Sandy Steel, Compensation and Continuity
, Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper
(July 20, 2019), available at SSRN
“Wrongdoers may incur duties to compensate the victims of their wrongs.” This, the opening sentence of Sandy Steel’s Compensation and Continuity, sounds like a truism. Who would deny it? It’s hard to imagine the defendant in a normal tort lawsuit conceding liability but insisting that her concession in no way implied responsibility for repairing that wrongfully inflicted harm. In tort law, the obligation to repair harm tortiously inflicted seems to tumble out of the breach of the primary duty to avoid tortiously wronging someone. Moreover, the continuity here seems both reasonable and rooted in basic morality.
Suppose I am cycling past a grove of peach trees. I stop, sample a peach, and decide to fill my pockets and bag with as many peaches as I can. I take them home and make peach pies out of them. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the peaches weren’t just there for the taking. They were the property of a farmer who was growing them for sale. After reviewing her security tapes and deploying face recognition technology, the farmer shows up at my door demanding compensation. Surely, her demand is justified. I was wrong to have taken the peaches. I committed the tort of conversion, even if my assumption that the peaches were just there for the taking was an innocent mistake. Having baked the peaches into pies I am now unable to return them. So I must compensate the farmer for the peaches. This is what Aristotle called corrective justice and what John Locke called the obligation of reparation. The obligation of reparation seems to be a basic principle of morality, picked up in the law of torts. Continue reading "Why Reparation?"
Jeffrey L. Fisher & Alli Orr Larsen, Virtual Briefing at the Supreme Court
, 105 Cornell L. Rev.
__ (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN
How do the Justices (and their law clerks) know what they know? More specifically, how do they acquire the information that they rely on when deciding cases? Alli Orr Larsen has done more than anyone in recent years to answer this set of questions. From exploring the role of amicus brief “facts” in Supreme Court opinions to tracing “in house” fact-finding by the Justices themselves, Larsen has shown how information comes to, and is sought by, members of the Court in surprising and perhaps unsettling ways. It is thereforeunsurprising that Larsen, with renowned Supreme Court advocate Jeff Fisher, have new and important information about how facts and arguments reach chambers today.
The starting point of Virtual Briefing is that the digital age has opened new avenues for reaching the Justices. As readers of this site will no doubt acknowledge, many in the legal profession gather crucial information about cases online. Whereas yesterday’s lawyer might have consulted bar journals and op-ed pages to glean legal insights, today’s lawyer has her pick of podcasts, blogs, and twitter feeds devoted to the Court. As one example, according to ABA estimates, there were a mere 100 legal blogs in 2002 and more than 4000 by 2016. These sources provide what the authors dub “virtual briefing”— written or oral online advocacy, outside the normal briefing process, aimed at influencing the outcome of a case at the Supreme Court. Continue reading "Confronting Online Advocacy"
Ellen P. Goodman & Julia Powles, Urbanism Under Google: Lessons from Sidewalk Toronto,
__ Fordham L. Rev.
__ (forthcoming 2019), available at SSRN
National Geographic’s April 2019 issue focused on ‘cities’, presenting photographs, highlighting challenges, and wondering about the future. Its editor highlighted that two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in a city by 2050, and recent history is replete with unfinished or abandoned blueprints for what this future might look like. Yet in the field of technology law and urban planning, the biggest story of the last two years may well be that of Toronto, where a proposal to rethink urban life through data, technology, and redevelopment has prompted important reflections on governance, privacy, and control.
In Urbanism Under Google: Lessons from Sidewalk Toronto, forthcoming in the Fordham Law Review, Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles set out to tell the story of the ‘Sidewalk Toronto’ project, from its early announcements (full of promise but lacking in detail) to the elaborate (yet no less controversial) legal and planning documents now publicly available. Goodman and Powles contribute to the public and academic scrutiny of this specific project, but their critique of process and transparency will obviously be of value in many other cities, especially as ‘smart city’ initiatives continue to proliferate. Continue reading "We the North"
In Tax Equivalences and Their Implications, Alan Auerbach reviews some of the commonly invoked equivalences that have been incorporated into the vocabulary of tax policy discussions during the last half-century. He offers a quick (and refreshingly accessible) summary of the analysis economists have used to break down the study of tax instruments so that their predicted impacts can be compared in terms of their overall effect on the economy. More important, he points out the situations in which these generally useful assumptions about equivalence across tax instruments will not hold, and, in doing so, hints that arguments from equivalence may have sometimes played a perhaps oversized role in tax policy discussions.
Equivalence for Auerbach’s purposes generally refers to the idea that identified tax policies have, in his words, “the same impact on fundamental economic outcomes.” One key economic outcome is the extent of the misallocation of resources resulting from the dead-weight losses taxes always entail. Under an economist’s view, for instance, a labor income tax can be seen as equivalent to a consumption tax as long as there is no initial wealth (and therefore earnings are only derived from labor) and all earnings are consumed. Continue reading "What Is Lost in Translation? From Theory to Practice in Tax Policy"
Jotwell is taking a short summer break. Posting will resume on Monday, September 2. However, even while we’re on break, we’ll be accepting submissions, editing them, and updating various technical parts of the site.
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Nicholas Bagley, The Procedure Fetish
, 118 Mich. L. Rev.
__ (forthcoming, 2019), available at SSRN
Every administrative law professor has been there. Perhaps you are discussing hard-look review, notice-and-comment rulemaking, or procedural challenges to non-legislative rules. Students, perhaps puzzled by the courts’ (mostly the D.C. Circuit’s) indifference to the spare requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, may wonder where this layer of doctrine comes from or, more importantly, why it is there. At that point you go back to the beginning of the class. Remember concerns about how the “fourth branch of the Government . . . has deranged our three branch legal theories much as the concept of a fourth dimension unsettles our three-dimensional thinking”? Remember the theory about agency behavior that posits regulators’ incentives will steer them toward servicing the industry they are supposed to monitor in the public interest? These additional procedures are here to compensate for those worries about legitimacy, capture, and public participation, thus justifying and improving the workings of the administrative state.
So far, so familiar. But then the plot takes a twist. Professor Nicholas Bagley bursts like Kool-Aid Man through the wall of your classroom. This intruder, however, is telling you to stop drinking the Procedural Kool-Aid that has sustained so many administrative law jurists and scholars. (Not so much “OH YEAH!” as “No.”) In The Procedure Fetish, forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review, Bagley contends that procedural constraints on agency action can sometimes bolster legitimacy and improve governance, but lawyers’ unexamined fealty to the cult of procedure does not hold up to scrutiny. Further, Bagley argues that for progressive lawyers and scholars this faith is misguided and plays into hands of those who seek to undermine an activist state. Although Bagley speaks primarily here to his progressive fellows-in-arms, this sharply argued paper merits the attention of administrative lawyers of every stripe. It changes the way I will teach the subject. (Also, it is a great read; the prose sings and sometimes even struts.) Continue reading "How to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Administrative State"
In 2019, Oregon became the first state to pass legislation that essentially bans single-family zoning. As states across the country struggle to respond to the housing affordability crisis, Oregon’s actions do not stand alone. John Infranca’s recent article, The New State Zoning: Land Use Preemption Amid a Housing Crisis, may have been published before Oregon’s historic vote but it is essential reading for those interested in the future of zoning.
The article does a masterful job collecting examples of similar moves by states to preempt local zoning as a way to facilitate the construction of more dense housing. It also persuasively argues that states are going to increasingly use state preemption through state regulation as a way to respond to the housing affordability crisis. Continue reading "Reclaiming State Authority Over Zoning"
As tort reform heated up in the United States late in the last century, so too did the debate over the appropriateness of punitive damages awards, especially where those damages were seen to be excessive. Complicating the picture, of course, is what it means for such damages to be excessive in the first place, for, unlike traditional damages intended to compensate the injured party, punitive damages are intended to punish and deter the wrongdoing party. As a starting point, most courts and scholars are in agreement that the reprehensibility of the wrongdoing party and the amount needed to deter similar conduct in the future are important considerations that should be taken into account before awarding punitive damages. After this, however, all bets are off. For instance, scholars disagree with one another as to whether punitive damages are really out of control in the first place (most, but not all, seem to think that they are), and even if they are, they further disagree on what should be done about the problem. For instance, how predictable should punitive damages awards be, and what role, if any, should be played by the defendant’s wealth, or by other civil or criminal penalties the wrongdoer might be subject to, or by the probability of the defendant’s behavior escaping detection, or by the ratio between the compensatory and punitive damages, or by whether the claim is being reviewed as excessive on common law grounds or as unconstitutional on due process grounds, and how does all of this tie in to the twin (but frequently at odds) goals of punishment and deterrence? Indeed, there are few principles in all of remedies more contentious (and confusing!) than those governing the current punitive damages landscape, as a stack of recently-graded remedies exams sitting next to my desk will readily attest.
It is in part due to this confusion that hundreds of law review articles have been written on punitive damages since the 1980s alone—just when tort reform started to find its feet under the Reagan administration—initiating a cataclysmic shift in the punitive damages landscape whose aftershocks are still being felt today. Fortunately, one of the newest contributions to the literature—a well-researched, enjoyably-written, and cogently-argued Article called Taming Blockbuster Punitive Damages Awards by Professors Benjamin J. McMichael and W. Kip Viscusi—has found something new to say. The Article not only provides “the first empirical analysis of the effect of state punitive damages caps on blockbuster awards” (i.e., those awards exceeding $100 million, which arguably pose the biggest threat to fundamental notions of fairness), but also is the first to explore the dynamic interplay between the attempt of individual states to rein in and render more predictable punitive damages awards “with the effect of the Supreme Court’s current constitutional doctrine on punitive damages.” (P. 171.) Continue reading "Making Punitive Damages More Predictable"
All lawyers in private practice must recognize the possibility of opening a summons and seeing their names listed as defendants. Many private practitioners are more concerned about malpractice than professional discipline. The Preface to the Restatement of Law Governing Lawyers captures the regulatory role of malpractice in stating that “the remedy of malpractice liability and the remedy of disqualification are practically of greater importance in most law practice than the risk of disciplinary proceedings.”
Despite the important role that malpractice plays in influencing lawyer conduct, only a small number of empirical scholars have studied legal malpractice claims. That is one reason why we should welcome the recent book by Herbert M. Kritzer and Neil Vidmar, When Lawyers Screw Up: Improving Access to Justice for Legal Malpractice Victims. As suggested by the book title, the book persuasively makes the case for change because a large percentage of victims are deprived of a meaningful remedy in pursuing legal malpractice claims. Continue reading "What Lawyers Can Learn from Their Mistakes: An Empirical Examination of Legal Malpractice"
Everyone agrees that law has a conduct-guiding function. Moreover, most legal theorists assume that this conduct-guiding occurs, or is supposed to occur, by providing reasons for action. This very readable book is about the kind of reasons to comply with the law that law can provide and—under favorable conditions—does provide. As most of us know, officials applying legal requirements largely act as if these requirements trump (nearly) everything else for law subjects. In terms made famous by Joseph Raz, they treat law as giving rise to pre-emptive reasons to comply. These are reasons that (a) are ordinary reasons in favor of conduct and (b) exclude some opposing reasons, in the sense that they are not to be considered in a law subject’s practical reasoning. But this is not how civil disobedients and otherwise law-abiding motorists treat many legal requirements. (The latter, notoriously, consider what appear to be excluded considerations, such as the speed of traffic and the apparent likelihood that speeders will be apprehended, to reach decisions about obeying the posted speed limit.)
This gives us two views about what sort of reasons law (potentially) provides for action: (1) reasons that pre-empt competing reasons, and (2) reasons that compete with others in terms of weight. Gur carefully criticizes the two positions as inadequate before developing a refreshingly different sort of answer. The reader will be surprised to learn what this difference implies about the law and its authority. Continue reading "Reasons to Comply With the Law"