Right Thinking From The Left Coast
If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough. - Mario Andretti

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Twin Wins for SCOTUS

The Supreme Court is handing down decisions these days.  And two recent ones have been almost good.

The first was Breuswitz v.Wyeth.  This is a case on the constitutionality of the vaccine court.  I’ll let Orac explain:

As you might recall, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act was passed in 1986 in order to establish a no-fault compensation system for children who suffer vaccine injury. The NCVIA was necessary because a flood of lawsuits in the wake of a muck-raking, sensationalistic, and, in retrospect, totally inaccurate TV special, Vaccine Roulette, had fired up a fear mongering campaign about the DTP (diptheria-pertussis-tetanus) vaccine to the point where there was a very real danger of pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. giving up on vaccines altogether. The liability had become just too high. Several large jury awards convinced pharmaceutical companies that the risk of producing vaccines was just too high relative to the potential profit.

To prevent a wave of communicable diseases (the DPT vaccine almost ceased to be manufactured), Congress, in a rare display of intelligence, established a separate court that would deal with vaccine lawsuits.  This allows children who are actually harmed by vaccine to be compensated but weeds out the bullshit—viz., Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent claim that vaccines cause autism (although the Court has given at least one award for that, I believe).

Of course, the trial lawyers and the anti-vaccine quacks weren’t happy about that.  So they sued, using a girl who got seizures from a vaccine as cover. The Court has decided 6-2 to let the Vaccine Court continue.  It’s an excellent decision.  They note that since it’s impossible to design a 100% safe vaccine, but we need to use vaccines to prevent entirely unnecessary deaths, it make sense to set up a streamlined process for dealing with issues arising from it.  Better than the insane chaos of 16 million lawsuits.  And it is well within Congress’ powers to establish such a court.

What’s really interesting about this case is that Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent.  And if you hoped that Obama’s pragmatic “wise latina woman” would be in Earth orbit, hope no longer.  From her dissent:

Trial courts, moreover, have considerable experience in efficiently handling and disposing of meritless products liability claims, and decades of tort litigation (including for design defect) in the prescription-drug context have not led to shortages in prescription drugs.

Uh, Sonia?  Over here.  I’m not an Ivy Leaguer or anything, but I thought I’d point out that the vaccine court was set up because the trial courts were overwhelmed.  Tort lawsuits haven’t created shortages?  Try telling the makers of Norplant or Vioxx.  Try, as Orc points out, telling that to Dow, who were bankrupted by baseless lawsuits over breast implants.  Vaccines are a drug given to almost every child in America.  The potential for lawsuit abuse, as we’ve seen, is extreme.

The other lawsuit the Court decided today was Snyder v. Phelps, a lawsuit against Fred Phelps’ revolting Westboro Baptist Church.  The decision was 8-1 and even Alito’s dissent was measured.  Roberts:

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” Roberts said. “As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

As much as it pains me, I agree with this decision.  Fred Phelps is a disgusting excuse for a human being.  He is neither a real Christian nor a real American.  But he has the right to speak his idiotic thoughts in public places.  The Snyders—who sued Phelps after he picketed Matthew Snyder’s military funeral and bashed the grieving family on his website—have all my sympathy.  But freedom must prevail. Living in a free country is sometimes ugly and hurtful.  But it’s better than the alternative.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 03/02/11 at 12:10 PM in Politics   Law, & Economics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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