Courts Should Impose Penalties for Frivolous Lawsuits

One of the most wasteful and annoying foibles of American life is the tendency to flood the courts with frivolous lawsuits. In Jamaica, when I was growing up, you had to have a genuine cause for litigation. If you sued and lost, you had to pay court costs, which could be substantial. People thought twice before they went to court.

I am not sure how court costs are assessed here; that seems to vary from state to state and from one judge to another. But I’m sure of one thing: Americans tend to sue first and ask questions later. Consider, for example, the silly lawsuits claiming that Barack Obama is not a “natural-born American citizen,” and is therefore ineligible to be President.

donofrioThe Associated Press reported today that the U.S. Supreme Court had turned down an emergency appeal from New Jersey resident Leo Donofrio (photo at right), who claims that the President-elect was a British subject at birth. Donofrio said that since Obama had dual nationality at birth — his mother was American and his Kenyan father at the time was a British subject — he cannot possibly be a “natural born citizen.” That kind of litigation is nothing but mischief-making. Clearly, the founding fathers meant to include anyone born on American soil – regardless of parentage.

At least one other appeal over Obama’s citizenship remains before the court. Pennsylvania resident Philip J. Berg (a disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporter) insists that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii. Berg says Obama also may be a citizen of Indonesia, where he lived as a boy. Federal courts in Pennsylvania dismissed Berg’s lawsuit. And federal courts in Ohio and Washington state have rejected similar lawsuits. But bloggers have claimed for a long time that the Web version of Obama’s birth certificate, showing that Obama was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961, is a Photoshopped version of his Hawaiian sister’s certificate. This, too, is a fantasy. Hawaii Health Department Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino and the state’s registrar of vital statistics, Alvin Onaka, have confirmed that Obama was born in Hawaii. Also, the nonpartisan Web site examined the original document and pronounced it genuine. Factcheck even reproduced an announcement of Obama’s birth, including his parents’ address in Honolulu, which was published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Aug. 13, 1961.

Obviously this kind of litigation is nothing but mischief-making. Berg, who claims (apocryphally) to be a “former Pennsylvania attorney general,” is constantly burdening the court system with lawsuits against prominent people. In 2004, he  filed a RICO suit on behalf of a World Trade Center maintenance worker against President Bush and other officials, alleging they conspired to bring about the attacks on the World Trade Center. He also challenged President Bush in court on his right to conduct a war against terror. And in 2001 he demanded the disbarment of Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonio Scalia and Clarence Thomas for the part they played in the Bush vs. Gore decision. None of those lawsuits was successful. Donofrio is another crank. I don’t know what this ex-attorney turned professional gambler was hoping to accomplish, but the lawsuit looks like nothing more than an ego-driven publicity stunt.

People who create such nuisances, clogging the court system and distracting the President-elect from the urgent national business at hand, should be penalized. At the very least, they should be made to pay for the total loss to taxpayers – not only for court costs but also for the time and energy spent in defending the silly lawsuits.