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  • Education Department Harassment Rules Metastasize through Administrative Fiat

    October 21, 2014 4:41 PM

    The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), where I used to work, today declared that schools can be liable for bullying (or anything else) that creates a “hostile educational environment” for a disabled student. Indeed, it says that for students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a school can be liable even if their “harassment” is not based on their disability at all, covering such “students with disabilities who are bullied on any basis” if it affects their education.

    This is regulatory overreaching on many different levels. First, school bullying is largely a matter for states, not the federal government (indeed, 49 states have laws specifically addressing school bullying).

    Second, OCR has no jurisdiction over one of the two laws it just interpreted (because that law, the IDEA, is administered by another agency known as OSERS). To get around that, OCR has read that statute into one it does have jurisdiction over (the Rehabilitation Act) by administrative fiat, essentially multiplying the number of the bureaucratic entities that can harass a school district over allegations of “harassment” against the disabled.  

    This is just the latest instance of federal lawlessness and overreaching under the Obama administration. It has also sought to restrict students’ free speech and due process rights on college campuses and in the public schools. The Obama administration sought to unconstitutionally meddle in hiring at religious schools. It has made schools less safe, and made it harder to discipline some bullies, by pressuring some public schools to adopt veiled racial quotas in discipline.

  • Update: Where in the World is Jonathan Gruber?

    October 14, 2014 6:20 PM

    Today the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell filed the last brief regarding the cert petition now before the Supreme Court. It effectively rebuts each of the government’s arguments against Supreme Court review. 

    For starters, there’s some interesting history about the government’s switch in its tactics on timing. When Obamacare was first being litigated several years ago and the government lost in the Eleventh Circuit, it quickly sought Supreme Court review even though there were no imminent deadlines facing it regarding Obamacare taking effect.  Now, on the other hand, we have, in the words of the reply brief, “billions of taxpayer dollars … pouring out of the Treasury without congressional authorization and millions of Americans … ordering their lives around an impugned regulation.” And instead of  supporting a quick Supreme Court review of King, the government instead asks the Supreme Court to hold off until the D.C. Circuit completes its en banc reconsideration of Halbig—a reconsideration that the government itself requested.

    And while the reply brief’s starting point is what the government did, its conclusion succinctly describes what the government did not do. It did not mention Jonathan Gruber at all. Gruber, “the ACA architect whose work it cited in every brief below … is nowhere mentioned now.”

    That fittingly leads us back to the title of our earlier post: Where in the World is Jonathan Gruber? (Or, for you more plain-spoken Waldo fans, Find Gruber!) 

  • Where in the World is Jonathan Gruber?

    October 9, 2014 8:18 AM

    The Obamacare insurance exchange rule is being challenged in four cases, and each one of them has been active over the last two weeks. The IRS rule puts the Obamacare insurance subsidies, and their attendant penalties, into effect nationwide. CEI is involved in two of these casesKing v. Burwell, which we lost in the Fourth Circuit, and Halbig v. Burwell, which we won in a 2-1 D.C. Circuit panel ruling. We argue that this is contrary to the underlying statute, which provides for such subsidies only in states that have chosen to set up their own exchanges—a choice that 34 states have declined.

    The King plaintiffs have petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, which upheld the IRS rule. Last Friday the federal government filed its opposition to that request. Its arguments were relatively predictable, with one exception that we’ll get to later. 

    In the D.C. Circuit, Halbig is now on en banc review, with argument before the full 13-judge court scheduled for December 17. Our opening en banc brief, together with six supporting amici, was also filed last Friday.

    Last Tuesday, September 30, there was a third court ruling—Oklahoma won its own challenge to the IRS rule in the Eastern District of Oklahoma. That court did an excellent critique of the dissent in Halbig, and it was also noteworthy for issuing the first “post-Gruber” ruling—that is, the first court decision to consider the recently-unearthed 2012 video that showed MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, one of Obamacare’s chief architects, directly contradicting his current attack on our position. The video shows him flatly stating that nonparticipating states would not receive subsidies, in stunning contrast to the more recent claims, by Gruber and others, that our legal position is “crazy.” (CEI, by the way, is proud to have helped launch that video into Internet stardom just two days after the Halbig and King decisions.)

  • Super PAC Attacks Kochs on Civil Rights, Endorses “Urban Renewal” Policies that Harmed Minorities

    October 8, 2014 3:34 PM

    Last week, Alternet posted yet another bogus smear on the libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch. It has since been reposted by Salon.com. The article summarizes the “findings” of a report titled, “The Koch Brothers’ Record on Civil Rights and Race,” which was produced by an outfit called “The Bridge Project.” This front group is really an arm of a super PAC called American Bridge 21st Century, which was founded by Democratic party activist David Brock and in 2012 was described as “the hub of the left” by Roll Call.

  • Federal Obamacare Officials Once Recognized the Falsity of Their Current Argument about Tax Credits

    September 10, 2014 2:17 PM

    ​The Obama administration has claimed that despite recurring language in the Obamacare law limiting tax credits to people who buy insurance on an “exchange established by the state,” such taxpayer subsidies are also available to people who buy insurance on the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov.  (The availability of tax credits triggers employer mandates and penalties in any state where the tax credits are available, and the tax credits contain work disincentives and marriage penalties, so the tax credits are not a free lunch.)

    Architects of Obamacare like Jonathan Gruber have argued that it is “nutty” to argue that Congress intended to limit tax credits to state exchanges. But this supposedly “nutty” view was once the view of Gruber himself – and, apparently, the federal government itself. When the Department of Health & Human Services issued a contract to create a federal exchange in 2011, the contract assumed tax credits didn’t apply to the federal exchange. (The original contract did not include any functions to allow purchasers to calculate their tax credits, or factor in tax credits before displaying health-insurance prices, and the contract was not amended to apply tax credits to the federal exchange until much, much later.)

    Back in 2012, Gruber had himself admitted tax credits were not available on the federal exchange, contradicting his later statements. A 2012 video caught “Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber saying, ‘If you're a state and you don't set up an exchange, that means your citizens don't get their tax credits.’” In July 2013, that video was “nationally-publicized due to the efforts of CEI’s Ryan Radia,” who helped expose Gruber’s two-faced turnabout. (“The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, New Republic, Slate and others carried stories” due to Radia, noted the Des Moines Register.)

    Gruber claimed that what he earlier said on the video was just a slip-of-the-tongue—a “speak-o” equivalent to a typo—but it turned out that he publicly made the same exact admission on at least one other occasion in 2012, before that admission became politically inconvenient.

    As Forbes Magazine noted, “the irony is that” by 2013, “Gruber was deriding as ‘nutty’ and ‘stupid’ the contention that the Affordable Care Act required subsidies to flow through state-based exchange,” the very contention he himself made back in 2012. “It’s a ‘screwy interpretation’ of Obamacare, alleged Gruber in an interview with Erika Eichelberger of Mother Jones . . . ‘It’s nutty. It’s stupid… it’s essentially unprecedented in our democracy.’” Less than a week before his video was unearthed, “Gruber was on MSNBC’s Hardball,” where he proclaimed the “criminality” of those who argue tax credits are limited state-based exchanges.

    But as Scot Vorse discovered, the government itself once recognized that credits are limited to state-based exchanges. In light of that discovery, CEI has submitted two FOIA requests, one to HHS headquarters, and one to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services, seeking additional information relevant to the government’s about-face.

  • Taxpayers to Subsidize “Ministry of Truthiness”

    August 27, 2014 10:18 AM

    The Washington Free Beacon reports:

    The federal government is spending nearly $1 million to create an online database that will track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter. The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online. The “Truthy” database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.” The university has received $919,917 so far for the project. . . .

    “Truthy,” which gets its name from Stephen Colbert, will catalog how information is spread on Twitter, including political campaigns.

    This seems like a waste of taxpayer money on many levels, and it is conceivable that government officials who are interesting in harassing their critics could make use of this information to violate their free-speech rights (the way the IRS violated the First Amendment by targeting Tea Party and other groups for costly and burdensome investigations, and demanding lots of irrelevant information from those groups that had nothing to do with whether they actually were eligible for 501(c)(4) status).

    It’s not the government’s role to rule to declare ideas “false or misleading.” Under the First Amendment, there’s “no such thing as a false idea,” according to the Supreme Court’s decision in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. (1974).

  • Due Process Eroded by Bills like CASA That Let Agencies Keep Fines They Impose

    August 11, 2014 2:42 PM

    Due process is being eroded by recent bills that would authorize agencies to impose massive fines on regulated industries, and then keep those fines for themselves, giving them an incentive to find regulated entities guilty based on weak or equivocal evidence. To protect due process, such fines should be payable to the U.S. Treasury, not the prosecuting agency. 

    I write about one such bill at The Examiner:

    Disturbing provision harms due process in Campus Accountability and Safety Act

    It is a conflict of interest — and sometimes a violation of due process — for a fine to go to the very unit of government that employs the judge or official who imposed the fine. That gives the official an incentive to find the accused guilty in order to enrich the official’s agency. But such fines are apparently authorized by a provision of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) (also known as S. 2692 and H.R. 5354).

  • Federal Official Says Campus Speech Should Be Restricted to Protect Young People’s Brains

    July 31, 2014 6:54 PM

    U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Michael Yaki says that speech on college campuses should be restricted to protect young people’s developing brains. This is yet another depressing example of Progressives turning against free speech. Yaki is a former senior advisor and district director for House Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).  (During the Obama administration, the Education and Justice Departments have also sought to restrict students’ free speech and due process rights on college campuses and in the public schools).

    Yaki argues that “how the juvenile or adolescent or young adult brain processes information is vastly different from the way that we adults do” and “young people, not just K through 12 but also between the ages of 16 to 20, 21 is where the brain is still in a stage of development.” 

  • Federal Official Says Campus Speech Should Be Restricted to Protect Young People’s Brains

    July 31, 2014 6:54 PM

    U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Michael Yaki says that speech on college campuses should be restricted to protect young people’s developing brains. This is yet another depressing example of Progressives turning against free speech. Yaki is a former senior advisor and district director for House Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).  (During the Obama administration, the Education and Justice Departments have also sought to restrict students’ free speech and due process rights on college campuses and in the public schools).

    Yaki argues that “how the juvenile or adolescent or young adult brain processes information is vastly different from the way that we adults do” and “young people, not just K through 12 but also between the ages of 16 to 20, 21 is where the brain is still in a stage of development.” 

  • Your Tax Dollars at Work: Justice Department Investigates Anti-Obama Parade Float

    July 15, 2014 5:00 PM

    The Justice Department has responded to an anti-Obama float in a parade by treating it as a “discrimination dispute” necessitating federal intervention. One more example of your tax dollars being wasted:

    The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating a float that appeared at the annual Fourth of July parade in the small town of Norfolk, Neb. because the float featured a blue flatbed truck carrying a zombie-looking mannequin in overalls on the door of an outhouse labeled “OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY.”

    The Justice Department sent a member of its Community Relations Service team to Norfolk (pronounced “Norfork” by many locals), reports the Omaha World-Herald.

    The Community Relations Service team investigates disputes concerning discrimination.

    To a lawyer like me, the Justice Department’s notion of “discrimination” seems strange. The float’s creator denies any racial animus, and says it is meant as a criticism of the Obama administration over the Veteran’s Administration scandal:

    The man behind the controversial float, Dale Remmich, has explained that the overalls-clad mannequin in front of the outhouse represented himself — not President Barack Obama. The point he was trying to make concerned his frustration with Obama’s mismanagement of the Veterans Affairs Department.

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