Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener and the Liberty Justice Center. Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts

Friday, October 9, 2020

Could 'inverse' First Amendment save us from ourselves?

Journalism professor Stephen Bates, J.D., University of Nevada Las Vegas, has published a fascinating article in The Atlantic on "the inverted First Amendment," as envisioned by philosopher William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) in the 1940s.

Hocking on National
Educational Television
As Bates explains, Hocking posited that a correct interpretation of the First Amendment command, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech," incorporates the command that, sometimes, Congress must make laws that further the freedom of speech.

Post-war America was beset with the perception that mass media were out of control, contributing, as Bates describes, to "polarization, echo chambers, and provocateurs."  That's a good reminder for our times that since the Spanish-American War and subsequent, in part consequent, invention of modern journalism, it's never quite been the idyllic institution of our imaginations.  Hocking contributed a key study to the work of the U.S. Commission on Freedom of the Press, on which he served.

The commission, otherwise known as the Hutchins Commission after chair and University of Chicago President Robert Hutchins, produced a landmark 1947 report.  Concluding that the press is a vital institution in American democracy, the Hutchins Report could have been read as justification for government regulation in furtherance of social responsibility.  The report was read to bolster the controversial development of journalism professionalization and ethics codes.

Hocking's inverse, or positive, First Amendment would have compelled the government affirmatively to protect free speech and even to promote journalism.  This model of positive speech regulation is not unknown in American media law.  In the broadcast medium, because it was not afforded full First Amendment protection, the dubiously constitutional fairness doctrine was instigated by the Hutchins Commission.  In the same vein and medium, we still have, however increasingly irrelevant it is, the equal time rule.  There is some debate over whether there is not some minimal positive requirement in the First Amendment penumbra.  For example, due process in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments may be read to require that a court respond to a complainant's filing—a petition for redress of grievance—if only to dismiss it.

A positive First Amendment could have been the basis for a constitutional right of freedom of information, or access to information, in lieu of the later enacted and oft beleaguered Freedom of Information Act of 1967.  Some states and many countries, not to mention international human rights systems, declare a constitutional or human right of access to information, which may require government transparency and even the affirmative publication of information.

Pres. Roosevelt
proposes a Second
Bill of Rights in
January 1944.

More broadly, the notion of positive civil rights, as opposed to the mostly negative commands of the U.S. Bill of Rights, animates constitutional law in many other countries, especially in association with what are sometimes called "second" and "third generation," or "red" and "green" rights, guaranteeing socioeconomic interests, such as employment, food, housing, and a safe environment, as opposed to "first generation," "blue" rights of a political nature.  ("Generations" models of human rights have been criticized fairly as inadequate, if not patronizing, to describe socio-legal development, but the model is still usefully descriptive in some contexts.)  In fact, some positive, "second generation" rights would have been enshrined in U.S. law, had President Franklin Roosevelt's "Second Bill of Rights" gained traction.  The famously expansive constitution of South Africa well models the codification of socioeconomic rights, while the experience of the courts and the people of South Africa speaks simultaneously to the challenges of making the model work, and the arguable perils of constitutionalizing aspiration.

Prof. Bates
An inverted First Amendment could empower the government to combat misinformation, or "fake news," today in ways that the First Amendment as presently understood forbids.  However, Bates recognizes, such a positive First Amendment would have a dark side to contend with.  A strong interpretation of a positive First Amendment could justify government regulation that would suppress speech in the interest of furthering other speech, just as the fairness doctrine was said to have done.  Critiquing contemporary calls to regulate the internet, Paul Matzko for the libertarian Cato Institute wrote in 2019:

In one of her early newsletters, Ayn Rand excoriated the public interest standard as an excuse covering “the right of some men (those who, by some undefined criterion, are the public) to sacrifice the interests of other men (of those who, for unspecified reasons are not the public)” [1962].

Rand’s words were meant particularly for FCC Chairman Newton Minow, who, in what may be the only famous speech by an FCC commissioner, had described television as a “vast wasteland” and called for limits on the number of game shows, Westerns, and cartoons aired....

.... The more serious danger was the routine weaponization of the public interest standard to advance private or partisan interests. For example, during the early 1940s, the Roosevelt administration pushed for a ban on newspaper ownership of radio stations, ostensibly because of the public’s interest in preventing cross-media consolidation, but also to prevent anti-New Deal newspaper owners from having a radio platform from which to criticize the President’s policies. The FCC during Richard Nixon’s administration would use a similar rule to try and pressure the Washington Post into abandoning its investigation of the Watergate scandal. 

Sometimes the government does, itself, get into the business of journalism.  Yet recent rancor between President Trump and the Voice of America over what the President seems to perceive as partisan disloyalty shows that VOA's very credibility throughout the world depends on its statutorily mandated editorial independence.

The line between government action to protect a negative First Amendment, such as an artistic-value savings provision in indecency law, and government regulation to further a positive First Amendment, such as leveling the free speech marketplace with a must-publish or must-censor rule, is much finer in practice than in theory.  As Bates observes, "Hocking was a philosopher, not a lawyer."

The article is Stephen Bates, The Man Who Wanted to Save the First Amendment by Inverting It, The Atlantic, Oct. 7, 2020.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Linguists' famous feud evidences defamatory power of 'racist' charge

As I've written and spoken about in the past, in the 20-aughts, I was an unwilling combatant, enveloped collaterally, in "the Race Wars" at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (epilog on my part).  If you've never heard of the Race Wars, you're to be forgiven.  It happened in American flyover country, where nothing in academia matters.  Not like when something happens at UCLA, and we get all vexed about it, like it's the first time, because now it's happened to someone important.  Nevertheless, my experience was life-altering for me.  And as often happens in the course of life's affection for irony, trauma leaves knowledge, wisdom, and even enlightenment in its wake.

One thing the Race Wars did was turn me 180 degrees into a plaintiff's advocate for defamation and privacy torts, even while vigorously maintaining my bona fides as a defender of the First Amendment and freedoms of expression and information.  Oddly enough, as a lawyer in the 1990s, I had once researched, for a case, the question of whether, or to what extent, an accusation of "racist" is capable of defamatory meaning.  I had concluded then, nearly never, even if uttered upon a false factual predicate.  And I was untroubled by that conclusion, because it fit with my then-staunch allegiance to free speech near-absolutism.  When, a decade later, the R-word was weaponized against me—falsely, unless one is speaking systemically, without reference to individual culpability, but that wasn't a thing until recently—I reassessed my analysis.

Yet my research showed, still, a decade ago, that it would be exceedingly difficult, impossible in many jurisdictions, to eke a successful defamation claim out of "racist," even when an accuser is signaling, by wink and nod, a false factual basis for the charge.  Common law evolution is slow, and precedents had mounted upon the conclusion that "racist" is a matter of opinion only, incorporating no assertion of fact, and thus incapable, as a matter of law, of lowering one's estimation in the eyes of the community.  Charged with a false accusation that threatened to end my career, that conclusion felt wrong.  If one were expected to resign one's job upon the mere fact of an accusation, regardless of its veracity, and regardless of any defense—I was asked to—then that seemed to me a sufficiently horrific charge to fit the bill for defamation.

In the years since, I have seen the same dynamic play out in cases around the country, to other people, in academia, employment, politics, and other contexts, repeatedly reinvigorating that nagging question, whether "racist" is merely an expression of opinion, or can carry defamatory meaning.  So it was with great interest, while on involuntary summer/pandemic hiatus from UMass Law, catching up with my reading, that I came upon a little story about the accusation "racist" in a Tom Wolfe book.  I'm breaking hiatus momentarily to share this story with you.

Tom Wolfe's Take on 'Everett v. Chomsky'
I just read Tom Wolfe's Kingdom of Speech (2016), about the origin of language, anthropologically speaking. Wolfe references a brilliant book I read some years ago, Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes (2008), by Daniel Everett, about his language work (and much more) with the isolated Pirahã people in Brazil. What I didn't know was that Everett's book was one important salvo in a vast intellectual war, in anthropology circles, between Everett, and his supporters, and Noam Chomsky, and his acolytes, over Chomsky's theory of "universal grammar" (UG).  (I'm not going into detail on the theories here, because that's not my purpose.)  Everett's 2008 book pretty well laid out UG.

What Wolfe explained in Kingdom of Speech is that Chomsky's people were like a (socialist, but, like, really, socialist) cult; they had been merciless in defending UG against advancing science showing UG to be garbage (I generalize). They would go after scientists to undermine their work and in that way kept UG around as a dominant theory of language development for decades, despite what, we see clearly now, was a dearth of evidence. UG was less science and more belief system, or academic cult of personality, built around Chomsky.

Among the unusual features of the Pirahã language is a lack of verb tense, as well as other treatments of time and relativity (especially the omission of something called "recursion"; again, not going into it here) that make communication with us, speakers of the world's modern languages, very difficult. One could conclude that the Pirahã are not very smart, because they don't communicate the way we do. That's mistaken; it's apples and oranges. But it's difficult to perceive Pirahã intellect until one masters the language, and Everett was the first outsider who ever did, only after years of study (and he is a savant-level quick study).

So here's the pertinent part. Everett was burgeoningly famous for his research on the ground in Brazil. Chomsky hated field work in general and hated Everett in particular, whose research was exploding UG. So, in 2007, Chomsky's side engineered this, according to Wolfe:

"Everett was in the United States teaching at Illinois State University when he got a call from a canary with a PhD informing him that a Brazilian government agency, FUNAI, the Portuguese acronym for the National Indian Foundation, was denying him permission to return to the Pirahã ... on the grounds that what he had written about them was ... racist. He was dumbfounded." (Wolfe's ellipses and emphasis.)

Wolfe further explained:

"Everett expressed nothing but admiration for the Pirahã. But by this time, even giving the vaguest hint that you looked upon some—er—indigenous people as stone simple was no longer elitist. The word, by 2007, was 'racist.' And racist had become hard tar to remove.

"Racist ... out of that came the modern equivalent of the Roman Inquisition's declaring Galileo 'vehemently suspect of heresy' and placing him under house arrest for the last eight years of his life, making it impossible for him to continue his study of the universe. But the Inquisition was at least wide open about what it was doing. In Everett's case, putting an end to his work was a clandestine operation."

It turns out that Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, in 2008, was Everett's rejoinder to this attack. The book was wildly popular, exceeding even the bounds of scholarly readership (thus reaching me), and hammered the nails to shut UG's coffin.

Though things worked out all right for Everett, Wolfe's story evidences, as if more evidence were needed, the defamatory potential of that R-word charge—even at a time when I was being told to let it go, that "words [could] never hurt me."

Incidentally, and strangely collaterally irrelevantly, Wolfe and I both are graduates of Washington and Lee University. As I just read in parody,"Washington and Lee University votes to remove offensive name from school's title. Will now simply be known as 'University.'"

Monday, March 23, 2020

Multidisciplinary 'Law and Development' book tackles hard problems from principled perspectives

[UPDATE, March 31, 2020: The Introduction to Law and Development is now available for free download from Springer, via SSRN.]

I am thrilled to announce the publication of Law and Development: Balancing Principles and Values, from Springer, a publication in the Kobe University Monograph Series in Social Science Research (flyer). While I was privileged to serve as a contributor and co-editor, with Professor Dai Tamada (law site), of Kobe University in Japan, this book has been a project of passion for our lead editor, my inspiring colleague and friend, Professor Piotr Szwedo. On the law faculty of the Jagiellonian University (UJ) in Poland, Professor Szwedo serves as head of the OKSPO Center for Foreign Law Schools and co-director of UJ law programs with the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, and the Université d’Orléans.

Born of an international conference organized by Professor Szwedo at UJ, this ambitious multidisciplinary collection examines the problem of "development" across the world especially from perspectives informed by morality and ethics. Here is the jacket précis:

This book examines the concept of ‘development’ from alternative perspectives and analyzes how different approaches influence law. ‘Sustainable development’ focuses on balancing economic progress, environmental protection, individual rights, and collective interests. It requires a holistic approach to human beings in their individual and social dimensions, which can be seen as a reference to ‘integral human development’ – a concept found in ethics. ‘Development’ can be considered as a value or a goal. But it also has a normative dimension influencing lawmaking and legal application; it is a rule of interpretation, which harmonizes the application of conflicting norms, and which is often based on the ethical and anthropological assumptions of the decision maker. This research examines how different approaches to ‘development’ and their impact on law can coexist in pluralistic and multicultural societies, and how to evaluate their legitimacy, analyzing the problem from an overarching theoretical perspective. It also discusses case studies stemming from different branches of law.
Prof. Szwedo
Prof. Tamada
In organizing the book's 13 contributed chapters, we envisioned and executed on four threads of approach: (1) conceptualizing development, (2) financing development, (3) development and society, and (4) applied sustainable development.  Scholars, lawyers, and scientists who approach development from diverse professional, geographic, and experiential perspectives all will find compelling inroads in this volume, which ranges from the highest echelons of philosophical thinking about the human condition to the most earthbound problems of how many fish swim in the sea.  With DOI links, here are the contents and contributors:
  1. “Law & Development” in the Light of Philosophy of (Legal) History, by Tomáš Gábriš, Faculty of Law, Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovak Republic.
  2. Populorum Progressio: Development and Law?, by Christine Mengès-Le Pape, University Toulouse, France.
  3. Luigi Sturzo’s Socio-economic Development Theory and the Case of Italy: No Prophet in His Homeland, by Flavio Felice, University of Molise, Campobasso, Italy; and Luca Sandonà,University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy.
  4. International Financial Aid, Catholic Social Doctrine and Sustainable Integral Human Development, by George Garvey, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., USA.
  5. Common but Differentiated Responsibilities for Developed and Developing States: A South African Perspective, by Zuzana Selementová, LL.M. (Cape Town), Valouch, and Attorneys-at-Law, Prague, Czech Republic.
  6. Must Investments Contribute to the Development of the Host State? The Salini Test Scrutinised, by Dai Tamada, Graduate School of Law, Kobe University, Japan.
  7. Water: The Common Heritage of Mankind?, by Franck Duhautoy, University of Warsaw, Centre of French Civilisation, Poland.
  8. Private-Sector Transparency as Development Imperative: An African Inspiration, by Richard Peltz-Steele, University of Massachusetts, North Dartmouth, USA; and Gaspar Kot, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.
  9. Between Economic Development and Human Rights: Balancing E-Commerce and Adult Content Filtering, by Adam Szafrański, Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Warsaw, Poland; Piotr Szwedo, Faculty of Law and Administration, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland; and Małgorzata Klein, Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland.
  10. A Comparative Law Approach to the Notion of Sustainable Development: An Example from Urban Planning Law, by Ermanno Calzolaio, University of Macerata, Italy.
  11. Challenges Concerning ‘Development’: A Case-Study on Subsistence and Small-Scale Fisheries in South Africa, by Jan Glazewski, Institute of Marine & Environmental Law, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
  12. Economic and Social Development in the Republic of South Africa’s New Model of Mineral Rights: Balancing Private Ownership, Community Rights, and Sovereignty, by Wojciech Bańczyk, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.
  13. Sustainable Development as a New Trade Usage in International Sale of Goods Contracts, by Daniel Zatorski, Faculty of Law and Administration, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.
An introduction from the editors ties the work together.  Previews (with abstracts) of each chapter can be viewed from the book's home page at Springer (or from the DOI links above), where also a flyer about the book can be downloaded.  Working on this project has been a tremendous education for me on law and development.  My congratulations and deep gratitude extend to Professor Szwedo, Professor Tamada, and every one of the contributing authors.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Beyond anthropomorphism: Research posits post-humanist animal rights

Tomorrow the UMass Law Review will ceremoniously launch its volume 14.  Included therein is a deep, thought-provoking work on animal rights and welfare by Barnaby McLaughlin, '19, himself a teacher in the English Department at Rhode Island College.  The paper, "A Conspiracy of Life: A Posthumanist Critique of Appoaches to Animal Rights in the Law," is available online from the law review.  I'm proud to say I was a reader on this project, though it was decidedly one of those I-got-more-than-I-gave scenarios.  I'll take my Ph.D now, please.  Here is the abstract.

Near the end of his life, Jacques Derrida, one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, turned his attention from the traditional focus of philosophy, humans and humanity, to an emerging field of philosophical concern, animals. Interestingly, Derrida claimed in an address entitled The Animal That Therefore I Am that, 

since I began writing, in fact, I believe I have dedicated [my work] to the question of the living and of the living animal. For me that will always have been the most important and decisive question. I have addressed it a thousand times, either directly or obliquely, by means of readings of all the philosophers I have taken an interest in. . . .

Derrida’s insistence that the question of the animal has always been the focus of his work reflects an interesting turn in philosophy at the end of the twentieth century, where the primacy of the human was rightfully being challenged, and the lives of animals were being considered on their own terms. Increasingly, the shift in focus from the primacy of the human to a more thoughtful consideration of animals has moved outside of just philosophy into other academic fields. These developments have been reflected in the emerging interdisciplinary field of posthumanism. Posthumanism, inclusive of all disciplines, seeks to shed the legacy of liberal humanism and the primacy of the human and instead consider all the interests of those that the human shares the world with (including animals, plants, technology, et cetera). Curiously however, while posthumanism has had an impact in most disciplines, outside of a few scholars, it is absent in the legal field (both in academia and in practice). Where the status of animals in the law has been challenged, it has largely been done through arguments derived from the legacy of liberal humanism. The two most significant challenges to the status of animals in the law have been mounted by the Nonhuman Rights Project in the United States, and the Great Ape Project, which has primarily been successful in New Zealand and Spain. Both projects have sought to expand legal rights to hominids, though each has adopted different strategies. The Nonhuman Rights Project has sought to use arguments within existing legal paradigms to force the courts to recognize chimpanzees as “persons,” whereas the Great Ape project has intentionally avoided court (for fear of setting unfavorable precedents) and favored pressing change through legislation. Ultimately however, both projects are thoroughly rooted in liberal humanism and advance their arguments through proximity claims—the idea that certain animals, in these cases, apes, deserve legal consideration because of their similarity to humans.

This paper is an interdisciplinary comparative analysis of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s failures in the United States and the Great Ape Project’s success in New Zealand. The success of the legislative approach of the Great Ape Project demonstrates the need to approach these arguments outside of the courtroom to avoid hostile judges, philosophical legacies, and archaic precedents. However, the Great Ape Project does not go far enough in expanding the rights of other beings as it relies on emphasizing similarities with humans as the sole reason for extending rights, leaving other beings, even higher order mammals like dolphins, without inclusion— and a real possibility that any such inclusion would forever be cut off. Therefore, this paper proposes the need for a posthumanist foundation for pursuing the rights of other beings through legislative means.