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The US Election: How Did the Lawyers Fare?

November 09, 2006

By Walter Olson

The result didn't hang on a chad this time, but lawyers still played a starring role

While election lawyers may not have received the workout they expected, the Democrats' victory was full of other implications for the law. To be sure, legal issues were not at the forefront of this year's campaign; public discontent had much more to do with the botched Iraq war, as well as the perceived incompetence and self-serving ways of national Republicans. But activists on both sides were keenly aware (to take one example) that the Democrats' Senate takeover is likely to restrain President Bush from adding any more highly conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

It also happens that many of the stars of the evening had made their name as activist lawyers, above all New York's incoming governor Eliot Spitzer, whose very name now symbolizes aggressive use of the law against corporations. His fellow Democrat Deval Patrick, who served the Clinton administration as a very busy head of bias-law enforcement, was meanwhile leading his party to a huge win in Massachusetts. An hour's drive south on I-95, Sheldon Whitehouse, who as Attorney-General of Rhode Island filed a much-criticised suit against former makers of lead paint, including ICI, was bumping off a popular Senate incumbent. One of the few bright spots for the GOP came when Charlie Crist, Florida's Attorney-General, known for his many enforcement actions against businesses, kept the Sunshine State's governorship in Republican hands.

Notice the pattern? If you're an ambitious American politician, pretty much the best springboard for attaining higher office is a job in which you get to file a steady stream of enforcement actions, nearly all of which are likely to result in settlements, with both filing and resolution serving as the occasion for flattering press releases. That's in fact the job description of one of the most enviable jobs in American politics, the position of state Attorney-General. Mr Spitzer is just the latest of a long line of AGs to ascend to higher office and although he may have perfected the formula, he certainly didn't invent it.

Will the coming Democratic ascendancy turn back the clock to an era of grandstanding 1970s-style attacks on business? House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, who is shrewder than some think, has sought to head off such talk. She even suggests her colleagues may be open to business complaints on regulatory matters such as the Sarbanes-Oxley law, widely believed to be discouraging mid-sized companies from public listing of their stocks.

Not bad, for talk. But one problem is that several key committees will now be in the hands of veteran left-leaning legislators whose anti-business crusades are vividly recalled from past periods of Democratic rule. John Dingell, at Energy and Commerce, is likely to make life miserable for pretty much every industry except automaking, which he protects as a good Detroiter. Henry Waxman, at Government Reform, can be expected to pillory defense contractors and pharmaceutical makers. And Judiciary itself will be headed by John Conyers, an advocate of Bush impeachment who occupies a point arguably further to the left on the spectrum than any other important member of Congress.

Watching Mrs Pelosi try to corral this bunch should be fun.

Original Source:



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