Thursday, February 11, 2016
Judicial supremacy and professional responsibility
The ethics complaint filed against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last summer will proceed to a State Bar investigation. (H/T: Josh Blackman) The complaint stems from a letter Paxton sent to county clerks in the wake of Obergefell, suggesting clerks and justices of the peace may have a religious exemption from issuing licenses or performing marriages to same-sex couples and that they may be able to assert those requests for exemption.
One of the challenges to the model of departmentalism I have been advocating (what Richmond's Kevin Walsh calls "judicial departmentalism") is the many doctrines that reinforce judicial supremacy. State bar regulations appear to be one of them, if this complaint against Paxton goes anywhere. The explicit problem, according to the complaint, is that Paxton ignored Obergefell and the (supposed) supremacy of SCOTUS's interpretation of the Constitution; his legal advice thereby ran afoul of several rules of professional responsibility. In fact, Paxton expressly acknowledged that any clerk or JOP who did this would almost certainly be sued, held liable in light of SCOTUS (and 5th Circuit) precedent, and subject to an injunction that would bind them. He simply recognized the need for that additional step. But that is not good enough; because it is "emphatically the province and duty," etc., an attorney, even one for the State, cannot give advice contradicting such judicial declarations. If this is what the regulations mean, they leave no room for departmentalism or for independent constitutional judgment in non-judicial actors; they instantiate judicial supremacy as the sole understanding for all attorneys, public or private.
On one hand, that could be permissible and appropriate. If a state legislature wants to establish judicial supremacy as the guiding principle for its attorneys, (so that, for example, the obligation to not advise a client to disobey a legal obligation includes obligations established in judicial decisions to which the client is not a party), it can do so. On the other hand, the automatic acceptance or presumption of judicial supremacy into the rule, without more, seems difficult to square. And somewhat unfair to impose without further warning or clear statement.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Ferguson consent decree falls apart, DOJ sues
The proposed consent decree between DOJ and the City of Ferguson has fallen apart, after the City Council on Tuesday night approved the deal, but demanded seven changes to the deal, mostly involving extended deadlines and limits on costs. DOJ wasted no team in filing a civil action today, alleging patterns and practices of various police abuses, in violation of § 14141 (via the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments) and Title VI. The complaint contains all the things we already knew from earlier DOJ reports.
I am somewhat surprised DOJ jumped to a lawsuit so quickly, rather than trying a bit of additional negotiation. My guess is DOJ was ticked that the Council would undermine seven months of negotiation in single night. Life imitating art imitating life?
Kim Davis update
Judge Bunning of the Eastern District of Kentucky yesterday denied as moot the ACLU's motion to enforce the injunction against Kim Davis. The plaintiffs had requested that the court order the deputy clerks to issue the non-Kim-Davis-altered licenses, reissue the adulterated licenses, and order the deputies to ignore Davis's orders to issue any other type of license. But the court found that: 1) licenses are issuing to anyone who wants them; 2) Davis is not interfering; and 3) "there is every reason to believe" the altered licenses would be recognized as valid.
I suppose this is all the right outcome, although the court's ready assumption that these altered licenses are valid may be a touch presumptuous. We have no idea what an opportunistic litigant (say, in a future divorce or custody case) and rogue state-court judge might do with a marriage based on one of these licenses. Still, the Liberty Counsel's insistence that the ACLU wanted Kim Davis's "scalp" is just silly.
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Three-Judge Courts and Precedent: An Election Law Procedural Quirk
Must three-judge federal district courts follow the law of the circuit in which they sit?
Three-judge district courts are an anomaly, used mostly in certain election law disputes such as statewide redistricting claims and some campaign finance litigation. In these cases, the initial single judge refers a qualifying case to the chief judge of the circuit, who will constitute a three-judge district court. (The Supreme Court clarified, this term, that the single judge may not consider the merits, but must refer all qualifying cases to the chief judge for the creation of a three-judge district court.) The chief judge assigns a circuit judge and two district judges to serve as the three-judge court. The court sits like a normal trial court, making findings of fact and conclusions of law. Decisions of this court are appealable directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, skipping the court of appeals stage. Congress created this procedure for cases that will uniquely benefit from faster resolution and multiple minds at the outset, as the decisions are often seen as less biased and more legitimate. (For more on this process, see my article The Procedure of Election Law in Federal Courts.)
Sometimes, these courts face questions that the circuit court in which they sit have already decided. A circuit court ruling on a particular point of law would be binding on a single district judge. Are these appellate decisions also binding precedent on a three-judge district court? Although most three-judge district courts have said that they must follow circuit precedent, they are wrong. I explain why after the jump.
Assume that a plaintiff brings a redistricting case under the Voting Rights Act, arguing that the mapmakers did not create enough "influence districts," where minority voters, even though not a majority, can still have a meaningful impact on who wins. Assume further that the circuit court has ruled, in a separate case that does not go through the three-judge district court process, that the Voting Rights Act does not permit a claim for influence districts. Must the three-judge court, as a matter of binding precedent, follow that circuit court ruling?
Three-judge district courts considering this question have largely assumed that they must follow circuit law. But they have provided very little discussion on this point. The analysis has been conclusory, at best. Courts typically write something like "we are bound by precedent in this circuit," without more. Indeed, my initial research has found only one three-judge district court that has gone the other way, holding that, while certainly persuasive, it was not bound to follow circuit law as mandatory.
This minority view is correct if one thinks about the difference between superior and inferior courts. Put simply, because the circuit will never review the decision of the three-judge district court, it is not a superior court to that three-judge district panel. If it has no power of review, then its decisions cannot be binding precedent. To be sure, its decisions are highly persuasive, but the only court that has binding authority over the three-judge district court is the U.S. Supreme Court. That is the only court that could reverse the three-judge district court for not following its decisions.
Thus, if judges are bound by “higher” courts in the judicial hierarchy, than the converse also must be true: judges need not follow decisions of courts that are not directly above them. Indeed, this is the reason why one district judge need not follow the ruling of a prior district judge, and why one circuit court is not required to rule consistently with another circuit court. (The prior panel rule within a circuit, however, cuts the other way. I will address why the prior panel rule does not change the analysis in a future post--or at least in the article that will come out of this analysis.)
In sum, the circuit court is not directly above the three-judge district court -- even though that court is a district court sitting within the circuit -- meaning that the circuit court's decisions are not binding precedent. Although perhaps a seemingly minor problem, this analysis should change how three-judge district courts consider various issues that may arise. It also has important consequences for the U.S. Supreme Court, which I will address later.
Thursday, February 04, 2016
Discussing the Vanishing Civil Trial
Thanks to Howard for letting me linger here a few extra days. I wanted to close with a plug for a terrific new article in Judicature by U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, entitled Imagined Conversations: The Decline in Federal Civil Trials. The steady drop in the federal civil trial rate since the 1960s is well-known, but Judge Hornby offers a concise and fresh take on the topic by envisioning a no-holds-barred conversation between old law school classmates who now occupy a variety of senior legal positions, from judges to trial counsel to corporate general counsel.
The article is a great read: short, entertaining, and fast-moving. It will be required reading for my civil procedure students. Most importantly, it keenly and respectfully identifies the many interrelated factors have contributed to the drop in civil trials over the past several decades. It should provoke useful discussions between unabashed proponents of civil trials (like myself) and those who are more agnostic.
Relatedly, I was thrilled to see that the same issue of Judicature features a compelling plea from John Rabiej to open federal PACER records for academic research without the need for district-by-district waivers.
Both pieces are well worth your time. To shamelessly borrow a phrase from Larry Solum, download them while they’re hot!
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Thanks to Howard for the invitation and the welcome. I am truly delighted to be guest blogging on Prawfs this month. For those of you I have yet to have the pleasure to know, I am a long-time die-hard proceduralist. I teach Civil Procedure, Administrative Law, and Federal Courts, and this semester for the first time, have added perhaps my first “substantive” course, National Security Law. Although any good proceduralist knows the substance/procedure dichotomy is murky, if not entirely false, I will admit that the move away from procedure has in fact felt uncomfortable, though certainly exciting.
In some ways, teaching National Security Law was the next, inevitable step for me. I have written about procedural aspects of government secrecy for essentially my whole (short) academic career. For a long time I fought full engagement with national security, hoping instead to address problems with procedural rights and remedies for all kinds of secrecy equally. But the truth is that our deepest government secrecy problems today concern security, and national security secrets are not treated the same as other secrets.
As you may have guessed by now, I am planning to use my time here to share my thoughts on the intersection between government secrecy, procedural justice, and national security. Before I get to national security, though, I will begin with a few posts on a slightly orthogonal topic: the corporate and commercial use of the Freedom of Information Act. I will share with you some of the findings I report in my forthcoming article FOIA, Inc., which is based on original data collected from six federal agencies’ records. While I think the findings are, in and of themselves, quite surprising and worthy of consideration, I hope by the end of my series, when I engage more fully with national security secrecy, I can make the connection between these two threads apparent.
I am looking forward to the month!
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Ferguson consent decree
DOJ has reached agreement with the City of Ferguson on a proposed consent decree resolving the threatened § 14141 action. It appears to attempt to address everything that went wrong there in 2014, as well as those practices that contributed to the general tension that had long existed. The order requires training and commitment to public First Amendment activity--peaceful protests, lawful public assembly, and video-recording of police activity--including a requirement that only the Chief of Police or Assistant Chief may declare an assembly unlawful and officers cannot disperse an assembly without that declaration. It limits and restricts "stop orders" or "wanteds," in which police initiate contact to enforce warrants. It requires the City to implement a body and dashboard camera program, with broad recording of most stops and interactions and public disclosure of recordings to the maximum extent allowed by state law. And it requires broad reform of municipal court practices and training and policies on use of force.
Monday, January 25, 2016
More judicial departmentalism
A few points in furtherance of the model of "judicial departmentalism" that Kevin Walsh coined and that I have been urging, beginning with the marriage equality litigation and its aftermath.
First, the law imposes a number of incentives for governments and government officials not to push the departmentalist boundary, chief among them attorneys' fees for prevailing plaintiffs. This story discusses the fee awards from the marriage-equality litigation, which have topped $ 1 million in a number of states. The fee request in Tennessee (one of the states who defended in SCOTUS) is $ 2 million. Texas was ordered to pay about $ 600,000 (in a case that had limited briefing and a summary affirmance in the court of appeals), which the state plans to appeal. The point is, it will get pretty expensive for states if many of their officials decide to follow Kim Davis or Roy Moore and force couples to bring inevitably successful new litigation to obtain marriage licenses. [Update: A new report says Montana settled for $ 100k, bringing the national total to $ 13.4 million).]
Second, SCOTUS today in a per curiam decision in James v. City of Boise (pp. 13-14) held that the Supreme Court of Idaho was bound by SCOTUS interpretations of federal law--in this case, the limitation on § 1988 that prevailing defendants may recover fees only if a claim is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. The state court had said that SCOTUS did not have the authority to limit the interpretive discretion of state courts, only of lower federal courts. The court made quick work of that argument, emphasizing the disuniformity it would engender (citing Justice Story in Martin) and insisting that "it is the duty of other courts to respect that understanding of the governing rule of law." Although I try not to read tea leaves, this looks like a shot across the bow of the Supreme Court of Alabama. That court seems itching to following Idaho with respect to Obergefell and is being urged to do so by the litigants and by Chief Justice Roy Moore. James suggests that SCOTUS will quickly and easily dispose of that effort.
Third, I like the way the Court described its authority--the Court says what a statute means and it is "the duty of other courts to respect that understanding." (emphasis mine). The Court did not say it was the duty of officers or offices other than courts. I am not suggesting this drafting was deliberate or that it reflects a sudden wave of departmentalism in the Court; more likely, it was written this way because that was how this case presented. Still, it captures what I believe is the appropriate scope of the Court's power to "say what the law is" and to whom.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
SCOTUS on Wednesday decided Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, holding that an unaccepted offer of judgment and offer of settlement do not moot a case. Justice Ginsburg wrote for herself and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, stating that an unaccepted offer is like an unaccepted contract offer, having no legal force or effect and thus insufficient to moot the case. Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, arguing that Article III should be read to incorporate common law principles of tender. The Chief Justice dissented for Scalia and Alito, with Alito adding a separate dissent.
Interestingly, only Justice Thomas mentioned (although even he did not particularly emphasize) that the plaintiff here sought retroactive legal relief (damages) for a past violation of his rights, whereas the Court's modern mootness cases all involved claims for prospective injunctive or declaratory relief from ongoing or future violations. And this omission reflects the flaw in how mootness is conceptualized, particularly by the Chief. Everyone keeps describing mootness as the point that "it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party." But the reason it becomes impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief is that the plaintiff no longer is injured as a result of the defendant's conduct. Thus, for example, the covenant-not-to-sue could moot Already v. Nike because, having promised not to sue, Nike no longer is harming Already with the threat of trademark infringement litigation; thus no judicial remedy can stop the injury that no longer is occuring. But in an action for retrospective relief for a past injury, the injury remains. The remedy makes the plaintiff whole by offering a substitute thing of value (money), but it does not uninjure him or stop the injury. It thus should be impossible for a claim for retroactive relief ever to become moot.
[Updated in response to comments]: At best, the court might enter judgment for the plaintiff in the appropriate amount when the defendant presents complete relief into an account payable or to the court. Justice Ginsburg leaves open whether that would moot the case what the result would be, while Justice Alito insists that paying the money to some third-party trustee would moot the case, without the need for a judgment. The case should not be moot, because you cannot have both an entry of judgment and a moot case--the entry of judgment ends the case, so there is nothing to be moot. Alito is wrong because payment of the money does not end the injury, it only compensates for it with a substitute good (money).
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Final CFP Announcement: 2d Annual Civil Procedure Workshop
Here. Paper proposals are due on Friday, January 15.
Friday, January 08, 2016
No one gets it
I am repeating myself, so I apologize. But this story on Chief Justice Moore's order to Alabama probate judges includes opinions from both sides of the issue--two law professors and the two United States Attorneys in Alabama criticizing the order and anti-marriage-equality advocates praising it to the heavens (in one case quite literally). None of them is right in their analysis.
And the common theme in all of this incorrectness is an overly simplistic approach to the process of constitutional litigation, particularly everyone's disregard for the role of lower courts and judgments. The Supreme Court, in the course of deciding one case, makes broad pronouncements about the law (e.g., the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits bans on same-sex marriage). But those pronouncements are not self-enforcing and do not, in and of themselevs, impose legally binding obligations on any non-parties or as to other laws. As to people and laws not party to the case that created that precedent, an additional step is necessary--separate litigation applying that precedent and producing a judgment as to this new law and these new parties. But we have that in Alabama--Judge Granade's class injunction (entered in May, stayed until the ruling in Obergefell, made effective by order applying Obergefell, and summarily affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit) requiring every probate judge in the state to issue marriage licenses to any same-sex couple that wants one. Thus, the problem with Moore's order is that he is compelling probate judges to act in contempt of court.The USAs insist that the "issue has been decided by the highest court in the land and Alabama must follow that law." Carl Tobias (Richmond) says Obergefell "was a national ruling and it applies nationally." While correct in the abstract, it makes it all sound automatic when it is not--the Court's opinion applies nationally, but the judgment of the Court does not. One of two things must happen: Either the extra step of a judgment against Alabama officials as to Alabama's law, based on Obergefell, is necessary, or Alabama officials must voluntarily comply with Obergefell in order to avoid the inevitable judgment. The point of Moore's order is to force Alabama officials to follow the first rather than second path. That my be unwise, obnoxious, and driven by Moore's pathological intransigence. There is nothing unlawful about it.
But the anti-SSM advocates are equally wrong because they ignore the judgment and injunction against the class. So one advocate can say that Alabama does not have to follow a Supreme Court decision that ruled on law in another state. Which is true, but irrelevant, because of the injunction. Unfortunately, they can argue that way only because Moore's critics (and most, but not all, reporters) talk about this as defying the Supreme Court in Obergefell rather than defying the injunction that applied Obergefell to Alabama law.
And the attorney for one of the probate judges insists that the Eleventh Circuit has not applied Obergefell as to Alabama law. This is wrong in several respects. First, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the injunction.although the reasoning is convoluted and incorrect in some respects, including its understanding of how Obergefell affected Alabama. Second, regardless of what the Eleventh Circuit did or did not do, the class injunction is out there--it was was entered, took effect, has not been reversed by a higher court, and has not been stayed. This means probate judges are under an ongoing judicial obligation, imposed on them directly and on pain of contempt, to issue licenses. So Moore's order does not merely tell probate judges to wait--it is telling them to act in contempt of a federal judgment. Third, neither federal circuit nor district precedent is binding on state courts, thus, even if the Eleventh Circuit had not spoken, it would not matter because the Eleventh Circuit does not create a greater obligation on Alabama officials than a district court.
So if we are going to discuss this accurately, everyone needs to shift the focus to the district court and to Judge Granade's extant injunction. And with that focus, we see that Moore's order, if followed, sets probate judges (although not Moore himself) up for a potential Kim-Davis-like showdown.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Alabama (still) does not go gentle . . .
Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama is back. Today, he issued an order requiring Alabama probate judges to continue to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, pending resolution of the mandamus action that has been pending in the Court since March. (H/T: Religion Clause Blog). Once again, Moore is sort of right, sort of wrong, and very short-sighted. A few thoughts after the jump..The linchpin of his analysis is that Obergefell is not directly binding on Alabama probate judges or as to Alabama law; this, Moore insists, is the "elementary principle" that a judgment only binds the parties to that case. Thus, no higher court has spoken to the validity of Alabama's same-sex marriage law or the obligation of Alabama officials to recognize same-sex marriages; instead, we are still waiting for SCoA to address the statutory and constitutional questions in the mandamus proceeding. Moore is right about the scope of SCOTUS's decision. Interestingly, he draws support from cases out of Kansas and the Eighth Circuit that rejected the argument that Obergefell mooted challenges to the laws in these other states; those courts all insisted that Obergefell was merely binding precedent in future litigation, but did not speak to laws or officials or couples in these states, thus leaving those cases as active disputes. In other words, Moore finds support for the position of the Alabama government in cases rejecting the position of these other state governments.
Unfortunately for Moore (or at least for some Alabama probate judges), he ignores the class certification in Strawser v. Strange in the Southern District of Alabama. There is an extant class-wide injunction in the district court declaring the state SSM ban unconstitutional and binding every probate judge to issue licenses to any same-sex couple that wishes to marry in Alabama. That injunction immediately took effect when SCOTUS issued its decision in Obergefell. Thus, while Obergefell is not binding on anyone in Alabama, the district court judgment is. So Moore's order is setting some probate judges up to be held in contempt of that injunction, as well as for damages liability, since Obergefell should clearly establish the right of a same-sex couple to a marriage license, barring outside issues (Ron Krotoszynski his a similar point in The New York Times). And, unlike with Kim Davis, no new federal litigation need be filed; a couple can jump straight to enforcing the injunction.
I am not surprised Moore would ignore that inconvenient piece of information. But I also have not been able to find any indication of activity or orders in Strawser since the summer. Probate judges in several parts of Alabama have been refusing to issue licenses all along, but I have not seen anything about plaintiffs or the court moving to enforce the class injunction. It will be interesting to see whether Moore's new order shakes loose some activity in federal court.
Update: That Times piece is notable because there is no mention of the Strawser litigation. That, not Obergefell, is the key to all of this. That is what binds and compels probate judges to issue the licenses, not Obergefell simpliciter. Will no one ever get this right?
Further Update: Yes, Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed, who generally does a good and accurate job of covering this stuff.
Further, Further Update: Based on Chris' report, in concluding that Obergefell "abrogated" the SCoA decision, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot. Both of those conclusions are wrong (Marty is right about that in his comment), as well as inconsistent with the Eighth Circuit mootness cases that Moore cited in his order.
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
JOTWELL: Effron on Moore on the amended FRCP
The new Courts Law essay comes from Robin Effron (Brooklyn), reviewing Patricia Hatamayar Moore's The Anti-Plaintiff Pending Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Pro-Defendant Composition of the Federal Rulemaking Committees (Cin. L. Rev.). As I get ready to teach Civ Pro this semester and to cover the new discovery rules (which Chief Justice Roberts highlighted in his year-end report), the article and Robin's review are both essential.
Sunday, January 03, 2016
Legislative Jurisdiction and Adjudicative Jurisdiction
I am late to writing about the oral argument in Dollar General Corp. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which took place early in December; the case concerns the scope of tribal court jurisdiction in civil actions against non-Tribe members. There was a great deal of discussion of the difference between legislative (or regulatory) jurisdiction and adjudicatory jurisdiction and the connection between them. In particular, there was some question whether, if a sovereign possesses regulatory jurisdiction, it also has adjudicative jurisdiction over any claims for violations of those regulations.
Since the distinction between these two forms of jurisdiction is important to the jurisdiction/merits divide, I am curious to see what the Court has to say on the issue.
Saturday, January 02, 2016
Chief Justice Roberts on speedier civil litigation . . . and dueling?
Chief Justice Roberts' 2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary focused on the amendments to the discovery and case-management portions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the need for the rules, courts, and attorneys to speed-up civil litigation. Roberts calls the amendments "a major stride toward a better federal court system," but insists they work "only if the entire legal community, including the bench, bar, and legal academy, step up to the challenge of making real change." Adam Liptak covers the report; he includes interviews with several Civ Pro profs questioning the wisdom or necessity of the rules, so at least 1/3 of that triumvirate is not on board.
It is difficult not to read Roberts' facially neutral comments about delays in litigation--he calls out both those who make burdensome discovery requests as well as those who evade legitimate requests through dilatory tactics--as not reflecting the anti-plaintiff slant of much of this Court's procedure jurisprudence. "Speedier litigation" is generally code for getting defendants out of litigation more quickly. Plaintiffs do not win cases quickly, only defendants do; it takes time and effort for plaintiffs to gather the information they need and to carry their burden of persuasion (which only can be done at trial, in any event). But the incentive structure built into these amendments is almost certainly to limit what will be made available to requesting parties far more than to halt dilatory actions by producing parties. This almost certainly works against plaintiffs who depend on discovery to uncover information that in many cases is uniquely and exclusively in defendants' possession or control and unobtainable other than through discovery (e.g., employment discrimination, constitutional cases, and other cases that turn on defendant intent). And by emphasizing the need for speed and efficiency, Roberts' Report appears to be pushing district judges towards that understanding.
Roberts praises those district judges who are "knowledgeable, actively engaged, and accessible early in the process" as best able to resolve cases fairly and efficiently. But this stands in interesting tension with Twiqbal, which ratched the pleading standards precisely because the Court did not trust district judges to effectively manage cases in a way that would protect government defendants against burdensome litigation. But now we have formal rules, and official encouragement from the Chief Justice, promoting just such management. Does this mean that we trust district judges across the board and can return to pre-Iqbal pleading? Of course not, seeing as how the amendments also eliminated FRCP 84 and the Forms precisely because the Forms were inconsistent with Twiqbal. Instead, this smacks of Roberts not-so-subtly hinting which direction judges should be exercising this (not actually new) managerial discretion for those cases that manage to survive pleading and get into discovery.
Roberts begins and ends the Report with a discussion of dueling, its horrors, and its demise--just the sort of distracting and irrelevant rhetorical flourish that I often criticize in his opinion writing. And it feels just as glaring and out of place here. His point seems to be that dueling became obsolete when government began providing functional alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms. Thus, federal litigation must be speedier and more efficient so that it does not make a return to dueling look good by comparison or become the equivalent of a fictional 15-year feud between two Napoleonic-Era French cavalry officers. As he puts it, "We should not miss the opportunity to help ensure that federal court litigation does not degenerate into wasteful clashes over matters that have little to do with achieving a just result." His attempted connection seems especially strained in that dueling, at least as practiced in England and the U.S., was not primarily a method of dispute resolution; it was about restoring honor for perceived personal slights more than determining who was in the "right" in a legal dispute. Dueling thus was different than earlier practices of trial by combat, which rested on the belief that whoever prevailed in combat must have been in the right. It also means that the availability of functional courts would not have mattered all that much, since the personal conflicts settled by duel could not necessarily be transferred into a judicial proceeding.
Update: Michael Dorf argues that the Report can be seen as Roberts' attempt to shape the rules beyond his other three opportunities--appointing the rules committees, voting on the Rules themselves, and interpreting them in later litigation.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Klein and NFL Officiating
I no longer watch football, particularly the NFL; the league is just too corrupt and the sport just too gladiatorial for my taste. But I cannot avoid news stories related to the league. I was interested in the league's announcement this week that, in the wake of increasing criticism of the game officiating this season (that may or may not be justified), game officials would be in contact the league vice president of officiating during games about replay and other "administrative" matters. This has sparked concerns among many, including the former VP of officiating, about the lack of accountability and increase in uncertainty from having a league official whispering into the ref's earpiece. One former official worried that we could not know whether a changed call was because the game officials got together or because "someone in New York doesn't like the call." As another former official said, "what it looks like is that the league office is making decisions on who possibly wins or loses the game."
The last concern sounds in the sports-officiating equivalent of United States v. Klein (which returns to SCOTUS later this term with a case challenging a law that may actually be unconstitutional for the first time since 1872): Just as Congress cannot dictate specific decisions or outcomes in specific cases, the NFL should not be telling officials what calls to make or how to apply the rulebook on specific plays in a specific game.
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
Bell v. Hood lives
I am beginning to think of Bell v. Hood the way Justice Scalia thinks about about the Lemon Test: "Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried." The Court's recent turn to a broader and sharper awareness of what is merits should require the interment of Bell, which strips courts of jurisdiction over federal claims that are "wholly insubstantial and frivolous." After all, if the question of whether the conduct challenged is reached (and thus prohibited by) a law (or, as I like to say, "who can sue whom for what conduct and what remedy") is a merits question, it should always be a merits question, regardless of the strength of the claim of right.
There were some questions during argument in Shapiro v. McManus hinting that Bell might be on the table, especially given recent jurisdictionality cases that did not even cite Bell. Alas, it was not to be. A unanimous Court, per Justice Scalia, held that any case challenging the constitutional of congressional apportionment must be referred to a three-judge district court and cannot be dismissed by the single district judge. (I wrote about the case for SCOTUSblog). The limited exception, for "insubstantial" constitutional claims, incorporates Bell for "wholly insubstantial and frivolous" claims only, while "[a]bsent such frivolity," failure to state a claim for relief remains a judgment on the merits.
Bell thus survives and is now explicitly incorporated into the three-judge court analysis. In other words, some weak-on-the-merits claims, if the merits are weak enough, still can be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. And so we continue to be haunted by unwarranted and unnecessary jurisdiction/merits overlap.
Technically . . .
I have no interest in wading into the morass over Judge Posner and Eric Segall's NYT op-ed suggesting that Justice Scalia believes that majoritarian religious preferences can trump minority rights--here is Corey Yung's effort, which began on Twitter. Segall responded to criticisms from NRO's Ed Whelan and Northwestern's John McGinnis. The esponse references Scalia's purported comments at Princeton that Obergefell is not directly binding on non-party public officials, to which Segall says "That sentiment is technically correct, but as expressed by a Supreme Court Justice could be considered an invitation to a form of civil disobedience."
This is why I forbid my students from using the word "technically." (Imagine Yoda voice: "There is no technically; only correct or incorrect."). And in this case, Scalia is correct, full stop. Judgments themselves are not binding on non-parties and precedent is only binding on courts in future litigation, not on executive or legislative officials. Scalia's statement is incomplete, as it does not finish the point that the subsequent litigation against recalcitrant officials is binding on those officials (note that Scalia did not suggest that lower courts are not bound by Obergefell) and may impose other costs on them, such as attorney's fees, sanctions for non-compliance, and perhaps some limits on the arguments one can offer in litigation.
It is similarly problematic to suggest that a Supreme Court Justice should not express this legally correct and accurate proposition. If Justices should not explain how constitutional litigation actually operates, who should?
Monday, November 23, 2015
Seeking the truth
Later this term, SCOTUS will decide Bank Markazi v. Peterson, which involves a challenge under United States v. Klein to a law applicable to an action seeking to attach Iranian assets to satisfy a default judgment for victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism. I was contacted by both sides of the case about being involved in a scholars' amicus, obviously because both sides believed that my previous work on Klein supported their position. I hope that means I really was looking for the truth.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Civ Pro and the lagging bar exam
Civ Pro is now a subject on the Multistate Bar Exam. But I learned earlier today that the questions are not going to incorporate the 2015 discovery amendments until 2018. In the meantime, test-takers are expected to know (and bar prep courses are going to teach) the rules as of 2012 and current jurisdiction/procedure statutes.
This strikes me as insane. I intentionally taught my Spring 2015 students the amended rules, knowing that passage was inevitable (I would have done the same this fall were I teaching the class then), knowing that this is the law they would use as lawyers, even if it won't be effective for another few months. Now it turns out they need to learn something entirely different in between. In other words, the final "vetogate" before the practice of law requires them to learn law that is different than what they learned in school and different from what they will actuallysue on the other side of the vetogate. It makes even less sense given that the Bar is using current statutes along with the old rules--if the questions can remain up-to-date on statutes without imposing an enormous exam-writing problem, they should be able to remain up-to-date on the rules.
Update I: In response to a comment, I have not heard any explanation, only a statement to bar prep/academic support folks that they should continue using the current prep manual until 2018.
Update II: An emailer points out that it may not have as great an effect on Civ Pro teachers, as the current 1Ls, the first group to deal with the amended rules, will take the Bar in 2018, the first year of testing on the new rules. But, as I noted above, it punishes the past students of profs who attempt to be proactive about rules changes (as did last spring). And it leaves questions about what to do in, for example, Advanced Civ Pro/Complex Lit, Pretrial Practice, or other upper-level courses that deal with the FRCP? For that matter, consider students doing a clinic/internship involving federal practice or a judicial clerkship--current 2Ls and 3Ls are going to deal with one version of discovery now and a very different version for the Bar.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Scalia (sort of) gets it, the media (still) doesn't
According to this story, Justice Scalia gave (an unrecorded) talk at Princeton. Robert George, a Princeton faculty member and a leading opponent of marriage equality, claims that Scalia "declared that though Supreme Court rulings should generally be obeyed, officials had no Constitutional obligation to treat as binding beyond the parties to a case rulings that lack a warrant in the text or original understanding of the Constitution." Needless to say, that caused the reporter from Think Progress, Ian Millhiser, to lose his mind, as well as to question the accuracy of George's recollections.
A few thoughts after the jump.
First, why did Scalia limit it only to those rulings that are not sufficiently textual or originalist--that is, rulings with which Scalia likely agrees? The departmentalist question should not turn on the "correctness" (methodological or substantive) of the decision. If political-branch officials possess authority to independently interpret the Constitution in the face of conflicting judicial rulings and to act on their own constitutional understandings, that authority applies to all constitutional decisions. If Scalia is serious, limiting it only to sufficiently originalist decisions makes no sense and undermines the accurate procedural point in service of a textualist/originalist hobby horse.
Second, Millhiser attempts to explain the procedure in the final three paragraphs, but he gets it completely wrong. His two biggest mistakes were suggesting that 1) this reduces the Court to an advisory body and 2) enforcement through future litigation is merely "conceivable." The whole point is that future litigation guarantees enforcement because, unlike executive officials, lower courts are bound by the Court's judgments; so when lower courts apply precedent to new parties in a new judgment, that new judgment is binding on those officials. He is correct that this is complex and potentially expensive. But that is inherent in the nature of the judicial power, under which a judgment in one case is generally limited to determining the rights and obligations of the parties to that case And the costs is mitigated (somewhat) by the availability of attorney's fees. Unfortunately, Millhiser does not mention (or grasp) either point.
Finally, Millhiser allows that Scalia's approach could be correct with respect to "decisions like Dred Scott or the anti-government decisions resisted by Roosevelt — decisions that are now widely viewed as evil," but not to "a decision that allows Americans to marry the person that they love." Nothing like neutral procedure applied neutrally.
Monday, November 16, 2015
JOTWELL: Erbsen on Trammell and Bambauer on personal jurisdiction
How an Obscure SCOTUS Procedure Can Solve AEDPA's Retroactivity Catch-22 (and a Growing Circuit Split)
Thanks to Montgomery v. Louisiana, the retroactivity of new Supreme Court decisions is already an important part of the Court's current Term. But as I explain in the post that follows, a new application pending before the Justices, In re Butler, raises a far more important retroactivity question, one that is already the subject of a 5-3 (and growing) circuit split, one that has an ever-shortening clock, and, most significantly, one that may only be definitively answerable if the Court does something it hasn't done in 90 years--issue an "original" writ of habeas corpus.
To unpack this dense but significant topic, Part I flags the origins of the problem--the restrictions on second-or-successive applications for post-conviction relief in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and the Supreme Court's fractured 2001 interpretation of those provisions in Tyler v. Cain. Part II turns to the current circuit split, which involves whether the Court's June decision in Johnson v. United States, which invalidated a provision of the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA), can be retroactively enforced in second-or-successive petitions. Part III explains why that circuit split can't be resolved by the Supreme Court via certiorari--and why, instead, the best way for the Court to take up the Johnson question is through an "original" writ of habeas corpus in a case like Butler. Finally, Part IV argues that the Court should use Butler not just to answer the Johnson question, but also to resolve the debate over Tyler, lest this exact same scenario repeat itself after the next Johnson-like ruling.
I. AEDPA and Tyler v. Cain
Of all of AEDPA's restrictions on post-conviction relief, perhaps none are more sweeping than the limits on "second-or-successive" petitions filed in federal courts by state or federal prisoners. As relevant here, AEDPA requires petitioners in such cases to first get permission to file such a claim from the Court of Appeals, which may only "certify" the claim if, as relevant here, it relies upon "a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable."
In other words, unless the claim is based upon newly discovered evidence, second-or-successive petitions can only go forward when they rest upon new Supreme Court decisions that, under Teague v. Lane, may be enforced retroactively. (Under Teague, new "substantive" rules may be retroactively enforced, whereas new "procedural" rules may not, unless they are "watershed" rules of criminal procedure). That part is clear (or, at least, well understood). What's less clear is the meaning of the word "made" in the emphasized language above: Must the Supreme Court expressly state that the particular new rule in question is retroactive, or is it enough that the retroactivity of the rule obviously follows from--and is effectively settled by--other existing Supreme Court retroactivity precedents?
In Tyler v. Cain, the Justices considered this very question, and ruled, 5-4, that "a new rule is not 'made retroactive to cases on collateral review' unless the Supreme Court holds it to be retroactive." But Justice O'Connor, whose vote was necessary to the result, opened the door to a slightly broader interpretation in her concurrence. As she wrote,
a single case that expressly holds a rule to be retroactive is not a sine qua non for the satisfaction of this statutory provision. This Court instead may “ma[k]e” a new rule retroactive through multiple holdings that logically dictate the retroactivity of the new rule. . . . [I]f we hold in Case One that a particular type of rule applies retroactively to cases on collateral review and hold in Case Two that a given rule is of that particular type, then it necessarily follows that the given rule applies retroactively to cases on collateral review. In such circumstances, we can be said to have “made” the given rule retroactive to cases on collateral review.
In the 14 years since Tyler, the lower courts have generally followed Justice O'Connor's concurrence, rather than Justice Thomas's majority opinion. The debate, instead, has focused on whether particular rulings qualify as a "Case Two." The latest battleground on this question involves the Court's June decision in Johnson.
II. Johnson and the Circuit Split
In Johnson, as noted above, an 8-1 Court struck down the so-called "residual clause" of the ACCA on the ground that it is impermissibly vague. As a result, not only are sentences based upon the residual clause no longer valid, but individuals who have already served what would otherwise be the statutory maximum (10 years) are presumably entitled to release, since there is no longer any positive authority for their continuing incarceration. Although there's therefore little question that Johnson falls on the "substantive" side of the Teague line, there's also nothing in Justice Scalia's opinion for the Court that says as much--and that therefore clarifies, per Justice O'Connor's Tyler concurrence, that Johnson's new rule is "of that particular type." In other words, Johnson may or may not be a "Case Two," depending upon whether the Court has to expressly say that it's a substantive rule, or whether it's enough that, based upon prior decisions, it's clear that its rule is substantive.
That's the issue on which lower courts have divided. As of this writing, five circuits (the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth) have authorized second-or-successive claims based upon Johnson, with the First, and Seventh providing detailed opinions explaining that, in their view, it's sufficiently clear from existing Supreme Court precedent that Johnson's rule is substantive, and is therefore an example of Justice O'Connor's "Case Two." Three circuits (the Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh--over a dissent) have held to the contrary--reading Justice O'Connor's concurrence to require some explicit recognition by the Court that a new rule is "of that particular type," i.e., substantive for purposes of retroactive enforcement.
This circuit split is deeply problematic in two respects: First, it creates massive inequities as between federal prisoners convicted under ACCA's residual clause in the five circuits that have allowed second-or-successive Johnson claims and the three that haven't--with those in the latter category now in prison pursuant to convictions that, at the very least, should trigger resentencing, if not (for those who have served 10 years) outright release. Second, because AEPDA imposes a rigid one-year statute of limitations on second-or-successive claims, those serving potentially unlawful sentences have a closing window within which to obtain relief based upon Johnson. Under AEDPA, such claims must be filed by June 26, 2016--the one-year anniversary of Johnson itself. Thus, the circuit split needs to be resolved by the end of this Supreme Court Term--if not sooner.
Usually, of course, there's an easy way to resolve a circuit split like this one; the Court just grants certiorari to review one (or more) of the circuit-level decisions. Here, however, that's not possible: AEDPA itself takes away the Court's certiorari jurisdiction in cases in which the Court of Appeals denies certification (which insulates the Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuit decisions from review), and the party that lost in the other five circuits that granted certificates--the federal government--hasn't sought certiorari, ostensibly because it agrees that Johnson can be enforced retroactively in second-or-successive cases.
Thus, AEDPA, Tyler, Johnson, and the government's litigating position have produced something of a perfect storm--where there's a major circuit split, and no immediately obvious way for the Supreme Court to resolve it. Enter In re Butler, a petition for an "original" writ of habeas corpus from the Supreme Court.
III. The Supreme Court's "Original" Habeas Jurisdiction
There are few topics in Federal Courts in which there's a bigger disconnect between academic interest and real-world significance than the Supreme Court's so-called "original" habeas jurisdiction -- "'original' in the sense of being filed in the first instance in [the Supreme] Court, but nonetheless for constitutional purposes an exercise of [the] Court's appellate (rather than original) jurisdiction." Ever since Ex parte McCardle, the Court has alluded to "original" habeas writs as a crucial constitutional backstop -- "an unorthodox but sometimes necessary means of exercising review in situations where other avenues for relief are either practically or formally unavailable." Thus, the theoretical availability of original habeas has allowed the Court to sidestep the grave constitutional questions that would otherwise have arisen from various efforts to strip the Court's appellate jurisdiction in habeas cases, including in McCardle itself, and, more recently, Felker v. Turpin.
In Felker itself, the Court was also dealing with AEDPA's limits on its certiorari jurisdiction over second-or-successive petitions, and had no trouble recognizing its power to issue "original" writs of habeas corpus, which AEDPA left untouched, as an available remedy in appropriate cases--and one that obviated constitutional objections to AEDPA under the Exceptions Clause of Article III. As Justice Souter warned in his concurrence, though, "if it should later turn out that statutory avenues other than certiorari for reviewing a gatekeeping determination were closed, the question whether the statute exceeded Congress's Exceptions Clause power would be open." And, in an eerily prescient coda, he added, "The question could arise if the courts of appeals adopted divergent interpretations of the gatekeeper standard," i.e., exactly what has happened after Johnson.
Justice Souter's warning has proven prophetic; although the Court has received a number of serious, significant original habeas applications in the 19 years since Felker, it has yet to grant a single one, even in a 1999 retroactivity case in which the federal government agreed that original habeas was warranted on remarkably similar facts [the issue in that case was eventually resolved--against retroactivity--in Tyler]. Some of these petitions have come in high-profile capital cases, such as those of Troy Davis and Warren Lee Hill, where original habeas was the only way to prevent potentially unconstitutional executions. But whereas those cases may present more emotionally stirring narratives, the Johnson retroactivity issue is, in some ways, a cleaner vehicle for an original writ, since (1) the question before the Court isn't a "merits" question, but a simple retroactivivty question; and (2) the relevant statutes specifically contemplate that the Supreme Court, and not the lower courts (or state courts), will provide the definitive answer to that question. At the very least, if the Court wasn't going to grant in cases like Davis and Hill, and if it's not going to use original habeas to resolve disputes like the Johnson retroactivity issue, then original habeas really is a historical relic--and the constitutional questions Justice Souter worried about might finally have to be confronted.
IV. Using Original Habeas to Solve the Problem
If you're still reading, hopefully I've convinced you by now that the Court should grant an original writ of habeas corpus to resolve the Johnson retroactivity issue (or, at the very least, should set the matter for full briefing and argument). There's at least one other pending original application raising the same question, but what makes Butler so attractive is the sentencing issue--because he has already served 10 years, he's entitled to outright release if Johnson is enforceable through a second-or-successive petition, meaning that the Court could simply grant habeas relief and be done. But should the Court do more than just grant the writ? Briefly, let me sketch out two further steps the Court can take--and then explain why, in my view, one is clearly better than the other:
A. Hold that Johnson is Retroactive
Beyond simply granting the writ in Butler's case (which would leave other cases unsettled), the easiest way out, which would take about a paragraph, would be to expressly hold that Johnson is a "substantive" rule under Teague, and to therefore "ma[k]e" it retroactively enforceable in second-or-successive petitions under AEDPA. Such a ruling would then allow prisoners in the Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits to obtain relief--including resentencing and, in cases like Butler, outright release. That wouldn't resolve the circuit split; it would simply moot it, since there would no longer be any question over whether the Supreme Court had "made" Johnson retroactive.
B. Resolve the Circuit Split Over the Meaning of Tyler
The shortcoming of that approach is that, while it would moot the circuit split over Johnson, it wouldn't resolve the cause of the circuit split--i.e., lingering disagreement over the meaning of Justice O'Connor's Tyler concurrence. Thus, to avoid this exact scenario from arising again, the Court could use an original writ in a case like Butler to clarify who has the better of Tyler--the circuits that interpret it liberally to allow retroactive enforcement whenever it is sufficiently clear that a new rule is substantive, or the circuits that interpret it narrowly to require the Supreme Court to specifically say that a new rule is substantive. I have my own views on how the Justices should answer that question (both on the merits and to spare them from having to take pointless follow-on cases after each new rule is announced). But however this question is resolved, it should be clear that settling it in the context of Johnson will have a salutary effect for future litigation.
* * *
In a paper I wrote in 2011, I argued that there's actually a value in preserving the obscurity of the Supreme Court's original habeas jurisdiction--and that, if original writs became common, they'd lose their utility as a safety valve, since Congress would presumably also think to take away that authority as part of future jurisdiction-stripping initiatives. But there's a difference between elusive remedies and illusory ones. For two decades, we have labored under the fiction that AEDPA's gatekeeper provisions don't raise serious constitutional problems entirely because of this safety valve. If, as a result of disuse, it turns out that the safety valve is sealed shut, then we can no longer dodge those constitutional questions. Thus, although we may be in the midst of a perfect storm for retroactivity, a case like Butler may actually be the perfect vehicle for the Justices to remind themselves about their original habeas authority--and, in the process, to issue an opinion that dramatically reduces the need for such relief in future retroactivity cases.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
A monkey, an animal rights organization and a primatologist walk into a federal court
Thus begins the argument section of the motion to dismiss in the copyright infringement lawsuit filed on behalf of a crested macaque whose "selfies" (the macaque pressed the shutter of a camera he pulled away from a photographer) were published by the camera owner. The motion argues both lack of standing and failure to state a claim, both based on the argument that copyright protections do not extend to non-human animals. As I argued in my prior post, I believe that under Lexmark the proper basis for dismissing is failure to state a claim.
I confess that, while I typically don't like this type of jokey writing move, it somehow works here.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Shapiro argument and the future of Bell v. Hood
Josh gave his thoughts having watched the argument in Shapiro v. McManus. My SCOTUSBlog recap--alas, based only on the transcript--has now posted. (Obviously, I agree with Josh that video (or at least audio) should be made available immediately). I am especially looking forward to hearing Justice Scalia say "Wow" and "It's extraterrestrial."
Let me add one additional point. There was some discussion in the case about Bell v. Hood, which stands for the proposition that a federal claim that is "wholly insubstantial" does not arise under federal law. Bell is an anomaly, an unwarranted and rarely used exception to the general (and correct) rule that failure to state a claim does not deprive a court of jurisdiction. It remains as an unfortunate barrier to a clean merits-jurisdiction line. SCOTUS had held in several cases pre-1976 (the date of enactment of the current three-judge court statute) that a single judge can dismiss an insubstantial claim. Several questions and comments from the bench suggested that those cases incorporated Bell, making the single-judge insubstantiality dismissal a jurisdictional one.
At the same time, Justice Scalia raised the possibility during the argument that those pre-1976 cases should be overruled, narrowing the situations in which the single judge can refuse to refer the case for appointment of the three-judge court (presumably to the non-satisfaction of § 2284(a)). If so, is there any chance that the Court would take Bell with it? I hope so, but it does not appear likely. The Court has largely ignored or minimized Bell in most of its recent merits-not-jurisdiction cases, without taking the time to overrule it. On the other hand, Justice Kagan offered several comments/questions indicating that she is very comfortable with Bell and the idea that some "completely ridiculous" claims can be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, even if the analysis looks "kind of mertis-y."
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
Top Ten Thoughts on Visiting the U.S. Supreme Court Today to Hear Shapiro v. McManus (and One Bonus Prediction On Its Outcome!)
I had the good fortune and privilege of attending oral arguments this morning at the U.S. Supreme Court. I was there in particular to listen to the argument in Shapiro v. McManus, an election law dispute that asks whether a single district judge can dismiss a redistricting case instead of referring it to a three-judge district court. (Howard previewed the case here).
I co-authored (with Michael Solimine of U. of Cincinnati) an amicus brief in the case, which stemmed from two of my articles on election law and procedure. It was fun to sit in on the oral argument given that I knew so much about the case.
The last time I visited the Court, I was in law school, so I had a much different experience this time as a lawyer and law professor. Here are some observations:
1. I was glad someone had told me to bring a quarter! Cell phones and other electronic devices are not allowed in the courtroom, and there are lockers down the hallway for such items. But the lockers cost 25 cents. Thankfully I was prepared!
2. The formalities of visiting the Court did not seem as…formal as the first time I went. I expected the decorum, nobility, and seriousness of the Court’s proceedings. Maybe this is simply because I now have much more experience going to courtrooms!
3. Once the justices take the bench, the Chief Justice admits new members to the Supreme Court bar. I had looked into doing this, but as my bar license is currently inactive, I am not eligible. Still, this process, with the Chief Justice formally admitting each person, is surely a nice highlight of these lawyers’ careers, and if I ever go back to active status it is something I would like to do.
4. The written transcript of oral argument really does not do justice, in my opinion, to the dynamics of the courtroom. In my view, virtually all of the justices seemed to agree with the petitioner and were quite skeptical of the state’s argument in Shapiro, yet I do not think the cold transcript adequately reflects this reality. Facial expressions, the tone of the questioning, and the nonverbal reactions all paint a much different picture of what was going on in the courtroom.
5. My last point makes me an even bigger proponent of allowing video recording of the Court’s oral arguments. There is no justifiable reason to shroud the Court in secrecy by allowing only written transcripts and audio recordings of the proceedings. When Justice Alito visited the University of Kentucky a few weeks ago, he remarked that allowing cameras in the courtroom would lead lawyers to perform for the cameras and not the justices, and that late-night TV would make a mockery of the arguments. This is wholly unpersuasive. The lawyers want to win their case, not play to a TV audience, and in any event they can make their pitch to the media afterward if they want to; late-night TV already spoofs oral argument. Being there in person – or seeing the video of the proceeding – would help Americans understand this branch of government. The Court champions transparency (through disclosure) as the best cure for the problems of campaign financing – why won’t it apply that same standard of transparency to itself? In an era in which only 30% of Americans vote, shouldn’t we do all we can to encourage civic education?
6. Recognizing when to end your argument and sit down – when you have more time left – is probably one of the hardest things a lawyer must do. Michael Kimberly, arguing for the petitioner, did this beautifully. It was clear from the tenor of the argument that most of the justices agreed with his points. In fact, several, like Justice Scalia, seemed to want to go further and rule that a single judge may never dismiss a redistricting case without sending it to a three-judge court, a position Mr. Kimberly did not advocate (he agreed that he would win if the Court went that route but noted that it did not have to reach that far in this case, as he was advocating for a “wholly insubstantial” standard instead, meaning that a single judge may dismiss the case only if the claim is "wholly insubstantial"). When, after about 19 minutes of mostly-friendly questioning, it seemed clear that he had answered the justices questions to their satisfaction, he chose to cede the remainder of his time. At that point, there was nothing left to say, and going further could have only done damage to his case. Yet many lawyers would not be able to resist the temptation to press further points or try to shore up the argument even more. Sitting down is often the better strategy, difficult as that might be.
7. It is never a good idea to make new arguments at oral argument that were not addressed in the briefs. Justice Scalia questioned Mr. Sullivan, Maryland’s lawyer, about why he did not make an argument about certain prior cases in his brief, and Mr. Sullivan first stammered before retorting “Well, you know, I’m trying to provide value now in addition to what we had in the brief.” (Mr. Sullivan’s stammering is not reflected in the oral argument transcript.) Some observers suggested that Mr. Sullivan gamely parried the question. I disagree. With all due respect, I think Mr. Sullivan hurt his case with a comment that seemed almost glib. Again, this was my initial impression while sitting in the courtroom. And perhaps there was no better way for Mr. Sullivan to respond. Still, this exchange shows the immense importance of strong briefing. It’s also probably a bad idea to bring up “extraterrestrials” unless you are sure that all justices know to what you are referring—this reference by Mr. Sullivan ate up several minutes as Justice Scalia questioned what he meant.
8. It is always better to make your best argument up front and not rely on the justices to do it for you – something I try to teach our moot court students. About midway through Maryland’s argument, Justice Breyer finally highlighted what should have been the state’s key point: requiring a three-judge court will increase the Supreme Court’s mandatory review docket, as these decisions skip the court of appeals stage and are directly appealable to the Court. Chief Justice Roberts then picked up on this point. It would have been much better for Mr. Sullivan to lead off with this idea from the outset.
9. All lawyers should go visit the Court at some point. It truly is an invaluable experience.
10. I love D.C. You just never know what – or who – you are going to see. As I left the Court and walked by the U.S. Capitol, I happened to run into a press conference featuring Senator (and presidential candidate) Bernie Sanders. I then stumbled upon a monument to Senator Robert Taft (William Howard Taft’s son), which I did not know existed. And I had about 30 minutes to kill, so I went to Ford’s Theater, something I never did during my 9 years living in D.C. but something I have wanted to do even more after recently reading the book Manhunt. Next time you are in D.C. try to carve out a little bit of time to do something interesting – the city is a great place to explore!
11. And here is a bonus thought: although it is never a good idea to read the tea leaves, I predict a reversal in Shapiro, quite likely 9-0.
Argument in Shapiro v. McManus
SCOTUS hears argument today in Shapiro v. McManus, considering when a single district judge can dismiss under FRCP 12(b)(6) a case that is supposed to be decided by a three-judge district court. My SCOTUSBlog preview posted two weeks ago; I will have comments on the argument later today or tomorrow.
Monday, November 02, 2015
Vanderbilt Law Review Roundtable: Spokeo v. Robins
I had the pleasure of participating in the new Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc Supreme Court Roundtable on Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (being argued today). My essay argues for William Fletcher's conception of standing-as-merits and why that approach is especially appropriate in this type of statutory case. The Roundtable features contributions from Heather Elliot (Alabama), Andy Hessick (Utah), Jonathan Siegel (George Washington), Max Stearns (Maryland), and Joan Steinman (Chicago-Kent).
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
CFP: Second Annual Civil Procedure Workshop
The following is from the organizers of the second annual Civil Procedure Workshop.
We are excited to announce the second annual Civil Procedure Workshop, to be cohosted by the University of Washington School of Law, Seattle University School of Law, and the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. The Workshop will be held at the University of Washington in Seattle on July 14-15, 2016.
The Workshop gives both emerging and established civil procedure scholars an opportunity to gather with colleagues and present their work to an expert audience. Scholars will present their papers in small panel sessions. A senior scholar will moderate each panel and lead the commentary. In addition to paper presentations, we intend to engage members of the judiciary and federal civil rulemaking bodies in discussions about current developments in procedure. Our goal is for the Workshop to strengthen the study of procedure as an academic discipline, and to deepen ties among the academy, rulemakers, and the judiciary. Confirmed participants for 2016 include Robert Bone, Sergio Campos, David Engstrom, Samuel Issacharoff, Alexandra Lahav, Alexander Reinert, the Hon. Lee Rosenthal, Joanna Schwartz, and Adam Steinman.
We welcome all civil procedure scholars to attend this Workshop. Those wishing to present a paper for discussion in the Workshop should submit a two-page abstract by January 15, 2016. While we welcome papers from both emerging and senior scholars, preference may be given to those who have been teaching for less than ten years. We will select papers to be presented by March 1, 2016. Please send all submissions or related questions to Liz Porter.
The Workshop will provide meals for registrants. Participants must cover travel and lodging costs. We will provide information about reasonably priced hotels as the date approaches.
Feel free to contact us with questions.
Liz Porter (UW), email@example.com
Brooke Coleman (Seattle U), firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Marcus (Arizona), email@example.com
Sunday, October 25, 2015
"No, no, thank you for that [awful] presentation"
I want to pick up on two themes from Paul's post on excessive flattering of questioners during job and paper talks.
I recall a SCOTUS case in which the lawyer responded to a question from Justice Scalia by saying, "that's an excellent question," to which Scalia responded (no doubt sarcastically--I never heard the audio), "Thank you very much." From the moment I read that, I made an effort never to use that phrase in responding to questions in talks or in class. I also made an effort to get my students never to use it in class, moot courts, etc. (usually by responding a la Scalia when they do it in practices). I agree with Paul that this is largely a tic, as well as a way to fill dead air while thinking of an answer. It also can come across as obsequious or arrogant or both, depending on the context.*
* For what it's worth, I doubt that "thank you for the question" is a noticeable improvement. There is no reason to thank me for playing my expected role in this common scholarly exercise.
Second, the flip side to the "that's an excellent question" response is the question that begins with 30 seconds of effusive praise for the paper and the talk and the presenter's brilliance and insight, whether warranted or not. This bears the hallmarks of what Paul was talking about, from the other side--a tic, verbal filler, and an overdone effort to be supportive or civil. Dan tried to eliminate such filler at PrawfsFest! under his "no foreplay" rule--commenters must get right into their comments. Yet many colleagues (here and elsewhere) resist such a rule, suggesting that taking out this filler reflects incivility or excess negativity--that in not starting off by telling the presenter how great her paper is, we turn into the worst stereotype of the University of Chicago, where faculty members do nothing but tear down papers and their authors.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Is It Unconstitutional to Apply Erie to D.C. Law?
Last December, I wrote a post about the strangeness that arises from the applicability of Erie (pursuant to which federal courts in diversity cases apply the state substantive law dictated by the choice-of-law rules in the state in which they sit) to the District of Columbia. Although it's strange to apply Erie in the federal territories at all, it's especially strange in D.C., which is the only one of the six federal territories in which the court receiving deference under Erie was created (and is controlled) by Congress, as opposed to the territorial legislature. Thus, as my post last December noted, when they follow Erie, the Article III D.C. district court and D.C. Circuit are necessarily deferring to an Article I court's interpretation of federal law (to wit, the D.C. Code). And although this result is not remotely compelled by the Rules of Decision Act, the (Article III) D.C. courts have nevertheless chosen to adopt it for purposes of convenience and litigation efficiency, if nothing else.
The more I think about this issue, the more I wonder if this approach isn't just "strange," but also one that raises constitutional concerns. After all, it's well settled that Congress may not give non-Article III actors (whether non-Article III judges or Article I or Article II entities) supervisory authority over Article III courts, but the application of Erie to D.C. at least theoretically gives the D.C. Court of Appeals a supervisory power over some federal law within the District vis-a-vis their Article III brethren, even if it lacks authority over the latter's decisions. Thus, could Congress really compel a lower Article III court to follow an Article I court's interpretation of federal law (whether in general or as limited to the "local" federal law of D.C.)? This surely goes much further than Chevron, since, among other things, there's no room under Erie to set aside the Article I court's unreasonable interpretations of ambiguous "local" law...
But even if you don't find that argument compelling, what if the Supreme Court were ever presented with a question of D.C. local law? Wouldn't there be a serious problem under Article III with following Erie in such a case, given that the Supreme Court would, insofar as it applied Erie to the District of Columbia, necessarily be deferring to an inferior Article I federal court on a question of federal law (as compared to deferring to an independent state supreme court on a question of state law)? Although I'm somewhat ambivalent about the constitutional problem with applying Erie in the Article III D.C. lower courts, the constitutional problem with applying it in the Supreme Court seems manifest.
To be sure, an obvious rejoinder is that, unlike the D.C. district court and D.C. Circuit, the Supreme Court has never chosen to follow Erie in such a case, and so the constitutional question hasn't arisen. And in an appropriate future case, the Supreme Court could certainly choose not to follow Erie then, too. So if the constitutional problem only arises at the Supreme Court level (and again, I'm still not sure it's that limited), it can easily be avoided by the Justices if and when it presents itself.
But insofar as a refusal on the part of the Supreme Court to be bound by D.C. law as interpreted by the D.C. Court of Appeals would solve the constitutional problem, it seems to me that it also undermines the pragmatic justification the Article III D.C. lower courts have advanced for adopting Erie, since it suggests that, in fact, there will be cases in which the Article III courts will be constitutionally bound to reach an independent interpretation as to the meaning of D.C. law--and that those cases will come through the very courts voluntarily choosing to defer.
Monday, October 19, 2015
Merits and mootness
In my writing here and elsewhere, I have argued that much of what is labeled as subject-matter jurisdiction, sovereign immunity, and standing are all better understood as being about the merits of a claim rather than Article III adjudicative thresholds. (I discuss standing in a forthcoming essay on next month's arguments in Spokeo v. Robins). And ripeness has somewhat been absorbed into standing. But that I thought the one threshold that might survive and make jurisdictional sense was mootness.
The issue is whether a case becomes moot when a defendant makes an offer of judgment that gives the plaintiff everything he asked for in the lawsuit and how that affects his status as representative plaintiff of a still-to-be-certified class. Counsel for Gomez and for the U.S.in support of Gomez both framed their arguments in the difference between a court entering (or even forcing) a final-and-enforceable judgment based on the parties' agreement and a court dismissing an action for want of jurisdiction as moot. The former gives the plaintiff the judicial relief he requested when he filed the lawsuit, just as if the court had decided the merits.
Counsel for the U.S. described the practice of district courts (which I recall following as a clerk): Upon notification of a settlement, the court would enter a consent decree (in a prospective case) or dismiss a damages claim while retaining jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement. No one ever thought to describe this as mootness. Both attorneys explained why what the Justices were talking about in Article III terms as an absence of adversariness could easily (and in some cases, more properly) be recharacterized in merits terms, as the end of a present dispute that gave the defendant an affirmative defense and justified the entry of judgment. When the plaintiff has received everything he asks for, the defendant has a defense against any finding of liability, since the injury (which exists) has been remedied.
This is an unusual case in which to discuss mootness, since the plaintiff was primarily seeking retrospective relief for past harm. Mootness generaly occurs where an ongoing real-world injury has somehow ceased. With retrospective relief, however, the injury already has occurred and the judicial remedy sought is merely compensation for an already-completed injury; it does not cause the injury to cease.
But even with prospective relief, the merits characterization makes more sense. Take, for example, a constitutional challenge to a repealed statute. The plaintiff's rights are no longer being violated and he no longer is being injured by the defendant's conduct, since there is no longer a threat of enforcement. But it makes more sense to say the defendant wins on the merits because the plaintiff's rights are no longer being violated and the defendant is no longer subject to liability, just as it makes more sense (under the Fletcher model) to say the defendant wins on the merits because it cannot be liable when the plaintiff's rights were never violated in the first place.
I have to give this some more thought, especially once the Court decides the case.
Thursday, October 08, 2015
It's going to get pricey
Michigan has agreed to pay $1.9 million in attorneys fees to the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the state's same-sex marriage ban. That is in the same ballpark as Wisconsin paying $ 1.055 million in fees (that case only went to the court of appeals, not to SCOTUS).
Kim Davis must know that her stunt is going to get very expensive very quickly.
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
Covering a colleague's class, or The Substitute
This morning, for the first time since I began teaching fifteen years ago, I covered a colleague's class. This presented some interesting issues, both substantively and stylistically, as to how much the class should sound like me and how much it should sound like my colleague?
Substantively, it presented the challenge of getting up to speed on the content. While I teach the same subject, I do not teach the same cases and my overall approach to the material is very different. I teach certain concepts differently or with different emphasis and in a different way. So I know I did not (and could not) run the class with the same confidence in the questions I ask, the points I make, and (certainly) my responses to their questions. There also was the question of base knowledge to be expected from the students. I cover material in a different order than my colleague. So I know what the class already knows (or should know) by the time I reach this topic in my own class; I was less sure of what these guys knew.
Stylistically, one big question was whether to use my colleague's PowerPoint slides, since that is both what she wants to do and what the students expect. I chose not to; I would not know how to interact with them, so they would have been more of a distraction than a help. The students were great about it--probably about 1/4-1/3 volunteered at least once. But it was like being a substitute teacher--everyone not knowing quite what to do with me, what to expect from the class, or what they were going to learn. I tried to make the class "mine," to the extent that is possible with a group of students who signed up for a different style of class.
Fortunately, no one threw spit balls.
Monday, September 28, 2015
Monkeying around with copyright law
PETA has filed a copyright infringement action on behalf of a crested macaque; the defendant is a nature photographer who used selfies that the macaque "took" by pressing the shutter button on a camera that he grabbed away from the defendant.
The lawsuit raises an interesting (although I believe easy) question of statutory standing and the zone of interests of the copyright laws--namely, whether a non-human enjoys rights under the statute. This article explains why the answer should be no. The lawsuit is also reminiscent of a 2011 lawsuit that PETA brought against Sea World on behalf of five Orcas, claiming a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The court dismissed for lack of standing, concluding that the Thirteenth Amendment only protected human beings, although I argued it would have been more appropriate to dismiss on the merits for failure to state a claim. In the interim, SCOTUS decided in Lexmark International v. Static Control that whether a plaintiff falls within the "zone of interests" of a statute (and we can, I think, expand this to the zone of interests of the applicable substantive law) is properly a merits question. It should follow that, to the extent a macaque does not have rights under the Copyright Act, the complaint should be dismissed on the merits.
One other question: Is this worthwhile as a sample pleading for Civ Pro? While the lawsuit is a loser, and perhaps even frivolous, the complaint is well-drafted, includes a lot of factual detail, and illustrates the form and structure of a federal complaint. Is the content too off-the-wall for these purposes?
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Justice and fairness v. procedure
Judge Bunning declined to stay his order extending the injunction against Kim Davis to all eligible couples. (H/T: Marty Lederman). Bunning explained:
Had the Court declined to clarify that its ruling applied to all eligible couples seeking a marriage license in Rowan County, it would have effectively granted Plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief and left other eligible couples at the mercy of Davis’ “no marriage licenses” policy, which the Court found to be in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015). Such an approach would not only create piecemeal litigation, it would be inconsistent with basic principles of justice and fairness. Thus, when the need arose, the Court clarified that its ruling applied with equal force to all marriage license applicants in Rowan County, regardless of their involvement in this litigation. (emphasis added).
Perhaps he is right about justice and fairness. But he is flat wrong on the procedure. What Bunning describes as "piecemeal litigation" is simply "litigation," which adjudicates and resolves the obligations of parties, not the entire world. The way to avoid the feared piecemeal litigation is to certify the class, as the plaintiffs requested, a move Bunning continues to resist. Otherwise, new couples are free to file new suits or seek to join or intervene in the pending action. Short of that, Bunning lacks the power to broaden the injunction in this way. And this remains the one issue on which Davis might actually prevail.
Settlement in Tolan v. Cotton
Last year, SCOTUS summarily reversed a grant of summary judgment against a plaintiff in a § 1983 action, concluding that the district court had impermissibly resolved disputed facts in defining the factual context for purposes of qualified immunity. I wrote about the case, arguing that, through some procedural confusion, it might indicate a new scrutiny of this sort of sub silentio fact-finding on qualified immunity.
SCOTUS remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit to reconsider whether other, undisputed facts supported qualified immunity; the Fifth Circuit sent it back to the district court. In September, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the city and sent the individual claim to trial, commenting that SCOTUS would not "be satisfied if we didn’t take this case to trial." After one day of trial, the case settled for $ 110,000, a typical outcome for cases that do not go away on summary judgment and a typical settlement amount for a claim involving serious-but-not-life-threatening injuries. (H/T: Jonah Gelbach of Penn).
An interesting side note: Tolan sought to have District Judge Melinda Harmon recuse over comments she made at the pretrial hearing on the eve of trial. The basis for the motion was a newspaper article reporting on the conference; the article quoted Harmon as saying she was tempted to grant summary judgment on the individual claim, but read SCOTUS as hinting that the case should go to trial. The article also quoted her as saying she was "confident" and "had faith" in her opinion and thought she was right the first time.
The court rightly denied the motion. She stated that some of the statements were taken out of context and referred to the claim against the city, not the individual officer. Other statements involved legalities and interpretations of law, with no discussion of what material facts might be undisputed or not. Moreover, there is nothing improper with the judge stating that she continues to believe she was right about her initial summary judgment decision on the individual claim (the one SCOTUS reversed). My experience is that district judges always continue to believe they were right even after being reversed. But that does not impair their ability to apply and follow that decision, much less indicate favoritism or antagonism towards the party against whom they originally ruled. Otherwise, a case should be assigned to a new district judge whenever there is a reverse-and-remand, which would create all sorts of unworkable procedural problems in complex cases.
Monday, September 21, 2015
Encouraging Jury Service
In Civil Procedure, we spend a lot of time teaching students how to determine when the Seventh Amendment provides a right to juries in civil trials, but very little time talking about how juries actually function and why they are important. In studying post-trial motions, we focus on debates about whether small amounts of circumstantial evidence are sufficient to create a fact issue and whether apparently aberrant verdicts allow the imposition of a new trial. The result can be that law students, despite legal training, share the public's general misconception about jury competence, which in turn may make them avoid jury trials as lawyers and encourage clients to fear juries.
But whatever we do in law school, the prejudice is out there. Bad joke: the problem with juries is that people who serve on them are too stupid to get out of jury duty. It's disrespectful to the many people who understand that jury service is important to the rule of law, an important political right, and personally rewarding. It also ignores the substantial body of empirical evidence that juries mostly get it right.
Nevertheless, the nugget of truth that makes the joke work is that sinking feeling we get when we receive a jury summons, and the reality that many jurisdictions have very high no-show rates. The system would function better if summoned jurors would appear and if the pool of potential jurors better reflected a cross section of the community. Are there measures that court systems could take to increase participation? Absolutely. Many are identified in the ABA's Principles for Juries and Jury Trials (Principle 2). This blog entry will focus on three ways to get more people to the courthouse.
1. Who gets summoned? The choice of sources used to create master jury lists (aka jury source lists or jury wheels) affects both the size and composition of the pool. Voter registration and drivers license lists (the two most common sources) are not reliably updated. Use of these lists results in a large (often about 20%) number of undeliverable summonses, and it leads to a pool that tends to over-exclude young, poor, and urban citizens. What might be more reliable? New York, for example, also uses addresses of state income tax filers and the recipients of unemployment insurance and family assistance benefits. Those are addresses that the recipients have a strong incentive to keep current.
2. Can people afford to serve? Juror pay also deters many people from showing up when summoned. When I was on a jury and spent four days at the courthouse, I had to rearrange my schedule but still got paid. For those who get paid only while working, however, especially those with little extra room in the family budget, jury duty is a hardship. Take a look at this list of jury fees -- there's not a state that pays enough to compensate even a minimum wage worker for a lost day of work. This, too, is apt to skew the composition of empaneled juries.
3. Can we allay anxieties? The first two suggestions are politically difficult (admitting that something as simple as choosing an address list implicates political and social policies) and expensive (increasing juror pay to income replacement would be extraordinarily costly). But some people avoid jury service because they don't know how to drive downtown and park, don't know what to expect, and fear a long, boring day in an uncomfortable chair. That barrier to service can be addressed with a combination of internet communication and actual amenities. Not free, but very doable. Watch this excellent YouTube video, Jury Service 101, from the Mecklenburg County, NC courts. In addition to a street level view of where to park and where to report, it notes that jurors have access to a comfy kitchen area, business center, fresh air balcony, game room, movies (and popcorn!), and free onsite child care. This well produced video could be a model for court systems around the country.
As an academic, I'm going to rethink how I teach my students about the role of juries and the judge/jury relationships. As a citizen, I'm going to advocate more juror-friendly policies. Join me?
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Lederman on Kim Davis
At Balkinization, Marty Lederman discusses whether Kim Davis is violating the district court order, issued when she was released from custody, prohibiting her from interfering with the efforts of deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples. Lederman questions whether some changes Davis has made to the forms--removing her name, the name of her office, the name of the county, and the position of the deputy clerk--constitute interference.
I trust Marty's analysis. But then we have two questions. The first is whether there is interference (and thus contempt) if the altered licenses are deemed valid, as the governor announced last week. The other is whether, even if Davis is interfering and thus is in contempt, Bunning will jail her, given the circus that surrounded it the last time.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Sixth Circuit denies Kim Davis another stay
The Sixth Circuit on Thursday denied Kim Davis a stay pending appeal of the order extending the original injunction to bar her from denying licenses to any eligible couples (the extended injunction was issued the same day Judge Bunning jailed Davis for contempt). (H/T: Religion Clause Blog and Josh Blackman) Davis never asked the district court for a stay pending appeal, as required by Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a)(1)(A), and the court of appeals refused to accept "extraordinary doggedness of the district court to expand the Injunction, without jurisdiction or fair notice and opportunity to be hearing" as basis for finding that it would be "impracticable" to move in the district court, as required by FRAP 8(a)(2)(A)(i).
The latter conclusion is fair, I suppose, since the argument basically accuses the district court of having it in for Davis. Nevertheless, there is something strange about asking a district court to stay an injunction that he just entered by finding that the defendant has a substantial likelihood of success on appeal--in other words, there is a substantial likelihood that the district court was wrong. We do not require trial courts to make a similar confession of likely error in any other context. It also seems like a waste here--Davis will now ask Bunning for a stay, he will deny it, and the issue will be back with the court of appeals in a week or two.
It is notable that the extension of the injunction was not, as plaintiffs requested and many (including me) assumed, in anticipation of class certification. Instead, the district court extended the injunction in recognition of two other individual actions challenging Davis' no-marriage policy. (H/T: Marty Lederman for the analysis). I am not sure that is a valid basis for extending the injunction (where as expanding in anticipation of class status would be), so Davis may actually have one small argument that is not doomed to total failure.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Subconscious Juror Bias
I am a big fan of juries. But it is our job as lawyers to be sure that we structure the process of summoning, seating, and using juries in a way that maximizes their effectiveness. I have argued that we need to do a better job of writing instructions they can understand (because they really try), and that broader jury question formats are more consistent with the political and instruments purposes of the jury. My interest became more than academic when I actually served as a juror in a criminal trial in 2014. That experience reinforced my theoretical expectations: a very diverse group of jurors analyzed the evidence, listened to and learned from each other, deliberated carefully, referred to the court's instructions, and took the process very seriously.
I was so enthusiastic about the experience that, the following semester, I taught a seminar about juries. The students read a lot of empirical information about juries -- from selection through deliberation and on to post-service issues. And they did a bit of research of their own. (The students also blogged, which I recommend as a way to get students to think and write). One issue kept coming up in almost every context: the impact of juror biases, especially racial biases, on the entire jury system. The Batson process would be laughable if the impact weren't so serious. In addition, as in other areas of the law, subconscious bias on the part of people who believe themselves to be racism-free is hard to prove.
That's why I found this recent New Jersey case, State v. Brown & Smith, so fascinating. Brown and Smith were charged with carjacking, and their defense was that they were not the carjackers. During jury deliberations, Juror #4 told two other jurors that she had seen two African-Americans in her neighborhood and this made her “nervous” because this was not typical in the area where she lived. She therefore thought this “may have had some kind of sinister connection to the trial.” The judge questioned all three jurors and assured them that they were not in danger, but the jurors' assumptions about race went largely unexamined.
In considering on appeal whether the jurors should have been removed, the Appellate Division got it:
When Juror 4 inferred a sinister conspiratorial purpose from a facially innocuous event, based only on the race of the participants, she revealed a deeply-rooted, latent racial bias that required her removal from the jury. The trial judge erred in permitting her to remain on the jury and continue deliberating merely based on the juror's self-serving denial of racial bias. Her initial instinctive, subliminal association of race with criminality or wrong-doing far trumped her subsequent assurances of impartiality. In her willingness to come forward and candidly report her misgivings, Juror 4 also revealed her unawareness of how engrained her racial bias was in her subconscious. This incongruity between Juror 4's conscious acts and latent beliefs is one of the most pernicious, unintended aspects of our jury system. (p. 3 of PDF)
The court wrote at length about the trial process, hoping to provide guidance to trial judges that would make clear that the trial judge's attitude -- "[W]e expect to some extent people have developed certain prejudices, some fixed ways of thinking" -- is unacceptable. A juror's assurance that he or she has no biases, or can set them aside, should not overcome evidence of lurking racial profiling.
By the way: for a wonderful weekly email with news related to both civil and criminal juries, subscribe to the National Center for State Court's Jur-E Bulletin.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Museum of Tort Law
The American Museum of Tort Law. I thought it was a joke when it started showing up in my Twitter feed (@TortMuseum). Imagine the exhibit possibilities: the firecrackers from Palsgraf, the chair pulled out from under Ruth Garratt, the shotguns from Summers v. Tice. It's just hard to picture. But it turns out the museum is real, Ralph Nader is its President, and it actually has a Corvair!
On top of that, it has a serious purpose. Its vision statement includes these goals:
- Create and sustain a world-class facility that focuses on the rich historical legacy of Tort Law in American life and culture, inform people about the effect of Tort Law on their lives, and inspire a sense of future possibilities for the welfare of our society
- Create a unique historical environment that fosters an appreciation of the intellectual rigor and community standards embodied in law
- Show by example how ours is a nation of laws, and how Tort Law reflects the voice of the community
And to do that, the Museum "will be a unique mix of historic displays and engaging experiences that will illustrate the workings and effect of Tort Law. Visitors will experience the ideas and decisions that go into the making of the law that defines the world in which we live." Exhibits might include great closing arguments, the stories of famous tort cases, and "you make the call" challenges in which visitors weigh in on torts policy decisions.
I doubt that it will be competing with Disney World anytime soon. But it got me thinking about my own academic discipline, Civil Procedure. What would a Museum of Civil Procedure look like? Like Torts, it raises tough policy conflicts and, these days, those conflicts are highly politicized and involve campaigns financed by wealthy corporations seeking to affect public opinion and SCOTUS amicus briefs hoping to make procedural law less claimant-friendly. How would we design a procedure museum that might convey the importance of fair processes or citizen (jury) participation? Might visitors play a game applying a Prisoner's Dilemma scenario to decisions about discovery? Classic civ pro cases might also provide thought-provoking artifacts: William Twombly's complaint? The Robinsons' burnt-out Audi? Video of the recollections of Sandra Adickes about her efforts to integrate Hattiesburg (Adickes v. Kress)? Maybe the museum could stage a battle between the Repeat Players and One-Shot Players. [I see real potential for a Procedure wing of the Tort Law museum.]
Silly? Not really. I found it to be a great exercise in thinking about how to explain to members of the public why I think procedure is interesting and important, and what's really at stake. What about your own legal academic discipline? I'd love to see Comments about The Museum of [Your Subject Here].
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
Kim Davis released from custody
Kim Davis has been released from custody and had the contempt sanction lifted, based on the plaintiffs' report that they had received marriage licenses and that deputy clerks were issuing licenses to "all legally eligible couples." The court furthered barred Davis from interfer[ing] in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples." (H/T: Marty Lederman).
As written, however, the new order brings us back to the recurring problem we have seen with most district court injunctions: This has not been certified as a class action, so the injunction was satisfied when the named plaintiffs received their licenses. Further, Davis cannot properly be held in contempt for interfering with the issuance of licenses to other couples; those licenses are not formally happening on the strength of the court's order, so Davis would not formally be defying the court's order. Of course, if she attempts to push that point, the plaintiffs will simply ask Judge Bunning to certify the class, thereby expanding the injunction to that scope. The wiser move is for Davis to stand aside and let her deputies voluntarily comply.
Friday, September 04, 2015
Out George Wallace-ing George Wallace
I was quoted (mostly out of context) in yesterday's New York Times on Kim Davis; I said that Davis was "out George Wallace-ing George Wallace." Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door, and accompanying speech, remain one of the signature moments of Massive Resistance to Brown and integration. But after making his speech, Wallace stood down when facing the Attorney General, rather than being hauled off by a federalized National Guard or facing a contempt charges (the University had been enjoined to allow Vivian Malone and James Hood to register and Wallace had been enjoined not to interfere with the prior injunction). Wallace made his point and had his moment, but in the end chose not to defy the forcible execution of a court order or to go to jail for a lost cause.
What does it say about society, this issue, current politics, and attitudes towards the judiciary that Davis believed it necessary or proper to take that next step? Is it that she believes she is fighting for conscience rather than secular principles such as federalism? Is her stand less popular locally or nationally than was Wallace's, necessitating the bigger step in order to be heard? Is her stand more popular locally or nationally, such that she garners more support and sympathy by going to jail than Wallace would have? How does the relative popularity of Obergefell as opposed to Brown affect the respective choices each make.
Does Davis go down as this generation's George Wallace? She might, if only because she is proving so rare. According to this WaPo story, citing the group Freedom to Marry, there are only a handful of counties (fewer than 20) in Southern states refusing to issue licenses, at least as a matter of formal office policies.*
* And 13 of those are in Alabama, where probate judges are waiting for the Supreme Court of Alabama to lift the mandamus prohibiting them from issuing licenses (or for SCOTUS to quickly reverse if the Supreme Court of Alabama refuses to lift the mandamus).
Marriage licenses issuing in Rowan County
Here and here. The first couple--William Smith and James Yates--were not parties to the litigation. No word on whether the license was issued in Kim Davis' name or whether it is valid if issued over her command not to. That probably is moot; it would arise only if a marriage officiant refuses to recognize the license or someone somewhere down the line refuses to recognize the marriage as valid, neither of which is likely to occur.
Davis remains in jail, probably until next week. It may come down to whether, if she returns to her job, she intends to order her staff to again stop issuing licenses.
By the way, note the rhetoric floating around here: Davis's husband is quoted as saying "Just because five Supreme Court judges make a ruling, it’s not a law." Now regardless of how silly that statement is on its own, it is notable that blame for his wife being in jail is being placed on the shoulders of the Supreme Court and Obergefell. But the problem is not that Davis ignored the Supreme Court, at least not directly; the problem is that she ignored a district court order directed at her.
Thursday, September 03, 2015
Kim Davis (not Jim or Garfield) jailed for contempt
Judge David Bunning has held Kim Davis in contempt and had her jailed. Bunning apparently pointed to the fact that members of the public are raising money to cover the fines (damn crowd-funding) as evidence that fines alone would not work. This is civil contempt, so she will be released as soon as she agrees to comply with the injunction and issue licenses.
So Davis is now a martyr to the cause, probably what she and her lawyers wanted. It raises a couple of questions: 1) Does this provide grounds for the governor or other state-level official to remove her from office (a question of Kentucky law)? 2) Is Davis now "unable" to issue licenses, opening the door for the county judge to do it, as a commenter to an earlier post suggested? 3) If the county judge begins issuing licenses, does that get Davis out of jail? 4) If the county judge begins issuing licenses, does it moot the case once the plaintiffs get their licenses from the judge (the answer to this one is probably not, because I expect Bunning to go back and certify a class).
For what it is worth, the judicial process is working as it should in all of this. No one said it should be pretty.
Update: Five of the six employees of the office (all but Davis's son) have promised to issue licenses beginning tomorrow, filling out the forms in Davis' name. Bunning also indicated he will lift the contempt order in a few days if employees issue licenses. Davis could have stayed out of jail by agreeing not to interfere with her employees issuing licenses, but she said she could not do so consistent with her conscience. There may be a question of whether those licenses can be valid if issued in defiance of office policy. But I suppose it will be enough that the form is properly completed with Davis' name on it by a duly employed clerk.
Tinkering with the machinery of marriage
Jonathan Adler explains why Kim Davis cannot, and should not be able to, use her personal religious beliefs to refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples; if her conscience prevents her from doing this, she must resign. Adler points to a 2002 essay by Justice Scalia, in which Scalia explained why, if he believed capital punishment immoral, he must resign from the bench--his personal morality cannot override his judicial obligations. Adler argues that Davis similarly cannot use her personal religious morality to refuse to participate in (paraphrasing Harry Blackmun) the machinery of marriage.
But is there a middle ground between violating religious beliefs and resignation--recusal. Could a Justice Scalia whose religious views prevent him from affirming a death sentence recuse from all such cases? If so, that seems to be what Davis is doing here--recusing herself from the one function that runs afoul of her beliefs, while being ready and willing to perform other functions, even as to same-sex couples.
I am not suggesting Davis should win--she shouldn't. But does the reason have less to do with an absolute prohibition on this type of moral refusal to perform a public function and more with whether the attempted accommodation sufficiently protects the rights of couples seeking marriage licenses?
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Contempt proceeding in Rowan County
The ACLU today moved to hold Kim Davis in contempt for refusing to allow her office to issue marriage licenses, asking for "financial penalties" seemingly tied to the compensation she continues to receive from the state despite not performing her functions. The motion does not ask for jail time, likely realized that is what she and/or her attorneys want. Judge Bunning has scheduled a hearing for Thursday.
More interestingly, the ACLU also moved the court to clarify the preliminary injunction to "state unambiguously that the preliminary injunction applies not only to future marriage license requests submitted by the four named Plaintiff couples in this action, but also to requests submitted by other individuals who are legally eligible to marry in Kentucky." The motion states that the action was filed as a "putative class action," although the court has never addressed or resolved the class certification issue. So the motion appears to be asking the court, in the guise of clarifying its injunction, to convert it into a class-wide injunction without ever doing the FRCP 23 analysis of whether certification is appropriate. Can the court do this?
Monday, August 31, 2015
Serving two masters in Rowan County, KY? (Further Updates)
I am not a fan of Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, who I think has been both wrong and shrill about the procedure in the marriage-equality litigation. But I wonder if he is onto something with this piece about the connection between Kim Davis, the Rowan (Ky) Clerk of Court who is ignoring a federal injunction (and no, even under the view of departmentalism I have been pushing, you can't do that), and her attorneys from the Liberty Counsel, a religious-conservative advocacy group.
Stern posits that the lawyers are taking her for a ride, using her to push their legal-ideological agenda without regard to her best legal interests, recalling Derrick Bell's famous discussion of attorney-client conflicts in desegregation litigation. One commenter on Stern's post posited that she was offered a ride and willingly accepted. And I have suggested that Davis would be perfectly happy to become a martyr to this cause--although who knows if this is her lawyers or her. Either way, if Stern is right that the lawyers advised Davis to ignore the injunction and be held in contempt, that is troubling, since it raises the possibility that she will be unable to challenge any contempt sanctions later on.
Stern reports that Davis has moved for a stay of the injunction from SCOTUS, in a petition that attempts to minimize the effect of Obergefell and to treat the dissents as binding authority. No way four justices sign-off on that. So now we see what happens when the whole thing is back in the district court.
Update: Justice Kagan (the Sixth Circuit Justice) referred the petition to the full Court, which denied it without comment or published dissent. So now we see whether Davis is really willing to go to jail (or pay hefty fines) over this.
Further Update: Davis continued refusing to issue licenses, this time on video. The irony (which no one is going to catch) is that the couple in the video--David Moore and David Ermold--are not among the eight (four couples) named plaintiffs. So Davis actually is not in contempt in denying them the license.
Gabilondo on the Cuba embargo
My FIU colleague Jose Gabilondo explores how the Obama Administration might unilaterally end the Cuba embargo, or at least set it up to be challenged by a private party. It is an elegant solution, tied to the connections between legislation and administrative rulemaking.
The standing question he mentions is interesting, but seemingly manageable. If the sole basis for the embargo is regulations enacted solely pursuant to a constitutionally defective statute with no inherent executive discretion and that statute is the only thing legally prohibiting a company from doing business in Cuba, then standing to challenge the statute seems plain. And after Zivotofsky and Bond (interestingly, both Kennedy opinions), it is clear that a private plaintiff can raise pure separation-of-power and federalism arguments in challenging the validity of federal statutes.