- Liability exposures are a major roadblock to reopening. Over to you, state and federal lawmakers [Jim Copland, City Journal] “Can reopened businesses use waivers to fight coronavirus lawsuits? Probably not” [Daniel Fisher, Legal Newsline]
- The structural reasons America is so good at turning out cans of soda and so awful at turning out COVID-19 tests [Paul Romer] Links we haven’t rounded up previously on the testing debacle: Alec Stapp, The Dispatch; Michael D. Shear, Abby Goodnough, Sheila Kaplan, Sheri Fink, Katie Thomas and Noah Weiland, New York Times; Shawn Boburg, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Neena Satija and Amy Goldstein, Washington Post; Jeffrey Singer; Caroline Chen, Marshall Allen and Lexi Churchill, ProPublica; Paul Detrick, Jacob Sullum; earlier here, etc.;
- Loosening a 1967 federal law so as to ease intrastate sales of meat between ranchers and local grocers could help both consumers and embattled livestock raisers while better respecting the Constitution’s scheme of federal authority [Baylen Linnekin; related here from 2010 on the tendency of food regulation to be pushed by a combination of consumer/safety groups and large producers, for whom the regulation often serves to improve their position as against smaller market players]
- “Even though the state government asked thousands of people to come to New York from out of state to help fight coronavirus, they will have to pay New York state taxes, even on income they might make from their home states that they’re paid while in New York.” [Corey Crockett and James Ford, WPIX]
- Forced retroactive coverage of business interruption risks never underwritten or paid for “could bankrupt the insurance industry,” per one defense lawyer [Alison Frankel, earlier here and here; Nancy Adams and Kaitlyn Leonard, WLF]
- Bilingual national identity is not a suicide pact: “Canada recently relaxed bilingual labeling requirements for some cleaning products coming from the United States.” [Inu Manak]
Gift cards make a nice way to support your favorite business during the pandemic shutdown. They also make a compliance trap that can mire that same business in years of expensive hassle. My new piece at Reason explores the many legal exposures, from ADA lawsuits over lack of Braille translation to class actions over fine print and even exposure to money-laundering liability.
One durable problem, in some states at least, is state unclaimed-property law. Thinking of tossing a gift card into a drawer and never using it, as a kind of tip to an enterprise that’s brought you happiness over the years? Depending on what state you live in, you might actually be tipping your state tax authorities, and laying only future legal hassle on the merchant you wanted to help. I’ve covered state unclaimed-property law both here and at Cato. (More on its intersection with gift cards: Michael Waters, The Atlantic last fall.)
Delaware’s ambitious claims over unclaimed property have resulted in pitched courtroom battles for years, only a portion of which has been over gift cards specifically. Last year a jury awarded the state more than $7 million in a triple-damage unused gift card proceeding against just one national retailer, Overstock.com.
The Blue Hen State had to rewrite its unclaimed property law after a 2016 ruling by a federal court found its existing law a violation of due process and concluded that Delaware authorities had “engaged in a game of ‘gotcha’ that shocks the conscience.” The replacement law, which explicitly lays out a claim to gift cards rather than relying on older and more uncertain language, doesn’t have a long track record yet.
- “A Louisiana DA will let you out of your community service obligation — if you donate to his nonprofit” [Radley Balko; Calcasieu Parish, La.]
- New study of law enforcement fines and fees finds they bear more heavily on rural residents and have high costs of collection. Also makes a case for periodic forgiveness of mostly-uncollectible balances of old debt [Matthew Menendez, Michael F. Crowley, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Noah Atchison, Brennan Center/Texas Public Policy Foundation/Right on Crime]
- Oakland County, Mich. “Says Seizing Home Over $8.41 Tax Debt Was OK Because Counties Need Money” [Eric Boehm, Reason first and second posts] “The Unsung Scourge of Home Equity Theft” [Cato podcast with Christina Martin and Caleb Brown]
- Georgia: “Doraville Homeowners Win Round One in Lawsuit Challenging City’s Overzealous Ticketing Scheme” [J. Justin Wilson, Institute for Justice]
- Here’s a revisionist (though only partly so) account of the Luzerne County, Pa. cash-for-kids judicial scandal, to which we devoted multiple posts at the time [Roger DuPuis, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader]
- “Forty-four states have policies of suspending driver’s licenses over unpaid fines, fees or court debts.” Time to rethink [Jenny Kim, WSJ/Koch]
The Paramount consent decrees with the U.S. Department of Justice in and after 1948 helped spell an end to the old motion picture studio system, as the Hollywood giants could no longer own theaters to exhibit their films or use block-booking practices to ensure distribution of less popular output. Now, seventy years later, the decrees may at last be on their way out. “Today, as a resurgent left, sometimes joined by the populist right, demands a return to punitive taxes and blunderbuss enforcement of U.S. antitrust laws, the Hollywood experience offers a timely reminder of how economic crusaders can destroy what they don’t understand. By hampering creativity and increasing risk, ill-informed antitrust action can ultimately harm the consumers it is supposed to protect.” [Virginia Posstrel, Yahoo/Bloomberg; background, Ted Johnson/Deadline and Alex Weprin/Hollywood Reporter; related last year]
- Case over harsh IRS handling of lost-in-mail filing reflects worst practices on judicial deference [William Yeatman, Yale Journal on Regulation on Cato certiorari amicus brief in Baldwin v. U.S.] “Congressional Delegation of Regulatory Authority and Time” [Cato podcast with Yeatman and Caleb Brown]
- “Baseball, Legal Doctrines, and Judicial Deference to an Agency’s Interpretation of the Law: Kisor v. Wilkie” [Paul J. Larkin Jr., Cato Supreme Court Review; earlier on Kisor; Cato podcast with Ilya Shapiro (“Auer deference could become minute deference”), William Yeatman and Caleb Brown]
- “Gundy and the (Sort-of) Resurrection of the Subdelegation Doctrine” [Gary Lawson, Cato Supreme Court Review, earlier on Gundy v. U.S. here, here]
- “From Chevron to ‘Consent of the Governed'” [David Schoenbrod, Cato Regulation magazine; Cato panel discussion video with Adam White, David Doniger, Shapiro and Yeatman; Federalist Society panel discussion video with Mark Chenoweth, Doniger, Kristin Hickman, Schoenbrod, Jennifer Mascott]
- “Recognizing the Congressional Review Act’s Full Potential” [Jonathan Wood, Federalist Society, earlier]
- “Idaho is the only state in the nation where the elected representatives of the people must affirmatively act at regular intervals to continue the existence and operation of their regulatory system.” When a lapse in reauthorization threw the regulatory code into question, a remarkable struggle began [J. Kennerly Davis, Federalist Society]
On Thursday evening, “at a CNN candidate forum on gay rights, CNN’s Don Lemon asked Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke: ‘religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities. Should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?’ O’Rourke answered ‘Yes’.” But O’Rourke’s dead wrong as a matter of politics, policy, and law, as I explain Friday post at Cato. I call his proposal “illiberal, anti-pluralist, inflammatory — and unconstitutional under current Supreme Court precedent,” and that’s just getting started. More: Bonnie Kristian/The Week; Charlie Nash, Mediaite (O’Rourke’s comments blasted by writers from across ideological spectrum). And: Dale Carpenter (principle of viewpoint neutrality in tax exemption law was vital to early gay rights movement; arguments O’Rourke uses against conservative Christians now are the arguments used against gays then).
And I’ve also published a new piece at The Bulwark on the legal arguments about whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s reference to “sex” should be construed to include sexual orientation and gender identity, a move I call “surprise plain meaning” and which is by no means unprecedented in the Supreme Court’s handling of employment discrimination law. More broadly, I examine and reject the notion that for the Court to ponder these questions is to put anyone’s “humanity up for debate.” Earlier on Bostock, Altitude Express, and Harris Funeral Home here, here, here, and here, and more from Dale Carpenter and Scott Shackford. Scott Greenfield responds.
For those keeping track, this makes three pieces I’ve published in two days, counting yesterday’s Wall Street Journal piece, all related to sexual orientation and the law although unrelated otherwise.
Not scary or intrusive at all: presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has called for enacting a “national wealth registry,” the better to enforce future schemes of taxation, confiscation, and restraints on expatriation [Brittany De Lea, Fox Business; related, Chris Edwards, Cato; Emily Ekins on opinion poll] And the steep “exit tax” that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sanders propose to slap on wealthy individuals who depart the U.S., of up to 40 and 60 percent respectively, did not sound better in the original German [Ira Stoll; earlier]
P.S.: On the constitutionality angle, note that the Competitive Enterprise Institute has just filed a lawsuit on behalf of a couple challenging the constitutionality of a provision of the 2017 tax reform law known as the Mandatory Repatriation Tax. Counsel Andrew Grossman, quoted in the CEI press release, stated:
The Mandatory Repatriation Tax is unconstitutional for the same reason that a wealth tax would be. The Constitution does not permit Congress to simply declare money that it wants to tax to be income and then demand its cut. And the courts have never permitted retroactive taxation reaching back anywhere near the 30 years, as the Mandatory Repatriation Tax does. The details of the tax may be complicated, but the constitutional violations are clear.
Eugene Volokh thanks a House panel for “inviting me to testify about ‘How the Tax Code Subsidizes Hate.’ The Tax Code indeed subsidizes hate, just as it subsidizes Socialism, Satanism, and a wide variety of dangerous and offensive ideas.”
In particular, a long line of court opinions has made clear that 1) “tax exemptions can’t be denied based on the viewpoint that a group communicates,” 2) “excluding speech that manifests or promotes ‘hate’ is forbidden viewpoint discrimination”, 3) the law “may treat groups differently based on their actions, but not based on the views they express” (emphasis added) and that 4) while groups may be denied tax exemptions “for deliberately engaging in speech that falls within one of the few narrow exceptions to the First Amendment, such as true threats of criminal attack, or incitement intended to and likely to cause imminent criminal conduct,… ‘hate speech’ writ large doesn’t fall within any such exceptions.” In addition, the D.C. Circuit has found that a former IRS attempt to hinge exemption on a group’s presentation of “a sufficiently full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts as to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion” was unacceptably vague in scope and application.
Moreover, if the IRS were to begin revoking groups’ tax exemptions based on their exercise of speech that is not protected, such as libel or incitement of immediate criminal conduct, it would be obliged to apply such a policy neutrally as to content — which means a lot of groups quite different from the one targeted in the test-case controversy will find their ox gored. The legal precedents have developed in cases involving a wide range of both progressive and conservative litigants, and understandably so, because if principles in this area are to be principles they must protect speakers of many different points of view, not just the popular or emollient. Either that, or they will in effect protect none. [expanded and cross-posted at Cato at Liberty]
- “Small claims court for copyright” idea, now moving rapidly through Congress, could create a new business model for troll claimants [Mike Masnick, TechDirt; EFF on CASE Act] A contrasting view: Robert VerBruggen, NR;
- “If Boston is weirdly NOT full of good restaurant/bar/cafes for its size, and if people don’t want to stay after they hit 26 or so, these throttled [liquor] licenses are one of the real structural reasons why.” [Amanda Katz Twitter thread]
- Push in California underway to join a trend I warned of five years ago, namely states’ enacting laws to encourage tax informants with a share of the loot [McDermott Will and Emery, National Law Review]
- Baltimore food truck rule challenge, single-member districts, sexting prosecution, and more in my new Free State Notes roundup;
- “For years the Westchester County DA, Jeanine Pirro, now a Fox News host who opines on justice, rejected Deskovic’s requests to compare the DNA evidence against a criminal database. Deskovic was not exonerated until 2006, after he had served 16 years” [Jacob Sullum, Reason]
- Come again? “Louisville judge rules Kentucky speed limit laws unconstitutional” [Marcus Green, WDRB]
- Does the Constitution allow Arizona to frame a new tax in such a way that de facto, though not de jure, nearly all of it falls on out-of-state residents? [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
- Writer and star of one-act play “isn’t a fan of America’s founding charter — which may be why her audiences are such big fans of hers.” [Andrew Ferguson, The Atlantic]
- Pentagon has lately developed aerial surveillance technology with near-panopticon capabilities. OK to deploy over home territory? [Cato video with Patrick G. Eddington, Arthur Holland Michel, and Jenna McLaughlin on Michel’s book Eyes in the Sky: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare and How It Will Watch Us All]
- Ilya Shapiro discusses New York Rifle and Pistol Association v. the City of New York [National Constitution Center We the People podcast; earlier here, here, and here] “Maryland’s gun permit system is challenged — and it’s probably unconstitutional” [my post at Free State Notes] “3-D Printed Guns & the First Amendment” [Federalist Society Policy Brief video with John Stossel and Josh Blackman]
- Tradcons are kidding themselves if they imagine they can get a better constitutional deal outside the current legal conservative movement with its commitment to a broadly fusionist originalism, argues John McGinnis [Liberty and Law] “Originalism as ideology” [Michael Greve]
- “Guam officials seek to hold referendum allowing voters to express their opinion about the future of the relationship between Guam and the United States but will only permit ‘Native Inhabitants of Guam’ to vote. Ninth Circuit: Which means restricting voting based upon race, which is explicitly prohibited by the Fifteenth Amendment.” [Institute for Justice “Short Circuit” on Davis v. Guam]