Recent polls indicate that most Americans believe a person who has been injured or damaged by corporate wrongdoing is entitled to his or her day in court. This confirms what I have always thought was a basic American belief about how our system of justice should work. But while business litigation between corporations clogs up the courts, for three decades or more huge corporations have pursued a relentless campaign to deny victims of corporate wrongdoing access to the justice system. In the last few months, the Supreme Court has gifted Corporate America a pair of decisions that dramatically restrict the ability of victims to join together in class-action litigation, denying many access to justice altogether.
In April, the court issued AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion. More recently, the court handed down Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes. In Concepcion, a case Public Citizen argued before the Supreme Court, five Justices held that corporations could use fine-print provisions in contracts to deny consumers and employees the right to bring class actions. And in Dukes, a case in which Public Citizen filed a friend-of-the-court brief, the same five Justices not only shut down the largest employment class action ever filed, they established rules that will make it more difficult for employees to join together in class-action suits.
These decisions are an affront to core American values and the rights of victims of corporate wrongdoing and violence. Less well appreciated is how the civil justice system serves as a crucial system of corporate accountability. Restricting victims’ rights not only denies justice to those directly injured by corporations, it removes vital checks on corporate power. That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Big Business lobby spend so much money propagandizing about the purported costs of the civil justice system, and why they have worked so hard for more than three decades to dismantle it.
That’s also why fighting to keep the courthouse doors open is crucial, not just to protect the rights of victims, but to sustain our democracy. These are the reasons Public Citizen places so much importance on preserving the civil justice system and preserving and expanding access to justice. Despite recent Supreme Court rulings, this is no time for despair. The severity of the situation only makes it that much more important that we work harder to preserve and advance access to justice, using all available tools.
Source: Public Citizen
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