The New Orleans – Iraq Election Metaphor

Bill Quigley, a law prof from Loyola (New Orleans) who stayed in the city during the Katrina nightmare, and continues his activism today, posted one of his passionate analyses of the New Orleans situation over at Alexander Cockburn’s Counterpunch. I don’t want to get into the details of his piece – read it and agree or disagree. But I was intrigued by one point he made about long-distance voting in New Orleans. He wrote:

The state refusal to set up satellite voting for those displaced outside the state resulted in exactly the disenfranchisement predicted. While Iraqis who had not lived in Iraq in years were helped to vote in the US by our government, people forced out of state by Katrina for seven months were not allowed to vote where they are temporarily living.

Of course, whip-smart lawyers will be able to distinguish these two cases on multiple bases. New Orleans residents weren’t forced out by a dictator. It’s a lot easier to go back to New Orleans for a day. And although there was no effort by the relevant authorities to allow remote voting in Houston, and the many other out-of-state homes of these displaced residents, they could have voted absentee. But it struck me that the metaphor remains powerful. Given that we have accepted, as a nation, that displaced people ought to be helped to make sure they have a voice in democracy, shouldn’t the federal government have made a serious effort to promote or authorize remote voting in a place like Houston? Is absentee voting really sufficient access, particularly when the roles of displaced voters were – contrary to normal procedure – not made public? Like Iraqis, the future of those displaced citizens – and their ability to return – will be shaped by the new leaders. Is the task of re-enfranchising these citizens appropriately left to the state, particularly when so many of these folks don’t currently live in Louisiana? Is Iraq the right metaphor?


Karl Rove is the Subject of this Blog Post

Robert Luskin, Karl Rove’s lawyer, released the following statement after Rove’s appearance today before the Plame grand jury:

Karl Rove appeared today before the grand jury investigating the disclosure of a CIA agent’s identity. He testified voluntarily and unconditionally at the request of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to explore a matter raised since Mr. Rove’s last appearance in October 2005. In connection with this appearance, the special counsel has advised Mr. Rove that he is not a target of the investigation. Mr. Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decisions regarding charges. At the request of the special counsel, Mr. Rove will not discuss the substance of his testimony. (H/T: The Corner)

This isn’t the first time that Luskin has made this claim. But the news media still aren’t really digging into what this means.

Being “not a target” is a good thing for Rove. But it would be better if he were “not a subject” of the grand jury’s inquiry either, and the failure of the Special Prosecutor to say so means that KR remains in some (unknown) amount of legal jeopardy. The distinction between these two concepts has been usefully discussed on Talkleft: for a recent post see here. Before today’s appearance, there was a rumor that Fitzgerald sent Rove a target letter. Either that rumor was false, or Luskin will some day have some explaining to do. I’m betting on the former. Because it would be frankly shocking were Rove to have testified before the Grand Jury after receiving a target letter. I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened under some immunity agreement that hasn’t surfaced, but it is exceedingly unlikely.


Trial by Stealth

This month’s ABA Journal Report has an amusing article regarding the growing problem of so-called “stealth jurors” — jurors who “lie on questionnaires and during voir dire to land seats on high-profile cases for bragging rights.” A jury consultant quoted in the article estimates that roughly 15 to 18 percent of today’s jurors view jury service not as a civic responsibility, but as “a way to comment on or influence the outcomes of trials.”

I thought these concerns might be a bit overblown, until post-exam-writing insomnia had me up at 3 a.m. last night doing an Amazon search on the subject. Turns out that someone has written a book entitled, appropriately enough, “Stealth Juror: The Ultimate Defense Against Bad Laws and Government Tyranny.” According to the author, “A stealth juror is an ordinary citizen serving on a jury who understands and is not afraid to exercise his right to judge not only the evidence in a case but the very law upon which the prosecution is based. If the law is bad or unfair, he secretly works to acquit any defendant being persecuted for a nonviolent, victimless crime. He must remain undercover because he represents a direct threat to the power of judges and prosecutors. He is the last champion of justice in the American courtroom.” The book promises to teach its readers “exactly how to become a stealth juror, including how to get yourself seated on a jury where you can do the most good for just causes (from preserving gun rights to opposing the War on Drugs), recognize and avoid the games that lawyers and judges use to manipulate the outcome of a case, secretly win over your fellow jurors in the deliberation room and much more.”

Hmm … I’m not sure this is exactly what Henry Fonda had in mind.

The ABA article points out that the “stealth juror” problem is exacerbated by the way in which voir dire is typically conducted: Potential jurors who might be biased against a particular defendant, for example, may be reluctant to speak up about their prejudices in an open courtroom, with tens or even hundreds of spectators watching.

Of course, sometimes the biases revealed during voir dire cut the other way. My father, a federal judge for twenty years in Arkansas, once conducted a criminal trial of a county judge who had been accused of buying up votes to win his election. At the beginning of voir dire, the judge informed the potential jurors of the charges against the defendant. A woman in the back row immediately stood up, hands on hips and full of indignation, and said, “Well, I guess you don’t want me, then. My husband and I always sell our votes. We get three dollars a piece for ‘em – five if it’s a close race.” The judge, without missing a beat, replied, “No ma’am, I don’t think we’ll be needing you today. Thank you for your service to the community.”

But those were 1980s dollars – I’m sure the price of a vote in Arkansas has gone up considerably since then.


Counter-cyclical journals

Everyone knows that law reviews pick piece up in the Spring and in the Fall.

Except when they don’t. A growing number of journals seem to be bucking the trend and seeking at least some summer solicitations. For example, the front page for the Duke Law Journal website states outright that “We will review articles throughout the summer.”

This post hopes to collect some data from our readers: Which are the counter-cyclical journals (either this year, or in general)? Which journals are seeking summer submissions? If you’re an editor or otherwise knowledgeable on the specifics of a journal that is presently pursuing (at least in part) a counter-cyclical strategy, please weigh in in the comments; ditto if you recently published an off-season piece or picked up an off-season piece from the journal side.


Memento Mori, and Constraining of Executive Power

362319_caesar.jpgClifford Ando’s book on Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire is being passed around the family lending library. It, together with a recent conference invitation, has gotten me to thinking some about the different ways that the American legal system works to constrain executive power. This may all be old hat to some, but, hey, this is just a blog entry!

The legal system offers two major methods of constraining executives: incentives and structural checks. Both approaches are formal, and to a large extent, treat subject executives as rational, wealth-maximizing, actors. Incentive-based constraints follow a fairly traditional carrots-and-sticks approach.

Corporate law relies mostly on carrots. Punishments in corporate law are rarely felt by individual Directors and officers due to the BJR and D&O Insurance. SOX is a notable, and contested, exception. By contrast, control of public sector executives (like agency heads, police, and military officers) is largely based on sticks: court marshals; public shaming, etc.

Control of the government’s chief executive is largely left to institutional constraints. President Bush, not so long ago, reminded Americans that a second-term President has a wide latitude to act in ways that might seem unpopular: “We had our accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.” That is, elections provide limited incentives; impeachment an impractical stick. Congressional control of subpoena power is the real hammer.

The Romans had a somewhat different model. They had exceptionally few state administrators – a few thousand folks in total at the empire’s height. Those administrators were governed and constrained in a variety of ways. The preeminent, according to Ando, seems to have been socialized norms. Thus, famously, Roman generals on their victory parade were accompanied by a slave whispering in their ear: “Memento Mori.” Remember, you are mortal.

Are there interesting ways to pay-off this analogy? Perhaps we might achieve more efficient corporate and federal executive control through socializing norms of humbleness, loyalty, and self-control. Maybe this humbling function could be served by independent directors, in a reinvigorated real devil’s advocate way. Or, if we wanted to really re-engineer the system, perhaps SOX should be amended to rely less on punishment and more, as in the sexual harassment context, on a system of presumptions that encourages training and socialization of pro-social norms. In the federal government arena, perhaps we need to hire someone who will remind Presidents of the limits of their power, and the fact of their morality. Hmm. Actually, maybe those positions are filled already.


Roberts’ And Alito’s Pragmatic Turn

In an otherwise mundane decision yesterday, Day v. McDonough, Justices Alito and Roberts joined a surprisingly pragmatic habeas corpus decision penned by Justice Ginsburg. The case involved a state prisoner who filed his habeas papers 23 days after the federal statute of limitations had run. A negligent attorney for the State of Florida, however, had miscalculated the time and the state conceded in briefs to the district court that the petition was timely. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) a johnny-on-the-spot federal magistrate took out his abacus and discovered the error. He then dismissed the petition sua sponte.

The Supreme Court affirmed the per curiam decision of a conservative 11th Circuit panel (Pryor, Dubina and Tjoflat) holding that the district court was permitted to dismiss the case sua sponte on statute of limitations grounds. It held that the State’s waiver of the issue did not forfeit its statute of limitations claim. The issue is controversial because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally provide that statute of limitations defenses are forfeitable. As Justice Scalia pointed out, the majority opinion “disregards the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in habeas corpus cases chiefly because it believes that this departure will make no difference.” Scalia describes the holding as “novel presumption against” applying these rules.

On its face, the decision might be termed “conservative” because, well, the criminal defendant loses. (That is how Sunstein, at least, would probably classify it – based at least on his methodology in Ideological Voting on Federal Courts of Appeals: A Preliminary Investigation.) But in fact this relatively loose play with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is pretty darn pragmatic. Scalia makes a good case that precedent and Congressional action both cut against this snubbing of the Federal Rules. Based on everything we’ve heard to this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Roberts and Alito share Scalia’s skepticism. (And what about the uber pragmatist, Breyer? What’s he doing in bed with his nemesis?)

I’m neither a Supreme Court scholar nor a civil procedure buff. (I learned civil procedure from John Sexton, which means that I’d be an AWESOME law dean!) But does this configuration provide a hint – if only that – that Rolito (can I trademark that term, kind of like Three-peat?) will be more Rehnquist than Scalia? I guess we’ll just have to see.

Hat tip to a former student.


Lay-ing it into the Wall Street Journal

Ken Lay, testifying yesterday and especially today at the Enron trial, has been attacking the WSJ pretty harshly. The Journal forms one part of Lay’s new axis-of-evil (as reported at the stupendous and invaluable Houston Chron trial blog):

“Enron’s failure was caused by a run on the bank,” Lay said, adding, “It all begins with the deceit of Andy Fastow and probably not more than one or two other people.”

Fastow, the former chief executive of Enron has admitted to running a sham at Enron where he profited personally to the tune of millions of dollars.

Short sellers, Lay continued, also contributed. He then blamed the Wall Street Journal for articles that were critical of Enron in 2001, the year Enron filed for bankruptcy.

Here’s the thing. Obviously, this is a prepared trial strategy. Fastow, short-sellers, and the media killed Enron, not Jeff or me. Repeat. But I wonder whether the emotional valence that jurors normally might get from attacks on “the media” are as present when the media in question is the WSJ, a highly respected publication that to me smells like money and Republicans. I can understand attacking the Times – even saying the word connotes liberal elitism in some quarters. But is the Journal the same? Maybe to jurors from Texas it is. And, notably, I’m not nearly as well-positioned on this particular issue as the defenses’ jury consultant, who might have blessed this strategy after subjecting it to focus-grouping.

Still, as I just told a reporter, this feels risky. Can’t the prosecution, on cross, now lead Lay through the reporting and ask what was wrong with what was said? To the extent that the reporting was mostly accurate, and the market reacted to it, doesn’t that mean that this wasn’t an irrational market run, but instead a reaction by the market to a perceived failure of those internal control mechanisms which Enron had been known for?

[Update: The article resulting in part from the conversation with the reporter I mentioned above is now up on the Business Week Online’s website here.]


Michelle Anderson’s New Deanship

CUNY.jpgThere is terrific news to report. Our current guest blogger, Michelle Anderson, was just appointed as the new dean of CUNY Law School. This news is proof that if you blog at Concurring Opinions, great things will happen to you. From the CUNY Law School press release:

Prominent legal scholar Michelle J. Anderson, Esq. has been appointed by the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York as Dean of the CUNY School of Law, effective July 1, 2006.

An academic leader with a passion for social justice, Professor Anderson is a graduate of Yale Law School where she was Notes Editor of the Yale Law Journal and Editor of the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. A member of the faculty of Villanova University School of Law since 1998, she has taught criminal law, criminal procedure, children and the law, and feminist legal theory and received top rankings as a classroom teacher. . . .

Professor Anderson is one of the nation’s leading scholars on the legal aspects of sexual assault. Widely published, her articles have appeared in the University of Southern California Law Review, George Washington Law Review, University of Illinois Law Review, and Boston University Law Review, among other journals. Recently, in Commonwealth v. King, a case involving the admission of a first complaint of child sexual abuse, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, the state’s highest appellate court, cited two of Professor Anderson’s published pieces. . . .

Opened in 1983, CUNY School of Law, located in Flushing, Queens, is the only law school which, from its inception, has defined its mission as training law students for public service. In addition to its unique educational mission, the Law School takes pride in its national leadership in clinical education, its affordable cost, and its distinction as the nation’s most diverse law school. The School is a national leader in progressive legal education with the highest rate of placement of graduates in public interest and public service careers.


Hat tip: As usual, Brian Leiter had the breaking news. In fact, he probably knows whether you’re moving before you do.


Stuntz Responds: Further Thoughts on Privacy and Transparency

stuntz1.jpgA few weeks ago, I wrote a post criticizing an essay by William Stuntz (law, Harvard) in The New Republic. Today, he has responded to my post in The New Republic Online.

I’ll reply briefly here to a few of Stuntz’s points in response. Stuntz observes:

What are the worst things governments do to their citizens, the abuses that most characterize despots and dictators? For my money, spying and snooping are pretty far down the list. I’d rank these much higher: torture and other physical abuse, harassment of political and religious dissidents, and (most of all) arbitrary punishment–prison sentences handed down not because the prisoners did some terrible wrong or caused some horrible injury, but because they got on the wrong side of some local party boss.

Stuntz seems to assume that privacy and transparency are separate issues from the ones he lists above, but I see privacy and transparency as integral checks to prevent the kinds of abuses Stuntz mentions.

Stuntz then writes:

Solove says that it’s “silly” to say that we’re better off if the government listens to lots of phone conversations rather than only a few. If so, then current law is silly–for as he knows, the law today and for some time has drawn precisely that line. That is why the police can set up roadblocks and stop every car to check for drunk drivers, even though the cops have no reason to suspect any one driver. In my view, the same principle should apply to phone calls, and to DNA tests. If I understand the news stories correctly, nearly all the members of Duke’s lacrosse team were tested in connection with the ongoing Durham rape investigation. That strikes me as a very good thing: DNA tests reduce the odds that the guilty will escape punishment, and also reduce the odds that innocents will suffer it. Does Solove disagree?

I am not an absolutist when it comes to protecting privacy. I believe that the police should have the power to conduct a variety of investigations; they should be able to conduct DNA tests; they should be able to wiretap and engage in surveillance. The issue isn’t whether or not they should be allowed to do these things; rather, it is what kinds of oversight and accountability do we want in place when the police engage in searches and seizures. The police can employ nearly any kind of investigatory activity with a warrant supported by probable cause. This is a mechanism of oversight — it forces the police to justify their suspicions to a neutral judge or magistrate before engaging in the tactic. Driver checkpoints are limited in the kinds of questions the police can ask; in what they can stop motorists for; in how long they can stop people; and so on. The law allows for wiretapping but only under judicial supervision, procedures to minimize the breadth of the wiretapping, and requirements that the police report back to the court to prevent abuses. It is these procedures that the Bush Administration has ignored by engaging in the warrantless NSA surveillance. The question is not whether we want the government to monitor such conversations; it is whether the Executive Branch should adhere to the appropriate oversight procedures that Congress has enacted into law or whether it should be allowed to covertly ignore any oversight.

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Pseudonymity and Ethics

Last week, the Los Angeles Times suspended the blog of Michael Hiltzik, one of its columnists, when he admitted posting comments both on his blog (which was hosted by the paper) and on other blogs under pseudonyms. Apparently these efforts were a ham-handed attempt at creating an ego chamber by suggesting that there were other participants who agreed with Hiltzik’s views. The L.A. Times has posted a notice at Hiltzik’s blog, stating that Hiltzik’s actions were “a violation of The Times [sic] ethics guidelines, which requires editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public.”

Put to the side for the moment what Hiltzik actually did, which, if nothing else, was not a bright career move (and serves as yet another reminder to the public of the existence of IP addresses). What if Hiltzik had used a pseudonym to comment on another blog merely to engage in a discussion without revealing that he was a columnist for the L.A. Times? What if the resulting discussion then became interesting enough that Hiltzik or another reporter decided to write about the debate? Is there something improper or unethical about the fact that the hypothetical Hiltzik did not disclose his identity in the course of the discussion? Assume, even, that Hiltzik engaged in pseudonymous commentary precisely to spark a discussion on a given topic — which is, of course, what many blog authors do on a daily basis — to see if it would develop into any interesting column fodder. Would he have acted unethically? Given that the participants responding to such comments are engaging with a pseudonymous individual in an open forum in any event, does it matter whether that individual is the hypothetical Hiltzik or a CPA in Schenectady? Or whether the individual is a reporter for the L.A. Times rather than the author of AcmeBlog?

Presumably the L.A. Times does not enforce its policy to the extent of requiring its reporters to “identify themselves when dealing with the public” when they are, say, participating in an online dating service or ordering a burger at the local fast food joint. I would imagine that the point of the policy is to protect members of the public who would unwittingly say something in a conversation with a nonreporter that they would not say if they knew the comment could potentially be published in the paper. But when the hypothetical (i.e., nonlogrolling) Hiltzik comments pseudonymously on another’s blog and encourages comments that are intended for public consumption from the moment the “post” button is hit, is he “dealing with the public” in the way that the paper’s policy contemplates?

(To be clear: I am in no way defending Hiltzik’s actions. But I am curious about where the line between proper and improper is in a medium in which pseudonymity is not only accepted but often encouraged.)