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Plagiarism in Legal Briefs

I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day about the fact that there does not seem to be a clear set of norms about copying from another attorney’s brief.  Suppose I were working on a case and I read a brief that made a particular point really well.  If I cited that brief in an attempt to fairly attribute the source when I made the same point, then I’d look like an uncreative doofus.  If I did not cite the brief, though, then that would (or could) be plagiarism.  Granted, another brief is not authoritative, but a cite could be required for respect rather than for authority.

It seems, though, that lawyers don’t care whether people plagiarize their briefs.  Part of that may be because plagiarism is hard to detect and does not matter for the case where the argument was first made.  (Indeed,  attorneys are thrilled when the judge in their case plagiarizes their brief in writing the opinion.)  Or maybe people are flattered that others would copy their work.  I’m not sure why attorneys have such a laid back view of plagiarism in briefs.  Thoughts?

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Decanonization

I learned recently that once sainthood is conferred by the Catholic Church that status cannot be revoked.  Not so for Supreme Court opinions or canonical legal texts.  A great deal has been written about how authorities are canonized, but not much is written about the opposite–how are they delegitimized?  I haven’t thought this through fully, but here are some tentative ideas:

1.  “Ignoring.”  If a certain text or opinion stops getting attention, then its authority diminishes.  Consider in this context Bowers v. Hardwick, which was totally ignored by the Court’s opinion in Romer.  That was the way station for overruling Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas.

2.  “Yesterday’s News.”  Age can confer or detract from authority depending on how you frame the argument, but a precedent can be dispatched by just labeling it as old or obsolete.  To some extent this is what happened to the Warren Court cases on the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County.

3.  “Too Brief.”  Courts often attack precedent by saying that a prior court did not say much about an issue.  As if to say that the prior court wasn’t paying close attention, which may be true, but may also reflect the fact that at the time the issue wasn’t considered close.  Chief Justice Roberts did this last week in McCutcheon by rejecting contrary language in Buckley v. Valeo as “just three sentences.”

4.  Say that the precedent was wrong from the day it was decided.  This has been done many times.

I would have to look at more examples where precedents were overruled to get a better sense of this.

 

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University of Toronto Law Journal – Volume 64, Number 2, Spring 2014

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University of Toronto Law Journal – Volume 64, Number 2, Spring 2014

A theory of redressive justice
Andrew S Gold

When tribalism meets liberalism: Human rights and Indigenous boundary problems in Canada
Kirsty Gover

Administrative penalties in the Rechtsstaat: On the emergence of the
Ordnungswidrigkeit sanctioning system in post-war Germany
Daniel Ohana

BOOK REVIEWS
A Simple Common Lawyer: Essays in Honour of Michael Taggart

Geneviève Cartier

The Law of Organized Religions: Between Establishment and Secularism; The Agnostic Age: Law, Religion and the Constitution
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Full text of the University of Toronto Law Journal is available online at UTLJ Online, Project Muse, JSTOR, HeinOnline, Westlaw, Westlaw-CARSWELL, LexisNexis and Quicklaw.

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The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy

I’m pleased to announce that my article with Professor Woodrow Hartzog, The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy, 114 Colum. L. Rev. 583 (2014), is now out in print.  You can download the final published version at SSRN.  Here’s the abstract:

One of the great ironies about information privacy law is that the primary regulation of privacy in the United States has barely been studied in a scholarly way. Since the late 1990s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been enforcing companies’ privacy policies through its authority to police unfair and deceptive trade practices. Despite over fifteen years of FTC enforcement, there is no meaningful body of judicial decisions to show for it. The cases have nearly all resulted in settlement agreements. Nevertheless, companies look to these agreements to guide their privacy practices. Thus, in practice, FTC privacy jurisprudence has become the broadest and most influential regulating force on information privacy in the United States — more so than nearly any privacy statute or any common law tort.

In this Article, we contend that the FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is functionally equivalent to a body of common law, and we examine it as such. We explore how and why the FTC, and not contract law, came to dominate the enforcement of privacy policies. A common view of the FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is that it is thin, merely focusing on enforcing privacy promises. In contrast, a deeper look at the principles that emerge from FTC privacy “common law” demonstrates that the FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is quite thick. The FTC has codified certain norms and best practices and has developed some baseline privacy protections. Standards have become so specific they resemble rules. We contend that the foundations exist to develop this “common law” into a robust privacy regulatory regime, one that focuses on consumer expectations of privacy, extends far beyond privacy policies, and involves a full suite of substantive rules that exist independently from a company’s privacy representations.

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FTC v. Wyndham

The case has been quite long in the making. The opinion has been eagerly anticipated in privacy and data security circles. Fifteen years of regulatory actions have been hanging in the balance. We have waited and waited for the decision, and it has finally arrived.

The case is FTC v. Wyndham, and it is round one to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Some Quick Background

For the past 15 years, the FTC has been one of the leading regulators of data security. It has brought actions against companies that fail to provide common security safeguards on personal data. The FTC has claimed that inadequate data security violates the FTC Act which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” In many cases, the FTC has alleged that inadequate data security is deceptive because it contradicts promises made in privacy policies that companies will protect people’s data with “good,” “adequate,” or “reasonable” security measures. And in a number of cases, the FTC has charged that inadequate data security is unfair because it creates actual or likely unavoidable harm to consumers which isn’t outweighed by other benefits.

For more background about the FTC’s privacy and data security enforcement, please see my article with Professor Woodrow Hartzog: The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy, 114 Colum. L. Rev. 583 (2014). The article has just come out in print, and the final published version can be downloaded for free here.

Thus far, when faced with an FTC data security complaint, companies have settled. But finally one company, Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, challenged the FTC. A duel has been waging in court. The battle has been one of gigantic proportions because so much is at stake: Wyndham has raised fundamental challenges the FTC’s power to regulate data security under the FTC Act.

The Court’s Opinion and Some Thoughts

1. The FTC’s Unfairness Authority

Wyndham argued that because Congress enacted several data security laws to regulate specific industries (FCRA, GLBA, HIPAA, COPPA) that Congress did not intend for the FTC to be able to regulate data security more generally under FTC Act unfairness. The court rejected this argument, holding that “subsequent data-security legislation seems to complement—not preclude—the FTC’s authority.”

This holding seems quite reasonable, as the FTC Act was a very broad grant of authority to the FTC to regulate for consumer protection for most industries.

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Corporate Leadership and Politics

Recently there was a brouhaha over the hiring (and then firing) of Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla.  In 2008, Eich gave a personal contribution to the campaign for Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Same-sex marriage supporters responded to Eich’s hiring with criticism and threats of a boycott before the company essentially rescinded the offer.

While you can look at this case as an example of free speech or intolerance (or both–there is plenty of intolerant free speech), I want to suggest that this sort of thing is an unintended consequence of Citizens United.  In a world where corporations can give large sums to political campaigns, the political views of a company’s CEO are highly relevant.  Suppose the new head of Microsoft was a fervent supporter of [some cause or candidate] and decided to back [some cause or candidate] with $1 billion from the company’s cash hoard.  People on the other side of that issue would have every reason to organize against that person as the CEO.  Now it is unlikely that a publicly-traded company would pick a political activist as its leader, and the Board of Directors (not to mention shareholders) would probably take a dim view of such large political contributions. But I can understand where the concern would come from.

I am not saying that this is why Eich was raked over the coals.  In his case, people were attacking him for his past behavior, not for what he might do in the future.  But they could have been worried about the future.

 

 

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Fifth Annual Constitutional Law Colloquium

Loyola University Chicago School of Law will host a Constitutional Law Colloquium on Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8, 2014.

This will be the fifth annual Loyola constitutional law colloquium.  Organizers hope to attract constitutional law scholars at all stages of their professional careers to discuss current projects, doctrinal developments in constitutional law, and future goals. The conference will bring together scholars to discuss their works-in-progress concerning constitutional issues, such as, but not limited to Free Speech, Substantive Due Process, Equal Protection, Suffrage Rights and Campaign Finance, Process Oriented Constitutionalism, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Theory, National Security and Constitutional Rights, Due Process Underpinnings of Criminal Procedure, Judicial Review, Executive Privilege, Suspect Classification, Free Exercise and Establishment of Religion, and Federalism. As in years past, there will be many opportunities for the vetting of ideas and for informed critiques. Submissions will be liberally considered, but participation is by invitation only. Presentations will be grouped by subject matter.

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California-Irvine School of Law, will be the keynote speaker.

Titles and abstracts of papers should be submitted electronically to constitutionlaw@luc.edu no later than June 15, 2014.

The Law Center is located on Loyola’s Water Tower campus, near Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, Lake Michigan, Millennium Park, the Chicago Art Institute, and Chicago Symphony Center.

Participants’ home institutions are expected to pay for their own travel expenses. Loyola will provide facilities, meals, and support.

There are numerous reasonably priced hotels within walking distance of the Loyola School of Law and Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

Conference Organizers:

Professor Barry Sullivan, Cooney & Conway Chair in Advocacy, bsullivan7@luc.edu
Professor Alexander Tsesis, atsesis@luc.edu
Professor Michael Zimmer, mzimme4@luc.edu

Program Administrator:
Heather Figus, ConstitutionLaw@law.edu

 

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Making Changes to Fundamental Law

Thanks to Deven, Gerard, and everyone else at Concurring Opinions for the warm welcome.  I plan to blog a bit about the new book, America’s Forgotten Constitutions, as well as some matters related to ongoing research.

A few words about the conception of the book.  It combines American history and legal theory in a way that I hope tells us some new things about events and ideas that have already received some scholarly attention.  It also analyzes some events in constitutionally significant terms when they previously have not received such treatment (e.g., the world federalist movement, the recent drafting of an Aryan constitution).  In doing so, the book seeks to shed light on certain recurring theoretical questions about our constitutional process, writ large.  The primary organizing themes are the dual meta-principles of written constitutionalism and popular sovereignty, combined by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution and unleashed on the population.  I’m interested in how average people adapt these basic principles to forge new relationships and communities, develop novel procedures for authorizing a constitution, and defend extra-legal tactics.

The book’s ambition is to go beyond current treatments of “popular constitutionalism”–so we can have an honest discussion about the energizing and dangerous aspects of our political tradition.  I pick eight examples where Americans wrote constitutions at various important moments in time, in order to explore these questions.  The colorful cast of characters consists of squatters, native Americans, slaveholders, abolitionists, socialists, world federalists, black nationalists, and white separatists.  I explore how the functions of writing and notions of sovereignty mutate after the Founding period.

Allow me to begin by suggesting that these constitution-writing episodes push us to reevaluate what we think we know about the procedure for making constitutional law.  Just to get the ball rolling, much of the literature identifies the following ways of altering fundamental law (let’s note but for now bracket the crucial lurking question of the relative legitimacy of each approach):

1.  Making foundational law during a true revolutionary moment, marked by political breakdown or some other break in historical time, when procedural questions are up for grabs along with substantive commitments.

2.  Formally amending a constitutional text (in the U.S. Constitution, according to the process outlined in Article V) without rejecting the continuing legitimacy of the legal order created.

3.  Creatively using conventional national institutions (say, by one party winning successive elections, enacting transformative laws, making key judicial appointments, winning landmark decisions through litigation).  Again, this is done without rejecting the authority of the overarching legal order.

4.  Gaining control of key bureaucracies (White House, OLC, DOD) or forging government-private relationships (such as Federalist Society-DOJ-Judiciary).  These social networks may not be lasting, but the goal is to achieve major shifts in substantive law rather than to overthrow an entire system.

5.  Creating a social movement that signals popular discontent, shapes public debate, forces national institutions to rethink governing commitments.

What are the protagonists in my stories doing?  For the most part, options # 2, # 3, and # 4 elude their grasp.  Typically, they compose a small group holding marginalized ideas, so it is not realistic to dominate any particular political party, win successive elections, or gain ideological control of key institutions.  Even where, as with the Confederates, they enjoyed a degree of access to formal power at the national level, they have given up on the possibility of making fundamental law within the conventional rules.  Option # 5 is possible for a few of my groups, but in the main they find themselves on the outliers of oppositional movements and trends.  In fact, the act of writing a constitution signals their differences with other dissenters in terms of state-building goals and tactics, not to mention the depths of their despondency that legal change through conventional means is possible.

None of my popular legal theorists believes that anything in the 1787 Constitution or our political tradition requires preapproval to write a new constitution; it merely dictates how rewrites of the existing one must be accomplished.  The right to write is inherent and fundamental.  They also agree that the people have the power to alter the basis and terms of political community.  Where they tend to differ is over tactics and procedures.

For some–let’s call them the classical revolutionaries–they believe themselves to be engaged in process # 1.  They confidently point to ample evidence of political breakdown, and argue that they are justified in authoring a new governing document and coming up with completely new protocols for deliberation and ratification.  This best captures the slaveholding statesmen who formed the Confederate States of America, though their theory of consent is vigorously disputed by Lincoln and other defenders of the 1787 Constitution.

At first blush, the classical situation also seemingly captures John Brown’s proposal for a new republican form of government and the Republic of New Afrika’s constitution created by the followers of Malcolm X after his assassination.  In both cases, people’s conventions determined that the original Constitution did not bind them, either because it was irreparably broken due to slavery and racial subjugation, or because the Framers never gained the rightful consent of the governed (i.e., slaves and former slaves).

Here’s where it gets complicated.  Most people don’t agree the country faces a true revolutionary moment.  Each dissident group gains supporters, but never enough regular folks to threaten the national legal order as a social movement, or enough elites to control any formal levers of power.  Each struggles with the question of violence as a tool for constitutional change, ultimately concluding that under extreme circumstances targeted violence is justified by the political tradition.  Force, they believe, can be constitutionally used to liberate slaves or defend against private and public acts of violence, inequality, and degradation.  Each group has national aspirations: in the case of John Brown, he hopes his constitutional vision will supplant the tottering slave-holding vision propped up by the High Court; for Imari and Gaidi Obadele, the goal is to convince the U.S. to give up the former slaveholding states so a black republic can be established.

As they await better conditions for revolutionary consolidation, created by themselves or others, they decide to start living out their constitutional principles.  In other words, their constitutions are not simply pieces of paper to be discussed one day if enough people are intrigued.  This shift toward social implementation is somewhat seamless for their respective communities because they espouse a strong dose of what I call “ethical sovereignty”–the notion that true legal authority derives from shared moral beliefs.  They begin to sustain law-based communities despite lacking control of territory and not completing the tasks of authorizing and implementing their constitutions.  In fact, while they see themselves as pursuing strategy # 1, I think both groups at some point transition into a different strategy of constitutional change: modeling an alternative community.  The Republic of New Afrika lasts longer than John Brown’s group, mostly because Brown decided to force the action at Harpers Ferry, and his execution decimates that nascent law-based community.  But New Afrikans are also better at it in that they reach more deeply into the recruitable population.

Once we see that dissenters can use imperfectly authorized constitutions to model alternative communities (let’s now call it strategy # 6), we start to notice other things.  Modeling derives from the same basic principles of popular sovereignty and written constitutionalism.  Modeling can stand alone or supplement any of the other strategies for constitutional change.  Innovative use of state and local laws (not simply national laws and institutions) can facilitate the formation of alternative constitution-based communities (more on this in a future post).  Suddenly, we start to notice a lot more groups of people writing constitutions, for all sorts of reasons and to varying degrees of success.

 

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There & Back Again: John Rizzo & Yuri Nosenko

John Rizzo gave thirty-four years of service as an attorney for the Central Intelligence Agency, serving with distinction under eleven directors and rising to acting general counsel.  Yuri Nosenko, who died in 2008, was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB, a Soviet defector, and suspected double agent.

RizzoNosenkoWhat do they have in common?  A late night, one-on-one, vodka-soaked discussion of Nosenko’s three years of unremitting torture by Rizzo’s employer. The torture produced nothing, neither confirmation that Nosenko was a Soviet mole nor confidence that he was not.  In his new memoir, Company Man, Rizzo asserts that this meeting left an indelible impression on him as a young lawyer. But just how did he put that experience to use when he evaluated the legality of the “Enhanced Interrogation Program” that landed on his desk in the CIA General Counsel’s office after 9/11?

His answer is not found in his memoir.  But he did give an answer last week, when I asked him this question at an outstanding symposium on the future of national security law held at Pepperdine Law School.  The conference was organized by Professor Greg McNeal ably assisted by 3L Shelby Doyle and her team of student editors at the Pepperdine Law Review.

Comrade Nosenko’s story, and Mr. Rizzo’s answer, follow after the break. Read More