Randy Barnett Vows to Lead Fight Against Federal Medmal Limits

Prof. Randy Barnett was one of the leading theorists among Tea Party activists and Republicans in the court battles against Obamacare. He was co-counsel for the complaint filed by the NFIB, which was eventually the basis for the Supreme Court ruling that Obamacare is an excessive use of federal power and an invalid exercise of the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.

Prof. Barnett has also been a staunch opponent of federal tort reform bills, and for the same reason as his opposition to Obamacare. Last year, he wrote in May, and again in November, that tort law belongs to the states, and thus is beyond the reach of federal authority. “Indeed, if Congress now can regulate tort law, which has always been at the core of state powers, then Congress, and not the states, has a general police power.” He’s been joined in that view by other libertarian and conservative legal scholars, such as John Baker, Carrie Severino, Ilya Somin, and Rob Natelson, and by elected Republicans such as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Senators Tom Coburn and Mike Lee, and numerous House Republicans who honor federalism.

While GOP leadership has quoted and promoted Prof. Barnett’s views on Obamacare, they’ve completely ignored him on the subject of federal tort reform, and in the process overridden opposition by constitutional conservatives in both houses. House leaders attached H.R. 5, a bill mandating federal limits on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, to two bills to ensure House approval, and Senate GOP leaders attached their version of H.R. 5 to a Republican “jobs bill.”

Now Prof. Barnett has taken his opposition further, vowing to lead court challenges to any enacted federal medmal law. He is convinced that the Supreme Court’s Obamacare ruling makes a constitutional challenge to such a law much more likely to succeed. He participated in a teleforum on the post-Obamacare environment run by the Federalist Society for members on July 17, and the Society finally posted the podcast last week. As a member of the Federalist Society, I was entitled to participate, so I asked Prof. Barnett about the impact of the decision on federal tort reform bills, and specifically on the federal medmal limits pushed by GOP leaders.

Prof. Barnett responded by saying that the jurisdictional basis for federal tort reform can now be “easily challenged,” He added, “I will help lead that challenge if ever enacted, and I think we would actually have an easier time defeating that than defeating the (Obamacare) mandate… In fact, this court would strike that down (referring to federal medmal limits)… I’ll be involved in the lawsuit.

You can download and listen to the entire podcast from the Federalist Society’s website (MP3 file). My question and his response start just after the 51:10 mark.

Prof. Barnett isn’t the first Tea-Party-side constitutional scholar to write that the SCOTUS Obamacare decision makes a federal law limiting medmal damages more likely to be found unconstitutional. On July 27, Rob Natelson of the Independence Institute and the Tenth Amendment Center posted, “Obamacare Decision Suggests U.S. Malpractice Bill Unconstitutional,” in which he wrote, “Chief Justice Roberts’ health care opinion strongly suggests that the Necessary and Proper Clause is simply not broad enough to include the kind of control over state courts that H.R. 5 would impose… It seems clear that the Supreme Court will not tolerate efforts by Congress to dictate rules and procedures to state courts. In light of this new information, the sponsors of H.R. 5 should honor their oath to support the Constitution by promptly withdrawing the bill.”

So it’s likely the same group of legal libertarian and conservative scholars who opposed Obamacare will also oppose federal limits on medmal damages and other federal tort reform bills. Republican leaders who insist on capping victims’ rights in federal law now face the embarrassing spectacle of seeing their brightest legal stars publicly opposing them in public and in the courts.