A Legal Guide to the N.Y. Democratic Debate

     BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — With Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at a dead heat for the home-court advantage in New York’s Democratic primary, Courthouse News studies the legislation and court cases where the candidates have shown their true colors on the campaign trail.
     Gun control, big banks and the minimum wage have earned top billing in the candidates’ stump speeches this week as they gear up for a debate tonight at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, moderated by NY1’s Errol Lewis, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and the cable news network’s chief political correspondent Dana Bash.
Gun Control
     Clinton found a chance to flex her gun-control muscles just hours before the debate today as a Connecticut judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against firearms manufacturers from victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
     Bushmaster and Remington had hoped to claim immunity from the civil lawsuit under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), but the court found this question goes to the merits of the case and is thus premature to resolve now.
     Clinton promised today to repeal the PLCAA if she elected, compounding criticism her surrogates have heaped on Sen. Sanders for supporting the legislation in Congress.
     The Vermont senator has defended his position in prior debates by citing the possibility of civil litigation bankrupting small businesses whose negligence played no role in a crime.
     Aside from the Newtown families’ case, the PLCAA made a peripheral appearance in the unsuccessful lawsuit by victims of the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
     That case actually involved an analogous state law, the Colorado Premises Liability Act, which U.S. District Judge Michael Hegarty said “has abrogated all common law torts against landowners in Colorado.”
     Tabloids in New York City have largely glossed over these complications.
     The New York Daily News, whose billionaire publisher Mort Zuckerman long ago backed Clinton, called the case “Bernie’s Sandy Hook Shame” on its front page, days before the paper joined its publisher in publicly endorsing the former secretary of state.
Wall Street
     Another court case to make headlines this week finalized a $5 billion settlement Goldman Sachs reached with federal and state prosecutors.
     Back in January before regulators had signed onto the deal, the Sanders campaign condemned it as an example of lawmakers letting Wall Street pull the strings in exchange for lobbying dollars.
     Sanders is not alone in seeing the settlement as a slap on the wrist for Goldman, which accepted $10 billion in bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
     At a rally Wednesday at Washington Square Park that drew 27,000, Sanders asked again why Goldman’s admission of mortgage fraud did not come with any criminal prosecution of its executives. He also took another opportunity to swipe at Clinton for regularly making six-figure fees on speeches to Goldman and other banks.
     Clinton did not release a statement on the settlement.
     Should the subject come up on the debate, and it likely will, it is important to keep in mind that the government’s settlement with the bank is a lighter penalty than it may appear on paper.
     The New York Times took a magnifying lens to fine print that relieves Goldman of $1 billion of the fine, before tax benefits.
     Over at The New Republic, journalist David Dayan called the deal a “sham” that forces Goldman to pay effectively nothing when considering how much it made on the underlying fraud.
     However one calculates the math, the recent settlement could prove to be a lightning rod for the economic portion of the debate.
Fight for $15
     On April 4, New York joined 14 states, cities and counties that adopted legislation raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
     Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have rallied with Hillary Clinton the same day he signed the law, which goes into effect in 2018, but it is important to note that the former first lady supports such a wage hike only at a local level.
     At an earlier debate, Clinton called to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour, higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour but still lower than Sanders’ plan to bring the rest of the nation on board to New York’s new minimum wage.
     During a “Community Conversation” at Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater, Sanders took a dig at Cuomo and Clinton as arriving late to an issue that striking workers had long struggled for in the “Fight for $15” movement.
     “Trust me, it wasn’t because your governor had a great idea,” Sanders quipped, to laughter and applause from the audience.
     If the topic comes up tonight, expect New York’s governor, who has endorsed Clinton, to serve as a stand in for these issues.
     At a Rochester rally on April 9, Clinton told a closed-door gathering of the New York State United Teachers that Cuomo deserves credit for increasing worker salaries. The remark prompted boos from teachers in the audience unhappy with Cuomo’s support for the state’s Common Core initiative for standardized testing and attempt to gut funding the City University of New York (CUNY) by a third.
     CUNY, which had a tuition-free program available until New York’s financial crisis of 1976, is likely to factor into this evening’s debate as well.
     Sanders has invoked its universities and colleges as precedents for his own College for All Act, eliminating tuition at public colleges across the nation.

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