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.
I take a dim view of the doings of the Riyadh regime, but it’s bonkers to let US-Saudi relations stand or fall on the skill of random trial lawyers. A bill under consideration in Congress would bring such a day closer by stripping sovereign immunity protection from foreign countries in suits alleging responsibility for terror attacks on U.S. soil. It is the executive branch exercising its foreign relations powers that should have the final word on such responsibility; the U.S. State Department opposes the legislation. [Tim Worstall, Forbes]
A big win for plaintiff’s lawyers: “Rewriting decades of established law in Illinois, the [state’] high court — by a 4-3 margin — repealed the public-duty doctrine that holds local government entities, including fire and police departments, owe their duty to protect to the general public, not individual citizens. The lawsuit opens the way for individuals to sue governmental entities based on some claim of harm caused to them as a result of the public entity’s negligence.” [Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, Cook County Record, Municipal Minute; some related issues of government duty-to-protect exposure from the state of Washington]
At the Supreme Court’s first oral argument of its new term, “the court’s most liberal justices joined in criticizing the idea the Austrian national railway could be liable simply for allowing its tickets to be sold in the U.S. Carol Sachs v. OBB Personenverkehr revolves around whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act protects the state-owned rail company from being sued in U.S. courts over injuries that occur overseas. Judging from the arguments, it can. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor all expressed doubt that OBB could be liable simply because Sachs bought a Eurailpass through a Massachusetts online ticket agency.” The Ninth Circuit had allowed the case of Sachs v. OBB Personenverkehr to go forward over “strenuous dissents from several of its judges.” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
I’ve now done a second post in Common Good’s symposium on education and fear of liability. Among the topics I discuss: assumption of risk, statutes of limitations, sovereign immunity, and the need for some more organized way of advocating the interests of public service entities against excessive or impractical liability demands. You can read it here.
“The family of a man shot and killed by his neighbor in Skagit County can proceed to trial on claims that the county’s emergency communications center mishandled its response to his panicked 911 call, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled.” According to his family, a 911 operator told William Munich that help was on the way but did not code the call as an emergency; a sheriff’s deputy showed up 18 minutes later, by which time Munich had been shot by the irate neighbor. “I am concerned the majority’s decision will put unwarranted pressure on every statement made by 911 operators, straining communications that depend on the free flow of information,” wrote dissenting Justice James Johnson. [KOMO; Munich (Gayle) v. Skagit Emergency Communications Center, holding, dissent (wrong link fixed now); background on Washington’s unusual approach to sovereign immunity]
P.S. Another Washington sovereign liability case of interest: Robb v. City of Seattle, “Whether the city of Seattle may be liable in an action for wrongful death brought by the survivor of a murder victim based on the failure of police to confiscate ammunition while detaining the murderer for questioning just before the murder occurred.” [Temple of Justice]
- Dan Mitchell rounds up many of the significant state ballot measures [Cato] California official voter guide is 144 pages long; “As usual, almost all of the proposals being put before voters are bad.” [Josh Barro, Bloomberg; coverage of Prop 37 on genetic labeling here, here, etc.]
- And as some readers will recall, I am hoping voters in Maine, Washington and my own state of Maryland vote to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples, and that voters in Minnesota reject a constitutional amendment to the opposite effect.
- Digging into the Obama-Romney dispute over use-it-or-lose-it oil leases [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
- “The myth of auto bailout jobs” [Andrew M. Grossman, DC Examiner] On Jeeps, Romney takes a leaf from the Obama tactical playbook, and Obama not pleased [Tim Carney, Examiner]
- New Cato e-book “The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center” by David Boaz, David Kirby, and Emily Ekins, doing well on Amazon Kindle listings. And: which way should a libertarian vote for President this time? [Richard Epstein]
- “Survey of State Supreme Court Races and Retention Elections” [Carrie Severino, NRO, Ashby Jones/WSJ; earlier on Michigan here and here, on Florida here, here, and here]
- Government officials pressure private billboard owner to take down “Voter Fraud Is a Felony” sign [Hans Bader]
- Peaceful transfer of power to opposition party is gold standard of democracy [Steve Chapman]
- “As churches get political, IRS stays quiet” [Reuters, earlier]
- “Editorial: Inslee’s criticism of McKenna points up need for tort reform” [Seattle Times; my take on Washington state’s curious waiver of sovereign immunity a while back]
The judge ruled that “even though the park could have acted more quickly to kill or relocate the goat, its actions are immune from lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act because they involved an exercise of discretion related to public policy.” [Peninsula Daily News, Washington; AP; earlier here and here]
A Bridgeport attorney for Charla Nash says the attack could have been avoided had Connecticut been tougher in enforcing its regulations. [WCBS]
Because accidents will happen, after all. And, no, you wouldn’t be excused for totaling the FBI’s Ferrari were the sides reversed [Scott Greenfield]