Public Citizen Litigation Group

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Public Citizen Litigation Group is a public interest law firm in the United States.The group is the litigation arm of the non-profit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen. Its attorneys work on cases involving health and safety regulation, consumer rights, separation of powers, access to the courts, class actions, open government, and the First Amendment.

In a 2008 study, professor Richard Lazarus of Georgetown's Supreme Court Institute describes an "elite private sector group of attorneys who are dominating advocacy before the Court to an extent not witnessed since the early nineteenth century." In stark contrast with this specialization among the corporate bar, there is comparatively little in-house Supreme Court expertise among non-profit public interest groups, legal aid organizations, public defenders, or plaintiffs' firms. "The principal exception is Public Citizen’s Supreme Court practice," writes Lazarus, "which has long provided high-quality assistance in the preparation of briefs and presentation of oral argument to public interest advocates with cases before the Court."[1]

From its founding, the Litigation Group has devoted a significant portion of its efforts to fighting government secrecy. It has litigated more FOIA cases than any other organization.[2] The Litigation Group has secured from government files information about health risks, safety issues, and financial problems, on behalf of other divisions within Public Citizen, other public interest organizations, reporters, and academics. Among material of significant public interest obtained through its efforts are approximately 2,000 pages of Lt. Col. Oliver North's notebooks (National Security Archive v. National Archives and Records Administration).[3]

Litigation Group lawyers have also litigated issues surrounding preservation of and access to electronic records. In the case Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President, Litigation Group lawyers succeeded in establishing that electronic records generated by the White House and the rest of the Executive Branch are subject to federal open records laws. At the end of both the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration, the government had claimed that it was entitled to delete all of the electronic records created and stored by the White House during each president's tenure. As a result of the litigation, in which the court agreed that FOIA required that executive branch email be preserved, the government released more than 3,000 email records from the White House and the National Security Council.[4]

The Litigation Group brings many cases under the Administrative Procedure Act to challenge agency regulations or other actions that it deems arbitrary and capricious or unlawful. For example, in 2004, the Litigation Group along with Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) successfully challenged the final rule governing the hours of service of commercial truck drivers, issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The advocacy groups claimed that the rule expanded the hours that truckers may legally drive, failed to mandate the use of electronic onboard recording devices to put an end to the pervasive violations of legal limits, and would likely lead to many avoidable deaths and injuries on the nation's highways.[5]

In 2002, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a rule to implement a law that required a device in new vehicles to warn drivers when a tire was significantly underinflated, but the rule allowed use of devices that would not warn when two or more tires were underinflated, the Litigation Group successfully sued to force NHTSA to issue a rule that complied with this important safety measure (Public Citizen v. Mineta).[6]

In 2001, after nine years of delay, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had not issued a rule to regulate use of the highly toxic chemical hexavalent chromium, the Litigation Group successfully brought suit to force OSHA to issue a rule (Public Citizen v. OSHA).[7]

Cases have involved the right to speak and read anonymously on internet message boards; the use of brand names in web site domain names, metatags and keyword advertising; the right to maintain interactive discussions; and file-sharing. Recently they have also defended the rights of small online merchants targeted by large corporations that claim selling less expensive second-hand or competing products infringes the company's intellectual property rights.[8][9]


  1. ^ Richard Lazarus, Advocacy Matters Before and Within the Supreme Court, The Georgetown Law Journal (2008),
  2. ^ "Data Expert Prevails in Lawsuit Against IRS Secrecy". Trac IRS. April 4, 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  3. ^ "Archive, historians ask judge to rethink dismissal, Presidential Records Act case still not solved; New Bush order adds 140 days to processing time; Judge recognized injury but thought it moot". National Security Archive. April 30, 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  4. ^ "Preservation of Email Required under Federal Records Act". K&L Gates. December 14, 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  5. ^ "CRASH and P.A.T.T. win Court Ruling -- new hours-of-service BLOCKED -- but remain in place until new FMCSA ruling". Truck Safety Coalition, July 16, 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-12-25. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  6. ^ "NHTSA Finally Issues Long-Delayed Tire Pressure Rule". OMB Watch. September 21, 2004. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  7. ^ David Michaels; Celeste Monforton & Peter Lurie (February 2006). "Selected science: an industry campaign to undermine an OSHA hexavalent chromium standard". Environmental Health. 5 (1). BioMed Central: 5. Bibcode:2006EnvHe...5....5M. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-5-5. PMC 1402271. PMID 16504102.
  8. ^ "Vivendi allows World of Warcraft guide sales to resume". USA Today. June 11, 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  9. ^ "Internet Free Speech". Public Citizen. Retrieved 2008-03-08.

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