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U.S. House of Representatives

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:

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I’ve long found it exasperating when would-be lawmakers take the view that it’s okay for them to vote for measures that might be unconstitutional because, after all, the courts are there to backstop things. The Michigan businessman who’s challenging Rep. Justin Amash in a Republican primary is just out with a particularly flagrant quote along those lines to which I respond at Cato at Liberty.

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Paul Barrett at Business Week:

…even a politically moderate, law school-educated guy like me, someone who’s perfectly prepared to root for a suit against a dishonest insurance company or an exploitative landlord, finds himself increasingly dismayed by the uses to which our civil justice system is put.

That’s by way of introducing the lawsuit filed by 69-year-old Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), known as a big-time smoker, attributing her lung cancer to asbestos products made by more than 40 companies. Did we mention that representing her is the politically well-connected New York firm of Weitz & Luxenberg?

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Yesterday I poked fun at a ridiculous piece at HuffPo (apparently written by an undergraduate who was given a byline as a university researcher) claiming that doubling wages at McDonald’s would be no big deal for its prices or business strategy. Well, hats off to HuffPo, which has now withdrawn the piece, apologized for its errors, and substituted a piece that tries to take a more sober look at the issue. I wonder whether Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who was completely taken in by the original article, is feeling sheepish now (via Twitchy).

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  • Detroit police blasted for arresting Free Press photographer who filmed arrest with her iPhone [Poynter]
  • “The discomfort of principles” in criminal defense matters [Gideon's Trumpet]
  • House Judiciary panel on overcriminalization and mens rea shows genuinely useful bipartisanship [Jonathan Blanks, Cato] One in four new bills these days to create criminal liability lacks mens rea [Paul Rosenzweig/Alex Adrianson, Heritage]
  • Auburn, Alabama: “Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas” [Reason TV]
  • Film project on overturned Death Row convictions [One for Ten] “Forensics review reveals hair evidence was possibly exaggerated in 27 capital cases” [ABA Journal]
  • Critics of Stand Your Ground seem to be having trouble coming up with examples to back their case [Sullum]
  • Maine: “Hancock County prosecutor admits violating bar rules in sexual assault trial” [Bill Trotter, Bangor Daily News]

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Torts roundup

by Walter Olson on July 3, 2013

  • State attorneys general and contingent-fee lawyers: West Virginia high court says OK [WV Record] Similar Nevada challenge [Daniel Fisher]
  • Driver of bus that fatally crushed pedestrian fails to convince court on can’t-bear-to-look-at-evidence theory [David Applegate, Heartland Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly]
  • UK uncovers biggest car crash scam ring, detectives say County Durham motorists were paying up to £100 extra on insurance [BBC, Guardian, Telegraph]
  • “A Litigator Reviews John Grisham’s The Litigators” [Max Kennerly]
  • Quin Hillyer, who’s written extensively on litigation abuse, is putting journalism on hold and running for Congress from Mobile, Ala. [American Spectator]
  • Not clear how man and 5-year-old son drowned in pool — he’d been hired for landscaping — but homeowner being sued [Florence, Ala.; WAFF]
  • “U.S. Legal System Ranked as Most Costly” [Shannon Green, Corp Counsel] “International comparisons of litigation costs: Europe, U.S. and Canada” [US Chamber]

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June 28 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 28, 2013

  • Record-setting tenure of bullying Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) “nothing to celebrate” [Dan Calabrese, Detroit News] Compare: “How to shut down a restaurant in Mexico” [Rob Beschizza]
  • How far does discrimination law go? Bill Baldwin interviews John Donohue [Forbes, and thanks for further-reading link]
  • Claim: bonding company responsible for actions of criminal after tracking failed [Insurance Journal, S.C.]
  • Memo to California legislature: don’t abolish statute of limitation on abuse claims [Prof. Bainbridge]
  • Here Come the Other “Happy Birthday” Lawsuits [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • SCOTUS story someone should cover: Christian-right legal groups backed “right to advocate prostitution” brief in AID case [Volokh, earlier]
  • “A TSA employee spotted [the beautiful jeweled lighter] and I swear his eyes lit up.” [David Henderson]

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May 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 10, 2013

  • Electric-car maker Tesla doesn’t get many kind words from free market types, but here’s one [Coyote] More: North Carolina auto dealer lobby strikes back [News & Observer]
  • One lawyer’s selection of the worst lawyer billboards, though they’re far from the worst we’ve seen [John M. Phillips]
  • House hearings on litigation abuse and on litigation and international competitiveness [Judiciary, more, Point of Law]
  • Ninth Circuit cites conflict of interest, throws out credit reporting class settlement [Trial Insider; Daniel Fisher]
  • Private pensions, market-based water rates and more: “Australian travel notes from a policy wonk” [Alex Tabarrok]
  • “Use elevators properly. Riding outside of cars can be dangerous and deadly” [Scouting NY, seen in Bronx apartment building]
  • “It’s long been my view that blawgs, law blogs, are the greatest peer reviewed content ever created.” [Greenfield]

May 7 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 7, 2013

  • In quiet retreat from STOCK Act, Congress dispenses with trading transparency for its staff [Prof. Bainbridge]
  • Deep-pocket quest: hotel named as additional defendant in Florida A&M hazing death [Orlando Sentinel, earlier]
  • “Keynes didn’t expect to have kids so he didn’t care about the future” wheeze long predates Niall Ferguson [Kenneth Silber; my new post at IGF, where I've also been posting lately on the topic of adoption]
  • Ten and five (respectively) reasons for a plaintiff’s lawyer to turn down a personal injury case [Eric Turkewitz, Max Kennerly]
  • Setback for man seeking to trademark “Eat More Kale” [AP, earlier]
  • Gawker is now on the UK “Warning: This bag of nuts may contain nuts” case [earlier]
  • Overlawyered’s Twitter feed just passed the 7,000-follower mark, while our Facebook page, which recently stood at 1,000 likes, has now surged to nearly 2,500. Thanks for following and liking, and if you’d like to engage with other parts of Cato on social media, check out this nifty guide by Zach Graves.

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The House Republican Study Committee calls for reconsideration of over-restrictive copyright law, then un-calls for it a day later [TechDirt, rueful update; Alex Tabarrok]

P.S. And check out this upcoming Dec. 6 Cato discussion of the newly published Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive To Excess (Mercatus Center; Jerry Brito, ed.)

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on October 6, 2012

  • Visual representation of debate result (courtesy Chris Fountain) “Obama should have spent more time in court” [David Frum] “Can you imagine the rewards points we earned by paying for wars with the national credit card?” [@BCAppelbaum via @TPCarney]
  • Correcting the tax side of the debate: factory relocation, oil deductions, corporate jets [Daniel Mitchell, Cato-at-Liberty]
  • Race heats up for three Florida justices [Insurance Journal, earlier] Unions campaign for incumbent justices even as court deliberates on pension lawsuit [Sunshine State News]
  • Maybe Rep. Todd Akin isn’t the most unscientific member of the House Science Committee after all [TPM]
  • Yes, the HHS welfare work waiver is a real issue [WSJ editorial]
  • “Whistle-Blower Lawyers Throw Support Behind Obama” [NYT via FedSoc]
  • Michael Greve doesn’t hold back, tells us what he really thinks of Mme. Warren [Law and Liberty]

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Martin Redish (Northwestern) and John Beisner (Skadden Arps) were among the panelists at the June 1 hearing, and cy pres slush funds were a particular focus of interest [John O'Brien/Legal NewsLine, Ted Frank/PoL]

The federal government should keep its busy hands off local traffic laws — and that goes for bribing states to its will, as well as issuing direct orders. Today the House will debate a measure that would make that point by cutting off a fledgling program that would pay states for doing what “distracted driving” crusader and DoT secretary Ray LaHood lacks the constitutional authority or political capital to do directly. I explain in my new post at Cato at Liberty.

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February 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 29, 2012

  • Jackpot justice and New Jersey pharmacies (with both a Whitney Houston and a Ted Frank angle) [Fox, PoL, our Jan. 3 post]
  • New Mexico: “Trial lawyers object to spaceport limits” [Las Cruces Bulletin]
  • Dodd-Frank: too big not to fail [The Economist] Robert Teitelman (The Deal) on new Stephen Bainbridge book Corporate Governance After the Financial Crisis [HuffPo] Securities suits: “trial lawyers probably won’t be able to defend a defective system forever” [WSJ Dealpolitik]
  • Uh-oh: U.K. Labour opposition looks at unleashing U.S.-style class actions [Guardian] “U.K. Moves ‘No Win, No Fee’ Litigation Reforms to 2013″ [Suzi Ring, Legal Week]
  • More on controls on cold medicines as anti-meth measure [Radley Balko, Megan McArdle, Xeni Jardin, earlier here, here, here]
  • Recognizable at a distance: “In Germany, a Limp Domestic Economy Stifled by Regulation” [NY Times]
  • Fewer lawyers in Congress these days [WSJ Law Blog]

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DealBreaker and Prof. Bainbridge try to clarify what the proposed ban would do, and address fears that it would criminalize stock trading by persons not employed by Congress who learn of impending legislative developments. Related: Jim Copland.

“Rights-bearing individuals do not forfeit those rights when they associate in groups” argue my Cato colleagues Ilya Shapiro and Caitlyn McCarthy in the John Marshall Law Review [SSRN via Cato at Liberty]:

Much of the criticism of Citizens United stems from the claim that the Constitution does not protect corporations because they are not “real” people. … This essay will demonstrate why the common argument that corporations lack rights because they aren’t people demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both the nature of corporations and the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, Virginia blogger/attorney Doug Mataconis [via the much missed Larry Ribstein] analyzes a constitutional amendment advanced by a number of Democratic representatives and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) which would, among other provisions, propose to abolish the constitutional rights of incorporated businesses, with the possible exception of rights held by “the press.” The measure would also impose a constitutional prohibition on (not just authorize official regulation of) such businesses’ engagement in “expenditures,” such as buying newspaper ads expressing their views, during initiative and referendum campaigns as well as elections for office.

Along with abolishing incorporated businesses’ rights, the Sanders proposal contains a further provision of high importance (flagged by Eugene Volokh) that would abolish the constitutional rights of any and all non-profits and similar private entities that are “established … to promote business interests,” and would impose on them the same constitutionally mandated silence during initiatives, referenda and the like. Note the results of this language, which we must presume are intentional: in, say, a fight over a ballot measure that would increase some business tax, the citizens’ committee organized to agitate against the tax would be forbidden to expend money upon a determination that it had been “established … to promote business interests.” Such a private group would also be deemed to have no constitutional rights of any other sort — rights against, say, having its meetings stormed and broken up by police. Meanwhile, the citizens’ committee organized to agitate for the tax would retain not only its rights to speak and to spend money on behalf of its views but also all its other constitutional rights. Rarely do politicians, in this country at least, make it so clear in advance that their intent is to silence their opponents.

Who are the lawmakers who would propose such a measure? The House version was introduced by Rep. Theodore Deutch [FL] and its co-sponsors are Reps. Steve Cohen [TN], John Conyers, Jr. [MI], Peter DeFazio [OR], Keith Ellison [MN], Sam Farr [CA], Barney Frank [MA], Marcia Fudge [OH], Raul Grijalva [AZ], Alcee Hastings [FL], Sheila Jackson Lee [TX], “Hank” Johnson, Jr. [GA], Rick Larsen [WA], John Larson [CT], Barbara Lee [CA], Carolyn Maloney [NY], Jim McDermott [WA], Frank Pallone, Jr. [NJ], Chellie Pingree [ME], Charles Rangel [NY], Betty Sutton [OH], Chris Van Hollen [MD], and Peter Welch [VT].

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They’re coming up within the next few days, but Prof. Bainbridge warns that the draft legislation circulating from the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is “bizarre” and “toothless.” Earlier here, here, etc.

More: Gillibrand’s office says the weakness of the proposal was due to an inadvertent drafting error and that it will be given teeth. C-SPAN covers the hearing, the SEC and Sen. Scott Brown make their views known, Todd Henderson and Larry Ribstein take a contrarian position, and Prof. Bainbridge covers the scholarly testimony.

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November 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 22, 2011

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