The faces of rights…
Posted July 5, 2013on:
This being the 4th of July weekend, we often find ourselves all caught up in thinking about our “rights” — whether they be our First Amendment rights, our right to choose, our right to vote, our right to bear arms, our right to marry. Thinking about “rights” is somewhat sterile because it allows us to keep a nice clinical distance from the reality of what those rights represent in terms of human cost.
Even if we attach those rights to legislative action it still allows us a certain empathetic distance. I can recite what it means when 36 out of 42 public family planning clinics are made to close in a state the size of Texas, but it doesn’t tell the stories of the women affected. We can analyze the effects of barring women from admission to Ohio’s publicly funded hospitals after they have opted to have an abortion, but it doesn’t put a face on the women who might be harmed during a health crisis. We can bemoan the unfairness of the North Carolina legislature’s use of a bill publicized to outlaw Sharia law to close all but one of North Carolina’s women’s health clinics, but it does nothing to forewarn us of the day after their closure.
During the last session of the Supreme Court, the most interest seemed to be focused on the cases about affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, DOMA, and California’s Proposition 8. Important cases all, but there were other cases that may affect our rights even more starkly — they got nothing close to the coverage of the more sensational cases.
The first is American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, another case by the Roberts court making it more difficult to use the only economically viable way for the little guy to fight big business — the class action suit. This was a follow-up to the case two years ago saying individual customers were bound to the arbitration provisions hidden in a cell phone contract and did not have the right to bring a class action.
The next case was Vance v. Ball State. Again a follow-up case to Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber making it more difficult to bring an action for workplace discrimination.
The last case that puts a disfigured face on otherwise amorphous rights is that of Karen Bartlett adv. Mutual Pharmaceutical Company. Ms. Bartlett lost two-thirds of her skin, was left disfigured and blind after taking a generic drug for some shoulder pain. The Court held that generic drug manufacturers could not be sued for defects in product design, thereby causing Ms. Barlett to forfeit the $21 million she had been awarded. Eighty percent of all the drugs sold are generic.
This session of the Supreme Court was truly a Chamber of Commerce dream and an embarrassment of riches for corporations. At their heart, these cases are a capitalization on corporate rights at the expense of nameless, faceless individuals.
On this weekend of the 4th of July, let’s redouble our efforts this year to remind ourselves that we are these nameless, faceless individuals and that rights, while giving us a definitional framework, do nothing to tell the story of the individuals affected.
Have a great weekend.
This is an open thread.
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