Excerpts from: Cannon's hearing on responsible eating turns into war of words;
fight: Utah's representative wants to limit suits by overeater

The Salt Lake Tribune, June 20, 2003, June 20, 2003, Friday
A congressional hearing on whether high-fat foods like cheeseburgers should be a paradise for those who want to sue chain restaurants for allegedly making them overweight turned into flame-broiled fight over constitutional powers, personal responsibility and parliamentary procedure.

Before everyone broke for a quick lunch Thursday, House Judiciary Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah was threatened with a slander suit by a witness, accused of disorderly conduct by the panel's ranking Democrat and asked the inevitable question: Have you ever super-sized it?

The author of the bill, Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., said Congress needs to emphasize the need for personal responsibility and regular exercise by stopping frivolous lawsuits by people who blame Big Macs and Oreos for their excessive girth and poor health.

But one of the legal architects of recent obesity lawsuits against McDonalds, Nabisco and Pizza Hut called the proposal unconstitutional and far beyond Congress' authority to dictate judicial decisions.

"You're going to pre-judge these people and say they are not entitled to their day in court," said George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf, who helped bring landmark lawsuits on behalf of smokers and nonsmokers against cigarette makers.

Those tobacco suits were initially called frivolous like the "obesity epidemic" suits are now dubbed, said Banzhaf, "but they have all proven their worth and helped to make a significant dent in the public health problem of smoking, which is more than I can say about the U.S. Congress."

Banzhaf accused Cannon of "demonizing" him and making personal attacks that could be construed as slander.

But the lone Democrat to attend the political food fight, Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina, said he "laughed" when he learned Cannon was going to hold a hearing on legislating personal responsibility at the drive-through.

"I'm almost speechless at the arrogance of the state of mind of my colleagues who think they can undo anything, including the Constitution, just because we don't like the results of a lawsuit," said Watt, who later charged that Cannon was unfairly cutting off Banzhaf's testimony.

"I'm the chairman," responded an exasperated Cannon.

"And now you're out of regular order," shot back Watt.

"No, you're out of order," retorted Cannon in a heated exchange that continued later as the pair strode from the hearing room across the grounds of the Capitol for a roll call vote.