18 Nov

WHAT Constitutional authority for limiting Constitutional rights



The new House GOP Majority is set to repeal ObamaCare, which is fine with me, and try to save health care spending through some amorphous medical malpractice “reform.” Here is the short bill that the House will pass on Friday to instruct House committees to look for those “savings.” BUT WAIT, on December 17, they also promised to cite a “Constitutional authority” for each bill, and advised the Members to seek help from certain named think tanks, including some top conservative groups. But where will they find the authority for medmal reform, which abrogates the 7th Amendment right to civil jury trials and the states’ rights protected by the 10th Amendment?

It’s a good guess that the “conservative” organizations cited in the December 17 memo will point to the Supremacy and Commerce Clauses as their source for federal medmal reform of any kind. I wrote on December 6 that two top Republican legal experts, including one at the Cato Institute, cited those two clauses at a Federalist Society panel as rationale for the federal preemption of state jury decisions in medical device and drug cases. But they can’t hide their inconsistency. As I wrote on December 14, the ObamaCare decision exposed the Cato Institute as hopelessly inconsistent to the point of absolute hypocrisy. One Cato legal expert condemns the use of the Commerce Clause as a basis for the ObamaCare takeover of health care, while another Cato legal expert defends the Commerce Clause as the basis for tort reform through federal preemption of state jury decisions in drug and medical device cases. Is that really the type of guidance that House leaders want to give their new committee chairmen?

Other organizations cited in the December 17 memo are no better; on October 6, I documented the compromise of many conservative groups on Constitutionally protected rights. None of the mainstream conservative groups are willing to defend the 7th Amendment, and they also don’t appreciate how federal preemption of state jury decisions neuters the 10th Amendment, as well as the 7th Amendment.

As I wrote on December 14, the co-“Father of the Bill of Rights,” George Mason, knew 222 years ago that some group would eventually try to jam Supremacy Clause-driven federal law down our throats, and he insisted that the ultimate power of the Supremacy Clause be limited by the Bill of Rights. Will Tea Partiers accept the rollover of the 7th and 10th Amendments by the new majority, or will it speak up? Will they realize that compromising the right to sue for medical malpractice would also compromise the right to sue to protect religious liberty; protect the unborn and womens’ health; fight bureaucratic power; and promote other conservative causes. WE THE PEOPLE cannot allow any Congress to use the Supremacy and Commerce Clauses to gut our unalienable rights.

18 Nov

What Is Crony Capitalisms Secret Deadly Weapon Against Our Rights updated



Crony Capitalists (CCs) never quit trying to entice federal officials into giving them special access or favors and shutting millions of the rest of us out of court, so they have no accountability to a local jury for negligence or shoddy service. They’ve enlisted scores of Members of Congress, many of them self-proclaimed backers of states’ rights, in an effort to to override the Founding Fathers’ clear guidance that Congress doesn’t have authority over state tort law, specifically with respect to lawsuits over healthcare negligence. True Federalists have had some recent success in persuading conservatives to not accede to the CCs’ demands, but the CCs never quit. And while we fight that one big battle, CCs have opened up another front, with enormous success thanks to another arm of an all-powerful Uncle Sam.

Under the nose of the vast majority of Americans, Crony Capitalists have been moving to shut out millions of us from exercising our 7th Amendment rights over bad products or services, based on one rarely read paragraph in consumer contracts. That paragraph, in everything from cell phone and car contracts to employment agreements, requires us to submit to binding arbitration, and to not file a lawsuit, as a condition of even buying the product or service. Forced arbitration clauses eliminate the ability to hold wrongdoers accountable, even in the most egregious cases involving the abuse of children and the elderly, intentional wrongdoing, and gross violations of law.

These clauses force us to give up our God-given, constitutionally protected right to go to court in favor of being relegated into a system of secret arbitration, where the arbitrators and the rules are chosen by the very company against whom the individual has a grievance. There are no due process standards, no guarantees that the applicable laws will be upheld, and no public records of the proceedings.

Let me stress that there’s nothing wrong with voluntary arbitration in which both sides have an equal chance before an impartial arbitrator in an open process. That’s not what happens in the current arbitration environment. The little guy has almost no shot whatsoever. And the mainstream press never touches the subject.

It’s been trending this way for years, but Crony Capitalists have received a huge boost from the supposedly-conservative Supreme Court in the quest to shut courthouse doors over forced arbitration clauses. The Court’s recent decisions have turned an almost-80-year-old law, the Federal Arbitration Act, into a giant club with which to crush states’ and individual rights. Two Texas state judges summarized the state of forced arbitration and recently wrote the following:

Our Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial is vanishing before our very eyes thanks in large part to an increased reliance upon alternate dispute resolution and mandatory arbitration. While a sound argument can be made for the utility of arbitration in arms-length commercial transactions, the consequences are particularly dire in situations involving consumers and employment consequencesAT&T and Rent-A-Center pushed the FAA’s scope to new limits. Courts are now unlikely to find contracts with arbitration provisions unconscionable no matter what state law provides. It is obvious that the application of the FAA has expanded beyond its drafters’ intent and in the face of apparent deficiencies.

Last week, a federal securities regulator gave preliminary approval to a plan by the discount brokerage firm Charles Schwab to require all 8+ million accountholders to agree to forced arbitration, even if Schwab violates securities law. POOF! There goes the constitutional rights for over 8 million people. Betcha every stock brokerage firm copies Schwab, basically enabling Wall Street, which already liquidated billions in pension accounts, to throw ethics out the window again and take investors into another financial crash without penalty.

Tomorrow we’ll see if the Supreme Court will take forced arbitration another step further and force small businesses with American Express accounts to submit to forced arbitration procedures designed and run by AMEX. If the Supremes are consistent, every small business with a Gold Card will know how individuals feel when the phone company tells us to go to arbitration or enjoy our crummy phone.

WHAT’S NEXT?! Will we see a sign on the grocery store door and on receipts, telling us that the purchase of food there constitutes an agreement to not sue it for spoiled, poorly stored food that makes us sick? Will we see a little paragraph on our car mechanic’s bill, telling us that we can’t sue for a dangerously negligent care repair, even if we’re killed?

When will Congress start taking this seriously and change the Federal Arbitration Act so we can exercise our rights in state courts, as the Founders said we should?

UPDATE, March 4: I Discussed this issue on the What’s Up radio program, hosted by Terry Lowry and broadcast on 100.7 FM KKHT, the Word Live stream at www.KKHT.com in Houston, TX, and on KBXD-AM 1480 in Dallas. You can download and listen to the interview in three segments:
Segment One
Segment Two
Segment Three

18 Nov

When Clarence Thomas John Roberts Defended The 7th Amendment



The Seventh Amendment provides that ” [i]n Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved… Accordingly, we must conclude that the Seventh Amendment provides a right to a jury trial where the copyright owner elects to recover statutory damages… The right to a jury trial includes the right to have a jury determine the amount of statutory damages, if any, awarded to the copyright owner. It has long been recognized that “by the law the jury are judges of the damages.” Lord Townshend v. Hughes, 2 Mod. 150, 151, 86 Eng. Rep. 994, 994-995 (C.P. 1677). Thus in Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 55 S.Ct. 296, 79 L.Ed. 603 (1935), the Court stated that “the common law rule as it existed at the time of the adoption of the Constitution” was that “in cases where the amount of damages was uncertain[,] their assessment was a matter so peculiarly within the province of the jury that the Court should not alter it.”

So wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in his opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court, when it ruled in a 1998 copyright infringement case that the Seventh Amendment requires the right to a jury trial where the copyright owner elects to recover statutory damages. In Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., the Court overruled the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had affirmed a district court’s ruling denying Feltner’s motion for a jury trial. Justice Thomas’ opinion included a discussion of the applicability of the Seventh Amendment to copyright infringement cases and, in effect, a terrific defense of the right to a civil jury trial and the role of local juries. Justice Thomas noted that even before adoption of the Constitution, in England and in the American colonies, “copyright suits for monetary damages were tried in courts of law, and thus before juries.” And he wrote that the Copyright Act of 1790 didn’t change that practice.

Ironically, the attorney asserting Mr. Feltner’s Seventh Amendment rights was John Roberts, now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and during oral argument before the Court, he eloquently noted the historical role and significance of civil jury rights enumerated under the Seventh Amendment:

In light of clear historical practice on both sides of the Atlantic prior to 1971, Feltner had a right under the Seventh Amendment to have a jury make that finding and others on which the award was based and determine the amount of damages to be imposed within the statutory limits.

The idea that… when Congress fixes the amount of the penalty it can therefore delegate that task to judges ignores the whole purpose of the Seventh Amendment.

The Seventh Amendment is to protect against judicial bias and corruption and overreaching and, while that’s not implicated when Congress fixes the amount because Congress is doing that, the judge is just applying it, when you give that task to the judge the whole reason for having the Seventh Amendment comes into play…

As someone who has criticized the Roberts Court for decisions denying civil jury trials in a number of preemption and arbitration cases, I was surprised to learn of this defense of the Seventh Amendment by Justice Thomas. My thanks to Bob Peck of the Center for Constitutional Litigation in Washington for pointing it out. Now if only the Roberts Court would only take a realistic view of the practical and harmful impacts of federal preemption and forced arbitration clauses on our right to a civil jury trial.

18 Nov

Founders Protected Civil Jury Trials in State Courts Too



Tomorrow I will be in Nashville, TN, to promote the universal right to civil jury trials, standing alongside the Tennessee Association for Justice and Susan Saladoff, producer of the documentary movie, Hot Coffee, which tells the truth about the famous McDonald’s “hot coffee” case. As I mentioned in an interview with the Tennessee Public News Service, the “tort reform” side has mythologized that case, completely distorting the facts. Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, rebutted those myths with actual facts in a December WorldNetDaily piece on the unconsitutionality of federal tort reform. I’m very pleased that Judson will join us tomorrow in Nashville.

It’s critical that Americans learn of the importance that the Founding Fathers gave to the right to civil jury trials for all causes and in all courts, state and federal. Historian Pauline Maier’s book, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, has drawn rave reviews from a number of conservative legal scholars. Randy Barnett called it “marvelous” and described it as “the first comprehensive narrative of the ratification of the U.S Constitution, from the Philadelphia convention, through each of the states (in order of deliberation) and the drafting and adoption of the first 10 amendments.” So I downloaded it on Kindle and searched for references to the right to a civil jury trial. And the book refers to a number of instances in which the states discussed and debated the need to protect that right in explicitly in the Bill of Rights after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention rejected motions to do so in the Constitution.

The benefit of the right to civil jury trials and the need to protect that right was a part of numerous state ratification conventions. For instance, the delegates to the Pennsylvania ratification delegation entered into a heated argument over whether Sweden had utilized, and then eliminated, civil jury trials and the impact on civil justice, which was resolved only when a commentary by the English jurist William Blackstone proved that civil jury trials had been commonplace thoughout Europe. The book documents similar debates in Connecticut and Virginia, the latter resolved by reference to the same Blackstone commentary that determined the debate in Pennsylvania. No less a patriot than Patrick Henry argued that the lack of explicit protection of jury trials for civil and criminal cases would lead to the loss of all rights. It was these debates that eventually led James Madison to propose the inclusion of what became the Seventh Amendment in the package of constitutional amendments proposed during the first Congress. And as I’ve documented in posts here, most state constitutions explicitly protect the right to civil jury trials.

I hope tomorrow’s events in Nashville will be a springboard to a nationwide discussion on the meaning of the Seventh Amendment and the need to protect the God-given right to civil jury trials in state and federal courts. It’s clear from the documentation of the state ratification conventions that the Founders did not intend to see this precious right limited or eliminated in state courts.

18 Nov

Look Whos Forging Right-Left Coalition to Stop Crony Capitalism



Any conference that puts conservatives such as James Glassman, Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union, and Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation with Jim Hightower, Medea Benjamin of CODE PINK, and Lori Wallach of Global Trade Watch is worth paying attention to, if for no reason other than to see if a fight breaks out. But Ralph Nader is doing that for the serious purpose of forging an “unstoppable” coalition to end Crony Capitalism, the special favors dished out by the federal government to cooperative businesses, usually of the large and politically powerful variety. It’s the subject of his latest book and a recent article in, of all places, The American Conservative.

The “Unstoppable Right/Left Convergence Event” will be held on Tuesday, May 27, at the Carnegie Institute in Washington. The speakers will address issues such as corporate welfare, international trade, the defense budget and civil liberties.

Some of these participants are already working together on issues of common concern. For instance, Lori Wallach and Judson Phillips have already collaborated in fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty that I refer to as “Obamatrade” because, like Obamacare, it would be a largely secret and huge law that would enable bureaucrats to crush states’ and individual rights. Lori Wallach criticizes the TPP’s impact on collective bargaining, while Judson Phillips hammers it for overriding constitutional government and our rights.

I was honored to be invited by Mr. Nader to participate, but have a conflict. I hope the May 27 conference will be the first in a series and I look forward to participating in the future. And I hope constitutional conservatives will commend Ralph Nader for engineering this conference and trying to forge a new coalition.

18 Nov

Conservatives Slam House GOP For Betrayal of States Rights



It’s a stunning betrayal of all those hardworking, pro-Constitution Americans who gave U.S. House Republicans their majority.

That’s how Rob Natelson, premier constitutional scholar and past Republican candidate, yesterday described the plan concocted by House GOP leaders to force House Republicans to vote for either a bill crushing states’ rights or to affirm a key section of the equally unconstitutional Obamacare health care law. After the House adjourned last week, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor announced that they would push Members to vote for H.R. 5, a bill mandating sweeping a federal takeover of all medical malpractice lawsuits. That bill has been on the shelf for months, thanks to strong conservative opposition. So to make it extremely difficult for GOP Congressmen to oppose it now, Boehner and Cantor attached a very attractive Obamacare repeal bill to H.R. 5. The result is the Hobbesian choice as described succinctly by Rob Natelson: If Republicans vote “aye,” they get unconstitutional tort reform. If they vote “no,” then they’re retaining an unconstitutional part of Obamacare.

Mr. Natelson, a former law professor at the University of Montana, has made a national reputation in constitutional scholarship for identifying the early writings and letters of the Founding Fathers. He has been warning Republicans to avoid H.R. 5 for almost a year. Once again, he takes dead aim at it on the Tenth Amendment Center website:

Although promoted as “medical malpractice reform,” the measure is actually a big step toward federal control of state court systems. Essentially, it’s a lengthy set of mandates telling state and federal judges how to run their own courts whenever they deal with any health-care-related personal injury cases… This measure tells state judges and legislatures what damages they can allow, when they can allow them, how to instruct their juries, what the time period for bringing suit must be, etc. etc. One section beginning with the words “The provisions governing health care lawsuits set forth in this title preempt . . . State law” is given the Orwellian title, “State Flexibility and Protection of States’ Rights.”

Mr. Natelson’s new blast at the plan to push H.R. 5 was joined yesterday by Prof. Ilya Somin of the George Mason Law School, who criticized House leaders on the legal blog, “Volokh Conspiracy.”

“It is indeed true that I have argued that federally mandated tort reform is both constitutionally suspect and largely unnecessary, because interjurisdictional competition gives states strong incentives to reign in their tort lawsuits on their own, as many have already done. House Republicans’ support for federal tort reform calls into question the genuineness of the GOP’s commitment to respecting constitutional limits on federal power.”

Mr. Natelson also slams the hypocrisy of the House GOP leaders for basing their plan to take over state courts on the same constitutional justification as Obamacare:

“How do its sponsors justify this under the Constitution? The same way the national health care zealots justify Obamacare: The Constitution gives Congress power to regulate interstate commerce, so Congress may regulate everything that “affects” commerce, presumably including breathing. Of course, this justification is bogus. When the Constitution was being debated, its supporters emphasized that personal injury law within state boundaries would be a state concern. And although the modern Supreme Court has smudged constitutional boundaries a good deal, it has never authorized congressional micro-meddling of state judicial systems. On the contrary, the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that states and state courts are constitutionally free of most federal ‘commandeering.’

These two respected conservative scholars join the National Conference of State Legislators in opposing H.R. 5.

NOTE: In his post, Prof. Somin comments on my characterization of his positions in my post yesterday about Ted Frank’s and Walter Olson’s positions on H.R. 5. I certainly did not intend to refer incorrectly to Prof. Somin and have amended that post accordingly.

18 Nov

New Florida Law Enables Snooping Into Private Medical Records



Haven’t we had enough snooping into our private records by the government and its agents in the private sector? If you live in Florida, there could be more on the way.

A new Florida law invites snooping into private medical records. The law, enacted as S.B. 1792 and designated as Chapter 2013-108 of the Laws of Florida, went into effect yesterday, July 1. It enables defendants in medical malpractice cases in Florida to contact the health care providers of the victims and demand the unlimited release of personal health information, and all without the victims’ consent. So if you want to file a malpractice lawsuit in Florida and you have any embarrassing information in your medical past, you better be prepared to see it released to the public in an open courtroom.

The geniuses in the Florida legislature and Governor’s Mansion who thought this up apparently want to protect bad doctors, hospitals, clinics, and nurses from the consequences of their negligence.

One little problem for them: their special protection scheme might violate federal law.

Do the initials “HIPAA” mean anything to you? Unless you haven’t been in a doctor’s office or hospital anytime in the past decade, you’ve heard of it. It stands for the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” and that law requires medical providers to protect patient information and use that information only for treatment, payment, and healthcare tasks. Under HIPAA, your medical providers cannot disclose your private medical records unless they’re subpoenaed, demanded through a discovery request in a civil suit, or through some other judicial order. HIPAA expressly overrides state law, unless the state law grants even more privacy protection than HIPAA.

The Florida law doesn’t provide for any judicial order and doesn’t mandate a subpoena – it just allows the lawyer for the medical provider to harass the victim’s medical provider into turning over the victim’s private records.

Five lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts in Florida to declare that law invalid. Here’s one of the lawsuits, filed in federal court in West Palm Beach.

And remember that the Founding Fathers designed the civil justice system, in part, to protect us from a government that oversteps its boundaries, violates our rights, and gives special favors to a few at the expense of the rest of us. There’s no reason for Florida to give the defendants in medical malpractice cases a key to open the door to some of our most sensitive personal information.

If you live in Florida, call your state representative and senator and demand that they repeal S.B. 1792 NOW.

18 Nov

House Republican Leaders Mislead Members About Reagan on Tort Reform



In a briefing paper sent to House Republican staff, a House Republican leader and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith, are misquoting Ronald Reagan on the subject of tort reform. Reagan spoke about tort reform only once in his career, and in that speech specifically referred to the states’ authority to run their own civil justice system under the Constitution. Yet that statement is excluded from the GOP leaders briefing paper to Members on H.R. 5. I wrote a lengthy post about this on January 24 of this year. Here is what Reagan said in that speech, including a sentence in which Reagan defended states’ rights over tort law:

“Earlier this year I endorsed the report of my Domestic Policy Council’s Tort Policy Working Group. This report contains a number of recommendations, recommendations that include fixed-dollar limitations for certain kinds of awards and the establishment of assurances that liability judgments go to those actually wronged or injured and not to the lining of their attorney’s pockets. Now, one of the report’s most important recommendations urged our administration to submit reform legislation to the Congress.

This legislation, carefully drafted, has now been introduced in the Congress by Senator Robert Kasten and Congressman Hamilton Fish. It restores the fault standard, which requires that actual fault or wrongdoing must be established in most cases before liability can be assessed. It limits pain-and-suffering and punitive damage awards, awards the amount contingency-fee lawyers could earn, and restricts the joint and several liability doctrine that can force a single defendant to pay all damages even if he is only partly to blame. To be sure, much tort law would remain to be reformed by the 50 States, not the Federal Government. And in our Federal system of government this is only right. Many of the Tort Policy Working Group recommendations, for example, would have to be implemented at the State level to be fully effective. This administration’s bill represents a much-needed overhaul of Federal laws governing interstate commerce –one of the fields of authority the Federal Government is specifically granted by the Constitution — and sets an example of common sense for the rest of the Nation to follow.”

THE GOP LEADERSHIP PAPER TO MEMBERS EXCLUDE REAGAN’S DEFENSE OF STATES’ RIGHTS. Moreover, the paper excludes that fact that Reagan never proposed a federal tort reform bill in any State of the Union message or any economic proposal.

Ronald Reagan was a true constitutional conservative, and tort reform was not on his radar. To misquote him on this subject is a terrible disservice to his legacy and to those of us who worked for him in his Administration.

18 Nov

Conservative Legal Experts Oppose Federal Tort Reform



It’s remarkable that Texas Governor Rick Perry would call for federal tort reform and ignore the writings of so many highly respected conservative and Tea Party-side constitutional experts. Instead, he’s sided with the pro-tort reform community in its reliance on constitutional theory that enables the federal government to trample on individual and states’ rights in health care and tort law, issues which the Founding Fathers clearly reserved for the states alone. Ironically, his “federal tort reform” would reward members of health care associations, such as the AMA, AHIP, and the health insurance industry, which were the co-conspirators in the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare, which he promises to repeal. Let’s review the legal theories in controversy here and how conservative legal experts have condemned federal tort reform this year.

At the start of the new Congress, pro-tort reform Republicans, led by a “Doctors Caucus” seeking special protection for their industry, introduced a bill, H.R. 5, a bill to impose stringent limits on the damages that victims of medical malpractice and other health care negligence can seek. The limits would apply to all lawsuits in the U.S. against doctors, hospitals, drug and device companies, nursing homes, and the insurance industry. The bill preempts all state laws that provide additional protections to patients.

Rob Natelson, formerly of the University of Montana Law School, is now Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a Tea Party-side legal expert and a former Republican candidate in Montana. He was the first expert from “the right side” to criticize H.R. 5, in a letter to Congress in April, and then again in an op-ed piece on May 9. Here are some excerpts from each:

H.R. 5 flagrantly contravenes the limitations the Constitution places places upon Congress, and therefore violates both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. H.R. 5 is purportedly an exercise of the Constitution’s Commerce Power. Yet as I shall explain, its subject-matter–civil actions in federal and state courts–is not within the Constitution’s meaning of “Commerce.” Nor can H.R. 5 be justified under the Necessary and Proper Clause as incidental to the regulation of interstate Commerce. On the contrary, during the debates over ratification of the Constitution, leading Founders specifically represented that the subject-matter of H.R. 5 was outside federal enumerated powers and reserved to the states

Even before the Ninth and Tenth Amendments reinforced the limits, Founders, such as Madison, Hamilton, and James Wilson, among others, represented that tort law and civil justice specifically were to be state concerns. True, Congress could erect and regulate federal courts with diversity jurisdiction, but only because of separate constitutional grants, not as a result of the Commerce Power. Indeed, I have never seen any evidence that the power to erect and regulate federal courts included authority to alter prevailing tort law even in those courts, and certainly not in state courts.

To the extent that H.R. 5 regulates health care in addition to civil justice, it is also outside the Commerce Clause. No less an authority than Chief Justice John Marshall said so, in Gibbons v. Ogden, a decision celebrated as an expansive interpretation of the Commerce Power. In that case, Marshall (himself formerly a leading Ratifier) stated that “health laws of every description”–presumably including laws governing health care litigation–were reserved exclusively to the states

Up till now the state courts have been one of the few areas of life relatively untouched by federal meddling. That is as it was supposed to be: State court systems are central to state sovereignty. Moreover, the Constitution reserves most issues of civil and criminal justice to the exclusive authority of the states, rather than the federal government. When the Constitution was being considered, its supporters said explicitly that state court systems are constitutionally out-of-bounds for Congress

HR 5 is advertised as addressing abusive lawsuits against physicians, but it goes far beyond that. It would regulate in detail just about every American lawsuit that has anything to do with health care: What an injured party can allege in his or her initial filing, the damages he or she can recover, how damages are disbursed, burdens of proof, what the jury may and may not consider, which state laws survive and which don’t. HR 5 even directs state judges to conceal pertinent information from the jury. It’s not certain the Supreme Court would uphold all of this bill. But it is certainly a flagrant invasion of local control. Here’s a real irony: The Republicans supporting HR 5 justify it by parroting exactly the same ridiculous “Commerce Clause” claims the President uses to justify ObamaCare.

Partially in response to the Rob Natelson’s April letter to Congress, the pro-tort reform side trotted out a corporate lawyer to write a defense of H.R. 5. The paper relies on what has become, since the early 1940s, the standard basis cited for all encroachments by the federal government into business decisions. Quoting from the ATRA paper:

Since the 1942 case of Wickard v. Filburn, involving Congress’s power to regulate the production of homegrown wheat, the United States Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause quite broadly with respect to the regulation of economic activity… The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) has closely analyzed judicial precedent and concluded that ‘there seems little doubt that tort reform legislation, in general, would be within Congress’s commerce power.’ Under its power to regulate interstate commerce, Congress may ‘make such legislation applicable to intrastate torts, because tort suits generally affect interstate commerce.’ With respect to the HEALTH Act, CRS has specifically recognized that ‘[m]edical malpractice liability is governed by state law, but Congress has the power, under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution (Art. I, ยง 8, cl. 3) to regulate it.’ Healthcare is truly national in scope and fundamental to interstate commerce… By placing an upper limit on subjective and otherwise limitless pain and suffering damages against doctors and other medical professionals, Congress can promote a more cost-effective healthcare delivery system… H.R. 5 is consistent with the Tenth Amendment, which provides that ‘[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Other conservative and Tea Party-side legal experts revolted openly against this paper and H.R. 5, and chastised House Republicans for condemning ObamaCare in one speech and pushing the expansion of fedral authority over health care and states’ rights in another.

Professor Randy Barnett of Georgetown University Law Center, the conservative legal superstar involved in the multistate lawsuit against ObamaCare in federal court, wrote in an op-ed on May 21: “But tort law — the body of rules by which persons seek damages for injuries to their person and property — has always been regulated by states, not the federal government. Tort law is at the heart of what is called the “police power” of states… Indeed, if Congress now can regulate tort law, which has always been at the core of state powers, then Congress, and not the states, has a general police power. This issue concerns constitutional principle, not policy: the fundamental principle that Congress has only limited and enumerated powers, and that Congress should stay within these limits. Constitutional law professors have long cynically ridiculed a ‘fair-weather federalism’ that is abandoned whenever it is inconvenient to someone’s policy preferences. If House Republicans ignore their Pledge to America to assess the Constitution themselves, and invade the powers ‘reserved to the states’ as affirmed by the Tenth Amendment, they will prove my colleagues right.”

Prof. Barnett was interviewed on the nationally syndicated What’s Up radio program by host Terry Lowry about how H.R. 5 violates the limitations on the powers granted to the federal government in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. You can listen to the first segment of his interview here and listen to the second segment of the interview here (MP3 audio files). Starting at 2:32 of the second segment, he said, “Congress doesn’t really have the authority to do tort reform legislation because that has historically been within the province of the states…” He proceeded to reiterate the other points of his op-ed, especially that federal tort reform legislation is an abuse of the Commerce Clause.

Prof. Ilya Somin of the George Mason University School of Law, another conservative legal expert who co-authored amicus briefs in anti-ObamaCare court cases, concurred with Prof. Barnett in a May 23 blog post. “Hopefully, at least some Republican conservatives will begin to see that you can’t advocate strict limits on federal power with one hand while trying to impose sweeping federal control over state tort law with the other. Inthis post, I explained why federally mandated tort reform is, in most cases, both constitutionally dubious and unnecessary. The better way to restrict abusive tort suits is through interstate competition combined with constraints on states’ ability to regulate conduct outside their borders.” The previous post to which he referred was in February in which he wrote, “In my view, however, current precedent is badly misguided in allowing Congress to regulate virtually any ‘activity.’ Therefore, I think most federally mandated tort reform is in fact unconstitutional, even if the Supreme Court would permit it to go forward.”

Yet another respected conservative professor, Jonathan Adler of the Case Western Reserve School of Law, wrote a very brief comment against H.R. 5 in support of an attack from an unusual source, an pro-tort reform advocate, about which I will write in a separate post. Prof. Adler wrote that, “support of a particular policy goal does not require abandoning a principled commitment to the broader federalist scheme.” Professor Adler is a frequent contributor to the events and publications of the Federalist Society, considered the premier conservative-side legal organization in the country.

Professor John Baker, a Distinguished Scholar at Catholic University Law School, Professor Emeritus at LSU Law School, and frequent presenter at Federalist Society events, wrote on the Daily Caller website on June 22 that H.R. 5 and ObamaCare are two peas from the same post-Willard Commerce Clause pod:

To justify their efforts to nationalize medical malpractice law, House Republicans are stretching the Supreme Court’s New Deal Commerce Clause jurisprudence almost as far as Democrats did for Obamacare. Both national medical malpractice reform and Obamacare are radically at odds with our constitutional structure of federalism, though Obamacare is especially radical because it represents the first time that the federal government has required people to purchase a product (health insurance).

What compels House Republican leaders to ignore the Constitution? Nationalizing medical malpractice law would not necessarily protect hometown doctors. Some states currently offer doctors better protection, without being subjected to federal bureaucrats. Other states would do so if doctors worked their own state legislatures, rather than relying on a Washington lobby, the American Medical Association.

The explanation for the eagerness of House Republican leaders to nationalize even more of the economy is a simple reality: both Congressional Democrats and Congressional Republicans like the New Deal interpretation of the Commerce Clause, which allows them to expand national power. They would just do so for different purposes.

Prof. Baker went further, warning Republicans like Rick Perry that enacting a federal tort reform bill like H.R. 5 could boost the chances that the Supreme Court would rule favorably on the Affordable Care Act. “Seeing that Republicans are as willing as Democrats to nationalize different parts of healthcare, the justices might conclude that there is a Congressional consensus to nationalize all of healthcare. Since justices tend to defer to Congress, that might be enough to tip the scales in Obamacare’s favor.”

Is that really what Rick Perry wants? To boost the chances of victory for ObamaCare?

Rob Natelson returned to the subjects of federal tort reform and the Commerce Clause on July 18 in the course of a discussion on Chief Justice John Marshall and his signature case, Gibbons v. Ogden, on the Tenth Amendment Center website:

Gibbons v. Odgen is often appealed to, as Justice Jackson did, for a very broad reading of the ‘commerce’ component of the Necessary and Proper Clause. Under this reading, the Necessary and Proper Clause allows Congress to regulate any economic activity “substantially affecting” interstate commerce: agriculture, mining, manufacturing, heath care, insurance, medical marijuana–in fact, the entire economy.

However, Gibbons did not even mention the Necessary and Proper Clause. The primary holding of Gibbons was that navigation was within the prevailing legal definition of ‘commerce’ for constitutional purposes–a decision that, under the original understanding of the Constitution, was clearly correct. Some of the Court’s dicta (extraneous language) added that in some circumstances commerce (including navigation) within state boundaries might be so tied up with interstate commerce that Congress could regulate it as well. But when Marshall addressed other aspects of the economy, it was to say that they were outside of Congress’s power. He specifically mentioned ‘health laws of every description’ as being reserved exclusively to the states.

So those who use Gibbons to argue for the constitutionality of federal control of manufacturing, agriculture, land use, or health care are twisting some of Marshall’s words and omitting others.

In other words, the pro-ObamaCare forces and the pro-tort reform causes make the same error for the same reasons. In both cases, the result of victory in each case would be the exercise of excessive federal power, to the detriment of individual rights and the rights of individual states to regulate and manage the daily activities of the citizenry.

That makes FIVE conservative legal experts, bright shining stars in the conservative legal universe, standing against the concept of federal tort reform. Two other legal experts wrote about the unconstitutionality of H.R. 5, but they deserve special discussion in another post, because they’re pro-tort reform advocates who recognized the unconstitutionality of H.R. 5.

18 Nov

Obamas Vision Could Hurt Civil Justice in America



It wasn’t difficult to see liberals standing on the Mall in Washington, bundled in warm clothing and loudly cheering President Obama’s Inaugural Address, with the promise of larger and more activist central government deployed to implement a “progressive” agenda. But I saw another group smiling softly deep in the background. It was the Crony Capitalists, watching from warm, comfortable Fortune 100 boardrooms across America and on Wall Street, and their K Street lobbyists in DC, all nodding their heads at the opportunity to transform that vision into new laws and regulations that would benefit their own interests. That’s the way it works in Washington, and the rest of us are the cream in the Oreo cookie, stuck in the middle and crushed by both sides.

Liberals, especially those dedicated to the cause of civil justice, should be careful what they wish for in the next four years. An Uncle Sam unleashed from the limits on centralized power designed into the Constitution and Bill of Rights could hinder or even crush the individual right to have civil suits heard before a local jury and the right of state governments to enforce local laws benefitting the consumer. In the hands of Big Government Liberals and Crony Capitalists working behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms, phrases of Obama’s speech such as “collective action” and “common effort” could result in budget “compromises” and “Grand Bargains” that leave us with ugly surprises, such as federal caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits filed in state and county courts; preemption of state consumer protection laws; and limits on the authority of state Attorneys General. Is that what liberals signed up for when they cheered President Obama?

Civil justice activists of all stripes should heed and cite the majority decision by the Supreme Court in the Obamacare ruling. Thankfully, the Court expressed the need for the Executive Branch and Congress to recognize and follow constitutional limits on their authority under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Constitutional experts whose theories were adopted by the majority, such as Randy Barnett and Rob Natelson, have already made it clear that the Roberts decision imposed new limits on the unbridled ambition to override state governments and individual rights. Randy Barnett promises to lead any legal challenge to an enacted federal cap on medmal damages, and both experts predict such a law would be struck down by the current Court. As long as that opinion isn’t overruled through the appointment of justices who believe in an unlimited Commerce Clause, as promoted in Justice Ginsberg’s minority opinion, the Founding Fathers’ vision of a civil justice system dominated by local juries, and not bureaucrats in Washington, will remain alive.

Ironic, isn’t it? Civil justice advocates on the left need libertarians and constitutional conservative thinkers such as Randy Barnett and Rob Natelson; conservative Republicans such as Ted Poe, Louis Gohmert, Tom Coburn, Mike Lee and Ken Cuccinelli; and wise Tea Party activists such as Judson Phillips, to keep the promise of equality under law. Let’s hope civil justice liberals realize it.