Summary: America’s courts have decayed to a feudal-like system of High, Middle, and Low justice for the rich, middle class, and poor. Federal Judge Jed Radoff discusses this how courts work in this New America. It an example of the Republic’s decreasingly ability to serve us. During the next four years the Republican Party will work to make US courts work even less for us and even more for the 1%.
By Jed S. Rakoff, District Judge
for the Southern District of NY.
New York Review of Books,
24 November 2016.
Posted with the judge’s generous permission.
Over the past few decades, ordinary US citizens have increasingly been denied effective access to their courts. There are many reasons for this. One is the ever greater cost of hiring a lawyer. A second factor is the increased expense, apart from legal fees, that a litigant must pay to pursue a lawsuit to conclusion. A third factor is increased unwillingness of lawyers to take a case on a contingent-fee basis when the anticipated monetary award is modest. A fourth factor is the decline of unions and other institutions that provide their members with free legal representation. A fifth factor is the imposition of mandatory arbitration. A sixth factor is judicial hostility to class action suits. A seventh factor is the increasing diversion of legal disputes to regulatory agencies. An eighth factor, in criminal cases, is the vastly increased risk of a heavy penalty in going to trial.
For these and other reasons, many Americans with ordinary legal disputes never get the day in court that they imagined they were guaranteed by the law. A further result is that most legal disputes are rarely decided by judges, and almost never by juries. And still another result is that the function of the judiciary as a check on the power of the executive and legislative branches and as an independent forum for the resolution of legal disputes has substantially diminished — with the all-too-willing acquiescence of the judiciary itself.
Some of this may seem surprising to people accustomed to hearing about overburdened courts with overcrowded dockets. These very real burdens partly reflect the decades-old refusal of many legislatures to provide funds for new courts and new judges at a rate remotely comparable to the increase in population and the corresponding increase in cases. But aside from these facts, a closer look at changes in the courts’ dockets reveals some disturbing trends.