Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Two (more) op-eds on Hobby Lobby
Ann Lipton has nicely captured the zeitgeist with the notion that "there is something of an obligation for all corporate law bloggers to weigh in on Hobby Lobby." Today, for example, the Conglomerate is starting up on its second Hobby Lobby symposium. So it is with some trepidation that I highlight for you two additional pieces on that speak to this case once again. First, Brett McDonnell defends the decision from a progressive perspective in "Ideological Blind Spots: The Left on Hobby Lobby," appearing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Brett argues that the decision provides space for corporations to have goals outside of shareholder wealth maximization -- something that liberals have promoted in the corporate social responsibility context. The op-ed also recounts the history of RFRA, which overturned Justice Scalia's Smith opinion, and points out that progressives have traditionally been defenders of religious liberty and toleration. The op-ed has (at this point in time) 716 comments, which kind of puts us blawgs to shame.
Second, Grant Hayden and I have penned "Who Controls Corporate Culture?", which appears this morning in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Although not written with this intention, it is actually a nice complement/rejoinder to Brett's piece. It argues that folks are riled up about Hobby Lobby in part because the company's 13,000 employees had no role in making the decision. If corporations are going to be according political and religious rights, we argue, the employees need a voice in choosing how to exercise them, particularly when the primary impact is on employees.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Brishen Rogers has a great, long post at CoOp considering why soccer (or futbol, if you like) never caught on in the United States. He somewhat piggybacks on David Post's VC post from last week.I was always actively antipathetic towards soccer, partly because I did not understand how the overall game worked (beyond "kick the ball in the goal" and "stop using your hands"). I started watching more in recent years, when my daughter took up the game for a few years, and I have to admit to feeling pretty down on Sunday night. I also knew we were not going to beat Germany (although that may be the pessimism that comes with being a Cubs and Northwestern fan).
I like a lot about what Rogers and Post propose; I'll add a few additional points in the gaps.
First, I want to defend the "too little scoring" explanation for soccer's relative unpopularity. The counter to that (which Rogers offers) has always been "look at baseball," which can be just as low-scoring as soccer (especially now that fewer players are juicing). But we need to tweak the comparison by recognizing the differences between soccer and baseball. Even the lowest-scoring baseball game involves a series of one-on-one encounters between pitcher and batter, each of which has a "winner" (batter gets on base or batter is out) and each of which marks a step towards the ultimate result and the ultimate victor in the game; the winner of the game is based on the sum total of those individual encounters. More importantly, baseball is untimed--the point of the game is to score the greatest number of runs within the 27 outs each side is given. So each team has two simultaneous goals--to both score some runs and to get the needed 27 outs in order to win. So we should not say "well, baseball and soccer both have a lot of 2-1 games," because that 2-1 baseball game also had the 27 outs the team needed to win the game resulting from those individual encounters. Relatedly, do not ignore the effect of ties. In baseball, the aggregate of those individual encounters--and getting both runs and outs--is guaranteed to get us to a victor.
If we want to test the "not enough scoring" explanation, the proper comparison is other timed sports, sports in which the only goal is score more points than the other team within a given period of time. And the two major timed U.S. sports--football and basketball-- both involve a lot of scoring.
Second, Post argues that there is "wa-a-a-y too much failure" in soccer and Americans do not like failure. (He adds that the hardest skill in sport is not hitting a baseball, but kicking a soccer ball into the net in a game). Comparisons aside, there still is an awful lot of failure in baseball--the offense fails in more than 75 % of those individual encounters and the greatest individual hitter fails 65 % of the time. Of course, if we focus on the individual encounters in baseball and getting outs as a team's contemporaneous goal, that sense of failure goes away, because we can say the pitcher/defense succeeds in 75 % of those individual encounters.
Third, Americans and American sports media gravitate to individual star players and those stars are more obvious in the big American sports than in soccer because it is easier to see the "star" plays they make. We see LeBron James making shots, we see Peyton Manning throwing touchdown passes, we see Mike Trout hitting home runs or Stephen Strasburg striking people out. And, particularly in basketball, one player makes the difference--in the NBA, the team with the best player in a series generally wins the series. Because we see Lionel Messi score less frequently, we have less of a sense of him as a star making "star plays" (at least plays that produce success). And one star player is less able to dictate soccer outcomes--after all, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is regarded as the best player in the world and his team did not get out of the "Group of Death."
Fourth, I agree with Post about the randomness and caprice involved in soccer. Football, and to a lesser extent basekball, involves precise plays and much less of the free-wheeling running that soccer seems to entail. While all sports involve a bit of luck at the margins, soccer seems to rely on more of it.
Finally, Rogers makes some good cultural and sociological arguments for why America went in the direction of football and basketball rather than soccer. I would add one pont. MLS and professional soccer in this country is said to not be successful because it is not as big as the NBA, NFL, and MLB. But part of the problem has been the insistence on measuring MLS success (monetary and attendance) compared with the sucess of today's other leagues, as opposed to how those leagues looked when they were ten years old. The NFL was founded in the 1920s (and no one one really cared about it until the 1950s), the NBA in the 1940s; it is ridiculous to measure a nascent soccer league against those mature leagues. In 1925, the early days of modern Major League Baseball, no team had more than 1 million in attendance; in 1955, the midpoint of baseball's so-called Golden Age, only eight teams had more than 1 million in attendance and only one had more than 2 million; in 2013, every team had more than 1 million and eight teams had more than 3 million. So the question should not be if soccer is earning the same attendance or money as the other three leagues; it should be how it is doing for a new sports league. And by most measures, the answer to that question seems to be "quite well."
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
A victory for the rule of law - apparently not
I had to edit this blog because literally as I posted it, the news changed. Monday, Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese mother of two young children who was facing a death sentence for adultery for marrying a Christian man and apostasy after refusing to denounce her faith was released by court order. As I previously wrote, her imprisonment violated Sudanese law. Her release was a victory for the rule of law. International pressure influenced this outcome. But the victory was very short (less than 24 hours). The breaking news is that she was rearrested at the airport and was taken into custody along with her two children and husband.
Unfortunately, Ibrahim is only one of many who have suffered (and are suffering) in this way. There are many who endure tremendous human rights violations because of the lack of rule but who do not receive media attention. Ibrahim's story illustrates my previous point - international pressure is one way to help bolster rule of law in developing countries, however, that may not be enough as evidenced by the re-arrest of Ibrahim. Perhaps governmental officials who are threatened with a charge of a crime against humanity for failure to enforce their countries own laws will feel the weight of international shame and act to uphold the rule of law.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
How to Prosecute Crimes Committed Abroad?
Earlier this year, in U.S. v. Pepe, a former U.S. Marine captain was sentenced to over 200 years in prison for brutally molesting young girls while teaching in Cambodia under the pretense of being a college professor looking out for the Cambodian youth. He was found guilty of a violation of the PROTECT Act, a laudable federal statute with extraterritorial application which prohibits U.S. citizens from molesting children abroad. The Pepe case had been lingering for eight years. The investigation began in 2006, the jury convicted in 2008, and since then the case has been stuck in litigation limbo (a lingering motion for new trial based on an inappropriate relationship between a U.S. law enforcement agent and translator).
I have previously written about the PROTECT Act, and how it, along with numerous other federal statutes that criminalize U.S. citizens behavior abroad, raises an interesting Foreign Commerce Clause (FCC) issue - a matter in which circuit courts are in complete disarray over. Assuming that Congress, under the FCC, has the power to enact laws like the PROTECT Act with extraterritorial application, the next issues to address (the issues which are framing my fall research project) are the criminal procedure implications of investigations of U.S. citizens in other countries and the related evidentiary matters.If the U.S. criminally prosecutes a citizen for behavior abroad, when and to what extent should constitutional guarantees (like search and seizure) apply? It has been suggested that so long as U.S. government agencies train foreign officers, constitutional rights would be secure and the evidence would be admissible. That seems simplistic, and, indeed, case law is unclear. For example, under the "joint venture doctrine," a U.S. agency may be so involved with a foreign investigation that the foreign authorities would be deemed as "acting as agents for their American counterparts." At that point, the U.S. citizen has the right to constitutional protections. But, the circuits are split as to what level of involvement the U.S. agency has to have to give rise to a joint venture.
What about evidentiary issues? For example, in one PROTECT Act case, an NGO was helping U.S. and foreign authorities investigate a U.S. citizen traveling in Asia. When the foreign agents arrested the defendant, an individual from the NGO took the defendant's laptop home which created problematic chain of custody issues at the U.S. trial. From both practical and legal perspectives, securing witnesses and admissible evidence in the prosecution of extraterritorial crimes create extraordinary legal battles. Given how easy international travel has become, these issues will become more and more prominent.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
IRS: "sorry, can't produce" or a bad example of hiding the ball?
Last week, the IRS stated that it lost numerous emails from Lois Lerner concerning the targeting of conservative groups for tax exempt status because her computer crashed. And this week, the IRS is now revealing that it has lost numerous additional emails from key IRS officials. Politics aside, it is interesting to think how this discovery issue involving electronically stored information (ESI) would be addressed in a federal court under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).
The facts surrounding this issue almost read like a law school exam hypothetical. The IRS received a subpoena to produce emails between key IRS officials and other government agents that might suggest targeting. The IRS knew months ago, in February, that it could not produce the emails, but failed to inform Congress that the emails were lost until just the last few days. The IRS has taken the position that the emails were lost during a computer crash in 2011 but that the IRS has made a "good faith" effort to find them having spent $10 million dollars (of tax payer money) to deal with the investigation including the cost to piece together what could be found. The IRS does not deny that the recipients, other government officials, may still be in possession of the emails. The IRS, however, maintains that because the subpoena was only directed at the IRS, not other government agencies, the non-IRS recipients of the emails are not required to produce them.
If this issue arose in federal court, under FRCP 26, parties are required at the outset to submit a "discovery plan" that includes how ESI will be retained and exchanged in order to prevent unnecessary expense and waste. The FRCP requires the parties to take reasonable steps to preserve relevant ESI (a litigation hold) or face possible sanctions. Under Rule 37's so-called safe harbor provision, however, "absent exceptional circumstances, a court may not impose sanctions ... for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system." The IRS is hanging its hat on this safe harbor rule by arguing that, despite a good-faith effort, the emails were lost. Did the IRS, in fact, make a good faith effort?While there is confusion among the courts on how to apply the good faith standard, there is precedent for a court to monetarily sanction the IRS if the court found that the IRS acted negligently when it lost the emails. The court would also have the authority to issue an adverse inference instruction (inferring that the lost evidence would have negatively impacted the IRS's position), if it determined that the IRS acted grossly negligent or willful.
An important fact which will probably be discussed during the next few hearings is whether the IRS violated its own electronic information retention policy. The IRS was put on notice of the investigation last year, and so had a duty to put a litigation hold on the emails at that time (the very essence of what "good faith" means). It seems that the general IRS retention policy of ESI was six months (although now it is longer), but emails of "official record" had to have a hard copy which would never be deleted. Whether these emails constituted an "official record" is hard to determine since Lerner won't testify to their content.
Even assuming the emails were lost before a litigation hold could be placed (or despite a litigation hold being in place), at the very minimum, it seems "good faith" means that the IRS should have notified Congress in February that it lost the emails. Rule 26 would have required Congress to do so. Indeed, such notice would have brought this issue to the forefront and could have saved a lot of money - the money it apparently has already cost to piece together some of the emails, and the money it will cost as the parties argue over whether the IRS negligently or willfully destroyed evidence. If the IRS had been upfront from the beginning, then subpoenas could have been issued months ago to other agencies who, as employers of the lost email recipients, might have copies of the missing emails.
If this discovery issue had arisen in federal court, the IRS would have likely been subject to monetary sanctions and possibly an adverse inference instruction. Shouldn't the IRS be held to these standards?
SLU PLR Call for Papers: The New Civil War: State Nullification of Federal Law 150 Years after Appomattox
From the Saint Louis University Public Law Review:
In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the editorial board of the Saint Louis University Public Law Review (PLR) is soliciting articles for a special issue on the recent resurgences of state opposition to federal power. The publication will consider articles on current federal/state tensions, as well as articles linking current events to the history of nullification in the United States. Possible topics include but are not limited to:
* State efforts to nullify Federal Marijuana Laws
* State efforts to nullify Federal Gun Laws
* State resistance to Federally Mandated Health Care
* State efforts to constitutionalize bans on Same-Sex Marriage
Interested authors should submit an abstract of no more than 1,000 words to Managing Editor Dan Rankin (email@example.com) by July 1, 2014. Publication offers will be made based on an editorial board review of the submitted abstracts. Accepted offers will receive a publication contract from PLR that will require finished articles by October 15, 2014. All inquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Marital Infidelity and the Public/Private Divide
I've just read this U.S. News editorial, suggesting that the American public has come full circle in its approach toward infidelity of public figures. It echoes some thoughts I had after watching a few episodes of Scandal, House of Cards, and The Good Wife. All three shows are deeply invested in exploring the public/private divide, and in particular, the connection between sexual infidelity and public political performance. But each of the shows does it a bit differently.
If the editorial is right, then we've seen the rise and fall of American concern with infidelity--from the indifference toward Kennedy's extramarital affairs to today's indifference to Vance McAllister's kiss. And during the heyday It seems that the combined message from the Clinton, Wiener, Spitzer, Petreaus et al. affairs is that evidence of marital infidelity has some bearing on one's function as a public citizen.
To try and understand why, let me borrow a seemingly-unrelated exaple: the Paul Ryan sub-3 marathon lie. While the fib itself was ridiculous--as an endurance athlete, the idea that Ryan wouldn't remember if he ran a 3-hour or a 4-hour marathon is utterly ludicrous to me; I remember my time in big races down to the seconds and so does everyone else I know--it did make me wonder what possible reason a vice-president-hopeful would have to brag, truthfully or falsely, about an athletic achievement. Presumably, the ability to effectively run the affairs of the state doesn't depend on one's physical endurance. Except for the following:
1) Our gendered perception of leadership means that a male politician's performance is a reflection of his masculine prowess, which includes impressive athleticism.
2) Running a marathon, especially in an impressive time, is a task that requires dedication, discipline, self-deprivation - all qualities that fit our somewhat Calvinist idea of good leadership.
3) We look for something admirable and cool in people we vote for - we want to like them as people. Therefore, any trivia about their personal life that makes them look good is acceptable and vice versa.
Similarly, it would seem that, if marriage infidelity is a problem for people holding public office, it's because it tells us something about their ability to lead. Let's see if the Paul Ryan rationales I thought about hold up:
1) How we treat infidelity is closely related to our construction of masculinity. Is a "real man" one who holds "decent family values", which include sexual fidelity, or one who possesses sexual prowess and is attractive? The media might've had something to do with the difference in which Kennedy and Clinton were treated for their respective indiscretions, but it's also about changing times and changing perceptions of masculinity.
2) As far as what we can learn from people's private behavior about their public performance, look at this interesting poll. Apparently, in the aftermath of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, "the American public has substantially changed its view of Clinton as an individual but barely readjusted its perception of President Clinton as a political leader." If public opinion changed later, it was because of the concerted top-down effort made by Ken Starr to blemish Clinton and push for an impeachment hearing.
Think, on the other hand, about Petreaus, whose professional capability and talent was never in question (he's doing fairly well in academia and consulting). There was some effort to argue that his infidelity reflects serious problems with the ability to keep secrets and confidentiality, which had direct bearing on his military position.
3) Take a look at this anti-Harold Ford ad:
Yes, there's some effort to tie his sexual indiscretions to his political performance, but you know what? It's mostly about communicating the message that he's simply sketchy, unpleasant, unlikeable.
There seems to be a lot of top-down media messaging about this in an effort to either predict how "ordinary Americans" feel about infidelity or dictate their opinion. And in that respect, it may be that real media reports of infidelity are not all that different in their messaging agenda than fictional ones. And as in real life, the messaging in fiction is far from consistent. In three shows that make politician infidelity the focus of the plot, it's treated in three dramatically different ways:
The Good Wife plays a lot with, but does not fully problematize, the political double standard. It's fairly clear that the protagonist's husband, a politician caught in a prostitute scandal, has committed an original sin, and the show consistently portrays him in an unsympathetic light. By contrast, his separated-but-not-yet-divorced wife, who is clearly attracted to her boss but does not consummate this attraction, is portrayed very positively. Lots of gender double standard here, and lots of equating people's private behavior and public performance.
Scandal hammers a self-contradictory message in on each episode: Cheating is the ultimate original sin; nothing is worse; while murder, political corruption, and a million other pecadillos can be "fixed", sexual infidelity is the ultimate dealbreaker, understood implicitly as a valid and legitimate reason to end a marriage. At the same time, virtually every episode offers an example of sexual indiscretion, highlighting the message that this is prevalent, natural, and inevitable behavior. So, common and unavoidable, while simultaneously being condemned and unforgivable. This is a particularly interesting message in a show that attempts to portray a mild Republican presidency in a post-racist, post-homophobic world (the Chief of Staff is openly gay, married to his partner, and has adopted a baby; a powerful wheeler-and-dealer is a Black woman.) We've presumably done away with race and sexual orientation, but sexual hypocrisy is alive and well.
Finally, House of Cards has a Macbeth-like instrumental approach to politicians and sexual indiscretions: for the reigning couple, if they use their indiscretions wisely and adopt a "don't-ask-don't-tell" approach about them at home, it's all part of their general political ruthlessness. The extramarital sex in itself is not a moral failing; it's merely another expression of the corruption, selfishness, and ruthless ambition.
What to make of all this? Has television made us more indifferent to marital infidelity, or were we always pretty indifferent and just swayed by top-down smear campaigns? I'm not sure. I also haven't done a Democrat-vs-Republican scandal analysis, and I also don't know if the media's tendency to smear some people and to ignore others' infidelities has to do with other markers of class and charisma. You tell me. But I find this an interesting case study of how indicia of personality--if marital infidelity provides such indicia--are used in contradictory and complex ways to construct people's public image.
many thanks to Jonathan Korman for his interesting thoughts and contributions to this post.
Friday, June 13, 2014
The Two Newest Faces of the Problem with the Lack of the Rule of Law - a Newborn and a 20-month Old
As a tangential follow-up to my previous post concerning the use of a crime against humanity charge as a way to bolster the rule of law, another heart-wrenching story is gaining international attention.
Meet Maya, the first U.S. citizen to be born in a Sudanese prison while her mother was shackled to prison walls. Meet Martin, Maya's twenty-month old bother, who is probably the second youngest U.S. citizen to be sitting in a Sudanese prison. Their father is a U.S. citizen. Their mother is Meriam Ibrahim, a doctor and a Sudanese citizen, who has been sentenced by a Sudanese court to 100 lashes for adultery because she married a non-Muslim man and to death by hanging (once Maya is weaned) for apostasy for refusing to denounce her Christian faith. Ibrahim was found guilty of apostasy because it was determined that she was Muslim even though she testified she was Christian and raised by her Christian mother when her Muslim father abandoned the family. The trial raises due process issues since three of Ibrahim's witnesses were not allowed to testify.
There are clear human rights violations and violations of Sudanese law. Ibrahim's imprisonment violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, since Sudan has ratified the treaty, guarantees that all Sudanese citizens "have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and due process of law. Sudan has also ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights which also guarantees freedom of religion and due process. Indeed, Sudan's own 2005 interim constitution specifically guarantees the "right and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties" ratified by Sudan. Ibrahim's case (and the impact on her children) graphically illustrates the rule of law problem - the laws are in place but not enforced.The pressure from the international community caused some movement, albeit ineffectual as it currently stands. A few weeks ago the Sudanese government pledged Ibrahim's release, but recanted a few days later. This probably is not surprising given the government is headed by Omar al-Bashir who has an outstanding ICC warrant for CAH for his actions in Darfur. What can be done? What should be done? Perhaps with continued and more world-wide pressure (which should be headed by the U.S. given that some of the youngest U.S. citizens - Maya and Martin - are sitting in deplorable conditions), there might be another small step forward even if it simply means more discussion about and attention given to the lack of the rule of law and the consequential human rights violations of women and children. More legal attention and monetary support should be put in place to uphold the rule of law.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
What teaching issues are you thinking about this summer?
Our faculty is having a lunch discussion this week about teaching. I simply love to teach. And, as a newly tenured professor who recently went through the tenure process, I have been reflecting a lot on my teaching. There are many areas where I could improve. In particular, this summer I have been thinking about the following three issues. While these matters have been previously discussed, I am interested in your current thoughts on each (and any other teaching issues on your mind this summer):
1. Unprepared Students: To this day, every time I call on a student, my heart skips a beat in hopes that the student is prepared. Sometimes I think I am as nervous as the students before I call out a name. I do feel that it is essential students learn that they must be prepared. I have heard of different ways to deal with unprepared students. Some professors wait for the student to read the case during class. Others assign reading panels for the week. Others call on students in alphabetical order. I am old school - I randomly cold call. If I do call on a student who is unprepared, I require them to call on another student to cover for them (like a life line). My hope is that the fear of being forced to put another student in the hot seat is scarier than coming to class unprepared. I have had moderate success with this approach. I have also toyed with counting unprepared students absent for the day. I would be interested to hear what others do.2. Internet Use During Class: I think I may have somewhat given up on this. I try to call on students who are obviously surfing the web during class discussion. But, to be honest, when I was a law student I attempted to multitask in class too - I just didn't have the internet, but I did have crossword puzzles, letters and notes to write, readings for other classes to catch up on, etc. So, sometimes I feel a little hypocritical when I make too big of a deal about surfing the web during class. In one small seminar class, I didn't allow computers, and for that small class it worked very well. I had the most engaging student discussions when laptops were closed. I haven't tried the no computer rule with a big class yet. I am hesitant to do so because I often use the web during class discussion to look up statutes and other materials. Also, students have case briefs and other prepared materials on their computers and need access to them. But, I have toyed with the idea of a "no computer week." Has anyone done this and was it successful?
3. Taking Too Many Notes: This point is somewhat tied to #2 above. Recently, there was an interesting study that determined that students do better when they handwrite lecture notes rather than typing them. Basically, the study pointed out that people tend to type faster than write, so they are less judicious in what they type than what they write. Until I read this study, I hadn't given this matter a lot of thought. Perhaps I should be encouraging students to handwrite class notes.
Thursday, June 05, 2014
'Bring Back Our Girls' - Failure to Enforce the Rule of Law as a Crime Against Humanity
The media has been saturated with stories of violence against children and women in developing countries and the lack of meaningful action by government officials. As a recent example, hundreds of girls in Nigeria were kidnapped from a boarding school and Nigerians have criticized the government for failure to sufficiently act. In India, two girls were raped and hung from a mango tree while, villagers allege, the police stood by. In Pakistan, a pregnant woman, while literally standing on the courthouse steps of a high court, was stoned to death by relatives even though such "honor killings" are illegal.
Many developing countries have well-written laws dealing with such issues as violence against women and children, bonded labor, property grabbing, and the general administration of justice, but a large swath of the most vulnerable part of the population (the poorest, the women, and the children) fail to receive protection or justice. No doubt, there is a rule of law problem.
Rule of law issues are complex. Developing countries do not have the funds to enforce laws. Citizens of developing countries are often unaware of their rights and protection under the law. Corruption is a problem throughout law enforcement agencies and the justice system, from the police to the prosecutors and the judges. The international community needs to do more to help battle this corruption (of course, this is not to say that we don't have our own major corruption problems on the domestic front). The rule of law problem is so pervasive in some of these countries that all the good NGOs do by providing food, education and health care is overshadowed by the violence that the most vulnerable populations face daily. Focus (and funds) should be shifted away from simply providing material aid, and instead more attention should be given to establishing the rule of law.
It doesn't matter how healthy or educated a young girl is if she is raped without any recourse or murdered without any justice. This is the subject of my current research project where I argue that the failure by high ranking government officials to enforce their countries' laws could establish a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute. A systematic failure to protect a large portion of the population (i.e., women and children) from murder, rape and other inhumane acts fits the definition of a crime against humanity. There are some potential problems with this analysis, though.
Even if the failure to enforce laws (an act of omission) could constitute a crime against humanity, could anyone really be charged? Many developing nations (including India and Pakistan) have not ratified the Rome Statute. However, the U.N. Security Council has referred a few matters (Sudan and Libya) to the International Criminal Court. In the Sudan matter, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the leader of Sudan under the Rome Statute even though Sudan is not a party member. With enough international pressure, perhaps the Security Council would act again. Even if it did not, some of the countries where gender and children violence is pervasive are parties to the Rome Statute (like Nigeria).
Second, and perhaps more important, even if a government official is charged with a crime against humanity, so what? The ICC is struggling with number of issues, including the problem of enforcement. Despite the issues surrounding the ICC, however, the shame brought upon an individual with a crime against humanity charge (or investigation) might send a strong message that the international community believes in the rule of law.
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
The Internet and Violence on Campus
I want to thank Dan Markel and everyone at PrawfsBlawg for the opportunity to guest blog this month. As a regular reader, I am honored to officially join the conversation.
Because of the recent tragedy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where Elliot Rodger murdered six students, I have been thinking a lot about violence in school. Although Rodger wasn't a current student and didn't use the internet to threaten one specific individual, his video messages posted on YouTube were clearly directed at students at the school. I have written about the intersection of the internet and school violence, but my focus was on K-12 public schools, not public universities. These cases raise complex First Amendment and due process challenges. When does a public school have the authority (or the requirement) to regulate off-campus speech that bullies or threatens other students or school officials? As for K-12 public schools, the courts are all over the board in their decisions and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue. Because the pedagogical goals are different in college than in K-12 school, these issues become even more complex in the public university setting.
In a recent case, Tatro v. University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a public university could discipline a student enrolled in a professional program for posting inappropriate comments on Facebook that violated her academic program rules without impinging on her free speech rights. The University disciplined Tatro, who was enrolled in the undergraduate mortuary science program, for posting off-colored remarks about a cadaver in an embalming lab. The Court only sided with the University because the University's rules were narrowly tailored and directly related to the professional conduct standards of the student's program. Although this case did not raise issues about violent comments created off-campus, it does bring to the forefront issues that desperately need resolution.
First, does the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District standard, which, in part, allows schools to regulate speech that substantially impinges upon the rights of others, apply to speech that students make off-campus and post on the internet? If so, does that same standard apply to college students? I have argued that the Tinker standard should apply to K-12 public schools, but the analysis seems different for public universities. Not only are most college students legally adults who should be afforded more speech protection than minors given their presumed cognitive development, but colleges themselves are supposed to be bastions for the free exchange of ideas. Thus, even if the Tinker standard applies to off-campus speech in the university setting, the bar should be much lower. But, even with a lower bar, college officials should be required to take action when there are threats or extreme bullying - of course, what constitutes "extreme bullying" (my phrase) raises a host of other issues.
Given this digital age and that social-networking sites pervade people's daily lives, students will undoubtedly continue to use the internet as the forum in which to air grievances, bully, make threats, and even post suicide notes. I would be interested to hear what others think about how schools should respond to these issues.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
The month of May has come quickly to an end. Much thanks to Dan and the PrawfsBlawg team for letting me visit this month. Thanks also my very supportive colleagues at Texas Tech including reader extrordinaire, Professor Eric Chiappinelli, to everyone who read the pieces, who commented on-line, and who contacted me directly. For those interested in thoughtful commentary on legal education, the place to be in addition PrawfsBlawg and TaxProf blog this summer is a third member of the family, Law Deans on Legal Education edited by I. Richard Gershon, Dean and Professor University of Mississippi School of Law, Paul E. McGreal Dean and Professor of Law University of Dayton School of Law, and Cynthia L. Fountaine, Dean and Professor of Law, Southern Illinois University School of Law
I look forward to visiting again in September.
With best wishes,
How do we know that the version of any case, statute or regulation we read is an accurate one
The recent kurfuffle about Supreme Court Justices changing the text of already released opinions raises the larger question of how we can ever know whether the version of any statute or case or regulation we are reading is the “final one.” It also highlights the problem of of linkrot that is also affecting the reliability of judicial opinions.
Given how important a problem it can be if the text we rely on is wrong, its interesting that authenticating information places no role in the legal curriculum. I never gave it a thought until one of my dissertation advisors asked me to write a methodology section that explained to lay readers “where statues and opinions come from” and “how do we know they are reliable.” Here's a highly abbreviated version with some helpful links (reliable as of posting, May 31, 2014).
For statutes, all roads led to the National Archives and the Government Printing Office which operates the FDYS. The National Archives operates the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), which receives laws directly from the White House after they are signed by the U.S. President..” The accuracy of these texts is assured by “[t]he secure transfer of files to GPO from the AOUSC [that] maintains the chain of custody, allowing GPO to authenticate the files with digital signatures.”
The GPO assures us that it “uses a digital certificate to apply digital signatures to PDF documents. In order for users to validate the certificate that was used by GPO to apply a digital signature to document, a chain of certificates or a certification path between the certificate and an established point of trust must be established, and every certificate within that path must be checked." Good news.
The GPO has developed a system of “Validation Icons”--explained further on the Authentication FAQ page.
Editors at the OFR then prepare a document called a “slip law,” which “is an official publication of the law and is admissible as ‘legal evidence.’” It is the OFR that assigns the permanent law number and legal statutory citation of each law and prepares marginal notes, citations, and the legislative history (a brief description of the Congressional action taken on each public bill), which also contains dates of related Presidential remarks or statements.” Slip laws are made available to the public by the GPO online.
The system is more complicated when it comes to judicial opinions. Each of the Eleven Circuit Courts of Appeal issues its own opinions. For example, this is the website of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, The GPO has joined with the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC) “to provide public access to opinions from selected United States appellate, district, and bankruptcy United States Courts Opinions (USCOURTS). Currently the collection has cases only as far back as 2004As indicated by the term “selected,” this database only contains some of the federal courts.
The official source for the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States is the U.S. Supreme court itself. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 673(c), an employee of the U.S. Supreme Court is designated the “Reporter of Opinions” and he or she is responsible for working with the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) to publish official opinions “in a set of case books called the United States Reports.”
According to the Court, “[p]age proofs prepared by the Court’s Publications Unit are reproduced, printed, and bound by private firms under contract with the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). The Court’s Publications Officer acts as liaison between the Court and the GPO.” Moreover, “the pagination of these reports is the official pagination of the case. There are four official publishers of the U.S. Reports but the court warns on its website that “[i]n the case of any variance between versions of opinions published in the official United States Reports and any other source, whether print or electronic, the United States Reports controls.”
To some exent this latest information suggesting that there may be different versions of opinions at different times fits in well with the history of the court. As most of us know, the Supreme Court did not have an official reporter until the mid-nineteenth century and did not produce a written opinion for every decision. Moreover, it has only been recording oral arguments since 1955 and although now issues same day transcripts this was hardly always the case. Also now available are the remarks that the Justices make when reading their opinions. But, and no link is missing, I don't have one, in hearing Nina Totenberg give a key note presentation at ALI in 2012 about her days at the court, she pointed out that when she began covering the Court this was not available. And that it was not unusual for notes to differ on exactly what the Justices said.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
More statutory interpretation from Donald Sterling
Sterling leads off by challenging the NBA's reliance on the secretly recorded conversations as evidence, which gets interesting. He points to California Penal Code § 632(a), which prohibits recording confidential communications without consent, and § 632(d), which excludes "evidence obtained as a result of eavesdropping upon or recording a confidential communication . . . in any judicial, administrative, legislative, or other proceeding." From this, Sterling insists he has a constitutional right not to have his private conversations recorded or having the evidence of his conversations used against him. That seems overstated--that the state offers a statutory protection against being recorded in furtherance of the constitutional right of privacy does not convert the right against being recorded into a constitutional right.The interesting statutory question is whether internal dispute-resolution proceedings of a private organization constitute an "other proceeding" under § 632(d). On one hand, the language seems to contemplate public proceedings, since the three enumerated types of proceedings are all public in nature. So under ejusdem generis, that catch-all should be read to cover only similarly public proceedings. It also makes sense that the criminal code would regulate evidence in public but not private proceedings. On the other hand, are there any public proceedings that are not judicial, administrative, or legislative? If not, then "other proceedings" must mean something not public. Perhaps it refers to something like arbitration or mediation, which can be considered quasi-public--they are privately controlled processes to which parties agree to send otherwise-public disputes. But this proceeding still seems different. This is not a situation in which the NBA established an outside-but-private process (such as arbitration of appeals under the CBA with the players' union). This is the collection of 30 owners establishing their own internal processes controlled by the 30 owners, for regulating who stays within their own ranks. Even if § 632(d) goes beyond public proceedings, the NBA process still seems fundamentally different.
Finally, the answer may be affected by the 2001 decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper. Bartnicki held that Congress could not punish publication of an illegally intercepted and recorded phone call, where the publishers were uninvolved in the unlawful interception or recording. The First Amendment protects publication (and, implicitly, other uses) of truthful lawfully obtained information on matters of public concern, except where the government is serving a need of the highest order. So perhaps the NBA could argue that it is entitled under Bartnicki to use the laefully obtained (and thus constitutionally protected) recording in its private internal proceedings, meaning California law is limited only to public, California-established proceedings, but not to whatever private proceedings private persons and entities may adopt.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Report from ALI Annual Meeting--and What Justice Ginsberg is Reading
I’m just back from the 91st annual meeting of the American Law Institute in Washington, DC. So much happened in a three day period that it’s hard to do justice—I know that many others have blogged and tweeted. In keeping with the theme of what I’ve been blogging about, higher education, I will report that the current state of legal education was a palpable presence and a frequent topic of conversation. Whether it was ALI President Roberta Cooper Ramointroducing Associate Academic Dean Ellen Clayton of my neighbor institution, the University of North Texas, UNT Dallas College of Law, as someone doing a remarkable thing to open a new law school to Justice Breyer's charming refusal to be drawn into either a criticism of legal education or a comment on the current complaints being made against it.
It is also my honor to pass on that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg reported that she was reading Wings of Freedom: Addressing Challenges to the University while giving its author, former president of Stanford University Professor Gerhard Casper, the ALI’s Distinguished Service Medal. I have ordered but not yet received the book, so here is the blurb:
“From affirmative action and multiculturalism to free speech, politics, public service, and government regulation, Casper addresses the controversial issues currently debated on college campuses and in our highest courts. With insight and candor, each chapter explores the context of these challenges to higher education and provides Casper’s stirring orations delivered in response. In addressing these vital concerns, Casper outlines the freedoms that a university must encourage and defend in the ongoing pursuit of knowledge.”
ALI is always inspiring--like everyone I had no idea as a law student that the Restatements were actually the product of so much collective and collaborative work. It is also a "how to" of running an event at which every attendee is used to being in charge either as a Judge, a Professor, a General Counsel or a Partner.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Is Yours One of the 45 Law Schools to Which it is Worth Going: A Look at the Broken Market for Legal Education
As those of you who have read my earlier posts (and I hope you have) know everything I’m writing on legal education takes as a premise that the entire system of financing higher education is broken and that we, as a society, are borrowing against our future by making college, let alone graduate and professional schools, financially prohibitive to those who otherwise have the interest and ability to pursue it. But as bad as the debt to employment ratio is for many law students right now it is made worse by a misperception of a uniform level of financial stress, a uniform kind of desirable job, and a uniform market for legal services. These misperceptions are making the market for legal education inefficient yet this inefficiency is supported by a social norm that higher must be better (yes, Wikipedia--Prof. Ellickson don't rescind my property grade)--and as a result causing hardship for prospective law students and law schools alike.
On Monday, fearless leader of the Law Professor blogs network, Professor Paul Caron, in our flagship, Taxprof Blog highlighted this working paper by Kelsey Webber who “does the math” and concludes that there are only 45 law schools worth attending at sticker price. That may sound better than the critics who conclude that there are no law schools work attending, but it is based on the same flawed assumptions.
Like all “works in progress” there’s lot to pick at—starting with the premise that any law student anywhere is paying “sticker price,” but over the next five days, or so, I’m not going to pick at the paper but rather am going to challenge the generalizations it reflects. I’m going to focus on law’s status as a highly regionalized profession and on the differences that have always existed between schools that historically sent a big chunk of their students to large firms and schools that never did.
And I’m going to address a lurking elephant in the living room that is contributing to the misery—students pursuing legal educations often do so not out of a sense of vocation but rather as a hazy path to a good income. Nothing wrong with that—but it interferes with an efficient, market in which law students would flock to regions not suffering from economic downturn and to law schools offering attractive combinations of low tuition/strong financial aid.
I’m not here to blame students for decisions they make at age 20 with limited available information. I’m just pointing out that this idea of a universal hierarchy of law schools perpetuated by US News rankings has fueled the suffering and distress in the regions where there is little hope of getting a job that would make law school a sound investment. I'm not blaming the messenger, I'm suggesting that they don't work in law the way they work for Clinical Psychology Programs, Engineering Schools or even Medical Schools where higher ranked programs (regardless of location) are closely linked to better job prospects.
I’m also going to address some measurement issues that assume a “big law” view of the world. So, for example, while lack of a big law job 9 months out of law schools is catastrophic because traditionally those were sewn up by the end of the second year summer or certainly by graduation, it means far less outside big law where students are seldom even considered until they have passed the bar-something that won’t happen until five or six months after graduation. And in general, what it means in relation to whether law school was “worth it” depends entirely on the size and shape of the financial hole law school creates. And that varies a lot.
At the other end, I’m going to dispute how safe a bet these 45 schools actually are for every student interested in becoming a lawyer. These are all great schools. The students attending them worked hard to get there, and have every right to enjoy the status they confer, but, again, law is highly regionalized and I plan to vigorously dispute the pernicious paradigm that all higher ranked law schools are better for all law students than all lower ranked law schools.
To be continued.
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Outcomes Based Assessment is Coming
Thanks for all the comments about evaluation of faculty teaching—and thank you to Professor Bainbridge for the transition to the next topic—Outcomes Assessment. The days when we in legal education could say that the bar exam did outcomes assessment for us are rapidly coming to an end. Outcomes assessment (or “output assessment as it is sometimes known) is something we in legal academe will soon likely be required to do in every class, for every student. Why? Because our regional accrediting agencies already demand it and the ABA has already put forward for comments changes to Section 301 here reflecting this report by a 2008 subcommittee.
If I’ve lost anyone here about regional accrediting agencies, now is a good time to lift the veil. So long as we depend on our students using federal student loan programs to pay their tuition, we must meet the Department of Education’s standard that we provide a “quality” education. And while the DOE does not tell us, or anyone else, what “quality” is, it can require that we submit ourselves to an entity it recognizes as being qualified to do so. We all know that the ABA sets standards of quality for legal education, but unless you have a role in developing new programs, you may not be aware of your regional accreditor, but rest assured your Dean and Provost think about them all the time. For example, Texas A & M University would not have been able to acquire Texas Wesleyan Law School without the approval of the Southern Association of Schools ad Colleges. Here’s the TAMU Press Release and here’s the actual SACSCOC announcement.
So back to Outcomes Assessment— it makes sense to evaluate law schools and faculties on their results rather than their efforts (we don’t raise the grades of students because they “tried hard”) but like all assessment it can’t happen without first identifying what outcomes to measure and how to do it. Is it mastery of material in individual courses? Bar Passage? Employment in a J.D. required job? Competency in practice? Client satisfaction? Personal satisfaction? All of these are desirable outcomes for our law students, but the question legal education shares now with all higher education is which of them can be directly linked to what happens in law schools.
Luckily for us as we make the transition to outcomes assessment, there is a wealth of reference material. This piece from Prof. Gregory Munro reviews the topic of outcomes assessment at the level of the individual law school class. Since we are relatively late to the outcomes assessment party there are a lot of models out there. Here is a very interesting article by Profs. Deborah Maranville, Kate O’Neill, and Carolyn Plumb drawing lessons for legal education from Engineering’s experiences in assessing not just content outcomes but also ethical ones. Here is an article by Carolyn Grose about her experiences integrating outcome measures into her Trusts and Estate class.
At a practical level, our friends at UCHastings have put together a very helpful compilation of resources, including sample syllabi, for law professors who want to create and then assess learning objectives in their classes. The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning is a rich and frequently updated source of helpful material on all aspects of law teaching, very much including issues of outcomes assessment.
This will be a big change for us both on the level of setting individual output/outcome goals for each of our classes and then on a larger scale for our schools as a whole. But it’s a change that’s coming and for which we need to prepare ourselves. I know that these links only scratch the surface of the work being done within legal academe to address the need for outcomes measures and I invite everyone to include material they either created or know about that will be helpful to the community at large.
Saturday, May 03, 2014
Sen Elizabeth Warren's New Memoir of Special Interest to Law Profs
There are a lot of reasons why law professors should read Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recently published memoir--“A Fighting Chance." The top two are that it's well-written and frequently very funny. (for full effect--I suggest the audio version that the Senator narrates herself).
Beyond that, not only is it a lucid explanation of the banking industry’s efforts to limit the ability of creditors to make a fresh start through declaring bankruptcy, it is an account of her extraordinary academic career--one that she achieved without any of the traditional criteria such as academic pedigree, powerful mentors, family connections, prestigious fellowships or judicial clerkships. For those unfamiliar with her as Bankruptcy Professor-here are some posts she has made on the Credit Slips blog.
She also closely documents her struggles to balance family, both her children and elderly parents (and pets). There is a lot for law professors to unpack here--including how her interest in the people behind the laws has shaped her career.
But more generally, I look forward to discussing how critical it is for the future of legal education that Senator Warren succeed in convincing her colleagues of the need to reform the way higher education is financed. Whether she herself has the best plan for fixing student loans—well different people have different views-including just eliminating them. But unless we can stop the ever increasing cycle of debt that is making our students’ lives so difficult, any of the important changes that need to be made in legal education risk being about as effective as bailing out a sinking boat with a bucket that itself has a hole in it.
As I will elaborate later, I’m very optimistic that we can all create a program about which students can say 5, 10, 15 years later that they are better off for having gone to our law school. But we’re probably not there now. Rather, we are in a situation similar to being attacked by a hive of bees. Every individual bee, lack of job opportunities, bimodal salary distributions, drop in state support for public institutions, lack of transparency about student outcomes, out dated curriculums, disconnect between the classroom and the practice of law, imposition of a value system that drives law students into disproportionate levels of depression that may well follow them throughout their careers, is capable of inflicting painful or even lethal stings. But the breach in the hive comes from a level of student loan debt that cannot be supported by any reasonably obtainable career path. It’s not a perfect metaphor—student loan reform is necessary but not sufficient to developing a legal education that better prepares our students for the important role they will play in society.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Hello—and thank you to Dan and PrawfsBlawg for inviting me to guest this month!
My name is Jennifer Bard and I am a Professor at Texas Tech University School of Law where, among other things, I direct our Health Law Program. I’ve been blogging in the “Profs” family at HealthLawProfs and more recently also at the Harvard Bill of Health. My research interests include legal & ethical issues in conducting research, the effect of increasing knowledge about the brain on the legal response to criminal conduct, and the intersection between Constitutional Law and the regulation of health care delivery and finance. Here’s where you can find some things I’ve published.
Over the next month, I look forward to blogging about issues I’ve been thinking about a lot including the future of legal education—both in terms of curricular reform and addressing the substantial challenges facing us about the cost of law school and the rapidly changing job market, current issues in higher education, and of course on-going developments in health law.
My thinking has been shaped a lot by two degrees I got after law school. The first was a master’s of public health which gave me the “prevention” model of solving. The big idea in public health is that it’s always easier to prevent a problem than to solve one—but first you need to understand its causes. The second is a Ph.D. in Higher Education that introduced me to the much larger theoretical and regulatory context in which legal education occurs.
This is a time of significant change in higher education as it faces close scrutiny from consumers and the state and federal governments representing them. For example, on Monday President Obama issued a report calling for substantial changes to the way universities both prevent and respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Here is the first PSA to come from the White House on this topic. Although law schools often see themselves as autonomous islands within the larger university, we are all going to see the effects of this and other related campaigns.
Two additional thoughts on the Sterling suspension
Yesterday I questioned the precise basis for the NBA's suspension of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On further reflection, I want to consider some additional interpretive points.
First, I noted that the NBA Constitution and By-Laws contain two provisions--Article 35A(c) allows for a fine of up to $ 1 million for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the league and Article 35A(d) allows for a suspension and/or a fine of up to $ 1 million for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the league. Commissioner Adam Silver must have relied on 35A(d), since 35A(c) does not allow for a suspension. But I questioned that usage. Sterling's misdeeds involved statements and the existence of distinct prohibitions--one regulating conduct and one regulating statements--suggests that the statement-specific provision should have been used here, which would make the suspension inappropriate.
But now I am wondering whether I am reading 35A(c) incorrectly. Perhaps the "statements" it prohibits are those that directly criticize the league or something about the league, for example game officiating (many a fine has been imposed on a coach or owner for doing that). But it does not reach statements about something else that, because of their viewpoint, happen to make the league look bad. That would instead be treated as "conduct" and pulled back within the more-general regulation of 35A(d).Second, I am wondering if Silver simply jumped to the catch-all power of Article 24(l) to make decisions and impose punishments in the best interests of the NBA for all three sanctions, ignoring anything in Article 35A. Article 24(l) allows for a range of penalties, including suspension and a fine up to $ 2.5 million. If so, it brings to even sharper light the question of how he could do that, since, again, 24(l) only operates when "a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This means Silver should have at least glanced at 35A(c) and/or (d), which do seem to cover this situation.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Of (Courtney) Love and Malice
Today Seattle Police released a note found on Kurt Cobain at his death excoriating wife Courtney Love. Based on her subsequent behavior, Love cannot have been an easy person to be married to. I've been researching Love lately for an article on social media libel that I'm writing with RonNell Andersen Jones. Love is not only the first person in the US to be sued for Twitter libel; she's also Twibel's only repeat player thus far. According to news reports, Love has been sued for Twitter libel twice , and recently she was sued for Pinterest libel as well.
Love's Twitter libel trial raises interesting issues, one of which is how courts and juries should determine the existence of "actual malice" in libel cases involving tweets or Facebook posts by "non-media" defendants. As you probably recall, the US Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment requires public figures and public officials to prove actual malice--i.e., knowledge or reckless disregard of falsity--before they can recover for defamation. And even private figure defamation plaintiffs involved in matters of public concern must prove actual malice if they wish to receive presumed or punitive damages. However, US Supreme Court jurisprudence elucidating the concept of actual malice predominantly involves “media defendants”—members of the institutional press—and the Court’s examples of actual malice reflect the investigative practices of the institutional press. Thus, the Court has stated that in order for a plaintiff to establish actual malice, “[t]here must be sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendant in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication." [St. Amant v. Thompson] Actual malice, for example, exists if a defendant invents a story, bases it on ‘an unverified anonymous telephone call,” publishes statements “so inherently improbable that only a reckless man would have put them in circulation,” or publishes despite “obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of [an] informant or the accuracy of his reports." Id.
These examples have little resonance for “publishers” in a social media context, many of whom, like Love, post information spontaneously with little verification other than perhaps a perusal of other social media sources. The typical social media libel defendant is less likely than her traditional media counterpart to rely on informants strategically placed within government or corporate hierarchies or to carefully analyze primary sources before publishing. Moreover, the typical social media defendants has no fact-checker, editor, or legal counsel and is less likely than institutional media publishers to have special training in gauging the credibility of sources or to profess to follow a code of ethics that prizes accuracy over speed.
The issue Courtney Love's libel trial appears to have raised is whether it constitutes reckless disregard of falsity if a defendant irrationally believes her defamatory accusation to be true. I say "appears," because one can only glean the issue from media accounts of Love's libel trial--the first full jury trial for Twitter libel in the US. The jury found that Love lacked actual malice when she tweeted in 2010 that her former attorney had been "bought off." Specifically, Love tweeted: “I was f—— devestated when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote[sic].” Holmes sued Love in California state court for $8 million, arguing that the tweet accused Holmes of bribery. Love contended that her tweet was merely hyperbole. News accounts of the jury verdict in Love’s favor, however, indicate that the jury found that Love did not post her tweet with “actual malice." The jury deliberated for three hours at the end of the seven-day trial before concluding that the plaintiff had not proved by clear and convincing evidence that Love knew her statements were false or doubted their truth.
The Love case doesn't set any precedents, but it raises interesting issues for future cases. According to court documents and news accounts, Love consulted a psychiatrist for an “addiction” to social media. Certainly Love’s actions in the series of defamation cases she has generated do not seem entirely rational, but there is no “insanity defense” to a libel claim. Yet the determination of whether a defendant had “actual malice” is a subjective one, meaning that it is relevant whether the defendant suffered from a mental illness that caused her to have irrational, or even delusional, beliefs about the truth of a statement she posted on social media. It seems problematic, however, for the law to give no recourse to the victims of mentally disordered defamers pursuing social media vendettas based on fantasies they have concocted. As a practical matter, this problem is likely to be solved by the skepticism of juries, who will rarely accept a defendant’s argument that she truly believed her delusional and defamatory statements. Or at least I hope so.
And in case you wondered . . . Love's first social media libel case involved her postings on Twitter, MySpace and Etsy calling a fashion designer known as the "Boudoir Queen" a "nasty lying hosebag thief" and alleging that the Queen dealt cocaine, lost custody of her child, and committed assault and burglary. Love apparently settled that case for $430,000. Love's third social media libel case involves further statements about the Queen that Love made on the Howard Stern show and posted on Pinterest. Some people, it seems, are slow learners.
Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on April 30, 2014 at 06:30 PM in Blogging, Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Information and Technology, Lyrissa Lidsky, Torts, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Sterling, Silver, and statutory interpretation
For those of you who like using sports rules to illustrate statutory interpretation, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's lowering of the hammer on Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a gold mine (forgive the precious metal puns). And it may be that, while Silver is being lauded for his moral and ethical stand, his legal footing is a bit shakier.
Silver on Tuesday imposed three punishments: 1) A lifetime ban from all involvement with the Clippers or the league; 2) a $ 2.5 million fine; and 3) a call for the owners to vote to terminate Sterling's ownership. The NBA had previously kept its governing documents secret; at the time of Silver's press conference, no one outside the league knew the precise bases for these punishments (when asked, Silver said he would "leave that to the lawyers"). The league finally released its Constitution and By-Laws (H/T: Deadspin), although they still have not announced the precise bases for these decisions, so we are guessing as to exactly what Silver relied on and why. We may only know if Sterling challenges his punishments (presumably through a breach of contract action). Either way, you probably could get a nice legal analysis exam out of this.
The lifetime ban is most likely pursuant to Article 35A(d), which empowers the commissioner to "suspend for a definite or indefinite period . . . any person who, in his opinion, shall have been guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Association." The fine seems to be pursuant to Article 24(l), which gives the commissioner catch-all authority to make decisions "as in his judgment shall be in the best interests of the Assocaition" when a situation is not otherwise covered; the maximum fine under that provision is $ 2.5 million. Finally, the call for termination of Sterling's membership triggers Articles 13, 14, and 14A. Article 13 enumerates ten bases for termination; the only one that might fit is (a), where an owner "Willfully violate[s] any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association," which brings us back to Article 35A(d)'s conduct prejudicial or detrimental or Article 24(l)'s "best interests." The power to terminate rests with the NBA's Board of Governors, comprised of the other 29 owners, and requires a 3/4 supermajority.
First, it is interesting that Silver apparently split the source for the first two punishments. The suspension seems to have been under Article 35A(d) for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA. But 35A(d) (already used as the basis for the suspension) also allows for a maximum $1m fine in addition to the suspension. Clearly Silver did not rely on Article 35A for the fine, however, since he imposed a fine 1 1/2 times larger than 35A(d)'s limit. Instead, the fine must have been under the Article 24(l) catch-all, given the amount. Why did he do it this way? Presumably to impose the larger fine under 24(l).
But there is a good argument that resort to the catch-all is inappropriate here. Article 24(l) expressly applies only "[w]here a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This situation is covered by another part of the Constitution--Article 35A(d), already used for the suspension. In other words, since Silver found that Sterling violated Article 35A(d) (in suspending him), that also should have been the basis for the fine. Silver thus was wrong to resort to the catch-all. Further complicating matters is Article 35A(c), providing for fines (again, maximum $ 1 m) specifically for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of the team, league, or basketball. That also seems to cover this situation--Sterling obviously said things contrary to the best interests of the NBA--again making resort to Article 24(l) inappropriate.
Second, and related: Why did Silver rely on Article 35A(d) for conduct prejudicial or detrimental rather than Article 35A(c) for a statement prejudicial or detrimental? Presumably because (c) does not allow for suspension, while (d) does. But Sterling is unquestionably being punished for statements, not conduct (whatever his racist views, he was not punished for acting on his views or operating his team in a way that implemented those views). While a provision prohibiting conduct could, standing alone, also reach statements, that argument does not work when there are distinct provisions, one regulating conduct and one regulating speech. Did the NBA Constitution intentionally set-up a situation in which conduct could be the basis for a suspension but statements only for a fine? If so, perhaps this means the suspension is improper.
Note that my analysis presumes a certain exclusivity--Article 24(l) by its terms cannot be in play if a different provision is; Article 35A(d) cannot be used to regulate statements because 35A(c) already does. Perhaps Silver would argue--and an arbiter would accept--that all of the provisions together allow for this range of punishments. But that is an odd form of statutory interpretation and would render many provisions of the NBA Constitution superfluous.
Third, expect some controversy when the owners attempt to terminate Sterling's ownership. The league would be basing termination on a willful violation of either of three broad, non-specific provisions (either "conduct prejudicial or detrimental," statements prejudicial or detrimental, or conduct judged not in the "best interests'); either seems a very generic basis for this ultimate sanction. (For a legal comparison, think of SCOTUS' efforts to make 18 U.S.C. § 241 work for catch-all Due Process violations in the face of vagueness concerns). The other nine bases for termination are fairly specific, going to gambling and fixing games (forever the cardinal sin) and extreme mismanagement of the franchise, although none is in play here. Perhaps Sterling could argue that either 35A(d) or 24(l) is not a specific enough rule in the Constitution & By-Laws as to be willfully violated as to form a basis for termination under 13(a). Failing that, termination of ownership, if the owners must the necessary supermajority (and I imagine they will, both to show support for Silver's leadership and to keep the players happy), appears proper and within league rules. Of course, under Article 14(j), owners waive any review of this decision (and a similar one in the franchise agreement), so it may not matter (unless, as David Hoffman suggests, the enforceability of this waiver-of-recourse clause is dubious).
[Update: A thought that just rolled around: One might read "willfully" in Article 13(a) to require specific intent (again, what the Court has done with § 241 to avoid vagueness concerns). That is, requiring a finding that Sterling not only specifically intended to make those statements (he did), but specifically intended to make them so as to be prejudicial or detrimental to the league. If that is what willfully does, termination of ownership may become tougher. Otherwise, any little violation of any rule could become a basis for termination.]
Finally, it will be interesting to see how the owners approach termination of ownership. Typically, terminating a franchise transfers control to the league, under Article 14A(c). But the media seems to be talking in terms of the owners giving Sterling an opportunity to sell the team outright to some outside owner. While not specifically provided for, that might be a potential negotiated resolution.
Monday, April 28, 2014
People everywhere are looking for ways to protest the racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Clippers players used a silent pre-game protest, leaving their warm-up jackets on the floor at halfcourt and warming up with their shirts inside-out (hiding the "Clippers" logo). Two Golden State fans got creative with posters. And Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who was mentioned in the telephone conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend as someone who was OK to bring to games because he is of mixed race and ethnicity, used Michael Jackson's "Black or White" as the music when he came to the plate in Sunday's game. And some companies are now withdrawing from sponsorship deals with the Clippers.
It has become commonplace to protest high-level business people by economically targeting the businesses with which they are associated, by refusing to invest, work at, or shop at these companies. These include attempted or limited boycotts--see Chick-Fil-A or, going back further, Domino's Pizza--or threatened targeting with the hope of inciting change--see the ouster of RadiumOne's CEO following his guilty plea on misdemeanor domestic violence charges or Mozilla firing the CEO who supported Prop 8). Whether such efforts are effective, they have come to be seen as a strong means of political expression if not change.
For all that I have argued for the intimate connection between sport and free expression, however, it is ironic that those expressive weapons cannot work with respect to professional sports.
The first problem is the collective nature of leagues such as the NBA. Donald Sterling benefits from everything that happens as to every team in the league, not just what happens to the Clippers. He benefitted from Warriors fans who attended the game in Oakland on Sunday, since visiting teams receive a percentage of gate. He benefitted from every basketball fan of every team who watched any playoff game on television, because teams share revenue earned from the league's massive broadcast deals--that includes not only the Clippers-Warriors game, but all three games played yesterday. It is not enough to target the Clippers, in other words; it would take a massive fan movement against the NBA as a whole.
A second problem is the emotional connection and loyalty that fans feel to their teams. Clippers fans do not want to entirely abandon the team, because they want to see "their" team succeed. And that is not fungible--I can get a chicken sandwich from a lot of places, but I cannot just shift my team loyalties overnight. Moreover, fan loyalty runs to the players who represent them on the court, not to the owner in the background. And it still is about the league as a whole, not one team. Fans of the Warriors are not going to abandon their loyalties to their players and teams, and their desire to celebrate a championship, because the owner of the opposing team is a racist. Nor are the fans of the other playoff teams not currently playing the Clippers, who similarly want their teams to win and do not care about the racist owner of a team other than their beloved franchise. Even fans without another rooting interest are in a bind; the easy move is to root against the Clippers so Sterling does not enjoy a championship and to stop watching games. But that means rooting against the players who also want that success, which somehow seems unfair.
A third problem is that the players are unable to vote with their feet by seeking employment elsewhere, at least not right now. They want to win a championship right now--it is bound up in who they are and what they do, and the opportunity does not come around very often. To walk away from that opportunity in protest hurts them more than it hurts Sterling (who still profits from being part of the NBA money-printing aparatus). It is why Clippers players reportedly only briefly considered, then rejected, forfeiting Sunday's game. Again, it would take league-wide action--every team refusing to play until the NBA takes action against Sterling. And while the NBAPA is trying to get involved in the matter, I see no way that such a collective walkout is in the offing (not to mention whether it is even legal under the NLRA)--again, players must jump at the opportunity to win a championship, because it may not come around again.
Update: I forgot the most important point in all of this, so I'll add it here: The most obvious way for Clippers fans to express their anti-Sterling viewpoints without having to stop supporting their team is to show up with signs and clothes and chants doing just that. This doesn't change the team's ownership or anything, but it is the best outlet for fan expression. But this raises an important issue: Will the Clippers and/or the NBA try to control what fans say about Sterling or how they say it? On one hand, I believe Staples Center (where the Clippers play) is privately owned, so the First Amendment is not in play and fans are at the mercy of the arena's owners. Most pro teams are look to stop speech criticial of ownership when they can. On the other hand, both would take an overwhelming PR hit for censoring anti-Sterling speech at this point, so they might actually allow fans to get away with more than they ordinarily would in a situation that had not so boiled over.
Monday, April 07, 2014
Eich and the Politicization of the Corporation
Just a brief word on the (forced) resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich because of his Prop 8 donations: welcome to the continuing politicization of the corporation. If corporations have speech protections and can play an active role in ideological debates of all stripes, then it matters if the CEO takes a different political position than the majority of stakeholders in the enterprise. The CEO controls the company and speaks for the company. So it is not suprising that stakeholders would be concerned about a CEO that did not reflect their values.
I think we're entering interesting and perhaps dangerous territory here as corporations take on First Amendment roles beyond their core business. Corporations will always be associated with "core concern" speech directly related to the company's products and services. But there is no need for "symbolic" speech that is unrelated to the business. As I discussed at the Glom with regard to the Chick-fil-A controversy, gay marriage has little to do with delicious chicken sandwiches. It is needlessly entangling of commerce and politics to make the purchase of a sandwich into a political act, especially when many participants in the enterprise have no interest in fomenting such a debate. But those lines are blurring. So Chick-fil-A begat the Eich resignation, because Mozilla customers and employees did not want their association with the company to end up labeled as support for limitations on gay marriage.
And that's the concern with Hobby Lobby, too -- if the court upholds First Amendment religion clause rights for a private, for-profit corporation, those who control the corporation will control its religion, too. That means whatever ideologically-charged positions the controllers choose to take, the rest of the participants will be dragged along as well. And that will make the corporation even more of an ideological battlefield.
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Affordable Care and the Lessons of History
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) seems to be gaining steam. After a rocky start in October, the new health insurance exchanges reached the government's enrollment goal of 7 million. As ACA's provisions continue to take effect, its status should solidify and transform the U.S. health care system in important ways.
Yet there also are reasons to be cautious about ACA's long-term prospects. The Act's basic framework may not have taken sufficient account of the lessons from history. After watching health insurers torpedo the Clinton plan in 1994, President Obama took care to secure support for ACA from the insurance industry, as well as drug companies, physicians, and other important interest groups. But there may have been more important lessons from the country's history with other public benefit programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps.
As NPR and the New York Times reminded us with their ACA updates last week, federal-state partnerships can have serious drawbacks compared to programs operated by the federal government. Some states effectively meet the needs of their residents, but others do not. Just as Texas had the highest percentage of uninsured people under pre-ACA health care, Texas continues to lag other states under ACA in terms of access to health care coverage. Similarly, when states were responsible for setting eligibility standards for food stamps, the program reached counties with only 59 percent of the U.S. population. After a decade of state oversight, Congress established uniform eligibility standards.
Benefit programs also fare better when they are perceived by the public as having been earned. Medicare and Social Security have enjoyed strong support because they are funded in part by payroll deductions. Medicaid, on the other hand, with its funding from general revenues, often is viewed as providing handouts.
Finally, benefit programs for the poor tend to generate broad support only when the well-to-do also are eligible for the programs. Medicare with its universal eligibility is a much stronger program than is Medicaid. Under ACA, the more prosperous will continue to receive their health insurance from their employers or on their own, without government subsidies, while the poor will have to rely on Medicaid or federally-subsidized health exchange coverage. History tells us that political support flags over time when benefits are restricted to the less prosperous. Perhaps support for the exchange coverage subsidies will persist since poeple are eligible for the subsidies up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, but the Medicaid expansion only goes up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
President Obama and congressional Democrats may have made the correct short-term political bet when they went with ACA rather than a federally-operated, Medicare-for-all system funded by payroll deductions. But the long-term prospects of ACA carry much uncertainty.
[cross-posted at HealthLawProf blog and orentlicher.tumblr.com]
Friday, March 14, 2014
Who will create an astute marijuana litigation and legal practice blog?
Regular Prawfs readers know that I have done some blogging here about marijuana laws, policies and reform because I see so many interesting general legal issues intersecting with the drug war generally and criminal justice approaches to marijuana specifically. Indeed, I felt compelled to start a new blog, Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, in part because I was interested in writing about broad issues of public policy implicated by modern marijuana reform efforts: as I have said in my marijuana seminar course description, "contemporary state-level reforms of marijuana laws have raised significant new constitutional, legal, political and practical issues; policy concerns relating to states' rights, local government law, race, gender, public health, crime, political economy, and bioethics intersect with modern marijuana law reform."
Now, as the title of this post suggests and largely thanks to some terrific guest blogging by Alex Kreit over at MLP&R, I think the time may be right for an enterprising lawyer and/or law firm to start a blog focused particularly on marijuana-related litigation and emerging legal practice issues surrounding this new industry. I say this based in part on these four new recent posts over at MLP&R which highlight the array of diverse issues and courts now dealing with dynamic marijuana-related litigation:
In this Prawfs post a few months ago, I speculated that green (i.e., young/junior) lawyers may have a uniquely important role to play in the emerging marijuana "green rush" industry: not only may veteran lawyers be cautious and concerned about representing persons actively involved in state marijuana business, but marijuana reform often seems a "young man's game" for which junior lawyers may be uniquely positioned to be of service to persons needing legal help in this arena. Now I am thinking, based in part on the posts above, that an especially effective way for a young lawyer or law firm to make a name in this arena (and to learn a whole lot) would be to start blogging astutely about the emerging challenges and opportunities that surround marijuana litigation and legal practice.
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Gambling v. PEDs and the Baseball Hall of Fame
Warning: Another sports-and-law post, this focusing on the internal rules of baseball as a business
Kostya Kennedy has a new book on Pete Rose, titled Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, excerpted in this week's Sports Illustrated cover story. Kennedy states that Rose's Hall-of-Fame worthiness has come under "renewed discussion" as players linked to PED use (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) come up for Hall consideration. TThe excerpt (and presumably the book) present the arguments that Rose' gambling is a lesser crime than PED use, so he should be a more worthy candidate for the Hall than a juicer. Will Leitch at Sports on Earth responds and basically blows up the argument, by pointing out the serious problems that gambling creates and the moral panic that surrounds PEDs.
But there is a different, more legalistic reason Kennedy's article gets Rose's Hall eligibility wrong, one I discussed eight years ago, just as the major PED suspects were beginning to retire. Rose is ineligible for the Hall because he voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban from baseball and placement on baseball's permanently ineligible list. Under Rule 3E of the BBWAA voting rules, "Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate." And that ends the inquiry. It actually does not matter whether Rose bet on baseball or on the Reds (he admitted gambling on baseball, although never on games involving his team)--he accepted the ban and thus the collateral consequence of the ban. On the other hand, no suspected steroid user has ever been assessed a lifetime ban or placed on the permanently ineligible list, thus none is subject to Rule 3E. Steroid users are being kept out of the Hall by the principled insistence (or priggish obstinance, depending on your perspective) of BBWAA members.
Of course, we might reconsider this ordering, which would require reconsideration of the comparative evil of steroid use and gambling. Under present rules, a person is banned for life for a third positive test or finding of PED use, but banned for life on one finding of having bet on games involving his team. Perhaps that should be flipped, or at least treated on equal footing. (On this, I agree with Leitch that we have the order right, that gambling is a far greater sin than taking drugs designed to help you play better and for longer). But none of that changes anything for Rose given the current rules and the rules under which he operated.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
The Unfulfilled Potential of "Above the Law"
"Above the Law" has been disappointing. Like a lot of other law professors, I would guess, I'm uncomfortable with some of the anti-law-school rhetoric that Elie Mystal and others have been trading in there. But that's not the disappointing part -- in fact, I think Elie has been largely responsible in his vitriol. (And there have sadly been many deserving targets.) Instead, I'm disappointed that ATL has not fulfilled its promise of being the go-to site for news about lawyers and law schools. Instead, it's been a useful site for *links* to news about lawyers and law schools.
What's the difference? ATL has almost no original content, at least in terms of news. There's a lot of opinion, yes, and that opinion can be entertaining and informative. But most of the time, the opinion is: "Hey, did you see this? Wow! LOL!" I cannot remember any time--any time--where ATL broke a news story. Maybe they have, and I'm forgetting. All the stories I remember start with a brief overview, a link, opinion, a block quote from the original source, and then further opinion. It's like I'm reading Yahoo.
So here's my plea -- do some original journalism! Yes, journalism is expensive. But how many people are working over there? Can't you assign three folks out of j-school or law school each to a "beat" -- law schools, Big Law, and other lawyers and judges -- and set them loose with a modest expense account and time to dig? There's news out there -- do some actual reporting! I suppose it's not the Gawker way, perhaps, but seriously -- how much better would ATL be if it actually broke some of its own stories? It would depend on the quality of the stories, of course. But ATL could make itself into a "farm team" for folks looking to work at the New Yorker, NY Mag, VF, the Atlantic, the Awl, or Grantland. I'd prefer some long-form pieces -- send somebody to X law firm or Y law school to actually do some digging and provide a deeper perspective. But short "Page Six" items would be entertaining as well!
I give ATL credit for its rankings, which were a thoughtful attempt to reconstruct the formula with more emphasis on jobs and alumni rankings. (Full disclosure: SLU placed 47th.) But it's not the investigative journalism that ATL seemed poised to provide when it started. With the proliferation of blogs, there is so much opinion out there. ATL is now a group blog, with some smart folks and smart opinions but just links, not news. I had thought it had the chance to be something a little different.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
More Honest Bob Casey
[But any attorney who seeks to help guarantee that right, in a case in which I believe the crime is sufficiently heinous, becomes per se unqualified for high public office. So, hey attorneys, feel free to help guarantee that right to citizens.]
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
A Post-Script on Samuel Sheinbein
I'm not sure how many of you remember this, but one of the more fascinating stories my co-authors (Jennifer Collins and Ethan Leib) and I relied upon in our 2009 book on criminal justice and family status had to do with Samuel Sheinbein. After he gruesomely murdered someone in Maryland, Sheinbein, with his father's assistance, escaped to Israel and avoided extradition. The Sheinbein parents thought they were doing their parental duty by trying to squire their son to a more compassionate jurisdiction. Sheinbein was charged and convicted in Israel and sentenced to 24 years in prison in Israel, with furloughs, which is probably a better outcome than he would have received in Maryland. (Though with the recent excuse of affluenza, who knows?)
For our purposes, we were primarily interested in Sheinbein's parents' involvement in assisting their son, since our Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties focused on two questions: what role does and what role should family status play in the operation of the criminal justice system? Among other things, we discovered that about a dozen states around the country explicitly carve out exemptions for family members from laws that otherwise prohibit assisting fugitives and we argued that these exemptions were largely misguided and should be jettisoned. Here's a short version of what we argued on the Freakanomics Blog.
The Sheinbein parents' good intentions, certainly understandable if not justifiable, have had deadly consequences. For the latest news is that Samuel Sheinbein the killer is now dead. He was shot by special forces in a prison raid once he barricaded himself in a room within the prison; somehow, Sheinbein secured the firearm of a guard and seriously wounded three prison officials along the way. There's no definite lesson to be learned here from one anecdote--one might well imagine the Sheinbein saga ending with a story of redemption and rehabilitation. Here, however, it was intransigence and bloodshed. And so, when legislators are considering whether to be sympathetic to parents or children placed in difficult positions by their criminal family members, they would also do well to remember the Sheinbein story, a case where we see the cruelty and cost of misplaced compassion.
Sunday, February 09, 2014
Misusing and misunderstanding the language of law
I do not agree with everything in this Dahlia Lithwick piece on the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen mess. But she makes a couple of good points about the unfortunate things that happen when the language of law gets abused in the court of public opinion (or, as she calls it, "litigation by hashtag").
First, she has a good takedown of this incoherent nonsense that Allen is not the only one who enjoys a presumption of innocence; Farrow does, too--a presumption of innocence of making false allegations against Allen. As I tell my students, presumptions are about burdens of proof; a presumption of innocence means that those attempting to prove non-innocence bear the burden of offering evidence (burden of production) of non-innocence and the burden of convincing the factfinder (burden of persuasion) of non-innocence. To accord a similar presumption of innocence to the accuser is to shift the burden of proof to the accused to offer evidence and convince the factfinder to the accused party that the accuser is untruthful. But you can't have it both ways. The reason for the presumption (and thus the assignment of the burdens) is because the party proving non-innocence is asking a government body (the court) to formally deprive the accused of life, liberty, or property. It is that threat of official governmental sanction that properly places the burden on the accuser.Of course, those who defend Allen via the shibboleth of "presumption of innocence" similarly misunderstand the concept. Farrow's accusations are evidence, and one could read her account and the other reports of her accusations and conclude that Allen did what she accuses him of doing. One can disbelieve her story or insist it is not enough (especially by throwing around a second shibboleth--"beyond a reasonable doubt"). But one cannot claim that her story is not evidence and thus at least an attempt at the burden of production.
Second, Lithwick criticizes the very idea of the "court of public opinion," because it is a court unbounded by any rules--and a court is defined by its rules. Those who speak of that court never identify what evidence is admissible (e.g., internet trolls calling Farrow a "bitch"?) , what the standards and thesholds are, what to do about lost evidence, what role cross-examination plays, and even who bears the burden of proof. Lithwick's point is that the court of public opinion is often nothing more than opinions (often uninformed) dressed up in "fancy talk" of burdens of proof" and "presumptions of innocence," none of which is helpful. I suppose the court of public opinion could place the burden on the accused. But then own that this is what you're doing.
Finally, a third point that Lithwick does not mention, but that has bothered me through much of this conversation. Everything is clouded by confusion about standards of proof and when and how they apply. One refrain is that Allen has never been convicted of anything and that no one has ever offered proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of that absence of a judicial finding B/R/D, either we just do not know what happened and never will (from those who cannot decide) or clearly he did nothing wrong (from Allen's defenders).
But there is a difference between whether someone did something wrong and whether someone should be criminally sanctioned by the state for doing something. The beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard applies only to answer the latter question. But have other ways to determine whether someone did something wrong, notably civil proceedings, governed by a lower standard of proof, such as preponderance of evidence. Although we do not put people in jail when there is only a preponderance of evidence, we impose other sanctions that obviously are based in a conclusion that the accused did something wrong. And a civil judgment ordinarily is enough to conclude that someone did something wrong. (I wrote something similar following the jury verdict in the sexual harassment case against the Knicks and Isaiah Thomas in 2007).
In this case, there was a civil proceeding to determine custody of the minor children when Allen split with Farrow in 1993, a proceeding governed by the preponderance standard. In that proceeding, Allen was denied full custody and all visitation with Dylan (the court's order is here). There was no finding that Allen sexually abused Dylan, although the judge found that Allen's "behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her." Thus, to the extent legal sanctions other than jail (e.g., custody and visitation) and non-legal sanctions (whether to ever watch a Woody Allen movie) can be imposed on a lesser standard of proof, it is at least arguable that we do have that. So to say Allen has never been found to have done anything wrong is incorrect--this becomes clear once we really understand what standards of proof are all about.
Monday, February 03, 2014
Diversity and Coke commercials
The "This is America, speak English" reaction to this commercial from yesterday's Super Bowl
is probably far more limited than would seem from the stories aggregating all the absurd Twitter comment. Although I will say that the comments and tweets complaining that the commercial defiled "God Bless America" or "the National Anthem" make me smile.
Still, I find even the limited outrage interesting, if only because Coca Cola previously gave us this, widely regarded as one of the best commercials of all time:
For its time, of course, this commercial displayed incredible diversity.
So what explains the different reactions, even if the negative reaction to yesterday's add is far less pervasive than it appears? Is it that the old commercial is about "the world," while the new one is defining (or in some views, redefining) America? Are people more comfortable with and accepting of the outward appearance of diversity, so long as everyone is doing the "American" thing of singing in English? In other words, apparent diversity is acceptable so long as one outward aspect of real diversity--language--is kept out of the picture?
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
A decade of wardrobe malfunction
Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII. ESPN The Magazine offers In the Beginning, There Was a Nipple, a retrospective on the "controversy."
There is a lot of interesting stuff on the FCC, then-Chair Michael Powell, and the regulation and punishment of broadcast indecency. CBS' owner was fined a little over $ 500,000, fines that ultimately were successfully challenged in the Second Circuit. The story quotes Powell as saying, essentially, that the commotion over 9/16th of a second is really silly, suggesting his position of public outrage at the time was more for politics and show than any real concern for the health and safety of our children. But he said he felt bound by law and lacking discretion to not pursue this fully. Powell also describes this is as the "last gasp" of the old broadcast regime and "last stand at the wall" for people who believe government can successfully keep objectionable material out of the home.
There also is a nice discussion of the different effects this had on Jackson and Timberlake and the obvious race and gender narrative that presents.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Stephen Glass and the the California Bar
The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously denied the bar application of former journalist Stephen Glass (of Shattered Glass infamy), a case I wrote about a couple years ago. David Plotz of Slate, who watched this all up close (Plotz's wife, Hann Rosin, was an editor at TNR at the time) and who admittedly does not like Glass, has a sharp takedown of the decision. I am not surprised by the reversal (the lower panels had recommended admission, so I could not see the court taking the case just to affirm), although I am a bit surprised by the unanimity.
I don't do PR and I generally question many of the character-and-fitness rules as irrelevant to the practice of law, so I do not have a lot to say about whether the decision is right or wrong. There is a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't quality to the decision--the court dismisses many of Glass' efforts at rehabilitation and restitution as selfish, motivated by a desire to improve himself and taking place while he had pending applications to the New York or California Bars. As I said previously, lawyers and journalists do very similar jobs, so I understand the particular apprehension with this candidate. But Plotz has a good response, grounded in the adversariness of the legal system--what judge and what opposing lawyer is not going to keep the sharpest of watch when Glass is involved in a case, scrutiny sure to catch any efforts by Glass to repeat his sins.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Sincere marijuana reform question: exactly what are DEA officials "scared" of?
The question in the title of this post, which I am now posting to all the blogs in which I now participate, is my sincere reaction to this new Washington Post article headlined "DEA operations chief decries legalization of marijuana at state level." Here is the context:
The chief of operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday called the legalization of marijuana at the state level “reckless and irresponsible,” warning that the movement to decriminalize the sale of pot in the United States will have severe consequences.
“It scares us,” James L. Capra said, responding to a question from a senator during a hearing focused on drug cultivation in Afghanistan. “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”
Capra’s comments marked the DEA’s most public and pointed criticism of the movement toward decriminalization in several states, where local officials see it as an opportunity to generate tax revenue and boost tourism....
Capra said agents have watched the early days of legal marijuana sales in Colorado with dismay. “There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks,” he said. “The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong. It’s a bad thing.”
Capra said that senior DEA officials have faced uncomfortable questions from law enforcement partners abroad. During a recent global summit on counter-narcotics in Moscow, he said, he and the head of the DEA were at a loss to explain the loosening drug laws. “Almost everyone looked at us and said: Why are you doing this [while] pointing a finger to us as a source state?” he said. “I don’t have an answer for them.”...
Capra said he worries about the long-term consequences of the national mood on marijuana, which law enforcement experts call a gateway to more dangerous drugs. “This is a bad experiment,” he said. “It’s going to cost us in terms of social costs.”
Let me begin by saying I respect all those who work in the DEA and other law enforcement agencies dealing with illegal drug issues, and I am certain all those who do this work have much more first-hand knowledge of the myriad harmful social costs of drug use and abuse than I ever will. But it is for that very reason that I ask this question about exactly what has DEA officials "scared": I sincerely want a much better understanding of what "social costs" of reform are being referenced here so that I can better assess for myself how I think these potential "social costs" of state-level marijuana reform stack up to the existing "social costs" I see due to current pot prohibition laws and norms.
That said, I think I might be able to help DEA officials avoid "being at a loss" to explain loosening drug laws in the US to their international friends in Moscow or elsewhere. Here is what I suggest DEA officials say: "The United States of American is an exceptional nation that, in President Lincoln's words, was "conceived in Liberty" and its citizens recently have become ever more skeptical about the growth of government's coercive powers and ever more concerned about paying high taxes for government programming perceived to be ineffectual. Thus, just as the people of America were the first to experiment seriously with a constitutional democracy (which has worked out pretty well), now some of the people of America are eager to experiment seriously with a regime of marijuana regulation rather than blanket prohibition."
This account of why polls show ever greater support for marijuana legalization is my sincere understanding of why so much drug reform activity is going on now in the United States. The current "Obama era" is defined by a period of relatively tight budgets, relatively low crime, and yet still record-high taxing-and-spending in service to criminal justice programming. These realities, especially in the wake of the Tea Party movement and other notable libertarian responses to the enormous modern growth of state and federal governments, have more and more Americans thinking we should be open to experimenting with a regime of marijuana legalization and regulation rather than blanket prohibition.
It is quite possible, as the DEA official suggests, that "this is a bad experiment." But even if it is, the experiment does not "scare" me, in part because I have a hard time fully understanding what potential increased social costs should make me or others truly "scared." More importantly, I have enormous confidence that, if the social costs of marijuana reform prove to be significant, the American people will realize pot reform is "a bad experiment" and will again change its laws accordingly. Indeed, this is precisely the experiences we have seen with our legal experiments with other drugs throughout American history:
roughly 100 years ago, we experimented with national alcohol Prohibition, but thereafter discovered this was bad experiment due to a variety of social costs, and then went back to a regulatory regime for this drug, and have in more recent times kept tightening our regulatory schemes (e.g., raising the drinking age from 18 to 21), as drunk driving and other tangible social costs of alcohol misuse have become ever more evident;
roughly 50 years ago, we experimented with nearly everyone have easy access to, and smoking, tobacco nearly everywhere, but thereafter discovered this was bad experiment due mostly to health costs, and then have been on a steady path toward ever tighter regulation and localized prohibition (e.g., The Ohio State University just became a tobacco-free campus), as lung cancer and other health costs of tobacco use have become ever more evident.
I emphasize these historic examples of American drug experimentation because it is certainly possible to lament the harms produced along the way or the enduring "social costs" of having tobacco and/or alcohol still legal. But it is also possible to conclude, as I do, that what makes America both great and special — dare I say exceptional — is that we persistently maintained our fundamental commitments to freedom, democratic self-rule and the rule of law throughout these experiments. Consequently, this modern era's new round of American drug experimentation has me excited and intrigued to watch unfold the next chapter of the American experience, and I am not "scared" by the marijuana reform movement because they it strikes me as a further vindication of our people's fundamental commitments to freedom, democratic self-rule and the rule of law.
But maybe I am just way too high on the idea of American exceptionalism to have a sensible and sober understanding off all the potential harms and "social costs" that are apparently scaring DEA officials. And, as I said above, I readily acknowledge that all those who work on the front lines of the drug war have much more first-hand knowledge of the myriad harmful social costs of drug use and abuse than I ever will. But, again, that it why the question in the title of this post is sincere: I genuinely and really want to have a much better understanding of what has DEA officials "scared" so that I can sensibly temper my excitement and optimism about modern marijuana reforms.
I fear that responses to this post could become snarky or ad hominem real quickly, but I hope all readers will tap into the spirit of my inquiry and really try to help me understand just what potential social costs of modern marijuana reform could lead those in the know to be "scared" as the quote above suggests. And I am posting this query in all five blogs I work on these days because I am eager to get wide input and as many diverse insights on this question as possible.
Monday, September 30, 2013
What just happened at the Naval Academy?
I have been following the military prosecution of several Naval Academy midshipmen for sexual assault, partly because news stories seem to reflect a yawning gulf between this case and our general understanding of the federal rape shield statute (which I just taught last week). I turned to my colleague Eric Carpenter, who writes on sexual assault in the military and had a long career in the Army JAG Corp.
The military just concluded a hearing at the Naval Academy into whether three midshipmen committed criminal sexual offenses against a female midshipman. According to the government, the woman attended a party and became drunk to the point of blackout and possibly passed out. Later, she heard rumors and saw social-media that led her to believe that these three men has sexually assaulted her while she was too drunk to be capable of consenting. The defense claims she was capable and did consent.
While the facts as reported by the media are disturbing, lawyers who read reports of the hearing should find something else alarming – the female midshipman was questioned by three defense counsel for over twenty hours, and the questioning went into areas that would often be off-limits due to rape shield rules. Reports are that she was cross-examined on whether she wore a bra or underwear, “felt like a ho” afterward, and how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex.
What’s going on here? What was that hearing and do rape shield rules apply to it? Why is a sexual assault victim testifying and subject to cross-examination in the first place?
What happened was something unique to the military – a hearing called an “Article 32.” This article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) requires that before charges can go to a general court-martial (the rough equivalent of a felony-level court), an officer must investigate the truth of those charges (reasonable grounds that the accused committee the offense, or roughly the same thing as probable cause) and make a recommendation to the convening authority (usually a two-star general) on how she should act on the charges.
Your first reaction to that might be, “That hearing sounds like a grand jury proceeding.” My answer would be, “Yes, but mostly no.”
An accused at an Article 32 has rights that a defendant at a grand jury doesn’t. The accused can be present; has a right to a military defense counsel; can cross-examine witnesses; and has full opportunity to present evidence to rebut the charges or to seek a lower disposition.
There is no jury – just an investigating officer, and that officer usually has no legal training (she gets her legal advice from a neutral judge advocate). In the most serious or high-profile cases, like capital cases, judge advocates and sometimes military judges serve as the investigating officer. In the Naval Academy case, the media reports that a military judge served as the investigating officer.
Unlike a grand jury’s finding, the investigating officer’s conclusions and recommendations are not binding: the convening authority can still make her own decision about the case.
Evidentiary rules apply. Not the full-blown Military Rules of Evidence (which are very similar to the federal rules), but rules nonetheless. Generally, if a military witness is within 100 miles, she needs to show up, and even if the witness cannot show up in person, she usually testifies over the phone. You can’t simply turn in the victim’s sworn statement. In the Naval Academy case, that is why the victim had to testify.
Contrary to what some of the news reports imply, the rape shield rule applies. The military’s rape shield rule is essentially the same as the federal rule, and the President made this rule apply to these hearings with Rule for Court-Martial 405(i). In the Naval Academy case, I would assume that the parties argued about what the defense was allowed to ask in cross examination, and I assume the investigating officer (in this case, a lawyer) found an exception—but that may be a faulty assumption.
If the investigating officer decided that this evidence fit one of the written exceptions to the rape shield rule, that conclusion may be suspect. Generally, evidence of past sexual behavior or sexual disposition is inadmissible in inadmissible except to show that someone other than the accused was the source of physical evidence; to prove current consent with the accused if the past sexual behavior was with that accused; or the exclusion would violate the accused’s constitutional rights. The attorney for one of the accused asked her the questions about oral sex because “This is an act that cannot be performed while someone is passed out.” According to reports, the lawyer further argued that “her client could not have had oral sex performed without the woman’s consent.” Most people would disagree with that. The victim had a prior sexual relationship with one accused, but his attorney asked her about what she was or was not wearing and whether she felt like a ho on this occasion. The rule is limited to evidence of past experiences between the two. The defense counsel could have argued that this evidence was constitutionally required because the accused were mistaken as to whether she consented. But from the news reports, it appears that their defense is that was capable of and did in fact consent, not that she didn’t consent and they misread the situation.
Again, I was not at the hearing and don’t know how the investigating officer analyzed the facts. If he was right, the cross examination she faced at this hearing may have been allowed at trial. A very real issue is that he may have been wrong, and if he was wrong, there is no remedy for his mistake. With few exceptions, none of the testimony at an Article 32 is admissible at the later trial, and even if the government closed down all of the exceptions, the victim has already gone through the experience.
So it appears that Article 32 is ripe for criticism. To understand why Article 32 is the way it is and to properly frame criticism of it, we need to understand its history and original function.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The customs, beliefs, or needs of a primitive time establish a rule or a formula. In the course of centuries the custom, belief, or necessity disappears, but the rule remains.” That is what happened here.
Service members don’t have a constitutional right to a grand jury, and what has developed was not because the military was trying to replicate one. Rather, the original purpose of the Article 32 was to conduct an investigation when it was very likely the only investigation that happened prior to trial. That function has now been subsumed by other features of the modern court-martial system but the investigative features of Article 32 still remain.
Prior to 1917, most charges were not investigated prior to going to trial. A commander would send charges to a court-martial, which would very often be held within a day. The accused had very few rights. There were no defense lawyers or judges or professional law enforcement investigators or appellate courts. This was quick trial before a board of officers. If you have seen the movies Breaker Morant or Paths of Glory, you will have a sense of how courts-martial worked back then.
The few cases that were investigated (because an officer demanded it) were sent to Courts of Inquiry. These courts were used to investigate a wide range of issues (the conduct of generals in combat, or to resolve allegations against character). These boards were used to resolve disputes and the procedures that developed for them reflected that purpose: the service member was present, the Court could compel witnesses, and the service member could cross-examine them.
Starting in 1917, in response to criticism that commanders had too much power and could push meritless cases through the system, commanders were required to conduct an investigation prior to sending the case to court-martial. The investigation would ensure that probable cause existed and would recommend an appropriate level of discipline. With this new requirement, commanders looked around for something familiar to model for this task and found the Courts of Inquiry.
Additional rights followed. In 1949, the accused gained the right to counsel. In 1951, Congress passed Article 32 as part of the new UCMJ, adding the right for the accused to make a statement and present evidence. In 1968, Congress required that the accused’s counsel be a real lawyer.
At the time, the rules were necessary because they provided a measure of due process that a service member did not find in the rest of the court-martial process. Since 1951, however, the court-martial process has steadily “civilianized,” with statutory requirements for independent military judges and legally qualified counsel who operate under the nation’s most liberal discovery laws (and so can marshal evidence for trial). The military’s law enforcement also became a professional, fully-functioning investigative community, complete with independent forensic laboratories.
The reasons to have an Article 32 investigation no longer exist, but the rule remains. That, I think, means it is time for change. Otherwise, we risk what we just saw.
Returning to the Naval Academy case, probably nothing new was learned at this Article 32 that could not have been learned by otherwise investigating the case, interviewing the witnesses, and conducting discovery under the military’s liberal rules. But while pursuing this now obsolete investigative function, we managed to take a service member through 20 hours of invasive testimony – which she may have to do again at trial. Twenty hours is more than enough. Forty hours is senseless.
We could have come to a probable cause determination without having this type of hearing. In a recent Op-Ed, Gene Fidell argued that it is time to get rid of this “trial before a trial” and instead have “a bare bones preliminary hearing” to determine probable cause.
A more measured response would be to modify the Article 32 so that it serves the functions that we want it to serve. We no longer need a formal investigation. Get rid of the investigative features – no more calling live witnesses, no more presentation of a defense case. This also takes care of the rape shield issue, because the defense is the party that presents that evidence.
We do need a probable cause hearing, and we can use the hearing as a discovery tool at no additional cost by allowing the accused and counsel to be present and to examine all materials presented. Make the probable cause determination binding on the convening authority (to protect the accused), but to do that, we need to make the Article 32 look more like a grand jury. Have a panel rather than one officer; have a judge advocate serve as a presiding officer. This won’t be a bare-bones hearing – knowing that the panel might kill the case should provide incentive enough to the government to produce a significant amount of information.
So what is next? Most of the current debate between Senators Gillibrand and Levin turns on who should make the disposition decision in a court-martial – the commander or the staff judge advocate. The Article 32 problem is on the radar, though. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that the Secretary of Defense establish a panel (called the Response System Panel) to work on many of the difficult issues related to the military’s sexual assault problem. One of the mandates is to “[r]eview and assess those instances in which prior sexual conduct of the alleged victim was considered in a proceeding under [Article 32] and any instances in which prior sexual conduct was determined to be inadmissible.”
This is a good opportunity to decide what the modern functions of Article 32 should be and to revise it to promote those functions and only those functions. And I expect the Naval Academy case will be front in center in that debate.
(With thanks to Major Mike Kenna for shaping my perspective).
Sunday, September 29, 2013
How else do you enforce rules?
Last week, the NCAA reduced some of the sanctions imposed on the Penn State football program for the sexual abuse committed by a former assistant coach. Geoffrey Rapp (Toledo) describes this as "punisher's remorse"--the NCAA "realized the victims are the current players. It’s not really putting any hurt on the people that we think are really responsible."
I disagree that only the current players are being hurt. Penn State University as an institution was being punished. And if Penn State cannot be punished, then the entire scheme of NCAA regulations is unenforceable (and humor me for the moment and assume NCAA regs are worth enforcing). Any long-lasting institution survives its individual members; old members are replaced by new members, but the institution is understood to survive uninterrupted. And the institution bears responsibility for the conduct of its members--past, present, and future. The players and coaches who break rules are always gone by the time enforcement comes down. If that punishment is wrongful because current (rather than rule-breaking) players are in the institution at the time of enforcement, then punishment of the institution always becomes wrongful. Even in a case of lack of institutional control (as Penn State arguably was), the institution could always argue that its failure was to control previous players, but that shouldn't be taken out on current players. But then the university gets off scott-free and has no incentive to police its future members, because it always can argue against punishment falling on its current players.
Taken to its conclusion, Geoff's argument applies to any institution and institutional punishments. Germany should not be made to provide reparations or other compensation to Holocaust victims because the punishment falls on the current German government and citizens; ditto for arguments with respect to slavery. International law (which I rarely cite or discuss) recognizes the concept of successor governments. Why not for universities in the field of NCAA enforcement?
All that said, I agree with Geoff that this is an example of "punisher's remorse", a term I wish I had used in a radio interview I did last week. But the remorse is over punishing Penn State--the NCAA does not want one of its flagship institutions under such a harsh punishment.
Friday, September 06, 2013
Gladwell on PEDs
Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in The New Yorker (which he defends on this podcast) that basically lays out in detail an argument I've made previously--there is no good reason that performance-enhancing drugs are outlawed when performance-enhancing medical procedures (e.g., Tommy John surgery or eye surgery to improve vision) are permitted and that people with random genetic benefits (for example, an Olympic cross-country skier with a genetic mutation that over-produces red blood cells, which provides a tremendous advantage in endurance sports) are allowed to benefit from them. It is definitely worth a read, as is the new book The Sports Gene by journalist David Epstein, which Gladwell is reviewing in this piece.People (particularly present and former players, who should know better) often criticize PEDs as short-cuts and PED users as lazy; the player used instead of putting in the hard work of making himself a great player. In fact, many PEDs actually are all about hard work; the reason cyclists blood dope is so their bodies can work harder for longer and the benefit of steroids is to allow players to work-out longer and become stronger. When Lance Armstrong insisted "I am on my bike busting my ass six hours a day", he was telling the truth; the doping was what made it humanly possible for him to do that much work. On the other hand, we don't think of genetic advantages (say, especially good eyesight for a Major League hitter) as a short-cut, but as a natural tool that the player then must maximize through hard work. The point of PEDs is to level that genetic advantage, which he then must maximize through hard work. What's wrong with that?
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
The Legal Case for Intervening in Syria (Anthony Colangelo Guesting)
An International Legal Case for Military Intervention in Syria
Does international law allow U.S. military intervention in Syria? The Obama Administration has advanced a number of possible justifications including self-defense, halting civilian deaths, and debilitating the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities. None of these justify intervention on the current state of international law.
Yet that doesn’t mean international law would view a U.S. intervention as illegal in the long run. International law is a tricky sort of law, and the United States could make a strong legal argument that intervention would help change the law to allow interventions to halt mass human rights abuses. Going forward, this argument could retrospectively ratify U.S. intervention in Syria and give the United States a central role in formulating international legal criteria for future interventions.
Legal arguments against intervention are straightforward and rely principally on treaty law. Most prominently, the U.N. Charter prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” There are only two ways intervention is permissible under the Charter: the Security Council authorizes it, which has not and will not happen, or the United States acts in self-defense. Even the very best international lawyers can’t stretch the doctrine of self-defense to cover a U.S. strike in these circumstances. Even if they could, that’s both an awful and an awfully expansive precedent.
The Administration has also seized upon the Assad regime’s evident use of chemical weapons as a violation of international law that justifies intervention. Yet here too, treaty law cuts the other way. Syria is not a party to recent treaties banning the use of such weapons. Because treaties bind only states that have agreed to be bound by them, Syria’s use of chemical weapons cannot violate the treaties. The only treaty banning the use of chemical weapons Syria is a party to addresses international, not internal, conflicts. And in any event, it doesn’t authorize states to attack other states that violate it. In sum, treaty law does not allow intervention in Syria.
There is, however, another type of international law that might allow intervention, called customary international law. Unlike treaty law, customary international law doesn’t derive from formal agreements among states. Instead, it arises from the practice of states accompanied by what international lawyers call opinio juris, or states’ intent that their practice carries legal significance.
States can usually treaty around custom much the same way private individuals can contract around the norms that govern our everyday behavior. But there are some rules of customary international law that cannot be contracted around and that override treaties inconsistent with their rules. These are called jus cogens, or peremptory norms of international law. Jus cogens contain prohibitions on serious international law violations like genocide, torture, slavery, and crimes against humanity. To illustrate, Hitler and Mussolini can agree by treaty to afford each other’s nations certain preferential trade treatment. But they cannot enter into a treaty legalizing genocide. Jus cogens would swoop in to invalidate that treaty as contrary to a peremptory norm of international law.
Where does this leave the international legal justification for intervention in Syria? Many favoring intervention have cited jus cogens prohibitions on mass human rights abuses as justification. But that argument is flawed because the jus cogens norm does not directly conflict with the U.N. Charter’s prohibition on the use of force. That is, the Charter doesn’t authorize human rights abuses—in fact, just the opposite: it seeks to “promot[e] and encourage[e] respect for human rights.” Thus even if one can safely classify the Assad regime’s abuses as violations of jus cogens, that only gets the argument halfway to intervention. To justify intervention, the jus cogens norm would need to encompass not only a prohibition on human rights abuses but also the capacity of other states to enforce that prohibition. This latter enforcement component is presently lacking under the law. Finally, the Charter’s prohibition on the use of force isn’t some run-of-the-mill international rule. It is a cornerstone of the postwar international legal system that outlaws aggressive war. For this reason, the prohibition on the use of force is itself considered a jus cogens norm.
Nonetheless, it may be time for a change. Because customary international law arises from state practice, as practices change so too does the law, including the law of jus cogens. One way customary international law changes is states break it to form new norms; breaches effectively plant the seeds from which new norms grow. Although a breach may violate international law when it occurs, the law may develop to ratify that breach as the early stage of a new norm’s development.
If the United States intervenes in Syria, it has an initial international legal choice to make: it can ignore international law or seek to justify intervention within it. The second option’s benefit is that if state practice develops to allow intervention the illegality of U.S. action will wilt as the new norm blossoms. Yet some may view this option as undesirable precisely because it may prompt other states to accept the legality of intervention. Reciprocity is also a cardinal rule of international law: if it’s legal for us, it’s legal for you.
The question then becomes whether it’s better to operate within the law or outside it. For other states also will face that same initial choice above, to which this first-order reciprocity norm also extends; that is, the initial choice to ignore law or to justify their actions within it. In this respect, the United States may actually derive two distinct benefits from choosing to justify its actions under international law: a retrospective ratification of U.S. intervention and the ability to formulate criteria for a budding international law of humanitarian intervention.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
NYC’s Soda Ban: What’s All the Fizz About?
Reaction to New York’s 16-oz. soda limit has mostly come in two flavors. In the right-hand tap we mostly have complaints about paternalism and the nanny state. On the left, some grousing that (legal obstacles notwithstanding) a soda or sugar tax would have been a better policy. (Then lurking under the counter are the local government nerds, but let’s leave them be for now.) I’ll confess that the paternalism argument is too much for me to swallow. As lots of folks have now shown, there is a perfectly ordinary externality case for obesity control, regardless of whether the policies help us to better control ourselves.
One could say something similar about lots of modern nudges. Many of them -- smart meters, smart buildings -- are aimed at a classic externality problem, such as climate change. There isn’t really a paternalism story there. Maybe we could debate whether the nudge-y approaches are less “coercive” than your usual command and control regulation, but since no one has an especially good definition of coercive, I don’t think we’ll get anywhere. And indeed, I think that is what you’d see if you read the various back-and-forths on coercion between Sunstein et al. and their critics.
Maybe the best argument Sunstein and others (in particular, Sam Issacharoff and some smart economists) offer is that nudges are less “coercive” in the sense that they are more efficient (though they don’t typically put it that way). Usually, the nudge disproportionately affects people who need it the most---sticky pension defaults are most effective for procrastinators, and they’re the people who aren’t saving enough. So the “deadweight loss” of the nudge is small: it doesn’t bother people who don’t need it. But it’s not so clear how we tell this story about externalities. Are procrastinators more likely to emit greenhouse gasses?
This is a pretty narrow way of thinking about the efficiency of nudges. There is no secret formula for policy evaluation; we know how to mix up a good batch of regulation. Environmental economists compare taxes to “command and control” alternatives; crim. law scholars compare fines to prison and shaming. We can infuse this same analysis into the NYC debate, or analysis of any old nudge. Or, maybe not quite the same old classic analysis--maybe more of a New Coke flavor. I’ll say more about that tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Fixed matches and cultural capital
A new article in ESPN The Magazine (which includes an embedded video) tells the story of rumors that Bobby Riggs tanked the famous "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match against Billie Jean King, which was played 40 years ago next month. The touchstone of the piece is an interview with a man who claims to have overheard two mob bosses and a mob lawyer discussing Riggs' tanking several months before the match, although rumors that Riggs threw it have abounded for 40 years.
Two notable things in the article. First, Riggs' son and his best friend both suggested that Riggs' famous pre-match chauvinism was all for show, that he believed in gender equality and had worked with a female coach at the start of his career. Second, the story ends with Riggs and King speaking several days before Riggs died in 1995; King says she told Riggs how important their match was to women and the women's movement. "'"Well, we did it," Bobby Riggs finally told her. "We really made a difference, didn't we?""
What if Riggs did tank? The match is a cultural milestone because it purported to show that women could successfully compete with men. That idea is absolutely true, of course (although not in high-level professional sports, and I wish the sports conversation would move away from women competing with men so we could enjoy women's sports on their own merits). But the match no longer represents the idea if King did not actually beat Riggs. On the other hand, suppose Riggs tanked because he saw that he could advance the cause of women's rights and women's equality (ideas to which he perhaps was sympathetic) by losing. Regardless of whether the win was real, it laid the groundwork for what we now, 40 years on, understand as true. And his dying words to King suggest he may have understood that.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
The Problems with the President's Two-Year Plan
At a town hall event in Binghamton, N.Y. earlier today, President Obama was asked the following question:
I'm a faculty member of the computer science department. I'm very excited and encouraged by your plan on the affordability reform. My question is related about the quality of future higher education. As you know, many universities are trying their best to provide the best value by doing better with less. But the challenges are real, and they're getting tougher and tougher as the budget cuts are getting tougher and tougher. So my question is what your administration will do to ensure the best American universities remain to be the best in the world in the 21st century?
After acknowledging that state educational funding had dropped off significantly (". . . what you've seen is a drop from about 46 percent of the revenues of a public college coming from states down to about 25 percent"), the President then turned to ways in which universities could also cut costs:
So states have to do their jobs. But what is true also, though, is that universities and faculty need to come up with ways to also cut costs while maintaining quality -- because that’s what we’re having to do throughout our economy. And sometimes when I talk to college professors -- and, keep in mind, I taught in a law school for 10 years, so I’m very sympathetic to the spirit of inquiry and the importance of not just looking at X’s and O’s and numbers when it comes to measuring colleges. But what I also know is, is that there are ways we can save money that would not diminish quality.
This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I’m in my second term so I can say it. (Laughter.) I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years -- because by the third year -- in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom. The third year they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student.
Now, the question is can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year. My suspicion is, is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could. Now, if that’s true at a graduate level, there are probably some things that we could do at the undergraduate level as well.
The full transcript is here.
I'm sure a lot will be said about this in the upcoming days, but since it's a Friday night in August, I thought I'd weigh in with a few initial thoughts. So here they are:
(1) The President's proposal does not lower tuition. It may seem obdurate to suggest that lopping off a third of the legal education provided to students would not reduce the tuition they pay. But it won't -- at least, not on its own. Yes, it will cut the costs of providing that education, at least in theory. But it won't lower tuition.
Frankly, I'm somewhat baffled that proponents of the two-year plan -- and, in fact any proposal to cut the costs of providing legal education -- fail to grasp this point. We just went through a period where a lot of law schools raised their baseline tuition at rates significantly higher than inflation despite the fact that the J.D. remained the same number of credits. In other words, over the last decade law schools charged significantly more per credit hour. What's to prevent them from doing this in the future?
But, how, you may ask, could law schools really charge the same price for 1/3 less education? Well, play it out. Let's suppose some states allow students to sit for the bar after two years, rather than three. Some schools would change their J.D. programs to two years, but many would not. In fact, it's more likely that the higher-ranked schools would keep their programs as is. But putting that variable to the side -- yes, there would be competition at lower-ranked schools, and many would create two-year programs. But they would charge what the market could bear. And up until very recently, that market could bear about $100,000 to $150,000 for a J.D. with many students lining up for it. Why wouldn't that market dynamic remain the same?
If you need further proof, just look at Matt Leichter's school-by-school analysis. As he said, "law schools do not care about controlling their costs and will shift them onto students who don’t realize that their predecessors had a significantly better deal than they did." Since I'm a law professor, I would frame this differently (schools will keep spending to improve the education they provide and their reputation), but the point is the same: law school tuition is not constrained by credit hours.
If someone magically changed the J.D. program at my law school to two years, I wouldn't shrug my shoulders and go, "Oh well -- guess we're only two years now!" I would work with my colleagues to figure out how we could make those two years meet the needs of our students -- and pack as much in as possible. If the same U.S. News rankings remained in place, don't you think schools would continue to compete on class size, expenses per student, and educational reputation? And wouldn't that drive up costs? What if, in the new two-year law school, we added a clinical component, an externship component, and a ten-person small section component to the basic Contracts class, and then assigned it to a doctrinal professor, two clinical professors, and four adjuncts? That would be a better class, no? But it'd also be a lot more expensive. A school could easily justify spending $60,000 or more a year per student -- again, if the market rewarded schools for offering such classes. (As an aside: is it better to have two years of intensive classes or three years of broader offerings? That's an interesting pedagogical question -- but it's a pedagogical, not a financial, one.)
So I do think, initially, a two-year program would lead to reduced tuition. But would it hold that way? I don't think so. The pressures towards education excellence would increase costs to meet whatever students and their lenders were willing to pay. That's not necessarily a bad thing, if consumers have the proper price sensitivity. But if you want tuition to go down, work on that. Otherwise, the assumption that law school tuition will go down if costs go down is like the argument that 11 is louder. It assumes that law schools just can't make 10 louder themselves.
(2) The President's plan would worsen the jobs aspect of the current crisis. No one doubts that a significant part of the current crisis is based on the drop in employment opportunities for law school graduates. If we change the requirements so that lawyers from here on out would only need two years of school, there would be more of them, and they would come to the market more quickly. And that would be a bad thing for those lawyers who are currently in the market.
Again, this seems to be a point that many reformers are either missing or are conveniently ducking. If you think there are too many law grads chasing too few jobs, then you really want fewer law grads. And if you are making legal education cheaper to provide, either by lopping off a third of the education required, or getting rid of tenure, or loosening other accreditation requirements, then you are putting down incentives for *more* law grads to be out there. And here's the Scylla-and-Charibdis: either tuition will not go down, and law schools will just make more money off their students as their costs drop, or tuition will go down, and more students will have the economic incentives and ability to go to law school. Pick your poison.
(3) Choices about the required program of legal education should be based on pedagogy. The President proposed lopping a third off of legal education because "by the third year -- in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom. The third year they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much." That's not much of a pedagogical theory -- I guess he doesn't like clinics -- but then again, there's not much pedagogy to a lot of these theories. I believe that with increasing legal complexity, most of us would likely need more education, rather than less, to be properly prepared. Of course, it is always the job of law schools to provide the necessary education at a sustainable price. But schools can provide a three-year legal education at a sustainable price. In fact, we've done it in the past.
If we find that a two-year J.D. provides an adequate education, then we should adopt it. But if we reduce the quality of our legal education -- and reduce it in ways that leave lawyers less able to handle their vocations -- simply because we can find no other way to reduce the price, then shame on us.
Friday, August 02, 2013
Words and actions
Two mostly unrelated items about differences between words and conduct and about what we, as a public, do and should get outraged about.
1) The Republican strategy heading into the August recess is to counter the notion that the GOP is hostile to women (as indicated by the rash of state-level legislation designed to curtail all exercises of female reproductive freedom) by arguing that the Democrats are hostile to women because they are not denouncing Anthony Wiener for sexting or San Diego Mayor Bob Filner for alleged sexual harassment, nor calling for either one to resign/drop out of the race. This, the Republicans argue, is hypocisy, given Democrats' reaction to the statements about rape by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock during the 2012 election cycle. To absolutely no one's surprise, the lazy intellectual lightweights who constitute much of the political press have taken the bait. Worse, the AP suggests--while Akin and Mourdock were attacked for their words, the Democrats are not calling out Weiner and Fillner for their actions.First, I'm not sure the distinction is so clear here. Weiner's conduct, at least, involves words (or words and some pictures). On the other hand, while Akin and Mourdock were criticized for their words, they were words spoken in an electoral campaign, words that reflected or predicted actions--how they had voted or would vote in the future on matters such as Planned Parenthood funding and the scope of rape exceptions in abortion laws. In any event, it seems to me the important distinction is not between conduct and action, but between public and private behavior and between lawful and unlawful behavior. As David Weigel argues in Slate, the press (again, no surprise) proceeds as if sex scandals (especially those involving lawful-but-sleazy behavior) are more important than (or at least as equaly important as) actual laws that actual elected officials actually introduce and vote for. Perhaps Democrats should call on Fillner to resign. But that has no bearing on Democrats calling public attention to the words of a candidate for office, where those words lend insight to the beliefs that this candidate would attempt to enact into law.
2) Riley Cooper, a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, is in deep trouble because he was video-recorded using a racial epithet in talking about who he was ready to get into a fight with. Cooper apologized all over the place (and not the typical celebrity non-apology apology) and was fined (but not suspended) by the team. Cooper today left the team to seek counseling and at least one Philadelphia commentator has suggested that this will cost him his job (and, implicitly, that no team ever will touch him).
But the NFL (all big-time sports, actually) are notorious for giving players second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances for off-field misconduct. Players who have engaged in domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment, drunk driving, and other misconduct (again, involving action) are routinely welcomed back and allowed to continue playing for their teams, perhaps following a short suspension or fine. Without condoning, excusing, or minimizing what Cooper said, is dropping a racial epithet (in a context, by the way, where it was unquestionably lawful) really more unforgiveable than all of those things?
Friday, July 26, 2013
Michelle Meyer en fuego (updated twice!)
I have deep affection for TNR (though I find the new regime prone to putting out more fluffy stuff in the magazine). What's more, I also like a lot of what I've read of Richard Thompson Ford's work before. But this non-correction correction is pretty embarrassing. Richard Thompson Ford's piece on the Zimmerman verdict was marred by some critical errors and inferences on the facts, which were brought to the editors' attention (and possibly his?), and I would think all the parties involved would want a real correction and not, as Michelle puts it ably, a correction that works a "double-down" on misleading information in a charged matter.
Oy, it just gets worse (again Jonathan H. Adler is on the case): "The article has been revised again. Now the statement reads: “Zimmerman was an edgy basket case with a gun who had called the police 46 times in 15 months.” This is still inaccurate, as the calls were made over several years, not 15 months. Moreover, the additional corrections are not noted in the editor’s note at the bottom."
Update 2: TNR editors have largely come to their senses. They have now further corrected the false facts entirely and acknowledged the stream of errors in the latest version, but they still leave in Ford's pejorative claims that Zimmerman was an "edgy basketcase," when the whole basis for that claim in the original sentence has been undermined. Maybe I'm wrong but a neighborhood watch guy who calls 46 times over 8 years is not, on those facts alone, enough to make him an "edgy basketcase." You'd have to be relying on other evidence, presumably from something else besides the night Trayvon Martin was unfortunately killed, to reach that inference.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Petition: Save Federal Defender Services
[At the suggestion of a commenter on my last post, I offer this petition:]
Sequestration imperils the constitutional right of criminal defendants to adequate legal representation. About 90% of federal criminal defendants require court-appointed counsel. In FY 2013, sequestration resulted in a $52 million cut to Federal Defender Services, bringing massive layoffs and furloughs. It is estimated that in FY 2014, if nothing is done, FDS will be forced to terminate as many as one-third to one-half of employees.
Funding for prosecutors is apparently headed in the opposite direction. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week announced a $79 million increase to the FY 2014 budget for U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the express purpose of bringing more criminal cases in federal court. This radical imbalance threatens the fundamental right to counsel.
Please join me in urging Congress and the President to restore adequate funding for Federal Defender Services.
Update: Thanks to all for the strong support so far. Please send me an email (email@example.com) with your name, institutional affiliation (if applicable), and city of residence. I will subsequently post a document with this petition and the names of signatories.
Associate Professor, University of Alabama School of Law
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Could FACs induce retirement of government officials? A "Corruption" Work-around?
Btw, a couple weeks ago on FB (where all my random mental burps occur), I proposed a possible variation of our crowdfunded FAC model in the gov't context. Specifically, I wondered aloud: could a cabal of Soros and Gates and Bloomberg create a FAC (Fan Action Committee) to throw money at Justice Ginsburg (or her favorite charity) to retire from SCOTUS (so POTUS could appoint someone new presumably) without violating any laws?
We just saw Sec. J. Napolitano step down from DHS to head the UC system. So if Soros et al. couldn't offer RBG 20 million to retire, could he give her 20 million to join as a board member of Open Society to have tea with him once a year? There you at least have a peppercorn of consideration for the contract. Is that enough to circumvent the corruption statutes or relevant ethics rules? Would you give the same deal to get Michelle Bachman to leave Congress? The interesting wrinkle here is that unlike general corruption statutes governing improper quid pro quo of "official action" for $, this FAC-y scenario just requires $ in exchange for no "official action", ie, retirement. A couple friends thought scenarios of this sort would still be illegal, but I'm not sure I'm persuaded yet; if it's illegal at the federal level under extant law, could it be used at the state level? If you disagree with me, please cite chapter and verse on why! And file this in the "devilish and probably misguided idea" drawer.
Nate Silver and the Hidden Genius of Capitalist Crowdfunding
After a long and difficult year personally, it gives me some quiet joy to announce that I've just uploaded a "shitty" first draft of Catalyzing Fans to SSRN. Actually, it's somewhat polished as a draft, but it's pre-submission, blissfully short (13,000 words) and, um, really interesting. Bonus: it has nothing to do with retributive justice. So, my co-authors, Mike McCann and Howard Wasserman, and I hope you'll read a draft and send along comments. Here's an overview:
Should Nate Silver have stayed at the New York Times, or instead go to ESPN? Where should Cass Sunstein teach? What team should Lebron James play on? In this paper, we have a proposal for how to think about the trilateral relationships among "talent" (Silver, Sunstein, James), teams (the NYT, the Miami Heat, Harvard), and fans. For some reason, the answers to where that talent should work are often only indirectly connected to the desires of third-party fans. We think this could be different.Specifically, we propose the development of Fan Action Committees (FACs).
Analogous to, but distinct from, Political Action Committees (PACs), these FACs would coordinate, aggregate, and monetize the intensity of fan preferences and would thus serve to either enrich "talent" directly, or, in a wrinkle we prefer, make contributions to charities favored by talent. If we're right about how fans could introduce crowdfunding as a way to re-configure that triangular relationship, well, it's a potential game-changer, if you'll pardon the pun. Once our paper lays out the architecture of the direct compensation and charitable models, we anticipate how to overcome obstacles to the development of FACs that may exist under current rules or laws. We also address a variety of policy concerns and objections ranging from considerations of competitive balance to distributive justice. Advancing and illuminating the possibility of FACs across pro team sports and commercial entertainment, journalists and academics, we show how crowdfunding options produce the potential for more efficient valuations of talent by registering not only the number of fans but also the intensity of their preferences. This insight, which stresses the upside of price discrimination, has relevance to a wide range of human endeavor. In short, the introduction of FACs can basically change the dynamic of any area where bilateral contracts have third party externalities that are not currently calibrated or adequately valued.
Btw, Howard, Mike and I began kicking this idea around last summer after I floated on FB something like the notion of fan interference, wondering why fans couldn't affect the Knicks' incentives to hire or retain Jeremy Lin in the midst of Linsanity. To transition this into a proper paper, however, I encountered the slight problem that I could not care less about sports or sports law, and knew zero about the area. So I enlisted my pals Mike and Howard -- two of the leading sports law guys in the country -- to write a paper with me about the law, policy and economics about fandom. The paper's come a long way from a facebook thread (which itself is a sort of crowd wisdom opportunity), and some of its most interesting moves and extensions come from conversations with prior readers at FSU and more recently the 10,000 Feet Legal Theory Workshop--so thanks to those folks! (The latter, btw, is a workshop that spontaneously emerged among the group of profs who went hiking with me in the afternoons while in the Rockies two weeks ago for the LEC's annual law and econ boot camp.) Anyway, we'll be sending it out soon, and, now that it's been gently road-tested, I'm sure any of us would be excited about the prospect of talking about it at your law school this coming year.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Is there a Case Against Angela Corey?
So much has been written about the Zimmerman verdict that I was reluctant to join the fray, but I've decided to do just that, having found few extended discussions of the prosecutor's mishandling of the case, the bizarre nature of her press conference, and whether any ethics violations could potentially be brought against her with the Florida Bar.
First, as others have written, the prosecution -- led by controversial veteran Angela Corey -- did a lousy job. But, given the many years of trial experience of the lawyers for the state, the types of errors they made have struck me as more than just the result of mere sloppiness or oversights. Isn't one of the most basic lessons of first year trial advocacy to prepare your witnesses? How could it be that the state in a high-profile murder prosecution allows a critical "ear witness" to the incident, Rachel Jeantel, to testify with so little obvious preparation? How could it be that the state could allow their medical examiner, Dr. Shiping Bao, to testify in such an confusing, halting, and ill-prepared manner (particularly under cross-examination) -- not to mention the contrast between his shaky performance and that of the defense's smooth and confident forensic pathologist, Dr. Vincent Di Maio?
Much has been said about the charges Corey's office brought against George Zimmerman, but indulge me by considering them again. Why on earth would the DA bring second degree murder charges after a six week investigation in which the police concluded that the suspect had legitimate grounds for a justifiable homicide defense? Even if Corey had disagreed with their estimation, she should have known that the investigating officers would fight tooth and nail on the stand to support their initial analysis of the evidence -- particularly given that she and her colleagues were "special" prosecutors appointed from another county and, therefore, had no history or relationship with these cops? Also, why not just charge manslaughter from the outset, thereby shifting the prosecution's focus from the nearly impossible-to-prove (given the evidence), "hate in his heart," to the more palatable, "reckless actions that led unfortunately to a death"? In fact, why not give the state the cover provided by first presenting the case to a grand jury, rather than proceeding by means of criminal information and a bare bones probable cause affidavit?
Yes, I used the term "performance" when describing the witness testimony, as every litigator knows that trials are more akin to theater than to an actual search for the truth. Your witnesses must know their lines, maintain the right affect, and have the preferred style of delivery. Not only do you prepare them for direct examination by rehearsing the questions you intend to ask and the answers you expect them to offer, but you bring in another lawyer to conduct a moot cross-examination, so that they are ready and confident before facing the other side. I find it difficult to believe that this actually happened in the state's case. And, if it did not, what was the reason? Lack of time, motivation, concern? If so, could any of these serve as the basis for an ethical violation against Corey and her associates?
Related to this point is the failure of the prosecution team to anticipate and thereby counter the age-old defense strategy of putting the victim on trial. It should have been no surprise that Zimmerman's lawyers would urge the jury to put themselves in their client's shoes and view the scenario from his perspective (Scary black male wearing hoodie! Threatening presence in the neighborhood! And he was high on weed!). Why did the prosecution make this even easier for the defense by readily admitting into evidence Zimmerman's statements as well as the VIDEO of him at the station house when he walks the detective through his seemingly reasonable version of events? Why not keep that out and try to force the defense to put Zimmerman on the stand to get these exculpatory facts into evidence? Similarly, what of Zimmerman's completely self-serving claim that Trayvon Martin told him, "You're going to die tonight"? Does this have any ring of truth to it? And if not, why not make the defendant take the stand to assert it himself, when the state could then cross-examine him?
I was perplexed by all of this, gravely disappointed though not surprised by the acquittal, and then I watched Angela Corey's surreal press conference following the verdict First of all, what of her smile? Why is she smiling when the defendant was found not guilty? She claims that she has "brought out the truth on behalf of Trayvon Martin." If she believed in the prosecution, in the commission of second degree murder by George Zimmerman, how was the truth brought out? She is proud to be part of the "historical aspect of the case." What makes it historical from her perspective -- the degree of press attention? She says that the jury has carefully "gone over all the facts and circumstances," has worked "very hard," and rendered a just verdict. And then she admits to reporters that she has not yet spoken with Trayvon Martin's parents or family but immediately made herself available to the media. It just doesn't add up.
Where does this leave the Martin family? It seems unlikely that there will be a federal prosecution of Zimmerman on different criminal charges, and as for civil rights charges, proving racial animus via the Hate Crimes Prevention Act would be extremely difficult. A wrongful death civil suit against Zimmerman is another possibility, though despite the lower standard of proof and likelihood that Zimmerman would have to testify, if he wins his hearing under the Stand Your Ground law, he'd be immune from civil action.
All of which brings me to Angela Corey and her future as a state prosecutor. Rule 4-3.8 of the Rules of Professional Responsibility regulating the Florida Bar calls for prosecutors to adhere to the following:
(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;
(b) not seek to obtain from an unrepresented accused a waiver of important pre-trial rights such as a right to a preliminary hearing;
(c) make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense, and, in connection with sentencing, disclose to the defense and to the tribunal all unprivileged mitigating information known to the prosecutor, except when the prosecutor is relieved of this responsibility by a protective order of the tribunal.
From what I've read, it does not appear that (b) or (c) apply, but could subsection (a) be provable against Corey? If not, is there any redress under any of the other Rules? Is there any equivalent of ineffective assistance of counsel by the prosecution?
I acknowledge that this may seem to be a strange inquiry coming from a criminal defense lawyer, but I'm not convinced that if the prosecution had been handled differently, the verdict would have been the same. Trials are crap shoots, as there are so many unknowns, but they are crap shoots in which the skill of the gambler does matter. The state of Florida was clearly out-lawyered in this case, which is always possible in a jury trial. What troubles me is that it almost seemed too easy for the defense, as though the other side had decided to throw the game . . . and that's not a fair or just result for anyone.
Your thoughts? Please share in the comments.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
A Not Quite Post-Script on Zimmerman, etc.
Interesting exchange I though I'd share. I just rec'd an email from a stranger (to me):
You write here - - that "I fear that if the races had been turned around, we might have a different verdict."
Why, given the evidence presented, the law, the jury instructions, etc., do you have this fear? Is there a scintilla of evidence that the jury, in its deliberations, was influenced by considerations of race in any way?
Thanks for writing (respectfully!).
My sense is that there likely were some subtle racial dynamics as to what prompted GZ's suspicions. I doubt that if TM had been white, GZ would have bothered to call. If GZ had been black and shot a TM who were white, I could see the possibility of conviction going up, even if the same evidence were there. I regret that's the world in which I harbor that concern.
Still, in this case, I think it would be a serious injustice to alter the verdict just because of the risk that injustice elsewhere could erupt. My point, modestly, was that one can't fix other injustices by doing an injustice in this case.
My correspondent wrote back:
Thanks for your quick -- and equally respectful -- response.
1) Re: GZ being suspicious if TM had been white: This is a bedrock assumption -- I don't think there's much evidence on the issue one way or the other -- which I don't share, but let's assume it anyway.
2) The jury seemed to be meticulous (14 hours of deliberation, etc.). According to the juror interviewed on CNN, at first, 3 jurors wanted to convict GZ "of something." But, based on the evidence presented and the "options we were given," acquittal was the only decision, in the end. I very much doubt that this jury would have acted any differently had TM been white/GZ been black. Also bear in mind that white guilt, as well as white racism, can play a role. But this is just my opinion.
At this point, it seems, we are in the realm of speculation and sociology, so I don't have much more to add than my first response. But I thought it was an interesting exchange, and I'm sure some of our readers would have more vigorous responses and reactions.
Update: I have since learned (h/t to Adler on FB and Bernstein below) that I may have been leaping to judgments re: my speculation about Zimmerman's reticence to call in suspicious non-blacks. He has a history of calling in a range of people, including fellow Hispanics, and he's also made calls, from what I understand, designed to ensure the wellbeing of young black children. I'm grateful for the information--obviously, I can't verify it myself, but if it's true, the information seems relevant about what kinds of speculations are warranted in race-switching scenarios.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Some more thoughts on self-defense, Stand Your Ground, and Zimmerman
The point of this post is to extend some reflections of ambivalence on some difficult questions regarding self-defense. First, Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws are found in over 20 states including Florida. So, although Florida's getting a lot of heat in my FB thread, I'm not sure it's right to castigate FL as uniquely bizarre in its embrace of SYG. More importantly, it's worth noting that, although the SYG instruction was given here, it wasn't a critical part of the overall case. GZ wasn't claiming a right to deadly force at a moment when he had avenues of retreat. GZ's claim of self-defense was invoked when he (putatively) was on the bottom and shot upward at TM. Might it have framed the defense nonetheless? Perhaps. But given that the forensics were completely consistent with GZ's claim that he shot while he was on the bottom, I'm not sure we should think SYG (in place of a duty to retreat instruction) polluted the jury's decision-making here.
One way in which the FL law did play a role is by shifting the relevant burden regarding self-defense to the gov't. Specifically, the gov't bore the burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that GZ did not act in self-defense. In Ohio some states, and historically, self-defense is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant shoulders that burden.* Professor Joshua Dressler notes that FL has the burden of disproving SD BRD in the WSJ, but apparently he lumps this burden-shifting point with SYG, which seems mistaken. In other words, a legislature could make the defendant bear the burden of self-defense while still allowing SYG or requiring a duty to retreat and a state could still have the burden of disproving self-defense claims while allowing SYG or requiring a duty to retreat. (In fact, since 49 of the 50 states, including Florida, make the government bear the burden of disproving SD if the Def't is able to produce some evidence supporting SD, it's probably misleading to suggest that FL's law here is an outlier regarding who bears the burden. I don't think Dressler directly said that, but it's possible some might infer that from his comments.)
The verdict unsurprisingly seems to be renewing hostility to SYG. There are some powerful reasons to welcome this hostility.One of the reasons cops don't like it is that it makes it harder to prosecute drug dealers who kill rivals and claim self defense because they were the last ones standing. Some have stressed that SYG hurts minorities. Here the response is typical: it depends. Inasmuch as SYG is a general boon to defendants, and most crime occurs intra-racially, it's not obviously racially biased against minorities in terms of its impact on defendants. That said, analogous to the McCleskey dynamic in the death penalty, there is cause for concern based on the racial impact on victims in inter-racial crimes, and this is what seems to be raising lots of people's hackles, for good reason. But according to the study that I've seen getting circulated for trumpeting this effect, the inference of bias is unproven for two reasons:
The disparity is clear. But the figures don’t yet prove bias. As Roman points out, the data doesn’t show the circumstances behind the killings, for example whether the people who were shot were involved in home invasions or in a confrontation on the street. Additionally, there are far fewer white-on-black shootings in the FBI data — only 25 total in both the Stand Your Ground and non-Stand Your Ground states.
One last point about SYG's apparent vices. The SYG notion stands in tension with the common law duty to retreat when safe avenues of avoidance are available because we don't want the streets and floors piled with dead bodies on the ground. As mentioned before, I have a lot of sympathy for the common law rule of requiring retreat when feasible. But a principled commitment to the duty to retreat would require revision to the laws allowing the equivalent of SYG in the home. There's a pretty deep sociological commitment to the castle doctrine that works as an exception to the duty to retreat, and thus allows you to prevent being dispossessed of your home. I'm not sure the castle doctrine is net-net justified if there really are safe avenues of avoidance for everyone in the home, but regardless of whether I'm right about that, I do think it's a tough issue. Accordingly, one must bear in mind that self-defense law has to be drawn in a way that takes into account a cluster of complicated moral commitments: do we want to maximally protect home-owners? do we want to make S-D easier for battered women? do we want to maximize lives saved? do we want to maximize only non-culpable lives saved? Do we want to facilitate people feeling safe wherever they have a lawful right to be? Those who proclaim in righteous thunder against SYG have to be confident of their views in at least a couple troubling situations: domestic violence and racist intimidation. Here's a hypo from Dressler's casebook that I've altered somewhat to make the salience of SYG a little more obvious, despite my concerns about it.
One day Arthur, the resident racist homophobe, informs Dina that if she brings her "trashy gay black ass" that way again he will kill her. Dina could just as conveniently walk along another street, but believing that ‘‘I have every right to walk where I choose,’’ she decides the next day to arm herself with a licensed gun and walk along the now fraught route with her weapon visible to onlookers, as she is permitted to do. Arthur appears and, because of a bum leg, he hobbles toward her, but menacingly, raising his fists and says, "I'm going to get you now." Dina is an olympic class runner, however, and she knows she could run away without problem. Arthur hobbles toward her and is about to punch her. So Dina shoots him because she fears that if she doesn't run, Arthur's strength will overpower her completely.
Notice that here Dina has several avenues of avoidance: she could have walked along a different road altogether that day, she could have called the cops after receiving the menacing threat, and, ex hypothesis, she could have run away to safety even at the moment prior to Arthur's instigating the violence. Duty to retreat laws would require Dina to avoid this conflict and SYG laws allow her to shoot. I'm inclined to believe that she should have retreated, but I'm also not sure I want to argue that when my fellow citizens vote these laws in place that they are committing some form of moral reasoning malpractice. Anyway, I want to stress, before I close, that I'm not saying Dina and GZ are similarly situated at all. We have precious little information about the beginning of violence between TM and GZ. My point is simply that there might be a case for SYG that appeals to some "progressives" at least in some cases.
I'll close with one link to a very interesting recent article on self-defense by Larry Alexander; it is intellectually rich with examples that will stimulate and challenge most people's intuitions.
*Eugene Volokh notes here that 49 of the 50 states (all but Ohio) put the burden of disproving S-D beyond a reasonable doubt on the state once the defendant has put forth some evidence.