Ken Connor

A prime example is the Riegel v. Medtronic case recently decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Riegel suffered catastrophic complications when a defective balloon catheter manufactured by Medtronic was inserted into his artery. As a result, Riegel fell into a coma and ultimately died. Medtronic argued that because its device had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Reigel's family should not be permitted to sue for his injuries and suffering. In a Friend of the Court brief, the Bush Administration sided with the manufacturer and against the family of Mr. Riegel and the state laws which permitted them to pursue the corporate wrongdoer. The Supreme Court, in turn, sided with the Administration and Medtronic, holding that the state laws which permitted the family to recover against the corporate wrongdoer were preempted by federal laws. The result was that Medtronic was effectively immunized from liability for its wrongdoing.

A similar case, Wyeth v Levine, is pending in the Supreme Court and is yet to be determined. In that case, Ms. Levine, a professional musician, seeks to recover for the amputation of her right arm as a result of injuries she sustained when she was injected with Phenergan, a medication manufactured by Wyeth. Wyeth's warning label allowed for the method of administration of its medication used in Ms. Levine's case (an IV "push" as opposed to an IV "drip") even though it knew that such method had caused gangrene in several instances. Nevertheless, Wyeth argued that since its warning label had been approved by the FDA, it had no further obligation to warn of the risks associated with an IV push. The company's position was backed up by the Bush Administration.

In a number of other instances, minions of the Bush Administration have stealthily sought to insert language in federal regulations which would immunize corporate wrongdoers from the consequences of their neglect, notwithstanding the existence of state laws that would permit victims to recover for their losses. Their goal is to ensure that federal law trumps state law and that corporate wrongdoers escape liability for their wrongdoing.

It is well established that federal agencies like the FDA are inadequate to protect the consuming public and that they often act as mere "stooges" for the industries they regulate. State laws act as an important check on the abuse of federal power and the misconduct of errant manufacturers. Local juries act as powerful checks on the conduct of greedy manufacturers who would put profits over people.

Conservatives who are interested in preserving our federal system and promoting America's core values should look askance at attempts by Republicans who seek to undermine both. Just because a politician has an "R" after his name doesn't make him a conservative. Conservatives don't just mouth conservative principles, they live by them.

Ken Connor

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