Monday, September 22, 2014
Addressing the Unmet Need for Civil Legal Representation--and the Legal Employment Market
It’s my privilege to hang out with present and future health care providers almost every day through teaching at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's brand new Public Health School and being an adjunct faculty member at our terrific medical school and on the advisory board of our awesome nursing school. One of the issues that always surprises them is how little access most individuals have to legal services as compared to medical services. We are used to hearing the bad about access to health care—and there is still plenty of bad—but unless a person faces criminal charges, brought by the government, there is no right to legal representation for those who cannot afford it and very few public or private sources of insurance.
The primary source of federal funding for individuals involved with a civil dispute—child custody, divorce, land-lord tenant, employment, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), estimates that 80% of “low income Americans who need civil legal assistance to do not receive any, in part because legal aid offices in this country are so stretched that they routinely turn away qualified prospective clients.” See report, Documenting the Justice Gap in America. Individual states also have some subsidized civil aid programs. Although the current president is about as sympathetic to LSC as any in recent history, demands for help still far outstrip demand.
Risa Kauffman of Columbia Law School reported to a U.N. Human Rights Committee examining how the U.S. complies with the an international covenant on civil and political rights reported that: "In the United States, millions of people are forced to go it alone when they're facing a crisis….It's a human rights crisis, and the United States is really losing ground with the rest of the world."
And if anyone is wondering why, given this size of this unmet need and given the existing federal investment in student loans for legal education and the downturn in legal employment opportunities, there hasn’t been federal action to increase staffing at LSC and other organizations—that’s a good question.
If, however, your first reaction here is to laugh and tell a lawyer joke, browse through these state reports, complied by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and usually commissioned by state courts and chief judges, documenting the unmet need for civil representation in our 50 states. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association has helpfully put together a 50 state survey of reports. The ABA has a Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services that considers access as well as other issues.
Stone on sex discrimination and professional sports
The internet has most recently been ablaze with news of a lawsuit filed against the New York Mets by an ex-employee who claims that she was chastised and then fired due to her status as an unmarried pregnant woman. On the heels of other notorious stories of discrimination to come out of the sports world this past year, like Donald Sterling’s racist comments, Richie Incognito’s racially tinged bullying of a teammate, and the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence after coming under fire for his racially-stereotyped comments about a player, this latest story has many clamoring for justice—whatever that will mean in this scenario.
Recently, my colleague, Howard Wasserman, blogged about various incidents of discrimination in the sports world, taking note of their wildly varying upshots and reactions generated. He asked whether we could “find anything resembling consistent and appropriate responses to possibly improper or unlawful employment practices,” and posited that factors that might be in play could include, among others, whether formal, legal action had been initiated, whether it is sexism or racism that is alleged, and whether video or audio recordings of the discriminatory sentiments exist. These observations are astute. I would add that the role of shame in these incidents has become central. Some years ago, I blogged about the role of shame in accomplishing the eradication of discrimination in a way that even the law could not, but I pointed out that the shame has to be public, even viral, in order to move most employers to act. From what we have seen in the sports world as of late, the ability of those involved or even of those who know about the discriminatory sentiments expressed by sports players, managers, and executives to stir up outrage on the part of the public appears to be central to whether or not those in a position to discipline or dismiss these individuals will act.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Intellectual Property Infringement as Vandalism (Part 3)
The problems that have arisen in the discussion over whether intellectual property infringement is theft have a number of causes. Content owners know that the message “intellectual property infringement is [a property offense lesser than theft]” does not pack the same rhetorical punch as their current statements. Opponents of the present rhetoric, however, are right to argue that infringement rarely removes all value, which distinguishes it from theft. Meanwhile, there are other types of offenses against physical property that characterize actions whose effect is to partly reduce the value of goods. The most prominent of these is likely vandalism. Vandalism involves the destruction rather than removal of property. The concept of vandalism does not suffer from the majority of flaws that open up to attack the analogy to theft. Vandalism, by definition, does not require a complete removal of the good or of its value. The owner may still retain the ability to sell or license the good. And, in some cases, both intellectual property infringement and vandalism have the potential to enhance rather than reduce the value of goods.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Who Is Justice Ginsburg Talking To?
Justice Ginsburg recently offered some surprising public remarks on the pending same-sex marriage petitions currently before the Supreme Court. (H/t Dale Carpenter at VC.) In particular, Justice Ginsburg suggested that the Court should not (would not?) grant the currently pending petitions at the end of the month because, in her view, there is no post-Windsor circuit split. As Lyle Denniston has noted, discussing pending cases in this way is highly unusual. Why would Justice Ginsburg take this unusual step?
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Ratification of the Canada-China BIT
It was announced last week that Canada ratified its bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with China that was signed about two years ago. The treaty will take effect on October 1, 2014. At the time of the signing, a Canadian international investment law scholar named Gus Van Harten wrote an editorial warning of dire consequences if Canada ratified the BIT. In particular, he expressed concern that the BIT would impose constraints on Canada's sovereignty and put important policy questions in the hands of foreign arbitrators.
In an earlier phase of international investment, when capital flowed primarily from developed to developing nations, only the latter had to worry about constraints on their sovereignty. But as more capital has begun to travel in the opposite direction, established democracies like Canada will increasingly have to respond to claims brought against them by foreign investors. The Canada-China BIT, like other recent BITs that both Canada and the United States have entered into, adopts a narrower definition of fair and equitable treatment that should in theory avoid the most serious sovereignty concerns described in my prior posts. But as other commentators have observed, some tribunals have proceeded to apply the same broad standard used in arbitral precedent as if the limiting language were not there.
The United States has not yet signed a BIT with China, but the countries did agree recently to restart negotiations. It will be interesting to see whether the United States tries a different approach to fair and equitable treatment or otherwise departs from its model BIT in anticipation of the possibility that the protections of a China-U.S. BIT will be invoked as much by Chinese investors against the U.S. government as by U.S. investors against the Chinese government.
Cameras and unintended consequences
In the rush to video record everything so we always know for sure "what happened," it is important not to lose sight of the risk of unintended consequences. Two studies, not directly involving police and body cams, illustrate the point.
In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that one major cause of the drop in offense and scoring over the past 5+ years is introduction in 2006 of video systems to review and evaluate umpire performance in calling balls and strikes. The intended effect was to teach umpires the "correct" strike zone and produce more accurate umpiring (indeed, several umpires were fired when video showed their ball/strike calls to be inadequate). But that accurate strike zone was a lower strike zone, with more pitches around the batter's knees now being called strikes, causing pitchers to learn to throw low in the strike zone. Low pitches are harder to hit, especially with power, so they produce more ground balls and more strikeouts (Thompson says the increase in strikeouts since 2008--called and swinging--is entirely on pitches lower in the zone). As a result, this more-accurate zone produces less scoring. The problem is that this lower-scoring game is not as popular nationally (based on game-of-the-week ratings and national fan recognition of star players) as the power-driven game of the late '90s and early '00s. And there is your unintended consequence--MLB used video to successfully increase accuracy, but accuracy fundamentally changed the game. And arguably made it less popular.
On the Harvard Business Review Blog, Ethan Bernstein (a professor in the B-school) argues that the increase in transparency that video brings may stifle worker creativity. He explains that "[k]nowing that their managers and others will closely evaluate and penalize any questionable recorded behavior, workers are likely to do only what is expected of them, slavishly adhering to even the most picayune protocols." In an article, Bernstein found such lack of creativity in assembly-line workers, who avoid potentially useful time-saving methods in favor of doing everything precisely by the book. And while supportive of body cams, Bernstein is concerned that they will have a similar effect on law enforcement.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Fan speech, once again
The ejection of a fan from the park (at the insistence of the umpire) from Atlanta's Turner Field, apparently for profanely heckling an opposing player (the link contains video), could raise some First Amendment problems. The park is apparently owned by the Atlanta Fulton County Recreational Authority, a public entity, and leased to the Braves (no doubt on very favorable terms). Just like in the one case to directly address free speech at a publicly owned ballpark, involving old Yankee Stadium, which was owned by New York City and leased to the team. And as I have written previously, if "Fuck the Draft" is ok in a courthouse, then "You fucking suck" is ok at a publicly owned or operated ballpark. And it does not matter whether the order to remove the fan came from team officials or the umpire.
I hope a lawsuit is coming.
Happy Constitution Day--Some Thoughts on Constitutional Issues in Health Law
As readers of this blog already know, today is Constitution Day. An occasion mandated by Congress that requires every institution of education receiving federal funding (which includes nearly all colleges and universities) to present some sort of "programming" related to the Constitution. In the context of suggesting that it may be an Unconstitutional mandate in regard to k-12 schools, Slate offered a history of where this idea came from and how it became law.
Since our TTU Health Sciences Center is a separate entity from TTU University, it is required to have its own, separate Constitution day event and it's been my honor as an adjunct faculty member to give the "Constitution Day Address" since the law took effect in 2004. At the beginning, it was an interesting challenge because, of course, the word "Health" appears nowhere in the Constitution. But what started as a service project turned into more as I developed a course for the law school based on one taught first by Maryann Boblinski at the University of Houston (now dean at the University of British Columbia) on Constitutional Issues in Health Law (and yes, this extends far beyond Obama care) to capture topics like First Amendment Issues in Prescription Drug Off-Label marketing, Entitlements, and, of course, the Right to Refuse Treatment, Non-Right to Physician suicide issues that get covered in a traditional bioethics class. Last year we looked at (and re-enacted the oral argument from) Hobby Lobby and this spring will focus on Halbig v. Burwell.
There have always been Constitutional issues in health care and fine constitutional work done by health law academics [more name checks to come--but to make an incomplete list of some giants, Sandy Johnson, Marshall Kapp, Diane Hoffman, Karen Rothenberg, Judith Daar, Alan Meisel, Paul Lombardo, Fran Miller, Rebecca Dressler, Mark Rothstein, Lori Anderson, Tim Jost and Mark Hall(now I really need to stop--the danger always in starting to list names is to leave people out) but --but it was the intense attention brought by the Obamacare Constitutionality cases (that in my opinion had almost nothing to do with health care, but that's another post) that has attracted interest both locally (last year I had 11 students, this spring 30) and more broadly. I've been working with my research assistant to put the course material into a package that can be used by others interested teaching a similar course--and who knows, maybe someday a book.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
For those interested in national security, Edward Snowden, and some such, Glenn Reynolds has a new, short (8 pages) essay up on SSRN entitled Don't Fear the Leaker: Thoughts on Bureaucracy and Ethical Whistleblowing. Here is the abstract:
"In this brief Essay, I argue that rather than trying to eliminate leaks entirely, which experience demonstrates is impossible, we should instead try to channel leaks so that they provide the maximum benefit to transparency while reducing risks to national security and other secrecy concerns. I also offer some preliminary suggestions about how to accomplish this goal."
Scientific misconduct and the First Amendment
This proposal to make scientific misconduct a crime would seem to raise serious First Amendment problems, certainly under the Kennedy plurality in United States v. Alvarez. If false statements are not categorically unprotected, regulations must survive strict scrutiny, and counter-speech is always available, it seems to me that any attempt to regulate false scientific results are as vulnerable as the ban on false statements about military service. Interestingly, such a criminal prohibition might fare better under the squishier balancing proposed by Breyer's Alvarez concurrence, given the more tangible harms from false scientific research (Andrew Wakefield, anyone?). But I do not think receipt of salary from the university should matter; we do not prosecute people for not doing their jobs well, even intentionally. And to the extent a scientist receives grant money requiring honest research and produces false results, charges of fraud or false monetary claims already should be available.
Monday, September 15, 2014
(Still) more on "The Freedom of the Church"
Over at the Law & Liberty blog, they ran a short essay of mine in which I set out the short-version of some claims I've been making in recent years about the freedom of religion and "the freedom of the church." They also solicited and posted some very thoughtful reactions to the piece by Paul Horwitz, Don Drakeman, and John Inazu. And now, here is my (grateful) reply. With respect to my friend and co-Prawf Paul, a bit:
Paul Horwitz – whose important book, First Amendment Institutions, has both shaped and challenged my thinking about the subject under discussion – is right to remind readers that “religious institutionalism” is “not necessarily a libertarian position”; it does not require or even invite “disdain for the state”; it is does not reflect or imply “complete skepticism about or outright hostility to government.” It does, I think, necessarily involve (as Horwitz says) the ungrudging acceptance – indeed, the welcoming – of non-state authorities and of occasional “incongruence” (to borrow Nancy Rosenblum’s term) between, on the one hand, the rules that govern and the goals that move the liberal state and, on the other, the practices and values of non-state groups, communities, associations, and institutions. As my colleague, Robert Rodes, has put it, there is a “nexus” between religious and political authorities that involves both cooperation and contestation, mutual support and resistance.
Horwitz underscores another point (one that I also tried to make in a short paper called, “Church, State, and the Practice of Love”: To endorse the “freedom of the church” or “church autonomy” “is hardly the same as insisting that these institutions can never err. Autonomy involves the right to make central choices, not the assurance that the right choices will always be made.” He continues: “[T]he committed institutionalist must be an active observer and critic of these institutions, urging them to do the right thing (as he or she understands it) whether or not they are legally obliged to do so.” Absolutely. The “freedom of the church” claim is that the state’s authority is limited, that other authorities exist and operate, and that – all things considered – pluralism is conducive to human flourishing. It is not the (easily falsifiable) claim that non-state authorities, or religious institutions specifically, never act badly.
A "Shell" Game in the Sixth Circuit?
In US v. Young, the Sixth Circuit recently affirmed a startlingly severe sentence for what seems like innocuous conduct, and the blogosphere has taken note (h/t Sentencing Law & Policy). As Eugene Volokh put it in his post title, the case involved a “15-year mandatory minimum federal sentence for possessing shotgun shells (no shotgun) almost 20 years after past felonies.” The case might go to the Supreme Court on the Eighth Amendment question it raises.
Viewed from another angle, Young illustrates two reasons to lament the rarity of executive clemency. First, whether Young’s sentence is just seems to depend on factors that weren’t pressed in court but that executive officials likely know about. A robust clemency tradition would bring those factors to light. Second, in the absence of executive clemency, the Sixth Circuit seems to have reached outside the proven record to do the executive’s job for it—and, in doing so, the court relied on allegations and innuendo instead of judicial findings.
Spot the differences, if you possibly can
Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry used racist stereotypes in evaluating and describing player Luol Deng. The comments were unquestionably tasteless and offensive; they might form the basis for an employment-discrimination action, although Deng did not suffer any harm (he signed with another team and there is no indication he was dying to sign with the Hawks) and courts are often quick to dismiss remarks like these as "stray comments" (as my colleague Kerri Stone has written) The remarks were audio-recorded and written in a report. Ferry has been placed on indefinite leave of absence, basically meaning he's on his way to being fired (likely as part of an ownership change). The team published a public apology to its fans, basically confessing to multiple incidents of racist comments and actions by the team "over a period of years" and its failure to stop or punish them. The league is holding off on punishment, probably because the team took the matter off its hands.
Isiah Thomas engaged in a pattern of sex- and gender-based harassment of a Knicks executive named Anucha Browne Sanders, for which he was found personally liable by a jury; the case settled, following a jury verdict awarding more than $ 10 million in punitive damages. Thomas never lost his job and suffered no team- or league-imposed penalties. The league expressly said it does not get involved with "civil matters," not even civil matters directly affecting the team. The Knicks never publicly apologized for anything or even acknowledged having been found liable.
A former executive with the New York Mets has sued the team and the COO (the principal owner's son) for harassing and then firing her over becoming pregnant and having a child without being married and complaining about the harassment. So far, silence from MLB. The Mets blandly insist that they have policies against harassment and discrimination (which obviously means nothing if those policies are ignored by the owner's son, general counsel, and other team officials, as the complaint alleges).
So can we find anything resembling consistent and appropriate responses to possibly improper or unlawful employment practices? One answer is that mere accusations are insufficient and teams must wait for the civil litigation process to play out. But then neither the non-action by the Knicks against Thomas nor the action by the Hawks against Ferry makes sense. Worse, accepting the facts alleged in each case as true, the Hawks case is probably the least likely of the three to produce legal liability, yet that is the only one in which the team responded. A more cynical answer is teams/leagues will jump to act when it comes to race discrimination involving players, but do not care about sex-based discrimination against non-players. An intermediate explanation is Ferry was captured on audio and the Mets COO wasn't, which just brings us back to the problem that audio and video are overtaking our ability to judge evidence and proof. But that, in turn, says some troubling things about our ability or willingness to rely on judicial processes, not just recordings, to resolve disputes and determine legal rights and wrongs.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Investor-State Regulatory Disputes (Part 2)
In my previous post, I described the sovereignty concerns raised by investor-state regulatory disputes, the viewpoint that currently predominates in the literature known as the public law approach, and my criticisms of that proposed framework. In this post, I explain why investment tribunals should instead adapt concepts or tools from contract law and theory and describe in further depth one such proposal.
The basic argument for a contractual approach is that tribunals could do more to approximate how the contracting states themselves would want to resolve these disputes. No one would disagree that, if states actually addressed the issue in their bilateral investment treaties (BITs), their express intent would govern. The problem is that the BITs do not define “fair and equitable treatment” or otherwise provide guidance on how that standard should be applied to regulatory disputes. In contract law, when an agreement has a gap or otherwise contains an ambiguity, courts do not simply abandon the inquiry into the parties’ intent but instead apply other tools to form the best possible estimate. I believe a few of these tools could be usefully adapted for the present context to fill this gap in the BITs.
Privacy v. Justice
William Saletan at Slate argues that the benefits of having video and audio in evaluating legal disputes (in court or out) outweigh the privacy concerns raised by the possibility of everyone and everything being recorded. As he says, "privacy, broadly interpreted, can shield injustice."
Saletan's big mistake is assuming the absolute certainty of video--"with video, everyone knows." Only after everyone had seen the Ray Rice video did the NFL "know" what happened. And because everyone else "knew," the NFL lost deniability and Rice lost what Saletan calls the "presumption of innocence." But, as I have written repeatedly, video is not that certain and we do not necessarily know in every case or with every video. Some video is clearer or easier than others. Rice seems especially obvious (although the video is grainy and one looking to see mutual aggression might see her moving towards him for reasons that cannot be known from the video). But not every video will be so clear and thus not every video case will be so easy.
Which is not to say that Saletan is wrong about the privacy/justice balance; I think he has it right. But the reason is that this provides additional evidence with which to evaluate (in court and out) disputes controversies--and more evidence is better than less. But it still is a mistake to rely on the idea that video is unquestionably, always, and in all cases conclusive.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Kopald on health problems from WiFi
Deborah Kopald has a post at Public Citizen's Consumer Law and Policy Blog, discussing health problems associated with WiFi, namely showings of Microwave Sickness by people living/working/going to school too close to wireless hotspots. Worth a read, as she has been pushing this issue for some time.