Monthly Archives: April 2014
The legislative history of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is dizzyingly complex and maddeningly opaque. Happily, a guide to this law’s history was published recently and undoubtedly will become an essential piece of understanding the puzzle of the ACA. Though John Cannan wrote the article to instruct law librarians in the modern methods of tracking increasingly intricate legislative history, anyone engaged in studying the implementation of the ACA and the ongoing challenges to that law will benefit from the meticulous detail this article provides.
Traditional sources of legislative history will thwart the casual researcher seeking to understand the provisions of the ACA. At one end of the spectrum, the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (USCCAN), an ordinarily reliable source of legislative history, has no documentation for the ACA and one unrelated committee report for the ACA’s companion legislation, the Health Care Education and Reconciliation Act (HCERA). At the other end of the spectrum, THOMAS contains more legislative history than could possibly pertain to the subject matter of the ACA, yet it provides no guideposts for wading through the legion of amendments that appear to have applied to the ACA. The Justices called the legislative history impenetrable during the severability oral arguments in NFIB v. Sebelius. Cannan makes the impenetrable understandable by diligently tracking the genesis and progress of two House bills and three Senate bills that became the ACA so that we can understand how to find the history that exists between these extremes. Continue reading "Farewell, School House Rock (Understanding Legislative History through the Lens of the ACA)"
Robert Alan Hersey, Jennifer McCormack, & Gillian E. Newell, Mapping Intergenerational Memories (Part I): Proving the Contemporary Truth of the Indigenous Past
, Ariz. Legal Stud. Discussion Paper 14-01 (2014), available at SSRN
I strongly recommend this paper not only for its immediate subject—the struggles that indigenous peoples face in proving land claims due to colonial governments’ distrust of evidence on oral history—but also because it helped me understand the limitations of my own perspective.
Robert Alan Hershey, Jennifer McCormack, and Gillian E. Newell describe the disconnect between Western notions of cartography and spatial theory and those of indigenous peoples, particularly indigenous peoples located in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. They then explain that some of these groups, such as the Ngurrara in Australia have had success in getting their rights recognized by creating maps that incorporate oral history, thus adopting a hybrid form of evidence that is both documentary and respectful of indigenous ways of knowing such as through oral history. Continue reading "Oral History and Perceptions of Subjectivity"
Noa Ben-Asher, Conferring Dignity: The Metamorphosis of the Legal Homosexual
, 37 Harv. J.L. & Gender
(forthcoming 2014), available at SSRN
In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) as unconstitutional. The decision renders married same-sex couples eligible for the same federal benefits (i.e., tax treatment and social security benefits) as their opposite-sex counterparts. In the midst of a largely celebratory reception of the decision, Noa Ben-Asher offers a much-needed critical analysis of Windsor’s bundle of rhetorical and doctrinal sticks. In Conferring Dignity: The Metamorphosis of the Legal Homosexual, Ben-Asher takes us through a genealogy of the “legal homosexual” in Supreme Court case law. As Ben-Asher notes, this genealogy begins with moral opprobrium and ends in Windsor’s exalted language about the dignity of state-sanctioned, same-sex couples. Recognizing dignity: Who can be against that, right? Ben-Asher demonstrates that in our post-realist world the story is more complicated.
The first part of Ben-Asher’s contribution is an astute rendering of the Supreme Court’s evolving doctrinal constructions of homosexual conduct and identity. Ben-Asher identifies four stages in what she terms the “metamorphosis of the legal homosexual.” In each stage, Ben-Asher reveals distinct moral assessments of the legal homosexual’s nature and conduct, as well as different understandings of the state’s role in the regulation of morals. Continue reading "Same-Sex Marriage in Windsor and the Indignities of Dignity"
Woodrow Hartzog, Chain Link Confidentiality, 46 Georgia L. Rev. 657 (2012) available at SSRN.
Since at least the early 2000s, privacy scholars have illuminated a fatal flaw at the core of many “notice and consent” privacy protections: firms that obtain data for one use may share or sell it to data brokers, who then sell it on to others, ad infinitum. If one can’t easily prevent or monitor the sale of data, what sense does it make to carefully bargain for limits on its use by the original collector? The Federal Trade Commission and state authorities are now struggling with how to address the runaway data dilemma in the new digital landscape. As they do so, they should carefully consider the insights of Professor Woody Hartzog. His article, Chain Link Confidentiality, offers a sine qua non for the modernization of fair data practices: certain obligations should follow personal information downstream.
After 2013, it is impossible to ignore the concerns of privacy activists. The Snowden revelations portrayed untrammeled data collection by government. Jay Rockefeller’s Senate Commerce Committee portrayed an out-of-control data gathering industry (whose handiwork can often be appropriated by government). America’s patchwork of weak privacy laws are no match for the threats posed by this runaway data, which is used secretly to rank, rate, and evaluate persons, often to their detriment and often unfairly. Without a society-wide commitment to fair data practices, a dark era of digital discrimination is a real and present danger. Continue reading "Good Fences Make Better Data Brokers"
Dorothy Roberts has long provided insightful analysis of the ways in which criminal justice policies police black families and the ways in which child welfare policies police the bodies of black women.
In Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers (which was a part of an impressive UCLA symposium entitled Overpoliced and Underprotected: Women, Race and Criminalization), Roberts develops a detailed description of the “system intersectionality” between the punishing controlling systems of child welfare and the similarly racially discriminatory controlling systems that result in what is usually termed mass incarceration. Continue reading "State Control of Black Mothers"
Fair and global resolutions to mass tort claims are not easy to achieve. Aggregation of claims, either through a formal class action or perhaps through multi-district litigation (“MDL”) consolidation, has been a key feature of mass tort litigation for several decades. In an MDL, related cases filed in federal court may be consolidated before a single judge for coordinated pre-trial proceedings, including settlement. The benefits and limitations of aggregation generally, and the MDL device itself, have been the subject of numerous academic papers. American federalism places a stumbling block in the way of complete aggregation – the presence of related but non-removable claims pending in state court, which cannot be part of that consolidated federal action.
While many scholars have viewed non-removable claims as a limitation on the success of aggregation, surprisingly few have tackled the issue head on. Maria Glover provides a thoughtful and thorough investigation of this problem in Mass Litigation Governance in the Post-Class Action Era: The Problems and Promise of Non-Removable State Actions in Multi-District Litigation. Unlike scholars who have come before her, Glover does not dismiss the issue as an annoying yet intractable problem, although she does not purport to “solve” it. Rather, her article is a fresh and inventive take on this problem, in which she suggests that the presence of non-removable state actions might actually be beneficial to the resolution of mass tort claims. Continue reading "Federalism and Mass Tort Litigation"
Legal Scholarship We Like,
and Why It Matters
University of Miami School of Law
November 7-8, 2014
JOTWELL, the Journal of Things We Like (Lots), is an online journal dedicated to celebrating and sharing the best scholarship relating to the law. To celebrate Jotwell’s 5th Birthday, we invite you to join us for conversations about what makes legal scholarship great and why it matters.
In the United States, the role of scholarship is under assault in contemporary conversations about law schools; meanwhile in many other countries legal scholars are routinely pressed to value their work according to metrics or with reference to fixed conceptions of the role of legal scholarship. We hope this conference will serve as an answer to those challenges, both in content and by example.
We invite pithy abstracts of proposed contributions, relating to one or more of the conference themes. Each of these themes provides an occasion for the discussion (and, as appropriate, defense) of the scholarly enterprise in the modern law school–not for taking the importance of scholarship for granted, but showing, with specificity, as we hope Jotwell itself does, what good work looks like and why it matters.
I. Improving the Craft: Writing Legal Scholarship
We invite discussion relating to the writing of legal scholarship.
1. What makes great legal scholarship? Contributions on this theme could either address the issue at a general level, or anchor their discussion by an analysis of a single exemplary work of legal scholarship. We are open to discussions of both content and craft.
2. Inevitably, not all books and articles will be “great”. What makes “good” legal scholarship? How do we achieve it?
II. Improving the Reach: Communicating and Sharing
Legal publishing is changing quickly, and the way that people both produce and consume legal scholarship seems likely to continue to evolve.
3. Who is (are) the audience(s) for legal scholarship?
4. How does legal scholarship find its audience(s)? Is there anything we as legal academics can or should do to help disseminate great and good scholarship? To what extent will the shift to online publication change how people edit, consume, and share scholarship, and how should we as authors and editors react?
III. Improving the World: Legal Scholarship and its Influence
Most broadly, we invite discussion of when and how legal scholarship matters.
5. What makes legal scholarship influential? Note that influence is not necessarily the same as “greatness”. Also, influence has many possible meanings, encompassing influence within or outside the academy.
6. Finally, we invite personal essays about influence: what scholarship, legal or otherwise, has been most influential for you as a legal scholar? What if anything can we as future authors learn from this?
Jotwell publishes short reviews of recent scholarship relevant to the law, and we usually require brevity and a very contemporary focus. For this event, however, contributions may range over the past, the present, or the future, and proposed contributions can be as short as five pages, or as long as thirty.
We invite the submission of abstracts for proposed papers fitting one or more of the topics above. Your abstract should lay out your central idea, and state the anticipated length of the finished product.
Abstracts due by: May 20, 2014. Send your paper proposals (abstracts) via the JOTCONF 2014 EasyChair page at https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=jotconf2014.
If you do not have an EasyChair account you will need to register first – just click at the “sign up for an account” link at the login page and fill in the form. The system will send you an e-mail with the instructions how to finish the registration.
Responses by: June 13, 2014
Accepted Papers due: Oct 6, 2014
Conference: Nov. 7-8, 2014
University of Miami School of Law
Coral Gables, FL
Symposium contributions will be published on a special page at Jotwell.com. Authors will retain copyright. In keeping with Jotwell’s relentlessly low-budget methods, this will be a self-funding event. Your contributions are welcome even if you cannot attend in person.
Under what conditions do new scientific and technocratic paradigms drive profound policy change? Policymakers and bureaucrats are cognitively bound by, and emotionally attached to, the scientific and technocratic paradigms that guide their daily operations. Consequently, indications that existing policies and regulatory approaches are producing bad or unintended results tend to be ignored over long periods of time. Insofar as such signals are attended to, this is done within the logic of an existing paradigm, thereby resulting in incremental change. Fundamental – third order – policy changes entail a paradigmatic intellectual shift, which delineate an alternative problem definition, and a complementary set of policy tools. Students of policy associate such instances of third order change with Peter Hall’s study of the British Treasury and the Bank of England’s shift from Keynesian economics to monetarism in late 1970s. As shown in Hall’s study, this policy makeover was enabled by a coupling between Margaret Thatcher’s political will and the American-driven intellectual development of monetarism as an alternative to Keynesianism.
Still, Andrew Baker’s study shows that while a paradigmatic intellectual shift may be a necessary condition, as suggested by Hall, it may still be insufficient for fundamental policy change. Baker suggests that macro-prudential regulation encapsulates, intellectually, a paradigmatic shift in a similar vein to the rise of monetarism and the rejection of Keynesian economics. Pre-crisis financial regulation, as encapsulated in the Basel II standards, was based on the premise of market efficiency. Banks were assumed to have the capacity to assess and manage their capital and liquidity risks, and asset prices together with ratings by credit agencies were assumed to reflect assets’ real values and risks. Consequently, “Greater transparency, more disclosure, and more effective risk management by financial firms based on market prices became the cornerstones for the regulation of ‘efficient markets.” (P. 420). Macro-prudential regulation, by comparison, rejects the premise of efficient markets. Rather, it postulates that asset prices can be driven to extremes, whether upwards or downwards, due to pro-cyclicality (i.e. excessive levels of investment when prices are rising and radical contraction when prices are falling), herding behavior and complex interdependence between financial institutions and transactions. During 2008, this approach, which attracted limited support before the crisis, became the mainstream discourse of international and national financial regulators. By comparison, “Open advocates of rational expectations, new classical thinking, and an efficient markets perspective have been hard to find in financial regulatory networks, since late 2008.” (P. 424-25). Continue reading "A Painful Shift from a New Paradigm to Regulatory Reality"
Steven D. Smith, The Jurisprudence of Denigration, U.C. Davis L. Rev (forthcoming, 2014), available at SSRN.
Steven D. Smith has written another characteristically challenging paper. I fear that the paper, “The Jurisprudence of Denigration,” will be accepted without cavil by those who tend to disagree with decisions like United States v. Windsor or Lawrence v. Texas, and rejected without hesitation by those who champion those decisions. Either move would be unfortunate. This is a paper that says something important about the nature of modern constitutional and moral rhetoric surrounding hot-button social issues, and the uneasy position of judges and scholars as they attempt to find legally serviceable language with which to address social controversies in real time.
The paper’s argument has wide-ranging implications but is blissfully clear and simple. In Windsor, Justice Kennedy argued that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was the product of “a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group”—that it came from a “purpose . . . to demean,” “injure,” and “disparage.” As Smith writes, “Justice Kennedy and the Court thereby in essence accused Congress—and, by implication, millions of Americans—of acting from pure malevolence.” This “extraordinary claim” forms part of a “discursive pattern” by judges and scholars that Smith calls “the discourse of denigration.” And it is wrong and dangerous. “Precisely contrary to its irenic and inclusivist intentions, by maintaining and contributing to that destructive discourse, the Supreme Court aggravates the conflict that is often described, with increasing accuracy, as the ‘culture wars.’”
At this point I can envision the supporters of Winsdor hastily yanking on the cord and seeking to get off the bus. But they should stick around, because Smith has some larger, interesting claims to make. Those claims do not require one to abandon support for Windsor or LGBT rights, but simply to ask how the Court gets there. Kennedy may have been arguing, Smith suggests, “that to disapprove of homosexual conduct is to declare or deem persons prone to such conduct to be in some sense lesser or inferior beings.” But that is a logical fallacy: “From the fact that a person is inclined to some behavior deemed immoral [by others], . . . it simply does not follow that the person is in any sense a lesser or inferior human being. And while those who disapprove of some behavior as immoral may believe that people who engage in the behavior are lesser human beings, they need not believe any such thing.” Even if supporters of DOMA and similar laws actually do regard gays and lesbians as “in some sense lesser human beings,” that still does not prove ineluctably that they are acting from a bare desire to harm those individuals. Continue reading "Denigration as Forbidden Conduct and Required Judicial Rhetoric"
Over the past several decades, many scholars have weighed in on benefits and detriments of authorizing private parties to sue to enforce federal regulatory standards. They often take either of two opposing positions: Some argue that private enforcement is necessary to supplement underfunded and perhaps captured agency enforcement mechanisms; others contend that private enforcement undermines social welfare or even statutory goals by sacrificing officials’ prosecutorial discretion not to pursue cases that, while technically justified, would not further regulatory goals. Few scholars, however, have written about the trade-offs triggered by a choice between public and private enforcement.
In Agencies as Litigation Gatekeepers, David Engstrom views the issue as one of when and how agencies should control the use of private enforcement. He is not the first to write about vesting agencies with such gatekeeper functions. But, others who have written on the subject generally have done so within the context of a particular regulatory program or litigation regime. Agencies as Litigation Gatekeepers views the structure and control of private enforcement as a unique kind of regulatory problem that extends potentially to every regulatory program. Doing so allows the article to develop some theoretical insights into how private enforcement might be structured and how agencies might best further the use of private enforcement mechanisms. Continue reading "Rethinking the Role of Agencies in Private Regulatory Enforcement"
Whistleblowers and workplace retaliation victims continue to make headlines in the national media. From Edward Snowden to NFL players Chris Kluwe and Jonathan Martin, employees who speak out against what they perceive as employer or coworker wrongdoing often generate significant disagreement among the public. Professor Deborah L. Brake has done as much as anyone in legal scholarship to highlight some of the limitations of workplace retaliation law. Her most recent article on the subject sheds light on a relatively unnoticed limitation.
One of the more frequent criticisms of the courts’ handling of retaliation claims is the standard to which retaliation plaintiffs are held. An individual who is retaliated against for opposing unlawful discrimination need not establish that the conduct opposed was actually illegal under federal law. Instead, the individual must simply establish that she reasonably believed that the conduct complained of was unlawful. If a reasonable employee would not have believed that the employer’s conduct was illegal, the employee’s conduct is unprotected under the law and the employer is free to retaliate against the employee for the employee’s opposition. As Brake notes, much of the criticism to date has focused on the fact that courts tend to hold retaliation plaintiffs not to the standard of a reasonable employee, but to that of a reasonable employee who has taken a law school course on employment discrimination, thus leaving many employees unprotected when they oppose what they believe to be discriminatory conduct. Continue reading "Employer Retaliation Policies and the Retaliation Catch-22"
John H. Langbein, Destructive Federal Preemption of State Wealth Transfer Law in Beneficiary Designation Cases: Hillman Doubles Down on Egelhoff, Vand. L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2014), available at SSRN.
Nearly twenty-five years ago, Professor John Langbein published an article with the arresting title The Supreme Court Flunks Trusts. The article critiqued the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101 (1989), a decision which, as Professor Langbein explained, “rest[ed] on an elementary error in trust law” (P. 208) producing “a nonsense reading of ERISA” (P. 209). The article’s reasoning was compelling, and particularly devastating was the article’s conclusion (PP. 228-9):
. . .Bruch is such a crude piece of work that one may well question whether it had the full attention of the Court. I do not believe that [the justices] would have uttered such doctrinal hash if they had been seriously engaged in the enterprise. . .
I understand why a Court wrestling with the grandest issues of public law may feel that its mission is distant from ERISA. The Court may increasingly view itself as having become a supreme constitutional court, resembling the specialized constitutional courts on the Continent. If so, the time may have come to recognize a corollary. If the Court is bored with the detail of supervising complex bodies of statutory law, thought should be given to having that job done by a court that would take it seriously. . .
In 2013, the Supreme Court flunked again, this time with the laws of succession and restitution. The case was Hillman v. Maretta, 133 S.Ct. 1943 (2013). Professor Langbein has again penned a valuable and withering critique. It is a must-read. Continue reading "The Supreme Court Flunks Again"
Every first-year law student is taught the importance of citing to the materials relied upon to make a legal argument. Opposing counsel and the judge should be able to retrieve the materials cited and determine whether the materials support the argument put forth. At first blush, citation to materials on the internet would seem to make retrieval easier. Lawyers no longer have to go to a library or dig through a database to find the cited materials. However, a fairly high number of these citations are being lost to link rot, that annoying instance when you click on a link and what you are looking for is no longer available.
Raizel Liebler and June Liebert conducted a study of internet links contained in Supreme Court of the United States (hereinafter “SCOTUS”) opinions from 1996–2010 and found that, shockingly, 29% of links in the opinions either led to nothing or did not lead to the information discussed in the opinion. With stare decisis as a foundational principle of American law, it is disturbing to consider how the underlying basis of court opinions may be disappearing at a rate much higher than anticipated. The consequences for lawyers and researchers seeking to understand the legal analysis contained in a court opinion are profound. Continue reading "Vanishing into the Ether: Link Rot and Disappearing Precedent"
Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation trumpets an important alarm for the entire legal profession, warning us that given current modes of citing websites in judicial cases create a very real risk that opinion-supporting citations by courts as important as the United States Supreme Court will disappear, making them inaccessible to future scholars. The authors of this important and disquieting article, Raizel Liebler and June Liebert, both have librarianship backgrounds, and they effectively leverage their expertise to explicate four core premises: Legal citations are important; web based legal citations can and do disappear without notice or reason; disappearing legal citations are particularly problematic in judicial opinions; and finally, to this reader’s vast relief, there are solutions to this problem, if only the appropriate entities would care enough to implement them.
Denoting the disappearing citation phenomenon with the vivid appellation “link rot,” Liebler and Liebert explain that the crucial ability to check and verify citations is badly compromised by link rot, and then demonstrate this with frankly shocking empirical evidence. According to their research: Continue reading "Empirical Link Rot And The Alarming Spectre Of Disappearing Law"
Myungho Paik, Bernard Black, & David A. Hyman, The Receding Tide of Medical Malpractice Litigation: Part 1—National Trends, 10 J. Emp. Legal Stud. 612 (2013) available at SSRN.
Physicians continue to talk about the “Medical Liability Crisis” and physician-funded advocacy groups continue to push for additional and further-reaching liability-limiting reforms. Yet although the prize advocates seek (tort reform!) has remained the same for decades, the justification for why tort reform is needed has undergone a subtle metamorphosis. For a while, reformers argued that liability limits were needed because the problem of medical injury was grossly exaggerated—medical injury was a problem mostly ginned up by plaintiffs. But then, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) groundbreaking 1999 study, To Err is Human, came along. Estimating that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year as a result of preventable medical errors, the IOM’s study took the wind out of that argument’s sails. Undaunted, reformers changed their tune. Tort reform was needed, reformers insisted, because, even if medical injury is all too real, medical liability is random, as decisions are untethered to the underlying merits of claims. In 2006, however, that argument encountered a major setback. David Studdert and co-authors published a groundbreaking study of 1,452 medical malpractice claims which convincingly debunked the litigation lottery story. Some claims that don’t involve errors are indeed filed, they found. But such claims do not typically result in payment. Undeterred, another reason to resist medical liability has taken center stage: the problem of defensive medicine.
Defensive medicine refers to instances when physicians, concerned about liability, test or treat despite the lack of medical necessity, as well as times physicians decline to provide particular services or accept certain individuals as patients for fear of liability. A prototypical example might be a doctor who orders a CT scan, not because he believes it’s medically warranted but because he believes it’s prudent in light of the liability risk. This behavior, some now say, imposes medical liability’s biggest cost. Though numbers are hard to pin down (as it’s hard to discern whether that CT scan was really ordered to protect the physician from liability, as opposed to helping the patient or, perhaps, even padding the physician’s paycheck), defensive medicine appears to be widespread. One recent survey found that 93% of physicians in high-risk specialties reported providing care that they thought was unnecessary. And, respected academics suggest its price tag is high—roughly $45.6 billion per year. Pointing to these statistics, some reason: (1) defensive medicine is a huge problem, and (2) in order to rein in defensive medicine, we need to dramatically reduce medical malpractice liability—or, perhaps, dismantle the present system of compensation for medical injury. That argument, in fact, appears to be gaining ground. Continue reading "“The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself”: How Physicians’ Exaggerated Conception Of Medical Malpractice Liability Has Become The Real Problem"
Why do certain ideas gain traction in policy debates? Regardless of one’s field of study, this question cannot be ignored. The challenge is where to look for answers. The 2013 article by political scientist Mai’a Davis Cross, Rethinking Epistemic Communities Twenty Years Later, is one new and relevant resource in this quest. For more than a decade international tax scholars have drawn on the work of international relations (IR) theory and scholarship. In part, this attention by the tax community was out of necessity. Although it was apparent that international tax policy was subject to and the product of the same basic forces animating the classic subjects of IR study (e.g., military, trade, and environmental policy) tax policy formation traditionally has received scant attention from this branch of political science research. Yet the ideas being developed in IR theory would prove important to a serious and sophisticated understanding of “international tax relations.” Thus, international tax scholars began looking across the divide of research fields to consider the value added from the IR theory work of political scientists such as Cross.
Rethinking Epistemic Communities emerges from one broad strand of IR theory, cognitivism, which explores how we know what we want, what we value, and what we seek. That is, even if much of international relations activity concerns the use of power and/or bargaining games to secure “desired” outcomes, how do countries and other key actors determine what they want? Certainly in some cases the parameters of what a country seeks to achieve may seem relatively clear, but in many others the outcome or at least its particular form, is less obvious. Under the broad umbrella of cognitivist theory, scholars devoted increased attention to the concept of “epistemic communities”– the idea of a “community of experts” who through their own internal standards might develop some measure of “consensus” on an issue. Because of the recognized special knowledge of this community, the consensus ultimately would be influential in shaping outcomes sought by decision. The prototypical epistemic community was a science “community” coalescing around a solution to a problem that would form the basis of international agreement among a number of states. But international tax policy seemed a fertile ground for exploring the potential influence of epistemic communities. Who is formulating ideas of successful or sensible international tax policy? When and how do they achieve credibility? Does the epistemic community model fit? Continue reading "The Influence of Experts"
What is the scope of precedent? It is a fundamental question in American law that has proven difficult to answer with precision. As courts, especially the Supreme Court, have increasingly crafted long, often rambling, opinions, it has become more difficult for other courts to interpret such judgments. Adam Steinman’s recent article, To Say What the Law Is: Rules, Results, and the Dangers of Inferential Stare Decisis, offers a key insight and valuable contribution toward explaining how courts should apply prior precedents to new facts.
The basic distinction Steinman draws in understanding stare decisis is between the rules stated by the precedent-setting court and the results reached by the precedent-setting court. In focusing on results (what Steinman terms “inferential stare decisis”), a court justifying its present judgment must reconcile its holding with the outcome of every precedential court opinion. Steinman, in contrast, argues that courts should not be obligated to conform their decisions with the results of prior binding opinions, but rather must follow the rule(s) articulated by the prior court. This approach decreases the constraining effect of prior decisions in one way, but increases their constraining effect in another. Future courts are less constrained in that they are not required to reconcile their decisions with the mere results of earlier ones. But they are more constrained in that, where the precedent-setting court has stated a rule, the future court cannot simply point to factual differences between the two cases and disregard the rule entirely. It would need to articulate a distinguishing rule that justifies a different result. Continue reading "Distinguished Precedents"
Every criminal defense lawyer has been asked The Question: “How can you defend those people?” Even lawyers who do not represent persons accused of crimes have undoubtedly had to deal with the indignation directed at the lawyers representing the most recent high-profile, presumed-guilty defendants—O.J. Simpson, the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, alleged “American Taliban” terrorist John Walker Lindh, the Oklahoma City federal building or Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the man accused of being the guard known as “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka concentration camp. The Question is about moral agency. How can you, an ordinary person, not only associate with but also actively assist terrible people in escaping punishment for terrible crimes?
Abbe Smith and Monroe Freedman have both written eloquently in answer to The Question. Now they have compiled a number of essays—some in the form in which they were previously published, some updated for this book, and some entirely new—written by advocates and academics who take seriously the problem of giving an account for one’s actions within a professional role. All of the essays, in one way or another, address the persistence of moral agency. Inside a criminal defense lawyer there is an ordinary person, with ordinary-person values, committed to non-violence and respect for the rights of others. What is it like to be that person? In this way the essays move beyond justification to consider the issue of motivation. In a classic essay reprinted in this recent book, Barbara Babcock surveys a number of responses, including: Continue reading "Defending Defending, with Integrity"
Multiple paradoxes lie at the heart of Leigh Ann Wheeler’s How Sex Became a Civil Liberty: a constitutional doctrine of sexual privacy exists alongside a public culture saturated by sex; women and sexual minorities enjoy unprecedented rights and freedoms while pornography proliferates in plain sight and civil libertarian principles underwrite opposition to rape shield laws and hate speech codes. Meanwhile, liberals and conservatives alike speak in a common civil liberties idiom that embraces the individual’s right to access sexual material once considered an obvious and proper target of state regulation. As Wheeler’s engaging history of how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped make sex a civil liberty reveals, commitments to sexual freedom and consumer rights grew out of the changing political and cultural milieu from which the organization emerged and drew its leaders.
Wheeler’s story begins in the early twentieth century with portraits of individual ACLU founders and leaders including Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, and Madeleine Zabriskie Doty. She highlights how their sexual lives—more adventurous and avant-garde than previously understood—shaped their thinking and spawned a civil liberties vanguard. Wheeler’s account intriguingly suggests that men’s and women’s differing experiences of the “first sexual revolution”—relatively unmitigated liberation for men, a much more ambivalent legacy for women who continued to value fidelity and lived in fear of unwanted pregnancy—may have led them to see birth control as an essential liberty that could also help to bridge this gender gap. Continue reading "Sex and Civil Liberties"
Linda Edwards’ article is a thoughtful examination of the hidden and unexplored role of narrative in legal decisions. The article raises fundamental questions about the nature and boundaries of legal discourse and demonstrates that narrative theory and cognitive study can bridge the distance between what one may call ‘traditionalist legal analysis’ and its ‘oppositionist’ critique. The article is a delight. It joins an arresting image to an elegant argument, and it is beautifully written.
Edwards’ arresting image evokes an ancient, walled city. Life proceeds vibrantly inside the walls, where people deliberate and decide questions within a common cultural frame. Outside the walls, prophets shout toward the people, but their voices are lost in the vast plains. Occupants of the city occasionally lob verbal assaults—“Be quiet; stop whining; leave us alone”—but the city largely ignores the prophets. For Edwards, this metaphor captures the relationship between judges and traditionalist legal scholars and critical theorists. Continue reading "On Narrative, Legal Discourse, and Yaser Esam Hamdi"