July 26, 2007

Thompson -- The New Maverick?

Yesterday, I noted the strange appearance of two appellate briefs relating to the legal career of Fred Thompson and wondered aloud what the Washington Post had in mind by publishing them. Today the Post ran a front-page story that looks at Thompson's record as an attorney and his resistance to federal regulation and tort reform, as well as noting the apparent dichotomy of running for the Republican nomination and his involvement in these cases:

Before he was elected as a tough-on-crime U.S. senator from Tennessee or played a New York prosecutor on TV's "Law and Order," Fred Dalton Thompson worked as a lawyer who argued against the government's authority to regulate drug paraphernalia or to search a boat packed with 14 tons of marijuana.

Once, two decades ago, he urged that more witnesses refuse to testify before grand juries by invoking their constitutional right against self-incrimination, boasting that "I start on the assumption that my client will not testify." And over the years, lawsuits he filed helped a state worker win reinstatement to her job while exposing a parole bribery scheme and won money for the family of a Marine pilot killed by a helicopter blade when the family could not sue the Defense Department. ...

His work representing white-collar criminals, drug defendants and lawsuit victims has given Thompson an affinity with one of the Republican Party's perennial targets, trial lawyers, and he carries that connection with him even today as he prepares to seek the GOP presidential nomination. It also helped shape a view on lawsuit reform that has frequently put him at odds with his own party.

"We viewed him as someone we could work with, particularly given he had been an advocate in court for individuals and corporations, and had an innate understanding of what went on in a civil jury," explained Linda Lipsen, the chief lobbyist for the American trial lawyers lobby group that Republicans often pilloried for opposing tort reform during the 1990s.

Unlike many Republicans during the 1990s, Thompson easily collected large sums of political donations from lawyers during his Senate career -- more than $1.5 million over eight years. The trial lobby's political action committee gave him maximum $10,000 donations during each of his two Senate campaigns.

Again, it looks as though the Post wants to focus on Thompson's record as an attorney rather than his record as a Senator -- which is quite different than what John Solomon paints in this article. It's true that Thompson resisted some efforts to impose tort reform on states, insisting that federalist principles meant that the federal government should not impose those remedies on the states. As much as we want tort reform, the federal government should only concern itself with reforming torts at the federal level.

And it appears that Thompson did indeed follow that principle. According to Project Vote Smart, Thompson had six opportunities to vote on federal tort reform -- and he supported it each time. In May 1995, he voted to limit awards on product-liability lawsuits. He also voted to limit punitive awards in securities-fraud torts and to require an establishment of intent for damages. He voted for that bill three times, the final vote overriding a presidential veto issued by Bill Clinton. In 1998, Thompson also voted to force securities-fraud litigation involving 50 or more parties to be heard in federal court -- and therefore limited by the legislation he had earlier supported.

That track record doesn't exactly paint Thompson as a tool of the trial lawyers. Solomon doesn't find room in his 1700-word essay on Thompson for these votes. He does note the 89 rating the ACU gave Thompson in his final year, and the comment from ACU chair David Keene that Thompson's votes might give conservatives "an excuse rather than a reason" to vote against him. Thompson's only two votes in opposition to ACU positions came from supporting a campaign-finance limitation and opposing an amendment on malpractice issues on a bill he voted against in the end anyway.

On the other hand, Solomon's profile could be seen in an entirely different light. It may be that the media is looking for another Republican Maverick, the man who isn't afraid to challenge party orthodoxy in favor of deeply-held principles. Solomon makes this reference more than once in his article, almost as if searching for the new John McCain. Rudy Giuliani would appear to fit that bill more closely, but Rudy is leading the race for the nomination, and the meme usually gets applied as a scold to the base, waggling a finger and remonstrating us for not supporting a man of true principle

If so, detailing Thompson's career as an attorney seems a bit of a stretch. He may have represented people who did drugs, but that doesn't make Thompson an addict. It sounds a lot more exotic than it is, as most lawyers would be eager to confirm. All it shows is that Thompson made a living as an attorney, by reputation an ethical and successful living, and that he decided to go into politics in order to pursue his philosophical goals of federalism and small government.

Perhaps future profiles will stick closer to the real issues and the facts.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (7)

Posted by mrbill | July 26, 2007 11:29 AM

Im a bit worried that he has brought on Spencer Abraham. He is a big time OPEN BORDERS guy and hangs out to much with some nasty Islamists from Michigan. Debbie Schlussel has a big round up of his goings on in Michigan at her site.

He was voted out of Michigan for his immigration faux pas and his schmoozing with some dicey Islamo's.

Posted by Okonkolo | July 26, 2007 12:00 PM

And why no post on what is arguable the most important Thompson news, the shake-up of his campaign staff before he is officially in? The New Yorker has a story on him too.

Posted by Thomas Jackson | July 26, 2007 1:33 PM

Cpt nice analysis and framing of the subject so it makes a logical presentation rather than the usual biased reporting we get from the MSM.

I wonder how many people vote for a candidate because of his staff? I certainly don't care and I know most staff are just them same of recycled people from many other campaigns. I do care about issues and how these people have voted and acted.

Based on this Thompson stands head and shoulders above Rudy and McCain.

I won't even mention the Dhimmierats as they are still in the Twilight Zone as far as I am concerned.

Posted by Adjoran | July 26, 2007 2:29 PM

"Perhaps future profiles will stick closer to the real issues and the facts."

ROTFLMAO! Good one!

Posted by Carol Herman | July 26, 2007 2:48 PM

Sorry, Captain, I think Fred Thompson is losing steam.

And, I think the "other" maverick, John McCain, is staying in the race long enough to grab hold of the taxpayer funds in the FEC rules. (Matching funds.)

Ross Perot did it to himself. Because he came on like a tiger, back in 1992. And, then he "quit." And, then he changed his mind. But by then people judged him paranoid.

A few of those get into races. And, most of them head into the wall. Just like John McCain did. Totally out of touch with American voters.

Seems it's an important ingredient. To grab hold of the MOST people you can, who'd want to support you. Not just the nutters.

And, in Fred's case, he just added the Florida muslims to his camp, by putting Spencer Abraham, of all people, onto his team.

Fred's gonna be OUT before he even gets IN.

I say this because Guiliani isn't wounded. The stupid approach by the union thugs frm the NY fire department, got smacked and whacked by Guiliani.

Shows ya. Just because the other side labels something a "swift boat" it doesn't make it so.

Fred's waited too long. It's no longer cute to watch him hem and haw about entering the race. He's just not cute, enough.

Posted by Bill Faith | July 26, 2007 4:08 PM

It's going to be interesting come spring to see who's the first to publish side by side lists comparing Fred's former clients to Hillary's. I wouldn't count on any of the big papers doing it but it should be an interesting case of the blogosphere feeding the talk show hosts some things to talk about. I excerpted and linked

Posted by Project Vote Smart | July 26, 2007 5:11 PM

For more information on Senator Fred Thompson’s voting record, interest groups ratings, public statements, and responses to the NPAT please visit http://www.votesmart.org/bio.php?can_id=22003 or call our hotline at 1-888-VOTE-SMART.