Monthly Archives: December 2014

Jotwell Winter Break 2014

Jotwell is taking a short winter break. Posting will resume Monday, January 5, 2015.

Happy Holidays! Thank you for reading, and for your support.

(If you have a moment, please could you vote for Jotwell at the ABA Law Blog 100 competition (look under “profs”)? Do it now, before you forget.)

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Does Tort Law Empower?

Ori J. Herstein, How Tort Law Empowers, 64 U. Toronto L.J.___ (2014) (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

Ori Herstein’s How Tort Law Empowers takes on the question of whether and how tort law empowers victims. Herstein presents himself as a friendly critic of civil recourse theory, and offers an amendment that he claims makes the theory both more plausible and less interesting. Like many friendly amendments, it is an offer that must be carefully examined before it is accepted.

Herstein begins by noting that one of the most important and interesting contributions by civil recourse theory is the idea that tort law empowers tort victims. This contribution comes from the work of John Goldberg and Ben Zipursky, and has been embraced by others as well, either within tort law or in other parts of private law, such as contract theory (see, for example, the work of Nate Oman and Andrew Gold). Continue reading "Does Tort Law Empower?"

The Relevance of Professionalism in a Post-Legal Services Act World

Nick Robinson, When Lawyers Don’t Get All the Profits: Non-Lawyer Ownership of Legal Services, Access, and Professionalism (Harv. Law Sch. Prog. Legal Prof., Research Paper No. 2014-20)available at SSRN.

To what extent lawyers should control their own profession, determine its rules, and be the arbiters of who should deliver legal services is a question that is increasingly subject to intense scrutiny. More jurisdictions are considering whether to follow the leads of Australia and England and Wales in liberalizing their legal professions. Canada, for example, is one of the most recent.

The American legal profession expresses significant concern about non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Both the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association have dealt with the issue and will probably continue so to do. Continue reading "The Relevance of Professionalism in a Post-Legal Services Act World"

The IRS as Tax Law Nonenforcer

Lawrence Zelenak, Custom and the Rule of Law in the Administration of the Income Tax62 Duke L.J. 829 (2012).

In a recent essay, Custom and the Rule of Law in the Administration of the Income Tax, Larry Zelenak examines what he calls “customary deviations,” or “established practice[s] of the tax administrators . . . that deviat[e] from the clear dictates of the Internal Revenue Code.”  Even though the IRS makes decisions every day about when not to enforce the tax law, tax scholarship does not typically examine this phenomenon systematically. By focusing on an aspect of IRS nonenforcement, Zelenak shines a much needed light on the topic. The essay, and the topic generally, should garner the attention of tax scholars, as well as scholars of enforcement discretion more generally.

Like other administrative agencies as well as prosecutors, the IRS has to make decisions all the time about when not to enforce the tax law. These decisions raise important questions about the legitimacy of different types of decisions not to enforce the tax law. For instance: Is it more or less legitimate for the IRS to decide not to enforce the law through a clear, customary deviation, or through a more opaque policy?  If the IRS is somehow curtailed in its ability to use customary deviations, what alternatives might it use and would these be better or worse?  By raising questions about customary deviations, Zelenak’s essay provides a jumping off point for a broader examination of tax law nonenforcement. Continue reading "The IRS as Tax Law Nonenforcer"

Breaking the Deadlock in Bipartisan Election Administration

Jennifer Nou, Sub-Regulating Elections, Sup Ct. Rev. (forthcoming 2014), available at SSRN.

What should courts do when bipartisan agencies deadlock on an interpretation of a statute? That conundrum recently arose when the Election Administration Commission (EAC) addressed the meaning of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Specifically, the EAC had to decide whether an Arizona requirement that voter registrants provide proof of their citizenship violated the NVRA, as a refusal to “accept and use” the federal mail-in registration form. The two Democrats on the four-person Commission found that the proof-of-citizenship requirement constituted a refusal to use the federal form while the two Republicans found that it did not. When the federal Court of Appeals reviewed the agency action, the judges seemed to have three options: Defer to the interpretation of the Democratic commissioners; defer to the interpretation of the Republican commissioners; or defer to neither and independently construe the statute. In this context of deadlock, there was no clear justification for deferring to either interpretation. Choosing to defer to one partisan interpretation over the other might subject the court to a Bush v. Gore-like charge of bias. But the decision to independently construe the statute would have had costs as well. It would have denied the court expert guidance in its determination of the meaning of the statute. None of the three options were particularly appealing.

In her innovative and illuminating article, Sub-Regulating Elections, Professor Jennifer Nou engages this problem of deadlock in election administration, and suggests a broad, creative solution. The two principal election agencies, the EAC and the Federal Election Commission (FEC), have similar designs in that they both have even numbered commissioners (four for the EAC and six for the FEC) with the two major political parties equally represented. In the current context of political polarization where decisions about the meaning of election statutes often have high stakes, the problem of deadlock has become endemic to election administration. One response would be to change the design of these commissions by making them odd-numbered or eliminating the requirement of partisan balance. But as Nou correctly notes, these design changes are unlikely anytime in the near future. Continue reading "Breaking the Deadlock in Bipartisan Election Administration"

The Past and Future of Copyright Politics

In The Fight Over Digital Rights, Bill Herman, a professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at Hunter College, explores the changing landscape of political debate over digital rights management between 1980 and 2012. This is a book about copyright, but it is also a book about political science and legislation.

You don’t need to know anything about copyright to read this book and learn new things about how the process by which legislation is formed and amended dramatically affects substantive and procedural rights. Herman’s book is about the rights and opportunities that copyright laws provide. And it traces the shape of those rights and opportunities as the legislative process has been affected by the rise of Internet activism since 1980. Continue reading "The Past and Future of Copyright Politics"

The First World War: International Law Mattered More Than You Think

All schoolchildren—even American ones—know that the First World War began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 2014. Not so, according to Isabel V. Hull, a distinguished historian of modern Germany. “The First World War,” she explains, really “began with an international crime: Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality.” (P. 16.) In her masterful new book, A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law during the Great War, Hull retells the history of the First World War as a series of breakings and makings—or remakings—of international law. This is a breathtaking study that may well be the best book ever written about international law in times of war.

The “scrap of paper” in Hull’s title refers to Britain’s 1839 treaty promise to defend Belgian neutrality, dismissed in a conversation on August 4, 1914, between German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg and British ambassador Edward Goschen. “[J]ust for a scrap of paper,” Goschen recalled Bethmann saying, “Great Britain was going to make war on a kindred nation who desired nothing better than to be friends with her.” (P. 42.) That scrap of paper—and the system of international law it reflected—mattered to actors at the time and should concern historians today. It was not simply that Germany or the Allies used international law as a post hoc justification for military actions (although, of course, they did that). Rather, Hull says, from beginning to end, “international law was central to how and why the Great War was fought.” (P. x.) Continue reading "The First World War: International Law Mattered More Than You Think"

Federal Causes of Action and Everything that Follows

John F. Preis, How Federal Causes of Action Relate to Rights, Remedies and Jurisdiction, 67 Fla. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2015, available at SSRN).

“Cause of action” is a ubiquitous phrase in American law. Plaintiffs plead causes of action every day. Justice Scalia admonishes the courts never to infer them from statutory or constitutional rights. Justice Holmes tells us that federal question jurisdiction depends upon them. Justice Brennan scolds us never to conflate them with choice of remedy. But what, precisely, does cause of action mean? And equally important, how does cause of action interact with the concepts of rights, jurisdiction, and remedies? Professor John Preis takes up these questions in his latest article.

If you are a consumer of federal courts or procedure scholarship, Preis’ piece is a must read. To be sure, these concepts—cause of action, right, jurisdiction, and remedy—have been the topic of much past scholarship. These past pieces, however, tend to focus on cause of action in just one context, such as how cause of action relates to jurisdiction. Preis puts this myopic focus aside and aims to understand how the federal courts use cause of action across the board, providing both a detailed historical account of the concept and an analytically crisp contemporary treatment. But even if you are not a proceduralist, you need to read Preis’ article for its innovative approach to scholarly writing. While Preis begins his piece in the standard manner (“In part I, I argue X and in part II, I contend Y.”), he ends the piece not by simply imploring the Court to adopt his views. Instead, Preis concludes with mock Supreme Court slip opinions—he even switches to New Century Schoolbook font—that incorporate his positions. Seldom is a piece of scholarship both substantively important and rhetorically novel. Continue reading "Federal Causes of Action and Everything that Follows"

Dworkin’s Interpretive Concepts v. Metalinguistic Negotiations

David Plunkett and Timothy Sundell, Dworkin’s Interpretivism and The Pragmatics of Legal Disputes, 19 Legal Theory 242 (2013).

Ronald Dworkin famously claimed, in Law’s Empire, that law is an “interpretive concept.” Dworkin’s argument for this claim appealed to a certain type of legal disagreement, what he called “theoretical disagreement.” Theoretical disagreements, he maintained, are genuine disagreements in which parties share the same concept but differ in their application of the concept because they interpret shared practices differently.

David Plunkett and Timothy Sundell provide a close examination and illuminating critique of Dworkin’s argument for the claim that law is an interpretive concept in Dworkin’s Interpretivism and the Pragmatics of Legal Disputes. Their focus, however, is on Dworkin’s broader discussion of interpretive concepts in Justice for Hedgehogs (JFH) and his disagreement-based argument for intepretivism. Continue reading "Dworkin’s Interpretive Concepts v. Metalinguistic Negotiations"

Beginning with the End (of End-of-Life Law) in Mind

Lois L. Shepherd, The End of End-of Life Law, 92 N.C.L. Rev. 1693 (2014).

No one is happy these days with how we die in America. In just the past few months, we’ve received reminders of that sad reality. In September 2014, the Institute of Medicine came out with its report Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life, and in October, Dr. Atul Gawande published Being Mortal: Medicine & What Matters in the End to much acclaim. Each of these works describes our society’s—and in particular the medical care system’s—failure to provide people with meaningful choices and support regarding the care they receive at the end of their lives.

While certainly not the only culprit in this woeful state of affairs, the law undeniably plays a significant role in shaping practices surrounding end-of-life choices. The latest article by Lois Shepherd, The End of End-of-Life Law, seeks to reorient how we think about the law’s approach to medical decisions made near the end of life. Shepherd has thought and written about dying and the law for years, and in this latest article she argues that the law should approach questions about end-of-life care in the same way it approaches other important medical choices, without “special laws, special burdens of proof, or unique requirements for documentation.” As she points out, decisions made at the end of life are not the only medical decisions that are important and permanent, with potentially irrevocable consequences. The touchstone for all these decisions, according to Shepherd, should be respect and care for patients and their families, and our legal framework should help rather than hinder that focus. Continue reading "Beginning with the End (of End-of-Life Law) in Mind"

Compassionate Care for the Living and the Dying

Lois L. Shepherd, The End of End-of Life Law, 92 N.C.L. Rev. 1693 (2014).

As an elder law attorney, I spent my career helping my clients prepare for incapacity and death. A part of that preparation entailed assisting them with the execution of living wills and/or other health care directives. My goal was to ensure that their wishes with regards to end-of-life care were known and respected. Because of my experiences comforting and counseling sick and dying clients I have spent my academic career researching and writing about the ethical and legal issues surrounding end-of-life decision-making.

Two phenomena make a discussion of this subject so important. First, due to the aging baby boomer population, the number of patients who face these types of decisions will continue to increase. Second, as a consequence of the existence of medical technology that enables physicians to artificially sustain life longer, more people will be forced to make end-of-life decisions. Legislatures and courts have taken steps to establish processes that make it easier for patients to provide information to their health care providers about their choices with regards to end-of-life care. Nonetheless, Professor Shepherd claims that laws exclusively designed to help patients express their end-of-life preferences may not be needed. According to Professor Shepherd, the better approach would be for health care providers to treat end-of-life choices similar to other types of medical decisions. Continue reading "Compassionate Care for the Living and the Dying"

The Oppression of Analogy

Russell K. Robinson, Marriage Equality Post-Racialism, 61 UCLA L. Rev. 1010 (2014).

In 2008, America elected its first black president. In the same election, a slim majority of Californians voted to enact Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that amended the California constitution to prohibit legal recognition of same-sex marriages. Almost immediately, the election of the nation’s first black president and the enactment of Proposition 8 were linked in the media coverage of these two events and in the popular imagination. Black voters, it was argued, turned out in droves to support Barack Obama; and these same voters cast votes to deny gay men and lesbians the right to marry. According to the conventional wisdom, a group that historically struggled against prejudice and oppression had furthered the oppression of another minority group.

In his recent article, Marriage Equality Post-Racialism, Russell Robinson takes on this stock narrative of the 2008 election, and in so doing, launches a broader discussion of the racial discourse and politics of the marriage equality movement. As other scholars have done, Robinson relies on empirical evidence to dispute the claim that black voters were solely responsible for Proposition 8’s enactment. Critically, however, Robinson goes beyond merely setting the empirical record straight to offer astute observations about the intersection of race and sexuality, and the role of race in the effort to secure marriage equality for LGBT persons. Continue reading "The Oppression of Analogy"

The Careless Ideal Worker

Olivia Smith, Litigating Discrimination on Grounds of Family Status, 22 Fem. Legal Stud 175 (2014).

It will not surprise readers alive to anti-discrimination law’s limited capacity to transform systems that Ireland’s reform to protect workers in certain care relationships from discrimination based on their family status has reinforced gendered assumptions about care and workforce participation. However much its findings line up with our pessimistic hunches, Olivia Smith’s study is worth reading because it exemplifies an admirable kind of feminist scholarship: quantitatively and qualitatively empirical; theoretically grounded; alert to the intersection of gender with other grounds of disadvantage, such as class; and self-conscious of its limits.

Smith offers a “contextualized assessment” of a dozen years’ tribunal litigation under the “family status” discrimination ground. Prior to this ground’s adoption in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011, women had challenged discrimination associated with their care obligations under the ground of gender. As Smith notes, that tack had confirmed the gendered view of care as women’s work. Yet while the gender-neutral ground of “family status” might signal that care obligations bear on men as well as on women, the litigation record shows it to have reinforced the gendered dynamics of Irish work and family life. Continue reading "The Careless Ideal Worker"

Digital Behavioral Advertising – Why Worry?

Ryan Calo, Digital Market Manipulation, 82 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 995 (2014).

Alongside the explosive growth of the internet, digital marketing is also growing aggressively. According to some projections, it might even surpass TV-based advertising in the coming decades. One of its most prominent and controversial features is commonly referred to as “behavioral advertising”; the tailoring of advertisements to specific users at a specific time, on the basis of previously collected personal information about those users’ online activities.

Behavioral advertising is creating a substantial buzz in the press. It is therefore no surprise that this issue is also generating a vibrant discussion in the legal and policy realm. Addressing it properly is a serious intellectual challenge. Behavioral advertising generates an uneasy feeling (some might find it “creepy“). Yet it is not necessarily simple to figure out why. Consumers have dealt with marketers—some of them quite aggressive—since the dawn of time. Existing mechanisms, which incorporate a delicate mix of market forces, reputation concerns and in extreme cases regulatory action, have produced an acceptable status quo. Recently, this status quo has apparently been breached. The challenge academics and policy makers face is explaining why and how. In his recent Article, Ryan Calo tackles this challenge directly, and sets forth important answers. His insights will enhance the policy debates about the regulation of behavioral marketing, and push them in the right direction. Continue reading "Digital Behavioral Advertising – Why Worry?"

Dignity, too

The police killing of Michael Brown this summer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked a nationwide wave of outrage at heavy-handed police behavior generally and toward young men of color in particular. But scores of young black men are killed every year by the police, many in even more suspicious circumstances; what made Ferguson different? One significant element was the fact that police left Michael Brown’s body exposed to public view and the hot sun for some four hours. Perhaps even more than the shooting of Michael Brown (which might yet be given an explanation), the exposure of his body for such a prolonged period, conveyed to millions through social media, constituted a striking violation of social norms of respect which appeared to have no possible explanation. Leaving his body to deteriorate in the view of his family and neighbors seemed to reflect the fact that police did not view Michael Brown as a human being, or his neighbors as citizens worthy of respect. The police shooting may in fact have been justified, but their treatment of Michael Brown’s body defiled human dignity

The growing sense that the carceral state (both police and prisons) has become a threat to the human dignity of Americans is an important new dimension of political and legal opposition to the supersized role that it now plays in our lives. Objections to NSA digital snooping, outrage at mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners, and protests against the routinized degradation of “stop and frisk” policing are growing. And these arguments are working not just in the street but in courts, where in Brown v. Plata in May 2011, the Supreme Court reminded American states that prisoners “retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all person[s].” So far, however, the force of dignity has had little influence on challenges to police using their arrest and related powers under the Fourth Amendment. Continue reading "Dignity, too"

Surmounting the Control Paradigm

Colin Mayer’s Firm Commitment is not exactly a book about corporate law, but it’s still best corporate law book I have encountered in a long while. Here a leading academic in business and finance challenges the status quo, bringing financial economics, agency theory, and corporate law to bear to persuade us that something has gone very wrong with corporate organizations in English-speaking economies.

Unlike many critics of corporate institutions, Mayer approves of large corporate entities. He points out that they allow us to partition assets off from individuals and create stable productive environments conducive to group participation. They are ubiquitous for very good reasons and do great things. But there’s also a dark side. In describing it, Mayer pulls together a number of things that we all know are out there and builds them into a binary theory. On one side of the description there’s a long list of phenomena, bundled up and characterized as the “control” paradigm. The market for corporate control sits at the top of the list, followed by environmental degradation, reductions in workforces, the shareholder value maximization norm, the trend to shareholder empowerment, short termism, leveraged restructuring, asset substitution, and leveraged speculation. All these work together with and within corporate entities to lead to disastrous results for society and the economy, manifested in the form of both externalities and opportunity costs. As society tries to cope with this onslaught of injury, there result layers and layers of choking regulation. Continue reading "Surmounting the Control Paradigm"