Procedure Matters

Ming Hsu Chen, The Administrator-in-Chief: The President and Executive Action in Immigration Law, 69 Admin. L. Rev. 347 (2017), available at SSRN.

Professor Ming Chen’s Administrator-In-Chief: The President and Executive Action in Immigration Law is an ambitious effort to peer inside the relationship between a president and administrative agencies. It is the executive branch equivalent to the legislative sausage. Professor Chen concludes that a president is on strongest footing when he “promot[es] practices of good government in agencies rather than trying to substitute his policymaking judgments for those of the agency.” (P. 359.) The article emphasizes that the president should focus on his control over three things: (1) coherent federal policy; (2) centralized agency discretion, ensuring consistency, and (3) coordinating actions across all agencies. The article concludes that procedural choices matter; the president should work hard to set a procedural example and to use his influence to encourage procedural choices that will strengthen the legitimacy of policies. Professor Chen argues that the normative justifiability of presidential policymaking rests on whether the president is promoting coherency, consistency and coordination.

While three case studies from the Obama Administration’s approach to immigration law guide the article’s analysis, the analysis includes lessons for any president. In developing these case studies, Professor Chen conducted interviews with government officials and immigration advocates. The subject of the first case study is President Obama’s use of agency guidance documents to announce the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (“DAPA”) policies. The second case study focuses on President Obama’s attempts to set removal and detention priorities. Professor Chen walks us through several incarnations of enforcement policies that attempted to express President Obama’s priorities for detention and removal. These policies called on local law enforcement to share information about individuals with federal immigration agents and to detain individuals while waiting for federal immigration officials to travel to a jail to take custody of an individual. The third case study examines the Obama Administration’s efforts to respond to a surge of asylum seekers at the Mexican border. Continue reading "Procedure Matters"

From Status Update to Social Media Contract

Kate Klonick, The New Governors: The People, Rules, and Processes Governing Online Speech, 131 Harvard L. Rev. (forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

Under current US First Amendment jurisprudence, the government can do very little to regulate speech online. It can penalize fraud and certain other kinds of false or potentially misleading speech; direct true threats; and infringement of intellectual property rights and related speech. But it cannot penalize most harassment, hate speech, falsity, and other speech that does immediate harm. Nor can the government generally bar particular speakers. Last Term, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of state law that tried to prevent convicted sex offenders from participating in “social media” where minors might also be participating.

There are good reasons for most of the limits the courts have imposed on the government’s speech-regulating powers—yet those limits have left a regulatory vacuum into which powerful private entities have stepped to regulate the speech of US social media users, suppressing a lot of speech that the government can’t, and protecting other speech despite their power to suppress it. The limits these intermediaries impose, with some important exceptions, look very similar whether the speech comes from the US or from a country that imposes heavier burdens on intermediaries to control the speech of their users. Klonick’s fascinating paper explores the evolution of speech regulation policies at major social media companies, particularly Twitter and Facebook, along with Alphabet’s (Google’s) YouTube. Continue reading "From Status Update to Social Media Contract"

Is FOIA Actually Hurting Democracy?

David Pozen, Freedom of Information Beyond the Freedom of Information Act, 165 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1097 (2017), available at SSRN.

The literature on the Freedom of Information Act is replete with familiar claims about FOIA’s shortcomings. It takes too long to get a response. Agencies over-withhold records. The exemptions to mandatory disclosure are too broad. Congress fails to adequately fund FOIA offices. Judicial remedies are difficult to pursue and often unavailing. And as I have argued, FOIA is overtaken by commercial and individual uses that do not promote democratic accountability. But rarely does scholarship in this area provide a compelling critique of the underlying premise of FOIA: that the Act, if functioning as envisioned, promotes the ideal of democratic accountability.

David Pozen’s Freedom of Information Beyond the Freedom of Information Act has compellingly questioned this fundamental assumption, giving me more pause than anything else I have read in quite some time. In essence, Pozen argues that FOIA acts as a regressive, not a progressive, tool, hobbling the administrative state in its missions to protect the public’s health, safety, and opportunities, all while rubber stamping the excess of secrecy that characterizes the national security state where transparency may be most needed. Continue reading "Is FOIA Actually Hurting Democracy?"

In Search of a Parsimonious Model of Personal Jurisdiction

William S. Dodge & Scott Dodson, Personal Jurisdiction and Aliens, 116 Mich. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2018), available at SSRN.

Parsimony is a vital concept in empirical scholarship. It holds that a simple model that explains things is preferable to a more complex model that explains just as much. The ideal model achieves a desired level of explanation with as few predictors and as little complexity as possible. For example, a regression model with three independent variables that explains a given amount of variance is preferable to a regression model with nine independent variables that does not explain more (or not sufficiently more). The key insight is that complexity is not always desirable or always undesirable; it must be justified by the amount of extra explanatory power that it purchases.

The concept of parsimony can help us make sense of the morass that is personal jurisdiction doctrine and scholarship. The Supreme Court continues to provide a fluctuating cast of more or fewer rules and caveats. Personal jurisdiction doctrine is, to a significant degree, the discursive practice of strengthening or adjusting a few core rules (e.g., Shaffer v. Heitner) or expanding, preserving, and creating caveat categories (e.g., Burnham v. Superior Court). Legal scholars debate whether we should account for new phenomena (e.g., Internet commerce) by adjusting existing categories or creating entirely new caveats and tests. The notion of parsimony offers tools to puzzle through such choices. It reminds us that we cannot simply insist that the creation of new doctrinal categories would be a better fit for new realities. Similarly, we cannot reject innovations simply because they would add complexity. Instead, the cost of doctrinal complexity must be justified by the benefit of a sufficiently better normative fit.

William Dodge and Scott Dodson’s forthcoming Personal Jurisdiction and Aliens does just that. It argues for a broadened national-contacts test for alien defendants. Under this test, the alienage status of a defendant breaks the shackles of a state-by-state contacts analysis. Instead, courts would consider the defendant’s contacts with the whole nation for state and federal causes of action in state and federal courts. This doctrinal innovation would add complexity by explicitly bifurcating (to some extent) the personal jurisdiction analysis based on the domestic or alienage status of the defendant. Is this added complexity justified? Continue reading "In Search of a Parsimonious Model of Personal Jurisdiction"

A New Look at the Theory of the Firm

Tamara Belinfanti & Lynn A. Stout, Contested Visions: The Value of Systems Theory for Corporate LawU. Pa. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

Tamara Belinfanti and Lynn Stout’s Contested Visions: The Value of Systems Theory for Corporate Law, forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, brings systems theory to the theory of the firm. I picked the paper up expecting a cross-disciplinary reference to the work of Niklas Luhmann and other social theorists. But the reference here is to another branch of the systems inquiry, the cross-referents of which go to engineering, biology, and computer, environmental and management science. Belinfanti and Stout include a succinct and lucid primer of the basic points. They then deploy them against the most important point in the quadripartite case for shareholder value as the purpose of the firm.

A little law and economics background needs to be provided to show the importance of the intervention. Microeconomics does not yield shareholder value maximization as the purpose of the firm as a primary proposition. Indeed, in a frictionless world with complete markets, optimality would mean maximizing the yield to every actor connected to the firm rather than just the yield to the shareholders. Shareholder primacy emerges once frictions and incomplete markets are interpolated. It follows from four more particular assertions: first, an instruction to maximize for multiple constituents would be incoherent; second, the shareholder interest, as the residual interest, points management in the most productive direction; third, the shareholders are vulnerable, relatively speaking, because other firm constituents can protect themselves with contracts; and, fourth, a multiple constituent model would lack yardsticks with which to measure management performance, where the shareholder model can measure performance with standard metrics like the stock price and periodic earnings. Continue reading "A New Look at the Theory of the Firm"

Arbitration and Procedural Pluralism in Family Law

Barbara A. Atwood, The New UFLAA: Providing Needed Standards for Efficiency and Fairness, 39(4) Family Advocate 38 (2017), available at SSRN.

In July 2016, the Uniform Law Commission gave final approval to the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act (UFLAA). Barbara Atwood was the drafting committee’s Chair and Linda Elrod was its Reporter. In The New UFLAA: Providing Needed Standards for Efficiency and Fairness, Professor Atwood offers an overview of the UFLAA’s history, the problems to which it responds, and the hard choices that had to be made in its drafting.

Arbitration has a bad reputation in large segments of the legal profession and legal academy. It is associated with provisions in consumer and employment agreements—mandatory arbitration with class action waivers meant to make challenges to improper behavior both private and impractical, and there are documented instances of the process being run by private arbitration companies with suspiciously one-sided win rates for the business or employer. It is also associated with Supreme Court decisions that have read the Federal Arbitration Act in controversially broad ways, in the process making it very hard to challenge arbitration provisions in court on grounds of unconscionability, lack of consent, or related grounds. Arbitration was also recently in the news when the Republican Congress and the current President combined to overturn a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that would have limited use of such provisions in financial documents. Why would anyone want to have that unpopular mess in family law? Continue reading "Arbitration and Procedural Pluralism in Family Law"

Suing on the Shoulders of Others

Suzanne Lenon & Danielle Peers, ‘Wrongful’ Inheritance: Race, Disability and Sexuality in Cramblett v. Midwest Sperm Bank, 25 Feminist Legal Stud. 141 (2017).

While few seriously hold up litigating as a path to happiness, lawyers, historians, and activists often associate an expanded capacity to sue with increased justice. Thus the married woman’s right to sue in her name and minorities’ prerogative to respond to discrimination and hate crimes via legal proceedings are markers of progress. However costly and uncertain litigation is, the real issue is of course the potential for oppression wherever the powerful unjustifiably limit one group’s scope for legal action relative to that enjoyed by others. Crucially, my examples don’t typically evoke the worry that increasing one potential plaintiff’s options imposes costs on another historically subordinated group. The example in Suzanne Lenon and Danielle Peers’ engaging new essay in Feminist Legal Studies does precisely that.

The authors invite us to scrutinize the content and context of a lawsuit that a short time ago would have been unthinkable. Their point of departure is the complaint for wrongful birth brought by Jennifer Cramblett, a white lesbian, against the sperm bank that mistakenly provided her with sperm from an African-American donor, leading to a child of mixed race. The novelty inheres in the space for a committed lesbian couple to present in court its ambition to have a child by assisted reproduction as ordinary and reasonable. Lenon and Peers call us to examine the set of assumptions – the legal and social inheritance of white privilege – by which having a healthy child of mixed race might occasion compensable harm. They argue convincingly that the white lesbian’s lawsuit confirms, indeed reinforces, discourses that subordinate others. Continue reading "Suing on the Shoulders of Others"

Hey Lexis, Hey Westlaw: Please Include All Appellate Decisions in Your Databases!

Michael Kagan, Rebecca D. Gill & Fatma E. Marouf, Invisible Adjudication in the U.S. Courts of Appeals, 106 Georgetown L. J. (forthcoming, 2017).

Professors Kagan, Gill and Marouf have identified a remarkable gap in the Westlaw and Lexis databases. While those databases include all decisions designated as “published” and some other less elaborate, less detailed, decisions designated as “unpublished,” many decisions are not included at all.

The authors discovered this by studying immigration decisions on PACER. The cases involved review by the U.S. Courts of Appeals of administrative decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals in the Department of Justice. In some cases, no appellate rulings were available, because they were sealed, for example, or because the case was resolved by a short docket entry. But even where merits decisions were issued and publicly available, many did not appear in the searchable databases, although Lexis had far more than Westlaw. Of course, in such cases the decisions are available on PACER and can be found by docket number on the Lexis and Westlaw mirrors of PACER. But the whole point of a searchable database is to find cases one does not already know about. Continue reading "Hey Lexis, Hey Westlaw: Please Include All Appellate Decisions in Your Databases!"

“A Major New Move” in Contract Interpretation

Omri Ben-Shahar and Lior Strahilevitz, Interpreting Contracts via Surveys and ExperimentsU. of Chi. Coase-Sandor Inst. for L. & Tech. Research Paper No. 791 (2017), available at SSRN.

Despite its practical importance, contract interpretation is the red-haired stepchild of the 1L classroom–the doctrine is infamously incoherent, rests on law/fact distinctions which even the Restatement elides, and testing meaning on a final exam can only succeed using artificially simple narratives. Many of us bring a rubber chicken to class at least once a semester because that fowl case is (at least) written-well and marches through alternative meanings, though the holding rests on a deus ex machina of burden shifting. It’s a stewing mess.

Chicago’s Omri Ben-Shahar and Lior Jacob Strahilevitz aim to free us of the burden of teaching both parole evidence and interpretation, and, along the way, reduce aggregate contract litigation costs and contract length, while improving readability and denying firms the ability to bully their opponents in court with expensive lawyers. If their forthcoming article, Interpreting Contracts via Survey and Experiments doesn’t achieve all its ends, it still is undeniably (in their words) a “major new move” in the field. It will generate discussion in class and in the law reviews, and it’s worth your time to read. Continue reading "“A Major New Move” in Contract Interpretation"

Discovering (Tax) Rights that the Poor Have Post-Welfare Reform

Susannah Camic Tahk, The New Welfare Rights, Brooklyn L. Rev. (forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

Professor Susannah Camic Tahk’s newest article is a welcome and optimistic read that opens space for future work (re)constructing the idea that the poor have rights. The New Welfare Rights has much to offer scholars and advocates alike, showing that the poor have under-appreciated rights as taxpayers or as recipients of tax-based benefits. This is an important contribution because it shows the continued possibility of claims framed in terms of “rights” even in the aftermath of welfare reform.

The New Welfare Rights begins appropriately by presenting the rise and fall of rights-based claims to welfare. As Professor Tahk highlights, rights-based claims enjoyed a brief moment in the sun, but the Supreme Court stepped back from the promise of Goldberg v. Kelly, with a series of holdings—Professor Tahk focuses on Dandridge v. Williams and Eldridge v. Matthews—hostile to the idea that the poor have a right to public support. Professor Tahk explains, “After these cases, lawyers working on issues pertaining to government benefits and rights hit a wall.” (P. 12.) So far, this is not exactly new territory. Martha Davis’ masterful history of the rise and fall of welfare rights in her book Brutal Need: Lawyers and the Welfare Rights Movement, 1960-1973 (1993) is the leading account but numerous other articles and books tell a similar story.1 With only a few exceptions2, most scholars and advocates generally accept the notion that the Courts are not receptive to arguments that the poor have rights. Somewhat less strongly stated, in today’s environment it is understood that existing recognized rights are vulnerable and the list of rights is not likely to be expanded through litigation. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 or Welfare Reform Bill, which explicitly stated that welfare was not an entitlement, is treated as final proof that the law has slammed shut on the poor. Continue reading "Discovering (Tax) Rights that the Poor Have Post-Welfare Reform"

Chevron’s Real Impact

Kent Barnett and Christopher Walker, Chevron in the Circuit Courts, 116 Mich. L. Rev. 1 (2017).

Empirical studies are often regarded as having less cachet than theory, and the circuit courts certainly have less cachet than the Supreme Court, so an empirical study of the circuit courts might be expected to rank somewhat low in the academic pecking order. But this article belongs at the top. A survey and analysis of all the federal Court of Appeals decisions from 2003 to 2013 that refer to the Chevron doctrine – some 2,272 of them – it reveals the actual operation and significance of this most famous of modern administrative law decisions. The Supreme Court invokes Chevron fairly regularly, of course, but often for the purpose of modifying it. In any case, Supreme Court decisions tend to be so politically charged that they frequently seem sui generis, a characteristic that provided the Court itself, in King v. Burwell, with still one more basis for modifying Chevron doctrine. It is in the circuit courts that the quotidian work of administrative law is carried out, and that is the pudding where the proof of Chevron‘s real impact can be found.

The most basic conclusion that Professors Barnett and Walker reach is that Chevron makes a difference. Contrary to prior empirical studies of Chevron‘s impact in the Supreme Court (“Chevron Supreme,” as the authors call it, since wordplay with the decision’s name is difficult to resist), they find that the win rate for the agencies in a circuit court (“Chevron Regular”) is substantially higher when the court invokes the Chevron doctrine. At 77%, it is fully 20% higher than the win rate when the court invokes Skidmore. To be sure, this is hardly a surprising conclusion, and thus lacks the counter-intuitive allure that some of the best empirical studies offer. But it is a conclusion reached only after a massive amount of careful effort and it represents an important contribution to our knowledge about Chevron’s real impact. Continue reading "Chevron’s Real Impact"