The Turn to Procedure

Daniel Ernst’s book, Tocqueville’s Nightmare: The Administrative State in America, is a significant addition to the growing literature on the history of the administrative state. However, it also compels a rethinking of the received historiography of twentieth century American legal thought. It is to the latter contribution that I will devote this brief review.

When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, he observed that the country—in contrast to the states of continental Europe–had very little in the way of centralized bureaucracy. This, for Tocqueville, was a good thing: powerful centralized bureaucracies threatened a significant abridgment of democracy in a country as diverse and spread out as the United States. The “Tocqueville’s nightmare” of Ernst’s title refers, then, to the situation in which too much power might become vested in the hands of bureaucrats unanswerable to the people. Continue reading "The Turn to Procedure"

 
 

Copyright’s Interpretive Turn

Zahr Said, Reforming Copyright Interpretation, 28 Harv. J. of L. & Tech. 469 (2015).

Zahr Said’s Reforming Copyright Interpretation puts its finger on an important, yet little studied, aspect of copyright law: judicial interpretation. It pushes the ball quite a bit by providing a descriptive taxonomy of courts’ interpretive approaches in copyright law, advancing and defending an interpretive approach that it considers best overall, and applying and exemplifying its framework and arguments with a good number of cases while situating it all within a larger body of law and literature scholarship. For me, that’s tons of progress in one article, and the reason why I like it lots.

In resolving copyright disputes, judges must make interpretive decisions. Decisions regarding interpretation are often outcome-relevant – for example, when they lead a judge to decide whether an issue is a matter of law or fact or whether expert testimony may be admitted or not. These decisions can also be outcome-determinative – for example, when a judge makes an interpretive decision that resolves a case on summary judgment or finds an allegedly infringing use to be fair. The interpretive judgment that these decisions involve often flies under readers’ radars. Said draws our attention to judges’ interpretive choices and to the systemic effect that they have, or could have if they were to be conducted appropriately, on copyright law. Continue reading "Copyright’s Interpretive Turn"

 
 

Health Insurance as Innovation Incentive

Rachel Sachs, Prizing Insurance: Prescription Drug Insurance as Innovation Incentive, 30 Harv. J. of L. and Tech. (forthcoming 2016), available at SSRN.

In Prizing Insurance: Prescription Drug Insurance as Innovation Incentive, Rachel Sachs brings together the often disparate worlds of intellectual property theory and health insurance design, to argue that prescription drug insurance could be structured to offer a better incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that treat conditions primarily affecting low-income Americans. Typically, health insurance design is evaluated from an access and utilization perspective. Professor Sachs suggests we should broaden that view, at least when it comes to drug coverage, to evaluate the effect insurance coverage has on research and development incentives.

To make her point, Professor Sachs works through the example of the innovation incentives for drugs that would be primarily prescribed to low-income populations in the U.S., such as those that would treat various tropical diseases. While there are many factors that influence the development of drugs, one of those incentives is financial. And when it comes to diseases that affect primarily low-income individuals, the financial analysis disfavors significant innovation investment. After all, if the population to be treated is either uninsured or covered through only Medicaid, the “prize” for developing a treatment may be insufficient to support investment. Medicaid arguably contributes to this lack of incentive given its relatively low payment rates for pharmaceuticals, which are significantly below other market payers in the U.S. The novel argument Professor Sachs makes is that insurance design could be modified to help achieve socially desirable innovation that the market would not otherwise reward. Continue reading "Health Insurance as Innovation Incentive"

 
 

Hackney Reviews Judge Weinstein on Torts

James R. Hackney, Jr., Judge Jack Weinstein and the Construction of Tort Law in America: An Intellectual History, 64 DePaul L. R. 2 (2014), available at SSRN.

Professor James Hackney’s recent review of Judge Jack Weinstein’s work on the bench, Judge Jack Weinstein and the Construction of Tort Law in America: An Intellectual History, is well worth reading. He draws interesting parallels between Weinstein’s approach to resolving mass tort disputes, described in his book Individual Justice in Mass Tort Litigation and reflected in several of his opinions, and Guido Calabresi’s theories of tort law, set out most prominently in The Costs of Accidents. Hackney makes a compelling case that their views are more similar than most scholars recognize.

At first the connection between Calabresi and Weinstein seemed a bit of a stretch to me. I’ve read Calabresi’s The Costs of Accidents many times and it has always struck me to be a primarily normative vision of the tort system, full of considerations that have proved to be enormously influential to tort theorists, but of somewhat limited value to judges. For example, the argument that negligence doctrine should be abolished and replaced by strict liability is a theory that most judges would have difficulty putting into practice. This is also confirmed by Judge Friendly’s reluctance to rely on a normative theory based entirely on Calabresi, and put forward by the plaintiff, as a justification for expanding vicarious liability in Ira S. Bushy & Sons, Inc. v. United States, 398 F.2d 167 (2d Cir. 1968). Continue reading "Hackney Reviews Judge Weinstein on Torts"

 
 

On Marriage Equality and Transformation Through Preservation

Douglas NeJaime, Marriage Equality and the New Parenthood, 129 Harv. L. Rev. 1185 (2016).

For nearly as long as same-sex couples have been pressing for marriage equality, progressive legal commentators have been engaged in a robust debate over the desirability of making marriage the main focus—indeed, a focus—of the gay rights movement. Some in this conversation view same-sex marriage as radical, an institution capable of disrupting the links between biology and gender that have long structured marital parenthood.1 Others view it as regressivist, an institution bound to co-opt individuals who choose to organize their lives outside of marriage and one that betrays earlier family law advocacy on behalf of nontraditional parents by valorizing the link between marriage and parentage.2 For many in this latter camp, same-sex marriage is a normatively repressive “straight”-jacket (pun intended).

In Marriage Equality and the New Parenthood, Douglas NeJaime aims to unsettle the second of these views, but in the process destabilizes them both. He does so by foregrounding the legal relationship between marriage and parenthood before, during, and after the nationwide push for marriage equality. Neither completely radical nor completely reactionary, marriage equality, NeJaime shows, is the product of progressive family law pluralism, which itself was the product of a vision of marriage that was in some respects traditional. Even more, NeJaime argues that marriage equality will produce—and already has produced—the pluralistic family law from which it springs, and will likely reverberate well beyond the confines of outlying groups like sexual minorities given its potential to erode the legal priority of marriage, an institution that is already in decline for many. On this masterful telling, marriage equality is at once radical margin and less-radical center. Continue reading "On Marriage Equality and Transformation Through Preservation"

 
 

Not Complicit, but Inadequate: Looking at the Concurrent Rise of Human Rights and Neoliberalism

Samuel Moyn, A Powerless Companion: Human Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism, 77 L. and Contemporary Problems 147 (2014).

Lately I’ve been hoping that the sense of impending doom I feel at the lengthening list of things-that-are-worse-than-they-used-to-be might be at least somewhat mitigated if I could only identify the way(s) in which that list could be boiled down to one – okay, maybe two or even three – big thing(s). Neoliberalism lurks as a strong contender, hence a search for articles I like – lots – that trace this approach, whether at the macro, mezzo, or micro level. There are many such articles, but what I’ve chosen to highlight here is from Vol. 77 of Law and Contemporary Problems, a special edition on law and neoliberalism. Guest Editors Jedediah Purdy and David Singh Grewal explain, with charming delicacy, in their introductory essay, “….the term ‘neoliberalism’ may be unfamiliar to some American legal audiences…[but] it is a common part of the scholarly lexicons of many disciplines and is widely used elsewhere in the world, notably in Latin America and Europe.” (Assuming they are right, here is an attempt at Neoliberalism in a Nutshell:  In contrast to the more social-liberal approaches many Western governments followed just after World War II, neoliberalism emphasises the withdrawal of the state in favour of laissez-faire, market based organization, with characteristic policies aimed at privatization, deregulation, and elimination of social benefits regimes). Purdy and Grewal go on, step by step, to build the case for legal scholars in the US to pay some attention to neoliberalism as a phenomenon and a zone of scholarship.

The piece I’m talking about here is Samuel Moyn’s A Powerless Companion: Human Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism (it occurs to me that the title might not help you understand why I thought this would assist my sense of impending doom). In this piece, Moyn considers three themes – global capitalism, the human rights paradigm, and rising economic inequality. He describes the simultaneous burgeoning of the first two in the 1970’s, and the relatively more recent availability of empirical data that document the third – all noted by numerous other scholars – before arguing that the “crucial connection” between human rights and neoliberalism “is a missed connection: precisely because the human rights revolution has at its most ambitious dedicated itself to establishing a normative and actual floor for protection, it has failed to respond to—or even allowed for recognizing— neoliberalism’s obliteration of the ceiling on inequality.” (P. 151.) He positions his insights as in between Marxist and mainstream, concluding in part that there is no point berating human rights for this failure to engage – rather, human rights should be encouraged to keep out of this zone, lest it be seen as a collaborator. (Id.) Continue reading "Not Complicit, but Inadequate: Looking at the Concurrent Rise of Human Rights and Neoliberalism"

 
 

How to Win (at Least) Time in the Information Power Game

Finn Brunton & Helen Nissenbaum, Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest (MIT Press 2015).

This book is about using data noise to make your personal information less easily digestible by privacy-consuming systems.

This book is a necessary book because it presents hopeful tactics and strategies for privacy defense at a time when—in spite of half a century of debates about (electronic) privacy laws, regulations and court decisions, best practices and privacy enhancing technologies—we seem to be living in a state of privacy resignation. Continue reading "How to Win (at Least) Time in the Information Power Game"

 
 

The Definition of Suspicion in an Era of Modern Policing

Jane Bambauer, Hassle, 113 Mich. L. Rev. 461 (2015).

Every Fourth Amendment scholar is familiar with the concept of “individualized suspicion.” The classic example comes from Terry v. Ohio, where Officer McFadden watched two men walk up and down in front of a storefront numerous times, consult with another individual, and then return to checking out the storefront. The Supreme Court held that, while McFadden did not have probable cause for arrest, he had a “particularized” belief that the three men were up to no good and thus could stop them and, when they gave unsatisfactory answers about their activity, frisk them as well.

That type of case is often contrasted with what are sometimes called “suspicionless” searches and seizures. The classic example of that type of police action is the license or sobriety checkpoint that stops individuals who drive up to it. The Court has indicated that such seizures are permissible despite the absence of suspicion that any particular driver seized has an expired license or is drunk, as long as the police stop everyone who comes to the checkpoint or rely on neutral criteria in deciding whom to stop (such as whether the car occupies a pre-selected position in line). Continue reading "The Definition of Suspicion in an Era of Modern Policing"

 
 

The Irrepressible Myth of SCOTUS

Corinna Barrett Lain, Three Supreme Court “Failures” and a Story of Supreme Court Success, 69 Vand. L. Rev. 1019 (2016).

In The Case Against the Supreme Court, Erwin Chemerinsky explains why he is disappointed in the Supreme Court and its failure to function as it is designed—as a countermajoritarian check on society’s worst majoritarian impulses, protecting individual rights from popular encroachment and offering a venue to minorities shut out of success in the political process. Commenting on the book, Corinna Lain argues that the source of Chemerinsky’s disappointment is his expectation that this is the Court’s function. And, she argues, the source of that expectation is the Supreme Court itself. On Lain’s telling, every case in which the Court is perceived to have “failed” in its countermajoritarian role actually reflects the Court’s success in furthering the story (I might label it a “myth”) of what it does, what it should be, and what many scholars (I would put myself in this group) hope and expect it to be.

Lain focuses on three cases routinely disparaged as judicial failures–Plessy v. Ferguson (upholding segregated railroad cars and, by extension, Jim Crow laws), Buck v. Bell (upholding forced sterilization programs), and Korematsu v. United States (upholding the exclusion of people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast). All are uniformly recognized today as among the most grievous examples of the Court failing to protect individual rights and vulnerable minorities. Continue reading "The Irrepressible Myth of SCOTUS"

 
 

Concrete Suggestions Around Conflict Minerals and Corporate Supply Chains

Galit Sarfaty, Shining Light on Global Supply Chains, 56 Harv. Int’l L. J. 419 (2015).

Supply chains. Not too long ago, I found myself nodding wisely along when someone was talking about them. The truth is that my nodding signaled only that I recognized their significance as components of the modern global economy, and as objects of legal study. In no way did my nodding signal that I actually knew much about them.

These are the things I do know about supply chains: they are important; they are complex and present complex challenges; their trans-border nature makes them hard to regulate; and bad things regularly happen in developing countries, at the ends of supply chains that provide goods many of us have come to rely on. Things I don’t know about supply chains: above all, I don’t know in precise terms just how inadequate existing legal regimes – domestic, transnational, public, or private – are in dealing with supply chain problems; where the shortcomings are and the precise consequences of those shortcomings; and whether I should be hopeful or despondent about the prospect of addressing them.

Happily, Galit Sarfaty has shone new light into one aspect of supply chain regulation, through something I do know a bit about: disclosure-based securities regulation. In the process, she has illuminated the potential of domestic law in addressing the use of conflict minerals within corporate supply chains, and the significant limits of corporate conduct on the matter to date. Continue reading "Concrete Suggestions Around Conflict Minerals and Corporate Supply Chains"

 
 

Getting it Wrong on Right to Counsel, By the Numbers

Ingrid V. Eagly & Steven Shafer, A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court, 64 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1 (2015).

I admit it. I’m a data geek. Not that I produce any of it myself—regression analysis makes my hair stand on end—but I am really good at admiring the work of people who are really good with data. And the data I really like (lots) sheds light on issues we all really care about. Presumptuous of me, you might think, to think I know what you care about. But don’t you care about lawyers?

You will, if you don’t, after you read Ingrid Eagly and Steven Shafer’s A National Study of Access to Counsel in Immigration Court. Before delving into it, recall Judge Richard Posner’s less-than-oblique critique of the immigration bar in 2015:

There are some first-rate immigration lawyers, especially at law schools that have clinical programs in immigration law, but on the whole the bar that defends immigrants in deportation proceedings … is weak—inevitably, because most such immigrants are impecunious and there is no government funding for their lawyers.

Eagly and Shafer begin where Judge Posner left off—with the story of the momentum toward establishing a first-rate public defender system for poor immigrants facing deportation. Judge Robert Katzmann, Peter Markowitz, Stacy Caplow, and Claudia Slovinsky led the most prominent of these efforts, which culminated in the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. That project provides detained New Yorkers with representation in removal proceedings at state expense. And what convinced the New York state legislature to support such a scheme, aside from Judge Katzmann’s gravitas and Stacy Caplow and Peter Markowitz’s irresistible charm? Continue reading "Getting it Wrong on Right to Counsel, By the Numbers"