John Francis Banzhaf III (/ˈbænz.hɑːf/; born July 2, 1940) is an American public interest lawyer, legal activist and a law professor at George Washington University Law School. He is the founder of an antismoking advocacy group, Action on Smoking and Health. He is noted for his advocacy and use of lawsuits as a method to promote what he believes is the public interest.
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.
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. He compared her to Michael Nifong and his handling of the Duke lacrosse case.
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 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, thereby recognizing for the first time the validity of this new form of legal protection.
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.
Banzhaf studied the Nassau County Board's voting system, which allocated the total of 30 votes to its municipalities as follows:
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:
AB AC BC ABC ABD ABE ABF ACD ACE ACF BCD BCE BCF ABCD ABCE ABCF ABDE ABDF ABEF ACDE ACDF ACEF BCDE BCDF BCEF ABCDE ABCDF ABCEF ABDEF ACDEF BCDEF ABCDEF
Banzhaf proposed an index, now known as the "Banzhaf index", to measure the power of each municipality:
Banzhaf argued that a voting arrangement that gives zero power to one sixth of the county's population is unfair, and sued the board.  Today, the Banzhaf power index is an accepted way to measure voting power, along with the Shapley–Shubik power index.
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.: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.
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.
In 2013, Banzhaf required students in his Public Interest Law class to lobby for restrictions on soft drinks containing sugar. According to a press release issued by Banzhaf, students will have the option of "ask[ing] the legislators to address another food-related problem other than obesity (such as food safety and availability)."
Much of Banzhaf's tobacco work has been done through the non-profit group Action on Smoking and Health, which he founded in 1967.
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. 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.
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. 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.:32:267–268:304–308 "Various governmental and voluntary health organizations made extremely creative spots and provided them to stations." 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). Cigarette advertising shifted to print media. Consequently, anti-smoking announcements were no longer required to satisfy the FCC's fairness doctrine.:271–272:327–335
In the late 1960s, Banzhaf and the Action on Smoking and Health worked against passive smoking.: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.:373–374
In the early 2000s, Banzhaf has focused his efforts against obesity, following the 2001 Surgeon General's report on obesity. 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.
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. 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::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.'
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." Addressing the charge that his legal campaigns and victories have reduced personal responsibility, according to the Hartford Courant, Banzhaf replied with a rhetorical question:
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 has been criticized for his recent lawsuit and Human Rights charge against the Catholic University of America. The first was a discrimination lawsuit in response to President John H. Garvey's decision to implement same sex dorms. In 2011, Banzhaf filed a charge with the DC Office of Human Rights in which he claimed that 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, which operated a web site, banzhafwatch.com, with the slogan "Keeping an eye on the man who wants to sue America", until mid-2006. Reason, a libertarian magazine published a critical article by Charles Paul Freund in 2002. Writer Richard Kluger criticized Banzhaf's leadership of the Action on Smoking and Health.:310,506