Tuesday, June 17, 2014
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.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Looks like President O got an early start on that coconut
After the next inauguration, quipped President Obama in a hipster Tumblr interview today, he says he'll "be on the beach somewhere, drinking out of a coconut . . ." Maybe sooner than that, as the president proclaims at the beginning of the interview: "We have enough lawyers, although it's a fine profession. I can say that because I'm a lawyer."
So "don't go to law school" is the message he wants to get across. Larger debate, of course. But let's see what he says right afterward. Study STEM fields, he insists, in order to get a job after graduation. STEM study, yes indeed. But STEM trained grads often look beyond an early career as a bench scientist or an IT staffer, or a mechanical career or . . . that is, STEM-trained young people look to leverage these skills to pursue significant positions in corporate or entrepreneurial settings. Hence, they look for additional training in business school, in non-science master's programs, and, yes, even in law schools.
Tumblr promises #realtalk, so here is some real talk: Significant progress in developing innovative projects and bringing inventions to market require a complement of STEM, business, and legal skills. These skills are necessary to negotiate and navigate an increasingly complex regulatory environment and to interacts with lawyers and C-suite executives as they develop and implement business strategy. Perhaps too many lawyers, but not too many lawyers who are adept at the law-business-technology interface. "Technology is going to continue to drive innovation," wisely insists President Obama. But it is not only technology that is this driver, but work done by folks with a complement of interdisciplinary skills and ambition.
Standing, ripeness, and SBA List
Not surprisingly, SCOTUS in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus reversed the Sixth Circuit and held that the First Amendment challenge to Ohio's prohibition on knowingly or recklessly false campaign speech was justiciable; Justice Thomas wrote for a unanimous Court in a challenge brought by a group that wanted to run ads suggesting that supporting the Affordable Care Act means supporting taxpayer funded abortions. A few things of note (in addition to Richard's comments).
Injury-in-fact is established for purposes of a preenforcement challenge when the plaintiff alleges an intention to engage in some conduct "arguably affected with a constitutional interest" that is prohibited by the challenged statute where there is a credible threat of prosecution. That threat be shown by past prosecutions against similar conduct by the plaintiff or others similarly situated and by the absence of any disavowal of intent to prosecute. Threat may also include bringing administrative proceedings (such as those at issue here), at least when combined with a threat or risk of criminal enforcement (the Court left open whether administrative proceedings alone is enough of an injury to create standing).
Changing law professor? Changing law schools?
Interesting article in The Harvard Crimson two weeks ago notes what we have long known already: Expectations of hiring faculty have grown, especially with regard to more published writing. In turn, law schools are demanding more advanced academic training -- what Harvard's James Greiner says is "essentially requiring them to do a Ph.D."
Looking principally at the positive, rather than normative, side of this issue, is it likely that these priorities will withstand turbulence in the current law school environment? Is such a focus on ever-accumulating academic credentials a luxury in these present circumstances? A difficult question, without an obvious answer.
The push toward experiential learning may result in law schools looking at more legal experience, perhaps to go along with the advanced academic training. After all, it is not uncommon to find joint degree holders with clerkships and at least a couple years of big firm or governmental lawyering experience under their belt. At the same time, law schools are understandably skeptical of the great added value of such highly-credentialed folks in providing sophisticated experiential skills to a demanding audience. Surely some idea of comparative advantage would see law faculty who have substantial (5+?) years of increasingly impressive legal experience as more suited to these practice-oriented educational initiatives. Moreover, a PhD holding academic is going to see these many years of highy academic training as better amoritized through serious scholarly production, rather than designing and implementing complex experiential courses and simulations and in engaging her students principally on the terrain of practical lawyering.
Ripeness, In and After SBA List v. Driehaus
Today's unanimous standing decision in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus generally came as little surprise: confronted with speakers wishing to criticize candidates for office, the Court gave a green-light to a pre-enforcement First Amendment challenge. Along the way, however, the Court had a few interesting things to say about ripeness. In this post, I'd like to explore the possibility that SBA foretells future changes in ripeness doctrine.
The Flawed NRC Report: The “Prison-Industrial Complex” Part 1: Private Prisons
(This is Part 10 in my criticism of the recent National Research Council report on incarceration. Part 1 looks at the over-emphasis on the drug war. Part 2 and Part 3 argue against assigning too much importance to longer sentences. And Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9 look at the role of prosecutors.)
I want to turn my attention now from how the NRC report handles prosecutors to its discussions of the impact of interest group pressure on prison growth. As with prosecutors, it barely touches on this issues, despite its critical importance, and its brief analysis highlights effects that appear to be relatively unimportant and overlooks those that matter most.
In this post, I want to focus on one putative cause that receives outsized attention in the popular accounts of prison growth despite its relative irrelevance: the private prison.
When I tell people I study the causes of prison growth, I usually get one of two responses: “isn’t it just the war on drugs?” or “isn’t it just private prisons?” The former point I’ve belabored to death. Now I want to dispatch the latter.
Wrap-Up for "Making the Modern American Fiscal State"
Many thanks for all our participants, especially Ajay Mehrotra, for our club on "Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929." Here is a list of the posts:
- Bank: The Rise of Progressive Taxation: What Does it Mean to be Progressive?
- Parrillo: American Fiscal State-Building, Crisis, and Contingency
- Morse: Mehrotra tackles two mysteries in Making the Modern American Fiscal State
- Avi-Yonah: Avi-Yonah on "Making the Modern American Fiscal State"
- Lindsay: “You didn’t build that” and the “Benefits” Theory of Taxation
- Mehrotra: Making the Modern American Fiscal State, Central Themes and Claims
- Lindsay: The Citizen-Consumer and the Origins of Progressive Income Taxation
- Mehrotra: Taxation, Civic Identity, and the Future of Consumption Taxes
Many thanks to all our participants for a great club. And if you enjoyed this club, check out the online symposium at Balkinization for Nick Parrillo's book, Against the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780-1940.
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.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
CFP Deadline: Seventh Junior Faculty Fed Courts Workshop
The Economics of the Offside Rule
The recently begun World Cup allows us to think about soccer (or football, for those of you reading outside the United States) as a source of laws and rules, as opposed to our usual focus on baseball. Well, for all the complaints about the technicality and incomprehensibility of the Infield Fly Rule, it has absolutely nothing on Offside (Law 11 of Football's 17 Laws). I could not explain the rule in the space of this post, although I think I now sort-of understand it thanks to the videos embedded after the jump.
Offside (note the singular: people get persnickety if you add an 's' at the end) is soccer's counterpart to the infield fly rule as being what marks you as someone who really knows and understands the game--you know baseball if you can explain the infield fly, you know soccer if you can explain Offside. But is Offside a limiting rule as I have defined that term--is it soccer's logical and policy counterpart to the infield fly? I am not sure.
Offside is an anti-"cherry-picking" rule, preventing teams from having one or more players hang around the goal and doing nothing but kicking long balls up the field pitch. It also prevents the defense from having to keep multiple defenders back by the goal to guard the cherry-picker. The result is to push the action up the field and keep more players involved on both ends. The underlying logic is aesthetics and the look of the game. The rulemakers did not want what one soccer web site called a "ping-pong match" of long kicks back and forth, as opposed to short passes and runs up and through the middle of the pitch. It also avoids what many would regard as "cheap" goals.
An Addendum on New York Times Op-Eds and Columnists
A fun post from Neil Buchanan on why he thinks the New York Times should get rid of its op-ed columnists and run a vast rotating bunch of writers instead. (It's not clear to me whether the replacements he envisions would only be experts opining on subjects ostensibly within their expertise, or whether he would also run a mix of opinionated generalists who would at least be more varied and surprising and entertaining than the existing limited stock of permanent columnists. On the former possibility, one might enjoy this short take from Mark Tushnet, along with his acknowledgment that his criticism applies especially to bloggers like us, who have some ostensible expertise in a particular area but sound off on all kinds of things.)
I'm fine with his proposal on the whole. I would add three pieces to his discussion that I don't think got much attention from him. One is a matter of the historical background that might help explain why the Times functions as it does. Columns in the Times have often served two useful internal purposes for the paper. One, they serve as a kind of negotiated golden parachute or emeritus position to ease someone out of a job like executive editor; Abe Rosenthal and Bill Keller fall into this category. Two, they have served as a way to retain a valued Times staffer, particularly one who has lost the grand sweepstakes for executive editor or some other main masthead position. Examples here include Anthony Lewis and Tom Wicker. I'm not sure this category describes any current main op-ed columnists (Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich may have been offered columns for retention purposes, but they were not leadership competitors.) It may describe some of the Taking Note and Contributing Writer columnists. These kinds of motivation were considerably responsible for the Times op-ed page taking the shape it did. The Times initially had an editorial page; the op-ed page was a relatively recent later innovation. The columnists it slowly accumulated were mostly people who insisted on a column as the price of staying at the Times rather than going elsewhere, or who were failed heirs apparent during particular moments of change at the top of the Times's masthead. (Other columnists filled a third need for the Times, which was "casting" or changing the face of the Times in response to demands for a more prominent role for African Americans, women, conservatives, and others; past examples include Bob Herbert, Anna Quindlen, and William Safire, and there is Ross Douthat in our own era.)
Second, I think Buchanan acknowledges but gives too little weight to the degree to which something closer to what he wants has already taken place on the Times's web site, although not its print version. The categories and backgrounds of opinion writers on the web site have expanded considerably. Whether these writers are much good is a separate question; certainly the Taking Note column, which basically consists of politically predictable blog posts by former reporters, is worth skipping on a daily basis. (Indeed, I assume that Buchanan's proposal would only promise more variety and less tedium on the op-ed page, not necessarily better quality.)
Third, I cannot resist taking issue with a couple of his judgments along the way. Pace Buchanan, losing Charles Blow would not be a blow. By the time he left, Frank Rich was not a loss. (I am surprised that Buchanan laments stale, predictable column writing but exempts these two.) And he's wrong about Manohla Dargis.
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.
Taxation, Civic Identity, and the Future of Consumption Taxes
Thanks again to Matt Bodie and Prawfsblawg for hosting this discussion of my book, and for the commentators for their thoughtful questions and critiques. As I mentioned in my previous post, I thought I’d try to address some of the more specific questions raised by the readers and comments in their earlier posts. But before I do that I also want to reply to Matt Lindsay’s fascinating comment about the historical relationship between the rise of progressive taxation and consumer citizenship.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Tesla Surprises with Unilateral Open Source Patents Initiative
Today Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO (pictured below), announced that "all our patents belong to you". Musk said that in the spirit of the open source movement Tesla will be from now on sharing freely all their patents. Smart move is my take on it. Here is what I told the Harvard Business Review about Tesla's plan: good for the brand, good for constituting a greater consumer market in EVs thus creating more demand, good for faster industry innovation, good for secondary EV network charging fees, and all the while, without losing Tesla's real competitive edge: the product itself, which is larger than the sum of the knowledge embedded in its patents.
The Flawed NRC Report: Prosecutors, Plea Bargains, and Long Sentences
(This is Part 9 in my criticism of the recent National Research Council report on incarceration. Part 1 looks at the over-emphasis on the drug war. Part 2 and Part 3 argue against assigning too much importance to longer sentences. And Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8 looks at the role of prosecutors.)
As one of my last posts about the NRC report and prosecutors, I want to return to the issue of the relationship between incarceration and longer sentences. In earlier posts, I said that longer sentences have not been a primary engine of prison growth, and that is true if "longer sentences are driving prison growth" is read to mean "people serving more time in prison is driving prison growth." But longer sentences could still be important, just in a way that the report ignores.
They could matter because of how they affect plea bargaining.
The Citizen-Consumer and the Origins of Progressive Income Taxation
By way of underscoring Ajay’s emphasis on the importance of the pre-crisis conceptual transformation (and adding, perhaps unnecessarily, to the already-complex question of historical causation) I wanted to build on Ajay’s notion of fiscal citizenship to propose a further way of thinking about the relationship between the evolving political economy of citizenship and the rise of progressive income taxation. There is now a sizeable literature analyzing the shift in civic identity in the late-19th and early 20th century, from production to consumption—more specifically, from understanding work itself as a source of independence, dignity and virtue; to understanding a worker’s ability to maintain a respectable standard of living as a measure those citizenly qualities. This capacity to consume was at the center of union movements for a living wage, and for harnessing purchasing power (though boycotts and union label campaigns) to create a more just labor system. (I’ve argued in my own work that the standard of consumption likewise became an important measure of fitness for citizenship in debates over federal immigration policy.)
This left me wondering whether this shift in the political economy of civic identity helped to shape the transformation of the fiscal state by giving new resonance to the long-standing critique of the tariff and fueling support for a non-consumption-based revenue system. Ajay demonstrates that the tariff was widely viewed as inherently regressive, extracting more from those with less by surreptitiously folding the tax into the price of consumer goods. And even if it had, at an earlier time, plausibly served to protect infant industries, with the maturation of American capitalism in the final decades of the 19th century it was increasingly viewed as an illegitimate special privilege bestowed on political favorites. That’s basically a neo-Jacksonian critique of class legislation that, by the 1890s, had been around for decades. (And as Ajay notes, it had been forcefully advanced against the tariff by figures like Thomas Cooley and David Wells.)
I wonder, though, whether that critique gained such traction when it did because it stressed the impact of the tariff on the cost of life’s necessities at precisely the moment when a worker’s capacity to consume—to maintain a respectable standard of living—was becoming a measure of not only personal independence but also, and more broadly, of the basic compatibility between the industrial labor system and equal citizenship. This isn’t to doubt the vitality of neo-Jacksonian critique or the important role of the progressive economists in popularizing it; but rather to propose a further, perhaps complementary, way of understanding why political receptivity to a non-consumption-based alternative to the tariff system (i.e. the income tax) gained traction after the turn of the century. In short, was painting the tariff as a regressive consumption tax more salient at the turn of the century than it had been just a couple decades earlier, precisely because one’s capacity to consume had become so much more central to American civic identity? And while I’m at it, does the relative prominence of “consumer citizenship” in modern American political culture continue to serve as an impediment to serious consideration of broad-based consumption taxes?
A new Green Bag (Spring 2014)
Volume 17, Number 3
(Most of the issue is available here now.)
Our Mistakes • Judicial Construction and the Fragility of Elaboration • The Stephen G. Breyer Bobblehead, Annotated • Call for Papers: “Reading Law”
To the Bag
Douglas P. Woodlock
Must Salmon Love Meinhard? Agape and Partnership Fiduciary Duties, by Stephen M. Bainbridge
Fighting Legal Innumeracy, by Edward K. Cheng
The Proper Pronunciation of Certiorari: The Supreme Court’s Surprising Six-Way Split, by James J. Duane
Boilerplate and Consent, by Nancy S. Kim
From the Bag
A Christmas Gift for the Supreme Court: How a 1959 Holiday Party Eclipsed a History of Discrimination, by Ross E. Davies
The Docket Sheet, by Banning E. “Bert” Whittington
Fables in Law, Chapter 3: Legal Lessons from Field, Forest, and Glen, by D. Brock Hornby
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
What does it mean to "enjoin" teacher tenure? A plea for coherent remedies in school reform litigation
I have just finished reading Judge Treu's decision holding unconstitutional five California statutes protecting teachers from dismissal -- so-called "teacher tenure" statutes. It was not difficult to read: The opinion is only sixteen pages long. And yet, after reading the opinion, I am left completely confused about what the opinion means for California schools. The problem is that Judge Treu has identified a state of affairs that deprives kids -- especially low-income kids -- of educational quality, but he has not specified how this state of affairs should be remedied. The result is judicial incoherence.
Take, for example, the part of the opinion "enjoining" the various statutes defining the process for firing tenured teachers (pages 11-13). Judge Treu concludes that these statutes provide "über due process" for teachers that is "so complex, time-consuming, and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory" (page 13). Two to ten years to fire an incompetent teacher is just too long, according to Judge Treu. Judge Treu, therefore, "finds the Dismissal Statutes unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution of California" and "enjoins their enforcement." (id.)
But what does it mean to "enjoin" the "enforce[ment]" of some unspecified set of dismissal procedures? Is Judge Treu holding that California schools may not dismiss any teachers under the current rules until the California Legislature alters these procedures in a constitutionally acceptable way? Of course not: Such an interpretation transforms Judge Treu's decision into über tenure for teachers. But then what exactly does he mean when he says that certain procedures are "enjoined"? Which ones? And what process should replace them while the legislature mulls over a fix? A judge-made code of due process (presumably not of the "über" variety)? Or will Judge Treu just stay his opinion indefinitely while the legislature pretends to fix it? And, assuming the unlikely event that the legislature acts, what would constitute an acceptable legislative fix of these rules? Suppose that, after a legislative overhaul of the rules, it still takes, say, two to four years to fire incompetent teachers: Would the new procedures pass constitutional muster because the process had sped up a bit, even though they were still slow?
I share Judge Treu's sense that job security for public employees can injure recipients of public services. But I am also inclined to think that this remedy-less sort of constitutional ruling, familiar from the New Jersey Supreme Court's opinion in Mount Laurel I, is a hopeless way to deal with the problem of public law reform.
Making the Modern American Fiscal State, Central Themes and Claims
First, let me begin by thanking Matt Bodie and the other folks at PrawfsBlawg for hosting this online book symposium, and the readers for their insightful commentaries. Many of the readers/commentators have seen this book project evolve over time and I’ve learned immensely from their earlier feedback and their own scholarship. I’ve also enjoyed reading the other book club posts at this blog, and I’m honored and delighted to have the opportunity to discuss my new book with PrawfsBlawg readers.
With this initial post, I thought I’d try to address some of the book’s more general themes and central claims – many of which have already been eloquently summarized by several of the commentators. I’ll follow up soon with a second post addressing some of the more, historically-specific questions posed by the readers and comments.
So, let me begin by addressing two key issues drawn from the commentators’ posts: (1) the political consequences of the rise of the modern fiscal state – intended and unintended; and (2) the importance of crisis and contingency – as they relate to theories of historical change.
Orange is the New Black - Spoiler Alert
I've just finished viewing the recently-released new season of Orange is the New Black, which I had awaited with much anticipation since reading Piper Kerman's book and the first season. It was everything I hoped for and more, and the storylines were engaging and fantastic. And, even taking into account what we all already know--that TV series aim to entertain and have to compete in the ratings arena--this season's plotlines highlight some important prison issues that the public may not be aware of and offers an intelligent, critical look at them.
Let the spoilers begin!
This season's episodes are drawing attention to two populations of inmates that have previously been in the dark to the public: the old and the infirm. It's easy for the public to imagine the typical prisoner as a young black male, and the statistics on prison population confirm the overrepresentation of such inmates, but that ignores the growing aging population in prison and the special problems they pose. As life-course criminology shows, people tend to age out of street crime as a natural transition to adulthood, and lengthy incarceration beyond those periods, particularly for nonviolent, nonsexual offenses, therefore raises serious questions.
In Cheap on Crime, I talk about the rise in attention of correctional authorities to the old and the infirm, modifying Feeley and Simon's risk-based actuarial justice to a cost/risk equation. That is, recession-era politics look not only at the risk an individual poses, but also at the cost of his or her incarceration. Orange is the New Black raises these hard questions through the stories of older and infirm inmates these season, focusing on two in particular: Sister Jane Ingalls, an excommunicated, politically active nun incarcerated for chaining herself in place at a nuclear weapons base during a political protest, and Rosa Cisneros, a former professional bank robber now undergoing chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer.
Sister Ingalls, friends with a group of older inmates, witnesses the painful "compassionate release" of a fellow inmate with Alzheimer's, shocked at the fact that no plans are made to care for the inmate after dumping her on the street. This sad and shocking fact reflects the weakness of many similar "compassionate release" programs designed to save money on care of the elderly without thinking about support following their release. Horrified by the prison authorities' indifference to the plight of an old, frail, sick inmate, Sister Ingalls embarks on a hunger strike. For a while, she sits on the sidelines of a group of inmates organizing a hunger strike for various issues, and eventually, she remains the lone hunger striker after other inmates are placated with some minor concessions.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Is the Supreme Court Rushing to Judgment?
One of the great things about the Supreme Court is that it adheres to self-imposed deadlines. Each "term" basically starts in early October and ends in late June, before the justices begin their summer recess. This annual rhythm guarantees that cases do not languish undecided, while giving parties and the press some sense of when a result will issue. But we all know that strict, arbitrary deadlines aren't always desirable. Sometimes, doing a good job means taking a little longer than planned. And, as work piles up and deadlines loom, mistakes are more likely to happen. If the Court is rushing to judgment this month, then the results could fundamentally shape the law.
First-Person Judicial Opinions
Something that jumped out at me in reading Judge Barbara Crabb’s recent opinion striking down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage is that she wrote in the first-person. Here, for example, are Judge Crabb’s concluding sentences:
Because my review of that law convinces me that plaintiffs are entitled to the same treatment as any heterosexual couple, I conclude that the Wisconsin laws banning marriage between same-sex couples are unconstitutional.
Although a Westlaw search reveals that use of the first-person is not uncommon amongst district judges (the phrases “I hold” or “I conclude” appear in at least 10,000 opinions in the DCT database), the practice is hardly universal. Some judges feel that references to “the court” are too formal, and that they obscure the identity of the decision maker. The other side is well-represented by Joyce George’s Judicial Opinion Writing Handbook: “By personalizing the writing, the author takes the position of pitting his rationale against that of the losing party. The judge becomes a substitute for the prevailing party in appearance and in his role.” And perhaps provides fodder for those inclined to rail against the activism of unelected judges.
My instinct is to be untroubled by the first-person, and to suspect that it provides at least a modicum of extra ownership. But I’d be interested in your thoughts.
“You didn’t build that” and the “Benefits” Theory of Taxation
There’s a great deal to admire about Ajay Mehrotra’s terrific new book, Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive taxation, 1877-1929. In this initial post, I’ll describe the book’s central themes and a few of its many virtues, and then raise a question about the long-run consequences of the legal-intellectual transformation that Ajay describes.
At the center of Ajay’s account is a wonderfully engaging intellectual history of a group of progressive American economists, including Richard Ely, Henry Carter Adams, and Edwin Seligman. It was these scholar-activists, among others, who did the foundational intellectual work of displacing the then-prevailing “benefits” or “compensatory” theory of taxation, which imagined tax-paying as one side of a reciprocal exchange between the taxpayer and the state; and replacing it with the “ability to pay,” or “faculty” theory, premised on new model of fiscal citizenship grounded in the social democratic values of solidarity and ethical duty.
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.
Avi-Yonah on "Making the Modern American Fiscal State"
The following is a post from Reuven Avi-Yonah:
This is an important and exciting book. Two questions:
1. To what extent did the lack of emphasis on the expenditure side of the budget in assessing progressivity, which Ajay characterizes as a mistake, lead to the current imbalance in U.S. tax policy (no VAT)?
2. Ajay emphasizes the role of Seligman in moving from benefits to ability to pay taxation. But Seligman was also a major figure shaping the international tax regime on a benefits basis. How can the two be reconciled, and what are the implications for the current attempts to revive benefits theories of taxation?
Mehrotra tackles two mysteries in Making the Modern American Fiscal State
Here are two mysteries of United States public finance. First, how was the 1913 ratification of a Constitutional amendment permitting the imposition of a powerful new federal income tax even possible? Second, why doesn’t the United States have a value-added tax or other broad-based national consumption tax? Ajay Mehrohtra grapples with both in his recent book, Making the Modern American Fiscal State.
Ajay calls his approach “neo-progressive,” but “contingent,” and he builds a careful history of American tax law and policy from the 1890s to the 1920s. The story covers the adoption of the corporate and individual income tax at both federal and state levels and the relative decline of excise taxes and custom duties, as well as efforts to improve the breadth and administration of the property taxes relied on by many municipalities. It ends before the explosive tax moment of the New Deal and World War II, which saw the institution of Social Security and other payroll taxes and the expansion of the income tax to a “mass tax.”
The income tax developments form the focal point of this political class warfare story.
American Fiscal State-Building, Crisis, and Contingency
In his sweeping and sophisticated new book, Making the Modern American Fiscal State, Ajay Mehrotra takes on a transformation of profound and enduring importance: America’s shift from a tax regime that was relatively regressive and indirect (centered on the federal tariff) to one that is relatively progressive and direct (centered on the federal income tax). Chapter 1 of the book sets the stage by introducing us to the old tax regime that prevailed as of the 1880s, especially the tariff. Chapters 2 through 5 explain how the new regime first gained a foothold in American government -- in the spheres of intellectual discourse, law, and government institutional capacity. At the end of Chapter 5, the year is 1915: the Sixteenth Amendment has been ratified, Congress has enacted an income tax targeted at the highest earners and corporations, and the Treasury Department has begun its collections, using the crucial administrative technology known as “stoppage-at-source” -- a crude early form of withholding. We can, at this point in the story, recognize the essential features of our present regime. Yet they exist only in embryo: the income tax itself is still tiny, with a top rate of 7%, accounting for only 8% of federal revenue (p. 352). It takes the crisis of the First World War -- with its tremendous revenue demands -- to cause the federal income tax to grow from a mere embryo into the workhorse of the American state. The Great War takes up Chapter 6, and it is the climax of Mehrotra’s story. The income tax's top rate skyrockets to 77%, and it ends up providing most federal revenue (p. 300, 352). The revolution is locked in: even in the putatively reactionary 1920s, as Mehrotra argues in his concluding Chapter 7, the top rate doesn’t go below 25% (more than triple the prewar figure), and the tax accounts for about 50% of federal revenue (p. 352).
Yet despite the centrality of the WWI crisis to the transformation Mehrotra chronicles, he is keen to resist a simple functionalist account in which (to paraphrase Charles Tilly) the war makes the state. As Mehrotra insists: “the wartime fiscal revolution was not merely a functionalist response to the need for revenue .... The wartime tax regime embodied, instead, a complex continuation of the conceptual shift in public finance advanced by prewar progressive intellectuals and political leaders ....” (p. 295; see also pp. 22-25). Mehrotra assigns great importance to this pre-crisis conceptual shift -- he devotes more than half the book to it (Chapter 2-5), in which he explains how reformers provided the income tax with a well-articulated economic and moral justification, a constitutional space, a legislative basis, and the beginnings of a bureaucratic apparatus.
Falling in line on the FTAIA
The Second Circuit last week became the latest circuit (joining the Third and Seventh) to overrule circuit precedent and hold that the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act (FTAIA), which limits the extraterritorial reach of the Sherman Act, is a nonjurisdictional merits limitation. This court focused more on Arbaugh and the absence of "jurisdictional language," rather than Morrison's absolute "extraterritoriality-is-always-merits" approach. But, citing the Seventh Circuit, the court recognizes the merits nature of the FTAIA. The court makes one nice move with the FTAIA's legislative history and its repeated references to jurisdiction. References to the "subject matter jurisdiction of United States antitrust law" are not unambiguously about the adjudicative authority of the federal courts, but instead are better understood as inartfully referring to the prescriptive scope of federal law, which goes to the merits of any claim under that law.
The Second Circuit also recognized that Congress was as confused as the courts about jurisdictionality and as likely as the courts to use terms loosely and inaccurately, at least prior to Arbaugh in 2006. This suggests that even if Congress did include "jurisdictional language" in a pre-2006 statute, courts still must look carefully at whether it really meant adjudicative jurisdiction or whether it meant jurisdiction in some other sense (notably in referring to its own legislative authority). Morrison's absolute approach helps in this reading of statutory text and history.
The Rise of Progressive Taxation: What Does it Mean to be Progressive?
Ajay Mehrotra is a leader of a new generation of tax historians and a pioneer in the field of fiscal sociology. Befitting his richly interdisciplinary training and acculturation, Ajay’s work is not merely a history of the tax laws, but offers an almost anthropological peek at the development of the fiscal architecture in this country. Indeed, Ajay is one of those writers where I’m tempted to read the footnotes before I read the main text. His citations to authority often provide an unparalleled literature review of the field. As an added bonus, many of his footnotes actually have pinpoint cites, unlike some historical books where the reader is left to wonder whether the author has actually read the books he is citing. With Ajay, there is no such worry. He reminds me of fellow tax historian Assaf Likhovski of Tel Aviv University in his polyglot-like fluency in the literature of multiple disciplines.
In Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929, all of the best qualities of Ajay’s work are on display. The book is careful, nuanced, informative, and comprehensive. Although Ajay is not the first to observe this, the book beautifully describes how the revenue system was radically re-made over this period and beyond, shifting from a system focused on regressive customs duties and excise taxes (based upon the “necessity to consume”) to a system primarily based on taxing incomes and intergenerational wealth transfers (based upon the “ability to pay”). As befitting someone steeped in the Elliot Brownlee tradition of economic history, Ajay devotes ample time to profiling the pioneering public finance economists who Ajay gives credit for this progressive transformation, including Henry Carter Adams, Richard T. Ely, and Edwin R.A. Seligman. Perhaps his greatest contribution is in the book’s detailed description of the centralization of fiscal authority and the concomitant development of the administrative apparatus to operate the new system.
Book club on "Making the Modern American Fiscal State"
Our book club for "Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929" begins today. Our club-goers will be:
- Reuven Avi-Yonah, University of Michigan Law School
- Steven Bank, UCLA School of Law
- Matthew Lindsay, University of Baltimore School of Law
- Susan Morse, University of Texas School of Law
- Julia Ott, The New School
- Nicholas Parrillo, Yale Law School, and
- Ajay Mehrotra, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Looking forward to a great club!
Monday, June 09, 2014
Limits on the Court's Revision Power
A few weeks ago, Professor Richard Lazarus posted a fascinating and much-discussed draft article documenting the Supreme Court's practice of revising its opinions after their initial publication. These often overlooked revisions, Lazarus shows, can extend to important points of law. Partly for that reason, Lazarus proposes various reforms to promote transparency, such as public notice of any post-publication changes.
In reading Lazarus's paper, I found myself wondering whether there are any limits on the Court's revision power. I think that there are. In particular, the Court probably has authority to modify the substance of a precedential opinion only when the relevant case is before the Court. Revisions at other times, such as long after the judgment and mandate have issued, seem like advisory opinions.
Anxiety and Ambition in the Trenches
A benefit of my temporary role as AALS president is the opportunity to meet with faculty and administrators at their law schools, mainly in order to listen to their concerns and advice and hopefully draw upon this wisdom to improve the service of the organization in this time of disruptive change.
The atmosphere of these visits reveals a high level of concern (of course) with the impact of the changing admissions structure and what it portends for law school benefits generally and faculty well-being particularly. Yet, what is remarkably encouraging, when taking these high-anxiety conversations as a whole, is this:
First, faculty members truly get that the core dilemma is how best to provide a high-quality education to the group of students, even as they come in often at smaller numbers, and, moreover, how to inculcate in them the value of a manifestly comprehensive, creative set of skills -- theoretical and experiential -- in a fluid marketplace, the future contours of which none of us can predict exactly. That the infrastructure of student learning is at the heart of what we do as faculty members comes up in these discussions reliably and eloquently. And, further, that the key threat from the war on law schools is that directed at the students who are investing, and the young alumni who have invested, in legal education is very much on the minds of our member school faculties.
Second, there is a deep confidence, some might call it hubris, that the doing and disseminating of legal scholarship will continue largely unabated. This is not to minimize the impact of challenged budgets on how law profs do their work. However, no one I have visited with on behalf of AALS regards the scholarly enterprise as a luxury or an imposition and no one sees the current pressures as a beginning of a crowding out of scholarly discourse and creative engagement with ideas and efforts at tackling urgent matters of legal reform. The self-selection that draws significant numbers of talented lawyers to the legal academy will preserve, so long as law schools survive in the basic form that they exist presently, the good, ambitious work that our faculties pursue in their research, writing, and speaking.
Decline of Lawyers? Law schools quo vadis?
My Northwestern colleague, John McGinnis, has written a fascinating essay in City Journal on "Machines v. Lawyers." An essential claim in the article is that the decline of traditional lawyers will impact the business model of law schools -- and, indeed, will put largely out of business those schools who aspire to become junior-varsity Yales, that is, who don't prepare their students for a marketplace in which machine learning and big data pushes traditional legal services to the curb and, with it, thousands of newly-minted lawyers.
Bracketing the enormously complex predictions about the restructuring of the legal market in the shadow of Moore's Law and the rise of computational power, let's focus on the connection between these developments and the modern law school.
The matter of what law schools will do raises equally complex -- and intriguing -- questions. Here is just one: What sorts of students will attracted to these new and improved law schools? Under John's description of our techno-centered future, the answer is this: students who possess an eager appreciation for the prevalence and impact of technology and big data on modern legal practice. This was presumably include, but not be limited to, students whose pre-law experience gives them solid grounding in quantitative skills. In addition, these students will have an entrepreneurial cast of mind and, with it, some real-world experience -- ideally, experience in sectors of the economy which are already being impacted by this computational revolution. Finally, these will be students who have the capacity and resolve to use their legal curriculum (whether in two or three years, depending upon what the future brings) to define the right questions, to make an informed assessment of risk and reward in a world of complex regulatory and structural systems, and, in short, to add value to folks who are looking principally at the business or engineering components of the problem.
Chief Justice Goldberg? A SCOTUS counterfactual
I am reading Lee Levine's and Stephen Wermiel's The Progeny, which traces the history of New York Times v. Sullivan and subsequent cases and Justice Brennan's efforts to control development of that area of First Amendment law. Arthur Goldberg makes a brief cameo in Sullivan and Garrison v. Louisiana as a third voice on the Court (along with Justices Black and Douglas) pushing for absolute First Amendment protection for all criticism of government and public officials, before resigning (at LBJ's urging) in summer 1965 to become UN Ambassador and to allow LBJ to appoint Abe Fortas to the Court.
So a counterfactual (and maybe this has been written about): What if Arthur Goldberg had not resigned from the Court?
Short term, The Progeny shows that the early path of post-Sullivan defamation cases might have been different. Goldberg aligned t with Black and Douglas for the broadest First Amendment protection (beyond Brennan's actual malice), while Fortas went in the other direction, on one occasion all by himself. Certainly football coach Wally Butts does not keep his defamation judgment if Goldberg rather than Fortas is occupying what at the time was called "the Jewish seat."
What about longer term? Chief Justice Warren supposedly wanted Goldberg to succeed him as Chief. We probably do not get the insanity of the failed nomination of Fortas to be Chief. We definitely do not get Fortas' subsequent pressured resignation from the Court. Do we get a Democratic Chief in 1968 (Goldberg? Brennan? Someone else, and if so, who?), instead of Warren Burger two years later? Would Goldberg have been filibustered the way Fortas was? And if Goldberg becomes Chief, we get someone other than Harry Blackmun in that associate justice seat, another LBJ nomine in 1968 (likedly Homer Thornberry of the Fifth Circuit, who was nominated to Fortas's seat when Fortas was nominated as Chief). In either event, Goldberg lived until 1990; does he become a 20+-year Justice? (or was too otherwise-ambitious and distracted, believing he could be Governor of New York or President).
If nothinge else, does Flood v. Kuhn come out differently? Goldberg likely would have been a third for Flood on the Court, which might have moved other people. More importantly, Goldberg no longer can represent Flood, so he no longer can deliver one of the worst arguments in the Court's history.
Friday, June 06, 2014
Did the Martinez Sum Rev Apply or Change the Law?
Last week, the Supreme Court issued an unusual pro-criminal defendant summary reversal in the Double Jeopardy case Martinez v. Illinois. According to the Court, summary treatment was appropriate in part because the Illinois courts had failed to adhere to "what we have consistently treated as a bright-line rule." Ironically, however, Martinez's main long-term effect may be to increase uncertainty as to whether the rule in question is actually that bright after all. Martinez is an illustration of the marginal legal changes that often accompany what appear or purport to be simple applications of law.
Pregnancy and information overload
A non-law (although sort of policy) post: Yesterday's Times published "The T.M.I. Pregnancy", on the drawbacks of the wealth of available pre-natal information. The author's daughter-in-law went through a tense pregnancy in which various tests suggested possible problems (including small size, low birthweight, and a short longbone). While obviously beneficial, the extra information that is now available makes the whole experience nerve-racking.
Nine years later, I can sympathize.
Like the author's children, we did the series of genetic tests targeted for Ashkenazi Jews (our O.B. called it the "Jewish Panel") and waited anxiously for the results. The first ultrasound detected an ecogenic focus, a calcium deposit on the developing heart and a soft possible indicator of Down Syndrome; more anxiety and a long weekend waiting for the results of other tests for Down (all were negative--and the focus ultimately disappeared, although not for awhile, so my wife still was slightly worried). Then the doctors were concerned about fetal size (my mother-in-law and sister-in-law both carried very small), which meant weekly ultrasounds for the final six weeks of the pregnancy. At the last ultrasound, 2 1/2 weeks before the due date, they became concerned about size and amniotic fluid and recommended immediate delivery (I made the mistake of reading the report as we drove back to the O.B.). While in the hospital and hooked to the fetal heart-rate monitor (the machine that goes ping), the fetal heart rate tumbled, prompting the doctor to recommend--and us quickly to accept (my precise words were "Get her out of there")--an immediate C-Section (the doctor insisted it was not emergent, but a non-emergency C-Section is like minor surgery--it is what happens to somone else). Our daughter was small but within range and just fine.
It's a bad combination, really--lots of scientific and medical information, but nothing you can know in the moment and nothing you can do if the information is negative, other than wait, hope, and pray.
St. John's Law School: Home of the Prediction Theory of Law
For the second year in a row, St. John's Law School is dominating Bloomberg Law and SCOTUSblog's Supreme Court Challenge. Two of my former Constitutional Law students (who ended up coming in first and third last year) are sitting pretty in the fifth and sixth spots. And a new group of SJU competitors, auspiciously named "The Federalists," are poised to strike at number seven. Right now, nobody's beating the great Goldstein...but there's still a lot more game to play.
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.
Correcting the Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity
Yesterday, SB 1010 passed in the California Senate, and it is on its way to the Assembly. The purpose of the bill is to eliminate all disparity between the sentences for possession with intent to sell of crack and powder cocaine, by reducing the sentence for the former from 3, 4, or 5 years, to 2, 3, or 4 years. It also eliminates the differences in quantities (a 1:2 ratio in California) between the two drugs for a variety of manufacturing offenses and mandatory prison sentences.
For those unfamiliar with California sentencing, we do not have a sentencing commission. Our sentences are meted out by the legislature, and felony sentencing follows a "triad" of offenses. After Cunningham v. California (part of the Apprendi line of cases), the judge can pick any of the three sentences (but nothing above, below, or in between).
The passage of SB 1010 is a reminder of how much the zeitgeist has changed. Four District Attorneys--in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and San Francisco--are supporting the proposition. In a few short years, the crack/cocaine disparity has lost favor fairly dramatically.
That the disparity is proxy for racial discrimination is now a commonly held perspective (see here and here), but it is not a wall-to-wall consensus. There are still commentators who believe that the addictive power per molecule justifies a disparity, and others who attribute the rise in urban crime in the 1990s to the crack epidemic. As many readers know, the Obama administration reduced the federal disparity from 100:1 to 18:1. With public climate about crack sentencing considerably altered since the 1990s, I think we can expect SB 1010 to pass in the Assembly in August and reach Governor Brown's desk soon.
cross-posted to California Correctional Crisis.
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Ashker v. Brown Receives Class-Action Status
The struggle against solitary confinement in CA continues. This week, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken awarded Ashker v. Brown class action status, enabling the inmates to challenge long-term solitary confinement beyond their particular circumstances.
A bit of background (for more than a bit, go here): California has been building and using supermax prisons with SHU units since the 1980s. There are two main ways to find oneself in solitary: either you are disciplined for an infraction of prison regulation, or you are suspected of an association with a gang. In the former case, your stay will be limited; in the latter case, you could be placed in solitary confinement indefinitely, with your only options of departure being "parole, snitch, or die." The second of these consists of a process called "gang validation", in which the person provides information on other gang members--a process that yields a lot of inaccuracy because of the unhealthy incentives. The result is that people have spent years, and sometimes decades, in regimes that cause untold medical and mental health hardships, without human contact, with limited access to books, and sometimes, double-celled in very close quarters (which sort of defies the purpose and is, in Keramet Reiter's words, "differently horrible.")
The struggle against solitary confinement has led CA inmates to conduct three hunger strikes, the last of which was fairly recent and claimed at lesat one death that I know of. The background to the hunger strike is best explained in this fascinating read. The strike ended with a legislative promise to conduct hearings about the effects of solitary and the humanitarian implications. Said hearings were, indeed, conducted, and yielded a bill that, if enacted, would limit the correctional authorities' ability to inflict indefinite solitary confinement.
At the same time, litigation proceeded, with today's decision to grant class action marking one more step toward a public debate about the value of this punitive, cruel regime.
Setting traps in a deposition
A while ago, I linked to a New York Times Verbatim video, in which actors recreate depositions, based on the transcripts. In this one, a lawyer gets increasingly agitated as he goes round and round with the deponent about the meaning of "photocopier." At the time, I missed this feature on the lawyer taking the deposition, David Marrburger, a partner at Cleveland's Baker-Hostetler. Marburger states that in reality he was not angry or agitated during the deposition; he actually enjoyed stringing along the deponent (the exchange goes on for 10 pages), who clearly had been prepped by his lawyer to obfuscate, in a way that was going to make him and the defendant look bad. Watching the reenactment, it was pretty obvious what the deponent was doing and pretty easy to guess why. While the video is funny, the background story provides a nice lesson both for lawyers defending depositions against doing this and for lawyers taking depositions about how to handle it.
Personal Precedent in Bay Mills
Justice Scalia recently went out of his way to acknowledge that he'd made a mistake. No, I'm not talking about his much ballyhooed factual error from last month. Instead, I'm talking about last week's decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, where Scalia's separate dissent drew attention to a substantive change in his views on tribal sovereign immunity. Meanwhile, Justice Ginsburg dissented separately in Bay Mills in order to underscore her persistent opposition to several strands of sovereign immunity doctrine.
These dissenting opinions in Bay Mills showcase an underappreciated aspect of Supreme Court decisionmaking -- namely, each justice's special attention to his or her own past decisions, as distinguished from the decisions of the Court. This parallel and sometimes disruptive system of individualized stare decisis might be termed "personal precedent."
Constitutional Legitimacy and Constitutional Interpretation
This is the fourth summer in which I am teaching a summer seminar on constitutional theory (which I like to bill as “the most fun one can possibly have in a law school at 7:30 on a Friday morning”). One of the things I’ve picked up along the way is that my students find themselves much more comfortable assessing the array of competing approaches to constitutional interpretation if we spend some time at the outset discussing the question of what it is that legitimates the Constitution in the first place.
The question of constitutional legitimacy and its connection to interpretation is something that, to my way of thinking, assumes much less prominence in con law scholarship and teaching materials than it should. I’ll focus on teaching. Constitutional law is frustrating for a good chunk of students due to its lack of firm footholds. In pretty much everything else in the first-year curriculum there’s at least rough agreement on the aims of the body of law under study, and thus there are accepted premises from which to argue. In Con Law, in contrast, almost everything is up for grabs. Gerhardt, Griffin, Rowe, and Solum (whose Constitutional Theory book I use) capture this nicely in their opening sentences: “A colleague likes to say that ‘the trouble with constitutional law is that nobody knows what counts as an argument.’ It may be more accurate to say that plenty of people think they know what does or should count, and that they often disagree.”
Stress and Dissent: Reading Geithner and Warren
If you’ve read the books and academic articles or even watched the movies about the financial crisis, you’ve mostly heard a unified and compelling narrative. On the cynical end, Geithner, Paulson, and Bernanke were Wall Street cronies in bed with the largest banks, the vampire squids like Goldman Sachs, and they used taxpayer money to bail them out. The more generous and nuanced view is that they made unprecedented moves to bail out TBTF banks because the big banks had too much power and sway over them.
Geithner’s cleverly-named “Stress Test” is the Treasury Secretary’s attempt to convince us that everything we believed was wrong. (You can feel the struggle of Geithner trying to pull at the dominant narrative by watching the painful and uncharacteristically not-funny 45-minute interview with Jon Stewart .) Geithner sat at the very center of the storm from beginning to end. First as head of the New York Federal Reserve, the regulator most entwined with the Wall Street firms, he oversaw the early rumblings of crisis as well as the rescue of Bear Stearns and the failure of Lehman Brothers. Then, as Treasury Secretary, he oversaw TARP, the auto bailout, Dodd-Frank and every other aspect of the financial rescue. Geithner knows what we think happened and he addresses each of our facts with other facts, each opinion with an insider’s take and each objection with a “reality check.” He did not want to bail out banks for the bank’s sake. He expresses disdain for their excess, stupidity, and herd behavior. He wants us to know that his team bailed them out to save the economy and the public from their collapse. The fear that drove him was not Wall Street failure, but America’s demise. He and his team were convinced that “there would have been shantytowns again” if they mishandled the crisis. And once the war was started, it was necessary to use "overwhelming force."
The Flawed NRC Report: What Incentivizes Prosecutors?
(This is Part 8 in my criticism of the recent National Research Council report on incarceration. Here are Part 1 (drug war), Part 2 and Part 3 (longer sentences), and Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7 (admissions and prosecutors).)
As my earlier posts have made clear, that the NRC report does not really focus on prosecutors is disappointing, given the apparently outsized role they have played in driving up prison populations. As a result, the report’s policy recommendations do not target the real causes of prison growth. Given how generally understudied and under-regulated prosecutors are, this represents a truly lost opportunity.
Compounding this error is the fact that when the report does talk about prosecutors, it does so poorly. In this post, I want to examine the report’s analysis of the political incentives of prosecutors. The motivations it highlights are likely not the core ones driving prosecutor behavior, and it worth considering both why those factors aren’t so important and what some important ones could be.
The Future of Polyamorous Marriage
Last summer, as the LGBT community rejoiced over the Windsor and Perry decisions, polyamorous activists spoke out to remind us that true marriage equality has not been achieved yet (here and here are some articulate posts about this.) The Bay Area polyamorous community has held a couple of political summits since the decisions, and in both of them several activists expressed their bitterness about how the LGBT community, who they vocally and actively supported in their struggle for marriage, "threw them under the bus" and distanced itself from them as part of its legal strategy.
Indeed, you may remember that this actually came up in the oral argument in Perry. Justice Sotomayor asked Ted Olson:
If you say that marriage is a fundamental right, what State restrictions could ever exist? Meaning, what State restrictions with respect to the number of people, with respect to -- that could get married -- the incest laws, the mother and child, assuming that they are the age -- I can -- I can accept that the State has probably an overbearing interest on -- on protecting a child until they're of age to marry, but what's left?
Mr. Olson responded:
Well, you've said -- you've said in the cases decided by this Court that the polygamy issue, multiple marriages raises questions about exploitation, abuse, patriarchy, issues with respect to taxes, inheritance, child custody, it is an entirely different thing. And if you -- if a State prohibits polygamy, it's prohibiting conduct. If it prohibits gay and lesbian citizens from getting married, it is prohibiting their exercise of a right based upon their status.
It's selecting them as a class, as you described in the Romer case and as you described in the Lawrence case and in other cases, you're picking out a group of individuals to deny them the freedom that you've said is fundamental, important and vital in this society, and it has status and stature, as you pointed out in the VMI case. There's a -- there's a different --
Olson’s response is problematic on various levels.
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
A Sponsored Announcement from West Academic
The following guest post is authored by Prof. Michael Vitiello of McGeorge.
Finding bad news about legal education is easy. And some of the bad news is deeply troubling. No one in legal education can be insensitive to the slowly recovering employment market and to concerns about student debt. But some of the gloom and doom about law schools is just wrong.
In 2011, David Segal wrote a series of articles that appeared on the front page of the New York Times. His articles did not say anything new about legal education. But the appearance of his views on the front page of the Times made Segal’s voice important.
Some of Segal’s criticisms are legitimate. But one aspect of his critique was galling. In one article, after observing that young lawyers have spent over $150,000 for their legal educations, Segal commented, “What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training.” Segal also contended that the law school curriculum has changed little since the days of Dean Langdell. Segal’s portrayal of legal education was stereotypical and one dimensional.
When I graduated from law school 40 years ago, the statement about limited practical training was true. Even then, law schools were putting in place legal clinics and volunteer programs to give students on-hands experience. To continue to insist that little has changed in the past three decades demonstrates a lack of awareness of what goes on in law schools around the country.
Start with changes in skills based courses like legal writing and moot court.
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.
Bond and the Doctrine of One Last Chance
Yesterday's decision in Bond v. United States provides the latest example of perhaps the most salient methodological theme of the Roberts Court. Faced with an attractive first-principles argument that threatened immediate doctrinal and real-world disruptions, the Court punted. Instead of resolving the constitutional issue presented, the Court found a barely tenable way to avoid resolving the issue altogether, thereby creating the possibility of a more secure opportunity to rule at a later date. In a recent Green Bag essay, I called this phenomenon "the doctrine of one last chance." If Bond really does fit that description, then the Court wouldn't simply have engaged in conventional avoidance, which is constant over time. Instead, the Court would have engaged in super-strong but strictly time-limited avoidance. If the issue arose again, the Court's hesitancy would evaporate.
From Reproductive Crimes to the Prison Industrial Complex
This coming October, the Hastings Women's Law Journal will hold a special symposium on family and reproduction in prison, which is incredibly timely. Several important stories from the last few years have raised serious concerns about the correctional authorities' responsibility for women's health, pregnancy, and birth in prison.
First, as you may recall, there were efforts to restrict the notorious and common practice of having incarcerated women give birth while shackled. It's fairly obvious why this is an extremely barbaric practice, and this ACLU report adds some important details.
And just a couple of days ago, this was in the news. Nicole Guerrero, a pregnant inmate in Texas' custody, was placed in a solitary cell, repeatedly begging for help as her water broke and she was in labor, her cries for care ignored by the guards. Guerrero's baby died, and the chronology that led to this horrific tragedy includes a nurse who works for a private healthcare contractor. Guerrero is pursuing a §1983 lawsuit against the prison.
There's hardly anything I can say about this truly horrible incident and the cruelty that led to it that won't trivialize it, and the basic facts behind it do not seem to be in dispute.