John F. Banzhaf III

John F. Banzhaf III

Infobox Person
name = John Francis Banzhaf III

imagesize = 150px
caption =
birth_date = birth date and age|1940|7|2|mf=yes
birth_place = New York City
known_for = litigation
education = BSEE, J.D.
alma_mater = Columbia University Law School
employer = George Washington University Law School
occupation = Professor
website =
footnotes =

John Francis Banzhaf III (pron-en|'bænzhæf [cite web |url= |title=GW Law Profiles - John F. Banzhaf III |accessdate=2008-08-02 |publisher= George Washington University Law School] ) (born July 2, 1940) is a legal activist and a law professor at George Washington University Law School. He is the founder of the US smoking pressure group Action on Smoking and Health.cite encyclopedia
encyclopedia = Current Biography Yearbook
title = Banzhaf, John F(rancis), 3d
year = 1973
publisher = H. W. Wilson
pages = 30–33
] He is noted for his advocacy of, and use of, lawsuits as a method to promote the public interest.

Life and Education

Banzhaf was born July 2, 1940 in New York City. He graduated from Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School at the age of 15, worked for a year with an electrical engineering firm, then entered MIT where he received his BSEE degree in 1962. He had already published several papers in electrical engineering and been awarded several patents. A few months after graduation he entered Columbia University Law School, intending to specialize in patent law. He graduated with a JD degree in 1965.

After doing some research and law clerk work, he became an associate with the patent-law firm Watson, Leavenworth, Kelton & Taggart. In 1968 he was appointed associate professor at the National Law Center (since renamed George Washington University Law School) of George Washington University, and was promoted to full professor with tenure in 1971.


Patent law

Banzhaf got an early start in legal activism. While still a student in law school, he was assigned to research and draft a note for the Columbia Law Review on software copyright. The United States Patent Office had previously declined to grant any patents on software programs. Banzhaf filed a patent application for one of his own software programs, and in 1964 convinced the Patent Office to grant him a patent on it.Rp|31


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.Rp|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.


Much of Banzhaf's tobacco work has been done through the US non-profit group Action on Smoking and Health, which he founded in 1967.

Banzhaf's first tobacco project was to present an "equal time" theory of cigarette advertising to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC's fairness doctrine required broadcasters to provide free air time to opposing views of matters of public controversy. Banzhaf argued that tobacco advertisements were only showing one side of the story, and that as a public service the broadcast media should be required to show an equal number of anti-smoking messages. The FCC agreed, although they only required a ratio of one anti-smoking message for each four cigarette advertisements rather than the one-to-one ratio that Banzhaf had asked for. The tobacco industry appealed this decision, but it was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Rp|32cite book | last = Brandt | first = Allan M. | title = The Cigarette Century: the Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America | publisher = Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group | location = New York | year = 2007 | isbn = 9780465070473 ] Rp|267–268

The tobacco industry eventually countered the flood of anti-smoking messages by voluntarily offering to stop advertising on television completely, if they were made immune from antitrust action (for taking this concerted action) and in exchange for restrictions on the warning labels that appear on cigarette packages and in advertising. Television tobacco ads went off the air at the end of 1970, as did the free anti-smoking ads. Much of the cigarette advertising money shifted to print media.Rp|271–272Rp|327–335

Banzhaf and ASH next turned their attention to passive smoking.Rp|287–288 This started a fight for local and state smoking ban ordinances that is still ongoing today. In 1969 Ralph Nader petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to ban smoking on all flights, and Banzhaf petitioned the FAA to require separate smoking and nonsmoking sections on domestic flights. Passive smoking at that time was thought to be only a nuisance and not a health hazard, and they were not able to get any action from the FAA. In 1972 they switched their attention to the Civil Aeronautics Board, who were more receptive and ordered the separate sections. Compliance was weak, and ASH sued the CAB in 1979 asking for better enforcement. When the Reagan administration came into office in 1981 even the weak CAB measures were rolled back.Rp|373–374


In recent years Banzhaf has switched his attention to obesity, prompted by a 2001 Surgeon General's report on the subject.cite news |first=Rinker |last=Buck |title=George Washington University Professor Wages Legal War on 'Obesity Crisis' |work=Hartford Courant |id=ISSN|1047-4153 |date=2003-07-13 ] In 2002 he filed a product liability suit against McDonald's, claiming that they contribute to childhood obesity through false advertising.

In 2003 Banzhaf began agitating against what he calls "Cokes for Kickbacks" contracts (known more formally as "pouring rights"), where local school districts contract with soft-drink companies to place vending machines in the schools and receive a commission on the proceeds. He believes such contracts are an important contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic. []

Banzhaf likens the obesity problem to the tobacco problem, saying,

Banzhaf was one of the interviewees in the 2004 film Super Size Me and made several brief appearances in that film, including a scene of Banzhaf and director Morgan Spurlock eating at McDonald's.

Work on voting systems

Banzhaf did some work in weighted voting systems while he was still in law school. He is the inventor of the Banzhaf power index, which analyzes weighted voting systems according to their members' abilities to force quorums.


There has been much criticism of Banzhaf's work and of Banzhaf personally.

Many critics are uneasy about his use of litigation. Rick Berman, executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a food trade group, said, "He's using the judicial process for PR value." []
George Landrith, president of the conservative think tank Frontiers of Freedom Institute said "He's abusing the court system".

Banzhaf has been accused of ignoring or destroying the concept of personal responsibility. For example, 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." [cite news |first=Ezra |last=Levant |title=The killjoys' next target |url= |work=National Post |id=ISSN|1486-8008 |date=2006-01-06 |accessdate=2008-08-10 ] But Banzhaf denies that there has been any loss of personal responsibility. He was quoted in 2003 in the "Hartford Courant" saying,

Writer Richard Kluger is critical of Banzhaf's organizational skills, saying that he has failed to build up ASH as a strong organization because he was unwilling to share the spotlight with others, and that ASH was a vehicle for Banzhaf to make appearances before Congress and on television.Rp|310,506

Adrian Brune, writing in 2005 in "American Lawyer", said that Banzhaf's chief legal foe is the Frontiers of Freedom Institute's George Landrith.cite journal
last = Brune
first = Adrian
year = 2005
month = July
title = Class Action: A litigious law professor preps for fight over soda sales at schools
journal = American Lawyer
volume = 27
issue = 7
pages = 33–34
issn = 0162-3397
] A few years ago the Institute launched a web site,, devoted to recording all available information about Banzhaf and his activities. The site's slogan was "Keeping an eye on the man who wants to sue America". The site went inactive in mid-2006, [cite web |url=*/ |accessdate=2008-08-09 |title=archive of |publisher=Internet Archive Wayback Machine ] and the Institute may have lost interest in Banzhaf.

"Reason", a libertarian magazine, gives Banzhaf much critical attention. For example, in a 2002 article, Charles Paul Freund wrote that Banzhaf did not win any victories over the tobacco companies, that he specializes in "using the courts to hurt relatively powerless people," and that the issue for Banzhaf is "the terrifying possibility that somewhere there are people enjoying themselves." [cite journal
last = Freund
first = Charles Paul
year = 2002
month = December
title = Stuffed Face: One man's war on pleasure
journal = Reason
pages = 12–13
issn = 0048-6906
url =

Pro-smoking websites and blogs such as FORCES [cite web |url= |title=The FORCES International Liberty News Network |accessdate=2008-08-10 |work= |publisher=FORCES International |date= ] carry much critical comment about Banzhaf.


NAME = Banzhaf III, John Francis
SHORT DESCRIPTION = law professor and legal activist
DATE OF BIRTH = July 2, 1940
PLACE OF BIRTH = New York City

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