Category Archives: Uncategorized

Trump issue executive order reversing course on refugee family separations, keeps zero-tolerance prosecution policy [text]

Here’s the text of the president’s executive order. — Joe

Mazzone on Subprecedents

Here’s the abstract for Jason Mazzone’s Subprecedents (May 22, 2018):

Everyone had heard of super-precedents: cases that have very strong precedential value and so are thought immune to overruling. Subprecedents deserve equal attention. Subprecedents are those cases that, by design or effect, have only very weak precedential significance. In contrast to their more demanding super-precedent cousins, subprecedents do not claim to constrain future judicial decision-making and thus invite being ignored. Yet subprecedents play important, frequently unnoticed, and often surprising roles in a legal system that values stare decisis. This essay, prepared for a symposium on Randy Kozel’s book, Settled Versus Right: A Theory of Precedent (2017), presents the case for paying greater attention, as we seek to make sense of the rules and operations of stare decisis, to the nature and contributions of subprecedents. The essay identifies seven different kinds of subprecedents with different characteristics and functions and it explores the roles they each play in our legal system. Despite their seemingly modest nature, subprecedents, it turns out, shape opportunities to seek and obtain legal remedies, facilitate and constrain judicial decision-making, and, ultimately, guide the direction of the law. Subprecedents, in their own quiet way, play powerful roles. They need to be understood and reckoned with.

— Joe

Taking control of the DOJ by the White House: The Presidential Oath and the Take Care Clause

Here’s the abstract for Andrew McCanse Wright’s Justice Department Independence and White House Control (February 18, 2018):

Problematic relations between the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice stand out amidst the broader tumult of President Donald Trump’s first year in office. With respect to written policy restricting contacts between the White House staff and the Department, the Trump White House has followed the general contours of predecessor administrations. Those policies recognize that White House contacts restrictions vary with the Department’s complex functions, restrict channels of contact, and restrict personnel authorized to make contacts. They also grant limited exceptions where White House-Department contact is required to assist the President in the performance of a constitutional duty and contact would be appropriate from a law enforcement perspective. A number of episodes, however, suggest that the President and senior administration officials have not honored the spirit, and in some cases the letter, of that contacts policy.

One of the frequent criticisms leveled against President Trump is that he disregards many norms and traditions that have been observed by presidential administrations of both parties for decades. Restrictions on White House interference in criminal investigations do not merely protect norms. Rather, those policies also seek to prevent unconstitutional conduct by the President and his political appointees. This Article demonstrates that political interference by the President undertaken in bad faith could violate the Take Care Clause even in the absence of a criminal statute. Obstructive behavior is even worse. Whether or not the President is indictable for the commission of a statutory criminal offense of obstruction of justice during his tenure in office, this Article explains why the President may violate the Take Care Clause independently of criminal offenses.

A principle of political noninterference by the White House in the federal prosecution function in particular matters is consistent with Article II. Neither the Vesting Clause, the President’s position atop the Executive Branch, nor the President’s broader enforcement discretion defeat the anti-interference principles commanded by the Presidential Oath and the Take Care Clause. It is a question that goes to the very concept of Rule of Law itself. However, political processes, rather than justiciable legal proceedings, serve as the presumptive source of Take Care Clause enforcement as to White House-Department relations.

See also LLB’s Intra-branch checks and balances: Presidential control of the DOJ (March 6, 2018). — Joe

Library Journal announces Movers & Shakers 2018

Learn about the change agents, community builders, digital developers, educators and innovators here. — Joe

Meet America’s 10 largest gunmakers

In Fully Loaded: Inside the Shadowy World of America’s 10 Biggest Gunmakers Mother Jones set out to break through the opacity surrounding the $8 billion firearms industry and the men who control it. Interesting. — Joe

Election Security Act introduced with release of Congressional Task Force on Election Security’s final report

The Congressional Task Force on Election Security released its final report last week. Members of the task force introduced the Election Security Act, which requests increased funding for state and federal agencies to improve election security. — Joe

AG Sessions renews war on weed

From the press release: “The Department of Justice today issued a memo on federal marijuana enforcement policy announcing a return to the rule of law and the rescission of previous guidance documents.” Here’s the text of AG Sessions’ Jan. 4, 2017 marijuana enforcement memorandum to all U.S. attorneys.

For commentary and analysis of this development, see this Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform post by OSU Law Prof Douglas Berman. — Joe

How effective are resolutions of inquiry as a parliamentary oversight tool in the House?

From the CRS report, Resolutions of Inquiry: An Analysis of Their Use in the House, 1947-2017 (Nov. 9, 2017 R40879):

A resolution of inquiry is a simple resolution making a direct request or demand of the President or the head of an executive department to furnish the House with specific factual information in the Administration’s possession. Under the rules and precedents of the House of Representatives, such resolutions, if properly drafted, are given a privileged parliamentary status. This means that, under certain circumstances, a resolution of inquiry can be brought to the House floor for consideration even if the committee to which it was referred has not reported it and the majority party leadership has not scheduled it for action.

Although Representatives of both political parties have utilized resolutions of inquiry, in recent Congresses, such resolutions have overwhelmingly become a tool of the minority party in the House. This development has led some to question whether resolutions of inquiry are being used primarily for partisan gain or are unduly increasing the workload of certain House committees. Others have attributed the increase to a frustration among minority party Members over their inability to readily obtain information from the executive branch.

Available data suggest that 28% of the time, a resolution of inquiry has resulted in the production of information to the House. In half of the cases examined here, however, it is simply unknown, unclear, or in dispute whether the resolution of inquiry produced any of the requested information, a fact which might suggest the need for additional investigation of the efficacy of this parliamentary oversight tool by policymakers.

— Joe

“Training data:” Artificial intelligence’s fair use crisis

From the abstract of Artificial Intelligence’s Fair Use Crisis by Benjamin L. W. Sobel:

As automation supplants more forms of labor, creative expression still seems like a distinctly human enterprise. This may someday change: by ingesting works of authorship as “training data,” computer programs can teach themselves to write natural prose, compose music, and generate movies. Machine learning is an artificial intelligence (AI) technology with immense potential and a commensurate appetite for copyrighted works. In the United States, the copyright law mechanism most likely to facilitate machine learning’s uses of protected data is the fair use doctrine. However, current fair use doctrine threatens either to derail the progress of machine learning or to disenfranchise the human creators whose work makes it possible.

This Article addresses the problem in three parts: using popular machine learning datasets and research as case studies, Part I describes how programs “learn” from corpora of copyrighted works and catalogs the legal risks of this practice. It concludes that fair use may not protect expressive machine learning applications, including the burgeoning field of natural language generation. Part II explains that applying today’s fair use doctrine to expressive machine learning will yield one of two undesirable outcomes: if US courts reject the fair use defense for machine learning, valuable innovation may move to another jurisdiction or halt entirely; alternatively, if courts find the technology to be fair use, sophisticated software may divert rightful earnings from the authors of input data. This dilemma shows that fair use may no longer serve its historical purpose. Traditionally, fair use is understood to benefit the public by fostering expressive activity. Today, the doctrine increasingly serves the economic interests of powerful firms at the expense of disempowered individual rightsholders. Finally, in Part III, this Article contemplates changes in doctrine and policy that could address these problems. It concludes that the United States’ interest in avoiding both prongs of AI’s fair use dilemma offers a novel justification for redistributive measures that could promote social equity alongside technological progress.

— Joe

AG Sessions muzzles DOJ from explaining how federal law applies

It has come to my attention that the Department has in the past published guidance documents- or similar instruments of future effect by other names, such as letters to regulated entities- that effectively bind private parties without undergoing the rulemaking process.

The Department will no longer engage in this practice. Effective immediately, Department components may not issue guidance documents that purport to create rights or obligations binding on persons or entiti es outside the Executive Branch (including state, local, and tribal governments). — Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, Nov. 16, 2017 Memorandum

The DOJ has announced that it will no longer issue guidance on the federal laws it enforces and that it will review existing guidance to identify those that should be rescinded. Lawfare’s Eve Hill writes:

The memorandum is couched in terms of eliminating guidance that circumvents the rulemaking process by imposing new binding obligations on covered entities without notice-and-comment rulemaking. But the instructions of the memorandum go much further – they forbid the Department from using “shall,” “must,” “required,” or “requirement” and require the Department to state that all guidance is non-binding. This effectively muzzles the experts on federal law from explaining how the law applies in specific contexts. It threatens to leave covered entities in the dark when, in good faith, they apply the law to new situations they face on the ground.

— Joe

Flynn’s plea agreement with the special counsel’s office [text]

Here’s the text of Flynn’s plea agreement with the Special Counsel. From The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis by Susan Hennessey, Matthew Kahn, Vanessa Sauter, Shannon Togawa Mercer and Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare Dec. 1, 2017:

The surprising thing about the plea agreement and the stipulated facts underlying it is how narrow they are. There’s no whiff of the alleged Fethullah Gulen kidnapping talks. Flynn has escaped FARA and influence-peddling charges. And he has been allowed to plead to a single count of lying to the FBI. The factual stipulation is also narrow. It involves lies to the FBI on two broad matters and lies on Flynn’s belated FARA filings on another issue. If a tenth of the allegations against Flynn are true and provable, he has gotten a very good deal from Mueller.

— Joe

First lawsuit opposing President Trump’s monuments proclamations filed [text]

Yesterday, President Trump modified prior proclamations for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument [text] and the Bears Ears National Monument [text] that significantly reduce the size of each monument. Already, one complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief has been filed by environment groups including The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club. From the filing:

President Trump’s unlawful reversal of Grand Staircase-Escalante’s full protective reach exceeds his authority under the Antiquities Act. The Act authorizes Presidents to create national monuments; it does not authorize Presidents to abolish them either in whole or in part, as President Trump’s action attempts to do.

President Trump’s action even purports to overturn congressional legislation that added lands to the monument.

Accordingly, the President’s decision exceeds his authority under the Antiquities Act, violates the separation of powers between Congress and the President and the “take Care” clause of the U.S. Constitution, and is therefore unlawful.

— Joe

Trends in AALL membership, 2007-2017: Law Firm/Corporate professional membership continues to decline

Since 2007, the biennial Salary Survey has reported on AALL membership by market sectors: Law Firm/Corporate, Government and Law School. The table, above, details non-AALL membership as a percent of the professional workforce as reported in the last six biennial salary surveys. The percent of non-AALL members in the law firm/corporate legal sector workforce increased 19% in 2017 compared to 2015 and has increased 56% since 2007. Note that the percent of the professional workforce in the law firm/corporate law sector who are not AALL members has steadily increased during the past ten years. No similar increase is manifest in the government and academic sectors.

Why?

Time to mount an AALL membership outreach campaign targeting non-traditional legal information professionals in law firms and corporate legal departments? — Joe

Second set of articles of impeachment filed against President Trump

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, which has jurisdiction over impeachment matters, and four Democratic colleagues, introduced five articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump yesterday. The five articles are:

  • Article I – Obstruction of Justice
  • Article II – Violation of Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution – Foreign Emoluments
  • Article III – Violation of Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution – Domestic Emoluments
  • Article IV – Undermining the Independence of the Federal Judiciary and the Rule of Law
  • Article V – Undermining Freedom of the Press

Documentation:

End Note: LLB post on first articles of impeachment. — Joe

ICIJ releases The Paradise Papers

On November 5th, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released The Paradise Papers. The Paradise Papers documents include nearly 7 million loan agreements, financial statements, emails, trust deeds and other paperwork over nearly 50 years from inside Appleby, a prestigious offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond. Here’s the press release and jump page to various Paradise Papers investigations. – Joe

The Legal Problems (So Far) of Trump’s Deregulatory Binge

From the abstract for Lisa Heinzerling’s The Legal Problems (So Far) of Trump’s Deregulatory Binge, Harvard Law & Policy Review, Forthcoming:

In racing to upend a wide array of final rules issued in the Obama administration, the Trump administration has violated basic principles of administrative law. In delaying or suspending rules, agencies in the Trump administration have paid little attention to their legal constraints, failed to provide legally required process before their decisions, and offered flimsy reasoning for their choices. The administration, in other words, has put on the same display of autocracy, impulsivity, and jerry-rigged reasoning that has characterized Mr. Trump’s overall approach to the presidency. Within the constraints of administrative law that apply to such regulatory decisions, however, autocracy, impulsivity, and jerry-rigging are the very kinds of urges that get agencies into legal trouble.

This article examines the legal risks posed by the decision-making style exhibited by the Trump administration so far, with a focus on the administration’s decisions delaying or suspending rules issued by the Obama administration. These early decisions are worth studying for their own sake, as they put the brakes on rules aimed at addressing a broad range of social problems. The decisions are also important for the signals they send about how administrative agencies in the Trump era will go about their business. These early actions portend legal trouble for the administration’s deregulatory push. Agencies in this administration have delayed or suspended existing rules with little attention to legal authority, process, or reason giving, and in doing so have flouted basic requirements of administrative law. The courts have already begun to push back against the administration’s deregulatory binge.

— Joe

Just released, Sunstein’s Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide

From the blurb for Harvard Law prof Cass Sunstein’s Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide (Harvard UP, Oct. 30, 2017):

Cass R. Sunstein provides a succinct citizen’s guide to an essential tool of self-government. He illuminates the constitutional design behind impeachment and emphasizes the people’s role in holding presidents accountable. Despite intense interest in the subject, impeachment is widely misunderstood. Sunstein identifies and corrects a number of misconceptions. For example, he shows that the Constitution, not the House of Representatives, establishes grounds for impeachment, and that the president can be impeached for abuses of power that do not violate the law. Even neglect of duty counts among the “high crimes and misdemeanors” delineated in the republic’s foundational document. Sunstein describes how impeachment helps make sense of our constitutional order, particularly the framers’ controversial decision to install an empowered executive in a nation deeply fearful of kings.

With an eye toward the past and the future, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide considers a host of actual and imaginable arguments for a president’s removal, explaining why some cases are easy and others hard, why some arguments for impeachment have been judicious and others not. In direct and approachable terms, it dispels the fog surrounding impeachment so that Americans of all political convictions may use their ultimate civic authority wisely.

— Joe

In another move to compete with WEXIS, Fastcase launches imprint for secondary works

When Fastcase hired industry veteran Steve Errick this summer, observers knew things were going change. And they have. Fastcase has launched Full Court Press to publish law journals, legal treatises, deskbooks, forms, checklists and workflow tools. First up, RAIL: The Journal of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Law. For details, see Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites post. — Joe

The failure of presidential signing statements

Here’s the abstract for Signing Statements and Presidentializing Legislative History by John M. de Figueiredo and Edward H. Stiglitz (NBER Working Paper No. 23951, Oct. 2017):

Presidents often attach statements to the bills they sign into law, purporting to celebrate, construe, or object to provisions in the statute. Though long a feature of U.S. lawmaking, the President has avowedly attempted to use these signing statements as tool of strategic influence over judicial decisionmaking since the 1980s—as a way of creating “presidential legislative history” to supplement and, at times, supplant the traditional congressional legislative history conventionally used by the courts to interpret statutes. In this Article, we examine a novel dataset of judicial opinion citations to presidential signing statements to conduct the most comprehensive empirical examination of how courts have received presidential legislative history to date. Three main findings emerge from this analysis. First, contrary to the pervasive (and legitimate) fears in the literature on signing statements, courts rarely cite signing statements in their decisions. Second, in the aggregate, when courts cite signing statements, they cite them in predictably partisan ways, with judges citing Presidents’ signing statements from their own political parties more often than those of the opposing parties. This effect, however, is driven entirely by the behavior of Republican-appointed appellate jurists. Third, courts predominately employ signing statements to buttress aligned statutory text and conventional sources of legislative history, and seemingly never rely on them to override contrary plain statutory text or even unified traditional legislative history. This suggests that signing statements have low rank among interpretative tools and courts primarily use them to complement rather than substitute for congressional legislative history. In this sense, Presidents have largely failed to establish an alternative corpus of valid interpretive material.

H/T beSpacific. — Joe

Bloomberg Law’s New Feature, Points Of Law

Bloomberg Law announced a new research feature, Points of Law, a little over a week ago.  I’ve been playing around with it using the ATV injury problem I created for teaching online legal research concepts.  In summary, An ATV rider was injured while riding on someone else’s private property without permission.  The problem called for the researcher to identify relevant cases where assumption of risk was a viable defense and collect them for later analysis.  The jurisdiction is New York.

Let me explain a little about Points of Law before I dive into my experience with it.  Bloomberg’s press release describes the feature:

Points of Law offers a more efficient way to conduct case law research.  Through the application of machine learning to Bloomberg Law’s database of 13 million court opinions, Points of Law highlights language critical to the court’s holding, links this language to governing statements of law and relevant on-point case law.

Bloomberg Law provides context – connecting keyword search results to governing statements of law – and unparalleled breadth of coverage, generating one million Points of Law from our state and federal court opinion database.

I found the press release accurate.  I used one of the sample searches I set up for the research problem, <all-terrain vehicle and assumption of risk>.  The case law I expected to see in the list of results was there.  Some of the cases, not all, had a Points of Law icon on the right side of the text.  Clicking that highlights text that the AI in the database considers to be significant.  My search highlighted what I would describe as a combination of black letter law on a keyword related topic or significant points on how the courts treat that topic.  The focus here was on assumption of risk, obviously,  as and all-terrain vehicle is not a legal concept.

Here are some example results extracted from Marcano v. City of New York, 296 A.D.2d 43, 743 N.Y.S.2d 456 (App Div, 1st Dept 2002):

Generally, the issue of assumption of risk is a question of fact for the jury.” (Lamey v Foley, 188 AD2d 157, 163-164 .)

“The policy underlying this tort rule is intended to facilitate free and vigorous participation in athletic activities.” (Benitez v New York City Bd. of Educ., 73 NY2d 650, 657 .)  [Discussing how assumption of the risk in sports is handled by the courts. – MG]

Because of the factual nature of the inquiry, whether a danger is open and obvious is most often a jury question * * *.”

What I found most interesting about using Points of Law is how viewing multiple extracts informed me about assumption of risk without requiring a lot of lengthy analysis.  Now, not all cases in the search results were useful in my context where an ATV rider was injured.  At the same time, a researcher will find what they need to know conceptually about assumption of the risk as treated by the New York Courts.  I assume that applies to other legal doctrines as well.

Another feature worth mentioning is that clicking on the highlighted phrase will open a side window that cites other cases expressing the same point of law (up to 10).  There is also a button that shows a citation map of the Point:

Bloomberg Cite Map.

Another button shows a list of opinions that expressed related concepts along with the Point text:

Bloomberg Related Points of Law

All in all, I think this is a nifty feature that researchers and litigators will actually use.  I wonder if it will integrate with any of the current general search products on the market, as in “Hey Google, find me cases in New York State that discuss assumption of risk in the context of recreational activities.”  If we now think that first year law students take the lazy route in legal research based on their Google use, just wait for the future to show up.

In the Not Everything is Perfect category, one case, Bierach v. Nichols, 248 A.D.2d 916, 669 N.Y.S.2d 988 (App Div, 3d Dept 1998), had one Point of Law listed but not highlighted in the text.  It was short enough that I was able to guess what was the likely text that would have been highlighted.  Oh well.  –Mark