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Walter Olson

Registration is open only until Monday for one of the Cato Institute’s premier annual events, the annual Supreme Court symposium celebrating Constitution Day and the publication of what will be the thirteenth annual Cato Supreme Court Review. The theme of the all-day event is “Past and Prologue,” looking back to the 2013 term and forward to the next, and panelists include Nadine Strossen, Tom Goldstein, Michael Carvin, and Eric Rassbach, as well as familiar Cato names like Roger Pilon, Ilya Shapiro, and Trevor Burrus. The program concludes with the annual B. Kenneth Simon Lecture, this year given by the Hon. Diane Sykes, judge on the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, who will discuss “Judicial Minimalism and Its Limits.” A reception follows. Register here.

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September 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 12, 2014

  • ObamaCare, Common Core, EPA policy all raise specter of federal commandeering of state governments [Richard Epstein and Mario Loyola, The Atlantic] Vocally supporting Common Core, William Bennett provides new reasons to be queasy about it [Neal McCluskey, Cato]
  • Mom lets six-year-old play within sight of his own front door. Then Child Protective Services arrives [Haiku of the Day]
  • Study finds no evidence California cellphone ban reduced accidents [The Newspaper]
  • Or maybe if you’ve been in good health for 13 years it’s okay to let the grievance slide: pols, union leaders urge unimpaired WTC rescuers to enroll for possible future compensation [AP/WCBS]
  • “Thomson Reuters Thinks Not Responding To Their Email Means You’ve Freely Licensed All Your Content” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
  • New frontiers in urban expropriation: San Francisco imposes crushing new “relocation assistance” burden on rental owners [Pacific Legal Foundation]
  • A lesson in standing up for individual liberty, and not being discouraged by setbacks [my Cato Institute piece on Lillian Gobitis Klose's flag-pledge case, Donald Boudreaux/Cafe Hayek]

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Much more than Citizens United

by Walter Olson on September 11, 2014

This week forty-eight senators are seeking to amend the Bill of Rights so as to give the government more power to control campaign speech. While some advocates pretend that the effect of the amendment would “only” be to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, it would actually go a good bit farther than that. [Jacob Sullum, Reason; George Will; Trevor Burrus at Forbes ("political stunt," yet "terrifying"); related, David Boaz]

Concur: ACLU. Update: measure fails.

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The George Mason law professor favorably reviews one of the two new books on the case, Michael Goldhaber’s Crude Awakening. After Prof. Krauss wrote on the litigation in March, he says, the government of Ecuador unsuccessfully tried to pressure Forbes to retract the piece. Earlier (Glenn Garvin on the William Langewiesche Vanity Fair piece), generally, and related (takedown attempts).

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Police and prosecution roundup

by Walter Olson on September 11, 2014

  • Enviro activists unlawfully block coal ship, Massachusetts prosecutor expresses approval by dropping charges [James Taranto, Jacob Gershman/WSJ Law Blog, ABA Journal]
  • Unfortunately-named Mr. Threatt charged with “robbery that happened while he was in jail” [Baltimore Sun via @amyalkon]
  • “How conservative, tough-on-crime Utah reined in police militarization” [Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed] More: What if we needed it someday? San Diego Unified School District defends acquisition of armored vehicle [inewsource.org] And Senate hearing [AP]
  • “Machine-based traffic-ticketing systems are running amok” [David Kravets, ArsTechnica]
  • Thanks, Fraternal Order of Police, for protecting jobs of rogue Philadelphia cops who could cost taxpayers millions [Ed Krayewski; related earlier]
  • Study: returning from 6- to 12-person juries could iron out many racial anomalies at trial [Anwar et al, Tabarrok]
  • Courts can help curb overcriminalization by revitalizing rule of lenity, mens rea requirement [Steven Smith]

For those of you following the politicized Wisconsin John Doe prosecution — which basically is premised on the idea that even issue advocacy is criminal if coordinated among the wrong people — this report from veteran legal analyst Stuart Taylor, Jr. is pretty amazing. [Legal NewsLine, my two cents from May, more]

More: Ann Althouse parses the response of John Chisholm’s lawyer.

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Whichever way you come down on the sidewalk-buffer-zone series of cases, it’s time to retire the wheeze about how the U.S. Supreme Court is supposedly being inconsistent by not inviting protesters up really close to its entrance doors — though the taunt does conceal something of a genuine point about how smaller, poorer organizations are more likely to have to put up with the annoyances and inconveniences of public space and its concomitant public forum doctrine, as they also do when the forums involved are public parks or schools [Eugene Volokh, earlier]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on September 10, 2014

  • ObamaCare challenge: D.C. Circuit vacates Halbig decision for en banc rehearing [Roger Pilon, earlier]
  • ACLU and SEIU California affiliates oppose trial lawyers’ higher-damages-plus-drug-testing Proposition 46 [No On 46, earlier] As does Sacramento Bee in an editorial;
  • Rethinking the use of patient restraints in hospitals [Ravi Parikh, Atlantic; legal fears not mentioned, however]
  • Certificate of need regulation: “I didn’t know the state of Illinois had a standard for the maximum permissible size of a hospital room.” [John Cochrane]
  • In China, according to a study by Benjamin Liebman of Columbia Law School, hired malpractice mobs “consistently extract more money from hospitals than legal proceedings do” [Christopher Beam, The New Yorker]
  • Overview of (private-lawyer-driven) municipal suits on painkiller marketing [John Schwartz, New York Times, earlier] More: Chicago’s contingency deal with Cohen Milstein on opioid lawsuit [LNL]
  • “So In The End, The VA Was Rewarded, Not Punished” [Coyote]

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Selected as an international music ambassador for her outstanding playing, 13-year-old Avery Gagliano charmed audiences in Munich, Hong Kong and elsewhere with her renditions of Chopin, Mozart and other classical repertoire. Her parents could not charm the District of Columbia Public Schools, however, into treating ten days of travel by the straight-A student as excused absences, although they “drafted an independent study plan for the days she’d miss while touring the world” in performance. They’re homeschooling her now. [Petula Dvorak, Washington Post]

Sequel: The D.C. schools are now trying hard to portray it as all a big misunderstanding. More: Jason Bedrick, Cato.

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Perhaps because it uses police for revenue collection rather than public safety. Last year the tiny town of Beverly Hills issued six traffic tickets and two ordinance violations for each resident. An investigation of the string of towns that includes Ferguson, Mo. finds heavy reliance on speed cameras and intensive traffic enforcement on sometimes-tiny stretches of road, oversized police forces, various anecdotes of assault and misconduct, and, in the case of the town of Edmundson, Mo., a memo from the mayor in April 2014 ordering the writing of more tickets. [Lisa Riordan Seville, NBC News; earlier]

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A new paper estimates that Massachusetts voters’ decision to end rent control added $2 billion to the value of Cambridge, Mass. residential housing stock over 10 years. While some of this represents the improved worth of rental property whose value had been artificially suppressed by the previous law, much of it reflects improvements in the value of other, nearby property that had never been under rent control, as increased rates of renovation and improvement made whole neighborhoods more desirable. “In net, our estimates imply that more than half (55 percent) of the capitalized cost of rent control was borne by owners of never-controlled properties, illustrating both the importance of spillovers in housing markets and the potential unintended side effects of price ceilings.” [David H. Autor, Christopher J. Palmer and Parag A. Pathak, Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy]

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Public employment roundup

by Walter Olson on September 9, 2014

  • Some wages rise accordingly: “Scott Walker’s Act 10 leads to a ‘teacher marketplace’ in Wisconsin.” [Ann Althouse]
  • Police/fire psychiatric claims: “Retired NYC cop takes plea in $27M disability-fraud case; ex-prosecutor is a claimed ringleader” [Martha Neil, ABA Journal]
  • “Every Day Turns Out To Be Labor Day For Hapless Taxpayers” [Ira Stoll]
  • In Harris case, high court revolted at notion of government inserting itself into family relations to siphon off money for union’s benefit [Budget and Tax News, PDF, p. 9, and thanks for quote]
  • “Overprotecting public-employee pensions, from the Reason Foundation” [Sasha Volokh] “California Embraces Pension-Spiking Bonanza” [Steven Greenhut]
  • “Sure We Hassled Boy Scouts at the Border, But You Can’t Prove We Pulled a Gun, Says DHS” [J.D. Tuccille]
  • “The results show very little difference at age 60 in the life expectancy of police and fire as compared with other public employees.” [Alicia Munnell via Steven Greenhut] “Los Angeles Police Average Total Compensation $157,151 Per Year” [Ed Ring, Flash Report] More: Soaring public safety costs rack California towns [OC Register]

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Like most courts to consider the issue, the California Supreme Court in a case involving Domino’s Pizza has held that a franchisor generally cannot be held liable for the independently made employment decisions of one of its franchisees. Who would disagree with that commonsense view? Well, the Obama National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), as well as three liberal dissenters on the seven-member California court, who would have left it up to case-by-case jury factual balancing, an arrangement likely to coax settlement offers from risk-averse franchisor defendants. [Daniel Fisher, Forbes, also; Shaw Valenza; Fox Rothschild; Gordon Rees; related, Epoch Times last week quoting me; earlier here, here, and here]

Aaron Schepler, Quarles & Brady;

In the supreme court’s view, the fact that Domino’s exercised extensive control over the manner in which the franchisee operates its business was merely a way to ensure the uniformity of the customer experience at its franchised outlets. As the court explained, this uniformity actually benefits both parties to the franchise relationship because “chain-wide variations … can affect product quality, customer service, trade name, business methods, public reputation, and commercial image” and, thus, the value of the brand. And because “comprehensive operating system[s]” are present in nearly every franchise relationship, those systems standing alone could not reasonably “constitute[] the ‘control’ needed to support vicarious liability claims like those raised here.”

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An insurance fraud tip

by Walter Olson on September 8, 2014

Before you file a claim of amputation of all four of your limbs, be aware that such a claim is checkable [Insurance Journal; South Carolina] (& welcome Lowering the Bar readers).

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on September 8, 2014

  • California may lead in number of arrested lawmaker scandals but jealous New York vows to catch up [NYDN]
  • Will voters in hotly contested Massachusetts primary remember Martha Coakley’s central role in the Amirault travesty of justice?
  • “State of unions: Illinois’ big unionized workforce has become a big campaign issue” [Peoria Journal Star] Teachers’ union top priority: unseat GOP governors [Politico]
  • In which I’m quoted saying relatively favorable things about left-leaning New York gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout (though “enjoyed interacting with” is a long way from “would consider voting for”) [Capital New York]
  • Meet the trial-lawyer-driven group behind the Rick Perry indictment [Texas Tribune; more of what's up in Texas]
  • Senate incumbents Reid, Pryor, and Durbin and hopeful Bruce Braley among recipients of asbestos law firm money [MCR, Legal NewsLine] Key trial lawyer ally Durbin has slipped in polls [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Montana Democrats’ candidate for U.S. Senate looking a little Wobbly [Lachlan Markay, Free Beacon; A. Barton Hinkle, Richmond Times-Dispatch; #wobblydem]

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A criminal defendant’s road to lenience? Not if Judge Jeffrey Lanphear has a say about it [Providence Journal]

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“If you say anything remotely critical about the Ecuadorian government, you may face a copyright takedown,” wrote Maira Sutton at EFF in May. A Spanish firm that represents the government of Ecuador, Ares Rights, has sent out many such takedown demands, related to media accounts of surveillance, corruption, and the country’s Lago Agrio legal dispute with Chevron. More recently, following growing scrutiny of its own activities, Ares Rights has aimed takedown demands citing supposed copyright infringement against its own critics, including Adam Steinbaugh. Details: Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Ken at Popehat. It has also represented the government of Argentina.

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“Net neutrality” sounds nice, fair, workable, and so forth, and has been eloquently backed by Google. Reason enough, then, to break with the “Hands Off the Net” policy under which the internet has flourished? Lest we forget: lines of business reduced to public utility status tend to stagnate [David Boaz, Cato]

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