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The Supreme Court closes the door to justice

By Erwin Chemerinsky

July 6, 2011
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.

• The court held that standard clauses in consumer contracts calling for arbitration preclude consumers from joining class-action suits even when the effect almost surely would be that no individual lawsuits would be filed because the amount involved was too small.

• The court decided that employees who claim to be victims of sex discrimination cannot sue in class actions when the employer has a policy that prohibits discrimination.

• The court concluded that a man who spent 18 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit could not sue the prosecutors who hid key evidence.