I’ve got a new post at Cato about the latest federal court smackdown of overreaching enforcement by the Obama administration, this time in a Department of Labor prosecution regarding a Texas company’s wage-and-hour classification. I mention some greatest hits of the past couple of years reversing DoL, the EEOC, the EPA and other agencies, and suggest that a useful step might be for regulated businesses to contest unreasonable cases more often rather than, as is so often the norm now, paying to get them over with.
Here comes a more regimented, polarized, lawsuit-ridden workplace with less upward mobility — at least if the President gets his way. I deplore some of the likely effects, unintended or otherwise, in a new Cato post: “Increasingly, Obama’s binge of executive orders and unilateral decrees to bypass Congress is coming to resemble a toddler’s destructive tantrum.” More: Daniel Schwartz, Daniel Fisher. Our wage and hour law category has more than 80 posts.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal statute that imposes the minimum wage along with other intrusions into what ought to be matters of contract between the parties.There is no real constitutional authority for the federal government to dictate the terms of labor contracts. During the New Deal, Congress relied upon the notion that if anything might have any possible effect on interstate commerce, then it’s fair game for federal control. That idea stretches the concept of interstate commerce far beyond its intended meaning.
It’s coming as part of ObamaCare (earlier here and here) and it might wind up restricting consumer choice [AP]:
The rules will apply to about 10,800 companies that operate 20 or more machines. Nearly three quarters of those companies have three or fewer employees, and their profit margin is extremely low, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association. …
Some companies may use electronic displays to post calorie counts while others may opt for signs stuck to the machines.
Carol Brennan, who owns Brennan Food Vending Services in Londonderry, [N.H.,] said she doesn’t yet know how she will handle the regulations, but she doesn’t like them. She has five employees servicing hundreds of machines and says she’ll be forced to limit the items offered so her employees don’t spend too much time updating the calorie counts.
In my experience, vending machines shuffle their offerings fairly frequently. If the machine operators have to change the calorie information displayed every time they swap potato chips for corn chips, then $2,200 [per operator per year] seems like a conservative estimate of costs. But then, as Hillary Clinton said when it was suggested that her own health care plan would bankrupt small businesses, “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”
Half of them arise from the White House’s ongoing effort to rewrite the terms of ObamaCare on the fly without actually going back to ask Congress to change the law. [Ilya Shapiro, Forbes]
Incidentally, the Executive Branch’s claim of power to suspend various provisions of the ObamaCare law at its whim stands on quite a different and weaker footing, constitutionally, from the well-established tradition of prosecutorial discretion (or the even more well-established power to pardon individual violators). In requiring the president to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, the Constitution’s Take Care clause necessarily implies that not all aspects of law enforcement can be suspended at executive whim, and discretion is necessarily narrower when it comes to the enforcement of statutes creating general civil schemes of private rights and regulation than it is in the realm of criminal enforcement, which necessarily labors under a scarcity of investigative and correctional resources. English kings like James II long asserted a “dispensing power” to suspend the operation of otherwise applicable laws at the royal will, but civil libertarians fought for centuries (and with much success) to cabin and curtail that power. Zachary Price of Hastings recounts some of this history, as well as contemporary readings of the Take Care clause, in a new article that is getting a lot ofattention.
While on the topic: ObamaCare’s corporatism is sacrificing both the rule of law and transparency, argues Mickey Kaus [first, second] The program’s atomistic individualism [David Boaz] And Megan McArdle on the Administration’s “willingness to take large risks with the program’s stability” by altering rules.
I’ve got a new op-ed for Bloomberg View (first time I’ve appeared there) calling last week’s venture in presidential clemency “mingy and belated” and, if aimed at prison overcrowding, “like trying to bail out Lake Michigan with a paint can.” On Thursday President Obama commuted the sentences of eight inmates caught up in the crack cocaine sentencing fury, all of whom had already served at least 15 years for what were often relatively peripheral involvement in the drug trade. Clarence Aaron, for example, was serving three life sentences without possibility of parole for a first-time nonviolent offense. Many advocates from all political viewpoints pushed for Aaron’s release, among them Debra Saunders who wrote dozens of columns on his case in the San Francisco Chronicle over the past 12 years (Also inMinneapolis Star-Tribune and other papers, and AP roundup of opinion columns; &Scott Greenfield, Pardon Power).
“Old crisis creates new leviathan” [Barton Hinkle] Some other things that maybe should happen before Snowden gets prosecuted [Bruce Schneier] “Were they here, my parents might have asked, ‘What happened to America?’” [Nat Hentoff]
Candidate Obama, meet President Obama; on surveillance, you’ll find you have little in common [graphic courtesy Caleb Brown, Cato at Liberty] Don’t say the president wants to be trusted with complete discretion unfettered by the other branches of government; that’s his assassination program, not his surveillance program [Jacob Sullum]
A different view: two leading libertarian legal thinkers, Roger Pilon and Richard Epstein, defend the NSA surveillance program [Chicago Tribune]
What would it take to bring back a Watergate-era spirit of reform? [Jesse Walker]
“As the NSA has made all too clear, unless we update our concept of the Fourth Amendment to fit the realities of the Internet Age, those general warrants [despised by colonists] will be back — on a far larger scale, and in secret.” [Julian Sanchez]
Feds: states must impose extensive disability-rights regime — including obligations to accept students with difficult accommodation needs — on private/religious schools participating in voucher programs [Bagenstos, Disability Law; Ramesh Ponnuru (noting that loading new regulatory burdens onto private and religious schools may not be displeasing to school choice opponents in the administration)] NYC’s famous selective/performance schools obliged to take special ed kids who can’t meet standard entrance or audition requirements [Inside Schools]
Volunteer-led school band survives shutdown attempt by Oregon teachers’ union [Katherine Mangu-Ward]
Chicago: “Teachers union plans to file civil rights suits to stop school closings” [Chicago Tribune]
Newly passed Minnesota “anti-bullying” law will expand state control over local schools [Pioneer Press] Court proceedings over alleged taunting and insults proliferate under New Jersey’s law [Star-Ledger via Reason]
“Graduates, your ambition is the problem” [Roger Pilon on the president's Ohio State commencement address]
His latest. The Reason editor-in-chief has consistently focused on the Benghazi angle that should most concern libertarians, namely the Administration’s scapegoating of speech (I think I’ll go ahead and coin the term “speech-goating.”) Here he focuses on a David Brooks column seemingly intended as a defense of the process that led to the famed Benghazi talking points, but which winds up putting them in a bad light indeed:
…in the absence of a clear narrative, the talking points gravitated toward the least politically problematic story, blaming the anti-Muslim video and the Cairo demonstrations.
Why was it deemed “the least politically problematic” course to spread an untruth, already widely known to be such by many senior officials, that sought to focus public and world anger on private speech, and by implication on our First Amendment protection of free speech about religion?
One should note carefully Ken White’s powerful argument at Popehat that the arrest of filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula wasn’t in fact legally irregular because Nakoula had clearly violated the terms of his supervised release and revocation of his release was par for the course under the circumstances.
Even so, the questions remain. The Administration sent Susan Rice out to five talk shows on the weekend of the attacks, where she pressed the line that outrage about the video fueled the attack. Brooks makes the case that interagency rivalries and secrecy got in the way of telling a fuller story. Maybe so. But why should American free speech be left as the “least politically problematic” thing to blame after a terrorist attack?
Ilya Shapiro and Hans Bader make the case against Obama pick Thomas Perez. Senate Democrats have postponed a committee vote on Perez to May 8 “after Republicans threatened to use a separate hearing to criticize his handling of a whistleblower case.” [HuffPo]
“Who killed gun control?” [David Boaz] Democratic senators from rural states are in touch with public opinion back home. Is that actually sinister? [Jennifer Rubin]
Failed bill applied tough regulations to gun “transfers,” not just sales, and the difference was often not well explained in the press [Kopel via Lynch] The un-empirical debate [Sowell via Lynch]
We’re informed the late Margaret Thatcher was “divisive” in tone. What are we to think of Pres. Obama’s tone on gun bills? [Jacob Sullum; similarly]
Hometown paper: “As lead sponsor in House on gun legislation, Rep. Diana DeGette appears to not understand how they work” [Denver Post, followup in which DeGette digs in deeper]
Argument that making insurance obligatory for gun owners would generate insurer records documenting who owns guns, to which government might in due course demand access [Tom Blumer; related, Alex Pappas/Daily Caller; earlier here, here, here]
The president has some opinions on the subject [TechDirt]:
Obama: A couple years ago we began a process of patent reform. We actually passed some legislation that made progress on some of these issues. But it hasn’t captured all the problems.
The folks that you’re talking about are a classic example. They don’t actually produce anything themselves. They’re just trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them. Sometimes these things are challenging. Because we also want to make sure that patents are long enough, and that people’s intellectual property is protected. We’ve got to balance that with making sure that they’re not so long that innovation is reduced.
But I do think that our efforts at patent reform only went about halfway to where we need to go. What we need to do is pull together additional stakeholders and see if we can build some additional consensus on smarter patent laws.
Further: “Senate Judiciary Committee Hears from Cato on Gun Policy” [Ilya Shapiro, citing contributions by David Kopel, Randy Barnett, etc.] And while Bing’s real-time reaction tracker isn’t a scientific voter survey (though the sample size is large, and there’s a partisan breakdown) it seems I was not alone in being put off by President Obama’s demagogic “they deserve a vote” State of the Union wind-up on gun control. [Mediaite]
And here’s Cato’s response video with scholars Michael Tanner, Julian Sanchez, Alex Nowrasteh, Simon Lester, John Samples, Pat Michaels, Jagadeesh Gokhale, Michael F. Cannon, Jim Harper, Malou Innocent, Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus and Neal McCluskey.
Get your copy today!My new book tackles the question of why so many bad ideas come from the law schools. "Cutting-edge commentary, hard-hitting, witty, astute." -- Publisher's Weekly. "Excellent... A fine dissection of these strangely powerful institutions" -- Wall Street Journal.