Senator Elizabeth Warren

One of the now-standard storylines about the global financial crisis is that despite all the chaos very few corporate executives were prosecuted and even fewer went to jail. However, rather than interpreting these circumstances to suggest that there was insufficient evidence to convict corporate executives beyond a reasonable doubt, some observers have decided that the problem was that there is something wrong with our criminal justice system.

One observer who has made a hobby horse out of these issues is the U.S. Senator and Presidential Candidate, Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren has now introduced new legislation that would lower the standard of criminal liability for corporate executive. Among other things, the new legislation would make corporate executives criminally liable for mere negligence in certain circumstances, even in the absence of the degree of intent that has for centuries been viewed in our legal system as the indispensable basis for a criminal conviction. As discussed below, this legislation is not only a bad idea in terms of our country’s corporate competitiveness, it also threatens one of our legal system’s bedrock principles.
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Senator Elizabeth Warren
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SEC Chair Mary Jo White

Perhaps SEC officials hoped they were bolstering their agency’s image as a tough regulator when they reported on October 11, 2016 that the SEC had filed a record number of enforcement actions in fiscal year 2016. That was certainly the way the officials quoted in the agency’s press release played it. But if that was their plan, Senator Elizabeth Warren, at least, was having none of it. Just days after the agency released its enforcement statistics, Senator Warren sent a 12-page letter to President Barack Obama calling for the President to fire Mary Jo White as SEC Chair, because, the Senator contends, under White’s watch the agency has undermined the administration’s priorities, ignored the SEC’s core mission of investor protection, and failed to promulgate or implement disclosure requirements Warren supports.
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