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Ubi Jus, Ibi Remedium: The Fundamental Right to a Remedy

Tracy A. Thomas, 1877

Abstract

This essay is part of a symposium comprised of international remedies scholars addressing the topic of equitable relief in the fifty years since Brown v. Board of Education. It may be true as other scholars have argued that since the time of Brown, institutional defendants have won at the expense of plaintiffs. Defendants have learned that delay and defiance work. The U.S. Supreme Court has adopted a standard for ordering equitable relief that significantly defers to defendant wrongdoers at the plaintiffs' expense. Epithets of "activist courts" and "judicial legislation" have colored the existing scholarship and portrayed remedial action as illegitimate and excessive judicial power. And the recent barrage of school funding cases demonstrates the same resistance to court-ordered conduct as seen in Brown.

This essay attempts to swing the pendulum in the other direction by suggesting that remedial action like that of Brown and its progeny is not only acceptable, but indeed, required judicial action. It argues that a remedy is more than a legal maxim. Rather, this essay argues that the right to a meaningful remedy is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Stated simply: Ubi jus, ibi remedium. Where there's a right, there must be a remedy.

The article traces the history of the remedy as a fundamental concept of our ordered liberty from Blackstone to the Federalists to Marbury v. Madison. It argues not only that the right to a remedy has been recognized historically as a fundamental right, but that it should appropriately be considered a fundamental interest under the law. Remedies perform two critical functions in the law: they define abstract rights and enforce otherwise intangible rights. Rights standing alone are simply expressions of social values. It is the remedy that defines the right by making the value real and tangible by providing specificity and concreteness to otherwise abstract guarantees. Relying upon U.S. Supreme Court precedent in cases involving punitive damages and tax remedies, the essay argues that the Court has implicitly recognized the minimum right to a meaningful remedy.

Suggested Citation

Tracy A. Thomas, Ubi Jus, Ibi Remedium: The Fundamental Right to a Remedy, 41 San Diego Law Review 1633 (2004).