The bill, long supported by big business, is part of the president's plan for sweeping legal reform, including putting caps on malpractice lawsuit settlements.
"This should create some momentum for other legal reform bills coming along," U.S. Chamber of Commerce legal officer Stanton Anderson said, according to Reuters.
In a 72-26 vote, the Senate approved a measure that would send large, multi-state class action lawsuits to federal courts. These cases, such as those brought against tobacco companies, are now heard in smaller state courts, which have often awarded multi-million dollar settlements.
Federal courts are traditionally more selective in choosing their court dockets, prompting fears by opponents that the measure would limit litigation opportunities for corporate wrongdoing.
"The reason why this bill is the highest priority of the Bush administration and the Republican leadership in Congress is because of one simple fact: Class action suits moved from state courts to federal court are less likely to go forward, to be tried, and they are less likely to reach a verdict where someone wins or loses," said Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Associated Press reported.
After surviving three separate attempts by some Senate Democrats to limit its reach, the bill is expected to go before the House next week and on to President Bush to sign into law, Reuters reported.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. praised the measure and indicated that balance between corporations and consumers would be preserved.
The bill "is designed to rein in the lawsuit abuses, and it does just that," he said, according to the AP. "A plaintiff may end up in federal court, yes, rather instead of state court, but no citizen will lose his or her right to bring a case."