Author Archive

Why would the IRS be outsourcing tax audits to a private law firm?

Sen. Orrin Hatch wants to know why the Internal Revenue Service has hired Quinn Emanuel to assist in auditing Microsoft, with the power to compel sworn testimony [Sean Hackbarth, Institute for Legal Reform] For a sampling of the complications that can arise when governments hire outside law firms to prosecute tax cases, see our coverage of the Mississippi/MCI case or, in another part of the forest, the IRS’s periodic experiments with using private debt collection lawyers.

“Netflix for vinyl” meets a legal stumbling block

There was much excitement about a “Netflix for vinyl” that would send music-minded subscribers a curated surprise selection of records they could listen to, then send back at their leisure for a new set of unexpected picks. No one seems to have reckoned with the part of federal law known as “section §109(b), popularly known as the Record Rental Amendment of 1984, which makes it illegal to rent records.” [Michael Nelson, Stereogum]

Charles Murray’s recommendations for books on the U.S. legal system

Honored that two of mine, The Litigation Explosion and The Rule of Lawyers, are among seven that author Charles Murray (most recently of By the People) has recommended if you’d like to understand the state of the U.S. legal system [Benjamin Weingarten, The Blaze] I can recommend all the other books on the list as well, including the four by well-known author Philip K. Howard, often mentioned in this space, and The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law, edited by George Mason lawprof F.H. Buckley, a recent and underappreciated gem. Its contributors include Stephen Bainbridge, Todd Zywicki, Richard Epstein, George Priest and many well-known legal academics.

The petty tyranny of the FDA’s coming trans fat ban

Don’t count on donuts, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, or canned cinnamon rolls to go on tasting the same — and don’t count on the federal government to respect your choices in the matter [Peter Suderman, earlier] And of course it was public health advocates and the federal government who helped push foodmakers into the use of trans fats in the first place. Some choices do remain to you in the realm of food, so say yes to Mark Bittman’s red lentil dal, no to his politics [Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier, Forbes]

May 21 roundup

“Why Some Male Members of Congress Won’t Be Alone with Female Staffers”

Fearful of allegations of harassment or other impropriety, some male bosses on Capitol Hill have a policy against taking 1-on-1 closed-door meetings with female staffers, which of course itself probably makes it harder for women to advance and may be illegal. [Sarah Mimms, National Journal] Possibly there is legal safety to be had in not taking one-on-one meetings — or evening events, or travel — with staffers of any gender. Or, like up-to-date cops, maybe they could wear body cameras.

Note also: this 2013 Overlawyered post about a lawsuit charging that an “anti-fraternization” policy at a Texas law firm impeded mentorships and advancement for women, and this 2000 post (scroll to Nov. 1) quoting a New Jersey lawyer: “I have not seen a female client unescorted after-hours since this incident and probably never will again.”

P.S. Catherine Rampell at the Washington Post takes as usual a line at variance with the one presented here (via Amy Alkon: “Feminism Built That!” with reader comments) Note how Rampell presents absurd (A) and (B) rationales for the no-closed-door practice without for a moment considering a third rationale, namely (C) the possibility that different interpretations or understandings of the same words or events will generate career-ending disputes and allegations. Because that never happens, right?

California AG Kamala Harris demands donor list of a 501 (c) (3)

That raises the possibility of later disclosure of the information, retaliation against donors, or both; whether it’s unusual enough for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to stop it remains to be seen. Harris’s target and adversary in the resulting suit, by coincidence or otherwise, is the “Center for Competitive Politics, a vigorous supporter of political free-speech rights that does not get involved in election campaigns” but does speak out strongly about the First Amendment implications of campaign regulation; we’ve often cited its work and that of its founder, Brad Smith. [Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSBlog; Instapundit, citing “Supreme Court’s 1958 decision in NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Court unanimously protected the NAACP’s membership lists against compelled disclosure to Alabama officials.”]

New books roundup

Al Sharpton’s daughter, suing NYC from high places

“Dominique Sharpton posted pictures to Instagram showing she completed a difficult mountain climb in Bali, Indonesia — even though her suit says that ‘she still suffers’ debilitating pain after twisting her ankle in a street crack in Soho last year.” [New York Post and more (“Al Sharpton’s daughter sues city for $5M after spraining ankle”)]