Empirical Legal Studies

Wendy Wagner, William West, Thomas McGarity, and Lisa Peters

In administrative law, it is generally assumed that once an agency promulgates a final rule, its work on that project—provided the rule is not litigated—has come to an end. In order to ensure that these static rules adjust to the times, therefore, both Congress and the White House have imposed a growing number of formal requirements on agencies to “look back” at their rules and revise or repeal ones that are ineffective.

Our empirical study of the rulemaking process in three agencies (N = 462 revised rules to 183 parent rules) reveals that—contrary to conventional wisdom—agencies face a variety of incentives to revise and update their rules outside of such formal requirements. Not the least of these is pressure from those groups that are affected by their regulations. There is in fact a vibrant world of informal rule revision that occurs voluntarily and through a variety of techniques. We label this phenomenon “dynamic rulemaking.” In this Article, we share our empirical findings, provide a conceptual map of this unexplored world of rule revisions, and offer some preliminary thoughts about the normative implications of dynamic rulemaking for regulatory reform.

Wendy Wagner, William West, Thomas McGarity & Lisa Peters

In administrative law, it is generally assumed that once an agency promulgates a final rule, its work on that project—provided the rule is not litigated—has come to an end. In order to ensure that these static rules adjust to the times, therefore, both Congress and the White House have imposed a growing number of formal requirements on agencies to “look back” at their rules and revise or repeal ones that are ineffective.

Our empirical study of the rulemaking process in three agencies (N = 462 revised rules to 183 parent rules) reveals that—contrary to conventional wisdom—agencies face a variety of incentives to revise and update their rules outside of such formal requirements. Not the least of these is pressure from those groups that are affected by their regulations. There is in fact a vibrant world of informal rule revision that occurs voluntarily and through a variety of techniques. We label this phenomenon “dynamic rulemaking.” In this Article, we share our empirical findings, provide a conceptual map of this unexplored world of rule revisions, and offer some preliminary thoughts about the normative implications of dynamic rulemaking for regulatory reform.

J.J. Prescott & Kathryn E. Spier

A settlement is an agreement between parties to a dispute. In everyday parlance and in academic scholarship, settlement is juxtaposed with trial or some other method of dispute resolution in which a third-party factfinder ultimately picks a winner and announces a score. The “trial versus settlement” trope, however, represents a false choice; viewing settlement solely as a dispute-ending alternative to a costly trial leads to a narrow understanding of how dispute resolution should and often does work. In this Article, we describe and defend a much richer concept of settlement, amounting in effect to a continuum of possible agreements between litigants along many dimensions. “Fully” settling a case, of course, appears to completely resolve a dispute, and if parties to a dispute rely entirely on background default rules, a “naked” trial occurs. But in reality virtually every dispute is “partially” settled. The same forces that often lead parties to fully settle—joint value maximization, cost minimization, and risk reduction—will under certain conditions lead them to enter into many other forms of Pareto-improving agreements while continuing to actively litigate against one another. We identify three primary categories of these partial settlements: award-modification agreements, issue-modification agreements, and procedure-modification agreements. We provide real-world examples of each and rigorously link them to the underlying incentives facing litigants. Along the way, we use our analysis to characterize unknown or rarely observed partial settlement agreements that nevertheless seem theoretically attractive, and we allude to potential reasons for their scarcity within the context of our framework. Finally, we study partial settlements and how they interact with each other in real-world adjudication using new and unique data from New York’s Summary Jury Trial Program. Patterns in the data are consistent with parties using partial settlement terms both as substitutes and as complements for other terms, depending on the context, and suggest that entering into a partial settlement can reduce the attractiveness of full settlement. We conclude by briefly discussing the distinctive welfare implications of partial settlements.

Charlotte S. Alexander, Zev J. Eigen & Camille Gear Rich

In recent years, antidiscrimination scholars have focused on the productive possibilities of the “universal turn,” a strategy that calls on attorneys to convert particularist claims, like race discrimination claims, into broader universalist claims that secure basic dignity, liberty, and fairness rights for all. Scholars have urged litigators to employ universalist strategies in constitutional and voting rights cases, as well as in employment litigation. Thus far, however, arguments made in favor of universalism have largely been abstract and theoretical and therefore have failed to fully consider the second-order effects of universalist strategies on the ground. In this Article, we challenge the prevailing arguments in favor of universalism by exploring the market consequences as lawyers shift from particularist Title VII race discrimination claims to universalist Fair Labor Standards Act claims. Drawing on a review of case filing statistics and an inductive, purposeful sample of attorney interviews, we describe a phenomenon we call “post-racial hydraulics,” which are a set of non-ideological, economic, and pragmatism-based drivers produced by the trend toward universalism. Post-racial hydraulics must be understood as key but previously unexplored factors in racial formation. Left unchecked, these non-ideological drivers will have substantive ideological effects, as they threaten to fundamentally reshape the employment litigation market and alter our understanding of race discrimination.

Raphael Holoszyc-Pimentel

Traditionally, rational-basis scrutiny is extremely deferential and rarely invalidates legislation under the Equal Protection Clause. However, a small number of Supreme Court cases, while purporting to apply rational-basis review, have held laws unconstitutional under a higher standard often termed “rational basis with bite.” This Note analyzes every rational-basis-with-bite case from the 1971 through 2014 Terms and nine factors that appear to recur throughout these cases. This Note argues that rational basis with bite is most strongly correlated with laws that classify on the basis of an immutable characteristic or burden a significant right. These two factors are particularly likely to be present in rational-basis-with-bite cases, which can be explained on both doctrinal and prudential grounds. This conclusion upends the conventional wisdom that animus is the critical factor in rational basis with bite and reveals that other routes to rational basis with bite exist. Finally, this Note observes that applying at least rational basis with bite to discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals is consistent with the pattern of cases implicating immutability and significant rights.

Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos

There is a hole at the heart of equal protection law. According to long-established doctrine, one of the factors that determine whether a group is a suspect class is the group’s political powerlessness. But neither courts nor scholars have reached any kind of agreement as to the meaning of powerlessness. Instead, they have advanced an array of conflicting conceptions: numerical size, access to the franchise, financial resources, descriptive representation, and so on.

My primary goal in this Article, then, is to offer a definition of political powerlessness that makes theoretical sense. The definition I propose is this: A group is relatively powerless if its aggregate policy preferences are less likely to be enacted than those of similarly sized and classified groups. I arrive at this definition in three steps. First, the powerlessness doctrine stems from Carolene Products’s account of “those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities.” Second, “those political processes” refer to pluralism: the idea that society is divided into countless overlapping groups, from whose shifting coalitions public policy emerges. And third, pluralism implies a particular notion of group power— one that (1) is continuous rather than binary, (2) spans all issues, (3) focuses on policy enactment, and (4) controls for group size, and (5) type. These are precisely the elements of my suggested definition.

But I aim not just to theorize but also to operationalize in this Article. In the last few years, datasets have become available on groups’ policy preferences at the federal and state levels. Merging these datasets with information on policy outcomes, I am able to quantify my conception of group power. I find that blacks, women, and the poor are relatively powerless at both governmental levels; while whites, men, and the non-poor wield more influence. These results both support and subvert the current taxonomy of suspect classes.

Margaret H. Lemos & Kevin M. Quinn

An important strain of federalism scholarship locates the primary value of federalism in how it carves up the political landscape, allowing groups that are out of power at the national level to flourish—and, significantly, to govern—in the states. On that account, partisanship, rather than a commitment to state authority as such, motivates state actors to act as checks on federal power. Our study examines partisan motivation in one area where state actors can, and do, advocate on behalf of state power: the Supreme Court. We compiled data on state amicus filings in Supreme Court cases from the 1979–2013 Terms and linked it up with data on the partisanship of state attorneys general (AGs). Focusing only on merits-stage briefs, we looked at each AG’s partisan affiliation and the partisanship of the AGs who either joined, or explicitly opposed, her briefs. If partisanship drives amicus activity, then we should see a strong negative relationship between the partisanship of AGs opposing each other and a strong positive relationship between those who cosign briefs.

What we found was somewhat surprising. States agreed far more often than they disagreed, and—until recently—most multistate briefs represented bipartisan, not partisan, coalitions of AGs. Indeed, for the first twenty years of our study, the cosigners of these briefs were generally indistinguishable from a random sampling of AGs then in office. The picture changes after 2000, when the coalitions of cosigners become decidedly more partisan, particularly among Republican AGs. The partisanship picture is also different for the 6% of cases in which different states square off in opposing briefs. In those cases, AGs do tend to join together in partisan clusters. Here, too, the appearance of partisanship becomes stronger after the mid-1990s.

Daniel E. Ho & Frederick Schauer

Oliver Wendell Holmes's notion of the marketplace of ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of an idea to get itself accepted in the competition of the market— is a central idea in free speech thought. Yet extant social science evidence provides at best mixed support for the metaphor's veracity, and thus for the view that the truth of a proposition has substantial explanatory force in determining which propositions will be accepted and which not. But even if establishing an open marketplace for ideas is unlikely to produce a net gain in human knowledge, it may have other consequences. We illustrate how to empirically study the consequences of establishing or restricting a communicative domain. Our focus is on time, place, and manner restrictions, and we examine two potential natural experiments involving speech buffer zones around polling places and health care facilities providing abortions. Using a regression discontinuity design with geocoded polling information for over 1.3 million voters in two high-density jurisdictions (Hudson County and Manhattan), we provide suggestive evidence that speech restrictions in Hudson County reduced turnout amongst voters in the buffer zone. By failing to cue voters of the election, speech restrictions may have unanticipated costs. And using difference-in-differences and synthetic control matching with state-level data from 1973 to 2011, we illustrate how one might study the impact of speech restrictions around health care facilities. Although the evidence is limited, Massachusetts’s restrictions were accompanied, if anything, by a decrease in the abortion rate. Buffer zones might channel speech toward more persuasive forms, belying the notion that the cure for bad speech is plainly more speech.

Lee Epstein, William M. Landes & Adam Liptak

Constitutional law casebooks, generations of constitutional lawyers, and the Justices themselves say that the Court is more likely to depart from precedent in constitutional cases than in other types. We test this assumption in cases decided by the Roberts Court and find, at odds with earlier studies, that the data provide inconclusive support for it. Other factors, especially criticism of precedent by lower courts and lawyers, are more consistent and stronger predictors of the Court's decisions to depart from precedent. These findings have interesting implications for lawyering, teaching, and judging in the constitutional law context.

Brandice Canes-Wrone & Michael C. Dorf

Supreme Court doctrine grants special protection against laws that "chill" protected speech, most prominently via the overbreadth doctrine. The overbreadth doctrine permits persons whose own speech is unprotected to challenge laws that infringe the protected speech of third parties. The Court has not generally applied overbreadth and the other speech-protective doctrines to other constitutional rights even though other rights could also be subject to a chilling effect. The case law simply assumes that the chilling effect only acts on the exercise of speech, and that this justifies treating speech differently from other rights.

We tested these assumptions with respect to abortion rights. By comparing abortion rates with state laws over a two-decade-plus period, we found a statistically significant correlation between laws forbidding late-term abortions and the reduction of not only late-term but also "near-late-term" abortions, i.e., abortions in the roughly one month before the period in which abortions are forbidden. That effect persists even after controlling for potentially confounding variables, such as the number of abortion providers and pro-life public opinion. Moreover, the effect is not limited to the year of enactment or associated with failed policy initiatives, suggesting that the impact is due to the law itself rather than associated publicity. These findings are consistent with, and strongly suggestive of, a chilling effect on abortion providers and/or women seeking abortions. This result undermines the implicit assumption that the chilling effect is unique to laws regulating speech and vindicates the general proposition that laws can chill the exercise of constitutional rights beyond their literal coverage.

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