The Practice and Theory of Secure Data Releases

Ira Rubinstein & Woodrow Hartzog, Anonymization and Risk, 91 Wash. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2016), available on SSRN.

In the current Age of Big Data, companies are constantly striving to figure out how to better use data at their disposal. And it seems that the only thing better than big data is more data. However, the data used is often personal in nature and thus linked to specific individuals and their personal details, traits, or preferences. In such cases, sharing and use of the data conflict with privacy laws and interests. A popular remedy applied to sidestep privacy-based concerns is to render the data no longer “private” by anonymizing it. Anonymization is achieved through a variety of statistical measures. Anonymized data, so it seems, can be sold, shared with researchers, or even possibly released to the general public.

Yet, the Age of Big Data has turned anonymization into a difficult task, as the risk of re-identification seems to be constantly looming. Re-identification is achieved by “attacking” the anonymous dataset, aided by the existence of vast datasets (or “auxiliary information”) from various other sources available to the potential attacker. It is, therefore, difficult to establish whether anonymization was achieved, whether privacy laws pertain to the dataset at hand, and if so, how. In a recent paper, Ira Rubinstein and Woodrow Hartzog examine this issue’s pressing policy and legal aspects. The paper does an excellent job in summarizing the way that the current academic debate in this field is unfolding. It describes recent failed and successful re-identification attempts and provides the reader with a crash course on the complicated statistical methods of de-identification and re-identification. Beyond that, it provides both theoretical insights and a clear roadmap for confronting challenges to properly releasing data. Continue reading "The Practice and Theory of Secure Data Releases"


If We Shouldn’t Punish Psychopaths, May We Still Blame Them for Bad Character? Perhaps Not.

Dana Kay Nelkin’s recent work brings together an important dilemma in the criminal law and a key distinction within it. The result is that our understanding is furthered on both scores. The dilemma is psychopathy. Psychopaths lack affective capacity. They cannot appreciate the wrongfulness behind criminal law’s prohibitions. Without this ability, is it fair to criminally blame and punish them? Although the Model Penal Code specially exempts psychopathy from its definition of mental illness, many theorists believe that appreciating moral reasons is a prerequisite to just punishment.

Now, for the distinction. One move that some criminal law theorists will make is to argue that although we have a judgment that someone has a bad character, the person has not committed a culpable act and hence cannot be punished. If a person enjoys killing and becomes an executioner, not because she wants to inflict deserved punishment but because she wants to kill, ought we to think that she is unjustified or instead that she is just a bad person behaving justifiably? If a driver fails to notice a pedestrian because he is checking out his reflection in the mirror, is this vanity criminal negligence or bad character? The distinction between criminal blaming and character assessing is one way that we can sort cases that seem bad in one respect and yet not properly the object of criminal sanction. Continue reading "If We Shouldn’t Punish Psychopaths, May We Still Blame Them for Bad Character? Perhaps Not."


Appraisal Arbitrage

Minor Myers & Charles R. Korsmo, Appraisal Arbitrage and the Future of Public Company M&A, Wash. U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2015), available at SSRN.

Developments in corporate law center on two topics these days—shareholder voting and merger litigation.  One of the more surprising of the many twists and turns in the latter area is the appearance of appraisal arbitrage. The arbitrage characterization applies because the petitioner under section 262 of the Delaware corporate code takes advantage of the section’s standing rule to buy the transferor’s stock after the record date for the vote on the merger, based on a financial analysis that signals a good chance to prove a valuation in excess of the merger price. A number of special-purpose hedge funds have cropped up as players—Merion Capital, now a frequent appraisal plaintiff, raised $1 billion for a fund dedicated to appraisal claims in 2013. The volume of petitions has spiked up.

Volume has increased substantially despite the fact that appraisal is supposed to be brutally unfriendly to plaintiffs, partly because class actions are prohibited and partly because the plaintiff bears the burden to prove every dollar of damages through a ground up valuation of the company. The surge casts a negative light on the permissive the standing rule, which, in contrast to the blocks erected in representative litigation, facilitates buy-ins. The surge in filings also bids reconsideration of the open-ended approach to valuation techniques followed in the Delaware courts. Finally, it calls into question the fed funds plus 5% interest rate applied to appraisal recoveries under section 262. It is alleged that at a time when interest rates have fallen to little more than zero, a petitioner with a substantial stake can turn a profit on a return of the merger price alone, given an assured 5% yield during the litigation period. Critics are pressuring Delaware to amend the statute to turn back the plaintiffs.

In Appraisal Arbitrage and the Future of Public Company M&A, Myers and Korsmo turn back the critics. Continue reading "Appraisal Arbitrage"


The Long Arc of the Accommodation Debate

Samuel R. Bagenstos, The Unrelenting Libertarian Challenge to Public Accommodations Law, 66 Stanford L. Rev. 1205 (2014).

Two frequent questions arise about the Jotwell project. Should we focus more on deserving articles that haven’t received much attention? And does liking an article “lots” preclude selecting articles one disagrees with? Today’s contribution does not do much to address the first concern. The article discussed here is by a well-known author, was well-published, and has already garnered attention—although less than it deserves, in my opinion. But this Jot does more or less meet the second criterion.

Samuel Bagenstos’s excellent article, The Unrelenting Libertarian Challenge to Public Accommodations Law, has troubled me for a year now. Anyone seeking to elaborate, and in some cases defend and expand, the developments it describes and, I think, implicitly criticizes, must reckon with it. As this Jot argues, however, so must supporters of Title II, who may find that their arguments defending it, and their reassurances about its scope and limits, are equally subject to the undermining logic of Bagenstos’s own critical—or Critical, if you like—argument. As he concludes, the conflict over just “how deeply the antidiscrimination norm may properly penetrate into previously ‘social’ spheres” is a real one, and unlikely to go away, for reasons that apply to both sides in the debate. Continue reading "The Long Arc of the Accommodation Debate"


Property Law, Law & Economics, and Means for Reaching Distributive Goals

Lee Anne Fennell & Richard H. McAdams, The Distributive Deficit in Law and Economics, Minn. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2015), available at SSRN.

Lee Anne Fennell and Richard H. McAdamsThe Distributive Deficit in Law and Economics is framed as a law and economics article but makes a significant contribution to property theory. The Distributive Deficit takes on the standard law and economics assertion “that tax is strictly superior to legal doctrine as a means of redistributing income,” (p. 7) and the related assumption “that the distributive pattern in a society will be invariant to the political form of redistribution.” (p. 14) As Fennell and McAdams note, the general acceptance of both tax superiority and the “invariance hypothesis” in law and economics can be credited largely to the work of Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell (see here, here, and here). Fennell and McAdams’ article is a devastating and wholly convincing critique of this line of reasoning, grounded in the failure of standard law and economics approaches to take into account political action costs. Tax superiority depends on rule and tax changes having zero transaction costs when it comes to establishing the new order. Yet, as Fennell and McAdams’ argue, political action costs can vary depending on preferred mechanism. Put differently, the theoretical possibility of a tax-and-transfer solution does not necessarily mean a redistributive rule change should automatically be discarded: given political action costs, a rule change may still be more efficient than a tax-based approach.

Fennell and McAdams’ contribution is particularly valuable at this point in property law scholarship. The appropriateness and power of law and economics approaches to property, especially the information-cost theories championed by Henry Smith and Thomas Merrill, have taken center stage in debates between progressive and conservative property scholars. Tellingly, in 2015 the AALS Property Section chose to dedicate the section’s panel to “the place and scope of economic analysis.” Those seeking to diminish the importance of law and economics in property law have argued that economic-approaches alone cannot capture all that property law seeks to accomplish and that economic values are only one of many pluralistic values of import. That is to say, recent criticism has been that of the “outsider,” seeking to undermine the conservative tendency of law and economics-based property scholarship not by arguing that law and economics is a bad tool but that it should not be the only approach. Written by two University of Chicago professors, The Distributive Deficit is more of an “insider” attack. It does not question the core tenets of law and economics, it simply shows that on efficiency grounds the oft-repeated conclusion that tax-and-transfer is necessarily a superior means of redistribution compared to rule changes is incorrect. But it is an important intervention for property scholars because without it, the idea that property law should be based upon the notion of tax superiority—advanced by Yale Law professor Robert Ellickson in a recent article—might be uncritically accepted. Continue reading "Property Law, Law & Economics, and Means for Reaching Distributive Goals"


New Jotwell Section: Property

Today we inaugurate a new Jotwell section on Property, edited by Donald J. Kochan, Professor & Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at the Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law, and Tanya Marsh, Professor of Law at Wake Forest University School of Law. Together they have recruited a stellar team of Contributing Editors.

The first posting in the Property section is Property Law, Law & Economics, and Means for Reaching Distributive Goals by Ezra Rosser. Continue reading "New Jotwell Section: Property"


Shining Some Light into the Black Box of Agency Statutory Interpretation

Christopher J. Walker, Inside Agency Statutory Interpretation, 67 Stan. L. Rev. 999 (2015).

Agencies routinely interpret statutes while drafting rules. Yet very little is known about how agency rule drafters approach statutory interpretation when writing rules. In a fascinating article that was recently published in the Stanford Law Review, Professor Christopher J. Walker shines some much needed light into this area.

Walker’s article is modeled off of important empirical work Lisa Bressman and Abbe Gluck previously conducted that studied congressional drafters’ knowledge of and use of different administrative law doctrines and interpretive tools. Rather than focusing on congressional drafters as Bressman and Gluck already have done, Walker’s article focuses on how agency rule drafters approach statutory interpretation when writing rules. Walker’s article reports the findings of a detailed 195-question survey that he administered online over a five-month period to agency rule drafters who work at seven executive agencies (Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, Housing & Urban Development, and Transportation) and two independent agencies (the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Reserve). Walker sent the survey to 411 agency officials within these agencies, and 128 responded, resulting in a 31 percent response rate. All of the survey respondents were career civil servants rather than political appointees. Continue reading "Shining Some Light into the Black Box of Agency Statutory Interpretation"


Disabilities, Caregiving Responsibilities, and Employer Requirements

In workplace law, we often see groups of workers that are marginalized by their employers or fellow employees. The treatment of these employees can dramatically affect the working environment.

In her article, Mutual Marginalization: Individuals with Disabilities and Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities, Nicole Buonocore Porter explores two specific groups that remain heavily stigmatized in modern society – those with caregiving responsibilities and those that have disabilities. Professor Porter highlights the connection between these employees and their treatment in the workplace. While the link between these two groups is not readily apparent, Professor Porter carefully addresses the disparate treatment of these two types of workers. Continue reading "Disabilities, Caregiving Responsibilities, and Employer Requirements"


Theoretical and Practical Concerns in Moving to a Federal Inheritance Task

Wendy C. Gerzog, What’s Wrong with a Federal Inheritance Tax, 49 Real Prop., Tr. & Est. L.J. 163 (2014), available at SSRN.

Professor Wendy Gerzog has written a thought-provoking article reviewing inheritance tax systems both in the United States and abroad, and then Professor Lily Batchelder’s proposed comprehensive inheritance tax (CIT).1 Professor Gerzog has three principal criticisms of inheritance tax systems: (1) they inequitably tax the recipient based on the closeness of relationship to the donor or decedent (which rationale is “neither a good measure of ability to pay nor an effective means of wealth redistribution,”); (2) they lack a gift tax back-up; and, (3) they apply to more individuals, increasing administrative costs and decreasing compliance rates. (P. 200) As to Professor Batchelder’s CIT, Professor Gerzog supports its elimination of the “disparity of burdens for some beneficiaries under the current transfer system” and its solving “the problems of timing and valuation abuses that involve actuarial problems,” but Professor Gerzog contends that the CIT “engenders its own problems”: (1) increased family wealth; (2) increased valuation abuse; (3) increased recordkeeping costs; (4) increased compliance problems; and, (5) increased complexity. (P. 201.) Professor Gerzog concludes that “the transfer tax system works relatively well and has significant practical and theoretical advantages over a federal inheritance tax or a CIT.” (P. 201.)

Professor Gerzog believes that basing tax rates on a decedent’s relation to a beneficiary is “objectionable on fairness considerations.” (Pp. 164-165.) Given that most wealthy decedents leave their property to other wealthy individuals and the majority of beneficiaries are the decedent’s close relatives, there are comparatively few estates with non-relative heirs, and “no policy rationale supports subjecting those few unrelated individuals to either a higher or a lower tax rate.” (P. 165.) Professor Gerzog contends that an inheritance tax with greater tax rates when there are “a fairly small number of the beneficiaries” or “a distant familial relationship … of the decedent’s beneficiaries” “cannot realistically achieve the reduction of concentrated family wealth and its associated power.” (P. 166.) Continue reading "Theoretical and Practical Concerns in Moving to a Federal Inheritance Task"


Attention Jotwell RSS Feed Readers

This week Jotwell is having its first-ever fund-raiser. Regular visitors to the site probably already noticed a large yellow popup informing then of this fact, but people who get Jotwell via the RSS feed or by email will have been denied that experience. There is no reason for the hundreds of people who read us via the RSS feed–or by email–to be left out.

So here’s the pitch: Please will you make a small donation to support this journal? All the faculty who write for and edit Jotwell do so for free, but even so, producing the journal is not costless: we need to pay for our server, for our student editors, and for various types of technical and design support, including a coming makeover to keep up with a procession of software updates. This adds up.

We don’t charge for Jotwell and we don’t run any ads, and we would like to keep it that way. If every Jotwell reader donated just $7 a year, we’d cover all of our costs…but alas not everyone is generous.

If you can afford it, please don’t be a free rider. If you like us lots–or even just some–please make a small donation? Of course, if you want to make a large one, we would not say no to that either.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

A. Michael Froomkin
Jotwell Editor-in-Chief


A Holy Grail for Pluralist Theory?

Ronen Perry, Pluralistic Legal Theories: In Search of a Common Denominator, 90 Tul. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2015), available at SSRN.

Can pluralistic legal theories be unified around a common framework? That’s the tantalizing question that Ronen Perry tackles in his recent essay. Perry is searching for a holy grail—a unifying principle for all pluralistic theories of law. Even if the holy grail does not exist, the quest itself proves interesting and worthy of consideration.

Modern tort theorists have advanced at least three rationales for the tort system: deterrence, individualized justice, and compensation. Under a deterrence-economic perspective, the goal of the tort system is to prevent accidents in an efficient manner. On the other hand, an individualized justice theorist views the tort system as a way to remedy a wrong caused by one to another. Finally, under a compensation or distributive justice theory, tort law’s goal is to spread loss and provide compensation to victims of tortious injury. But few scholars accept these multiple theories, and instead focus on their own singular rationale. Continue reading "A Holy Grail for Pluralist Theory?"