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Ken Connor’s Misplaced Attack on John Stossel and Tort Reform

Posted on July 19 2010 1:00 pm

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This week’s winner of the “Townhall Columnist Who Argues Most Like Robert Gibbs” award has to go to Ken Connor for his piece A Libertarian’s Misplaced Attack on the Constitution. The libertarian in question is John Stossel, the issue Stossel’s criticism of trial lawyers, the attack on the constitution … God only knows.

Mr. Connor’s thesis can be summarized as follows:

  • Conservatives and/or libertarians believe in strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution
  • The seventh amendment of the Constitution provides for the right to trial by jury in civil suits
  • Some conservatives and/or libertarians believe in tort reform
  • Therefore some conservatives and/or libertarians are attacking the Constitution

I promise you can repeat those four points a dozen times and the logic will make no more sense to you at the end of exercise than at the beginning.

In the event my summary somehow misses the subtlety of his arguments let’s consider the author’s own words:

Somehow along the way, however, many conservatives have lost an appreciation for one of the most fundamental rights of America’s political heritage …  This much maligned right is set forth in the Seventh Amendment, which states that “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”


Critics of the tort system say the system itself has become twisted and is in need of straightening out.  They point to “frivolous” lawsuits and “unreasonable” verdicts as evidence of the need for reform.  They argue that aggressive trial lawyers and runaway juries are driving up the cost of doing business for everyone.

Just this week, John Stossel discussed “the trouble with lawyers” on his libertarian-leaning program on the Fox Business Network.

Actually the show in question was a reprise of a theme Stossel first explored about a year ago on the libertarian-leaning ABC network (which is where the link Connor provides takes you), which just goes to show how narrow and ideologically driven the problem of bloodsucking lawyers has become. Clips of the actual Fox Business News broadcast can be found here, here, here and here.

But I digress.

While legitimate complaints can be made about “ambulance chasing” by unscrupulous lawyers, Mr. Stossel, a self-described champion of constitutional principles, seems all too ready to toss the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  In making his case against trial lawyers, Mr. Stossel ignores some of the reasons why America’s tort system is a critical ingredient in America’s constitutional framework.

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