Definition of Social Justice Lawsuits
“Hottest” Social Issues Leading to Litigation and Other Action
- Voting rights
- Climate change and justice
- Racial justice
- Income disparity
- Gun violence
- Food insecurity and hunger
- Equality (racial, gender, etc.)
This certainly is a fluid list that is subject to change, alterations that truly can occur on a proverbial dime. What are “hot” underpinning issues in social justice lawsuits at one slice in time may be outpaced by another matter of societal impact with the passing of very little time.
History of Social Justice Lawsuits
The term “social justice lawsuit” is of a rather recent origin. With that said, what can be classified as social justice lawsuits are far from being new judicial actions. The reality is that social justice issues of different types have long be litigated in the United States judicial system. Indeed, cases with what we now know as social justice lawsuits transcend the very existence of the United States and can be found in judicial actions extending back into and beyond the colonial period on this continent.
A prime example of historical social justice lawsuits can be found during the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. A prime example is the case of Brown v. Board of Education, litigation which specifically challenged the doctrine of separate but equal in Topeka, Kansas public schools but when ultimately resolved in the US Supreme Court had broad and lasting implications across the nation, throughout society at large.
Criminal Cases with Social Justice Impact
In addition to civil lawsuits that may have been filed to assert the rights of specific plaintiffs or aggrieved persons, certain criminal cases do have broader impact on the social justice front. Although not specifically social justice lawsuits, these types of criminal cases bear mentioning here. The reality is that in some instances, certain criminal cases with a broader societal reach beyond the prosecution of a specific defendant lead to not only community movements but actual social justice lawsuits.
The prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted in the death of George Floyd, appears to be precisely this type of criminal case. What now legally can be classified as the murder of George Floyd has not only spawned intense societal response on the community level but has also resulted in the movement of legislation on the national, state, and local level. As happens when new legislation is enacted, including on issues involving social justice like criminal justice or police reform, lawsuits will follow in the wake. Oftentimes these lawsuits result in significant societal change in the process of affirming laws and ordinances that arise as the result of particular criminal prosecutions.
How Social Justice Lawsuits can be Transformative
In summary, social justice lawsuits have a true ability to be transformative. The impact this type of litigation had on the Civil Rights Movement already has been noted.
More recently in the United States, social justice lawsuits have also been integral in advancing the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community. From same-sex marriage to protecting the employment-related rights of transgender individuals, lawsuits have been at the heart of advancements.
With the focus on the criminal justice system today, including racial disparity within that system, social justice lawsuits are expected to become more commonplace. As noted previously, social justice litigation is likely to arise from criminal prosecutions.
The judicial system has long been a part of the process of making societal change. This role of courts in the United States is expected to continue apace into the 21st century.