Put simply, impact litigation involves filing or participating in lawsuits that are intended to change laws or policies, and which will impact the lives of many people. Usually, lawsuits are intended to deal with a particular instance of wrongdoing or harm, and how it affects a specific person or entity. In these cases, the parties directly involved in the lawsuit are the only ones likely to be affected by the outcome. Impact litigation, on the other hand, is designed to address laws or behavior that harm many people, and prevent more people from being harmed in the future by forcing the policies or actions in question to be changed.
Impact litigation, also known as strategic litigation, relies on claims that the law itself is flawed. Class-action cases are common in impact litigation, but not required. If a plaintiff or defendant can successfully show through litigation that a law or policy is unjust, then the judge’s ruling may cause a change in how the law is interpreted or applied, especially for cases at the federal level.
In other circumstances, the litigation may not result in a change to policy on its own but can result in public awareness and campaigning, which in turn motivates politicians or legislators to change the law. This approach often requires additional policy work and efforts on behalf of attorneys and advocates outside of the courtroom.
One prominent example of this style of litigation can be seen in the case Brown v. Board of Education. This 1954 case dealt with racial segregation in public schools and challenged the previous precedent that “separate but equal” facilities were acceptable. The Browns, along with twelve other families, filed a class-action suit that eventually landed before the Supreme Court, where judges ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. While the case involved just thirteen families from Kansas, the result was the integration of public schools across the country, improving educational opportunities for thousands of children and creating an important victory in the civil rights movement.
In recent years, immigration policy has received increased attention from politicians and media outlets, with the unfortunate result being hasty reforms and ill-conceived policies that often further complicate the issue. The pace of change has made it difficult to address immigration reform through traditional means and left many families wondering where to turn for help.
Through impact litigation, immigration lawyers can present evidence to the courts that a particular policy is causing undue harm to many people, not just a few isolated individuals, convincing government officials to make changes to that policy.
Foreign nationals wishing to enter the U.S. legally have little or no ability to petition for fair policies and must rely on legal advocates in the U.S. to show the courts how these regulations affect them. Impact litigation gives immigration attorneys the ability to speak out on behalf of large groups of people who might otherwise lack the means to have their cases heard.
At IMMpact Litigation, we focus on immigration cases at the circuit court and federal level that have the potential to result in wider policy change on behalf of all immigrants. Visit our notable cases page to read about our past successes. And to learn more about our current cases, including how you can join as a named plaintiff, please visit our mass litigation onboarding page.