by Perry J. Browder
Posted Dec. 22, 2015 at 10:02 PM
Around the country, including here in Illinois, corporate America is waging war on our rights. Despite a booming stock market, monumental profits and huge payouts for corporate CEOs, big business and the front groups they finance are constantly looking for ways to strip citizens from their 7th Amendment right — the right to trial by jury. Whether it is stoking fear about our civil justice system by producing phony studies or their sweeping approach at inserting binding arbitration clauses into just about every consumer contract, corporate America does not want you to have your day in court. Why? It all boils down to profits over people.
Big business, determined to further concentrate their wealth and power, are trying to re-engineer our courts to protect their profits when they pollute our environment, produce dangerous products and otherwise act irresponsibly. They seek a court system in which ordinary citizens have no chance at fair treatment and justice because their rights have been stripped away by powerful special interests.
Unreasonable and irrational terms such as "lawsuit abuse," "land of lawsuits," and my personal favorite, "judicial hellhole," are thrown around to stoke prejudice and fear about our civil justice system. The biggest, wealthiest corporations subsidize so-called research year after year and get what they pay for: biased studies designed to reach a foregone conclusion. These PR stunts are nothing more than an ongoing campaign designed to warp public understanding of how our legal system works. They want you and, more importantly, our lawmakers, to think that our courts are run amok with frivolous lawsuits. By fabricating a "lawsuit crisis" the special interests try to convince policymakers into changing laws that will undercut our constitutional rights.
Since many legislators have stopped buying into the made-up stories of lawsuit abuse, businesses are looking for other ways to close the courthouse doors. Businesses — both big and small — are now forcing consumers to sign contracts that contain binding arbitration clauses that often times go unnoticed. A recent investigative report done by the New York Times revealed that such clauses are intended to strip people of their 7th Amendment right and force consumers into private, corporate-designed systems to resolve their disputes.
Such clauses have a definite bias toward business. It is usually the company, not the victim, which is allowed to choose the arbitrator. Arbitrators are not required to have any legal training and they do not have to follow the law. Therefore, as the Times investigation reveals, it is often the corporations who prevail and not the consumer who has been wronged.
With money and politics already dominating the executive and legislative branches of government, the court system is one of the only places where an "average Joe" can get a fair shake, even when taking on the most powerful corporate interests.
So the next time you hear disparaging comments about the civil justice system in Illinois, ask yourself who is behind the message and why. What will they get by limiting our 7th Amendment rights? The profits over people mentality of big business and their corporate front groups cannot be allowed to diminish the rights of citizens who deserve a level playing field in our courts.
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