I’m old enough to remember when Republicans talked about tort reform. The idea then was that our society had become too litigious, that we shouldn’t live in a country where a woman could receive a windfall financial reward for spilling hot coffee on her own lap.
Nowadays, the standard bearer of the party sings a different tune. He wants to make it easier for people to sue over slander and libel. He claims this is consistent with the First Amendment. However, we should consider what making it easier to sue actually looks like.
As it stands, anyone can sue anyone else for just about anything. For instance, if Donald Trump wants to follow through on his expressed desire to sue those women who have accused him of sexual assault, he can. There is no legal obstacle to filling a lawsuit. There’s just no guarantee that you’ll win, making it a losing proposition if you don’t have a good case. Therefore, we may presume that “making it easier to sue” actually means making it easier to win. Trump is talking about lowering the threshold of proof, increasing the threat of financial ruin, and thus chilling speech. We should spend some time considering whether that’s a good thing.