Monthly Archives: November 2014
Two judicial and scholarly heavyweights squared off recently in a case challenging the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Writing for the Seventh Circuit panel, Judge Easterbrook reasoned that “whether a photo ID requirement promotes public confidence in the electoral system is a ‘legislative fact’—a proposition about the state of the world, as opposed to a proposition about these litigants or about a single state.” The Seventh Circuit was bound to accept that a photo ID requirement did promote public confidence in elections because “[o]n matters of legislative fact, courts accept the findings of legislatures and judges of lower courts must accept findings by the Supreme Court.” Dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge Posner responded that Easterbrook’s approach “conjures up a fact-free cocoon.” Posner asked: “If the Supreme Court once thought that requiring photo identification increases public confidence in elections, and experience and academic study since shows that the Court was mistaken, do we do a favor to the Court … by making the mistake a premise of our decision?”
This disagreement between Easterbrook and Posner—in the language of Allison Orr Larsen’s excellent article—is about Factual Precedents: whether the Supreme Court’s statements about legislative facts should receive “separate precedential force, distinct from the precedential force of whatever legal conclusions they contributed to originally.” (P. 63.) As Larsen explains, such “facts” are everywhere in judicial opinions—facts like “partial birth abortions are never medically necessary, fleeing from the police in a car leads to fatalities, and violent video games affect the neurological development of a child’s brain.” (P. 71.) To support such claims, Supreme Court Justices regularly invoke authorities that have never been made part of the evidentiary record or subjected to adversarial challenge by the parties to the case. Yet—as the Easterbrook opinion suggests—lower-court judges often treat factual propositions as precedent that they are bound to accept as a matter of stare decisis. Larsen convincingly argues that this is a mistake. Rather, “generalized factual claims from the Supreme Court should not receive any precedential value separate and apart from the legal rules they helped to create.” (P. 99.) Continue reading "Judicial Fact-Making"
When I saw the title of Robert Ahdieh’s recent article, Reanalyzing Cost-Benefit Analysis: Toward a Framework of Function(s) and Form(s), I thought, “oh no, not another article about CBA.” Knowing Professor Adhieh’s work, I took a flyer and read it anyway, and boy was I happy with my decision. This is a great article which should be of interest to anyone involved in administrative law, securities regulation and policy analysis more generally. Cost-benefit analysis has become an important regulatory tool, and Professor Adhieh’s article makes a valuable contribution to the literature on the special analysis required under Section 106 of the National Securities Market Improvement Act of 1996, 15 U.S.C. § 77b (2012) and to the literature on cost-benefit analysis more generally.
Ahdieh’s jumping-off point, section 106 of the National Securities Market Improvement Act of 1996, requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to consider, in all of its actions, including rulemaking, “in addition to the protection of investors, whether [an] action will promote efficiency, competition, and capital formation.” As Ahdieh observes, on its face, this provision has little bite—it requires only consideration of the effect on markets and it does not impose any substantive standard such as the efficiency requirement imposed by Congress in other regulatory contexts. Despite the moderate nature of Congress’s language, as Ahdieh reports, when the SEC promulgated a regulation expanding shareholder access to corporate proxies to nominate corporate directors, “[c]onsidering SEC rulemaking unsafe at any speed, . . . the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce challenged the new rule . . . invoking the language of Section 106 . . . [arguing] that the SEC’s assessment of the costs and benefits of mandatory proxy access had not met the requirements of Section 106.” Continue reading "Safe at Any Speed: Robert Ahdieh’s Take on Cost-Benefit Analysis in Financial Markets"
Charlotte Garden, Meta Rights
, 83 Fordham L. Rev.
Meta Rights is a thought-provoking article that addresses concerns about labor law rules governing agency fee payments in public-sector employment by comparing these rules to doctrines in analogous situations in other areas of law. Specifically, after the Supreme Court decided Knox v. SEIU Local 100 in 2012, 132 S.Ct. 2277 (2012), many felt that the Supreme Court was primed to change the default rule for agency payers from “opt-out” (an employee covered by a union security agreement would have to affirmatively state a preference not to pay dues for activities deemed “not related to collective bargaining”) to an “opt-in” system (unions could not require such dues absent specific, individual consent). Many in the field also noted that Harris v. Quinn, 134 S.Ct. 2618 (2014), looming but not yet decided when this article was written, could result in the Supreme Court mandating the “opt-in” system (I thought that was the most likely result in Harris). This is a very important issue in labor law and policy and for the labor movement as a whole. Although these cases explicitly covered only public-sector unions, such unions make up about half the total membership of all unions in the U.S.
Professor Garden could have written an article solely about whether “opt-in” rules were good or bad labor policy, or the extent to which constitutionally mandating such a system would be consistent with previous precedent (e.g., Abood v. City of Detroit, 431 U.S. 209 (1977)). Instead, she wrote a more interesting article by casting her net much more widely, describing when, in other contexts, courts have required Party A to give notice to Party B that Party B has certain constitutional rights. This takes her well beyond labor and employment law, and indeed beyond civil law (e.g., by discussing Miranda rights). Showing that such “meta rights” are relatively rare (e.g., public schools need not give notice to students that they have a First Amendment right to abstain from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance), Professor Garden provides a strong, principled, and broad-based critique of “opt in” rules. Continue reading "Putting Union Security Clause First Amendment Law in a Broader Context: Charlotte Garden’s Meta Rights"
Articles routinely appear that serve up a simple, everyday scenario that has potential to morph into a terribly complex legal situation and in the process, twist legal doctrines pretzel-like to reach the preferred result. We read them, digest them for the nugget to divulge in class, and file them away to cite in a later article. Rare is the article that serves up a simple everyday scenario that could have a disastrous effect that causes us to actually do something to avert the potential disaster. Stewart E. Sterk and Melanie B. Leslie have done just that in their masterful, co-authored piece, Accidental Inheritance: Retirement Accounts and the Hidden Law of Succession.
Starting with the fairy tale beginning of “once upon a time,” the authors bring us back to the days when wills controlled the disposition of property at death. Judges were in control of the probate process, much, if not most, property was probate, and rules had developed to ameliorate the routine mistakes and missteps that occur between the signing of the will and the date of death. Marriage, birth of a child, divorce, and the death of a beneficiary no longer have to upset the decedent’s presumed intent for his heirs, as we had developed rules for the probate process to reach the preferred result. As the non-probate revolution has settled into mainstream life, the issue has become how many of those presumed-intent rules apply. So far pretty standard fare, but consider $9 trillion in retirement accounts (a most significant non-probate asset), a changing American family, and the impending demise of the baby boomer generation, and the consequences have the potential to be dramatic and, in the view of the authors, intolerable. Continue reading "Transmitting Retirement Accounts: Getting It Right"
Martha Chamallas’s Monsanto Lecture, Vicarious Liability in Torts: The Sex Exception, is timely and important, inviting renewed scholarly attention to the oft-neglected topic of vicarious liability.
Since the 1990s, courts have faced a steady stream of suits brought against schools, hospitals, religious institutions, and other entities for sexual abuse committed by employees. In addressing these suits, Chamallas argues, courts have adopted an unjustifiably narrow approach to vicarious liability.
Modern doctrine maintains that an employee’s on-the-job wrong will be imputed to her employer when the wrong is foreseeable, or involves the realization of risks characteristic of the employer’s enterprise. Under these tests, vicarious liability has at times extended to employees’ intentional acts of physical violence, as well as to negligence perpetrated by drunken, off-duty employees.
It is thus surprising, Chamallas argues, to find prominent cases in which courts decline to impose vicarious liability for sexual abuse. For example, the California Supreme Court refused to hold a hospital liable for its medical technician’s molestation of a young woman during the performance of an ultrasound, and also declined to hold a school district liable for a teacher’s abuse of a student during a school-sanctioned extra-curricular activity. According to Chamallas, modern legal tests for “scope of employment” are capacious enough to permit liability in cases such as these. Moreover, standard instrumental rationales for respondeat superior (“let the master answer”)—that it incentivizes appropriate precaution-taking by employers, better ensures compensation of victims, and fairly comports with the risks characteristic of the employer’s enterprise—arguably also favor liability. So why would courts decline to hold employers liable under the circumstances? Continue reading "When is Sexual Abuse Within the Scope of Employment?"
Daniel I. Halperin & Alvin C. Warren Jr., Understanding Income Tax Deferral
, Tax L. Rev.
(forthcoming), available at SSRN
We all do it once in a while. In the haste of trying to make a point in class, or in a hurried comment to the press, we overstate the effect of the failure of a tax law rule to take into account the time value of money. “The effect of deferral of income,” we may boldly assert, “is the exemption of the earnings on the amount deferred.” A recent short essay by Dan Halperin and Al Warren entitled Understanding Income Tax Deferral should help us all stay a bit more accurate when we make these claims. As Halperin and Warren point out, although in some limited circumstances the benefit of deferral can be the exemption of the earnings on the amount deferred, often the effect of an apparent deferral is more limited and more nuanced. In some cases, timing flaws produce only reduced taxation, not full exemption, while in other cases rules that seem to involve timing flaws merely shift income to other taxpayers or to other taxing jurisdictions. Halperin and Warren remind us that it can be very important to be able to distinguish between these results. This paper will displace Halperin’s 1986 classic in my must-read recommendations for beginning teachers of tax.
There is little that is actually new in the essay. However, it is a much-needed and succinct guide to the principles involved when considering the effect of timing in the rules defining the income tax base. Thirty years ago, when interest rates were high, correcting the timing mistakes embedded in the income tax law was a high policy priority. For example, the original issue discount rules were tightened and applied to many more transactions (in sections 1271, 1274 and 7872) and the possibility of accruing costs before payment were substantially curtailed (through various changes in the taxation of retirement savings and in sections 461(h)). In this era, the principles Halperin and Warren newly examine here became a mainstay of tax policy analysis. No one participating in policy discussions could afford not to understand them. Continue reading "Keeping Us Honest about the Timing Flaws in the Income Tax"
“When did the future switch from being a promise to a threat?”
–Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters: A Novel
The legal profession is often criticized as disinterested, if not fearful, of innovation in the delivery of legal services. As Benjamin Barton observes in the introductory chapter of his forthcoming book, Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the Legal Profession: “Law may have changed less than any other area of the economy between 1850 and today. The same basic product is being sold and the same basic service is being performed.” But, as Barton quickly notes, “[n]o one dodges the reaper forever.” Through the next thirteen chapters, Barton proceeds to provide an insightful parsing of the past, present and potential future course of the American legal profession.
In homage to Larry Ribstein’s influential article, “The Death of Big Law”, Barton discusses current challenges faced by American lawyers through four different lens: “death from above”, “death from below”, “death from the state”, and “death from the side”. Although space constraints preclude a full exploration of the detailed analysis presented in the book, a brief summary of each of these four “deaths” follows: Continue reading "There’s No Time Like the Present for Some Optimism about the Future"
Immigrant children are the subjects of varying narratives. To some, immigrant children fleeing Central America are invaders, while others view these children as innocent bystanders who are reaching out to the United States for protection from unimaginable violence. The narrative matters and it influences public perception. In Defining American: The DREAM Act, Immigration Reform and Citizenship, Elizabeth Keyes takes a close look at the narratives pursued in support of the DREAM Act and identifies danger posed by a narrative that promotes legal status and eventual citizenship for worthy and blameless immigrants. Keyes takes a narrative that seems unobjectionable and uncovers a major negative consequence. Creating the worthy category necessarily creates a category of individuals undeserving under the law.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Minors Act, or DREAM Act, has been on the congressional agenda for almost 15 years, but has yet to make its way to the President for signature. The DREAM Act would put certain individuals who currently lack legal immigration status on a path to legal status, with the potential of eventual US citizenship. The criteria generally include entrance to the United States before the age of 16, achievement of certain educational milestones or military service, continuous residence in the United States, and possession of “good moral character.” In the face of legislative defeat of the DREAM Act, the Obama administration used similar criteria to implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which does not provide legal immigration status but does provide work authorization and a promise that the US government will not pursue deportation for two years. Continue reading "Citizenship for the Worthy Children"
Aaron-Andrew Bruhl has done it again. Beginning with a simple question—what can one say about the Supreme Court’s on-again/off-again relationship with lower court precedent—Bruhl finds a surprisingly rich collection of answers that illuminate much about the institutional federal judiciary. While Bruhl plays with numbers and demonstrates a sophisticated appreciation for the possibilities and limitations of empirical work on the federal courts, he treats quantitative analysis as one source of insight into a complex world rather than as an end in itself.
We’re familiar with the notion that the Court attends to lower court precedent. For starters, the Court often intones that its decision to grant review in a particular case was driven by a division in the lower court. When a split fails to emerge, it may prevent review for a time (as the marriage equality cases reveal). Even with a circuit split, the Court may refrain from taking a case at the first opportunity, preferring to allow the issue to percolate for a time as more circuit court judges take a crack at the problem. Finally, we often observe that particular members of the Court rely on lower court precedent in the course of their own treatment of an issue—Justice Breyer does this with some frequency, Bruhl reports, but Justice Scalia consciously eschews such reliance. Continue reading "How Lower-Court Precedent Affects the Supreme Court"
Teaching is a fairly private experience, which may be an odd thing to say about something we do in front of a large group of people. Beyond talking with colleagues (both in person and in the very useful space Facebook provides to gather teaching advice), there are too few opportunities to see or hear what happens in other people’s classrooms, which is why I was looking forward to reading the essays in Teaching Legal History: Comparative Perspectives. The volume, an expansion of a special volume of the American Journal for Legal History, includes 63 short essays by law professors about how they teach legal history (and one longer essay on the history of teaching legal history in law schools). Some of the contributors have been trained specifically as legal historians, while others came to legal history teaching later in their careers. (Only thirteen of the 65 contributors are women, which raises questions either about the selection of contributors or about law school hiring more generally.) I should state here that I know several of the contributors to this volume—not surprising, as American legal history is my own research field.
There is significant breadth among the 63 essays (although not a lot of depth; by design, most are approximately four pages long). Taken together, they indicate the diversity of legal history courses and methods. Courses discussed range from the standard survey of American legal history to specialized courses on law in the Civil War, Latin American legal history, the history of corporate law, and the legal history of Hawaii. Some authors strive for coverage (some courses cover American legal history since Reconstruction, while others begin with the American Revolution, the Magna Carta, or ancient Mesopotamia); many others focus their courses on students’ own research papers. (I was impressed by how many contributors have their students tackle independent research in local and online archives.) Most contributors assign at least some primary sources (and many use primary sources almost exclusively); it is clear that the ease of gathering primary sources (through online databases and archives) has allowed many to complement or move beyond the few casebooks/sourcebooks that dominate the market. Several other contributors focus instead on secondary materials, and it was encouraging to see many forsake textbooks to expose students to the extremely vibrant recent scholarship in legal history. Continue reading "Bringing History into the Law School Classroom"
The planet’s population of wild nonhuman animals has declined by one-third over the past fifty years. Over that same period the human animal population has doubled. (Hereon, I will simply refer to “animals” and “humans.”) The two numbers and the trends they represent are connected. Human activity accounts for much of the decline in wild populations. Non-wild animal numbers have grown, over the same period, but this is due largely to the trebling of meat consumption by humans. This is expected to double again by the year 2050. Something like 56 billion animals are now slaughtered annually for human consumption. Ten of them, approximately, for each one of us; and the ratio is growing. The amount of animal suffering due to purposeful or knowing human conduct is staggering.
There are signs that humans are becoming more thoughtful about, and more sensitized to, the suffering and exploitation of animals. Animal welfare laws have become more common and have begun to address the conditions of animals in factory farms. Nevertheless, the larger picture is depressing: an “Eternal Treblinka” (Zoopolis, P. 2) whose moral and political superstructure remains largely unquestioned. Despite over a century and a half of campaigning, human advocates for better treatment of animals have rather little to show for their efforts. Continue reading "Do Animals Need Citizenship?"
Tim Wu’s new essay, Properties of Information and the Legal Implications of Same, offers both a survey of recent legal and economic scholarship on information and a provocative reconceptualization of it. Wu posits that information is commonly described as an unusual resource because its very nature means that it possesses the twin properties of being non-excludable and non-rival. Taking these properties as givens, information can be readily pegged as a public good, and a strong case can be made out for government intervention to foster the production and/or dissemination of the information (whether in the form of IP rights, subsidies, or something else). However, Professor Wu’s reading of the literature, combined with his sprinkling of original comments on the intrinsic nature of information, suggests that the story is not quite this simple. (Although the review sweeps broadly, discussing securities regulation, contract theory, consumer protection, communications, and free speech, the bulk of it addresses intellectual property.) Professor Wu argues that information is not by its very nature non-excludable or non-rival. Rather, the subject matter of the information, the context in which the information exists, and the structure of the industry that employs the information all matter. They all affect the extent to which information is a public good. As a consequence, Professor Wu counsels against a single policy prescription for problems concerning the underproduction or under-dissemination of information and in favor of context-specific, dynamic laws governing information.
Professor Wu argues that non-excludability per se is not what makes information prone to free-riding problems (and thus the problem of underproduction without government intervention). Positing that information “consists of patterns, which must subsist in some form, whether ink on paper, stored magnetic charges, or whatever else” and that information is only valuable if a human mind perceives it, he takes it to be self-evident that people can in fact be readily excluded from information. “If you don’t have a ticket, you won’t see the movie, and we are all excluded from the text of a book locked in a vault for which the key is lost, or from the particular information contained in an engraving written in a lost language, like hieroglyphs before the discovery of the Rosetta stone.” Instead, Professor Wu suggests that information raises a free-riding concern because, among other things, it can often be copied at a relatively low cost. Presuming that copying costs vary, this shift in the conceptual framework for understanding what enables free-riding is significant because the argument in favor of government intervention shifts from being inherent in the essential nature of information to contingent on the particularities of the context in which information exists. Continue reading "Why FISH:FISHES :: INFORMATION:INFORMATIONS"
Denise Réaume is Canada’s foremost legal theorist on the concept of dignity. She has committed much of her scholarly work to elucidating its contours and teasing out its complexities. One of my favourite of her earlier pieces is “Indignities: Making a Place for Dignity in Modern Legal Thought”. In that piece, Réaume deduces a distinct dignity interest warranting legal protection in the common law through careful review of the evolving case law addressing intentional infliction of nervous shock.
Jump forward more than ten years and we find Réaume on to the interaction of dignity, choice, and circumstances. The title of her chapter is a little misleading, perhaps, since Réaume’s focus is more on the capacity for choice than its availability. Continue reading "Honouring the Capacity for Choice"
Sat Nov 8
9:30 – 10:45 Counterpoint:
James Chen, Modeling Law Review Impact Factors as an Exponential Distribution
Patrick Woods, Stop Counting (Or At Least Count Better)
Benjamin Keele, Improving Digital Publishing of Legal Scholarship
[via remote participation]
Mark Tushnet, The Federal Courts Junior Scholars Workshop (originally submitted as a contribution to Jotwell).
Frank Pasquale, Symbiotic Law & Social Science: The Case for Political Economy in the Legal Academy, and Legal Scholarship in Political Economy
[via remote participation]
3:15 – 4:00
James Grimmelmann, Scholars, Teachers, and Servants
Accepted papers from scholars unable to attend:
Angela Mae Kupenda, Personal Essay–On the Receiving End of Influence: Helping Craft the Scholarship of My Students and How Their Work Influences Me
Friday Nov 7
Vice-Dean Patrick Gudridge, Welcome
A. Michael Froomkin, A Little About Jotwell
1:15 – 2:00
Steven L. Winter, When Things Went Terribly, Terribly Wrong Part II
Patrick Gudridge, Past Present (Revised Version)
3:15 – 4:30 Counterpoint
Jeanne Schroeder and David Carlson, Improving Oneself and Ones Clients; Not the World
Neil Buchanan, Legal Scholarship Makes the World a Better Place
4:45 – 5:30 Keynote Address
Margaret Jane Radin, Then and Now: Developing Your Scholarship, Developing Its Audience
Reception, Faculty Lounge
For this Jot, I wanted to review recent or forthcoming scholarship on the bombshell D.C. Circuit Halbig v. Burwell decision, now awaiting en banc rehearing and buttressed by a similar decision from an Oklahoma District Court in Pruitt v. Burwell. But the only articles that I could find were Michael Cannon and Jonathan Adler’s piece that started the whole mess and a succinct rebuttal in State Tax Notes. My search, however, did turn up a terrific Commentary by Bill Sage, which I had somehow missed in my routine reading. Appropriate at the time that Sage wrote his Commentary, Sage gave Halbig a mere one-line, one-footnote reference in his insightful perspective on the aims and limits of recent U.S. health care reform efforts. Thankfully, it was Halbig that enabled me to discover Sage’s piece.
Necessarily, given the Affordable Care Act’s 2,400-page length and complexity, many of us have focused our writing on discrete aspects of the law. Sage instead offers a cogent flyover, bringing to bear his years of experience in this business, to explain what is and isn’t working in the ACA. Stepping back from the details, Sage identifies the ACA’s ambitious agenda not only to achieve near-universal health insurance coverage but also to reform the health care delivery system and improve population health. He commends this “triple aim,” emphasizing that insurance reform is, and must be, just the beginning of a successful health policy agenda. Continue reading "Super-Sizing Health Reform"
Should there be an academic legal canon? Are we condemned to “repetition and recycling of a handful of ideas” without one? Those are among the questions raised by Steven L. Winter in his paper When Things Went Terribly, Terribly Wrong Part II which leads off the Jotwell Conference tomorrow afternoon.
If that isn’t sufficiently provocative, Appendix One of Prof. Winter’s paper offers a first draft of what a legal scholarship canon would look like, noting that “Most of the articles and books on my list can be characterized as classics, though I assume that among any group of well-read law professors there will be disagreements with respect to both omissions and inclusions.”
What works would you add to his list?
Some of the summer’s biggest news headlines focused on the surge of children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras who, fleeing widespread violence and extreme poverty, have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to seek refuge in the United States. The border crisis has sparked a highly politicized debate, with compromise solutions shifting steadily to the right. The most recent bipartisan proposal would, in many cases, require detention of minors (in violation of the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement requiring the release of migrant children, when possible, to relatives or foster care) and result in rapid deportations without due process.
Within this contemporary context, Shani King’s Alone and Unrepresented: A Call to Congress to Provide Counsel for Unaccompanied Minors, provides a fresh perspective on the issue. King argues that three constellations of international and regional human rights standards—children’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and the right to civil counsel—should be interpreted together to provide the right to free legal counsel for unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings. King offers an extremely helpful collection of international and regional standards on these rights, as well as comparative examples from countries that provide representation to unaccompanied minors facing immigration proceedings. Congress, he concludes, should likewise enact legislation guaranteeing legal representation to unaccompanied minors. King’s article is thought-provoking and practically useful, and it can serve as a source of persuasive international authority to support recent proposals and lawsuits calling for constitutional due process rights of unaccompanied minors. Continue reading "Representing Child Migrants (in the Midst of Our Border Crisis)"
Mr. Young means to test empirically the existence of “constitutional moments,” changes occurring outside formal processes of amendment that Bruce Ackerman has posited are important elements in the American constitutional progress. To this end, Young focuses Measure on the so-called Reconstruction “moment,” from the period preceding the 1866 congressional elections through 1868, the time range within which Ackerman discerns a structured process of profound commitment to a new racially open political, legal, and institutional order. (See Bruce Ackerman, We The People: Transformations 99-252 (1998).) Measure studies the front pages of some 600 newspapers, viewing 2,000 articles published between June 1, 1866 and December 31, 1866; 2,612 articles published between June 1, 1868 and December 31, 1868; 5,000 newspaper pages on which the word “constitution” appeared between January 1, 1866 and December 31, 1868; and 15,322 newspaper front pages published between June 1 and December 31 in 1866, 1868, 1870, 1872, and 1884. All told, Young takes into account 32,544,870 words. (See Table I, P. 2021.)
In 1866 and 1868, “results indicate empirical support for the hypothesis that Americans were paying attention to constitutional-level issues during these periods.” The newspaper coverage surveyed between 1866 and 1872 and then 1884 shows “support for both the notion that constitutional issues were of high salience during this period and that sustained attention to those issues spiked during certain key moments in 1866 and 1868.” “[E]vidence of both constitutional discourse and a gradual decline in the prevalence of that discourse over time” is “consistent the with predictions of Ackerman’s theory that sustained popular attention to constitutional politics peaks during transformative constitutional moments and then declines as normal politics once again take center stage.” (P. 2053.) “Had my results indicated either no evidence of constitutional discourse, or a constant level of such discourse across time, it would have called into question the entire theoretical superstructure of Ackerman’s work.” (PP. 2053-54.)
“[F]or all the millions of words and thousands of newspaper articles this Note analyzes,” Mr. Young concedes, “this is a rather modest conclusion.” “[T]here is nothing surprising about the fact that the media was paying attention to the passage of major constitutional amendments in the aftermath of a devastating civil war.” (P. 2053.) It’s not Young’s bottom line, however, that marks his effort as important. “[M]illions of words and thousands of newspaper articles”—no law student reads this much! How did he do that? Continue reading "Future Present?"
Solon Barocas & Andrew D. Selbst, Big Data’s Disparate Impact
, available at SSRN
I have previously written about an NYU School of Internet scholars, led by the philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, whose work is “philosophically careful, intellectually critical, rich in detail, and humanely empathetic.” There is also a Princeton School, which orbits around the computer scientist Ed Felten, and which is committed to technical rigor, clear exposition, social impact, and creative problem-solving. These traditions converge in Big Data’s Disparate Impact by Solon Barocas and Andrew Selbst. The article is an attempt to map Title VII employment discrimination doctrine on to data mining, and it is one of the most interesting discussions of algorithmic prediction I have read.
The pairing—anti-discrimination law and data mining—is ideal. They are both centrally concerned with how overall patterns emerge from individual acts; they shift back and forth between the micro and the macro, the stones and the mosaic. Moreover, they are both centrally concerned with making good decisions: each in its own way aspires to replace crude stereotypes with nuanced reason. It would seem then, that Big Data ought to be an ideal ally in Title VII’s anti-discrimination mission. But Barocas and Selbst give reasons to think that the opposite may be true: that data mining will introduce new forms of bias that Title VII is ill-equipped to remedy. Continue reading "Discrimination by Database"
Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Managerial Justice and Mass Misdemeanors, 66 Stan. L. Rev.
(Forthcoming 2014), Available at SSRN
Most people, both lay and expert, would not quibble with the claim that American criminal justice is primarily adjudicative in nature. Specifically, the criminal justice system is concerned with separating the factually innocent from the guilty (erring procedurally on the side of innocence) and meting out punishment to the guilty. Thus, prosecutors dismiss weak cases and pursue charges only when guilt can be established. The guilty either plead or are convicted after trial, and a conviction is the primary basis for adverse consequences, such as jail and probation. Most would also acknowledge that the adjudicative function sometimes goes off the rails, for example, when aggressive plea bargaining or poorly structured sentencing guidelines coerce innocent people to plead guilty or when excessive pretrial detention attaches to a minor charge. However, often people think of such occurrences as deviations from or perversions of a system that in principal differentiates between the innocent and guilty and punishes the guilty. It might come as a surprise then to find out that in New York City, a very large percentage of criminal cases are resolved completely irrespective of defendants’ guilt or innocence.
Conducting a multi-year ethnography of New York City misdemeanor court, Professor Issa Kohler-Hausmann observed, day after day, prosecutors dismiss cases with ample evidence of the defendant’s guilt and insist on guilty pleas in the face of questionable facts. Contrary to existing descriptions of misdemeanor courts as conviction mills that fail to differentiate between types of misdemeanants or assembly-lines that produce quick but schizophrenic dispositions, Kohler-Hausmann discovered that NYC misdemeanor courts engage in meticulous categorizations of defendants and apply dispositions (continuance and then dismissal (ACD), conviction for a violation, misdemeanor conviction) to the differentiated categories of defendants in predictable manners. However, the categories of defendants are not determined along a spectrum of factual guilt. Accordingly, it is not necessarily the case that the defendants against whom there is weak evidence receive ACDs and those against whom there is ample evidence are convicted of the highest charge. Instead, the NYC misdemeanor system sorts defendants and graduates outcomes on the basis of defendants’ prior contacts with the system. Kohler-Hausmann’s quantitative analysis demonstrates that prior misdemeanor convictions are highly predictive of future misdemeanor convictions, and the probability of being convicted on a pending misdemeanor charge significantly increases with every past misdemeanor conviction. By contrast, prior felony convictions do not correlate significantly with conviction on pending felony charges (although they most certainly affect sentencing once there is a conviction). In short, the more times an individual spends in the misdemeanor court system, the more likely it is that she will be convicted, regardless of the evidentiary strength of the case. In fact, through a series of stunning vignettes, Kohler-Hausmann illustrates just how adverse prosecutors, judges, and even some defense attorneys are to introducing questions of factual innocence into the misdemeanor disposition process. Continue reading "Marked!"