Blawgletter loves to read The Wall Street Journal, both for its superb factual reporting and for its zany opinions. Kimberley Strassel‘s latest Potomac Watch column — "Tort Tribute" — nicely illustrates the latter.
Ms. Strassel, a 1994 Princeton graduate and former writer on technology and real estate, may seem an unlikely guru for matters legal. But she doesn’t need lawyer chops to whack "the tort bar", by which she means fat cat plaintiffs’ lawyers who zip around in Gulfstreams chasing corporate malefactors riding in bigger Gulfstreams. You can probably see where she aims to go with her Tort Tribute column.
But the details prove interesting. Ms. Strassel argues that the new majority in Congress has already commenced to "bestowing a big, wet smooch on the trial bar." How? By holding oversight hearings and tweaking legislation. The hearings ferret out otherwise unavailable information, which "can then be used in lawsuits." They also "publicly vilify" an industry and soften it up "for a later legal collapse." The legislative play, Ms. Strassel says, involves inserting "small, seemingly innocuous additions or subtractions to legislation". She cites a recent attempt by the American Association for Justice to "make it easier for citizens to file lawsuits against chemical manufacturers."
Hmmm. Finding and warning the public about private wrongdoing have always struck Blawgletter as important, if not essential, functions of government. And Ms. Strassel’s legislative example in fact concerned an effort to counteract a Bush administration initiative, at the urging of the American Chemistry Council, to make lawsuits for violating state safety standards all but impossible.
So what Ms. Strassel sees as a Democratic pay-off to plaintiffs’ lawyers looks to Blawgletter like a bee-gotta-buzz, bird-gotta-sing thing — doing what comes natural to guardians of the public weal. Plus, consider the alternative: horrific wrongs stay secret and pass without remedy to the victims or consequences to the wrongdoer. Which do you prefer?