Guest Post: Senators Franken and Blumenthal and Representative Johnson Announce Legislation Giving Consumers More Power In Courts vs. Corporations

Washington’s Blog

Congressman Johnson’s office sent me the following announcement in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that limits the ability of consumers to bring class action suits in many situations, where consumer service contracts provide binding arbitration provisions.

Contact: Ed Shelleby (Sen. Franken): 202-224-1868 | Kate Hansen (Sen. Blumenthal): 202-224 2823 | Andy Phelan (Rep. Johnson): 404-593-9126

April 27, 2011

Sens. Franken, Blumenthal, Rep. Hank Johnson announce legislation giving consumers more power in courts vs. corporations

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After consumers were dealt a blow today when the Supreme Court ruled that companies can ban class action suits in contracts, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said today they plan to introduce legislation next week that would restore consumers’ rights to seek justice in the courts.

Their bill, called the Arbitration Fairness Act, would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases, and would allow consumers and workers to choose arbitration after a dispute occurred.

Many businesses rely on mandatory and binding pre-dispute arbitration agreements that force consumers and employees to settle any dispute with a company providing products or services without the benefit of legal recourse.

“This ruling is another example of the Supreme Court favoring corporations over consumers,” said Sen. Franken. “The Arbitration Fairness Act would help rectify the Court’s most recent wrong by restoring consumer rights. Consumers play an important role in holding corporations accountable, and this legislation will ensure that consumers in Minnesota and nationwide can continue to play this crucial role.”

“Powerful companies who take advantage of ordinary consumers must be held accountable,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Today’s misguided Supreme Court ruling is a setback for millions of Americans, denying injured consumers access to justice. The Arbitration Fairness Act would reverse this decision and restore the long-held rights of consumers to hold corporations accountable for their misdeeds.”

“Forced arbitration agreements undermine our indelible Constitutional right to trial by jury, benefiting powerful businesses at the expense of American consumers and workers,” said Rep. Johnson. “Americans with few choices in the marketplace may unknowingly cede their rights when they enter contracts to buy a home or a cell phone, place a loved one in a nursing home, or start a new job. We must fight to defend our rights and re-empower consumers.”

In Concepcion v. AT&T, consumers brought a claim against AT&T for false advertising. However, because the value of their case was only $30, their case was consolidated into a class action. AT&T sought to block the lawsuit by pointing to the mandatory arbitration clause in the service contract but lower courts applying state law rightly invalidated the arbitration clause because it banned class actions entirely.

In today’s 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned these lower court decisions which sought to protect consumers. The majority of the Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act barred state courts from protecting consumers from these arbitration clauses. The effect of this decision essentially insulates companies from liability when they defraud a large number of customers of a relatively small amount of money.

A longtime advocate for consumers and workers in cases of forced arbitration, in 2009 Sen. Franken passed legislation with bipartisan support that restricts funding to defense contractors who commit employees to mandatory binding arbitration in the case of sexual assault and other civil rights violations. Congressman Johnson, a longtime champion of workers and consumer rights, first introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act in 2007.

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George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. Francois T


    As much as I’d like to see Sen Franken et al sticking it to the K.R.A.T.S of the Supine Court, we all know this is not going to happen anytime soon, given the composition of the House.

    There is a majority of big business water carriers, namely the Reichpubliscums that occupy the building, remember?

    1. attempter

      we all know this is not going to happen anytime soon, given the composition of the House.

      Yes, and we all know that’s by design. In principle a bill like this is a no-brainer – obviously these are illegitimate contracts of adhesion, i.e. coerced contracts, and therefore not contracts at all.

      So where were these guys with this bill for the two years of complete Democrat power? Nowhere, of course, because if it had been introduced then, they’d have had no excuse not to pass it. Today with the Reps empowered in the House, Senate Dems can grandstand like this secure in the knowledge that nothing will actually change.

      As for the SCOTUS, let’s please have nobody refer to the “majority” having made a bad decision. The entire court is corporatist, and these 5-4 decisions (Citizens United was another) are not corporatists vs. citizen advocates, but only the more judicially activist corporatists vs. the more passive ones. It’s only a technical squabble among anti-democratic ideologues who broadly agree on the corporate assault.

  2. Trailer Trashed

    Franken was annoying as hell back in the 70s – if any one remembers his ‘ask for money gags’ on SNL. As Senator, his support of military aggression puts him in with the rest of the rotting fish, and is probably the reason he is Senator.
    I like ‘Trading Places’, that goofy gag of a film. That was decades ago, and probably the last comedy I remember that framed the opening with scenes of crushing poverty. The press talked a bit more about homelessness during the Raygun era – not so much now since it irritates their target audiences. God forbid that Americans get the idea that millions shouldn’t be thrown out of their houses because some of them will become homeless. That would mean we aren’t a belligerant, bleeding empire.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      I respectfully disagree with some of your points.
      I am deeply haunted by something that I saw within the past two weeks: a young father standing on the freeway ramp of a very ‘upscale’ suburb, below buildings whose discrete signage suggest money, power, and high tech. The expression on the man’s face as he held a sign requesting assistance was so painful that I had to look away: his soul was being eroded as he stood there, desperate.
      He did not look like an addict. He did not look like a person with substance abuse. He looked like a middle-class, college educated individual who had probably had good employment at some time within recent years.

      It’s hard to watch lives destroyed.
      Anyone who doesn’t wonder WTF is going on in this country, how we have ended up as a nation with people who might have been, or still could be, our relatives and neighbors in desperate plights is an absolute fool.

      And if Al Franken or anyone else can push back against the logic of rampant capitalism, which values obscene exec bonuses, offshored billions, and has no moral center to address situations like those that I see each and every week, then I say, ‘God bless him.’

      When I see something as haunting and painful as the silent suffering and humiliation that I witnessed recently, I get a furious sense of indignant outrage, and anyone calling bullshit on rules that degrade people is at least not giving in to the foolish drivel that Alito, Roberts, and the rest of the SCOTUS majority appear determined to dish out.

      1. Fred French

        Franken could just as easily be talking about human rights, but he’s not about to do that. (So keep in mind that it’s ok for our country to torture)
        Most of the legislative branch are sitting/have sat on their worthless asses and ignored, or actively defeated, any type of assistance for borrowers.
        Defense contractors and Bankers mean much more then your pathetic “vote” ever will. US Stooges vote for wars, they vote to destroy safety nets, and they help their rich friends, and generally, the will of the people means nothing. I don’t think it’s optimism when we pretend the next Mr Smith will come to Washington. It’s a sad, sad delusion.

        1. Andaemon

          It’s not a democracy, it’s a representative democracy. Unfortunately for you, 99.9% of the people are not among those represented.

        2. Paul Tioxon

          Frenchie practices the art spreading learned helplessness by preaching on another issue, other than the one where the Uniform Commercial Code is taking over the US Constitution and Common Law precedent. He makes an issue of the personalities involved, which is irrelevant topic changing tactics from High School Debate Society. I prefer to call the sad, sad wake up call from his opinion that we are deluded the art of shithead politics. This is clearly been demonstrated in Ernst Becker’s “The Structure of Evil”. Shitheads think that the bowel movements from their mouths constitute human communication, when in fact it is public defecation.

          So so sad, and pathetic, so so pathetic. Because after all trying to make us all feel so so helpless is the intellectual tactic of voter suppression. You see, if you can pretend that you are a really, really world weary radical, and now, very very insightful denouncer of a piece of legislation that empowers people, we won’t vote for people like Harvard Educated, Senator Franklin, Democrat from Minnesota, because he should be talking about the slaughter in (FILL IN THE BLANK FROM A RECENT NOAM CHOMSKY LECTURE IN RIGA, LATVIA) cleverly, in cahoots with the unspeakable genocide, diverts our attention from half way around the world and brings it back home to a militant right wing Supreme Court diminishing of our rights as people. Thereby, forcing us to pay attention to the original POLICY ISSUE and legislation, which is topical, domestic and a counter punch to the dual state being developed in American Jurisprudence before our eyes. Merci, Frank “merde” French. You still have not trashed Al Franken and his legislation is still important.

          1. Paul Rage

            “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

            – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  3. Lyle

    But if you read the contract before you sign it you would know this (if you don’t bother its your own tough luck). Try crossing the area in question out. If its a cell phone provider go pre-paid disposable. (Much harder to trace and endorsed by drug dealers). There a choices, with pre-paid if you don’t like it you buy from another carrier. Of course one could just say no.

    1. Tom Crowl


      Forgive me, but your comment seems so disconnected from real world experience that I’m guessing you’re actually a Supreme Court Justice using a pseudonym…

      Am I correct?

      1. Andaemon

        Actually, I think Lyle is just being realistic. This bill isn’t going to do squat, even if it got anywhere. One thinks of other things to protect oneself against corporate predators.

    2. Veri

      A contract is negotiated. A take-it-or-leave-it ‘contract’ is not a contract – especially if all the other competitors have the same binding arbitration clause. No, contracts in America are on the basis of “you-are-f*cked” terms.

      1. MikeJ

        Don’t be ridiculous. Consumers don’t want to negotiate contracts for every purchase they make. Would you want people to have the ability to negotiate their cell phone contract if you were standing behind them in line at the Verizon Store? I think not.

        Contracts of adhesion are perfectly legit. As for forced arbitration clauses, well…I’d be more irritated with Congress than the Supreme Court.

  4. LeeAnne

    if you don’t bother its your own tough luck

    Maybe you live in some other country where there is real competition and free markets? Or maybe you just appeared from some other planet?

    People are bullied into signing whatever is in written into the required agreement when competition for goods and services are limited. Those services, had you read the above, can be on an application for a job, or nursing home services.

    1. Andaemon

      Yes, but you always have the choice to do without essentials. Do people in other countries have that choice?

    2. Lyle

      As I pointed out there is prepaid celluar in the specific case, where you have a card you refill as needed. It meets the needs of cell phone use, and since you sign no contract, you can always change vendors on a whim. It appears that ATT and Verizon both offer the service. Since you do not sign any contract but buy time as needed you have no long term obligation. In any case with the value for any one claimant being no more than $30 the bill is another lawyers full time and full pay act. The chances that one would see any money from such a suit are zip and nada. It would cost $10 or more just to process a claim.

        1. Veri

          All animals are created equal but some animals are more equal than others.

          If you believe that people have a right to shelter and food in America, you are sadly mistaken. The system we have today acknowledges no such rights. Besides, some Right Wing lunatics would be screaming Communism or Socialism, screaming ‘Throw the Bums Out!” and requiring those ‘freeloaders’ to get a job – even if there are no jobs.

  5. DaveP

    I’m glad to see Sen Franken actually doing something, even as paltry an effort as this. Hey, seriously, what’s he got to lose? He’s a comedian, not a career politician…might as well do something right while you’re in Washington, Mr. Franken-Smith.

    It’s interesting to see how NOW on SOME issues the Dems want to protect “our indelible Constitutional right to trial by jury”. Better late than never I suppose…don’t tell the Gitmo detainees about this though…

    That’s a start…now maybe they can start protecting our other “indelible Constitutional right(s)”?

    PGH PA

    1. Andaemon

      Indelible? The constitution is infinitely delible: it means whatever the Supreme court says it means, just like Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland.

  6. FatCat

    >> Sens. Franken, Blumenthal, Rep. Hank Johnson announce legislation giving consumers more power in courts vs. corporations <<

    What?! After I donated millions to their campaigns and deposited billions in their Swiss accounts?! I will have them impeached by Friday.


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