Inability to Pay: Court Debt Circa 2020

8 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2020 Last revised: 27 Jul 2021

See all articles by Judith Resnik

Judith Resnik

Yale University - Law School

David Marcus

UCLA School of Law

Date Written: January 20, 2020


Commitments to “access to justice” abound. So do economic barriers that undermine that premise. Fees, costs, fines, money bail, and other financial assessments - levied by courts, jails, and prisons - have become commonplace features of state and federal civil and criminal law enforcement.

Yet the challenges of funding courts and the harms of debt generated through interactions with the legal system have not yet become staples of law school teaching and scholarship. This mini-symposium is one of many efforts underway to bring to the fore the failures of law to make good on its promises of open courts and equal treatment of civil disputants and criminal defendants. The essays that follow contribute to a growing literature mapping the impact of court and prison debt. This mini-symposium, in turn, offers law teachers and students a window into the breadth of research, litigation, legislation, and legal analyses aiming to understand and to stop what give become regressive tax systems that are produced by virtue of court-based fees, fines, assessments, and money bail.

Keywords: Court fees, fines, equal protection, due process, legal financial obligations, teaching about poverty and courts, financing courts, race discrimination, access to the legal system, bail, criminalization, intersectionality, economic justice, court debt

Suggested Citation

Resnik, Judith and Marcus, David, Inability to Pay: Court Debt Circa 2020 (January 20, 2020). Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Judith Resnik (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-1447 (Phone)
203-432-1719 (Fax)

David Marcus

UCLA School of Law

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Los Angeles, CA 90095
United States
3107945192 (Phone)

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