Constitutional tort remedies, like their common law counterparts, are presumed to deter future violations. But the inference of deterrence depends, of course, on a number of sub-inferences that may not hold. For example, deterrence may not obtain if the officer is indemnified and therefore does not feel the personal sting of a money judgment. In a recent article, Professor Joanna Schwartz showed that officer indemnity is, in fact, nearly universal. But maybe deterrence might still obtain because the police department, which has to foot the bill of the indemnification agreement, will push its officers to obey the law. In another article, however, Professor Schwartz showed that this might not happen because most departments carry liability insurance and the cost of indemnification will often simply disappear into a budget line item for insurance. If officers are indemnified, and departments are insured against any loss, how will constitutional tort actions have any deterrent force? Schwartz suggested at the end of her article that one avenue for deterrence might be found within the operation of the insurance agreements themselves and that further study was needed.
Professor John Rappaport’s fantastic new article, How Private Insurers Regulate Public Police, fills that need, and does so splendidly. To study an issue like this, one must dive deep into the insurance industry itself, and that is exactly what Rappaport did. His article is based on “interviews with over thirty insurance industry representatives, civil rights litigators, municipal attorneys, police chiefs, consultants and more.” There is so much to the article that any summary will fail to do it justice, but briefly, Rappaport charts a chain of incentives that works as follows: police departments have an incentive to obtain liability insurance because it reduces risk. Insurance companies, in turn, have an incentive to reduce claims, thus increasing their profits. To reduce claims, insurance companies often encourage (or even require) education, training, accreditation, and other conditions that tend to improve officer compliance with the law, thus reducing claims. Departments have an incentive to follow insurance companies’ guidance on these matters not just because they need and want liability insurance, but also because doing so may reduce the cost of premiums and deductibles.
Rappaport is careful not to claim that insurance certainly reduces police misconduct, for that claim would require much more than the qualitative research he presents. Moreover, Charles Epp has collected data that casts some doubt on the role of insurance in pushing police reform (though, as Rappaport notes, Epp’s data is now nearly two decades old and did not focus on misconduct itself, but rather best practices). Nonetheless, Rappaport’s study leaves little doubt that insurance plays a significant role in how departments handle officer training and personnel decisions. The inference of deterrence—to one degree or another—is thus reasonable in most cases.
What is especially attractive about deterrence-via-insurance is that, according to Rappaport’s research, insurance companies may actually be better situated than police departments at avoiding future violations. This is because insurance companies are able to aggregate data from across jurisdictions and are able to better balance the cost of a specific violation against the cost of preventive measures. Insurance companies’ capacities in this regard start to make them look like a government agency, which naturally brings up the question of why an insurance company, rather than the government itself, is regulating the police.
Government has its own problems, however. Agencies, Rappaport notes, are often led by political appointees (or at least the politically minded) and thus must contend with complicated political concerns, such as the interests of police unions, periodic elections, and legislators who control the agency’s funding. This is not to say, of course, that private insurance is always superior. Insurers are necessarily driven by a profit motive and will be far less concerned with constitutional violations that do not lead to high-dollar judgments. Racial bias, for example, is an enormous problem in policing (much as in life generally) but rarely plays a role in high value cases.
In sum, Rappaport’s article brings the potential deterrent force of constitutional tort actions into clearer focus: The availability of a civil rights action gives rise to a demand for liability insurance. Firms in the resulting insurance market naturally seek ways to increase profits, one of which is to lower claims. And one way to lower claims is to demand better education, training, and other reforms by the insured. The article does not prove that the deterrent force always applies, and Rappaport does not claim otherwise. But for those who might contend that civil rights actions do not deter misconduct, the article offers an insightful and eminently reasonable account how they might (and in many instances, likely do) deter misconduct.
Ming H. Chen, Leveraging Social Science Expertise in Immigration Policymaking
, 112 Northwestern L. Rev. Online
(forthcoming 2018), available at SSRN
In President Donald J. Trump’s first State of the Union address he framed immigrants as dangerous criminals—gang members and murderers. To address this public safety threat President Trump proposed building a wall along the Southern border, ending the visa lottery, and eliminating the majority of family-based green cards. Yet social science research dating back to the early 1900s has found that immigrant criminal activity is significantly lower than United States citizen criminal activity. Despite these robust social science findings, immigration policy makers continue to promote and adopt policies based on the idea that immigrants present a significant public safety risk to the American public.
Ming H. Chen’s forthcoming essay, Leveraging Social Science Expertise in Immigration Policymaking, offers a critical intervention at this time in immigration policymaking. Chen’s essay presents concrete strategies that immigration policymakers can utilize to ground immigration policymaking in facts and social science insights. Chen’s recommendations focus on the process by which immigration decisions are made and seek to bring traditional administrative and constitutional principles into the process. First, bring presidential policymaking into the administrative state. Second, use political mechanisms to improve the quality of evidence used in the immigration policymaking process. Finally, strengthen judicial review of immigration policy.
These proposals are based on the traditional role that expertise has played in administrative decision-making. Experts and administrative procedure are two ways that administrative law has safeguarded against arbitrary decision-making. Administrative agencies traditionally embraced social science evidence to improve the quality of the agency decision-making. These agencies have relied on experts within the government and externally. Civil servants are the internal experts, and they offer learned expertise as a result of accumulating experience in the complex policy matters that they work on. External experts are used on advisory councils and confer with agency experts while maintaining their university or nonprofit positions. Advisory councils offer a forum in which social scientists are able to offer their professional norms regarding information-gathering and research methods. Incorporating external experts into the policymaking process provides a basis for decision-making based on professional norms rather than politics.
Administrative procedure is the other means by which agencies have limited arbitrary decision-making. Courts have increasingly required agencies to “identify their assumptions, methods, and evidence, as well as explain their reasoning.” (P. 4.) Today administrative decision-making is highly proceduralized, as evidenced by the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and other trans-substantive legislation. Additionally, many organic statutes dictate what can and cannot be considered during decision-making.
Part II of Chen’s essay illustrates how immigration policymakers reject expertise. This section analyzes border control policies, federal responses to sanctuary cities, and the exclusion of refugees to demonstrate the institutional failures that allow immigration policymakers to ignore facts and social science insights. Chen contends that incorrect assumptions about the drivers of unauthorized migration by Republicans and Democrats has led to border control policies that are ineffective at best and at worst counterproductive. For example, sociological research regarding the factors driving migration suggests that a border wall is likely to exacerbate unauthorized migration rather than halt it. Sociologist Douglas Massey’s research indicates that heightened border control prevents circular migration such that individuals remain in the United States and establish roots rather than traveling to the United States for seasonal work opportunities and returning to their country of origin.
Federal responses to sanctuary cities are based on a “strong belief in immigrant criminality.” (P. 10.) This belief leads the federal government to adopt policies to punish sanctuary cities. Yet the idea that immigrants commit more crimes than citizens is false. Chen cites numerous reports and social science research findings showing that immigrants do not commit more crimes than citizens. Despite these facts the perception of immigrants is shaping immigration policy.
Finally, President Trump’s decision in January of 2017 to prohibit refugee admissions and his decision to reduce the refugee cap by more than half are based on the idea that refugees present a heightened terrorist threat. These presumptions ignore evidence regarding the rigorous vetting process that refugees undergo and “conflate terrorists and their victims.” (P. 14.)
Chen argues that importing traditional administrative and constitutional principles can bring more social science expertise into the immigration decision-making process. First, presidential policymaking should be brought into the administrative state by involving civil servants when undertaking executive action. Consulting with the affected agencies and encouraging those agencies to promulgate further regulations to carry out the executive orders would facilitate this goal. Second, use political mechanisms to improve the quality of evidence used in the immigration policymaking process. For example, amend the APA or the Immigration and Nationality Act to require that policies be based on a factual record that is subject to review and that information regarding methods and data sources for any studies relied upon be disclosed. Finally, strengthen judicial review of immigration policy. Chen suggests that normal standards of constitutional and statutory review should apply to immigration decisions. Such an approach “would require courts to take a ‘hard look’ at the rationality of agency decision-making, or at least be sure that the agency has taken a hard look and provide some kind of rational explanation for the policy changes.” (P. 19.)
Immigration policy is a key part of the President’s legislative agenda. As an increasing number of policy decisions are made in the area of immigration it is critically important that these decisions are based on accurate and reliable information. Chen’s essay makes two important contributions. First, it outlines the various ways in which current immigration policy is not based on accurate and reliable information, which causes the policies to be ineffective and at times counterproductive. Second, it provides an important roadmap for operationalizing administrative and constitutional principles to provide for more evidence-based immigration policy.
Andrew F. Hessick, Remedial Chevron
, 96 N.C. L. Rev
__ (forthcoming 2018), available at SSRN
What’s not to love about a remedies approach to solving an Administrative Law problem? Professor Andrew Hessick’s forthcoming article, Remedial Chevron, aims to do just that. Critics of Chevron deference assert its foundation is shaky. Still, Chevron deference underlies countless judicial decisions. Originalists and textualists challenge Chevron’s legality under the Constitution, the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), and nondelegation doctrine. Two sitting Supreme Court justices call for its demise. Professor Hessick views these threats as dangerous and seeks to save Chevron through reinterpretation. He pragmatically alters tack to overcome formalist objections by reformulating our existing conception of Chevron to a “Remedial Chevron”—a constraint on the court’s remedial authority. The article’s goal is to save Chevron from peril and retain useful purposes. Courts would not be bound to agency interpretation but instead conduct de novo review of the law. This de novo power would be limited to the authority to vacate an agency determination only if it were unreasonable.
The reason the challenges pose threats to the continued vitality of Chevron, according to Professor Hessick, is that the logical conclusion to the legal challenges is that Chevron cannot stand. Professor Hessick seeks to avoid this conclusion and proposes a reconceptualization in order to save Chevron. Underlying his argument is a commitment to retaining the functional advantages of Chevron within the administrative system and to maintaining certainty and stability of agency regulation and adjudications.
According to Professor Hessick, the three primary legal obstacles to Chevron’s legality are: (i) judicial power under Article III of the Constitution, (ii) delegation of interpretive authority, and (iii) scope of judicial review under the APA. Under the first category of attack, Justices Gorsuch and Thomas contend that Article III’s judicial power centers on the federal judiciary’s independent interpretation of law. Professor Hessick outlines Founders’ support for this view but notes a contrary line of court opinions providing for deference to agency decisions. He does not resolve this split, but offers that if Article III requires independent judicial interpretation, Chevron deference conflicts with the Constitution. Under the second line of attack, Congress’s passing of statutes for agency administration amounts to an implicit delegation of power to interpret laws to agencies. Professor Hessick explains two flaws with this critique: it rests on a fiction and violates Article I’s nondelegation doctrine. Chevron flounders under this attack. The last legal obstacle to Chevron is tension with the APA’s requirement that courts interpret statutes. As Professor Hessick explains, any attempt to surmount this hurdle with an implied theory conflicts with the APA’s requirement of express modifications. Accordingly, Chevron remains vulnerable to legal attack.
Remedial Chevron as the answer. Professor Hessick doesn’t respond to policy critiques of Chevron but offers a theory of Chevron as remedy to eliminate the legal barriers. And it does so without overturning mountains of precedent and agency regulations. Viewing Chevron as a remedial doctrine, the judiciary would not show deference to agency interpretations of the law. Courts could vacate agency interpretations on erroneous grounds only if the agency unreasonably interpreted the statute. It is unclear, however, whether Professor Hessick’s conception of Chevron as remedial doctrine is a prudential suggestion for courts to reinterpret Chevron precedent to a limited remedy and behave accordingly in the future or is it a statutory or constitutional mandate that Congress must implement. Given Professor Hessick’s endorsement of Congress’s power over statutory remedies, his proposal may require congressional action.
Professor Hessick proposes a modified interpretation of Chevron to a remedies doctrine as the solution but offers limits on its application. To support this theory, he provides a concise argument for the practice of placing limits on remedies. For example, he notes the legal requirements a movant must meet before securing an injunction. While I appreciate his effort to show limitations, the first category and perhaps the third simply remind readers that remedies law is bounded by laws, precedent, and doctrines. These bounds exist even if the remedy is equitable such as the injunction. It aids his argument that the Supreme Court, in eBay and Winter, strengthened the requirements for injunctive relief: imposing a more pronounced judicial obligation to analyze four factors before issuing (or denying) an injunction, even where historically a judge might have automatically granted the relief. Professor Hessick also emphasizes that similar limitations exist for damages. This assertion is true: scores of doctrines of limitation confine damage remedies. For example, the law of remedies includes a variety of limits including avoidability, certainty, and foreseeability. In certain vectors, the remedy simply will not lie. This result is true for purely economic losses even though caused by a defendant’s negligence. As the last example of limitations on remedies, Professor Hessick reminds us that violations of constitutional rights do not guarantee relief. Regarding this claim, Professor Hessick is correct, though it is sometimes regrettable that for every wrong, the law does not afford a remedy. Accordingly, a limited conception of Chevron would fit within the remedies canon.
Reconceiving of Chevron to a limited remedies frame addresses the legal objections stemming from the Constitution, the APA, and the nondelegation doctrine. No doubt it is within the judicial power of Article III for Congress to tailor the ways the federal judiciary lends relief. Further, Congress has broad Article III power to constrain federal judicial power to issue and shape remedies. Would adoption of Professor Hessick’s reframe result if we simply think about Chevron differently and convince courts to do the same or would it require congressional action? Congress has that power as long as it steers clear of constitutional boundaries such as Klein and Plaut. Professor Hessick’s solution involves a narrowing of when the court can grant relief to instances of agency unreasonableness; he does not suggest altering the rules of decision or the results in a particular case. Thus, Remedial Chevron appears within judicial power; it does not rely upon a delegation fiction, and it better comports with the APA.
Might it garner critique due to its own formalism? The reinterpretation requires courts to be in good faith about when an interpretation is unreasonable versus erroneous on other grounds. Professor Hessick addresses other likely concerns. He offers that the reinterpretation applies narrowly: “courts would consider the reasonableness of an agency interpretation only in adjudicating challenges to that agency’s action” but “would not be bound by agency interpretations in suits that do not challenge agency actions.” Professor Hessick replies with a helpful example about vehicle regulations. The reframe also would eliminate Chevron step zero, which delimits the agency interpretations subject to Chevron deference. Instead, Remedial Chevron would apply to agency interpretations of any law underlying its action—even laws the agency is not charged with administering. The APA limits a reviewing court’s power to vacate an agency’s action as contrary to law. Professor Hessick maintains that Remedial Chevron does not rely on the theory of congressional delegation of interpretative authority to agencies. Accordingly, courts need not resolve whether the agency possessed authority to issue binding interpretations of the statute. Last, Professor Hessick acknowledges that his approach constitutes a sizeable departure from existing law in that an agency would not be permitted to adopt a contrary interpretation of an ambiguous statute already interpreted by a court. The court’s interpretation is the law as “Remedial Chevron does not depend on the theory that agencies have primary interpretive authority.”
Should we reconceive Chevron to embody a remedies doctrine? If you wish to retain administrative stability and diminish formalist objections to Chevron deference, Professor’s Hessick’s proposal warrants your serious consideration.
Cite as: Caprice Roberts, Chevron as Remedy
(May 23, 2018) (reviewing Andrew F. Hessick, Remedial Chevron
, 96 N.C. L. Rev
__ (forthcoming 2018), available at SSRN), https://lex.jotwell.com/chevron-as-remedy/
Moderation isn’t always sexy. The spotlight usually favors powerful progressives and committed conservatives. Politically aligned scholarship makes for pithier titles, punchier abstracts, and perhaps wider readership from likeminded academics and policymakers. Voices from the center are easily drowned out by the rattling din on the ideological edges.
Stephen Ware’s The Centrist Case for Enforcing Adhesive Arbitration Agreements is a welcome exception. This readable exposition of the politics of arbitration law makes the case that the best cure for arbitration’s ailments is found at the political center. This article is Ware’s third in a three-part series on this topic. Jurisprudence on both the left and the right, he argues, leaves doctrinally incoherent or incomplete solutions.
Many areas of law have well-trodden ideological battlegrounds with obvious liberal and conservative ‘sides.’ Arbitration isn’t so simple. Red and blue states alike have attempted to regulate arbitration, passing legislation to make certain categories of disputes non-arbitrable (e.g., insurance contracts) and requiring procedural safeguards (e.g., arbitrator conflict disclosures). Such statutes are frequently challenged as violating the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 (“FAA”), which makes agreements to arbitrate “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable[.]” One might expect the conservative majority of the Supreme Court to resoundingly favor states’ rights over the federal statute’s intrusion. Not so. With the notable exception of Justice Clarence Thomas, whose position is arguably the most ideologically consistent, both conservative and liberal justices uphold the FAA’s supremacy, allowing it to preempt state regulatory laws. Since the 1980s, and particularly over the past decade, the Court has offered a dramatically enhanced interpretation of the FAA’s strength – one that enforces agreements to arbitrate even when they are contained in contracts of adhesion, even when they conflict with state law, and even when they effectively allow businesses to use arbitration clauses as a shield against class action liability.
To make ideological sense of the situation, Ware spends time “mapping” various policy positions onto the traditional “left-right” axis. The farthest left position, dubbed the Very Progressive Position, “would require the highest level of consent” for an arbitration agreement to be enforceable. Advocates of this position contend that only post-dispute consent to arbitrate should be valid; both parties must reaffirm their desire to arbitrate rather than litigate after the emergence of the dispute, allowing time for the parties to consult with counsel. The Very Progressive Position acknowledges a reality that courts generally do not: “Most individuals manifesting assent to pre-dispute arbitration agreements likely do not read the document’s arbitration clause, let alone understand it and reflect on it, and they are extremely unlikely to have discussed it with counsel or negotiated it with the other party.”
A so-called Moderately Progressive Position “would enforce pre-dispute arbitration agreements when those agreements are not adhesive.” For example, if two businesses freely negotiate a contract with a pre-dispute arbitration clause, that should be enforceable. But if a consumer buys a widget with an arbitration clause contained in the terms and conditions, the clause should be voidable.
On the right side of the spectrum, a Moderately Conservative Position would prevent courts from hearing defenses to enforcement of an arbitration agreement, “but would subject arbitration agreements to otherwise-applicable legal limits relating to appealing legally-erroneous decisions and to class actions.” Under this paradigm, arbitration agreements and awards would be somewhat easier to escape or vacate.
The Very Conservative Position – which Ware argues is reflected by current law – “effectively converts some adhesive arbitration agreements into exculpatory clauses and enforces them in circumstances in which comparable non-arbitration agreements would be unenforceable.” Arbitration agreements in contracts of adhesion are enforceable, including those that waive individuals’ class action remedies. Vacating an award, even for clear error of law, is extremely difficult.
This leaves us with Ware’s Centrist Position. The basic principle underlying his vision is conformity – the notion that “arbitration law should largely conform to non-arbitration law.” Adhesive arbitration agreements should be just as enforceable as any other adhesion contract. Ware would maintain the relatively low level of consent required by current law for most contracts of adhesion, where those pesky terms and conditions really do articulate the parties’ deal.
Yet the Centrist Position would not allow arbitration agreements to be more enforceable than other types of adhesion contracts. Current law, Ware argues, does just that. For example, current law largely prevents courts from hearing defenses to arbitration agreements through the so-called separability doctrine, which permits arbitrators themselves to rule on their jurisdiction. Current law also exempts arbitration agreements from most class action regulation, to the great dismay of many scholars and consumer advocates. And current law also enforces awards that are legally erroneous. Ware argues that the currently-in-vogue Very Conservative Position thus “violates the principle that adhesive arbitration agreements should be as enforceable as other adhesion contracts, not more or less so.”
Ware’s Centrist Position advocates fairly radical departures from current law. He would repeal the separability doctrine, allowing courts to hear arguments against the enforceability of arbitration agreements. He would also treat arbitral class waivers like non-arbitral class waivers, returning to the days when courts wouldn’t enforce adhesion contracts that eliminate the right to participate in a class action. Finally, Ware would allow courts to vacate arbitrators’ legally-erroneous decisions on certain claims. Through these shifts, the Centrist Position would blend contractual freedom with oversight, permitting arbitration to “differ from litigation on discovery, evidence, and identity of the adjudicator, but not differ in such a harsh way as to be unconscionable.”
Like any good centrist, Ware goes too far and not far enough. Progressives won’t like that he explicitly rejects the oft-made argument that individuals “fare worse in arbitration [against corporations] than they do in litigation,” citing ample data to argue that this claim is unfounded. He similarly rejects the notion that contracts of adhesion are inherently unfair, finding that they are rightly embedded into traditional common law and our modern economy. Meanwhile, conservatives won’t like that Ware would allow courts to hear defenses to arbitrability. Nor will they like that he would eliminate class arbitration waivers, despite the Supreme Court’s repeated assurances in recent years that these waivers are valid. Finally, politics aside, members of the judiciary may not like that Ware’s proposals could invite significant waves of motion practice. The Centrist Position would undoubtedly open arbitration to greater judicial review (oversight to some, meddling to others).
Still, there’s something comforting about a moderate proposal that leaves everyone unsatisfied. As in many areas of policy, the extremes look less appealing on closer inspection. Surely contracts of adhesion will remain enforceable under traditional common law contractual principles. And surely arbitration cannot be a Wild West, largely immune from judicial and statutory oversight. But we can’t find a sensible center until we understand what is ‘left’ and what is ‘right.’ Our policy conversations need orientation. Thankfully, Professor Ware has now installed some helpful political signage.
Cite as: Brian Farkas, Arbitration in Moderation
(May 3, 2018) (reviewing Stephen J. Ware, The Centrist Case for Enforcing Adhesive Arbitration Agreements
, 23 Harv. Neg. L. Rev.
29 (2018)), https://lex.jotwell.com/arbitration-in-moderation/
Shelley Welton, Clean Electrification
, 88 U. Colo. L. Rev.
571 (2017), available at SSRN
Climate change has made the timely decarbonization of the electric grid a top priority for policymakers in the United States and across the globe. In the absence of a meaningful price on carbon, net metering, tax credits, and other incentive programs dominate the low-carbon policy landscape. Critics of clean energy incentives have long argued that government should not engage in the business of picking winners and losers among competing technologies. With her thoughtful article, Clean Electrification, Professor Shelley Welton reminds us that public policy support for a low-carbon energy economy has disparate impacts not only on technologies but also on ratepayers, utilities, and other stakeholders.
U.S. policymakers increasingly seek to enlist ratepayers in the war on carbon, harnessing technology innovation to turn previously passive electricity customers into active partners in grid decarbonization efforts. This vision of a “participatory grid” rests on smart appliances, rooftop solar, energy storage, and other technologies capable of empowering ratepayers to more actively manage their energy consumption, generation, and other grid interactions. Access to these technologies and, hence, to the benefits of active grid participation, however, comes at considerable cost raising concerns over the vision’s implications for distributional equity, as evidenced by “solar fairness” debates across the country.
Professor Welton acknowledges and unpacks the various equity concerns surrounding the participatory grid, shedding light on the different stakeholders and their perspectives. In one of my favorite sections, she compares and contrasts the “distinct but overlapping equities” of climate law and energy law. Welton hones in on the disproportionately harsh impact of global warming, sea level rise, and other manifestations of our changing climate on lower-income households. Against this background, she makes a persuasive argument that, whatever the inequities of a decarbonized participatory grid, they do not justify a business-as-usual scenario as climate change itself will bring about far more serious inequities if left unmitigated.
Professor Welton’s article places the current equity debate into historic context, tracing energy law’s preoccupation with balancing equity and efficiency from the beginnings of public utility law all the way to present-day restructuring efforts. From this historical analysis, Welton distills “widespread access to affordable power” as energy law’s overarching distributive tenet. Nowhere is this commitment more apparent than in the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, the Rural Electrification Act, and other New Deal efforts to electrify rural America.
Eighty years ago, the New Deal’s electrification campaign raised the standard of living for rural communities and expanded their access to radios, refrigeration, and other amenities of modern-day technologies. Now, Professor Welton urges her readers, it is time for a successor campaign, clean electrification, to broaden public access not only to the grid itself but, critically, to the emerging suite of participatory technologies required to maintain access to affordable power in a de-carbonizing world. Welton identifies several openings in public utility regulation for a clean electrification campaign, including the long-standing mandate to maintain “just and reasonable” electricity rates and questions over ownership and management of the rich data produced by an ever-smarter grid. In the balanced thinking that distinguishes her article throughout, Welton cautions that widespread grid participation may not be achieved in the near term unless public policy moves beyond its current individualistic notion of participation to embrace more collective forms, such as community solar programs and semi-autonomous micro grids.
With Clean Electrification, Professor Welton adds to the emerging literature on clean energy equity a careful historical analysis of equity’s deep roots in energy law as well as a compelling argument for a concerted effort by policymakers, utilities, and others to usher in a low-carbon, high-participation energy economy. At a time when pundits polarize political debates over the future of net metering and other clean energy policies, Welton presents herself as a welcome voice of reason.
John H. Langbein, Absorbing South Australia’s Wills Act Dispensing Power in the United States: Emulation, Resistance, Expansion
, 38 Adelaide L. Rev.
1 (2017), available at SSRN
Yale’s Professor Emeritus John Langbein, who introduced the harmless error idea to will formality requirements a few decades back, returns to the place where it all began in Absorbing South Australia’s Wills Act Power in the United States: Emulation, Resistance, Expansion. It began, legislatively speaking, in South Australia. In 1975, South Australia’s State Parliament enacted a statute validating wills with formality defects so long as it was proved that the decedent intended the document to be her will. This “dispensing power” idea soon infected other common law nations, including the United States. Now, a new chapter is being written as a fresh trend emerges: making bequests via electronic technology.
Following a concise review of the common law world’s absorption of Australia’s innovation, sustained through legislative activity, case law, and scholarship, Langbein turns to “a completely unforeseen development – the enforcement of so-called digital or electronic wills.” (P. 1.) A harmless error in the execution of a will should not result in invalidation if there is convincing evidence that the decedent truly intended the document in question to constitute her will. A defect in the “line of sight” or “conscious presence” requirements for witness attestation, for example, ought not to invoke intestacy where other evidence convinces us that the decedent was trying to make a valid will. Today, we are beginning to see a new variety of technically deficient wills – paperless ones. Is the harmless error doctrine equipped to deal with digitized bequests? Or is a new framework for electronic wills necessary? Langbein deftly considers these important questions in this compulsively readable reprinting of a lecture he delivered in Australia in 2017.
The Uniform Law Commission recently created a drafting committee to respond to the phenomenon of digital testation. The Committee’s first drafting meeting memo neatly sums of the issue: Why not electronic wills? After all, “everything else is electronic.” Langbein concurs, noting that many individuals are so acclimated to digital forms of communication “that they seldom encounter sheets of paper in their daily lives.” (P. 9.)
Two variations of digital wills should be identified. In the first instance, an individual makes an electronic document with word processing software saved on a tablet, a phone, or a USB stick. In the second, a decedent has left either an audio or video recording of a testamentary plan; a DVD will. Although merely oral wills are invalid in most jurisdictions (and where they are recognized, they’re strictly limited to situations such as deathbed bequests), Langbein has collected a few cases holding DVD wills to be valid. True, a DVD disc might not be what we typically think of as a “document.” Yet it is a tangible form of the communication intentionally preserved so that its form survives its creation. And given the liberal construction given to remedial legislation such as harmless error statutes, a DVD could be treated as a kind of document.
With word processing wills, we’re on more familiar ground. Especially where the wording of the file strongly suggests testamentary intent (e.g., “This is my last will and testament”) and something akin to a signature can be located, the harmless error rule is comfortably stationed. Some states have legislatively endorsed electronic wills. In Nevada, testamentary bequests created and saved as an electronic record are valid. The statute, however, also imposes a new formality likely to foul up do-it-yourselfers: an “authentication characteristic” (which might be, for example, a retinal scan or fingerprint). Langbein notes: “It is particularly ironic that the dispensing power, which has opened the way to enforcing digital wills by excusing noncompliance with the traditional Wills Act formalities, is begetting new formalities.” (P. 11.) Harmless error begets digital wills which beget new formalities, which harmless error doctrine can excuse.
If a framework specifically designed for digital wills is appropriate, one of the more difficult issues to resolve will be revocation formalities. In traditional wills land, a will may be revoked either by a later will or by a physical act of revocation performed on the instrument itself, such as tearing or burning. The first category of revocations can be easily implemented with digital wills, but what of physical acts of revocation? “Suppose,” Langbein posits, “that the testator who has drafted a computer will erases it, but a software expert is able to recover from the text from the hard drive?” (P. 11.)
Professor Langbein’s article tracks the problems of these computer wills. He confesses, “I would be quite content if this intrusion into the accustomed patterns of testation were not happening.” (P. 11.) The frequency with which individuals attempt to make a testamentary disposition with digital technology will only increase, however. E-bequests will continue. Harmless error doctrine can – and is – handling some cases, but as the frequency increases, legislation specifically crafted for E-bequests will be inevitable.
Cite as: Tom Simmons, Dispensing (With) Electronic Wills
(April 5, 2018) (reviewing John H. Langbein, Absorbing South Australia’s Wills Act Dispensing Power in the United States: Emulation, Resistance, Expansion
, 38 Adelaide L. Rev.
1 (2017), available at SSRN), https://lex.jotwell.com/dispensing-with-electronic-wills/
Zachary Liscow and Quentin Karpilow, Innovation Snowballing and Climate Law
, 95 Wash. U. L. Rev.
385 (2017), available at SSRN
Innovation is a critical component of environmental progress. The dramatic reductions in emissions per-mile-travelled from automobiles over the past forty years stem from major breakthroughs like the catalytic converter. Our efforts to switch from fossil-fuel-based energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will depend on many different kinds of technological innovation. The dramatic price drops in both wind and solar energy, for instance, are in significant part the result of the development of new technologies.
How can environmental law facilitate the development of new technology to address the challenges of climate change and other environmental problems? The predominant position of economists has been that legal tools that force economic actors to address the full costs of their actions, including the externalities that are the basis of many environmental problems, is the appropriate approach to spur innovation. A carbon tax (or a tradable permit system which requires polluters to purchase their permits) will create incentives for firms and individuals to come up with new technologies that will reduce environmental problems. Liscow and Karpilow’s article challenges this dominant paradigm, drawing on recent significant economics research.
Yet policymakers have stubbornly ignored this advice from economists. For instance, in the 2009 stimulus bill instead of levying a carbon tax the Obama Administration put billions of dollars into subsidies and tax credits to support research, development, and deployment of new renewable energy technologies. Is this just a case of elected officials and policymakers ignoring the wisdom of economists, or is there something more going on here?
Recent research in economics has indicated that there may be something more going on. Led by Daron Acemoglu at MIT, a number of economists have concluded that in order to advance real technological progress to address environmental problems, market-based mechanisms like carbon taxes or tradable permit systems have to be paired with other policy tools, such as subsidies for research and development. The reason is that innovation is path dependent – what we research now, and what technologies we develop now, depends in large part on what research has occurred in the past.
Zachary Liscow and Quentin Karpilow spin out the possible implications of this research (what they call “innovation snowballing”) for legal efforts to address climate change. As they make clear, the implications extend far beyond the most basic question of whether subsidies in the context of research and development are a good policy choice. As it turns out, we might reconsider a range of policy and legal questions based on this research – for instance, even if we don’t use market-based mechanisms, we might nonetheless adjust the kinds of regulatory tools we use to react to climate change. In addition, there are a number of difficult questions about what kinds of research and development we might subsidize, as well as when, and how. For instance, Liscow and Karpilow point out that we might want to focus our subsidy efforts on renewable energy technologies that are unlikely to have positive spillovers for the development of fossil-fuel technology as well. Biomass energy builds on (and can support further research in) related fossil-fuel combustion technologies, so we might not wish to provide significant support for it, as opposed to support for solar energy research, which has little or no overlap with fossil fuel technology.
Liscow and Karpilow are not the only ones who have engaged with these questions. Other scholars (both inside and outside environmental law) have explored whether market-based mechanisms are the best tool to advance technological innovation in the environmental context. Examples are David Driesen’s work and Margaret Taylor’s article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noting that cap-and-trade programs appear not to boost innovation significantly. If there is a weakness in the Liscow and Karpilow paper, it is that the authors could have engaged more with this prior research. And some of the extensions that Liscow and Karpilow address – for instance, whether innovation snowballing should lead us to think differently about government procurement programs or investment in infrastructure – could have fruitfully engaged with some of the relevant cutting edge work in environmental law, such as Sarah Light’s work on military contracting and environmental policy, or Alex Klass’s work on energy infrastructure.
But the strength of Liscow and Karpilow’s article is the depth with which they explore the follow-on questions that the original innovation snowballing research prompts. That strength makes this article well worth reading for anyone thinking about legal and policy design in the context of climate change.
For those of us who are not engineers or programmers, magical results appear when we run searches in legal databases. However, we have little understanding of the machinations behind the ever-present e-wall. What kind of confidence can we have when the underlying structure of legal databases are hardwired with human biases? We must ask ourselves the question posed to then-Senator Obama and Senator McCain at a Town Hall Debate in 2008, “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?”
When I teach legal research, my students compare the same searches in different databases. One goal is to demonstrate that there are different results. But a more nuanced goal is to examine the results closely enough to provide insights into which databases might be more useful for updating, for case searching, for browsing statutes, and other research tasks. Susan Nevelow Mart’s study will elevate these discussions because of her focus on human-engineered algorithms and the inherent biases in the databases used for legal research. This study will also guide researchers to think more about search strategy and will help set more realistic expectations about search results.
Mart studied the impact of human judgment and bias at every step of the database search process. Her study explains how bias is hardwired into the human-engineered algorithm of each database. Add additional layers of human judgment and bias to the choice of database, to the date and time of the search, to the search terms, to the vendor’s classification scheme, and to the fact that searchers typically only browse the first 10 sometimes-relevant results. Mart introduces us to the concept of algorithmic accountability or “the term for disclosing prioritization, classification, association, and filtering.” Mart contends that algorithmic accountability, or understanding a bit more about the secret sauce in the inputs, will help researchers produce more accurate search results.
Mart’s research sought to test hypotheses about search algorithms by examining the results of the same searches in the same jurisdiction across six databases: Casetext, Fastcase, Google Scholar, Lexis Advance, Ravel, and Westlaw. When examining the relevance of the top 10 results, it is unsurprising that Lexis Advance and Westlaw lead in the relevancy rankings because they have the longest standing in the market. However, it is surprising that the top 10 results for those two vendors were relevant only 57% and 67% of the time, respectively.
Mart found that each of the six databases average 40% unique cases in the top 10 results. Mart also explores how many of the unique results are relevant in each database’s results. Again, it is unsurprising that Westlaw (at 33%) and Lexis Advance (at about 20%) lead in these two categories. It is surprising, however, that there are so many relevant cases that are unique results when the same search was performed in each database. And because we don’t know what is in the secret sauce, it is difficult to improve these outcomes.
There are a number of takeaways from Mart’s study. First, algorithmic variations lead to variations in the unique, and in the relevant, results returned from each database. Second, database vendors want us to have confidence in their products but it is still necessary to run the same search in more than one database to improve the chances of yielding the most comprehensive, relevant results. Third, while some of the newer legal databases yield less unique and less relevant results, they can bring advantages depending on the research topic, the time period, and other contextual details.
This well-researched and well-written article is required reading for every attorney who performs research on behalf of a client and for every professor who teaches legal research or uses legal databases. Because we often don’t know what we don’t know, Mart’s work pushes us to think more deeply about our search products and processes. Mart’s results provide an opportunity to narrow the gap in knowledge by learning a bit about what we don’t know. Learning from this scholarly yet accessible article brings the reader closer to understanding how to derive the optimal output even without knowing the ingredients in the secret sauce.
Cite as: Elizabeth Adelman, What Don’t You Know and How Will You Learn It?
(February 19, 2018) (reviewing Susan Nevelow Mart, The Algorithm as a Human Artifact: Implications for Legal [Re]Search
, 109 Law Libr. J.
387 (2017)), https://lex.jotwell.com/dont-know-will-learn/
In 2016, many thousands of Native people and their supporters traveled from across the country to protest construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. It was the greatest display of unified Indian activism since the standoffs at Alcatraz and Wounded Knee. While Dakota Access set dogs on the protesters and North Dakota almost enacted a statute that would immunize those injuring protesters from liability, the federal government had a role as well. Because the pipeline ran over a section of federally-owned land, the U.S. had to grant an easement to build it, and needed to consider the impact on the Standing Rock Sioux, including sacred sites, drinking water, and treaty rights, before doing so. In the waning days of the Obama Administration, the EPA determined that it had not sufficiently considered all factors, and decided to delay the permit. In the first few days of the Trump Administration, the EPA reversed, ruling that the pipeline could go forward. After the pipeline was built (and already had its first leaks), a federal district court held that the U.S. had not sufficiently considered treaty rights and environmental concerns. But the court refused to halt the pipeline while considering the remedy, so gas continues to flow, and small leaks continue to occur.
As at Standing Rock, the federal government has tremendous power over the things most important to Native people. Five decades into the self-determination era, tribes still depend on the federal government to approve, regulate, or fund what tribes do with their businesses, land, natural resources, sacred sites, and police and social welfare services. The administration of this federal role is in these matters is far from the common law doctrines that occupy most Indian law professors. Not so for Professor Kevin Washburn. Washburn recently returned to academia after several years as the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, where he struggled first hand with the factors governing federal decision-making. What the Future Holds: The Changing Landscape of Federal Indian Policy benefits from this experience with an unusually nuanced and informed perspective on the federal administration of the federal-tribal relationship.
From the founding era to today, Supreme Court opinions, statutes, and executive documents have referred to the United States as a trustee to Indian tribes. As Professor Washburn says, the implicit paternalism of this idea has always fit uncomfortably with the concept of tribal sovereignty, and particularly so in the modern era of self-determination. Washburn also notes that the Supreme Court has pared away at the legal power of the trust relationship, limiting the power of tribes to demand compensation for federal actions taken with conflict of interests, or to subject the federal government to other common-law trust obligations.
But as the paternalistic rationale and legal enforceability of the trust responsibility has faded, Washburn argues, the trust responsibility has been transformed. The federal government is now less the manager than the “principal underwriter” of tribal affairs. Today, most services formerly performed by the federal government are managed by Indian tribes with federally-funded self-determination contracts. This shift has resulted in more effective, culturally appropriate, and profitable results for notoriously mismanaged programs. But it has also resulted in new questions about the role of the federal government.
First, some may ask whether the trust responsibility “to provide funding to tribes to meet federal responsibilities” can continue as the paternalistic elements of the trust responsibility diminish. For Washburn, the answer is “of course.” Washburn argues that federal funding can be seen as a moral “rent” on the lands and sovereignty taken from tribal nations, and this, rather than a paternal noblesse oblige was how Chief Justice Marshall originally conceived it. Because tribal administration of programs for Indians has been proven more effective and efficient than federal or state administration, it also makes fiscal sense. But Washburn notes that even in the face of statutory promises to provide funding, the United States has repeatedly failed to appropriate enough money to fulfill its promises. In response, however, the Supreme Court has developed a new norm strictly holding the government to its fiscal promises to tribal nations.
A larger question arises regarding oversight of tribal governments. The general policy of the federal government today is to avoid interfering with tribal sovereignty. This policy is enshrined in statutes and executive orders, and increasingly expected by tribal nations. But numerous statutes still require federal approval for tribal projects, and the federal government can use this power to delay or shape negotiations so as to favor mining and other interests contracting with tribes. The federal approval power, even when it is not subject to conflicts of interest, adds time and expensive regulatory review to tribal actions. Washburn notes that there is a powerful case that this oversight is inconsistent with self-determination and tribal welfare.
At the same time (and this is one of the unique contributions of the essay), Washburn suggests that increasing tribal self-determination may argue for more federal oversight, not less. First, as we know from Spider-Man, with great power, comes great responsibility. Tribes increasingly have real power over peoples’ lives. In some cases, Washburn speculates, this leads to greater federal accountability.
Despite this, he argues, the need for increased federal oversight may be less compelling that it appears. He investigates three distinct areas of concern.
The most prominent is the headline-making disenrollment of tribal members by some tribes. Washburn notes that although some characterize this crisis as a battle over gaming revenue, those who do so are likely unaware that “at least since the arrival of the Europeans, tribal politics has been a blood sport.” In addition, to the extent that these are battles over gaming revenue, they are battles over a tribe’s own money, and so the case for federal accountability is less than it was in cases like Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, the case that originally established the non-interference rule. Nevertheless, he notes, to the extent such disenrollment violates human rights norms, there may be a case for intervention similar to that for any nation violating human rights.
Washburn also investigates the case for greater intervention in tribal criminal justice systems. One of Washburn’s most important scholarly contributions before entering government service was in making the case for stronger tribal control in this area. Washburn now argues that the push for more tribal law enforcement power comes more from “activists” (and, he doesn’t mention, scholars) than from tribal leaders. Washburn’s original articles contributed to a movement that resulted in recent federal statutes and policies increasing tribal powers of prosecution and punishment. These statutes, however, impose greater federal oversight as a condition of exercising more power. “To exercise greater sovereignty,” Washburn now writes, tribal governments “necessarily must accept … outside interference by the federal government.” The article does not make clear whether Washburn believes these “political compromises” are a good thing or not, but does suggest that his time in power may have softened his prior scholarly stance.
Finally, Washburn discusses an area that has not gained as much public attention: the federal government’s role in land regulation. This is perhaps the most direct instance of the federal trust responsibility, as the federal government still actually owns most of Indian country in trust for either tribes or individual Indians. Washburn notes that the federal trust, and the regulatory apparatus that comes with it, actually reduce the value of land, perhaps a conflict of interest for the trustees. (Incidentally, one of the many contributions of Washburn’s tenure was in lessening this regulatory burden.) Individual allottee interests in free use and alienation of their land may also conflict with those of the other trust beneficiaries, the tribes. Like Jessica Shoemaker’s work (reviewed by Ezra Rosser in Jotwell), Washburn opens a new window into the reality of the trust status of Indian land.
Altogether, the strength of What the Future Holds is in providing new perspectives and asking hard questions rather than in providing answers. It also remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will undermine the new, less-paternalist trust relationship Washburn identifies. My guess is that it may lessen immediate support for tribes, particularly in areas where mining interests and red states argue against tribes, but that the administration’s attention span is too short to significantly change the trajectory of federal policy. But Washburn has identified important things for scholars to think about as we try to influence what the future holds, both for tribal nations and for those they govern.
Ming Hsu Chen, The Administrator-in-Chief: The President and Executive Action in Immigration Law
, 69 Admin. L. Rev.
347 (2017), available at SSRN
Professor Ming Chen’s Administrator-In-Chief: The President and Executive Action in Immigration Law is an ambitious effort to peer inside the relationship between a president and administrative agencies. It is the executive branch equivalent to the legislative sausage. Professor Chen concludes that a president is on strongest footing when he “promot[es] practices of good government in agencies rather than trying to substitute his policymaking judgments for those of the agency.” (P. 359.) The article emphasizes that the president should focus on his control over three things: (1) coherent federal policy; (2) centralized agency discretion, ensuring consistency, and (3) coordinating actions across all agencies. The article concludes that procedural choices matter; the president should work hard to set a procedural example and to use his influence to encourage procedural choices that will strengthen the legitimacy of policies. Professor Chen argues that the normative justifiability of presidential policymaking rests on whether the president is promoting coherency, consistency and coordination.
While three case studies from the Obama Administration’s approach to immigration law guide the article’s analysis, the analysis includes lessons for any president. In developing these case studies, Professor Chen conducted interviews with government officials and immigration advocates. The subject of the first case study is President Obama’s use of agency guidance documents to announce the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (“DAPA”) policies. The second case study focuses on President Obama’s attempts to set removal and detention priorities. Professor Chen walks us through several incarnations of enforcement policies that attempted to express President Obama’s priorities for detention and removal. These policies called on local law enforcement to share information about individuals with federal immigration agents and to detain individuals while waiting for federal immigration officials to travel to a jail to take custody of an individual. The third case study examines the Obama Administration’s efforts to respond to a surge of asylum seekers at the Mexican border.
These case studies reveal the extremely complicated nature of the immigration bureaucracy. Not only is the organizational chart complex, but the dispersion of immigration functions makes achieving coherency, consistency and coordination an awesome challenge. The immigration bureaucracy not only consists of three separate entities within the Department of Homeland Security (Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), but the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the Department of Labor each play roles as well. Each agency has its own mission and culture. The reality is even more complex, though, as Professor Chen’s research reveals competing cultures within agencies. Professor Chen describes different cultural forces at work within Homeland Security and also the challenges President Obama faced in fighting ingrained agency culture. The amount of inter- and intra-agency coordination and massaging necessary to change course is mind-boggling. Professor Chen’s article reminds us that no matter how difficult, this type of management can be crucial, and the president is in the best position to do it.
For DACA and DAPA, Professor Chen concludes that President Obama “somewhat succeeded in promoting a coherent system of enforcement practices.” (P. 411.) Both DACA and DAPA aimed to create a coherent policy of how the executive branch would exercise its prosecutorial discretion. Two things stood in the way and rendered the effort only somewhat successful, according to Professor Chen. First, the President faced strong headwinds in the form of agency cultural resistance to the policies. Second, in the case of DAPA, the procedural choice to use a guidance document instead of notice and comment rulemaking factored into the policy’s legal downfall. For both the detainer policies and the response to the surge in asylum applicants at the border, Professor Chen relays failures of coherency, consistency and coordination. According to Professor Chen, procedural missteps greatly contributed to those failures.
Professor Chen deserves a lot of credit for taking on this project. Her valuable insights allow us to peer into the relationship between President Obama and immigration agencies. Her article also serves as an important bridge between immigration law and administrative law generally. She ties specific immigration law case studies to larger administrative law issues, including the president’s proper relationship with agencies. Her detailed explanation of the immigration bureaucracy and the cultural challenges within it on their own are significant contributions. The article’s ambition, however, is also its soft spot. This is a very dense article that attempts to accomplish much and sometimes gets in its own way by attempting to touch on too many related topics. This left me, at times, unsure of the article’s main focus. On some points I was unsatisfied. For example, the article mentions the ongoing debate about the legitimacy of the administrative state, but left me without a clear explanation of how the call for greater attention to the president’s procedural power fits into that debate. Also, I believe that Professor Chen intends for her focus on procedure to be solely normative, but I am not sure and I would like to know where she sees the existing legal boundaries.
What is clear, however, is Professor Chen’s call for the president to be a staunch defender of procedure who encourages coherency, consistency and coordination across the executive branch. She makes suggestions for how a president can better achieve those goals and her case studies provide important lessons.
Cite as: Jill Family, Procedure Matters
(November 30, 2017) (reviewing Ming Hsu Chen, The Administrator-in-Chief: The President and Executive Action in Immigration Law
, 69 Admin. L. Rev.
347 (2017), available at SSRN), https://lex.jotwell.com/procedure-matters/