Sunday, October 15, 2017

An overbroad defense of universal injunctions

Judge Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois denied a stay pending appeal of a universal (he called it nationwide) preliminary injunction barring enforcement of certain funding conditions against sanctuary cities. This is the first extended defense of universal injunctions (more than in the original order granting the injunction).  (H/T: Josh Blackman)

The gist of Judge Leinenweber's defense is that the attorney general's authority does not vary by jurisdiction. And similar universal jurisdictions have been upheld, in which relief inured to non-parties as well as parties. The court also finds support from the per curiam in Trump v. IRAP, where the Court allowed the injunction to stand as to those "similarly situated" to the plaintiffs, which matches the injunction here applying to cities and states similarly situated to Chicago. Most tellingly, the court rejected the argument that similarly situated plaintiffs can file their own lawsuits and use the first decision as precedent because "judicial economy counsels against requiring all these jurisdictions (and potentially others) to file their own lawsuits to decide the same legal question." The court recognized reasons to be "cautious" before entering such injunctions and that they should not be the "default," citing the recent work of Bray, October guest Michael Morley, and UCLA's Michigan's Maureen Carroll. He pointed to concerns for forum shopping, conflicting injunctions, and interference with law development within a circuit, then explained (in a sentence or two) why those "not insignificant concerns" do not overcome the benefits of a universal injunction in this case.

The problem remains that the argument prove too much. As Sam Bray argues, it logically requires (or at least permits and encourages) a district court to issue a universal injunction in every constitutional challenge to federal law. Because the proposed funding conditions challenged here do not differ from any federal law.  The authority of federal officials to enforce every federal law does not vary by jurisdiction. Judicial economy always favors one lawsuit over many lawsuits. There would be a flood of similar lawsuits by everyone affected by every federal law.* Federal uniformity and the unfairness of disparate application of federal are present with respect to every federal law. Despite the court's rhetorical attempt to limit such injunctions to "extraordinary" cases, every case is extraordinary as he defines it; the reasoning applies to federal immigration laws, federal regulations of immigration attorneys, and federal law regulating any conduct.

[*] The solution is supposed to be FRCP 23(b)(2) class actions. But the growth of universal injunctions makes that rule superfluous.

Leinenweber closes with a paean to the rule of law and the role of the courts in ensuring the rule of law is enforced, which is undermined (in reality or in perception) if the attorney general can enforce "likely invalid" laws against other persons even while under an injunction as to some. Several responses. That is true of every federal law, making such injunctions the norm. The rule of law also includes limitations on the scope of a district court's lawmaking and remedial authority as compared with a court of appeals or SCOTUS; it therefore is as undermined by one district judge barring enforcement of federal law as to everyone in the world in all circumstances everywhere in the world. And without saying so, it also rests on a model of pure judicial supremacy--the Article III judge has spoken and the attorney general's authority to disagree, outside of that litigation, ceases to exist.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 15, 2017 at 03:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Monday, October 09, 2017

"Thanks, Iowa Supreme Court!"

Today in my Election Law class we covered state regulation of false or misleading campaign advertisements. (The doctrine is generally that even blatantly false ads enjoy First Amendment protection.) It is one of my favorite class periods of the semester because I show some pretty incredible political ads. The one below is perhaps the most outlandish. It aired during the Iowa judicial retention election in 2010, just after the Iowa Supreme Court had issued a ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage. The ad is worth two minutes of your time. (All three justices up for retention lost.)

(Although I find the ad amusing, I also think it's offensive and harmful.)

The debate during this class is always spirited, with some students arguing that the government should be allowed to regulate patently false campaign speech -- especially if it is about the election itself (such as "Republicans should vote on Tuesday; Democrats should vote on Wednesday") -- while other students take a more absolutist First Amendment approach. The debate has perhaps become even more interesting these days given the current tenor of our political discourse.

Posted by Josh Douglas on October 9, 2017 at 02:17 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Police as prosecutors

A lawsuit in Manhattan civil court is challenging a program in which NYPD lawyers prosecute summons cases, pursuant to a delegation by the Manhattan DA. The apparent impetus for the move was that the DA generally does not send attorneys to summons court, resulting in many cases being dismissed, in turn forming the basis for constitutional claims arguing that officers lacked probable cause to issue the summons. The police department requested the delegation so it could litigate summons cases or offer a resolution would require the defendants to admit liability, barring a subsequent lawsuit. Plaintiffs claim this is a conflict of interest for the police, which violates due process, undermines the adversary system, and raises a hint of selective prosecution. Plaintiffs allege that the police are pursuing only claims against those cited while engaged in expressive activity (the plaintiffs were cited for actions during a police-reform march, and the charges against one of them were dismissed when the judge found the arresting officers' testimony contradicted by video of the events).

For you crim/crim pro/PR scholars in the audience: What is the problem here, as a legal or ethical matter? Because I do not see it. A lot seems to be about the intent of the delegation and the police lawyers' strategy--to protect officers from subsequent civil suits. But that seems like one, valid influence on prosecutorial discretion, whether the DA or its delegee is exercising that discretion. As for the focus on people cited for expressive conduct, that sounds in selective prosecution, a defense that is hard to prove and as much of a problem (or non-problem) with or without the delegation. What am I missing? 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 8, 2017 at 11:49 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Gill and Congressional Authority (A Response to Prof. Morley)

It's October, so that means two great things: baseball playoffs (go Nationals!) and continued commentary on election law.

Michael Morley starts us off with some interesting commentary on Gill v. Whitford, the partisan gerrymandering case that the Supreme Court just heard last week. His conclusion is basically that if the Court recognizes a standard for partisan gerrymandering under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, then that could open the door to substantial congressional intrusion into state and local redistricting, particularly allowing Congress "to attempt to influence and reshape the partisan outcomes of state and local races."

My response? Not bloody likely!

First, it is somewhat unlikely that Congress would even gain this extra power. Virtually everyone agrees that the case will come down to Justice Kennedy's vote, and he has indicated before -- and indicated again during the oral argument -- that a claim for partisan gerrymandering should rest within the First Amendment, not the Fourteenth Amendment. Congress does not have an explicit enforcement power under the First Amendment. If the plaintiffs win this case and the Court recognizes a judicially manageable standard to root out the most egregious gerrymanders, it is more likely to do so under the First Amendment's protection of free speech and free association. That would not give Congress any extra powers. [UPDATE: In the comments Howard correctly notes my error in not thinking about incorporation, in that Congress would have the power to enforce the First Amendment against the states via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (And geez, I even teach incorporation in Con Law II! How could I overlook it here?!) Perhaps the argument for Congressional authority would be, textually-speaking, stronger if the Court recognizes the harm under the Equal Protection Clause. Either way, this just shows why I shouldn't try to blog and watch baseball at the same time! My apologies for the mistake.]

Second, even if the Court recognizes the injury under the Fourteenth Amendment, it is highly unlikely that Congress would try to "enforce" this new standard to influence state and local elections, as Prof. Morley suggests. Joey Fishkin, in a comment to Prof. Morley's post, noted that Congress gained the power to "enforce" the one-person, one-vote standard after Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), and yet Congress has never tried to legislate under that standard. There is nothing to suggest that Congress would suddenly decide to use its newfound power to influence state and local elections when it has not done so in other contexts.

Moreover, Congress already has the power to dictate rules against partisan gerrymandering for congressional elections. Justice Scalia explicitly pointed to this power in his decision in Vieth, the 2004 case that split the Court, as one reason the Court should stay out of partisan gerrymandering claims. Congress certainly has the constitutional power to try to influence the outcome of federal elections by enacting rules about partisan gerrymandering, yet it has never done so. If it has not attempted to influence its own elections (such as by passing rules intending to protect incumbents), there is little reason to think that a newfound power after Gill would cause Congress to decide to use this power for state and local elections.

Third, as Prof. Morley acknowledges (and Asher Steinberg echoes in his comment), the Supreme Court is highly likely to apply City of Boerne's "congruent and proportional" test to any Congressional "enforcement" under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, tempering a partisan-based congressional action. Thus, there would be a high burden for Congress to justify any regulation of state and local elections in the name of enforcing a new rule about partisan gerrymandering. In fact, the Supreme Court has generally been less deferential to Congress, as compared to states, in its election rules. States have a much easier time justifying their election rules than does Congress, notwithstanding Congress's plenary power to override state rules under Article I, Section 4. Surely any federal laws that have the intent or effect of influencing the outcome of state and federal elections would face this same close judicial scrutiny.

Finally, even if Congress both had this power and used it to pass new election laws, would that be so terrible? The likelihood of a new law that has a clear partisan valence is highly unlikely given that, at least under current Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to pass legislation. A party would thus need a supermajority to engage in such blatant overreach. Moreover, most congressional regulation of the election process has been a net positive: from the Voting Rights Act to the Help America Vote Act, Congress has legislated to fix clear problems in the election system, not to engage in partisan warfare. The most likely use of congressional power, then, would be to eliminate the worst abuses of state and local partisan gerrymandering.

In sum, while Prof. Morley is theoretically correct that a decision recognizing a new test for egregious partisan gerrymanders could increase Congress's power, there is little reason to think that, practically speaking, Congress would ever actually use this power in the way that Prof. Morley fears.

(Full disclosure for me: I signed onto Pam Karlan's amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs in this case.)

Posted by Josh Douglas on October 8, 2017 at 10:26 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Friday, October 06, 2017

ACLU, free speech, and discrimination

The New York Times writes about soul-searching at the ACLU in the wake of Charlottesville. Two items of note.

First, Executive Director Anthony Romero discusses the new policy of not representing protesters who plan to march while armed. Romero ties this to early ACLU policies opposing permits for Nazi groups "drilling with arms." He argues that the ACLU has come full circle with respect to Nazi groups. The analogue to Charlottesville is not Skokie, where counter-protesters outnumbered Nazis 70-to-1, the Nazis were unarmed, and the danger was angry spectators attacking them. Charlottesville is more like the 1930s, when fascism was ascendant in Europe and sufficiently popular in the United States to draw large crowds.

Second, the article describes an open letter by around 200 staffers, arguing that the ACLU's "broader mission — which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment — continues to be undermined by our rigid stance" on hate speech. It is easy to criticize the 200 (as some have) for not understanding what the ACLU is about, given its history, and to tell them to find a different advocacy group. But the signatories are onto something. The modern ACLU has made certain forms of equality part of its core mission. And absolutist protection for free speech does conflict with certain visions of racial justice that would not protect speech advocating for inequality or against equality. It is not the first time this potential conflict has caused the organization problems--in the early '90s, the organization was only lukewarm in its opposition to hate-speech laws and it supported sentence enhancement for racially motivated crimes. And recall the ACLU's 2015 Workplan of major civil-liberties issues, which did not say much about the First Amendment. The signatories have exposed an internal tension of the organization's own making. The usual response to the tension is that speech must be protected for all, lest government turn its censoriousness on equality-promoting groups (consider that the Supreme Court case declaring sentence-enhancement valid involved a prosecution of African-Americans for assaulting white victims). But many racial-justice advocates reject that idea.

The focus on this tension reminds me of the potential tension between "civil liberties" (commonly understood as individual rights as against government, such as free speech) and "civil rights" (commonly understood as equality--both in the face of government discrimination and government efforts to stop private discrimination by legislation). I recall the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law review publishing a symposium on whether its name is an oxymoron. The ACLU may be facing the same problem, as some of its staffers and supporters recognize that they signed up the equality rather than the speech.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2017 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

More from Bray on universal injunctions

Two weeks ago, the Northern District of Illinois imposed a universal/nationwide injunction against the new funding conditions imposed against "sanctuary cities." The court justified the scope because there was "no reason to think that the legal issues present in this case are restricted to Chicago or that the statutory authority given to the Attorney General would differ in another jurisdiction." In a WaPo op-ed, Sam Bray argues that this represents the next step in making the universal/nationwide injunction the new, unjustified, default in constitutional litigation against federal law. An injunction should be nationwide unless the challenged law and legal issues are limited to the plaintiff or to the jurisdiction in which the action is brought--which never will be true of federal law. Sam calls on someone--Congress, the Advisory Committee, or SCOTUS--to stop the "remedial irresponsibility." This injunction is of a piece with another low-profile universal injunction issued in May in the Western District of Washington in a challenge to federal regulations of attorneys in immigration proceedings--the government's stated desire to continue enforcing the regulation was sufficient to justify the expanded scope, a basis that similarly applies to all federal law.

Unfortunately, I am not sure who is going to put the brake on this practice.

Expecting Congress to do anything is beyond wishful thinking.

SCOTUS has, implicitly and probably unthinkingly, approved the practice by affirming the universal injunction in U.S. v. Texas (the DAPA case) and by leaving the injunction in place as to those "similarly situated" to the plaintiff in IRAP (the travel ban case). Both decisions were bound-up with other procedural concerns. Texas was affirmed by an Segall-ian evenly divided Court . In IRAP the Court was trying to figure out how to remold the substantive injunction in the guise of granting cert. and staying the injunction pending appeal; it did not have the time or attention to consider injunctive scope in terms of plaintiffs protected. And with the case likely moot, we start all over again.

The Advisory Committee is an interesting actor that I had not considered. But it would take too long to get anything done, given the committee process. And the Committee may be as surprised as everyone else that this practice has become so pervasive--the current language of Rule 65 combined with the existence of Rule 23(b)(2) injunctive class actions should tell district courts that they cannot issue an injunction protecting everyone in a class without a class.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 1, 2017 at 10:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Barnette at 75

John Q. Barrett reminds us that next June is the 75th anniversary of West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, which makes the short list of most important First Amendment decisions, both for its principles and its rhetoric. Given everything going on in the world of sports since last week, both are being put to the test.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 25, 2017 at 04:37 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hecklers and counter-speakers (again)

Mark Tushnet, writing on Vox and Balkinization, argues that the counter-speakers/hecklers/audience members who attempt to shout down other speakers engage in constitutionally protected activities and the First Amendment is violated by many of a state university's efforts to stop hecklers. Mark argues that the speaker and the hecklers are "symmetrically situated with respect to speech" and that the intuitive "first come, first served" rule fails to capture the complexity of situations or to recognize that it is not always clear who is "first" in any situation. (If the speaker is inside the auditorium and the hecklers are outside, the hecklers are first in that outdoor space).

Mark captures well a lot of what I have been thinking and arguing about this, that deriding hecklers/protesters/counter-speakers as exercising the dreaded heckler's veto misses the mark. Labeling this  as "noisy interference" also is too simplistic, as it fails to capture the expressive nature of what many hecklers do. And all of this comes on the heels of a poll showing that a majority of college students believe it is ok to shout-down speakers.

Mark is searching for a rule or balance that does not inevitably take content into account. One answer might be that it depends on the precise forum,. On this, perhaps we distinguish between a limited-space auditorium that must be reserved and open areas on campus; audience members have greater counter-speech rights in the latter than the former. Or we distinguish between the speaker stage and the audience, so a heckler can shout from the audience, but not run on stage and grab the microphone.

But Mark's arguments show that the content problem arguably never goes away (something I had not crystallized previously). Consider audience members in an auditorium, with the speaker on stage. Mark argues that, even if the speaker has priority over the audience, all members of the audience are symmetrically situated. We can imagine a situation in which the crowd of speaker-supporters is loud and raucous, to the point that their cheering and shouts of "USA! USA!" or "you said it" cause the speaker to pause or make it impossible for him to hear. I doubt anyone would want these supporters removed. So what is the difference between audience members whose jeering and shouts of "fascist" (Mark uses  Joe Wilson's "You lie") cause the speaker to pause or make it impossible for him to be heard? Content and viewpoint.

We might get around the problem by distinguishing the nature of the forum and the expression in that forum0--an academic lecture as opposed to a political or partisan rally. But that highlights the complexity of the problem and the absence of easy answers--the precise point Mark is trying to make.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 24, 2017 at 06:02 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (14)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Tocqueville and judicial departmentalism

Dahlia Lithwick wrote about the litigation of the Joe Arpaio pardon, with the district judge hearing from numerous amici about the constitutional validity and effect of the pardon. The article ends by quoting one amicus, Ian Bassin of Project Democracy: "Thankfully, in America it’s the courts who get the last say on what the Constitution allows."

As I have been arguing again and again in defense of judicial departmentalism, this is not  true as a normative matter, at least not in the absolute sense in which it is presented here, as simply the way it works in America. It may be true as a practical matter in a substantial number of cases, because many constitutional issues wind up in court and the court must decide the constitutional issue to decide the case and the executive does not have discretion to decline to enforce that resulting judgment. When constitutional questions end up in court, the judiciary will get the final word.

This got me thinking of Alexis de Tocqueville, who famously said that "[s]carcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question." (Mark Graber in 2004 revisited Tocqueville's thesis; he argued the statement was not as true as Tocqueville said, but may be more true in current times than it was during the Jacksonian Period in which Tocqueville was writing, as more political questions first get resolved into constitutional questions). Tocqueville's thesis affects just how much judicial supremacy we get in a judicial-departmentalist scheme. The more political questions that are resolved into judicial questions, the more the judiciary is going to get the last word, because the courts must decide the constitutional issues and the executive must enforce those judgments.

The political question of the Arpaio pardon is resolving into a legal question because the pardon touches on pending litigation. But that makes this pardon unusual--most pardons come before any charges have been brought (Nixon) or after the person has been convicted, sentenced, and served some portion of the sentence. So Bassin's comment about the judiciary getting the last word is accurate in this case, because of the unique posture of the pardon. But he is correct only to the extent Tocqueville was correct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2017 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thompson v. Arkansas and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel at Sentencing

Earlier this summer, I helped write a cert petition for the US Supreme Court. The case involves an ineffective assistance claim out of Arkansas.  The petitioner, Mario Thompson, was represented at trial by a lawyer who didn’t do very much on his behalf. Among other things, the lawyer failed to investigate or prepare any sort of meaningful mitigation case for sentencing.  On collateral attack, a state judge held that the lawyer failed to provide effective assistance of counsel at sentencing. But the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed.

Arkansas has a rule that a defendant who is claiming a violation of her Sixth Amendment right to counsel cannot show prejudice if she did not receive the maximum available sentence.  This rule is inconsistent with the reasoning of Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198 (2001). And although Arkansas is the only jurisdiction to have adopted this particular rule, there is a split over the appropriate prejudice standard for ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing claims.  The Second, Third, Sixth, and Tenth Circuits have adopted what I think is the correct legal standard.  The courts of last resort in Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have adopted that same standard.  But Arkansas and the Fifth Circuit have adopted different prejudice standards. And several federal district courts have started to question how they ought to assess these claims.

Even though there is a clear split and a strong case that the Arkansas Supreme Court has adopted an unconstitutional standard, the Supreme Court is unlikely to grant the cert petition. For one thing, the petition will be considered at the so-called “long conference,” which will take place on September 25th.  That is when the Court will consider hundreds (if not thousands) of cert petitions that have piled up over the summer.  Petitions that are considered at the long conference are less than half as likely to be granted than petitions considered during the Term. 

For another thing, although this case involves an important issue of federal constitutional law, it comes out of state court.  State criminal cases vastly outnumber federal cases—I’ve seen estimates that federal felony filings make up less than ten percent of all felony filings in the country.  But that is not reflected in the cases that the Supreme Court takes.  In the 2016 Term, for example, the Court decided 28 cases that involved criminal law, criminal procedure, or closely related topics (like Bivens actions involving law enforcement). Almost half of those cases (13 of the 28) involved federal law or federal prosecutions.

Of course, any cert petition faces an uphill battle.  The Supreme Court hears fewer than a hundred cases per year, and it receives thousands of petitions. But it is more than a little disheartening to know that these other, seemingly irrelevant issues, make a cert grant in the Thompson case so much less likely.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on September 18, 2017 at 09:04 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Palin v. NYT dismissed

Judge Rakoff of the Southern District of New York has dismissed Sarah Palin's defamation action against The New York Times, concluding that the allegations of actual malice, in conjunction with the testimony heard in questionable evidentiary hearing, showed that Palin had not pled facts plausibly showing that the editorial-page editor knew or recklessly disregarded the truth of statements about the connection between Palin's PAC publications (which featured gun-sites over "targeted" congressional races) and the Gabby Giffords shooting.

The order includes a lengthy footnote explaining the use of the evidentiary hearing. He justified it because a "court must have some knowledge of the context in which the underlying events occurred in order to carry out the function with which the Supreme Court has tasked it" --the "context-specific task" of evaluating plausibility. Also, neither party objected, the facts established by the testimony in the hearing are not in dispute, and no credibility determinations were made. And although he did not mention it, it appears that none of the testimony contradicted anything in the complaint. The testimony in the hearing was combined with the facts in the complaint and used to measure whether the facts showed actual malice.

But all this ignores FRCP 12(d), under which a court converts a 12(b)(6) to a motion for summary judgment when materials beyond the four corners of the complaint are used. Iqbal did not overrule or repeal 12(d), so the need for knowledge of the context cannot necessitate such hearings. It also would have been simple enough for the court to take the evidentiary hearing and convert to summary judgment (although perhaps the parties would have demanded some discovery, if only on actual malice). In short, obtaining and using information beyond the allegations of the complaint cannot be justified under the current rules without converting.

The merits discussion also appears to make the hearing unnecessary, because much of the analysis suggest that the problem with the complaint was legal insufficiency rather than plausibility-factual insufficiency. The problem was not a dearth of facts or the conclusoriness of the facts, but that the facts alleged, even if detailed, could not establish actual malice. For example, allegations of hostility towards Palin, economic motive to criticize Palin, and failure to comply with journalistic practices--alleged, in varying degrees of conclusoriness--all are insufficient, as a matter of law, to show actual malice.

All-in-all, a good First Amendment decision (I should add that there is some great language about the First Amendment, political speech, and the narrowness of actual malice), but reached in a procedurally incorrect way.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2017 at 06:30 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The process of the Arpaio pardon and civil-rights enforcement under Trump

Josh Chafetz (Cornell) has a Twitter thread and WaPo op-ed arguing that the focus should be on the underlying racism, sadism, and abuse of power motivating the Arpaio pardon, not the fact that the pardon was for a criminal contempt conviction. In other words, the problem is that Trump pardoned a racist, sadistic serial abuser of state power, not that he pardoned someone who had been held in contempt. Josh suggests that we might want a President to pardon someone convicted of contempt, at least in some circumstances.

His example is the facts underlying United States v. Cox (5th Cir. 1965). Two African-American men testified in a federal suit against a state official, saying the official had refused to register them as voters; when he denied discriminating, the federal judge presiding over the case recommended that the two men be charged with perjury. DOJ investigated, but found no grounds for a perjury charge. Nevertheless, the judge ordered the case submitted to a federal grand jury, which convicted. When the US Attorney (acting on orders of Acting AG Nicholas Katzenbach) refused to pursue the indictment, the judge held the US Attorney in contempt and ordered Katzenbach to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. On direct review, the 5th Circuit reversed the contempt order, but refused to grant a writ of prohibition to Katzenbach, who had not yet been placed in any risk of contempt.

Procedure does matter, because of the circuitousness of that hypothetical pardon. The orders in Cox were for civil contempt, so a pardon would not have made a difference. To get to criminal contempt for a racist federal judge requires so many additional steps, including the cooperation of the US Attorney and Department of Justice. So you would need not only a racist judge, but a racist DOJ, with all its layers of review, that a subsequent President would choose to rebuke through a pardon. That all seems unlikely.

A second procedural issue involves civil contempt. To the extent this pardon sends a signal about civil rights enforcement, the effect may be federal judges relying more on civil contempt, including fines and jail for recalcitrant prison officials. Arpaio and Maricopa County had been held in civil contempt, but the judge chose not to enforce the citation against Arpaio (wisely, given the risk that it would have turned him into a martyr). Criminal contempt became necessary when nothing else worked and when Arpaio was voted out of office. But how plaintiffs frame cases affects available approaches to contempt going forward. Big structural-reform cases are brought against the entity, but courts are reluctant to impose sanctions such as fines or jail against non-parties, except as an extreme last resort. So expect civil-rights plaintiffs to spread the scope of their complaints to top officials in addition to the entity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 27, 2017 at 12:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 25, 2017

More on pardoning Arpaio (Updated)

Thanks to Paul for flagging Marty Redish's NYT op-ed on the potential Arpaio pardon. Like Paul (and Marty), I do not know if the argument works. But I wanted to flag how his argument interacts with the version of "judicial departmentalism" I have been urging. My framing relies on Gary Lawson's version of departmentalism--the president can ignore judicial precedent as precedent he believes gets the Constitution wrong, but cannot ignore court orders. That includes the orders by which he is bound by as a defendant (e.g., the challenge to the travel ban) and the orders he must enforce on behalf of the federal courts involving other officials,even if he disagrees with the underlying constitutional judgment.*

[*] Lawson allows that the president might ignore a court order in extraordinary circumstances, but I put that to the side for the moment.

Marty's argument gives Gary's (and my) distinction a Fifth Amendment grounding. There is no functional difference between the president ignoring or declining to enforce a judgment and a president pardoning (or promising to pardon) another official who ignores court orders. If one violates due process, so does the other. And if departmentalism does not extend to one, it does not extend to the other.

Finally, if this becomes a concern, consider the federal courts' counter: Stop using criminal contempt and rely on civil contempt to enforce injunctions, including by jailing the recalcitrant official. There is no crime or conviction from which to pardon.

Update: Trump pardoned Arpaio on Friday.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 25, 2017 at 01:44 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Revisionist History," power, and Alabama v. Tom Robinson

Malcolm Gladwell has a podcast called Revisionist History, which finished its second 10-episode season. Four of the episodes in Season 2 dealt with civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement, including episodes 7 & 8, which are about Donald Hollowell, an African-American attorney in Georgia, and Vernon Jordan, who assisted him. The podcast is great (unless you are predisposed against Malcolm Gladwell, then it likely confirms what you do not like about him) and these two stories were highlights.

Episode 7 focuses on the story of Nathaniel Johnson, an African-American man executed for raping a white woman (with whom he claimed to be having an affair) in 1959 Georgia. Gladwell compares this case to Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, where a white woman's romantic interest in an African-American was turned into rape. Gladwell focuses on some bits from the book not included in the movie: Robinson's testimony that Mayella Ewell said she had never kissed a man before and that what her father did to her didn't count and that Bob Ewell's first words when he saw them through the window were "you dirty whore".

Gladwell's theme in these two episodes is power. And he argues that, with that bit of testimony, Atticus' defense became clear: To ask the jury not to be racist against Tom but to be sexist against Mayella (a different type of powerless person), who is portrayed as (Gladwell's words) a participant in incest. (So Atticus was a sexist, on top of the reveal in Go Set A Watchman that Atticus was, even in his time, a racist--it's been a rough couple of years).

But I thought this missed the mark in three respects.

First, even as an 11-year-old, I did not read Mayella as a participant in incest but as a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. I also read him as forcing her to testify untruthfully. Perhaps that interpretation is unreasonably favorable to Mayella or against her father. And perhaps an all-male jury in 1930s Alabama would have seen it the same way as Gladwell. But I read it as Atticus trying to put Bob on trial, not Mayella. Consider the evidence (more of a focus in the movie) designed to show that Bob beat Mayella, whereas Tom (who did not have use of one of his arms) could not have done so.

Second, even if Bob was Atticus' real alternate target, Gladwell missed another power dynamic involving class and education. The Ewell's were "poor white trash" within that society. All the evidence that Atticus presented against Bob Ewell was designed to play to what the jury, the judge, the prosecutor, and the sheriff already believed about him.

Third, it shows race as the overwhelming power dynamic. No matter how badly the jury and every other institutional player disliked and disbelieved Bob Ewell, he had more credibility than an African-American. At the end, everyone was willing to bury how Ewell was killed because he had it coming, but not before allowing an African-American to be sacrificed for Bob's misconduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 22, 2017 at 12:00 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Random thoughts for the day

Two items for the morning, not particularly related.

1) President Trump is "seriously considering" pardoning  Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt for repeatedly ignoring injunctions against his department's Fourth Amendment-violative practices. Trump believes Arpaio has been a strong actor against illegal immigration. But Arapio's department was found to have engaged in systematic constitutional violations and then Arpaio intentionally and repeatedly disregarded court orders designed to stop that behavior. So it seems to me this pardon signals a lot--that federal, state, and local officials can be freer to ignore civil rights injunctions and that Trump, who does not hold the federal judiciary in much regard, may resist both obeying and enforcing future injunctions.

2) In the wake of Charlottesville, there has been discussion about driving into crowds of liberal protesters who move into the streets, with several states proposing laws that would immunize drivers for doing so. Florida's bill would 1) make it a second-degree misdemeanor for a person to "obstruct or interfere" with street traffic "during a protest or demonstration" for which there was no permit and 2) immunize any driver who unintentionally injures or kills someone who was in the street in violation of the first section.

My question: Does such a law violate the First Amendment? Florida law already prohibits obstructing public streets (it is a pedestrian violation), so this law would impose special heightened penalties when the obstruction occurs during an unpermitted protest or demonstration. Florida is a comparative negligence state, so a driver who unintentionally injures or kills someone who is wrongfully in the street (e.g., crossing against the light) may bear some liability for his negligence--unless the victim was in the street during an unpermitted protest or demonstration. In other words, the penalty for obstruction is greater and the protection against negligent drivers less when the person was in the street for expressive purposes than other purposes. This sounds like what Marty Redish and I called a "gratuitous inhibition on speech"--a law that treats more harshly activity done for expressive purposes than for non-expressive purposes.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 15, 2017 at 10:14 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (14)

Friday, August 11, 2017

First Amendment procedure

Sarah Palin sued The New York Times for defamation over a June editorial (following the congressional ballgame shooting) that linked Palin's rhetoric to the 2011 Gabby Giffords shootings. Palin alleges The Times writers acted with actual malice, in part because the paper had published numerous news stories showing there was no link between Palin's rhetoric and Jared Loughner. The Times moved to dismiss, arguing that the complain did not plausibly plead actual malice. In a brief order yesterday, Judge Rakoff ordered the author(s) of the editorial to appear at an evidentiary hearing next week, for questioning about their awareness of these prior news stories.

The prevailing view among civ professors online seems to be that the order is inappropriate.

The point of Twiqbal is that a plaintiff must plead sufficient facts, without the benefit of discovery, to allow a reasonable/plausible inference of the elements of a claim. If the plaintiff cannot do that, the complaint must be dismissed and, perhaps, the plaintiff given a chance to replead. That is a problem for facts such as actual malice, that go to the defendant's state of mind, but that is the regime the Court has set-up. The court has discretion to convert a motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment if matters beyond the complaint (such as testimony) are considered. But Judge Rakoff did not do that here. He is using this testimony, not including in the complaint, to rule on a 12(b)(6). Unless, of course, he converts later, although conversion must include notice and an opportunity to present material, which might require an opportunity to take discovery.

This case somewhat illustrates the problems with the Twiqbal regime. Courts are supposed to decide plausibility based on "judicial experience and common sense," which essentially requires a form of judicial notice. We might understand Rakoff as trying to enhance his experience and common sense, one of many work-arounds courts have developed. But the point of Twiqbal is to keep defendants from having to deal with any discovery, even a few hours of testimony. Rakoff seems to be trying to have it both ways--get enough information to evaluate the factual assertions, without deeming the complaint sufficient (which it seems to be) and allowing the case to move forward to full (or at least sectioned) discovery. To the extent Rakoff is doing something necessary to make an intelligent plausibility determination, it reveals the problem and impossibility of implementing such a standard at the pleading stage.

This offers a nice example of when a party might be tempted to use a writ of mandamus to challenge an interlocutory order. Mandamus is limited to exceptional circumstances in which the trial court clearly overstepped its bounds. Ordering discovery before deciding a motion that is designed to keep cases out of discovery might qualify. The drawback, as someone pointed out, is that a mandamus requires The Times to formally sue Judge Rakoff (or the Southern District), who will preside over this litigation; a party's reluctance to wield this tool is understandable.

Alexi Lahav has a new paper describing how courts disregard the FRCP's procedural design (complaint/dismissal/discovery/summary judgment), but moving pieces and skipping steps. This seems another example.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 11, 2017 at 12:16 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Commercial Photography in Public Parks--Is Police Presence Required?

Is a municipal ordinance requiring all businesses, including commercial photographers, to get a permit to use a public park a prior restraint subject to strict scrutiny? No, said the Eighth Circuit in Josephine Havlak Photographer, Inc. v. Village of Twin Oaks, 2017 WL 3159678 (8th Cir. 2017). There, the court upheld the ordinance as a content-neutral time, place, and manner regulation subject only to intermediate scrutiny. In doing so, it applied the “narrowly tailored” prong of that constitutional standard very leniently, based on a Missouri municipality’s assessment that police presence should attend all commercial activity in public parks. This conclusion strikes me as dubious, and it also strikes me that the court's application of intermediate scrutiny looks a lot more like rational basis scrutiny than it ought. Here's a summary so you can judge for yourself.

The case involved a commercial photographer who brought facial and as applied challenges against a municipal ordinance requiring those wishing to engage in any commercial activity in a public park to seek a permit before doing so. The waiting period for a permit was two days for small-group events and fourteen days for larger-group events. The photographer asked for injunctive and declaratory relief, contending that the permit scheme created by the ordinance was a prior restraint subject to strict scrutiny. Both a federal district court and the Eighth Circuit court of appeals disagreed.

The Eighth Circuit first rejected the argument that a facial challenge was appropriate, because the challenger had failed to show how it would “significantly compromise recognized First Amendment protections of parties not before the [c]ourt.” The challenger’s arguments  centered only on “her own commercial photography” and failed to show how the ordinance would affect any other speech or speakers protected by the First Amendment. Presumably, her arguments would apply to all other commercial photographers wishing to use the park, but the court did not find this argument sufficient to create standing for a facial challenge. Therefore, the court instead addressed only whether the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to her.

The first step in this analysis was determining whether the ordinance was content-based or content-neutral. The court determined it was the latter based on its text and purpose. The text of the ordinance did “not reference any specific commercial enterprise or any specific message,” and it applied equally “to commercial photographers and to hot dog vendors.” Nor was there any evidence that the ordinance had a “content-based purpose,” since the ban on commercial activity had a long history and was for the purpose of reducing park congestion and maintaining visitor safety. Finally, even though the ordinance discriminated between commercial and non-commercial photographers, there was no evidence that commercial photographers were disfavored speakers; the court therefore concluded that any burden on the speech of the challenger as a commercial photographer was purely incidental to regulation of commercial activity within the park.

Because the ordinance was content-neutral, the court treated the permit scheme it created as a time, place, and manner restriction on speech; therefore, the proper standard for judging the ordinance’s constitutionality was whether it was “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest” and “[left] open ample alternatives for communication.” The photographer challenging the ordinance conceded that reducing park congestion and maintaining safety were significant governmental interests, but made four separate arguments that it was not narrowly tailored. First, the challenger contended that the ordinance was not narrowly tailored because the Village had not created a permit exception for commercial photography of small groups. The court held that the lack of a small-group exception did not invalidate the ordinance given the record evidence of “high demand, [a] history of congestion, and the limited facilities of the park.” The court also rejected the challenger's second argument that the ordinance should have focused only on known “congestion points” frequented by commercial photographers. This argument, according to the court, ignored that other commercial vendors might cause congestion at other points, making it rational for the Village to “globally promote maximum use of park resources and protect against damage to all park facilities.”

The third argument rejected by the court was that the ordinance’s “two-day application period (for events of fewer than ten people) and the 14-day period (for larger groups) [we]re not narrowly tailored because they serve[d] to chill artistic expression.” The court noted that commercial photography is typically planned in advance, giving photographers plenty of time to obtain the required permits, and the permit period were chosen to give the Village the time needed to process and, if necessary, review permit applications.  Finally, the court rejected the argument that the ordinance was not narrowly tailored because the $100 administrative fee charged by the Village was too high. According to the court, the Village hired police officer to watch over commercial activities in the park, and the court therefore found a “direct correlation” between the fee and the costs incurred by the Village. The court assumed, without further analysis, that the Village had made a rational decision to provide police to watch over hot dog vendors and commercial photographers and concluded that the $100 fee, which very well might be cost prohibitive for some commercial photographers, to be narrowly tailored to making the park secure. The court emphasized that because only intermediate scrutiny applied, narrow tailoring did not require that the Village choose the least restrictive means but instead required only that “the means chosen are not substantially broader than necessary to achieve the government's interest.” This standard was met.

 The court also found that the photographer had ample alternatives because “the natural attributes of the part exist[ed] in multiple locations across the Saint Louis area.” The photographer was not entitled to her “ideal venue” but merely to “ample alternative channels for communicating her message.” Apparently, any natural setting in the Saint Louis area would do.

Finally, the Court addressed the criteria imposed by the ordinance for issuing a permit (or license). Although the challenger argued that the ordinance’s vague criteria gave the Village unbridled discretion to deny permits, the Court held that the scheme imposed “objective factors” and “articulated standards,” such as “the nature of the activity, potential conflicts with other scheduled events, the number of participants, and other factors relevant to resource allocation.” None of the criteria for issuing a permit were content-based, and the ordinance’s plain language essentially guaranteed approval for small-group events and conditioned approval for larger events only on content-neutral factors related to “park use and safety.” Therefore, the Court held that the ordinance met “constitutional scrutiny as-applied [stet]” to the commercial photographer.

 

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 6, 2017 at 03:31 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Excessive force

Following the President's speech today, the Suffolk County Police Department found it necessary to announce to the public (and remind their officers) about the Fourth Amendment and strict department policies regarding use of force and handling of prisoners and the lack of tolerance for roughing up prisoners. So the higher-ups realize there is at least a perception problem. (The International Association of Police Chiefs also issued a statement, declaring that treating all people with dignity and respect is the "bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy"). On one hand, the exchange shows institutions pushing back against presidential lawlessness. On the other, the disconnect between police executives and rank-and-file is striking.

But I could see discovery in the next excessive-force civil rights claim against the Department becoming interesting, because a good plaintiff's lawyer could make hay out of this event. Cane she use the video and the department response to suggest the officer knew the force was wrong and used it anyway, defeating qualified immunity? Does the cheering rank-and-file show a departmental custom? What if the next involved officer is one of those sitting behind the President, identifiable, and visibly cheering/laughing/clapping officers are identifiable--can that be used to overcome immunity? Can a plaintiff's lawyer make a failure-to-[blank] claim by showing that the department did nothing to discipline or retrain the officers who visibly cheered/laughed/clapped?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 28, 2017 at 07:04 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

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 Carissa Byrne Hessick, 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)