Monthly Archives: June 2021
Katheleen Guzman, Wills Speak
, 85 Brook. L. Rev.
Interim Dean (Dean) Katheleen Guzman explores the pre-death relevance of a will by determining whether or when a will speaks. She analyzes the legal consequences of a validly executed will before death and the potential property rights of devisees of the will. The focus and thesis of the article reminded me of the adage, “if the tree falls forest and no one hears, does it make a sound?” In translation, I thought, “Does a will make a sound (have a legal effect) if it is never probated?”
As professors, we typically teach that wills are testamentary documents that have no effect until after the death of a testator and probate by the court. Dean Guzman challenges this perspective of the law by exploring the pre-death effect of a will. First, she makes a distinction between property rights and expectancies by comparing deeds to wills. While adding a name to a deed makes a present transfer of property, adding a name to a will may transfer property in the future. Because the will does not currently transfer property, the named devisee has an expectancy, which is not the equivalent of a present or future property interest. Continue reading "If a Will is Never Probated, does it Make a Sound?"
Catherine M. Sharkey, Public Nuisance as Modern Business Tort: A New Unified Framework for Liability for Economic Harms
, 70 DePaul L. Rev.
__ (forthcoming, 2021), available at SSRN
More than a hundred years ago, in Mitchell v. Rochester Railway Co., 151 N.Y. 107, 108 (1896), New York’s highest Court denied recovery to a plaintiff who had being negligently charged by a team of horses. Although the plaintiff was rendered unconscious and suffered a miscarriage, the Court held that she could not recover for “mere fright.” The court excluded recovery even though the team of horses “came so close to the plaintiff that she stood between the horses’ heads when they were stopped.” (P. 108.) The court reasoned: cases had not historically allowed recovery for fright or shock; if recovery were established “it would naturally result in a flood of litigation… a wide field would be opened for fictitious or speculative claims”; and “damages were too remote.” Today, notwithstanding these historical worries, most authorities would permit recovery on the Mitchell line of facts.
In her important article, Public Nuisance as a Modern Business Tort: A New Unified Framework for Liability for Economic Harms, Professor Cathy Sharkey invites readers to question whether nonliability for economic loss, and courts’ similar rationales, should also go the way of horse and buggy. Sharkey suggests “the calculus may be shifting in an age of global financial crises, escalation of digital and informational harms, and growing sense that societal harms of the 21st century involve risky conduct leading to purely financial harms.” (P. 3.) In particular, Sharkey focuses her attention on the public nuisance tort. Are authorities right to specifically permit liability in public nuisance cases while generally limiting liability for negligently caused economic loss? Are they right to focus on liability limitation as their exclusive policy concern in both the public nuisance and economic loss space? Continue reading "Leaving the Horse and Buggy Days of Limited Recovery for Economic Loss"
Too much of a good thing can sometimes be not so good. A case in point is reliance on optimal income tax scholarship, dating back to James Mirrlees’ Nobel Prize-winning work, to treat the generally assumed declining marginal utility of income as the only reason (apart from egalitarian preferences) for favoring progressive tax and other fiscal policies. As I wrote in a recent book (Literature and Inequality): “Declining marginal utility is important, but it falls far short of capturing the full significance and effects of … inequality in human society. We are not just isolated consumers, growing increasingly more sated as we fill up on pizza slices, or ever more jaded as we push further towards the frontiers of fine living. Rather, we are an intensely social species, and often a rivalrous one, prone to measuring ourselves in terms of others, and often directly against others.” On that ground, if one believes (as I do) that extreme high-end inequality has pervasive adverse effects, one may reasonably support imposing tax burdens on the rich going well beyond those that would be deemed to have a positive net effect if one were focusing solely on the marginal utility of own consumption and leisure.
So far, so good. But while evaluating issues of class, tax scholars (myself included) have often given far too little distinct attention to issues of race. Poisonously entwined though class and race are in the United States, it has become ever clearer that “racial disparities [are not just] … economic inequalities in disguise.” Thus, we should not think that “if we address class issues, we can fix racism.”
Like class issues, race issues show both the inadequacy of declining marginal utility from own consumption as a full psychological (or normative) model, and the importance of status considerations to social behavior and preferences. Racism is not just about animus, but also about the impulse to feel that one is better than other people. Understanding the impact and implications of racial, no less than class, inequality requires a broad sociological inquiry. For U.S. racism today, I know of no better recently published starting point to such an inquiry than Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Continue reading "Race and Class in Tax Policy Scholarship"
Jeremy Waldron, Damned Lies
(Mar. 4, 2021), available on SSRN
Among the damage left in the wake of the Trump administration is the degradation of truth. Of course, Donald Trump is not the first president to lie. He has, however, been successful in his assault on many institutions that Americans trust to deliver facts. Trump’s lies about the election results not only left many of his supporters with a false view of reality, but also cast doubt on election officials, courts, and procedures designed to verify the votes. In his new essay, Damned Lies, Jeremy Waldron helps dissect and categorize lies. In the process, he illustrates the complex relationship lawyers have to truth. If Trump damaged democracy with his disregard for facts, what about the lawyers by his side? Should they be disciplined or simply condemned for their part? Waldron does not answer these questions but he provides those of us who are interested in them with a sophisticated way to approach the problem.
Waldron’s essay seeks to answer the central question, what makes a lie particularly toxic in public life. What, in his words, makes it a “damned lie”? Of course, there is a legal question lurking beneath his excursion into moral philosophy: What sort of lies should our legal system tolerate? Do lawyers have a greater obligation to the truth than others? When, if ever, is it okay for lawyers to lie? Continue reading "Liar Up"
We often hear that entrepreneurship is important to the economy. But what exactly is “entrepreneurship”? There is a broad and growing literature connecting institutions with entrepreneurship in the fields of law, economics, finance, and business generally. Legal scholars in this field typically focus on the role of “law” and treat “entrepreneurship” as a taken-for-granted concept that does not need any discussion. Yet, it is important to recognize that researchers in the broader non-legal literature on the relationship between institutions and entrepreneurship have been struggling to define and measure “entrepreneurship.” Empirical research that measures entrepreneurship inaccurately may lead to flawed conclusions including legal policy recommendations.
In their article, Measuring Entrepreneurship: Do Established Metrics Capture Schumpeterian Entrepreneurship?, Henrekson and Sanandaji evaluate different country-level measures of entrepreneurship and find that virtually all the widely-used metrics fail to capture high-impact Schumpeterian entrepreneurship – the kind of entrepreneurship that policymakers hope for. Continue reading "Law and (Which?) Entrepreneurship"
Renée B. Adams, Roman Kräussl, Marco A. Navone, and Patrick Verwijmeren, Gendered Prices
(Dec. 10, 2020), available at SSRN
We know prices are neither gender neutral nor race neutral. Prices reflect not only factors such as quality but also bias. Thirty years ago, Ian Ayers demonstrated, in a pioneering study, that Chicago retail car dealerships systematically offered substantially better prices on identical cars to white men than they did to both Black men and women and to white women.
In a more recent study, Tamar Kricheli-Katz and Tali Regev showed that women sellers on eBay obtained a smaller number of bids and lower final prices in auctions for both used and new products. While the former study addressed the prices women buyers paid, the latter study addressed the prices women sellers were paid. These studies were conducted nearly 25 years apart from one another, and examined different merchandise. However, in both cases (and in many other similar studies) gender had an impact on the prices, and men got better deals than women as both buyers and sellers.
Gendered Prices, a new study by Adams, Kräussl, Navone and Verwijmeren explores gender bias in the pricing of artwork. The authors examined a sample of 1.9 million transactions conducted at more than 68,000 auctions for 69,189 individual artists in 49 countries from 1970 to 2016. This sample was taken from Blouin Art Sales Index, the largest database of artwork, and was limited to paintings only. This sample showed that auction prices for paintings by female artists were significantly lower than prices for paintings by male artists. The mean transaction price for male artists was around US $50,480, while the mean price for female artists was only US $29,235, meaning that the discount for paintings by women was 42.1%. When excluding mega-transactions (above one million dollars), the discount dropped from 33.1% in the 1970s to below 22% after 2000 (and to 8.4% after 2010). Continue reading "Gendered Culture and Pricing Bias"
Any law review article that name-checks the Doritos Locos Taco warrants a read. But National Parks, Incorporated, by Sarah Light, does much more. The article presents a grounded inquiry into the nature of publicness that is fascinating in its own right and that tackles timely questions about the boundaries of the state at a time when they are being vigorously contested. Specifically, this article: presents a history of private enterprise on public lands to illustrate the tension between public interests and commercial interests that has been present since the inception of the national park system; describes how this tension has evolved and expanded in the modern political and economic context; and presents a framework for thinking about the value of publicness and where boundaries around private enterprise should be drawn to preserve it.
Light begins with an account of the political and legal history of the national parks, which was a pure delight for someone whose pandemic travel has consisted entirely of road trips to parks across the Western United States. More importantly, this part of the article reveals how the legislators, administrators, and activists instrumental in founding these institutions thought about the value of publicness in the parks and the threat posed to it by private, commercial interests. For them, in a nutshell, publicness was necessary to guard against two key harms associated with private property: exclusion and destruction. Publicness meant that any individual, of any means, could enjoy the natural splendor of the parks. And it meant that this natural beauty could not be consumed or defaced by profit-making enterprise. On top of these benefits to individuals, publicness also provided collective benefits. Committing public resources to park lands expressed the nation’s shared commitment to the values of preservation, equal access, and democracy through civic interaction among Americans from all different walks of life. Continue reading "National Parks, Inc."
Yvette Butler, Aligned: Sex Workers’ Lessons for the Gig Economy
, 26 Mich. J. Race & L.
__ (forthcoming, 2021), available at SSRN
Yvette Butler’s forthcoming article, Aligned: Sex Workers’ Lessons for the Gig Economy, is one of those pieces that sticks with you, that pops back into your head multiple times as you go about your day after reading it. This is because it is so packed full of framework-shifting insights about gig work, sex work, racial justice, gender justice, employment law, labor law, and worker solidarity, to name just a few of the topics it covers.
To paraphrase Professor Butler’s central insight, different types of work have different and complicated relationships with legal protections and with stigma. Sex workers have a long history of negotiating both legal status issues and stigma, and have much to offer gig workers in the way of strategy and solidarity lessons. Continue reading "Learning from Sex Workers: Lessons in Advocacy, Stigma, and Struggle"
Human beings leave trails of genetic data wherever we go. We unavoidably leave genetic traces on the doorknobs we touch, the items we handle, the bottles and cups we drink from, and the detritus we throw away. We also leave a trail of genetic data with the physicians we visit, who may order genetic analysis to help treat a cancer or to assist a couple in assessing their pre-conception genetic risks. Our genetic data, often but not always shorn of obvious identifiers, may be repurposed for research use. If we seek to learn about our ancestry, we may send a DNA sample to a consumer genetics service, like 23andMe, or share the resulting data on a cross-service platform like GEDmatch. If we are arrested or convicted of a crime, we may be compelled to give a DNA sample for perpetual inclusion in an official law-enforcement database. Law enforcement might use each of these trails of genetic data to learn about or identify us—or our genetic relatives.
Should law enforcement be permitted to make use of each and every one of these forms of genetic data, consistent with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? That is the question that motivates James W. Hazel and Christopher Slobogin’s recent article, “World of Difference”? Law Enforcement, Genetic Data, and the Fourth Amendment. Hazel and Slobogin take an empirical approach to the Fourth Amendment inquiry, reporting results of a survey of more than 1500 respondents and probing which types of data access respondents deemed “intrusive” or treading upon an “expectation of privacy.” Their findings indicate that the public often perceives police access to genetic data sources as highly intrusive, even where traditional Fourth Amendment doctrine might not. As Hazel and Slobogin put it, “our subjects appeared to focus on the location of the information, not its provenance or content.” That is, intrusiveness turns more on who holds the data, rather than on how it was first collected or analyzed. Hazel and Slobogin conclude that their findings “support an argument in favor of judicial authorization both when police access nongovernmental genetic databases and when police collect DNA from individuals who have not yet been arrested.” Continue reading "Gauging Genetic Privacy"
It is time to do a gut check about the nature of civil procedure and due process in the United States. Much of the discourse among law proceduralists is divorced from the reality of how most Americans experience the court system, if they participate at all. With less than two percent of all civil cases brought in the federal courts, procedural scholars are being challenged to do some soul searching about our pedagogy and curriculum—largely centered on the federal civil system. The common proceduralist gaze falls on Supreme Court precedent and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—highbrow loci ripe for analysis.
But this focus misses the mark, argues Norman Spaulding in The Ideal and the Actual in Procedural Due Process. He flags that this perspective is “idealized, abstract, and ossified,” unconnected to the way things actually work. This myopia not only calls into question the relevance of much current civil process pedagogy, but has serious repercussions for the vulnerable and marginalized. Continue reading "Getting Real About Procedure: Changing How We Think, Write and Teach About American Civil Procedure"