Saving the Cheeseburger


The House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, which is aimed at squashing litigation blaming restaurants for making their customers fat. The bill would shield food manufacturers, distributors, and sellers from lawsuits "relating to consumption of food or non-alcoholic beverage products unless the plaintiff proves that, at the time of sale, the product was not in compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements."

I have mixed feelings about this sort of legislation. Given the precedent set by the state-backed tobacco lawsuits, which in effect imposed a nationwide tax and nationwide regulations without congressional approval, there is a case to be made for federal action. Advocates of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, recently defeated by hostile amendments, offer a similar argument: Unless Congress shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits blaming them for criminal use of their products, state courts will usurp its authority to regulate interstate commerce (as well as the authority of state legislatures to set their own gun control policies).

At the same time, it's disconcerting to see Congress instructing state courts to dismiss patently absurd lawsuits. I worry that it's not really necessary. I worry more that it is.