Yearly Archives: 2021

False Necessity and the Political Morality of Tort Law

Sandy Steel, On the Moral Necessity of Tort Law: The Fairness Argument, 41 Oxford J. of Leg. Stud. 192 (2021).

The language of private law is the language of rights, duties, and obligations. There is a long tradition of thought that interprets that language as the reflection of private law’s foundations, and that therefore reads judicial and legal discourse about private rights as the reflection of deeper, pre-legal rights that private law institutions recognize and enforce. This leap from private law discourse to private law’s foundations must be somehow explained. There must be some reason that explains, in other words, the connection between the rights and obligations that private lawyers talk about and our moral rights and obligations. One strategy goes this way: in the state of nature, we have certain rights that we are free to enforce against others. When we enter civil society, we can no longer enforce those rights at will, because the state claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of coercion. As a consequence, a morally decent state has the obligation to give us, as private agents, a substitutive mechanism to seek redress for rights violations in conditions of civil society.1

In a careful and powerful article, On the Moral Necessity of Tort Law: The Fairness Argument, Sandy Steel calls this idea the “fairness argument.” In Steel’s reconstruction, the fairness argument basically claims that, because (i) citizens have been deprived of certain pre-legal moral enforcement rights by the state; (ii) citizens are morally entitled to a substitute for those rights from the state; and (iii) the morally required substitute for those rights is tort law, the state has a pro tanto duty to establish tort law whenever direct personal enforcement of citizens’ rights has been prohibited. (P. 195.) Steel does a great job of reconstructing the argument and offering its best version, but ultimately he believes—on the basis of four general objections—that the fairness argument cannot justify anything more than a very minimal tort law. Continue reading "False Necessity and the Political Morality of Tort Law"

The Threat Value of Copyright Law

  • Cathay Y. N. Smith, Weaponizing Copyright (May 2, 2021), 35 Harv. J. L. & Tech. __ (forthcoming, 2021), available at SSRN.
  • Cathay Y. N. Smith, Copyright Silencing, 106 Cornell L. Rev. Online 71 (2021).

In two related pieces, Professor Cathay Y. N. Smith revisits the issue of plaintiffs using the threat value of copyright law to advance claims or interests other than protecting the value of original expression. As she documents, these threats appear to be on the rise in response to the growth of the internet and social media, the lack of coherent privacy law in the United States, and the comparatively powerful array of remedies copyright offers copyright owners.

This review focuses on the larger argument in Weaponizing Copyright, which generalizes from, and incorporates much of the argument from, Copyright Silencing. In it, Professor Smith has three overarching goals: (1) to expose the growing prevalence of “weaponizing” copyright; (2) to explain why copyright is more attractive than other bodies of law to achieve these non-traditional enforcement objectives; and (3) to argue that some non-traditional uses of copyright are justified while many others are not. Continue reading "The Threat Value of Copyright Law"

Non-refoulement as a Peremptory Norm of International Law (Jus Cogens) in the Age of COVID-19

Evan J. Criddle & Even Fox-Decent, The Authority of International Refugee Law, 62 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1067 (2021).

The Evans have done it again. After redefining the legal and analytical concept of jus cogens (peremptory norms of international law) as a species of fiduciary duty the state owes to human beings within its control in A Fiduciary Theory of Jus Cogens, Evan J. Criddle and Evan Fox-Decent have taken their novel thinking to tackle the extraordinarily urgent issue of non-refoulement under international law in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in their recent article The Authority of International Refugee Law.

Non-refoulement is the international legal duty to refrain from returning refugees to territories where they face a serious risk of persecution. While international law firmly places the duty of non-refoulement into the jus cogens camp in some scenarios, such as where the refugee faces a substantial risk of torture, positive and customary law are more ambivalent in other areas. For example, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees explicitly allows states to deny protection on a case-by-case basis when “there are reasonable grounds for regarding [a particular refugee] as a danger to the security of the country.” This hesitancy to formally and absolutely prohibit non-refoulement in positive international law raises serious obstacles for Criddle and Fox-Decent’s argument that non-refoulement should be considered a jus cogens norm, for a key feature of such norms is that they are non-derogable. Similarly, the very practice they seek to criticize—refoulement based on COVID-19—reflects a degree of state practice, undercutting the formation of customary international law. Continue reading "Non-refoulement as a Peremptory Norm of International Law (Jus Cogens) in the Age of COVID-19"

Coming Out of the Drug-Use Closet

Dr. Carl Hart’s Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear opens with a controversial admission. The Columbia University Ziff Professor of Psychology declares that he is “an unapologetic drug user” and, consequently, “a happier and better person.” Dr. Hart urges “responsible” adults to “come out of the closet” about their recreational drug use and its myriad beneficial impacts.

Two important contentions animate Drug Use for Grown-Ups. The first is the widely accepted notion among experts that America’s long-standing criminalization of certain drugs, grounded in their anti-scientific demonization and racialization, is the crux of our problem. Simply stated, our never-ending war on drugs, which has resulted in our country’s unenviable distinction as global mass incarcerator, is an expensive and racist failure. Dr. Hart aptly characterizes American drug policy as a “monstrous, incoherent mess.” Few drug policy experts would disagree. Continue reading "Coming Out of the Drug-Use Closet"

Fair Housing for a Non-Sexist Household

Noah M. Kazis, Fair Housing for a Non-Sexist City, 134 Har. L. Rev. 1684 (2021).

Noah Kazis opens his new article Fair Housing for a Non-Sexist City with an ambitious question: “What would a non-sexist city be like?”1 (P. 1684). America’s “built environment,” Kazis explains, is a stubbornly sexist one. (P. 1687.) Examples abound. Women—as both child-care users and child-care workers—are economically burdened because of land use restrictions on in-home day care in residential areas. (Pp. 1710-20.) Men—as the predominant users of economically-desirable shared housing models—are rendered homeless because of building code and zoning restrictions on single room occupancy units. (Pp. 1720-35.) Women and men—as partners—fall into traditional sex roles (that redound to the financial detriment of both) because of land use restrictions that make it harder for a parent (traditionally the woman) to be at home for children in one area and at work for a high-paying job in another. (Pp. 1735-45.) Kazis uses these examples—among others—to illustrate the problem his article targets: the entrenchment of Victorian America’s separate spheres ideology in today’s material landscape.

Fair Housing is a treasure trove of facts that will interest scholars of family law and of gender relations, including the fact that “[t]en percent of the gender pay gap between husbands and wives without children can be attributed to commute variables” (P. 1739), and the fact that cities historically excluded apartment houses and boarding “hotels” from residential areas in order “to preserve the ‘character and quality of manhood and womanhood.’” (P. 1726.) However, one of the most interesting facts that Fair Housing unearths is that neither litigants nor enforcement agencies have used the Fair Housing Act—a federal law dedicated to ensuring fair housing, after all—to challenge our built environment’s housing and land use practices; nor have scholars dedicated much attention to sexism in our material and architectural ecosystem. Kazis’s aim in Fair Housing is not so much to explain why that is so as to elaborate on what role the FHA might play moving forward. To that end, Fair Housing offers concrete examples and explanations of the ways in which the FHA can facilitate “fair housing for a non-sexist city” through its relatively robust disparate impact theory of liability and its statutorily unique provision requiring state and local governments to “affirmatively further” fair housing (P. 1692.) Continue reading "Fair Housing for a Non-Sexist Household"

How The Supreme Court Talks About the Press (and Why We Should Care)

RonNell Andersen Jones & Sonja R. West, The U.S. Supreme Court’s Characterizations of the Press: An Empirical Study (August 10, 2021), available at SSRN.

An independent judiciary and an independent press are two of the institutions most often associated with a constitutional democracy’s commitment to public accountability. Two of our most thoughtful Press Clause scholars—RonNell Andersen Jones and Sonja West—set out to document what the former (more specifically, the Supreme Court) says about the latter (the press), and how that has changed over time. What they found is both fascinating and disquieting.

Worried about “the fragile and deteriorating relationship between the press and the government” and what that means for the protection of press freedom, Jones and West identified every reference to the press made by any Supreme Court Justice in any opinion since 1784. They then coded each reference by content (e.g., whether the Justice addressed the press’s trustworthiness, the press’s impact on reputation and privacy, its value, its constitutional protection, and more) and by tone (i.e., whether the Justice’s reference reflected a positive, negative, or neutral characterization of the press).

This is impressive empirical work—work that has generated a rich data set that the authors will continue to mine in future scholarship (where, for instance, they plan to consider what the Court’s rhetoric means for the public’s perception of the Court, and what this in turn might mean for the protection of press freedom). Continue reading "How The Supreme Court Talks About the Press (and Why We Should Care)"

The Fourth Amendment’s Forgotten Free-Speech Dimensions

Karen Pita Loor, The Expressive Fourth Amendment, 94 S. Calif. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming, 2021), available on SSRN.

For over a year, protests and police brutality have been at the forefront of the public mind. In the summer of 2020, people were horrified by the images of officers arriving in armored bearcats, donning military battle gear, lodging projectiles of banned chemical weapons at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters and walls of moms, and even engaging in dictatorship-style “disappearances.” Those protests, 25 million strong and admirably nonviolent, were themselves a reaction to the police brutality which took George Floyd’s life and was captured in a wrenching viral video. Last summer, there was a clear right-left divide on the desirability and propriety of heavy-handed protest policing tactics. The violent images moved many on the left to call for the defunding, disarming, and even dismantling of police forces. But many on the right felt police were entirely too restrained and offered as evidence the Seattle “CHOP” zone—the apotheosis of anarchic dystopia for conservatives. Then came 1/6 and the storming of the U.S. Capitol, and it was liberals decrying the police’s restraint in handling the pro-Trump rally-turned-riot.

For decades, scholars of policing and criminal procedure have wrestled with the issue of police use of force against protesters. In recent years, and especially after the Ferguson protests, there has been a virtual consensus among legal scholars that the Fourth Amendment use-of-force framework established in Graham v. Connor is entirely too permissive of police violence against protesters—and everyone else. Experts have called for doctrinal reforms ranging from altering Graham’s test for excessiveness to eliminating the qualified immunity doctrine. Also since Ferguson, a number of scholars have weighed in on the First Amendment implications of protest policing, arguing that police management tactics were not mere time, place, and manner restrictions, but serious infringements on free speech. For the most part, these Fourth and First Amendment critiques of protest policing have been siloed: either reform Fourth Amendment law to make it harder for police to use force on anyone or broaden First Amendment speech protections for protesters. In The Expressive Fourth Amendment, Professor Karen Pita Loor offers an important, novel intervention to the ongoing discussions of protest policing. Continue reading "The Fourth Amendment’s Forgotten Free-Speech Dimensions"

The Fourth Amendment’s Forgotten Free-Speech Dimensions

Karen Pita Loor, The Expressive Fourth Amendment, 94 S. Calif. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming, 2021), available on SSRN.

For over a year, protests and police brutality have been at the forefront of the public mind. In the summer of 2020, people were horrified by the images of officers arriving in armored bearcats, donning military battle gear, lodging projectiles of banned chemical weapons at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters and walls of moms, and even engaging in dictatorship-style “disappearances.” Those protests, 25 million strong and admirably nonviolent, were themselves a reaction to the police brutality which took George Floyd’s life and was captured in a wrenching viral video. Last summer, there was a clear right-left divide on the desirability and propriety of heavy-handed protest policing tactics. The violent images moved many on the left to call for the defunding, disarming, and even dismantling of police forces. But many on the right felt police were entirely too restrained and offered as evidence the Seattle “CHOP” zone—the apotheosis of anarchic dystopia for conservatives. Then came 1/6 and the storming of the U.S. Capitol, and it was liberals decrying the police’s restraint in handling the pro-Trump rally-turned-riot.

For decades, scholars of policing and criminal procedure have wrestled with the issue of police use of force against protesters. In recent years, and especially after the Ferguson protests, there has been a virtual consensus among legal scholars that the Fourth Amendment use-of-force framework established in Graham v. Connor is entirely too permissive of police violence against protesters—and everyone else. Experts have called for doctrinal reforms ranging from altering Graham’s test for excessiveness to eliminating the qualified immunity doctrine. Also since Ferguson, a number of scholars have weighed in on the First Amendment implications of protest policing, arguing that police management tactics were not mere time, place, and manner restrictions, but serious infringements on free speech. For the most part, these Fourth and First Amendment critiques of protest policing have been siloed: either reform Fourth Amendment law to make it harder for police to use force on anyone or broaden First Amendment speech protections for protesters. In The Expressive Fourth Amendment, Professor Karen Pita Loor offers an important, novel intervention to the ongoing discussions of protest policing. Continue reading "The Fourth Amendment’s Forgotten Free-Speech Dimensions"

Hiding Behind Habeas’s Hardness

Jonathan R. Siegel, Habeas, History, and Hermeneutics, (August 6, 2021), available in draft at SSRN.

Habeas is hard. Even among law professors—indeed, even among law professors whose teaching and writing includes habeas—the statutes and doctrines governing collateral post-conviction review in the federal courts have become so complicated and convoluted that there is a temptation to skip it in the Federal Courts syllabus (and, I dare say, to gloss over any paper the title of which includes the h-word). Whether you are a habeas scholar or not, though, you should make an exception for Jonathan Siegel’s forthcoming essay.

Siegel’s paper centers on Edwards v. Vannoy—by far the Supreme Court’s most important habeas decision from its October 2020 Term—and explains why even those of us who have paid attention to it have missed what really matters. In the process, we have missed ominous portents of the future of the current Court’s approach to post-conviction habeas—and of how the current Supreme Court decontextualizes older rulings and statutes to rewrite history and to free itself from the strictures that proper understandings would impose. Siegel’s paper is equal parts trenchant and terrifying, and it is a must-read even for those who do not know, to this point in the review, what Edwards was actually about. Continue reading "Hiding Behind Habeas’s Hardness"

The Governance of Nonprofit Organizations

Peter Molk & D. Daniel Sokol, The Challenges of Nonprofit Governance, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 1497 (2021).

Peter Molk and D. Daniel Sokol’s recent article The Challenges of Nonprofit Governance addresses a less-examined area of the governance literature: namely, the governance of nonprofit organizations. As the authors note, nonprofit governance failures have made the news in the past few years, as with, for example, the allegations against the National Rifle Association for self-dealing and fraud, or those against the University of Southern California related to sexual assault, discrimination, and corrupt admissions dealings. This article fills a notable gap in the governance literature by addressing important differences between corporate and nonprofit governance mechanisms; discussing currently available methods to monitor nonprofit activities, as well as the shortcomings of those approaches; and proposing solutions to promote more robust oversight and to better safeguard the interests of the nonprofit stakeholders and beneficiaries, as well as those of the general public.

Molk and Sokol identify several issues inherent in and unique to nonprofit governance. State attorneys general are usually tasked with nonprofit oversight. The authors note that such monitoring is often hampered by a lack of resources, as well as a dearth of required financial disclosures that could be used to evaluate nonprofits’ fiscal health. The authors attribute these shortcomings to the structural flaw that nonprofits may operate in numerous states, but that the mission of an individual state attorney general centers primarily around the protection of citizens of only its own state. As such, a problem of the commons arises whereby the resulting observed level of enforcement is less than would be optimal, but no one state attorney general has sufficient incentive to increase enforcement to detect wrongdoing outside of its own jurisdiction. Continue reading "The Governance of Nonprofit Organizations"

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