A selection of analyses and opinions from Harvard Law School experts.
An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Waxman. Late in the summer of 2013, President Barack Obama pulled back from his announced plans to use unilateral military force against Syria and stated that he would instead seek Congress’s approval. “I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress,” and “America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together,” he said. “This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president … while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.” Congress never authorized Obama to use force in Syria, and Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him an out by brokering a deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. But Obama’s statement on the need for congressional consent, and the noted contrast with his predecessor, are nonetheless clarifying in their irony.
An op-ed by 28 members of the Harvard Law School faculty. As members of the faculty of Harvard Law School, we write to voice our strong objections to the Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures imposed by the central university administration and the Corporation on all parts of the university, including the law school. We strongly endorse the importance of protecting our students from sexual misconduct and providing an educational environment free from the sexual and other harassment that can diminish educational opportunity. But we believe that this particular sexual harassment policy adopted by Harvard will do more harm than good.
An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Class action lawsuits are big business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — admittedly, not the most objective source — estimates that securities class actions alone cost shareholders $39 billion a year. When you add in all other class actions — for accidents, accounting errors, you name it — you can understand why potential corporate defendants as well as plaintiffs’ lawyers fight tooth and nail over every inch of the legal terrain. When the U.S. Supreme Court takes up an important question of how these class actions will proceed, as it is doing in the case of Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Company LLC v. Owens, it’s worth taking notice of what the court is doing — and why.
Promoting diversity in education was one the biggest and most widely practiced ideas of the 20th century. But as Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P.S. Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at Harvard, argued in last week’s edition of The Weekly Wonk, diversity isn’t getting us where we need to go to help students who are truly disadvantaged. She has another big idea to make higher education a real pathway to social mobility: directing resources to students who are the first in their families to attend college. In this episode, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Brown-Nagin outline the stakes for how reaching out to first-generation students can make college, in the words of Horace Mann, a “great equalizer.”
An op-ed by Lawrence Lessig. This week, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents turned out to protest China’s plan for bringing democracy to that city. Rather than letting voters pick the candidates that get to run for chief executive, Beijing wants the candidates selected by a 1,200 person “nominating committee.” Critics charge the committee will be “dominated by a pro-Beijing business and political elite.”…But there’s not much particularly Chinese in the Hong Kong design, unless Boss Tweed was an ancient Chinese prophet. Tweed famously quipped, “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Beijing’s proposal is just Tweedism updated: a multi-stage election, with a biased filter at the first stage. The pattern has been common in America’s democracy too.
An op-ed by Noah Feldman. The Barack Obama administration has offered no credible legal authorization for a war against Islamic State, and Congress plainly will not provide one. What’s going on here, asks the shade of James Madison? Has the U.S. completely lost the part of the Constitution that imagines Congress and thus the people as a check on the president’s war powers? And if so, does it matter?
An op-ed by Tomiko Brown-Nagin. Sometimes, vague can be misleading—and harmful. For years, colleges have identified disadvantaged students based primarily on “diversity” and “need.” But those categories are broad and unspecific, and can be gamed by sophisticated applicants and parents. The result? Schools aren’t helping the students that really need it. And higher education is now perpetuating—rather than alleviating—inequality. We can reverse this pattern by learning from our education history and shifting the focus of that aid effort to first-generation college students. The key here is this: Colleges need to get more specific about who they want to help, and why.
An op-ed by Laurence Tribe. When I decided to join Students Matter, the group that spearheaded a lawsuit that invalidated California’s teacher tenure, dismissal and “last in, first out” layoff laws, I expected negative reactions from fellow progressives. Sure enough, the day of the announcement, lots of incredulous and even hostile e-mails appeared in my inbox, accusing me of betraying the Democratic Party, our allies in organized labor and even my own K-12 public school teachers. These negative reactions are rooted in a misunderstanding of what is at stake as lawsuits similar to Vergara v. California spread to the other states with similar laws.
An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith. Future historians will ask why George W. Bush sought and received express congressional authorization for his wars (against al Qaeda and Iraq) and his successor did not. They will puzzle over how Barack Obama the prudent war-powers constitutionalist transformed into a matchless war-powers unilateralist. And they will wonder why he claimed to “welcome congressional support” for his new military initiative against the Islamic State but did not insist on it in order to ensure clear political and legal legitimacy for the tough battle that promised to consume his last two years in office and define his presidency.
An op-ed by Jonathan Zittrain. This summer the insurgent group ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Mosul—and along with it, three army divisions’ worth of U.S.-supplied equipment from the Iraqi army, including Humvees, helicopters, antiaircraft cannons and M1 Abrams tanks. ISIS staged a parade with its new weapons and then deployed them to capture the strategic Mosul Dam from outgunned Kurdish defenders. The U.S. began conducting air strikes and rearming the Kurds to even the score against its own weaponry. As a result, even more weapons have been added to the conflict, and local arms bazaars have reportedly seen an influx of supply. It is past time that we consider whether we should build in a way to remotely disable such dangerous tools in an emergency.
An op-ed by Hal Scott. Most college students now returning to campuses will never hear the words that the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. spoke in August to the managements of the country’s 11 largest banks: You’ve failed. Each of these big banks flunked the course titled “living wills.” The Fed and the FDIC required the banks to make contingency plans detailing how in a crisis they would be wound down without suspending critical financial services, and without public support. The two regulators announced jointly last month that no plan earned a passing grade.
An op-ed by Noah Feldman: The message China’s leaders sent when they announced that they would have to approve any future elected leaders of Hong Kong should be heard loud and clear — not as much in Hong Kong as in Taiwan, where it really matters, and throughout the region.
Hong Kong isn’t just a unique entity within China, governed in theory by the principle of “one country, two systems.” It’s also a model of what Taiwan could expect if Chinese hegemony over the island it claims as its own were to become greater. China’s message to Hong Kong puts Taiwanese democrats in a difficult strategic bind in their attempt to assure their future. It also has consequences for American efforts to engage Asian allies who are growing economically closer to China each passing day.
An op-ed by Noah Feldman. When a computer somewhere in China hacks into your company’s server, the Department of Justice says that’s a crime. But good luck hauling an anonymous junior officer in the People’s Liberation Army into court — much less deterring future Chinese cyber-attacks through criminal prosecution. SolarWorld Americas, a major U.S. producer of solar panels, has another idea. It has asked the Department of Commerce to impose trade sanctions against China as retaliation for cyber-attacks it has suffered. The idea is legally creative, politically risky — and the harbinger of things to come in the emerging cool war between China and the U.S.
An op-ed by Laurence H. Tribe: The United States Supreme Court has said that “the constitutional right of free expression is powerful medicine.” Powerful and essential, and it needs to be administered to everyone, including physicians and those regulating their practice. Recent decisions by two federal appeals courts suggest, to the contrary, that the doctor’s office is becoming a First Amendment-free zone…Still, both judicial opinions are troubling for the same reason: They broadly paint medical care as “conduct,” not “speech,” and thereby entirely exempt occupational-licensing laws from the usual First Amendment scrutiny.
An op-ed by Edward Glaeser and Cass Sunstein: A lot of attention has been devoted in recent years to overregulation at the national level. For many people, though, the regulations that hit hardest come from states and localities. The story of Uber’s fight with overzealous local regulators is only a well-publicized tip of the iceberg. A 2012 study conducted by the Institute for Justice finds that 102 trades and occupations now face licensing requirements in states or cities. The people who suffer most from them are those without a lot of money or advanced education.
An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama tried to attract support for one of his highest priorities when he said, “Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits.” He’s right. Economists disagree about a lot of things, but on behalf of immigration reform, there is a professional consensus that cuts across the usual political divisions. Why, then, has reform stalled in Congress?
An op-ed by Annette Gordon-Reed. For a founding father who usually took a sunny view of his nation’s prospects, it was a darkly pessimistic prophesy. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson argued that if – as he hoped – America’s black slaves were one day set free, the result would be conflict and an inevitable descent into racial war. And in the hours after Governor Jay Nixon imposed a night-time curfew on the Missouri town of Ferguson following the killing there of an unarmed teenager by a police officer earlier this month, it is indeed reasonable to wonder whether a form of war (sometimes hot, sometimes cold) has been waged against blacks in America from Jefferson’s time until our own.
An op-ed by Noah Feldman. The government would have to overcome major legal hurdles to charge John Hinckley Jr. in the murder of James Brady some 30 years after the fact. But if that were the morally right thing to do, it would be worth trying, despite the improbability of success. Is it? The answer is no — but not for the reasons you might think. It doesn’t have to do with Hinckley’s guilt or Brady’s heroism or Ronald Reagan’s presidential status. The reason not to prosecute Hinckley lies in the kind of criminal justice system we want to have: one that doesn’t seek solely to punish the guilty, but rather to punish the guilty subject to the requirements of basic fairness.
An op-ed by Susan Crawford. Rockport, Maine, population 3,321, is trying to solve the existential dilemma of small-town America: How do you get people like Meg Weston’s students to stick around?…The town’s Internet access connection didn’t have enough room to handle the school’s demands, and private companies would charge too much to be a realistic option. That is, until this week, when Rockport opened its own gigabit-scale municipal fiber optic network — meaning it can transmit a thousand megabits of data a second.
An op-ed by Charles Ogletree. I have wondered countless times over the past 30 years whether I would live to see the end of the death penalty in the United States. I now know that day will come, and I believe that the current Supreme Court will be its architect.
An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water, the judges in Washington took another big chomp out of the Affordable Care Act. No, not the Supreme Court — this time it was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In a 2-1 panel decision on partisan lines, the appeals court ruled that the tax subsidies for insurance coverage purchased from federal exchanges are illegal. The effect of the decision is to drastically undercut Obamacare by enabling all 36 states that don’t have their own exchanges to exempt millions of people from the individual mandate that they buy insurance. Meanwhile, across the Potomac River, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled the opposite way.
An op-ed by Cass. R. Sunstein. While Representative Paul Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan has provoked significant discussion, little attention has been given to his ideas for regulatory reform. Those ideas deserve separate analysis and also considerable credit. They point in helpful directions, and they suggest the possibility of bipartisan cooperation on some important questions.
An op-ed by Cass R. Sunstein. The new Apple payment system has extraordinary promise. With Apple Pay, you might not need a wallet, and you can leave your credit and debit cards at home. In terms of ease and convenience, payment cards represented a big leap from the era of cash. Apple hopes its system will be a comparable leap from the era of cards. Skeptics have focused on questions of security and privacy, but prospective users might want to pause over a different problem: When payment becomes easier, and when people don’t see the money they’re handing over, they tend to spend a lot more. And as payment becomes more automatic, people become less sensitive to what they’re losing. Apple Pay users might find that their thinner phones are making their bank accounts thinner as well.