Volume 94, Number 6

December 2019

Educational Gerrymandering: Money, Motives, and Constitutional Rights

Derek W. Black

Public school funding plummeted following the Great Recession and failed to recover over the next decade, prompting strikes and protests across the nation. Courts have done almost nothing to stop the decline. While a majority of state supreme courts recognize a constitutional right to an adequate or equal education, they increasingly struggle to enforce the right. That right is now approaching a tipping point. Either it evolves, or risks becoming irrelevant. 

In the past, courts have focused almost exclusively on the adequacy and equity of funding for at-risk students, demanding that states provide more resources. Courts have failed to ask the equally important question of why states refuse to provide the necessary resources. As a result, states have never stopped engaging in the behavior that leads to the funding failures in the first place.

This Article argues that states refuse to fully fund low-income students’ education because they have ulterior aims and biases—maintaining privilege for suburban schools, lowering taxes for wealthy individuals, and not “wasting” money on low-income kids. States go to extraordinary lengths to manipulate school funding formulas to achieve these ends. Thus, the various policies that produce inequality and inadequacy are not just benign state failures; they are intentional efforts to gerrymander educational opportunity. Understood this way, school funding manipulations violate federal equal protection and state constitutional rights to education. Reframing school funding failures as gerrymandering can both create a much-needed federal check on educational inequality and reinvigorate the enforcement of state constitutional rights to education. 

Mass Incarceration, Convict Leasing, and the Thirteenth Amendment: A Revisionist Account

James Gray Pope

Judging from present-day legal and popular discourse, one might think that the Punishment Clause of the Thirteenth Amendment has always had one single, clear meaning: that a criminal conviction strips the offender of protection against slavery or involuntary servitude. Upon examination, however, it appears that the Amendment’s Republican framers took an entirely different view. It was the former slave masters and their Democratic allies in Congress who promoted the interpretation that prevails today. From their point of view, the text clearly specified that, once convicted of a crime, a person could be sold into slavery for life or leased for a term at the discretion of state legislatures and officials. But contemporary Republicans emphatically rejected that reading. They held that convicted persons retained protection against any servitude that was inflicted not as a punishment for crime but for some non-penological end, such as raising state revenue, generating private profits, or subjugating black labor. Within a few months of the Amendment’s ratification, the Republican majority in the Thirty-Ninth Congress had outlawed the early, race-based forms of convict leasing. When that proved insufficient, the House passed a bill outlawing race-neutral convict leasing, which the Senate postponed when the focus of Republican strategy shifted to black voting rights. 

The Republican reading faded from view after the Democratic Party regained control of the Deep South. For several decades, white supremacist regimes incarcerated African-American laborers en masse and leased them to private employers without facing a serious Thirteenth Amendment challenge. Present-day scholars sometimes treat this silence as evidence that the Amendment authorizes such practices. Courts similarly honor the Democratic reading on the assumption it has always prevailed. So thoroughly has it triumphed that even prisoners’ rights advocates accept it as constitutional truth. 

Neither courts nor advocates have, however, taken into account the framers’ views. Their interpretation sank from sight not because it was wrong but because Democratic paramilitaries terminated Reconstruction, freeing states to expand convict leasing and insulate it against challenges, constitutional or otherwise. Had the Republican reading been enforced during the era of convict leasing, it might have prevented one of the most barbaric and shameful episodes in United States history. And perhaps, if revived today, it might yet accomplish similar results. Nothing in the text, original meaning, or Supreme Court jurisprudence of the Punishment Clause blocks that path. 

The Second Digital Disruption: Streaming and the Dawn of Data-Driven Creativity

Kal Raustiala, Christopher Jon Sprigman

This Article explores how the explosive growth of online streaming is transforming the market for creative content. Two decades ago, the popularization of the internet led to what we refer to here as the first digital disruption: Napster, file-sharing, and the re-ordering of numerous content industries, from music to film to news. The advent of mass streaming has led us to a second digital disruption, one driven by the ability of streaming platforms to harvest massive amounts of data about consumer preferences and consumption patterns. Coupled to powerful computing, the data that firms like Netflix, Spotify, and Apple collect allows those firms to know what consumers want in incredible detail. This knowledge has long shaped advertising; now it is beginning to shape the content streaming firms purchase or even produce, a phenomenon we call “data-driven creativity.” This Article explores these phenomena across a range of firms and content industries. In particular, we take a close look at the firm that is perhaps farthest along in its use of data-driven creativity. We show how MindGeek, the little-known parent company of Pornhub and a leader in the market for adult entertainment, has leveraged streaming data not only to organize and suggest content to consumers but even to shape creative decisions. MindGeek is itself the product of the same forces—the shift to digital distribution and the accompanying explosion of free content—that transformed mainstream creative industries and paved the way for the rise of streaming. We first show how the adult industry adapted to the first digital disruption; that story aligns with similar accounts of how creative industries adapt to a loss of control over intellectual property. We then show how MindGeek and other streaming firms such as Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon are leveraging the second digital disruption, using data to make decisions about content promotion, aggregation, dissemination, and investment. Finally, we consider what these trends suggest for competition and innovation in markets for creative work. By making creative production far less risky, data-driven creativity may drive down the need for strong IP rights and reshape conventional assumptions about the purpose and role of IP. At the same time, the rise of data-driven creativity may reinforce the tendency of online markets toward dominance by a few major firms, with significant implications for competition and innovation.


Too Far and Not Far Enough: Understanding the Impact of FOSTA

Emily J. Born

In early 2018, President Trump signed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) into law. It was enacted mainly in response to failed civil suits against, a website accused of allowing, and even helping, users to post ads of sex trafficking victims. Plaintiffs, minors with ads for them posted on the website, were almost universally blocked by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which granted Backpage immunity for what its users post. FOSTA removes that immunity, as well as amends and adds federal offenses. The law has faced much criticism for going too far, but no one has yet asked if it goes far enough. In other words, would Backpage now lose the suits that could not have been filed before FOSTA? To evaluate the law’s impact, this Note reconsiders the infamous Doe v. Backpage case in light of FOSTA. After analyzing the law through analogous statutes and case law, this Note concludes the law is at most ambiguous as to its legal effect. Thus, not only is the law creating negative side effects for speech online and creating danger for sex workers, it may not even be achieving its legal objective. This Note looks at the widespread reaction to FOSTA, the self-regulation of many websites in response, and explores reasons for that reaction, including the law’s expressive effect. 

Should a Parent Company Be Liable for the Misdeeds of Its Subsidiary? Agency Theories Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Marcela E. Schaefer

In an effort to increase accountability and compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), in recent years both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) have held parent companies liable for the anti-bribery violations of their subsidiaries. Scholars and practitioners have argued that the two government agencies are applying an aggressive enforcement policy based on an overly expansive understanding of agency principles. However, because most investigations settle with deferred or non-prosecution agreements, a paucity of FCPA case law prevents corporations, prosecutors, and even judges from clearly understanding what the correct standards are for determining when a parent company is liable for the actions of its subsidiaries—especially under a principal-agent theory of liability. This Note is the first to challenge the narrative that the DOJ and SEC are improperly enforcing the FCPA anti- bribery provisions. It delineates the ways in which a parent can be liable for the misconduct of its subsidiaries before analyzing liability predicated on a principal-agent relationship and the amount of control required to establish such a relationship. It then provides a novel formulation of the correct standard to use in assessing whether an agency relationship exists, based on the Third Restatement of Agency and corporate case law. This Note then assesses DOJ and SEC cases before concluding that while the agencies are correct in holding parent companies liable for the misconduct of their subsidiaries, they are applying agency theories inconsistently, exacerbating the existing confusion as to what the correct standards are for parent companies. 

The Past, Present, and Future of United States-China Mutual Legal Assistance

Loren M. Scolaro

The Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement (MLAA) between the United States and China, effective since the late 1990s, reflects the development of cooperative law enforcement between the two countries. Study of transnational law enforcement between the United States and China and use of the MLAA has been limited because of the few notable cases and a lack of transparency. This Note will attempt to fill some of the gaps in the academic literature. 

The MLAA, which is unique among mutual legal assistance mechanisms the United States has with other states, arose out of a rocky history of trying to meld two countries’ values and interests. In practice, both prosecution and defense attorneys have noted the MLAA’s limitations. Its provisions lack the accountability of other international agreements, and both the United States and China have taken steps towards unilateral investigation and prosecution of transnational crimes where American and Chinese interests diverge. While both countries have paid lip service to continuing the MLAA, there is no external enforcement, oversight, or incentive to increase cooperation. If the MLAA remains in its current form indefinitely, it is not likely to facilitate a stronger joint law enforcement relationship. Formalizing the MLAA as a treaty could demonstrate a deeper commitment to cooperation, but the current state of relations between the United States and China makes this step politically unfeasible. 

Countering the “Thought We Hate” with Reappropriation Use Under Trademark Law

Esther H. Sohn

In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down the disparagement clause of § 2(a) of the Lanham Act as contravening the First Amendment. Against the backdrop of the Washington Redskins controversy, Matal v. Tam foreclosed the question of challenging federal registrations of disparaging trademarks. The case, however, opened up the opportunity to explore how disparaged groups could work within the framework of federal trademark law to restrict the right to exclusive use that owners of disparaging trademarks possess. Just as offending groups have a constitutional right to free speech, disparaged groups should be allowed to counter disparaging trademarks with “reappropriation use”—unauthorized uses of disparaging trademarks with the purpose of reclaiming “the thought that we hate”—and still be protected under the First Amendment against infringement claims. This Note proposes a novel, three-step reappropriation use defense for courts to apply, demonstrating how federal trademark law could ensure that groups like The Slants have a platform to reclaim terms and still protect disparaged groups seeking to reappropriate disparaging trademarks. 

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Special Circumstances, and Evidence of Equality

Michael S. Taintor

Vote dilution doctrine under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act directs courts to look to evidence of election results to determine if all voters have equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. However, not every election in which a minority-preferred candidate prevails is necessarily evidence of equality. Those elections that courts judge to be illusory evidence of equality are said to be characterized by “special circumstances.” When a court recognizes special circumstances surrounding an election, it discounts the evidentiary value of that election, typically to the benefit of vote dilution plaintiffs. To date, no judicial opinion or scholarly work has proposed a comprehensive framework to explain the circumstances courts already recognize or point out the circumstances they ought to recognize. Drawing on the seminal Supreme Court precedent of Thornburg v. Gingles, the Voting Rights Act itself, and over thirty years of lower-court practice, this Note proposes a test. If the circumstances of an election are such that a victory for a minority-preferred candidate belie an ongoing, structural burden on the right to vote, that election is characterized by special circumstances. This Note uses a familiar tripartite framework of the “rights to vote” as an analytical lens for drawing lessons from past decisions and suggesting where the doctrine should go in the future. By recognizing the wider universe of burdens on voting rights, including those typically beyond the reach of judicial remedies, special circumstances doctrine can ensure vote dilution remedies are available where they are needed.