Saturday, July 7, 2007

Boycotting the British UCU Boycott of Israel:

This morning I received the following note from Professor Steve Lubet of Northwestern University Law School that I thought would be of interest to VC readers.

Dear Colleagues:

As you probably know, the British University and College Union recently passed a resolution advancing a boycott of Israeli scholars and academic institutions. Whatever your political views on the Middle East, I trust you will agree that such a boycott is antithetical to academic principles. It shuts off dialogue, when one of the key purposes of universities is to promote dialogue and thereby the pursuit of truth. It ignores existing projects where Israeli and Palestinian academics cooperate. It requires academics to hew to one ideological line. And it constitutes discrimination on the basis of nationality. Many leading international scholars — including Palestinians — have issued statements in opposition to a boycott, recognizing that it violates essential academic values. In the words of Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, "In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas."

If you agree that the UCU boycott resolution is wrong, you may show your opposition by signing the petition circulated by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). It has already been signed by numerous Nobel Laureates and university presidents.

The text of the SPME petition is as follows:

We are academics, scholars, researchers and professionals of differing religious and political perspectives. We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong. To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.

To sign the statement, go here. A list of signatories is available here. Note that one need not support Israeli policies, or even the positions of SPME, to support this statement. Academic boycotts of this sort are, quite simply, contrary to the ideals of open intellectual discourse.


Glendon and Kmiec on OT2006:

Mary Ann Glendon and Douglas Kmeic offer this Legal Times commentary on the Supreme Court's OT2006 and the roles of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

Despite some ideological carping from those who lost cases that depended upon the extension of past decisions, Roberts and Alito have also shown themselves to be strongly respectful of precedent. Advocates this term urged overturning previous abortion decisions, a Warren Court ruling allowing taxpayers to sue in religion cases, and campaign spending limits. The new justices left those precedents in place, often resisting both their unwarranted extension to new facts and the urging of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to overrule them.

This cannot fairly be dubbed faux deference. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) still meaningfully invites robust discussion of political and social views in school, as Alito and Kennedy strongly reaffirmed in Morse v. Frederick, even though Tinker did not protect advocacy of illegal drug use. Likewise, the allowance in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) for race as one factor in pursuit of higher-education diversity was reaffirmed, notwithstanding the Court’s rebuff of outright racial balancing.


"Those Who Cure You Will Kill You":

It is quite disturbing that those involved in plotting the foiled terror plots in Britain were trained in medicine. Unfortunately, such perversions of medical obligations are nothing new. As my former colleague Amos Guiora recounts, the leadership of Hamas included a doctor who justified his support of terrorism by suggesting there were two of him -- one who cured and one who killed.


Biotech Can Boost Milk Production:

Milk prices are up, and may well go higher. What can be done about it? Dr. Henry Miller, a former FDA official now with the Hoover Institution, has an idea:

One way to ease the shortage and lower the prices is to take greater advantage of a proven 13-year-old biological technology that stimulates milk production in dairy cows — a protein called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), or bovine growth hormone. The protein, produced naturally by a cow’s pituitary, is one of the substances that control its milk production. It can be made in large quantities with gene-splicing (recombinant DNA) techniques. The gene-spliced and natural versions are identical.

Bad-faith efforts by biotechnology opponents to portray rBST as untested or harmful, and to discourage its use, keep society from taking full advantage of a safe and useful product. The opponents’ limited success is keeping the price of milk unnecessarily high.

When rBST is injected into cows, their digestive systems become more efficient at converting feed to milk. It induces the average cow, which produces about eight gallons of milk each day, to make nearly a gallon more. More feed, water, barn space and grazing land are devoted to milk production, rather than other aspects of bovine metabolism, so that you get seven cows’ worth of milk from six.

Dr. Miller's op-ed prompted lots of responses, some of which are available here.

I find it interesting that opposition to rBST largely consists of what economist Bruce Yandle termed a "baptist and bootlegger" coalition. The "baptists" are ideological interests, such as anti-biotech activists and animal welfare groups. The "bootleggers" are small and boutique dairy farmers concerned that rBST can increase the competitive advantage of larger dairy producers. Such combinations of ideological and economic interests are common in environmental law, and can be quite influential.


Friday, July 6, 2007

No Fourth Amendment Protection in E-Mail Addresses, IP Addresses, Ninth Circuit Holds: Commentators and Congress have long assumed that government surveillance of non-content "header" information like e-mail addresses and IP addresses, typically done by a service provider, do not violate a Fourth Amendment "reasonable expectation of privacy." Today the Ninth Circuit became the first court to hold this directly in United States v. Forrester.

  My major concern with this opinion is that, unless I'm missing something, the opinion does not actually say how the surveillance occurred. The Court states that the government used "a pen register analogue on [the defendant]’s computer" to collect the IP address, to/from e-mail addresses, and total volume transferred. But the reader is left guessing what that means.

  Consider two possibilities. The first possibility is that the government served the order on the ISP, and that the information was collected at the ISP. If so, the analogy to Smith v. Maryland is really clear, and the result in Forrester is clearly correct. The second possibility is that the Court meant what it said literally: the government installed a pen register analogue "on [the defendant's] computer," which seems to suggest some kind of surveillance device actually inside the person's machine. If that's right, I tend to think this is a different case. At that point the facts become a lot more like United States v. Karo, the locating device case, where the use of a surveillance device inside the home was held to be a search.

  So which one of these sets of facts occurred? We don't know, as best as I can tell, and without knowing I find it hard to tell if I agree with the decision. More broadly, it will be hard for other courts to know what to make of the precedent: Is the court saying that the government can remotely install a surveillance device on your personal machine so long as the information collected doesn't implicate a reasonable expectation of privacy? Or are they only saying that the provider can collect that information from inside the provider's network on the government's behalf?

  Maybe I'm just missing the part of the opinion that explains this? If so, please let me know in the comment thread. And thanks to Terry Edwards for the link.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Amended Opinion in Forrester:
  2. Can the FBI Install Spyware on Your Computer Without A Warrant?:
  3. No Fourth Amendment Protection in E-Mail Addresses, IP Addresses, Ninth Circuit Holds:

Why Isn't He Running for President?

I happened to catch on one of my local NPR stations this afternoon a talk that Colin Powell gave at the Aspen Institute a few days ago, focusing on the Iraq war. Maybe it's just me, but to my ears Powell is the only one out there who talks sense about the war — why it matters, what mistakes we've made, how to move forward from here, without unnecessary hand-wringing and finger-pointing. Plus, I don't think any of the candidates out there can come close to him when he talks about why the idea, and ideals, of America are important and even inspiring. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd vote for him in a NY minute, and I suspect there are lots and lots of folks out there who feel the same way.


Correction Regarding the Courthouse Russian Jesus Icon:

The blog post on which I relied for a copy of the icon appears to have been incorrect. The correct photo, according to AP and Yahoo! News Photos, is this:

I can't read the text, but this site, which discusses what appears to be this icon, independently of the Slidell controversy, reports that the text corresponds to John 7:24 ("Judge not according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgement") and Matthew 7:2 ("For with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged"). This is indeed more courthouse-related text than what I understood the quote to be earlier. [UPDATE: The ACLU of Louisiana was kind enough to send me a more readable version, and Sasha, who knows how to read Old Church Slavonic -- which differs enough from standard, even pre-1918 standard, Cyrillic Russian that it requires special skill in reading -- was kind enough to transliterate it into Russian. With this, he and I can confirm that the text is a combination of John 7:24 and Matthew 7:2.]

Still, the bottom line seems to me to remain: To the extent the text matters, it's New Testament text; to the extent the text should be ignored, since the overwhelming majority of observers won't understand it, it's apparently a depiction of Jesus. In either case, it seems unconstitutional even under Justice Scalia's proposed test for a court to display the work in this context, as a standalone work in a court house with the caption "To know peace, obey these laws."

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Paul Lukasiak for a pointer to the picture as it appears in context:

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. ACLU of Louisiana:
  2. Correction Regarding the Courthouse Russian Jesus Icon:

Sixth Circuit Reverses Judge Taylor on NSA Surveillance Case: Oops -- I see that my co-blogger Jonathan posted about this case while I was drafting my own analysis. Given that, I will "hide" my post below the fold.


Plaintiffs Lack Standing to Challenge NSA Surveillance:

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that none of the plaintiffs in American Civil Liberties Union v. National Security Agency have standing to challenge the program and dismissed the case. Judge Batchelder wrote the opinion for the court. Judge Gibbons delivered a separate concurring opinion, and Judge Gilman dissented. I can virtually guarantee that this is not the last we have heard of this case.

UPDATE: From Judge Batchelder's opinion for the court:

in crafting their declaratory judgment action, the plaintiffs have attempted (unsuccessfully) to navigate the obstacles to stating a justiciable claim. By refraining from communications (i.e., the potentially harmful conduct), the plaintiffs have negated any possibility that the NSA will ever actually intercept their communications and thereby avoided the anticipated harm — this is typical of declaratory judgment and perfectly permissible. But, by proposing only injuries that result from this refusal to engage in communications (e.g., the inability to conduct their professions without added burden and expense), they attempt to supplant an insufficient, speculative injury with an injury that appears sufficiently imminent and concrete, but is only incidental to the alleged wrong (i.e., the NSA’s conduct) — this is atypical and, as will be discussed, impermissible.

Therefore, the injury that would support a declaratory judgment action (i.e., the anticipated interception of communications resulting in harm to the contacts) is too speculative, and the injury that is imminent and concrete (i.e., the burden on professional performance) does not support a declaratory judgment action.

From Judge Gibbons concurring opinion:
The disposition of all of the plaintiffs’ claims depends upon the single fact that the plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence that they are personally subject to the TSP. Without this evidence, on a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs cannot establish standing for any of their claims, constitutional or statutory. For this reason, I do not reach the myriad other standing and merits issues, the complexity of which is ably demonstrated by Judge Batchelder’s and Judge Gilman’s very thoughtful opinions, and I therefore concur in the judgment only.
And from Judge Gilman's dissent:
My colleagues conclude that the plaintiffs have not established standing to bring their challenge to the Bush Administration’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). A fundamental disagreement exists between the two of them and myself on what is required to show standing and whether any of the plaintiffs have met that requirement. Because of that disagreement, I respectfully dissent. Moreover, I would affirm the judgment of the district court because I am persuaded that the TSP as originally implemented violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).
The closest question in this case, in my opinion, is whether the plaintiffs have the standing to sue. Once past that hurdle, however, the rest gets progressively easier. Mootness is not a problem because of the government’s position that it retains the right to opt out of the FISA regime whenever it chooses. Its AUMF and inherent-authority arguments are weak in light of existing precedent and the rules of statutory construction. Finally, when faced with the clear wording of FISA and Title III that these statutes provide the “exclusive means” for the government to engage in electronic surveillance within the United States for foreign intelligence purposes, the conclusion becomes inescapable that the TSP was unlawful. I would therefore affirm the judgment of the district court.


InAlienable Publicity Photo: I thought those who read my live blogging (click link for all posts on one page) from the set of InAlienable last week might enjoy seeing these two publicity photos of the cast that I just received from photographer Michele K. Short. From left to right: Eric Avari, Richard Hatch, Courtney Peldon, Judy Levitt (Walter Koenig's wife), Walter Koenig, Marina Sirtis, and me (click on photos for larger image).

InAlienable Cast

This picture is of just the "legal" characters:


Federalist Society Online Debate on the Al-Marri Decision: The Federalist Society has posted an online debate about the Fourth Circuit's recent decision in Al-Marri v. Wright. The contributors were Richard Epstein, Andrew C. McCarthy, George Terwilliger, Erwin Chemerinsky, John Hutson, and myself. You can read the Justice Department's petition for rehearing in the Al-Marri case here.

Truth as a Defense in Defamation Cases:

A reader asked me whether true reputation-injuring statements are categorically immune from defamation liability. (Let's set aside for now invasion of privacy and other torts.) His state statute, he noticed, provided that such statements are protected only if they are said with "good motives" and for "justifiable ends."

Historically, many state statutes indeed so limited the truth defense. Today, I expect that such limitations would be unconstitutional: Defamation liability is said to be constitutional because "there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact," a rationale that doesn't apply to true statements. As to statements on "public issues," the Court has expressly rejected the good motives/justifiable ends limitation. But my sense is that such a limitation would be rejected as to private-concern statements, too; and I know of no modern cases that continue to apply the limitation.

Except, that is, for the remarkable case of Johnson v. Johnson, 654 A.2d 1212 (R.I. 1995). The facts:

On the evening of August 29, 1986, plaintiff entered Twin Oaks Restaurant in Cranston and proceeded to walk to the podium. While at the podium, plaintiff [ex-wife] saw defendant [her ex-husband] approach and ask her how her “[epithet] lawyer Fishbein” was. The defendant then drew nearer plaintiff who was standing with her then boyfriend-now husband Philip Caliri. At a distance of about four feet, in a loud voice, defendant screamed, “Phil, you are a * * * [epithet]. You could have prevented this case.” The defendant then pointed his finger in the face of plaintiff, while talking to Philip Caliri but screaming for all to hear, “You and that [obscenity] whore are costing me a lot of money.” ...

The ex-wife sued, claiming that the ex-husband slandered her by calling her a "whore," which in context appeared to mean someone who was unfaithful, not someone who was a prostitute. The court concluded the charges were true: "The findings of fact made by the trial justice are clear and unequivocal that the plaintiff fit the definition of the defamatory term applied to her." Yet the court went on to rule that, while "[i]n this case some spite and ill will might be understandable," "the trial justice was [not] clearly wrong when he confirmed the probable finding of the jury (although no special interrogatories had been submitted) that defendant acted out of spite and ill will."

Result: The compensatory damages award was upheld, on the theory that reputation-injuring but true statements on matters of private concern could still be actionable if said out of "malicious motives." The punitive damages award, however, was rejected, because in this case "defendant was the victim of a long course of reprehensible behavior committed against him by plaintiff."

I think this is an outlier case, which is inconsistent with the Court's false statement of fact jurisprudence, and which most American courts would not follow. Yet there it is, from the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1995.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Scooter Libby Pays His Debt to Society: A $250,000 fine plus $400 of special assessments, to be specific; the check is here. Meanwhile, over at Slate, Michelle Tsai considers how or whether Libby (or his defense fund) could get back the money if Libby is eventually pardoned.

Painting of Jesus in Louisiana Courthouse:

The New Orleans Times Picayune reports:

A portrait of Jesus Christ that hangs in the lobby of Slidell City Court violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, specifically a mandate calling for the separation of church and state, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Louisiana ACLU....

Vincent Booth, acting executive director and board president for the ACLU, said after filing the suit that he believes the portrait, along with lettering beneath that says, "To know peace, obey these laws," violates established U.S. Supreme Court law....

A local priest has identified the portrait as "Christ the Savior," a 16th Century Russian Orthodox icon. It depicts Jesus holding a book open to biblical passages, written in Russian, that deal with judgment. The ACLU says the book is the New Testament.

ERROR IN THE FOLLOWING TWO PARAGRAPHS AND THE PHOTO: The icon, according to this blog post, is this:

The reproduction is a little fuzzy, so I'm not positive about the entirety of the text; but at least the first two thirds are a Russian version of John 13:34, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." (For the modern Russian version, see here.) END ERROR.

CORRECTION: The blog post on which I relied for a copy of the icon appears to have been incorrect. The correct photo, according to AP and Yahoo! News Photos, is this:

I can't read the text, but this site, which discusses what appears to be this icon, independently of the Slidell controversy, reports that the text corresponds to John 7:24 ("Judge not according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgement") and Matthew 7:2 ("For with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged"). This is indeed more courthouse-related text than what I understood the quote to be earlier. END CORRECTION.

My sense is that even under Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion (joined by Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist) in one of the Ten Commandments cases, such an overt reference to Christianity and to a New Testament verse would be impermissible: Justice Scalia, after all, stressed that he viewed Ten Commandments displays as permissible because they are essentially endorsed by "such a broad and diverse range of the population — from Christians to Muslims — that they cannot be reasonably understood as a government endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint."

He also wrote that "The Establishment Clause would prohibit, for example, governmental endorsement of a particular version of the Decalogue as authoritative," and rejected Justice Stevens's argument that the Scalia approach would read the Establishment Clause as "protecting only the Christian religion or perhaps only Protestantism": "All of the actions of Washington and the First Congress upon which I have relied, virtually all Thanksgiving Proclamations throughout our history, and all the other examples of our Government's favoring religion that I have cited, have invoked God, but not Jesus Christ.

Perhaps Justice Scalia should have taken the broader view that the Establishment Clause allows all government endorsement of religion, or at least of Christianity generally; and it's possible that he took this view in the creche cases. But his Ten Commandments opinion takes a view that is more restrictive of government religious speech, and under this view it seems that the Slidell painting may not be displayed.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which has agreed to represent the court, responds:

"The First Amendment allows public officials, and not the ACLU, to decide what is appropriate for acknowledging our nation’s religious history and heritage. The painting clearly delivers an inclusive message of equal justice under the law," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson. "It is mind-boggling that the ACLU would oppose such a widely cherished idea simply because it is offended by the image in the painting."

"The ideas expressed in this painting aren't specific to any one faith, and they certainly don’t establish a single state religion," Johnson explained. "The reason Americans enjoy equal justice is because we are all 'created equal, endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights.' This painting is a clear reflection of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence." ...

It's hard for me to see how such an ecumenical perspective can be read into a painting of Jesus holding a fragment from the New Testament (or, if the theory is that the text is irrelevant because next to no-one would understand it, we can just settle on this being a painting of Jesus with some undefined pronouncement), coupled with "To know peace, obey these laws," presumably referring to the laws expounded by Jesus.

Thanks to Frank Bell for pointers to the story and to the icon.

UPDATE: I should stress that this seems to be a standalone painting, and one that isn't just displayed as a work of art for art's sake — the "lettering beneath that says, 'To know peace, obey these laws'" suggests the court authorities are trying to send a normative message with the painting, not just to display a historically interesting or significant artifact.


The Supreme Court and the Libby Case -- A Dialogue: Two lawyers, one very liberal and the other very conservative, meet over a beer to chat about recent legal stories in the news. . . .

  Lib: I've been thinking a lot about the new Supreme Court. Those new Justices are totally political — they vote the conservative way every time. I'm just glad the more liberal justices kept opposing their efforts.
  Con: Funny, I've been thinking about the Libby case. The case against Libby was totally political. I'm just glad President Bush undid some of the damage.
  Lib: Do you really think the case against Libby was political? What's your basis for saying that?
  Con: Wait, you first. You said that the two new Justices are totally political. What's your basis for saying that?
  Lib: Just look at how they voted. Alito and Roberts were on the conservative side of all those 5-4 decisions. Do you think that was a coincidence?
  Con: I don't think it was a coincidence — Alito and Roberts are conservatives, so it's not too surprising. But isn't it a pretty far step to go from saying that Alito and Roberts are conservatives to saying that their decisions were purely political? Don't you have to look closely at the merits of each case to see which side is more persuasive?
  Lib: Stop being an apologist. It's not really so hard. Any Justice who votes so consistently for one side in ideological cases is obviously just being political.
  Con: You mean like Justices Stevens, Souter, Breyer, and Ginsburg? Each and every one of them voted for the liberal side in every single one of those ideologically divided cases. Does that mean their decisions were purely political, too?
  Lib: Hmm, let me think about that. No, that's different. The Supreme Court is about helping the little guy against the powerful. The liberal Justices are following in that great tradition.
  Con: I think the Supreme Court is about the law, actually. Sometimes the law favors the little guy and sometimes it favors the powerful. But when you say that "the Supreme Court is about helping the little guy," you're just pretending that decisions matching your policy views are somehow fundamental constitutional truth.
  Lib: Well, it's certainly the role I think the Supreme Court should have.
  Con: But isn't that just your politics speaking? You're a liberal because you think the government should help the little guy. So you embrace judicial decisions that reflect that view as being "correct." On the other hand, instead of looking at the facts and law of each case, you just dismiss judicial decisions that clash with your policy views as "purely political." It validates your worldview, but it doesn't really add anything.
  Lib: Let's move on to the Libby case. Why do you think it was political?
  Con: Oh, please. The Libby case was purely political from the beginning. Liberals tried to use it to indict Cheney and Rove over the Iraq war in an effort to cripple the Bush Administration. Fitzgerald was an overzealous prosecutor who was trying to do their bidding. He obviously was acting politically against the Bush Administration.
  Lib: Do you have any proof that Fitzgerald had any political motives?
  Con: I don't need proof. Just look at what he did. I can't think of any other explanation.
  Lib: But isn't this the same reasoning you found so objectionable a minute ago? When I thought Alito and Roberts were being purely political based on the outcomes they reached, you objected that I was just saying that because it validated my worldview. And yet now you say that Fitzgerald was just being political because of the positions he took. Aren't you the one trying to validate your worldview now?
  Con: Stop playing "gotcha." I know politics masquerading as law when I see it. And I see it with the Libby prosecution.
  Lib: Ah, but as a wise man said not long ago, "isn't that just your politics speaking?" You support the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration. The Libby prosecution threatened the Administration and put some pretty unflattering attention on the White House and the road to the war. So instead of looking at the facts and law of the criminal case, you just dismiss it as "purely political." It validates your worldview, but it doesn't really add anything.

Freedom of Speech and Mens Rea:

It looks like my new project will be when courts do, and when they should, organize free speech tests around the speaker's mental state -- for instance, around whether the speaker is negligent or reckless about certain circumstances (consider the constitutional libel tests, which focus on negligence or recklessness about the falsehood of the statement), or whether the speaker is speaking with the purpose of bringing about some result.

I'd thought about this already in the past, chiefly in my Crime-Facilitating Speech paper (see PDF pages 67-85), which touches on the subject in one context. But the Court's recent FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life decision led me to think about the matter more broadly, chiefly because of the following passage:

The FEC ... [argues for having] the constitutional test for determining if an ad is the functional equivalent of express advocacy [be] whether the ad is intended to influence elections and has that effect....

[W]e decline to adopt a test for as-applied challenges turning on the speaker’s intent to affect an election. The test to distinguish constitutionally protected political speech from speech that BCRA may proscribe should provide a safe harbor for those who wish to exercise First Amendment rights. The test should also “reflec[t] our ‘profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’” A test turning on the intent of the speaker does not remotely fit the bill....

[A]n intent-based test would chill core political speech by opening the door to a trial on every ad within the terms of §203, on the theory that the speaker actually intended to affect an election, no matter how compelling the indications that the ad concerned a pending legislative or policy issue. No reasonable speaker would choose to run an ad covered by BCRA if its only defense to a criminal prosecution would be that its motives were pure. An intent-based standard “blankets with uncertainty whatever may be said,” and “offers no security for free discussion.” ...

A test focused on the speaker’s intent could [also] lead to the bizarre result that identical ads aired at the same time could be protected speech for one speaker, while leading to criminal penalties for another. See M. Redish, Money Talks: Speech, Economic Power, and the Values of Democracy 91 (2001) (“[U]nder well-accepted First Amendment doctrine, a speaker’s motivation is entirely irrelevant to the question of constitutional protection”). “First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive.” An intent test provides none....

I much sympathize with this skepticism about focusing on a speaker's purpose or motivation. Yet of course under some well-accepted First Amendment doctrines, a speaker's motivation is deeply relevant to the question of constitutional protection: Consider the Brandenburg v. Ohio incitement test, which is whether the speech "is intended to [encourage imminent lawless conduct] and has that [likely] effect."

Likewise, Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court's latest true threat case, seemingly treats the speaker's purpose as part of the constitutional test for whether the speech is unprotected: "'True threats' encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals" (emphasis added). (Note that lower courts are split as to whether Black should be interpreted this way.)

So there really is no flat rule that "a speaker's motivation is entirely irrelevant to the question of constitutional protection." But should it be irrelevant? Should it be relevant in some situations but not others? What about other mens rea standards, such as negligence, recklessness, and knowledge? It's pretty broadly agreed that they should sometimes be relevant, but exactly when and how?

And these questions are themselves relevant to a bunch of First Amendment controversies. One example is crime-facilitating speech, where the Justice Department's, the Fourth Circuit's, and in some measure Congress's judgment seems to be that the purpose-to-facilitate-crime vs. purpose-to-do-something-else distinction is indeed constitutionally significant. Another is the debate about whether the intentional infliction of emotional distress tort should allow punishment of otherwise constitutionally protected speech (i.e., speech other than threats, false statements of fact said with the proper mens rea, and the like) about nonpublic figures. Another is the debate about free speech and hostile work environment harassment, in which some commentators have urged a mens-rea-based test.

In any event, I hope to get started on this in a week or two, and I'd love to hear any thoughts you folks might have on the subject.


The Chinese-Egyptian axis:

Remember the Chinese-Albanian axis? Now not only are China and Egypt both suppressing free speech, but Chinese and Egyptian liberals are teaming up to fight them. See the Free the New Youth 4! web site, dedicated to the case of four students sentenced to 8-10 years in prison for running a discussion group. Now see the Free Kareem! site, dedicated to the now well-known Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman case.

Notice the tell-tale similarities -- the word "Free" and the conspicuous exclamation point? Not just coincidence: see this article in the Daily Star of Egypt, documenting this Chinese-Egyptian cooperation for free-speech. Spread the word.


How Conservative This Court?

Is the Roberts Court really that conservative? I don't think so. As I see it (and argue in this NRO article) the Supreme Court's 2006-07 term did not reveal a conservative ascendency, so much as it suggested the beginning of the "Kennedy Court." Justice Kennedy is the swing justice, and the pattern of judicial decisions largely reflects his approach to jurisprudence — moderately conservative on most issues. Interestingly enough, given Chief Justice Roberts' and Justice Alito's "minimalist" tendencies, the Court's moves to the "Right" will likely be smaller than its occasional lurches to the "Left."

Here's a taste of the article:

The replacement of Justice O’Connor with Justice Alito has shifted the Supreme Court slightly to the right, but there is no conservative legal revolution in the offing. If anything, the pattern of the Court’s decisions somewhat reflects Justice Kennedy’s somewhat conservative jurisprudence — moderately conservative and generally resistant to dramatic shifts in established doctrine. On many issues, Kennedy is in line with the minimalist approach of the chief justice and Justice Alito, yet on many others he is willing to be significantly more aggressive and depart from conservative principles. The swing justice has a soft spot for sweeping moral arguments, such as claims about personal autonomy or the nature of deliberative democracy.

Some feign surprise at the voting pattern of the Court’s two newest justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Yet both justices have performed as advertised. President Bush promised Supreme Court nominations in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas, and there was never much doubt that Roberts and Alito would join the conservative side of the court. They are both “conservative minimalists”; they read legal texts fairly but narrowly, resist the creation or recognition of new legal rights, show respect for precedent, and avoid announcing legal rules broader than necessary to decide a given case. If anything, some conservatives may think President Bush over-promised, as Roberts and Alito are more reluctant to reverse prior cases than either Scalia and Thomas. Indeed, Alito and Roberts are less prone to overturn prior precedent than any of their colleagues on the Court.

The full article is available here.

There are several other Supreme Court-related articles on NRO today, including Allison Hayward on the campaign finance decision, Roger Clegg on the race-based school assignment case, and additional commentary on Bench Memos.

UPDATE: I suspect the most controversial claim in my article is that "Alito and Roberts are less prone to overturn prior precedent than any of their colleagues on the Court." I think this is a relatively easy proposition to defend, but I would like to hear arguments to the contrary. Note that my claim is not that Roberts and Alito always follow or uphold prior precedent, nor is it that Roberts and Alito have the best approach to prior precedent. Rather, my claim is that, as a descriptive matter, the two of them are more incremental and respectful of precedent in their opinions, taken as a whole, than any of the other sitting justices.


Laws of General Applicability and Cohen v. Cowles Media:

I continue the posts excerpting my article, Speech as Conduct: Generally Applicable Laws, Illegal Courses of Conduct, “Situation-Altering Utterances,” and the Uncharted Zones, 90 Cornell Law Review 1277 (2005). Right now, I'm discussing the first part of the argument, which responds to the claim that “generally applicable laws” may be applied to speech with little constitutional scrutiny (or at least without strict scrutiny) even when the laws apply to the speech precisely because of the communicative effects of the speech.

* * *

So far, I’ve used the term “generally applicable law” simply to mean a law applicable equally to a wide variety of conduct, whether speech or not. But “generally applicable law” can have several different meanings, depending on context:

  1. a facially speech-neutral law, which is to say a law applicable to a wide variety of conduct, whether speech or not;

  2. a facially religion-neutral law, which is to say a law applicable equally to religious observers and to others; or

  3. a facially press-neutral law, which is to say a law applicable equally to the press and to others.

These three meanings -- facially speech-neutral, facially religion-neutral, and facially press-neutral -- are different, though they sometimes share the label “generally applicable law.” For instance, most libel law principles are press-neutral but not speech-neutral. A tax on all books would be religion-neutral but not press-neutral.

Unfortunately, since all these laws are sometimes called “generally applicable,” the three types may be confused with one another. One major argument against the position I defended in the a previous post flows from this very sort of confusion. That argument (used, among others, by the Fourth Circuit in Rice v. Paladin Enterprises and by the Justice Department in their memo on restricting crime-facilitating speech) cites Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., and the opinions on which that case relies, for the proposition that applying generally applicable laws to speech doesn’t violate the First Amendment.

In Cowles Media, the Court held that “generally applicable laws do not offend the First Amendment simply because their enforcement against the press has incidental effects on its ability to gather and report the news,” and cited several other cases that so held. But this only means that the press gets no special exemption from press-neutral laws. The Court didn’t consider whether speakers were entitled to protection from speech-neutral laws, especially when those laws are content-based as applied. Cowles Media involved a promissory estoppel lawsuit by a source against a newspaper publisher. Cowles breached its promise not to reveal Cohen’s name; Cohen sued and won on a promissory estoppel theory, and the Court held that the damages award didn’t violate the First Amendment. In the process, the Court reasoned that the case was controlled by the

well-established line of decisions holding that generally applicable laws do not offend the First Amendment simply because their enforcement against the press has incidental effects on its ability to gather and report the news. As the cases relied on by respondents recognize, the truthful information sought to be published must have been lawfully acquired. The press may not with impunity break and enter an office or dwelling to gather news. Neither does the First Amendment relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation shared by all citizens to respond to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, even though the reporter might be required to reveal a confidential source. The press, like others interested in publishing, may not publish copyrighted material without obeying the copyright laws. Similarly, the media must obey the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act; may not restrain trade in violation of the antitrust laws; and must pay nondiscriminatory taxes. It is therefore beyond dispute that “[t]he publisher of a newspaper has no special immunity from the application of general laws. He has no special privilege to invade the rights and liberties of others.” Accordingly, enforcement of such general laws against the press is not subject to stricter scrutiny than would be applied to enforcement against other persons or organizations.

There can be little doubt that the Minnesota doctrine of promissory estoppel is a law of general applicability. It does not target or single out the press. Rather, insofar as we are advised, the doctrine is generally applicable to the daily transactions of all the citizens of Minnesota. The First Amendment does not forbid its application to the press.

The Court repeatedly stressed that it was discussing only whether the press gets special exemption from laws that are equally applicable to the press and to others; this quote mentions “the press,” “newspapers,” or “the media” nine times. Each of the examples the Court gave discussed what “the press,” “the media,” “newspaper[s],” and “newspaper reporter[s]” have no special right to do. This makes sense, because the Court was overruling the Minnesota Supreme Court’s conclusion that the First Amendment requires courts to “balance the constitutional rights of a free press against the common law interest in protecting a promise of anonymity.”

Moreover, two of the Court’s examples are consistent only with the interpretation that the Court used “generally applicable” to mean press-neutral rather than speech-neutral. First, copyright law (which the Court also mentions as an example later in the opinion) is press-neutral but not speech-neutral. In 1977, when Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. -- the case that the Cowles Media Court cited when referring to copyright law -- was decided, copyright law applied exclusively to communication, as it had through most of its history. Even today it applies mostly to communication, though over the past few decades it has been extended to cover architectural works and computer program object code.

Second, as Part II.B pointed out, the First Amendment sometimes provides a defense against antitrust law, when the alleged restraint of trade comes from defendant’s speech advocating legislation. Citizen Publishing Co. v. United States and Associated Press v. United States, the two antitrust cases that the Court cited, hold that newspapers cannot raise their status as members of the press as a defense to antitrust law. But Noerr and Pennington make clear that speakers can raise as a defense the fact that the law is being applied to them because of their speech.

So the Cowles Media Court’s “general applicability” reasoning means simply that Minnesota promissory estoppel law is press-neutral, and thus shouldn’t have been subject to any heightened scrutiny simply because it was applied to the press. (Compare Turner Broadcasting Sys., Inc. v. FCC, “[W]hile the enforcement of a generally applicable law may or may not be subject to heightened scrutiny under the First Amendment ... laws that single out the press ... for special treatment ‘pose a particular danger of abuse by the State,’ ... and so are always subject to at least some degree of heightened First Amendment scrutiny.”)

That, of course, leaves unresolved the argument that the law couldn’t be applied because it restricted speech; after all, it was Cowles Media’s speech that constituted the potentially actionable breaking of a promise.

But later in the opinion, the Court explains why promissory estoppel law is indeed constitutionally applicable to all speakers, whether press or not: “Minnesota law simply requires those making promises to keep them. The parties themselves, as in this case, determine the scope of their legal obligations, and any restrictions which may be placed on the publication of truthful information are self-imposed.” So the Court rejected the free speech argument based on the principle that free speech rights, like most other rights, are waivable, rather than on an assertion that speech-neutral laws are per se constitutional.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Birthday Wishes:

Happy 231st birthday to the USA, happy 40th to me, and, as of this past Sunday, happy blogversay to one of the oldest (and one of my favorite) legal blogs, To be honest, when Wally Olson announced he was staring the Overlawyered site, well before the word "blog" was invented, I thought posting stuff on the Internet regularly and hoping people would read it was a silly idea!


What Would George Washington Do?

A special July 4 issue of the Boulder Weekly asks what the Founders would think about various modern issues. The article begins with an interview with Jim Hightower, the former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, who is now a populist political commentator (and whose column appears in the Boulder Weekly). After that, the article asks a series of written questions to me and to Paul Danish. Danish is former Boulder City Councilman and Boulder County Commissioner. He also once served as an Independence Institute Senior Fellow. He is best-known for "the Danish plan," a growth-control law adopted by the Boulder City Council.

The format did not require us to answer every question, and so a I skipped a pair about Guantanamo and the Patriot Act; a wise decision on my part, since there is little that I could add to Danish's thoughtful answers.

Below are some additional questions, and my responses, which were not included in the published article.

Does the average American understand the freedom our founding documents provide enough to successfully defend those freedoms from domestic enemies, i.e., the government itself?

No. The National Constitution Center's 1998 survey of teenagers found only 41 percent could identify the three branches of government, only 45% knew what the Bill of Rights was. As Ilya Somin detailed in a 2004 Cato Institute study, a large number of surveys show that between a quarter and a third of adults are extremely ignorant of public affairs; many cannot even name the Vice President. With so many people so scandalously ignorant, it is no wonder that elections so often produce rulers who, like Roman emperors, are better at pandering to transient hysterias and desires than at guarding our traditional liberties.

Which Constitutional Amendment are you most grateful for when you celebrate the Fourth of July?

The Second Amendment has been the topic of much of my scholarly writing, but I love all of the Bill of Rights; each of them makes the other nine stronger and more effective.

How would the Founders respond to modern feminism?

Many of them likely would have understood and approved that the democratizing forces unleashed by the Revolution would lead to political rights for the many American women whose talents were equal to those of Abigail Adams or Mercy Otis Warren.

What would the Founders have to say about the oil industry?

The actual extraction, refining, and distribution of oil would likely be seen as fulfilling the Founders' highest hopes of America's scientific and commercial genius. The oil industry's current role in politics might be seen as an inevitable consequence of the federal government's arrogation of a massive role for itself in choosing favored and disfavored big corporations to persecute or enrich, especially beginning in the early 20th century.

What would the Founders think of the outsourcing of American jobs?

There was a healthy debate in the Founding Era between protectionist forces (led by Alexander Hamilton) and free trade (led by Thomas Jefferson), with the protectionists winning. And even Jefferson, as President, accepted many protective tariffs. So perhaps the Founders would be divided on the trade issue today, as they were divided in their own time.


IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776: The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

For a rough draft of the Declaration, click here.
For the modifications made by Congress click here.

The Libby Pardon, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and the Ashcroft Memorandum: Articles in both the New York Times and Slate suggest that Bush's decision to commute Libby's sentence was hypocritical because of the Administration's views on sentencing law. Specifically, Bush relied on arguments about what should be relevant to a sentence that his own Justice Department has rejected in the context of legislation and litigation over the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. While I'm critical of Bush's decision, I find this particular criticism to be weak because it overlooks the vital differences between executive and judicial power. I think the better criticism would be based on the differences between Bush's commutation and DOJ's charging policies announced in the Ashcroft Memorandum of 2003.

  The problem with the comparison to sentencing law is that there are two very different branches of government at work here. On one hand, we have the politically-accountable elected Executive branch. And on the other hand, we have the life-tenured unelected Judicial branch. The criminal justice system traditionally gives those two branches very different roles. The Executive branch decides what cases it will investigate and what it will charge. The Judicial branch plays the role of umpire and adjudicates guilt and imposes sentences pursuant to Congress's statutes (checked by the Constitution).

  Given those differences, I'm not sure why a President's reasons for exercising his Executive power to commute or pardon need to mirror that President's views about what power judges should have to adjust sentences. The two branches are different and play different roles; I don't know why a President has to choose between both branches having a particular power and neither of them having it. A President's decision to commute or pardon is much more like a prosecutor's decision to charge a case in a particular way or to decline prosecution altogether than it is a judge's decision handing down a sentence.

  Now, with that said, Bush isn't off the hook. The real problem then is the inconsistency between Bush's apparent reasons for commuting Libby's sentence and DOJ policy on charging cases. Under current policy, federal prosecutors have the power to decline to charge cases altogether — a power roughly analogous to a pardon, albeit on the front end of the process rather than the back end. There are considerations that they are supposed to use as well as considerations they cannot use, but the power itself is pretty broad.

  On the other hand, there's a very different picture for the power to charge a case in a tailored way to make sure the sentence isn't excessive — a power roughly analogous to commuting a sentence, albeit on the front end of the process rather than the back end. Under the Ashcroft memorandum, DOJ's policy announced in 2003, once prosecutors agree to charge a case they have very little discretion on how to charge it. The basic notion is that prosecutors are not permitted to charge a case only part of the way out of a sense that this best reflects the interests of justice in that particular case.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

How Many Current Law Students Are There in the U.S.?

The answers to this question (140,000 J.D., nearly 150,000 total) and many more are available at this ABA site. Cool.


Judges Sentelle and Henderson Are Anti-Bush Hacks, Dersh Says: Over at Huffington Post, Alan Dershowitz makes the case that the D.C. Circuit judges who denied Libby's appeal — a panel that included Federalist Society favorite David Sentelle and solid conservative Karen LeCraft Henderson — are anti-Bush political hacks who only denied Libby's appeal for partisan political reasons.

  Now, I know what you're thinking — the court's order was only two sentences long. How could Dershowitz know what the judges were thinking? The answer seems to be that Dersh just knows. He writes:
That judicial decision was entirely political. The appellate judges had to see that Libby's arguments on appeal were sound and strong — that under existing law he was entitled to bail pending appeal. (That is why I joined several other law professors in filing an amicus brief on this limited issue.) . . .

But the court of appeals' judges, as well as the district court judge, wanted to force President Bush's hand. They didn't want to give him the luxury of being able to issue a pardon before the upcoming presidential election. Had Libby been allowed to be out on appeal, he would probably have remained free until after the election. It would then have been possible for President Bush to pardon him after the election but before he left office, as presidents often do during the lame duck hiatus. To preclude that possibility, the judges denied Libby bail pending appeal. . .

[T]hat was entirely improper, because judges are not allowed to act politically. They do act politically, of course, as evidenced by the Supreme Court's disgracefully political decision in Bush v. Gore. But the fact that they do act politically does not make it right. It is never proper for a court to take partisan political considerations into account when seeking to administer justice in an individual case.
  I love Dershowitz's reason why the two-sentence order shows that these two very conservative judges (together with Judge Tatel) acted out of partisan political animosity against Bush: Libby's arguments were so strong that it's the only explanation. Of course.

"Man Charged 32 Years After Alleged Rape":

The Providence Journal reports:

A 48-year-old Narragansett man has been charged with raping someone 32 years ago when both he and the alleged victim were 16 years old, the attorney general's office said this week.

Harold Allen, of 30 Riverview Rd., was indicted last month on a charge of first-degree sexual assault, and he pleaded not guilty, court records show. Allen is accused of raping the girl in North Kingstown between April 1 and Oct. 31, 1975, the records show.

"The traumatized victim decided back then not to tell anybody what happened and repressed the memory of it until recently," said Michael J. Healey, a spokesman for Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch’s office. "The victim came forward and made a complaint to the North Kingstown Police Department on June 15, 2006."

No statute of limitations applies to charges of first-degree sexual assault ....

"If this incident happened today, it would be [handled in] Family Court," [Healey] said. "But Family Court never attained jurisdiction because no petition was filed against the defendant before his 21st birthday saying he had committed the crime before he was 18 years old. So you bring the charge in the court that would have had jurisdiction if the crime was committed by an adult. And that means the Superior Court." ...

[Allen's lawyer says that] "[Allen] says they never had intercourse -- willing, unwilling or otherwise."

Sounds like a pretty troubling prosecution -- one person's word against another's, with no physical or documentary evidence, about something that happened two-thirds of a lifetime ago. I'm no expert on memory, repressed or otherwise; and it may well be that there's some other evidence available here, hard as it is for me to imagine what it might be. Still, it seems to me highly unlikely that a jury could sensibly discover beyond a reasonable doubt what really happened between these two pepople 32 years ago.

Thanks to Sean O'Brien for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Charges Filed 32 Years After Alleged Rape Have Now Been Dropped:
  2. "Man Charged 32 Years After Alleged Rape":

Traces of Asia in American State Names:

The names of many American states are derived from indigenous American languages. The names of some stem from words or proper names in European languages, chiefly English but also French and Spanish (and of course indirectly Latin, e.g., Virginia, and Germanic languages, e.g., North Carolina).

At least two names of American states, however, indirectly stem in whole or in part from words or proper names in Asian languages (and I don't mean indirectly in the sense that many European words stem from proto-Indo-European). What are they? I stress that there is some indirectness involved.


Weird Behavior by the Padilla Jury: Over at the Southern District of Florida blog, David Markus reports on some strange behavior being exhibited by the jury in the Jose Padilla trial: "[the] jurors showed up today all dressed up. Row one in red. Row two in white. And row three in blue. I'm not kidding. And this isn't the first time the jury has dressed up. A week back, all of the jurors (save one) wore black."

Are Credit Card Providers Liable for Knowingly Facilitating Sales of Infringing Material?

The Ninth Circuit says "no," in Perfect 10 v. Visa Int'l, in an opinion written by Judge Smith and joined by Judge Reinhardt; Judge Kozinski dissents. I think Judge Kozinski's opinion is more persuasive as a matter of current law (whatever one thinks the law ought to be), at least as to contributory liability.

As Judge Kozinski points out, "If this were a drug deal ... we would never say that the guy entrusted with delivery of the purchase money is less involved in the transaction than the guy who helps find the seller." And the Ninth Circuit had already held that "the guy who helps find the seller" in copyright infringement cases, knowing that the seller is infringing, is liable.

The quote comes in the vicarious liability section, but it seems fully applicable to contributory infringement, especially since the theory of contributory infringement is closely related to aiding-and-abetting liability. Knowing provision of material assistance to infringers is sufficient for contributory copyright infringement, and providing financial services surely qualifies as material assistance. The majority's attempts to distinguish such assistance from other assistance strike me as unpersuasive.

In any case, whoever is right, this is obviously an issue that bears further watching, in this litigation and in future cases.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Knowingly Helping People Commit Crimes or Torts:
  2. Are Credit Card Providers Liable for Knowingly Facilitating Sales of Infringing Material?

Laws of General Applicability, Content-Based as Applied and Content-Neutral as Applied:

Consider a generally applicable law that is being applied to speech, but that on its face doesn’t mention speech. Sometimes, as in United States v. O’Brien, the law may be triggered by the “noncommunicative impact of [the speech], and [by] nothing else.” A law barring noise louder than ninety decibels, for instance, might apply to the use of bullhorns in a demonstration. We might call such a generally applicable law “content-neutral as applied,” because it applies to speech without regard to its content.

But sometimes the law is triggered by what the speech communicates. The law may, for instance, prohibit any conduct that is likely to have a certain effect, and the effect may sometimes be caused by the content of speech. A person may violate a law prohibiting aiding and abetting crime, for example, by publishing a book that describes how a crime can be easily committed.

We might call such a law “content-based as applied,” because the content of the speech triggers its application. The law doesn’t merely have the effect of restricting some speech more than other speech -- most content-neutral laws do that. Rather, the law applies to speech precisely because of the harms that supposedly flow from the content of the speech: Publishing and distributing the book violates the aiding and abetting law because of what the book says.

In this post and coming posts, I’ll argue that laws that are content-based as applied should be presumptively unconstitutional, just as facially content-based laws are presumptively unconstitutional. Both presumptions may sometimes be rebutted, for instance if the speech falls within an exception to protection or if the speech restriction passes strict scrutiny. But generally speaking, when a law punishes speech because its content may cause harmful effects, that law should be treated as content-based.

This analysis also cuts against some commentators’ arguments that First Amendment doctrine should focus primarily on smoking out the legislature’s impermissible speech-restrictive motivations. (See, e.g., Elena Kagan, Private Speech, Public Purpose: The Role of Governmental Motive in First Amendment Doctrine, 63 U. Chi. L. Rev. 413 (1996); Jed Rubenfeld, The First Amendment’s Purpose, 53 Stan. L. Rev. 767 (2001).) When a law generally applies to a wide range of conduct, and sweeps in speech together with such conduct, there is little reason to think that lawmakers had any motivation with regard to speech, much less an impermissible one. Nonetheless, such a law should still be unconstitutional when applied to speech based on its content—even though the legislature’s motivations may have been quite benign.

* * *

The Court has confronted many cases where a law was content-based as applied. In all those cases, either the Court held that the speech was constitutionally protected, or -- if it held otherwise -- the decision is now viewed as obsolete.

Consider, for instance, the World War I-era cases Debs v. United States, Frohwerk v. United States, and Schenck v. United States. These cases, which upheld the criminal punishment of antiwar speech, are now generally seen as wrongly decided. But the defendants’ statements had violated a generally applicable provision of the Espionage Act, which barred all conduct -- speech or not -- that “willfully obstruct[ed] the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, to the injury of the service or the United States.”


President Bush Won't Rule Out Eventual Pardon For Libby: President Bush, yesterday afternoon:
  I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison.
  My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.
President Bush, this morning:
  President Bush on Tuesday refused to rule out an eventual pardon for former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
  "As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out," the president said a day after commuting Libby's 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak case.

"Domestic Terroris[ts]" Target UCLA Professor:

The L.A. Times reports:

The FBI and the Los Angeles Fire Department are investigating an anonymous claim that animal rights extremists placed an unexploded incendiary device found under the car of a prominent UCLA eye doctor last weekend. The incident was similar to one last year in which another UCLA researcher was the intended target.

A gasoline-filled device was discovered Sunday by the car outside the Westside home of Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum, who is chief of pediatric ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute. The device did not ignite despite evidence of an attempt to light it ....

An e-mail on Wednesday signed by the Animal Liberation Brigade said the group put the device there to stop experiments on animals in Rosenbaum's laboratory....

According to the National Institutes of Health, [Rosenbaum's] lab received federal funding to, among other things, test tiny implanted electrodes on monkeys to correct severe cross-eyed conditions....


Why Didn't FItzgerald Close Up Shop After Learning That Armitage Was the Leaker?: A popular argument for why Scooter Libby should never have been prosecuted is that Patrick Fitzgerald knew early on in the investigation that Richard Armitage at the State Department was the leaker. If Fitzgerald knew Armitage was the leaker, why didn't he stop the investigation right away? Why did he continue? For some people, Fitzgerald's decision not to close up shop after learning Armitage was the leaker proves that he was an overzealous prosecutor run amok. He must have had some irrational desire to go after Libby, the argument runs, making the entire Libby prosecution unfair from the get-go.

  I don't find this argument persuasive. To see why, imagine yourself in Fitzgerald's shoes. Here are the relevant facts as you know them (reconstructed as best I can -- please let me know if these facts are misleading or wrong and I'll correct them). You've been appointed a special prosecutor to investigate intentional leaks to the media of the covert identity of a CIA agent. Early on in the investigation, you learn that one high-level political official has admitted that he leaked Plame's identity to one reporter; he claims that it was an accident, as he didn't realize the agent's status was covert. You also know that a lot of other reporters were leaked the same information, but you don't know who was behind those other leaks. The reporters won't talk: They insist on going to jail rather than revealing their sources.

  If you were Fitzgerald, would you close up shop at that point? Would you conclude without even speaking to other potential witnesses that the one high-level official was in fact responsible for all the leaks, and that he acted accidentally and entirely on his own? Or would you at least want to dig deeper to see if the story checks out?

  In that setting, I don't understand what was so overzealous about wanting to talk to Libby. An experienced prosecutor is going to wonder if the guy who rushes forward and claims the leaks were an accident is telling the truth. Maybe he is. But you don't want to close up shop and then read in someone's memoirs ten years from now that the official (Armitage) was the fall guy who came up with the "accident" story to cover up something -- and that he got away with it because the naive prosecutor bought the story and closed the investigation without even verifying the facts. Or maybe someone was using Armitage as an unknowing intermediary, making his story accurate from his perspective but only part of the picture. Or maybe there were other leakers -- either more leakers to the one reporter (Novak) who reported to the public about Plame, or other leakers to the other reporters. None of these are certainties, of course. But it is really so unreasonable to look into them?

  To repeat myself from yesterday, I'm certainly open to argument that Libby's punishment was too high, or that there were parts of the case that were unfair. But I don't understand why Fitzgerald's wanting to speak to Libby is proof that he was an overzealous prosecutor run amok. What am I missing?

"Politics" and the Libby Prosecution: The Scooter Libby case has triggered some very weird commentary around the blogosphere; perhaps the weirdest claim is that the case against Libby was "purely political."

  I find this argument seriously bizarre. As I understand it, Bush political appointee James Comey named Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame leak. Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Fitzgerald filed an indictment and went to trial before Bush political appointee Reggie Walton. A jury convicted Libby, and Bush political appointee Walton sentenced him. At sentencing, Bush political appointee Judge Walton described the evidence against Libby as "overwhelming" and concluded that a 30-month sentence was appropriate. And yet the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.

  I find this claim bizarre. I'm open to arguments that parts of the case against Libby were unfair. But for the case to have been purely political, doesn't that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee? Who are the political opponents who brought the case? Is the idea that Fitzgerald is secretly a Democratic party operative? That Judge Walton is a double agent? Or is the idea that Fitzgerald and Walton were hypnotized by "the Mainstream Media" like Raymond Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate? Seriously, I don't get it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Scooter Libby Commutation:

I share Orin's disapproval of this, and his reasons for the disapproval.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Scooter Libby Commutation:
  2. Bush Sets Libby Free:

Bush Sets Libby Free: Wow, that was fast: President Bush set Scooter Libby free today, just hours after the D.C. Circuit's ruling.

  Bush "commuted" Libby's sentence, which means that Libby doesn't have to go to jail but he still has to be on probation for two years and still must pay the fine imposed by the District Court. In case you're wondering, yup, this is perfectly legal. The President's powers here are absolute. And whether Scooter Libby's original sentence was exactly correct is an interesting question I can't answer; while I have a rough sense it was in the right ballpark, I didn't follow the case closely enough to have any particular views of that.

  Nonetheless, I find Bush's action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don't know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby's treatment was very special indeed.

  UPDATE: I have amended the post to take out my effort to try to characterize commuting the sentence; some readers objected, and the point wasn't relevant to the post.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Scooter Libby Commutation:
  2. Bush Sets Libby Free:

Broken Laptop? When my beloved Panasonic W2 laptop started crashing upon boot-up after 5 years of trouble-free use all over the globe, I initially thought (hoped) it might be a defective memory card. When that wasn't it, I figured it was the hard drive. I found a company called Lapfix in Falls Church, Virginia who was willing promptly to replace the hard drive for a flat fee of $45 plus the cost of the drive, which was reasonably priced but needed to be ordered. I left my laptop with them. After the hard drive came in and was installed, they informed me that the unit was still not rebooting properly and that they had narrowed down the culprit to the video card on the system board. (In hindsight I had had a clue about this from a Windows error message after a crash but had discounted its relevance.) They told me they had searched for a replacement system board but the only ones they could locate were too expensive compared with the value of the laptop. There was one possible fix they could try, but it might further damage the system, and I authorized them to do it. When it didn't work, they told me that I could pick up the laptop and, because they failed to fix it, there would be no charge of any kind. (I then replaced it with a new Japanese version of the Panasonic W5.)

I pass this information along in case readers ever need to fix an out-of-warranty laptop and are looking for a reliable service that won't gouge you. I realize they did not actually fix my unit, but they also did not take advantage of me by replacing the hard drive, still leaving me with a broken unit. Had the system board for a W2 not been so expensive, I am confident they would have completed the repair. And their pricing was very reasonable.

Make a note of Lapfix in case of emergency. I get nothing if you patronize them, but you may wish to let them know you heard about them on the Volokh Conspiracy.

In the comments, feel free to post links to other repair services you recommend to VC readers.

iPhone Keyboard Backlash?: Though I am a frequent early adopter of new technology (e.g. Tivo, Treo, etc.) I have not been remotely tempted by the Apple iPhone. This review pithily explains why:
I have a sweet device - a beloved Treo 680, which retailers give away for free after mail-in rebate - and am not about to shell out $600 (with a new contract!) for an Apple WhyPhone without taking it for a lengthy test ride. Fortunately Apple had about a half dozen display models, plenty so that the half dozen prospects in the store could toy around without interruption, while Apple employees circled with questions like, "Ready to buy?"

"No. But I'm ready to report to the world what an unusable keyboard it has." . . .

The real problem is that you can't type a simple e-mail, text message or calendar appointment without suffering the maddening frustration of a carnival game that can't be won, and without getting the screen oily with sweaty thumb dirt. It's the loop toss of data entry — you will never win the big bear.

Update: Several commenters have had a quite different experience.


"It's Conduct, Not Speech":

In recent months, I've often run across arguments (including in comments on this blog) that certain kinds of speech ought to be unprotected because they're really "conduct," not "speech." Now these weren't arguments about expressive conduct, such as flagburning or nude dancing. They focused on speech that was written or spoken words, and the speech was seen as causing harm through its content (as opposed to, for instance, because it was too loud or said by people who were blocking traffic). But something about the words -- or the laws restricting the words -- led some to respond that the restriction was actually a conduct restriction, not a speech restriction.

This led me to decide to serialize on the blog portions of an article I wrote about the subject a couple of years ago, Speech as Conduct: Generally Applicable Laws, Illegal Courses of Conduct, "Situation-Altering Utterances," and the Uncharted Zones, 90 Cornell Law Review 1277 (2005). I much enjoyed serializing my Medical Self-Defense piece when I was working on it, and my sense was that many of our readers enjoyed it, too. Let me then take the liberty of doing the same as to this piece -- which turns out to be relevant to many hot First Amendment debates, as I hope the following will show. If you're interested in seeing the footnotes, look here.

When, if ever, should speech lose its First Amendment protection on the grounds that it’s really just conduct? Let us set aside restrictions of speech or expressive conduct based on its noncommunicative aspects, for instance because the speakers are blocking traffic or are being too loud. Rather, let’s focus on situations in which speech is restricted because of the harm that flows from its content.

Consider, for instance, a book that explains the steps necessary to commit a particular crime. May this speech be restricted on the grounds that it constitutes the “conduct” of aiding and abetting, and is thus not subject to First Amendment protection at all? Or consider racist, religiously bigoted, or sexist statements that create an offensive work environment, an offensive educational environment, or an offensive public accommodations environment. May such statements be freely restricted because they aren’t speech but rather the “conduct” of harassment?

There are at least three main types of such “it’s conduct, not speech” arguments. First, some people think speech should be treated as conduct when it has the same effects as harmful conduct and it is covered by a generally applicable law that restricts all conduct that has those effects. This can happen in many situations [for examples of each, see the footnotes here:

  1. Publishing a book that describes how to grow marijuana might constitute intentional or knowing aiding and abetting of a crime.
  2. Publishing a newspaper article or web site that points to an infringing site may constitute contributory copyright infringement.
  3. Publishing a news story that reveals the name of a witness, and thus unintentionally helps a criminal intimidate or kill that witness, may violate laws that bar knowingly, recklessly, or negligently facilitating crimes.
  4. Publishing a news story that reveals the existence of a wiretap may help the wiretap targets escape justice, and may thus violate obstruction of justice laws.
  5. Teaching one’s child racist, pro-polygamy, or pro- or anti-homosexuality views may (in the views of some family court judges) be contrary to the best interests of the child and may therefore lead the parent to lose custody or have his visitation rights curtailed under the generally applicable “best interests of the child” standard.
  6. Making statements that create an offensive work, educational, public accommodation, or housing environment based on race, religion, sex, age, disability, or sexual orientation might violate antidiscrimination law.
  7. Speaking out against a proposed group home for the mentally disabled might violate the Federal Housing Act’s ban on “interfer[ing] with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of” the right to be free from housing discrimination based on handicap.
  8. Engaging in speech that helps the election of an anti-war candidate may violate treason law -- which prohibits intentionally aiding the enemy in time of war -- if the speaker thinks the enemy deserves to win the war.
  9. Creating newspaper advertisements, billboards, or leaflets that praise jury nullification may be punishable under laws that prohibit all attempts to influence jurors.
  10. Producing and distributing movies that stimulate copycat crimes may constitute negligence under generally applicable tort principles.
  11. Giving children sexually themed material, or for that matter political material that most people view as evil, may violate laws that ban “impair[ing] the . . . morals of . . . [a] child.”
In all these cases, the speech would be restricted because of what it communicates -- because its content informs, persuades, or offends people -- and because of the harms that flow from this informing, persuasion, or offense. Yet some courts and commentators argue that such speech restrictions don’t implicate the First Amendment because the law in these instances punishes conduct, not speech: “[S]peech which, in its effect, is tantamount to legitimately proscribable nonexpressive conduct may itself be legitimately proscribed, punished, or regulated incidentally to the constitutional enforcement of generally applicable statutes.” Others argue that generally applicable laws should be treated as content-neutral restrictions on expressive conduct, and should thus be fairly easily upheld under the deferential O’Brien test because the restrictions on speech are “incidental” to the law’s overall thrust.

A second type of “conduct, not speech” argument is sometimes made even to defend laws that specifically target communication, such as statutes that ban the publication of bombmaking information. Such speech, the argument runs, is punishable because it is part of an illegal “course of conduct,” or is perhaps “speech brigaded with action,” a “speech act” rather than pure speech.

The argument seems especially appealing to some when the speech appears likely to cause harms that would be punishable if caused by conduct rather than speech -- when “words are bullets,” in the sense of being “a specific tool or weapon used . . . for the express purpose” of causing harm. Such arguments often quote Giboney v. Empire Storage & Ice Co., a 1949 case which asserted that “[i]t rarely has been suggested that the constitutional freedom for speech and press extends its immunity to speech or writing used as an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute,” and that “it has never been deemed an abridgement of freedom of speech or press to make a course of conduct illegal merely because the conduct was in part initiated, evidenced, or carried out by means of language, either spoken, written, or printed.”

Courts have applied Giboney to justify, among other things, restrictions on (1) speech that advocates crime, (2) speech that explains how crimes can be committed, (3) doctors’ speech recommending medicinal marijuana to their patients, (4) speech that urges political boycotts, (5) speech that creates an offensive work environment, (6) racially offensive business names, and even (7) public profanity.

A third “speech as conduct” argument is made in Professor Kent Greenawalt’s influential book, Speech, Crime, and the Uses of Language, which asserts that certain kinds of speech -- such as offers, agreements, orders, permissions, and some threats -- constitute “situation-altering utterances” and should therefore be treated as unprotected conduct.

Finally, the “speech as conduct” argument is sometimes made to explain some of the uncharted zones of First Amendment law: categories of speech whose First Amendment status the Court has never squarely confronted, such as aiding and abetting, criminal solicitation, conspiracy, perjury, agreements to restrain trade, and professional advice to clients. Most lawyers would likely agree that such speech generally should be unprotected, or at least less protected. A common explanation for the Court’s lack of attention to these speech restrictions is that the speech is actually conduct, which the First Amendment does not protect.


Boston Globe on Medical Self-Defense:

A good article on the subject Sunday, apparently prompted by my Medical Self-Defense, Prohibited Experimental Therapies, and Payment for Organs, 120 Harvard L. Rev. 1814.


"Google Sued over Defamatory Postings Found on Web Search":

The Independent (UK) reports:

Google ... is being sued by a London businessman in a landmark legal action that could hold the US-based company liable for the publication of inaccurate, malicious or damaging material on the internet.... [T]he search engine directed users to web pages that the businessman claims contained "deeply offensive and commercially damaging" material about his enterprises.

I don't know whether British libel law, which is famously much more pro-plaintiff than American law, would allow such a lawsuit. But if it does, that would spell serious trouble for any search engine that is subject to jurisdiction in Britain (for instance, because it has an office or assets there) -- and thus for users of any such search engine.


"Court Won't Delay Prison for Libby": The AP has the details here, via How Appealing.

Further Leegin Analysis on Truth on the Market:

Two excellent analyses on Truth on the Market of the Supreme Court's decision in Leegin last week that overturned the Dr. Miles case on the practice of retail price maintenance. Josh Wright is here and Thom Lambert is here.

Thom's analysis focuses on the legal issues involved and especially the justification for applying a weaker form of stare decisis in antitrust cases.

Josh's analysis focuses on the economics of vertical restraints, and in particular, the possible implications of Leegin for future vertical restraints cases.

Both posts are highly recommended.


An Interview with Robert Bork:

The Federalist Society has posted a video of D.C. Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph's interview with Robert Bork, from last week's conference on Bork's work, at which I was a participant. The interview focuses mostly on Bork's life and career rather than on his scholarship and judicial philosophy. Still, I found it to be fascinating, as Bork was a participant in many key legal and political events from the 1960s up to the present. Among the highlights is the discussion of his role in the 1973 "Saturday night massacre," when Bork carried out President Richard Nixon's order to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his No. 2 had refused to do so and resigned.

I found myself in somewhat rare total agreement with Bork's view that 1) Cox was right to demand that Nixon turn over the notorious tapes, but 2) that Cox - as an executive branch official - had to be fired after he refused a direct order from the president. Bork went on to note that he played a key role in the selection of Cox's successor Leon Jaworski, and that he instructed Jaworski to continue the investigation along the same lines as before. A self-serving account? Possibly. But Jaworski really did pursue the investigation aggressively, and in the end Nixon was harmed by the Cox firing far more than he benefited.

UPDATE: It is worth noting that Jaworski's own account of this episode in his memoir accords with Bork's. In that book (pp. 25-26), Jaworski notes that Bork "hinted" that he would resign as acting attorney general if Jaworski's investingation were "hobbled" by the White House.


A Few Underrated Science Fiction Novels:

As promised in my last post, here is my list of a few underrated science fiction novels of the last 30-40 years. The list is not meant to be exhaustive. Moreover, it is definitely not meant to be a list of the best sci fi of the era, merely the most underrated.

1. Norman Spinrad, Iron Dream. This is a great satire of some common shortcomings of the sci fi and fantasy genres. It purports to be a sci fi novel written by Adolf Hitler, who in this alternate universe left Germany in the 1920s and became a science fiction writer in the US. The fake "novel" makes the point that many standard genre tropes have a lot in common with the main themes of Nazi/fascist ideology. I think that Spinrad takes the theme a bit too far, but it's an interesting and fun book nonetheless. Ironically, the book was for a long time banned in West Germany because censors feared that it would actually stimulate support for Nazism (the very opposite of Spinrad's intent, but a possible validation of his point about the genre and some of its more misguided fans). Iron Dream is well-known to aficionados, but hasn't received as much broader recognition as it arguably deserves.

2. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. This series has been overshadowed by the author's own better (and more popular) Mists of Avalon. Moreover, some of the books in the series are far from brilliant. Nonetheless, the series has numerous interesting elements, characters, and plotlines.

3. S.M. Stirling's Draka trilogy. I include this one with some trepidation, because it has many weak points, including the unrealistic nature of the "alternate history" elements of the plot, and extremely silly technology in the last book. Nonetheless, the author's idea of a society that is essentially the negation of American ideals is interestingly developed and thoughtprovoking. Stirling manages to make the evil and depraved Draka characters weirdly fascinating, a rare achievement for sci fi villains. The series is also unusual in that the villains, not the "good guys," are actually the central characters. Like Spinrad above, the author has been misinterpreted as sympathizing with the dystopian society he portrays. I should warn also that the sequel to the trilogy, Drakon, is lame. It combines most of the defects of the original series with none of the virtues.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A Few Underrated Science Fiction Novels:
  2. On the Paucity of Underrated Science Fiction:

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Bleg for Mortgage Advice:

The Bernsteins are buying a house! I'll blog more about this later (probably not until after the closing), but for now I'll just say that the house meets our needs, at a price within our budget.

For now, I'm focused on trying to get the mortgage rate. I have a mortgage broker my realtor recommends, who seems pretty good, but I don't want to rely solely on what he finds for me. Despite the thousands of articles written for prospective homebuyers, I haven't found any that give good advice on how to get the best mortgage deal, beyond "shop around" and "try to negotiate." This is a rather large transaction for us, so if anyone has some good tips for getting the best mortgage rate, please leave a comment or email me. (And I'll share one tip myself--the Navy Federal Credit Union is currently running a special in which it's giving the same, low rates for jumbo as for conforming mortgages). Unfortunately, we're not members.


On the Paucity of Underrated Science Fiction:

At Marginal Revolution, co-blogger Tyler Cowen nominates some candidates for the category of "underrated science fiction" books, but also opines that there really isn't much in the way of underrated science fiction (because genre enthusiasts are so eager to "clutch at straws and elevate the mediocre into the worthwhile and the worthwhile into the superlative"), and that the genre has been "mostly retreads" since the 1960s.

There is some truth to Tyler's view. Successful innovations in science fiction have indeed been rare in recent decades. Moreover, at least one of the works Tyler considers underrated - Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker - is in my view actually overrated; like most of Stapledon's work, it is pretentious, lacks compelling characters, and unwieldy. At the same time, I can in fact think of several innovative and interesting sci fi writers of the last thirty years - Card, Brin, Niven, LeGuin, Scalzi, and some others. Most of their work is not underrated. But that may simply mean that the "rating" system in science fiction is working well, not that the average quality of the genre is declining. An alternative explanation for the paucity of underrated science fiction books is that critics and fans are getting better at rating the genre (at least relative to previous performance). Even so, I tend to agree that there has been less innovation in sci-fi over the last 30-40 years than in the previous several decades. This may be an inevitable consequence of the genre's relative maturation. Other things equal, it's much harder to innovate within a mature industry than in a new one.

This latter factor may explain why there has been much more innovation in fantasy than in science fiction over the last few decades, with writers such as Guy Gavriel Kay, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen Donaldson, George R.R. Martin, and Tad Williams making major contributions that have expanded the genre. Unlike science fiction, which had at least a half century of maturation and growth by 1970, fantasy only really broke through with the publication of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in the 1950s.

Finally, I am less troubled than Tyler by the fact that most of the genre consists of "retreads." By definition, most of the work produced in any genre consists of retreads. One of the defining characteristics of a genre is the existence of standard tropes, characters, and plot lines; by definition, most work within the genre uses at least some of these stereotypic elements. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a genre at all. Most science fiction is indeed unoriginal in that sense. But the same is true of most work in other genre literatures, such as mystery, horror, Westerns, historical fiction, romance, etc.

In the next post, I will present a few of my own nominees for underrated science fiction works of the last few decades.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A Few Underrated Science Fiction Novels:
  2. On the Paucity of Underrated Science Fiction:

Should more Democrats have supported Harriet Miers?

Fabio Rojas says quite possibly so. Excerpt:

You might doubt that Miers had a reasonable chance of maintaining O’Connor’s moderating role in the court. But Miers had the background typical of a “drifter.” You’ll notice the leftward drifting conservative justices - O’Connor, Souter, Stevens, & Kennedy (sometimes) - all had a mixture of experience at the state and national levels, with occasional academic work. My guess is that working in varied environments - like state courts (Souter, O’Connor), state legislatures (O’Connor), governor’s offices (Souter) and unconventional situations (Kennedy worked in various millitary venues; Stevens did a lot of work for the Illinois state government) - provided these folks with a richer sense of what the law is about.

In contrast, the hard leaning conservatives - Scalia, Thomas, Rhenquist, Alito, Roberts - seem to have fairly similar careers. After law school, there is often a stint in private practice and clerking, followed by a career flipping back and forth between academia and the federal government, either as an appeals judge, or as a legislative or executive assistant. This also applies to the reliably liberal folks: Ginsburg was an academic, before Carter appointed her as an appeals judge; Breyer’s was an academic, and then appeals judge.

So my guess is this: A career dedicated primarily to judging, federal work, and academia probably indicates strong ideological commitment, either liberal or conservative. You have to be extraordinarily smart and sure of your political ideas to manage a long career either teaching the law or setting policy in a federal court or agency.