Government Litigation Savings Act protects Feds who break the law

It turns out that the “litigation savings” in H.R.1996 and S.1061 are realized through amendments to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) that will make it much more difficult for advocacy groups to sue the federal government for failures to follow the law, writes Milt Toby.

Legislative Obfuscation

By Milt Toby
The Horse.com

Sometimes it’s easy to figure out whether proposed legislation in Congress will affect the horse world, sometimes not so much.

The purpose of S.1176, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, introduced in the Senate on June 9, is clear. The unofficial summary at http://www.GovTrack.us says it all—”A bill to amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes.” If you oppose horse slaughter, this sounds like a bill you can get behind and support.

But what about H.R.1996 and companion bill S.1061, the “Government Litigation Savings Act?” From the title, it’s almost impossible to know what the bill is really about. But hardly anyone likes lawyers and saving money can’t be a bad thing with trillion-dollar deficits threatening the economy.

Or can it?

The GovTrack summary isn’t much help. According to the watchdog site, the bills would “amend Titles 5 and 28, United States Code, with respect to the award of fees and other expenses in cases brought against agencies of the United States, to require the Administrative Conference of the United States to compile, and make publicly available, certain data relating to the equal Access to Justice Act, and for other purposes.”

Say what?

It turns out that the “litigation savings” in H.R.1996 and S.1061 are realized through amendments to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) that will make it much more difficult for advocacy groups to sue the federal government for failures to follow the law. The EAJA was adopted by Congress during the 1980s to make it possible for individuals and advocacy groups to enforce federal law by filing lawsuits against the agencies responsible for upholding those laws. Legal action against the government is very expensive, and the EAJA authorized the reimbursement of attorney fees for successful litigation against the feds.

Think wild horses and the Bureau of Land Management. When the BLM makes a mess of things, which seems to happen with some regularity, a spate of lawsuits follows. An animal welfare group almost always is involved, either as a named plaintiff or in a supporting role, and the possibility of recovering the costs of litigation often is a factor in deciding whether to sue.

The Government Litigation Savings Act may not kill all of these public interest lawsuits, but it will limit them in two important ways:

Read more at The Horse.com

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