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Senate Rule XXVI and the Consumer

posted by Bob Lawless

Yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy caused the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to hold a hearing with the intention of shedding some light on how Supreme Court decisions affect everyday Americans. In the middle of answering my first question, Senator Whitehouse interrupted me to say that, as the presiding officer, he regretted that he had to gavel the hearing to a close. An unnamed Republican senator had invoked Senate Rule XXVI, which requires the hearing to come to a close within two hours after the Senate convenes for the day. Normally, the Senate gives unanimous consent to waive this rule but not yesterday.

On the previous day, a Republican senator had used the same tactic to shut down a hearing about whether coercive interrogation tactics--a polite term for "torture"--were effective. As one of the spectators in the hearing quipped afterwards, you know you have a hit a nerve when the same tactics as were used in the torture debates are being used to silence those who would speak in favor of stronger protections of consumers. Senator Whitehouse was visibly unhappy with having to close the hearing, and Senator Leahy released a statement similarly criticizing the procedural move. What was being said at our hearing that was so awful?

We heard heart-breaking testimony from Bridget Robb, a 34-year old mother who nearly died in front of her 6-year old daughter while receiving repeated electric shocks because of an electronic lead in a pacemaker the manufacturer knew to be defective but for which had given no notice. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision protecting medical device manufacturers, Ms. Robb has been stripped of the right to sue for damages because of the harm she has received. We also heard from Maureen Kurtek, a 44-year old mother whose insurer denied her coverage for necessary medical treatment although it knew her previous insurer had authorized the same coverage on three previous occasions. As a result of not receiving a needed, Ms. Kurtek nearly died, had half of her right foot amputated, lost five fingertips, and suffers from numerous painful conditions. Again, Supreme Court decisions strip Ms. Kurtek of the right to sue. Professor Tom McGarrity was there from the University of Texas to provide expert commentary on how the Supreme Court's preemption decisions led to these results. I was there to discuss how the same trends toward centralized federal regulation in the financial services area similarly deprived consumers of important protections.

Reasonable people might disagree with the conclusions we drew from these examples and cases, but apparently some senators believe reasonable people are not to discuss these issues at all.


If you are interested in seeing the video of the abrupt end of the session to which Mr. Lawless refers, American News Project has a video of it and (preceding) the hearing on the 10th which was interrupted in a similar manner.


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