Category: General Law

15

New Study Shows No Marijuana-Lung Cancer Link

According to a story in today’s Washington Post, a new NIH-funded study has shown that smoking marijuana does not increase the risk of lung cancer – and may actually reduce it. Since this conflicts with the administration’s party line, I wonder whether we’ll see various divisions of the government working to supress or otherwise undermine these results. I’ve previously blogged about the way the FDA has deceptively reported marijuana research.

There is little question that using marijuana, or other recreational drugs, is rarely a healthy life choice. This new research would not change my own view that smoking anything is dangerous. But since the administration has repeatedly worked to suppress or undermine data that it dislikes, I feel a sense of dread about how it will handle this surprising outcome. Will the researchers lose their grants or get blacklisted? Will the DOJ seek to fund a study specifically designed to undermine this data (incorporating any necessary methodological flaws)? Will the FDA follow its prior form, and issue a press release denying the study ever happened? Or will this information simply be deleted from every federal publication that otherwise documents new health research?

And was I always this cynical?

0

Milberg Weiss Firm Indicted

At this point, given the amount of press that the investigation received, it does not come as a surprise that plaintiffs’ firm Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman has been indicted for providing “kickback” payments plaintiffs in securities class action cases. The firm has launched this new website to deny the charges (and presumably do some damage control).

Having previously worked for a plaintiff’s securities law firm, and knowing how passionately the partners there cared about cleaning up some of the worst abuses in the corporate world, I’m saddened by this. Over many years, Milberg Weiss has taken on many big, high-dollar, controversial cases that have shaken things up. On the other hand, will it really have that big an impact on class actions? If Milberg’s reputation and market share decreases, that leaves a power vacuum for its other competitors to fill. More details here from the government’s press release, all over the WSJ blog, and commentary from Conglomerate here.

5

Bringing the Dog to the Office

Okay, since I’m on a roll, one last dog blog. Back at Cumberland, I used to bring my havanese, Winnie, to work with me from time to time. Mostly, I brought her when I held student conferences about exams. The students liked her, she licked them, and, perhaps because of her overall calming influence, these conferences (which tend to be somewhat tense, since students inevitably think their grades should be higher) went much more smoothly. Would bringing your pet to the office earn you praise from your colleagues or send you to the doghouse?

Other Pooch-related posts:

Doctor of Canine Jurisprudence

Who Gets to Keep Trover?

Discrimination Law Going to the Dogs?

6

Law’s Purple Majesty

doctor_of_law_gown.jpgAlong with colleagues and students at Temple’s Beasley School of Law, I’ll be marching in tomorrow’s graduation ceremony. As a lawyer, I’ll be trimmed in purple, which otherwise symbolizes: royalty, over-writing, wisdom, indecision, insanity, equality and the Minnesota Vikings. Sounds about right. But what was the genesis of associating purple with law?

Interestingly, the dominant theory seems to be that academic dress recalls an era where laws flowed from the King: purple symbolizes lawyer’s roots as agents of the sovereign. And it is true that of the professions, the one with the closest tie with the institutions of state sanctioned force remains law. But you’ve got to wonder why the folks who codified academic dress in the U.S. decided to tie themselves to an idea of legal rules that evoked royalty, instead of, say, the brittle yellow of the constitution. Perhaps it is just a case of American professors admiring the pretty dresses worn in the old world?

7

Volokh’s Law Review Experiment

Eugene Volokh reports that, this spring, he participated as a faux-student in the UCLA Law Review writing competition. Happily, he succeeded in writing on (though he assures us that no deserving student was denied a slot as a result.) But when he tells us that he learned a lot that he’ll use in the third edition of his book, and in his blog, I immediately wondered whether a) he needed and b) he obtained approval for this “research” from UCLA’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) for human research. The much debated IRB rules typically demand IRB approval before you do systematic investigations designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge, using human subjects. Under this gaping definition, a massive portion of social science work is subject to IRB review – and it looks to me like Volokh’s project is as well. I imagine that UCLA’s IRB would have exempted it from review, or given an expedited OK, if he had submitted the proposal. But a researcher is usually required to submit a proposal to the IRB so they can make that call.

I doubt that IRB’s were created to manage this sort of low risk research, but I know that administrators of big universities – like Alabama – hope that we law profs don’t personally exempt ourselves from these provisions. Agree with their existence or not, but universities can lose a lot of federal money when they get caught cheating on IRB’s. And I suspect it won’t be the law schools that feel that particular pain.

2

Worst Guest Blogger Ever & Reflections on Zuma

I must be the worst “guest blogger” ever here at Concurring Opinions. I planned to be a robust commentator, but a little thing called a deanship happened (CUNY Law) and, pow, my life changed. My duties online assumed a much lower priority as my work life got way, way, in the way. The only good news is that Miriam Cherry and Melissa Waters took up the slack. (What’s up with M-named female guest bloggers?)

Anyway, I must quit while I’m behind. But I’ll leave you with a couple reflections on the Zuma rape case, however. For those of you who haven’t been following the trial, Jacob Zuma, 64, former deputy president to Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, and former front runner to succeed him, was charged with rape by a 31-year-old HIV-positive AIDS activist.

Once his government’s leading official on HIV issues, Zuma said that he believed his risk of contracting HIV was small because he took a shower after having sex with her. More than one in eight adults is HIV positive in South Africa.

Zuma’s defense at trial focused on the sexual and mental history of the accuser. Zuma himself took the stand and testified that the woman signaled to him her desire to have sex by wearing a skirt and crossing her legs in front of him. According to the N. Y. Times on Apr. 10, 2006:

Indeed, he said, he was actually obligated to have sex. His accuser was aroused, he said, and ‘in the Zulu culture, you cannot just leave a woman if she is ready.’ To deny her sex, he said, would be tantamount to rape.

On Monday, Zuma was acquitted. The destructive messages that Zuma himself has sent about women, HIV, Zulu culture, and sexuality are so wrong, particularly for South Africa, a country with nearly four times the reported rape rate of the United States. Zuma, a widely revered hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, is now a champion of sexism under the banner of culture.

7

“America, You Lost!”

A Federal jury recommended a life sentence for Zacarias Moussaoui today. On the way out of the courtroom – as the spotlight began to move off of him – Moussaoui is reported to have said “America, You Lost!” Which immediately made me think of him as a combination of Nelson Muntz and Dr. Evil. Zacarias can learn about these wonderful products of our culture over the remaining span of his natural life, which he will no doubt spend pretty much alone in a supermax prison.

Commentators at National Review’s the Corner, on the other hand, apparently don’t see things the same way. John Podhoretz contributed the following gem:

“There is only one justifiable reason for a juror to make this choice. That juror has to believe the death penalty is wrong under any and all circumstances. To imagine that there can be any mitigating circumstance regarding Moussaoui’s actual guilt is moral idiocy of the highest order.

Alas, that moral idiocy was clearly at work in the jury deliberations.”

I’ve got to wonder why Podhoretz thinks we should bother going through the motions of a penalty trial at all?

3

Farewell and Thanks

Many thanks to Dan Solove and the Co-Op gang for graciously allowing me to dip my toe into the blogging waters (an unlovely word, “blog,” I think, but never mind). I’ve enjoyed my stay and have appreciated the thoughtful comments.

As an avid blog reader, I’ve been fascinated by the many forms blogs can take: personal diaries, op-ed pages, clipping services, breaking news alerts, scholarly journals, news magazines, debate clubs, literary salons, and on and on. It’s this fascination that draws me in, resulting in a seemingly never-ending accumulation of browser bookmarks and a daily round-robin of reading in an effort to keep up with the many voices speaking, often simultaneously.

So when history considers what blogging hath wrought, I think the new pace of discourse will be high on the list. It’s thrilling to see debate about a new Supreme Court opinion take place hours after it’s handed down, rather than months later in the law reviews. But I wonder if the expectation of instacommentary doesn’t impose at least a small burden both on writers and on readers. The form risks our feeling as if we must be engaged in a constant discussion with one another, writing blogs, linking to other blogs, reading blogs, commenting on blogs ad infinitum. I am quite sure that I am revealing my own tendencies toward introversion when I say that this proliferation of speech is at times as exhausting as it is exhilarating.

I’m not proposing any changes here or solutions — to each his own panacea (if indeed a remedy is needed). Rely on intermediaries (such as Larry Solum’s excellent blog and Michael Froomkin’s new venture); read more selectively and resign oneself to the fact that conversations don’t stop simply because one leaves the room; or simply enjoy the fact that the marketplace of ideas is sometimes a Turkish bazaar: full of life, color, and a good deal of noise, but offering great treasures if you know where to look.

9

Quantifying the Effect of Good Teaching

law1950.jpgWhy should law professors invest in being better teachers? Different professors would give you (no doubt) different answers. Similarly, the question of why we write has been asked, and answered, in a variety of ways.

I bet that for some law professors, the answer to the write/teach question is the same: they want to sell ideas to an audience and thereby change the world in some way. The transmission of law memes has historically been seen differently in scholarship and in teaching, however. Teaching is said to impart doctrine (the black letter law), and (to a greater extent) the method of legal practice. That is, law teachers help students to “think like a lawyer.” By contrast, scholarship is said to influence the world by changing theoretical perspectives. (Check out lists and criteria of “important” law review articles here and here.) A basic conclusion: important scholarship moves doctrine (i.e., judge’s minds). Important teaching moves hearts.

Since most scholarship isn’t read, and since most read scholarship isn’t read by judges, this view of the relative unimportance of teaching to doctrinal development feels off. But I wonder: has anyone tested the hypothesis empirically? A quick look on WL found no studies – but it might be there. Basically, the idea would be to look to the natural experiment of multiple scholars with different views teaching thousands of law students over the last century. Some of those thousands of students became judges. Some of those judges wrote opinions about topics discussed in the law school classroom. It would be interesting to know if there is any statistically significant relationship between being taught the law is X (or the way to approach the problem is Y) and writing an opinion holding X, or using method Y. To give a concrete example, do judges who were once students in Larry Tribe’s con law class produce similar opinions about the commerce clause as those who were once students of Charles Fried?

Obviously, coding and controlling the data would be tricky. You’d ideally want to look at the first-year subjects only, to avoid the selection biases that the Fried/Tribe example raises. You’d also want to find scholars who taught together at an institution, but who differed sharply on a easily codable area of law. Ideas include: the scope of the parol evidence rule; the enforceability of adhesion contracts; the usefulness of enterprise liability; the proper test for insanity in the criminal law; or even an Erie controversy. Finally, you’d want folks who entered teaching some time before, say, 15 years ago, so that you could have a significant enough crop of resulting judges.

Let’s pretend this project is possible and non-preempted. Do folks have ideas for professor pairs?