There's a term for that: the year's notable legal phrases

Ken Bresler, The Daily Record Newswire

“Now, you can say it backwards, which is docious-ali-expi-listic-fragi-cali-rupus. But that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?”

— spoken line in song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” by Richard and Robert Sherman

The most notable legal phrases of 2015 weren’t coined last year, but they are new and did make news. Here are my choices and definitions.

4. inversion. noun. Tax-reducing transaction in which a U.S. company buys a company in a foreign country with lower taxes, and moves its domicile there, but typically leaves its operations and management in the U.S. Called an inversion because the foreign company is typically smaller, around 25 percent of the U.S. company’s size. A super-inversion is a U.S. company’s purchase of a foreign company that is more than 40 percent of its size. U.S. Treasury rules restrict the tax benefits of inversions but not super-inversions.

Inversions most recently hit the news in November 2015 with the announcement of Pfizer’s planned purchase of Allergen. Pfizer is a U.S. pharmaceutical company; Allergen, an Irish one. Depending on how much Pfizer pays, the deal could be a super-inversion.

The Treasury rules call corporations such as Allergen “controlled foreign corporations (CFCs).” The rules discuss a tax-avoidance strategy called “de-controlling” (referring to controlled foreign corporations) and a strategy called “hopscotch loans.” Legal commentators have mentioned a rare variation of an inversion called a “spinversion.” I could define de-controlling, hopscotch loans and spinversions, but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?

3. right to try, right-to-try law, statute, bill. noun. Statute in several states, contravening federal law, allowing fatally ill people to try medications not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Colorado was the first state to pass such a law, in 2014. Other states soon followed. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called states laboratories of democracy. With right-to-try laws, are the states democracies for laboratories?

(By the way, “laboratories of democracy” is not a quotation. See New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting).)

Moving from pharm to farm ...

2. ag gag law, ag-gag law. noun. Statute criminalizing the filming of treatment of farm animals, such as by animal-rights activists. [Ag[ricultural] gag.]

In 2015, Wyoming became the latest state to pass such a law. Its supporters call it a “data trespass” law — making it illegal for activists, whistleblowers and journalists to trespass to collect data. But “ag gag” rhymes and that is the term that has so far caught on.

“Ag gag” is not a bland and neutral term. It editorializes. So does …

1. fetal assault law. noun. Statute criminalizing a pregnant woman’s use of illegal drugs. See Tenn. Code §39-13-107.

One reason that I call this the most notable legal phrase of 2015 is that it, or at least the Tennessee law behind it, may not be around in a year. The statute has a sunset provision; it specifies that it is effective April 28, 2014, to June 30, 2016. With no word on whether the Tennessee Legislature will re-enact it, and no buzz about another state’s legislature enacting a fetal assault law, this legal phrase may soon go from definitely noteworthy to not worthy of definition.


Attorney Ken Bresler is, among other things, the principal of, whose website contains Bresler’s Law Dictionary.