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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 17, 2022

Tort Theory, Private Attorneys General, and State Action: From Mass Torts to Texas S.B. 8

  • John C. P. Goldberg EMAIL logo and Benjamin C. Zipursky EMAIL logo
From the journal Journal of Tort Law


Late twentieth-century tort theory was dominated by scholars who regarded tort law as primarily a means employed by government to deter anti-social conduct. On this model, tort plaintiffs are cast as private attorneys general whose lawsuits promote safety. Tort theorists today better appreciate that this approach obscures crucial respects in which tort law is private law–law that empowers persons who have been wronged to redress the wrongs done to them. But in practice there is a continued failure to perceive the ways in which the deterrence model has shaped and distorted views of tort law, as evidenced by the terms on which both the ‘right’ and the ‘left’ critique modern mass tort litigation. More troublingly, the problem extends beyond the field of torts. Indeed, we contend that the lawyerly loss of feel for distinctions between public law and private law explains the inability of the United States Supreme Court Justices, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, to capture why S.B. 8–Texas’s radical anti-abortion statute–really is a private attorney general statute and why, as such, it should be subject to preenforcement constitutional review.

Corresponding authors: John C. P. Goldberg, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA, E-mail: ; and Benjamin C. Zipursky, Fordham University School of Law, New York, NY 10023, USA, E-mail:


For helpful comments on earlier drafts, thanks to Rachel Bayefsky, Ben Eidelson, Dick Fallon, Abner Greene, Clare Huntington, Andrew Kent, John Manning, Stephen Sachs, Tony Sebok, and Jed Shugerman. Remaining errors are most definitely our own.

Published Online: 2022-03-17
Published in Print: 2021-10-26

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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