Someone should sue!
U.S. Supreme Court Building, photo credit, dbking via Flickr
So I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not lawsuit-averse, right? Despite some recent (and not so recent) court cases that defy logic and threaten justice, I still have a great deal of faith in the judicial system as a critical component of any advocate’s “toolbox”, and a considerable force in our struggle for what’s right and good.
There is a lot of great litigation going on today, in pursuit of social justice:
Fighting the disenfranchisement of Native American voters
Using civil verdicts to cripple racist and other extremist groups by stripping them of their finances
Challenging inadequate and inequitable financing schemes in public education
Reforming prison conditions
Objecting to conditions and terms of immigrant detention, review, and removal
Redressing abuses of workers’ rights, including denial of breaks, violation of wage and hour regulations, and misclassification of workers
There are other areas where I see a need for more litigation, particularly where populations are very vulnerable or unsympathetic, making legislative strategies, in particular, less viable. Below is a list of some of these, and then a challenge for readers.
Overturning anti-homelessness ordinances–there has been some legal action around these attacks sweeping across America’s cities, but we need a more coordinated and concerted effort, based on constitutional protections and violation of international human rights law.
Protesting draconian cuts in social services at the state level–there would seem to be many openings related to right to due process, especially as budget cuts are enacted mid-year in many states, leading to great fluctuations in service offerings; while there is not the same constitutional protection for these populations, within state constitutions, as for public K-12 education, clauses about basic welfare may also provide standing for suit
Overturning the basis of extensive cooperation between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement–there is some promising litigation against the abusive raids perpetrated against immigrant communities, but the pervasive collaboration between ICE and local police and sheriffs’ departments is, even in the absence of adverse action, fundamentally unsound and a gross violation of privacy and individual liberty. To some extent, it may make sense to vigorously pursue racial profiling allegations in this arena, but, ultimately, what is needed is a legal attack on the Department of Homeland Security regulation that allows this.
Denial of health care, either in terms of health insurance companies rejecting claims for treatment, or Medicaid’s low reimbursement rates (but I’d like to see this from consumers, alleging failure to meet the quality of care standard, not providers–it’s not their lives on the line!), or those uninsured who surely have a claim under international law, at the least.
Again, I think that there’s a case to be made for legal action against governmental and non-governmental entities whose legitimacy is predicated on their service to low-income or marginalized populations, yet fail to deliver to those same populations what is promised them. We’ll only succeed in solving our most vexing problems when we are completely accountable to those we serve and fully morally and legally responsible for our failures.
There are more, obviously–for example, the U.S. fails to live up to international standards in a variety of realms, and there have been several efforts to address this through international courts (e.g. protecting the labor rights of migrants). And, of course, there’s the issue of the role that money plays in securing quality representation, and how such representation can influence judicial outcomes. We can’t address justice without taking that into account, and we can’t build a strategy for social change that includes the courts without providing for a truly level playing field for those with fewer resources.
What do you think? What injustices do you see in practice, or in the policy realm, that demand redress? What makes the judicial system particularly well-suited to provide this remedy? What role can/should social workers, who are (for the most part) not attorneys, play in pursuing justice through the courts? How would such efforts fit into your organization, or your policy practice? And what can we do to support the efforts already underway, such as those described above?
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