Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The West Wing may not be the best source for resolving political problems
Let me begin by saying that I loved The West Wing while it was on, before I decided Aaron Sorkin's writing was unbearable and repetitious. I even wrote something (no longer available online) about the show's many story lines about presidential and vice-presidential succession, which has always been a constitutional fascination. And in broad strokes, the show kind-of predicted the four players in the 2008 Presidential race.
Lisa McElroy (Drexel) writes in Slate about The West Wing's apparent solution to our current Supreme Court dilemma: Presented with a chance to replace a deceased conservative justice but facing a Republican Senate, second-term President Bartlet creates a bargain by making two ideologically extreme appointments--a very liberal woman as Chief and a very conservative man, hoping the Senate will go for the trade-off. I recalled the episode when I heard about Scalia's death last weekend. I do not remember if I believed this was a good idea when the episode aired in March 2004; I believe it is a terrible idea now (although that might just reflect how I feel about Sorkin's work).
First, it required that White House staffers create a second vacancy by convincing/coercing/strong-arming the Chief Justice into retiring. We no longer applaud (or should applaud) Johnson-esque tactics when it comes to the President and the Court. But Sorkin loves the "honesty" of such straight-talking methods and ends-justify-means strategies, even if in real-life they come across as noxious. I would not want an Obama aide directly lobbying Ginsburg or Breyer to retire.
Second, what the show depicts seems to me a terrible trade for the Democrats. Yes, the Democrats get to appoint the Chief (which has not happened since Fred Vinson in 1946). And that is significant for assigning opinions and perhaps for the future direction of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. But an even trade does nothing for the Democrats in terms of the cases that matter, since it does not alter the judicial-ideological balance on the Court.* Sorkin was decrying an influx of "moderates" on the Court and wanting something on the poles. But the current Court is all poles, with no real middle at all. That means that a single appointment truly changes the ideological balance. To put it in modern terms: I would not want to see Obama appoint, say, Goodwin Liu and then replace Breyer with, say, Brett Kavanaugh.**
[*] Updated: Lisa tells me that the dialogue does indeed reveal the Court's make-up: six "centrists," two staunch conservatives, and one clarion voice articulating a liberal vision who may have been close to retirement. This basically reflects the Court in October Term 1990: Rehnquist and Scalia as the conservatives, Marshall alone as the liberal voice (Brennan had just retired), and White, Powell, Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, and Souter forming the middle.
[**] The resulting Court--Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, [ed: forgot him the first draft], Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Liu, Kavanaugh--would leave us exactly where we are, only with the clock reset by a conservative who would be on the Court for another 30 years joining three conservatives likely to serve for another twenty. As a Democrat, it certainly would undermine one of the reasons I have been happy to control the White House these past seven years and why I believe this election is so important.
Worse, the new liberal chief was a decade older than the new conservative associate justice (going by the age of the actors at the time--Glenn Close was 56, while William Fichtner was 47). In actuarial terms, he was likely to remain on the Court, and thus to wield influence, longer than she was.
Third, the episode celebrates across-the-aisle disagreement, engagement, and friendship as a practical solution. Some have offered the friendship between Ginsburg and Scalia as a model for what Obama and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan might follow. But lost in all this is that, despite their friendship, Scalia and Ginsburg rarely agreed on key constitutional issues. And their friendship did nothing to enable either to sway the other. Recall Ginsburg's moving tribute to her friend: "when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation." Not that Ginsburg was convinced or moved to change her mind; only that she made the arguments for her position stronger. Which is, perhaps, good for the development of the law (that is Lisa's take-away). It does nothing for political impasse--Obama and McConnell can sing duets all they want, that is not going to produce any actual legislation. And it does not change the dynamics that five conservative Justices always get their way in the face of four liberal Justices. (This is as legal realist as I get, I think).
Finally, the episode bothers me because, put in a room together, the two federal judges/prospective nominees begin arguing constitutional law--as if this is what judges do when they get together in social settings (this was, of course, necessary for President Bartlet to see the benefit of two smart opposites engaging one another). Worse (and ironically, given the show's obvious political views), the dialogue made the conservative judge seem like he was right and smarter than the liberal. It included the following exchange (this is paraphrasing somewhat, from memory):
Lang (Close): If we followed your way [presumably meaning Originalism], we would still have slavery and women couldn't vote.
Mulready (Fichtner): And hence the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Nineteenth Amendments.
Lang: Well, thank you for that.
But that actually is the answer--consider the text and its meaning at the time, but when an amendment overrides some provision, follow the amendment. Yes, slavery was part of the Constitution, until those parts of the Constitution were overridden by the Thirteenth Amendment. And saying otherwise just makes the position sound silly.
I know, I know--it is only a TV show.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Justice Scalia and the Blaine Amendments
Following up on Josh's post: For about 20 years, I've been hoping for -- and sometimes trying to contribute to to bring about -- a Court decision to the effect that the "Blaine Amendment"-type provisions in state constitutions (which, in my view, needlessly discriminate against religious institutions) violate the Constitution of the United States. The currently soon-to-be-argued Trinity Lutheran case appeared to be a decent candidate for a case that would produce such a decision. However, given the votes of Justices Breyer and Ginsburg in Locke v. Davey and Zelman, it seems likely that they'll endorse the lower-court opinion in that case (which allowed to Missouri deny an "application for a grant of solid waste management funds to resurface a playground on church property").
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Judicial supremacy and professional responsibility
The ethics complaint filed against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last summer will proceed to a State Bar investigation. (H/T: Josh Blackman) The complaint stems from a letter Paxton sent to county clerks in the wake of Obergefell, suggesting clerks and justices of the peace may have a religious exemption from issuing licenses or performing marriages to same-sex couples and that they may be able to assert those requests for exemption.
One of the challenges to the model of departmentalism I have been advocating (what Richmond's Kevin Walsh calls "judicial departmentalism") is the many doctrines that reinforce judicial supremacy. State bar regulations appear to be one of them, if this complaint against Paxton goes anywhere. The explicit problem, according to the complaint, is that Paxton ignored Obergefell and the (supposed) supremacy of SCOTUS's interpretation of the Constitution; his legal advice thereby ran afoul of several rules of professional responsibility. In fact, Paxton expressly acknowledged that any clerk or JOP who did this would almost certainly be sued, held liable in light of SCOTUS (and 5th Circuit) precedent, and subject to an injunction that would bind them. He simply recognized the need for that additional step. But that is not good enough; because it is "emphatically the province and duty," etc., an attorney, even one for the State, cannot give advice contradicting such judicial declarations. If this is what the regulations mean, they leave no room for departmentalism or for independent constitutional judgment in non-judicial actors; they instantiate judicial supremacy as the sole understanding for all attorneys, public or private.
On one hand, that could be permissible and appropriate. If a state legislature wants to establish judicial supremacy as the guiding principle for its attorneys, (so that, for example, the obligation to not advise a client to disobey a legal obligation includes obligations established in judicial decisions to which the client is not a party), it can do so. On the other hand, the automatic acceptance or presumption of judicial supremacy into the rule, without more, seems difficult to square. And somewhat unfair to impose without further warning or clear statement.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Ferguson consent decree falls apart, DOJ sues
The proposed consent decree between DOJ and the City of Ferguson has fallen apart, after the City Council on Tuesday night approved the deal, but demanded seven changes to the deal, mostly involving extended deadlines and limits on costs. DOJ wasted no team in filing a civil action today, alleging patterns and practices of various police abuses, in violation of § 14141 (via the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments) and Title VI. The complaint contains all the things we already knew from earlier DOJ reports.
I am somewhat surprised DOJ jumped to a lawsuit so quickly, rather than trying a bit of additional negotiation. My guess is DOJ was ticked that the Council would undermine seven months of negotiation in single night. Life imitating art imitating life?
Kim Davis update
Judge Bunning of the Eastern District of Kentucky yesterday denied as moot the ACLU's motion to enforce the injunction against Kim Davis. The plaintiffs had requested that the court order the deputy clerks to issue the non-Kim-Davis-altered licenses, reissue the adulterated licenses, and order the deputies to ignore Davis's orders to issue any other type of license. But the court found that: 1) licenses are issuing to anyone who wants them; 2) Davis is not interfering; and 3) "there is every reason to believe" the altered licenses would be recognized as valid.
I suppose this is all the right outcome, although the court's ready assumption that these altered licenses are valid may be a touch presumptuous. We have no idea what an opportunistic litigant (say, in a future divorce or custody case) and rogue state-court judge might do with a marriage based on one of these licenses. Still, the Liberty Counsel's insistence that the ACLU wanted Kim Davis's "scalp" is just silly.
Race and the Law Prof Blog on Alternative Constitution Day
While I'm plugging stuff... the Race and the Law Prof Blog is hosting a blog-symposium on Alternative Constitution day, that is, on the idea that along with (or even instead of) celebrating September 17, we ought to be celebrating the refounding represented by the Reconstruction Amendments, and their renewal of the Constitutional promise of equality for all. There's still an opportunity to submit posts, and there are a number of existing posts. Here's mine (which is unsurprisingly about the rule of law and its relationship to racialized police as well as private violence), but I like the others better---particular can't-miss posts (among many) include Saru Matambanadzo's post on personhood, Craig Jackson's on social rights, and Nancy Leong's thoughtful critique of free speech absolutism. But go read them all.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Ferguson consent decree
DOJ has reached agreement with the City of Ferguson on a proposed consent decree resolving the threatened § 14141 action. It appears to attempt to address everything that went wrong there in 2014, as well as those practices that contributed to the general tension that had long existed. The order requires training and commitment to public First Amendment activity--peaceful protests, lawful public assembly, and video-recording of police activity--including a requirement that only the Chief of Police or Assistant Chief may declare an assembly unlawful and officers cannot disperse an assembly without that declaration. It limits and restricts "stop orders" or "wanteds," in which police initiate contact to enforce warrants. It requires the City to implement a body and dashboard camera program, with broad recording of most stops and interactions and public disclosure of recordings to the maximum extent allowed by state law. And it requires broad reform of municipal court practices and training and policies on use of force.
Monday, January 25, 2016
More judicial departmentalism
A few points in furtherance of the model of "judicial departmentalism" that Kevin Walsh coined and that I have been urging, beginning with the marriage equality litigation and its aftermath.
First, the law imposes a number of incentives for governments and government officials not to push the departmentalist boundary, chief among them attorneys' fees for prevailing plaintiffs. This story discusses the fee awards from the marriage-equality litigation, which have topped $ 1 million in a number of states. The fee request in Tennessee (one of the states who defended in SCOTUS) is $ 2 million. Texas was ordered to pay about $ 600,000 (in a case that had limited briefing and a summary affirmance in the court of appeals), which the state plans to appeal. The point is, it will get pretty expensive for states if many of their officials decide to follow Kim Davis or Roy Moore and force couples to bring inevitably successful new litigation to obtain marriage licenses. [Update: A new report says Montana settled for $ 100k, bringing the national total to $ 13.4 million).]
Second, SCOTUS today in a per curiam decision in James v. City of Boise (pp. 13-14) held that the Supreme Court of Idaho was bound by SCOTUS interpretations of federal law--in this case, the limitation on § 1988 that prevailing defendants may recover fees only if a claim is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. The state court had said that SCOTUS did not have the authority to limit the interpretive discretion of state courts, only of lower federal courts. The court made quick work of that argument, emphasizing the disuniformity it would engender (citing Justice Story in Martin) and insisting that "it is the duty of other courts to respect that understanding of the governing rule of law." Although I try not to read tea leaves, this looks like a shot across the bow of the Supreme Court of Alabama. That court seems itching to following Idaho with respect to Obergefell and is being urged to do so by the litigants and by Chief Justice Roy Moore. James suggests that SCOTUS will quickly and easily dispose of that effort.
Third, I like the way the Court described its authority--the Court says what a statute means and it is "the duty of other courts to respect that understanding." (emphasis mine). The Court did not say it was the duty of officers or offices other than courts. I am not suggesting this drafting was deliberate or that it reflects a sudden wave of departmentalism in the Court; more likely, it was written this way because that was how this case presented. Still, it captures what I believe is the appropriate scope of the Court's power to "say what the law is" and to whom.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Show (audibly), don't tell
Because of the Court's practices of only releasing argument audio at the end of the week, I wrote my argument recap on last week's Heffernan v. City of Paterson based only on the transcript. It was clear from the transcript how much the petitioner's attorney struggled, especially when asked about the availability of alternative state-law remedies and what those remedies would be. Listening to the audio drives home just how great that struggle was.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Individual right or government wrong?
I have a SCOTUSBlog recap of Tuesday's oral argument in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, which I had previewed. The issue is whether a public employee can state a First Amendment claim where he was demoted because the government believed he was engaged in expressive association, even though the government was actually wrong in that believe. In other words, if the government acts with the intent to retaliate but does not retaliate because there is nothing against which to retaliate, does it violate the First Amendment? Dahlia Lithwick describes the "extra-meta" tone of the argument.
It is interesting to look at this case in light of last week's argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The Justices who seemed most critical of the petitioner's position in Heffernan (the Chief, Scalia, and Alito, and to a lesser extent Kennedy) were most solicitious of the employees in Friedrichs and seem most likely to hold that public employees cannot be compelled to pay agency fees to unions, even for collective bargaining activities. But if those positions hold, the practical results seem odd. It would free public employees from any compelled union participation because anything the union does (even negotiating higher wages) is potentially objectionable speech on a matter of public concern, then expand the circumstances in which public employees can be fired based on government presumptions about their associational activity, at least if those presumptions prove erroneous. It is as if that bloc of Justices views it as a greater First Amendment violation to be compelled to pay for another's speech than to be sanctioned for one's own speech
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
SCOTUS Preview: Political patronage and misperceived association
I have a case preview at SCOTUSBlog for Heffernan v. City of Paterson, to be argued next Tuesday, January 19. The case concerns whether a public employee can state a First Amendment retaliation claim where the government demoted him explicitly because of his supposed political activity, but where he actually was not engaged in any activity. The most recent We the People Podcast features Burt Neuborne (NYU) and John Inazu (Wash. U.) discussing the Assembly Clause and they touch on this case.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Depressing frees speech story out of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association sent a letter to member schools asking student sections to tone it down. April Gehl, a three-sport athlete and honor student at Hilbert H.S. and the leading scorer and rebounder on the girls' basketball team, tweeted "EAT SHIT WIAA." She was suspended for five games.* According to reports, she has not taken down the tweet, but will not challenge the suspension.
1) There is an interesting state-action problem here. According to reports, the WIAA was notified about the tweet, then contacted the school via email, which instituted the punishment (apparently for violating the school's anti-profanity policy). There seems to be some dispute as to what the WIAA said or who insisted on the suspension. Gehl's mother said she saw the WIAA's email to the school, which included a snapshot of the tweet "with limited direction other than to 'please take care of it.'" The WIAA's communications director insists there was no such language, but that the tweet was shared "shared with members for their awareness." The school's AD simply said they were contacted and dealt with it in accordance with board policy.
[*] Fun with Wisconsin-in-the-news geography: One of the games she will miss is against Manitowoc Lutheran High School. Yep, that Manitowoc.
The school is obviously a state actor. State athletic associations may be state actors, depending on structure. We might (depending on who you believe) have a non-state-actor insisting that punishment be imposed by a state actor. So there is pretty clearly state action here, although how we get there could be a bit convoluted.
2) We need to give up the pretense that secondary-school students have First Amendment rights. Gehl was suspended for a tweet sent to the world, seen only by people looking on Twitter, that spoke about a matter of public concern (to a high school student). There is no indication it was seen by anyone while at school. It did not affect, much less disrupt, school activities--after all, the school did not even know about the tweet until later one. About the only link to make this "in-school" speech is that she sent the tweet from school. The problem seems to be the profanity, but profanity is supposed to be protected in non-school forums that do not cause an actual disruption. In any event, it would defy reality to argue that she would not have been punished if the tweet had read "Your policy is unwise, WIAA" (that is fewer than 140 characters). Yet one reason Gehl is not going to appeal is likely that she knows she will lose, because students are losing all of these cases.
Which is tragic. Government officials, the education system, and society cannot complain that "kids today" are apathetic, then punish them when they take stands on the things that matter to them, simply because those officials do not like the stance. That seems to be why we need a First Amendment in the first place.
3) Looking at the original sportsmanship request, the WIAA should do as Gehl suggests. Among the cheers that the WIAA now prohibits are "'You can’t do that,' 'Fundamentals,' 'Air ball,'** 'There’s a net there,' 'Sieve,' 'We can’t hear you,' the 'scoreboard' cheer and 'season’s over' during tournament play." In other words, it seems, any cheering directed towards the opponent. I guess students are limited to "Hooray, Team." In a different context (say, college sports), I would argue that these restrictions violate fans' free-speech rights (at least at a public school or arena), since they are not vulgar or lewd and do not cause disruption in the context of everyone screaming at a sporting event). Of course, then we go back to point # 2--students never win these cases.
[**] A study found that crowds chanting "air ball" all manage to hit the words in F and D, respectively, putting the chant in the key of Bb.
4) One additional thought: Gehl was suspended for the games, but not punished as a student. But what if the same tweet had come from a non-athlete (say, a student-fan or just a student who objects to stupid restrictions on protected speech)? Would the WIAA have cared? Would the suspension have been from school? Or was Gehl singled out because she is a student-athlete?
Friday, January 08, 2016
No one gets it
I am repeating myself, so I apologize. But this story on Chief Justice Moore's order to Alabama probate judges includes opinions from both sides of the issue--two law professors and the two United States Attorneys in Alabama criticizing the order and anti-marriage-equality advocates praising it to the heavens (in one case quite literally). None of them is right in their analysis.
And the common theme in all of this incorrectness is an overly simplistic approach to the process of constitutional litigation, particularly everyone's disregard for the role of lower courts and judgments. The Supreme Court, in the course of deciding one case, makes broad pronouncements about the law (e.g., the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits bans on same-sex marriage). But those pronouncements are not self-enforcing and do not, in and of themselevs, impose legally binding obligations on any non-parties or as to other laws. As to people and laws not party to the case that created that precedent, an additional step is necessary--separate litigation applying that precedent and producing a judgment as to this new law and these new parties. But we have that in Alabama--Judge Granade's class injunction (entered in May, stayed until the ruling in Obergefell, made effective by order applying Obergefell, and summarily affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit) requiring every probate judge in the state to issue marriage licenses to any same-sex couple that wants one. Thus, the problem with Moore's order is that he is compelling probate judges to act in contempt of court.The USAs insist that the "issue has been decided by the highest court in the land and Alabama must follow that law." Carl Tobias (Richmond) says Obergefell "was a national ruling and it applies nationally." While correct in the abstract, it makes it all sound automatic when it is not--the Court's opinion applies nationally, but the judgment of the Court does not. One of two things must happen: Either the extra step of a judgment against Alabama officials as to Alabama's law, based on Obergefell, is necessary, or Alabama officials must voluntarily comply with Obergefell in order to avoid the inevitable judgment. The point of Moore's order is to force Alabama officials to follow the first rather than second path. That my be unwise, obnoxious, and driven by Moore's pathological intransigence. There is nothing unlawful about it.
But the anti-SSM advocates are equally wrong because they ignore the judgment and injunction against the class. So one advocate can say that Alabama does not have to follow a Supreme Court decision that ruled on law in another state. Which is true, but irrelevant, because of the injunction. Unfortunately, they can argue that way only because Moore's critics (and most, but not all, reporters) talk about this as defying the Supreme Court in Obergefell rather than defying the injunction that applied Obergefell to Alabama law.
And the attorney for one of the probate judges insists that the Eleventh Circuit has not applied Obergefell as to Alabama law. This is wrong in several respects. First, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the injunction.although the reasoning is convoluted and incorrect in some respects, including its understanding of how Obergefell affected Alabama. Second, regardless of what the Eleventh Circuit did or did not do, the class injunction is out there--it was was entered, took effect, has not been reversed by a higher court, and has not been stayed. This means probate judges are under an ongoing judicial obligation, imposed on them directly and on pain of contempt, to issue licenses. So Moore's order does not merely tell probate judges to wait--it is telling them to act in contempt of a federal judgment. Third, neither federal circuit nor district precedent is binding on state courts, thus, even if the Eleventh Circuit had not spoken, it would not matter because the Eleventh Circuit does not create a greater obligation on Alabama officials than a district court.
So if we are going to discuss this accurately, everyone needs to shift the focus to the district court and to Judge Granade's extant injunction. And with that focus, we see that Moore's order, if followed, sets probate judges (although not Moore himself) up for a potential Kim-Davis-like showdown.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Alabama (still) does not go gentle . . .
Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama is back. Today, he issued an order requiring Alabama probate judges to continue to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, pending resolution of the mandamus action that has been pending in the Court since March. (H/T: Religion Clause Blog). Once again, Moore is sort of right, sort of wrong, and very short-sighted. A few thoughts after the jump..The linchpin of his analysis is that Obergefell is not directly binding on Alabama probate judges or as to Alabama law; this, Moore insists, is the "elementary principle" that a judgment only binds the parties to that case. Thus, no higher court has spoken to the validity of Alabama's same-sex marriage law or the obligation of Alabama officials to recognize same-sex marriages; instead, we are still waiting for SCoA to address the statutory and constitutional questions in the mandamus proceeding. Moore is right about the scope of SCOTUS's decision. Interestingly, he draws support from cases out of Kansas and the Eighth Circuit that rejected the argument that Obergefell mooted challenges to the laws in these other states; those courts all insisted that Obergefell was merely binding precedent in future litigation, but did not speak to laws or officials or couples in these states, thus leaving those cases as active disputes. In other words, Moore finds support for the position of the Alabama government in cases rejecting the position of these other state governments.
Unfortunately for Moore (or at least for some Alabama probate judges), he ignores the class certification in Strawser v. Strange in the Southern District of Alabama. There is an extant class-wide injunction in the district court declaring the state SSM ban unconstitutional and binding every probate judge to issue licenses to any same-sex couple that wishes to marry in Alabama. That injunction immediately took effect when SCOTUS issued its decision in Obergefell. Thus, while Obergefell is not binding on anyone in Alabama, the district court judgment is. So Moore's order is setting some probate judges up to be held in contempt of that injunction, as well as for damages liability, since Obergefell should clearly establish the right of a same-sex couple to a marriage license, barring outside issues (Ron Krotoszynski his a similar point in The New York Times). And, unlike with Kim Davis, no new federal litigation need be filed; a couple can jump straight to enforcing the injunction.
I am not surprised Moore would ignore that inconvenient piece of information. But I also have not been able to find any indication of activity or orders in Strawser since the summer. Probate judges in several parts of Alabama have been refusing to issue licenses all along, but I have not seen anything about plaintiffs or the court moving to enforce the class injunction. It will be interesting to see whether Moore's new order shakes loose some activity in federal court.
Update: That Times piece is notable because there is no mention of the Strawser litigation. That, not Obergefell, is the key to all of this. That is what binds and compels probate judges to issue the licenses, not Obergefell simpliciter. Will no one ever get this right?
Further Update: Yes, Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed, who generally does a good and accurate job of covering this stuff.
Further, Further Update: Based on Chris' report, in concluding that Obergefell "abrogated" the SCoA decision, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot. Both of those conclusions are wrong (Marty is right about that in his comment), as well as inconsistent with the Eighth Circuit mootness cases that Moore cited in his order.
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
Technically . . .
I have no interest in wading into the morass over Judge Posner and Eric Segall's NYT op-ed suggesting that Justice Scalia believes that majoritarian religious preferences can trump minority rights--here is Corey Yung's effort, which began on Twitter. Segall responded to criticisms from NRO's Ed Whelan and Northwestern's John McGinnis. The esponse references Scalia's purported comments at Princeton that Obergefell is not directly binding on non-party public officials, to which Segall says "That sentiment is technically correct, but as expressed by a Supreme Court Justice could be considered an invitation to a form of civil disobedience."
This is why I forbid my students from using the word "technically." (Imagine Yoda voice: "There is no technically; only correct or incorrect."). And in this case, Scalia is correct, full stop. Judgments themselves are not binding on non-parties and precedent is only binding on courts in future litigation, not on executive or legislative officials. Scalia's statement is incomplete, as it does not finish the point that the subsequent litigation against recalcitrant officials is binding on those officials (note that Scalia did not suggest that lower courts are not bound by Obergefell) and may impose other costs on them, such as attorney's fees, sanctions for non-compliance, and perhaps some limits on the arguments one can offer in litigation.
It is similarly problematic to suggest that a Supreme Court Justice should not express this legally correct and accurate proposition. If Justices should not explain how constitutional litigation actually operates, who should?
Sunday, December 06, 2015
State action puzzle
Video captured (link contains multiple videos) numerous incidents of security getting very physical with University of Houston fans attempting to run onto the field following UH's victory in the American Athletic Conference Football Championship. The game was played at the stadium on UH's campus and security was provided by CSC, a private contractor. The most telling images are GIFs of one officer throwing roundhouse punches at a fan lying on the ground and video of another officer body-slamming a fan, only to be loudly called out by two officials in different-colored shirts. UH announced that it is terminating its contract with CSC and looking into any appropriate legal action.
First, it seems pretty clear that CSC and its employees acted under color of state law for any coming § 1983 actions. They were contracted by a state agency to perform the government function of providing security at a public event in a publicly owned stadium. Some might depend on the terms of the contract with CSC and how much control or supervision UH wielded.
Second, I cannot help but notice that most of the student-trespassers (and make no mistake, they are not allowed on the field) shown being tackled are white and many of the security officers are black. It is difficult to not read something into the swift and angry university (i.e., government) reaction, especially compared to the typical response when the victims of police violence are black. This is not to say I am disappointed but UH's response, only that I wonder if it would have been different if the student-trespassers were black and the authority figures white.
Friday, December 04, 2015
The Johnson Retroactivity Circuit Split Plot Thickens...
A few weeks ago, I wrote a rather lengthy post about the circuit split over whether the Supreme Court's June 2015 decision in Johnson v. United States both (1) is "substantive" (and therefore retroactively enforceable by federal prisoners filing their initial claims for collateral post-conviction relief); and (2) has been "made retroactive" by the Supreme Court (and can therefore provide the basis for a second-or-successive application for collateral post-conviction relief). As I explained then, unlike the typical circuit split, a combination of the jurisdictional limitations imposed by AEDPA and the government's litigating position (that the answer to both questions is "yes") has seemed, at least to date, to deprive the Supreme Court of a "normal" way to resolve this circuit split, suggesting instead that the matter be resolved through the Court's seldom-utilized authority to issue extraordinary writs, including an "original" writ of habeas corpus. As importantly, the clock is running; it's widely believed that AEDPA's one-year statute of limitations will require all Johnson-based claims to be filed by June 26, 2016, no matter when the Supreme Court clarifies its retroactive application.
Well, the plots, such as they are, are thickening...
The Supreme Court now has before it at least three petitions for original habeas writs (In re Butler, In re Sharp, and In re Triplett), along with at least one petition for a writ of mandamus (also in Triplett). My own view is that original habeas makes more sense in this context than mandamus, especially since the Justices may agree, even in holding that Johnson is retroactive, that they hadn't previously "made" Johnson retroactive, and so the lower-court decisions refusing to certify second-or-successive petitions aren't erroneous (and, thus, subject to correction via mandamus). For more on this, see the habeas scholars' amicus brief in support of the petition for original habeas in Butler (that I co-authored). But whether it's habeas or mandamus, the bottom line would be the same: using the Court's power to issue extraordinary writs to sidestep AEDPA.
To that end, the Court has ordered the Solicitor General to respond (a very unusual step in an extraordinary writ case) to the habeas petitions in Butler and Sharp, and to the mandamus petition in Triplett. Those responses are all due sometime in December, and it will be fascinating to see what position the SG takes, since the government generally supports Johnson retroactivity, generally dislikes extraordinary relief, and has yet to take a position on whether all Johnson claims must be filed by June 26, 2016 (such that the Supreme Court would have to take and decide the issue sooner, rather than later).
One clue may be found in a brief the Solicitor General filed on Wednesday in opposition to certiorari in another case--Hammons v. United States. Here's the key passage:
If the Court decides to exercise its jurisdiction under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. 1651(a), to resolve the conflict in the courts of appeals on the question whether Johnson has been made retroactive to cases on collateral review, there is a petition for a writ of mandamus currently pending before the Court that expressly asks the Court to address that question through its authority under the All Writs Act and therefore, unlike this petition for a writ of certiorari, specifically addresses the strict standards applicable to an exercise of that jurisdiction. See In re Triplett, No. 15-625 (filed Nov. 10, 2015). The government's response to the petition for a writ of mandamus in Triplett is currently due on December 14, 2015.
There are also three pending petitions for a writ of habeas corpus that ask the Court to address the question of Johnson's retroactivity through the Court's authority to issue writs of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2241. See In re Butler, No.. 15-578 (filed Nov. 3, 2015); In re Triplett, No. 15-626 (filed Nov. 10, 2015); In re Sharp, No. 15-646 (filed Nov. 16, 2015). . . . The Court has ordered a response from the United States in Butler, which is currently due on December 18, 2015. It has also ordered a response in Sharp, which is currently due on December 30, 2015. The Court may therefore wish to hold this petition until it acts on the petition for a writ of mandamus filed in Triplett or any of the petitions for a writ of habeas corpus.
Perhaps this passage is meant to suggest that the government will not oppose extraordinary relief--whether through mandamus in Triplett or habeas in Butler, Sharp, and/or Triplett--as a way for the Justices to settle the Johnson retroactivity question. If so, then the Supreme Court may well be on the verge of doing something it hasn't done in decades (and of settling a messy, messy circuit split in the process).
Thursday, December 03, 2015
"Joint" Post on Pot Federalism, by Jessica Berch and Chad DeVeaux
We’re glad that we lived to post another day and that our budding thesis has not yet gone up in smoke. This week Chad and I are writing together to lay out the potential responses a prohibitionist state may deploy to deal with spillover from a pot-friendly neighbor. Until recently, prohibitionist states had two obvious and unsatisfying options — sue their neighbors (as Nebraska and Oklahoma have done), or step up the already draconian penalties for pot possession. The Tenth Circuit recently accepted the scholarly consensus that a state may regulate out-of-state conduct if that conduct affects a substantial number of in-state residents — at least so long as “the burden imposed” on interstate commerce is not “clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits.” If this holding stands, it opens a wealth of other options (in my view) or a Pandora’s Box (in Chad’s).
On one end of the spectrum, scholars argue that States can (and should) enact laws punishing their citizens (both civilly and criminally) for getting high while visiting a pot-friendly state. At the other end of the spectrum, other scholars believe that state lines demark absolute regulatory barriers.
Mark Rosen has argued that when a state legalizes formerly taboo conduct (e.g., gambling) such experimentation presents what he calls a “travel-evasion” problem. Such state experiments, he posits, threaten the sovereignty of more-restrictive states. By “giv[ing] citizens the power to choose which state’s laws are to govern them on an issue-by-issue basis,” heterogeneous state laws “cripple the ability of [less-permissive] states to accomplish constitutional objectives.” 150 U. PA. L. REV. at 856. Professor Rosen’s theory implies that prohibitionist states can bar their citizens from — and criminally punish them for — purchasing marijuana or getting high in pot-friendly states.
Others argue that states should take a more measured response. I argue that because a state is “not compelled to lower itself to the more degrading standards of a neighbor,” Illinois v. City of Milwaukee, 406 U.S. at 107, a state has limited authority to regulate extraterritorial conduct. I’m concerned that application of Professor Rosen’s theory would further exacerbate the already epidemic rate of mass-incarceration. I also believe that (as Chad himself has argued in his Boston College piece) because pro-pot states create negative externalities analogous to pollution that spill over into neighboring jurisdictions, it is reasonable for those negatively affected neighbors to impose civil liability on the polluters. Indeed, this reasoning underlies the Tenth Circuit’s conclusion in Epel that Colorado may regulate coal-burning plants in neighboring states.
In the middle of the spectrum is Lea Brilmayer. Confronting divergent State laws on assisted suicide and abortion, Professor Brilmayer proposed her “Interstate Preemption” theory. She contends that “[s]tates . . . possess the power to regulate their citizens’ conduct in other states in the usual case,” but posits that the host state’s law will “preempt” the home state’s law in those comparably rare occasions when the host’s law manifests a conscious decision to make the conduct in question an “affirmative right,” rather than an expression of “mere indifference” to the conduct. 91 MICH. L. REV. at 877-78. The myriad different marijuana regimes — from enforced prohibition (Idaho), to de facto decriminalization (New York), to apparent enshrinement as a constitutional right (Colorado) — will affect a neighboring state’s ability to enforce its own marijuana laws differently.
Further along the spectrum falls Seth Kreimer. What some critics deride as a “travel evasion” problem, Professor Kreimer argues is a feature of federalism, not a bug: “When citizens can choose among and compare the virtues of the permission of assisted suicide in Oregon, covenant of marriage in Louisiana, . . . and same-sex unions in Vermont, we are likely to have a society that is morally richer, practically freer, and personally more fulfilling . . . .” 150 U. PA. L. REV. at 974. He argues that states do not have the authority to forbid their citizens’ extraterritorial acts when those acts are permitted by the host state. In Professor Kreimer’s view, a state’s efforts to deny its citizens the right to partake in activities permitted by the host state run afoul of the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the Privileges and Immunities Clause. 67 N.Y.U. L. REV. at 451. Extending Professor Kreimer’s views to marijuana would seem to leave prohibitionist states with few options to combat spillover.
Finally, at the opposite end of the spectrum (from Professor Rosen) is Chad. He advocates an expansive view of the dormant Commerce Clause’s (possibly defunct) ban on direct regulation of extraterritorial commerce. He previously argued that the DCC should be read to prohibit the certification of multi-state class actions under a single state’s law. 79 GEO. WASH. L. REV. at 995-1000. Even after the Tenth Circuit’s opinion, he stubbornly adheres to this view.
Chad posits that the DCC protects “the autonomy of the individual States within their respective spheres” by dictating that “no state has the authority to tell other polities what laws they must enact or how affairs must be conducted.” 79 GEO. WASH. L. REV. at 1005-06. If the DCC's extraterritoriality bar has gone gently into that good night, Chad argues that the marijuana-legalization fight will lead to chaos. Prohibitionist states may seek to directly regulate transactions in neighboring states, pressuring pro-pot states to enact legislation protecting their nascent marijuana markets from foreign interference. He asserts that the extraterritoriality doctrine’s demise will open “the door . . . to the rivalries and reprisals” that the Commerce Clause was designed to avert. In short, under his expansive reading of the DCC, prohibitionist states are limited to the two meager options first explored — litigation or increased criminal penalties.
This has been but a 10,000 foot overview of the present dilemma. Next time, Chad and I will more thoroughly explore our own respective theses — and to be “blunt,” I will explain why his view is wrong! (Chad requires me to say that he will show how it is my view that is, in fact, wrong.)
Monday, November 23, 2015
Should Non-Citizens Be Allowed to Vote? (Local Law Edition)
Municipalities have vast powers to define the electorate, as I explained when noting that some local jurisdictions have expanded voting rights to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. Similarly, some municipalities have granted the right to vote to non-citizens. Studying these local laws on voting rights is vital to understanding and protecting the right to vote more generally.
Currently there are six Maryland towns that allow non-citizens to vote in all city elections. Two Massachusetts cities, Cambridge and Amherst, have also passed laws granting the right to vote to non-citizens, but these ordinances cannot go into effect unless the state legislature approves them. In Chicago, non-citizens may vote in school board elections. New York City also used to allow non-citizens to vote for school board until the city disbanded the elected school boards in 2002.
Some local jurisdictions are debating whether to expand the voter rolls to include non-citizens. New York City, for instance, is considering an ordinance to allow aliens to vote in all city elections, which would add up to 800,000 people to the voting rolls. The proposal, debated in 2013, would allow non-citizen legal residents who have lived in New York City for six months to vote in mayoral and city council elections. Although thirty-one of the fifty-one New York City Council Members supported the ordinance two years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed it, and the Speaker of the Council blocked a final vote on the law. There is speculation that the measure could come before the City Council again, especially as current Mayor Bill de Blasio might support the idea. Non-citizen voting is also being debated internationally, such as in Toronto, Vancouver, and in various European countries.
There are both theoretical and practical reasons for expanding voting rights to non-citizens. As Professor Jamie Raskin explained in a law review article, “the disenfranchisement of aliens at the local level is vulnerable to deep theoretical objections since resident aliens — who are governed, taxed, and often drafted just like citizens — have a strong democratic claim to being considered members, indeed citizens, of their local communities.” Moreover, local residents – whether they are citizens or not – care about, and should have a say in, local affairs. Allowing them to vote facilitates greater participation in the community, which will encourage these voters to become citizens.
Of course, there may be good policy reasons not to expand suffrage to non-citizens, such as that voting is one of the key rights of citizenship, and that expanding the franchise for only certain elections is a logistical nightmare with separate ballots for federal, state, and local offices.
The point here is not to comment upon the merits of those policy questions -- although they have even greater salience these days given our current debates on immigration. Instead, what is key is that this discussion is occurring at the local level. Municipal laws have driven the debate over expanding the franchise. The voting rights community should take notice. If we want better protection for the right to vote, then we need to shift our focus to look at municipal laws.
Seeking the truth
Later this term, SCOTUS will decide Bank Markazi v. Peterson, which involves a challenge under United States v. Klein to a law applicable to an action seeking to attach Iranian assets to satisfy a default judgment for victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism. I was contacted by both sides of the case about being involved in a scholars' amicus, obviously because both sides believed that my previous work on Klein supported their position. I hope that means I really was looking for the truth.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Scalia (sort of) gets it, the media (still) doesn't
According to this story, Justice Scalia gave (an unrecorded) talk at Princeton. Robert George, a Princeton faculty member and a leading opponent of marriage equality, claims that Scalia "declared that though Supreme Court rulings should generally be obeyed, officials had no Constitutional obligation to treat as binding beyond the parties to a case rulings that lack a warrant in the text or original understanding of the Constitution." Needless to say, that caused the reporter from Think Progress, Ian Millhiser, to lose his mind, as well as to question the accuracy of George's recollections.
A few thoughts after the jump.
First, why did Scalia limit it only to those rulings that are not sufficiently textual or originalist--that is, rulings with which Scalia likely agrees? The departmentalist question should not turn on the "correctness" (methodological or substantive) of the decision. If political-branch officials possess authority to independently interpret the Constitution in the face of conflicting judicial rulings and to act on their own constitutional understandings, that authority applies to all constitutional decisions. If Scalia is serious, limiting it only to sufficiently originalist decisions makes no sense and undermines the accurate procedural point in service of a textualist/originalist hobby horse.
Second, Millhiser attempts to explain the procedure in the final three paragraphs, but he gets it completely wrong. His two biggest mistakes were suggesting that 1) this reduces the Court to an advisory body and 2) enforcement through future litigation is merely "conceivable." The whole point is that future litigation guarantees enforcement because, unlike executive officials, lower courts are bound by the Court's judgments; so when lower courts apply precedent to new parties in a new judgment, that new judgment is binding on those officials. He is correct that this is complex and potentially expensive. But that is inherent in the nature of the judicial power, under which a judgment in one case is generally limited to determining the rights and obligations of the parties to that case And the costs is mitigated (somewhat) by the availability of attorney's fees. Unfortunately, Millhiser does not mention (or grasp) either point.
Finally, Millhiser allows that Scalia's approach could be correct with respect to "decisions like Dred Scott or the anti-government decisions resisted by Roosevelt — decisions that are now widely viewed as evil," but not to "a decision that allows Americans to marry the person that they love." Nothing like neutral procedure applied neutrally.
"It sounds so simple I just got to go"
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking before the Mexican Electoral Tribunal in Mexico City at a conference titled "Two Paths in the Law of Democracy." The conference was sponsored by the Mexican Electoral Tribunal and the University of Texas. The U.S. delegation consisted of five American scholars who study election law and politics, and we presented on various aspects of election law to the researchers, staff, and judges of the Tribunal. It was a fascinating experience and I learned a lot.
Mexico, as a young democracy, is trying to learn best practices for running free and fair elections. Yet there is so much that we can learn from the Mexican experience as well -- both procedurally and substantively.
For example, as the very existence of the Tribunal demonstrates, Mexico has a federal agency that is charged with administering elections. This Tribunal also includes a court that decides all election disputes. Although we, too, have two federal agencies that focus on elections -- the Federal Election Commission and the Electoral Assistance Commission -- neither are very effective, especially because they often deadlock along partisan lines on most important issues. In addition, our regular courts hear election law controversies, and we all know how well that has gone. Mexico has figured out a way to, at least initially, avoid this partisan deadlock, and its Tribunal and court are well-respected and effective at administering elections in a way that people perceive as generally independent. Perhaps this is because the members of the Tribunal are non-political and because of the strong research and education focus of its activities.
Substantively, Mexico has figured out some things that we are still struggling to solve. For instance, partisan gerrymandering is not allowed in Mexican redistricting, which is conducted by the independent Tribunal. (That said, there are still questions about whether Mexico has sacrificed transparency in the process and whether politics still infiltrates the resulting maps.) Similarly, there seem to be fewer Election Day mistakes at the polls in Mexico, perhaps due to the robust educational and training programs the Tribunal puts on throughout the country.
Just traveling to Mexico City was a learning experience itself. It is a fascinating place with beautiful museums, amazing tacos, and extremely nice people. The researchers at the Tribunal are among the most respected people at the agency. There is a true commitment to understanding American election law to discern best practices for their own system. And our hosts showed us genuine sincerity, respect, deference, and collegiality.
This experience demonstrates the importance of looking beyond our borders to improve our own laws and legal structures. Although we often espouse American exceptionalism, we also deal with the same kinds of issues and share the same kinds of struggles as places all over the world. We can learn a lot from other countries, especially newer democracies where the rules are not as entrenched. The Mexican Electoral Tribunal invited the American scholars so it could learn how we do things in an effort to improve its own processes, but of course with any exchange like this, we learned as much, if not more, from them. This further suggests that we should not shy away from looking to international norms when evaluating our own rules and laws--whether in legislative debates or judicial decisions.
Monday, November 16, 2015
How an Obscure SCOTUS Procedure Can Solve AEDPA's Retroactivity Catch-22 (and a Growing Circuit Split)
Thanks to Montgomery v. Louisiana, the retroactivity of new Supreme Court decisions is already an important part of the Court's current Term. But as I explain in the post that follows, a new application pending before the Justices, In re Butler, raises a far more important retroactivity question, one that is already the subject of a 5-3 (and growing) circuit split, one that has an ever-shortening clock, and, most significantly, one that may only be definitively answerable if the Court does something it hasn't done in 90 years--issue an "original" writ of habeas corpus.
To unpack this dense but significant topic, Part I flags the origins of the problem--the restrictions on second-or-successive applications for post-conviction relief in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and the Supreme Court's fractured 2001 interpretation of those provisions in Tyler v. Cain. Part II turns to the current circuit split, which involves whether the Court's June decision in Johnson v. United States, which invalidated a provision of the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA), can be retroactively enforced in second-or-successive petitions. Part III explains why that circuit split can't be resolved by the Supreme Court via certiorari--and why, instead, the best way for the Court to take up the Johnson question is through an "original" writ of habeas corpus in a case like Butler. Finally, Part IV argues that the Court should use Butler not just to answer the Johnson question, but also to resolve the debate over Tyler, lest this exact same scenario repeat itself after the next Johnson-like ruling.
I. AEDPA and Tyler v. Cain
Of all of AEDPA's restrictions on post-conviction relief, perhaps none are more sweeping than the limits on "second-or-successive" petitions filed in federal courts by state or federal prisoners. As relevant here, AEDPA requires petitioners in such cases to first get permission to file such a claim from the Court of Appeals, which may only "certify" the claim if, as relevant here, it relies upon "a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable."
In other words, unless the claim is based upon newly discovered evidence, second-or-successive petitions can only go forward when they rest upon new Supreme Court decisions that, under Teague v. Lane, may be enforced retroactively. (Under Teague, new "substantive" rules may be retroactively enforced, whereas new "procedural" rules may not, unless they are "watershed" rules of criminal procedure). That part is clear (or, at least, well understood). What's less clear is the meaning of the word "made" in the emphasized language above: Must the Supreme Court expressly state that the particular new rule in question is retroactive, or is it enough that the retroactivity of the rule obviously follows from--and is effectively settled by--other existing Supreme Court retroactivity precedents?
In Tyler v. Cain, the Justices considered this very question, and ruled, 5-4, that "a new rule is not 'made retroactive to cases on collateral review' unless the Supreme Court holds it to be retroactive." But Justice O'Connor, whose vote was necessary to the result, opened the door to a slightly broader interpretation in her concurrence. As she wrote,
a single case that expressly holds a rule to be retroactive is not a sine qua non for the satisfaction of this statutory provision. This Court instead may “ma[k]e” a new rule retroactive through multiple holdings that logically dictate the retroactivity of the new rule. . . . [I]f we hold in Case One that a particular type of rule applies retroactively to cases on collateral review and hold in Case Two that a given rule is of that particular type, then it necessarily follows that the given rule applies retroactively to cases on collateral review. In such circumstances, we can be said to have “made” the given rule retroactive to cases on collateral review.
In the 14 years since Tyler, the lower courts have generally followed Justice O'Connor's concurrence, rather than Justice Thomas's majority opinion. The debate, instead, has focused on whether particular rulings qualify as a "Case Two." The latest battleground on this question involves the Court's June decision in Johnson.
II. Johnson and the Circuit Split
In Johnson, as noted above, an 8-1 Court struck down the so-called "residual clause" of the ACCA on the ground that it is impermissibly vague. As a result, not only are sentences based upon the residual clause no longer valid, but individuals who have already served what would otherwise be the statutory maximum (10 years) are presumably entitled to release, since there is no longer any positive authority for their continuing incarceration. Although there's therefore little question that Johnson falls on the "substantive" side of the Teague line, there's also nothing in Justice Scalia's opinion for the Court that says as much--and that therefore clarifies, per Justice O'Connor's Tyler concurrence, that Johnson's new rule is "of that particular type." In other words, Johnson may or may not be a "Case Two," depending upon whether the Court has to expressly say that it's a substantive rule, or whether it's enough that, based upon prior decisions, it's clear that its rule is substantive.
That's the issue on which lower courts have divided. As of this writing, five circuits (the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth) have authorized second-or-successive claims based upon Johnson, with the First, and Seventh providing detailed opinions explaining that, in their view, it's sufficiently clear from existing Supreme Court precedent that Johnson's rule is substantive, and is therefore an example of Justice O'Connor's "Case Two." Three circuits (the Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh--over a dissent) have held to the contrary--reading Justice O'Connor's concurrence to require some explicit recognition by the Court that a new rule is "of that particular type," i.e., substantive for purposes of retroactive enforcement.
This circuit split is deeply problematic in two respects: First, it creates massive inequities as between federal prisoners convicted under ACCA's residual clause in the five circuits that have allowed second-or-successive Johnson claims and the three that haven't--with those in the latter category now in prison pursuant to convictions that, at the very least, should trigger resentencing, if not (for those who have served 10 years) outright release. Second, because AEPDA imposes a rigid one-year statute of limitations on second-or-successive claims, those serving potentially unlawful sentences have a closing window within which to obtain relief based upon Johnson. Under AEDPA, such claims must be filed by June 26, 2016--the one-year anniversary of Johnson itself. Thus, the circuit split needs to be resolved by the end of this Supreme Court Term--if not sooner.
Usually, of course, there's an easy way to resolve a circuit split like this one; the Court just grants certiorari to review one (or more) of the circuit-level decisions. Here, however, that's not possible: AEDPA itself takes away the Court's certiorari jurisdiction in cases in which the Court of Appeals denies certification (which insulates the Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuit decisions from review), and the party that lost in the other five circuits that granted certificates--the federal government--hasn't sought certiorari, ostensibly because it agrees that Johnson can be enforced retroactively in second-or-successive cases.
Thus, AEDPA, Tyler, Johnson, and the government's litigating position have produced something of a perfect storm--where there's a major circuit split, and no immediately obvious way for the Supreme Court to resolve it. Enter In re Butler, a petition for an "original" writ of habeas corpus from the Supreme Court.
III. The Supreme Court's "Original" Habeas Jurisdiction
There are few topics in Federal Courts in which there's a bigger disconnect between academic interest and real-world significance than the Supreme Court's so-called "original" habeas jurisdiction -- "'original' in the sense of being filed in the first instance in [the Supreme] Court, but nonetheless for constitutional purposes an exercise of [the] Court's appellate (rather than original) jurisdiction." Ever since Ex parte McCardle, the Court has alluded to "original" habeas writs as a crucial constitutional backstop -- "an unorthodox but sometimes necessary means of exercising review in situations where other avenues for relief are either practically or formally unavailable." Thus, the theoretical availability of original habeas has allowed the Court to sidestep the grave constitutional questions that would otherwise have arisen from various efforts to strip the Court's appellate jurisdiction in habeas cases, including in McCardle itself, and, more recently, Felker v. Turpin.
In Felker itself, the Court was also dealing with AEDPA's limits on its certiorari jurisdiction over second-or-successive petitions, and had no trouble recognizing its power to issue "original" writs of habeas corpus, which AEDPA left untouched, as an available remedy in appropriate cases--and one that obviated constitutional objections to AEDPA under the Exceptions Clause of Article III. As Justice Souter warned in his concurrence, though, "if it should later turn out that statutory avenues other than certiorari for reviewing a gatekeeping determination were closed, the question whether the statute exceeded Congress's Exceptions Clause power would be open." And, in an eerily prescient coda, he added, "The question could arise if the courts of appeals adopted divergent interpretations of the gatekeeper standard," i.e., exactly what has happened after Johnson.
Justice Souter's warning has proven prophetic; although the Court has received a number of serious, significant original habeas applications in the 19 years since Felker, it has yet to grant a single one, even in a 1999 retroactivity case in which the federal government agreed that original habeas was warranted on remarkably similar facts [the issue in that case was eventually resolved--against retroactivity--in Tyler]. Some of these petitions have come in high-profile capital cases, such as those of Troy Davis and Warren Lee Hill, where original habeas was the only way to prevent potentially unconstitutional executions. But whereas those cases may present more emotionally stirring narratives, the Johnson retroactivity issue is, in some ways, a cleaner vehicle for an original writ, since (1) the question before the Court isn't a "merits" question, but a simple retroactivivty question; and (2) the relevant statutes specifically contemplate that the Supreme Court, and not the lower courts (or state courts), will provide the definitive answer to that question. At the very least, if the Court wasn't going to grant in cases like Davis and Hill, and if it's not going to use original habeas to resolve disputes like the Johnson retroactivity issue, then original habeas really is a historical relic--and the constitutional questions Justice Souter worried about might finally have to be confronted.
IV. Using Original Habeas to Solve the Problem
If you're still reading, hopefully I've convinced you by now that the Court should grant an original writ of habeas corpus to resolve the Johnson retroactivity issue (or, at the very least, should set the matter for full briefing and argument). There's at least one other pending original application raising the same question, but what makes Butler so attractive is the sentencing issue--because he has already served 10 years, he's entitled to outright release if Johnson is enforceable through a second-or-successive petition, meaning that the Court could simply grant habeas relief and be done. But should the Court do more than just grant the writ? Briefly, let me sketch out two further steps the Court can take--and then explain why, in my view, one is clearly better than the other:
A. Hold that Johnson is Retroactive
Beyond simply granting the writ in Butler's case (which would leave other cases unsettled), the easiest way out, which would take about a paragraph, would be to expressly hold that Johnson is a "substantive" rule under Teague, and to therefore "ma[k]e" it retroactively enforceable in second-or-successive petitions under AEDPA. Such a ruling would then allow prisoners in the Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits to obtain relief--including resentencing and, in cases like Butler, outright release. That wouldn't resolve the circuit split; it would simply moot it, since there would no longer be any question over whether the Supreme Court had "made" Johnson retroactive.
B. Resolve the Circuit Split Over the Meaning of Tyler
The shortcoming of that approach is that, while it would moot the circuit split over Johnson, it wouldn't resolve the cause of the circuit split--i.e., lingering disagreement over the meaning of Justice O'Connor's Tyler concurrence. Thus, to avoid this exact scenario from arising again, the Court could use an original writ in a case like Butler to clarify who has the better of Tyler--the circuits that interpret it liberally to allow retroactive enforcement whenever it is sufficiently clear that a new rule is substantive, or the circuits that interpret it narrowly to require the Supreme Court to specifically say that a new rule is substantive. I have my own views on how the Justices should answer that question (both on the merits and to spare them from having to take pointless follow-on cases after each new rule is announced). But however this question is resolved, it should be clear that settling it in the context of Johnson will have a salutary effect for future litigation.
* * *
In a paper I wrote in 2011, I argued that there's actually a value in preserving the obscurity of the Supreme Court's original habeas jurisdiction--and that, if original writs became common, they'd lose their utility as a safety valve, since Congress would presumably also think to take away that authority as part of future jurisdiction-stripping initiatives. But there's a difference between elusive remedies and illusory ones. For two decades, we have labored under the fiction that AEDPA's gatekeeper provisions don't raise serious constitutional problems entirely because of this safety valve. If, as a result of disuse, it turns out that the safety valve is sealed shut, then we can no longer dodge those constitutional questions. Thus, although we may be in the midst of a perfect storm for retroactivity, a case like Butler may actually be the perfect vehicle for the Justices to remind themselves about their original habeas authority--and, in the process, to issue an opinion that dramatically reduces the need for such relief in future retroactivity cases.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
A monkey, an animal rights organization and a primatologist walk into a federal court
Thus begins the argument section of the motion to dismiss in the copyright infringement lawsuit filed on behalf of a crested macaque whose "selfies" (the macaque pressed the shutter of a camera he pulled away from a photographer) were published by the camera owner. The motion argues both lack of standing and failure to state a claim, both based on the argument that copyright protections do not extend to non-human animals. As I argued in my prior post, I believe that under Lexmark the proper basis for dismissing is failure to state a claim.
I confess that, while I typically don't like this type of jokey writing move, it somehow works here.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Multiplying Loaves and Fishes: Why Congressional Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship May Plunge Us into Economic Depression and How President Obama Can Save Us from Going Back to the Breadlines
The following post is by Jessica Berch and Chad DeVeaux (both of Concordia). They will be guest-blogging in December. But the timing of the new debt-ceiling debate made an early post appropriate.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus multiplied “five loaves and two fishes,” providing a bounty sufficient to feed 5,000 hungry souls. Apparently, House Republicans expect President Obama to perform a similar miracle. On November 3, the Treasury will exhaust its funds. If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by that date, authorizing the Government to borrow money, the nation may face an unprecedented economic cataclysm.
As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait has observed, only “the most ideologically hardened or borderline sociopath” would “weaponize the debt ceiling”; to do so, one “must be willing to inflict harm on millions of innocent people.” Bloomberg Business explained that a federal default would be orders of magnitude worse than the Great Recession of 2008: “The $12 trillion of outstanding Government debt is 23 times the $517 billion Lehman owed when it filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008.”
Following up on earlier work, The Fourth Zone of Presidential Power, (Conn. L. Rev.), we are writing an article entitled Once More unto the (Fiscal) Breach, addressing the president’s options in this latest crisis.
Federal statutes command the president to implement a myriad of programs and projects. Other laws instruct him to obtain the revenue necessary to subsidize these endeavors by collecting taxes and borrowing funds. The debt-ceiling statute caps the amount of money the Government can borrow at any particular time. Based on the level of revenue the Government is permitted to collect through taxation, basic arithmetic dictates that the president will need to borrow funds exceeding the debt limit to comply with Congress’s appropriation mandates.
If Congress does not raise the debt-ceiling by November 3, the president will face a no-win scenario that Professors Neil Buchanan and Michael Dorf have coined the “trilemma.” He will be forced to choose among three options. He may: (1) ignore the appropriations statutes and cancel spending programs; (2) employ the so-called “nuclear option”—disregard the debt ceiling and borrow sufficient funds to pay for Congress’s appropriations; or (3) unilaterally raise tax rates to produce sufficient revenue to fund Congress’s appropriations. Each of these choices violates an express statutory command.
And each of these choices is also implicitly authorized by the other commands. The power “to execute” a law “impl[ies] many subordinate and auxiliary powers,” including “all authorities essential to its due exercise.” Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 591 (2006).
Professors Buchanan and Dorf argue that any choice the president makes will violate the Constitution “because he will have failed to execute at least one duly enacted law of the United States.” As Professor Buchanan recently noted, “He has nothing but unconstitutional choices.”
The true test of the president’s options in the trilemma lies within the labyrinth of Justice Jackson’s seminal opinion in the Youngstown Steel Seizure Case. As the Supreme Court reaffirmed last June, “in considering claims of Presidential power this Court refers to Justice Jackson’s familiar tripartite framework . . . .” Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2083 (2015). Evaluation of the president’s options in the impending standoff constitutes a paradigmatic question of the scope of presidential power.
In Youngstown, Justice Jackson asserted that “presidential powers are not fixed but fluctuate, depending upon their disjunction or conjunction with those of Congress.” He offered his famous three-zone template to evaluate the scope of executive power.
In the first zone, “the president acts pursuant to . . . express or implied” congressional authorization. Endowed with such legislative approval, the president’s power “is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.” In the second zone, “the president acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority.” In this “zone of twilight,” Congress and the president possess authority that is either “concurrent” or “its distribution is uncertain.” Zone three involves situations where “the president takes measures incompatible with the express or implied will of Congress.” Here, “his power is at its lowest ebb, for . . . he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”
At first blush, each of the president’s three options appears to fall into the third zone of Justice Jackson’s taxonomy. Short of multiplying loaves and fishes, every conceivable alternative—unilaterally cancelling federal programs, increasing taxation, or borrowing more money—stands in direct conflict with an express congressional command. Article I bestows the powers to “tax,” “spend,” and “borrow” exclusively upon Congress. Thus, such authority is far removed from those plenary powers that the president may wield irrespective of congressional will.
Professor Lawrence Tribe echoed this reasoning, noting that “the president’s power drops . . . to its ‘lowest ebb’ when exercised against the express will of Congress.” So, “if the president could usurp the congressional power to borrow, what would stop him from taking over all [of Congress’s] other powers, as well?”
Again, we disagree. On closer examination, the standoffs do not fit within any of the zones identified by Justice Jackson.
Professors Tribe, Buchanan, and Dorf analyze each of the president’s options and Congress’s corresponding legislative commands in isolation. But this view ignores the more nuanced conception of presidential power implicit in Justice Jackson’s framework. As Jackson observed, “the actual art of governing under our Constitution does not and cannot conform to judicial definitions of the power of any of its branches based on isolated clauses or even single Articles torn from context.” For this reason, the Court unanimously recognized in Dames & Moore v. Regan, that in applying Youngstown’s principles, when multiple statutes bear upon the president’s powers, the scope of his authority cannot be gleaned by looking at any single law in isolation, but from careful consideration of “the general tenor” of all of Congress’s commands viewed collectively.
Justice Jackson’s three zones contemplate coherent legislative action falling within “a spectrum running from explicit congressional authorization to explicit congressional prohibition.” Congress may sanction presidential action, it may be silent on the subject, or it may prohibit it. Congressional acts in conformity with any of these three coherent choices will affect the president’s powers accordingly. But in the impending trilemma, Congress’s acts—viewed collectively—present the president with a paradox. Congress has directed the president to take specified action and simultaneously forbade him from taking that very same action. Such contradictory legislative instructions cannot find a home anywhere within Youngstown’s existing taxonomy. As such, the present standoff requires the expansion of Youngstown’s spectrum to accommodate a previously uncontemplated fourth zone of presidential power.
So what principles should apply in this new fourth zone of power?
Dames & Moore recognized that congressional action “evinc[ing] legislative intent to accord the president broad discretion may be considered to ‘invite’ ‘measures on independent presidential responsibility.’” In cases falling within the traditional three-zone scheme, such legislative conduct is only considered “pertinent when the president’s action falls within the second [zone]—that is, when he ‘acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority.’” Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491, 528 (2008). This is so because when Congress commands the president to undertake (or refrain from undertaking) a particular action, the Constitution normally affords him no discretion. He “must confine himself to his executive duties—to obey and execute, not make the laws.”
But when Congress gives the president contradictory commands, the president cannot simply “obey and execute” Congress’s instructions; obeying one command necessarily requires disobeying another. For this reason, zone two’s invitation principle should be applied in the fourth zone of the Youngstown scheme. Contradictory legislative instructions, by their nature, implicitly “accord the president broad discretion.”
The president’s plenary power “to execute” a law promulgated by Congress “impl[ies] many subordinate and auxiliary powers,” including “all authorities essential to its due exercise.” And “it is a flawed and unreasonable construction” to read the Acts of Congress “in a manner that demands the impossible.” Thus, when Congress commands the president to complete a particular task but expressly denies him those powers “essential to its due exercise,” the only way to construe these conflicting legislative instructions in a manner that does not “demand the impossible” is to infer a congressional intent to “accord the president broad discretion”—to entrust him to make tradeoffs to best accommodate the conflicting mandates.
In the trilemma, the interaction between the debt-ceiling statute and the relevant taxing and spending laws render compliance with all three statutory mandates impossible. Congress commanded the president to complete a task—implement specified programs—but denied him the “authorities essential to its due exercise”—the power to acquire sufficient revenue to pay for the mandated expenditures.
Because statutes are not interpreted “in a manner that demands the impossible,” “the general tenor” of Congress’s commands, read collectively, inherently “‘invite’ ‘measures on independent presidential responsibility.’”
Since the president cannot fully comply with all of Congress’s commands, the statutory impasse invests the president with discretion to implement any of the three options addressed above. He may cancel federal programs to reduce spending, direct the Treasury to borrow funds in excess of the debt ceiling, or even order modest tax increases to satisfy the Government’s fiscal obligations. But he should not stand idly by and allow Congress to plunge us into a Global Economic Depression.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Is It Unconstitutional to Apply Erie to D.C. Law?
Last December, I wrote a post about the strangeness that arises from the applicability of Erie (pursuant to which federal courts in diversity cases apply the state substantive law dictated by the choice-of-law rules in the state in which they sit) to the District of Columbia. Although it's strange to apply Erie in the federal territories at all, it's especially strange in D.C., which is the only one of the six federal territories in which the court receiving deference under Erie was created (and is controlled) by Congress, as opposed to the territorial legislature. Thus, as my post last December noted, when they follow Erie, the Article III D.C. district court and D.C. Circuit are necessarily deferring to an Article I court's interpretation of federal law (to wit, the D.C. Code). And although this result is not remotely compelled by the Rules of Decision Act, the (Article III) D.C. courts have nevertheless chosen to adopt it for purposes of convenience and litigation efficiency, if nothing else.
The more I think about this issue, the more I wonder if this approach isn't just "strange," but also one that raises constitutional concerns. After all, it's well settled that Congress may not give non-Article III actors (whether non-Article III judges or Article I or Article II entities) supervisory authority over Article III courts, but the application of Erie to D.C. at least theoretically gives the D.C. Court of Appeals a supervisory power over some federal law within the District vis-a-vis their Article III brethren, even if it lacks authority over the latter's decisions. Thus, could Congress really compel a lower Article III court to follow an Article I court's interpretation of federal law (whether in general or as limited to the "local" federal law of D.C.)? This surely goes much further than Chevron, since, among other things, there's no room under Erie to set aside the Article I court's unreasonable interpretations of ambiguous "local" law...
But even if you don't find that argument compelling, what if the Supreme Court were ever presented with a question of D.C. local law? Wouldn't there be a serious problem under Article III with following Erie in such a case, given that the Supreme Court would, insofar as it applied Erie to the District of Columbia, necessarily be deferring to an inferior Article I federal court on a question of federal law (as compared to deferring to an independent state supreme court on a question of state law)? Although I'm somewhat ambivalent about the constitutional problem with applying Erie in the Article III D.C. lower courts, the constitutional problem with applying it in the Supreme Court seems manifest.
To be sure, an obvious rejoinder is that, unlike the D.C. district court and D.C. Circuit, the Supreme Court has never chosen to follow Erie in such a case, and so the constitutional question hasn't arisen. And in an appropriate future case, the Supreme Court could certainly choose not to follow Erie then, too. So if the constitutional problem only arises at the Supreme Court level (and again, I'm still not sure it's that limited), it can easily be avoided by the Justices if and when it presents itself.
But insofar as a refusal on the part of the Supreme Court to be bound by D.C. law as interpreted by the D.C. Court of Appeals would solve the constitutional problem, it seems to me that it also undermines the pragmatic justification the Article III D.C. lower courts have advanced for adopting Erie, since it suggests that, in fact, there will be cases in which the Article III courts will be constitutionally bound to reach an independent interpretation as to the meaning of D.C. law--and that those cases will come through the very courts voluntarily choosing to defer.
The rival of my rival is . . .
This defies words. (H/T: Josh Blackman). Westboro Baptist yesterday picketed outside the Rowan County Clerk's Office in a protest of Kim Davis, for her sins of being divorced and of failing to obey her oath to follow the law. Apparently "all sin" is "awful," so adultery, same-sex marriage, and oath-breaking all stand on the same footing.* I wonder what LGBTQ groups are thinking right about now.
* Never mind that Davis does not violate her oath by not following SCOTUS precedent--I do not expect the Westboro folks to understand the precedent/judgment distinction).
Monday, October 19, 2015
Merits and mootness
In my writing here and elsewhere, I have argued that much of what is labeled as subject-matter jurisdiction, sovereign immunity, and standing are all better understood as being about the merits of a claim rather than Article III adjudicative thresholds. (I discuss standing in a forthcoming essay on next month's arguments in Spokeo v. Robins). And ripeness has somewhat been absorbed into standing. But that I thought the one threshold that might survive and make jurisdictional sense was mootness.
The issue is whether a case becomes moot when a defendant makes an offer of judgment that gives the plaintiff everything he asked for in the lawsuit and how that affects his status as representative plaintiff of a still-to-be-certified class. Counsel for Gomez and for the U.S.in support of Gomez both framed their arguments in the difference between a court entering (or even forcing) a final-and-enforceable judgment based on the parties' agreement and a court dismissing an action for want of jurisdiction as moot. The former gives the plaintiff the judicial relief he requested when he filed the lawsuit, just as if the court had decided the merits.
Counsel for the U.S. described the practice of district courts (which I recall following as a clerk): Upon notification of a settlement, the court would enter a consent decree (in a prospective case) or dismiss a damages claim while retaining jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement. No one ever thought to describe this as mootness. Both attorneys explained why what the Justices were talking about in Article III terms as an absence of adversariness could easily (and in some cases, more properly) be recharacterized in merits terms, as the end of a present dispute that gave the defendant an affirmative defense and justified the entry of judgment. When the plaintiff has received everything he asks for, the defendant has a defense against any finding of liability, since the injury (which exists) has been remedied.
This is an unusual case in which to discuss mootness, since the plaintiff was primarily seeking retrospective relief for past harm. Mootness generaly occurs where an ongoing real-world injury has somehow ceased. With retrospective relief, however, the injury already has occurred and the judicial remedy sought is merely compensation for an already-completed injury; it does not cause the injury to cease.
But even with prospective relief, the merits characterization makes more sense. Take, for example, a constitutional challenge to a repealed statute. The plaintiff's rights are no longer being violated and he no longer is being injured by the defendant's conduct, since there is no longer a threat of enforcement. But it makes more sense to say the defendant wins on the merits because the plaintiff's rights are no longer being violated and the defendant is no longer subject to liability, just as it makes more sense (under the Fletcher model) to say the defendant wins on the merits because it cannot be liable when the plaintiff's rights were never violated in the first place.
I have to give this some more thought, especially once the Court decides the case.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Kevin Walsh has coined the term to perfectly capture the precedent/judgment/departmentalism distinction I have been drawing and that Josh Blackman and I make: "Judicial Departmentalism." (H/T: Rick, in a comment to my prior post). The idea is that SCOTUS precedent and vertical stare decisis control what happens within the judiciary.* But they do not control the actions of anyone outside the judiciary, particularly officials in the other branches of government, who remain free to act on their own constitutional understandings in terms of the legislation they propose, the way they enforce laws, etc. At bottom, Kevin argues, the American Principles Project is rejecting judicial supremacy in favor of judicial departmentalism.
* The APP statement acknowledges the supremacy of the Supreme Court over the federal judiciary, although does not mention state judiciaries. I default to James Pfander's argument that a state court deciding a federal issue is a "Tribunal inferior to the Supreme Court," thus part of the federal judiciary and bound by vertical stare decisis to the same extent as a federal district court.
Of course, judicial departmentalism inevitably morphs into judicial supremacy, because the actions of public officials contrary to binding SCOTUS precedent will eventually find their way into court, where vertical stare decision and judicial departmentalism will compel the court to issue a judgment compelling the officer to abide by the precedent. And the executive cannot act contrary to a judgment directed at him--stated differently, the specific judgment pulls the officer into the judicial department. Moreover, a number of rules that the judiciary applies functionally enforce, or at least incentivize, judiciary supremacy: 1) FRCP 11 requires lawyers and parties to bring cases that are supported by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for overturning that law, meaning law as established by SCOTUS; 2) qualified immunity is lost and damages possible against a public official who disregards SCOTUS precedent; and 3) the knowledge that an official will certainly be enjoined by a court applying SCOTUS precedent may cause the official to fall in line. [Ed: I guess I should add state Rules of Professional Responsibility, although I know less about these; based on comments to my earlier post, it sounds as if they limit lawyers' freedom to advise their government clients not to feel tied to judicial supremacy]
But the fact that we (likely, if not certainly) reach the same result at the end of the does not mean there are not multiple steps involved, that everyone is bound everywhere by what SCOTUS says about the Constitution, or that our system is, in fact, one of judicial supremacy.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Lawyerly obligations, precedent, and judgments
A group of conservative academics, under the name "American Principles Project," has issued a statement calling for constitutional resistance to Obergefell and calling on presidential candidates to refuse to treat it as binding precedent. The statement essentially relies on a comparison between Obergefell and Dred Scott--that is, between a decision allowing same-sex couples to enjoy the same benefits and protections as any other couple and a decision categorically denying rights to a group of people based on their race.
I have not blogged about this before, finding both the rhetoric in the statement and the rhetoric of the responses absurdly over-the-top (even while agreeing with the basic idea that public officials can act contrary to Obergefell if believing it wrong). But Lyle Denniston has this post at the National Constitution Center Blog arguing that lawyers who sign and follow the call are acting contrary to their ethical/professional-responsibility obligations. In particular, Denniston insists that a lawyer fails to show "respect" for precedent in arguing that it should not be treated as binding or controlling in similar cases. He also points to Kim Davis as an example of what happens when a public official refuses to treat a decision as binding.The point about ethical obligations cannot be right. Denniston analogizes to a Michigan lawyer disciplined for calling a panel of judges "Nazis" and "jackasses." Accepting that decision as consistent with the First Amendment, a personal attack on judges is a far cry from the sorts of legal arguments and positions lawyers can take on matters of public concern, including the state of the law and what the state of the law should be. It also cannot be that a lawyer can be sanctioned for arguing that a court disregard or overturn even binding precedent. Arguing that Obergefell is wrong, even egregiously, abuse-of-power wrong, is not the same as personally attacking the judge.
The reference to Davis at the end of the post is even more off-base, as it again misunderstands the meaning of precedent and the difference between judgments and precedents. Davis was not held in contempt for arguing that Obergefell was not or should not be binding precedent. She was held in contempt for ignoring a court order, aimed directly at her in a case to which she was a party, that applied Obergefell. But prior to the entry of that order, she did nothing that would subject her to contempt. And one cannot be in contempt of precedent. Denniston is right that "it is now accepted, very widely if not universally, that a Supreme Court decision . . . dictates the outcome when the same issue arises in a new case." But that still requires a new case in which the precedent dictates the outcome. And until that new case comes along, no one is in contempt. And no lawyer who signs the form or advocates resistance to Obergefell, in or out of court, can possibly be subject to professional sanction.
The first episode of C-SPAN's Landmark Cases covered Marbury. It was an interesting program, mostly a discussion between Akhil Amar and attorney Cliff Sloan, who has written a book on the case. The discussion tells the full historical and political context of the case.
I was struck by a few things. And as to all, I recognize that this program is not pitched at lawyers and law students. But if the purpose is to elevate the conversation, perhaps some better editing was in order.
First, in interview excerpts, both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg entirely conflate judicial review and judicial supremacy, stating that Marbury recognized that the Court can review constitutionality and its word on that is final. The second does not follow from the first, of course. Amar pushed back; while insisting that he is not a Kim Davis supporter,* he pointed to Andrew Jackson vetoing the bank and Jefferson pardoning those convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts. How do those who espouse judicial supremacy explain those actions? It seems to me there are only two possibilities: 1) Both presidents acted unconstitutionally (because inconsistent with the Court's interpretation), but in a way not subject to judicial review or 2) Both presidents acted constitutionally, in which case the Court does not have the final say on constitutional meaning. I presume both Roberts and Ginsburg know this and were using shorthand for a lay audience.
* As I have argued, Davis only begins as a story about shared constitutional interpretation, but ends as being about the finality and exclusivity of judgments.
Second, there is an interview excerpt with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who says the problem is that there is often too much judicial review. He then complains about two situations: 1) the Court using judicial review to make up the Constitution where there is nothing to be found and 2) the Court refusing to recognize in the Constitution what "most people" know is there. For those of you scoring at home, # 1 is Roe, # 2 is NFIB. But the good or bad of judicial review should not be about decisions you happen to think are wrong. Again, I know I should not expect more from a member of Congress.
Third, even crazy people listen and try to call into C-SPAN. One of the callers started rambling about two religions that want to impose their law on everyone else: "the Jewish law and the Sharia law." To the caller's credit, when the host asked what this had to do with Marbury, the caller said "nothing."
Thursday, October 08, 2015
It's going to get pricey
Michigan has agreed to pay $1.9 million in attorneys fees to the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the state's same-sex marriage ban. That is in the same ballpark as Wisconsin paying $ 1.055 million in fees (that case only went to the court of appeals, not to SCOTUS).
Kim Davis must know that her stunt is going to get very expensive very quickly.
Saturday, October 03, 2015
"Landmark Cases" on C-SPAN
C-SPAN has produced (in conjunction with the National Constitution Center) a new weekly series called Landmark Cases. (H/T: Faculty Lounge). The series premieres tomorrow evening with Marbury and concludes on December 21 with Roe. In between, the series hits on Dred Scot, Slaughterhouse, Lochner, Schenck, Korematsu, Youngstown Steel, Brown, Mapp, Baker v. Carr, and Miranda.
Apparently there have been no landmark cases since 1973. And the choice of Schenck over Abrams (where someone at least stood-up for the First Amendment claimant) or New York Times (where the First Amendment claimant prevailed) is an interesting one.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
U.S. v. Klein returns to SCOTUS
I spent the better part of two years a few years ago writing about United States v. Klein, including a number of posts here. The Court this morning granted cert. in Bank Markazi v. Peterson on whether Klein's separation-of-powers principle is violated by a statutory provision blocking certain Iranian-controlled assets for use in satisfying U.S. terrorism-related judgments against Iran.
Section 8772 of Title 22 provides that certain Iranian-controlled assets are subject to execution or attachment to satisfy money judgments against Iran "for personal injury or death caused by an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, or hostage-taking, or the provision of material support or resources." The assets described are specifically identified as the ones targeted in Peterson (which is mentioned by name) and which already had been restrained by the court in that case prior to enactment of the law. The statute requires that the court hold a hearing and determine whether Iran owns the assets, in whole or in part.
Bank Markazi argued below that the law violates the principle of Klein by improperly compelling the court to reach a preordained result--namely that Iran owns these assets. It emphasized that § (b) refers to the Peterson litigation by name and that the result of any judicial hearing is preordained, since Iran's interests in the assets was known and established before § 8772 was enacted. Nevertheless, the Second Circuit rejected the Klein argument, insisting that § 8772 changed applicable law for a pending case, but still required an independent judicial determination and application. Nor was it problematic that the law was drafted for a specific, identified litigation, something the Court had previously found did not equate with compelling an outcome. Section 8772 did not dictate an outcome; it only changed the law in a way likely to produce, through judicial application of the amended law, Congress' preferred outcome. But the likelihood of an outcome does not signal congressional dictation of an outcome; "[i]ndeed, it would be unusual for there to be more than one likely outcome when Congress changes the law for a pending case with a developed factual record."
Interestingly, the Second Circuit opinion contains some language that might have teed the case up for cert. In an act of understatement, the court acknowledged that the line between a valid change in law and an invalid legislative adjudication "is often difficult to draw." In fact, "there may be little functional difference between § 8772 and a hypothetical statute directing the courts to find that the assets at issue in this case are subject to attachment under existing law, which might raise more concerns." The court made clear that § 8772 did not cross the constitutional line because of the Court's guidance in Robertson.
So perhaps the Court is looking for a chance to reconsider Robertson and that line. Indeed, the ease with which courts can characterize just about any enactment as a change of law rather than a congressional compulsion is part of why Klein's "no dictating outcomes" principle carries so little force. This case might give the Court a chance to breathe some life into Klein.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Justice and fairness v. procedure
Judge Bunning declined to stay his order extending the injunction against Kim Davis to all eligible couples. (H/T: Marty Lederman). Bunning explained:
Had the Court declined to clarify that its ruling applied to all eligible couples seeking a marriage license in Rowan County, it would have effectively granted Plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief and left other eligible couples at the mercy of Davis’ “no marriage licenses” policy, which the Court found to be in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015). Such an approach would not only create piecemeal litigation, it would be inconsistent with basic principles of justice and fairness. Thus, when the need arose, the Court clarified that its ruling applied with equal force to all marriage license applicants in Rowan County, regardless of their involvement in this litigation. (emphasis added).
Perhaps he is right about justice and fairness. But he is flat wrong on the procedure. What Bunning describes as "piecemeal litigation" is simply "litigation," which adjudicates and resolves the obligations of parties, not the entire world. The way to avoid the feared piecemeal litigation is to certify the class, as the plaintiffs requested, a move Bunning continues to resist. Otherwise, new couples are free to file new suits or seek to join or intervene in the pending action. Short of that, Bunning lacks the power to broaden the injunction in this way. And this remains the one issue on which Davis might actually prevail.
Settlement in Tolan v. Cotton
Last year, SCOTUS summarily reversed a grant of summary judgment against a plaintiff in a § 1983 action, concluding that the district court had impermissibly resolved disputed facts in defining the factual context for purposes of qualified immunity. I wrote about the case, arguing that, through some procedural confusion, it might indicate a new scrutiny of this sort of sub silentio fact-finding on qualified immunity.
SCOTUS remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit to reconsider whether other, undisputed facts supported qualified immunity; the Fifth Circuit sent it back to the district court. In September, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the city and sent the individual claim to trial, commenting that SCOTUS would not "be satisfied if we didn’t take this case to trial." After one day of trial, the case settled for $ 110,000, a typical outcome for cases that do not go away on summary judgment and a typical settlement amount for a claim involving serious-but-not-life-threatening injuries. (H/T: Jonah Gelbach of Penn).
An interesting side note: Tolan sought to have District Judge Melinda Harmon recuse over comments she made at the pretrial hearing on the eve of trial. The basis for the motion was a newspaper article reporting on the conference; the article quoted Harmon as saying she was tempted to grant summary judgment on the individual claim, but read SCOTUS as hinting that the case should go to trial. The article also quoted her as saying she was "confident" and "had faith" in her opinion and thought she was right the first time.
The court rightly denied the motion. She stated that some of the statements were taken out of context and referred to the claim against the city, not the individual officer. Other statements involved legalities and interpretations of law, with no discussion of what material facts might be undisputed or not. Moreover, there is nothing improper with the judge stating that she continues to believe she was right about her initial summary judgment decision on the individual claim (the one SCOTUS reversed). My experience is that district judges always continue to believe they were right even after being reversed. But that does not impair their ability to apply and follow that decision, much less indicate favoritism or antagonism towards the party against whom they originally ruled. Otherwise, a case should be assigned to a new district judge whenever there is a reverse-and-remand, which would create all sorts of unworkable procedural problems in complex cases.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Deparmentalism, popular constitutionalism, and constitutional politics
Joey Fishkin writes at Balkinization about the race among GOP presidential candidates to undo birthright citizenship. Fishkin identifies several approaches--an "old school" departmentalism espoused by Mike Huckabee, in which the President can ignore Supreme Court precedent, a moderate approached advocated by Donald Trump (and echoed by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz) that acknowledges the Court's "ultimate authority" in constitutional interpretation, and pure judicial supremacy suggested by Carly Fiorina, under which only a constitutional amendment can challenge Supreme Court precedent.
Fioria to one side, I am not sure the distinction between Trump et al and Huckabee is as sharp as Fishkin suggests. In fact, either approach envisions both the power of the President and Congress to disagree with and disregard SCOTUS precedent and the interpretive role for SCOTUS.
President Trump must initiate birthright citizenship as a live constitutional issue--for example, signing a law providing that children of undocumented immigrants are not citizens and are subject to removal or commencing removal proceedings against U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Either move would be in so-called "defiance" or "disobedience" to (admittedly old) precedent on the meaning of "subject to the jurisdiction" in § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, based on President Trump's independent assessment (supported by constitutional "experts") of the meaning of § 1. That interpretive independence is a key feature of departmentalism, which holds that the President does not violate his "Take Care" obligations or his constitutional oath by acting contrary to even SCOTUS precedent. Either move also triggers a role for the Court, as the judiciary almost certainly will be called on to consider the issues, whether in reviewing a removal decision or in evaluating the constitutional validity of the statute in a pre-enforcement challenge, and render a judgment in a specific challenge, based on the court's own constitutional analysis.
The difference among the candidates may be what happens next. Under a middle-ground departmentalism, the President must abide by and enforce the judgment in those specific cases. But he can continue to act in disagreement with the opinion underlying that judgment (as by, for example, initiating new removal proceedings against new individuals), until a new judgment bars him from doing so as to particular individuals. Eventually, the repeated losing will become politically and financially expensive and he will stop the cycle. This does seem a middle ground between where Fishkin places Huckabee (who seems to believe obeying an individual judgment constitutes "judicial tyranny") and Trump (whom Fishkin seems to presume would fall in line with SCOTUS precedent after the first decision).
For present purposes, I would be content to hear Trump argue, in essence: "My constitutional vision, supported by constitutional experts, is that § 1 does not guarantee birthright citizenship to the children of non-citizens, I am unconvinced by the Supreme Court's 120-year-old decision to the contrary, and, as President, I will act on that constitutional vision in the following ways. I do not need a constitutional amendment in the first instance."
But Fishkin offers a way in which departmentalism and popular constitutionalism overlap. The judiciary can be influenced and ultimately swayed by "experts" whose advocacy (in and out of court) make heretofore unexpected constitutional positions seem reasonable and proper to the public and thus to the court. Those experts similarly can influence the popular branches in their departmental constitutional analysis and their subsequent actions (described above) to put the issues in play and in front of the courts. In other words, I describe above a process of the executive repeatedly losing. Fishkin suggests that departmentalism, girded by popular constitutionalism, may lead to an ultimate constitutional victory in the courts.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Sixth Circuit denies Kim Davis another stay
The Sixth Circuit on Thursday denied Kim Davis a stay pending appeal of the order extending the original injunction to bar her from denying licenses to any eligible couples (the extended injunction was issued the same day Judge Bunning jailed Davis for contempt). (H/T: Religion Clause Blog and Josh Blackman) Davis never asked the district court for a stay pending appeal, as required by Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a)(1)(A), and the court of appeals refused to accept "extraordinary doggedness of the district court to expand the Injunction, without jurisdiction or fair notice and opportunity to be hearing" as basis for finding that it would be "impracticable" to move in the district court, as required by FRAP 8(a)(2)(A)(i).
The latter conclusion is fair, I suppose, since the argument basically accuses the district court of having it in for Davis. Nevertheless, there is something strange about asking a district court to stay an injunction that he just entered by finding that the defendant has a substantial likelihood of success on appeal--in other words, there is a substantial likelihood that the district court was wrong. We do not require trial courts to make a similar confession of likely error in any other context. It also seems like a waste here--Davis will now ask Bunning for a stay, he will deny it, and the issue will be back with the court of appeals in a week or two.
It is notable that the extension of the injunction was not, as plaintiffs requested and many (including me) assumed, in anticipation of class certification. Instead, the district court extended the injunction in recognition of two other individual actions challenging Davis' no-marriage policy. (H/T: Marty Lederman for the analysis). I am not sure that is a valid basis for extending the injunction (where as expanding in anticipation of class status would be), so Davis may actually have one small argument that is not doomed to total failure.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Texas, Abortion, and the Supreme Court – Part II
As I noted in an earlier post, several Texas abortion providers have filed a petition for certiorari in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of a Texas state law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and requiring all abortion clinics to qualify as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), including requirements that are more demanding than those that apply to other, similar facilities that do not provide abortions. Here is my brief analysis of the legal issues in that case. (Note that this analysis is only of the “undue-burden” issues; there is also a res judicata issue in that case, which I will not analyze.)
The plaintiffs in Whole Women's Health claim that the admitting-privileges and ASC requirements are unconstitutional because, under the standard identified in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, they impose an undue burden on the right to abortion. There are basically two ways in which these requirements can be seen to impose an undue burden.
First, they will close three quarters of the abortion clinics in Texas, reducing the number from 40 to 10. The law would therefore drastically reduce abortion access for women in Texas, essentially making the procedure completely unavailable for a large swath of Texas residents. The problem would be particularly acute in the Rio Grande Valley, which is a largely impoverished area that would be left without any abortion provider at all (indeed, a recent study listed two metropolitan areas in the Rio Grande Valley as the two poorest cities in the country).
Although the undue burden standard is notoriously amorphous, there seems to be good argument that a requirement that closes so many clinics and reduces access so dramatically-- in practical terms eliminating the right to seek an abortion for a large number of women -- would have to constitute an undue burden. In other words, if anything is an undue burden, this is.
At the same time, this theory raises the question of just how many clinic closings is too many. There is no easy answer to that question. If a state enacted a law that would have the effect of closing every clinic in the state, it would seem to constitute a clear undue burden for women in that state. But how close to that line can a state come without violating the undue burden standard? Moreover, what if the clinics were being closed because they were all being operated by incompetent physicians, or because they were unsanitary? (That is emphatically not the case here, but I pose that hypothetical because it raises the question of whether undue burden can be judged based on the impact on access alone.)
That’s the first argument. The second argument is related. It says that the Texas law imposes an undue burden because it dramatically reduces abortion access without having a similarly significant health benefit to women in Texas. The state justifies the ASC and admitting privileges requirements as measures that protect health and safety. Yet, there is no evidence whatsoever that these requirements actually do advance any health or safety interest. So, the plaintiffs argue, the burden on abortion is “undue” because it has little positive impact in advancing the state’s purported interest while imposing a heavy burden on abortion access. In other words, in determining whether a burden is “undue,” courts should weigh the effect on abortion access against the extent to which the restriction actually advances a legitimate state interest.
The circuits are currently split on whether to engage in this sort of balancing test. As the plaintiffs’ cert petition notes, the Seventh and Ninth Circuits hold that this sort of balancing is required by the undue burden test, whereas the Fifth and perhaps Sixth Circuits have rejected it.
Again, it seems the plaintiffs have a very strong argument here. The balancing-test model makes sense of the hypothetical I presented above, in which the state’s clinics were being closed due to real, rather than unsubstantiated, health and safety concerns. In addition, if the undue-burden test doesn’t take the legitimacy of the state’s interest or the mean-end fit into account, then it starts to look a lot like a rational-basis standard of review, according to which any asserted state interest in health and safety, no matter how pretextual, is permitted to justify closing of clinics, as long as it doesn’t close all, or virtually all of the clinics.
So, that’s the big-picture overview of the legal claims in the case. In my third and final post on this case, I’ll do a brief evaluation of the likelihood that the Court will take the case and how it might decide it.
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
Kim Davis released from custody
Kim Davis has been released from custody and had the contempt sanction lifted, based on the plaintiffs' report that they had received marriage licenses and that deputy clerks were issuing licenses to "all legally eligible couples." The court furthered barred Davis from interfer[ing] in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples." (H/T: Marty Lederman).
As written, however, the new order brings us back to the recurring problem we have seen with most district court injunctions: This has not been certified as a class action, so the injunction was satisfied when the named plaintiffs received their licenses. Further, Davis cannot properly be held in contempt for interfering with the issuance of licenses to other couples; those licenses are not formally happening on the strength of the court's order, so Davis would not formally be defying the court's order. Of course, if she attempts to push that point, the plaintiffs will simply ask Judge Bunning to certify the class, thereby expanding the injunction to that scope. The wiser move is for Davis to stand aside and let her deputies voluntarily comply.
Monday, September 07, 2015
What if it doesn't pass and other questions about Lessig 2016
Larry Lessig successfully crowd-funded his $ 1 million and is running for President as a single-issue "referendum candidate"--he will serve as President only until passage of the Citizen Equality Act of 2017, after which he will resign and have his Vice President (preferably a liberal such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders) become President.
I generally think this is silly. And I say this while supporting pretty much all of the substantive provisions of the Act and as someone who might support a Lessig-type as a presidential candidate (if I thought he could win a general election, which I don't). But a few questions--none of them new or original, but I throw them out here:
1) What if the law does not pass in his first term? Would he seek reelection in 2020?
2) What does it mean for the law to "pass"? Must every piece pass? If not, how many pieces? Must it pass in the current form or are amendments permissible? If not, how watered-down can a version be to still constitute "passing" so as to trigger his resignation?
3) Does he resign after the legislation is signed? Or does he wait around for completion of judicial review? Nothing in the Act seems constitutionally questionable. Of course, in 2009, we all would have said that the health-insurance market affects interstate commerce. And what happens if some (or all) pieces are declared invalid.
4) If he fails to resign as promised, is that an impeachable-and-removable offense?
5) Accepting that legislation takes months even in a functioning Congress (which we surely do not have), how will Lessig handle all the other presidential responsibilities or who will he delegate them to? Will the VP be handling most of these other presidential duties? How will he fill judicial and executive vacancies? Is it fair to question whether he cares about these "mundane" aspects of the presidency and to be concerned that he doesn't?
6) Is it fair game during the election and "debates" to prod Lessig about his views and plans on other issues, accepting that he will have to do other things as President, at least for some period of time? Will he answer these questions and will he answer them well?
7) Are substantial numbers of Democratic voters this detached from political reality? At least part of the frustration with the Obama presidency involved the extraordinary (and unrealistic) expectations when he entered the White House, which he could not possibly meet.* And he began his presidency with substantial majorities in both houses and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. And he still could not get done everything he wanted or tried to do, at least not in the absolute way he wanted.
* No, that was not the only problem. But it has played a role in the perception of his achievements as President.
What makes Lessig (or those who would support him) think he will have any more success, especially since he definitely will not have a House majority and almost uncertainly will not have a Senate majority. Does he (or his voters) believe putting the word "referendum" into his candidacy will actually give him more of a mandate than Obama enjoyed despite having received 70 million votes and 365 Electoral votes? Does he (or his voters) believe Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or any of the representatives who might lose their seats under a non-gerrymandered proportional representation scheme will care?
8) Aren't all the incentives for Republicans to oppose and drag their feet on this (beyond even the ordinary perverse incentives of divided government)? The longer it drags on, the longer they keep in office someone who really does not want to be President. And the longer it drags on (or the legislation does not pass), the easier to run against Lessig in 2018 and 2020 as a failure who could not achieve his one (and only) presidential goal. "Presidential failure," not "congressional recalcitrance," is always the narrative on which the press, and thus the public, seize.
Sunday, September 06, 2015
Many other takes on the Kim Davis mess (Updated)
Both from Balkinization. Marty Lederman parses Kentucky law and suggests that either the deputy-issued licenses are invalid or there was no need to hold Davis in contempt it was improper to throw Davis in jail (the contempt order was proper). Mark Graber discusses a "class bias in rights" (which Paul already commented on), under which rights that inure, in whole or in part, to the wealthy are more easily implemented than those that inure largely to the less wealthy.
Both are worth a read.
Update: Mike Dorf adds his take, arguing that a district court has broad powers to remedy constitutional violations, even where those remedies might otherwise violate state law. Thus, even if Davis's name/consent ordinarily is necessary, once it became necessary for licenses to issue without her name (in order to ensure compliance with the underlying injunction), those licenses could be made valid. Note that Mike and Marty agree that it was unnecessary to put Davis in jail.
Further Update: More from Sam Bagenstos (Michigan) in The New Republic.
Friday, September 04, 2015
Out George Wallace-ing George Wallace
I was quoted (mostly out of context) in yesterday's New York Times on Kim Davis; I said that Davis was "out George Wallace-ing George Wallace." Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door, and accompanying speech, remain one of the signature moments of Massive Resistance to Brown and integration. But after making his speech, Wallace stood down when facing the Attorney General, rather than being hauled off by a federalized National Guard or facing a contempt charges (the University had been enjoined to allow Vivian Malone and James Hood to register and Wallace had been enjoined not to interfere with the prior injunction). Wallace made his point and had his moment, but in the end chose not to defy the forcible execution of a court order or to go to jail for a lost cause.
What does it say about society, this issue, current politics, and attitudes towards the judiciary that Davis believed it necessary or proper to take that next step? Is it that she believes she is fighting for conscience rather than secular principles such as federalism? Is her stand less popular locally or nationally than was Wallace's, necessitating the bigger step in order to be heard? Is her stand more popular locally or nationally, such that she garners more support and sympathy by going to jail than Wallace would have? How does the relative popularity of Obergefell as opposed to Brown affect the respective choices each make.
Does Davis go down as this generation's George Wallace? She might, if only because she is proving so rare. According to this WaPo story, citing the group Freedom to Marry, there are only a handful of counties (fewer than 20) in Southern states refusing to issue licenses, at least as a matter of formal office policies.*
* And 13 of those are in Alabama, where probate judges are waiting for the Supreme Court of Alabama to lift the mandamus prohibiting them from issuing licenses (or for SCOTUS to quickly reverse if the Supreme Court of Alabama refuses to lift the mandamus).
Marriage licenses issuing in Rowan County
Here and here. The first couple--William Smith and James Yates--were not parties to the litigation. No word on whether the license was issued in Kim Davis' name or whether it is valid if issued over her command not to. That probably is moot; it would arise only if a marriage officiant refuses to recognize the license or someone somewhere down the line refuses to recognize the marriage as valid, neither of which is likely to occur.
Davis remains in jail, probably until next week. It may come down to whether, if she returns to her job, she intends to order her staff to again stop issuing licenses.
By the way, note the rhetoric floating around here: Davis's husband is quoted as saying "Just because five Supreme Court judges make a ruling, it’s not a law." Now regardless of how silly that statement is on its own, it is notable that blame for his wife being in jail is being placed on the shoulders of the Supreme Court and Obergefell. But the problem is not that Davis ignored the Supreme Court, at least not directly; the problem is that she ignored a district court order directed at her.
Thursday, September 03, 2015
Kim Davis (not Jim or Garfield) jailed for contempt
Judge David Bunning has held Kim Davis in contempt and had her jailed. Bunning apparently pointed to the fact that members of the public are raising money to cover the fines (damn crowd-funding) as evidence that fines alone would not work. This is civil contempt, so she will be released as soon as she agrees to comply with the injunction and issue licenses.
So Davis is now a martyr to the cause, probably what she and her lawyers wanted. It raises a couple of questions: 1) Does this provide grounds for the governor or other state-level official to remove her from office (a question of Kentucky law)? 2) Is Davis now "unable" to issue licenses, opening the door for the county judge to do it, as a commenter to an earlier post suggested? 3) If the county judge begins issuing licenses, does that get Davis out of jail? 4) If the county judge begins issuing licenses, does it moot the case once the plaintiffs get their licenses from the judge (the answer to this one is probably not, because I expect Bunning to go back and certify a class).
For what it is worth, the judicial process is working as it should in all of this. No one said it should be pretty.
Update: Five of the six employees of the office (all but Davis's son) have promised to issue licenses beginning tomorrow, filling out the forms in Davis' name. Bunning also indicated he will lift the contempt order in a few days if employees issue licenses. Davis could have stayed out of jail by agreeing not to interfere with her employees issuing licenses, but she said she could not do so consistent with her conscience. There may be a question of whether those licenses can be valid if issued in defiance of office policy. But I suppose it will be enough that the form is properly completed with Davis' name on it by a duly employed clerk.
Tinkering with the machinery of marriage
Jonathan Adler explains why Kim Davis cannot, and should not be able to, use her personal religious beliefs to refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples; if her conscience prevents her from doing this, she must resign. Adler points to a 2002 essay by Justice Scalia, in which Scalia explained why, if he believed capital punishment immoral, he must resign from the bench--his personal morality cannot override his judicial obligations. Adler argues that Davis similarly cannot use her personal religious morality to refuse to participate in (paraphrasing Harry Blackmun) the machinery of marriage.
But is there a middle ground between violating religious beliefs and resignation--recusal. Could a Justice Scalia whose religious views prevent him from affirming a death sentence recuse from all such cases? If so, that seems to be what Davis is doing here--recusing herself from the one function that runs afoul of her beliefs, while being ready and willing to perform other functions, even as to same-sex couples.
I am not suggesting Davis should win--she shouldn't. But does the reason have less to do with an absolute prohibition on this type of moral refusal to perform a public function and more with whether the attempted accommodation sufficiently protects the rights of couples seeking marriage licenses?
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Contempt proceeding in Rowan County
The ACLU today moved to hold Kim Davis in contempt for refusing to allow her office to issue marriage licenses, asking for "financial penalties" seemingly tied to the compensation she continues to receive from the state despite not performing her functions. The motion does not ask for jail time, likely realized that is what she and/or her attorneys want. Judge Bunning has scheduled a hearing for Thursday.
More interestingly, the ACLU also moved the court to clarify the preliminary injunction to "state unambiguously that the preliminary injunction applies not only to future marriage license requests submitted by the four named Plaintiff couples in this action, but also to requests submitted by other individuals who are legally eligible to marry in Kentucky." The motion states that the action was filed as a "putative class action," although the court has never addressed or resolved the class certification issue. So the motion appears to be asking the court, in the guise of clarifying its injunction, to convert it into a class-wide injunction without ever doing the FRCP 23 analysis of whether certification is appropriate. Can the court do this?
Monday, August 31, 2015
Serving two masters in Rowan County, KY? (Further Updates)
I am not a fan of Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, who I think has been both wrong and shrill about the procedure in the marriage-equality litigation. But I wonder if he is onto something with this piece about the connection between Kim Davis, the Rowan (Ky) Clerk of Court who is ignoring a federal injunction (and no, even under the view of departmentalism I have been pushing, you can't do that), and her attorneys from the Liberty Counsel, a religious-conservative advocacy group.
Stern posits that the lawyers are taking her for a ride, using her to push their legal-ideological agenda without regard to her best legal interests, recalling Derrick Bell's famous discussion of attorney-client conflicts in desegregation litigation. One commenter on Stern's post posited that she was offered a ride and willingly accepted. And I have suggested that Davis would be perfectly happy to become a martyr to this cause--although who knows if this is her lawyers or her. Either way, if Stern is right that the lawyers advised Davis to ignore the injunction and be held in contempt, that is troubling, since it raises the possibility that she will be unable to challenge any contempt sanctions later on.
Stern reports that Davis has moved for a stay of the injunction from SCOTUS, in a petition that attempts to minimize the effect of Obergefell and to treat the dissents as binding authority. No way four justices sign-off on that. So now we see what happens when the whole thing is back in the district court.
Update: Justice Kagan (the Sixth Circuit Justice) referred the petition to the full Court, which denied it without comment or published dissent. So now we see whether Davis is really willing to go to jail (or pay hefty fines) over this.
Further Update: Davis continued refusing to issue licenses, this time on video. The irony (which no one is going to catch) is that the couple in the video--David Moore and David Ermold--are not among the eight (four couples) named plaintiffs. So Davis actually is not in contempt in denying them the license.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
The Sixth Circuit has declined to stay the injunction against the County Clerk of Rowan County, Ky; her office is refusing to issue any marriage licenses, citing religious liberty, to avoid having to issue licenses to same-sex couples. The court was emphatic that there was "little or no likelihood" that the clerk would prevail on her appeal. Because the injunction runs against the clerk in her official capacity and thus against the clerk's office, "it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk’s office . . . may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court."*
[*] I would have put this point slightly differently, although the basic idea--the clerk is going to lose--is right.
So we now are set for the clerk to be held in contempt, which, as I said before, is what she and many others in this post-Obergefell crusade probably have wanted all along. Look for her to be featured in a new Ted Cruz video very soon.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Do not go gentle into that Nebraska night
Nebraska has asked the Eighth Circuit for rehearing en banc on whether the challenge to its same-sex marriage ban is moot in light of Obergefell and its promise to comply. The court earlier this month rejected the argument, concluding that Obergefell only spoke to the bans from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Michigan and that whatever the state's promises not to enforce, the marriage ban remains on the books. Interestingly, the rehearing petition is even more explicit that this is all about denying the plaintiffs prevailing-party status and eligibility for attorneys' fees.
I have written previously about why I do not believe these cases are moot--or at most the appeal is moot, but plaintiffs retain prevailing-party status because they previously obtained a preliminary injunction. I will add here that under my conception of departmentalism and the nature of precedent, Obergefell is largely beside the point for the state. Because precedent (even from SCOTUS) is not legally (as opposed to practically) binding on state officials' real-world conduct, that decision is not compelling them to do anything. What we have here is simple voluntary cessation, prompted by precedent and the state's voluntary choice to follow that precedent (rather than waiting until a court applies Obergefell and enjoins them). And voluntary cessation is generally not sufficient to moot a case. Ironically, then, this approach--which most civil-rights supporters likely would find anathema--is beneficial to plaintiffs trying to avoid mootness caused by new precedent.
One more thought, courtesy of Josh Blackman, my co-author: The state seems to spending a lot of money on this side issue. Simply put, the state is gambling: If it works, they lessen (and perhaps, although likely not, eliminate) all attorneys' fees; if it doesn't, they are driving those fees up even more. Of course, as Joanna Schwartz suggests, having to pay may not matter much to the government.