Yearly Archives: 2018

Rediscovering the APA

Evan D. Bernick, Envisioning Administrative Procedure Act Originalism, 70 Admin. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2018), available at SSRN.

Forty years ago, then-Professor Antonin Scalia published Vermont Yankee: The APA, the D.C. Circuit, and the Supreme Court in the Supreme Court Review. There, the future Justice both chastised the D.C. Circuit for ignoring the text of the APA (Administrative Procedure Act) and offered a “lament” about how faithful judicial adherence to the original public meaning of that foundational statute could not provide a durable framework for administrative governance. Thus, even for skeptics of federal common-lawmaking like Scalia, the original APA has remained in substantial part unloved, or at least often benignly neglected.

Evan Bernick, a visiting lecturer at Georgetown Law, and a thoughtful provocative new voice in administrative law, is wondering whether administrative lawyers have given up too fast on the romance. In Envisioning Administrative Procedure Act Originalism, Bernick imagines what it would look like to apply a consistently originalist approach to the APA. He does not offer a complete picture of the results those methods would yield, but pointing to that sketchy spot on the map underlines the importance of his project. Originalists have lavished far less attention on a statute that frames much of modern governance than they have on provisions of the Constitution that are less likely to affect the lives of Americans every day. What APA originalism might unearth should be of interest to originalists and also to non-originalists who see original meaning or intention as an important input in the interpretive process. Continue reading "Rediscovering the APA"

Transforming the Workplace with Help from Transitional Justice

Lesley Wexler, Jennifer Robbennolt, & Colleen Murphy, #MeToo, Time’s Up, and Theories of Justice, available on SSRN.

It may have been Ashley Judd’s allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul, that finally unleashed the powerful movement to call workplace harassment to account, but the movement had clearly been building for some time. Spurred along by the sexism surrounding the 2016 presidential election and allegations of harassment and abuse against high profile figures in the news, entertainment, and tech industries, in politics, and even in the judiciary, the #MeToo movement feels like a public reckoning. The Time’s Up initiative, seeking to institutionalize reform and support victims of harassment, provides a concrete path forward to capitalize on the movement.

A number of activists have called for a restorative or transitional justice approach in order to create real change. Lesley Wexler, Jennifer Robbennolt, and Colleen Murphy take up that call in #MeToo, Time’s Up, and Theories of Justice. They summarize the movement and initiatives currently under way, explore the key components of restorative justice, and look more broadly to the insights of transitional justice to help chart a way forward. As someone who has been advocating for years for a new approach to transparency and accountability surrounding discrimination in the workplace, I found this article incredibly valuable. Continue reading "Transforming the Workplace with Help from Transitional Justice"

A Creditors’ Rights Perspective on Domestic Asset Protection Trusts

James J. White, Fraudulent Conveyances Masquerading as Asset Protection Trusts, 47 UCC L.J. 367 (2017), available at SSRN.

Property rights are contingent. While property owners enjoy exclusive access to property owned, laws governing creditors’ rights moderate owners’ rights under certain conditions. Failure to satisfy a debt can trigger legal processes that may even lead to a complete stripping of ownership rights in favor of the creditor. Viewed this way, the sorting of rights to property is a zero-sum game where a creditor’s gain offsets an owner’s loss.

Trusts can reduce the vulnerability of an owner’s property rights by adding additional complexity to the ownership arrangement. The spendthrift trust is the obvious example. In such an arrangement an owner transfers the ownership bundle in manner that is said to “split” new ownership rights between a trustee and one or more beneficiaries. Afterwards, the beneficiaries enjoy the benefits of ownership, but neither a beneficiary nor most third parties are capable of diminishing beneficial ownership rights in the spendthrift trust arrangement. Continue reading "A Creditors’ Rights Perspective on Domestic Asset Protection Trusts"

Good People and the Ethics of Quiet Egocentricity

The fascinating case made by Yuval Feldman’s recent book is that most wrongdoing is done by good people who, too frequently, allow themselves to do wrong. We are egocentric; our brain works hard to promote self-interest whilst protecting the self-image that we are morally upright. And it does so quietly (my word, not Feldman’s); much of the decision-making is done subconsciously, intuitively – albeit sometimes, importantly, with glimmers of recognition.

Feldman classifies us into three types: deliberate wrongdoers; situational wrong doers, subject to this quiet egocentricity; and the genuinely good. Even the latter are prone to moral blindspots. Concerned about the prevalence of the last two groups, Feldman makes a strong case for taking situational ethics more seriously. This allows a psychological engagement with sociological questions of structure and agency. Situational ethics sees anxieties about bad apples and bad barrels as being better understood as a concern with bad decisions; we are located in webs of design and accident. What Feldman wants is for regulatory design and jurisprudence to take bad barrels and bad decisions more seriously. The normative judgements that drive ex post punishment as a regulatory strategy are superseded by seeking improvements in behaviour before wrongs can manifest. Intentionality, he suggests, is “outdated.” (P. 40.) Continue reading "Good People and the Ethics of Quiet Egocentricity"

The Morality of Risking

In this book, legal scholar and philosopher John Oberdiek offers an elegantly written, meticulously argued, and highly original account of when it is morally permissible to impose mortal risks on others. Tort scholars and theorists have long examined the permissibility of risky conduct, but, as Oberdiek observes, their efforts have usually focused more on interpreting legal doctrine than on the more fundamental question of the morality of risking. And insofar as scholars have evaluated this more fundamental question, they have often provided a simplistic and normatively questionable answer: cost-benefit analysis or utilitarian balancing is the only realistic and sensible way to distinguish legally permissible from legally impermissible risky conduct.1 This answer is also reflected in the most common characterization of the famous (or infamous) Learned Hand test of negligence: an actor is negligent if but only if (i) she failed to take a precaution and (ii) the burdens or costs of taking that precaution outweighed the precaution’s benefits (in reducing the risks of harm.2 At the same time, Oberdiek notes, moral philosophers have paid relatively little attention to the moral evaluation of risky conduct.3 in part because they usually assume the existence of idealized conditions under which the outcomes of a person’s actions are certain. Turning the trolley (or shoving a fat person into its path) will cause the death of one; not turning it will permit the death of five. Framing an innocent person will prevent a mob from killing more people. And so on.

In contrast with these unpersuasive or overly stylized approaches, Oberdiek’s book is a very welcome and invigorating breath of fresh air. Oberdiek offers a rigorous, nuanced, and novel account of the morality of risking, an account that seriously engages with the difficult challenge of explicating the concepts of risk, a right against risk, and the permissible level of risk under contractarian principles. Although some aspects of the analysis might be questioned, this philosophically sophisticated work should provoke renewed attention to a terribly important and unduly neglected topic. Continue reading "The Morality of Risking"

Did Black Baptists Join the War on Drugs?

In Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, James Forman, Jr. shows how African American voters in Washington DC lobbied for longer prison sentences and more police officers. Forman’s argument complicates the story told by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnesswhich is that white conservatives increased prison sentences and police in order to impose a new system of racial control on black Americans, all under the rubric of a War on Drugs. Underlying Alexander’s argument is the claim that African Americans were not in fact the primary consumers of drugs in the United States; whites were, though they suffered comparatively lower rates of incarceration and arrest.

Forman concedes Alexander’s point about white drug use, but argues that African American leaders played a significant role in the rise of mass incarceration. As he tells it, problems with narcotics coincided with a proliferation of firearms. Guns became the weapon of choice for drug distributors, who turned to crime out of economic necessity and used extreme violence to eliminate competitors, increase market share, and create an illicit, street level, drug market. This market driven violence, maintains Forman, became so intolerable that African American majorities voted for higher prison sentences and more police, effectively joining white conservatives in what Alexander has termed “mass incarceration.” Rather than a coordinated, right wing plot, however, Forman suggests that the story in Washington was a tale of incremental choices by desperate officials who implemented radical policies that had unanticipated effects. Continue reading "Did Black Baptists Join the War on Drugs?"

How Inevitable Is Corporate Tax Competition?

Thomas Tørsløv, Ludvig Wier, and Gabriel Zucman, The Missing Profits of NationsNBER Working Paper 24701 (2018).

How much profit-shifting, from high-tax to low-tax countries, do multinational companies (MNCs) engage in? The question is hard to answer, for both theoretical and empirical reasons. The “true” geographical source of profits earned by MNCs on their global production and sales activities would often be theoretically ambiguous even if their actions and decisions were completely transparent. In addition, however, not only is there a large gulf between what they know and what we (or the tax authorities) know, but relevant economic data may either be unavailable or reflect formalistic reporting conventions.

A recent literature review by Dhammika Dharmapala reports that, in the “more recent empirical literature, which uses new and richer sources of data, the estimated magnitude of [profit-shifting] is typically much smaller than that found in earlier studies.” 1 James R. Hines goes further, asserting that profit-shifting is “notably small in magnitude,” and that any public (or even scholarly) impressions to the contrary merely reflect journalistically-driven over-excitement in response to a few “distasteful anecdotes of crass tax avoidance.” 2

But what if such conclusions—which are not, however, universal 3 —reflect data limitations? An important new National Bureau of Research Working Paper by Thomas Tørsløv, Ludvig Wier, and Gabriel Zucman (“Zucman et al”) makes novel use of macroeconomic data, comparing the wages and profits of MNCs’ foreign affiliates to those of local companies, both in tax havens and high-tax countries, to reach very different conclusions. Zucman et al find that forty percent of MNC profits are shifted to low-tax countries in a typical year, and that this estimate is conservative given the likely impact of statistical gaps. (P. 26.) Continue reading "How Inevitable Is Corporate Tax Competition?"

Metes and Bounds: A Revisionist History

Maureen E. Brady, The Forgotten History of Metes and Bounds, 128 Yale L.J. __ (forthcoming, 2019), available at SSRN.

A decade and a half ago, as a neophyte property teacher, I read Andro Linklater’s history of the surveying and distribution of land west of the Appalachian Mountains. The central animating principle in the book—Measuring America: How the United States was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History (2002)—was simple, and seemingly self-evident: When it comes to surveying and selling land, straight lines are better than squiggly ones.

(I was less convinced by Linklater’s side effort to convince readers that the metric system is infinitely better than the imperial system, although his arguments on this front brought back fond memories of my elementary school teachers’ assurances that the United States would adopt the metric system by the year 2000.)

In the years since the publication of Linklater’s book, economists have amassed substantial evidence supporting his argument that the “grid” system of land demarcation employed by the federal government in the Northwest Territories and (for the most part) thereafter in the distribution of western lands is far more efficient than the older metes-and-bounds system used in the original thirteen colonies and other early states such as Tennessee and Kentucky. Continue reading "Metes and Bounds: A Revisionist History"

Populist Judicial Reasoning

Under the Trump administration, each week brings a new attack on due process and on substantive protections for migrants. Sacred cows such as Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans, which had been extended by Democratic and Republican administrations alike for the past two decades, are dispatched with alacrity. Attorney General Sessions appears intent on destroying the immigration adjudication system, demanding that immigration judges meet unrealistic case completion goals and reversal rates while limiting the resources available to the system. Migrants’ rights are a constant source of litigation, from highly anticipated Supreme Court judgments to battles fought through amicus briefs before the Attorney General.

Beyond the momentary relief of deft political satire, a comparative glimpse across the pond can provide helpful perspective on the situation at home. Vladislava Stoyanova’s forthcoming article reminds us that we are not the only nation facing populist movements that “exploit public anxieties over migration” in order to “curb[] immigration and restrict the rights of migrants.” Her rigorous and painstaking analysis of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decisions prompts analysis of larger philosophical questions about law’s paradoxical approach to migrants’ rights and offers a provocative new concept: populist judicial reasoning. Continue reading "Populist Judicial Reasoning"

The Politically Powerful and Judicial Review

Aaron Tang, Rethinking Political Power in Judicial Review, __ Cal. L. Rev. __, (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN.

Courts and commentators have long debated the proper role of judicial review in democracies, particularly the question of how deferential courts should be when determining whether to uphold legislation. Much constitutional adjudication is devoted to understanding phrases that are reasonably susceptible to various meanings, even when history and precedent are consulted. In those situations, how certain should jurists be that their interpretations of constitutional phrases or terms are correct before they vote to invalidate democratically enacted legislation?

At least two facts drive and complicate the answer to this question. First, we live in a land where the people purportedly govern themselves; there must be some limitations on the ability of unelected judges to invalidate legislation. Second, we live in a land where history has taught that, when left unchecked, elected officials sometimes trample individual rights and subjugate politically powerless minorities with impunity. Attentive to both of these facts, adherents of the political process theory of judicial review advocate for a judiciary that is deferential to politically accountable branches unless (1) the law undermines the capacity of citizens to make political change or (2) the law burdens a politically unpopular group. Under John Hart Ely’s traditional understanding of political process theory, when a law “clog[s] the channels of political change,” or targets a politically powerless group, this should increase courts’ readiness to invalidate a potentially unconstitutional law. Continue reading "The Politically Powerful and Judicial Review"