Posts tagged ‘Ex Post Facto’

Challenge Tax Code as Ex Post Facto Law?

It is becoming increasingly clear that it is impossible to calculate exactly what you owe to the IRS (even the IRS will not take responsibility for what their customer support people tell you that you owe).  Given that, one can't really know his or her tax burden for sure until and unless one is audited and the case is adjudicated.  Doesn't this put the tax code in violation of the Constitution's prohibition of ex post facto law?

Ex Post Facto Law

Ex Post Facto law, meaning law retroactively criminalizing past practices, is explicitly banned in the Constitution.  But big government folks have found a way around this prohibition through the massive government regulatory bureaucracies that have been created over the last half-century.

Here is a great example.  In short, an online site accepted advertising from a company that the FTC later went after for deceptive advertising.  Note, the online site was not involved, they just ran the add, just as your web site may be running ads or Google adwords right now.  The FTC actually settled the case with the company accused of wrongdoing for $0.  So obviously, they were not that worked up about the ad.  But in order to establish a new legal principal that sites that run advertising can be liable for the entire liability for a deceptive ad, they went after the web site for $6 million!

Forget for a moment what bad policy this is -- can you imagine being fully liable for any fraud involved with any company that runs an add on your site?   But beyond that, the basic approach -- of legislating from the administrative branch, abuse of power to cow small companies and individuals through threat of bankrupting legal costs, and ex post facto rule-making -- is just staggeringly scary.

This is why I cringe every single day whenever the phone rings in my small business.

My suspicions were confirmed when I looked up the law the FTC said I had violated, a law that was vague and didn't seem to have much to do with what the FTC was accusing me of. And it certainly did not say that the FTC was entitled to the amount of money it wanted. My lawyers explained that the amount the FTC was suing for was based not on laws that Congress had passed but seemed to be based on what judges had awarded in previous cases over the years.

Moreover, in our case, the FTC was now trying to go beyond what previous judges had awarded. What lay behind their actions seemed to be this: they were trying out a new legal theory. They wanted to establish a new principle "“ that a person who was in any way connected to the advertising at issue, no matter how trivial their involvement, was liable for the entire amount of all purchases of the product by consumers. I felt as if I had been struck by lightning. I was the sacrificial lamb. I had the rotten luck to be chosen, of all people, to be the test of their novel legal theory. [...]

I'm all for getting tough on deceptive advertising, including Internet fraudsters. But what seems terribly wrong is the FTC playing Goliath where they just outspend everyone they go after, regardless of whether there was any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, that appears to be the direction in which they're going. David Vladeck, the new head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection (the person I met with), advocates pursuing test cases "even if the legal theory has not been accepted by the court prior to that time." (see In other words, you may be violating a law that doesn't exist yet. That is downright scary. The only thing the FTC is going to "prove" by "winning" these cases is that they can establish their new principles by bankrupting anybody but the very wealthiest Americans "“ the only people who could afford to take them on.

Ex Post Facto Guilt

You gotta love those vaunted MSM fact-checkers.  I mean, I am all for criticizing George Bush, but this seems to be going a bit too far  (Guardian via Q&O):

Ministers insisted that British secret agents would only be allowed to
pass intelligence to the CIA to help it capture Osama bin Laden if the
agency promised he would not be tortured, it has emerged.

MI6 believed it was close to finding the al-Qaida leader in
Afghanistan in 1998, and again the next year. The plan was for MI6 to
hand the CIA vital information about Bin Laden. Ministers including
Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary, gave their approval on
condition that the CIA gave assurances he would be treated humanely.
The plot is revealed in a 75-page report by parliament's intelligence
and security committee on rendition, the practice of flying detainees
to places where they may be tortured.

The report criticises the Bush administration's approval of practices
which would be illegal if carried out by British agents. It shows that
in 1998, the year Bin Laden was indicted in the US, Britain insisted
that the policy of treating prisoners humanely should include him. But
the CIA never gave the assurances.

LOL.  It seems like Bush has been president forever, but I am pretty sure that Hillary's husband was in the White House until early 2001.