CLASS ACTION FAIRNESS ACT OF 2004
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be dispensed with.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, I, like others of my colleagues, would like to see closure on this issue. Before I got into politics, I was a lawyer. I admire our legal system. In many ways, people have their chance to be judged by their neighbors. I am very respectful of the jury trial. However, in the class action arena of the law, I find more abuses than solutions. I don't believe the Constitution ever envisioned the class action litigation model that we have come up with where you can create your own false diversity and you can run everybody to Illinois or Mississippi because business is involved.
I believe the removal process in this bill where the judge has discretion to remove cases from State court to Federal court will correct some abuses. I believe the coupon cases were never what the law was meant to be about.
The legal reforms in this bill I support. I have an amendment. I hope we can get to it. It would allow a procedure to be had in terms of pursuing settlement. Consumers need to be told about the Pinto case and need to be informed when products are dangerous, but companies need not be required to give proprietary information without having their say.
I have an amendment that would allow the judge in a particular case to rule on whether documents would be subject to seal. I think the South Carolina rule is a very reasonable rule. But whether we get to this, I believe this bill's time has come, and it is now time for the Senate to act. The abuses that are going on in class action are not about treating people fairly, they are about simple greed. These abuses need to be stopped for the betterment of us all. Claimants and businesses find themselves subject to this.
I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of cloture on S. 2062, the Class Action Fairness Act of 2004. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I supported the bill during committee consideration and I will be voting in favor of cloture and final passage as well.
The need for this bill is pointed out daily by stories of abuse. We hear of attempts to sue McDonald's because people who eat there are getting fat. We hear of lawyers negotiating coupon settlements for their clients, while they receive millions of dollars in fees. We hear of class members actually losing money on settlements.
I am a lawyer and I am not happy with that state of affairs. I don't think anyone is more in favor of a strong legal system than I am. And I define a strong legal system as one where all parties are treated fairly, wrongs are redressed, and justice is afforded equally and without bias.
The Class Action Fairness Bill of 2004 does not weaken our legal system. It rectifies the current imbalance in some areas where some parties are not treated fairly; new wrongs are committed, not redressed; and justice is overlooked, if not outright disregarded.
I say to my friends who oppose this bill that, just as it is important to make sure that victims have an opportunity to be heard in our courts, it is just as important to insure that the defendant is treated fairly. And I don't believe anyone can credibly claim that that is the case today in many areas of our country. Justice requires that we act to remedy that.
Although I may not believe this bill is perfect, and actually have an amendment or two of my own, I do not believe we should delay this bill one moment longer. My amendment is slightly technical, but very simple.
It would merely provide for uniform judicial scrutiny of sealed documents. I have based my amendment on the South Carolina district rule for how to obtain a protective order for trade secrets or other proprietary information. I haven't heard from one person in South Carolina who doesn't like the way it works.
It puts all parties on equal footing and preserves judicial discretion. However, though I firmly believe my amendment would improve the bill, I will be voting for cloture because this bill is more important.
I firmly believe that the Class Action Fairness Act of 2004 is exactly that, fair to all parties.
It is narrowly aimed at some of the most egregious abuses of the class action system. In fact, I have heard from some folds that the bill does not go far enough. However, in my opinion, it is a reasonable first step in the effort to control what are clearly abuses of the system.
It is reasonable because I don't think anyone in the chamber can complain about judges taking a look at settlements to make sure the class members are not being victimized further. I don't think anyone can complain about giving federal judges the power to block worthless settlements based on coupons or other gimmicks.
We have even had some firms sanctioned for filing cases just to settle with no damages for the class, but significant attorneys' fees for them. We have had other lawsuits end with the lead plaintiffs and their lawyers receiving large sums and other class members receiving nothing, but losing their right to legal action in the future.
When the very people class actions are supposed to help are being hurt, it is time to do something different.
This bill is a reasonable step in the right direction. While some of my friends on the other side of the aisle may not like some provisions, they have to admit that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
In closing, I would just like to urge my colleagues to help us move this bill to conclusion. File your amendments, I have one myself, but don't let your personal desire to offer your amendment get in the way of this much needed legislation.