Three cheers for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved what the New York Times called in a March 12 editorial “a modest but potentially life-saving bill” known as the Sunshine in Litigation Act, a piece of legislation that would require judges in federal courts to take into account public interest before granting a request for secrecy. In a letter NCL sent, along with Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Government Accountability Project, and U.S. PIRG, to the Honorable Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, we argued our support for the act and encouraged senators to see to it that it’s passed quickly.
The issue is this: when companies are in the middle of a product liability case, they often demand, as a stipulation of their settlement, that individuals involved must agree to terms that will prevent them from disclosing any public safety hazards that may have been uncovered during litigation. This is a totally anti-consumer practice: allowing the sealing of all litigation records, especially when they involve matters that affect public health and safety, endangers consumers and encourages corporate wrongdoing.
The new act preserves a company’s rights to protect important “trade secrets,” so this should be a new rule all parties can live with. We’ll continue to follow this bill as it makes its way through the legislative process. You go, Judiciary Committee! Next up: Senate Floor.