In battling the federal monolith, the lower courts may be our only recourse

Anita Brody’s résumé is impressive but not unusual: Wellesley College, Columbia Law School, deputy assistant attorney general in New York, Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia.

In 1991 President George H. W. Bush nominated Ms. Brody to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 2, 1992.

Had it not been for the NFL, Ms. Brody, now 82, would have lived out her term in relative obscurity; but when a group of former pro football players borrowed money at exorbitant interest rates against what they anticipated would be their NFL concussion settlements, the judge rendered her decision: she voided all contracts with lenders who were supposed to be repaid when the players received cash awards for their severe neurological and cognitive problems.

The ruling made sense to her: players suffering cognitive problems to begin with could not be expected to grasp all the ramifications of the lending agreement. (Some of the interest rates approached 50%.) Thousands of former players are involved in this suit, though not all of them needed to borrow money to pursue the case.

The decision marks a rare victory for the “little guy.” (Yes these were big NFL little guys, but the term still obtains.)

From the moment Trump’s first travel ban was overturned by a lower court, we’ve come to learn that our salvation in this era of a Washington monolith and its bullying authority may rest exclusively with lower courts, with local government, and with each other’s sense of fairness. Now states are obeying the Paris Agreement and cities are sheltering immigrants. It may be a while before we can vote the real scoundrels out of the nation’s capital, but we can always fight them at some level.

As with every story, feel-good or not, there’s more to this—some players are still wading through forests of red tape—but Judge Brody’s decision provides at least a scintilla of hope in an often hopeless time.

 

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