Drawing (Gad)flies: Thoughts on the Uses (or Uselessness) of Legal Scholarship

Sherman J. Clark*

49 U. Mich. J. L. Reform Caveat 63 (pdf)

In this essay, I argue that law schools should continue to encourage and support wide-ranging legal scholarship, even if much of it does not seem to be of immediate use to the legal profession. I do not emphasize the relatively obvious point that scholarship is a process through which we study the law so that we can ultimately make useful contributions. Here, rather, I make two more-subtle points. First, legal academics ought to question the priorities of the legal profession, rather than merely take those priorities as given. We ought to serve as Socratic gadflies—challenging rather than merely mirroring regnant assumptions about what ought to matter in and to the law. Second, the freedom to serve this role is a large part of what attracts people capable of doing so to academic life. If we were to insist that legal scholars think about only those things that already matter to the legal profession, we would not attract the people we most need—people willing and able to help us rethink our assumptions about what ought to matter.

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The Seventh Letter and the Socratic Method

Sherman J. Clark*

49 U. Mich. J. L. Reform Caveat 52 (pdf)

Law teachers use the phrase “Socratic method” loosely to refer to various methods of questioning students in class rather than merely lecturing to them. T­­he merits of such teaching have been the subject of spirited and even bitter debate. It can be perceived as not only inefficient but also unnecessarily combative—even potentially abusive. Although it is clear that some critics are excoriating the least defensible versions of what has been called the Socratic method, I do not attempt to canvas or adjudicate that debate in this brief essay. Rather, I hope to add to the conversation by looking to a document that describes the origin and original aim of this method. If our teaching practices have indeed been abased or abused such that they too-often resemble the most pejorative caricatures, perhaps we can recover a better and more appealing vision of our tradition by looking to its purported roots.

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Eliminating Arbitrary Age Discrimination in 401(K) and Pension Plan Eligibility Requirements: A Simple Fix to Encourage Younger Workers to Save for Retirement

Andrew J. Clopton*

49 U. Mich. J. L. Reform Caveat 16 (pdf)

Current federal law allows companies to exclude their youngest workers from participating in 401(k) and other pension plans. Public policy should encourage young workers to contribute to retirement as early as practicable, rather than impose obstacles to saving. Workers who begin saving even a few years earlier improve their retirement security and reduce the likelihood they will be dependent on the government later in life. While “age discrimination” is conventionally thought of as the mistreatment of older workers, this concept applies equally to employees who are differentiated based solely on their young age. Thus, Congress should amend the Internal Revenue Code to prohibit retirement savings discrimination on the basis of (young) age.

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Surviving Preemption in a World of Comprehensive Regulations

Kyle Anne Piasecki*

49 U. Mich. J. L. Reform Caveat 32 (pdf) 

The Clean Air Act imposes a federal regulatory regime on a number of sources of air pollution. It does not, however, provide a ready means of relief to individuals harmed by air polluters. Nevertheless, many courts have held that the Clean Air Act preempts state common law tort claims that do provide a means to such relief. The disparate benefits of the Clean Air Act and common law tort claims may indicate different purposes and make court-imposed preemption of common law tort claims improper. This Comment argues that the Savings Clause in the Clean Air Act and in parallel state statutes should be clarified so as to explicitly preserve an injured party’s ability to seek relief through state common law.

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Hidden Disclaimers and UCC § 2-316’s Conspicuousness Requirement

Gavin Thole*

49 U. Mich. J. L. Reform Caveat 1 (pdf)

Introduction

“Money now, terms later” agreements, or rolling contracts, are commonplace in consumer transactions. Courts frequently allow these agreements to stand. But problems arise when product manufacturers disclaim a warranty that protects consumers, such as the implied warranty of merchantability, without disclosing the disclaimer upfront—effectively rendering the warranty useless. Suppose, for example, a consumer purchases a refrigerator or computer where the implied warranty of merchantability disclaimer is printed on the last page of a thick instruction booklet. The booklet is hidden deep inside the box, buried in a morass of cords and paperwork. The consumer has no way of knowing about the disclaimer until after she purchases and opens the product. Even then, the disclaimer is quite difficult to find. These “hidden disclaimers” appear to conflict with § 2-316 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which requires that disclaimers be conspicuous. Nevertheless, some courts have upheld hidden disclaimers under a narrow reading of § 2-316.

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