We are now some twenty years into the story of the Internet’s bold challenge to law and the legal system. In the early 2000s, Jack Goldsmith and I wrote Who Controls the Internet, a book that might be understood as a chronicle of some the early and more outlandish stages of the story. Professors Pollman and Barry’s excellent article, Regulatory Entrepreneurship, adds to and updates that story with subsequent chapters and a sophisticated analysis of the strategies more recently employed to avoid law using the Internet in some way. While Pollman and Barry’s article stands on its own, I write this Article to connect these two periods. I also wish to offer a slightly different normative assessment of the legal avoidance efforts described here, along with my opinion as to how law enforcement should conduct itself in these situations.
Behind regulatory entrepreneurship lies a history, albeit a short one, and one that has much to teach us about the very nature of law and the legal system as it interacts with new technologies. Viewed in context, Pollman and Barry’s “regulatory entrepreneurs” can be understood as, in fact, a second generation of entrepreneurs who learned lessons from an earlier generation that was active in the late 1990s and early 2000s. What both generations have in common is the idea that the Internet might provide profitable opportunities at the edges of the legal system. What has changed is the abandonment of so-called “evasion” strategies—ones that relied on concealment or geography (described below)—and a migration to strategies depending on “avoidance,” that is, avoiding the law’s direct application. In particular, the most successful entrepreneurs have relied on what might be called a mimicry strategy: they shape potentially illegal or regulated conduct to make it look like legal or unregulated conduct, thereby hopefully avoiding the weight of laws and regulatory regimes.
On March 18, 2016, and March 22, 2016, a jury awarded Terry Bollea (a.k.a Hulk Hogan) a total of $140 million in compensatory and punitive damages against Gawker Media for posting less than two minutes of a video of Hulk Hogan having sex with his best friend’s wife. The award was based upon a finding that Gawker intentionally had invaded Hulk Hogan’s privacy by posting the video online.
The case has been receiving extensive media coverage because it is a tawdry tale involving a celebrity, betrayal, adultery, sex, and the First Amendment. The story would be better if all of the characters in the story were not, at best, anti-heroes. Hulk Hogan had sex with his best friend’s wife. Hulk Hogan’s sex partner committed adultery. Hulk Hogan’s best friend, the cuckold, allegedly was the person who videotaped the encounter and then leaked it to Gawker. And, after sleeping with his best friend’s wife, Hulk Hogan had the audacity to sue the cuckold for allegedly leaking the sex tape to Gawker, with the cuckold settling that claim by paying Hulk Hogan $5000. The cuckold then asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying in the case against Gawker. On the other side of the story, Gawker, the entity that posted the sex tape online, is a “media gossip” website host and does not look very good attempting to wear the cloak of the First Amendment by claiming that the contents of the Hulk Hogan sex video, as opposed to the simple fact that the tape existed, was newsworthy. Nor did it help Gawker’s image when Gawker’s editor testified that he would only draw the line against posting sex videos if the video included a child under four years old. It is hard to root for any of the parties in the case.
In her recent article, Professor Rhonda Wasserman argues that class action settlements that distribute funds cy pres raise a very serious risk of prejudice to absent class members. The problem, she asserts, is the temptation for class counsel to sell out the interests of absent class members in exchange for a discounted settlement for the defendant and a generous fee for class counsel. To illustrate her concern, she cites the $9.5 million settlement in Lane v. Facebook, Inc. that directed approximately $6.5 million to a nascent charity that was controlled—at least partially—by the defendant, $3 million to class counsel and nothing to the three million absent class members. Professor Wasserman argues that courts cannot have a laissez faire attitude toward protecting absent class members and she proposes a number of procedural reforms to ensure that cy pres distributions are only used when absolutely necessary. While her proposals are likely to provoke increased judicial scrutiny of cy pres distributions, the article stops short of addressing the principal question: when, if ever, is a settlement that distributes funds cy pres “fair, reasonable and adequate” to the absent class members?
This Note will first review the historical development of gun-control laws in the United States, including those referred to by the Supreme Court as “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by . . . the mentally ill.” It will then analyze the extent to which the SAFE Act differs from such longstanding prohibitions and whether the Act is constitutional. Finally, this Note will consider whether, regardless of its constitutionality, the SAFE Act is an appropriate legislative response to gun violence or whether a recent proposal by a group of national experts on mental illness and gun violence might be more effective and more likely to pass constitutional muster.
In Ring-Fencing, Professor Steven Schwarcz provides an insightful overview of the concept of “ring-fencing” as a “potential regulatory solution to problems in banking, finance, public utilities, and insurance.” As Professor Schwarcz explains, “ring-fencing can best be understood as legally deconstructing a firm in order to more optimally reallocate and reduce risk.” Ring-fencing has gained particular prominence in recent years as a strategy for limiting the systemic risk of large financial conglomerates (also referred to herein as “universal banks”). Professor Schwarcz describes several ring-fencing plans that have been adopted or proposed in the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union.
This Comment argues that “narrow banking” is a highly promising ring-fencing remedy for the problems created by universal banks. Narrow banking would strictly separate the deposit-taking function of universal banks from their capital markets activities. If properly implemented, narrow banking could significantly reduce the safety net subsidies currently exploited by large financial conglomerates and thereby diminish their incentives for excessive risk-taking.
Steven Schwarcz’s “Ring-Fencing” gets much of its impact from its broad definition of the term, which is usually heard these days when thinking about whether a multinational bank ought to be forbidden from removing the assets of its branches in one country to support its activities in another.
One of the singular contributions of the article lies in its willingness to look beyond that use of the term to think about what ring-fencing means more broadly and conceptually. As Schwarcz observes, ring-fencing is nothing less than a way to allocate resources, regulate firms, and reassure stakeholders that could be applied any enterprise. The ring-fencing metaphor posits the separation of assets within a firm—some are inside the ring fence, and others are not. To Schwarcz this amounts to “legally deconstructing a firm in order to more optimally reallocate and reduce risk,” which could include any restructuring involving holding companies, off-balance sheet entities, and even the creation of corporate subsidiaries.
Envision living with the constant fear of being tortured or killed for no other reason than having a different political opinion than those in power. While that may be difficult to imagine for those who live in the United States, unfortunately, many around the world must live with that fear or flee from their homes. That fear has mobilized an estimated 11,000 to 15,000 refugees to flee from Syria. The mass exodus followed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s siege of the western city of Homs, which is “the heart of an 11-month uprising against his rule.” In those early months of violence, only around 7000 Syrian refugees had registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”). However, given the persistent violence and the recent allegations that President al-Assad has used chemical weapons on or near civilian populations, it is unsurprising that current UNHCR projections estimate that there are over two million Syrian refugees. And according to the UNHCR, if current trends persist, there may be well over three million Syrian refugees by the end of 2013.
Although misdemeanors comprise an overwhelming majority of state criminal court cases, little judicial and scholarly attention has been focused on how misdemeanor courts actually operate. In her article, Misdemeanors, Alexandra Natapoff rights this wrong and explains how the low-visibility, highly discretionary decisions made by actors at the misdemeanor level often result in rampant discrimination, incredible inefficiency, and vast miscarriages of justice. Misdemeanors makes a significant contribution to the literature by refocusing attention on the importance of misdemeanor offenses and beginning an important dialogue about what steps should be taken going forward to fix our broken misdemeanor justice system.
Natapoff amasses an impressive amount of data and material to explain both the prominence of misdemeanor convictions in our justice system and the many problems with how our misdemeanor system operates. She rightly points out that legislative overcriminalization coupled with conflicting police responsibilities and vast police discretion has created a system in which poor people of color are routinely arrested for misdemeanor offenses even when there is little evidence to support their arrests.
Alexandra Natapoff’s article, Misdemeanors, shines a much-needed spotlight on the mass production of criminal justice and injustice in millions of low-level cases. For many decades, academics have dwelt ad nauseam on the biggest, sexiest criminal cases, especially capital and other serious felonies such as murder and rape. Courts and commentators have spun out elaborate accounts of the precise procedural guarantees that should govern adversarial combat between prosecutors and appointed defense counsel in these cases. But, as I have argued elsewhere, in making rules for the small sliver of jury trials, judges and scholars have neglected the much larger world of plea bargaining.
Natapoff draws on her experience in criminal defense to explore how far out of sync the ideal of adversarial due process is from the reality of cookie-cutter dispositions. She trenchantly explains how many low-level cases depend almost entirely on a police officer’s word, with no meaningful prosecutorial screening or defense counsel testing, or even no defense counsel at all.
Every generation it seems, a criminal law scholar arises like an Old Testament prophet and attempts to compel their colleagues to confront the uncomfortable fact that the kind of criminal justice the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens experience involves misdemeanor crimes, adjudicated (if you can call it that) at the lowest level of courts, with little or no lawyering, few rules, and lots of scope for nasty prejudice. For this generation, Alexandra Natapoff is that Jeremiah. For her, it is bad enough, of course, that most felony justice has only a family resemblance to the picture acquired from most criminal law classes, but misdemeanors, if they show up at all, do so in the margins of the course, around issues like status offenses, voluntariness, or possession. When we take Natapoff’s challenge and treat the world as if these misdemeanors mattered, we experience something like what the filmmakers of the Matrix series so effectively captured: the slide from a sleek but apparently totally fake world, to one that is actually pretty disgusting and degrading.