Republicans are pouncing on Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for joining a group of politically active trial lawyers last night in Vancouver, British Columbia, to raise money for himself and other Democratic Senate candidates. The event occurred at the American Association for Justice convention.
Contributors were invited to give up to $43,200, with the default allocation going 20 percent to Reid, 9.3 percent to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and about 7 percent to ten other Democratic Senate candidates.
To the disappointment of labor unions, trial lawyers have probably been the biggest beneficiaries of Washington’s total Democratic rule. Beyond their defensive successes — keeping any meaningful tort reforms out of health care reform, for example — AAJ has gone on offense. Its ambitious agenda, which includes the legislative reversal of five recent Supreme Court cases, could become the object of feverish last-minute activity in a lame-duck Congress.
After multiple visits to the White House by the group’s top lobbyist, the Obama administration opened the door to more lawsuits by barring new federal regulations that pre-empt state causes of action. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., recently floated a bill that would let state juries decide whether car designs are defective. The provision was removed after an outcry from automakers, who already must adhere to federal safety standards.
Moreover, the Democratic Congress has aggressively pursued and/or passed provisions that allow state attorneys general to sue over new federal laws, This allows them to deputize trial lawyers, who share in the spoils of when judgments are handed down. (The federal government is currently barred from doing this.) This provision was included in House Democrats’ health care bill, for example. It might have become law, but the election of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass, forced Democrats to pass the already-passed Senate bill, which did not contain it. Such a provision is also included in the current version of the financial services reform bill, which already passed the House but must now pass the Senate.
If Reid and other Democrats lose, trial lawyers could face a much more hostile Congress.