The most important federal law that ensures access to justice for those that are otherwise unable to afford legal services in actions versus the federal government is currently under attack–particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Equal Access to Justice Act commonly referred to as the EAJA is used by many plaintiff attorneys in various types of actions vs the federal government.  This includes environmental plaintiff groups that sue the U.S. government and its federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service or Fish and Wildlife Services.  It also includes the disabled such as Veterans who are denied benefits under the Social Security Act or benefits provided for service connected disabilities from the Veterans Affairs Administration.  Only if a plaintiff group or disabled person “substantially prevails” against one of these government actors will a plaintiff group and/or its attorneys be able to recover attorney fees for that action against the government.  Environmental groups are apparently the main reason that this law is under attack based on recent legislation that is being sponsored by Wyoming House Member Cynthia Lummis.  The legislation has already passed the U.S. house largely along party lines.
The objective of the amendment to the EAJA is alleged to be to impose a moratorium on the bill so that it can be determined how much government money is being paid under the EAJA and to spotlight any abuses under the law.  The moratorium would last until October 2011.  No justification has been given why the program cannot be studied without imposing a moratorium.  The bill would most definitely harm disabled Veterans who frequently are required to retain an attorney to handle their case in the U.S. Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims.  A very high percentage of these cases are remanded based on the fact that the VA’s position is not substantially justified.  Politico has covered the current situation very well.  Representative Lummis intends to introduce a reform bill that will correct perceived weaknesses in the bill.  The general assumption is that it would focus on cases that are environmentally focused even though it appears that EAJA primarily is paid out in disability cases.