"When companies are sued for selling unsafe consumer products or creating environmental hazards, the cases too often end with court orders that keep vital health and safety dangers secret. This practice works out well for the wrongdoers, but it is bad for ordinary Americans, who need to know about these threats. The Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved a modest but potentially life-saving bill that would require federal judges to consider public health and safety before granting a protective order, sealing court records or approving a settlement agreement. The need for this bill is especially great right now when federal agencies charged with protecting Americans lack the resources and the will to exercise strong oversight.
"Under the bipartisan bill, judges will still have discretion about whether to grant a request for secrecy. First they will have to apply a sensible balancing test that takes into account both the public’s interest in learning of a potential hazard and the defendant’s legitimate interests in secrecy, say to protect trade secrets.
"The bill, sponsored by Senators Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, both Democrats, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, is similar to laws already on the books in several states. Business interests opposed to the bill argue that it would discourage settlements, clog the courts with more trials and hurt plaintiffs by requiring lengthy fights over production of documents. Yet there has been no legal meltdown in jurisdictions that now have similar rules.
"Kohl first proposed the measure 15 years ago. Since then, there have been many cases involving prescription drugs, heart valves, defective tires and other products in which an untold number of injuries and deaths could have been prevented had the public not been blocked from learning about the dangers. The Senate should move quickly to approve this much-needed bill. And the House should move quickly to introduce the same legislation. When the courts have information about serious threats to health and safety, the public has a clear right and need to know." What do you think?
Do you think this bill should become law?
- Yes (78%, 32 Votes)
- No (22%, 9 Votes)
Total Voters: 41