Lawsuits Should Not Be a Free-For All

The cornerstone of fair government and ordered liberty is due process of law: the state must define legal obligations in advance and apply them even-handedly. That principle is under assault today from an unusual source: the federal courts. An obscure change to a procedural rule in 1938 delegated to any private person the absolute right to commandeer the power of the state to issue an official court order (a “summons”) to any other person to stop whatever they are doing and report to court to spend time and money defending against any charges, no matter how bogus, regardless of whether they have any basis in either law or fact.

Today anyone may sue anyone over anything: the fleeing felon who breaks in, takes hostages, and then sues his victims for allegedly violating their oral contract to hide him from the police; the convict who sues the makers of baking soda for failing to warn it is illegal to use their product to make crack cocaine; the D.C. administrative law judge who sues his dry cleaners for $54 million for losing his pants (and thereby imposes over $100,000 in legal expenses on the store’s Korean-born owners).

Some examples may be amusing, but the problem is not. Millions of dollars a year are spent defending against lawsuits that never should have been brought. For example, when several states enacted a requirement that a doctor has to sign a paper saying that someone is actually sick, asbestos lawsuits dropped by an average of 90 percent — via

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