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NYT Supports Nadler Legislation to Restore Court Access

The New York Times’ editorial board weighs in today in favor of Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s (D-N.Y.) proposed legislation to effectively overturn two recent Supreme Court cases that significantly narrowed the ability of many victims to have their day in court.

Congress has held two hearings already on the cases of Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, which introduced a new “credibility” requirement in pleading standards that civil rights advocates and some Democratic lawmakers complain leaves the fate of discrimination victims to the prejudices of a particular judge assigned to the case. Now, instead of simply having to state clearly what the claims are, plaintiffs have to convince the judge that those claims are credible at the outset, before even having had an opportunity to collect evidence to support them.

While that pleases some conservatives who view most civil rights lawsuits with skepticism, civil rights experts say it rewards employers and others who discriminate but have learned to cover their tracks.

As the Times puts it today: “The practical impact in, say, an employment discrimination case is to disadvantage the wronged employee, who is unlikely to have access at the outset to the records needed to prove wrongful conduct.”

The Times cites John Payton, president of the NAACP legal defense fund, who recently testified that some of the landmark cases of the civil rights era might never have survived the Supreme Court’s new standard. In his written testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, Payton cites specific examples of potentially meritorious cases that didn’t survive the new standard because the plaintiffs couldn’t convince a skeptical judge that employment, voting or housing discrimination is “credible.”

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former U.S. Attorney, put it at that Senate hearing, “In my experience, misconduct is inherently implausible” because we generally expect people to act decently, fairly and lawfully.

Nadler’s legislation acknowledges the fact that sometimes, they don’t live up to that standard.

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