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Copyright (c) 2001 Kentucky College of Law
Kentucky Law Journal

NOTE: Pro Se Litigants at the Summary Judgment Stage: Is Ignorance of the Law an Excuse?

Spring 2001 / 2002

90 Ky. L.J. 701


By Jessica Case *



Over the past decade increasing numbers of pro se litigants have crowded federal dockets, 2 forcing courts and scholars to take a closer look at the rights of indigent and unrepresented litigants. n3At the core of the American judicial system is the right to "equal justice under law." 4 On a procedural level, the phrase has generally been taken to mean "equal access to justice," ad thus equal access to law. 5 As federal courts struggle to adhere to this fundamental concept in accommodating pro se litigants, the question becomes what is equal access to law? Does ensuring equal access to pro se litigants entail additional assistance from courts that is not given to represented litigants? Or should equal access embody true equality, with all litigants being held to the same procedural standards?

A pro se litigant is defined as "[o]ne who represents oneself in a court proceeding without the assistance of a lawyer." 6 The right to represent oneself in civil matters is ensured in federal court 7 and has been enforced strictly. 8 While the right to counsel is mandated in criminal cases, 9 there is no inherent right to counsel in the civil context. 10 Thereby, pro se claims have grown to comprise a substantial percentage of the federal court caseload, 11 becoming a heavy burden to the federal courts. 12

Many scholars have endorsed the idea of courts taking a paternalistic view toward unrepresented litigants, 13 and in Haines v. Kerner, 14 the ...
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