As Rule 10b-5 approaches the age of seventy, deep familiarity with this supremely potent and consequential provision of American administrative law has obscured its lack of clear conceptual content. The rule, as written, interpreted, and enforced, is missing a fully developed connection to—of all things—fraud. Fraud is difficult to define. Several approaches are plausible. But the law of securities fraud, and much of the commentary about that body of law, has neither attempted such a definition nor acknowledged its necessity to the coherence and effectiveness of the doctrine.

Securities fraud’s lack of mooring in a fully developed concept of fraud produces at least three costs: public and private actions are not brought on behalf of clearly specified regulatory objectives; the line between civil and criminal liability has become unacceptably blurred; and the law has come to provide at best a weak means of resolving vital public questions about wrongdoing in financial markets. The agenda of this Article is threefold. First, this Article illuminates and clarifies the relationship between securities fraud and fraud and structures a discussion of legal reform that more explicitly connects securities fraud remedies with the purposes of a regime of securities regulation. Second, it clarifies the line between civil and criminal liability. And third, this Article seeks a better understanding of what is being asked when legal actors and the public wonder whether to label an important instance of market failure “fraud.

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