July 20, 2010
Yesterday, I received a direct mail piece on behalf of an outstanding
and vital organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC,
based in Montgomery, Alabama, is a legendary civil rights
organization, renowned for fighting hate groups and dismantling them,
i.e. bankrupting them, with large civil jury verdicts. We can't
imagine a more important function for the civil jury system than
crippling hate groups.
SPLC is also well known for very effective direct mail fundraising,
and this letter looked pretty interesting so I opened it.
Why so interesting? Well, right there on the envelope it said in
large letters "George McGovern, Missoula, Montana." Sure enough,
SPLC had gotten George McGovern to sign its direct mail piece,
touting the group's monumental verdicts that have "crippled or
bankrupted a dozen hate groups" like the "$7 million verdict against
the United Klans," and the "$2.5 million verdict against the leaders
of the Imperial Klans of America." And now, I was really confused.
For those who are younger than, say, 50, you may not remember George
McGovern, the former Senator from South Dakota who was the anti-war
Democratic presidential candidate running against Richard Nixon in
1972. Still outspoken against the Iraq war and a strong advocate for
addressing child hunger and poverty, George McGovern is what you
might call a progressive's progressive.
Sounds like a perfect match for the SPLC. Except for one little
thing. George McGovern has allowed himself to be used by one of the
most anti-lawyer, anti-civil jury organizations in the nation, called
Common Good. In fact, he's on its Advisory Board. This group's
founder and intellectual leader - a corporate lawyer name Philip K.
Howard (see his writings all over their site) has made a career of
attacking laws, regulations, lawyers and lawsuits. His most recent
book, Life Without Lawyers, says it all. As ThePopTort's Andy
Hoffman wrote in his review of this book:
In schoolyard terms, according to Howard, Americans have become a
bunch of rule-following wusses, more concerned with staying out of
trouble than "doing what's right." The antidote? Tearing off the
shackles of wussiness by doing away with rules, regulations, and most
importantly, those pesky plaintiffs' attorneys who might be inclined
to enforce them.
Workplace discrimination lawsuits should be prohibited, says Howard,
unless the employer discriminated against minorities as a group, not
just against an individual. That's because in Howard's world,
allowing single plaintiff suits might result in a "chilled" work
environment that would stifle "open interaction" between the races.
Apparently, for Howard, it isn't racism, but lawsuits that create
society's obstacles to "real integration."
Do not ask me why George McGovern is on the Board of this group,
membership of which he shares with Newt Gingrich. I suspect he
probably has no honest idea either. But don't think Common Good and
Phil Howard do not exploit his name at every opportunity.
If George McGovern isn't aware of this conflict, I'm hoping someone
at the SPLC is. Linking oneself to a group that has contempt for
plaintiffs' attorneys and thinks juries are too dumb to handle cases
cannot be helpful.