U.S. House Passes Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act
MISSOULA, Mont.–The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan bill to publish details on lawsuits lost or settled by federal agencies that must pay the private legal fees of the other side. The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, H.R. 2919 – which passed the House on May 6 by voice vote with support of both Democrats and Republicans – would create an online public database of court cases against the U.S. government. Agencies do not keep usable data on cases brought against them according to investigations by the Government Accounting Office. H.R. 2919 would provide a common base of information available to all citizens. Boone and Crockett Club President Emeritus Lowell Baier worked closely with Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) on this bill. Rep. Cohen was instrumental in bringing the bill to the House floor after winning passage in the Judiciary Committee, where the bill passed also by a voice vote and was reported with no dissenting views. The bill is cosponsored by six additional members of Congress, evenly bipartisan: Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), Steve Daines (R-MT), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Collin Peterson (D-MN). Boone and Crockett applauded House passage and is promoting Senate passage. The Club’s goal is to better understand why environmental litigation is so common, the grounds on which the government loses, and the reasons for using public funds to pay private legal fees. “Many people have opinions on environmental litigation,” said Baier, “but there must be data on what is actually happening before anyone’s opinion can help with this issue.” Many sporting conservation groups also support H.R. 2919 because they work closely with the federal agencies that manage wildlife habitat on public lands, where many management projects stall in the courts, taking time and money away from on-the-ground conservation work. A joint letter from sportsmen’s groups last fall to lawmakers in Washington D.C. urged support and co-sponsorship for the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act. Baier said, “Sportsmen, particularly the founders of the Boone and Crockett Club, led the creation of federal conservation agencies. Naturally we are intent on their success today. These agencies must be accountable to the public, but in a case of differing opinions, which is what many of these lawsuits are, the government should not subsidize the controversy. To get the balance right, we need common data to enable us to sort case details and adjust policies accordingly.” Suing the government has become common enough to raise questions about whether agencies are properly carrying out the law, whether lawsuits are too easy to file and win, and whether all lawsuits should be supported with public dollars, says Baier, and H.R. 2919 would help answer these questions.