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Interest-Group Litigation Strategies: Ways to Influence Policy

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  • 0:02 Interest Groups
  • 1:14 Litigation
  • 2:44 Amicus Curiae
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Interest groups achieve their goals through a number of different ways. One strategy uses litigation in order to influence policy. This lesson explains the use of litigation by interest groups.

Interest Groups

What do organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Medical Association, and the National Rifle Association have in common? These are all interest groups. An interest group is an organization that pursues the interests of its members or interests related to a particular cause. Interest groups achieve their goals through many different ways, such as:

  • Lobbying
  • Incentives to lawmakers
  • Economic power
  • Protests
  • Publicity
  • Lawsuits

Often, interest groups pursue their causes by attempting to influence legislation that's favorable to the interest group's cause. For example, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (or PETA) lobbies Congress for stricter laws regarding the management of animals in hopes of securing better lives for animals. However, interest groups often use tactics other than lobbying. Let's take a look at how interest groups also use the federal court system to pursue their causes.

Litigation

Interest groups often turn to litigation, or the process of bringing a lawsuit, to pursue their causes. This is known as strategic litigation because it's calculated to further a particular cause. Simply put, interest groups use strategic litigation to sue groups they oppose. For example, consider the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (or NAACP). Throughout our country's civil rights era, the NAACP was well-known for initiating and supporting lawsuits against segregated school systems as a part of its overall fight for racial equality. The most prominent of these cases is Brown v. Board of Education from 1954.

This famous United States Supreme Court case was actually a combination of five separate cases, all handled by the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund. The cases challenged the constitutionality of state-sponsored segregation in public schools. The NAACP successfully argued that separate school systems for blacks and whites were naturally unequal. The Supreme Court, therefore, found that segregated school systems violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Amicus Curiae

The NAACP provided the lawyers and legal resources for the Brown cases. This is just one way an interest group can participate in litigation. An interest group can also be a plaintiff in a lawsuit if that group has standing. This means the group must show that it has enough connection to the case to support its participation as a party to the case.

Otherwise, an interest group may file an amicus curiae brief. Amicus curiae is a Latin term meaning 'friend of the court.' A person or group who is not a party to a lawsuit can file an amicus brief in support of a party to the lawsuit. These briefs allow interest groups to influence the court's decision by providing additional arguments and research.

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