Are the climate-speech subpoenas constitutional?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pursuing an investigation of the Exxon Corporation in part for making donations to think tanks and associations like the American Enterprise Institute and American Legislative Exchange Council, which mostly work on issues unrelated to the environment but have also published some views flayed by opponents as “climate change denial.” Assuming the First Amendment protects a right to engage in scholarship, advocacy, and other forms of supposed denial, it is by no means clear that information about such donations would yield a viable prosecution. Which means, notes Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, that the New York probe raises an issue of constitutional dimensions not just at some point down the road, but right now:

A prolonged investigation in response to someone’s speech can violate the First Amendment even when it never leads to a fine. For example, a federal appeals court ruled in White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214 (9th Cir. 2000) that lengthy, speech-chilling civil rights investigations by government officials can violate the First Amendment even when they are eventually dropped without imposing any fine or disciplinary action. It found this principle was so plain and obvious that it denied individual civil rights officials qualified immunity for investigating citizens for speaking out against a housing project for people protected by the Fair Housing Act.

In another case, in which a company had been sued seeking damages over its participation in trade-association-related speech, a federal appeals court found that the pendency of the lawsuit all by itself caused enough of a burden on the firm’s speech rights that the court used its mandamus power to order the trial judge to dismiss the claims, a remarkable step.

Moreover, Bader writes, a string of federal precedents indicate that the constitutional rights Schneiderman is trampling here are not just Exxon’s but those of the organizations it gave to, which have a right to challenge his action whether or not the oil company chooses to do so:

These groups themselves can sue Schneiderman under the First Amendment, if Schneiderman’s pressure causes them to lose donations they would otherwise receive. Government officials cannot pressure a private party to take adverse action against a speaker.

Meanwhile, writing at Liberty and Law, Prof. Philip Hamburger of Columbia Law School takes a different tack: the subpoenas imperil due process and separation of powers because they issue at the whim of Schneiderman’s office. Earlier ideas of constitutional government “traditionally left government no power to demand testimony, papers, or other information, except under the authority of a judge or a legislative committee.” In more recent years executive subpoena power has proliferated; so has the parallel power of lawyers in private litigation to demand discovery, but the latter at least in theory goes on under judicial supervision that can check some of its abuse and invasiveness. Extrajudicial subpoenas by AG offices are particularly dangerous, Hamburger argues, because of their crossover civil/criminal potential: the targets do not enjoy a high level of procedural protection when “attorneys general claim to be acting merely in a civil rather than a criminal capacity,” yet the same offices can and do threaten criminal charges. Especially dangerous is New York’s Martin Act, a charter for general invasion of the private papers of anyone and anything with a connection to New York financial transactions.

An attorney general’s concern about fraud or the “public interest” is no justification for allowing him to rifle through private papers. When he thereby extracts the basis for a criminal prosecution, he evades the grand jury process. When he thereby lays the groundwork for a civil enforcement proceeding, he evades the due process of law, for there ordinarily is no discovery for a plaintiff until he commences a civil action. Even worse, when a prosecutor uses a subpoena to get a remunerative settlement, it is akin to extortion — this being the most complete end run around the courts.

Previously on the probe here and here (and earlier here and here), and on the New York attorney general’s office here and here.

[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

February 10 roundup

Archfiend of misogyny steps forth, Internet calls cops

When a self-promoter trolls the online outrage machine, freedom of travel and assembly wind up as collateral damage [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason on the “Roosh” furor and resulting shut-him-down efforts; Daily Mail] The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey speaks to Southern Poverty Law Center official Heidi Beirich who seems to find it regrettable that “a guy with a blog” should get so much free publicity, seeming to forget who gave him so much of it.

More on CDC’s advice to fertile women not to touch alcohol

Updating last Wednesday’s post — about how the federal Centers for Disease Control has advised that women of childbearing years not drink a drop of wine, beer or spirits unless they are on birth control — I did a longer post Friday at Cato at Liberty. Excerpt:

And yet I would have expected no less from a CDC headed by Thomas Frieden, formerly Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health czar in New York City. Under Frieden, an arch-enemy of salt, sugar, and guns, the CDC to the detriment of its focus on communicable disease has involved itself in topics from playground safety to suburban housing sprawl; has boldly employed federal tax dollars toward lobbying for changes in law; has set itself against all evidence that e-cigarettes (“vaping”) can serve as vital harm reduction for persons who would otherwise smoke; and much, much more.

More reactions: Lenore Skenazy, New York Post and Michelle Minton, CEI.

Campus climate roundup

  • New Oxford vice chancellor speaks out against threats to free inquiry as well as overregulation of universities [Iain Martin, CapX]
  • Feds: get in line on Title IX or we’ll yank your institutional science funding [Inside Higher Ed, background on Title IX]
  • More on scheme proposing mandatory oppression studies for first-year students at American University [Robby Soave/The Daily Beast (and thanks for mention), earlier]
  • Back to the days of Plessy v. Ferguson? Oregon State University holds racially segregated retreats [Peter Hasson, Daily Caller] More: University of Connecticut building segregated housing for (some) black male students [Campus Reform]
  • Sometimes there really is a good case for taking the names of evil long-dead men off public university buildings, especially if the alternative is to throw a $700,000 subsidy at a murderer-themed café that can’t make it on food sale revenues [The College Fix; UCSD’s Che Guevara cafe]
  • “Out in the real world, we have master electricians and mechanics, chess masters, masters of the universe, taskmasters of all kinds, and other such varieties of positions and titles connoting particular skill, knowledge or authority” [Harvey Silverglate, Minding the Campus, on Harvard College “masters” flap (citing “extraordinary recent expansion of the cadre of student life administrators … on virtually every campus throughout the nation”)]
  • “Post-Protest Mizzou: Adverse Consequences of the Capitulation” [Thomas Lambert, Pope Center, earlier Lambert on Missouri]

“Chicago officer sues estate of teen he shot, claiming trauma”

“A white Chicago police officer who fatally shot a black 19-year-old college student and accidentally killed a neighbor has filed a lawsuit against the teenager’s estate, arguing the shooting left him traumatized.” The lawsuit by Robert Rialmo is a countersuit against a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Antonio LeGrier, father of Quintonio LeGrier. [AP, Washington Post]

P.S. Ann Althouse on why reporters should not leave the counterclaim angle buried in paragraph 6:

Rialmo didn’t file the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed against him. When someone sues you, you’re required to answer, and you are intensely motivated to think through whether you have any counterclaims. … I understand why the estate’s lawyer wants to portray this as outrageous, but it’s not as if the police officer reached out and dragged this family from its private condition of mourning into the brutality of litigation.

You profited when I solved your CAPTCHA and I want money for that

A California court has dismissed an intended class action suit against Google claiming that it reaped undeserved profit when users solved CAPTCHA letter-recognition problems that assisted in solving passages that had gone undeciphered in Google’s own OCR scanning. The ruling “reinforces [the principle] that not every asymmetrical economic benefit exchanged online must be compensated. Parties in a mutual exchange rarely get the exact same amount of value from the exchange, but the fact that one party derives more value from the exchange than the other shouldn’t create a federal case.” [Eric Goldman]

Housing roundup

  • Under HUD deal, “Dubuque must now actively recruit Section 8 voucher holders from the Chicago area,” 200 miles away [Stanley Kurtz/National Review, Deborah Thornton/Public Interest Institute, July]
  • Mandatory rental inspections: Can City Hall demand entrance to a home with no evidence of violations? [Scott Shackford] Nuisance abatement laws: “NYPD Throws People Out of Their Homes Without Ever Proving Criminal Activity” [same]
  • Data point on scope of regulation: online marketing of sink faucets “seems targeted at assuring potential purchasers of regulatory and legal compliance,” both ADA and environmental [Ira Stoll]
  • Public interest litigators’ “right to shelter” created today’s hellish NYC homeless program [NYT on murder at Harlem shelter, background at Point of Law]
  • Flood insurance: “$7.8 Million Fee For Lawyers, 7-Cent Check For One Lucky Class Member” [Daniel Fisher]
  • On eminent domain, some lefty lawprofs suddenly turn all skeptical on whether courts can fix injustice [Ilya Somin] Prof. Purdy defends the Kelo v. New London decision, but Prof. Kanner would like to correct a few of his facts;
  • “The San Francisco artist who is being kicked out of his apartment after 34 years is a perfect example of why rent control is awful” [Jim Edwards, Business Insider] “Big-City Mayors Think They Can Mandate Their Way to Affordable Housing” [Matt Welch, Reason]

You lose, Illinois taxpayers

A big win for plaintiff’s lawyers: “Rewriting decades of established law in Illinois, the [state’] high court — by a 4-3 margin — repealed the public-duty doctrine that holds local government entities, including fire and police departments, owe their duty to protect to the general public, not individual citizens. The lawsuit opens the way for individuals to sue governmental entities based on some claim of harm caused to them as a result of the public entity’s negligence.” [Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, Cook County Record, Municipal Minute; some related issues of government duty-to-protect exposure from the state of Washington]