“Legal interpretation,” Robert Cover famously wrote, “takes place in a field of pain and death.” Honoring Cover’s important insight is one of the great challenges of legal scholarship. As we use our expertise to explore the nooks and crannies of our “legal world”—the clever transactional devices, complex regulatory schemes, and jurisdictional puzzles—do we recognize the state-inflicted and -sanctioned violence on which this world depends? Barbara Young Welke’s The Cowboy Suit Tragedy is a powerful example of how to write about law without losing sight of what Cover calls the “bodies on the line.” In the tradition of critical legal history, Welke’s insightful and empathetic account of a mid-twentieth-century products liability case goes further still, to show us the profoundly unequal impact of law’s violence. By placing the case in the context of the “democratization of [consumer] desire,” the rise of product liability insurance, and the inherently atomizing features of private law, Welke reminds us that even when tort law forced manufacturers to bear the monetary cost of accidents, the emotional and physical injuries lay where they fell. Families—here, children—owned the hazards inherent in many products, and most often they owned them not as a class or community, but as individuals, as scattered and disconnected as the transactions that brought the products into their lives.
The Cowboy Suit Tragedy centers on the New York case McCormack v. M. A. Henry Co., a wrongful death suit brought by the McCormack family against the manufacturers of the Gene Autry cowboy suit. A popular toy since it first came off the production line in 1942, the “Autry cowboy ranch outfit” offered parents a way to “provide their children with a protected childhood,” an intense postwar desire, while participating in the mass consumer economy that increasingly defined American identity. (P. 103.) Unfortunately for seven-year-old Tommy McCormack, who received the toy for Christmas in 1944, there was a hazard “designed in” to the costume: its plush white chaps were made from a highly flammable viscose rayon fiber, at a time when “children encountered fire as a regular part of daily life.” “One minute Tommy was playing,” Welke writes, drawing from court testimony, “and the next he was screaming,” in what his brother Jackie remembered as “a ‘circle of fire.’” After four long months, he died from his injuries. (P. 101.) Other children had by then suffered similar fates, but after Mr. McCormack’s chance encounter with a lawyer, Tommy became the cowboy suit’s first legally cognizable victim. (P. 111.) Continue reading "Bodies on the Line: The Private Tragedies Underlying Modern Products Liability Law"
That Dworkin waited until the very end of his career to take on international law might seem strange. One of Dworkin’s great insights is that participants in legal practices often disagree about the criteria for identifying law, while nevertheless thinking that their disagreement has a determinate answer. If we are to do justice to these “theoretical disagreements,” as Dworkin called them, we cannot hold a positivist theory, like H.L.A. Hart’s, under which the existence and content of the law are ultimately determined solely by social facts about a community’s legal practices. Only by introducing evaluative considerations can we make sense of practitioners’ commitment to law that transcends these social facts.
International law would appear to be a poster child for the Dworkinian theory of law. Theoretical disagreements about international law are common, and those seeking to resolve them commonly appeal to evaluative considerations. What is more, it appears that international law, by its very nature, transcends social facts about the legal practices of a particular community. The principles of international law seem to stand above and bind the American, French, or Uzbek communities. Continue reading "International Law and Dworkin’s Legal Monism"
There are many ways to use empirical research in intellectual property scholarship. Work can be qualitative or quantitative, interdisciplinary or highly focused on the law. One of the most intriguing questions I’ve seen investigated empirically of late is “what makes us think that one work is similar enough to a previous one to infringe?” Given the significant expansion in the scope of copyright from pure reproduction to derivative works and substantially similar works, this is an important issue.
The two articles I highlight here approach the question from very different, but complementary, perspectives. The authors of Judging Similarity start with legal scenarios adapted from real cases and ask survey respondents whether the works are similar enough to infringe. Kate Klonick, like David Morrison, examines similarity from a cognitive science perspective, starting with what researchers already know about human judgments of similarity and difference in nonlegal contexts. (Disclosure: I advised Klonick, now pursuing a Ph.D. at Yale, on this project.) Continue reading "Seeing Like a Copyright Lawyer: Judging Similarity in Copyright Cases"
Joseph W. Yockey, Choosing Governance in the FCPA Reform Debate,
38 J. Corp. L.
325 (2013), available at SSRN
Health law scholars sometimes pay inadequate attention to those who don’t write specifically in our area, which is the reason I have dedicated this and my previous jot to articles by non-health law professors that give us the big picture on issues related to the False Claims Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), both of which are key enforcement mechanisms in the health sector. Bribery is unquestionably one of the most significant risks global life science companies face, given the SEC and DOJ’s recent increase in FCPA enforcement. Growing numbers of academic medical centers are engaging in joint ventures throughout the world, particularly in emerging economies where the risks of corruption are greatest. For these reasons, then, the FCPA is increasingly relevant to the health lawyer and compliance professional.
Professor Joseph W. Yockey’s recently published article, Choosing Governance in the FCPA Reform Debate, is a worthwhile read for three reasons. First, it summarizes the history and salient parts of the FCPA for those requiring a primer on the law. Second, it examines the two sides of the debate—between the business community (led by the Chamber of Commerce, which is also fighting vigorously for changes to the False Claims Act) and entities such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International —over whether Congress should revise the FCPA and whether DOJ and the SEC are over-enforcing the law. Third, the issues evoked by the concerns about FCPA enforcement are quite similar to the debate surrounding enforcement under the False Claims Act thereby giving the health professor, like myself, who is not a white collar specialist, a ten-thousand-foot view across the statutory spectrum of enforcement agency behavior. Continue reading "New Governance as the New Weapon in the Fight Against Fraud"
As Andrew Gilden reports in this revealing article, bullying and especially cyberbullying reforms are becoming institutionalized. Prosecutors respond to media coverage of teens bullied into suicide with creative prosecutions. State and federal law require secondary and primary schools to single out bullying for swift and severe punishment and have set up special bureaucratic processes to surveille bullying, report it up the chain of command, and publicly rank schools by the numbers they generate in the process. Schools are also required to teach kids the evils of bullying. Because internet use is often blamed as a medium for “cyberbullying,” a big segment of the antibullying campaign is focused on controlling teens’ access to sexual content on line. This includes Congressional efforts to immunize ISPs for restricting access to obscene material on-line and to enhance parents’ ability to filter their children’s access to that material. Cyberbullying overlaps in many policy efforts with sexual predator scares to promote the closure and blockage of sexually-oriented chat rooms and other fora in which teens could get in over their heads.
Preventing and punishing bullying has become an important LGBT priority. From the media storm over the suicide of Tyler Clementi to President Obama and Kim Kardashian reaching out to gay kids on Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” website, pro-gay advocacy has played a key role in generating social and political support for anti-bullying reforms. The logic of their efforts seem obvious: gays are victims of bullying precisely for their sexuality, so controlling this phenomenon will be good for them. Continue reading "A Pro-Gay-Teen Argument for Pushing the Pause Button on Anti-bullying"
Timing is everything. I started reading Crime, Surveillance and Communities in the midst of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. The community north of St. Louis was the site of civil unrest in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. I could say that Prof. Capers’ article, which explores the use of technological surveillance as a mechanism to police the police, is prescient. However, given the number of such shootings, especially those that have risen to national attention, I would instead describe the article as a thoughtful effort to assess how technology might be used to assist and address interactions between police and community members, especially interracial interactions. Let me explain.
Capers argues that because the Fourth Amendment does protect some actions in public from technological surveillance, reasonable privacy intrusions must be balanced with the public good. Thus, technological surveillance in public is legitimate only so long as the surveillance is reasonable. Capers begins by introducing the many ways in which surveillance technology is already being used to watch our public movement and activities, be it through video cameras, biometric technology, zoom and movement capabilities, license plate readers, car trackers, CCTV, facial recognition technology, or apps. All of these, he says, combine to amount to “warrantless mass surveillance.” Thus, the Big Brother possibility, and the Foucauldian panoptican, are already a part of our lives. (P. 964.) Continue reading "Crime, Surveillance, and Communities"
Information, increasingly, is everywhere. Machines gather information, process it, and automatically communicate it, often in terms humans understand. Bots tweet on Twitter; Fitbits communicate a user’s activity record; Project Tango devices render 3D maps; and IBM’s Watson can now argue. With algorithms increasingly writing, drawing, and even debating, a central question for regulators, courts, and scholars is to what extent the First Amendment protects speech generated by algorithms. If algorithmic communication falls within First Amendment coverage, regulators will have a more difficult time governing it. But if it does not, courts will need to explain how the exclusion can sit comfortably with First Amendment theory and current doctrine.
Stuart Minor Benjamin positions the puzzle of algorithmic speech as part of a larger project in understanding First Amendment jurisprudence and its expansion and contraction. In previous work, Benjamin has asked how hard it would be to expand First Amendment coverage; in Algorithms and Speech, he asks how hard it would be to narrow the existing jurisprudence to exclude a practice that would otherwise be covered. Benjamin recognizes the potential regulatory consequences of First Amendment coverage of algorithmic speech. But he surveys Supreme Court caselaw and concludes that there is no principled way to exclude many algorithmic communications from speech protection without excluding much other communication that we deem squarely within the First Amendment’s coverage. Continue reading "From Google to Tolstoy Bot: Should the First Amendment Protect Speech Generated by Algorithms?"