Judicial Process


The Peter Parker Problem

W. David Ball

Sandra Mayson, in her article Dangerous Defendants, points out the ways in which pretrial detention on the basis of public safety risk violates the “parity principle”—a measure of decisionmaking fairness that evaluates whether individuals of like risk are treated alike. As Mayson convincingly argues, if public safety risk is what justifies detention of those who have been arrested, it should also justify preventative detention of similarly risky people who remain in the community at large. In other words, merely having a person in custody does not logically change the analysis of the risk they present or what should be done with them.

In this Article, I argue that psychological factors, not assessments of risk, can explain why the parity principle is violated. A person in custody and a person in the community may present the same level of public safety risk, but the human brain typically uses heuristics, not calculations, to make decisions. Our brains want to minimize losses and regret. Whenever something bad happens, our brains automatically generate counterfactuals—the “if only I had done X” hypotheticals that allow us to imagine (and believe in) a world where tragedy would have been avoided. Counterfactuals that eliminate harm are easy to generate when someone is in custody, but hard to generate when someone is at large, and our brains conflate ease of generation with real-world probability. Counterfactuals, then, may help explain why the pretrial, public safety default seems to be to keep someone locked up, “just in case”—and why this desire is resistant to information and argument.

This Article adds an important dimension to the ongoing debates about whether judicial discretion or actuarial tools should govern pretrial release decisions. Judicial discretion may be biased towards incapacitation by operating on the “gut level” of psychology—even if the harms of detention outweigh the benefits. Across the United States, jails contain thousands of prisoners who could be released safely, who could resume work and the rest of their lives, but who remain incarcerated because of the fear that one of them might commit a sensational crime. The insights of this Article may also apply more generally to a host of similar problems, including parole release, executive clemency, diversion programs, and the removal of children from potentially abusive parents, and suggest that policymakers and reformers be cognizant of the way in which current criminal justice thinking is short-sighted, overly reactive, and biased towards incapacitation. By applying theories of the counterfactual proposed by Neal Roese and other behavioral psychologists, the Article provides an explanation for why, even when regulations change, judicial decisions to release arrestees may remain low. It suggests that experimental research specifically targeting judicial counterfactual thinking should be conducted.

Judicial Independence, Collegiality, and the Problem of Dissent in Multi-Member Courts

The Honorable Bernice B. Donald

Threats to judicial independence are most commonly viewed as arising either from politically motivated depredations by other branches of government, or from improper inducements or coercion from individuals or groups in the wider society. Both types of threats are external to the court. What of the internal environment within which judges operate, particularly the immediate environment comprised of their colleagues on the bench? Drawing on a judicial career spanning thirty-seven years, including fifteen as a U.S. District Court judge and the past seven in my present position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, as well as on legal scholarship and the perspectives of other jurists past and present, I will address what one scholar calls the “complicated interdependent decisions” faced by judges on multi-member courts. This Lecture will explore the often complex calculus and subtle intrajudicial considerations that go into a judge’s decision whether—and, if so, how—to dissent in a particular case. I encourage reflection both on the costs that dissent exacts on the individual judge and on the court as a whole, and on the enormous value it can have as an expression of legal conscience and even, on occasion, as a voice of prophecy pointing to future change in the law. Ultimately, I view the right to dissent as precious, and a pillar of judicial independence.

Nationwide Injunctions Against the Federal Government: A Structural Approach

Getzel Berger

When a court invalidates a federal government policy, it must then decide the scope of the remedy. A common remedy is an injunction—a judicial order prohibiting enforcement of the policy. Traditionally, lower federal courts enjoined the government only from enforcing the invalidated policy against the victorious plaintiff, leaving it in place against other members of the public. A nationwide injunction, however, forbids the government from enforcing the policy against anyone in the country, effectively taking the policy out of circulation. This Note argues that nationwide injunctions contravene three core structural principles of the federal courts: (1) the regional design of the courts of appeals without intercircuit stare decisis, (2) the Supreme Court’s holding in United States v. Mendoza that the federal government is not subject to non-mutual issue preclusion, and (3) the doctrine of intercircuit nonacquiescence. It concludes that nationwide injunctions against the federal government should be disfavored and that such injunctions should not extend beyond the circuit of the enjoining court. Simply put, lower federal courts should not make nationwide law.

Three Angry Men: Juries in International Criminal Adjudication

Amy Powell

To date, no international criminal tribunal has seriously considered using a jury trial. In the International Criminal Court (ICC), for example, a panel of judges appointed by the Assembly of States Parties acts as the fact finder. In this Note, Amy Powell examines the theoretical justifications for a jury in the context of international criminal adjudication. She concludes that the use of a jury–or, at a minimum, the integration of the important values underpinning the institution of the jury–would greatly benefit the ICC by protecting important principles of justice.

Judicial Methodology, Southern School Desegregation, and the Rule of Law

The Honorable David S. Tatel

Madison Lecture

Americans have fiercely debated the proper role of Article III courts in our constitutional system ever since Chief Justice John Marshall declared in Marbury v. Madison that it is “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”‘ This debate often has focused on Supreme Court decisions involving some of our nation’s most historic events: the Court’s 1873 evisceration of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, its use of substantive due process to strike down progressive legislation at the turn of the century, its invalidation of key New Deal programs, and its opinion in Roe v. Wade are but a few of the decisions that have reignited the controversy over the meaning and risks of “judicial activism.”

Our 18th Century Constitution in the 21st Century World

The Honorable Diane P. Wood

Madison Lecture

In this speech delivered for the annual James Madison Lecture, the Honorable Diane Wood tackles the classic question of whether courts should interpret the United States Constitution from an originalist or dynamic approach. Judge Wood argues for the dynamic approach and defends it against the common criticisms that doing so allows judges to stray from the original intent of those who wrote the Constitution or take into consideration improper foreign influences. She argues the necessity of an “unwritten Constitution” since a literalist approach to interpretation would lead to unworkable or even absurd results in the modern context, and since restricting constitutional interpretation to literal readings would mean that the Constitution has outlived its usefulness. Judges may “find” unwritten constitutional rules by using evolving notions of a decent society to interpret broad constitutional language broadly; acknowledging that certain liberties are so fundamental that no governmental entity may deny them; acknowledging that much of the Bill of Rights applies to states through selective incorporation; and inferring principles from the structure of the Constitution and pre-constitutional understandings.

Evaluating Remand Without Vacatur

Kristina Daugirdas

A New Judicial Remedy for Defective Agency Rulemakings

Once the D.C. Circuit has concluded that a rule promulgated by an agency is in some way arbitrary or capricious, the court has at least two options: It can either vacate the rule, or remand it to the agency without vacating it. In the latter case, the agency can continue to implement the challenged rule while revising its explanation to address the defects identified by the court. This Note analyzes the D.C. Circuit’s application of the remand-without-vacatur (RWV) remedy during the decade since the court articulated a generic test for its use. This Note argues that RWV is most justified in cases where the costs of vacating agency rules are particularly high, and where the benefits in terms of improving the agency’s decisionmaking process are minimal or nonexistent. Based on a survey of the rulemaking cases in which the court has applied RWV, this Note argues that while the test that the D.C. Circuit uses to determine the appropriateness of RWV is consistent with the theoretical underpinnings justifying the remedy, the court’s application of that test is frequently flawed. This Note also documents a response to RWV that is less than ideal; agencies generally respond slowly to RWV judgments, and occasionally do not respond at all. The Note concludes that, while the D.C. Circuit possesses adequate tools to counteract agencies’ tendency to ignore judicial decisions in individual cases, it has employed them too sparingly in recent years. This Note then develops a revised approach that would promote the remedy’s beneficial aspects while limiting its negative effects.

Conversation, Representation, and Allocation: Justice Breyer’s Active Liberty

Michael A. Livermore, D. Theodore Rave

There seems to be a public perception that the members of the current, often divided, Supreme Court vote for partisan rather than principled reasons. As recent confirmation hearings have become more heated and polarized, this belief has only crystallized. In Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution, Justice Stephen Breyer challenges this perception through a thoughtful discussion of the constitutional commitments that inform his decisions. This book does not provide a comprehensive theory of constitutional and statutory interpretation; rather, Active Liberty is important because in it, Justice Breyer gives the American public insight into the constitutional themes and values that he draws on when deciding cases. In particular, Justice Breyer focuses on one constitutional value that he believes has been underappreciated: a commitment to democratic participation and self-government which he calls “active liberty.” Although Justice Breyer recognizes that other constitutional values are important, he believes that active liberty should play a more prominent role in constitutional adjudication.

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