Congressional tort reform caucus faces hurdles, observer says

John O'Brien Feb. 15, 2011, 2:46pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A legal reform proponent says the newly formed Congressional Civil Justice Caucus will have a tough time drumming up support from the current administration.

Six members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday announced the formation of the caucus, designed as a bipartisan group that plans to serve as a forum for discussions on problem areas in the civil justice system. Three Republicans and three Democrats, led by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlate and Oklahoma Democrat Dan Boren, make up the caucus.

Groups like Business Roundtable hailed the announcement, claiming it is important to end abusive litigation if the jobs market wants to rebound. Ted Frank -- the founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness and a writer at and the Manhattan Institute's -- looked at it through a different lens.

Any reform the Republican-controlled House of Representatives comes up with must still gain the support the Democrat-led Senate and President Barack Obama.

"Anything Congress passes not only has to go through the gauntlet of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (a steadfast friend of trial lawyers, even at the expense of other Democratic Party constituencies), but must be signed by President Obama, who has shown no stomach for meaningful liability reform, and whose administration has taken several anti-jobs positions to benefit trial lawyers," he said.

In this year's State of the Union address, Obama said medical malpractice reform would be an issue he'd consider in crafting any new health care package. The current one, signed into law last year, has been voided by a federal judge in Florida.

Medical malpractice reform is an area the caucus promised to consider, along with venue reform, patent reform and federal pleading standards.

Frank pointed at problems a Republican Congress faced passing securities litigation reform in the 1990s. A veto by President Bill Clinton was overridden by the House of Representatives and the Senate "only because the legislation was watered down," Frank says.

The Civil Justice Caucus received immediate support from the Law & Economics Center at George Mason University School of Law, which formed the Congressional Civil Justice Caucus Academy to provide education programs on civil justice issues.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also made its support known, releasing a letter saying it looked forward to working with the caucus. Legal Newsline is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The caucus' other founding members are Democrats Jim Matheson of Utah and Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Republicans Lamar Smith of Texas and Trent Franks of Arizona.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at

More News