A New Central Principle for Inheritance Law?

Felix B. Chang, How Should Inheritance Law Remediate Inequality?, 97 Wash. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming, 2022), available at SSRN.

In United States inheritance law, we typically listen to what the person with the money wants. In his provocative essay, How Should Inheritance Law Remediate Inequality?, Professor Felix Chang challenges this bedrock principle of freedom of disposition and proposes a new vision of inheritance law that centers intergenerational economic mobility instead. By linking trusts and estates to other fields, such as business and tax law, this piece raises a host of interesting questions about whether inheritance law can truly address societal wealth inequality.

Chang starts by tracing the twin histories of inheritance law scholarship and estate tax policy. He starts in the 1970s, when the estate tax was relatively expansive, and the seminal scholarship of Professor John Langbein was just taking off. Much of Langbein’s work concerns how to improve the inheritance law system by making it more faithful to testamentary intent. However, a lot has changed since the 1970s. The group Chang describes as The Repealers—a coalition of the ultra-rich, anti-tax activists, and Republican politicians—has largely been successful in significantly weakening the estate tax, as now a significant amount of intergenerational wealth escapes untaxed. At the same time, a new vein of critical legal scholarship has arisen in the legal academy. It is more concerned with questions of distribution1 and notably more skeptical about promoting testamentary intent, at least when it serves to promote dynastic wealth and tax evasion. Continue reading "A New Central Principle for Inheritance Law?"

No More Haven For Horseplay?

Kimberly D. Bailey, Male Same-Sex “Horseplay”: The Epicenter of Sexual Harassment?, 73 Fla. L. Rev. 95 (2021).

In Male Same-Sex “Horseplay”: The Epicenter of Sexual Harassment?, Professor Kimberly D. Bailey explores the depth and limits of one of the carveouts given sanction from sexual harassment liability by the Supreme Court in its 1998 decision, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services1: male horseplay. In Oncale, the Supreme Court acknowledged that same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII, but also stated that horseplay among male employees was not sexual harassment. Using a “masculinities-modified” lens, Professor Bailey delves into the notion that even gender-conforming men have gendered relationships and interpersonal interactions in order to properly classify a lot of what has been presently dismissed as “horseplay” as sex discrimination in the workplace.

Masculinities theory approaches structural and other sex discrimination against women by focusing on men: how they are socialized, and how they perform masculinity. Using this lens, Professor Bailey elaborates upon the often-levied critique that Oncale would, as she put it, “reinforce[] the sexual desire paradigm.” (P. 95.) Bailey explains that horseplay is often “masculinity competition that leads to harassment among gender-conforming men.” Therefore, she concludes that gender-conforming men are deprived of a good deal of legal protection to which they should be entitled under Title VII, advocating for the abolition of the male-horseplay carveout in order to eradicate sexual harassment more broadly in the workplace. (P. 95.) Continue reading "No More Haven For Horseplay?"

Reinforcing Autonomy and Displacing Guardianships with SDMs

Nina A. Kohn, Legislating Supported Decision-Making, 58 Harv. J. on Legislation 313 (2021).

In Legislating Supported Decision-Making, Professor Nina Kohn tackles the deficiencies of the supported decision-making paradigm, beginning with its definition, which varies tremendously depending on who you ask. She defines it as “an umbrella term for processes by which an individual who might otherwise be unable to make his or her own decisions becomes able to do so through support from other people.” (P. 4.) Supported decision-making (or SDM) represents a fundamental shift in the fields of elder law and disability rights. It is an extension of the people-centered approach. SDM promoters claim that it enhances the dignity of individuals with cognitive limitations by permitting decisions to be made with them—rather than for them.

States can and should use SDM in many contexts. Individuals under a guardianship ought to be empowered to participate in decisions about their lives, their healthcare, their financial affairs, and so on. SDM can thereby permit more limited guardianships. Moreover, for higher functioning individuals, SDM can provide an alternative to a guardianship proceeding altogether. Because SDM is less restrictive alternative, it should be preferred to a guardianship whenever feasible. Continue reading "Reinforcing Autonomy and Displacing Guardianships with SDMs"

How Research Ethics Committees Act as a “Witness” to Research

Rachel Douglas-Jones, Committee as Witness, 39 Cambridge J. of Anth. 55 (2021), available at Berghahn Journals.

In her recently published article in the Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Dr. Rachel Douglas-Jones, an Associate Professor at the IT University of Copenhagen, investigates how research ethics committees (RECs, or IRBs as they are known in the United States and some other countries) witness research that has yet to occur. For those of us in law, “to witness” holds particular meaning. According the free Legal Dictionary (to take a relatively trite form of research at my desk), a witness is one who, being sworn or affirmed, according to law, deposes as to their knowledge of facts in issue between the parties in a cause. For those who remember their law school lectures in civil and criminal procedure, there are a variety of rules and tests to determine competence to give evidence qua witness, and compellability of witnesses. To witness, and to be a witness, holds particular power in law.

But to witness also holds other forms of meaning, and can be a powerful concept in extra-legal circumstances, too. Douglas-Jones, as an anthropologist, is less interested in the legal meaning of “witness” (though, as an aside, it would make for an interesting area of investigation in legal anthropology). She is instead keen to better understand how RECs, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region where she spent a number of years conducting research, rely on “visual cultures”–“spatial and temporal forms that underpin [their] capacity to speak”–to render a collective decision on the ethical acceptability of a research project even before the research itself happens. Her article is an excellent one that is deserving of a wide readership. Continue reading "How Research Ethics Committees Act as a “Witness” to Research"

Dancing Around Change: An Honest Engagement with the Perils of Performativity in Law School Hiring

Carliss N. Chatman & Najarian R. Peters, The Soft-Shoe and Shuffle of Law School Hiring Committee Practices, 69 UCLA L. Rev. Disc. 2 (2021).

The murder of George Floyd forced a national conversation and the re-invigoration of our unfinished national racial reconciliation project. In the summer of 2020, as COVID-19 infections spread due to governmental failures, George Floyd was held down, choked, and murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota by an agent of the state. This murder occurred in front of witnesses like Darnella Frazier, who bravely videotaped it and shared it with the world. Reacting to these events, universities undertook initiatives to address shortcomings in racial equity and to meet demands of students, faculty members, alumni, and community stakeholders. At law schools responsive to these calls, this involved many acts, including embracing the adoption of anti-racism solidarity statements, creating academic centers focused on blackness like the study of race and law, establishing the endowment of scholarships and job opportunities for minority students, and hiring more scholars of color.

Against this backdrop comes a breathtaking, but brief, essay by Professor Carliss Chatman and Professor Najarian Peters. This essay, a skillful example of protest literature, performs the difficult task of truth-telling about legal education as it relates to hiring minority faculty members. It indicts the left-legal liberalism of the legal academy, demonstrating how those who espouse the goal of diversifying the legal profession often fail to make change in terms of their hiring practices. Through storytelling, a classic method and weapon in skillful hands like theirs, the authors paint a picture that is familiar to many individuals who are the “diversity people” on their respective hiring committees. Navigating a landscape of legal professionals who consider themselves liberal and claim not to be racist, the authors reveal how shifting standards, implicit bias, and constant contradictions shape the hiring process at most law schools leading to one ultimate result: law schools fail to hire faculty members of color, particularly Black, Latino, and Indigenous individuals, even when they are highly qualified for these roles. Continue reading "Dancing Around Change: An Honest Engagement with the Perils of Performativity in Law School Hiring"

Law’s Arithmetic

Edward Cheng, Ehud Guttel and Yuval Procaccia, Sequencing in Damages, 74 Stan. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming, 2022), available at SSRN.

My favorite type of paper is the type where you hit your forehead asking yourself: how did I miss this simple point? How did everyone else miss it? Why didn’t I write this paper myself, given that its main insight was under my nose for so many years? In Sequencing in Damages, Edward Cheng, Ehud Guttel and Yuval Procaccia (hereinafter: CGP) made me hit my forehead. The paper is forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review, and deservedly so.

CGP’s paper is about law’s arithmetic. It is a well-known stereotype that students go to law school because they cannot stand math. Perhaps this is why lawyers, judges and law professors seem to fail in applying what looks like really simple math.

Consider the following elementary school exercise:

(1,200,000-400,000)* ½ = 1,200,000 * ½ -400,000

True or False? Continue reading "Law’s Arithmetic"

The Ideology of Bridging the Digital Divide

Daniel Greene’s The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope has both a sharp theoretical point of view and fascinating ethnographic accounts of a tech startup, a school, and a library in Washington, DC, all trying to navigate a neoliberal economy in which individuals are required to invest in their own skills, education, and ability to change in response to institutional imperatives. Although it doesn’t directly address law, this short book’s critique of technology-focused reimaginings of public institutions suggests ways in which cyberlaw scholars should think about what institutions can, and can’t, do with technology.

Greene argues that many people in libraries and schools have, for understandable reasons, accepted key premises that are appealing but self-defeating. One such premise is that there is a “digital divide” that is a primary barrier that prevents poor people from succeeding. It follows that schools and libraries must reconfigure themselves around making the populations they serve into better competitors in the new economy. This orientation entails the faith that the professional strategies that worked for the disproportionately white people in administrative/oversight positions would work for the poor, disproportionately Black and Latino populations they are trying to help. In this worldview, startup culture is touted as a good model for libraries and schools even though those institutions can’t pivot to serve different clients but can only “bootstrap,” which is to say continually (re)invent strategies and tactics in order to convince policymakers and grantmakers to give them ever-more-elusive resources. Because poverty persists for reasons outside the control of schools and libraries, however, these new strategies can never reduce poverty on a broad scale. Continue reading "The Ideology of Bridging the Digital Divide"

Tax and Race

Dorothy Brown, The Whiteness of Wealth (2021).

Almost twenty-five years ago, Professor Dorothy Brown started writing law review articles (such as here, here and here) in which she applies critical race theory to tax law. This year, she published The Whiteness of Wealth, a book that not only claimed waves of popular and media attention but also provides a definitive statement of her longstanding scholarly project. The book offers a detailed case study of structural racism in law. It merits sustained attention from teachers and researchers, tax and otherwise.

Brown’s project has a descriptive component and a normative component. The descriptive component is based in cold logic, though made more accessible with stories from original interviews and from Brown’s family history. The logical equation is this: facially neutral tax law doctrine plus empirically different experiences based on race equals disparate impact that systematically favors white taxpayers and white wealth. In 2016, the median wealth of Black households was $17,100; of Latinx households, $20,600; of white households, $171,000. (P. 18.) Brown explains that tax law–not personal choice–explains a large part of this wide and persistent divide. She further argues that as a normative matter, equity and fairness require tax policy to reject rules that disadvantage “black families’ financial and social structures.” (P. 41.) Continue reading "Tax and Race"

Knick, Federal Courts, and Regulatory Takings

Julia Mahoney and Ann Woolhandler, Federal Courts and Takings Litigation, 97 Notre Dame L. Rev. __ (forthcoming, 2021), available at SSRN.

Federal regulatory takings doctrine has long been a hopeless muddle.1 How and when the federal courts should review takings claims—including through §1983—is the subject of an important new article by Professors Julia Mahoney and Ann Woolhandler.

The federal taking muddle is a product of a particularly unclear set of precedents. Except for narrow classes of takings claims that qualify for one of the handful of “categorical” takings rules (and it is far from clear which ones do),2 the question in a regulatory takings case essentially boils down to whether a regulation “goes too far.” Continue reading "Knick, Federal Courts, and Regulatory Takings"

Follow the Money: Capital Controls as Migrant Control

Shayak Sarkar, Capital Controls as Migrant Controls, 109 Cal. L. R. 799 (2021).

When I picture immigration enforcement, my mind’s eye sees walls bisecting dusty hills, “POLICE” slashed across ICE uniforms, sheriffs with immigrant detainers, and the bright painted bricks and silvery wire of detention facilities. I don’t see money.

At least, I didn’t. Then I read Shayak Sarkar’s Capital Controls as Migrant Controls. Now, like a Sixth Sense, when I picture immigration control, I see money. I see it everywhere, walking around. Capital Controls will shift your perspective on the relationship between how we control capital and how capital is a tool of immigration control. Continue reading "Follow the Money: Capital Controls as Migrant Control"

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