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America’s Civil Justice system has been under attack now for many years. Masquerading under worn-out and misleading catchphrases like “tort reform”, large corporate interests and their lobbyists have been chipping away at the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution. The language in that amendment seems relatively clear: “the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.”
Rather than be preserved, that Constitutional right has been under siege. Spin-mongers and corporate-funded ad campaigns have spent decades convincing ordinary Americans that they should support “tort reform” legislation designed to abridge, and sometimes eliminate, the citizens’ right to seek civil justice in a courtroom. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been intimately involved in these efforts, using the seemingly bottomless budgets of their corporate members to convince ordinary Americans that their constitutional rights are unneccessary, and are being wasted on a flood of “frivolous” lawsuits.
Now, the doors of government have been opened to the corporations, allowing them to help draft legislation that they find most amenable to their bottom lines. This has been done most noticeably in the case of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). Essentially, ALEC works like this: corporate bigwigs create wish-lists of legislation that they think will be good for business (meaning, usually, anything that shields them from liability when their products or services injure, maim, or kill the customer). Then they sit down in closed-door meetings with our country’s elected lawmakers (who often won their elections because they had their campaign coffers stuffed by the very same bigwigs) and tell them, “here is the legislation we feel you should get passed into law this year.” Admittedly, this a very rough sketch of what ALEC is, and how it is putting America’s civil justice system at risk. If you’d like to know more, set your DVRs or tune in this Sunday evening to PBS. On the program “Bill Moyers Journal”, a special hour-long report will be airing entitled “The United States of ALEC“. This should be a great program, and if you care about preserving our right to seek justice in the courts, it should be considered required viewing.