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Abstract

What must a poor person plead to gain access to the federal courts? How do courts decide when a poor litigant is poor enough? This Article answers those questions with the first comprehensive study of how district courts determine when a litigant may proceed in forma pauperis in a civil lawsuit. It shows that district courts lack standards to determine a litigant’s poverty and often require litigants to answer an array of questions to little effect. As a result, discrepancies in federal practice abound—across and within district courts—and produce a pleading system that is arbitrary, inefficient, and invasive.

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