Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thoughts on Tort Reform

Listening to coverage of the House debate today on Healthcare Reform, and hearing some commentary from the public who are calling in to C-SPAN, I noticed a common refrain among conservative opponents of reform which strikes me as contradictory, and emblematic of the illogical and irrational reaction among conservatives regarding this issue.

On the one hand, conservatives seem to have some visceral reaction against government regulation and manipulation of private enterprise. So, one would think that any effort to institute government regulation on the marketplace of the legal profession would be anathema to conservatives. But the fact is that conservatives place something called tort reform high on their agenda for healthcare reform. But my question is what is tort reform if not government meddling in the marketplace of legal representation and justice. What seems patently obvious to me is that conservative want government regulation of things they don't like -- they want government to jump in the fray and tell lawyers that they can't use their skills to win restitution and compensation for victims of crimes by those found guilty of perpetrating such crimes. It's of a piece with the idea that some conservatives want government to ban the inclusion of teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in schools. Or they want government to impose a kind of moral code on society through such ludicrous things like the "Defense of Marriage Act." They have no problems with government banning the consumption of alcohol or marijuana. They are very much advocates for government meddling and interference in an individual's freedom as long as that meddling is in favor of something they don't particularly like.

I'm open to the idea of government regulation of the "justice" marketplace through tort reform, much like I'm open to the idea of government regulation of the banking industry to prevent fraud and mismanagement of the kind that nearly collapsed our finance sector. But then I'm a liberal Democrat who sees the value in government regulation in certain instances and circumstances. Conservatives aren't supposed to be that way. So, what I don't understand is how a conservative can find consistency in lambasting regulation of the private healthcare market through the current healthcare bill, but yet not lambasting, and in fact promoting, the idea of government regulation of the legal industry through tort reform. It seems they don't like "greedy" personal injury lawyers just like many of us don't like greedy insurance executives and bankers. So, I challenge my conservative friends to justify to me, in principle, their support of government regulation of the legal industry through tort reform and not government regulation of the health insurance industry through health insurance reform.

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