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This week CSE hosted our second, Liberty Summit, in Washington, D.C. Volunteer citizen activists from 9 states took time out of their schedules to come to the nation’s capital and talk with their Senators about the need to end lawsuit abuse. Unlike union members who come to Washington lobby days, our activists were not paid to be here. They came because they believe in freedom and accept the burdens and responsibilities of defending it.
Lawsuit abuse represents a real threat to freedom and liberty. A functioning judiciary that has the trust and confidence of the people is a vital component of a democratic society that protects individual rights. People must view the courts as fair, impartial, predictable, and timely. Abuses by trial lawyers combined with the Left’s attempt to use the courts to make laws where they cannot muster a legislative majority have slowly and steadily eroded confidence in our judiciary.
Today I see three main threats to our judiciary:
Each represents a piece of a comprehensive strategy by the Left to use the judiciary to expand the reach of government. Complete adherence to the trail lawyers’ agenda has provided the Left’s political operations with millions of dollars in contributions. Those dollars are used to influence elected officials on the Left and block efforts to stop jackpot justice. Elected officials then team up with trial lawyers to sue legitimate businesses. Trial lawyers get multi-million (or multi-billion) paydays, and the Left, when successful, enjoys court-ordered tax increases, new spending programs, or broad new regulatory powers. Avoiding judges who do not believe in legislating from the bench is critical to making their strategy work. Therefore, the Left, led by Sen. Daschle (D-S.D.), quite brazenly has created a vacancy crisis on the federal bench by burying or outright rejecting President Bush’s judicial nominees.
Let me cite a few specific examples. State Attorneys General teamed up with trial lawyers to sue tobacco companies. Tobacco executives are not very popular and easy to target, so the Left pounced. They forced a settlement that literally gave trial lawyers billions of dollars as their share of the hundreds of billions that went to state governments. Trial lawyers in turn contributed heavily to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates.
The government’s new found money from the settlement was supposed to go to efforts to stop youth smoking. Instead, it went to fund new government programs that have nothing to do with youth smoking or public health – like bike paths and sidewalks.
The thought of billions of new tax dollars -- which come not from tobacco executives, but from taxpayers who pay higher prices for cigarettes --was too tempting for Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. So they initiated a lawsuit, hoping a federal judge would essentially write legislation generating new taxes to fund new government spending programs. The Bush administration needs to shut down this suit, if for no other reason than it is a dangerous use of federal courts.
In another instance, trial lawyers and nine state attorneys general have teamed up to try and force a settlement – and a new cause of action for class action suits – on Microsoft. A highly innovative and successful company, Microsoft has spent five years fighting off a government antitrust lawsuit brought by its competitors nderduring the Clinton administration. They want you to believe it would be better if a judge or federal regulators rather than innovative entrepreneurs in the marketplace determined the look,feel, and content of new software programs.
While the Left wants judges to set tax and spending policies and design new software for consumers, they do not seem to care if the federal bench has enough qualified judges to serve the public. President Bush has nominated judges at a record pace, but Senate Majority Leader Daschle has led an effort to block as many Bush nominees as possible. Chief Justice Renqhuist calls it a “crisis,” but Senate Democrats do not want judges who do not share their ideological viewpoint. So, the American people must put up with an unacceptable level of vacancies on the bench. This is a key part of the Left’s lawsuit abuse strategy. If you plan to have judges writing laws, as the Left wants, you need judges who share your views. President Bush’s nominees (and under the Constitution, only he can nominate judges) generally do not believe in legislating from the bench, so Senate Democrats are doing everything they can to block confirmations.
The House of Representatives has passed legislation to reform our civil justice laws and make it easier for people to bring class action lawsuits in federal, rather than state, courts. This would bring more fairness and predictability into the legal process and stop the unintended practice of having local judges (who are mostly elected with trial lawyer dollars) decide what become national commercial standards. Mr. Daschle, at the behest of the trial lawyers, currently is blocking this critical legislation in the Senate.
This week the Senate heard directly from educated, passionate citizens who made personal sacrifices to come to Washington and make their voices heard. Real citizens met directly with United States Senators and discussed why we must end lawsuit abuse. It was powerful stuff. CSE was proud to organize this Liberty Summit. We need more like it.