Our lawless President and his Congressional cohorts are pushing
legislation that would significantly erode Americans' last defense
against corporate crimes and frauds; the civil justice system. With a
bill scheduled to reach the Senate floor next week, our freedom to
redress harms in courts of law is in danger. S. 5, a proxy for last
year's misnamed "Class Action Fairness Act," emerged from the Senate
Judiciary Committee this week with little discussion and no public
hearings. No public hearings! It will be rushed to the Senate floor next
week, as befits this increasingly dictatorial Congress.
While the class action remedy has successfully provided many of those
harmed by negligent actions an efficient means of redress for wrongful
injuries and violations of civil and consumer rights since the 1960s, S.
5 would send most class actions to procedural purgatory. It would shift
class action suits -- where any member of the class is from a different
state than the defendant -- from state court to federal court. This coup
encompasses class actions of any significance, according to respected
legal scholar and Harvard professor Arthur Miller.
Before enacting such legislation, the burden of proof is on the Congress
to demonstrate that state judges and jurors are unwilling, incompetent
or unable to dispense justice based on the common law and state
statutes. If proponents of this legislation were to talk to their home
state judges, they would not support this federal usurpation of state
judicial responsibilities. S. 5's backers also ignore the dire warnings
of federal judges who are already presiding over congested courts and
who admit that this bill will result in most cases being summarily
dismissed on procedural grounds as being "unmanageable."
On what basis could such a fundamental right be taken from us?
In his State of the Union address this week, President Bush said that,
"our economy is held back by irresponsible class-actions and frivolous
asbestos claims." The President is ignorant. He provides no data for his
repeated corporate bellowing.
There simply is no causal link between taking judicial rights away from
Americans and making our economy stronger or more competitive. Just the
opposite. Justice enhances economic development and worker productivity.
Many countries overseas do not have these judicial rights and their GDP
per capita shows it. The "tort costs" that proponents of judicial
limitations often cite are actually costs of the entire tort-insurance
system in America. This includes costs that have absolutely nothing to
do with lawsuits.
This bill will take away crucial consumer safeguards and allow
businesses to avoid corporate responsibility to innocent workers,
consumers, patients and community residents. But that's the point: this
bill is not designed to make America more competitive, its manifest
purpose is to erase the accountability that limits deadly harms from the
likes of Vioxx, flammable children's pajamas, or asbestos.
The President's callous remark about "frivolous asbestos claims" in his
speech speaks volumes for the monetized backers of this bill. Those who
struggle to breathe because of exposure to asbestos have suffered real
and lasting harm, if they survived.
When it comes to protecting his business cronies, notice how President
Bush dramatically deviates from his usual "freedom for all" rhetoric. He
is essentially telling the American people that there is a finite amount
of freedom and liberty left in America; and he's taking away our
individual freedoms and replacing them with the corporate license to
avoid responsibility and repeat their reckless ways into the future.
Make no mistake, the Bush administration is asking that we give up our
freedom to fully use the courts. And while the Republican Party
routinely calls for personal responsibility on the part of the people,
it seems to have little interest in corporate responsibility. Corporate
interests have wrested control of the legislature from an under-engaged
populace. This bill is an archetype of Washington's unchecked
The civil justice system is a noble pillar of our democracy. It needs to
be improved, not weakened to favor further criminality, negligence and
irresponsibility. The media reporting of hazardous drugs, defective
medical, automotive and other equipment, unsafe medical and hospital
practices, toxics in the environment and workplace, the fleecing of
investors, and the manipulation of energy and electricity markets should
serve as a reminder that prevention of human casualties, suffering and
economic loss should be the top concern of Congress, not the incremental
closing of the courtroom doors to favor corporate donors.
For years, when constituents could not count on their elected officials
to protect their interests through protective legislation, the courts
have offered a last refuge for justice. Members of Congress should do
the right thing and reject this weakening of contemporary civil justice
freedoms accorded wrongfully injured and defrauded men, women and
children. You should demand no less when you contact your Senators
before next week's vote.
Call (202) 224 - 3121 to speak with your Senator's office.
For more information, visit http://www.citizen.org and http://www.centerjd.org