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Washington and Lee Law Review - Responses


by Jennifer Wriggins

Issues of race and racism in the U.S. torts system continue to deserve much more attention from legal scholarship than they receive, and Keeping Cases from Black Juries is a valuable contribution. Studying racism as it infects the torts system is difficult because explicit de jure exclusions of black jurors are in the past; race is no longer on the surface of tort opinions; and court records do not reveal the race of tort plaintiffs, defendants, or jurors. Yet it is essential to try and understand the workings of race and racism in the torts system. The authors pose a question that is probably impossible to definitively answer but that is very important to explore: where state legislatures and courts continue to retain outmoded tort doctrines like contributory negligence, which tend to limit plaintiffs’ access to juries, is this because state legislatures and judges believe juries with large concentrations of African-Americans and low-income people will unacceptably distribute wealth to plaintiffs? The term “Bronx effect” alludes to this alleged phenomenon. No other article has rigorously tried to link the so-called Bronx effect with the perpetuation of outmoded tort doctrines. The authors use a complex interdisciplinary approach to rank states in terms of the degree to which their tort doctrines deny plaintiffs’ access to juries. Digging deep into factors that might affect a state’s ranking, they then find strong correlations between a state’s law making it difficult for plaintiffs to reach a jury, and a state’s having a large African-American population and/or being part of the South. This and other findings in the article are significant, bringing to light a race- based exclusionary pattern in the legal system. The pattern of keeping cases from black buries also likely leads to undercompensation of African-American plaintiffs, my response explains. The article deserves a place in torts scholarship generally, in critical race scholarship, and in empirical legal scholarship. While it is not surprising that definitive causal conclusions are lacking, implicit bias may shed light on the mechanisms by which these outmoded doctrines endure. The article’s calls for reform are reasonable in light of the evidence of the study and other torts scholarship.


by James M. Oleske, Jr.

More than a quarter-century has passed since the Supreme Court decided inEmployment Division v. Smith that religious accommodations are primarily a matter of legislative grace, not constitutional right. In that time, barrels of ink have been spilled over the merits of the Smith decision. But comparatively little attention has been given to the issue of how legislatures and other political actors should exercise their discretion to grant or deny specific religious accommodations. In their article To Accommodate or Not to Accommodate: (When) Should the State Regulate Religion to Protect the Rights of Children and Third Parties?, Professor Hillel Levin, Dr. Allan Jacobs, and Dr. Kavita Arora aim to fill that critical gap. They propose a specific methodology for political actors to use in considering requests for religious exemptions—with the goal of bringing more consistency to the accommodation project—and their proposal has much to recommend it. This Response argues, however, that the Authors’ argument for their proposal suffers by trying to do too much. Instead of offering their proposal solely as a prudential tool for policymakers, they also frame it as a constitutional tool that judges can use to enforce the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. As detailed in this Response, the Authors’ effort to have their proposal serve this second function runs into serious problems that can only distract from their primary mission. Accordingly, this Response suggests that the Authors refocus exclusively on that primary mission in future efforts to advance their proposal and offers a few suggestions for how the Authors might seek to operationalize their test in the political realm.


by David H. Moore

When U.S. Courts adjudicate transnational matters, they risk two forms of judicial imperialism. The first—unilateral imperialism—involves adjudication by a single state at the expense of multilateral forms of resolution or global governance. The second—sovereigntist imperialism—threatens the sovereignty of other states who might wish to resolve the controversy themselves. The risk of imperialism may lead U.S. courts to hesitate to adjudicate transnational claims. In Foreign Governments as Plaintiffs in U.S. Courts and the Case Against “Judicial Imperialism,” Professor Hannah Buxbaum highlights that in addition to facing involuntary adjudication in U.S. courts, foreign states voluntarily sue in U.S. courts as well. The phenomenon of foreign states as plaintiffs, she argues, undermines concerns for imperialism and counsels in favor of U.S. judicial resolution of transnational matters.

Buxbaum’s focus on foreign states as plaintiffs is an important contribution. The implications of the focus, however, are more circumscribed than her article might suggest. The fact that foreign states occasionally sue in U.S. courts means that adjudication of transnational claims by U.S. courts does not always constitute unilateral imperialism. Rather, suits by foreign states may be a form of global governance. When it comes to concerns for sovereigntist imperialism, by contrast, foreign invocation of U.S. jurisdiction fails to undermine the sovereignty concerns that arise when U.S. courts adjudicate against the will of foreign states. First, the typical claims foreign states assert as plaintiffs themselves show respect for sovereignty. Second, consent matters, and in nonconsensual cases sovereignty concerns continue to exist. Third, notions of reciprocity do not automatically justify involuntary adjudication due to foreign state invocation of U.S. jurisdiction. More is needed to conclude that the phenomenon of foreign states as plaintiffs justifies adjudication against the will of those states.


by Doriane Lambelet Coleman

This Response to Professors Levin, Jacobs, and Arora’s article, To Accommodate or Not to Accommodate: (When) Should the State Regulate Religion to Protect the Rights of Children and Third Parties?, focuses on their claim that the law governing religious exemptions to medical neglect is messy, unprincipled, and in need of reform, including because it violates the Establishment Clause. I disagree with this assessment and provide support for my position. Specifically, I summarize and assess the current state of this law and its foundation in the perennial tussle between parental rights and state authority to make decisions for and about the child. Because these are featured as examples in their work, I also summarize and assess the current state of the law on vaccinations and male circumcision. I conclude with some thoughts on Levin, Jacobs, and Arora’s provocative suggestion that the law governing religious exemptions to medical neglect (as reformed according to their terms) might provide a template for addressing other accommodation claims such as those of religiously-motivated opponents of gay marriage.


by Miriam H. Baer

This Response addresses Jenia Turner and Alison Redlich’s comparative analysis of criminal discovery practices in two neighboring states, Virginia and North Carolina. Whereas Virginia adheres to the traditional, category-driven approach, North Carolina requires its prosecutors to disclose the contents of their “file,” with some notable exceptions.

Open-file discovery has quickly become a fertile source of debate among scholars and practitioners. Turner and Redlich have devised a valuable survey to test theoretical claims commonly asserted by open-file discovery’s opponents and supporters. Unsurprisingly, the authors find that disclosure is generally broader in North Carolina (an open-file state) than in Virginia. More notable is the fact that the North Carolina prosecutors who answer the survey seem less opposed to open-file discovery than their Virginia counterparts.

Those who favor the expansion of open-file discovery will find ample cause for celebration in several, but not all, of Turner and Redlich’s findings. In this Response, I express my own reservations, which rest partially on standard concerns with survey data, as well as the fact that some of open-file’s state level success may rely upon the availability of an entirely different criminal justice system (i.e., the federal system) for complex investigations and prosecutions.


by Kevin R. Johnson

Jenny-Brooke Condon’s article The Preempting of Equal Protection for Immigrants?analyzes important issues surrounding the constitutional rights of immigrants. Professor Condon in essence contends that the current legislative, executive, and scholarly focus on the distribution of immigration power between the state and federal governments has undermined the Equal Protection rights of legal immigrants in the United States. Despite the contentious national debates over immigration reform, immigrants’ rights have generally been of secondary concern in contemporary immigration scholarship, which is now dominated by analysis of immigration federalism.

Professor Condon undoubtedly is correct that we should not lose sight of the rights of immigrants through a myopic focus on federalism concerns. Courts should be vigilant to protect noncitizens from the excesses of all governmental exercises of power, including discrimination against immigrants by the federal government.

This essay identifies two areas for future inquiry that build on The Preempting of Equal Protection for Immigrants? First, Professor Condon questions the arbitrary line-drawing between the standards of review of state and federal alienage classifications. But, she herself draws a questionable line by advocating for greater protection of the constitutional rights of legal immigrants, while stopping short of calling for the extension of rights to undocumented immigrants. However, all immigrants are disenfranchised, lack direct political power, and frequently suffer the disfavor of the majority in the political process. That status militates in favor of strict scrutiny review of laws targeting undocumented as well as lawful immigrants.

Second, if Professor Condon’s call for greater attention to the Equal Protection rights of noncitizens is taken seriously, we must examine the continuing vitality of the plenary power doctrine. That exceptional doctrine shields from judicial review invidious classifications under the U.S. immigration laws, including discrimination that would be patently unconstitutional if applied to U.S. citizens; those laws historically have discriminated against noncitizens who are racial minorities, poor, disabled, women, political dissidents, and others. Dismantling what is known as “immigration exceptionalism” has long puzzled immigration law scholars. Professor Condon reminds us of the need to reconsider the constitutional immunity for immigrant admissions and removal criteria.


by Mark Glover

In Irresolute Testators, Clear and Convincing Wills Law, Professor Jane Baron draws attention to a conflict between the mechanics of the law of wills and the realities of testation. Baron observes that the law of wills is designed to be used as a tool by resolute and rationale testators to communicate their intent regarding the distribution of property upon death. However, the law’s archetypical testator does not represent the many real testators who are irresolute and irrational, those possessing incoherent and only partially formed thoughts regarding the disposition of their estates.

Based upon the disconnect between the law’s paradigm of resolute will-making and the irresoluteness of testation in the real world, Baron argues that reforms that have given probate courts discretion to correct mistakes in testation do not function appropriately. For instance, Baron argues that the harmless error rule, which allows courts to excuse defects in a testator’s compliance with will-execution formalities when the testator’s intent is established by clear and convincing evidence, does not meaningfully limit probate courts’ discretion to correct mistakes. Specifically, she argues that many courts are concerned with not only the technical mistakes of resolute testators but also the more troubling mistakes of irresolute testators, and consequently, these courts overreach the boundaries of the harmless error rule.

This essay acknowledges Baron’s insight regarding the tension between the law and reality but questions whether this tension renders the harmless error rule and its clear and convincing evidence standard ineffective. More particularly, this essay argues that, despite potential overreaching by some courts, the clear and convincing evidence standard likely operates in the way that reformers intended and that the harmless error rule represents an improvement upon the conventional law of will-execution.


by Naomi Cahn

In Irresolute Testators, Professor Jane Baron provocatively suggests the existence of two distinct types of testators: the rational, autonomous testator who has made deliberate choices about the contents of her will and whose errors, if any, are minor; and the more vulnerable, less resolute testator who may not have actually made the final decisions enshrined in a formal will. To illustrate how these testators appear in wills law, she analyzes how courts apply the doctrines of harmless error and mistake reformation. While the two doctrines appear to be intended to help the resolute testator, courts instead, she suggests, also apply the doctrines to help the irresolute testator. In causing us to reflect on the distinctions between dispository intent and a formal writing recognizable as a final statement, on rational and boundedly rational testators, on final and almost-final declarations, her article focuses us on the art of line-drawing in wills law. In this commentary, I explore another context that similarly raises issues about testators whose final intent is not clearly expressed: when can a disappointed beneficiary sue the drafting attorney for malpractice? The doctrine of privity confronts the spectre of the irresolute or inconclusive testator, yet courts have developed some dividing lines that differ from those they have developed surrounding harmless error.Privity seems to offer another illustration of how bright-line rules do not necessarily achieve dispository intent, although the privity rules do achieve certainty on only allowing final dispository statements (that are incomplete or show a lack of resolution) to provide a basis for a malpractice action. This commentary applauds Professor Baron’s achievement in focusing us on the limits of the wills reform doctrines and the significance of accounting for different types of testators.


by Candace Johnson & Mae C. Quinn

In this essay, Candace Johnson and Mae Quinn respond to Tamar Birckhead’s important article The New Peonage, based, in part, on their work and experience representing youth in St. Louis, Missouri. They concur with Professor Birckhead’s conclusions about the unfortunate state of affairs in 21st century America— that we use fines, fees, and other prosecution practices to continue to unjustly punish poverty and oppressively regulate racial minorities. Such contemporary processes are far too reminiscent of historic convict leasing and Jim Crow era efforts intended to perpetuate second-class citizenship for persons of color. Johnson and Quinn add to Professor Birckhead’s critique by further focusing on the plight of children of color and surfacing non- financial sanctions in our juvenile courts that similarly marginalize minority youth. They argue these practices— including shackling, intentional and unintentional shaming, and educational deprivation—also work to reproduce a secondary caste in communities across the country.