Access to Civil Justice
Alliance for Justice has stood with consumer, labor, environmental, and other groups in fighting to maintain access to justice in the federal courts and to protect victims of corporate malfeasance, medical malpractice, unsafe products, illegal working conditions, civil rights violations, and environmental pollution. AFJ tracks Supreme Court and lower court decisions affecting the legal rights of everyday Americans, educates the public on efforts to narrow those rights, and works with our allies to advocate for progressive legislation and courts that will respect the access to justice that is so fundamental to American values.
Forced arbitration clauses have become increasingly common in consumer and employment contracts. Originally, arbitration was designed to be a voluntary alternative to litigation among corporate equals, but now, it is hidden in the fine print of “take it or leave it” agreements. Individual consumers and employees often have no idea that these clauses are in the contracts they must sign for employment, in order to open a bank account, buy a cell phone, or even admit a loved one to a nursing home. Corporations that use forced arbitration clauses can often shield themselves from accountability for illegal practices and other wrongdoing. Many individuals are unaware that they have surrendered their rights to take a company to court or the imbalanced nature of the processes until it is too late.
AFJ supports ending forced arbitration. Watch our film on forced arbitration, Lost in the Fine Print.
Every day, federal judges decide whether consumers harmed by corporations can bring lawsuits in court, or whether they are limited to unfair systems of forced arbitration. Unfortunately, working people are far more likely to sit before a judge with experience union-busting or blocking consumer protections than someone with experience representing people like them.
Trump’s Supreme Court is widening that divide. From threatening working families’ access to health care to shielding the asbestos industry, the conservative majority has consistently sided with corporate interests over protecting the rights of consumers. It even agreed to challenge the very existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the entity created to protect consumers from unscrupulous banks after the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
AFJ will continue monitoring the courts and holding them accountable for protecting consumer rights. We also call on the President to prioritize nominating more federal judges with backgrounds in organized labor and economic justice legal fields in order to minimize future harm to workers and consumers.
When corporations cheat millions of people out of relatively small amounts per person, it’s difficult for those individuals to go through a cumbersome legal process to get their money back. Similarly, when thousands of resource-constrained people face racial or sex discrimination by a deep-pocketed corporation, it’s extremely difficult for them to fight the company one-by-one. The only hope for justice –and the only real deterrent to fraud or systemic discrimination– is a class action, which allows individuals to band together to bring their common claims against big corporations. But corporate special interests have been waging war against class actions.
Class action lawsuits are a fundamental anti-corruption tool in our legal system. AFJ will continue to support the ability of everyday Americans to band together to stand up for their rights in court.
Our healthcare system is not perfect—far from it. Medical professionals can blatantly or inadvertently provide an incorrect diagnosis, surgical errors can inhibit a patient’s ability to live comfortably, pharmacists can fill prescriptions incorrectly. But preventing deserving patients from seeing the inside of a courtroom and denying those who win their case the right to a full recovery is no way to fix our healthcare system. Further, medical malpractice is not rare but many victims do not have the support to rectify harms. In his book, The Medical Malpractice Myth, Penn Law Professor Tom Baker shows that most victims of medical malpractice actually do not use the civil justice system to recover damages.
AFJ supports efforts to ensure that justice is served for the victims of those harmed by medical negligence.
Consistent with our advocacy for the courts, Alliance for Justice has always stood on the forefront of advocating for a just and free society — words that have no meaning if individuals do not receive fair representation and due process in their government. We are committed to strengthening democracy to ensure that the country’s direction actually reflects the will of its people. AFJ stands with our partners who advocate for making voting as easy as possible, for ensuring proper representation in Congress, and for ensuring our courts are responsive and accountable to the needs of the American people.
The Senate Filibuster
The filibuster is an anti-constitutional relic that is primarily used to obstruct critical legislation that would protect or enhance Americans’ health care, economic rights, civil rights, voting rights, or reform the courts. For this reason, AFJ believes it is long past time that the Senate abolish the filibuster.
AFJ has a long history of advocacy on this issue, helping to lead the fight alongside other activists to change the Senate’s rules to allow a majority vote to end filibusters on executive branch nominees and almost all judicial nominees in 2013. This followed years of obstruction from the Republican minority to prevent the confirmation of countless highly qualified judicial nominees put forward by then-President Obama.
Today, AFJ supports fully abolishing the filibuster in all of its forms. If full reform is not possible, AFJ supports House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s position that there should be a carveout in the Senate rules allowing laws to be passed on a simple majority up or down vote for legislation dealing with constitutional issues such as voting rights.
Alliance for Justice strongly believes the 706,000 taxpaying residents who call Washington, D.C. home — a majority of whom are not white — should have full and equal citizenship. This includes appropriate representation in the House and Senate not unlike the states of Wyoming and Vermont, which have smaller populations. It is long past time that D.C. become a state, and we strongly urge Congress to pass H.R. 51, the DC Admission Act.
Expansion of Supreme Court
A majority of justices on the Supreme Court were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote. Republicans blocked Merrick Garland one year before the 2016 election, and then confirmed Amy Coney Barrett days before Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. These justices, in turn, have repeatedly degraded our democracy, sided with the wealthy and powerful over the rights of every day Americans, and shut the door on those seeking justice. We need to expand the number of justices to ensure that the highest court in the land enhances our republic and ensure the American people, through their elected officials, can address the nation’s problems and promote the general welfare.
Expansion of Lower Courts
Historically, Congress routinely expanded the number of district and circuit court judgeships to keep up with population and increased caseloads. Since 1990, however, the number of judges has not significantly increased. The Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for the federal court headed by Chief Justice John Roberts, has recommended creating new judgeships to help address the significant increase in cases. AFJ believes these recommendations should serve as a mere minimum for how many judgeships will best serve the nation’s needs.
Creating new judgeships make our courts more efficient and effective in the administration of justice. Expanding the federal courts will also enable the Biden administration to increase the demographic and experiential diversity in our courts.
Protect Our Democracy
AFJ supports legislation that will repair our political system and revitalize our democracy. We need to reverse the egregious Supreme Court decision in Shelby County, ban political gerrymandering, and ensure that all eligible voters have meaningful access to the ballot. That means eliminating obstacles that serve only to advance discrimination, such as voter ID restrictions and voter roll purges, limitations on early voting and mail-in voting, and prohibitions on the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals.
Supreme Court Ethics
Alliance for Justice is a longtime advocate for a Supreme Court code of ethics. As over 100 law professors wrote in a 2011 letter spearheaded by AFJ: “[a]dherence to mandatory ethical rules by justices, and requiring transparent, reviewable recusal decisions that do not turn solely on the silent opinion of the challenged justice will reinforce the integrity and legitimacy of the Supreme Court.” Congress should pass legislation imposing a code of ethics on the Supreme Court that parallels the expectations to which lower court judges are already held.