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Grading Exams and Other Fun Activities

I started grading exams today. As most Profs. will tell you, grading is the least pleasant aspect of law teaching. Fortunately, at my current rapid pace of 2.5 hours per exam, I will be finished at the latest by mid-March.

On the plus side, I’ve almost finished writing my syllabus for next semester’s new seminar in Law and Economics. In preparing the course, I was reminded again of McCloskey’s fantastic little essay on The Rhetoric of Law and Economics, 86 Mich. L. Rev. 752 (1988). Well worth reading if you have a WL or Hein account.

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How to Be an Industry Lobbyist

Chris Hoofnagle has a humorous post about industry lobbyist arguments in the consumer privacy arena:

Ever wanted to be an industry-side lobbyist? You can learn the basics right here on choof.org!

I’ve made the entry to your new career simple with this privacy industry deck of cards. These cards articulate all the arguments you need to make your case, without actually knowing anything. Master these arguments, and you too could be a high-paid lobbyist for almost any tech industry.

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Immigration Appeals in the Times

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Adam Liptak of the Times caught up today on the blawg-headlining Posner opinion from a few weeks back on immigration appeals. Considering the lead-time, I’m surprised at the weakness of the responses to Posner’s opinion offered by the BIA’s defenders. The bottom line answer to appellate anger: “You guys are falling victim to the fundamental attribution error.”

Jonathan Cohn, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, said the quality of the decisions rendered by the immigration courts on the whole was good, noting that the government won more than 90 percent of the cases in the federal appeals, or circuit, courts.

“The circuit courts do not see any of the tens of thousands of correctly decided cases that aliens choose not to appeal,” Mr. Cohn said. “They’re only seeing a fraction of the cases, and only a small fraction of those give rise to criticism.”

I think this response is misleading.

First, the article tells us that immigrants appeal 7 to 30 percent of the time. This is the source of Cohn’s intuition that only the “bad cases” for the government end up on appeal. But I can’t imagine that Cohn’s equation of the failure to appeal with being “correctly decided” has much basis in known fact. It might be that Cohn is correct. But I’d assume instead that costs (financial, emotional, and otherwise) prevent appeals, and not being compelled by the force of the government’s arguments.

Second, just because the government wins 90% of the time in the appellate courts doesn’t mean the BIA is right 90% of the time on the merits. Most of those wins depend either on procedure or on the operation of the standard of review, which is why the overall success rate for the government on appeal is exceedingly high. Even this success rate appears to depend on the amount of attention appellate judges pay to BIA procedures. As Posner’s opinion revealed, in the Seventh Circuit in 2005 the government’s win rate was around 60% in BIA cases, as compared to 82% in all other civil cases.

Third, Cohn’s rebuttal is aimed at the wrong target. Almost all judicial review of administrative agency decisionmaking will produce the pyramid structure he describes, where the “worst” cases are the most likely to result in published appellate reversals. But what is striking about the BIA is (1) that it has appeared, to date, undeterred by Circuit Court tongue-lashing; and (2) that the problem is occupying more and more appellate time. That’s why we get statements like this one from Posner’s opinion: “the adjudication of these cases at the administrative level has fallen below the minimum standard of legal justice. Whether this is due to resource constrains or to other circumstances beyond the Board’s and the Immigration Court’s control, we do no know, though we note that the problem is not of recent origin.”

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The Role of the Solicitor General

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We here at Concurring Opinions occasionally provide an important service for our readers: we analyze uber-left-blog-Dailykos’ views on the legal system so you don’t have to.

Armando of Dailykos, who I have previously criticized here, has a new post up on the role of the Solicitor General’s Office. Armando appears to be taking on Ed Whelan’s short argument in the National Review that Judge Alito’s SG wiretapping memo’s were advocacy pieces on behalf of his administration. But on closer examination, Armando’s argument sweeps quite farther than that.

Armando quotes extensively from David Strauss’ article on the SG’s office, which had questioned the commonly-expressed institutionalist account of its role. He (Armando) appears drawn to the institutionalist view – holding that the SG should be and is somewhat independent of the White House. [Where is he on the Days-Clinton dispute, I wonder?] But, he argues, the executive branch has soiled this role by politicizing the SG [whatever that means] and by appointing more partisan lawyers to the job. [He cites to a book by Rebecca Salokar that I have not read.] Armando does not distinguish between employees of the office and the SG him/herself. He then continues:

Alito was chosen to be in the Reagan Justice Department and the Reagan Solicitor General’s office BECAUSE he believes the things Ed Meese believes. [Ed: How does Armando know this?] So yes, he was acting as an advocate for Reagan Administration legal policies, but he was chosen to advocate for them because he believes in those policies. So looking at the opinions he expressed and positions he advocated for while serving in the Reagan Justice Department and in the Solicitor General’s office is not only fair, it is perhaps the fairest approach we can take. After all, it was in those roles that we likely heard Alito’s true views. While a sitting judge, bound by precedent, Alito’s true views were muted at best, and masked at worst. [This sounds lovely. What does it mean?]

So, to sum up, Armando argues that as early as the 1980s the SG’s office was a mere extension of the White House political directorate, and that SG lawyers writing memoranda supporting administrative positions always personally supported those positions, by virtue of their status as SG employees. While Judges, actually appointed by the President in a nakedly political process, somehow are bound by “precedent”. This is an odd position considering Armando’s previous writing that embraced a cynical type of legal realism. I wonder if readers of this blog with personal experience in the SG’s office would agree with the picture of it drawn by the most popular blog on the planet.

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Back From Vacation

I’m back from a week’s vacation with family, and ready to rejoin the blogging world. Not entirely coincidentally, Dan will be blogging “more lightly” in the near future as he has vacation and conferences to attend. Whether “more lightly” translates to less than once an hour remains to be determined.

I, and the rest of us here at Co-Op, were happy to see us getting a nod as “Best New Blawg in 2005″ at the BlawgReview. It is true that the award list is long, suggesting my fourth grade baseball league most-improved trophy (no shame in that!), but it was still very exciting to be recognized after only three months in existence. Thanks!

In the coming weeks, apart from a little less Dan, we’ll be joined by several exciting new guests, and hope to provide wall to wall coverage of the Alito/Spying/Patriot Act hearings in Congress. Don’t change that channel.

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Judge Posner’s Troubling Call for Massive Surveillance

posner1.jpgJudge Richard Posner has written an op-ed in the Washington Post today where he calls for a massive program of surveillance of U.S. citizens — their email, documents, phone conversations, nearly everything they say or do — regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing or not. Posner’s argument is quite startling and troublesome. Posner writes:

The collection, mainly through electronic means, of vast amounts of personal data is said to invade privacy. But machine collection and processing of data cannot, as such, invade privacy. Because of their volume, the data are first sifted by computers, which search for names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., that may have intelligence value. This initial sifting, far from invading privacy (a computer is not a sentient being), keeps most private data from being read by any intelligence officer.

In other words, Posner is saying that so long as the data is gathered by computers, there’s no privacy invasion if the government collects everything. It is also odd for Posner to say this, because in Northwestern Memorial Hospital v. Ashcroft, 362 F.3d 963 (7th Cir. 2004), he held that even records without identifying information could constitute an invasion of privacy: “Even if there were no possibility that a patient’s identity might be learned from a redacted medical record, there would be an invasion of privacy.” Posner’s conclusion that records that are anonymized could still violate people’s privacy is a radical one, and I find it hard to square with what he says in the op-ed.

So, taking Posner’s argument to the extreme, there’s no problem if the government were to wiretap, install video cameras in our homes, collect every document we ever wrote, and so on — so long as the information were collected by computers and not seen by human eyes. But what about the vast power this gives the government? What about the potential for government abuse? What about the chilling effects on people’s speech and freedom? Posner ignores these things.

Posner goes on to write:

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