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Bad Bob Goodlatte Blocks Your Day in Court

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Why does House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Rep. VA) want to fast-track legislation overhauling civil litigation that protects all Americans—including those in his Congressional District, who simply wish to have their day in court when wrongfully injured or cheated by the very corporations to whom Chairman Goodlatte is beholden? Does he distrust judges and juries that have fairly adjudicated disputes for years? Does he hate the American people?

As with many issues, it is about campaign money from the big business members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its cruel chief, Tom Donohue. But it is also about being inebriated with the secure power that gerrymandered electoral districts provide to him and his other corporate-indentured Committee members. Being inebriated with secure power means that you can be detached from the harms and hurts of people back home. Goodlatte doesn’t have to worry about the Democrats, who hardly bestir themselves to give even a modest election fight. So he lives in his corporate bubble and unleashes, through the House of Representatives, the most devastating attack on our democracy’s federal and state civil justice system in American History.

He is repealing protections won during the American Revolution when revered George Mason of Virginia led the fight to get the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution. George Mason wrote that, “the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.” The conservative journalist and tea-party activist Judson Phillips has his own modification of that mantra: “It is held sacred,” Phillips writes, “except by the big business corporatists who believe that rights exist only for the corporate elites and not for the average citizen.”

Without any public hearings (to assure that the press doesn’t show up), Chairman Goodlatte is pushing either to close the courtroom door or place hurdles in front of those citizens who want to go after wrongdoers and deter future injuries and harms.

The bill proposes a cap of $250,000 for a lifetime of pain and suffering compensation in medical malpractice cases. This ties the hands of judges and juries from adequately awarding victims—especially children, homemakers and the elderly who have no wage losses to claim, and who often have the most serious disabling injuries.

In case you missed the peer-reviewed Johns Hopkins University Medical School study from last May, the physician-authors gave a conservative estimate that an average of 5,000 people a week die in the U.S. in hospitals due to preventable mishaps such as malpractice, medical errors, hospital-induced infections and bad drug prescriptions. Imagine how many more patients are sickened or injured from these and other preventable acts.

When these absentee legislators over-regulate the courts and shred the courts’ independence, the result is that judges and juries (the only ones who see, hear and evaluate the evidence in each individual case) have their hands tied and are unable to perform their duties.

Goodlatte and his henchmen are also pressing a bill to weaken the ability of consumers, investors and workers to band together in class actions when they are not able to afford hiring a lawyer to represent them for their individual harm. Since companies like Wells Fargo, drug and medical device companies, polluters and insurance giants are among wrongdoers, it is no wonder that their lobbyists want more immunity from the rule of law for corporate violations and damage to innocent people.

Another bill would harm asbestos victims who are waiting for their compensation before they die, forcing them to wait longer for compensation and leave their online and personal privacy vulnerable to violations and identity theft.

“More. We want more,” bellow the large corporate lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

Goodlatte obliges. He has pushed through mandatory sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures against lawyers, citing so-called “frivolous lawsuits” without evidence in order to promote the illusion that our society has become too litigious. Joanne Doroshow, director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, says that its real purpose is intimidation—aiming to chill the filing of meritorious or pioneering civil rights, employment, environmental, and consumer cases.

Her organization, which is based at New York Law School, tracks and monitors attacks on the civil justice system. You can be kept up to date on these and other cruel and vicious bills that let big business off the hook for their devastating and profiteering misdeeds, crimes and abuses by visiting https://www.centerjd.org/.

The Center has just released a report titled “Limiting Lawsuits; Small Businesses’ Least Concern” based on numerous surveys by the likes of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the National Small Business Association (NSBA), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and various large bank surveys. The study shows that businesses prioritize liability and the potential for lawsuits to occur among the lowest of their concerns, which demonstrates that small businesses simply are not concerned about these remote possibilities.

At a time when court budgets are strapped, when there isn’t enough money to handle expeditiously ever declining numbers of tortious civil justice lawsuits, it is very unpatriotic of these global U.S. corporations to abuse our hallowed constitutional tradition of access to our courts and undermine the sanctity of each American’s right to his or her day in court.

For your interest and use, here is a list of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who turned their back on the American people:

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA-06)

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (WI-05)

Rep. Lamar Smith (TX-21)

Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-01)

Rep. Darrell Issa (CA-49)

Rep. Steve King (IA-04)

Rep. Trent Franks (AZ-08)

Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01)

Rep. Jim Jordan (OH-04)

Rep. Ted Poe (TX-02) [voted NO on the medical malpractice bill]

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT-03)

Rep. Tom Marino (PA-10)

Rep. Trey Gowdy (SC-04)

Rep. Raúl Labrador (ID-01)

Rep. Blake Farenthold (TX-27)

Rep. Doug Collins (GA-09)

Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL-06)

Rep. Ken Buck (CO-04)

Rep. John Ratcliffe (TX-04)

Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02)

Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL-01)

Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-04)

Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ-05)

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

CounterPunch Magazine

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