Berkeley, facing accessibility demands, may take down free online course content

Advancing a trend we’ve been warning about, the University of California, Berkeley, said it may have to take down educational course content posted free online for the benefit of the public due to an ongoing conflict with the U.S. Department of Justice over whether it is obliged to accompany the content with expensive captioning and other technological assists to make it more accessible to disabled visitors. I’ve got a write-up at Cato. More: Robby Soave, Reason; Andrej Karpathy Twitter thread about withdrawal of computer science videos; earlier on web accessibility. And this tweet, from Prof. Sam Bagenstos responding to Soave’s article, represents the culmination of the entire civil rights model.

Don’t delegate foreign and counter-terror policy to trial lawyers

The Washington Post’s editorialists agree with former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former attorney general Michael Mukasey: President Obama is right to plan a veto of a bill passed in the House by a voice vote enabling lawsuits by victims of terror attacks against sovereign countries such as Saudi Arabia over conduct that allegedly contributed to the attacks. Delegating foreign and counter-terror policy to trial lawyers not only wrenches away delicate questions of negotiation and sanctions-imposition from the executive branch to which our Constitutional scheme confides them, but also invites foreign legal systems to begin opening up avenues for lawsuits against the government of the United States. There’s a reason comity and sovereign immunity have stood for centuries as pillars of international law. News coverage: Karoun Demirjian, Washington Post and more.

Where a conflict of interest policy for prosecutors would have helped

The city of Woodbury, Minn. employs a local law firm on contract to “prosecute certain criminal matters on the City’s behalf.” Lawyers from this firm filed a criminal action against Mr. Sample over an alleged domestic assault even as, at the same time, the firm was representing his alleged victim in civil actions including a restraining order. It “later asked another firm to prosecute the criminal case against Sample [on the grounds] that it had a conflict of interest.” Mr. Sample’s later section 1983 suit alleged that the law firm’s dual role at the time of the filing had violated his constitutional rights; the Eighth Circuit ruled that the prosecutors themselves enjoyed absolute personal immunity, but — such immunity not extending to towns — ordered further consideration of Sample’s claim that the town should be liable for not instituting a conflict-of-interest policy that would have headed off the problem before it happened. [Sample v. City of Woodbury et al.]

“Trump threatens to sue New York Times”

Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, following negative coverage including a story on his use of tax breaks in real estate development [The Hill]:

Vague lawsuit threats are usually the bumptious kind: there is no cause of action for “irresponsible intent.”

U.K.: cross-examination before jury deemed too hard on vulnerable witnesses

New court reforms proposed by the U.K.’s Ministry of Justice would do away with many criminal defendants’ right to cross-examine accusers before a jury. The rules provide that what are deemed “vulnerable” victims and witnesses, mostly in sex cases, will instead be allowed to undergo cross-examination recorded in advance for later play in court. [BBC] Here in the U.S., the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause might have a thing or two to say about that.

Police and prosecution roundup

  • Mississippi AG Jim Hood, a longtime Overlawyered fave, finds way to snipe at opposing death penalty counsel [Radley Balko]
  • Police use forced catheterization to obtain urine samples from unwilling suspects. A constitutional issue? [Argus-Leader, South Dakota]
  • “Why Gary Johnson Opposes Hate-Crime Laws (and You Should Too)” [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
  • Yes, the Baltimore aerial surveillance program should raise concerns [Matthew Feeney, Cato]
  • “The Citizen as ATM: A small Missouri city has become a legal testing ground for ticketing practices and court reform” [Carla Main, City Journal]
  • New Mexico, a leader on asset forfeiture reform, should now tackle mens rea reform [Paul Gessing]

Labor and employment roundup

  • “This One Simple Trick — Used by Colin Kaepernick — Will Make It Harder To Fire You” [Coyote] And on the topic of retaliation, Obama administration appointeees have been revising doctrine in a direction sharply unfavorable to employers both at the EEOC and at OSHA, the latter of which has legal authority to enforce the retaliation provisions of many laws like Dodd-Frank unrelated to conventional occupational hazard [Jon Hyman on EEOC and OSHA]
  • In $5 million award, Texas jury finds SEIU playbook on janitors’ campaign encouraged lawbreaking disruption of target business and its clients [Jon Cassidy and Charles Blain, WSJ]
  • Obama administration’s new blacklisting rule on labor violations gives unions a whip hand in negotiations with federal contractors, as if by design [Marc Freedman, U.S. Chamber]
  • Finally, a state appellate court pokes a hole in the bizarre California Rule under which public employers may not reduce future pension benefits even when based on work not yet performed [Dan Walters/Sacramento Bee, Scott Shackford, Reason]
  • Hearing over expanding employment-law damages in Colorado highlights shift in EEO law toward goal of money extraction [Merrily Archer]
  • Post-Friedrichs, the future of mandatory union dues in public employment [Federalist Society podcast with Scott Kronland and William Messenger] “Big Labor Tries To Eliminate Right-To-Work By Lawsuit” [George Leef]

September 14 roundup

Campus climate roundup

  • Will the University of Chicago’s new policy on free expression chill professors’ freedom to run their classes in their own way, as some claim? [Alex Morey/FIRE, Howard Wasserman/Prawfs] Jonathan Chait on how the safe spaces debate really isn’t about things like church groups or gay bars; and a judicious Ken White at Popehat on how safe space idea can make sense in private/chosen settings, but not as academic mandate.
  • As federal Title IX enforcement percolates downward: e-mail from administrator at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, discusses expelling “perp” before investigation has begun [K.C. Johnson on Twitter] USC administrator: do they know who I am? [same] Wasn’t Columbia U. just serving up what its customers want? [Scott Greenfield] “OCR to Frostburg State University: Common Sense, ‘Reasonable Person’ Standard Violate Title IX” [Robby Soave]
  • UW-Milwaukee poster campaign warns students against using terms like “lame,” “crazy,” and — inevitably? — “politically correct” [Jillian Kay Melchior/Heat Street, Robby Soave/Reason]
  • The future of American higher education: fewer historians, more chief diversity officers [David Frum]
  • “More on the sex panic at Yale” [KC Johnson, Minding the Campus]
  • Capitol Hill Republicans keep shoveling cash at power-mad campus regulators, while tying hands of dissenters at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights [John Fund, NR]

Environment roundup

  • Didn’t realize former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld had written a novel sympathetic to the persons displaced by one of the great eminent domain binges, the 1930s creation of Quabbin Reservoir (“Stillwater,” background) And down in Virginia: “Sixty years ago they were evicted from the Blue Ridge to make way for Shenandoah National Park. But the refugees haven’t forgotten their lost mountain homes.” [Eddie Dean, Washington City Paper]
  • Tokyo’s wide-open policy on development is one reason its house prices have not skyrocketed despite rising population [Alex Tabarrok, more, contrast with cities like Delhi and Mumbai]
  • “Chevron Paves The Way For Corporations To Fight ‘Shakedown Lawsuits'” [John Shu, Investors Business Daily, related editorial drawing FedEx and SEIU parallels] More: Roger Parloff and Michael Krauss on Canadian enforcement action in ongoing Ecuador dispute;
  • “The Environmental Lightning Rod Known as Fracking” [Ned Mamula, Cato]
  • Massachusetts voters in November will face ballot measure sharply restricting methods of handling a host of livestock animals [Baylen Linnekin]
  • Do woodpiles attract termites? Chamber backs Flower Mound, Tex. man facing billions in fines for storing wood [Dallas News, earlier]