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John McCain

Arizona Sen. John McCain is under fire for asserting on the Bill O’Reilly show that “the drivers of cars with illegals in it … are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway.” It would be natural to assume he was referring to the well-established “swoop-and-squat” racket described repeatedly in these columns — here, for instance. You might think illegal aliens would avoid these scams for fear of deportation, but you would be wrong: they are well represented among the participants.

I hold no brief for McCain, and I doubt very much that the workings of this particular criminal subculture should figure among the top twenty policy considerations in deciding how best to handle illegal immigration. And if a Senate spokeswoman is to be credited, McCain may actually had in mind the phenomenon of high-speed police chases — though it is far from clear why those crashes would ordinarily count as intentional. But blogger incredulity about the idea that car crashes can ever be intentional seems misplaced.

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prettysoon2

Not long ago the U.S. Senate refused to accept an amendment to the stimulus bill by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that would have reformed some CPSIA provisions and delayed the implementation of others. Last night it rejected a similar DeMint effort in the form of a budget amendment, and this time there was a roll call, which confirmed that the rejection was largely along party lines: every Democrat voted against the measure except for Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Ben Nelson (Neb.), while every Republican voted in favor except Susan Collins (Maine), John Cornyn (Tex.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Mel Martinez (Fla.), and John McCain (Ariz.). Independent Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted against, while Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) did not vote.

Following Wednesday’s rally on Capitol Hill, small business people who fanned out to visit their Senators brought back many encouraging-sounding stories of the favorable “We hear you!” “We get it!” reactions they had received visiting the offices of Democratic Senators like Roland Burris (Ill.), Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), and Charles Schumer (N.Y.). Whether or not anyone in those offices hears or gets the outcry, it sounds as if the members even more clearly hear and get a different message: that of party discipline.

Kimberly Payne feels oddly hopeful: “The original vote on the CPSIA was nearly unanimous – this one was 39-58. I call that progress!”

The WSJ editorializes on the law again today, its third, concentrating this time on the youth motorcycle/ATV ban. More: Montana senators fiddle while small businesses perish (Mark Riffey, Flathead Beacon); the rally and the Democrats (Rick Woldenberg).

Public domain image: Yankee Mother Goose (1902), illustrator Ella S. Brison, courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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Both sides claim victory in the defamation action, which arose from insinuations the paper made about the lobbyist’s close ties to Arizona Sen. John McCain. [Calderone/Politico, earlier]

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There’s plenty that can be said in criticism of the NYT’s campaign-season piece insinuating that the lobbyist was personally too close to Republican candidate John McCain. But did it really do her reputation $27 million in damage? (Blodget, AlleyInsider). Update Feb. 19: parties settle.

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Microblog 2008-11-02

by Walter Olson on November 2, 2008

  • Leading California conservative blogger explains why he’s voting no on 8 [Patterico] #
  • A text message arrives on your cellphone while you’re at a polling place. Illegal “electioneering”? [Doherty, Reason "Hit and Run"] #
  • Humorless academic denounces bawdy un-PC hit comedy Little Britain [Feral Child] #
  • Agree or disagree, it’s hard to find a more eloquent McCain endorsement than David Frum’s [NRO] #
  • Audio of Ted’s talk at U. Chicago [Federalist Society chapter]

Microblog 2008-10-22

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2008

  • McCain hoist on his own campaign regulation petard [WSJ edit] #
  • Conservatives should hold a retreat to talk about why they’re being sent to the wilderness [Friedersdorf/Culture11] #
  • Disability activism and “anti-national sexual positions”: just another day in postmodern academia [Massie] #
  • Unionism on steroids: Employee Free Choice Act would be Thatcherism in reverse [Claire Berlinski, City Journal] #
  • Here’s a twist: a politician walking over his ambition to reach his grandmother #

[Note: see important update/P.S. at end].

As you may recall, I wrote a piece last week for City Journal taking issue with various calls around the liberal blogosphere for having the McCain-Palin campaign investigated or even prosecuted for supposed incitement to violence against its opponents (a charge for which credible evidence appears severely lacking in the first place). Along the way, I criticized a Concurring Opinions post by University of South Carolina associate professor Susan Kuo in which Kuo first endorsed the charge that the Republicans were engaged in “character assassination” and “peddling fear, hate, and outrage to an audience that appears highly susceptible to this message” and then helpfully laid out potential theories under which criminal liability might be assigned to inflammatory campaign speech of such a sort. I said I found it bizarre that Kuo entirely omitted mention of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and went on to cite a relatively recent (1982) case in which a unanimous Court had cited the First Amendment as protecting even fairly extreme language of incitement which was soon thereafter followed by actual violence. These circumstances, I concluded, virtually ensure that no American court would countenance a prosecution of McCain, Palin, or their campaign staffs for incitement on current evidence absent a rapid and spectacular change in Constitutional jurisprudence from its present stance.

Now Professor Kuo has responded in a new post at Concurring Opinions by calling me names. She writes that it was predictable that “the Thought Police” — she links that phrase to my piece — would quickly emerge to “chastise” her “for committing crimethink”.

Before turning to this amazing charge and unpacking its heavy freight of irony, let’s dispose briefly of a couple of Kuo’s incidental points. First, she claims I champion the idea that “the mere existence of the First Amendment invalidates the notion of criminal liability for political speech”. In fact, as even a hurried reading of my post should have revealed, I made just the opposite point: I noted that there are some circumstances (such as, but not necessarily limited to, intent to incite violence combined with co-ordination with those who commit the bad acts) where notwithstanding the Amendment political speech can cross a line into crime. I also noted that reasonable minds could differ about whether the Supreme Court drew the line on incitement in the right place in its 1982 case. In short, Kuo attributes to me an extreme position of her own invention.

Kuo also suggests that her post merely laid out a hypothetical (or “thought experiment”) about what the law might do as opposed to prescribing what it should do. I have no problem with hypotheticals and have been known to use them myself, recognizing that they can be (though I don’t think they were in this case) a bracingly non-normative device in which the actual prescriptive views of the narrator are irrelevant or impossible to discern. I simply think this hypothetical was rendered both bizarre and misleading by its omission of the First Amendment, by which the courts of this land have greatly curtailed the scope of criminal liability for incitement.

Now back to the question of who should get tagged with the dismissive Orwell-invoking cliche “Thought Police”. Let’s review the bidding. Sarah Palin and GOP surrogates stir up controversy by using blunt and divisive language to question Barack Obama’s judgment in the Bill Ayers matter. Voices around the liberal blogosphere then call for Palin & Co. to be criminally investigated and even prosecuted for riding this campaign issue too hard. Kuo, entering the debate, does not call these bloggers and Huffington Post writers “Thought Police” for suggesting that speech that offends them be subject to legal sanction, but instead conveys their views uncritically if not sympathetically. She then takes up her hypothetical of possible enforcement action against McPalin, outlining theories under which prosecutors might bring such charges and judges might agree to impose punishment, but does not label these hypothetical prosecutors or judges “Thought Police” for punishing the impassioned expression of political opinion. No, the only time the Thought Police make an entrance at all is after the fact, when someone presumes to criticize her. Only then does she detect, with fearful intake of breath, the sound of the hobnailed boots ascending the stairs. And it turns out to be that scary libertarian bogeyman, me!

I suppose I should take offense, but I haven’t managed to get past the comic aspect (& Ambrogi, Legal Blog Watch).

Important P.S.: I heard from Prof. Kuo herself this afternoon and we had a talk that was pleasant and in no way confrontational. She said her second post, to which this one responds, was dashed off in a spirit of light-hearted banter and that the last thing she meant was to call names or give insult. Obviously, it came across differently to me, and I reacted as one might to a seriously meant attack. As I noted, almost everyone who blogs has had the experience of writing something intended as funny that fails to register that way with part or all of the audience. And it’s probably also true that, as someone tender of my libertarian credentials, I’m especially apt to have my buttons pushed by any suggestion of being cast as Thought Police. Anyway, I’m glad to take Prof. Kuo at her word when she says she meant no offense, and I hope commenters at this site as well as Concurring Opinions will do the same (see also update post).

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Alcohol wholesaling laws

by Walter Olson on October 18, 2008

Laws in most states ordain an artificial niche for the business of beer and liquor wholesaling, and it gets worse:

Some states, for example, give wholesalers exclusive rights to distribute alcohol in a particular region, effectively creating government-enforced monopolies. Other states (including Arizona) have enacted “franchise termination laws,” which make it more difficult for retailers and/or producers to switch distributors once they’ve started doing business with one. Producers and/or retailers get locked in. If they feel their existing distributor is taking too much of a markup, isn’t offering a wide enough variety, or is otherwise performing poorly, there’s little they can do.

(Radley Balko, “How Your Beer Bought John McCain’s $500 Loafers”, Reason, Oct. 15). Cited in the article is an Independent Institute monograph by Glen Whitman, “Strange Brew: Alcohol and Government Monopoly“, which sounds like it’s worth reading on the subject.

They seem now to be part of the accepted armament of campaign law. “Of course the McCain-Palin team could counter-notify, but the DMCA’s 10-14 business day waiting period makes that option next to useless, when ’10 days can be a lifetime in a political campaign.'” (Seltzer/Citizen Media Law, Levy/CL&P; but see Ron Coleman, Oct. 15: process need not be as slow as waiting period implies).

Related: Does trademark law allow candidates to suppress some types of opposition keyword advertising, as when candidates put up negative ads keyed to each others’ names? [Levy/CL&P]

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[Cross-posted from Point of Law]. I’ve got a new piece just up at City Journal in which I examine last week’s boomlet of interest around the liberal blogosphere in the notion that by riling up campaign crowds about Obama’s links to Bill Ayers, John McCain and (especially) Sarah Palin have engaged in “incitement to violence” of a “borderline criminal” nature that perhaps should even draw the attention of the Secret Service or FBI. (For examples of this boomlet, look among the several hundred occurrences of “Palin + incite” at Technorati between October 7 and 13; I also include a sampling as links in my piece). The article originated in a short post at Point of Law that City Journal asked me to expand into a longer treatment. I must say I find it fascinating that many bloggers, Huffington Post writers, etc. could so casually jettison the hard-won victories of free-speech liberalism, which fought long and hard against “incitement” theories by which criminal penalties might be applied to inflammatory speech. The idea of exposing your opponents to investigation or even arrest because you don’t approve of the contents of their speeches doesn’t seem like a particularly liberal one to me.

More: Stephen Bainbridge takes note.

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Microblog 2008-09-24

by Walter Olson on September 24, 2008

  • Both McC and Palin seem cold-blooded about firing people, might be seen as feature rather than bug [McLaughlin/Baseball Crank] #
  • Legal obstacles to four day work week [Point of Law via @lilyhill] #
  • Yep, that’s Joe: Biden said he’s “done more than any other senator combined” for trial lawyers [Point of Law] #
  • Day of protest against software patents [OUT-LAW via @lawtweets] #
  • Related? “EPO staff strike over patent quality” [OUT-LAW] #
  • What a curious Nigerian scam email, do you think it could be genuine? [Cernovich] #

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Microblog 2008-09-23

by Walter Olson on September 23, 2008

  • @carney John Carney on short selling “I want a personal uptick rule. No one can be mean to me unless it’s preceded by good news about me.” #
  • Megan McArdle on the run on money market funds, thanks @petewarden Atlantic #
  • George Will implicitly endorsing Obama? Sure looks like it WaPo #
  • Kevin LaCroix keeps a tally of credit crisis investor lawsuits D&O Diary thanks @lilyhill #
  • Moose causes 9-car pileup right here in the NYC suburbs, Sarah come help White Plains Journal-News #
  • Politicshome USA is pretty neat election site even aside from their flattering the heck outta me Overlawyered #

Twitter for 2008-09-19

by Walter Olson on September 19, 2008

Famous persons often attract the attention of serial or scattershot lawsuit-filers, including inmates filing handwritten complaints. Senators McCain and Obama are luckier than many defendants because of the principle cited by a federal judge as he dismissed one recent complaint: “Members of Congress are absolutely immune from lawsuits, such as this one, arising from the performance of their official duties.” But such suits do “require both the defendants and the judicial system to pay attention”, and sometimes employ attorneys to file multi-page formal motions in response. (Michael Doyle, McClatchy, Sept. 12 via How Appealing).

White House race roundup

by Walter Olson on September 8, 2008

  • High-profile trial lawyer and Hillary fundraiser John Coale now backing McCain, believes plaintiff-friendly Sen. Lindsey Graham, a confidant of the GOP candidate, will sway him on liability issues [Gerstein, NY Sun, Tapper/ABC, Haddad/Newsweek] More on McCain-Graham friendship [New Republic]
  • Reasonably neutral evaluation of contrasting McCain and Obama positions [Chris Nichols, NC Trial Law Blog]
  • No Naderite he? Sen. Biden has generally taken a “protect the golden goose” approach toward his state’s niche as provider of corporate law [Pileggi, Bainbridge]
  • Palin’s views on legal reform mostly unknown; Alaska (like Delaware) has one of the most highly regarded state legal systems, and wouldn’t it be fun if the state’s distinctive and longstanding (if somewhat attenuated) loser-pays rule got mentioned in the campaign?
  • Lending spice to campaign: prospect that victorious Dems might criminally prosecute Bush officials [Guardian (U.K.), Memeorandum, OpenLeft ("we'll put people in prison" vows whistleblower trial lawyer/Democratic Florida Congressional candidate Alan Grayson)] Some differences of opinion among Obama backers on war crimes trials [Turley (Cass Sunstein flayed for go-slow approach); Kerr @ Volokh (Dahlia Lithwick doesn't think it has to be Nuremberg or nothing); earlier]
  • If anyone’s keeping track of these things, co-blogger Ted is much involved with the McCain campaign this fall, I am not involved with anyone’s, so discount (or don’t discount) accordingly.

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Law Professors for McCain

by Ted Frank on August 25, 2008

If you ignore that fact that I’m included, it’s an impressive list, as is the Lawyers for McCain Steering Committee.  If you’re a law professor interested in joining the list, do drop me a line.

I should further disclose that I am doing some pretty exciting (if unpaid) consulting for the campaign; as it will require some travel, blogging will be light from me for the next few days.

Daniel Fisher usually understands legal issues and has done some good reporting about trial-lawyer abuses, so I was very disappointed in today’s Forbes.com story (which quotes me about Obama and CAFA). Most notably, it’s not true that tort reform is a “catchall phrase for legislative measures designed to make it harder for individuals to sue businesses”–many tort reforms make it easier for individuals with legitimate claims to sue businesses. Tort reforms are simply measures to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the civil justice system; they’re opposed by trial lawyers because they derive billions of dollars of wealth from inaccuracies and inefficiencies in the civil justice system, and supported by businesses and consumers that are the victims of such inaccuracies and inefficiencies.

The article also inaccurately characterizes the Obama-Clinton medical malpractice legislation, and furthers the idea of “Kennedy is a moderate,” blurring the role of the Supreme Court by implicitly endorsing the liberal idea of it as a political superlegislature rather than a judicial body with an obligation to follow the law. The focus on anti-preemption legislation, as opposed to some of the dozens of other pro-trial-lawyer-lobby bills pending in this Congress and likely to be renewed next Congress, is unusual. (Separately, I disagree with Jim Copland; I don’t think McCain would hesitate to veto the giveaways to the trial-lawyer lobby if they’re in single-purpose bills and not attached as hidden amendments to omnibus legislation.)

I’m less surprised than Fisher and Bill Childs that Obama is getting money from defense firms, or, more accurately, attorneys who work at defense firms. The legal establishment is overwhelmingly liberal (hence the 3:1 fundraising advantage Obama has), and many defense attorneys are perfectly happy with a status quo that requires companies to pay them millions of dollars to continue doing business. (Some are too happy, and have vocally supported ABA resolutions that would harm their clients–something their clients should pay closer attention to.)

While plaintiffs’ law firm contributions are often coordinated (sometimes a bit illegally, as when Tab Turner’s firm and Geoffrey Fieger’s firm were caught reimbursing their employees for donating to John Edwards), it’s a mistake to think the same thing happens in the defense bar, where attorneys are donating on an individual basis because they perceive future government administration (or Article III) jobs of a certain political caliber as pay-to-play or because they’re otherwise simply interested in the political process. Kirkland & Ellis may have tobacco and asbestos defense in its portfolio, and many alumni in the Bush administration, but most Kirkland attorneys are doing other things, and a disproportionate number of them at the Chicago-based firm are going to be former classmates of or students of Harvard Law graduate and Chicago Law lecturer Obama, and have the six- and seven-digit incomes to give maximum contributions–and it only takes a few dozen $4600 contributions to make a firm look like a big contributor.  (And, on the other hand, as if to demonstrate the bipartisan nature of most law firms, John McCain turned to a Republican attorney, former Reagan White House Counsel A.B. Culvahouse, at the largely Democratic O’Melveny & Myers to lead his vice presidential search.) During the primaries, the trial lawyers were giving most of their money to Edwards, Clinton, and Biden, but those fundraisers are now doing business with Obama, as the recent press coverage of Fred Baron shows.

But the article is correct that the outlook for federal tort reform is grim, and that reformers are looking at rearguard actions defending against numerous attempts to make the system worse.

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April 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 29, 2008

  • “Dog owners in Switzerland will have to pass a test to prove they can control and care for their animal, or risk losing it, the Swiss government said yesterday.” [Daily Telegraph]
  • 72-year-old mom visits daughter’s Southport, Ct. home, falls down stairs searching for bathroom at night, sues daughter for lack of night light, law firm boasts of her $2.475 million win on its website [Casper & deToledo, scroll to "Jeremy C. Virgil"]
  • Can’t possibly be right: “Every American enjoys a constitutional right to sue any other American in a West Virginia court” [W.V. Record]
  • Video contest for best spoof personal injury attorney ads [Sick of Lawsuits; YouTube]
  • Good profile of Kathleen Seidel, courageous blogger nemesis of autism/vaccine litigation [Concord Monitor*, Orac]. Plus: all three White House hopefuls now pander to anti-vaxers, Dems having matched McCain [Orac]
  • One dollar for every defamed Chinese person amounts to a mighty big lawsuit demand against CNN anchor Jack Cafferty [NYDN link now dead; Independent (U.K.)]
  • Hapless Ben Stein whipped up one side of the street [Salmon on financial regulation] and down the other [Derbyshire on creationism]
  • If only Weimar Germany had Canada-style hate-speech laws to prevent the rise of — wait, you mean they did? [Steyn/Maclean's] Plus: unlawful in Alberta to expose a person to contempt based on his “source of income” [Levant quoting sec. 3 (1)(b) of Human Rights Law]
  • Hey, these coupon settlements are giving all of us class action lawyers a bad name [Leviant/The Complex Litigator]
  • Because patent law is bad enough all by itself? D.C. Circuit tosses out FTC’s antitrust ruling against Rambus [GrokLaw; earlier]
  • “The fell attorney prowls for prey” — who wrote that line, and about which city? [four years ago on Overlawyered]

*Okay, one flaw in the profile: If Prof. Irving Gottesman compares Seidel to Erin Brockovich he probably doesn’t know much about Brockovich.

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