NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Robert Reich Says Justice Dept. Lawsuits Threaten Democracy

January 6, 2000

The Clinton administration is making "blatant end-runs around the democratic process" in pursuing lawsuits against tobacco companies and gunmakers, says former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. And he warns liberals that "You might approve the outcomes in these two cases, but they establish a precedent for other cases you might find wildly unjust."

The administration is using "novel legal theories" that "give the administration extraordinary discretion to decide who's misleading the public and whose products are defective," says Reich.

  • The Justice Department is going after the tobacco companies with a law designed to fight mobsters -- the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) chapter of the Organized Crime Control Act.
  • And the administration will offer "legal advice" to public housing authorities organized under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who are suing gun makers for negligence -- alleging that gunmakers sold defective products they knew or should have known would harm people.

Using these standards, the entire advertising industry and makers of any product that might result in death -- from alcohol to sharp cooking utensils -- is in trouble.

"Worse, no judge will ever scrutinize these theories....The goal of both efforts is to threaten the industries with the risk of such large penalties that they'll agree to a deal....."

"American politics is rotting," says Reich, "....But the way to fix everything isn't to turn our backs on the democratic process and pursue litigation as the administration is doing."

Source: Robert B. Reich, "Smoking, Guns," American Prospect, January 17, 2000.


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