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William Magnusson, the co-creator of a consumer law that helped shape lemon laws in the United States (Part 1)

If you spend much time reading “lemon law” sites or talking to a “lemon law” lawyer, you are bound to hear the term “Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act“. This piece of legislation (sometimes abbreviated as Mag-Moss) is an important piece of federal law dealing with consumer warranties. It was enacted in 1975 in response to deceptive practices on the part of manufacturers and distributors. This is the keystone of many lemon law suits. While the mention of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is common, there is rarely any discussion about the two legislators for whom the act is named.

William Grant Magnusson (April 12, 1905 – May 20, 1989) spent 45 years of his life as representative of the people of Washington state. He was a lawyer by training and graduated from the University of Washington Law school in 1929. After graduation, he practiced law in Seattle, including a position as a special prosecuting attorney in King County in 1931. His interest in politics started early and he was a founding member of the Young Democrats of Washington. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1936 and was reelected three times. Magnusson served with Lyndon B. Johnson on the House Naval Affairs Committee. They remained friends. When Magnusson was married in 1964, LBJ was his best man.

In 1944, Magnusson was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. He continued to serve continuously in the Senate until he was defeated in 1980. During his tenure in the senate, Magnusson fought strongly for funding for the state of Washington. Vice President Walter Mondale said of him: “He is scrupulously fair with federal funds; one half for Washington state, one half for the rest of the country.”

Magnusson was key to the development of many important institutions. He sponsored legislation that lead to the creation of the National Institutes of Health, He also sponsored legislation creating the National Health Service Corps and public television. He was instrumental in the passage of consumer rights and protection legislation, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Fair Credit Advertising Act, as well as legislation ranging from requiring warnings on cigarette packages to the protection of marine wildlife in Puget Sound.

While in the area of warranty law, William Magnusson is known for his work protecting the consumer, his legacy is far greater than that, touching almost every aspect of American life.