Although assent is the doctrinal and theoretical hallmark of contract, its relevance for form contracts has been drastically undermined by the overwhelming evidence that no one reads standard terms. Until now, most political and academic discussions of this phenomenon have acknowledged the truth of universally unread contracts, but have assumed that even unread terms are at best potentially helpful, and at worst harmless. This Article makes the empirical case that unread terms are not a neutral part of American commerce; instead, the mere fact of fine print inhibits reasonable challenges to unfair deals. The experimental study reported here tests the hypothesis that when a policy is disclosed as a boilerplate contract term, it appears more legitimate, both morally and legally, than if it is disclosed elsewhere – even if the term would be plausibly subject to legal challenge in either case. Subjects from an in-person campus sample were randomly assigned to read about a consumer policy communicated either as a standard term in a form contract, or as a company policy available on the firm’s website. They were more likely to think that harsh policies were legally enforceable, and morally defensible, when the policies were in the fine print – and were more likely to object to a policy that was publicly available but not within the standard terms. Disclosing onerous terms up front does not affect consumer choice ex ante but creates a problematic assumption of enforceability when the terms turn out to be troublesome ex post. These results were also replicated using a sample of subjects from the general population. If correct, this phenomenon presents a substantial challenge to the traditional economic analysis of private bargaining in contract. The Article concludes with an analysis, in light of these findings, of doctrinal, political, and market mechanisms for policing unfair terms.
Cornell Law Review Online
In 2015, the tenth anniversary of Justice Samuel Alito’s ascension to the Court passed without the level of attention lavished on the same milestone reached that year by Chief Justice John Roberts. The difference in attention is understandable: the Chief Justiceship has given John Roberts a level of public prominence and influence that his counterparts […]
The Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (“HSR Act”) is a centerpiece of federal antitrust law. Designed to aid enforcement of Clayton Act Section 7, which prohibits mergers and acquisitions that “may . . . substantially . . . lessen competition” or “tend to create a monopoly,” the statute requires purchasers of an issuer’s voting securities exceeding […]
Toward a Civilized System of Justice: Re-conceptualizing the Response to Sexual Violence in Higher Education
The reporting, investigation, and prevention of sexual violence in settings that are closed off from the greater community and subject to their own laws, rules, norms and biases present special challenges for survivors of sexual violence. This essay builds on our existing scholarship that explores the pervasive problem and exceedingly high incidence of sexual violence […]
Deinstitutionalization from state mental hospitals was largely over by 1980, but the percentage of prisoners with mental illness did not begin to skyrocket until 1990. The leading theories for the criminalization of mental illness cannot fully explain this gap. This Essay offers a new theory: the Supreme Court in 1990 reduced the costs of incarcerating […]
Symposium on Reassessing the Restatement of Employment Law
The Cornell Law Review hosted a Symposium on Reassessing the Restatement of Employment Law on Friday, November 21, 2014, at Cornell Law School. The Symposium offered the first commentary on Restatement of Employment Law, a twelve-year project, which the American Law Institute approved in 2014. Click for Symposium Agenda
Symposium on Extraterritorialism
The Cornell Law Review will publish its annual Symposium issue for Volume 99 with a focus on extraterritorialism in September 2014. The flurry of recent Supreme Court decisions turning on a revived door-closing territorialism is attracting the attention of legal scholars in various substantive as well as methodological fields of federal law, and the lines […]
Cornell Law Review Submission box is now open
The Cornell Law Review is accepting submissions for Volume 103.
Welcome to CornellLawReview.org
Welcome to CornellLawReview.org, the new online home of the Cornell Law Review. In the spirit of its mission as a student-run journal, the Law Review is launching this site to provide greater access to its top-notch legal scholarship and more publishing opportunities for legal academics. The website will host all of the content that the Law Review publishes in print […]