Congress adjourned last night, and again the Senate left the families of the Deepwater Horizon disaster without the ability to fully exercise their Constitutional rights. It has been more than 90 days since the House voted unanimously to repeal outdated federal pro-shipping laws and enable the survivors to have their day in court, but there hasn't been even one debate or recorded vote in the Senate on any bill.
To repeat what I wrote on September 18, "If the 11 workers killed on the rig had instead been working on land, or even hovering on a helicopter near the rig, their survivors would not have their 7th Amendment rights so unfairly limited by decades-old laws enacted before anyone dreamed of a floating oil rig." The House-passed "SPILL Act" would repeal those decades-old laws and enable the Deepwater Horizon victims to recover damages in the same way as if the explosion had occurred on land. The SPILL Act is perfectly consistent with principles of Constitutional conservatism in that it (1) upholds the 7th Amendment right to bring civil cases before a jury; (2) doesn't spend any taxpayer dollars; and (3) doesn't impose any federal enforcement mechanism, with victims' rights enforced only in "the legal marketplace of ideas" before a jury of their peers. What's wrong with that?
Meanwhile, the Gulf Claims Facility Fund, which is actually driven by BP (after all, they're paying Kenneth Feinberg's salary), is failing to meet any expectations for fair and rapid payment of valid claims. The Justice Department has called the pace of the process "unacceptable," and Feinberg has been called to Washington to try to explain the snail's pace of payments and the criteria he is using to minimize BP's exposure. Gulf-based businessed desperate to receive some compensation for lost business are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, with many giving up altogether. And Feinberg is demanding that victims forego all 7th Amendment rights if they accept final payments from the GCFF. Congress cannot depend on the GCFF to act as the impartial and final arbiter of compensation for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.