Agenda: gun suit pre-emption, class action reform

The U.S. Senate has been the graveyard of federal liability reform legislation for years now, but yesterday’s election may start upheaving the tombstones in an entertaining manner. The new Senate should be perceptibly more favorable to litigation reform than the old — by three or four votes, at least. Gone, for example, will be the Carolinas’ Ernest Hollings and John Edwards, two lions of the trial bar.

The most obvious impact will be on measures which already commanded a substantial majority of Senators, including many Democrats, but had nonetheless been blocked by parliamentary gamesmanship — specifically, the bill to pre-empt lawsuits against lawful gun sellers over the illegal later use of their products, and the bill to redirect most national class actions into federal courts. Also significant will be the defeat of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, whose tendency to talk like a litigation reformer back home in South Dakota, while working closely with trial lawyer interests in Washington, has been the subject of scrutiny in this space (Apr. 12, Aug. 19, Dec. 18).

Daschle’s defeat may cause prudent Democratic colleagues to rethink the policy of filibustering all major liability measures rather than letting them come to a vote. Also significant is the greatly strengthened hand of organized gun owners in the next Senate, on which see Dave Kopel’s roundup. If the Republicans know what they’re doing, they’ll call up and pass gun-suit pre-emption at an early point, with some version of class action reform not far behind.

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