Op-ed by CJ&D Executive Direcetor, Joanne Doroshow
Early this month, The Star-Ledger’s Salvador Rizzo wrote a groundbreaking report on the American Legislative Exchange Council, the influential organization that has promoted the agenda of corporate America and the political right in state legislatures nationwide, including New Jersey. Until now, ALEC’s corporate backers have had little problem with the organization’s range of issues, such as controversial voter-identification laws.
That all changed when it became known that a top ALEC priority, Stand Your Ground laws at the heart of the controversy over the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, is now on the books in many states.
The resulting stream of defections by some of ALEC’s corporate members — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Mars, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Intuit, Kraft — has been extraordinary. And the recent announcement by ALEC that it would be eliminating the very task force that produced its voter-ID and Stand Your Ground laws shows that, at the very least, public pressure can work.
But as we focus on these developments, we shouldn’t lose sight of the breadth of ALEC’s continuing damage around the country. In fact, some of this wider harm can be found in other parts of ALEC’s Stand Your Ground statute.
This law does not just protect perpetrators. It is also a direct assault on crime victims. Buried in this law is a chilling measure that confers absolute civil immunity on perpetrators who successfully avoid arrest and prosecution under this law, stripping crime victims of access to the courts. This is important because, often in cases where the criminal justice system fails, families turn to the civil courts for help.
Preventing access to the civil courts for everyday Americans is a pervasive theme that runs through ALEC’s agenda, and has found its way into New Jersey. ALEC has an entire task force devoted to preventing injured people from going to court. Unfortunately, this ALEC legislation has been nothing short of a gift to our nation’s most negligent companies, many of which have been successfully sued over and over for recklessly causing death and injury to their customers.
Now, ALEC bills are making their way into New Jersey, with the support of the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance, an organization that has adopted several ALEC bills as its priorities. Not surprisingly, NJLRA and ALEC share members, including pharmaceutical giants such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Bayer.
There are similarities in the bills they promote, as well. One top NJLRA priority is an ALEC bill to amend New Jersey’s appeal bond process, making it easier for corporate wrongdoers to appeal verdicts against them without making sure that their victims will ever be paid. NJLRA also is promoting an ALEC proposal that would ensure that corporate miscreants can more easily dismiss class-action lawsuits against them. Another priority of both NJLRA and ALEC is making it more difficult for consumers to enforce consumer protection laws.
Some ALEC bills would immunize the pharmaceutical industry for manufacturing unsafe drugs and devices that are brought to market under lax government rules. Studies show that many more drugs and devices are developed to control a women’s reproductive system than are devised for men, and that these unsafe products disproportionately harm women. History shows that many such products were made safer only after women and their families filed lawsuits against those responsible.
Make no mistake — ALEC bills promoted by NJLRA accomplish several shared goals, including reducing the accountability of corporate wrongdoers. They also discriminate against everyday New Jerseyans, who are singled out by a number of these laws for unfair treatment.
Joanne Doroshow is executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School.