Monthly Archives: February 2016

What Scope for Patented Designs?

Sarah Burstein, The Patented Design, 83 Tenn. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2016), available at SSRN.

Ornamental designs of articles of manufacture have been patentable subject matter in the U.S. since 1842. About 400,000 such patents have issued in the years since the birth of this regime, two-thirds of which have been granted since 2000. Scholarly interest in design patents has historically been quite modest, but has been heating up lately. This is due in no small part to the epic battle between Apple and Samsung over Apple’s claim that Samsung’s phones infringed some of Apple’s design patents. Samsung has asked the Supreme Court to consider whether the designs at issue are really “ornamental” and thus properly covered by design patents. In addition, Samsung wants the Court to review the award to Apple of its total profits on the sales of the infringing phones in the amount of $399 million.

The Supreme Court has not reviewed a design patent law since 1894. The Court’s 1871 decision in Gorham v. White articulated a test for infringement that is still influential today. Gorham did not raise difficult issues of patent scope because the defendant in that had embodied a clearly ornamental patented design for silverware in directly competing products. Continue reading "What Scope for Patented Designs?"

‘Politics as Markets’ Goes Global

Comparative constitutional law is a field crowded with rich and complex ideas about the role of courts and judicial review in a democracy. Yet into this field has now come an important new argument, which is bound to make a distinctive impression on how constitutional scholars and political scientists around the world understand the positive origins, and normative functions, of judicial review in democratic settings: Samuel Issacharoff’s argument that constitutional courts around the world can and do play a valuable role in “democratic hedging.”

The idea of hedging of this kind arises in response to two basic threats: first, that within many democratic systems there are a range of antidemocratic actors who attempt to use the freedoms enshrined by constitutional democracy to launch an attack on its most basic institutions and stability, from within; and second, that in many new democracies in particular, there are often political elites that are so dominant that they effectively stifle the degree of political competition needed for true democracy, even in the most minimal sense. Continue reading "‘Politics as Markets’ Goes Global"

What We Do With Substantive Due Process

Jamal Greene, The Meming of Substantive Due Process,  31 Constitutional Commentary — (forthcoming 2016), available at SSRN.

In 1980, John Hart Ely pronounced substantive due process “a contradiction in terms—sort of like ‘green pastel redness.’” Today, the idea that substantive due process is an oxymoron has become commonplace. Professors of constitutional law teach that it is so; judges rehearse the criticism in their opinions. Of course, this hasn’t stopped courts from protecting substantive rights under the Due Process Clause. But they have generally responded to this critique by invoking stare decisis rather than building any kind of affirmative textual case for the doctrine. Just five years after Ely’s quip, the Supreme Court conceded that the substantive dimension of due process is not rooted in the language of the Constitution but is simply “the accumulated product of judicial interpretation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.” This concession, among other things, has put supporters of the Court’s substantive due process rulings—particularly those vindicating sexual and reproductive rights—on the defensive. The idea that substantive due process is a contradiction in terms cloaks these rulings in illegitimacy. It suggests they are constitutionally unmoored, or worse yet, moored in an interpretation of the document that is fundamentally absurd.

In an excellent, thought-provoking new essay forthcoming in Constitutional Commentary, Jamal Greene shows that this particular critique of substantive due process became prominent only in the 1980s. Substantive due process had, of course, garnered criticism before then—especially during the Lochner era and on grounds that it enabled judges to engage in policymaking. But it was only in the 1980s, in the wake of decisions such as Griswold and Roe, that there was apparently a realization that the word “substantive” contradicts the word “process” in due process analysis—and that this contradiction undermines the validity of the Court’s substantive due process rulings. Greene shows that this realization coincided with the growth and expansion of a certain kind of originalism. The claim that “substantive due process” is inherently contradictory was actively promoted by conservative legal actors inside and outside the Reagan Justice Department. A substantial number of the judicial opinions—including the great majority of appellate opinions—that have attacked substantive due process on these grounds have been written by appointees of that department. Greene argues, in other words, that the claim that substantive due process is an oxymoron was fostered and spread as part of a political movement. The delegitimation of decisions such as Griswold and Roe was not a byproduct of the assertion that substantive due process is an oxymoron, but rather, its purpose. Continue reading "What We Do With Substantive Due Process"

The Low Road

Serena Mayeri, Marital Supremacy and the Constitution of the Nonmarital Family, 103 Calif. L. Rev. 1277 (2015).

A concern about the marriage equality movement is that it has reinforced the supremacy of marriage and detracted from the LGBT community’s broader agenda of family pluralism.1 In her stunning new work, Serena Mayeri describes a similar dynamic in the history of another civil rights movement—the movement to eliminate illegitimacy classifications. There, too, important civil rights were secured at the cost of achieving broader, more comprehensive legal reform on behalf of non-conforming families. The parallelism of these two movements is not random or fortuitous. Indeed, Mayeri’s work shows that the movements contributed to the same legacy of marital supremacy and that the loser in these two movements was the same: women, especially poor women and women of color, whose circumstances and desires put them outside the mainstream of traditional marriage.

Case by case, Mayeri takes us through the major litigation of the 1960s and 1970s that challenged illegitimacy classifications in Social Security benefits, inheritance rights, wrongful death claims, public assistance benefits, mandatory paternity disclosure rules, citizenship law, child support law, and employment bans against unmarried women. She shows that the illegitimacy challenges that succeeded (and many did not) did so because courts concluded that it was unfair to visit the sins of unmarried mothers upon their children. It was not that children were to be treated fairly along with their mothers; rather, they were to be rescued from the circumstances their mothers had created. Continue reading "The Low Road"

Thinking for the Future

Katherine Gibson, Deborah Bird Rose, & Ruth Fincher, Manifesto for Living in the Anthropocene (2015).

Manifesto for Living in the Anthropocene is notable for two reasons – it is published under a creative commons license with a publisher committed to innovation, and it is an optimistic book that attempts to prefigure a world in which life and research are undertaken more sustainably. (And it contains an actual manifesto!)

The first thing to like about this book, therefore, is its publisher, in particular its business model and its ethos. Punctum texts are freely available on the internet – readers can make a donation before accessing a title, but can also access them for free. Hard copies can also be ordered. The objective of punctum books is to challenge scholarly norms – its motto is ‘spontaneous acts of scholarly combustion’ and it describes itself as ‘dedicated to radically creative modes of intellectual inquiry and writing across a whimsical para-humanities assemblage. We specialize in neo-traditional and non-conventional scholarly work that productively twists and/or ignores academic norms.’1 As academics become more critical about certain trends in traditional scholarly endeavor with its formalities and many constraints, there is a huge potential for new forms of more open-ended and innovative scholarship. Books published by punctum are short – novella length – making them ideal for conveying creative interventions succinctly, without getting bogged down in detail. Continue reading "Thinking for the Future"

International Law and Step-Zero: Going Beyond Cyberwar

Kristen Eichensehr, Cyber War & International Law Step Zero, 50 Tex. Int’l L.J. 355 (2015), available at SSRN.

Kristen Eichensehr recently published a piece entitled Cyberwar & International Law Step Zero that describes an unfolding of events that is by now familiar to international lawyers contemplating the emergence of new military technologies. First, a new military technology X (where X has been drones, cyber weapons, nuclear weapons, lethal autonomous weapons) appears. Nations then ask the “step-zero” question — “does international law apply to the use or acquisition of X”? And the answer is inevitably, “yes, but in some ways existing international law needs to be tweaked to adjust for some of the novel characteristics of X.”

Eichensehr offers a compelling explanation for both the persistence of this question and the recurrent answer. Regarding persistence, she points out that for international law, unlike domestic law, the bound parties—nations—bind themselves consensually. For example, she writes that “The tradition of requiring state consent (or at least non-objection) to international law predisposes the international legal community to approach new issues from the ground up: When a new issue arises, the question is whether international law addresses the issue, because if there is no evidence that it does, then it does not.” In other words, asking the step-zero question is the first step in proceeding down a path that may result in a state’s opting out. Continue reading "International Law and Step-Zero: Going Beyond Cyberwar"

Abolition Calling

  • Allegra M. McLeod, Prison Abolition and Grounded Justice, 62 U.C.L.A. L. Rev. 1156 (2015).
  • Allegra M. McLeod, Confronting Criminal Law’s Violence: The Possibilities of Unfinished Alternatives, 8 Harvard Unbound 109 (2013), available at SSRN

Two recent articles by Professor Allegra M. McLeod, her 2013 essay, Confronting Criminal Law’s Violence: The Possibilities of Unfinished Alternatives, and her 2015 article, Prison Abolition and Grounded Justice, represent the most significant attention to the idea of prison abolition inside the legal academy for at least generation. The first builds toward the second, a powerful and broad gauge intervention in the current exciting moment of reform in criminal law and justice. Together they constitute some the most exciting new work on criminal justice I have read in sometime.

We stand at what increasingly seems like the most promising change point in decades in the criminal justice era. Academics, long out of the action find themselves facing two risks. If we too exuberantly carry forward the radical critique of criminal justice, at a time when the system seeks legitimacy from researchers, we may miss the opportunity to help build a more “evidence based” system and even contribute to an eventual public backlash in favor of a return to “get tough” punitive policies. The other risk is that we accept premature closure of the era of mass incarceration, embracing too many of presumptions about crime, high incarceration neighborhoods, and law enforcement competence that built and sustained the era of mass incarceration.   Professor McLeod’s essay and article are, along with the recent book Captured by Professor Marie Gottschalk of the University of Pennsylvania, Department of Political Science, the strongest efforts yet to push attention to the latter risk, of defining mass incarceration “down” in ways that will allow it to reshape and reformulate itself (perhaps into a system of mass probation or mass jailing). Continue reading "Abolition Calling"

Bringing Court Reasoning to the Surface

Elizabeth Y. McCuskey, Submerged Precedent, 16 NEV. L. J. __ (forthcoming 2016), available at SSRN.

In the modern age, there is no shortage of information. The internet and the tools it has inspired lead many—myself included—to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what is out there. As a consequence, I came to Elizabeth McCuskey’s Submerged Precedent with some degree of skepticism. McCuskey, after all, argues that even more information—in the form of “submerged” district court opinions—should be made readily available. After reading this carefully researched and artfully written article, however, I am a believer. And I think you will be too.

First, what is “submerged precedent?” Although district courts do not create vertically or horizontally precedential opinions in the strictest sense, McCuskey argues that district court opinions contribute to how decisional law develops. She adopts a broad view of precedent—reaching any court opinion that provides reasoned arguments—which results in a large body of persuasive law. As McCuskey argues, however, the law can only be persuasive to the extent it is available to the parties, and consequently, to courts. This is where submersion comes into play. The question is which district court opinions are available and where. District court judges designate opinions that they deem to be particularly important as “published.” Those opinions then appear on Westlaw (or other legal databases such as Lexis, but for ease, I will refer to only Westlaw). Unpublished district court opinions may also appear on Westlaw, but only if the authoring judge designates them as “written opinions.” What remains “submerged” are reasoned decisions that do not carry these designations. Instead, they can only be found on databases such as PACER, which has limited search functionality and charges a fee for everything other than “written opinions,” or Bloomberg, which while more searchable, is quite expensive. These opinions constitute the submerged precedent about which McCuskey is concerned. Continue reading "Bringing Court Reasoning to the Surface"

Corporate Intent and Corporate Crime: A Matter of Inference

Mihailis Evangelos Diamantis, Corporate Criminal Minds, 91 Notre Dame L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2016), available at SSRN.

The Yates Memo emphasizes the need to fight corporate crime by imposing criminal liability on individual criminal perpetrators. But critiques of corporate deferred prosecution agreements and cascades of examples of corporate criminality involving crimes such as bribery, manipulation, tax evasion and sanctions-busting raise questions about criminal liability of corporations as well as the liability of individual wrongdoers. Whether sanctioning individuals or the corporations they work for would be more effective in achieving deterrence or vindicating society’s interest in ensuring legal compliance and sanctioning legal violations is an empirical question. But improving the rules about corporate criminality does not require abandoning efforts to sanction individual criminality.

The problem Mihailis Diamantis addresses in this article is not a new one: corporations may be subject to civil and criminal liability for their acts, but assigning criminal liability to a corporation depends on an “antiquated gimmick—respondeat superior,” which focuses on attribution of employees’ intent to the corporation, rather than on any real theory. Diamantis states that respondeat superior results in assigning criminal liability to corporations where the criminal acts resulted from the actions of a few rogue employees, and insulating the corporation from criminal liability inappropriately merely because no single employee has the requisite mens rea. He argues that whereas respondeat superior may have made sense as the basis for the attribution of mens rea in the context of small corporations it makes no sense in the context of large complex modern business enterprises. Corporate personhood may be a legal fiction, but it is one to which the law is committed, and therefore it is necessary to be able to identify the mental state of these fictional persons. Continue reading "Corporate Intent and Corporate Crime: A Matter of Inference"

The Perils of State Standing, Revisited

Alexander M. Bickel, The Voting Rights Cases, 1966 Sup. Ct. Rev. 79 (1966).

For those who teach and write about the federal courts and/or constitutional law, Alexander Bickel’s 24-page review of how the Voting Rights Act fared in the Supreme Court – a lucid dissection of South Carolina v. Katzenbach, Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, and Katzenbach v. Morgan — would almost certainly be worth a read as a pure matter of historical (and academic) curiosity.

What’s particularly salient about Bickel’s analysis, though, is its contemporary relevance along at least two axes. First, it provides the outlines of a rejoinder to the Supreme Court’s 2013 conclusion that key provisions of the VRA are unconstitutional (for economy of space, I’ll leave this issue to the interested reader). Second, and, even more significantly, it makes perhaps the most emphatic argument against broad state standing in lawsuits challenging the scope of federal government policies — including Virginia’s rejected challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and Texas’s pending challenge to President Obama’s “deferred action” immigration policy. Thus, although no one needs convincing that Bickel was the first among equals, contemporary readers might benefit from this relatively short and less well-known piece of his. Continue reading "The Perils of State Standing, Revisited"