U.S. House Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents Florida's 1st District, speaking before the House Judiciary Committee | youtube.com/watch?v=xE2XqDSehFA
WASHINGTON — The lone Republican supporter of legislation to get rid of arbitration in consumer contracts, which opponents say would create injustice and enrich class action attorneys, is urging Congress to send the bill to the President's desk, where he hopes it will be signed.
"On this issue, I'm with the Democrats," U.S. House Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents Florida's 1st District, said during a House Judiciary Committee meeting Sept. 10. "Matter of fact, I think I’m the only Republican in the Congress who is a co-sponsor of this bill, along with my Democratic colleagues."
Gaetz said his support for the "Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act," or the FAIR Act, H.R. 1423, isn't intended "to bring discomfort to my colleagues in the majority."
"I say it to perhaps bring more comfort to my colleagues in the minority that this is an issue where we ought to have broader agreement," Gaetz continue. "It is my belief that the number one threat to our liberty is big government. It is also my belief that the number two big threat to our liberty is big business, when big business is able to use the apparatus of government to wrap around its objectives."
Later that same day, H.R. 1423 passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a largely partisan vote of 22 to 14, with Gaetz being the only Republican on the committee to vote in favor.
Among eight amendments submitted so far for HR 1423 is one by Rep. James Daniel Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) that addresses arbitration between unions and employers. That amendment would strike from the bill safe-harbor provisions that allow unions to keep and enforce union-negotiated arbitration agreements, while the bill’s other provisions abrogate non-union employees’ rights to keep and enforce their own agreements.
Collins, ranking Judiciary Committee member, said during his opening statement before the committee that HR 1423 should be called the "forced class action injustice guarantee" and maintained that while the current arbitration system isn't perfect, it "is generally good and should be preserved."
"Unfortunately, that is not what the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act would do," Collins continued in his statement. "Rather than preserve and strengthen arbitration, it would wipe it out for enormous numbers of consumers in employment disputes, as well as many civil rights and antitrust disputes."
HR 1423 would create injustices for plaintiffs and hefty payday for class action attorneys, Collins said during his statement.
"Even those who join a class action lawsuit often expect to get nothing in return but a postcard telling them they won a few dollars and cents on a coupon," Collins said. "Meanwhile, the class action plaintiff trial lawyers will reap multimillion shares and fees from the recoveries they dole to plaintiff case members at mere pennies on the dollar."
Gaetz said he is aware of arguments against HR 1423 made by "my Republican colleagues" and that "they make them absolutely in good faith," that "arbitration can be cheaper, it can be faster, there can be less discovery, and even in many cases, plaintiffs can do better with ultimate awards in arbitration than in court."
He also said that the current arbitration system "creates a fundamental inequity in the resolution of these disputes that is not consistent with our American beliefs, and principles," which "alone is a reason to disfavor these things."
Gaetz's stand before the Judiciary Committee drew praise from fellow committee member Hank Calvin Johnson Jr. (D-Georgia).
"I just want to say that it takes a lot of courage to step away from the herd, to separate yourself from the pack, and do something that you know is in the best interest of society, and it is in the keeping of our constitution, our seventh amendment, which guarantees the right to a jury trial in cases where the amount in controversy exceeds twenty dollars or more," Johnson said near the end of Gaetz' remarks. "So I appreciate the gentleman’s work on this bill, I appreciate your co-sponsorship, and I look forward to working with you on other matters."
Gaetz ended his comments by stating his hopes for HR 1423.
"It is my hope, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Johnson, that the Senate will take this bill up," Gaetz said. "And I make you the commitment that I will personally endeavor to encourage the President to sign it if it makes it to his desk."