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That "Right Thing to Do" - Natural Law in Scary Times

The plaintiff bar has made a good read on the confusion and fear - ethical, emotional and legal - of these volatile times.

In the court of law and of public opinion, it is arguing increasingly about the "right thing to do." That, of course, relies on natural-law theory [lex naturalis] or the fundamentalist belief that holds that there exists a law whose content and authority are established by nature, therefore valid everywhere. Throughout Rhode Island's lead paint public nuisance litigation and afterwards in taking on the state's Supreme Court decision in the media, Motley Rice spoke in terms of some universal legal and ethical code.

Natural law's power, points out Australian law professor David B. Goldman in "Globalisation and the Western Legal Tradition," comes from its deep roots in legal thought, dating back to ancient times. That has been reinforced both pragmatically and in the history of ideas by religious, literary, and political movements. Think the American Revolution which embodies belief in natural law in the "Declaration of Independence."

What the defense bar seems to be doing to neutralize this power includes arguments based on points of law, changing times, community mores, CSI-type evidence, mitigating circumstances, and cause/effect vs. mere correlation. The success of tort reform efforts has also tilted the legal system towards relativism instead of absolutist dictates.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.