Within the last week, two conservatives who have previously opposed federal tort reform on constitutional grounds did so again. Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, wrote Tort Reform? It's Unconstitutional on World Net Daily on December 13. He began by reiterating the Founding Fathers' support for the right to a civil jury trial:
First, there is no authority in the Constitution for the federal government to take over an area of law that has always been governed by the states. There is also no provision in the Constitution that allows the federal government to impose price controls on one industry or even one segment of an industry.
Perhaps more importantly, it flies in the face of what the founders undoubtedly considered the most important of the constitutional rights, the right to a jury trial.
The Founding Fathers considered the jury trial to be so important that it is the only right in the Bill of Rights that is specifically enumerated in two amendments.
Then Judson recounted the story of the McDonald's "Hot Coffee" case to show how the real facts of that case differ markedly from the mythology surrounding it, and how the jury decision in the case led to a change in corporate behavior:
In the end, the jury decided that Ms. Liebeck was partially at fault for the accident, so the damages award was reduced by 20 percent to $16,000. Ms. Liebeck asked for punitive damages, and the jury, after considering the evidence, awarded punitive damages of $2.7 million, or the equivalent of two days of profit McDonald's receives from its coffee sales.
In post-trial motions, the judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000. In the end, McDonald's settled the case, and the details were kept confidential.
The free-market system is a wonderful system. It promotes good behavior and punishes bad behavior. McDonald's chose to sell its coffee at a temperature that caused injuries to people so it would make more money. The jury sent McDonald's a message, and today McDonald's does not sell its coffee at 190 degrees.
Rob Natelson, longtime law professor and constitutional scholar at the Independence Institute in Colorado, also reiterated his opposition to federal tort reform last week in an interview on the nationally syndicated What's Up radio program, hosted by Terry Lowry. On November 21, I posted about his new study, The Roots of American Judicial Federalism, in which he quoted from the numerous writings of the Founding Fathers. They clearly opposed any federal intervention in state judicial systems, including in civil justice issues. Rob's interview on December 12 was broadcast in four parts, with the third segment and the fourth segment (podcasts) the most pertinent, discussing the separation between federal and state powers as developed during the Founding Era. Proponents of federal tort reform ignore the sizable body of evidence presented by Rob Natelson and real Constitutional conservatives, but have lost the intellectual and political battle in Washington during 2011.