In an effort to take advantage of a Republican-controlled Congress and a country divided and distracted, big business interests are once again pushing for tort reform legislation to increase profits and increase federal regulation (but not of their own industries), and in so doing, strip away the Seventh Amendment rights of many victims. In a Valentine’s Day sweetheart deal, the House Judiciary Committee quietly pushed through an anti-civil rights bill, with no debate and no public comment, just before leaving Washington, D.C. for a week at home. Despite its name, the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act” (H.R. 985) is “fair” only to big business—those donors that paid for access to Congress—but that story is not likely to make its way into public discourse. Following this sweetheart deal, five more big business-funded bills designed to strip Americans of access to the courts have slipped through the cracks of a chaotic Congressional session. Collectively, these bills will allow dangerous products to remain on the market and will allow access to the courts to only the wealthiest of Americans. In pursuing these anti-civil justice bills, Republicans have conveniently abandoned their long-held values. These bills increase government regulation and eliminate states’ rights in favor of benefiting Republicans’ largest political donors—big business. Anti-civil justice bills, like the current crop being quickly pushed through Congress, are not new; they are part of the classic myth of “tort reform.”
Tort Reform is Anti-Democracy: It Robs the Power of the People
Tort lawsuits benefit more than just the injured party. These lawsuits hold wrongdoers accountable in ways that prevent future violations. They also force disclosure of information vital to protecting public health and safety. The courts are an independent branch of government constitutionally entrusted with the fair and just resolution of disputes in order to preserve the rule of law and to protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States. It is the only branch of our government designed to be unaffected by politics. “Tort reform” is a fiction created by corporate-funded lobbyists as a solution to a non-existent problem. Tort reform takes courtroom control away from local judges and juries and hands this control over to politicians who have been fed a spun narrative. Tort reform creates the problem – taking away rights in the interest of politics. The “tort reform” myth paints a picture of a courthouse on fire using terms that have been focus-grouped and studied by lobbyists paid for by corporations. Terms such as “runaway jury,” “frivolous lawsuits,” “tort reform,” and “judicial hellholes” are nothing more than ingeniously marketed talking points created to evoke anger and imagery for a problem that does not exist. The would-be hero in this tort-reform myth is the mighty politician, brave enough to rush into a courthouse on fire with hoses to save the helpless victims. The truth is lost in the made-up smoke. The “victims” in this farce are big business and industry, and the “heroes” are fueled by their funds. Sadly, the reality is that tort reform suffocates the judiciary, benefits the bad-actors, and robs the real victims of any chance at justice.
These Heroes are Hypocrites
Republicans who value states’ rights and decreased federal regulation are big supporters of tort “reform,” which goes against the values that Republicans have long held. Perhaps this should be a red flag that maybe these heroes have suspicious motives. Sadly, this is where we are forced to get into the politics behind the tort reform myth. Industries such as pharmaceuticals, insurance, oil, gas, and telecommunications are tops on the list of donors to Republicans. On the other side, Democrats are largely supported by trial lawyers. A look at the truth behind the myth of “tort reform” requires us to peel away the political players – industry, and lawyers. The sympathetic character in this narrative is the American citizen who believes the talking points, spun by either side and ultimately votes to limit his or her own rights. Here is the truth: tort reform legislation has no purpose other than to limit the ability of the citizens to exercise their Seventh Amendment rights. The only characters in the “tort reform” narrative that benefit are big business and the corporate lobbyists and politicians who receive their money.
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