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NH Special: The Candidates on Legal Reform



I was pleased that legal reform made a cameo appearance in Saturday's ABC/Facebook Republican Presidential debate, if only in the form of a recognition that we do, in fact, have a big problem. Mitt Romney said the following in his closing remarks:

American corporations -- last year they spent more money defending tort lawsuits than they spent on research and development. We're upside down.

According to the Club for Growth, Romney's record on legal reform is strong and steady: as Governor of Massachusetts he supported a bill to cap noneconomic damages at $500,000, tightened the standards that administrative tribunals apply to medical malpractice claims, and reduced the amount recoverable in attorneys fees by successful plaintiffs in large cases.

As a Governor, Romney -- like Mike Huckabee, who also got props from the Club for limiting punitive damages in Arkansas (although almost nothing else) -- was able to avoid the sticky problem of reconciling legal reform with principles of federalism.

Senators John McCain and Fred Thompson received more mixed reviews. McCain consistently favors federal remedies to the nation's litigation problem. He voted for legislation to bar lawsuits against gun manufacturers, to cap medical malpractice damage awards, and to limit attorneys fees in some class action cases. The Club for Growth did ding him, though, for voting for the Patients' Bill of Rights, which created new causes of action against medical providers.

Thompson, a former (but reformed?) trial lawyer, gets a lukewarm reception on legal reform. He voted more than once against federal damage caps, refused to alter the burden of proof in some medical malpractice cases, and opposed granting immunity to manufacturers for Y2k-related problems. Thompson cites federalism as his reason for refusing to meddle in state law, even in order to correct abuse.

In this sentiment, at least, Thompson is aligned with Congressman Ron Paul, who has opposed "denying states the right to decide their own medical standards and legal rules." Paul has opposed several federal bills to grant immunity from state causes of action or cap damages. He did, however, vote for a bill that would remove national class action lawsuits from state to federal courts.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani has had limited scope to directly advance legal reform, but he has proposed limiting suits against New York City more than once. Critics call foul over his decision in 2000 to file suit against gun manufacturers for costs related to City violence. On the other hand, he has shown promising interest in Loser Pays reforms over the years.

Every Republican in the Presidential race supports legal reform -- a promising sign of increased public awareness of this issue. Their styles and priorities differ, though, so the committed reformer should seek more details before casting a ballot if they plan to participate in the Republican primary.

 

 


Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy
rmangual@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.