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And with Justice Anthony Kennedy as the pivot? It just might have happened this term, or so I conclude in a new Cato post.

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Defending the Obama administration’s new rules governing discipline at colleges and universities, ThinkProgress makes it all sound more reasonable by erroneously reporting that the crackdown is on “unwanted contact”; the actual phrase is “unwanted conduct,” with “verbal conduct,” i.e. speech, very much part of that [Will Creeley, FIRE]

In the July Commentary I have an article on the controversy over the new blueprint (“Sentence First, Verdict Afterward“). It’s behind a paywall, but you can purchase it individually, or better yet subscribe to Commentary which is full of other great articles as well.

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided it was okay to require arrested persons to submit to DNA testing meant to match them to unsolved crimes. [Maryland v. King; Robert Kaiser, Washington Post; Nina Totenberg, NPR] In an impassioned dissent joined by liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that an important civil liberties line is being crossed as the Court now approves suspicion-less searches of persons at a stage at which the law presumes them innocent, without any primary motivation except to gather evidence of unrelated crime.

I’ve got an article in The Daily Beast this morning on the Scalia dissent and its warnings that lawmakers may soon embrace a genetic surveillance state in the name of security. Excerpt:

In his dissent, Scalia warns of such a “genetic panopticon.” (The reference is to Jeremy Bentham’s idea of a prison laid out so that inmates could be watched at every moment.) And it’s closer than you may think. Already fingerprint requirements have multiplied, as the dissent points out, “from convicted criminals, to arrestees, to civil servants, to immigrants, to everyone with a driver’s license” in some states. DNA sample requirements are now following a similar path, starting reasonably enough with convicts before expanding, under laws passed by more than half the states as well as Maryland, to arrestees. (“Nearly one-third of Americans will be arrested for some offense by age 23.”) Soon will come wider circles. How long before you’ll be asked to give a DNA swab before you can board a plane, work as a lawn contractor, join the football team at your high school, or drive?

With the confidence that once characterized liberals of the Earl Warren–William Brennan school, Scalia says we can’t make catching more bad guys the be-all and end-all of criminal process:

“Solving unsolved crimes is a noble objective, but it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicionless law-enforcement searches. The Fourth Amendment must prevail. … I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

More: I’ve got this related piece in Newsweek on the Justices’ shifting Fourth Amendment alignments. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the Instalanche. And other commentaries from Daniel Fisher, Lowering the Bar (on the Jeremy Bentham angle; Scalia’s dissent mentions Bentham twice; Scott Greenfield; Julian Sanchez; Jacob Sullum). And Mississippi has just announced plans to match offspring of underage mothers to responsible fathers through DNA database checks based on umbilical cord blood. [NPR]

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For all with eyes to see (except maybe some folks at The New Yorker) the IRS scandal has been hiding in plain sight for more than a year, I argue in a new Cato post. For example, this site briefly covered the Service’s ridiculously broad documentary demands on Tea Party groups — for things like transcripts of speeches and radio shows and the contents of Facebook and Twitter postings– in March and May of last year.

The Treasury Inspector General’s report on the affair, released yesterday, is here. (Coverage roundup: Paul Caron, TaxProf.) It makes clear that many groups were singled out because of their controversial political stances and then subjected to both objectively unreasonable document demands (e.g., for thousands of pages of documentation) and objectively unreasonable delays (e.g., for two years) in resolving their applications. (The Service seldom if ever actually denied applications from the singled-out groups, perhaps because its actions would then have come under more rigorous court review). Meanwhile, other groups with controversial views of a different political valence were waved through. It is not a question of whether applications for tax exemption should somehow be “approved without question,” as some have contended, but whether they should come under review that is even-handed and with no more delay and regulatory burden than is inherent to the process. At Time, Michael Scherer collects past examples that suggest IRS retaliation against political adversaries is something of a tradition in America. (Similarly: Cato video podcast).

P.S. Defending itself against the Inspector General’s report, the IRS says the applicants flagged for special scrutiny “included organizations of all political views.” It points to three such left-leaning groups — out of 471 in all singled out for extra screening. [Bloomberg via Newser] Much more: Gregory Korte, USA Today (“As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved … the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.”) Meanwhile, L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik is unafraid of going way out on a limb to defend what the Service did: if you don’t want to be harassed for your dissidence, it seems, you shouldn’t have sought (c)(4) status in the first place.

Yet more: Reuters has illuminating coverage of how the Service tried to break one of the year’s biggest stories on a Friday afternoon via a friendly question before a room full of tax lawyers. (“They made a bet that this would be the quietest way to roll it out,” [Eric Dezenhall] said of the IRS strategy. “It didn’t work.”) “Did Citizens United Critics Push the Agency To Misbehave?” asks my Cato colleague John Samples, while Tim Lynch adduces “Some Empirical Evidence of IRS Political Manipulation”. The BBC has a lexicon of political scandal euphemisms (“tired and emotional,” “hiking the Appalachian Trail,” etc.)

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New from me at Cato: in covering the U.N. disabled-rights treaty, the Boston Globe bids to earn back its old nickname of “The Glib.” Earlier on the treaty here, here, etc.

Comcast Corp. v. Behrend

by Walter Olson on March 29, 2013

As I noted in this morning’s roundup, the Supreme Court spoke on Wednesday about class certification in an antitrust case from Philadelphia. Although a rather narrow and technical ruling it was not devoid of interest, or so I argue in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

I’ve got a flash reaction op-ed up at the New York Daily News site.

P.S. @gideonstrumpet: “I was indeed joking.

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I respond at Cato to a remarkably lame piece by Slate’s Emily Bazelon. Earlier on the case here and here.

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[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

I’m at the Commentary magazine blog this morning with a second bite (second gulp?) at the NYC soda ban ruling. This time I look at the separation-of-powers angle, and at the way Judge Milton Tingling, Jr.’s ruling addressed the overgrown ambitions of some in the “public health” community to control more and more of life. Although the decision did not forestall the New York City Council from adopting nanny-state regulations in the future should it see fit, I argue,

…yesterday’s decision should cheer us for other reasons. It holds the Gotham administration accountable for overstepping the separation of powers, an important principle in the safeguarding of liberty. (In a profile of Judge Tingling, the New York Times notes that he’s been skeptical of government claims to power in a number of other cases as well.)

Under separation of powers as generally understood at the time of the Framers, an executive agency cannot enact new legislation on its own, that being a role constitutionally reserved for the legislature. Especially during the Progressive Era and New Deal, these barriers were eroded as administrative agencies claimed a power to issue regulations that looked more and more like traditional legislation, under powers deemed to have been delegated by the legislature. Still, there are some limits, both under the U.S. Constitution and in New York (which under a 1987 case called Boreali v. Axelrod applies its own, quirky standard in evaluating whether a regulation oversteps the separation of powers.) And those limits to delegation were at the heart of the soda case.

The New York City Health Department was asserting a breathtakingly broad definition of its powers, on the grounds that successive city charters give it sweeping authority to address all matters relating to health. Under the interpretation advanced by Bloomberg’s lawyers, this vague charter language would empower the department to issue pretty much whatever diktats it pleases for New Yorkers to obey on any topic somehow related to advancing health….

Looking at cases where the agency’s authority to act had been upheld, the judge noted instances of emergencies, particularly those relating to epidemics of contagious or communicable diseases. … In that legal finding is the germ of a much-needed rebuke to some actors in the public-health movement, who have taken the centuries of moral and practical authority originally built up by their colleagues from the fight against epidemic infectious disease and dubiously sought to apply it to a dozen other health-related questions of life and lifestyle, including not only doughnuts, soft drinks and salty snacks but also such supposed “disease vectors” as gun ownership and overreliance on cars for commuting.

Read the whole thing at Commentary here. Background in yesterday’s post here (& Alex Adrianson, Heritage).

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This morning I was a guest on the Ralph Bristol show on Nashville Superstation WWTN and on the Ray Dunaway show on Hartford’s WTIC, talking about the court ruling striking down Mayor Bloomberg’s soda grab. The Orange County Register also reprinted my Daily Caller piece on the subject (& The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room). Earlier here, etc.

On Sunday the New York Times published a long, breathless screed attacking food company marketing (“Inside the hyper-engineered, savagely marketed, addiction-creating battle for ‘stomach share.'”) The article itself furnishes an example of empty, hype-fueled journalistic calories, or so I suggest in a new op-ed at the Daily Caller.

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My Cato post is here. I’d wish him bon voyage, but somehow it’s hard to associate him with happy travels.

Update: I’ve now expanded my thoughts into a Daily Caller op-ed.

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January 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 20, 2013

  • I’m in today’s NYT Book Review reviewing “Foundation,” Peter Ackroyd’s new book on English history up to the Tudors [NYT]
  • Stanford Law School launches religious liberty clinic [Karen Sloan, NLJ] AALS panel on “The Freedom of the Church” [Rick Garnett, Prawfs]
  • Party in breach, nasssty thief, we hates it forever: lawyer parses Hobbit’s Bilbo-dwarves contract [James Daily, Wired]
  • To pay for roads, vehicle-mile fees > gas tax, but either > general sales tax, argues Randal O’Toole [Cato at Liberty]
  • Steven Teles on the high cost of opaque, complex and indirect government action [New America via Reihan Salam]
  • I’ve given a blurb to Mark White’s forthcoming nudging-back book on behavioral economics, “The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism” [Amazon]
  • “Internet-Use Disorder: The Newest Disability?” [Jon Hyman]

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I’m in this morning’s New York Post with an opinion piece about the thoroughgoing debacle the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) got itself into with a decade-long lawsuit charging mistreatment of elephants at the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey Circuses (earlier). Last month ASPCA agreed to pay Ringling’s owner $9.3 million to settle charges of litigation abuse. Other defendants in the countersuit, including the Humane Society of the U.S., have declined to settle and remain in the litigation.

Later in the piece I draw a parallel to the recently dismissed Hudson Farm litigation in Maryland, in which a judge lambasted Waterkeeper Alliance for shoddy litigation conduct in a Clean Water Act suit. Is it worth rethinking the whole policy, which dates back to 1970, of broad tax deductibility for suing people in “cause litigation”? Related from Ted Frank at Point of Law.

P.S. The comments section on the Post piece is more substantive than most, and includes a statement from HSUS. (& response from ASPCA head)

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Maryland law clinic follies

by Walter Olson on December 28, 2012

I’m in the Baltimore Sun with an op-ed about the University of Maryland’s ill-chosen decision to represent the Waterkeeper Alliance in what was intended to be a landmark environmental case against an Eastern Shore farm family. Earlier here, etc. (& welcome Glenn Reynolds/Instapundit readers)

P.S. Welcome listeners from Baltimore’s WBAL, which had me as a guest Friday afternoon to discuss the suit. Research assistance thanks to Ryan Mulvey, Cato intern.

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I’m in the NYT’s “Room for Debate” feature dissenting from a proposed extension of criminal law (& Amy Adler/Advice Goddess).

Bork and his adversaries

by Walter Olson on December 20, 2012

I’m in today’s New York Post with an op-ed about how, agree or disagree with Bork’s views, you can’t defend many of the tactics used against him in 1987. Earlier here (& welcome Nick Gillespie/Reason, Andrew Sullivan, Stephen Bainbridge, Reihan Salam, Tom Smith, Pejman Yousefzadeh, Jonathan Adler/Volokh, Memeorandum readers).

More: David Frum recalls a very funny Bork law exam. Ramesh Ponnuru defends Bork’s famous “inkblot” comment as reasonable in its context. Much more on that question from Randy Barnett. Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen casts a vote against. At Secular Right, I add another observation or two about Bork’s religious views. Via Andrew Grossman, a clip on the beard issue.

Yet more: Richard Epstein at Ricochet. Meanwhile, some commentators have taken the line that uncivil or not, the actual charges by Kennedy and others against Bork were accurate enough. Mickey Kaus, who is sympathetic to judicial restraint but less so to Bork, links to a 1989 New Republic review in which he shed light on that:

True, paranoia on Bork’s part is amply justified. There is a liberal legal culture, and it was out to get him. … And it got him, in part, by sleazily misrepresenting some of his views. Most famously, a narrow Bork ruling was falsely characterized as favoring “sterilizing workers.” But there were other nasty distortions, not all by fringe interest groups. Senator Edward Kennedy charged that in “Bork’s America… schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution,” when Bork had never opposed teaching evolution. Senator Paul Simon implied Bork might approve the pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott.

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My new article at The Blaze, based (among other things) on a precinct analysis of the election results last month in Prince George’s County, Maryland: “the black precincts in P.G. with the strongest inclination toward social conservatism… gave Republican candidates a vote percentage more often associated with Libertarian candidates and rounding errors.” Although some Republicans have been keeping the runways clear and waving at every dot on the horizon for 20 years or more, the planes still aren’t landing (& welcome David Frum/Daily Beast readers).