Category: Current Events

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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.

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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.

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I wonder what Dan Markel thinks of this

Private use of shaming punishments:

Tasha Henderson got tired of her 14-year-old daughter’s poor grades, her chronic lateness to class and her talking back to her teachers, so she decided to teach the girl a lesson.

She made Coretha stand at a busy Oklahoma City intersection Nov. 4 with a cardboard sign that read: “I don’t do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future. Will work for food.”

I suspect that many of the same arguments apply here that might be used against state shaming punishments. (For some of them, see Dan’s paper).

On the other hand, it sounds awfully effective. Perhaps I should write up a proposal for the next faculty meeting suggesting that we implement this. A few students marching in front of the library wearing “I didn’t do the reading” sandwich boards would go a long way towards improving class participation, no?

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Saddam’s Host of Lawyers

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Via Drudge, I hear that 1,100 lawyers are leaving Saddam Hussein’s defense team because of security fears. But Saddam’s trial will go on.

I lack expertise in the Iraqi security situation and legal system, and so I’m left with a (perhaps naive) question: why does Saddam need over a thousand lawyers? [And how did the team apparently grow by 1,089 lawyers over a few weeks?] Only three explanations come to mind.

1. Saddam plans to mount a meticulous defense to the charges on the merits, and needs hundreds of attorneys to comb through the evidence against him, interview witnesses, and develop a coherent legal strategy.

2. Saddam plans to win at trial by hook-or-crook, and has employed a host of lawyers as a first step in rebuilding his empire of patronage and client relationships.

3. Saddam is not in control of his legal team. The person who is plans to use the opportunity as first step in building an empire of patronage and client relationships.

Possibility #1 is a joke; #2 is delusional; #3 is just sad.

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Does Yale Law School Owe Anything to Alito?

yls.bmpA New York Times article queries whether Yale Law School has been institutionally too harsh to its former professors and alumni who are nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Robert Bork was a former Yale Law School faculty member and Justice Thomas was a Yale Law School alumni. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito is also an alumni.

According to the article:

Faculty members testified on both sides both times. But the school was generally opposed to their nominations, said professors, students and alumni. Justice Thomas was thought to be unqualified, and Judge Bork’s views were considered too extreme.

In his 14 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas, of the Yale class of 1974, has refused to return here, and Judge Bork, who was on the faculty for 15 years, chortles during speeches when he cites “a bit of populist wisdom” he once saw on a bumper sticker: “Save America. Close Yale Law School.” . . . .

The two earlier conservative nominees may never overcome their anger at what they considered the school’s disloyalty, said Steven Brill, a legal journalist, entrepreneur and law school classmate of Judge Alito’s.

“They both think,” Mr. Brill said, “that the law school betrayed them.”

I find the suggestion here rather odd. Is Yale Law School supposted to support every graduate nominated for the Supreme Court or running for political office? Is this a duty that a law school owes its alumni?

I think not. The faculty and students of a law school should decide on the merits of the Alito nomination without putting a special thumb on the scale because he has a connection to the school. This isn’t a betrayal because I don’t believe there’s any duty owed. Each professor and student is an individual who can make up his or her own mind. And just because many professors at a school take a particular position doesn’t mean that this is the institution’s position. In fact, if things were different — if professors and students were to feel any obligation (however slight) to support a nominee because he or she has an institutional connection — then I’d be very worried about the independence of thought at the school.

Hat tip: Althouse

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New Courthouse Architecture

They’re being built at a staggering rate. New ones are rapidly replacing old ones. Top architects are being called in to design them. . . .

No, I’m not talking about stadiums. I’m talking about courthouses. A recent Legal Affairs article chronicles a dramatic transformation in courthouse architecture and describes the building boom in new courthouses. Courthouses used to be built as “solemn, neo-Classical style structures,” but recently things have changed. Today, top architects bid on the construction of courthouses:

The new architect selection standards coincide with the largest federal courthouse building initiative in the nation’s history, a program necessitated by the rise in the number of federal cases—up some 20 percent in the last decade—and a shift in caseloads from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. As droves of people continue to move from Buffalo to Houston or from St. Louis to Phoenix, caseloads are moving with them. In all, nearly 200 courthouses will be built or renovated over the next 25 years, at a cost in the tens of billions of dollars.

If you’re interested in the history of courthouse architecture, the article is well worth checking out. One of the courthouses discussed in the article is the stunning new federal courthouse in Boston, pictured below:

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For all the law architecture nerds out there, I did a little web surfing and found some pictures of new or planned courthouses. Beginning with state courthouses, here are ones from Lexington, SC, Lexington, KY, and Syracuse, NY:

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Welcome Business Week Readers

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This week’s Business Week Online contains a reference to this blog’s postings on Judge Alito’s securities jurisprudence. For your reference, we’ve written about Judge Alito several times.

1. Solove on Alito and privacy law.

2. Hoffman on the power of Congress to subpoena Alito’s former law clerks.

3. Solove on the utility of mining Alito’s record.

4. Hoffman on Alito and securities law (Part I).

5. Hoffman on Alito and securities law (Part II).

6. While you are here, you may also be interested in posts that don’t appear on our main page, including Oman on the bankruptcy of France and the philosophical significance of the repo man, and Wenger on liability for blogging. Plus, you really ought to read our registration statement.

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Is Alito Strongly Pro-Privacy?

privacy2a.jpgAn interesting report written by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has surfaced from 1972 entitled The Boundaries of Privacy in American Society. In the report, Alito takes a very strong stance toward privacy. Here are some of the highlights:

· “At the present time . . . we sense a great threat to privacy in modern America; we all believe that the thret to privacy is steadily and rapidly mounting; we all believe that action must be taken on many fronts now to preserve privacy.”

· “We believe the potential for invasions of privacy through the use of comptuers is so great that all private computer systems should be licensed by the federal government.”

Read More

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Jury Finds for Merck: Will its Critics Notice?

The NJ jury hearing the latest Vioxx case found Merck & Co. not liable for the death of Frederick “Mike” Humeston after seven and a half hours of deliberation. The ruling contrasted with an earlier Texas jury’s determination that Merck was liable for the death of Robert Ernst.

Following the Ernst verdict, a hue and cry arose against the jury system, with some claiming, for instance, that “this incident . . . raises serious questions as to the competence of lay jurors to resolve technical issues.” Now that we’ve another anecdote in hand, is it possible that these earlier critics owe the American jury system an apology?

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Alito: The Business Friendly Justice?

Larry Ribstein has a great new post up on the jurisprudence of Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito, a potential SCOTUS nominee. He sums up:

In short, Alito has displayed a marked tendency to enforce contracts as written, specifically including choice of law/forum and arbitration provisions that are intended to mitigate litigation costs. He’s also obviously aware of the problems that can be caused by lax proof standards and open-ended liability.

On the list that Prof. Ribstein has created, I was particularly interested in In re Burlington Coat Factories Sec. Lit. Prof. Ribstein says that decision involves a “deni[al] securities claims for failure to adequately allege scienter and materiality, and for lack of a duty to update.” My reading of the decision produced a somewhat more complicated picture, which may give some insights into Alito’s opinions about securities complaints.

First, unlike the district judge whose opinion the Third Circuit was passing on, Alito’s opinion is significantly more respectful of the pleading standard, reversing (in effect) a dismissal on materiality grounds. This decision – if representative of Alito’s larger jurisprudence – suggests that he is not particularly hostile to securities plaintiffs. In the end, the opinion does dismiss claims on 9(B) grounds, but with leave to re-plead.

Most significantly, the Judge appears to buy into the efficient capital markets hypothesis without hesitation, dismissing one claim which failed to result in a market reaction with the following reasoning.

In the context of an “efficient” market, the concept of materiality translates into information that alters the price of the firm’s stock. . . . This is so because efficient markets are those in which information important to reasonable investors (in effect, the market) … is immediately incorporated into stock prices. … Therefore, to the extent that information is not important to reasonable

investors, it follows that its release will have a negligible

effect on the stock price.

There are two basic problems with the idea that non-price-movement should mean immateriality as a matter of law. First, there will be times when market-wide distortions will dampen reaction to disclosures — which is why we require litigants to conduct expensive loss causation analyses which correct for the effect of the market-basket. Second, the behavioral finance literature, summarized by Ribstein (in a great paper) here, should give pause to judges, plaintiffs and others who seek to rely heavily on the ideal of a perfectly well-functioning market. To be fair, we can’t blame Judge Alito for not being aware of this literature back in 1997, but it would be interesting to know what he thinks today.

Needless to say, if I were on the judiciary committee, we’d have fewer questions on intellectually moribund subjects like con law, and many more of the following type(s): “How should judges go about evaluating the question of whether the stock market is fully efficient? Can securities class actions survive evidence of irrational decisionmaking?”

[UPDATE: I’ve investigated Judge Alito’s securities decisions further here.]