Judge Sotomayor on Civil Justice Reform

The contributors to the Point of Law legal blog have been analyzing Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s writings and judicial record, providing some insight into how she would rule as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. James Copland, Director of the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute — sponsor of the website — recently added to a dicussion of her views on tort reform.

1996 Suffolk University Law Review article by her suggest Sotomayor is skeptical of experts, “hired hands,” used in personal injury litigation. However, she also criticized legislative efforts to bring rationality to the civil justice system by introducing caps on economic damage awards. In our view, that’s an entirely appropriate policy to ensure a consistent application of the law and end capricious, outrageous jury awards that serve as a “tort tax” on business and the economy. Sotomayor describes such tort reforms as “overreactions that undermine the principles of our judicial system.”


Even if Judge Sotomayor’s comments are read merely to express policy disagreement, they are troubling. If her notion is even stronger — that tort reforms such as the Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act of 1996 are in fact unconstitutional — then I agree with Ted [Frank’s] conclusion that her “argument is not just a statement of judicial activism, it’s a disturbing statement of judicial supremacy over the other branches of government.” Given the strength of her claims — that such laws “undermine the principles of our judicial system” and are “inconsistent with the premise of the jury system” — the less charitable reading seems more than plausible. In any event, I echo Ted’s “hope [that] someone on the Senate Judiciary Committee inquires into it.”

Point of Law has a category devoted to the Sotomayor nomination here. A good colloquy and useful information for those wondering how her views might affect business and the economy.

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