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U.S. House of Representatives

“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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Thanks to the sensational revelations from Hoover’s Peter Schweizer on 60 Minutes and elsewhere, the public is now aware of the uncanny investment success that members of the U.S. Congress enjoy when they personally bet on the stocks of companies with business in the capital. But is it lawful for them to be trading on inside information? I take up that question in my new Cato at Liberty post. More: Bainbridge, Stoll, @AndrewBreitbart.

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Updating our story of last December: A federal judge has given the go-ahead to former Rep. Steve Dreihaus’s suit against the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List for allegedly falsely characterizing his stands on issues during last year’s race, thus causing him to lose. Earlier, Driehaus had filed a complaint against the Anthony List under Ohio’s remarkable False Statements Law, “which criminalizes lying about public officials” and has been assailed by the ACLU among other groups as inconsistent with the First Amendment. [Seth McKelvey, Reason; Peter Roff, U.S. News]

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An end to impunity

by Walter Olson on July 28, 2011

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA), versions of which have been discussed in this space for years, would reverse the 1993 gutting of Rule 11, the federal rule providing sanctions for baseless lawsuits, and would thus establish that lawyers, like other professionals, should expect to be responsible for compensating those they injure by negligence or worse. Early this month LARA won the approval of the House Judiciary Committee, but is unlikely to prevail (this term, at least) in the more Litigation-Lobby-friendly Senate. [Stier, ShopFloor; earlier here, etc.]

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February 13 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 13, 2011

The Ohio lawmaker gives his side of the story. Earlier here.

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He bit into a sandwich wrap in 2008 and encountered an olive pit, and now he wants $150,000. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, Wonkette, Memeorandum]

P.S. Gawker finds video taken five days later on the House floor in which the Ohio representative “looks fine and talks normal” notwithstanding the “serious and permanent dental and oral injuries requiring multiple oral and dental surgeries.” And Daniel Fisher at Forbes:

No indication why Kucinich mulled this lawsuit for three years before filing it…..* The lawsuit alleges negligence and breach of implied warranty.

*Commenter “Mattie” says the SOL in DC for this type of suit is indeed three years, though it would be one year for some other torts.

Who besides the People’s Congressman would be willing to name America’s olive pit safety crisis and call out the Big Pit interests responsible?

P.P.S.: As someone was asking, wasn’t generous government-furnished health insurance — like the kind available to Members of Congress — supposed to cut down on the need for personal injury suits? And Matthew Heller at OnPoint News finds some precedent for the suit.

And further: That was fast, Kucinich says he’s settled the suit (Jan. 28).

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A former Congressional candidate in Westchester County, N.Y. is suing 16 reporters, writers, campaign officials and others for $1 million apiece, saying they unfairly portrayed him as racist. Jim Russell ran unsuccessfully in the Nineteenth Congressional District against Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), one of those named in his suit; he came under heavy criticism during the campaign over his 2001 authorship of a 16-page article in a publication called the Occidental Quarterly. [White Plains, N.Y. Journal-News] Last week we noted a lawsuit by a losing Congressional incumbent in Ohio.

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A 3-2 vote at the Consumer Product Safety Commission last week ensures that the federal government will put its imprimatur behind allegations about supposed hazards in consumer products — whether true or not. I explain in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

P.S. Kelly Young comments: “I wonder if they’d be willing to maintain a public database of complaints against federal employees?” More: Coyote (comparing relative sophistication of Amazon, TripAdvisor consumer ratings systems with primitive nature of CPSC’s); letter from Rep. Joe Barton, PDF; Washington Post; ACSH.

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“Top House Ethics Lawyer to Step Down” [BLT headline]

November 9 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 9, 2010

  • White House panel’s counsel: no evidence corner-cutting caused Gulf spill [NYT, Reuters] Furor ensues [WaPo]
  • Report: grief counselors assigned to Democratic congressional staffers [Maggie Haberman, Politico]
  • “Lawyer Sues for Humiliation and Lost Business Due to Misspelled Yellowbook Ad” [ABA Journal, South Dakota]
  • Argument today in important Supreme Court case, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion: will courts respect freedom of contract in consumer arbitration context, or yield Litigation Lobby the monopoly it seeks over dispute resolution? [Ted at PoL]
  • No search warrant needed: armed deputies in Orlando storm unlicensed barbershops, handcuff barbers [Balko, Reason "Hit and Run"]
  • After Colorado hit-run, banker allowed to plead down to misdemeanors lest his job be at risk [Greenfield]
  • FDA to decide whether to ban menthol in cigarettes [CEI]
  • Reshuffling blackjack decks is not “racketeering” [ten years ago on Overlawyered]

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October 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 12, 2010

  • Representing Prof. Michael Krauss, Ted Frank will file objection to Classmates.com class action settlement [CCAF]
  • Not without condescension, Harvard historian/New Yorker writer Jill Lepore asks why Woodrow Wilson’s so disliked these days; Radley Balko offers some help [The Agitator, NYT "Room for Debate"]
  • China needs true private property rights, according to Charter 08 document, which helped Liu Xiaobo win Nobel Peace Prize [Tyler Cowen]
  • Axelrod “foreign funders under every rug” demagogy might be turned against his own allies [Stoll; New York Times refutes earlier Obama talking point; Atlantic Wire; Sullum]
  • R.I.P. influential class actions and mass torts scholar Richard Nagareda [Vanderbilt Law School]
  • “Web Seminar Makes Case for Patent Troll Lawsuit Targets to Fight Back” [Washington Legal Foundation Legal Pulse]
  • Contrary to WSJ report, if Congressional staffers are profiting in stock trades by way of insider knowledge, they probably do face some risk of legal liability [Bainbridge; a not entirely unrelated inside-trading controversy]
  • Underpublicized: “California’s Proposed ‘Green Chemistry’ Regulations Move Forward” [Wajert]

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October 9 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 9, 2010

  • Update: “Tax Panel Rejects Lawyer’s Bid to Deduct Spending for Sex” [NYLJ, William Barrett/Forbes, earlier] And: “Musings on laws affecting adult entertainment, alcoholic beverages and other ‘vice’ industries” [Meeting the Sin Laws blog]
  • Mississippi: judge jails lawyer for not saying Pledge of Allegiance [Freeland]
  • More on much-written-about Israeli “rape by fraud” case [Volokh, more, earlier here and here]
  • “Tribune bankruptcy talks complicated by emergence of pugnacious hedge fund” [Romenesko; earlier on involvement of hedge funds in bankruptcies]
  • More disturbing tales from Connecticut probate court [Rick Green, Hartford Courant, earlier]
  • Marc Williams of the Defense Research Institute responds to Ted Frank’s criticism of many defense lawyers [PoL]
  • Advice for Australians: to fix your litigation system, look to Germany’s success [Ackland, Sydney Morning Herald]
  • Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) & ’70s band Orleans threaten suit against GOP remix ["Orleans Reunion Tour"]

“One of the countless drawbacks of being in Congress is that I am compelled to receive impertinent letters from a jackass like you in which you say I promised to have the Sierra Madre mountains reforested and I have been in Congress two months and haven’t done it. Will you please take two running jumps and go to hell.”

– Congressman John McGroarty, engaged in constituent service (1934).

(via Magliocca/Concur Op).

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Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, posted documents purporting to show that Toyota held onto safety documents it was supposed to turn over to opponents in litigation. Turns out the documents had been shoddily snipped, edited and mischaracterized to advance the charges against the automaker. [Christine Tierney, Detroit News via Henry Payne, NRO; more background on whistleblower controversy, The Recorder last year]

In the health care bill.

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