Monthly Archives: July 2014

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Patterns and Practices

These days, I think a lot about police torture.

To be more precise, these days I am wrestling with problems of how to “prove” police torture occurred. And that’s why I recently read Kim D. Chanbonpin’s article “Truth Stories: Credibility Determinations at the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission.”

The question at the heart of the problem I am struggling with is straightforward enough: How can one evaluate a claim of police torture when the only source of the claim is the alleged victim and when the police and prosecutors categorically deny that anything occurred? Continue reading "Patterns and Practices"

 
 

Meaning, Intention, and Mental States

Lawrence B. Solum, Artificial Meaning, 89 Wash. L. Rev. 69 (2014), available at SSRN.

This is a provocative and important essay that has implications Solum doesn’t spell out for some positions on meaning, communication, statutory interpretation, and the understanding—sometimes called the “construction”—of statutory texts. Solum is interested in communicative content, principally of directives. Most of his examples are of legal directives, or as he prefers to describe them, legal rules.

Solum begins with an important distinction between communicative content, the kind of meaning he is interested in discussing, and legal meaning, the legal contribution a text makes in its particular legal system. It is not uncommon for discussion of statutory interpretation to conflate the two or to focus entirely on the latter, but this is a mistake. In some legal systems, such as in the United States, the communicative content of a statute can cause it to fail to make any legal contribution (because, for example, the statute is unconstitutional). So getting clear on communicative content is a prolegomena to getting clear on much of statutory interpretation. Solum aims to make a significant contribution to this task by illuminating the lack of connection between communicative content, intention, and the mental states of individual legislators. Continue reading "Meaning, Intention, and Mental States"

 
 

From Crowd-Sourcing to Crowd-Enforcing: An Empirical analysis of Threadless’s Community IP Norms

Empirical studies of creative communities continue to provide scholars and policymakers with useful evidence for assessing intellectual property regimes. In Seven Commandments, we find yet another excellent example of the type of evidence we need to know and, perhaps even more importantly, robust methods for gathering it.

The article reports on a study of Threadless, an online community that crowd-sources t-shirt designs. As with many such communities, it uses a combination of collaborative and competitive elements, allowing users to work together on certain projects while also competing with each other for approval, funding, and ultimately production and distribution of the designed apparel. The authors of the paper seek to study the IP norms of the Threadless community in order to understand what makes it succeed in terms of incentives to create. In particular, they note that because formal enforcement of copyright law is generally difficult if not impossible on such sites, normative systems are presumed to play the major role in protecting the investment of creators. Continue reading "From Crowd-Sourcing to Crowd-Enforcing: An Empirical analysis of Threadless’s Community IP Norms"

 
 

Recognition Without Consent

Erez Aloni, Deprivative Recognition, 61 UCLA L. Rev. 1276 (2014).

Relationship recognition has been at the center of reform efforts in family law for the last two decades. Scholars and advocates alike have focused intently on the need to provide recognition and support for a variety of relationships that the law has traditionally ignored. These include the relationships of not only same-sex couples, but also of cohabiting couples, nonmonogamous groupings, and friends. The reform proposals have assumed that legal recognition brings with it economic benefits.

In a fascinating new article, Erez Aloni questions this assumption by highlighting the interplay between two considerations: first, it is sometimes the case that nonrecognition of relationships can have financial benefits for their members; second, the state sometimes recognizes relationships in the absence of a request by either party—what Aloni labels “purely ascriptive recognition”—for the limited purpose of determining eligibility for particular benefits. In most cases of purely ascriptive recognition, if the combined income exceeds a certain amount, then the individuals become ineligible for the benefit in question. When the two considerations are brought together, we are left with forms of legal recognition that cause financial harm. Continue reading "Recognition Without Consent"

 
 

Getting Specific About the Financial Security Aspects of Health Insurance

Allison K. Hoffman, Health Care Spending and Financial Security After the Affordable Care Act, N.C.L. Rev. (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

Too often, discussions about health insurance coverage are one-dimensional, and focus solely on whether someone has coverage (good) or not (bad). Having health insurance coverage is undeniably a good thing and an important policy goal. However, as Professor Hoffman’s article points out, simply focusing on health insurance coverage, without examining the type of protection it provides, gives us an incomplete picture of an individual’s protection against health-related financial risks.

One of the primary goals of health insurance, after all, is to protect individuals from the financial insecurity that can result from medical spending. What is perhaps less obvious to the casual observer is that health insurance can provide very different levels of protection against financial insecurity depending on the plan’s premiums, cost-sharing structure, and coverage terms. In her article, Professor Hoffman first provides a taxonomy of the types of financial risk health insurance could attempt to reduce. She then uses stylized examples of three health insurance consumers to examine how various forms of post-ACA coverage provide financial security. Her examination leads to some surprising results. Continue reading "Getting Specific About the Financial Security Aspects of Health Insurance"

 
 

Empiricism and Equality: Studying Fathers’ Rights

Kelly A. Behre, Digging Beneath the Equality Language: The Influence of the Fathers’ Rights Movement on Intimate Partner Violence Public Policy Debates and Family Law Reform, 21 Wm. & Mary J.  Women & L. (forthcoming 2014), available at SSRN.

The fathers’ rights movement relies on the rhetoric of equality. Men, it seems, are discriminated against because the law has come under the sway of feminists. Feminists have prevailed upon the law to intrude in areas where the government has no business, such as the home. Moreover, feminists have convinced policy makers that there is an epidemic of domestic violence perpetrated by men upon women and that adult intimate partner violence should be considered in issues of custody of children. The correct view according to the fathers’ rights movement, is that true equality means gender-neutrality.

While discussions, critiques, and analysis of the equality rhetoric of the international fathers’ rights movements are not novel, Kelly Behre’s article, Digging Beneath the Equality Language: The Influence of the Fathers’ Rights Movement on Intimate Partner Violence Public Policy Debates and Family Law Reform, does – – – as the title promises – – – “dig beneath.” The article’s first section is an excellent overview of the equality narratives of the fathers’ rights movement, including the appeal to civil rights movements and the use of both discrimination and gender-neutral tropes. But the real contribution of Behre’s article is her exploration of the relationship between empiricism and equality. Continue reading "Empiricism and Equality: Studying Fathers’ Rights"

 
 

Don’t Restrict My E-book

Angela Daly, E-Book Monopolies and the Law, 18 Media & Arts L. Rev. 350 (2013), available at SSRN.

It’s still fashionable to point to the “cloud” as the solution to all sorts of problems in technology. But can such a shift disturb the carefully worked out compromises between different interests, which are embedded in legislation on topics such as competition and intellectual property?

Angela Daly, a research fellow at the Swinburne Institute of Technology (Australia) who is also about to complete a doctorate at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy), suggests that these clouds may bring little but rain. In her article, “E-book monopolies and the law”, published in the consistently topical Melbourne-based Media and Arts Law Review, she considers two particular features of e-book platforms and content: digital rights management, and competition. Continue reading "Don’t Restrict My E-book"

 
 

What Can Be Learned From the Wrongfully Accused?

Daniel Gilveber & Amy Farrell, Not Guilty: Are the Acquitted Innocent (2012).

One of the most frequently asked questions of criminal defense lawyers is some variation of “How can you represent someone you know is guilty?” Law students ask this question often as they explore vicariously the possibility of representing the criminally accused. I respond carefully. I try to take them back to my own experience and the immense pride (and yes, sometimes trepidation) I felt in assisting some of the most powerless and forgotten members of our society. I tell them the truth. The hardest cases were not those in which I thought that my client was guilty. Hardest were those cases in which I believed or suspected that my client was innocent. Those are the cases over which I lost the most sleep and worried that my own limitations and competencies as a lawyer would unfairly determine my client’s liberty. I worked tirelessly for acquittals in those cases (and others) but recall to this day that even acquittals could not make innocent criminal defendants “whole.” Acquittals were viewed by defense and prosecution attorneys alike as lucky windfalls. The acquitted defendant somehow evaded the “true verdict” of guilt. Rarely could acquitted defendants return to their former lives without the stain of having been accused. In other words, a defendant who was found “not guilty” was perceived as not entirely “innocent” either.

A close examination of verdicts of acquittal has been long overdue. This is precisely what Daniel Givelber and Amy Farrell bring to us in their new book Not Guilty: Are the Acquitted Innocent? In particular, they study the relationship between the acquittals and actual innocence. They begin with the notion that acquittals, like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “get no respect.” Practitioners, scholars and the general public tend to assume that acquittals are based on misinformed or nullifying jurors or systemic failures allowing the guilty to go free. The authors observe that the law itself harbors a similar bias insofar as evidence of prior acquittals can be admitted in the adjudication of a new offense or to enhance a sentence in a new offense. Givelber and Farrell acknowledge that they can’t directly disprove these assumptions. (For instance how do we know whether an acquitting jury has nullified or genuinely believes that the defendant is not guilty of the charge?). Instead they analyze data from four hundred trials to determine how and whether the evidence in acquitted cases differs from or resembles the evidence in conviction cases. Continue reading "What Can Be Learned From the Wrongfully Accused?"

 
 

A New Theory of Insider Trading Law

Sung Hui Kim of the UCLA School of Law has developed a bold new theory of insider trading that is well worth reading. In The Last Temptation of Congress: Legislator Insider Trading and the Fiduciary Norm Against Corruption, Kim lays the foundation of her new theory, which she expands in Insider Trading as Private Corruption.

In arguing that members of Congress are fiduciaries for purposes of insider trading law, Kim joins a number of others scholars who have argued for the imposition of fiduciary duties on government officials. See, e.g., Evan Fox-Decent, Sovereignty’s Promise: The State as Fiduciary (2011); Ethan J. Leib et al., A Fiduciary Theory of Judging, 101 Calif. L. Rev. (2013); D. Theodore Rave, Politicians as Fiduciaries, 126 Harv. L. Rev. 671 (2013); Evan J. Criddle, Fiduciary Administration: Rethinking Popular Representation in Agency Rulemaking, 88 Tex. L. Rev. 441 (2010). I come to this literature as a skeptical reader. Having written extensively on fiduciary law, I am wary of scholarship that purports to extend fiduciary analysis into new domains, stretching the fiduciary concept beyond its analytical boundaries. In Last Temptation, therefore, I prepared myself for an arduous slog when I read that Professor Kim was arguing that the “majority view”—that “members of Congress are fiduciaries to no one” (P. 849)—was wrong (P. 852). Continue reading "A New Theory of Insider Trading Law"

 
 

Coming to a Better Understanding of Remedies

Samuel L. Bray, The Myth of the Mild Declaratory Judgment, 63 Duke L. J. 1091 (2014).

Remedies is a vital, yet sometimes overlooked, area of study and scholarship. So often with law, we gravitate toward the substantive fields—constitutional law, property, contracts, torts, and the like. In academic writing and course offerings, there is less of a tendency to step back and consider the commonalities between these subjects.

Remedies is trans-substantive almost by definition. It looks across all areas of law and asks, once a liability or right has been established, now what? Is the victim, be she of trespass or breach of contract or malpractice, entitled to damages? If so, how much? Should she receive an injunction or declaratory relief or both? The goal of the field is to better understand how it is that our legal system can and should make aggrieved parties whole. Sam Bray’s The Myth of the Mild Declaratory Judgment deftly brings us closer to that goal. Continue reading "Coming to a Better Understanding of Remedies"

 
 

Understanding Prophylactic Supreme Court Decisions

John F. Stinneford, The Illusory Eighth Amendment, 63 Am. U.L. Rev. 437 (2013).

It is a rare achievement to write about a case in the constitutional law canon and tell us something we did not know. This is the achievement of John Stinneford’s recent article, The Illusory Eighth Amendment. Despite its title, the most interesting part of Stinneford’s article is actually an analysis and critique of the Supreme Court’s famous decision in Miranda v. Arizona.

For those who neither study criminal procedure nor watch police procedurals, Miranda held that in the absence of a provable superior alternative: Continue reading "Understanding Prophylactic Supreme Court Decisions"

 
 

Program and Registration Information for “Legal Scholarship We Like and Why It Matters”

We’ve posted a draft program for our conference on “Legal Scholarship We Like and Why It Matters” and also have opened up a registration page for the conference.

We hope to see you Nov 7 & 8, 2014 at the University of Miami School of Law.

If you are planning on coming, you can take advantage of the UM rate at local hotels. The main conference hotel is the Sonesta in Coconut Grove, but the UM discount also applies to the other hotels on the list.

 
 

Rulemaking is Biased in Favor of Regulated Firms

Kimberly Krawiec has made a major contribution to the growing number of empirical studies that find that the notice and comment rulemaking process is systemically biased in favor of regulated firms. Professor Krawiec read all of the comments that were submitted in the rulemaking that led to the issuance of the Volcker rule—arguably the most important rule that has been issued to implement the Dodd-Frank Act—as well as all of the agency meeting logs that described the meetings that agency decision makers had with parties who were interested in the outcome of that proceeding.

Krawiec found that, while proponents of strict regulation of financial institutions dominated the comment process numerically, their comments were useless to decision makers. Proponents of strict regulation filed 7831 of the 8000 comments, but 7316 of those were identical brief form letters that provided no data or analysis that would be potentially useful to decision makers. The other 515 comments filed by proponents of strict regulation appeared to be drafted independently by individuals, but they too were worthless as potential aids to decision making. The comment that inspired the title of Krawiec’s article was typical of those comments: The commenter urged the agency to keep “big banks” from attempting to “screw joe the plummer,” with plumber misspelled. Continue reading "Rulemaking is Biased in Favor of Regulated Firms"

 
 

A Doctrine in Distress

Aaron D. Twerski & James A. Henderson, Fixing Failure to Warn, 90 Ind. L.J. (forthcoming, 2014), available at SSRN.

A major accomplishment of the American Law Institute’s 1998 Restatement Third of Torts: Products Liability project is its disaggregation of product defects into categories warranting distinct legal treatment: manufacturing (or construction) defects, design defects, and failure to warn. Indeed, this tripartite approach is at the core of the Restatement Third project, which was touted as “an almost total overhaul of Restatement Second as it concerns the liability of commercial sellers of products.”

It may then seem surprising that James Henderson and Aaron Twerski—joint reporters for the Restatement Third project—have second thoughts about the categories they so adeptly forged.

In “Fixing Failure to Warn,” Henderson and Twerski “now believe that too much has been made of the difference [between design defect and failure to warn]” and propose a simple, albeit powerful fix for a “doctrine in distress.” Namely, the former reporters would import the “reasonable alternative design” requirement from the design defect test into the realm of failure to warn, requiring plaintiff to propose a “reasonable alternative warning” in order to make out his prima facie case. Continue reading "A Doctrine in Distress"

 
 

(Re)Booting the Dismal Science

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014).

French economist Thomas Piketty has published a lengthy tome on economics that, unusual for economics books, has become a best seller. That attention is for good cause. While not exactly a beach read, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century is a potential game changer for what the study of economics entails and its consequence for future policies. The timing of the book is perfect because the fact of increasing economic inequality has become a topic of increasing focus among academics but also in public policy discussions more broadly. What has been lacking is a deep understanding of how this has come to happen and what might be done to reduce inequality. Picketty’s book moves the discussion forward by pointing to where inequality comes from, where it is going, what might be done to shift its momentum and direction and what might happen if nothing is done to alleviate ever increasing inequality.

In his Introduction, Piketty quotes Marx’s “Communist Manifest” for its prediction of the inevitability of revolution resulting from the internal contradiction of capitalism: “The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” In less dramatic language, Piketty concludes that “the private rate of return on capital, r, can be significantly higher for long periods of time than the rate of growth of income and output, g. The inequality r>g implies that wealth accumulated in the past grows more rapidly than output and wages. . . . Once constituted, capital reproduces itself faster than output increases. The past devours the future.” His evidence supporting his conclusion that makes capitalism inherently unstable, at least in its present form, is his of study of a wide array of data from a number of countries from the 19th century up until the beginning of World War I and, beginning again after the end of World War II until today. During those prolonged periods, the net rate of economic growth in terms of output and wages was about 1% while the return on capital was always between 4 and 5%. Thus, wealth in terms of capital versus from labor increasingly is concentrated in the top 1% and, even more so, in the top .01%. Ever-expanding capital simply cannot be sustained in the long run because that would mean that labor loses all value. If the past is the prologue to the future, capitalism will at some point inevitably collapse if actions are not taken to reduce the growing value of capital. The period from the beginning of World War I through the end of the immediate post-World War II period demonstrated that the momentum toward ever increasing concentration of wealth can be stopped. During that disastrous period of the 20th century, there was a substantial shift as capital shrank due to the destruction of the two great wars, the Great Depression, the end of European colonization and a policy shift toward the creation of a middle class. As a result economic inequality decreased significantly until after World War II. Much economic theory assumed that this period was the new normal, but, for Piketty, the experience since 1970 onward shows that the old normal has reasserted itself so that economic inequality will continue to grow unless substantial efforts are undertaken to change the policies that underpin the growing power of capital over labor. Continue reading "(Re)Booting the Dismal Science"

 
 

The Return of Capital

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014).

If I had nothing more specific in mind, it would verge on being trite–or perhaps achieve triteness with margin to spare–to identify Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century as a 2014 publication worth noting at Jotwell. At least as of early spring, the reviews–predictably laudatory from the left, and cautious or critical from the right–have been sprouting like dandelions in Central Park, and there have also been regular (indeed, almost daily) features about Piketty and his opus, appearing in periodicals of all kinds. Most readers no doubt already know that Piketty has combined a compilation of groundbreaking empirical research about wealth distribution in multiple countries over the last few centuries with an important and provocative thesis about the likely (or at least a possible) future.

Piketty argues that high-end wealth concentration has a tendency to keep on augmenting itself in modern capitalist societies, at least for an indefinite time. He views the mid-twentieth century’s “Great Easing” of this process as reflecting distinctive and anomalous factors that make it unlikely to be repeated. He attributes it mainly to the era’s enormous shocks–in particular, the Great Depression and two calamitous world wars–and secondarily to the pursuit of economic and regulatory policies that deliberately sacrificed neoclassical market efficiency in pursuit of other objectives, or else in response to concerns about market failure that came to be dismissed with the rise of such political leaders as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Continue reading "The Return of Capital"

 
 

Trusts and Estates Law and the Question of Wealth Distribution

Early in the introduction to his arresting new book on wealth distribution, the French economist Thomas Piketty asserts that “the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers.” (P. 2.) “Everyone,” he writes, should be interested. It seems to me that, on the issue of wealth distribution, trusts and estates scholars should be at or near the front of the queue. In any event, that is my excuse for choosing a book on economics as a JOTWELL selection for trusts and estates.

In the short time the English translation of Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been available (March, 2014), Piketty has achieved near rock-star status. The hard-copy version of the book, which runs 577 pages excluding the footnotes, is sold out on Amazon as I write this. It has been reviewed by all the major newspapers, discussed in all the business and academic journals, and debated across the blogs, and its themes have been batted around by commentators of all stripes. The New York Times, not content to restrict discussion of the splash the book is making to its opinion pages, recently featured Piketty in its Sunday Styles section. Reviews, references, debates and interviews continue. All of which seems to indicate that at least the chattering and scribbling classes, if not the public at large, are rather intrigued by the themes offered by the book. Continue reading "Trusts and Estates Law and the Question of Wealth Distribution"

 
 

Thomas Piketty’s Book Is Masterful and Important, but Ultimately a Sideshow

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014).

By now, it seems that everyone has heard of the new tome from French economist Thomas Piketty. Capital in the Twenty-First Century continues to top The New York Times Bestseller list for hardcover non-fiction, which hardly seemed likely for a book that is mostly built on an analysis of European and American tax records over the last century or two.

Piketty’s book deserves all of the plaudits that it has received. It is a masterpiece of economic analysis, advancing our understanding of wealth concentration in the world’s richest democracies, and offering a provocative forecast of the future of inequality in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even the most trenchant reviews of the book that take a negative tone, such as the economist James K. Galbraith’s essay in Dissent, rightly conclude that Piketty has made an important contribution to knowledge. Continue reading "Thomas Piketty’s Book Is Masterful and Important, but Ultimately a Sideshow"

 
 

Forewarned is Forearmed: Anticipating Big Changes for the Legal Profession

I don’t know about you, but I am sucker for technology and “Big Data” stories. I was glued in front of my television when IBM’s Watson took on Jeopardy’s reigning champion Ken Jennings–and won.  I am interested in the work of scholars such as Dan Katz and initiatives such as ReInvent Law™ and LawWithoutWalls.™  When NPR and the New York Times ran stories about how technology may do a better job than lawyers for certain tasks such as e-discovery, I emailed those stories to friends and colleagues. My ears perk up when I read about the coming “disruption” to the legal profession. I often recommend to others Richard Susskind’s book entitled The End of Lawyers? about the impact of technology on legal services.

Regardless of whether you share my fascination for these kinds of topics, I encourage you to read the article entitled The Great Disruption: How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services which Professors John McGinnis and Russ Pearce contributed to the Fordham Colloquium on The Legal Profession’s Monopoly on the Practice of Law. In my view, regardless of one’s field of expertise, everyone should read this article and begin to reflect on this phenomenon that will revolutionize the practice of law, and dramatically change all of our lives. Continue reading "Forewarned is Forearmed: Anticipating Big Changes for the Legal Profession"

 
 

In Plain View

Gregory Ablavsky, The Savage Constitution, 63 Duke L.J. 999 (2014).

In this tightly argued and thoroughly engaging article, Gregory Ablavsky makes the case for a revisionist history of the U.S. Constitution that places Native American Indians at its center. While it isn’t hard to show that conventional constitutional histories largely neglect Indians, it isn’t easy to prove that such neglect is not benign. That is, it’s one thing to argue that standard accounts should include a discussion of Indians, but it’s another thing entirely to make a convincing case that core constitutional understandings would be fundamentally altered if historians fully and prominently integrated the history of relations with Indians into their narratives of the Constitution. Ablavsky aims for the latter, arguing that the history of the creation, drafting, and ratification of the Constitution should be rewritten with Indians in a leading role—and he does not miss the mark.

Ablavsky shows how concern over the problem of persistently hostile relations with Indians during the founding era informed James Madison’s and Alexander Hamilton’s competing Federalist arguments for a stronger central government. This isn’t a modest proposal that we pause for a moment to consider how events on the periphery might shed some light on constitutional debates at the center. Rather, Ablavsky tells us that there is nothing at all peripheral about the frontier when it comes to founding-era debates about constitutional design. The problem of Indian relations, he argues, was central not only for settlers, but for the likes of Madison and Hamilton, and for their fellow delegates and the ratifying public, as they debated the best form of government for the nation they were building. Contesting views on how to solve that problem substantially contributed to shaping the visions they articulated for a more perfect Union, in ways constitutional historians have yet to recognize. Continue reading "In Plain View"

 
 

Desegregating the Heart

In her new book, According to Our Hearts, Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Interracial Family, Angela Onwuachi-Willig brilliantly deconstructs and challenges the norm of the monoracial family — the idea that “normal” families are and indeed should be produced by heterosexual single-race couples. As Onwuachi-Willig explains, this norm fundamentally shapes American legal and social relations, including marriage and family formation. The social and legal challenges created by the norm of the monoracial family have long been a theme of Onwuachi-Willig’s work,1 but According to Our Hearts charts new territory by more clearly demonstrating the connection between racial formation and family formation. As a consequence, the book is destined to find fans among family law scholars, race discrimination scholars, and even lay readers interested in better understanding the role family connections play in triggering race discrimination.

Onwuachi-Willig uses the tragic love story of Alice Jones and Leonard “Kip” Rhinelander as a window into three key themes that she believes continue to inform discussions of the multiracial family today. The first theme, “interraciality,” allows us to explore the role that cross-racial family relationships play in triggering race discrimination. She argues that the study of race discrimination has largely neglected discrimination’s relational component. This relational component posits that discrimination may be triggered by others’ concerns about cross-racial intimate contact or family relations, rather than a single individual’s apparent racial status. The second theme is an examination of the fluid nature of racial identity in multiracial family units. Onwuachi-Willig explores the questions of power that emerge when the individual’s interest in defining her racial identity is juxtaposed against the competing interests of family members, the community, and the state. The book’s third, and perhaps most important theme is the racial hierarchy that exists between various types of interracial families, with black-white unions being the most disfavored. Onwuachi-Willig bravely takes on this hierarchy and deftly illuminates the hierarchy’s material and social consequences. Specifically, she suggests that the special disfavor saved for black-white marriages, particularly those involving black women and white men, ensures that wealth does not easily transfer through marriage and inheritance from white hands into black ones. Continue reading "Desegregating the Heart"

 
 

A Legal Beagle’s Voyage

Nicholas A. Robinson, Evolved Norms: A Canon for the Anthropocene, in Rule of Law for Nature 46-71 (Christina Voigt ed. 2014).

Environmental law strives to improve the relation of Homo sapiens to the ecosystems that support human life and all other life on earth. Ever since Darwin we have known that just as each species affects its environment, the environment pushes back, exerting selective pressure in favor of adaptive variations. Evolution is the long-run product of ecology. At its best, environmental law puts this understanding to work in the service of people and nature. And yet, Professor Nicholas Robinson observes, the study of how human law shapes the planet’s evolutionary future barely acknowledges the role of biological evolution in shaping human law.

In Evolved Norms, Robinson sets out to correct this by connecting the contemporary emergence of consensus environmental law to the evolutionary emergence of widespread behavior patterns favored by natural selection. Drawing on sources in both the biological and social sciences, Robinson argues that humans have evolved instinctive, “hard-wired” normative preferences for cooperation, biophilia, and resilience. These norms are reflected in design principles that have shaped existing environmental laws – and that should be relied on to structure the global environmental law we will need to confront future ecosystem disruptions both imminent and distant. Continue reading "A Legal Beagle’s Voyage"