PeakGuardian

“The cup­cake has al­ways been a gentri­fying force … you could get a huge mass of people to par­ti­cipate in a re­ac­tionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cup­cakey im­agery, and per­suaded everyone that the bru­tality of your ideo­logy was in fact a form of nice­ness.” — Tom Whyman for Critical Legal Thinking, Guardian “Comment Is Free”, my Tweet h/t @Ben_McGinnis.

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Ted Frank, who formerly blogged in this space, wrote this which I thought worth passing on:

I hate to see how many on my side who are upset at Obama’s violation of the Rule of Law cheer the Bundys’ criminal contempt of a court order. The Bundys are claiming a right to graze upon federal lands without paying or consent of the landowner on the grounds that the federal government has no sovereignty over Nevada. The US BLM has taken twenty years and multiple court proceedings to kick them out, winning twice in the Ninth Circuit. In response, armed militias showed up this week to defend the Bundys, who have threatened range war. The government has temporarily caved to avoid the possibility of armed confrontation. This really isn’t a close question, and threatens to tar all small-government and Second Amendment supporters.

It has been objected that ownership of vast tracts of the American West by the federal Bureau of Land Management is a very bad idea, might have appalled many Framers and early legislators, and has been advanced into our own era through aggressive policies to curtail the participation of private users. I’m having trouble seeing the relevance of all this, however, to Bundy’s supposed right to defy multiple court orders. The federal government should not be in many different lines of business that it currently is in, but that doesn’t create a right of individual citizens to occupy federal installations for personal economic benefit despite court orders directed against them to the contrary.

Ted also calls our attention to this article by Logan Churchwell and Brandon Darby on the 20-year history of the controversy and the positions advanced by rancher Cliven Bundy to justify contempt of the court orders:

“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” Bundy recently told a radio reporter. “…I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But, I don’t recognize the United States Government as even existing.”

More: A different emphasis from John Hinderaker (arguing for sympathy with Bundy while conceding the meritlessness of his legal position) and Kevin Williamson.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on April 14, 2014

  • “Money spent trying to spread a political message is speech, whether you like the message or not.” [Michael Kinsley on McCutcheon v. FEC, earlier]
  • “Letter: Ken Avidor on Being Silenced By a Defamation Suit” [Romenesko]
  • “Canada’s first Twitter harassment trial has taken a strange twist.” [Christie Blatchford, National Post]
  • In union leader’s defamation suit, Philadelphia court orders anonymous commenter unmasked [CBS Philly]
  • New Jersey ruling letting parents be sued over kids’ Facebook posts will chill speech [Hans Bader/CEI, earlier]
  • More dispatches from Michael Mann-Mark Steyn litigation showdown [Steyn, Charles Cooke] Bonus: Steyn on Andrew Bolt case in Australia and on Nevada protests’ “First Amendment Area” (“The ‘First Amendment Area’ is supposed to be something called ‘the United States’.”)
  • “True-crime author Ann Rule’s suit against Seattle Weekly tossed” [KING]

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Labor and left-wing advocates are staging a concerted push for this measure, which opponents say is particularly burdensome to small business. “Supporters cite their success in gaining the enactment of paid sick day laws in Connecticut and six U.S. cities — the District of Columbia, Jersey City, N.J., New York City, Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Seattle–as proof that the campaign is gaining momentum.” Opponents are fighting back with, among other steps, legislation passed in at least ten states specifying that municipal home rule does not include the authority to enact ordinances of this sort. [Rhonda Smith, Bloomberg BNA]

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Court order muzzles gun advocate after his arrest [ACLU of Missouri]:

To express his opinion that Officer [Jerry] Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, [Jordan] Klaffer posted recordings of the May 1 encounter on YouTube and Facebook. And, on Instagram, he posted a picture of Bledsoe alongside a photo of Saddam Hussein, with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”

Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet. “A government order prohibiting criticism of government is the worst kind of censorship,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

Meanwhile: Virginia state trooper sues police activist in small claims court over his actions and statements following a traffic stop of his car in which she participated, the videos of which wound up on YouTube.

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Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on April 12, 2014

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Marc Fisher reporting in the Washington Post:

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one [Mary] Grice [of Takoma Park, Md.] got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.

The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year — $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department’s debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

No one seems eager to take credit for [the provision]…

While a variety of stale disputes are involved, some of the most controversial involve alleged Social Security overpayments to long-deceased parents that the government says it has a right to reclaim because they contributed or might have contributed to the support of now-grown children. Targets say they are helpless to contest the seizures in many cases because financial records have long since been thrown out, in line with the IRS’s own guidelines which do not encourage the keeping of financial records for decades. State as well as federal refunds can be intercepted, and the taxpayer who wants to argue must sue to get the money back.

A spokeswoman says the feds attempt to contact targets about the claims before attaching refunds, but the Washington Post’s report cites examples in which notice was sent to decades-old post office boxes or addresses, even though both tax and Social Security authorities held current correct addresses for the taxpayer.

Need it be added that many of the methods the government is using would be deemed unlawful if asserted by creditors trying to collect private debts? To name only the most egregious of the problems, children cannot ordinarily be made to pay parents’ debts, even when there is a writing by the parent acknowledging the debt as valid (which will ordinarily be lacking in after-the-fact assertions of overpayment).

It is at most a minor ironic consolation that taxpayers are likely to react to these outrageous tactic by scaling back hard on the widespread practice of voluntary over-withholding, reasoning that it is unsafe to build up a big refund if authorities can snatch it away for unpredictable reasons with little hope of recourse.

P.S. More from J.D. Tuccille, Reason.

Update: Victory! Social Security Administration announces Apr. 14 that it’s suspending collection of debts older than 10 years (& welcome Andrew Sullivan readers).

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“United Nations agencies are not constrained by the First Amendment,” which means the impending change is not happy news for the cause of free speech, notes Patrick at Popehat. More: The Economist.

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News of criminal babies

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

Nine-month-old infant fingerprinted after being charged with assault and attempted murder in Pakistan [Lowering the Bar, BBC]

Follow-up: baby gets off on technicality. @DavidBCohen1 on Twitter: “This sends a bad message to violent babies.”

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“…whether you want one or not.” [Zenon Evans, Reason, earlier here and here] Congress mandated in 2007 via the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act — remember, laws named after victims are usually bad laws — that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, develop rules mandating such cameras in order to reduce the rate at which drivers backing up inadvertently run over persons behind them, sometimes their own infant family members. It delayed doing so, in part, because of the regulation’s exceedingly high cost — $2.7 billion by one estimate — and because the estimated ratio of lives saved to costs inflicted fell well below the agency’s own standardized threshold for action. Still, the text of the law forced its hand.

My Cato colleague Peter Van Doren, editor of Regulation, notes that “in this case, NHTSA was responding to its own analysis that determined (p. 143) that driver error is the major determinant of the effectiveness of backup assist technologies including cameras.” Former regulatory oversight director Cass Sunstein, at Bloomberg View, offers a view somewhat more sympathetic toward the regulation.

By making cars materially more expensive, the rule will make it harder for many poorer households without cars to graduate to car ownership. A new Urban Institute study by Rolf Pendall, Evelyn Blumenberg, and Casey Dawkins tends to reinforce the intuitively plausible notion that wage earners who succeed in acquiring cars have significantly better chances of making economic progress:

Housing voucher recipients with cars tended to live and remain in higher-opportunity neighborhoods — places with lower poverty rates, higher social status, stronger housing markets, and lower health risks. Cars are also associated with improved neighborhood satisfaction and better employment outcomes. Among Moving to Opportunity families, those with cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain employed.

Since poverty takes a toll in health and life expectancy, safety-enhancing mandates that drive up the price of cars have negative as well as positive health impacts.

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

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Courts rebuff EEOC again

by Walter Olson on April 10, 2014

I’ve got a new post up at Cato (“Sixth Circuit: You’re Drunk, EEOC, Go Home“) on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s spectacular loss yesterday at the Sixth Circuit in the Kaplan case. As I comment, the victory for the defendant is

all the more impressive because one of the three judges on the opinion is liberal lion Damon Keith, about as sympathetic a judicial ear as the EEOC could normally hope for. It’s a sharp setback for the agency’s dubious “disparate impact” campaign against employer use of credit and criminal records in hiring. And it’s also part of a pattern of rebuffs and defeats the EEOC has been dealt by judges across the country since President Obama turned the agency on a sharp leftward course with his appointments.

The Sixth Circuit has actually been one of the EEOC’s better circuits in recent years. For example, it reversed a Michigan federal judge who in 2011 had awarded $2.6 million in attorneys’ fees to Cintas, the employee-uniform company, and reinstated the lawsuit. In doing so, the appellate panel nullified what had been the lower court’s findings of “egregious and unreasonable conduct” by the agency, including a “reckless sue first, ask questions later strategy.” The commission hailed the reversal as one of its big legal wins — although when one of your big boasts is getting $2.6 million in sanctions against you thrown out, it might be that you don’t have much to brag about.

For some other recent EEOC courtroom setbacks, check our roundup of last month. If you wonder why the commission persists in its extreme aggressiveness anyway, one answer may be that the strategy works: most defendants settle, and the commission hauled in a record $372 million in settlements last year. Yet here and there, as with Kaplan, defendants decide to put up a fight, with instructive results. When will Congress begin to hold the commission accountable? More: Hans Bader, CEI.

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Incumbent firms “have an army of lawyers” and aren’t afraid to use them [Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica]

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The internet has lit up with the story of the 20-year-old, 92-lb. history major who says she’s been battling the Yale administration over its pressure on her to eat more. [New Haven Register]. Although much of the press coverage seems unaware of the issue, it would not be surprising if changing legal pressures on universities played a role here. Efforts both regulatory and liability-driven have been under way to hold universities accountable for not preventing student suicides, and as a result, many campuses have seen a shift toward more interventionist, rules-driven policies designed to show that the institution was not standing idly by when it knew or had reason to know of early signs of self-harm. (Our file on the topic goes back a decade.) If the list of self-harm behaviors includes eating disorders, you might have a formula for interventions in which very skinny students are placed under pressure to prove they are not anorexic. Evaluating cases like the current one, of course, is difficult for outsiders because of HIPAA and other privacy laws which broadly prohibit the sharing of health-related information, even on topics of public concern.

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“Families with autistic children have sued Walt Disney Co., alleging the company does not provide adequate access to theme park visitors with autism who have difficulty waiting in long lines for rides.” [Reuters/Chicago Tribune]

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When is it considered a success to generate more complaints against one’s own organization? When you’re a newly assembled Title IX team, in this case installed at the University of North Carolina following pressure from federal regulators and students. [Harry Painter, Pope Center] Our previous coverage of the Department of Education/Department of Justice “blueprint” on campus harassment and sexual misconduct allegations is here.

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An attorney dad in Dallas “says a group of coaches coerced wealthy parents to pay thousands of dollars for their sons to play lacrosse”; his own son’s varsity involvement, however, proved a disappointment. His suit invokes the federal RICO (racketeering) statute. [KDFW]

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It’s a step toward consumer-friendliness from the standpoint of many of Germany’s trading partners, and could increase the allure of German courts as venues of choice in international business disputes [James Maxeiner, Common Good] http://www.commongood.org/blog/entry/customer-friendly-courts

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