Administrative Law

Petitioner’s brief, unfortunately, was laden with obscure acronyms notwithstanding the admonitions in our handbook (and on our website) to avoid uncommon acronyms. Since the brief was signed by a faculty member at Columbia Law School, that was rather dismaying both because of ignorance of our standards and because the practice constitutes lousy brief writing.

– Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit, condemning a brief for an abundance of acronyms.

(More information — including the identity of the offending professor, and the full opinion — after the jump.)

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That might sound like a stupid question. I mean, there’s a package right there in the refrigerator that says “hummus” on it. That guy from Arrested Development tells me it’s real hummus. If this country can allow defamation suits over suggesting that “pink slime” is not “ground beef,” why would anyone think to look further than face value on a foodstuff’s name?

But when it comes to hummus — a product that’s spurred legal battles before — the FDA is being dragged into the debate over what it really means to be a vegan’s replacement for protein delightful Mediterranean dip….

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Despite the ever-growing ways that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates what Americans can consume, FDA does not currently regulate genetically modified food. The State of Vermont wants to step in.

This week, Vermont will become the first state to mandate labeling of food products containing ingredients from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It would require retailers of raw agricultural commodities to clearly and conspicuously label GMO-sourced food with the words “produced with genetic engineering.” (Think ears of corn in your supermarket’s produce section.) Producers of packaged food products must label their products with similar language if any ingredient contained in the product comes from a genetically modified source. (Think of that 56-ingredient protein bar sitting on your desk.)

The bill passed the Vermont House and Senate, and Governor Peter Shumlin just signed it into law yesterday. The law is scheduled to take effect in July 2016.

Why are some people so lathered up about eating ingredients that come from genetically modified crops? “Monsanto” has become a dirty word, with nouveau-hippie parents washing out their kids’ mouths with biodegradable, SLS-free soap when they hear them say it. Unfortunately, much public debate conflates genetic modification, exposure to pesticides, and all sorts of other “unnatural” stuff related to food.

Ironically, genetic modification of seeds aims to make crops more resistant to pests, disease, and drought, thus reducing the need for conventional chemical pesticides and increasing crop yields. A growing world population demands innovation to produce more crops with fewer resources. Billions of people need to eat. Too many GMO opponents seem to picture Dr. Frankenstein when they should be picturing Gregor Mendel or Mother Teresa. (Or, to be fair, Walter De Jong.)

That, however, is only the beginning of what’s foolish about Vermont’s new law . . . .

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You probably never thought of Chevron deference as proper fodder for a musical dance number. That’s because you lacked the appropriate damn vision, kids. These students decided that if it’s good enough to form the superstructure of an entire area of law, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council is good enough to make for a catchy tune.

The song is entirely clever. For example:

But Congress can’t be delegatin’ all the big questions;
They should make policy that’s why we have elections.
So so long as the agency’s resolution doesn’t get too close to the constitution,
Put your hands on your head and crack a yawn.

Think of this as your dessert after a thrilling Law Revue contest….

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed
new rules targeting electronic cigarettes. By its authority under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, FDA now regulates “tobacco products” — cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco. The proposed regulation would “deem” additional products within the scope of the statutory definition of “tobacco product.” FDA would deem electronic cigarettes to be tobacco products, even though e-cigs don’t contain tobacco leaves. The deeming regulation would give FDA the power to govern e-cigs’ manufacture, sale, and use, implementing age restrictions, mandating additional scientific review of products, and scrutinizing claims made by the makers of e-cigs.

The new regulations would prevent e-cigarette manufacturers from telling consumers that their products are a safer alternative than tobacco cigarettes. The deeming regulations would prohibit claiming that vaporized nicotine “presents a lower risk of tobacco-related disease or is less harmful than one or more commercially marketed tobacco products.” In fact, the new rules would prevent them from even advertising to the public that their “product or its smoke does not contain or is free of a substance,” even though e-cigs do not produce smoke and do not contain tobacco in any common-sense meaning of the word.

Banning this sort of claims is absurd: e-cigs lack the more than 4,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic, of combustible tobacco cigarettes. Electronic nicotine vaporizers need not be particularly healthy in order to be less unhealthy than traditional cigarettes.

This regulatory push is poisoned by a bevy of bad arguments. Most of the rhetoric consists of pure emotion on the part of anti-tobacco activists. Certain anti-tobacco and anti-smoking factions grow hysterical at the mere specter of smoking. Unfortunately, a more powerful lobby is also trying to squelch e-cigs . . . .

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Smoke Signals: The Misinformation Behind FDA’s Proposed Regulation Of E-Cigarettes”

On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit benchslapped a gaggle of lawyers for filing briefs with excessive acronyms. The court’s per curiam order directed the parties to “submit briefs that eliminate uncommon acronyms used in their previously filed final briefs.”

Alas, attempts to comply with this order have raised a new problem — a problem that some readers saw a mile away….

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The D.C. Circuit to counsel: readable briefs or GTFO. From an order filed today:

Who are the parties and their counsel? Additional information and the full order, after the jump.

(Also note the UPDATES — in defense of the lawyers, and floating a theory about the judge behind the benchslap — added to the end of this post.)

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‘Gee, my life is so meaningful. Thanks a lot, law school!’

* Despite the fact that the overall demand for legal work was down by five percent during the first nine months of the year, law firms still raised their hourly rates. Hey, what can we say? Math is hard. [Am Law Daily]

* After instructing his lawyers not to speak during what he called a “sham sentencing,” Whitey Bulger received two life sentences plus five years. Don’t worry, the appeal won’t be a sham. [National Law Journal; CNN]

* Attention c/o 2015: the New York City Bar Task Force is considering throwing commercial paper out the window in favor of administrative law. Something something arbitrary and capricious. [New York Law Journal]

* What is law school for, aside from collecting gigantic mountains of non-dischargeable student loan debt? Apparently it’s for creating a more meaningful life, because with poverty comes clarity. [WSJ Law Blog]

* In the very near future, you might need a license to conduct business with virtual money like bitcoin. The Brothers Winklevii are probably already preparing their paperwork to file. [DealBook / New York Times]

After successfully challenging a $50 ticket, attorney Leonard Kohen was feeling pretty good. The Administrative Law Judge hearing the case had agreed that the ticket — for running in a park after dark in February — was flimsy, and the New York City Parks & Recreation Department had to give up the ghost of collecting that $50 fine.

But no one screws over New York’s ersatz Leslie Knope and gets away with it.

New York City is appealing the ticket because there is absolutely nothing more important to spend time and money on than pursuing $50 tickets.

We have a copy of what passes for the appellate brief….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Righteous Indignation, our new column for conservative-minded lawyers.

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided City of Arlington v. FCC. The question before SCOTUS was whether courts must defer to a federal regulatory agency’s interpretation of a statutory ambiguity even when that ambiguity involves the scope of the agency’s authority — its own jurisdiction.

Justice Scalia wrote for the majority, holding that even in cases such as this one, agencies are entitled to the usual deference established in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. — aka Chevron deference. Chief Justice Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito.

The outcome of City of Arlington should be noteworthy to Court watchers — and conservatives in particular — for several reasons. First, the Scalia-Roberts split quiets the simplistic refrain that SCOTUS decides cases down rigid liberal-conservative lines. Second, it highlights an ongoing debate among conservative members of the Court about fundamental issues concerning the separation of powers and constitutional governance. Third, the Scalia and Roberts opinions demonstrate that, far from reserving their barbs for the left, conservatives can be pretty darn snarky amongst themselves.

So, let’s have a closer look….

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