Legislation via Litigation

I don’t have a question here so much as a call for opinions.

I must say I feel concerned about the trend of forcing issues in the court that can’t or won’t be dealt with by our legislators. The two most glaring recent examples I can think of are lawsuits brought against tobacco companies and gun manufacturers.

I find it easy to sit back on the issues I agree with and say, “Let the suckers have it!” but that’s a slippery slope. Sooner or later someone will get around to a favorite whatever of mine and I won’t be so happy.

I also am a major cynic when it comes to governement and I hold both liberals and conservatives responsibile. It seems like they can’t do crap and when they do manage to wangle something through they attach so much pork the side issues can overwhelm the good of the original bill.

I believe the courts are the wrong place to legislate but if our Senators and Congresspeople can’t get off their collective asses do we have another choice?

I’m a firm believer in the theory that we deserve the gov’t we get. I want to believe that there are some genuinely qualified and intelligent public servants out there. Unfortunately, the political process has a way of weeding them out early and what we are left with is the lowest common denominator. We are left with politicians who do not lead with intelligence and balanced forethought but with a bunch of reactionaries and mindless slaves to lobby groups and public pressure. The entire political system is corrupt from stem to stern and we, as voters, are powerless at this point to make changes. The abuses of power are well established and tomorrows politicians are being selected and groomed today, based on their penchant for corruptability and general weakness of character and will.

Perhaps you idea about courts setting down laws or rule has some merrit. I want to believe that judges tend to be far more impartial than the average politician. Their training and years of experience with various social problems teaches them a lot about the human condition and what ails society at large. Perhaps it even gives them clues about how to solve these ills. Now I know that a judge is also a political animal that is ruled by his/her desires to rise to the top (be it gov’t or supreme court), but on the other hand, they are trained very well on the laws of the land and can best evaluate as well as be held to act in the most just and proper way in the face of pressure from various political groups. In other words, I want to believe that an experienced judge is less likely to be subject to corruption as compared to the average politician.

Understand that I’m not looking to fill the courts with more lawsuits, on the other hand, would it really be that much worse than a bunch of congressmen and senators sitting around with thumbs up their butts, wasting tax payer’s money on silly commissions. I’d almost rather see my tax money spent in the court of law where I don’t have to fear some back-office deal making amongst the politicians.

It is perhaps not a perfect solution but the current political setup is not exactly a sterling example of the inviolate democratic process at work.

I agree that an active court system seems better than the do-nothings in congress. However…

There are problems letting the courts take over legislation. Look at tobacco and gun litigation that’s been moving through the courts lately. States recovering money from a product they said was legal in the first place? Recovering money to cover medical expenses incurred treating smokers while the State taxed cigarettes like crazy (far above and beyond general sales taxes)? Recovering money that isn’t really spent since smokers die sooner (i.e. the extra money spent treating smokers is ‘recovered’ (or rather evens out) since they tend to die sooner and don’t cost the state down the road)?

The litigation against gun manufacturers is weak to begin with and a bit of a stretch. Again, the state said such things were legal, determined the conditions under which they can be sold and then sue the manufacturers for abiding by the law?

I’m all for seeing some movement somewhere but the courts are a dangerous place to do this as well. Take breast implant manufacturers. They were being sued by a law firm in Texas that lost 12 cases in a row on the same issue. The law firm specifically and successfully fought to avoid making all breast implant suits a class action (i.e. one case to determine the damages for all breast implants that went bad). Eventually they found a sympathetic jury and won a huge damage settlement. Even the law firm was surprised at that one because it was a stripper who specifically chose cosmetic surgery for her job (as opposed to a mastectomy patient getting reconstructive surgery which would presumably be more heart rending to a jury).

I am NOT taking a side one way or the other on the breast implant bit I just mentioned. What I’m trying to show is the ambush tactics potentially used by law firms. The implant manufacturer looked down the road and saw the dozens of cases the law firm had lined up. Defense of each case ran in the $100,000+ range. Eventually, as happened, you lose one and get nailed with an enormous settlement.

As the attorney who works the case you only need one big hit and your set (if working on a contingency basis the attorney gets 33% of the settlement TO START…more if the attorney fights appeals). One $30 million settlement and the attorney walks away with $10 million. You could retire comfortably on that. Not bad for a few years of work!

I mention the above items not to defend or crucify one side or the other but to show that the courts have problems of their own.

Have people throughout history always been so cynical of their politicians or is this a relatively new thing?

I’ll start with your last question first. I think that this cynisism is a relatively new phenomenon. The amount of information available to the average person(particularly since the birth of widely distributed print media, i.e. newspapers) has been growing exponentially. Much of what we read is often unresearched, biased or simply unsubstantiated. However, it’s difficult for many people to separate the wheat from the chaffe (sp?). So at the end of the day, all this information (often conflicting and lagely spun) is synthesized into one huge grey mess in people’s minds and leaving one with a feeling of futility because you don’t quite know if you’ve gathered the right or wrong information on which to base your decisions. Thus cynicism begins to raise it’s ugly head. Often times it’s well placed, but sometimes it’s simply a byproduct which tends to be carried over infecting even the simplest aspects of our lives. Is that Premium Yoghurt really better than the regular Yoghurt? What’s new and improved about that car wax? Why is every cleaning product now Anti-Bacterial?.. you get my drift.

As for my take on the legal system functioning as an administrative branch of the gov’t - perhaps even the chief administrative branch - this is what I meant to suggest:

Perhaps it would not be an entirely bad idea that accomplished judges and (gasp - I can’t believe I’m saying this) lawyers would have the option of entering the public administrative branch of gov’t. This would either be an extension of the Supreme Court or an entirely separate entity concerned strictly with governing the country according to the laws of the land. Even the President of the US would be required to have have served on the bench of the Supreme court. Would this help me be less cynical about the character and relevant experience of the people that govern the country? Maybe it would. As I’ve stated earlier, I want to believe that judges in general are less subject to corruption than the average politician. After all, what training does one require to become a politician. Now compare that to the training required to become a judge. Somehow, I believe the average judge posesses far more integrity than a politician.

I almost hate to mention this minor point, but in the novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein, there is a character whose occupation is to be a fair witness. Her job and that of her colligues is to function as an absolutely just and fair judge when her duties are called upon. She, and those like her, are trained at an ealy age to be completely incorrutable and are compensated financially by the state to further ensure that they maintain that level of incorruptability. I always thought that that would be an ideal solution to many government and legal problems of any land, though I don’t know whether that will ever be practically achievable.

Finally, I must admit that I have not given this topic the consideration it may require and there may be gaping holes in my theory. In truth I never considered this possibility until you presented it in you post. Interesting proposal though. I feel it has merit. I hope some others join in to impart their wisdom.