Congress can move fast if it chooses to. Class action tort reform legislation began in February 2003 and was a nonstarter. Then on January 25 of this year, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced bill S.5, and with 33 co-sponsors including eight Democrats (Carper-DE, Dodd-CT, Feinstein-CA, Kohl-WI, Landrieu-LA, Lieberman-CT, Lincoln-AR, and Schumer-NY), the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 began. The House had passed a similar initiative (HRes.96) having no force or effect, being a trial baloon. The Senate passed S.5 on February10, the House passed S.5 on February 17, and President Bush signed the bill into law as PL-190.2 on February 18, indeed a step in the right direction to deter "jackpot justice" as labeled by National Association of Manufacturers. But there is more to this story.
Passage of this legislation had been an Administration goal. Opposition politics being what it is and with strident opposition from the usual cabal of liberals, reform has been impossible. As Captain Renault said in the movie classic "Casablanca," "...round up the usual suspects": the AFL-CIO, AARP, ACLU, The Association of Trial Lawyers of America ("a shameful attack on American's legal rights") and the fringe Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ("a payoff to big business"). And regardless of political persuasion, tort law is still in disarray with "junk lawsuits," a major blemish needing removal. Class action suits have surged 1,300% nationwide in the past ten years and over 5,000% in certain "magnet jurisdictions." This impropriety now costs America more than $240 billion annually. As President Bush cited at the signing ceremony, in a suit against a TV manufacturer making faulty sets, the lawyer got a $22 million fee at settlement, but all claimants received was a $50 coupon for a rebate on another TV made by the same company. The President also commented about "venue shopping" for class action suits and cited Madison County, Ill., as a horrible example. Frivolous suits filed there rose from 2 in 1998 to 82 in 2004 with 24 filed already this year and 20 alone in the week before law signing. And you thought the U.S. has a system of justice.