Public Papers

Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Legislation on Access to Justice


To the Congress of the United States:

I am pleased to transmit today for your immediate consideration and enactment the ``Access to Justice Act of 1992''. The purpose of this proposal is to reduce the tremendous growth in civil litigation that has burdened the American court system and imposed high costs on our citizens, small businesses, industries, professionals, and government at all levels.

A thorough study of the current civil justice system has been conducted by a special working group, chaired by the Solicitor General, Kenneth W. Starr. The working group's recommendations, which were unanimously accepted by my Council on Competitiveness, are reflected in the bill. The legislation seeks to reduce wasteful and counterproductive litigation practices by encouraging voluntary dispute resolution, the improved use of litigation resources, and, where appropriate, modified, market-based fee arrangements. Additional reforms would permit the judicial system to operate more effectively.

The Access to Justice Act would accomplish reforms in significant areas of litigation:

a prerequisite for Federal jurisdiction over certain types of lawsuits (the amount in controversy requirement) would be redefined to exclude vague, subjective claims;

prevailing parties could be entitled to award of attorney's fees in certain lawsuits brought in Federal court;

the Equal Access to Justice Act would be amended to clarify and limit litigation over the amount of attorney's fees;

innovative ``multi-door courthouses'' would be established to encourage utilization of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms;

award of reasonable attorney's fees in disputes involving the United States would be permitted in appropriate instances;

prior notice would be required, subject to reasonable limits, as a prerequisite to bringing suit in any United States District Court;

flexible assignment of district court judges would be authorized;

immunity of State judicial officers would be clarified and protected;

the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act would be amended to encourage resolution of claims administratively; and

improvements in case management in Federal courts would be effected.

I believe this proposed legislation would greatly reduce the burden of excessive, needless litigation while protecting and enhancing every American's ability to vindicate legal rights through our legal system. I recommend prompt and favorable consideration of the enclosed bill.

George Bush

The White House,

February 4, 1992.