Lot’s of folks are expressing all kinds of nutty anger at the federal government this week. But don’t necessarily put the U.S. House of Representatives in that camp, at least when it comes to, well, themselves! Sure, the House voted to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act again, for the 62nd time. But that failed effort qualifies more as an annoyance than actual rage at this point. When it’s politically inconvenient, however, the U.S. House is right there, sticking its hypocritical federal nose in places where it clearly doesn’t belong.
On Friday, the House is expected to vote on a bill that would directly preempt, or override, state legal systems in asbestos cases, and interfere directly with the third (judicial) branch of government in an unprecedented manner. Yes, the bill, H.R. 1927, would also give sweeping new liability protections to industries that make and market unsafe products, commit fraud and otherwise break rules and harm the public. (More than 70 organizations who oppose this bill explain how.) But these bills would do more than that.
One section of the bill would allow any defendant in any asbestos lawsuit the right to demand any information about any asbestos victim from any asbestos trust at any time for any reason whether or not this information is relevant in a lawsuit. Since relevant information is already available to defendants through the discovery process, this provision has no real purpose other than to delay the payment of claims to dying victims. And by allowing defendants to do an end-run around state discovery rules that place limits on information-gathering by parties, this bill directly interferes with state legal systems.
Another section of the bill would essentially wipe out the court rule that governs class action lawsuits, known as Rule 23. The Rules Enabling Act directs the U.S. Supreme Court – not Congress – to prescribe general rules of practice and procedure for the federal courts. Indeed, the Judicial Conference of the United States is currently in the midst of studying changes to Rule 23 right now! Let them do their job? Not this House! They’d prefer to interfere, pressured by lobby groups whose goal is to eliminate legal accountability for corporations that engage in illegal behavior.
And then if you like, tell your Member of Congress how you feel.