My new Cato post tells of New York regulators’ threat to impose large fines and penalties on a woman who they claim spent more than $5,000 to advocate for legislation without registering as a lobbyist. In particular, she purchased billboards and hired a plane to drag a banner as part of a one-woman crusade to ease New York laws on filing claims of sexual abuse.
- Fourth Circuit rejects gag order on parties and potential witnesses in North Carolina hog farm litigation [Eugene Volokh]
- Eighth Circuit, interpreting Missouri law’s obligation to register as “lobbyist,” leaves open possibility that requirement extends to unpaid lobbyists, also known as concerned citizens [Jason Hancock, Kansas City Star; Institute for Free Speech on Calzone v. Missouri Ethics Commission]
- “9 Months in Prison for Forging Court Orders Aimed at Vanishing Online Material” [Volokh] Per one account at least 75 fake court documents have been sent to Google as part of takedown efforts, including an order purporting to come from the UK Supreme Court [same]
- The accused pipe bomber had made online death threats against Ilya Somin, libertarian lawprof and friend of this site. Lessons to draw? [Cato Daily Podcast, more]
- Entanglement of press and state leads nowhere good: Canadian government to allocate C$600 million in subsidies to newspapers and legacy media [Stuart Thomson, National Post; earlier on press subsidies here, here; some Canadian background from 1983]
- Court: First Amendment doesn’t protect Comcast from bias charge over its decision not to carry block of black-owned TV channels [Jon Brodkin, ArsTechnica]
A Florida appeals court has rejected a car-crash victim’s lawsuit against a retailer for allegedly lobbying county lawmakers for bad roadway design [Eugene Volokh]
“Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order [last month] that effectively ended all government contracts with lobbyists in Arizona. The order terminated contracts with professional lobbyists at all state agencies, boards and commissions.” In future, state agencies other than the judiciary and independently elected officials will need permission from the governor to hire lobbyists, and Ducey’s office said requests would be “heavily scrutinized” and require documentation that the hiring would be important for the “public health, safety and welfare of the state and the taxpayers.” [Miranda Leo, KTAR; Gov. Doug Ducey order; Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Arizona Republic] A gubernatorial spokesman says outside lobbyists hired by professional licensing and other boards have often “pushed for burdensome regulations, and that these agencies lack sufficient reporting practices.” The move “comes nearly a decade after the Goldwater Institute — a conservative think-tank — recommended it.” [Stina Sieg, KJZZ]
My local paper, the Frederick News-Post, ran an editorial on Monday that 1) saw nothing especially wrong in the Environmental Protection Agency’s illegally expending tax money to stir up pressure on Congress to support a wider interpretation of EPA power; 2) claimed that the fuss over tax-paid lobbying was for lack of any substantive critique of EPA’s “WOTUS” (Waters of the United States) rule, although a majority of states have challenged that rule, the farm and rural landowner communities have been up in arms against it all year, and a federal appeals court has agreed to stay it.
So I wrote this letter in response, which ran today. There wasn’t space for me to dispute the FNP’s peculiar notion that to oppose the water rule as exceeding the EPA’s statutory authority is to encourage the “anti-science, climate change denial crowd,” which tends to reinforce my sense that “anti-science” and “climate denial” are turning into all-purpose epithets increasingly unhooked from any particular relationship to science or climate. (cross-posted at Free State Notes)
I’m interviewed at Vermont Watchdog about the truly terrible idea of aiming a civil RICO/racketeering action or investigation against the forces of “climate denial” over wrongful advocacy. The notion seems to have some well organized friends, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and, more recently, twenty scientists who recently signed a letter calling for such a probe. “I have no idea how it affects the First Amendment” says one of the letter’s signers, a Vermont scientist, according to a companion report. I should note that when I speak of RICO in the interview transcript, I am referring to the civil-litigation side of the law (“civil RICO”) as distinct from the law’s other wing, “criminal RICO.”
I note, and reject, the idea that the First Amendment protects only truthful speech and thus has no application here because climate skepticism is false. (As Cato and many others argued in last year’s Supreme Court case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, controversial speech need not be true to be protected, and in practice an “only truth has rights” rule would give the state a stifling power to punish advocacy in debates that it considers settled.) In substantial part, I note, debate in Washington (and not just in Washington) proceeds by way of advocates’ deployment of half-truths, selectively marshaled data, scientific studies with agendas, and so forth. It is common for both sides to use these techniques. The same techniques are also accepted as standard currency within the adversary process itself, in which the law takes such pride, which makes it particularly absurd to propose defining it as unlawful racketeering to “use dubious information to advance a cause.”
Among those promoting this bad idea: BoingBoing, often regarded as a pro-free-speech site.
P.S. Adapted together with an earlier post into one at Cato at Liberty.
Scientists’ “Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO” is exactly what it sounds like [Greg Laden, ScienceBlogs] We earlier noted, as a step toward attaching legal consequences to unwanted advocacy, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) op-ed “urg[ing] the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of ‘conservative policy’ groups an apparent target of the investigation as well,” as well as Gawker’s call to “arrest climate change deniers.”
P.S. For more on the widely publicized book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, which condemns various scientists said to be too skeptical of the factual basis for regulation, see links gathered by Judith Curry, including this Reiner Grundmann review. Yet more: “I have no idea how it affects the First Amendment” says Vermont scientist who backs probe of wrongful advocacy [Bruce Parker/Watchdog, quotes me]
- Prohibition triple threat: Sen. Marco Rubio would “crack down on marijuana if elected President,” cites “damage” alcohol is doing America and is foe of online gambling too;
- An ever-so-sympathetic take on invading/disrupting other people’s political events, and don’t even ask what the press coverage would be like if Tea Partiers were doing this to anyone;
- Hey, I didn’t meet with a lobbyist! It was a…strategic consultant, yeah, that’s it [Crain’s New York last year]
- Ideology matters: Democrats still more likely than Republicans to support rural subsidies even though they now represent few rural areas [David Henderson]
- Wisconsin John Doe investigator: “No one is going to know what you and I talk about today.” Uh-huh [Right Wisconsin]
- Jack Shafer on Trump’s appeal [Politico] “Trump Lawyer Bragged: I ‘Destroyed’ a Beauty Queen’s Life” [Tim Mak/The Daily Beast, earlier, more]
- Harry Reid raises $1 million from trial lawyers after flying to fundraiser on one of their private jets [Politico]
Another step toward criminalizing advocacy: writing in the Washington Post, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) urges the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of “conservative policy” groups an apparent target of the investigation as well. A trial balloon, or perhaps an effort to prepare the ground for enforcement actions already afoot?
Sen. Whitehouse cites as precedent the long legal war against the tobacco industry. When the federal government took the stance that pro-tobacco advocacy could amount to a legal offense, some of us warned tobacco wouldn’t remain the only or final target. To quote what I wrote in The Rule of Lawyers:
In a drastic step, the agreement ordered the disbanding of the tobacco industry’s former voices in public debate, the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), with the groups’ files to be turned over to anti-tobacco forces to pick over the once-confidential memos contained therein; furthermore, the agreement attached stringent controls to any newly formed entity that the industry might form intended to influence public discussion of tobacco. In her book on tobacco politics, Up in Smoke, University of Virginia political scientist Martha Derthick writes that these provisions were the first aspect in news reports of the settlement to catch her attention. “When did the governments in the United States get the right to abolish lobbies?” she recalls wondering. “What country am I living in?” Even widely hated interest groups had routinely been allowed to maintain vigorous lobbies and air their views freely in public debate.
By the mid-2000s, calls were being heard, especially in other countries, for making denial of climate change consensus a legally punishable offense or even a “crime against humanity,” while widely known advocate James Hansen had publicly called for show trials of fossil fuel executives. Notwithstanding the tobacco precedent, it had been widely imagined that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might deter image-conscious officials from pursuing such attacks on their adversaries’ speech. But it has not deterred Sen. Whitehouse.
Law professor Jonathan Adler, by the way, has already pointed out that Sen. Whitehouse’s op-ed “relies on a study that doesn’t show what he (it) claims.” And Sen. Whitehouse, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), has been investigating climate-dissent scholarship in a fishing-expedition investigation that drew a pointed rebuke from then-Cato Institute President John Allison as an “obvious attempt to chill research into and funding of public policy projects you don’t like…. you abuse your authority when you attempt to intimidate people who don’t share your political beliefs.”