What Belongs in the Academic Legal Canon?

Should there be an academic legal canon? Are we condemned to “repetition and recycling of a handful of ideas” without one? Those are among the questions raised by Steven L. Winter in his paper When Things Went Terribly, Terribly Wrong Part II which leads off the Jotwell Conference tomorrow afternoon.

If that isn’t sufficiently provocative, Appendix One of Prof. Winter’s paper offers a first draft of what a legal scholarship canon would look like, noting that “Most of the articles and books on my list can be characterized as classics, though I assume that among any group of well-read law professors there will be disagreements with respect to both omissions and inclusions.”

What works would you add to his list?

 
 

Representing Child Migrants (in the Midst of Our Border Crisis)

Some of the summer’s biggest news headlines focused on the surge of children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras who, fleeing widespread violence and extreme poverty, have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to seek refuge in the United States.1 The border crisis has sparked a highly politicized debate, with compromise solutions shifting steadily to the right. The most recent bipartisan proposal would, in many cases, require detention of minors (in violation of the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement requiring the release of migrant children, when possible, to relatives or foster care) and result in rapid deportations without due process.

Within this contemporary context, Shani King’s Alone and Unrepresented: A Call to Congress to Provide Counsel for Unaccompanied Minors, provides a fresh perspective on the issue. King argues that three constellations of international and regional human rights standards—children’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and the right to civil counsel—should be interpreted together to provide the right to free legal counsel for unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings. King offers an extremely helpful collection of international and regional standards on these rights, as well as comparative examples from countries that provide representation to unaccompanied minors facing immigration proceedings. Congress, he concludes, should likewise enact legislation guaranteeing legal representation to unaccompanied minors. King’s article is thought-provoking and practically useful, and it can serve as a source of persuasive international authority to support recent proposals and lawsuits calling for constitutional due process rights of unaccompanied minors. Continue reading "Representing Child Migrants (in the Midst of Our Border Crisis)"

 
 

Future Present?

Mr. Young means to test empirically the existence of “constitutional moments,” changes occurring outside formal processes of amendment that Bruce Ackerman has posited are important elements in the American constitutional progress. To this end, Young focuses Measure on the so-called Reconstruction “moment,” from the period preceding the 1866 congressional elections through 1868, the time range within which Ackerman discerns a structured process of profound commitment to a new racially open political, legal, and institutional order. (See Bruce Ackerman, We The People: Transformations 99-252 (1998).) Measure studies the front pages of some 600 newspapers, viewing 2,000 articles published between June 1, 1866 and December 31, 1866; 2,612 articles published between June 1, 1868 and December 31, 1868; 5,000 newspaper pages on which the word “constitution” appeared between January 1, 1866 and December 31, 1868; and 15,322 newspaper front pages published between June 1 and December 31 in 1866, 1868, 1870, 1872, and 1884. All told, Young takes into account 32,544,870 words. (See Table I, P. 2021.)

In 1866 and 1868, “results indicate empirical support for the hypothesis that Americans were paying attention to constitutional-level issues during these periods.” The newspaper coverage surveyed between 1866 and 1872 and then 1884 shows “support for both the notion that constitutional issues were of high salience during this period and that sustained attention to those issues spiked during certain key moments in 1866 and 1868.” “[E]vidence of both constitutional discourse and a gradual decline in the prevalence of that discourse over time” is “consistent the with predictions of Ackerman’s theory that sustained popular attention to constitutional politics peaks during transformative constitutional moments and then declines as normal politics once again take center stage.” (P. 2053.) “Had my results indicated either no evidence of constitutional discourse, or a constant level of such discourse across time, it would have called into question the entire theoretical superstructure of Ackerman’s work.” (PP. 2053-54.)

“[F]or all the millions of words and thousands of newspaper articles this Note analyzes,” Mr. Young concedes, “this is a rather modest conclusion.” “[T]here is nothing surprising about the fact that the media was paying attention to the passage of major constitutional amendments in the aftermath of a devastating civil war.” (P. 2053.) It’s not Young’s bottom line, however, that marks his effort as important. “[M]illions of words and thousands of newspaper articles”—no law student reads this much! How did he do that? Continue reading "Future Present?"

 
 

Discrimination by Database

Solon Barocas & Andrew D. Selbst, Big Data’s Disparate Impact, available at SSRN (2014).

I have previously written about an NYU School of Internet scholars, led by the philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, whose work is “philosophically careful, intellectually critical, rich in detail, and humanely empathetic.” There is also a Princeton School, which orbits around the computer scientist Ed Felten, and which is committed to technical rigor, clear exposition, social impact, and creative problem-solving. These traditions converge in Big Data’s Disparate Impact by Solon Barocas and Andrew Selbst. The article is an attempt to map Title VII employment discrimination doctrine on to data mining, and it is one of the most interesting discussions of algorithmic prediction I have read.

The pairing—anti-discrimination law and data mining—is ideal. They are both centrally concerned with how overall patterns emerge from individual acts; they shift back and forth between the micro and the macro, the stones and the mosaic. Moreover, they are both centrally concerned with making good decisions: each in its own way aspires to replace crude stereotypes with nuanced reason. It would seem then, that Big Data ought to be an ideal ally in Title VII’s anti-discrimination mission. But Barocas and Selbst give reasons to think that the opposite may be true: that data mining will introduce new forms of bias that Title VII is ill-equipped to remedy. Continue reading "Discrimination by Database"

 
 

Marked!

Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Managerial Justice and Mass Misdemeanors, 66 Stan. L. Rev. (Forthcoming 2014), Available at SSRN.

Most people, both lay and expert, would not quibble with the claim that American criminal justice is primarily adjudicative in nature. Specifically, the criminal justice system is concerned with separating the factually innocent from the guilty (erring procedurally on the side of innocence) and meting out punishment to the guilty. Thus, prosecutors dismiss weak cases and pursue charges only when guilt can be established. The guilty either plead or are convicted after trial, and a conviction is the primary basis for adverse consequences, such as jail and probation. Most would also acknowledge that the adjudicative function sometimes goes off the rails, for example, when aggressive plea bargaining or poorly structured sentencing guidelines coerce innocent people to plead guilty or when excessive pretrial detention attaches to a minor charge. However, often people think of such occurrences as deviations from or perversions of a system that in principal differentiates between the innocent and guilty and punishes the guilty. It might come as a surprise then to find out that in New York City, a very large percentage of criminal cases are resolved completely irrespective of defendants’ guilt or innocence.

Conducting a multi-year ethnography of New York City misdemeanor court, Professor Issa Kohler-Hausmann observed, day after day, prosecutors dismiss cases with ample evidence of the defendant’s guilt and insist on guilty pleas in the face of questionable facts. Contrary to existing descriptions of misdemeanor courts as conviction mills that fail to differentiate between types of misdemeanants or assembly-lines that produce quick but schizophrenic dispositions, Kohler-Hausmann discovered that NYC misdemeanor courts engage in meticulous categorizations of defendants and apply dispositions (continuance and then dismissal (ACD), conviction for a violation, misdemeanor conviction) to the differentiated categories of defendants in predictable manners. However, the categories of defendants are not determined along a spectrum of factual guilt. Accordingly, it is not necessarily the case that the defendants against whom there is weak evidence receive ACDs and those against whom there is ample evidence are convicted of the highest charge. Instead, the NYC misdemeanor system sorts defendants and graduates outcomes on the basis of defendants’ prior contacts with the system. Kohler-Hausmann’s quantitative analysis demonstrates that prior misdemeanor convictions are highly predictive of future misdemeanor convictions, and the probability of being convicted on a pending misdemeanor charge significantly increases with every past misdemeanor conviction. By contrast, prior felony convictions do not correlate significantly with conviction on pending felony charges (although they most certainly affect sentencing once there is a conviction). In short, the more times an individual spends in the misdemeanor court system, the more likely it is that she will be convicted, regardless of the evidentiary strength of the case. In fact, through a series of stunning vignettes, Kohler-Hausmann illustrates just how adverse prosecutors, judges, and even some defense attorneys are to introducing questions of factual innocence into the misdemeanor disposition process. Continue reading "Marked!"

 
 

Salarization’s Impact on Governmental Legitimacy

As a member of the ABA Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Section’s Scholarship Award Committee, I would like to recommend this year’s winning submission, Professor Nicholas Parrillo’s book, Against the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780-1940. Not only did the book win the ABA Administrative Law Section’s award for the best work of administrative law scholarship published in 2013, it also won the 2014 Law and Society Association’s J. Willard Hurst Prize for the best book on socio-legal history. The book focuses on a seemingly mundane, but ultimately decisive topic: how government compensates its employees. Understanding why the government moved to a salary-based pay structure is actually fundamental to understanding how the modern administrative state became viable, functional, and—critically—legitimate.

For much of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and even the twentieth, centuries, public officials were paid in ways that today we might find shocking:

Judges charged fees for transactions in the cases they heard. District attorneys won a fee for each criminal they convicted. Tax investigators received a percentage of the evasions they discovered…. Policemen were allowed rewards for recovering stolen property or arresting suspects. Jailors collected fees from inmates for permitting them various privileges, and the managers of penitentiaries had a share of the product of inmates’ labor. Clerks deciding immigrants’ applications for citizenship took a fee for every application. Government doctors deciding veterans’ applications for benefit did the same, as did federal land officers deciding settlers’ applications for homesteads. Even diplomats could lawfully accept a “gift” from a foreign government upon finalizing a treaty. (P. 1.) Continue reading "Salarization’s Impact on Governmental Legitimacy"

 
 

Jotwell Legal Scholarship Conference Next Week

Our 5th Anniversary conference on “Legal Scholarship We Like and Why It Matters” is coming up late next week. 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 asked contributors to write addressing at least one of three broad topics: improving the craft of legal scholarship, improving the reach of legal scholarship, or when and how legal scholarship matters.

The program promises to stimulating to say the least. The papers are or will be available online. Papers discuss what makes legal scholarship great (or terrible), what legal scholarship is good for, how to make it more accessible, what role metrics should play in the sorting of legal scholarship, and how best to make more of the good stuff. The Keynote will be by Margaret Jane Radin, which she has titled Then and Now: Developing Your Scholarship, Developing Its Audience.

It’s already clear from the submissions that there will be controversy. Consider, for example, the opening words of Improve Yourself; Not the World by Jeanne L. Schroeder & David Gray Carlson (footnotes omitted),

We question the common assumption that most legal scholarship should be oriented towards policy, or to quote the title of this session, at improving the world. Jurisprudential, critical and doctrinal scholarship should have equal prestige with policy-oriented scholarship because they more closely relate to the practice of law. Consequently, we start with one policy recommendation : “Lay off the policy recommendations.”

Policy oriented scholarship is what French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, called a “university discourse.” This terminology is ironic, referring to what academics tend to do, not what they should do.

We’ll post some more teasers in the coming days. Meanwhile, it’s not too late to Register.

 
 

Exhausting Regulatory Arbitrage

Annelise Riles, Managing Regulatory Arbitrage: A Conflict of Laws Approach, 47 Cornell Int’l. L.J. 63 (2014).

A recent gathering of regulators opened with a round of congratulations: bailouts were history, bail-ins were on the march, and victory was in sight, just as long as the assembled continued to speak with one voice and kept their bankers well-clear of the public trough. Moments later, it became clear that delegates from continental Europe were marching in different directions, while delegates from certain Nordic and African countries wanted no part of the march. The U.S. and the U.K. held the line, and the meeting closed on a cheerful note, with renewed pledges of regulatory unity.

It is fashionable to criticize regulatory harmonization as hopeless, pointless and potentially harmful. Yet harmonization continues to dominate regulation of international finance in good part because it feels like the obvious answer to two problems: regulatory competition and regulatory arbitrage. Scholarly criticism of harmonization tends to focus on competition. Annelise Riles’ liberating article shows why harmonization loses to arbitrage, and offers an intriguing alternative. Continue reading "Exhausting Regulatory Arbitrage"

 
 

Appealing to Injustice

William M. Richman & William L. Reynolds, Injustice on Appeal: The United States Courts of Appeals in Crisis (2013).

Professors William M. Richman and William L. Reynolds have been writing about the “crisis” facing the U.S. Courts of Appeals—a crisis borne out of the combination of a dramatic uptick in appellate caseloads and the lack of any corresponding increase in the number of federal appellate judges—since before I was born. Readers familiar with their groundbreaking earlier work in the field might therefore wonder whether there’s anything to learn from their new monograph on the subject, Injustice on Appeal. But the longevity of their critique actually underscores the significance of their newest work. By almost any account, the crisis facing the thirteen federal Courts of Appeals is only getting worse—and the steps those courts are taking in an effort to abate that crisis (what Richman and Reynolds refer to as the “Appellate Triage” regime) are only getting that much more controversial. Indeed, it is no overstatement to suggest that Injustice on Appeal is at once the most comprehensive—and yet accessible—descriptive account to date of both the crisis itself and the Appellate Triage regime that circuit judges have devised in response.

The real contribution of Injustice on Appeal, though, is not in its descriptive account of how the appellate crisis came to be, how circuit judges have responded, or why contemporary judges and lawmakers are so comfortable with such a problematic status quo. As the title suggests, Richman and Reynolds’ thesis is that the judicial response has created “injustice,” by producing a disproportionate impact on a specific subset of litigants. In their words, the effect of the Appellate Triage regime “falls disproportionately on the poor and middle class, whose appeals are deemed less momentous than the ‘big’ cases brought by or against the government or major private economic actors.” But while it’s impossible to discount the plight of poor and middle-class federal litigants in recent years, the real question Richman and Reynolds raise (but do not answer) is whether it’s the appellate crisis—as opposed to increasingly harsh procedural and substantive rules—that is to blame. Continue reading "Appealing to Injustice"

 
 

Title VII and Tort Law: A New Perspective

Martha Chamallas, Two Very Different Stories: Vicarious Liability Under Tort and Title VII Law, Ohio St. L.J. (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

In her paper, which is a working draft and part of the Ohio State Law Journal symposium, Torts and Civil Rights Law: Migration and Conflict, Professor Chamallas takes on the daunting task of analyzing how the Supreme Court’s use of agency principles have helped develop employment discrimination doctrine. Professor Chamallas does a superb job of explaining how the Court has used common-law tort principles to help create the theory of vicarious liability in workplace cases. She explains how the use of agency principles has diminished the scope of liability under Title VII, and she further analyzes how this erosion has played out in the case law. Most importantly, however, her paper “challenges the logic and the wisdom of borrowing tort and agency law to craft liability rules for Title VII” and calls on Congress to act swiftly to correct the situation. The paper thus does an excellent job of not only identifying the problem of integrating tort law into employment cases—it provides a workable remedy for resolving the issue.

In the first part of the paper, Professor Chamallas looks at the definition of “employer” under the statute. She explains how agency principles have helped define this term over time. Professor Chamallas undertakes a historical review of this definition, and she explains the importance of the role of the common law in the development of the definition of “employer” under Title VII. The paper further examines the Supreme Court’s well known and controversial employer liability decisions in Burlington Industries v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, exploring the role these sexual harassment cases have had in shaping employment law through common-law agency principles. In particular, the paper examines the impact these cases have had on the development of vicarious liability and negligence theory in hostile work environment cases. Professor Chamallas discusses how the Supreme Court’s use of the Restatement (Second) of Agency in these cases was instrumental in establishing the negligence and strict liability standards for Title VII cases. Continue reading "Title VII and Tort Law: A New Perspective"

 
 

Reenvisioning DRR as a Two-Stage Interpretive Tool for Determining the Testator’s Probable Intent

Richard F. Storrow, Dependent Relative Revocation: Presumption or Probability?, 48 Real Prop. Tr. & Est. L.J. 497 (2014), available at SSRN.

Professor Richard F. Storrow’s comprehensive article about the doctrine of dependent relative revocation (DRR) is one that I like lots because I learned so much reading it. I will try to summarize some of the highlights of the article—there are many more (including, for example, a discussion of student responses to one of his exam questions invoking DRR).

Professor Storrow notes that the body of jurisprudence around DRR “lacks coherence” (P. 499), and he provides, throughout the article, many different formulations of the doctrine from courts and commentators. He notes that DRR “holds that revocation [of a will] is legally invalid if a testator has made some sort of mistake in performing it—specifically a mistake either related to her motivation for revoking the will or related to what she desires that revocation to accomplish.” (P. 501.) He writes that some courts have viewed it as a rule of construction/interpretive device while other courts have viewed it as a rule of law/legal principle. (P. 499.) Ultimately, Professor Storrow proposes that DRR be situated “within the familiar framework of will interpretation” (P. 541) as an interpretive device that has two stages: the first stage “would ask whether the circumstances surrounding the revocation render the intent to revoke ambiguous,” and the second stage “would examine the probable intent of a reasonable testator to revoke or not to revoke in those circumstances” (P. 499). Continue reading "Reenvisioning DRR as a Two-Stage Interpretive Tool for Determining the Testator’s Probable Intent"