Monthly Archives: April 2019

In Praise of Practical Scholarship

In 2011, Chief Justice John Roberts notoriously criticized the legal academy when he declared at a judicial conference, “Pick up a copy of any law review that you see and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.” Legal scholars were unimpressed, to say the least, by Chief Justice Roberts’s flippant dismissal of their work. Perhaps the best response was Professor Orin Kerr’s tongue-in-cheek Green Bag essay in which he documented that, in fact, the Bulgarians really only became interested in Kant’s pronouncements in the late-19th Century and even then mostly ignored his ideas as “obscure and awkward.” Nevertheless, although Chief Justice Roberts’s criticism was a gross exaggeration, like most such overstatements it grew from at least a small kernel of truth—echoing similar, if more soberly presented concerns raised almost twenty years earlier by D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards about a “growing disjunction between legal education and the legal profession.”

Legal scholars know, of course, that quite a lot of the scholarship they collectively produce is of use to practitioners, courts, and legislators. Simultaneously, however, legal scholars must, and I think do, acknowledge that not all legal scholarship is useful or of interest to nonacademic readers. Legal scholars sit at the sometimes-awkward intersection of a larger academic community and the practicing bar, each with its own goals, values, norms, and needs. The fact that some legal scholarship appeals more to the former than the latter audience merely reflects that reality and does not diminish its value. Nevertheless, it is in our own interest as legal scholars to counter the narrative promoted by Chief Justice Roberts and others by calling attention to legal scholarship that may be of use to the more practical of our two audiences, even while it appeals to the more academic as well. Nick Parrillo’s groundbreaking work on federal agency guidance is an exemplar of this kind of legal scholarship. Continue reading "In Praise of Practical Scholarship"

Will Conservative Justices Sound the Death Knell of State Action? Be Careful for What You Wish

Joseph E. Slater, Will Labor Law Prompt Conservative Justices to Adopt a Radical Theory of State Action?, 96 Neb. L. Rev. 62 (2017).

Late last year, in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional all union-security clauses in public-sector collective-bargaining agreements. Union-security clauses are contractual provisions that oblige union bargaining unit members to pay agency fees – that portion of union dues that pays for collective-bargaining-related activities such as contract negotiations and grievance-arbitration. In finding that such clauses violate the First Amendment, the Court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 41-year old precedent with no dissenting opinion. Many labor scholars (including Joseph Slater) and activists predict that Janus will have a large economic impact on unions because, under a doctrine known as the duty of fair representation, unions must represent employees whether those employees pay full dues, agency fees, or no dues. These thinkers thus predict that unions won’t be able to collect as much money to represent all employees. As a corollary, diminished union treasuries will foreseeably harm the Democratic Party insofar as unions tend to give more to the Democrats than to other political parties.

For these reasons, Professor Slater’s thoroughly researched, brilliantly analyzed, and well-written article, Will Labor Law Prompt Conservative Justices to Adopt a Radical Theory of State Action?, presents an important question: Given that the Court has unceremoniously disturbed stare decisis to declare all public-sector union-security clauses unconstitutional, will it find a way to declare all private-sector union-security clauses unconstitutional by adopting a broad theory of state action? Professor Slater correctly concludes that such a conclusion would be incoherent in theory and unworkable in practice. This is because to conclude that all such clauses in private-sector contracts are unconstitutional, the Court would have to adopt an unbounded theory of state action, which would effectively erase the state-action requirement from constitutional analysis and obliterate the public-private law distinction that is so fundamental to our constitution. Continue reading "Will Conservative Justices Sound the Death Knell of State Action? Be Careful for What You Wish"

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