- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs into law two doubtfully constitutional bills applying to campuses an overbroad, subjective definition of sexual harassment, and requiring all college employees to report such conduct on pain of criminal penalty [Tyler Coward, FIRE]
- New York adopts workplace harassment law that’s much more speech-hostile than federal, including a dropping of the requirement that prohibited expression be “severe or pervasive” [Hans Bader; Wiggin & Dana, NLR; Douglas Oldham, Barnes & Thornburg]
- One to watch: SCOTUS will decide standard for proving s. 1981 discrimination claims, in case accusing Comcast of bias in not carrying programming of black network [ABA Journal]
- A thumbs-down review: “The Kamala Harris Plan to Address the Gender Pay Gap,” Cato Daily Podcast with Ryan Bourne and Caleb Brown;
- Even when there’s nothing unlawful about an eviction, city bars landlords from telling tenants they’re being evicted for discriminatory reasons. Laws banning truthful business speech about lawful conduct should trip First Amendment review [Ilya Shapiro on Cato amicus brief in Seeberger v. Davenport Civil Rights Commission]
- Second Circuit withdraws decision that held landlords liable for tenant-on-tenant harassment under Fair Housing Act [Scott Greenfield, earlier]
Ten years ago I wrote this piece for City Journal pronouncing slavery reparations dead as a national cause. Now, as Astead W. Herndon reports in the New York Times, presidential candidates are getting behind the word: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) affirmed her support, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “also said she supported reparations for black Americans impacted by slavery — a policy that experts say could cost several trillion dollars, and one that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many top Democrats have not supported.” Did I speak too soon?
One complication is that while candidates have begun using the word, it’s often to describe policies that wouldn’t fit the definition accepted up to now. For example, as I noted in the City Journal piece, beginning in the 1960s many programs were enacted aiding poor persons of all races, often conceptualized and argued for as an alternative to more explicit race-based reparations. Some of the candidates who now describe themselves as being for reparations are vague about whether they intend to go beyond support for new programs that are formally race-neutral. [Jeff Stein, Washington Post]
The hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have wrapped up:
- Ilya Somin on the nominee’s view of executive power;
- “The attacks on originalism during the Gorsuch hearings were seen as failures—in the sense that they failed to persuasively portray originalism as outside the mainstream. Thus they were not widely repeated during the Kavanaugh hearings… ” [Michael Ramsey, Originalism Blog]
- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) took a quote in which Kavanaugh summarized the positions taken by litigants in a lawsuit, snipped off his “But they said” wording introducing the summary, and represented the remainder as his own position. Others followed [PolitiFact; Glenn Kessler, Washington Post “Fact Checker” (four Pinocchios); our earlier encounters with Harris on truancy laws and the Moonlight Fire case, and see also Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
- Some critics charged Kavanaugh with not answering truthfully in several lines of questioning; David Lat responds with explanations regarding Judge Bill Pryor’s nomination, MemoGate, and NSA surveillance. Also, when you’ve lost Vox…
- I joined Newell Normand on WWL for a brief recounting of the week’s action and a look at what lies ahead (most likely, confirmation before month’s end);
- Another overview of the four days: “Arguing about documents rather than Kavanaugh’s qualifications or his judicial philosophy has a political purpose.” [John McGinnis]
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.
- 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]
State attorneys general aggressively use, and frequently misuse, the legal authority often vested in them to sum up in language for voters what a ballot measure would do or mean. One chronic area of frustration: AG summaries of measures intended to bring California public pensions under better fiscal control [Judy Lin, L.A. Times via Steve Greenhut, California Policy Center]
- 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]
An extraordinary bill in the California legislature, promoted as making it easier to sue fossil fuel companies over their involvements in public debate, would lift the four-year statute of limitations of the state’s already extremely liberal Unfair Competition Law, otherwise known as s. 17200 — and retrospectively, so as to revive decades’ worth of time-lapsed claims “with respect to scientific evidence regarding the existence, extent, or current or future impacts of anthropogenic induced anthropogenic-induced climate change.” Despite a 2004 round of voter-sponsored reform which curbed some of its worst applications, s. 17200 still enables what a California court called “legal shakedown” operations in which “ridiculously minor” violations serve as the predicate for automatic entitlement to damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.
Combined with the plans laid by California Attorney General Kamala Harris — part of the alliance of AGs that has sought to investigate not only oil, gas, and coal companies, but private advocacy groups and university scientists who have played a role in what is characterized as “climate denial” — the bill would begin laying the legal groundwork for an astonishingly broad campaign of inquisition and, potentially, expropriation. The bill was approved by a subcommittee and was further amended May 10 to provide that climate science-related claims of any age would begin a four-year reviver period as of next January. [Northern California Record; the left-leaning Union of Concerned Scientists has a piece supporting the bill]
Section 2(b) of the bill declares it the California legislature’s policy to promote “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on those risks” [emphasis added] — a very clear signal that the target is public issue advocacy, and not merely (say) advertising that is directed at consumers in their capacity as buyers of gasoline at the pump. Last month, a federal court slapped down, as an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s demand for the donor lists of nonprofits that carry on operations in California.
- How the courts came to extend First Amendment protection to art, music, movies, and other expression not originally classed as “press” or “speech” [new Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher book via Ronald Collins]
- Cato amicus: church enterprises should be eligible for recycling program on same terms as secular businesses [Ilya Shapiro and Jayme Weber]
- “A Political Attack On Free Speech And Privacy Thwarted — For Now” [George Leef, Forbes on AFP v. Harris, earlier] Bill filed by Rep. Peter Roskam would keep IRS from collecting names of donors to nonprofits [Center for Competitive Politics]
- Newly enacted Tennessee conscience exemption for psychological counselors and therapists avoids some of the dangers of compelled speech [Scott Shackford, Reason]
- Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, benchslapped by Judge Richard Posner after sending credit card companies letters urging them to cut off dealings with Backpage.com, now seeks Supreme Court certiorari review [Ronald Collins, earlier here, here, and here]
- One problem with that Mississippi law: it gives extra protection to some religious beliefs about sex and marriage but not others [Popehat; my guest appearance on Mike Slater show, San Diego’s KFMB]
“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.