John Banzhaf

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John Banzhaf
John Francis Banzhaf III

(1940-07-02) July 2, 1940 (age 83)
EducationBSEE, JD
Alma materStuyvesant High School
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Columbia University Law School
EmployerGeorge Washington University Law School
Known forlitigation

John Francis Banzhaf III (/ˈbænz.hɑːf/;[1] born July 2, 1940) is an American public interest lawyer, legal activist and law professor at George Washington University Law School. He is the founder of an antismoking advocacy group, Action on Smoking and Health.[2] He is noted for his advocacy and use of lawsuits as a method to promote what he believes is the public interest.

Life and education[edit]

Banzhaf was born July 2, 1940, in New York City. He graduated at the age of 15 from Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School, one of the three academically elite high-schools of the NYC Public School System. He went on to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and from Columbia Law School with a Juris Doctor.[3][4][5]


Banzhaf filed a complaint with the Maryland's Attorney Grievance Commission against Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, the State's attorney of Baltimore, saying she did not have probable cause to charge six officers in the death of Freddie Gray, and also that she repeatedly withheld evidence from the officers' defense attorneys.[6][7][8][9] He compared her to Mike Nifong and his handling of the Duke lacrosse case.[10]

Contributions to law and public policy[edit]

Copyright of computer software[edit]

Banzhaf got an early start in legal advocacy. While still a student in law school, he was assigned to research and draft a note for the Columbia Law Review[11] on whether computer programs and other software could be protected under U.S. copyright law. The United States Patent Office had previously declined to grant any patents on software, and no computer program copyrights had ever been recognized. As part of his research, Banzhaf sought to register copyrights on two programs he had written: one in printed form, and the other recorded on magnetic tape. In 1964, the United States Copyright Office registered two copyrights of Banzhaf,[12] thereby recognizing for the first time the validity of this new form of legal protection.[13]

One year later, he testified at a congressional hearing at which he urged, ultimately successfully, that the long-awaited revision of US copyright law should expressly recognize computer and data processing issues.[14]

Measuring the power of voting blocs in a committee[edit]

Banzhaf studied the Nassau County Board's voting system, which allocated the total of 30 votes to its municipalities as follows:

  • Hempstead #1: 9
  • Hempstead #2: 9
  • North Hempstead: 7
  • Oyster Bay: 3
  • Glen Cove: 1
  • Long Beach: 1

A simple majority of 16 votes sufficed to win a vote.

In Banzhaf's notation, [Hempstead #1, Hempstead #2, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay, Glen Cove, Long Beach] are A-F in [16; 9, 9, 7, 3, 1, 1]

There are 32 winning coalitions, and 48 swing votes:


Banzhaf proposed an index, now known as the "Banzhaf index", to measure the power of each municipality:

  • Hempstead #1 = 1/3
  • Hempstead #2 = 1/3
  • North Hempstead = 1/3
  • Oyster Bay = 0
  • Glen Cove = 0
  • Long Beach = 0

Banzhaf argued that a voting arrangement that gives zero power to one sixth of the county's population is unfair,[15] and sued the board.[citation needed] The Banzhaf power index has been used as a way to measure voting power, along with the Shapley–Shubik power index.[16][17][18][19][20]


Banzhaf has utilized a clinical-project format in some of his law classes, rather than a more traditional lecture and academic study format. Students are divided into teams and asked to work on some genuine consumer problems.[2]: 33 

One of the students' high-profile projects was a suit against former Vice-President Spiro Agnew seeking to force him to repay the bribes he accepted while Governor of Maryland. Agnew was ordered to repay the state the $147,500 in kickbacks, with interest of $101,235, for a total of $248,735. The project was started in 1976 by three students in Banzhaf's class on public interest law. The students recruited three Maryland residents to carry the suit.[21]

Another case that attracted much attention targeted the McDonald's restaurant chain. One of Banzhaf's students, James Pizzirusso, successfully sued McDonald's in 2001 for precooking their French fries in beef fat and not warning vegetarians and beef-avoiders about it; in 2002 he won a class-action settlement of $12.5 million.[22]


Much of Banzhaf's tobacco work has been done through the Action on Smoking and Health, a nonprofit he founded in 1967.[2]

Television advertising[edit]

In late 1966, John Banzhaf asked a local television station, WCBS-TV, to provide air time for announcements against smoking. The station refused, so Banzhaf filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1967.[23] The FCC's fairness doctrine required broadcasters to provide free air time to opposing views of matters of public controversy. In his complaint, Banzhaf argued that tobacco advertisements were broadcasting only pro-smoking messages; he argued that, as a public service, the broadcasters should be required to show an equal number of anti-smoking messages.[23]

On June 2, 1967, the FCC announced its decision that its fairness doctrine applied to the request for anti-smoking announcements. The FCC stated that the public should hear an anti-smoking viewpoint.[24] However, the FCC required only the ratio of one anti-smoking message for each four cigarette advertisements (not the one-to-one ratio suggested by Banzhaf).

The tobacco industry appealed against this decision, but it was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.[2]: 32 [25]: 267–268 [26]: 304–308  "Various governmental and voluntary health organizations made extremely creative spots and provided them to stations."[24] In response, tobacco companies offered to stop all advertising on television, if this coordinated action was granted immunity from antitrust laws; they further agreed to have warning labels on cigarette packages and advertising. Tobacco ads ceased to appear on television in the United States at the end of 1970 (on 1 January 1971[23]). Cigarette advertising shifted to print media. Consequently, anti-smoking announcements were no longer required to satisfy the FCC's fairness doctrine.[25]: 271–272 [26]: 327–335 

Passive smoking[edit]

In the late 1960s, Banzhaf and the Action on Smoking and Health worked against passive smoking.[25]: 287–288  In 1969, Ralph Nader had petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to ban smoking on all flights, when Banzhaf petitioned the FAA to require separate smoking and nonsmoking sections on domestic flights. Nader's petition and Banzhaf's petition each failed to change FAA policies, because passive smoking had not yet been recognized as a serious health hazard.

In 1972, both Nader and Banzhaf filed petitions with the Civil Aeronautics Board, which largely granted their petitions. However, many airlines failed fully to comply with the regulations. The Action on Smoking and Health sued the CAB in 1979, claiming that legally mandated enforcement was inadequate. When the Reagan administration came into office in 1981, it weakened enforcement of the previous CAB rules.[26]: 373–374 


In the early 2000s, Banzhaf has focused his efforts against obesity, following the 2001 Surgeon General's report on obesity.[27] In particular, Banzhaf has criticized the contracts for soft drink machines in schools and McDonald's, alleging that both have helped to contribute to childhood obesity.

In 2003, Banzhaf began criticizing "pouring rights" contracts, which he called "Cokes for Kickbacks" contracts. Under these contracts with school districts, soft drink companies place vending machines in schools; the districts receive a commission on the sales. Banzhaf has written that such contracts have increased soft-drink consumption and thereby contributed to the epidemic of childhood obesity.[22][28]

In his advocacy against childhood obesity, Banzhaf has criticized McDonald's. In 2002, he filed a lawsuit claiming product liability against McDonald's, claiming that false advertising by McDonald's contributes to childhood obesity.[22] Obesity and McDonald's were discussed in the 2004 film Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock, in which Banzhaf is repeatedly interviewed. In one scene, Spurlock and Banzhaf have a discussion while eating at McDonald's. In his 2005 book, Spurlock quoted Banzhaf explanation of why litigious campaigns have had more success than legislative campaigns:[29]: 91 

The problem of passing litigation over the objections of a very powerful industry with a big pocketbook is exactly what we faced with Big Tobacco and smoking. ... I and every one of the attorneys and public health experts I'm working with would much rather see this go through legislation then [sic] litigation. Our motto is, "If the legislators don't legislate, then the litigators will litigate."


Richard Nixon[edit]

Banzhaf filed a motion requesting that the federal government appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the role of the White House in what became known as the Watergate scandal. American University history professor Allan Lichtman stated that Banzhaf "was the first to seriously raise the issue in a public way. He certainly put it in the minds of members of Congress and was a contributing factor," despite that the motion was denied, in establishing a path for the appointment of future special prosecutors, which then led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.[30]

Spiro Agnew[edit]

Following publication his memoir, Go Quietly, former vice-president Spiro Agnew gave a rare television interview in 1980,[31] after which Banzhaf's students located three Maryland residents that sought to have Agnew repay the state $268,482, in repayment for kickbacks that he was alleged to have received while in office. In 1981, a judge ruled that "Mr. Agnew had no lawful right to this money under any theory," and ordered restitution as $147,500 in bribes and $101,235 in interest.[32] After two unsuccessful appeals by Agnew, he finally paid the sum in 1983.[33] In 1989, Agnew applied unsuccessfully for this sum to be treated as tax-deductible.[34]

Donald Trump[edit]

In December 2020, complaints written to Georgia state authorities by Banzhaf charged that, while President of the United States, Donald J. Trump appeared to violate three Georgia penal codes during a leaked and subsequently widely publicized phone call of January 2, 2021 with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Banzhaf cited Conspiracy to Commit Election Fraud (§ 21-2-603), Criminal Solicitation to Commit Election Fraud (§ 21-2-604), and Intentional Interference With Performance of Election Duties (§ 21-2-597) during the January 2, 2021 call; the complaints resulted in two criminal investigations by the Fulton County district attorney.[35]


Banzhaf's advocacy has drawn criticism. In 2006, Ezra Levant wrote in the National Post, "Banzhaf was the health-law strategist who destroyed the concept of personal responsibility when it came to smoking."[36] Addressing the charge that his legal campaigns and victories have reduced personal responsibility, according to the Hartford Courant, Banzhaf replied with a rhetorical question:[27]

Is there a sudden loss of personal responsibility? No—because we would see it in other areas: sudden increases in drunkenness, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse deaths. Clearly there is no decline in personal responsibility.

Banzhaf was criticized[37] for his 2011 lawsuits and Human Rights charges against the Catholic University of America. The first was a gender-discrimination lawsuit in response to President John H. Garvey's decision to implement same sex dorms on campus. Later in 2011, Banzhaf filed a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights claiming Muslim students were being discriminated against because of lack of adequate prayer space. According to Banzhaf, the charge came as a response to a 2010 article in CUA's student newspaper about Muslim students at CUA, in which no complaints were made.

Adrian Brune wrote in American Lawyer (2005) that Banzhaf had had conflicts with the Frontiers of Freedom Institute,[22] which operated a web site,,[22] with the slogan "Keeping an eye on the man who wants to sue America", until mid-2006.[38] Reason, a libertarian magazine published a critical article by Charles Paul Freund in 2002.[39] Writer Richard Kluger criticized Banzhaf's leadership of the Action on Smoking and Health.[26]: 310, 506 

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "GW Law Profiles - John F. Banzhaf III". George Washington University Law School. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
  2. ^ a b c d "Banzhaf, John F(rancis), 3d". Current Biography Yearbook. H. W. Wilson. 1973. pp. 30–33.
  3. ^ "John F. Banzhaf III - GW Law - The George Washington University". Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  4. ^ "PROFESSOR JOHN F. BANZHAF III". Archived from the original on 7 May 2016. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  5. ^ "THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL". Martindale-Hubbell. Archived from the original on 28 May 2016. Retrieved 3 July 2016. JOHN F. BANZHAF, (Law Professor), born 1940; admitted to bar, 1965, New York; 1966, District of Columbia. Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B.S.E.E., 1962); Columbia University (J.D., 1965). COURSES:Administrative Law, Law and the Disabled, Legal Activism, Torts.
  6. ^ "Law Professor Files Complaint Against Mosby". Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  7. ^ Abell, Jeff (29 June 2016). "Mosby draws criticism". Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  8. ^ "George Washington law professor files complaint against Marilyn Mosby". Associated Press. 30 June 2016. Archived from the original on 1 July 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016 – via
  9. ^ "Activist law professor calls for Mosby disbarment over prosecution in Freddie Gray case". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  10. ^ "Law professor goes after Maryland prosecutor for Freddie Gray case". Fox News. August 2016.
  11. ^ Banzhaf, John. "Copyright Protection for Computer Programs." 64 Colum. L. Rev. 1274 (1964)
  12. ^ "Computer Program Copyrighted for First Time; Columbia Law Student Gets Approval For Plans – Sees Wide Industry Impact." New York Times: May 8, 1964.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "The Law Professor Behind: ASH, SOUP, PUMP and CRASH." New York Times: August 23, 1970.
  14. ^ Hearings on H.R. 4347, H.R. 5680, H.R. 6831 and H.R. 6835 before Subcomm. No. 3 of the House Comm. on the Judiciary, 89th Cong., 1st Sess. 1144-50 (statement and testimony of John F. Banzhaf III), 1898-99.
  15. ^ Banzhaf, John F. (1965), "Weighted voting doesn't work: A mathematical analysis", Rutgers Law Review, 19 (2): 317–343
  16. ^ Straffin, Philip D. (5 September 1996). Game Theory and Strategy. New Mathematical Library. The Mathematical Association of America. ISBN 0-88385-637-9.
  17. ^ Lehrer, Ehud (1988), "An axiomatization of the Banzhaf value", International Journal of Game Theory, 17 (2): 89–99, doi:10.1007/BF01254541, S2CID 189830513
  18. ^ Moulin, Herve (1988), Axioms of Cooperative Decision Making (1st ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-42458-5
  19. ^ Owen, Guillermo (1995), Game Theory (3rd ed.), San Diego: Academic Press, ISBN 0-12-531151-6
  20. ^ Steven Brams, William F. Lucas and Philip D. Straffin, Jr., Modules in Applied Mathematics: Political and Related Models, vol. 2. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1983. This volume has several essays discussing the Banzhaf index.
  21. ^ Franklin, Ben A. (1981-04-28). "Court says Agnew took bribes; orders repayment". New York Times.
  22. ^ a b c d e Brune, Adrian (July 2005). "Class Action: A litigious law professor preps for fight over soda sales at schools". American Lawyer. 27 (7): 33–34. ISSN 0162-3397.
  23. ^ a b c Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Fourth Estate, 2011, page 265-266.
  24. ^ a b Sterling, C. H., & Kittross, J. M. (1990). Stay Tuned: A concise history of American broadcasting (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  25. ^ a b c Brandt, Allan M. (2007). The Cigarette Century: the Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America. New York: Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. ISBN 978-0-465-07047-3.
  26. ^ a b c d Kluger, Richard (1997). Ashes to Ashes: American's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-375-70036-1.
  27. ^ a b Buck, Rinker (2003-07-13). "George Washington University Professor Wages Legal War on 'Obesity Crisis'". Hartford Courant. ISSN 1047-4153.
  28. ^ Keith, Ervin (2003-07-02). "School Board is warned against Coke contract". Seattle Times. ISSN 0745-9696. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
  29. ^ Spurlock, Morgan (2005). Don't Eat This Book. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-399-15260-1.
  30. ^ "Law professor reflects on his role in Nixon’s resignation", by Mary Ellen McIntire, The GW Hatchet, August 21, 2014. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
  31. ^ "Spiro T. Agnew, Ex-Vice President, Dies at 77". The New York Times. September 18, 1996. Archived from the original on August 21, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  32. ^ Saperstein, Saundra (April 28, 1981). "Agnew Told to Pay State $248,735 for Funds He Accepted". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on October 18, 2019. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  33. ^ "Agnew Gives $268,482 Check to Maryland in Graft Lawsuit". The New York Times. UPI. January 5, 1983. Archived from the original on June 13, 2018. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  34. ^ Clines, Francis X. (September 19, 1996). "Spiro T. Agnew, Point Man for Nixon Who Resigned Vice Presidency, Dies at 77". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 7, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  35. ^ "Lawyer calls for conspiracy investigation over Trump’s Georgia phone call", by Paul Bedard, Washington Examiner, January 4, 2021. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  36. ^ Levant, Ezra (2006-01-06). "The killjoys' next target". National Post. ISSN 1486-8008. Archived from the original on 2013-01-29. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
  37. ^ Krauthammer, Charles (2011-11-05). "Campaign against Catholic University". The Washington Post.
  38. ^ "archive of (April 2006)". Wayback Machine. Internet Archive. Archived from the original on April 2, 2006. Retrieved July 28, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  39. ^ Freund, Charles Paul (December 2002). "Stuffed Face: One man's war on pleasure". Reason: 12–13. ISSN 0048-6906.

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