MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue in this case is whether States must protect the right of prisoners to access to the courts by providing them with law libraries or alternative sources of legal knowledge. In Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U.S. 15 (1971), we held per curiam that such services are constitutionally mandated. Petitioners, officials of the State of North Carolina, ask us
Respondents are inmates incarcerated in correctional facilities of the Division of Prisons of the North Carolina Department of Correction. They filed three separate actions under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, all eventually consolidated in the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Respondents alleged, in pertinent part, that they were denied access to the courts in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights by the State's failure to provide legal research facilities.
The District Court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment on this claim,
The State responded by proposing the establishment of seven libraries in institutions located across the State chosen so as to serve best all prison units. In addition, the State planned to set up smaller libraries in the Central Prison segregation unit and the Women's Prison. Under the plan, inmates desiring to use a library would request appointments. They would be given transportation and housing, if necessary, for a full day's library work. In addition to its collection of lawbooks,
The District Court rejected respondents' objections, finding the State's plan "both economically feasible and practicable," and one that, fairly and efficiently run, would "insure each inmate the time to prepare his petitions."
In its final decision, the District Court held that petitioners were not constitutionally required to provide legal assistance as well as libraries. It found that the library plan was sufficient
After the District Court approved the library plan, the State submitted an application to the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) for a grant to cover 90% of the cost of setting up the libraries and training a librarian and inmate clerks. The State represented to LEAA that the library project would benefit all inmates in the State by giving them "meaningful and effective access to the court[s] . . . . [T]he ultimate result . . . should be a diminution in the number of groundless petitions and complaints filed . . . . The inmate himself will be able to determine to a greater extent whether or not his rights have been violated" and judicial evaluation of the petitions will be facilitated. Brief for Respondents 3a.
Both sides appealed from those portions of the District Court orders adverse to them. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed in all respects save one. It found that the library plan denied women prisoners the same access rights as men to research facilities. Since there was no justification for this discrimination, the Court of Appeals ordered it eliminated. The State petitioned for review and we granted certiorari. 425 U.S. 910 (1976).
A. It is now established beyond doubt that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. This Court recognized that right more than 35 years ago when it struck down a regulation prohibiting state prisoners from filing petitions for habeas corpus unless they were found " `properly
More recent decisions have struck down restrictions and required remedial measures to insure that inmate access to the courts is adequate, effective, and meaningful. Thus, in order to prevent "effectively foreclosed access," indigent prisoners must be allowed to file appeals and habeas corpus petitions without payment of docket fees. Burns v. Ohio, 360 U.S. 252, 257 (1959); Smith v. Bennett, 365 U.S. 708 (1961). Because we recognized that "adequate and effective appellate review" is impossible without a trial transcript or adequate substitute, we held that States must provide trial records to inmates unable to buy them. Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 20 (1956).
Essentially the same standards of access were applied in Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483 (1969), which struck down a regulation prohibiting prisoners from assisting each other with habeas corpus applications and other legal matters. Since inmates had no alternative form of legal assistance available to them, we reasoned that this ban on jailhouse lawyers effectively prevented prisoners who were "unable themselves, with reasonable adequacy, to prepare their petitions," from challenging the legality of their confinements. Id., at 489. Johnson was unanimously extended to cover assistance in civil rights actions in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 577-580 (1974). And even as it rejected a claim that indigent defendants have a constitutional right to appointed counsel for discretionary appeals, the Court reaffirmed that State must "assure the indigent defendant an adequate opportunity to present his claims fairly." Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U. S., at 616. "[M]eaningful access" to the courts is the touchstone. See id., at 611, 612, 615.
Petitioners contend, however, that this constitutional duty merely obliges States to allow inmate "writ writers" to function. They argue that under Johnson v. Avery, supra, as long as inmate communications on legal problems are not restricted, there is no further obligation to expend state funds to implement affirmatively the right of access. This argument misreads the cases.
In Johnson and Wolff v. McDonnell, supra, the issue was whether the access rights of ignorant and illiterate inmates were violated without adequate justification. Since these inmates were unable to present their own claims in writing to the courts, we held that their "constitutional right to help,"
Moreover, our decisions have consistently required States to shoulder affirmative obligations to assure all prisoners meaningful access to the courts. It is indisputable that indigent inmates must be provided at state expense with paper and pen to draft legal documents, with notarial services to
B. Although it is essentially true, as petitioners argue,
If a lawyer must perform such preliminary research, it is
We reject the State's claim that inmates are "ill-equipped to use" "the tools of the trade of the legal profession," making libraries useless in assuring meaningful access. Brief for Petitioners 17. In the first place, the claim is inconsistent with the State's representations on its LEAA grant application, supra, at 821, and with its argument that access is adequately protected by allowing inmates to help each other with legal problems. More importantly, this Court's experience indicates that pro se petitioners are capable of using lawbooks to file cases raising claims that are serious and legitimate even
It is also argued that libraries or other forms of legal assistance are unnecessary to assure meaningful access in light of the Court's decision in Ross v. Moffitt. That case held that the right of prisoners to "an adequate opportunity to present [their] claims fairly," 417 U. S., at 616, did not require appointment of counsel to file petitions for discretionary review in state courts or in this Court. Moffitt's rationale, however, supports the result we reach here. The decision in Moffitt noted that a court addressing a discretionary review petition is not primarily concerned with the correctness of the judgment below. Rather, review is generally granted only if a case raises an issue of significant public interest or jurisprudential importance or conflicts with controlling precedent. Id., at 615-617. Moffitt held that pro se applicants can present their claims adequately for appellate courts to decide whether these criteria are met because they have already had counsel for their initial appeals as of right. They are thus likely to have appellate briefs previously written on their behalf, trial transcripts, and often intermediate appellate court opinions to use in preparing petitions for further review. Id., at 615.
By contrast in this case, we are concerned in large part with original actions seeking new trials, release from confinement, or vindication of fundamental civil rights. Rather than presenting claims that have been passed on by two courts, they frequently raise heretofore unlitigated issues. As this Court has "constantly emphasized," habeas corpus and civil rights actions are of "fundamental importance . . . in our constitutional scheme" because they directly protect our most valued rights. Johnson v. Avery, 393 U. S., at 485; Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U. S., at 579. While applications for
We hold, therefore, that the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.
C. Our holding today is, of course, a reaffirmation of the result reached in Younger v. Gilmore. While Gilmore is not
Experience under the Gilmore decision suggests no reason to depart from it. Most States and the Federal Government have made impressive efforts to fulfill Gilmore's mandate by establishing law libraries, prison legal-assistance programs, or combinations of both. See Brief for Respondents, Ex. B. Correctional administrators have supported the programs and acknowledged their value.
It should be noted that while adequate law libraries are one constitutionally acceptable method to assure meaningful access to the courts, our decision here, as in Gilmore, does not foreclose alternative means to achieve that goal. Nearly
Finally, petitioners urge us to reverse the decision below because federal courts should not "sit as co-administrators of state prisons," Brief for Petitioners 13, and because the District Court "exceeded its powers when it puts [sic] itself in the place of the [prison] administrators," id., at 14. While we have recognized that judicial restraint is often appropriate in prisoners' rights cases, we have also repeatedly held that this policy "cannot encompass any failure to take cognizance of valid constitutional claims." Procunier v. Martinez, supra, at 405.
Petitioners' hyperbolic claim is particularly inappropriate in this case, for the courts below scrupulously respected the limits on their role. The District Court initially held only that petitioners had violated the "fundamental constitutional guarantee," ibid., of access to the courts. It did not thereupon thrust itself into prison administration. Rather, it ordered petitioners themselves to devise a remedy for the violation, strongly suggesting that it would prefer a plan
The judgment is
MR. JUSTICE POWELL, concurring.
The decision today recognizes that a prison inmate has a constitutional right of access to the courts to assert such procedural and substantive rights as may be available to him under state and federal law. It does not purport to pass on the kinds of claims that the Constitution requires state or federal courts to hear. In Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 577-580 (1974), where we extended the right of access recognized in Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483 (1969), to civil rights actions arising under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, we did not suggest that the Constitution required such actions to be heard in federal court. And in Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956), where the Court required the States to provide trial records for indigents on appeal, the plurality and concurring opinions explicitly recognized that the Constitution does not require any appellate review of state convictions. Similarly, the holding here implies nothing as to the constitutionally required scope of review of prisoners' claims in state or federal court.
With this understanding, I join the opinion of the Court.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, dissenting.
I am in general agreement with MR. JUSTICE STEWART and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, and join in their opinions. I write only to emphasize the theoretical and practical difficulties raised by the Court's holding. The Court leaves us unenlightened as to the source of the "right of access to the courts"
It should be noted, first, that the access to the courts which these respondents are seeking is not for the purpose of direct appellate review of their criminal convictions. Abundant access for such purposes has been guaranteed by our prior decisions, e. g., Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963), and Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956), and by the States independently. Rather, the underlying substantive right here is that of prisoners to mount collateral attacks on their state convictions. The Court is ordering the State to expend resources in support of the federally created right of collateral review.
This would be understandable if the federal right in question were constitutional in nature. For example, the State may be required by the Eighth Amendment to provide its inmates with food, shelter, and medical care, see Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-104 (1976); similarly, an indigent defendant's right under the Sixth Amendment places upon the State the affirmative duty to provide him with counsel for trials which may result in deprivation of his liberty, Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972); finally, constitutional principles of due process and equal protection form the basis for the requirement that States expend resources in support of a convicted defendant's right to appeal. See Douglas v. California, supra; Griffin v. Illinois, supra.
However, where the federal right in question is of a statutory rather than a constitutional nature, the duty of the State is merely negative; it may not act in such a manner as to interfere with the individual exercise of such federal rights. E. g., Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546 (1941) (State may not interfere with prisoner's access to the federal court by screening
It is a novel and doubtful proposition, in my view, that the Federal Government can, by statute, give individuals certain rights and then require the State, as a constitutional matter, to fund the means for exercise of those rights. Cf. National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833 (1976).
As to the substantive right of state prisoners to collaterally attack in federal court their convictions entered by a state court of competent jurisdiction, it is now clear that there is no broad federal constitutional right to such collateral attack, see Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976); whatever right exists is solely a creation of federal statute, see Swain v. Pressley, ante, p. 384 (opinion of BURGER, C. J.); Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 250, 252-256 (1973) (POWELL, J., concurring). But absent a federal constitutional right to attack convictions collaterally—and I discern no such right—I can find no basis on which a federal court may require States to fund costly law libraries for prison inmates.
I can draw only one of two conclusions from the Court's holding: it may be read as implying that the right of prisoners to collaterally attack their convictions is constitutional, rather than statutory, in nature; alternatively, it may be read as
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.
In view of the importance of the writ of habeas corpus in our constitutional scheme, "it is fundamental that access of prisoners to the courts for the purpose of presenting their complaints may not be denied or obstructed.' " Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 578, quoting Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485. From this basic principle the Court over five years ago made a quantum jump to the conclusion that a State has a constitutional obligation to provide law libraries for prisoners in its custody. Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U.S. 15.
Today the Court seeks to bridge the gap in analysis that made Gilmore's authority questionable. Despite the Court's valiant efforts, I find its reasoning unpersuasive.
If, as the Court says, there is a constitutional duty upon a State to provide its prisoners with "meaningful access" to the federal courts, that duty is not effectuated by adhering to the unexplained judgment in the Gilmore case. More than 20 years of experience with pro se habeas corpus petitions as a Member of this Court and as a Circuit Judge have convinced me that "meaningful access" to the federal courts can seldom be realistically advanced by the device of making law libraries available to prison inmates untutored in their use. In the vast majority of cases, access to a law library will, I am convinced, simply result in the filing of pleadings heavily larded with irrelevant legalisms—possessing the veneer but lacking the substance of professional competence.
If, on the other hand, MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST is correct in his belief that a convict in a state prison pursuant to a
I respectfully dissent.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.
The Court's opinion in this case serves the unusual purpose of supplying as good a line of reasoning as is available to support a two-paragraph per curiam opinion almost six years ago in Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U.S. 15 (1971), which made no pretense of containing any reasoning at all. The Court's reasoning today appears to be that we have long held that prisoners have a "right of access" to the courts in order to file petitions for habeas corpus, and that subsequent decisions have expanded this concept into what the Court today describes as a "meaningful right of access." So, we are told, the right of a convicted prisoner to "meaningful access" extends to requiring the State to furnish such prisoners law libraries to aid them in piecing together complaints to be filed in the courts. This analysis places questions of prisoner access on a "slippery slope," and I would reject it because I believe that the early cases upon which the Court relies have a totally different rationale from that which underlies the present holding.
There is nothing in the United States Constitution which requires that a convict serving a term of imprisonment in a state penal institution pursuant to a final judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction have a "right of access" to the federal courts in order to attack his sentence. In the first
A number of succeeding cases have expanded on this barebones holding that an incarcerated prisoner has a right of physical access to a federal court in order to petition that court for relief which Congress has authorized it to grant. These cases, most of which are mentioned in the Court's opinion, begin with Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956), and culminate in United States v. MacCollom, 426 U.S. 317 (1976), decided last Term. Some, such as Griffin, supra, and Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963), appear to depend upon the principle that indigent convicts must be given a meaningful opportunity to pursue a state-created right to appeal, even though the pursuit of such a remedy requires that the State must provide a transcript or furnish counsel. Others, such as Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483 (1969), Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396 (1974), and Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974), depend on the principle that the State, having already incarcerated the convict and thereby virtually eliminated his contact with people outside the prison walls,
If respondents' constitutional arguments were grounded on the Equal Protection Clause, and were in effect that rich prisoners could employ attorneys who could in turn consult law libraries and prepare petitions for habeas corpus, whereas indigent prisoners could not, they would have superficial appeal. See Griffin, supra; Douglas, supra. I believe that they would nonetheless fail under Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600 (1974). There we held that although our earlier cases had required the State to provide meaningful access to state-created judicial remedies for indigents, the only right on direct appeal was that "indigents have an adequate opportunity to present their claims fairly within the adversary system." Id., at 612.
In any event, the Court's opinion today does not appear to proceed upon the guarantee of equal protection of the laws, a guarantee which at least has the merit of being found in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It proceeds instead to enunciate a "fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts," ante, at 828, which is found nowhere in the Constitution. But if a prisoner incarcerated pursuant to a final judgment of conviction is not prevented from physical access to the federal courts in order that he may file therein petitions for relief which Congress has authorized those courts
Our decisions have recognized on more than one occasion that lawful imprisonment properly results in a "retraction [of rights] justified by the considerations underlying our penal system." Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285 (1948); Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). A convicted prisoner who has exhausted his avenues of direct appeal is no longer to be accorded every presumption of innocence, and his former constitutional liberties may be substantially restricted by the exigencies of the incarceration in which he has been placed. See Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1976). Where we come to the point where the prisoner is seeking to collaterally attack a final judgment of conviction, the right of physical access to the federal courts is essential because of the congressional provisions for federal habeas review of state convictions. Ex parte Hull, supra. And the furnishing of a transcript to an indigent who makes a showing of probable cause, in order that he may have any realistic chance of asserting his right to such review, was upheld in United States v. MacCollom, supra. We held in Ross v. Moffitt, supra, that the Douglas holding of a right to counsel on a first direct appeal as of right would not be extended to a discretionary second appeal from an intermediate state appellate court to the state court of last resort, or from the state court of last resort to this Court. It would seem, a fortiori, to follow from that case that an
I do not believe anything in the Constitution requires this result, although state and federal penal institutions might as a matter of policy think it wise to implement such a program. I conclude by indicating the same respect for Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U.S. 15 (1971), as has the Court, in relegating it to a final section set apart from the body of the Court's reasoning. Younger supports the result reached by the Court of Appeals in this case, but it is a two-paragraph opinion which is most notable for the unbridged distance between its premise and its conclusion. The Court's opinion today at least makes a reasoned defense of the result which it reaches, but I am not persuaded by those reasons. Because of that fact I would not have the slightest reluctance to overrule Younger and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals in this case.
This proposal adheres to a list approved as the minimum collection for prison law libraries by the American Correctional Association (ACA), American Bar Association (ABA), and the American Association of Law Libraries, except for the questionable omission of several treatises, Shepard's Citations, and local rules of court. See ACA, Guidelines for Legal Reference Service in Correctional Institutions: A Tool for Correctional Administrators 5-9 (2d ed. 1975) (hereafter ACA Guidelines); ABA Commission on Correctional Facilities and Services, Bar Association Support to Improve Correctional Services (BASICS), Offender Legal Services 29-30, 70-78 (rev. ed. 1976).
The only cases that have rejected indigent defendants' claims to transcripts have done so either because an adequate alternative was available but not used, Britt v. North Carolina, 404 U.S. 226 (1971), or because the request was plainly frivolous and a prior opportunity to obtain a transcript was waived, United States v. MacCollom, 426 U.S. 317 (1976).
Similarly, the State's creation of an advisory Inmate Grievance Commission, see N. C. Gen. Stat. § 148-101 et seq. (Supp. 1975); Brief for Petitioners 14, while certainly a noteworthy innovation, does not answer the constitutional requirement for legal assistance to prisoners.
See also ABA Joint Committee on the Legal Status of Prisoners, Standards Relating to the Legal Status of Prisoners, Standards 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 and Commentary, 14 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 377, 420-443 (tent. draft 1977); National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Uniform Corrections Code, § 2-601 (tent. draft 1976); National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, Corrections 26-30, Standards 2.2, 2.3 (1973).