Sunday, July 09, 2017

Citizen video and other § 1983 puzzles

In Fields v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit joined the parade of courts of appeals recognizing a First Amendment right to record police in public in a non-interfering way, subject to time, place, and manner limitations. It is now the Fifth, First, Seventh, Eleventh, and Ninth Circuits, with none going the other way (prior to this, the Third Circuit had avoided the issue by twice holding that the right was not clearly established without addressing the merits). The case arose from two separate actions--one by a woman who was physically moved and held to keep her from recording the arrest of a protester, the other by a man who was arrested and charged with obstructing a public passage for recording officers from a sidewalk across the street.

Two thoughts.

In explaining the need for and importance of this First Amendment right, the court included this line: "To record what there is the right for the eye to see or the ear to hear corroborates or lays aside subjective impressions for objective facts. Hence to record is to see and hear more accurately." Recent experience with body cameras and police shootings shows this statement, at least in the absolute form presented in the first sentence, is wrong. Not that recording is not or should not be protected; only that it does not present "objective fact" or eliminate subjectivity. In fact, subjectivity likely is why the police officers involved in the incidents in this case stopped the plaintiffs from recording--they did not want video getting out that could be viewed by the public in an adverse way, even if they might have found a way to explain it away.

Second, this decision may be as significant for its discussion of § 1983 doctrine, showing how qualified immunity makes damages liability difficult, if not impossible.

The City asked the court to pretermit the merits and grant qualified immunity (as had two prior Third Circuit panels) because the right was not clearly established. The court declined to "take the easy way out." In justifying this approach, the court pointed to several considerations that SCOTUS identified as benefits to merits-first: the importance and frequency of the constitutional issue, the need of police departments for guidance on the issue, the purely legal, non-fact-bound nature of the issue, and the quality of the briefing (with amicus briefs from several advocacy organizations, a group of First Amendment professors, and DOJ's Civil Rights Division).

Nevertheless, after recognizing the right, the majority held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the right to record was not clearly established. There was no Third Circuit precedent and precedent from other circuits and from district courts was factually distinguishable (some of those cases based the right on the presence of expressive intent by the recorder, while the Third Circuit recognized a right to record, regardless of what the recorder planned to do with the recording). The court also refused to find the right clearly established based on Philadelphia Police Department policy recognizing a First Amendment right to record. The problem was that the plaintiffs sought municipal liability based on the failure of those policies to effectively instruct officers about this right; if the policies were ineffective, then they could not clearly establish the right so any reasonable officer would know there was a First Amendment right to record, as most officers did not know of the right.

Judge Nygaard dissented on qualified immunity. He argued that the right was clearly established given the unanimity in other circuits, Department policy, and 2012 DOJ recommendations that local departments establish policies to affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right;* those three things placed the right to record "beyond debate" and placed officers on unambiguous actual notice that they must allow members of the public to record their activities. Nygaard also argued that a reasonable officer's "lived experience" informed him of the pervasiveness of recording devices and their routine integration into daily lives, with the resulting First Amendment implications.

[*] Recent consent decrees with cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore included provisions requiring police departments to recognize and not interfere with the First Amendment right to record in public.

The majority's analysis demonstrates the unfortunate breadth of qualified immunity. Factual distinctions are always possible with precedent--the Third Circuit had previously accepted (or at least had not flatly rejected) that there might be a meaningful distinction between filming a sidewalk encounter and filming a traffic stop. It thus is possible that this decision will do nothing for the next case in which an officer prevents someone from recording, if the officer can find some small distinction to the incidents in this case--the recorder was on the same side of the street rather than across the street, the person was momentarily stopped from recording but not arrested, the plaintiff was recording a physical altercation rather than an arrest. The possible distinctions are boundless.

I also do not buy the reasons the majority rejected reliance on department policy as a basis to clearly establish the right. There is nothing inconsistent with saying that department policy should have placed a reasonable officer on notice that there was a constitutional right to record (thus clearly establishing the right) and that department policy was constitutionally insufficient because officers were ignoring it and department officials were not providing further training (thus establishing municipal liability). They go to different issues involving different standards.

On the other hand, SCOTUS' recent string of summary reversals rejects the big-picture approach to qualified immunity that the dissent took in relying on broad legal principles divorced from specific facts, with no applicable SCOTUS precedent. So while normatively preferable, Judge Nygaard's approach would  draw more attention and a possible summary reversal.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 9, 2017 at 10:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 07, 2017

The district court's injunction (Updated Twice)

Judge Watson in the District of Hawaii last night refused to rule on the plaintiffs' Motion to Clarify the Scope of the Preliminary in the travel ban case. The plaintiffs, he ruled, were asking him to clarify the meaning of language in the Supreme Court's opinion and order, not his order; that request should be directed to SCOTUS. Ilya Somin criticizes the ruling, pointing out that interpreting and applying the language of rulings from higher courts is what district courts do. Lyle Deniston questions whether there is a procedure for asking SCOTUS to clarify language in the opinion, short of a motion for reconsideration. Michael Dorf is a bit more forgiving, arguing that Watson's ruling is not crazy, given the confusion involved when cases are moving up and down the hierarchical judicial system.

I agree that Judge Watson was wrong, for the reasons all three commentators describe. I want to make explicit one point that I believe is implicit in their posts (and that Remedies guru Doug Laycock made on a listserv): The injunction, albeit as modified by SCOTUS, remains Judge Watson's order and it remains his duty to enforce that modified injunction. And that entails figuring out the scope of the injunction, which means figuring out precisely how SCOTUS modified it, which means figuring out what SCOTUS meant in its opinion. The trial court must do that in the first instance--SCOTUS can reverse that interpretation on appeal if it disagrees. My point is that this goes beyond the ordinary situation of lower courts determining and applying SCOTUS precedent to a new case or even to the same case (for example, applying a new legal standard to evaluate the merits of the claim). This is about a district judge enforcing his own injunction going forward.

The plaintiffs have appealed the denial of the motion, presumably because this is an order refusing to modify an injunction. My best guess is that the Ninth Circuit summarily reverses and tells Judge Watson to determine the scope of his injunction.

[Update, Saturday, July 8: I want to say I was half-right. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, because the order did not do anything of the things enumerated in § 1292(a)(1), because it sought a declaration rather than an injunction, and because the plaintiffs could still seek injunctive relief in the district court. The Ninth Circuit added that the district court "does possess the ability to interpret and enforce the Supreme Court's order, as well as the authority to enjoin against, for example, a party's violation of the Supreme Court's order placing effective limitations on the scope of the district court's preliminary injunction." In other words, plaintiffs filed the wrong motion. They should have moved to enforce the district court's injunction-as-modified or to hold the government in contempt of the district court's injunction-as-modified--and in the course of resolving those motions, the district court must decide what the Supreme Court said and meant. Presumably, that is what the plaintiffs will do in the district court. [Second Update, Saturday afternoon: Motion to Enforce, or in the alternative, to Modify]

The Ninth Circuit's was surprisingly rigid. Courts of appeals typically take jurisdiction under § 1292(a)(1) if the order is within sniffing distance of an injunction or its enforcement. Plus, it was obvious that the plaintiffs were asking the district court to enforce the injunction according to its proper terms (based on SCOTUS modification) by determining those proper terms. In some sense, the Ninth Circuit did tell the district court it was wrong and that it did have power to decide what SCOTUS meant; the plaintiffs simply captioned their motion incorrectly. This is different than what the district court said, in directing all issues to SCOTUS.]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 7, 2017 at 01:09 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

SCOTUS OT16 Symposium: How to Argue About Personal Jurisdiction

Cassandra’s post below strikes me as basically right: after a long drought, the Court is paying serious attention to personal jurisdiction. So it’s worth looking at the state of the field.

The personal-jurisdiction debates I’ve seen—on blogs or Facebook posts, in email chains or in briefs and opinions—invoke a wide variety of different arguments. What’s striking, at least to me, is a lack of substantial attention to determining what counts as a good argument—what makes particular claims about personal jurisdiction either true or false. (As noted below, this is part of a broader failing in constitutional scholarship, effectively discussed in Chris Green’s work-in-progress on constitutional truthmakers.) In other words, a great many personal-jurisdiction arguments seem to be largely talking past each other, rather than joining issue on something we can resolve.

 

For example, many arguments I’ve seen are openly prudential. They argue that upholding (or denying) jurisdiction in such-and-such a case would be a good policy idea, that it would make the legal system better rather than worse, that it would open courthouse doors to sympathetic plaintiffs or lift heavy burdens from sympathetic defendants. But the law does lots of things that are terrible policy ideas, in all sorts of ways: just think of the tax code. So it’s not clear why we should feel confident that any particular good idea would be the right answer on the law—or that any given bad idea is therefore the wrong answer on the law.

Other arguments root themselves in judicial doctrine: personal jurisdiction is present or not because the courts have so held, or because the best reconciliation of their past decisions would so hold, or (to be more Holmesian) because that’s what they’re most likely to hold in the future. On the most extreme account, personal jurisdiction is whatever the courts say it is, so it’s impossible for the courts to be wrong. But many people who deploy these arguments seem to use them to criticize judicial decisions—as if the courts have somehow made mistakes in predicting their own rulings. And even paying due respect to accumulated doctrine, what the courts seem to be saying here is that personal jurisdiction isn’t whatever they say it is: they keep rooting their jurisdictional holdings in other legal rules, with sources external to judicial doctrine alone.

Usually courts root their holdings in the Due Process Clause, ostensibly as generous here as elsewhere (“Turn it over, and turn it over, for all is therein”). But here, too, there’s little effort spent on identifying what counts as a good due-process argument—on what makes claims about jurisdiction-being-consistent-with-due-process true or false. It might involve the defendant’s burden, or the state’s legitimate interests, or fundamental fairness, or a political-theory concept like sovereignty, or history-and-tradition, or some complicated weighted sum of the above. (And over all of these looms the ghost of Pennoyer, which still casts its dark shadow over the U.S. Reports no matter how often academics declare that it was killed off, once and for all, by Insurance Corp. of Ireland or by International Shoe.)

Put another way, the same inattention to truthmakers that we see in con law debates shows up in personal jurisdiction too. This makes some sense, because personal jurisdiction is all about the scope of the powers exercised by various state or federal officials; that’s a topic in small-c constitutional law, whether or not it’s actually resolved by the contents of the U.S. Constitution. But it also explains some of the pathologies of personal-jurisdiction scholarship, because members of different schools will insist loudly on particular priors—the role of interstate federalism, the needs of plaintiffs, the apparently prophetic authority of von Mehren and Trautman—without trying to explain why other people ought to be convinced of them too, on grounds that they might share. There's no escape for civil procedure folks, who often imagine their field to be more rigorous and determinate than that of their con-law colleagues down the hall, from stating and defending their constitutional commitments.

The best way to understand the current confusion is probably to see where it came from. On my reading of the history, the phrase “due process of law” wasn’t supposed to enact substantive standards for jurisdiction—as opposed to a means of enforcing standards supplied by other sources, such as general and international law. Trying to squeeze detailed jurisdictional rules out of those four words is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. So it shouldn’t surprise us that, after nearly a century of misattributing complex general- and international-law rules to a single phrase in the Constitution, we’d find our underlying jurisdictional principles hard to state or explain—much less to apply to new circumstances, or to ground in more general understandings of the law.

Likewise, it’s not surprising that standards derived from older doctrines of general and international law might prove somewhat awkward, from a policy perspective, in an era with more extensive cross-border activity. That’s why jurisdiction might be an area most properly addressed by statute. Looking to some future decision of the Court to sort everything out for us is a false hope: nine Justices and their clerks don’t have enough time to work out good policy solutions for all of America, and they also lack the legal authority to try. Congress may have the right to make certain kinds of arbitrary compromises, in pursuit of rough justice, that courts in our system don’t. Failing that, the courts will continue to muddle through. I wouldn’t call this pessimism, so much as appropriate caution about what judges and courts can properly achieve.

But it would help, in the meantime, if we who think and write about the subject were better about clarifying our terms, and about trying to argue with rather than against one another. If we think a result is bad policy, we should say that it’s bad policy. If we think that a holding is inconsistent with the deep principles of International Shoe, we should say that instead, and defend why those principles should matter to those who view them with indifference. And if we think that a particular decision is wrong on the law, we should be clear about what we mean by that, and on the sources of the legal rules that we invoke. Doing all this may not lead to consensus or agreement, at least not right away; but at least we’ll be talking about the same thing, which is the first step to understanding it.

Posted by Stephen Sachs on July 5, 2017 at 11:43 AM in 2016-17 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Legal Theory | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SCOTUS OT16 Symposium (Sort Of): Call for Papers on Amending the Constitution

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." This term may not have been a blockbuster, but there have been plenty of constitutional cases that people disagreed with—sometimes strongly. One way to change them is to change the Court's membership; another way, and often a better one, is to change the Constitution.

With our organizer's kind permission, here's the call-for-papers for a conference on amending the Constitution, to be held at Duke on February 2, 2018. If you have ideas for how to make it better, send them in!

 

 

Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy
DJCLPP Annual Spring Symposium: Call for Proposals

The Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy (DJCLPP) seeks submissions for a Symposium on amending the Constitution to be held at Duke University School of Law on February 2, 2018.

This year, our Symposium will be organized with the assistance of Professor Stephen Sachs.

Topic

The Founders recognized that the Constitution was an imperfect document. Over the past 230 years, however, Article V’s amendment procedure has been used only rarely. The topic for the 2018 Spring Symposium will be An Even More Perfect Union: Proposed Amendments to the Constitution. Each article will propose a different amendment to the Constitution. Articles will offer enactment-ready language for these amendments, defend the need for their adoption, explain the choices made in their drafting, and describe possible routes to enactment.

Invited participants will receive assistance with travel and lodging expenses. Practitioners and others working in the field are welcome to attend.

How to Submit Your Proposal

Proposals should be sent with the subject line “Symposium Proposal” to clj-submissions@law.duke.edu by July 14, 2017. Please attach a copy of your CV to your proposal. Inquiries via this email address should be directed to DJCLPP ’s Special Projects Editor, Wendy Becker.

Proposals should include the following:

  • A proposed title for your article
  • Draft text for your proposed amendment
  • An abstract or brief description (no more than 500 words) explaining and defending your proposal

 Important Dates

  • July 14, 2017: Deadline to submit proposals
  • July 28, 2017: Proposals selected on or before this date
  • August 4, 2017: Deadline for commitments received from authors
  • January 5, 2018: Draft articles due
  • February 2, 2018: Symposium held at Duke University School of Law
  • Spring 2018: DJCLPP’s Volume 13 published 

For questions, comments, or information about the Journal, please feel free to email the above address.

Thank you, and we look forward to your proposal.

Sincerely,

Wendy Becker
Special Projects Editor
Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, Volume 13

Posted by Stephen Sachs on June 28, 2017 at 04:22 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, Symposium | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SCOTUS Symposium: A Pair of Posts on Abbasi's Flawed Historical, Analytical, and Theoretical Foundations

I'm embarrassingly late to the non-stop party that is the Prawfs end-of-Term symposium, but thought I should at least flag here a pair of posts I've written elsewhere about Monday's decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi, why I think it's the clubhouse leader for most important ruling of the Term, and why that—and it—should bother all of us (a lot).

On Monday, over at Just Security, I wrote a post about "the four key analytical moves Justice Kennedy makes in laying the groundwork for the holding that courts shouldn’t recognize such 'Bivens' claims here (or in most other contexts), and break down why each of the moves is independently problematic." In a nutshell, the Abbasi opinion (1) ignored the rich history of common-law damages remedies against federal officers; (2) refused to grapple with the (potentially constitutional) implications of the Westfall Act, which has been read to foreclose previously available state-law remedies for federal constitutional violations; (3) accepted the deeply problematic analogy to the role of courts in implying statutory causes of action; and (4) held out habeas petitions as a meaningful alternative remedy for the constitutional violations alleged by the plaintiffs.

Today, I have a post up at Lawfare that more directly confronts the normative claim at the heart of Justice Kennedy's opinion—that judge-made remedies for constitutional violations, especially in national security cases, represent an undue intrusion into the prerogatives of the political branches (and more so than claims for prospective relief). As today's post suggests, 

[T]here are three different defects in his normative case against Bivens: First, it rests on a view of the intrusive effect of Bivens that is not just wholly unsubstantiated but also internally inconsistent as a logical matter. Second, it incorporates into Bivens concerns about undue intrusion that other doctrines already account for in more nuanced, sophisticated ways. Third, and most importantly, it assumes that damages actions represent a greater intrusion into the function of the political branches in general (and in national security cases, specifically) than does prospective relief (like injunctions, habeas, etc). That’s a theory of the separation of powers that, frankly, makes no sense. Certainly one can reasonably be opposed to an aggressive judicial role in national security cases in general, or in cases seeking prospective relief, specifically. But the idea that judicial recognition of an after-the-fact damages suit represents a greater threat to the separation of powers than judicial imposition of an injunction against ongoing national security policies (ranging from the 1973 bombing of Cambodia to military detention at Guantánamo to the travel ban) is, for lack of a better word, nuts.

Anyway, since neither Just Security nor Lawfare allows comments (directly, at least), I thought I'd flag these contributions here in case they provoke further discussion...

Posted by Steve Vladeck on June 21, 2017 at 04:32 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, Steve Vladeck | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SCOTUS: Partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin

Two cheers for the Court's decision to hear this closely watched case.

First in Davis v. Bandemer in the 80's, and later in Vieth, the Court has flirted significantly with a big ruling limiting the power of state legislatures to engage in reapportionment for what is plainly partisan political motivations.  The caution has stemmed, broadly speaking, from two concerns:   First, the meta-question of whether a political motivation, one which generates results that lock in partisan results is inconsistent with our constitutional democracy, and in a way that can be located in a responsible interpretation of the Constitution's text and judicial precedent; second, the question which loomed so large for the Court before Baker v. Carr and articulated so memorably by Justice Harlan's remark in Colegrove about this "political thicket," and that is the matter of remedy and redress.

A slender majority of the Court, and surely a much larger majority of academic commentators, view the first question as answerable in the affirmative.  The line of cases from Baker and Reynolds summarizes the basic theoretical underpinnings of this reasoning.  It is tempting to see this, sharpened eloquently by influential scholars such as Rick Pildes, Sam Issacharoff, Pam Karlan, and so many others, as a salutary antidote to partisan lock-ups and what I would call, clumsily, bad partisanship and deleterious polarization.  Yet, what seems to drive the Court's cautious foray into this thicket is not a comprehensive, or even coherent, view of partisanship and democracy, but a borrowing from the Court's Voting Rights Act jurisprudence and, in particular, a sharp focus on dilution and the fundamental right to have one's vote adequately influential.

Into this conceptual lacuna comes the shrewd and timely contribution of Nick Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee in the development of the "efficiency gap" measure for unacceptable partisanship, the details of which are nicely summarized by the Brennan Center here.  

What remains incomplete, however, despite a generation's worth of important scholarship on this complex subject is the big picture of how partisan gerrymandering's vote dilution is the same threat to equal protection as articulated in the "one-person-one-vote" cases.  We know well from the "efficiency gap" argument that there is dilution and it can be measured effectively; but we need to know why this kind of dilution is objectionable on a rationale which sounds in equal protection, and as articulated by Justice Brennan and the Warren Court in the heyday of this jurisprudence.  True, the analogy between dilution here and in the VRA context is a strong one; yet, the VRA has a different history.  Racial spoils and Jim Crow undergirds its history; political spoils and strategic partisanship has a different history, and it takes a stretch to connect the two by anything other than an analogy.

And, of course, the matter of the remedy looms especially large -- indeed, perhaps too large to sway Justice Kennedy in the end.  We knew what to do in Reynolds; and the VRA gives us a template for how to think about remedying unacceptable discrimination.  But can we truly get our arms around a constitutional jurisprudence that sorts and separates good from bad politics?  Can this coexist with our system of federalism in which the fundamental choices are made locally and by elected politicians who are, for better or worse, ambassadors of partisan advantage and party leadership?

We will be watching closely for sure! 

 

 

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on June 20, 2017 at 11:22 AM in 2016-17 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, Daniel Rodriguez | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, June 19, 2017

"In an appropriate case, we should reconsider our qualified immunity jurisprudence." (SCOTUS Symposium)

Today was a busy and newsworthy day in constitutional law at the Supreme Court, and one reason was the Court's constitutional remedies decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi. In Ziglar, a short-handed, six-Justice Court blocked a set of constitutional claims brought against government officials arising out of harsh detentions in the wake of 9/11. The Court's ruling implicated several different procedural doctrines, and may prove to be the ultimate cap on almost all "Bivens" suits for damages against federal officials (as Steve Vladeck discusses in this thread and as Howard posted here earlier).

But along the way, the decision provoked some promising skepticism from Justice Thomas about the doctrine of qualified immunity (A doctrine which protects government officials from liability for unconstitutional conduct, and which I've previously posted about here and here). Here is Justice Thomas, writing separately:

As for respondents’ claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), I join Part V of the Court’s opinion, which holds that respondents are entitled to qualified immunity. The Court correctly applies our precedents, which no party has asked us to reconsider. I write separately, however, to note my growing concern with our qualified immunity jurisprudence.
The Civil Rights Act of 1871, of which § 1985(3) and the more frequently litigated § 1983 were originally a part, established causes of action for plaintiffs to seek money damages from Government officers who violated federal law. See §§ 1, 2, . 13. Although the Act made no mention of defenses or immunities, “we have read it in harmony with general principles of tort immunities and defenses rather than in derogation of them.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 339 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). We have done so because “[c]ertain immunities were so well established in 1871 . . . that ‘we presume that Congress would have specifically so provided had it wished to abolish’ them.” Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 268 (1993) ; accord, Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 330 (1983). Immunity is thus available under the statute if it was “historically accorded the relevant official” in an analogous situation “at common law,” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 421 (1976), unless the statute provides some reason to think that Congress did not preserve the defense, see Tower v. Glover, 467 U.S. 914, 920 (1984).
In some contexts, we have conducted the common-law inquiry that the statute requires. See Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U. S. 158, 170 (1992) (Kennedy, J., concurring). For example, we have concluded that legislators and judges are absolutely immune from liability under §1983 for their official acts because that immunity was well established at common law in 1871. See Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367–376 (1951) (legislators); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547–555 (1967) (judges). We have similarly looked to the common law in holding that a prosecutor is immune from suits relating to the “judicial phase of the criminal process,” Imbler, supra, at 430; Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478–492 (1991); but see Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U. S. 118–134 (1997) (Scalia, J., joined by Thomas, J., concurring) (arguing that the Court in Imbler misunderstood 1871 common-law rules), although not from suits relating to the prosecutor’s advice to police officers, Burns, supra, at 493.
In developing immunity doctrine for other executive officers, we also started off by applying common-law rules. In Pierson, we held that police officers are not absolutely immune from a § 1983 claim arising from an arrest made pursuant to an unconstitutional statute because the common law never granted arresting officers that sort of immunity. 386 U.S., at 555. Rather, we concluded that police officers could assert “the defense of good faith and probable cause” against the claim for an unconstitutional arrest because that defense was available against the analogous torts of “false arrest and imprisonment” at common law. Id., at 557.
In further elaborating the doctrine of qualified immunity for executive officials, however, we have diverged from the historical inquiry mandated by the statute. See Wyatt, supra, at 170 (Kennedy, J., concurring); accord, Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 611 (1998) (Scalia, J.,joined by Thomas, J., dissenting). In the decisions following Pierson, we have “completely reformulated qualified immunity along principles not at all embodied in the common law.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 645 (1987) (discussing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 800 (1982)). Instead of asking whether the common law in 1871 would have accorded immunity to an officer for a tort analogous to the plaintiff’s claim under § 1983, we instead grant immunity to any officer whose conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Mullenix v. Luna, 577 U.S. ___, ___–___ (2015) ( per curiam) (slip op., at 4–5) (internal quotation marks omitted); Taylor v. Barkes, 575 U.S. ___, ___ (2015) (slip op., at 4) (a Government official is liable under the 1871 Act only if “ ‘existing precedent . . . placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate’ ” (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741 (2011))). We apply this “clearly established” standard “across the board” and without regard to “the precise nature of the various officials’ duties or the precise character of the particular rights alleged to have been violated.” Anderson, supra, at 641–643 (internal quotation marks omitted). We have not attempted to locate that standard in the common law as it existed in 1871, however, and some evidence supports the conclusion that common-law immunity as it existed in 1871 looked quite different from our current doctrine. See generally Baude, Is Qualified Immunity Unlawful? 106 Cal. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2018) (manuscript, at 7–17), online at https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2896508 (as last visited June 15, 2017).
Because our analysis is no longer grounded in the common-law backdrop against which Congress enacted the1871 Act, we are no longer engaged in “interpret[ing] the intent of Congress in enacting” the Act. Malley, supra, at 342; see Burns, supra, at 493. Our qualified immunity precedents instead represent precisely the sort of “freewheeling policy choice[s]” that we have previously disclaimed the power to make. Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356, 363 (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Tower, supra, at 922–923 (“We do not have a license to establish immunities from” suits brought under the Act “in the interests of what we judge to be sound public policy”). We have acknowledged, in fact, that the “clearly established” standard is designed to “protec[t] the balance between vindication of constitutional rights and government officials’ effective performance of their duties.” Reichle v. Howards, 566 U. S. 658, 664 (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted); Harlow, supra, at 807 (explaining that “the recognition of a qualified immunity defense . . . reflected an attempt to balance competing values”). The Constitution assigns this kind of balancing to Congress, not the Courts.
In today’s decision, we continue down the path our precedents have marked. We ask “whether it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that the alleged conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted,” ante, at 29 (internal quotation marks omitted), rather than whether officers in petitioners’ positions would have been accorded immunity at common law in 1871 from claims analogous to respondents’. Even if we ultimately reach a conclusion consistent with the common-law rules prevailing in 1871, it is mere fortuity. Until we shift the focus of our inquiry to whether immunity existed at common law, we will continue to substitute our own policy preferences for the mandates of Congress. In an appropriate case, we should reconsider our qualified immunity jurisprudence.

Now, of course, Justice Thomas is writing only for himself, but I am glad to see somebody on the Court asking whether the doctrine of qualified immunity is legally justified in its current form. I have suggested that the answer is probably "no," but even if the Court disagrees and ultimately concludes that the answer is "yes," I think it would be good for the Justices to give some attention to the issue, and explain why exactly they think it is justified. (As I discuss in the paper, different members of the Court have at times subscribed to three different justifications, though I think each of them is somewhat wanting.)

In an interesting coincidence, just last week I came across this certiorari petition in the case of Surratt v. McClaran, which asks the Court, among other things, to discontinue or modify the doctrine of qualified immunity. I haven't finished digging into the Surratt case itself -- it appears that police officers choked a woman to death in the back of a squad car while trying to get a baggie of drugs out of her mouth, but the Fifth Circuit found immunity anyway, noting that "previous law has provided no guidance regarding what is precisely reasonable and what is unreasonable regarding the use of force to an individual's throat where the individual appears to be concealing something in their mouth."

Perhaps the "appropriate case" will be before Justice Thomas and the rest of the Court in just a few months.

[Cross-posted at The Volokh Conspiracy.]

Posted by Will Baude on June 19, 2017 at 04:35 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

SCOTUS OT16 Symposium: Jurisdiction and Power in Bristol-Meyers Squibb

I read the Court's opinion in Bristol-Meyers Squibb somewhat differently than Howard does. This doesn't strike me as a purposeful availment case; neither "purposive" nor "avail" (nor derivatives thereof) even show up until Justice Sotomayor's dissent. The majority accepts that BMS has various contacts with California, but denies that those contacts are related to the claims at issue, or that there's "any adequate link between the State and the nonresidents' claims." That looks like an argument devoted to the second prong of the specific jurisdiction test, not the first. (Though he's critical of the Court's holding, Adam Zimmerman apparently agrees on this point.)

Given that the modern three-prong test is largely of the Court's own invention, and not part of the preexisting law of personal jurisdiction, it's hard to say that one concept of "related to" is self-evidently correct. But there are four points on which I think the Court's opinion got it right.

  1. In Part II-B, the Court correctly reiterates that jurisdiction is about power, not fairness. Or, to put it another way, what's "fair" or "unfair" about jurisdiction is whether a particular government is fairly empowered to decide the case. What matters isn't the geography of the courthouse or the expense of putting lawyers and witnesses on a plane; a case might be properly heard in Manhattan but thrown out of court right across the bridge in New Jersey. What matters is who gets to decide. (So the majority properly, albeit silently, throws the contrary language in Insurance Corp. of Ireland under the bus.)

  2. On this view of jurisdiction, the ultimate outcome makes some sense. BMS makes allegedly defective pills in New Jersey and sells them in California and Kansas. Let's grant that California can determine whether those California sales were lawful. But where do its officials get power to make the same decision about the Kansas ones? Who put them in charge? Why should BMS have to obey the pronouncements of a California judge, appointed by California officials and retained by California voters, using California rules on procedure, discovery, evidence, or jury trial? Maybe what BMS did in Kansas was okay, maybe not. But why do Californians get to decide? "Why not Bill Gates, or the Pope?"

    The plaintiffs note that BMS sold the same pills in both places, so it's already made itself subject to the liability determinations of California courts. But in an adversary system like ours, the California courts aren't deciding what really happened; they're deciding who made the better showing in a particular legal proceeding, conducted according to particular rules. (That's why our preclusion doctrines have a variety of internal conditions or exceptions; even a favorable California judgment doesn't mean the Kansans would automatically win in Kansas.) So the power to decide whether BMS injured California plaintiffs doesn't automatically confer a power to make the same decision as to Kansans.

    (Note, by the way, that the Court has never really reconciled its holding on out-of-state damages in Keeton, or for that matter its relaxed standard for choice of law in Allstate, with the state-by-state restrictions it came up with in BMW v. Gore. I'm not sure how it would do that if it wanted to, or what the right answer would be.)

  3. The Court is also probably right that its ruling doesn't sound a death-knell for nationwide small-dollar actions. Plaintiffs could have sued BMS where it actually designed and manufactured the pills, or wherever it's incorporated or headquartered. True, they may not be able to sue all of the relevant defendants there. And there'll be many cases that of necessity are spread across multiple states. But that's not really a criticism of the Court's view of sovereign authority. If modern economic relations are so spread among the states that no one state has authority to determine the whole, isn't that an argument for, rather than against, dividing up the cases?

  4. Importantly, the Court explicitly reserves the question of how to handle these cases in federal court. I've argued before that most hard personal jurisdiction cases really belong in federal court; the United States government has undoubted authority to tell the parties what to do, and Article III enables jurisdiction over diversity cases for a reason. This doesn't happen today because Rule 4(k)(1)(A) unwisely forces federal courts to pretend that they're state courts for personal-jurisdiction purposes. As cross-border transactions grow ever more extensive, it'd be better if the energy now focused on the law of state personal jurisdiction were instead focused on reforming the rules for federal courts.

Posted by Stephen Sachs on June 19, 2017 at 03:38 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts | Permalink | Comments (1)

SCOTUS Symposium: Setting fire to House Bivens

"If you're cold, put on a sweater, perhaps an overcoat, perhaps also turn up the heat, but do not  set fire to the house." So said Justice Breyer in dissent in Ziglar v. Abbasi, in which the Court rejected Bivens claims against high-level executive officials brought by mistreated post-9/11 detainees (although left a small glimmer of hope for a claim against the warden), and in the process may have limited Bivens to claims against line officers for immediate violations of a small group of rights. In other words, the majority may have set fire to the House of Bivens.

 Some thoughts after the jump.

1) This was a 4-2 decision, with Justice Kennedy writing for a majority of the Chief, Thomas, and Alito, and Justice Breyer dissenting with Justice Ginsburg. Justice Sotomayor recused because she was on the  Second Circuit when earlier iterations of this case were heard, Justice Kagan recused (because she was SG when earlier iterations of the case arose), and Justice Gorsuch did not participate (he was not on the Court). It remains to be seen how much weight a decision from such a small Court will gain. Everyone likely assumes that the judgment would have been the same with a full Court, with Gorsuch joining the majority and Sotomayor and Kagan joining the dissent.

2) Two themes have been floating around the recent Bivens cases. One is the idea of "extending" Bivens to new contexts beyond the three cases in which SCOTUS recognized a claim and how the Court should hesitate to do so. The other is the connection between Bivens and implied statutory rights of action and the Thomas/Scalia position that Bivens was a "relic of the heady days in which this Court assumed common-law powers to create causes of action. Both ideas came home to roost today.

3) As for the second theme, Justice Kennedy timed the creation of Bivens to the rise of the implied right of action doctrine, noting that Justice Harlan relied on those cases in identifying an implied constitutional claim. It followed that the Court's narrowing of implied statutory rights makes "expanding" Bivens a "disfavored" activity. Both rest on separation-of-powers principles under which Congress, not the courts, should decide whether a damages remedy exists. If the Court is not implying rights of action, then it should not recognize "new" Bivens claims.

4) As for the first theme, this led the Court to crystalize a three-part test for whether a Bivens claim is available (both the majority and dissent agree on this test):

   a) If the case is different in a "meaningful way" from previous cases decided by SCOTUS, then the context is new. Factors that suggest meaningful differences include the rank of the officers, the constitutional rights involved, the generality or specificity of the right involved, the extent of judicial guidance of how the officer should respond, the statute under which the officer operated, the risk of disruption of other branches, or the presence of new special factors not considered in past cases. As to the high-level executive officers, this was a new context, involving high-level policy following a terrorist attack; as to the warden, this case involved a new right (Fifth Amendment rather than Eighth), less guidance as to constitutional obligations, and congressional action suggesting intent not to provide a remedy--all small differences, but "even a modest extension is still an extension."

   b) There is consideration of alternative remedies, although it is unclear how. The majority several times emphasized the availability of alternative remedies for the constitutional violations here, namely habeas and injunctive relief. Breyer treated this as its own second step. [Update: I will link to Steve's post at Just Security pointing out that habeas likely is not available to challenge conditions (as opposed to fact) of confinement and Kennedy himself hedged on whether habeas was available in this kind of case]

   c) Special factors counseling hesitation. Here, these include the national-security context, that this case entails challenges to and inquiry into federal policy discussions and decisions, that the claims go beyond ordinary law enforcement, that Congress has done nothing in its post-9/11 litigation to provide any remedies for detainees challenging their mistreatment, and that injunctive and habeas remedies are available (again, it is not clear where this belongs in the analysis). To the extent there is a balance to be struck between these special factors and the needs for deterrence of executive misconduct, it is for Congress to strike that balance. The Court did remand for the Second Circuit to do the special factors analysis as to the warden.

5) Justice Breyer was explicit that the above is the three-step test, but he saw the factors going the other way. He did not see this as a new context, or, if it was, the claim survived steps two and three.

6) Breyer calls the majority on what I believe has been a problem in the recent Bivens cases: the confounding of the constitutional merits, qualified immunity, and cause of action. Breyer works through the list of factors that the majority identifies for defining when a context is new, insisting that some go to whether a constitutional right was violated, some go to whether that right was clearly established so the officer enjoys qualified immunity, and some are better case as special factors for step three. But none should go to the cause of action. The majority makes this worse with its consideration of alternative remedies, which hangs around the analysis throughout the case, not belonging in any clear place. The majority seems to be in a hurry to get rid of cases such as this, but it does so by focusing so much on the cause of action rather than the substantive merits and substantive defenses. Or consider how the majority uses national security as a special factor counseling hesitation before recognizing the cause of action. That factor can be taken into account at other points--in pleading requirements, on the merits, in assessing immunity, and in shaping discovery. Given these existing safeguards, there is no need to double-count it at the threshold--that is setting the house on fire.

7) That last point gives rise to another problem Breyer addresses: The "anomaly" of different analysis for claims against state/local officers as opposed to federal officers (we might also call this a lack of parallelism between claims against the former compared with the latter). A plaintiff can pursue a § 1983 claim against a mayor or governor but not a Bivens claim against a high-level DOJ official, for the same conduct violating the same right. And even if claims fail, they fail for different reasons: The claim against the federal officer fails because there is no cause of action, while the claim against the state/local official fails because the right was not violated or because it was not clearly established. That distinction makes no sense.

8) Breyer closes his opinion with a point he made during argument about the special need for damages actions in the national-security context. Damages claims can be resolved after the emergency has passed, with more information about the situation and a cooler eye towards the facts. And courts may be less likely to to issue injunctive or habeas relief in the middle of an emergency. It therefore makes no sense to rely on those remedies to preclude the later damages remedy--damages play a special role, with courts able to consider after passions have died down. The majority's approach reflects the general favoritism towards injunctive rather than damages relief in the constitutional context.

9) Justice Breyer cites Jim Pfander's new book on Bivens and GWOT, at one point seeming to adopt Jim's view that Congress' decision not to immunize individual officers under the FTCA for constitutional violations reflects an intent to leave Bivens in tact as the means for remedying constitutional violations, while putting non-constitutional torts through the FTCA.

10) Steve Vladeck had a Twitter thread on this case, pointing out that Hernandez v. Mesa, another Bivens case, remains undecided and could pull back on some of what the majority did here. But he suspects if that were to happen, the opinions would have issued at the same time. I wonder if Hernandez will be resolved on qualified-immunity rather than Bivens grounds.

11) As I said in my earlier post, I now have to rewrite my Bivens chapter. Oh well.

Thanks for wading through a long post.

Thanks for sitting through a long post.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 19, 2017 at 03:04 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Responses

A response to two unrelated things, thrown into one post.

1) David discusses the "lower-court moment," in which lower courts are flexing their muscles and writing "aggressive opinions garnering public attention." Two responses. First, we saw the hints of this in the marriage-equality litigation, particularly with respect to decisions to stay (or usually not stay) injunctions, as Josh Blackman and I described. SCOTUS backed away from its typical role as "traffic cop" on constitutional issues and many lower courts ran with that. Second, the media environment contributes to this--there are so many more and different media outlets, some of which are dedicated to discussing high-profile political litigation from its earliest stages, leading to more coverage and more public awareness of what happens in the lower courts.

2) Gerard Magliocca considers that we lack a quick way to repopulate the House in the event of a mass-death event (UA 93 making it to the Capitol or an extreme version of yesterday's shooting). Proposals after 9/11 to amend the Constitution to allow for temporary House appointments in some circumstances never went anywhere; Gerard wonders whether it was because election of House members is sacrosanct or because the urgency was missing because the event was too far-fetched. I had the fortune to participate in some of these conversations, in my scholarship and in work the AEI's Continuity of Government Commission. Jim Sensenbrenner, who in the early 00's chaired the House Judiciary Committee, was steadfast that House members must be elected. And he was immovable on that point. The House did at least add a special quorum rule, which would allow a Rump House to conduct business until enough elections can be held. It does not get at the democratic problems of such a small body enacting emergency legislation, but at least there is a body to act.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2017 at 10:36 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SCOTUS Symposium: A departmentalist take on Morales-Santana

Richard's post about the Morales-Santana Court conflating judgment and precedent prompts a question: What if Congress and the Executive decide, in a fit of departmentalism, that the current differential treatment of unmarried-mother citizens is constitutionally valid? Congress refuses to amend the statute (or the President vetoes the proposed amendment) and the Executive continues removing people situated as is Morales-Santana by treating them as non-citizens, even while continuing to treat a comparable child of an unmarried-mother citizen as a citizen.

There is no judgment or order compelling Congress to change the law, something a court could not do in any event. There is no judgment compelling the executive to treat anyone other than Morales-Santana a certain way or declaring the rights of anyone other than Morales-Santana. A court cannot, through a declaratory judgment, adjudicate the rights of non-parties (I agree with Richard that this might be what the majority saw itself as doing). Departmentalism does not result in a constitutional stalemate (or devolves into judicial supremacy in practice) because at some point the judiciary has a final card in the form of a judgment in a particular case as to a particular person that government must follow on pain of contempt and that makes the Court's constitutional vision applicable to a person. The problem in this case, and in the cases likely to follow from it, is getting to that enforceable judgment that benefits some person in a way adverse to the government.

So let's play this out:

X is the child of  unmarried-father citizen who lived in the US for 4 years and 364 days, 1 year and 364 days after age 14, where the parents. The government seeks to remove. X cannot argue that removal is prohibited by a court order, because there is no judgment affecting him in place. So he goes into the BIA process, arguing that removing him as a non-citizen violates equal protection because unmarried-mother citizens (and their children) continue to be treated differently.  The BIA accepts his argument, following Morales-Santana (are BIA proceedings subject to the same rules of precedent as lower federal courts?). Or the BIA rejects his claim, but the court of appeals reverses, as it is unquestionably bound by Morales-Santana to hold that the differential treatment is unconstitutional. But now we are in the same place we are this morning--the statutory scheme is unconstitutional, but the court of appeals will be similarly reluctant to remedy by leveling up, meaning X remains subject to § 1409(a) (the 5/2 residency rule) and remains removable. And Congress and the executive remain free to ignore the precedential piece of the decision in X v. Sessions when it then seeks to remove Y, another child of an unmarried-father citizen.

How do we get out of this loop? One possibility is Mark Tushnet's suggestion that the court could/did order the government to exercise its discretion not to remove because the basis for removal was unconstitutional. If the government starts losing these cases and being unable to remove, it will amend the statute or change its enforcement mechanisms. A second possibility is that at some point the Court, tired of congressional or executive intransigence, remedies the violation in X's case by leveling up, requiring the government to subject X to the one-year exception and prohibiting removal. That will get Congress and the executive moving, to the extent they do not want one year to be the residency requirement for everyone.

This is all moot, because the government has agreed to level down for everyone going forward. But it shows the extent to which judicial supremacy has carried the day. The court can get away with an "order" such as the one in Morales-Santana because it knows that Congress and the executive will follow its declarations of constitutional law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 13, 2017 at 10:23 AM in 2016-17 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 12, 2017

SCOTUS Symposium: Remedies and constitutional litigation (updated)

I do not teach or write in Remedies, except to the extent that basic remedial principles arise in more general Civ Pro or § 1983 work. Even in that context, I had not considered the special problems of ensuring equality through an injunction. In the First Amendment context, it is easy: Stop enforcing the prohibition on nude dancing or leafletting on the sidewalk and let the plaintiff have nude dancing in his bar or leaflet on the sidewalk. When the claim is that the laws are treating one group differently than the other, there are two choices: Extend the advantageous treatment to the disadvantaged group or extend the disadvantage to everyone. And that depends on statutory design.

This was the problem for the Court in today's decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana. Federal law must provide rules for when to accord citizenship at birth to children born outside the U.S. where one parent is a citizen. The law imposes on the citizen parent a five-year (two years since age 14) pre-birth residency requirement in order for the citizen parent to transmit citizenship at birth to the child. And that rule controls three situations: Married parents where the father is the citizen; married parents where the mother is the citizen; and unmarried parents where the father is the citizen. The statute then frames an exception to that rule for unmarried parents where the mother is the citizen, who only must have lived in the U.S. for one year pre-birth. The majority held that this less-favorable treatment for unmarried fathers violated equal protection.

But then what?

Morales-Santana was born in the Dominican Republic to a U.S. citizen father and a Dominican mother; the father was 20 days short of satisfying the statutory requirement for transmitting citizenship at birth. What Morales-Santana wanted from the Court was to apply the unmarried-mother rule to unmarried fathers, which his father satisfied, and which would make him a citizen at birth.* He would get that relief if the Court followed its ordinary equal-protection approach of extending the benefit (one-year residency) to the disadvantaged person. But the Court could remedy the equal protection violation a different way: Eliminate the favorable treatment to the differentially treated group (unmarried-mother citizens) and subject everyone to the five-year/two-year rule. That eliminates the equal protection problem, but does not make Morales-Santana a citizen at birth or entitle him to a suspension of removal.

[*] Morales-Santana was trying to avoid deportation as a result of some state criminal convictions.

The Court chose the latter, because the former would be inconsistent with congressional intent and the structure of the law and would disrupt the statute. The rule for unmarried-mother citizens is framed as an exception to the general rule, suggesting that Congress saw the five/two residency rule as the norm. And if the Court extended the one-year rule to unmarried-father citizens (Morales-Santana's preference), it would have produced a system in which married parents were treated less favorably than unmarried parents, itself raising constitutional problems. And the Court believed that Congress would not have wanted all parents (married and unmarried, mother or father) subject to the one-year rule, otherwise Congress would have made one year the rule, not a one-provision exception.

But does the Court ordinarily look to groups not before the Court in creating remedies? The provisions for married parents are in 8 U.S.C. § 1401, while the provisions for unmarried parents are in § 1409. So the Court could have said the equal protection problem is in § 1409, extended the favorable rule to all, then worried about the equal protection problems as between § 1401 and § 1409 in a later case. But that still left the problem within § 1409, in which the provision for unmarried-father citizens was in (a) and for unmarried-mother citizens was in (c) and written as an exception to (a) ("Notwithstanding the provision of subsection (a) of this section . . .").

Update: From Mark Tushnet at Balkinization:

[M]y initial reaction is that that argument is incomplete, because it doesn't take account of the Court's statement that, pending a statutory revision, the "Government must ensure that the laws in question are administered in a manner free from gender-based discrimination." What could that mean? My (relatively uninformed) take is this: Where (a) the gender-based provision would have immediate legal consequences (as in triggering Morales-Santana's eligibility for removal), and (b) the law gives the government discretion in administering the law (for example, discretion to suspend removal), that discretion should be exercised in a way that would eliminate the legal effects of the gender-based discrimination. So, in short, if there's discretion to suspend Morales-Santana's removal, he should get to stay in the United States.
Mark quotes from p.2 of the slip op., the end of the Introduction. But at the end of the body of the opinion (p.28 of the slip op.), the Court says "[i]n the interim, as the Government suggests, § 1401(a)(7)'s now five-year requirement should apply prospectively to children born to unwed U.S.-citizen mothers." It seems to me that means the government is free to remove Morales-Santana, because he is not a citizen-at-birth under the applicable provision. And that provision is no longer discriminatory; the discrimination was removed by the order/agreement not to treat as citizens at birth those born to unmarried-mother citizens. The Court did not order the government to suspend Morales-Santana's removal or order the lower court to consider that. And the provisions at issue do not allow of executive discretion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 12, 2017 at 02:26 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

@realDonaldTrump as public forum and state action

Last week, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has written an open letter to President Trump on behalf of two people blocked from Trump's Twitter account, apparently for posts criticizing or mocking the President. The letter argues that the account is a designated public forum, from which people cannot be excluded for viewpoint-discriminatory reasons. Eugene Volokh questions the conclusion, doubting that Trump is using the account as a government official rather than as an individual who holds public office although admitting it is an unexplored border area, and narrowing the concept of the speech restricted to the opportunity to engage in comment threads. Noah Feldman rejects the entire premise of the Knight Institute's letter because Twitter, a private actor, banned the users.

I disagree with Feldman's conclusions, although it raises some interesting state action/under color of law questions. The relevant fact is that Trump commanded Twitter to ban block these speakers. And the claim is that Trump violated the First Amendment; Knight is not suggesting that Twitter violated the First Amendment. In any action against Trump, the challenge would be to his under-color decision to block them; it would be irrelevant that the block was carried out by a private actor following Trump's command. By analogy, if the President rented a private space for a public event and ordered private security to keep certain people out based on their viewpoint, the violative act is the order to keep them out, regardless of who carried it out.

And it gets kind of interesting if Knight were to go after Twitter. A private actor may be under color when it performs a traditional and exclusive government function and when it acts under government compulsion to perform a violative act. If Trump is acting as President in managing @realDonaldTrump, the violative act of blocking the users is done under Trump's command or compulsion. And the President arguably has delegated control and management of a public forum--a government function--to private actors. Both of those facts should make Twitter under color of (federal) law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 11, 2017 at 06:59 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

A different scope-of-injunction question

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services enacted a regulation requiring clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains; a district court enjoined enforcement of the regs. The Texas legislature then passed (and the governor signed) a comprehensive statute imposing new abortion limitations, including requirements that clinics bury or cremate fetal and embryonic remains (§ 697.004). Slate's Mark Joseph Stern argues that this move is "treading dangerously close to a conflict with a federal court order." He explains:

Technically, SB8 does not directly conflict with Sparks’ injunction, which only prevents the state from implementing the Health and Human Services rule. In practice, though, the law looks a lot like defiance of a federal court order. By way of analogy, imagine if a court struck down Texas’ constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage and the legislature simply replaced it with an identical statute. That game of whack-a-mole might be hypothetically legal, but it would also be constitutionally indefensible.

Stern interviewed a lawyer from the Center for Reproductive Right who said the district court's decision would "seem to clearly proscribe this law," but declined to discuss their litigation strategy for responding to the new law.

Is this right?

In a judicial-departmentalist world, a state government can disregard judicial precedent but cannot disregard a court order. A court order halts "this conduct" by "this defendant" (and those working with this defendant)  as to "this plaintiff." The question is what is "this conduct" when talking about attempts to restrict reproductive choice and an action seeking to enjoin that restriction. The answer depends on whose perspective we adopt. From the plaintiff's standpoint, it is the state seeking to require it to do something (dispose of fetal remains) in a way that injures its business and deprives its female patients of their Fourteenth Amendment rights. From the defendant's standpoint, each involves different forms of government conduct and the enforcement of different legal rules that must be scrutinized and analyzed separately in determining constitutional validity. We can do the same with Stern's same-sex marriage hypothetical. From the defendant's standpoint, these are distinct legal enactments and enforcement of distinct rules that must be scrutinized and analyzed separately in determining constitutional validity. From the plaintiff's standpoint, the state is prohibiting her from doing something (marry a same-sex partner) in a way that deprives her of her Fourteenth Amendment rights.

My inclination is that we look from the government's perspective and that this does not implicate the existing injunction. The government acts through grants of authority to enforce legal rules. And enforcement of a different legal rule from a different source is a different action, even if the rules are identical, even if they injure the same people in the same way, and even if they share the same constitutional defects. HHS enforcing a regulation is a different official action than HHS enforcing a statute. There also is the possibility that the government would argue that a statute should get greater deference or leeway than an administrative regulation. I would reject the argument in this context--if it imposes an undue burden, it does not matter who in the state enacted the ruel--but it is something Texas could argue. And that makes the statute different than the reg and thus not a violation of the injunction.

The difference is largely procedural--how, in an ongoing litigation (the parties are under preliminary injunction but no final judgment has been entered), to challenge the constitutional validity of the new law. If enforcing the statute represents the same governmental conduct as enforcing the reg, the plaintiff can proceed via a motion to enforce the injunction, perhaps along with a motion for contempt. If this is different government conduct, the plaintiffs must proceed via a motion to "extend" the injunction, likely in conjunction with an amended complaint adding a new constitutional claim against enforcement of the new legislation.

So I believe the answer is straightforward. But it presents a different issue for how we determine the scope of an injunction in constitutional cases--looking not only to the parties,  but also the legal rule challenged.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 11, 2017 at 03:47 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Constitutional Powers and Crimes

For obvious reasons, people have been talking recently about whether it can ever be a crime for the President to instruct a subordinate to end a criminal investigation.  The possible crime here is obstruction of justice.  And the major argument why it cannot be a crime is that the power to enforce laws is assigned to the Executive by the Constitution.  Because deciding whether to investigate and prosecute individuals is solely within the purview of the Executive, and because there are no limits on the reasons why a President can decline to prosecute, some argue that it can never be a crime for a President to end an investigation. 

Without offering any thoughts on whether certain actions actually rise to the level of obstruction of justice, I want to offer a brief explanation why I don’t think this constitutional powers argument is particularly persuasive. 

It is well established that government actors can be convicted for inappropriately exercising their governmental powers.  Any government official who performs an official act in exchange for money, for example, has committed bribery, even if it would have been perfectly legal for her to have taken the same official act under other circumstances.

Unlike bribery, an obstruction of justice charge doesn’t require a separate criminal act; there is no quid pro quo.  And so some might think that, because Presidents are allowed to make non-prosecution decisions for any reason, the simple decision not to prosecution can’t be criminal, no matter what the reason.  But this argument goes too far. 

In a number of situations, the courts have recognized that otherwise unlimited discretion can’t be exercised for certain, forbidden reasons.  That is why, for example, the courts are willing to reverse sentences in discretionary sentencing systems if the sentence is based on race or national origin.  The Supreme Court has also repeatedly said that executive decisions whether to prosecute cannot be made for discriminatory reasons, even if charges are otherwise supported by probable cause.

Now, one might respond that obstruction of justice is different than these other examples because it is a legislative limit on executive power, rather than a constitutional limit.  But I’m not sure that’s a particularly good response.  For one thing, no one disputes that Congress has the most obvious constraint on executive power to prosecute: the power to define crimes.  For another, obstruction of justice is one of many laws that place limits on what the President may or may not do.  Bribery is also a legislative limitation, rather than a constitutional limitation.  Maybe there is some clever constitutional argument to be made about limits on Congress’s ability to restrict the executive’s prosecutorial power.  But obstruction of justice isn’t that sort of limit; it is a generally applicable law that forbids all individuals from taking certain actions for certain reasons.

In short, the simple fact that the Constitution assigns a particular power to an individual does not mean that power is unlimited.  To be clear, I am not saying that a sitting President can be prosecuted (though I may offer thoughts on another day on the weaknesses of that OLC memo on the topic).  Nor am I making a statutory claim about whether this President has obstructed justice.  I am simply saying that otherwise unfettered discretion may not be exercised for particular reasons, which leads me to conclude that a sitting President, like any other individual, can obstruct justice.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on June 8, 2017 at 09:33 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (5)

Expressive legislation, legitimacy, and judicial departmentalism

Sherry Colb discusses pending Texas legislation that would ban Dilation-and-Extraction (D&E), the most common method of second-trimester abortions. If enacted, the law would restrict second-trimester abortion to a degree that it almost certainly would constitute an invalid undue burden on reproductive freedom under current Fourteenth Amendment doctrine and almost certainly will be declared invalid and unenforceable by the courts. Colb wonders why Texas would enact legislation so obviously likely to lose in court (noting how common it is for states to do this with abortion legislation) and argues that such legislation is a form of expression for the legislators. She  labels such practices "potentially legitimate but generating discomfort and possible problems;” it depends on how long the law would be in effect and how likely it is to have a chilling effect on Fourteenth Amendment liberties in the lag between enactment and injunction. Legislation-as-expression is better than violence, but inferior to other forms of anti-choice speech that would not have the same practical effect on doctors and women in Texas.

Colb does not mention or consider that the Texas legislators and governor (presumably) believe such legislation is constitutionally valid. This is where the model of "judicial departmentalism" I have been urging comes into play. Because the judicial interpretation or understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment does not bind any other branches, Texas lawmakers  remain free (and act consistent with their oaths) to act on their own constitutional views and understandings, even if those views run contrary to those of the judiciary. What they are doing here is in no way illegitimate and should not be regarded as such. It instead is what coordinate constitutional actors are entitled, and expected, to do--change the law of Texas to match their policy preferences (and, presumably, those of their constituents) and their constitutional vision.

Colb is right that a court, bound to follow the judicial understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment, will declare this law invalid and enjoin its enforcement. And she therefore is right that the practical effect of such legislation at the moment is symbolic and expressive, except to the extent that it sets-up an opportunity to argue for a change in judicial doctrine. In fact, laws such as this represent the only way to change judicial doctrine, making them not only legitimate, but necessary to the development of constitutional law. So judicial departmentalism recasts Colb's argument--in practice it is symbolic, in theory it should not be derogated as only contingently legitimate. It is not that Texas is ignoring the courts, but that Texas' constitutional vision conflicts with that of the federal courts. Neither party acts illegitimately in following its vision.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 8, 2017 at 07:02 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

SCOTUS OT16 Symposium: A few more thoughts on majority opinions

Ian’s post on the assignment power, building on Howard’s earlier post, asks why opinions of the Court have to be assigned at all, rather than just traded off among the Justices. This brings to mind a more general question: why do we even need an “opinion of the Court”? Or, to put it another way, how much effort should the Justices invest merely in order to “get to five”?

The Court probably isn’t about to return to seriatim opinions—though in certain ways that might be nice. From a separation-of-powers perspective, seriatim opinions are plainly the Justices’ opinions about the law. That’s distinct from the Court’s judgment, which is legally binding under Article III. (See Will’s helpful article on the subject.) By contrast, the unified structure of an “opinion of the Court” can suggest, in my view misleadingly, that the opinion itself is the binding law.

These worries aside, I’ve read enough seriatim opinions to understand the desire for a single authoritative statement from the Court. Law professors may revel in a sea of opinions, but practitioners don't want to sort through a pile of separate documents to identify the propositions that the Justices held in common. Issuing a single opinion, agreed to by a majority, helps courts, lawyers, and the public figure out what the Justices think.

Requiring five votes, though, doesn’t itself generate agreement on the law. If the Justices irreducibly disagree, they aren’t going to generate a single opinion with a single, coherent, well-reasoned rationale. Their disagreement is going to show up somewhere, and the only question is where to push the bump under the rug. In fact, insisting on a single majority opinion might make things worse.

How does the Court respond to disagreement? One approach is to secure five votes by turning the opinion’s reasoning into mush. Compromising on the rationale to get a majority opinion means compromising all the interests that make opinions for the Court useful—e.g., producing a fact-bound opinion effectively good for that case only, or articulating standards so vague that they fail to provide effective guidance for the future.

Another approach looks like Adarand Constructors v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200 (1995):

O’Connor, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion with respect to Parts I, II, III-A, III-B, III-D, and IV, which was for the Court except insofar as it might be inconsistent with the views expressed in the concurrence of Scalia, J., and an opinion with respect to Part III-C. Parts I, II, III-A, III-B, III-D, and IV of that opinion were joined by Rehnquist, C. J., and Kennedy and Thomas, JJ., and by Scalia, J., to the extent heretofore indicated; and Part III-C was joined by Kennedy, J. Scalia, J., and Thomas, J., filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg and Breyer, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined.

There are at least three problems with this approach. The first is that it’s occasionally incomprehensible. The second problem is that it distorts the precedential value of the opinions. Law students almost always miss when the label changes from “Opinion of the Court” to “Opinion of Burble, J.” at the top of the page. So the unjoined portion of the otherwise-majority opinion typically gets undue attention, far more than it deserves (or than is paid to a plurality opinion or a concurrence with similar numbers), simply because it comes from the assigned author’s pen. The third problem is that it’s very hard for the Justices to write an effective opinion that’s only partly for the Court. Only the rare stylist is capable of writing an opinion that’s equally coherent with or without some large chunk in the middle. No matter what, Part VII always depends in part on the existence of Part V; and if only Part VII has a majority, it’ll be just as difficult for other courts to apply it in Part V’s absence.

So my proposal is as follows. Majority opinions and individual opinions serve different functions, and the Court should help readers distinguish these functions by separating them at a structural level. In the courts of appeals, this is sometimes done through multiple opinions by the same author: my old boss Judge Williams would occasionally write a concurrence to his own majority opinion, to better reflect which propositions enjoyed majority support and which were frolics of his own. Similarly, Justice Holmes would occasionally author majority opinions dubitante, as in Javierre v. Central Altagracia, 217 U.S. 502, 508 (1910):

Notwithstanding these considerations, I should have preferred to affirm the decree, but, as my reasons have been stated to my brethren, and have not prevailed, it is unnecessary to repeat them now.

Decree reversed.

If the Court doesn’t want to go that far, it could accompany the maze of opinions in complex merits cases with a per curiam opinion, every sentence of which would be guaranteed to enjoy five votes. That per curiam opinion wouldn’t need to state a coherent rationale for the judgment; by assumption, there is no such rationale that enjoys majority support. Instead, it could say things like “Four Justices reach this result because of X, while two others do so because of Y.” It would resemble an extended, integrated version of the syllabus—but it would carry the imprimatur of the Justices, not just of the Reporter of Decisions. As a result, any court or lawyer wanting only to know “what does this case require of me tomorrow” could consult the per curiam, while anyone interested in assessing the Justices’ disagreements or making predictions about future cases could look to the concurrences and dissents.

When the Court decides a case, we need to know what a majority is likely to affirm or reverse, and also what they’ll be thinking when they do. It’s best for everyone if these two interests happen to line up. But if not, the second-best alternative may not be a patchwork attempt at a five-vote opinion. Justice Scalia once hotly criticized what he saw as a “specious unanimity”; and whatever one might think of his opinion in that case, it’s fair to say that broader majorities can add to confusion as well as reduce it. If the Justices take different views of the law, it’s often better for the legal system that their disagreement be confronted and understood.

Posted by Stephen Sachs on June 7, 2017 at 12:09 AM in 2016-17 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, Judicial Process, Symposium | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

SCOTUS Symposium: Thoughts on the assignment power

Last month's decision in Cooper v. Harris (declaring invalid two North Carolina congressional districts as impermissibly race-based) was notable for the rare lineup: Justice Thomas joined Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Less mentioned was that Thomas, as senior-most Associate Justice in the majority, assigned the opinion (draw your own conclusions from Thomas assigning the opinion to Justice Kagan, while Kennedy, placed in the same position, tends to keep the opinions for himself). This is similarly rare: Thomas generally agrees with the Chief (and if not the Chief, prior to last February, Justice Scalia), more-senior Justices who would assign opinions.

I am interesting in writing about the assignment power, particularly for Justices other than the Chief. I would like to look at those who have had long tenures as senior-most Associate Justice (either on the Court or on a segment of the Court) and had either a lot or a little assignment power in that role. I also am interested in the rare assignments, such as Cooper.

For now, I want to address a different point: In December, I argued that the loser in Mitch McConnell's successful Merrick Garland gambit (besides Never-Justice Garland) was Elena Kagan, who lost a chance to be the Justice Brennan of a new liberal-leaning majority. But also losing out on the exchange was Justice Sotomayor, who lost the chance to frequently wield the assignment power (query whether she would have relied on Kagan the way Chief Justice Warren relied on Brennan). Assume Hillary Clinton won and the following: a) Garland is confirmed; b) Ginsburg and Breyer retire within Clinton's first two years. By OT 2018, we have the following Court: Chief, Kennedy,* Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Garland, Clinton I, Clinton II. That is a 5-4 Court on politically divisive cases--with the four most senior Justices in the minority and Sotomayor the senior-most Associate Justice in the majority, assigning many of these opinions.

    [*] For purposes of this exercise, Kennedy could have retired as well.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 6, 2017 at 09:31 AM in 2016-17 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 05, 2017

SCOTUS Symposium: More on standing, intervenors, and Laroe Estates

I covered Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates for SCOTUSBlog and my recap is here. Since that forum is intended to be descriptive, this is my normative take.

The Court leaves in place what Andrew-Aaron Bruhl (who filed an amicus brief in the case) calls the one good plaintiff rule--so long as one plaintiff has standing, other plaintiffs (including intervenor-plaintiffs) can go along for the ride. Town of Chester limits that to plaintiffs and intervenors who assert identical claims for identical relief. The problem (as Aaron argued in an email and I agree) is that all relief is plaintiff-specific--a remedy for A is different than a remedy for B, even if they both want the same thing. So either the Court's own rule is universal or it is calling on lower courts to draw an impossible distinction in practice.

With respect to damages in this case, the Court distinguished two remedies: The first is Laroe asking for damages directly from the Town for the value of its property interest, which would require standing. The second is Laroe joining Sherman to ask for a single fund of money from the Town, after which Laroe and Sherman would fight over their portions of that fund (which would not). The latter theory is that Laroe and Sherman seek the same thing from Chester--$ 6 million, the value of the regulatory taking of property in which they both have an interest; thus, only one need have standing to get the entire pool from the Town. Who between Laroe and Sherman owns how much of that $ 6 million is between them.

The "one good plaintiff" rule arises most often in actions challenging the constitutionality of a law and seeking injunctive relief; courts do a standing inquiry for one plaintiff, then stop. But the plaintiff-specificity of the remedy remains, which is why Aaron argues everyone must have standing. Enjoining enforcement of a law so A can engage in some conduct (attend an integrated school, hold a rally, get married, not buy health insurance) is a different remedy from enjoining enforcement of a law so B can engage in the "same" conduct himself. This decision does nothing to end that practice. Courts generally understand this type of injunction as the equivalent of a single pie for each party to put to its own use, rather than a single order requiring something from the defendant to each plaintiff. (I am interested in this point (and in Aaron's article) because it ties into questions about the scope of judgments, the permissibility of universal/nationwide injunctions, and the process of constitutional litigation).

Ironically, Justice Gorsuch's testy exchange with respondent's counsel (this was the second argument on Gorsuch's first day on the bench) surrounded discussion of this point. Asked by Gorsuch to identify when an intervenor seeks different equitable relief from the plaintiff, counsel tried to explain that it depends on the scope of the injunction, implicitly invoking one-good-plaintiff cases; Gorsuch became increasingly frustrated by counsel's refusal to answer his non-"trick" question. But Gorsuch did not seem to recognize the real problem--that an injunction should never be so broad that a person can benefit from it as a judgment without having standing.*

[*] For purposes of this point, I bracket my Fletcherian insistence that standing is merits. [Update: On this tangent, Aaron responds with a great point: "One good plaintiff" exists because standing is not merits. Courts never would have developed a doctrine that says "so long as one plaintiff has a successful claim on the merits, we will grant relief to other plaintiffs even though they don't have successful claims on the merits." But because it is a jurisdictional threshold, courts have been ironically lenient on it (as long as someone can pass the heightened threshold).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 5, 2017 at 02:23 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

SCOTUS OT16 Symposium: The Code and the Law

My last post promised a few quibbles with the Court's opinion in BNSF. Here's one: the Court misdescribes the statute's text.

The opinion quotes the statute as follows:

To justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction over BNSF, the Montana Supreme Court relied on [45 U.S.C.] § 56, which provides in relevant part:

“Under this chapter an action may be brought in a district court of the United States, in the district of the residence of the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action. The jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under this chapter shall be concurrent with that of the courts of the several States.” 

These particular words were never enacted by Congress. Instead, on April 5, 1910, a different statute was adopted, with text later published at 36 Stat. 291:

Under this Act an action may be brought in a circuit court of the United States, in the district of the residence of the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action. The jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under this Act shall be concurrent with that of the courts of the several States, and no case arising under this Act and brought in any state court of competent jurisdiction shall be removed to any court of the United States.

Congress amended the last sentence in 1948, ending the sentence at the comma and moving the rest into 28 U.S.C. § 1445. But the other edits in § 56—replacing "Act" with "chapter," and "circuit court" with "district court"—weren't made by Congress. When the old circuit courts were abolished in 1911, Congress didn't change all the old statutes mentioning them; it just told everyone to read those unchanged statutes "to refer to * * * the district courts" instead. And it never replaced "Act" with "chapter" at all.

So who wrote the words in the opinion? The answer is the staff at the Office of Law Revision Counsel, an office in the House of Representatives. They edit the real statutes that go through bicameralism-and-presentment (most of which are published in the Statutes at Large) and then compile them into titles of the United States Code. Congress occasionally reenacts those edited compilations as the real law. But often the Code isn't really law; as Will Baude recently put it, it's just "a helpful edited collection that tries to reflect what the Statutes at Large actually add up to." That's why the Code's unenacted titles are only "prima facie" evidence of the text, while the Statutes at Large are "legal evidence" of what you'd find in the original enrolled bills deposited in the National Archives.

Usually these distinctions don't matter much. Who cares whether a statute actually says "district courts," so long as we're legally required to read the text as if it did? But sometimes the difference does matter—such as when the compilers leave a statutory provision out of the U.S. Code for four decades, or when Congress writes a new law but forgets to change the enacted title it overrides.

And sometimes, as Tobias Dorsey explains in a great article, courts misunderstand what a statute does simply because they're looking at a final edited version, not the bills enacted over time. So when BNSF's reply brief based an argument on "[t]he statute's reference to jurisdiction 'under this chapter,'" its conclusion wasn't necessarily wrong—but its premise should have rested on words written by Congress, not by a staff office making chapter divisions on its own.

Two last points. First, courts can help remind the parties (and themselves) that the Code is not the law. Right now, the Supreme Court's Rule 34.5 requires parties to cite to the U.S. Code, even for unenacted titles. Rules like this could instead distinguish enacted titles from unenacted ones—separating the real law from what Dorsey correctly calls the "Cliffs Notes" version.

Second, remembering that the Code isn't the law reminds us of something useful about legal interpretation: that it's about law, and not just about texts. When we talk about "the text of the statute," we're often talking about the text as amended—that is, as generated by a particular process, involving a variety of different legal judgments. Some of those judgments are easy, as when Congress spells out what it's amending and how. But some are quite difficult, as when there are discrepancies in an enrolled bill, or when a particular provision may or may not fall within the scope of an unclear repeal. Similarly, when we talk about "the text of the Constitution," we aren't talking about a single organic text, but a patchwork of more than a score of separate enactments, adopted over hundreds of years. That's entirely correct as a legal matter, because Article V made those subsequent enactments "valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution." But you need to use legal reasoning to get there, not just textual interpretation. (This is especially true for the Fourteenth Amendment, whose validity may involve reference to the de facto government doctrine or the laws of war.) "What's the text?" isn't only a textual-integrity question, of the kind we might refer to philologists or historians; often the question we're really asking is "what's the law?" But to answer that question, we really ought to get the words right in the first place.

Posted by Stephen Sachs on June 4, 2017 at 10:05 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Scope of injunction in the 4th Circuit travel ban decision

The Fourth Circuit divided 10-3 in affirming the district court and enjoining the second travel ban. The court agreed to keep the injunction nationwide, but reversed the part of the injunction that ran against the President personally (although the injunction stands as to other federal officials involved in its enforcement). I will leave substantive analysis to others, but check out here, here, here, and here. Given my interests, I want to address two points about the scope of the injunction.

1) The court affirmed the nationwide scope of the injunction and actually gave reasons: Plaintiffs are dispersed throughout the country; congressional desire for uniform immigration law; and an interesting Establishment Clause hook--because the EO violates the Establishment Clause, its enforcement as to anyone sends the identical  message that plaintiffs are outsiders and unwelcome in the community.

The first concern is satisfied by a true nationwide injunction, which is to say an ordinary injunction--protect named plaintiffs everywhere they are. It does not justify this injunction, which is universal--protecting everyone everywhere. The second argument proves too much. Congress wants all federal law to be uniform; that is the point of having federal law in some areas. There is nothing special about immigration law in that respect. That the law might go through periods of disuniformity while courts figure out the meaning and validity of some law is inherent in a tiered federal judiciary and unavoidable, given that SCOTUS does not have original jurisdiction in all constitutional challenges to federal law, meaning any challenge must work its way through multiple (possibly disuniform) courts before SCOTUS can offer a final, uniform conclusion. It does not justify a regional court acting as SCOTUS and having the nationally controlling (even if temporary) word on an issue.

The third argument is interesting and would seem to make the Establishment Clause special for injunction purposes. But that Clause also is special for standing purposes, so it offers an interesting way to tie the front-end standing concerns with back-end remedial concerns.

 2) If the President cannot be enjoined in an Ex Parte Young action such as this one, it really means he is immune from suit, should not be named as a defendant at all, and should have been dismissed from the action at the outset. But he wasn't and courts entertain these lawsuits with the President as a named defendant all the time.

The Fourth Circuit relied on Franklin v. Massachusetts, including Justice Scalia's concurrence. Scalia argued that it was enough to enjoin the Secretary to stop unlawful executive action, just as we enjoin the executive to stop unlawful legislative action. But the reason is that legislators enjoy absolute Speech-or-Debate immunity from all suits for all remedies. In fact, we have EPY at all because of sovereign immunity-- the sovereign (the United States) cannot be sued, so we sue the executive acting on behalf of the sovereign. The President purportedly is not immune, at least not from an injunction, so there should be no reason to look elsewhere. Or, if he is immune, say so and proceed accordingly.

The Fourth Circuit also cites Franklin for the proposition that this does not leave the President free to act unconstitutionally. The secretaries through whom he acts are enjoined. And "[e]ven though the President is not directly bound by the injunction, we assume it is substantially likely that the President . . . would abide by an authoritative interpretation" of the EO.

Why is that so in a departmentalist world? The key to functional departmentalism is the difference between an injunction/judgment and precedent--the President is bound by the former, not by the latter. But if the President cannot be enjoined, there is no way to compel him (beyond persuasion) to the judicial interpretation. I suppose the answer is that the President cannot enforce the EO himself, but only through his secretaries, aides, and federal employees--all of whom are enjoined. Still, it adds an unnecessary step that is inconsistent with EPY, unless the President enjoys an as-yet unrecognized immunity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 25, 2017 at 05:52 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Another unwarranted universal/nationwide injunction

Last week, Judge Jones of the Western District of Washington issued a nationwide TRO against enforcement of a federal regulation barring attorneys from providing limited limited legal services for otherwise-pro bono litigants in immigration proceedings. The regulation requires attorneys to file a formal appearance as counsel of record in order to provide any representation, something the plaintiff Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization, cannot afford to do in all cases for all clients. NWIRP argued that the regulation violated the First Amendment.

As always, the court made the order nationwide: "Counsel for the Government represented during the hearing on the TRO that it desired to continue issuing cease and desist letters to non-profit organizations providing legal services to immigrants. As such, the Court grants this TRO on a nationwide basis. Therefore, the Court prohibits the enforcement of 8 C.F.R. § 1003.102(t) during the pendency of this TRO on a nationwide basis."

Even if universal injunctions might at times be warranted, this is not one of those times. NWIRP represents clients only in the Pacific Northwest, so it would be sufficiently protected by an injunction prohibiting the issuance of cease-and-desist letters to it in Washington. We could even extend that to the issuance of letters to NWIRP anywhere in the country (a real "nationwide" injunction). But NWIRP's is in no way deprived of complete relief if the government issues C/D letters to any other lawyers or nonprofit organizations anywhere else in the country. There is no reason, and no basis in principles of equity and judgments, for one district court in a non-class action to freeze enforcement as to every other person everywhere in the country.

But we have reached a point where universality is automatic and unthinking. Every district judge believes that every injunction baring enforcement of a provision of federal law must be universal.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 23, 2017 at 06:08 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Parlor Games and the FBI Directorship

Mitch McConnell (following the lead of Utah's Mike Lee) is urging President Trump to nominate Merrick Garland for FBI Director. McConnell insists that Garland would provide the nonpolitical professionalism needed for the position, plus he would get Democratic support, which would be a benefit for this appointment. And, of course, although McConnell does not say so, it also would give Trump a vacancy on the D.C. Circuit.

But Garrett Epps argues that it need not create any vacancy. Nothing in the Constitution or federal statutes prohibits a judicial officer from holding executive-branch office (I wrote in January wondering whether Garland would have had to resign his seat had Obama made a recess appointment). Epps cites numerous examples of simultaneous work, including Justice Jackson taking a one-year leave from SCOTUS to serve as Nuremberg prosecutor and Chief Justice Warren simultaneously chairing the commission investigating the Kennedy assassination. Epps argues that Garland could take a leave of absence from the D.C. Circuit to head the FBI for a few years (long enough to investigate Russia and anything else that comes down the Trumpian pike), then go back to the court after a few years in the Hoover Building* All it takes is the approval of the Chief Judge of the Circuit--and the Chief Judge of the Circuit is Merrick Garland.

[*] Although how much administrative trouble would it create when Garland came back to the D.C. Circuit. Would he have to recuse from nearly every federal criminal case in which FBI agents investigated?

Of course, McConnell is politically savvy and would ensure that Garland agreed to resign from the bench as a condition of confirmation. But Democrats might still score some political points, showing that McConnell's desire for bipartisanship is a ruse to create a judicial vacancy for a Republican president. If McConnell is  serious about wanting Democratic support and a non-partisan figure for the FBI, he should not insist on the new partisan gain of the judicial appointment

Ultimately, this is a parlor game (hence the title of the post) that makes for fun musings but will never come close to reality.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 16, 2017 at 02:23 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Opening up broadcast indecency

At the end of the day, the minor controversy over the FCC's "inquiry" into Stephen Colbert's "cock-holster"* joke is going to be a lot like people in the administration talking about "opening up the libel laws"--a lot of noise that will never be put into any legal effect and cannot be taken seriously.

[*] As George Carlin reminded us, "cocksucker" is one of the words you cannot say on television. It is not clear that the word "cock," standing alone, falls in the same category.

The ban on indecent speech on broadcasting is 6 a.m.-10 p.m., so Colbert (at 11:30 p.m.) operated in a zone in which indecent speech is not legally prohibited. Colbert and CBS thus can be punished only if his joke was obscene under Miller. But we are past the point that written words alone can be held legally obscene, given how community values have evolved in understanding what is patently offensive. And that is before we get to the fact that the comment was a joke about the President of the United States, so it has serious political value. Frankly, I doubt this comment would be deemed punishable indecency, even if broadcast outside the safe harbor. If it could not be indecent, no way could it be obscene.

Still, I found this Fortune story by Aric Jenkins both wrong and problematic. The author objects to calling an FCC investigation "censorship," insisting that it is merely following standard operating procedure in logging and reviewing complaints. Plus, the author insists, any "penalty would be monetary — not any form of censorship." Again, I thought we long ago left behind the idea that post-publication punishment is not a form of censorship of speech. And I wonder if Mr. Jenkins would be so sanguine if the federal government established standard operating procedures for reviewing complaints about his articles and imposing a monetary penalty on them--would he insist that this is not censorship.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 7, 2017 at 05:21 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Sport and speech, part 766

Two news stories, submitted largely without comment:

1) The Boston Red Sox banned a fan from Fenway Park for life for using a racial slur in a conversation with another fan, describing the Kenyan woman who had sung the national anthem. The fan who heard the slur complained to an usher, the speaker was removed from the park, and on Wednesday the team announced the ban.* The Red Sox are private and there is not even a whiff of public funding surrounding Fenway Park, so the First Amendment is nowhere in play. But let's suppose, just for sake of argument, that there were state action. How is this not protected speech? It is not incitement. It is not fighting words, because an insult about someone else is not likely to induce the listener to punch the speaker in the face. There is no general "harassment" exception to the First Amendment, and even if there were, I am not sure it would apply for the same reason this is not fighting words.

[*] Separate question: How do they enforce the ban? Tickets do not have names on them and we do not have to show ID to enter a ballpark. Will his picture be posted at every entrance? And will ticket-takers have the time or patience to look when 35,000 are streaming through the turnstiles?

2) LSU ordered its student-athletes to abide by certain guidelines when participating in any protests of the decision not to bring civil rights charges against the police officers involved in the shooting of Alton Sterling. Among the guidelines (although phrased as a request) is that they not where LSU gear or branding while engaging in these activities. To its credit, the Athletic Department expressed its "respect and support" for the players' right to speak. They just want to control what the athletes wear--itself a form of expression--when they speak.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 4, 2017 at 12:11 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (21)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Two steps back on jurisdictionality

On Monday, SCOTUS unanimously (through Justice Breyer) held that plaintiffs must prove, not merely make non-frivolous allegations of, the elements of the exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for cases where "rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue." The plaintiff must prove and the court must find that the case involves property rights and that the property was taken in violation of international law--if the claim fails on either point, the court lacks jurisdiction. This must be the approach even if the findings overlap with the merits of the claim and even if the findings are not made until later in the case (although the Court also said resolution should be made "as near to the outset of the case as is reasonable possible").

This is the first time in a while the Court has declined to draw a sharp separation between jurisdiction and everything else and to adopt the narrower conception of jurisdiction. The Court was swayed by the foreign-relations and international-comity implications of the contrary result, under which sovereigns would have had to litigate the merits, which may have caused litigation to continue for longer. The Court rejected the plaintiff's analogy to § 1331, emphasizing the different language and the textual import of consistency with international law as to FSIA but not to § 1331. The Court was unconcerned with merits-jurisdiction overlap, emphasizing that in most cases the jurisdictional facts (property and violation of international law) are not part of the merits.* These facts thus were more like the fact of citizenship in diversity cases than whether a claim is created by federal law.

[*] The court of appeals tried a middle ground--proof of jurisdictional fact was necessary where the merits did not overlap, while nonfrivolous allegations were sufficient where they did. SCOTUS said this approach was contrary to the text of FSIA.

I am not convinced by the distinctions with arising-under jurisdiction, although that is informed by two conclusions: 1) Jurisdiction and merits never can overlap, even by the accident of Congress slapping the label of "jurisdiction" on some issue; 2) Sovereign immunity, again regardless of label, is better understood as a merits defense, going to who can be sued and for what conduct. The Bolivarian Court at times plays loose with that jurisdictional nature, distinguishing § 1331 because it does not involve sovereign immunity--but if sovereign immunity is jurisdictional, then it is doing the same thing as § 1331 in limiting judicial authority.

Two of the Court's arguments as to § 1331 are, I believe, especially weak. First, the Court emphasized that the "arising under" language of § 1331 is unconcerned with consistency with international law. But the FSIA exception requires that rights in property taken in violation of international law be "in issue." Nonfrivolous allegations that property was taken in violation of international law should place those facts "in issue," just as a claim "arises under" when the nonfrivolous allegations suggest a right and right of action created by federal law. The Court never addresses the "in issue" language, what it might mean, or how it might be comparable to the § 1331 language.

Second, the plaintiffs had argued that their approach would not burden sovereign litigants, who could move under 12(b)(6) or 56 on these issues and would not necessarily (or even likely) be forced to litigate to the "bitter end." Breyer responded that foreign sovereign immunity is immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine. If these were treated as merits facts, however, they would not be immediately appealable, because Cohen requires the issue be separate from and collateral to the merits. But several non-jurisdictional defenses (notably individual immunities in § 1983 actions) are subject to C/O/D review. And the Court's recent cases have focused on the effectively unreviewable prong and the effect on and importance of  the interests lost if immediate review is unavailable--considerations that should break in favor of  C/O/D applying even if these are treated as merits facts.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 2, 2017 at 08:42 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

More on summary judgment and qualified immunity

Following on my post on Monday's cert denial in Salazar-Limon: Justice Sotomayor questioned that denial in light of the Court's recent summary reversals in cases denying qualified immunity. It is notable for the coincidence that on the same day, the Court denied cert in Needham v. Lewis, a case in which a divided Sixth Circuit denied summary judgment in favor of the officer in a case featuring dashcam video. The majority insisted that a reasonable jury could interpret the video in competing ways (in the face of the dissent saying "That is not the video I have reviewed," not realizing that this is not her job on summary judgment) and that general principles clearly establish that fleeing a traffic stop, without more, does not justify deadly force. The denial also is surprising, first because the type of case the Court has been summarily reversing, and second because of the presence of video and the greater leeway the Court has allowed itself in video cases.

One interesting feature in Needham is that the defendant moved for summary judgment prior to discovery, with the video as the only thing in the record. The court declined to treat the video as one-sided. But perhaps officer testimony confirming the video would have placed the case more squarely within Scott and Plumoff.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 27, 2017 at 07:32 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Problems of scope and nomenclature in nationwide injunctions

Judge Orrick in the Northern District of California preliminarily enjoined President Trump's Executive Order stripping "sanctuary" cities of federal funds. As per usual in these cases nowadays, Judge Orrick made the injunction "nationwide," rejecting government arguments that it be" issued only with regards to the plaintiffs." The court supported that conclusion by citing Califano v. Yamasaki for the proposition that the "scope of injunctive relief is dictated by the extent of the violation established, not by the geographical extent of the plaintiff." The problem is that Orrick excludes the important next word in the quoted sentence--"class." Califano was a 23(b)(2) injunctive class action. Thus an injunction that prohibited enforcement of the challenged law as to multiple people was appropriate--because everyone in the class was a plaintiff. And it makes sense that the injunction should follow the plaintiff nationwide--if the government cannot enforce a law against a plaintiff (whether an individual or a municipality), it cannot enforce it regardless of where in the country the plaintiff goes.

This illustrates that the proper term for what the court did here is "universal injunction"--an injunction that covers the defendant's conduct (here, prohibiting enforcement of the EO) with respect to everyone, party or non-party. A "nationwide injunction," on the other hand, is an injunction that protects the appropriately protected persons (the plaintiffs) nationwide. The former, which is what courts have been issuing, is inconsistent with general principles of equity and the law of judgments, which limit the binding effect of a judgment to the parties. And Califano does not establish the contrary, because that was a class action, so the parties who could be protected by the injunction (consistent with the law of judgments) included everyone in the class. In other words, Califano involved a nationwide injunction for a nationwide class. It did not involve a universal injunction protecting everyone in the universe, even non-parties.

And this does not seem a situation in which the injunction must protect non-parties to be given its full scope. To protect Santa Clara and San Francisco from enforcement of this unconstitutional order, it is not necessary that the court also protect other sanctuary cities from enforcement. Those cities can bring (and some have brought) constitutional challenges prohibiting enforcement as to them, now with the benefit of Santa Clara v. Trump as persuasive precedent. Other than a desire for simplicity, there is no reason that the first decision on a legal issue should also be the last on the way to SCOTUS. Rather, it runs contrary to the assumption that multiple lower courts and multiple lower-court judges are going to take passes at legal issue before those issues reach SCOTUS.

The less said about the White House statements, which drips not only with contempt for the judiciary (a well-established theme), but a misunderstanding of how the federal judiciary and constitutional litigation operate (one listserv member wondered whether a competent lawyer came anywhere near these press releases. But one notable point: The statement uses some form of the phrase "single unelected district judge" three times. I know the White House is engaging in demagoguery and not series legal argument there.

But let's take it at its word--the problem is the injunction being issued by the single district judge. What would the WH like to do about that? Return to the old system of 3-judge district courts for all actions seeking to enjoin enforcement of federal laws? Amend Article III to give SCOTUS original jurisdiction of actions challenging the constitutionality of federal law? Always have the government win because everything the government does is constitutionally valid? (actually, that is the preferred option). Always have the government win in the lower courts? This may be what disturbs me the most about the administration's statements towards the judiciary--they reflect not substantive disagreement, but disregard (or lack of understanding) of the judicial processes that produce constitutional decisionmaking.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 26, 2017 at 12:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Salazar-Limon and the expansion of summary judgment

On Monday, SCOTUS denied cert in Salazar-Limon v. City of Houston, a § 1983 action arising from an officer-involved shooting of an unarmed person. The Fifth Circuit granted summary judgment in favor of the officer, seeming to credit the officer's version of events over the plaintiff's version, even without video. It also touched on the "he was reaching for his waistband" defense that has become a mainstay in these cases. The case was carried over six times before cert was denied--apparently, because Justice Sotomayor was writing a dissent from denial of cert for herself and Justice Ginsburg, which prompted a concurrence in denial of cert by Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas. I am quoted in an Atlantic piece on the case.

The officer testified that he saw the plaintiff turn and reach for his waistband as if for a gun. The plaintiff testified that the officer yelled for him to stop as he was walking away, then shot him immediately--at most a few seconds--after the command. But the plaintiff did not explicitly deny reaching for his waistband, and for both lower courts and Justice Alito, that showed there was no dispute. That the stories told by the officer and the plaintiff contradicted one another, in other words, was not sufficient. The plaintiff had to deny the direct evidence (reaching for the waistband) and could not rely on the competing inference (if what the plaintiff said was true, he did not reach for his waistband) to get past summary judgment.  If taken seriously, this could represent a dramatic expansion of summary judgment.

Justice Alito insisted that this is not the kind of case SCOTUS reviews. Sotomayor placed this within Tolan v. Cotton, as a case of the lower court's clear misapprehension of summary judgment standards warranting summary reversal. Notably, however, Justice Alito (joined by Justice Scalia) concurred only in the judgment in Tolan, suggesting that he did not think the Court should have granted cert, but that Court practice is not to dissent from the grant of cert.

Justice Sotomayor highlights the Court's failure to intervene in this and similar cases in which summary judgment is (erroneously) granted against § 1983 plaintiffs, while frequently summarily reversing decisions denying summary judgment in favor of officers. That assymetry, she argues, ignores that the erroneous grant of summary judgment in § 1983 qualified immunity cases harms "society as a whole" as much as an erroneous denial. Tolan was a step to addressing this assymetry, but the Court has now taken a step back. In response, Justice Alito recognizes the cases reversing denial of summary judgment, then says "the dissent has not identified a single case in which we failed to grant a similar petition filed by an alleged victim of unconstitutional police conduct." But that seemed to be her point--the Court is not taking these cases (other than Tolan) and that is the problem.

Finally, Sotomayor points in a footnote to the increasing frequency with which police officers justify shootings of unarmed people by testifying that the defendant reached for his waistband. Sotomayor does not cite it, but in 2014, the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Alex Kozinski, held that the absence of a gun raises a reasonable competing inference to officer testimony that the plaintiff reached for his waistband. It makes "no sense whatsoever" for an unarmed person to reach for his waistband. A jury therefore could doubt that the plaintiff did this, making summary judgment inappropriate, even if the officer's testimony about reaching for the waistband is not expressly contradicted.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 25, 2017 at 11:03 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Counter-speech or heckler's veto?

There are some troubling aspects to this edition of FIRE's So to Speak podcast on the Manhattan Institute's Heather MacDonald being a victim of a heckler's veto. MacDonald was shouted down at Claremont-McKenna College, where she had been invited to give a talk on her new book on policing. In the interview, she describes speaking to an empty room, because student protesters outside had blockaded the entrance, and the talk ending early because the university refused to let police disperse the protesters. MacDonald wrote about her experiences.

My free-speech positions generally align with FIRE's, so I was surprised by the problems I found with the discussion:

1) It does not appear they have grappled with the protected nature of some of the protesters' activities (MacDonald allowed at one point that they were "arguably" within First Amendment protection). All heckling seems to constitute a heckler's veto in their telling. Except heckling a speaker is constitutionally protected, including to the point of trying to shout down or drown out that speaker, with the hope that she will give up and go away. (I like to point to the scene in Casablanca with the competing songs). So is asking snarky questions during the Q&A. So is pounding on drums and chanting. There is a line to be drawn somewhere and I admit to not knowing precisely where that is. Blockading the entrance or pounding on the glass is over the line. So is invading the speaker's space or trying to grab the microphone. But shouting from across the way must be protected. And there is an ocean between those.

The  undercurrent to the interview is that the First Amendment (as opposed to civility or a Platonic ideal of polite exchange of ideas) requires those who oppose ideas to allow those ideas a polite hearing. But this privileges the position of the invited speaker (MacDonald) to say what she wants and she wants to, imposing  on others to give her a polite listen and only engage in counter-speech (supposedly the remedy to be applied) on her terms. Rather, counter-speech, no less than "original" speech, may be vehement, caustic, and unpleasantly sharp. Counter-speech, no less than "original" speech, can produce the verbal tumult, discord, and dverbal cacophony that is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

Again, do not hear me as saying that the protesters were entirely in the right. Only that there is a First Amendment element that went almost entirely unacknowledged throughout the interview and MacDonald' narrative.

2) At one point the podcast host describes the right to free speech as a two-sided coin--the right of the speaker to speak and the right of willing listeners to listen, both of which were undermined by the protesters. But this, again, ignores the third side (making this a triangular dreidel?) of the rights of the protesters to counter-speak.

3) A different theme in MacDonald's comments, especially in the interview, is that she is in the right because the protesters attempting to shout her down are "arrogant" and "ignorant" (and arrogant in their ignorance). They are wrong about Black Lives Matter and the problem of police-involved shootings. And if they only knew what she did--such as the story of one elderly person in Chicago who would like to see a greater police presence--they would shut up and listen to her. And their failure to shut up and listen to her and her correct ideas (as opposed to their ignorant ones) represents their abandonment of respect for the First Amendment.

4) MacDonald called out the CMC faculty for not getting involved. Her solution is that when a controversial speaker is coming to campus, faculty members should take class time, regardless of subject, to give a talk to students explaining that they are expected to "maintain the highest ideals of civilization, which is rational discourse." That lecture should take place in a chemistry class or a philosophy class or a literature class.

But isn't the great conservative criticism of academia and academic that professors ignore what they are supposed to be teaching in the classroom (the atomic weight of Bromide or whatever) to instead "brainwash" (a word MacDonald used several times in the interview) students about that prof's favored political ideals. That seems to be what MacDonald is urging here. Except instead of brainwashing them about Marxism, she wants them to brainwash them about her vision of free expression. So I guess it is ok, as long as the professor is brainwashing the student about MacDonald's preferred political ideal.

5) Somewhat related, I would flag this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscription required) by my colleague Stanley Fish, who attempts to separate the values of the university from free speech values. He argues that the guest speakers and protests and everything else have nothing to do with academic or university values. They represent political speech to which the university has chosen to open its doors and spaces. Which is fine, but has nothing to do with academic freedom or the core purposes of a university.

6) And this post from Max Stearns' Blindspot, which develops a "vaccine" theory of public debate, in which there is value to exposure to small amounts of noxious ideas. Again, as a model of public debate, this is interesting. But it leaves many open questions about how to account for counter-speech within a model of First Amendment jurisprudence.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 24, 2017 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (13)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Notes on Monday's SCOTUS arguments

I covered two of yesterday's arguments for SCOTUSBlog--in Perry v. MSPB (considering where review is had for MSPB decisions) and Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates (considering whether intervenors must have standing). Some additional thoughts below.

First, the story for many commentators about Perry was how engaged Justice Gorsuch was with both sides in the first case on his first argument day (it is not clear from the transcript, but reports are he asked his first question about ten minutes in). What has been discussed less is that Gorsuch seemed poised to rejected everything the Court had said previously about mixed cases. While the Court as recently as five years ago in Kloeckner v. Solis had stated that mixed cases go entirely to a district court, Gorsuch pushed both sides to the conclusion that the CSRA does not authorize district courts to review MSPB decisions and that mixed cases must be split up, with discrimination issues going to the district court and CSRA issues to the Federal Circuit. It is not clear where and whether he will follow that position. I previously, mainly jokingly, predicted that Gorsuch would write Perry, because it seemed the kind of case assigned to the junior-most Justice and I expected it to be unanimous, in light of Kloeckner. I may prove partially correct about him writing--but it may be a solo dissent.

Second, Gorsuch showed a distinct style on the bench (I cannot tell the tone of that style from the transcript--I am anxious to listen to the audo). He is well prepared and able to dig into the minutiae of the case, including statutory language (contrast that with the 10,00o-foot professorial musings of Justice Breyer). And he does not let attorneys get away with half-answers or skirting his questions; he keeps coming back and demanding answers. An exchange in Town of Chester with respondent's counsel is illustrative. Gorsuch was asking about the line between an intervenor seeking his own relief and seeking to benefit from the same judgment that a plaintiff with standing is seeking. Counsel argued it depends on the scope of the judgment sought, in light of the "one good plaintiff" rule. When counsel tried to pivot, Gorsuch apologized for interrupting, but said "[i]if you would just answer my question, I would be grateful," later insisting "that's not a trick question." When counsel again returned to the one good plaintiff, Gorsuch said "I'll let you go."

Third, Town of Chester silently ties into debates about the proper scope of judgment. Everyone was getting tripped up by the "one good plaintiff" rule, under which a non-class judgment can work to the benefit of multiple plaintiffs so long as one has standing. But that rule may be problematic under Article III, as Aaron Bruhl argued in an amicus brief and a forthcoming article. And it may be problematic as a matter of the law of judgments, where a court should be limited to issuing a judgment that directly benefits only a named plaintiff (and a named plaintiff must, under Article III, have standing). The one good plaintiff rule reflects the same misunderstanding of judgments and injunctions that allows for nationwide/universal injunctions.

Fourth, the Justices keep dancing around the connection between standing and merits, without seeing (or wanting to see) the identity between them. In Chester, Justice Alito asked respondent's counsel for an example of a case in which an intervenor lacked standing. Counsel responded with Trbovich v. UMW, in which a union member, who would not have been allowed to sue under the LMRDA, was allowed to intervene. To which Alito responded "that's not an Article III question. That's a merits question. That's the scope of the claim." That it is, Justice Alito. That it is.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 18, 2017 at 01:06 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Did United Airlines act under color?

It strikes me as a question worth considering. Ordinarily, one private actor calling law enforcement to enforce private rights as against another private actor is insufficient. And properly so, otherwise everyone would act under color any time she called the police to remove trespassers or to protect her rights and things went sideways.

But does this situation go beyond that, since UA brought in the police specifically for purposes of physically removing this passenger from the plane? The use of force, perhaps excessive, was both UA's purpose in calling the police and a likely result. Is this the sort of "brutal joint adventure," in which police action is necessary to enable private actors to carry-out questionable or unlawful actions? Is dragging this guy off the plane in this manner equivalent to arresting Mrs. Adickes and her students?

UA is going to settle--and do so very quickly. So no court will reach this. Worth thinking about, though.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 10, 2017 at 05:09 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (13)

Friday, April 07, 2017

DOJ, civil rights, and police reform (Updated)

Last Friday, Attorney General Sessions issued a memorandum enumerating a series of principles regarding law enforcement and the relation between the federal government and local law enforcement; these include local control and responsibility for local law enforcement, promotion of public respect for police work, and the idea that the "misdeeds of individual bad actors" should not impugn law enforcement as a whole. The memo than calls for review of all DOJ activities to ensure compliance with those principles.

This almost certainly means we will not see new § 14141 actions or investigations being pursued against local agencies. Sessions (and Trump) rarely, if ever, sees police as being at fault in anything, and any misconduct that occurs is a product of a single bad actor, not systemic or institutional problems. It probably means ongoing cases in which a consent decree has not been approved, as in Chicago and Baltimore, will be abandoned or altered. (Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said the city will move forward with reforms, even absent a consent decree). It will be more difficult to undo existing consent decrees; because these reflect final judgments, the court must approve and oversee any changes, regardless of DOJ having changed its mind or policies.

This offers a nice reminder of the relationship between governmental and private enforcement of civil rights and the special role of private enforcement--the change of administration brings changes in enforcement priorities. Private enforcement (through "private attorneys general") provides a constant baseline of enforcement that can pick up the slack, however much slack there is, depending on the administration.

Update: District Judge James Bredar approved the consent decree, declining DOJ's request for a 30-day delay so DOJ could reassess the deal, stating that the case no longer was in a phase in which one side can unilaterally reconsider or amend an agreement and that the court did not need further time to consider the terms of the judgment. On a different procedural point, the NAACP is seeking to intervene, obviously concerned that DOJ is no longer committed to ensuring compliance or enforcing the decree.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 7, 2017 at 09:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 06, 2017

More on the Leib-Lee Solution for SCOTUS

A couple of reactions to Ethan's piece:

1) The deal is better (and Garland a better nominee) for Republicans for the additional reason that Garland is 64 while Gosuch is 49.

2) Trump is and never has been a bipartisan dealmaker, so expecting him to be one  was beyond wishful thinking.He gets results by running roughshod from a position of power created by wealth (suing contractors or forcing contractors to sue him, knowing he can wait them out) or, as here, numerical partisan advantage. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with that, only that this is his real M.O. He has no interest in doing anything else.

3) Trump could have gotten to the same place, even more easily, by following Eric Segall's proposal and not nominating anyone to fill the seat and asking Congress to reduce the Court to eight.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 6, 2017 at 02:11 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (10)

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Your Fed Courts/Civil Rights Exam

Identify the problems with this complaint: The victims who will testify in the Michigan sexual-abuse prosecution Lawrence Nassar, the former doctor for USA Gymnastics. The witnesses have sued the criminal trial judge, the attorney general, and Nassar, challenging a gag order the judge imposed on the witnesses (on Nassar's motion), alleging it violates due process and the First Amendment. Where to begin?

• The claims against Nassar rest on the conclusion that a criminal defendant acts under color of law when performing ordinary, presumptively lawful litigation maneuvers, such as making motions. That is a dangerous idea.

Rooker-Feldman bars federal constitutional claims seeking relief from an injury caused by a state court order. And the Sixth Circuit is part of the majority of circuits holding that RF applies to interlocutory judgments. I see no way around that in this case, as even the Deadspin commentators recognize.

• The appropriate move should be for the witnesses to intervene and/or to file a motion in the criminal court challenging the gag order, which non-parties can do to challenge orders that affect their interests (for example, what newspapers do to challenge orders that cut-off access to the court). I suppose the move after that would be to mandamus the judge in the state appellate or supreme court--and, if necessary, move the issue to SCOTUS after a final judgment on the mandamus. A federal § 1983 action is nowhere on the list of appropriate strategies.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 5, 2017 at 09:12 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ornstein on election do-overs

In The Atlantic, Norm Ornstein proposes the creation of a mechanism for special presidential and vice-presidential election in "extraordinary circumstances," covering not only a terrorist attack or other catastrophic event, but also attacks on the electoral process itself, as well as "foreign interference in the election combined with a winning party’s involvement in or reinforcement of the interference." Ornstein's basic point is that if a cloud if illegitimacy hangs over the President and Vice President, everyone who might replace him within the line of succession sits under that same cloud. (This is the converse to the logic of having cabinet officers as primary successors--they enjoy what Akhil Amar calls "apostolic democratic legitimacy" should they be elevated to acting president, by virtue of having been appointed by the legitimate President. But if that President is not legitimate, then no one enjoys apostolic legitimacy).

Norm knows more about presidential succession than just about anyone alive. I had the privilege of working with him a bit on the Continuity of Government Commission, an effort he co-chaired in the years after 9/11 to alter the rules of presidential succession to respond to a mass-destruction event aimed at Washington (recall that Flight 93 was headed to the Capitol). Those efforts went nowhere, as the political urgency subsided. His point now is that a different political urgency has presented itself.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 27, 2017 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Friday, March 10, 2017

The forgotten police shooting?

The latest episode of NPR's Embedded explores the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell by a Charlotte police officer in 2013. This was the prototype for  the many "officer-involved shootings" around which Black Lives Matter has grown: Part of the encounter (not the actual shots, though) was captured on dashcam; the officer described fear of an unarmed black man impervious to weapons with "holograms" for eyes; the jury hung (8-4 in favor of acquittal, split roughly along racial lines) based on seeing different things in the video and the state did not retry; the officer resigned; and the city settled (for about $ 2.5 million).

First, the show explores the ambiguity of video evidence and the fact that different people see different things in the video. It notes the demographic correlations, but no more than that. The producers did not talk to Dan Kahan or about his studies of how people view and understand video evidence and the demographic connections. They instead let everything stand on one person's comments that "people see what they want to see," which is a simplistic way of describing a complicated process of perception and cognition that Kahan has tried to explain.

Second, Ferrell has somewhat become the forgotten police-shooting victim. In writing about police shootings and video the past few years, my paradigms are always the post-Ferguson victims--Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott. I had not thought about the Ferrell case until I heard the program.

Third, I wonder what we should make of Ferrell settling for $ 2.5 million in 2015, whereas McDonald's settled for $ 5 million and Scott's and Garner's families settled for more than $ 6. Why the difference? Has the post-Ferguson environment created a settlement premium in these cases?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 10, 2017 at 03:17 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Qualified Immunity meets advisory opinions

One of my students flagged the Fifth Circuit decision in Turner v. Driver from two weeks ago. A divided panel held that the right to video-record police and police stations from the public sidewalk was not clearly established in September 2015. The court then went on to say:

Because the issue continues to arise in the qualified immunity context, we now proceed to determine it for the future. We conclude that First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.

That section of the opinion was even titled "Whether the Right Is Clearly Established Henceforth."

There has always been something advisory-opinionish about the qualified immunity analysis. The court addresses the merits and finds a violation, but does not impose liability in this casebecause the right was not clearly established. Instead, that merits analysis serves (perhaps) to clearly establish the right for the next case, at least the next case involving largely similar facts.

But the majority here seems to have crossed over into a pure advisory statement of abstract legal principles. It was not even purporting to do a merits-first analysis (and not just because this part came after the clearly established prong). The court did not find that the officers violated Turner's rights in this case. Rather, it simply announced a First Amendment right to record in public (subject to reasonable time, place, manner restrictions), devoid of any facts or details to the case at hand. And the court did so expressly because the issue would continue to arise in the qualified immunity context, where courts otherwise would continually have to deny liability because the right would forever remain not clearly established. Of course, the need to establish constitutional law is one reason that courts may and often should abide by the merits-first approach, even if not mandatory. This goes beyond that--law divorced from any facts or any violation in the case at hand.

Moreover, it is not clear the majority did or could achieve what it wanted to do. As the dissent argued, future cases must look to factually similar cases for the clearly established analysis, not general principles of law. But the facts were not part of the analysis here. Thus, the dissent argues, "[b]ecause the majority does not hold that the officers actually violated the First Amendment, 'an officer acting under similar circumstances”' in the future will not have violated any clearly established law."

It is good to have another circuit weighing in on the First Amendment right to record. But the way the court got there was procedurally odd.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 27, 2017 at 02:58 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Commercial Marijuana Advertising and the First Amendment

Many states that have legalized the commercial sale of marijuana have also sought to restrict commercial marijuana advertising. For example, Colorado prohibits licensed retail marijuana stores from advertising on television programs unless the stores have “reliable evidence that no more than 30 percent of the audience for the program on which the Advertising is to air is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21.” Colorado imposes similar restrictions on print and internet advertising. (Colorado’s advertising restrictions can be found here, in Rules 1102-1115). Until recently, at least one medical marijuana state (Montana) had banned all commercial marijuana advertising.

State advertising restrictions are motivated primarily by concerns that the commercial marijuana industry might seek to promote marijuana consumption by minors, similar to the way that the alcohol industry once (still?) promoted underage consumption of beer. Indeed, some of Colorado’s advertising restrictions are directly modeled on advertising guidelines that various alcohol industry trade groups have voluntarily imposed on their members. See, e.g., the Beer Institute’s Advertising and Marketing Code.

But do government restrictions on commercial marijuana advertising violate the First Amendment?

 

The place to start is Central Hudson v. Public Services Commission, which establishes the test for government regulation of commercial speech. In relevant part, Central Hudson instructs that “[f]or commercial speech to come within [the protection of the First Amendment], it at least must concern lawful activity and not be misleading.” Any government regulation of protected speech must “directly” advance a “substantial . . . government interest”, and not be more “extensive that is necessary to serve that interest.”

Let me pose two questions to the blogosphere regarding the application of this test to commercial marijuana advertising:

  1. As a threshold matter, does commercial marijuana advertising concern “lawful” activity? The question is complicated by the fact that the production and sale of marijuana are “lawful activities” as a matter of state but not federal law. Indeed, the Montana state supreme court upheld that state’s (since repealed) outright ban on commercial marijuana advertising by finding that commercial marijuana speech was not entitled to any protection under the First Amendment because the federal government banned the drug (even if Montana did not). Alex Kreit has written a thoughtful piece espousing a similar position – i.e., suggesting that states have more leeway to restrict commercial marijuana advertising so long as the federal government bans production and sale of the drug. But should courts consider the federal ban when judging the constitutionality of state restrictions on commercial marijuana advertising? In other words, should a state have more leeway to restrict advertising of some activity it considers lawful just because the federal government bans the same?
  2. Assuming that commercial marijuana advertising is protected speech, do state restrictions like those outlined above pass the second part of the Central Hudson test? In other words, do state governments have a substantial interest in restricting such advertising, and is there any other way for states to address that interest?

I have my intuitions about how to answer these questions, but I'm not a First Amendment scholar and I'm curious how others would approach these issues. 

 

Posted by Robert Mikos on February 27, 2017 at 11:09 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

One more from Hernandez v. Mesa

The following exchange occurred toward the end of Petitioner's argument:

Justice Alito asked whether a plaintiff would have a § 1983 action if the shooter had been a state or local police officer; petitioner's attorney responded "You would not have a claim over the State officer, but if you don't --but a Bivens claim--a constitutional Bivens claim could apply to the State officer."

Did counsel misspeak? Or is he arguing that a plaintiff can enforce the Fourteenth Amendment (including the incorporated Fourteenth Amendment) through a Bivens action in situations in which § 1983 runs out (as everyone seems to accept here, where § 1983 protects citizens and "other person[s] within the jurisdiction thereof")? And can that be right, certainly descriptively, under the Court's recent Bivens jurisprudence, where § 1983 would be an alternative remedy?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 26, 2017 at 02:09 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hernandez v. Mesa argument

Just finished the argument in Hernandez v. Mesa (shooting across the Mexican border). A couple quick notes:

The argument was dominated by Justices Breyer and Kagan, with fewer questions from the Chief or Kennedy and even fewer from Justice Alito, who I would have expected to challenge the petitioner more than he did. On that note: At one point, the transcript shows Kagan beginning to ask a question when the Chief jumped in to call on Justice Kennedy (who, according to the transcript, had not begun to say anything). I want to hear it on audio. The Chief often plays traffic cop during arguments,* although this was the first time I have seen him do it without an apparent verbal signal that someone was trying to speak.

[*] An interesting research question: Is he more likely to "call on" a male Justice, especially over a female Justice? It feels that way from the individual examples I notice. I wonder if a regularized study would bear that out.

Qualified immunity was not discussed much, only a couple of questions from the Chief and Kennedy. One of them asked whether qualified immunity accounts for different plaintiffs--that is, if case law establishes that X violates the Constitution, can courts distinguish that precedent (to find the right not clearly established) when the identity of the plaintiff subjected to X is different.

Finally, Kagan and Breyer both pushed back against the idea that Bivens must be "extended," at least for Fourth Amendment excessive-force claims to recognize a cause of action. Kagan suggested that Bivens should be understood as allowing Fourth Amendment claims unless it arises in the military context. And Kagan pushed hard on the absence of an alternative remedy here, seeming to suggest that we should not even look at special factors if the plaintiff is left entirely without a remedy. These ideas, if followed, would pull the Court back from where it has gone with Bivens in the past two decades, similar to the vision Justice Ginsburg espoused in her dissent in Wilkie v. Robbins.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 24, 2017 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Whittington on Trump and the courts

This Balkinization piece by Keith Whittington. I have been trying to figure out why Trump's comments about the judiciary have rankled, especially given my (newfound) adherence to departmentalism. Keith's answer is that they are content-free and rest on a rejection of judicial authority (and an attempt to scapegoat judges for whatever might happen in the future), rather than a substantive critique of why the judiciary, while authorized, was wrong.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 16, 2017 at 08:14 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Could Jeff Sessions Stifle State Marijuana Reforms?

Proponents of state marijuana reforms are concerned about Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General. Sessions has spoken critically of those state reforms. For example, in April of 2016, he was quoted as saying that “We need grown-ups in Washington to say that marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized . . . ., that it's in fact a very real danger.”  The chief fear among reform proponents is that Sessions will renew enforcement of the federal marijuana ban in reform states, for example, by initiating federal prosecutions of state licensed marijuana suppliers. Federal laws criminalizing the behavior of these suppliers remain on the books, even if the DOJ refrained from enforcing them vigorously under the Obama Administration. (He might also challenge state reforms as preempted, but as I've argued elsewhere, I think  a challenge to most reforms would clearly fail.) 

However, I want to suggest that the risk Sessions poses to state marijuana reforms is quite limited, for at least three reasons.

First, since 2014, Congress has barred the DOJ from using appropriated funds “to prevent . . . States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The quoted language has been inserted in riders to omnibus spending bills for the last couple of budget cycles. Although the rider language is not terribly clear, the Ninth Circuit has interpreted it as barring the DOJ from prosecuting anyone for actions that comport with state medical marijuana laws. This means that, at least until the current rider expires later this year, the DOJ probably couldn’t initiate legal action against state licensed medical marijuana suppliers. Even recreational marijuana suppliers might be off limits under the Ninth Circuit ruling if they also serve the medical market (as they do in several states) -- though that's an untested proposition.

Second, even if AG Sessions demands a crackdown on marijuana, it’s not clear that the 93 United States Attorneys – i.e., the ones who can actually bring prosecutions – will necessarily oblige him. For the time being, many of those USAs are holdovers from the Obama Administration, and they might not share Sessions’ antipathy toward marijuana. But even after Trump has a chance to replace them, there is no guarantee that his USAs would necessarily heed Sessions’ demands regarding marijuana enforcement. USAs have a degree of independence from the AG and central DOJ. And if asked to do something that is locally unpopular – like crack down on the marijuana industry in a legalization state – some USAs might balk, either because they believe it's the right thing to do or because they aspire to local political office and fear alienating large local constituencies who support state reforms. 

Third, the DOJ has very limited resources. The DEA, the unit within the DOJ that has primary responsibility for enforcing federal drug laws, has only about 5,500 agents total – and they’re responsible for policing all drugs (licit and illicit), worldwide.  As I have written elsewhere, even before the Obama Administration first adopted a deferential enforcement policy toward marijuana in 2009, the DOJ couldn't take on all of the marijuana cases that had previously been handled by reform states. The task facing the DOJ has not gotten any easier in the intervening years. There are now 44 states (including DC) that have legalized some form of marijuana, including 29 that have full-fledged medical marijuana laws (and 9 of those have recreational marijuana laws). That’s an awful lot of ground for the DOJ to cover with only limited resources, especially when the agency is also attempting to crack down on various other offenses (immigration, etc.). To be sure, the DOJ could (eventually) make life difficult for some marijuana suppliers. But I think the number of prosecutions (and other legal actions) the agency could undertake would be too small to make much of a dent in the state legalized marijuana market (even given harsh sanctions).

Ultimately, AG Sessions might be able to forestall reforms at the federal level –– assuming he has some clout in Congress. For example, he might be able to block or at least delay passage of federal legislation that would enable banking with the marijuana industry. However, I don’t think Sessions will be able to stifle state marijuana reforms.   

Posted by Robert Mikos on February 14, 2017 at 05:05 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 10, 2017

The process of challenging the travel order

The litigation in Washington v. Trump has become politically confused following Thursday's decision by the Ninth Circuit.

The district court issued a Temporary Restraining Order; while it was entered following an adversary hearing, it was on light briefing and without an evidentiary hearing. It was designed to maintain the status quo until there could be briefing and a an evidentiary hearing on a preliminary injunction, although the briefing schedule was set so that the TRO would last more than the 14 days allowed by FRCP 65(b)(2), although not substantially more than that. The order was, as many have noted, bare-bones and conclusory in the constitutional analysis, as befits a TRO.

The United States appealed, although it was not clear what or how. TROs are not subject to immediate appeal, although preliminary injunctions are. The purpose of the appeal appears to have been to get the Ninth Circuit to stay the district court order.

The Ninth Circuit panel recast the TRO as a PI (pursuant to Ninth Circuit precedent allowing the court of appeals to look through the label), granting it appellate jurisdiction, then denied the stay pending appeal. The Ninth Circuit has set a briefing schedule for the appeal (running into March), so we are done at the district court, at least at the preliminary injunction stage. At the same time, the panel left open the possibility that the merits panel could revisit the issue, decide this is really a TRO and that there is no appellate jurisdiction, kicking it back to the district court for the evidentiary hearing it was trying to hold.  There also is the possibility that the Ninth Circuit panel will decide that it cannot review the decision without an evidentiary record and remand for that hearing.

So consider where this leaves us: The case is in the Ninth Circuit to review a bare-bones order, entered without an evidentiary hearing and without giving an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing. This means, as described by one professor on the Civ Pro Listserv, the appeal will be nothing more than a replay of the stay motion with longer and more drawn-out briefing (and with the burden of persuasion shifted to the State), but with nothing more in the record to review. This reflects an insight Samuel Bray has made in his work criticizing nationwide injunctions--if the courts see their role as deciding whether to "strike down" a statute, then the narrow, party-specific work in the district court becomes less important. And litigants may view it that way, as well.

It did not have to proceed this way. The United States could have instead sought a Writ of Mandamus, which would have allowed the Ninth Circuit to look at the TRO to determine whether it was egregiously wrong, without being a run-of-the-mill appeal. And it could have done that without having to manufacture appellate jurisdiction, review a cursory order entered without a full record, or waste time remanding to obtain that full record. But the U.S. seemed so anxious to be able to enforce the E.O. pendent lite that it blew through many of these details.

A nice question to consider: Where did the decision to pursue the appeal in this way come from? At the time, there was no AG and no SG. So did the instructions and oversight come from the White House?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 10, 2017 at 10:17 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (11)

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Must Police Return Wrongfully Seized Marijuana?

Imagine the following scenario. P is a local police officer who stops D for speeding. In the course of a consensual search of D’s car, P finds a small bag of marijuana. State law bans the simple possession of marijuana by most people, so P seizes the drug. However, D subsequently convinces a judge that he was allowed by state law to possess the marijuana (say, because he’s a qualified patient under the state’s medical marijuana law). Following the judge’s ruling, D asks P to return the marijuana. Must P do so?

Many states explicitly require the police to return marijuana they have wrongfully (as a matter of state law) seized from individuals like D. But the police sometimes refuse to obey such requirements. The police claim that the act of returning marijuana constitutes a drug distribution offense under 21 U.S.C. Section 841, since federal law defines “distribution” as any transfer of a banned substance. Hence, a state law requiring police to return marijuana poses a direct conflict with and is thereby preempted by federal law.

Ah, but there is a twist. 21 U.S.C. section 885(d) expressly immunizes state police from “civil or criminal liability” under federal drug laws if they are “lawfully engaged in the enforcement of any law or municipal ordinance relating to controlled substances.” The provision was likely adopted to shield police from liability for participating in sting operations. But marijuana users have claimed that Section 885(d) also applies to other scenarios, including the return of marijuana, and thereby resolves any conflict between state and federal law.

Who is right? There are at least four possible ways of resolving these disputes, none of which is entirely satisfactory:
  1. Adopt a purposivist interpretation of Section 885(d) and side with the police. Just last month, for example, the Colorado Supreme Court found that Section 885(d) would not immunize state police for returning seized marijuana; thus, state police could ignore a state law that required them to do so. Colorado v. Crouse. This interpretation is arguably consistent with the purpose of Section 885(d), but it is difficult to reconcile with the provision’s text. The Crouse court, for example, suggested that a police officer would not be “lawfully engaged in the enforcement” of state law if she violated federal law—i.e., by distributing marijuana. But the same could be said of the undercover police officer who sells marijuana during a sting operation.
  2. Adopt a literal interpretation of Section 885(d) and side with users. In one case, for example, a California appellate court found that Section 885(d) plainly shielded state police from federal criminal liability for returning marijuana to a medical marijuana patient. City of Garden Grove v. Kha. The Kha court reasoned that Section 885(d) “makes law enforcement personnel immune from any civil or criminal liability arising out of their handling of controlled substances as part of their official duties. . . . There can be little question the [City] police would be acting pursuant to their official duties, were they to comply with the trial court’s order to return [the citizen’s] marijuana to him.” This interpretation arguably comports with the text of Section 885(d) (and prevents state agents from undermining state marijuana reforms). But it difficult to reconcile with the text of another provision of the Controlled Substances Act. 21 U.S.C. Section 903 expressly preempts any state law that poses a “positive conflict” with the CSA. To be sure, Congress might not care if state police return marijuana to the same person from whom they seized it. But interpreted literally, Section 885(d) might block preemption of other, more controversial state actions. Imagine, for example, that a state orders its agents to produce and sell marijuana. Indeed, in the early 2000s, the City of Oakland, California, thought it could immunize a local medical marijuana dispensary by deputizing its owner (Ed Rosenthal) and ordering him to supply the needs of the City's medical marijuana patients. When Rosenthal was later prosecuted by the federal government, the district court rejected his assertion of Section 885(d) immunity, though in so doing, it (like the Crouse court) had to rely on a questionable reading of Section 885(d). United States v. Rosenthal.
  3. Find that the anti-commandeering rule empowers state agents to return marijuana. The idea is that if Congress can’t force state police to seize marijuana in the first instance, it also shouldn’t be allowed to force them to retain the drug if they no longer wish to hold it. To be sure, Congress can preempt some state actions that violate federal law – say, growing marijuana at a state-run farm. But there has to be some limit to preemption if the anti-commandeering rule is to do any work. Otherwise, as I’ve argued elsewhere (p. 1446-49), Congress could prevent states from voting to repeal their marijuana bans, releasing prisoners held on marijuana charges, etc. (both of which entail actions of some sort). So as long as state police do no more than restore the proverbial state of nature (say, by returning marijuana to its original owner), Congress may not be able to stop them. (I sketched this argument in the article above (p. 1459-60).) If a court followed this approach, it could sidestep the 885(d) issue and users would win. 
  4. Find that the police lack standing to challenge state duties as preempted. The likelihood that any police officer would actually be prosecuted for returning marijuana is almost zero (because of DOJ enforcement memoranda, congressional spending restrictions, etc.). In other words, the threatened injury to the police is too speculative to satisfy federal standing requirements. If a court followed this approach, it again wouldn’t have to reach the merits of the Section 885(d) issue and users would presumably win. However, even if this standing argument would work in federal court, it wouldn’t necessarily work in state court (where most of these claims have been raised ). That’s because state courts don’t necessarily apply the same restrictive standing rules as their federal counterparts.

As I noted above, none of these approaches is entirely satisfactory to me. But I’m interested to hear what others think – and whether there might be another solution to the puzzle.

Posted by Robert Mikos on February 8, 2017 at 11:10 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (13)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Criticizing v. Threatening--wither the line?

Where is the line between criticizing the judiciary and engaging in threats that potentially undermine the independence of the judiciary? That is the question following Donald Trump's tweets over the challenge to the travel order--where he first referred to District Judge James Robart as a "so-called judge," then said Robart and the judicial system had put the country in peril and would be to blame if there were a terrorist attack while enforcement of the order is enjoined. Will Baude, Eric Posner, and profs on various listservs have decried this as a genuine threat--undermining judicial independence and possibly inciting mob violence against judges should anything happen.*

[*] Threats aside, the comments also rest on a false premise--that there has been a dramatic increase in travel to the United States since the TRO was entered or that the TRO prohibits all vetting and discretion in issuing visas or accepting refugees.

I agree that this is a wrong and intemperate way to criticize a court, a judge, and a judicial ruling and a wiser President would tone it down, focusing on the correctness of the decision rather than whether the judge was acting as a judge and thus had the power to render that decision (Will's point). But I am not convinced this reflects a threat or a shot across the bow of an independent judiciary. Nor am I convinced by how bound up the comments are with whether Trump might disobey or disregard a judicial order. Trump could disobey the order without verbally attacking the judge. These tweets perhaps prime the public to support and accept his disobedience, because they have been primed to understand the decision as non-judicial and thus not entitled to obedience. But they are not a necessary condition for a presidential showdown with the courts, should Trump choose to have one.

On the other hand, I worry that in seeing the President's tweets as so much noise that should not be taken seriously, I am falling into the very trap that a would-be authoritarian President needs--missing efforts to undermine the judiciary before it is too late.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 6, 2017 at 01:16 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Nationwide TRO bars enforcement of immigration order (Updated)

A judge on the Western District of Washington has issued a nationwide Temporary Restraining Order barring enforcement of the main provisions of President Trump's immigration executive order. The order is short (7 pages) and cursory and lasts only until the parties can brief the preliminary injunction, which presumably will receive fuller analysis. Josh Blackman has a quick analysis, with which I basically agree. At the same time, a judge in the District of Massachusetts refused to extend the TRO issued on an emergency basis last weekend.

Some quick highlights:

The lawsuit was brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota. The court seemingly accorded them parens patriae standing, although courts generally do not allow states to assert their citizens' rights--Virginia tried unsuccessfully to use it to challenge the Affordable Care Act). The court also finds harm to the state itself, through its public universities, tax bases, operations, and public funds.

Standing to one side, I cannot see how the EO violates the rights of either State. The constitutional defects in the EO are that it violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of those who would be kept out of the country. So this must be third-party standing on behalf of residents, although I do not yet see the connection between either state and the rights-holders (apart from through parens patriae). As with the other TROs that have issued, the focus is far more on irreparable harm and far less on the merits. Maybe in the early days that is appropriate. But the success of these lawsuits seems to rest on courts finding that the government's power over immigration is less than it was 100 years ago, because rights of equality and religious freedom are greater than they were then. Perhaps they are. But there needs to be more discussion of this following a fuller hearing and more time.

The judge made the order nationwide (more accurately, universal), rejecting the government's argument that the order should be limited only to the two states, citing Texas v. US and the need for uniform immigration rules. The politics of who is seeking and defending these universal injunctions to one side, the need for uniformity cannot justify such orders. Disuniformity pendent lite is an inevitable, perhaps even intended, consequence of dividing the lower courts regionally. Different lower courts might disagree on the same issues, producing momentarily different law in different places. Uniformity arrives at the end of the day from SCOTUS, which is why the Framers mandated that Court at the top. If one regional district court (or one regional court of appeals reviewing that regional district court) has the power to resolve the issue for the entire country, there would be no need for SCOTUS; uniformity would come from whichever court got there (and ruled against the government) first. While this does create some possible confusion and uncertainty in the interim, which would look bad to the public, I do not see how you avoid that problem without altering the nature of regional courts and judicial remedies.

For what it is worth, I am less troubled than Josh is by Washington arguing for a universal injunction, when it explicitly argued against that in the Texas DACA litigation. This is why we have presumptively transsubstantive rules--so repeat players who might find themselves on either side of a dispute cannot sit on rules favoring one side or another.

As expected, the White House responded in its usual reasoned and even-handed way. A WH statement decried the "outrageous" order, although quickly re-issued the statement without the adjective. The President himself was not so reserved--he tweeted (and did not delete) about the "so-called judge" issuing the "ridiculous" opinion. Ah, the new "conversation among the branches." [Update: The President also cannot understand why the lawyers are not "looking at and using" the order from the District of Massachusetts. I assume Bannon or Miller will calmly explain binding v. persuasive authority to our fearless leader.]

Josh reports that the government is working on an appeal to the Ninth Circuit and SCOTUS. Note that this is not an appeal of the TRO itself (which is not subject to immediate review), but seeking a stay of the TRO. The analysis is similar, but not the same.

Update: The United States has appealed. It appears the argument is that this is a de facto preliminary injunction, even though designated as a TRO. Ninth Circuit precedent allows the court of appeals to look below the label, especially where the order lasts more than 14 days. Alternatively, the government may try to turn the appeal into a petition for writ of mandamus, a frequent end-run for interlocutors appeals. It appears that no stay was sought.

Update: The Ninth Circuit treated the appeal as a request for stay of the TRO. It denied the request for an immediate administrative stay, then ordered briefing by Monday of the request for a stay pending appeal. Beyond the stay request, it is not yet clear how the court of appeals is characterizing the district court's order and how that affects appellate jurisdiction.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 4, 2017 at 12:21 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, February 03, 2017

More on Eight is Enough--the Appointments Process

Some further thoughts on Eric Segall's proposal for an eight-person, even-partisan-divided Supreme Court. I believe it produces a functioning Supreme Court, so the objections that it cannot work--that it will create disuniformity and uncertainty in federal law--are overstated. But it does not resolve problems in the appointments process, leaving in place gamesmanship and perverse incentives that may create more. I alluded to these in my JOTWELL essay and want to flesh them out further.

Broadly speaking, Eric's proposal has four pieces (put aside how to codify this): Eight Justices; no more than four Justices from either major party and each seat must be filled by a member of that same party; 2/3 supermajority to appoint an independent or someone who refuses to disclose her party affiliation (to leave open the possibility of a highly qualified independent); approval  by a majority of members on the Senate Judiciary Committee from the nominee's party.

One goal of the plan is to fix the appointments process. The theory is that because no appointment shifts the Court's ideological balance, the stakes are not as high. A Justice of one party always will be replaced by a Justice of the same party, with only a difference of degree depending on the party of the appointing President. Segall also hopes it will produce less ideological Justices--as a President of one party will seek out a moderate from the other.

The problem is that an ideological balance remains at stake with the appointment, just in reverse--while a seat is vacant, there is a 4-3 Court, tilted to one side ideologically. And that may affect the desire to appoint or confirm anyone at all or how willing an actor in the appointments process is to negotiate over a Justice from the opposite party.

After the jump, thoughts on how the game might play out in four situations, all with a President from Party A. The game changes depending on four variables. The result might not be what we expect.

Situation I: Senate Majority A, Justice A: This is the situation of maximum political control. The A's can appoint whoever they want and probably will look for an extremely A Justice. The only check is a B filibuster, but I do not expect the filibuster to survive the Gorsuch nomination. Franky, this is the only situation in which confirmation is possible anymore. Segall's proposal might not change that.

Situation II: Senate Majority A, Justice B. This is the situation that theoretically produces more-moderate, less-ideological nominees, as the President and Senate Majority look for the least B-ish/most A-ish B Justice they can find (a BINO--B In Name Only--if you will). The requirement that a majority of the B members of the Judiciary Committee approve the nominee tempers this somewhat, producing someone within the B mainstream.

But another perverse incentive arises here. As long as that B seat remains empty, there is a 4-3 Court with an A majority. President A (and Senate A) probably like that status quo and would be happy to maintain it as long as possible. This gives them an incentive to delay--or avoid altogether--any nomination or confirmation. It also gives them incentive to play hardball with the B members of the Judiciary Committee--accept our BINO or we are happy to leave the seat open and retain the partisan advantage.

Situation III: Senate Majority B, Justice A. Now the President and Senate majority at odds, with the B-majority Senate happy to keep the seat open, prompting the President to nominate a less A-ish Justice who is acceptable to the B Senate. This reflects the current system in periods of divided government, with Presidents often nominating a less-preferred choice to appease the opposing party in the Senate (think Anthony Kennedy or, perhaps, Merrick Garland--we do not know what Obama was thinking there). But the Senate holds greater power, because it benefits more from the vacancy in this new scheme than under the current system. It can and might hold out for an especially less-A-ish Justice on threat of not confirming anyone, preferring the partisan status quo to the evenly divided norm. (Of course, that threat has always been present with divided government--but 2016 showed that the threat is real).

Situation IV: Senate Majority B, Justice B. This is the flip of III, with the President lacking real incentive to fill the vacancy, happy to retain the 4-3 A Court. This gives him greater power to appoint a less-B-ish Justice., again with the take-it-or-leave-it position of not needing the vacancy filled if the B-majority Senate will not yield to his preferences.

So where does this leave us? In periods of divided government, power rests with any actor (President or Senate) from the opposite party of the seat to be filled, because he/they have no incentive to fill it. They can hold out for the least opposite-party Justice they can get, knowing that the vacancy status-quo favors their preferences. Or they can decide not to fill the vacancy at all by refusing to confirm anyone. In periods of unified government, actors will always be able to get the most their-party Justice, because nothing other than a filibuster will stop them. And they can get the least other-party Justice, because their lack of incentive to fill the vacancy allows them to overbear the limited check granted the other-party minority. In all, the new system either leaves existing or creates new perverse incentives that might break the appointments process further.

Power to limit such gamesmanship comes from the Court itself,  in two ways. First, a retiring Justice can make her retirement effective on confirmation of a successor. This prevents that 4-3 split, even temporarily. But this is impossible if the vacancy is an unexpected one due to death, illness, or disability.

Second, the Court could  limit by internal rule the decisions and judgments it will render in the event of a vacancy. For example: "In the event of a vacancy, the Court only can render judgment if five Justices [the number necessary to decide on an eight-person Court] agree; otherwise, the Court will DIG the case or hold it until back to full eight-Justice strength." The result is that no party benefits ideologically from a vacancy, because there can be no 4-3 purely partisan decisions. So both parties have incentive to make an appointment as expeditiously as possible, subject to (normal) negotiations over how A-ish or B-ish the Justice will be. It levels the bargaining positions between the President and Senate majority in times of divided government and between the President and the opposite-party Judiciary Committee members on an opposite-party appointment.

Unfortunately, such a rule would require the Court to take a position on a political controversy, something the Court (particularly this Chief) has been reluctant to do.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 3, 2017 at 10:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

JOTWELL: Wasserman on Segall on Eight is Enough

I have the new Courts Law essay, reviewing Eric Segall's Eight Justices Are Enough: A Proposal to Improve the United States Supreme Court, which proposes codifying the current eight-Justice/even partisan divide on the Court.

We moved up publication on this piece to time it with the Gorsuch nomination, which either spells the death knell for the proposal or gives it life.  I remain unsure whether I am sold on Segall's plan as a normatively best design or whether it just looks good compared with the political alternative. But it has some genuine merit. Iwill have more to say in a second post.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 3, 2017 at 09:04 AM in Article Spotlight, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Teaching and Writing About Marijuana Law

Greetings, y’all, and thanks for having me! In the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about one of my core areas of interest: marijuana law. In this first post, I want to share just a couple of the reasons why I find this is such a fascinating and worthwhile field of study.

For one thing, state marijuana reforms and the federal response to them have sparked some of the most challenging and interesting legal controversies of our day. May the states legalize a drug while Congress forbids it? Even so, are state regulations governing marijuana preempted by federal law? Does anyone (besides the DOJ) have a cause of action to challenge them as such? Can the President suspend enforcement of the federal ban? Do state restrictions on marijuana industry advertising violate the First Amendment? These are just a handful of the intriguing questions that are now being confronted in this field.

Just as importantly, there is a large and growing number of people who care about the answers to such questions. Forty-three (43) states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession and use of some form of marijuana by at least some people. These reforms – not to mention the prohibitions that remain in place at the federal level – affect a staggering number of people. Roughly 40% of adults in the U.S. have tried marijuana, and more than 22 million people use the drug regularly. To supply this demand, thousands of people are growing and selling marijuana. In Colorado alone, for example, there are more than 600 state licensed marijuana suppliers. There are also countless third parties who regularly deal with these users and suppliers, including physicians who recommend marijuana to patients, banks that provide payment services to the marijuana industry, firms that employ marijuana users, and lawyers who advise all of the above.

All of these people need help navigating a thicket of complicated and oftentimes conflicting laws governing marijuana. Colorado, for example, has promulgated more than 200 pages of regulations to govern its $1 billion a year licensed marijuana industry. Among many other things, Colorado’s regulations require suppliers to carefully track their inventories, test and label their products, and limit where and how they advertise. These regulations are complicated enough but doubts about their enforceability (highlighted in the questions above) only add to the confusion and the need for informed legal advice.

This short intro should give you a sense of why I now regularly teach a course on Marijuana Law and Policy at Vanderbilt, and why I have spent a large part of the last two years completing a first-of-its-kind textbook with Aspen on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority. The link provides more details on the casebook, which will be published in May of this year—i.e., in plenty of time for summer or fall 2017 classes! And if you are interested in teaching a course in any aspect of marijuana law, contact me – robert<dot>mikos<at>vanderbilt<dot>edu -- I would be happy to chat.

That’s it for now. In the coming days, I’ll write about several of the questions posed above.

Posted by Robert Mikos on February 2, 2017 at 09:54 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Law and Politics, Things You Oughta Know if You Teach X | Permalink | Comments (2)