In one of his columns, the economist Paul Krugman observed that “liberals don’t need to claim that their policies will produce spectacular growth. All they need to claim is feasibility: that we can do things like, say, guaranteeing health insurance to everyone without killing the economy.” Krugman’s belief that providing everyone with health insurance is desirable unless doing so would “kill the economy” expresses a familiar, if debatable, position. Many of us believe that some goods should be provided to everyone, and they should be provided even if their provision comes at a cost in economic efficiency. The underlying belief is that some goods are essential to leading decent, independent lives, and their provision therefore has a special priority. As a society, we owe it to each other to secure the basic conditions necessary for people to lead decent and independent lives.
Like health, physical safety is a strong candidate for inclusion on a list of the essential conditions of a decent and independent life. Illness usually takes the form of physical harm, and accidental injury can impair basic powers of agency as much as ill-health can. Assertions that safety has priority over garden-variety “needs and interests” are commonplace in popular discourse. You might, therefore, expect to find a debate in the legal literature on risk and precaution over whether or not safety, too, should be prioritized over efficiency and secured to the extent that it is feasible to do so. Prominent federal statutes take this very position. Indeed, they echo Krugman’s exact word choice in requiring that the risks of certain activities be reduced as far as it is “feasible” to do so, and they mean the same thing that he does in choosing this word. “Feasible risk reduction” requires that the risks in question be reduced as far as possible without killing the activity in question. A chorus of contemporary commentators, however, insists that feasible risk reduction is not just normatively mistaken; it is indefensible. Jonathan Masur and Eric Posner, for example, argue that statutes prescribing feasible risk reduction have no defensible normative underpinning. Feasibility analysis, they write, “does not reflect deontological thinking . . . [and] does not reflect welfarism in any straightforward sense,” and “[n]o attempt to reverse-engineer a theory of well-being that justifies feasibility analysis has been successful.” According to this line of thought, efficiency is the only plausible standard of precaution, and its handmaiden, cost-benefit analysis, is the only plausible test.
Although sometimes difficult to detect, governmental power abuses can have detrimental impacts. Property tax assessments provide an effective lens to examine this phenomenon because, given the complexity of calculating property tax assessments, it is difficult for citizens to know when local government has exceeded its legitimate taxing authority and crossed into the realm of illegal extraction. Michigan is an ideal case study because it protects property owners by making assessment-related power abuses more visible through a unique state constitutional provision: property tax assessments cannot exceed 50 percent of a property’s market value. Abuses have persisted nevertheless. Between 2011 and 2015, one in four properties in Detroit were subject to property tax foreclosure, and inflated property tax assessments that violate the Michigan Constitution are the unseen thread in this complex tapestry of foreclosure.
Against this backdrop, this Article makes three primary contributions. First, no other article has argued and proven that property tax assessments in Detroit are illegal. Using assessment and sales data from 2009–2015 for the entire City of Detroit, we find that property tax assessments are substantially in excess of the state constitutional limit, and this illegality is most pronounced for lower-valued properties. Second, to remedy inflated assessments, in 2014 and 2015 Detroit’s assessor implemented assessment decreases ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent for select districts, but we find that systemic assessment inequity persisted for lower valued properties despite these reductions. Third, this Article uses the case of illegal property tax assessments in Detroit to develop a new theoretical concept called “stategraft,” which is when state agents transfer property from residents to the state in violation of the state’s own laws and to the detriment of a vulnerable group. Although the concept was developed using the Detroit case, stategraft applies beyond Detroit to many other cases, including the discriminatory fines imposed and enforced by the police and courts in Ferguson, Missouri; broken treaties with Native Americans; and abuses of civil forfeiture laws.
Over the last decade, a growing consensus has emerged: there are too many patents, and they are causing a host of problems. These problems include patent “trolling,” patent “wars,” and other wasteful societal costs. In explaining this patent overabundance, some scholars have pinpointed the United States Patent Office, the governmental body responsible for issuing patents, as the main culprit. Others have blamed patent holders themselves, identifying a number of incentives these parties have to pursue patents even in cases where doing so makes little economic sense. Overall, these analyses thus typically assume a high and relatively uniform demand for patents among inventive parties—one that the United States Patent Office is only too willing to satisfy.
Yet this focus on excessive patenting obscures the reality that parties likely differ significantly in their demand for patents and other forms of intellectual property. In economic parlance, different inventive parties are likely to exhibit different “elasticities,” or sensitivities, in their demand for patents and other types of intellectual property. This Article uses economic principles to disaggregate intellectual property demand by highlighting a number of factors that may affect a party’s demand for patents and other forms of intellectual property. It argues that resource-constrained parties are more likely to exhibit more elastic demand for patents, meaning they are more sensitive to the costs of patenting, both in general and relative to the costs of other intellectual property forms. As a result, rising costs of patenting are more likely to lead resource-constrained parties to forego patenting and rely on alternative, cheaper forms of intellectual property protection when available. Well-capitalized parties, on the other hand, are more likely to exhibit relatively inelastic, high demand for patents, regardless of the costs of other intellectual property types that may otherwise function as substitutes. Thus, well-capitalized parties tend to patent en masse and complement patenting with additional intellectual property protections when available.
One of the cornerstones of First Amendment doctrine is the general rule that content-based restrictions on all speech—apart from a few narrow categories of low-value speech—are evaluated under strict scrutiny. As many have observed, this rule has produced considerable strain within the doctrine because it applies the same onerous standard throughout the vast and varied expanse of all non-low-value speech, which includes not only the core, highest-value speech for which such stringent protection is clearly warranted, but also less valuable speech to which the application of strict scrutiny is often dissonant. Nevertheless, traditional accounts maintain that this blunt, highly prophylactic approach is necessary given the significant costs and risks associated with granting courts greater discretion to make value-based speech distinctions.
This Article challenges these accounts. I argue that courts should more explicitly recognize a broad conceptual category of what I call “middle-value speech”—that is, speech that falls within the hazy center of the speech-value spectrum between clearly high-value speech, like political speech or truthful news reporting, and clearly low-value speech, like true threats or incitement. The scope of such speech is vast, potentially encompassing speech as diverse as public disclosures of sensitive private data, sexually explicit speech, professional advice, search engine results, and false statements of fact. Yet current First Amendment doctrine broadly fails to recognize middle-value speech as a discrete conceptual category, and this failure has produced substantial costs in the form of doctrinal distortion and a lack of analytical transparency. These costs have grown precipitously—and will continue to grow—in conjunction with the First Amendment’s broad expansion beyond the familiar precincts of core ideological expression into increasingly eclectic varieties of speech.
Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”) in an attempt to pull Puerto Rico back from the abyss. The reason for this drastic action—a special insolvency regime available only for Puerto Rico—was plain: the Commonwealth had accumulated debts well beyond its ability to repay. Its economy was in such a dreadful state that even if one were to declare an indefinite moratorium on all of its debt payments, it would still be the case that the island could not make ends meet without a drastic overhaul of both its operations and its finances. Yet prior to congressional action there was no moratorium. The island’s creditors were demanding money, and the government’s cash reserves were nearing depletion. Disaster seemed imminent.
Congress provided a glimmer of hope to the American citizens of Puerto Rico. PROMESA, at least temporarily, put a halt to the creditors’ collection efforts. It also created a proceeding that in essence replicates Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code for the Commonwealth, as well as an alternative path relying on consensual restructuring coupled with the power to bind holdout creditors. Puerto Rico gained two options that it lacked prior to the legislation’s passage. But the price for these protections was steep. A control board was put in place that effectively took over control of the territory’s finances and the conduct of any insolvency proceedings. The members of this board were appointed by elected officials in Washington. The elected government of Puerto Rico had no right to appoint or veto any members. Given potential constitutional infirmities with the control board, it remains to be seen whether this last-minute action is sufficient to save the island from total financial collapse.
The estate tax and income tax rules independently attempt to either promote or deter different behaviors. The interaction of these different rules often leads to disparate or unintended consequences to taxpayers: for example, achieving an overall lower effective tax rate by paying more estate tax to lower the income tax rate. This overlay of the estate tax rules on the income tax rules is a key problem at the core of our tax system. Yet, few scholars focus on this topic.
In this Article, I document the actual behavior of the trust and estate bar. By looking at how attorneys approach the intersection of estate and income taxes, I demonstrate deficiencies in the current scholarly belief, which is based largely on anecdotal information, that the wealthy have a preference for paying less or no estate tax. I show the real-world preferences that indicate wealthy taxpayers are paying high levels of estate tax to minimize the income tax incidents. After showing the shift of preferences and the resulting overall tax loss to the fisc, the Article then proposes useful policy solutions, such as elimination of the estate tax or using death as an income tax triggering event.
In this Article, we show how the biggest tort reform of the last decade was passed through the back door with the blessing of its staunchest opponents. We argue that the widely-endorsed “apology law” reform—a change in the national legal landscape that privileged apologies—is, in fact, a mechanism of tort reform, used to limit victims’ recovery and shield injurers from liability. While legal scholars overlooked this effect, commercial interests seized the opportunity and are in the process of transforming state and federal law with the unwitting support of the public.
Constitutional law is committed to a principle of geographic self-government: congressional districts and states are separately located and entitled to select different officials to send to Congress. James Madison explained in The Federalist Papers that checks and balances would only work if different places and their different politics were empowered to compete with and constrain one another. While constitutional law makes place significant for congressional elections, campaign finance law does not. Those with the resources to contribute often and in large amounts to congressional campaigns primarily reside in a few neighborhoods in a few metropolitan areas. Campaign finance law imposes no limitations and minimal disclosure on contributions from these places to other districts and states—places quite different than the ones where contributors reside. The result is that a few metropolitan areas dominate contributions to congressional campaigns.
Campaign finance law thus allows Congress to be controlled by very few places, dramatically undermining geographic self-government. While scholars have devoted substantial attention to other problematic features of money in politics, the geography of campaign finance law is a different constitutional problem justifying different constitutional solutions. This Article considers two types of legal responses: those that focus special attention on where campaign contributions are beginning and those that focus special attention on where campaign contributions are ending. While both types of solutions have their own respective constitutional benefits and negatives, they both share a common insight. Only by making campaign finance law conscious of place can we begin to address the problems of the geography of campaign finance law.
The Second Amendment, like other federal constitutional rights, is a restriction on government power. But what role does the Second Amendment have to play—if any—when a private party seeks to limit the exercise of Second Amendment rights by invoking private law causes of action? Private law—specifically, the law of torts, contracts, and property—has often been impacted by constitutional considerations, though in seemingly inconsistent ways. The First Amendment places limitations on defamation actions and other related torts, and also prevents courts from entering injunctions that could be classified as prior restraints. On the other hand, the First Amendment plays almost no role in contractual litigation, even when courts are called on to enforce contractual provisions that directly restrict speech. The Equal Protection Clause was famously interpreted to bar the enforcement of a racially restrictive covenant in Shelley v. Kraemer, but in the years since, courts have largely limited that case to its facts.
This Article reports on a breakdown in access to justice in bankruptcy, a system from which one million Americans will seek help this year. A crucial decision for these consumers will be whether to file a chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy. Nearly every aspect of their bankruptcies—both the benefits and the burdens of debt relief—will be different in chapter 7 versus chapter 13. Almost all consumers will hire a bankruptcy attorney. Because they must pay their attorneys, many consumers will file chapter 13 to finance their access to the law, rather than because they prefer the law of chapter 13 over chapter 7.