Tort Reform is Un-American

Author: Attorney Malcolm "Mic" P. McConnell, III

A common theme in American political rhetoric has always been the wisdom of the common man.  The Declaration of Independence states that a just government derives its powers from the consent of the governed.[1] Abraham Lincoln referred to our government as "OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people."[2] We regularly hear politicians insist that power remain with individuals, because individuals can always do things better and smarter than Washington.  The worthiness of individual Americans to govern themselves is a sacred tenet and it is our patriotic duty to resist the expansion of government power at the expense of individual liberty and responsibility. Indeed, the founding fathers were so suspicious of a tyrannical government that they created a list of basic freedoms which they considered essential to individual liberty, intending that future generations always preserve and never infringe on those liberties.  We know that list as the Bill of Rights, and in the Seventh Amendment, our founders guaranteed:  "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."

Yet, even though we revere our Constitution, even though we strive to honor the original intent of the founders, even though we claim that self-government is the best, highest form of government, some of our politicians are turning their backs on the Constitution, on the Bill of Rights and on the obvious intent of the founders.  These politicians are plotting to take power away from the people.  Calling it "tort reform," they wish to strip American citizens of our right - and our duty -- to administer justice.  They think Washington politicians will do a better job than the American people.

When we think of self-government, we most often think of our right to elect our representatives.  But the direct election of public officials is not the most direct, not the most frequent, and not the most effective way in which we govern ourselves.  The most direct, frequent and effective means of self-governance takes place every day in virtually every city and county in this country in . . .  courtrooms.

In the courtroom, "we the people" are directly engaged in self-government.  Dutiful citizens appear at courthouses, take an oath, listen to meticulously gathered evidence, hear argument and receive instructions of law.  Afterward, with careful deliberation and discussion, our government (i.e, us) dispenses justice.  The justice is delivered to citizens by citizens, and it is justice based on conscience, wisdom, appropriate application of the law and the unique evidence of the individual case.

And though the right to trial by jury was fought and died for in the American Revolution and considered essential to liberty and "equal justice under the law" by our founders, that right is threatened today. Some politicians claim that they can do a better job of dispensing justice than "We, the People."  Moreover, they think they can do so without the benefit of the facts, without the benefit of the evidence, without the benefit of legal argument, without the benefit of instruction from a learned judge who has also heard the evidence.  They advocate a "one size fits all" approach that substitutes their judgment for that of a jury, with limits on recovery, restricted access to the courts, and unprecedented protection for wealthy corporations -- all at the expense of ordinary Americans, and all without regard to the individual facts of a specific case.

What kind of arrogance is it that promotes that kind of thinking?  What kind of disregard for the wisdom of the founders is it? What kind of contempt for the American people does it demonstrate when a politician claims to be wiser and more capable in his ignorance than an American citizen who has heard the facts?  Where will our citizens go for justice when the courtrooms are taken away from the People and reserved for the politicians and the corporations?

The government and, specifically, the courts, exist for you.  Through the Seventh Amendment, you have a Constitutional right (and a duty) as a citizen of Virginia and the United States to "own" your government and, when called upon, to appear and administer justice to and for your neighbors.  Through the Seventh Amendment, you have a Constitutional right to have your neighbors - your community - hear your grievances and decide your disputes with others.  Do not let politicians strip your power from you.   Do not let them make government bigger at your expense.  Stand by the Seventh Amendment.  Stand by government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Stand against tort reform.

About the Author: Mic McConnell is a Richmond medical malpractice attorney. With over 20 years of experience, Mic has handled challenging cases all over the state of Virginia in almost every medical specialty for over twenty years.


[1] "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, ?"  See http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.

[2] From the Gettysburg address.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address.

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