Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
There was a brief moment in history when I thought being a Republican meant that personal responsibility and accountability for misdeeds was a high principle. If that was ever the case, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and 29 other Republicans have shown that it is no longer the case for most Republicans. Thirty Republicans, including Cornyn, voted against an amendment to the 2010 defense appropriations bill that will prohibit defense contractors from denying employees who are raped the right to take legal action to redress that wrong.
Minnesota Senator Al Franken introduced the amendment after former Halliburton subsidiary KBR used a mandatory arbitration clause in an employment contract with Jamie Leigh Jones, who had worked in Iraq for KBR, to prevent her from taking legal action. After the 2005 gang-rape, Ms. Jones was kept locked in a shipping container for 24 hours without food, water, or a bed. KBR told her that if she sought medical care, she would be fired.
For 15 months, KBR engaged in arbitration with Jones about liability and compensation for her gang-rape by other KBR employees. After wasting all that time in fruitless arbitration, Jones filed a law suit to redress her grievances. After Jones initially lost in the trial court, a court of appeals recently ruled that the gang-rape was not employment-related, thus court action is not prohibited by the arbitration provision of the contract, and Ms. Jones should be permitted to seek damages in a court of law.
Texas’ other Senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, voted in favor of the defense appropriations amendment, as did nine other Republicans. Sixty-eight members of the Senate seemed to understand that corporations should not be allowed to hide behind arbitration clauses in employment contracts to escape liability for sexual misconduct for which they may have partial responsibility.
Cornyn’s response to an outcry about his vote has been to suggest that his vote was supported by President Obama and that it had nothing whatever to do with the Jones case since a court has allowed her to pursue other remedies after the wasted months in arbitration. Mainly, however, Cornyn attempts to justify his vote by relying on an attack against trial lawyers who might represent people who have been raped while serving their country under defense department contracts.
This is the usual reason given for supporting arbitration agreements–attack the trial lawyers. However, arbitration agreements are fair only when they are negotiated between equal parties, not when they are forced by a wealthy, domineering corporation on an individual employee. In theory, arbitration is a good way to reduce litigation. In practice, arbitration has been used by corporations to delay just compensation and remedial actions for years, and can be just as expensive as litigation.
In this case, the insidious nature of mandatory arbitration has been revealed. Jones has spent three years in litigation just to get to the point where she can finally sue those responsible for her sexual assault and other mistreatment. In all likelihood, it will be many more years before she has a chance to receive compensation for the wrongs done to her. Two weeks ago, KBR/Halliburton filed a petition for rehearing before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to try to return the case to arbitration.
Once again, Sen. Cornyn has placed protection of corporations above fairness to employees. It is beyond comprehension that he would place the interests of rapists ahead of their victims by allowing companies who contract with the defense department to shield themselves and their employees from responsibility for their actions.
For a former attorney general and judge to participate in shielding rapists is unconscionable. I can’t believe that any decent human being, man or woman, would approve of what he and 29 other Republicans have done. We know now, beyond any doubt, that Cornyn has neither shame nor principles that are worth supporting. Political ideology should never be an excuse to protect corporations over people.
Sen. Franken proposed the amendment because he believes that women who are raped deserve due process of law, not an arbitrary proceeding that can be manipulated by huge corporations to their benefit, and the Congress has the authority to regulate defense contracts to assure that employees working under them are treated fairly. In support of his amendment, Franken said, “The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law. And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court. The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen.”
During debate on the amendment, Franken explained the constitutional underpinning of his proposed amendment.
“Article 1 Section 8 of our Constitution gives Congress the right to spend money for the welfare of our citizens. Because of this, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, ‘Congress may attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds and has repeatedly employed that power to further broad policy objectives.’ That is why Congress could pass laws cutting off highway funds to states that didn’t raise their drinking age to 21. That’s why this whole bill [the Defense Appropriations bill] is full of limitations on contractors–what bonuses they can give and what kind of health care they can offer. The spending power is a broad power and my amendment is well within it.”
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted in favor of Franken’s amendment, said, “I want to make sure that a woman, any individual who is a victim of a terrible act, knows that they have got protections.” Republican Sen. George LeMieux of Florida agreed with Murkowski–”I can’t see in any circumstance that a woman who was a victim of sexual assault shouldn’t have her right to go to court.”
You would think that a former judge of the Supreme Court of Texas could both understand such reasoning and basic constitutional law as explained by Justice Rehnquist. But Cornyn is more interested in protecting the privileges of the corporations than he is in protecting the victims of rape.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print