I visited Law Day, a project of the SL Bar Association, where many of the current issues that affect the integrity and fairness of the legal system were presented on small signs around the sim devoted to those who love the law. People joke a lot about lawyers, mostly to present the idea that they are all unethical, greedy and parasites on society. In fact, society would not exist as we know it without lawyers. People love to quote Shakespeare’s Henry VI’s famous “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Of course, most of them think that’s a dig, but the words are spoken by the wannabe tyrant who knows that killing the lawyers is essential to tyranny.
Justice in America is on the ropes. There’s a deliberate and well-funded political campaign to take away our access to the courts. We hear a lot of propaganda about medical malpractice and tort reform from political spin doctors telling us everything would be so much cheaper if people could not sue. The truth is, it would not be cheaper but it would be more dangerous. Astonishingly, people are very forgiving of doctor error. Only 4 to 7 % of those injured ever even file a lawsuit.
People often bring up the infamous McDonald’s coffee case as an example of why we need to change the system, but the case is actually a great example of how we are lied to by the media who read right off the press releases from anti-tort lobbies. Of course, most of us hear about lawsuits with big awards when the trial ends, but we don’t follow the cases to their conclusion. Judges reduce those awards all the time, often by as much as 85 to 90%. But that does not make the news, because that’s not exciting.
Another way lawyers make our society better is through civil rights litigation. The Bill of Rights is meaningless without lawyers who use the courts to force the government to honor our rights. It’s a never-ending struggle between prosecutors and law enforcement who constantly search for new ways to circumvent our rights in order to police us and the lawyers who fight to block these strategies. Just this week, a judge threw out portions of the “indefinite detention” provisions of the NDAA. Incredibly, our representatives, senators and president all went along with a law that said American citizens could be locked up indefinitely without trial on the say-so of the government. Not all of this egregious idea has been thrown out, but the part that would allow people to be locked up for speech was tossed. Of course, the Congress is hot on the trail of passing some new version of it because nothing says America like locking people up for life without a trial.
The advancement of women, people of color and the GLTBIQ community has also been advanced by lawyers. From Brown v. Board of Education, to Loving v. Virginia to Lawrence v. Texas, lawyers have fought for changes in the law to advance equality. These changes come faster than society is prepared for, but frankly, if we waited for the majority to be comfortable, change would never happen. Instead, what happens is that civil rights advance and the sky does not fall and the world does not melt into a volcano and life goes on and all the fear-mongering bigots are proved wrong again and again and again. But without lawyers, we would live in a world where fear would trump equality.
So stop by the Justitia sim and take a look at the many ways our legal system is being weakened and breaking down. It is one of the most critical issues we face. The thing is, a world without access to the law is tyranny.