Liability roundup

Now you’re (not) cooking with gas

A New York utility says the politically arranged blockage of a pipeline project may mean an end to new gas hookups for residential and commercial customers [Bernadette Hogan and Ben Feuerherd, New York Post]

A demand for “no new fossil fuel infrastructure” seems to be rapidly emerging from the green wing of world politics (Seattle, IEA, Vermont, Maryland, New York, earlier), making clear that its objection is not to a particular pipeline or fracking project or oilfield development or export terminal but to any and all of them, period.

I wonder whether the demand, if taken seriously, would also entail disallowing new gasoline stations.

More/related: strangling the New York power grid [Robert Bryce, Crain’s New York Business]

Restraining regulation by guidance document

My new post at Cato finds some real progress in grappling with a longstanding problem of the administrative state:

Since my update post last year, there have been a number of new developments. Soon after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s announcement of the new policy, followed by the revocation of dozens of existing guidance documents, then-Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand issued a January 2018 directive telling Department of Justice attorneys not to rely on allegations of noncompliance with agency guidance, in and of themselves, as reason to initiate civil enforcement actions. And this past winter, DOJ updated its Justice Manual to limit the use of guidance as a basis for direct liability in both civil and criminal enforcement. “Guidance is not law. It’s not binding. And it shouldn’t be given the force or effect of law,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Charles Cox in a January speech.

Plus OMB guidance on the Congressional Review Act (it applies to some guidance documents) and a new study by Prof. Nicholas Parrillo for the Administrative Conference, which found that

regulated parties are most likely to feel that they have no real choice but to obey guidance 1) when they need to obtain preapproval before doing business, 2) when repeat interactions with regulators are inevitable and full compliance all the time is unlikely no matter how hard they try; 3) when the consequences of agency enforcement, or even the opening of an enforcement action, are severe; and 4) when the regulated party employs a large dedicated compliance staff.

These might serve as interesting guideposts in looking for ways to revamp regulatory schemes in such a way that agencies’ whims will no longer be received as law.

Supreme Court roundup

  • Cato batted 12-4 in Supreme Court term that saw Kavanaugh agreeing nearly as often with Kagan as with Gorsuch [Ilya Shapiro; another roundup of the recently concluded term from Jonathan Adler]
  • Not only is Alan Dershowitz wrong about Supreme Court review of impeachment, he’s wrong in a way that practically invites constitutional crisis [Keith Whittington]
  • High court declines certiorari in challenge to Wisconsin butter grading law [Ilya Shapiro and Matt Larosiere, Mark Arnold, Husch Blackwell with update, earlier here and here]
  • “The John Marshall Legacy: A Conversation with Richard Brookhiser” [Law and Liberty audio on new biography; Federalist Society panel with Brookhiser, Hon. Kyle Duncan, Hon. Kevin Newsom, and David Rifkin, moderated by Hon. William Pryor]
  • I’m quoted on Gundy v. U.S., the improper-delegation case: “While the Court majority did not agree this time, the line-up suggests breakthrough imminent” [Nicole Russell, Washington Examiner] From some quarters on the Left, rage at the Supreme Court that got away [Ilya Shapiro at P.J. O’Rourke online magazine American Consequences]
  • “Supreme Court Returns Constitutional Patent Case to Sender” [Gregory Dolin, Cato] on Return Mail v. U.S. Postal Service, earlier on dangers when federal agencies litigate before federal agency tribunals]

Making eagle feathers legally safe for Native American worshipers

Eagle feathers have long been important in Native American religious practice, but federal law generally bans possession of eagle feathers under stringent penalties. While the law authorizes the Interior Department to exempt Native American religious use, the Department has sometimes been stinting and ungenerous in its granting of permission. Although the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Indian worshipers in a big 2014 case under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, uncertainty continues to linger. Now advocates have petitioned for a rulemaking that would expand the exemption from federally recognized tribes only to all sincere believers including members of state-recognized tribes, and would set the exemption on a firmer legal footing for the future by taking it through the notice and comment process. [Joseph Davis, Federalist Society, earlier; End the Feather Ban advocacy page]

Police union roundup

  • New research finds Florida extension of collective bargaining rights to sheriff’s deputies correlated with increase in violent incidents when compared with municipal forces, for which law did not change [Dhammika Dharmapala, Richard H. McAdams, and John Rappaport, Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy #171]
  • “This Cop Is Getting $2,500 a Month Because Killing an Unarmed Man in a Hotel Hallway Gave Him PTSD” [Scott Shackford; Mesa, Arizona] “A Portland police sergeant was fired last year for suggesting to his fellow officers that they should shoot black people for no reason. More than a year later, he’s in line to receive a $100,000 settlement from the city.” [Joe Setyon]
  • “Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner drew up a list of cops he wouldn’t put on the stand because of their history of misconduct, and the local Fraternal Order of Police union sued.” [Scott Greenfield]
  • California police groups fight to stop new law making misconduct records public [Scott Shackford, and more, and yet more]
  • “Police Officer Claims He Feared For His Life After Shooting Family’s Roomba To Death” [humor/satire, Babylon Bee]
  • Camden, N.J.’s start-over-from-scratch approach to police employment seems to be producing some favorable results [Alex Tabarrok with charts from Daniel Bier]

Crime victim can’t sue over pre-trial release algorithm

Can a victim of a later crime use New Jersey product liability law to sue a private foundation over alleged flaws in the alternative-to-bail algorithm it had developed for the state’s use? No, a federal district court has ruled, because 1) the algorithm isn’t a product, 2) proximate causation is lacking; and 3) it’s speech so the First Amendment acts as a bar [Eugene Volokh]

Organized psychiatry and activism

“Were there really more than twice as many sessions on global warming as on obsessive compulsive disorder? Three times as many on immigration as on ADHD?” Blogger and medical professional Scott Alexander at the American Psychiatric Association convention: “If you want to model the APA, you could do worse than a giant firehose that takes in pharmaceutical company money at one end, and shoots lectures about social justice out the other.” [Slate Star Codex]

International free speech roundup

  • Singapore law restricting so-called fake news “could force companies to tell the government what websites users have viewed” [Jennifer Daskal, New York Times] Ruling People’s Action Party “is notorious for its practice of bringing lawsuits against opposition members,” sometimes “for defamation upon criticizing the PAP,” while blog authors are “often pressured to register as members of political bodies if their posts touch upon national issues.” [Sally Andrews, The Diplomat]
  • Australian federal police raid national broadcaster, seize files over story exposing alleged killings of unarmed civilians by special forces [Matthew Lesh, Spiked]
  • U.K.: “Man investigated by police for retweeting transgender limerick” [Camilla Tominey and Joani Walsh, Daily Telegraph; Jack Beresford, Irish Post; Ophelia Benson followup on “Harry the Owl” case; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • From President John Adams’s time to our own, rulers around the world have used alarms over fake news as excuse for measures against political opponents [J.D. Tuccille, Reason]
  • “In a world first, Facebook to give data on hate speech suspects to French courts” [Mathieu Rosemain, Reuters, Jacob Mchangama on Twitter]
  • Michael Jackson fan clubs sue sex-abuse complainants “under a French law against the public denunciation of a dead person,” good example of why laws like that are a bad idea [AP/GlobalNews]
  • Turkish “Academics for Peace” initiative of 2016: “Of the petition’s more than 2,000 signatories, nearly 700 were put on trial and over 450 were removed from their posts by government decree or direct action from their own university.” [Brennan Cusack, New York Times]