Thursday, March 11, 2004

Preemptive Legislative Strike

The House of Representatives just passed a bill to ban lawsuits against the food industry for making people fat. I oppose this bill on federalism grounds: the federal government has no business deciding this kind of matter, except with regard to the federal courts. (The law would apply to both state and federal courts.) In addition, given Congress’s talent for botching even the best ideas, I worry that the law might be drafted badly. The biggest danger is that too-broad wording could make it difficult to launch legitimate lawsuits for mislabeled or tainted food. As the friend who sent me the link said, “It’s always suspicious when Congress gets involved in deciding which lawsuits are okay and which ones aren’t; particularly when a member of Congress receives political contributions from cigarette or gun manufacturers, or, most likely in this case, the fast food industry.”

Still, at least Congress is on the right side of the substantive issue here. The McDonald’s-made-me-fat lawsuits are outrageous, and it’s pleasing to see Congress taking a stand in favor of personal responsibility and choice for once. Yeah, they’re assuredly getting campaign donations from Big Food corporations – but in this case, the corporations are right. (Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if they backed small changes in the wording that would protect them against more legitimate lawsuits.)

At the moment, the problem is not dire, and the legislation is premature. None of the fat lawsuits has succeeded – yet. So far, the courts have done the right thing. But if these lawsuits begin to win, legislation (federal or state, as necessary) will indeed be justified. Congress mucks with judicial precedent all the time to limit freedom and weaken personal responsibility. A movement, however small, in the other direction would be a welcome change.

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