Kia Franklin

Obama: “I supported Tort Reform” (3rd Debate Reflections, Installment 1)

Finally, in the last Presidential debate before the general election, the candidates talk about tort "reform" and civil justice. Lots to blog about, so please consider this installment one.

Last night a terrible thing happened. Obama, once more, gave in to the "trial lawyer" rhetoric that prevents people from discussing what's really at stake in the debate over various tort "reform" policies. Obama touted his record voting in favor of the Class Action Fairness Act as evidence of his willingness to stand up to the leadership of his party.

McCain: "You'll have to tell me one time you've stood up to the leaders of your party on one major issue."

Obama: "First of all, in terms of standing up to the leaders of my party, the first major bill that I voted on in the Senate was in support of tort reform, which wasn't very popular with trial lawyers, a major constituency in the Democratic party... So I've got a history of reaching across the aisle." (Video clip here)

Should Obama really brag about this? Simply put, no. explains:

[The Class Action Fairness Act] prevents many middle-class Americans injured by defective products, manipulated by deceptive marketing, or discriminated against by unfair employment practices from ever being able to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable. As a result, the threat of lawsuits will be less of a deterrent to corporations that engage in deceptive or discriminatory practices or seek to cut corners by skimping on product safety. Moving state cases to the federal courts is particularly harmful because it is state judges, not the federal judiciary, that are most familiar with the state consumer protection laws under which wrongdoers are sued. As a result, federal judges usually won’t certify cases based on state law, which effectively prevents even the most legitimate cases from ever being heard if they are forced into federal court. (Keep Reading)

Generally speaking, Obama's ideas seem to represent ordinary people--he's spoken out against the corporate excesses that helped create our current economic climate, he highlighted his plan to cut taxes for 95% of Americans and 98% of small businesses while allowing multi-billion dollar corporations like Exxon to pay what they very well can afford to pay, and he continues to emphasize the importance of reversing the failed policies that hurt the middle class. But his support of tort "reform" reflects a willingness to fall in line with, not oppose, Bush administration policies to protect corporations. Not something I'd highlight if I were running for President on a ticket for change.

But, for those who are (rightly) disappointed with Obama’s bad decision to support tort “reform,” it is worth noting that McCain also voted for the CAFA bill. Fortunately, Biden—described by Obama last night as a person who always fights for the little guy—voted against it.

To compare Obama’s, McCain’s, and Biden’s scores on voting for in favor of issues that protect and strengthen the middle class, click here. More reflections on the debate are soon to come.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:10 AM, Oct 16, 2008 in Civil Justice | Class Action "Fairness" Act | Debates with Tort "Reformers" | Decision 2008 | Elections/Voting | Framing Tort "Reform" | Presidential Election | Pro-Civil Justice Reforms | Right to Access the Courts
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Kia, I agree with wholeheartedly. It is disappointing and out of character for Obama to have supported tort reform of any stripe. What made it worse, however, is that he chose to use his support of tort reform as an example or "reaching across the aisle" in response to McCain's challenge during the most recent debate. Please take a look at my blog entry on that unfortunate moment at Hit the BLOG button once the website comes up.
As you pointed out, support for most tort reform goes against everything we Obama supporters thought (and still think) he was about.
Anyway, as a relatively new blogger, I enjoyed reading your blog entries.
Best regards,
Andrew Barovick

Posted by: Andrew Barovick | October 19, 2008 5:12 PM