Monthly Archives: October 2015
Last Term the Court gave administrative law scholars a lot to digest. Writing for the Court, the Chief Justice in King v. Burwell reinvigorated the major questions doctrine as a Chevron Step Zero inquiry, Justice Scalia in Michigan v. EPA ruled that the EPA must consider costs when a statute says to take action that is “appropriate and necessary,” and Justice Sotomayor in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers abolished the D.C. Circuit’s Paralyzed Veterans doctrine. The separate writings were perhaps even more intriguing. In Mortgage Bankers, Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas all indicated some appetite to revisit Auer deference. In Mortgage Bankers and the Amtrak case, Justice Thomas questioned the modern administrative state on separation of powers and nondelegation grounds, and then wrapped up the Term in Michigan v. EPA arguing that Chevron deference itself raises serious separation of powers concerns (and Justice Scalia may have suggested something similar in Mortgage Bankers).
These decisions all deal with foundational principles in administrative law. One decision, however, also grapples with the fringe: Department of Transportation v. Association of Railroads. At issue there was a congressionally created corporation—Amtrak—and its congressionally delegated authority to engage in joint rulemaking with a more traditional federal agency, the Federal Railroad Administration. The D.C. Circuit had held that Congress could not delegate regulatory power to Amtrak because it was a private corporation (at least for rulemaking purposes). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Amtrak is a government entity for constitutional rulemaking delegation purposes. Continue reading "Fringe Administrative Law"
Marco Loos & Joasia Luzak, Wanted: A Bigger Stick. On Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts with Online Service Providers
(Ctr. for the Study of European Contract Law, Working Paper No. 2015-01, 2015), available at SSRN
The reliance of online service providers on lengthy terms of service or related documents is easily mocked. When I teach this topic, I can choose to illustrate the topic with the selling of souls, in cartoon or written form, point to the absurd length of the policies of popular sites, and highlight experiments that call us out on our love of the I Accept button. But behind the mirth lie a number of serious legal issues, and the recent working paper by Marco Loos & Joasia Luzak of the University of Amsterdam tackles some of them.
Loos & Luzak work at the Centre for the Study of European Contract Law, and their particular concern is with the European Union’s 1993 Unfair Contract Terms Directive. They point out that although the gap between typical terms and policies and the requirements of the Directive is often pointed to, it is rarely studied in detail. In their thorough study, the authors examined the instruments used by five well-known service providers, and evaluated them against the Directive’s stipulation that mass terms (those not individually negotiated with the consumer) be ‘fair’. Continue reading "Is it Fair to Sell Your Soul?"
I feel only a bit sheepish for snatching Melissa Jacoby‘s Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy (Yale J. on Reg. forthcoming) from all the other sections that could claim it, notably Constitutional Law and Courts Law. Although it is the richest law review article I have read in a while—sweeter for being the first in a cycle—I worry that it might fall through the interdisciplinary cracks. Debt rarely takes center stage in constitutional theater these days, ditto bankruptcy procedure in procedure. Even by bankruptcy standards, the project might seem exotic—a deep dive into audio recordings and other primary sources from Chapter 9 (municipal) bankruptcy hearings. Whatever your discipline, you would be mad to miss it. The subject is the biggest-ever public debt restructuring under a statutory scheme. The article is packed with doctrinal, theoretical, and methodological insights. The treatment is sophisticated and empathetic. The policy salience is obvious, as Detroit taps the markets, Chicago totters, Puerto Rico defaults, and the United Nations and the Pope endorse bankruptcy for states.
Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code is one of the few statutory regimes in the world for public debt restructuring. Its effort to balance federalism and democratic deference against the need to put an over-indebted (likely mismanaged) political unit on a sound financial footing has inspired imitation and criticism. Chapter 9 combines a high barrier to filing with extraordinary deference to the debtor’s policy decisions once it files. There is no bankruptcy estate, no equity, and no liquidation. In theory, states retain sovereignty over municipalities, while federal bankruptcy courts must keep their noses out of municipal affairs. Some commentators have argued that such reticence fuels debtor moral hazard; others have used it to highlight the limitations of Chapter 9 as a framework for bigger, more complex political units. Continue reading "Debt, Detroit, Democracy"
Jotwell began on October 27, 2008 with the goal of identifying new and interesting legal scholarship. Over the past seven years, Jotwell has recruited more than 300 Section and Contributing Editors who are leading academics (or in a few cases leading practitioners) and asked them each to write a short essay once a year identifying one of the best examples of recent scholarship relating to the law in their respective fields. This year, we wanted to reflect on where Jotwell is, and attempt to measure how well it is achieving its goals.
Jotwell has two objectives. On the one hand, we wanted to provide a service for persons who are not trying to be expert in a particular sub-field of law but still would like to keep up with the major developments in it. Given the proliferation of law reviews, and the resulting evolution away from having a few top journals act as the gatekeepers for high-quality scholarship, it is increasingly difficult for legal academics to know what is happening in their own fields, let alone what is most important and relevant in other fields. We expected, therefore, that some of the reviews would inevitably be of work by famous scholars and/or work appearing in top-ranked journals. On the other hand, we hoped also that our reviewers would be moved to call attention to significant work published in less prestigious journals and works authored by younger academics and others who were not yet widely recognized.
Although these goals were communicated to Jotwell’s Contributing Editors, and are noted in our author guidelines, we did little behind the scenes to enforce or even incentivize adherence to either goal. Instead we let Jotwell’s editors determine on their own what works of current scholarship they believe are worth recognition. Our thinking was that having assembled such a talented group of contributors we should leave it to them to decide what they liked and wanted to recommend.
David Landau & Rosalind Dixon, Constraining Constitutional Change
, 51 Wake Forest L. Rev.
(forthcoming, 2015), available at SSRN
Changes to constitutional law do not always further beneficial ends. Sometimes, in fact, they do the opposite, with political actors utilizing mechanisms of constitutional law-making to consolidate their powers, entrench themselves in office, marginalize opposition, and otherwise undermine basic democratic values. Under these circumstances, a constitution can find itself in the perverse position of enabling rather than constraining abusive governmental action—subverting the very principles that it was originally intended to promote.
Comparative constitutional scholars have puzzled over the question of how to prevent “abusive constitutionalism” of this sort. To date, they have focused largely on mechanisms of constitutional amendment, considering ways in which an existing constitutional regime might structure its internal rules of change so as to frustrate a would-be autocrat’s anti-democratic amendment efforts. For example, timing requirements and supermajority voting procedures might render undesirable amendments especially difficult to enact; “eternity clauses” might safeguard essential provisions of a constitutional text against the threat of repeal; and the doctrine of “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” might empower courts to invalidate some forms of anti-democratic action after the fact. In these and other ways, amendment-restricting devices might manage to prevent at least some abusive amendments from ever taking effect.
These are important tools, which have enjoyed some measure of success in the real-world. But, as Professors David Landau and Rosalind Dixon point out in their wonderfully thought-provoking article, Constraining Constitutional Change, even a fail-safe set of constraints on the amendment process cannot eliminate the specter of abusive constitutional change. Looming in the background is the alternative and more daunting possibility of wholesale constitutional replacement—the outright rejection of an old constitutional order (including its amendment rules) in favor of a brand-new constitutional regime. Where amendment rules threaten to foil a would-be autocrat’s abusive constitutional ambitions, that official might simply choose to take the replacement route instead. Continue reading "Can Abusive Constitutionalism Be Checked?"
The recent cascade of highly-publicized murders of American black men and women by police and by white “domestic terrorists” has brought into public debate one of the most spectacular forms of American anti-black racism. Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines this racism as “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” Michael Brown’s body—killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 and subsequently left on the street for hours—has come to literally embody American contempt for black life.
But Ferguson also exposed a less lethal manifestation of American racism: the reliance of strapped-for-cash municipalities on fines and fees imposed on the poor through the criminal justice system. In her article, Misdemeanor Criminalization, Alexandra Natapoff warns us that one attempt to scale back mass incarceration may, paradoxically, expand racism in this subtle but insidious form. Turning felonies such as drug crimes into misdemeanors, she argues, expands the potential for American cities and counties to make money off poor people—with disturbing implications both for people of color and for the nature of criminal justice. Continue reading "Discipline and Fine"
Ann C. McGinley, Through a Different Lens: Perspectives on Masculinity and Employment Discrimination Law (Forthcoming 2016, NYU Press)
Ann McGinley has made significant contributions to the legal literature concerning employment discrimination in general and to the social science concerning “masculinities” in particular. In many ways, this book is a culmination of a significant number of articles and a prior book of edited essays on the topic of masculinities and the law. With the new focus on issues of masculinity highlighted in the case of Miami Dolphin football player, Jonathan Martin, who quit the team because of harassment by several of his teammates, there is beginning to be greater general awareness of the multifaceted way in which various masculinity behaviors are used to harass and discriminate against women, people of color, and people perceived as failing to behave in appropriate gender roles.
More recently, there is a focus on the role of stereotypes and masculinity games that have been barriers to women becoming Hollywood directors. So, this forthcoming book is quite timely. It should have a significant impact on how we discuss and resolve questions arising from the role of masculinity games in employment. Continue reading "Masculinities Theory Helps Understand Employment Discrimination and Could Help Reduce It"
Robin L. West, Gatsby and Tort
, in American Guy: Masculinity In American Law And Literature
86 (Saul Levmore & Martha C. Nussbaum ed., 2014), available at SSRN
In Gatsby and Tort, Robin West engagingly argues that Fitzgerald’s famous novel highlights serious shortcomings of tort law as it has been traditionally understood, and of modern efforts to supplant or reconceptualize it.
West begins by observing that Gatsby would make for a good torts exam. In its ‘fact-pattern’ one can find bases for claims of battery, fraud, and criminal conversation. There is also a paradigmatic example of negligence—Daisy Buchanan, speeding in Gatsby’s Rolls Royce, runs down Myrtle Wilson. (Myrtle, Tom Buchanan’s mistress, had darted out into the street while escaping her husband George’s efforts to cloister her.) As West further notes, the novel ends with narrator Nick Carraway condemning the despicable Buchanans on terms that sound in tort: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it is that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” (P. 3.) Continue reading "How to Get Away with Negligence"
For faculty members with retirement savings in TIAA-CREF or brokerage accounts, market events of summer 2015 might prompt the conclusion that August is the cruelest month of all. Along with millions of other small investors, academics throughout the United States could only watch helplessly as volatile markets took shareholders on a daily roller-coaster ride resulting in devalued accounts.
In the wake of the 2008 market crash, small investors have become increasingly educated about the structural and institutional drivers of extreme market volatility: automatic, computerized trading techniques over which the small, individual stakeholder has little knowledge or control. Most prominent among these market innovations has been the advent of computerized, high-frequency trading (HFT), driven by mathematical algorithms.
In her thoughtful and innovative comment, Too Fast, Too Frequent? High-Frequency Trading and Securities Class Actions, Tara E. Levens explores the interesting question whether the prevalence of HFT techniques resulting in massive financial losses to small-stake investors will open the door to new securities class actions. Her general conclusion is that current legal theories undergirding various types of securities law violations are mismatched with the harms induced by HFT. Consequently, Levens attempts to formulate a jurisprudence for new securities class actions based on the unique injuries resulting from HFT manipulation. In essence, Levens’ task is a riff on the theme of fitting new wine into old bottles. Continue reading "Class Action Mismatch: Securities Class Action Jurisprudence and High-Frequency Trading Manipulation"
Leigh Osofsky, The Case for Categorical Nonenforcement
, 69 Tax L. Rev.
(forthcoming, 2015), available at SSRN
We tax academics in law schools have an affinity for the logical operation of rules. We could not remain immersed in the intricacies of the income tax—and therefore remain competent as scholars and teachers—if we did not. Considerable resources have been devoted to the elaboration of rules developed through the logical application of a few basic principles. These principles, including those associated with the Haig-Simons definition of income and those governing accounting for capital, allow us to view this body of law as determinative, and thus capable of uniform application. In other words, the income tax system has long used this logic as the basis of its claim to rule-of-law legitimacy. The resulting set of rules is elaborate, indeed, it often seems as if it is among the most elaborate sets of rules ever devised.
But as specialists engaged in this elaboration, we must also understand that a legitimate tax system cannot be maintained merely by the articulation of these rules. The rules themselves will never be self-enforcing. And the mere elaboration of additional rules will never close the gap between the revenue that would be collected under a perfect application of the rules and the revenue that will actually be collected.
Leigh Osofsky’s article, The Case for Categorical Nonenforcement, soon to appear in the Tax Law Review, provides an opportunity to explore this tension between the formal elaboration of the tax law and the capacity of the Internal Revenue Service to enforce it. The tension is easily seen throughout the actual operation of the income tax law, whether one looks at the actual treatment of large partnerships, frequent flyer miles, fringe benefits claimed by non-employees, or many other provisions. Continue reading "Nobody’s Perfect, Not Even the IRS"
Trusts and estates scholarship typically focuses on the rich. This is not surprising, as the field primarily concerns itself with wealth transmission, and the wealthy are the ones who have wealth to transmit. In Making Things Fair, Professor Naomi Cahn and Amy Ziettlow inject class into the field by examining how lower-income individuals understand the wealth transmission process. This is a valuable and much-needed intervention, both for its empirical methodology and its focus on the lived experiences of lower-income Americans.
This article contributes on three fronts. The first contribution is empirical. The investigators recruited study participants by searching Baton Rouge newspaper obituaries, from which they compiled the names of children and step-children of recently deceased individuals under the age of 70 within a 7-month period in 2011. Of these 2,700 individuals, they gathered reliable contact information for 1,500 of them, and invited these to participate in the study by snail mail, email, and telephone. Their final sample size was sixty-three, appropriate to a qualitative and exploratory study of this type. The study used semi-structured interviews to delve into family dynamics, the dying process, and wealth transmission. Continue reading "Injecting Class into Trusts and Estates"
In December 2011, the UK Intellectual Property Office commissioned the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management at Bournemouth University to research the effects of parody on copyrighted works. Do parodies harm the market for the underlying work? How might we measure the economic effects of parody, as incentive depressors or engines?
UK copyright law does not contain an exception specifically covering parodies. The authors of the study perceive the UK copyright law as one of the most restrictive in seven jurisdictions surveyed (US, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Netherlands, UK) with regard to parodies. By commissioning this research, the UK appears to be considering reform. The study concludes that changes loosening the reign of copyright over parodies would further copyright’s underlying purposes of creation and dissemination. Continue reading "Parody and Fair Markets"
Michael E. Waterstone, Disability Constitutional Law, 63 Emory L.J. 527 (2014).
Constitutional Law should be harnessed in the service of disability law. That it has not been a central site for the advocacy of the disability rights movement is something that Professor Waterstone bemoans. In this Emory Law Journal article, he traces the seemingly bifurcated trajectories of the LGBT and Disability Rights movements, insofar as their use of constitutional strategy is concerned. Through a careful analysis of these moves, Prof. Waterstone concludes that the Disability Rights movement has suffered setbacks through constitutional law, but the time is ripe to recoup the use of constitutional law to advance the umbrella of disability rights. Harkening to recent victories in LGBT movements, this article seeks to lay a foundation for Disability Constitutional Law.
Prof. Waterstone acknowledges that there likely exists amongst disability rights advocates an understandable reluctance to engage constitutional law stemming from the Cleburne case, and its unfortunate legacy for the disability rights movement. While the holding in Cleburne struck down an ordinance infringing the Equal Protection rights of persons with “mental retardation,” the case has proven less progressive and unsupportive of disability rights broadly speaking. In holding that this disability classification was only entitled to rational basis scrutiny, the decision has become concretized in a way that, for practical purposes, has meant that “the most restrictive aspects” of the majority decision have “stayed frozen in time for people with disabilities.” (P. 529.) Additionally, subsequent Supreme Court decisions have stretched Cleburne’s application to include a “diverse universe of people with disabilities,” thereby casting too long a shadow of rational basis scrutiny in the disability rights arena. (P. 542.) Specifically, in holding that the decision in Cleburne on mental retardation included a vastly expanded category of “the disabled,” the Court in University of Alabama v. Garrett significantly expanded the reach of Cleburne in a way that has proven hard to overcome. Continue reading "Disability Advocacy: Strategizing a Comprehensive and Contextual Path Forward"
Professor Oliver Houck’s recent article, The Reckoning: Oil and Gas Development in the Louisiana Coastal Zone, is easily one of the best articles that I have read in the last ten years and should be required reading regardless of one’s specialty. I should admit that I am not an environmental law professor and the environmental law articles I ordinarily read are those that intersect with one of my primary research areas: Indian law. So I initially downloaded The Reckoning expecting that I would skim it quickly. But it is a remarkable article. Although on its face, the article tells a story of oil and gas development in the fragile wetlands of Louisiana’s coast, it also has lessons about political corruption and short-sightedness that extend far beyond the environmental destruction at the heart of the article.
Professor Houck convincingly argues that the state government and oil and gas interests are seen as essentially the same, so much so that Houck refers to them collectively simply as “the company.” Louisiana actively courted oil and natural gas development to such an extent that the very state entities tasked with protecting the coastal zone participated in the promotion of development above all else, even above reason. As the article shows, it would be inaccurate to say that the state became the puppet of corporate interests or that it rubber-stamped the web of canals that destroyed the wetlands because nearly every Louisiana institution was and is invested in the rush to please big energy. Problematically, the list of those involved in opening up the wetlands, in denying the connection between development and destruction, and in attempting to shift the restoration costs away from oil and gas companies and unto the American taxpayer includes not only the ironically named Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, which time and again saw itself as an industry partner, but also parish governments, state-university academics and centers, politicians at the federal, state, and local levels, and even major environmental groups. As Professor Houck shows, no part of the Louisiana coast has been spared from devastation caused by “the company,” yet “the company” is unwilling to take responsibility and has largely succeeded in avoiding the costs associated with such destruction. Continue reading "A Story Well Told"
With the recent national attention given to concerns about mass incarceration, lengthy prison sentences and atrocious prison conditions, it appears that we have entered a wave of prison reform—once again. But perhaps we believe it to be different in kind or degree from the sort of reformist movements we have had in the past. We might believe that today’s areas of focus—overcrowding due to three-strikes laws, concerns about the treatment of juvenile offenders, the roles of race, ethnicity, poverty and mental health as factors in determining prison demographics, the prevalence of sexual assault and violence in prions, the defunding of rehabilitation and re-entry programs—are new or unique. In Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform, historian Joseph F. Spillane exposes the cyclical nature of prison reform debates along with a close examination of the failure of the American reformist movement of the early to mid-1900s. Relying on primary documents that included legislative discussions, periodical accounts, correspondences between key political actors, and primarily prison records, Spillane carefully reconstructs the events that influenced first the construction and later the of management of New York State’s Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Coxsackie (pronounced “cook-sock-ee” according to Spillane), opened as a then-modern vocational reformatory for adolescents in the 1930’s at the height of the progressive prison reform movement in New York but within decades spiraled into a now-modern maximum security warehouse for inmates rife with violence and brutality.
Like a lot of good history books, Spillane’s account depicts the past while helping to explain the present and is a must-read for anyone who cares deeply about prison reform and wants to avoid (or at least understand) common pitfalls. In his depiction of the pendulum swings characteristics of prison reform movements, Spillane begins with what were the triggering events in the 1920’s and 1930’s. According to Spillane, prisons generally suffer from inattention until a “focusing event” raises public awareness or fear. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, prison riots provided a political tipping point presenting the education reformers with an opportunity to advocate for change. Then-reformers blamed idleness, prison overcrowding and draconian four-strikes mandatory life Baumes Laws (little did they know that three-strikes would later became the norm!) for the riots. Continue reading "A Case Study for Understanding Prison-Reform, Its Advocates and Its Critics"
Rachel E. Stern and Su Li, The Outpost Office: How International Law Firms Approach the China Market
, Law & Social Inquiry
(forthcoming, 2015), available at SSRN
Size matters—in the legal profession as elsewhere. It is a common element in research on law firms, legal practice and lawyers’ careers, and it often is assumed to be associated with success—in many instances, accurately. The largest U.S. law firms in terms of headcount also are among those that generate the most revenue and profits per partner, for example. Law firms in the category affectionately known as “BigLaw” account for an important segment of the most sought-after positions for new law graduates, in no small part because they offer the highest starting salaries and the promise of more for those who succeed. These same firms represent the most significant businesses in their most important disputes and largest and thorniest transactions, and today also often are involved in notable pro bono activities. Bigger is correlated with success, whether size is measured in headcount, number of offices, revenue, profits or compensation.
The assumption that size matters underlies the thoughtful analysis of Rachel Stern and Su Li about the growth of global law firms in China. Their article, The Outpost Office: How International Law Firms Approach the China Market, explores why growth seems to have stalled in the China offices of international law firms. Stern and Li draw on data gathered in interviews (conducted in 2013-2014) with lawyers practicing in the China offices of 50 international law firms. The firms have home bases in 18 different countries; this variety allows Stern and Li to consider how home country shapes global growth. Continue reading "How big is big enough? Lessons from China about globalization"
Often we like scholarship lots because it reflects new or interesting perspectives on familiar subjects. Sometimes, though, the story itself is so thought-provoking that a good telling is all that is needed to make the article worth commending to Courts Law readers.
Such is the case with Hugo Cyr’s article, which chronicles the highly charged engagement between the Supreme Court of Canada and the Canadian Government (the Executive, comprised of members of the ruling political party) over the fundamental requirements for their respective legitimacy. Everyone seems to agree that the incidents recounted were “unfortunate” in that they provoked strong expressions of differences in what has historically been regarded as a relationship to be managed tactfully. Yet the events exposed many intriguing issues about how best to conduct this critical relationship to promote the continuity and flexibility needed to serve well the interests of the public. Continue reading "Controversial Supreme Court Appointments – A Blockbuster in the Foreign Films Category?"
Once upon a time there were banks that served the poor. Government structured banks for that purpose—government gave banks cheap money and protection against failure partly in exchange for their providing a place to deposit money, earn interest and get credit, along with economic stability, for everyone. Financial innovation, increased competition and deregulation changed all that: the period of dramatic transformation left the poor and working class without services, as banks came under competitive pressure.
Once upon a time, post offices provided banking functions, giving the ordinary customer a brick-and-mortar office to park their cash. Then competition from higher-interest rate banks changed all that; with shrinking demand, postal banking was dismantled in 1967. Continue reading "How the Other Half Banks"