Category: Administrative Law

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B Corps for Bankers

Claire Hill and Richard Painter’s new Better Bankers, Better Banks aims to find a way forward by looking backward – and by casting a few sidelong glances as well. It is valuable for what it has to say about the view in all directions.

Begin from where we are – the point from which Hill and Painter would like to see forward movement. Where we are now is a world in which, even seven years out from the crash of ’08, banking scandal is near boring in its ubiquity. From Libor in 2012 to Euribor, forex, commodity and precious metal cornering thereafter, the story of financial markets of late seems an unending parade of horribles.

How do we get out of this seeming cesspool? Here is where Hill and Painter look backward and sideways.

First let’s look back. Time was when ‘bankers’ – Hill and Painter employ the term broadly to cover all folk who hold ‘other folks’ money’ – invested not only our money, but their money too. By organizing as general partnerships whose partners were jointly and severally liable for losses, they kept, as the current idiom has it, ‘skin in the game.’ This of course aligned their interests with client and institutional interests – to some extent, anyway. (Names like ‘Jay Gould’ should remind us that ‘some extent’ wasn’t the ‘full extent.’) And so there were limits on how much by way of other folks’ money the bankers were likely to fritter away.

Now let’s look sideways. There appears to be growing consensus, in the face of such scandals as those just rehearsed, that our regulatory and law enforcement regimes’ penchant for penalizing banks rather than bankers just isn’t cutting it. Compared to the gains to be had from wrongful behavior unlikely to be caught, even five or twelve billion dollar settlements between banks and their regulators are chump change. Oughtn’t we, then, focus our efforts upon the human agents through whom the banks act? After all, five billion – or five years in jail – are more likely to pinch if you’re human.

Hill and Painter like what they see in both directions. They find limitations, however, in how effective the enforcement of finance-regulatory provisions can be. These, they believe, are just too easy to game – a fact that might partly account for regulators’ going after the banks rather than the bankers in the first place. Why not, then, take yet another sidelong glance in another direction – that of contemporary moves to simulate better regulation through private ordering? Are there not means, for example, of appealing to socially responsible investors by committing to operate as a socially responsible business – e.g., as a ‘B Corp’ or ‘Benefit Corp’?

Indeed there are, and though they do not discuss these new business forms, Hill and Painter valuably adapt, in effect, the idea behind them to financial firms. Herewith the authors’ novel suggestion to introduce a practice of what they call ‘Covenant Banking.’ The idea is for financial firms whose owners or managers are comfortable with the idea to undertake ‘skin in the game’ commitments on the part of their managers. Managers would voluntarily assume some liability for losses, thereby partly replicating the ancien regime of pre-corporate partnership banking. Investors could then choose between what kinds of institutions through which they invest – the more risk-averse perhaps working through covenant banks, the more risk-cavalier working through today’s more familiar casinoish firms.

It would be hard not to like this proposal. What’s not to like? Like recent proposals for Wall Street voluntarily to maintain ‘naughty lists‘ of bankers who have gotten themselves into trouble, it imposes nothing, yet offers something – the prospect of ‘better bankers,’ hence ‘better banks,’ for at least some investors. It simply expands the field of choice, and who in these times doesn’t like choice?

If I have any reservations about Hill and Painter’s proposal or their brief in its favor, they have to do with the prospect of some people’s possibly taking the authors to claim or to promise more than they actually intend.

To begin with, we should note that wrongs such as those alleged in connection with Libor, Euribor, forex, and commodity and precious metal cornering are not wrongs of excessive risk-taking. They are wrongs of sheer fraud and manipulation. It isn’t the case that ‘skin in the game’ on the part of the relevant fraudsters in these cases ‘would’ have helped; the ‘skin’ seems to have been at the core of the ‘game’ from the start, and was indeed part of the problem – the fraudsters profited precisely by illicitly betting their own money on what they controlled. Hill and Painter, then, should not be taken to be targeting this form of market abuse through their proposal.

A distinct but related point has to do with the lead-up, not to 2012 and after, but to 2008. It is still common to hear that year’s cataclysm blamed upon venal behavior or ‘excessive risk-taking’ by ‘bankers.’ And such behavior clearly occurred – it always does. But a very strong case can be made – I think I and others have made it – that the principal causes of 2008 were more radical than mere vice or recklessness on the part of some bankers. They are endemic to capitalism itself absent serious and sustained effort on the part of the polity to distribute capital’s returns – or capital itself – far more equitably than we’d managed before 1929 or between 1970 and 2008. ‘Better bankers’ would certainly be better than worse bankers; better still would be better distributions of that with which bankers bank.

Finally, there is a danger in underselling what proper law enforcement, adequately funded and staffed, can do where finance-regulation is concerned. When Wall Street contributes more to political campaigns than most other industries, when DOJ officials openly admit to having feared to prosecute bankers for fear of rattling markets, and when regulators like the CFTC and the SEC are chronically understaffed and underfunded, we should be skeptical of suggestions that ‘gameability’ of the rules is the sole – or even principal – reason for old fashioned law enforcement’s not having eradicated rulebreaking by financiers. Indeed, as Hill and Painter themselves note, a rule change at the NYSE in 1970 played a critical role in the move from partnership to incorporated form among Wall Street investment banks. If that is so, could a legal re-imposition of some variant of the old rule not itself make for ‘better bankers’?

None of these caveats should be taken as more than what they are – mere caveats. There is much, much to be learned from a reading of Hill and Painter, and much is quite plausibly promised by their Covenant Banking. And since, as before noted, their proposal is made in effect to the banks rather than the polity, it seems to be all upside, no down. Let, then, those bankers intrigued by the Hill/Painter proposal give it a go. One might even imagine some funds offering their services in A and B flavors, so to speak – in Covenant and Noncovenant forms. In such case consistently better performance by one kind over the other might in future foment a stampede to the winning kind, and with it a privately worked transformation.

From Territorial to Functional Governance

Susan Crawford is one of the leading global thinkers on digital infrastructure. Her brilliant book Captive Audience spearheaded a national debate on net neutrality. She helped convince the Federal Communications Commission to better regulate big internet service providers. And her latest intervention–on Uber–is a must-read. Crawford worries that Uber will rapidly monopolize urban ride services. It’s repeatedly tried to avoid regulation and taxes. And while it may offer a good deal to drivers and riders now, there is no guarantee it will in the future.

A noted critic of the sharing economy, Tom Slee, has backed up Crawford’s concerns, from an international perspective. “For a smallish city in Canada, what happens to accountability when faced with a massive American company with little interest in Canadian employment law or Canadian traditions?”, Slee asks, raising a very deep point about the nature of governance. What happens to a city when its government’s responsibilities are slowly disaggregated, functionally? Some citizens may want to see the effective governance of paid rides via Uber, of spare rooms via AirBnB, and so on. A full privatization of city governance awaits, from water to sidewalks.

If you’re concerned about that, you may find my recent piece on the sharing economy of interest. We’ll also be discussing this and similar issues at Northeastern’s conference “Tackling the Urban Core Puzzle.” Transitions from territorial to functional governance will be critical topics of legal scholarship in the coming decade.

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FAN 71.2 (First Amendment News) Floyd Abrams prevails in off-label drug case — Court grants preliminary injunction

[Today a] U.S. judge . . . barred the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from stopping Irish drugmaker Amarin Corp from promoting its fish oil drug for off-label uses, saying the company is protected by the First Amendment.The preliminary order by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan means Amarin can promote its Vascepa pill to doctors for off-label use as long as it does so truthfully. Friday’s decision is a preliminary injunction, not a final order. However, Engelmayer said in granting the injunction that Amarin was likely to prevail. –Reuters, Aug. 7, 2015

Four days ago I wrote a post titled “Amarin v. FDA –Important Commercial Speech Case May be Decided Soon.”

Well, that case was decided today. In a detailed and nuanced 71-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled in the Plaintiffs’ favor and granted a preliminary injunction. Floyd Abrams was the lead counsel for Amarin.

Recall the respective claims made by the parties:

→ Plaintiff’s Claim: “Amarin Pharma wants to provide healthcare professionals with truthful, non-misleading information about its prescription drug Vascepa®, and four doctors who want to receive that information, as they determine when and whether to prescribe that drug. If Amarin provides that information, however, it is at high risk of criminal and civil sanctions being sought against it by the United States.”

→ Government’s Claim: “Plaintiffs seek a court order that would allow Amarin to distribute its drug Vascepa under circumstances which could establish that Amarin intends an unapproved new use for Vascepa, i.e., a use for which FDA has not determined that the drug is safe and effective. But Plaintiffs’ legal arguments strike at the very heart of the new drug approval process, and a court decision in Plaintiffs’ favor has the potential to establish precedent that would return the country to the pre-1962 era when companies were not required to prove that their drugs were safe and effective for each of their intended uses.”

→ District Court Holding

The Court has held that Amarin’s proposed communications, as modified herein, are presently truthful and non-misleading. But the dynamic nature of science and medicine is that knowledge is ever-advancing. A statement that is fair and balanced today may become incomplete or otherwise misleading in the future as new studies are done and new data is acquired. The Court’s approval today of these communications is based on the present record. Amarin bears the responsibility, going forward, of assuring that its communications to doctors regarding off-label use of Vascepa remain truthful and non-misleading.

→ District Court’s order:

The Court grants Amarin’s application for preliminary relief. Specifically, the Court declares that:

(1.)  Amarin may engage in truthful and non-misleading speech promoting the off-label use of Vascepa, i.e., to treat patients with persistently high triglycerides, and under Coronia, such speech may not form the basis of a prosecution for misbranding; and

(2) Based on the information presently known, the combination of statements and disclosures that Amarin proposes to make to doctors relating to the use of Vascepa to treat persons with persistently high triglycerides, as such communications have been modified herein,* is truthful and non-misleading.

See alsoCourt Approves Amarin (AMRN) to Tell Doctors About Off-Label Vascepa Usage,” StreetInsider.com, Aug. 7, 2015 (listing approved statements).

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FAN 70.1 (First Amendment News) Amarin v. FDA –Important Commercial Speech Case May be Decided Soon

The FDA has long sought to ban manufacturers from promoting off-label uses of approved drugs and medical devices.  In taking the position that manufacturers and their agents cannot promote off-label uses, the FDA suggests they are safeguarding the public from misbranded medical products and ensuring that manufacturers do not circumvent the drug and device approval processes. Critics, however, have long contended that the FDA’s position violates the First Amendment to the extent it prohibits truthful speech. — Evelien Verpeet, ReedSmith, June 18, 2015

Should pharmaceutical companies be able to advertise drugs for uses not  approved by the FDA? It seems like a no brainer — of course not! But as with so many other things in life and law, the answer (especially the First Amendment answer) is not so obvious.

→ The caseAmarin Pharma, Inc. v. United States Food & Drug Administration (Dist. Ct., S. Dist. NY).

→ Judge: The matter was argued before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer on July 7, 2015. A ruling is expected soon.

Unknown5→ Plaintiff’s Claim: “Amarin Pharma wants to provide healthcare professionals with truthful, non-misleading information about its prescription drug Vascepa®, and four doctors who want to receive that information, as they determine when and whether to prescribe that drug. If Amarin provides that information, however, it is at high risk of criminal and civil sanctions being sought against it by the United States.”

U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara

U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara

→ Government’s Claim: “Plaintiffs seek a court order that would allow Amarin to distribute its drug Vascepa under circumstances which could establish that Amarin intends an unapproved new use for Vascepa, i.e., a use for which FDA has not determined that the drug is safe and effective. But Plaintiffs’ legal arguments strike at the very heart of the new drug approval process, and a court decision in Plaintiffs’ favor has the potential to establish precedent that would return the country to the pre-1962 era when companies were not required to prove that their drugs were safe and effective for each of their intended uses.”

The FDA has long banned promotion of drugs for uses other than those it has approved. Yet so-called off-label uses are legal and account for about 20% of all prescriptions. Some off-label uses of drugs have even become the standard of care for particular conditions. But the drug’s manufacturer and its agents—and only them—cannot legally talk about this. Patients can—and do—discuss off-label uses of drugs endlessly in online forums. Doctors certainly exchange information about these uses. — David B. Rivkin Jr. &  Andrew Grossman, WSJ, May 21, 2015

 P’s Counsel: Floyd Abrams is the lead counsel for the Plaintiff with Joel Kurtzberg and Michael B. Weiss (see here re P’s complaint)

→ Gov.’s CounselPreet Bharara is the attorney for the Defendant along with Ellen London and Benjamin Mizer

→ Amicus Briefs: Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Washington Legal Foundation — both in support of the Plaintiff / Public Citizen in support of the United States

→ FDA Letter to Judge Engelmayer, June 8, 2015 (see here for a discussion of the mootness issue raised by this letter)

Excerpts from United States v. Caronia (2nd Cir. 2012) re off-label promotions 

The government’s construction of the FDCA asprohibiting off-label promotion does not, by itself, withstand scrutiny under Central Hudson’s third prong [that the regulation directly advance the government’s interests] . . . . The last prong of Central Hudson requires thegovernment’s regulation to be narrowly drawn to further the interests served. . . Here, the government’s construction of the FDCA to impose a complete and criminal ban on off-label promotion by pharmaceutical manufacturers is more extensive than necessary to achieve the government’s substantial interests. . . . We conclude simply that the government cannot prosecute pharmaceutical manufacturers and their representatives under the FDCA for speech promoting the lawful, off-label use of an FDA-approved drug. Judge Denny Chin for the majority.

* * * *

[T]he majority calls into question the very foundations of our century-old system of drug regulation. I do not believe that the Supreme Court’s precedents compel such a result. . . . If drug manufacturers were allowed to promote FDA-approved drugs for non-approved uses, they would have little incentive to seek FDA approval for those uses. — Judge Debra Ann Livingston dissenting

Summary of Amarin’s First Amendment Arguments Read More

Air Traffic Control for Drones

8435473266_16e7ae4191_zRecently a man was arrested and jailed for a night after shooting a drone that hovered over his property. The man felt he was entitled (perhaps under peeping tom statutes?) to privacy from the (presumably camera-equipped) drone. Froomkin & Colangelo have outlined a more expansive theory of self-help:

[I]t is common for new technology to be seen as risky and dangerous, and until proven otherwise drones are no exception. At least initially, violent self-help will seem, and often may be, reasonable even when the privacy threat is not great – or even extant. We therefore suggest measures to reduce uncertainties about robots, ranging from forbidding weaponized robots to requiring lights, and other markings that would announce a robot’s capabilities, and RFID chips and serial numbers that would uniquely identify the robot’s owner.

On the other hand, the Fortune article reports:

In the view of drone lawyer Brendan Schulman and robotics law professor, Ryan Calo, home owners can’t just start shooting when they see a drone over their house. The reason is because the law frowns on self-help when a person can just call the police instead. This means that Meredith may not have been defending his house, but instead engaging in criminal acts and property damage for which he could have to pay.

I am wondering how we might develop a regulatory infrastructure to make either the self-help or police-help responses more tractable. Present resources seem inadequate. I don’t think the police would take me seriously if I reported a drone buzzing my windows in Baltimore—they have bigger problems to deal with. If I were to shoot it, it might fall on someone walking on the sidewalk below. And it appears deeply unwise to try to grab it to inspect its serial number.

Following on work on license plates for drones, I think that we need to create a monitoring infrastructure to promote efficient and strict enforcement of law here. Bloomberg reports that “At least 14 companies, including Google, Amazon, Verizon and Harris, have signed agreements with NASA to help devise the first air-traffic system to coordinate small, low-altitude drones, which the agency calls the Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management.” I hope all drones are part of such a system, that they must be identifiable as to owner, and that they can be diverted into custody by responsible authorities once a credible report of lawbreaking has occurred.

I know that this sort of regulatory vision is subject to capture. There is already misuse of state-level drone regulation to curtail investigative reporting on abusive agricultural practices. But in a “free-for-all” environment, the most powerful entities may more effectively create technology to capture drones than they deploy lobbyists to capture legislators. I know that is a judgment call, and others will differ. I also have some hope that courts will strike down laws against using drones for reporting of matters of public interest, on First Amendment/free expression grounds.

The larger point is: we may well be at the cusp of a “this changes everything” moment with drones. Illah Reza Nourbakhsh’s book Robot Futures imagines the baleful consequences of modern cities saturated with butterfly-like drones, carrying either ads or products. Grégoire Chamayou’s A Theory of the Drone presents a darker vision, of omniveillance (and, eventually, forms of omnipotence, at least with respect to less technologically advanced persons) enabled by such machines. The present regulatory agenda needs to become more ambitious, since “black boxed” drone ownership and control creates a genuine Ring of Gyges problem.

Image Credit: Outtacontext.

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FAN 67 (First Amendment News) En Banc Unanimous Ruling from DC Circuit Upholds Federal Ban on Contributions by Federal Contractors

This is quite a big deal, especially in its unanimity. — Richard Hasen, Election Law Blog

Most difficult of all to accept is that the court of appeals saw nothing amiss with the law that allows corporate contractors, their officers, directors and shareholders to make contributions within the limits of the law, but denied these individual contractors a similar opportunity. — Alan Morrison, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs

On the bright side, contractors’ rights to speak independently, through SuperPACs and otherwise, are unaffected; while the court didn’t reach that issue, the government is clearly much less justified in regulating that space. Ilya Shapiro, co-counsel on amicus brief in support of the Plaintiffs.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

“In a victory for good government, the en banc D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today unanimously — and correctly — rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the federal ban on campaign contributions by federal contractors. The ban applies to corporations, other entities and individuals who have federal contracts.” That is how Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 described yesterday’s ruling in Wagner v. Federal Election CommissionDemocracy 21 joined with the Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen to file an amicus brief in the Wagner case supporting the constitutionality of the government contractor contribution ban. (See 52 U.S.C. § 30119(a)(1))

The 62-page opinion was written by Chief Judge Merrick Garland, and there were no separate opinions. The other jurists sitting on the case were Circuit Judges Karen Henderson, Judith Rogers, David Tatel, Janice Rogers Brown, Kavanaugh, Sri Srinivasan, Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins.

Here are some highlights from Chief Judge Garland’s opinion:

  1. Standard of Review: “We . . . proceed to examine whether, with respect to § 30119, the government has “‘demonstrate[d] a sufficiently important interest and employ[ed] means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms.’”
  2. Historical backdrop: “historical pedigree is significant. As the Court said in Beaumont, ‘[j]udicial deference is particularly warranted where, as here, we deal with a congressional judgment that has remained essentially unchanged throughout a century of ‘careful legislative adjustment.’ [citation] Moreover, . . . the lineage of the statute makes clear that its objects are the legitimate and important purposes that the Commission claims they are.”
  3. Quid pro quo corruption: “Of course, we would not expect to find — and we cannot demand — continuing evidence of large-scale quid pro quo corruption or coercion involving federal contractor contributions because such contributions have been banned since 1940. . . . [Even so, the] FEC has assembled an impressive, if dismaying, account of pay-to-play contracting scandals, not only in the above states, but also in New Mexico, Hawaii, Ohio, California, and elsewhere. [W]e think that the evidence canvassed thus far suffices to show that, in government contracting, the risk of quid pro quo corruption and its appearance, and of interference with merit-based administration, has not dissipated. Taken together, the record offers every reason to believe that, if the dam barring contributions were broken, more money in exchange for contracts would flow through the same channels already on display.”
  4. Significant change in government contracting: “[P]erhaps the most relevant change in government contracting over the past several decades has been the enormous increase in the government’s reliance on contractors to do work previously performed by employees. . . . If anything, that shift has only strengthened the original rationales for the contractor contribution ban by increasing the number of potential targets of corruption and coercion — targets who do not have the merit system protections available to government employees.”
  5. Different rules for federal employers vs contractors: “Increased reliance on individual contractors — particularly retirees such as Brown and Miller — also raises a concern that some former federal employees may unwittingly violate § 30119 because they are unaware that they have become subject to a different set of restrictions as contractors. However, as FEC counsel advised the court, there is no criminal violation unless the individual knows his or her conduct violates the law.”
  6. Corporations vs individual contractors: “The plaintiffs also question whether there is sufficient evidence of corruption or coercion specifically with respect to individual contractors, as compared to those organized as corporations or other kinds of firms. It is true that most of the examples set forth [earlier in our opinion] above involve firms. We see no reason, however, to believe that the motivations for corruption and coercion exhibited in those examples are inapplicable in the case of individual contractors.”
  7. Two justifications: “Our historical review makes clear that the two Court-approved justifications for limitations on campaign activities — to protect against quid pro quo corruption and its appearance, and to protect merit-based public administration — were the justifications that lay behind the contractor contribution statute.”
  8. “Closely drawn” requirement: “[T]he point of the ‘closely drawn’ test is that “‘[e]ven a significant interference with protected rights of political association may be sustained if the State demonstrates a sufficiently important interest and employs means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms.’” [citation] And we conclude that the ban at issue here is permissible in the circumstances that we address in this opinion: a regulation that bars only campaign contributions and that is imposed only on government contractors. . . . We do not discount the possibility that Congress could have narrowed its aim even further, targeting only certain specific kinds of government contracting or doing so only during specific periods. But as the Court has made clear, ‘most problems arise in greater and lesser gradations, and the First Amendment does not confine a State to addressing evils in their most acute form.'”
  9. Underinclusiveness: “We conclude that the contractor contribution ban is not fatally underinclusive. There is no doubt that ‘the proffered state interest actually underlies the law,” and that it can “fairly be said” that the statute “advance[s] a[] genuinely substantial governmental interest.’ [citations] The plaintiffs may well be right that the ban would be even more effective if it swept in more potential contributors. But §30119 “aims squarely at the conduct most likely to undermine” the important interests that underlie it, and ‘[w]e will not punish [Congress] for leaving open more, rather than fewer, avenues of expression, especially when there is no indication that the selective restriction of speech reflects a pretextual motive.'”

Additional claim: The Court also addressed and rejected the Fifth Amendment equal protection arguments raised by the Plaintiffs.

→ Mootness: “The plaintiffs advise us that both Wagner and Brown have now completed their federal contracts and hence are once again free to make campaign contributions. Brown, at least, has already done so.  Accordingly, Wagner’s and Brown’s claims are moot,” which leaves Plaintiff Jan Miller, whose “contract is ongoing” and therefore “his constitutional claims . . . remain alive.”

→ Reliance on Williams-YuleeThe Chief Judge cited to Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar fifteen times — e.g., “But as the [Williams-Yulee] Court has made clear, ‘most problems arise in greater and lesser gradations, and the First Amendment does not confine a State to addressing evils in their most acute form.'”

The Lawyers & Amici

  • Alan B. Morrison argued the cause for plaintiffs. With him on the briefs was Arthur B. Spitzer
  • Ilya Shapiro and Allen J. Dickerson were on the brief for amici curiae Center for Competitive Politics, et al. in support of plaintiffs.
  • Kevin Deeley, Acting Associate General Counsel, Federal Election Commission, argued the cause for defendant. With him on the briefs were Harry J. Summers, Assistant General Counsel, and Holly J. Baker and Seth E. Nesin, Attorneys.
  • J. Gerald Hebert, Scott L. Nelson, Fred Wertheimer, and Donald J. Simon were on the brief for amici curiae Campaign Legal Center, et al. in support of defendant.

* * *  *

Alan Morrison

Alan Morrison

Liberal & libertarian lawyers challenge contractor law

Alan Morrison, a seasoned appellate advocate and law professor, is known as a liberal. In 1971, for example, he worked with Ralph Nader to cofound the Public Citizen Litigation Group, the litigation arm of the famed consumer advocacy organization. In that capacity, he was the lawyer who successfully argued Virginia Pharmacy Bd. v. Virginia Consumer Council (1976), which recognized First Amendment protection for certain kinds of commercial speech (in that case for a non-profit corporate advocacy group).

In Wagner v. FEC he was co-counsel with Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU in challenging a little known section of the Federal Election Campaign Act that provided: “[A]ny person who is negotiating for, or performing under, a contract with the federal government is banned from making a contribution to a political party, committee, or candidate for federal office.” In their brief to the Court of Appeals  Morrison and Spitzer argued that the three plaintiffs were prevented from making their intended campaign contributions. “One of the plaintiffs,” they noted, “is a law professor who had a contract to do a study for the Administrative Conference of the United States; the other two are retired federal employees who continue to work for their former agency on a contract basis. Unlike every other U.S. citizen who does not have a federal contract, they are forbidden by [federal law] from making a contribution of even $1 to any federal candidate, political party, or political committee.” Such a law, Morrison and Spitzer maintained, violated both the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment and the First Amendment. A lower court denied those claims, whereupon review was sought in the court of appeals. Yesterday, their hopes were dashed by a 10-0 vote.

Kevin Deeley, Acting FEC Associate General Counsel

Kevin Deeley, Acting FEC Associate General Counsel

“We are disappointed,” Morrison e-mailed me, “in the result and in the failure of the Court to appreciate the unnecessarily broad reach of the total ban on individual contractors such as these plaintiffs from making any contributions in a federal election. We were surprised at the more than dozen favorable citations to McCutcheon v. FEC, a 2014 case in which another over-broad contribution law was struck down by the Supreme Court as not being closely drawn. Even more difficult to understand were the similar number of citations to the 5-4 ruling Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, in which the candidate for judicial office was only precluded from making personal solicitations for campaign funds, while retaining the full ability to raise money through a separate committee.  Most difficult of all to accept is that the court of appeals saw nothing amiss with the law that allows corporate contractors, their officers, directors and shareholders to make contributions within the limits of the law, but denied these individual contractors a similar opportunity.”

Morrison and Spitzer received some help by way of an amicus brief submitted on their clients’ behalf by the Center for Competitive Politics and the Cato Institute. “This case presents an unusual question,” wrote Allen Dickerson for the Center and Institute (Cato’s Ilya Shapiro was co-counsel on the brief.)  “While suits challenging limits on political contributions are familiar, the statute at issue here completely prohibits a broad group of private, individual citizens from making any contribution. Such sweeping prohibitions are seldom enacted, and courts have rarely assessed their constitutionality. Nevertheless, the limited pronouncements made by the Supreme Court on the subject suggest that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review in this instance” and that the appellants should, therefore, prevail.”  They did not.

Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

Here is how Ilya Shapiro summed up his response to the Wagner decision: “This is a fascinating and fairly technical opinion, ultimately disappointing to those like me who supported the challenge but probably not one that will have repercussions beyond politically minded contractors. Nobody short of Justice Hugo Black has argued that the First Amendment is absolute — and while the D.C. Circuit rejected the subtle arguments made against the ban on contractor contributions, this is an argument over line-drawing rather than first principles. I still think that the ban is overbroad and that the government should have to prove that its targeted class of people is somehow too dangerous to be allowed to participate in the political process (and also that the ban applies only to that set of uniquely dangerous people). But the court disagreed — unanimously, which was the real surprise here and will alas lessen the Supreme Court’s appetite to hear the case. On the bright side, contractors’ rights to speak independently, through SuperPACs and otherwise, are unaffected; while the court didn’t reach that issue, the government is clearly much less justified in regulating that space.”

The Ramifications of Wagner: 

Over at his own blog, Lyle Denniston thinks Wagner could have important legal/political ramifications on “two other potential campaign law controversies”:

  1. “The first of those possible changes has been under study by President Obama and his White House aides for some time: a plan to issue a presidential order to force business firms doing business with the federal government to disclose publicly all of their political activity.  Although contractors are banned from making direct political contributions to candidates or campaign organizations, they may channel money into politics in other ways.” [ See Daniel I. Weiner, Lawrence Norden & Brent Ferguson, “Requiring Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending,” Brennan Center for Justice ]
  2. “The second possible revision was a study by the Internal Revenue Service — now suspended, perhaps for an indefinite period, because of political opposition — to revise the rules on eligibility fo tax-exempt status of private groups that are active in funding federal election campaigns. Current IRS rules allow many such groups to gain tax-exempt status on the theory that they are doing ‘charitable’ work. The IRS had draft plans to severely restrict that status for such groups.”

Professor David Skover, co-author of When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment (2014), had this to say about the Wagner ruling:

Considering the elimination of all issues involving independent expenditures, the ruling in this case is not surprising. Despite some obvious differences between the Hatch Act and the law challenged here, a First Amendment victory would have put into question the continuing viability of the Hatch Act and Letter Carriers, and that the Circuit Court judges were clearly unwilling to do.

See also: Charles Tiefer, “Today’s Wagner Decision Encourages an Obama Order on Campaign Contributions by Federal Contractors,” Forbes, July 7, 2015

Newseum Releases 2015 State of the First Amendment Report Read More

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FAN 66.1 (First Amendment News) The Indecency Wars Continue — WDBJ TV opposes $325K fine proposed by FCC

The enormous fine proposed by the FCC is also an extraordinary burden on protected speech. The FCC’s largest base fine for other types of violations by broadcasters is $10,000. — Jeffrey A. Marks, President & General Manager of WDBJ

* *  * * 

Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said that the agency’s action “sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching.” (Variety, March 23, 2015)

Yesterday lawyers for WDBJ Television filed an Opposition to a FCC Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) against the station. The 55-page opposition was filed by Jack N. Goodman and Robert Corn-Revere. The case is titled In the Matter of WDBJ Television, Inc. (files #s: EB-IHD-14-00016819 & EB-12-IH-1363).

UnknownThe proposed FCC fine stemmed from a July 12, 2012 WDBJ newscast concerning a Roanoke County controversy over a former adult film star who had joined the local volunteer rescue squad. WDBJ covered the story and the dispute over the firing of a female volunteer. Parts of WDBJ’s story were illustrated from materials taken from the Internet, including some from an adult-film website.  “Due to equipment limitations,” Goodman and Corn-Revere argue, “station personnel were unable to see the full screen of the online material, and the eventual broadcast briefly displayed a small image of an erect penis at the extreme margin of the screen. The image appeared for 2.7 seconds during a three minute and ten second story, covered only 1.7 percent of screen at the far right edge, and prompted an immediate response from WDBJ once it became aware of the mishap.”

In response, on March 23, 2015 the FCC issued a NAL and a proposed fine of $325,000 — the maximum amount permissible under the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act.

Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters, said, “NAB is disappointed with today’s remarkably punitive indecency fine proposed against WDBJ. Schurz Communications apologized for the fleeting image, which was clearly unintended. This unprecedented fine against a family-owned broadcaster with a demonstrated commitment to serving communities is wholly unwarranted.”  (VarietyMarch 23, 2015)

WDBJ’s lawyers contend that the FCC’s NAL “rests on incorrect factual premises” and that the Commission “misapplied its indecency standard to the WDBJ newscast.” As to the latter point, they make three basic arguments:

  1. “The newscast was not graphic and explicit under Commission precedent”
  2. “The broadcast did not dwell on or repeat sexual material,” and
  3. “The broadcast did not seek to pander or titillate.”
Jack N. Goodman

Jack N. Goodman

Goodman and Corn-Revere also maintain that the FCC “lacks a constitutionally sound test for indecency.” In this regard, they offer three basic arguments:

  1. “The Supreme Court neither upheld nor ratified the FCC’s indecency policy” (“The constitutional questions left open in Fox must be addressed.”)
  2. “Devising a constitutional policy to regulate broadcast indecency requires great restraint” (The FCC must adhere to the First Amendment” and “Pacifica’s restrained enforcement approach is constitutionally required.”) and
  3. “As applied to WDBJ, the proposed fine violates the First Amendment.”
Robert Corn-Revere

Robert Corn-Revere

Additionally, Goodman and Corn-Revere contend that the FCC’s NAL “articulates an erroneous and unconstitutional standard for willfulness. On this point they contend that the FCC’s NAL is unlawful insofar as it “proposes to penalize WDBJ for an alleged indecency violation that was neither ‘willful” nor ‘repeated,’ as required by 47 U.S.C.  503 (b)(1).”

Finally, they argue that even if the Commission “could find that WDBJ violated the indecency policy, the proposed [fine] should be vastly reduced.” Here Goodman and Corn-Revere maintain that the FCC’s NAL “sets out various reasons — many of which are incorrect — for a [maximum fine], but utterly fails to explain why it is appropriate to impose a [fine] more than forty-six times the base amount for the inadvertent inclusion in a news program of a depiction of a sexual organ for less than three seconds.” As for the enhanced fines allowed for under the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005, they argue that “Congress did not attempt to establish [the $325,000 fine] as the minimum or even the expected [fine], or to indicate any intent to override the Commission’s normal decision with respect to the amount of a [fine] in any particular case.”

“They Cannot Breathe:” Poisoned Workers in Nail Salons

The grim story of deregulation in the US economy has another victim: nail salon workers. A New York Times expose has won tremendous attention to their plight in an industry that has long resisted regulation:

Some states and municipalities recommend workers wear gloves and other protection, but salon owners usually discourage them from donning such unsightly gear. And even though officials overseeing workplace safety concede that federal standards on levels of chemicals that these workers can be exposed to need revision, nothing has been done. So manicurists continue to paint fingertips, swipe off polish and file down false nails, while absorbing chemicals that are potentially hazardous to their health. . . .

In interviews with over 125 nail salon workers, airway ailments . . . were ubiquitous. Many have learned to simply laugh them off — the nose that constantly bleeds, the throat that has ached every day since the manicurist started working.

For those interested in the legal background, I highly recommend a piece by my former student, Kelsey-Anne Fung. In 2014, she concluded:

Southeast and East Asian immigrant nail salon workers face disproportionate exposure levels to dangerous and carcinogenic nail products, and as a result, suffer severe health outcomes at unusually high rates. Without FDA authority of pre-market approval, testing, or recall, the cosmetic industry is wholly self–regulated, resulting in scarce protections to consumers and professions who use nail products on a daily basis. Salon owners often pay below minimum wage, do not provide health insurance or any benefits, and fail to supply adequate safety equipment. Consequently, workers must rely on community safety net clinics and public hospitals for medical care to treat ailments from working in the nail salon, paying steep out–of–pocket rates. On its own, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does not remedy any of the health policy issues facing immigrant nail salon workers. Thus, [state-level interventions] may be the only viable solution to securing preventative and affordable health care services for this overburdened and vulnerable labor force.

Both Fung’s article, and the NYT piece, are must-reads for anyone concerned about the fate of workers in an increasingly deregulated environment.

 

 

 

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FAN 51.4 (First Amendment News) FCC Ruling: Broadband Internet Providers Have no First Amendment Rights re Access Services

On March 12, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission issued a 400-page ruling entitled “Report and Order on Remand, Declaratory Ruling, and Order.”

UnknownBy the Commission: Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel issuing separate statements; Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissenting and issuing separate statements.

Here are a few First Amendment related excerpts from the FCC ruling and order:

  1. Benefit to Public: “Informed by the views of nearly 4 million commenters, our staff-led roundtables, numerous ex parte presentations, meetings with individual Commissioners and staff, and more, our decision today—once and for all—puts into place strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of our legal authority, to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social, and civic benefits of an open Internet today and into the future.”
  2. Mere Transmission: “When engaged in broadband Internet access services, broadband providers are not speakers, but rather serve as conduits for the speech of others. The manner in which broadband providers operate their networks does not rise to the level of speech protected by the First Amendment. As telecommunications services, broadband Internet access services, by definition, involve transmission of network users’ speech without change in form or content, so open Internet rules do not implicate providers’ free speech rights. And even if broadband providers were considered speakers with respect to these services, the rules we adopt today are tailored to an important government interest—protecting and promoting the open Internet and the virtuous cycle of broadband deployment—so as to ensure they would survive intermediate scrutiny.”
  3. No Speaker Status: “Claiming free speech protections under the First Amendment necessarily involves demonstrating status as a speaker—absent speech, such rights do not attach.”
  4. Limited to Access Services: “[T]he free speech interests we advance today do not inhere in broadband providers with respect to their provision of broadband Internet access services.”
  5. Cable Distinguished: “[B]broadband is not subject to the same limited carriage decisions that characterize cable systems—the Internet was designed as a decentralized ‘network of networks’ which is capable of delivering an unlimited variety of content, as chosen by the end user.”
  6. Content Neutral“Even if open Internet rules were construed to implicate broadband providers’ rights as speakers, our rules would not violate the First Amendment because they would be considered content-neutral regulations which easily satisfy intermediate scrutiny. In determining whether a regulation is content-based or content-neutral, the ‘principal inquiry . . . is whether the government adopted a regulation of speech because of [agreement or] disagreement with the message it conveys.'”
  7. Narrowly Tailored: “[T]he rules here are sufficiently tailored to accomplish these government interests. The effect on speech imposed by these rules is minimal.
  8. Citizens United Distinguished: “Our rules governing the practices of broadband providers differ markedly from the statutory restrictions on political speech at issue in Citizens United. Our rules do not impact core political speech, where the ‘First Amendment has its fullest and most urgent application.’ By contrast, the open Internet rules apply only to the provision of broadband services in a commercial context, so reliance on the strict scrutiny standards applied in Citizens United is inapt.”
  9. Compelled Disclosure: “The disclosure requirements adopted as a part of our transparency rule also fall well within the confines of the First Amendment. . . . The Supreme Court has made plain in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio that the government has broad discretion in requiring the disclosure of information to prevent consumer deception and ensure complete information in the marketplace.”
Posner
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The Complete Posner on Posner Series

The Posner on Posner series began on November 24, 2014 and ended with the Afterword on January 5, 2015. Below is a hyperlinked list of all the posts.

 Table of Contents

  1. The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Judge Richard Posner: Part I
  1. The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Judge Richard Posner: Part II, The Will to Greatness
  1. The Man Behind the Robes — A Q & A with Richard Posner
  1. The Judge & Company – Questions for Judge Posner from Judges, Law Professors & a Journalist
  1. On Legal Education & Legal Scholarship — More questions for Judge Posner
  1. On Free Expression & the First Amendment — More questions for Judge Posner
  1. On Privacy, Free Speech, & Related Matters – Richard Posner vs David Cole & Others
  1. On Judicial Reputation: More questions for Judge Posner
  1. Posner on Same-Sex Marriage – Then & Now
  1. Posner on Case Workloads & Making Judges Work Harder
  1. The Promethean Posner – An Interview with the Judge’s Biographer
  1. Afterword: Posner at 75 – “It’s My Job”

→ Forthcoming: Richard Posner (Oxford University Press, Spring, 2015) by William Domnarski.