A Big Step for Pro Se Forms — Supreme Court Access to Justice

As reported by the ABA Journal and the AP (in Seattle Times here), on Tuesday, the Supreme Court granted cert in two self-represented cases.  And, as the ABA Journal detailed “One was written in longhand, in pencil, by an inmate at a federal prison in Pennsylvania, using a boilerplate form that can be downloaded from the U.S. Supreme Court’s website.

However, according to the SCOTUS blog, in that case, “Millbrook v. United States (11-10362), the Court wrote a new question that it will decide on the immunity of the federal government from a lawsuit claiming negligence by officials of the Lewisburg, Pa., prison over a sexual assault on an inmate by three guards.”  In other words, the issue was not apparently clearly or cleanly presented by the self-represented litigant.

So, while it great to celebrate the use of easily available forms at the highest level in the land, perhaps one might ask if the petition might have been more focused if it had had an interactive front end.

Actually, finding the form (bundled with the instructions) was not really as easy as it might be (but then I am burdened with a law degree.)  I had to go to to the menu item “Case Handling Guidelines,” and then choose “Guide to IFP Cases (PDF).”   This is what the instructions say about Questions Presented:

IV.    Question(s) Presented
On the page provided, enter the question or questions that you wish the Court to review.    The questions must be concise.    Questions presented in cases accepted for review are usually no longer than two or three sentences.    The purpose of the question presented is to assist the Court in selecting cases.    State the issue you wish the Court to decide clearly and without unnecessary detail.

Still, its an important moment, reportedly very rare, for two self-represented petitions to be granted on the same day.  It would be nice if that reflected a sensitivity to barriers to access.  When we know more about the cases, we may have a better idea.  Stay tuned.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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