Tort law provides awards of punitive damages for reasons of deterrence and retribution. In light of a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Phillip Morris USA v. Williams, the retributive rationale for punitive damages will inevitably come under heightened scrutiny. The case involves a punitive award of $79.5 million, which is ninety-seven times greater than the compensatory damages, making it constitutionally suspect for exceeding the single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages. The Court, though, has never addressed the constitutional issue in a case involving serious bodily injury or death, and so Williams poses a number of new questions. How can compensatory damages provide an appropriate baseline for evaluating punitive damages in a case of wrongful death, given that monetary damages provide no compensation to a dead person? What is the appropriate baseline? Any future deterrence provided by a punitive award cannot protect the decedent’s tort right, and so the award must be justified exclusively in terms of retribution. Is retribution inherently subjective and arbitrary, unless constrained by some objective measure such as the single-digit ratio between the punitive and compensatory damages? Or is there some way to translate retribution into dollars? These questions are not limited to wrongful death cases and must be resolved by any court trying to determine whether a punitive award is unconstitutional for exceeding the single-digit ratio. These questions can all be answered once retribution is tied to the inherent limitations of compensatory damages, which yields a method for quantifying this form of punitive damages. Based on government data and methodology for quantifying the social cost of a premature death, this method shows why vindication of the decedent’s tort right in Williams justifies the $79.5 million punitive award. When formulated in this manner, vindictive damages satisfy the requirements of both substantive and procedural due process and provide a baseline for reviewing courts to determine whether any given punitive award, like one based on general deterrence, is excessive in violation of substantive due process. This method fully accounts for the reprehensibility factors that determine the constitutionality of a punitive award, while also explaining why the Court could defensibly rely on procedural due process to reverse and remand Williams back to state court.
Responding to Judge Arthur L. Alarcón, Remedies for California’s Death Row Deadlock, 80 S. Cal. L. Rev. 697 (2007).
Responding to Jean Rosenbluth, Would Californians Have the Courage of Their Convictions in the Face of Fully Functioning Death Penalty?, 81 S. Cal. L. Rev. Postscript 1 (2008).
In the fall of 2006, United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson handed down United States v. Arnold, which held that U.S. Customs agents violated the Fourth Amendment when they searched a laptop computer belonging to an inbound international traveler at Los Angeles International Airport without any particularized suspicion. The Ninth Circuit recently overturned the district court’s ruling, but the district court’s analytical approach remains of vital interest. That is because the decision was the first in the nation to find that the “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment—which permits law enforcement to conduct suspicionless, routine searches of personal items crossing the international border or its functional equivalent—did not apply to laptop computers. Given its novelty and potential implications for all digital media, it is hardly surprising that the district court’s ruling in Arnold has grabbed the attention of the press, law student commentators, civil liberties lawyers, and, most notably, other judges.
One commentator has rightly noted that “principles of natural justice are summoned to highlight moral requirements of the legal and political order, to defend individual rights against the utilitarian interests of a political majority, or to guide the adjudication of hard cases which fall into textual gaps or open ended clauses of the Constitution.” Despite the presence of these open-ended clauses, our Framers “understood and observed a distinction between ‘natural’ rights and…‘positive’ rights.” The former are comprised of “Lockean notions concerning the ‘unalienable’ rights of the people,” while the latter look to “common, constitutional, and statutory law.”
The Framers’ enumeration of some rights did not distinguish between the two – the Bill of Rights enumerated traditionally natural and positive rights because both are “essential to secure the liberty of the people.” The Ninth Amendment and the Privileges or Immunities Clause can be read to protect distinct classes of unenumerated rights across these two categories. Under such an approach, the Ninth protects unenumerated rights inherent in all persons, while the Privileges or Immunities Clause protects a unique class of unenumerated rights born in both civil government and the Constitution itself.
The unconscionable delay in the disposition of appeals and habeas corpus proceedings filed on behalf of California’s death row inmates continues to increase at an alarming rate. It is now almost double the national average. Procedural changes must be made to the manner in which death penalty judgments are reviewed to avoid imprisoning a death penalty inmate for decades before the condemned prisoner’s constitutional claims are finally resolved.
This Article identifies the woeful inefficiencies of the current procedures that have led to inexcusable delays in arriving at just results in death penalty cases and describes how California came to find itself in this untenable condition. It also recommends structural and procedural changes designed to reduce delay and promote fairness. These recommendations include: transferring exclusive jurisdiction over automatic appeals from judgments of death away from the California Supreme Court to the California Courts of Appeal; requiring that capital case state habeas corpus petitions be filed in the trial court with the right to appeal to the California Courts of Appeal, rather than filing the petitions with the Supreme Court in the first instance; providing adequate training and compensation for counsel appointed to represent indigent death row inmates; and providing continuity of counsel for state and federal habeas corpus proceedings. These changes would significantly reduce delay and promote a more just resolution for death penalty inmates and society.
Few areas of constitutional law remain more captive to the subjective whims of judicial preference than the First Amendment’s religion clauses. This condition results in part from the Court’s notorious inability to agree on a uniform standard of review under either the Free Exercise or Establishment Clauses. This instability matters because, as Justice Scalia notes, “[w]hat distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle.” As concerns the religion clauses, a stabilizing principle may be found in political process theory, a set of ideas that, while generally familiar to constitutional theory, have yet to be comprehensively applied to either free exercise or establishment controversies.
Process theory embraces “[t]he notion that courts should exercise judicial review almost exclusively to protect democracy and guarantee the fairness of legal processes.” Conversely, process theory rejects the notion that courts should enforce “substantive” policy preferences that cannot be justified on these “process-oriented” grounds, as they are more properly left to the vicissitudes of the political branches. Borrowing heavily from the literature of civic republicanism, this Note argues that process theory should be broadened to account for the unique contributions of religion to the political process. This Note further argues that, using process theory, courts should interpret the First Amendment’s religion clauses as process-oriented safeguards for the political contributions of religious faith and institutions. Finally, courts should reject a jurisprudence that employs the religion clauses as vehicles for the enforcement of substantive conceptions of free exercise and disestablishment.
Vanessa Shetler was shocked to learn what her eight-year-old son went through one seemingly ordinary day in his third-grade class.After coming home from school, Ms. Shetler’s son informed his mother that instead of spending the day learning math and reading, he was asked by the school how frequently he thought about having sex or touching other people’s “private parts.” Had these questions been presented as part of a routine sex and health education program for elementary school students, perhaps Ms. Shetler would not have been so upset. These questions, however, were not a part of such a program. Instead, the school, in collaboration with a mental health counselor, distributed a survey containing numerous sexually charged questions to some of its students. The survey asked students how often they thought about washing themselves because they felt dirty inside or if they ever had “sex feelings” in their bodies, for example. What is more, it asked if they ever thought that they touched their own “private parts” too much and if they ever could not stop thinking about sex.
Ms. Shetler was just one out of many parents who became outraged because of the survey and believed that the questions were “putting poison into kids’ minds” because it discussed sex and other subjects that third graders should not be learning about. The survey was not given solely to third graders, however – first and fifth graders were also asked to answer these same questions. The school claimed that the survey was designed to establish a baseline for measuring trauma in children, for the purpose of ascertaining any impediments to the students’ abilities to absorb material in school. Unpersuaded by the school’s rationale, parents claimed that the survey was inappropriate and, in response, filed suit against the school district.
As word of the decision in Hosty v. Carter spread in the summer of 2005, many college journalists were outraged. To them, it was the end of free speech as they knew it. In Hosty, the en banc Seventh Circuit became the first court to apply in a college the framework of the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood case, which for nearly twenty years had given high school administrators wide latitude to restrict the content of student-run newspapers. As a result, many college journalists believed they were powerless against university presidents and deans, who they believed could charge into their newsrooms, lock up their computers, and even stop their presses – all with the blessing of the First Amendment.
In truth, the outrage did not begin with Hosty. It began seventeen years earlier with the Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. In Hazelwood, the Supreme Court held that in high schools, where school-sponsored student speech does not occur in a public forum, the school may regulate the content of that speech for reasons that are “reasonably related” to any of a range of “legitimate pedagogical concerns.” Thus, many people believed Hazelwood gave high school administrators near free reign to stop students from participating in one of our nation’s most sacred traditions – a free and independent press. And in Hazelwood, the Supreme Court explicitly left open the possibility that the case’s analytical framework might be applied to student publications in colleges too. But until June 2005, no court had dared to do so. Hosty was the first.
On July 26, 2005, President George W. Bush released a proclamation celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), signed into law by the former President Bush. In the proclamation, President Bush “call[ed] on all Americans…to fulfill the promise of the ADA [and] to give all people the opportunity to live with dignity, work productively, and achieve their dreams.” At the time of its signing there were more than forty-three million disabled persons in the United States; this number has grown to more than forty-nine million. The purpose of the ADA was to eliminate discrimination against this growing population in a number of areas by providing a “legal recourse to redress such discrimination.”