BookTalk

  • December 16, 2014
    BookTalk
    Why Not Jail?
    Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction
    By: 
    Rena Steinzor

    by Rena Steinzor, a Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and the president of the Center for Progressive Reform. For two decades, she has written dozens of articles and two previous books about the regulatory system that protects public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. She has testified repeatedly before Congress and has been quoted extensively in a wide range of mainstream media outlets. Cambridge University Press published her latest book Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction in December 2014.

    One subtle and too often ignored symptom of the fundamental bias in America’s criminal justice system is its feathery embrace of white collar crime. Failure to prosecute the banks in the wake of the 2008 crash gets consistent media attention and disgusts many people, but these reactions have yet to motivate a concerted response by the Obama Justice Department. The parallel failure to prosecute the corporations and executives that kill and injure people through reckless practices in industrial contexts is barely discussed.

    Just in the last few years, hundreds have died and thousands have been injured. Causes include contaminated food (think listeria in cantaloupes and salmonella in peanut paste), infected drugs (steroid injections tainted by meningitis), defective products (for example, Toyota sudden acceleration, General Motors ignition switches, Takata airbags), tainted drugs (consider meningitis-laden steroid injections administered at hospitals nationwide but manufactured by a nightmarishly inept pharmacy in Massachusetts), and absolutely preventable industrial catastrophes (oil rigs, refineries, coal mines, sugar plants, and construction sites). Less obvious is the egregious malfeasance at executive levels that enabled these outcomes. 

    The cantaloupes were washed in a machine designed for potatoes, with a disconnected rinse mechanism needed to kill the listeria. The peanut paste was shipped despite a positive test for salmonella. The managers of the “clean room” used to process injectable drugs shut off the air conditioning at night, allowing fungi and bacteria to fester. At the very least, senior car company executives failed to disclose defects to federal regulators promptly, as required by the law. They dragged their feet for months on recalls and, as the GM investigation deepens, evidence is even emerging that engineers fixed the defect in 2005 without informing dealers who had stockpiles of the defective parts, many of which ended up in cars still on the road. In the workplace, employers are quick to blame line workers for human errors regardless of thousands of pages of expert reports explaining that cost-cutting, delayed maintenance, lack of trained supervisory personnel, poor safety cultures, and manic haste to extract natural resources and build structures created intolerable risk. To their credit, U.S. attorneys are just beginning to bring such cases, and recently secured felony convictions against the owner and senior managers of the peanut plant.

  • November 13, 2014
    BookTalk
    Judging Statutes
    By: 
    Robert A. Katzmann

    by Brianne Gorod (@BrianneGorod), Appellate Counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center and former clerk for the Hon. Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Gorod interviewed Katzmann about his new book, Judging Statues.

    The Supreme Court made lots of headlines recently when it decided to hear King v. Burwell, a case about the meaning of the Affordable Care Act.  It’s a good reminder: although much of the talk about the federal courts focuses on constitutional questions, much of the work the federal courts do involves statutory ones.  Indeed, for Supreme Court justices and other federal judges, a significant part of their job—and an incredibly important part—is attempting to understand and give meaning to the laws passed by Congress. 

    In his new book Judging Statutes, Robert A. Katzmann, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, provides readers with insight into how federal judges can—and should—go about that task.  As Judge Katzmann explains, “[o]ver the last twenty-five years, there has been a spirited debate in the courts, Congress, and the academy about how to interpret federal statutes,” with Justice Scalia championing the view that courts should “look to . . . the words of the statute, and to virtually nothing else.”  In his book, Judge Katzmann provides a compelling defense of the alternative view, arguing that courts should look to legislative history to help understand and give meaning to the laws that Congress enacts.  As he puts it, “In our constitutional system in which Congress, the people’s branch, is charged with enacting laws, how Congress makes its purposes known—through text and reliable accompanying materials—should be respected, lest the integrity of legislation be undermined.”

    The work has already received considerable attention—for example, in Justice Stevens’ essay in The New York Review of Books, Jeffrey Toobin’s column in The New Yorker, Norman Ornstein’s column in The Atlantic, Tony Mauro’s story in the National Law Journal, Ronald Collins’ post on the blog Concurring Opinions, and on Brian Lamb’s C-Span Q & A program.   

  • November 4, 2014
    BookTalk
    Too Big to Jail
    How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations
    By: 
    Brandon L. Garrett

    by Brandon L. Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law. Since the 2011 publication of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, Professor Garrett has written widely on issues of criminal procedure, scientific evidence, corporate crime, and the law. This fall, Harvard University Press published his new book, Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.

    Prominent cries of “too big to jail” greeted the decision by federal prosecutors in 2012 not to convict HSBC, the international bank headquartered in London.  When HSBC was investigated for violations of international sanctions with countries like Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Burma, and, if that were not enough, facilitating the laundering of “at least $881 million in drug proceeds,” it paid a then-record penalty of $1.4 billion.  The scale of the violations was shocking.  And prosecutors described concerted efforts to help dirty money transactions avoid detection, with internal notes like:  “care sanctioned country,” “do not mention our name in NY,” or “do not mention Iran.”  Drug cartels used cash boxes “designed to fit the precise dimensions of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.”  When HSBC’s compliance officers raised alarms, they were “discouraged” and ignored.

    “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes,” said the bank’s CEO at the time HSBC settled the case.  A corporate monitor would supervise a revamping of compliance.  The bank had hired hundreds of compliance employees and spent millions improving anti-money laundering programs.  But the bank was not convicted of any crime.  This galled advocates, editorial boards, members of Congress, and the public.  The same day prosecutors filed their case, they asked the judge to approve what is called a deferred prosecution agreement.  The case would be put on hold to give the bank a chance to show good conduct.  A money laundering conviction could have resulted in termination of the bank’s U.S. charter.  Yet no employees or officers were prosecuted either.  At the time, Assistant-Attorney General Lanny Brueur explained: “Our goal here is not to bring HSBC down, it’s not to cause a systemic effect on the economy, it’s not for people to lose thousands of jobs.”  And upon announcement of the settlement, HSBC shares rose

  • October 1, 2014
    BookTalk
    God vs. the Gavel
    The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty
    By: 
    Marci A. Hamilton

    by Marci A. Hamiltonthe Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

    *This post originally appeared on Hamilton and Griffin on Rights.

    How do you talk about the unspeakable? A decade ago, it was taboo to criticize religion or religious believers in print. They were a benign presence in America right next to apple pie.   I wrote God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law then to defeat this taboo, because it was masking a reality most Americans would want to know.

    There I stacked up transgressions of religious actors, including the sexual abuse and medical neglect (to death) of children, the forced marriage of adolescents into polygamous marriages, the violence of white supremacist or radical jihadist prison gangs, and even the questionable dealings of religious developers who forced incompatible uses like homeless shelters into residential neighborhoods. It was all for religion, with results that were not so benign.

    The destruction of the taboo was necessary in a just society. The perpetrators of 9/11 were religious zealots. So were the parents who let their children die. Roman Catholic bishops covered up for child abusers and endangered one child after another to protect the religious institution from scandal. Then the same pattern appeared across virtually all religious denominations. These were atrocities.

    Before these criminal acts reminded us of the power of religion to be both transcendent and horrible, Congress had ratcheted up the rights of religious believers by passing the misbegotten Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 and 2000. Hardly anyone understood what it meant either time and no one was thinking of jihadists, clergy child predators, or children dying from medical neglect, in part because mainstream religious lobbyists intentionally presented a wholesome face to Congress, arguing that religious believers faced discrimination across the country that needed to be corrected by the statute.

  • September 25, 2014
    BookTalk
    The Case Against the Supreme Court
    By: 
    Erwin Chemerinsky

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law

    How should we assess the Supreme Court’s performance over the course of American history? That is the central question of my new book, The Case Against the Supreme Court. My conclusion is that the Supreme Court often has failed at its most important tasks and at the most important times. Recognizing this is important in order to focus on how to improve the institution and make it much more likely to succeed in the future.

    Obviously the evaluation of any institution requires criteria by which it can be assessed.   In the introductory chapter, I posit that the Court exists, above all, to enforce the Constitution. The Constitution exists to limit what government and thus the democratic process can do. As Marbury v. Madison said long ago, the limits contained in the Constitution are meaningless unless enforced and that is the “province and duty” of the courts. The judiciary is particularly important in protecting the rights of minorities (of all sorts) who cannot rely on, and should not have to rely on, the democratic majority. Also, the courts need to play a special role in times of crisis to ensure that society’s short-term passions do not cause it to lose sight of its long-term values.

    I believe that all, liberal and conservative, can agree that these are fair criteria by which to assess the Supreme Court. I also think that liberals and conservatives can agree that the Court very often has failed. Part I of the book looks at the Court historically. Chapter one looks at the Court’s dismal record over the course of American history with regard to race. For the first 78 years of American history, from 1787 until 1865, the Court aggressively protected the rights of slave owners and upheld the institution of slavery.  For 58 years, from 1896 until 1954, the Court approved and enforced the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The Court’s failure with regard to race continues to this day, as evidenced by the decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which declared unconstitutional a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is the first time since the 19th century that the Court has invalidated a federal civil rights law to protect racial minorities.