Erwin Chemerinsky: The Supreme Court Closes the Door to Justice






Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Irvine School of Law.

Has the Supreme Court lost faith in the American court system? That is a strange question to ask about the justices who sit at the top of the country's judicial hierarchy. But in case after case in the just-completed term, the court, usually in 5-4 decisions with the conservatives in the majority, denied access to the courts.

Consider just a few of the examples:

• The court ruled that patients who suffer devastating injuries from generic prescription drugs cannot sue the manufacturers for failing to provide adequate warnings even when drug companies making the non-generic versions of the same drugs can be sued on the same basis....

In limiting class-action suits, Justice Antonin Scalia expressed the concern that such litigation terrorizes business and forces them to settle even non-meritorious claims. In precluding suits for money damages by those injured by prescription drugs or those wrongly incarcerated, the court gives little weight to the need for such damages to deter wrongdoing in the future. In denying prisoners the chance to prove the unconstitutionality of their convictions despite a statutory provision expressly allowing for such hearings, the Supreme Court seems distrustful of lower federal courts and worried that they will unjustifiably release dangerous individuals....

This trend, and the decisions of this term, are disturbing on so many levels. The conservatives on the high court have uncritically accepted the attacks on the courts with little evidentiary support or foundation. At the same time, they have failed to recognize that civil suits for money damages, including class actions, are essential to ensure that injured individuals gain recovery and that future misconduct is deterred. People wrongly convicted should have access to federal courts to gain redress. Constitutional rights are meaningless if there are no courts to enforce them....



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