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Democrats filibuster a bill to prevent class-action lawsuit abuse.

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Roll Call: Democrats Block Class Action Reform Bill

Democrats filibuster a bill to prevent class-action lawsuit abuse.

On October 22, by a vote of 59 to 39, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2003 (S. 1751).

Sixty votes were required to invoke cloture, or end debate on the bill and move to a vote. This cloture motion was necessary in order to break a Democratic filibuster against the bill, which would prevent specific kinds of lawsuit abuses in class action lawsuits.

Despite eight Democrats and the liberal Sen. Jim Jeffords (I.-Vt.) crossing over to support cloture, it failed because of Democratic resistance and one predictable Republican defector, Sen. Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.), who has long been sympathetic toward trial lawyers.

The bill under consideration would have gone some way toward preventing trial lawyers from pocketing large fees in successful class action lawsuits, but leaving the successful plaintiffs with tiny, worthless settlements. Its most important provision would have prevented abusive venue-shopping by trial attorneys, who with little or no justification can often try to stage class action lawsuits in county or municipal courts that are the most favorable to such suits.

“Madison County [Illinois] has developed a nationwide reputation as the place to file nationwide class actions,” said Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R.-Ill.), pointing out one much-abused venue. Madison County, he said, is an economically depressed county in southwest Illinois that is full of liberal judges and therefore attracts scores of national class action lawsuits every year.

Jefferson County, Tex., and Palm Beach County, Fla. were also mentioned as class action swamps.

“Class action lawsuits were conceived as an expeditious way for people with the same grievances to join in a common suit and seek justice in instances where it would be difficult to do so individually,” said Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.). “Unfortunately, what has evolved now is a means for a select set of trial attorneys to abuse the class action litigation system and to seek absurd financial rewards. . . Oftentimes, the so-called clients of these class action attorneys end up with token awards in the form of coupons or rebates, while the attorneys pocket millions of dollars.”

By blocking an up-or-down vote on the issue, Shelby and the Democrats demonstrated a blind loyalty to the extremely wealthy and powerful lobby of trial lawyers.

“The bill is a top priority to special interests that include big polluters and big violators of the American people’s consumer rights and civil rights past, present, and future,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.). “Class actions are one remaining tool available to the average American in seeking justice, and some special interests want nothing more than to weaken the public’s hand in class action proceedings.”

A “yes” vote was a vote to end debate and permit a vote on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2003. A “no” vote was a vote against cloture-effectively, a vote to kill the bill.

FOR THE CLOTURE MOTION: 59 AGAINST THE CLOTURE MOTION: 39
REPUBLICANS FOR (50):
Alexander
Allard
Allen
Bennett
Bond
Brownback
Bunning
Burns
Campbell
Chafee
Chambliss
Cochran
Coleman
Collins
Cornyn
Craig
Crapo
DeWine
Dole
Domenici
Ensign
Enzi
Fitzgerald
Frist
Graham (S.C.)
Grassley
Gregg
Hagel
Hatch
Hutchison
Inhofe
Kyl
Lott
Lugar
McCain
McConnell
Murkowski
Nickles
Roberts
Santorum
Sessions
Smith
Snowe
Specter
Stevens
Sununu
Talent
Thomas
Voinovich
Warner

DEMOCRATS FOR (8):
Bayh
Carper
Feinstein
Kohl
Lieberman
Lincoln
Miller
Nelson (Neb.)

INDEPENDENT FOR (1):
Jeffords

REPUBLICANS AGAINST (1):
Shelby

DEMOCRATS AGAINST (38):
Akaka
Baucus
Biden
Bingaman
Boxer
Breaux
Byrd
Cantwell
Clinton
Conrad
Corzine
Daschle
Dayton
Dodd
Dorgan
Durbin
Feingold
Graham (Fla.)
Harkin
Hollings
Inouye
Johnson
Kennedy
Landrieu
Lautenberg
Leahy
Levin
Mikulski
Murray
Nelson
Pryor
Reed (R.I.)
Reid (Nev.)
Rockefeller
Sarbanes
Schumer
Stabenow
Wyden

NOT VOTING: 2

REPUBLICANS (0): DEMOCRATS (2):
Edwards
Kerry
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