Author: Dave Hoffman

4

NYC Subway Searches: A Response to Dan

I was almost persuaded by Dan’s thoughtful post on the NYC subway search decision. But not completely, and I think our disagreements are worth further discussion.

1. Dan’s primary beef appears to be with Judge Berman’s deference toward the government’s weighing of risks of terrorism on the subway, and the likely effects of random bag checks. Dan says that “if the court defers to the government in this regard, it is essentially rubber-stamping the government in this determination.” I think this significantly overstates what the court actually did. The two places where the court really defers to the government are: (1) determining that terrorists are risk averse (Op. at 24); and (2) random searches “add uncertainty and unpredictability to the planning an implementation of a terrorist attack, which, in turn, increases the risk of failure and helps to deter an attack.” (Id.)

I’ve previously argued that these conclusions flow from behavioral research, and I find it unsurprising that the Judge would credit the government’s experts and discount those of ACLU. It isn’t as if the Judge completely ignored the plaintiffs’ contentions and genuflected to the NYPD’s authority. Plaintiffs’ witnesses, as discussed in the opinion, just didn’t have the necessary expertise to rebut powerful testimony from experienced law enforcement officers. A few testified to personal experience with the “intrusive” search policy and their resulting anxiety; one, an attorney and expert in transit design, testified that individuals can “easily evade” the checkpoints; and one, a consultant with a security company, testified that because “you can walk away” from an inspection, the deterrent effect is “close to zero.” (Op. at 19.) However, this last witness had “no discernable training or experience in subway transit security” has “never had access to classified intelligence about terrorism” and (tellingly) has never “evaluated intelligence information for the purpose” of advising on counter-terrorism measures. (Op. at 19.) In short, the court deferred to the government’s experts because they were significantly better informed about the relevant risks than plaintiffs’ experts. That’s simply the way the adversary system works: it isn’t a rubber-stamp.

2. Dan’s second argument concerns the value of marginal deterrence of attacks on the subway. He wonders: “[i]s it a victory to stop a terrorist from bombing a subway car and killing 40 people so that the terrorist decides instead to blow up a building or mall killing thousands?” This is obviously a tough choice, on many levels, and it is cold blooded and unpleasant to contemplate. (For more on this, see the work of Jonathan Baron.) But it is a decision I ultimately think ought to be left to democratic policy-makers in the sunlight of the public space, and not ill-informed judges in the quiet of the judicial chambers. The NYC subway is essential to the life of the City: it is “the largest, most heavily used subway system in the United States”; its disruption could have “widespread economic consequences . . . and create public fear and demoralization.” (Op. at 8.) If forced to the tragic choice, and if I still lived in NYC, I’d much prefer that resources be spent protecting the subway than a mall. I’m happy that I don’t have to make that choice and live with the consequences, but someone does, and NY politicians seem a good choice. New Yorkers learned of this policy before the last election. If they thought its cost-benefit calculus was as out of whack as Dan suggests, perhaps the result of the vote would have been different.

3. Dan finally argues forcefully that “I don’t believe that ‘minimal’ [privacy loss] can describe a massive program of random searching of people’s baggage.” The Court’s arguments in this regard are: (1) notice (Op. at 38); (2) random selection (Id.); (3) the right to refuse; (Op. at 39); and (4) limited scope of a brief search to determine if there are explosives present. Dan may feel that privacy loss is social, i.e., that minimal personal intrusions ought to be added up, to create an interpersonal mix of disutility. But it is not clear to me that this is possible or that this should be the law. To the extent that we’re talking about individual privacy loss, I agree that the court is somewhat cavalier about the choice to exit the search and the subway, which is in tension with the opinion’s recognition of the subway’s central importance to the life of ordinary New Yorkers. But still, it seems like a very small price to pay for increased safety.

Also, when reading the decision it occurred to me that the police likely were happy to be sued in this case, because it increased attention paid to the program, got extra media exposure, and generally made it somewhat more likely that the program will have the deterrent effects its boosters claim for it.

0

Mexico To US: We’re Sorry About Calling You Barbaric

That seems to be the message of the Mexican Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow extradition to the U.S. of life-imprisonment eligible accused criminals. Duncan Hollis, my colleague and friend who is guest blogging at Opinio Juris, has the whole story. He suggests that Mexico is being compelled to forgive us by recent Congressional conditional appropriation legislation.

20

Weird E-Bay Auction

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Via one of my contracts students, I found this bizarre ebay auction. The winning bidder paid $611.00 for the following item [emphasis added]

This is the PREMIUM BUNDLE BOX only. It would include bonus accessories, if it were the actual PREMIUM XBOX 360! DOES NOT Come with 20GB Hard Drive, Console, HD Cables, Wireless Controller, Headset! In other words for those of you who do not understand, YES YOU ARE GETTING AN EMPTY BOX SO DO NOT ASK! Great for gags! DO NOT bid if you don’t intend to buy! No excuses, I will not retract bids for you! You will be reported to eBay if you backout after winning the auction. I Cannot be more clear! This is not even a factory made xbox 360 box. I made it myself, just a few minutes ago. It does not contain an Xbox 360 console, just the Xbox 360 home-made box. this box is great hand made by me says XBOX right on it[.] It doesn’t look anything like the picture I included in the auction. It looks much better, in my opinion.

The student (rightly) noted that a disappointed buyer would have a hard time making out a fraud claim. Other defenses and excuses (mistake, unconscionability, no meeting of the minds, etc.), seem similarly problematic. The only possible wriggle-room I can think of – if the buyer does in fact feel aggreived when she or he receives the empty box – is that the auction history seems to bear some marks of puffing.

So, I guess someone is getting a $600+ empty box (not even an XBox Box!) under the tree, or by the menorah, this holiday season. They better appreciate it.

6

Alito’s Footnote 10

Judge Alito’s June 3, 1985, strategy memo to then Solicitor General Charles Fried on Thornburgh v. American College of Obstreticians has gotten some recent attention on the blogs and in the news media. Fried’s cover note was a sure red flag that this would be better than a mere thank you note: “I need hardly say how sensitive this material is, and ask that it have no wider circulation.”

I haven’t seen extended focus on footnote 10 of the memo, which might become relatively significant at Judge Alito’s confirmation hearings. Alito’s strategy memo is a case for not directly attacking Roe. However, he didn’t want the readers of the memo to think that this strategy “even tacitly concede[s] Roe’s legitimacy”. Quite to the contrary, footnote 10 states:

The case against Roe v. Wade has been fully and publicly made. See, e.g., A. Bickel, The Morality of Consent 27-29 (1975); A. Cox, The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government, 112-114 (1976); Epstein, Substantive Due Process By Any Other Name, 1973 Sup. Ct. Rev. 167-185; Ely, The Wages of Crying Wolf: A Comment on Roe v. Wade, 82 Yale L. J. 920 (1973). In Akron, the Court’s reponse was stare decisis and the “rule of law.” [emphasis added; small typos corrected; formatting made simple]

It is this last sentence that caught my eye. The implicit message of the paragraph is “lots of really smart folks have demonstrated that Roe was wrongly decided and the only thing the court could say in response was ‘stay the course’!” The sentence makes it significantly harder for Alito to follow Justice Roberts’ path, and rely on paeans to the rule of law and stare decisis in response to questions about Roe. He’s already told us what he thinks about that response, and it isn’t much. Instead, Alito might be forced to actually say that he believes Roe should be reversed.

I think that the memo makes it incrementally more likely that we will see a filibuster, and somewhat more likely that we’ll see a test of the flypaper thesis of supreme court nominations I proposed here.

0

Markel in Slate

My friend and our former co-blogger Dan Markel has a new essay out in Slate on the death penalty that is well worth reading. Dan analogizes the recent news about wrongfully executed Ruben Cantu to the movie “The Life of David Gale.” In the essay, Dan links to his relatively new Harvard CR-CL piece about retributivism and the death penalty, which is also worth a read (although it will take somewhat longer to digest than the Slate piece.)

2

Senator Specter on Terrell Owens

My state’s senior senator, Arlen Specter, who has lots on his plate, held a news conference this morning:

[He said that] it was “vindictive and inappropriate” for the league and the Eagles to forbid [their] all-pro wide receiver [Terrell Owens] from playing and prevent other teams from talking to him.

“It’s a restraint of trade for them to do that, and the thought crosses my mind, it might be a violation of antitrust laws,” Specter said, though some other legal experts disagreed.

“I am madder than hell at what he has done in ruining the Eagles’ season,” the Pennsylvania Republican said. “I think he’s in flagrant breach of his contract and I believe the Eagles would be within their rights in not paying him another dime or perhaps even suing him for damages.”

But Specter said, “I do not believe, personally, that it is appropriate to punish him (by forcing him to sit out the rest of the season). He’s not committed a crime, he’s committed a breach of contract. And what they’re doing against him is vindictive.”

There are several statements here that are interestingly wrong. One worth thinking about is the idea that the Eagles are punishing Owens by enforcing the contract’s “conduct detrimental” clause. On one level this can’t be right – the Eagles are paying their employee for not working, hardly an onerous result. But theory notwithstanding, reading the arbitrator’s decision, it sort of feels like punishment. Doesn’t it?

7

On Becoming a Supreme Court Clerk

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This article about David Bragdon, who was just hired to clerk for Justice Thomas, is worth reading, especially for those who miss their A3G fix. Bragdon is significantly more forthcoming in print than I would have expected. Two choice quotes:

“I think conservative justices are more likely to hire conservative clerks,” he said. “I interviewed with Justice Thomas and his clerks, and his clerks really drilled me on my judicial philosophy, both to see how much I knew and to test my ability to argue various issues.”

“There could be some shifts in the way the Supreme Court decides certain issues [based on the new justices coming to the court],” he said. “I don’t think Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, there aren’t enough votes to change that decision, but other key issues could be affected.”

Too bad the interviewer didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question: which “key issues” does this rising Supreme Court clerk think will be affected by the confirmation of Justice Roberts and the possible confirmation of Judge Alito?

(Hat Tip: Howard B.)

5

Legal Realism and the Lefty Blogosphere

The dispute between Prof. Althouse and various lefty blogs continues. Most recently, “Armando” of Dailykos posted this screed. Armando concludes:

In short, does not Althouse admit that she too, is a legal realist? And given that admission, is it not fair to expect that Althouse would approve of a query in detail regarding Alito’s views on legal issues? Is it not fair to expect that Althouse would not condemn critiques of the results of Alito’s opinions without trying to engage in hypertechnical “gotcha-isms”?

I am interested in the idea that legal realism entails a commitment to “query in detail . . . Alito’s views on legal issues.” There are lots of different types of folks who we might think of as legal realists, and I doubt that they could find a consensus about a definition of the school of thought, let alone a position on the scope of the Senate’s advise and consent role. But it is an provocative idea, wrapped in some hyperbolic clothing.

Armando continues:

[E]ven a legal realist like myself understands that the judicial rules place limits on how much wiggle room judges have to achieve their desired results. Concepts like precedent, consistency, rules of construction, political question doctrine, etc., place limits on the ability of judges to render any result they deem the correct one. And in a case like Bush v. Gore, adhering to those rules is more important by a factor of 10 than in any other case. It is precisely because of what was being decided that the SCOTUS’ actions in Bush v. Gore were egregious in a manner almost unequalled in the history of the Court. They should never have taken the case period . . .

Finally, what was the essential difference between the actions of the Florida Supreme Court as compared to the SCOTUS’? Very simple. The Florida Supreme Court HAD TO DECIDE the case. It had no choice. It could have ruled in favor of Bush or in favor of Gore. But it HAD to rule.

The Supreme Court of the United States had no such compulsion. Cert denied is all they had to say. They chose to do otherwise.

I think Armando is flat wrong here. Gore v. Harris, the ultimate Florida Supreme Court merits decision in the litigation, appears to be an exercise of discretionary jurisdiction under Section 3(b)(5) of the Florida constitution. But maybe that is the type of “hypertechnical gotcha-ism” that I ought to be avoiding. Whoops.

0

Dunbar and Heller on the Future of Securities Class Actions

For those who want background on why Judge Alito’s strong recent re-affirmation the efficient capital markets hypothesis matters, there is a new article on SSRN for you.

Frederick Dunbar and Dana Heller (both of National Economic Research Associates) have posted “Fraud on the Market Meets Behavioral Finance,” forthcoming in the Delaware Journal of Corporate Law. From the abstract:

The efficient market hypothesis, in its current form, dates academically from 1970 and it was first accepted by a Federal Court in a shareholder class action in 1975, providing plaintiffs with a rebuttable presumption of reliance based on the fraud-on-the-market theory. By 1988, the fraud-on-the-market theory was the law in most Circuits and was affirmed by the Supreme Court in Basic v. Levinson. Since then, the efficient market hypothesis has not been rebutted in any case involving actively traded securities, and its impact on securities litigation and regulation extends well beyond class certification to materiality, causation and damages. Somewhat ironically, over the same time period, financial economics was, first, finding anomalies in securities markets that were not consistent with the Supreme Court’s version of the efficient market hypothesis and, second, using concepts borrowed from behavioral economics to develop theories of securities price formation to explain, among other things, the stock price bubble of the late 1990s. In fact, even proponents of the efficient market hypothesis have claimed that securities were mispriced during this episode. If courts were to adopt behavioral finance explanations of securities market behavior, then prior precedent would not be appropriate in a number of areas of securities fraud including reliance, materiality, causation and damages. We explore the implications of how analysis of these issues would be changed by application of behavioral finance.

1

Stove Top Stuffing Obit

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Ruth M. Siems, lead inventor of stove top stuffing, died last week. Her obit in the Times was, sadly, patronizing and somewhat nasty. Margalit Fox writes that Siems’ invention will make its appearance in homes tomorrow, “welcome or otherwise”, that it is “[c]omforting or campy,” and it is an “enduring emblem of postwar convenience culture.”

Look. I’m not a huge fan of this stuff, but – like other parts of the “postwar convenience culture” – it has made it possible for Americans to spend less time at the stove, and at pursuits that they apparently find more rewarding. Like working. Or spending time with children. And, it seems that snarking at the product misses an interesting life story. The obit gives us a few facts:

Ruth Miriam Siems was born in Evansville, Ind., on Feb. 20, 1931. She earned an undergraduate degree in home economics from Purdue University in 1953, and after graduation took a job at the General Foods plant in Evansville, where she worked on flours and cake mixes. She moved to the company’s technical center in Tarrytown, N.Y., not long afterward. Ms. Siems retired in 1985.

Besides Ms. Porter, of Copley, Ohio, Ms. Siems is survived by another sister, Rosemary Snyder, of Chicago; and a brother, David, of Milford, Mich.