- Today at Cato, Josh Blackman discusses his new book Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty, and Executive Power with comments from Washington Post Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes and Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner, Ilya Shapiro moderating [watch live 12 noon Eastern]
- Breed-specific laws fuel mass euthanasia: “Montreal Gearing Up To Sentence Huge Numbers Of Innocent Dogs To Death” [Huffington Post]
- Feds prepare to mandate mechanical speed governors capping road speed of tractor-trailers; truckers warn of crashes and traffic jams [AP/San Luis Obispo Tribune]
- “You have to go back to the Red Scare to find something similar,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) of advocacy-group subpoenas by Hill committee in “Exxon Knew” probe. Or just five months to the CEI subpoena [Washington Post hearing coverage which oddly omits mention of CEI episode]
- “I’m not here to take away your guns.” Why Hillary Clinton’s assurances ring hollow [Jacob Sullum] Trump’s comments defending stop-and-frisk and no-fly no-buy further undercut his never-impressive claims as defender of gun liberty [AllahPundit, Leon Wolf, Ilya Somin]
- Why my Cato colleagues believe the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) is worth supporting as a trade liberalization measure despite some suboptimal aspects [Daniel J. Ikenson, Simon Lester, Scott Lincicome, Daniel R. Pearson, K. William Watson, Cato Trade]
- Fourth Circuit will review forfeiture case of “pre-conviction, pre-trial restraint of untainted property” [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
- “Voodoo Science in the Courtroom: The U.S. has relied on flawed forensic-evidence techniques for decades, falsely convicting many” [Alex Kozinski, WSJ; ABA Journal] “Highest court in Massachusetts throws out another shaken-baby syndrome conviction” [Radley Balko on Boston Globe]
- Federal judge Andrew Hanen gets results! “Justice Department orders more ethics training for lawyers” [Politico, earlier]
- Like settlement slush funds, contingency-fee prosecutions divert money from the public fisc to influential private players [Margaret (“Peggy”) Little, CEI]
- California appeals court: Orange County district attorney’s office’s war on a judge was legal but represented “extraordinary abuse” [C.J. Ciaramella]
- “New Jersey Bill Would Punish Eating, Drinking While Driving” [Reason]
Papers obtained by The Hill confirm that the prominent plaintiff’s law firm of Cohen Milstein is in for a 27 percent slice (plus costs) of loot from at least one branch of the ongoing probe over erroneous opinion on climate change, a campaign advanced by a subpoena dragnet from state attorneys general seeking papers and correspondence from dozens of free-market and right-of-center advocacy and scholarship groups. [The Hill]
Although the blithe denials of a couple of sources who spoke to The Hill might suggest otherwise, contingency-fee representation of states and other public bodies in damages claims was deemed ethically improper over most of American history. It’s a story I tell in The Rule of Lawyers, where I talk about Dickie Scruggs’ pioneering venture in the early 1990s in representing the state of Mississippi in claims for removal of asbestos from government property:
The United States [as of this point] had long justified its departure from other countries’ [bans on contingent fees] on the grounds that otherwise [given our lack of “loser-pays”] some poorer clients might be unable to obtain a lawyer at all. But no one was seriously claiming that no lawyer could be found to handle the asbestos case for the state of Mississippi on an hourly fee basis.
Until quite recently the notion of letting lawyers represent government on a contingency-fee basis would have been seen as pernicious, absurd, or both. But as Scruggs was no doubt aware, times were changing fast. Many of America’s legal authorities had begin to regard contingency fees — and the encouragement they gave to speculative litigation — not as a lesser evil that should be limited to the cases where it was necessary, but as something wholesome and beneficial in itself. The first experiments had already been noted by the end of the 1980s, with the state of Massachusetts hiring private lawyers on contingency for asbestos rip-out cases. If contingency fees for public lawyering could pass the ethical smell test in the state that was home to Harvard Law School, why shouldn’t they do so in Mississippi, too?
Since the Great Tobacco Robbery steered billions of dollars in fees to the pockets of politically influential law firms, the practice has been the subject of continued lively controversy, with legislative proposals in many states aiming to curtail or eliminate the opaque or even undisclosed deals by which private law firms get themselves cut themselves in on a share of public moneys by attorneys general dependent on their political support. Earlier on the contingency-fee angle in the climate subpoena affair here and here.
- Subpoena turnabout not fair play: Congressional Republicans investigating state AGs’ climate advocacy probe are lobbing subpoenas at private enviro groups that urged the anti-speech campaign. Knock it off, two wrongs don’t make right [Eli Lehrer and earlier] “You don’t need complicated models to figure out what happens when governments censor speech. The evidence on that question is solid.” [Steve Simpson]
- And speaking of fraud in policy advocacy (whatever that may mean) some varieties of it are plainly going to have no legal consequences whatsoever [Matt Welch channeling Virginia Postrel on California political class and high-speed rail]
- Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette says 40 anti-pipeline activists gathered and beat on the front door of his home for 30 minutes with his wife alone there [Detroit News]
- Pro-nuclear demonstrators blockade Greenpeace office in San Francisco, but wouldn’t the ultimate way to protest an odious environmental group be to respect the property rights of all concerned? [SFist]
- “It’s a shotgun approach”: injury lawyers find many defendants to blame after Flint public water fiasco [NPR via Renee Krake, Legal Ethics Forum]
- “District court voids Obama administration fracking regulations” [Jonathan Adler, Alden Abbott]
Speaking of infringements on what is now the scope of attorney-client privilege, an Oregon law professor has proposed to make environmental protection part of lawyers’ ethical duties. [Daily Climate; Tom Lininger, “Green Ethics for Lawyers,” Boston College Law Review, 2016; Scott Greenfield] Some backers hope the idea will encourage lawyers representing the fossil fuel industry, in particular, to disregard conventional attorney duties of loyalty to clients; indeed, it might someday serve as grounds for them to be disciplined if they refrain from betraying client interests in various situations.
Are you now, or have you ever been, a supporter of the Hoover Institution, the Mercatus Center, the Heritage Foundation, or the Acton Institute? Lachlan Markay, Free Beacon:
Democratic senators have been assigned conservative nonprofit groups to call out by name on the chamber floor in speeches on Monday and Tuesday criticizing corporations and advocacy groups for opposing Democratic climate policies, internal emails reveal.
…[Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon] Whitehouse and his allies, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), have crafted a schedule for floor speeches on Monday and Tuesday that assigns each participating Senator at least one group to go after by name.
Most of the groups have already been targeted by state Democratic officials that have undertaken a coordinated legal campaign against oil giant ExxonMobil since last year. Many were named in subpoenas sent to the company by state attorneys general as part of that effort.
The ringmaster, once again, is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — yes, that Sheldon Whitehouse, whose hometown Providence Journal rightly called out his current campaign to sic the law on improper climate opinion as likely to “have a chilling effect on free speech, by intimidating dissenters into silence.” The leader on the House side is Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), also getting to be a familiar name.
One reason this is more sinister than your ordinary political sideshow: the proposed concurrent resolution urges right-leaning nonprofits “to cooperate with active or future investigations” of purportedly unlawful opinion-slinging. One of the most junior senators, Gary Peters of Michigan, apparently drew the short straw in the heresy posse and was assigned to attack my own Cato Institute (which publishes this site) at 6:30 this evening.
The senators participating in this appalling exercise besides Sens. Whitehouse, Reid, and Peters, all Democrats, are Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Barbara Boxer of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Chuck Schumer of New York, Al Franken of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Chris Coons of Delaware.
Some early reactions: “All that is lacking are their public confessions” — Ronald Bailey at Reason (whose associated Reason Foundation is among the targets). “‘Assigned’ groups to attack? That sounds like middle school mean girl behavior.” [C.B. on Facebook] Peter Roff at U.S. News on how the Senators can’t (yet) make dissent illegal but can make it costly. And a reminder: the “Exxon Knew” crowd knew Whitehouse’s RICO-for-speech theory was wrong because their own allies had told them, but went ahead anyway.
More, Matt Welch at Reason:
…Since the targets of this shaming exercise are not being afforded the courtesy to rebut the charges in the forum at which they are being smeared, consider this a prebuttal…
This coordinated campaign would be an assault on free speech even if it were not drenched in conspiratorial inaccuracy. Democratic lawmakers, attorneys general, and activists are systematically singling out free-market think tanks for potential criminal prosecution and one-sided disclosure requirements based on the content of the think tanks’ research and commentary. They are literally trying to criminalize dissent. If successful, they will establish as “fraud” or “racketeering” any future think-tank work that runs afoul of political orthodoxy. …
Sadly, this heavy-handed act of government intimidation will likely go as unnoticed as Hillary Clinton’s long track record against free speech. Why? Because generally speaking both the mainstream press and the organized left reserve their First Amendment outrage for politicians they disagree with. Their silence is shameful, and deafening.
[Updated to correct error on Lachlan Markay’s name, sorry]
- No, the “government can’t make you use ‘zhir’ or ‘ze’ in place of ‘she’ and ‘he'” [Josh Blackman, Washington Post; earlier on NYC human relations commission guidelines; Hans Bader/CEI on new D.C. rules along similar lines]
- Matt Welch on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the “casually authoritarian” movement to harass and legally penalize climate deniers [Reason] While styled as fraud probe, AGs’ climate denial investigation is essentially a SLAPP suit meant to silence advocacy [Ronald Bailey; letter from 13 attorneys general critical of probe] As one skirmish ends, expect wider war to continue, as Virgin Islands AG withdraws widely flayed subpoena against our friends at Competitive Enterprise Institute [John Sexton] Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey now chasing “right-leaning groups that have never received a penny from Exxon” including local political foe Beacon Hill Institute [Hans Bader/CEI] We’re the ones asking questions around here: AGs dodge public record/FOIA requests on probe [Chris Horner/Fox News]
- “N.Y. Senate passes bill banning funding for university student groups that ‘encourage’ ‘hate speech'” [Eugene Volokh]
- Licensing and other laws often restrict what members of professions and occupations can say, a problem that deserves more and better First Amendment scrutiny than it’s gotten [Timothy Sandefur, Regulation]
- Ninth Circuit will review ruling striking down Idaho ag-gag law [Baylen Linnekin on appellate amicus, Idaho Statesman, NPR last year]
- Ken White on why it’s okay to loathe Gawker and its actions but still see the danger in Thiel/Hogan episode [L.A. Times, related Dan McLaughlin, earlier]
Promoters of the “Exxon Knew” climate denial subpoena campaign have made a point of saying they intend to repeat the playbook of the 1990s multi-state and federal tobacco litigation, this time with the energy industry and its various trade associations, allies, and non-profit/university well-wishers as targets. But what does it mean to repeat the tobacco playbook? As one who has written at length about that episode (along with various other authors including Cato’s Robert Levy, the late Martha Derthick, and Margaret Little) I can help spell out what that means. The public-sector tobacco litigation fell out of favor as a policy model because it was the scene of vast corruption fueled by the availability of billions in fees to politically favored private lawyers; because of its grotesque violations of elemental legal fairness, such as the enactment of statutes retroactively knocking out legal defenses for the state’s opponents; because of its quick-change remake of purported initial idealism into cash on the barrelhead as the primary driver of settlement; and because of its grave civil liberties violations such as the federal government’s assertion of a right to close down industry trade associations and seize their files. Are advocates of the new climate-denial litigation hoping for it to follow the same path? [Valerie Richardson, Washington Times, thanks for quoting me]
- Supreme Court should clarify whether agency has discretion to ignore any and all costs in designating Endangered Species Act habitat [Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer on Cato certiorari amicus in Building Industry Association of the Bay Area v. U.S. Dept. of Commerce]
- Unanimous decision in Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes is second SCOTUS ruling this year against Environmental Protection Agency, and umpteenth blow to its reputation [Ned Mamula, Cato]
- Speaking of billionaires with vendettas against speech: Tom Steyer of San Francisco pushes New Hampshire attorney general to join probe of wrongful climate advocacy [Mike Bastasch, Daily Caller, earlier here, etc.]
- “Modern zoning would have killed off America’s dense cities”: 40% of Manhattan’s buildings couldn’t be built today because they would violate a law [New York Times, Scott Beyer/Forbes]
- And if anyone should know about tainting it’s them: United Nations human rights bureaucracy probes Flint water contamination [Associated Press]
- Anti-fossil-fuel demonstrators block rail line and the Associated Press can’t find a single critic to quote [related, Shift Washington]
“[Disliked person or institution] should be investigated for racketeering!” is the sort of slogan “waved around by morons like a big foam finger at a ball game.” But RICO, or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a law requiring proof of “the commission of a whole bunch of very specific federal crimes… not just any crime [but] only the ones on the list.” It “is not a … frown emoji. It’s not an exclamation point. It’s not a rhetorical tool to convey you are upset about something…. RICO doesn’t mean ‘this organization advocates things that are bad for society.'” Wait, there’s no RICO predicate act for climate denial or for being the NRA?
Ken White’s RICO explainer at Popehat observes that civil RICO is overused in court both by pro se litigants and by plaintiff’s lawyers who employ it as “a scare tactic and a propaganda tool.” So overused is it that “judges often have standing orders requiring plaintiffs to explain how and why they are claiming RICO — that’s something judges don’t do for almost any other cause of action…. So why do we still have civil RICO? Mostly because Congress is more scared of being called soft on crime than they are interested in reforming time-wasting abusive statutes.” Incidentally, the cutesy acronym for an anything-but-cutesy law is because “Congress likes acronyms like your great-aunt likes porcelain cats.”
P.S. From Jonathan Adler, Greenpeace, RICO, and what goes around comes around.