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.

A Constitutional Theory of Habeas Power

Modern habeas corpus law generally favors an idiom of individual rights, but the Great Writ’s central feature is judicial power. Throughout the seventeenth-century English Civil Wars, the Glorious Revolution, and the war in the American colonies, the habeas writ was a means by which judges consolidated authority over the question of what counted as ‘lawful’ custody. Of course, the American Framers did not simply copy the English writ—they embedded it in a Constitutional system of separated powers and dual sovereignty. ‘A Constitutional Theory of Habeas Power’ is an inquiry into the newly-minted principle that the federal Constitution guarantees some quantum of habeas process.

I argue that Article III combines with the Suspension Clause to guarantee habeas process and to specify the exclusive conditions by which Congress may restrict it. My ‘Habeas Power Theory’ has two global principles: (1) that the constitution entitles all federal prisoners to some quantum of habeas (or substitute) process before an Article III judge; and (2) that, absent a formal suspension, the constitution does not permit Congress to restrict judicial power to determine what constitutes proof of lawful custody.

By cohering the new writ history, decisional law, and maxims of federal jurisdiction, I sketch a theory for how judges ought to use habeas to test different forms of federal power—for immigration, military, and criminal custody. ‘Habeas Power’ represents an entry in a new thread of habeas literature, growing out of the War-on-Terror litigation and focusing on what one might call the ‘core features’ of the writ. Methodologically, the Article embraces the renewed emphasis on pre-Revolutionary English writ practice and habeas suspension statutes. It is also the scholarship’s most extensive treatment of habeas jurisdiction as an Article III remedial power over federal custody. By formulating the habeas authority as a power of judges, I try to square an affirmative constitutional guarantee of habeas process with more established maxims of federal jurisdiction.

Constitutional Privileging

“Constitutional privileging” occurs when courts treat the constitutional status of a legal claim as a reason to afford it specialized procedural or remedial treatment—in effect providing to that claim a greater degree of judicial care and attention than its nonconstitutional counterparts receive. Though seldom scrutinized by courts and commentators, this practice occurs within a variety of doctrinal settings. For example, a stricter standard of harmless error review governs constitutional claims; district court findings of facts (and mixed findings) are subject to a stricter form of appellate review in constitutional cases; collateral relief from federal court judgments is more easily obtained in connection with constitutional claims; and so on. In these and other contexts, the Constitution counts as not just supreme law, which is lexically prior to nonconstitutional law, but also “preeminent law,” which deserves especially meticulous implementation and especially vigorous enforcement.

In this Article, I question both the conceptual soundness and practical desirability of constitutional privileging. I first propose and reject several theories of “intrinsic” constitutional preeminence, each of which identifies a distinctive (or seemingly distinctive) feature of the constitutional form as mandating the privileging of constitutional over nonconstitutional claims. I then outline an alternative, “extrinsic” defense of constitutional privileging, which characterizes the practice as a pragmatic response to the objective “importance” or “fundamentality” of many constitutional rules. Although this defense cannot be definitively rebutted, I suggest that it too is unpersuasive. I also draw attention to the problematic tendency of constitutional privileging to undermine the “passive virtues” of judicial decision-making, especially the familiar norm that calls for avoiding unnecessary adjudication of constitutional questions. Finally, I propose several doctrinal reforms, aimed at reducing courts’ reliance on the variable of constitutional status in the privileging of legal claims.