Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 11, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

CLASSLESS ACTION....The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that moves many class action suits to federal court. Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with this: it doesn't apply to cases in which the defendant and the members of the class come from the same state and it doesn't apply to suits under $5 million. It's going to make some suits harder to prosecute, but putting an end to venue shopping seems like a reasonable goal.

At least, that might have been my opinion except for one thing: a series of Supreme Court rulings starting in 1985 have made it difficult on procedural grounds for nationwide suits to be heard in federal court. This means there might be cases where it's impossible to bring suit in either state or federal court. James Joyner comments:

There has to be some sort of fix for this....Obviously, taking away the ability to sue at all is something that even the most hard-hearted capitalist would oppose.

You can see where this is going, can't you? James clearly has not taken the measure of today's capitalist class and trusts the Republican party to fix this little problem. I don't. After all, if they agreed this was unfair they would have accepted Dianne Feinstein's amendment designed to clear up the procedural issues.

But they didn't. They don't just want to restrict venue shopping, they want to restrict the ability to bring class action suits at all. Always read the fine print.

UPDATE: A law student correspondent suggests that I have this wrong. His take: the bill makes it easy to move a case from state court to federal court, but if the federal court declines to accept the case a motion can be made to move it back to state court. So the case wouldn't end up nowhere, it would always end up either in state court or federal court.

I don't know if this reading is correct or not. If anyone with expertise has some further comment on this, let me know.

UPDATE 2: There's a surprisingly good discussion of all this in comments. Although there's no firm conclusion, there seems to be at least some agreement that there are indeed jurisdictional problems with this bill that could have been cleared up but deliberately weren't. If you're interested in more, read the whole thread.

Kevin Drum 12:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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