When they are freed from arbitrary constraints, civil justice advocates can play a vital, though often underappreciated role in correcting the myriad causes of economic and social inequality that continue to plague the United States. The corrective function of civil justice litigation helps individuals absorb and recover from misfortune and disruption caused by another person’s or business’s unreasonably dangerous actions or products. Moreover, successful civil justice campaigns help mitigate the effects of individual social and economic disadvantages by working in concert with federal and state regulatory systems to protect people from harms before they occur.
The decades-long assault on citizen access to the courts has serious implications for inequality in America. Legislators have introduced a wide variety of legislation aimed at making it harder for citizens to bring and sustain meritorious claims. Several of these bills seek to accomplish this objective by targeting class action litigation or by making it easier for corporations to force their customers and employees to resolve claims against them through arbitration. Others would effectively force individuals to bear at least part of the costs of a company’s wrongdoing, either by preventing them from obtaining full compensation for their injuries or by rendering it economically infeasible to bring a lawsuit at all.
Americans from across the political and socioeconomic spectrum need lawmakers to recognize the dangers these legislative proposals pose and make their defeat a top priority. We need legislative proposals that would promote civil justice by, among other things, ensuring that plaintiffs have full access to the courts to have their claims heard and to obtain fully restorative compensation. With such legislation in place, we can further our pursuit of a fair economy available to all, helping to empower everyone and reverse institutional inequality.