This is insanity: The bond raters, those three big Wall Street companies that rated crappy mortgages to be great investments, thereby plunging the country into economic chaos, are hiding behind the First Amendment. They are claiming that they can’t be sued for the financial equivalent of calling a mouse an elephant, because their work product is just an “opinion.” We charge millions of dollars for giving you a rating, and you can’t hold us accountable because it’s an “opinion.”
I’ll tell you this: I work as a lawyer. If a screw up someone’s case because I give him bad advice (in return for charging her a fee), she could (rightfully) sue me for malpractice. If I raised the defense that I can’t be sued for terrible advice because it was merely “an opinion,” I’d be laughed out of court with an adverse judgment tattooed onto my forehead. That the courts aren’t letting these ratings firms get hammered makes you wonder whether the unspoken defense is “too big to fail.” If they didn’t have this ridiculous “First Amendment” defense, the smug and irresponsible raters would be ripped apart by millions of justifiably irate plaintiffs.
And, of course, Congress is in no hurry to beat back the ratings firms’ lobbyists and hold these jokers accountable for all of the 401K’s they’ve trashed.