My first appearance at Cato’s Free Thoughts podcast series at Libertarianism.org, this is feature length — an hour, as opposed to a few minutes as is typical with Cato’s daily podcast. (Direct SoundCloud and YouTube links). The description:
Walter Olson joins Aaron and Trevor for a discussion on the evolution of discrimination law in the American legal system. They talk about common carrier obligations, preferential treatment and employee discrimination suits, the disparate impact of anti-discrimination laws —- especially in hiring decisions —- and the role of law schools and academia in perpetuating this cycle.
I wrote about many of these issues at length in The Excuse Factory, and expanded on the law-school angle in my more recent Schools for Misrule. You can follow our tags for more background on discrimination law generally, disabled rights and the ADA, age discrimination law, and many other topics.
I was a guest Tuesday on the Roger Hedgecock program at the San Diego Union-Tribune, discussing the way Washington, D.C. seems to have come down at least as hard on Toyota as on General Motors, maybe harder, even though the safety shortcomings falsely attributed to Toyota appear actually to be present in the GM case.
One striking feature of the GM story is the extent to which a culture of putting as little as possible on paper appears to have undermined GM’s capability to grasp the scope of the safety problem with the flimsy ignitions and their relationship to nonfunctional airbags. Bill Vlasic of the New York Times reports:
To the legal department at General Motors, secrecy ruled. Employees were discouraged from taking notes in meetings. Workers’ emails were examined once a year for sensitive information that might be used against the company. G.M. lawyers even kept their knowledge of fatal accidents related to a defective ignition switch from their own boss, the company’s general counsel, Michael P. Millikin.
As I’ve often noted, organizations gripped by fear of legal consequences or hostile oversight often develop a “put as little as possible on paper” mentality, even though such a mentality regularly proves counterproductive to the organization’s mission by fostering ignorance and lack of coordination and allowing bad practice to take root.
A twelve-minute Cato podcast in which I talk to Caleb Brown about how government can roll minor fines over routine offenses into crushing financial burdens and years of entanglement in the criminal justice system. A particular problem: systems that assign fines and payments to the account of actors in the justice system and for-profit private contractors which can operate under a perverse incentive to trip up petty wrongdoers and keep them in the system. The National Public Radio special “Guilty and Charged,” based on a yearlong investigation, is here. Many of my examples are taken from it, including the persons drawn into the system after fishing out of season and making an illegal left turn, and the woman saddled with a $10,000 debt on emerging from prison. Radley Balko discusses. I’ve written earlier on the problems with private probation, on a Shelby County, Alabama judge’s 2012 finding that the town of Harpersville was engaged in a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” and more broadly on law enforcement for profit and its forfeiture branch.
Related: Tyler Cowen on a new book about persons living at the margins of the law, Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City.
Last fall the editors of the Vermont Law Review were kind enough to invite me to participate in a discussion on food and product labeling, part of a day-long conference “The Disclosure Debates” with panels on environmental, financial, and campaign disclosure. Other panelists included Christine DeLorme of the Federal Trade Commission, Division of Advertising Practices; Brian Dunkiel, Dunkiel Saunders; George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety; and David Zuckerman, Vermont State Senator and Farmer, Full Moon Farm.
Aside from my own segment above, you can find links to the other segments here. Plus: Environmental Health (VLS) summary of above panel.
I’ll be one of the panelists on a webinar this Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern (fee-based, CLE credit available) presented by the ABA’s State and Local Government Law Section on Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court’s recent case on invocational prayer at town councils and similar legislative bodies (earlier here and here). Other panelists include Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Mark Burkland of Holland & Knight, while Patricia Salkin, Dean and Professor of Law at Touro Law Center, will serve as moderator. More at Inverse Condemnation.
Cato’s Caleb Brown interviews me about this week’s Supreme Court decision in the local-government invocation case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, discussed earlier here and here.
A few measured, non-alarmist reactions to the decision: Noah Feldman via Rick Pildes, ABC News (quoted views of Rick Garnett, Notre Dame, and Daniel Mach, ACLU), and Howard Wasserman/Prawfs. And Paul Horwitz speculates on whether Kennedy’s formula will work when invocational legislative prayer is employed in knowingly divisive ways. More: a different take on the issue from Christian syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.
Huge win for justice and good sense: facing a mounting public furor, “The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.” [WaPo] Credit goes above all to the Washington Post and its reporter Marc Fisher for exposing the most outrageous features of the IRS’s refund-interception program last week, as recounted in this space; I like to think I helped as well by beating the drum early and repeatedly since then with Cato’s help. Overlawyered’s Facebook post on the subject has been seen by more than 60,000 people and shared more than 700 times in the past few days. (Have you liked us yet?)
The next step should be to establish for the public record how the provision in question got slipped into the farm bill, and at whose behest. Congress’s refusal to be forthcoming on this topic speaks volumes about its lack of a felt sense of responsibility toward the people it represents.
And a theme I’ve been repeating for almost as long as I’ve been writing about law: statutes of limitations developed in civilized legal systems for a reason. They protect us not only from cost, uncertainty, and the misery of legal process, but from injustice of a hundred other kinds, and they protect society itself from spiraling into a legal war of all against all. Stop trying to abolish them!
More: Ed Morrissey, Megan McArdle. And here’s a Cato podcast just out on the subject in which Caleb Brown interviews me on the topic:
Popular radio host Mike Rosen had me on his program last week to talk about the Justice Department’s aggressive use of criminal law against the Japanese automaker (earlier here). Also check out Canadian columnist Terence Corcoran’s view: “Intended media acceleration and the assault on Toyota” [Financial Post]
Lenore Skenazy’s incredibly funny talk last Thursday, with me commenting and moderating (and even at one point giving my impression of a 3-year-old losing a cookie), is now online. Several people have told me this was one of the most entertaining and illuminating Cato talks they’ve seen.
Lenore’s blog is Free-Range Kids and you can buy her book of the same name here. Some links on topics that came up in my remarks: Harvard researchers call for yanking obese kids out of their homes; authorities in Queensland, Australia, plan use of satellite data to spy out noncompliance with pool safety rules; courts reward helicopter parents in custody battles; charges dropped against mom who left toddler sleeping in car while she dropped coins in Salvation Army bucket; proposals to cut kids’ food into small bits and discontinue things like peanuts and marshmallows entirely; authorities snatch kids from homes after parents busted with small quantities of pot.
P.S. Direct video link here (h/t comments).
Caleb Brown interviews me for this new Cato podcast on a knotty question: when should a state attorney general decline to argue in court in defense of a law he thinks unconstitutional? On the one hand, the legal profession’s norms strongly favor giving every client and cause its day in court, and practical dysfunction might result were cases routinely handed over to others to defend or dropped entirely. On the other hand, attorneys general like other officials take an oath of office to the constitution, which calls in doubt whether they should (or even may) use their skills on behalf of unconstitutional measures. Complicating matters: how should unconstitutionality be assessed, by way of the AG’s own judgment, by way of predicting how the highest relevant court would rule, or by some other method? What kind of difference should it make whether the assessment appears certain, very probable, or more ambiguous than that?
In recent weeks about a half-dozen Democratic AGs around the country have declined to defend their states’ bans on same-sex marriage, on the grounds that they are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision of last year, while other AGs both Republican and Democratic have argued in defense of those laws. (Today, Kentucky’s attorney general announced that he will not appeal a federal court ruling requiring the state to recognize out-of-state marriages, although the state’s governor is stepping in to do so.) Finding either liberals or conservatives who have preserved entirely consistent positions on the issue, though, is not always easy. Former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a strong conservative, declined to defend a state education reform law last year, while in 2011 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declined to defend a state domestic partnership registry they deemed unconstitutional. In a case like the latter it was liberals who tended to criticize the refusal to defend a law, and conservatives who applauded — patterns that to some extent have been reversed this time around.
You can watch here (earlier). Related videos, including those of the other panelists, at the American Bar Association site.
Meanwhile, even former enthusiasts are beginning to give up on the “food desert” theory — opening a supermarket nearby does little to change unhealthy diet habits. So guess what’s next? Yep, calls for more and stronger intervention [Ann Althouse].
Caleb Brown interviews me on the very, very bad new federal guidelines demanding that schools avoid disciplinary practices with “disparate impact” — in practice, those that result in more-than-proportional suspensions of minority or special-ed kids. Earlier here.
I was a guest Friday on Fox Business Network’s The Willis Report, with guest host Dennis Kneale, to discuss two antitrust cases in the news: Apple’s vigorous efforts to fight back against a monitor appointed as part of its e-books antitrust case [Roger Parloff/Fortune, Alison Frankel/Reuters], and the FTC’s enforcement action against music teachers for anti-competitive practices. You can watch here.
I’ll save the (highly significant) Apple-vs.-monitor case for another post. The Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement action against music teachers, skillfully told by Kim Strassel in the WSJ, demonstrates what officialdom is willing to do with the legal sledgehammer that it claims to need to take on giant corporations like Apple: it uses that weaponry against the mild-mannered piano teacher next door and her little trade association. In a sane world, when the association said its hortatory statement had never been enforced and it would delete it from now on, the FTC’s enforcers would declare victory and move on to some more important case. That they did not do so here speaks volumes about the zeal, careerism and lack of proportion that add up to runaway government. More: George Leef, Forbes.
On Thursday I was a panelist at the Federalist Society National Lawyers’ Conference discussing the rapid rise of litigation funding — specifically, well-capitalized firms that advance money to plaintiffs in commercial high-stakes litigation, often in exchange for a share in the proceeds. (A separate wing of the litigation finance business, which was not the panel’s primary focus, advances smallish sums to individual injury plaintiffs at high interest rates in a sort of analogue of payday lending.)
My opening remarks speculate about the future emergence of divorce trolls — excuse me, “marital rights assertion entities” — set up to buy out an ex-spouse’s stake in ongoing matrimonial strife and play it for maximum extraction value. While no one has yet rolled out that kind of business model, note that outside financiers have indeed begun to fund divorce litigation.
More seriously, I went on to argue that the rise of patent trolls and mass tort operations prefigures problems we are likely to see emerge from litigation finance, from the encouragement given to low-value claims to a settlement process skewed by the interests of the funders rather than the original disputants, and suggest that the age-old rules against champerty, maintenance and barratry might owe something to an appreciation of such dangers. A link to the video is here.
More: Check out Roger Pilon’s post on what else Cato people were up to at the Mayflower last week.
Caleb Brown interviews me for Cato on the politics and policy of employment discrimination laws. I’ve also done interviews with Voice of America (updated: article with video here, at 1:45; higher-def video here), St. Louis’s KMOX, Mark Reardon show and Bay Area public radio station KQED with Michael Krasny (includes audio link), where I had a chance to promote my much-missed friend Joan Kennedy Taylor’s excellent Cato book on workplace harassment. My Cato post on the subject of Friday is here and reactions here. More press coverage: Naureen Khan, Al Jazeera America (symbolism a poor reason for or against bill); Nick O’Malley, Sydney Morning Herald (my views contrasted with Andrew Sullivan’s), Robin Shea, Employment and Labor Insider, Deseret News (opinion roundup including USA Today’s), Tim Carney/Washington Examiner.
I was a guest this morning on John Gambling’s popular NYC morning show to discuss Free Speech Week, which Tim Lynch is covering all this week at the Cato blog (more). Items tagged “free speech” at Overlawyered are here. More: And now the podcast is up (6:18).