Our civil courts are vital to the promotion of a fair economy for all Americans. They hold the potential to mitigate the gross social and economic inequalities that mark our society, curtail the worst excesses of our economy, and correct the manifest weaknesses of regulatory standards. Accordingly, Americans from all walks of life expect policymakers to remove improper barriers that block citizen access to the courts. Unfortunately, many lawmakers are engaged in a decades-long campaign aimed at hobbling the effective functioning of the civil courts. They have attempted to prevent people from using the courts to right wrongs that have been done to them by:
Too many people struggle with economic circumstances and other disadvantages beyond their control that make it difficult to recover from harms caused by the irresponsible behavior of others. In a fair economy, all Americans would have a reasonable opportunity to achieve their full potential without the burden of being injured by others. When operating without undue constraints, civil courts offer people a viable avenue for recovering from physical and economic injuries imposed on them by the unreasonable actions of others. Inequality in the United States – inequality of wealth, opportunity, and power – has been at the center of debate on many issues in recent years. In fields as diverse as criminal justice, tax policy, environmental law, urban planning, and labor law, advocates are finding common ground in a shared vision of a fair economy that functions to mitigate inequality and ensure all Americans have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
|Advocates are finding common ground in a shared vision of a fair economy that functions to mitigate inequality and ensure all Americans have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.|
The U.S. civil courts, working in conjunction with our advanced regulatory programs, have long been great “equalizers” in our society. When the courthouse doors remain open to everyone, regardless of social or economic standing, even the wealthiest individuals and the largest and most powerful corporations can be held accountable. Our courts provide an orderly process for victims to seek compensation when they are injured, thereby restoring victims’ freedom and opportunities.[i] And the resulting decisions about liability help govern our interpersonal actions, incentivizing responsible behavior and thus preventing or avoiding future injuries. These protections, alongside those created by regulatory institutions, ensure that economic gains are responsible rather than reckless, and productive rather than exploitative.
For our courts to function effectively, we need broad and meaningful access for all Americans. In this report, the term “civil justice” refers to holding people and corporations accountable for their actions (or in some cases, their inaction) through laws and procedures that ensure fair compensation for anyone harmed. Courts are the main venue in which individuals and their attorneys seek redress for their injuries and accountability for wrongdoing. As the case studies and analysis contained in this report show, the pursuit of civil justice is intertwined with regulatory policy, public health protections, and other important tools for addressing inequality.
[i] Sidney A. Shapiro & Robert R.M. Verchick, Inequality, Social Resilience, and the Green Economy, 86 UMKC L. Rev. (forthcoming) (manuscript on file with authors).
[ii] Chris Ingraham, The Richest 1 Percent Now Owns More of the Country’s Wealth Than at Any Time in the Past 50 Years, Wash. Post: Wonkblog, Dec. 6, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/06/the-richest-1-percent-now-owns-more-of-the-countrys-wealth-than-at-any-time-in-the-past-50-years/?utm_term=.70a949c313c3 (last visited July 11, 2018).
[iii] Elise Gould, The State of American Wages: 2017, Econ. Pol’y Institute, Mar. 1, 2018 https://www.epi.org/publication/the-state-of-american-wages-2017-wages-have-finally-recovered-from-the-blow-of-the-great-recession-but-are-still-growing-too-slowly-and-unequally/ (last visited July 11 2018).
[iv] Rakesh Kochhar & Anthony Cilluffo, How Wealth inequality Has Changed in the U.S. Since the Great Recession, by Race, Ethnicity and Income, Pew Research Center: Fact-Tank: News in Numbers, Nov. 1, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/01/how-wealth-inequality-has-changed-in-the-u-s-since-the-great-recession-by-race-ethnicity-and-income/ (last visited July 11, 2018).
[v] Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Pay Equity & Discrimination, https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/ (last visited July 11, 2018).
[vi] Alexander J.S. Colvin, The Growing Use of Mandatory Arbitration: Access to the Courts is Now Barred for More Than 60 Million American Workers 2 (Econ. Pol’y Inst., 2018), available at https://www.epi.org/files/pdf/144131.pdf.
[vii] Restaurant Opportunities Ctrs. Utd. Forward Together, The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry 5-6 (2014), available at http://rocunited.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/REPORT_TheGlassFloor_Sexual-Harassment-in-the-Restaurant-Industry.pdf.
[viii] Liz Moyer & Jessica Silver-Greenberg, In a Technical Snag, Fury and No Cash, N.Y. Times, Oct. 21, 2015, at B1 (N.Y. ed.), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/21/business/dealbook/after-technical-snag-fury-and-no-cash.html; Judith Ohikuare, What To Know Before Using A Prepaid Debit Card, Refinery29, Sept. 12, 2017, https://www.refinery29.com/prepaid-debit-cards-guide (last visited July 11, 2018).