Yearly Archives: 2019

Give the Digital Services Tax a Chance

  • Wei Cui, The Digital Services Tax: A Conceptual Defense (Oct. 26, 2018), available at SSRN.
  • Wei Cui & Nigar Hashimzade, The Digital Services Tax as a Tax on Location-Specific Rent (Jan. 23, 2019), available at SSRN.

Proposals from the European Council and the UK governments to introduce a digital services tax (DST) took those of us who haven’t been watching the field as closely as we should have by surprise. A DST might be levied on a revenue base, such as revenue from selling online advertising, intermediary services or data; at a low rate, perhaps 3%; on companies that exceed a size threshold, such as total revenue of 750 million euros. Coming in the wake of a protracted period in which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development focused on negotiating arguably minor changes to the international tax framework (through the “base erosion and profit split” (BEPS) project), the DST seems to be moving like a high-speed train.

Scholars and policy makers have made efforts to justify (or contest) the normative underpinnings and economic consequences of the DST. In this context, two related papers—one by Wei Cui and Nigar Hashimzade and the second by Wei Cui—offer some helpful and novel analysis. Continue reading "Give the Digital Services Tax a Chance"

Should Owner Motivation Limit the Exercise of Property Rights?

Lee Anne Fennell, Owning Bad: Leverage and Spite in Property Law, in Civil Wrongs and Justice in Private Law (Paul B. Miller & John Oberdiek, eds.) (forthcoming Oxford University Press), available at SSRN.

People sometimes exercise their property rights out of animus or an attempt to gain leverage over someone else. An owner may build a fence from which he gains no benefit because he maliciously wishes to block his neighbor’s view. Or a prospective seller may overstate the minimum price she would accept for a good in an effort to gain an advantage in the negotiations to follow. In the first case, the owner probably commits a civil wrong, while in the second case, the owner probably does not.

In a forthcoming book chapter, Professor Lee Anne Fennell examines when the exercise of property rights constitutes a civil wrong. More particularly, she asks when it is appropriate to examine the motivations of the property owner or the nonowner counterparty. Her “core insight is that there are multiple possible mechanisms through which putatively absolute property rights can be made less so, some of which involve weighing the motives and interests of nonowners instead of, or in addition to, those of owners” (P. 4). Continue reading "Should Owner Motivation Limit the Exercise of Property Rights?"

Out of the Mouths of Babes

International and domestic laws aimed at protecting children involved in human smuggling generally operate under the assumption that these children are vulnerable and defenseless prey to dangerous and violent criminals, for whom they work against their will. In her recent article, “Circuit Children”: The Experiences and Perspectives of Children Engaged in Migrant Smuggling Facilitation on the US-Mexico Border, sociologist Gabriella Sanchez uses original qualitative fieldwork to upend or at least nuance this claim that sits at the heart of current anti-smuggling laws. The children whose stories she tells offer a much more complex picture of their role in helping others navigate the U.S.-Mexico border.

While many scholars have decried the carceral turn in human smuggling laws, Sanchez offers a key piece of evidence demonstrating the fundamental problems with this move to criminalization. It is, as has been far too obvious of late, easy for politicians and governments to demonize actors in the migratory process, both migrants and those who help them to move. But the carceral approach masks the structural forces that render migration both necessary and nearly impossible to undertake lawfully for individuals who do not win the birthplace lottery. Sanchez’s body of work highlights the humanity and dignity of the individuals who facilitate migrant journeys—who might, from a different perspective, be viewed as part of a modern-day Underground Railroad. Though she refrains from hitting the reader over the head, the unmistakable take-away from her work is that these individuals are not the source of the problem; they are doing the best they can in the face of structural and geopolitical forces beyond their control. Continue reading "Out of the Mouths of Babes"

Net Raciality: How Racial Bias Pervades the Digital Space

Catherine Powell, Race and Rights in the Digital Age, 112 Am. J. Int’l L. Unbound 339 (2018).

“The adage ‘on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog’ reflects a now naïve belief in the emancipatory potential of cyberspace,” writes Catherine Powell in her splendid new essay on race, internet, and international human rights published as part of a Symposium issue on the seventy-year anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Race and Rights in the Digital Age, Powell critiques the belief according to which the digital space is a raceless and liberating utopia. She compares this online fiction to the offline ideology of colorblindness. Much like colorblindness has been used to conceal and perpetuate racial inequality, the supposed post-racialism of the digital world is a fig leaf masking the fact that it is pervaded with racial bias.

In making this point, she builds upon Osagie Obasogie’s critique of colorblindness that uses a research design involving interviews with blind people about race. Obasogie revealed that even people blind since birth are not colorblind, but just as likely as sighted people to equate race with visual characteristics. Similarly, Powell shows that “[r]ace is a deeply entrenched social construct—both online and offline—even when we cannot literally always ‘see’ it.” Continue reading "Net Raciality: How Racial Bias Pervades the Digital Space"

Rule of Professional Conduct, Speech Code, or Both?

Stephen Gillers, A Rule to Forbid Bias and Harassment in Law Practice: A Guide for State Courts Considering Model 8.4(g), 30 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 195 (2017), available at SSRN.

A male lawyer is taking a deposition; a woman is defending. During the deposition, the man repeatedly makes sexist comments to opposing counsel, such as “I don’t have to talk to you, little lady” and “be quiet, little girl.”1 A lawyer represents the husband in a divorce action, and argues that the children are in danger because the wife had been seen around town in the presence of “a black male” or “the black guy.”2 At a deposition the lawyer representing the defendant said to his opposing counsel, a woman, “I don’t have a problem with you, babe,” and when the woman expressed surprise at the word babe, responded “at least I didn’t call you bimbo.”3

Incidents such as these finally persuaded the ABA House of Delegates, after two decades of discussion and debate, to adopt a rule of professional conduct prohibiting bias, discrimination, and harassment in the practice of law. Model Rule 8.4(g) now provides that a lawyer is subject to discipline if he or she “engage[s] in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law.” In a recent article in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Stephen Gillers recounts the story of the controversy over proposed anti-bias rules at the ABA and state levels, and also provides a guide to applying the new rule. Continue reading "Rule of Professional Conduct, Speech Code, or Both?"

“Who Do You Think I Am?” or What it Means When We Lose Our Privacy

Craig Konnoth, An Expressive Theory of Privacy Intrusions, 102 Iowa L. Rev. 1533 (2017).

In the spring of 2018, we learned that Facebook, the technology company we cannot seem to get away from, allowed a political analytics group to obtain Facebook users’ data. In late 2018, Facebook admitted another, even more egregious intrusion. The New York Times showed us how the technology company gave millions of users’ personal data to other companies. It also allowed other companies to read the content of personal messages made on the platform, messages users assumed to be private. CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress and Facebook ran an apology ad campaign, including airing an apology video during the NBA playoffs. In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg pledged: “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.” In doing so, Zuckerberg signaled its users’ importance, and their importance required privacy protection. In other words, Facebook acknowledged that when it allowed a privacy violation, it inherently disrespected its users.

In An Expressive Theory of Privacy Intrusions, Craig Konnoth explicitly argues what Zuckerberg implicitly acknowledged: privacy intrusions involve more than what is being taken or how the intruders use that information. Intrusions express something about the breacher and the breachee beyond the material consequences; according to Konnoth, the social meaning of privacy intrusions suggest the victim’s lower social status, a form of “disrespect.” Continue reading "“Who Do You Think I Am?” or What it Means When We Lose Our Privacy"

Should Patent Examiners Get More Time?

Michael D. Frakes & Melissa F. Wasserman, Irrational Ignorance at the Patent Office, 72 Vand. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN.

How much time should the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) spend evaluating a patent application? Patent examination is a massive business: the USPTO employs about 8,000 utility patent examiners who receive around 600,000 patent applications and approve around 300,000 patents each year. Examiners spend on average only 19 total hours throughout the prosecution of each application, including reading voluminous materials submitted by the applicant, searching for relevant prior art, writing rejections, and responding to multiple rounds of arguments from the applicant. Why not give examiners enough time for a more careful review with less likelihood of making a mistake?

In a highly-cited 2001 article, Rational Ignorance at the Patent Office, Mark Lemley argued that it doesn’t make sense to invest more resources in examination: since only a minority of patents are licensed or litigated, thorough scrutiny should be saved for only those patents that turn out to be valuable. Lemley identified the key tradeoffs, but had only rough guesses for some of the relevant parameters. A fascinating new article suggests that some of those approximations were wrong. In Irrational Ignorance at the Patent Office, Michael Frakes and Melissa Wasserman draw on their extensive empirical research with application-level USPTO data to conclude that giving examiners more time likely would be cost-justified. To allow comparison with Lemley, they focused on doubling examination time. They estimated that this extra effort would cost $660 million per year (paid for by user fees), but would save over $900 million just from reduced patent prosecution and litigation costs. Continue reading "Should Patent Examiners Get More Time?"

Constitutional “Equal Process” and the Problem of Poverty

Brandon L. Garret, Wealth, Equal Protection, and Due Process, Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2019-14 (Jan. 14, 2019), available at SSRN.

It is a constitutional law truism that wealth and class are not suspect classifications, nor does the government have a substantive due process obligation to fund abortions or provide most government benefits. This is because our Constitution is generally seen as containing negative rights, not affirmative obligations. But there are exceptions. For example, the Sixth Amendment means that the government must pay for an indigent criminal defendant’s attorney. In his new article, Wealth, Equal Protection, and Due Process, Brandon Garrett argues that there are more exceptions than we usually think there are. Garrett shows that the Supreme Court has ruled that poor individuals are entitled to fair government treatment, creating a wider swath of government obligations to fund than we generally assume. The article’s reasoning and conclusions are powerful, especially at a time of great social inequality. Moreover, Garrett’s careful doctrinal analysis commendably avoids overreach.

Specifically, the article develops a concept called “equal process.” This term highlights the synergy between equal protection and due process in certain cases. Though not a completely new idea, the nomenclature is a useful descriptive tool, especially given some of the doctrinal complexity in this area. Garrett focuses in part on the underappreciated legacy of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bearden v. Georgia. In that case, the Court held that a judge could not reverse the grant of probation to a defendant, because of an unpaid fine or costs, unless the judge concluded after a hearing that the defendant willfully refused to pay, or had made an inadequate effort to obtain the resources. The judge also had to find that there were no suitable alternative remedies. In effect, the Court ruled that such a reversal must satisfy due process by fairly accounting for the defendant’s potentially suspect financial status. Continue reading "Constitutional “Equal Process” and the Problem of Poverty"

The Myths and Reality of Tort Reform

Charles Silver, David A. Hyman, & Bernard Black, Fictions and Facts: Medical Malpractice Litigation, Physician Supply, and Health Care Spending in Texas Before and After HB 4, __ Tex. Tech. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming), available at SSRN.

It is difficult to convene a discussion of cost containment in health care without someone calling for tort reform. In the view of many in the medical community and the general public, malpractice suits play a key role in driving up health care costs. Litigation is expensive, and the threat of being sued causes doctors to order lots of unnecessary tests—the defensive medicine problem. Tort reform also is popular with elected officials. Most states have caps on damages; pre-trial medical review panels are common too.

But the gap between the theory and reality of malpractice reform is large. Confirming findings from earlier studies, Silver, Hyman, and Black report in their careful analysis of Texas data that tort reform fails to deliver on its promises. Moreover, it may be causing significant harm. Continue reading "The Myths and Reality of Tort Reform"

The Left’s Law-and-Order Agenda

Kate Levine, Discipline and Policing, 68 Duke L.J. 839 (2019).

Kate Levine’s article Discipline and Policing is the embodiment of timeliness. Its argument, in a nutshell, is that the progressive program to reform policing by making police officers’ individual disciplinary records (PDRs) transparent is ineffective if not counterproductive, exacerbates racial disparities, and promotes carceral logic. This thesis lies at the intersection of two fascinating criminal justice conversations of the day. The first involves the explosion of scholarly and political exposition on how to reform policing from the bottom up—exposition that has dislodged top-down Fourth Amendment doctrinalism from its stranglehold on academic attention.The second regards the growing trend of powerful political actors, plutocrats, and others in authority to invoke progressive civil libertarian and anti-incarceration arguments when faced with accusations of private and public wrongdoing. In turn, progressives call for swift, summary, and merciless discipline in such cases.

The bedfellows have become very strange, indeed. We live in a world where the most authoritarian U.S. president in decades touts the importance of the presumption of innocence, champions sentence reduction, and critiques police violence. Of course, he does so selectively and calls out the FBI for its raids on his nefarious associates but lauds ICE for raiding the family homes of law-abiding immigrants. We live in a world where liberal talking heads night after night praise federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors for casting wide investigative nets, flipping witnesses by threatening long sentences, and seizing lawyer-client documents. Progressive analysts declare with utmost indignance that Trump should cooperate with Mueller because “innocent people have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from police interrogation.” Continue reading "The Left’s Law-and-Order Agenda"

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