Yearly Archives: 2018

Giving and Including for Happiness

Money can’t buy happiness, so the saying goes. But, does giving away property bring happiness? That is the proposition considered by Professor Dave Fagundes, in his new article Why Less Property is More: Inclusion, Dispossession, & Subjective Well-Being.

Professor Fagundes urges new thinking on the classic conception of property, moving away from possession and exclusion, long the centers of the construct, toward their more obscured counterparts, dispossession and inclusion. Starting with the notion that property historically has been justified for its utilitarian ends, he suggests that if we are not better off when we amass property and exclude, then a different conception of the rights inhering in property might better achieve these ends. Continue reading "Giving and Including for Happiness"

Disagreement and Adjudication

William Baude and Ryan Doerfler, Arguing with Friends, 117 Mich. L. Rev. 319 (2018).

In the mid-aughts, philosophers began to seriously consider the following question: how should you revise a belief, if at all, upon learning that you disagree with someone you trust? This has come to be known as the problem of peer disagreement. It’s a vexing problem. In the face of disagreement, our inclination is to remain confident. Yet, it is difficult to say why we should: if you think your friend is equally smart, and she reviewed the same information, what reason do you have to think that, in this particular case, you’re right and she’s wrong? On the other hand, if we should become much less confident, this seems, as philosopher Adam Elga puts it, rather spineless. And, while disagreement may prompt you to recheck your math on a split bill, it’s unlikely you’d rethink the morality of abortion. What, if anything, about the cases licenses distinct treatment?

Philosophers have proposed various responses. But, until recently, a search for “peer disagreement” in the legal literature would have yielded few results. Thankfully, a slew of articles has remedied this. Alex Stein writes on tribunals whose members come to the same conclusion, but for different reasons, and, separately, about post-conviction relief in light of conflicting expert testimony. Youngjae Lee writes about disagreement and the standard of proof in criminal trials. And, although they do not explicitly engage with the philosophical literature, Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule discuss how judges on multimember courts ought to take into account the votes of their colleagues. William Baude and Ryan Doerfler’s article, in part a response to Posner and Vermeule, is required reading for anyone interested in disagreement and adjudication. Baude and Doerfler discuss what judges should do when they find out that other judges, or academics, disagree with them about a case. They land upon a moderate conciliationist position: become less confident when the disagreeing party is a “methodological friend,” and not otherwise. Continue reading "Disagreement and Adjudication"

The Power of the Watchful Eye

Rory Van Loo, Regulatory Monitors, __ Colum. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN.

One basic tension in administrative law is the combination in one entity of the various functions in government otherwise thought better divided: making laws, prosecuting suspected violations of those laws, and adjudicating whether the violations occurred. This mixed-function design leads to heightened concerns about accountability and oversight of agencies’ exercise of delegated authority. Various administrative law responses to these concerns are familiar. For example, for formal agency proceedings, Congress limited agency personnel communications and conflicts in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) so as to ensure the “separation of functions” within an agency. More generally, public participation, transparency, and judicial review are mechanisms thought to constrain agencies from overreach.

But in his forthcoming article, Regulatory Monitors, Professor Rory Van Loo paints a striking picture of an underexamined group of agency actors who can de facto exercise all three kinds of agency power all while largely being exempted from APA constraints. His account of these regulatory monitors is made all the more fascinating by the methodology of his research, which captured the results of agency data, examination of public records, and interviews across nineteen large regulatory agencies. This sort of on-the-ground, trans-substantive look at the work agencies actually do is an exciting trend in administrative law scholarship (and one that I myself have found fruitful in examining how businesses and individuals seeking records about themselves invoke agency FOIA processes). This example is no exception: Van Loo’s account of regulatory monitors is powerful precisely because it complicates our understanding of agency power and suggests accountability gaps worth further exploration. Continue reading "The Power of the Watchful Eye"

Questioning the Go-Slow Approach to Human Germline Modification

Julia D. Mahoney & Gil Siegal, Beyond Nature? Genomic Modification and the Future of Humanity, 81 Law & Contemp. Probs. 195 (2018).

Over the past decade, the emergence of CRISPR-Cas-9 as a means to “edit” the human genome has brought human genetic modification out of the realm of science fiction and into the real world. This revolutionary technology enables users to “make specific and efficient modifications to a genome” through a process that is “simple, inexpensive, and remarkable effective.” A variety of efforts are now underway to harness this technology to treat inherited diseases and cancers. Most scientists and bioethicists, however, have collectively shuddered at the possibility of using CRISPR-Cas-9 to make germline genetic modifications—i.e., changes in sperm, eggs, or early embryos that would passed on to future generations. Groups ranging from UNESCO to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have called for extreme caution in proceeding with research on human germline editing, and for a complete moratorium on clinical applications of the technology pending further public deliberation.

In a provocative analysis, Beyond Nature? Genomic Modification and the Future of HumanityJulia Mahoney and Gil Siegal challenge this “go-slow” approach on both theoretical and practical grounds. They argue that the chief arguments for extreme caution—the interests of future generations, safety considerations, equality concerns, the “evils of eugenics,” and the importance of public trust in science—not only fail to withstand rigorous analysis, but in fact “militate instead for advancing with all deliberate speed.” (P. 196.) In addition, they warn that efforts to limit human germline modification are unlikely to be effective; instead, they will simply “drive cutting edge work into the shadows,” (P. 197) thereby “decreasing public transparency and accountability by moving activity out of sight of democratically responsive entities” (P. 213). Continue reading "Questioning the Go-Slow Approach to Human Germline Modification"

Copyright and the Single Work

Amy Adler, Why Art Does Not Need Copyright, 86 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 313 (2018).

A photograph taken by Walker Evans is worth more—both in the market and in the eyes of critics—than a virtually identical photograph taken by an unknown artist, just as a handbag bearing the name Prada is worth more—both in the market and in the eyes of those who place social value on such goods—than a work of similar craftsmanship by an unknown manufacturer. In both cases, audiences are potentially responding to a number of factors: aesthetics, critical reception, reputational value, and the status conferred by scarcity.

Part of what enables audiences to evaluate these factors is a belief that the object has the genealogy it purports to have. We term this information state “authenticity,” a characterization that is capacious enough to embrace a number of modes of production. An authentic Warhol might have involved the work of several assistants, all making visible the concept formerly existing only in Warhol’s mind; an authentic designer bag might involve a certain amount of outsourcing to overseas fabricators. A Sol LeWitt wall is the physical manifestation of a two-part work: the directions to accomplish LeWitt’s conception in each new space and a certificate of authenticity. The certificate of authenticity is key to the work’s existence; without it, as a lawsuit once claimed, the work essentially ceases to exist. Authenticity can even, in some instances, certify falseness, as when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service seized and then auctioned off 12,000 fake Salvador Dali works in 1995. When asked why a buyer would pay $4,000 for a known fake, the curator of the Salvador Dali Museum mused that the notoriety that the works had garnered as “authorized fake Dalis” upped the price buyers were willing to pay.

Given the role that authenticity plays in the art market in particular, Amy Adler contends that copyright law is beside the point. Continue reading "Copyright and the Single Work"

Protecting the Intangible

The notion of property enshrined in the American legal system is a poor fit for what scholars have termed cultural property—tangible and intangible items of great importance to tribal cultural heritage. As Chante Westmoreland deftly reveals in her Note, An Analysis of the Lack of Protection for Intangible Tribal Cultural Property in the Digital Age, property law addresses only some of the concerns associated with cultural items of significance to tribes. Property law is designed to protect the object itself, but tribes are often concerned not only with an actual object, but also with the cultural and spiritual significance of the item. (In order to track Westmoreland’s own language, I will use the word “tribe” or “tribal” to refer to people indigenous to what is now the United States. Other scholars might use the words indigenous, Native American, Indian, or their variants. The choice of language is a vital conversation, but one I will not take up in this short review.)

Of particular importance today—when it sometimes seems that everyone wants to make everything available on the Internet—are the new problems associated with digitization of important tribal artifacts. Westmoreland offers a balanced account of the benefits and problems associated with digitization. On the one hand, digitization enables what some have called a “museum without walls”—an opportunity for anyone with an Internet connection to learn about tribal practices around the world. Such a virtual museum would benefit scholarly research and enhance understanding by laypeople. Moreover, digitization would help mitigate the risk of loss of irreplaceable cultural items in a natural disaster or a war. The recent fire at Brazil’s National Museum, which caused the tragic loss of many irreplaceable items, vividly illustrates the benefits of digitization. One researcher, a member of the Tenetehára-Guajajara tribe who had been studying his people’s heritage, offered a stark assessment: “It felt like a genocide.” Continue reading "Protecting the Intangible"

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of ICO Crowdfunding

Shaanan Cohney, David Hoffman, Jeremy Sklaroff, & David Wishnick, Coin-Operated Capitalism, __ Columbia L. Rev. __ (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

Oldthinkers unbellyfeel blockchain. We are told that blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and smart contracts are about to revolutionize everything. They remove fallible humans from every step where a transaction could go wrong, replacing them with the crystalline perfection of software. Result: clarity, certainty, and complete freedom from censors and tyrants.

And yet we still don’t get it. Some oldthinkers think that not all regulation is tyranny, while others point to the environmentally disastrous costs of blockchain strip mining. And then there are those of us who think that the entire premise of blockchain boosterism is mistaken, because the new “smart” contracts are not so different from the old “dumb” contracts. Coin-Operated Capitalism, by a team of four authors from the University of Pennsylvania, is the best recent entry in this vein. It is a playful, precise, and damning look at how smart contracts actually function in the real world. Continue reading "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of ICO Crowdfunding"

A Decade of Procedural Despair: Denying Access to Justice and Closing the Courthouse Doors

Michael Vitiello, Animating Civil Procedure (2017).

For civil procedure teachers seeking to accompany their casebook with an insightful account of procedural justice, Michael Vitiello’s Animating Civil Procedure provides an excellent complement to case-centric courses. Among its many virtues, Vitiello’s book weaves a compelling procedural-justice argument around the leading procedure cases all first-year students encounter in their introduction to the American legal system.

Vitiello’s main thesis details how the Supreme Court’s procedural jurisprudence – especially in the last decade—effectively denies plaintiffs’ access to justice and represents a closing of the courthouse doors. While these themes are manifestly familiar to the professoriate and comprise the dominant narrative among commentators, the impact of procedural law may not be so apparent to new law students. By focusing on the compelling importance of procedure in shaping substantive justice, Vitiello’s book provides a useful resource to bridge a novice’s gap in knowledge and understanding. Continue reading "A Decade of Procedural Despair: Denying Access to Justice and Closing the Courthouse Doors"

Corporate Origins and Corporate Rights: American Law and the Corporation

In We The Corporations, constitutional law scholar Adam Winkler reaches out to the public with a sweeping account of the role and place of the corporation in the creation and ongoing evolution of the American Constitution. This is a work designed to appeal to the educated citizen at large, and Winkler uses several powerful hooks to garner the audience he seeks.

The title, of course, is an obvious hook. The first three words of the Constitution, “We the people…” is evoked, with “corporations” replacing people. This book must be about how corporations have usurped the rights of people, resulting in a union that is perfect not for the people, but for the corporations.

The book’s Introduction, visible to a potential reader browsing the electronic version of the book on Amazon, is subtitled “Are Corporations People?” Winkler immediately titillates with an account of how in 1882, Roscoe Conkling misled the Supreme Court while arguing for extending constitutional equal protection rights to his client, the Southern Pacific Railroad. Conkling had been on the Congressional committee that drafted the amendment, and he claimed not only to remember, but to have recorded in his journal, which he waived as he argued, that the Fourteenth Amendment had used the word “person” instead of “citizen” so that corporations would be included in its protections. His journal actually did not support that claim and later scholars have completely debunked it. But the seed had been planted, and the Supreme Court soon embraced Conkling’s argument that corporations have rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. “Just as I thought,” says the potential reader, “it was all a scam.” Continue reading "Corporate Origins and Corporate Rights: American Law and the Corporation"

Acts of Exclusion

Gabriel J. Chin & John Ormonde, The War Against Chinese Restaurants, 67 Duke L.J. 681-741 (2018).

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the Gilded Age and the Lochner era. When one reads that the three richest Americans now control more wealth than the entire bottom half of the United States population, one cannot help but think of the vast wealth disparities between the Gilded Age’s railroad barons and oil tycoons and the masses of Americans who worked for them. For many, the Court’s recent decisions on topics such as unions and campaign finance likewise call to mind the Lochner era, in which legislative efforts to mitigate various kinds of inequality were sacrificed on the altar of “economic liberty.” But increasing income inequality and the neo-Lochner undertones of some of the Court’s recent decisions are not the only features of contemporary law and politics that call to mind the decades before and after the First World War. The resurgence of anti-immigrant sentiment and the current Administration’s pronounced efforts, both rhetorical and legal, to make clear who is welcome in this country and who is not echo in profound ways the xenophobic attitudes and acts of exclusion directed at “foreigners” in the early decades of the twentieth century. That is why Gabriel (Jack) Chin and John Ormonde’s recent article, The War Against Chinese Restaurants, so captured my attention when it was published earlier this year.

In this article, Chin and Ormonde recover the largely forgotten history of the national campaign, in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, to eradicate Chinese restaurants from the United States. Although the number of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. decreased over those years as a result of tight restrictions on Asian immigration, the number of Chinese restaurants skyrocketed. In 1870, Chinese restaurants employed 164 Chinese workers; by 1920, such restaurants employed over 11,400 Chinese workers. By that point, it had become clear that the “Chop Suey craze” was not just a fad. Americans seemed to have a limitless appetite for Chinese food. But the rapid proliferation of Chinese restaurants exacerbated powerful nativist anxieties about economic opportunity, immigration, and the racial make-up of the American polity. Unions in particular decried the diversion of jobs and money away from “the American wage-earner” and to “workers and employers from the Orient.” Union leaders feared that the low wages and low prices associated with Chinese restaurants would depress restaurant workers’ pay and deprive so-called American restaurants of much-needed revenue. Deeply intertwined with these apparently economic concerns was the widely-shared fear that Chinese immigrants constituted a threat to “traditional” American culture and that Chinese men, often portrayed as shifty opium-pushers, posed a threat to the safety of white women. Thus began a decades-long campaign, orchestrated by unions, politicians, and law enforcement officers, to eliminate Chinese restaurants from cities and towns across the country. Continue reading "Acts of Exclusion"

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