Ken Connor

Fred Thompson has not officially entered the race for President of the United States, yet already he is being assailed by Republican bluebloods who want preferential treatment in America's civil justice system. Thompson's crime? He was once a (gasp!) trial lawyer who supports equal justice for all.

The "bluebloods" are Republican business elites who invest in candidates as a cost of doing business, expecting to get a return on their investment if they pick winning candidates. Usually that "return" comes in the form of tax breaks, financial subsidies, or limited accountability for wrong doing. Bluebloods advocate imposing "caps" or artificial limits on the amounts that victims can recover for damages suffered at the hands of wrongdoers who engage in negligent or reckless conduct. While there is no way to limit the extent of the harm that a wrongdoer may inflict, bluebloods want to limit the amount wrongdoers would be required to pay for the damage they cause. They prefer "caps" rather than being required to pay awards commensurate with the damages actually suffered. And, rather than letting individual states address these issues within their own borders, they want the federal government to impose a "one-size fits all" approach to dealing with such issues. In other words, they want federal bureaucrats in Washington, acting at the behest of special interest lobbyists, to decide the upper limits of what innocent victims can recover without regard to the evidence in any particular case and regardless of what a local jury thinks is just and fair under the circumstances. Bluebloods use the euphemism tort "reform" to conceal the true nature of their agenda. A more accurate description of what they are seeking is tort "deform."

The term "tort" means a private or civil wrong, with the added implication that the wrongdoer is required to compensate an innocent party for damages suffered as a result of the wrongdoing. Derived from the medieval Latin word tortum ("wrong"), the root of the word goes back to the ancient Latin verb torquere, which means to twist (compare our modern use of the word "torque"). At its root, therefore, the word "tort" denotes something that is twisted, and needs to be put straight. Bluebloods maintain that conservatives should support their efforts to twist the civil justice system in their favor. In truth, their proposals represent little more than affirmative action programs for wrongdoers.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.