Who Should be Invited to the Tax Dinner?: Another Perspective on the Role of Tax Professionals

Gillian Brock & Hamish Russell, Abusive Tax Avoidance and Institutional Corruption: The Responsibilities of Tax Professionals, 56 Edmond J. Safra Working Paper, available at SSRN.

As I began reading Gillian Brock and Hamish Russell’s new article entitled Abusive Tax Avoidance and Institutional Corruption: The Responsibilities of Tax Professionals, a colleague shared the following cartoon with me:

xkcd

Arbitrage by xkcd.com. Reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

Not surprisingly, I immediately interpreted the cartoon in light of Brock and Russell’s article: the functioning of the tax system depends, in part on our acknowledgement that certain behavior is important to its successful operation, even though that behavior may not have been formalized explicitly into the law. Of course there are differences between absconding with the “free” restaurant chips and facilitating abusive tax avoidance, but the essence of the critique seemed to be the same. Systems and relationships that depend entirely upon clearly articulated rules of engagement without any overlay of moral responsibility face serious challenges. Can we articulate an appropriate moral standard by positing, as Brock and Russell suggest, a world in which our conduct and its implications are widely known? One in which, for example, all diners and restaurants see the abuse of the free chips system.

Unfortunately, while it may be relatively easy to identify and agree upon the moral framework for dining out, it has been more difficult to establish a shared vision of the moral responsibility for curbing abusive tax avoidance. But Brock and Russell seek to ignite this conversation through their fresh perspective. Continue reading "Who Should be Invited to the Tax Dinner?: Another Perspective on the Role of Tax Professionals"

 
 

Speaking Truth About Power

Howard A. Latin, Climate Change Regulation and EPA Disincentives, 45 Envtl. L. 19 (2015).

In a four-decade scholarly career, my former colleague Howard Latin has never shied away from speaking truth to power. His writings have taken on all three branches of government, wealthy private interests like the auto industry, and entrenched academic orthodoxies (notably economic theories of environmental and tort law). More recently, he published an important book arguing that even the most ambitious conventional proposals to respond to anthropogenic climate disruption will not do enough, quickly enough, to mitigate the long-term harm that will result from high concentrations of greenhouse gases in earth’s atmosphere.

In Climate Change Regulation and EPA Disincentives, Latin casts a disappointed eye on the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions using its authority under the Clean Air Act in the aftermath of Massachusetts v. EPA. Given the ineffable magnitude of the danger, the Supreme Court’s acquiescence, and a comprehending President, Latin asks: Why so timid, EPA? Drawing on many themes from his earlier work, he answers by speaking truth about power: the fossil-fuel-burning generation of electric power, the pressures that exert psychological and bureaucratic power within agencies, and the limited exercise of regulatory power seemingly conferred by statute. Continue reading "Speaking Truth About Power"

 
 

Do Hierarchy and Concentration Benefit Women Lawyers?

Ronit Dinovitzer and John Hagan, Hierarchical Structure and Gender Dissimilarity in American Legal Labor Markets, 92 Social Forces (2014).

After three decades of research on gender inequality in the legal profession, it is getting harder for any researcher to say something new. We know as facts that, in many countries across the world, female lawyers earn less than their male colleagues, have fewer chances of promotion, face various forms of gender penalty and sexual harassment in the workplace, and tend to leave the profession earlier and more frequently (see Kay and Gorman 2008 for a good review). However, very few studies have examined the macro-level factors that structure the patterns of gender inequality in the legal profession, such as the differentiation of the public and private sectors, the mobility of lawyers across geographic areas, or the supply and demand in the legal labor markets. This is precisely the approach that Dinovitzer and Hagan take in their recent study on hierarchical structure and gender dissimilarity in American legal labor markets.

The authors use data from the first two waves of the After the JD study, a longitudinal survey of a cohort of lawyers who entered the American legal profession in 2000 conducted by researchers at the American Bar Foundation. The survey included four major markets for legal services (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, DC), five additional large markets (Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis, and San Francisco), as well as nine smaller markets. The concentration of high-status corporate legal work varies significantly across the three types of legal labor markets. Dinovitzer and Hagan use the concept of “hierarchical market structure” (HMS) to measure this macrostructural characteristic of the legal profession. Locales with a higher concentration of corporate legal work (e.g., New York) are higher on the HMS index, consisting of four items: elite law graduates, highly leveraged law firms (i.e., firms with high partner/associate ratios), lucrative billings, and corporate clients.

How does the HMS matter for gender inequality? As the authors demonstrate in their analysis, the leveraged nature of legal labor markets benefits women in notable and interesting ways. Continue reading "Do Hierarchy and Concentration Benefit Women Lawyers?"

 
 

On Health Status, Choice, and Immutability

Jessica A. Clarke, Against Immutability, 125 Yale L. J. (forthcoming, 2015), available at SSRN.

Jessica Clarke’s insightful forthcoming Yale Law Journal article, Against Immutability will be of particular interest to those of us writing and thinking about disability, obesity, equal protection, and discrimination. I found it especially helpful for ongoing work on health status discrimination—or, healthism—that Jessica Roberts and I are conducting. Professor Clarke’s thoughts are especially timely in light of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Although Justice Kennedy did not rely on immutability explicitly in recognizing the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, that reasoning implicitly underlies the Court’s reasoning.

Historically, discrimination law has drawn distinctions between “immutable” and “mutable” traits, recognizing the constitutional guarantee of equal protection for the “immutable” (e.g., race, gender, ethnicity, national origin) but not the “mutable”. The rationale is that individuals should not be disadvantaged on the basis of traits that they are powerless to change, or—put another way—traits that are not the individual’s choice or fault (the Court has referred to these as “accidents of birth,” see Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 686 (1973)). On the other hand, if the trait or characteristic is something within individuals’ control, it seems fair to treat them differently on that basis. In that way, the law can even serve to appropriately incentivize individuals to alter their “bad” conduct or choices and thereby gain the privileges enjoyed by others making the “right” choices. Continue reading "On Health Status, Choice, and Immutability"

 
 

Moral Argument in Legal Disputes: Why So Many Are Mistaken

David Plunkett and Tim Sundell, Antipositivist Arguments from Legal Thought and Talk: the Metalinguistic Response, in Pragmatism, Law, and Language, 56 (edited by Graham Hubbs and Douglas Lind, 2014).

In “hard” appellate cases, legal disputants sometimes offer moral considerations. Legal experts seem to back up claims about what the law is on a particular point with moral argumentation (whether or not explicitly posited legal material, such as a statute or a written constitutional provision, mentions moral considerations, one might add). One antipositivist argument credits the disputants with choosing epistemic arguments that reflect metaphysical truths, and concludes that the law depends at least in part on moral facts.

A familiar legal positivist response is that appearances are deceiving. The disputants are supporting a claim about what the law should be by moral argumentation, because the law at this point is indeterminate. Yet that’s not what many disputants would say, as their use the language of discovery suggests. To borrow an idea from Leiter, the positivist either concludes that the disputants are disingenuous (perhaps because the conventions of legal argumentation require them to appear to argue only about antecedent law) or that legal practitioners, legal scholars, and legal officials misunderstand what they are doing when they rely on moral argumentation. But how can so many experts be so mistaken? That’s what Plunkett and Sundell explain, and they do so plausibly, without denigrating the knowledge, honesty, or intelligence of the expert practitioners. Continue reading "Moral Argument in Legal Disputes: Why So Many Are Mistaken"

 
 

A Pluralistic Vision of Incentivizing Innovation

Daniel J. Hemel & Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Beyond the Patents-Prizes Debate, 92 Texas L. Rev. 303 (2013).

In the 19th century, legal scholarship focused on legal doctrine. In the 20th century, legal scholars began to examine the policy effects of legal doctrine, paying particular attention to how changes in doctrine could yield better policies. Now, such policy-oriented approaches are cemented into nearly every U.S. law review article. Although this shift has in my view generally been beneficial, it still suffers from a doctrinal myopia: legal scholars usually write about only the swaths of law they know well, often overlooking other strands of law that are quite pertinent to the policy issues being addressed.

For example, although patent law scholars frequently opine about the nuances of patent doctrine and how changes in those nuances may affect innovation incentives, they have often ignored how other available policy tools—such as grants and government prizes—affect innovation. Although there is certainly law that deals with grants and prizes, it is rarely the subject of litigation and is fairly specialized (hence, occupying the minds of a small number of lawyers). None of it is taught in law schools. As such, law professors tend to know (and write) little about it. Continue reading "A Pluralistic Vision of Incentivizing Innovation"

 
 

Legitimacy’s Uncertainties: Exploring the Presumption’s Premises

The presumption of legitimacy is one of Euro-American family law’s most venerable doctrines. Under this well-known rule, a woman’s husband is presumed to be the father of any child conceived during marriage. Throughout the ages, the substance of the doctrine has been remarkably consistent: With relatively modest changes, it can be traced from Roman law through Canon Law, Civil Law, and the Common Law—and until recently, into the parentage statutes of a majority of U.S. states. But, as Susan Appleton correctly observed nine years ago,1 this ancient rule is now at a crossroads. On the one hand, it has been eroded by the rise of genetic paternity tests and the demise of laws that discriminate against children born out of wedlock. On the other hand, it has been given a second wind by extension to same-sex married couples and couples who use ART, who vigorously guard its value as a protection for their children. As a result, we are now at a particularly useful vantage point to review the promises of the presumption itself.

A new article shines light on the presumption and its many meanings. As Andrew Counter illustrates in Always Uncertain, the ideological underpinnings and consequences of the presumption have varied “enormously” in different places and times. Continue reading "Legitimacy’s Uncertainties: Exploring the Presumption’s Premises"

 
 

When Information Wields Power: The Inequalities of Credit Reporting in Abusive Relationships

Escaping Battered Credit: A Proposal for Repairing Credit Reports Damaged by Domestic Violence expands and develops Angela Littwin’s pioneering work on “coerced debt” within violent and abusive relationships. Littwin’s first study on this topic, Coerced Debt: The Role of Consumer Credit in Domestic Violence, offers a preliminary account of various ways in which “coerced debt” occurs, how it is experienced and its potentially devastating consequences for abused women. Escaping Battered Credit considers potential legal responses to the problem in the context of abusive relationships, and takes on the challenge of crafting a partial remedy that fits within the institutional structure of US consumer credit markets.

Littwin describes coerced debt as occurring “when the abuser in a violent relationship obtains credit in the victim’s name via fraud or duress” (P. 365), and defaults on the debt. Typical practices range from basic identity theft, as when the abuser applies for a credit in his partner’s name without telling her, through resort to physical and psychological violence to coerce abused women to apply for credit or release equity in their homes, to abusers structuring loan transactions to ensure that they enjoy the benefits of credit and the women they have abused are left with the debt liabilities. Coerced debt is related to the well-documented problems of “sexually transmitted debt” in which so-called “surety wives” guarantee loans to their businessmen spouses under circumstances of duress, fraud, or misinformation; and coercive microcredit which occurs when gender specific peer-lending programs expose poor women to the risks of being coerced into borrowing on behalf of their spouses. All three instances subject abused women to risks of liabilities to creditors to which they did not freely consent and against which law offers little protection, illustrating how market relations of credit and debt may constitute specific instruments of oppression within familial and intimate relationships, particularly, although by no means only, as those relationships fail. Continue reading "When Information Wields Power: The Inequalities of Credit Reporting in Abusive Relationships"

 
 

Internet Privacy: A Chinese View

The overall issue addressed in this book has received renewed attention recently. On April 1, 2015 President Obama issued the Executive Order “Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities,” which allows the Treasury Department to freeze assets of individuals and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in such activities. Furthermore in the beginning of April, in a series of meetings in China, US Homeland Security officials met with their Chinese counterparts to discuss cybersecurity issues. And in late April the US Department of Defense issued its latest document on cyber strategy that mentions – among other countries – China among the “key cyber threats.”

However, the chosen article focuses on an issue that is easily is forgotten in these grand debates: citizens’ privacy, since threats to privacy come from the inside as well as from the outside. The author is Professor of Communication at the School of Digital Media and Design Arts, Beijing’s renowned University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT). He starts with an overview on the present legal framework for protecting the Right to Internet Privacy in China. (P. 247) I still vividly remember a presentation I gave in October 1996 at the China Youth College for Political Science (now the China Youth University for Political Sciences) in Beijing on “The Function of Law in an Information Society” addressing privacy issues. At the end of my talk one of the Chinese students stood up and boldly asked me what my talk had to do with current situation in China. Continue reading "Internet Privacy: A Chinese View"

 
 

The Arrest Power Unchained

Eisha Jain, Arrests as Regulation, 67 Stan. L. Rev. 809 (2015).

In standard criminal procedure and criminology texts, the concept of “arrest” receives surprisingly little attention. Arrest is portrayed as a way station on the road to trial. It is also portrayed as a meaningful sorting device: a determination that the criminal justice system has just cause to restrict an individual’s liberty, if only temporarily. For those who view arrest in these terms, coverage of recent events has provided a dramatic crash course in the true nature and scope of the arrest power. In Ferguson, Missouri, for example, Michael Brown’s arrest, which gave rise to the chain of events resulting in his death, was for the crime of “manner of walking along roadway.” Arrests on this charge were frequent in Ferguson, and 95% of those arrests were of African-Americans. Across the U.S., arrests for seemingly innocuous behavior are common; discretion to make the arrest “custodial” is generally broad; and the burden of arrests for misdemeanors and minor infractions falls disproportionately on minorities. One in three adults will be arrested by the age of 23. For minorities, the odds are even more shocking: 49% for African-American men, and 44% for Latino men. Legal scholars such as Babe Howell and Alexandra Natapoff have examined the often- draconian consequences of such arrests on individuals, including the process costs of contesting the charges and the lasting stigma of an arrest record. And as powerful recent scholarship by Alice Goffman, Michelle Alexander and Jill Leovy drives home, the arrest power is properly understood not merely as a restriction on individual liberty, but as a means of social control that holds entire communities in the grip of the criminal justice system.

Eisha Jain, in her valuable, meticulously documented article Arrests as Regulation, describes and critiques an additional set of burdens triggered by the broad, poorly circumscribed power to arrest—burdens that reach well beyond the criminal justice system. Arrests are used as a proxy, or a low-cost auditing mechanism, by agencies regulating public housing, public benefits, licensing for various professions, education, child welfare, and immigration, as well as by employers and other non-governmental actors. These agencies and individuals use arrests as a means of monitoring and tracking individuals (for example legal immigrants, foster parents, school children) and a means of setting regulatory priorities (for example determining who is entitled to public housing or employment or professional licensing). Agencies and individuals rely on arrests to assess the individual’s potential for violence, risk to security, or instability. In short, as Jain succinctly states, we have delegated broad front-end screening discretion to individual police officers, thus magnifying the effects of arrest decisions. The reasons for the arrest (even assuming the arrest is justified) often have little relevance to the rationales underlying the regulations at issue. Moreover, the use of the arrests often proceeds unchecked by any of the safeguards that would apply in the criminal justice context. Continue reading "The Arrest Power Unchained"

 
 

The Power of Promises

Richard M. Re, Promising the Constitution, 110 Nw. U. L. Rev. (forthcoming, 2016), available at SSRN.

Many questions about the meaning of the Constitution are disputed. But however we answer those questions, at some point most of us come to a different question: so what? Why do those words on a page have any moral grip on the three-dimensional world of human beings? In one of my favorite new articles of the summer, Promising the Constitution, Professor Richard Re takes on this question and its implications. The answer, he says, is the constitutional oath, which simultaneously commands much less and much more than many have assumed. (Full disclosure: Re is a friend and former classmate.)

Re’s article makes three major contributions. The first is to argue that the oath is what gives the Constitution normative force in our world. We should see the oath not as an empty political ritual, but as a solemn assertion of a promise, with all the moral force that a promise carries. Of course, many philosophers are skeptical about the moral force of promises; but Re surmounts their objections by turning to the democratic context of the oath. While immoral promises and coerced promises might lack moral weight, the constitutional oath today should be seen as neither. Continue reading "The Power of Promises"