While we’re focused on the ridiculous Donald Trump tweets or the equally ridiculous Obamacare replacement bill, Republicans are debating a bill that would put us at the total mercy of corporations, no matter what they do.
Currently, there are a few bills in the House and in the Senate, which are different, but identical in one way: They both strip us of our right to free speech, and, well, they do both put to rest the idea that Republicans are for the “free market.”
There’s H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA) introduced in early February.
It would place a slew of new restrictions on class action lawsuits, like barring judges from certifying a class action where the lawyer representing the plaintiffs is in anyway related to anyone in that plaintiff class. Not just familial relations either; if the attorney has any sort of working relationship with a class member outside of that particular lawsuit, the case would be shut down.
Think about that for a moment. While corporations might have in-house council or their usual team of lawyers to represent them, we, as consumers, would not be allowed to work with an attorney that anyone in the class action suit had worked with, or had known, before. Since most consumers don’t have an army of attorneys at their disposal, this gives a serious advantage to the corporations.
Other bills introduced in recent weeks by GOP lawmakers seek to limit more specific types of legal claims. One piece of legislation could make it more difficult for victims of asbestos to collect their claim by imposing new paperwork requirements on the trusts administering these funds. Another bill would preempt state medical malpractice laws and cap non-financial damages at $250,000.
Democrats, thankfully, are attempting to expand consumer rights.One bill, by our current hero Al Franken (D-MN), would allow us to sue corporations instead of being forced into arbitration — typically with the arbiter chosen by the corporation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has a similar bill, which would ensure that states follow state and federal laws.
For example, Airbnb was recently able to compel arbitration in a lawsuit alleging violations of federal civil rights laws, and Wells Fargo is trying to sidestep a massive consumer fraud lawsuit by compelling the cases into arbitration.
“When Americans enter into agreements to obtain cellphone service, rent an apartment, or accept a new job, most are not made aware of the forced arbitration clauses that are tucked away in the legal fine print,” said Leahy. “But these dangerous provisions force us to abandon our Constitutional right to protect ourselves in court, and instead send hardworking Americans to face wealthy corporations behind closed-doors in private arbitration.”
While all of these binding arbitration and these restrictions on how complaints can be addressed are completely anti-consumer, the one that should be called a violation of our most basic rights to free speech are non-disclosure agreements, which even Republicans should object to. In fact, one Republican, former Fox host Gretchen Carlson, objects strongly, since she was a plaintiff in a sexual harassment suit against her former employer.
“Arbitration silences millions of other survivors who might have come forward if they knew they weren’t alone,” said Carlson, who contends that this should not be a partisan issue: “Harassers come from all political parties.”
She’s right and the party that favors the free market should agree. The only way a free market could even begin to work is if consumers have all the information that’s available. By silencing consumers, we are not only violating the First Amendment rights, we are leaving it open for future consumers to be hurt in the exact same way.
Silencing consumers in favor of corporations isn’t exactly new, but it’s a huge step toward fascism. Strengthening those laws aren’t good for small businesses, and they are horrible for the consumer, and as with any fascist country, corporations are king.
Featured image of Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images