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Cass Sunstein

  • Trump’s Procedural Rights Curbed During Impeachment Inquiry, Legal Scholar Says

    October 16, 2019

    Attorneys for President Donald Trump were wrong to think they should have the right to cross-examine witnesses, and call their own individuals, in the impeachment inquiry from Democrats in Congress, prominent legal scholar Cass Sunstein said Tuesday evening. That was part of Sunstein’s comments at an event held by the New York State Bar Association at Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan. Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School, was invited to speak by the State Bar to talk about the legal process and ramifications of impeachment, which has been on the minds of many as Democrats continue their formal inquiry into Trump this week...“The argument was that the president has been denied due process because there’s no cross examination going on in the House,” Sunstein said. “The first thing to say is that it’s not a criminal trial and there’s no right in these things to cross examination.”

  • Trump’s New Executive Orders Deserve Praise

    October 15, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein:  The discussion of President Donald Trump’s record on regulation is distressingly tribal. Emphasizing the importance of environmental protection, worker safety and civil rights, his harshest critics see deregulation as a dirty word. Complaining of regulation run riot in the past, his most enthusiastic supporters celebrate the smallest changes as heroic efforts to restore freedom to a nation that lies prostrate and humiliated before all-powerful bureaucrats. But on some occasions, the administration does something that all tribes should be willing to endorse. That was the case last week when Trump issued two executive orders designed to improve the operation of the regulatory state. They aren’t exactly earth-shattering, but in terms of the operations of the U.S. government, they are unquestionably important.

  • Editorial: Will Facebook be Trump’s silent partner in 2020 election?

    October 15, 2019

    The 2016 presidential campaign showcased the worst of Facebook. Remember the headline “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president”? That story had nearly 1 million Facebook impressions by Election Day, prompting the pope to call such fake news a “sin” and a “sickness.”...A new Facebook decision, though, could play havoc with the 2020 election. Facebook executive Nick Clegg announced that the company’s 30,000 contracted content moderators are no longer fact-checking political ads, which he said amounted to censorship. Moderators will block “previously debunked content” — but fresh lies will be allowed. As Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein noted, having the company stay out of fact-checking will make it less likely to face claims of political bias for keeping certain allegations off its platform.

  • Impeachment: Legal Guide

    October 15, 2019

    Cass Sunstein, Harvard Law School professor and the author of Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide (Penguin Books, 2019), and Henry Greenberg, president of the New York State Bar Association and partner at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, discuss the legal issues surrounding impeachment.

  • Trump’s Defiance of the House Inquiry Is Hard to Defend

    October 10, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: The White House’s fierce response to the impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives, calling the enterprise “an unconstitutional effort” and a violation of “constitutionally mandated due process,” seems to make one commitment: noncooperation. The key sentence in the eight-page letter, signed by White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone, is this: “Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it.”

  • Facebook Can Fight Lies in Political Ads

    October 9, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: All over the world, truth is in trouble. What are we going to do about that? Unfortunately, Facebook’s new policy on political advertisements is a step in the wrong direction. 1 By exempting “politicians” from its third-party fact-checking program, designed to reduce the spread of lies and falsehoods in ads, the company is essentially throwing up its hands. With some urgency, it should be seeking new ways to reduce the risk that lies and falsehoods will undermine the democratic process.

  • No, a ‘Failed’ Impeachment Attempt Doesn’t Nullify Donald Trump’s First Term and Let Him Serve a Third One

    October 7, 2019

    Legal experts have dismissed claims that President Donald Trump will be permitted to run for a third term if he is impeached by the House but the Senate fails to confirm it, branding them "categorically false." ... Indeed, there appears to be an information gap generated by the announcement of the impeachment inquiry, given there are so few examples to draw from, explained professor at Harvard Law School Cass Sunstein, the author of Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide and a former Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. "If a person is indicted by a prosecutor it's not a trivial matter, even if there is no conviction, and you can see impeachment as similar to an indictment," Sunstein told Newsweek. "It is a real mark on a human being and even more impeachment is a real mark on a president. There have only been two indictments in our history and they have both had a huge impact on what that person could do while president and also on their historical standing."

  • The Founders Defined Treason to Protect Free Speech

    October 3, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: President Donald Trump is not reluctant to accuse people of treason. On Sunday, Trump targeted Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, proclaiming on Twitter that he wanted the California Democrat “questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.” On Monday, he elaborated, musing that a “fake and terrible statement” by Schiff might just be grounds for his “Arrest for Treason? Trump’s tweets are often over-the-top. But these were particularly heinous because they are inconsistent with a key provision of the U.S. Constitution, and call up the very concerns that motivated its drafting. Treason is the only crime specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

  • How does impeachment work?

    September 30, 2019

    MSNBC’s Richard Lui outlines the process for impeaching a sitting U.S. President, and discusses the current impeachment inquiry into President Trump with Cass Sunstein, a Harvard University Law Professor and author of the book “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” Krishna Patel, a former assistant U.S. attorney, and Katie Phang, an MSNBC legal contributor. Sunstein provides background on what types of actions qualify as “impeachable offenses,” while Patel and Phang give their thoughts on what will happen next in regards to the impeachment inquiry. Phang also noted that while Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, could theoretically decide to go against a House impeachment vote and elect not hold a trial, that would be highly unlikely, as the optics would be very poor.

  • One Easy-to-Draw Line on Impeachment: Inauguration Day

    September 30, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Soon the House of Representatives will have to decide what, if any, alleged misconduct by President Donald Trump should go into formal articles of impeachment. Some of those decisions will be hard. But here’s an easy one: Under the Constitution, the House should not consider any actions, however terrible, that Trump took before he became president. (There’s one exception; we’ll get to it in due course.) This principle has bite. For example, it would exclude Trump’s alleged involvement in his lawyer’s hush-money payments to cover up sexual encounters with the porn star Stormy Daniels and the Playboy model Karen McDougal. It would also exclude misconduct by Trump’s businesses before 2017.

  • Trump’s actions with Ukraine epitomize framers’ idea of impeachable offense, scholars say

    September 26, 2019

    Legal scholars who have studied impeachment say it was not intended as a means to remove a president who commits any crime or loses the support of other politicians. Rather, it was designed for removing from office a chief executive who grossly misuses his authority to benefit himself and sacrifices the public good. ...Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein, who like Gerhardt, wrote a book on impeachment, stressed that the Constitution sets a high standard for impeachable offenses. If the president was shown to be a shoplifter or accused of disorderly conduct or even cheats on his taxes, those alone would not be grounds for impeachment, Sunstein said. “The idea of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ is not a political term. It was understood as a legal term which came with a history,” he said. ... Many scholars have tried to define those terms. In their book “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment,” Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe and Washington lawyer Joshua Matz wrote last year that “impeachable offenses involve corruption, betrayal or an abuse of power that subverts core tenets of the U.S. governmental system. They require proof of intentional, evil deeds that risk grave injury to the nation.”

  • As Calls Grow Louder, What Would The Impeachment Of President Trump Look Like?

    September 25, 2019

    Cass Sunstein, professor at Harvard Law and author of 'Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide', explains what the process would look like for President Trump.

  • Education of an Idealist

    September 25, 2019

    Ambassador Samantha Power ’99 expressed both skepticism and hope for the current state of international affairs during a panel discussion of her new memoir "The Education of an Idealist."

  • Scalia committee vote today

    September 24, 2019

    At 10 a.m. the Senate HELP Committee will vote on Eugene Scalia’s nomination to lead the Labor Department. Scalia, who has been a partner at the international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and also previously served as chief legal officer for the Labor Department during the George W. Bush administration, is expected to win the panel’s approval. Republicans hold a 12-11 majority on the HELP committee...Scalia’s nomination won the backing of Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor who oversaw the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during Barack Obama’s first term. “I am aware that in some domains, Scalia has taken positions, in terms of policy and law, in opposition to regulations that many reasonable people strongly support … ” Sunstein wrote in an August letter supporting the nomination. “For Scalia, as for many lawyers, it is easy to take comments or positions out of context, and to give a less-than-favorable picture of what he really thinks, or what he would do in a position of public trust.” He added that Scalia “does not have an ideological straightjacket. He takes issues on their merits.”

  • Enter the Arena, Democrats. Teddy Roosevelt Was Right.

    September 23, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: In April 1910, former president Theodore Roosevelt spoke before a large audience in Paris. “The poorest way to face life,” he said, “is with a sneer.” These days, too many Democrats are sneering — not only at President Donald Trump, but also at one another. From the left, many progressives are describing former Vice President Joe Biden as out of touch, old, too conservative, maybe even a bit racist. From the center, many Democrats are describing Senator Elizabeth Warren as unelectable, unlikable, unrealistic, disconnected from the values and beliefs of ordinary Americans. That’s a shame for many reasons, but one in particular is that it threatens to put Democrats in a position akin to that of Trump-era Republicans. A recurring question, mostly faced by Republicans in the age of Trump, is whether to work for a party nominee or an elected official with whom they have intense disagreements. Over the last two years, many Republicans have declined to join the Trump administration, others have been criticized for doing so, and some have been, and now are, torn about whether to resign.

  • Congress Can’t Ignore a Clearly Impeachable Offense

    September 23, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: There are a lot of misconceptions about impeachment. Incompetence isn’t impeachable. It’s terrible for a president to violate the oath of office, but doing so is not, by itself, an impeachable offense. Even posing a danger to the American people isn’t a legitimate basis for impeachment. Under the Constitution, what is necessary is a “high crime or misdemeanor,” meaning an egregious abuse of presidential authority. Some crimes would not count; consider shoplifting or disorderly conduct. An action that is not criminal might be impeachable; consider a six-month vacation, an effort to jail political enemies or an abuse of the pardon power (by, for example, pardoning associates who have engaged in criminal activity at the president’s behest). If you want to understand what counts as impeachable, read the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution’s impeachment provisions were written against the background set by the Declaration. Read against that background, one thing becomes blindingly obvious: If the president has clearly committed an impeachable offense, the House of Representatives is not entitled to look the other way.

  • Economists calculate monetary value of ‘thoughts and prayers’

    September 17, 2019

    All things have a price – and if not, economists will find one. Researchers have calculated the going rate for thoughts and prayers offered in hard times. Rather than settling on one price for all, the study found the value of a compassionate gesture depended overwhelmingly on a person’s beliefs. While Christian participants were willing to part with money to receive thoughts and prayers from others, the idea made nonbelievers baulk. Instead of shelling out to receive the gestures, on average they were willing to pay to avoid them. ... The Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, who was the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under Barack Obama, called the study “a strong and powerful paper”.

  • What If Donald Trump Just Happened by Accident?

    September 16, 2019

    An article by Cass Susntein: What is the role of chance in human life? If a book tops the bestseller list, if a new product takes over the market, or if people suddenly want to stem immigration, might it all be some kind of accident? Over a decade ago, a celebrated paper by sociologists Matthew Salganik, Peter Dodds and Duncan Watts tried to answer such questions. They asked: When a song turns out to be a spectacular success, is it because it’s really great, or is it just because the right number of people, at an early stage, were seen to like it?

  • The Compassionate Logic of Pricing Human Life

    September 10, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass SunsteinOne of the unloveliest ideas in economics goes by the name “value of a statistical life” — VSL for short. In the U.S. government, the current value of a human life is about $10 million. That means that if a highway safety regulation would save 10 lives, it is worth $100 million — a figure that must be weighed against the regulation’s cost.  Because the government’s decisions often depend on the outcome of cost-benefit analysis, the VSL is important. It helps determine whether and when people will be protected from dirty air, dangerous workplaces, unsafe drinking water and unhealthy food. A lot of people rebel against the idea of assigning a monetary value to a human life. In a provocative new book, the New York Times editorial writer Binyamin Appelbaum associates that idea with an assortment of others that he abhors, and through which economists have (in his view) contributed to rise of intolerable inequality.

  • ‘Pretend You Are Fox News’: The former UN ambassador recalls the moment President Obama asked her to serve

    September 5, 2019

    An article by Samantha Power:  Flying back to the United States from Asia on Air Force One in late November 2012, President Barack Obama was in high spirits. He had recently been reelected, and had just concluded a widely celebrated visit to Myanmar (also known as Burma)—the first ever  by a sitting U.S. president. The trip had almost fallen apart at the last minute, when it became clear that the military government was balking at reforms that were supposed to have been in place by the time Obama arrived. A few days before he departed Washington for Asia, the president dispatched me to Myanmar with instructions to lock down our desired terms before he landed, and over three bruising days of negotiations, I did so. The final agreement included a large release of political prisoners, a commitment to allow access for humanitarian workers to war-torn ethnic areas, and permission for critics of the Burmese dictatorship to return from exile or, if living in Myanmar, to travel outside the country. During the 20-hour journey back to Washington, Obama summoned me to his personal cabin on Air Force One and asked me what job I hoped for in his second term. My husband, Cass Sunstein, had just left the White House after three and a half years as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He was now commuting between our home in Washington and a small rental apartment near Harvard Law School, where he had resumed teaching. I did not want to leave government, but after serving as Obama’s multilateral-affairs and human-rights adviser on the National Security Council since January 2009, I was ready to try something new.

  • Why Companies Reject Trump’s Deregulation Theology

    September 4, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein:  Here is a puzzle about some of the Donald Trump administration’s most prominent deregulatory efforts: The very companies that are supposed to benefit from those efforts do not welcome them. In some cases, they strenuously oppose them. How can that be? There are several answers.

  • The FDA’s Smart New Graphic Cigarette Labels

    August 30, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein:  Can a new regulation be something to celebrate? If it stands to save lives, absolutely. Here’s one that does: the Food and Drug Administration’s new proposalrequiring warnings, including graphic images, on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements. The regulation, now out for a 60-day comment period, also appears to fix the problems that hobbled previous attempts to mandate graphic cigarette warnings.

  • The FDA’s Smart New Graphic Cigarette Labels

    August 20, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Can a new regulation be something to celebrate? If it stands to save lives, absolutely. Here’s one that does: the Food and Drug Administration’s new proposalrequiring warnings, including graphic images, on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements. The regulation, now out for a 60-day comment period, also appears to fix the problems that hobbled previous attempts to mandate graphic cigarette warnings. It’s been 10 years since Congress first directed the FDA to require graphic warnings, and that job was supposed to be done by mid-2011. The FDA duly aimed to meet the deadline, proposing labels that were indeed graphic. (As administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the time, I helped oversee that process.) But the tobacco companies convinced a federal court that, by compelling speech, the FDA’s regulation violated their First Amendment rights.  

  • Would support for Trump increase if he apologized?

    August 5, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein:  President Trump apparently learned a kind of code from one of his mentors, Roy Cohn: Always hit back. Never apologize. A rough and occasionally vicious lawyer, Cohn was chief counsel for Joe McCarthy. He practiced what he preached. Was Cohn right? There is a lot of evidence that he was. But existing evidence is preliminary, and it does not involve presidents, let alone Trump. If a president, particularly this president, does something offensive or horrifying, is he better off if he says that he is sorry? And if not, why not? With the help of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, I recently investigated these questions. I asked about 400 demographically diverse Americans how they would react if Trump apologized for his recent tweet suggesting that four Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back” to the countries from which they “originally came.”

  • Costs, Benefits and Regulation Post-Trump

    August 5, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein:  “I told you so.” That is what some progressives are saying about bipartisan policies that Democratic presidents carried over from their Republican predecessors and that the Trump administration is sometimes putting in a less-than-wonderful light. A case in point: cost-benefit analysis.

  • It’s Not Cowardly to Worry About Medicare for All

    August 5, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein:  At the Democratic debate this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren won loud applause, and helped define the Democratic presidential race, when she exclaimed, “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.” It was a powerful moment. But it fits with a strategy, now prominent on the left, of characterizing reform-minded pragmatism as a form of cowardice, a capitulation to the right, a demonstration of spinelessness, a Republican talking point or a failure of nerve or character, rather than what it usually is: a matter of principle.

  • Faculty Books in Brief: Summer 2019

    August 5, 2019

    Books by Cass Sunstein, Mihir Desai, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, and Richard Fallon.

  • An Obama Administration Impeachment Expert on Trump, Mueller and What Both Parties Are Getting Wrong

    July 29, 2019

    To impeach or not to impeach. That has been the question vexing congressional Democrats since they took control of the House of Representatives last November. The push to begin proceedings became more urgent in April after then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailed several instances in which President Trump potentially obstructed justice, and over 90 House Democrats have now publicly expressed support for impeachment. The number is likely to increase this week as Mueller testifies about his findings before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. But as “Impeach!” has become a mainstream rallying cry for Trump’s opposition, the intention of the constitutional provision that allows Congress to remove the president from office has been largely misconstrued, says Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, constitutional scholar, and Obama administration veteran. Sunstein’s 2017 book Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide has taken on new relevance since the release of the Mueller report — so much so that an updated version was released last month to break down how the special counsel’s findings factor into the debate over whether to impeach President Trump.

  • Mueller Kept His Eye on the Ball

    July 25, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Throughout his testimony in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, and despite multiple efforts to divert him, former special counsel Robert Mueller was focused on just the two issues that were the topics of his official report: Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential campaign and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. Both Republicans and Democrats disliked it, and found it weak, when Mueller answered their lengthy questions by referring to that report. “I rely on the language of the report,” he sometimes said.

  • ‘1984’ Comes to 2019

    July 23, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: George Orwell’s “1984” is the greatest fictional account of authoritarian leadership — the most astute, the most precise, the most attuned to human psychology. One of its defining chapters explores the Two Minutes Hate, which helps establish and maintain Big Brother’s regime. As Orwell describes it, the Hate begins with a flash of a face on a large screen. It is Emmanuel Goldstein, “the Enemy of the People.” His is “a clever face, and yet somehow inherently despicable,” and also unmistakably foreign. It produces fear and disgust.

  • What If the 2040 Presidential Litmus Test Is Veganism?

    July 16, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein:  Suppose that in the coming decades, Americans have a moral awakening with respect to the consumption of meat. Suppose they conclude that eating meat is a grievous moral wrong, above all because it promotes cruelty to animals, but also because it contributes to environmental problems, including climate change. That could happen. Many observers think that with the rise of plant-based meat alternatives such as the Impossible Burger, people will eventually be shocked and outraged that their parents and grandparents used to raise animals for food, allow them to suffer, and then eat them — without the slightest moral compunction. If so, political candidates would undoubtedly be called to account for their onetime eating habits.

  • From Sludge To Nudge: Why Brands Need A Frustration Audit

    July 16, 2019

    Life is complicated. And many D2C brands — and increasingly, more traditional companies trying to keep up with digital natives — succeed because they help eliminate the pain points or friction that behavioral economists simply call sludge. (Remember how tedious e-shopping was before one-click ordering? Or when you had to buy the whole CD?) But Cass Sunstein, now the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, says Americans are still buried under billions of hours of time-wasting annoyances.  Sunstein, a former White House paperwork reduction reformer, recommends companies conduct regular sludge audits to make sure they’re eliminating as many pain points — and as much friction — as possible.  Still, such a task isn’t easy. He tells D2C FYI why simplifying is so complicated

  • Impeachment isn’t optional. If facts point in that direction, Congress must act

    July 16, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein:  Since the April release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, debate has escalated among Democrats in the House of Representatives over the question of impeachment. A lot of the discussion has focused on political questions. Which party would benefit? Is it a serious problem that impeachment proceedings would be, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has suggested, “divisive”? Is impeachment a criminal or a “political” proceeding? It certainly isn’t a criminal proceeding, and it has an inescapable political component. But under the Constitution, impeachment is fundamentally a question of law, not politics. If, after assessing the facts, the House concludes that a president — Democratic or Republican — has clearly committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” then impeachment isn’t optional. In that event, the House has a duty to act, regardless of any potential political fallout.

  • weight balancing illustration / dollars vs people

    The Price Is Right

    July 15, 2019

    Sunstein details how government can best spend money to benefit the public

  • Justice Kagan’s Powerful Defense of the Administrative State

    July 2, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: The Supreme Court term that ended this week had a large number of high-profile cases. But many of its decisions involved the relatively technical field of administrative law, which sets out legal restrictions on the power of federal agencies. It has profound effects on people’s lives, and it is often the subject of intense judicial debates. The court’s most far-reaching ruling settled a long-disputed question: If an agency issues an ambiguous regulation – involving clean air, food safety or civil rights – who gets to sort out the ambiguity? The agency or a court?

  • Facebook’s Zuckerberg Backs Privacy Legislation

    July 2, 2019

    Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and co-founder of Facebook Inc., endorsed federal privacy legislation and greater regulation of political advertising, even as he cast governments as too slow to address many of the internet’s thorniest problems. In an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg said the company was racing to solve problems such as misinformation and how best to police online content. He expressed hope that governments would ultimately build a framework for tackling those matters....Speaking with Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor and an occasional Facebook consultant, Mr. Zuckerberg expressed frustration both with calls to break up the company and with the U.S. government’s handling of Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election.

  • Mark Zuckerberg Talks Breaking Up Facebook, Elections, and External Oversight

    July 2, 2019

    On stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Mark Zuckerberg addressed a range of topics that have put the company in the center of a political firestorm, from election security to content moderation and monopolistic power. In conversation with Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, Zuckerberg said he wants to create more external standards so that private companies are not making morally complex decisions by themselves.

  • Mark Zuckerberg makes the case for not breaking up Facebook

    July 2, 2019

    Mark Zuckerberg can't think of a single reason to break up Facebook, even as lawmakers call to dismantle or regulate major US tech platforms. In a conversation Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Zuckerberg said being big is actually a benefit in the fight to prevent the spread of misinformation and deal with election interference. "The question that I think we have to grapple with is that breaking up these companies wouldn't make any of those problems better," Zuckerberg said in a conversation with Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein. "The amount that we're investing in safety and security is greater than the whole revenue of our company was earlier this decade when we went public, so it just would not have been possible to do the things we're doing at a smaller scale."

  • Mark Zuckerberg to regulators: We need your help to protect elections

    July 2, 2019

    As public trust in Facebook’s ability to wield its power responsibly has fractured in the face of a series of privacy breaches and other scandals, the company has been facing fresh calls for regulation from numerous quarters of the federal government. But on one of the biggest issues leading to that breakdown of trust, its response to foreign election interference, Facebook has made significant progress, according to Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who made a rare public appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday...In a discussion with Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, Zuckerberg invited regulators to set industrywide privacy standards and take a harder line with foreign interference in elections while pushing back against calls to break up Facebook.

  • Prof Cass Sunstein on how social change happens, and why it’s so often abrupt & unpredictable

    June 25, 2019

    It can often feel hopeless to be an activist seeking social change on an obscure issue where most people seem opposed or at best indifferent to you. But according to a new book by Professor Cass Sunstein, they shouldn’t despair. Large social changes are often abrupt and unexpected, arising in an environment of seeming public opposition. The Communist Revolution in Russia spread so swiftly it confounded even Lenin. Seventy years later the Soviet Union collapsed just as quickly and unpredictably. In the modern era we have gay marriage, #metoo and the Arab Spring, as well as nativism, Euroskepticism and Hindu nationalism. How can a society that so recently seemed to support the status quo bring about change in years, months, or even weeks?

  • Mueller Was Right to Defer to the Office of Legal Counsel

    June 25, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: The Office of Legal Counsel can be seen as the Navy Seals of the U.S. Department of Justice. It consists of a relatively small, and quite powerful, group of lawyers who provide legal advice to the president and the Cabinet departments, often on the very hardest questions. If the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security disagree about a legal issue, OLC, as it is called, might well be asked to settle their dispute. If the question is whether Congress can require the president of the United States to hand over his tax returns, or whether the president can fire members of the Federal Reserve Board, or whether executive privilege applies to conversations not involving the president personally, or whether the president is immune from criminal prosecution – well, there is a good chance that OLC will have the final word, at least within the executive branch. This helps explain why Robert Mueller deferred to a crucial judgment of the OLC, to the effect that the president is immune from criminal prosecution as a matter of constitutional law. The special counsel was criticized for following the office’s opinion, but he was right to do so. Robert Mueller is a straight shooter.

  • Considering the Consumer

    June 21, 2019

    Many faculty members at HLS focus their research on aspects of consumer law and protection.

  • Illustration of two people in judges robes holding a funnel with the words we the people flowing through them

    Faculty Books in Brief: Summer 2019

    June 19, 2019

    A single person cannot change a social norm; it requires a movement from people who disapprove of the norm, writes Sunstein. He explores how those movements, ranging from the fight for LGBTQ rights to white nationalism, take shape and effect change.

  • We Are Living in Historic Times. Or Are We?

    June 17, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein:  If we are living through historic events, would we know? In 1965, Arthur Danto, a philosopher at Columbia University, argued that it is impossible to tell, when you’re in the midst of things, whether an event is going to be deemed “historic” by future historians. If something happens – Russia successfully reclaims Crimea, for example, or Pete Buttigieg declares that he’s running for president – its ultimate significance will be determined by causal chains that cannot possibly be anticipated, and by an assortment of events that have yet to take place.

  • New Zealand’s ‘Well-Being’ Budget Is Worth Copying

    June 11, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein:  New Zealand’s Labour coalition government has done something that could prove historic. Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it has produced the world’s first “well-being” budget, focused explicitly on a single goal: using its limited funds to promote the well-being of its citizens.  Among other things, a lot of money will be devoted to three problems: mental illness, child poverty and family violence.

  • The Nudgeocrat: Navigating freedom with Cass Sunstein

    June 4, 2019

    A book review by Samuel Moyn: Whenever I need to drive somewhere, I use Waze. The app saves me a lot of trouble, because it aggregates information to which I have no access and even plans how to distribute the traffic rationally to avoid clogging the roads. It has a lot of pop-up ads, but I try to ignore them because they seem a minor annoyance...But whatever its drawbacks, Waze marks a triumph for “navigability,” the ungainly term that Cass Sunstein uses in his new book, On Freedom, to describe how easy or difficult it is to get from here to there and, in the metaphorical sense, to achieve a goal once you’ve set one for yourself. For Sunstein, government ought to be more like Waze, helping people fulfill their desires and dreams, especially when they themselves are blocking that fulfillment. But any inquiry into navigability is inseparable from a much bigger theory of where our desires come from and how society fits them together not just with others’ but also into a common scheme of life. For too long, liberals have abstained from inquiring into what people want and have ignored how most obstructions come from neither the state nor the self but from a deregulated market and an unreformed society in which oppression is the rule.

  • Act Now to Head Off Looming ‘Deepfakes’ Disasters

    May 30, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Parody and satire are a legitimate part of public debate. Doctored videos are all over the place. Some are funny. Some are meant to make a point. Arguments of this kind are being made to support Facebook’s decision not to take down the doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in which she was made to appear drunk or otherwise impaired. One version, posted on the Facebook page Politics WatchDog, was seen over two million times in just a few days. There is no question that many viewers thought that the video was real. Acknowledging that it was fake, Facebook said, “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”

  • EPA Chief Says the Right Thing. Will He Do It?

    May 28, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, recently released an important memorandum that makes terrific sense. In principle, it should improve the EPA’s performance -- and receive bipartisan applause. In practice? Well, that might be another story. The background is provided by two Supreme Court decisions. In 2009, the court ruled that whenever a congressional enactment is ambiguous, the EPA has the authority to consider the costs of its regulations and to weigh them against the benefits.

  • We Need a Word for Destructive Group Outrage

    May 23, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: The English language needs a word for what happens when a group of people, outraged by some real or imagined transgression, responds in a way that is disproportionate to the occasion, thus ruining the transgressor’s day, month, year or life. We might repurpose an old word: lapidation. Technically, the word is a synonym for stoning, but it sounds much less violent. It is also obscure, which makes it easier to enlist for contemporary purposes. For a recent example of lapidation, consider the case of Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard law professor who joined the team of lawyers defending Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein against charges of rape and sexual abuse.

  • Abortion Right Should Be Built on Equality, Not Privacy

    May 17, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: It’s increasingly clear that Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision protecting a woman’s right to choose abortion, is in jeopardy. But what is Roe all about? Privacy? Liberty? Women’s equality? Its survival may depend partly on the answer, so let’s go back to first principles. The Roe opinion, written by Justice Harry Blackmun in 1973, was entirely about privacy. As Blackmun put it, the right of privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” For two reasons, that’s awkward. First, the U.S. Constitution does not protect a general right of privacy at all. Second, any right of privacy, if it does exist, would not seem to encompass the right to choose abortion. Privacy usually refers to the right to control access to personal information.1 What does abortion have to do with that?