Crime and punishment roundup

  • Bloodstain analysis convinced a jury Julie Rea killed her 10-year-old son. It took four years for her to be acquitted on retrial, and another four to be exonerated. Has anything been learned? [Pamela Colloff, ProPublica] Forensics’ alternative-facts problem [Radley Balko] The chemists and the coverup: inside the Massachusetts drug lab scandal [Shawn Musgrave, Reason, earlier here, here, here, etc.]
  • “I would say, you know, as a parting gift, if you’d like to throw in some iPhones every year, we would be super jazzed about that…. So, you know, a hundred, 200 a year.” A window on the unusual business of prison-phone service [Ben Conarck, Florida Times-Union, state Department of Corrections]
  • Should juries be forbidden to hear any evidence or argument about their power of conscientious acquittal? [Jay Schweikert on Cato amicus in case of U.S. v. Manzano, Second Circuit; related, David Boaz on 1960s-era jury nullification of sodomy charges]
  • This hardly ever happens: prosecutor disbarred for misconduct [Matt Sledge, Baton Rouge Advocate; Louisiana high court revokes license of Sal Perricone following anonymous-commenting scandal]
  • “Cultural impact assessments”: Canadian courts weighing whether race should play role in sentencing minority offenders [Dakshana Bascaramurty, Globe and Mail]
  • “The Threat of Creeping Overcriminalization” [Cato Daily Podcast with Shon Hopwood and Caleb Brown] “Tammie Hedges and the Overcriminalization of America” [James Copland and Rafael Mangual, National Review]

Does European data privacy regulation help entrench U.S. tech firms?

Roslyn Layton, AEI, in November:

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), along with similarly heavy-handed regimes such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act, entrenches established platforms that have the resources to meet their onerous compliance requirements. Since the GDPR’s implementation in May, the rank and market share of small- and medium-sized ad tech companies has declined by 18 to 32 percent in the EU, while these measures have increased for Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Via Alex Stamos thread on Twitter (“Anybody wonder why the big tech companies didn’t really fight that hard against GDPR? It isn’t due to a newfound love of regulation”) by way of James Pethokoukis; more, Antonio García Martínez.

Supreme Court OKs asbestos suits against non-asbestos manufacturers

Tuesday’s 6-3 decision in Air & Liquid Systems v. DeVries took an expansive view of asbestos liability in the maritime context. I discuss at Cato at Liberty:

…By requiring makers of components to pay for damages they did not cause in the name of warnings that the U.S. Navy almost certainly would not have heeded, the Court yields to an impulse to round up deep pockets lest a sympathetic set of litigants otherwise go uncompensated….

In his dissent, Gorsuch points out that [the new standard formulated by Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the majority] not only has no evident grounding in existing tort doctrine but is not in fact easy to apply or predict. …

But it seems almost quaint to ask whether a newly announced legal standard can readily be applied and predicted in the context of asbestos law, a sui generis creation in which the courts regularly extract vast sums from defendants on the basis of legal standards assuredly not recognized in law at the time those defendants acted in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The implications of assigning retrospective liability to actions lawful at the time loom large and disturbing over continuing expansions of liability like the one announced in today’s case.

March 20 roundup

  • Sports betting: best to ignore the leagues’ special pleadings and let federalism work [Patrick Moran, Cato, related podcast]
  • Everything you thought you knew about corporate personhood in the law is wrong [David Bernstein reviews Adam Winkler’s We the Corporations]
  • Federal judge John Kane, on lawyer’s filings: “I have described them as prolix, meandering, full of unfounded supposition and speculation, repetitive and convoluted almost to the point of being maddening.” And he’s just getting started [Scott Greenfield]
  • “Florida Voters Join Chevron Revolt And Strike A Blow Against Judicial Bias” [Mark Chenoweth, Federalist Society Blog] Plus video panel on “The States and Administrative Law” with Nestor Davidson, Chris Green, Miriam Seifter, Hon. Jeffrey Sutton, and Hon. Michael Scudder;
  • Argument that Congressionally extended extension of copyright on (among other works) Atlas Shrugged violates Ayn Rand’s own ethical code [Edward Sisson]
  • “More Legislation, More Violence? The Impact of Dodd-Frank in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” [Nik Stroop and Peter van der Windt, Cato; our longstanding coverage of the conflicts mineral fiasco]

Janus: what comes after

The Supreme Court’s Janus decision on public sector union fees was not received in a spirit of total cooperation by all public sector unions and employers. Two Cato Daily Podcasts from late last year, one with Robert Alt of the Buckeye Institute, the other with Ken Girardin of The Empire Center:

Related: Federalist Society podcast with William Messenger and panel with Messenger, Steven Greenhut, Hon. Chuck Reed, and Hon. Ryan Nelson; William Baude (critical of Janus).

And now, citing the First Amendment and the Janus precedent, “three conservative lawyers are seeking to overturn Texas laws that require attorneys to join the State Bar of Texas and pay annual dues;” in Texas, as in many states, bar dues go to various ideologically fraught issues and causes [Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman]

Just for fun: Cato’s amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME is an answer on Jeopardy!

Higher education roundup

  • Oops! “Tulane sophomore unknowingly named as plaintiff in lawsuit over college bribery scandal” [John Simerman, New Orleans Advocate] “Admissions scandal class action is ‘fascinating’ but likely doomed – experts” [Alison Frankel, Reuters] Plus advice from Ken at Popehat;
  • Some problems with the idea of a sweeping presidential order to decree free speech on campus — and a promising if more modest step the White House could take instead [Donald Downs, Cato] Two more views on how universities can “fend off outside intervention and, more importantly, be true to their own mission… [by] nurturing a better free speech culture” [Keith Whittington, parts one and two; John McGinnis]
  • “‘If racial preference [in college admissions] is unjust, then it doesn’t magically become just because people notice some other injustice that has different beneficiaries,’ Olson said. ‘Two things can be unjust at the same time, and two injustices do not add up to one justice.'” [John Blake, CNN, quoting me on the argument that the admissions scandal somehow proves preference advocates’ case]
  • Harvard lawprof and residential dean Ronald Sullivan under fire for defending unpopular figures facing MeToo charges
    [Randall Kennedy, Chronicle of Higher Education; Conor Friedersdorf (quoting HLS prof Janet Halley: “Finally, the ‘climate survey’ technique is a dangerous precedent as a matter of employment rights and as a threat to academic freedom. It’s a thinly veiled version of the heckler’s veto.”)]
  • The Snuggle is real: very long list of demands by Sarah Lawrence students occupying campus building includes consistent access to detergent and fabric softener [Sarah Lawrence Phoenix; Pamela Paresky, Psychology Today] Rather more seriously, the students demand the college reconsider the tenure status of a professor who published a mildly conservative op-ed in the NYT [Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed]
  • Even if occasionally subverted by dishonest actors, standardized tests remain the gold standard among transparent, objective ways to improve the accuracy of college success prediction [Jenna A. Robinson, Martin Center]

Connecticut high court, PLCAA or no PLCAA, allows Remington suit

Over a dissent from three of its seven justices, the Connecticut Supreme Court has green-lighted a suit over purportedly negligent marketing of the Bushmaster rifle used in the Sandy Hook massacre, even though the firearm in question was never marketed or sold to the killer, who stole it from his mother who had purchased it lawfully long before. To do so, it had to get around a specific federal law (the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA) intended to stop exactly this kind of suit, which stretches available legal materials to an extreme so as to enable gun control objectives to be pursued through tort lawsuits. It resorted to ruling that the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), a state unfair-trade-practices law, is included as a “predicate statute” in an exception to PLCAA allowing suit in cases where guns have been sold in violation of a law or regulation. [Soto v. Bushmaster, majority opinion and dissent; Chris Woodyard, USA Today]

Writes Kevin Williamson: “The lawsuit against Remington is bogus. It has little to do with Connecticut commercial law and everything to do with a substantive gun-control agenda and the opportunistic inclination to wring money from institutions that have a great deal of it.”

I wrote about the suit at an earlier stage here and about PLCAA (for which I was a witness before the House Judiciary Committee at the time) here and here. From my 2014 piece:

In 2005 Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) specifically to put an end to product liability suits over guns that had been made and sold in accordance with law. The courts have generally enforced it as written – even the Ninth Circuit’s famously liberal Judge Stephen Reinhardt agreed that it was constitutional – which has mostly, if not entirely, led to the dismissal of such lawsuits. …

Let’s not forget that calculation of the relatively shallowness of pockets of gun-related businesses was part and parcel of the abusive strategy of the politicians and lawyers promoting the suits back then:

because gunmakers were too thinly capitalized to withstand the costs of years of legal defense, it was thought they’d fold their hands and yield to “gun control through litigation” (explicitly couched as an end run against a then-Republican Congress resistant to gun control proposals). …the suits eventually reached judges and were generally thrown out, but not before imposing huge and uncompensated costs on many small companies that had violated no laws. Some were bankrupted.

We may hope that the courts are alive to the ongoing importance of PLCAA, and willing, as appropriate, to apply the tool of sanctions against legal strategists and campaigners who would seek to circumvent its provisions in the name of ideological grandstanding, profit, or revenge.

More: Jacob Sullum (distinguishing negligent entrustment theory also promoted in suit, which was rejected in new ruling).

Judge rules North Carolina legislature illegitimate

“Epic can of worms”: a North Carolina judge has ruled that because of racially gerrymandered districts the state’s lawmakers have no legitimate authority to propose amendments to the state’s constitution. The effect is potentially to nullify two amendments that the state’s voters approved in November, one on voter ID and one on capping state income taxes. [Alan Greenblatt, Governing]

But wait: wouldn’t declaring a legislature illegitimate mean nullifying a lot of legislative actions that are pleasing to progressives, such as funding and expanding the public sector in various ways? Conveniently, it seems Wake County Superior Court Judge G. Bryan Collins has not signaled any willingness to strike down decisions made by a simple legislative majority, which would therefore be regarded as legitimate and allowed to stand. Gerrymanders, of course, do have a direct influence on whether a legislature adopts measures subject to simple majority vote, even as they do not have a direct influence on whether voters approve or do not approve a constitutional amendment for which balloting is statewide.

It will be curious to see whether this opinion stands up on appeal, even at the North Carolina Supreme Court, which I understand has issued some strenuously progressive rulings in recent years.

Social media law roundup

  • Was this an entry in a contest to draft the most unconstitutional bill? “Florida Bill Would Make It a Crime for Minors to Post Pictures of Guns on Social Media” [Eugene Volokh]
  • “Everyone involved in politics has bad days, when one’s interests conflict with one’s ideals.” But conservatives should resist the temptation to call in government to regulate the Internet [John Samples] New Republican interest in antitrust explainable by wish to bust corporations considered unfriendly to Republicans [Steven Greenhut]
  • Lafayette, La. mother jailed after posting video to social media showing fight between two high school students [Megan Wyatt, The Advocate; editorial; Dave Cohen, WWL]
  • Suit over online harassment could puncture liability protections of Section 230, some hope and others fear [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
  • “So, to be blunt here, Warren’s campaign screwed up with its ad design [by] including the [Facebook] logo.” The really bad part, though, was the spinning afterward [Scott Shackford]
  • Tweeting wrong sorts of things about gender can result in a visit from the British police, cont’d [Tom Potter, Ipswich Star (Suffolk; quoting local activist who “said police had a right to intervene if it was felt the posts were causing offence.”)] And another case from Hitchin, Hertfordshire [Martin Beckford, Daily Mail; earlier here, here, etc.
  • Content moderation “is, in many ways, the commodity that platforms offer.” Will they be left free to offer it? [Will Duffield, Cato Journal, reviewing Custodians of the Internet by Tarleton Gillespie]