Riaz Tejani, ‘National Geographics: Toward a ‘Federalism Function’ of American Tort Law’

This Article defends current contours in the federalization of tort law wherein norms have been federalized in discrete substantive areas although remaining shielded from federal incursion in others. As suggested here, it becomes the task of judges to develop and refine these contours in the same fashion that they serve public law needs elsewhere through adjudication. In support of this claim, this Article develops what I term the “federalism function” — the capacity for torts disputes to implicate the balance of federal and state authority and thereby reinforce or recalibrate that balance in large or small measure. Indeed, as problems of scale cut increasingly across political persuasion and economic worldview, the balance of central and local power through federalism becomes a key implication of many torts disputes today. This discussion is overdue in light of wider debates about federal preemption and state sovereignty. Immigration reform and marijuana regulation are but two hot-button issues that illustrate the contemporary struggle over federalism. More than tort law, these areas implicate what many have come to describe as “global governance” — the effort to assert uniform norms across ever-wider geographic and political distances. Because immigration and marijuana policies necessarily affect the flow of people and things across the international border, they more understandably implicate and undermine the idea of states’ rights. Tort law, meanwhile, still deals in cognizable, individual harms to person and property and has been the domain of state authority for centuries. Nevertheless, tortious conduct increasingly flows across state boundaries via mass-market actors and increased communication technologies. Adjudication in tort disputes increasingly takes the form of “public” or “regulatory” law. It is then, in light of federalism’s widespread influence in policy discussions across the spectrum, not surprising to find the integrity of state common law up for reconsideration in many tort cases. This reconsideration forms the federalism function.

Tejani, Riaz, National Geographics: Toward a ‘Federalism Function’ of American Tort Law (July 15, 2014). 51 San Diego Law Review 81, 2014.

First posted 2014-07-23 06:26:57

Leave a Reply