Address to the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association,
The ABA is the largest voluntary professional association in the world. . And you have many things to be proud of: from your early leadership in . reforming and unifying American law, to your longstanding commitment to service through pro bono activities. Through his "Points of Light" program,the President has tried to reinvigorate the great American spirit of volunteerism. Many members of the ABA have been points of light since the day this organization was formed.
It is in the spirit of the early reformers in the ABA that I join you here today. Our goal, as was theirs, is to improve the administration of justice. Chief Justice Burger once termed this "a task never finished," and that is especially so in a country like ours. Madison's "vast and extended commercial Republic" is now more complex, diverse, and mobile than he could have ever imagined. But the ideals of the republic remain unchanged: the rights of the individual are fundamental in America. We take rights seriously.
So when we think about the command of our Constitution's Preamble, to "establish Justice," we have to start at the doors to the cow1.house, and keep them open to every American. We owe them a system in which they can resolve their conflicts promptly, effectively, and. fairly. And from the hundreds of county courts throughout America, to the Supreme Court in Washington, we also owe it to the people to maintain the independence and excellence of the third branch of government.
That is why we view it as so important that the Senate confirm President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Clarence Thomas. The ABA knows Judge Thomas. In fact, you've already considered his fitness to sit on the federal bench, and found him qualified just last year. And the Senate has confirmed him no less than four times for high positions in the federal government.
As you know, there's been a bit of opposition to Judge Thomas's confirmation from some interest groups. But in spite of this ideological opposition, I'm confident that my former colleagues in the Senate will consider this nomination fairly and on the merits. I think the great majority of senators will end up agreeing with the former national board chair of the NAACP, Margaret Bush Wilson, who wrote last week that Judge Thomas's "record will speak for itself and will impress those willing to listen and look beyond misinformed rhetoric." Ladies and gentle-men, Judge Clarence Thomas is an outstanding nominee. He deserves to be confirmed, and I believe he will be/
Today I want to talk about our legal system's impact on the American economy, on our ability to compete. Through the 1990s, we're going to face many obstacles in the global marketplace. Some will come from the outside; we're still seeing unfair practices on the part of some trading partners - subsidies, nontariff trade barriers, and the like. But there are other stumbling blocks that we can't make excuses for - because they're our own fault. And that's the way I think we should look at litigation in America today. Our system of civil justice is, at times, a self-inflicted competitive disadvantage.
Every year in America, individuals and businesses spend more than 80 billion dollars on direct litigation costs and higher insurance premiums. When you include the indirect costs, it may add up to more than 300 billion.
This is just one part of the problem. Look at the sheer number of disputes now flowing through our judicial system. One of the most insightful studies of the system is aptly tided, The Litigation Explosion. In 1989 alone, more than 18 million civil suits were filed in this country - one for every ten adults - making us the most litigious society in the world. Once in court, many litigants face excessive delays - some caused by overloaded court dockets, others by adversaries seeking tactical advantage. In addition, many of the costs confronting our citizens are enormous, and often wholly unnecessary. And in resolving conflicts, Americans don't have enough access to avenues. other than the formal process of litigation.
Isn't our legal system in need of reform? Can't we improve the delivery of justice to American citizens? With these questions in mind, the President's Council on Competitiveness, which I chair, assembled a Working Group on Civil Justice Reform. I was pleased that the Solicitor General, Ken Starr, agreed to serve as chairman, and he and his colleagues have done a wonderful job. Their Report, which was endorsed unanimously by the Council, puts forward. solid reform proposals in a number of areas. We have 50 recommendations in all; some ambitious, others more narrow. But each will help reduce cost and delay in the system, and make it easier for citizens to vindicate their legal rights.
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