Supreme Court Limits Individuals’ Access to Justice through Procedural Rulings, Says Prof. Hart

July 5, 2011
Video Interview

The Supreme Court’s decisions this term in Wal-Mart v. Dukes and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion have not only “changed the balance of power” between individuals and companies, but are part of a trend of limiting individuals’ access to the courts through procedural rulings, University of Colorado law professor Melissa Hart said during a video interview with ACSblog.

Hart, who spoke with ACSblog following testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained that both Wal-Mart and AT&T imposed procedural blocks on litigation that will make it harder for individuals to hold corporations accountable.

“I think that this court is showing itself as extremely hostile to various forms of litigation … and is imposing rules on its own as a policy matter that really change the ability of people to get access to the courts,” said Hart. “That will have consequences across many kinds of litigation, not just in these particular contexts.”

Hart noted that the court’s decision in Wal-Mart “really redefined” the class action rule at issue, imposing a higher standard for overcoming the “threshold inquiry” of whether to certify an employment discrimination class than would have been imposed on these plaintiffs in proving discrimination by Wal-Mart.

“[The court] made it extremely difficult to imagine what an employment discrimination class might look like,” Hart said.

She added during her Judiciary Committee testimony that the class action mechanism is “the only way to reach many kinds of systemic misconduct.”

“[T]he erosion of this tool insulates companies from any serious risk of litigation from many kinds of potentially illegal behavior,” she said.

Watch the video interview with Hart below, watch the Judiciary Committee hearing here, and learn more about how corporations are faring in the courts at the new ACS Web page, Corporations and the Courts.