Wednesday, July 20, 2016
SSRN, Elsevier, and the Alternatives (again)
(I've updated this post on July 21 at 10:17am CET, and I've indicated below what content is new or revised)
Elsevier has become the world's largest open-access publisher, but it has also faced quite a lot of pushback from scholars over its open access policies. Now it has purchased SSRN, generally seen as the go-to repository for open access to (mostly) pre-print legal scholarship (or papers not bound by restrictive copyright licenses), and certain voices have begun to call for authors to pull out of SSRN and move elsewhere (the almost-in-beta nonprofit and open access SocArXiv repository looks like it might make a viable option as it comes more fully online).
Following up on this recent post by Howard (of an email by Stephen Henderson (Oklahoma)), as well as coverage at TechDirt, and Author's Alliance (asking: "Is it Time for Authors to Leave SSRN?"), I wanted to raise some additional questions. My first reaction is that a well-organized and sufficiently funded not-for-profit platform would be much more preferable in the long run than keeping ties with a for-profit platform owned by a controversial mega-publisher. However, I wonder whether such a move is worth it, without some larger (even institutional) challenge to SSRN's reign. I also wonder whether junior scholars like me risk more in leaving than more established scholars. To the specific questions:
First, is there a role for institutions (law schools) to withdraw support for SSRN/Elsevier and move towards supporting a non-profit like SocArXiv? If so, how would we organize such a movement? Would it be worth it in the long run to move support away from a for-profit platform to something like SocArXiv? SSRN has done a good job of getting institutional buy-in, which may make it harder for a broader institutional challenge to its pre-eminence in this regard. For example, my own law school, at Tilburg University, has proudly advertised that we are ranked in the top 10 (worldwide) and #2 (international, non-US) on SSRN for "total new downloads." We also publish our working paper series through SSRN. Yet, we also have a history of calling for boycotts of Elsevier over not making more work available on an open access basis in the Netherlands. (Edit: I offered these examples to show that the elements of gamification on SSRN work as a way to entrench support or, at least, make leaving more costly.)
Second, what are the individual risks of pulling papers off SSRN and moving elsewhere? Would pulling papers off SSRN (and thus presumably losing the stats and author ranking on the site) be more risky for less established junior scholars (or law prof hopefuls)? What role has SSRN (and author download rankings) played in evaluating entry-level job candidates or lateral candidates for jobs, or internal candidates for promotion/tenure? Does SSRN performance play any role in committees or administrations judging scholarly impact? (if so, should it?)
[Edit: Third, If a new open-access archive for law scholarship were to come online in the near future, what characteristics or features would you want it to have or not have (either those already existing on SSRN, ResearchGate, et al., or entirely new features?)]
Update (July 21, 2016 at 10:17am CET):
Since I published this post yesterday, a number of new discussions on this topic popped up on a variety of lawprof listservs. The following thoughts from Ariel Katz (Toronto) are shared with permission:
I’d like to float the following idea:
The names of esteemed members of these groups adorn SSRN’s subject matter journals. For example: the editors of the Cyberspace Law eJournals are Peter Swire and Jonathan Zittrain, and members of the Advisory Board are: A. Michael Froomkin, Trotter Hardy, David Reynold Johnson, Ethan Katsh, Mark A. Lemley, Jessica Litman, David G. Post, Margaret Jane Radin, Pamela Samuelson, and Eugene Volokh. Rob Merges is the editor of the IP eJournals and the Advisory Board members are Rebecca S. Eisenberg, Paul Goldstein, I. Trotter Hardy, William M. Landes, Mark A. Lemley, J. Thomas Mccarthy, Margaret Jane Radin, and Pamela Samuelson.
I imagine that being an editor or a member of those advisory boards is rather meaningless in practice, and I won’t be surprised if some of the colleagues whose names are on those advisory boards don’t even remember that they have once assumed this role. However, decorating it’s communications with those names isn’t meaningless for SSRN, because it has helped it to build its reputation for a scholarly endeavor and a scholar-friendly entity, and appear to be part of the academia even though it has always been a private company.
Now, I don’t know if colleagues who are members of the advisory boards were ever asked to actually provide advice. But maybe now is the time to give it, even if unsolicited. If I were on one of these boards I think I might share my concerns with SSRN and decline to give my name if SSRN failed to provide satisfactory answers.
This email was quickly followed by a number of advisory board members voicing support for coordinating a more united front to give advice to SSRN, or to think about what an ideal alternative platform might look like.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Pokemon GO and the law
Pokemon GO has quickly garnered a massive following since its release last week, prompting one University of Utah professor to call it "arguabl[y] the most popular video game in the world," and others to argue that "it's daily use is expected to exceed Twitter by the end of the week." But the app raises some very interesting questions about privacy and data protection law, as well as a variety of other possible liability issues. Supposedly it originally siphoned huge amounts of personal data off smartphones, but the developer has been pulling back after getting some bad press.
Users, by getting out of their lazy boys and joining the outside world in the hunt for monsters, have already begun harming themselves and putting themselves in real physical danger, and the app has reportedly sent dozens of players to at least one private residence (a remodeled church building) in search of a Pokemon Gym. Douglas Berman, over at the Sentencing Law and Policy LawProfBlog, has noted that criminals have begun (or could begin) to abuse the app. And Andrés Guadamuz has just posted a very interesting summary of some the legal issues raised by the game over at TechnoLlama, including privacy and data collection, security, liability, and virtual location rights (or: how can a person tell the app to move an unfortunately-placed Gym to somewhere besides the inside of his or her home?).
Have you seen students (or faculty colleagues) wondering around campus chasing Pokemon? Are there other interesting liability issues raised by an augmented reality game like this that haven't yet been addressed?
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Some thoughts about Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
Cross-posted at Casetext
I'm delighted to be back blogging at Prawfs! Thanks to Howard and the rest of the regulars for inviting me.
I wanted to start off with some thoughts about the Supreme Court's momentous decision in Whole Woman's Heath v. Hellerstedt -- more thoughts on the case may follow as they develop.
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most important abortion case in over two decades, the Supreme Court handed the plaintiffs as sweeping a victory as they could have hoped for. In doing so, the Court also saved the “undue burden” standard and quite possibly the right to abortion itself.
Since the Supreme Court’s joint opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which was co-authored by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, the constitutionality of an abortion restriction depended on whether it imposed an “undue burden” on the ability of a “large fraction” of women to obtain an abortion. This standard was not only less protective of abortion rights than the strict scrutiny standard that the Court had set out in Roe v. Wade, it was also so indefinite and malleable that it opened the door to greater and greater envelope-pushing by states adopting increasingly onerous anti-abortion laws.
In Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court was confronted with one such anti-abortion law—Texas’s H.B. 2. The Texas law required abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (essentially, mini-hospitals) and abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The ambulatory surgical center requirements were prohibitively expensive for existing clinics to meet, and admitting privileges can be impossible for certain abortion providers to obtain for reasons totally unrelated to clinical competence, such as opposition to abortion (for example, by a Catholic hospital). Thus, the combined effect of the two restrictions—restrictions extant in numerous other states as well—would be to shut down approximately three quarters of Texas’s abortion providers, forcing many women—especially those outside the major metropolitan areas—to travel long distances and undergo long delays in order to obtain safe and legal abortion services.
In a 5-3 majority opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court held the Texas abortion restrictions to be an unconstitutional undue burden on abortion rights. In some ways, this holding was not surprising. After all, even Justice Kennedy, the most conservative member of that 5-Justice majority, would have to admit that if anything is a substantial obstacle to abortion access, H.B. 2 is. The bigger surprise was the way the Court went about it. In finding an undue burden, the Court held that the actual health and safety benefits of the law had to be balanced against the impact of the law on abortion access. Given that the two Texas requirements were found to have essentially no meaningful benefits to women, the massive burden on abortion access was unwarranted (or “undue”).
It is hard to overstate how important this particular approach was.
By focusing on the health benefits of the law in relation to the burdens, the Court made sense of, and breathed new life into, the undue burden standard. No longer is the undue burden standard a numbers game, in which the exact formula to be applied is unclear. Nor did the Court issue a narrow but ultimately unhelpful ruling identifying an undue burden in Texas without telling us what an undue burden actually is. Instead, the Court issued a sensible opinion giving real meaning to the word “undue,” and putting at risk dozens of abortion restrictions across the country that are passed in the name of protecting women, without any evidence to back them up.
Other elements of the decision were remarkable. For one thing, the opinion made it clear that courts are not to defer to legislatures on the medical or scientific issues that underlie abortion restrictions; instead, they should examine the evidence independently and critically. Justice Kennedy in Gonzales v. Carhart, the Court’s most recent major abortion case, had worried over the “traditional rule” of deferring to legislatures in the face of medical and scientific uncertainty, before ultimately choosing not defer to Congress’s demonstrably mistaken findings. In Whole Woman’s Health, by contrast, the Court asserted, “The statement that legislatures, and not courts, must resolve questions of medical uncertainty is … inconsistent with this Court’s case law. Instead, the Court, when determining the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion procedures, has placed considerable weight upon evidence and argument presented in judicial proceedings.” The opinion thus affirmed the courts’ duty to review facts independently when constitutional rights are at stake.
The Court broadened its focus in other ways, as well. In Casey, the joint opinion had dismissed the district court’s concerns about the impact of a 24-hour waiting period, requiring two trips to the clinic, on women with fewer resources and those who had to travel long distances. Casey stated “[t]hese findings are troubling in some respects, but they do not demonstrate that the waiting period constitutes an undue burden.” In Whole Woman’s Health, by contrast, the Court specifically cited the trial court’s finding that the Texas laws would “erect a particularly high barrier for poor, rural, or disadvantaged women” in its finding of undue burden. Finally, the Court declined to split hairs on the issues of remedy and of facial versus as-applied challenges, as it had done in Planned Parenthood v. Ayotte and Gonzales v. Carhart.
Looking forward, there is reason to be optimistic about the impact of Whole Woman’s Health on abortion rights. Having now denied certiorari in admitting-privileges cases from Mississippi and Wisconsin (in which the plaintiffs won below), the Court has sent a fairly clear signal to any state legislatures considering admitting-privileges requirements in the future. And numerous states have ambulatory surgical center-type requirements, though admittedly the Court was less categorical in striking those down. Given that ambulatory surgical center requirements vary greatly from state to state in their details and onerousness, it is necessary to look more closely at the specific nature of the requirements and their impact. Reading the opinion to require states generally to justify burdens on abortion with evidence supporting an actual benefit for the law, it’s possible that the Whole Woman’s Health decision will also be used to strike down 20-week abortion bans, which are often justified based on junk evidence pertaining to fetal pain. Bans on using telemedicine to provide medication abortion, currently in effect in 18 states, are also now vulnerable.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Whole Woman’s Health, however, is that the Court treated the right to choose abortion like the fundamental right that it is. As with other constitutional rights, infringements on the right to choose abortion must be viewed with scrutiny rising above the level of deferential rational-basis review.
Saturday, July 02, 2016
Nationalism and Reciprocity
Thanks to the powers at Prawsfblawg for inviting me back. I'm a law professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. I always appreciate the opportunity to place my nascent thoughts in the public forum, and see what interests folks. For the most part, I'll blog about criminal procedure in general, and in particular policing. But given the date, I thought something else might be more appropriate.
I’m Scottish. Given the current temporal proximity of Brexit and the Fourth of July, in which Americans celebrate their revolting forebear’s legally irrelevant secession statement, I'll impart one thought on nationalism. We might think that nationalism is a unilateral affair: it states “I assert my independent status as Scottish/English/American/etc.” But nationalism is, in fact, a bilateral or multilateral affair: in asserting your American identity, you rejected your British identity. It is possible to have multiple identities—Scottish and British and European. But multiplicity sits uncomfortably with nationalism. Even if Scots want to be independent *within Europe*, Scottish nationalists want to be *not-British* within Europe. And for Scottish nationalists, Europe is not an independent national identity: it is a subsidiary part of the Scottish identity. Scotland, the Scottish nationalists assert, is a European country, not limited in its projects to the British Isles (and maybe even not oriented in its projects to the British Isles).
If Nationalism is a bilateral or multilateral affair, such that asserting the exclusionary status of membership Nation X entails asserting that members of Nation Y are not participants in the Nation X project, then Nation X’s nationalism is likely to have consequences for Nation Y. One of those consequences is that members of the excluded nation are likely to feel shunned. In a *United* Kingdom, the Northern Irish, Welsh, and, yes, the *English* all participate in the Scottish project. In an independent Scotland, they do not. Indeed, one reason that Scottish nationalists want independence is precisely to prevent and exclude England from participating in the Scottish project. It’s not at all clear that they also want to exclude our Celtic Cousins the Welsh and Irish. But there is it: reject one, reject all.Being the object of exclusion might make the English (or any Nation Y) understandably resentful. Bugger you, they might say: if you don’t want us to participate in your project, then we don’t want you to participate in our project. Indeed, one consequence of 18 months of “Indyref” (the term given to the referendum on Scottish independence) debate was an upsurge in English animus towards Scotland. Scots often took this to confirm what they always new: that the English didn’t really like us as much as they claimed; and that there was a strong undercurrent of English nationalism hidden behind British-nationalism-as-“we-all-support-England.” But I think that what also may have happened was that thoughtless English-Britishness became intentional English nationalism, and so the projects of England and Britain became separated, as English nationalism grew in response to the exclusionary Scottish nationalist project.
If that’s right, then it’s possible that UKip, as the party of exclusive English nationalism, got its fillip, not from Brussels incompetence, but from Scottish nationalist calls for independence. As Scottish nationalists rejected the British project because English politics drowned Scotland out of having a say in British politics (itself dominated by the South of England), so English nationalists rejected the British project, and Britain's embrace of its place in Europe, and instead endorsed an English, exclusionary project. And that English project has historically seen itself in opposition to Europe.
So did Indyref 2014 cause Brexit 2016? And what does that say about other nationalist projects, and their consequences on the excluded nations and nationals? Do nationalists depend for their identity as members of Nation X upon excluding competing nation's identities?
Friday, July 01, 2016
Expanding Access to the HIV Prevention Pill, Truvada
Thrilled to be guest blogging with Prawfs this month!
To kick things off, I thought I’d highlight some of the barriers that are preventing widespread access to Truvada, a once-daily pill that can help prevent infection with HIV even if exposed to the virus. Although approved by the FDA for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis (or “PrEP”) in 2012, awareness of Truvada as a tool for preventing the spread of HIV is not universal, and several barriers to uptake exist.
According to the CDC, daily use of PrEP can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by over 90%. Importantly, Truvada is not a replacement for condoms, and should be used with condoms (particularly since Truvada doesn’t prevent other STDs). The CDC recommends that those at “substantial risk” of HIV consider taking Truvada. In America, about 1.2 million straight and queer people engage in behavior that puts them at “substantial risk” of HIV, and yet the number of people taking Truvada as PrEP numbers only in the tens of thousands. If taken more widely, PrEP could meaningfully reduce the number of people infected with HIV each year, which has remained steady over the past few years at about 50,000 new infections each year. (More than 1.2 million people in the United States are currently living with HIV).
As outlined in a wonderful new report by Duke Law’s Carolyn McAllaster and the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI), the key barriers to PrEP uptake include lack of awareness, stigma, and cost/access. Of these, I want to draw attention to two key points.
First, as recognized by the White House’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, HIV stigma remains one of principal roadblocks in preventing, detecting, and treating HIV. In addition to discouraging PrEP, HIV stigma contributes to what is known as the care continuum, where, according to estimates, roughly 86% of those with HIV are diagnosed, only 40% are engaged in care, and only 30% are virally suppressed through use of anti-retrovirals. But, unfortunately, certain government policies, such as the FDA’s blood donation deferral policy toward gay and bisexual men and laws that criminalize HIV transmission, stigmatize HIV and push it further into the shadows. But there is also PrEP-specific stigma, with some suggesting that those who use Truvada are promiscuous and irresponsible, when, in reality, taking PrEP is sexually responsible.
Second, as the SASI report notes, while HIV is disproportionately spreading in the South and, there, disproportionately among black women and black men who have sex with men, most Southern states have not adopted Medicaid expansion. Why is this significant? Medicaid and most private insurers will actually help pay for Truvada, which costs about $1,300 a month. But nearly 3 million adults fall in the so-called “coverage gap” between traditional Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s insurance subsidies (a gap that Medicaid expansion would cover). And 89% of people in the coverage gap are in the South, the region most in need of HIV prevention tools. As such, without Medicaid expansion, millions of people lack health insurance, including many who may have indications for PrEP.
That’s enough for now, but for those interested in additional steps that can be taken to expand access to PrEP and prevent the spread of HIV, I once again recommend the SASI report!
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
"And a question everyone here should ask . . . " "Are you Canadian?"
I'm making this brief return to Prawfs (thanks Howard!) to plug an article by Christopher Schmidt and me on the issue of Senator Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president. The issue got a lot of play earlier in the primary season when Donald Trump said that Cruz's Canadian birth was a problem for the Senator's campaign, and numerous constitutional law profs weighed in on the issue. (See, e.g., Larry Tribe, Akhil Amar, Einer Elhauge, Eric Posner, Michael Ramsey.) The debate centered around originalism: would Cruz be eligible under an originalist understanding of the natural-born citizen clause? Tribe, Elhauge and Posner said no, while Ramsey said yes. Commentators debated the original understandings of the Constitutional language, as well as certain 18th Century English and American statutes -- but they also asked whether originalism was the appropriate constitutional interpretive method. Tribe, for example, argued that Cruz was ineligible under originalism but perfectly eligible under a "living constitutionalist" approach.
In our article "The Natural-Born Citizen Clause, Popular Constitutionalism, and Ted Cruz's Eligibility Question," Chris and I focus on the role of popular constitutionalism in the modern conservative movement and discuss the ramifications of a popular constitutionalist approach to the natural-born citizen clause. Drawing on Chris's terrific earlier work on the Tea Party and popular constitutionalism, the article makes the case that the popular understanding of "natural-born" would likely exclude Cruz from eligibility, as the common understanding has been that a candidate must have been born in the United States. However, Cruz's campaign has emphasized that this question is "settled law," and has looked to elite constitutional opinion to nail down the issue. In particular, an article by Neal Katyal and Paul Clement -- published in the Harvard Law Review Forum, and timed to come out just before Cruz's presidential announcement -- claims that Cruz is eligible, and that any other conclusion is "specious" and "spurious." Cruz has not left the clause's meaning open to voters, and he has not asked them to draw upon their "conservative constitutional principles" to decide whether he is eligible. On other matters, however, Cruz has been very much a popular constitutionalist -- to an underappreciated extent. Cruz's political campaign consistently refers to the people's role in defending the Constitution, and he has been a Tea Party constitutionalist since at least 2012, when he brought Sarah Palin and other Tea Partiers on board for his senate campaign. In fact, Cruz has even advocated for amending the Constitution to allow for retention elections for Supreme Court justices.
Although the national media has largely moved on from the question of Cruz's eligibility, the issue still burbles below the surface. The snappy comeback from a Trump supporter yesterday shows that Cruz's Canadian birth still matters to some. If Cruz fails to get the Republican nomination, there are myriad reasons why voters might have settled on a different candidate. But popular constitutionalism in action might be one reason that voters cast their ballot for someone else.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Value chain dynamics of legal education
I wanted to finish my guest blogging with another comment about institutional features of the legal academy, specifically its economic structure as a market or market participant. I started thinking about this last year, when a Cuban economist taught me about value chain economics, a theory that Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter put forth in his book Competitive Advantage.
In my lay understanding, situating a product or process in a value chain means taking into account all the upstream inputs and downstream outputs relevant to a particular point of production or distribution. The approach emphasizes relational ties between the upstream and downstream processes that result in an ultimate product or service. Visualizing the chain as a whole helps to understand the economic dynamics in a particular link of the chain. In effect, the chain is the firm. For example, supply chain analysis seems to be a specific application of the value chain idea. So, for example, Walmart is such a powerful buyer that – through contract – it can influence (maybe mandate) the business models of its upstream suppliers.
In the global agricultural market – this gentleman explained to me – 80% of global supply gets funneled through pre-existing value chains, not through some kind of “open market” where buyers and sellers meet. Indeed, insofar as these relational networks determine the production, distribution, and financing flows for a product, the “open market” idea seems like a fiction promoted by orthodox understandings of microeconomics.
What intrigued me was the possibility of using value chain modeling to understand banks and the financial sector, which made instant intuitive sense to me because cash and credit are fungible commodities that flow through these intermediaries through relational channels.
But then I also began to wonder what a value chain model of legal education would look like. This schematic is my draft attempt at figuring that out. I’d welcome any thoughts on this idea.
Let me close with a tiny bit of self-promotion. Last month, I finished my first monograph, Bank Funding, Liquidity, and Capital Adequacy: A Law and Finance Approach. I’m still happy about it, so I wanted to share it.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Cuba examination questions
The growing detente between the US and Cuba raises some issues that make for interesting examination questions. Here are two.
At some point, the normalization process will allow Cubana (the state-owned airline) to fly in or through U.S. air space. However, Cuban authorities worry that its airplanes in the U.S. could be seized by private litigants with claims against Cuba. Usually the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act shields foreign states from being hailed into court here, but the FSIA contains exceptions when (i) the property in question (in this case the planes) is tied to property expropriated by the foreign state and when (ii) the foreign state engages in commercial activity in the US. Do the Cuban authorities have anything to worry about?
The second issue involves the long-standing questions that many have had about whether Helms-Burton’s attempt to codify the embargo is constitutional. The question mattered less when both the President and Congress were on the same page (because the embargo could rest on executive authority), but now the branches disagree. The question matters because Obama has said that he’ll use his authority to roll back the embargo. How far can he go before being hemmed in by a valid Congressional mandate?
Misrepresenting the Employment Law Impact of HB 2
One of the most disappointing and infuriating things about the HB2 saga in North Carolina has been the persistent misrepresentation of its impact by Gov. McCrory and its supporters in the General Assembly. As an employment and civil procedure scholar (and former long time litigator), I take particular umbrage at the gross misrepresentations related to the elimination of the state law claim for employment discrimination (discussed in my last post, here).
The misrepresentations started in the General Assembly where the Republican sponsors repeatedly asserted that nothing in HB2 would take away existing rights. Even when directly questioned about the elimination of the state law wrongful discharge claim for employment discrimination, Republican legislators responded that it would have no effect. [I am basing the foregoing primarily on tweets from reporters on the scene as I was not in Raleigh for the “debate.”]
The misrepresentations continued when Gov. McCrory issued his statement announcing he had signed HB2 into law. In that statement, he stated “[a]lthough other items included in this bill should have waited until regular session, this bill does not change existing rights under state or federal law.” (emphasis added). Gov. McCrory doubled down on this misrepresentation in a document entitled “Myths vs Facts: What New York Times, Huffington Post and other media outlets aren't saying about common-sense privacy law” (here), which was posted on his official website on Friday, March 25. In this document, question #2 is “Does this bill take away existing protections for individuals in North Carolina?” Gov. McCrory’s answer: “No.”
Put simply, McCrory’s statements are clearly and undeniably false.
However, the most persistent voice in misrepresenting the impact of this provision of HB 2 has been (perhaps not surprisingly) HB 2’s author and sponsor, Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg). Rep. Bishop is an attorney. When pressed by a reporter on whether HB2 eliminated the longstanding state law claim for wrongful discharge, Rep. Bishop acknowledged that it likely did, but said “who cares” because you could get the same remedies under federal law. In a separate interview, Rep. Bishop said the elimination of the state law claim “is an exceedingly minor procedural difference."
Rep. Bishop graduated from UNC-CH law with high honors, so I will assume he does actually understand the differences between (1) substantive and procedural law; and (2) federal and state employment discrimination law. But assuming he understands the distinctions, one must conclude that he is intentionally misrepresenting the impact.
Whether the elimination of a state law claim is “substantive” or “an exceedingly minor procedural difference” is beyond rational debate. Having 28 days to respond to a motion instead of 30 days is an exceedingly minor procedural difference. Eliminating a state law claim that has existed for 34 years, is indisputably substantive and significant.
I’ll take up the substantive differences between federal employment discrimination claims under Title VII (or the ADEA) versus North Carolina’s now defunct claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy premised on EEPA in my next post.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Wednesday in North Carolina
It has been an interesting week in North Carolina. Last Wednesday, the ultra-conservative Republican super majority in the NC General Assembly called itself into a special “emergency” session to overturn an ordinance passed by the City of Charlotte on February 22. Charlotte (like many other cities) has long had a non-discrimination ordinance (section 12-58 of the Charlotte City Code), which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” The new ordinance simply added “sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression” to the existing list of protected categories. Additionally, the new ordinance deleted section 12-59 of the Charlotte City Code which prohibited sex discrimination in public accommodations but also provided as follows:
(b) This section shall not apply to the following:
(1) Restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities which are in their nature distinctly private.
(2) YMCA, YWCA and similar types of dormitory lodging facilities.
(3) A private club or other establishment not, in fact, open to the public.
This rather innocuous change in a long-standing provision of the Charlotte City Code became known as the “bathroom ordinance.” So vile was the bathroom ordinance that it was necessary for the legislature to convene a special session to overturn it before it took effect on April 1.Governor Pat McCrory (R) (who served has a member of the Charlotte City Council and as mayor for a total of 20 years, all without questioning the legality of the then-LGBT free non-discrimination ordinance), declined to call the General Assembly into special session because he feared (no doubt based on inside knowledge) that the General Assembly, if summoned, would pass legislation that was far broader than the “bathroom ordinance.”
The Republican legislature, not to be stymied, called itself into special session, which it scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Despite requests from members of the General Assembly and the media, the powers that be in the General Assembly refused to release a draft of the legislation that would be introduced on March 23 claiming that it was not yet complete. When the legislature convened around 10:00 am, the bill (House Bill 2 or “HB 2”) was introduced and made public for the first time. [The date stamp on the last page “(03/16)” makes fairly clear that the bill had been drafted at least in substantial part well in advance.] HB 2 was 5 single spaced pages of fairly dense statutory language. The first vote was held 5 minutes after it was introduced. There was a 30 minute public comment period for those who were able to get to Raleigh to testify. Then some limited debate. Then two more votes, culminating in final passage by the House at about 3:30 pm. The Senate took up the bill at about 4:45, had an initial vote and then another 30 minute public comment period. After it became clear that the Republican leadership was not interested in anything the other side had to say (according to Senate Democrats) all of the 15 Democrats walked out in protest. The chair called a final vote and HB 2 passed by a vote of 32-0. This was roughly 7:00 pm. Although Governor McCrory had 30 days to consider whether or not to sign HB 2 into law, he signed it at 9:57 pm that night.
In just under 12 hours from introduction to gubernatorial signature, North Carolina enacted what many have called the most aggressively anti-LGBT legislation in the country.
ALL local non-discrimination ordinances were banished. All local governments in NC were prohibited from protecting any group not protected by state law. In the place of inclusive local laws (passed by the duly elected representative of those local jurisdictions), the General Assembly created a statewide public accommodation law was passed which protects only race, national origin, color, religion, and BIOLOGICAL sex. It also mandated that all public restrooms in NC (including in public schools and universities) must be single sex and that a person may only use the restroom designated for his or her BIOLOGICAL SEX, as listed on his or her birth certificate.
Not content to stop there, HB 2 also contained a slew of EMPLOYMENT related provisions, despite the fact that Charlotte’s ordinance had nothing to do with employment. More on those later.
So, North Carolina – once the most progressive of southern states – is now, perhaps, the most regressive on LGBT rights.
Perhaps it was fitting that this special session that culminated in HB 2 was on Wednesday of Christian Holy Week, the day on which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. I cannot think of a bigger betrayal of the teachings of the Jesus I learned about in Sunday School than legalizing discrimination against a minority group.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Up with Cuba
Given all the brouhaha about Obama’s trip, I wanted to comment some on Cuba. I was born in Santiago (the easternmost and most revolutionary part of the island) and have been going back over the past 12 years, presenting and publishing there.
This link (translatable) has some basics about the Cuban legal system. The two main professional organizations for lawyers are the Unión Nacional de Juristas de Cuba and the Organización Nacional de Bufetes Colectivos. The Unión seems to focus more on policy and academic issues while the ONBC includes almost all practicing lawyers who work in state-organized firms. These organizations regularly hold conference and events on legal themes. I was thinking of attending this conference on gender, at which I’ve previously seen many foreign academics.
As I see it, many Cuban-American emigrants remain in a state of complicated and belated mourning, something that will begin to end only after Fidel Castro passes away. Elsewhere I’ve argued that many in my generation suffer from the Cuban-American Oedipal conflict. Parents and grandparents passed on their displacement trauma (no doubt justified) to their kids, who then – out of a sense of filial piety and ethnic identification – keep from engaging with Cuba (the real Cuba – not their parents’ introjected loss) so as to form their own opinions on these issues. Ironically, avoiding Cuba keeps them from more fully understanding what their families lost by leaving. (I’m an Oedipal victor, although that can seem like a pyrrhic victory :))
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Business model changes at law schools
Law schools are experimenting with ways to diversify revenue in response to declining state support and tuition shortfalls, including those caused by smaller entering classes. This report reviews the range of things that schools have done. A common strategy has been to supplement the juris doctorate degree with other programs. This one does a good job of surveying these programs.
I’d be interested in hearing – on- or off-line – about any successes or failures of schools in generating new income streams. The corporatization of the academy makes me queasy, but law schools do need to find new funding models.
Cf - for two good argument about the potential harms of markets:
(i) Check out Michael Sandel’s What Money Can't Buy. It makes the point that some goods are actually changed by being distributed though a market, i.e., if you can buy a Nobel prize, is it the same good? If – as I did – you loved his Justice class, you’ll enjoy the book.
(ii) See Posner’s critical comments on the marketization of the legal profession. He addresses the practice of law rather than legal education, but the same concerns apply. In effect, he is making Sandel’s argument. Coming from Posner, I found the idea that too much market freedom can lead to untoward (and unprofessional) behavior on the part of lawyers ironic, indeed, almost poignant.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Thinking about financial exigency
Hopefully, none of us will experience financial exigency in an academic unit, but here are some sources about the legal and administrative standards used to restructure academic programs.
This working paper published by the American Association of Higher Education (1996) lays out three common kinds of financial metrics for distress in an academic unit: (i) operating results, e.g., enrollment trends, cash flow, budgetary allocations; (ii) net worth; and (iii) bond ratings. The standards seem fuzzy, contestable, highly local, and fact-specific.
This American Association of University Professors report has case studies.
Mark Strasser (Capital University Law School) has published Tenure, Financial Exigency, and the Future of American Law Schools, 59 Wayne Law Review 269-309 (2013). It examines dismissals of tenured faculty from other disciplines and considers how this issue might play out in a law school context.
Like so much of academic administration, how different schools handle this issue varies substantially. Recent examples of academic systems that have considered or implemented financial exigency include Louisiana State and Chicago State.
Other schools have explored ways of giving administrators more freedom to restructure academic programs short of formal determinations of financial exigency. Examples include places in Wisconsin and Georgia.
Monday, February 15, 2016
The Peter Principle and the Supreme Court
I have not waded into the discussion of Justice Scalia's death and what happens next, although I commend what others have written here. I am in complete agreement with three things Richard Friedman (Michigan) wrote on the ConLawProf listserv: 1) This debate is entirely political and if the partisan institutional positions were flipped, so would the partisan institutional arguments; 2) The President can nominate whoever he wants before January 20, 2017, and the Senate can reject or refuse to act on any nomination within that time; 3) Senate custom is dead.
Given that (especially # 2), some thoughts/questions as we go forward:1) (The question that gives the post its title): Does it really matter that some potential highly-qualified-to-force-the-Senate's-hand nominee (notably Sri Srinivasan) was confirmed to a lower court 97-0? Putting aside that this is all politics. Is it truly irrational for a Senator to conclude that someone could be qualified for a lower federal court and not for SCOTUS? For constitutional purposes, there is no difference in qualifications. (In fact, nothing in Article III requires appointment to any particular court, as opposed to confirmation as a federal judge). But Congress having established a statutory regime in which a judge must be separately nominated and confirmed to every seat, can't a Senator believe that someone who is good enough to be a lower-court judge is not acceptable as a SCOTUS justice? I am not saying that is the case with Srinivasan. It's just that the suggestion that Senate Republicans would accept (or be politically compelled, or embarrassed into accepting) someone because of the prior vote does not follow.
A recess appointment would likely be construed by a Republican-controlled Senate, not to mention Republican candidates for President, as subverting the intention of the nomination process laid out by the Constitution. That’s an argument—with some merit—that Obama surely wants to avoid as the White House simultaneously looks to lean heavily on the president’s constitutional responsibility to choose a justice and the Senate’s constitutional duty to confirm a reasonable selection.
But couldn't the White House successfully frame it as follows: "The Senate Majority Leader announced, within less than one day of Justice Scalia's death, that it would not even vote on any nomination the President makes, despite his constitutionally established term continuing for another 11 months. Given this, the decision to make a recess appointment reflects not a subversion of the process, but taking the Majority Leader at his word that no confirmation could happen with the Senate in session."
3) Here is an imprecise historical analogue that, at least in counter-factual, captures a lot of what is happening politically (Michael Dorf wrote about this at Dorf on Law, although I cannot find the post). Thurgood Marshall retired in summer 1991.* And while Marshall reportedly did not want to give the appointment to George H.W. Bush, at that point it seemed certain that Bush would be re-elected, so there was no point in waiting (plus, all indications are that Marshall stayed too long, anyway and his health was failing). Of course, things had changed dramatically just one year later--it was clear the President was in trouble and he would go on to lose that November. The counter-factual is always what if Marshall could have hung around for just one more term, until say, June 1992; no one suggests he needed to stay until June 1993, after Clinton had taken office (Marshall died four days after Clinton was inaugurated). The implication is that by June 1992, no nominee would have been confirmed until after November--and once Bush lost, the nomination would await the new President. Of course, this would have put us in our current spot in reverse--a soon-to-be-leaving-office Republican President and a Democratic-opposition Senate refusing to confirm any nominee until we see what happens in November.
[*] Yes, not an election year. But surely the line cannot be January 1, especially when elections have already begun, particularly by the party out of power, by the previous summer.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
What's Obama's Best Move?
Monday, February 01, 2016
Hello from Iowa! OR: Democracy, I am in it.
Hi everyone. It's good to be back! This month; I'll be blogging about my very shortly forthcoming book (The Rule of Law in the Real World, coming out from Cambridge on February 11. Buy! Buy!), constitutional things, jurisprudence things, data things...
But tonight, I'm in Iowa. So I'll be live-blogging the caucus, which officially starts in 10 minutes. I'm on the iPhone typepad interface, so I can't be responsible and break the post (it also looks like I can't put up photos? Later.) but you all really want to read about the cute and actually democratic-ish side of American politics.
So here goes some good-old-fashioned liveblogging. This might just be really boring: for example, it's 6:53 now, and I'm in a very, very long line (photo later) with my wife and several colleagues. If a blizzard hits and this massive crowd gets trapped, I intend to eat the republicans first (they eat more meat; they're probably tastier). But here's to hope that there are inspiring speeches, mass shifts, maybe even a runaway caucus that tries to nominate Elizabeth Warren or Julian Castro (my classmate!), or, you know, me or something. And no cannibalism.
In case you're curious, I'm caucusing for Hillary.
7:04. The massive Democrat line just passed one of the Republican rooms. It's almost empty. Iowa City! It almost feels like being back in California, except for the likelihood of a blizzard and cannibalism.
7:29. Still in line. Being stared at disapprovingly by the people behind us, probably thanks to the suggestion that we caucus for Martin O'Malley as a pity play. There's also a Hillary campaign worker reminding everyone of which precinct they need to be be in to stand in this line---sadly with no precinct map in hand, so I really have no clue if this is the right one.
7:37. The DMV screwed up my wife's registration. I kinda want to rush to find a judge for some last-minute litigation, in fine American democracy style, but it turns out she can register on the spot. Alas. Also, she's a Bernie supporter.
7:41. Got in the massive auditorium. Lost my spouse to the other side of the room, gained another colleague. The Bernie side of the room is probably about 50% bigger than the Hillary side at the moment---and the O'Malley corner is about 10 children.
7:46. They announced that there were 15 people who arrived too late, and that we needed to vote on whether they're to be allowed in. Being Midwestern college town liberals, you can probably guess the result.
Now they're calling the meeting to order, and the person doing so is nominating herself as permanent chair. Nobody can hear in this echoey junior high gym, so the result is yes by acclamation. I hope we haven't just accidentally crowned Donald Trump as King.
Solicitation for money. Can't tell what for. Echoes. The party, I'd guess. Or King Trump.
7:49. Apparently there are undecided people somewhere in here. Also, I accidentally tripped a child. Just like a Hillary supporter.
7:52. "[inaudible] [inaudible] unlike the Republicans [cheers]!" My second accidental child-tripping of the day. I wonder if Republican children are less runney-aroundey?
7:55. "Can you hear anything they're saying?" "No, I gave up." A metaphor for political polarization?
Also, the Bernie people are lots closer to the microphone, presumably they can hear better. Hmm... maybe I can find an insomniac judge who thinks that's a reason to throw out the likely result?
7:59. I cheer when all the other people around me cheer. Still hoping it's not for Trump.
8:01. Apparently there are 859 people in this room.
8:04. Chanting. Lots of chanting. Somehow the Hillary and Bernie camps have not yet decided on me as a compromise candidate.
8:08. There are numbered index cards we all have, but the actual tallying is (I think) being conducted by people counting one another by hand. Maybe? It's hard to tell. Democracy is confusing.
8:17. Someone on the ground team just dropped by to say they're counting now. Also "we're really close in numbers, nobody leave." Apparently we need 15% to get a delegate from the precinct, and we're at about 25% now? Clearly a Bernie district.
8:21. 538 says both parties are really close, within 3-4 percentage points right now. Of course, if they're all counting the way this room seems to be, I don't trust that very much...
8:22. Someone just announced about 10 minutes to get counts in. Still not clear who is doing the counting (or how they have an incentive to do it honestly, except I guess that they're Midwestern college town liberals? Also, I suppose if the total votes don't add up, that could get ugly.). Also 538 says that in the biggest Latino county in Iowa O'Malley is beating Sanders. (That's what happens when you make nativist remarks about immigration right at the start of the campaign, yo.
8:25. In 10 minutes they're going to "finish the first alignment," and then the groups that "may not be viable" get to realign. I think that's what that 15% number is.
Right now it's Hillary 259 people, Bernie 500-some people, and O'Malley... 17. Apparently the O'Malley people and the undecideds now get to go around talking to people, and everyone else has to stay put and look friendly and electable or something.
8:28 speaker is exhorting people from B and H camps to stick around "or you will lose people, and I will have to count again." M camp being exhorted to bloody well do something. H and B camps chanting at M camp. Not sure what the undecided people are doing or what exactly is supposed to be convincing them to do something.
8:30 we just accepted platform resolutions. I have no idea what's in them. Could still be King Trump.
8:36. Someone on the mic is talking about how "Iowa is the best place in the world to live," and she's been voting since 18, and other things. Is she campaigning for someone? Is that allowed? Can I get up there and talk? Dunno. They should print a rulebook. Is it Robert's Rules? Wait, I think she's the one in charge still. The one who had us vote on a bunch of things we couldn't hear.
All the people with press badges (handwritten) look like children. Undergrads? Am I old? Is that why I'm on the Hillary side?
8:39. They just announced 4 delegates for Hillary, 8 for Bernie. Is it over? I think it's over. People are leaving. Democracy is done for the night.
8:48. Aftermath. My wife is signing up to be a delegate. Someone has platform resolutions, is apparently not aware that they evidently passed. Also, I just got drafted to be a delegate too. I think I'm supposed to sign something.
9:01. Signed the thing. Going home. Democratic participation complete.
Postscript: word is O'Malley's already gone. Also, the Iowa City school we just finished caucusing in turns out to have a bunch of boxes with air filters supplied by "Iowa Prison Industries." Hope enough others in the roomful of liberals who just were here saw that, and care enough to put a stop to it with that whole democracy thing we just did.
The air of American democracy itself is supplied by prison labor.
Also, I should add that the two colleagues are also beloved friends, wonderful people, and unusually good-looking.
The prison labor:
Friday, January 29, 2016
Even Wiseguys Need Health Insurance
Goodbye to Vincent Albert "Buddy" Cianci, Jr. -- a man who, whatever you think of him, certainly left his mark on the City of Providence. I would say that he was a Providence original if I didn't recall that though he was born in Providence he was a true son of Cranston and then, only later, the Mayor of Providence.
My absolute favorite excerpts from the eventual trial transcripts of "Operation Plunder Dome" (essentially, a RICO tapes case) were the parts discussing the selling points of various "no-show" or "low-show" jobs distributed by then Mayor Cianci. Steven Antonson, a Cianci-appointed City of Providence Building Board member, wasn't quite lucky enough to get that no-show or low-show appointment, however. Apparently, then Mayor Cianci really wanted him to show at Building Board meetings involving Providence's University Club and to wholeheartedly oppose all University Club petitions for building variances necessary for a pending re-model unless and until Mayor Cianci was offered a free lifetime membership in the University Club. What made it pure Buddy Cianci was not the apparent extortion but the ironic twist that the chief value of free lifetime membership in Providence's University Club appears to have been as payback for a rejected Buddy Cianci membership application to the Providence University Club in the early 1970's, decades earlier.
My favorite part of Buddy Cianci's sell of the Building Board appointment was Mayor Cianci's schooling of Steven Antonson on why it would be a smart move to accept it: "Remember, I appoint people to this board. You get Blue Cross. You get a check. You always said safety was important. Well, this is it."
Yes, Steven Antonson was among several would be appointees who chased the Mayor of Providence relentlessly for health insurance. Even wiseguys need health insurance. Go figure. Or, as they say on South Coast, "Go Figah."
Steven Antonson eventually wore a wire and proved to be a fertile source of Buddy Cianci stories, many more of which you might glean from Mike Stanton's 2003 book, The Prince of Providence: The True Story of Buddy Cianci, America's Most Notorious Mayor, Some Wiseguys, and the Feds.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Is It TB That Ails Us?
Last week, the New York Times reported a tuberculosis outbreak in Marion Alabama so severe that TB incidence in Marion is now at a rate that exceeds TB incidence in much of the developing world. Marion is the county seat of Perry County and it is saying something when a city of roughly 3,600 people has had 20 cases of active TB diagnosed in the last two years alone, producing two TB related deaths. Those who count TB infections do not typically count latent infections -- relatively easily if time-consumingly treated -- though these have been documented in a further two dozen people.
Now, if there have been 20 active cases, the latent infection rate is likely much higher than that, but no one knows how much higher since screening for latent TB infection in the general population is not standard procedure in the United States. Why such screening for latent TB has not been pursued earlier in Alabama is a more difficult question. Long before the New York Times arrived on the scene, TB cases have been unusually high in Alabama. The number of tuberculosis cases increased in 2014 in Alabama, but decreased nationwide. Across the nation, the number of new infections decreased by more than 2 percent. In 2014, there were 133 cases of tuberculosis in Alabama, compared to 108 the year before. The TB trajectory in Alabama has not been good for some time.
The reasons for this are hard to parse. As the New York Times points out, there is a tradition of limited access to health care in this low income rural community where lack of reliable transportation to health care venues looms as one of the chief causes of limited health care access. Since the data shows that those with transportation -- disproportionately the insured -- use that transportation to leave the community for health care, leaving the uninsured lacking transportation to seek care locally, it is no wonder 54 of Alabama's 55 rural counties have official shortages of primary care providers. After all, good payor mix in your patient panel is one of the ingredients to successful sustainable practice.
A people who lack the resources and opportunity to access care have a limited culture of care. The disincentives to leave the community, even when able to do so, are complicated by a general distrust of health care providers, particularly among African American residents. Ironically, a provider-patient relationship built on trust may be the scarcest health care resource of all in Marion.
But the situation is more complicated than this even, since the conversion rate between latent TB infection and active (or manifest) TB infection is not evenly distributed among the TB exposed population. Drug users, alcoholics, and, in particular, those who are HIV positive are particularly at risk of TB exposure converting into active TB. Drug use, particularly use of injectables like heroin, appears to have more than a toe hold in Marion. The Marion refrain "I don't want nobody knowing my business" in response to public health attempts at contact tracing for those with active TB may make more sense evaluated in light of access or lack thereof to drug treatment programs in Marion.
On the international stage, public health authorities struggle with the prevalence of active TB infection in injectable drug using and HIV positive populations. In the developing world, there is some evidence that financial incentives to promote screening and successful treatment, if required, have begun to make a dent in promoting the completion of TB treatment. Interestingly, TB screening incentives are reported as now being offered to the entire Marion community and not exclusively to relatively high risk sub-populations such as the homeless or self-disclosed injectable drug users.
Is it that the United States Public Health Service and the Alabama State Department of Public Health as well as county public health officials are unaware that broad screening incentives are not the norm? Or, is it that in a community of a few thousand, the only way to screen at significant levels is to create an incentive for all to be screened in a de-stigmatized way? Whether it is folly or it is genius, only time will tell. But if it is the syndemic of injectable drug use and TB or HIV and TB masquerading as an outbreak of TB alone that ails Marion, it will take far more than screening incentive payments and TB treatment incentive payments to right what is wrong with Marion -- emblematic of so much that is amiss in rural low income America.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
What's a Hospitalist?
Thank you for the opportunity to guest blog here for the remainder of the month. I hope to blog here on all things health law, health care regulation, and health policy related.
Last week, I participated in a discussion of primary care provider supply on KCUR, Kansas City's local public radio affiliate. I was pleased to participate and enjoyed the conversation with my fellow panelist, Dr. Michael Munger and with our host Gina Kaufman. I suppose I was invited to participate because I just won't be quiet about primary care provider supply, medical school education, Kaiser Permanente's recent announcement of its decision to fix the broken pipeline of primary care providers representative of and responsive to communities with the greatest shortages by opening a proprietary medical school in southern California and on and on.
Today, I want to focus on a point made later in the radio program when listener call-in questions were fielded. One self-described "older" caller disparaged the rise of hospitalists and the use of hospitalists in places where they were previously unknown, including rural settings. Forgive me KCUR host Gina Kaufman, but the most interesting thing about the whole exchange with the call-in listener was that you did not seem to know who or what a hospitalist is until, apparently, you were guided to some understanding by someone in the studio. I note this without dismay for two reasons. First, unless and until you have experienced a hospitalization for something other than scheduled elective surgery or a planned normal birth, you may not have been introduced to the new normal: acute in-patient care delivered by a physician typically previously unknown to you, a provider often employed by the hospital itself, and a provider you are unlikely to ever encounter again outside of an acute care in-patient setting. Or, it could have been that the use of hospitalists in America's acute care in-patient facilities is so widespread that the term has become obsolete to lay people, though recognized inside baseball as the fastest growing medical specialty. Either way, the caller's point was that quality care should not be based on a system of strangers treating strangers. The easy answer to that is that electronic medical records will make us all strangers no more and that care by strangers is cost effective.
Whatever you make of the alleged impersonalism of modern health care, the caller may have been on to something in noting that there is an ongoing problem with the hand off between hospitalist provided hospital based acute care and the ongoing treatment and monitoring of things like chronic disease required of community based medicine. Our hand offs are problematic. Less expensive care in the in-patient acute care setting under the hospitalist combined with the costs of poorly integrated transitions to community based care on discharge can lead to higher community care based expenses along with the cost of unnecessary human suffering pushed elsewhere. So much of our health care system is financed and delivered under principles designed to push costs elsewhere in the system rather than acknowledge that poorly integrated care costs us all but costs some of us more than others.
So, whether you are in the "What's a hospitalist?" camp or the "You can see someone beside a hospitalist during an acute care admission?" camp, we all ought to be interested in valuing and prioritizing the hand off from acute in-patient care to community based care, where the real rubber meets the road.
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
Go to a Different Blog
It's great to be here!
For my first post this month, I'm going to do something odd -- tell you to go to *different* blog. (Hopefully Howard and the Prawfs gang won't take away my keys!) That's right: today is Election Day, and the students in the University of Kentucky's Election Law Society are running an election analysis blog. They'll be posting about election law issues that will arise during the vote casting and counting process -- for Kentucky elections and nationwide. Every post is vetted by me first, so (hopefully) they are substantively sound.
So go vote -- and then hop on over to http://www.uky.edu/electionlaw for a jolly-good Election Day time!
Monday, October 26, 2015
Multiplying Loaves and Fishes: Why Congressional Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship May Plunge Us into Economic Depression and How President Obama Can Save Us from Going Back to the Breadlines
The following post is by Jessica Berch and Chad DeVeaux (both of Concordia). They will be guest-blogging in December. But the timing of the new debt-ceiling debate made an early post appropriate.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus multiplied “five loaves and two fishes,” providing a bounty sufficient to feed 5,000 hungry souls. Apparently, House Republicans expect President Obama to perform a similar miracle. On November 3, the Treasury will exhaust its funds. If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by that date, authorizing the Government to borrow money, the nation may face an unprecedented economic cataclysm.
As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait has observed, only “the most ideologically hardened or borderline sociopath” would “weaponize the debt ceiling”; to do so, one “must be willing to inflict harm on millions of innocent people.” Bloomberg Business explained that a federal default would be orders of magnitude worse than the Great Recession of 2008: “The $12 trillion of outstanding Government debt is 23 times the $517 billion Lehman owed when it filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008.”
Following up on earlier work, The Fourth Zone of Presidential Power, (Conn. L. Rev.), we are writing an article entitled Once More unto the (Fiscal) Breach, addressing the president’s options in this latest crisis.
Federal statutes command the president to implement a myriad of programs and projects. Other laws instruct him to obtain the revenue necessary to subsidize these endeavors by collecting taxes and borrowing funds. The debt-ceiling statute caps the amount of money the Government can borrow at any particular time. Based on the level of revenue the Government is permitted to collect through taxation, basic arithmetic dictates that the president will need to borrow funds exceeding the debt limit to comply with Congress’s appropriation mandates.
If Congress does not raise the debt-ceiling by November 3, the president will face a no-win scenario that Professors Neil Buchanan and Michael Dorf have coined the “trilemma.” He will be forced to choose among three options. He may: (1) ignore the appropriations statutes and cancel spending programs; (2) employ the so-called “nuclear option”—disregard the debt ceiling and borrow sufficient funds to pay for Congress’s appropriations; or (3) unilaterally raise tax rates to produce sufficient revenue to fund Congress’s appropriations. Each of these choices violates an express statutory command.
And each of these choices is also implicitly authorized by the other commands. The power “to execute” a law “impl[ies] many subordinate and auxiliary powers,” including “all authorities essential to its due exercise.” Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 591 (2006).
Professors Buchanan and Dorf argue that any choice the president makes will violate the Constitution “because he will have failed to execute at least one duly enacted law of the United States.” As Professor Buchanan recently noted, “He has nothing but unconstitutional choices.”
The true test of the president’s options in the trilemma lies within the labyrinth of Justice Jackson’s seminal opinion in the Youngstown Steel Seizure Case. As the Supreme Court reaffirmed last June, “in considering claims of Presidential power this Court refers to Justice Jackson’s familiar tripartite framework . . . .” Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2083 (2015). Evaluation of the president’s options in the impending standoff constitutes a paradigmatic question of the scope of presidential power.
In Youngstown, Justice Jackson asserted that “presidential powers are not fixed but fluctuate, depending upon their disjunction or conjunction with those of Congress.” He offered his famous three-zone template to evaluate the scope of executive power.
In the first zone, “the president acts pursuant to . . . express or implied” congressional authorization. Endowed with such legislative approval, the president’s power “is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.” In the second zone, “the president acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority.” In this “zone of twilight,” Congress and the president possess authority that is either “concurrent” or “its distribution is uncertain.” Zone three involves situations where “the president takes measures incompatible with the express or implied will of Congress.” Here, “his power is at its lowest ebb, for . . . he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”
At first blush, each of the president’s three options appears to fall into the third zone of Justice Jackson’s taxonomy. Short of multiplying loaves and fishes, every conceivable alternative—unilaterally cancelling federal programs, increasing taxation, or borrowing more money—stands in direct conflict with an express congressional command. Article I bestows the powers to “tax,” “spend,” and “borrow” exclusively upon Congress. Thus, such authority is far removed from those plenary powers that the president may wield irrespective of congressional will.
Professor Lawrence Tribe echoed this reasoning, noting that “the president’s power drops . . . to its ‘lowest ebb’ when exercised against the express will of Congress.” So, “if the president could usurp the congressional power to borrow, what would stop him from taking over all [of Congress’s] other powers, as well?”
Again, we disagree. On closer examination, the standoffs do not fit within any of the zones identified by Justice Jackson.
Professors Tribe, Buchanan, and Dorf analyze each of the president’s options and Congress’s corresponding legislative commands in isolation. But this view ignores the more nuanced conception of presidential power implicit in Justice Jackson’s framework. As Jackson observed, “the actual art of governing under our Constitution does not and cannot conform to judicial definitions of the power of any of its branches based on isolated clauses or even single Articles torn from context.” For this reason, the Court unanimously recognized in Dames & Moore v. Regan, that in applying Youngstown’s principles, when multiple statutes bear upon the president’s powers, the scope of his authority cannot be gleaned by looking at any single law in isolation, but from careful consideration of “the general tenor” of all of Congress’s commands viewed collectively.
Justice Jackson’s three zones contemplate coherent legislative action falling within “a spectrum running from explicit congressional authorization to explicit congressional prohibition.” Congress may sanction presidential action, it may be silent on the subject, or it may prohibit it. Congressional acts in conformity with any of these three coherent choices will affect the president’s powers accordingly. But in the impending trilemma, Congress’s acts—viewed collectively—present the president with a paradox. Congress has directed the president to take specified action and simultaneously forbade him from taking that very same action. Such contradictory legislative instructions cannot find a home anywhere within Youngstown’s existing taxonomy. As such, the present standoff requires the expansion of Youngstown’s spectrum to accommodate a previously uncontemplated fourth zone of presidential power.
So what principles should apply in this new fourth zone of power?
Dames & Moore recognized that congressional action “evinc[ing] legislative intent to accord the president broad discretion may be considered to ‘invite’ ‘measures on independent presidential responsibility.’” In cases falling within the traditional three-zone scheme, such legislative conduct is only considered “pertinent when the president’s action falls within the second [zone]—that is, when he ‘acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority.’” Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491, 528 (2008). This is so because when Congress commands the president to undertake (or refrain from undertaking) a particular action, the Constitution normally affords him no discretion. He “must confine himself to his executive duties—to obey and execute, not make the laws.”
But when Congress gives the president contradictory commands, the president cannot simply “obey and execute” Congress’s instructions; obeying one command necessarily requires disobeying another. For this reason, zone two’s invitation principle should be applied in the fourth zone of the Youngstown scheme. Contradictory legislative instructions, by their nature, implicitly “accord the president broad discretion.”
The president’s plenary power “to execute” a law promulgated by Congress “impl[ies] many subordinate and auxiliary powers,” including “all authorities essential to its due exercise.” And “it is a flawed and unreasonable construction” to read the Acts of Congress “in a manner that demands the impossible.” Thus, when Congress commands the president to complete a particular task but expressly denies him those powers “essential to its due exercise,” the only way to construe these conflicting legislative instructions in a manner that does not “demand the impossible” is to infer a congressional intent to “accord the president broad discretion”—to entrust him to make tradeoffs to best accommodate the conflicting mandates.
In the trilemma, the interaction between the debt-ceiling statute and the relevant taxing and spending laws render compliance with all three statutory mandates impossible. Congress commanded the president to complete a task—implement specified programs—but denied him the “authorities essential to its due exercise”—the power to acquire sufficient revenue to pay for the mandated expenditures.
Because statutes are not interpreted “in a manner that demands the impossible,” “the general tenor” of Congress’s commands, read collectively, inherently “‘invite’ ‘measures on independent presidential responsibility.’”
Since the president cannot fully comply with all of Congress’s commands, the statutory impasse invests the president with discretion to implement any of the three options addressed above. He may cancel federal programs to reduce spending, direct the Treasury to borrow funds in excess of the debt ceiling, or even order modest tax increases to satisfy the Government’s fiscal obligations. But he should not stand idly by and allow Congress to plunge us into a Global Economic Depression.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
EPA Required to Muscle Out Invasive Zebra Mussels - Can it Be Done?
This Monday as I was preparing to teach my Tuesday Biodiversity seminar, in which we were to discuss invasive species, the Second Circuit issued an important Clean Water Act opinion. For years the EPA had been avoiding the significant challenge of dealing with invasive species routinely dumped into our nation's waters by cargo ships. When the ships load and unload their cargo, it is necessary to balance the weight of the ship by filling or emptying massive tanks of water within the vessel. This water (called ballast water) is typically drawn into the tanks in one location and expelled in another, carrying along numerous stowaway species ready to invade new territory. This practice has introduced many microscopic pathogens, but the poster child is undoubtedly the zebra mussel, which has taken over the great lakes ecosystem. In addition to causing ecological harm, the zebra mussels have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to the companies whose industrial water pipes have been clogged by the Asian mussels.
The Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge a pollutant into the nation's waters without a permit. The EPA has no discretion to exempt categories of discharges from this permitting requirement, as the DC Circuit held way back in NRDC v. Costle, 568 F.2d 1369 (D.C. Cir. 1977). More recently, in 2008, the Ninth Circuit struck down the EPA's attempt to exempt ballast water from the CWA requirements, in Northwest Environmental Advocates v. EPA, 537 F.3d 1006 (9th Cir. 2008), a case I had just happened to assign for this week's class. So, I was pleased in more ways than one to see the Second Circuit issue its opinion in NRDC v. EPA just 24 hours before our class met to discuss this very issue. Having failed in its attempt to exempt ballast water entirely from permitting requirements, EPA had generated a lenient Vessel General Permit, which the court this week struck down as a violation of the CWA. The permit failed to be strict enough both as to technological requirements for treating ballast water and as to limits on the invasive species discharged.
While exciting for environmentalists, this ruling will be quite challenging for the shipping industry. Many of the most cutting edge technologies for killing everything in ballast water tanks is easier to design into new ships than to add via retrofitting older ones. Of course, we have a very serious invasive species problem, so to address it, step one is obviously to stop introducing them. There is no question that this red light is incredibly valuable to the environment. What is less clear, though, is whether we can ever actually accomplish the underlying goal of such regulation, which would be to restore the ecosystem and stop the economic harm. In forcing the EPA to regulate ballast water, the Northwest Environmental Advocates Court noted that "[o]nce established, invasive species become almost impossible to remove," in part because they can become so successful absent their natural predators.
So this decision raises the important question of what's next. Assuming we can cut down on the continued delivery of invasive species into our waterways, will we maximize the value of that effort and sacrifice by also working to eradicate the massive population already present? Can we do this?
Should the Umpqua shooter's mother be liable?
Chris Harper-Mercer was 26 years old when he killed 9 people last week. He was a troubled young man living at home, who should not have had access to guns. And yet he had access to 14 of them. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/us/mother-of-oregon-gunman-wrote-of-keeping-firearms.html?_r=0
Chris lived with his mother, Laurel Harper. Laurel bragged about keeping fully loaded magazines for her AR-15 and AK-47 semiautomatic rifles in easy access in her house. Laurel also knew that Chris had emotional problems. Should Laurel, and other parents of mass shooters, be held liable for the actions of their adult children?
Professor Shaundra Lewis, (Thurgood Marshall School of Law), asks this question in her timely piece, The Cost of Raising a Killer--Parental Liability for the Parents of Adult Mass Murderers, 61 Villanova L. Rev. 1 (forthcoming 2015). http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2669869 As she explains in her abstract:
[T]he shooter’s parents almost always knew their offspring were seriously mentally ill beforehand . . . Despite knowing her son was severely mentally unstable, Nancy [Lanza] left her son home unsupervised with unfettered access to her arsenal of weapons while she went on vacation. This provided her son with the perfect opportunity to make a practice run to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he later used her firearms to shoot and kill kindergartners and first-graders.
Using Nancy Lanza’s case and other notorious mass shooting cases as examples, this article [explores] if, and under what circumstances, a parent can be held civilly liable for their adult child’s mass shooting pursuant to general common law negligence jurisprudence [particularly] parental negligence law. [It first] address[es] whether there can be parental liability for parents of adult mass shooters based upon a special relationship under current law. [Then it analyzes] negligence [doctrines] in general and its complexities, as well as explores whether a duty to protect or warn can be established in mass shooting cases. [Next it] examines whether the parents in the real-life examples referenced above breached a duty to protect or warn [and] whether those parents’ breaches caused the shooting victims’ injuries or deaths. [The Article] concludes that in some circumstances parents can, and should, be held liable for their misfeasance or nonfeasance that leads to their child’s mass killing. It further posits that the . . . possibility of parents being subjected to financial liability for their child’s mass shooting will not only incentivize parents to take more aggressive measures to keep firearms out of their mentally unstable child’s hands but to obtain the mental health assistance their child so desperately needs—measures that in the end will make everyone (including their child) safer. [The Article concludes with] advice to parents for dealing with significantly mentally ill, adult offspring residing in their home.
Although I agree that financial liability would incentive parents to limit access to guns, I wonder whether it might also encourage parents to cut ties with their adult children precisely when they need the most support. Nonetheless, Lewis’s article shines a light on the sadly recurring question of whether parents should be responsible for the preventable actions of their adult children.
I’m Andy Kim, Assistant Professor at Concordia University School of Law. My own research focuses on criminal law and empirical analysis of the law. I’ll be guest blogging for the month. Hope you enjoy!
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
The Future of Housing
In February 2015 I participated in a fascinating conference at Washburn University School of law called "The Future of Housing: Equity, Stability, and Sustainability." The conference covered three distinct but interrelated problems that our system of housing must face and overcome in the near future. (Articles from that symposium can be found here). Since participating in that February conference, nearly every day I am struck anew by how vital it is that we as a nation craft effective solutions to housing challenges.
First, we are facing a crisis of de facto housing segregation and inequity in this country. Today, fifty years after the creation of HUD and 47 years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, housing discrimination and the effects of racially-determined disparate policies regarding homeownership continue to plague our society. Current housing patterns are as equally segregated as they were back in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed. The New York Times reported on Sunday that "[e]conomic isolation is actually growing worse across the county, as more and more minority families find themselves trapped in high-poverty neighborhoods without decent housing, schools or jobs, and with few avenues of escape." As the article explains, housing disparity in this country came about not by accident but by deliberate design among all sectors of the housing market, private lenders, private property sellers, and - most disturbingly - the federal government agencies tasked with growing homeownership for the nation. The Federal Housing Administration very much served as an "architect" of segregation in the 1930s and 40s, conditioning mortgage funding on neighborhood racial homogeneity (and - even then - granting funding almost exclusively to white homebuyers). These policies were also reflected in other housing initiatives that shaped the landscape of housing today - in particular the GI bill that significantly grew homeownership in this country, but only for whites. Efforts to combat housing inequities today are hamstrung by a cumbersome "disparate impact" jurisprudence (see Professor Rigel Oliveri's article here) and the reality that it is harder to un-do a nation's housing patterns built on segregation than it would have been not to have the segregation-creating policies to begin with. At least this summer the Supreme Court refrained from further limiting the scope of the Fair Housing Act in the Inclusive Communities case, but that alone is unlikely to lead to housing parity.
In addition to the continuing need to address housing inequity, our country still must re-establish (or establish for the first time, depending on your perspective), a stable residential mortgage market. In the aftermath of the 2008-to-present Financial Crisis sparked by the 2007 subprime mortgage meltdown, much has been written and said about allocation of blame. To date, however, we still have an incomplete picture of how to solve systemic financial instability going forward. Professor David Reiss has made a recent, insightful contribution to the stability question in his recent article, Underwriting Sustainable Homeownership: The Federal Housing Administration and the Low Down Payment Loan, wherein he advocates that the Federal Housing Administration be preserved, but that its underwriting approach be significantly re-worked in order to create a more efficient and effective home finance system.
In addition to equity and stability issues, we must continue to bear in mind the challenge of housing sustainability. Volatile gas prices and disenchantment with suburbia (see here and here, for example) are now calling into question longstanding assumptions about zoning, neighborhood design, and community housing goals. Automobile dependence, large-footprint houses, and suburban communities perhaps should become anachronisms as our housing policy modernizes and recognizes realities of sprawl, pollution, and suburban population de-connectedness (food for thought: see here and here).
These challenges are not easily overcome. How can this country solve the problem of entrenched housing segregation patterns, particularly without problematic government mandate? How can market volatility be eradicated when we continue to have financial institutions (both government sponsored and private) that today are not only "too big to fail," but are even BIGGER than ever before? And is it really possible to reconsider and possibly reverse patterns of development that are encouraged (or required) by legislation (from the local to the federal level) and enshrined in centuries of the common law?
I leave you with these questions, in the hopes that together we can craft solutions and build a better future of housing.
I have so very much enjoyed this stint as a guest blogger at prawfsblawg. Thank you for this opportunity. And thanks to all of you who are working - in all the various important subject matter areas - toward positive developments for our law and our society.
Monday, September 07, 2015
When Political Correctness Was, Well, Correct
It's a pleasure to join PrawfsBlawg as a September guest blogger. I thought I would use my first entry to indulge my fascination with language, more specifically with Lawtalk -- words and expressions that have both legal and cultural significance. So let's talk about 'politically correct' and its strange reversal of meaning. It's hard to resist something so thoroughly in the news. (HT to my Lawtalk co-author James Clapp, who is a master of digging out historic uses of language and who wrote our book's discussion of 'politically correct').
These days, some politicians are throwing around the term 'politically correct' like dirty Kleenex. Donald Trump has probably gotten the most headlines that way: "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either." Thus he invokes fears of Mexican immigrant rapists, expresses disdain for "anchor babies," mimics broken English in discussing Asian business people, and makes so many horrifying remarks about women that I've lost count. Those who question his accuracy, his policies, or his choice of words are easily dismissed with that easy insult: they are just being politically correct. And so a charge that something is politically correct becomes a charge that it undesirable and untrue.
It's not just politicians. Court cases reflect this dismissive use of the phrase by ordinary citizens. For example, a California court tells the story of a doctor who, while performing surgery in the presence of an African-American nursing instructor, kept up a running commentary on race that included appalling remarks such as this: "You don't see 'no colored allowed' signs posted on doors anymore. I hate all this politically correct crap. People are afraid to tell the truth. . . . A pure white race, that's how it should be." [Williams v. Vartivarian, 2003 WL 361274].
But did you know that the phrase goes back at least to the founding generation, and was once a compliment? James Wilson -- a signer of the Declaration of Independence and SCOTUS Justice -- put the words together as early as 1793. Arguing that the federal government derives its powers not from the states but from the people of all the states together, he bemoaned the sloppy use of language about the government:
Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our common, even in our convivial language. Is a toast asked? "The United States" instead of the "People of the United States" is the toast given. This is not politically correct. [Chisholm v. Georgia]
Wilson meant that the toast was not an accurate characterization of the government structure established by the Constitution. 'Correct,' or the alternative adjective 'right,' were also used to signal philosophical approval. Thomas Jefferson happily predicted that graduates of his new University of Virginia would carry forth into government service "the correct principles of our day." The most influential use of 'politically right' appeared in a 1786 oration dedicated to Benjamin Franklin: "Nothing can be politically right that is morally wrong; and no necessity can ever sanctify a law, that is contrary to equity." (This quote was later much used by anti-slavery crusaders to counter the argument that slavery must be tolerated as a politically expedient tool to maintain national unity). Being politically correct, then, was a Good Thing.
In a century that saw political conformity enforced by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, the phrase 'politically correct' lost its identity as a straightforward compliment. In the 1970s, the term 'politically correct' reappeared in the United States as a kind of wry lingo within progressive groups seeking greater inclusion and recognition of women and African-Americans. Although useful in internal debates (meaning something like 'consistent with our political ideals'), it was often used with self-mocking humor. In the 1980s, however, conservative politicians used this shorthand as a way to characterize the liberal positions as too dogmatic. By the 1990s, the media picked up the phrase, and opposition to 'political correctness' became the insult of choice for those who did not want to use inclusive language and did not want to reconsider the subjects or people taught in our schools. Any sense that 'correct' meant 'accurate' pretty much disappeared. [Scary experiment for today's pop-culture meaning: put "politically correct" into Google or Google Images, and see what you get.]
The reversal of meaning became particularly clear in the educational context in a statement by Lynne Cheney when she was chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (when George H.W. Bush was President). The NEH commissioned a group of educators to devise national standards for teaching history, but when the draft was released Cheney hated them. In a statement that would have puzzled both Jefferson (who used 'correct' to mean ideologically desirable) and Wilson (who used 'correct' to mean accurate), Cheney said, "I've received dozens of phone calls from people worried that the standards represent not only a politically correct version of history, but a version of history that's not true."
Here's my suggestion: let's lose "politically correct" from our collective vocabulary. It's a content-free insult, deflecting thoughtful debate -- a label that avoids both fact check and policy discussion. Let it go.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
New Jersey’s Legislature Takes a “Grave” Misstep
Other than fellow “property law geeks,” not many people may wonder about property rights in cemeteries, but it is a surprisingly complex and varied topic about which I’ve pondered and about which Professor Tanya Marsh of Wake Forest has developed national expertise. She has recently written the definitive casebook on cemetery law (co-authored by recent law school graduate Daniel Gibson), has launched a venture with the Urban Death Project to work for “ecologically beneficial meaningful death care” worldwide, and has recently been quoted in the national media with respect to death and internment issues. Monday, in a short but completely compelling piece on Huffington Post, Professor Marsh took the New Jersey legislature to task for passing a law limiting churches’ ability to manufacture and sell tombstones, vaults, and private mausoleums.
As Professor Marsh clearly explains, creation and care for tombstones in church-owned and operated cemeteries is a religious practice. After all “rituals that mark the transition from life to death are a central part of most modern religions.” (I’d go even further and say that such rituals have always been a central part of all religions.) But this new New Jersey law, Bill 3840, that was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie in March 2015, limits churches’ ability to fully participate in those rituals – even on their own land and on behalf of their own members. The law seems to be a blatant anti-competitive, special-interest-group spearheaded “win” by the Monument Builders of New Jersey, who agitated for government assistance to preserve their de facto monopoly on manufacturing graves, memorials and vaults. Not only does this law serve no state interest at all – let alone a compelling one – it violates religious freedom in an essential and inexcusable way. Professor Marsh sums it up thus:
This law is an amazing act by the New Jersey legislature and governor. It was adopted at the behest of a group of private market participants for a reason no more noble than to protect themselves from competition. This blatantly anti-competitive effort is even more stunning because the product at issue–headstones and memorial tablets–are not regulated. No license is required to manufacture or sell them. Literally anyone in New Jersey can manufacture and sell tombstones, vaults, and private mausoleums–everyone, that is, except religious organizations and non-profit corporations that own or manage cemeteries.
Happily for those who care about justice and religious freedom and economic liberty, the Archdiosese of Newark, assisted by the Institute for Justice, have brought a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey, seeking to have the law struck down. There are several asserted grounds pursuant to which the court could invalidate the law, including violations of Due Process, Equal Protection, the Privileges and Immunities Clauses, and the Contracts Clause (Art. 1, Section 1) of the Constitution.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Kids Today (or "I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22")
Friends who are not law professors are under the mistaken impression that since I spend so much time with law students, I must feel young and hip. To the contrary, I find that each passing year highlights in clearer relief the true generation gap between the fresh new 1Ls and myself. In case you too are wondering why it is sometimes hard to connect culturally to today’s “Millennial” students, here’s a little bit of info about the personal cultural context of a typical 1L, starting law school this month. For sake of this fact-based hypothetical, we’ll call her the “reasonable law student” (RLS) and assume that she is 22 years old.
- World/National Events Context:
- Childhood: RLS was born in 1993, the year that Czechoslovakia broke apart, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, and Bill Clinton instituted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for homosexuality in the military. When RLS was 2, her parents watched the OJ Simpson trial and the Oklahoma City bombing on TV. RLS started kindergarten in 1998, just as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was winding down (and 4-year-old RLS had probably been kept in the dark about the finer points of Clinton’s “relations” with “that woman”). RLS has no memory of any Y2K worries, since these were all proven to be for naught by the time she turned 7. RLS may not have even noticed the terrorist attacks of September 11th – after all, she was only 8 at the time. Her parents may have lost a bundle from the Enron bankruptcy or the dotcom bubble/bust, but this happened when RLS was just 9. Gay marriage began to be legalized by states (starting with MA) when RLS was 11.
- Teenage Years: As a 15-year-old, RLS may have been vaguely aware of the Foreclosure/Financial Crises, and she likely remembers when Barack Obama was sworn in as President when she was 16. Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, the year that RLS graduated from high school. The Sandy Hook school shootings occurred while RLS was in college, in 2012.
- Technology: RLS has never known a world without full use of the Internet and cannot fathom life without click-of-a-button access to unlimited information (reliable and otherwise). Thus, RLS never has had to dig hard and do tedious research to find out the answer to a nagging question (like, “Where have I seen that actor from Mr. Robot before?” Answer -- in case you were wondering -- is that I previously saw Rami Malek in both the movie Night at the Museum and in the TV series 24. And, yes, I just took 10 seconds to look that up. You’re welcome.) What a lifetime of having instantaneous, effortless answers to one’s questions does to one’s approach to the study and research of law is a question open to debate. (Discuss.)
With the Internet as their baseline reality, not only do RLS and her peers lack experience in spending significant time wondering about and questing after unknown facts, but they are also quite used to the public disclosure and discourse of private details of everyone’s life. They’re also used to enhanced government surveillance of its citizens, the Patriot Act, and invasive airport searches by TSA.
RLS has a vocabulary and life experience that equates with being born in the Internet age, and she is adept at all sorts of social media. She is used to everyone being available 24/7 and immediate responses to her calls, emails, and texts. RLS has always been able to shop online and have instant access to new software, music, and videos downloaded directly (so much for “shrinkwrap”).
- Assumption of Risk? During RLS’s entire life, her parents and the state have mandated that she stay safe by being car-seated, buckled up, and helmeted on a bike.
- Negotiable Instruments? RLS doesn’t use cash or checks to make purchases. She has always used a plastic card (debit or credit) or her phone to pay for things (maybe she’s even experimented with digital currencies).
- Environmental Law? RLS grew up worrying about the environment and global warming. For RLS, there have always been hybrid cars, wind farms, and solar panels on buildings and in fields.
- Labor Law? For RLS, the only significant labor disputes have been professional sports-related.
- International Law? In RLS’s experience and memory:
- Prisoners have always been housed at Guantanamo Bay.
- There has never been Apartheid in South Africa.
- The countries of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia exist only in history books.
- Hong Kong has always been part of China.
- It was Pres. George W. Bush (not his father) who sent troops to Iraq.
- The currency in Europe has always been the euro.
- Health Law? Cloning has always been a scientific reality. AIDS has always been a problem, but HIV-positive hasn’t been an immediate death sentence (in the US, at least). Adults have been debating the role that the government should have in providing public health insurance since her birth.
- Pop Culture Context: For RLS,
- It has never been a big deal to see women kissing women and men kissing men on television.
- The term “wardrobe malfunction” has been widely understood since RLS was 10.
- Ellen and Oprah have always been first-name-only TV talk show hosts.
- Michael Jackson was an embattled recluse defending against accusations of molestation until he died (when RLS was 15)
- The “Royal Wedding” was when Kate Middleton married Prince William (RLS probably watched this - when she was 18).
RLS likely learned to read with the Harry Potter series, the first of which was published when she was 3 and the last when she was 14 (meaning she never had to wait to read the sequel and she may have even – gasp – seen the movies first!). RLS probably spent her teenage years reading the Twilight series and The Hunger Games. As a teen, she listened to Taylor Swift, Adele, One Direction, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and The Black Eyed Peas.
As for television show references, don’t bother talking about Seinfeld or Friends in class – those shows went off the air when RLS was age 4 and 10, respectively. Reality TV is her norm. For RLS, Survivor and American Idol have always been on TV. If you’re seeking some common ground, remember that RLS likely has spent time watching one or more of these shows: Game of Thrones, Suits, Homeland, Scandal, CSI, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Glee, Pretty Little Liars, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey – but of course, she was watching them in high school!
Do you feel old yet?
Or are you “Feeling 22” too?
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
Marriage and Other Favored Unions
So we have a fundamental right to same-sex marriage. In the most obvious way, the Court’s holding was good: if the state is going to privilege a particular association (here, marriage), it should not discriminate against persons who try to take advantage of it. Fair enough. But in another way both the government’s favored treatment of marriage and especially the majority’s decidedly not-postmodern love letter to that particular form of association (Alito’s comment that the majority’s vision of liberty “has a distinctively postmodern meaning” notwithstanding) should give us cause for pause. There is another area where the state has favored a particular type of association over others: labor unions, which have been favored over other types of worker organizations. That preference has not worked out well for workers; we would do well to think more about whether the story of state preference for marriage will turn out the same.
Associations of Workers and the NLRA
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act years ago and, with it, enacted a particular vision of what worker associations should be and how they should operate. That vision included both (1) exclusive representation and (2) a commitment to the view that the interests of workers and employers are fundamentally opposed and antagonistic.
At first the NLRA benefited workers (if rapidly increasing unionization rates are any indication), but over time that has largely ceased to be the case. The government restricted covered labor organization activity and the Act stifled the ability of covered workers to develop innovative forms of worker organizations that could better help them achieve their particular interest. One example of this stifling (and one that I discuss in a forthcoming article) comes out of the Act’s prohibition on company “support” of labor organizations. This ban has in turn dramatically limited the development of mutually beneficial collaborations between workers and companies looking to sell themselves to consumers as “conscious capitalists.” As a result of the Act’s narrow vision of appropriate worker organization, it is not surprising that innovative forms of worker organization (the Fair Food Council being just one example) have only occurred among workers who are not covered by the NLRA at all.
In short, when the government favors a particular vision of worker association – even with good intentions – it also frustrates experimentation with other forms – forms that may in fact be better for at least some workers.
Associations of Individuals and Marriage
Something similar might be said about marriage. Like the vision of worker organization demanded by the NLRA, marriage (including same-sex marriage) is but one of the many forms romantic and family associations can take. And like a traditional labor union, a traditional marriage (same-sex marriage included) will work better for some than others. The government, however, does much to encourage traditional marriage. Spousal privilege and military, social security, and immigration benefits being just a few examples. And these benefits, like all incentives, serve to promote marriage over non-matrimonial forms of romantic and family association. Those benefits alone might already have been enough to stifle experimentation with other forms. But the majority opinion in Obergefell, if its love letter to marriage is read and its views adopted, imposes an arguably different and more potent type of cost on would-be experimenters: stigma. As the majority sees it, marriage is of “transcendent importance” and “promise[es] nobility and dignity to all persons”. It is marriage that “embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” Without it, “children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.” (emphasis added). Given all this, a reader would think marriage the sole means by which we come to flourish in relationships – that families and romantic relations structured without it truly are lesser. On that view, failure to get on board with the institution really does deserve to be stigmatized.
For those who think the Court’s substantive view on marriage’s importance right and the government’s subsequent promotion of it good, this all won’t seem bad. But for those who think the highest ideals of love and family might be better achieved – at least for them – through other forms of association, the majority’s reification of the centrality of marriage to the good life will strike them as yet another barrier to a future where those ideals can be realized. As with the story of worker associations, it might take us a long time to realize that the government’s “help” of our association of choice today won’t actually be so helpful tomorrow.
 A few argue exclusive representation was not required from the start but it certainly was treated as such soon afterward. Either way, my point is the same.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Causation Anonymity in Group Police Misconduct: No Conviction, No Justice, No Peace
Here in Cleveland, tensions are running high as the City reacts to a judge's decision, following a bench trial, that Police Officer Michael Brelo is not guilty of voluntary manslaughter or the lesser-included offense of felonious assault in connection with the deaths of Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams. Russell and Williams were shot a total of 137 times by various police officers, including Brelo. Brelo himself fired 49 rounds and at one point climbed atop the victims' car to shoot them (15 shots) through the front windshield.
The judge carefully parsed the evidence on the manslaughter charges and concluded that both victims suffered multiple fatal wounds--some from Brelo, some from other officers--and that he therefore could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo's wounds were the but-for cause of the victims' deaths. Thus the not-guilty finding.
From a purely legal standpoint, the decision makes sense. Lawyers, with their technical training in the various elements of crimes and torts, understand that the State fails to meet its burden of proof if even one of the essential elements of a crime is in doubt.
But the public doesn't think that way. The ordinary citizen understands the bigger picture. Two unarmed people were shot 137 times. They were African-American, the shooter white. Whatever the victims' conduct, and whatever deadly force may even have been warranted at some point to protect others, what is the possible justification for 137 shots?
More troublingly, if Brelo wasn't the "but-for" cause of their deaths, who was? We'll never know. The forensic evidence does not lend itself to anything but speculation in terms of the sequence of the bullet wounds and the likelihood that any one of them was the one that precipitated each victim's death.
And therein lies the rub. This decision paves the way for causation anonymity to immunize homicide, any time a group of police officers (or gang members or any other shooters) act together to end another human being's life. We can never know which bullet caused death. We therefore can never know which shooter caused death (at least from a legal standpoint). And we can never, therefore, punish the murderer.
Ironically, it would not have mattered in this case even if we could have pinpointed Brelo as the but-for cause. The judge also acquitted him of felonious assault, concluding that his actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Presumably, his ostensibly reasonable conduct would have served to exonerate him of voluntary manslaughter, even if the evidence established him as the instigator of the death-causing bullet. That finding, and not the missing evidence of causation, is probably the most-controversial aspect of this decision.
But causation anonymity could well matter in future cases. The law's devotion to technical minutiae is sometimes the enemy of justice. Wrongdoers now have a roadmap for how to act in concert in order to absolve each of them individually of legal responsibility for the most heinous of crimes.
Ultimately, then, I fear that justice will be, over time, the greatest victim of Brelo's conduct and its aftermath. And without justice, as the protesters (in Ferguson, in New York, in Baltimore, and now in Cleveland) remind us, there can be no peace.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Judy Clarke, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the Discretion of Strategy
As the Alabama spring progresses towards summer, I naturally have continued to think about the State’s power, particularly in its exercise of discretion – what to investigate, which suspect to arrest, which cases to charge, which cases to prosecute and how. As I was drafting a blog post last week, NPR informed me that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s jury had sentenced him to death. There has been a lot written and said about the prosecutor’s discretion in this case. Massachusetts after all has no state death penalty, so Tsarnaev was charged in federal court, where a death penalty was possible. Prosecutorial discretion, in this case and more broadly, is both a fraught and a well-trod topic. And deservedly so, but in this post I want to explore a different path – the discretion of the defense.
Judy Clarke was Tsarnaev’s defense attorney and she chose what some characterized as a risky defense – she conceded his guilt in the hopes of saving his life. Put another way, she named him a murderer in the hopes that the jury would be able to see something of him as a person beyond the horror he caused. In doing this Clarke did something that lawyers do everyday in all variety of cases – she made a decision of how best to defend her client. Thinking of what I know of Judy Clarke, I have no doubt that she weighed her decision – the evidence against her client, the shock and tragedy of the event itself, the emotional weight of the trial – and discussed the defense with him. At the end of the day, however, it was her decision to make as defense counsel and she exercised her discretion to create the best trial strategy she could. That it ultimately failed, that her client got the death penalty anyway, doesn’t change the reality that she did one of the hardest things lawyers do – she made strategic choices and she presented the case according to those choices. I don’t know any trial lawyers who don’t second guess these choices, particularly after a loss, and likely Judy Clarke has her own doubts.
What can and should professors do to prepare our students to make those choices. And when I say preparing, I mean lots of different things. On the one hand, there’s the preparing that accompanies knowing enough about the law itself to understand what choices are available. I suspect (hope) most law professors do a good job teaching students what the law is. How to apply the law is a trickier proposition. It’s one thing to memorize a holding, it’s another thing to decide whether or not that holding applies to your case or even ought to apply to your case. Beyond this, there are the more amorphous decisions of strategy and the emotional baggage that accompanies decision-making. I wonder whether these can be taught at all by anyone (or anything) other than experience.
In my own classes I use role play and “exercises” to try to get students to think beyond the inevitable exam at the end of the semester and to think of the “case” in real terms (even as they play pretend roles), but I have often wondered if all I have taught in the process is how I would strategize a case. As for the sense of loss I always felt when I knew I had chosen badly (or when the best choice was still a bad one as I suspect was the case with Tsarnaev’s), nothing ever prepared me for that. I could anticipate it. I could rationalize it. But I couldn’t ever quite be ready for the knowledge that I had made decisions that contributed to the conviction and punishment of my client. So I wonder how I, and others, can teach that? I can talk to my students about the practicalities of being a lawyer and embarking on a profession in which we all wield at least some tendril of power we lacked before those three letters, esq., were placed after our names, and I do. But in the end, I think discretion remains that double-edged sword that we all have yet to master the perfect instruction on its use. And so I think some of the best “teaching moments” I have had with regard to discretion have come years after my students left my class, when they email or call or sometimes even text to say “I have a hard decision to make, do you have a moment to talk?”
Judy Clarke was not my student. She never called me to talk. But from what I can tell, she did a great job with a hard, hard case. In the end, the jury found her argument unpersuasive and sentenced her client to death. There were thousands of events that led up to that moment, most of which pre-dated Judy Clarke’s work on the case, but in the end I wonder if there is some small part (or maybe large part) of her that wonders what if I had done it just a little differently. We can all say it wasn’t ever about Judy Clarke or her choices; the case was always about the client and the victims and the law. But that would not be completely true, and it would shove back into some dark corner one of the hardest parts of being a lawyer – making the decisions that constitute advocacy.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Bill Simmons and the Duty of Loyalty
ESPN rather publicly announced that it would not be renewing its contract with Bill Simmons, editor-in-chief of its sports and entertainment site Grantland, as well as writer, author, and co-producer of the "30 for 30" sports documentary series. A lot has been written about the inside details, as well as the larger ramifications for Simmons, Grantland, and sports and entertainment media more generally. There's also some interesting IP issues -- could ESPN really appoint another host for the "B.S. Report"? But I'd like to talk about the next four months, in which Simmons is still with ESPN but is essentially a lame duck. What does employment law say about this awkward interim period?
Having been publicly cut off at the knees by his current company, Simmons will want to focus on his next gig. But the law may restrict his ability to do so. Most jurisdictions have recognized that employees owe employers a duty of loyalty. The contours of this duty are somewhat vague. At the very least, the duty would prevent Simmons from working for a competitor while he is still under contract with ESPN. But let's say he agrees to start working for, say, Fox Sports beginning the day after his ESPN contract ends. Can he tweet out his new employer? Can he use his ESPN column or podcast to mention his new gig or even promote it? Can he ask Grantland employees to join him at his new place?
The duty of loyalty has been generally recognized as prohibiting an employee from using her current employment to solicit for her future employer. Employees are also prohibited from disclosing trade secrets to their future employers. On the other hand, employees are generally allowed to "prepare" to compete by talking with other employers and agreeing to future employment. The murkiest area involves one's current fellow employees. Can Simmons solicit Grantland employees for his new venture? Some courts have found it disloyal for current employees to persuade other employees to break their contracts with the employer. It doesn't help that Simmons is editor-in-chief, as courts have held supervisory employees to a higher standard. However, courts have also focused on surprise as particularly problematic, as when a large group of employees suddenly up and leaves with no notice. ESPN has plenty of notice that Simmons is leaving and may want to take some of his hires with him. And although not officially a legal factor, the fact that Simmons is being fired (in some sense) will make his efforts to rebound more sympathetic.
Simmons's last days at ESPN could resemble the tenure of another media celebrity in the wake of a high-profile move. In 2004, Howard Stern announced his upcoming move from CBS Radio to Sirius Radio with great fanfare. He used his CBS show to make the announcement. And he proceeded to use the show to bash CBS for its efforts to censor him, and to promote his Sirius move. In 2006, CBS Radio sued Stern over his promotion efforts for his new show. CBS claimed that Stern has used his airtime at CBS to promote Sirius and had engaged in other promotional efforts off the job but while still employed. It asked for $218 million in damages -- the stock compensation Stern received from Sirius based on the huge jump in Sirius subscriptions in the wake of Stern's announcement. This request for the disgorgement of the compensation Stern received from Sirius is a traditional remedy for the violation of the duty of loyalty. The disloyal agent is expected to disgorge back to the principal any ill-gotten gains received in the course of the agency relationship. Reviewing the claims, Stephen Bainbridge concluded that Stern had likely violated the duty of loyalty with his on-the-job solicitations for Sirius. Ultimately, CBS and Stern settled the suit for an undisclosed amount.
Conan O'Brien's relationship with his employers at NBC was similarly contentious at the end. When told NBC was moving the Tonight Show to midnight, O'Brien balked, arguing that the Tonight Show could only start at 11:35 after the local news. He then spent two weeks trashing his employers on the NBC airwaves. He even had a running segment where he frittered away NBC's money on expensive cars and licensing rights. The big difference -- O'Brien was tussling with NBC over his contractual rights, and ultimately the two sides settled with Conan's departure. He had no future show o promote while still at NBC, and in fact his settlement forced him off the air and into radio silence for six months.
Simmons may be tempted to spend his last few months settling the family business -- trashing ESPN, raiding Grantland of its best writers, and setting up shop at his new home. And legally, he would have a decent case for doing all these things -- although not one without risk. What seems clear, however, is that he cannot use ESPN properties to promote his new media home while still an employee. I would expect instead that word of the new location gets out through the media, coming from everywhere but Simmons himself.
One final note -- I'm assuming that Simmons's contract does not speak specifically to these matters. He may have a non-compete that kicks in after the contract's expiration, although that seems unlikely. And if he starts trashing ESPN or the NFL commissioner, ESPN may end up suspending him again or simply firing him before his contract expires.
Thursday, May 07, 2015
Same-Sex Marriage: The (Ted) Kennedy Legacy
The odds-makers are generally in agreement that the deciding vote in Obergefell v. Hodges will be Justice Kennedy. While some have speculated that Chief Justice Roberts will find a way to join in a majority judgment (if not majority opinion) recognizing a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the more-prevalent view is that the liberal-conservative stalwarts on the Court will split 4-4 and that Kennedy will cast the decisive fifth vote one way or the other. If he sides with the proponents of same-sex marriage, the winners will have another Kennedy to thank, albeit posthumously, for that result: Senator Ted Kennedy.
The narrative goes like this:
In 1987, Justice Lewis Powell retired, leaving President Ronald Reagan his third Supreme Court vacancy to fill. (The first occurred when Potter Stewart retired, and President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor. The second occurred when Chief Justice Warren Burger retired, and President Reagan elevated William Rehnquist to the Chief Justice seat and appointed Antonin Scalia to fill the vacancy.) Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork of the D.C. Circuit, leading to the infamous confirmation hearing that ended with a Senate vote rejecting Bork, 58-42.
Bork’s greatest and first nemesis in that nomination process was Senator Kennedy, who took to the Senate floor and urged that “Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”
Notably absent from that floor speech was any notion of rights for gays and lesbians. Remember, this was 1987. Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case that permitted states to criminalize sexual conduct between members of the same sex, was fresh law (and remained on the books until 2002, when Justice Kennedy wrote the decision in Lawrence v. Texas that overturned it).
Kennedy's speech galvanized the Senate, and the nation. Vice-President Joe Biden, then a senator and chair of the Judiciary Committee, had his own field day during the committee hearings. I was a fresh-faced first-year law student, and the protests on my law-school campus made indelible impressions on me. When Bork was ultimately defeated, we knew we had won. We didn't quite know what we had won, but we knew we had won something.
President Reagan next nominated Douglas Ginsburg to fill Powell's spot, but Ginsburg withdrew after reports surfaced that he had used marijuana. (Remember, it was 1987.) So Reagan turned to Anthony Kennedy. And here we are today.
Bork died in 2012. Had he won confirmation and remained on the Court until his death, President Obama would have been in office at the time of the vacancy. Given the likelihood that Obama would have appointed a justice favorably disposed to same-sex-marriage rights, some might say that blocking the Bork nomination had no ultimate impact on this issue. But it’s important to remember that Obergefell did not materialize out of thin air. It comes following years of development of legal protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people: (1) the Kennedy opinion in Romer v. Evans, which in 1995 struck down a state constitutional provision banning anti-discrimination laws protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals; (2) the 2002 Kennedy opinion in Lawrence; and (3) the 2013 Kennedy opinion in United States v. Windsor, overturning a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
So some credit is due to Senator Kennedy, arguably responsible (at least in part) for the ultimate nomination of Justice Kennedy. And that Kennedy-Kennedy legacy may end up making a bigger mark on history when the Court announces the Obergefell decision at the end of June.
Tsarnaev and Juvenile Brain Development
Despite promises in yesterday’s post that I would talk more about discretion in criminal law, a report this morning in the Boston Globe prompts today’s post on a completely different, though equally close-to-my-heart topic: juvenile brain development and criminal culpability. Yesterday, defense counsel for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev presented testimony essentially arguing that Tsarnaev’s punishment should be mitigated because he was young. Arguments for mercy based on the youth of the offender are hardly novel, but Tsarnaev’s defense counsel based their argument on the neuroscience of youth – particularly the impact brain development has on decision making and appreciation of long term consequences suggested decreased culpability. Yesterday the jurors in the Tsarnaev case heard testimony from Dr. Jay Geidd, a professor at the University of California San Diego and a child psychiatrist. According to the article, Geidd testified: “Teens are more likely to choose smaller, sooner rewards” and are “less worried for long-term consequences.”
Geidd’s testimony is consistent with what every parent of a teenager knows and what many in the juvenile defense community (myself included) have argued for a long time – adolescents are fundamentally different than adults and criminal law should recognize this fact. Tsarnaev’s defense counsel is making this point in the context of sentencing – a context the Supreme Court itself has repeatedly endorsed as of late (see Roper, Graham, and Miller, all restricting or prohibiting the application of forms of severe punishment to adolescent offenders based on their immaturity). But many, again myself included, have argued that neuroscience should inform substantive criminal law as well. In my forthcoming article, Brain Science and the Theory of Juvenile Mens Rea, I argue that what is known about adolescent decisionmaking is relevant to calculations of mens rea – the state of mind element – required in all but strict liability offenses, as well as for many defenses (think self-defense for example).One of the issues that frequently arises in this context was highlighted by the Government’s cross examination in the Tsarnaev case – even with all we know about brain development generally, how do we calibrate it’s effect on any particular defendant? Put another way, is development, and its effect on adolescents, uniform? When asked this question, Geidd responded no – that many factors, including variation in development rates and environmental factors, can influence brain maturation and decision making. But what was lost in the reporting of Geidd’s response was what neuroscience studies seem to confirm: that even within these degrees of uncertainty and variance, the adolescent brain is not as developed as the adult brain and the adolescent decisionmaking process is different than the adult decisionmaking process.
You can raise all sorts of questions about where this effect fits into the hard decisions that jurors must make, whether in the context of a guilt or a sentencing phase. But what seems clear to me is that this evidence must be presented to those jurors if we are, as we claim we are, seeking to hold defendants accountable, and later to punish them, based on their corresponding level of culpability.
Friday, May 01, 2015
Questioning the Law School Debt Narrative
Given the strong feelings that discussions about the value of legal education triggers, I have been reluctant to blog about the so-called law school scam. But a story about a recent law school grad and his debt that is making rounds in the national media has me truly puzzled. This story, which has been picked up by the New York Times, among others, reports about a 2010 graduate from Ohio State’s law school who graduated with $328,000 in student debt. As someone who financed her own education through a combination of student loans, work study, and other financial aid, I am puzzled how this individual accumulated so much debt.
A quick search of Ohio State’s webpage tells me that an out-of-state student should expect tuition and other expenses to total just under $65K a year, and so three years of law school education and other expenses should result in approximately $195,000 in debt. Yet media outlets are repeating this $328,000 number without questioning why a student would incurred an amount of educational debt that is so much higher than the cost of attending law school for three years. The New York Times, for example, reports that this particular law school graduate’s $328,000 debt “includes some undergraduate loans,” yet the story is clearly focused on the high cost of legal education. But, in light of the information that is readily available from Ohio State, one presumes that this student’s debt from law school should make up no more than 60% of this overall educational debt.
Don’t get me wrong, legal education is expensive. At many schools it is probably more expensive than it needs to be. And I can’t imagine how devastating it must be to incur significant debt to obtain a law degree, and then find yourself unable to obtain employment as a lawyer. But I really wish that the media’s reporting on this issue were more nuanced. Many reporters seem so devoted to the narrative that legal education is not worth the sticker price, that their reporting on this issue no longer seems objective.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Ohio is Not New York. Or Even Texas.
The Times today has a write-up of the recent Deborah Jones Merritt study of employment outcomes for the JD Class of '10 in Ohio. As I described in more detail at the law & econ prof blog a few weeks ago, Prof. Merritt's study has, ahem, merits. It's a great snapshot of struggling graduates in Ohio, people who deserve our attention and support. The trouble is that the Times story reports these findings as though they told us something about the national law job market. Merritt's new data are all in Ohio, which may be a systematically different legal market than many others. Nonetheless, the Times story reports Merritt's findings as though they were representative of the whole country (and also describes the study as "published," when in fact it's an ssrn working paper). Most troublingly, the Times reports Prof. Merritt's conclusion that "the 2010 class had not recovered in the ensuing years" without any caveats.
Yet there are several serious caveats that ought to have been offered. For example, as I read the paper, Merritt 's claim depends entirely on a trend line she draws between 2010 national NALP data (which are based on self-reported survey results but supplemented with some web follow-up) and 2014 Ohio data (which Merritt hand-collected on the web). That is not likely to be a persuasive method of measuring employment trends for anyone, whether in Ohio or anywhere else. It's like comparing 2014 scoring in the NBA against 2010 scoring in college basketball. Unless you can show a really convincing case for why these groups are actually very similar to each other, the trend line is likely to be just random noise.
Deborah and I had an exchange about these issues on my blog. She convinced me that the method NALP used for supplementing some of the 2010 data was similar to her method (although that leaves the question whether it makes any sense to compare her results to the bulk of the NALP numbers, which used a quite different method). But she did not address the issue that the 2010 NALP data were for the whole country, not Ohio, and there is no a priori reason to think that Ohio was similar to the U.S. in 2010 or that its trend since has been similar. I left our exchange believing she would return to her project and revise it to reflect its serious limitations as a window into national trends. If that has happened, it is not reflected in the Times story.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
A (very) brief note on law employment statistics
You, reader, are in the wrong place for the debate over how law schools should present employment data. Mike Simkovic has a long series of posts (I link here just to the latest, which in turn includes links to the earlier work), and Bernie Burk has weighed in here and here. To digest, Mike says that it is reasonable for law schools to report "unemployment" figures using standard BLS definitions, which include part-time workers and workers employed outside law as employed. Bernie says this is potentially misleading, since applicants probably also would like to know what share of the employed are full-time or in JD-required jobs. Mike notes that the definition of unemployment can be googled (probably by an 8th-grader, but he says "by a college graduate") pretty easily -- a step, I might add, that might reasonably be expected of someone who is relying on data to decide how to spend 3 years of their life.
I write this post, though, because for whatever reason Mike hides his best response to Bernie's point at the bottom of a long post: "There is a distinction between the potential for additional information to be useful and the stronger claim that summary information is inherently misleading."
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
In the marketplace of ideas, Twitter has decided that online trolls are bad for business. Back in February, it was reported that Twitter's CEO Dick Costolo told staff "We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day." This statement suggested that keeping Twitter safer from abusers had become a corporate goal.
Recently, Twitter began to roll out changes that puts meaning behind Costolo's statement. Rather than asking the victim to track down an abuser, Twitter has flipped the script to test a new a feature to lock the abuser's account for a period of time. The account can be reactivated if the user provides a phone number verification, and then deletes all of the tweets that are in violation of terms of service. A screen shot of the procedure is below (and a text explanation is here on Ars Technica).
Additionally, Twitter's guidelines have been amended to broaden the definition of prohibited conduct to include "threats of violence against others or promot[ing] violence against others" (expanded from the “direct, specific threats of violence against others” in the former policy). In addition, the company is implementing measures to limit distribution of certain tweets that exhibit "a wide range of signals and context that frequently correlates with abuse including the age of the account itself, and the similarity of a Tweet to other content that our safety team has in the past independently determined to be abusive."
The sheer size and volume of Twitter's platform, and the types of distinctions that will have be made, make implementation of these standards a challenge. Of course, the platform is in the private sector, and these guidelines are a form a type of private governance. I wonder where this direction will take the company, what the impact will be on public discourse, and whether it will affect the behavior of other online platforms.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
The Right to Privacy vs. Freedom of Expression
Most of us are in the phase of the semester where we are discussing defenses, exceptions, and limitations on the areas that are the subject of our courses. Certainly, my trademark class is grappling with cases considering First Amendment limitations on IP rights.
One recent case places the First Amendment as a limitation on the right of privacy. This New York court considered a photographer's images taken with a telephoto lens aimed inside people's homes. The plaintiff asserted violation of New York's statutory right of privacy. According to the opinion, the photographer, Arne Svenson, has exhibited the works and reproduced some images here.
According to an earlier court opinion, Mr. Svenson did not obtain consent but rather "I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs." Although some of the images do not show the occupant's faces, some did at least partially. One is a child's face that was alleged to be identifiable. According the plaintiff, the location of their apartment has been made known as well "which Plaintiffs allege compromises the security and safety of the children."
Nonetheless, the Appellate Division affirmed dismissal of the complaint, given that the art works were for expressive purposes protected under the First Amendment. As the court stated, "works of art fall outside the prohibitions of the privacy statute under the newsworthy and public concerns exemption." Further, the Court observed that "the depiction of children, by itself, does not create special circumstances which should make a privacy claim more readily available." Certainly, in an era of emerging drone use, such cases are likely to arise with more frequency. If you are interested, a full copy of the slip opinion is here.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Law and Social Change
Law has an ill-defined relationship to culture. Certainly, some legal rules seek to standardize norms in the way that the reasonable person operates in tort law or custom sets interpretive principles for contractual relations. Law may push against culture, such as the way anti-discrimination laws attempt to eradicate bias.
Further, culture can seek to change law. One recent example that caught my eye is the transport of films, TV shows and other media into North Korea via weather balloons. Among other things, these balloons carry TV shows including Desperate Housewives and The Mentalist, so that those who find the USB drives on which this entertainment is stored can be exposed to cultural information about those outside North Korea's borders. This is one way that the Human Rights Foundation is seeking to reach out to North Korean citizens to open up the government's information block.
Where do such efforts come from? Recently, Peter Lee (UC Davis School of Law) has posted an interesting piece on social innovation that is insightful for those interested in innovation, the theory of the firm, distributive justice, and/or intellectual property. In it, he contrasts the formal incentive system of the intellectual property system to:
...the altruistic motivations and public funding that drive social innovations. . . Beyond efficiency considerations, however, social innovations often play a distributive role in shifting resources to underserved communities. Social innovations address underserved markets, such as when microfinance entities provide loans to populations who do not qualify for traditional financing. Going further, social innovations sometimes provide essential goods and services to entirely neglected populations on a charitable basis.
I found that Lee's piece opens a new door on the mechanisms that foster the creation of public goods. The piece is replete with insights about the interaction between government and private entities in both the IP and social innovation spheres. He argues that these systems have much to learn from each other. This is downloadable here and certainly worth a read.
Thursday, April 09, 2015
Technology & Tailights
It's not IP, but it is on my mind. Legally justified. That cannot be the end of the discussion, as it has been up until this point. Apartheid was the law. Women not voting was the law. Jews not being able to own property was the law. Same sex relationships were (and still are in some places) prohibited by the law. Dramatic? Not really. Not any more than the videos (i.e. North Charleston shooting etc. etc.) that keep surfacing. Seems like "the law" is hampering some honest and difficult conversations about the kind of society we want to have.
Technology is revealing failings in the legal system. The fact that the current law may tolerate or encourage something does not mean we should tolerate it. Someone will, no doubt, make a legal argument that the North Charleston police officer was acting within the scope of his authority when he shot and killed an unarmed black man in the back as the man ran away. Eight shots. Bravely caught on video by an anonymous person. Who would otherwise believe what happened? Technology made a difference here. Stopped for a tail light. For others, their "tail light" was walking through a store, standing on the street, riding the subway, or standing in the playground with a toy gun.
Video cameras are catching horrific acts in the United States that are reminiscent of South Africa's numerous incidents of "death by falling" during the Apartheid era. There are killings caught on camera and seemingly "harmless" speech involving racial slurs. These two are not completely unrelated.
While I value free speech, I am also mindful of the power of words. After all, words were used to condition populations to view their neighbors, friends, and family from different ethnic groups as the "other" and to eventually incite genocide. In Rwanda, the talk of eliminating "cockroaches" was a terrible, yet highly effective, strategy adopted from Nazi Germany. Just words. Just words. Words matter because they sensitize us to whether or not the person we are berating, beating, or shooting, is a cockroach, a dog, a monkey, or a human being. Will we pause before we shout, or shoot? Or are we now used to the idea of the criminal "other," such that we raise our fists, or pull the trigger, a little more quickly? If one gets used to referring to some group as "monkeys," "cockroaches," or the "N word," maybe it is just that much easier to pull the trigger. For instance, one of my friends from college who was raised in Apartheid South Africa, told me "no offense, but I just cannot think of blacks as people." He was a lovely and pleasant guy. However, that was his conditioning.
Legally justified. This cannot be where the conversation ends. Multiple killings of unarmed black men and boys have been caught on camera. When there is no legal consequence, is it possible that we get conditioned to see the killing as acceptable? Maybe this officer is surprised at what is happening to him. But for the video, he might reasonably assume that his actions would be viewed as "legally justified," even without a trial.
The Boston bombing case - spring training is over, and it'll be Opening Day soon
Accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was, not surprisingly, convicted yesterday of all 30 federal counts that he faced. As he faced a possible death sentence, the case was bifurcated into a guilt phase and a penalty phase. Various commentators noted that defense lawyer Judy Clarke essentially conceded guilt from the beginning of the guilt phase, an indication that the defense goal has been to avoid the death penalty. (Clarke took similar approaches with previous clients such as the Unabomber and Jared Lee Loughner, among others.)
This means that the legal fight is beginning in earnest with the penalty phase, where Clarke can be expected to put up a fierce defense. It's clear from the defense posture that the theory of mitigation will be that Tsarnaev was heavily influenced, if not coerced, by his older brother Tamerlin (who was killed during capture efforts).Clarke certainly has a formidable reputation with an impressive list of former clients who escaped the death penalty. But of those successes, only Susan Smith and Zacarias Moussaoui actually faced juries in the penalty phase. The others (the Unabomber, Aryan Nations member Brandon Furrow, Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, and Loughner) all reached plea bargains with the prosecutors. And Moussaoui reportedly avoided a jury vote of death by a single vote.
Predicting the outcome of the penalty phase would be a foolhardy task, especially ahead of the presentation of any of the aggravating or mitigating evidence. The jury has, however, already heard some extremely aggravating evidence in the case in chief:
The government called 92 witnesses over 15 days, painting a hellish scene of torn-off limbs, blood-spattered pavement, ghastly screams and the smell of sulfur and burned hair. Survivors gave heartbreaking testimony about losing legs in the blasts or watching people die. The father of 8-year-old Martin Richard described making the agonizing decision to leave his mortally wounded son so he could get help for their 6-year-old daughter, whose leg had been blown off.
This wasn't an unforeseen result of the defendant's actions. Given that the jury has already been death qualified, one has to wonder, if the death penalty doesn't apply in a case like this, when would it?
As it turns out, we have something of a comparable case: the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. (Obligatory disclosure: I clerked for Judge Holloway in Oklahoma City from 1996-97, so I was in the courthouse for much of the pre-trial hearings in the case, but obviously I wasn't present at the time of the bombing itself.)
Obviously, the death toll in the Oklahoma City bombing was much, much higher, and so too was the property damage. But co-defendants Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols both went to trial, were convicted, and faced the death penalty. McVeigh was sentenced to death, while Nichols was not. What was different between the two of them?
Observers at the time noted that:
[P]roving his guilt would end up a greater challenge for the federal government than it had been in the McVeigh case. There was no evidence that Nichols had rented the Ryder truck used to carry the bomb to Oklahoma City, and there was no one who could positively identify him as the purchaser of the two tons of ammonium nitrate, the major component in the bomb.
Most problematic for the government was the compelling fact that Nichols was at home in Kansas when McVeigh detonated the truck in front of the Murrah building at the promising start of a sunny workday.
One might be able to see Tamerlin Tsarnaev as McVeigh and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as Nichols, in terms of relative guilt, but most of the other comparisons do not favor Tsarnaev. Perhaps most importantly, Nichols may have benefited from being prosecuted after McVeigh had already been convicted and sentenced to death. While Tamerlin Tsarnaev is dead, his death did not result from a completed trial, and so Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the only one of the two to face a jury; this is the one opportunity for a jury to, as they say, send a message.
(I should note that I'm not offering these to persuade anyone that Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty, but rather, why I think he probably will. For my views on the kinds of cases for which a death sentence would be appropriate in the interest of protecting other inmates, see an op-ed I wrote, or a short law review article.)
Additionally, whereas Nichols aided McVeigh in assembling the truck bomb, he apparently stopped helping McVeigh and thus had gone nowhere near the federal building. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on the other hand, appears to have been every bit as much of a perpetrator of the marathon bombing as his older brother was.
I wouldn't bet on the outcome of the penalty phase, but I do think Judy Clarke is facing an uphill battle in trying to persuade the jury to spare Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
For further reading on comparisons between the Boston and Oklahoma City bombing cases, see this interview with McVeigh's lawyer.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
The Sweet Briar Legal Challenge
The alumnae group Saving Sweet Briar has hired the law firm of Troutman Sanders LLP to represent the group in its attempt to oust the current board and prevent the school's closure. The law firm sent a letter to the board's counsel outlining its legal position. Its first argument makes a breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim, asserting that "[a]s directors of a non-stock corporation, your clients [that is, the board members] are required to promote the College’s best interests, and your clients have good faith duties of care, loyalty, and obedience toward the College."
As I said before, however, I don't know that the Board's fiduciary duty in fact runs to the institution--I think the duty runs more broadly to the institution's mission. In good times, those duties would be congruent; in less good times, however, the two may conflict. What if, as some have posited, Sweet Briar could be saved by going co-ed? Or by lowering academic credentials? I'm not sure how well the school's mission is defined; it was explicitly founded to educate women, and perhaps less explicitly, founded to educate women from a relatively elite social class. (Perhaps not so much less explicitly--social class seems to come up often in discussions of the college's past and present, and a recent New York Times article points out that "both Mr. Jones [the interim president] and Paul Rice, the board chairman, said Sweet Briar’s rich-girl days were long gone").
Changing that mission might be a good idea, but the challenge raised by the letter isn't a question of what policy would be best--it was explicitly stated as a legal question, and I think it is an interesting one. Brad, a commenter to my prior post, pointed out that the March of Dimes changed its mission from polio eradication to the prevention of birth defects once polio was eradicated. From a legal perspective, I think that such mission changes probably fit within a reasonable cy pres distribution of charitable assets. The Sweet Briar board, like the March of Dimes, would likely have been on strong legal footing if it had modified its mission to become sustainable. But, as Brad points out, the harder question is does it have to?
It appears to me that Saving Sweet Briar is arguing that the board in fact had a duty to sustain the organization--even if doing so meant modifying the school's mission. To be fair, this is not stated explicitly in the letter, and the letter also raises other issues of financial secrecy and lack of decision-making transparency. But some of the language, I think, hints that the group thinks the Board should have considered mission-changing options like going co-ed; it mentions a failure to "consider other methods of meeting the College’s needs" and a "failure to explore all possible options." The group's FAQ page is explicit that its focus is keeping the college open: (Q: "What are your plans to turn the college around?" A: "At this time, we are focused on halting the school’s closure and keeping the college open.").
I'm interested to see how these arguments develop. I do fear, though, that the cost of litigating those arguments might very well consume so much of the remaining resources that there is not enough money left either to soften the transition of closure or to restore the school to sustainability.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Sweet Briar a Victim of Predatory Lending?
As the Sweet Briar situation continues to unfold, a policy analyst from the Roosevelt Institute digs deeper into the school's financial statements, and discovers troubling information:
"[P]redatory banking practices and bad financial deals played an important and nearly invisible role in precipitating the school’s budget crisis. . . . A single swap on a bond issued in June 2008 cost Sweet Briar more then a million dollars in payments to Wachovia before the school exited the swap in September 2011. While it is unclear exactly why they chose 2011 to pay off the remainder of the bond early, they paid a $730,119 termination fee. . . .
Just how big a deal are these numbers? The school has a relatively small endowment even among small liberal arts colleges: currently valued at about $88 million, with less then a quarter of that total completely unrestricted and free to spend. But in 2014, the financial year that appears to have been the final straw for Sweet Briar, total operating revenues were $34.8 million and total operating expenditures were $35.4 million, which means that the deficit the school is running is actually smaller than the cost of any of the bad deals it’s gotten itself into with banks."
Unlike most victims of predatory lending, however, Sweet Briar would have had access to high-level legal and financial advisors. If the financial deals were as bad as the report suggests, something went very wrong in the college's decision-making process.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Fiduciary Duty, Higher Education, and the Zone of Insolvency
Questions continue to emerge about the situation at Sweet Briar and the decision-making process that led to its closure, and the situation seems destined for litigation. One of the issues that seems to run through the discourse, though, is one I’ve been thinking about for a few years: to whom do the college decision-makers owe a fiduciary duty?
A letter from Virginia State Senator J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen to Attorney General Mark Herring raises the question explicitly. The letter questions the legality of the announced closure, asks for an opinion on the legal status of restricted donations, and asks “Does the Board have a fiduciary duty to protect the interests of donors and students, as well as the mission of the College?”
The issue of fiduciary duty presents an interesting question, and I would add a follow-up: does that fiduciary duty change (or should it) when a nonprofit institution is operating in the so-called “zone of insolvency”?In recent decades, colleges and universities have attempted to act more like businesses (the so-called “corporatization” of higher education) and, in doing so, may have acted in ways that are inconsistent with nonprofit principles. In particular, I suspect that the increasing spiral of rising tuition and concomitant discounts is one of the leading causes of financial distress in higher education—and it may well be that prior Board decisions underlie Sweet Briar's current financial crisis.
But regardless of how Sweet Briar got to this point, whose interests should now be paramount? I think there is no doubt that the Board owes a duty to the “mission of the College.” But how is that best served? The stated mission of the College is to educate women—but there are far more options for women’s education now than there were at the college’s founding, making it appear less important that that mission be served by Sweet Briar College. I also think there is a strong argument that colleges and universities have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of their students. I suspect that there is a contractual duty (though I am doubtful there is a fiduciary one) to donors; restricted funds probably should and will go back to donors or be distributed under cy pres principles.
There may be some conflict between the interests of educational goals, students, and donors. Nonetheless, I think that the main source of tension and potential conflict arises from an idea not actually stated in Senator Peterson’s letter—the idea that the Board could also have a duty to the institution itself. When a nonprofit institution is financially solvent, it may be reasonable to think in terms of a trustee’s duty to protect the institution and its future; ideally, the interests of the institution would be aligned with the interests of the institution's mission. When the institution is not financially solvent, however—and when strategies to gain solvency would seem to conflict with the institution’s mission—then there is a significant potential for a conflict of interest. The restriction of nonprofit status (exchanged for some nice tax breaks) suggest that the interests of the institution (and its management, including faculty) have to take a back seat in the face of such a conflict. I don't know if the Sweet Briar board made the right call, and I am troubled by a reported lack of transparency in its decision-making. For Sweet Briar, questions of power, duty, and potential conflicts will likely get hashed out in court.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Would the Alabama Supreme Court prefer no marriage at all?
There’s an interesting paragraph in this week’s order from the Alabama Supreme Court, which confirmed that Mobile County probate judge Don Davis is subject to its earlier mandamus ruling even though he is also the subject of a federal-court injunction. In trying to make sense of this situation, Judge Davis had stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether (as a commenter on my last post noted).
Here’s what the Alabama Supreme Court said (emphasis mine) on p.9:
Section 30-1-9, Ala. Code 1975, provides that Judge Davis "may" issue “marriage licenses." To the extent he exercises this authority, he must issue those licenses in accordance with the meaning of the term "marriage" in that Code section and in accordance with other provisions of Alabama law, as discussed in our March 3 opinion.
Is the implication here that Judge Davis has no obligation to issue marriage licenses to anyone? That he can refuse to issue them across the board, just as long as no marriage licenses are issued to same-sex couples?
Meanwhile, expect some more activity in federal court next week. Judge Granade has ordered Judge Davis to file a response to the Strawser plaintiffs’ motion for class certification by Tuesday, March 17.
[Cross-posted at the Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog]
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Bankruptcy and Higher Education
Futurist Clayton Christensen predicted that half the nation's colleges will be in bankruptcy within fifteen years. I have doubts about both his predicted number and his predicted timeline, but there is no doubt that many colleges and universities are struggling, and that current financial models in higher education--especially the high-tuition, high-discount model--may well be unsustainable.
The more immediate question, for some of those institutions, is whether bankruptcy is even a viable option. Most people know that student loans are largely nondischargeable in bankruptcy. What is less well known is that universities face their own bankruptcy restrictions that make them unable to benefit from Chapter 11 restructuring opportunities. When a college or university files for bankruptcy, it immediately loses eligibility to participate in the federal government's Title IV aid program (which includes Pell grants, Stafford loans, and Plus loans), so its students cannot get federal loans or grants. Because the vast majority of students rely on federal aid to pay for school, it is effectively impossible for an institution to maintain enrollment while restructuring its finances.
Lon Morris College, the oldest junior college in Texas (in existence since 1854) ran into this problem in 2012. It originally filed a Chapter 11, seeking to restructure. Once the bankruptcy judge ruled that it was ineligible to participate in Title IV, the college had to quickly liquidate and ended up selling much of its property to the local school district. Like many other struggling schools, Lon Morris had trouble navigating its pricing structure: "College officials blamed the school’s financial hardship on their overambitious goal to grow student enrollment during the economic recession by offering discounts on its $22,190-a-year tuition," which was steep for a two-year college. The school had an $11 million restricted endowment, which became the subject of litigation over whether it could be used to pay for the costs of bankruptcy lawyers. By early 2015, there was a little over a million dollars left; it went to Texas Wesleyan to pay for scholarships.
A recent Hill editorial called for amendments to the Higher Education Act that would allow universities to restructure without losing eligibility for federal aid. Without such amendments, the author argues that "schools must either declare bankruptcy and implode (like the non-profit Lon Morris College in 2013 or the for-profit Anthem College in 2014) or, in many cases, go through a protracted consensual foreclosure process to accomplish, in essence, a debt-for-equity swap (as was done with the for-profit ATI Enterprises in 2013)." Neither option is good for students, and he may be right that an amendment is called for. In the long run, though, breaking away from the high tuition/high discount model may do more for financial sustainability.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
New developments in the Alabama same-sex marriage litigation
The litigation over Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage has taken many twists and turns in these early months of 2015, but the main action has been in two arenas: the Alabama Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s courtroom in the Southern District of Alabama. Of course, everyone will be watching the U.S. Supreme Court as well, where Obergefell v. Hodges will be argued next month. And it was the Supreme Court’s February order refusing to stay Judge Granade’s initial injunction that began the latest round of activity. Here’s where things stand:
The Alabama Supreme Court said its piece last week, granting a writ of mandamus ordering all Alabama probate judges to stop granting marriage licenses. The merits of that ruling are certainly open to debate—both on the key constitutional issue and the standing/jurisdiction issue—but there are a few things to keep in mind going forward. First, the mandamus action was brought by two groups opposing same-sex marriage (acting as “relators” for the State of Alabama) against the Alabama probate judges. No individuals or couples who might wish to challenge Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban were parties to that proceeding, so as a matter of preclusion the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court does not prevent them from seeking relief in federal court.
Second, the court ordered Alabama probate judges not to issue new same-sex marriage licenses (and it seems to have had that effect), but it ignored the relators request to order Alabama probate judges “not to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same sex couples.” In doing so, the court avoided one potential direct conflict with the federal judiciary, insofar as Judge Granade had previously ordered Mobile County probate judge Don Davis to issue marriage licenses to four same-sex couples in the Strawser case. Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s order asked Davis to “advise” it “as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.” His deadline was last Thursday (3/5), but he’s asked for more time to respond. [Update: Today the Alabama Supreme Court posted on its website an order confirming that Judge Davis was also subject to its mandamus ruling, but only after determining for itself (whether correctly or not) that Judge Granade’s injunction did not extend beyond those four licenses.]
So now the ball is back in Judge Granade’s court (literally), where a few things have happened in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court’s order. First, Don Davis filed an emergency motion to stay Judge Granade’s earlier injunction “until after the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling” in Obergefell. Second—as Howard posted on Monday—the Strawser plaintiffs have filed a motion to amend their complaint to, among other things, certify a class action. (Here’s the proposed amended complaint, including the class action allegations) The amendment would add some additional plaintiffs, three same-sex couples who have been refused marriage licenses in either Mobile County or Baldwin County; it also would add Tim Russell, the Baldwin County probate judge, as an additional defendant.
The proposed plaintiff class is: “all persons in Alabama who wish to obtain a marriage license in order to marry a person of the same sex and to have that marriage recognized under Alabama law, and who are unable to do so because of the enforcement of Alabama’s laws prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and barring recognition of their marriages.”
The proposed defendant class is: “all Alabama probate judges who are or may enforce Alabama’s marriage ban.”
There’s been no ruling yet on the class-certification question—nor have I seen any reports of what the timing will be on that. It’s worth noting, though, that Judge Granade herself suggested in an earlier order that “certification of plaintiff and defendant classes” could be proper in the event that probate judges who were not formally bound by her initial injunction refused to follow it. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange—who is also a defendant in Strawser and was the subject of the first injunction Judge Granade issued—has filed an opposition to class certification.
Stay tuned. Also in Judge Granade’s court is another action brought by Cari Searcy, the plaintiff whose earlier case led to the initial ruling by Judge Callie Granade declaring Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Searcy and Kimberly McKeand were legally married in California, but the Mobile County probate judge’s action on Searcy’s petition to adopt McKeand’s biological son was “qualified in nature,” and he refused to issue a final adoption order “until a final ruling is issued in the United States Supreme Court on the Marriage Act cases before it.”
[Cross-posted at the Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog]
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Alabama Supreme Court Enjoins Probate Judges from Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
As you may know (Howard has had some excellent coverage), we’re in the midst of a real-life fed-courts hypo here in Alabama as litigation continues over the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. There was another development this evening, when the Alabama Supreme Court issued a 134-page per curiam opinion enjoining Alabama probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The ruling was prompted by a petition for a writ of mandamus that was filed earlier this month by two groups opposing same-sex marriage, purporting to be “relators” for the State of Alabama. The petition named four probate judges who had been issuing same-sex marriage licenses as respondents, and designated all other Alabama probate judges as “Judge Does ##1-63.” One of those Doe judges, Judge Enslen of Elmore County, sought to have the Alabama ban enforced and was redesignated as an additional relator-petitioner.
This evening’s order acknowledges that one Alabama probate judge—Judge Davis of Mobile County—is the subject of a federal injunction issued by Judge Callie Granade, who back in January had declared Alabama’s ban unconstitutional.
Here’s the full text of the order that appears at the end of today’s Alabama Supreme Court opinion:
The named respondents are ordered to discontinue the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Further, and pursuant to relator Judge Enslen's request that this Court, "by any and all lawful means available to it," ensure compliance with Alabama law with respect to the issuance of marriage licenses, each of the probate judges in this State other than the named respondents and Judge Davis are joined as respondents in the place of the "Judge Does" identified in the petition. Within five business days following the issuance of this order, each such probate judge may file an answer responding to the relator's petition for the writ of mandamus and showing cause, if any, why said probate judge should not be bound hereby. Subject to further order of this Court upon receipt and consideration of any such answer, each such probate judge is temporarily enjoined from issuing any marriage license contrary to Alabama law as explained in this opinion. As to Judge Davis's request to be dismissed on the ground that he is subject to a potentially conflicting federal court order, he is directed to advise this Court, by letter brief, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, 2015, as to whether he is bound by any existing federal court order regarding the issuance of any marriage license other than the four marriage licenses he was ordered to issue in Strawser.
If you want to get up to speed on what’s been going on, you can find copies of all the important orders, filings, and other documents at the Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog.
Financing Higher Education
Thanks to Howard and the Prawfsblawg community for hosting me this month! For some time, I have had an interest in (or possibly more accurately, an obsession with) the question of how we fund higher education--and especially the ethical dimensions of that funding issue. I hope to explore some of those questions here this month.
Obviously, funding issues are very much front-and-center in the law school world these days--but many liberal arts colleges are facing even bigger challenges. Today Sweet Briar College announced that it will be closing at the end of this academic year, though it still has an endowment of $94 million. I thought the board chair's explanation of the decision to close raised an interesting point about the priorities of a nonprofit institution:
Paul G. Rice, board chair, said in an interview that he realized some would ask, "Why don't you keep going until the lights go out?"
But he said that doing so would be wrong. "We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae. If you take up this decision too late, you won't be able to meet those obligations," he said. "People will carve up what's left -- it will not be orderly, nor fair."
This is a courageous stand for the chair to take; there is a temptation for self-preservation even at the expense of the larger mission of the college. But even though I think that the board made the right decision, my heart goes out to the staff and faculty who will lose their jobs.
Monday, March 02, 2015
The Dress, Justice Holmes & Erie
What’s the half-life for internet-breaking social media sensations these days? It seems to get shorter and shorter, so I figured I should address #TheDress sooner rather than later. Is it White & Gold, or Blue & Black? For all the snark, memes, and celebrity tweets the dress has inspired, a crucial piece of historical context has been overlooked.
Ninety years ago, there was a kerfuffle in Bowling Green, Kentucky that bears striking similarities to the one that now threatens the marital harmony of Kim & Kanye. Back then, the dispute was between Black & White taxis and Brown & Yellow taxis. A federal lawsuit was filed that made its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it prompted a strong dissent from Justice Holmes. Holmes attacked the majority for reading the 1842 decision in Swift v. Tyson to allow the federal court to disregard Kentucky law on the enforceability of a contract giving Brown & Yellow the exclusive ability to solicit customers at the Bowling Green train station.
To Holmes, the majority improperly accepted the “fallacy” that parties in federal court “are entitled to an independent judgment on matters of general law.” The Swift opinion itself—Holmes contended—was written by Justice Story “under the tacit domination” of this fallacy. Holmes explained:
Books written about any branch of the common law treat it as a unit [and] cite cases from this Court, from the Circuit Courts of Appeal, from the State Courts, from England and the Colonies of England indiscriminately …. It is very hard to resist the impression that there is one august corpus, to understand which clearly is the only task of any Court concerned. If there were such a transcendental body of law outside of any particular State but obligatory within it unless and until changed by statute, the Courts of the United States might be right in using their independent judgment as to what it was. But there is no such body of law. The fallacy and illusion that I think exist consist in supposing that there is this outside thing to be found. Law is a word used with different meanings, but law in the sense in which courts speak of it today does not exist without some definite authority behind it. The common law so far as it is enforced in a State, whether called common law or not, is not the common law generally but the law of that State existing by the authority of that State ….
If a lot of these quotes sound familiar, it may be because Justice Brandeis used them liberally in Erie Railroad v. Tompkins, where he wrote the opinion overruling Swift. Black & White Taxicab v. Brown & Yellow Taxicab, in fact, was Brandeis’ Exhibit A for Swift’s “mischievous results.” And everyone from first-year law students to Supreme Court Justices have been struggling with Erie ever since.
While White & Gold v. Blue & Black may have temporarily broken the internet, Black & White v. Brown & Yellow helped to recast judicial federalism as we know it. But rest assured that if the White & Gold dress reincorporates in Tennessee so it can sue the Blue & Black dress in federal court, you’ll hear it here first.
[Cross-posted at the Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog]