Government Agrees to Pay $7.4 Million to Veterans in Class Action Over Illegal Collection
In a class action brought by Public Citizen, (Briggs v. USA and Army and Air Force Exchange Service
) the federal government has agreed to repay $7.4 million to veterans whose federal benefits were improperly withheld to recover old debts incurred on military credit cards that they had used to buy uniforms and other items at military bases during their service.
The case is among the first to challenge the debt-collection practices of federal agencies. The court found that, between 2001 and 2008, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which issued the military credit cards, had illegally employed "administrative offset"-a procedure under which federal payments, such as social security, veterans' benefits, and tax refunds are withheld to collect debt-in violation of a statute barring use of that procedure for debts more than a decade old.
On February 1, a federal judge granted preliminary approval
to the proposed settlement. Under the settlement, the government would repay up to $10,000 to each class member. The average class member's claim is about $1,100. A fairness hearing on the settlement will be held on April 15. The case was brought with co-counsel Marie Noel Appel and Chandler Visher of San Francisco.
Supreme Court Decides Landmark Campaign Finance Case
On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision
in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
. The 5-justice majority, over a stirring dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens, used the case to overturn two prior court decisions that limited the role of corporate money in politics and to issue a sweeping new rule: For-profit corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence federal and state elections. Litigation Group attorney Scott Nelson was co-counsel for the key congressional sponsors of the McCain-Feingold law, who filed amicus briefs
in the Supreme Court.
The decision is likely to be enormously harmful. Corporations already dominate our political process-through political action committees, fundraisers, high-paid lobbyists, personal contributions by corporate insiders, and more. On the dominant issues of the day-climate change, health care, financial regulation-corporate interests are leveraging their political investments to sidetrack vital measures to protect the planet and its people. Citizens United offers them new tools to influence and intimidate lawmakers.
Now that the Court has tossed out major parts of our campaign finance laws, we must find new ways of keeping our elections clean. The possibilities include public financing of congressional elections, laws to give shareholders control over corporate spending, and even amending the Constitution to allow limitations on electioneering by for-profit corporations. Public Citizen is working to develop a comprehensive response to the Court's ruling.
Public Citizen Litigation Group is the litigating arm of Public Citizen. The Group specializes in cases involving health and safety regulation, consumer rights, access to the courts, open government, and the First Amendment, including Internet free speech.
We litigate cases at all levels of the federal and state judiciaries and have a substantial practice before federal regulatory agencies. Our efforts are also pursued through programs such as the Alan Morrison Supreme Court Assistance Project and the Freedom of Information Clearinghouse.
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Class action fairness. Class actions are an important tool for redressing harm to large groups of consumers or employees. Sometimes, however, class counsel and defendants agree to settle class action lawsuits on terms that provide no value to the plaintiff class, violate due process, or violate rules of civil procedure. In many such cases, the Litigation Group has represented class members who object to a proposed settlement, explaining to the court why the settlement should not be approved. Our recent work in this area includes objections in Lane v. Facebook, True v. American Honda Motors Corp., In re Katrina Canal Breaches Consolidated Litigation, Vernor v. Autodesk, and West v. Carfax.
Active Cases in the Supreme Court
Public Citizen attorneys have argued 56 cases in front of the Supreme Court. For current information on our role in Supreme Court cases, visit the Alan Morrison Supreme Court Assistance Project.
Internet Free Speech
Public Citizen has developed a program of litigation and other forms of advocacy which protects the rights of ordinary citizens against those powerful entities who would seek to curtail or surpress the exchange of ideas and criticism this new technology enables