The Blog

The Tortured "Torts" of Sarah Palin and Oil

If you're part of the "tort reform" movement, which is still out there calling for liability limits on BP's corporate recklessness, a scholarly endorsement from Sarah Palin is where you'd go.
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Last week, the right-wing, corporate-backed Pacific Research Institute, well-known tobacco industry apologist, produced a dense yet nutty "statistical" analysis of state tort systems (bottom line: the fewer cases against corporate wrongdoers, the better). Now, we've seen these kinds of fabricated "rankings" before and they're usually a real snooze-fest, although with occasionally irresistible nuggets. For example, this one praised Louisiana with an improved tort "ranking" in part because so many homes were "rendered uninhabitable" by Katrina that hardly anyone lived there. Imagine how thrilled they're going to be now!

But this one caught our attention for another reason. The forward was "written by" Sarah Palin. I guess if you're part of the "tort reform" movement, which is still out there calling for liability limits on BP's corporate recklessness, a scholarly endorsement from Sarah Palin is where you'd go.

Thinking conservatives were not pleased, like blogger Andrew Sullivan who reprinted this reader comment:

Sarah Palin is now writing the forewords for "think tank" studies? Bruce Bartlett could not be more right about how intellectual[sic] void these organizations have become. At the very least, it just shows how relevant she is in the current Republican party. Please keep up the good fight!

Actually, unbeknownst to many, when it comes to preserving people's rights to sue, Sarah Palin is a notorious flip flopper. This could be due to thought or non-thought, it's hard to know. What do you think: Flip flopper? Hypocrite? Intentional? Unconscious? Other?

The Exxon Valdez Supreme Court Decision: "I was against it before I was for it."

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court slashed the Exxon Valdez oil spill jury verdict for the 30,000 fishermen, business and others who were hurt. The 1994 verdict had included $5 billion in punitive damages to punish Exxon for its atrocious misconduct, but Exxon fought this decision for 14 years. The Supreme Court finally said Exxon owed the victims about 1/10th of the original verdict.

Then Governor Palin strongly denounced the decision. She called it a "huge disappointment," that she didn't think was "right" or "fair." But the next year in her book Going Rogue, Palin bizarrely wrote that the "U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the people," even calling it a "victory" for Alaskans. Not only that, she claims to have played a pivotal role in achieving that "victory," provoking this response:

"'That is the most cockamamie bullsh@t,'" said Dave Oesting of Anchorage, lead plaintiff attorney in the private litigants' civil case against Exxon and its successor, Exxon Mobil Corp. "'She didn't have a damn thing to do with it, and she didn't know what it was about.'"

Preserve your rights, except if you live in Alaska.

There's a Palin "tweet" that's gotten some fun attention in the blogosphere lately. Here's what she said:

Gulf: learn from Alaska's lesson w/foreign oil co's: don't naively trust- VERIFY. Livelihood affected by spill? Don't sign away remedy rights

Let's forget for a moment the fact that Todd Palin worked for BP for 18 years. I'd like to focus on her phrase "Don't sign away remedy rights." Nice advice, except if you happen to live in Alaska. That's because in Alaska, there are barely any "remedy rights" left.

For years, state lawmakers have succumbed to corporate demands to strip Alaskans of their legal rights. It started in 1986 when Lloyds of London sent lawyers to Alaska to say that Lloyd's would pull out of the state, threatening the state economy, unless Alaska enacted severe restrictions on Alaskans' legal rights (i.e. "tort reform"). It worked. It did. But things didn't stop there. In 1997, Alaska lawmakers did even more damage including severely limiting punitive damages - the kind the jury awarded against Exxon three years prior. Then in 2005, the state lowered even further the compensation "cap" for injured patients. It's so bad there that the Anchorage Daily News came out practically begging lawmakers to stop doing this.

To review, Palin went from denouncing a 2008 Supreme Court decision that slashed Exxon's punitive damages, to praising that very same decision in 2009, to now applauding Alaska's law that slashes punitive damages even further. Perhaps Andrew Sullivan's "intellectual void" comment is a bit of an understatement.

Stop frivolous lawsuits - except for my own.

According to Palin, the filing of so-called "frivolous lawsuits" against her was a driving force behind her decision to resign on July 3. "It doesn't cost the critics anything to file frivolous lawsuits," said Palin, complaining about "this land of litigation." (Watch her here.)

But like every good hypocrite who complains about lawsuits, they're usually the first ones to threaten a lawsuit. On July 4, 2009, Palin's attorney issued a letter stating "This is to provide notice to [Alaska liberal blogger Shannyn] Moore, and those who republish the defamation, such as the Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post, that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law." Moore's response? "Bring it on."

Palin's certainly not the first right-wing "tort reform" hypocrite. There's George W. Bush, John Stossel, even an Alaska State Representative who advocated the 1997 tort reform law after twice suing families of teenage drivers who struck his wife's car. (See their stories here.) I guess "practice what you preach" never made it into their Sunday school lessons.

Although some in this "tort reform" cabal ostensibly took offense at Andrew Sullivan's slam, I can't imagine they're too happy about Palin suddenly becoming the movement's most well-known legal scholar. After all, in 2008 one of them was picked to vet Palin for the McCain campaign and gave this famously disparaging report at the time: "Even in campaigning for governor, she made a number of gaffes, and the Anchorage Daily News expressed concern that she often seemed 'unprepared or over her head' in a campaign run by a friend."

Like it or not, they've got her now.