Monday, February 14, 2005

Okay, one bit of commentary

Cashing in a few of the IOUs it has handed out to both conservatives and some so-called liberal Democrats over the years, corporate America has take a big step toward achieving one of its long-sought aims: As noted by the New York Times on Friday,
the Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure on Thursday that would sharply limit the ability of people to file class-action lawsuits against companies.

The measure, adopted 72 to 26, now heads to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders say it will be approved next week and sent to the White House for Mr. Bush's signature.
The bill prohibits state courts from considering cases involving claims of more than $5 million and which include a member of the class who lives in a state other than the defendant. Those cases would go to federal courts, already overburdened and constrained by precedents from hearing claims involving varying laws of different states. In short, the idea of the bill is to effectively put an end to class-action suits that look to hold corporations accountable for their destructive, sometimes deadly, behavior. While not banning such suits outright - oh, no, they would never deny any good Americans their day in court, perish the thought! - what Big Business wants to do is avoid facing one large group of litigants who can combine resources, breaking them up into smaller, more easily dominated groups who can be overwhelmed by the soul-draining power of tax-deductible legal expenses the profit-swilling miscreants can pour into a case.

Legal observers are already talking about how federal courts might look to find ways around those restrictive precedents now that they know the plaintiffs have nowhere else to do. Personally, when I first heard of the bill's passage, I wondered how long it would be before some federal district judge said that the precedents were no longer binding because Congress obviously would not pass a law throwing these cases into federal court unless obviously it wanted those courts to be able to hear them. Obviously.

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