Monday, January 22, 2007

Presidential Hopefuls Unlikely To Be Tort Reformers

The presidential campaign field is filling quickly but tort reform advocates shouldn't spend much time looking for a candidate who will give reform as high a priority as current President George W. Bush.

Bush, a strong reform advocate as governor of Texas, placed medical malpractice and class action reform high on his list of objectives and was successful in pushing the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which he signed on February 18, 2005.

Bush signed the law just six weeks after he had visited with doctors and hospital officials in Madison County to stress the need for medical malpractice reform. While med-mal reform has not been successful at the federal level, Illinois legislators did pass a med-mal reform bill several months after the Bush visit and Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed it into law in August.

This commentary is prompted by a column in today's Crain's Chicago Business which appears below. Crain's Washington editor Paul Merrion reports on the voting record of Sen. Barack Obama on business issues. I pointed out that Obama was a supporter of an ICJL-backed class action reform bill while he was in the Illinois General Assembly and that I had advised some of our allies in Washington that he might be a supporter of the Class Action Fairness Act mentioned above.

He was and he voted for the bill on February 10, 2005.

Obama also voted for the Common Sense Consumption Act, a law prohibiting lawsuits against fast food restaurants based on claims of injury resulting from obesity, weight gain or other health issues.

But while Obama clearly has demonstrated a willingness to listen and not respond to the demands of trial lawyers in every instance, it is hard -- or impossible -- to find other actions that would brand him as a "tort reformer." In fact, as the Crain's article indicates, Obama's record has turned increasingly hostile toward the business community in recent years.

Two other Democrats in the growing presidential candidate field have clearer anti-reform records. Former Sen. John Edwards, the Democrats' candidate for vice president in 2004, is a personal injury trial lawyer and his views and performance are well known. Sen. Hillary R. Clinton of New York, the latest Democrat to officially enter the race, is a major beneficiary of trial lawyer campaign contributions. In one direct comparison, while Obama voted for the Class Action Fairness Act as described above, Clinton voted against it.

Views of Republican candidates are less defined (or known). Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a likely candidate, tried to kill the Class Action Fairness Act by attaching a global warming amendment to the bill. Neither Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, nor Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas have any reference or hints to civil justice reform on websites advocating their candidacies.

With the giant issues of Iraq and the mid-east, terrorism and immigration reform facing voters, it is doubtful that civil justice reform will be heard in many debates unless the reform movement -- that means organizations like ours -- force it to remain an issue.

Cross-posted by Ed Murnane at Illinois Justice Blog.

To view or post comments, please visit Illinois Justice Blog.

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