NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 83, Number 5

November 2008
Articles

The Upside of Overbreadth

Samuel W. Buell

Overbreadth in criminal liability rules, especially in federal law, is abundant and much lamented. Overbreadth is avoidable if it results from normative mistakes about how much conduct to criminalize or from insufficient care to limit open texture in statutes. Social planners cannot so easily avoid overbreadth if they cannot reach behaviors for which criminalization is well justified without also reaching behaviors for which it is not. This mismatch problem is acute if persons engaging in properly criminalized behaviors deliberately alter their conduct to avoid punishment and have resources to devote to avoidance efforts. In response to such efforts, legal actors are apt to expand liability rules further, feeding a cycle of evasion and overbreadth that characterizes important areas of contemporary criminal law. Lawmakers cannot purge the resulting overbreadth from liability rules without producing underbreadth, at significant cost to regulatory objectives. I conclude that, in some areas of expanding substantive criminal law, answers to “overcriminalization” therefore lie not in reducing the scope of conduct rules but in greater reliance on mens rea doctrines, redesign of enforcement institutions, and modification of sentencing practices.

The Unconscionability Game: Strategic Judging and the Evolution of Federal Arbitration Law

Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl

This Article uses recent developments in the enforcement of arbitration agreements to illustrate one way in which strategic dynamics can drive doctrinal change. In a fairly short period of time, arbitration has grown from a method of resolving disputes between sophisticated business entities into a phenomenon that pervades the contemporary economy. The United States Supreme Court has encouraged this transformation through expansive interpretations of the Federal Arbitration Act. But not all courts have embraced arbitration so fervently, and therefore case law in this area is marked by tension and conflict. The thesis of this Article is that we can better understand developments in arbitration doctrine by viewing the case law as the product of an ongoing strategic interaction between courts with differing preferences regarding the spread of arbitration. As the Supreme Court has shut off most other means of resisting arbitration, the state law doctrine of unconscionability has in the last several years become a surprisingly attractive and successful tool for striking down arbitration agreements. The nature of unconscionability analysis is that it is flexible, which provides opportunities for courts skeptical of arbitration to use the doctrine to evade the Supreme Court’s pro-arbitration directives while simultaneously insulating their rulings from Supreme Court review. Sophisticated resistance to arbitration is just one side of the story, however. The approach employed in this Article examines the judicial system as a whole, including the ways pro-arbitration courts respond, sometimes indirectly, to what they perceive as manipulation of unconscionability. The suspicion that some courts are disfavoring arbitration drives pro-arbitration courts to change their strategies, such as by establishing new doctrine that facilitates monitoring and shifts decisionmaking authority. This strategic framework can help us make sense of otherwise puzzling trends in arbitration doctrine and can help us predict what moves will be next. Although the specific subject matter is arbitration, this analysis is also aimed at those interested in more general problems of judicial federalism.

Lectures

Evidence-Based Judicial Discretion: Promoting Public Safety Through State Sentencing Reform

The Honorable Michael A. Wolff

Brennan Lecture

In this speech delivered for the annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, the Honorable Michael Wolff offers a new way of thinking about sentencing. Instead of attempting to limit judicial discretion and increase incarceration, states should aim to reduce recidivism in order to make our communities safer. Judge Wolff uses the example of Missouri’s sentencing reforms to argue that states should adopt evidence-based sentencing, in which the effectiveness of different sentences and treatment programs are regularly evaluated. In pre-sentencing investigative reports, probation officers should attempt to quantify—based on historical data—the risk the offender poses to the community and the specific treatment that would be most likely to prevent reoffending. Judges, on their own, lack the resources to implement all of these recommendations; probation officers and others involved in sentencing should receive the same information—risk assessment data—and their recommendations should become more influential as they gain expertise.

Notes

Providing Effective Remedies to Victims of Abuse by Peacekeeping Personnel

Catherine E. Sweetser

This Note argues for a compensation mechanism in cases where United Nations peacekeepers have violated the rights of those whom they should be protecting, focusing in particular on cases of sexual abuse. In light of the current absence of clear mechanisms for accountability, the United Nations must take action to compensate victims in order to preserve its organizational immunity and its discretion in waiving the immunity of peacekeepers. This Note examines the current legal regime and current responses by the United Nations, reviews the pressing need for greater victim compensation, and evaluates theories of employer liability and state responsibility as they apply in the peacekeeping context. It concludes that current international law supports a compensation mechanism that is normatively (if not legally) required.

How to Fix the Inconsistent Application of Forum Non Conveniens to Latin American Jurisdiction—and Why Consistency May Not Be Enough

Rajeev Muttreja

Though the jurisdiction of US courts is broad enough to give many foreign plaintiffs the ability to file suit here, the doctrine of forum non conveniens (FNC) enables a court to dismiss a case because another forum—typically the plaintiff’s home forum—would be more convenient for it. FNC dismissal is warranted only if the alternative forum is adequate, available, and more convenient for the case. Often, the alternative forum’s availability is a nonissue. However, many Latin American countries subscribe to a system of preemptive jurisdiction, which extinguishes their courts’ jurisdiction once a case is filed elsewhere. This system would seem to block the use of FNC by making the alternative forum unavailable, but U.S. courts have not treated this issue consistently. Some courts have reached divergent results using the same evidence, and some have avoided the inquiry altogether by making dismissals conditional. This Note analyzes and explains courts’ inconsistent treatment of Latin American rules of preemptive jurisdiction by illustrating certain subtle but crucial doctrinal missteps. The Note argues that FNC doctrine requires courts to analyze a foreign forum’s availability from that forum’s perspective while also paying heed to the movant’s burden of persuasion. Yet this doctrinally honest approach could preclude courts from using FNC to mediate between important policy concerns, as is usually possible. This Note identifies these competing concerns and proposes a possible solution.

Using Structural Interdicts and the South African Human Rights Commission to Achieve Judicial Enforcement of Economic and Social Rights in South Africa

Mitra Ebadolahi

In 1996, South Africa’s transformative Constitution inspired human rights activists worldwide by incorporating justiciable economic and social rights (ESRs), including rights to housing, health care, food, water, social security, and basic education. Yet over the past twelve years, problems related to separation of powers considerations, vagueness concerns, and enforcement costs have impeded the South African judiciary’s efforts to enforce these crucial rights meaningfully. After surveying these obstacles, this Note offers a two-step proposal for change: increased use of the structural interdict remedy and an enhanced, collaborative role for the South African Human Rights Commission. Used in tandem, these measures can improve judicial enforcement of ESRs in South Africa—and perhaps set a concrete example for the rest of the world.