Senator Obama: Quite A Contrast With Senator Durbin

Ed Murnane Feb. 19, 2005, 11:30pm

Ed Murnane

Early in 2003, when a class action reform bill (SB 1158) was introduced in the Illinois Senate, I spoke with then-State Sen. Barack Obama about the bill and what it was intended to do: require that class action suits be filed (and certified, if merited) in appropriate venues. The bill does nothing more.

Obama, (who has gone on to bigger arenas, if you haven't followed his career) said he agreed that class actions had become a problem and that he thought he could support the principles of the bill introduced by Senators Kirk Dillard, Frank Watson, Kay Wojcik and Pate Philip.

He recognized that the proposed legislation did NOT deny anyone the opportunity to file, or be part of, as class action suit. It DID specify that class action suits should be filed in appropriate -- logical might be a better description -- venues.

Obama understood then, and he obviously still understands, that class action suits serve a purpose but the class action process has been abused.

Last week, in one of his first major actions as a United States Senator, Obama voted "aye" on the Class Action Fairness Act when it was called for a vote on the Senate floor.

It should be no surprise that he did. While generally considered to be a fairly liberal Democrat, Obama is not a knee-jerk "automatic" vote for any cause. He will consider the facts, listen to arguments, and come to a decision. In most cases, he probably will not be voting in favor of civil justice reforms because his instincts and his philosophical leanings will tell him to do otherwise.

But no one -- not the trial lawyers, not organized labor, not the Democrats who share the left side of the aisle in the Senate Chamber with him -- can assume they know where Barack Obama will be on every issue. He'll make up his own mind and do what he thinks is best and right.

That is in sharp contrast with Obama's senior Illinois Senator, Dick Durbin. There is no one more firmly in the pockets of the trial lawyers on the Senate floor than Durbin. Now in Democratic leadership, Durbin is in a position to be the primary spokesman for the trial lawyers on the Senate floor and there is no reason to doubt that he will fulfill that role.

Illinois citizens won't always be happy with Barack Obama's positions on issues, and he may never vote for a civil justice reform measure again, but we will know that he made his mind up based on his interpretation of the facts and arguments.

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