HLS students Shakeer Rahman and Sam Barr explain how law’s individualist focus prevents it from tackling systemic injustices:
The Supreme Court overturned this order by one vote. The court explained that Mr. Lyons would have needed to prove that he personally was likely to be choked again in order for his lawsuit to be a vehicle for systemic reform. Without that, he could win compensation only for past injuries.
This is the legal standard when a plaintiff asks a federal court for an injunction — or a forward-looking legal order — in order to stop illegal practices that could harm him in the future. It makes some sense in the abstract: If someone can’t show he will be harmed in the future, why should a court try to prevent the harm? But even though Mr. Lyons couldn’t prove that the L.A.P.D. would choke him again, he could be confident that the police would eventually choke someone else. When the stakes are this deadly, federal courts should step in.