Search Results for ‘"kamala harris"’

Federal court slaps down Kamala Harris grab for donor lists

“Today a US District Court ruled in favor of Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s lawsuit against California Attorney General Kamala Harris, ruling that her demands for the Foundation to hand over its list of members and supporters is unconstitutional.” [AFP] We’ve repeatedly covered Harris’s unprecedented drive to demand disclosure of donor lists by nonprofits that carry on activities in California, a step likely to lead to private and public retaliation against individuals and groups revealed to have donated to unpopular or controversial causes.

As the WSJ notes in an editorial, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real “declared her disclosure requirement an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights,” finding that there was scant evidence the disclosures were necessary to prevent charity fraud, that (contrary to assurances) her office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality” of nonprofits’ donor lists, some 1,400 of which Harris’s office had in fact published online. As for retaliation against donors, “although the Attorney General correctly points out that such abuses are not as violent or pervasive as those encountered in NAACP v. Alabama or other cases from [the civil rights] era,” he wrote, “this Court is not prepared to wait until an AFP opponent carries out one of the numerous death threats made against its members.”

A plaintiff’s lawyer and union ally, Harris recently surfaced as an apparently key player in the alliance of state attorneys general intent on using criminal investigatory powers to probe so-called climate denial at non-profit research and advocacy groups as well as at energy companies like ExxonMobil. That makes at least two episodes in which Harris has signaled interest in unprecedented and aggressive steps to pry open the internal workings of private advocacy organizations that take positions adverse to hers. Harris is a leading contender in the Democratic Senate primary to succeed California Senator Barbara Boxer.

Update: Now expanded and adapted into a longer post at Cato.

California AG Kamala Harris demands donor list of a 501 (c) (3)

That raises the possibility of later disclosure of the information, retaliation against donors, or both; whether it’s unusual enough for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to stop it remains to be seen. Harris’s target and adversary in the resulting suit, by coincidence or otherwise, is the “Center for Competitive Politics, a vigorous supporter of political free-speech rights that does not get involved in election campaigns” but does speak out strongly about the First Amendment implications of campaign regulation; we’ve often cited its work and that of its founder, Brad Smith. [Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSBlog; Instapundit, citing “Supreme Court’s 1958 decision in NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Court unanimously protected the NAACP’s membership lists against compelled disclosure to Alabama officials.”]

Kamala Harris and the Moonlight Fire case

The burgeoning Moonlight Fire litigation scandal, which has already tarnished government agencies that include the California fire and forestry agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Forest Service, could also raise questions for California Attorney General and Senate hopeful Kamala Harris. John Fund:

“The misconduct in this case is so pervasive,” [California Superior Court judge Leslie] Nichols wrote, “that it would serve no purpose to attempt to recite it all here.”

Nichols also didn’t spare the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a candidate for Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat and a national Democratic star. Nichols wrote that he can recall “no instance in experience over 47 years as an advocate and a judge, in which the conduct of the Attorney General so thoroughly departed from the high standard it represents, and, in every other instance has exemplified.” Judge Nichols then ordered the state to pay Sierra Pacific a whopping $32 million in damages and expenses. Cal Fire denies any wrongdoing, while the offices of Harris and Governor Jerry Brown aren’t talking.

In the mail: “Scorched Worth”: new book on Moonlight Fire/Sierra Pacific case

The Sierra Pacific/Moonlight Fire scandal developed after the state of California and federal governments combined legal forces to go after a forest products company seeking to recoup millions of dollars spent fighting a fire that they claimed the company helped cause. Over the course of the ensuing litigation, judges charged a California state agency with “egregious and reprehensible conduct,” blasted the office of then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris for less-than-professional conduct, and brought in question the conduct of the U.S. Department of Justice under then-AG Eric Holder. We covered the story here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Now a new book on the story by author Joel Engel is out entitled “Scorched Worth: A True Story of Destruction, Deceit, and Government Corruption.” The author has an excerpt in the Weekly Standard (“What happens when the government lies about you in court?”). Here’s a fuller description of the book, from publisher Encounter:

To effect just outcomes the justice system requires that law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges be committed—above all—to doing justice. Those whose allegiance is to winning, regardless of evidence, do the opposite of justice: they corrupt the system. This is the jaw-dropping story of one such corruption and its surprise ending.

On Labor Day 2007, a forest fire broke out in California’s eastern Sierra Nevada and eventually burned about 65,000 acres. Investigators from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the United States Forest Service took a mere two days to conclude that the liable party was the successful forest-products company Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), founded as a tiny sawmill nearly sixty years earlier by Red Emmerson.

The investigative report on the fire declared that SPI’s independent logging contractor had started the conflagration by driving a bulldozer over a rock, creating a spark that flew into a pile of brush. No fire had ever been proven to start that way, but based on the report the U.S. Department of Justice and California’s attorney general filed nearly identical suits against Emmerson’s company. The amount sought was nearly a billion dollars, enough to bankrupt or severely damage it. Emmerson, of course, fought back.

Week by week, month by month, year by year, his lawyers discovered that the investigators had falsified evidence, lied under oath, fabricated science, invented a narrative, and intentionally ignored a mountain of exculpatory evidence. They never pursued a known arsonist who was in the area that day, nor a young man who repeatedly volunteered alibis contradicted by facts.

Though the government lawyers had not known at the start that the investigation was tainted, they nonetheless refused to drop the suits as the discovery process continued and dozens of revelations made clear that any verdict against Emmerson’s company would be unjust.

Scorched Worth is a riveting tale that dramatizes how fragile and arbitrary justice can be when those empowered to act in the name of the people are more loyal to the bureaucracies that employ them than to the people they’re supposed to serve. It’s also the story of a man who refused to let the government take from him what he’d spent a lifetime earning.

The book can be ordered here.

Second Circuit: Schneiderman can unmask private group’s donors

At least since 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama, it has been thought settled that state demands for the disclosure of private organizations’ membership and donor lists poses very real risks of First Amendment infringement to which courts must be sensitive. Recent years, however, have seen concerted efforts to strip anonymity from donors to at least some non-profit groups with a policy emphasis. One danger — or feature, from the standpoint of some groups doing the campaigning — is that if target groups can be made to divulge such information, their supporters can be exposed to pressure, shaming, and public and private retaliation.

Kamala Harris, then Attorney General of California and now Senator from that state, did not fare well in court in such a campaign while in state office, but New York’s left-leaning Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seems to be enjoying better luck in a similar push. A Second Circuit panel has ruled in favor of his demands for the donor lists of Citizens United, the conservative group whose role in a landmark First Amendment case at the Supreme Court has made it, along with that case, “the Emmanuel Goldstein of the American left.” It will not be surprising if the Supreme Court is soon asked to reaffirm the protections of NAACP v. Alabama. [Trevor Burrus and Reilly Stephens, Cato, and thanks for mention; see also my April 2016 Cato piece]

Bail reform? Careful how that goes

A campaign to get rid of the bail bond industry is currently in full swing across the country, with support from many liberals and libertarians. I’ve got an op-ed in the weekend Wall Street Journal’s “Cross Country” feature warning that Maryland’s experience over the past year should be a cautionary lesson:

Last fall the state’s attorney general, Brian Frosh, issued guidance that suddenly declared past bail methods unlawful, prodding the court system into an unplanned experiment. Judges may not set financial requirements if there is a reason to believe the defendant cannot pay, and unless they hold a suspect without bail, they must impose the “least onerous” conditions.

Now the results are coming in, and they can’t be what Mr. Frosh had in mind. An early report in March by Kelsi Loos in the Frederick News-Post found that since October the share of Maryland defendants held without bail had increased from 10% to 14%. The Washington Post later reported that from September 2016 to May the figure had jumped from 7% to 15%.

Meanwhile, fewer released defendants are showing up for trial. The Post, confirming anecdotal reports, writes that the “failure to appear” rate in January was 14.5%, up five points from October. Failing to show up for court sets up a defendant for more-severe consequences down the road, which can include being held without bail.

While bail reform is supposed to reduce the number of inmates held in jail, the number has instead increased in some places, though the results appear inconsistent.

If bail is taken away, judges need other tools to do the same job. Decades ago, when Congress steered the federal criminal-justice system away from bail bonds, lawmakers provided practical replacements, including systematic help in assessing a defendant’s risk of flight or re-offense, options for pretrial supervision, and methods of home and electronic detention. Several states have done the same. New Jersey now uses a mathematical algorithm to assess a person’s risk of fleeing or committing another crime. But the Maryland legislature, deeply split over Mr. Frosh’s destabilizing changes, has failed to set up such alternatives.

Maryland’s example doesn’t refute the idea of bail reform. But it does suggest state leaders should work to build consensus for comprehensive changes, instead of charging ahead with moralizing experiments.

On the current campaign to end bail bonds, see American Bar Association, Sens. Kamala Harris and Rand Paul and newspapers praising, Marc Levin (conservative), ACLU (villainizing insurers), Gary Raney.

Other perspectives: Scott Greenfield (“pre-trial incarceration was a huge factor in obtaining guilty pleas from innocent defendants,” but algorithms, used as replacement in places like New Jersey, have problems too), Joshua Page (some families value bond company’s service), Dan Mitchell. On the uncertain stance of constitutional law, see Pugh v. Rainwater (Fifth Circuit 1977) and more (LaFave et al.), Walker v. City of Calhoun, 2016 (Cato amicus: bail must be individualized) and more (James McGehee).

May 10 roundup

  • Redistricting, transit farebox, Court of Appeals, decriminalizing barbers, and more in my latest Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes] And I’m quoted on the highly unpersuasive “six-state compact” scheme, which amounts to an excuse for leaving gerrymandering in place [Danielle Gaines, Frederick News-Post]
  • After scandal over falsified safety records, fired track workers sue Washington’s Metro on claims of discrimination and hostile work environment [Martine Powers, Washington Post]
  • Chicago mulls ordering private shopkeepers to provide bathroom access to non-customers who say they’ve got an emergency need. Too bad its own CTA is no-go zone [Steve Chapman]
  • Says a lot about why Obama CPSC ignored pleas for CPSIA relief: “US Product Safety Regulator Sneers at ‘Fabricated Outrage’ Over Regulations” [C. Ryan Barber, National Law Journal on Elliot Kaye comments]
  • “Implied certification” theory, okayed by SCOTUS in Universal Health Services last year, enables False Claims Act suits hinging on controversial interpretations of regulation [Federalist Society podcast with Marcia Madsen and Brian D. Miller] “A Convincing Case for Judicial Stays of Discovery in False Claims Act Qui Tam Litigation” [Stephen A. Wood, WLF]
  • Judge signals reluctance to dismiss hospital’s suit against Kamala Harris over her actions as California AG on behalf of SEIU in merger case [Bianca Bruno, Courthouse News via Sean Higgins/Washington Examiner, earlier]

Free speech roundup

  • Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention panel discussion on Justice Scalia, originalism, and the First Amendment with Profs. Nadine Strossen, David Forte, Michael McConnell, and David Rabban, moderated by Judge Carlos Bea;
  • Sad day for liberal Netherlands tradition of free political opinion [CNN on conviction of Geert Wilders, leader of prominent political party] More Euro speech-throttling: France mulls ban on anti-abortion websites (only) that “mislead” or “manipulate” [Guardian]
  • Judge grants motions to dismiss, and to strike as SLAPP, the suit in California demanding “R” ratings on films with tobacco use [Greg Herbers, Washington Legal Foundation, earlier here and here, related here and here]
  • “Congress’s rotten idea for fighting anti-Semitism” [Jacob Sullum, New York Post on S. 10, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016]
  • “Lawyer seeks to identify author of three-word ‘horrible’ Google review” [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal; Eugene Volokh]
  • Section 230 vindicated: “Judge Tosses Charges Against Backpage Execs, Tells Kamala Harris To Take It Up With Congress” [Tim Cushing/TechDirt, Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Reason]
  • Breaking Thursday morning: court allows defamation claims by climate scientist Michael Mann to go forward against several defendants including Rand Simberg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and columnist Mark Steyn, but throws out claim against National Review editor Rich Lowry over editorial [BuzzFeed, Jonathan Adler, CEI statement quoting CEI’s Sam Kazman and attorney Andrew Grossman]

October 26 roundup

  • Fuller investigation of that “reputation management” ruse of filing dummy court cases with the aim of getting critical web posts taken down [Eugene Volokh and Paul Alan Levy, Levy first and second followups, earlier here and here]
  • “When Civic Participation Means Shaming A Non-Voter’s Kid” [my Cato post about an ill-considered public service announcement]
  • Why America’s regulation problem is so intractable: Fortune magazine cover story [Brian O’Keefe]
  • El Paso benefits from immeasurable advantage over neighboring Juarez, Mexico: rule of law and related American cultural attitudes [Alfredo Corchado, City Journal]
  • Tort litigation in Pennsylvania is at its most intensive in a few counties, and residents pay the price [Peter Cameron, Scranton Times-Tribune, I’m quoted]
  • California AG Kamala Harris orders BackPage execs arrested; Section 230 be damned? [TechDirt]

Massachusetts AG to Exxon: hand over your communications with think tanks

Appalling: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has demanded papers of “major associations and think tanks involved in climate skepticism” that may be in the files of the ExxonMobil Corp. including groups to which Exxon has never given a dollar [The Hill; Mike Bastasch, Daily Caller] One of her targets, Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, responded with extremely rude language entirely unprintable in this space [same] Meanwhile, 19 Democratic members of Congress from California including Reps. Ted Lieu and Zoe Lofgren have written a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris urging her to continue full speed ahead with her probe into wrongful climate opinion and to pay no attention to critics’ cries that the First Amendment might somehow be relevant [same] Attorney general Claude Walker of the Virgin Islands is fighting a sanctions motion by the Competitive Enterprise Institute over his overreaching subpoena [WSJ editorial] As for “the claim by activist groups and liberal politicians that they are doing to Exxon Mobil what they did to tobacco,” does that mean they’re planning on cartelizing the oil industry and bolstering its profits while making sure billions in contingent fees get siphoned off to the lawyers among their political donors? [Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal] Earlier here, here, etc., etc.