Monthly Archives: October 2015

Injecting Class into Trusts and Estates

Trusts and estates scholarship typically focuses on the rich. This is not surprising, as the field primarily concerns itself with wealth transmission, and the wealthy are the ones who have wealth to transmit. In Making Things Fair, Professor Naomi Cahn and Amy Ziettlow inject class into the field by examining how lower-income individuals understand the wealth transmission process. This is a valuable and much-needed intervention, both for its empirical methodology and its focus on the lived experiences of lower-income Americans.

This article contributes on three fronts. The first contribution is empirical. The investigators recruited study participants by searching Baton Rouge newspaper obituaries, from which they compiled the names of children and step-children of recently deceased individuals under the age of 70 within a 7-month period in 2011. Of these 2,700 individuals, they gathered reliable contact information for 1,500 of them, and invited these to participate in the study by snail mail, email, and telephone. Their final sample size was sixty-three, appropriate to a qualitative and exploratory study of this type. The study used semi-structured interviews to delve into family dynamics, the dying process, and wealth transmission. Continue reading "Injecting Class into Trusts and Estates"

Parody and Fair Markets

In December 2011, the UK Intellectual Property Office commissioned the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management at Bournemouth University to research the effects of parody on copyrighted works. Do parodies harm the market for the underlying work? How might we measure the economic effects of parody, as incentive depressors or engines?

UK copyright law does not contain an exception specifically covering parodies. The authors of the study perceive the UK copyright law as one of the most restrictive in seven jurisdictions surveyed (US, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Netherlands, UK) with regard to parodies. By commissioning this research, the UK appears to be considering reform. The study concludes that changes loosening the reign of copyright over parodies would further copyright’s underlying purposes of creation and dissemination. Continue reading "Parody and Fair Markets"

Disability Advocacy: Strategizing a Comprehensive and Contextual Path Forward

Michael E. Waterstone, Disability Constitutional Law, 63 Emory L.J. 527 (2014).

Constitutional Law should be harnessed in the service of disability law. That it has not been a central site for the advocacy of the disability rights movement is something that Professor Waterstone bemoans. In this Emory Law Journal article, he traces the seemingly bifurcated trajectories of the LGBT and Disability Rights movements, insofar as their use of constitutional strategy is concerned. Through a careful analysis of these moves, Prof. Waterstone concludes that the Disability Rights movement has suffered setbacks through constitutional law, but the time is ripe to recoup the use of constitutional law to advance the umbrella of disability rights. Harkening to recent victories in LGBT movements, this article seeks to lay a foundation for Disability Constitutional Law.

Prof. Waterstone acknowledges that there likely exists amongst disability rights advocates an understandable reluctance to engage constitutional law stemming from the Cleburne1 case, and its unfortunate legacy for the disability rights movement. While the holding in Cleburne2 struck down an ordinance infringing the Equal Protection rights of persons with “mental retardation,” the case has proven less progressive and unsupportive of disability rights broadly speaking. In holding that this disability classification was only entitled to rational basis scrutiny, the decision has become concretized in a way that, for practical purposes, has meant that “the most restrictive aspects” of the majority decision have “stayed frozen in time for people with disabilities.” (P. 529.) Additionally, subsequent Supreme Court decisions have stretched Cleburne’s application to include a “diverse universe of people with disabilities,” thereby casting too long a shadow of rational basis scrutiny in the disability rights arena. (P. 542.) Specifically, in holding that the decision in Cleburne on mental retardation included a vastly expanded category of “the disabled,” the Court in University of Alabama v. Garrett3 significantly expanded the reach of Cleburne in a way that has proven hard to overcome. Continue reading "Disability Advocacy: Strategizing a Comprehensive and Contextual Path Forward"

A Story Well Told

Oliver A. Houck, The Reckoning: Oil and Gas Development in the Louisiana Coastal Zone, 28 Tul. Envtl. L.J. 185 (2015).

Professor Oliver Houck’s recent article, The Reckoning: Oil and Gas Development in the Louisiana Coastal Zone, is easily one of the best articles that I have read in the last ten years and should be required reading regardless of one’s specialty. I should admit that I am not an environmental law professor and the environmental law articles I ordinarily read are those that intersect with one of my primary research areas: Indian law. So I initially downloaded The Reckoning expecting that I would skim it quickly. But it is a remarkable article. Although on its face, the article tells a story of oil and gas development in the fragile wetlands of Louisiana’s coast, it also has lessons about political corruption and short-sightedness that extend far beyond the environmental destruction at the heart of the article.

Professor Houck convincingly argues that the state government and oil and gas interests are seen as essentially the same, so much so that Houck refers to them collectively simply as “the company.” Louisiana actively courted oil and natural gas development to such an extent that the very state entities tasked with protecting the coastal zone participated in the promotion of development above all else, even above reason. As the article shows, it would be inaccurate to say that the state became the puppet of corporate interests or that it rubber-stamped the web of canals that destroyed the wetlands because nearly every Louisiana institution was and is invested in the rush to please big energy. Problematically, the list of those involved in opening up the wetlands, in denying the connection between development and destruction, and in attempting to shift the restoration costs away from oil and gas companies and unto the American taxpayer includes not only the ironically named Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, which time and again saw itself as an industry partner, but also parish governments, state-university academics and centers, politicians at the federal, state, and local levels, and even major environmental groups. As Professor Houck shows, no part of the Louisiana coast has been spared from devastation caused by “the company,” yet “the company” is unwilling to take responsibility and has largely succeeded in avoiding the costs associated with such destruction. Continue reading "A Story Well Told"

A Case Study for Understanding Prison-Reform, Its Advocates and Its Critics

With the recent national attention given to concerns about mass incarceration, lengthy prison sentences and atrocious prison conditions, it appears that we have entered a wave of prison reform—once again. But perhaps we believe it to be different in kind or degree from the sort of reformist movements we have had in the past. We might believe that today’s areas of focus—overcrowding due to three-strikes laws, concerns about the treatment of juvenile offenders, the roles of race, ethnicity, poverty and mental health as factors in determining prison demographics, the prevalence of sexual assault and violence in prions, the defunding of rehabilitation and re-entry programs—are new or unique. In Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform, historian Joseph F. Spillane exposes the cyclical nature of prison reform debates along with a close examination of the failure of the American reformist movement of the early to mid-1900s. Relying on primary documents that included legislative discussions, periodical accounts, correspondences between key political actors, and primarily prison records, Spillane carefully reconstructs the events that influenced first the construction and later the of management of New York State’s Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Coxsackie (pronounced “cook-sock-ee” according to Spillane), opened as a then-modern vocational reformatory for adolescents in the 1930’s at the height of the progressive prison reform movement in New York but within decades spiraled into a now-modern maximum security warehouse for inmates rife with violence and brutality.

Like a lot of good history books, Spillane’s account depicts the past while helping to explain the present and is a must-read for anyone who cares deeply about prison reform and wants to avoid (or at least understand) common pitfalls. In his depiction of the pendulum swings characteristics of prison reform movements, Spillane begins with what were the triggering events in the 1920’s and 1930’s. According to Spillane, prisons generally suffer from inattention until a “focusing event” raises public awareness or fear. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, prison riots provided a political tipping point presenting the education reformers with an opportunity to advocate for change. Then-reformers blamed idleness, prison overcrowding and draconian four-strikes mandatory life Baumes Laws (little did they know that three-strikes would later became the norm!) for the riots. Continue reading "A Case Study for Understanding Prison-Reform, Its Advocates and Its Critics"

How big is big enough? Lessons from China about globalization

Rachel E. Stern and Su Li, The Outpost Office: How International Law Firms Approach the China Market, Law & Social Inquiry (forthcoming, 2015), available at SSRN.

Size matters—in the legal profession as elsewhere. It is a common element in research on law firms, legal practice and lawyers’ careers, and it often is assumed to be associated with success—in many instances, accurately. The largest U.S. law firms in terms of headcount also are among those that generate the most revenue and profits per partner, for example. Law firms in the category affectionately known as “BigLaw” account for an important segment of the most sought-after positions for new law graduates, in no small part because they offer the highest starting salaries and the promise of more for those who succeed. These same firms represent the most significant businesses in their most important disputes and largest and thorniest transactions, and today also often are involved in notable pro bono activities. Bigger is correlated with success, whether size is measured in headcount, number of offices, revenue, profits or compensation.

The assumption that size matters underlies the thoughtful analysis of Rachel Stern and Su Li about the growth of global law firms in China. Their article, The Outpost Office: How International Law Firms Approach the China Market, explores why growth seems to have stalled in the China offices of international law firms. Stern and Li draw on data gathered in interviews (conducted in 2013-2014) with lawyers practicing in the China offices of 50 international law firms.1 The firms have home bases in 18 different countries; this variety allows Stern and Li to consider how home country shapes global growth.2 Continue reading "How big is big enough? Lessons from China about globalization"

Controversial Supreme Court Appointments – A Blockbuster in the Foreign Films Category?

Often we like scholarship lots because it reflects new or interesting perspectives on familiar subjects. Sometimes, though, the story itself is so thought-provoking that a good telling is all that is needed to make the article worth commending to Courts Law readers.

Such is the case with Hugo Cyr’s article, which chronicles the highly charged engagement between the Supreme Court of Canada and the Canadian Government (the Executive, comprised of members of the ruling political party) over the fundamental requirements for their respective legitimacy. Everyone seems to agree that the incidents recounted were “unfortunate” in that they provoked strong expressions of differences in what has historically been regarded as a relationship to be managed tactfully. Yet the events exposed many intriguing issues about how best to conduct this critical relationship to promote the continuity and flexibility needed to serve well the interests of the public. Continue reading "Controversial Supreme Court Appointments – A Blockbuster in the Foreign Films Category?"

How the Other Half Banks

Mehrsa Baradaran, How the Other Half Banks (2015).

Once upon a time there were banks that served the poor. Government structured banks for that purpose—government gave banks cheap money and protection against failure partly in exchange for their providing a place to deposit money, earn interest and get credit, along with economic stability, for everyone. Financial innovation, increased competition and deregulation changed all that: the period of dramatic transformation left the poor and working class without services, as banks came under competitive pressure.

Once upon a time, post offices provided banking functions, giving the ordinary customer a brick-and-mortar office to park their cash. Then competition from higher-interest rate banks changed all that; with shrinking demand, postal banking was dismantled in 1967. Continue reading "How the Other Half Banks"