Exploring New Approaches to Unsettled Legal Questions

Author: Editor-in-Chief NYU Moot Court Board Page 1 of 10

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act: Balancing a Free Market Approach with Taking Responsibility

by Sasha Kliger*

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 confers broad immunity to interactive websites and social media companies for content third parties post on their platforms. This immunity, however, is not unbounded. In section 230, Congress included several exceptions to immunity, including an exception for intellectual property claims, section 230(e)(2). The broad wording of the intellectual property exception has led to confusion among circuits regarding what type of intellectual property claim should remain allowed under section 230: namely, whether state law claims and right of publicity claims qualify as laws pertaining to intellectual property as described in the statute. This Contribution argues that a close look at the language of the statute demonstrates that both types of claims should remain viable against social media companies, despite the general immunity outlined in section 230.

Roger That: Evaluating First Amendment Limits to Trademark Infringement in the Aftermath of VIP Products

by Noelle Higginson*

Trademark law allows producers of commercial goods to identify and differentiate their goods in the market by a specific mark. In this way, trademark law protects producers and consumers alike: A recognizable mark, exclusively used by a single producer, allows consumers to make informed choices about what goods to purchase and allows producers to benefit from the fruits of their labor—when they make good products, consumers associate their mark with that good reputation. Trademark infringers—those who use a confusingly similar mark to the trademark holder’s mark—interfere with that goal. However, certain products like works of art or parody that intentionally refer to another entity often must use the other’s trademark (or something similar) to achieve their purpose. These alleged infringers therefore risk trademark liability for the sake of artistic expression. The difficulty for courts is determining when the use of a mark in art or parody might defeat an infringement claim or vice versa. That determination is the province of the Rogers framework as recently considered by the Supreme Court in Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP Products, LLC.1 This Contribution (i) assesses the Rogers v. Grimaldi2 framework’s application in two recent cases in lower federal courts and (ii) considers how courts can factor in First Amendment principles even when, following the VIP Products holding, Rogers does not apply.

To Release or Not to Release: Investigating the Legality of Non-Consensual Third-Party Releases in Bankruptcy

by Justin Simms*

Perhaps the most pressing question in American bankruptcy law has been posed by the Purdue Pharma L.P. (“Purdue”) bankruptcy: do bankruptcy courts possess the authority to approve non-consensual releases of direct claims held by third parties against non-debtor affiliates as part of a Chapter 11 plan of reorganization? The complexity and practical import of this question, as well as the Bankruptcy Code’s ambiguity on the topic of non-consensual third-party releases, have caused a divide in the federal judiciary. After the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit approved Purdue’s proposed plan of reorganization in May 2023, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. This Contribution argues that bankruptcy courts lack the authority to approve releases of direct claims held by third parties against non-debtor affiliates on statutory, jurisdictional, and constitutional grounds.

Lending a Helping or Harmful Hand? Why Federal Magistrate Judges Should Not Accept Felony Guilty Pleas

by Mariana Lopez*

Magistrate judges perform a crucial role in the federal judiciary system by reducing the administrative burden on Article III judges. Courts, however, remain divided on the scope of magistrates’ duties, and importantly, whether they have  final decision-making authority to accept felony guilty pleas under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Vesting this duty in a magistrate judge violates the Federal Magistrates Act, which allows district judges to delegate “additional duties as are not inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”1 The weightiness of this task, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the separation of powers doctrine enshrined in the Constitution should prohibit magistrate judges from accepting guilty pleas, regardless of a criminal defendant’s consent, and require magistrates to submit a report and recommendation to an Article III judge who may then accept the plea. As the consequences of a felony verdict weigh heavily on defendants and our judicial system, this task should remain in the hands of a constitutionally endorsed Article III Judge.

Understanding Issue Classes: A Case for Why They Should Be Used and How Best to Do It

by Rachel Greene*

Issue classes are a form of aggregate litigation wherein courts certify only specific claims or elements within those claims for class treatment. While issue classes have not always been a popular tool, plaintiffs’ attorneys today should take seriously the protections this device can afford their clients and consider pursuing issue classes over alternative aggregate litigation tools, such as multi-district litigation. This Contribution argues that issue classes should be a more widely used aggregate litigation device and outlines the mechanics of its use.

The Threat of Geofence Warrants: Why Courts Should Deem Geofence Warrants Unconstitutional Under the Fourth Amendment

by Shirin Asgari*

Circuit courts are currently split on the constitutionality of geofence warrants. Geofence warrants grant law enforcement officers the power to access personal user data collected and stored by tech giants, such as Apple and Google. This Contribution considers the Fourth Amendment implications of geofence warrants and argues that such warrants are unconstitutional. First, given the Supreme Court’s previous reasoning under Carpenter v. United States,1 individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy to their location information and other highly personal information attached to their accounts. Second, the nature of geofence warrants makes it impossible to establish probable cause over all individuals whose information is seized and searched beyond mere proximity, in violation of existing Supreme Court precedent established in Ybarra v. Illinois.2 Lastly, geofence warrants lack particularity and give law enforcement officers unbridled discretion to search an individual’s information, in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Keeping States Out of Bingo: How the Federal Interest in Indian American Sovereignty Protects Tribes’ Rights to Gamble Online

by Matan Skolnik*

It is “a principal goal of Federal Indian policy . . . to promote tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency, and strong tribal government.”1 Accordingly, states’ authority to intervene in the activities of Indian American tribes on tribal land is limited. An often-disputed area of this discussion pertains to tribal gaming. Federal law provides that only state laws that prohibit a game—not those that merely regulate one—are enforceable in tribal territories. But does a state law that prohibits online gaming constitute a prohibition such that the law can be enforced on tribal land, or does it merely regulate the manner in which the game can be played? This contribution argues that such a law would be a regulation, unenforceable on tribal land, and that public policy benefits support that result.

A Second Bite at the Apple: Why Acquitted-Conduct Sentencing Must be Addressed by SCOTUS

by Natalie Lalama*

The United States Supreme Court recently passed on deciding the constitutionality of the use of acquitted conduct in federal sentencing by denying certiorari in McClinton v. United States. The Court denied certiorari in deference to the United States Sentencing Commission, which has recently collected public comment on proposals to amend the practice of acquitted-conduct sentencing. This Contribution argues that the amendments put forward by the Sentencing Commission are insufficient to address the significant constitutional questions raised by acquitted-conduct sentencing because they do not address root causes of procedural unfairness. These amendments do not rectify the unfairness inherent in giving the government a second bite at the apple, increasing the trial penalty for defendants, or the stigma and bias defendants face in sentencing. Acquitted-conduct sentencing as a practice contravenes the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment; therefore, the Supreme Court is much better situated to determine this pressing constitutional question. 

FRE 801(d)(2) and the Sovereign as a Party

by Mac McCall*

Out-of-court statements are routinely introduced into evidence for their truth against criminal defendants under the aegis of the admissions doctrine. At the same time, many courts refuse to apply the doctrine with equal severity in admitting similar statements against the government as a prosecuting party. Some courts insist that the doctrine is uniquely inapplicable against governmental parties,1 while others require proponents of such evidence to clear heightened hurdles for admission. State and federal courts should bring order and equity to this corner of evidence law by adhering to the following three principles. First, the admissions doctrine is just as conceptually applicable to governments as any other party. Second, the legislatively articulated rules of evidence are sufficient to govern questions of admissibility for this kind of evidence without the assistance of extraneous judicially imposed restrictions. Finally, courts should take note of functional and formal realities in determining the extent of the “opposing party” when the government is in play.

Striking “the Average Person as Quite Strange”: Why the Supreme Court Should Not Heed Justice Alito’s Concerns if It Chooses to Take Up the Issue of Acquitted-Conduct Sentencing

by Lindsay Campbell*

The Supreme Court recently denied certiorari in McClinton v. United States—a case which would have required the Court to consider whether the use of acquitted conduct in sentencing violates criminal defendants’ rights under the Constitution. This piece considers and responds to Justice Alito’s concurrence in the Court’s denial, arguing that Justice Alito misconstrues the constitutional issues presented by Petitioner’s claims. Specifically, he inaccurately conflates acquitted conduct and uncharged conduct; he overemphasizes the role stare decisis would play in the Court’s ruling; and he expresses concerns over the workability of criminal sentencing absent the use of acquitted conduct—concerns which only serve to highlight the unconstitutionality of the United States’ present sentencing scheme. If the Supreme Court were to take up this issue, Justice Alito’s considerations should not bar the Court from finding that the use of acquitted conduct in sentencing violates criminal defendants’ right to due process under the Fifth Amendment and their right to a trial by jury under the Sixth Amendment.

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