I’m happy to see fellow Catholics wade into the public policy arena and inject our Church’s teachings on moral responsibility and social justice into the debate on legislation. I haven’t done so explicitly here, but my faith underlies much of what I write on the need to protect the right to a civil jury trial for religious liberty and pro-life lawsuits.
So when Rep. Paul Ryan said in an interview that the Catholic principle of subsidiarity underlies some of his proposals in the FY 2013 federal budget, I respected his attempt as a sincerely personal application of our common faith. Obviously, other Catholics, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, disagree with him on the application of that principle, but I’m glad we’re having the discussion on that plane.
But if Rep. Ryan seriously believes, as he said in the interview, that subsidiarity “is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best,” then he must apply it consistently. And that requires that he remove any current reference to federal limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, including caps on noneconomic damages, from his budget proposals. Rep. Ryan’s favorite legal experts on federalism have been writing for over a year that federal limits on civil suits are as unconstitutional an infringement on states’ and individual rights as the individual mandate in Obamacare. If, as one conservative commentator says, “A humane government is one that leaves decisions closest to the people,” then surely the regulation of state courtrooms is not a matter for Congress to decide. The budget proposed by the conservative House Republican Study Committee doesn’t include any federal limits on civil jury trials – I guess that makes it “more Catholic.”
And please don’t interpret this piece as an implicit acceptance of state-imposed limits on the right to a civil jury trial. I don’t believe that the Founding Fathers meant for a right that they called “sacred” and “inviolable” to be limited to civil suits filed in federal courts, while enabling state legislatures to close courtroom doors anytime they see fit. But that’s a subject for a different post.
But if Rep. Ryan wants to reflect Catholic social teachings in his proposed budget, then he needs to do so without infringing on that “sacred” and “inviolable” right at the federal level.