Re: POLITICS: Class-Action Suits
Sat, 25 Sep 1999 19:17:43 EDT

In a message dated 99-09-24 12:25:26 EDT, (Robert J. Bradbury) wrote:

> For those of you who read the NY Times or want to subscribe
> to it in electronic form, you may want to look at:
> "House Approves Bill That Would Make Class-Action Suits Harder
> to Win"
> It is a general effort to move class action law suits from state
> courts into federal courts. The article comments on efforts
> (and contributions by) companies involved in tobacco, guns
> and health care to push this legislation forward.
> Quotes:
> "This represents a sealed, locked, closed and forever impenetrable door
> to justice," said Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, Democrat of
> Other opponents called the bill a form of "backdoor immunity" for
> tobacco
> companies and gun makers.
> "Opponents of the legislation said it was outrageous for a Congress
> had left so many Federal judgeships vacant, by failing to confirm
> House's nominees, to be broadly expanding the caseload of an already
> overworked Federal judiciary."
> { the rationale being that moving cases from the state courts to the
> federal courts would result in their being delayed or simply
> out. }
> The bill was gnerally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.

While I rarely find myself on the same side of a political issue as my own congressperson (Jackson-Lee, quoted above), and I haven't looked at this bill that closely, I've become generally against increasing restrictions on private civil actions such as the one proposed.

I was a strong proponent of the general "tort reform" movement throughout the 1990s, because from the 60s through the 80s leftist state legislatures and states with elected judiciaries had basically allowed tort law to turn into an anti-enterprise lottery run by a small handful of plaintiffs' lawyers. But (with a few notable exceptions - DON'T try to do business in Mississippi or Alabama or South Texas), tort reform legislation and media campaigns have basically cleaned up the tort system. Now, the momentum of tort reform is being used by a relatively small number of large corporations (my usual clientele, I might add) to undermine the traditional private law enforcement function of the tort common law.

Honest and ethical plaintiffs' lawyers - when necessary using the mechanism of class actions - serve a valuable function in a free society: They police the behavior of large institutions (including large businesses) with that most powerful and reliable of incentives, the profit motive. Businesses that run to the legislature for protection from the tort system every time the going gets hot at the courthouse are doing no one a favor, because by doing so, they erode a basic liberty upon which liberal society is premised: The freedom to sue the bastards!

Greg Burch     <>----<>
      Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
                          "Civilization is protest against nature;
                   progress requires us to take control of evolution."
                                            Thomas Huxley