Category: Current Events

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The Supreme Court Decision on Brexit

Today the British Supreme Court held (by an 8-3 vote) that Parliament must approve the invocation of Article 50 for the country to leave the European Union. I think this conclusion is correct, but the decision does open up at least one can of worms.

The House of Commons will almost certainly approve such a bill, but what about the House of Lords?  The Lords still have the power to delay the enactment of any legislation passed by the Commons for up to one year. If they do that (and they well might, given that the Lords are far more pro-EU than everyone else), then that would delay the start of the exit process until 2018. I wonder what elected representatives and voters will think about that if it happens.

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Empowering Law Students in a Time of Trouble

The presidential election of 2016 ended with a stunning upset. The result left many people concerned about the future. As a law professor, I think I have a special responsibility to think about those concerns, because my students are becoming lawyers at a time when our nation may need lawyers more than ever.

This fall, I’ve taught a small group of first-year students. We’ve worked on much more than civil procedure doctrine; we’ve worked on lawyering.   Students have to attempt uncomfortable arguments, analyze in unaccustomed ways, write “like lawyers,” and attend to details of facts and procedure.

Before the election, I’m not sure I’d explained why lawyering matters. As John Adams said in 1780, this is “a government of laws and not of men,” that is, a government of laws and not of individuals. If, as many fear, President-Elect Donald Trump acts as though he does not understand what a government of laws means, we can despair, or we can do what lawyers do: use our power to keep government within the law and not use government power in pursuit of individual gain or to injure some groups while helping others.

Law students sometimes lack an appreciation for the primacy of law. When we examine the Constitution, some are surprised that Article I is about the Congress, the body charged with enacting laws. Article II concerns the executive branch, which is charged with carrying out the laws. While students (and many lawyers) think the courts are more important, we only hear about them in Article III.   The creation of law comes first; execution, interpretation and enforcement come later.

The idea that federal government officials use their power solely as authorized by the Constitution and by laws enacted by Congress is plainly an aspiration and not always the reality. The smaller the gap, the more confident people feel that we are protected from government going awry.

Students in civil procedure read many cases in which government goes awry, starting with Pennoyer v. Neff. The Supreme Court said no when a court allowed a plaintiff to use government power to limit a defendant’s rights in his property without giving the defendant notice in advance. Even a court is not permitted to use power except consistently with the law. No government official or government institution is permitted to act illegally – not the president, not the Congress, not a judge, and not a police officer.

Over the course of my career, my colleagues and I have frequently had to insist that government officials act legally. Some of these officials have been Democrats and some have been Republicans, but all are subject to the law. We’ve argued and won child custody and family violence cases by demanding that the judge decide the case based on the law and not out of gender bias. We’ve persuaded courts not to convict a defendant unless the state has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of a crime. We’ve forced state government agencies not to deprive poor people of Medicaid when federal law says that Medicaid is due.

Because we are a government of laws and not of individuals, people can be asked to believe that government officials try to act within legal boundaries. When government fails, people have the right to demand an end to illegality.

What do law students need to know about lawyers, law and power? My students learned from Buffalo Creek that residents of a flooded valley believed they would never be compensated for their devastating losses. They were convinced that the coal company which caused the flood possessed all the power and that they would be denied justice.

Some residents asked a lawyer to help. Why a lawyer and not a minister or a legislator? Because the lawyer’s job is to make the system work for all, to insist that we have a government of laws, not of individuals. That kind of government is fair and unbiased. Under that kind of government, a coal company cannot make courts to do whatever is good for the company, regardless of law and facts. With the help of a lawyer and his firm, the residents won, and the coal company lost.

Imagine that you are an African-American who has concluded from this presidential campaign that nobody is standing up for you. When you say that racism is behind police killings in your community and that your right to vote is attacked because of racism, you are told that only racists accuse people of racism. Imagine that you are an immigrant or a refugee. You are told you don’t belong here, and you are told that you will be thrown out. Imagine that you are a woman who objects to being groped and demeaned. You are told you are overly sensitive and that nobody does those things; they just talk about them. Imagine that you are Jewish or Moslem. You are told that you cause more trouble than you are worth to this society. Imagine that you are disabled. You are told that you are a freak who can be mocked with impunity.

I am not imagining these threats. What prevents people from concluding that our next group of government officials will not be scrupulous about fighting the threats and complying with the law? What hope do people under attack have in the aspiration that this is a government of laws and not individuals?

As lawyers-to-be, my students need to understand that they will have power to share. As lawyers, we are entrusted with knowing the law. We see when government officials are overstepping their boundaries. We can help educate the public, we can offer help, and we can put our knowledge and skills to work. I hope my students have learned some lawyering this semester. Even more important, I hope they appreciate the power of lawyers to enhance the lives of others who need our nation to have a government of laws and not a government of individuals.

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Swallowing the Whistle

Some of the criticism being directed against FBI Director Comey strikes me as a version of an argument that you hear in sports (especially basketball). The argument is that towards the end of a close game the referees should “swallow their whistles.”

What do people mean by that?  I think they mean that a higher standard of proof must be met before the ref makes a call that might determine the outcome.  Why?  One thought is that we want the players to determine the outcome themselves.  Or another thought is that if the call is close it should not be made because the consequences of an erroneous call are too great (as opposed to say, something called earlier in the game).

But there are difficulties with this line of thought.  First, you might say that the rules should be enforced in the same way throughout the game. Second, you could argue that “swallowing the whistle” rests on an action/inaction distinction that is weak.  By not calling something that would ordinarily be called, the ref is determining the outcome–and in the wrong way.

I’m not sure how well the whistle analogy works for what the FBI Director did. Perhaps he just made the wrong decision to disclose–it doesn’t matter that we are close to the election. Perhaps he swallowed his whistle by not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton in the first place.  Or perhaps so-called “October Surprises” that involve law enforcement are not outcome determinative because of things like early voting or the not-unjustified belief by many voters that news at the end of a campaign should be heavily discounted as political noise. Anyway, we’ll know soon.

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Donald Trump as an Anti-Precedent

One way in which constitutional law makes lemonade out of lemons is through the concept of an anti-canon. In other words, lawyers and judges hold up certain cases or events as precedents for what NOT to do.  Law is unusual in emphasizing these disasters. In an English class, students don’t read bad books to understand how to write good ones.  In law classes, though, we spend a lot of time thinking about cases such as Dred ScottPlessyLochner, and Buck v. Bell  to understand how they went so wrong and what we can learn from them.

I wonder if Donald Trump will become a sort of anti-precedent for politics.  In other words, people may look back on this election and say for years to come things like “You can’t say that–you’ll end up like Trump” or “That guy is just like Trump,” or “that proposal sounds just like Trump.” In part the meaning of Trump’s candidacy will depend on how much he loses by and what he does after the election, but my point is that he might end up reinforcing or strengthening many of the norms that he is now flouting.

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Donald Trump and the Politics of Disjunction

I posted the following discussion of Donald Trump’s candidacy on Balkanization in January.  I think it stands up pretty well while being neutral, so I thought I would reprint it here:

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We’ve had an extended discussion on the blog about whether Barack Obama is a “reconstructive” President as described in the groundbreaking scholarship of Stephen Skowronek. Part of the answer turns on the outcome of 2016 presidential election. Will Obama’s successor build on what he did or repudiate his legacy? That remains to be seen.

There is another way, though, of looking at this question. Skowronek’s presidential typology says that political coalitions in decline tend to turn to outsiders who have, for lack of a better term, a reputation as a “Mr Fix-It” rather than deep connections to the party’s ideology or constituencies. Past examples include Herbert Hoover, a self-made millionaire who (though it’a hard to remember now) was widely thought of as a problem solver before he was elected. Jimmy Carter is another example–he was an engineer by training–who was a classic outsider in 1976. On the losing side, there was Wendell Wilkie (the GOP nominee in 1940) who had never been elected to anything and was touted for his business success. These are the “disjunctive” presidents or presidential candidates.

The Republican Party went with this sort of strategy in 2012. Mitt Romney was mainly known as a success in business and as a highly competent manager (of, for example, the Winter Olympics). As Governor of Massachusetts for one term, he certainly did not come from the heartland of the GOP coalition and did not have broad government experience. There was a plausible advantage in this, though, as he also did not carry much of the baggage that a party insider or crusader would.

Now we are getting disjunction on steroids with Donald Trump. He is also pitching himself as “Mr Fix-It” without any significant commitment to the traditional ideology of the party or, of course, any service in office. He is presenting this as a plus, and certain party elites are in the process of deciding that this he be better than someone closely identified with the party’s ideology–Ted Cruz. You can also contrast Trump’s success with the weakness of the obvious Establishment candidate–Jeb Bush–to see how far the traditional formula for success in the GOP primary is falling short this time.

Why does this matter? Because disjunctive candidates only do well at the end of a particular coalition, which implies that the other side represents the start of a new one. But has that already happened with Obama’s election, or will it happen after, say, President Trump has a disastrous term?

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 64, Discourse

Volume 64, Discourse

Citizens Coerced: A Legislative Fix for Workplace Political Intimidation Post-Citizens United Alexander Hertel-Fernandez & Paul Secunda 2
Lessons From Social Science for Kennedy’s Doctrinal Inquiry in Fisher v. University of Texas II Liliana M. Garces 18
Why Race Matters in Physics Class Rachel D. Godsil 40
The Indignities of Color Blindness Elise C. Boddie 64
The Misuse of Asian Americans in the Affirmative Action Debate Nancy Leong 90
How Workable Are Class-Based and Race-Neutral Alternatives at Leading American Universities? William C. Kidder 100
Mismatch and Science Desistance: Failed Arguments Against Affirmative Action Richard Lempert 136
Privileged or Mismatched: The Lose-Lose Position of African Americans in the Affirmative Action Debate Devon W. Carbado, Kate M. Turetsky, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns 174
The Right to Record Images of Police in Public Places: Should Intent, Viewpoint, or Journalistic Status Determine First Amendment Protection? Clay Calvert 230
A Worthy Object of Passion Seana Valentine Shiffrin 254
Foreword – Imagining the Legal Landscape: Technology and the Law in 2030 Jennifer L. Mnookin & Richard M. Re i
Imagining Perfect Surveillance
Richard M. Re 264
Selective Procreation in Public and Private Law Dov Fox 294
Giving Up On Cybersecurity Kristen E. Eichensehr 320
DNA in the Criminal Justice System: A Congressional Research Service Report* (*From the Future) Erin Murphy 340
Utopia?: A Technologically Determined World of Frictionless Transactions, Optimized Production, and Maximal Happiness Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger 372
The CRISPR Revolution: What Editing Human DNA Reveals About the Patent System’s DNA Robin Feldman 392
Virtual Violence Jaclyn Seelagy 412
Glass Half Empty Jane R. Bambauer 434
Social Control of Technological Risks: The Dilemma of Knowledge and Control in Practice, and Ways to Surmount It Edward A. Parson 464
Two Fables Christopher Kelty 488
Policing Police Robots Elizabeth E. Joh 516
Environmental Law, Big Data, and the Torrent of Singularities William Boyd 544

Platform Responsibility

Internet platforms are starting to recognize the moral duties they owe their users. Consider, for example, this story about Baidu, China’s leading search engine:

Wei Zexi’s parents borrowed money and sought an experimental treatment at a military hospital in Beijing they found using Baidu search. The treatment failed, and Wei died less than two months later. As the story spread, scathing attacks on the company multiplied, first across Chinese social networks and then in traditional media.

After an investigation, Chinese officials told Baidu to change the way it displays search results, saying they are not clearly labeled, lack objectivity and heavily favor advertisers. Baidu said it would implement the changes recommended by regulators, and change its algorithm to rank results based on credibility. In addition, the company has set aside 1 billion yuan ($153 million) to compensate victims of fraudulent marketing information.

I wish I could include this story in the Chinese translation of The Black Box Society. On a similar note, Google this week announced it would no longer run ads from payday lenders. Now it’s time for Facebook to step up to the plate, and institute new procedures to ensure more transparency and accountability.

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Rule of Recognition for Party Nominations

There are many scenarios that could play themselves out at the Republican National Convention this July, but here is one that I thought I’d flag.  Suppose the loser claims that he was cheated out of the nomination by a manipulation of the rules, questionable rulings on delegate credentials, etc.  A lawsuit challenging the official result would almost certainly go nowhere, but . . .

How does a state official decide who is the Republican nominee for President?  This is almost always a ministerial task, but what if the loser argues to, say, the Secretary of State of Florida that he was the real winner of the nomination and should appear on the ballot.  (Kind of like the medieval period where there were two Popes each claiming that the other was not legitimate.) Does that Secretary of State have the discretion to decide who won?  If so, how would she decide?  And if that decision were challenged by another candidate, on what basis would a state court overturn that decision?

 

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AALS, Professor Dan Markel, and the Scholarly Tradition

This week is the annual law professor conference in New York City. The AALS conference is always a wonderful ritual of learning, discussion, and friendship. Indeed, it was the one time of the year that guaranteed a lunch, dinner, or chat with brilliant criminal law theorist and incredible friend Dan Markel. When Dan was murdered in the summer of 2014, I wrote this post for Forbes about his life’s lessons. For colleagues who are going to AALS this year, CoOp will be having a Markelfest in his honor tomorrow night. I wish that I could be there to celebrate Dan and his passion for scholarship and the world of ideas. We miss you, Dan.