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Friday, June 22, 2018

(SCOTUS Term): Marbury and appellate jurisdiction

Marbury v. Madison made quite the appearance in Friday's decision in Ortiz v. United States, where the Court held that there was no statutory or constitutional violation in having a military officer serve as a judge on a service's Court of Criminal Appeals (which reviews courts martial decisions) while also holding a position as a presidentially-appointed-Senate-confirmed judge on the Court of Military Commission Review.* But the Court split over whether it had Article III jurisdiction to review decisions from the non-Article III Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (the top court in the military-justice system), an issue on which the Court granted argument time to Aditya Bamzai (U Va.) as amicus.

[*] Ortiz was consolidated with Cox v. United States and Dalmazzi v. United States the latter and argued by our own Steve Vladeck. The Court DIG'd both cases, which also raised statutory issues the Court believed were unnecessary to reach.

Justice Kagan wrote for seven that the Court had jurisdiction; Justice Thomas joined that opinion but added a typically idiosyncratic concurrence; and Justice Alito dissented for himself and Justice Gorsuch. And it was all about Marbury, which both the majority and dissent discuss at length (while dropping comments that, of course, everyone knows the details of that case). Marbury establishes that SCOTUS' original jurisdiction is limited to the cases enumerated in Article III and that its appellate jurisdiction is limited to reviewing, revising, and correcting proceedings initiated in a another court, not to creating a judicial case.  Everyone agreed this was not (and could not be) an exercise of original jurisdiction. The point of departure is whether SCOTUS could exercise appellate jurisdiction over a decision of CAAF and the military-justice system.

The majority held that it could. The military-justice system, including CAAF, was judicial in character, even though located in the executive branch not Article III. Each level in that system decides cases in accordance with the Constitution and a body of federal law, wields jurisdiction that overlaps with that of state and federal courts, accords procedural protections, and produces judgments that read the same as a judgment from any tribunal. SCOTUS was not limited to reviewing decisions of Article III courts, as shown by its appellate jurisdiction over decisions of state courts, territorial courts, and District of Columbia courts; the latter two judicial systems have been grouped with military tribunals, all as resting on unique congressional powers. And CAAF's location in Article II did not make it executive, because a decision by a judicial tribunal located in the executive branch was different than the individual executive decision of James Madison not to serve Marbury's commission.

Justice Alito, largely adopting Bamzai's position, begins by arguing that the executive (non-judicial) nature of Madison's actions would not have changed if he had held a formal hearing or established procedural protections prior to deciding not to issue the commission. A decision by an executive is an executive decision, no matter its form. Only an Article III body with Article III judges can exercise federal judicial power; executive-branch officers cannot do so, so they cannot create and decide cases that can be reviewed in an exercise of SCOTUS' appellate jurisdiction. Alito distinguished territorial and D.C. courts, because they exercise the judicial authority of that territory or D.C.; this is different than exercising the judicial authority of the United States, which only can be done by an Article III court.

The dispute leaves open whether SCOTUS could review decisions by modern administrative agencies (something Congress has never purported to do). The majority disclaimed this decision speaking in any way to that issue, emphasizing its foundation on the unique constitutional and historic foundations of courts martial and of the connection to territorial and D.C. courts. Alito rejects this as "halfhearted," insisting there is no relevant distinction  for purposes of SCOTUS' appellate jurisdiction between the military-justice system and civilian agencies. In Alito's view, all are executive and cannot exercise judicial power. But if one can somehow be judicial to allow for SCOTUS review, so can the other.

All the opinions are good reads; Kagan is her breezy self, with references to General Burnside's "notorious facial hair." I am going to add this discussion to Fed Courts--I just have to decide whether to include it at the top with my discussion of SCOTUS jurisdiction or later with discussion of non-Article III jurisdiction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2018 at 02:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

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