Monthly Archives: May 2013

“Big Waiver” as a Constructive New Tool of the Administrative State

David J. Barron and Todd D. Rakoff, In Defense of Big Waiver, 113 Colum. L. Rev. 265 (2013).

In July, 2012, the Obama administration invited states, which administer the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, to apply for waivers from some federal requirements for that program.  The states would have to have alternative programs in place for increasing employment among the poor.  In short order, the presidential campaign of Republican candidate Mitt Romney charged the President with gutting federal law.  Campaign commercials alleged that Obama was illegally ending the work requirements that had been a centerpiece of federal welfare reform in the 1990s.

Although the commercials had little political impact, they did bring to public attention a little-noticed feature of a surprising number of federal statutes – a feature that Professors David Barron and Todd D. Rakoff call “big waiver.”  In their superb paper, “In Defense of Big Waiver,” they analyze a fascinating phenomenon.  Congress sometimes will enact “a fully reticulated, legislatively defined regulatory framework” that contains within it a delegation of “broad, discretionary power to determine whether the rule or rules that Congress has established should be dispensed with.” Continue reading "“Big Waiver” as a Constructive New Tool of the Administrative State"

Choose or Lose

• Zev J. Eigen & David Sherwyn, A Moral/Contractual Approach to Labor Law Reform, 63 Hastings L.J. 695 (2012).
•  Brishen Rogers, Passion and Reason in Labor Law, 47 Harv. Civ. Rts.-Civ. Lib. L. Rev. 313 (2012).

The existential dilemma of modern labor law has been the shrinking numbers of employees who vote for union representation.  Last year unions represented only 11.3 percent of U.S. employees—just 6.6 percent in the private sector.  Labor law scholars have long attempted to account for the trend; indeed, rumors about the death of labor law have been around for at least twenty years.  One might think that the academic ground concerning the decision to join or not join a union would be well-plowed—so plowed over, in fact, that the land would no longer be fertile.  But two recent articles not only belie this claim, they also show the continuing importance of the representation decision to our conceptions of workplace justice.

In A Moral/Contractual Approach to Labor Law Reform, Eigen and Sherwyn seek to find middle ground between the union-side story and the management-side story as to those declining percentages.  They reject the notion that a fairer labor law system would be one in which unions enjoyed higher success rates.  Instead, they argue that representation elections should be fair, and they define a fair system as one that “will result in employees believing they had enough information to make an informed decision, that they were respected, and that they were not intimidated, threatened, or coerced.”  (p. 712) Although they acknowledge the well-regarded labor law critique by Paul Weiler and others that workers are insufficiently protected against coercive employer tactics during the representation campaign, they also contend that unions have “failed to adapt with the times.”  (p. 719)  According to Eigen and Sherwyn, under the current system workers are trapped in tug of war in which both unions and employers can lie, manipulate, and coerce their way to victory.  Card check neutrality agreements, in their view, make matters even worse: since the union must collude with the employer to put such an agreement into effect, they argue that such agreements constitute improper employer support to the union in violation of NLRA § 8(a)(2).1  Instead of shortening or eliminating the representation campaign, Eigen and Sherwyn argue that labor organizations and employers should agree to the “Principles for Ethical Conduct During Union Representation Campaigns” as set forth by the Institute for Employee Choice.  The Principles require truthfulness; prohibit discharges, threats, and bribes; and call for equal time and access for both sides.  Eigen and Sherwyn acknowledge some question about how the Principles should be enforced; they reject codifying them as regulatory requirements, but are equivocal between providing legal incentives for compliance and just simply leaving them as a contractual option.  Here, Eigen and Sherwyn rely on past research (including this paper by Eigen) to argue that making the Principles mandatory will undercut the moral norms that might render them more effective in the workplace than legal sanctions.  Ultimately, they hope that joint agreement to the Principles will make all parties, but particularly employees, better off as a result. Continue reading "Choose or Lose"

Bridging the Gap in the Justice Gap Literature

Joanna Shepherd, Justice in Crisis: Victim Access to the American Medical Liability System, Emory Legal Studies Research Paper 12-222 (2012) available at SSRN.

When we think about access to justice, we don’t tend to think about personal injury victims.  Indeed, I recently completed a review of legal needs surveys from seventeen states, conducted between 2007 and 2012.  Attempting to measure the citizenry’s “level of access to the civil justice system,” the surveys generally asked about all manner of legal issues:  consumer problems, housing problems, health problems, employment problems, family problems, and problems obtaining public benefits.  Yet out of these seventeen studies, only four inquired about accidents.

Why this omission?  It’s not that accidental injuries are too rare to merit inclusion.  To the contrary, Deborah Hensler’s classic work, Compensation for Accidental Injuries in the United States, shows that accidents happen with unnerving frequency.  Roughly one in six Americans sustains an accidental injury that results in measureable economic loss each year, and some accidents are serious.  One-third of accident victims’ injuries impose “significant costs on them and on society.”  Likewise, Barbara Curran’s groundbreaking 1977 study, The Legal Needs of the Public, found that “tort problems” (including those involving property damage) were more common than problems involving marital issues, job discrimination, wage collection, landlord-tenant disputes, and other consumer problems, combined. Continue reading "Bridging the Gap in the Justice Gap Literature"

Temporary Treasury Regulations and IRB Guidance in a Post-Mead and Mayo World

Kristin Hickman, Unpacking the Force of Law, 66 Vand. L. Rev. 465 (2013).

With the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Mayo Foundation for Education and Research v. United States, there is a huge void of scholarship regarding how administrative law principles apply in the tax context.  Kristin Hickman helps fill that void by continuing her work at the intersection of administrative law and tax procedure in her recent Vanderbilt Law Review article “Unpacking the Force of Law,” which deals with the treatment of temporary treasury regulations and IRB guidance after the Supreme Court’s decisions in Mayo and United States v. Mead Corp.

In Mead and Mayo, the Court clarified that agency regulations received Chevron deference if they were based on either specific grants of rulemaking authority contained in a statute or on general rulemaking authority granted by Congress to a specific agency.  Mead explained that an agency’s regulation was entitled to Chevron deference as long as “Congress delegated authority to the agency generally to make rules carrying the force of law, and that the agency interpretation claiming deference was promulgated in the exercise of that authority.”  In addition, in Mayo, the Supreme Court rejected the idea of tax exceptionalism stating “[w]e are not inclined to carve out an approach to administrative review good for tax law only.” Continue reading "Temporary Treasury Regulations and IRB Guidance in a Post-Mead and Mayo World"

Adequacy and the Attorney General

• Margaret H. Lemos, Aggregate Litigation Goes Public: Representative Suits by State Attorneys General, 126 Harv. L. Rev. 486 (2012).
• Deborah R. Hensler, Goldilocks and the Class Action, 126 Harv. L. Rev. F. 56 (2012).

Maggie Lemos’s valuable article tackles one of the hot issues in aggregate litigation: a government (typically acting through its attorney general) using parens patriae suits to vindicate the rights of its citizens.  As I described in my last Jotwell post, access to justice in a mass society is the central civil-justice issue of our day.  Individual litigation of mass-injury claims is a luxury that neither litigants nor the court system can typically afford.  Class actions are shriveling as a realistic alternative in many instances.  Non-class aggregate litigation is infected with its own problems, as the ALI’s recent Principles of the Law of Aggregation shows.  And contracts of adhesion increasingly shunt victims into individual arbitration processes that provide little realistic opportunity for relief — and no opportunity for judicial resolution.

Into this harsh landscape enters the parens patriae action, which has emerged as the newest academic darling with the potential to provide victims of mass injury a measure of justice.  In these actions, the attorney general sues on behalf of those citizens allegedly injured by the defendants’ conduct.  Such a suit ensures a measure of deterrence.  If the recovery occurs and the attorney general establishes a fund against which injured citizens can claim, the suit also results in a modicum of compensation.  Because the suits are controlled by a public official, they also (in theory) come closer to achieving the optimal level of regulatory response, while avoiding the large fees, blackmail settlements, and other agency costs that so often give class-action and other aggregate litigation a bad name. Continue reading "Adequacy and the Attorney General"