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The Issue

In 1770, John Adams, one of colonial Massachusetts’ most influential lawyers and patriots, stood before a packed courthouse full of his friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors and ardently defended a group of British soldiers falsely accused of committing murder at what would forever be known as the Boston Massacre.

Amidst the cries of treason and calls for hanging, Adams declared to the crowd, “The law no passion can disturb. … It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but, without any regard to persons, commands that which is good and punishes evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low.”

Adams’ brave defense of the principle of equality and fairness under the law led to a favorable and just ruling for his very unpopular clients, but its real impact would stand the test of time and forever be remembered as a hallmark of the ideal American system of justice.

Unfortunately, many local, state, and national government officials have moved away from this principle and have instead chosen to enact laws or apply existing law in a way that gives advantages to certain special interests and powerful people. Rather than enhance liberty, many of today’s laws are used as tools of tyranny and manipulation.

This problem has been made evident in recent years by so-called “patent trolls” – companies and individuals who stockpile patents for the sole purpose of suing legitimate businesses. Patent trolls rarely produce goods or services of their own, but they are very successful at getting defendants to settle out of court for large sums of money in order to avoid even-costlier court expenses.

When well-intentioned laws are taken advantage of to produce non-market-based profits, thereby punishing and disincentivizing legitimate businesses looking to see goods or services, innovation dissipates and consumers’ costs rise.

Another area where laws have frequently been abused is in tort law. Tort law exists to provide relief to individuals, groups, and businesses that have suffered from non-criminal damages unjustly caused by others. Tort law is important in a free society because it ensures people respect the property and lives of others, even when they don’t commit criminal acts.

While many have fairly used tort law to recover damages, a growing trend in tort law is for courts to award substantial – and in some cases unjustified – awards to plaintiffs seeking restitution. This problem was infamously put on display in Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, when a customer was initially awarded $2.86 million for damages caused by a self-inflicted coffee spill. Stella Liebeck, the 79-year-old plaintiff, successfully argued the coffee was unreasonably hot and that McDonald’s should be punished for its allegedly dangerous coffee.

Our Stance

In a nation that values personal liberty and freedom for all, laws must be unbiased, applied fairly, and must encourage people to act freely. Laws that favor one class of people over another, punish too severely, or unnecessarily restrict personal liberties should be abandoned or altered.

Featured Subtopics

Copyright, trademark, patent in a colorful image
Intellectual property laws should reward those who develop new inventions and ideas while also recognizing the significant benefits these advancements have to society. Patent and copyright reforms must be made to weed out frivolous claims and lawsuits, and lawmakers and government agencies should not pick winners and losers by creating rules that favor certain copyright claims or industries over others.
A judge sitting behind her bench
The judicial branch is an essential and vital part of a well-functioning democratic republic, but judges must not stray beyond the powers granted to them under the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions. Judicial interpretation should always be limited to the original intent and expressly written language provided in laws and constitutions.
Scales of justice
Tort reform should be enacted at the state level. Federal tort reform would raise hundreds of legal issues of unprecedented complexity. Resolving them would delay damage recoveries in valid cases while the overburdened judicial system struggled to decide each issue individually.

Additional Subtopics

  • Arbitration
  • Constitutional Reform
  • Criminal Justice
  • Jury Reform
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Technology


Title: States rights, federalism, and the Constitution
Description: Attorney Joseph Morris, chairman of the board of directors at The Heartland Institute, was part of a brief debate on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" the other day on the proper role of states rights and federalism in our Constitution and how the new Supreme Court is handling these questions. This is an excellent segment with opposing viewpoints respectfully presented, which is not the norm for a television news program.
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