Washington Law Review

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Volume 92, Number 4 - December 2017

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Customary International Law in United States Courts


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Customary International Law in United States Courts

December 20, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1641

Abstract: Over the past two decades, the status of customary international law in U.S. courts has been the subject of vigorous debate. On the one hand, proponents of the “modernist” position contend that rules of customary international law are presumptively rules of federal law, which apply directly in U.S. courts and preempt inconsistent state law even in the absence of federal legislative or executive authorization. On the other hand, the “revisionists” argue that, in the absence of congressional legislation or a U.S. treaty, rules of customary international law are generally not matters of federal law, and will therefore generally be governed by state law. This Article argues for an approach that rejects central elements of both the modernist and revisionist positions, while also adopting other aspects of both positions. The Article contends that the text, structure, and objectives of the Constitution, and the weight of judicial authority, require treating all rules of customary international law as rules of federal law, but that such rules will be directly applicable in U.S. courts only when the federal political branches have expressly or impliedly provided for judicial application of a particular rule.

This approach would mirror the way in which courts apply U.S. treaties and other international agreements—treating them as matters of federal law but applying their provisions in U.S. courts only to the extent authorized by the political branches. The intentions of the political branches regarding application of particular rules of customary international law by U.S. courts can be deduced from a number of indicia, analogous to those applied to determine whether particular treaty provisions are self-executing; these include the content and character of the relevant rule of international law, statements by the Executive or Legislative branch, and the content, character, and historical treatment of related rules of international law.

The position proposed in this Article produces materially different results from either the modernist or the revisionist approaches. In many cases, the analysis proposed in this Article will lead to the conclusion that particular customary international law rules—such as head of state or consular immunity and attribution of state responsibility—are directly applicable in U.S. courts, notwithstanding the absence of express authorization by the political branches. In other cases, including many emerging human rights protections, this analysis will lead to a conclusion that particular rules of customary international law are not applicable in U.S. courts.

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Gary Born 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1641

Welfare and Federalism’s Peril


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Welfare and Federalism’s Peril

December 20, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1721

Abstract: Recent scholarship on American federalism lacks case studies to inform that scholarship’s trans-substantive insights and claims. This Article examines the last two decades of devolution brought about by the 1996 Welfare Reform Act (PRWORA). It details the history of PRWORA and how the funding mechanism built into Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—the TANF block grant—guaranteed the program’s deterioration. The Article documents the program’s failure to respond to increased need among poor families after Hurricane Katrina and in the Great Recession, showing how the federal government’s use of TANF in both crises teach us the limits of fiscally devolved programs. The Article then explores two potential paths forward for TANF as either a devolutionary outlier in social policy or as a harbinger of what is to come from recent Congressional proposals to block grant Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps). Public interest lawyers rightly fear that TANF could be the cutting edge of a newly devolved American safety net. The Article concludes by considering what the cautionary tale of TANF means for scholars of federalism and anti-poverty advocates.

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Andrew Hammond 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1721

The New Sister-State Sovereign Immunity


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The New Sister-State Sovereign Immunity

December 20, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1771

Abstract: The Article reviews the constitutional status of sister-state sovereign immunity. It argues that the parity requirement announced in Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt (2016) is a temporary compromise that is supported by neither the purposes of the Full Faith and Credit Clause nor by cases cited by the Court. It further argues that parity is bad policy because parity overprotects states for acts they commit beyond their borders and under protects the interests of forum states in regulating conduct within their territorial jurisdiction.

But the Article breaks from most scholarship. It suggests that the Court went too far in Nevada v. Hall (1979) in finding that nothing in the Constitution compels states to respect sister-state claims to sovereign immunity. But it does not endorse those critics who find absolute state immunity in policies of federalism. Instead it proposes a limited constitutional basis for sister-state immunity that grounds this immunity in territorial restrictions on judicial power that operated during the founding era. Under the proposed approach, states would enjoy sovereign immunity in a sister-state court—but only for acts they or their agents commit in their own territory. The Article explains how this limited immunity accommodates the competing interests of the states, and why it is superior to alternative proposals to ground sister-state immunity in international law.

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Michael H. Hoffheimer 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1771

Orwell’s 1984 and a Fourth Amendment Cybersurveillance Nonintrusion Test


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Orwell’s 1984 and a Fourth Amendment Cybersurveillance Nonintrusion Test

December 20, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1819

Abstract: This Article describes a cybersurveillance nonintrusion test under the Fourth Amendment that is grounded in evolving customary law to replace the reasonable expectation of privacy test formulated in Katz v. United States. To illustrate how customary law norms are shaping modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, this Article examines the recurrence of judicial references to George Orwell’s novel, 1984, within the Fourth Amendment context when federal courts have assessed the constitutionality of modern surveillance methods. The Supreme Court has indicated that the Fourth Amendment privacy doctrine must now evolve to impose meaningful limitations on the intrusiveness of new surveillance technologies.

A cybersurveillance nonintrusion test implicitly suggested by the Supreme Court in United States v. Jones first shifts the vantage point of the Fourth Amendment analysis from an individual-based tangible harm inquiry to an inquiry of a society-wide intangible harm—whether the modern surveillance method creates a “1984 problem” for society. A cybersurveillance nonintrusion test requires the government to justify the intrusion of the surveillance on society. A new test would remediate increasingly ineffective Fourth Amendment jurisprudence currently grounded in property and tort law. The Article argues that the adoption of a cybersurveillance nonintrusion test and the abandonment of the current privacy test is not only required; but, in practice, is already used by the federal courts.

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Margaret Hu 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1819

Safeguarding Washington’s Trade Secrets: Protecting Businesses from Public Records Requests


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Safeguarding Washington’s Trade Secrets: Protecting Businesses from Public Records Requests

December 20, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1905

Abstract: Lawmakers constantly balance competing interests. They decide where to draw lines so that societal goals are accomplished without ignoring the needs of those who will be affected by their choices. The Washington State Legislature is now in the process of addressing the line between government transparency and the protection of private companies’ trade secrets. Companies who provide technology to the federal government are susceptible to losing their trade secrets through a public records request. The Washington State Legislature is currently reviewing the trade secret exception to the Public Records Act to ensure it is continuing to protect companies from losing their trade secrets. This Comment will both address the dangers companies face and evaluate the current proposals to change the law.

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John Delaney 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1905

The Helicopter State: Misuse of Parens Patriae Unconstitutionally Precludes Individual and Class Claims


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The Helicopter State: Misuse of Parens Patriae Unconstitutionally Precludes Individual and Class Claims

December 20, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1955

Abstract: The doctrine of parens patriae allows state attorneys general to represent state citizens in aggregate litigation suits that are, in many ways, similar to class actions and mass-tort actions. Its origins, however, reflect a more modest scope. Parens patriae began as a doctrine allowing the British king to protect those without the ability to protect themselves, including wards and mentally disabled individuals. The rapid expansion of parens patriae standing in the United States may be partly to blame for the relative absence of limiting requirements or even well-developed case law governing parens patriae suits. On the one hand, class actions are subject to myriad stringent procedural rules that help protect class members, members who “opt out,” and even defendants who find themselves liable for often sky-high damages. On the other hand, parens patriae suits are largely unregulated and free from requirements that plaintiffs seeking class certification must meet. Part of this distinction seems to stem from an assumption that attorneys general are adequate representatives of their citizens’ interests. The relative ease of bringing a parens patriae suit, compared to the increasingly onerous requirements of private class actions, has led state attorneys general to bring claims under parens patriae standing more frequently in the twenty-first century. But the lack of procedural protections in parens patriae suits means that state citizens affected by a parens patriae suit may potentially be precluded via res judicata from bringing valid, individual or class claims that have already been brought by the state on their behalf. Furthermore, it is not clear that parens patriae suits are an adequate, let alone superior, method of litigating citizens’ claims. Settlements reached between states and defendants pose additional adequacy problems due to being unregulated and determined by a political representative, who may have interests distinct and separate from the interests of individual citizens.

First, this Comment traces the history of parens patriae as a doctrinal theory and as it has developed in American statutory and common law. Next, it considers the preclusive effect of parens patriae suits on private individual claims and damages class actions. In particular, final judgments issued in parens patriae suits have the potential to bar individuals and entire classes from bringing valid claims under res judicata. Because parens patriae actions are not subject to the same procedural requirements as private class actions, the due process rights of certain individuals are, at times, put in jeopardy. In order to protect individual due process rights, this Comment suggests four possible solutions: courts should (1) heighten the procedural requirements for state aggregate suits, (2) hold that parens patriae suits cannot bind private claimants, (3) join related public and private suits, at least for liability litigation to ensure private claims are not dismissed unfairly, or (4) allow private citizens with claims, either individually or through class representation, to stay a parens patriae action to avoid preclusion.

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Gabrielle J. Hanna 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1955

Nationwide Permit 12 and Domestic Pipelines: An Incompatible Relationship?


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Nationwide Permit 12 and Domestic Pipelines: An Incompatible Relationship?

December 20, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1991

Abstract: As climate change’s momentum becomes increasingly more difficult to quell, environmentalists are litigating to stop oil pipeline expansion. Litigation over two recently completed oil pipelines—the Flanagan South and the Gulf Coast—illustrates the legal battle environmentalists face. Given the outcome of those cases, it may seem that environmentalists face insurmountable judicial precedent. But they are not out of options quite yet.

Although no statute expressly requires the federal government to conduct environmental analysis of proposed domestic oil pipelines, two statutes—the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—generally work in tandem to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps or Corps) to complete an analysis when a proposed pipeline crosses regulated waters. However, the Army Corps recently has begun using a general permit called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) to streamline the approval process by avoiding individual review of pipelines. The Tenth and District of Columbia Circuits upheld the Army Corps’s use of NWP 12 in approving the Flanagan South and Gulf Coast pipelines, rejecting arguments that such use violates the CWA and NEPA. Not only did environmentalists lose both decisions, but the Army Corps also subsequently tightened its analysis to avoid potential future liability.

Despite these setbacks, this Note contends that the battle is not yet over. The Note argues that the Army Corps failed to comply with the CWA’s plain meaning when it issued NWP 12, resulting in a limited opportunity for the public to participate. By limiting public comment, NWP 12 undermines the Corps’s ability to take a hard look at the environmental consequences of proposed oil pipelines. If the agency cannot comply with the CWA’s plain meaning, it can no longer use NWP 12 to avoid individual review of oil pipelines. Given recent judicial precedent, environmentalists face a difficult task. But hope remains. Under the framework first described in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., the circuit courts are improperly deferring to the Army Corps’s interpretation of the CWA when the statute’s meaning is clear. Judicial recognition and correction of this would be a victory for environmentalists, as it would increase federal environmental review of domestic oil pipelines and provide the public with a better opportunity to voice its concerns over the proliferation of oil pipelines in the United States.

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Alexander S. Arkfeld 92 Wash. L. Rev. 1991