As one door (Cuban trade) opens, another (hostile Washington regulation) closes. [Jim Bovard]
- Bi-counsel-ar? “Lawyer Defending Congressman’s Wife in Bigamy Case Accuses Client of Having a Second Lawyer” [Slate]
- “Why tort liability for data breaches won’t improve cybersecurity” [Stewart Baker]
- Pennsylvania passes a new gun law, and suddenly liberal standing with attorney fee shifting stops being the progressive position [Harrisburg Patriot-News]
- “Letting a case die like a pet rat forgotten in the garage” [Ken at Popehat on Todd Kincannon challenge to South Carolina state bar discipline threats]
- Getting to it late: hour-long Cato podcast with Randy Barnett on his book Structure of Liberty including Aaron Ross Powell, Trevor Burrus;
- Once a fun party town, New Orleans now will ban vaping in private clubs and while waiting in line at drive-throughs [Christopher Fountain, Ronald Bailey on vaping bans and public health] More: Bailey on exaggeration of risks, Jacob Sullum on California proposal;
- Colorado legislature looks serious about tackling liability reform [Denver Business Journal]
Last month the Cato Institute hosted a panel celebrating Repeal Day
with me, alcohol policy expert Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Stacia Cosner of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Cato Digital Marketing Manager Kat Murti as moderator.
On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, supposedly ending our nation’s failed experiment with prohibitionism. Yet, 81 years later, modern-day prohibitionists continue to deny the laws of supply and demand, attempting to control what individuals can choose to put into their own bodies….
Some links related to the discussion:
- All the panelists quoted from Daniel Okrent’s excellent history of Prohibition, Last Call. You can find out more about the book at the author’s site.
- I quote from a speech by the late Christopher Hitchens delivered ten years almost to the day before our panel. It is excerpted in this David Boaz post.
- Radley Balko wrote a 2003 Cato Policy Analysis, “Back Door to Prohibition: The New War on Social Drinking“. More: The federal Centers for Disease Control, as I noted, has been an agency of choice for public health campaigners because of its legacy of scientific credibility, yet this credibility is itself put increasingly at risk as the CDC lends its name to propaganda. Jacob Sullum provides examples from the agency’s elastic application of the term “binge drinking” to the trouble it seems to have acknowledging that minor alcohol consumption does not seem to correlate with poor health outcomes;
- As I mention, the Prohibition episode was important in eroding constitutional protections against various law-enforcement tools, especially search and seizure, the law being inherently aimed at contraband goods. The same is true of the nascent Drug War undertaken following the Harrison narcotics act of 1914. You can read about one of the resulting Supreme Court cases here.
- The role of exorbitant cigarette taxes in contributing to New York’s giant black market in cigarettes came to wider public notice following the police custody death of Eric Garner on Staten Island; more here, here, etc. The New York Post reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city law department to refrain from filing an intended press release over a would-be landmark suit filed over untaxed cigarettes the week of the Garner grand jury decision, because it interfered with City Hall’s efforts to downplay the role of the tobacco black market.
Lists of lists, if not indeed lists of lists of lists:
- Lenore Skenazy picks worst school safety overreaction cases of the year [Reason] and worst nanny state cases [Huffington Post]
- Radley Balko, “Horrifying civil liberties predictions for 2015″, and you won’t need to read far to get the joke [Washington Post]
- Feds probe NY Speaker Sheldon Silver over pay from law firm — not his big personal injury firm, but an obscure firm that handles tax certiorari cases [New York Times; our earlier Silver coverage over the years]
- “Doonesbury” Sunday strip gets filed 5-6 weeks before pub date, so if its topicality compares unfavorably to that of Beetle Bailey and Garfield, now you know why [Washington Post and Slate, with Garry Trudeau’s embarrassing excuses for letting papers run a strip taking the Rolling Stone/U. Va. fraternity assault story as true, weeks after its collapse; Jesse Walker assessment of the strip twelve years ago]
- Jim Beck’s picks for worst pharmaceutical law cases of the year [Drug & Device Law]
- “The Ten Most Significant Class Action Cases of 2014″ [Andrew Trask]
- Washington Post calls for steep cigarette tax hike in Maryland, makes no mention of smuggling/black market issue so visible in New York [my Cato post]
Eric Garner, asphyxiated during his arrest on Staten Island, had been repeatedly picked up by the NYPD for the crime of selling loose cigarettes. Washington Examiner:
The crime of selling “loosies” was not considered a serious one in the past. Many corner stores in New York City once sold them quietly upon request. But former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cartoonish anti-tobacco crusade changed that and everything else. Smoking in public places was banned. Punitive taxes and a legal minimum price of $10.50 were imposed in an effort to push prices ever-upward, so that a brand-name pack of 20 cigarettes now costs as much as $14 in New York City.
As a result, the illicit sale of loose and untaxed cigarettes became more commonplace.
I noted at yesterday’s Repeal Day panel at Cato that according to figures last year, New York’s unusually high cigarette taxes had brought it an unusual distinction: an estimated 60 percent of consumption there is of smuggled or illegal cigarettes, much higher than any other state. Another way to think of it is that New York has moved closer to prohibition than to a legal market in tobacco. [earlier 2003 Cato study]
In his history of Prohibition, Last Call, Daniel Okrent cites (among many other law enforcement misadventures) the fatal shooting of Jacob Hanson, secretary of an Elks lodge in Niagara Falls, New York, in a confrontation with alcohol agents — though Hanson had a clean record and was not carrying alcohol. At the time, many saw Hanson’s death as reflecting poorly on the Prohibition regime generally. For some reason, though, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has drawn fire from some quarters for making a parallel observation about Garner’s death. [BBC; note however that while Garner’s frictions with the local NYPD seem to owe much to his repeated cigarette arrests, the proximate event leading to his arrest seems to have been his attempt to break up a fight]
“Fox Business Network’s John Stossel interviews US Consumer Coalition’s Brian Wise and Kat O’Connor, owner of TomKat Ammunition LLC, on the Justice Department’s Operation Choke Point.” The Gaithersburg-based ammo seller was cut off from credit card processing services and suspects that the federal Choke Point program was the reason. [cross-posted from Free State Notes; earlier on Operation Choke Point].
Register here for the 5 p.m. Cato event. Description:
Featuring Walter Olson, Senior Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute & Editor, Overlawyered.com (@walterolson); Stacia Cosner, Deputy Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (@TheStacia); Michelle Minton, Fellow in Consumer Policy Studies, Competitive Enterprise Institute (@michelleminton); moderated by Kat Murti, Digital Marketing Manager, Cato Institute (@KatMurti).
On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, supposedly ending our nation’s failed experiment with prohibitionism. Yet, 81 years later, modern-day prohibitionists continue to deny the laws of supply and demand, attempting to control what individuals can choose to put into their own bodies.
Please join the Cato Institute for a celebration of the 81st anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Panelists will discuss modern prohibitions—from the Drug War to blue laws; tobacco regulation to transfats—drawing connections with their earlier antecedent.
Alcoholic beverages and other commonly restricted refreshments (bring on the trans fats!) will be served following the discussion.
#CatoDigital (formerly #NewMediaLunch) is a regular event series at the Cato Institute highlighting the intersection of tech, social media, and the ideas of liberty.
If you can’t make it to the Cato Institute, watch this event live online at www.cato.org/live and follow @CatoEvents on Twitter to get future event updates, live streams, and videos from the Cato Institute.
For a lawyer to do that once might seem bad luck, to do it 588 times seems rather like carelessness. [Beck on Eleventh Circuit review of Engle tobacco cases in Florida] Excerpt:
The district court displayed the patience of Job – for a long time it tried to get the plaintiffs to do after filing, what Rule 11 requires them to do beforehand, that is, to perform basic investigation of their cases. …
The court held, with remarkable restraint, that counsel’s inability to track down its own clients before the Engel filing deadline “was at least partially a problem of its own making” because they “signed up so many clients.” …
Maybe Engle Cases is an extreme example, but the problem this litigation exemplifies – massive solicitation of would-be plaintiffs, combined with utter disregard of pre-filing obligations such as Rule 11 – is present in just about every mass tort. In Engle Cases, out of the “4500 cases” originally filed, in the end “we are dealing with 29 ? and heading to 26.” The dirty little not-so-secret of mass tort practice is that the great majority (here it looks like more than 99%) of the cases clogging up the courts would be thrown out with little or no discovery if brought individually.
“Bowing to a forceful majority of opinion, the [Westminster, Mass.] Board of Health has killed its proposed ban on tobacco sales.” [Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise, AP (“This is a free country?” sign), Chris Snowdon (“The anti-smokers of Westminster… had to demand prohibition before the townspeople finally realized that they were dealing with prohibitionists”), earlier]
“They’re just taking away everyday freedoms, little by little,” said Nate Johnson, 32, an egg farmer who also works in an auto body shop, as he stood outside the store last week. “This isn’t about tobacco, it’s about control,” he said.
Right he is. And despite the Times reporter’s lifted eyebrow at the notion that “outside groups” are encouraging town officials to go forward with the ban, it’s worth asking how Westminster, Mass., population 7,400, came to have its very own “tobacco control officer.” Do you imagine the townspeople decided to create such a position with local tax funds? If so, read on.
For well over a decade the Massachusetts Municipal Association has run something called the Tobacco Control Technical Assistance Program, assisted by grant money from the state Department of Public Health. It does things like campaign for town-by-town hikes in the tobacco purchase age to 21, and town-by-town bans on tobacco sales in drug stores. It will surprise few that it has been in the thick of the Westminster situation.
This article, written for a friendly audience of public health advocates, frankly describes how the MMA project, with assistance from nonprofit and university groups as well as the state of Massachusetts, worked to break down the reluctance of town health boards to venture into restrictions on tobacco sales (scroll to “Roles of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, Local Boards of Health, and Tobacco Control Advocates”);
Local boards were enticed into hiring tobacco control staff by the DPH’s tobacco control grants. As a participant in the process explained, “[L]ocal boards of health looked at it as ‘oh, it’s a grant. Let’s apply for this grant. So now, what do we have to do, now that we’ve got it?’” … The grants dictated that local boards use those community members they had hired as their staff to assist them in enacting and enforcing tobacco control regulations…
The staff paid for with money from outside the town seem to have seen their job as, in part, lobbying the local officials: “We’ve had to work on each individual board [of health] member to get them to come around,” said one.
The account continues with many revealing details of how the outside advisers managed to orchestrate public hearings to minimize critics’ voice, deflect challenges with “we’ll take that under advisement” rather than actual answers, and in the case of particularly intense opposition, “back off for a couple of months” before returning. “Grant-funded regulatory advocates were able to counter all of [opponents’] arguments and tactics.”
In other words, an extra reason for the townspeople of Westminster to be angry is that they have been paying to lobby themselves. And it’s worth knowing exactly how the game plan works, because similar ones have been rolled out to localities in various states not only on “tobacco control” but on “food policy,” environmental bans and other topics. Grass roots? If so, most carefully cultivated in high places.
Update Nov. 21: board drops plan in face of overwhelming public opposition.