Rick Perry vs. The Trial Lawyers

The Torts and the Hair: Texas Governor Rick Perry has made tort reform a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/texasgovernor">Rick Perry</a>/Flickr

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Politico‘s Alexander Burns reports today that trial lawyers are gearing up for a major fundraising effort against Texas Governor Rick Perry, should he win the GOP presidential nomination:

Among litigators, there is no presidential candidate who inspires the same level of hatred — and fear — as Perry, an avowed opponent of the plaintiffs’ bar who has presided over several rounds of tort reform as governor…

That’s a potential financial boon to [Obama] who has unsettled trial lawyers with his own rhetorical gestures in the direction of tort reform. A general election pitting Barack Obama against Perry could turn otherwise apathetic trial lawyers into a phalanx of pro-Obama bundlers and super PAC donors.

“If this guy emerges, if he’s a serious candidate, if he doesn’t blow up in the next couple weeks, it’s going to motivate many in the plaintiffs’ bar to dig deeper to support President Obama,” said Sean Coffey, a former securities litigator who ran for attorney general of New York last year. “That will end up driving a lot of money to the Democratic side.”

So that’s the horse-race element of it. The larger battle here, which my colleague Stephanie Mencimer literally wrote the book about, is that conservatives and their business interests have for decades attempted to demonize trial lawyers for multiple reasons, none of which really involve your best interests. Perry makes a tort reform a major part of his stump speech; it’s one of the four steps he would take as president to turn the economy around, along with lower taxes, fewer regulations, and reduced spending. And, to his credit I suppose, he has made it a priority in Texas so at least he’s consistent. But as Kevin Drum points out, Perry’s crusade against frivolous lawsuits has really just made it harder for people with legitimate claims to file suit, without offering the return on investment (lower health care costs, primarily) it purports to deliver.

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