Current Print Issue

Vol. 163, Issue 4

  March 2015

Featured Article

Judicial Comparativism And Judicial Diplomacy

David S. Law
163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 927 (2015).

By global standards, the U.S. Supreme Court is unusual in a number of respects, but one of its most distinctive characteristics is its reluctance to engage in comparative constitutional analysis. Much has been said on the normative question of whether and in what ways the Court ought to make use of foreign constitutional jurisprudence. Rarely, however, do scholars broach the underlying empirical question of why some courts make greater use of foreign law than others.

To identify the causes of comparativism, a behind-the-scenes investigation was conducted of four leading courts in East Asia: the Japanese Supreme Court, the Korean Constitutional Court, the Taiwanese Constitutional Court, and the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. The results of this investigation highlight the crucial role of institutional and resource constraints in shaping judicial behavior but also pose an unexpected challenge to traditional conceptions of the role and function of constitutional courts.

Evidence from interviews conducted with numerous justices, clerks, and senior administrators suggests that a combination of mutually reinforcing factors creates the conditions necessary for comparativism to thrive. The first factor is institutional capacity. A court that lacks institutional mechanisms for learning about foreign law, such as the recruitment of law clerks with foreign legal expertise or the use of researchers who specialize in foreign law, is unlikely to make more than sporadic use of foreign law. The second factor is legal education. Even the most elaborate of institutional mechanisms for facilitating comparativism is unlikely to be effective unless it is backed by a system of legal education that produces an adequate supply of lawyers with both an aptitude and appetite for comparativism.

Investigation of the reasons for which courts engage in comparativism also reveals a hidden underlying phenomenon of judicial diplomacy. Unlike other judicial practices such as textualism or originalism, comparativism is not merely a means by which judges perform legal and adjudicative functions; it can also be a form of diplomatic activity. When constitutional courts demonstrate mastery of foreign law or host foreign judges, their goals may not consist exclusively, or even primarily, of writing stronger opinions or winning over domestic audiences. They may also be competing with one another for international influence or pursuing foreign policy objectives, such as promotion of the rule of law and judicial independence in other countries. The concept of judicial diplomacy helps to explain why constitutional courts engage in a number of practices that are only tenuously related to the act of adjudication. Although the U.S. Supreme Court rarely practices constitutional comparativism, it is an active practitioner of judicial diplomacy in other forms.

Featured Comment

Toward A Standard Of Meaningful Review: Examining The Actual Protections Afforded To Prisoners In Long-Term Solitary Confinement

Elli Marcus
163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1159 (2015).

The unprecedented trend of lengthy incarceration in the United States has produced a disturbing byproduct: the use of long-term solitary confinement. The precise number of people held in solitary confinement is notoriously difficult to determine due to a lack of reliable recordkeeping within institutions and varied terminology among states, but experts believe that tens of thousands of people are held in “restricted housing.” Of those people, many reside long-term in so-called segregation—a practice that removes an inmate from the general prison population to a segregated housing unit and is justified as an administrative measure to maintain safety for inmates and prison officers alike. Segregation placement severely restricts an inmate’s contact with other people and with the outside world.

In light of these extreme conditions and the great impact they can have on a prisoner’s confinement experience, the procedures regarding placement that are afforded to prisoners placed in segregated housing are of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s longstanding tradition of deferring to prison officials has limited the procedural protections prisoners can demand under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. By emphasizing that the procedural guarantee of due process is flexible, the Court has sanctioned segregation decisions as long as the placement involves some form of “meaningful review.” The Court has refrained from defining the requisite process or investigating how a prison’s stated procedures actually function on an individual inmate level, however, rendering meaningful review meaningless.

This Comment considers the actual procedural due process protections afforded to prisoners placed in segregated housing for nondisciplinary reasons. Part I examines the procedural protections afforded to inmates generally and prisoners placed in administrative segregation in particular. In addition, Part I explores the doctrinal limitations on due process challenges relating to administrative segregation. Part II chronicles recent developments in inmate litigation, in which litigants have alleged due process violations despite these limitations. Part II also evaluates the state of the doctrine through an analysis of recent litigation strategies, highlighting Ashker v. Brown as a model. Finally, Part III recommends changes to the Court’s approach to administrative segregation due process challenges.

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 Last updated: May 2, 2015


Comptroller v. Wynne: Internal Consistency, a National Marketplace, and Limits on State Sovereignty to Tax

Michael S. Knoll and Ruth Mason
163 U. Pa. L. Rev. Online 267 (2015).

On November 12, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Comptroller of the Treasury v. Wynne. The case, which has already been called the Court’s most important state tax case in decades, asks how the dormant Commerce Clause restrains state taxation of individual income. Because Wynne lacks the usual indicia of “certworthiness,” the case raises the possibility that the Court will reshape the constitutional balance between the states’ sovereign interest in collecting taxes and the national interest in maintaining an open economy.

The challenge for the Court, whose dormant Commerce Clause rulings have attracted intense criticism, is to delineate clear limits on state taxation that promote a national market economy without unduly restricting the states’ taxing authority. In earlier writings, we developed a framework to resolve tax discrimination cases in a consistent and intuitive manner that provides states with broad flexibility while maintaining an open interstate market. In this Essay, we apply that framework to Wynne to demonstrate how Maryland’s current system violates the dormant Commerce Clause. We also describe how our approach addresses Maryland’s arguments and resolves many issues that seemed to trouble the Justices at oral argument.

The rest of this Essay proceeds as follows. After providing the factual and legal background of the case, we show that the contested Maryland income tax regime fails the Court’s long-standing internal consistency test and so would be struck down were the Court to apply that test. We then respond to Maryland’s three major arguments why the Court should not apply the internal consistency test. Drawing on our earlier work, we first show that Maryland’s principal claim, that its tax law does not discourage cross-border commerce because residents are taxed at the same rate on in-state and out-of-state income, whereas non-residents are taxed at a lower rate on in-state income and not at all on out-of-state income, is not dispositive. Maryland’s argument should not prevail because economic analysis shows that the comparison of tax rates that Maryland offers is too simplistic to reveal whether the Maryland tax system discourages cross-border commerce. Second, Maryland claims that any interference with the Wynnes’ cross-border commerce stems from the interaction of different states’ tax systems rather than Maryland’s tax regime alone. This claim is wrong, and we show that Maryland’s tax system would burden interstate commerce even if no other state imposed taxes. Third, we show that Maryland’s claim that a decision for the taxpayer would allow residents with out-of-state income to free-ride on Maryland’s public services is overstated because the internal consistency test provides states with wide flexibility to tax.

The arguments in Wynne largely followed the outline above, with an important exception. The taxpayer argued that the dormant Commerce Clause requires Maryland to eliminate double taxation of their interstate commerce for the simple reason that Maryland is their state of residence. But the Court’s dormant Commerce Clause doctrine does not clearly support the interpretation that the state of residence must eliminate double taxation. Nor is such an interpretation needed for the Wynnes to win their case. Rather than requiring elimination of double taxation, the dormant Commerce Clause prohibits states from discriminating against interstate commerce. We show that Maryland discriminates against interstate taxation, and this discrimination would persist even if no other states imposed taxes. It is, therefore, independent of any double taxation that arises under the Maryland tax, and it is also independent of any action other states take. Double taxation is not the focus of the dormant Commerce Clause, and avoiding double taxation is not the same as not discouraging cross-border commerce. As we show, a state can discourage cross-border commerce even though there is no double taxation, and double taxation can occur without discouraging cross-border commerce.

Case Note

There’s A TV App For That: Putting The “Neutral” Back In Net Neutrality For The App-Based Television Future

Lindsay Fritchman
163 U. Pa. L. Rev. 299 (2015).

In 2013, Netflix became the first non-TV network to win an Emmy. Did this event signal the beginning of the end for the traditional cable television experience and the classic television networks? In an age of consumer cord-cutting, where streaming video accounts for fifty percent of peak Internet traffic and viewers want to choose which show they watch instead of which channel, the future of television is likely to come in the form of apps. Instead of a cable box, TVs would be plugged directly into an Internet connection. Instead of tuning into live channels, a TV’s main interface would be a wide selection of apps. Consumers could select the Netflix app and choose from its range of TV shows and movies, or select the NBC app to access any content from that network.

This exciting future comes at the height of the debate over “net neutrality.” The phrase “net neutrality” refers to the general principle of equal treatment for all Internet content, or, as one oft-cited definition phrases it: “all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network.” However, a number of disparate ideas fall under the net neutrality umbrella, and these ideas have very different economic implications for consumers and providers. This Case Note argues that some of the principles of net neutrality should be enforced, while others are more likely to hinder innovation and economic growth. I begin by differentiating the separate concepts of net neutrality.

The debate over net neutrality has recently grown more fervent. In Verizon v. FCC, the D.C. Circuit cast the future of net neutrality into question by vacating the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 2010 Open Internet Order on the grounds that the FCC had treated ISPs like common carriers. The FCC responded by adopting the 2015 Open Internet Order, which reclassified ISPs as common carriers and imposed a strict form of net neutrality. However, this Case Note argues that this strict version of net neutrality could result in the exact opposite of the outcome that the FCC seeks. Instead, a more nuanced version of net neutrality could better accomplish the Commission’s goals and provide better results for consumers.


King v. Burwell and the Validity of Federal Tax Subsidies Under the Affordable Care Act

Eric J. Segall & Jonathan H. Adler
163 U. Pa. L. Rev. Online 215 (2015).

Set for oral argument on March 4, 2015, King v. Burwell brings to the Supreme Court yet another challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The King plaintiffs cite 26 U.S.C. § 36B to attack the validity of certain federal health insurance subsidies provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through the ACA. Specifically, because § 36B authorizes subsidies for low-income taxpayers who purchase health insurance from an “Exchange established by the State,” the plaintiffs allege that such subsidies are not valid on exchanges operated by the federal government where the states refused to operate a state-sponsored exchange. Given that the federal government operates exchanges in thirty-four states, the Supreme Court’s ruling will potentially affect nearly ten million taxpayers nationwide.

Professors Eric Segall and Jonathan Adler debate the merits of King v. Burwell, and each suggests how the Court should rule. Professor Segall argues that the Court should follow the IRS’s interpretation of § 36B—namely, that federal tax subsidies are available in a state with a federally operated exchange, because the law allows the federal government to operate the “Exchange established by the State.” Professor Segall emphasizes that Chevron deference requires the Court to defer to the IRS interpretation. In response, Professor Adler contends that Chevron deference is unnecessary because the statutory language is clear: an “Exchange established by the State” cannot be an exchange established by the Department of Health and Human Services. Professor Adler argues that, given the unambiguous language in the statute, the Court need not defer to the IRS interpretation and should rule for the plaintiffs.