Founded in 1982 at the urging of Ralph Nader, Public Justice (PJ), formerly known as Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), is a self-described “public interest law firm” composed of more than 3,500 attorneys, consumer advocates, environmental attorneys, civil rights lawyers, and constitutional litigators. With offices in Washington, D.C. and Oakland, California, PJ is the principal project of the Public Justice Foundation, a 501(c)(3) national nonprofit “activist organization of the nation’s top lawyers, dedicated to advancing the cause of social justice.” In PJ’s calculus, social justice can best be achieved via increased government intervention and “creative litigation” against American businesses — a practice founded on the premise that corporations, like the capitalist system of which they are a part, are inherently inclined toward corruption and malfeasance.
Issues of primary concern to Public Justice include:
Advancing Consumers’ Rights: PJ files lawsuits aimed at “holding unscrupulous businesses and manufactures of unsafe products accountable nationwide.”
Preserving the Environment: PJ regularly litigates against American companies it believes are polluting the environment. The organization’s Environmental Enforcement Project has filed Clean Water Act citizen suits in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico, alleging that the water in those places is contaminated.
In another case, New York City v. Lead Industries Association, PJ sought “reimbursement from the lead industry for the cost of removing lead paint from the city’s public housing.”
And in July 1998, PJ (then known as TLPJ) filed a lawsuit on behalf of ten West Virginia citizens and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy to stop coal mining companies from dumping the by-products of their “mountaintop removal mining” into the valleys and streams below.
Preventing Toxic Injuries: Says PJ, “In four separate U.S. Supreme Court cases, we helped preserve the rights of asbestos victims and of Vietnam veterans fatally exposed to Agent Orange.”
Defending Workers’ Rights: PJ routinely accuses businesses of unsafe workplace conditions.
Safeguarding the Civil Justice System: Having established a program to counter “corporate efforts to use mandatory arbitration to eliminate access to the courts,” PJ opposes “unconstitutiona[l] attempts to cap the defendants’ liability by preventing class members from opting their punitive damages claims out of the class action settlement.”
American businesses, manufacturers, and insurance companies regularly face frivolous lawsuits and liability claims filed by trial lawyers. According to Forbes magazine, the current civil justice system costs the U.S. economy $200 billion per year due to flaws in the tort system. Tort reform measures (aimed at limiting litigation and damage awards) have been proposed by members of Congress, but PJ has been a chief opponent of such reform.
Upholding Civil Rights and Liberties: In the case of Maxey v. Alcoa, PJ “helped win a ground-breaking settlement for African-American and Hispanic hourly employees shut out of skilled trade apprentice opportunities because of discrimination resulting from the company’s misuse of standardized tests.” In short, PJ argued that the tests themselves — because they resulted in a “disparate impact” where white applicants were hired at rates higher than those of their black and Hispanic counterparts — were discriminatory.
Public Justice similarly joined an amici brief by the National Employment Lawyers Association urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that “employers are liable for disparate impact discrimination on the basis of age under the [Age Discrimination in Employment Act], just as they are liable for disparate impact discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” PJ’s contention was that if job standards or employment tests resulted in a workforce that was unbalanced according to any of the foregoing demographics, that imbalance was prima facie evidence of discrimination.
Reasoning from the same premise, TLPJ was co-counsel with the ACLU Fund of Michigan, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the NAACP-Michigan State Conference in a federal class action lawsuit charging that “the state’s reliance on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test as the sole criterion for awarding scholarships discriminates against racial and ethnic minorities, as well as economically disadvantaged students.”
In 2000 Public Justice sued the city of Seattle for the “wrongful arrest” claims of 155 protesters who had been taken into custody during the December 1999 anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests that escalated into riots. The plaintiffs charged that “the City [had] violated their right to be free from unreasonable seizures when it herded, trapped, and arrested them on December 1, 1999, without giving them a meaningful opportunity to disperse.” PJ also represented “a putative class of approximately 500 peaceful protesters who [had been] arrested within the boundaries of the ‘no-protest zone,’” an area designated as such to help police officers in their effort to maintain some semblance of control over the 50,000 demonstrators. According to PJ and the plaintiffs, the “no-protest zone” policy violated their First Amendment rights.
In March of 2004, PJ and the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amici brief in support of “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla in the case of Padilla v. Rumsfeld. This brief argued that Padilla, who was known to have collaborated with high-level al Qaeda officials, was entitled to the same constitutional rights as other U.S. citizens and thus could not be taken into custody and detained indefinitely.
PJ also filed an amici brief in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, voicing support for the rights of Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen who had joined with the Taliban and al Qaeda in fighting against U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
In the Rasul v. Bush case that same year, PJ filed a brief in support of British-born Shafiq Rasul, a hard-core terrorist who had been captured by Coalition forces in Afghanistan while he fought for the Taliban. PJ argued, successfully, that because Rasul’s capture and initial interrogation data had not been properly logged by his captors, he should be released back to UK custody.
Arthur H. Bryant has been the Executive Director of TLPJ/PJ since 1987. He previously worked as an associate for the Philadelphia law firm of Kohn, Savett, Marion & Graf, where he handled First Amendment, civil rights, and civil litigation.
Notable current Board members of PJ include: (a) Joan Claybrook, who is President of Public Citizen and a Board member of the American Association for Justice; and (b) Lewis “Mike” Eidson, who also serves as President of the American Association for Justice.
The President of the PJ Foundation is Alan R. Brayton, a personal injury lawyer who specializes in asbestos-related litigation. Also a member of the American Association for Justice, Brayton was formerly Chairman of the Plaintiffs’ Involvement Task Force.
The Public Justice Foundation has received grants from the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation, the Fairfield County Community Foundation, and the Pittsburgh Foundation. Its net assets as of 2004 were $3,428,910.