Issue in Focus
Feb 01 2019
Conservatives often face a difficult problem that progressives do not when attempting to reform public policy problems at the federal level.
For progressives, everything is a national issue that should be solved by the federal government. For conservatives, however, the United States Constitution gave only some enumerated powers to the federal government and intended the rest of governmental authority to be left to the states.
This can limit reforms conservatives want to make on issues like tort reform, a problem that drives up health care costs and makes it harder for small businesses to survive.
A tort is an act or omission that injures someone resulting in legal liability for the person who committed the tort. A business that sells poorly constructed chairs could face a tort action if someone was injured when one of their chairs broke. Torts are a foundational element to American common law, but unfortunately some states have rigged their legal rules to give unfair advantages to the trial lawyers that bring tort suits to court on behalf of clients.
Fortunately, the Founding Fathers were aware of the biases that some states have against out of state defendants, so the First Congress gave defendants access to less-biased federal courts when a plaintiff and defendant are from different states. This “diversity jurisdiction” was unfortunately narrowed by the Supreme Court, which held that even a single plaintiff sharing the same state as a defendant could prevent the defendant from accessing federal court.
This strict “complete diversity” standard has made it harder and harder for defendants to access federal court since, in an increasingly interconnected world, it is easier for trial lawyers to strategically plead their clients’ claims in order to destroy complete diversity of citizenship and thereby keep a case out of federal court. Moreover, the growing partisanship of state judicial elections has exacerbated the tendency of some judges to unfairly put a thumb on the scales for home-state plaintiffs.
The Federal Courts Access Act of 2019, introduced this week, ensures that litigants have the full protection of diversity jurisdiction envisioned by the Framers. It does this by amending 28 U.S.C. § 1332 so as to allow for federal jurisdiction in cases where there just one plaintiff is from a state different than the defendant. As a result, plaintiffs will no longer be able to strategically manipulate their pleadings in order to close off access to federal courts for out-of-state defendants.
This constitutional tort reform proposal will help guarantee fair and impartial treatment of defendants across the country.