Thursday, June 23, 2016
What now on DAPA?
Today's 4-4 affirmance of the injunction against DAPA leaves things in obvious flux. There are several considerations affecting might happen now--legal, procedural, and political.
Procedurally, the next move is a trial on the merits and, as the trial judge has tipped his hand, likely entry of a permanent injunction. Then we go back up the ladder, presumably back to SCOTUS, by which point it will be back up to a full roster. I have heard suggestions that the government might seek a quick permanent injunction (if a defendant has no new evidence, the court can convert a preliminary injunction into a permanent injunction without a trial or further hearing) and expedited review to SCOTUS. Given my long-standing position that there will not be a ninth Justice until the start of OT 2017*, I am not sure this will achieve anything, until the hope is that SCOTUS would stay the permanent injunction pending review (which, of course, does nothing about the preliminary injunction that remains in place until final judgment).
[*] Assuming, of course, that a Republican Senate does not continue to refuse to allow an appointment because, even though the people have spoken, the real governing principle is that Democratic presidents do not get to make Supreme Court appointments.
Legally, the United States could attempt to apply DAPA outside of the eight states that brought this suit. Although the district court purported to issue a nationwide injunction, I do not believe a district court has that power. The United States is enjoined from enforcing DAPA only as to the plaintiff states, and no one else is protected by the injunction;** this was not a class action and there is nothing that legally makes this relief indivisible. The precedential force of the constitutional analysis supporting the injunction is limited to the Fifth Circuit. And SCOTUS's affirmance of that analysis does not create binding precedent. So nothing in the Constitution or any court order prohibits the United States from enforcing DAPA in, for example, California, especially if California does not object.
[**] For much the same reason that Obergefell did not, of its own force, require Texas to issue marriage licenses, a position Texas happily adopted a year ago.
Politically, I do not see this happening. It would take too long to explain to the public concepts such as scope of an injunction, regional precedent, and non-precedential SCOTUS affirmances. Instead, this would play in the public as the administration ignoring a court order, one seemingly emanating (or at least endorsed by) SCOTUS. [Update: I imagine the government also wants to avoid a situation in which it enforces the immigration laws differently in 42 states than it does in the other eight.]
Monday, June 20, 2016
More on RJR Nabisco and extraterritoriality
It makes no sense for a statute's private right of action not to be coextensive with the substantive law being applied. Ginsburg is correct that there should be a link, not separation, between prohibited activities and authorized remedies. At the very least, that should be the presumption, unless Congress provides otherwise in the cause of action itself. And a statute that says "[a]ny person injured in his business or property by reason of a violation" of some substantive law--where that substantive law has been (and, per Congress, can be) violated by that extraterritorial conduct--should allow for a claim for extraterritorial violation. By applying the presumption of extraterritoriality to the cause of action, the Court now requires Congress to draft the cause of action not only to link the right of action to the substantive law being enforced, but also to include language dealing with extraterritoriality. For example, I presume this case now means that, even if the Fourteenth Amendment applies extraterritorially, a § 1983 claim will not lie for such a violation, since nothing in the statute speaks to extraterritoriality (indeed, the purpose of that statute was bringing states into line within their own borders following the Civil War and has nothing to do with foreign conduct).
The culprit in this is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (2013), where the Court applied the presumption of extraterritoriality to the Alien Tort Statute, a purely jurisdictional provision. But the ATS is unique in that it grants not only adjudicative jurisdiction, but also prescriptive jurisdiction to create federal common law based on the law of nations as of 1789 and its analogues; the question in Kiobel was whether the grant of prescriptive jurisdiction could include common law applying extraterritorially. In other words, the courts were not only creating the right of action, they also were creating the law that "directly regulate[s] conduct or afford[s] relief." The end result in Kiobel is that the substantive common law the courts could create did not reach extraterritorial conduct (because Congress did not grant the courts the power to establish such common law), so neither could the court-created right of action.
Under RICO, however, the law regulating conduct does apply to extraterritorial conduct, per Congress. The right of action should, as well.
Thursday, June 09, 2016
Permanent injunctions and no mootness in marriage equality litigation
I missed this yesterday, but Judge Granade entered a permanent injunction in Strawser v. Strange. She rejected the state's argument that the case was moot in light of Obergefell, pointing to the suspended Roy Moore and the Supreme Court of Alabama's refusal to vacate its March 2015 Mandamus and that court's continued criticism of Obergefell as demonstrating that the state officials cannot show that enforcement of the marriage ban is certain not to occur. That the court (including whoever is Chief and serving as the administrative supervisor of the state judiciary ) is especially salient in Alabama, where judicial-branch officials are charged with issuing marriage licenses.
Judge Granade's order follows on the heels (and relies on) a similar permanent injunction in Brenner v. Scott in Florida back in March (sorry to have missed it at the time). The court in Brenner was even more dismissive of the state's mootness arguments. The court pointed to the state's refusal to immediately comply with earlier orders, the legislature's failure to repeal or amend the ban on same-sex marriages and other laws affected by that ban, and requests of state officials to "clarify" the scope of the injunction on other issues that turn on recognition of same-sex marriage. For example, the State Surgeon General asked for clarification whether, under Obergefell and the injunction, they must identify a female non-biological parent on a birth certificate, even though the document says "father;" the judge insisted the answer should be easy (same-sex couples must be treated the same as opposite couples in all respects) and the request itself showed that the defendants have not "unambiguously terminated their illegal practices." These courts join the Eighth Circuit in rejecting the argument that officials' agreement to comply with Obergefell, without more, moots unrelated cases involving different parties and different laws.
There is a procedural morass here that makes this a lot more complicated and that I need to think through further.
On the one hand, SCOTUS precedent should not moot an unrelated case, given the general rule that voluntary cessation does not moot and especially given my departmentalist model in which state officials have no constitutional obligation to follow SCOTUS (or any other) precedent outside of a judgment against them as to particular parties. That keeps the controversy alive, since every new request for a license is a new controversy beyond the scope of any existing court order. That state officials are not rushing to apply Obergefell to new settings is a product of Obergefell not extending that far.
On the other hand, the limited scope of most injunctions (including the injunction in Brenner, although not Strawser, given the class certification) should make a permanent injunction inappropriate once the named plaintiffs received their marriage licenses on the strength of the preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs got what they wanted and the defendants gave the plaintiffs what they were entitled to, so there is nothing more for the court order to do as to these parties. Everything else is for further state compliance with respect to people and issues not before the court and, if necessary, further litigation and a new injunction involving those new parties and new issues. For example, Brenner recognized that the birth-certificate issue is "not well presented in this case," since none of the plaintiffs seeks a birth certificate; there are two separate lawsuits by unrelated parties against the Surgeon General for refusal to issue such certificates. And if those statutes are constitutionally invalid (as they assuredly are under Obergefell), then state officials will be enjoined from enforcing those laws as to those plaintiffs. But that should not provide a basis for the type of free-standing injunction against taking any "steps to enforce or apply" Florida's prohibition on same-sex marriage, unconnected to context or party, in a case in which the plaintiffs only sought marriage licenses.
Finally, an interesting side note: I found the Strawser order on the website for Americans United for Separate of Church and States, which is undertaking representation of couples seeking marriage licenses in Alabama (and presumably elsewhere), since the refusals are now grounded in officials' religious objections to performing this function. It is interesting how the constitutional valance of marriage equality, and thus of the advocacy groups involved, has shifted.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Documents unsealed in Trump University lawsuit
On Friday, Donald Trump spent more than ten minutes of a campaign rally to criticize (and highlight the ethnic origin of) the judge in a class action against Trump University, mainly because the judge had issued various rulings against the defendant, a clear (according to Trump) indication that the judge was biased and should recuse. That same day, the judge has ordered unsealed a number of documents presented to the court on a class-certification motion. The court emphasized the public interest in the case (which suggested the need for public access to the documents), noting Trump's status as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and that Trump had "placed the integrity of these proceedings at issue" in that race.
I guess judges do have ways to protect themselves against political attacks.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Thiel, settlement, and third-party funding
First, it derides the ACLU/NAACP analogy (also offered by Eugene Kontorovich) as "ridiculous." That is correct to the extent the ACLU or NAACP are not motivated by private vendettas. But the comparison works at the broader level of someone with an agenda (whether personal or ideological) helping someone else litigate their claims. And the fact that the agenda is personal rather than ideological should not matter. Public-interest organizations are no more consistent than individuals in their positions, as will no doubt be demonstrated when various political groups go silent about President Trump's executive actions.Second, it argues that Thiel 's "Ahab-like mission" prevented the case from settling, which would have been the better solution to properly balance free speech and privacy concerns. But the prevailing view is that too many cases settle too easily, often under pressure from judges pushing settlement, and often confidentially, thereby depriving the public of knowledge of the case or its outcome and making it harder for repeat-player defendants (such as Gawker) to be held accountable. Moreover, to the extent Thiel's funding hand created a conflict between his interests and a settlement that would have been best for Hogan, this case starts to look quite a bit like NAACP-run impact litigation, where a settlement that might be best for the individual client is not consistent with the funder's long-term ideological or institutional needs and goals. So the non-settlement undermines the supposed ridiculousness of the NAACP/ACLU analogy--the potential for party-funder conflict looms in both.
Third, the focus on settlement as the means to balance speech and privacy and serve the public interest (by making Gawker pay for a violation while not being put out of business) is nonsense. We do not strike the balance by settling individual cases, although the parties themselves might. We strike the balance in the legal rules themselves, protecting speech against civil liability for invasion-of-privacy until the speaker crosses some line (the location of which will be the issue on appeal in this case). If Gawker crossed that line, there is no balance to be struck; it should be on the hook for all the harm it legally caused by violating Hogan's rights. And if that harm is so great that it forces Gawker out of business, so be it.
Finally, the post argues that Thiel's supposed deterrence goal is undermined by the fact that he financed the lawsuit in secret, because deterrence only works if the punishment is publicly known. But this makes no sense. It is not Thiel's funding efforts that punishes Gawker, it is the $ 140 million judgment that Hogan achieved through litigation funded by Thiel. And that judgment is publicly known. And that judgment (if it stands, which I do not believe it will) will have a pretty strong deterrent effect. Thiel's identity is not necessary for deterrence. Although, to the extent we are concerned about anonymous funding, Simona Grossi's argument about transparency in funding offers a solution.
Friday, May 27, 2016
Litigation financing and the First Amendment
I wanted to share two takes on the news that tech billionaire Peter Thiel has been funding Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media. Simona Grossi (Loyola-LA) argues there is nothing inherently wrong with Thiel financing someone else's litigation, which represents a different type of third-party litigation financing, although she suggests that due process may require transparency in such funding arrangements.* Slate's Mark Joseph Stern argues that the problem is not Thiel funding the litigation, but that the litigation is possible because of elected state judges and state privacy torts that may not sufficiently leave room for free speech.
[*] In discussing litigation financing, Grossi mentions public-interest organizations providing free/reduced-fee representation. But she does not mention the role of attorneys' fees for many of these organizations, which affects how that financing model operates. Of course, the court knows when attorneys' fees are potentially in play, so any transparency concerns are addressed.
Both argue that Thiel's funding activities are protected by the First Amendment, although for different reasons. Stern finds support from NAACP v. Button and constitutional protection for ideological litigation, while Grossi finds support in an analogy to campaign finance. The answer, I think, is a combination of these.
Button does not do it alone, because the case was less about the NAACP financing litigation than about it soliciting clients to bring litigation (financed, obviously, by the NAACP, but that was not the focus in the case). Plus, the NAACP was, in some sense, seeking to vindicate its organizational rights (or those of its members) through litigation. It is harder to conceptualize Thiel as vindicating his own rights. While he benefits from destroying Gawker, it is only in the way that everyone benefits from the deterrent effects of tort liability (either because Gawker stops publishing mean things or because Gawker stops publishing at all). This seems different than the NAACP desegregating the schools, where the precedential and remedial benefits of a judicial declaration of the unconstitutionality of segregated schools are more direct. That distinction also may relate to the litigation financed--challenges to the constitutional validity of state laws of general applicability as opposed to individual tort suits for damages against a private entity.
But Button does some work for the campaign-finance analogy. Money is not speech. But speech costs money, so restricting the money that can be spent on speech necessarily limits speech.** Under Button, litigation is First Amendment activity.*** It follows that spending money on litigation also must enjoy constitutional protection. That does not get us all the way there, obviously. But it at least forces Thiel's critics to identify what makes this financing model different and uniquely harmful and to show why any harms cannot be addressed in other ways (such as through the disclosure that Grossi suggests).
[**] As a general proposition, even critics of Citizens United and current campaign-finance doctrine would recognize that, for example, government could not limit the amount of money a company can spend on (truthful non-misleading) advertising or on printing its newspaper or magazine.
[***] The Court does not specify whether it is speech or petition activity, although it should not matter. Petition activity costs money, just as speech does.
Lost in much of the hand-wringing is that Thiel's efforts, at least with respect to Hogan, will likely fail. It seems unlikely that the judgment against Gawker will stand (in light of both First Amendment considerations and the trial court's evidentiary rulings), certainly not in the ridiculous amounts imposed. Of course, Thiel's goal may have been simply to force Gawker to spend millions of dollars on its defense, which it has done, even if Gawker does not also have to pay millions in damages. If so, the answer may lie in fee-shifting, although drafting a fee-shifting rule without it turning into "loser pays" will pose its own challenges.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Frank Easterbrook, the First Amendment, and the Chicago Cubs
My colleague calls this case the trifecta. Interestingly, news reports (BNA, NLJ, etc.) have focused on the court of appeals affirming the denial of the preliminary injunction and rejecting the argument that the flat ban on sales on the adjacent sidewalks violates the First Amendment. But the court spent a lot of time on possible First Amendment defects in a related ordinance requiring all peddlers to be individually licenses, except those selling newspapers. The court questioned both the exception for newspapers under Reed v. Gilbert and the licensing requirement as a whole, to the extent it disadvantages a small publication that relies on individual part-time sellers. The opinion offers the plaintiffs arguments to make in moving for a permanent injunction on remand.
And Easterbrook could not resist starting with this line: "The 2016 season is under way, and the Cubs are doing well on the field. Left Field hopes to do as well on appeal."
Friday, May 20, 2016
Money and departmentalism
Pending legislation in Oklahaom would prohibit doctors from performing abortions (it would be a felony and would result in loss of medical license). This Slate story and this letter from the Center for Reproductive Rights describes the controversy in what I would argue are the appropriate departmentalist terms. It is about time and money: The time and taxpayer money the state is going to waste defending a law that will pretty obviously lose in the courts because the courts are bound to follow SCOTUS and other binding precedent (under which this law is, as the CRR says, blatantly unconstitutional). And, we can add to the bill the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees, which are going to be quite high, if the marriage litigation and other recent examples are an indicator. And they situate this amid all of Oklahoma's economic problems and the money it is not spending on education, social services, and the health and welfare of women and children. Nowhere does the author or the CRR suggest that anyone in the state legislature or the governor is acting contrary to the Constitution or to their oaths by voting on or signing this bill. Instead, it's that this is making it impossible for you to govern the state well.
[*] I want to explore more about the deterrent value of attorney's fees. While that was not the original purpose of § 1988, fees increasingly play that role, especially in non-monetary cases such as this one.
And that is the larger point I am searching for. Political-branch officials do not act "unconstitutionally" when they act contrary to judicial precedent, only when they fail to follow a judgment rendered against them. And if they want to keep forcing new litigation beyond that judgment, even as against precedent, that is consistent with their constitutional vision. But if the cost of this move becomes so great, and starts to distract or draw from other priorities, the hope is that the public will rise up at the ballot box when this becomes wasteful enough. That, in turn, provides a political check on similar behavior.
But to return to the question of legal and judicial ethics in this realm. Some of the legislators are likely attorneys and have attorneys working for them; Fallin likely has attorneys working for her. Are they violating their ethical obligations by voting for this law or advising that they can vote for it?
Update: Gov. Fallin veoted the bill, arguing that the absence of a definition of "necessary to preserve the life of the mother" (the one situation in which an abortion would not be illegal) rendered the law vague, likely to fail in a constitutional challenge, and thus not an appropriate vehicle for challenging Roe.
Monday, May 16, 2016
Zubik, shadow dockets, and dispute resolution
It is easy to conclude that the anti-climactic resolution in Zubik v. Burwell is simply a consequence of the Court being down a Justice. What would have been a 5-4 win for the plaintiffs (with Justice Scalia in the majority) became a 4-4 affirmance (of disparate lower-court outcomes), necessitating the Court to order supplemental briefing and then to remand when, in light of that supplemental briefing, it was no longer necessary for this Court, as opposed to a lower court, to be involved.
And all of that may be true. But I want to try to situate this case, given its actual resolution, in two broader concerns.
First is the connection to William Baude's Shadow Docket. Perhaps this case demonstrates how cases can move back and forth between the "real" docket, in which merits decisions are made and explanations given, and the shadow docket, in which reasons are not given, but hints are dropped and cases are knocked out of the Court for non-merits reasons. The Court functionally DIGed the case, but in a way that gave specific marching orders to the lower courts to start over and, hopefully, put together the compromise resolution that the parties suggested in the supplemental briefing. But the end result plays much like what we saw in the lead-up to Obergefell.
Second, this type of resolution is not necessarily a bad thing. District courts (as do courts of appeals, although not quite as often) do this all the time--it is an aspect of "managerial judging," especially in cases involving institutional reform. While the Court is partially tasked with resolving significant disputes over constitutional (and in this case statutory) meaning and application, it also is the top of a judicial system whose primary function is to resolve discrete disputes between discrete parties. And if the Court can do that with a "work-it-out" mandate without passing on the legal question, there is no structural reason--no reason grounded in the "purposes" of SCOTUS or the federal courts--for it not to do so. Especially if it provides a solution that protects everyone's rights.
Jurisdiction day at the Court
The Court decided two closely watched (by a segment of law professors) jurisdictional cases today. I now have to start thinking about whether to include them in Fed Courts next semester and what to keep or drop if I do add them.
In Merrill Lynch v. Manning, the Court held that the grant of exclusive federal jurisdiction over any action "brought to enforce any liability or duty created by" the Securities and Exchange Act means the same thing as the grant of general federal jurisdiction over civil actions "arising under" in § 1331. This means that the claim must either seek a relief under the act itself or assert a state law claim in which an issue under the act is necessarily raised, actually disputed and substantial, and placing the case in federal court would not disturb the balance of power between state and federal courts.
[**] I was surprised that the Court did not mention the jurisdictional statutes that use the phrase "brought under" (notably the grants for employment-discrimination laws) and also have been interpreted identically to § 1331.
Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Sotomayor (apparently the first time those two have gone off on their own) concurred in the judgment. Thomas insisted that the textual difference between "brought to enforce" and "arising under" must make a practical difference; thus, while "arising under" requires both a necessary federal issue and other considerations, "brought to enforce" requires only that claims "necessarily depend on establishing an Exchange Act violation."**
In Spokeo, the Court avoided the big question--whether a statutory violation, simpliciter, is sufficient for Article III injury-in-fact--by remanding to the Ninth Circuit to redo its standing analysis to consider not only whether the injury was particularized, but also whether it was "concrete," which is a distinct component of injury. According to the majority, the Ninth Circuit "failed to fully appreciate" this distinction. Along the way, the Court allowed a couple of points that may be significant for standing analysis going forward. First, a harm can be both concrete and intangible. Second, both history and congressional judgment play "important roles" in determining what intangible harms are sufficiently concrete. Third, the risk of harm may be sufficient to establish an injury and Congress can create procedural rights designed to avoid that risk. Finally, if Congress establishes a statutory intangible harm that is sufficiently concrete, a plaintiff need not allege any additional harm beyond the statutory violation itself. Thus, the ban on publishing false information could (presumably depending on what the information was) be sufficient to support standing.
[**] Note that Thomas does not like the Grable balancing test even as an interpretation of § 1331 and arising under. He has argued that the Court to return to the Holmes test that the claim arises under the law that creates the cause of action.
Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented. She went out of her way to agree with much of the majority opinion. She dissented because this is far from a case of a simple procedural injury with no harm (the majority's paradigm was publishing an incorrect zip code). The plaintiff had alleged significant material misrepresentations about his age, marital status, wealth, education, and employment history, all of which he alleged would harm his job prospects. She argued that it was unnecessary to remand so the Ninth Circuit could simply underscore what is already obvious about the harm the plaintiff suffered (or was threatened with suffering) to his job prospects.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Roy Moore suspended, facing removal
The Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama has filed a Complaint against Chief Justice Roy Moore with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which will hold trial to determine whether Moore should be removed from the bench. Moore is suspended with pay while the proceedings play out.
The focus of the charges was Moore's administrative order of January 2016, ordering all probate judges in the state that they had a ministerial duty not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending resolution of the mandamus action in the Supreme Court. This order was contrary to the statewide defendant class injunction in Strawser, the Eleventh Circuit's effective affirmance of that injunction (the Court rejected a challenge to the injunction as being inconsistent with the SCoA mandamus ruling, insisting that the SCoA ruling was abrogated by Obergefell), and Obergefell itself.
I know nothing about judicial ethics, particularly in Alabama. But it seems to me the first charge--that Moore ordered the probate judges to ignore a federal court's injunction--is fair game (although the fact that the Eleventh Circuit had weighed in on the issue seems beside the point). The rest--that Moore decided substantive legal issues, including in ways that conflicted with his role deciding cases as a member of the Court--seem a bit shakier, at least to the extent they suggest an ethical conflict between the Chief Justice's role as administrative head of the state judiciary and as a member of the courts. The last five charges assume that SCOTUS's decision in Obergefell is the last constitutional word and a state judge, even one acting in an administrative capacity, cannot second-guess or disagree with that.
I welcome comments from this with a background in Alabama judicial ethics.
Friday, May 06, 2016
Random items for a Friday morning
1) Here is a supercut of movie scenes depicting people dealing with writer's block. The Slate story describes it as stressful to watch--and it is. I also would say "claustrophobic."
2) Yesterday, I held my Civ Pro review session, which also included, for the second time, presentation of the "creative projects" that students can do for extra credit. The students enjoyed it, I got about 80-90 % participation (down slightly from the first time I did it, but still good). And it ran the gamut--board games, music parodies,* children's books, a skit about one of out classes, and even a pencil drawing of me. I think this is beginning to take on a life of its own, which I like. And a forever H/T to Josh Douglas for suggesting the idea; it has proven to be a nice exercise in class collegiality and, in many cases, an review that allows me to see what they understand (and what they don't). [Update: Here is the information sheet I give to students about this assignment]
[*] The one problem with music parodies is that my musical tastes have not kept up. So I can recognize the Spice Girls ("I wanna really, really, really get an A in Civ Pro") and "Let it Be" ("Let 'em plead"--"yeah there will be an answer" sort of fits perfectly). The rest, not so much, although I think they were well done.
3) A federal lawsuit has been filed in the Southern District of Florida alleging that a former administrator in FIU's School of Architecture sexually assaulted a student. I know nothing about any of this. I mention it only to highlight one Civ Pro angle: The complaint was served while the defendant was on campus of another school in another state interviewing for an academic position. That is cold-blooded.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Old injunctions and new statutes
The recently enacted anti-LGBT legislation in Mississippi includes a provision allowing public officials to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if doing so conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. On Monday, lawyers for the Campaign for Southern Equality ("CSE"), an LGBT-rights organization, sent a letter to Mississippi's governor, attorney general, and registrar of vital records , arguing that this opt-out provision potentially conflicts with the permanent injunction barring all state officials from enforcing the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs interpret this to require state officials to "treat any gay or lesbian couple that seeks to marry the same as any straight couple that seeks to do so." The letter demands a "full and complete explanation" of the steps that will be taken to "ensure that gay and lesbian couples are not impeded or delayed when seeking to marry." Slate's Mark Joseph Stern praises this "clever exercise in civil procedure," enabling the organization to challenge the new law without a formal lawsuit.
But does it?
The injunction only protects the named plaintiffs. The named plaintiffs include two female couples, who presumably already received their licenses; the caption does not indicate this was a class action. Formally, the injunction does not obligate the defendants to do anything as to anyone else. If the plaintiffs are trying to use the injunction and enforcement (or threatened enforcement) of the injunction as a shortcut to halting the new law, it should not work because the injunction does not formally obligate state officials to do or not do anything as to anyone else. The twist is that CSE is also a named party, presumably having sued on behalf of its members, which theoretically includes every LGBT person in the state who wants a license. If so, this procedural move has a better chance, since CSE (and its members) is protected by the injunction and since state officials are prohibited from enforcing the law against CSE (and its members).
My best guess is that the state, the plaintiff, and the court will find a way to resolve this by creating reasonable opt-out methods, as has happened in other states. Still, this move requires careful consideration of the proper scope of civil-rights injunctions, something that is often overlooked.
Additional thoughts on Heffernan
SCOTUS on Tuesday decided Heffernan v. City of Paterson, holding 6-2 that a public employee stated a First Amendment claim when he was demoted on supervisors' erroneous belief/perception that he was engaged in protected political activity, even if he was not. Justice Breyer wrote for the Chief, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan; Justice Thomas dissented, joined by Alito. I analyzed the opinion for SCOTUSBlog.
A few additional thoughts on the decision and the case after the jump.The line-up makes sense, given the First Amendment predilections of the Chief and Kennedy, as well as those of Alito, in the other direction. I had some doubt following argument, especially in light of how the Chief and Kennedy both have voted in First Amendment cases touching on the government's institutional interests. (This discussion between Geoff Stone and Adam Liptak explores this institutionalist tendency).
The unspoken feature of this case is qualified immunity--I do not see how any First Amendment right was clearly established at the time of Heffernan's demotion, just given the divide within the Court. Yet it has not come up. I thought that Heffernan might have sought reinstatement to his previous position as detective, an equitable remedy to which immunity would not attach. But both the majority and the dissent spoke of this only as an action for damages. The Court remanded for further consideration of other First Amendment issues, but did not mention immunity as a continuing issue for the lower courts. [Update: Duh. There is no discussion of qualified immunity because the claim is against the City, which cannot assert immunity. As to any claim against the individual, Anon's suggestion would be an intriguing way around the problem]
Finally, the latter part Thomas's dissent, distinguishing harm from violation of a right, seems to illustrate how standing and causes of action have been improperly conflated. Thomas insists that a plaintiff states a § 1983 claim only if the government "has violated Heffernan's constitutional rights, not if it has merely caused him harm." Unconstitutional conduct alone does not violate an individual's rights, even if that individual is injured, unless the conduct violates her rights.* Thomas offers an example of a blatantly unconstitutional law permitting police officers to stop motorists arbitrarily to check for license and registration. Such a law would violate the Fourth Amendment. And attempts to enforce the law may harm an individual, such as by causing her to deal with traffic delays. But if police do not stop that individual, she would not have a § 1983 claim, because any injury (traffic delays) did not amount to a violation of her Fourth Amendment right not to be unlawfully detained.
[*] Thomas frames this as whether that plaintiff falls within § 1983's zone of interests, citing Lexmark and confirming that zone of interests is now unquestionably a merits inquiry.
Thomas is right in that analysis. But it seems to me we ordinarily would talk about this as a matter of standing, not the merits of the § 1983 cause of action. For example, in Clapper, the Court found the plaintiffs lacked standing because they could not show that the challenged search program would be used to search the plaintiffs themselves. In Susan B. Anthony, standing was present because the plaintiffs had shown that the challenged law might be enforced against the plaintiff's speech. And if that same motorist brought a preemptive challenge to enforcement of the traffic-stop law, Thomas almost certainly would agree that she lacked standing because she cannot show that she will be stopped. So why did Thomas (who joined the "it's standing" majorities in SBA and Clapper) speak of it here as part of the § 1983 cause of action, a merits inquiry?
Perhaps it turns on the difference between prospective and retroactive relief. Thus, harm goes to the cause of action when the plaintiff seeks a remedy for harm that already has occurred, while it goes to jurisdiction when the plaintiff seeks a remedy for ongoing harm or harm that may occur in the future. Indeed, mootness only applies to prospective, but not retroactive, claims. But that is unsatisfying for two reasons. First, the distinction is not supported by the text of § 1983, which allows an individual who has been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution to bring an"action in law" (i.e., a claim for legal relief) or a "suit in equity" (i.e., a claim for equitable relief). The requirements for stating a cause of action under the statute do not vary with the type of relief sought, nor should the relief sought affect whether a statutory requirement is suddenly constitutionalized. Plus, prospective relief may be available for past harms in a case such as this one--there is no reason to believe Thomas's analysis would change had Heffernan sought reinstatement to remedy his previous demotion.
Alternatively, the distinction between harm/injury and right already is prominent in standing doctrine. For example, a party asserting third-party standing (e.g., doctors challenging abortion restrictions) must show their own injuries, although seeking to vindicate others' constitutional rights. On this view, whether the plaintiff has suffered an injury goes to standing, while whether the plaintiff's right has been violated goes to the cause of action and the merits of the claim. Thus, Heffernan did not present a standing problem because his injury (demotion) was clear; it only presented a statutory cause of action problem, because he had not been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution. But this seems an artificial distinction. And it is one that Thomas himself appears to disavow. He speaks of the plaintiff needing to show the "right kind of harm" to state a § 1983 claim, meaning harm resulting from a constitutional violation. In other words, Thomas defines actionable harm as harm occurring from violation of a constitutional right.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Attorneys' Fees and Departmentalism
The model of departmentalism, judgments, and precedent that I have been urging carries an obvious risk of recalcitrant officials enacting all sorts of blatantly unconstitutional laws (based on their independent constitutional judgment) or refusing to alter their conduct unless and until compelled to do so by new litigation producing a new injunction. The answer is a number of doctrines that incentivize voluntary compliance. Chief among these is attorneys' fees--in theory, if the state compels enough litigation rather than voluntary compliance, it will get expensive for the state and, perhaps, politically unpopular.
Another case in point: North Dakota enacted a "fetal heartbeat" law (no abortions after a heartbeat can be detected), which effectively banned abortions from the middle of the first trimester. The Eighth Circuit declared the law invalid, obviously, in light of SCOTUS precedent. And the state just agreed to pay $ 245k in fees for that litigation.
Will that sufficiently deter the legislature from enacting the next piece of "we think this is constitutional, no matter what the activist Court says" legislation? Hard to say.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
JOTWELL: Lahav on Prescott & Spier on Settlement
The new Courts Law essay comes from Alexandra Lahav (UConn) reviewing J.J. Prescott and Kathryn Spier's A Comprehensive Theory of Settlement (forthcoming N.Y.U. L. Rev.), which offers a broad understanding of settlement within civil litigation.
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Better Call Saul and "stealing" clients
A story line on Better Call Saul this season involves Jimmy and his girlfriend leaving their respective large firms to go solo, setting up separate practices with shared space (the separation is so she can keep doing things the right way, while he continues down his path to becoming Saul Goodman). This week, Kim resigns from the firm and recruits (successfully, she believes) the one client that she brought into the firm to follow her. But Jimmy's brother, Chuck, a name partner in the firm, pitches to get the bank to stay with the firm. The gist of the pitch is "yes, Kim is great, but I have long expertise in the complexities of banking law and the work you need done requires the staffing and resources that only can come from a large firm with a lot of associates." And it works, leaving Kim without any clients as she opens her practice.
The TV blogs, especially the comments sections, seem of a mind that Chuck screwed Jimmy and that he did so out of spite. Now, Chuck has screwed Jimmy in the past, so the audience is somewhat primed to dislike him. But did Chuck (and Howard) do anything wrong here? Kim brought the business to the firm, so it was "her" client." And we do not know the business terms between Kim and the firm, which I assume spell out the relationship among the firm, the client, and the rainmaker. But what happens when a lawyer with business leaves a firm? Can the firm try to convince the lawyer's clients to stay with the firm rather than following the individual? And Chuck's pitch in no way disparaged Kim or questioned her abilities, even implicitly; he simply argued that his firm could provide better service, which seems to be what you have to do to get business.
Of course, Jimmy sees it as strictly personal. And his response is to forge a bunch of documents to make Chuck and the firm look bad, which is where we pick up next week.
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
The duty of sources
A federal judge has ruled that "Jackie," the pseudonymous source in the discredited Rolling Stone story about sexual assault at UVa must sit for a deposition in a defamation action brought by a former university administrator. Judge Glen Conrad (W.D. Va.). refused to quash a subpoena for the woman, who claims to have been the victim of sexual assault in a fraternity house, to be deposed by the plaintiff. But Judge Conrad did limit the deposition to five hours over two days (different than the presumption 1 day/7 hours) in the rule. And he ordered the deposition be sealed.
On that last point: The Slate piece ends with the following:
Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, told The Washington Post this January that he thinks that’s for the best: “It’s an unusual situation, and I understand the argument on the other side, but I would not name her … She never solicited Rolling Stone to be written about. She’s not responsible for the journalism mistakes. To name her now just feels gratuitous, lacking sufficient public purpose. That could change depending on how the legal cases unfold, but that’s my sense now.”
Coll is right, of course, that the attention should stay on Rolling Stone and Erdely, who, unlike Jackie, had a clear responsibility to their readers . . .
So I am curious, as a matter of journalism law and ethics--How should we understand the obligation of a source in a story that goes bad?
Friday, April 01, 2016
Litigant Autonomy After Scalia--and Thanks!
In two previous posts, I reviewed new GMU Law namesake Justice Scalia’s approach to litigant autonomy—or at least, what I think his writings and cases suggest about that approach. Briefly, Scalia seemed to think litigant claim-control rights are substantive entitlements conferred by the law that creates in personam-style rights of action. I also criticized this view.
One response is, “who cares” whether or not claim-control entitlements are conferred by the law that creates rights of action. Due process requires affording litigants protection for their claim-control interests. So, even if claim control entitlements don't vest through the law that creates a right of action, protection for claim-control flows from basic due process guarantees.
My interest in how we derive autonomy rights stems from the fact I’m pretty much convinced by Sergio Campos’s thin account of the protection that ought to be afforded litigant autonomy as a matter of due process. If you buy Sergio’s due process argument, as I tend to do, and are a skeptic about the claim that autonomy is a positively conferred substantive right, it means that there's more space for work theorizing why we protect litigant autonomy to the degree that we do.
There’s already interesting work out there pursuing that project. I highly recommend Ryan Williams' piece on litigant autonomy, Due Process, Class Action Opt Outs, and the Right Not to Sue, available here. He makes an important move by reframing opt out as a protection afforded claim-owners’ interests in controlling whether to assert a claim in the first place.
In this paper, I rotate our view of litigant autonomy in a slightly different direction. The power to control a claim is not just the power to control whether to assert it—but where to assert it. It’s the power to put legal issues and remedial interests on a court’s dispute resolution agenda.
In the article, I make two claims about agenda-setting power conferred by claim-control—the first, which I will quickly summarize below the line for those who might be interested, is that the shift opens the door to appreciating that litigant autonomy actually does some important work in our system of judicial federalism.
Although federal-state jurisdictional concurrency is characterized in a number of different ways, I take the conventional view: concurrency uses judicial competition to break down or check concentration of the business of dispute resolution in the federal system.
Concurrency does this in part through what might be called agenda-setting rules—rules that specify who gets to pick between competing forums. Subject to some exceptions, our system generally employs a plaintiffs-pick-the-forum rule, reflected in, say, the well-pleaded complaint rule and voluntary/involuntary rule in diversity jurisdiction. Together, both empower plaintiffs to control which courts, state or federal, get to decide their case by exploiting aspects of claim-control--their control the theory of the case and the party structure.
Scholars puzzle over the plaintiff-picks-the-forum rule. Considered in isolation, it plausibly furthers the anti-concentration goal of concurrency-- largely because plaintiffs have historically tended, for a variety of reasons, to prefer state over federal court.
But, the plaintiff-picks rule really gains its force as a check on federal consolidation when it is layered on top of the principle that individual plaintiffs control their own claims—or in other words, when plaintiff-picks is hitched to a regime of litigant autonomy. Litigant autonomy decentralizes the power to set the judicial agenda among a network of claim owners. Because litigants, in turn, naturally tend to have different forum preferences, that decentralization tends to fragment litigation across federal and state forums.
Not perfectly, of course. And not evenly. But it does so nonetheless. That’s, indeed, exactly what we see when we take the class device away, as we have, for the most part, in mass torts. The federal class action consolidates remedial interests in federal court in part because it overrides class members’ autonomy and with it their exploit the theory of the case and party structure to control where their claims end up. Take the class action away, give class members control over their own claims, and some chunks of mass litigation inevitably radiate out of federal courts reach into state court as litigants exploit their claim-control to park there claims there. True before CAFA. True after.
This fact, I argue, points out the plausibility of treating the traditional claim-control entitlement as traditional component of the system of concurrency—one that furthers that system’s anti-concentration goals.
That’s my first claim—litigant autonomy does some work in our system of judicial federalism. My second claim is that appreciating litigant autonomy’s role in the system of concurrency has some interesting formal implications for federal class action doctrine—one that allows us to draw on intertwined separation of powers and federalism principles to make a case for narrow constructions of Rule 23. (The argument also reinforces the claim made by others that the Court ought to be deferential to the rulemaking bureaucracy—treating it, effectively, as a stand-in for Congress or, put another way, as a system of internal separation of powers--a point I’m exploring in a current working paper).
My argument, incidentally, echoes older, and lost, approach to litigant autonomy that appears in mid-century cases (see the oft-neglected concluding part of State Farm Fire & Casualty v. Tashire, where the Court construes statutory interpleader's application to mass torts narrowly in order to protect litigants’ “substantial right” to choose a state forum, for example). Rather than summarize this second claim, I’ll let you read the article yourself, if you are interested.
Thanks to Howard and Prawfs for the invite to blog over the last month!
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Misrepresenting the Employment Law Impact of HB 2
One of the most disappointing and infuriating things about the HB2 saga in North Carolina has been the persistent misrepresentation of its impact by Gov. McCrory and its supporters in the General Assembly. As an employment and civil procedure scholar (and former long time litigator), I take particular umbrage at the gross misrepresentations related to the elimination of the state law claim for employment discrimination (discussed in my last post, here).
The misrepresentations started in the General Assembly where the Republican sponsors repeatedly asserted that nothing in HB2 would take away existing rights. Even when directly questioned about the elimination of the state law wrongful discharge claim for employment discrimination, Republican legislators responded that it would have no effect. [I am basing the foregoing primarily on tweets from reporters on the scene as I was not in Raleigh for the “debate.”]
The misrepresentations continued when Gov. McCrory issued his statement announcing he had signed HB2 into law. In that statement, he stated “[a]lthough other items included in this bill should have waited until regular session, this bill does not change existing rights under state or federal law.” (emphasis added). Gov. McCrory doubled down on this misrepresentation in a document entitled “Myths vs Facts: What New York Times, Huffington Post and other media outlets aren't saying about common-sense privacy law” (here), which was posted on his official website on Friday, March 25. In this document, question #2 is “Does this bill take away existing protections for individuals in North Carolina?” Gov. McCrory’s answer: “No.”
Put simply, McCrory’s statements are clearly and undeniably false.
However, the most persistent voice in misrepresenting the impact of this provision of HB 2 has been (perhaps not surprisingly) HB 2’s author and sponsor, Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg). Rep. Bishop is an attorney. When pressed by a reporter on whether HB2 eliminated the longstanding state law claim for wrongful discharge, Rep. Bishop acknowledged that it likely did, but said “who cares” because you could get the same remedies under federal law. In a separate interview, Rep. Bishop said the elimination of the state law claim “is an exceedingly minor procedural difference."
Rep. Bishop graduated from UNC-CH law with high honors, so I will assume he does actually understand the differences between (1) substantive and procedural law; and (2) federal and state employment discrimination law. But assuming he understands the distinctions, one must conclude that he is intentionally misrepresenting the impact.
Whether the elimination of a state law claim is “substantive” or “an exceedingly minor procedural difference” is beyond rational debate. Having 28 days to respond to a motion instead of 30 days is an exceedingly minor procedural difference. Eliminating a state law claim that has existed for 34 years, is indisputably substantive and significant.
I’ll take up the substantive differences between federal employment discrimination claims under Title VII (or the ADEA) versus North Carolina’s now defunct claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy premised on EEPA in my next post.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Hulk Hogan and Complete Diversity
My best guess is that the $ 115 million verdict (likely to be substantially increased when the jury considers punitive damages next week) in favor of Hulk Hogan (ne, Terry Bollea) against Gawker will not stand. From what I have read, the judge made a number of questionable evidentiary rulings and gave a jury instruction that minimized the role of the First Amendment. And some facts will be subject to independent appellate review because they implicate the First Amendment.
But I want to discuss a different question that I missed two years ago--why the case was in a Florida state court at all, where Hogan seems to have gotten some home cooking. Hogan sued Gawker and Heather Clem, the woman in the video; Clem and Hogan are both Florida citizens, destroying complete diversity. Gawker removed anyway, but the district court remanded, rejecting Gawker's argument that Clem was fraudulently joined (as well as an argument that the First or Fourteenth Amendments were necessarily raised by Hogan's state tort claims, creating federal question jurisdiction).
The common defense of the complete diversity requirement, most recently reaffirmed in Exxon Mobil, is that the presence of non-diverse adverse parties eliminates the local bias that is the primary rationale for diversity jurisdiction; Hogan would not receive the benefit of local favoritism because a Floridian is on the other side of the case. But that argument ignores the risk of prejudice against the outsider (as opposed to bias for the local), which is not eliminated by the presence of a local co-party. This is exacerbated when there is disparity in the regard in which the locals are held in that community, such that one side is more of the local community than the other. And it is exacerbated when the outsider-defendant is the real target of the action, the deep-pocketed "big bad."
For jurisdictional purposes, this case looks very much like New York Times v. Sullivan: You have a well-known southern local plaintiff suing a New York-based media outlet, with a locally unpopular individual defendant thrown-in to destroy complete diversity and keep the case in state court. And you have a jury rendering a verdict that sends a pretty clear message about what it regards as outrageous speech. The problem for Gawker is that SCOTUS is unlikely to bail it out the way it did The Times. So Gawker will be relying on the Florida courts to get it out of this First Amendment bind (from all reports, paying anything close to this amount will bankrupt the company).
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Twiqbal boldly goes where no man has gone before
In late December, Paramount and CBS filed a copyright infringement action against a small company making a short fan-fiction (Kickstarter-funded) movie, a prequel to the Original Recipe series featuring a one-off character from one episode who also has appeared in some expanded-universe books. The producers moved to dismiss, arguing that the complaint relied too much on information-and-belief allegations and did not specify what works were infringed or how. The plaintiffs have now amended their complaint to include 28 pages of details and photos that serious Trek fans (I confess to having stopped with Original Recipe) will love, including the origins of the Klingon language and the structure of the Federation and Klingon governments.
Litigate long and prosper.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Scalia & Litigant Autonomy, Part 2
In a previous post, I discussed how Justice Scalia seemed to think laws creating claims for individualized relief generally also vest claim-holders with substantive rights to control their own claims. In this post, I want to explore some problems with substance-izing claim-control.
First, though, here are a few (very significant!) consequences of this Scalia-ian conception of claim-control:
• Once we view claim-control as a substantive entitlement, its tough to see how courts can interpretively extend the scope of mandatory classing (e.g. under Rules 23(b)(1)(B) and 23(b)(2)) much beyond current boundaries without butting up against the Rules Enabling Act’s ban on procedures that alter or abridge substantive rights.
• Viewing claim-control as a substantive entitlement removes rulemakers’ flexibility to expand mandatory classing via Rules amendments, again thanks to the Enabling Act.
• This conception of claim-control also restricts states—if individualized claim-control rights are embedded in federal rights of action for individualized relief, that leads to reverse Erie constraints on state mandatory class action procedures.
• Conceptualizing claim-control as a substantive right requires conceptualizing the class as an aggregation of individually controlled claims, ratter than as a juridical entity (i.e., a fictive party subject to legal consequences that vest independently of the choices of individual class members). And as my friend and future co-author Andy Trask notes, the Roberts Court has indeed tended to reject the entity model. Yet, even today, there are any number of judge-made rules that seem to accept the entity view of the class. Although some of these penumbral doctrines might be reconcilable with the view that claims confer a substantive control entitlement, others—particularly, the rule that the class counsel represents the class as a whole and so can settle individual class members’ claims over their objections—seem harder to justify in a world of substance-ized claim-control.
Some might respond to this (partial) list of consequences with a shrug: The restriction on mandatory classing is a feature of the theory, not a bug. And if some aspects of class action doctrine are, at the end of the day, inconsistent with a substantive conception of claim-control—this is a problem with these doctrines, not with substance-izing claim-control.
And that response seems totally right!—if rights to control claims are, in fact, part of the underlying right of action. The problem is that substance-izing claim-control rights doesn’t, on closer examination, really wash.
Here’s Ernest Young: “[E]ven in statutory cases, legislative intent about which plaintiffs ought to be permitted to sue will generally be fictional. Congress will not have addressed the problem, and the courts will need to rely largely on default presumptions.” “[T]he Court will need to recognize that it cannot do without prudential rules [that specify who can sue] entirely,” Young continues in another article. “Then the hard work of specifying which prudential rules are legitimate, which are not, and why can begin.” (my emphasis).
Yeah, careful reader, I know--he’s not writing here about class actions. He’s writing about the jurisdictional (and quasi-jurisdictional “prudential”) law of standing. But his point is equally applicable to class action law’s litigant autonomy norm.
The reality (I argue in the first part of this article, which, like this cute puppy, is still looking for its forever home, law review editors) is: Lots and lots of rights of action just don’t specify claim-control rights. And the inferences we can draw about legislative intent from background assumptions are actually pretty inconclusive—its been a long, long time since there was anything like a consensus in our law or legal culture about who, among a class of injured parties, ought to control their claims. That leaves the “usual rule that litigation is conducted by and for the named parties only” looking an awful lot like a judicial custom, informed, like the law of prudential standing, by both constitutional and forum-specific institutional values.
At the end of the day, the Scalia-era equation of that custom with substantive law did some good by reminding courts that they also need to be attentive to case-specific policies of the underlying substantive schemes when thinking about how much control class members should exercise over their own claims. But, even so, turning our attention in this direction answers fewer questions than we hoped—leaving those who want to put the Court’s treatment of litigant autonomy in the law of class actions on firmer footing with lots more work to do.
In a future post, I’ll suggest some overlooked avenues defenders of the Court’s cases might pursue.
Monday, March 07, 2016
Jurisdiction, merits, and same-sex marriage
SCOTUS today granted cert and reversed the Supreme Court of Alabama, holding that under the Full Faith & Credit Clause, Alabama must recognize a Georgia second-parent adoption between same-sex partners.
SCoA had held that F/F/C was not required because the Georgia courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction to do a second-parent adoption for an unmarried couple, where the biological parent's rights were not terminated. But the propriety of the adoption was a matter of the merits, not jurisdiction. Georgia trial courts have general jurisdiction over "all matters of adoption," which this clearly was. The Court then turned to its usual jurisdictionality touchstones--the relevant statute does not speak in jurisdictional terms, does not refer to jurisdiction, has never been interpreted (by Georgia courts) as jurisdictional (Georgia courts recognize the line between whether a court has power and whether to grant relief), and the fact that the provision is mandatory does not make it jurisdictional. Georgia's rule of decision as to whether to allow an adoption does not speak to or limit the power of the state court to decide this type of case. SCoA thus was wrong (yet again, when it comes to marriage equality--it's been a bad week) in trying to squeeze this into the lack-of-jurisdiction exception to F/F/C.
Sunday, March 06, 2016
TRAP laws, rump SCOTUS, and the shadow docket
1) Based on arguments, one possible resolution in Whole Women's Health is a remand to build a better record as to 1) whether the state law caused the the clinic closures in the state and 2) whether the remaining clinics can meet the demand in the state. This would buy another year or more on the case, with enforcement halted in the meantime.
2) On Friday, the Court stayed enforcement of Louisiana's admitting-privileges laws (specifically--the district court had enjoined enforcement and declined to stay the injunction pending appeal; the Fifth Circuit had stayed enforcement of the injunction pending appeal, making the laws immediately enforceable even as the appeal proceeded; and SCOTUS vacated that stay, rendering the laws not enforceable.
3) WWH is one obvious candidate for a 4-4 split producing an affirmance by an evenly divided court, leaving in place the Fifth Circuit judgment declaring the state laws constitutional. Justice Kennedy has ruled in favor of the constitutionality of every abortion restriction the Court has considered since Casey and he is willing to buy even scientifically unsupported state justifications for restrictions (e.g., that women regret terminating pregnancies and the state can protect them against that regret by restricting their reproductive health options). Kennedy seemed at least somewhat skeptical of these laws during last week's arguments, although it is not clear whether he was skeptical enough to declare invalid these laws or the general concept of TRAP laws.
4) There will be no one in Justice Scalia's seat until, at the earliest, October 2017. And perhaps beyond, depending on how the November election goes. That means that this 4-4 split may remain for several years (unless, of course, one of the remaining three 75-and-over Justices leaves the Court).
5) This issue has the potential to reflect, in procedural terms, the marriage equality litigation: Many states enacting near-identical laws for similar reasons and purposes, such that a single SCOTUS decision necessarily knocks out the constitutionality of all laws, triggering a large state-by-state litigation campaign seeking that final decision.
So might the Court take the following out in the short-term?Remand WWH to the Fifth Circuit for further factfinding on causation and/or capacity of remaining clinics. Kennedy (and maybe even the Chief) might like the out. And faced with the alternative of affirming an adverse lower-court judgment, Ginsburg/Breyer/Sotomayor/Kagan might be willing to go along. Meanwhile, bar enforcement of the laws from other states as they are challenged, which has the effect of maintaining the status quo (clinics remain open); eventually, the lower courts themselves will get the hint and take steps to halt enforcement pending appeal. Eventually, a case will be teed-up for merits resolution by a fully staffed Court--again, depending on who wins the presidency, who replaces Scalia, and who else leaves the Court in the first two years of the new administration.
Friday, March 04, 2016
Alabama Supreme Court dismisses SSM mandamus
The Supreme Court of Alabama today dismissed the pending motions and petitions in the larger mandamus action filed by several advocacy groups to stop probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I have not had a chance to read it yet; it includes a lengthy opinion from Chief Justice explaining why he is no longer recusing himself from the action and why Obergefell is evil.
Update: The upshot is that there is no longer any state-court order obligating probate judges to act inconsistently with Obergefell. Some still might, of course, but they cannot rely on the state court to justify doing so. Marty Lederman's analysis captures the continuing confusion, given the seeming disconnect among the Order, the Certificate of Judgment, and the various concurring opinions, as well as the likely practical consequences (not many). Adding to the confusion--if the March 2015 mandamus order remains in effect, then what "petitions" (as distinct from various motions) were dismissed by Friday's order? [Further Update: Marty points to several separate petitions filed since March, including one by a probate judge asking the court to declare his entitlement to religious objections to issuing licenses to same-sex couples, in light of the jailing of Kim Davis.]
The interesting question is whether anyone can or will appeal the Alabama order. I expect it is unnecessary. If necessary, the federal court will enforce its injunction against any recalcitrant probate judges without regard to the continuing state order. To the unlikely extent Judge Granade refuses to enforce, plaintiffs can appeal the federal order and get the Eleventh Circuit (or SCOTUS, if things really go sideways) to enforce Obergefell and ignore the state court. All of which further supports Marty's point that SCoA's order will sit there, ignored but embarrassing in its existence.Finally, a quick comment on Justice Shaw's concurrence. He is dubious of departmentalism, which he calls "silly" and "rather nonsensical hairsplitting," since, even if Obergefell is not directly applicable, a later decision applying Obergefell will be. And he is correct in the sense that departmentalism rests on formalism--an executive official can resist Supreme Court precedent until that precedent is quickly applied in a case to which he is a party. At the same time, Shaw unwittingly captures the basic ideas behind what I have been calling "judicial departmentalism"--whatever executive officers can do, lower courts (including state courts) are bound by SCOTUS precedent (whether 5-4 or 9-0, whether the lower-court judges agree with it).
Scalia and Litigant Autonomy
A belated, blawg-y RIP, Justice Scalia. Over my next couple of posts, I want to talk a little bit about Justice Scalia’s legacy in an area where it doesn’t get a ton of play—class actions. Lots of posts around the web already note that Scalia was, of course, the fifth vote in important rulings restricting the class action. Without Scalia, you don’t get the common answers test from Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes or the majority in Comcast v Behrend. And so on.
But what gets neglected about Scalia is that he seemed to have a pretty distinctive way of conceptualizing external constraints on the class action, one that has made some inroads on the way proceduralists think about these questions—but also one that has never quite prevailed (which is probably a good thing).
In this post, I’m going to focus on litigant autonomy (for non-proceduralists, this is the term we proceduralists like to use to refer to litigants’ control of their own claims). Protecting that autonomy is, of course, one of the guiding norms of class action law.
As the term “litigant autonomy” itself evidences, lawyers have a tendency to describe the provenance of litigants’ claim-control entitlement in pretty ethereal terms— as a judicially-bestowed liberty that due process requires courts to give litigants for one or more “deep-rooted” normative reasons (dignity, participation, etc.). (There’s also a huge literature, of course, offering various sophisticated ways to theorize litigant autonomy’s normative foundations.)
One of Scalia’s characteristic moves was to push the way we think about autonomy in a positivist direction—to treat litigants’ rights to control their own claims as, first and foremost, a question of substantive law.
It’s a move that paralleled, and really was probably influenced by, the way he approached prudential standing, one of his longstanding bête noires. That might strike some readers as a weird thing to say. Prudential standing and class action law’s litigant autonomy norm aren’t routinely grouped together—partly a product, perhaps, of the accident that prudential standing and class actions often get taught in different classes by different professors.
But, for Scalia, they seemed to be linked—as, really, they should be. One of the three traditional prudential standing limits is “the general prohibition on a litigant’s raising another person’s legal rights.” That general prohibition is, of course, just a re-description of what we proceduralists call litigant autonomy. And in fact, there’s a deep, but neglected historical link between prudential standing doctrine and the litigant autonomy norm in class action doctrine that’s worth exploring. Take Califano v. Yamasaki’s statement that class actions are an “exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only.” The passage really echoes the language of the Court’s prudential standing caselaw.
Scalia, in keeping with his general distaste for judicial lawmaking, was, to say the least, not a big fan of prudential standing. And he ultimately succeeded in killing off two of its legs (the zone of interests test and the ban on assertion of generalized grievances) in Lexmark International v. Static Control Components, while leaving the prudential rule against third party standing on life support.
I can’t describe the bottom line of Lexmark any better than Ernest Young, so here’s his take from his very good article on the case:
Writing in 1988, Professor (now judge) William Fletcher reinterpreted standing doctrine as grounded in the substance of the plaintiff’s claim—not in general principles emanating from Article III. “Standing,” Fletcher wrote, “should simply be a question on the merits of plaintiff’s claim;” hence, “[t]he essence of a true standing question is the following: Does the plaintiff have a legal right to judicial enforcement of an asserted legal duty?” It followed that “[t]his question should be seen as a question of substantive law, answerable by reference to the statutory or constitutional provision whose protection is invoked.” Fletcher urged that this inquiry should replace the traditional constitutional requirements courts had found in Article III, such as injury-in-fact, and that position remains heresy at the Supreme Court. But one may fairly read Lexmark as adopting Fletcher’s analysis for purposes of prudential standing. The thrust of Justice Scalia’s opinion, after all, is to replace general, judge-made notions of prudence with a substantive inquiry into the intent of particular statutory provisions. (emphasis mine).
This was also largely the answer Scalia seemed to give when he turned, in recent class action cases, to the provenance of litigants’ autonomy or claim-control rights. Take Shady Grove Orthopedics v. Allstate, where he implied that eliminating opt out rights for damages claims would abridge class-members' “substantive rights,” contra the Rules Enabling Act. Sergio Campos suggested, in this excellent article, that Scalia here was treating claim-control entitlements as one of a bundle of substantive entitlements conferred by rights of action. Viewing this allusive passage next to Lexmark really drives home, I think, the rightness of that reading.
For Scalia, deriving individualized claim-control rights from the substantive law was pretty straightforward. Historically, in personam-type rights to individualized remedies were controlled by the right-holder. Against the backdrop of this historical practice, it only makes sense to assume that when a statute creates a personal right to individual compensatory damages and says nothing about allocation of claim-control entitlements, it intends to vest those entitlements in the traditional way.
This approach holds out the usual Scalia-ian promise that we can excise judicial value judgments, solve questions about the allocation of claim-control rights through ordinary legal science, while shifting that allocative decision, in the first instance, to the accountable political process. It doesn’t eliminate due process from the equation—lawmakers’ ability to override the claim-control norm is of course subject to due process limits (that remain fuzzily-limned in the caselaw). But because the claim-control limit is already embedded in substantive law, the scope of those limits isn’t something that courts have to wade into.
To my mind, there’s some appeal to this approach. But it also creates some perplexing problems for class action law, which I’ll explore in a subsequent post.
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.