Monthly Archives: October 2014

Citizenship by Descent

There are three paths to citizenship in the United States: birth, naturalization, and descent. In recent political debates, birthright citizenship gets all the attention. Republican lawmakers perennially propose amendments that would make the children of undocumented immigrants ineligible for citizenship, relying on an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that assumes such immigrants are not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” and are therefore not within the protections of jus soli. But what of citizenship by descent, also known as jus sanguinis or derivative citizenship? This is a powerful mode of acquiring citizenship: it allows U.S. citizen parents living abroad to pass their citizenship status to their children who are not born on U.S. soil. This is literally citizenship “by blood.” This method of transmission is not provided for in the Constitution but has been recognized in the U.S. by statute since 1790. The current jus sanguinis statute does not receive much press or scholarly attention, which is surprising given that it is clearly discriminatory when it comes to children born out of wedlock to a U.S. citizen parent and a foreign parent. If the U.S. citizen is the mother, transmission of U.S. citizenship is virtually automatic. If the U.S. citizen is the father, transmission is not automatic: the father must demonstrate a range of prerequisites, including blood tests and proof of legitimation, among other requirements. Fathers and their illegitimate offspring have challenged this unequal treatment, but the Supreme Court has thus far failed to overturn the provision. In one seminal case, Nguyen v. INS (2001), the Immigration & Naturalization Service defended the provision by arguing that the differential treatment of mothers and fathers was necessary for “administrative convenience.” They argued, in so many words, that the law is justified in requiring fathers to provide more proof of the relationship to their illegitimate child since it is harder to tell if the father is really the father, even if his name is on the birth certificate.

In her article “Illegitimate Borders: Jus Sanguinis Citizenship and the Legal Construction of Family, Race, and Nation,” Kristin Collins looks in depth at the origins, interpretations, and practices of derivative citizenship over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In doing so, she not only systematically destroys the simplistic argument provided by the INS in the Nguyen case, but also reveals the deeply racialized nature of jus sanguinis. She demonstrates that throughout much of our history, derivative citizenship was moored in intertwined visions of women’s subordinate place in the family and of nonwhite persons’ subordinate place in the polity. Courts, agencies, administrators and consular officials across decades found ways to interpret and apply the law of derivative citizenship to favor white children over nonwhite children. Sometimes these efforts were explicit but other times they were hidden. It takes a skilled and capable historian like Collins to be able to dig beneath the surface of decades of government documents and court records and put the pieces of the jus sanguinis puzzle together. Continue reading "Citizenship by Descent"

The Depreciation of Precedent

Ryan C. Black & James F. Spriggs II, The Citation and Depreciation of U.S. Supreme Court Precedent, 10 J. Empirical Legal Stud. 325 (2013).

Landes & Posner’s 1976 article Legal Precedent: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis is a path-breaking study in two ways. Drawing on the analysis of capital formation and investment, they were the first to offer a realistic theory of precedent. To them, precedents produce a flow of information that decreases in value over time as society evolves. Legal Precedent is also an early example of empirical scholarship in the law schools. To measure the efficacy of a precedent, they developed the-then novel strategy of counting the number of times judges cite to a decision. Applying this approach to samples of federal court decisions they found that precedent depreciated over time.

Unlike the precedents in their study, Landes & Posner’s paper hasn’t seemed to depreciate much. In just the last year or two, it has been cited in studies on labor law, judicial behavior, corporate law, and behavioral economics; and in journals as diverse as Theoretical Inquiries in Law, International Review of Law & Economics, the Journal of Evolutionary Economics, and the Annual Review of Political Science.

Black & Spriggs’s new article, The Citation and Depreciation of U.S. Supreme Court Precedent, could be seen as just another of the many studies that, as they write, “owes its origin” to Landes & Posner—just another citation. But that characterization would be a mistake. After all these years, Black & Spriggs break new ground. Continue reading "The Depreciation of Precedent"

A Journalist Takes on the History of White Supremacy

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case For Reparations, The Atlantic, May 21, 2014

By now, many JOTWELL readers will already have read (and re-read, and maybe even already assigned for class) Ta-Nehisi Coates’ stunning article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” In this JOTWELL recommendation, then, I write not so much to recommend the article as something we like (though for those readers who have not yet read, I ask, “What are you waiting for?”) but to ask a different question. I write because after reading this journalistic masterpiece, which blurs the line between multimedia reportage, impassioned advocacy and rigorous scholarship, I am provoked to ask, in all seriousness, shouldn’t we scholars be rethinking the form that we use to do what it is that we do? Why aren’t more of us doing what he’s doing?

First, a brief review. Substantively, the article can be divided into four parts (though Coates divides it into ten). In the first part, we are introduced to Clyde Ross whom we meet in 1920s Jim Crow Mississippi. Whites steal land and a horse from the Ross family with impunity. Ross and the story move to 1960s Chicago, where Ross is robbed again, this time fleeced through a scheme in which houses are sold “on contract,” a draconian rent-to-own scheme in which buyers late on their payments can be evicted and left with no property or refunded equity. Finally, through Ross, we are introduced to the debilitation of modern-day North Lawndale Chicago—income and wealth half the rate of white communities, poverty, unemployment and infant mortality at twice the white rates, skyrocketing crime rates and a plummeting population. Continue reading "A Journalist Takes on the History of White Supremacy"

An Information-Cost Critique of Chattel Property Servitudes

Mulligan, Christina, The Cost of Personal Property Servitudes: Lessons for the Internet of Things (July 14, 2014). Available at SSRN.

Property scholars have long noted a peculiar inconsistency between real and chattel property. While law increasingly tolerates different forms of ownership in and servitudes limiting the use of land, it has remained steadfastly resistant to such restrictions in the context of personal property. In her sharp new paper, “The Cost of Personal Property Servitudes: Lessons for the Internet of Things,” Christina Mulligan shows that this long-lamented inconsistency isn’t a problem at all, but rather a sensible distinction that flows naturally from the core differences between real and chattel property. This insight not only helps explain a longstanding puzzle in property law, but sheds new light on the increasing practice of content owners using license agreements to restrict the use of digital goods.

From a purely formal perspective, one might reasonably wonder why courts allow increasing complexity in real property ownership—from historical forms like contingent remainders and fees simple subject to executory limitation to modern innovations like condominiums and time-shares—while insisting that no such variation is permitted with respect to chattels. If I can have a defeasible fee interest or a time-share in a vacation home in Boca Raton, why not also in a Rolex or a refrigerator? This seeming has engaged scholars since Coke. Most recently, Molly Van Houweling investigated contract-based restrictions on personal property from the perspective of physical property, suggesting that the same concerns that warrant skepticism about servitudes on real property may be used to govern servitudes in the context of personal property as well. Continue reading "An Information-Cost Critique of Chattel Property Servitudes"

The Medicare Shared Savings Program: A Missed Opportunity to Address Providers’ Growing Market Power

Thomas L. Greaney, Regulators as Market-Makers: Accountable Care Organizations and Competition Policy, 46 Ariz. St. L. J. 1 (2014), available at SSRN.

Most discussions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) focus on its primary goal—expanding health insurance coverage. Often overlooked, however, are various ACA initiatives targeting another important goal—reigning in health care costs. Included among these initiatives is the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). The MSSP ambitiously seeks to shift the health care delivery system away from independent providers who provide costly, uncoordinated care to organizations that focus on coordinated, evidence-based care. Specifically, the MSSP encourages the formation of accountable care organizations (ACOs), clinically integrated organizations of physicians and other providers that work together to provide patients better care while lowering overall costs.

Proponents of ACOs believe ACOs hold great promise for slowing the growth in health care costs. Professor Greaney’s article, however, offers a cautionary note. As he explains, the movement toward ACOs threatens to exacerbate the problem of health care providers’ increasing market power. Although federal regulators are cognizant of this risk, Greaney contends that the MSSP’s regulatory framework does too little to prevent provider market power. Continue reading "The Medicare Shared Savings Program: A Missed Opportunity to Address Providers’ Growing Market Power"

A New and Different Way of Looking at Family-Based Immigration Policy

Kerry Abrams, What Makes the Family Special, 80 U. Chi. L. Rev. 7 (2013).

In asking What Makes the Family Special? Kerry Abrams posits an alternative approach to family-based immigration policy, eschewing “the old family/market dichotomy that family law scholars have been deconstructing for decades.” Family-based and employment-based immigration are, of course, the two largest classes of admission to the United States and each one seeks to elicit different, and, at times, conflicting policy goals. Abrams sees a clear dividing line between the two approaches. On one side stand proponents of expansive, family-based immigration who, in Abrams’ view, tend to rely on “soft,” rights-based arguments about human dignity and autonomy. On the other side stand those who view immigration, above all else, as a tool for optimizing labor markets. They tend to rely on “hard” economic arguments to make that case.

Abrams proposes a third way that considers how family-based immigration might benefit American society as a whole. This approach combines features from both sides of the family/market divide, embracing family-based immigration (though not necessarily a functional definition of family) while also relying on somewhat “harder” policy considerations than the ones that typically underpin pure rights-based approaches. Even so, Abrams acknowledges the role of human rights considerations in setting immigration policy: “no nation could make decisions about these issues without considering human rights as part of the calculus.” Although her article is a wide-ranging “thought experiment,” full of big ideas, Abrams is careful to limit herself to identifying potential policy rationales favoring family-based immigration rather than passing judgment on their ultimate plausibility or propriety. Continue reading "A New and Different Way of Looking at Family-Based Immigration Policy"

By All Means Possible

Thomas Mitchell, Growing Inequality and Racial Economic Gaps, 56 How. L. J. 849 (2013).

Thomas Mitchell’s article, “Growing Inequality and Racial Economic Gaps,” argues that reforms to the technicalities through which law constitutes real estate assets and relations may provide a foundation for progressive steps towards racial equality. Published in 2012 as part of a Howard Law Journal symposium on Protest and Polarization, this article starts with a sobering account of the intensification of racialized economic inequality in the US, within a general trend of increasing economic inequality since the 1970s. The first part of the article shows these developments are largely attributable to the large and growing wealth differentials between non-Hispanic whites and the Hispanic and African American populations. By 2009, according to Mitchell, the net worth of the median non-Hispanic White household was 20 times larger that of the median Black household (as compared to the 12:1 ratio in 1988 reported in Oliver and Shapiro’s landmark study1 and 18 times larger than the net worth of the median Hispanic household). Moreover, Mitchell reports that despite their losing some wealth during the Great Recession, White non-Hispanic households in 2009 generally owned more wealth than they had “for many if not most years between 1984 and 2009” whereas Black and Hispanic households owned “less wealth … than in any year since … 1984” (P. 860).

The second part of the article traces the relationship between rising economic inequality and shrinking intergenerational economic mobility in the US. Again Mitchell synthesizes some potent data to cast doubt on conventional wisdom. It transpires that the American education system no longer enhances social mobility (if ever it did) and indeed “may well be contributing to growing income and wealth inequalities” (P. 865); that the extent of occupational mobility in the United States is no more than average amongst industrialized countries; and that the level of intergenerational income mobility is demonstrably worse than that of neighboring Canada and below the norm for industrialized countries (P. 867). Continue reading "By All Means Possible"

About Fallacies

Neil M. Richards & William Smart, How Should the Law Think About Robots? (2013), available at SSRN.

The article seems dated for a review here. There are newer ones on the subject, like e.g., Ryan Calo’s “Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw” of 2014, for example. But the Richards & Smart article sticks in my mind. Maybe because, while both are premature (I will come to that immediately), this article makes a—or better—the fundamental point about law and politics in the face of changing technologies in a very simple and clear way.

“Premature” used to be the comment we would receive from the European Commission when we, at the heyday of European cyber regulation, as members of the Legal Advisory Board, an independent expert group abolished long since, would suggest a new initiative outside the Commission’s own agenda. Some of the readers may have encountered this word when presenting new ideas as legal counsel. I have never taken it as a derogatory term. “Premature” signifies a quality, if not an obligation, of legal proactive comment and advice. In that sense dealing with robotics and law is premature, and so are, by the way, the “We Robot” Conferences (established in 2012) which give context to this article, a conference series in which—disclosure is due—our Editor-in-Chief has been involved prominently.

The fundamental point is slow in coming: Richards & Smart start with a definition of a robot: a “non-biological autonomous agent,” i.e. “a constructed system that that display both physical and mental agency but is not alive in the biological sense.” We all are familiar, as the authors point out, with all sorts of robots. We know them from science fiction readings and the movies. There is already the small round disk that cleans our sitting rooms. There has been the automated assembly of cars by industrial robots. And lately these cars drive around themselves as robots guided by Google. And robots, the authors argue, will become increasingly multipurpose, gain more autonomy, and turn from lab exhibits into everyday devices communicating with each of us at any time. Law? There is a reference to the Nevada state regulation of 2011 for those car robots. But otherwise the article mentions legal implications only in a very general way; there is no discussion; there is not even a listing of possible legal problems. Continue reading "About Fallacies"

Influential But Uninformed: What Scotus Knows About Policing

Seth W. Stoughton, Policing Facts, 88 Tulane L. Rev. 847 (2014).

Sift through any number of Fourth Amendment decisions from the Supreme Court, and you will find many general observations about the police: that theirs is a dangerous profession, or that they possess a specialized instinct for spotting criminal behavior. Typically, such statements are made without citation to any source. How do the Justices know these facts? And are such statements accurate?

That is the central issue in the insightful article Policing Facts, written by Seth Stoughton (himself a former police officer turned law professor): what should we think of general observations about police that are made by the Court? While we expect Supreme Court decisions to discuss the facts that arise out of a particular case, it is also true that in resolving the issues the Justices will often make some assertion about policing in general: such as the working environment of the police, police practices, or police psychology. (Indeed, as Stoughton notes, the Court is quite willing to make general observations about nearly every aspect of policing.) While some of these “legislative facts” are supported by citations, more typically they aren’t. (P. 857.) These policing facts appear seemingly from nowhere. What’s wrong with inserting unsupported statements about the police into opinions? As Stoughton argues, policing facts are “simply wrong almost all of the time.” (P. 868.)

The Court’s regular use of unsupported policing facts will not surprise many, but hardly anyone has noticed its importance before. Of course, a mainstay of criminal procedure scholarship is the critique of the Supreme Court’s decisions for their normative undesirability or their doctrinal confusion. But what if the Court gets the basic factual premises wrong? Continue reading "Influential But Uninformed: What Scotus Knows About Policing"