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Department of Justice

Last week the Department of Justice announced a deal with Toyota in which the Japanese automaker would fork over $1.2 billion and place itself under supervision for allegedly not being forthcoming enough with information at the height of the 2009-2010 panic over claims of unintended acceleration in its cars. The acceleration claims themselves had turned out to be almost entirely bogus, and were refuted in a report from the federal government’s own expert agency, NHTSA. Instead, the prosecution relied on a single count of wire fraud: Toyota had supposedly given regulators, Congress and the public an erroneously positive view of its safety efforts. It should therefore have to “forfeit” a huge sum supposedly related to the volume of business it did over a relevant period.

I’ve got an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (unpaywalled Cato version here, related Cato post here) about this whole appalling affair, which should frighten other businesses that might face draconian charges in future not just for compliance infractions, but more broadly for defending their products in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s grandstanding and demagogic press release goes to some lengths to leave the impression “that unintended acceleration is some mysterious phenomenon of auto design unrelated to flooring the accelerator.” Someone here is irresponsibly misleading the motoring public and withholding vital safety information, but it’s not Toyota.

A few related links: NHTSA unintended acceleration report, Car & Driver’s coverage, and my 2010 opinion piece. And Holman Jenkins at the WSJ (paywalled) compares the still-unfolding story of ignition problems at GM, also discussed by Paul Barrett at Business Week.

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It must not have been easy to find an appointee even farther left than the departing Thomas Perez to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, but the search eventuated with apparent success in the Obama Administration’s naming of former NAACP Legal Defense Fund official Debo Adegbile. While his confirmation is a foregone conclusion under the Senate’s new simple-majority Harry Reid rules, Republicans may still make an issue of Adegbile’s backing of the EEOC in its controversial campaign to require employers to hire felons and limit the use of criminal background checks before employment. [Byron York, Washington Examiner] Update: nomination fails narrowly in Senate, opposition driven substantially by nominee’s involvement in public efforts on behalf of convicted Philadelphia cop-killer [Politico]

As we’ve been saying, the Obama Department of Justice has been taking a licking at the Supreme Court, managing to lose some decisions by a 9-0 margin. Damon Root compiles greatest hits and quotes me (thanks) on the Hosanna-Tabor case. [Reason]

Client protection be damned: “Asking would-be lawyers standard questions about their mental health, including their history of diagnosis and treatment, could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.” [ABA Journal]

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If you’ll drop Magner v. Gallagher, your case against us before the Supreme Court, we’ll drop this other big case we’ve filed against you, the Department of Justice told the city of St. Paul, Minnesota. And thus the government averted an embarrassing high court opinion reining in some of its most avant-garde lending-discrimination theories [American Banker, Kevin Funnell/Bank Lawyer's Blog, WSJ, Hans Bader, Ted Frank]

“Delano Regional Medical Center in Kern County defended its English-only policy as necessary for patient care.” Nonetheless, without admitting wrongdoing, it yielded to a complaint from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center that it had improperly penalized Filipino-American workers for communicating with each other in their own language. The suit had alleged, among other things, that the hospital had been more liberal in permitting the use of other languages other than English, and that it had not prevented workers from making fun of accents and expressing ethnically-based hostility. [L.A. Times, ABA Journal]

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