The media and academic dialogue surrounding high-stakes decisionmaking by robotics applications has been dominated by a focus on morality. But the tendency to do so while overlooking the role that legal incentives play in shaping the behavior of profit-maximizing firms risks marginalizing the field of robotics and rendering many of the deepest challenges facing today’s engineers utterly intractable. This Essay attempts to both halt this trend and offer a course correction. Invoking Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s canonical analogy of the “bad man . . . who cares nothing for . . . ethical rules,” it demonstrates why philosophical abstractions like the trolley problem—in their classic framing—provide a poor means of understanding the real-world constraints robotics engineers face. Using insights gleaned from the economic analysis of law, it argues that profit-maximizing firms designing autonomous decisionmaking systems will be less concerned with esoteric questions of right and wrong than with concrete questions of predictive legal liability. Until such time as the conversation surrounding so-called “moral machines” is revised to reflect this fundamental distinction between morality and law, the thinking on this topic by philosophers, engineers, and policymakers alike will remain hopelessly mired. Step aside, roboticists—lawyers have this one.
In this essay, Professor Kagan asserts that recent disputes in Ohio and Nevada about whether lawyers should be allowed to wear “Black Lives Matter” pins in open court expose a fault line in First Amendment law. Lower courts have generally been unsympathetic to lawyers who display political symbols in court. But, Kagan argues, it would go too far suggest that free speech has no relevance in courtrooms. This essay argues for a way to strike a balance.
In this essay, Professor Morley explains that states generally conduct their elections in a “unitary” manner, applying many of the same rules, requirements, and procedures to races for offices at all levels of government. Morley argues that the unitary status of American elections has evolved into a convention: a principle that people expect to limit government officials’ discretion, despite not being constitutionally required. A few states have begun to challenge the convention of unitary elections. They have engaged in uncooperative federalism by imposing different rules for state and local elections than federal law establishes for federal races. Morley concludes that, while such changes constitute a sharp break from states’ consistent practice over the past decades, they are a valid exercise of states’ constitutional prerogatives. Congress’ authority over state and local elections, Morley demonstrates, is far narrower than its virtually plenary power over congressional and presidential elections. States therefore have discretion to protect the integrity of their state and local elections by imposing safeguards and requirements beyond those Congress has chosen to establish for federal elections.
In this essay, Professors Dana and Tuerkheimer conceptualize Flint as an archetypical case of underenforcement—that is, a denial of the equal protection of laws guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Viewed as such, the inadequacy of environmental regulation can be understood as a failure that extends beyond the confines of Flint; a failure that demands a far more expansive duty to protect vulnerable populations.
In this essay, Litman and Rahman argue that if the Supreme Court grants habeas relief in this month’s Beckles v. United States, then it should spell out certain details about where a Beckles claim comes from and who such a claim benefits. Those details are not essential to the main question raised in the case, but the federal habeas statute takes away the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to hear just about any case that would raise those questions. For that reason, Litman and Rahman conclude that failing to address those questions now could arbitrarily condemn hundreds of prisoners to illegal sentences and lead to a situation where the habeas statute is unconstitutional.
Fear of persecution based on one’s family ties has long been considered a basis for asylum in the United States. Recently, however, the scope of that protection has come under dispute and, as a result, may be expanding. In this Essay, Blake argues for a more expansive interpretation of these asylum claims, recognizing family-based persecution even when persecutors have multiple motives for targeting their victim.
In this essay, Koppelman reviews Secular Government, Religious People by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle. Lupu and Tuttle offer a timely examination of how and where religious liberty and American law intersect. Koppelman offers his take and places the book within the scholarship on religious liberty.
In this essay, Anderson explores how the police narrative is told in appellate opinions, in light of changing police stories seen in the media. In recent years, video recordings of police violence have upended the traditional narrative of police heroism. The videos have led to discussions of police accountability, yet the controversies surrounding these incidents have also served to highlight the strength of the traditional narrative. Anderson first discusses the prevailing cultural story of the dedicated police officer, as depicted in popular media. Next, Anderson examines how police narratives are conveyed in appellate opinions, through the use of police language, including “copspeak,” as well as narrative devices such as point of view, emphasis, and selective detail. Finally, Anderson discusses examples of counter-narratives in court opinions. Anderson’s conclusion is not that all police narratives are suspect, but that judicial writers need to be aware of how they tell the story of a police–citizen encounter, recognizing that the story is part of the argument.
In this essay, Blocher considers recent developments that have given new hope to those seeking constitutional abolition of the death penalty. Some supporters of the death penalty continue to argue, as they have since Furman v. Georgia, that the death penalty is constitutional because the Fifth Amendment explicitly contemplates it. The appeal of this argument is obvious, but Blocher argues that its strength is largely superficial and also mostly irrelevant to the claims being made against the constitutionality of capital punishment. At most, the references to the death penalty in the Fifth Amendment may reflect a founding-era assumption that capital punishment was constitutionally permissible at that time. But they do not amount to a constitutional authorization; if capital punishment violates another constitutional provision, it is unconstitutional. Blocher concludes that there might be good arguments for the constitutionality of the death penalty, but the Fifth Amendment Argument is not among them.
In this essay, Ford considers provisions of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which place restrictions on the disposition of detainees held in Guantánamo Bay. These provisions raise substantial separation of powers issues regarding the ability of Congress to restrict detention operations of the Executive. These restrictions, and similar restrictions found in earlier NDAAs, specifically implicate the Executive’s powers in foreign affairs and as Command in Chief. Ford concludes that, with the exception of a similar provision found in the 2013 NDAA, the restrictions are constitutional.
In the essay, Dubrowski analyzes Ferguson v. JONAH, a landmark 2015 decision in which a New Jersey court held — for the first time — that homosexuality is not a disease or mental disorder as a matter of law. Based on this pretrial ruling, a civil jury unanimously found JONAH (a conversion therapy clinic) its co-directors and its chief counselor liable for violation of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. Dubrowski begins by explaining the two-pronged fraud JONAH perpetrated—first, claiming that homosexuality is a disorder, and second, that it can be cured—and continues by arguing that this two-pronged fraud is necessarily perpetrated by all conversion therapists. He then undertakes a survey of the consumer fraud laws of all fifty states, demonstrating that the verdict against JONAH is replicable across the country, and concluding that those injured by the so-called therapy should seek to replicate Ferguson v. JONAH’s success.