Last week, in his first successful piece of legislation, freshman Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) persuaded the Senate to approve a measure banning federal contracts with defense companies that use mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts that prevent sexual assault victims from suing. The measure not only proves once again that elections matter, but it also comes as a major rebuke to none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The back story: Franken's bill was inspired by Halliburton/KBR contractor Jamie Leigh Jones, who was allegedly raped by her co-workers and held hostage in a shipping container by her employer in Iraq in 2005. Not only did the Justice Department and the military fail to investigate or prosecute her attackers, but as Mother Jones reported back in 2007, Jones was unable to sue the company, either, in no small part thanks to Cheney.
Cheney had been the Halliburton CEO who instituted a company-wide policy to include mandatory binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts. Jones was forced to sign such a contract before heading off to Iraq in 2005 and has spent four years fighting in federal court to void the contract. Jones wasn't the only defense contractor/sexual assault victim prevented from suing because of arbitration clauses.Franken was understandably outraged, and he gave a surprisingly compelling speech from the Senate floor, saying:
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.
Franken was so persuasive that even a few Republicans got on board; his amendment passed 68 to 30.