« SCOTUS Term: Beckles v. United States As Anti-Canon | Main | (SCOTUS Term): Deciding little, deciding few, and competing judicial functions »

Monday, June 18, 2018

(SCOTUS Term): Behold the passive virtues

The Court had not one but two shots at partisan gerrymandering this term. And those chances included limiting (if not avoiding) charges of political bias, because both sides oxen were being gored--one case was Republican gerrymandering to screw Democrats and one case was Democratic gerrymandering to screw Republicans. Alas, the Court punted in both.

Gill v. Whitford, the Republicans-screwing-Democrats case from Wisconsin, was the higher-profile. The Court unanimously rejected the case on standing grounds. The Chief's opinion (joined by everyone at least in part) emphasized the individual nature of the standing inquiry in a vote-dilution case--each plaintiff must show the injury she suffered to her vote in her gerrymandered district, without regard to the makeup of any other district or the statewide balance of partisan power. The Court remanded to give the plaintiffs an opportunity to plead and offer evidence of standing, although Justices Thomas and Gorsuch did not join this part. Justice Kagan, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor (but not Kennedy), concurred to provide a roadmap for how plaintiffs can establish standing on a vote-dilution theory. This may include statewide evidence of harm to plaintiffs in districts throughout the state warranting a statewide remedy to relieve the injury to plaintiffs in multiple districts (on the assumption that the case include plaintiffs from all or most districts). Kagan also mapped how plaintiffs, including a political party, could establish standing on a First Amendment association theory, which by definition focuses on statewide harms.

Benisek v. Lamone was the Democrats-screwing-Republicans case from Maryland and was framed as lower stakes, focusing only on vote dilution in one district and not seeking to combat systemic statewide gerrymandering. Standing was not an issue. But the Court in a per curiam held that the  non-merits elements of the preliminary-injunction analysis were not satisfied, including the public interest and balance of equities.  The Court emphasized plaintiffs' delay in seeking an injunction and the impossibility, if the current map cannot be used, of drawing a new map that could be used in 2018.

Hasen points out that a third partisan gerrymandering case awaits the Court decision on whether to assert jurisdiction that includes a free-association challenge to explicit statewide partisan districting. But the case has similar standing concerns. We will see on remand how much mileage plaintiffs can get from Kagan's concurrence.

The analysis in Gill shows how inextricable standing is from the merits in constitutional litigation, especially seeking systemic mandatory injunctive relief. So inextricable that it confirms William Fletcher's view that standing is merits and lack of standing the failure of a claim. Gill shows this in two respects. First, it shows that the separation of injury and right makes no sense, because the injury depends on the right and the theory of right asserted. Second, the problem as to several plaintiffs was not the early allegations of injury but the failure to provide evidence at trial of that injury. But standing is supposed to be a jurisdictional threshold issue. If we are still arguing about it at trial, we are passed the threshold, so we should consider this as part of the substantive merits at trial.

The other point of note is the Chief's efforts to limit the prospective effect of Kagan's concurrence. On p. 17, he writes: "[T]he opinion of the Court rests on the understanding that we lack jurisdiction to decide this case, much less to draw speculative and advisory conclusions regarding others . . . The reasoning of this Court with respect to the disposition of this case is set forth in this opinion and none other."

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 18, 2018 at 02:47 PM in 2018 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Comments

If I were cynical, I would conclude that that Chief Justice Roberts wants to avoid all controversial decisions until a new justice is confirmed. May that day be a long, long time in the future.

Posted by: Paul | Jun 19, 2018 12:27:54 AM

Thanks for that interesting ruling indeed . Just worth to note , another justified discretion of the district court in Benisek V. Lamone , beyond the pure discretion for granting or not injunction , I quote :

At the time the District Court made its decision, the appeal in Gill was pending before this Court. The District Court recognized that our decision in Gill had the potential to “shed light on critical questions in this case” and to set forth a “framework” by which plaintiffs’ claims could be decided and, potentially, remedied. 266 F. Supp. 3d, at 815–816. In the District Court’s view, “charging ahead” and adjudicating the plaintiffs’ claims in that fluctuating legal environment, when firmer guidance from this Court might have been forthcoming, would have been a mistake. Id., at 816. Such a determination was within the sound discretion of the District Court.

Thanks

Posted by: El roam | Jun 18, 2018 4:50:20 PM

Post a comment