Access To Courts

Access to Courts in the United States

The availability of the judicial process to respond to cases. A person’s access to court is governed by several factors. The first, of course, is jurisdiction. Jurisdiction defines a court’s power to act. Access can only occur where a court possesses proper authority to hear a controversy. Second, courts cannot be accessed unless justiciability requirements are met. That is, courts can withhold power from those situations where standing does not exist or where the issue is more appropriately addressed by another governmental branch. Third, organizational structure and caseload directly affect access. The structure of a court system establishes entry points. Some structures facilitate access while others do not. For example, if a court system has only a single general jurisdiction court at the trial level, access may be limited. Similarly, if case volume is heavy and the court system has too few judges, cases will accumulate. Docket backlog delays and possibly discourages access.

See Also

Delay (Civil Process) Jurisdiction (Civil Process) Justiciable Issue (Civil Process) Standing (Civil Process).

Analysis and Relevance

The factors that influence access to courts are technical, structural, and environmental. The technical factors establish threshold conditions. Besides jurisdiction and justiciability issues, access can be formally restricted by statute or court decision. For example, the abstention doctrine directs federal courts not to assume jurisdiction over a case being tried in state courts unless an extraordinary federal question is involved. Similarly, federal class actions were limited by the court in Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin (417 U.S. 156: 1974) to those situations where direct injury to individual class members exists. Structural factors also govern access. Legislatures that establish state court systems can encourage access by creating sufficient points of entry or judges of sufficient numbers to allow adequate response to case demand. For example, states that designate a particular court to handle small claims as a separate docket issue facilitate access for these matters. Finally, access is a function of such environmental factors as backlog. Even if the technical criteria are met, parties are discouraged from commencing civil cases if it is likely that they must wait in excess of three years to reach trial.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Access to Courts from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Access to Courts

Access to Courts (Prisoner Rights)

This section introduces, discusses and describes the basics of access to courts. Then, cross references and a brief overview about Prisoner Rights is provided. Finally, the subject of Civil Rights Law in relation with access to courts is examined. Note that a list of cross references, bibliography and other resources appears at the end of this entry.


Further Reading

Access To Courts: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Access To Courts. This part provides references, in relation to Access To Courts, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Access To Courts by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Access To Courts and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Access To Courts or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Access To Courts and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Access To Courts. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Access To Courts should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Access To Courts when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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