Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener and the Liberty Justice Center. Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Boosted twice by war, then by economic catastrophe, paper money tells the story of America

Notaphilist, historian, and my uncle, Armand Shank yesterday gave a fascinating talk on the history of banking and paper currency in Maryland for the Historical Society of Baltimore County.

From Shank's collection: Currency issued in Baltimore
by the Continental Congress, 1777
The history of money is, of course, the history of America.  The British initially held strict control over currency in the colonies, Shank explained, and, lo and behold, British banking rates and policies seemed never to inure to the benefit of colonists.  Local currency, besides federal "IOUs," sometimes appeared of necessity and represented resistance.  Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, was a publisher of money and used samples his grandfather brought back from Europe as models.  Shank showed one of Bache's products.

Late in the 18th century, the Continental government issued national currency to raise millions of dollars for the Revolution.  Acceptance of the currency was expected, Shank said, for refusing it would brand one a traitor.  After independence, the First Bank of the United States was chartered in 1791, but lasted only until 1811, a casualty of Jefferson's state-centric vision of federation prevailing over Hamilton's wish for a strong central government.  State and local money came back on the scene in a big way, notwithstanding the ultimately decisive U.S. Supreme Court approval of the Second Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland, the 1819 staple of the modern constitutional law class.  Shank shared images of money from Baltimore County in the early 19th century.  Counterfeits proliferated.

Shank's first acquisition
In the 1860s, it was the need to raise money for war that again prompted the assertion and mass issue of federal currency.  The National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864 strengthened and standardized national currency and, by 1865, phased out currency issued by state banks.  Local banks continued to issue currency, but only with the imprimatur of a national charter system.  Financial crises early in the 20th century led to reforms such as the first Federal Reserve Act, in 1913.  Federal reserve notes as we recognize them today emerged from a more vigorous standardization policy at the start of the Great Depression in 1929.

Quonset-style home in 1948
(Ed Yourdon CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Shank shared images from his collection of notes issued by the National Bank of Cockeysville, the town in northern Baltimore County where Shank grew up.  A $20 note of the bank was the first in Shank's collection, coming into his possession when he was a boy.  Circa 1950, Shank's father, Armand Shank, Sr., took Armand, Jr., to see Alexander D. Brooks, a cashier whose name appeared on the currency and who lived still in Cockeysville.  Alas, Shank said, Brooks, then in his 80s, had little recollection of his work for the bank.  Brooks died in 1956.

I have fond memories of being a kid in the 1970s, playing with cousins in the backyard of Armand Shank, Sr.'s home, where Armand, Jr., grew up, in Cockeysville.  The home, built in 1950 and still standing, was of a quonset-hut style, unusual today.  Many such homes were once built in this cost-effective style to meet the demand for housing after World War II: the homestead of the Baby Boom.  I didn't know that at the time, of course; I was more interested in the vast volume of lightning bugs that populated the yard.  I remember the smell of the place, fresh cut grass with a not unpleasant hint of motor oil.  It charms me now to think of another boy in that same environment, a generation earlier, one day awakening to a passion for American history told through the lineaments of banknotes.

Armand Shank is a member of the Board of Directors of the Historical Society of Baltimore County.   He is co-author of Money and Banking in Maryland: A Brief History of Commercial Banking in the Old Line State (1996).  He has a new article forthcoming on the subject for History Trails, a publication of the society.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Transparencia, acceso a información se imponen como normas frágiles en acuerdo ambiental de Escazú

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, Costa Rica
(2014 foto por RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
(English.) En el Día de la Madre Tierra en abril, entró en vigor un acuerdo internacional clave sobre ambientalismo y sostenibilidad.  El acuerdo es innovador en transparencia, pero enfrenta resistencia en su implementación.

El Acuerdo Regional sobre Acceso a la Información, la Participación Pública y el Acceso a la Justicia en Asuntos Ambientales en América Latina y el Caribe se adoptó en Escazú, Costa Rica, en marzo de 2018.  El acuerdo ha sido firmado por 24 países de América Latina y el Caribe, y ratificado por 12, incluidos México y Argentina en enero.  Pero la vitalidad del acuerdo está en duda ya que algunos principales actores, incluidos Chile y Perú, han dejado en suspenso su apoyo.

El acuerdo tiene dos artículos que tratan específicamente del acceso a la información. El artículo 5 se refiere al acceso de los ciudadanos al gobierno, y el artículo 6 se refiere a la difusión afirmativa de información en manos del gobierno.  Según "el principio de máxima publicidad," el artículo 5 establece un sistema de acceso típico a la información que incluye una neutralidad de motivos, el derecho a respuesta en 30 dias, y apelar, reenvío de solicitudes en busca de información, elección de formato, limitación de costos razonables, acceso parcial a información no exenta, y el derecho a una explicación de la denegación por escrito.

La denegación de acceso debe basarse en razones establecidas en la ley de antemano y debe interpretarse estrictamente con la carga de la prueba en el gobierno. Cuando la ley no dispone lo contrario, se permite la denegación solo por riesgo para la vida o la seguridad, seguridad nacional, protección del medio ambiente o una probable amenaza de daño sustancial a las fuerzas del orden. Los supuestos intereses públicos en la denegación del acceso deben sopesarse con los beneficios públicos en la divulgación "sobre la base de elementos de idoneidad, necesidad y proporcionalidad."  El artículo 5 también demanda la creación de un organismo de supervisión independiente.

Si el artículo 5 detalla una medida bienvenida de transparencia ambiental, ninguno es radical.  El gobierno de México reconoció que las obligaciones de transparencia eran consistentes con la ley nacional de libertad de información. Las obligaciones afirmativas del artículo 6 son más rigurosas.

El artículo 6 requiere que las autoridades públicas "generen, recopilen, pongan a disposición del público y difundan la información ambiental relevante para sus funciones de manera sistemática, proactiva, oportuna, regular, accesible y comprensible, y que actualicen periódicamente esta información y alienten la desagregación y descentralización de la información ambiental a nivel subnacional y local."

Una lista de información requerida para estar disponible públicamente incluye zonas contaminadas, "fuentes relativas a cambio climático," y "residuos por tipo y, cuando sea posible, desagregado por volumen, localización y año."  Además, las autoridades deben establecer "un registro de emisiones y transferencia de contaminantes al aire, agua, suelo y subsuelo," y, "en caso de amenaza inminente a la salud pública o al medio ambiente, ... divulgar[ar] de forma inmediata y por los medios más efectivos toda la información relevante que se encuentre en su poder y que permita al público tomar medidas para prevenir o limitar eventuales daños."

Sin embargo, a pesar de todas esas expectativas, el verdadero escollo político podría encontrarse al final del artículo 6.  El problema surge cuando el estado va a morder la mano que lo alimenta.  El artículo 6 insta a las partes del acuerdo a promover la transparencia ambiental en la contratación pública.  Y los dos últimos párrafos del artículo 6 establecen:

Cada Parte adoptará las medidas necesarias, a través de marcos legales y administrativos, entre otros, para promover el acceso a la información ambiental que esté en manos de entidades privadas, en particular la relativa a sus operaciones y los posibles riesgos y efectos en la salud humana y el medio ambiente.

Cada Parte incentivará, de acuerdo con sus capacidades, la elaboración de informes de sostenibilidad de empresas públicas y privadas, en particular de grandes empresas, que reflejen su desempeño social y ambiental.

Si bien México consideró que el acuerdo es compatible con la ley de transparencia, según un comentario del bufete de abogados internacional Garrigues, con sede en Madrid, Perú se resiste al acuerdo específicamente porque su ley de transparencia ya funciona.  Perú también lamentó "pérdida de soberanía del Estado ... en el manejo de sus recursos naturales," si la ejecución puede ser sometida a la Corte Internacional de Justicia. Además, Garrigues explicó:

[T]ambién se sostuvo que el Acuerdo de Escazú representaría un peligro para los derechos adquiridos a través de concesiones, contratos, convenios o autorizaciones otorgadas, así como a la propiedad privada, en tanto se dispone el acceso a la información ambiental sin expresión de causa, lo cual podría ocasionar la paralización de las inversiones, además de imponer obligaciones que no deberían soportar las entidades privadas.

Laguna Cejas, Salar de Atacama, Chile
(2015 foto por RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Chile, que había sido un actor clave en las negociaciones junto con Costa Rica, como proponente del acuerdo, citó de manera similar, entre sus muchas razones para retirar su apoyo al acuerdo, ambigüedad sobre "el tipo de información ambiental ni otros aspectos de la obligación que se impone a las 'entidades privadas' de generar y divulgar."

La importancia de la transparencia para la responsabilidad ambiental está bien establecida. El acuerdo de Escazú en sí se inició como producto de la Declaración de Río sobre el medio ambiente y el desarrollo, en 1992. El acceso a la información ha sido parte de otras iniciativas ambientales importantes, a saber, la Convención de Aarhus sobre el acceso a la información, la participación pública en la toma de decisiones, y acceso a la justicia en materia ambiental, que entró en vigor en 2001, y el Protocolo de Cartagena sobre bioseguridad del convenio sobre la diversidad biológica, que entró en vigor en 2003.

Incluso en los Estados Unidos, donde el acceso a la información por estatuto ha variado desde la famosa innovación en la década de 1960 hasta la infame torpeza (quiero decir "clunkiness" en inglés) de hoy, el desastre de Bhopal, y una emergencia doméstica, precipitaron leyes de transparencia en 1986 y en 1990 y dieron como resultado un registro público de emisiones tóxicas mantenido por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental.  Los Estados Unidos también requieren una transparencia sectorial limitada en el sector privado con respecto a la salud pública. En una historia reciente, On the Media informó sobre la transparencia de la investigación médica requerida por la ley federal, si bien junto con una alarmante falta de cumplimiento.

En 2018, escribí sobre una doctrina de acceso a la información en Sudáfrica empleada para obtener información suelta de corporaciones privadas sobre riesgos y daños ambientales. Gigantes agroquímicos como Monsanto, ahora parte de Bayer, intervinieron en litigio sudafricano para evitar el acceso a información sobre modificaciones genéticas patentadas.  Ciertamente, América Latina no es ajena a la explotación por parte de los agronegocios, y la transparencia, especialmente en el sector privado, es una herramienta vital para proteger la salud pública ahora en el futuro.

Países latinoamericanos han avanzado en áreas como la protección de datos y la regulación alimentaria que avergüenzan a Estados Unidos. Pero la batalla contra la corrupción es interminable. El destino del Acuerdo de Escazú lo dirá.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Court thins line between hate speech, free speech, while deepening European continental divide

Mural in Sofia, Bulgaria
(2019 photo by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
A politician's racist hate speech and Holocaust denial were too readily protected by the freedom of speech in Bulgaria, the European Court of Human Rights opined in a February decision that challenges free expression and deepens tension between western and eastern Europe.

In litigation by Citizens Against Hatred and allied NGOs, plaintiffs sued in Sofia for harassment and incitement to discrimination.  Their target was Volen Siderov, a far right-wing politician, founder of the "Attack" party, who beat the drum of Bulgarian nationalism in two books and a speech to Parliament.  Siderov perpetuated denigrating stereotypes including that Jews manufactured the Holocaust as a scheme for financial extortion and that Roma people are "prone to crime and depravity."  His hate speech also targeted Turks, Catholics, and LGBTQ persons. 

Siderov's speech did not target individuals, nor call for any specific act of discrimination or violence.  The Sofia court ultimately dismissed the claims, unable to find that any one person had suffered injury or loss as a result of Siderov's vitriol.  The Sofia City Court and the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation affirmed, holding, with reference to European jurisprudence, that Siderov's speech was protected by the freedom of expression.

In Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights held that the claimants had been denied a fair hearing in Bulgarian courts, a violation of their rights of dignity and freedom from discrimination under articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Maybe Siderov's speech was protected expression under article 10 of the European Convention.  But the Bulgarian courts had been too quickly dismissive of the plaintiffs' claims.

"Expression on matters of public interest is in principle entitled to strong protection under Article 10 of the Convention, whereas expression that promotes or justifies violence, hatred, xenophobia or another form of intolerance cannot normally claim protection," the court explained.  "[I]t may be justified to impose even serious criminal-law sanctions on journalists or politicians in cases of hate speech or incitement to violence."

Volen Siderov
(Flickr by Nedko Ivanov CC BY 2.0)

The Bulgarian courts had not drawn an appropriate balance.  "Although the courts acknowledged the vehemence of the statements, they downplayed their capacity to stigmatise Jews as a group and arouse hatred and prejudice against them, and apparently saw them as no more than part of a legitimate debate on matters of public concern."

The decision strikes a note of discord in both westerly and easterly directions.  As a matter of free speech absolutism, American courts have been consistently resistant to regulation of hate speech.  Academics have twisted themselves into knots to reconcile the civil-rights-era First Amendment with a 1952 Supreme Court decision that momentarily sanctioned criminal libel based on race, color, creed, or religion.  Meanwhile, the First Amendment continues to be a perplexing problem for would-be regulators who link disinformation with populist nationalism of Siderov's ilk.

At the same time, the European Court decision is bound to aggravate a burgeoning resistance in Bulgaria, and throughout the east, to perceived western European cultural imperialism.  Bulgarian courts in 2018 ruled unconstitutional, and the Bulgarian Parliament was prepared to vote down, the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women, "the Istanbul Convention" (Euractiv).  The politicization of an issue so seemingly uncontroversial is a story revealing of a deeper continental divide, and the court's strike against Siderov plays right into perceived grievances.

The case is Behar & Gutman v. Bulgaria, No. 29335/13 (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. Feb. 16, 2021) (LawEuro).

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

So you wanna teach law school? Good luck with that. Or, 'A Clerkship Story'

pxhere (modified) CC0

Professor Howard M. Wasserman at FIU Law, author of the superb Understanding Civil Rights Litigation, has published in Judicature a thought-provoking study, Academic Feeder Judges: Are Clerkships the Key to Academia? (spring 2021).

Yes is the short answer.  There is clear correlation between clerking and later teaching.  Wasserman explained, "Two or three generations ago, the clerkship was the essential credential, and a call from the judge or justice to the law-school dean was the ticket to the teaching job. Louis Brandeis favored clerks whom he believed would become law teachers."

But the correlation, and probable causation, is diminishing, and "[t]he Great Recession of 2008 appears to have exacerbated the disconnect between clerkship and teaching," Wasserman wrote.  He chalks up the change to a number of factors.  Teaching fellowship programs, "sexy" niche appellate practices, and more programs for advanced degrees in law have generated a pool of promising candidates on alternative tracks to fewer positions.

Though I don't think any of that will change the status quo.  Legal academics remains largely the province of an elite, including too many by inherited opportunity, especially at top schools.  Even these newly minted access tracks only reinforce exclusion.

I didn't clerk.  I've been fortunate to land two jobs in academics at schools where a clerkship was not a sine qua non.  But in my job searches, I know that I was excluded at some schools—once, only about a dozen years ago, I was told so plainly—for lack of a clerkship.  As I don't think I'm too bad at being a law professor, that's a disappointing result.  While Wasserman might purport to describe a preference of "two or three generations ago," people who were hired two generations ago are still doing hiring now.

And there is resistance to change.  For all the bluster about equality of access to opportunity uttered by the nation's overwhelmingly liberal law professors, the vast majority in the end succumb to the beguiling predilection to replicate themselves and their experiences.

Considering why students, me included, don't clerk illustrates the inequality of access to opportunity in the academy, not to mention many other career tracks.

To start with, judges, many of whom also fall prey to the predilection to replicate themselves, tend to recruit only from select law schools.  UMass Law, for example, a "fourth-tier law school," has seen only modest success at placing students in clerkships, then only at the state level, and only through concerted, all-hands-on-deck efforts by students, faculty, and staff.  

Federal judges don't recruit at UMass.  They did recruit at "first tier" Duke Law School when I was a student there in the 1990s.  But they weren't recruiting me.  The career services office groomed students with a 3.5 GPA for interviews, and my 3.4 didn't make the cut.

I think I would have made a good clerk.  Having come to law from journalism, I was a decent writer and editor.  To my observation, my classmates who excelled at law school and attained those top grades with less effort were as often as not children of lawyers and professionals.  I was not.  They seemed to understand the 1L game in a way that was opaque to me.  I figured it out and turned out A+s by the time I graduated, but that was too late to open some doors.  From where I sit today, as a professor, it's no wonder to see that my students who are the first in their families to attempt graduate school, or even university, face the steepest learning curves.

I was determined, though.  Whatever this clerkship thing was about, telling me I could not have something just supercharged my desire for it.  A full-tuition-paying Duke client, I demanded access to clerkships.  Career services pointed me to a binder of judges' names and addresses.  I was welcome to apply on my own, without Duke's help.

I remember the feel of the thin plastic cover of the binder in my hands.  I remember turning the looseleaf pages and copying the information into my notebook with a pen.  I remember feeling ashamed and angry doing this while, feet behind my back, in the career services office, other students sat, sharply dressed, waiting nervously for clerkship interviews to which they had been invited.

I did apply on my own for clerkships: 23 years old and no clue what I was doing.  Unsurprisingly, I had no bites from the federal bench.  Surprisingly, I did score an interview with a state supreme court judge.  I traveled to the state on my own dime, donned my best (only) suit, and interviewed.  The interview seemed to go well.

The judge telephoned me a couple of weeks later.  I was his first choice, he said.  My pulse quickened and face flushed.  But, he said sheepishly, haltingly, he was, unfortunately, obliged to hire his second choice, because she was the daughter of a colleague.  Surely I could understand his predicament.  This is how things are.  He was sorry.  Felt he owed me the explanation.  My heart sank.

Don't feel sorry for me.  I went right into law practice at a large, prestigious firm in a major city.  I didn't have whatever it took to get a clerkship.  But I had an opportunity out of Duke that almost none of my UMass students can get still today.  It's all relative.

The lesson still is, or should be, a painful one.  The changes that Wasserman cited do little to change the reality of access to opportunity in legal academics.  Teaching fellowships are typically reserved for diverse candidates.  Because diversity doesn't refer to socioeconomics, nor family immigration history, most of my students, like me, would not qualify.

A top-end practice experience did give me an advantage in my applications to the academy.  But for even the very best of my students—who, if it matters, might have chosen UMass for reasons of economic, geographic, or other necessity, not a function of choosing the highest ranking school one can get into, which is what I did—a job at a "white shoe" law firm is a pipe dream.

And more advanced education is not feasible for students who, like me, financed legal education wholly through debt.  My wife and I just paid off our own educational debt last year, right after we started borrowing to pay for our daughter's college education.  We were lucky; neither of us had undergrad debt, thanks to scholarships and the military.  I turned down two full scholarships to lower ranked law schools.  Some of my law students have twice the debt we had and will be lucky to have a quarter of the job prospects. 

One of my students graduating now would make a superb teacher, and he is so inclined.  He asked me about it.  What can I say?  He lacks the demographic endowments requisite for a diversity fellowship.  One of my own faculty colleagues said at a hiring meeting just last week that "we don't need more white" at UMass.  She was applauded.  This student will never score a Boston law firm job.  A UMass valedictorian was told at a Boston law firm just a few years ago that his interview was a professional courtesy to the dean, but the firm would never hire from a public school.  And this student is swimming in debt.  Should I tell him to dig deeper and get a "corrective LL.M." at full price from one of the elite law schools he probably should have chosen to begin with?

The change that Wasserman reported is good news, but I don't think will effect improvement in true diversity in the legal academy in my lifetime—taking into account lived experience, more than just boxes checked for skin color, gender identity, and sexual preference.  Even new avenues of access are limited to narrowly defined classes of people and favor the advantaged insiders of the socioeconomic elite.

And the real kicker about clerkships is that you never get a second chance.  Perversely, one is qualified for a clerkship only once, precisely when one is not qualified for a clerkship: as a graduating law student.  My students who cannot, for a variety of reasons beyond their control, clerk after law school will never clerk.  I would love to clerk, still today, but I can never be 23 again.  When I apply to lateral now in academics, the omission of a clerkship a quarter century ago still stains my résumé.

The stains of access denied last for life.  That's how access to opportunity works in many sectors of the American job market: hallways of doors that are closed to ordinary people.  The liberal legal academy is no exception.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Automatic-door failures fuel injuries, tort claims, but road to recovery in litigation can be bumpy

Pixabay by djedj
An Australian woman struck by a malfunctioning airport security door was denied recovery in April after failing to prove that the malfunction caused her injury.  The outcome strikes me as questionable, and the case is instructive of tort principles anyway.

If you travel much, as I do, you probably have passed through those one-way transparent security doors that whip open and closed to allow only a person at a time to pass.  They frighten me a bit, and I never linger on the threshold.  The plaintiff in the instant case likewise denied having paused upon egress from Wagga Wagga City Airport arrivals in New South Wales, yet was struck by one of the doors.  She complained of shoulder and back injury, requiring surgery, and the court confirmed that the impact of the door at least worsened a preexisting condition.

Arrivals at Wagga Wagga Airport
(2012 photo by Bidgee CC BY-SA 3.0 AU)
The doors were in fact malfunctioning.  There are two batteries, at different heights, of photoelectric cells that sense a person in the way and prevent the doors from closing.  The lower set were out of commission.  However, tests and maintenance on the doors showed that the non-functioning cells were not essential for safety; the higher set still kept the doors open when so much as a person's leg was in the way.  The plaintiff therefore failed to show a causal connection between her injury and the malfunction, nor any alleged misfeasance by the airport defendant, such as a failure to warn.

The outcome strikes me as questionable, because there seems to be no dispute that the 44-year-old plaintiff was struck by the door, and that that's never supposed to happen.  Even if the photoelectric cell failure cannot be blamed, the case seems well suited to res ipsa loquitur, which, to the best of my knowledge, is recognized in New South Wales common law, and is not mentioned by the court.  Maybe the plaintiff failed to plead the theory.  Or maybe this is a Palsgraf-esque scenario in which the court concealed skepticism of the plaintiff's injury.  Of 100,000 arriving passengers annually, there were no other reported incidents, the court troubled to say.

Anyway, the case reminds me of one that I use sometimes in torts class to teach punitive damages with a dash of professional responsibility.  In 2015, 61-year-old James Hausman won a $21.5m verdict against the Holland America Line (HAL) after being hit by an automatic sliding door on a cruise ship, in an incident captured on camera.

There's plenty to inform a class discussion just there.  Hausman's injury did not look too bad in the video, but traumatic brain injury is tricky.  And the court awarded $16.5m in punitive damages after hearing about 16 other sliding-door injuries on HAL ships.  The plaintiff's lawyer accused HAL of trying to save on air conditioning, which HAL denied, the ABA Journal reported.

Then the case took a turn.  In 2016, the district court threw out the verdict after revelations of spoliation.  The ugly dissolution of an employment relationship between Hausman and a personal assistant led to an undiscovered personal email account and deleted messages that cast doubt on Hausman's veracity (ABA Journal, Seattle Times).  The court ordered a new trial and clarified that there was no evidence the plaintiff's attorney was complicit in wrongdoing.  The docket suggests that the case ended in settlement later that year.

The Australian case is Gray v. Wagga Wagga City Council, [2021] NSWDC 108, 07 April 2021 (Wolters Kluwer).  Simon Liddy at HWLEbsworth published commentary.  The American case is Hausman v. Holland America Line-USA, No. 2:13-cv-00937 (W.D. Wash. 2016) (Court Listener).

Monday, May 17, 2021

Posh Londoners poo poo peekaboo performance art

"Rear Window" by Anthony O'Neil, CC BY-SA 2.0
Residents who live opposite the Tate Modern, an art museum in London on the south bank of the Thames, sued the Tate for private nuisance and will have their appeal heard by the U.K. Supreme Court.  Residents of the swank NEO Bankside apartment building grew discontent two years ago when a new 360-degree viewing platform at the Tate afforded hundreds of thousands of visitors annually a generous vantage point on private quarters as close as 34 meters away.  Some Tate tourists took pictures and shared to social media insights into the private lives of London apartment dwellers.  The problem in legal terms is whether "overlooking" is a private nuisance, and the general rule, at least in an urban environment, is that it is not.  Accordingly, the residents lost in the High Court in 2019 and in the Court of Appeal in 2020.  Not to be deterred, the resident-plaintiffs will press on in the Supreme Court this year.  The case is Fearn v. Tate, [2020] EWCA Civ 104, and Fearn v. Board of Trustees, [2019] EWHC 246 (Ch).  Hat tip to Art Law & More from Boodle Hatfield.

U.S. State Department dabbles in gamer diplomacy

Flickr by Casey Fiesler, CC BY 2.0

The U.S. State Department announced in April that it will sponsor 10-week virtual student exchange programs to connect teens from the United States, Bahrain, Israel, and the UAE to collaborate in developing "social impact video games."  "Game Exchange" is part of a State Department grant award to Games for Change, a Woodside, N.Y.-based nonprofit that, by its own description, "empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world impact through games and immersive media."  Game Exchange aims to reach 3,000 middle and high school students over two years by pairing classrooms across borders.  I am a believer in "sports diplomacy" by the State Department and in the related work of organizations such as Soccer Without Borders, so I guess I should get behind this STEM equivalent.  Read more at Games for Change or at The Washington Post (bafflingly not pay-walled at last check).  Hat tip to Jennifer Batista at IP Media Law and Updates from New York City-based Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.

Statute of repose fells tort claim dressed in contract

A farm house in Glocester, R.I.

Immersed in grading perdition in recent weeks, I fell behind in my usually steady diet of popular culture.  Better late than never, I offer, here and in two subsequent posts, for your amazement and amusement, an overdue eclectic assortment of three savory news pickins.

Back in January, remember January? Capitol Riot, Inauguration, that one, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the state's 10-year statute of repose and three-year statute of limitations on tort actions for latent defects in real property apply to homeowners who purchased from the builder.  The plaintiff-homeowners purchased their lakefront home in northwestern Rhode Island from the builder in 1997, and they discovered extensive water damage to the lake-facing wall of the house in 2012.  They attributed the damage to improper workmanship and materials.  Because they purchased from the builder, the plaintiffs tried to escape the statute of repose by characterizing their action for breach of implied warranty of habitability as sounding in contract law rather than tort law.  The court disagreed, deciding that the design of the law was to limit builder liability, regardless of whether the plaintiff was an original or subsequent purchaser.  The case is Mondoux v. Vanghel, No. 2018-219-Appeal (R.I. Jan. 27, 2021).  Hat tip to Nicole Benjamin and Crystal Peralta of Adler Pollock & Sheehan, via the Appellate Law Blog at JD Supra.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Comparative law papers examine fin reg, human rights, environment, labor, piracy, sovereignty, and more

Image by Gordon Johnson via Pixabay
Lately, I've been part of interviewing faculty candidates.  In that awkward part of the interview when the interviewee gets to ask questions, and the interviewee really wants to know, "What are you going to pay me?, because we could put an end to this charade right now if you're not serious," but doesn't ask that for fear she will look like it's only about the money, and really, why fear that? would you work for free? I wouldn't; there's a word for that, but the interviewee asks instead some dopey question to make the interviewer feel good, along the lines, "How can it be that you are so fabulous?," the subtext of which is not, but should be, "you, who really doesn't come off as bright or spirited enough to have pulled off fabulous," I'm wearing a hoodie after all, even if we are on Zoom, an interviewee recently asked me, "What do you like most about your job?"

Well, you asked, so I answer:  I never tire of seeing the ingenuity, inventiveness, and range of interests and life experience that law students bring to the table.  And a seminar as wide-ranging as Comparative Law gives the most ingenious and inventive a chance to shine.  This spring it's been my privilege to be informed, educated, and thought-provoked by a range of papers, and I am eager to share here a selection of abstracts, with authors' permission.  These students have outdone themselves in a challenging course, despite an ogre of a professor and limited access to resources during the pandemic.  Filled with (I hope, authentic) pride, I congratulate each and every one.

Laura Z. Copland, Understanding Human Trafficking: A Comparative Analysis of the Prosecution, Protection, and Prevention Laws in the United States and Honduras.  Human trafficking is a high-profile global issue, generating billions of dollars at the expense of millions of victims. Trafficking occurs to minors and adults in urban and rural communities. Victims have diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and can be documented or undocumented. Traffickers target victims using tailored recruitment methods they find effective in compelling individuals to fall into exploitation. In recent years, both the United States and Honduras have attempted to provide legal redress to the lack of focus placed upon the effects of human trafficking in legal scholarship. Anti-human trafficking legislation in these jurisdictions has differed in their specific approaches. Still, both have sought to implement prosecutorial guidelines to support the execution of the three main pillars of the fight against human trafficking. These three pillars are prosecution, protection, and prevention.  This note compares the similarities and differences in the attainment of the three pillars by both jurisdictions. Moreover, this note illustrates that despite trafficking’s tremendous impact, most people in positions of authority in both the United States and Honduras still need to learn about what human trafficking is, how to identify it, and how to combat it effectively.

Dolapo D. Emmanuel, The Inadequacy of the Insanity Defense in the United States and England.  According to Our World Data, as of 2018, nearly one billion individuals globally suffer from a mental health condition. Conversely, media portrayals of mental health conditions are both comparatively rare and largely inaccurate. Though insanity is a legal concept rather than a clinical condition, the preceding statement applies. Dramatizations of legal insanity have both obfuscated and marginalized the concept such that even individuals with academic or professional legal footing are confused about its place in criminal law. This confusion in turn fosters perceptions that may not be accurate. One of the most popular claims about the insanity defense is that it is a powerful tool criminal defendants employ to escape the legal consequences of their criminal conduct. To determine the extent of this alleged power, this paper aims to discern the adequacy of the insanity defense in the United States and England based on three factors: the congruency between the medical and legal perspective of mental illness, the utility of required expert testimony, and the stability of the defense’s place in criminal law. As such, it seems, despite the facts that there has been more evolution in the insanity defense’s standard in the United States, and that the standard is more difficult to satisfy in England, the insanity defense is more effective in England than it is in the United States. However, this paper identifies continuing inadequacies in both countries.

Sydney Anne Goldstein, The Force of Discipline: Laws of Good Order and Discipline of the Armed Forces of the United States and the Russian Federation.  From the primordial beginnings of combat to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, factions of humanity continue to assemble and take up arms to defend their way of being or vindicate their honor. Of course, there is strength in numbers along with the breadth and depth of their capabilities, but the real magnitude of military power comes from the discipline and conduct of those serving. Out of the countries currently grasping for global influence, the United States and the Russian Federation have climbed to the highest echelons of military power on the international stage. But with this elevated stature comes the pressure to maintain diplomacy coupled with the indelible friction of conflict.  In this paper, I survey the historical development of military jurisprudence of the United States and Russia to compare their legal institutions' impact on military power.

Richard Grace, The Modern Myth of the Efficient Market Hypothesis. The turn of the century wave of innovative technology companies, colloquially “FAANG” (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), set in motion a revolution of the global economy.  Trade is more efficient than at any point in human history, as are the global financial markets.  Technology has expanded the reach of the instrumentalities of global finance to previously incomprehensible levels, allowing anyone with a smartphone to connect to stock, currency, bond, and commodities markets, and to execute trades anywhere you have a cell signal.  This realm, previously restricted to professional brokerages and traders, has been opened to the everyday individuals.  These individuals have come to be known as “retail,” or non-professional investors.  In response to these changing market conditions, large institutional brokerages have begun to market to retail investors, and numerous smaller brokerages have been formed with the sole purpose of providing the “little guy” access to the world’s markets.  The school of minnows can now play in uncharted territory, in the deep end alongside the whales.  This article aims to explore the impacts of the expanding role of retail investors on the global financial market.  Unsurprisingly, the changing market has resulted in many changes in the law.  The focal points of interest will be the responses in the law to the surge in retail trading in the United States and the United Kingdom.  As both jurisdictions have operated under the same common law tradition, the comparative value of juxtaposition of the present responses should provide useful comparisons as to the efficacy of certain laws, rules, and regulations passed to precipitate issues perceived by the global market.  I will first consider the frameworks under which retail investors operate; the regulations and laws that make up the rules of the game.  These rules include the "Pattern Day Trader Rule," and the trading of security derivatives in the form of option contracts.  Second, I will evaluate changes in monetization of retail trading at the brokerage level, most notably, the "Payment for Order Flow" system, originally devised by the infamous Bernie Madoff.  The financial market is inherently global, and therefore, changes in the law and in regulations within the United States impact all retail investors, regardless of their country of origin.  The result of this global system is that a routine practice in the U.S. markets may be completely prohibited within the U.K.’s, and vice versa; the same securities are being traded with two different sets of rules governing the transactions.

Brooke Loneker, Designer or Dupe? Assessing the Development of the United States: A Comparative Analysis Between Single-Use Plastic Recycling Laws Established in the United States and PerúIn what millennials might describe as a “Freaky Friday” scenario, this paper explores the notion of a "first world" country following in the steps of a "third world" country’s national legislation banning single-use plastics. In December of 2018, the nation of Perú passed and quickly enforced Law No. 30884, speaking directly to the prohibition of unnecessary or non-recyclable single-use plastics, which, under the civil law system, made the law applicable to all provinces, regions, and the Province of Lima. The United States, in contrast, with a federal legal system, does not have a national legislation that regards single-use plastics. California, a leading state among the United States in environmental regulation, has passed state laws regarding single-use plastic bans. This paper compares Perú’s Law No. 30884 and California’s Senate Bill No. 54, as amended in 2020. This paper focuses on the cost of enacting this legislation, the revenue opportunities provided through enacting this legislation, and the similarities of Perú's and California’s laws. In understanding these comparisons, this paper argues that implementing a structure that is successful in a country such as Perú would be cost efficient, promising to the state/federal budget, and would promote the health and general welfare of the U.S. population.

Ryan Manning, Counter-Piracy: A Comparative Analysis on Two Multinational Organizations’ Fight Against Piracy.  As piracy spiked around the horn of Africa, several organizations and countries sought to combat it. Although a prominent actor in counter-piracy efforts, NATO was not the only organization making strides to deter this maritime threat. Although initially reluctant, member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), specifically China, made efforts to alleviate a dangerous situation. By addressing two different responses to the threat of pirates surrounding the horn of Africa, this paper compares NATO’s anti-piracy operations with China’s through the SCO. The paper first introduces what drove the pirates to start hijacking merchant vessels and the evolution of their tactics, causing them to become a threat to maritime security. Following that, NATO is analyzed, describing how it became involved in counter-piracy; then, the SCO’s lack of response as an alliance and China’s efforts to protect Chinese vessels from hijackings. Last, the missions of NATO and the SCO are analyzed. NATO’s integration of outside forces and cooperation has proved to be a beneficial tactic in counter-piracy operations, and the SCO was reluctant to involve itself in the operations. Disagreements among member states of the SCO prevented organizational cooperation, in turn, causing China to handle the threats on imports and exports unilaterally. Whereas NATO had extensive maritime experience, China used counter-piracy operations to develop its capabilities and provide support for vessels not of Chinese origin. Further, where NATO freely cooperated with organizations and states outside of its members, China was initially reluctant to provide support and struggled to allow other members to work alongside.  Yet as declines in pirate attacks have been related to multinational cooperation, China’s participation with NATO and other operations has become a crucial contribution to further deterrence of piracy.

Brett Mueller, Animal DiplomacyIn a time when common ground between the United States and China seems to be eroding, one area of shared goals could provide fertile ground to help ease tension: wildlife. While both countries seek to preserve naturally occurring creatures, historic practices and differing viewpoints on just how to achieve that goal have left the picture of wildlife protection looking vastly different in each. While the approaches may be different, different is not synonymous with ineffectual (or wrong), and it is important to understand the underlying complexities that exist in each society in order to chart a reasonable path forward. Of course, the relationship between natural creatures and mankind has developed over many centuries, and will continue its indefinite transformation as time goes on. Instead of casting judgment from afar, the United States and China would be wise to learn from each other’s successes and failures. Regardless of other sources of disagreement, when it comes to wildlife preservation it is time for the two world superpowers to put on a unified front to set a strong example for the rest of the world.

Sara O'Brien, A Comparative View of Irish and Israel Citizenship Laws as Products of Settler-ColonialismIrish and Israeli citizenship laws are compared by activists because of their seeming similarity; they both provide citizenship to those born abroad under certain conditions or circumstances. However, their approaches to citizenship are not as similar as they seem. Each nation has imposed certain restrictions on claiming citizenship, and as we see, those restrictions and limitations effectuate particular purposes.  The purpose of this paper is to explore how the laws differ, and how they work to accomplish particular political goals. The respective approaches appear to be motivated either in moving beyond a settler-colonial regime, as in Ireland, or continuing one, as in Israel. By examining the Israeli Citizenship Act (1952) and Law of Return closely, a stark difference in how people of different religion are treated becomes clear. In practice, the laws make it easier for foreign nationals of the Jewish faith to immigrate to Israel, while making it difficult for Palestinians to gain citizenship as both a practical and political manner. In Ireland, the post-settler-colonial citizenship scheme is visible in the relative religious and ethnic neutrality of the laws. Ireland allows for descendent citizenship provided the applicant meets a handful of requirements, and acquisition is structured in a manner that does not consider religion, race, or national origin, and does so explicitly to make Ireland more inclusive after the Good Friday Agreement was ratified.  Together, they provide examples of how active settler-colonialism can manifest in citizenship laws, as well as how citizenship laws can be used to uphold the ideals of post-colonial governments.

Spencer K. Schneider, The Necessary Evil of Environmental Federalism in the U.S. and Brazil.  Brazil and the United States are respectively the fifth and third largest countries on earth. As a result, both countries are composed of many diverse environments, from forests to waterways, and these environments require careful management and conservation. But both countries suffer from inconsistent environmental regulation that is primarily due to the frameworks of federalism that shape the relationships among each country’s national, state, and local governments. These frameworks of shared power are crucial to effective environmental regulation and protection, but, these frameworks are also at the root of some of environmental policy’s largest problems today. Understanding how federalism functions in environmental policy is crucial to solving some of the biggest problems in environmental regulation that exist today.

Ricardo J. Serrano R., Jíbaro Nation: Las Crónicas de la No Incorporación (Jíbaro Nation: The Chronicles of Non-incorporation).  Puerto Rico en los últimos quinientos años ha tenido una compleja existencia colonial que todavía se ve plasmada en el presente. En este estudio investigamos más profundamente el efecto de la Carta Autonómica en el estatus colonial de Puerto Rico bajo España, sus limitaciones, y existencia de una noción de soberanía introducida por los líderes nacionalistas de Puerto Rico. También, luego del 1898 examinamos la integración de Puerto Rico como territorio no incorporado a los Estados Unidos y como este proceso de integración ha afectado a Puerto Rico y su estatus colonial. Al mismo tiempo, se hace un contraste entre el Puerto Rico bajo la Carta Autonómica de 1897 y el Puerto rico bajo los Casos Insulares y el Acta Foraker para comparar los derechos legitimados por cada sistema. Por último, se establece un esquema que comprende el trato de Puerto Rico desde el 1898 hasta la ratificación de la asamblea constituyente de 1951.  (Author's translation: Puerto Rico in the last five hundred years has had a complex colonial existence that is still embodied in the present. In this study we investigate more deeply the effect of the autonomic charter on Puerto Rico's colonial status under Spain, its limitations, and the existence of a notion of sovereignty introduced by Puerto Rico's nationalist leaders. Also, we examine the integration of Puerto Rico, after 1898, as a territory not incorporated into the United States and how this non-integration has affected Puerto Rico and its colonial status. At the same time, a contrast is made between Puerto Rico under the 1897 Autonomy Charter and under the Insular Cases and the Foraker Act to compare the rights legitimized by each system.  Finally, a scheme is established comprising Puerto Rico’s treatment from 1898 until the ratification of the 1951 Constituent Assembly.)

Matthew R. Stevens, Collectivism, Individualism, and Their Respective Costs of Human Life During the Covid-19 Pandemic.  On the final day of 2019, December 31, the World Health Organization discovered a media statement from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission describing new cases of “viral pneumonia” in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China. One year later, this viral pneumonia would claim the lives of two million souls. While almost every country and human on the planet has experienced the COVID-19 Pandemic in one way or another, disparate impacts have arisen throughout the globe. One curiosity inducing dichotomy is that of South Korean and the United States, suffering 1,700 deaths and 551,000 deaths, respectively. This paper dives into a comparative study of the COVID-19 responses of South Korea and the United States through the scope of collectivism and individualism. This paper explores whether the respective responses have direct ties to the country’s individualistic or collectivist culture, and if any connection can be drawn to the relative success of one cultural response over the other.

Jhoanna Sylio, Reexamining the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and Possible Improvements Based on the Administration of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers ProgramTemporary agricultural foreign workers are admitted to the United States and Canada through guest worker programs to perform low-skill seasonal or temporary agricultural labor.  Foreign workers fill jobs that farmers are otherwise unable to fill with a local workforce despite availability of jobs and requirement of very little formal education. In the United States, employers are able to bring in foreign workers from 80 countries to fill temporary agricultural work under the H-2A program.  In Canada, employers are able to source seasonal workers from Mexico and 11 participating Caribbean countries under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (“SAWP”). The paper examines the legal framework of the H-2A program in the United States and the administration of the H-2A program in North Carolina, specifically. This examination serves as a basis of comparison with the administration of SAWP in Canada, focusing on Ontario. The paper overviews the guest worker programs in the American and Canadian contexts, and  the important role migrant agricultural workers play in ensuring food security in these labor-destination countries. The paper concludes by identifying measures that could be adopted in Ontario to effectively increase protections and  improve conditions experienced by migrant agricultural workers under the SAWP.

Thomas D. Aaron Wazlavek, The Pond Separates Cultures But Not Values: A Comparative Look At the French Codification of Right to Withdrawal of Labor and the American Concept of At-Will Employment.  The differences and similarities of the United States common law concept of “right to work” and the modern development in France of the right to withdraw labor, after the “yellow vest” movement in 2018, demonstrate a parallel diminution of workers’ rights. These changes are motivated by the same values inherent within capitalism that are superimposed through the law. This article analyzes the social and legal context in both countries that demonstrates that the superimposition of these values through law is a continuing modern western trend. The key difference is that, while the French model is designed to decrease the pressure for strike actions by workers, it also serves as a protection to workers, as compared with the American model, which largely exists merely as a tool to remove workplace protections by substantially altering the terms and conditions of employment. Further, this article demonstrates that these concepts are both divergent and convergent in terms of core shared values and the peripheral aspect of laws setting cultural norms.  This article then concludes through comparative analysis that while the French right to withdraw labor is a product of legislative supremacy, and the American view within the common law is that at-will employment is the standard, the French model is a product of generations of social negotiations. The American model is a product of the easily swayed influences within the common law that allow a new legal theory with little to no precedential value at the time of its proposal to be adopted in sweeping fashion with very little civil discourse.

National and U.S. state flags courtesy of Flagpedia.net.  Puerto Rico historical flags from Welcome to Puerto Rico.  Ontario flag from Britannica.com.  NATO and SCO seals from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Court rejects qui tam suit against big banks because whistleblower relied on publicly available data

"Big Ballin' Money Shot" by Louish Pixel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A whistleblower alleged that a who's who of big banks is improperly manipulating the municipal bond market to profit at the expense of Massachusetts taxpayers.  But the Massachusetts high court today rejected the whistleblower's lawsuit because he relied on public data.

This case is of interest because it arises under, and narrows, a state false claims act.  With the federal government doling out billions of dollars in pandemic relief to corporate America, I've predicted, and it doesn't take a crystal ball, that we're going to see a rise in corruption and a corresponding rise in enforcement actions.  One key enforcement mechanism is a false claims act.  In anticipation of good work to be had for lawyers in the false claims vein in coming years, I added the subject this spring to coverage in my 1L Torts II class.

False claims cases, or "qui tam actions," allow any person, a member of the general public called "a relator," to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the government, that is, the public, to recover money lost to fraud or misfeasance.  Derived conceptually from Roman law and carried on in Anglo-American common law for centuries, "qui tam" is short for a Latin phrase meaning one who sues on behalf of the king and for oneself.  Relators are incentivized by being entitled to a cut of any recovery.  Qui tam is authorized in the United States by federal law (§§ 3729-3722, and at DOJ) and the laws of many states (at Mass. AG), varying in their particulars, and also can be a part of sectoral enforcement mechanisms, especially in healthcare and finance.

In the instant case, relator "B.J." Johan Rosenberg, an investment analyst and capital adviser with experience in municipal securities, alleged that banks are pricing municipal bonds and manipulating the market in ways that profitably breach their obligations to their public clients.  Defendants in the Massachusetts case include Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley.

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) dug into the particulars, which make my eyes glaze over and remind me why I have a financial adviser.  Suffice to say that Rosenberg understands this stuff well.  In 2019, Bloomberg described him as the "mystery man behind $3.6 billion in muni lawsuits," referring to qui tam actions in California, Illinois, and Massachusetts.  In 2015, Bloomberg reported, Rosenberg patented "MuniPriceTracker," a software designed to "ferret out Wall Street chicanery."

Rosenberg's analytical software is key in the instant case, and there the problem arises.  The false claims act in Massachusetts law (§§ 5A to 5O), as in federal law, bars claims based on publicly available information, whether from government reports or "news media."  The theory is that a qui tam statute should incentivize whistle-blowing by persons privy to information that the government and public are not, rather than potentially rewarding someone who rushes to the courthouse with old information.  As the SJC put it: "Where the essential features of an individual's purported chicanery already have been illuminated, ... affording a private party an incentive to bring suit is unwarranted, as it would add nothing to the Commonwealth's knowledge[.]"

The tricky bit in the instant case is that Rosenberg ran his software analysis on publicly available data.  That sourcing disallowed his action.  The court reasoned: "[I]t suffices that other members of the public, albeit with sufficient expertise and after having conducted some analysis, could have identified the true state of affairs by conducting the same data-crunching exercise as did the relator, using the data publicly available on the [Electronic Municipal Market Access] website."

Well, maybe.  To me, the phrase, "with sufficient expertise" is working overtime in that reasoning.  Rosenberg's method is sophisticated enough to be patent-worthy.  I don't think the average taxpayer spends weekends crunching market numbers, however publicly available they are.  And there's no evidence that anyone's doing it at the AG's office, either.  I worry that this narrowing of false claims to exclude "sweat of the brow" extrapolation from public records ill equips society to respond to sophisticated corporate malfeasance that can be revealed only by equally sophisticated detective work.

But I've already confessed my ignorance of finance.  You can read the 36-page opinion and decide for yourself.  Or choose among the views of the amici: the CFA Institute and Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund supported Rosenberg, and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and New England Legal Foundation supported the banks.

The case is Rosenberg v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., No. SJC-12973 (Mass. May 11, 2020).  Justice Dalila Wendlandt wrote the opinion, affirming the lower court, for a unanimous SJC of six justices.  She was an accomplished patent attorney before going on the bench.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Remembering journalist Paul Greenberg, 1937-2021

pxhere CC0 1.0
In April, our world lost a great American writer: Paul Greenberg died at age 84.

Long a nationally syndicated columnist writing from "small town" Arkansas, Greenberg won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for editorials on civil rights.  In D.C. Beltway circles, he is maybe best known for having given Bill Clinton the moniker "Slick Willie."  But Greenberg was no dogmatic partisan.  He described himself aptly as an "ideologically unreliable conservative."

Greenberg's politics were difficult to pin down, because he resisted labels and simply called the world as he saw it.  His parents immigrated from eastern Europe early in the 20th century, and their experience infused his morality and writing with a libertarian savor.  The same 20th-century-immigrant experience forged me, so I identify with the motivation.  An embrace of liberal immigration policy alongside a relentless insistence on conservative work ethic strikes some in America as a vulgar inconsistency, but, to me, strikes a sonorous chord.

Notwithstanding his famous wariness of Clinton politics, Greenberg was so much more than a political pundit.  A Jew from Shreveport, Louisiana (near my wife's home town), growing up during and after World War II, he was stocked with ample source material to inform comment on the American condition from a peculiar perch of simultaneous detachment and investment.  His writing exuded cultural fluency, from ancient wisdom to contemporary "fadtalk," as he termed it.  A Greenberg column could invoke the prophet Isaiah, philosopher Foucault, and Leonardo the mutant ninja turtle in one incisive analysis and scarce recognition of any juxtaposition.  Greenberg lionized early 20th-century editorialist William Allen White, whom he credited as having said, "A great editorial is one that says something everybody knows but nobody has said before."

A writer's writer, Greenberg wrote thoughtfully and lovingly, but always with profound humility, about the craft of editorializing.  In a column on the legacy of H.L. Mencken, Greenberg wrote of writing:

The first steps in the writing process may be painful as one watches what seemed a great idea fail the test of words, or turn into something entirely different.  But it is satisfying to watch something of form and substance emerge from the inchoate mass.  When it's well done, the writer feels like a sculptor chiseling away deftly at a block of stone.  If done poorly day after day, stroke after stroke, the effect on both writer and reader is more like that of the Chinese water torture.

Library of Congress Gottscho-Schleisner Collection (1950)
Greenberg lamented the gradual disintegration of journalism in the late 20th century and, as a student of Marshall McLuhan, fretted irascibly about the corrosive effects of ephemeral television.  He railed against the anti-intellectual condescension of the bullet point.  He wrote columns to a thousand-plus-word length that felt cordially readable, though a blog adviser today would animadvert as excessive.  (You're 450 words into this blog now; am I not tiresome?)  He insisted, "I remain convinced that anyone will read an editorial if it's irresistibly written."

I knew Paul Greenberg only by reputation and a degree of separation.  To me, mostly, he was a visage of halftone dots gazing into the world from the top of a broadsheet.  Greenberg's son, Dan, is a friend of mine, and a lawyer with whom I've been privileged to collaborate on many projects over the years.  Dan is possessed of obstinate integrity, humble yet profuse intellect, and earnest devotion to family.  So I always have appraised him as an apple that fell close to the tree.

When the news came that Paul Greenberg had died, I had a yearning to read more of his work, especially work that was not tied to the messy milieu of politics.  So I borrowed from the library a 1992 collection aptly titled, Entirely Personal.  The book compiled some of Greenberg's more intimate writings in chapters such as "family," "religion," "the writer," and "the small town."  These works predated my familiarity with Greenberg, so they were all new to me.  They were a treasure to unwrap.

I asked for, and Dan gave me, permission to share one his father's works from the book.  I had trouble choosing which.  I've read Entirely Personal twice now, and I've been struck time and again by how prescient the writings were, and how salient they remain.  There are superficial tells of their place in time—Ronald Reagan, Russians in Afghanistan, and appointment TV—yet, from these circumstances, Greenberg derived timeless observations that are equally meaningful in a world of Donald Trump, Americans in Afghanistan, and mass media overload.  There are surprisingly poignant pieces on family that speak eternal truths.  But, at this time of loss, they make me sad and seem intrusive—too personal. 

I was captivated especially by Greenberg's chapter on religion.  In the introduction, he recounted, "Someone once asked me how much of my writing was influenced by my being Jewish.  The immediate, spontaneous response that formed in my mind was: 'Every word, including and and the.'"  Besides his Jewish heritage and parents' immigrant experience, Greenberg grew up contemporaneously with the Holocaust.  Consistently with his proclivity for self-definition, his views were shaped invariably by witness.  He was, at once, spiritually conscious in his personal life and fervidly committed to the exclusion of religion from public life.

Thus, though it might be an unconventional choice, I found my favorite writing in the book in a column imitative in style.  In 1990, the Supreme Court issued a pair of key decisions on the religion clauses of the First Amendment.  In a case on the Establishment Clause, the Court permitted a Christian student club to meet in a public school over the objection of the school board.  One might expect a "conservative" and staunch advocate for the freedom of religion to applaud the decision.  To the contrary, Greenberg saw the decision as a threat to religion, specifically, to the freedom of church from state, an underlying theory of the Anti-Establishment Clause.  With devilish ingenuity, he wrote a cheeky retort as an addendum to The Screwtape Letters.

In memory of Paul Greenberg, great American writer, here is, "Letter from Below (With Apologies to C.S. Lewis)," published in June of 1990, and reprinted in Entirely Personal in 1992.  I'm not certain I agree entirely with Greenberg's absolutist stance on separationism.  But I understand and deeply appreciate the reckoning of his conviction.  Just as importantly, and characteristically, his witty observations speak also generally, and still today saliently, to the danger of majoritarian usurpation of individual self-determination.

Please note that this republication is made possible by special permission of Dan Greenberg.  The work is copyrighted by Paul Greenberg and is not covered by the Creative Commons license to this blog.

Enjoy.


Letter from Below

(With Apologies to C.S. Lewis)

June 4, 1990

My dear Wormwood,

The best of news. On the first anniversary of another of our great victories, the one in Tiananmen Square, your affectionate uncle happened to be glancing through the public prints, which are second only to television in promoting our cause, when my eye fell on the latest decision of the U.S. Supreme Court concerning church and state, both of which have been our province from time to time. It seems the distinguished justices have been busying themselves blurring the distinction between the two—a work that would be most dear to my heart if I had one.

This time the justices aren't deciding just when a religious symbol has become sufficiently irreligious to be displayed on public property (may they never tire of such work!) but rather how to make religion an extracurricular activity, which of course is what it should have been all along. What better way to keep it from being essential?

It shouldn't be long before the happy impression spreads that religion requires the support of the state, or at least the occasional use of a classroom. It's a start. Experience has shown that the more official a creed, the less appealing. See the paltry interest in the established churches of Western Europe. Or note the disaster that has befallen that most established of pseudo-religions, Communism, in the eastern part of the continent. It's enough to make you weep. 

I loved Sandra Day O'Connor's formulation for the majority of the court: "A school that permits a student-initiated and student-led religious club to meet after school, just as it permits any other student group to do, does not convey a message of state approval or endorsement of the particular religion." Do you think she has any inkling of what it does convey—namely, state approval of religion in general? And a state that can approve religion can disapprove it, too. Indeed, I think approval is much the more effective way to stifle the thing.

Religion-in-general, my dear Wormwood, is our great ally. It should be encouraged at every turn. I can just see the kiddies sitting around homeroom now, deciding which after-school clubs to join. ("I just can't make a choice, can you, Rebecca Jo? Chess, scuba diving or religion, they all sound like fun. Maybe I'll take religion. They say it improves your communications skills. ") It shouldn't be long before faith is treated as a nice, constructive after-school activity.

Religion, the real thing, can't be practiced in general—any more than language can be spoken in general. You have to choose a specific one. Religion-in-general has all the moral authority and emotional impact of Esperanto. Our mission is to replace belief with some safe, state-approved substitute. Once we extend a veneer of religiosity over the schools, the genuine article can be expected to fade away. Better to have the little suckers pray in school than in church or, even more dangerous, at home. Civil religion, that's the ticket, my dear nephew.

John Paul Stevens may represent something of a problem. Thank hell, he was the only dissenter from this lovely little ruling. Only he recognized that it comes "perilously close to an outright command to allow organized prayer … on school premises." Do you think he's on to our game, namely more and more organization, less and less personal prayer? We have to reduce prayer to something else—an extra-curricular activity, another government benefit, an opening ceremony, a public convenience … anything but an intimate experience. That's when it's dangerous.

Only when prayer and Bible study are officially recognized as wholesome activities conducive to better grades and order in the halls will we have defanged the saving thing. The trick is to make it an instrument—a technique, an extra-curricular activity, never a state of being, or all our subjects will be left open to the Enemy. We'll know we're succeeding when school Prayer Clubs start having their own letter jackets. What a great day it'll be when we make religion utterly dependent on peer pressure.

Justice O'Connor says a school can still ban disruptive groups. That's precisely the kind of prayer we want to encourage, Wormwood, the kind that doesn't disrupt anything, especially not our stock in trade: ordinary, routinely accepted, unnoticeable evil. Real prayer can be a powerfully disruptive influence. It can revolutionize the most stable society; never forget what befell poor Nineveh when its people unaccountably listened to that Jonah person against all reason. Yet prayer can also be the one thing that holds people together when everything else has collapsed around them. Perverse, unpredictable thing, prayer. It needs to be put in the care of the proper authorities, namely the state.

Isn't the name of the law that the court upheld perfect? The Equal Access Act of 1984. I love it. The great problem with the First Amendment, which so long has stood in our way, is precisely that it does not provide equal access to religion. Government is explicitly barred from passing any law having to do with its establishment. Religion is set apart, as if it were something holy. Government is told not to touch it or even come close to it. This is intolerable, Wormwood. Only by bringing religion under the state's authority, by rendering unto Caesar what isn't his, can we blur the essence of religion, which is the separation of the holy and the profane. This decision should help.

The great challenge facing religion is not equal access to the world but how to retain enough integrity to stay distinguishable from the world. My fellow demon Glittercut did a good night's work when he invented Success Theology. Our job, my young protege, is to make religion indistinguishable from the world, one more extra-curricular activity. The last temptation—mastery of the powers and principalities—is still the most effective. As the world giveth, so give we.

What we've got to do is get people thinking of religion as something educational, beneficial, a means to some greater social end, an institution wholly worthy of a little government support—a tuition grant here and there, or a place to meet in the schools. We've got to get it on the dole. That way it won't go off on its own with unpredictable results. It needs to be woven smoothly into the social fabric so it can be corrupted with everything else. Left alone, there's no telling where it may spread. The Enemy can be dangerous when left to His own strange devices. Be warned, young demon, He is never stronger than when He appears weak in the eyes of the world.

Have you noticed the enthusiasm this ruling has kindled among many of the faithful? It's an inspiring sight. They've been handed a stone and think it's bread. Delicious.

That's about all the news from down under. I'm still vying with my old rival Gallclaws for the next GS-16 rating in the bureaucracy. The competition here is, of course, hellish. But news like this cheers me.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

© 1992 Paul Greenberg


Read more from Paul Greenberg at Jewish World Review, in one of his books, or in your preferred news archive.  The Greenberg family plans to archive his papers.