Taking aim at the nation’s trial lawyers and what it says is a glut of unnecessary legal actions, the Republican-led House approved a measure on Tuesday requiring sanctions against lawyers who file lawsuits deemed frivolous. The legislation, passed on a 229-to-174 vote, was one of four court-related measures taken up by the House in an election-year push to spotlight Republican efforts to reduce litigation, reports the New York Times. The House leadership dubbed its effort Lawsuit Abuse Prevention Week, but Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority leader, also said it was “John Edwards Appreciation Week.”
Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, had a successful career as a trial lawyer, and has said he backs such penalties for frivolous lawsuits. The Senate is considered unlikely to take up the House bill this year. Republicans said the mandatory penalties – including payment of court costs and lawyers’ fees, followed by potential contempt citations and disciplinary procedures for repeat incidents – were needed to end nuisance lawsuits that they said were driving companies out of business and costing consumers. Democrats said the measure could have a “chilling effect” on bringing suits and could make it harder for less-affluent Americans to retain legal counsel if lawyers were nervous about facing sanctions. They accused Republicans of wasting time with frivolous legislation and said it represented a needless Congressional intrusion into local court matters.