Ambivalence About Formalism

In statutory interpretation, many scholars try to reconcile judicial power with democracy by cabining judicial discretion and rendering judges more faithful agents of Congress. Although debate pervades the field, the dominant approach is to rely on formalism to narrow judicial leeway and promote legislative supremacy. In constitutional theory, by contrast, many scholars respond to a very similar problem with a very different strategy. Here too, the concern is that judges will exercise power in a manner that substitutes judicial preferences for political will, and here too, there is as much disagreement as agreement. But instead of casting judicial discretion as the source of the problem, there is a growing trend in constitutional scholarship toward embracing judicial discretion as part of the solution. Many constitutional theorists urge judges to employ discretionary tools in a manner that limits their intrusions into the political process and minimizes the disruption associated with judicial review. These constitutional scholars tend to reject formalism in favor of a form of minimalism that is in many respects the antithesis of formalism.

Professor Molot suggests that both sets of scholars have gone too far in their positions on formalism. Statutory scholars often overlook the importance of judicial flexibility as an antidote to the excesses of formalism. Constitutional scholars often overlook the importance of formal constraints and fidelity to law. Using administrative law as a counterexample, Professor Molot sketches out a more balanced approach to formalism that he argues is superior to the one-sided approaches that have increasingly characterized statutory and constitutional scholarship today.

The Principal Problem: Towards a More Limited Role for Fiduciary Law in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit law scholars have increasingly recognized that state fiduciary law developed to govern for-profit corporations does not readily translate into the nonprofit sector. A substantial body of literature has sought to strengthen nonprofit governance by modifying for-profit fiduciary law to better fit the needs of the nonprofit sector. No one has answered, however, the fundamental question of to whom nonprofit boards and directors owe their fiduciary duties. Without understanding whose interests fiduciary law should protect, attempts to strengthen it are premature.

Directors and officers of for-profit corporations owe their duties to shareholders. Nonprofit corporations lack shareholders but could theoretically be accountable to donors, beneficiaries, customers, the state, or their charitable purpose. This Note argues that nonprofit corporations in fact have no appropriate principals, and thus fiduciary law is a poor governance mechanism for the nonprofit sector. The legal toolkit available to reform nonprofit governance is thus more limited than has been previously acknowledged. In the future, legal efforts to reform nonprofit governance should focus on creating targeted rules to address specific abuses and on creating conditions that allow market-based governance mechanisms to flourish.

The Dark Side of Town: The Social Capital Revolution in Residential Property Law

Social capital has pervaded property law, with scholars and policy-makers advocating laws and property arrangements to promote social capital and relying on social capital to devolve property governance from legal institutions to resident groups. This Article challenges the prevailing view of social capital’s salutary effects with a more skeptical account that examines the dark side of residential social capital—its capacity to effectuate local factions and to promote restraints and inegalitarianism that close off property. I introduce a set of claims about social capital’s dark side in residential property and explore these points through the examples of local racial purging, land cartels, and residential self-governance. First, contrary to the assumption of a social capital deficit, residential racial segregation and land cartelization, perhaps the deepest imprints on the American property landscape today, suggest an abundance of local social capital and possible unintended consequences of interventions to build social capital. Second, “governing by social capital,” or relying on social capital for property self-governance, may empower factions, breed conflict, and increase the demand for residential homogeneity as a proxy for cooperation. In light of the mixed evidence for social capital’s benefits and its sizeable dark side, the more pressing and productive role for property law is not to promote social capital, but to address its negative spillovers and illiberal effects.