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Mandatory Arbitration Clauses Harm Consumers & Denies Access to Courts

Working to Preserve Access to the Courts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- April 29, 2005 -- Some corporations and legislators want to limit or abolish the right of Americans to have their day in court, according to a recent article, Access to Justice, or Justice Denied?. House majority leader Tom Delay (R-TX), for example, has a plan to "redesign the government," presumably to weaken the judicial branch. In a recent interview, he even denied that our Constitution requires the separation of church and state, or that it includes a right to privacy (Washington Times, April 13, 2005).

"The attack on the Constitutional role of the courts -- and access to justice -- is just beginning," Arthur Bryant, the executive director of Public Justice, commented recently. "This is not a battle between plaintiffs and defendants, Democrats and Republicans, or red states and blue states. This is a battle between those who believe in the Constitution, separation of powers, and the courts' role in our system and those who don't."

"Preserving access to justice, at its core, means upholding the Constitution, separation of powers, and the courts' role in our nation," according to Public Justice, which has launched a program to defend access to the courts. The public interest advocacy group works against legislation that eliminates or weakens victims' rights, including the rights to counsel and to a jury trial. Public Justice also battles against unnecessary court secrecy and "mandatory arbitration clauses." Mandatory arbitration clauses are portions of boiler-plate forms or agreements that prohibit lawsuits and force consumers to submit any complaints to an arbitration board. These arbitration boards are often costly for consumers and biased in favor of businesses.

Another Public Justice project addresses federal preemption of state laws. Corporations who have made unsafe products may argue that they should not be sued because a federal statute or regulation negates or "preempts" a more consumer-friendly state law. They believe that this type of reasoning harms the public and makes corporations less accountable for defective products.

For more information about the work of Public Justice, see the group's brochure, entitled Access to Justice Campaign. Brayton Purcell is a Public Justice member and active supporter of this group.

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