Posts Tagged ‘rule of law’

Attacks on Gorsuch — and on the rule of law

“I’m not sure who decided that the Democratic critique of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch would be that he doesn’t side with the little guy. It’s a truly terrible idea.” Judges should stand up for the law and their interpretation of the correct way for it to develop, rather than ruling consistently with the interests of a particular category of litigant. “…consider the whole point of a rule-of-law system: It establishes rules so that people can be confident in advance of how decisions are made. That creates regularity and predictability. And in the long run, it protects the little guy a lot better than a system rigged to favor one side, because such systems will naturally tend to favor the rich and powerful, not the poor and downtrodden.” So cut it out, interest groups with your stop-Gorsuch campaign [Noah Feldman, Bloomberg View] More: David Harsanyi.

Sixth Circuit: IRS, unlike Caligula, cannot punish under unproclaimed law

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for a Sixth Circuit panel, reverses a Tax Court ruling in an opinion beginning thus:

Caligula posted the tax laws in such fine print and so high that his subjects could not read them. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, bk. 4, para. 41 (Robert Graves, trans., 1957). That’s not a good idea, we can all agree. How can citizens comply with what they can’t see? And how can anyone assess the tax collector’s exercise of power in that setting? The Internal Revenue Code improves matters in one sense, as it is accessible to everyone with the time and patience to pore over its provisions.

In today’s case, however, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service denied relief to a set of taxpayers who complied in full with the printed and accessible words of the tax laws. The Benenson family, to its good fortune, had the time and patience (and money) to understand how a complex set of tax provisions could lower its taxes.

And taking issue with the IRS Commissioner’s decision to disallow the use of two Congressionally approved devices, the Roth IRA and DISC (domestic international sales corporation), in a way said to trigger the so-called substance-over-form doctrine:

Each word of the “substance-over-form doctrine,” at least as the Commissioner has used it here, should give pause. If the government can undo transactions that the terms of the Code expressly authorize, it’s fair to ask what the point of making these terms accessible to the taxpayer and binding on the tax collector is. “Form” is “substance” when it comes to law. The words of law (its form) determine content (its substance). How odd, then, to permit the tax collector to reverse the sequence—to allow him to determine the substance of a law and to make it govern “over” the written form of the law—and to call it a “doctrine” no less.

[Summa Holdings v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue via Paul Caron/TaxProf]

Rules vs. standards in Supreme Court jurisprudence

Better than law school: Frank Easterbrook, John Harrison, Akhil Amar, and Victoria Nourse on rules versus standards in jurisprudence, with particular attention to the work of Justice Antonin Scalia, who made the subject a particular theme of his. The video is from the Federalist Society National Lawyer’s Convention last weekend, which had a Scalia theme.

International free speech roundup

  • As government’s grip tightens in Turkey, Erdogan begins rounding up journalists [New York Times, Jonathan Turley on aftermath of coup attempt]
  • German court fines man $2,480 for comparing state politician’s IQ to that of “a piece of toast” [Deutsche Welle]
  • University of Cape Town disinvites free speech hero and Cato fellow Flemming Rose, of Danish cartoons fame, prompting letters of protest from Nadine Strossen, Floyd Abrams, Kenan Malik [John Samples]
  • “If it’s perceived by the victim, then it is” — adviser to London police on online insults as hate crime [Express] “Nottinghamshire police to count wolf-whistling in street as a hate crime” [Guardian, quoting three backers and no critics of idea]
  • Maybe our state AGs could offer tips on punishing wrongful advocacy: campaigners in UK want to prosecute public figures for fraud in promoting Leave side in Brexit referendum [Business Insider on “Brexit Justice” effort]
  • Meanwhile, here: prominent Harvard Law professor says “rule of law” and “First Amendment” are “almost entirely without content” [David Bernstein on views of Mark Tushnet]

“Bad drivers are a good indicator of a corrupt government”

James O’Malley looked at road deaths per 100,000 people for various counties “and compared it to the scores given by the World Justice Project on Rule of Law in 2015.” The correlation came out at -0.68, suggesting that improvements in the rule of law correlate strongly with safer road conditions, possibly mediated through better driver behavior and trust between citizens. Good rule of law conditions also correlate with increased income, but that appears to have a U-shaped effect on aggregate road fatalities: when very poor countries begin to prosper more persons can own cars and the number of accidents increases, but as countries approach affluence more is invested in safety. [CityMetric via Christopher Groskopf, Quartz, including above title]

One small banker’s warning

Small banks and other regulated businesses now live at the permission of arbitrary regulators in a legal system that no longer protects individual rights. That’s the message of a letter sent to shareholders earlier this year by Frank H. Hamlin III, CEO of the small Canandaigua National Bank in upstate New York. In particular, Hamlin cites the way the office of New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has pushed around two other upstate banks (not his) on ill-defined redlining charges based on doing too much of their lending in the suburbs. I write about it in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

The piece is a sidebar from a much longer piece I wrote on Schneiderman’s record in the Summer issue of City Journal, newly online. I’ll have more to say next week about other parts of that article.

Ida Wells, free speech, and the rule of law

I write at Cato about the accomplishments of Ida Wells (1862-1931), who after being born into slavery in Mississippi became the leading voice documenting the horrors of lynch law in late nineteenth century America, as well as a free speech heroine (a mob in Memphis attacked and destroyed her printing press). Wells is also the subject of today’s Google Doodle. And as I learned from Nicholas Johnson’s post last year at Volokh, she was a notable figure in the history of the Second Amendment as well.