Category Archives: Writings

“Saving Democracy from the Senate” Published

Published on dead trees at last! David B. Froomkin & A. Michael Froomkin, Saving Democracy from the Senate, 2024 Utah Law Review 397 (2024).

Here’s the abstract:

It should not be surprising that Americans say they are frustrated with their national institutions. Congress, particularly the Senate, responds poorly to the public’s needs and wants because it is increasingly unrepresentative of the electorate. Reform is difficult, however, because each state’s “equal Suffrage” in the Senate is protected by a unique constitutional entrenchment clause. The Entrenchment Clause creates a genuine bar to reform, but that bar is not insurmountable. We first argue that the constitutional proscription on reforming the Senate has been overstated, identifying a range of constitutional reform options that would be permissible despite the Entrenchment Clause. Several of these approaches circumvent the restriction imposed by the Entrenchment Clause by reforming the Senate in ways that do not alter the equal representation of states: disempowering the Senate, abolishing the Senate entirely, or adding at-large nationally elected senators. A different approach involves repealing the Entrenchment Clause and then either passing a second amendment reapportioning the Senate or asking courts to democratize it under the Equal Protection Clause. We then canvass reforms that could move in the direction of democratizing the Senate without constitutional amendment, including admitting new states, breaking up the largest states, and (although we do not advocate it) a new Constitutional Convention. Throughout, we discuss the relative merits and difficulties of each of these options. Reformers and scholars need a clear understanding of the relevant legal frameworks to develop effective strategies. While we recognize that none of these options are easy, we conclude that action to fix the Senate’s democratic deficit is essential— and urgent.


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“Issues in Robot Law and Policy” Published

book coverI’m happy to announce that my chapter on “Issues in robot law and policy” has been published as part of the Research Handbook on Law and Technology (Bartosz Brożek, Olia Kanevskaia, and Przemysław Pałka, eds., 2023).

It pains me that this is behind a paywall, although many university-based readers may be able to access it online through their library. The chapter achieves something I am rarely able to do: cover a very wide range of material in a short space. (Normally I’m stuck deep into the details.) The editors’ introduction (not paywalled) to the book calls my chapter “a tour de force of the debates ongoing for decades now, critically examining the intuitions tested over the years, as well as the challenges to come” which I think is a bit over the top, but I’ll take it.

The editors have done a pair of promotional videos for the book. There’s a fun one:

… and a more traditional version, which if truth be told is somewhat less fun:

It’s a very comprehensive book, covering a wide range of topics. Get your library to buy one?

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Attention Law Review Editors

The odds that any actual law review editors read this blog is vanishingly small, but if you, gentle reader, happen to know one, please tell them about this terrific article, Saving Democracy from the Senate, co-authored with one David Froomnkin, that they might want to publish in their journal.

This article is the first to take stock, in a systematic and comprehensive way, of the constitutional and statutory avenues available for reforming the malapportionment of the U.S. Senate. Collecting together the various options available enables reformers to think both programmatically about the normative choices at stake and strategically about a reform agenda. This in itself is a substantial contribution, not just to constitutional theory but also to ongoing practical efforts to reform the legal architecture of U.S. democracy. Moreover, by systematizing these considerations, the article also helps to make clear the relationship between statutory and constitutional reforms of the Senate, proposing a two-track strategy for reformers.

While the work of synthesizing the options and providing a comparative analysis is the most significant contribution, the article also provides several significant and novel analytical contributions that advance legal debates in these areas:

(1) The meaning of the Article V Entrenchment Clause. The article’s claims that (a) disempowering the Senate and (b) abolishing the Senate would not violate the Entrenchment Clause are claims that have been made before, although rarely. But they are not claims that have ever, to our knowledge, received extensive analysis. The article provides this extensive analysis, explaining why a range of ambitious constitutional reforms of the Senate would not violate the Entrenchment Clause and responding to objections.

(2) The referent of the Article V Entrenchment Clause. We are not the first to suggest that the Constitution could be amended to remove the Entrenchment Clause and then subsequently amended to alter the composition of the Senate. But we provide a crisper analysis of the reason than scholars have done previously. The reason is that the referent of the Entrenchment Clause is not a provision in Article V but a provision in Article I. The Entrenchment Clause, by its language, is not a self-entrenching clause.

(3) Article V and Equal Protection. The article provides a novel argument about the relationship between the Entrenchment Clause and the application of equal protection principles to the Senate. Orts in 2019 made a related argument, but his suggestion that Congress could reapportion the Senate by statute takes an idiosyncratic view of the Entrenchment Clause. We advance the more restrained argument that, while the Entrenchment Clause at present bars the application of equal protection principles to the Senate, amendment of the Constitution to remove the Entrenchment Clause would enable reapportionment of the Senate under Reynolds v. Sims.

(4) At-large Senators. Building on our argument about what the Entrenchment Clause prohibits—and what it does not—we explore the addition of a substantial number of nationally elected Senators to make the Senate more representative of the Nation. Whether or not we kept the existing Senators, no state’s “equal Suffrage” would be altered.

(5) Statehood. The article surveys the relevant legal authorities on the admission of new states, compiling an extensive range of relevant material. In the course of discussing the currently most salient cases of Puerto Rico and DC, the Article analyzes a Twenty-third Amendment issue that has not been extensively discussed.

(6) Breaking up (and merging) states. The article provides novel analysis of practical challenges confronting breakups (and, analogously, mergers) of states. It also suggests a promising policy response to these challenges, arguing that federal legislation to mitigate states’ costs and help to incentivize state breakups would be feasible, desirable, and constitutional. This prescription is, to our knowledge, original—perhaps in part because scholars have not yet grappled with the magnitude and stakes of the problem requiring a remedy.

Although we canvas a very wide variety of alternatives, and we weigh the difficulties, virtues, and vices of each, our recommendations center on certain constitutional reforms and the admission of a few new states.

All this, and yet even with the footnotes it’s still under 30,000 words!


Posted in Law: Constitutional Law, Law: Elections, Law: Reading the Constitution, Writings | 1 Comment

Une Préface Pour <<Un droit de l’intelligence artificielle: entre règles sectorielles et régime général>>

I was very honored to be asked to write the preface for Un droit de l’intelligence artificielle: entre règles sectorielles et régime général. Perspectives de droit comparé (Céline Castets-Renard, Jessica Eynard, eds.) which should be forthcoming shortly. An English edition is due to follow in a few months.

Since a Preface is short, I decided to compose it in French, relying on the able editors to correct any infelicities and the occasional failure to agree gender or the like. The result is not my first foreign-language publication, nor even the only one due this year, but it is the first where the foreign version is not a translation. Here it is en version originale:

L’intelligence artificielle sera bientôt, si elle ne l’est déjà, une des technologies les plus importantes et aussi une des plus dangereuses que nous n’ayons jamais rencontrées. Comme William Gibson nous avertit, « l’avenir est déjà ici, il n’est tout simplement pas encore uniformément réparti ».

L’enfant de l’informatique et des mégadonnées, l’apprentissage automatique, dit l’intelligence artificielle (IA), a infiltré plusieurs domaines, y compris des décisions gouvernementales (soit les bénéfices sociaux ou l’administration de la justice), les services de santé, le champ  de bataille, et des tentatives de manipulation des élections et de l’espace public, ainsi que les marchés financiers.

Actuellement, les systèmes d’IA ont tendance à être opaques. Jusqu’à ce que nous ayons appris à en construire de meilleurs, il restera difficile d’identifier les informations spécifiques les plus susceptibles de déterminer une conclusion donnée. De même, sans schéma de provenance des données, il restera difficile de détecter les caractéristiques subtiles qui peuvent entraîner diverses formes de discriminations involontaires, mais néanmoins indésirables, et même illégales.

L’IA soulève de nombreuses questions sociales, tel que l’avenir du travail. Tous, des ouvriers d’usine aux professionnels tels que les médecins et les avocats, pourraient voir leurs emplois transformés. Ce que nous ignorons encore est de savoir si l’IA deviendra notre conseiller, notre collègue, notre patron (et notre surveillant qui voit tout), ou si peut-être certains d’entre nous ne travaillerons plus du tout parce que les IA auront pris nos emplois, étant à la fois plus précises et plus perspicaces.

Nous juristes avons tendance à considérer que le rôle de la loi et de la réglementation est au cœur de l’enquête sur l’IA. Je reconnais que les choix sociaux concernant la configuration et le déploiement de l’IA ne devraient pas être laissés au marché sans contrôle légitime. Mais ce qui devrait passer en premier, ce sont les questions éthiques liées à l’IA. Les principes éthiques de l’introspection et de l’engagement sont essentiels pour tous ceux qui construisent, entretiennent, réglementent ou utilisent l’IA et, encore plus certainement, lorsque nous considérons les intérêts de ceux qui font l’objet des actions prises par l’IA. Mais cela doit être fait de manière soignée. Actuellement, la prolifération des standards éthiques aux États-Unis, par exemple, permet aux moins scrupuleux de chercher le standard qui leur permettra de revendiquer la vertu sans la pratiquer.

Même si l’on croit qu’il n’y a aucune chance que la technologie actuelle produise une IA consciente, il est concevable que, tôt ou tard, une IA puisse si bien imiter une personne que nous ne pourrions pas discerner le silicium sous le sourire. Cela finira plus probablement dans la fraude que dans la sensibilité. Bien sûr, il pourrait devenir commode d’adopter une fiction juridique dans laquelle nous attribuons certains aspects de la personnalité à l’entité computationnelle artificielle, tout comme nous le faisons pour certains aspects d’entités économiques artificielles – les entreprises. Dans tous les cas, les questions essentielles seront ce que nous voulons que nos machines fassent, et ne fassent pas, des questions qui devraient éclairer le chemin vers l’établissement des règles qui encourageront des résultats favorables.

Les problèmes éthiques et juridiques créés par l’IA sont  interdisciplinaires, mais pour compliquer encore les choses, ils sont également transnationaux. Premièrement, n’étant que des données et des logiciels, à la fois les algorithmes et les méthodes de formation pour générer de nouveaux algorithmes, peuvent être partagés dans le monde entier en open source, dans la littérature académique, ou vendus au-delà des frontières. D’un autre côté, certains pays considèrent les informations sur leurs citoyens, par exemple les données nationales sur la santé, comme une ressource stratégique faisant partie de la politique économique nationale… mais les données et le code sont difficiles à enfermer.

Deuxièmement, la réglementation de l’IA est dans une période de débat, de développement rapide, et de concurrence. L’Union européenne, les ÉtatsUnis, la Chine et de nombreux autres pays sont confrontés au double défi de contrôler l’IA tout en l’encourageant – par peur d’être laissé derrière dans ce qu’ils décrivent comme une compétition commerciale et militaire. Dans le cas de l’UE, le RGPD crée chez certains un appétit bien compréhensible pour une seconde occasion de la création d’une norme transnationale, c’est-à-dire un système potentiellement extraterritorial, même viral.

L’IA doit-elle être réglementée en tant que technologie, de haut en bas ou de manière sectorielle par des experts versés dans les différents domaines où l’IA sera déployée ? Je prédis que l’IA deviendra trop importante, trop dominante, pour nous permettre d’avoir un seul organisme de réglementation, car cet organisme contrôlerait non seulement la majeure partie de l’économie, mais une grande partie du gouvernement, ainsi que de nombreux aspects de la vie privée. Mais cela ne signifie pas que des efforts réglementaires plus ciblés ne puissent ou ne doivent pas être guidés par des principes généraux et, en effet, nous pourrions avoir besoin à la fois des principes généraux et des règles ciblées pour maximiser les avantages de l’IA tout en minimisant ses effets secondaires.

Quelle que soit la nature de la réponse de la société (ou devrais-je dire des sociétés ?) aux bénédictions et aux malédictions mitigées de l’IA, il est clair que nous ne sommes qu’au début d’une longue évolution. Je suis convaincu que nous avons beaucoup à apprendre les uns des autres, tant au niveau transnational qu’à travers les disciplines académiques et techniques. Les savants et experts contributeurs à cet ouvrage se sont lancés dans ce projet essentiel d’enseignement et d’apprentissage, et nous devons tous leur en être reconnaissants.

Coral Gables, Floride, États-Unis
Avril 2022

Amusingly, when I agreed to write this, I was not aware that the awesome editors were planning an English edition. I was thus a little surprised when they offered to translate the French into English for me, but I said I would do it myself.

Continue reading

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New Paper: “Safety as Privacy”

Three or four years ago I sat down to write a paper about how, even without any new privacy legislation, there was a lot that U.S. administrative agencies could do under existing powers to enhance personal privacy if they were so minded. As I started writing the introduction to that piece, I went looking for a citation for a proposition that I thought was obvious, and that many other people also take for granted: that often privacy enhances safety. To my amazement, I couldn’t find a clear statement of the proposition anywhere, although there were plenty of people willing to explain why they thought anonymity made people unsafe, as it let the bad guys toil in the darkness. Which is undoubtedly true sometimes, but far from the whole story.

So, back then, instead of writing the paper I wanted to write, I wrote what I thought of as the prequel, which became Privacy as Safety, 95 Wash. L. Rev. 141 (2020), (with Zak Colangelo).

Now, finally, I, along with co-authors Phillip Arencibia and P. Zak Colangelo-Trenner, have a draft of the paper I originally wanted to write. We’ve just put it up on SSRN as Safety as Privacy.

Here’s the abstract:

New technologies, such as internet-connected home devices we have come to call ‘the Internet of Things (IoT)’, connected cars, sensors, drones, internet-connected medical devices, and workplace monitoring of every sort, create privacy gaps that can cause danger to people. In Privacy as Safety, 95 Wash. L. Rev. 141 (2020), two of us sought to emphasize the deep connection between privacy and safety, in order to lay a foundation for arguing that U.S. administrative agencies with a safety mission can and should make privacy protection one of their goals. This article builds on that foundation with a detailed look at the safety missions of several agencies. In each case, we argue that the agency has the discretion, if not necessarily the duty, to demand enhanced privacy practices from those within its jurisdiction, and that the agency should make use of that discretion.

This is the first article in the legal literature to identify the substantial gains to personal privacy that several U.S. agencies tasked with protecting safety could achieve under their existing statutory authority. Examples of agencies with untapped potential include the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Five of these agencies have an explicit duty to protect the public against threats to safety (or against risk of injury) and thus – as we have argued previously – should protect the public’s privacy when the absence of privacy can create a danger. The FTC’s general authority to fight unfair practices in commerce enables it to regulate commercial practices threatening consumer privacy. The FAA’s duty to ensure air safety could extend beyond airworthiness to regulating spying via drones. The CPSC’s authority to protect against unsafe products authorizes it to regulate products putting consumers’ physical and financial privacy at risk, thus sweeping in many products associated with the IoT. NHTSA’s authority to regulate dangerous practices on the road encompasses authority to require smart car manufacturers include precautions protecting drivers from misuses of connected car data due to the car-maker’s intention and due to security lapses caused by its inattention. Lastly, OSHA’s authority to require safe work environments encompasses protecting workers from privacy risks that threaten their physical and financial safety on the job.

Arguably an omnibus, federal statute regulating data privacy would be preferable to doubling down on the U.S.’s notoriously sectoral approach to privacy regulation. Here, however, we say only that until the political stars align for some future omnibus proposal, there is value in exploring methods that are within our current means. It may be only second best, but it is also much easier to implement. Thus, we offer reasonable legal constructions of certain extant federal statutes that would justify more extensive privacy regulation in the name of providing enhanced safety, a regime that would we argue would be a substantial improvement over the status quo yet not require any new legislation, just a better understanding of certain agencies’ current powers and authorities. Agencies with suitably capacious safety missions should take the opportunity to regulate to protect relevant personal privacy without delay.

And here’s the table of contents:

It’s just a draft so comments (and offers to publish in a law review) are welcome!

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Revised Draft of ‘Fixing the Senate’

We’ve posted a revised draft of Fixing the Senate: A User’s Guide to SSRN. Comments are welcomed.

Here, again, is the abstract:

The Senate is the most undemocratic part of the U.S. Constitution – worse even than the Electoral College, although the two are related, and some versions of fixing the Senate would ameliorate the Electoral College also. Unfortunately, each state’s “equal Suffrage” in the Senate is protected by a unique constitutional entrenchment clause. The Entrenchment Clause creates a genuine bar to reform, but that bar is not insurmountable. We argue first that the constitutional proscription on abolishing the Senate has been overstated, but that in any case there are constitutional reform options that range from abolishing the Senate to various degrees of disempowering it. We then argue that there are several promising reforms that could move in the direction of democratizing the Senate without constitutional amendment. In particular: admitting new states, breaking up the largest states, and a new Constitutional Convention. This paper canvasses benefits, costs, effectiveness, and likely feasibility of each of these methods by which one might seek to make the Senate more representative despite the entrenchment clause. Several of the proposals create an opportunity for Supreme Court review and perhaps obstruction, raising questions about the relationship between Senate reform and Supreme Court reform.

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