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A press release from George Washington University Prof. John Banzhaf describes his latest stunt as follows: “Undergrads Required To Lobby For Obama Policy.” In this case, it’s more for a policy identified with Michael Bloomberg — limits on the size of sweetened drinks — which students were asked to promote in letters to their own lawmakers. I’ve got a write-up at Cato at Liberty, where I list some of the other occasions on which Overlawyered readers have met the gadfly professor. (& Katherine Mangu-Ward, Center for Consumer Freedom) Update: many reactions, including another press release from Prof. Banzhaf.


Scary Banzhaf

by Walter Olson on June 17, 2006

Our least favorite member of the George Washington University faculty is seeking to lay out the legal backing for a proposal being floated by Arkansas Gov. Huckabee to ban smoking by women who are pregnant. Huckabee recently signed a bill to ban smoking in cars when children are present. (Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Jun. 15). More on tobacco and tyranny here.

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Such a collegial guy to have around a faculty, that Prof. Banzhaf:

Students at the George Washington University may now be able to sue administrators individually for perceived wrong-doings rather than attempt legal action against the University as a whole, with the help of a new legal tactic suggested by maverick GW Law professor John Banzhaf.

Using the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act as support, Banzhaf created a website,, to educate students on how they can sue individual GW administrators and professors without the institutional legal protection the University typically provides. …

“If you could download a simple complaint (form) from the Internet and go after not the University but the individual administrator who made the decision, I think you’ve got leverage,” said Banzhaf.

(Christine Grimaldi and Emily Metz, “Prof: students can sue individual administrators”, Daily Colonial, Apr. 17). Last week, administrators at GWU announced that they were reversing an earlier stand and capitulating to a demand by Banzhaf and various students to post signs discouraging persons from smoking near entrances to the university’s campus in an urbanized section of Washington, D.C. (Katie Rooney, “GW to post signs asking smokers to back off from buildings”, GW Hatchet, Apr. 24). Banzhaf naturally takes credit:

“It was only after I initially threatened to sue him [college director of risk management and insurance Fitzroy Smith] personally and sent a draft complaint to University lawyers, did they agree to revise signs over all the campus buildings,” said Banzhaf…

If appropriate signs are not up by the beginning of the Fall 2006 semester, Banzhaf and his law students “will file the complaint, which would make Mr. Smith liable for tens of thousands of dollars plus my attorney fees,” said Banzhaf in a letter released on Friday.

Banzhaf plans to seek $100 for every student exposed to second-hand smoke while entering University buildings from January until the signs are up….

“At this point I hope they do it right,” said Banzhaf. “I’m not kidding around.”

(Brittany Levine, “GW concedes to smoking ban petition”, Daily Colonial, Apr. 24).

For more on Prof. Banzhaf, whose activities regularly furnish material for this site, see Feb. 28 and links from there. An absurdly laudatory editorial about him in the university newspaper states: “As a professor of public interest law here at GW, Banzhaf has become most notable for his class on ‘Legal Activism,’ also informally known as ‘suing for credit.’ His class teaches students to become public interest lawyers while giving them real experience.” (“GW’s own legal powerhouse”, Apr. 20).


More skirmishing in preparation for the expected lawsuit against soft-drink vendors over sales in Massachusetts schools (see Dec. 5, Dec. 7, Feb. 7, etc.), via a Boston Globe editorial (“Vending against obesity”, Jan. 30):

In advance of the suit, Washington lawyer John Banzhaf sent an e-mail to 50-100 school committee members in Massachusetts ”to warn of your inevitable involvement in these law suits as a named party or otherwise…”

A couple of years back, Banzhaf threatened to sue the Seattle school district for renewing a $400,000 vending-machine contract with Coca-Cola (Jul. 3, 2003). Prof. Banzhaf’s other doings, which have ensured him regular appearances on this site, include proposing lawsuits against parents of obese children and against doctors who fail to warn their obese patients about overeating (Dec. 3, 2004).


Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on December 23, 2014

  • Long before North Korea “Interview” episode, Hollywood was caving repeatedly to power-wielders [Ron Maxwell, Deadline] Relevant: “A Tyranny of Silence,” new book by Danish-Muhammad-cartoons editor Flemming Rose published by Cato Institute [Kat Murti, earlier on the Danish cartoons, related Liberty and Law]
  • Score 1 for First Amendment, zero for Prof. Banzhaf as FCC rejects “Redskins” broadcast license attack [Volokh, earlier including the prof's comment on that post]
  • Court dismisses orthopedist’s defamation suit against legal blogger Eric Turkewitz [his blog]
  • “Hate speech” notions reach the Right? Author claims “justice” would mean incitement “charges” vs. liberal talkers [Ira Straus, National Review]
  • Wisconsin prosecutors said to have eyed using John Doe law to aim warrants, subpoenas at media figures Sean Hannity, Charlie Sykes [Watchdog] More: George Leef on California vs. Americans for Prosperity;
  • “British journalist sentenced for questioning death toll in Bangladeshi independence war” [Guardian] Pakistan sentences Bollywood actress Veena Malik to 26 years for acting in supposedly blasphemous TV wedding scene [The Independent] Erdogan regime in Turkey rounds up opposition media figures [Washington Post editorial]
  • “Is it a crime to say things that make someone ‘lack self-confidence in her relations with the opposite sex and about her body-build’?” [Volokh; Iowa Supreme Court, affirmed on other grounds]

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“The Federal Communications Commission will consider punishing broadcasters for using the Washington Redskins’ [name] on air, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said during a conference call with reporters, according to Reuters.” [Sports Illustrated] It won’t if it wants its actions to stand up in court, though [Eugene Volokh, and more on the role of frequent Overlawyered mentionee John Banzhaf]

More: Prof. Banzhaf responds in comments.


Law schools roundup

by Walter Olson on July 9, 2013

  • “Law school plotted to sabotage its own students?” [Steele, Cassandra Burke Robertson, Caron on Phoenix allegations]
  • Bryan Garner’s take on law reviews [Green Bag]
  • Washington & Lee’s innovative practice-oriented third year has drawn much attention, but job placement results lag [Deborah Merritt via Alice Woolley]
  • “Law school sues for liability insurance coverage” [VLW on Liberty U., Miller-Jenkins kidnapping case]
  • The business of one high-flying law school: documents shed light on NYU [Joe Patrice, Above the Law]
  • Concussions: NFL players’ union to fund $100 million Harvard project, including HLS, on football and health [Cohen, Prawfs, with further thoughts from a notorious gadfly on lobbying by lawprofs]
  • John O. McGinnis and Russell Mangas, “An Undergraduate Option for Legal Education” [IRLE/SSRN]
  • Toward more sensible law school rankings? ABA makes it harder to count higher expenditures themselves as a plus [Above the Law]

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As I noted yesterday here and at Cato at Liberty on Wednesday, GWU law prof John Banzhaf sent out a press release boasting of having assigned undergrads to lobby for NYC-style soda bans or, alternatively, other ventures in “obesity policy.” Some reactions from Robby Soave at the Daily Caller, Katharine Mangu-Ward at Reason (“I’m gonna guess there aren’t a lot of libertarians in his class”), George Leef at Phi Beta Cons, Center for Consumer Freedom (Banzhaf hoping to stir pot for high-stakes litigation), Jamie Weinstein/Daily Caller (“There are radical Pakistani madrassas that are more intellectually open than Professor Banzhaf’s class sounds,”) and on Twitter from @rogerkimball (“Where’s the outrage?”) and @keepfoodlegal (“Vile. Illegal, too?”) And Prof. Bainbridge:

I wonder what people would say if I made my students write letters to their Congressman supporting Senator Shelby’s Dodd-Frank corrections bills? Actually, I don’t wonder. they’d say I was abusing my power. And they’d be right. Only someone blinded by their own self-righteous arrogance would fail to see the gross impropriety here.

Now Banzhaf has sent out another press release, which aside from tossing an inaccurate brickbat or two at my motivations for challenging him, takes care to specify — as his earlier press release did not — that students in the class are free to propose lobbying for at least some deregulatory ideas. The two examples he gives are as follows: “students could also ask legislators to reduce limits on the sale of items from food trucks [or] cut back on unnecessary food-related regulations.” Whether liberty-minded students could actually get course credit for lobbying on behalf of food-related positions that Banzhaf opposes — as distinct from seeking out some subtopic in the field where he happens to agree with them — remains unclear.


March 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 6, 2012

  • D.C. Circuit’s Janice Rogers Brown: three-decade-long case over Iran dairy expropriation raises “harshest caricature of the American litigation system” [BLT]
  • Legal blogger Mark Bennett runs for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as Libertarian [Defending People, Scott Greenfield] And Prof. Bill Childs, often linked in this space, is departing TortsProf (and legal academia) to join a private law practice in Texas;
  • Ambitious damage claims, more modest settlements abound in Louisiana oil-rig cleanup suits [ATLA's Judicial Hellholes, more, more, earlier]
  • Better no family at all: Lawprof Banzhaf jubilant over courts’ denial of adoption to smokers [his press release]
  • “The worst discovery request I’ve ever gotten” [Patrick at Popehat] And yours?
  • Concession to reality? Class action against theater over high cost of movie snacks seen as dud [Detroit Free Press]
  • FCPA is for pikers, K Street shows how real corruption gets done [Bill Frezza, Forbes] Dems threatening tax-bill retribution against clients whose lobbyists who back GOP candidates [Politico]

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Further update roundup

by Walter Olson on December 5, 2011


Welcome Prof. Bainbridge readers: The Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights is investigating Catholic U. for, among other alleged offenses, “not providing [some Muslim students] rooms without Christian symbols for their daily prayers.” Like a legal complaint against the same institution for reinstating single-sex dormitories, this one has been advanced by inveterate publicity hound and George Washington U. lawprof John Banzhaf, whose antics we have discussed often in the past (though not much recently, since he actually seems to like the attention); a few highlights here, here, and here.


June 24 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 24, 2011

  • “Law Prof Threatens Suit over University’s Plan to Reinstitute Single-Sex Dorms” [ABA Journal, WSJ Law Blog; John Banzhaf vs. Catholic U. in Washington, D.C.]
  • Mississippi: Dickie Scruggs files motion to vacate conviction in Scruggs II (DeLaughter case) [Freeland, YallPolitics] Before defending Paul Minor’s conduct in cash-for-judges scandal, review the evidence [Lange, YallPolitics and more]
  • Woman who filmed cop from own yard charged with obstructing his administration of government [BoingBoing]
  • East St. Louis, Ill. jury awards $95 million in sexual harassment, assault case against Aaron’s rental chain [ABA Journal]
  • Connecticut unions demand investigation of conservative Yankee Institute think tank [Public Sector Inc.]
  • “Court Upends $1.75M Award, Finding Plaintiff Lawyer’s Remarks Prejudicial” [NJLJ]
  • Hold it! San Francisco debates bathroom rights for schoolkids [C.W. Nevius, SF Chronicle]

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February 28 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 28, 2011

  • Feds indict activist for handing out “jury nullification” tracts outside courthouse [Volokh, Greenfield] Anti-abortion billboard taken down after demand by NYC pol; co. says fear of violence was spur [NY Times]
  • Pigford class action (USDA bias against black farmers) defended and assailed [Friedersdorf and readers, Daniel Foster/NR, Mark Thompson/LOG, earlier here, here, here, etc.]
  • Avik Roy on Pennsylvania defensive-medicine study [Forbes]
  • Backstory: Scott Walker battled AFSCME for years as Milwaukee County exec [Aaron Rodriguez, Hispanic Conservative] “Wisconsin’s teachers required to teach kids labor union and collective bargaining history” [Daily Caller]
  • “The return of the $0 Costco fuel settlement” [CCAF]
  • Historic preservation vs. the obesity crusade: should a vintage Coke sign in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood come down? [SFGate]
  • Law blog that covers a single beat closely can turn itself into a valued practice tool [Eric Turkewitz on John Hochfelder's New York Injury Cases]
  • “Soda suits: Banzhaf browbeats school officials” [five years ago on Overlawyered]


See You Some Other Time!

by Skip Oliva on July 29, 2007

It’s time to end my week of guest-blogging here. Thanks again to Walter Olson and Ted Frank for indulging my ramblings. Since I’ve used most of my posts to dwell on the evils of antitrust regulation, I’d like to try and go out on a more positive note.

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ABC News files a report on a sector of litigation we’ve covered extensively over the years:

Tim Gleason, general manager of the China Club in New York, calls [attorney Roy Den] Hollander’s complaint “pathetic” and echoes other club owners who argue that the discounts actually help both sexes by balancing out the ratio between men and women….

“Ladies’ Night benefits the men as much as it benefits the ladies, the clubs and society,” said John Juliano, owner of the recently closed Copacabana Nightclub. “And the only loser here is this grouch with a warped point of view.”

GWU lawprof and inveterate publicity hound John Banzhaf, whose “suing for credit” course has generated one such suit, gets a mention too. (Brittany Bacon, “‘Ladies’ Night’ Lawsuits on the Rocks?”, Jul. 25; 239 reader comments so far). More: Lat, Jul. 30.


Anti-smoking activists are crowing over a ruling upholding a Boston landlord’s eviction of tenants for smoking within a rented condominium unit. The court’s ruling itself was not necessarily unreasonable, since other residents had complained about the tenants’ habit and the landlord said he was facing condominium association fines of $75/day if he let it persist. Note, however, the following passage:

In the face of an increasing number of nonsmoking tenants who are willing to assert their rights in multiple-unit dwellings, a growing number of property owners will choose to make their apartments and condos smoke-free, said [landlord Neil] Harwood’s attorney, Peter Brooks, a partner in the Boston office of Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw.

A new issue is the liability of landlords for allowing smoking in their building and the additional risks they face, Brooks said.

“Those who want to avoid it will turn nonsmoking, not just in an eviction case, but a case against a landlord brought by a nonsmoking tenant.”

And of course GWU lawprof and perennial antipode of this site John Banzhaf gets his say:

“Ten years ago, most people would assume that smoking in one’s own abode — their apartment or condo — would be protected and nothing could be done about it, like the ‘old man in his castle’ idea,” Banzhaf said.

But that concept has been eroded by several cases, Banzhaf noted, including orders prohibiting parents from smoking around their children or foster children, and court rulings that secondhand smoke entering one’s home is actionable if it adversely affects others.

(Stefanie Shaffer, “Mass. Court Upholds Eviction of Condo Tenants for Smoking”, National Law Journal, Jul. 8).

“Where are the promised obesity lawsuits?” Evan Schaeffer asks, citing an April 18 Reuters story by Gail Appleman. (He miscredits Overlawyered with the prediction of particular timing, however; we simply quoted a Lawyers Weekly USA headline that in turn relied upon the public statements of plaintiffs’ attorneys.)

Schaeffer goes on to suggest that the several states that have enacted laws protecting the fast-food industry have wasted their time. But of course the states that bar obesity lawsuits aren’t seeing obesity lawsuits. The plaintiffs’ bar bragged about how they used the media to change the playing field for tobacco litigation, and the fast-food industry stepped forward to prevent an instant replay, and won the public debate–thus discouraging many lawyers from spearheading these actions so far ahead of public opinion, especially when state law prevented recovery. But Richard Daynard, speaking at an AEI conference on the subject last month, certainly didn’t sound like he was going to give up: “I think these cases in the long term may have viability.” And John Banzhaf complained just yesterday that a 93% downward revision by the CDC of the estimated effects of obesity was a corporate conspiracy that wouldn’t affect lawyers’ plans for future lifestyle litigation. (Joyce Howard Price, “CDC says obesity deaths overestimated”, Washington Times, Apr. 20). It’s to the credit of the plaintiffs’ bar that many recognize that the lifestyle litigators may have bitten off more than they can chew; one suspects that the true concern is that such litigation could create a backlash against the compensation culture that funds Trial Lawyers Inc.

There’s a strange disconnect in Schaeffer’s argument. He suggests that reformers are deliberately exaggerating the risk of lifestyle litigation to get legislation passed — but what would be the motivation for achieving that goal if the risk is exaggerated? If the plaintiffs’ bar is really opposed to lifestyle litigation, as Schaeffer suggests, why not score some cheap political points by supporting the legislation instead of fighting it so hard? A cynic might suggest that they’re trying to keep the door open for copycat litigation in case the pioneers find a jurisdiction that will let the claims proceed. As it is, the Pelman decision (Jan. 27) will likely cost McDonald’s shareholders millions of dollars in litigation costs.


The Centers for Disease Control admitted last week that a much-touted estimate of enormous mortality rates resulting from increasing obesity in America was wrong and arose from incorrect methodology; it promises a revised and lower estimate (Gina Kolata, “Data on Deaths From Obesity Is Inflated, U.S. Agency Says”, New York Times, Nov. 24; Radley Balko, Nov. 24; Jacob Sullum, Reason “Hit and Run”, Nov. 24; Jim Copland, PointOfLaw, Nov. 24 and Nov. 30). The National Institutes of Health’s body mass index is also falling into disrepute for overrating the incidence of obesity (Gina Kolata, “Tell the Truth: Does This Index Make Me Look Fat?”, New York Times, Nov. 28)(see Apr. 29-30, 2002).

As for lawsuits, the scary Public Health Advocacy Institute, where trial lawyers meet dietitians, held its second annual conference in September, with opening remarks by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) (Marguerite Higgins, “Anti-obesity group mulls swell in suits”, Washington Times, Sept. 19; “Lawyers see obese U.S. ripe for fat lawsuits”, Sept. 20; Center for Consumer Freedom, “Looking For Lawsuits In All The Wrong Places”, Sept. 24). The food-industry-defense Center for Consumer Freedom (“Don’t Sue the Hand That Feeds You”) has prepared a “Thanksgiving Guest Liability and Indemnification Agreement” (PDF) (via LawfulGal, Nov. 25) and has also (Sept. 27) compiled a list of the “Ten Dumbest Food Cop Ideas” of the year. These include law prof John Banzhaf’s proposals for suing parents of obese children and doctors who fail to warn their obese patients against overeating; Texas officials’ edict against schoolkids’ sharing of snacks; and a proposal by the New Zealand health minister to apply age restrictions, in the manner of carding for alcohol and tobacco purchases, to keep kids from buying hamburgers, pie and candy. A Deloitte consumer opinion survey (“The Weight Debate”, last updated Jul. 14) finds the public overwhelmingly opposed to lawsuits against restaurants.

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