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Walter Olson

As if your year-end celebrations weren’t heavily enough lawyered already, take heed of this reminder for employers in Ohio, and other states depending on local law. [Jon Hyman]

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Bad enough for Congress to meddle in adoptions in hopes of helping out Indian tribes. But…burials? My new guest column at Jurist examines the first-of-its-kind lawsuit by which some descendants of Native American sports great Jim Thorpe are trying to use the law to require the borough of Jim Thorpe, Pa. to yield up his remains for re-interment in Oklahoma. It concludes:

In a nation where people regularly fall in love across ethnic lines, laws that assign rights differentially to some members of families based on descent or tribal affiliation are especially hard to justify under US Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. … Say what you will about the Third Circuit’s reasoning, it at least postpones the day when tribal enmities extend into our very cemeteries, and even the dead cannot escape counting based on race.

Earlier on the Mauch Chunk/Jim Thorpe controversy; on NAGPRA and science, and the Kennewick Man affair, etc.

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  • Why none of the major methods for addressing claims of police excessive force — grand juries/prosecution, internal investigations, civil suits, personnel disciplinary procedures, civilian review boards, federal oversight — work very well, and what we may want to consider instead [Chase Madar, The Nation]
  • “Rand Paul Reacts to Ferguson: Reform Criminal Justice System, Petty Fines” [Robby Soave, Reason, quotes me] Incidentally, the Cato Institute has been working on police misconduct issues for more than 15 years [Cato Policy Report]
  • “As a front-line means of regulating lethal force, grand juries – which are secret, remote from the truth-finding of an adversary process, and dependent on prosecutors’ guidance – do not command broad public confidence.” [my brief reaction statement, posted at Cato] “How the Ferguson grand jury process works” [Kimberly Kindy, Washington Post] “in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment.” [Ben Casselman, Five Thirty-Eight] Cato survey a few years back found only 7 percent of excessive force allegations against police resulted in indictments, 3 percent in convictions [Tim Fernholz, Quartz]
  • “What we know about who police kill in America” [Dara Lind, Vox]
  • “Anytime I’m involved in an officer involved shooting… it is always listed during my initial investigation as an assault on law enforcement” [Kevin Underhill/Lowering the Bar, who also dissected the grand jury report on Twitter] Journalists and investigators begin digging through the many volumes of transcripts and testimony released following the grand jury action [NPR on Officer Wilson's testimony] Eyewitness testimony pointed various ways [Conor Friedersdorf]
  • Listen: Tuesday morning’s Diane Rehm show where I joined a panel discussing the Ferguson grand jury outcome, or a highlight portion;
  • “How Police Unions Stopped Congress From ‘Militarization’ Reform” [Dave Weigel, Bloomberg] Reform-blocking role of police unions part of wider, systemic problems [Ed Krayewski, Reason]

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Washington, D.C. listeners, tune in at 10 a.m. this morning (Tuesday) when I’ll be a guest again on Diane Rehm’s award-winning radio show, discussing developments in Ferguson, Mo., including a grand jury’s decision that officer Darren Wilson won’t face charges in the shooting of Michael Brown. Other guests include Julie Bosman, reporter, The New York Times; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Andrew Ferguson, associate professor of law, University of the District of Columbia School of Law. (bumped Tuesday morning to keep at top of page)

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I’m quoted in this Reason TV segment by Zach Weissmueller on the problem of municipalities that stake their finances on overzealous fee collection:

“When you have towns like those in St. Louis County that get in some cases, 40 percent of their municipal revenue in fines and fees, they have chosen a very expensive way of taxing their population, one that creates maximum hassle and maximum hostility,” says Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and publisher of the blog Overlawyered.

Aside from Ferguson, Mo., the piece uses as examples the notorious Los Angeles suburb of Bell, Calif., exposed in a scandal as being run for the benefit of its managers, and — a smart choice — Detroit, a city with a long-time adversarial stance toward its small businesses and others trying to do everyday business in the town:

…what really grants Detroit this honor is “Operation Compliance,” an initiative pushed by former mayor David Bing aimed at bringing all of Detroit’s small businesses up to code through costly permitting. The initiative launched with the stated goal of shutting down 20 businesses a week.

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on November 25, 2014

  • Hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama trends on Twitter after high schoolers tweet it with pics of unappetizing lunch trays, provoking “shut up and eat what’s put in front of you” reactions from some who support the new federally prescribed rules. Maybe better to listen instead? [Kevin Cirilli, The Hill, Rachel Zarrell, BuzzFeed]
  • “After suing a small California company for calling its eggless product ‘Just Mayo,’ Hellmann’s maker Unilever tweaked references on its websites to products that aren’t exactly mayonnaise either.” [AP/Tulsa World]
  • Mark Bittman/Michael Pollan scheme for national food policy? Send it back to the kitchen, please [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
  • Johnny Appleseed, substance abuse enabler [Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian]
  • One factor behind drive for new GMO non-browning potato: legal pressure against acrylamide, naturally forming browning component, by way of Calif. Prop 65 lawsuits and regulations [Guardian, New York Times]
  • Costly, fussy, coercive: Minneapolis micromanages convenience food sales [Baylen Linnekin]
  • No, FSMA isn’t worth the damage it’s doing to food variety and smaller producers [same]

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Six months ago the Delaware Supreme Court upheld the right of an enterprise to include a loser-pays provision in its bylaws, specifying that losing shareholder-litigants would have to contribute reasonable legal fees to compensate what would otherwise be loss to other owners. Since then there’s been a concerted campaign to overturn the ruling, either in the Delaware legislature or if necessary elsewhere. But as I argue in a new Cato post, allowing scope for freedom of contract of this sort is one of the best and most promising ways to avert an ever-rising toll of litigation. Contractually specified alternatives to courtroom wrangling have played a vital role, and are under attack for that very reason, in curbing litigation areas like workplace and consumer arbitration, shrinkwrap and click-through disclaimers of liability, and risk disclaimers at ballparks and elsewhere. (& Stephen Bainbridge).

To the extent America has made progress in recent years in rolling back the extreme litigiousness of earlier years, one main reason has been the courts’ increased willingness to respect the libertarian and classical liberal principle of freedom of contract. Most legal disputes arise between parties with prior dealings, and if they have been left free in those dealings to specify who bears the risks when things go wrong, the result will often be to cut off the need for expensive and open-ended litigation afterward.

More on the Delaware bylaw controversy: D & O Diary (scroll), Andrew Trask on state of the merger class action, WSJ Law Blog first and second, Daniel Fisher, and ABA Journal in June, Alison Frankel/Reuters (forum selection bylaws).

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“…Slip up just 810 times and they’ll insist on disbarring you.” [Lowering the Bar]

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Police and community roundup

by Walter Olson on November 24, 2014

  • “As Ferguson waits, some lessons from the Rodney King riots” [Radley Balko] “ACLU wins federal court orders on right to video police in Ferguson, elsewhere” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
  • “What charges could the Michael Brown grand jury consider, if they choose to indict?” [Paul Cassell, Volokh; related on Missouri jury instructions regarding deadly force by police, Robert VerBruggen/Real Clear Policy]
  • Quick links: things this site has published on Ferguson, on police militarization, on police issues generally;
  • Interview with University of Illinois lawprof Andrew Leipold on grand jury process [U of I] A reminder about the surprisingly high error rates of eyewitness testimony [Balko]
  • “Judges propose wide reform of St. Louis County’s municipal courts” [StL; related, holiday warrant forgiveness] Municipal court fines and fees: “Why we need to fix St. Louis County” [Radley Balko, related (Better Together report), earlier here, here from Balko, etc.]
  • “The hurdles for indicting or convicting a uniformed officer are high, for many reasons.” Survey of police deadly force issue [L.A. Times] Police forces have strayed far from the “Peel Principles” for which London police were so admired [Tuccille, Reason]
  • Not much. “Whatever Happened To The White House Police Militarization Review?” [Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed]

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The panel is packed with big names and many of them offer suggestions with a law or regulation angle, including Philip K. Howard (“Radically Simplify Law”), Derek Khanna (rethink patent and copyright law; related, Ramesh Ponnuru), Morris Kleiner (reform occupational licensure; related, Steven Teles), Arnold Kling (“Sidestep the FCC and the FDA”), Robert Litan (admit more high-skill immigrants and reform employment of teachers; similarly on immigration, Alex Nowrasteh), Adam Thierer (emphasize “permissionless innovation”), and Peter Van Doren (relax zoning so to ease movement of workers to high-wage cities).

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An observation from John Goodman via David Henderson:

Almost all government restrictions on our freedom are indirect. They are imposed on us by way of some business. In fact, laws that directly restrict the freedom of the individual are rare and almost always controversial….

But the vast majority of government encroachments on your freedom of action come about through laws that constrain an employer or a seller – without much controversy. …

After proceeding through examples from workplace safety regulation, liquor control, medical device regulation, occupational licensure, and other areas, Goodman adds:

Let’s take one more example from the health care field. The Obama administration is about to impose new regulations affecting home health care workers. They must receive minimum wages and overtime pay. But as far as I can tell, this rule applies only to workers who are employed by agencies and not to workers who are directly hired by an elderly or disabled patient. No matter how they are employed, the economic effects will be the same – a blow to the seniors and people with disabilities. In one case the effects would be visible; in the other they would be invisible. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that if there were no agencies in home health care, there would be no new regulations.

The growth of the firm may be inevitable, desirable, or both for separate reasons, but it also makes regulation more feasible by generating an entity more suitable for bearing the regulatory harness. Incidentally, is blocking the Obama home health carer overtime regulations a high priority for the incoming Republican Congress, and if not, why not?

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Speaking at Princeton, Justice Elena Kagan described as “just ridiculous language” Paul Krugman’s claim that the higher federal courts are “corrupt.” It is just ridiculous, as we noted the other day, and it’s nice to hear Krugman called out for it at his own university by someone in a position to know. +1 Elena! [Daily Princetonian via Josh Blackman]

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New Jersey: Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Dennis O’Brien has granted summary judgment to the defendant law firm of Wolff, Helies, Duggan Spaeth and Lucas and dismissed Thomas Hickey’s suit over his injuries in falling off a reclining chair in its office during a deposition. Hickey’s lawyers had argued that the law firm as owner and maintainer of the chair was negligent not to check its settings for safety before each use. The court found that whatever hazards might inhere in the chair’s low-tension setting, Hickey had been sitting in it for 90 minutes which was “sufficient time for him to learn the chair was designed to tilt and to appreciate its tension setting.” [Ashley Peskoe, NJ.com]

More chronicles of office-chair falls here (law office, Palm Beach, Fla.), here (law office, New York, N.Y.), here (NYC police detective shot by self in tippy chair), and here (U.K. law firm ad).

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“Bowing to a forceful majority of opinion, the [Westminster, Mass.] Board of Health has killed its proposed ban on tobacco sales.” [Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise, AP ("This is a free country?" sign), Chris Snowdon ("The anti-smokers of Westminster... had to demand prohibition before the townspeople finally realized that they were dealing with prohibitionists"), earlier]

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Perhaps on the theory that socializing losses beats reducing crime and litigiousness: “The high cost of auto insurance has been one of the key reasons residents have been leaving the city for years,” [Mayor Mike] Duggan said in a statement. [Allan Lengel, Deadline Detroit]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on November 21, 2014

  • UCLA admins grovel, humiliate veteran profs over charges of “microaggression” [Heather Mac Donald, City Journal] Meanwhile, this piece on overuse of disability card/trigger warnings in academic settings has already gotten labeled #AbleistAbuse so read at own risk [June Thunderstorm, The Baffler]
  • Toughened D.C. truancy laws “flooding schools with paperwork and pushing tardy students into the criminal justice system” [WP]
  • Polite opinion beginning to turn in favor of procedural protections for accused in campus sex cases? [Ruth Marcus, Washington Post] Richard Painter: accused minorities may be at disadvantage under new house rules [Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Schoolboy hurts himself opening emergency exit at back of bus, lawsuit follows [NY Daily News]
  • Union fines Nassau Community College adjuncts for not “supporting” strike, including one who was on leave at time [Newsday] P.S. Union situation over at Rockland Community College has its own problems;
  • Before registering for classes, students at some universities must submit to Title IX training with wildly intrusive personal questions [Susan Fruth, FIRE]
  • Summary of Eric Hanushek’s expert report in Texas school finance case [Texas Public Policy Foundation]

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In exchange for relief from a state-mandated stormwater remediation fee, and direct government subsidies to pay for property improvements intended to reduce runoff, some churches in Prince George’s County, Maryland have made an unusual commitment to the authorities. I explain, and raise questions, at Free State Notes. Since when does government get the power to cut churches tax breaks in exchange for their agreement to preach an approved line? (& Bader, CEI)

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James DeLong, lawyer, author, astute analyst of regulation and longtime friend of Overlawyered, has begun writing for Forbes and this is his inaugural post. It’s short — go read it now. His second post is on “ObamaCare, Chevron, and Congressional Delegation.”

Way back in 1997 I reviewed Jim’s book Property Matters for the Wall Street Journal.

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