THE SUING OF AMERICA: Why and How We Take Each Other to Court by Marlene Adler Marks

THE SUING OF AMERICA: Why and How We Take Each Other to Court

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The ""why,"" largely, of America's ""obsession with suing."" While money remains the chief motivation for most garden-variety litigation, we go to court increasingly for other, more subtle reasons, Marks points out: to register a protest, to act out our grief, to press for politico-social change, to vindicate our names, to harass our enemies, or simply because no one else will listen. Winning isn't everything in these lawsuits, especially the pure protest cases (e.g., the taxpayers' suits against Nixon and Haldeman to recoup the profits of their memoirs for the public treasury), where the plaintiff's principal aim is often simply to say his piece. Marks sees grief-motivated litigants as driven by the ""why me"" syndrome--the lawsuit functions as a way of holding on to the past, and the survivor engages in an obsessive search for a ""guilty"" party, thus postponing acceptance of the tragic event. The ""cause"" lawsuit (aimed at forcing political or social change), on the other hand, makes participants feel good and ""elevates the litigation process to a level of wholesomeness."" But all too often (as in the Wilderness Society's suit against construction of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline) only a paper victory results, since monitoring compliance with the court's orders is prohibitively expensive for public-interest litigants. At times, plaintiffs' motivations defy categorization: where, Marks asks, does vindication end and harassment begin in a case like Pillsbury's ongoing action against Screw for pictorial representation of the Doughboy engaged in unseemly acts? And even a seemingly classic vindication suit--like that of the students wounded in the Kent State incident--may result in an adverse verdict. In one way or another, the process itself can become the punishment. If we go to court expecting perfect justice and are disappointed, Marks concludes, ""the fault is with us, with the dreams we bring to court, the ill-fitting ways we insist upon using a manmade system."" Shallow wading in the depths of law, psychology, and sociology, but lively and unpretentious. For the lay reader, a clear choice over Lieberman (above).

Pub Date: March 30th, 1981
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row