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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the government’s appeal of our victory in Lackey v. Stinnie (formerly Stinnie v. Holcomb), putting civil rights enforcement and access to the courts at risk across the country.

For almost fifty years, the law has recognized the importance of allowing civil rights plaintiffs who prevail in court to ask the governmental wrongdoer to pay for the costs of litigation. In enacting the attorney’s fees statute, Congress sought to make sure that everyday people could vindicate their federal rights in court, even if they could not afford the costs of litigation.

Our win in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a two-decades-long rule that barred winning civil rights plaintiffs from recovering their attorney’s fees when the government changed policies and ended its unlawful actions after it was clear they were going to lose the case. As the Fourth Circuit recognized, this rule invited “gamesmanship” by the government, which ultimately left people with no practical remedy for violations of their constitutional and other federal rights because they couldn’t afford to pay an attorney to engage in years of expensive litigation against a defendant who could marshal all the resources of the government:

“The predictable outcome of this gamesmanship is fewer attorneys willing to represent civil rights plaintiffs in even clearly meritorious actions – particularly those whose urgent situations call for interim relief.” – Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

At the end of the day, we are confident that when the Supreme Court examines the issue carefully, it will agree that a person who sues the government to enforce their constitutional rights, and who wins an initial injunction that causes the government to drop its unlawful policy, should not be disqualified from eligibility for fees.

It’s the only fair and logical result.

As this case demonstrates, we are committed to the long-term fight for racial justice and to end poverty. We filed this case in 2016 and have been fighting ever since. First, we won an end to the unlawful practice of suspending people’s driver’s licenses for being unable to pay court fines and fees. Now we are fighting for people across the country to have access to the courts to vindicate their federal rights.

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