Category: General Law

0

Vanderbilt Law Review, Volume 70, Number 1

The Vanderbilt Law Review is pleased to announce the publication of our January 2017 issue:

ARTICLES

Nicole Stelle Garnett, Sector Agnosticism and the Coming Transformation of Education Law, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 1 (2017)

Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, Monopolies in Multidistrict Litigation, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 67 (2017)

Jason Parkin, Aging Injunctions and the Legacy of Institutional Reform Litigation, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 167 (2017)

J. Maria Glover, A Regulatory Theory of Legal Claims, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 221 (2017)

NOTES

Brian P. Baxter, The Securities Black Market: Dark Pool Trading and the Need for a More Expansive Regulation ATS-N, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 311 (2017)

Stanley Onyeador, The Chancery Bank of Delaware: Appraisal Arbitrageurs Expose Need to Further Reform Defective Appraisal Statute, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 339 (2017)

Laura C. Williams, An Ocean Between Us: The Implications of Inconsistencies Between the Navigational Laws of Coastal Arctic Council Nations and the United  Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for
Arctic Navigation
, 70 Vand. L. Rev. 379 (2017)

 

3

Interstate Representation and the Electoral College

Yesterday I posted about the advantages and drawbacks of expanding the membership of the House of Representatives. Let’s now focus on some structural aspects of this issue and think about whether partisan politics stand in the way.

One problem that others have pointed out is that the relatively small size of the House violates the spirit of the “one-person, one-vote” principle. The reason is that the average population of a House district now exceeds the population of our smallest states. Each state must get at least one member (under Article One of the Constitution) even though some of them would get less than one if you only looked at the population figures.  Take a simple example.  California has 53 House members and Wyoming 1.  But California (as of the 2010 census) has 66 times more people than Wyoming. This means that Wyoming is overrepresented or California is underrepresented. This does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation (at least not so far) but expanding the size of the House is a way of eliminating this disparity.

Another consequence of the small size of the House is that the unequal representation of the states in the Electoral College is getting worse.  Wyoming, for example, is overrepresented in the Electoral College because it gets two votes because of its two senators.  But it’s even more overrepresented (or the large states are more underrepresented) because Wyoming is, in effect, getting three electoral votes instead of something like 2.75.  Is this distortion large?  No, but it might have changed the outcome of the 2000 election. (I need to crunch numbers on that.)

If you enlarge the House and reduce the average population of each district, these problems would diminish or go away.  Would one party benefit from this disproportionately?  I don’t think so.  The state that would see the biggest increase in House members would be California.  But Texas would also benefit. Moreover, the partisan effect would depend in part on how the new districts would be drawn, which would in turn depend on who controlled each state’s government at the time.

In short, I don’t think that this sort of change would far a partisan roadblock the way, say, getting rid of the Electoral College will.

3

Should the Membership of the House of Representatives Be Enlarged?

Another question I’m looking at in my reapportionment research (along with the Section Two issue discussed in my prior posts) is whether the current size of the House of Representatives is too small.  Since the 1910s, the House has had 435 members (except for a brief time after Alaska and Hawaii became states).  Over the past century, the population of the United States has trebled.  You can do the math–each representative now represents three times as many people as was the case in 1917. It is also fair to say that a Representative represents far more people than an equivalent legislator in other major democracies, such as Canada, Britain, Germany, etc.

What would be some benefits of adding, say, 200 more members to the House?

  1. Better constituent service.  You might think that if each member (on average) represented fewer people, members would be more responsive to the needs of his or her constituency.
  2. A reduced workload.  More members would mean less committee service for each member (if you assume that the number of committees stays constant).  That would also allow more time for helping constituents or just working on other matters.
  3. More viewpoints.  More members would bring more ideas to the table. If constituencies were smaller, you might also think that certain local perspectives that are not being represented now would get represented.
  4. Reduced cost of campaigning.  If each district was smaller on average, then the cost of running for the House would be reduced without any campaign finance reform.
  5. More competition.  In the initial election or elections after an expansion, you would be creating many new seats without an incumbent.  This would allow lots of new people into politics and give us something other than the usual “reelect most members” result that we get every two years.
  6. Better oversight.  Maybe you’d think that more members of the House would lead to more eyes looking at the executive agencies to hold them accountable.

What are some downsides of this proposal? Well, it would cost money.  (New offices, more staff, etc.) The transaction costs of legislative action would also go up, in that there would more people to negotiate with to get a majority for a bill, more time required for debate on the floor, etc. These do not strike more as especially strong objections, but I want to give that more thought.

Is there a partisan valence to increasing the number of House members that dooms the idea?  (In the way that there almost always is for enlarging the membership of the Supreme Court.) I’ll take that up in a separate post.

UPDATE:  I didn’t realize until now that the New Hampshire House of Representatives has 400 members.  This is an outlier among the states, but this does suggest that 435 could be too small for the entire nation.

 

 

0

FAN 139 (First Amendment News) Gov. Cuomo turns to Floyd Abrams for First Amendment Help

Gov. Cuomo has hired prominent First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to defend him against a federal lawsuit challenging a new law that requires politically active non-profit organizations to publicly disclose their donors.N.Y. Daily News, Jan. 23, 2017

Seattle. Yes, it’s true: Floyd Abrams, the nation’s preeminent First Amendment lawyer and author of the forthcoming The Soul of the First Amendment is defending two government officials against a claim of a First Amendment violation.

Floyd Abrams

The lawsuit was brought by Citizens Union. It claims that a New York ethics law violates First Amendment protections of free speech. It names Gov. Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as defendants.

According to the New York Daily News, Mr. Abrams is representing the Governor thought it is “unclear how much Abrams and his firm are being paid since no contract has been filed yet with the state controller’s office. A Cuomo spokesman said the details with Abram’s firm are still being worked out.”

When I asked about his involvement in the case, Mr. Abrams said:  “I have long thought — and so has the Supreme Court — that more disclosure of who is spending significant sums of money to persuade the public who to vote for and how to view  public policy issues is not only not violative of the First Amendment but significantly pro-First Amendment in its impact. There are, to be sure,  exceptions to this when the identification of speakers will lead to threats, harassment or the like  (and such an exception is in the New York law) but as a general proposition more sunlight about such matters is not only good policy but consistent with well established First Amendment law.”

This from Professor Richard Hasen: “I think Floyd Abrams recognizes that campaign finance disclosure serves a valuable democratic function in helping voters make informed decisions in elections. I am pleased he has taken on this case.”  (See also Richard Hasen, Floyd Abrams, Who Argued Citizens United, Writes Letter for Gov. Cuomo Defending New NY Disclosure Requirements, Election Law Blog, Jan. 4, 2017)

The N.Y. Ethics Law

As set out in the Plaintiffs’ complaint, Section 172-e of the New York ethics law ‘mandates the public disclosure of all donors and donations to a 501(c)(3) in excess of $2,500 whenever that organization makes an ‘in-kind donation” of over $2,500 to certain 501(c)(4)s engaged in lobbying activity. N.Y. Exec. Law § 172-e[1][a], [d], [2]. An ‘in- kind donation’ is defined as ‘donations of staff, staff time, personnel, offices, office supplies, financial support of any kind or any other resources.’ N.Y. Exec. Law § 172-e[1][b].

Randy M. Mastro, lead counsel for Plaintiffs

“Section 172-e requires disclosure reports to be filed with the Department of Law within thirty days of the close of a reporting period. The disclosures must include:

(i) the name and address of the covered entity that made the in‐kind donation;
(ii) the name and address of the recipient entity that received or benefitted from the in‐kind donation;

(iii) the names of any persons who exert operational or managerial control over the covered entity. The disclosures required by this paragraph shall include the name of at least one natural person;

(iv) the date the in‐kind donation was made by the covered entity;

(v) any donation in excess of two thousand five hundred dollars to the covered entity during the relevant reporting period including the identity of the donor of any such donation; and

(vi) the date of any such donation to a covered entity.”

“Section 172-f requires 501(c)(4)s to disclose publicly donations over $1,000—including the donor’s identity and the amount of the donation—whenever the organization makes ‘expenditures for covered communications’ totaling over $10,000 in a calendar year. N.Y. Exec. Law § 172-f[1][a], [2]-[3].”

First Amendment Challenges

In Citizens Union v. Governor of New York the Plaintiffs make the following First Amendment arguments:

  • “Nonprofit Organizations Like Citizens Union And Citizens Union Foundation Depend On Donors To Function, Including Donors Who Choose To Give Anonymously To Support Speech On Matters Of Public Concern.”
  • “On Their Face, Sections 172-e And 172-f Substantially Burden The Rights Of Organizations Like Plaintiffs And Of Their Donors.”

“In order to avoid harsh penalties, including fines and revocation of its registration, under Section 172-e, Citizens Union Foundation and similarly situated 501(c)(3)s must disclose publicly all donations over $2,500 whenever they make an in-kind donation of more than $2,500 to certain 501(c)(4)s engaged in lobbying activity. Not only does this requirement directly chill speech by 501(c)(3)s, but it imposes significant compliance costs on covered organizations. . . . Section 172-e simply has nothing to do with protecting against quid pro quo corruption or promoting transparency in campaign finance. These disclosure requirements thus reach much farther than the disclosure requirements upheld in Citizens United, which were targeted at “electioneering communications” that were related to electoral politics.”

“Requiring these disclosures does not meaningfully advance the government’s interest in preventing quid pro quo arrangements with public officials, promoting transparency in campaign finance, or rooting out corruption. Unlike those upheld in Citizens United, the disclosures here are not linked with an informational interest in ‘election-related’ financing that may justify disclosures pertaining to electioneering communications.”

 “The law seems to be a solution in search of a problem and mainly serves to curtail the work of organizations like ours which seek to promote the public good,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director. 

Plaintiffs’ Counsel 

Three Gibson Dunn & Crutcher lawyers from its New York offices are representing the Plaintiffs. They are:

Related: FAN 121: New York law to combat Citizens United is “constitutionally unsound” says NYCLU, Aug. 31, 2016

Commentaries on the “Slants” Case

  1. Ronald Abrams, A Review of The Supreme Court’s Questions And Comments In ‘Slants, Forbes, Jan. 20, 2017
  2. Ken Jost, Justices Set to OK Offensive Trademarks?, Jost on Justice, Jan. 23, 2017
  3. Amy Howe, Argument analysis: Justices skeptical of federal bar on disparaging trademarks, SCOTUSblog, Jan. 19, 2017
  4. Steven Mazie, Free expression vs offensive speech at the Supreme Court, The Economist, Jan. 19, 2017
  5. Cristian Farias, Who’s To Say The Word ‘Slants’ Offends Asians? The Supreme Court, That’s Who, Huffington Post, Jan. 19, 2017
  6. Adam Liptak, Justices Appear Willing to Protect Offensive Trademarks, New York Times, Jan. 18, 2017
  7. Tony Mauro, In ‘Slants’ Case, Justices Skeptical of Ban on Disparaging Trademarks, National Law Journal, Jan. 18, 2017
  8. Robert Barnes, Can disparaging trademarks be denied? The Supreme Court is skeptical, Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2017
  9. Ruthann Robson, Court Hears Oral Arguments in Lee v. Tam, First Amendment Challenge to disparaging trademark ban, Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Jan. 18, 2017

 John Shu, Lee v. Tam: “Disparaging” Trademarks & the First Amendment, The Federalist Society, Jan. 17, 2017 (YouTube)

FIRE Celebrates 50th Anniversary of ‘Keyishian’ Decision Read More

0

The Duty Imposed by Section Two on the Commerce Department

In two posts, I observed that the current statutes regulating the reapportionment of the House of Representatives say nothing about how Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment–which is still in force–should be taken into account when representatives are allotted to the states after each census. These statutes cannot lawfully prohibit Section Two from being taken into account, but they need not be read as doing so. They can instead be read as delegating authority to the Commerce Department to exercise that constitutional duty. Was that duty fulfilled following the last census?  No, because the Commerce Department ignored Section Two entirely.  Is there any remedy for that now? No. But there should be after the next census if the same thing happens.

A fine Note by Michael Hurta that appeared in the Texas Law Review about two years ago made a similar argument about the Commerce Department’s authority and duty to conduct Section Two review. What do I mean by review?  I mean that the Commerce Department must collect data on people who are eligible to vote under the Constitution but are not permitted to vote by a state. If they decide that no adjustment to representation is warranted by that data, then that conclusion should be reviewed deferentially under ordinary administrative law principles.  But such a review must, in my view, be done.  If not, I would think that almost every state would have standing to say that its allotment of representatives after the next census is invalid (maybe they are entitled to one more, for instance, if somebody else should be getting one fewer).

Here’s one problem though: The Commerce Department is not the right agency to conduct this analysis.  Suppose questions are included on the census about past voting history and someone claims that they were turned away at the polling place.  How could this be verified?  Census data is confidential, in large part to encourage people (even those here illegally) to respond. Moreover, the DOJ is the place where you find experts on voting rights–not the Commerce Department.  Thus, I think all Commerce could do is say “X number of people in a state told us that they were denied the right to vote for what appears to be an invalid reason.”  Now maybe that number would be so small as to be irrelevant, but suppose it were large and Section Two was invoked.  Congress would be free to reject the Department’s conclusion that a state’s representatives should be reduced based on a disputed question of fact, but partisan deadlock might prevent Congress from acting at all.

Consequently, I’m wondering if the reapportionment statute should be amended to require the DOJ to conduct a Section Two review following the census. Section Two does not require an enumeration of the disenfranchised in the way that the Census requirement in the Constitution does.  But I want to think about that some more.

0

Unintended Consequences and the Bill of Rights

As you know, I’m working on a book about the Bill of Rights.  The book is currently in publisher’s limbo, by which I mean that I’ve turned in the first draft and am waiting for the manuscript to be returned to me for the next round of changes.  Until then, what will I be mulling over?

First, I want to see what (if anything) President Trump has to say about the Bill of Rights.  My book ends with Bush 41’s speech in 1991 marking the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights.  (I’ve posted about that speech before.)  Since then, there really haven’t been any significant presidential statements on the Bill of Rights, and no real celebration was held to mark the 225th anniversary of ratification this past December. But maybe the new President will say something that I will need to include.

Second, I’m wondering about a question posed by one reader of the draft.  To what extent was the expansion of civil liberties in the 1940s an unintended consequence of the way in which FDR talked about the Bill of Rights?  One argument in the book is that Roosevelt often used and emphasize the Bill of Rights to justify the New Deal and the growth of federal power to fight World War II.  If that’s true, then couldn’t you say that the wider embrace of the term and of the first set of amendments for a different purpose was in part an accident. I think my answer is “kind of,” but I need to give that more thought.

3

The Validity of Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment

The other day I posted a hypothesis that the current apportionment of the House of Representatives does not comply with Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment. Before explaining that further, I must address the threshold question of whether Section 2 is still part of the Constitution. This is a live issue partly because Professor Gabriel Chin (now at Davis) wrote an excellent article in 2004 arguing that the Fifteenth Amendment implicitly repealed Section Two of the Fourteenth. I do not find this claim persuasive though.

Here is why you might think that the Fifteenth Amendment repealed Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment. Section Two allows states to deny African-American men the right to vote–the result is just that the state loses representatives.  But The Fifteenth Amendment says that the states may not discriminate on the basis of race for voting. Since these are inconsistent ideas, perhaps the best reading is that the Fifteenth Amendment superseded Section Two. Professor Chin’s article explains that some people also made this argument shortly after the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified.

Nevertheless, there are significant problems with this interpretation. One is that the Fifteenth Amendment talks only about race whereas Section Two is not so limited. Granted, the object of Section Two was primarily to encourage voting access by African-American men, but the omission of the word race makes the two texts somewhat different. A second, and more powerful objection to my mind, is that one year after the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified Congress and the Census Bureau spent a considerable amount of time thinking about whether and how Section Two should be applied. Not a word was uttered then that the Fifteenth Amendment had repealed Section Two (nor was anything said about that when the Fifteenth Amendment was debated).  This seems like pretty strong evidence that no repeal occurred.

This is not a complete response to Professor Chin’s arguments, which I guess I would have to save for an article, but the upshot is that I think Section Two is still the law. But what does this mean for how we conduct the census and apportionment?  That’s my next post.

0

FAN 138 (First Amendment News) Forthcoming book: “Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus”

A call to arms for studnets and academics who want to turn the tide on campus censorshipNadine Strossen 

Tom Slater

Seattle. He is the  deputy editor at Spiked, a British Internet magazine focusing on politics, culture and society from a libertarian viewpoint. His name is Tom Slater and he is the editor of a forthcoming book entitled Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus (Palgrave Macmillan, May 25, 2016). Here you can see young Slater speaking with calculated fervor on British TV while attacking those who would censor campus speech.

Here is the publisher’s summary of the book consisting of ten essays:

The academy is in crisis. Students call for speakers to be banned, books to be slapped with trigger warnings and university to be a Safe Space, free of offensive words or upsetting ideas. But as tempting as it is to write off intolerant students as a generational blip, or a science experiment gone wrong, they’ve been getting their ideas from somewhere. Bringing together leading journalists, academics and agitators from the US and UK, Unsafe Space is a wake-up call. From the war on lad culture to the clampdown on climate sceptics, we need to resist all attempts to curtail free speech on campus. But society also needs to take a long, hard look at itself. Our inability to stick up for our founding, liberal values, to insist that the free exchange of ideas should always be a risky business, has eroded free speech from within.

To give the book added spark, in his introduction Slater (a Brit) draws his inspiration from the Berkley free-speech movement of 1964 when students rebelled against the “university bureaucrats who severely limited students’ ability to speak freely and organize politically on campus.”

↓ Below is the list of contributors (many from Spiked): ↓

Introduction, Tom Slater, Reinvigorating the Spirit of ’64

Chapter 1: Brendan O’Neill, From No Platform to Safe Space: A Crisis of Enlightenment

Chapter 2: Nancy McDermott, The ‘New’ Feminism and the Fear of Free Speech

Chapter 3: Tom Slater, Re-Educating Men: The War on Lads and Frats

Chapter 4: Joanna Williams, Teaching Students to Censor: How Academics Betrayed Free Speech

Chapter 5: Greg Lukianoff, Trigger Warnings: A Gun to the Head of Academia

Chapter 6: Sean Collins, BDS: Demonising Israel, Destroying Free Speech

Chapter 7: Jon O’Brien, Debating Abortion on Campus: Let Both the Pro and Anti Sides Speak

Chapter 8: Peter Wood, A Climate of Censorship: Eco-Orthodoxy on Campus

Chapter 9: Tom Slater, Terrorism and Free Speech: An Unholy Alliance of State and Students

Chapter 10: Frank Furedi, Academic Freedom: The Threat from Within

Conclusion: Tom Slater, How to Make Your University an Unsafe Space

If you’re really serious about challenging prejudice, censorsing bigots is the worst thing you can possibly do. . . . It effectively buries our heads in the sand. It stops us from locating those views, arguing against them, and then discrediting them in the public forum. Censorship makes these problems worse, not better. — Tom Slater

→ Lee v. Tam (the “Slants” case) to be argued today (see here re Washington Post interview with the bands’ members)

From SCOTUSblog: “Argument analysis: Merchants seem to fall short in challenge to New York statute banning credit-card ‘surcharges'”

Professor Ronald Mann

This from Professor Ronald Mann writing in SCOTUSblog: “The oral argument . . . in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman brought the justices face to face with the battle between merchants and credit-card networks over the “interchange” fees that merchants pay when they accept cards in retail transactions. The dispute that got the fees before the justices involves a New York statute that says that ‘[n]o seller in any sales transaction may impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check, or similar means.’ The petitioner, Expressions Hair Design (leader of the group of merchants challenging the provision), argues that the statute violates the First Amendment because it limits a merchant’s right to describe the extra costs imposed on purchasers using credit cards as ‘surcharges.'”

“For a case into which so many groups poured so much effort (23 amicus briefs), the argument must have been deeply frustrating, because the most prominent thing not on display was any strong inclination to address the case head-on. Three themes dominated the argument. The first was a considered refusal of the parties to join issue about what the statute actually means. Representing the merchants, Deepak Gupta insisted that the statute prevents merchants from posting separate cash and credit prices and that the state of New York has no justifiable reason to do so. Representing the state, Steven Wu insisted that the statute is aimed only at “bait-and-switch” pricing – when a retailer posts a single price but then asks for a higher price at the register for customers who pay with cards. . . .”

David Cole: “Donald Trump vs the First Amendment”

The ACLU’s David Cole

That is the title of a new piece just published in The Nation.  David Cole, the ACLU’s new National Legal Director, took First Amendment aim at President-elect Donald Trump. Here are a few excerpts:

“Donald Trump has no particular reverence for the First Amendment. He may not even understand it very well. During the campaign, Trump said he would “open up” libel law so that newspapers could more easily be sued. As president-elect, he tweeted that those who burn the American flag should be stripped of their citizenship and jailed. These threats are constitutional nonstarters. There is no federal libel law to “open up”: Libel is a matter of state law, and to the extent it is governed by federal law, it’s the First Amendment that governs. Similarly, the Supreme Court held in 1989 (in a case I litigated) that the First Amendment protects flag-burning and ruled in 1967 that citizenship is a constitutional right that cannot be taken away as punishment under any circumstances—not for murder, not for treason, and certainly not for flag-burning.”

“. . . The First Amendment itself serves a critical checking function, by safeguarding the rights of citizens to criticize government officials, to associate with like-minded citizens in collective action, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is this First Amendment tradition that protects the institutions we will rely on to push back against Trump’s abuses.”

“The press has its own express protection in the First Amendment, and it will play a critical role in bringing abuses to light and arming citizens with information and arguments. Think Watergate. The academy, protected by the doctrine of academic freedom, will also be essential—questioning Trump’s policies, providing empirical evidence to refute his assertions, and educating citizens about the value of our civil liberties and civil rights. And the nonprofit sector, including organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, 350.org, and the groups that comprise the Movement for Black Lives, will be a focal point for organizing, educating, litigating, and inspiring resistance. If we are saved, it will be thanks to actions by citizens exercising their First Amendment rights against Trump. . .”

Massaro, Norton & Kaminski on Artifical Intelligence and the First Amendment 

Professor Toni Massaro

The article is entitled Siri-ously 2.0: What Artificial Intelligence Reveals about the First Amendment. It is scheduled to be published in the Minnesota Law Review. The authors (three tech-savvy and free-speech- informed scholars) are Toni Massaro, Helen Norton, and Margot Kaminski. Here is the abstract from this cutting-edge article:

The First Amendment may protect speech by strong Artificial Intelligence (AI). In this Article, we support this provocative claim by expanding on earlier work, addressing significant concerns and challenges, and suggesting potential paths forward.

This is not a claim about the state of technology. Whether strong AI — as-yet-hypothetical machines that can actually think — will ever come to exist remains far from clear. It is instead a claim that discussing AI speech sheds light on key features of prevailing First Amendment doctrine and theory, including the surprising lack of humanness at its core.

Professor Margot Kaminski

Courts and commentators wrestling with free speech problems increasingly focus not on protecting speakers as speakers but instead on providing value to listeners and constraining the government’s power. These approaches to free speech law support the extension of First Amendment coverage to expression regardless of its nontraditional source or form. First Amendment thinking and practice thus have developed in a manner that permits extensions of coverage in ways that may seem exceedingly odd, counterintuitive, and perhaps even dangerous. This is not a feature of the new technologies, but of free speech law.

Professor Helen Norton

The possibility that the First Amendment covers speech by strong AI need not, however, rob the First Amendment of a human focus. Instead, it might encourage greater clarification of and emphasis on expression’s value to human listeners — and its potential harms — in First Amendment theory and doctrine. To contemplate — Siri-ously — the relationship between the First Amendment and AI speech invites critical analysis of the contours of current free speech law, as well as sharp thinking about free speech problems posed by the rise of AI.

 Related & Forthcoming: Collins & Skover, Robotica: The Discourse of Data (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Forthcoming Books Read More

0

The Clay Feet of Qualified Immunity Doctrine

I want to draw your attention to an important new paper by Will Baude on the flawed legal  foundations of qualified immunity doctrine. The paper lucidly explains that the Supreme Court’s explanations for why 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 should be interpreted to include a qualified immunity exception are unconvincing, and thus at a minimum the Court should stop enforcing the doctrine vigorously through summary reversals and compounding its error.

As a law clerk and then as a scholar teaching Torts and Constitutional Law, I have always found qualified immunity law puzzling. Why? Because Section 1983 says nothing about immunity and there is no compelling reason for thinking that Congress intended to create anything like qualified immunity following the Civil War.  (I looked into this when I was writing the Bingham biography, but I did not find anything revealing). The only way that I can make sense of the Court’s cases in this area is that Section 1983 is being treated as a common-law statute much like the Sherman Antitrust Act or the Lanham Act. By that I mean that the Justices believe Congress intended to give the courts broad latitude to develop the law of the statute. Professor Baude observes, though, that the Court has never given this justification for its qualified immunity rulings, perhaps because there is also no reason to think that Congress thought Section 1983 was that kind of statute.

The law in this area is so thick that it is hard to imagine the Court abolishing qualified immunity (though, of course, Congress can). Indeed, it is telling that none of the Justices dissent from the basic features of current doctrine. Professor Baude’s paper, though, might change that.

0

A Scholar is a Bus

This is a phrase attributed to Alexander Bickel, the noted constitutional scholar.  What he meant was that scholars should do their research without concern about its partisan implications. The bus goes on its route no matter who might be riding, where they get on, where they get off. The same is true for researchers and those who use their research.

Years ago I posted here about the fact that I believed the federal anti-nepotism statute may well be unconstitutional as applied to at least some presidential appointments. This reading now helps the President-elect, as he wants to name his son-in-law to the White House staff. Now I can’t stand the President-elect–he’s like Yosemite Sam come to life.  But is my view of the anti-nepotism law any different because of that?  No, as I’ve been telling journalists who call me.

To be fair, it’s easier to follow (or stick to) the logical consequences of previously published work. Remaining detached when engaging with a new issue where you know what the immediate political impact will be is much harder. But we try.