Current Issue

Volume 84, Number 5

November 2009

Existing Uses and the Limits of Land Use Regulations

Christopher Serkin

This Article identifies property law’s special protection for existing uses, explores possible justifications for this protection, and argues that none can support the strong protection that existing uses currently enjoy. Various land use doctrines— from zoning to the vested rights doctrine to amortization rules for prior nonconforming uses—assume that the government cannot eliminate existing uses without paying compensation. The Article asks whether this result is compelled either by constitutional rules or by normative considerations. Neither the Takings Clause nor the Due Process Clause requires this level of protection for existing uses. Normatively, many obvious-seeming justifications dissolve on closer inspection. Objections grounded in underlying principles of fairness and reliance are not conceptually different for regulations prohibiting future uses than for regulations of existing uses. Nor is the extent of economic loss necessarily greater for one than for the other, even though regulations of existing uses create out-of-pocket costs whereas regulations of future uses only implicate forgone profits. In fact, none of the possible explanations for the special treatment of existing uses actually justifies their protection. This Article ultimately concludes that existing uses should not be entitled to any special judicial protection but instead should be subject to the same takings and due process analyses that apply to all regulation and governmental action.

Internal Poison Pills

George S. Geis

Corporate law largely addresses three basic relationships: shareholder versus manager, shareholder versus non-equity investor, and majority shareholder versus minority shareholder. Ever since the pioneering work of Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means, a great deal of scholarly attention has been directed toward the first relationship. The second relationship earned its share of the limelight with the leveraged buyout trend of the 1980s. It is only in this decade, however, that the third relationship has taken center stage—in the wake of several incongruous Delaware cases and a flood of post-Sarbanes-Oxley freezeout mergers.

This scrutiny is certainly warranted, as the tension between majority and minority shareholders presents thorny concerns and has the potential to erode considerable social welfare. In essence, lawmakers must walk a tightrope between two alternative hazards. On the one hand, assigning too much power to minority shareholders can lead to a holdout problem where recalcitrant dissenters demand private tribute before blessing a decision (such as a merger). On the other hand, granting the majority untrammeled discretion to freeze out minority owners can promote tunneling or other abuses of power that will depress the ex ante value of a firm. Thus far, the law has addressed these concerns with disclosure obligations, special committees, judicial review of fiduciary duties, and appraisal rights. But the results are far from satisfying.

This Article offers a novel idea for governing the tension between majority and minority shareholders: an “internal poison pill.” Borrowing conceptually from the famous shareholder rights plans created in the 1980s to address bullying external bidders, I show how an analogous (though economically distinct) financial instrument might be used by shareholders to navigate the twin internal governance tensions of holdout and expropriation. Two key features of this proposal distinguish it from alternative reforms: (1) It focuses on a privately enacted solution with room for contextual customization; and (2) it uses embedded option theory to construct an intermediate legal entitlement (as opposed to an extreme property or liability rule) for both majority and minority shareholders. If successfully scoped and swallowed, these internal poison pills could facilitate efficient freezeouts, chill coercive ones, supplant the awkward remedy of appraisal, and, ultimately, increase the ex ante value of firms by mitigating agency problems between majority and minority shareholders.


The Reach of State Corporate Law Beyond State Borders: Reflections Upon Federalism

The Honorable Jack B. Jacobs

Brennan Lecture

In this speech, delivered for the annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, the Honorable Jack B. Jacobs demonstrates that state corporate law sometimes acquires an extraterritorial reach. The federalist model of corporation law assumes that each state’s law only reaches to that state’s border, but reality has diverged from that model through state anti-takeover statutes, the internal affairs doctrine, and state “corporate outreach” statutes that impose internal governance requirements on companies incorporated in other states. Anti-takeover statutes are essentially grounded upon the internal affairs doctrine, which holds that such affairs are governed by a company’s state of incorporation. But the corporate outreach statutes attempt to supersede the law of the state of incorporation, exposing companies to conflicting internal governance requirements. The Supreme Court could resolve this conflict by deeming the internal affairs doctrine either a choice-of-law rule or a rule of constitutional law. The former choice could lead to economic disruption, while the latter would increase interstate competition for incorporation business and sustain the current diversity of legal choices available to corporations.


The Constitutional Life of Legislative Instructions in America

Christopher Terranova

In the United States’ early history, state legislatures often formally instructed their federal representatives on particular votes. This practice flourished for a century but then died out—a change that many scholars attribute to the Seventeenth Amendment. This Note argues that previous scholars have ignored other, more important, reasons for the demise of instructions.

The six-year term length for U.S. senators, combined with the increasingly rapid turnover in state legislatures, prevented binding instructions from becoming permanently entrenched. Instructions were held in place after the Founding only by constitutional culture, but even this did not last. After Southern Democrats vigorously used instructions to purge Whigs from the Senate in the 1840s and 1850s, the use of instructions was indelibly linked to the South. Not surprisingly, the doctrine of instructions was one of the casualties of the Civil War. Following the War, the roles were reversed: The states—especially the Southern states—were taking instructions from the federal government. Today, instructions still exist but as nonbinding “requests” for action. This new conception of instructions returns us full circle to James Madison’s conception of the proper role of instructions: a right of “the people . . . to express and communicate their wishes” to their representatives.

The Costs of “Discernible and Manageable Standards” in Vieth and Beyond

Joshua S. Stillman

This Note argues against the use of the prudential political question doctrine (PPQD), as exemplified by the Vieth v. Jubelirer plurality opinion. In Vieth, the Supreme Court avoided formulating a standard for adjudicating the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering due to a claimed lack of a “discernible and manageable standard.” This meant, according to the plurality, that no proposed doctrinal test was both concrete enough to be workably deployed by lower courts and discernible enough in the constitutional text, history, and structure, inter alia. Although the Vieth plurality opinion presents itself as based on universally applicable metadoctrine determining what is and is not a discernible and manageable doctrinal test, this Note argues the Court’s use of the PPQD is ultimately based on a gestalt prudential judgment about the wisdom of intervention in the particular area of partisan gerrymandering.

This Note then argues that the PPQD leads to negative consequences for future litigants and judicial legitimacy. The PPQD sends litigants on a wild goose chase for a perfect doctrinal standard, when it seems clear that no standard will satisfy the Vieth plurality. It also invites litigants to argue about what a discernible and manageable doctrinal test is in the abstract, rather than to address the particular legal issue at hand. These diversions insulate the judiciary from legitimate criticism of the grounds of its decisions. This Note then compares the PPQD to another option for judicial avoidance: a merits standard that is almost impossible for plaintiffs to meet in practice, such as rational basis review. This Note concludes that a stringent merits standard is a superior mechanism for judicial avoidance because it does not carry the same high costs for litigants and judicial legitimacy as the PPQD. Additionally, it allows the Court to exit from active adjudication of an issue while still preserving its ability to intervene in egregious cases.