Conservative lawmakers are organizing in a more formal way to promote an array of changes to the civil justice system, including proposals related to medical malpractice reform, venue and federal pleading standards.
Six members of the U.S. House of Representatives said today they’re starting a Congressional Civil Justice Caucus. Like other alliances formed on specific issues, the caucus won’t have specific authority, but its members hope it will be a vehicle for organizing and debate.
The formation comes as Republicans have put changes to medical malpractice liability at the top of their agenda. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee debated but did not vote on a bill that would cap non-economic damages. Plaintiff-side lawyers and consumer groups are opposing the bill.
“Excessive and frivolous litigation and inefficient rules and procedures drain U.S. companies of desperately-needed resources and hinder job growth and innovation,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the co-chairman of the new caucus, in a written statement.
The other co-chairman is Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), who is among the most conservative Democrats in the House. Two other conservative Democrats, Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah) and Collin Peterson (Minn.), are founding members, along with Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
A statement from the group argues that “American businesses are being forced to devote more and more of their vital resources to defending frivolous lawsuits.” They say they want to promote understanding of “how civil justice issues affect the free enterprise system.”
Opponents of the Republican-led legislation say the caucus sounds like its real goal is to protect corporations from liability. “I’m not sure they’re interested in civil justice. I think they may just be interested in shielding corporations from the only place they can be held accountable, the courts,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel at Public Citizen.
Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, released a statement supporting the caucus as a “welcome new voice” on Capitol Hill.
Updated at 3:57 p.m. with additional reporting