Yearly Archives: 2012

Can the Power of the FDA Be Reprised?

Daniel Carpenter, Reputation and Power, Princeton University Press, 2010.

Harvard Professor Daniel Carpenter’s Reputation and Power epitomizes the best of academic scholarship.  While this review focuses on its substantive contributions to the health or life sciences professor, the theme of the book is actually much more significant – whether and how government bureaucracy can effectively contribute to the common good – which is the take reviewed by others.  For those who are not intimately familiar with the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical regulation, reading Carpenter’s book significantly resolves this knowledge gap.  While I can’t disagree with David Zaring‘s observation that the book is “methodologically eclectic,” it is nonetheless an invaluable resource for students of drug regulation as well as the administrative state.

Carpenter’s opus provides a comprehensive history of each piece of legislation that contributed to the agency’s creation, describes how the responses to a few major drug safety crises, or what Carpenter calls “policy tragedies,” contributed both to the passage of key legislation and the FDA’s reputation, and posits that the agency’s reputation with its multiple constituencies is the key to its vast power. Ultimately, Carpenter is interested in how a government agency in a country that is anti-big government can be so trusted and hold such power over a multi-national industry. In concluding that the agency’s power derives from its reputation, Carpenter explores the relationship between the institution and those who populate it, paying tribute to the many FDA officials whose own ethical and scientific integrity created, maintained and were inextricably linked with the ethos for which the FDA is so respected.  According to Carpenter, Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey of thalidomide fame was not unique in her commitment to the public’s interest, scientific rigor and tenacity; those characteristics were embedded in the agency and, by virtue of its power, necessarily transformed the pharmaceutical industry from a not-always trustworthy and sometimes sloppy enterprise into one that adheres to generally accepted scientific methods. Continue reading "Can the Power of the FDA Be Reprised?"

When “Best Interests” Cannot Guide

I. Glenn Cohen, Regulating Reproduction:  The Problem with Best Interests, 96 Minn. L. Rev. 423 (2011), available at SSRN.

Whenever they can, advocates and politicians will re-characterize contentious debates in terms of the effects on children, even when the real concern is elsewhere.  The most prominent current example may be the debates on same-sex marriage, where those opposed to recognizing such unions refer regularly to alleged bad effects on children, even though those alleged effects are indirect and (at best) highly speculative.  However, talking about children avoids the less publicly acceptable view that likely motivates a large portion (though far from all) of the opposition to recognizing such unions:  a view that the homosexual lifestyle should be criticized rather than supported.

In Family Law doctrine, one can also find this sort of misuse of “best interests of the child”:  it is in a sense changing the topic, and calling one thing by a more favorable name.  Thus, there are principles for custody decision-making that purport to be (or be based on) the “best interests of the child,” but in fact reflect parental rights (e.g., the strong presumption for visitation by a non-custodial parent, even where there is strong evidence that this visitation is causing harm to the child) or other important social policies (e.g., refusing to base a custody decision on how a child might be harmed by the racist views of other people).

In Regulating Reproduction, I. Glenn Cohen similarly rebuts the use of “best interests” in one area of Family Law – the regulation of reproduction – and he does this with an added twist.  When one properly speaks of “best interests of a child,” the structure of the analysis is Option 1 as against Option 2 for the same child:  custody with mom as against custody with dad; adoptive placement with Family 1 versus placement with Family 2, or perhaps waiting for a better placement option to become available; having the medical treatment versus not having the medical treatment; and so on.  The decision-maker is to imagine the hypothetical future worlds for the child under the alternative choices and to evaluate which future is likely to be better.   However, when “best interests” is applied to the regulation of reproduction, there are no comparable comparisons; “best interests” analysis turns out to be, more often than not, both useless and incoherent. Continue reading "When “Best Interests” Cannot Guide"

Good Lawyers, Gone Good?

Why Good Lawyers Matter (David L. Blaikie, Honourable Thomas Cromwell and Darrel Pink, eds., 2012).

A bad news lawyer story is nothing new. As Deborah Rhode keenly observed over ten years ago: if one listens to the critics, it is easy to get the impression that “lawyers belong to a profession permanently in decline.”1 Current Canadian headlines only affirm Rhode’s observation. On a near-daily basis, we are gloomily advised of a spate of lawyerly crises. Ongoing problems with access to justice, lawyer incivility, lack of diversity and, most recently, shortages in articling (mandatory apprenticeship) positions, all loom large. Reading the newspaper can be demoralizing to newcomers and seasoned practitioners alike.

The recently published collection of essays in Why Good Lawyers Matter provides a timely counterweight to some of this doom and gloom. To be sure, there are real, pressing problems facing the Canadian legal profession. Thankfully, Why Good Lawyers Matter does not ignore this reality. Rather than “offer an apology” for the legal profession, the central idea behind Why Good Lawyers Matter is “to provide a well-informed and accessible reflection on what lawyers should do and why.” The result is a colorful array of thoughtful ruminations on the topic of lawyering. Continue reading "Good Lawyers, Gone Good?"

Race, Gender, and, Feminist Legal Advocacy during the Long Civil Rights Movement

Serena Mayeri, Reasoning from Race: Feminism, Law, and the Civil Rights Revolution, (Harvard University Press, 2011).

Scholars have understood well that second wave feminism has deep roots in the Civil Rights Movement. Only in recent years, however, have historians explored the full extent of the material and ideological connections between these two movements.  Reasoning from Race brings this agenda to the field of legal history.  It examines what it meant for feminist legal advocates to use race analogies, how this changed over time, and how ultimately civil rights lawyers then attempted to reason from sex. In doing so, Mayeri seeks to demonstrate that the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement cannot be understood in isolation from each other. Rather the movements were in dialogue with one another, taking the lead from and piggybacking on each other at different times.

Reasoning from Race makes three overlapping central arguments. The first is that women legal advocates used the tools, legal strategies, arguments, and precedent that African-American civil rights lawyers first developed. The second is that some of the leading architects and plaintiffs in sex discrimination cases were African-American women, and the third is that race and sex are intertwined categories.  Mayeri also intervenes in the periodization of the Civil Rights Movement, arguing that the Women’s Movement must be considered part of the larger Civil Rights Movement. Thus the Civil Rights Movement began in the 1950s and continued into the 1980s. Yet the height of the Women’s Movement also corresponded to the beginning of the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement.  This would have important implications in regard to legal strategies. Continue reading "Race, Gender, and, Feminist Legal Advocacy during the Long Civil Rights Movement"

Costly Mistake: Failing to Read This Article

Mary Louise Fellows & Lily Kahng, Costly Mistakes:  Undertaxed Business Owners and Overtaxed Workers, 81 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2013), available at SSRN.

If you want to impose a tax on income, you need to delineate the contours of the concept of income.  Importantly, you need to mark the line between income-producing activities and non-income-producing (or personal) ones.  When an individual or a business engages in costly activities that produce taxable income, the cost of those activities should be deductible.  When that individual or business engages in costly activities that do not produce taxable income, the cost should not be deductible for tax purposes. Sounds simple.

Some legal concepts (like the distinction between business and personal expenses) are misleadingly simple to articulate and are confounding in their application, while some expenses cause tax scholars and policy-makers relatively little anxiety.  As Fellows and Kahng illustrate, if I pay to go on a vacation, drink a fine bottle of wine, or fall asleep on a high-end mattress, no one would suggest that my expenses should be tax deductible.  They are clearly personal. Continue reading "Costly Mistake: Failing to Read This Article"

Public-Sector Unions, Public Employees: May You Live in Interesting Times

Joseph E. Slater, Public Sector Labor Law in the Age of Obama, 87 Ind. L. J. 189 (2012)

In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to grant collective-bargaining rights to its public workers. The next half-century witnessed the rise of public-sector unions. As union density declined in the private sector, it increased in the public sector such that, by 2010, 7.6 million public-sector employees belonged to a union as compared with 7.1 million private-sector union workers. Many celebrated the public-sector union as the big success story. The fortune of public-sector unions and their members seemed, however, to turn on a dime with the 2010 mid-term elections. The past two years have witnessed some of the most pernicious attacks on public employees and their unions in the past half-century. Too contrived to be ironic, among the first and most virulent of these attacks began in Wisconsin.

Here’s where Professor Joseph Slater’s latest article, Public Sector Labor Law in the Age of Obama, begins. Professor Slater tackles four big issues: (1) recent political attacks resulting in legislative changes in the context of the current economic crisis and debate over public employee pensions; (2) bargaining and legal issues created by the current economic crisis; (3) the debate over whether and to what extent certain categories of employees (specifically Transportation Security Administration employees, police, and firefighters) should have collective-bargaining rights; and (4) the Missouri state constitutional requirement that employees have a right to bargain collectively. Continue reading "Public-Sector Unions, Public Employees: May You Live in Interesting Times"

Why Judges Leave the Bench

Stephen Burbank, S. Jay Plager, & Greg Ablavsky, Leaving the Bench, 161 U. Pa. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2012).

Law review articles have both texts and subtexts, messages that come through loud and clear and more subtle hints and suggestions that lurk in the article’s structure or methodology or footnotes.  A recent paper by Stephen Burbank, S. Jay Plager, and Greg Ablavsky nicely illustrates the idea.  In Leaving the Bench, the three co-authors offer a careful assessment of the many factors that shape the decisions of federal judges to step down from their jobs as active members of the Article III judiciary.  In the text of the piece, the authors explore the consequences of various forms of judicial departure and make a persuasive case that the institutional judiciary depends heavily on the contributions of senior status judges.  In the subtext, the authors provide a subtle reminder that judicial behavior, like all human behavior, resists simplistic modeling and one-dimensional explanation.  The authors put the proposition this way:  sometimes the scholar must attend to the “messiness of lived experience” rather than the tidiness of an unduly parsimonious model.

Models have taught us a great deal about the way political scientists and economists think about the way judges decide cases.  Political scientists prize the large N study, with lots of data points to smooth out the rough edges of statistical inference.  Economists prize presumptions about self-interested behavior.  Voting by Supreme Court Justices and federal appellate court judges has attracted the eye of such scholars:  it occurs with numbing frequency, enabling the statistically-minded to assess the ideology of a judge or Justice by reference to the way she votes.  Datasets vary in usefulness; some sort cases by the presumed valence of the outcome (left or right) and then assess votes against the backdrop of those assumptions.  Others use the votes themselves as a measure of voting behavior.  For many, votes either reveal or confirm that ideology plays a role in judging, although the more sophisticated studies suggest that panel make-up and–wait for it–doctrine can also influence the exercise of the judicial franchise. Continue reading "Why Judges Leave the Bench"