Thursday, November 07, 2013
JOTWELL: Leong on Schwartz on indemnifying policeNancy Leong (Denver, visiting at UCLA) has the new essay on JOTWELL's Courts Law, reviewing Joanna Schwartz's Police Indemnification (forthcoming NYU L. Rev.), which undertakes an empirical exploration of municipal indemnification practices in § 1983 litigation.
Friday, November 01, 2013
Maybe I missed it but i haven't seen too much interest in our corner of the world about this interesting piece from the Nation (I know, I don't often link to it!). Anyway, curious for people's reactions about what are the optimal level of disclosures for legal academics. I realize Larry Lessig's got a disclosures page. Should we all have one of those if we ever make a dime off outside income? Would it include a requirement to disclose even ghost-writing briefs for law firms, etc? Or are we worried only about the corruption of our public identity, and not the private sale of what little talents we have to offer?
Thursday, October 24, 2013
JOTWELL: Epstein on Enns and Wohlfarth on swing justicesThe new essay for JOTWELL's Courtslaw comes from Lee Epstein (USC), reviewing Patrick K. Enns and Patrick Wohlfarth's The Swing Justice (forthcoming in Journal of Politics), which takes a new look at the concept of swing justices.
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Tips for newly tenured professorsFrom Eric Goldman (Santa Clara). Discuss.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
JOTWELL: Pfander on Ewald on the Committee of DetailThe latest essay for JOTWELL's Courts Law Section comes from James Pfander (Northwestern), reviewing William Ewald's The Committee of Detail (Constitutional Commentary), which explores the role of the Committee of Detail (and particularly James Wilson) at the Philadelphia Convention in the creation of the Article III judiciary.
Monday, October 07, 2013
A Grenade in the Prison Nursery
James Dwyer at William and Mary Law has an explosively interesting and sharp draft (forthcoming in Utah LR) up on SSRN called Jailing Black Babies. If you have a passing interest in the intersection of family life and criminal justice, race and law, or just how to do a law review article with panache and insight, then you should read it (h/t to Berman at SLP). I can't endorse the underlying merits because I don't know the studies that Dwyer skewers along the way, but the piece is, if true, a wonderful parade of argument in law and policy, and, in its own way, quite courageous. Kudos.
One minor quibble. At times, Dwyer takes to task the advocates for incarcerated moms for "wishful thinking" re: the putative benefits of prison nurseries. I don't have reason to doubt that there's little empirical support for developing prison nurseries now that some studies (as described and critiqued by Dwyer) show little grounds for them. But at least at some earlier point, it seems worrisome if critics insist that policy entrepreneurs provide empirical support for the benefits of a relatively new policy idea. How do we prevent policy ossification if we insist on studies for everything in advance? To be sure, Dwyer has probably convinced me that it was a form of constitutional folly to put kids into prisons with their moms. But if the legal arguments weren't there, and we were considering a strictly policy question, it wouldn't be batshit crazy to think that there might be some benefits to children of incarcerated parents being together with them; it *might* be the kind of thing we might want to see at least some types of (low-security) prisons experiment with. Dwyer's right, however, that there seems be little academic constituency for a child-centered view of these policies and their alternatives. One cannot read Dwyer's draft without feeling deeply concerned with this new policy bandwagon while also saddened by the conflict he spotlights between parental and children's interests.
HLR has more women. Discuss.
The Crimson has a story reporting that since the Harvard Law Review adopted a gender consideration for its discretionary slots, the review has almost doubled the number of female admittees to its membership. See here (reporting that women went from 9 to 17 out of roughly 45 people admitted for this year).
Those six of you who have followed this issue with some interest over the years may remember that both Justice Kagan (in her former decanal role) and Professor Carol Steiker (a former President of HLR herself) opposed adding gender to the list of considerations that would figure into the "discretionary" slots. Their stated concern was that it would cast doubt on the accomplishments of those women (including themselves?) who got onto HLR through the "blind" means (writing competition or grades-inflected scores of writing competition). Of course, this is the same rationale often thrown against affirmative action measures for visible minorities, so one wonders a) do they oppose the use of AA for race/ethnicity or other considerations? and b) if not, what are the distinguishing features are of race/ethnicity versus gender? Is it some kind of critical mass theory to the effect that women have without benefit of affirmative action policies still formed roughly 25% of the law review membership? I confess I'm puzzled by these reactions and not entirely sure what I would do if I were in a decision-making capacity on the HLR. Helping or inspiring people to Lean In during law school doesn't seem nearly so sufficient, though it does seem necessary. Am I wrong?
Anyway, here are some other relevant sources: a story on the HLR internal study a decade ago and some of the more recent coverage on Shatter the Ceiling, a project meant to facilitate female achievement at the Law School.
Friday, October 04, 2013
Compensation, Takings and Preventive Detention for Failure to Appear and Dangerousness
For a little while a couple years ago I was entertaining the thought that pretrial detention based on risk-based considerations (failure to appear or danger to oneself or the community or to the judicial process) was a regulatory takings that warranted compensation (at least normatively if not constitutionally). That position, it turned out, was largely advanced in a thoughtful piece by GW prof Jeff Manns on Liberty Takings.
I was delighted that I didn't pursue that line of thought, not only because it was preempted by Jeff but also because I soon realized the view wasn't entirely sound (at least to the extent I recall it now). In short, there's a big difference between the innocent property owner and the person who is preventively detained: namely, there is a hearing where a judicial officer finds that, at least in the fed context, clear and convincing evidence shows that the defendant poses a social risk of some sort that requires containment or management, however you want to frame it. (Manns recognizes the distinction between the innocent homeowner and the pretrial detainee but I think he gives it less normative significance than I do.)
Of course, that distinction doesn't mean the pretrial detainee deserves no compensation, but the force of the "takings" rhetoric or jurisprudence attenuates substantially; if there is a warrant for compensation it likely occurs at a substantially discounted rate insofar as the detainee is responsible for having created the risk.Interesting questions bear on what the discount should be, what the baseline should be, etc. Moreover, it doesn't at all follow that the detainee should be "boxed" or confined in the same kind of facilities as those who are convicted. A least intrusive means test is probably warranted, perhaps triggering what my colleague Sam Wiseman, in his forthcoming YLJ piece, has called a right to be monitored (electronically).
Let's stipulate for purposes of argument that at least in some cases, confinement is required for particular people, rather than monitoring. The box the detainee goes in, however, should be a pretty nice box, glibly akin to condos with views of the beach and wifi, rather than putrid and overcrowded jail cells. Along the same lines, if I'm right about the need to separate these preventive from punitive purposes, there would be no justification for extending credit for "time served" if the person is ultimately convicted (creating my unorthodox but I think justifiable view, a view that is naturally (!) pace my friend Adam Kolber in Against Proportional Punishment).
When looking at the pretrial detainee world, there is often agitation for compensation. But this doesn't necessarily follow as a matter of rights or out of respect for the presumption of innocence. Even compensating a later-acquitted defendant doesn't necessarily follow so long as the standards of proof and purposes/structures of confinement are properly respected. Compensation to the detained person would only be warranted if the detention proved to be tortiously procured through some form of negligence, recklessness, etc on the part of the prosecution. But it's not obvious that a good-faith preventive detention of a person who, with a lawyer by his side, is shown by the gov't to be dangerous by clear and convincing evidence, requires anything like a liberty takings model for compensation. The preventive detention box has purposes and structures and procedures that can be readily distinguished from those appropriate to the punitive boxes with their underlying purposes.
Of course, if we're serious about keeping these social projects distinct, then, per Justice Stevens' dissent in Salerno, the presence of an indictment is of no significance (except to the flight risk group). And if that's true, we should be able to have a restrictive though non-punitive form of preventive detention available for the future dangerousness folks (putting me in good company with Justice Stevens, though not Justice Marshall in Salerno). That model would probably look a good bit like Chris Slobogin's proposed regime of preventive detention (see his piece in Criminal Law Conversations), but perhaps without some of the pre-requisites he required (again, if I recall correctly).
This was roughly the set of views I tried to communicate to my students yesterday in teaching about pretrial detention and Salerno. However, as we were talking in class yesterday, I thought the liberty takings argument had more force in the context of the post-conviction post-punishment detainment of folks, e.g., the sexually violent predator types in Kansas v. Hendricks. I realized those guys do warrant full compensation for the liberty takings (though again, query what the baseline is there, and whether the baseline should be discounted for earlier choice-tracking behavior on their part).
To summarize, I wonder who has the best claim to liberty takings compensation in the preventive detention world. If I'm right, the people who have the best claim are the SVPs or the mentally/criminally insane who are confined but not punished/blamed (anymore). Ironically, if I'm right, even acquitted (and even convicted) defendants who were detained would not have a strong moral claim to full compensation for pretrial detentions on a liberty takings model unless they could show that the detention was tortiously procured through misconduct on the part of the government. That said, even though these folks are not akin to innocent homeowners whose property is taken, they do have some claim to some compensation and incredibly better detention facilities than we currently extend to them. Indeed, home detention plus surveillance options are probably the closest reasonable approaches.
And perhaps most unorthodox is the claim that we should eliminate altogether the pervasive practice of giving credit for "time served" in jails for pretrial detention. Extending time-served only blurs the lines between preventive detention and punishment and makes the goverment less circumspect in their decisions about who they box and under what guise. Anyway, this is just a first pass attempt at making sense (to me) of these boxes and social functions, and I will be revisiting the literature (including the Kolber, Slobogin, Manns pieces among others) if and when I flesh out these views further. Tell me in the comments if I'm way off base (at least normatively, if not constitutionally), and if you think someone has already articulated these views more coherently so that I don't bother chasing rabbits down a preempted hole.
Monday, September 23, 2013
JOTWELL: Vladeck on Reagan on National Security CasesThe latest essay on JOTWELL's Courts Law is by our own Steve Vladeck, reviewing Robert Timorthy Reagan's National Security Case Studies, published by the Federal Judicial Center. Steve uses this compendium to show that Article III courts are capable of handling cases touching on national security, obviating the need for special national security courts.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
FSU Law Review Exclusive Period Begins for Fall 2013The Florida State University Law Review will be conducting exclusive fall article reviews over the next few weeks. Any article submitted to this exclusive review between now and October 1st will be evaluated by October 8th. By submitting the article you agree to accept an offer for publication should one be extended. Any articles accepted through this review will be published in our fourth issue, which is slated for publication in summer of 2014.
If you have an article you would like to submit, please e-mail Sean Armil a copy of the article and your CV at email@example.com with the subject line "Exclusive Fall Article Review." We look forward to reading your submissions.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Understanding Civil Rights Litigation
I am happy to announce publication of Understanding Civil Rights Litigation with LexisNexis.
My main motivation for writing the book was to provide a supplement for my Civil Rights course, which I teach through open-source materials and, like Robin, believed the students can use some bit of help putting together the raw cases and information. The book also works as an assigned or recommended course supplement for any Civil Rights or Fed Courts casebook, or as a student study guide. And it includes relevant constitutional and statutory provisions and problem sets for use in classroom discussions.
Now available from Lexis, through your favorite Lexis rep, and in supermarket checkout lines near you.
Friday, September 06, 2013
JOTWELL: Walker on Kapeliuk and Klement on contractualized procedureThe new essay in JOTWELL's Courtslaw comes from Janet Walker, reviewing Changing the Litigation Game: An Ex Ante Perspective on Contractualized Procedures by Daphna Kapeliuk and Alon Klement, which argues that the timing of private rulemaking (before or after a dispute develops) makes an analytical difference.
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
The Legal Case for Intervening in Syria (Anthony Colangelo Guesting)
An International Legal Case for Military Intervention in Syria
Does international law allow U.S. military intervention in Syria? The Obama Administration has advanced a number of possible justifications including self-defense, halting civilian deaths, and debilitating the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities. None of these justify intervention on the current state of international law.
Yet that doesn’t mean international law would view a U.S. intervention as illegal in the long run. International law is a tricky sort of law, and the United States could make a strong legal argument that intervention would help change the law to allow interventions to halt mass human rights abuses. Going forward, this argument could retrospectively ratify U.S. intervention in Syria and give the United States a central role in formulating international legal criteria for future interventions.
Legal arguments against intervention are straightforward and rely principally on treaty law. Most prominently, the U.N. Charter prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” There are only two ways intervention is permissible under the Charter: the Security Council authorizes it, which has not and will not happen, or the United States acts in self-defense. Even the very best international lawyers can’t stretch the doctrine of self-defense to cover a U.S. strike in these circumstances. Even if they could, that’s both an awful and an awfully expansive precedent.
The Administration has also seized upon the Assad regime’s evident use of chemical weapons as a violation of international law that justifies intervention. Yet here too, treaty law cuts the other way. Syria is not a party to recent treaties banning the use of such weapons. Because treaties bind only states that have agreed to be bound by them, Syria’s use of chemical weapons cannot violate the treaties. The only treaty banning the use of chemical weapons Syria is a party to addresses international, not internal, conflicts. And in any event, it doesn’t authorize states to attack other states that violate it. In sum, treaty law does not allow intervention in Syria.
There is, however, another type of international law that might allow intervention, called customary international law. Unlike treaty law, customary international law doesn’t derive from formal agreements among states. Instead, it arises from the practice of states accompanied by what international lawyers call opinio juris, or states’ intent that their practice carries legal significance.
States can usually treaty around custom much the same way private individuals can contract around the norms that govern our everyday behavior. But there are some rules of customary international law that cannot be contracted around and that override treaties inconsistent with their rules. These are called jus cogens, or peremptory norms of international law. Jus cogens contain prohibitions on serious international law violations like genocide, torture, slavery, and crimes against humanity. To illustrate, Hitler and Mussolini can agree by treaty to afford each other’s nations certain preferential trade treatment. But they cannot enter into a treaty legalizing genocide. Jus cogens would swoop in to invalidate that treaty as contrary to a peremptory norm of international law.
Where does this leave the international legal justification for intervention in Syria? Many favoring intervention have cited jus cogens prohibitions on mass human rights abuses as justification. But that argument is flawed because the jus cogens norm does not directly conflict with the U.N. Charter’s prohibition on the use of force. That is, the Charter doesn’t authorize human rights abuses—in fact, just the opposite: it seeks to “promot[e] and encourage[e] respect for human rights.” Thus even if one can safely classify the Assad regime’s abuses as violations of jus cogens, that only gets the argument halfway to intervention. To justify intervention, the jus cogens norm would need to encompass not only a prohibition on human rights abuses but also the capacity of other states to enforce that prohibition. This latter enforcement component is presently lacking under the law. Finally, the Charter’s prohibition on the use of force isn’t some run-of-the-mill international rule. It is a cornerstone of the postwar international legal system that outlaws aggressive war. For this reason, the prohibition on the use of force is itself considered a jus cogens norm.
Nonetheless, it may be time for a change. Because customary international law arises from state practice, as practices change so too does the law, including the law of jus cogens. One way customary international law changes is states break it to form new norms; breaches effectively plant the seeds from which new norms grow. Although a breach may violate international law when it occurs, the law may develop to ratify that breach as the early stage of a new norm’s development.
If the United States intervenes in Syria, it has an initial international legal choice to make: it can ignore international law or seek to justify intervention within it. The second option’s benefit is that if state practice develops to allow intervention the illegality of U.S. action will wilt as the new norm blossoms. Yet some may view this option as undesirable precisely because it may prompt other states to accept the legality of intervention. Reciprocity is also a cardinal rule of international law: if it’s legal for us, it’s legal for you.
The question then becomes whether it’s better to operate within the law or outside it. For other states also will face that same initial choice above, to which this first-order reciprocity norm also extends; that is, the initial choice to ignore law or to justify their actions within it. In this respect, the United States may actually derive two distinct benefits from choosing to justify its actions under international law: a retrospective ratification of U.S. intervention and the ability to formulate criteria for a budding international law of humanitarian intervention.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
NYC’s Soda Ban: What’s All the Fizz About?
Reaction to New York’s 16-oz. soda limit has mostly come in two flavors. In the right-hand tap we mostly have complaints about paternalism and the nanny state. On the left, some grousing that (legal obstacles notwithstanding) a soda or sugar tax would have been a better policy. (Then lurking under the counter are the local government nerds, but let’s leave them be for now.) I’ll confess that the paternalism argument is too much for me to swallow. As lots of folks have now shown, there is a perfectly ordinary externality case for obesity control, regardless of whether the policies help us to better control ourselves.
One could say something similar about lots of modern nudges. Many of them -- smart meters, smart buildings -- are aimed at a classic externality problem, such as climate change. There isn’t really a paternalism story there. Maybe we could debate whether the nudge-y approaches are less “coercive” than your usual command and control regulation, but since no one has an especially good definition of coercive, I don’t think we’ll get anywhere. And indeed, I think that is what you’d see if you read the various back-and-forths on coercion between Sunstein et al. and their critics.
Maybe the best argument Sunstein and others (in particular, Sam Issacharoff and some smart economists) offer is that nudges are less “coercive” in the sense that they are more efficient (though they don’t typically put it that way). Usually, the nudge disproportionately affects people who need it the most---sticky pension defaults are most effective for procrastinators, and they’re the people who aren’t saving enough. So the “deadweight loss” of the nudge is small: it doesn’t bother people who don’t need it. But it’s not so clear how we tell this story about externalities. Are procrastinators more likely to emit greenhouse gasses?
This is a pretty narrow way of thinking about the efficiency of nudges. There is no secret formula for policy evaluation; we know how to mix up a good batch of regulation. Environmental economists compare taxes to “command and control” alternatives; crim. law scholars compare fines to prison and shaming. We can infuse this same analysis into the NYC debate, or analysis of any old nudge. Or, maybe not quite the same old classic analysis--maybe more of a New Coke flavor. I’ll say more about that tomorrow.
Monday, July 29, 2013
Those Damned ImmigrantsI am happy to announce publication of my colleague Ediberto Roman's new book from NYU Press, Those Damned Immigrant: America's Hysteria Over Undocumented Immigration (with an introduction from Michael Olivas).
Friday, July 26, 2013
The Sky Is Falling (Less Quickly). Yay!Good news from Erica Goode at the NYT. Third year in a row of declines in prison population across the country. Let's hope the conventional wisdom becomes a Bayesian updater.
Michelle Meyer en fuego (updated twice!)
I have deep affection for TNR (though I find the new regime prone to putting out more fluffy stuff in the magazine). What's more, I also like a lot of what I've read of Richard Thompson Ford's work before. But this non-correction correction is pretty embarrassing. Richard Thompson Ford's piece on the Zimmerman verdict was marred by some critical errors and inferences on the facts, which were brought to the editors' attention (and possibly his?), and I would think all the parties involved would want a real correction and not, as Michelle puts it ably, a correction that works a "double-down" on misleading information in a charged matter.
Oy, it just gets worse (again Jonathan H. Adler is on the case): "The article has been revised again. Now the statement reads: “Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the police 46 times in 15 months.” This is still inaccurate, as the calls were made over several years, not 15 months. Moreover, the additional corrections are not noted in the editor’s note at the bottom."
Update 2: TNR editors have largely come to their senses. They have now further corrected the false facts entirely and acknowledged the stream of errors in the latest version, but they still leave in Ford's pejorative claims that Zimmerman was an "edgy basketcase," when the whole basis for that claim in the original sentence has been undermined. Maybe I'm wrong but a neighborhood watch guy who calls 46 times over 8 years is not, on those facts alone, enough to make him an "edgy basketcase." You'd have to be relying on other evidence, presumably from something else besides the night Trayvon Martin was unfortunately killed, to reach that inference.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Cross-Examinations Made for TV (Bulger trial edition)
The stuff of greatly amusing cross-examinations:
“When did you become attracted to your daughter?” he asked.
“She was my stepdaughter, please,” Mr. Flemmi responded.
“You said when you agreed to kill your stepdaughter, you said you did it reluctantly,” Mr. Brennan said.
“I agreed because I was coerced into it,” Mr. Flemmi answered. After a long pause, he added, “And Mr. Brennan, I didn’t kill her.”
Mr. Flemmi did recall that he had taken her shopping just before her murder.
“You thought the last moments of her life would be best spent shopping with you?” Mr. Brennan asked.
Mr. Brennan suggested it was particularly deceptive of Mr. Flemmi to have killed Ms. Davis and then pretend to her family that he was trying to help find her.
Mr. Flemmi said matter of factly that that deception was simply part of his attempt to cover up the crime.
“When you commit a murder, you don’t tell people about it, you try to cover it up,” Mr. Flemmi informed Mr. Brennan. “You should know that. You’re an attorney.”
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Could FACs induce retirement of government officials? A "Corruption" Work-around?
Btw, a couple weeks ago on FB (where all my random mental burps occur), I proposed a possible variation of our crowdfunded FAC model in the gov't context. Specifically, I wondered aloud: could a cabal of Soros and Gates and Bloomberg create a FAC (Fan Action Committee) to throw money at Justice Ginsburg (or her favorite charity) to retire from SCOTUS (so POTUS could appoint someone new presumably) without violating any laws?
We just saw Sec. J. Napolitano step down from DHS to head the UC system. So if Soros et al. couldn't offer RBG 20 million to retire, could he give her 20 million to join as a board member of Open Society to have tea with him once a year? There you at least have a peppercorn of consideration for the contract. Is that enough to circumvent the corruption statutes or relevant ethics rules? Would you give the same deal to get Michelle Bachman to leave Congress? The interesting wrinkle here is that unlike general corruption statutes governing improper quid pro quo of "official action" for $, this FAC-y scenario just requires $ in exchange for no "official action", ie, retirement. A couple friends thought scenarios of this sort would still be illegal, but I'm not sure I'm persuaded yet; if it's illegal at the federal level under extant law, could it be used at the state level? If you disagree with me, please cite chapter and verse on why! And file this in the "devilish and probably misguided idea" drawer.
Nate Silver and the Hidden Genius of Capitalist Crowdfunding
After a long and difficult year personally, it gives me some quiet joy to announce that I've just uploaded a "shitty" first draft of Catalyzing Fans to SSRN. Actually, it's somewhat polished as a draft, but it's pre-submission, blissfully short (13,000 words) and, um, really interesting. Bonus: it has nothing to do with retributive justice. So, my co-authors, Mike McCann and Howard Wasserman, and I hope you'll read a draft and send along comments. Here's an overview:
Should Nate Silver have stayed at the New York Times, or instead go to ESPN? Where should Cass Sunstein teach? What team should Lebron James play on? In this paper, we have a proposal for how to think about the trilateral relationships among "talent" (Silver, Sunstein, James), teams (the NYT, the Miami Heat, Harvard), and fans. For some reason, the answers to where that talent should work are often only indirectly connected to the desires of third-party fans. We think this could be different.Specifically, we propose the development of Fan Action Committees (FACs).
Analogous to, but distinct from, Political Action Committees (PACs), these FACs would coordinate, aggregate, and monetize the intensity of fan preferences and would thus serve to either enrich "talent" directly, or, in a wrinkle we prefer, make contributions to charities favored by talent. If we're right about how fans could introduce crowdfunding as a way to re-configure that triangular relationship, well, it's a potential game-changer, if you'll pardon the pun. Once our paper lays out the architecture of the direct compensation and charitable models, we anticipate how to overcome obstacles to the development of FACs that may exist under current rules or laws. We also address a variety of policy concerns and objections ranging from considerations of competitive balance to distributive justice. Advancing and illuminating the possibility of FACs across pro team sports and commercial entertainment, journalists and academics, we show how crowdfunding options produce the potential for more efficient valuations of talent by registering not only the number of fans but also the intensity of their preferences. This insight, which stresses the upside of price discrimination, has relevance to a wide range of human endeavor. In short, the introduction of FACs can basically change the dynamic of any area where bilateral contracts have third party externalities that are not currently calibrated or adequately valued.
Btw, Howard, Mike and I began kicking this idea around last summer after I floated on FB something like the notion of fan interference, wondering why fans couldn't affect the Knicks' incentives to hire or retain Jeremy Lin in the midst of Linsanity. To transition this into a proper paper, however, I encountered the slight problem that I could not care less about sports or sports law, and knew zero about the area. So I enlisted my pals Mike and Howard -- two of the leading sports law guys in the country -- to write a paper with me about the law, policy and economics about fandom. The paper's come a long way from a facebook thread (which itself is a sort of crowd wisdom opportunity), and some of its most interesting moves and extensions come from conversations with prior readers at FSU and more recently the 10,000 Feet Legal Theory Workshop--so thanks to those folks! (The latter, btw, is a workshop that spontaneously emerged among the group of profs who went hiking with me in the afternoons while in the Rockies two weeks ago for the LEC's annual law and econ boot camp.) Anyway, we'll be sending it out soon, and, now that it's been gently road-tested, I'm sure any of us would be excited about the prospect of talking about it at your law school this coming year.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
JOTWELL: Yung on Oldfather, et al., on research methodologyThe latest essay on JOTWELL's CourtsLaw is from Corey Yung, reviewing Chad Oldfather, Joseph Bockhorst, and Brian Dimmer, Triangulating Judicial Responsiveness: Automated Content Analysis, Judicial Opinions, and the Methodology of Legal Scholarship. Yung focuses in particular on the aiuthors' unique computer-based research methodology.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Some more thoughts on self-defense, Stand Your Ground, and Zimmerman
The point of this post is to extend some reflections of ambivalence on some difficult questions regarding self-defense. First, Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws are found in over 20 states including Florida. So, although Florida's getting a lot of heat in my FB thread, I'm not sure it's right to castigate FL as uniquely bizarre in its embrace of SYG. More importantly, it's worth noting that, although the SYG instruction was given here, it wasn't a critical part of the overall case. GZ wasn't claiming a right to deadly force at a moment when he had avenues of retreat. GZ's claim of self-defense was invoked when he (putatively) was on the bottom and shot upward at TM. Might it have framed the defense nonetheless? Perhaps. But given that the forensics were completely consistent with GZ's claim that he shot while he was on the bottom, I'm not sure we should think SYG (in place of a duty to retreat instruction) polluted the jury's decision-making here.
One way in which the FL law did play a role is by shifting the relevant burden regarding self-defense to the gov't. Specifically, the gov't bore the burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that GZ did not act in self-defense. In Ohio some states, and historically, self-defense is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant shoulders that burden.* Professor Joshua Dressler notes that FL has the burden of disproving SD BRD in the WSJ, but apparently he lumps this burden-shifting point with SYG, which seems mistaken. In other words, a legislature could make the defendant bear the burden of self-defense while still allowing SYG or requiring a duty to retreat and a state could still have the burden of disproving self-defense claims while allowing SYG or requiring a duty to retreat. (In fact, since 49 of the 50 states, including Florida, make the government bear the burden of disproving SD if the Def't is able to produce some evidence supporting SD, it's probably misleading to suggest that FL's law here is an outlier regarding who bears the burden. I don't think Dressler directly said that, but it's possible some might infer that from his comments.)
The verdict unsurprisingly seems to be renewing hostility to SYG. There are some powerful reasons to welcome this hostility.One of the reasons cops don't like it is that it makes it harder to prosecute drug dealers who kill rivals and claim self defense because they were the last ones standing. Some have stressed that SYG hurts minorities. Here the response is typical: it depends. Inasmuch as SYG is a general boon to defendants, and most crime occurs intra-racially, it's not obviously racially biased against minorities in terms of its impact on defendants. That said, analogous to the McCleskey dynamic in the death penalty, there is cause for concern based on the racial impact on victims in inter-racial crimes, and this is what seems to be raising lots of people's hackles, for good reason. But according to the study that I've seen getting circulated for trumpeting this effect, the inference of bias is unproven for two reasons:
The disparity is clear. But the figures don’t yet prove bias. As Roman points out, the data doesn’t show the circumstances behind the killings, for example whether the people who were shot were involved in home invasions or in a confrontation on the street. Additionally, there are far fewer white-on-black shootings in the FBI data — only 25 total in both the Stand Your Ground and non-Stand Your Ground states.
One last point about SYG's apparent vices. The SYG notion stands in tension with the common law duty to retreat when safe avenues of avoidance are available because we don't want the streets and floors piled with dead bodies on the ground. As mentioned before, I have a lot of sympathy for the common law rule of requiring retreat when feasible. But a principled commitment to the duty to retreat would require revision to the laws allowing the equivalent of SYG in the home. There's a pretty deep sociological commitment to the castle doctrine that works as an exception to the duty to retreat, and thus allows you to prevent being dispossessed of your home. I'm not sure the castle doctrine is net-net justified if there really are safe avenues of avoidance for everyone in the home, but regardless of whether I'm right about that, I do think it's a tough issue. Accordingly, one must bear in mind that self-defense law has to be drawn in a way that takes into account a cluster of complicated moral commitments: do we want to maximally protect home-owners? do we want to make S-D easier for battered women? do we want to maximize lives saved? do we want to maximize only non-culpable lives saved? Do we want to facilitate people feeling safe wherever they have a lawful right to be? Those who proclaim in righteous thunder against SYG have to be confident of their views in at least a couple troubling situations: domestic violence and racist intimidation. Here's a hypo from Dressler's casebook that I've altered somewhat to make the salience of SYG a little more obvious, despite my concerns about it.
One day Arthur, the resident racist homophobe, informs Dina that if she brings her "trashy gay black ass" that way again he will kill her. Dina could just as conveniently walk along another street, but believing that ‘‘I have every right to walk where I choose,’’ she decides the next day to arm herself with a licensed gun and walk along the now fraught route with her weapon visible to onlookers, as she is permitted to do. Arthur appears and, because of a bum leg, he hobbles toward her, but menacingly, raising his fists and says, "I'm going to get you now." Dina is an olympic class runner, however, and she knows she could run away without problem. Arthur hobbles toward her and is about to punch her. So Dina shoots him because she fears that if she doesn't run, Arthur's strength will overpower her completely.
Notice that here Dina has several avenues of avoidance: she could have walked along a different road altogether that day, she could have called the cops after receiving the menacing threat, and, ex hypothesis, she could have run away to safety even at the moment prior to Arthur's instigating the violence. Duty to retreat laws would require Dina to avoid this conflict and SYG laws allow her to shoot. I'm inclined to believe that she should have retreated, but I'm also not sure I want to argue that when my fellow citizens vote these laws in place that they are committing some form of moral reasoning malpractice. Anyway, I want to stress, before I close, that I'm not saying Dina and GZ are similarly situated at all. We have precious little information about the beginning of violence between TM and GZ. My point is simply that there might be a case for SYG that appeals to some "progressives" at least in some cases.
I'll close with one link to a very interesting recent article on self-defense by Larry Alexander; it is intellectually rich with examples that will stimulate and challenge most people's intuitions.
*Eugene Volokh notes here that 49 of the 50 states (all but Ohio) put the burden of disproving S-D beyond a reasonable doubt on the state once the defendant has put forth some evidence.
Monday, July 08, 2013
CFP: Micro-Symposium: Stanley Fish and the Meaning of Academic Freedom
Call for Papers: Micro-Symposium: Stanley Fish and the Meaning of Academic Freedom
FIU Law Review and the FIU College of Law invite contributions for a Micro-Symposium, Stanley Fish and the Meaning of Academic Freedom, to be published in FIU Law Review in 2014. Micro-symposium commentaries will accompany the papers and proceedings of a live roundtable discussion on academic freedom and Stanley Fish’s forthcoming book, Versions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution. Roundtable participants include Dean Robert Post (Yale), Frederick Schauer (Virginia), Fish, and several others. The program will be held at FIU College of Law on Friday, January 24, 2014.In the book, Fish argues
The academy is the place where knowledge is advanced, where the truth about matters physical, conceptual and social is sought. That’s the job, and that’s also the aspirational norm—the advancement of knowledge and the search for truth. The values of advancing knowledge and discovering truth are not extrinsic to academic activity; they constitute it. . . . These goods and values are also self-justifying in the sense that no higher, supervening, authority undergirds them; they undergird and direct the job and serve as a regulative ideal in relation to which current ways of doing things can be assessed and perhaps reformed. (The “it’s just a job” is not positivism; it does not reify what is on the books.)
It follows from this specification of the academy’s internal goods that the job can be properly done only if it is undistorted by the interests of outside constituencies, that is, of constituencies that have something other than the search for truth in mind. There are thus limits both on the influences academics can acknowledge and the concerns they can take into account when doing their work. . . . It must be conducted (to return to the l915 Declaration) in “in a scholar’s spirit”, that is with a view to determining what is in fact the case and not with a view to affirming a favored or convenient conclusion. If that is the spirit that animates your academic work, you should be left free to do it, although, with respect to other parts of the job (conforming to departmental protocols, showing up in class, teaching to the syllabus), you are constrained.
Commentaries may discuss any and all legal, ethical, moral, social, practical, personal, and theoretical aspects of academic freedom, Stanley Fish's new book, or his extensive body of work on academic freedom or any other topic. Interested commenters will be provided manuscripts of Fish's book, on request.
Commentaries can be a maximum of 600 words, including text, footnotes, and title.
Contributions must be received by October 1, 2013. Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expressions of interest, requests for the manuscript, and other inquiries can be directed to Ben Crego, Law Review Editor-in-Chief, at email@example.com or to Prof. Ediberto Roman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 05, 2013
Justice Kagan for Emperor
(She indicated that she reads Scotusblog, Volokh Conspiracy, and How Appealing, and some other things, including things law professors write. I take that as code for her devotion to reading Prawfsblawg too. So in case she's reading, hope you're enjoying your summer, Madame Justice.)
Yes, I heart Elena.
Friday, June 28, 2013
JOTWELL: Wasserman on Colby on empathyI have the latest essay on JOTWELL's Courts Law, reviewing Thomas Colby's In Defense of Judicial Empathy, which makes the case for the Obama vision of the "empathetic judge" and ties it back to the balls-and-strikes metaphor and its defects.
Friday, June 21, 2013
Comey, Bipartisanship and the Obama Administration
From what little I know and recall of the guy, James Comey seems like a pretty solid selection for the FBI. But in picking yet another Republican from the W ancien regime, and particularly in the area of national security/homeland protection, I have to wonder what's motivating the Obamians.
As one friend on FB mentioned, it seems staggering that there would be such bipartisanship efforts made after the scorched earth policies toward Dems by R's in the pre-2008 era. And as another friend mentioned, picking Comey means not advancing the careers of a Dem who could be elevated in future Dem administrations for other high and higher slots. Obama's also been picking a number of Comey-like judges (e.g., my old colleague from OMM Sri Sri...probably a Dem but someone who was an SOC clerk and well, is he really an Obama guy?). Sure they're highly qualified, able, and demonstrate integrity. But there will be interstitial discretion on policy issues that maybe don't reflect the Dems' point of view. Still, maybe that's what Obama's game is: perhaps he really is principled in this respect and isn't seeking to lard his administration with lackeys. But I wonder if he just thinks he can't get folks with more lefty credentials through Congress, or that there aren't folks he likes/trusts with those lefty creds given his love of the lethal presidency. In any event, I would be more likely to simply applaud choices like Comey and Sri, and maybe some of the other cabinet or sub-cabinet picks (i'm still kind of pissy about Hagel), but I have great trouble recalling any Dems being promoted under the W regime to such high profile positions. Does Obama think his "gifts" to folks across the Aisle will change the Beltway culture of the Republicans, or does he just not care because he thinks these are the best guys (and, um, yes, there are lots of guys here)? Inquiring minds want to know...
Friday, June 14, 2013
JOTWELL: Leong on Levy on judicial allocation of timeThe new essay on JOTWELL's Courts Law is by Nancy Leong, reviewing Marin Levy's Judicial Attention as a Scarce Resource: A Preliminary Defense of How Judges Allocate Time Across Cases in the Federal Courts of Appeals, which considers some oft-criticized appellate review processes (staff attorneys, unpublished opinions) in light of resource allocation, considering judicial time as one such resource. The review and the article are both worth a look.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Judges Gone Wild?
I couldn't help but think that this judge's behavior, earlier today, is an example of imperious official action. The judge was all set to accept the defendant's plea bargain, but because the offender, footballer Chad Johnson, gave a playful slap on the backside to his lawyer during the hearing, in response to a question asked by the judge regarding whether he was satisfied with his counsel, she rejected the bargain, which called for no jail time, and gave him 30 days in jail. You can read more about it here and see the footage from the court. (H/t: atl). Stephen A. Smith's apt albeit volcanic reaction on ESPN emphasizes the socio-legal realities of why Johnson was an idiot here. It's true that Johnson is a criminal wife-beating a**hole, and, in this context, acted imprudently, but is the bum-slap really the kind of thing that warrants jail when it was not otherwise about to happen? It doesn't warrant the judge's behavior in my mind, and instead strikes me as the kind of official tyranny and hot-headed hubris that rule of law constraints are meant to prevent. The quickness of the decision also suggests the need for courts to impose a mandatory cooling-off period between the time they reach a decision re: liability and the time they impose a sentence.
Cf. some of the problems of judicial discretion more generally. And of course, this seems right in the same vein as Judge Marvin Frankel's famous story in Criminal Sentences: Law Without Order about the judge who, over cocktails, acknowledged elevating a defendant's sentence by a year simply because the offender had been disrespectful to the judge that day.
Thursday, June 06, 2013
If You Don't Like Prisons That Much, Then Why "Let Judges Be Judges?"
One of my ongoing concerns about many in the academy's infatuation with individualized sentencing and the preservation of substantial judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing is that there is a tendency to obscure what judicial discretion will do. Lots of folks complain about how structured sentencing (particularly in the Fed system) means that prosecutors now run the show and that judges are less powerful than they were (or would be) in indeterminate (fully discretionary) sentencing regimes. Lots of these academic voices, however, are pretty lefty/libertarian/pro-defendant/anti-mass incarceration (pick one or more of these). The problem as I see it is that the presence of substantial judicial sentencing power will often lead to stiffer sentences, not more lenient ones. That's because prosecutors and defense lawyers often bargain away charges, facts, etc, and by not sharing the existence of those facts/charges, the sentencing judges are left to defer to the deals struck by the insider repeat players. But when judges have concerns that these deals are being struck in a way that's anti-retributive or bad for public safety, they often want to have the information that would allow them to impose LONGER sentences. In sum, I bet that the more judicial discretion there is, and the more information judges have, the longer the sentences will be.
This is, of course, an empirical hypothesis, and happily, there is some good empirical support for the proposition I'm noting. Kevin Reitz wrote a fantastically important and understudied piece in the Texas Law Review showing, among other things, that states with indeterminate sentencing have among the highest rates of incarceration.
But anecdotally, you need a good story to see this dynamic, and Doug Berman's Sentencing blog has the story you need to see this. As the story goes, Judge Stephanie Rose on the fed bench in Iowa is excoriating the federal prosecutor's office for not disclosing more information about defendants that would lead to stiffer sentences. To my mind, this is an illuminating example of a much larger problem. Normatively, of course, indeterminate/discretionary sentencing doesn't have to lead to higher punishment levels necessarily, but it shouldn't be suprising that the contingent forces tend to work in that way.
--One last note. I've been watching The West Wing on Netflix while working out for the last few weeks, and I noticed that, at one point in one of the episodes, late Season 1 or early Season 2, Aaron Sorkin/Jed Bartlet seemed to think that empowering judges with substantial sentencing discretion was an obviously attractive thing to do from the liberal political perspective of the Bartlet presidency. I found this, um, unconvincing, notwithstanding my general intoxication with the show.
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Some Reactions to Maryland v. King, and a Question for Barry Friedman and other 4A Friends
I have done only a bit more than skim Maryland v. King, and because I'm not really a Fourth Amendment guy, I'm preserving my strategic ambivalence about the outcome as a matter of doctrine. But I have a policy question for NYU's Barry Friedman along with a few other hasty reactions.
First, Barry writes the following in Slate, :
"Did the fact that Alonzo King was accused (not convicted) of pulling a shotgun on some folks provide a better reason to believe he’d committed an unrelated rape than that anyone else walking the streets had done so? Hardly."
It seems to me that Barry's posing either a specific or a general empirical question, neither of which I possess excellent knowledge about, although I bet there are good proxies out there for saying we know more than nothing. In fact, I bet the reason law enforcement wants access to DNA of arrestees is because of their view that arrestees provide, on the margin, a better pool to capture DNA from than a random selection of the population at large. Law enforcement interests here are driven by Big Data patterns that suggest that felony arrestees are likelier to be tied to other crimes than non-felony arrestees. That's an empirical claim and Barry doesn't provide any links or data to suggest that we should doubt that claim's truth.
From a crime control perspective, would it be better if we had a DNA swab of every person and new baby? Sure, assuming the integrity of the collection. Indeed, Friedman thinks this would be permissible under the 4A (were Congress to pass it) but it's not likely to be authorized by Congress anytime soon. (Btw, would a nation-wide DNA registry itself be unconstitutional under the 4A? Distributed benefits and costs might save it from the suspicionless problem. Curious for thoughts.)
But as long as a) we are not swabbing every new baby and all existing persons to create a national DNA database, and b) we are taking the time to inventory and identify felony arrestees, can anyone doubt that someone arrested for a felony is, on the margin, more likely to be guilty of some other offense that's out there?
I'm not saying there aren't doctrinal or other reasons that should restrain the DNA swabs. But simply as a matter of statistics or common experience, I'm left wondering what supports the pretty heterodox view Barry offers that felony arrestees are not in fact more likely to have ties to other crimes than a randomly selected individual? Yes, I recognize that the value of the signal of a felony arrest is not the same as the signal of a felony conviction, but ... if we were going to block the swabs for crime-control purposes on constitutional grounds, let's at least be aware of what's being traded off in the name of constitutional fidelity. And while we're at it, let's not forget that wide DNA access has the capacity not only to reduce Type II errors, but also to exonerate and thus redress Type I errors too. Fixing false positives is a constitutional value as well as a moral imperative for state officials. I'm not sure the 4th amendment claims advanced by the dissenters and their supporters are adequately sensitive to that, even if the majority implies this is happening already as a matter of fact.*
2. I agree with Scalia's dissent that the "identification" arguments on behalf of the DNA swabs are more make-weight than the straightforward though constitutionally more tricky arguments in favor of clearing cases and fixing mistakes. That's because the police could always use the DNA swab to promote their administrative needs (e.g., ensuring that the offender doesn't have a record of violence toward prison officials or communicable diseases that would have to be taken into account for housing him) without using the DNA swab to scope out possible relevance to other crimes.
3. The Court's special needs doctrine allows for suspicionless searches of the public in order to regulate safety or achieve other non-crime detection goals of certain policy weight. Here are two reasons for thinking that the majority's result is correct even if not its reasoning.
a) It's not that far a stretch to say that given the criminal justice system's interests in ensuring that the institutions of punishment are taking adequate care and precaution for the wellbeing of inmates and officials, that the population of felony arrestees is distinct from the population at large, and thus the goal of using DNA to ferret out possible dangerousness or illness is one that should pass muster on special needs grounds. But the reason I don't love this argument is because if taken on good faith, it would not permit allowing the DNA information to be used to exonerate previously convicted offenders. That would probably be too close to the crime-detection purposes that the special needs doctrine is supposed to be attentive to. However, one might slice the constitutional baloney very thinly and say: DNA swabs are constitutional for administrative purposes pre-conviction, and they are also constitutional for purposes of exonerating others, but they can't be used as the basis to clear other cases against the defendant whose cheek is being swabbed.
b) Speaking of slicing constitutional baloney thinly, I didn't see this argument and it seems worth consideration too--though I detest it because I'm doubtful of the constitutionality and morality of the underlying practices. Here goes: Crime detection is distinct from calibrating punishment. In indeterminate sentencing regimes as well as structured sentencing that allows for "real offense" sentencing instead of (my preferred) charge offense sentencing, the admission of the DNA evidence as a tie to other crimes should be permitted for purposes of sentencing offenders on an individualized basis on the basis of conduct not proven to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. So, say King is in Texas and convicted of aggravated assault, which leaves him open to a 5-99 year spread under the statute for first degree felonies. The sentencing judge/jury/parole folks can all take into account that he's been tied via DNA to other rapes, even though not convicted of those rapes. Poof. The sentence for the assault goes up, we don't bother with charging and convicting King for the rapes, and we rest our heads on the pillow of Williams v. New York. Sentencing is distinct from crime-detection. Right? How awesome is that. Ick.
*Scalia notes in his dissent (fn.2) that the Type I error redress option is not currently available b/c of the way the FBI runs its DNA databases. That could be fixed of course, and should be.
Friday, May 31, 2013
JOTWELL: Campos on Jones on the Council of RevisionThe latest essay on JOTWELL's Courts Law is by Sergio Campos (Miami), reviewing Robert Jones' Lessons from a Lost Constitution (published in the Journal of Law & Politics), which considers the history and normative lessons from James Madison's support for a Council of Revision at the Philadelphia Convention.
The title of the post is a moniker Marc DeGirolami kindly gave some of my recent work on the church autonomy doctrine. While I've previously posted a bit on Prawfs about implied-consent institutionalism (although I didn't have the phrase yet), I couldn't help but mention that those thoughts have just been published in two separate articles: (1) Religion's Footnote Four: Church Autonomy as Arbitration, 97 Minn. L. Rev. 1891 (2013); (2) Litigating Religion, 93 B.U. L. Rev. 493 (2013).
On the plus side, I'm excited to see the articles in print. On the minus side, there's nothing I can do to change them when I inevitably receive some devastating criticism of my theory.
Thanks to the many in the Prawfs community that gave me some really great comments while I was working on these two articles!
Friday, May 24, 2013
"Sport as Speech" and Non-sport as Speech
I just finished reading Sport as Speech, a new paper by Genevieve Lakier (currently a law clerk on the Sixth Circuit); Lakier argues that spectator sports are expressive activities entitled to First Amendment protection (or at least First Amendment scrutiny of any regulations). It is an interesting notion that I had not thought of, although if she is right, it certainly strengthens my arguments about fan speech.
Two further thoughts on the paper.
1) Lakier takes on prior scholarhip and case law (notably a 2002 student comment in Yale LJ) arguing that sport is protected only to the extent it is close to being a dance or theatrical performance--for example, gymnastics, diving, and figure skating. These are the events that I have argued are not sport because the results are determined by evaluating the intrinsic merit of the athletic skills performed, as opposed to sport, where the result of that performance. In other words, under this approach (which Lakier rejects), non-sport is expressive, but sport is not expressive. So there is another reason to bother defining what qualifies as sport.
2) Lakier expressly limits her argument only to spectator sports, arguing that the expressive component of sport comes from players performing for a crowd. But I wonder if that cuts her case short. She relies a lot on the similarity between sport and other conduct widely recognized as expressive, notably music and dance. But those activities enjoy First Amendment protection even if not done for an audience; a prohibition on dancing in private or when no one is watching (think Footloose) would violate the First Amendment. So if basketball is expressive when played for a crowd, why not when it's ten people playing in an empty gym or playground or even one person playing in the driveway?
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Sperm Donation, Anonymity, and Compensation: An Empirical Legal Study
In the United States, most sperm donations* are anonymous. By contrast, many developed nations require sperm donors to be identified, typically requiring new sperm (and egg) donors to put identifying information into a registry that is made available to a donor-conceived child once they reach the age of 18. Recently, advocates have pressed U.S. states to adopt these registries as well, and state legislatures have indicated openness to the idea.
In a series of prior papers I have explained why I believe the arguments offered by advocates of these registries fail. Nevertheless, I like to think of myself as somewhat open-minded, so in another set of projects I have undertaken to empirically test what might happen if the U.S. adopted such a system. In particular, I wanted to look at the intersection of anonymity and compensation, something that cannot be done in many of these other countries where compensation for sperm and egg donors is prohibited.
Today I posted online (downloadable here) the first published paper from this project,Can You Buy Sperm Donor Identification? An Experiment, co-authored with Travis Coan, and forthcoming in December 2013 in Vol. 10, Issue 4, of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies.
This study relies on a self-selected convenience sample to experimentally examine the economic implications of adopting a mandatory sperm donor identification regime in the U.S. Our results support the hypothesis that subjects in the treatment (non-anonymity) condition need to be paid significantly more, on average, to donate their sperm. When restricting our attention to only those subjects that would ever actually consider donating sperm, we find that individuals in the control condition are willing-to-accept an average of $$43 to donate, while individuals in the treatment group are willing-to-accept an aver-age of $74. These estimates suggest that it would cost roughly $31 per sperm donation, at least in our sample, to require donors to be identified. This price differential roughly corresponds to that of a major U.S. sperm bank that operates both an anonymous and identify release programs in terms of what they pay donors.
We are currently running a companion study on actual U.S. sperm donors and hope soon to expand our research to egg donors, so comments and ideas are very welcome online or offline.
* I will follow the common parlance of using the term "donation" here, while recognizing that the fact that compensation is offered in most cases gives a good reason to think the term is a misnomer.
- I. Glenn Cohen
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Rationing Legal Services
In the last few years at both the federal and state level there have been deep cuts to providing legal assistance to the poor. This only only makes more pressing and manifest a sad reality: there is and always will be persistent scarcity in the availability of both criminal and civil legal assistance. Given this persistent scarcity, my new article, Rationing Legal Services just published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Legal Analysis, examines how existing Legal Service Providers (LSPs), both civil and criminal, should ration their services when they cannot help everyone.
To illustrate the difficulty these issues involve, consider two types of LSPs, the Public Defender Service and Connecticut Legal Services (CLS), that I discuss in greater depth in the paper. Should the Public Defender Service favor offenders under the age of twenty-five years instead of those older than fifty-five years? Should other public defenders offices with death eligible offenses favor those facing the death penalty over those facing life sentences? Should providers favor clients they think can make actual innocence claims over those who cannot? How should CLS prioritize its civil cases and clients? Should it favor clients with cases better suited for impact litigation over those that fall in the direct service category? Should either institution prioritize those with the most need? Or, should they allocate by lottery?
I begin by looking at how three real-world LSPs currently rationi(PDS, CLS, and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau). Then, in trying to answer these questions I draw on a developing literature in bioethics on the rationing of medical goods (organ, ICU beds, vaccine doses, etc) and show how the analogy can help us develop better rationing systems. I discuss six possible families of ‘simple’ rationing principles: first-come-first-serve, lottery, priority to the worst-off, age-weighting, best outcomes, and instrumental forms of allocation and the ethical complexities with several variants of each. While I ultimately tip my hand on my views of each of these sub-principles, my primary aim is to enrich the discourse on rationing legal services by showing LSPs and legal scholars that they must make a decision as to each of these issues, even if it is not the decision I would reach.
I also examine places where the analogy potentially breaks down. First, I examine how bringing in dignitary or participatory values complicates the allocation decision, drawing in particular on Jerry Mashaw’s work on Due Process values. Second, I ask whether it makes a difference that, in some cases, individuals who receive legal assistance will end up succeeding in cases where they do not “deserve” to win. I also examine whether the nature of legal services as “adversarial goods”, the allocation of which increases costs for those on the other side of the “v.”, should make a difference. Third, I relax the assumption that funding streams and lawyer satisfaction are independent of the rationing principles selected, and examine how that changes the picture. Finally, I respond to a potential objection that I have not left sufficient room for LSP institutional self-definition.
The end of the paper entitled “Some Realism about Rationing”, takes a step back to look for the sweet spot where theory meets practice. I use the foregoing analysis to recommend eight very tangible steps LSPs might take, within their administrability constraints, to implement more ethical rationing.
While this paper is now done I am hoping to do significant further work on these issues and possibly pursue a book project on it, so comments on or offline are very welcome. I am also collaborating with my wonderful and indefatigable colleague Jim Greiner and a colleague in the LSP world to do further work concerning experimentation in the delivery of legal services and the research ethics and research design issues it raises.
- I. Glenn Cohen
Posted by Ivan Cohen on May 15, 2013 at 02:57 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Law and Politics, Legal Theory, Life of Law Schools, Peer-Reviewed Journals | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
JOTWELL: Coleman on Hoffman on federal rulemakingThe latest essay for JOTWELL's Courts Law is by Brooke Coleman (Seattle), reviewing Lonny Hoffman's Rulemaking in the Age of Twombly and Iqbal (forthcoming, U.C. Davis Law Review).
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
“Why is a big gift from the federal government a matter of coercion? ... It’s just a boatload of federal money for you to take and spend on poor people’s health care” or the mysterious coercion theory in the ACA case
At oral argument in NFIB v. Sebelius, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) case, Justice Kagan asked Paul Clement:
“Why is a big gift from the federal government a matter of coercion? It’s just a boatload of federal money for you to take and spend on poor people’s health care. It doesn’t sound coercive to me, I have to tell you.”
The exchange is all the more curious because, despite
her scepticism, Kagan signed on to the Court’s holding that the Medicaid
expansion in the ACA was coercive, as did all but two of the Justices (Ginsburg and Sotomayor). What happened? I try to answer this question, suggesting the court misunderstood what makes an offer coercive, in this article published as a part of a symposium on philosophical analysis of the decision by the peer-reviewed journal Ethical Perspectives.
First a little bit of background since some readers may not be as familiar with the Medicaid expansion part of the ACA and Sebelius: The ACA purported to expand the scope of Medicaid and increase the number of individuals the States must cover, most importantly by requiring States to provide Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. At the time the ACA was passed, most States covered adults with children only if their income was much lower, and did not cover childless adults. Under the ACA reforms, the federal government would have increased federal funding to cover the States’ costs for several years in the future, with States picking up only a small part of the tab. However, a State that did not comply with the new ACA coverage requirements could lose not only the federal funding for the expansion, but all of its Medicaid funding.
In Sebelius, for the first time in its history, the Court found such unconstitutional ‘compulsion’ in the deal offered to States in order to expand Medicaid under the ACA. In finding the Medicaid expansion unconstitutional, the Court contrasted the ACA case with the facts of the Dole case, wherein Congress “had threatened to withhold five percent of a State’s federal highway funds if the State did not raise its drinking age to 21.”In discussing Dole, the Sebelius Court determined that “that the inducement was not impermissibly coercive, because Congress was offering only ‘relatively mild encouragement to the States’,” and the Court noted that it was “less than half of one percent of South Dakota’s budget at the time” such that “[w]hether to accept the drinking age change ‘remain[ed] the prerogative of the States not merely in theory but in fact’.”
By contrast, when evaluating the Medicare expansion under the ACA, the Sebelius Court held that the
financial “inducement” Congress has chosen is much more than “rela- tively mild encouragement” – it is a gun to the head [...] A State that opts out of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion in health care cover- age thus stands to lose not merely “a relatively small percentage” of its existing Medicaid funding, but all of it. Medicaid spending accounts for over 20 percent of the average State’s total budget, with federal funds covering 50 to 83 percent of those costs [...] The threatened loss of over 10 percent of a State’s overall budget, in contrast [to Dole], is economic dragooning that leaves the States with no real option but to acquiesce in the Medicaid expansion.
I argue that this analysis is fundamentally misguided, and (if I may say so) I have some fun doing it! As I summarize the argument structure: If the new terms offered by the Medicaid expansion were not coercive, the old terms were not coercive, and the change in terms was not coercive, I find it hard to understand how seven Supreme Court Justices could have concluded that coercion was afoot; the only plausible explanation is that these seven Justices in Sebelius fundamentally misunderstood coercion. This misunderstanding becomes only more manifest when we ask exactly ‘who’ has been coerced, and see the way in which personifying the States as answer obfuscates rather than clarifies matters.
The paper is out, but I will be doing a book chapter adapting it so comments still very much approeciated.
- I. Glenn Cohen
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Sleep No More: Sleep Deprivation, Doctors, and Error or Is Sleep the Next Frontier for Public Health?
How often do you hear your students or friends or colleagues talk about operating on very little sleep for work or family reasons? In my case it is often, and depending on the setting it is sometimes stated as a complaint and sometimes as a brag (the latter especially among my friends who work for large law firms or consulting firms). To sleep 7-8 hours is becoming a “luxury” or perhaps in some eyes a waste – here I think of the adage “I will sleep when I am dead” expresses that those who need sleep are “missing out” or “wusses.” My impression, anecdotal to be sure, is that our sleep patterns are getting worse not better and that many of these bad habits (among lawyers) are learned during law school.
One profession that has dealt with these issues at the regulatory level is medicine. In July 2011, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) – the entity Responsible for the accreditation of post-MD medical training programs within the United States – implemented new rules that limit interns to 16 hours of work in a row, but continue to allow 2nd-year and higher resident physicians to work for up to 28 consecutive hours. In a new article with sleep medicine expert doctors Charles A. Czeisler and Christopher P. Landrigan that just came out in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, we examine how to make these work hour rules actually work.
As we discuss in the introduction to the article
Over the past decade, a series of studies have found that physicians-in-training who work extended shifts (>16 hours) are at increased risk of experiencing motor vehicle crashes, needlestick injuries, and medical errors. In response to public concerns and a request from Congress, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) conducted an inquiry into the issue and concluded in 2009 that resident physicians should not work for more than 16 consecutive hours without sleep. They further recommended that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Joint Commission work with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to ensure effective enforcement of new work hour standards. The IOM’s concerns with enforcement stem from well-documented non-compliance with the ACGME’s 2003 work hour rules, and the ACGME’s history of non-enforcement. In a nationwide cohort study, 84% of interns were found to violate the ACGME’s 2003 standards in the year following their introduction.
Whether the ACGME's 2011 work hour limits went too far or did not go far enough has been hotly debated. In this article, we do not seek to re-open the debate about whether these standards get matters exactly right. Instead, we wish to address the issue of effective enforcement. That is, now that new work hour limits have been established, and given that the ACGME has been unable to enforce work hour limits effectively on its own, what is the best way to make sure the new limits are followed in order to reduce harm to residents, patients, and others due to sleep-deprived residents? We focus on three possible national approaches to the problem, one rooted in funding, one rooted in disclosure, and one rooted in tort law. I would love reactions to our proposals in the paper, but wanted to float the more general idea in this space.
Obesity is a good example of something that through concerted action moved from the periphery to safely within the confines of public health thinking and even public health law. Is it time to do the same for sleep? Should we stop valorizing sleeping very little in our society? Should we be thinking about corporate and public policies directed to improving sleep pattern? What might that look like? One thought I have is about encouraging telecommuting to reduce commuting time, sleep rooms in offices? Of course, on the parenting sleeplessness sides many of the solutions are social support. What about what we tell and model for our students? I try to impart to my students that extra hours spent studying well into the night will have diminishing marginal returns, but who knows if that message is imparted. I also worry that with the number of journals, moot courts, clubs, etc, we encourage our students to join at law school that we are enablers of sleeping too little and perpetuating the “superman” myth (and I do wonder about the gendered component here)... Real men don’t sleep. And then they perform badly at their jobs and get into car crashes….
- I. Glenn Cohen
JOTWELL: Tidmarsh on Lemos (and Hensler) on parens patriaeThe new essay in JOTWELL's Courts Law has been published: Jay Tidmarsh (Notre Dame) reviews Margaret Lemos, Aggregate Litigation Goes Public: Representative Suits by the Attorney General (Harvard Law Review) and Deborah Hensler's response essay (Harvard Law Review Forum) on the possibility of attorney general-initiated parens patriae actions as an alternative to class actions.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Transplant Tourism: Hard Questions Posed by the International and Illicit Market for Kidneys
The Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics has just published an article by me on transplant tourism, that discusses the burgeoning international market for buying and selling kidneys. I review the existing data from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, which is pretty deplorable. As I show the vast majority of these sellers are poor and using the money (which is a significnat sum in terms of what they earn, even though in the end only 2/3 is paid) to try to buy themselves out of bonded labor, pay off familial debts, or try to mount a dowry. Many are misinformed or decieved about the health consequences for them and the needs of the person who will receive their kidney. Once they have agreed to sell they are often pressured not to renege. They are often released too soon post-transplant compared to what is optimal for a transplant, and their self-reported health post-transplant is worse. Many experience significant social stigma as a "kidney man" (or woman)and the 20-inch scar (the more expensive way of doing the procedure would reduce the scar size) marks them for life and makes it difficult for them to marry. Most express significant regret and would advise others not to undertake the operation.
Despite these grave facts, as I argue in the paper (and in greater depth for many of these arguments in the chapter on transplant tourism in my new book on medical tourism under contract at Oxford University Press), many of the traditional justifications from the anti-commodification literature -- arguments relating to corruption, crowding out, coercion, and exploitation -- do not make a convincing case in favor of criminalization. If a ban is justified, I argue the strongest arguments are actually about defects in consent and justified paternalism, on the assumption that criminal prohibition is a second best regulation in the face of the impossibility of a more thoroughly regulated market.
I then examine what means might be used to try to crack down on the market if we concluded we should. I evaluate possibilities including extraterritorial criminalization, professional self-regulation, home country insurance reimbursement reform, international criminal law, and of course better organ retrieval in the patient's home country.
I will keep writing on this topic, including for my new book, so even though this paper is done feel free to email me your thoughts.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Some Must Reads from the Mich LR Books Issue
I spent a decent bit of time with the recent books issue of the Michigan Law Review. Whenever I read review essays of books, I watch for the degree to which the author performs the script identified and lampooned by David Schleicher. The latest issue of the MLR has no shortage of review essays in which the upshot by the reviewer is: this book would be better and its problems would be cured if it were more interested in the things that I also am interested in and had cited and addressed my work more.
Still, I'm delighted to say that in the area of criminal justice, there are 2 pieces that are absolutely vital for every prof in that area to read.
The first is Steve Schulhofer's polite but fearless and fierce critique of Bill Stuntz's book, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice. As some of you know, this book, and more generally, its late author, have received a cascade of encomia from distinguished and usually shrewd reviewers. The circle of love around Stuntz is understandable and obviously warranted. He was a gem of a human being and a superb colleague. I had Stuntz as a teacher when he arrived at Harvard, and ever since, was grateful for his generosity of spirit and example as a teacher and scholar. But as Nietzsche said, one repays a teacher badly by always remaining a pupil.
And so, on the merits of the work, I have long been a skeptic, though as someone who doesn't specialize in criminal procedure as such, I had refrained from investing the necessary time to ground the skepticism and make it intellectually tidy. Thanks to Steve Schulhofer's piece, however, that task is now substantially underway. With some luck it will do the work of bringing a generation of criminal procedure scholars back on course. For notwithstanding the many deservedly kind things that could be said about Stuntz, my fear is that his seductive writing and bold and innovative claims took too many people off course from truth and justice. Schulhofer's review, which I'm sure was enormously difficult to write, will provide adequate grounds for others to revisit and soberly re-assess the significance of the Stuntzian corpus of scholarship.
Elsewhere in the issue is John Pfaff's review of Ernest Drucker's book on the epidemiology of mass incarceration. John is guesting here at Prawfs over the next while and so I won't steal his thunder and say too much of his review essay other than it artfully and carefully outlines the empirical basis to wholly undermine much of the conventional wisdom found among lots of criminal law academics and some of the prominent journalists who have been clobbered by their Zombie memes.
In short, if you're at all interested in being better informed about the American criminal justice system and the pathologies of its scholarship, read Steve and John's pieces.
Finally, I can't forbear from also highlighting our own Paul Horwitz's contribution to that MLR issue. Paul's critique of Tamanaha and Olson's books on legal education is typically Horwitzian: fair-minded, pointed, and subtle (and thus, Canadian?). Enjoy!
Monday, April 15, 2013
JOTWELL: Mullenix on Sachs on personal jurisdictionThe new essay for JOTWELL's Courts Law has been posted: Linda Mullenix (Texas) reviews Stephen Sachs How Congress Should Fix Personal Jurisdiction, which argues that personal jurisdiction is a mess and only Congress can fix it.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
FSU Law Review Announces its Exclusive Submission Window
The Florida State University Law Review will be conducting exclusive spring cycle article reviews. Any article submitted to this exclusive review between now and April 3d will be evaluated by April 11th. By submitting the article you agree to accept an offer for publication should one be extended. Any articles accepted through this review will be published in Issue 3 or Issue 4 , both of which are slated for publication in summer of 2014.If you have an article which you would like to submit, please e-mail an attached copy of the article and your cv and cover letter to email@example.com with the subject line "Exclusive Spring 2013 Article Review." Feel free to cc' me.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
JOTWELL: Erbsen on Cheng on trial sampling
The latest review essay for JOTWELL's Courts Law has been published: Allen Erbsen (Minnesota) reviews Edward Cheng's When 10 Trials are Better than 1000: An Evidentiary Perspective on Trial Sampling (U. Pa. L. Rev. 2012). Cheng argues that non-traditional procedures, such as trial sampling, may produce more accurate results in certain circumstances than individual claim-by-claim procedures.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
The iPhone, not the eye, is the window into the soul
It is great to be back at Prawfsblawg this year. Thanks to Dan and the gang for having me back. For my first post this month, I wanted to point everyone to the most important privacy research of 2012. The same paper qualifies as the most ignored privacy research of 2012, at least within legal circles. It is a short paper that everyone should read.
The paper in question,Mining Large Scale Smart-Phone Data for Personality Studies, is by Gokul Chittaranjan, Jan Blom, and Daniel Gatica-Perez. Chittaranjan and co-authors brilliantly show that it is straightforward to mine data from smart-phones in an automated way so as to identify particular "Five Factor" personality types in a large population of users. They did so by administering personality tests to 117 smartphone users, and then following the smartphone activities of those users for seventeen months, identifying the patterns that emerged. The result was that each of the "Big Five" personality dimensions was associated with particular patterns of phone usage. For example, extraverts communicated with more people and spent more time on the phone, highly conscientious people sent more email messages from their smartphones, and users of non-standard ring-tones tended to be those who psychologists would categorize as open to new experiences.
There is a voluminous psychology literature linking scores on particular Big Five factors to observed behavior in the real world, like voting, excelling in workplaces, and charitable giving. Some of the literature is discussed in much more detail here. But the Chittaranjan et al. study provides a powerful indication of precisely why data-mining can be so powerful. Data mining concerning individuals' use of machines is picking up personality traits, and personality predicts future behavior.
The regularities observed via the analysis of Big Data demonstrate that you can aggregate something seemingly banal like smartphone data to administer surreptitious personality tests to very large numbers of people. Indeed, it is plausible that studying observed behavior from smartphones is a more reliable way of identifying particular personality traits than existing personality tests themselves. After all, it is basically costless for an individual to give false answers to a personality questionnaire. It is costly for an extravert to stop calling friends.
Privacy law has focused its attention on protecting the contents of communications or the identities of the people with whom an individual is communicating. The new research suggests that -- to the extent that individuals have a privacy interest in the nature of their personalities -- an enormous gap exists in the present privacy framework, and cell phone providers and manufacturers are sitting on (or perhaps already using) an information gold mine.
It's very unlikely that the phenomenon that Chittaranjan et al. identify is limited to phones. I expect that similar patterns could be identified from analyzing peoples' use of their computers, their automobiles, and their television sets. The Chittaranjan et al. study is a fascinating, tantalizing, and perhaps horrifying early peek at life in a Big Data world.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Symposium on the gender gap in the workplace
FIU Law Review will host Minding the Gap: Reflections on the Achievement Gap between Men and Women in the Workplace in 2013, this Friday, March 1. The conference is organized by my FIU colleague (and alumna Guest Prawf) Kerri Stone. Presenters include former guests Nancy Leong (Denver) and Marcia McCormick (Saint Louis), along with several top employment/employment discrimination scholars.
The symposium will be published in June 2013.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
The Economics of the Infield Fly RuleMy longer treatment of the infield fly rule, The Economics of the Infield Fly Rule, is now available on SSRN and forthcoming in Utah Law Review. The abstract is after the jump. Comments welcome.
No rule in all of sports has generated as much legal scholarship as baseball’s Infield Fly Rule. Interestingly, however, no one has explained or defended that rule on its own terms as an internal part of the rules and institutional structure of baseball as a game. This paper takes on that issue, explaining both why baseball should have the Infield Fly Rule and why a similar rule is not necessary or appropriate in seemingly comparable, but actually quite different, baseball situations. The answer lies in the dramatic cost-benefit disparities present in the infield fly and absent in most other baseball game situations.
The infield fly is defined by three relevant features: 1) it contains an extreme disparity of costs and benefits inherent in that play that overwhelmingly favors one team and disfavors the other team; 2) the favored team has total control over the play and the other side is powerless to stop or counter the play; and 3) the cost-benefit disparity arises because one team has intentionally failed (or declined) to do what tordinary rules and strategies expect it to do and the extreme cost-benefit disparity incentivizes that negative behavior every time the play arises. When all three features are present on a play, a unique, situation-specific limiting rule becomes necessary; such a rule restricts one team’s opportunities to create or take advantage of a dramatic cost-benefit imbalance, instead imposing a set outcome on the play, one that levels the playing field. The Infield Fly Rule is baseball’s prime example of this type of limiting rule. By contrast, no other baseball situation shares all three defining features, particularly in having a cost-benefit disparity so strongly tilted toward one side. The cost-benefit balance in these other game situations is more even; these other situations can and should be left to ordinary rules and strategies.
Monday, February 11, 2013
JOTWELL: Walsh on Crowe on the federal judiciaryThe latest review essay for JOTWELL's Courts Law is now available: Kevin Walsh (Richmond) reviews Justin Crowe's Building the Judiciary (Princeton University Press 2012). Crowe's book provides a historical narative exploring the events and forces that made the federal judiciary powerful--particularly those that at work before the rise of Federal Courts as a field sixty years ago.
Eppur si muove
There is a good story by Adam Gopnik in the current New Yorker about Galileo--next year marks the 450th anniversary of his birth and there are several new books about him. This got me thinking about Galileo's status as a hero (or martyr) for free expression and about the free-speech ideals in play in his story.
On one hand, Milton mentioned the aging and imprisoned Galileo in Areopagitica (Gopnik says Milton visited Galileo during the latter's house arrest) as an example of the evils of official licensure. We often point to Galileo and his punishment by the Inquisition as Exhibit A in the need for epistemological (or epistemic) humility--that we cannot know what is true, what we hold as true may come to be shown false, and that the authorities should not enforce one version of scientific, political, or other truth. He represents the man proven right by history, thus the paradigmatic example of why government should not have the power to declare facts and ideas wrong.
On the other hand, as Gopnik describes, some (notably Bertolt Brecht) have taken the position that Galileo was not a hero because he recanted rather than subject himself to torture or death for his beliefs. Others (including historian Thomas Mayer, who has written two new books about Galileo's trial and the Italian Inquisition) insist that Galileo contributed to his own problems through hubris and pugnacity. He migh have avoided trouble by not taunting Pope Urban VIII or by presenting heliocentrism as a theory, on par with the Church's view, rather than as the one correct position that he himself believed. And several scholars argue that the trial, and its status as an illustration of the worst type of censorship, "is shrouded in myth and misunderstanding."This leaves several interesting questions. Is Gopnik right that the myth of the trial in fact "seems pretty much right: Galileo wrote a book about the world saying that the earth goes around the sun, and the Church threatened to have him tortured or killed if he didn’t stop saying it, so he stopped saying it"? Or is that too simple? Should we accept a free speech regime that draws distinctions between what can be said generally and what can be advocated for as reflective of the speaker's true beliefs? Can a free-speech regime impose epistemological humility on individual speakers themselves (i.e., if the authorities must be humble as to what they know, must all speakers)?
Finally, is punishment and martyrdom the only way for someone to stand up for their free speech rights? Or does truth advance sufficiently simply because truth (particularly scientific truth) establishes something as reality, no matter that the government may insist the scientist must say about it. As Gopnik puts it, "the scientist can shrug at the torturer and say, Any way you want me to tell it, I will. You’ve got the waterboard. The stars are still there."
Monday, February 04, 2013
Reforming the Pardon Attorney Office: Some Preliminary Thoughts
I'm home now, after a few days in NYC last week, where Eric Johnson (Illinois) and Rachel Barkow (NYU) presented drafts at the crim law theory colloquium. Rachel's cool paper lays out the case for moving control over federal prison, foresenics and clemency policy outside of the DOJ. You can find an early draft on SSRN and I think it's coming out later this year in Va L Rev. The discussion with others about Rachel's paper got me thinking again about the federal pardon office in particular and whether (or how) governments should dispense mercy. Because of the recent NYT editorial on clemency reform, there are a number of folks and organizations urgently interested in reform of the Office of the Pardon Attorney. This is in part because Obama's record on distributing pardons is especially low when compared to other recent presidents. (Rachel's paper provides data on that; former pardon attorney Margy Love has been a one-woman crusader on that front too.) Unlike Rachel or Margy, I won't say Obama's record low number of pardons is necessarily stingy. That conclusion presupposes too much to reach that assessment, though I can imagine I might reach the same conclusion if I had the time to review all the petitions myself.
And that goes to my main point. It seems to me that if we're going to have reform of the Pardon Attorney's office, one thing we should try to do is unpack the reasons for clemency to better facilitate understanding and democratic accountability. Often the word clemency is used in broad-brushed ways, and by using it without care or precision, we lose the opportunity to move the conversation forward in useful ways. Accordingly, if we are going to reform the Pardon Attorney's office, and if states are interested in similar developments, then we should at least do our best to shape sites for clemency in ways that are honest even if they are not meant to do (only) justice.
Specifically, clemency sites like the executive pardon can be used to advance justice in its retributive texture. These are the easier cases for clemency and they arise when executive branch officials have substantial doubts about the accuracy of the conviction now, or perhaps because they believe the punishment is too severe (in relation to the offender's moral or legal desert). When officials are faced with classic Type I errors, these clemency sites are attractive and necessary because of the way in which they can be used to reduce or correct such errors--and they are especially attractive when decisions are subjected to some kind of deferential review--as I have argued.
In addition to promoting justice and correcting injustices, clemency sites like the Pardon Attorney could also be used to advance mercy, understood as I roughly defined it once (somewhat controversially), as leniency motivated by compassion, redemption, grace, caprice or bias. Thus, when pardons are bestowed because of a person's post-conviction heroic deeds, or because Christmas is coming, or because the offender has come to Jesus, or because the person's family is close to the President, then such dispensations of leniency should be identified as mercy with particular explanations offered for the leniency.* Here, the decision is made to extend leniency independent of its putative benefits toward crime control.
Finally, clemency sites such as the Pardon Power could also be used to advance straightforward policy goals regarding individual prevention and crime control. On this view, pardons are a way to address and scale back punishments that are unnecessary with respect to the threats posed by particular offenders. Perhaps this offender is no longer a sex offender threat because he has voluntarily sought chemical castration and otherwise completed all treatments; perhaps that violent offender has become an invalid through an accident he suffered while in prison. With this goal of individual prevention in mind, the Pardon Attorney could be used as a space (especially in a world without parole) to re-assess threats of dangerousness that earlier motivated officials to apply a custodial or otherwise onerous sanction that is no longer required from a social self-defense perspective.
Again, I'm not saying I necessarily endorse or oppose all pardons that are merciful or prospectively utilitarian from an individual prevention perspective, but I know that others are attracted to those kinds of pardons. It seems to me that if we're going to have a pardon attorney perform any role related to remitting punishments, it would be a good idea if we could determine which box the President thought a particular offender's petition for clemency belonged in, and why. I doubt that too many people make their ultimate decisions about who to support politically based on who receives clemency and why, but if we do think the Office of the Pardon Attorney has fallen into unjustified dis-use, it might be because such decision-making has in the past been inadequately sorted and scrutinized. Justice, mercy, and prospective utility would be a first pass attempt at trying to get the Pardon attorney, and offices like it at the state level, to think more sure-footedly about what they are doing and why.*My published and probably still current view is that leniency motivated by any of these mercy reasons are all problematic even if not equally so from the perspective of retributive justice or liberalism properly understood. But my own view on this doesn't matter for the limited purposes of trying to come up with reforms of the Pardon attorney. I understand that not everyone is a retributivist or even a liberal and that some folks want the law to have spaces for interstitial discretion that redounds to the benefit of defendants--even if those benefits cannot be justified on their own feet but rather in service to some other good such as the desire to simply have less punishment.