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"Civil Action" Attorney Jan Schlichtmann Discusses Judiciary as "Diseased Branch"

January 25, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case highlights an underlying problem in the nation’s system of justice, attorney Jan Schlichtmann said during a visit to the law school on Jan. 25.

In the ruling, the court struck down provisions of campaign finance reforms, barring the government from limiting political spending by corporations and unions.

Contending the ruling “strikes at the very heart of democracy,” Schlichtmann said the decision raises troubling questions that underlie the judiciary itself. 

“It’s not rooted in democratic ideals,” Schlichtmann said, noting that judges have been granted “monarchic” authority, as reflected in the robes they wear and the fact that courtroom occupants must rise when they appear or face contempt charges.

Schlichtmann said his experience representing families of cancer stricken children who sued two companies who had polluted the Woburn, Mass. water supply also illustrates the problem.

“I got a bad judge,” Schlichtmann said, referring to the modest settlement his clients received in the massive case that inspired a best-selling book and movie, “A Civil Action.” “I don’t think justice should depend on the judge you get.”

Decisions to put secret tribunals in charge of cases involving alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and to appoint a commissioner and a “czar” to handle the claims of 9/11 survivors and victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill illustrate a widespread lack of confidence in the judicial system, he said.

The phrase engraved on the U.S. Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under Law,” was worth fighting a revolution for, Schlichtmann said.

“Some can do a lot of damage to all,” he said. “Don’t just accept things as they are.”

Schlichtmann’s appearance was sponsored by the American Constitution Society and co-sponsored by the Drexel Health Law Society and the Drexel Environmental Law Society.