The Limits of Law by Peter H. Schuck

A mixed bag of interesting, well-thought out essays mingled with articulate but specious arguments in favor of traditional conservative opinions.

The first half of the book, made of the first 8 essays, is the better half. His arguments in these essays about the limits of law are based on evidence, as when he uses the conflicting conclusions reached by medical studies and the legal system in the Benedictin cases in the 80s and 90s to argue that courts are bad places to decide essentially scientific questions.

In the second half of essays, he begins to twist logic and ignore evidence in order to forcefully insist on the positions he’s adopted.

He claims that the states have changed since the Civil Rights Era, and so there’s no need to worry about devolving power from the federal government to them, ignoring the many groups — women, the LGBT community, non-Christians, immigrants — whose rights the states routinely trample on.

He dismisses Proportional Representation to elect legislators as absurd and unworkable, despite its use in the majority of democratic countries around the world.

In one of the last essays, he goes so far as to say that pushing power down from the federal level to the lowest level possible — county or city — is an alloyed good, a goal to be pursued even if the evidence shows that it makes things worse.

Despite the uneven nature of the essays, though, I did learn a few things:

  • In product liability cases, defendants that rely on statistical evidence are more likely to lose in jury trials.
  • Making employers check their employees’ immigration status is an example of private gatekeeping: when the government delegates part of its regulation powers to private individuals.
  • Modern mass tort litigation (in the US) is only a few decades old. It was basically invented in 1969, and continues to be a cobbled together reaction to the fact that a single company can now affect so many lives all at once.