Friday, March 10, 2017
The forgotten police shooting?
The latest episode of NPR's Embedded explores the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell by a Charlotte police officer in 2013. This was the prototype for the many "officer-involved shootings" around which Black Lives Matter has grown: Part of the encounter (not the actual shots, though) was captured on dashcam; the officer described fear of an unarmed black man impervious to weapons with "holograms" for eyes; the jury hung (8-4 in favor of acquittal, split roughly along racial lines) based on seeing different things in the video and the state did not retry; the officer resigned; and the city settled (for about $ 2.5 million).
First, the show explores the ambiguity of video evidence and the fact that different people see different things in the video. It notes the demographic correlations, but no more than that. The producers did not talk to Dan Kahan or about his studies of how people view and understand video evidence and the demographic connections. They instead let everything stand on one person's comments that "people see what they want to see," which is a simplistic way of describing a complicated process of perception and cognition that Kahan has tried to explain.
Second, Ferrell has somewhat become the forgotten police-shooting victim. In writing about police shootings and video the past few years, my paradigms are always the post-Ferguson victims--Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott. I had not thought about the Ferrell case until I heard the program.
Third, I wonder what we should make of Ferrell settling for $ 2.5 million in 2015, whereas McDonald's settled for $ 5 million and Scott's and Garner's families settled for more than $ 6. Why the difference? Has the post-Ferguson environment created a settlement premium in these cases?
Monday, February 27, 2017
Qualified Immunity meets advisory opinions
One of my students flagged the Fifth Circuit decision in Turner v. Driver from two weeks ago. A divided panel held that the right to video-record police and police stations from the public sidewalk was not clearly established in September 2015. The court then went on to say:
Because the issue continues to arise in the qualified immunity context, we now proceed to determine it for the future. We conclude that First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.
That section of the opinion was even titled "Whether the Right Is Clearly Established Henceforth."
There has always been something advisory-opinionish about the qualified immunity analysis. The court addresses the merits and finds a violation, but does not impose liability in this casebecause the right was not clearly established. Instead, that merits analysis serves (perhaps) to clearly establish the right for the next case, at least the next case involving largely similar facts.
But the majority here seems to have crossed over into a pure advisory statement of abstract legal principles. It was not even purporting to do a merits-first analysis (and not just because this part came after the clearly established prong). The court did not find that the officers violated Turner's rights in this case. Rather, it simply announced a First Amendment right to record in public (subject to reasonable time, place, manner restrictions), devoid of any facts or details to the case at hand. And the court did so expressly because the issue would continue to arise in the qualified immunity context, where courts otherwise would continually have to deny liability because the right would forever remain not clearly established. Of course, the need to establish constitutional law is one reason that courts may and often should abide by the merits-first approach, even if not mandatory. This goes beyond that--law divorced from any facts or any violation in the case at hand.
Moreover, it is not clear the majority did or could achieve what it wanted to do. As the dissent argued, future cases must look to factually similar cases for the clearly established analysis, not general principles of law. But the facts were not part of the analysis here. Thus, the dissent argues, "[b]ecause the majority does not hold that the officers actually violated the First Amendment, 'an officer acting under similar circumstances”' in the future will not have violated any clearly established law."
It is good to have another circuit weighing in on the First Amendment right to record. But the way the court got there was procedurally odd.
Commercial Marijuana Advertising and the First Amendment
Many states that have legalized the commercial sale of marijuana have also sought to restrict commercial marijuana advertising. For example, Colorado prohibits licensed retail marijuana stores from advertising on television programs unless the stores have “reliable evidence that no more than 30 percent of the audience for the program on which the Advertising is to air is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21.” Colorado imposes similar restrictions on print and internet advertising. (Colorado’s advertising restrictions can be found here, in Rules 1102-1115). Until recently, at least one medical marijuana state (Montana) had banned all commercial marijuana advertising.
State advertising restrictions are motivated primarily by concerns that the commercial marijuana industry might seek to promote marijuana consumption by minors, similar to the way that the alcohol industry once (still?) promoted underage consumption of beer. Indeed, some of Colorado’s advertising restrictions are directly modeled on advertising guidelines that various alcohol industry trade groups have voluntarily imposed on their members. See, e.g., the Beer Institute’s Advertising and Marketing Code.
But do government restrictions on commercial marijuana advertising violate the First Amendment?
The place to start is Central Hudson v. Public Services Commission, which establishes the test for government regulation of commercial speech. In relevant part, Central Hudson instructs that “[f]or commercial speech to come within [the protection of the First Amendment], it at least must concern lawful activity and not be misleading.” Any government regulation of protected speech must “directly” advance a “substantial . . . government interest”, and not be more “extensive that is necessary to serve that interest.”
Let me pose two questions to the blogosphere regarding the application of this test to commercial marijuana advertising:
- As a threshold matter, does commercial marijuana advertising concern “lawful” activity? The question is complicated by the fact that the production and sale of marijuana are “lawful activities” as a matter of state but not federal law. Indeed, the Montana state supreme court upheld that state’s (since repealed) outright ban on commercial marijuana advertising by finding that commercial marijuana speech was not entitled to any protection under the First Amendment because the federal government banned the drug (even if Montana did not). Alex Kreit has written a thoughtful piece espousing a similar position – i.e., suggesting that states have more leeway to restrict commercial marijuana advertising so long as the federal government bans production and sale of the drug. But should courts consider the federal ban when judging the constitutionality of state restrictions on commercial marijuana advertising? In other words, should a state have more leeway to restrict advertising of some activity it considers lawful just because the federal government bans the same?
- Assuming that commercial marijuana advertising is protected speech, do state restrictions like those outlined above pass the second part of the Central Hudson test? In other words, do state governments have a substantial interest in restricting such advertising, and is there any other way for states to address that interest?
I have my intuitions about how to answer these questions, but I'm not a First Amendment scholar and I'm curious how others would approach these issues.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
One more from Hernandez v. Mesa
The following exchange occurred toward the end of Petitioner's argument:
Justice Alito asked whether a plaintiff would have a § 1983 action if the shooter had been a state or local police officer; petitioner's attorney responded "You would not have a claim over the State officer, but if you don't --but a Bivens claim--a constitutional Bivens claim could apply to the State officer."
Did counsel misspeak? Or is he arguing that a plaintiff can enforce the Fourteenth Amendment (including the incorporated Fourteenth Amendment) through a Bivens action in situations in which § 1983 runs out (as everyone seems to accept here, where § 1983 protects citizens and "other person[s] within the jurisdiction thereof")? And can that be right, certainly descriptively, under the Court's recent Bivens jurisprudence, where § 1983 would be an alternative remedy?
Friday, February 24, 2017
Hernandez v. Mesa argument
Just finished the argument in Hernandez v. Mesa (shooting across the Mexican border). A couple quick notes:
The argument was dominated by Justices Breyer and Kagan, with fewer questions from the Chief or Kennedy and even fewer from Justice Alito, who I would have expected to challenge the petitioner more than he did. On that note: At one point, the transcript shows Kagan beginning to ask a question when the Chief jumped in to call on Justice Kennedy (who, according to the transcript, had not begun to say anything). I want to hear it on audio. The Chief often plays traffic cop during arguments,* although this was the first time I have seen him do it without an apparent verbal signal that someone was trying to speak.
[*] An interesting research question: Is he more likely to "call on" a male Justice, especially over a female Justice? It feels that way from the individual examples I notice. I wonder if a regularized study would bear that out.
Qualified immunity was not discussed much, only a couple of questions from the Chief and Kennedy. One of them asked whether qualified immunity accounts for different plaintiffs--that is, if case law establishes that X violates the Constitution, can courts distinguish that precedent (to find the right not clearly established) when the identity of the plaintiff subjected to X is different.
Finally, Kagan and Breyer both pushed back against the idea that Bivens must be "extended," at least for Fourth Amendment excessive-force claims to recognize a cause of action. Kagan suggested that Bivens should be understood as allowing Fourth Amendment claims unless it arises in the military context. And Kagan pushed hard on the absence of an alternative remedy here, seeming to suggest that we should not even look at special factors if the plaintiff is left entirely without a remedy. These ideas, if followed, would pull the Court back from where it has gone with Bivens in the past two decades, similar to the vision Justice Ginsburg espoused in her dissent in Wilkie v. Robbins.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Whittington on Trump and the courts
This Balkinization piece by Keith Whittington. I have been trying to figure out why Trump's comments about the judiciary have rankled, especially given my (newfound) adherence to departmentalism. Keith's answer is that they are content-free and rest on a rejection of judicial authority (and an attempt to scapegoat judges for whatever might happen in the future), rather than a substantive critique of why the judiciary, while authorized, was wrong.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Could Jeff Sessions Stifle State Marijuana Reforms?
Proponents of state marijuana reforms are concerned about Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General. Sessions has spoken critically of those state reforms. For example, in April of 2016, he was quoted as saying that “We need grown-ups in Washington to say that marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized . . . ., that it's in fact a very real danger.” The chief fear among reform proponents is that Sessions will renew enforcement of the federal marijuana ban in reform states, for example, by initiating federal prosecutions of state licensed marijuana suppliers. Federal laws criminalizing the behavior of these suppliers remain on the books, even if the DOJ refrained from enforcing them vigorously under the Obama Administration. (He might also challenge state reforms as preempted, but as I've argued elsewhere, I think a challenge to most reforms would clearly fail.)
However, I want to suggest that the risk Sessions poses to state marijuana reforms is quite limited, for at least three reasons.First, since 2014, Congress has barred the DOJ from using appropriated funds “to prevent . . . States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The quoted language has been inserted in riders to omnibus spending bills for the last couple of budget cycles. Although the rider language is not terribly clear, the Ninth Circuit has interpreted it as barring the DOJ from prosecuting anyone for actions that comport with state medical marijuana laws. This means that, at least until the current rider expires later this year, the DOJ probably couldn’t initiate legal action against state licensed medical marijuana suppliers. Even recreational marijuana suppliers might be off limits under the Ninth Circuit ruling if they also serve the medical market (as they do in several states) -- though that's an untested proposition.
Second, even if AG Sessions demands a crackdown on marijuana, it’s not clear that the 93 United States Attorneys – i.e., the ones who can actually bring prosecutions – will necessarily oblige him. For the time being, many of those USAs are holdovers from the Obama Administration, and they might not share Sessions’ antipathy toward marijuana. But even after Trump has a chance to replace them, there is no guarantee that his USAs would necessarily heed Sessions’ demands regarding marijuana enforcement. USAs have a degree of independence from the AG and central DOJ. And if asked to do something that is locally unpopular – like crack down on the marijuana industry in a legalization state – some USAs might balk, either because they believe it's the right thing to do or because they aspire to local political office and fear alienating large local constituencies who support state reforms.
Third, the DOJ has very limited resources. The DEA, the unit within the DOJ that has primary responsibility for enforcing federal drug laws, has only about 5,500 agents total – and they’re responsible for policing all drugs (licit and illicit), worldwide. As I have written elsewhere, even before the Obama Administration first adopted a deferential enforcement policy toward marijuana in 2009, the DOJ couldn't take on all of the marijuana cases that had previously been handled by reform states. The task facing the DOJ has not gotten any easier in the intervening years. There are now 44 states (including DC) that have legalized some form of marijuana, including 29 that have full-fledged medical marijuana laws (and 9 of those have recreational marijuana laws). That’s an awful lot of ground for the DOJ to cover with only limited resources, especially when the agency is also attempting to crack down on various other offenses (immigration, etc.). To be sure, the DOJ could (eventually) make life difficult for some marijuana suppliers. But I think the number of prosecutions (and other legal actions) the agency could undertake would be too small to make much of a dent in the state legalized marijuana market (even given harsh sanctions).
Ultimately, AG Sessions might be able to forestall reforms at the federal level –– assuming he has some clout in Congress. For example, he might be able to block or at least delay passage of federal legislation that would enable banking with the marijuana industry. However, I don’t think Sessions will be able to stifle state marijuana reforms.
Friday, February 10, 2017
The process of challenging the travel order
The litigation in Washington v. Trump has become politically confused following Thursday's decision by the Ninth Circuit.
The district court issued a Temporary Restraining Order; while it was entered following an adversary hearing, it was on light briefing and without an evidentiary hearing. It was designed to maintain the status quo until there could be briefing and a an evidentiary hearing on a preliminary injunction, although the briefing schedule was set so that the TRO would last more than the 14 days allowed by FRCP 65(b)(2), although not substantially more than that. The order was, as many have noted, bare-bones and conclusory in the constitutional analysis, as befits a TRO.
The United States appealed, although it was not clear what or how. TROs are not subject to immediate appeal, although preliminary injunctions are. The purpose of the appeal appears to have been to get the Ninth Circuit to stay the district court order.
The Ninth Circuit panel recast the TRO as a PI (pursuant to Ninth Circuit precedent allowing the court of appeals to look through the label), granting it appellate jurisdiction, then denied the stay pending appeal. The Ninth Circuit has set a briefing schedule for the appeal (running into March), so we are done at the district court, at least at the preliminary injunction stage. At the same time, the panel left open the possibility that the merits panel could revisit the issue, decide this is really a TRO and that there is no appellate jurisdiction, kicking it back to the district court for the evidentiary hearing it was trying to hold. There also is the possibility that the Ninth Circuit panel will decide that it cannot review the decision without an evidentiary record and remand for that hearing.So consider where this leaves us: The case is in the Ninth Circuit to review a bare-bones order, entered without an evidentiary hearing and without giving an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing. This means, as described by one professor on the Civ Pro Listserv, the appeal will be nothing more than a replay of the stay motion with longer and more drawn-out briefing (and with the burden of persuasion shifted to the State), but with nothing more in the record to review. This reflects an insight Samuel Bray has made in his work criticizing nationwide injunctions--if the courts see their role as deciding whether to "strike down" a statute, then the narrow, party-specific work in the district court becomes less important. And litigants may view it that way, as well.
It did not have to proceed this way. The United States could have instead sought a Writ of Mandamus, which would have allowed the Ninth Circuit to look at the TRO to determine whether it was egregiously wrong, without being a run-of-the-mill appeal. And it could have done that without having to manufacture appellate jurisdiction, review a cursory order entered without a full record, or waste time remanding to obtain that full record. But the U.S. seemed so anxious to be able to enforce the E.O. pendent lite that it blew through many of these details.
A nice question to consider: Where did the decision to pursue the appeal in this way come from? At the time, there was no AG and no SG. So did the instructions and oversight come from the White House?
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Must Police Return Wrongfully Seized Marijuana?
Imagine the following scenario. P is a local police officer who stops D for speeding. In the course of a consensual search of D’s car, P finds a small bag of marijuana. State law bans the simple possession of marijuana by most people, so P seizes the drug. However, D subsequently convinces a judge that he was allowed by state law to possess the marijuana (say, because he’s a qualified patient under the state’s medical marijuana law). Following the judge’s ruling, D asks P to return the marijuana. Must P do so?
Many states explicitly require the police to return marijuana they have wrongfully (as a matter of state law) seized from individuals like D. But the police sometimes refuse to obey such requirements. The police claim that the act of returning marijuana constitutes a drug distribution offense under 21 U.S.C. Section 841, since federal law defines “distribution” as any transfer of a banned substance. Hence, a state law requiring police to return marijuana poses a direct conflict with and is thereby preempted by federal law.
Ah, but there is a twist. 21 U.S.C. section 885(d) expressly immunizes state police from “civil or criminal liability” under federal drug laws if they are “lawfully engaged in the enforcement of any law or municipal ordinance relating to controlled substances.” The provision was likely adopted to shield police from liability for participating in sting operations. But marijuana users have claimed that Section 885(d) also applies to other scenarios, including the return of marijuana, and thereby resolves any conflict between state and federal law.Who is right? There are at least four possible ways of resolving these disputes, none of which is entirely satisfactory:
- Adopt a purposivist interpretation of Section 885(d) and side with the police. Just last month, for example, the Colorado Supreme Court found that Section 885(d) would not immunize state police for returning seized marijuana; thus, state police could ignore a state law that required them to do so. Colorado v. Crouse. This interpretation is arguably consistent with the purpose of Section 885(d), but it is difficult to reconcile with the provision’s text. The Crouse court, for example, suggested that a police officer would not be “lawfully engaged in the enforcement” of state law if she violated federal law—i.e., by distributing marijuana. But the same could be said of the undercover police officer who sells marijuana during a sting operation.
- Adopt a literal interpretation of Section 885(d) and side with users. In one case, for example, a California appellate court found that Section 885(d) plainly shielded state police from federal criminal liability for returning marijuana to a medical marijuana patient. City of Garden Grove v. Kha. The Kha court reasoned that Section 885(d) “makes law enforcement personnel immune from any civil or criminal liability arising out of their handling of controlled substances as part of their official duties. . . . There can be little question the [City] police would be acting pursuant to their official duties, were they to comply with the trial court’s order to return [the citizen’s] marijuana to him.” This interpretation arguably comports with the text of Section 885(d) (and prevents state agents from undermining state marijuana reforms). But it difficult to reconcile with the text of another provision of the Controlled Substances Act. 21 U.S.C. Section 903 expressly preempts any state law that poses a “positive conflict” with the CSA. To be sure, Congress might not care if state police return marijuana to the same person from whom they seized it. But interpreted literally, Section 885(d) might block preemption of other, more controversial state actions. Imagine, for example, that a state orders its agents to produce and sell marijuana. Indeed, in the early 2000s, the City of Oakland, California, thought it could immunize a local medical marijuana dispensary by deputizing its owner (Ed Rosenthal) and ordering him to supply the needs of the City's medical marijuana patients. When Rosenthal was later prosecuted by the federal government, the district court rejected his assertion of Section 885(d) immunity, though in so doing, it (like the Crouse court) had to rely on a questionable reading of Section 885(d). United States v. Rosenthal.
- Find that the anti-commandeering rule empowers state agents to return marijuana. The idea is that if Congress can’t force state police to seize marijuana in the first instance, it also shouldn’t be allowed to force them to retain the drug if they no longer wish to hold it. To be sure, Congress can preempt some state actions that violate federal law – say, growing marijuana at a state-run farm. But there has to be some limit to preemption if the anti-commandeering rule is to do any work. Otherwise, as I’ve argued elsewhere (p. 1446-49), Congress could prevent states from voting to repeal their marijuana bans, releasing prisoners held on marijuana charges, etc. (both of which entail actions of some sort). So as long as state police do no more than restore the proverbial state of nature (say, by returning marijuana to its original owner), Congress may not be able to stop them. (I sketched this argument in the article above (p. 1459-60).) If a court followed this approach, it could sidestep the 885(d) issue and users would win.
- Find that the police lack standing to challenge state duties as preempted. The likelihood that any police officer would actually be prosecuted for returning marijuana is almost zero (because of DOJ enforcement memoranda, congressional spending restrictions, etc.). In other words, the threatened injury to the police is too speculative to satisfy federal standing requirements. If a court followed this approach, it again wouldn’t have to reach the merits of the Section 885(d) issue and users would presumably win. However, even if this standing argument would work in federal court, it wouldn’t necessarily work in state court (where most of these claims have been raised ). That’s because state courts don’t necessarily apply the same restrictive standing rules as their federal counterparts.
As I noted above, none of these approaches is entirely satisfactory to me. But I’m interested to hear what others think – and whether there might be another solution to the puzzle.
Monday, February 06, 2017
Criticizing v. Threatening--wither the line?
Where is the line between criticizing the judiciary and engaging in threats that potentially undermine the independence of the judiciary? That is the question following Donald Trump's tweets over the challenge to the travel order--where he first referred to District Judge James Robart as a "so-called judge," then said Robart and the judicial system had put the country in peril and would be to blame if there were a terrorist attack while enforcement of the order is enjoined. Will Baude, Eric Posner, and profs on various listservs have decried this as a genuine threat--undermining judicial independence and possibly inciting mob violence against judges should anything happen.*
[*] Threats aside, the comments also rest on a false premise--that there has been a dramatic increase in travel to the United States since the TRO was entered or that the TRO prohibits all vetting and discretion in issuing visas or accepting refugees.
I agree that this is a wrong and intemperate way to criticize a court, a judge, and a judicial ruling and a wiser President would tone it down, focusing on the correctness of the decision rather than whether the judge was acting as a judge and thus had the power to render that decision (Will's point). But I am not convinced this reflects a threat or a shot across the bow of an independent judiciary. Nor am I convinced by how bound up the comments are with whether Trump might disobey or disregard a judicial order. Trump could disobey the order without verbally attacking the judge. These tweets perhaps prime the public to support and accept his disobedience, because they have been primed to understand the decision as non-judicial and thus not entitled to obedience. But they are not a necessary condition for a presidential showdown with the courts, should Trump choose to have one.
On the other hand, I worry that in seeing the President's tweets as so much noise that should not be taken seriously, I am falling into the very trap that a would-be authoritarian President needs--missing efforts to undermine the judiciary before it is too late.
Saturday, February 04, 2017
Nationwide TRO bars enforcement of immigration order (Updated)
A judge on the Western District of Washington has issued a nationwide Temporary Restraining Order barring enforcement of the main provisions of President Trump's immigration executive order. The order is short (7 pages) and cursory and lasts only until the parties can brief the preliminary injunction, which presumably will receive fuller analysis. Josh Blackman has a quick analysis, with which I basically agree. At the same time, a judge in the District of Massachusetts refused to extend the TRO issued on an emergency basis last weekend.
Some quick highlights:
The lawsuit was brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota. The court seemingly accorded them parens patriae standing, although courts generally do not allow states to assert their citizens' rights--Virginia tried unsuccessfully to use it to challenge the Affordable Care Act). The court also finds harm to the state itself, through its public universities, tax bases, operations, and public funds.
Standing to one side, I cannot see how the EO violates the rights of either State. The constitutional defects in the EO are that it violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of those who would be kept out of the country. So this must be third-party standing on behalf of residents, although I do not yet see the connection between either state and the rights-holders (apart from through parens patriae). As with the other TROs that have issued, the focus is far more on irreparable harm and far less on the merits. Maybe in the early days that is appropriate. But the success of these lawsuits seems to rest on courts finding that the government's power over immigration is less than it was 100 years ago, because rights of equality and religious freedom are greater than they were then. Perhaps they are. But there needs to be more discussion of this following a fuller hearing and more time.
The judge made the order nationwide (more accurately, universal), rejecting the government's argument that the order should be limited only to the two states, citing Texas v. US and the need for uniform immigration rules. The politics of who is seeking and defending these universal injunctions to one side, the need for uniformity cannot justify such orders. Disuniformity pendent lite is an inevitable, perhaps even intended, consequence of dividing the lower courts regionally. Different lower courts might disagree on the same issues, producing momentarily different law in different places. Uniformity arrives at the end of the day from SCOTUS, which is why the Framers mandated that Court at the top. If one regional district court (or one regional court of appeals reviewing that regional district court) has the power to resolve the issue for the entire country, there would be no need for SCOTUS; uniformity would come from whichever court got there (and ruled against the government) first. While this does create some possible confusion and uncertainty in the interim, which would look bad to the public, I do not see how you avoid that problem without altering the nature of regional courts and judicial remedies.
For what it is worth, I am less troubled than Josh is by Washington arguing for a universal injunction, when it explicitly argued against that in the Texas DACA litigation. This is why we have presumptively transsubstantive rules--so repeat players who might find themselves on either side of a dispute cannot sit on rules favoring one side or another.
As expected, the White House responded in its usual reasoned and even-handed way. A WH statement decried the "outrageous" order, although quickly re-issued the statement without the adjective. The President himself was not so reserved--he tweeted (and did not delete) about the "so-called judge" issuing the "ridiculous" opinion. Ah, the new "conversation among the branches." [Update: The President also cannot understand why the lawyers are not "looking at and using" the order from the District of Massachusetts. I assume Bannon or Miller will calmly explain binding v. persuasive authority to our fearless leader.]
Josh reports that the government is working on an appeal to the Ninth Circuit and SCOTUS. Note that this is not an appeal of the TRO itself (which is not subject to immediate review), but seeking a stay of the TRO. The analysis is similar, but not the same.
Update: The United States has appealed. It appears the argument is that this is a de facto preliminary injunction, even though designated as a TRO. Ninth Circuit precedent allows the court of appeals to look below the label, especially where the order lasts more than 14 days. Alternatively, the government may try to turn the appeal into a petition for writ of mandamus, a frequent end-run for interlocutors appeals. It appears that no stay was sought.
Update: The Ninth Circuit treated the appeal as a request for stay of the TRO. It denied the request for an immediate administrative stay, then ordered briefing by Monday of the request for a stay pending appeal. Beyond the stay request, it is not yet clear how the court of appeals is characterizing the district court's order and how that affects appellate jurisdiction.
Friday, February 03, 2017
More on Eight is Enough--the Appointments Process
Some further thoughts on Eric Segall's proposal for an eight-person, even-partisan-divided Supreme Court. I believe it produces a functioning Supreme Court, so the objections that it cannot work--that it will create disuniformity and uncertainty in federal law--are overstated. But it does not resolve problems in the appointments process, leaving in place gamesmanship and perverse incentives that may create more. I alluded to these in my JOTWELL essay and want to flesh them out further.
Broadly speaking, Eric's proposal has four pieces (put aside how to codify this): Eight Justices; no more than four Justices from either major party and each seat must be filled by a member of that same party; 2/3 supermajority to appoint an independent or someone who refuses to disclose her party affiliation (to leave open the possibility of a highly qualified independent); approval by a majority of members on the Senate Judiciary Committee from the nominee's party.
One goal of the plan is to fix the appointments process. The theory is that because no appointment shifts the Court's ideological balance, the stakes are not as high. A Justice of one party always will be replaced by a Justice of the same party, with only a difference of degree depending on the party of the appointing President. Segall also hopes it will produce less ideological Justices--as a President of one party will seek out a moderate from the other.
The problem is that an ideological balance remains at stake with the appointment, just in reverse--while a seat is vacant, there is a 4-3 Court, tilted to one side ideologically. And that may affect the desire to appoint or confirm anyone at all or how willing an actor in the appointments process is to negotiate over a Justice from the opposite party.
After the jump, thoughts on how the game might play out in four situations, all with a President from Party A. The game changes depending on four variables. The result might not be what we expect.Situation I: Senate Majority A, Justice A: This is the situation of maximum political control. The A's can appoint whoever they want and probably will look for an extremely A Justice. The only check is a B filibuster, but I do not expect the filibuster to survive the Gorsuch nomination. Franky, this is the only situation in which confirmation is possible anymore. Segall's proposal might not change that.
Situation II: Senate Majority A, Justice B. This is the situation that theoretically produces more-moderate, less-ideological nominees, as the President and Senate Majority look for the least B-ish/most A-ish B Justice they can find (a BINO--B In Name Only--if you will). The requirement that a majority of the B members of the Judiciary Committee approve the nominee tempers this somewhat, producing someone within the B mainstream.
But another perverse incentive arises here. As long as that B seat remains empty, there is a 4-3 Court with an A majority. President A (and Senate A) probably like that status quo and would be happy to maintain it as long as possible. This gives them an incentive to delay--or avoid altogether--any nomination or confirmation. It also gives them incentive to play hardball with the B members of the Judiciary Committee--accept our BINO or we are happy to leave the seat open and retain the partisan advantage.
Situation III: Senate Majority B, Justice A. Now the President and Senate majority at odds, with the B-majority Senate happy to keep the seat open, prompting the President to nominate a less A-ish Justice who is acceptable to the B Senate. This reflects the current system in periods of divided government, with Presidents often nominating a less-preferred choice to appease the opposing party in the Senate (think Anthony Kennedy or, perhaps, Merrick Garland--we do not know what Obama was thinking there). But the Senate holds greater power, because it benefits more from the vacancy in this new scheme than under the current system. It can and might hold out for an especially less-A-ish Justice on threat of not confirming anyone, preferring the partisan status quo to the evenly divided norm. (Of course, that threat has always been present with divided government--but 2016 showed that the threat is real).
Situation IV: Senate Majority B, Justice B. This is the flip of III, with the President lacking real incentive to fill the vacancy, happy to retain the 4-3 A Court. This gives him greater power to appoint a less-B-ish Justice., again with the take-it-or-leave-it position of not needing the vacancy filled if the B-majority Senate will not yield to his preferences.
So where does this leave us? In periods of divided government, power rests with any actor (President or Senate) from the opposite party of the seat to be filled, because he/they have no incentive to fill it. They can hold out for the least opposite-party Justice they can get, knowing that the vacancy status-quo favors their preferences. Or they can decide not to fill the vacancy at all by refusing to confirm anyone. In periods of unified government, actors will always be able to get the most their-party Justice, because nothing other than a filibuster will stop them. And they can get the least other-party Justice, because their lack of incentive to fill the vacancy allows them to overbear the limited check granted the other-party minority. In all, the new system either leaves existing or creates new perverse incentives that might break the appointments process further.
Power to limit such gamesmanship comes from the Court itself, in two ways. First, a retiring Justice can make her retirement effective on confirmation of a successor. This prevents that 4-3 split, even temporarily. But this is impossible if the vacancy is an unexpected one due to death, illness, or disability.
Second, the Court could limit by internal rule the decisions and judgments it will render in the event of a vacancy. For example: "In the event of a vacancy, the Court only can render judgment if five Justices [the number necessary to decide on an eight-person Court] agree; otherwise, the Court will DIG the case or hold it until back to full eight-Justice strength." The result is that no party benefits ideologically from a vacancy, because there can be no 4-3 purely partisan decisions. So both parties have incentive to make an appointment as expeditiously as possible, subject to (normal) negotiations over how A-ish or B-ish the Justice will be. It levels the bargaining positions between the President and Senate majority in times of divided government and between the President and the opposite-party Judiciary Committee members on an opposite-party appointment.
Unfortunately, such a rule would require the Court to take a position on a political controversy, something the Court (particularly this Chief) has been reluctant to do.
JOTWELL: Wasserman on Segall on Eight is Enough
I have the new Courts Law essay, reviewing Eric Segall's Eight Justices Are Enough: A Proposal to Improve the United States Supreme Court, which proposes codifying the current eight-Justice/even partisan divide on the Court.
We moved up publication on this piece to time it with the Gorsuch nomination, which either spells the death knell for the proposal or gives it life. I remain unsure whether I am sold on Segall's plan as a normatively best design or whether it just looks good compared with the political alternative. But it has some genuine merit. Iwill have more to say in a second post.
Thursday, February 02, 2017
Teaching and Writing About Marijuana Law
Greetings, y’all, and thanks for having me! In the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about one of my core areas of interest: marijuana law. In this first post, I want to share just a couple of the reasons why I find this is such a fascinating and worthwhile field of study.
For one thing, state marijuana reforms and the federal response to them have sparked some of the most challenging and interesting legal controversies of our day. May the states legalize a drug while Congress forbids it? Even so, are state regulations governing marijuana preempted by federal law? Does anyone (besides the DOJ) have a cause of action to challenge them as such? Can the President suspend enforcement of the federal ban? Do state restrictions on marijuana industry advertising violate the First Amendment? These are just a handful of the intriguing questions that are now being confronted in this field.
Just as importantly, there is a large and growing number of people who care about the answers to such questions. Forty-three (43) states and the District of Columbia have legalized possession and use of some form of marijuana by at least some people. These reforms – not to mention the prohibitions that remain in place at the federal level – affect a staggering number of people. Roughly 40% of adults in the U.S. have tried marijuana, and more than 22 million people use the drug regularly. To supply this demand, thousands of people are growing and selling marijuana. In Colorado alone, for example, there are more than 600 state licensed marijuana suppliers. There are also countless third parties who regularly deal with these users and suppliers, including physicians who recommend marijuana to patients, banks that provide payment services to the marijuana industry, firms that employ marijuana users, and lawyers who advise all of the above.All of these people need help navigating a thicket of complicated and oftentimes conflicting laws governing marijuana. Colorado, for example, has promulgated more than 200 pages of regulations to govern its $1 billion a year licensed marijuana industry. Among many other things, Colorado’s regulations require suppliers to carefully track their inventories, test and label their products, and limit where and how they advertise. These regulations are complicated enough but doubts about their enforceability (highlighted in the questions above) only add to the confusion and the need for informed legal advice.
This short intro should give you a sense of why I now regularly teach a course on Marijuana Law and Policy at Vanderbilt, and why I have spent a large part of the last two years completing a first-of-its-kind textbook with Aspen on Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority. The link provides more details on the casebook, which will be published in May of this year—i.e., in plenty of time for summer or fall 2017 classes! And if you are interested in teaching a course in any aspect of marijuana law, contact me – robert<dot>mikos<at>vanderbilt<dot>edu -- I would be happy to chat.
That’s it for now. In the coming days, I’ll write about several of the questions posed above.
Posted by Robert Mikos on February 2, 2017 at 09:54 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Law and Politics, Things You Oughta Know if You Teach X | Permalink | Comments (2)
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Framing the coming debate on the Gorsuch nomination
Neil Gorsuch will be on the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, speaking purely as a political partisan, I would like to see Democrats filibuster the nomination and force Republicans to own the decision to eliminate the procedure. Or that both sides agree to end the arms race and adopt Eric Segall's plan to hold the Court at eight.
But the framing of the strategy is going to be essential. It is too easy to say (as the press already is saying) that a filibuster is extraordinary and unprecedented and this would be only the second time it has happened. Forget that the filibuster of Fortas's nomination as Chief was bi-partisan and done when the filibuster was an extraordinary step (as in the then-fresh filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), rather than a routine part of Senate business producing a de facto super-majority requirement. The year 1968 was the dark ages for Supreme Court confirmations and filibusters, no longer a meaningful historical analogue.
Similarly, the argument has to be more than that the seat was "stolen" from President Obama and Merrick Garland. Senate Republicans did not merely deny Garland a hearing, but did so for a purported principle--a President should not fill a SCOTUS vacancy in an election year/in the final year of his term (although I have never been clear whether that was the final year of a term or only in the final only of a second term).*
[*] That was the stated principle; I am not saying I believe it. Mitch McConnell would have led the Republicans to do the same thing had Scalia died on December 13, 2015 or August 13, 2015 (when the Republicans were already holding primary debates). Or, frankly, anytime after the 2014 mid-terms.
So the Democrats need to find their own principle beyond tit-for-tat.One principle is that, given longevity, the central role of the Supreme Court in the legal and political scheme, and the increasing polarization in society, Justices must command super-majority support to be confirmed. True, this principle is not found in Article III or history and the lone example of a filibuster shows it has not been used in this context. But the "no election-year confirmations" principle also had no basis in Article III and ignored a history of election-year appointments (including 100 years prior, the confirmation of Louis Brandeis). The (new) rules of the game do not appear to estop a Senate caucus from adhering to new principles; the only question is whether the principle sticks, as the GOP's move did, or not, as will happen when Senate Republicans eliminate the filibuster for SCOTUS nominations.
I would add that this principle flies less in the face of text than McConnell's. The idea of no appointments in the final year disregards that a President serves for four years (January 20, Year 1-January 20, Year 5) and that vested in him for the entire four years is the executive power, including the power to make appointments. McConnell's principle essentially says that power runs out sometime earlier, although it is not clear when (again, I expect it would be Election Day of Year 2).
Alternatively, Mark Tushnet suggests a principle of no appointments by a President who lost the popular vote. It last happened 1893, when lame-duck Republican Benjamin Harrison appointed a Democrat a month before newly (re-) elected Democrat Grover Cleveland took office. Again, however, we have had other election-year appointments in our history (and most more recently than 1893), all of which Republicans ignored last year.
Ultimately, the principle I believe we end with* is this: No one will be appointed to the Supreme Court except where the President and Senate majority are of the same political party. I do not necessarily believe that is a normatively good principle. But it is functionally where we now found ourselves in the current political circumstance.
[*] This assumes the Democrats decline to filibuster to save it for another day, which would be politically stupid. But then, Senate Democrats . . .
Update: But see Richard Primus' argument that the real threat is Donald Trump, not a judicial nominee who might have come from any Republican President.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
More on the immigration order
Events move quickly:
• Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly issued a statement deeming "the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest," meaning "lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations." The question was raised whether this moots the actions involving LPRs. Administrative/executive interpretation, not reduced to formal policy, typically is treated as "voluntary cessation" of unlawful activity that is not sufficient to moot a case. The government must show it is "absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur." Given the public confusion over the meaning and scope of the order--with contradictory statements coming from officials within the White House over threee days--and that the policy could be changed tomorrow by a new announcement from the Secretary, this announcement should not meet the standard.• The rapid-fire litigation reminds me of the early days of the nationwide marriage-equality litigation, with district courts all over the country issuing orders, often ex parte, almost always against the government, and building a momentum in a given direction. It also reminds us of the power of district judges, at least in the short-term--ex parte T/R/Os and stays are not immediately appealable, unless a court of appeals wants to mandamus the district judge, which is unlikely. When we talk about the power of the judiciary, it is not only (or even primarily) about SCOTUS on the ground.
• More protests Sunday, with thousands of people turning out on the streets of several major cities and at airports, seemingly organized on short notice and growing organically, and despite some traffic blockages. Once again, few or no reports of arrests. But the constant protests and criticisms seem the thing that might drive the President over the edge. How long might it take for himto have had enough and to try to get protesters off the street, either working behind the scenes telling local police enough is enough, or by explicitly urging force to stop them?
Trump supporters bragged about what his first 100 days would achieve. We are 10% there and it has been a ride, although not in the way many expected.
Random thoughts on a Sunday
1) Judge Donnelly's temporary stay of removal of those at U.S. ports of entry who are legally authorized to enter the United States raises, from the other political side, the issue of nationwide injunctions against enforcement of U.S.policy. Darweesh purported to be suing on behalf of others similarly situated, although Judge Donnelly did not perform any part of the FRCP 23 analysis. But at the stage of a temporary emergency stay or temporary restraining order, this is less problematic than on a preliminary or permanent injunction entered after full briefing by the parties.
But here I want to distinguish between "nationwide" and "universal" injunctions (thanks to Tobias Wolfe of Penn for the distinction); the latter term better captures the remedial problems. An injunction is, and should be, "nationwide" with respect to the named plaintiffs--the United States should be enforced against them anywhere in the country. And the "parties" in a class action properly covers everyone in the class. A universal injunction, by contrast, bars action by the defendant with respect to anyone, including non-parties. This is remedially problematic. The DACA injunction was universal--although only Texas and about 25 other states were parties, the injunction barred the United States from enforcing DACA in, and with respect to, non-party states, even those who would not oppose the benefits granted to undocumented persons within its borders.
Now it remains to be seen whether this case is properly brought as a class action (reports are there are about 100-200 people with the status of the plaintiffs in Darweesh. I expect the class question will await fuller litigation, assuming the relevant agencies do not release the people affected. The point is that the "nationwide" label thrown around in the press is too imprecise.
And, for what its worth, TRO's are issuing in other courts (including the District of the District of Columbia, Western District of Washington, and District of Massachusetts), suggesting that Judge Donnelly's temporary stay is not doing as much nationwide work as it might.
2) Josh Blackman has his usual thorough analysis of the procedural aspects. I do not think I agree that Judge Donnelly's order is ultra vires for not having performed the FRCP 23 analysis. In that short time, I am not sure the court could do more than acknowledge the class allegations in the motion and save them for fuller briefing. But to not allow the fullest TRO* would love potential class members subject to removal.
[*] Although not styled a TRO, this seem to me the functional equivalent--staying enforcement of the law for a finite number of days pending fuller briefing.
3) There are some interesting enforcement issues, as reports come that officials at airports are refusing to abide by the orders. Judge Donnelly included a paragraph order the Marshals to take all steps necessary to notify agents on the ground about the order. But that takes time.
4) As I wrote last weekend, I have no idea when public protest will be permitted and when law enforcement will crack down. The New York Times described the genesis and evolution of Saturday's protests at Kennedy Airport (which, famously, is a nonpublic forum), including crowds making sidewalks outside the terminal unpassable. And all without permits, pre-event negotiations, and explicit or implicit understandings. And yet there were no arrests and no efforts to disperse or remove the protesters. Same in the parking garages. At one point, Port Authority police blocked protesters from boarding the train linking the subway to the terminals, until Gov. Cuomo ordered them to stand down, which they did only after a 15-minute delay.
5) There is a teaching moment here, apart from the substantive and procedural details of the controversy and the "this is why we need lawyers" narrative (since most of our students are never going to be on either side of such controversies). Reports are that this order was not vetted by the lawyers and policy experts at various agencies, including in the Office of Legal Counsel, but was thrown together by non-lawyer policy makers and some lawyers guiding them within the White House. So the teaching point is that lawyering matters and lawyering means care and precision and avoiding ambiguity and the chaos that ambiguity brings. And that is true not only as to major government orders that affect the entire world, but wills that affect an elderly widow.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Arguments in Ziglar v. Abbassi
Some thoughts on last week's oral arguments in Ziglar v. Abassi, the follow-up to Iqbal raising three issues: 1) Whether a Bivens action can be brought against policymakers on national-security matters; 2) whether the complaints were sufficient under Twiqbal; and 3) whether any of this was clearly established in 2001.
1) This case might give the Court an opportunity to re-emphasize and re-ignite "obvious alternative explanation" as part of the pleading analysis. Although mentioned in Iqbal, lower courts had de-emphasized it as part of the analysis, other than a bit rhetorically. Which is good, since such an inquiry contradicts the purpose of 12(b)(6). That motion asks whether, accepting everything the plaintiff says is true, he could win. For the court to explain the defendant's conduct as a result of something other than what the defendant alleges is for the court to act as factfinder based on the plaintiff's preliminary allegations. But the SG mentioned this standard several times during his argument on behalf of Ashcroft, Mueller, and James Ziglar (the policy-maker defendants); the core argument was that the decisions were based on their best judgment about national security given their lack of information, rather than invidious discrimination.
2) Justice Breyer (whose questions I usually cannot understand) asked a question that captured the connection between ex post damages and immediate court orders (namely habeas) as constitutional remedies and why the former maintains a special place in any judicial regime. Using Japanese internment as his hypo, Breyer pointed out that a judge was unlikely to find a constitutional violation in 1942, given the immediacy of the crisis, the recentness of the executive-branch determination, and the uncertainty of events. But later damages actions and remedies allow judges to act after the crisis has been averted and with an opportunity to cast a cooler eye on the constitutional question. It thus is not enough to argue, as the government did, that these detainees could have sought habeas relief (as some did) or relief under the Administrative Procedures Act or injunctive relief on a constitutional claim--that later judicial inquiry in a damages suit plays its own unique role. The sharp dichotomy the SG drew--constitutional challenges to government policy come only through injunctive actions, never through actions for damages--is not supportable (certainly not if we use § 1983 as an analogue) or the best scheme for judicial enforcement of constitutional rights.
3) The arguments and questions over the Bivens extension reveal an unfortunate conflation of what should be distinct issues--constitutional merits, availability of a cause of action, and qualified immunity. Government attorneys and questions from the bench (especially from the Chief) worried that the possibility of a suit for damages against policymaking officials would over-deter officials concerned about their conduct ultimately being determined. But that concern is already addressed by qualified immunity, a point respondent's counsel* nailed in her argument. And Justice Kennedy called for a targeted qualified immunity analysis for claims against national policymakers, seemingly recognizing that the immunity analysis was the locus for that consideration. Plus, the two-step immunity analysis allows damages actions to serve as a vehicle for developing constitutional law, at least when the Court chooses to undertake that inquiry--but only if Bivens allows the Court to examine and analyze the constitutional merits.
[*] Respondent's counsel was Rachel Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights--and, I just learned, the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
This is not a new problem. In Wilkie v. Robbins, the Court pushed concerns about the scope of substantive due process as a reason to reject a Bivens cause of action.
4) Justice Kennedy, who has voted to reject the Bivens action in every recent case, seemed surprisingly sympathetic to the petitioner. Some questions to the government suggested concern that the respondents had no meaningful remedies and his questions to the respondent seemed to tee-up her arguments. Maybe that is how the Court avoids a tie. [Update: I should clarify--that is avoid a tie on the Bivens question. I expect a majority to find that all the defendants have qualified immunity]
Friday, January 13, 2017
Last of its kind?
DOJ has entered into a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department in a § 14141 action. As with many of the consent decrees we have seen from the Obama DOJ, it requires extensive changes to department policies and practices with respect to use of force, community engagement, and respect for the rights of people to speak and protest in public and to observe and record police activity. It also requires development of new practices with respect to transporting persons in custody and dealing with people with behavioral disabilities.
The question is whether this is the last such consent decree we see for awhile. Jeff Sessions does not appear to see systemic unconstitutionality in state and local police departments, nor does he appear to believe that the federal government and federal courts should oversee the operations of local agencies. It is unlikely that whoever Bush Trump appoints to head the Civil Rights Division will take a much different view of the matter. Extensive use of consent decrees through § 14141 is not in the Republican playbook--the Bush DOJ brought few civil actions and entered few consent decrees, preferring to engage in informal negotiations and letters of agreement, a less-adversarial/more-cooperative approach that does not necessarily produce as comprehensive reforms.
Monday, January 09, 2017
Shorter White v. Pauly
Unless an officer walks up to an unarmed man and shoots him in the head while shouting that he knows the victim was not a threat, stop denying police officers summary judgment in excessive force cases.
Less Hollow Hope on the defensive side
Judicial appointments always seem to be less of a high agenda item for Democrats than for Republicans. At the voting level, polls show that voters who identified the composition of SCOTUS and the federal courts as the most or a very important issue broke strongly for Trump.*
[*] On an AALS panel about the presidential transition, Steven Calabresi argued that this means Trump's promises about judicial appointments, especially to SCOTUS, are the equivalent of Bush I's "read my lips," to which Republican voters will hold him. If Calabresi is right, this will affect the result of any systematic Democratic efforts to oppose any Trump nominee.
At the presidential level, Reagan appointed 50 more judges in his eight years than Obama did in his, and Obama leaves office with about twice as many judicial vacancies (more than 100) than Bush II left in 2009. (So however Obama transformed the federal judiciary likely will be undone by Trump, who has a significant number of lower-court vacancies to fill immediately, along with the Scalia seat). Although Obama nominated and praised Merrick Garland and did speak about the waiting nomination, he did not do it so loudly or so often to keep the issue from largely disappearing from the news. I do not know if more political heat would have changed anything--if Republican voters genuinely care more about the courts than Democratic voters, there was no constituency to force Republican hands on this.*
[*] Which may offer another reason that Democratic attempts to hold the Scalia seat open indefinitely will fail--the Republican voters outraged at the obstruction will be louder and more numerous than were the Democratic voters outraged over Garland.
Some of Obama's less-than-complete success is due to Republican obstruction and that the Republican-controlled Senate has confirmed virtually no nominees during the past two years. But Obama had six years of a Democratic Senate, the last two of those without a filibuster on lower-court nominees (although still blue slips), which might have allowed him to push through a bigger flood of lower-court judges into those vacancies, had he been so inclined. (And this is without getting into judicial ideology, where Obama's (and Bill Clinton's) nominees never appear to be as liberal as Bush's (and likely Trump's) have been conservative).
But Obama never seemed so inclined, at least not outwardly or forcefully. One possible explanation is that Obama adheres to the arguments of University of Chicago political scientist Gerald Rosenberg in The Hollow Hope that the courts are not effective agents of social and political change and that progressive activists must focus more on the political branches. (The greatest social-change success came during the 1960s, the one time in history when the courts and Congress were on the same page). Obama is, at heart, a believer in political activism on the ground, back to his days as a community organizer, rather than in the courts. And that seems to have affected his approach to filling judgeships.
But there is a defensive component to our hopes for the courts. Courts are essential to protect what activists achieve in the democratic process. Or, stated, differently, they offer the other side a great way to stop or reverse social change that comes from the political branches. Packing the courts with Democratic nominees is essential to secure those political-branch successes, even if the courts should not be the primary target for establishing rights in the first place.
And it is not only about protecting statutes and regulations from declarations of unconstitutionality.*
[*] See Voting Rights Act or the Medicaid expansion or DAPA. Or, historically, everything between 1933 and 1937. Or imagine if a Republican-controlled Court had come out the other way on the constitutionality of public-accommodations provisions.
It is, perhaps more importantly, about protecting against judicial interpretation and construction that sharply narrow the scope of those statutes and regs, thereby undermining their impact and social-change purposes.*
[*] See, e.g., restrictive interpretations of Title VII and other employment discrimination laws.
And we can add to that sub-constitutional procedural decisions closing the courthouse doors to those who would seek to avail themselves of statutory and constitutional rights.
[*] See Twiqbal or recent restrictions on class actions.
That is what Republicans achieve by dominating the courts and by making that dominance a central goal of every presidential administration. And what Democrats lose by not. The power to reverse that trend is what was lost by the failed Garland nomination, the failed Clinton candidacy,the failure of Obama to push more on judges, especially in his first six years, and the substantial number of vacancies he leaves to be filled by President Trump. (I recognize this reflects the "Disease of More": Obama achieved a lot with respect to the federal judiciary--it just never feels like enough).
And to put on a candidly partisan hat for a moment (remember, the banner says "almost always"): This, more than the probable loss of Roe as a constitutional doctrine or the loss of an opportunity to finally define and implement a vigorous liberal constitutionalism, is what saddened me most about the results of this election.
Saturday, January 07, 2017
Elevating judges during recess
Based on comments to my earlier post and some emails, the key question on elevation and resignation is more specific: Is a judge elevated on a recess appointment differently situated than a judge elevated through the ordinary appointment process.
It seems to me that a recess appointment is substantively the same as a regular appointment, but the process is flipped--the nominee assumes the office first and then the Senate confirms (or does not confirm). But during the recess-appointment period (the period between the appointment and Senate confirmation), the officer is in all senses identical to someone appointed through the regular process, fully occupying that office and exercising its powers to the same extent. That being the case, if acceptance of a regular appointment accompanies a resignation from the lower-court (however that happens and pursuant to whatever legal source), so should acceptance of a recess appointment.
The counter argument must be that the trigger for resignation of a lower-court judgeship (again, whatever the source of that requirement) remains Senate confirmation and acceptance of the commission to the higher court. On this view, a recess appointment is not substantively the same as appointment following Senate confirmation--it merely ensures that the work of the office gets done until the Senate returns and confirms, but does not alone alone fill the vacancy, impose the resignation obligation, or create the new vacancy on the lower court.
But that means Obama erred in not making a recess appointment. I had argued that it was not worth eleven months of Justice Garland (the longest he would have been able to serve, until December 2017) if the end result would be Garland on neither SCOTUS nor the DC Circuit. But my reasoning was that Obama would not want to create the lower-court vacancy and Garland is too young to want to no longer be a judge. But my conclusion rested on the premise that Garland would have been unable to return to the DC Circuit when the recess appointment ended. But if Garland's DC Circuit seat would have been waiting for him next December, then Obama had nothing to lose and everything to gain from this move.
Monday, January 02, 2017
Why We Need to Talk about Trump & Press Freedom
On Wednesday, January 5, AALS2017 kicks off with a panel on Trump & Freedom of the Press in the Plaza Room Lobby Level of the Hilton Union Square at 8:30 am.
RonNell Andersen Jones (Utah), Amy Gajda (Tulane), Sonja West (Georgia), Erwin Chemerinsky (UCI), John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle, and I will be discussing what the Trump presidency might bode for press freedom. In preparation for the panel, I thought I'd share with you the research I've done suggesting why this discussion is necessary and timely. In short, here are the reasons that the media (and those of us who value the role they play in our democracy) have legitimate causes for concern that press freedom might be curtailed during the Trump Administration.
First, Donald Trump has shown himself to be remarkably thin-skinned about unflattering press coverage. Throughout his campaign and after, he has publicly berated Saturday Night Live, the New York Times, and many, many other news organizations and individual journalists (too many to enumerate here, as is evident from this list compiled by MediaMatters.org) for criticizing him or simply for covering him. Shortly after the election, he called television news anchors and executives to Trump Tower to browbeat them for their "dishonest" and "short sighted" and "outrageous" election coverage. He singled out CNN and NBC as the "worst," calling CNN "liars." All of this seems a bit churlish from a candidate who got at least $2 billion worth of free air time from these same media actors and did not hold a press conference from July 2016 until the end of December. Nonetheless, it suggests that the relationship between this President and the press will not be a smooth one.
However, more alarming than Trump's propensity to take offense at even the most innocuous press criticisms was his propensity to incite supporters against the press during his campain. Certainly other elected officials have villified and will doubtlessly continue to villify the press to score political points (think VP Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism"). However, Trump turned up the heat beyond anything previously seen. As Margaret Sullivan wrote in The Washington Post, "Donald Trump made hatred of the media the centerpiece of his campaign. Journalists were just cogs in a corporate machine, part of the rigged system." During his campaign events, he restricted press to a "pen" and then inflamed his supporters by calling them dishonest and accusing them of rigging the election and inventing stories to discredit him. His supporters often responded with boos, ugly gestures, and chants of "liars", "assholes," "CNN sucks!," and worse, causing some reporters to fear for their safety.
Trump further displayed a lack of appreciation (or perhaps contempt?) for pool reporters by denying them traditional avenues of access. Unlike previous candidates, Trump never allowed the press on his plane. He also revoked credentials or denied credentials of those who garnered his special ire. Although Trump has promised to have a "normal" press pool as president, he's shown a willingness since being elected to deny pool coverage of important meetings and to ditch his press pool at will. He's also stated he may change the format of press briefings, in an as yet unspecified way. On a somewhat more positive note, he has granted interviews to several outlets since his election, including The Today Show, 60 Minutes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine, though his anti-media rhetoric and disrespect for traditional channels of access cast doubt on whether this trend will continue once he's in office.
Other causes for concern about Trump's respect for press freedom abound. During the campaign, he promised, if elected, to "open up libel laws" to make it easier for public figures to sue the press, a threat that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of libel law and constitutional constraints on the President. More alarmingly, Trump has shown a propensity to threaten lawsuits against journalists or actually sue over both innocuous criticisms and normal news coverage. As an ABA report revealed, "Trump and his companies have been involved in a mind-boggling 4,000 lawsuits over the last 30 years and sent countless threatening cease-and-desist letters to journalists and critics. But the GOP presidential nominee and his companies have never won a single speech-related case filed in a public court." Defending libel suits is expensive, even if one ultimately wins; thus, the mere prospect of being sued for libel can have a chilling effect on reporting. In fact, there's evidence that Trump's reputation as a "libel bully' has already chilled some speakers and is likely to chill others.
Beyond that, Trump has praised ruthless dictators who have trampled press freedoms and targeted journalists for assassination. In fact, when asked if his praise of Vladimir Putin was tempered by Russia's killing of journalists, Trump said no: “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” Such rhetoric would be chilling, even in isolation, but of course it is not in isolation.
Meanwhile, Trump comes into office on the heels of a President who has already eroded the press's ability to perform its watchdog role by aggressively pursuing leaks investigation against government employees, subpoenaing reporters to reveal confidential sources, and monitoring telephone and email records of journalists in service of leaks investigation. As Dana Priest of the Washington Post stated: “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.” President-Elect Trump has not signaled whether he will continue such practices, but the fact that his former campaign manager said that the executive editor of the New York Times should be in jail for publishing Trump's tax returns doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Trump also has not signaled how executive agencies within his administration will be directed to handle Freedom of Information Act requests, and although an RNC spokesman has praised the transparency of the Trump transition, Trump's previous treatment of the press, together with his refusal to release his tax returns, certainly gives reason for doubt on this score as well.
In addition to these causes for concern, the media have their own issues that may hamper their ability to perform their watchdog role during the Trump presidency. Trump is a genius at newsjacking. He is able to set the agenda of the media with his tweets and drown out negative coverage. Trump's "Hamilton" tweet, for example, garnered more eyeballs than the $25 million settlement of a fraud suit against Trump University. Meanwhile, the struggle to maintain press freedoms comes at a time when the public's views toward the media are increasingly hostile, many segments of the media face revenue challenges, and fake news undermines the role of legitimate journalism in furthering democratic self-governance. [Not to mention that "post-truth" was the OED's 2016 word of the year.] These issues, and many more, will give the Trump & Press Freedom panel ample fodder for discussion. I hope you can join us.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Ahead and behind in the Merrick Garland debacle
Merrick Garland will not be on the Supreme Court. Garland has resumed participating in cases on the D.C. Circuit (for the past 240 days, he had only been performing his administrative chief-judge tasks) and is scheduled to sit on a panel in mid-January. Some still hold out hope that President Obama will surprise everyone and make a recess appointment on January 3. But as I wrote previously: 1) that is not Obama's style and 2) because the Republican Senate will not affirm the appointment, it would end at the close of the next session of Congress in December 2017, leaving Garland without a job (since he will have given up his D.C. Circuit seat) at only 65 years old, a deal I do not see him taking. We might add as a # 3 that if Obama did this, Congress could enact a law in January declaring the first session of the 115th Congress over immediately, thereby terminating Garland's recess appointment immediately.
For now, I want to consider who within or around the Court comes out ahead and who behind in this debacle.
Obviously, Garland is worst off, as he never will take a seat on the Court despite being as qualified as any recent nominee. The other person who is worse off is Justice Kagan, whose role on the Court has changed, perhaps for the whole of her tenure. She is now the best, most engaging writer on the Court. Given the opportunity to work with a liberal majority with Breyer or Garland as the Court's median, Kagan might have assumed the William Brennan role of the intellectual heart of the liberal majority, crafting doctrine and decisions to hold that majority together and perhaps even appeal to the rest of the Court more broadly. Particularly once Justice Ginsburg left the Court, Kagan might have been the intellectual center of a liberal Court.
The obvious person to come out ahead is whoever Donald Trump puts on the Court, who otherwise would not have gotten there. The other is Chief Justice Roberts. He avoids the prospect of being a Chief regularly in the minority and assigning dissents rather than majority opinions (the scramble to find an historical example of a Chief in that situation landed on Charles Evans Hughes during the New Deal, although he was not a consistent vote in favor of the validity of New Deal legislation). Or the alternative prospect of regularly moderating his own constitutional views to join the majority in order to retain the assignment power.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Donald Trump plans to maintain a private security detail as President on top of his secret service team. If recent history is any guide, this group will overstep and violate someone's right. So: Do members of the detail act under color of federal law for constitutional purposes and, relatedly, are they subject to Bivens liability? And, if so, are they entitled to qualified immunity?
As to the first: One possible test is traditional public function, as protecting the President has, since 1901, been the exclusive domain of the Secret Service. A second is close nexus, which may depend on how much connection and collaboration there is between the private detail and the Secret Service or other White House and executive-branch personnel. A third possibility may depend on who is paying this detail--Trump himself or the government. Trump paid for the force during the campaign, much of it from campaign contributions; no word on whether that arrangement will continue. The trickier part may be Minneci v. Pollard, which could be read to reject "extending" Bivens to private actors, especially where state tort remedies (here, e.g., for assault) are available. At some level, this raises a situation of under-color-by-necessity: It would be intolerable for the President to be able to surround himself with a private security/intelligence detail operating above constitutional limitations.
As to the second: Filarsky v. Delia held that a private person hired by the government to perform public functions can claim qualified immunity. From this, it might follow that these private security officers enjoy the same immunity as federal agents (although it again may depend on who is paying and supervising them).
Update: Keith Schiller, a retired NYC cop and Navy veteran who heads Trump's security detail, will be named a personal White House aide. So that should clarify things: Schiller, as a federal employee, acts under color. And his close direction of private security personnel should be sufficient to place them under color.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
What is Obama supposed to do?
Many on the left are angry with Obama for not doing more, or at least shouting more, about the dangers of the looming Donald Trump presidency. The prevailing view is that this is not the time for Obama's "everyone chill the fuck out--I got this" style.
But what, exactly, should he be doing? One of the limitations of the office is that the current office-holder must ensure the peaceful transfer of executive power--screaming about the threat Trump poses to the nation and the world (or at least some parts of it) is not an option for someone in that office.* Nothing Obama does now can stop a Trump presidency or limit the power that Trump will wield as President (a la North Carolina). Perhaps if he had a Democratic Senate, he could at least put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court (of course, he had a Democratic Senate, Garland already would be on the Supreme Court).
[*] There are some holding out hope that Obama will do that when the current Senate unavoidably ends on January 3. Putting aside that it is never been Obama's style. Because such an appointment would expire in December 2017, it would require Garland to give up being a judge for one year on SCOTUS. At 64, I do not believe he would make that deal.
Obama's power runs out on January 20 and there is nothing he can do to change that fact. Perhaps he believes that reminding everyone (including Trump) that actual power tends to sober people up is his best move. And if he is wrong about that, there is nothing he can do about it on December 16. The interesting question is whether Obama takes on an active opposition role as an ex-President; that is generally not done, even across party lines, but perhaps this will be the extraordinary exception. As for what he is doing about Russian interference, I assume that is happening behind the scenes.
Many believe that the transition from election to inauguration of roughly ten weeks is too long. Usually the complaint is raised because it delays the new President coming in during times of crisis, leaving a lame duck who cannot (or should not be the one to try) to handle the crisis. These complaints prompted passage of the 20th Amendment, which took effect in early 1933 during one of the two most obvious illustrations of the problem. Similar concerns were raised in 2008-09, with the economy cratering in fall 2008. Perhaps we now are seeing the flipside of the problem of the long transition--when there is nothing we can do to stop what looks like it is going to be a problematic presidency, the long delay in starting that presidency only exacerbates the fear and speculation. Let's get on with seeing what is going to happen and what we actually can do to stop the worst of it.
Think of it as the political version of ripping the band-aid off.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Political parties and constitutional mechanisms
Piling on Lisa's post about the next steps in the presidential election (recounts in three states and the Electoral College vote on December 19):
1) Lisa correctly argues that 37 faithless electors are highly unlikely, because electors are party regulars. This shows another way that the not-accounted-for rise of political parties affects constitutional structures. The electors do exercise independent judgment. But the exercise of that judgment is affected by the existence of political parties as the unit around which elections, including the selection of electors, are organized. Electors retain independent judgment, but party affiliation affects how they exercise that judgment. It is the Daryl Levinson/Rick Pildes thesis applied to the election process.
This is why one proposed Electoral College gambit revolved around getting those 37 electors not to vote for Clinton (which partisanship deters them from doing), but to vote for a third, acceptable, competent, compromise Republican (e.g., Kasich or Romney seems to have been seduced by the cuisine of the Dark Side), who could then be chosen by the Republican-controlled House (with support from Democrats) in the contingency election.2) In early writing on presidential selection and succession, I argued that selection mechanisms could be based on any of three competing structural principles: Political parties and partisanship, democracy, or separation of powers; one or another rising to the top on different issues, principles interact in unexpected ways, and principles change over time. There is no right or wrong answer on any of this; it is a matter of which principles one favors and why.
The current discussions illustrate the point. I argue above that the current operation of the Electoral College represents the triumph of political partisanship. The calls from many that faithless electors should vote for Clinton because she won the national popular vote obviously preference democracy (at the national level).
3) Lisa points out that Clinton needs to flip all of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to flip the election.
There are arguments that a nationwide popular vote is unworkable in a country the size of the United States and that it makes sense to run things as a series of 51 statewide elections, as we functionally have under the Electoral College (where electors will virtually always vote for the winner of their state election). The undemocratic nature of that system is due, in part, to the inclusion of equal Senate representation in the total for each state. So one way to keep the current system, but to make it slightly more popularly representative, is to base the number of votes from each state solely on population-based House representation. (Note that I am not endorsing this idea, only pointing out the arguments).
Under that system, there are 436 electoral votes (sorry, Nate Silver, you will have to rename your site), with 219 necessary for a majority.* Trump would have 246 (including MI, PA, and WI) and Clinton 190, with Clinton needing to flip 29 to win. Under this system, she could win by flipping only MI (14 votes) and PA (18), even without WI (8), although WI and one of the other two would not be enough.
[*] Under this system, Al Gore would have won in 2000 even without Florida, 225-211.
4) If any of those threw the election into the House (that is, if life imitated Veep), what would that election look like? Remember that each state caucus casts one vote based on its internal caucus vote. The likely breakdown for the new House will be 33 majority-Republican states (this includes Louisiana, whose results are not in, but which was 5-1 R this Congress and unlikely to change), 17 majority-Democratic states, and one evenly divided state (Maine). (New Jersey will flip from evenly divided to majority-Dem).
Now a lot depends on what structural principle individual House members choose to honor. It could be partisanship (as I expect it would be), in which case the Republican wins handily. It could be democracy, by looking to popular-vote results, although each must consider what level to look at--national, home state, or home district.
Who Will Be Inaugurated on January 20? (Almost Certainly Donald Trump)
Recent days have seen a surge in efforts to change the 2016 presidential results. Jill Stein is spearheading calls for recounts. Democratic-affiliated electors are joining attempts to convince their Republican-affiliated counterparts to vote faithlessly on December 19. In response to questions about these post-election developments, I thought I would provide a few quick thoughts. The punchline is straightforward: none of this activity is likely to change who will become the 45th president. The following discussion provides more context.
First, for those trying to understand the recounts, state law is what governs. As a result, the rules governing recounts vary, and the answers to legal questions—including when and how to demand a recount and which standards govern the proceedings themselves—depend on whether one is seeking to recount votes in Wisconsin, or Michigan, or Pennsylvania. Despite such variation in the rules, the ultimate outcomes of these recounts are likely to be the same. Because taken either together or individually, they are very unlikely to make a difference in the 2016 presidential race.
By my count, the outcome of the 2016 presidential race changes only if recounts flip the results in all three of these states. This is because Donald Trump’s current elector total is 306, which means he has 36 more than he needs. In other words, Trump would need to lose the votes of 37 electors in order to drop below 270. Wisconsin provides 10, Michigan provides 16, and Pennsylvania provides 20. (There is, of course, the possibility that some of the Trump electors—that is, some of the electors who were selected based on Trump’s statewide victories—will prove to be “faithless,” thereby dropping Trump’s totals under 270 without all three of these states necessarily being flipped. See below for why this is unlikely to occur and why, even if it did occur, it is unlikely to change the result.)
What are the odds that recounts will change the outcomes in all three of these states? Based on historical evidence, the odds are minuscule.
In recount terms, the apparent margins of victory in the 2016 election are huge. As a result, there is not a single modern precedent for even one of these states to experience a reversal. Supporting the conclusion that there is “essentially zero chance” that recounts in these states will reverse Trump’s lead, Josh Douglas observes that, in the last 15 years, a statewide recount has flipped the outcome of an election only three times. Each of these reversals occurred in a really close race. According to FairVote, the first of these unicorns was spotted in 2004, where a recount in Washington State swung the margin by 390 votes, which translated into 0.014% of the votes cast. The second emerged in Vermont in 2006, where the recount swung the margin by 239, or 0.107% of the votes cast. The third could be found in Minnesota in 2008, where the recount swung the margin by 440 votes, or 0.018% of the votes cast. As FairVote concluded, based on its comprehensive analysis of all the recounts (consequential or otherwise) over a ten-year period, recounts tend to “change the margin by insignificant numbers.”
The problem for Stein and others hoping for game-changing recounts? The 2016 presidential vote totals do not turn on insignificant numbers. Current estimates indicate that in Wisconsin, Donald Trump is ahead by over 20,000 votes (equaling approximately 0.8% of the total votes cast); that in Michigan he is ahead by over 10,000 votes (approximately 0.3% of the total); and in Pennsylvania he is ahead by over 65,000 votes (approximately 1.2% of the total). The idea that standard-issue recount proceedings would flip the outcome not only in one of these states, but in all three, seems beyond the realm of possibility. This reality might help to explain why Marc Elias, the lead attorney for the Clinton campaign, has repeatedly insisted that “Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t want this recount and doesn’t think it will change anything.”
Some nevertheless have suggested that illegal hacking—rather than innocuous errors—might explain Donald Trump’s leads. Under this theory, the prior recount precedents are not on point. The trouble with this theory is that there appears to be no compelling evidence to back up the hacking claims—and under any of the states’ election laws, unsubstantiated theories about the possibility of hacking (or other forms of fraud) are far from enough to overturn the results. This is, incidentally, a very good thing; the democratic process is threatened by baseless accusations of election malfeasance.
In short, it seems close to certain that recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and/or Pennsylvania will fail to change the outcome of the 2016 presidential race. In making this assertion, it’s appropriate to acknowledge that many observers of the 2016 elections placed far too much faith in historical precedent and various forms of statistical analysis when predicting how the election itself would turn out. And it’s important not to do the same here. Still, given the wide margins in these three states (and the fact that a “recount” is, at core, simply a reconsideration and re-tallying of an already analyzed set of ballots), it really is hard to understand how the ultimate outcome of the presidential race possibly could be flipped.
This, finally, leads to the question of whether a separate effort—that is, the effort to convince sufficient electors, among those who were selected based on Trump’s statewide victories, to go rogue and vote for someone other than their candidate—has any chance of changing the result. Again, the magic number is 37; anything less than that, and Trump still has the 270 votes he needs. (And, to be clear, the 37 electors need to come from states that went for Trump; it doesn’t change anything if, for example, a Washington State elector carries through with his loudly proclaimed promise not to vote for Hillary Clinton.) Among the 306 Republican-affiliated electors who have signed up to vote for the Republican candidate, is it possible that over 10 percent of them will refuse, in the face of clear election results, to cast a vote in favor of their state's preferred candidate?
Such a development is not literally impossible, and it is true that at least one such elector (from Texas) already is refusing to vote for Trump. But this outcome again seems exceedingly unlikely. Remember that these electors are not random voters or dispassionate observers; quite to the contrary, these are people selected through Republican party apparatuses to be entrusted to vote on December 19 for the candidate selected by the party. Moreover, refusing to vote for Trump would not be the same as deciding, in a vacuum, which candidate happens to be the elector's preferred choice. Rather, it would require each of these political operatives to disregard the will of their own states’ voters, who just a few weeks ago voted not for Hillary Clinton, and not for some third party candidate, but for Donald Trump. To this end, it is telling that the Trump-averse elector from Texas will not be voting for another candidate on December 19; rather, he has resigned his position as elector, thereby allowing someone who is willing to vote for Donald Trump to replace him.
And here’s the kicker to all this: even if dozens of Republican-affiliated electors were indeed to refuse to vote for Trump, thereby reducing his total to under 270 electoral votes, even that likely would not stop him from taking office. Rather, the 12th Amendment requires that, in the absence of any candidate receiving 270 votes, the decision then go to the House of Representatives. Which will be Republican controlled. And which therefore, in all likelihood, would then vote for (you guessed it): Donald Trump.
What's more, as Ned Foley has pointed out, a bizarre and convoluted statute—the Electoral Count Act of 1887—very well may empower Congress to reject rogue electors’ votes even without the 12th Amendment backstop. Without getting too much into the (deep, disorienting) weeds, the Electoral Count Act seems to empower Congress to choose between competing claims over electors. In the face of Trump challenging votes cast by faithless electors, and with Republicans set to control both the Senate and the House, it seems highly likely that Congress would avail itself of this option.
Assuming (notwithstanding all indications to the contrary) that Congress would not take such a step, it is true that there does exist a route for avoiding a Trump presidency. In this scenario, at least 38 Republican-affiliated electors (note that an additional elector, in this scenario, would be necessary) would need to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, rather than for Donald Trump, or for some other candidate, or for no one. At that point—again, assuming Congress simply were to accept such an unprecedented and controversial result rather than to resist it via the Electoral Count Act—that would bring Clinton’s electoral vote total to 270, and she would be entitled to the Presidency. A similar outcome would adhere if at least 270 (!) electors collectively broke ranks and voted for what faithless-elector advocates are referring to as a "compromise candidate." It is an understatement to say that neither of these developments seems practically or politically realistic, particularly when their success would require the tacit acquiescence of a Republican-controlled Congress.
I have one final point concerning the idea that sufficient electors might break ranks to change the outcome. In the exceedingly unlikely case that the scenario somehow were to come to pass, it is hard for me to imagine what the reaction might be from the approximately 62 million people who voted for Trump—that is, from the approximately 62 million people who voted for the candidate who seemed to have won the election but, as a result of faithlessness on the part of a handful of political insiders, suddenly lost the presidency. For those who suggest that this development could garner legitimacy—for reasons that purportedly are candidate-neutral—I would invite them to consider what their own reactions might be if the shoe were on the other foot. If an Election Night victory for Hillary Clinton, when set against the faithlessness of a relatively small number of electors, turned into a Donald Trump presidency, would they accept such a result? Do they really predict that Trump voters would?
All of this is not to say that these post-election efforts have no value. To the contrary, they constitute a protest of sorts by those who are deeply concerned about the results of the 2016 presidential election. Still, for various practical, political, and legal reasons, these efforts remain exceedingly unlikely to change which candidate, come late January, will be facing the Chief Justice with one hand in the air.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The return of flag burning? (Updated)
Donald Trump tweeted this morning (after the sun was up, so no 3 a.m. jokes to be had) "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" Jonathan Chait suggests this is misdirection to cover Trump's pending kleptocracy and the (from Democrats' perspective) extreme policy ideas of his cabinet members, a red-meat issue to rile up both his critics and supporters
But it raises the question whether a flag-burning amendment is coming in the new Congress and whether it might, finally, pass. The last time it moved to a vote was 2006, the last time Republicans controlled both houses and the White House; it passed the House and fell one vote short in the Senate. And that was without an unpopular Republican President making it into a thing. With a very different, more conservative Senate and a Republican president willing to making it an issue that appeals directly to his base, might the amendment finally get out of Congress? Plus, Republicans control both chambers in 30 states and Nebraska's unicameral legislature seems likely to go for it, given the state's politics. Are there seven more states to be had in a new political environment?
Update: A number of Republican Senators and Representatives, including Mitch McConnell, reminded Trump that the First Amendment protects flag burning and the right to "disgrace" the flag. Of course, one could see many people pivoting from such "is" statements about flag burning to support an amendment that creates a new "ought." To his credit, McConnell seems more categorically opposed to messing with the First Amendment.
Second Update: What would the vote be if flag burning came anew before the current Court? The only current justice I could see ruling against flag burning being protected, based on recent First Amendment cases, is Justice Alito.
Third Update: I should add that, under the theory of departmentalism I have been espousing here and elsewhere, Trump's threats are constitutionally permissible and appropriate. If he believes flag-burning can constitutionally be punished, he is free to seek to prosecute, jail, or strip citizenship from those who burn flags. He will lose when he tries. But his actions are consistent with his oath and his Take Care obligations.
Five lessons on body cams
Elizabeth Joh (UC Davis) has this piece in Slate identifying five problems that have arisen with the implementation of police body cameras, which she turns to five lessons on the limits of technology to, alone, resolve problems. I especially appreciate points # 2 (do not adopt technology without also working out the regulatory details of how the tech will be used) and # 3 (rank-and-file police may, and have, resisted new technology). I have covered both in my writings on the subject.
Friday, November 25, 2016
What the what? Ben Carson to head HUD!
(And the real story of segregation, Detroit, AFFH, and busing)
Far be it for me to try to make rhyme or reason of Trump's cabinet picks(!), but while I wondered and worried last week about who he'd tag for HUD, Ben Carson's name didn't even come to mind. I hoped for someone like Pamela Patenaude or even former Senator Scott Brown, who instead now seems headed to be secretary of Veterans Affairs. And I worried that Trump would, instead, name someone like Robert Astorino, Westchester County Executive who has been long been fighting HUD on fair housing issues in suburban NY. Instead, we have Dr. Ben Carson, whose only experience with fair/affordable housing issues seems to be that he grew up in center-city Detroit. Carson is not a housing expert, but he has made a few discouraging (and fairly incomprehensible) statements on housing policy, for example in his 2015 op-ed in the Washington Times.
In his Washington Times op-ed, Carson calls HUD's AFFH rule "another failed socialist experiment" and draws parallels with mandated busing to de-segregate schools. In his op-ed, Carson says that busing was a failure because (1) it did not improve school integration (the percentage of blacks attending majority black schools stayed essentially the same), and (2) was "unpopular among both blacks and whites." Carson then states that mandated busing led to white flight because anyone with the means to do so moved to the suburbs "to escape mandated busing" which "contributed to a blighted inner cities in which poverty and school segregation became even more concentrated."
What the what?
First of all, I'm pretty sure that Carson means "social experiment" not "socialist experiment" (and yes, Mr. Brain Surgeon, there is a big difference).
As far as Carson's bizarre description of school busing and white flight, let's do a brief history lesson about segregation and busing in Carson's home town, Detroit.
Housing Segregation - and why we have it: Detroit is, and has long been, one of the most racially segregated cities in America (if not THE most segregated). As in other cities, segregation in Detroit was not just a naturally occurring social phenomenon. Rather, it is product of decades of deliberate governmental policies:
- The Federal Housing Administration actually created maps that disallowed lending in minority neighborhoods and then created a handbook to help neighborhoods keep their communities white (ahem..."financeable") by creating racial restrictive covenants.
- At the same time as the federal government was teaching real estate professionals how to best discriminate, it was subsidizing white home-buying in white communities into the suburbs.
- And local governments got into the discrimination game with use-based zoning laws designed to keep poorer populations "in their place" away from the more affluent, white communities.
White flight: Carson's decried "white flight" actually really started when the FHA (remember - the agency that would only lend to whites) established all sorts of policies and procedures to promote homeownership as "The American Dream," and then eased the burden of buying a home in the new, white suburbs. This is what started the trend of massive flight of whites from inner cities. So, yes, white flight was, in fact, caused by a social engineering funded and directed by the federal government, but the social experiment that caused this was the FHA policies of the 1930s-60s, not busing in the 1970s (to which Carson refers). (And since the federal gov't broke it, it has to buy it!)
During Carson's youth in Detroit (and in the decade before he was born), the demographics of the city profoundly shifted as whites fled to, but blacks were kept out of, new suburbs. This all started with post-war industrialization, when black workers migrated into the city, much to the alarm of its white residents. White residents moved into white-only suburbs when blacks moved into the city, this move aided by federal funds with segregation provided by the FHA and local zoning boards. Although it is true that banks, landlords, realtors, and wealthy homeowners had joined in a strong unholy alliance to keep minority households concentrated in high-poverty areas, it was the federal government who legally and financially established and enabled these efforts and for decades turned a blind eye to the horrific inequalities that resulted.
Race Riots and Fair Housing: When Carson was 16 years old, (1967), the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (the “CRC”) determined that 90% of the state’s nonwhite population lived in residentially segregated areas, having been “forced to live apart in urban ghettos.” (Note - This was BEFORE the busing that Carson mentioned in his op-ed.) This was not a separate-but-equal situation: minority neighborhoods had vastly inferior and higher-rent housing. The huge disparity in opportunity and quality of life that this intense segregation and inequity caused is what exploded in the deadly 1967 Detroit race riots (which, surely, Carson remembers since he was there and a teenager at the time). Michigan's fair housing legislation, enacted in 1968 just before the federal Fair Housing Act, was pushed through under the leadership of Governor George Romney (Republican) and attempted to address the huge social consequences of government (and private) housing discrimination.
Fractionalization of Detroit and Busing Schemes: Detroit is cut up into small political subdivisions - the city proper and numerous small white suburban enclaves. This reflected the white-flight development patterns of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and was enabled by the home-rule political approach to municipal authority in Michigan. Once the Fair Housing Act and Brown v. Board of Education became the law of the land, the Detroit region was legally required to affirmatively further fair housing AND integrate schools "with all deliberate speed." But if each small suburban enclave was its own school district, there would be no diversity in the schools at all. Furthermore, the predominantly minority areas would have far less resources (property tax revenues) to spend on schools (as well as more municipal fiscal demands). So the Detroit Board of Education passed an integration and decentralization plan that redrew school district boundaries in order to increase school population diversity, but a group of white citizens lobbied to recall the board members and got the Michigan State Legislature to pass legislation voiding the redistricting plan. This legislation also localized school districts and further fractionalized the metro area.
The NAACP tried to fight back by filing a lawsuit claiming that the legislation was unconstitutional because it perpetuated historic segregation. The district judge agreed and struck it down. On appeal, the 6th circuit affirmed that holding and further held that since there was no longer a proposal on the table to redistrict in a way that increased diversity, Detroit metro area would have to engage in busing as the only possible way to fulfill Brown v. Board's mandate of school desegregation. (So the busing plan was NOT put into effect by HUD, Dr. Carson. Rather, it was the only option left to de-segregate schools after the housing de-segregation efforts flopped and local governments used home-rule to defeat school redistricting plans). Not only was this busing plan unpopular (as Carson states), it was eventually rejected as not constitutionally required by the US Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley (1974). It was the Supreme Court’s decision in Milliken v. Bradley that accelerated white flight, expanded the inner-city racial ghetto, and spelled the end of school desegregation in Detroit.
FYI: Here's what I've said about busing and housing segregation (in an an upcoming law review article) "Admittedly, mandatory busing schemes are emotionally charged and politically difficult. So perhaps the problem could be better addressed directly, in terms of affirmatively desegregating housing. Instead of attempting to have a regional school desegregation occur through busing, integration of residential housing would achieve desegregated schools in a more natural way. Much like the issue of school segregation, the segregation problem in housing must be considered and addressed at the regional level, not individual by each small political subdivision. Localism in housing control must give way to fairness, sustainability, and fair housing (and fair schooling) constitutional mandates."
And now -- Back to Carson's Housing Op-Ed:
After his false statements and intimations re: busing and white flight, Carson criticizes the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule of HUD as relying on a "tortured reading of the Fair Housing laws to empower HUD to “affirmatively promote” fair housing, even in the absence of explicit discrimination." In fact, no tortured reading is required at all - the affirmatively further mandate has been there since 1968, in the original Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act (and most state fair housing legislation) actually has two mandates. First, it outlaws overt discrimination based on a protected class (race, but also several other impermissible grounds). Second, it requires that local communities who receive HUD funding "affirmatively further fair housing." This second mandate was acknowledged and promoted by George Romney back when he became the Republican secretary of HUD (although he had to fight Pres. Nixon to do so). Even now, affirmatively furthering fair housing remains not only the letter of the law but somewhat of a bipartisan issue in an era of party politics extraordinare. When some republicans (Sen. Mike Lee from Utah) tried to defund HUD after the most recent rule implementing the 1968 affirmatively furthering mandate, 13 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote down that measure.
Carson, in his op-ed, characterizes the AFFH approach as a brand new approach, but of course that isn't true. This is a return to the actual mandate of the 1968 Act - a revival that took 50 years of struggle to achieve, sadly, because Washington hasn't shown too much concern with the intractability of racially segregated housing in our society - even though it is incredibly harmful.
Housing segregation harms include, but are not limited to:
- de facto school segregation & disparate educational opportunities & outcomes for children of different races
- gap in achievement in school & graduation (high school) and college attendance
- gap in labor force participation rates & earnings
- high single parenthood in minority communities
- racial wealth gap and homeownership gap
- increased rates of infant and adult mortality in minority communities
- lower civi participation in minority communities
- increased incidence of predatory lending (and destabilized capital, housing, and financial markets )
- neighborhood decline, failing urban cores, and distressed neighborhoods w/vacant homes and high crime
- racial tensions and violence
etc. etc. etc.
Detroit is the poster child for the public harm that housing segregation causes. The city spun into an accelerating cycle of decline. Loss of its wealthiest residents and their contributions to the city in which they worked (the city's per capita income fell 20% in the first decade of the 21st century and its population has fell by 25% during that time) ultimately led Detroit to declare bankruptcy in 2013 - the largest municipality to ever do so.
Ben Carson to head HUD
Trump offered Carson the HUD position on Wednesday, and although Carson said that he wanted to ponder the offer over the long weekend, in a Facebook post today (and as reported on FoxNews and confirmed in online media late Thursday evening), it appears that Carson is set to accept the appointment. In his Facebook post (and can I just pause here to note how bizarre it is that we are quoting public figures' policy beliefs based on their social media postings nowadays), Carson states that "I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone. We have much work to do in strengthening every aspect of our nation and ensuring that both our physical infrastructure and our spiritual infrastructure is solid."
Already many in the media have decried the selection of Carson for HUD. (See this thoroughly articulated New York Times story, this snarky NY Magazine piece, this interesting piece from The Atlantic, and this Slate article suggesting that Carson will "lobotomize" HUD.)
It is hard to know what impact Carson's leadership will have on HUD. As I mentioned, he has zero experience in housing, and his sparse commentary on HUD and housing issues disclose a profound lack of understanding of history and the Fair Housing Act. Based on the cryptic statements in his Facebook post and his negative statements re: placement of affordable housing units in single-family suburbs, it may be that HUD under Carson will focus on repairing and improving inner cities (gentrification with an eye to desegregation, perhaps? We can hope), rather than efforts to integrate poorer minority housing aid recipients into white affluent suburbs.
I nope that Ben Carson will not turn out to be a horrible choice for HUD. After all, he does have a personal background that should allow him to sympathize with and perhaps understand the challenges faced by declining urban cores - and it is hugely important to address inner cities in terms of infrastructure/community decline, rental affordability, and persistent segregation. Maybe his anti-affirmatively furthering fair housing statements in that one op-ed merely are the result of his lack of knowledge of the issue and the Fair Housing Act.
The New York Times article on Carson's appointment helpfully explains (to Carson, perhaps?) that the AFFH Rule actually is not some ill thought-out governmental meddling in local affairs. It states:
"In practice, the rule provides those communities with detailed data on factors like racial demographics, poverty rates, school quality and housing voucher use to help them determine whether lower-income and minority families are isolated from good schools or segregated from opportunity. The rule requires communities to use that information to draft plans to reduce segregation where it exists. Those that habitually defy the requirements risk lose funding from the agency."
Our country is in the grips of a housing affordability crisis. Fifty-year-old fair housing legislation has done little to de-segregate housing in the nation, and racial tensions continue to intensify. At the same time, pockets of the nation (many city centers) are in steep decline. Even though under many Republican presidents, the HUD secretary was a throwaway appointment, Housing and Urban Development is actually a critically important Department in the government. I hope that Dr. Ben Carson is up to the job, I hope he studies and learns about both aspects of fair housing law as well as affordability and revitalization issues with an open mind. And I hope that in the next 4 years we can take a step forward when it comes to housing equity in this country, rather than take two steps back.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Designated Survivor trailers
As promised, I have not gone back to Designated Survivor, despite it being a hit and haled by many critics. Last night, I caught the trailer for the upcoming episode, which confirmed that decision. Based on the snippets I saw, it appears the plot has turned to Kirkman seeking to nominate a Vice President (who, naturally, seems creepy and possibly linked to terrorists).
But this is constitutionally and legally wrong. An acting president under § 19 cannot appoint a Vice President under the 25th Amendment. For one thing, § 1 says "the President" shall nominate a Vice President. But an Acting President is not a President for this Amendment, which expressly distinguishes the two titles and the two offices. Textually, therefore, an Acting President cannot perform this function. For another, any appointed Vice President arguably would have a greater statutory claim to the presidency. A cabinet official acts as President until "a qualified and prior-entitled individual is able to act." That would seem to include a newly constitutionally nominated and confirmed Vice President. So by nominating and having a restored Congress confirm the creepy guy, Kirkman puts himself out of a job.
If I misunderstand the plot, please let me know. Or maybe Keifer Sutherland isn't supposed to be the star of this show after all.
Update: I just realized that acting-president-selects-VP is a common mistake when television depicts presidential succession--Veep did the same thing in its storyline of a plot to have a deadlocked House making the VP (selected by the Senate) Tom James acting president, then having James select Selina Meyer, the Presidential candidate, as his VP. The problem there was that the vice presidency was not vacant; James had been elected VP and become acting president when the president failed to qualify, but he never would have resigned the vice presidency (which is the source of his power to act as president until the disability is removed). But my reading of the 25th Amendment adds an additional layer to this show's mistake.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The voting/protesting fallacy
Building on some comments from an earlier post:
A recurring theme of the past week (and counting) of anti-Trump protests is whether the protesters have voted. This report notes that of 112 protesters arrested in Portland, 39 are registered in Oregon but did not return ballots and another 36 are not registered in Oregon (although they gave Oregon addresses, indicating they did not vote elsewhere). The reporter adds that "[n]ot turning up to vote and then taking to the streets to protest the result of the election is a tough position to defend." Actually, it is not a tough position to defend. But this has become a recurring theme, and we should reject it in strongest terms.
Whether someone voted should never be relevant to whether they can or should engage in protest or otherwise speak out on public issues, including the election result. There are many ways to express one's political views and to try to bring about political change--voting is one, public protest is one, and there are others. None is necessarily preferable to any others. More importantly, none is a condition precedent to any other. The right to petition government for redress of grievances is not conditioned on a person first having tried to affect the content of the government through the vote; voting and petitioning are independent rights.
The argument seems to be that a person cannot complain about something (such as the election results) if she did not first try to affect that thing (such as by voting in the election). There are several problems with these assumptions.
First, one voter does not affect the result of the election, which is why many regard voting as an irrational act for an individual. Second, this point is heightened for the Oregonian protesters. They voted (or would have voted) in a state election that Clinton was certain to win, such that their additional individual votes in Oregon would not have affected the outcome in that state. And they would not have affected the presidential election, which depended on separate elections in 50 other places, unaffected by the margin of victory in Oregon. (One of the arrested protesters made this point in explaining why he did not vote).
Third, one perhaps can better make herself heard as one voice among hundreds of protesters than as one compulsorily anonymous voter among millions. The Tea Party garnered more attention and influence for the movement, at least initially, through its public protests during 2009-10 than through the ballot in 2008. (And, for what it is worth, I do not recall Tea Party protesters, many of whom complained about "feeling disenfranchised" under the new Obama administration, being asked whether they had voted). Fourth, this all assumes that people are protesting the election result and Trump becoming president (a legal inevitably), as opposed to what Trump stands for and what he will try to implement as President. Protesters can, and should, make their voices heard in an attempt (futile though it might be) to get Trump to think about what he will do as President and not to pursue particular policies that the speaker does not like. (This is why "not my president" is an unfortunate slogan--it allows for conflation of the two).
Fifth, the underlying assumption is that speech and protests are not mechanisms for change or results, but merely complaining and whining (and, again, you cannot complain about something if you did not first try to change it). But that is a hollow conception of speech.
Finally, we protect speech in part as a "safety valve," giving people an opportunity to blow off anger about something, rather than turning that anger into violence or forcing it underground. So even if the protests reflect disappointed non-voters blowing off steam, there is constitutional value in their blowing off steam.
The last week has revealed a frightening attitude towards public protest, certainly among Trump and his transition team, but also reflected in media coverage. Speaking out in public is whining and complaining by thugs and spoiled millenials, worthless and meaningless, unavailable to non-voters, who are not entitled to question the "will of the majority" (according to a leading choice for Secretary of Homeland Security). It could be a bad few years.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Three Neutral Principles for Civil Political Discourse
As the recent election illustrated, Americans disagree foundationally on many substantive issues. I’d like to think though that while there may be profound divisions on core political values, one thing we may be able to agree on is that it would be helpful to our democracy to improve our public discourse about these matters.
But what does it mean to have a truly democratic, and perhaps even productive, public discourse? This aim may seem like a lost cause after over a year of toxic mudslinging, disingenuous character assassination, and an increasing unwillingness to tolerate opposing viewpoints—all of which were amply in evidence from supporters on both sides of the aisle.
I was given some sense of hope on this issue, though, during an incident shortly before the election in which President Obama was interrupted by a Trump-supporting protester during Obama’s speech at a political rally. The crowd immediately began to boo in order to shout down the protester, but Obama pushed back in his defense, and his reasons for doing so, I’ll argue below, may be taken as three core, nonpartisan principles that we may all be able to agree on as baselines for engaging in civil political discourse.
I enumerate these three principles after the break.
“First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech.” That platitude is obvious. But what Obama said before this was more meaningful. His lead-in to this statement was: “You’ve got an older gentleman supporting his candidate. He’s not doing nothing. You don’t have to worry about him.”
“He’s not doing nothing.” The idea that others’ political expression does not harm us should be obvious too (it’s really just a version of the old schoolyard rhyme about sticks and stones not breaking bones), but in modern America, it’s not. Expressing a point of view that others disagree with is increasingly more likely to get you shouted down than heard out. It might even get you suspended on a liberal college campus or beat up at a conservative political rally.
The empirical point behind the informally phrased “He’s not doing nothing” is that the expression of others’ viewpoints are nothing more than what they are: Descriptive claims about another person’s state of mind. Another person’s claim about their own beliefs does not make those beliefs true, and it certainly does not compel us to agree with or even respond to it, or do us any harm.
This attitude is easier to describe than to adopt. Hearing someone express an opinion that you consider wrong or even profoundly harmful can be infuriating, as the level of public discourse in this past election season illustrates. But this is why adopting the “he’s not doing nothing” perspective is so important. The notion that others’ political opinions are nothing more than data indicating their viewpoint (rather than traumatizing or treasonous) not only facilitates core constitutional speech rights, it also enables a psychological freedom from others' expression that makes us free to form our own opinions as well.
Because like it or not, we're a nation that is committed to honoring free speech. This principle means something only if it requires tolerating respectfully even speech with which we profoundly disagree. And that toleration becomes much easier when we regard such speech as nothing more than information about someone else’s state of mind, rather than a threat or a harm being inflicted on us.
“Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military and we got to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly and we got to respect our elders.” These next two points can be collapsed into one very simple principle: See others generously, including and even especially those with whom you disagree. When this Trump supporter popped up at the rally the other week, the attendees may well have dismissed him as a threatening, unstable crank bent on shouting down the President, possibly even for racist reasons—hence their desire to shout him down in turn.
But these kind of uncharitable assumptions are as baseless as they are unhelpful. Maybe the protester lost his job to outsourcing and was trying to express support for protectionist trade policies that he felt were critical to having a job and being able to support his family. Maybe he was unhappy with the direction of the country under a Democratic administration and expressing his passionate support for going in a different direction.
Seeing the protester in a generous light—an elderly man with possible military service—is a key step in having a decent conversation. Stereotyping political opponents makes them easy to demonize and dismiss them without engaging. Regarding a Trump supporter as a fanatic foaming at the mouth with irrational race-hate makes it easy to conclude that he does not merit respect or deserve to be heard out. But seeing that same person as an older gentleman who fought in Vietnam and cares deeply about the fate of the country yields a different result.
Much the same is true in reverse. An effete urbanite reflexively supporting Obama and Hillary out of a sense of liberal guilt amounts renders the speaker a mere stereotype that can be categorized and ignored with ease. But if you regard the same person as someone who is partaking in a tradition of dissent that dates to the Revolution in the interest of protecting values like racial and social justice that are embedded in our Constitution you’re more likely to take them and their ideas more seriously.
Regardless of political valence, the choice to see someone in a more generous light is thus a prerequisite for having the kind of decent discussion about issues that has a better chance of producing mutual understanding rather than descending into a pointless shouting match.
“Fourth of all, don’t boo. Vote.” At first glance, this one may appear a bit more complicated. “Don’t boo”? Isn’t cheering and booing what people do at rallies? It certainly is, and I don’t think the point is that people should sit quietly and clap only on cue when they are attending these kinds of events. Rather, I think the general idea expressed by this statement goes something like this: If you hear an opinion you disagree with, it’s better to create a positive dialogue that expresses your own point of view rather than spending your efforts attacking the speaker or trying to eliminate their speech from the public sphere.
Because while I said above (and still believe) that others’ opinions need not lead us to want to shut them out or shout them down, democracy also cannot function if people do nothing more than engage in calm observation when they hear ideas they think are wrong or dangerous. The problem is that increasingly the immediate reaction to opposing viewpoints is to personally direct animus or worse toward the speaker. The suggestion of “don’t boo, vote” is that there are more and less effective responses to speech you disagree with. Silencing speech tends to be ineffective and harmful. By contrast, using one’s disagreement as a call to democratic engagement in the interest of your own beliefs, whether that action is the simple act of voting or a deeper commitment to a movement or cause, is the more productive alternative.
Let me be clear about the limits of my claim: I have no idea if Obama was intentionally trying to propound core principles for engaging in civil political discourse in his brief interaction with the protester at the rally, but regardless I think at least a few of those principles (first, you are not harmed by others’ speech; second, see others in a generous light; third, add your voice rather than squelching others’) are immanent in his response.
Finally, I should emphasize that while I think these are constructive principles for civil political discourse, this does not mean they are easy to practice. On the contrary, we’re hardwired to do pretty much the opposite in all of these instances. Hearing opposing viewpoints tends to engage the fight-or-flight response, which helps explain both the rancor of this election and the growing polarization of our nation as people increasingly surround themselves with other like-minded people to avoid the discomfort of regularly facing disagreement.
But nothing truly valuable is easy. And restraining our immediate instincts—tolerating speech we dislike, accepting a President we didn’t vote for—is in many respects what defines democracy, and distinguishes it from its many inferior alternatives. It is this kind of restraint in the interest of the greater good of our country and the maintenance of our system of government that represents the “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln described in his first inaugural address, and that I hope may still prevail even after a dispiritingly ugly election season.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
ULL suspends four players for caring about the election
I have written a few posts recently about the open questions surrounding the free-speech rights of college athletes. But these cases have generally arisen at private universities (Harvard soccer, Columbia wrestling) that may abide by First Amendment norms as a matter of courtesy, but not law. And those cases involved pretty disgusting instances of racist and misogynist speech that, one could argue has no value or runs afoul of other considerations (such as Title IX). I disagree with that conclusion, but it at least confounds the analysis.
But the constitutional issue has been teed up directly by the decision of University of Louisiana-Lafayette to suspend four football players after they recorded themselves in the locker room singing and dancing to a song that says "Fuck Donald Trump." Football coach Mark Hudspeth and the university expressed disappointment in the players' "immature behaviors" and the use of lewd language towards one of the candidates. Hudspeth also pointed out that none of the players voted, which has nothing to do with anything. Interestingly, he initially offered a partial defense of his players against those who have "vilified a few 19-year-olds making some immature decisions, and then they were the same ones that voted for someone that has done much worse by grabbing a female in the private areas for the office of the [president of the] United States of America." He backed off that on Friday, saying he regretted offending Trump voters. The school has not identified the four players.
If we are looking for a situation in which punishment triggers a genuine First Amendment claim, this is it. ULL is a public school, so the First Amendment is in play. The players were engaged in core political speech and it is unquestionable that the use of the word fuck and associated gestures as part of a political message is also constitutionally protected. The attempt to frame this as a problem with profane lyrics and gestures, apart from the political message, is unavailing. According to this piece, Hudspeth has made rap music part of the team culture, celebrating a 2011 bowl victory with music blaring in the locker room and having music playing over speakers during practice. And that includes rap songs containing profanity. So profane rap music is ok, as long as it does not offend a political candidate? It seems to me the First Amendment, if anything, demands precisely the opposite conclusion.
We now are left with the question of whether student-athletes are different than ordinary students because they play for, and represent, the school, making them more like employees. The university statement got at this in its statement when praising Hudspeth for "continu[ing] to educate the team on how their actions are a reflection of the name on the front of their jerseys." This is twisted in two respects. First, a university should be educating players less about the name on the front of their jerseys and more about their opportunities and obligations to be politically engaged citizens. You complain about young people and athletes not being engaged, they you punish them when they are. Second, even if student-athletes are analogous to employees, even public employees enjoy some protection when speaking as citizens on matters of public concern--this would seem to qualify.
This is moot, of course, since it is unlikely the players will challenge their suspensions. Which is too bad, because this looks like a situation in which the school has overstepped, both its role as an athletic institution and as an institution supposedly committed to educating the next generation of citizens.
Tuesday, November 08, 2016
Lawsuits on Keeping Polls Open Late
One story of election law tonight will be requests to courts to keep the polls open late because of some mishap today. We already have one lawsuit filed in Durham, NC, and another one is brewing in Colorado. I've written an Op-Ed for CNN suggesting that courts, in general, should grant these requests. Here is the intro:
New RegBlog Essay: "Expanding the Right to Vote"
Looking for some mid-Election Day reading? RegBlog at the University of Pennsylvania Law School has just published my essay, Expanding the Right to Vote. Here is the intro:
A common storyline on voting rights is that conservative legislatures, like those in North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, are attempting to pass strict laws that make it harder for some people to vote—all in the name of curbing so-called “voter fraud.” Yet in the face of these unfortunate new rules, a positive trend is developing in other places: states are enfranchising more people and making voting easier. As voters head to the polls today, we should take note of and learn from these successes so that we can replicate them nationwide, extending them far beyond Election Day 2016.
From expanding the electorate, to adopting online voter registration or automatic voter registration, to making the voting process itself easier and more convenient, states and localities are actively engaged in democracy-enhancing efforts.
Read the whole thing here.
Monday, November 07, 2016
Mickey Mouse for President? The Law of Write-In Voting
Many voters this year have expressed dissatisfaction with both major party candidates. My own politically precocious 12-year-old has grilled me about the viability of several third-party candidates (to which questions I replied with Socratic questions of my own until he gave up and did his own research that, incidentally, led to an article in his school paper giving a thumbnail sketch on Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, and McMullin). But even he did not profile the ubiquitous write-in protest vote (for a voter's favorite defeated primary candidate or a voter's mother or, as in one case, a voter's deceased dog). Apparently, a few poll workers in Kansas were instructed to tell voters that "write-in votes don't count," but the actual rule varies by state. It is worth considering the applicable rule before you write in anyone, however, because it very well may be that writing in a random name is, literally, throwing away your vote (meaning, it is actually thrown out). There is a lot of misinformation about this out there, so I did a little bit of research this morning and here's what I came up with (this from a non-election law expert, so please be gentle).States can (and many do) prohibit or limit a voter's ability to write in a candidate on the ballot. Kansas, for example, is one of the states that seems to limit one's ability to vote, restricting your choices to (a) the enumerated candidates or (b) those write-in candidates that have filed with the KS secretary of state an "affidavit of write-in candidacy for the offices of president and vice-president" before "12:00 noon on the 2nd Monday preceding the general election for those offices." For this election, that means that in order for a vote for a particular write-in candidate to be considered (and count) in Kansas, that write-in candidate must have filed this affidavit before October 24th. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 25-305 (West). This statute has been tested and upheld by the 10th circuit on the basis of a state's interest in voter education (Hagelin for President Comm. of Kansas v. Graves, 25 F.3d 956, 960 (10th Cir. 1994)).
Limits on a voter's ability to write-in a candidate may seem unconstitutional to you (and to me), but it has been upheld by the Supreme Court (Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 441 (1992)). The Supreme Court case upheld Hawai'i's ban on write-ins. Oklahoma's complete ban on write-in votes for presidential and vice-presidential elections was deemed constitutional in Coalition for Free and Open Elections, Prohibition Party v. McElderry, 48 F.3d 493 (10th Cir. 1995). The Supreme Court denied certiorari in that case. Other states have now and in the past completely banned write-ins as well, but the more common approach seems to be to require registration or to state that ballots that are not printed legibly won't be counted (well, duh!).
In Kansas, voters are not completely barred from writing in candidates in a presidential election, but only votes for registered candidates will count. (FYI, Kansans are also barred from writing in to indicate affiliation with a non-enumerated party in their voter registration. This rule was upheld by a federal court in 2011 and affirmed by the 10th circuit. Constitution Party of Kansas v. Biggs, 813 F. Supp. 2d 1274, 1276 (D. Kan. 2011), aff'd sub nom. Constitution Party of Kansas v. Kobach, 695 F.3d 1140 (10th Cir. 2012)).
People are often confused about write-in rules, particularly since states apparently change them periodically and since they vary widely among jurisdictions. It doesn't help when poll workers are told that "write-ins are illegal," which of course they are not (what, are you going to be fined because you write a candidate in? I can't believe that ever would be the case!).
All this raises a good question that a friend of mine articulated - Why on earth would anyone write in an unregistered candidate at all? Someone who hasn't announced he or she is running for President and who likely will get all of ONE vote (yours)? Well, in cases that have considered the question of legality of write-in bans from the point of view of the voter, rather than the candidate, the right to write-in is equated, once again, to a type of free speech. The idea is, of course, that a vote for "Mickey Mouse" is a protest vote, a "none-of-the-above" vote, and that casting this sort of vote should have some sort of speech-related impact, something beyond staying home on Election Day. This sort of speech could only have any actual effect if write-in protest votes were to be aggregated, tabulated, and announced. If 10% of voters wrote in some random protest name at the polls, say, perhaps that fact in itself could be newsworthy and suggest a high level of dissatisfaction with the process and candidates. If you have a write-in ban or limitation to registered (or real, live) people, however, then you lose the ability to be part of this sort of collaborative, grassroots protest voting speech.
Thus, even though I really, really want to write in Lin Manuel Miranda for President (because how awesome would that be!?), I guess I will have to restrain myself tomorrow.
Happy Voting, everyone!
How Would a Disputed Presidential Election Proceed?
It is the scenario virtually no one wants to face: a presidential election that goes into overtime. Yet over the past week I have received a steady stream of questions on how a post-election dispute would proceed. Each of the fifty states has its own, detailed procedure for resolving an election contest over its presidential electors (or any other election).
As I write in a new piece for CNN:
As polls tighten and Donald Trump has cast doubt on the reliability of the election system, talk inevitably has turned to whether we might be in for another postelection dispute.
Sunday, November 06, 2016
How Voter Intimidation, in a State with a Strict Voter ID Law (Texas), Happens on the Ground
A Facebook post from a woman in College Station, Texas is going viral regarding her experiences voting under Texas's strict voter ID law. Earlier this year a federal court expanded the law to allow voters who show a "reasonable impediment" to having the required ID fill out an affidavit and then vote. Here is how this person described her experience invoking that rule:
As I’m writing this down, what happened doesn’t sound as bad as it felt at the time; but I felt threatened and I still feel very upset and I want to share my story. This morning, I excitedly took the bus to my university polling center to cast my vote. I was armed with my Utah driver’s license, ready to sign a declaration stating my reasons for not having a Texas ID. I was met by a kind older woman, who asked to see my ID, and then asked to see my supporting document (my utility bill). In comes our guy, let’s call him Jim, “Excuse me, you must have an acceptable photo ID.” I explained that I looked up the rules, and that I brought with me two forms of ID. Jim, “Do you have a passport?” I said I did not. Jim, “Well why not? Are you registered to vote in this county?” Yes, sir, I am. Jim, “Well if you were able to register to vote you should have one of the acceptable forms.” He was being extremely rude and physically in my face. Unfortunately, as a minority female, it’s not the first time an older white man has attempted to patronize or intimidate me. The girl behind me leaned forward and whispered, “He did the same thing to me yesterday, and wouldn’t let me vote.” I decided to just be nice about it and say, “Jim, I’m just here to vote. Please don’t make me cry,” because at this point the adrenaline was flowing a bit and I was on the verge of tears. “Well you’ll need to sign an affidavit.” As he walked me over to the table of forms, he felt the need to say, “You know there’s lot of people are coming in here trying to vote illegally… a federal judge made an exception for this election allowing some people to vote…” And I was so upset at this point, I said, “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t really need to hear your opinions this morning. I just need your help voting.” How many people have been intimidated by this guy, and left without voting? I almost left in tears and if I do say so myself, I’m not easily intimidated. He stood over my shoulder and watched me check the boxes “work schedule” and “family responsibilities” because the man doesn’t know me, he doesn’t know my life, and it’s not up to him to decide who gets to vote. His job is to give me the form and watch me sign it. Then I voted. I got my sticker. Then I turned around and said, “What was your name again?” He said, “Jim.” I said, “No, your full name.” He looked surprised and told me his full name. He knows I’m filing a complaint and so does everyone in that room. The woman behind the desk winked at me.
Those who follow politics may be tempted to think that because I live in Texas, which is not a toss-up state, a few voters turned away by this guy won’t make a big difference. I think it makes a huge difference. Whether it’s because I’m a woman, because I’m brown, because I’ve never needed a passport because I don’t have the money to travel, because I haven’t found the time to get a Texas DL (because, you know, I’m only a wife, mother, and graduate student) or just because I’m from Oregon and not Texas, my vote counts. And like it or not, Texas is getting browner. And one day some people might wake up to find themselves in a new political climate of all kinds of diversity. That’s the America I believe in.
For reference: If you do not possess a form of acceptable photo identification and you cannot obtain one due to a reasonable impediment, you may present one of the supporting forms of identification and execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration. “Your reason may not be questioned.” www.votetexas.gov
Yes, this stuff actually matters on the ground to individual voters.
Thursday, November 03, 2016
10th Circuit: Kansas' Documentary Proof of Citizenship Voter Registration Requirement Will Not Be Enforced
In Kansas, voters cannot simply wake up on election day and decide to vote. There is no spur-of-the moment voting (and no mail-in ballots other than absentees). Voting in Kansas requires forethought and planning through advance registration, and it takes showing up at the polls with a valid ID and having one's photo and signature confirmed to be a match to those on the registration -- but at least, thanks to the 10th Circuit's opinion on October 21st, it will not take documentary evidence of U.S. citizenship.
The terms of Kansas' Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act requires that "an applicant shall not be registered [to vote] until the applicant has provided satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship" according to enumerated documentation, such as a U.S. passport or a birth certificate. Earlier this year, the League of Women Voters of Kansas, with the help of the ACLU, challenged this law as running afoul of the the National Voter Registration Act. The District of Kansas granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the policy back in May, and this allowed 18,000 Kansans to vote in the state's presidential primary on August 2nd. On appeal, the 10th Circuit, through Judge Jerome Holmes, held that the Kansas proof of citizenship voter registration law violated the NVRA. The NVRA protects American voters' right to vote with only supplying the "minimum amount of information necessary." The 10th Circuit found that the minimum amount necessary does not include proof of citizenship. The court's opinion, issued on October 21, 2016, addressed the preliminary injunction only, not the merits of the case (although, of course, likelihood of success on the merits is a component of preliminary injunction oversight). (AP story on the case is here).
The court held that the Kansas government had been unable to show any significant problems with non-citizens attempting to vote, and that "it cannot be that, while intending to create a simplified form of registration for federal elections, Congress adopted such a malleable statutory principle (i.e., minimum information) that the states could effectively become the final arbiters of what is required under the NVRA by the simple expedient of claiming that one noncitizen managed to register to vote."
The 10th Circuit found adequate threat of irreparable harm (if the SAFE Act was enforced) because "over 18,000 Kansans stood to lose the right to vote in the coming general elections—elections that are less than one month away." Of course, these 18,000 Kansas were those who had already registered to vote using the "federal form" rather than following the statutorily required proof of citizenship method. Who knows how many people were dissuaded by the SAFE Act requirements from even attempting to register. The October 21st ruling came too late for anyone not already registered to vote: The Kansas voter registration deadline for the November 8th election was on October 18th.
The state voter information site now contains a statement (at the very bottom) explaining that "due to recent court rulings, if you have applied to register to vote at a Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles office or if you have applied to register to vote using the “Federal Form” voter registration application (as opposed to the standard ‘state form’) and have not yet provided proof of citizenship, you are registered to vote for the November 8, 2016, general election. Your name will appear on the poll book for your voting location and you will be given a standard ballot." The online voter registration site, however, contains no reference to the 10th Circuit opinion (but, of course, it is too late for anyone not registered to become able to vote in Kansas anyway).
(Toto, I think we're not in Washington state anymore!)
For more on this case and voting in Kansas, see here (local news story about the ruling), here (news story about one man's struggle to vote), and here (criticizing the 10th Circuit for "flipping state powers on its head and bastardizing a statute").
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
"Protecting the Right to Vote in Missouri"
All 50 state constitutions explicitly confer the right to vote. This is in contrast to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to vote merely implicitly through the Equal Protection Clause as well as through passive language in various amendments ("The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged..."). Moreover, in Article I, Section 2 and the Seventeenth Amendment, the U.S. Constitution contemplates that federal voter qualifications are subject to state control, saying that those who may vote for Congress are those who may vote for the state legislature (subject, of course, to the constitutional floor within the various voting amendments). Thus, our constitutional structure recognizes a broad role for states to determine the scope of the constitutional right to vote.
Understanding this broader state constitutional grant of voting rights, several state supreme courts, including the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006, have held that strict voter ID laws infringe on that right by, in essence, adding an additional "qualification" to vote that goes beyond what the state constitution allows. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to strike down Indiana's voter ID law under the Equal Protection Clause in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board in 2008, this state constitutional protection is significant.
But Missouri voters will decide next week whether to overrule this precedent and amend the state constitution to allow the legislature to adopt a restrictive voter ID requirement. This is a bad idea, and voters should reject Amendment 6. I explain why in a new Op-Ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
As the nation debates so-called election rigging and voter fraud, one bright spot in our democracy is the robust protection for the right to vote in the Missouri Constitution.
Missouri was among the first states on the right side of history in the debate over voter ID laws. In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution vigorously protects the right to vote and that the state’s photo ID law infringed that fundamental right.
Yet this year Missouri will decide whether to amend the state constitution to allow voter ID requirements. Voters in Missouri, and elsewhere, should continue to allow the state constitution to provide robust protection for voting rights and reject Amendment 6, the proposed state constitutional amendment that would denigrate the right to vote.
By amending the state constitution, then, Missouri would be courting significant harms. It would disenfranchise valid voters for no good reason. It would turn back 10 years of admirable jurisprudence on robust protection for the right to vote under the state constitution. It would invite additional federal court litigation on the potential discriminatory aspect of the new rule. And it would — dangerously — greatly weaken a recognized fundamental right within the state constitution.
Missouri elections do not suffer from in-person voter fraud — the only kind of fraud that a photo ID provision would prevent. Missouri elections do, however, enjoy a positive attribute: a state constitution that vigorously protects the right to vote and a state Supreme Court that recognizes the significance of this state constitutional safeguard. Amending the state constitution to overrule this precedent will only harm the state’s elections.
If there has been a positive story of the right to vote over the past several years, it is that state courts, at least in some places, have gone beyond the U.S. Constitution to protect the right to vote under state constitutions. We should continue that tradition.
But first, let me take a ballot selfie!
Social Media has been playing a huge (or is that “yuuuge”?) role in Election 2016: Twitter attacks, Facebook op-eds, youtube campaign videos, and now, Instagram and Snapchat ballot selfies. And although both candidates and constituents have and continue to use social media to express themselves, state law in nearly half of the country criminalizes this last type of “Freedom of Speech” – namely, taking a photograph of your completed ballot and posting it online.
Purported Risk of "Vote Buying" Schemes
Prevention of vote buying is the cited rationale behind ballot selfie bans. The concept being that exhibiting a photograph of a completed ballot would be the only method to cash-in on an offer to sell one's vote. I don't find this reasoning very compelling. It seems that if someone really wanted to take a photograph of a completed ballot for a secret reason such as an illegal vote-buying transaction, it would be ridiculously easy to do so, even with the “no photographing” rule on the books. Cameras aren’t the awkward and obvious contraptions that they were in prior generations. Cameras today can be part of your phone, your watch, and, who knows, maybe even disguised as a flash drive or pen (the possibilities are limitless). Furthermore, if the vote being bought was cast as a mail-in ballot, as are absentee votes and basically all voting in the Pacific Northwest, then ballot selfies are even easier to do. The one thing that you would probably not do - if you were taking a photograph simply in order to cash in on an illegal vote-buying scheme - would be to post that incriminating evidence on social media.
Freedom of Speech (er... Freedom to Snap & Post)
Even if there is a remote possibility that such photographs could be part of nefarious vote-purchasing schemes, ballot selfie bans also raise serious free-speech issues, and upon examination, federal courts in two jurisdictions have already declared such bans unconstitutional. An Indiana law that banned ballot selfies was struck down last year when Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the state's Southern District found that the law could not survive strict scrutiny because the state "entirely failed to identify any such problem in Indiana relating to or evidencing vote buying, voter fraud, voter coercion, involuntary ballot disclosures, or an existing threat to the integrity of the electoral process" (Indiana Civil Liberties Union v. Indiana Sec'y of State, 2015 WL 12030168). On September 28, 2016, the 1st Circuit ruled that a similar ban in New Hampshire also impermissibly impinged on freedom of speech. The 1st Circuit went so far as to call ballot selfie bans “antithetical to democratic values.” (Rideout v. Gardner, 2016 WL 5403593).
On Friday (October 28, 2016), the 6th Circuit bucked the trend by reversing the district court-issued injunction that prevented the enforcement of Michigan’s ballot selfie ban with respect to the coming election. (Crookston v. Johnson, 2016 WL 6311623.) Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for a divided court, held that although the “interesting First Amendment issues” would eventually be adjudicated, for the purposes of November 8th, the Michigan ban on ballot selfies would stand. The Michigan ballot selfie ban operates to disqualify a ballot that has been photographed. The plaintiff in this case, Joel Crookston, actually had his vote invalidated in 2012 after he snapped and posted a photo of his completed ballot. The majority of the 6th Circuit seemed insufficiently concerned that Crookston’s free speech would be impermissibly curtailed in the coming week by virtue of a ballot selfie ban. “A picture may be worth a thousand words,” wrote the court, “but social media users can (and do) post thousands of words about whom they vote for and why.” Although admitting that “lingering issues remain” with respect to the First Amendment effects of the selfie ban, the 6th Circuit concluded that “there will be time for due deliberation” after the election.
Chief Judge Cole dissented, holding that because the penalty for taking and posting a ballot selfie was nullification of the vote, the majority had effectively caused voters to choose “between their freedom of expression and their right to vote.” Cole explained that restrictions on speech must serve a significant government interest and be narrowly tailored, and the Michigan ballot selfie ban fails to meet either requirement. Judge Cole was not convinced by the three alleged “important government interests,” namely (1) discouraging vote-buying and coercion,” (2) ensuring “that the polling place is a sanctuary for all,” and (3) preventing delays. “While all of these may be government interests in the abstract, there is disproportionality between the interests stated and the ballot selfie prohibition created by these laws and instructions,” wrote Judge Cole. Yesterday (October 31, 2016), citing the dissent, Crookston’s attorney filed an emergency motion for rehearing in the hopes that the issue can, in fact be definitively addressed prior to the election.
Ballot Selfie Bans - A Constitutional Open Question
The law regarding ballot selfie bans is inconsistent and in flux. On October 23, the Associated Press reported on the state of the law, state-by-state, but this listing is already outdated because of the recent Michigan ruling. A brief glimpse at the AP's 50-state survey shows how widely varying state laws on this issue. Some states (like Hawaii, Utah, and Nebraska) have laws specifically protecting a voter’s right to take a ballot selfie. Many states neither prohibit nor explicitly allow photographs of ballots. Some states have recently repealed laws that prohibited ballot selfies (for example, California – although this change will not take effect until January), and similar legislative measures are pending in other jurisdictions (for example, New Jersey). A few states allow photographs of mail-in ballots, but do not allow photographs at polling places in general (for example, Iowa, Maryland, Texas, and Tennessee).
At least 18 states, however, explicitly outlaw the practice of photographing and showing one’s own ballot, whether at the polling place or (for a mail-in ballot) at home. Although a few state spokesmen (Alaka, Massachusetts) have stated that a state law ban on ballot selfies could not be practically enforced, other states lay out clear penalties for violation of the rule. In Michigan, a ballot selfie will lead to invalidation of the ballot. In several states, a ballot selfie is a misdemeanor that could carry a fine. In Illinois, knowingly showing your completed ballot to another person is a felony that carries a prison sentence of one to three years.
Infographic from NBC News:
It will be interesting to see if a national consensus develops over the next several months as the ACLU, Snapchat, and various individuals continue to challenge these laws. The next expected opinion pertains to the New York law, and Judge Castel (S.D.N.Y.) says he’ll issue his opinion by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, the ACLU just sued in Northern California seeking a restraining order that would prohibit enforcement of the selfie ban law, even though a bill repealing that ban has already been signed into law. The ACLU points out, however, that the new law’s effective date in early 2017 comes too late to matter for Election 2016. “This is an incredibly contentious election. Thousands of our members want to engage in this core political speech, and not just show people how they are voting but try to encourage others to vote the same way," Michael Risher, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. "On November 9, it will be too late for them to do that.” Risher called ballot selfies "core political speech at the heart of the First Amendment," however the sought-after injunction seems more symbolic than pragmatic. “In its 125-year history, California's ban on sharing one's marked ballot has not been enforced.” The California hearing is set for November 2nd. On that same date a thousand miles to the east, another federal judge will hear near-identical arguments in a federal case challenging the Colorado ballot selfie ban.
Outdated or Necessary Protections?
Are ballot photograph bans anachronisms? Or is do these laws serve a valid purpose? Colorado Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert argues that selfie bans are still needed. “We believe the current law protects the integrity of the election and protects voters from intimidation or inducement,” said Staiert. “In fact, given Colorado’s unique election system and rise of social networking, the prohibition may be more important in Colorado than in other states and may be more timely today than ever.”
Another argument against repealing the bans is that prohibitions on ballot selfies do not really stifle free speech in any substantive way. The lawyer representing New Hampshire in the 1st Circuit case argued that that under that state’s law (pre-invalidation), “You're free to go out into the community and scream at the top of your lungs how you voted and who you support in the election. You just can't use your marked ballot to do so."
I suppose that those who are concerned with the practice of taking and posting ballot selfies worry about the social pressure involved and are concerned that the expectation of proving your vote publicly can create peer pressure to vote a particular way. If ballot selfies become socially expected, it could remove the protection from retribution (social as well as political) that complete anonymity offers. For Snapchat-happy millenials, the social pressure to post a ballot might make it difficult to vote one’s conscience rather than what is most acceptable in one’s social circle. I’m not too worried about vote buying being enabled by photos of ballots posted on social media, but perhaps there are other legitimate reasons to step back from free speech in the name of protecting the right to anonymously cast one’s vote.
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
Only Republican justices need apply?
With comments from Sen. Richard Burr about doing everything to prevent President Clinton from making any SCOTUS appointments, the question of the Republican endgame with respect to the Court is coming into stark relief. First it was "the next President should appoint." Now it is "the next President should appoint, unless it is a Democrat replacing a conservative such as Justice Scalia." None of this was ever a principled stand. But the absence of a meaningful principle now means that this is a moving line that Republicans are moving (and likely will continue to move) with impunity and without political repercussion and without logical (beyond pure politics) end.
So imagining that we have President Clinton/Republican Senate:
• A Democratic President should not replace the "swing vote" (Justice Kennedy) because that shifts the balance of the Court when a Republican eventually appoints Scalia's successor.
• A Democratic President should not replace a Democratic appointee (Ginsburg/Breyer) because that reifies the balance of the Court for another two generations. So the Dem seat should remain open.
• If the Court can survive with 8, it is better off with 7 (assuming the lost Justice is not Kennedy), because that is an odd number that will avoid ties.
• Hey, the original Court had 6 Justices. What was good for the Jay Court is good for the Roberts Court.
The caricature of the Republican position is that only Republican Presidents should be able to appoint to SCOTUS. That is looking less like a caricature. Especially since all of these arguments will be ignored (and forgotten) under President Rubio in 2021.
Two final points: First, this new rhetoric nothing to do with the argument that Eric Segall (Georgia State) has been making in favor of an evenly divided Court with seats permanently identified with one party. No one is expressing (or going to express) any reservations about having President Trump replace Justice Ginsburg. Second, while the Carrington Plan for the Court (a new Justice appointed every two years, with the 9 juniormost justices constituting the Court for all cases, except in the event of recusal) was designed to create term limits, the feature of regular and automatic biennial appointments also would ease some of the political controversy. Given the current climate, that is looking like the more significant piece of the proposal.
Next Wednesday, I am scheduled to do a talk for a Northwestern Alumni Association event on the election and the future of the Court. I have not begun to prepare the talk because I genuinely have no clue what is going to happen and thus no clue what I am going to say. Except that the center cannot hold and something--Segall's plan, the Carrington Plan, something else--is necessary.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
DNC motion to enforce and the rigged election
The DNC has filed a motion to enforce the consent decree against the RNC for supporting and collaborating in Donald Trump's "ballot security" measures that sound like intimidation of minority voters in places such as Philadelphia. The motion seeks enforcement, sanctions, and further preliminary injunctive relief prohibiting RNC funds and personnel from being used in such efforts in concert with the Trump Campaign. The motion does not go all the way to pinning the Trump Campaign's activities on the RNC because Trump is the party's nominee, but it does highlight its "coordination, encouragement, and support" of such activities.
Random items (Updated)
• Last term in Heffernan v. City of Patterson, SCOTUS held that a public employee can state a First Amendment retaliation claim where he suffers adverse job action because the employer believes he engaged in protected expression, even if he did not actually do so. Heffernan now has settled the action for $ 1.6 million, including attorney's fees.
• Senate Republicans are beginning to make noise about not confirming any Hillary Clinton nominees to SCOTUS, apparently for the whole of her Term. Clearly, no one is even pretending anymore that this is some principled stand in the name of democratic values (it never was, but at least some pretended). In pushing this position in a radio interview on Wednesday, Ted Cruz pointed for support to comments by Justice Breyer that the Court is doing just fine with eight Justices. It is impossible to know whether Breyer believes that or whether, as Dahlia Lithwick has argued, this is the Justices putting on a brave face to keep themselves out of the political thicket. If the latter, it is ironic that Cruz is using those efforts to pull the Justices even more into the mire.
Perhaps this is all posturing, in light of recent polls. It does hint that a lame-duck confirmation of Merrick Garland is not in the offing.
Update: I agree with several points Dahlia Lithwick makes here: 1) The Chief must play a role as an advocate for the institution, something Taft did well and which is entirely appropriate where the Court's structure is implicated; 2) This should play as FDR's court-packing plan redux--one party trying to manipulate the size of the Court for partisan gain. That it is not says much about the current partisan divide--FDR's plan failed because Democrats (who held the Senate majority) bailed on it; 3) Justice Breyer is at odds with others who have spoken out about this stonewalling. And that ups the irony of Cruz seizing on Breyer's attempts at optimism to draw out the dispute.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Your Honor, and May It Please Mitch McConnell
The race is tight for control of the Senate. According to the statisticians at 538, six states are experiencing (to use the technical term) “super close” elections, and those same races very well may determine which party exercises the exceedingly important powers wielded by this body of government. If the vote totals on Election Day are tight enough to invite disputes over the true winner of a Senate race, the question becomes: who should adjudicate those contests? If you thought to yourself “Mitch McConnell, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz, and their colleagues in the Senate; they should do it,” then you are in good company: the Founders agree with you.
As Article I, Section 5 of the United States Constitution reads, “[e]ach House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members.” What this means is that the Senators are charged with judging election contests over disputed Senate seats, while the Representatives are charged with judging election contests over disputed House seats. And judge they do: in this context, each House examines witnesses, manages discovery, and inspects ballots, among other tasks, all pursuant to a set of procedures (informal in the case of the Senate, and set by statute for the House). At the conclusion of the proceedings, each House publishes, through a committee, something that looks much like a judicial opinion. This report recommends a particular resolution of the claims, and if the full House agrees with that recommendation, it passes a resolution so ordering. As I explain in Judging Congressional Elections, the Houses of Congress already have resolved hundreds of contested elections in this fashion.
The arrangement may seem strange, but it has a long historical pedigree, and nearly every state has adopted a similar approach (that is, nearly every state also has vested power to judge state legislative elections in the legislative body itself). Still, a host of difficult questions remains. Among them is whether—and how—courts may also adjudicate these same disputes. Let’s take Pennsylvania, where the race between challenger Katie McGinty and incumbent Pat Toomey appears exceedingly close. Can the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania weigh in if either candidate disputes the results on Election Day? Or what about in Nevada, where the candidates are locked in a tight race over Harry Reid’s seat—can the state courts offer guidance if November 8 produces no clear winner? The answers largely depend on constitutional questions surrounding Article I, Section 5, and the resolution of those questions is, to put it lightly, unsettled.
As I explain in my article, which is forthcoming in the Georgia Law Review, a combination of factors has produced an interpretative vacuum in response to the Article I, Section 5 mandate. Although we have authorities that normally are able to clarify questions of federal law—including federal court decisions and congressional legislation—such authorities are almost entirely absent in this area. The result is a chaotic set of ad hoc, state-based interpretations of the mandate that vary drastically by jurisdiction. As an example, take the hypotheticals above. The Pennsylvania courts likely could adjudicate a dispute between McGinty and Toomey. In Nevada, however, the state courts almost certainly could not adjudicate a dispute between Joe Heck and Catherine Cortez Masto. The legal reasoning behind each conclusion is complicated (and addressed at length in my article), but the upshot is simple. Due to deep uncertainty surrounding the law of Article I, Section 5, states like Nevada and Pennsylvania have reached different conclusions about its meaning, and those competing interpretations are what govern in the respective jurisdictions.
This uncertainty matters for many reasons. At the outset, even the appearance of manipulation of the rules can undermine an election’s legitimacy, and nothing triggers the appearance (and perhaps, at times, the reality) of manipulation quite like legal uncertainty. The uncertainty also matters because it has resulted in suboptimal forms of procedure governing contested elections. This is particularly problematic in states that have concluded that Article I, Section 5 flatly prohibits judicial proceedings of any sort. In these jurisdictions, it’s the Senate (or House), or bust.
This area of the law is one of the most complicated I’ve encountered, and there remains a lot to unpack. Ultimately, however, I think Congress owes it to the electorate to take the first step toward reform by clarifying its own position on the principal set of questions: that is, whether, and in what circumstances, courts may hear these disputes. Each House has the power to make these procedural decisions precisely because it is the “judge” of its own elections—or, at least, that’s my conclusion regarding how best to understand the Article I, Section 5 mandate. In any event, hopefully more eyes will turn toward this underanalyzed provision of the Constitution. It’s interesting; it’s important; and, like so much in election law, it’s best analyzed and addressed before a close election turns each point of uncertainty into a partisan battle.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Early Voting and Voting Updates
I concur with many of Steve Huefner's sentiments concerning the pros and cons of early voting. Early voting offers a way of increasing voter turnout by making voting more convenient. It also may facilitate efficient election administration by reducing the number of voters on Election Day itself. On the other hand, lengthy early voting periods can place those who choose to vote at the very beginning of the period at something of a disadvantage. Subsequent events may cause such voters to change their minds and wish to cast their votes for someone else, instead. Most dramatically, the withdrawal or death of a candidate can effectively nullify the votes of those who cast their ballots early.
A period of one week to ten days seems like an early voting period of reasonable length that balances these competing concerns. For states that adopt longer periods, one possibility to consider is the notion of "vote updating." Vote updating is easiest to understand and implement in the related area of absentee ballots. If a person casts an absentee ballot a few weeks before Election Day, and something happens that causes them to shift their support to a different candidate, it should be possible to allow them to cast a replacement ballot, which would be counted instead of their earlier one. Absentee ballots are typically enclosed within outer envelopes containing a voter's identifying information and are not opened for counting until Election Day itself or a few days before (depending on the jurisdiction). Thus, if election records show that a voter submitted two absentee ballots, election officials would be able to identify the original ballot that should not be counted and set it aside. Only the later-received ballot would count.This proposal raises several questions. First, should voters be permitted to cast an unlimited number of replacement ballots (since only the last one would be counted), or should it be limited to just one or two per election? Second, would the logistical burdens for election officials make this proposal impracticable? It's unclear that many people would take advantage of it, and it seem like a reform that could fairly easily be worked into the current procedures governing absentee ballot verification and counting. Third, it's not clear whether this would enhance opportunities for fraud. It may provide a way for unscrupulous activists, parties, or candidates to replace legitimate absentee votes with fraudulent ones.
Applying such a system to actual early voting in most jurisdictions would require more substantial reform. In most places, an early vote is treated just like a vote on Election Day: once the punch card is submitted, the lever is pulled, or the ballot is approved on the electronic voting machine, there is no longer a way of tracing any particular early vote back to a specific voter. Thus, early votes tend to be different from absentee votes, since an absentee ballot remains in the outer envelope containing the voter's information until nearly the end of the process.
In order to allow people to change their early votes, a jurisdiction would have to give early voters the option of casting their early vote on a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is usually used when some potential concern exists over a voter's registration, identity, or eligibility to vote. As with absentee ballots, provisional ballots usually are submitted on paper and enclosed in an outer envelope bearing the voter's identifying information. Thus, if an early voter chooses to cast a provisional ballot, he would retain the option of returning later to cast another, replacement vote (either on another provisional ballot or a voting machine). Voting officials would then know to discard the original provisional ballot. If a voter does not submit any replacement votes, then the original provisional ballot is counted without any further action on the voter's part. The ballot can either be counted on Election Day itself (since there is no need to wait for the voter to correct any deficiencies), or later on, at the same time as the other provisional ballots.
The system may unnecessarily introduce additional opportunities for error or fraud to enter into the process; it would certainly add an additional layer of complexity to a process that already poses challenges for election officials. On the other hand, this proposal is one way of mitigating the effects of lengthy early voting and absentee voting periods. Even if early voting is limited to a period of 7-10 days before Election Day, the period for returning absentee ballots (particularly for military and overseas voters) is invariably longer. In an era of cell phone videos and hacks, the possibility for last-minute gamechanging developments in campaigns seems quite real.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Florida Democrats win TRO extending voter registration
A federal judge in the Northern District of Florida has issued a TRO requiring Florida to extend the deadline for voter registration in the wake of Hurricane Matthew and the evacuation of thousands of would-be registrants. The court found that the refusal to extend the deadline violated the right to vote, applying strict scrutiny because the non-extension worked a complete denial of the right to vote. The TRO extends the deadline to Wednesday, when there will be a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction. The court also quickly disposed of some preliminary standing issues. Best of all, the opinion uses the word "poppycock."
I would be curious to hear from a panel of election-law experts whether the constitutional analysis here is correct.
Sunday, October 09, 2016
Trump Sunlight Campaign
Now on GoFundMe (gotta love the picture of Justice Brandeis), to raise money to cover the legal fees and judgment for anyone leaking Apprentice footage showing Trump making further sexist, racist, etc. statements. Producers and staffers on the show signed non-disclosure agreements, apparently with a liquidated damages clause of $ 5 million for breach (any guesses on whether that might be deemed unconscionable?). Apprentice Exec Produce Mark Burnett, who is a Trump supporter, has vowed to sue anyone who leaks footage.
During the Kim Davis insanity in Kentucky, people attempted a similar campaign to pay Davis's contempt fines; the site shut it down, given the obvious moral hazard concerns. It will be interesting to see what GoFundMe does with this one, as raising money to pay someone's legal judgment would seem to raise the same moral-hazard concerns. (The likelihood political-viewpoint bias here is high). It might be different if the campaign was only to pay attorney's fees and costs or to provide a bounty for the leaker. But that would not make a difference as an incentive--the disincentive is not the cost of the lawsuit, it is the judgment at the end.
Anyway, the site had raised a little under $ 2000 in two hours. So I do not expect this to be a big money-maker or game-changer.