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Darn Activist Judges Who Legislate from the Bench

Scott Bannon Posted by Scott Bannon

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scotusYou hear about it all the time, of course it seems to normally come from the conservative right, but in a ruling today the right wing of the Supreme Court showed they have no hesitations in creating law rather than simply interpreting it as they’re supposed to do.

In a ruling today the SCOTUS relieved Exxon of over $2 billion dollars in punitive damages it had been ordered to pay to victims as a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

Writing for the court, Justice Souter said that  punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses, and that penalties should be “reasonably predictable” in severity.

Of course, for Alaskans who lost their property, businesses, livelihoods and health this ruling still awards them about $15,000 per person. That seems a fair compensation, right?

My issue with this ruling actually has nothing to do with the numbers themselves, but rather with the Supreme Court deciding to engage in lawmaking and create legislation rather than interpret it.
To rule that “punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses” is to in-fact create a parameter of law… which is supposed to be what Congress, our legislative branch does.

The courts, our judicial branch of government, exist only to enforce the legislation enacted by congress, not add to it.

This has been a long problem with lower courts for years, and thankfully our system allows for taking a lower court ruling to a higher court for review, and the obvious and blatant offenses of legislating from the bench ultimately get overturned.

However, we have no higher court than SCOTUS, which is why legislating from the bench on their part is so dangerous.
Many from the right have long wanted caps on damages awards for a wide variety of cases, and this ruling today hands that to them on a silver platter.

Think of it like this, if a Doctor performs a routine surgery on you while drunk and slices a nerve that leaves you in chronic pain for life, however your still capable of returning to work within 21 days, then according to this ruling the very most that doctor may be forced to compensate you for your life of chronic pain would be 21 days worth of salary…and that’s assuming that you would have been able to return to work the day after the surgery if he hadn’t cut the nerve.

Does that seem reasonable in any way, shape or form? Yet, it is the precedent set by the SCOTUS with today’s ruling.

Now it will take an act of congress to fix what the SCOTUS has broken and restore true protections
for citizens against negligence and harm again.

Technorati Tags: activist judges, Exxon, Exxon Valdez

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