A set of motions filed during the COVID-19 pandemic challenged federal judges to consider whether they should always view the duration of imprisonment—as contrasted with prison conditions—as the sole determinant of how much punishment a sentence carries out. Under 18 U.S.C § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), federal judges may “reduce” already imposed terms of imprisonment upon finding that “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warrant reductions. Prior to 2019, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) effectively controlled the scope of a catch-all subcategory of “Other Reasons” justifying sentence reductions. The BOP used this authority almost exclusively for people who were in the final stages of terminal illness. The First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) amended § 3582(c) in a manner that freed federal judges to decide for themselves what types of circumstances meet the “extraordinary and compelling reasons” standard. The FSA also authorized people in federal custody to file motions on their own behalf, instead of permitting only the Director of the BOP to do so. Roughly a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the increased use of lockdowns and other restrictions inside U.S. prisons. Among the many thousands of people who moved for sentence reductions, several hundred argued that imprisonment with these new restrictions amounted to a greater punishment than pre-pandemic imprisonment. This Article explores the lessons that the decisions adjudicating these motions offer for the design of sentencing laws—including second looks—as well as efforts to increase transparency surrounding life inside prisons.
Social movements use legal tools to create narratives. Those narratives support social agendas which certain movements leverage to mislead their followers and potential followers. In this Article, we examine one influential anti-vaccine organization, the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), that uses its far-reaching platform to create false narratives around legal action. Again and again, this anti-vaccine group misrepresented both the legal and the factual meanings of court decisions, settlements, and other legal actions to create a narrative to galvanize its followers and influence newcomers. ICAN filed lawsuits that make anti-vaccine arguments—even when the legal framework did not fit doing so—and misrepresented the results. Most commonly in this category, while FOIA requests can only ask for documents and cannot ask queries, ICAN framed its frequent FOIA requests and subsequent lawsuits as if they were asking the agency to answer questions, rather than provide records. The group then presented the results to support one of its narratives—that vaccines cause autism—when the results did not, in fact, support such a narrative. This Article shows how legal tools advance disinformation and misinformation, creating a misleading, alternative reality.
In their campaign efforts, Super PACs and political candidates often engage professional media agencies or political consulting firms to aid them in production and placement of advertisements on media outlets, planning of advertising efforts, and planning campaign strategy. But an increasing number of Super PACs have taken to hiring the same media agencies and consulting firms as the candidates they support. Through the use of a so-called “common vendor,” Super PACs and their supported candidates can coordinate advertising strategies with each other without triggering the federal limits on spending and fundraising. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the public must recognize the threat that the unregulated use of common vendors poses to our electoral democracy. Because the FEC has adopted regulations that make bringing complaints regarding common vendors nearly impossible, Super PACs and political candidates continue to evade accountability. The FEC should therefore reconsider adopting a rule presuming coordination whenever a Super PAC and a political candidate use a common vendor. By doing so, the FEC can require candidates and their Super PACs to truly ensure and document that no coordination takes place by performing due diligence prior to engagement and documenting their communications with the media agency. In addition, a more detailed firewall provision can serve to prophylactically stop actual coordination from taking place. Addressing the common vendor rule alone will not diminish the ever-increasing amount of funds poured into political campaigns by wealthy donors, but closing off this loophole is essential to an overall campaign regime of full disclosure from political actors.
Pre-embryos, procured through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), become a source of dispute when couples divorce or separate before using them. Particularly, couples may fight over who has decision-making power to use or not use the frozen pre-embryos for pregnancy. State courts across jurisdictions typically apply one of three categorical approaches: disposition contracts, contemporaneous mutual consent, or a balancing interests test. Each approach fails to provide courts with structures to fully evaluate each party’s interests at the time of dispute and account for inherent sex and gender differences that impact their stakes in the dispute. This Note proposes a modified balancing test that accounts for couples’ changing interests over time and provides defined balancing factors to ensure commensurate weight for sex and gender differences between parties.