Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Hayek on the public demand for a strong man

We must here return for a moment to the position which precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of a totalitarian regime. In this stage it is the general demand for quick and determined government action that is the dominating element in the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action’s sake the goal. It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough “to get things done” who exercises the greatest appeal. “Strong” in this sense means not merely a numerical majority – it is the ineffectiveness of parliamentary majorities with which people are dissatisfied. What they will seek is somebody with such solid support as to inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants.

— Friedrich von Hayek, The Road To Serfdom, chapter Ten, “Why the Worst Get On Top.” More: Aesop on the Frogs Who Wanted a King, at Cato.

Donald Trump and libel litigation

Presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaking today: “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” Trump also said of Amazon, whose Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, a newspaper that just ran an editorial seeking to rally opposition to Trump: “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

The President has no direct power to change libel law, which consists of state law constrained by constitutional law as laid out by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan. A President could appoint Justices intent on overturning the press protections of Sullivan or promote a constitutional amendment to overturn it. Assuming one or the other eventually was made to happen, further changes in libel law would probably require action at the state level, short of some novel attempt to create a federal cause of action for defamation.

But although Trump is unlikely to obtain the exact set of changes he outlines, the outburst is psychologically revealing. Donald Trump has been filing and threatening lawsuits to shut up critics and adversaries over the whole course of his career. He dragged reporter Tim O’Brien through years of litigation over a relatively favorable Trump biography that assigned a lower valuation to his net worth than he thought it should have. He sued the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic over a piece arguing that a planned Trump skyscraper in lower Manhattan would be “one of the silliest things” that could be built in the city. He used the threat of litigation to get an investment firm to fire an analyst who correctly predicted that the Taj Mahal casino would not be a financial success. He sued comedian Bill Maher over a joke.

I have been writing about the evils of litigation for something like 30 years, and following the litigious exploits of Donald Trump for very nearly that long. I think it very plausible to expect that if he were elected President, he would bring to the White House the same spirit of litigiousness he has so often shown as a public figure. (cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

P.S. Also reprinted at Newsweek. And Ilya Somin cites further elements forming a pattern: Trump has expressed his wish to “have the FCC take some of his critics off the airwaves” and his regret that protesters at his events could not be dealt with in such a way that they “have to be carried out on a stretcher.” He also writes that should Trump proceed to appoint judges who strongly share his view of libel law, those judges “are unlikely to effectively protect other important speech rights and civil liberties.” And a late-January post from Patterico recalls Trump threats against the Washington Post (again), John Kasich, a t-shirt company, and a Jeb Bush PAC, to which might be added the Club for Growth, reporter Tim Mak, Scotland, Univision, and many more. Yet more: Mike Masnick, TechDirt.

Live-tweeting last night’s debate

As I’ve done a number of times, I live-tweeted last night’s Republican event under the #Cato2016 hashtag with some colleagues. Selections:

New Hampshire decides: Senator Venezuela vs. Citizen Vuvuzela

Our coverage of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), winner of the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, is here, including gun liability (more), Citizens United, Glass-Steagall, and Supreme Court issues.

Our coverage of businessman Donald Trump, winner of the Republican primary, is here, and includes coverage over many years of his activities as a litigant as well as his political career.

Live-tweeting last night’s GOP debate

I was otherwise engaged during the undercard debate but here are a few things I had to say during the Seven No Trump main panel:

California AG wants nonprofits’ donor lists

“Do you donate to the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association? California Attorney General Kamala Harris wants to know who you are, what your address is and how much you give….

“Every American has the right to support the causes we believe in without the fear of harassment and retaliation. Disclosure mandates undermine this basic freedom, dry up donations to charities and silence political speech.” [Jon Riches, Sacramento Bee]

Redistricting at the Supreme Court

Yesterday the Supreme Court (ruling only on a narrow procedural issue, not the merits) gave the go-ahead to a suit challenging Maryland’s outlandish Congressional districting map, and three other pending merits cases indicate the Court’s renewed interest in redistricting and allied topics. I’ve got a post at Cato tying together the latest developments with my own work on redistricting reform in Maryland (earlier on which). Meanwhile, my colleague Ilya Shapiro counters the editors of USA Today on the just-argued case of whether population equality among districts should be based on numbers of persons, including such groups as children and non-citizens, or on numbers of persons eligible to vote, allowing him a rare chance to work the old term “rotten boroughs” from parliamentary history. More on the Evenwel oral argument from Ilya and from Andrew Grossman.

Public corruption prosecutions: a panel

Nearly everyone agrees with prosecuting public officials (as well as, on occasion, lobbyists and other private actors) for bribery and some other instances in which officials trade, or are asked to trade, a quid pro quo of official action for money or gifts. Defendants in such cases, on the other hand, such as former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, often object that they are being menaced with criminal sanctions for politics-as-usual doing of favors and constituent service, with the frequent additional suggestion that prosecution is selective and ginned up by opponents for purposes of criminalizing politics and destroying reputations in the media.

A panel discussion at the recent Federalist Society national lawyers’ convention discussed this issue including the episodes of the Wisconsin John Doe proceedings, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Tom DeLay, lobbyist Kevin Ring, and many others. Panelists included private attorneys Todd Graves (Graves Garrett), Edward Kang (Alston & Bird) and Peter Zeidenberg (Arent Fox), Prof. Eugene Volokh, and as moderator the Hon. Raymond Gruender of the Eighth Circuit. David Lat has a good write-up of the panel at Above the Law.

Related: Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer have some questions about recent prosecutions in New Jersey under its official misconduct statute [Cato].