Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Ecuador reexamines repressive comm law, but would keep journalist licensing. Is that so bad?

The struggle between press and government in Ecuador is not new. Protestors
pictured above in 2011 supported a complaint to the Inter-American Human
Rights Commission over press freedom after Rafael Correa, president from
2007 to 2017, brought lawsuits seeking civil and criminal penalties, to the
tune of US$10 million and four years' imprisonment, against journalists
writing about corruption and against the publishing company and directors
of El Universo, a Guayaquil-based daily. More at the Knight Center for
Journalism in the Americas
. Photo by Cancillería Ecuador (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A legislative commission in Ecuador is recommending freedom-friendly reform of the country's repressive 2013 communications law, Observacom reports.  But the commission looks to be holding on to one piece of the law: journalist licensing.  While Western human rights advocates regard journalist licensing as a plain infringement of the freedom of expression, the reality is more complicated. Even in the United States, the idea of journalist licensing has been floated as a possible remedy to our "fake news" problem.

Journalist licensing is just what it sounds like.  Some countries require that professional journalists meet certain educational and vocational training requirements, such as a university degree in journalism and periodic continuing education.  A newspaper might publish op-eds and occasional contributions from unlicensed persons.  But regular, bylined writers must be licensed.  A licensing authority oversees the membership and may sanction malpractice, such as fabricated reporting.

The typical Western reaction to this arrangement—my reaction when I first learned of it as an undergraduate journalist in 1990—is horror.  Quasi-public officials with the power to impose sanctions and the benefit of hindsight second-guess the judgment of reporters and editors over questions such as whether a story is appropriately balanced or even newsworthy?  Policing journalism like that is asking for trouble.  How can the Fourth Estate be a zealous watchdog when the watch-ee bites back?

The U.S. Society of Professional Journalists decided in the 1990s that journalistic ethics must be aspirational and non-definitive, rendering ethics guidelines that are fundamentally incompatible with legalistic rules.  Minimize harm, a sort of Hippocratic oath for journalists, became the overriding principle, espoused by academic and practitioner leaders, such as the Poynter Institute's Bob Steele (no relation).

Empowering an enforcement authority over journalism is bound to have a chilling effect on free expression, and worse, to invite control and abuse of media.  There is no doubt that that has happened; licensing has been weaponized infamously by leaders in countries such as Iran and the Philippines.  Media licensing and enforcement authorities are fairly identified by free expression NGOs, such as Observacom, Freedom House, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, as a sign of authoritarianism and a strike against freedom.

In 1985, upon an inquiry by Costa Rica—then the United States' democratic darling in Central America—the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR)—then presided over by American judge Thomas Burguenthal, now a law professor emeritus—issued an advisory opinion concluding that journalist licensing is incompatible with the freedom of expression in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. (I wrote about this for my university honors thesis.  Go easy on me; I was 22.)

But step back from the problem for a moment and reconsider.  Journalism is important.  It might in fact be essential to democracy.  "[T]he press" is the only private-sector institution mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.  And especially in today's media-obsessed society, "the press" is powerful, shaping the public agenda in a way that it never has before.  Yet anyone can become a journalist, simply by saying so.  Prophylactic media privileges will protect this person from liability, or accountability, even upon publication of defamatory falsehoods, regardless of whether the person claimed journalistic credentials in good faith or published in the public interest.  To wield this power, or to abuse this power, there is no licensing, and there is no enforcement.

Meanwhile, in many American states, we license cosmetologists, interior designers, and real estate agents, and we sanction persons who would hold themselves out as having those competencies if they do not have licenses.  No disrespect to those occupations, but the republic will not fall upon their negligent practice.

Is there not some rational line to be found between licensing as a tool for authoritarian oppression, and licensing as a tool to bolster education and competence for informed democratic participation?

That question was not on my mind when I went to Costa Rica in 1992 to learn more about the colegio de periodistas, the journalism professional organization.  Rather, properly indoctrinated into the ideology of free speech absolutism, I sought only to understand how and why this anachronistic entity could persist—if as a voluntary organization since the IACtHR opinion—in evident juxtaposition with a famously liberal society.  In fact, I hoped to witness its death throes before it disappeared.

The colegio that I found was not what I expected.  Quite to the contrary, there was nothing remotely authoritarian about it.  And it was thriving.  I interviewed reporters, editors, lawyers, and people on the street, and the vast majority favored the colegio, heartily.  Indeed, its journalistic members were its strongest proponents.  They welcomed me as a fellow journalist and invited me to an evening gala with dinner and a speaker at the colegio's headquarters building in San José.  They celebrated their professional association.  When I asked about the incompatibility of journalist licensing with the freedom of expression, they frowned and shook their heads as if they simply did not understand.

The colegio in fact was more like a labor association than a lawyers' bar.  As an organization, the colegio advocated for better wages and employment terms for members, besides sponsoring professional peer dialog, continuing education, and social events.  Members helped and supported one another, professionally and personally.  They all had paid their dues—literally, and in terms of their university degrees and reporting experience—and they were happy to be part of the in crowd.  Colegio journalists were horrified at the idea of a journalistic free-for-all, the ill-informed masses practicing the reporter's craft at the public's risk, just as I had been horrified at the idea of licensing.  The Colegio de Periodistas de Costa Rica was not a public regulatory office, nor a lawyers' bar; it was more like a union and a lot like an academic fraternity.

An excellent 2010 report by journalism professor Steven Strasser, for the Center for International Media Assistance, a project of the National Endowment for Democracy, took a thorough and uncharacteristically evenhanded look at journalist licensing around the world.  While amply expounding the down side of licensing, Strasser wrote too about the up side.  He wrote about the labor angle that I discovered in Costa Rica, observing that publishers, as employers, might be as motivated by commercial self-interest as by idealism when they advocate for the incompatibility of licensing with human rights.

Strasser also observed that journalist licensing is a deliberate feature of sustainable development strategy.  Rwanda, for example, sought to use licensing as leverage to enhance the educational attainment of journalists, and thus indirectly to strengthen democracy with informed public participation.  "Fake news," after all, was in part responsible for the Rwandan genocide.  In Uganda, sensational and false reporting, perpetuating abhorrent stereotypes, has fueled brutal violence against the LGBTQ community.

That licensing might be an antidote to runaway sensationalism and "fake news" has not escaped notice by American legislators.   A Michigan legislator proposed voluntary journalist registration and a licensing board in a 2010 bill.  Membership, as a sort of service mark, would certify the writer as having a journalism or similar university degree, three years' experience, and "good moral character," Michigan Live reported.

Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas proposed journalist licensing in a 2017 bill, somewhat to mock licenses to carry firearms, according to the Indy Star.  Drawing a parallel between the First and Second Amendments, the Indiana bill would fingerprint journalists and exclude those with "felony or domestic battery convictions" from carrying a mighty pen.  Still, on the professionalism point, Lucas tweeted Trumpesquely, "Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!"

Unlike colegio members in Latin America, journalists in the United States have rallied against any talk of licensing.  (See also this 2017 point-counterpoint in Canada.)  And Ecuador is hardly the poster child for licensing's up side.  After the 2013 communication law went into effect, the Correa administration wasted no time in going after editorial cartoonist Xavier "Bonil" Bonilla at the newspaper El Universo for criticizing heavy-handed search and seizure by police as politically motivated.  The "Superintendent of Information and Communication," an office created by the communication law, "accuse[d] Bonil of perverting the truth and promoting social unrest," reported the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas (source of cartoon, inset, published Dec. 28, 2013).




I doubt that licensing will cure our "fake news" problem.  And I'm not much on licensing in general, more for the burden on economic freedom than the risk to political freedom.  We lawyers demonstrate very well how licensing is an addictive means to economic protectionism, ultimately working at cross-purposes with consumer protection.  Moreover, regarding journalism, licensing would seem to undermine the benefits of (momentarily notwithstanding the problems with) citizen journalism in the internet age.
 
At the same time, I don't think that the licensing of journalists merits a knee-jerk reaction of detestation.  What passes for journalism in America is transforming into something frightening, more akin to the yellow journalism of the 1890s than the Woodward-and-Bernstein reporting of the 1970s.  Was journalism's twentieth-century engagement with professionalism aberrational? a racy flirtation during a midlife crisis for democracy?

Maybe we need more journalists who went to journalism school.

Can somebody please check to see whether we still have any journalism schools?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Civil rights suit claims a right to education.
The problem might be bigger.

My UMass Dartmouth colleague in history, Professor Mark Santow, also a member of the Providence, R.I., School Board, is part of litigation filed Wednesday, November 28, against the State of Rhode Island, claiming that the government is violating civil rights by failing to provide adequate education to youth in the public school system.

The complaint in Cook v. Raimondo, in federal district court in Rhode Island, where I reside, is available online from WPRO.  The suit was ably contextualized by Alia Wong for The Atlantic and covered by The New York Times.  Wong's piece, along with its sidebars and links, recounts the troubled history of claims to education rights under the U.S. Constitution and the unique if stubborn position of the United States in the world in refusing to add children's education to our pantheon of civil rights.

Personally I worry about the overuse of human rights language to enshrine the mundane as sacred and thereby downgrade basic human needs to aspirational wish lists—witness the dilapidated state of South African townships while the courts struggle to engineer economic rights into reality.  But I also readily admit that our 1789 Constitution, in part owing to its excessively burdensome Article V amendment process, has fallen behind the times on some omissions that, with the benefit of hindsight, seem to be no-brainers—such as sexual equality, the right to privacy, the freedom of information (a.k.a. right to access to information), and quite well arguably, rights to breathable air and basic education.

The Cook complaint smacks of activist litigation, aimed as much at media and policymakers as at the courts.  It gets around to its legal claims in number 121 of its 133 paragraphs.  Nevertheless, the claims are clever and worth pondering.  In five counts, the complaint neatly alleges violation of (1) the equal protection clause (mostly "fundamental interest," though there's a strong thread of "diversity" too), (2) the due process clause, (3) the privileges-and-immunities clause, and then—here's where things get spicy—(4) the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, and (5) the republican guarantee clause.

The Fourteenth Amendment claims are built upon a compelling background that heralds the Framers' recognition of education's essentiality to democracy, followed by a depressing account of how public education in civic virtue lately gave way to a bottom-line-oriented mill of standardized test preparation, woefully inadequately equipped and devoid of vision or values.  The story is downright Orwellian, as the complaint describes the plodding production of glassy-eyed sheep to populate America, children robbed and broken of the knowledge, skill, or will to challenge the status quo.  One wonders that Ayn Rand herself would not be persuaded to the cause of public education.

Added to the conventional Fourteenth Amendment angle are those thought-provoking latter claims about jury service and republican governance.  Citation to the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, as well as the federal Jury Act, focuses on that vital and rare obligation of citizen direct participation in government to assert a denial of rights both to the jurors who are ill prepared for the job and, consequently, the litigants and criminal defendants who depend on an informed jury to vindicate their rights.  In the final count, the republican guarantee clause is cited with indirect reference to the First Amendment ("free speech and other constitutional rights"), suggesting that an ill informed electorate can neither vote nor participate in government sufficiently to maintain representative democracy.  I can't help but think of the seemingly insoluble dilemma of money in politics, evidenced by the fealty to corporate donors pledged by our paralyzed, gerrymandered, and hardly-any-longer representative Congress.

Cook brings readily to mind the Juliana climate change lawsuit (and the Dutch Urgenda decision), about which I wrote recentlyJuliana seems doomed in the U.S. Supreme Court, if ever it were to get that far, despite a curiously indulgent ruling by Judge Ann L. Aiken in federal district court in Oregon (and later), sending the case on to trial.  It's overwhelmingly probable that the Juliana plaintiffs do not expect to win.  Rather, they seek to make a point, and they're doing so well.  So in Cook, too, as in a similar case on appeal in Michigan, the litigants have opined publicly that they hope to draw the attention of lawmakers and to stimulate public discussion—even to educate student-plaintiffs through the process, something also happening in the Juliana case, in which students appears as plaintiffs, and Judge Aiken relies deliberately on the work of student externs.  Consonantly, these cases stir up amicus feeding frenzies; NGOs in Cook already are jockeying for position to get their say on the public record.  (I'm not above it.)

As something of a separation-of-powers formalist, I'm troubled by the use of the courts for policy-making activism.  The courts are not designed for policy-making, and judges are not hired to be activists.  The late Justice Scalia famously and aptly lamented the prospect of nine black-robed "moral philosophers" in Washington, D.C., with lifetime appointments, making policy decisions for a purportedly democratic nation.  When I see a complaint that is drafted for public consumption and political persuasion rather than for judicial interrogation and a search for truth, I fear the strategy undermines whatever remains of the bar's reputation for professional integrity and objective clarity.

At the same time, this rise in judicial activism is a sign and symptom of something very broken about our democracy.  People are resorting to the courts because the political branches are not responsive.  Much as the Cook plaintiffs suggest, our system of government is failing to represent its constituents.  The complaint asserts, "Most social studies classes in Rhode Island do not discuss social problems and controversial ideas ...."  The complaint concludes: "A positive civic ethos requires all students to feel that they have a stake in the society and in its political system, and that institutions can work for them and their families in the future, even if these institutions have not been fully responsive to their needs in the past."

Whether for the right to breathable air or a basic education, a frustrated youth is turning to the courts not as a first resort, but as a last resort.  If in the end, none of our three branches of government delivers on the American promise—not the dream per se, but the opportunity to attain it—where will complainants go next?

The Brookings Institution opined in 2011:

Education has played an important role in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa with many commentators noting that educated youth have been integral to what has come to be called the “Arab spring.” However, what they fail to mention is that spending many years in school has failed to give many Arab youth a good education. These revolutions were not propagated by well-educated youth; these uprisings were spurred by the needs and demands of poorly educated youth, whose knowledge and skills do not meet the demands of a rapidly-advancing world.... [Despite near universal access to education,] there has been very low return on investment in terms of meaningful educational outcomes. Education systems throughout the region are hindered by low quality, irrelevancy and inequity.

Next stop: American Spring?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

New Kramer book tells tales of civil rights

My friend and colleague, and scholar extraordinaire, Professor Zachary Kramer has just published a new book on civil rights, Outsiders: Why Difference is the Future of Civil Rights.  Knowing Professor Kramer's ability to relate a compelling narrative, I expect this book is a great read, and I can't wait to get my hot little hands on it.  Here is the description from Oxford University Press.

Contemporary discrimination has changed in important ways from the forms it took in the 1960s, the era in which our civil rights law system originated. Previously, the primary targets of discrimination were groups: African Americans, women, and Latinos, among others. The goal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to integrate marginalized groups into civic life, shatter ceilings, and break down barriers. The law sought to make us better people and America a more equal nation.

And it has. Discrimination against groups still occurs, but affected groups can marshal the rights regime to target and eliminate discriminatory policies. The challenge today, however, is to protect the individual, and our civil rights laws struggle with this. The people most likely to face discrimination today are those who do not or cannot conform to the whims of society. They are the freaks, geeks, weirdos, and oddballs among us. They do and wear strange things, have strange opinions, and need strange accommodations.

Outsiders is filled with stories that demand attention, stories of people whose search for identity has cast them to the margins. Their stories reveal that we have entered a new phase of civil rights and need to refresh our vision. Instead of dealing in protected traits, civil rights law should take its cue from religious discrimination law and provide a right to personality. Outsiders seeks to change the way we think about identity, equality, and discrimination, positing that difference, not sameness, is the feature of our age and arguing for a civil rights movement for everyone.
Professor Kramer is associate dean of faculty, professor of law, and Willard H. Pedrick Distinguished Research Scholar at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Monday, November 26, 2018

CFP: UMass Law Review calls for papers, presentations in law and media

The UMass Law Review has issued the following call for papers. Download the call in PDF here, and please share it with any interested scholarly communities.

UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS LAW REVIEW
CALL FOR SYMPOSIUM PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS

November 14, 2018

We are pleased to announce the 2019 UMass Law Review Roundtable Symposium, currently titled “Law and Media.” In the age where the 24/7 news cycle and social media have impacted current politics and where data protection, personal branding, and technology have affected entertainment and media as well as the rule of law, an investigation of the relationship between law and the media of our current times is timely and warranted. Accordingly, the UMass Law Review seeks thoughtful, insightful, and original presentations relating to the impact of the law on media as well as the impact of media on the law.

Interested participants should submit a 500-word abstract to cshannon@umassd.edu, with “Attn: Conference Editor – Symposium Submission” in the subject line by December 31st, 2018 for consideration. Selected participants will be notified by the end of January and invited to present their work at the 2019 UMass Law Review Symposium taking place in late March of 2019. Selected participants may also submit a scholarly work for potential publication in the 2019-2020 UMass Law Review Journal. If you have questions about submissions or the Symposium, please contact our Business/Conference Editor, Casey Shannon or Editor-In-Chief, Kayla Venckauskas (kvenckauskas@umassd.edu). We thank you in advance for your submission.

Sincerely,

Kayla Venckauskas
Editor-in-Chief

Casey Shannon
Business/Conference Editor

Friday, November 23, 2018

New scholarly treatise examines global water deficit

My colleague and friend Dr. Piotr Szwedo, Jagiellonian University, has published the new treatise, Cross-Border Water Trade: Legal and Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2018), appearing as volume 32 of Brill-Nijhoff's Queen Mary Studies in International Law series.  With water law being a key emerging issue around the globe in our contemporary times, this volume marks an important contribution to the literature.  Congratulations, Piotr!  Download the PDF flyer for your library.  Here is the publisher's description:

Cross-border Water Trade: Legal and Interdisciplinary Perspectives is a critical assessment of one of the growing problems faced by the international community — the global water deficit. Cross-border water trade is a solution that generates ethical and economic but also legal challenges. Economic, humanitarian and environmental approaches each highlight different and sometimes conflicting aspects of the international commercialization of water. Finding an equilibrium for all the dimensions required an interdisciplinary path incorporating certain perspectives of natural law. The significance of such theoretical underpinnings is not merely academic but also quite practical, with concrete consequences for the legal status of water and its fitness for international trade. 
Piotr Szwedo, Ph.D. habil. (b. 1979) is a lecturer in international law and Head of OKSPO Centre for Foreign Law Schools at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. He published monographs and articles on international economic law and global governance. 

Table of Contents

Preliminary Questions
    Pages: 1–38
 
In Search of a Regulatory Model
    Pages: 39–89
    
Water as an Article of Trade in WTO Law
    Pages: 90–130
 
Water Trade in the International Practice of States
    Pages: 131–207
 
Principles and Institutions of International Law as Conditions of and Restrictions on Water Trade
    Pages: 208–315

Ending Notes 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Does your dean work for you?

[This opinion is mine, reprinted from the Faculty Federation News: A Publication of the UMass Dartmouth Faculty Federation AFT-MA 1895, vol. XXIV, no. 5, Mar./Apr. 2018, p. 3.  A version geared to university students can be found at The Torch, the student newspaper of UMass Dartmouth, Oct. 21, 2018.]


When I left law practice to teach, I knew little to nothing about faculty governance and academic freedom.  The dean who hired me, Rodney K. Smith—now professor and director of the Sports Law and Business Program at the O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University—is a person of the utmost integrity from whom I learned a lot about leadership and the business of higher education.

When I was a green, 26-year-old instructor of law, I remember, I was joined at lunch by Dean Smith.  I couldn’t bring myself to call him “Rod,” even when everyone else did, and it still sounds odd to me, decades later.  Sometimes Dean Smith ate lunch with the crew of us who ate in the faculty lounge, a “king incognito” kind of thing, but, I think, totally genuine.

Dean Smith wanted to know how things were going in the new job.  We chatted a bit about classes, teaching, students.  He asked something about my interests in terms of developing new programs at the law school.  I said something about being willing to do whatever he needed me to, because “you’re the boss.”

“No, I’m not,” he retorted quickly.  And he waited for me to react in that MBTI-sensing-personality way that we Ns always find really aggravating.

That he was the boss seemed self-evident to me.  In my law firm, all partners were the boss, and they could scream and yell or hop up and down or throw papers around or pretty much do whatever they wanted, and we associates were supposed to act like that was totally normal and appropriate.  So this challenge to the natural order of things really made no sense to me.

You’re the boss,” he added, as if that cleared things up.  I was pretty sure that when I was hired, he had told me how much I would be paid.  If things in fact were the other way around, I had really sold myself short.

I work for you,” he said with the finality with which one tells a hard-headed child “because I said so.”

It took me a long time to wrap my mind around his meaning.  When I had evaluation meetings with Dean Smith his tack was always “what can I be doing for you?,” to make me better able to do my job—teaching, research, and service.  That was new for me.

As the First Amendment is part of my media law portfolio, and academic freedom is an aspect of the freedom of expression, I have, since that day at lunch with Rod Smith in January 1998, spent some part of my academic life studying the history, law, and policy of academic freedom and its partner principle, faculty governance.

I thought of this at the Faculty Federation meeting this week when President Cathy Curran said we, faculty, are “weird,” in describing the particular challenge of drafting HR policies that apply to faculty.

We are weird.  And it’s not something that’s well understood outside academia, nor often by administrators in academia.

We are weird in a way that is critical to institutional governance, to student learning, and moreover to our society—not just American society, but human society.  If the organization of human civilization is built upon a search for truth in a free market of ideas, and the university is “peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas,’” as Justice Brennan wrote, then the independence of faculty inquiry is essential to improvement of the human condition.  That notion underpinned the constituting principle of academic freedom in the original universitas in 13th-century Bologna.  And it’s only more true, more important, in the 21st-century information age.

Faculty governance of the academic enterprise is a corollary.  As former union President Susan Krumholz aptly recalled at the Federation meeting, the administration of a university works for the faculty.  Yes, the administration manages budget, payroll, and enrollment, all things that might constrain faculty freedom.  That’s the weird part.  But it must not be forgotten that those functions exist only to enable faculty, whose job it is to educate students.

Dean Smith was right, and the intervening years have only added to the urgency of his assertion.  In an environment of higher ed financial crisis, burgeoning staff-to-faculty ratios, and rampant bureaucratic overreach in the guises of assessment and accountability, we lose touch with the essential, classical design of the university at our own peril.

Deans, provosts, vice chancellors, and even chancellors and presidents:  They work for us.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Dutch court upholds dike against climate change, while Trump Administration seeks to stop climate-change 'trial of the century' in Oregon

"Little Dutch boy" at Madurodam, The Hague,
by Kara van Malssen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
On Tuesday, an intermediate appellate court in the Netherlands upheld a verdict against the government demanding more state action to curb carbon emissions and combat climate change.  The court's decision (unofficial English translation) in favor of energy NGO Urgenda came just one day after the dire 12-year warning of the special report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Meanwhile the Trump Administration filed an emergency motion in federal court in Oregon today in its latest bid to stop climate-change litigation in the United States.

The Netherlands is working mightily already to reduce carbon emissions.  The state projects a reduction in the neighborhood of 20% by 2020 over 1990 levels.  But that number still falls short of 25%, which the court calculated as the nation's minimum treaty commitment.  That difference, The Guardian reported, could be enough to force the shutdown of a recently opened coal-fired power plant.  The court's decision chiefly references the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and traces the development of states' legal obligations through the history of climate conferences from Kyoto in 1997 to Bonn in 2017.

As the state observed in the case, "Dutch emissions are minor in absolute terms and ... the Netherlands cannot solve the global problem of climate change on its own" (¶ 30).  So the global significance of the decision is mostly symbolic, and, activists hope, an example for climate-change activism in the courts around the world.

American iterations of climate-change litigation are many, but the one case that has captured the public imagination more than any other is Juliana v. United States in the District of Oregon.  The case has played well in media because the plaintiff effort is spearheaded by a not-so-camera-shy youth group, the Earth Guardians, led by indigenous activist, hip-hop artist, and let's be honest, teen heartthrob Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.  (Below: new promo video for Martinez's debut album, Break Free.)


Juliana might yet be described best as "ill fated."  Unlike myriad climate-change-aiming lawsuits in areas such as environmental and business regulation, or upon collateral constitutional theories, such as the Commerce Clause or First Amendment, Juliana is a direct assault on the federal government under constitutional due process—literally, the right to life.

At first blush, this approach seems to face insurmountable hurdles before the merits could ever be reached: namely, standing, justiciability, official immunity, not to mention the hundred other reasons civil rights lawsuits are awfully hard to win.  Then at the threshold of the merits lie the conventional tort problems of affirmative duty, causation, and injury.  In the "constitutional tort" vein, the plaintiffs seek to breathe new breadth into the "public trust doctrine," which posits that government holds natural resources in trust for the public good.  The doctrine has seen modest success in, for example, beach access cases, but jurisprudential conservatives do not enthusiastically embrace the raw, public-policy-driven invitation to judicial intervention.

Despite conventional wisdom, the Juliana suit survived both a motion to dismiss in the trial court and an aggressive effort by the Trump Administration to shut the action down in the Court of Appeals.  (To be fair, the Obama Administration also was not ra-ra plaintiffs on this one.)  In November 2016, District Judge Ann Aiken recognized, "This is no ordinary lawsuit."  Upon detailed analysis, she rejected the government's arguments on both standing and justiciability, finding the question presented "squarely within the purview of the judiciary."

Judge Aiken speaking on recidivism reduction
at ReInvent Law in 2013 (from video CC BY 3.0)
Then, analogizing to the Supreme Court's reasoning on due process in the 2015 gay marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, Judge Aiken "ha[d] no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society."  The Ninth Circuit in March rejected the government's bold demand that the case be dismissed to protect the separation of powers, finding the government's claim premature and well shy of the high bar for writ of mandamus.  In July, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the government's appeal for a stay.

Thus back on the District of Oregon docket, Juliana was scheduled to open at trial on October 29.  A headline in The Japan Times, over a pro-plaintiff commentary by Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer, titled Juliana "the trial of the century."  One week ago, on October 5, the Administration filed another motion for stay in the trial court.  Undoubtedly buoyed by the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Government today renewed its motion to stay and asserted its intention to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for mandamus relief.

In the Dutch case, the government tried to fend off the lawsuit on grounds equivalent to standing and justiciability, but to no avail.  The Dutch Civil Code authorizes class actions (a rarity in Europe) specifically by interest groups on behalf of citizens.  Moreover, the court reasoned that individual human rights claims must be justiciable in Dutch courts if individuals could bring the same claims in the European Court of Human Rights.  The government argued "trias politica," that is, separation of powers, to which the court responded (cheekily?): "This defence does not hold water. The Court is obliged to apply provisions with direct effect of treaties to which the Netherlands is party, including [the European human rights convention].  After all, such provisions form part of the Dutch jurisdiction and even take precedence over Dutch laws that deviate from them" (¶ 69).

Under the European human rights convention, Urgenda relied on articles 2 and 8, respectively the rights to life and privacy, the latter including the inviolability of family life—the same two notions cited by Judge Aiken in her Obergefell-inspired due process analysis under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

You can await the next development in Juliana via PACER under case no. 6:15-cv-01517.

[UPDATE: U.S. Supreme Court issued an extraordinary stay on Oct. 19.  See, e.g., Richard Franks @ Legal Planet.  HT @ Flannery Rogers.]

[UPDATE: Joel Stronberg at Resilience reported that despite the earlier Roberts stay, SCOTUS issued an order on November 2 clearing the way for Juliana to go to trial.]

[UPDATE:  Juliana returns to oral argument in the Ninth Circuit in Portland, Oregon, on June 4, 2019. Track the case at Climate Case Chart, which explains: "The government [appellant argues] that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that their lawsuit was not a cognizable case or controversy under Article III of the Constitution. The government contended that a 'quick look at the climate change issues and actions pending before Congress and the Executive Branch'—including the Green New Deal, carbon tax legislation, and the replacement for the Clean Power Plan—'confirms that Plaintiffs have petitioned the wrong branch.' The government also argued that the plaintiffs were required to proceed under the Administrative Procedure Act and that their constitutional claims failed on the merits."]

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Singapore Supreme Court rejects civil process torts

In August, the Singapore Supreme Court refused to adopt the tort of abuse of process and refused to extend the tort of malicious prosecution to the civil context.  The case is Lee Tat Development Pte Ltd v. Management Corp. Strata Title Plan No 301, [2018] SGCA 50 (Aug. 17, 2018) (summary).

Associate Justice Phang (Singapore Supreme Court)
The court opinion, which ranges over more than 100 pages, is a remarkable work of jurisprudence and should not go unnoticed by comparativist students of common law.  The opinion was authored by Associate Justice Andrew Phang Boon Leong.  Justice Phang is a Harvard LL.M./S.J.D. who worked his way up the academic ranks in law, business, and management in Singapore before his appointment to the bench about a dozen years ago.  He has a treatise in contracts among his bona fides.  I owe my awareness of this decision to James Lee, equity scholar and reader in English law at The Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London.

My purpose here is not to get into the merits or challenges of the torts of abuse of process and malicious civil prosecution.  Suffice to say that if that is your interest, this opinion is mandatory reading.  From the 20,000-foot perspective, I'll say that for many years I did not teach these torts in 1L beyond the bare bones mentioned in my CAP casebook by Prof. Marshall Shapo.  Increasingly I'm feeling like I need to give these torts more bandwidth.  I'm not sure whether it's a function of coarsening society, a natural evolution of common law, or me just paying better attention, but I feel like these "meta-torts"—that is, torts about tort litigation; my term, not to be confused with meta-humans, nor with Birks, et al.'s quasi-tort equitable wrongs—are getting more play today than they used to.  Accordingly, this year I drafted multistate rules to guide students, and at some point, I will add the rules to my American torts primer.

Singapore Supreme Court (Terence Ong, CC BY-SA-2.0)
Instead I want to share three favorite bits of Justice Phang's opinion.  The first thing to notice here for the comparativist is that Singapore is a common law jurisdiction.  I confess, it's not the first nation I think of when reeling off a list of common law countries.  For an academic, it might ought be.  (I have been there, and it is a lovely, unique place.)  Singapore inherited English common law by way of the British East India Co., a distinction in which, of course, it is not unique.  At the same time, Singapore's unusual role as a tiny economic powerhouse, dependent on and defined by its commercial relationships with the world, make its common law a unique and worthy study in internationalism.  Thoughtful and contextualized, Justice Phang's opinion exemplifies this point.  For survey research, the court thanked academic amicus Prof. Gary Chan, a colleague of Phang's from the law school at Singapore Management University.

Of 'quenchless feuds'.  Justice Phang (¶ 1) elegantly characterized the land dispute that underlies Lee Tat:

As the Judge observed [in the High Court], this is yet another legal tussle in a series of bitterly fought litigation between the parties which stretches across more than four decades and which hitherto has resulted, inter alia, in five decisions of this court, excluding the present decision.  In the last of those decisions, this court characterised the protracted quarrel between the parties as a "marathon saga of litigation" [citation omitted].  At this juncture, some seven years and yet another set of proceedings later, it seems appropriate to say, in the words of Herman Melville, that it is a "quenchless feud" (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Norton, 1892) at p 169).
That this dispute arose in what appears to be a Singaporean iteration of the Hatfields and the McCoys does bolster the court's conclusion on meta-torts.  If transaction costs are part of the problem in your legal system—we know they're a huge problem in the American system—you might want to think twice about piggyback litigation.  At some point the law of diminishing returns eclipses justice in the dogged search for truth.

Of 'timorous souls' and 'bold spirits'.  In considering the wisdom of extending Singaporean common law, Justice Phang (¶ 11) broke out a Lord Denning gem:

In considering possible recognition of the torts of malicious civil prosecution and abuse of process in Singapore, we bear in mind the oft-quoted observations by Denning LJ (as he then was) in the English Court of Appeal decision of Candler v Crane, Christmas & Co [1951] 2 KB 164, where the learned judge drew (at 178) a distinction between "timorous souls who were fearful of allowing a new cause of action" and "bold spirits who were ready to allow it if justice required".  These observations have, in fact, been quoted more than once by this court itself [citations omitted].  However, there is a limit to judicial law making.

This is a beautiful treatment of the seeming conflict between common law as a law-making device, renowned for its very capacity to grow and adapt to new circumstances, and the fundamental identity of the western judiciary as a creature of only corrective justice in the Aristotelian mold.  Otherwise put, the enterprise of common law often seems at odds with the purportedly non-normative job of the judge.  To set the problem in its popular American baseball metaphor, when is a judge, whose job it is only to call balls and strikes, duty-bound to change the size of the strike zone?  This problem in relation to the nature of the common law enterprises has been a puzzler in the United States at least since Holmes's Common Law and has at times generated nuances of distinction between otherwise like-minded judges in such a way as to vex legal scholars.

William the Conqueror
Of the Norman Conquest.  In examining the policy rationale for malicious (criminal) prosecution to test its applicability in the civil context, Justice Phang (¶ 87) traced the division between criminal and civil law to 1066:

The character of a criminal prosecution, carried out with a view to punishing a public wrong, is fundamentally different from that of a civil prosecution which is carried out with a view to vindicating a private right.  The difference between these two types of proceedings was explained in the following passage from an earlier decision of this court, Public Prosecutor v. UI [2008] 4 SLR(R) 500 at [52]:

... With the reign of William the Conqueror, the [English] criminal justice system, as it then stood, changed drastically.  A distinction was created between liability for private wrongs and liability for public wrongs.  Sir William Blackstone explained clearly the distinction between public wrongs and private wrongs in Commentaries on the Law of England vol 4 (A Strahan, 15th Ed, 1809) as follows (at p5):

[P]rivate wrongs, or civil injuries, are in infringement or [a] privation of the civil rights which belong to individuals, con[s]idered merely as individuals: public wrongs, or crimes and [misdemeanours] are a breach and violation of the public rights and duties, due to the whole community, con[s]idered as a community, in [its social] aggregate capacity.

As a result of the above change in the English criminal justice system, the individual victim was replaced by the State.  The offence was considered to be committed against the State and the liability of the offender was, accordingly, owed first and foremost to the State.  This is the criminal justice system which Singapore has inherited and maintains to this day.... [emphasis added by Justice Phang].

Justice Phang (¶¶ 88-90) derived from this history three salient distinctions between criminal and civil process.  First, criminal charges more than civil claims can impugn a defendant's reputation in the community.  Second, the consequences of criminal conviction are more invasive of the defendant's rights than the consequences of civil liability.  Third, criminal prosecution is an enterprise of public authorities, while civil prosecution is a private pursuit.  In all three respects, then, the need for a remedy to malicious prosecution is greater in the criminal context than in the civil context.

A useful review of abuse of process, malicious (criminal) prosecution, and "malicious use of civil process" in American law can be found in Barry A. Lindahl, 4 Modern Tort Law: Liability and Litigation ch. 40 (updated June 2018) (available on Thomson Reuters Westlaw), which begins (§ 40.1) by differentiating the three concepts.  Meanwhile Justice Phang's opinion in Lee Tat takes an elegant snapshot of the common law world.