The Faculty Podcast

Listen to lectures by—and discussions with—the University of Chicago Law School's eminent faculty, as well as some very special guests.

May 9, 2013

Rate regulation today is often conceived of as an exotic topic of interest only to a select group of pointy-headed specialists. But the truth is quite the opposite.  The history of rate regulation raises some of the most fundamental challenges to the organization of a free society. This lecture will trace the evolution of the doctrine from its common law origins in Sir Matthew Hale's seventeenth century treatise, De Portis Maris (Of the Gates of the Sea) through its incorporation into American Constitutional Law to the major synthesis of rate regulation in the 1944 decision in Hope Natural Gas v. Federal Power Commission. On the one side lies the need to constrain monopoly profits; on the other lies the need to prevent confiscation of the the invested capital of the regulated industry.  The effort to achieve those twin goals gives rises to procedural and substantive challenges that in one guise or another are with us today.

Richard Epstein is James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Law and Senior Lecturer. This talk was recorded on April 9, 2013, as part of the Chicago's Best Ideas lecture series.

April 25, 2013

Justice Albie Sachs of the Constitutional Court of South Africa discussed the Fourie case, gay rights, and the same-sex marriage decision in South Africa. This lecture was recorded on April 9, 2013.

April 11, 2013

Suitably organized, corporate groups mimic the capacities of individual persons and operate as agents with minds of their own. And in order to function in this agential manner, they have to be assigned legal rights that they can assert or transfer or waive in their dealings with others. But corporate bodies do not have a claim to rights on the same basis as individuals and neither, consequently, do they have a claim to the same range of rights. Notwithstanding their functional similarity to natural persons, they should be denied anything like the same status in law.  

Presented by Philip Pettit, L.S.Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton University, and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University. This talk, the 2013 Dewey Lecture in Law and Philosophy, was recorded on February 28, 2013.

March 28, 2013

Geoffrey Stone (Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School) explores the history of laws against contraception, including discussion of those who struggled against those laws, how the tide turned, and what role the courts played in that process. This talk was recorded on February 19, 2013, as part of the Chicago's Best Ideas lecture series.

March 14, 2013

Constitutional lawyers tend to study constitutions as sets of legal rules and judicial decisions. But written constitutions are also products, with different design features: they can be more or less detailed, innovative, or ambitious; they can be produced in a more or less inclusive manner; and they can have a short-term expiration date or be designed for the long haul. Why do constitutions differ? Are some designs more effective than others? As the countries of the Arab Spring struggle with constitutional change, these questions are coming to the fore. Using the tools of social science to study constitutions provides new insight into their origins, contents, and effectiveness.

Tom Ginsburg is Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar and Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. This lecture was recorded on February 12, 2013.

February 28, 2013

What limits should the government be allowed to impose on people who want to give money to a political campaign, or spend money in support of a campaign? The question is complex, difficult, and very important. Limits on the way money can be used to support candidates can undermine democracy - but so can the lack of limits. For the last forty years, the Supreme Court’s decisions in this area have helped produce some controversial things: PACs, Super-PACs, corporate contributions, soft money, and the rest. Suppose we could sweep those decisions aside and start again. What would an ideal system of campaign finance regulation look like? David Strauss is Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. This talk was recorded on January 30, 2013.

February 14, 2013

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is the primary tool used by policymakers to inform administrative decisionmaking. Yet its methodology of converting preferences (often hypothetical ones) into dollar figures, then using those dollar figures as proxies for quality of life, creates systemic errors so large as to deprive the tool of value.

These problems have been lamented by many scholars, and recent calls have gone out from world leaders and prominent economists to find an alternative analytical device that would measure quality of life more directly. Well-being analysis (WBA) could be that alternative. Relying on data from the field of hedonic psychology that tracks people’s actual experience of life— data that has consistently survived scrutiny by passing the social science tests of reliability and validity — WBA is able to provide the same policy guidance as CBA without CBA’s distortionary conversion of preferences to dollars.

Jonathan Masur is Deputy Dean, Professor of Law and Herbert and Marjorie Fried Teaching Scholar at the University of Chicago Law School. This talk was recorded on February 4, 2012.

January 31, 2013

The question of how to structure and package the residential experience is a deeply interesting and difficult one. How physically large or small should residential holdings be? How densely should they be clustered? Should spaces for working, recreating, cooking, and bathing be contained within the private residential unit, shared with other households, or procured a la carte? How permanent should the connection be between a household and a living space? How much control should households have over the environment surrounding the dwelling unit? Answers to these and many other queries differ both within and between societies. A law and economics perspective that emphasizes problems of scale illuminates the ways in which law intersects with private decisionmaking to deliver housing, and can inform the task of configuring residential property optimally. This Chicago's Best Ideas lecture was recorded November 13, 2012. Lee Fennell is Max Pam Professor of Law and Herbert and Marjorie Fried Research Scholar at the University of Chicago Law School.

January 17, 2013

The Supreme Court’s decision in the healthcare case has brought new prominence to Congress’s power to tax and spend for the general welfare under Article I, section 8, clause 1. Legislation under the spending power is often regarded as an artifact of the New Deal period. But the spending power has a longer history dating from the early nineteenth century. Between 1815 and 1850, a second generation of American founders grappled with the meaning of the Constitution, struggling to resolve a new and diverse array of questions. Chief among them was the scope of Congress’s power – specifically, its authority to oversee public works projects such as canals, roads, and railroads. Controversy over these “internal improvements” was a key issue in several elections, and presidents from James Madison to James K. Polk clashed with Congress, the states, and the Supreme Court over differing views of federal power in this area. The crucial issue was not so much the modern question, “What can Congress compel the states to do?,” but a distinctly early national question: “What can Congress do in the name of the states?” In answering this question, early-nineteenth-century Americans looked to factors such as state consent and distinguished among the appropriation of funds, the actual construction of internal improvements, and subsequent jurisdiction over those projects – factors that modern Supreme Court case law suggests are largely irrelevant to settling federalism disputes. The text of Article I and the Tenth Amendment have not changed since the founding, but this talk will explore the ways in which the universe of constitutional possibility in which they operate has shifted over the past two centuries. Alison LaCroix is Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. This talk was recorded as part of the "Chicago's Best Ideas" series on October 24, 2012.

January 3, 2013

In the mid-1930s, the future of judicial review was uncertain.  Politicians, social activists, and even legal academics denounced the federal judiciary’s hostility toward New Deal legislation as a threat to democratic progress and economicrecovery.  In the face of President Roosevelt’s “court-packing plan” and competing proposals to curb judicial power, conservative lawyers sought strategies for restoring popular faith in the federal courts.  Their solution, Professor Weinrib will argue, was to embrace a cause they had long denounced as a front for radical activity: the judicial protection of free speech. Afterdecades of heated clashes, the American Bar Association joined forces with its long-time adversary, the American Civil Liberties Union, to celebrate the First Amendment. In a self-conscious attempt to improve its public image, it recast the federal judiciary as a defender of personal liberties as well as economic rights.  The new civil liberties consensus produced an unprecedented but durable commitment to a constitutional and counter-majoritarian theory of free speech. Laura Weinrib is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. This Chicago's Best Ideas talk was recorded on November 7, 2012.