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Litigation as a Tool to Effectuate Social Change

Date31 Mar 2021

Litigation as a Tool to Effectuate Social Change D.C. Personal Injury Lawyer

Throughout history, litigation has been used to change society. 

Kassie Siegel, the director of the Climate Law Institute and its senior counsel, writes that “litigation is an essential tool to solve problems.” 

Eric Yamamoto, Professor of Law and Social Justice at the University of Hawaii, asks that lawyers and scholars squarely confront the interracial divisions in our society. 

In this post, we’ll be covering three monumental cases that have changed the United States for the better. 

Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964)

In 1956, Moreton Rolleston Jr., a segregationist, opened the Heart of Atlanta Motel. The motel did not permit Black guests. The majority of its patrons were not from Georgia. Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in hotels and motels. Mr. Rolleston sued the United States, arguing that Congress exceeded its power to regulate commerce, and that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated because the motel could not choose its customers. Justice Thomas Clark, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the anti-discrimination provisions of the Act applied to hotels that host travelers from outside the state, and that the government had the right to stop the motel from discriminating on the basis of race under the Commerce Clause.

The holding was used to dismantle many other forms of racism in the state and the rest of the US.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

litigation as tool social change dc lawyer

In 1963, Mr. Miranda was arrested, taken into custody, and interrogated for two hours. When the interrogation finished, Mr. Miranda signed a confession. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to 20-30 years. The officers did not inform of his rights (the right to remain silent, right to an attorney, etc.) before being questioned. Mr. Miranda appealed the ruling, arguing that his confession had been gained unconstitutionally. The state of Arizona retried him where his confession was not introduced – he was found guilty once more. 

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion: 

The person in custody, must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him. 

Now, in movies and TV shows, we hear about Miranda Rights, stemming from this case. 

Roe v. Wade (1973)

Texas’s abortion laws in the 1970s were criminal; they were permitted only to save the mother’s life. An anonymous woman (Roe) brought forth a class action against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County.

Texas had criminal abortion laws. The law only allowed for abortions to save the mother’s life. An anonymous pregnant single woman (Roe) brought forth a class action against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County. She alleged that the abortion laws were unconstitutional and violated her right to personal privacy, protected by the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 14th Amendments. The court held that the 14th Amendment protects a women’s choice to have an abortion; however, the weight of the state’s interests in protecting the woman’s health and “the potentiality of human life” varies over the course of a pregnancy – the law must account for the change. 

The court opined that during the first trimester, the state may not intervene; during the second, the state may impose regulations that are reasonably related to the potential mother’s health; during the third trimester, once the fetus reaches “viability,” the state may regulate or prohibit abortions as long as exceptions exist when it is necessary to save the life or health of the mother. 

In the modern era, litigation is in works to impact areas like private prison labor, climate change, and police brutality.

If you’ve been injured due to negligence or wrongful conduct, the attorneys at Cohen & Cohen can help get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today at (202) 955-4529 for a free case evaluation. 

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