Posts Tagged ‘Rhode Island’

What’s the problem with Rhode Island officials and free speech, anyway?

Seriously, what’s their problem? [Hans Bader on the Rhode Island attorney general’s proposal for a ban on many hostile social media posts, covered here earlier] Meanwhile, a Providence Journal editorial blasts home-state Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse:

…in dealing with [carbon dioxide emissions], or any crisis, it is vitally important that America not discard its essential values of freedom.

Regrettably, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., continues to make noises about using government to prosecute some of those who willfully persist in questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. …

This is troubling: a U.S. senator and attorney general [Loretta Lynch], both sworn to uphold the Constitution, mulling legal action against American citizens and companies for the “crime” of challenging a scientific theory. A number of Democratic attorneys general — including Rhode Island’s Peter Kilmartin — have also expressed interest in prosecuting those whom they believe are deliberately misleading the public about this issue.

Turning such disagreements into punishable acts of fraud would seem to be legally difficult. But that may not be the point. The threat alone could have a chilling effect on free speech, by intimidating dissenters into silence. Such an approach would be an affront to the scientific method, which involves the free exploration of ideas. …

President Thomas Jefferson said in his first inaugural address: “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

There is no reason to pit environmentalism and free speech against one other. We can join together to protect our planet without trying to silence those who argue against us.

Some more recent commentary on the AG subpoena investigation Sen. Whitehouse helped orchestrate: Richard Epstein, George Will, Ronald Rotunda. As Prof. Rotunda points out, the government not only declines to prosecute advocacy research in other contexts, but often funds it. And the 2012 Alvarez v. U.S. (stolen valor) case establishes that outright, knowing lying for advantage often receives constitutional protection as well, on the recognition by the courts that “if the government can punish that, we go down a steep slippery slope. … The marketplace of ideas, not the subpoena power of government, should decide what is true or false.” More: “The environmental campaign that punishes free speech” [Sam Kazman and Kent Lassman (CEI), Washington Post]

Free speech roundup

Rhode Island attorney general pushes broad ban on hostile social media posts

Someone needs better advice about the First Amendment, and quickly: “Social media posts, sexually explicit or otherwise, that cause someone’s online embarrassment or insult, would become crimes under a set of bills being advanced by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.” One of the bills “would target a wide range of social media activity that makes people ‘feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.'” so long as it had been “made with the intent to cause emotional distress and be expected to cause distress in a ‘reasonable person.'” While previous “cyber-bullying” legislation required a pattern of conduct, “someone could be prosecuted under the new Kilmartin bill for a single post if at least two others pile on with ‘separate non-continuous acts of unconsented contact” with the victim.'” — meaning that the trigger for jail time over speech could be the actions of other persons. [Providence Journal] Two years ago the New York high court struck down an overbroad ban on so-called cyber-bullying.

September 16 roundup

  • Study hyped as showing vaping serves as gateway to smoking doesn’t actually show that [Jacob Sullum]
  • Your guano ticket to land-based wealth: 1856 law on bird droppings can help you claim an island [Mark Mancini, Mental Floss]
  • Dignity of the bench: “Judge lied about claimed toilet-lid attack outside courthouse, jury finds” [ABA Journal; Waterloo, N.Y.]
  • Someone’s using someone: “Providence using plaintiffs bar to become player in antitrust cases” [Jessica Karmasek, Legal Newsline, related]
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute picks what it considers the nation’s six worst state AGs, most names are familiar to our readers [Hans Bader/CEI, more, full report in PDF, and thanks for link]
  • “Frivolous Serial Pro Se Litigant Upset Journalists Portrayed Him As A Frivolous Serial Litigant” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
  • Model of arbitration in Njal’s Saga: binding, provided it roughly tracks outcome of averted violence [Tyler Cowen]

November 6 roundup

“The increasing criminalization of corporate behavior in America…”

“…is bad for the rule of law and for capitalism,” opines The Economist, saying regulation-through prosecution has become “an extortion racket,” from hundreds of millions in Google drug-ad settlement money spread among Rhode Island police departments, to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s muscling in to extract money from BNP Paribas in a settlement of legal offenses against U.S. foreign policy as distinct from New York consumers:

Who runs the world’s most lucrative shakedown operation? The Sicilian mafia? The People’s Liberation Army in China? The kleptocracy in the Kremlin? If you are a big business, all these are less grasping than America’s regulatory system. The formula is simple: find a large company that may (or may not) have done something wrong; threaten its managers with commercial ruin, preferably with criminal charges; force them to use their shareholders’ money to pay an enormous fine to drop the charges in a secret settlement (so nobody can check the details). Then repeat with another large company. …

Perhaps the most destructive part of it all is the secrecy and opacity. The public never finds out the full facts of the case, nor discovers which specific people—with souls and bodies—were to blame. Since the cases never go to court, precedent is not established, so it is unclear what exactly is illegal. That enables future shakedowns, but hurts the rule of law and imposes enormous costs.

Banking and finance roundup

  • In banking and FCPA cases, targets of DOJ prosecution are disproportionately firms domiciled abroad, and other countries do notice that [Jesse Eisinger, NYT “DealBook”]
  • “Los Angeles’ Confused Suit against Mortgage Lenders” [Mark Calabria, Cato] Providence also using disparate impact suits in hopes of making banks pay for its housing failures [Funnell]
  • Podcast discussion on Operation Chokepoint with Charles J. Cooper, Iain Murray, and Todd J. Zywicki [Federalist Society, earlier]
  • New round of suits against banks based on ATMs’ imperfect wheelchair accessibility [ABA Journal, earlier here]
  • Walgreen’s could save billions in taxes if it moved to Switzerland from U.S. Whose fault if anyone’s is that? [Tax Foundation]
  • “Left unmentioned: how fed regulation and trial lawyers deter banks from protecting themselves with overdraft fees.” [@tedfrank on NYT report about banks’ use of databases to turn down business from persons with records of overdrawing accounts, a practice that now itself is being targeted for regulation]
  • Scheme to seize mortgages through eminent domain stalling as cities decline to come on board [Kevin Funnell]

Police and prosecution roundup

  • As condition of bail, federal magistrate orders arrestee to recant charge of government misconduct [Eugene Volokh]
  • Possible life sentence for pot brownies shows “utterly irrational consequences of pretending drugs weigh more than they do” [Jacob Sullum, Radley Balko] Life sentence for guy who sold LSD: “the prosecutor was high-fiving [the] other attorneys” [Sullum]
  • Do low-crime small towns across America really need MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicles and other military gear, thanks to federal programs? [Balko]
  • Minnesota reforms its use of asset forfeiture [Nick Sibilla, FIRE] Rhode Island, Texas could stand to follow [Balko]
  • If not for video, would anyone believe a story about Santa Clara deputies “spiking” premises with meth after finding no illegal drugs? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Falsely accused of abuse: “He Lost 3 Years and a Child, but Got No Apology” [Michael Powell, NY Times “Gotham”; Amine Baba-Ali case]
  • Two federal judges denounce feds’ “let’s knock over a stash house” entrapment techniques as unconstitutional [Brad Heath, USA Today]

“It was a golden prison….”

“…They’d traded dignity for money. That’s what lenient retirement boards do to people.” An ex-fireman has drawn criticism by suing the city of Providence for $7 million, saying it unfairly cut off his check after a TV station filmed him “doing a muscular weightlifting workout,” calling his claimed shoulder-related disability into doubt. [Mark Patinkin, Providence Journal]