Monthly Archives: May 2017

Ordinary Politics, Extraordinary Results: A Definitive History of the Framing of the United States Constitution

Michael Klarman’s The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution is a marvel. It’s an 850-page tome that draws us in even though we all know what happens in the end. Indeed, for most readers, the broad outlines of its narrative are ones that we’ve heard many times: in grade school, again in high school, perhaps in college, and, for a lucky few, once again in graduate school. The book’s seven chronological chapters tell our nation’s origin story: the flaws of the Articles of Confederation; the politics of the pre-constitutional period; the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia; the debate over the constitutional status of slavery; the hard-fought political battles between Federalists and Antifederalists at the state ratifying conventions; ratification itself; and the drafting and adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Yet Klarman manages to give us a story that demands reading despite its familiarity. There are three reasons why The Framers’ Coup succeeds despite covering a subject that doesn’t lack for historical attention. First, the narrative he relates is both exhaustive and sparkling. It is encyclopedic without being an encyclopedia. The story moves along briskly because Klarman’s prose is simple and propulsive. Yet any fact that a reader would like to know about the framing and ratification of the Constitution is in here. We get the comforting reassurance of hearing well-told versions of stories we already know, such as the famous large state-small state compromise over representation in Congress. But Klarman also highlights the importance of issues that have slipped out of the traditional narrative. Only an expert in eighteenth-century political history would know of the profound effect that John Jay’s failed yearlong negotiations with the Spanish over navigation rights on the Mississippi had on the deliberations at the Philadelphia and subsequent ratifying conventions. (Klarman convincingly argues that Jay’s attempt to bargain away these rights in exchange for a favorable commercial treaty with Spain did more to engender southern fears about a powerful, northern-dominated federal government than any other issue, slavery included.) Continue reading "Ordinary Politics, Extraordinary Results: A Definitive History of the Framing of the United States Constitution"

An Imperial Court in a Post-Colonial Context

In this age of Brexit and the existential threats facing the United Kingdom, I find myself drawn to literature addressing the legacy of the British Empire. And in their new article, Constitutional Comparisons by A Supranational Court in Flux: The Privy Council And Caribbean Bills of Rights, Tracy Robinson and Arif Bulkan analyze a vestigial British imperial court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), in a post-colonial context. Law professors at the University of the West Indies, the authors examine the JCPC’s approach to constitutional interpretation through detailed analysis of its cases addressing Caribbean bills of rights. The article succeeds in highlighting significant questions about the JCPC’s legitimacy and function and provides insight into the very serious challenges presented by judging from a distance in a changing jurisdictional landscape.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is a relic of the British colonial empire. During the imperial period, it evolved into the final court of appeal for roughly one quarter of the world’s population. Now, it hears appeals from a tiny number of former colonies, current UK territories, and Crown dependencies. The Anglophone Caribbean is at the core of the JCPC’s workload: In addition to the six overseas territories in the region, eight of the twelve independent Caribbean states send appeals to the JCPC, having retained its services following decolonization. Yet, rather than acting as an individualized apex court to the numerous intermediate courts over which it has jurisdiction, the JCPC instead has developed into a transnational or supranational court; its binding precedent can be applied across national jurisdictions. Of the 500 or so “Privy Counsellors” (the British cabinet members, politicians, clergymen, etc.) that advise the Monarch as members of the Privy Council, the Judicial Committee is staffed by a judicial subset comprising justices of the UK Supreme Court as well as judges of the various courts of appeal in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Judges from some Commonwealth countries are eligible to sit on the JCPC, but only a few Caribbean judges have been appointed as Privy Counsellors, and those who were appointed were rarely empaneled on JCPC Boards (the groups of three or five judges that hear cases). Continue reading "An Imperial Court in a Post-Colonial Context"

Philosophy of Language and Legal Interpretation

Brian G. Slocum, Pragmatics and Legal Texts: How Best to Account for the Gaps between Literal Meaning and Communicative Meaning, in The Pragmatic Turn in Law: Inference and Interpretation in Legal Discourse (Mouton Series of Pragmatics, forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

Law is pervasively interested in the proper understanding and application of texts: contracts, wills, trusts, agency regulations, statutes, constitutional provisions, etc.  Legal interpretation is obviously central to legal practice, and it is not surprising that legal scholars would come to look to literary interpretation and philosophy of language for insight. The discussion of literary interpretation, and what lawyers, legal scholars, and judges might learn from it, has been one of the themes of the Law and Literature movement. The recourse to philosophy of language has been slower and less well publicized; however, there is now a growing literature applying philosophy of language to problems in law (e.g., Alessandro Capone & Francesca Poggi (eds.), Pragmatics and Law (Springer, 2016); Andrei Marmor & Scott Soames (eds.), Philosophical Foundations of Language in the Law (Oxford, 2011)).

Brian Slocum is one of the most important scholars working at the intersection of legal interpretation and philosophy of language, as exemplified by his recent book, Ordinary Meaning (University of Chicago, 2015). In that book, Slocum contrasted one of judges’ favorite touchstones when interpreting documents, “ordinary meaning,” with the idea of “communicative meaning.” In the present article, Pragmatics and Legal Texts, Slocum offers a parallel contrast: between “literal meaning” and “communicative meaning.” To understand the “literal meaning” of a text or statute, one need only understand the meanings of each constituent term and how they fit together grammatically and logically to express a proposition. This process is meant to be independent of any considerations of the context of utterance. The article defines “communicative meaning” differently, as “what an appropriate hearer would most reasonably take a speaker to be trying to convey in employing a given verbal vehicle in the given communicative-context.” (P. 2, footnote omitted.) This meaning can differ from the literal meaning because communication is a cooperative activity, which presupposes several further norms that can affect the communicative meaning of a statute or text in the context of utterance. Continue reading "Philosophy of Language and Legal Interpretation"

Unevenly Cooked: Raw Materials and Fair Use

Andrew Gilden, Raw Materials and the Creative Process, 104 Geo. L.J. 355 (2016).

Over the past decade or two, intellectual property scholars have learned to pay attention to the rhetoric that people use when arguing and advocating. In particular, many scholars have challenged the use of property rhetoric about “owning” and “stealing” by those seeking expanded IP protection. According to these scholars, this rhetoric has the potential to pump inappropriate moral intuitions and to distort the utilitarian analysis that is supposed to guide IP policymaking.

Andrew Gilden’s recent article shares this interest in the language of IP, but he trains his sights instead on the rhetoric used by those seeking to limit the scope of copyright protection and to expand fair use. Although Gilden is, I think, sympathetic with their project, he demonstrates how one metaphor—whether the plaintiff’s work was used as “raw material” in the defendant’s work—can have pernicious effects on the kinds of artists that are insulated by fair use law. Continue reading "Unevenly Cooked: Raw Materials and Fair Use"

Unpacking the Shortcomings of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

Nora Freeman Engstrom, A Dose of Reality for Specialized Courts: Lessons from the VICP, 163 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1631 (2015).

The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 established the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (“VICP”) as a replacement regime for vaccine-related injuries. The VICP is funded by a seventy-five cent tax on each vaccine dose. Individuals alleging vaccine-related injuries file a petition, which is adjudicated by a special master of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Petitioners may seek damages for, inter alia, health care and rehabilitation costs (past and anticipated), though damages for pain and suffering or death are capped at $250,000. The law provides broad legal immunities for vaccine manufacturers, including preemption of tort claims for design or warning defects. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the preemption provision to include design defects where the vaccine manufacturer failed to incorporate a safer alternative design.

The VICP maintains a Vaccine Injury Table that lists compensable injuries—these are deemed “on-table” injuries, and causation is presumed. All other injuries are deemed “off-table” injuries, and petitioners have the burden of proving causation. This distinction is significant; between 1999 and 2014, six vaccines were added to the table, and none had an on-table injury. During that same time period, the percent of petitions alleging off-table injuries increased from 25% to 98%. Importantly, the statute does not mandate that the data needed to meet the causation bar be collected by manufacturers or disclosed to the public; moreover, FDA regulations have not filled this legal gap. To the contrary, as officials from the FDA and CDC explain, “no active effort is made to search for, identify and collect information [on vaccine adverse events], but rather information is passively received from those who choose to voluntarily report.” Given the challenges in demonstrating causation and the lack of data to analyze causation, the net result is a large decrease in awarded claims and a large increase in uncompensated harms.

There can be no question that vaccines are a public health triumph. At the same time, however, with statistical certainty a small number of vaccinees will suffer catastrophic injuries or death. As health policy expert Michelle Mello has argued, vaccinations involve a high stakes gamble where the overwhelming majority will benefit but no one knows (or can predict with reliable certainty) who will suffer harm. Over the past three decades the VICP has adjudicated over 14,000 petitions, and thus there is ample data from which to evaluate the VICP. Herein steps Nora Freeman Engstrom. Her article, A Dose of Reality for Specialized Courts: Lessons from the VICP, is an elegant and comprehensive investigation of the VICP, and her findings highlight several troubling trends. Continue reading "Unpacking the Shortcomings of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program"

Studying Specific Performance

Yonathan A. Arbel, Contract Remedies in Action: Specific Performance, 118 W. Va. L. Rev. 100 (2015), available at SSRN.

Parties that have a right to the very thing promised in a contract may opt not to have it delivered by the breaching party through specific performance. Even when the promised item is unique, the plaintiff may choose not to enforce the remedy. Why? Is it too difficult to execute the remedy? Are motivations mixed? Do lawyers advise clients to pursue money damages over specific performance? Will the breaching party behave in good faith when complying with the order? Professor Yonathan Arbel, former managing editor of the New Private Law Blog, offers a fascinating qualitative study of this underexamined issue. He explores why a contractual party that has established a right to the remedy of specific performance might opt out of the preferred remedy. Despite having a proven right to this coveted remedy, he shows why plaintiffs may choose not to force the breaching party to perform as promised. This, he claims, is true notwithstanding the “notoriously” under-compensatory nature of expectancy damages in comparison to specific performance.

Remedies and substance are intertwined. Professor Ariel Porat, in a Remedies chapter in the forthcoming Handbook of Law and Economics, declares that “[a]nalyzing the substantive law without its remedial part is almost meaningless.” Understanding remedial options and goals is essential. Professor Arbel’s work thoughtfully analyzes contract law’s pinnacle remedy of specific performance and the goals it serves. He then critically examines contract’s law primary competing theories—economic and rights-based conceptions—in light of parties’ actual behavior regarding specific performance. His treatment describes what parties actually do when confronted with the option of specific performance in the real world. His qualitative approach explores their practices “‘from the inside,’ tracking the internal view of litigants and their lawyers.” Continue reading "Studying Specific Performance"

Committing to Critically Interrogating Our Conversations About Women We Think We Don’t Much Like

Alice Woolley & Elysa Darling, Nasty Women and the Rule of Law, U.S.F. L. Rev. (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

If you have been called aggressive, incompetent, immoral, nasty, unlikeable, unattractive, unfeminine, or unpleasant, or if you’ve heard someone call a woman lawyer one of these adjectives, or if you think they accurately describe a woman lawyer you know, then read Nasty Women and the Rule of Law.

The claim of the paper is modest: women who enter the legal profession risk being labelled “nasty women.” And by that, the authors mean that women risk attack arising from “the intersection between the normative structure of the lawyer’s role and sexist stereotypes.” (P. 3.) Continue reading "Committing to Critically Interrogating Our Conversations About Women We Think We Don’t Much Like"

How Local Police and Prosecutors Protect Immigrants

Ingrid V. Eagly, Immigrant Protective Policies in Criminal Justice, 95 Tex. L. Rev. 245 (2016), available at SSRN.

Local governments are increasingly taking the role of protectors in these fear-filled times for federal immigration policy. A popularly used term for this protective role of cities is sanctuaries. But what does giving sanctuary mean in the immigration and local law and policy context? What protections are arising?

One of my favorite empirical scholars working at the intersection of immigration and criminal justice, Professor Ingrid Eagly, set out to gather data on the policies of local police and prosecutors that protect immigrants. Professor Eagly’s empirical work is always illuminating because through her clinical work with clients, she has her fingers on the pulse of what matters right now for people in the trenches.  For example, she conducted the first national study documenting the dearth of representation by counsel among immigrants facing removal. She also conducted the first study of the impact of televideo proceedings to adjudicate the cases of people in immigration detention.

For her latest project, Professor Eagly used public records requests to obtain policies pertaining to immigrants from police, sheriff’s and prosecutors’ offices in four of the most populous counties of the most populous state in the nation: Alameda, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, and Ventura counties in California. These four counties offer a particularly powerful vantage point into immigrant-protective policies pioneered among local law enforcement because they are among the most immigrant-protective jurisdictions in the nation. Studying the approaches taken by the vanguard can help inform future developments as other jurisdictions try to forge their own policies. Continue reading "How Local Police and Prosecutors Protect Immigrants"

How Local Police and Prosecutors Protect Immigrants

Ingrid V. Eagly, Immigrant Protective Policies in Criminal Justice, 95 Tex. L. Rev. 245 (2016), available at SSRN.

Local governments are increasingly taking the role of protectors in these fear-filled times for federal immigration policy. A popularly used term for this protective role of cities is sanctuaries. But what does giving sanctuary mean in the immigration and local law and policy context? What protections are arising?

One of my favorite empirical scholars working at the intersection of immigration and criminal justice, Professor Ingrid Eagly, set out to gather data on the policies of local police and prosecutors that protect immigrants. Professor Eagly’s empirical work is always illuminating because through her clinical work with clients, she has her fingers on the pulse of what matters right now for people in the trenches.  For example, she conducted the first national study documenting the dearth of representation by counsel among immigrants facing removal. She also conducted the first study of the impact of televideo proceedings to adjudicate the cases of people in immigration detention.

For her latest project, Professor Eagly used public records requests to obtain policies pertaining to immigrants from police, sheriff’s and prosecutors’ offices in four of the most populous counties of the most populous state in the nation: Alameda, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, and Ventura counties in California. These four counties offer a particularly powerful vantage point into immigrant-protective policies pioneered among local law enforcement because they are among the most immigrant-protective jurisdictions in the nation. Studying the approaches taken by the vanguard can help inform future developments as other jurisdictions try to forge their own policies. Continue reading "How Local Police and Prosecutors Protect Immigrants"

What Judges Can Do About Implicit Bias

Andrew J. Wistrich & Jeffrey J. Rachlinski, Implicit Bias in Judicial Decision Making: How It Affects Judgment and What Judges Can Do About It, in Ensuring Justice: Reducing Bias 87 (Sarah Redfield ed., forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

For some years now, scholars have discussed the influence of implicit bias on decision-making. While many argue that conscious bias is decreasing,1 studies show that the impact of unconscious bias is significant. Although scholars, including Judge Andrew Wistrich and Jeffrey Rachlinski, have shown that judges possess such bias, judges—SCOTUS included—have not been sufficiently aware of the problem. The relatively recent change to the standard for dismissing a claim on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion illustrates this point.

In Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, Justice Souter formulated the new plausibility standard for deciding whether a claim should be dismissed. Later, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, Justice Kennedy expounded on this new interpretation, stating that a judge should rely on her “judicial experience and common sense” to decide whether a claim should be dismissed. Despite the importance of this modern invocation, the Court cited no evidence to support relying on these intuitions. Scholars, including Steve Burbank, publicly questioned the use of this information as inviting subjective judgments by judges to dismiss cases that they disfavor. But courts continue to embrace this SCOTUS-endorsed phrase and employ it in their quest to decide whether claims should be dismissed. Should they? Continue reading "What Judges Can Do About Implicit Bias"

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