The Power of Insults
70 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2020 Last revised: 12 Feb 2020
Date Written: February 11, 2020
Insults work on both a structural level and a personal level. This Article argues that the economic and political power elite has effectively hurled insults at civil rights activists, plaintiffs, and their lawyers to undermine civil rights reform. It has long been understood that the civil rights community must engage in cultural, political, and legal work to attain effective reforms. But insufficient attention has been paid to how the power elite uses the cultural tool of insults to undermine these reforms.
Limitations on effective civil rights reform range from constraints on the private attorney general model of enforcement to the ban on the Legal Services Corporation’s use of class action lawsuits. Insults have played an important and previously unrecognized role in the creation of these limitations. After discussing the undertheorized phenomenon of the power of public insults, this Article presents a case study of defense pleadings filed in accessibility cases brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These pleadings reflect how defendants can use insults as part of their litigation strategy to make it difficult for plaintiffs to attain effective relief under a statute designed to create structural reform.
Rather than worrying about whether civil rights activists should go high when the power elite goes low, this Article argues that it is crucial that civil rights statutes be constructed with a stronger foundation. Then, plaintiffs will be better able to withstand the barrage of insults they typically encounter when seeking effective relief. Straw houses are too easy to blow down.
Keywords: disability, civil rights, social change
JEL Classification: K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation