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!
“Nullification” a non-starter, but states do have ways to resist federal encroachment [Amy Pomeroy, Libertas Utah, with podcast] Passport to Baraboo? State GOP resolutions committee backs “Wisconsin’s right, under extreme circumstances, to secede.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
Flawed forensics: “DUI expert pleads no contest to perjury charges, gets house arrest and probation” [PennLive]
“Insurance: The Musical” turned out to be an April Fool’s, a pity since I was looking forward to the actuary production number [Insurance Journal, but see (David Skurnick, "Cut My Rate," set in California Insurance Department) and more ("The Sting")]
Executive power grab? New F.H. Buckley book on “The Rise of Crown Government in America” [Tyler Cowen, with Canada comparison]
My appearance on Anne Santos’s radio show discussing lawsuit culture [KNTH]
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.
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.
Canada’s first evangelical law school wins approval, backed by civil libertarians, over objections centering on its no-nonmarital-sex pledge [Vancouver Sun, MacLean's, related, earlier]
“Self-Interest and Sinecure: Why Law School Can’t be ‘Fixed’ From Within” [David Barnhizer (Cleveland State), via Caron]
“Intellectual Diversity and the Legal Academy,” conference by Harvard Federalist Society now online [Harvard JLPP]
Tonight (Wed.) at 7:30 I’m scheduled to join Al-Jazeera America’s “The Stream,” hosted by Lisa Fletcher with Wajahat Ali, to discuss the state of law schools, with Profs. Paul Campos (Colorado) and Gillian Hadfield (USC). Tune in!
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.
I joined Scott Wolfson, communications director at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as a guest on Angie Coiro’s “In Deep” radio show to discuss the Buckyballs case and safety regulation generally. Earlier in the same segment was ZenMagnets.com founder Shihan Qu, who is also battling the CPSC on the desk magnet issue. You can listen here. My coverage of the Buckyballs controversy is here and we also discussed a number of other noteworthy controversies including state attorneys general’s efforts to shut down the “Prescription: Coffee” mug and the status of dangerous consumer items home-produced by way of 3-D printers. CPSC Commissioner Nancy Nord’s statement on the magnet set issue is here.
Cato’s Caleb Brown interviews me on the immediate legal implications of this week’s same-sex marriage cases. Because we spoke the day after the ruling, some of my comments have already been outrun by events; for example, it took only a day or two, not weeks, to overturn the Ninth Circuit stay and begin holding marriages. And the Obama administration has now declared that it will extend federal recognition to all lawfully issued marriage licenses even if not recognized in the state of a couple’s domicile, which had been one of the two biggest immediate practical uncertainties. (The other is the question of retroactive effect: will taxpayers, for example, be allowed to amend filings for past years?) Given the recognition of marriage licenses obtained outside a state of domicile, “States like Texas and Florida will begin noticing — or perhaps they won’t notice — that some of their citizens are getting some federal benefits that somewhat foil their state policy.”
Official DNA database use and obligatory testing is now sure to expand; where might it be headed? “If states are using DNA to verify paternity on births to underage women, why not use it to verify paternity on all births?” [Glenn Reynolds] “The 2018 Ezra Klein column on how it’s insane we’re not testing all this DNA for public health purposes writes itself.” [@andrewmgrossman] Michelle Meyer also has some ideas. Earlier here.
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