Author: Jaya Ramji-Nogales


Barack Obama, meet . . . Barack Obama

After two weeks of watching our economy implode, taking your retirement plan, your bonus, and the value of your home down the toilet, you people need a little comic relief. That’s what I’m here for. For those who haven’t been listening closely to their NPR, it turns out that there are at least eight Barack Obamas running for election in Brazil this year. Yes, you heard that right. Under Brazilian law, it turns out, candidates are allowed to run for office under any name, as long as it’s not offensive. So eight aspiring politicos, including a former air conditioner salesman and a man claiming a resemblance to Obama (but not actually bearing one), have officially changed their names in hope that it will bring them victory in October’s municipal elections. According to a very fun but very unscientific poll by The Economist, Brazilian voters would hand victory to Obama over McCain, and one re-named candidate saw his popularity rise (from third place to a tie for first) after changing his name. What’s that you were saying about lipstick on a pig?


Sharia Courts in the UK

875413_balance.jpgAccording to this week’s Sunday Times, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal has set up five Sharia courts throughout the United Kingdom. These courts hear solely civil cases, including divorce, domestic violence, and inheritance cases. The Sharia courts have been classified as arbitration tribunals under the same provision of the 1996 Arbitration Act used by Jewish Beth Din courts, which have resolved civil cases in Britain for over 100 years. As long as both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case, a decision of an arbitration tribunal is legally binding and enforceable through British county courts or the High Court.

While Muslim women who choose to use these Sharia courts for family law disputes are surely capable adults entitled to make their own decisions, the track record of the courts on women’s rights thus far is concerning. For example, in a recent inheritance case, the court divided a man’s estate by giving twice as much to his two sons as it did to his three daughters. And in six recent domestic violence cases, the court ordered the husbands to take anger management classes and participate in mentoring with community elders; the women withdrew their complaints from the police, who stopped investigations.

Can these courts be reconciled with British and European laws protecting gender equality? Given that participation requires consent of both parties, it will be difficult to find a plaintiff to challenge the courts’ unequal treatment of women. Perhaps a more fruitful course is suggested by Zareen Roohi Ahmed, the chief executive of the British Muslim Forum, an umbrella organization for mosques in the UK. Noting that sharia courts in Britain are still poorly organised, she proposes that the government support professionalization of the courts, including “female involvement . . . on the decision-making panels . . . and a wider range of scholars and academics involved to put more thought into making the rules and regulations applicable to today’s society.” It’s a thorny problem, to be sure, but by engaging with these courts rather than shutting them down, the British government might, in the end, protect the rights of more women.

Cross-posted on IntLawGrrls


The Utility of the Washington and Lee Rankings

As this fall’s law review submission period winds down, I am forced to ponder yet again the utility of the Washington and Lee law journal rankings. My aim is not to question their methodology here; rather, I wonder whether counterintuitive results — that is, results that don’t comport with a law school’s U.S. News and World Report rankings — can override the prestige rankings in the heads of law professors (rankings that generally match up with USN&WR). I would be the first to admit that W&L’s ranking methodology based largely on citation counts appears to be a more legitimate way to differentiate among law journals than a gut reaction that a higher-ranked law school must have a better journal. But it’s still a struggle to overcome the little rankings voice in my head repeating a mantra that has been with me since I first applied to law school almost fifteen years ago.

So, for example, a friend with an offer from the Virginia Journal of International Law — ranked first among international journals by W&L — sends me an e-mail to ask if she should expedite with the Harvard International Law Journal (ranked #2 by W&L) and the Yale Journal of International Law (ranked #6 by W&L). I don’t dispute that VAJIL may garner more cites than the Yale and Harvard journals, and as a scholar of international law, I’m fully aware that it’s considered the top specialty journal in the field. However, if I’m looking at a publication on an AALS form or a resume, particularly if it’s in a specialty journal in a field that I’m not familiar with, I have to admit that the fancier law school names would jump off the page at me a bit more energetically.

The issue might arise with more frequency in specialty journals, but we see it also in flagships. So, for example, if you were weighing an offer from the Ohio State Law Journal and the Washington University Law Review, which one would you take? I might be inclined to Wash U, which I’m well aware is a top 20 law school. However, the Ohio State Journal outranks the Wash U Journal by 10-16 places in W&L’s book, depending on how you slice it. But the prestige, the prestige, the prestige, the little voice chants — it’s hard to move beyond that factor.

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Responsibility for Srebrenica

Justice.jpgOn Wednesday, a Dutch court rejected a claim for compensation by a group of Bosnian Muslims against the Dutch government for their peacekeepers’ role in the massacre at Srebrenica. In early 1993, United Nations peacekeepers, with the authorization of the UN Security Council, set up a “safe haven” for Muslim refugees in Srebrenica to protect them from attacks by the Bosnian Serb Army. The town has come to symbolize failed humanitarian intervention; after 350 Dutch peacekeepers fled for their lives in July 1995, the Serbs killed an estimated 7,000 Muslim men and boys in four days.

So what does law have to say about this tragic event, and, more importantly, what role should courts play in addressing intervenors who fail to prevent grave crimes? Leaving aside the leaders of the Bosnian Serb Army, many of whom have been charged with crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and some of whom faced civil liability claims in national courts, can courts of law be used to determine who was responsible for the failure to protect these refugees? Can and should courts play a part in ensuring that such failures are not repeated in the future?

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Gender Equality’s Top Ten

1030719_people_3.jpg Along with, presumably, the rest of Yale Law School’s alumni, I received an e-mail yesterday afternoon from Yale Law Women (YLW), a student group, listing the “Top Ten Family Friendly Firms.” This is not the first time that YLW has put together this list, but as far as I’m aware, it’s the first time they’ve sent it around to all alumni. YLW lays out the rationale for the list as follows:

YLW believes that the Top Ten List will be a catalyst for substantive change. Firms now have an opportunity to compare their policies to those of their peers. Practicing attorneys can use the List to advocate for improved work-life balance, and current law students can better assess their future employers.

This is not the first time we’ve seen law firm rankings employed in an effort to diversify the legal profession; last year, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession released a report card on diversity in law firms (about which Frank Pasquale blogged here). While I find their goals noble, I wonder how successful these “listing” tactics are; i.e. do top 100 law firms really improve their diversity efforts in response to student generated lists? How far can studying and publicizing this problem take us? Will the “best and brightest” law students listen to their consciences rather than their wallets when choosing firms? With those questions in mind, I was curious about two apparently novel tactics that YLW is using: rewarding, rather than shaming, and actively distributing the list.

Instead of focusing on shaming those at the bottom of the list, YLW released only the Top Ten firms’ names and results (though I couldn’t find these results on the website). This approach is likely to be more appealing to the law firm audience, but I query whether rewarding will inspire more change than shaming. The reward tactic also gives law students who would work only at the most family-friendly firms a convenient short list (with, for example, only two New York law firms, including my former firm, Debevoise & Plimpton). But there are often other factors that influence the job search (for example, I chose Debevoise because of their international arbitration practice, and I’m not sure their absence from a “family friendly” short list would have altered that decision). And the “reward” approach leaves the calculations for policy comparison up to law students looking for jobs with or lawyers already working for firms outside the “top ten”, based on information that may not always be readily available.

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The Incredible Shrinking European Union

flageuro.gifIt’s official: the European Union released a report last week projecting that deaths will outnumber births in its 27 member states by 2015, only seven years from now. While the population in some E.U. nations (including Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom) will continue to grow between now and 2060, dramatic declines will be seen in the populations of countries such as Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. Migration will continue to increase the E.U. population until 2035, but after that date, the population will begin to decline. By 2060, 30% of Europe’s population will be 65 and older, and 12% will be aged 80 and older. “In other words, there [will] be only two persons of working age for every person aged 65 or more in 2060, compared with four persons to one today.”

Particularly in those nations that rely heavily on taxes to fund social expenditures, this population decline could have dramatic impacts on welfare, social security, health care, and public school funding. But of course, I’m most interested in the impact these demographic changes may have on immigration laws. Will “Fortress Europe” become more welcoming to immigrants? What impact might more liberal European immigration policies have on U.S. immigration laws? To be sure, increased immigration alone will not solve the complex problems resulting from the “greying of Europe”, but what will happen if the current restrictionist laws remain in place? Stay tuned . . .

Cross-posted at IntLawGrrls


Citing Wikipedia — Harmless Error?

Nohat-logo-nowords-bgwhite-200px.jpg A warm thank-you to Concurring Opinions for the invitation to return as a guest blogger! I enjoyed myself so much last time that I couldn’t resist returning despite being on leave.

On to the juicy stuff. Much of my scholarship focuses on documenting and analyzing the disastrous state of our immigration system. I’m not alone in my fascination with this topic; in July, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released a report on politicized hiring, over one third of which is devoted to immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Government Accountability Office will soon release a report documenting the countless problems with the immigration courts.

Moreover, I know that all of you law professors out there have received at least one student paper (if not multiple papers) that cites Wikipedia. This is one of my pet peeves and always garners a “FIND PRIMARY SOURCE!!” notation in the margins. But now I have an Eighth Circuit case, Badasa v. Mukasey, to which I can refer my students. Yes indeed, the Department of Homeland Security trial attorney submitted “information from an Internet website known as Wikipedia”, to be fair, among other documents, to establish the meaning of the term laissez-passer. (Note that the relevant Wikipedia page even warns the reader: “This article does not cite any references or sources.”)

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Are You an Intuitive or a Deliberative Information Processor?

Quick — take this test:

(1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

____ cents

(2) If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

____ minutes

(3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

____ days

(see below for answers)

In an interesting new article, Blinking on the Bench: How Judges Decide Cases, Chris Guthrie, Jeffrey Rachlinski, and Andrew Wistrich report the answers of 252 Florida trial judges to this Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), which is designed to have a “correct answer that is easy to discern upon reflection, [as well as] an intuitive–but incorrect–answer that almost immediately comes to mind.” The judges scored, well, slightly better than the average undergraduate student subject at Michigan and slightly worse than the average undergraduate student subject at Harvard. Almost one-third of these judges didn’t answer any of the questions correctly; another third answered one question correctly; less than a quarter of the judges answered two questions correctly; and only one seventh answered all three correctly. Their mean score of 1.23 compares unfavorably to student subjects at MIT (2.18), Carnegie Mellon (1.51), and Harvard (1.43).

So what does this all mean? Looking to this data alongside other studies, the authors argue that judges often make decisions intuitively rather than deliberatively. This is not always a problem; indeed the authors note that the “conversion of deliberative judgment into intuitive judgment might be the hallmark of expertise.” But, judges who respond intuitively, as the test results show, might make inaccurate decisions. The paper concludes with several suggestions as to how to limit “bad” intuitive decisionmaking –more time and resources, requiring written opinions, training and feedback, use of scripts and checklists, and separating out decision-making authority– very similar to suggestions that my co-authors and I made in our recent article, Refugee Roulette, which describes disparities in decision-making in the asylum process. Sounds like we might need to stop those asylum adjudicators from blinking on the bench . . .

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The Sun Never Sets on the British . . . Emigrants

The Telegraph reports on a recent OECD study finding that record numbers of skilled professionals are fleeing Britain for more hospitable lands, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Spain. According to the report, the United Kingdom is said to have the worst “brain drain” problem of any nation, having lost one in ten of its most highly qualified professionals. In 2006, 207,000 citizens left the United Kingdom — more than one every three minutes. Only Mexico has had more emigrants in recent years. Apparently free universal health care is not enough to keep skilled Britons from leaving; high house prices and taxes and bad weather are the most commonly cited reasons for leaving. What’s saving Britain from a severe shortage of skilled labor? Immigrants, of course — over a million skilled immigrants have arrived on British shores to take the place of the 1.1 million Britons who have left.


Things That Make You Go Hmmm . . . .

The March Atlantic Monthly has an interesting blurb about increasing wage discrimination against overweight white women, based on a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even more interesting than the finding of wage discrimination was the finding that the rate of being overweight and obese in white females has increased from 12.6% in 1981 to 50.4% in 2000. Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock, but this seems to me a shocking jump, and during a period when my impression was that the U.S. was paying increasing attention to healthy diets and exercise. It’s not entirely clear where the primary source found the data on overweight and obese women; the weight gain findings are mentioned only in the context of a dataset that examines the weight of a cohort of women over time through annual and then biennial self-reporting interviews. I can’t imagine the report based the weight-gain statistics on this crowd, given that these women are likely to gain weight as they get older and therefore don’t strike me as a reliable subset from which to extrapolate to the population as a whole. Any thoughts from statisticians and others on the source and reliability of these data?