In Connecticut, Breaking Barrier Between a Suburb and Public Housing – NYTimes.com

In Connecticut, Breaking Barrier Between a Suburb and Public Housing – NYTimes.com.

New Article: “The Rise and Fall of Unconscionability as the ‘Law of the Poor'”

New Article: Anne Fleming, The Rise and Fall of Unconscionability as the ‘Law of the Poor’, 102 Georgetown L.J. 1383 (2014) .  Abstract below:

What happened to unconscionability? Here’s one version of the story: The doctrine of unconscionability experienced a brief resurgence in the mid-1960s at the hands of naive, left-liberal, activist judges, who used it to rewrite private consumer contracts according to their own sense of justice. These folks meant well, no doubt, much like present-day consumer protection crusaders who seek to ensure the “fairness” of financial products and services. But courts’ refusal to enforce terms they deemed “unconscionable” served only to increase the cost of doing business with low-income households. Judges ended up hurting the very people they were trying to help. In the face of incisive criticism, judicial enthusiasm for the doctrine of unconscionability quickly faded. A new consensus emerged in favor of legislation requiring better disclosure of consumer contract terms ex ante, rather than ex post judicial review.

This Article presents a different narrative, one that is informed by extensive research in previously untapped archival sources. In this story, the wise legislature does not overrule the misguided courts. On the contrary, it reveals that lawmakers laid the groundwork for the judicial revival of unconscionability, and then rewrote statutory rules to codify the ensuing court decisions. In the District of Columbia, home to the famous Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co. litigation, the legislature revived unconscionability through the enactment of the Uniform Commercial Code (U.C.C.), which reintroduced the once-archaic doctrine into the legal vernacular. Just as the U.C.C. drafters intended, unconscionability review allowed courts to do openly what they had been doing covertly for years — refuse to enforce harsh, one-sided bargains as written. In 1965, the D.C. Circuit seized the opportunity unconscionability offered to prevent the loss of a poor woman’s furniture. But the Williams litigation also did something more. It drew public attention to the controversy before the court and alerted D.C. lawmakers to a recurring problem in need of a legislative fix. In response, local leaders set to work drafting consumer credit reform legislation. Lawmakers eventually adopted a firm set of rules to govern “installment” sales contracts in the District of Columbia, including a ban on the objectionable contract term at issue in Williams.

In this narrative, judges and legislators did not advance competing regulatory visions. They agreed on the need for substantive limits on installment sales to poor borrowers. Moreover, contrary to what some scholars might predict, litigation did not divert scarce resources down a dead-end path. Rather, it catalyzed the process of legislative change, raising public consciousness of problems in the low-income marketplace and fueling the drive for substantive reforms on the local level.

New Article: “EITC as Income (In)Stability?”

New Article: Kerry A. Ryan, EITC as Income (In)Stability?, 15 Fla. Tax Rev. 583 (2014).  Abstract below:

Congress enacted the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), inter alia, to entice poor single mothers to work (or work more) as a means of lifting themselves out of poverty. Its design as a wage subsidy that phases out at higher earnings levels is intended to accomplish this goal. A strong labor market is crucial to the success of work-based benefit programs, such as the EITC. The EITC can motivate female household heads to work (or work more), but they cannot act on that motivation if no jobs or additional working hours exist. This Article demonstrates that during economic downturns, the EITC wage subsidy contributes to, rather than prevents, poverty in single-mother families. Lost EITC benefits exacerbate recession-induced earnings losses, a phenomenon this Article refers to as income destabilization. In contrast, the EITC stabilizes the incomes of its wealthier beneficiaries as increased credit amounts offset underlying salary declines. While this pattern of income (de)stabilization is an unintended byproduct of the design of the EITC as a targeted wage subsidy, its negative impact on the economic welfare of female-headed households is problematic, given that these same families are the historically targeted program beneficiaries. This Article offers a narrowly tailored proposal that alters the structure of the EITC during recessionary periods in order to prevent EITC-induced income destabilization.

Op-Ed: “Living in a Vehicle”

Op-Ed: Linda Tashbook, Living in a Vehicle, Jurist Forum, June 26, 2014.  This op-ed focuses on the notable decision in Desertrain, available here.

Op-Ed: “Improving Federal Laws To End Poverty in Indian Country”

Op-Ed: Robert T. Coulter, Improving Federal Laws To End Poverty in Indian Country, Equal Voice, July 1, 2014.

Navajo Nation - Photo Copyright Ezra Rosser

Navajo Nation – Photo Copyright Ezra Rosser

Upcoming Event and New Book: “Income Support for the Poorest: A Review of Experience in Eastern Europe and Central Asia”

Income SupportUpcoming Event and New Book: The World Bank has published a new book, Emil Tesliuc et al., Income Support for the Poorest: A Review of Experience in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (2014) and is also hosting a related book panel on July 9 from 3-4:30pm at the World Bank in Washington, D.C (Auditorium J1-050; World Bank J Building, 701 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20433; RSVP infoshopevents@worldbank.org).

-Thanks to Paul Prettitore for the the heads up!

New Article: “Urbanormativity, Judicial Blind Spots and Abortion Law”

New Article: Lisa R. Pruitt & Marta R. Vanegas, Urbanormativity, Judicial Blind Spots and Abortion Law, Berkeley J. Gender L. & J., forthcoming 2015.  Abstract below:

State laws regulating abortion have proliferated dramatically in recent years. Twenty-two states adopted 70 different restrictions in 2013 alone. Between 2011 and 2013, state legislatures passed 205 abortion restrictions, exceeding the 189 enacted during the entire prior decade. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently upheld as constitutional several such restrictions, parts of Texas H.B. 2 (2013), in Planned Parenthood of Texas v. Abbott. That court is currently considering the constitutionality of a similar Mississippi law. These and other recent cases raise issues likely to be heard soon by the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the regulations at stake in Texas H.B. 2 was a requirement that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. The Texas law also limits the use of medication-induced abortions.

Rarely acknowledged in academic literature or media coverage of these laws and constitutional litigation arising from them is the fact that the greatest impact of these regulations — like that of many other state abortion laws enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey — is on those who live farthest from major metropolitan areas, where abortion providers tend to be located. Indeed, these laws exact the greatest toll on women who are both rural and poor. We argue that, contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Abbott, these laws place undue burdens on the abortion rights of a significant number of women and that they should be declared unconstitutional.

In addition to these doctrinal arguments, we draw on three complementary critical frames — legal geography, the concept of privilege, and rural studies concept of urbanormativity — to articulate new ways of thinking about the recent spate of so-called incremental abortion regulations and federal courts’ adjudication of the constitutionality of these laws. First, legal geography provides a frame for theorizing the relationship between the abortion regulations and rurality, revealing how law’s impact is variegated and variable, dictating different outcomes from place to place because of spatial differences. Second, we deploy the concept of privilege in arguing that many federal judges are spatially privileged but blind to that privilege. In our increasingly metro-centric nation, where rural populations are dwindling and marginalized literally and symbolically, most federal appellate judges appear to have little experience with or understanding of typical socio-spatial features of rurality: transport challenges, a dearth of services, lack of anonymity, and frequently extreme socioeconomic disadvantage. Yet those same spatially privileged judges are applying the undue burden standard to laws that require women to travel hundreds of miles, sometimes on multiple occasions, to access abortion services. Those judges are also typically upholding laws that burden women’s access to medication-induced abortions, which have the potential to ameliorate rural women’s spatial burdens. This spatial privilege and judges’ obliviousness to it are most evident among U.S. Courts of Appeal judges and Supreme Court justices construing the “undue burden” standard, as evinced most recently in Abbott but also on display in Casey v. Planned Parenthood and in many U.S. Courts of Appeals decisions in Casey’s wake. The spatial privilege phenomenon is closely linked to the third frame: critical rural studies’ concept of urbanormativity. By treating urban life as a benchmark for what is normal and, in Abbott, dismissing as constitutionally insignificant some ten percent of Texas women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider, federal appellate judges are increasingly articulating an urbanormative jurisprudence.

Upcoming Panel: “The War on Poverty: Is Every Lawyer a Soldier,  or Are We Tilting at Windmills?”

Upcoming Panel: The American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty and  Section of Individual Rights & Responsibilities  present “The War on Poverty: Is Every Lawyer a Soldier,  or Are We Tilting at Windmills?” and it features a great list of speakers!

Thursday, July 10, 2014 | 2:00 ‐ 4:00pm   American Bar Association | John Marshall Conference Room  1050 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 5th Floor | Washington, DC 20036

 

New Article/Book Review: “Paternalistic Interventions in Civil Rights and Poverty Law: A Case Study of Environmental Justice”

New Article: Anthony V. Alfieri, Paternalistic Interventions in Civil Rights and Poverty Law: A Case Study of Environmental Justice, 112 Mich. L. Rev. 1157 (2014) (reviewing Sarah Conley’s Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism (2013)).

Let Them Eat Cash – NYTimes.com

Let Them Eat Cash – NYTimes.com.  (Could be good as an assignment for a class.)