Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2012-01

Facebook’s New Timeline Feature: Will It Increase Users’ Risk of Identity Theft?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on Facebook's new, mandatory “Timeline” feature, and the possibility that this feature may make identify theft targeted at Facebook users easier to accomplish. As she explains, Timeline encourages users to volunteer additional information, beyond what they had previously provided to Facebook. Also, Timeline will work in conjunction with a set of “frictionless” apps that will not notify the Facebook user each time his or her information is shared with a person or business With more and more information about people becoming available online on sites like Facebook, Ramasastry argues, both online and offline identity theft may well become simpler and more common.

Some Legal and Policy Ramifications of Newt Gingrich’s Plan to Colonize the Moon

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on remarks that Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich made last week, promising that if he were to be elected president, then by the end of his second term, he will have established a colony on the Moon. Could that really happen? And if it did, would it be a good idea? Dorf considers present technological limits, and legal obstacles stemming from U.S. treaty commitments. While highly skeptical of the Gingrich proposal, Dorf does find a kernel of sense in it: Gingrich, Dorf notes, may well be right that the colonization of space could be the key to the long-term survival of human civilization.

The Montana Supreme Court Arguably Flouts the Citizens United Ruling: Will It Be Reversed?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on a recent Montana Supreme Court (MSC) ruling that purports to find an exception to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in its Citizens United v. FEC decision. (Citizens United held that corporate campaign contributions are protected as political speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.) However, the MSC held that Montana’s own statute, the Montana Corrupt Practices Act, with its ban on corporate contributions, was importantly different from the ban on corporate campaign money that had been at issue in Citizens United, in part due to Montana history. In support of its holding, the MSC reasoned that Montana had a compelling state interest in the enforcement of the Act—especially as the evidence showed that the passage of the Act had been spurred by the situation that existed when it was passed, one hundred years ago, when Montana government was deeply corrupted by corporate influence. Dean notes that it is unclear whether the Supreme Court will intervene here—and whether, if it does, Montana’s unique history and special vulnerability to corporate influence, based on a number of factors, might save its longstanding statute.

New York City and State Consider Seeking to Reverse the Second Circuit’s Decision in the Bronx Household of Faith Case, Regarding Whether a Church Can Make a Public School Its House of Worship

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a New York church-and-state case in which the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to grant review. As Hamilton explains, the case concerned a religious group, the Bronx Household of Faith, which sought to continue to use a public middle school on the weekends for Christian worship services, followed by a “fellowship meal”—without providing payment to the school, and while taking advantage of the free use of the school’s utilities. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled, 2-1, against the Bronx Household of Faith, on the ground that the group did not have an “all comers” policy. Indeed, Hamilton notes, Bronx Household specifically excludes anyone who is not baptized, who is excommunicated, or who advocates the Islamic religion. Hamilton argues that both the Second Circuit panel’s decision and that of the U.S. Supreme Court were clearly correct as a matter of constitutional law. And yet, she notes, New York City and New York State are now hearing arguments to once again open the public schools to religious groups, including groups that lack “all comers” policies.

Governor Cuomo Urges New York Constitutional Amendment Legalizing Casino Gambling: Good Idea or Serious Mistake?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution, which would legalize casino gambling. Even Cuomo’s father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, opposes the measure. But is he correct to do so? Colb notes the common argument that casino gambling is, in effect, a regressive tax—that is, one that disproportionately burdens less affluent people. However, she argues that for many people—putting gambling addicts aside—gambling is simply another form of entertainment. And for someone with a modest income, Colb points out, many forms of entertainment—for instance, going to the movies—could also be seen as effectively imposing a regressive tax on those who are of modest means, but still opt to participate. She also contends that since many bans on enjoyable activities have, over history, been based on religious motivations, it is worth looking skeptically at such bans when they still exist today. A key question needs to be asked, Colb says: Is a gambling ban like New York’s meant to protect would-be gamblers’ pocketbooks (a permissible objective), or to save their souls (an impermissible objective)? Colb also notes that those who are addicted to an activity are likely to avail themselves of illegal alternatives, rather than abiding by a ban—rendering a ban potentially futile, and regulation a wiser choice.

Men Who Give It Away: The Potential Perils of Free and Non-Anonymous Sperm Donation

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the legal consequences of different forms of free, non-anonymous sperm donation. As she explains, some of these donations are connected to the online Free Sperm Donor Registry. Grossman, relying in part on previous reportage by 20/20, comments on situations such as that of a man who has given away so much sperm that the government has told him to stop its “manufacture,” and men who donate sperm via what is called “natural insemination”—that is, sex. Grossman explains why in-person sperm donation, especially via “natural insemination” raises complex questions about the legal rights and obligations of the sperm donor—with donors potentially liable for child support, and potentially able to seek visitation or even co-parent status. She also notes that in-person sperm donation may be governed by—and may, in some instances, violate—FDA regulations pertaining to the donation of human cells and tissue. Among other legal sources, Grossman covers the original and revised Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) in the column.

The Supreme Court’s Decision in Golan v. Holder: Can the U.S. Government Constitutionally Pull Works Out of the Public Domain?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Golan v. Holder, which allowed certain works by foreign authors to be pulled out of the U.S.’s public domain, and put under U.S. copyright protection. The works’ status had been changed by statute, so that the U.S. could comply with an international treaty. Drawing heavily on its prior copyright-extension decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Court allowed the works at issue in Golan to be newly subjected to copyright—despite arguments to the contrary that were based on the Copyright and Patent Clause, and on the First Amendment. In dissent, Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Alito, argued that the public-domain works at issue ought to retain their current status, due in part to First Amendment concerns; in part to practical problems, such as problems with “orphan works,” the copyright status of which is difficult and costly to determine; and in part to a utilitarian reading of the Clause.

The Lower Court Rulings in Nordyke and Heller II Highlight Judicial Confusion Over Gun Rights: Part Two in a Two-Part Series on the Ways in Which Lower Courts and the Supreme Court Will Need to Flesh Out Second Amendment Doctrine

Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, continue their series of columns on the Second Amendment and how courts have recently interpreted it, with a special focus on the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which—while it left many questions unresolved—did establish that there is an individual right to bear arms in certain circumstances. In this column, Part Two in the series, Amar and Brownstein comment on several recent right-to-bear-arms opinions from the U.S. Courts of Appeals. In a Ninth Circuit opinion, Nordyke, the judges agreed on the proper result, but very significantly disagreed on the analysis that should be applied—with each borrowing analogies from other areas of constitutional doctrine, such as free speech doctrine, to give just one example. But Amar and Brownstein question whether these analogies can really work, especially in light of the diversity of fundamental rights doctrine. In light of that diversity, they contend, the choice, in a gun rights case, among all the possible analogies to other rules relating to other rights must be well justified. To make matters even more complicated, moreover, Amar and Brownstein point out that in a D.C. Circuit opinion, Heller II, a totally different framework for reviewing gun regulations than the one the Ninth Circuit panel used, was employed.

Why Interdisciplinary Legal Scholarship Is Good for the Law, the Academy, and Society at Large

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan responds to some of the common criticisms of interdisciplinary legal scholarship, defending such scholarship on the ground that it makes a valuable contribution. He begins by noting how legal scholarship has changed over the years, beginning around the 70’s, from a field that primarily summarized legal developments, to one that primarily describes how the law could and should change. As a result of this evolution, Buchanan argues, it made sense to bring in other academic disciplines to assist law professors who were interested in improving policies, and who wanted to draw from the relevant schools of thought in framing their policy recommendations and developing their ideas. There has been nostalgia on the part of some—and, especially, some judges—for legal scholarship the way it used to be: primarily focused on describing the law, not improving it. But Buchanan argues that this nostalgia, while understandable, is misplaced, for combining legal expertise with expertise in another field can importantly further the debate on important policy matters. Some questions, Buchanan notes, are truly interdisciplinary and for these, interdisciplinary scholarship is not just useful, but vital.

The Indefinite Detention of Citizens and Non-Citizens Under the NDAA

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on the provisions of the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) relating to the detention of citizens and non-citizens. She begins by noting that, last week, the tenth anniversary of the military prison at Guantanamo occurred, and was the subject of comment by the media, but this brief focus on the prison and its prisoners was the exception to the rule. In addition, she points out that the NDAA addresses the very issue that Guantanamo embodies, indefinite detention without charge, and does so in a way that has sparked sharp criticism from conservatives and liberals alike. Mariner focuses here, however, on a less-remarked aspect of the NDAA: Although its provision for indefinite detention for American citizens has been highly controversial, far less attention has been paid to its provision for indefinite detention for non-citizens—of which there are 171 being currently held at Guantanamo; all but five indefinitely (of the five, four were convicted and one faces terrorism and other charges). Mariner calls for more attention to the NDAA’s treatment of non-citizens, reminding readers that indefinite detention for Americans remains theoretical, but indefinite detention for those incarcerated at Guantanamo is very real.

Facebook’s “If I Die” App Should Remind Us That We Each Need a Digital Death Plan

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry points out that even if we are using the “If I Die” app, which allows Facebook users to send a final message to loved ones, there are many other aspects of our digital lives that will also need attention when we die, and for which we should also plan. Ramasastry covers the provisions for user death in the Terms of Service (ToS) of popular online services such as Yahoo!, Gmail, Facebook, Apple, and YouTube. She also considers questions relating to the inheritance of digital property ranging from copyrighted online work, to virtual property with real-world value. Ramasastry also comments on why one might want to use a “digital undertaker” service; on the need to amend states’ law across the country in order to protect virtual property; and on the state-law question whether the rights of privacy and publicity can—and should—survive a person’s death.

The Constitutional Politics of Recess Appointments

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the constitutional law regarding recess appointments—that is, appointments made by the president when Congress is not in session. The topic is timely due to the current controversy over President Obama's recent grant of two recess appointments—for the positions of the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the head of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The President and Senate Republicans differ sharply as to whether Congress was, in fact, in recess when the appointments were made—and thus, as to whether the two appointments were valid. Dorf contends that each side makes a plausible case for its own position on this issue, and argues, more generally, that recess-appointment controversies cannot truly be understood without attention to the substantive merits of the appointment that is at issue in a given case.

The Back Story of the Unsealing of Nixon’s Grand Jury Testimony

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean describes and comments on the process by which former President Richard Nixon’s previously sealed grand jury testimony (along with related materials) was revealed in July 2011—a process in which Dean himself played a key role. Dean gives great credit for the unsealing both to Public Citizen's Litigation Group, headed by Allison Zieve, which took the case; and Judge Royce Lamberth, who made the ruling that led the grand jury testimony and related materials to become public—as had occurred earlier in famous cases such as those of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss, based on the rulings of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Dean also notes that this, and other material that is still being transcribed, encompass the last real secrets of Watergate.

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the Supreme Court Embraces a Narrow Ministerial Exception to Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s decision this week in a case that pitted First Amendment religious freedom rights against the rights set forth in federal anti-discrimination law. In the case, a woman who worked for a church as a teacher was fired after taking a medical leave, and sought to invoke her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But because she was a “called” teacher, with some religious responsibilities, the church argued that her firing was within its discretion, under the First Amendment’s religion clauses. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed, but as Hamilton explains, the Court issued a narrow decision that still leaves a host of related questions unanswered. Hamilton covers the “parade of horribles” that was raised, but that the Court declined to address in its decision. She also identifies the decision’s bottom line: Courts cannot constitutionally establish selection criteria for clergy.

Why Can’t Jurors Distinguish “Knowing” From “Reckless” Misconduct?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a recent study—reported in The National Law Journal and described in greater detail in the NYU Law Review—that showed that jurors in criminal cases have trouble distinguishing between “knowing” and “reckless” states of mind. Colb contends that the fault here likely lies not with the jurors, but with the criminal law itself—which, she contends, is ambiguous in important ways when it comes to defining “knowing” and “reckless” states of mind. Colb notes that jurors do not seem to have much trouble understanding two other criminal law states of mind: “purpose” and “negligence,” the definitions of which do not display the same kind of ambiguity. She then details the ambiguities that plague the definitions of “knowing” and “reckless” states of mind. Colb calls upon legislatures to resolve those ambiguities by better defining these states of mind in their criminal statutes—and by doing so in such a way that jurors will readily understand the definitions. Colb points out that as long as these states of mind’s definitions remain ambiguous for jurors, the criminal law will be unfair: Based on the way the jury resolves the ambiguity in applying the law, two defendants who committed identical acts may still face radically different sentences.

The Complications of Surrogacy: A New Jersey Court Refuses to Uphold a Surrogacy Arrangement, but Awards Full Custody to the Intended Father

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a New Jersey decision regarding surrogacy. Grossman explains why the surrogacy agreement at issue was ruled to be unenforceable by the New Jersey court; how a custody dispute arose after the two babies that the surrogate had carried were born; the factors that were legally relevant to that dispute; and the reasons why the court, in the end, awarded sole custody to the babies’ biological father. As Grossman notes, the case is of interest not only as a significant precedent regarding the increasingly common practice of surrogacy, but also due to its unusual facts, which pitted a gay couple against a woman who believes homosexuality is sinful.

Is It a First Amendment Violation When A Prison Limits Inmates’ Ability to Solicit Pen-Pals? An Eleventh Circuit Decision Wrongly Says No

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, rejecting a First Amendment claim by the owner of two pen-pal services, which seek to circulate lists of inmates to persons interested in becoming their pen pals, and vice-versa; and of a website on which inmates may solicit pen-pals via advertisements. The case arose when the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) banned inmates from soliciting pen-pals, except through a process of one-to-one matching. Hilden argues that, even under the lax First Amendment test that applies to prison restrictions—under which only a rational relationship to penological purposes is required, for a regulation to be upheld—the prison’s rules still do not hold water. She contends that, without any specific evidence of problems within FDOC relating to inmate pen-pal-solicitation fraud, the Eleventh Circuit should—like the Ninth Circuit before it—have rejected the rule for lacking a proper evidentiary basis.

What Will the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Mean in the Coming Years? Part One in a Two-Part Series on the Ways in Which Lower Courts and the Supreme Court Will Need to Flesh Out Second Amendment Doctrine

Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, begin their series of columns on the Second Amendment and how courts have interpreted it, with a special focus on the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. One of their key points is that Second Amendment doctrine needs to be developed and particularized in a number of ways, but that the Supreme Court has not given lower courts much guidance in this area of constitutional law. Though the Court has twice addressed the Second Amendment in recent years, it has left many questions open. With Election 2012 coming up, moreover, Amar and Brownstein point out that Second Amendment doctrine may become a political, as well as a constitutional-law, issue. In Heller, they explain, the Supreme Court made clear that there is an individual constitutional right to keep and bear arms, at least under some circumstances, but it is quite unclear where the Supreme Court and lower courts will go from there. Describing Second Amendment doctrine as a work in progress, Amar and Brownstein provide guidance on some of the questions that are likely to arise in the future.

College Football Needs to Change, but Player Salaries Are Not the Answer: A Critique of the Misguided Calls to Give Up on the Student-Athlete Ideal

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the state of college football, and how it can be improved. Buchanan argues that what is needed is not a movement toward more professionalism in sports, as some have suggested, but rather measures that would both ensure that college athletes do not face serious physical injury (and are taken care of, physically and financially, if they do), and also guarantee that players truly receive the college education that is supposed to come along with their admission. In addition to putting forward his own proposals, Buchanan also considers Taylor Branch’s analysis of the issue in The Atlantic, and Joe Nocera’s commentary on it in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.

Cyberbullying on Twitter, Part Two: Essential First Steps to Take When Dealing With a Bully

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean continues his series about cyberbullying and harassment on Twitter. In this installment, Part Two in the ongoing series, Dean comments on possible ways to end and/or punish Twitter bullying. Dean notes that the large majority of Twitter users are friendly and amicable, but points out that there are also a few malcontents on Twitter. These users, he explains, engage in calculated efforts to hurt, embarrass, falsely discredit, or defame others, based on their beliefs or Tweets. How should peaceable Twitter users deal with the troublemakers in their midst? Dean offers interesting advice—based in part on Twitter's own rules and its recommendations for dealing with bullies, and in part on the possibility of invoking outside avenues to address the problem.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more