Law Quarterly

Get Smart, Contracts?


Technological innovations that are commonly discussed and theorized are often met with diatribes concerning the loss of jobs following their implementation, or prophecies likened to the Terminator series, but rarely are seemingly more innocuous ideas given the air-time they should. In the past few months, Wall Street has become enamored of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, which have become practically ubiquitous terms. However, the concept (Blockchain) underlying these cryptocurrencies is less commonly understood, with its possible applications unbeknownst to most. With Blockchain’s possibilities expanding seemingly every day, and novel ideas for its application to various industries, it should come as no surprise that even the law is expected to be affected by it. But before the aforementioned fears begin developing in your mind, it must be clarified that this discussion will focus on Blockchain’s ability to revolutionize contracts. (more…)

Classifying Legal Approaches: A Machine Learning Project


There is no denying the significant impact technology has had on our society in the past two decades. Everything is moving at an increasingly faster pace than it had in the past, and the legal field, known for being bound by norms, tradition, and precedence has struggled to keep up. Today, a new paradigm is emerging. The availability of massive volumes of data and computational power is expanding the possibilities of legal “text-mining”, machine learning, and AI. In this article we explore some of these methods to help us classify the legal approaches made in the decisions of a set of court cases, evaluate the results, and discuss future outlook.

Precedents is the defining feature of the common law system, attaining special legal significance in virtue of its practical, and not merely theoretical, authority over the content of the law. To measure the practical effects of precedents, we have to first categorize the different types of approaches and interpretations that judges take. The set of cases that we will analyze comes from all trial, district court cases since 2014 that have cited Iqbal v. Ashcroft (2009). Past studies compared decisions in the period before and after Iqbal to find that district courts were not applying standards as handed down by upper courts and that motions to dismiss had increased after Iqbal. While they manually counted and labeled the number of cases that falls under each category, our project aims to automate this process with the help of machine learning driven by complex statistical techniques. (more…)

Plausibility Standards and the Limitation of Access to Courts


If there is one thing to be found from the American people’s view of law as embedded in popular culture, it is the common phrase “I’ll sue you”. Most of the time it is taken lightly, and not perceived as a legitimate threat backed by a person prepared to go to court. This is perhaps a reflection of the difficulties in translating abstract justice to the expensive and time-consuming remedies offered by our already backed up judicial system. For the few occasions that we ever need to resort to formal legal action, however, it is always reassuring that there is such a recourse open to us. On the other hand, a judicial system works efficiently when it effectively screens out cases that are trivial. That is what ruling in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007) sought to accomplish, and in Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009) the screening process was made to be even stricter. These two Supreme Court cases are two of the most cited because of the effect they had on procedural law, and we will examine how exactly they did this. (more…)

Hypocrite in Chief


“Why is @BarackObama constantly issuing executive orders that are major power grabs of authority?” – @realDonaldTrump, 2012

On October 20, 2017 President Donald Trump issued an executive order that amended President Bush’s order of September 14, 2001 to state “the authorities available for use during a national emergency under sections 688 and 690 of title 10, United States Code, are… invoked and made available…” While this language doesn’t seem particularly explosive, and at the time didn’t receive much media attention, the reality is that Trump’s October 20th executive order grants the President immense power over retired military personnel. (more…)

Fake News and Government Censorship


It seems fitting that our country, in the past and the present has been deeply entrenched in wars. What made America in the 18th and 21st century so special are not the conflicts themselves though, but how it is that we adapt to such situations and what values we salvage from the forge. While the Revolutionary war was a fervent rejection of injustice, the war we find ourselves in today is waged with tongue-in-cheek vitriol and twitter-storms. What I’m so indirectly referring to, of course, is the war of words that the Trump administration is waging on all of the other American institutions, while the American public plays the role of the audience.

While that parallelism may be a stretch, there is an imperative at stake in the fight at hand, and that is maintaining the dignity of our democracy. The main point of peril here is not how this conflict manifests itself, but rather what this claim the President made mid-October entails, tweeting, “Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!” (more…)

Take a Knee for the First Amendment


Undoubtedly one of the greatest things that many Americans take pride in is the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech. Giving people the right to freely express themselves through speech, press, or forms of protest, this amendment has been the backbone of a nation founded upon democratic principles. And what is comparable to people’s love of freedom? The love of football, of course. However what happens when the two ideas converge on the field in front of thousands of spectators and millions of fans all across the nation? (more…)

Parole: How Does it Work?


In 2008, Orenthal James Simpson was sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison for a bevy of charges stemming from a September 2007 robbery. However, his release just this past October on parole may have people wondering why, and how, he was granted this temporary release a whole 24 years short of his original sentence. Due to these circumstances, it seems like it is an appropriate time to revisit the idea of parole. How does it work? When is someone eligible for parole? How do they earn it? What happens afterwards? On the contrary, we will also briefly compare O.J.’s circumstances to that of noted serial killer Charles Manson in an effort to get a more diverse look at the process. (more…)

Hate Speech and Charlottesville


One of the most widely misunderstood aspects of the United States Constitution is one of the most well-known clauses: freedom of speech. While most people understand that speech is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, they do not understand that hate speech is also protected under the First Amendment. Most people assume that when speech is targeted, hurtful, or morally wrong it is unconstitutional and therefore illegal, this misconception is easily seen through social media. After the Charlottesville protests, many people took to Twitter or Facebook to declare that the white-supremacists should be arrested for their speech alone. However, it has been shown through various Supreme Court cases that hate speech, including symbolic hate speech, is in fact protected and constitutional. (more…)

Eminent Domain: A Clause that’s Regaining Relevancy


How would you feel if one day the government came knocking on your door and told you that they were seizing your property for a new development? I’m sure you would be a bit shocked. However, this all can be a reality because of a clause in the 5th amendment. It states “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” This statement alludes to a preexisting notion of eminent domain, where a sovereign government may seize private property for public use. Like many other parts of the constitution, there can be a couple key words that hold very important meaning and that are open to interpretation. In regards to eminent domain, I am of course speaking of “Just compensation”. Some powerful influences have attempted and succeeded at times in using those two words to pressure the government into exercising its constitutional ability of eminent domain. For better and sometimes worse eminent domain is used and it has become a contentious issue. (more…)

What is Arbitration and Why Should I Care?


Most can agree that Netflix has become somewhat of a college staple, but unlike ramen or coffee, its enjoyment is accompanied by an esoteric legal issue. For those that have an account, think back to when it was first created. When prompted with the terms and conditions, did you take the time to fully read over their contents? The majority would sneer at that concept, but in that dreary block of text lays the arbitration clause (“Netflix Terms of Use”): a provision denying users the right to trial by jury or participate in class action lawsuits against the company. While seemingly a very nefarious manipulation of words, these clauses, as interpreted by the courts, are for the most part beneficial to society. (more…)