Taking Interpretive Statutes Seriously

William Baude & Stephen E. Sachs, The Law of Interpretation, 130 Harv. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

“Interpretation,” as used by Baude and Sachs, names the process that starts with legal texts and ends with their contribution to antecedent law. This is not the same activity as uncovering full linguistic meaning (though this may be necessary to determine legal contribution), nor is it extending or repairing antecedent law.

This article presents Baude and Sachs’s case that system-specific law governs interpretation of legal texts. In short, the positive law in particular legal systems generates interpretive principles that shape the legal content established by statutes (and constitutional provisions). The authors’ view rejects any theory of law or legal interpretation that insists, on conceptual grounds, that the materials for interpretation are common to legal systems or that mandates a standard of interpretation for parts of our system (e.g., the Constitution) based on conceptual claims alone (such as “the purpose” of a written constitution). Some of the examples Baude and Sachs offer of system-relative legal standards that I find plausible as governing interpretation are: the Dictionary Act, the “repeal-revival rule” of 1 U.S.C. section 108 (according to which new repeals don’t automatically revive old statutes), the general savings statute (according to which repeal does not erase liabilities arising under the old statute), and some traditional canons of interpretation such as the “Mens Rea Canon” and the presumption against retroactivity. Continue reading "Taking Interpretive Statutes Seriously"

 
 

The Plural Tort Structure of Copyright Law

Patrick Goold, Unbundling the ‘Tort’ of Copyright Infringement, 102 Va. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2016), available at SSRN.

What kind of legal wrong is copyright infringement? Scholars tend to unreflectively regard copyright infringement as a tort. In his elegant and insightful recent article, Unbundling the ‘Tort’ of Copyright Infringement, Patrick Goold complicates this received wisdom by applying rigorous conceptual analysis to a body of law—copyright—that is rarely analyzed in those terms. In so doing, Goold invites us to see copyright law in a new and more nuanced light, and also seeks to show that courts’ purportedly scattered approach to infringement may not be so incoherent after all.

The central premise of Goold’s article is simple: the orthodox view of copyright infringement as a single tort mischaracterizes how courts actually resolve infringement cases. Calling on Prosser’s classic disaggregation of privacy into a “gallery of torts,” Goold identifies five different “copy-torts”: consumer copying, competitor copying, expressive privacy invasion, artistic reputation injury, and breach of creative control. Each of these different copy-torts, Goold argues, reflects the distinct interests that courts seek to vindicate using copyright law. Continue reading "The Plural Tort Structure of Copyright Law"

 
 

An Internationally Justiciable Right

Lisa Forman, Can Minimum Core Obligations Survive a Reasonableness Standard of Review Under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?, 47 Ottawa L. Rev. (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

The U.S. legal discourse on health rights is impoverished, neglected, and underinformed. The right to health is reflexively dismissed as one of the affirmative rights that our tradition of negative liberties renders irrelevant. And there (I exaggerate only slightly) conversation stops. But when we inspect this conversation-stopper, it is based on overgeneralization. The truth is more fact-dependent. Lisa Forman, in Can Minimum Core Obligations Survive a Reasonableness Standard of Review Under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights? (forthcoming in the Ottawa Law Review), gives us a window into the granular.

Managing to adjudicate an “unwieldy” health right

Although the right to health, as a right of the economic, social, and cultural variety, is often thought to be a right to some affirmative state provision rather than a negative liberty from state action, this assumption is belied by laws in the U.S. that can function as negative rights to health. For instance, some laws protect private use of plant varieties relating to essential foodstuffs against enforcement of government-granted monopolies, or provide procedural rights for a health impact assessment prior to government action that harms health. Those examples reveal statutes or regulations that restrict governmental power to infringe on individuals’ right to health. Nevertheless, once labeled as “positive rights,” health rights frequently assume a reputation as unmanageable. Forman voices this conventional wisdom succinctly: the realization of the right to health, under this skeptical view, “requir[es] extensive state action and resources, so that judicial enforcement would reallocate budgets and alter social policy, breaching the appropriate democratic separation of powers and wreck[ing] budgets.” And yet, jurisdictions outside the U.S. manage to adjudicate such rights day in and day out, handling them just as the legal system treats all kinds of other unmanageable questions, by generating thick, fact-rich jurisprudence. Continue reading "An Internationally Justiciable Right"

 
 

Adventures in Co-Parenting: Charting a Course for Postmarital Families

Clare Huntington, Postmarital Family Law: A Legal Structure for Nonmarital Families, 67 Stan. L. Rev. 167 (2015).

Last year, Obergefell v. Hodges seized center stage as many family law scholars began evaluating the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision recognizing gay Americans’ constitutional right to marry. Other scholars, however, remained more interested in exploring the inverse phenomenon: the decreasing relevance of marriage and married life for many Americans. Specifically, research shows that many poor and working class Americans no longer find marriage to be a precondition for romantic relationships or parenthood. This group of Americans has formed what Huntington calls “postmarital families.” In her wonderful article, Postmarital Family Law: A Legal Structure for Nonmarital Families, Huntington explores the legal implications of this dramatic cultural shift.

Huntington begins by rendering visible the bifurcated world we currently inhabit now that marriage is no longer the institution that constitutively defines all families. One group of Americans, a relatively wealthier group, lives in marital families; the other, composed of less financially secure individuals, has formed nonmarital, or “postmarital,” family units. Yet family law, she argues, still treats all families as though they are marital families. As a consequence, “postmarital” families are forced to navigate ossified legal presumptions, ill-fitting rules, and institutional structures designed around marriage. Huntington’s discussion successfully renders visible postmarital families’ specific, unique dynamics and further reveals the way existing family law aggravates these families’ special vulnerabilities. She also shows how family law—its legal norms and institutions—must evolve to address postmarital families’ unique problems. Continue reading "Adventures in Co-Parenting: Charting a Course for Postmarital Families"

 
 

Squeezedness and Feminisms in the Age of Counterterrorism

Jayne Huckerby, Feminism and International Law in the Post-9/11 Era, 39 Fordham Int’l L.J. 533 (2016).

There are many reasons to like Jayne Huckerby’s most recent article, and many different ways to incorporate this work into your reading and classes. The article has appeal to feminist, international law, national security, and peace studies. There are several things this article does that I like lots. At its most basic level, it’s a helpful reminder of where feminisms stand on or in relation to the complex terrorism and counter-terrorism terrain. Huckerby takes an exhaustive review of the literature, in the best sense of the phrase, presenting scholars with copious notes detailing discussions in law reviews, peer-reviewed journals of allied fields, books, U.N. and U.S. government reports, and the popular press. Anyone eager to learn more about gender, feminisms, and international law, or to write a syllabus, would do well to comb her notes.

Huckerby’s writing is crisp, giving readers gems of legal thought like:

[A] post-9/11 account of women’s victimhood also tends to focus unduly on women’s experiences at the hands of non-State actors (terrorists), rather than to illuminate ways in which State counter-terrorism policies have also undermined women’s rights or to address a more complicated picture of victimhood whereby women often feel squeezed between terror and anti-terror.

(P. 557) (citations omitted). Continue reading "Squeezedness and Feminisms in the Age of Counterterrorism"

 
 

My Favourite Things: The Promise of Regulation by Design

Lachlan Urquhart & Tom Rodden, A Legal Turn in Human Computer Interaction? Towards ‘Regulation by Design’ for the Internet of Things (2016), available at SSRN.

Ten years have passed since the second edition of Lawrence Lessig’s Code; John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, in turn, came ten years before that. In their working paper A Legal Turn in Human Computer Interaction?, doctoral researcher Lachlan Urquhart (with a background in law) and computing professor Tom Rodden, both based at the University of Nottingham in England, make an avowedly post-Lessig case for greater engagement between the cyberlaw concept of regulation and the field of human-computer interaction (HCI).

Their work is prompted by the growing interest in “privacy by design” (PbD). First the subject of discussion and recommendation, it has taken on a more solid form in recent years, through legislative changes such as the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation. An area where PbD seems particularly promising is the second prompt for this working paper, namely the so-called “Internet of Things” and the emergence of various technologies, often for use in a domestic setting, which prompt a reconsideration of the relationship between privacy and technological developments. Continue reading "My Favourite Things: The Promise of Regulation by Design"

 
 

Constitutional Officers: A Very Close Reading

  • Seth Barrett Tillman, Who Can Be President of the United States?: Candidate Hillary Clinton and the Problem of Statutory Qualifications, 5 Brit. J. Am. Legal Studies 95 (2016), available at SSRN
  • Seth Barrett Tillman, Originalism & the Scope of the Constitution’s Disqualification Clause, 33 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 59 (2014), available at SSRN

Everybody should read the Constitution. But some of us find more in its text than others. In a series of underappreciated pieces,1 Professor Seth Barrett Tillman may have found an intricate and startlingly coherent set of principles about government structure — as well as a reminder to take the Constitution’s words more seriously than we do.

Much of the Constitution (especially the original 1789 document) deals with structure. It creates government institutions, defines their powers, and regulates their membership. In the course of doing so, many of the Constitution’s provisions deal with individuals who hold government office – officers. Indeed, if you start ticking off references to “office” and “officers” as you read through the Constitution, you may notice two things: There are a lot of them, and many of them are phrased differently. Continue reading "Constitutional Officers: A Very Close Reading"

 
 

American Sexual Culture as Public Health Crisis

Margo Kaplan, Rape Beyond Crime, 66 Duke L.J. (forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

Not long ago, I was indulging in one of my favorite lazy-day pastimes – standing in my local bookstore, reading. The book was Girls and Sex, Peggy Orenstein’s latest, and I left the bookstore considerably more unsettled than when I walked in. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea, if not to forbid her to go to college altogether, at least to walk my 18-year-old daughter to the nearest feminist sex-toy store first. Now comes Margo Kaplan to offer a legal perspective on American “rape culture,” and a new plan for furthering the feminist project of healthy, happy sex lives for everyone.

The idea that men’s sexual desires are insatiable and that women are responsible for keeping them in check has been around for a long time, and in Rape Beyond Crime Kaplan cites abundant evidence that it remains a cornerstone of American beliefs, such as a survey finding that many young men do not see coercing women into sex as wrong. Orenstein’s book, which is based on interviews with young American college and college-bound women, underscores Kaplan’s argument. Orenstein’s interviewees talked about feeling sexually empowered. But their actions attested to intense cultural pressures: to always look “hot” (which, these days, involves Brazilian waxes and, occasionally, surgery to alter the look of one’s labia); to be seen as neither “prudish” nor “slutty”; to embrace a world of casual, ambiguous “hookup” relationships (facilitated by alcohol); and to place men’s sexual desires above their own. (On this last point, for example, Orenstein describes her frustration in trying to convince her young interlocutors that there is something not quite fair about regularly giving blow jobs but seldom requesting, or even being comfortable with, cunnilingus.) Continue reading "American Sexual Culture as Public Health Crisis"

 
 

Of Firms and Fees

Kathryn Judge, Intermediary Influence, 82 U. Chi. L. Rev. 573 (2015).

Prominent economic theories rooted in the seminal work of Ronald Coase have long suggested that firms in a marketplace exist and work to reduce transaction costs, but the explanatory powers of these theories fail to reflect some of the realities of the modern marketplace. In many instances, particularly in the financial industry, it appears that firms exist and work to increase, rather than decrease, transaction costs. In her recent article, Intermediary Influence, Professor Kathryn Judge examines this peculiar phenomenon and offers a persuasive claim that helps to explain this persistent and consequential marketplace curiosity in finance.

The central claim of Professor Judge’s article is aptly summed in the title of the piece: intermediary influence. If one wonders why certain financial arrangements are the way they are, the article suggests the answers likely lies in fees and the firms that collect them. Specifically, the article argues that:

[T]hrough repeatedly helping parties to overcome barriers to transacting, intermediaries develop informational and positional advantages relative to the parties that they serve. These advantages are critical to intermediaries’ capacity to provide value, but they also put intermediaries in a superior position to influence the evolution of institutional forms. In addition, intermediaries of a particular type will often be fewer in number and better organized than the parties that they serve. This makes intermediaries relatively better positioned to shape laws and regulations and to otherwise act to promote institutional arrangements that serve their collective interests. For these reasons, intermediaries often succeed in their efforts to promote and entrench high-fee arrangements.

(P. 590.) Continue reading "Of Firms and Fees"

 
 

Classing up the Agency

In previous jots, I have highlighted articles that addressed not the why of procedure but the how. Although other forms of legal scholarship are valuable, I have always had a soft spot for legal scholarship that provides guidance for judges and policymakers on how best to set up legal procedures.

It should therefore come as no surprise that a recent piece that I like lots is not a journal article, but a government report that addresses the problem of mass litigation in administrative agencies. The report discusses, and recommends, the use of class action and similar procedures in administrative adjudicatory proceedings that involve numerous claimants against one or a few defendants. Unlike a law journal article—which, like a message in a bottle, may float out to sea never reaching its intended audience—this report not only directly addresses policymakers, but they actually read and implemented it. Continue reading "Classing up the Agency"

 
 

A Federalism Stake in the Heart of the Unitary Executive?

Leah M. Litman, Taking Care of Federal Law, 101 Va. L. Rev. 1289 (2015).

The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia removes from the Supreme Court its most strident modern advocate of the “unitary executive” idea—specifically, the view that Article II’s vesting of law execution power in the President forbids Congress to extend any such authority to individuals or entities not subject to “meaningful presidential control.” Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 922 (1997). I have long argued that this interpretation cannot be reconciled with our constitutional history. But an insightful, tightly argued new article by Leah Litman, a Harvard Law School Climenko Fellow and Lecturer in Law, demonstrates that this view of the separation of powers can also not be reconciled with the Court’s contemporaneous preemption jurisprudence. Put simply, despite the Court’s occasional pronouncements in separation of powers cases that “Article II requires the President alone to execute federal law,” the “preemption cases suggest that nonexecutive actors may likewise vindicate the public interest in seeing federal law enforced.” (P. 1293-94.)

Professor Litman’s thesis rests on an astute recognition of the relationship in separation of powers jurisprudence between two core ideas. One is the familiar truth that federal law execution is policy-laden at every stage. Implementing federal law entails the exercise of significant discretion, both in legal interpretation, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), and in deciding whether to move forward in individual cases, Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985). Indeed, but for the ubiquitous presence of discretion in federal law execution, the unitary executive ideal would presumably carry very little real-world punch. Continue reading "A Federalism Stake in the Heart of the Unitary Executive?"