Category: Blogging


Zelinsky on the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Crisis

My colleague Aaron Zelinsky, who is visiting with University of Maryland School of Law before heading off to the Supreme Court to clerk, has written an incisive post at the Huffington Post on the federal judiciary’s failure to stick to the hiring plan, the troubles defection causes, and his recommendation for what we ought to do about it.  The entire post is here.  For a bit of his wisdom:

So what’s to be done?

If judges are serious about creating a new plan to fix this race to the bottom, there’s an easy solution: use the old plan. The old plan worked just fine. It only had one problem; it was voluntary, so it unraveled. The solution is simple: make the plan mandatory.

Remember the story of Odysseus, who wanted to hear the song of the Sirens but was worried that doing so would cause him to sail too close to the rocks and wreck his ship? To get around the problem he had his crew tie him to the mast.

The judicial branch tried this solution with the old hiring plan, but they made a critical mistake: Odysseus didn’t tie himself to the mast. He had his crew do it. That way he couldn’t get the knots undone. Otherwise, tying yourself up is about as useful as putting that piece of chocolate cake in the back of the refrigerator. Sure, it helps for about ten minutes, but then you open the door, move the mayonnaise to the side, and there it is.

Instead of voluntary compliance, the judicial branch should ask someone else to tie them to the mast. In the context of our constitutional system, the term of art for this is one you may remember from middle school civics: the separation of powers.

Congress has the power of the purse. It allocates funds for building courthouses, keeping the lights on, and employing staff. For instance, law clerks are employed under 28 U.S.C. 752 (for district courts) and 28 U.S.C. 712 (for circuit courts). If the judiciary really wants to fix the hiring plan, then judges should request that Congress condition salaries for law clerks upon them being hired in compliance with the judicial hiring plan. In other words, if you don’t play by the rules, you don’t have law clerks.

But wait, isn’t that unconstitutional? Nope. The Constitution prevents Congress from lowering the salaries of federal judges, but says nothing about their staff (anyways, such a law could be written to apply only to those hired in the future, not those already employed). And Congress isn’t infringing on the judicial power in any way – this law does not effect how judges make use of their clerks, just the timing of how they hire them. And it would leave the actual formation of the plan up to the judiciary.

Federal judges could ask Congress to make the hiring plan mandatory via a proposal from a special judicial working group, or even in Chief Justice Roberts’s year end report to Congress. And they should. A new, mandatory plan would be fairer for less-advantaged law students and late-bloomers, more efficient for federal judges, and maybe even better for you.


Blogging Ethics

Here’s a question that I’ve pondered every once in a while.   Suppose I want to post about a legal issue that is relevant to a company in which I own shares.  What should I do?

A.  “Recuse” myself and not post about the issue.

B.  Post but make it clear that I own shares in said stock.

C.  Post and say nothing.  Nobody cares about my posts–they won’t influence stock prices or legal arguments made about the company.

Thus far, I have done A.  I’d be curious to get input from other bloggers about what they think.


Stanford Law Review Online: The Dead Past

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s Keynote from our 2012 Symposium, The Dead Past. Chief Judge Kozinski discusses the privacy implications of our increasingly digitized world and our role as a society in shaping the law:

I must start out with a confession: When it comes to technology, I’m what you might call a troglodyte. I don’t own a Kindle or an iPad or an iPhone or a Blackberry. I don’t have an avatar or even voicemail. I don’t text.

I don’t reject technology altogether: I do have a typewriter—an electric one, with a ball. But I do think that technology can be a dangerous thing because it changes the way we do things and the way we think about things; and sometimes it changes our own perception of who we are and what we’re about. And by the time we realize it, we find we’re living in a different world with different assumptions about such fundamental things as property and privacy and dignity. And by then, it’s too late to turn back the clock.

He concludes:

Judges, legislators and law enforcement officials live in the real world. The opinions they write, the legislation they pass, the intrusions they dare engage in—all of these reflect an explicit or implicit judgment about the degree of privacy we can reasonably expect by living in our society. In a world where employers monitor the computer communications of their employees, law enforcement officers find it easy to demand that internet service providers give up information on the web-browsing habits of their subscribers. In a world where people post up-to-the-minute location information through Facebook Places or Foursquare, the police may feel justified in attaching a GPS to your car. In a world where people tweet about their sexual experiences and eager thousands read about them the morning after, it may well be reasonable for law enforcement, in pursuit of terrorists and criminals, to spy with high-powered binoculars through people’s bedroom windows or put concealed cameras in public restrooms. In a world where you can listen to people shouting lurid descriptions of their gall-bladder operations into their cell phones, it may well be reasonable to ask telephone companies or even doctors for access to their customer records. If we the people don’t consider our own privacy terribly valuable, we cannot count on government—with its many legitimate worries about law-breaking and security—to guard it for us.

Which is to say that the concerns that have been raised about the erosion of our right to privacy are, indeed, legitimate, but misdirected. The danger here is not Big Brother; the government, and especially Congress, have been commendably restrained, all things considered. The danger comes from a different source altogether. In the immortal words of Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Read the full article, The Dead Past by Alex Kozinski, at the Stanford Law Review Online.


Cyberbullying and the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

(This post is based on a talk I gave at the Seton Hall Legislative Journal’s symposium on Bullying and the Social Media Generation. Many thanks to Frank Pasquale, Marisa Hourdajian, and Michelle Newton for the invitation, and to Jane Yakowitz and Will Creeley for a great discussion!)


New Jersey enacted the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (ABBR) in 2011, in part as a response to the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University. It is routinely lauded as the country’s broadest, most inclusive, and strongest anti-bullying law. That is not entirely a compliment. In this post, I make two core claims. First, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights has several aspects that are problematic from a First Amendment perspective – in particular, the overbreadth of its definition of prohibited conduct, the enforcement discretion afforded school personnel, and the risk of impingement upon religious and political freedoms. I argue that the legislation departs from established precedent on disruptions of the educational environment by regulating horizontal relations between students rather than vertical relations between students and the school as an institution / environment. Second, I believe we should be cautious about statutory regimes that enable government actors to sanction speech based on content. I suggest that it is difficult to distinguish, on a principled basis, between bullying (which is bad) and social sanctions that enforce norms (which are good). Moreover, anti-bullying laws risk displacing effective informal measures that emerge from peer production. Read More


Simple Justice and Blogging Exhaustion

Has Scott Greenfield retired from Simple Justice?  Scott, who routinely tweaks law academics from his beloved trenches, writes:

“Recently, it’s struck me that some of the new blawgers have written posts that mirrored things I had written years earlier.  They wrote good posts, and they did so without any clue that anyone had discussed the same issues before them. It dawned on me that I’ve gone through another circle, as happens when we get older. Every year, maybe day, new people come into the blawgosphere and it’s a rebirth, where everything old is new again.  As this thought occurred to me, I realized that my work is now part of the old, forgotten blawgosphere.  This is probably how it should be.

Five years in real time is a blink of the eye.  In internet time, it’s an eternity.  Thanks for reading, and keeping me honest.  With that, I offer this concluding video.”

Scott’s commentators are bewildered. Was this a farewell post, written (uncharacteristically) in an obscure style?  Was it some kind of publicity stunt?  Who knows – you’ll have to click to find out!

Regardless, I empathize with Scott’s complaint.  Though the Internet remembers everything you’ve done, what it reminds you most of all is that you are less than a speck in the eye of the multiverse.  Everything you write has been (will be) written by someone else, and no one will know your name next month.  You’ll find yourself drafting posts to reiterate points you’ve made before – not because you can express the idea any better, but because you’d like to climb a bit higher on the pile of sand in the hourglass. (In fact, I am 99% sure I’ve written this exact post before, but I can’t find it!)

I should know. This is my tenth year blogging! I started at Cravath in summer of 2002, when I created a small blog on constitutional law with a friend.  When I joined Temple in 2004, I switched to Prawfsblawg, and then to CoOp, which has been my blog home since the fall of 2005.  In that time, I’ve written several thousand posts (like Scott).  Very little I’ve written has managed to stick. On this blog, and others, things I’ve said in the past are repeated with no awareness that I once said them. How could they not be? There’s nothing new under the sun, and the very point of blogging is to get to not do preemption checks!  Of late, this blogging ennui, and despair about the possibility of productive conversation on some topics, has made me less motivated to blog, though I think it’s a temporary lull.

I’ve managed to stick with it this long mostly because I find blogging to be an ideal outlet for small ideas, which I wouldn’t write about in articles, and which I’d prefer to have some evidence of having came up with.  That’s not a utiliarian position. I doubt that blogging has made me a better scholar. I don’t think my blog posts have made a bit of difference in public debates.  (It might have, but the effect is incidental and contingent, not by design.) I certainly don’t think that Concurring Opinions has built a deep virtual community (cf. Volokh) to play with.  (Maybe we should?)  When I look around, I can think of only a few examples of law professors whose blogging has moved the needle.  Then again, the same is true of long-form scholarship!  Blogging is a cheap form of self-expression, and it’s nice to own my own printing press. It is as simple as that.

I thought I’d let this serve as an open thread for folks who’ve been at this for more than five years. What keeps you going?


Ben Stein and the ABA’s Facepalm

The American Bar Association is kicking off its 2012 tech show with an address by… Ben Stein. Yes, who better to celebrate the march of technological progress and innovation than a leading defender of intelligent design? Who better to celebrate rigorous intellectual discourse than a man who misquotes Darwin and fakes speeches to college audiences?

This is a pretty embarrassing misstep. The ABA is irrelevant in the IP / tech world, and this facepalm is a nice microcosm of why. (Wait, what is the ABA relevant to? Now that’s a hard question.) We geeks don’t like it when you dis science. Thanks anyway, ABA – maybe you should stick to having your judicial recommendations ignored.

Hat tip: health law expert Margo Kaplan.

Update: I found the perfect keynote speaker for ABA’s 2013 TechShow: Marshall Hall!

Cross-posted at Info/Law.


Why Scalia is Right in Jones: Magic Places and One-Way Ratchets

The Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. Jones yesterday, and the blogosphere is abuzz about the case. (See Margot Kaminski, Paul Ohm, Howard Wasserman, Tom Goldstein, and the terrifyingly prolific Orin Kerr.) The verdict was a clean sweep – 9-0 for Jones – but the case produced three opinions, including a duel between Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Thus far, most privacy and constitutional law thinkers favor Alito’s position. That’s incorrect: Justice Scalia’s opinion is far more privacy protective. Here’s why: Read More


Anthropological Introductions

I would like to thank Danielle Citron for the invitation to pen some thoughts here on Concurring Opinions, and letting an anthropologist enter this legal arena. For my first post, I thought I would ease in slowly and give a taste of my work on hackers, geeks, and digital activism along with some of the themes and issues I will likely explore over the month.

Being there are not a whole lot of anthropologists of my ilk ( as I like to joke, I am an “arm chair anthropologist” who sits in front of her computer to study the high tech digerati of the west), I often get asked how or why I came to the study hackers, many people assuming that I had some hacker relative in my life or was myself a budding young hacker, both of which were not the case. Fitting to this blog, I got to hackers via the law. In 1997, when my friend—an avid free software developer—found out I had a keen but personal interest in patents and access to medicine, he sat me down to tell be about this legal concept called the “copyleft.” It was one of those moments that I still remember so vividly as I was nothing but floored, astonished, excited, and puzzled, especially when I learned of the full depth and extent of  this legal alternative that had been dreamed up, not by lawyers, but by geeks and hackers.

Over the ensuing year, which was my first year at graduate school, I delved so often and deeply into the world of free software, it was clear that I had to change topics or else I ran the risk of never finishing my degree. Alhough I routinely encountered skepticism—and still do—I felt like I struck anthropological gold: there was too much to explore, prod, and examine so at the time, I took a one hundred and eighty degree u-turn and have never returned.

My work on free software spans various topics, from the prevalence of humor among hackers to the multi-year legal battles over the right to write and release source code in the face of new regulations such as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Most broadly, I use free software to examine the cultural life of liberalism. By liberalism, I do not mean what may first come to mind: a political party that in Europe is usually associated with politicians who champion free market solutions, or in the United States, a near synonym for the Democratic party; nor is it just an identity that follows from being a proud, card-carrying member of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) or the Electronic Frontier Foundation, although these certainly can be markers.  I take liberalism to embrace historical and present day moral and political commitments and sensibilities that should be familiar to most readers of this blog: protecting property and civil liberties, promoting individual autonomy and tolerance, securing a free press, ruling through limited government and universal law, and preserving a commitment to equal opportunity and meritocracy. These principles, which vary over time and place, are realized institutionally and culturally in various locations at different times, perhaps the most famous of these being the institutions of higher education, market policies set by transnational institutions, and the press, but are also at play on the Internet and with computer hackers, such as with those who develop free software, who have an accentuated commitment to free speech and make free speech claims to question what many see as not only the use but abuse of copyrights and patents. In one post I hope to examine and explore what it might mean to study liberalism from the vantage point of culture and hackers.

As I moved forward with my work on hackers it become increasingly clear that there was not only so much about this world that lay untouched and untapped (I think we know more about Papua New Guinea than hackers) but there are also many misperceptions and miconceptions shrouding our understanding of hackers due to existing literature and fantastical media representations. Part of the problem is that differences are often whitewashed away in favor of coming up with some simple and sanitized story about some unitary group of hackers. It is true that hackers can be grasped by their similarities: they tend to value a set of liberal principles: freedom, privacy, and access; they tend to adore computers—the glue that binds them together; they are trained in specialized and esoteric technical arts, primarily programming, system administration, security research, and hardware hacking; some gain unauthorized access to technologies, though the degree of illegality greatly varies; foremost, hacking, in its different forms and dimensions, embody an aesthetic where craft and craftiness tightly converge and thus tend to value playfulness, pranking,  and cleverness and will often perform their wit through source code or humor or even both: funny code.

Hackers, however, evince considerable diversity and are notoriously sectarian, constantly debating the meaning of the words hack, hacker, and hacking. I myself have been caught in the line of fire when hackers launch these accusations (“No, Biella, hackers are ‘breakers,’ not those who make ‘cool LED throwies in a hackerspace;” ‘No Biella, please get there is a distinction between ‘hackers and crackers’..”), so I will also be writing a post on this topic.

Most of my work on free software is completed, tucked and hidden away in academic journal articles read by perhaps a dozen or less people every few years, if even that many, and forthcoming in full-bodied form in a Creative Commons licensed book with Princeton University Press in the fall of 2012. But I am have become much more known for that which I once thought of as my niche, boutique side project: Anonymous. And it was so because for a a long period of time it existed as an esoteric, marginal sort of phenomenon: quite interesting, especially the activist manifestations (as Anonymous can be used for pure trolling) but over the last year exploded proliferated, and mushroomed in ways that make it very hard to pin down. In contrast to researching free software, which was relatively easy, working on Anonymous has tested my resolve so many times; they are truly difficult to study, for all sorts of reasons, some of which I will explore in a couple of posts I plan on dedicating to them as well.





Harassment, male privilege, and jokes that women just don’t get

A familiar theme comes up frequently in internet discussions: Women who complain about online harassment are just missing the joke.

As an initial descriptive matter, it’s pretty clear that women and men are often treated differently in online discussion. (Quick, name a case in which someone was harassed online. Was the person you thought about a woman? I thought so.)

A few months ago, John Scalzi noted that:

In my experience, talking to women bloggers and writers, they are quite likely to get abusive comments and e-mail, and receive more of it not only than what I get personally (which isn’t difficult) but more than what men bloggers and writers typically get. I think bloggers who focus on certain subjects (politics, sexuality, etc) will get more abusive responses than ones who write primarily on other topics, but even in those fields, women seem more of a target for abusive people than the men are. And even women writing on non-controversial topics get smacked with this crap. I know knitting bloggers who have some amazingly hateful comments directed at them. They’re blogging about knitting, for Christ’s sake. . .

I can contrast this with how people approach me on similar topics. When I post photos of processed cheese, I don’t get abused about how bad it is and how bad I am for posting about it. People don’t abuse me over my weight, even when I talk explicitly about it. I go away from my family for weeks at a time and never get crap about what a bad father that makes me, even though I have always been the stay-at-home parent. Now, it’s true in every case that if I did get crap, I would deal with it harshly, either by going after the commenter or by simply malleting their jackassery into oblivion. But the point is I don’t have to. I’m a man and I largely get a pass on weight, on parenting and (apparently) on exhibition and ingestion of processed cheese products. Or at the very least if someone thinks I’m a bad person for any of these, they keep it to themselves. They do the same for any number of other topics they might feel free to lecture or abuse women over.

It’s this sort of thing that reminds me that the Internet is not the same experience for me as it is for some of my women friends. (Emphasis added.)

That bears repeating: The Internet is not the same experience for men as it is for women. (No wonder women are numerically underrepresented in prominent internet discussion spaces.)

Why is the internet a different place for men than for women? There are doubtless a number of contributing causes, but one of the major factors is that the internet is largely a male-constructed discursive space, and internet discussion norms often build on assumptions of male privilege. Read More


Another Exciting New Blog: Just Enrichment

It is exciting to welcome Just Enrichment to the blogosphere.  A group of graduating Harvard Law students started the blog to “continue the discussions [they]’ve had over bagels and coffee” once they are no longer “sitting at the same kitchen table.”  Recent posts include “Anti-Drug Drug Users, Anti-Gay Gay People, and Anti-Gun Gun Owners: Hypocrisy and the Party System,” “The Birth Certificate, Why Now?,” and “Rethink Music Conference, Day 2: It All Comes Back to Statutory Damage.”