Who Is a Jew? Israel’s Supreme Court Expands the Answer

An op-ed by Noah FeldmanIn a stunning, generation-defining decision, Israel’s Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that people who became Jews through Conservative and Reform conversions must be considered as Jews for purposes of the country’s Law of Return, allowing them a fast-track to citizenship. Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, has the authority to reverse the decision and restrict the Law of Return to Orthodox converts. That may well happen — but if it does, it would represent a serious blow to relations between American Jews, most of whom are not Orthodox, and the state of Israel. The Law of Return is foundational to Israel’s self-concept as a Jewish democratic state. It establishes the principle that Jews may become citizens of Israel simply by showing up in the country and declaring their intention to become citizens. As written, the law defines a Jew as “one who was born to a Jewish mother or converted, while not being a member of another religion.” The case before the Supreme Court involved the vexed question of the meaning of the word “converted”: Which conversions count as qualifying a person for citizenship under the law? The answer has massive implications for the nature of Israeli identity.

“Drug Use for Grown Ups” with Dr. Carl Hart

A podcast by Noah FeldmanDr. Carl Hart, neuroscientist and author of the provocative new book “Drug Use for Grown Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear” questions the way we understand, regulate, and police drugs in America. Dr. Hart argues that most drugs are safer than we realize, and the negative effects of drugs are overstated and misunderstood. His research raises larger questions about policing, race, poverty, and mental health.

Using a collective ‘virtuous cycle’ to break the pandemic

An op-ed by Isaac S. Kohane and Jonathan ZittrainMedical schools teach students a four-part “virtuous cycle” in which one step positively reinforces the next: Assess the patient. Implement a therapeutic plan. Assess the patient’s response. Revise the therapeutic plan as needed. In an emergency department, this cycle can be completed in minutes. In the cancer clinic, it can take months. Mastering the virtuous cycle is understood to be a central measure of medical competence. Yet when the patient is not one person but an entire society, this cycle is fractured and ad hoc in ways that would make any patient demand a new doctor. We’ve all been witness to — and victims of — this failure in the pandemic. The superb accomplishments of therapeutic medicine cannot address the population-based issues that Covid-19 has raised. But we can use the virtuous cycle as a way to switch gears to employ approaches drawn from disciplines like public health. For the first step, assessment, doctors were unable to define the most basic clinical course of severe Covid-19, despite billions of dollars invested to achieve interoperable electronic health records over the past 30 years. It took clinicians and researchers months to identify the interplay of inflammation, coagulopathy, and cardiac dysfunction, and then only through a jury-rigged combination of conference calls and small studies shared through disparate nuggets of preprints.

Is $97.5 million fee award in Facebook privacy case a ‘punishment’?

Do not shed a single tear for the plaintiffs’ lawyers who won final approval on Friday for the biggest privacy class action settlement in U.S. history. The deal calls for Facebook to pay $650 million for allegedly violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act by employing facial recognition technology to allow users to “tag” photos of their friends. U.S. District Judge James Donato of San Francisco awarded class counsel from law firms Robbins Geller Rudman + Dowd; Edelson; and Labaton Sucharow $97.5 million in fees, or 15% of the class recovery. That’s a lavish payday by any reckoning…One of the experts who backed class counsel’s fee request, Harvard Law School professor William Rubenstein, said in his declaration that what made this case exceptional was both the outcome class counsel obtained – the biggest-ever settlement in a privacy class action and by far the biggest recovery per class member in a privacy case – and the “remarkably low” number of hours it took plaintiffs’ lawyers to get those results. Rubenstein’s declaration was informed by two sets of data: a set of more than 1,000 class action settlements approved between 2007 and 2011; and a separate compilation of information about lodestar billings from 19 class action settlements approved in the Northern District of California in 2019.

The Trump administration quietly spent billions in hospital funds on Operation Warp Speed

The Trump administration quietly took around $10 billion from a fund meant to help hospitals and health care providers affected by Covid-19 and used the money to bankroll Operation Warp Speed contracts, four former Trump administration officials told STAT. The Department of Health and Human Services appears to have used a financial maneuver that allowed officials to spend the money without telling Congress, and the agency got permission from its top lawyer to do so. Now, the Biden administration is refusing to say whether the outlay means there will be less money available for hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and other providers…But several attorneys said HHS officials likely had wiggle room in the language of the Covid-19 relief bills to spend funds on Operation Warp Speed contracts. Lawmakers gave HHS broad authority to decide how to distribute money in the Provider Relief Fund, though so far the publicly announced grants have gone to more traditionally defined health care providers. Ted Waters, a managing partner at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, said courts generally defer to expert federal agency interpretation on use of funds unless there’s a clear conflict. A supportive HHS Office of the General Counsel opinion could help protect individuals from liability, said Harvard Law School professor and federal budget expert Howell Jackson.

Amazon Workers’ Union Drive Reaches Far Beyond Alabama

Players from the National Football League were among the first to voice their support. Then came Stacey Abrams, the Democratic star who helped turn Georgia blue in the 2020 election. The actor Danny Glover traveled to Bessemer, Ala., for a news conference last week, where he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pro-union leanings in urging workers at Amazon’s warehouse there to organize. Tina Fey has weighed in, and so has Senator Bernie Sanders. Then on Sunday, President Biden issued a resounding declaration of solidarity with the workers now voting on whether to form a union at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse, without mentioning the company by name… “This is an organizing campaign in the right-to-work South during the pandemic at one of the largest companies in the world,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School. “The significance of a union victory there really couldn’t be overstated.” … Mr. Sachs, of Harvard Law School, said that despite Mr. Biden’s admonishments of companies’ interfering in elections, the current labor law does allow Amazon to hold certain mandatory meetings with workers to discuss why they shouldn’t unionize and enables the company to post anti-union messages around the workplace. “It is very helpful that the president is calling out these tactics, but what we need is a new labor law to stop companies from interfering,” he said.

Hundreds of Amazon Drivers Agree That They Deserve a Union in an Informal Driver-Led Survey

In just a few short years, Amazon’s warehouse workers have gone from suffering in silence to jobsite walkouts in Minnesota and more recently a full-blown union vote in Alabama. Now it seems another segment of Amazon’s workforce is taking its first steps towards advocating for better conditions. In an informal driver-led survey shared with Gizmodo, hundreds of U.S. and Canada-based delivery drivers—who transport packages for but are technically not employed by Amazon—describe constant surveillance, to-the-second time crunches, and accelerated work with stagnant pay. And the vast majority say they’d like to unionize…Harvard professor and labor rights expert Benjamin Sachs advocates for a complete overhaul of FDR-era labor law in order to accommodate such non-employee-employees. (See his “Clean Slate” agenda, designed with former National Labor Relations Board member Sharon Block.) In the shorter term, he said, the National Labor Relations Board could authorize states to allow sectoral bargaining, an expansive bargaining system more common in Europe, which allows workers to bargain with multiple employers so long as they’re performing work in the same sector. “You can franchise and subcontract anything,” Sachs told Gizmodo over the phone. “More and more companies are getting away with these games that have enormous human costs, that allow companies to maintain control and profits while shedding all responsibility to the workforce.”

Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem

Join the Harvard Law School Library on March 11 for a live screening and panel discussion of “Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem,” a new documentary about the racial history and modern discrimination of the American misdemeanor system. The film was inspired by HLS Professor Alexandra Natapoff’s book, “Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal.” The screening is also part of the Policing in America lecture series at HLS.

Federalism failing to meet 21st century needs

An essay by Noah Feldman: There wasn’t much President Joe Biden could have done about this month’s Texas energy disaster. Ditto the slow-moving vaccine rollout. The reason is the same: federalism, a system dating to the 1780s and only seriously overhauled once. Although federalism still has some benefits, its obsolescence is increasingly obvious when the U.S. faces crises that, like climate change and COVID-19, don’t respect state boundaries. Energy and health care are only two of the crucial infrastructure systems that remain state-regulated or state-run. And many of those systems are in need of updating everywhere − not piecemeal, as federalism tends to support. Federalism was, in important ways, an American invention, the brainchild of James Madison. It was a product of political necessity for 13 states that had been separately administered as British colonies and that had already tried and failed to function as a loose confederation between 1776 and 1787.

On the moral responsibility of business: An alternative view

In November last year, the largest business and professional associations in the Philippines — collectively called the Philippine Business Group (PBG which includes the Management Association of the Philippines, sponsor of this column) signed a “Covenant for Shared Prosperity” by which it pledged to address the universal issues of economic and social inequality and non-inclusivity by ensuring “… ethical wealth creation and the sharing of prosperity with all their stakeholders.” … There have been serious objectors to the idea of Stakeholder Capitalism, notably from academe. According to Harvard Law School Professor Lucien Bebchuk, the Business Roundtable’s statement that companies have responsibilities to society equal to their responsibilities to shareholders is “largely cosmetic,” adding that “… when CEOs and other corporate leaders face choices, they do not give independent weight to the interests of stakeholders.”