Current Issue

Volume 85, Number 6

December 2010

The Disutility of Injustice

Paul H. Robinson, Geoffrey P. Goodwin, Michael D. Reisig

For more than half a century, the retributivists and the crime-control instrumentalists have seen themselves as being in an irresolvable conflict. Social science increasingly suggests, however, that this need not be so. Doing justice may be the most effective means of controlling crime. Perhaps partially in recognition of these developments, the American Law Institute’s recent amendment to the Model Penal Code’s “purposes” provision—the only amendment to the Model Code in the forty-eight years since its promulgation—adopts desert as the primary distributive principle for criminal liability and punishment.

That shift to desert has prompted concerns by two groups that, ironically, have been traditionally opposed to each other. The first group—those concerned with what they see as the over-punitiveness of current criminal law—worries that setting desert as the dominant distributive principle means continuing the punitive doctrines they find so objectionable, and perhaps making things worse. The second group—those concerned with ensuring effective crime control—worries that a shift to desert will create many missed crime-control opportunities and will increase avoidable crime.

The first group’s concern about over-punitiveness rests upon an assumption that the current punitive crime-control doctrines of which it disapproves are a reflection of the community’s naturally punitive intuitions of justice. However, as Study 1 makes clear, today’s popular crime-control doctrines in fact seriously conflict with people’s intuitions of justice by exaggerating the punishment deserved.

The second group’s concern that a desert principle will increase avoidable crime exemplifies the common wisdom of the past half-century that ignoring justice in pursuit of crime control through deterrence, incapacitation of the dangerous, and other such coercive crime-control programs is cost-free. However, Studies 2 and 3 suggest that doing injustice has real crime-control costs. Deviating from the community’s shared principles of justice undermines the system’s moral credibility and thereby undermines its ability to gain cooperation and compliance and to harness the powerful forces of social influence and internalized norms.

The studies reported here provide assurance to both groups. A shift to desert is not likely either to undermine the criminal justice system’s crime-control effectiveness, and indeed may enhance it, nor is it likely to increase the system’s punitiveness, and indeed may reduce it.

Public Wrongs and Private Bills: Indemnification and Government Accountability in the Early Republic

James E. Pfander, Jonathan L. Hunt

Students of the history of administrative law in the United States regard the antebellum era as one in which strict common law rules of official liability prevailed. Yet conventional accounts of the antebellum period often omit a key institutional feature. Under the system of private legislation in place at the time, federal government officers were free to petition Congress for the passage of a private bill appropriating money to reimburse the officer for personal liability imposed on the basis of actions taken in the line of duty. Captain Little, the officer involved in one oftcited case, Little v. Barreme, pursued this avenue of indemnification successfully. As a result, the ultimate loss associated with that officer’s good faith effort to enforce federal law fell on the government rather than on the officer himself.

This paper fills out the picture of government accountability in the early nineteenth century by clarifying the practice of congressional indemnification. After identifying cases in which officers sought indemnity from Congress through a petition for private relief, we examine the way official liability, as administered by the courts,
interacted with private legislation, as administered by Congress, to shape the incentives of government officers to comply with the law. We find that a practice of relatively routine indemnification took the sting out of sovereign immunity, a doctrine that key players—including James Madison and John Marshall—treated as thinly formalistic. We also find that Congress assumed responsibility for deciding when federal officers were entitled to indemnity for acts taken in the scope of employment.

The antebellum system thus contrasts sharply with modern government accountability law. Jurists today tend to regard sovereign immunity as a barrier to relief, rather than a principle of forum allocation that preserves legislative primacy in the adoption of money bills. Moreover, courts today often refrain from deciding the question of formal legality in an effort to strike a proper balance between the victim’s interest in accountability and the official’s interest in immunity. Whatever the wisdom of the resulting body of qualified immunity law, the doctrine reflects judicial control of matters that the early republic had assigned to the legislative branch.

The Reconstruction Power

Jack M. Balkin

Modern doctrine has not been faithful to the text, history, and structure of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. These amendments were designed to give Congress broad powers to protect civil rights and civil liberties; together they form Congress’s Reconstruction Power.

Congress gave itself broad powers because it believed it could not trust the Supreme Court to protect the rights of the freedmen. The Supreme Court soon realized Congress’s fears, limiting not only the scope of the Reconstruction Amendments but also Congress’s powers to enforce them in decisions like  United States v. Cruikshank and the Civil Rights Cases. Due to these early cases, Congress was often forced to use its Commerce Power to protect civil rights. Modern decisions beginning with City of Boerne v. Flores and United States v. Morrison have compounded these errors.

When we strip away these doctrinal glosses and look at the original meaning and structural purposes underlying the Reconstruction Amendments, we will discover that the Reconstruction Power gives Congress all the authority it needs to pass modern civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That was the original point of these amendments, and that should be their proper construction today.

When it enforces the Reconstruction Amendments, Congress is not limited to remedying or preventing state violations of rights. It has long been recognized that Congress may reach private conduct through its Thirteenth Amendment powers to eradicate the badges and incidents of slavery. But Congress also has the power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause—a guarantee of equal citizenship that, like the Thirteenth Amendment, contains no state action requirement. The Citizenship Clause, designed to secure equality of citizenship for freedmen, gives Congress the corresponding power to protect the badges and incidents of citizenship. Congress may therefore ban discriminatory private conduct that it reasonably believes will contribute to or produce second-class citizenship.

In addition to having powers to enforce the Citizenship Clause, Congress also may reach private action to prevent interference with federal constitutional rights. Along with its powers to enforce the Guarantee Clause, Congress may therefore reach private violence designed to deter political participation, terrorize political opponents, or undermine representative government.

The failure of state and local governments to guarantee equal protection of the laws was a central concern of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, and giving Congress the power to remedy this violence was thus one of the central purposes of the amendment. Today, this same power enables Congress to pass laws banning violence directed at women and other federal hate crimes legislation.

Finally, because of institutional differences between courts and legislatures, Congress may implement the state action requirement more broadly than courts currently do, for example, by imposing antidiscrimination norms on government contractors and operators of public accommodations. For this reason Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination in public accommodations, is not only a legitimate exercise of Congress’s power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment; it is a paradigmatic example of that power.

The Supreme Court did not reach these questions in 1964 because it feared that overturning old precedents like the 1883  Civil Rights Cases would encourage Southern resistance to the new Civil Rights Act. But we should have no such compunction today. It is long past time to remedy the Supreme Court’s errors, and reconstruct the great Reconstruction Power of the Constitution.


State Innovations in Noncapital Proportionality Doctrine

Julia Fong Sheketoff

The Supreme Court has recognized a proportionality principle under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments.” The proportionality principle governs both capital and noncapital sentences, yet the Court does not apply the principle equally. In the capital context, the Court has created a robust methodology for determining when the death penalty is disproportionate and has forbidden its use in a number of contexts. In contrast, the Court has virtually renounced proportionality review in the noncapital context. This Note focuses on three points of difference between the capital and noncapital contexts that the Court has identified as justifying its fractured proportionality doctrines: the inherent subjectivity in distinguishing among noncapital sentences; the resultant inadministrability of engaging in robust noncapital proportionality review; and the infringement upon penological decisions made by state legislatures that searching noncapital review would require. It then responds to the Court’s articulated concerns by surveying the noncapital proportionality jurisprudence of the fifty states, which illustrates that there are principled, administrable, and legislatively deferential ways to police noncapital sentences. This Note suggests that the Court adopt a modified strand of states’ jurisprudence in order to craft a more rigorous noncapital proportionality doctrine at the federal level.

Pleading in the Information Age

Colin T. Reardon

The Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal have rejected notice pleading and have embraced instead a “plausibility” standard for pleading, which requires a plaintiff’s complaint to present facts suggestive of liability. A recurring criticism of the plausibility standard is that it will weed out many meritorious cases in which the plaintiff was unable to gain access to information relevant to liability prior to the commencement of the lawsuit. This Note argues that these criticisms have largely ignored historical and technological changes in how information is regulated and accessed—changes that mitigate the impact of the plausibility standard. Information asymmetries between plaintiffs and defendants are, for the broad run of cases, less severe today than they were seventy years ago when notice pleading was created. Search costs for information are now lower because of new technologies like the Internet. Laws forcing or facilitating the disclosure of information to the public have also proliferated in recent decades, making building a case easier for plaintiffs. While serious information asymmetries remain in certain types of cases, this Note argues that the best strategy for dealing with such cases is not to return wholesale to notice pleading but to create a “safety valve” mechanism modeled on Rule 56(f) to test whether plaintiffs had access to significant amounts of information concerning the defendant’s conduct.

GI Joe? Coffee, Location, and Regulatory Accountability

Webster D. McBride

Geographical Indications (GIs)—product labels indicating places of origin when the quality of products are linked to their geographic origin—have long been a hotly-contested domain of international trade among nations in the developed West. Recently, a literature has emerged evaluating the prospects for developing countries’ use of GIs to bolster their agricultural sectors, but the empirical economics of GIs remain poorly understood. This Note approaches the issue from a different angle. The rhetoric that attends discussion of the economics of developing-nation GI implementations often makes reference to nonpecuniary, “softer” benefits of the GI phenomenon—in particular, its pro-local counterbalance to the multinational forces commonly perceived to dominate the global marketplace. This Note seeks to scrutinize this aspect of GIs’ impact on developing-world producers by assessing the political, institutional, and cultural dynamics that the international GI regime fosters. To ground my inquiry in an analytic framework, this Note employs metrics derived from the Global Administrative Law (GAL) project spearheaded by Benedict Kingsbury and Richard Stewart. Specifically, this Note asks whether the institutional dynamics that GI protection fosters among developing-world coffee farmers have the effect of promoting or obstructing regulatory accountability as measured by GAL’s three main principles: participation, transparency, and review. In theory, the implementation of a GI product specification should empower developing-world coffee producers by fostering their regulatory involvement and civic organization, facilitating collective management of their joint reputation, and offering access to mechanisms by which they might hold opportunistic actors accountable. This Note concludes, however, that the practical realities are unencouraging because states without preexisting and well-developed institutional infrastructures have difficulty corralling powerful actors seeking to exploit GIs for private benefit.

Coded Codes: Discriminatory Intent, Modern Political Mobilization, and Local Immigration Ordinances

Sofía D. Martos

The extent to which some local immigration ordinances are motivated by national-origin or racial discrimination is difficult to discern because our current application of the Equal Protection Clause involves a narrow understanding of the evidence of discriminatory intent. In the last decade, cities and towns have become immigration policy laboratories as a result of sharp increases in local immigrant populations, fiscal constraints, lack of comprehensive federal immigration reform, and, in some instances, a new wave of discrimination against recent immigrants. Many local governments have pursued quality of life ordinances—such as maximum occupancy, parking, and nuisance regulations—as a means to regulate immigration. Quality of life ordinances are “coded codes”—ordinances that are facially neutral but that may target particular communities. They also evade judicial review because modern courts tend to examine discriminatory intent only through official documents such as city council minutes and give short shrift to extracameral evidence that reveals the motivations of decisionmakers. Quality of life ordinances therefore expose the failure of our current equal protection doctrine to recognize the evidentiary significance of political statements and mobilization outside official city chambers. This Note argues that a more rigorous application of the Arlington Heights six-factor discriminatory intent test, as well as the inclusion of extracameral evidence illuminating political mobilization and statutory diffusion, would revive the equal protection doctrine’s ability to identify discriminatory intent.

National Security Preemption: The Case of Chemical Safety Regulation

Michael Jo

In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asserted federal preemption of state law governing the security of chemical facilities. The continuing controversy over chemical security preemption reveals one way in which executive power asserts itself in the national security context: the reclassification of seemingly domestic regulatory concerns as matters of national security and the consequent constriction of state regulatory authority. This Note analyzes the DHS’s chemical security regulations as a case study for the problem of national security preemption. It argues that the presumption of federal supremacy in foreign affairs can ratify conclusory and unsupported preemption claims because the national security interest mixes both foreign and domestic affairs, while the only doctrinal guidance for defining that interest comes from contested foreign affairs preemption doctrines. The Note proposes that, if strengthened, deference doctrines drawn from administrative law provide the best means of scrutinizing and limiting such claims of executive authority. Agency claims of preemption on the basis of national security should be subject to heightened scrutiny. Such scrutiny is more useful than the stalemated positions of the law and security debate for policing the state-federal divide in national security.

Overcoming Daubert’s Shortcomings in Criminal Trials: Making the Error Rate the Primary Factor in Daubert’s Validity Inquiry

Munia Jabbar

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its progeny provide the federal standard for the admissibility of all expert evidence, including forensic evidence, that is proffered in criminal trials. The standard measures the validity of expert evidence through a flexible four-factor inquiry. Unfortunately, in the criminal context, Daubert fails to promote the goals of trial outcome accuracy and consistency, resulting in tragically unfair outcomes for criminal defendants. This Note proposes a doctrinal tweak that shifts the costs of admitting forensic evidence to the prosecution and promotes criminal justice goals. First, there should be a high presumption against the admission of forensic evidence that must be rebutted with a clear and convincing showing of its validity. Second, the Daubert validity inquiry needs to be reformulated so that the forensic methodology’s “error rate” factor is the primary (and if possible, only) factor the court considers. Third, the error rate should be defined as the lab-specific error rate. The Note ends by considering further possible ways to specify the definition of “error rate” to better promote criminal justice goals.