attorneys fees should they prevail. This explains the critical role that the Equal Access to Justice Act plays with respect to the needy. It enables them to recover attorneys fees thereby making it easier for them to obtain legal representation.
“For example, more than 2,500 disabled veterans used the Act during fiscal year 2010 to recover their attorneys fees in cases where they successfully appealed a Veterans Administration decision denying them disability benefits. Without the ability to recover fees, it is doubtful that many of these veterans would have secured legal representation.
“My second concern is this bill unnecessarily restricts eligibility for awards under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The Act already limits who is eligible for awards. For example, businesses with a net worth of $7 million or more are not eligible while individuals with a net worth of $2 million or more are also ineligible. But H.R. 1996 creates new ill-conceived eligibility standards and prohibits some non-profit organizations from recovering awards under the Act.
“And lastly, I am concerned this bill is purely aimed at restraining environmental groups. Most, if not all, environmental groups are non-profit organizations. Many commence lawsuits for injunctive relief to enforce laws and protect the public health. As a result of this bill, however, many of these organizations, because they are non-profits, will be deterred from bringing such actions if they cannot recover attorneys fees. This bill creates yet another hurdle that will make it more difficult to find competent legal representation to enforce complex environmental laws, which protect the water we drink and the lands we enjoy.
“Contrary to the title of the bill, H.R. 1996 is a thinly disguised effort to prohibit litigation against the government by environmentalists, veterans, public interest groups, and senior citizens.”