Open link thread

by Walter Olson on October 17, 2014

We haven’t had one of these for a long time. Feel free to nominate links to stories that might interest our readers.

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Why I don’t want tenure

by Walter Olson on October 17, 2014

Lawprof Kyle Graham explains. Reaction: Orin Kerr, PrawfsBlawg, and commenters.

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From the United Kingdom [Camilla Swift, The Spectator]:

Police this week were granted the authority to carry out random, unannounced checks at the home of anyone who has a gun license. Why? They claim that shooters may be ‘vulnerable to criminal or terrorist groups’ and this is the way to tackle the ‘problem’. The new Home Office guidance assures us this won’t occur ‘at an unsocial hour unless there is a justified and specific requirement to do so.’ Some get-out clause.

More: CPSA. Perhaps, in our American Bill of Rights, there is more of a connection between the Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment than is at first apparent.

And: “Watervliet, NY Asks Pistol Permit Applicants for Facebook Passwords. Or Not.” [Robert Farago, The Truth About Guns]

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Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told a district court that it should not have to reveal its own policies regarding criminal background checks because that information is not relevant to the discrimination cases it files against private companies.

Background from Jon Hyman, Ohio Employer’s Law Blog:

This argument [advanced by automaker BMW, whose policies the EEOC is challenging] is not novel. At least two other federal courts have compelled the EEOC to turn over similar information in similar cases (here and here). The words of one of those courts is particularly instructive:

If Plaintiff uses hiring practices similar to those used by Defendant, this fact may show the appropriateness of those practices, particularly because Plaintiff is the agency fighting unfair hiring practices.… Further, Defendant is not required to accept Plaintiff’s position in its briefs that the two entities’ practices are dissimilar – Defendant is entitled to discovery on this issue as it relates to Defendant’s defense.

Intellectual dishonesty is offensive. If the EEOC has policies that screen-out certain felons, then the EEOC should not publish enforcement guidance that limits this practice, and should not pursue litigation that challenges this practice.

And a Sept. 17 House subcommittee hearing on EEOC adventurism, reported at Employee Screen, includes this on possible reforms:

Proposed legislation discussed at the hearing included H.R. 4959, the “EEOC Transparency and Accountability Act”, which would require the EEOC to maintain up-to-date information on its website regarding charges and actions brought by the EEOC; H.R. 5422, “Litigation Oversight Act of 2014”, which would require the EEOC to approve by a majority vote to begin or intervene in litigation involving multiple plaintiffs or systemic discrimination; and H.R. 5423, “Certainty in Enforcement Act of 2014”, which would protect employers from EEOC action in cases that specifically involve criminal background checks required by state or local law. …

[The subcommittee chair, Michigan Republican Rep. Tim] Walberg noted that 19 stakeholders representing a wide variety of constituents signed a letter supporting all three bills, which included the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), SHRM, and other professional, healthcare, retail and food service organizations.

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Massively overbroad discovery demands are among the most common abuses in civil litigation, and it’s hard to get judges or policymakers to take seriously the harm they do. But the City of Houston, represented by litigators at Susman Godfrey, may have tested the limits when it responded to a lawsuit against the city by a church-allied group by subpoenaing the pastors’ sermons along with all their other communications. [KTRK, Houston Chronicle; text of subpoena request; motion to quash] The city has already backed off in part, saying it will narrow the demands to focus on the issue of whether the plaintiffs were aware of petition procedures. [Jacob Gershman, WSJ]

Eugene Volokh has a useful analysis (more) of how churches, like reporters, do have some additional First Amendment protections against being asked to disclose just anything. But a way to protect litigants and third parties more systemically would be to narrow the scope of discovery generally (e.g. to information relevant to the actual claims and defenses in the suit) and shift more burdens of cost and proof to the demanders’ side.

I hope the city is shamed into calling off the fishing expedition entirely. That having been said, I find it fascinating that so much of the coverage in the conservative press downplays or omits the fact of the ongoing litigation (Todd Starnes buries it in paragraph 8, and Ted Cruz’s statement never even mentions it) thus leaving many readers with the impression that the city is using police or administrative powers to demand the information, which would pose an entirely different set of challenges for public liberty.

[Title updated 9 a.m.]

P.S.: This contentious courtroom dispute may previously have featured troublingly broad discovery demands from the other side, if one accepts as valid the comments of “Mike in Houston” at Stephen Miller’s post: “there’s no mention of the subpoenas coming from the anti-HERO side that have targeted a whole range of city employees, private citizens, nonprofits and pastors who spoke out in favor of the ordinance (and assisted with the pro-HERO organization efforts.)” Yet more: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches (various liberals, moderates, church-state separationists, and pro-LGBT figures critical of requests’ overbreadth).

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This is big:

As members of the faculty of Harvard Law School, we write to voice our strong objections to the Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures imposed by the central university administration…

Amid the clamor to provide fuller remedies to complainants who file sexual assault and harassment charges, the university is preparing to trample the interests of others:

Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.

Among the problems: overly broad definitions of misconduct in situations like that of mutual incapacitation by alcohol, and procedures that deny “any adequate opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses and present a defense at an adversary hearing.”

Had Harvard arrived at these rules as a result of purely internal deliberations, it would be one thing. But in practice it’s yielding to strong-arm pressure from the combined efforts of the Obama Department of Justice and Education Department Office for Civil Rights (for more details, see my article for Commentary last year.)  Like hundreds of other colleges and universities over the past year, Harvard responded to this pressure by meekly folding its hand:

The university’s sexual harassment policy departs dramatically from [existing] legal principles, jettisoning balance and fairness in the rush to appease certain federal administrative officials.

We recognize that large amounts of federal funding may ultimately be at stake. But Harvard University is positioned as well as any academic institution in the country to stand up for principle in the face of funding threats.

It’s especially gratifying to see that the letter’s 28 signers include prominent scholars associated over the years variously with feminist, liberal, and left-leaning causes, such as Nancy Gertner, Charles Ogletree, Charles Nesson, Janet Halley, and Elizabeth Bartholet, along with perhaps more expected names like longtime contrarian Alan Dershowitz. A turning point? Let’s hope so. The letter is here (h/t Eugene Volokh; & further Boston Globe coverage). [cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

Also: “the danger of holding an innocent person responsible is real.” [Judith Shulevitz, New Republic, quoting Prof. Halley]

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on October 16, 2014

  • More on effort to blame federal budget cuts for Ebola [Chris Edwards chart at Cato; Nick Gillespie, Reason; Michael Tanner, earlier] How Firestone, rare multinational firm with a large presence in Liberia, fought the disease [NPR] More: Heck of a job, Nicole: administration already has Ebola czar [Mollie Hemingway]
  • Train wreck postponed: “Administration Delays Home-Care Worker Minimum-Wage, Overtime Protections” [Kaiser Health News, earlier here, here, etc.; California will not delay]
  • “Should it be OK to fire employee for using medical marijuana?” [Debra Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle/syndicated, and thanks for quote; Jacob Sullum on Colorado "any lawful activity" statute]
  • Venture capital interest dwindles in cardiac and orthopedic medical device sectors amid concerns over regulatory hassle, tax, reimbursement problems [WSJ (also Avalon), Arnold Kling]
  • Billing code for “repeat doctor visit after being sucked into jet engine” probably little-used [Lowering the Bar, and surprise sequel]
  • British ambulance workers’ strike will hit scheduled patient visits rather than emergencies, so that’s okay [BBC]
  • Does Takings Clause, in combination with unconstitutional-conditions doctrine, require feds to compensate hospitals for EMTALA emergency-treatment mandate? [Haavi Morreim, Regulation, PDF] EMTALA, disability discrimination, and claimed “dumping” of psychiatric patients [Alison Somin on Gail Heriot dissent]

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Apparently they’re associated with one death a year and that’s a risk we mustn’t be allowed to take [The Hill]

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It didn’t work in the case recounted here, but it’s something lawyer-bloggers must worry about [Jim Dedman, Abnormal Use] (& Timothy Sandefur with stories from his own practice)

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From James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” Wall Street Journal column, under his recurring “Two Papers in One!” series:

  • “Buried in the fine print of most contracts for cellphones, health insurance and credit cards is a clause requiring that all disputes be decided by binding arbitration, rather than a court. Businesses love these provisions, because arbitrators act quickly and almost always rule in their favor, and many employers are requiring new hires to sign similar agreements. All of this sounds pretty unfair, but apparently not unfair enough for the Supreme Court, which has now made the arbitration process even more onerous.” — editorial, New York Times, June 27, 2010
  • “In lieu of litigation and jury trials, each of which is expressly waived, any dispute concerning, relating or referring to this Participation Agreement, the brochure, or any other literature concerning your trip or the Tour shall be resolved exclusively by binding arbitration in New York City, New York, according to the then existing commercial rules of the American Arbitration Association. Such proceeding will be governed by the substantive law of the State of New York. The arbitrator(s) and not any federal, state, or local court or agency shall have exclusive authority to resolve any dispute relating to the interpretation, applicability, enforceability, conscionability, or formation of this Participant Agreement, including but not limited to any claim that all or any part of this Participant Agreement is void or voidable.” — Times Journeys Terms and Conditions, NYTimes.com, 2014

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  • Six L.A. County sheriff workers get prison for obstructing jail probe [L.A. Times, earlier]
  • More thoughts on pros and cons of police cameras [Howard Wasserman/Prawfs, Scott Greenfield]
  • Equal time: Heather Mac Donald’s perspective on Ferguson, policing, and race food for thought even if different from ours [City Journal; our earlier coverage of Ferguson]
  • “15-year mandatory minimum federal sentence for possessing shotgun shells (no shotgun) almost 20 years after past felonies” [Volokh]
  • How much criminal culpability for battered women when their violent partners harm children? [BuzzFeed]
  • If Stephen Colbert broke NYC’s wacky knife law on the air, all the more reason to reform it [Village Voice (link fixed now), earlier]
  • Details of additional charges in billion-dollar Department of Justice case against FedEx for not policing contents of its packages [WSJ, earlier]

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The ballistic pumpkin-launching event, featured on the Discovery Channel, and “held for years on a succession of rural Sussex County farm fields, was to have moved to the same grounds that host Firefly this year. After a volunteer filed a personal injury lawsuit in 2013 over an ATV accident at the 2011 Chunk, the farmer hosting it in Sussex County said he wouldn’t let it return to his property.” Organizers have now resigned themselves to skipping 2014, and hope to hold the event in Dover next year. [Wilmington News-Journal]

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Paging the Brennan Center and Justice at Stake! “The law firm that profited the most from insurance suits in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike is sending hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign fund of the former judge who presided over the lion’s share of the litigation.” Houston plaintiff’s attorney Steve Mostyn and his wife Amber have vaulted into the ranks of some of the nation’s top political donors lately. [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine; earlier on Mostyn]

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Supreme Court roundup

by Walter Olson on October 14, 2014

  • Sorry, National Review, but the marriage rulings are really nothing at all like Dred Scott [my new piece at The Daily Beast] Or Roe v. Wade either [Dale Carpenter, Ilya Shapiro, Charles Lane]
  • Ninth Circuit won’t get the message about not expropriating raisin farmers and it’s time for the Court to remind it again [also Ilya Shapiro, earlier]
  • Private businesses, even those that are quasi-public like Amtrak, shouldn’t be delegated the right to regulate their competitors [Ilya Shapiro yet a third time]
  • “Supreme Court takes case on duration of traffic stops” [Orin Kerr, Rodriguez v. United States]
  • Housing disparate impact theory, dodged by administration last time around, returns to Court [Bloomberg, Daniel Fisher; Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project; earlier]
  • Noteworthy feature of just-argued wage-and-hour case is that Obama Department of Labor is taking the employer side [Denniston, SCOTUSBlog; Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk]
  • “Supreme Court to hear case on right of Maryland to tax out-of-state income” [Ashley Westerman, Capital News Service]
  • Mark your calendar if in D.C.: I’ll be moderating a Nov. 3 talk at Cato by Damon Root about his new book Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court, with commentary from Roger Pilon and Jeffrey Rosen [Reason]

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Readers who followed Overlawyered in 2009-10 will recall that the closest this site has ever come to a crusade was in covering the truly horrible Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, enacted after a media-fed tainted-toy panic, a law that needlessly drove out of business many small retailers and manufacturers of children’s goods posing no hazard whatsoever to consumers. Some will further recall that the chief Senate handler of the legislation was Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), who cut a poor figure throughout as both ill-informed and dismissive about the side effects his own legislation was having.

Now Sen. Pryor is locked in a tight race for re-election with challenger Rep. Tom Cotton, and a group called the Arkansas Project has been reminding readers of Pryor’s record on CPSIA, digging up many new details in an August series written by Washington, D.C.-area policy analyst Marc Kilmer (who generously credits Overlawyered coverage as a source throughout). Most of the series can be found at this tag or via search. Here is a guide to individual installments in the series, supplemented by links to further coverage from our archives:

Arkansas voters — and everyone who wants to learn how a Congress can fail spectacularly at its legislative responsibilities — should read this series in full.

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“I think I can safely say this is a very unusual claim,” said City Clerk Shari Moore, referring to Megan Campbell’s “claim against the city seeking $1,600 to $1,900 from public coffers for damage caused to her personal vehicle by a city worker — herself.” [St. Paul Pioneer-Press; Lowering the Bar]

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And purported reforms in 2012 didn’t help. Connecticut’s is second most expensive. [Insurance Journal]

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