“If a state like New York can bend and twist legal concepts like that of securities fraud to carry on an essentially political vendetta against a corporate enemy, how safe are other businesses?” My new Cato post reports on a judge’s scathing rejection of a case that should never have been brought, the New York Attorney General’s attempt to hang fraud charges on Exxon over its statements on climate change.
I’m in the Baltimore Sun discussing a bad Maryland law passed in response to the furor over Russian trolling on social media. I wrote about it earlier when a federal district court struck the law down, and now a Fourth Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, has agreed that it is unconstitutional. Excerpt:
Exposing foreign governments’ meddling in U.S. politics is a worthy goal. Infringing on First Amendment freedoms is no way to go about it….
[After the law passed] Google immediately stopped hosting political ads in Maryland, a step particularly unhelpful to newcomer candidates, for whom advertising may be one of the few effective ways to boost name recognition. Other platforms, including some Maryland newspapers, also faced a tough position as the effective date of the law drew near. Rather than publish disclosures that might expose to competitors’ eyes confidential information about their ad rates and viewer reach, they might prefer just to immunize themselves by turning down political and issue ads in the future as a category.
T-Mobile and Sprint, the #3 and #4 wireless carriers, would like to combine so as to more effectively compete with Verizon and AT&T, the two dominant players in the cellular service market. Various states went to court against the merger, arguing (dubiously) that the combination would harm consumers and drive up prices. And now, via Reuters, this:
Also on Monday, Nevada said it would withdraw from the lawsuit in exchange for early deployment of the next generation of wireless in the state, creation of 450 jobs for six years and a $30 million donation to be distributed by Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and aimed at helping women and minorities, Ford’s office said.
How blatant can you get? The best touch, of course, is the $30 million fund with which to ingratiate lucky beneficiaries around the state. (“The recipients of these grants for the use of the charitable contribution will be at the discretion of Nevada’s attorney general” — that is, the same AG Ford who filed and settled the state’s case, and from whose press release is excerpted that sentence.) It looks a lot like the familiar cozytown set-up in many cities in which permission to build a large development or win a public contract just might call for a hefty donation to a local nonprofit with ties to the mayor and council.
Notwithstanding the best efforts from some quarters to develop per se rules in hopes of generating clear and predictable legal outcomes, antitrust law remains a world of subjective interpretation in which government office-holders are left with great discretion regarding how and against whom to wield enforcement power. Whether you want to call it logrolling or use a less flattering term like “extortion,” the temptation is to trade off antitrust leniency for some of the other sorts of favors business might be able to render government actors.
All of which brings us to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s and other candidates’ new proposals for antitrust, which a CNBC headline accurately reports (as to Warren’s) “would dramatically enhance government control over the biggest U.S. companies.” In particular, the proposals would invite the government far more deeply into oversight of business practices, including refusal to share “essential” facilities with competitors, pricing goods below the cost of production, and much more, as well as mergers and acquisitions.
It’s hard to know whether Sen. Warren sees all this new arbitrary discretion as a bug, or a feature, in her enormous plan. Either way, an accumulation of power that tempting will sooner or later attract appointees seeking either a political whip hand over the U.S. corporate sector, a source of payouts like that in Nevada, or both. [cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]
This is just absurd: to comply with federal regulations barring owners of daily newspapers from also owning local broadcast stations, the owner of the venerable Dayton Daily News in Ohio may knock it down to three-times-a-week publication so that it won’t count as a daily anymore. Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post spotted the story, Cox Media Group outlined the plan in a press release a few weeks ago, and Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab has more:
To increase the quality of local journalism in Ohio, the Federal Communications Commission is requiring three newspapers to stop printing daily….
Did you get that? To strengthen the local news ecosystem in Dayton, the government is making its biggest newspaper publish less.
The rules date back to 1975 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted regulations barring cross-ownership of local broadcast and newspaper properties while grandfathering in existing arrangements. It was never a good rule, but progressive social critics then as now traced countless social ills to media concentration and for-profit ownership of the press (what’s new these days is that populist conservatives crusade against the corporate media too).
Don’t blame today’s FCC. Two years ago the agency voted to scrap the decades-old newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules, recognizing that the local news market had gone through convulsive changes in the meantime, with new media sources cutting deeply into ad revenues and the economics of newspaper publishing taking one deep hit after another. (Local broadcasting economics has suffered too, even if not as badly.) But opponents sued, and in September a Third Circuit panel struck down the deregulatory effort, a move that immediately called into question the terms of a pending deal transferring partial control of the large Cox Media Group, which got its start long ago with the venerable Dayton paper.
Others, such as Jonathan Rauch, have pointed out that antitrust laws may need easing anyway if newspapers are to organize successful ways to finance journalism in the online economy. And as we’ve warned before, there are special dangers in unleashing antitrust law on the media sector, where it can leave government with a corrupting influence over whether opposition papers are profitable and who gets to own them. But does anyone really think Dayton residents are better off if their local newspaper stops publishing every day?
[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]
I joined the Lars Larson Show on Tuesday to talk about the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing a suit against Remington over the Sandy Hook massacre to proceed for now [earlier]. The current suit, as green-lighted by the Connecticut Supreme Court earlier this year over a dissent from three of its seven justices, claims that Remington violated the broad provisions on deceptive marketing of a state consumer protection law, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA). It should be emphasized that the case is still at an early stage and that the Justices will probably be presented with further opportunities to pronounce on its compatibility with the federal law that pre-empts most gun suits, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).
I’ve got a new post up at Cato at Liberty taking a more extended look at the ruling and what lies ahead for gunmaker litigation.
Watch out when Establishment figures “declare that they’ve changed their mind on free speech and now think there should be less of it,” I write in my new piece at Cato:
This new Washington Post opinion piece (“Why America needs a hate speech law”) is by Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine and the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2013 to 2016. In that post, he was charged with representing America’s values to the world.
Honestly, could Stengel’s argument be any weaker? “Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. … it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another.”
If the prospect of violence by offended groups is what causes us to censor, we are well on the way toward closing down speech at the whim of whichever mobs, here or abroad, decide to be violent….
Whole thing here.
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.
A federal judge in Michigan has ruled for a Catholic foster-care program, but religious objectors may find it a victory built on sand. I’m in the online Wall Street Journal today with an opinion piece explaining why. Related on Judge Robert Jonker’s opinion in Buck v. Gordon, in which he rebuked Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel [Sue Ellen Browder, National Catholic Register] and on Fulton v. Philadelphia [Mark Rienzi](and mentions: New York Post, Kathryn Lopez/National Review)