In recent weeks, we have taken the unusual step of publicly calling attention to specific pieces of newly proposed legislation. And, in a world where everything from your choice of cereal to the shoes on your feet can somehow be construed into being some sort of political statement, it is easy to see those posts and public callouts as a taking of sides of sort.
However, at its core, it is important to remember that the law knows – or should know – no politics. There are, of course, exceptions, and they are easy to spot. Issues such as the repercussions (or lack thereof) in cases of police brutality, sexual harassment and inequality, privacy, and other affronts to basic social justice have highlighted vulnerabilities within our justice system, and even the basic assumptions we’ve made about the very fabric of our society as a whole.
But at its core, the law is still there to serve the people. When something bad happens to someone, it is the law that provides consequences to the offender and compensation and closure for the harmed.
As the legislators responsible for creating and managing these laws, it is not unreasonable to expect representatives at the state and federal level to work to ensure that their efforts serve only to move the citizenry forward. Yet, if recent activities are any indication, the lawmakers of the land appear hellbent on rolling back significant portions of the rights and protections afforded to those they were elected to represent.
Healthcare once again finds itself at the forefront of that assault. And, when one examines the issue a bit further, it becomes increasingly easy to see why it just can’t seem to escape the crosshairs: Few issues under legislative control provide a way to score political points with supporters while simultaneously removing the protections and rights that are expected by every United States citizen.
As Americans, we are not in the business of giving up rights. Take, for example, gun control. For hard-line supporters of the Second Amendment, any limitation whatsoever on the ability to acquire a firearm is grounds for outrage and a political response. Another example is free speech. Try telling an American what they can and cannot say and you’re highly likely to be told to mind your own business and that the person will say whatever they want because they believe – regardless of whether they may be correct – that is their right.
It is easy, then, to see why lawmakers would like to avoid a situation where a headline like “Americans to Lose Access to Court System” begins appearing on newspapers across the country. Yet, due to nothing but partisan showmanship – with a bit more than a dash of corruption thrown in for good measure – that is exactly what is happening.
When we first posted our calls to action about laws like H.R. 1215 at the Congressional level and Pennsylvania’s attempt to impose a sales tax on legal services, it would have been very easy to dismiss those posts as self-serving. After all, H.R. 1215 limits Americans’ ability to participate in class action lawsuits, and the sales tax law would essentially add an additional fee to services already deemed by some to be excessive. “Boo-hoo,” they would say. “The lawyers won’t get to make as much money now.”
And this is exactly what they want you to think. The alternative is for an electorate to begin to wonder why its elected representatives want to forcibly keep its citizens out of courtrooms, or why you didn’t have to pay sales tax on a pumpkin, but did have to pay tax on the legal services you needed when a critical system on your car failed and sent you to the hospital for three weeks.
But sound bites like “ending frivolous lawsuits” and “reigning in legal fees” play much better to a crowd. The problems only show themselves when you, much like the aforementioned faulty car, take a look under the hood.
A prime example of this can be found in an analysis written by Stanford Law Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom. In it, she examines the impact of the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, or LARA. Like the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017 (aka, H.R. 1215), it has a name that invokes confidence and benefits for the greater good. It invokes safety and legal protection. It makes it sound as though our lawmakers are actually doing their jobs.
And, again, just like the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, it strips away your rights, legal protections, and access to your very own court systems. It stacks the deck against you and protects companies and corporations, rather than protecting you as an American citizen.
The problem is that in order to understand LARA’s true impact, you have to be willing to go back to 1983 and find out what Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 is, how it affects you, and why you should care. Most Americans won’t do that. Instead they’ll leave it to the very people who are – at this very moment – using the positions to which they were elected to undermine it.
Is this starting to make sense?
You see, civil justice is not a partisan issue. It’s not for or against Republicans just as it is not for or against Democrats. Civil justice is for everyone.
Legislative meddling in these delicate systems is dangerous. In their efforts to appease their corporate overlords, these representatives could – either intentionally or unintentionally – open the door to a further and even more significant erosion of every single American’s civil and constitutionally-granted rights.
This is due largely to the fact that the legal world is highly dependent on precedence. Interpretation and application of a law to one situation can be used to apply a law to a completely separate and, at times, unrelated situation. Corporations know this; they’ve been subject to it since before the industrial revolution. Now, it would seem, they’re using the same principle to chip away at those very same laws and regulations.
And, so long as the checks are big enough, our elected representatives are more than happy to help them.
These actions have set us on a very dangerous course. It is up to the American population to see through the doublespeak of the names of these laws and to realize that, for the most part, they are being duped. As each side screams at the other and accusations fly of working to undermine everything that makes America what it is, it is up to those same people to see that that work is being done by the very people they elected to represent them.
This reckless activity must stop.