NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 83, Number 6

December 2008
Articles

Judicial Review of Legislative Purpose

Caleb Nelson

Modern constitutional doctrine is full of restrictions on the reasons for which legislatures can enact certain kinds of statutes. Modern American courts, moreover, stand ready to enforce those restrictions by considering a broad array of sources about the hidden purposes behind challenged statutes. Yet for most of our history, courts shied away from those inquiries—not because state and federal constitutions were thought to impose no purpose-based restrictions on legislative power, but because such restrictions were not thought to lend themselves to much judicial enforcement. This Article calls attention to bygone norms of judicial review, which often prevented courts from investigating the motivations behind statutes even when the statutes’ constitutionality depended upon those motivations. The Article proceeds to describe changes over time in the practice of judicial review. The history that emerges sheds light on myriad subjects, including the proper interpretation of various seminal precedents, the source of some of the apparent inconsistency in doctrines that implicate purpose-based restrictions on legislative power, and the ways in which uncodified aspects of judicial practice can affect the glosses that courts put on the Constitution’s text.

Three Pictures of Contract: Duty, Power, and Compound Rule

Gregory Klass

There is a fundamental divide among theories of contract law between those that picture contract as a power and those that picture it as a duty. On the power-conferring picture, contracting is a sort of legislative act in which persons determine what law will apply to their transaction. On the duty-imposing picture, contract law places duties on persons entering into agreements for consideration, whether they want them or not. Until now, very little attention has been paid to the problem of how to tell whether a given rule is power conferring or duty imposing—a question that should lie at the center of contract theory.

This Article argues that legal powers have two characteristic features. First, there is an expectation that actors will satisfy the rules with the purpose of achieving the associated legal consequences. Second, the legal rules are designed to facilitate such uses. A law might exhibit these features in either of two ways, which define two types of legal powers. Many laws that create legal powers employ conditions of legal validity, such as legal formalities, designed to guarantee the actor’s legal purpose. The presence of such validity conditions is strong evidence that the law’s sole function is to create a legal power, and I suggest reserving the term “power conferring” for such laws. Other laws anticipate and enable their purposive use without conditioning an act’s legal consequences on the actor’s legal purpose. The structure of such laws suggests that they function both to create powers and to impose duties. I coin the term “compound rule” for laws that satisfy this description and argue that the contract law we have is a compound rule. The dual function of compound rules provides empirical support for pluralist justifications of contract law. An example of such a theory can be found in Joseph Raz’s comments on the relationship between contract law and voluntary obligations.

Efficient Breach Theory Through the Looking Glass

Barry E. Adler

A party in breach of contract cannot sue the victim of breach to recover what would have been the victim’s loss on the contract. The doctrinal rationale is simple: A violator should not benefit from his violation. This rationale does not, however, provide an economic justification for the rule. Indeed, efficient breach theory is founded on the proposition that a breach of contract need not be met with reproach. Yet the prospect of recovery by the party in breach—that is, the prospect of negative damages—has received scant attention in the contracts literature. Close analysis reveals potential costs to disallowance of negative damages, particularly where a party with private information about the benefits of termination also has an incentive to continue under the contract. These costs can arise both ex post, at the time of a performance-or-termination decision, and ex ante, in anticipation of that decision. Nevertheless, allowance of negative damages could impose its own costs, where background information would create an incentive to repudiate a contract before either party could gather more information, for example. Ex ante contractual provisions, such as liquidated-damages or specific-performance clauses, permit parties some latitude to balance the costs of disallowance and allowance of negative damages, albeit imperfectly. Common law limitations on the mitigation duty may be seen as a mechanism to approach this balance in the absence of an explicit con- tractual solution.

Notes

Things Better Left Unwritten?: Constitutional Text and the Rule of Law

Jane Pek

The written nature of America’s Constitution has been traditionally regarded as a constitutional virtue, and more recently dismissed as an irrelevancy of form. However, the concept of “writtenness” itself, in the constitutional context, remains vague and undefined. Through a comparison of the United States and United Kingdom constitutions, this Note identifies the essential characteristics of a written constitution and examines how such writtenness affects the achievement of the rule of law in a society. The Note argues that an unwritten constitution may prove as conducive to important rule-of-law values as a written constitution, if not more so, and challenges the general perception of writtenness as an unequivocally desirable aspect of our Constitution.

Is Private Securities Litigation Essential for the Development of China’s Stock Markets?

Marlon A. Layton

In recent years, financial economists have authored an influential series of articles that link strong minority shareholder protection—exemplified by private enforcement of securities regulations—to greater financial market development. Their findings, which suggest that transition economies seeking larger financial markets should reform their legal institutions so as to strengthen private enforcement, have practically become conventional wisdom, and provide support for those who argue that China needs to improve investors’ ability to sue listed companies in order to encourage growth in its financial markets. This Note argues, however, that in China’s current legal and political environment, various obstacles preclude private enforcement from playing a significant role in market regulation. A more viable strategy would be to strengthen public enforcement. It is more likely to be effective in China’s current environment, will improve investor protection, and has been shown to have positive effects on market development.

In recent years, financial economists have authored an influential series of articles that link strong minority shareholder protection—exemplified by private enforcement of securities regulations—to greater financial market development. Their findings, which suggest that transition economies seeking larger financial markets should reform their legal institutions so as to strengthen private enforcement, have practically become conventional wisdom, and provide support for those who argue that China needs to improve investors’ ability to sue listed companies in order to encourage growth in its financial markets. This Note argues, however, that in China’s current legal and political environment, various obstacles preclude private enforcement from playing a significant role in market regulation. A more viable strategy would be to strengthen public enforcement. It is more likely to be effective in China’s current environment, will improve investor protection, and has been shown to have positive effects on market development.

Valuing the Federal Right: Reevaluating the Outer Limits of Supplemental Jurisdiction

Neel K. Chopra

The federal circuit courts are divided on the question of whether the federal courts’ supplemental jurisdiction power encompasses permissive state law counterclaims that lack an independent basis of federal jurisdiction. By analyzing the arguments set forth in various circuit court decisions, this Note develops a new approach for assessing the availability of supplemental jurisdiction over permissive state law counterclaims. It argues that the federal courts may assert jurisdiction over state law counterclaims only when the federal interest supports hearing those state law claims.

An Unfree Trade in Ideas: How OFAC’s Regulations Restrain First Amendment Rights

Tracy J. Chin

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is charged with administering the United States’ trade sanctions programs. These programs conflict with the First Amendment when they prevent publishers and editors from working with authors from sanctioned countries. This Note highlights the shortcomings of OFAC’s pub- lishing regulations. It focuses on the agency’s exclusion of foreign government officials (“the government exception”) from the First Amendment protections given to those who engage in publishing-related activities. The Note argues that the government exception amounts to an improper prior restraint under the First Amendment and creates the potential for censorship. The Note then challenges and critiques national security– and economic-based justifications for the government exception. Lastly, it proposes regulatory and policy-based reforms to ensure that sanctions programs can function without sacrificing the rights and protections to which publishers, authors, and editors are entitled under the First Amendment.