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The Supreme Court, through a series of recent decisions has effectively overridden Congress’ dictate that prevailing civil rights plaintiffs are entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. The solution to the current crisis lies not in reluctant court-appointed attorneys, but rather in a broad-based reform of the law regarding court-awarded attorney’s fees.

This article argues that only action by Congress will suffice to override the Supreme Court’s erroneous ruling and ensure just compensation for civil rights attorneys. Absent such legislation, it seems virtually certain that both the quantity and quality of civil rights litigation will continue to decrease. Fewer lawyers will take on civil rights cases, and their expertise will be limited, because they will not be able to afford to specialize in civil rights litigation. Unless Congress acts swiftly, a substantial period of time will pass before attorneys will be reconvinced that a civil rights practice can be economically viable and before such attorneys can be reeducated to the intricacies of civil rights litigation.

Publication Citation

17 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 535 (1989).