Saturday, September 25, 2004

Tort Reform and Thomas More: Lessons from a Christian Lawyer

The specter of frivolous lawsuits continues to inhibit many business leaders, doctors, clergy, and educators from taking prudential risks, and even giving commonsense guidance to those they serve. But at an even deeper level, spiraling litigation continues to tear America’s social fabric. Employers and employees are forced to adopt defensive postures towards each other, with everyone viewing everyone else as a potential litigator.

Several proposals have been outlined to curb this litigation crisis. Many are worthy of consideration. Few such suggestions, however, confront some of the problem’s root causes.

One is what has happened to the legal profession itself over the past few decades. For years, many law schools have presented law to their students either primarily as a money-making exercise, or just another way of wielding ideological power. Usually such ideas are cloaked under the guise of yet another theory of justice, although in recent years certain legal scholars have actually argued that law is nothing more — and should be nothing more — than a means of utilitarian calculation.

Though President Bush's tort reform proposals do not call for law schools rethinking how they present law as merely "money-making" exercises, it is a step toward a climate which St Thomas More fostered.

Yet More also considered recourse to legal action as a last, rather than first resort. Like Thomas Aquinas, More regarded justice as, first and foremost, a virtue that people should be encouraged to exhibit towards each other — the courts being an avenue for redress only when criminal acts were involved or all other forms of resolution broke down. That was certainly his practice as a lawyer, and one followed by More when slandered by an intellectual opponent in a 1520 book entitled Antimorus.


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