Liman Public Interest Workshop

Rationing Access to Justice in Democracies: Fees, Fines, and Bail

Spring 2018 Syllabus

Mondays, 6:10-8 pm, Room 124

Anna VanCleave, Director, Liman Public Interest Program

Kristen Bell, Senior Liman Fellow in Residence
Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law

All readings will be available at:

This workshop will consider the resources of courts and their users, to reflect on whether constitutional democracies have obligations to subsidize both judiciaries and litigants. In the United States and elsewhere, constitutional and statutory commitments to access to courts and opportunities to enforce rights are challenged by the high demand for civil legal services, high arrest and detention rates, declining government budgets, and shifting ideologies about the utility and desirability of using courts.

Our topics and questions address two kinds of access – of litigants to use whatever systems are provided and of the public to know about the processes and outcomes of the judgments rendered. Our plan is to examine when, why, and how courts and lawyers are conceived to be “rights” and the implications of those ideas in terms of public obligations to provide funding in polities understanding themselves as democratic. We will consider the financing of courts, litigants, and criminal justice detention; sources of the demand for civil and criminal litigation; and claims of “litigiousness,” “over-criminalization,” and “excessive” punishment. At times, our lens will be comparative, as we consider other jurisdictions’ views on the obligations to provide subsidies for civil and criminal litigants so as to protect rights to “justice” and to “effective judicial remedies.”

We will also consider the debates about what  “access to justice” and “paths to justice” mean, as some focus on expanding access to lawyers and courts in adversarial exchanges, and others promote alternative procedures such as arbitration and mediation, that are often more informal and less public. Examples of reforms include revising bail practices, changing court fees, altering fines, and remodeling courts as “problem solvers” – able to tailor their methods (for example, veterans, mental health, drug, reentry, girls, family, and business courts). Another set of questions relate to how these innovations comply with or depart from constitutional obligations of “due process” and of "open courts," admitting outsiders to observe the interactions.

The readings draw on materials from state and federal, domestic and transnational, civil and criminal, and administrative and judicial proceedings. Throughout, we will look at how social and political movements and race, gender, ethnicity, and class affect our understandings of what constitutes fairness and justice in fashioning systems to respond to claims of injury.

Students participating in the Workshop will receive two units of credit. We meet weekly; preparation and attendance at these discussions is required for credit. Direction in class will specify required and optional readings. If you need to miss a class, please be in touch with the professors in advance of the meeting.  Students missing more than two sessions without permission will not receive credit.

Further, all students participating credit/fail must choose four times during the semester after the first two sessions to submit two-page reflections (double-spaced, size 12 font) that offer comments on that week’s readings. Students must post their reflections on “Inside Yale” NO LATER than 10 p.m. on the Sunday evening before that week’s session, and should also circulate them via email instructors.  Students who do not complete these requirements during the semester will not receive credit for the class.

Students who would like graded credit have two options.  First, for two graded credits, students may write a responsive essay of no more than 3,000 words during the examination period.  Students who select this option will be provided with specific questions and directions that will require drawing on the course materials and class discussions. Alternatively, if students wish to complete a Supervised Analytic Writing or a Substantial Paper for three graded credits, they need to submit a proposal by the fifth week of the semester and meet with instructors to determine its feasibility and then to agree upon a research plan and schedule.

The class may be audited, with permission of the instructor; doing so requires regular attendance.  Visitors, again with permission, are also welcome.  

Requirements and Readings

This Workshop is a two-unit, ungraded course.  We meet weekly; preparation and attendance at these discussions is required for credit.  If you need to miss a class, please be in touch with the professors in advance of the meeting.  Students missing more than two sessions without permission will not receive credit. 

The readings for the Workshop include both those listed on the syllabus as well as student postings.  Six times during the semester, students must post on “Inside Yale” a one-page reflection on readings — due NO LATER than 9 a.m. on the Monday mornings of the workshop — as well as send a set by email to the instructors.   We will all use these readings to launch our weekly discussions. Each person seeking credit is responsible for posting at least six times in the semester, and a failure to do so on time results in receiving no credit. Readings are posted on the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law website:  Those interested in pursuing additional research for supervised analytic or substantial writing requirements should consult individually with the instructors.