Statement by Ralph Nader on the passage of S. 5, the misnamed “Class Action Fairness Act.”

“This bill is another license for corporations to lie, cheat and steal with impunity”

A majority of the United States Senate today dealt a blow to the freedom of all Americans to seek justice in a court of law. At President Bush”s behest, limitations on class action lawsuits were approved in the erroneously named, “Class Action Fairness Act.” In practice, the restrictions on access to justice contained in this bill are not fair to those harmed by irresponsible or criminally negligent corporate actions.

S.5 federalizes class actions of any significance; this radical shift is opposed by the overwhelming majority of state judges, federal judges and by Chief Justice Rehnquist. But opposition by these judges, who understand this issue better than the President and the Senators who proffered this legislation, has not stopped the Executive and Congressional branches from further increasing burdens on injured, defrauded or otherwise harmed citizens wanting to exercise their Constitutional rights.

S. 5 curtails the rights of those who have been stolen from, lied to, and cheated by unscrupulous businesses practices — many of these acts are perpetrated under corporate executives who are big contributors to the Bush campaign and his Republican allies in the Senate who pushed this legislation. Cash register politics on the march.

Much has been said about the President”s repeated invocation of the words “freedom” and “liberty” in his recent Inauguration and State of the Union addresses; freedom was proudly trumpeted 27 times and liberty 15 times in the Inauguration address, freedom 21 times and liberty 7 times in the State of the Union address. But the freedoms and liberties of average Americans are being undermined by S. 5. The blustering of the President rings hollow. His deeds do not match his words.

Individual freedom is on the wane in America. Our Congress should be aspiring to greater “liberty and justice for all,” not codifying the license of lawless, unpatriotic, tax-evading corporations to do harm. And the failure of any modest amendments to garner enough support to mitigate this bad bill lays bare the intention of the S. 5’s sponsors and corporate backers. This bill is not about “fixing the system,” it is about rigging the system to absolve harm-inflicting corporations from accountability.

The Feinstein-Bingaman amendment would have solved the problems created by this legislation that will now force federal judges to dismiss most class actions as “unmanageable.” Other amendments were offered to ensure that consumer, labor, civil rights cases, and cases brought by Attorneys General could still be heard. They were all rejected. What is the force that leads so many Senators to support this legislation and even to oppose all of the modest improvements offered in the form of amendments? The only answer is: Business power to escape judicial accountability for its abuses.

I do not recall this being the reason that President Bush or any member of Congress was elected.

S. 5 is a perversion of the judiciary”s integrity and usurpation of state courts. This procedural tangle will tie the hands of federal judges forcing them to declare class actions of any significance “unmanageable.” It will lessen consumer rights and make it more difficult for Americans to challenge the corporations that unfairly bilk, that harm with unsafe products, that disregard worker safety, and that destroy our environment.

*For more information contact Palph Nader or Mark Wittink (202) 387-8030

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