A Facebook Deal That Needs Unfriending

Time to end class-action settlements that only reward lawyers, not plaintiffs.
By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey 

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear a case that could determine the future of particularly abusive class-action settlements. Not abusive in the usual sense, where a class of injured plaintiffs is awarded an exorbitant amount. Instead, these settlements are abusive in that absolutely nothing goes to the injured plaintiffs. At issue is whether federal courts may approve such agreements rewarding lawyers and defendants, leaving plaintiffs out in the cold.

The case is Marek v. Lane, and it arose out of Facebook’s notorious 2007 “Beacon” program. Beacon gathered and published information about Facebook users’ other Internet activities as an advertising and marketing tool, invading the privacy of millions. It may also have violated a number of state and federal laws, including the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which includes a liquidated-damages provision of $2,500 for each offense. A class-action suit was filed in 2008 on behalf of as many as 3.6 million injured social networkers.

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The True Lesson of the IRS Scandal

There should be less federal regulation of political speech.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

President Obama and his political allies have dismissed as “phony scandals” mounting evidence that the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies hindered and punished conservative advocacy groups. Meanwhile, efforts are under way to impose even more regulation on core political speech.

The government’s abuses are very real, but the scandal’s lessons are not appreciated: The federal regulation of political speech has already gone further than can be justified by existing law, let alone the Constitution.

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Why the President’s ObamaCare Maneuver May Backfire

By postponing the employer mandate, Obama has given millions of Americans the legal standing to sue.
 

By: David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

President Obama’s announcement on July 2 that he is suspending the Affordable Care Act’s employer health-insurance mandate may well have exposed his actions to judicial review—even though that is clearly what he sought to avoid.

The health-care reform law’s employer mandate requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide a congressionally prescribed set of health-insurance benefits or pay a penalty calculated at about $2,000 per employee. The law was to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, but Mr. Obama has “postponed” its application until 2015. His aim, the administration said, was to give employers more time to comply with the new rules. But it was also seen as a way to avoid paying at least part of ObamaCare’s mounting political price in the 2014 congressional elections.

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The IRS and the Drive to Stop Free Speech

Such a scandal was bound to happen after the government started trying to rule the expression of political views.
 

By David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey

The unfolding IRS scandal is a symptom, not the disease.For decades, campaign-finance reform zealots have sought to limit core political speech through spending limits and disclosure requirements. More recently, they have claimed that it is wrong and dangerous for tax-exempt entities to engage in political speech.

The Obama administration shares these views, especially when conservative, small-government organizations are involved, and the IRS clearly got the message. While the agency must be investigated and reformed, the ultimate cure for these abuses is to unshackle political speech by all groups, including tax-exempt ones, from arbitrary and unconstitutional government regulation.

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Reporters need a federal shield law

News must often be gathered by confidential sources, or not at all. That confidentiality must be uniformly protected.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

A Colorado judge’s threatened contempt sanctions against Fox News investigative reporter Jana Winter—who refuses to reveal a confidential news source—has refocused public attention on how journalists operate.

News must often be gathered from confidential sources, or not at all. Given how vital is the freedom of the press in a democracy, that confidentiality must be maintained. It is time that Congress recognize this and enact legislation that enables journalists to protect their confidential sources and newsgathering materials.

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The myth of occupied Gaza

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

(originally published in The Washington Post on Saturday, May 10, 2008)

Hamas claims that former president Jimmy Carter’s recent meeting with its leader, Khaled Meshal, marks its recognition as a “national liberation movement” — even though Hamas rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, which Hamas rules as an elected “government,” continue to rain down on Israel’s civilian population. While Hamas is clearly trying to bolster its legitimacy, the conflict along Israel’s southern border has a broader legal dimension — the question of whether, as a matter of international law, Israel “occupies” Gaza. The answer is pivotal: It governs the legal rights of Israel and Gaza’s population and may well set a legal precedent for wars between sovereign states and non-state entities, including terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Israel’s critics argue that Gaza remains “occupied” territory, even though Israeli forces were unilaterally withdrawn from the area in August 2005. (Hamas won a majority in the Gazan assembly in 2006 and seized control militarily in 2007.) If this is so, Jerusalem is responsible for the health and welfare of Gazans and is arguably limited in any type of military force it uses in response to continuing Hamas attacks. Moreover, even Israel’s nonmilitary responses to Hamas-led terrorist activities — severely limiting the flow of food, fuel and other commodities into Gaza — would violate its obligations as an occupying power.

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