Yearly Archives: 2015

Authorship, Attribution, and Audience

When the architect Philip Johnson was late in remitting payment for a sculpture he had purchased from the artist Robert Morris, Morris did not, apparently withhold the sculpture itself. Rather, he created an addendum, a note that read as follows:

The undersigned, Robert Morris, being the maker of the metal construction entitled Litanies, described in the annexed Exhibit A, hereby withdraws from said construction all aesthetic quality and content and declares that from the date hereof said construction has no such quality and content.

Johnson purchased the document, and the deed — whatever it was — was done. The sculpture and the document are now both part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Whether Morris’s act was the result of true pique or only a bit of cheekiness is unclear. But it gives rise to a set of familiar and still debated questions: Was the “metal construction” no longer art because its “maker” no longer wished to stand by its aesthetic qualities? And, if so, does that mean that the sculpture no longer had an artist but had merely a manufacturer? Does authorship (and, throughout, I will use the term to encompass all modes of creative production) require at least artistic conceptualization? Or is skillful craftsmanship sufficient, so long as the relevant community perceives aesthetic value in the work?

Two recent book chapters give thoughtful consideration to these issues. Continue reading "Authorship, Attribution, and Audience"

Reconceptualizing Health Law to Incorporate Justice-Based Concerns

Lindsay F. Wiley, From Patient Rights to Health Justice: Securing the Public’s Interest in Affordable, High-Quality Health Care, Cardozo L. Rev. (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

One of the challenges of teaching Health Law is that the course covers so many distinct areas of law that it can be hard for students to find an overarching theme, beyond the obvious one that all of the issues have something to do with doctors, patients, or hospitals. I was therefore very pleased to come across Lindsay Wiley’s new article, From Patient Rights to Health Justice: Securing the Public’s Interest in Affordable, High-Quality Health Care. In this article, Wiley examines analytical models previously developed by health law scholars and proposes a new model designed to place greater emphasis on collectivist concerns. The article should appeal not only to health law scholars, but also to anyone interested in how legal analytical frameworks can be used both to explain past developments and to reshape the terms of ongoing policy debates.

Wiley begins by examining four main models of health law, which she calls “professional autonomy,” “patient rights,” “market power,” and “health consumerism.” Under the professional autonomy model, which was dominant in the first half of the twentieth century, most legal and policy questions about health care were considered to be within the exclusive competence of professionals. This model eventually gave way to the patient rights approach, which sought to use the law to protect patients’ ability to make autonomous decisions, to improve quality, and to facilitate access. The market power model, which emerged in the 1970s, began to look at health care as an economic system, with a particular focus on the unique characteristics of health care markets that can distort the normal application of market forces, such as information asymmetries and the ubiquity of insurance. Finally, the health consumerism model, which Wiley describes as a “melding” of the patient rights and market power models, aims to draw on the power of markets in the service of empowering patients and improving the quality of care. Continue reading "Reconceptualizing Health Law to Incorporate Justice-Based Concerns"

A Fresh Look at Qualified Immunity

Aaron Nielson & Christopher J. Walker, The New Qualified Immunity, 87 S. Cal. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2015), available at SSRN.

Qualified immunity—the doctrine that prescribes whether government officials alleged to have committed constitutional violations should be immune from suit—has traveled a winding path. It asks two questions: whether a constitutional violation was actually committed, and whether the constitutional right in question was clearly established at the time of the violation. If the answer to either or both questions is “no,” then the government official is entitled to qualified immunity and the suit against her is dismissed.

Over the past two decades, the question of whether and in what order courts should decide these two questions has preoccupied the Supreme Court. The Court indicated in Wilson v. Layne (1996) that it generally was better for courts to resolve the constitutional merits question first, and then held in Saucier v. Katz (2001) that courts were required to do so. Its reasoning, in both instances, is that courts must articulate constitutional law in order to guide the conduct of government officials in the future. Just eight years later in Pearson v. Callahan, however, the Court shifted course, holding that deciding the constitutional merits question was discretionary, not mandatory. Continue reading "A Fresh Look at Qualified Immunity"

Marriages, Contracts, and Deals

Martha M. Ertman, Marital Contracting in a Post-Windsor World, 42 Florida St. L. Rev. 479 (2015).

Henry Maine famously claimed that societies tend to move from status to contract.1 Martha Ertman has been one of a number of prominent family law scholars who have chronicled, and at appropriate occasions critiqued, the way that family law has increasingly allowed enforceable agreements to modify or supplement the status relations of marriage and parenthood. In Marital Contracting in a Post-Windsor World (and also in her wonderful recent book, Love’s Promises (Beacon Press, 2015)), Ertman shows the intricacies of family law agreements: how they include not only status rules, and some default rules subject to variation by express agreement, but also certain agreements and exchanges that are not enforceable through the courts—but may be supported by social conventions and expectations.

Ertman focuses on three elements of the “pair bond exchange” that occurs with couples: money, housework, and sex. As she explains, couples (married and unmarried, opposite-sex and same-sex) make whatever arrangements they wish about these matters while together. These agreements are made in the shadow of social expectations, market forces, and state rules about which agreements are enforceable and what monetary dispositions will be imposed on spouses at divorce. For example, the decision about which partner stays at home to take care of children often reflects gender expectations in society combined with gender discrimination in wages (when the market pays men more than women for the same work, then it will frequently make better sense economically for the husband/male cohabitant to work rather than the wife/female cohabitant, if one of them needs to be at home full-time). Throughout, the article helpfully grounds its conclusions about pair-bond exchanges in a wide range of sociological studies. Continue reading "Marriages, Contracts, and Deals"

Not So Subversive After All: Gay Men’s and Lesbians’ Wills

Arguments in equality litigation, speech in parliamentary hearings, and campaigns to sway public opinion need a simple, punchy message. We’re just like you. Marriage is about love and we love too. Mariage pour tous. As I have observed elsewhere, the end of litigation and political lobbying may open space for research of a particular character. Research unconnected to an immediate political imperative such as the push for equal marriage may have the luxury of asking more questions than it answers. It may challenge or complicate assumptions about what would best deliver equality to a group. With the media spotlight aimed elsewhere, one may even acknowledge a group’s internal diversity and potential fractures – and ask how solidly it hangs together.

Sue Westwood’s lovely paper on wills by older lesbians and gay men occupies this space. With civil partnership around for more than a decade and same-sex marriage enacted in England and Wales (2013), it’s more comfortable to bracket formal equality’s discourse of sameness and ask about difference. Drawn from the wider socio-legal study of Westwood’s doctoral research, the paper presents findings from interviews with 15 older lesbians and gay men. Westwood reports difference between heterosexuals and her research participants and within the latter group. We see distinctions among participants based on class, marital status and family form, and – uncomfortably for those cleaving to the ideal of a single LGBT “community” – sex. A couple of gay respondents admit candidly that their male-centred friendship networks result from avoiding women. Continue reading "Not So Subversive After All: Gay Men’s and Lesbians’ Wills"

The Practice and Theory of Secure Data Releases

Ira Rubinstein & Woodrow Hartzog, Anonymization and Risk, 91 Wash. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2016), available on SSRN.

In the current Age of Big Data, companies are constantly striving to figure out how to better use data at their disposal. And it seems that the only thing better than big data is more data. However, the data used is often personal in nature and thus linked to specific individuals and their personal details, traits, or preferences. In such cases, sharing and use of the data conflict with privacy laws and interests. A popular remedy applied to sidestep privacy-based concerns is to render the data no longer “private” by anonymizing it. Anonymization is achieved through a variety of statistical measures. Anonymized data, so it seems, can be sold, shared with researchers, or even possibly released to the general public.

Yet, the Age of Big Data has turned anonymization into a difficult task, as the risk of re-identification seems to be constantly looming. Re-identification is achieved by “attacking” the anonymous dataset, aided by the existence of vast datasets (or “auxiliary information”) from various other sources available to the potential attacker. It is, therefore, difficult to establish whether anonymization was achieved, whether privacy laws pertain to the dataset at hand, and if so, how. In a recent paper, Ira Rubinstein and Woodrow Hartzog examine this issue’s pressing policy and legal aspects. The paper does an excellent job in summarizing the way that the current academic debate in this field is unfolding. It describes recent failed and successful re-identification attempts and provides the reader with a crash course on the complicated statistical methods of de-identification and re-identification. Beyond that, it provides both theoretical insights and a clear roadmap for confronting challenges to properly releasing data. Continue reading "The Practice and Theory of Secure Data Releases"

If We Shouldn’t Punish Psychopaths, May We Still Blame Them for Bad Character? Perhaps Not.

Dana Kay Nelkin’s recent work brings together an important dilemma in the criminal law and a key distinction within it. The result is that our understanding is furthered on both scores. The dilemma is psychopathy. Psychopaths lack affective capacity. They cannot appreciate the wrongfulness behind criminal law’s prohibitions. Without this ability, is it fair to criminally blame and punish them? Although the Model Penal Code specially exempts psychopathy from its definition of mental illness, many theorists believe that appreciating moral reasons is a prerequisite to just punishment.

Now, for the distinction. One move that some criminal law theorists will make is to argue that although we have a judgment that someone has a bad character, the person has not committed a culpable act and hence cannot be punished. If a person enjoys killing and becomes an executioner, not because she wants to inflict deserved punishment but because she wants to kill, ought we to think that she is unjustified or instead that she is just a bad person behaving justifiably? If a driver fails to notice a pedestrian because he is checking out his reflection in the mirror, is this vanity criminal negligence or bad character? The distinction between criminal blaming and character assessing is one way that we can sort cases that seem bad in one respect and yet not properly the object of criminal sanction. Continue reading "If We Shouldn’t Punish Psychopaths, May We Still Blame Them for Bad Character? Perhaps Not."

Appraisal Arbitrage

Minor Myers & Charles R. Korsmo, Appraisal Arbitrage and the Future of Public Company M&A, Wash. U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2015), available at SSRN.

Developments in corporate law center on two topics these days—shareholder voting and merger litigation.  One of the more surprising of the many twists and turns in the latter area is the appearance of appraisal arbitrage. The arbitrage characterization applies because the petitioner under section 262 of the Delaware corporate code takes advantage of the section’s standing rule to buy the transferor’s stock after the record date for the vote on the merger, based on a financial analysis that signals a good chance to prove a valuation in excess of the merger price. A number of special-purpose hedge funds have cropped up as players—Merion Capital, now a frequent appraisal plaintiff, raised $1 billion for a fund dedicated to appraisal claims in 2013. The volume of petitions has spiked up.

Volume has increased substantially despite the fact that appraisal is supposed to be brutally unfriendly to plaintiffs, partly because class actions are prohibited and partly because the plaintiff bears the burden to prove every dollar of damages through a ground up valuation of the company. The surge casts a negative light on the permissive the standing rule, which, in contrast to the blocks erected in representative litigation, facilitates buy-ins. The surge in filings also bids reconsideration of the open-ended approach to valuation techniques followed in the Delaware courts. Finally, it calls into question the fed funds plus 5% interest rate applied to appraisal recoveries under section 262. It is alleged that at a time when interest rates have fallen to little more than zero, a petitioner with a substantial stake can turn a profit on a return of the merger price alone, given an assured 5% yield during the litigation period. Critics are pressuring Delaware to amend the statute to turn back the plaintiffs.

In Appraisal Arbitrage and the Future of Public Company M&A, Myers and Korsmo turn back the critics. Continue reading "Appraisal Arbitrage"

The Long Arc of the Accommodation Debate

Samuel R. Bagenstos, The Unrelenting Libertarian Challenge to Public Accommodations Law, 66 Stanford L. Rev. 1205 (2014).

Two frequent questions arise about the Jotwell project. Should we focus more on deserving articles that haven’t received much attention? And does liking an article “lots” preclude selecting articles one disagrees with? Today’s contribution does not do much to address the first concern. The article discussed here is by a well-known author, was well-published, and has already garnered attention—although less than it deserves, in my opinion. But this Jot does more or less meet the second criterion.

Samuel Bagenstos’s excellent article, The Unrelenting Libertarian Challenge to Public Accommodations Law, has troubled me for a year now. Anyone seeking to elaborate, and in some cases defend and expand, the developments it describes and, I think, implicitly criticizes, must reckon with it. As this Jot argues, however, so must supporters of Title II, who may find that their arguments defending it, and their reassurances about its scope and limits, are equally subject to the undermining logic of Bagenstos’s own critical—or Critical, if you like—argument. As he concludes, the conflict over just “how deeply the antidiscrimination norm may properly penetrate into previously ‘social’ spheres” is a real one, and unlikely to go away, for reasons that apply to both sides in the debate. Continue reading "The Long Arc of the Accommodation Debate"

Property Law, Law & Economics, and Means for Reaching Distributive Goals

Lee Anne Fennell & Richard H. McAdams, The Distributive Deficit in Law and Economics, Minn. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2015), available at SSRN.

Lee Anne Fennell and Richard H. McAdamsThe Distributive Deficit in Law and Economics is framed as a law and economics article but makes a significant contribution to property theory. The Distributive Deficit takes on the standard law and economics assertion “that tax is strictly superior to legal doctrine as a means of redistributing income,” (p. 7) and the related assumption “that the distributive pattern in a society will be invariant to the political form of redistribution.” (p. 14) As Fennell and McAdams note, the general acceptance of both tax superiority and the “invariance hypothesis” in law and economics can be credited largely to the work of Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell (see here, here, and here). Fennell and McAdams’ article is a devastating and wholly convincing critique of this line of reasoning, grounded in the failure of standard law and economics approaches to take into account political action costs. Tax superiority depends on rule and tax changes having zero transaction costs when it comes to establishing the new order. Yet, as Fennell and McAdams’ argue, political action costs can vary depending on preferred mechanism. Put differently, the theoretical possibility of a tax-and-transfer solution does not necessarily mean a redistributive rule change should automatically be discarded: given political action costs, a rule change may still be more efficient than a tax-based approach.

Fennell and McAdams’ contribution is particularly valuable at this point in property law scholarship. The appropriateness and power of law and economics approaches to property, especially the information-cost theories championed by Henry Smith and Thomas Merrill, have taken center stage in debates between progressive and conservative property scholars. Tellingly, in 2015 the AALS Property Section chose to dedicate the section’s panel to “the place and scope of economic analysis.” Those seeking to diminish the importance of law and economics in property law have argued that economic-approaches alone cannot capture all that property law seeks to accomplish and that economic values are only one of many pluralistic values of import. That is to say, recent criticism has been that of the “outsider,” seeking to undermine the conservative tendency of law and economics-based property scholarship not by arguing that law and economics is a bad tool but that it should not be the only approach. Written by two University of Chicago professors, The Distributive Deficit is more of an “insider” attack. It does not question the core tenets of law and economics, it simply shows that on efficiency grounds the oft-repeated conclusion that tax-and-transfer is necessarily a superior means of redistribution compared to rule changes is incorrect. But it is an important intervention for property scholars because without it, the idea that property law should be based upon the notion of tax superiority—advanced by Yale Law professor Robert Ellickson in a recent article—might be uncritically accepted. Continue reading "Property Law, Law & Economics, and Means for Reaching Distributive Goals"