Legal Theory

Bertrall L. Ross II

More than ever, the constitutionality of laws turns on judicial review of an underlying factual record, assembled by lawmakers. Some scholars have suggested that by requiring extensive records, the Supreme Court is treating lawmakers like administrative agencies. The assumption underlying this metaphor is that if the state puts forth enough evidence in the record to support the law, its action will survive constitutional scrutiny. What scholars have overlooked, however, is that the Court is increasingly questioning the credibility of the record itself. Even in cases where the state produces adequate evidence to support its action, the Court sometimes invalidates the law because it does not believe the state’s facts. In these cases, the Court treats the state like a witness in its own trial, subjecting the state’s record and the conclusions drawn from it to rigorous cross-examination and second-guessing.

In this “credibility-questioning” review of the record, the Court appears to be animated by an implicit judgment about the operation of the political process. When Justices consider the political process to have functioned properly, they treat the state as a good faith actor and merely check the adequacy of its evidence in the record. But when Justices suspect that the democratic process has malfunctioned because opponents of the law were too politically weak or indifferent to challenge distortions in the record, they treat the state as a witness, suspecting bias in its factual determinations supporting the law.

In this Article, I both support and critique this new form of review. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue courts should engage in credibility-questioning review of the record when the political process has malfunctioned. Public choice and pluralist defect theory imply that the record supporting a law is more likely to be distorted in contexts of democratic malfunction. But for reasons of institutional legitimacy and separation of powers, I argue courts should limit credibility-questioning review to contexts where there is actual proof of democratic malfunction.

Hannah J. Wiseman

Policy experimentation in the “laboratory of the states” is a frequently cited benefit of our federalist system, but a necessary condition of thoughtful experimentation is often missing. To conduct useful policy experiments, states and other subfederal actors need baseline information: In order to learn from the successes and failures of their neighbors, state actors must understand the laws and regulations that other jurisdictions have enacted. And, despite the seemingly ready availability of legal and regulatory materials in the information age, subfederal officials often lack this understanding. The literature has recognized that states often fail to share policy results, particularly failures, but few legal scholars have explored the lack of information about the substance of policy—an essential foundation for thoughtful experimentation. This information deficit tends to pervade technical policy areas in particular—those that do not follow uniform codes and require expertise to understand, like hydraulic fracturing and health care. In these areas and others, the states may still be laboratories, but in some cases they are laboratories on islands, with no comprehensive, uniform information exchanged among them. This limits the experimental upside of laboratories—informed, efficient, and innovative regulatory approaches. It also expands laboratories’ known downside—the costs to private entities of complying with different standards.

This Article explores the problem of regulatory islands and the public choice, political economy, and resource-based dynamics that create them. It also explores areas in which states have effectively shared regulatory content—often with federal help—and  argues that the federal government is in the best position to work with subfederal institutions to produce and synthesize regulatory information. Even if the government does not do the collection and synthesization itself—indeed, mistrust by state actors may prevent this level of involvement—it should fund and partially manage it. Federal involvement is important because when the federal government allows subfederal experimentation in areas of federal concern, it should already be producing much of this information anyway in order to monitor state regulation to ensure that federal goals are being met and ensure that states are not imposing externalities on their neighbors. Increasing the availability of regulatory information will enable more informed experimentation and allow monitoring of policy gaps. In the many areas in which it does not regulate directly, the essential federal government role in modern regulatory experiments is an informational one.

Maria Ponomarenko

The problem of changed circumstances recurs throughout constitutional law. Statutes often outlive the conditions they were meant to address. A once-reasonable law may come to impose burdens that the legislature never intended and would not now be willing to impose. This Note asks whether courts are ever permitted to step in and declare that, as a result of postenactment changed circumstances, a once-valid law can no longer be constitutionally applied. It argues that the propriety of changed circumstances review depends first on whether the applicable doctrinal test is substantive or motives-based. A substantive test is one that imposes an absolute prohibition on certain categories of legislation, or requires a particular degree of fit between legislative means and ends. A motives-based test asks only whether the enacting legislature intended to further an impermissible objective. This Note demonstrates that where the underlying test is substantive, a reviewing court must at least consider whether circumstances have sufficiently changed since the challenged law’s enactment to justify striking it down. If the test is motives-based, then the court should generally consider only whether the statute is valid based on facts as they existed when it first went into effect.

 

Jeremy Waldron, Lewis A. Kornhauser, Hon. Stephen Breyer, T.M. Scanlon, Rebecca L. Brown, Liam Murphy, Robert B. Silvers, Thomas Nagel

Last year, the NYU community lost an intellectual giant in Professor Ronald Dworkin. The school and the Law Review joined together to honor Professor Dworkin’s writings, ideas, and of course, his legendary colloquia. Academics, philosophers, and judges gathered to pay tribute. In the pages that follow, we proudly publish written versions of those tributes.1 The ceremony closed with a short video clip of one of Professor Dworkin’s last speeches, titled Einstein’s Worship. His words provide a fitting introduction:


"We emphasize—we should emphasize—our responsibility, a responsibility shared by theists and atheists alike, a responsibility that we have in virtue of our humanity to think about these issues, to reject the skeptical conclusion that it’s just a matter of what we think and therefore we don’t have to think. We need to test our convictions. Our convictions must be coherent. They must be authentic; we must come to feel them as our convictions. But when they survive that test of responsibility, they’ve also survived any philosophical challenge that can be made. In that case, you burnish your convictions, you test your convictions, and what you then believe, you better believe it. That’s what I have to say about the meaning of life. Tomorrow: the universe."

Kevin Terry

In 2010, the Arizona State Legislature drew national attention to issues of ethnicity, pedagogy, and censorship in public schools by passing House Bill 2281. As interpreted by Arizona officials, this law made the curriculum of the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson public schools illegal. The ongoing conflict between supporters and opponents of the Department in public discourse—and in state and federal courts—raises important questions about the ways that majority and minority cultures interact in United States educational institutions. This Note uses Arizona’s ethnic studies ban to suggest that Derrick Bell’s interest-convergence thesis and Lani Guinier’s related theory of interest-divergence continue to be useful tools in assessing the dynamics between powerful and marginalized groups. The Note sets the facts of the ethnic studies controversy against recent criticism of Professor Bell’s work and, in doing so, rebuts the assertion that the interest-convergence thesis has become less relevant to understanding contemporary intergroup conflict in the United States.

Chris William Sanchirico

In practice, the problem of law enforcement is half a matter of what the government does to catch violators and half a matter of what violators do to avoid getting caught. In the theory of law enforcement, however, although the state's efforts at "detection" play a decisive role, offenders' efforts at "detection avoidance" are largely ignored. Always problematic, this imbalance has become critical in recent years as episodes of corporate misconduct spur new interest in punishing process crimes like obstruction of justice and perjury. This Article adds detection avoidance to the existing theoretical frame with an eye toward informing the current policy debate. The exercise leads to several conclusions. First, despite recent efforts to strengthen laws governing obstruction and perjury, sanctioning is relatively inefficacious at discouraging detection avoidance. Sanctions send a mixed message to the offender: Do less to avoid detection, but to the extent you still do something, do more to avoid detection of your detection avoidance. The Article argues that detection avoidance is often more effectively deterred through the structural design of evidentiary procedure (inclusive of investigation). Specifically advocated are devices that exploit the cognitive psychological shortcomings of individuals and the sociological fragility of their collusive arrangements.

Claire Finkelstein

Opponents of the death penalty typically base their opposition on contingent features of its administration, arguing that the death penalty is applied discriminatorily, that the innocent are sometimes executed, or that there is insufficient evidence of the death penalty's deterrent efficacy. Implicit in these arguments is the suggestion that if these contingencies did not  obtain, serious moral objections to the death penalty would be misplaced. In this Article,  Professor Finkelsteindeterrence and retributivismis capable of justifying the death penalty. More generally, she suggests that while each theory captures an important part of the justification for punishment, each must appeal to some further limiting principle to accommodate common intuitions about appropriate punishments for crimes. Professor Finkelstein claims that contractarianism supplies this additional principle, by requiring that individuals consent to the system of punishment under whose threat they must live. Moreover, on the version of contractarianism for which she argues, they must do so based on a belief that they will benefit under the terms of that system as compared with how they would fare in its absence. While the notion of benefit is often best understood in terms of maximizing one's expected utility, Professor Finkelsteingambling" decision rule. She then argues that rational contractors applying this conception of benefit would reject any system of punishment that includes the death penalty. For while contractors would recognize the death penalty's deterrent value, they must also consider the high cost they would pay in the event they end up subject to such a penalty. This Article presents both a significant new approach to the death penalty and a general theory of punishment, one that incorporates the central intuitions about deterrence and desert that have made competing theories of punishment seem compelling.

The Honorable Diane P. Wood

In this speech delivered for the annual James Madison Lecture, the Honorable Diane Wood tackles the classic question of whether courts should interpret the United States Constitution from an originalist or dynamic approach. Judge Wood argues for the dynamic approach and defends it against the common criticisms that doing so allows judges to stray from the original intent of those who wrote the Constitution or take into consideration improper foreign influences. She argues the necessity of an "unwritten Constitution" since a literalist approach to interpretation would lead to unworkable or even absurd results in the modern context, and since restricting constitutional interpretation to literal readings would mean that the Constitution has outlived its usefulness. Judges may "find" unwritten constitutional rules by using evolving notions of a decent society to interpret broad constitutional language broadly; acknowledging that certain liberties are so fundamental that no governmental entity may deny them; acknowledging that much of the Bill of Rights applies to states through selective incorporation; and inferring principles from the structure of the Constitution and pre-constitutional understandings.

Norman R. Williams

In Gibbons v. Ogden, the first Supreme Court decision to discuss the Commerce Clause, Chief Justice John Marshall endorsed the notion of a Dormant Commerce Clause but refused to adopt it as constitutional principle. In this article, Professor Norman Williams answers why Marshall hedged on the Dormant Commerce Clause. First, Marshall apprehended the need to provide a comprehensive articulation of the scope of Congress's affirmative regulatory power under the Commerce Clause. Second, Marshall was wary of inserting the judiciary into another battle regarding the constitutional scope of state authority. This reassessment resolves an otherwise inadequately explained historical puzzle regarding the Marshall Court and sheds light upon contemporary debates regarding popular constitutionalism and the interpretive role of the Supreme Court.

Camille Gear Rich

Courts interpreting Title VII have long treated race and ethnicity as biological, morphological concepts and discrimination as a reaction to a set of biologically fixed traits. Meanwhile, they have rejected claims concerning discrimination based on voluntarily chosen physical traits or "performed" behaviors and that communicate racial or ethnic identity. Yet race and ethnicity are effectively produced—that is, they do not exist until one is socially acknowledged as possessing socially coded racial or ethnic markers, whether they are fixed physical features, voluntary appearance choices, or behaviors. This Article argues that it is error to distinguish between Title VII cases concerning morphological as opposed to voluntary racially or ethnically marked features, as the discriminator's motives and the effects of her behavior are the same. Moreover, the morphological model of race/ethnicity is fundamentally contradicted by contemporary biological and sociological studies on race, discrimination studies, and identity performance theories, which indicate that individuals actively work to "perform" racial and ethnic status regardless of, and sometimes in spite of their morphological traits. Drawing on these studies, this Article shows that courts must hear discrimination claims based on voluntary features if they are to provide a more credible analysis of modern forms of discrimination.

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