Sunday, February 06, 2005

Screwing with Class Action Suits

From Kos:
Senate Threatening to Demolish Consumers' Right to Recover for Injuries
by DavidNYC
Sun Feb 6th, 2005 at 12:43:51 PST

In a little-noticed move this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted, by a 13-5 margin, to approve the purposefully mis-named "Class Action Fairness Act" (PDF). (Three Democrats joined all ten Republicans.) What does this bill do, and why is it so harmful?

The CAFA requires that most class-action lawsuits be brought in federal, rather than state, court. On first blush, this might sound like a good idea: If you've got a truly national case with lots of plaintiffs from around the country, then your intuition might tell you the suit should proceed in federal court. And that's precisely what the bill's sponsors want you to believe.

The problem is this: The federal courts are already over-burdened and under-funded. This bill would force cases from fifty different state systems - which can better share the burden - into one jammed-up federal system. The delays for class actions would be enormous - long enough, quite probably, to serve as a deterrent to bringing worthy claims.

And in this cynical political environment we live in, that's exactly what CAFA's supporters are hoping for. Unsurprisingly, CAFA's backers include big companies like Ford and Intel, and, of course, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This bill, in short, is designed to protect negligent companies and soak ordinary Americans.

Among the oppponents, you'll be pleased to know, are the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club. Unfortunately, too few Senators are prepared to vote against CAFA. Back in the fall of 2003, this bill failed to pass by just a single vote (60 were required). This time around, Dick Durbin apparently thinks there isn't enough mojo to successfully filibuster, so instead we're going to try to attach a bunch of amendments.

Ordinarily, I'd be encouraging everyone to contact their Senators to vote against the bill, but that seems futile, given Durbin's stated strategy. It seems the better tactic is to encourage our Senators to vote for whichever amendments the Democrats put forward - but we won't know more about those until next week.

The wobbliest Dems are Schumer (NY), Feinstein (CA) and Kohl (WI), all of whom voted for CAFA in this week's committee vote. Other Democrats who voted for the bill two years ago include Bayh (IN), Carper (DE), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR) & Nelson (NE). Jeffords (VT) was also in this group. (I don't know where Salazar (CO) or Obama (IL) stand, so you may want to ask them.) We will need to politely keep up pressure on this group to make sure they're good team players when Durbin hits the floor with his amendments.

P.S. Richard Shelby of Alabama was the lone Republican to vote against CAFA last time it came up. He might be amenable to playing ball with us.
This is one of those issues where we can make a difference now. We can write to our Congresscritters, and tell them how we want them to vote. We may have to remind the aforementioned Congresscritters that they work for us, not the other way around. We may also need to remind them that, if they continue to ignore us, they may wind up unemployed. And your average Congresscritter, faced with the possibility of having to actually work for a living like the rest of us, would rather die than lose those gummint perks.

Get your friends and relations... hell, get anybody you can... and let the critters know who their bosses are. Hint: it ain't the K Street lobbyists. At least, it shouldn't be.

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