Sunday, October 02, 2016
Newby and the Duty to Defend Indepedent Agencies and Commissions in Court
I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the Prawfsblawg election symposium! For my first contribution, I want to discuss an important issue implicated by a recent election-related case that extends far beyond election law.
In League of Women Voters of the United States v. Newby, the D.C. Circuit (in a 2-1 ruling) overturned the decision of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's ("EAC") Executive Director, Brian Newby, to revise the state-specific instructions accompanying the federal voter registration form. The revisions would have required applicants from Georgia, Kansas, and Alabama to provide documentary proof of citizenship, such as a copy of a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers, to use the federal form to register to vote. Those states had requested changes to the instructions because their laws limit the right to vote to U.S. citizens and generally require people to provide such proof of citizenship to register.
I will discuss the merits of the D.C. Circuit's ruling--with which I disagree--in a separate post later this week. Here, I want to discuss a remarkable aspect of the case: the Obama Administration's Justice Department ("DOJ") completely refused to defend Newby's actions in court. Although DOJ purported to represent both the Commission -- which is an independent, bipartisan agency -- and Newby in his official capacity and was filing briefs on behalf of both parties, it expressly disavowed the legality of Newby's actions and joined in the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the changes to the instructions he approved on the EAC's behalf from taking effect.
It's not as if the Commission itself subsequently took any action to disapprove or nullify Newby's actions. To the contrary, at least one of the three subsequently appointed Commissioners agreed with his decision to update the instructions. Nevertheless, despite the fact that nonfrivolous, colorable arguments could be made in defense of Newby's actions--indeed, some strong arguments may be made in support of them--DOJ completely refused to assert them in the briefs it filed for Newby and the Commission. It sought to nullify an official final action of an independent agency without any adversarial presentation of the issues, presentation of contrary authorities, or consideration of alternate remedies.
The district court allowed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the Public Interest Legal Foundation to intervene to defend the revised instructions. But DOJ's actions nevertheless remain troubling. As an initial matter, there is something disturbing about allowing DOJ to file briefs on someone's behalf--even if they are party to a case solely in an "official capacity"--without that person's consent, especially when those briefs expressly advocate against that person's legal interests and affirmatively seek relief against that person.
Putting aside that issue (which arises largely as a function of which defendants a plaintiff chooses to name), DOJ's authority to refuse to defend against federal lawsuits is perhaps at its apex with regard to purely executive action by executive agencies under the current administration. If the President or his delegates determine that a member of the Executive Branch engaged in wrongdoing, the Government surely is not required to take that person's side and defend him or her. This power is likely just as broad with regard to executive actions that occurred in earlier administrations, though special care must be taken to ensure that Presidents and agency heads do not use essentially collusive litigation with ideologically aligned groups to nullify the actions of their predecessors when they would be unable to do so through the usual legislative or administrative process. See generally Michael T. Morley, Consent of the Governed or Consent of the Government? The Problems with Consent Decrees in Government-Defendant Cases, 16 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 637 (2014).
More complex problems arise when DOJ is required to defend the legal interests of entities outside the Executive Branch, which may conflict with those of the President. For example, Congress may enact laws that the President believes are unconstitutional, particularly on the grounds that they infringe upon purported Executive prerogatives. This summer, in Helman v. Department of Veterans Affairs, Attorney General Loretta Lynch notified the Speaker of the House and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that DOJ would not defend the constitutionality of provisions of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act ("VACAA") that Congress had enacted two years earlier to limit appellate rights of senior career executives who are fired from the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Full disclosure: I represent a coalition of 12 military and veterans groups, including the VFW, AMVETS, Reserve Officers Association, and Marine Corps League that were permitted to intervene to defend the law's validity and advocate more narrowly tailored remedies for any constitutional concerns that may exist). In cases where DOJ refuses to defend a statute's validity out of concern for the President's Executive power, it is not really representing the interests of the Government as a whole, but rather the Executive Branch in particular, potentially at the expense of the independent legal interests and prerogatives of the Legislative Branch.
Cases such as Newby present similar concerns. A President may disagree with the desirability, legality, or even constitutionality of an independent agency's or commission's actions or determinations. If the President can undermine or even nullify those actions by simply preventing DOJ from defending them in court, then the agency or commission is independent in name only. To be truly independent, an entity must have independent litigating authority. While DOJ has tremendous litigation experiences and resources for an independent agency or commission to call upon if it so chooses, it should not be compelled to be represented in court by attorneys acting under an institutional conflict of interest. One solution is to allow the entity to either represent itself or retain outside counsel of its choice. Another possibility is to be flexible in allowing outside intervention and applying Article III's rules concerning standing. Finally, Congress could authorize the creation of a small entity, akin to either an Office of Independent Counsel or a public defender's office, to represent the interests of governmental agencies or officials outside the Executive Branch whose legal (or potentially even political) interests clash with those of the President. In any event, if DOJ is going to undertake to represent the Government or an independent agency in a case, it reasonably should be expected to present the court with colorable, nonfrivolous arguments in favor of congressional or independent agency actions or enactments.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Roy Moore suspended for remainder of term
The Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his term in office. The focus of the charges was a January 2016 administrative order, in which Moore advised the state's probate judges that the court's March 2015 (pre-Obergefell) mandamus order prohibiting issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples remained in effect. In part, Moore stated that the judgment in Obergefell bound only the parties and only declared unconstitutional the marriage-equality bans in four states, thus it did not undermine SCoAL's earlier orders.
The judiciary court rejected those arguments, relying on long quotations from Cooper v. Aaron and the view that a SCOTUS declaration of constitutional meaning is, without more, binding on everyone everywhere. So Moore's order/advice regarding conduct by probate judges in conflict with the holding of Obergefell violates various judicial canons. The court's analysis of Cooper is inconsistent with the model of judicial departmentalism I have been urging--holdings judicial opinions do not formally bind anyone beyond the parties, including lawyers and public officials, until they are reduced to judgments against those individuals, which they will be because the holdings bind lower courts. The decision also overreads Cooper by forgetting what the Court really was upholding against state resistance--not Brown, but a Brown-based lower-court injunction. Plus, it was unnecessary in this case--Moore's real violation here was ordering/advising probate judges to violate not Obergefell, but a federal district-court order to which every probate judge was party and unquestionably bound that was made enforceable in light of Obergefell. That judgment gets passing reference, but the real focus was how Moore disregarded Obergefell.
Oh well. It is tempting to say Moore's judicial career is over. But I have no doubt he could win reelection to the court if he tried.
Further Update: This is among the most inaccurate things I have read by someone with a law degree. Writing about Moore trial:
This is the heart of the issue. According to Moore and Staver, the decisions of Alabama’s highest court are not subservient to those of a federal district judge. This goes against 200-plus years of constitutional interpretation that does put state courts below federal ones, of course.
“The state courts and the federal courts have co-equal authority,” Staver argued in a phone interview before the trial. “And one does not have to follow the other if they are making a decision on the U.S. Constitution.” This is not how the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution works, though.
Just, no. State courts are not "below" lower federal courts; they are co-equal courts that are all inferior tribunals to SCOTUS. Lower-federal court precedent is not binding on state courts or state judges (unless the state court chooses to be bound by that precedent). State courts and lower federal courts do have co-equal authority as to federal law. Congress was not obligated to even create lower federal courts; had it not done so, state courts would have been the only courts interpreting federal law other than SCOTUS.
We can debate departmentalism and the binding effect of SCOTUS precedent (as opposed to judgments) on non-judicial actors. But to say that state courts are inferior to lower federal courts reflects a complete misunderstanding of the judicial structure in the United States.
Friday, September 16, 2016
The New Constitutional Right to Post-Conviction Habeas
For decades, the dominant working assumptions of the Supreme Court's post-conviction habeas corpus jurisprudence have been that (1) federal post-conviction remedies are generally a matter of legislative grace; and (2) as Justice Alito reiterated last Term in his concurrence in Foster v. Chatman, "[s]tates are under no obligation to permit collateral attacks on convictions that have become final, and if they allow such attacks, they are free to limit the circumstances in which claims may be relitigated." In a new paper we've just posted to SSRN, Carlos Vázquez and I argue that, in its January 2016 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court directly rejected the first assumption, and, in the process, indirectly but necessarily undermined the second.
To make a long story short, although Montgomery looked like a fairly typical habeas retroactivity case under Teague v. Lane (asking whether Miller v. Alabama fit into an exception to Teague's general bar on retroactive enforcement via habeas of "new rules" of constitutional law), it had a jurisdictional wrinkle--to wit, why the Supreme Court had appellate jurisdiction over the Louisiana state court's holding that Miller was not retroactive under Teague. Although the parties defended the Court's jurisdiction on the ground that the state court's analysis of Miller was "interwoven" with federal law (and thus not independent thereof), Justice Kennedy's majority opinion based the Court's jurisdiction on a much broader conclusion--that the exception to Teague for new "substantive" rules of constitutional law is constitutionally grounded, and thus directly binds the states (as a matter of federal law) in their post-conviction proceedings. Thus, Montgomery recognized for the first time at least some circumstances in which the Constitution (and not just the federal habeas statute) confers a right to a post-conviction remedy--at bottom, to enforce new "substantive" rules of constitutional law handed down by the Supreme Court after the petitioner's conviction became final.
The much more interesting question (to which we turn in Part II of our paper) is the forum in which such a remedy is constitutionally required. As we argue (in some detail), the Supreme Court’s Supremacy Clause jurisprudence, especially the 2009 decision in Haywood v. Drown, establishes that the constitutionally required collateral remedy recognized in Montgomery must be available, in the first instance, in state courts—even if the state has not chosen to provide collateral post-conviction relief for comparable state-law claims. Indeed, as we explain, the state courts also have the constitutional power and duty to afford such relief to federal prisoners, but Congress has the power to withdraw such cases from the state courts by giving the federal courts exclusive jurisdiction (even implicitly) over such claims. Thus, we conclude that the state courts are constitutionally obligated to afford collateral post-conviction review to state prisoners in the circumstances covered by Montgomery, and that the federal courts should be presumed to have the statutory obligation to afford such review to federal prisoners.
Needless to say, this analysis calls into question at least some features of contemporary post-conviction habeas jurisprudence (especially for second-or-successive federal petitioners), and raises a bunch of questions about how far beyond Teague's substantive exception this newfound right to collateral post-conviction review extends. We try to sketch out some thoughts on these issues in Part III, but if we're right about the importance of Montgomery (especially in light of Haywood), then we hope our paper is the beginning of a much broader academic and judicial reassessment of the scope and shape of contemporary collateral post-conviction remedies, not the end.
And, although it should go without saying, we'd surely welcome comments, suggestions, and feedback...
Friday, September 02, 2016
Which Part of the Constitution Prohibits Wrongful Detention?
If a cop fabricates evidence against you, and you’re held in jail for 47 days, have you suffered a constitutional violation? Believe it or not, that’s an open question—or as I’ll explain, a partially-open question. And it’s also a question that the Supreme Court will answer in Manuel v. City of Joliet, which will be argued at the outset of the Court’s term in October.
A quick squib on the facts: Elijah Manuel was a passenger in a car driven by his brother in Joliet, Illinois. The cops pulled the car over, pulled Manuel out of the car and seized a bottle of pills in his pocket. (The cops also allegedly used excessive force during the stop, but that’s not at issue in the S.Ct. appeal.) The officers field tested the pills and said that they contained ecstasy. The thing was, the pills did not contain ecstasy; the field test came back negative for a controlled substance. The officers arrested him anyway and stuck to their story that the pills contained ecstasy. When they got back to the station, the officers gave the pills to a technician who tested them again. Like the field test, this test showed nothing unlawful about the pills. And also like the first test, the technician lied about the results. So Manuel sat in jail. Forty seven days later, after his attorney requested a copy of the lab report and the fraud was discovered, Manuel was released.
Manuel brought a § 1983 suit against the officers. Sounds like a good suit, right? I mean, there’s gotta be claim in there somewhere, doesn’t there? Maybe not.
Part of the problem with his case owes not to constitutional law but with the applicable statute of limitations. Wallace v. Kato holds that false imprisonment begins at the moment of wrongful detention and ends at the moment when legal process is provided (usually pursuant to a initial appearance or something akin to that). Unfortunately, Manuel filed suit more than 2 years after his initial appearance.
But he was in jail long after his initial appearance. Does he have a claim for that? That’s the issue the Supreme Court will decide. Constitutionally speaking, one can imagine three types of claims: (1) a substantive due process claim, (2) a procedural due process claim, and (3) a Fourth Amendment claim. The first possibility—substantive due process—is off the table under Albright v. Oliver. So that leaves procedural due process and the Fourth Amendment.
Manuel thinks he has a Fourth Amendment claim. The Fourth Amendment says, in effect, don’t seize people unless you have probable cause. Manuel was seized for 47 days (though his claim for some of those days is time barred under Wallace v. Kato). So he should have a claim, right? The City of Joliet argues, to simplify it greatly, that the Fourth Amendment is aimed at cops, not prosecutors. Once you are arrested and enter the justice system, the Fourth Amendment falls away and your right to be free from unlawful detention is basically procedural due process right. Fair enough, but why doesn’t Manuel just bring a procedural due process claim? The reason is that, under Parratt v. Taylor, a procedural due process claim does not accrue unless the claimant lacks a post-deprivation remedy. And Manuel had a post-deprivation remedy here—a state law malicious prosecution claim (which, unfortunately, is probably time-barred now). Thus, Joliet’s position is that no constitutional violation occurred (at least for the period of detention following his initial appearance).
Thus, at its heart, Manuel is about where the Fourth Amendment drops off and procedural due process picks up. My own view is that instead of talking about when the Fourth Amendment drops out of the picture as a matter of criminal procedure, why don’t we talk about it in terms of proximate cause? (Courts deciding Section 1983 cases routinely borrow tort law principles and proximate cause issues come up all the time.) That is, why not ask whether the officers’ Fourth Amendment violation proximately caused Manuel’s detention? In this case, it’s clear that it did. Moreover, proximate cause principles also help sort out what should happen as the case proceeds through the system. For example, suppose that the cops came clean to the prosecutor in this case but the prosecutor continued with the prosecution. The officers would have a good argument that the prosecutor’s actions amounted to an intervening cause that cut off their liability.
Finally, proximate causation solves one of the more difficult problems in these cases. In some cases, the defendants don’t just spend 47 days in jail as a pretrial detainee, they spend years in jail as a prisoner. If we look at this in terms of Fourth Amendment v. Due Process Clause, it’s hard to see how the Fourth Amendment should apply to a prisoner who’s sitting in jail 20 years after his arrest and trial. But if we look at it in terms of proximate cause, we don’t have to engage in some parlor game about whether the Fourth Amendment “applies” to people in jail.
Don’t look for the Court to take a proximate cause approach. The Court has gone far enough down a different road that it would be too difficult to back up and use a proximate causation rule. If I had to make a prediction, I’d expect Manuel to win—mainly because there’s a 10-1 circuit split in his favor and because the SG filed a brief on his behalf. Cutting against him is that the case will probably be heard by 8 justices and Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion in 1994 stating that wrongful detention after an initial appearance would state a procedural due process claim.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Now we know where John Roberts got the umpire analogy
Go to the 2:15 mark (start of the second chorus)
Thursday, August 11, 2016
IP, The Constitution, and the Courts - IPSC 2016
IPSC 2016 - Breakout Session III - IP, The Constitution, and the Courts
Lexmark and the Holding Dicta Distinction – Andrew Michaels
Established Rights, the Takings Clause, and Patent Law – Jason Rantanen
A Free Speech Right to Trademark Protection? – Lisa Ramsey
Lexmark and the Holding Dicta Distinction – Andrew Michaels
How do we distinguish dicta from holding? This project uses the Federal Circuit's dispute in Lexmark (on remand) over the breadth of the holding in Quanta. As Paul Gugliuzza summarized it for me (I was a late arriver), Michael's argument is that, rather than treating holding/dicta as a binary distinction, we should envision a spectrum of the types of things that courts say in their opinions.
A spectrum approach to holding v. dicta might helpfully restrict courts. If a holding says "No red convertibles in the park", we might worry about a case where a subsequent court says the opinion requires a holding of no vehicles in the park. They are not unrelated, but perhaps still dicta. Broader statements should have less capacity to bind than narrower holdings.
Jason Rantanen: This is interesting. We often see doctrinal pronouncement in Federal Circuit's case, much broader than necessary to decide the case. We also see language from earlier court opinions that are clearly dicta. Panels in the Federal Circuit nevertheless use it later. I wonder, however, whether we should take into account how the court is using the language. For example, do we bind the court to holding language only, or might they be appealing to the persuasiveness of early reasoning. Your spectrum focuses on text as it appears in the early opinion, but is that too narrow? Can dicta apply?
Andrew - Sometimes dicta is well considered. But if the court pretends it's a holding, and acts as if it is bound, then they are failing to adjudicate the dispute, and that's a problem.
Paul Gugliuzza - I think the Federal Circuit may engage in some over-use of dicta. Is there a prescriptive payoff to this spectrum? How does the court determine whether to follow the statement or not?
Andrew - The payoff is to require courts to deal more directly with the question of dicta.
Pam Samuelson - I think it's interesting when dicta becomes a holding, over time, and solves a problem. For example, the 3rd Circuit (Whelan) case had a lot of broad dicta that led to a lot of litigation. But the 2d Circuit also included a lot of dicta in Computer Assocs. v. Altai, and the dicta from the that case seems to have knocked out Whelan, and been followed, correctly from Pam's view, in many other circuits.
A subsequent observation from Paul: I think the spectrum provides an interesting descriptive contribution, but I wonder whether, instead of arguing whether a statement is holding or dicta, we'd just end up arguing about (1) where on the spectrum a particular statement falls and (2) whether, given its location on the spectrum, it's binding law or not.
A Problem of Subject Matter: Patent Demand Letters and the Federal Circuit’s Jurisdiction – Charles Duan & Kerry Sheehan
States are passing laws designed to cabin patent demand letters. We might presume that the Federal Circuit has primacy, but this paper argues the question isn't so cut and dried. The Supreme Court, in a case about attorney malpractice, held that there should be a balance struck between the interests of the federal courts and the state's consumer protection laws.
In a demand letter case, we could ask whether 1) this raises a sufficient issue of federal patent law, and 2) is the law unconstitutional or improper. To understand the second question, look to the Federal Circuit's Globetrotter case. The patent holder threatened to send letters to the defendant's clients. The defendants sued for tortious interference, and Fed. Cir. held that the Patent Act preempted acts that prevent sending demand letters.
We argue there is an odd disconnect in the Federal Circuit's analysis. It's a mistake that makes the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction appear larger than it is.
What is the right policy outcome? Should the Federal Circuit have primacy here? The uniformity issues that inspired the creation of the Federal Circuit doesn't necessarily reach every case that touches on patent law, and perhaps these demand letter cases are outside the needs of the uniformity requirement.
Jake Linford: I'm unclear on where the line is between the stuff the Federal Circuit controls and the stuff it doesn't. It sounds circular to me. Help me understand.
Charles: The Supreme Court doesn't take the view that the Federal Circuit is the final arbiter of all patent issues. The Christensen and Gund cases are examples where the Supreme Court put the responsibility with the Seventh Circuit and Texas courts respectively. Questions of validity of the patent may go to the Federal Circuit, but not claims about a clearly invalid patent.
Lisa Ramsey: One of the reasons this is so important is because people will get different results before a state court than the Federal Circuit. Is that right?
Charles: It's unclear. If we sort some cases for the Federal Circuit and others for the states, we might get divergent outcomes.
Pam Samuelson: How does the issue of validity of the patent get to the Federal Circuit if the case starts in state courts?
Charles: Removal is the mechanism.
Pam: If so, then how do we take the ability of the Federal Circuit away? If the Federal Circuit decides whether it has jurisdiction...
Charles: Perhaps the Supreme Court takes cert?
Paul Gugliuzza: What triggers the arising under jurisdiction of the patent clause? Isn't this a matter of patent jurisdiction?
Charles: I'm not sure this meets the Constitutional language...
Paul: The Federal Circuit may rely on Globetrotter, even if I disagree with them.
Paul Gugliuzza sent me the following summary of the Duan - Sheehan paper, which I find much better than my own:
Established Rights, the Takings Clause, and Patent Law – Jason Rantanen
Recent arguments have suggested that when patent laws change, the takings clause may be implicated. I wanted to understand the analytical reasoning behind the takings claim. Takings case law is a deep, Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole. How does it actually apply to patent law?
1) Jason agrees that patents are property subject to takings clause. (The Federal Circuit said no, in Zoltec, when the government infringes the patent. The Supreme Court, instead, suggested in dicta in the raisin takings case, that patents are the type of property subject to the takings clause)
2) But it's inappropriate to cut and paste takings case law to patent cases. Patents aren't like rights in real property. We know what a takings of a coal mind looks like. Patents aren't the same. In addition, one key right "taken" is the right to use, and the patent holder doesn't lose the right to use, only the right to exclude or alienate. So application of standard takings cases is difficult.
3) The question is instead whether the new law changes or destroys an "established property right" in the patent. That's the taking, if there is one. What's an established property right? The type associated with property, established with a high degree of legal certainty. See, for example, the Penn Central case, where the Supreme Court is looking for certain rights. If we are looking for high degree of legal certainty, many aspects of patent law has changed significantly and frequently over time. Patent has replaced the entire statutory framework at least four times, with only very minor exceptions. For example, when Congress passed the 1836 Patent Act, it replaced the prior act, and also applied the new act to pending litigation. There are many similarities, but this is a new draft. Same with the 1952 Act: "It shall apply to unexpired patents." Damages changed dramatically, as summarized in Halo v. Pulse. Patent owners used to get treble damages automatically, and they don't anymore. Patent holders in 1836 lost that right while claims were pending.
Lisa Ramsey: One argument against cancellation in the Redskins case is takings.
Jason Rantanen: The Redskins case considers whether the right was valid in the first place, which falls outside of standard takings analysis.
Camilla Hrdy: You may want to consider why the Supreme Court has held a trade secret can be taken. If so, why not a patent?
A Free Speech Right to Trademark Protection? – Lisa Ramsey
The Federal Circuit recently held that the 2(a) bar against registering disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional. Lisa's paper aims to make two unique contributions to literature on disparaging trademarks and the First Amendment:
- Is there a right under international treaties to be able to register a disparaging or scandalous trademark? The answer is no.
- A framework of six elements that should be applied in deciding whether laws against offensive trademarks run afoul of free speech rights.
The U.S. is not the only country that bans registration of scandalous marks. Canada even bans use.
We are members of the Paris Convention, which gives signees the discretion to decide whether to deny a registration on the grounds that a mark is contrary to morality or public order.
Lisa's framework (and 2(a) seems to meet most of these conditions):
- Is there government action? Who regulates the expression?
- Suppression, punishment, or harm: How does the regulation harm expression? Are there unconstitutional conditions imposed on speakers by denying the benefit? Lisa says no, because the benefit being denied is the right to restrict the speech of others.
- Expression. What is being regulated?
- Is this individual or government speech? Whose expression is regulated?
- No categorical exclusion for the expression: Is the regulation justified because of a categorical exclusion, like obscenity or misleading commercial expression?
- Does the regulation fail constitutional scrutiny? Is it content-neutral or content-based? That triggers different levels of scrutiny in the U.S.
What could the Court do if it wants to uphold 2(a)? 1) Say it's not suppression or punishment, and the unconditional conditions doctrine does not apply, under factor 2. 2) It satisfies the scrutiny under 6. 3) Make a "traditional contours" argument like in Eldred and Golan.
Saurabh Vishnubhakat: Pushing on Lisa's state action analysis, if we apply Shelly v. Kramer broadly (where the Supreme Court refused to allow the enforcement of racially restrictive covenants in court, and which may be limited to its fact), that may suggest everything is potentially a state action?
Rebecca Tushnet: If the Court is taking a "hands off" approach to conflicts between trademarks and the First Amendment, then doesn't hands off mean no registration? Isn't that state action?
Lisa: It is state action.
Rebecca: Then isn't everything state action.
Lisa: There are real benefits to registration that impacts the first amendment. Demand letters work better when backed by a registration. And when you have a registration, it's easier to push claims that some see as questionable, like dilution and merchandising cases.
Charles Duan: When it comes to disparaging marks, those have particularly strong expression value - used to express feelings, and therefore even worse to restrict than other registrations.
Pam: Is there an international standard?
Lisa: No, as I read the law, each country has discretion to set up the system it prefers.
Posted by Jake Linford on August 11, 2016 at 08:45 PM in Blogging, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, International Law, Judicial Process, Property, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 04, 2016
What type of voter fraud?
In setting up his pre-narrative of a stolen election, Donald Trump has decried recent lower-court decisions declaring invalid voting laws in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, and North Dakota, including voter ID requirements. These laws were designed to prevent impersonation fraud--someone voting as John Smith who is not, in fact, John Smith.
But note that Trump has not been complaining about impersonation fraud, but about repeat-voter fraud--"If you don’t have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting." (Chicago's old "Vote early, vote often"). But voter ID laws do nothing to eliminate repeat-voter fraud and do not seem designed to do so. The defense against that practice is the voter list; the poll worker does not allow someone to vote if she is not on the list (or allows only a provisional ballot) and she crosses the voter's name off the list once that person appears. Repeat voting is possible only if: 1) the poll worker fails to cross the name off or 2) the voter goes to other precincts, where she is not on the list, to vote. But requiring ID does not stop that practice. If the poll workers are not vigilant, I can repeat-vote to me heart's content with an ID, just as I could without an ID. That is, if I show an ID proving I am John Smith but the poll worker does not cross my name off the first time, I can come back again and again and vote as John Smith, showing my ID each time. Similarly, if I then drive to the wrong precinct with an ID proving I am John Smith but the poll worker allows me to vote despite my name not being on the list, I can cast that repeat vote as John Smith, showing my ID.
Unfortunately, most of the news reports of Trump's comments have repeated the (true) line that there is virtually no evidence of in-person voter fraud, without specifying that the fraud Trump is talking about is not even the type that ID laws are designed to redress. Which, also unfortunately, means the news reports are missing the fact that Trump is not aware enough to understand his own conspiracy theories.
Monday, August 01, 2016
Federalism Planks in Democratic Party Platforms
At this point in our quadrennial election cycle, thoughts turn to party platforms. In doing my research on a 1937 federal death penalty case in Michigan (the only case I have found before 2002 in which the federal government succeeded in securing a death sentence for a crime committed in a State that did not authorize the death penalty for the same offense), I wanted to look at the Democratic Party platforms over time, to see how much emphasis was paid to “states rights” at various times. Fortunately, I found a great website (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/platforms.php) that catalogs the platforms of the major parties going back to 1840.
I found that inclusion of a federalism plank in the Democratic Platform in the early part of the twentieth century was erratic. In 1900 and 1904, there was none. Then, in 1908, the sixth plank, entitled “The Rights of the States,” proclaimed:
Believing, with Jefferson, in "the support of the State governments in all their rights as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies," and in "the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad," we are opposed to the centralization implied in the suggestion, now frequently made, that the powers of the General Government should be extended by judicial construction.
A similar plank was included four years later as the platform’s fourth. In 1916 and 1920, there was no federalism plank in the Democratic Party platform. Such a plank reappeared in 1924, but it was buried near the middle – the 26th of forty-four planks. Then, amazingly, “The Rights of the States” appeared as the very first plank in the 1928 platform. It read:
We demand that the constitutional rights and powers of the states shall be preserved in their full vigor and virtue. These constitute a bulwark against centralization and the destructive tendencies of the Republican Party.
We oppose bureaucracy and the multiplication of offices and officeholders.
We demand a revival of the spirit of local self-government, without which free institutions cannot be preserved.
In 1932, the federalism plank disappeared from the Democratic Party platform, for pretty obvious reasons.
Most of my historical research has been on the founding period. Now, I have some general knowledge of the fact that there was a strong states’ rights faction in the Democratic Party prior to 1932, when the election of FDR marked the birth of the modern Democratic Party as the party of big federal government. I also know that this faction lingered on until the Republican Party’s “southern strategy” began the process of eliminating virtually all vestiges of that faction by transforming southern Democrats into Republicans. But I wonder if someone with more knowledge than I can chime in and help explain in more detail what was going on from 1900-32. Specifically, why was there such a dramatic push in 1928 to put federalism front and center when the party was only four years away from nominating FDR?
Monday, July 25, 2016
Thoughts on Reason-Based Regulation of Reproductive Decision-Making: Part II
In an earlier post, I blogged about the rise of reason-based bans on abortion (such as laws banning abortion for sex selection, or because of fetal anomaly), and I hypothesized that there is the constitutional privacy right includes a right to make a constitutionally protected decision for whatever reasons one chooses. In this post, I want to consider another type of law that arguably implicates this privacy right, and also places it in conflict with other individuals’ religious freedom–specifically, laws that require employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives when they are needed for particular reasons.
About half of the states currently require insurers in the state to provide coverage for contraceptives. These state-law contraceptive coverage mandates are separate from the regulation requiring contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act and apply independently of it. Because these mandates are enforced by state governments rather than the federal government, the federal RFRA—construed in Hobby Lobby to require an accommodation for employers that object on religious grounds—does not apply directly to them. Nonetheless, in many of these states, religious employers may still be able to access insurance plans without contraceptive coverage, either because the state contraceptive coverage laws also have religious exemptions written into them, or because those exceptions are available via state RFRA analogs.
In a handful of states, employers may opt out of providing insurance coverage of contraceptives for contraceptive purposes but not for therapeutic purposes. For example, Arizona law, which requires insurers to provide contraceptive coverage if they cover other prescription drugs, also provides that “a religiously affiliated employer may require that the corporation provide a contract without coverage for” contraceptives. However, it goes on to specify that the insurance policy cannot exclude coverage for prescription contraceptive methods prescribed "for medical indications other than for contraceptive, abortifacient, abortion or sterilization purposes.” Similarly, North Carolina law allows religious employers to offer plans without contraceptive coverage but does not exempt them from covering prescription contraceptives "for reasons other than contraceptive purposes, or ... that is necessary to preserve the life or health of a person covered under the plan.” Presumably, these sorts of provisos would cover women who seek contraceptive drugs for purposes of avoiding or curing particular medical conditions (such as certain skin conditions or menstrual disorders) as well as women who need contraception because pregnancy would be life-threatening or harmful to their health. At least in the latter scenario, it seems clear that such provisos distinguish between valid and valid reasons for the same reproductive conduct.
These sorts of laws set up a potential conflict between a woman’s right to privacy with respect to the deliberative process and an employer’s right to act based on religious motivations. Because the right to autonomous decision-making has constitutional stature (as I argue in Part I) and the right to act based on religious motivations does not (as explained below), it seems clear that the woman’s right to access contraception for any reason whatsoever should prevail.
These state laws, while presumably intended to ensure that women’s physical health is protected while safeguarding the religious freedom of employers, nonetheless have the effect of regulating the reasons for which women may engage in constitutionally protected conduct. Women who work for religious employers taking advantage of these exceptions may access covered contraception if it is necessary to avoid harm to their health but not for family-planning purposes. According to the framework outlined in Part I, laws that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable reasons for choosing contraception would be unconstitutional. Similarly to the selective abortion bans discussed in Part I, they allow the employer to dictate the terms of the woman’s reproductive decision, interfering with the woman’s deliberative process as clearly as if the law itself denied women contraceptive access for certain reasons and not others. By empowering employers to privilege certain grounds of decision over others, the government picks and chooses among the reasons a woman may or may not have access to contraception.
The privacy right related to contraceptives is constitutionally protected. However, there is no constitutional free exercise right to be exempt from a generally applicable health insurance mandate because of one’s religious beliefs. The right claimed by Hobby Lobby was based on RFRA, not the Constitution, and the Supreme Court made clear in Employment Division v. Smith that there was no general free exercise right to an exemption from a neutral and generally applicable law. Thus, the woman’s right to choose contraception without regard to the reason should trump.
Ironically, however, one consequence of this analysis is that laws providing blanket exemptions from contraceptive coverage are on firmer constitutional ground than more carefully tailored exemptions. A blanket exemption allowing religious employers to opt out from covering contraceptives would not unconstitutionally privilege certain reasons over others and therefore would not burden the constitutional right to deliberate autonomously, because it would not distinguish between valid and invalid reasons. Is this result a correct one, or a desirable one?
Although this result seems counter-intuitive, it may nonetheless be the correct one based on existing constitutional doctrine. Once the government begins carefully tailoring exemptions, problems can ensue. For example, a statute with a narrowly drafted religious exemption that excludes certain religious groups while protecting others would likely be more problematic than one with no exemption.
Moreover, it may be worth considering the political implications of a decision requiring states to exempt all religious employers from covering contraception in all circumstances, even when it is needed to protect the woman’s health, or none at all. It is possible that the result would be that the practice of covering oral contraceptives for non-family-planning purposes would continue but without the sanction of law; employers and insurers could continue to make the distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic contraception, but through private, internal policies. (For example, Catholic employers generally do not have a problem with covering contraception for “therapeutic,” as opposed to family planning purposes.) Since no law would be implicated, there would be no state action and no constitutional problem. On the other hand, there might be value in highlighting the conflict between religious beliefs and private reproductive decision-making in this context. It is worth considering, perhaps in a more public way, whether the distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic contraception is one that the government should make and whether the government should be deciding which uses of contraception are sufficient to outweigh an employer’s religious claims. Currently, this debate is submerged by Hobby Lobby and the post-Hobby Lobby discourse, which treats religious exemptions from contraceptives coverage as an all-or-nothing issue.
Friday, July 22, 2016
The Meaning of Sex Discrimination
In response to a number of questions from school districts about how to serve transgender students under Title IX, the Departments of Justice and Education issued joint guidance in May explaining how they interpreted the prohibition on sex discrimination contained in Title IX and its implementing regulations. In bringing clarity to the issue, the guidance explains that the prohibition on sex discrimination “encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.” Pursuant to the guidance, “[t]he Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations.” The guidance then details that transgender students should be permitted to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
A number of states have filed lawsuits challenging the guidance, arguing that the Administration is “foisting its new version of federal law” on schools. But the Departments’ interpretation is not drawn from whole cloth. In fact, courts have recognized that sex discrimination under federal civil rights statutes includes discrimination based on someone’s transgender status for some time, authority that is noted in the Departments’ guidance, and is collected here and here. And of course, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court adopted a capacious understanding of what constitutes “sex” discrimination, prohibiting sex stereotyping or treating people differently because of their perceived failure to conform to gender norms.
The states also argue that the Departments are attempting to “redefine the unambiguous term ‘sex.’” But the statutory and regulatory meaning of the prohibition on sex discrimination as it relates to transgender individuals is far from clear, as the Fourth Circuit recently concluded in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, the lawsuit by a Virginia transgender boy challenging his exclusion from the boys bathroom. Indeed, as one of the lawsuits challenging the Departments’ guidance concedes, “[n]othing in Title IX’s text, structure, legislative history, or accompanying regulations address gender identity,” suggesting—at most—that the statute doesn’t speak, one way or another, to whether transgender individuals are protected by the statute. As the Fourth Circuit held in G.G., because the law is “silent as to how a school should determine whether a transgender individual is a male or female for the purpose of access to sex-segregated restrooms,” there is an ambiguity which the Departments are permitted to clarify.
As an alternative interpretation, those challenging the Departments’ guidance suggest that “sex” means what they call “biological sex.” But neither the statutory language or the legislative history quoted by those challenging the guidance appear to reference so-called “biological sex” at all. As discussed in a prior post, medical experts have established that the factors contributing to one’s sex are multifaceted, including “external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, gender identity, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics and genes.” Thus, even if one focused purely on the physical characteristics of sex, reliance on “biological sex” creates more ambiguity than it resolves. Again, as the Fourth Circuit reasoned: “For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.”
When one combines the statutory and regulatory ambiguity with the medical reality, defining “sex” with reference to one’s gender identity is far from radical, is certainly reasonable, and is probably the best interpretation of the relevant language.
The reasonableness of that interpretation is heightened when one considers that, at least with regard to public schools, the Equal Protection Clause overlays any analysis. And, without diving into a detailed discussion, the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision makes clear that “[t]he Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity” (emphasis added). Given Obergefell’s context, this is powerful language suggesting that we possess constitutional rights over our sexual and gender identity.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Athlete speech and team dynamics
Last week, NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, LeBron James, and and Dwyane Wade kicked off the ESPY Award telecast with a call for athletes to become politically engaged, particularly around the issues of violence by and against police. Players on the Minnesota Lynx wore black warmup shirts with white lettering commemorating Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Dallas shootings, which prompted four off-duty police officers to walk-off their security jobs there. Several other teams followed suit by wearing plain black warmup shirts, which prompted the league to fine each team $ 5000 and each player $ 500, citing its uniform policy. The league president praising and expressed pride in the players' "engagement and passionate advocacy for non-violent solutions to difficult social issues," while demanding that they "comply with the league's uniform guidelines." This, of course, is a classic example of how neutral policies can be used to restrain speech, while allowing those doing the restraining to claim to support the speech. Players responded today with a media blackout, refusing to answer basketball-related questions and only talking about the political issues at the heart of their protests. Since the league no doubt has rules about speaking with the media, expect the WNBA to follow with more praise for the players' political courage, more citation to "neutral" rules, and more fines for that political courage.
This is playing out on a smaller stage than if it were male athletes in football, basketball, and baseball. But this story illustrates important issues about athlete speech for team, as opposed to individual, sports. The athletes we remember as being most politically engaged played individual sports--Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, John Carlos, Billie Jean King, Jesse Owens, Tommie Smith. A lot of the activism from Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown came after each had retired and, in any event, rarely came out on the field (except to the extent Robinson's very presence on the field was political). All athletes risk their standing with the public and fans who may object to their speech (recall Michael Jordan's apocryphal "Republicans buy shoes, too"). But team-sport athletes face another hurdle--their expression implicates the financial, business, and other concerns of teams and leagues, who have their own incentives to limit this speech. Neutral rules designed to promote the sport (speaking to the media) or to promote team unity (uniform rules) provide the perfect weapon of control, allowing leagues or teams to shut the players down without appearing to be stopping them because of their message.
The question then becomes the extent to which "athlete speech" includes (or should include) the liberty to speak through the game itself and the platform the game provides. In other words, the extent to which LeBron James not only should be able to rely on his fame to get his message out, but also the platform of the game itself to do so.
Trump, Turkey, and the "problem" of civil liberties
Donald Trump's interview with The New York Times would be the story of the day, but for Ted Cruz's act of political courage/political suicide. Trump was asked about the situation in Turkey, where President Recep Endrogan survived a coup attempt and is consolidating power, declaring a three-month state of emergency, purging political rivals, and imposing restrictions on speech and press. Trump's short answer was that the US has too many problems at home and has no right to lecture other countries about civil liberties.
Some have read that as Trump saying that we have issues with limits on civil liberties here, so we cannot speak to anyone else about their own limits. That is what people usually mean by "no right to X"--we don't have the right to lecture anyone about X, because we do X ourselves. It is an argument about hypocrisy and inconsistency between word and deed.
But a closer look at Trump's remarks reveals the opposite. Trump is arguing that we have anarchy here, implicitly because we have too many civil liberties. So we need to restore order (which fits with his new Nixonian Law-and-Order theme) before worrying about urging other countries to be less repressive on their own people. It is an odd use of the "no right to" argument, but it better fits with his views of dissent and speech he does not like.Here is the exchange (from the transcript, which The Times released when--stop me if you heard this one before--the campaign denied Trump had said what the newspaper reported).
SANGER: Erdogan put nearly 50,000 people in jail or suspend them, suspended thousands of teachers, he imprisoned many in the military and the police, he dismissed a lot of the judiciary. Does this worry you? And would you rather deal with a strongman who’s also been a strong ally, or with somebody that’s got a greater appreciation of civil liberties than Mr. Erdogan has? Would you press him to make sure the rule of law applies?
TRUMP: I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country. We have tremendous problems when you have policemen being shot in the streets, when you have riots, when you have Ferguson. When you have Baltimore. When you have all of the things that are happening in this country — we have other problems, and I think we have to focus on those problems. When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.
SANGER: So that suggests that you would not, as, say, President Bush did, the last President Bush, make the spread of democracy and liberty sort of a core of your foreign policy. You would say, “We need allies, we’re not going to lecture them about what they do inside their borders.”
TRUMP: We need allies.
SANGER: And lecture inside their borders?
TRUMP: I don’t know that we have a right to lecture. Just look about what’s happening with our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting our policemen in cold blood. How are we going to lecture when you see the riots and the horror going on in our own country. We have so many difficulties in our country right now that I don’t think we should be, and there may be a time when we can get much more aggressive on that subject, and it will be a wonderful thing to be more aggressive. We’re not in a position to be more aggressive. We have to fix our own mess.
His point is that we should not be worried about civil liberties elsewhere. But implicitly he is arguing that we also should not be worried about civil liberties at home, but instead about the government gaining control against the "riots and the horror"and "our own mess."*
[*] The party flip between optimism and pessimism and how great America is right now is fascinating. It will be interesting to see how and if the Democrats strike at this theme next week.
Also interesting is Trump's reference to "Ferguson" as a single word with an understood meaning. But what is that meaning? To Trump, Ferguson means riots and destruction of property. To others, however, Ferguson means a police officer shooting an unarmed Black person with impunity, generally abusive police practices, and a massive overreaction to peaceful-if-angry public assembly speech, and protest. Trump obviously hopes that substantial numbers of people adopt his meaning of the single word. On the other hand, there is a consent decree in the Eastern District of Missouri--explicitly requiring changes in policy and training with respect to responding to public expression, handling of encounters with suspects, and the operation of fine offensives in municipal courts--that suggests the former may be the better narrative. So is the problem of Ferguson too much speech (or at least too much speech critical of police)?
Similarly, what does Trump understand "Baltimore" to represent? Wrongfully prosecuted police officers? Is outrage at the death of a person in policy custody part of the riots, horror, and mess in this country?
Monday, July 18, 2016
Decentralizing the Exclusionary Rule
One strand of my research in the last few years has focused on exploring what I see as a federalism component of the Fourth Amendment. In The Contingent Fourth Amendment, 64 Emory L.J. 1229 (2015), I looked at the law of search and seizure from 1765 to 1795, with particular focus on the Justice of the Peace manuals used at the time, and what the Anti-Federalists said and wrote about search and seizure during the ratification period. I concluded that the best way of viewing the Reasonableness Clause of the Fourth Amendment was as a constraint that federal officers follow state law when searching and seizing. In a piece I am currently finishing up, “The Local-Control Model of the Fourth Amendment,” http://ssrn.com/abstract=2721014, I provide more evidence in support of that claim and I contrast this “local-control model” to the two dominant models of viewing the Fourth Amendment, the “warrant model” and the “reasonableness model.” And in “Decentralizing Fourth Amendment Search Doctrine,” which I just began in earnest, I am exploring the claim that the “what is a search” question should be decentralized so that the answer might differ by State, or even by locality.
Something I so far have not looked at, but hope to in the coming years, is the exclusionary rule, and how a decentralized approach to the rule might make sense.That’s why I was intrigued when listening to the oral argument in Utah v. Strieff. Early on, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan express a concern that when a high percentage of people have outstanding warrants, the police might have every incentive to conduct illegal stops if – as the Court ultimately ruled – the evidence found as a result of the ensuing arrest is not generally subject to the exclusionary rule. But, of course, the percentage of residents with outstanding warrants is going to vary widely from place to place. As Justice Sotomayor put it: “[I]f you have a town like Ferguson [Missouri], where 80 percent of the residents have minor traffic warrants out, there may be a very good incentive for just standing on the street corner in Ferguson and asking every citizen, give me your ID . . . .” Justice Kagan almost immediately followed up with
if you're policing a community where there is some significant percentage of people who have arrest warrants out on them, it really does increase your incentive to . . . make that stop on the chance that there will be a warrant that will allow you to search and admit whatever evidence you gained in that search. * * * [I]t does change your incentives quite dramatically, it seems to me, if you're policing a community where there is some significant percentage of people who have arrest warrants.
So that led me to wonder why we think about the exclusionary rule in gross, rather than at the retail level. The Court has posited that the only justification for the exclusionary rule is the deterrence of police misconduct. The Court has also said that whether the rule deters police misconduct must be evaluated on a context-by-context basis. Excluding evidence from anything but a criminal trial, the Court has told us, is not worth the price we pay in the currency of lost evidence. Fair enough. The deterrent value of excluding evidence is also not worth the cost where the arresting officer reasonably relied on an invalid warrant, an unconstitutional statute, an erroneous report of the existence of an outstanding warrant, or binding case law that was later reversed. Again, fair enough. But if we are going to apply the exclusionary rule in such a context-sensitive way, why not also vary it by locality? If the figures set forth by Justice Sotomayor are accurate, the incentives for police in some communities are going to be very different than in other communities. The entire concept of deterrence hinges on a prediction based on empirical evidence about how people will act under certain conditions. If one of the variables that might change the prediction is the locality, because of the percentage of people who are subject to outstanding warrants, then it seems to me that if the defendant shows that this percentage is high, the prediction about police behavior ought to change accordingly
Indeed, the majority opinion in Strieff seems to leave open the possibility of a more localized application of the exclusionary rule. The Court acknowledged the argument that a large number of outstanding warrants within a local population might motivate the police to conduct illegal stops in the hopes of hitting upon a person with such a warrant. It did not outright reject this argument; it wrote simply that this was not a problem in the locality where the stop took place:
Strieff argues that, because of the prevalence of outstanding arrest warrants in many jurisdictions, police will engage in dragnet searches if the exclusionary rule is not applied. We think that this outcome is unlikely. Such wanton conduct would expose police to civil liability. And in any event, the Brown factors take account of the purpose and flagrancy of police misconduct. Were evidence of a dragnet search presented here, the application of the Brown factors could be different. But there is no evidence that the concerns that Strieff raises with the criminal justice system are present in South Salt Lake City, Utah.
(citations omitted) (emphasis added). Thus, the Court folded the perverse incentives argument into the third Brown factor, the purpose and flagrancy of the police misconduct. My argument is somewhat different. The Court seems to be willing to take into account idiosyncratic characteristics of the locality but only to the extent that they might produce flagrant, systemic flouting of the Fourth Amendment. My approach would not require evidence of misconduct that stark, which might be nigh impossible for a defendant to produce. I would simply allow local judges to take into account local conditions in determining what the likely incentives are for police within those localities. If the community has a very high number of people with outstanding warrants, the incentive is there for police to take advantage of that, regardless of whether there is hard proof that they do so on a systemic basis. One can presume that, as rational actors, at least some police will do so. The exclusionary rule should be applied to counteract that incentive.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Old Man Yells at Cloud, First Installment
I wanted to use some of my blog posts this month to discuss some of the mechanical and organizational errors that I see authors make in their legal scholarship. This is real nitty-gritty stuff, small mistakes that may not seem to matter much but which can really detract from a piece. I was going to call this “Pet Peeves” but I think that that diminishes the importance of these points: these are not peevish predilections for a certain style of writing over others; they are things that are simply incorrect and should be fixed. On the other hand, I try not to take myself too seriously, so I have settled on “Old Man Yells at Cloud” (if you don’t know the origin, Google it).
For the first installment, I wanted to focus on a glaring error that I see more and more: Many times authors will describe an opinion as “concurring” when it really should be “concurring in the judgment.” It is as if those last three words don’t really matter, so they can be cut out. I used to think this was solely the fault of student law review editors, and in turn, perhaps, the people who are supposed to be teaching them proper citation form. I myself have had more than one set of editors “fix” my citations by changing “concurring in the judgment” to simply “concurring,” and have had to change them back. But then I saw more and more first drafts of papers, before they even hit the law reviews, that contain the same error, by people who should know better.
The difference between a concurring opinion and one concurring merely in the judgment is an important one. For one thing, a concurrence in the judgment is often more like a dissent than a straight concurrence. Take, for example, the recent case of United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), which addressed whether government officials conduct a “search” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment when they attach a GPS device to a vehicle and track its movements for 28 days. The Justices were unanimous that this was a search but split 5-4 over the reasoning. The Court held this to be a search because the government physically intruded upon a private space, by placing an object onto personal property, for the purpose of gathering information. Justice Alito, joined by three of his colleagues, sharply disagreed with this “trespass theory” of the Fourth Amendment but concluded that tracking the suspect’s movements with a GPS device for so long infringed upon his reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements. Justice Alito spends the bulk of his separate opinion criticizing the Court’s return to the old “trespass” doctrine, with much less space devoted to why the government’s conduct violated Jones’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The opinion is much more dissent than concurrence but, of course, because he and his three colleagues would have come to the same result as the Court, it is a concurrence in the judgment. To mischaracterize it as a “concurrence” is to make much more than a simple technical error; it is to mislead the reader into thinking that Justice Alito essentially agreed with the majority and simply wanted to add his two cents or try his hand at explaining what the majority was really saying.
By contrast, Justice Sotomayor wrote a true concurrence in Jones. She joined the majority and agreed with its reasoning but wrote separately to indicate her agreement with much of what Justice Alito wrote in his separate opinion and to call into question some more general aspects of Fourth Amendment search doctrine. Thus to call both what Justice Alito wrote and what Justice Sotomayor wrote “concurrences” conveys a false impression about the two opinions and their relationship to the majority.
Another context in which the distinction really matters is where there is no majority opinion. Take, for example, Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), in which the Court addressed whether, where the police deliberately first obtained un-Mirandized statements from a suspect during custodial interrogation, later adherence to the Miranda warnings-and-waiver protocol rendered admissible a suspect’s subsequent statements. A plurality of the Court said that the subsequent statements were inadmissible, even though they followed Miranda warnings and waiver, because the initial statements had been un-Mirandized. However, the plurality looked to a number of factors – “the completeness and detail of the questions and answers in the first round of interrogation, the overlapping content of the two statements, the timing and setting of the first and second, the continuity of police personnel, and the degree to which the interrogator’s questions treated the second round as continuous with the first” – to determine when such mid-stream warnings and waiver would render subsequent statements admissible.
Justice Kennedy wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment, agreeing with the outcome, but relying on only one factor: that the police deliberately obtained the first set of statements without adhering to Miranda in order to “soften up” the suspect into waiving her rights on the second go-round. Had the same police conduct occurred inadvertently, Justice Kennedy presumably would have come out the other way.
Here, the distinction between a concurrence and a concurrence in the judgment is critical. Had Justice Kennedy written a straight concurrence, presumably he would have joined the plurality, making it a majority. Anything he wrote in such a concurrence would be important inasmuch as it explains the majority opinion from the perspective of the necessary fifth vote, but it would not have the force of law. By stark contrast, the opinion as a concurrence in the judgment takes on much more significance. Pursuant to the Court’s Marks rule, where there is no majority opinion, one must discern the narrowest point on which five Justices agree. In many cases, this means that a concurrence in the judgment is the law because it represents that narrowest point. In Seibert, that conclusion is more questionable, given that Justice Kennedy’s focus on the good or bad faith of the police seems to have been rejected by seven other Justices. Lawyers, judges, law students, and academics have struggled to figure out what, if anything, is the holding of Seibert. Mischaracterizing Justice Kennedy’s separate opinion in that case as a “concurrence” misleads the reader into thinking that she need not engage in that struggle because Justice Kennedy agreed with and joined his colleagues’ multi-factor analysis. But he didn’t. A mere concurrence might be enlightening but it is rarely as critical as a concurrence in the judgment when there is no majority opinion.
So “concurring in the judgment” does not mean “concurring.” Authors and editors need to stop pretending that it does.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Privacy and Transgender Bathroom Access
In the litigation and public debate surrounding transgender people’s rights to use the bathroom, two of the principal issues are the meaning of “sex” and the privacy rights of everyone using restrooms or locker rooms. In this post, I’ll address the privacy claims because doing so highlights, to me, that separate and apart from the merits of any interpretive debate on the statutory meaning of “sex,” the underlying real world concerns of all involved are, in fact, not in conflict. Transgender bathroom access does not harm or implicate the privacy concerns of anyone else. Conversely, excluding trans people from bathrooms consonant with their gender identity publicly outs them every time they use the facilities.
Opponents of permitting trans people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity seem concerned that a person’s genitalia will be seen by someone with different genitalia, or that a person may see genitalia different than their own. In terms of both logistics and law, these concerns seem overstated.
First, bathrooms provide private spaces—stalls. This is true even in men’s rooms. So, if someone has a concern about who sees their genitalia, or if one prefers not to view another person’s, one can use the stall and avoid the urinals. Even in locker rooms, practical solutions such as privacy curtains can be affordably installed to provide greater privacy to those who desire it. Such curtains have been endorsed by the Department of Education.
Second, to the extent there is concern over someone’s prurient interest, those supporting bathroom bans overlook issues of sexual orientation. Transgender people—like cisgender people—can be straight, gay, or bi. Our gender does not dictate our sexuality. That’s to say, a straight transgender woman will have no sexual interest in other women in the restroom. But even if she did, we obviously permit gay men and lesbians to use public restrooms and changing facilities, so why should trans people be treated differently?
Third, the myth that transgender bathroom access somehow represents a risk of sexual violence has already been empirically refuted by government officials in jurisdictions that have trans-inclusive policies. Existing laws prohibit voyeurism and violence and transgender bathroom access doesn’t change that.
Although privacy is not endangered by the presence of transgender people, excluding trans people does endanger their privacy and safety. Forcing transgender individuals to use a bathroom that does not correspond with their gender identity and outward gender expression outs that person as transgender each time they use the public restroom.
Of course, transgender people should feel no shame over their identity or their bodies—quite the opposite. But unfortunately, misunderstanding and, at times, animus toward transgender individuals is not uncommon. As discussed in my previous post, transgender people are subject to high levels of violence, poverty, incarceration, and employment discrimination. And because comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender people are lacking, maintaining privacy over one’s trans status may be critical to a range of activities from obtaining a job to keeping safe.
As such, to the extent this debate is about privacy, the real world harms seem to tilt in favor of access for transgender individuals, not exclusion.
The same holds true for privacy law.
While in broad strokes case law supports constitutional limits on the government’s ability to disseminate our private, intimate information, the cases relied on by proponents of transgender exclusion do not support their argument here.
For example, proponents of trans exclusion have relied on cases involving a female police officer being videotaped partially nude by a male colleague after taking a decontamination shower, schools installing video cameras in student locker rooms, strip searches of students, and the forceful removing of an inmate’s underclothes. These are, of course, horrific privacy invasions. But they are quite distinct from the mere presence of transgender people using facilities corresponding to their gender identity. As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged in its recent decision in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, it is doubtful that a trans student’s “use of the communal restroom of his choice threatens the type of constitutional abuses present” in such appalling privacy cases.
Instead, to the extent that the law recognizes limits on the government’s ability to disseminate personal information (and it does), courts enforce those limits most rigorously when information regarding a stigmatized characteristic is disclosed—for example, one’s HIV status, minority sexual orientation, or transgender identity. This is because disclosure of that information can result in further harm to the individual, including discrimination. And certain courts have specifically held that laws that out a person’s transgender status implicate this right to informational privacy.
In other words, the right to informational privacy—the right to limit disclosure of one’s information—appears to be at its zenith when dealing with information that might expose someone to stigmatization, discrimination, or some other concrete downstream harm.
As noted, in a world with continued misunderstanding and hostility towards trans people, there can be little doubt that outing of a person’s transgender status can lead to very real harms. The constitutional right to privacy restricts such outing.
*Parts of this post draw on articles of mine first appearing in Slate and Salon.
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Some thoughts about Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
Cross-posted at Casetext
I'm delighted to be back blogging at Prawfs! Thanks to Howard and the rest of the regulars for inviting me.
I wanted to start off with some thoughts about the Supreme Court's momentous decision in Whole Woman's Heath v. Hellerstedt -- more thoughts on the case may follow as they develop.
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most important abortion case in over two decades, the Supreme Court handed the plaintiffs as sweeping a victory as they could have hoped for. In doing so, the Court also saved the “undue burden” standard and quite possibly the right to abortion itself.
Since the Supreme Court’s joint opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which was co-authored by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, the constitutionality of an abortion restriction depended on whether it imposed an “undue burden” on the ability of a “large fraction” of women to obtain an abortion. This standard was not only less protective of abortion rights than the strict scrutiny standard that the Court had set out in Roe v. Wade, it was also so indefinite and malleable that it opened the door to greater and greater envelope-pushing by states adopting increasingly onerous anti-abortion laws.
In Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court was confronted with one such anti-abortion law—Texas’s H.B. 2. The Texas law required abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (essentially, mini-hospitals) and abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The ambulatory surgical center requirements were prohibitively expensive for existing clinics to meet, and admitting privileges can be impossible for certain abortion providers to obtain for reasons totally unrelated to clinical competence, such as opposition to abortion (for example, by a Catholic hospital). Thus, the combined effect of the two restrictions—restrictions extant in numerous other states as well—would be to shut down approximately three quarters of Texas’s abortion providers, forcing many women—especially those outside the major metropolitan areas—to travel long distances and undergo long delays in order to obtain safe and legal abortion services.
In a 5-3 majority opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court held the Texas abortion restrictions to be an unconstitutional undue burden on abortion rights. In some ways, this holding was not surprising. After all, even Justice Kennedy, the most conservative member of that 5-Justice majority, would have to admit that if anything is a substantial obstacle to abortion access, H.B. 2 is. The bigger surprise was the way the Court went about it. In finding an undue burden, the Court held that the actual health and safety benefits of the law had to be balanced against the impact of the law on abortion access. Given that the two Texas requirements were found to have essentially no meaningful benefits to women, the massive burden on abortion access was unwarranted (or “undue”).
It is hard to overstate how important this particular approach was.
By focusing on the health benefits of the law in relation to the burdens, the Court made sense of, and breathed new life into, the undue burden standard. No longer is the undue burden standard a numbers game, in which the exact formula to be applied is unclear. Nor did the Court issue a narrow but ultimately unhelpful ruling identifying an undue burden in Texas without telling us what an undue burden actually is. Instead, the Court issued a sensible opinion giving real meaning to the word “undue,” and putting at risk dozens of abortion restrictions across the country that are passed in the name of protecting women, without any evidence to back them up.
Other elements of the decision were remarkable. For one thing, the opinion made it clear that courts are not to defer to legislatures on the medical or scientific issues that underlie abortion restrictions; instead, they should examine the evidence independently and critically. Justice Kennedy in Gonzales v. Carhart, the Court’s most recent major abortion case, had worried over the “traditional rule” of deferring to legislatures in the face of medical and scientific uncertainty, before ultimately choosing not defer to Congress’s demonstrably mistaken findings. In Whole Woman’s Health, by contrast, the Court asserted, “The statement that legislatures, and not courts, must resolve questions of medical uncertainty is … inconsistent with this Court’s case law. Instead, the Court, when determining the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion procedures, has placed considerable weight upon evidence and argument presented in judicial proceedings.” The opinion thus affirmed the courts’ duty to review facts independently when constitutional rights are at stake.
The Court broadened its focus in other ways, as well. In Casey, the joint opinion had dismissed the district court’s concerns about the impact of a 24-hour waiting period, requiring two trips to the clinic, on women with fewer resources and those who had to travel long distances. Casey stated “[t]hese findings are troubling in some respects, but they do not demonstrate that the waiting period constitutes an undue burden.” In Whole Woman’s Health, by contrast, the Court specifically cited the trial court’s finding that the Texas laws would “erect a particularly high barrier for poor, rural, or disadvantaged women” in its finding of undue burden. Finally, the Court declined to split hairs on the issues of remedy and of facial versus as-applied challenges, as it had done in Planned Parenthood v. Ayotte and Gonzales v. Carhart.
Looking forward, there is reason to be optimistic about the impact of Whole Woman’s Health on abortion rights. Having now denied certiorari in admitting-privileges cases from Mississippi and Wisconsin (in which the plaintiffs won below), the Court has sent a fairly clear signal to any state legislatures considering admitting-privileges requirements in the future. And numerous states have ambulatory surgical center-type requirements, though admittedly the Court was less categorical in striking those down. Given that ambulatory surgical center requirements vary greatly from state to state in their details and onerousness, it is necessary to look more closely at the specific nature of the requirements and their impact. Reading the opinion to require states generally to justify burdens on abortion with evidence supporting an actual benefit for the law, it’s possible that the Whole Woman’s Health decision will also be used to strike down 20-week abortion bans, which are often justified based on junk evidence pertaining to fetal pain. Bans on using telemedicine to provide medication abortion, currently in effect in 18 states, are also now vulnerable.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Whole Woman’s Health, however, is that the Court treated the right to choose abortion like the fundamental right that it is. As with other constitutional rights, infringements on the right to choose abortion must be viewed with scrutiny rising above the level of deferential rational-basis review.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Overview of ABF Research (Part III): Law & Globalization and Legal History
In this last post on ABF research, let me describe two parts of our research portfolio that reflect both our sense of the past and our transnational perspective on the present. From its founding in the 1950s through today, the ABF has been focused on studying how law, legal institutions, and legal processes operate across place and time. Our scholarship and programming on law & globalization and our work in legal history reflect these enduring commitments.
Let me start with a brief description of our research on law & globalization.
Law & Globalization
Globalization, to be sure, is not a new phenomenon, but it has taken on a greater sense of urgency in recent decades. Like many academic and research organizations, the ABF has become increasingly interested in the causes and consequences of globalization and its relation to law. For many years, we have had numerous international faculty members conducting research throughout the world.
Most recently, our legal sociologists Terry Halliday and Sida Liu have been collaborating on a long-term project about Chinese criminal defense lawyers and their role in political mobilization. As I’m sure many Prawf readers know the Chinese state in recent years has been intimidating and persecuting Chinese lawyers because of their political activism. Terry and Sida have conducted hundreds of interviews with Chinese lawyers to learn more about how the everyday work of criminal defense lawyers has become a political project. Drawing on a long line of scholarship about lawyers and political liberalism (much of it written by Terry), their forthcoming book will one of the first to examine empirically how the seemingly ordinary work of criminal defense lawyers in China can have far reaching transnational political and social implications. Although the book won’t be out for another year or so, this fascinating research has already garnered significant media attention across the globe.
Another area of ABF research on globalization focuses on comparative constitutions. Our joint-appointee Tom Ginsburg (U. of Chicago Law & ABF) has been at the forefront of research about the origins and international diffusion of rights in national constitutions. For many years, Tom and his collaborators have been collecting data on the countless constitutions that have been in existence since 1789 to the present (you can learn more about their Comparative Constitutions Project here). This project has documented the important role of domestic political factors and country characteristics in understanding the development and diffusion of constitutional rights.
While Tom Ginsburg’s research focuses on the material aspects of the rule of law, one of our other colleagues working on globalization, Jothie Rajah, explores the more theoretical underpinnings of rule of law discourse. Following up on her first book about rule of law in Singapore, Jothie’s latest project analyses the different ways in which global institutional actors (the UN, the World Bank, the International Commission of Jurists, the World Justice Project) define “rule of law.” Through a close reading of the texts and practices of these institutions, Jothie analyzes the development of global norms and the efficacy of rule of law indicators.
ABF research on globalization also examines the diffusion of legal rules across nation-states. Our joint-appointee Carol Heimer (ABF/Northwestern Sociology) is studying how laws, regulations and other rules are actually used in HIV research and treatment in the United States, Uganda, South Africa, and Thailand. Her book project investigates what happens when laws, regulations, and guidelines, admittedly created with the best of intentions, are transported to new sites where they confront the realities of medical care, clinical research, and healthcare administration in developing countries. Carol is currently finishing up a fellowship year at Stanford’s Center on Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, where she is completing her book manuscript.
In addition to our work on Law & Globalization, the ABF has also had a long tradition of research on legal history, writ large. Many years ago, the ABF had a Legal History Society of some kind that hosted regular events advancing scholarship in legal history. Although the formal society doesn’t exist anymore, the ABF continues to play an important role in supporting and promoting legal history. From our faculty members like Vicky Woeste, whose recent research focuses on hate speech (here’s a link to her latest book on Henry Ford and Hate Speech), to our regular Chicago-area seminar on legal history, to our recent support for a junior scholars conference on Law in Capitalism, the ABF remains committed to supporting innovative and influential research on how law and legal institutions have operated in the past, and on how these historical legacies continue to influence the present.
Indeed, our recent conference, which was co-hosted by the University of Chicago Law School, and supported by a consortium of schools and the American Society for Legal History, brought together a stellar group of junior scholars working at the intersection of law and the new histories of capitalism. These advanced grad students and junior faculty members had a chance to share their work and receive feedback from senior scholars in the field. We were delighted to host this group at our Chicago location, and we look forward to having more ABF events on legal history.
Like the other categories I’ve discussed earlier, these two ABF research streams are just examples of a much deeper body of scholarship. To learn more about our research, please visit our website.
Now that I’ve given readers a sense of the type of empirical and interdisciplinary research the ABF conducts, perhaps in my last post (if I haven’t already over stayed my welcome as a guest blogger) I can address a couple of pragmatic issues about ABF funding and the role that legal academics play in both supporting and helping disseminate ABF research.
Same-sex marriage, religious opt-outs, and constitutional procedure
On Monday, Judge Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi declared that Mississippi cannot statutorily authorize county clerks to opt-out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on religious objections to same-sex marriage (the law was enacted soon after, and in response to, Obergefell). But the order was entirely bound-up in the procedure of constitutional litigation, particularly with respect to marriage. Refreshingly, Judge Reeves took his time on the process and got it right.The plaintiffs challenged the Mississippi law through a motion to amend the existing permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Before the court could reach the constitutionality of the new state law it had to determine:
1) It still had jurisdiction to enforce and expand the injunction, because the same issue--the constitutionality under the Fourteenth Amendment of a state law seeking to treat same-sex couples differently than opposite couples with respect to marriage licenses--was involved in both the original injunction and the new challenge.
2) The plaintiffs have standing to expand the injunction. This one is trickier, because the named couples have, presumably, gotten their marriage licenses, so they are not injured by the new law. And this is not a class action. The court relied on basic principles that plaintiffs always have a right to protect their final judgment, although the new law does not threaten the injunction as to them. Any uncertainty was resolve by the court's third point--the Campaign for Southern Equality is a plaintiff and it has associational standing to represent any members who want a license in the future and may have it denied pursuant to the new law.
3) The named plaintiffs, and the enjoined persons, are the governor, the AG, and the clerk of one county. The plaintiffs were trying to get the clerks for the other 81 counties in the state to comply with Obergefell. The court recognized that these 81 clerks are not parties and not bound by the injunction. Instead, the court ordered the parties to ensure that these other parties have notice of the injunction and that they are subject to it, presumably by adding them as defendants and/or certifying a defendant class, to whom the injunction can be extended.
4) The injunction would be extended to state that everyone bound by the injunction must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the "same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples." The court took this language from Obergefell to ensure that the Supreme Court decision, which is the law of the land and the law of the circuit, will be enforced. The judiciary, he added, should "remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly." Without saying so, Judge Reeves capture the departmentalist point--the injunction against specific individuals is necessary to formally bind them to Obergefell. The key is to ensure that all appropriate people are named parties subject to an injunction.
5) The court left it to the parties to figure out how to get notice to the other clerks and to agree on language for the amended permanent injunction.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Sunday's season finale played out the constitutional election/selection/succession contingencies to the last, producing what, in reality, would be a genuine constitutional and political crisis. And it leaves the show in the position of a genuine reboot when it comes back next season, which presents some interesting possibilities.We begin before the Senate vote for Vice President, which Tom James expects to win. He and Meyer are negotiating her role in his administration--she wants to be Secretary of State, he presents VP as take-it-or-leave-it. She initially leaves it by telling James she would not be his vice president if there were "a grassy knoll full of Jodie Foster fans" in the front row at the Inauguration (a great line). She relents because she believes it is the only way to continue working with China on freeing Tibet (a possibility set up two weeks ago). The scene where Meyer agrees and James cannot help laughing when he promises her that she will be an involved part of his team is a good commentary on how the vice presidency is perceived.*
[*] Although vice-presidential historian Joel Goldstein (SLU) has argued that this has not been true of the modern vice presidency, at least since Walter Mondale.
The show had been building to this since the end of last season, but, as I argued then, it gets it wrong. Under the 20th Amendment, when the House has not chosen a President, the VP elected by the Senate "shall act as President until a President shall have qualified." That may happen in two days, when the House holds a new vote and selects a President. Or it may happen in four years, when a new election and Electoral College vote selects a President in the scheduled quadrennial election. But this VP never becomes President, although she exercises the powers of the presidency.** She remains Vice President and cannot appoint a new VP because the vice presidency is not, in fact, vacant. As I said in a comment to last week's post, this person would not be Ford after Nixon resigned, but GHW Bush when Reagan had polyps removed. And no one believed Bush could have appointed a new VP.
[**] With perhaps some informal limits on Supreme Court appointments, as Rob Kar and Jason Mazzone suggest.
The twist in the episode is that James loses the Senate election. Vice President Doyle, mad at Meyer for reneging on her promise to make him Secretary of State, orchestrates a tie in the Senate vote (by appealing to various Senators whom James had angered over the years over judicial holds, earmarks, etc.), which he then breaks to give the Vice Presidency to Laura Montez, O'Brien's running mate. And with it, the acting--not actual--presidency. This was a twist that I certainly did not see coming. Montez then is sworn in, with a huge inauguration attended by two million people. Again, this would not happen because Montez is not, in fact, the 45th President;*** formally, the presidency remains vacant.
[***] A poll discussed in the episode rates Meyer the 43d best President, just behind James Buchanan, who is "credited with causing the Civil War."
I kept waiting for some further twist back, but it never happened. My first thought was that James would go back to the Speaker to hold a new House vote**** (since that was the plot that started all this) and James would try to whip-up votes to get Meyer the win. Of course, O'Brien came closer to winning that Meyer, so it would have required not only moving the three "abstaining" states, but also one other. Then, during a discussion of Montez's Mexican-born husband, I thought it might be revealed that Montez was not a natural-born citizen, and that might blow everything up. But nothing. And that is the plan. Showrunner David Mandel has said that Season Six will focus on Selina's life after the White House, perhaps Catherine, Gary, and Amy, who are with her at the end. No word on whether other regulars from her staff will be back. Meanwhile, the agreement with China on Tibet that Meyer had negotiated is announced during Montez's address and credited to her, with talk of her getting the Nobel Peace Prize that Meyer had been craving (shades of the freeing of the Iranian hostages on January 20, 1981).
[****] A TV in the background at the White House shows a CNN chyron that the Speaker had said he would not hold a new vote. I thought that might be Chekhov's Chyron, but it turned out to be a reminder of the House role in this and a way to stop that piece of the story.
So how did the season "stick the landing" on the constitutional stuff? Not well in the details, although fun in the story. It seriously understates the political and constitutional crisis that would be involved here, producing an unrealistic result. The Twelfth Amendment was intended to prevent this "inversion" of president and vice-president. No way would O'Brien or Meyer accept the result so easily; they would be fighting like crazy for a new House vote. No way would their supporters in the House accept the result so easily. O"Brien's supporters wanted O'Brien as president; Meyer's supporters wanted Meyer; and the ones who broke were willing to go along with James's plan because they liked him better than Meyer, but would not want Montez in the White House. The Speaker could not refuse to hold a new vote if both sides demanded it; the body might remove the Speaker if he were that obstinate.
Finally, no way would the public accept this, certainly not to the tune of two million people wildly celebrating Montez's inauguration (a law the 2009 Obama inauguration)--no Meyer voter would be happy and an O'Brien voter, while perhaps happy that their party was in the White House, voted for O'Brien, not Montez. They, too, would be pushing the House for a new vote. This is exacerbated by the show suggesting that Montez is callow and ill-prepared. So was Meyer. But Montez is thrust into office because of behind-the-scenes political dealings and the refusal of the Speaker of the House to do his job.
And consider some future problems. What happens if there is a Senate tie? Montez remains the vice-president***** who should break the tie, but she is also acting as president, in which role she would sign the bill. [Correction: A commenter points to Art. I, § 3, cl.5, which provides that the President Pro Tempore presides over the Senate "in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States," which seems to capture this situation. So one problem resolved]
[*****] She cannot resign the vice-presidency, since that is the source of her power to act as president.
She presumably will decline to break the tie, as a matter of prudence. But having four years of this strange arrangement is bound to create problems. And what happens in the new House after the mid-Term elections? Might a new Speaker hold a new vote on O'Brien-Meyer, resulting in Meyer coming back to office for two more years, as President, with Montez serving as her VP? That would be a neat plot twist, which the show closed off by talking about Montez as the President; it would take too much exposition to walk it back. Anyway, it is a moot point, since Mandel's plan is to focus on Selina Meyer outside the White House.
All-in-all, I enjoyed the season. And most of the broad strokes of the story worked. They got the details wrong, which is frustrating just because it would have been so easy to correct. Put Jonah in Connecticut instead of New Hampshire and that story works. Talk about divided states rather than abstaining states and that piece works. Have the House holding multiple votes and unable to break the impasse, with no Alexander Hamilton in sight, and that piece works.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
What now on DAPA?
Today's 4-4 affirmance of the injunction against DAPA leaves things in obvious flux. There are several considerations affecting might happen now--legal, procedural, and political.
Procedurally, the next move is a trial on the merits and, as the trial judge has tipped his hand, likely entry of a permanent injunction. Then we go back up the ladder, presumably back to SCOTUS, by which point it will be back up to a full roster. I have heard suggestions that the government might seek a quick permanent injunction (if a defendant has no new evidence, the court can convert a preliminary injunction into a permanent injunction without a trial or further hearing) and expedited review to SCOTUS. Given my long-standing position that there will not be a ninth Justice until the start of OT 2017*, I am not sure this will achieve anything, until the hope is that SCOTUS would stay the permanent injunction pending review (which, of course, does nothing about the preliminary injunction that remains in place until final judgment).
[*] Assuming, of course, that a Republican Senate does not continue to refuse to allow an appointment because, even though the people have spoken, the real governing principle is that Democratic presidents do not get to make Supreme Court appointments.
Legally, the United States could attempt to apply DAPA outside of the eight states that brought this suit. Although the district court purported to issue a nationwide injunction, I do not believe a district court has that power. The United States is enjoined from enforcing DAPA only as to the plaintiff states, and no one else is protected by the injunction;** this was not a class action and there is nothing that legally makes this relief indivisible. The precedential force of the constitutional analysis supporting the injunction is limited to the Fifth Circuit. And SCOTUS's affirmance of that analysis does not create binding precedent. So nothing in the Constitution or any court order prohibits the United States from enforcing DAPA in, for example, California, especially if California does not object.
[**] For much the same reason that Obergefell did not, of its own force, require Texas to issue marriage licenses, a position Texas happily adopted a year ago.
Politically, I do not see this happening. It would take too long to explain to the public concepts such as scope of an injunction, regional precedent, and non-precedential SCOTUS affirmances. Instead, this would play in the public as the administration ignoring a court order, one seemingly emanating (or at least endorsed by) SCOTUS. [Update: I imagine the government also wants to avoid a situation in which it enforces the immigration laws differently in 42 states than it does in the other eight.]
Monday, June 20, 2016
12 years a President?
Following up on my discussion of Veep's penultimate episode and Tom James occupying the White House for twelve years: I asked Brian Kalt (MSU), who wrote the book Constitutional Cliffhangers, which explored various gaps in the constitutional provisions on presidential selection. He wrote the following (reposted here with his permission):
On the question of whether acting as president for four years should count, it does seem right textually. As such, I think it provides one of the strongest tests I can imagine of a person’s commitment to textualism, because it is so much at odds with the purpose of the 22nd Amendment. As with the question of whether there is a distinction between being eligible to be elected president and being eligible to serve at all, the legislative history tells us that the drafters intentionally sacrificed precision and broad coverage on the altar of supposedly simple language.
Following the path I take in my book, I would dodge the question somewhat by focusing on the practical side—positing that it is very unlikely that such a person would be able to get the people to elect him two more times. Conversely, if he did manage to get the people to elect him two more times, it would be hard for the courts or Congress to deny him his prize.
Brian described evolution of the language of the 22d Amendment, where a desire for simplicity of language collided with a desire to count at least some portion of another person's term toward the term, leading to a an unintended hole.
First, the version introduced in the House said that no one: “shall be chosen or serve as President of the United States for any term, or be eligible to hold the office of President during any term, if such person shall have heretofore served as President during the whole or any part of each of any two separate terms.”
The version that passed the House had the same effect, but was more concise: “Any person who has served as President of the United States during all, or portions, of any two terms, shall thereafter be ineligible to hold the office of President.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee loosened the restraints a bit in terms of timing (one day would not count; it had to be a year) but still did not limit it to terms to which someone else had been elected: “A person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, on three hundred and sixty-five calendar days or more in each of two terms shall not be eligible to hold the office of President, or to act as President, for any part of another term.”
Senator Magnuson was the great advocate of simplicity. He also did not want to count any partial terms. To him, then, the Veep character’s position would be just fine. His language was: “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice.”
The Senate’s final text (to which the House agreed) accepted Magnuson’s simplification of the “eliminated from what?” language, which was the basis of the discussion here a little while back on whether two-termers can serve as President even though they cannot be elected. But on the other part of the amendment, the “eliminated based on what?” language, the Senate was not willing to fail to count unelected service. When they restored language to count unelected service, though, they used the infelicitous phrasing that we are now discussing: “or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President.” They could have just eliminated everything after “term” and avoided our current dilemma.
We finally get to the House election, but the episode is shown through the documentary (Kissing Your Sister: The Story of a Tie) that Selina's daughter, Catherine, has been working on all season. It is a nice change of pace. It gives us scenes we already have seen in real time during the season, but from the different perspective of Catherine's hand-held camera. It also shows the background events for things we have seen on the show. For humor, we see the background shots of Jonah (unsuccessfully) chopping wood for his campaign commercial. We see into the personal lives of the staffers--Amy's attempts to get together with Dan, Kent's membership in a Spanish-speaking motorcycle gang, Mike's shifting preparations for the coming babies. And we see Selina's verbal revenge against Amy for her outburst last season.
For plot, Catherine catches the lobbyist and Speaker of the House walking into Tom James' office announcing "future calling;" this lead to the dinner at the Mongolian Barbecue that we saw live a few weeks ago. We also see Catherine's interview with Bill Ericsson, the former staffer who took the fall and went to jail last season for the Meyer Campaign's illegal activities; he says that if he were James, he would try to get three states to abstain to send it to the Senate. We know Ericsson got his conviction overturned on appeal (he was running the Widow Sherman's campaign in New Hampshire), so now we can wonder if James or the lobbyist helped Ericsson to get out of jail.The show went with Ericsson's plan, hinted at the end of last season--the final House vote is O'Brien 25, Meyer 22, 3 abstentions (Missouri, Vermont, and a third state we never saw). The Speaker adjourns the House. And the implication is that the Senate will elect James as VP and he will become President next week, because "a President shall not have been chosen."
Selina made one Hail Mary, trying to get Jonah to switch New Hampshire's vote to O'Brien. If O'Brien won, she could run against him in four years, but if James won, she would have to wait eight years, at which point she would be too old. Unfortunately, Jonah did not get the word in time (he was late for the vote because he spent the night with a high school senior/congressional groupie, then could not find the House chamber). After the session ends, he tries to change his vote, announcing "The Gentleman from New Hampshire puts forth on the floor a do-over."
So how did the show do on the Constitution and the electoral process? Not well--yes, I know it is a TV show and a great one; it just does not pass the Con Law exam).
• They got the dates wrong. The House election is taking place on January 3d and we see a flashback to Jonah's swearing in the day before (right before hooking up with the groupie). But under § 2 of the Twentieth Amendment, the new House convenes on January 3. And under 3 U.S.C. § 15, the House does not open and count the Electoral College votes until 1 p.m. on January 6. And the House cannot hold an election until it actually counts the electoral votes and determines that there is, in fact, a tie (what if there had been that faithless elector?).
• I am trying to figure out why three was the magic number of abstentions for denying a majority. There does not seem anything significant about that number. Also, no states had evenly divided delegations, which seems unlikely as a practical matter, given the number of states with even-numbered House caucuses (including New Hampshire, more on that below).
• On that point: I cannot find the answer to this question and do not feel like researching it at midnight: Are abstentions treated the same as divided caucuses? Or is divided caucus a vote for neither candidate, while an abstention is a non-vote? And does the Twelfth Amendment require a majority of all states or all states that case votes, with abstentions being non-votes that reduce the denominator? History is ambiguous. In 1800, all the representatives in Delaware (1) and South Carolina (4) abstained on the 36th ballot. Jefferson already had won 10 states, so he had the election anyway. But it is not clear whether his majority was out of 16 (total states) or 14 (states casting votes, since Delaware and South Carolina abstained because each of their members abstained)? Were the abstentions from those two states the same as, say, Maryland's earlier non-committal vote when the caucus split between Burr and Jefferson?
In the Veep-iverse, this matters for two reasons. If they are the same, James did not have to necessarily plot to get states to abstain, he could have just counted the votes and seen that there were a sufficient number of evenly divided even-numbered caucuses. If they are different, then O'Brien won the election, because the three abstention reduce the denominator to 47 (states voting), so O'Brien's 25 votes constituted a majority of that.
[Update: A participant in the Con Law Prof listserv offers the right way of looking at this: If every member of the caucus abstains, then the vote from the state is 0-0-X; this is an evenly divided caucus, just as much as a 1-1-1 caucus would be. So there are no non-votes, which means the denominator must be 50. But then we go back to James not needing states to abstain, but simply be divided, whether through true division or through strategic abstentions by individual members in a state that create a tie (we thought that is what he was doing two weeks ago in getting the seventh member of Colorado's caucus to abstain, producing a 3-3-1 division). So the show seems to err again, confusing abstentions by states with abstention by individual members that tilt the balance one way or another.]
• The House adjourns with no announcement or plans for another vote. Of course, in 1801 the House immediately dove into additional votes over the course of that day and the following days and weeks. Catherine's movie catches a snippet of a conversation in which Selina and one of her staffers mention that James likely got the Speaker to agree not to hold additional votes once the first produced no winner. But would the members of the House, especially those who support O'Brien (and thus are politically opposed to James), tolerate that? Would the public? Yes, James is popular and competent. But it seems too pat.
• Jonah, of course, makes a fool of himself. But the problem of placing him in New Hampshire arose again. New Hampshire has two representatives, so Jonah does not exclusively control the caucus vote. New Hampshire only voted for Meyer because the other New Hampshire representative also voted for Meyer. So, again, Jonah was not necessary. More importantly, Jonah could not unilaterally switch the state's vote; switching his vote, assuming his colleague did not switch (and Jonah never had a chance to talk to him), would only render New Hampshire a split caucus going for no one, denying both candidates the possibility of a majority (unless abstentions do not count as votes).
• The show got its numbers wrong, at least for purposes of season-long consistency. The idea was that Jonah would cast the vote that would give Selina New Hampshire and the presidency. Put aside that NH could not play that role. It only works if NH would be the 26th state for Meyer. But the final vote with NH going for Selina, was 25-22-3. Even if all three abstentions would have been Meyer states, that still would not produce a victory for her.
• The show is setting up a Tom James presidency, continuing to ignore that James is not becoming President, he is only becoming acting President. Put differently, he does not hold the office of President, he only exercises those powers. The 22d Amendment expressly draws that distinction, as does the presidential succession statute. Even if it lasts four years, he still only acts as president during a period in which no President has been chosen. Neither the Constitution nor § 19 places a limit on the period in which someone can act as president or a limit on how long the period of non-qualification can last.
What the Speaker is allowing to happen is inconsistent with the purpose of the Twelfth Amendment. The amendment was motivated, in part, by the risk of "inversion," in which a party's preferred candidate for Vice President would win the House election and become President, against the preferences of the party and perhaps the public. The Federalists who voted for Burr did so because they hated Jefferson, but also because they knew it would mess with the Democratic-Republican plans to have Jefferson as President and Burr as VP. The Speaker is allowing the very inversion the amendment was designed to prohibit. Again, because James is so popular and so competent, the public in the Veep-iverse is okay with it, as he will get things done. Thinking about it, however, it starts to sound like a coup--the VP is conspiring with the Speaker to prevent a vote for the presidency, allowing him to exercise those powers for an entire four-year term. I think there would be strong opposition. And I also would expect both Meyer and O'Brien to lobby House members from their respective parties to force a vote--perhaps on bipartisan threat of removing the Speaker if he does not continue holding elections. Again, too pat.
Since the show is coming back for another season, it must be setting up what it hinted at in last season's finale--James nominating Meyer as his vice president, so next season she will be back where she started--doing nothing and waiting for the President to call. Too bad that is a constitutional impossibility.
• And now for the big mistake (ed: Maybe). Selina explains to Amy her plan to have Jonah switch so she could run against O'Brien in four years, whereas if James is made (acting) President, he would serve for eight years. Amy corrects her--"Twelve, ma'am. Tom's first term won't count because technically he'll be an elevated Vice President." My initial reaction was this is unforgivably wrong and I cannot believe they missed that badly, even if only as a piece of exposition. The Twenty-second Amendment makes clear that someone who has acted as president for more than two years of someone else's term can only be elected President once. Since James will act as president for four years (we presume, because the Speaker is blocking a vote), he could be elected once for four more years, but not a second time.
But then someone pointed out that the 22d Amendment says "held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President." (emphasis mine). The argument is that James is not acting in a term to which someone else was elected; he is acting because no one was elected. Textually that seems right. And it cannot be excused as drafting for an unforeseen situation, since the 12th and 20th Amendments both contemplated a VP acting as president for some period of time if the House failed to elect a President. So if they intended to include that in the 10-year limit, the drafters of the 22d should have accounted for that. Amy's exposition ("he'll be an elevated Vice President") is still wrong, but the substance is right.
But this reading is so inconsistent with the purpose of all three amendments related to a House election and presidential succession that it cannot be right. The 22d was intended to limit the number of years anyone can exercise executive power. And it would incentivize the very manipulations we see here, both in the Electoral College and in any House contingency election. And those incentives would not be limited to the VP-elect. If the House cannot pick a President and the Senate cannot pick a VP, the Speaker would act as president under § 19(a). So imagine the plots that could be hatched.
• The process the show followed for the House election is interesting. One member from each state, in alphabetical order, cast the entire state's vote publicly, presumably with individual votes having been taken in secret and within each caucus. In both 1800 and 1824, however, individual votes were recorded and each state's ballot was written and sealed. The procedures for the House vote are left to the House and changeable for each election, so nothing is set in stone. Lawrence Tribe wrote a nice essay on the process prior to the 1980 election, when it seemed possible that independent John Anderson might win some electoral votes, perhaps enough to deprive Reagan or Carter of a majority and throw the election into the House (spoiler: He didn't).
Thursday, June 09, 2016
Permanent injunctions and no mootness in marriage equality litigation
I missed this yesterday, but Judge Granade entered a permanent injunction in Strawser v. Strange. She rejected the state's argument that the case was moot in light of Obergefell, pointing to the suspended Roy Moore and the Supreme Court of Alabama's refusal to vacate its March 2015 Mandamus and that court's continued criticism of Obergefell as demonstrating that the state officials cannot show that enforcement of the marriage ban is certain not to occur. That the court (including whoever is Chief and serving as the administrative supervisor of the state judiciary ) is especially salient in Alabama, where judicial-branch officials are charged with issuing marriage licenses.
Judge Granade's order follows on the heels (and relies on) a similar permanent injunction in Brenner v. Scott in Florida back in March (sorry to have missed it at the time). The court in Brenner was even more dismissive of the state's mootness arguments. The court pointed to the state's refusal to immediately comply with earlier orders, the legislature's failure to repeal or amend the ban on same-sex marriages and other laws affected by that ban, and requests of state officials to "clarify" the scope of the injunction on other issues that turn on recognition of same-sex marriage. For example, the State Surgeon General asked for clarification whether, under Obergefell and the injunction, they must identify a female non-biological parent on a birth certificate, even though the document says "father;" the judge insisted the answer should be easy (same-sex couples must be treated the same as opposite couples in all respects) and the request itself showed that the defendants have not "unambiguously terminated their illegal practices." These courts join the Eighth Circuit in rejecting the argument that officials' agreement to comply with Obergefell, without more, moots unrelated cases involving different parties and different laws.
There is a procedural morass here that makes this a lot more complicated and that I need to think through further.
On the one hand, SCOTUS precedent should not moot an unrelated case, given the general rule that voluntary cessation does not moot and especially given my departmentalist model in which state officials have no constitutional obligation to follow SCOTUS (or any other) precedent outside of a judgment against them as to particular parties. That keeps the controversy alive, since every new request for a license is a new controversy beyond the scope of any existing court order. That state officials are not rushing to apply Obergefell to new settings is a product of Obergefell not extending that far.
On the other hand, the limited scope of most injunctions (including the injunction in Brenner, although not Strawser, given the class certification) should make a permanent injunction inappropriate once the named plaintiffs received their marriage licenses on the strength of the preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs got what they wanted and the defendants gave the plaintiffs what they were entitled to, so there is nothing more for the court order to do as to these parties. Everything else is for further state compliance with respect to people and issues not before the court and, if necessary, further litigation and a new injunction involving those new parties and new issues. For example, Brenner recognized that the birth-certificate issue is "not well presented in this case," since none of the plaintiffs seeks a birth certificate; there are two separate lawsuits by unrelated parties against the Surgeon General for refusal to issue such certificates. And if those statutes are constitutionally invalid (as they assuredly are under Obergefell), then state officials will be enjoined from enforcing those laws as to those plaintiffs. But that should not provide a basis for the type of free-standing injunction against taking any "steps to enforce or apply" Florida's prohibition on same-sex marriage, unconnected to context or party, in a case in which the plaintiffs only sought marriage licenses.
Finally, an interesting side note: I found the Strawser order on the website for Americans United for Separate of Church and States, which is undertaking representation of couples seeking marriage licenses in Alabama (and presumably elsewhere), since the refusals are now grounded in officials' religious objections to performing this function. It is interesting how the constitutional valance of marriage equality, and thus of the advocacy groups involved, has shifted.
Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Stern on liberals, sexual violence, and the justice system
I was going to write something about the misguided effort by California voters to attempt to recall Judge Aaron Persky in response to his light sentence on convicted sexual assaulter Brock Turner, arguing that anyone supporting such efforts cannot complain when state judges are removed or non-retained in response to, for example, pro-LGBTQ rulings (e.g., three members of the Supreme Court of Iowa in 2010). But Mark Joseph Stern at Slate (whose work I generally do not like), beat me to it. He ties the recall petition to a host of issues in which progressive commitment to due process, basic defendant rights, and judicial independence have run aground in cases of sexual violence, with the ordinarily progressive position abandoned; these include victim-impact statements, propensity evidence in sexual-violence cases, the right to confront witnesses, and general abandonment of due process in campus sexual assault.
To further illustrate the shifting locus: During lunch when I was interviewing at one law school, the subject turned to summer public-interest scholarships (small-money grants for students working public-interest summer jobs). The faculty member at the table said the grants were available for students working at the public defender's, but not to students in prosecutors' offices, which did not qualify as "public interest." That is, unless they were prosecuting domestic violence and sexual assault.
Saturday, June 04, 2016
Muhammad Ali and the Law
Some law-related thoughts following the death of Muhammad Ali.
Ali's direct contribution to U.S. law is the Supreme Court decision (in a case captioned Cassius Marsellus CLAY, Jr. also known as Muhammad Ali) reversing his conviction for refusing Army induction. It was a per curiam opinion, decided on fairly narrow grounds, so nothing that would become canon or significant precedent. Ali had sought a conscientious-objection exemption, which at the time required that the person have a sincere, religiously grounded objection to war in any form. Although a hearing officer found all three elements satisfied and recommended to the Appeal Board that his status be recognized, the Department of Justice wrote a letter to the Board recommending rejection of status, based on DOJ's purported findings that Ali failed to satisfy any of the three elements. The Appeal Board denied c/o status, disregarding the hearing officer's recommendation and without explanation, although the only other available basis was the DOJ letter. Before the Court, however, the government conceded that Ali's objection was sincere and religiously based. That brought the case within precedent holding that when the basis for a selection-service (or any other government) decision is uncertain but some possible bases are unlawful or erroneous, the entire decision must be vitiated. Rather than speculating whether the Board might have relied on the one remaining basis (the objection not being to war in any form), the Court rejected the Board's decision in toto and reversed the conviction. Justice Douglas concurred; he argued that the evidence showed Ali objected to all but Islamic war against nonbelievers, a "matter of conscience protected by the First Amendment which Congress has no power to qualify or dilute" by limiting c/o status only to those who object to all war in all forms. Justice Harlan concurred in the result, concluding that the DOJ letter could be read as claiming that Ali's assertion of C/O status was untimely, an error that called for reversal under the same line of cases as the majority relied on. The inside-the-Court workings leading to the decision were the subject of the otherwise-silly Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight.
Ali is lionized for this stand, often through the modern laments about professional athletes refusing to take political stands or become politically involved the way Muhammad Ali did. But this has always seemed unfair. Ali was not lionized at the time. His actions were unpopular with the press and much of "mainstream" America (which did not like Ali to begin with, regarding him as an uppity loudmouth). The exception was African-Americans and young anti-war activists on college campuses. He was stripped of the heavyweight title and denied a license to fight in any state, most importantly New York (Madison Square Garden remained the center of the boxing world), costing him 3 1/2 years at the prime of his career. Although ultimately vindicated by SCOTUS, it came at tremendous cost to his career. Modern athletes asked to take political stands almost certainly do not face similar exile from their sports. But to normalize Ali* as the expectation for high-profile athletes seems unfair, a burden we do not place on other people, even other famous people, anywhere else in society.
[*] The other person forwarded as the aspiration is Jackie Robinson. But Robinson was somewhat forced to take a stand by circumstance--being the first African-American player in modern baseball made him inherently political. And the abuse Robinson took no doubt took a psychological and physical toll that contributed to him dying at age 53.
Update: Case in point from the Daily News, extolling Ali for "offer[ing] a roadmap for today’s athlete to be an activist," while 1) eliding that in 1967, this columnist almost certainly would have been lining up to excoriate Ali for talking to much and dodging the draft, and 2) perpetuating the idea that the only true activist is the one who sacrifices millions of dollars and the prime of his career, something we ask of no one else. The Big Lead provides a good critique. At the same time, it understates the point in saying "[t]here are few, if any, athletes who can match Ali’s legacy fighting for social issues. That’s what made him such an important figure." Ali's legacy is, in part, a unique product of circumstances and initially unlawful action by the United States. That is why no one can match it.
Further Update: This Slate piece goes into detail on a lot of these themes, including more background on DOJ's efforts to influence the Appeal Board and on the prosecution, which were influenced by congressional and administration pressure.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Thiel, settlement, and third-party funding
First, it derides the ACLU/NAACP analogy (also offered by Eugene Kontorovich) as "ridiculous." That is correct to the extent the ACLU or NAACP are not motivated by private vendettas. But the comparison works at the broader level of someone with an agenda (whether personal or ideological) helping someone else litigate their claims. And the fact that the agenda is personal rather than ideological should not matter. Public-interest organizations are no more consistent than individuals in their positions, as will no doubt be demonstrated when various political groups go silent about President Trump's executive actions.Second, it argues that Thiel 's "Ahab-like mission" prevented the case from settling, which would have been the better solution to properly balance free speech and privacy concerns. But the prevailing view is that too many cases settle too easily, often under pressure from judges pushing settlement, and often confidentially, thereby depriving the public of knowledge of the case or its outcome and making it harder for repeat-player defendants (such as Gawker) to be held accountable. Moreover, to the extent Thiel's funding hand created a conflict between his interests and a settlement that would have been best for Hogan, this case starts to look quite a bit like NAACP-run impact litigation, where a settlement that might be best for the individual client is not consistent with the funder's long-term ideological or institutional needs and goals. So the non-settlement undermines the supposed ridiculousness of the NAACP/ACLU analogy--the potential for party-funder conflict looms in both.
Third, the focus on settlement as the means to balance speech and privacy and serve the public interest (by making Gawker pay for a violation while not being put out of business) is nonsense. We do not strike the balance by settling individual cases, although the parties themselves might. We strike the balance in the legal rules themselves, protecting speech against civil liability for invasion-of-privacy until the speaker crosses some line (the location of which will be the issue on appeal in this case). If Gawker crossed that line, there is no balance to be struck; it should be on the hook for all the harm it legally caused by violating Hogan's rights. And if that harm is so great that it forces Gawker out of business, so be it.
Finally, the post argues that Thiel's supposed deterrence goal is undermined by the fact that he financed the lawsuit in secret, because deterrence only works if the punishment is publicly known. But this makes no sense. It is not Thiel's funding efforts that punishes Gawker, it is the $ 140 million judgment that Hogan achieved through litigation funded by Thiel. And that judgment is publicly known. And that judgment (if it stands, which I do not believe it will) will have a pretty strong deterrent effect. Thiel's identity is not necessary for deterrence. Although, to the extent we are concerned about anonymous funding, Simona Grossi's argument about transparency in funding offers a solution.
Friday, May 27, 2016
Litigation financing and the First Amendment
I wanted to share two takes on the news that tech billionaire Peter Thiel has been funding Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media. Simona Grossi (Loyola-LA) argues there is nothing inherently wrong with Thiel financing someone else's litigation, which represents a different type of third-party litigation financing, although she suggests that due process may require transparency in such funding arrangements.* Slate's Mark Joseph Stern argues that the problem is not Thiel funding the litigation, but that the litigation is possible because of elected state judges and state privacy torts that may not sufficiently leave room for free speech.
[*] In discussing litigation financing, Grossi mentions public-interest organizations providing free/reduced-fee representation. But she does not mention the role of attorneys' fees for many of these organizations, which affects how that financing model operates. Of course, the court knows when attorneys' fees are potentially in play, so any transparency concerns are addressed.
Both argue that Thiel's funding activities are protected by the First Amendment, although for different reasons. Stern finds support from NAACP v. Button and constitutional protection for ideological litigation, while Grossi finds support in an analogy to campaign finance. The answer, I think, is a combination of these.
Button does not do it alone, because the case was less about the NAACP financing litigation than about it soliciting clients to bring litigation (financed, obviously, by the NAACP, but that was not the focus in the case). Plus, the NAACP was, in some sense, seeking to vindicate its organizational rights (or those of its members) through litigation. It is harder to conceptualize Thiel as vindicating his own rights. While he benefits from destroying Gawker, it is only in the way that everyone benefits from the deterrent effects of tort liability (either because Gawker stops publishing mean things or because Gawker stops publishing at all). This seems different than the NAACP desegregating the schools, where the precedential and remedial benefits of a judicial declaration of the unconstitutionality of segregated schools are more direct. That distinction also may relate to the litigation financed--challenges to the constitutional validity of state laws of general applicability as opposed to individual tort suits for damages against a private entity.
But Button does some work for the campaign-finance analogy. Money is not speech. But speech costs money, so restricting the money that can be spent on speech necessarily limits speech.** Under Button, litigation is First Amendment activity.*** It follows that spending money on litigation also must enjoy constitutional protection. That does not get us all the way there, obviously. But it at least forces Thiel's critics to identify what makes this financing model different and uniquely harmful and to show why any harms cannot be addressed in other ways (such as through the disclosure that Grossi suggests).
[**] As a general proposition, even critics of Citizens United and current campaign-finance doctrine would recognize that, for example, government could not limit the amount of money a company can spend on (truthful non-misleading) advertising or on printing its newspaper or magazine.
[***] The Court does not specify whether it is speech or petition activity, although it should not matter. Petition activity costs money, just as speech does.
Lost in much of the hand-wringing is that Thiel's efforts, at least with respect to Hogan, will likely fail. It seems unlikely that the judgment against Gawker will stand (in light of both First Amendment considerations and the trial court's evidentiary rulings), certainly not in the ridiculous amounts imposed. Of course, Thiel's goal may have been simply to force Gawker to spend millions of dollars on its defense, which it has done, even if Gawker does not also have to pay millions in damages. If so, the answer may lie in fee-shifting, although drafting a fee-shifting rule without it turning into "loser pays" will pose its own challenges.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Frank Easterbrook, the First Amendment, and the Chicago Cubs
My colleague calls this case the trifecta. Interestingly, news reports (BNA, NLJ, etc.) have focused on the court of appeals affirming the denial of the preliminary injunction and rejecting the argument that the flat ban on sales on the adjacent sidewalks violates the First Amendment. But the court spent a lot of time on possible First Amendment defects in a related ordinance requiring all peddlers to be individually licenses, except those selling newspapers. The court questioned both the exception for newspapers under Reed v. Gilbert and the licensing requirement as a whole, to the extent it disadvantages a small publication that relies on individual part-time sellers. The opinion offers the plaintiffs arguments to make in moving for a permanent injunction on remand.
And Easterbrook could not resist starting with this line: "The 2016 season is under way, and the Cubs are doing well on the field. Left Field hopes to do as well on appeal."
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Trusts, religious paraphenalia, and freedom of the church
I am a week late to this decision from Judge McConnell of the District of Connecticut, resolving a dispute between two congregations over ownership of a pair of historic rimonim (the deocorative bells that adorn a dressed Torah). The opinion spends 40+ pages lovingly tracing the long story of Touro Synagogue and the Jews of Newport, R.I., including the 1790 letter exchange with George Washington and with several divergences into the Iberian Inquisition and differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi practices. The opinion is a wonderful read as a judicial summary of a piece of American-Jewish history. The central legal issue was the relationship between the current Newport congregation and a congregation in New York that formed in the early 1800s, when most of the Newport Jewish community left for New York.
My question, for those who know such things (looking at you, Rick and Chris Lund) is whether the court successfully avoided any freedom-of-the-church problems. Because the structure of Jewish congregations is not religiously compelled, the questions (what corporations were formed, trust relationships, trustee conduct, existence of a bailment) could be resolved on purely secular grounds. I caught one point in which the court drew an inference (that the rimonim were received at the same time as some torahs, because the items travel together) that is based on some religious idea. But mostly the court seemed able to focus on general legal principles, without touching on any point of obvious Jewish law.
Are there First Amendment problems in this decision? Is this case so different from deciding which of two competing groups is the "real church" arguing over property, the type of cases courts are not permitted to hear?
Monday, May 23, 2016
The show takes place during Thanksgiving weekend, in an episode that has a lot of House-election stuff in the air.
Selina begins making phone calls to whip votes for the coming House election. But the show approaches that election in a way that is, at least on the surface, sloppy--the correct understanding may be in the background, but the details to come out in the way characters discuss the mater.
Details (and spoilers) after the jump.
First, no one has yet acknowledged that we do not know for sure that there is an Electoral College tie. The electors have not yet voted (that happens on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, so about three weeks from the current action), not every state has a faithless-elector law (and for the states that do, their constitutionality is not settled), and in the show's universe of less-rigid partisanship, an elector defecting to the other party (to say nothing of the hypothesized rogue Tom James vote) is not outside the realm. We will not know that the vote is tied until January 6, when the House meets to count the votes. There is a presumptive tie, given how the College now works, but it remains just that.
Second, it seems odd that Selina seems to be whipping current members of the House, since it is the new House, beginning January 5, that will count the electoral votes and, if there is no majority, select the President. The show could at least mine some scenes from Selina lobbying some new House-members-elect who have not yet taken office.
Third, she is making calls as if individual votes matter, rather than the partisan make-up of the state delegation. Thus, when Rep. Harry Sherman of New Hampshire (an 89-year-old man from the other party) dies, Selina's reaction is that this is one less vote for O'Brien, rather than talking in terms of how it affects the New Hampshire delegation as a whole. New Hampshire has two representatives. If the other representative is from Sherman's party, the state still goes for O'Brien; if she is from the other party, it turns a split delegation into a vote for Selina. That should be the discussion.
That last point leads to the other narrative development over replacing Sherman The state announces it will hold a special election "before Christmas." Sherman's widow (perhaps also-octogenarian, although it would not surprise me if the show trotted out a much-younger woman and played that for laughs) is running to replace him and Selina's party recruits Jonah to oppose her.* But the show is not clear about what vacancy is being filled. Is it the current term, that ends on January 4? Would a state bother to hold an election so someone can serve for 15 days? Or is it for the next term (the one for which Sherman was re-elected) that begins on January 5? But that seat is not yet vacant, since the term of Congress has not begun. Would a state hold a special election before the beginning of the new Congress to fill a vacancy that will occur when the new Congress is seated, but not before and that thus does not exist? It does not appear to be constitutionally obligated to do so. Perhaps it would do so here, given the extraordinary and historic circumstances. In any event, the show is being non-specific on this point.
[*] The decision to have Jonah as the candidate is discussed inconsistently. At times, he is spoken of as cannon fodder, thrown in to lose to the grieving widow. At other times, it is discussed as Jonah likely winning the election (because his uncle is king-maker in the state), but only as a short-time placeholder until his more-favored cousin returns from a tour of duty in the Middle East.
Finally, the show throws out a little Twenty-fifth Amendment action. Selina wants to disappear for the weekend to have minor cosmetic surgery to remove the bags from under her eyes, which leaves both eyes with rings of blood for a few days. Naturally, she is needed to speak to the public, first to calm concerns over a salmonella outbreak and then to address Rep. Sherman's death. She asks both Tom James** and current VP Doyle to take the lead. Doyle agrees once, then balks a second time until he is told why Selina cannot do it. When Mike lies that she just had some minor oral surgery that renders her unable to speak in public, Doyle demands to know why the amendment was not invoked for the President's incapacity or why, if not incapacitated, Selina does not do this herself; Mike's response--"she's not not incapacitated"--is classic Veep.
[**] James is shown working some scheme through his public statements, in which he appears to be shilling for companies represented by a lobbying firm. Is he setting up that one faithless elector to get him into the House vote? Dan, who has been assigned as James' bag man, catches on, but no one in Selina's camp believes him.
Friday, May 20, 2016
Money and departmentalism
Pending legislation in Oklahaom would prohibit doctors from performing abortions (it would be a felony and would result in loss of medical license). This Slate story and this letter from the Center for Reproductive Rights describes the controversy in what I would argue are the appropriate departmentalist terms. It is about time and money: The time and taxpayer money the state is going to waste defending a law that will pretty obviously lose in the courts because the courts are bound to follow SCOTUS and other binding precedent (under which this law is, as the CRR says, blatantly unconstitutional). And, we can add to the bill the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees, which are going to be quite high, if the marriage litigation and other recent examples are an indicator. And they situate this amid all of Oklahoma's economic problems and the money it is not spending on education, social services, and the health and welfare of women and children. Nowhere does the author or the CRR suggest that anyone in the state legislature or the governor is acting contrary to the Constitution or to their oaths by voting on or signing this bill. Instead, it's that this is making it impossible for you to govern the state well.
[*] I want to explore more about the deterrent value of attorney's fees. While that was not the original purpose of § 1988, fees increasingly play that role, especially in non-monetary cases such as this one.
And that is the larger point I am searching for. Political-branch officials do not act "unconstitutionally" when they act contrary to judicial precedent, only when they fail to follow a judgment rendered against them. And if they want to keep forcing new litigation beyond that judgment, even as against precedent, that is consistent with their constitutional vision. But if the cost of this move becomes so great, and starts to distract or draw from other priorities, the hope is that the public will rise up at the ballot box when this becomes wasteful enough. That, in turn, provides a political check on similar behavior.
But to return to the question of legal and judicial ethics in this realm. Some of the legislators are likely attorneys and have attorneys working for them; Fallin likely has attorneys working for her. Are they violating their ethical obligations by voting for this law or advising that they can vote for it?
Update: Gov. Fallin veoted the bill, arguing that the absence of a definition of "necessary to preserve the life of the mother" (the one situation in which an abortion would not be illegal) rendered the law vague, likely to fail in a constitutional challenge, and thus not an appropriate vehicle for challenging Roe.
Monday, May 16, 2016
Zubik, shadow dockets, and dispute resolution
It is easy to conclude that the anti-climactic resolution in Zubik v. Burwell is simply a consequence of the Court being down a Justice. What would have been a 5-4 win for the plaintiffs (with Justice Scalia in the majority) became a 4-4 affirmance (of disparate lower-court outcomes), necessitating the Court to order supplemental briefing and then to remand when, in light of that supplemental briefing, it was no longer necessary for this Court, as opposed to a lower court, to be involved.
And all of that may be true. But I want to try to situate this case, given its actual resolution, in two broader concerns.
First is the connection to William Baude's Shadow Docket. Perhaps this case demonstrates how cases can move back and forth between the "real" docket, in which merits decisions are made and explanations given, and the shadow docket, in which reasons are not given, but hints are dropped and cases are knocked out of the Court for non-merits reasons. The Court functionally DIGed the case, but in a way that gave specific marching orders to the lower courts to start over and, hopefully, put together the compromise resolution that the parties suggested in the supplemental briefing. But the end result plays much like what we saw in the lead-up to Obergefell.
Second, this type of resolution is not necessarily a bad thing. District courts (as do courts of appeals, although not quite as often) do this all the time--it is an aspect of "managerial judging," especially in cases involving institutional reform. While the Court is partially tasked with resolving significant disputes over constitutional (and in this case statutory) meaning and application, it also is the top of a judicial system whose primary function is to resolve discrete disputes between discrete parties. And if the Court can do that with a "work-it-out" mandate without passing on the legal question, there is no structural reason--no reason grounded in the "purposes" of SCOTUS or the federal courts--for it not to do so. Especially if it provides a solution that protects everyone's rights.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Roy Moore suspended, facing removal
The Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama has filed a Complaint against Chief Justice Roy Moore with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which will hold trial to determine whether Moore should be removed from the bench. Moore is suspended with pay while the proceedings play out.
The focus of the charges was Moore's administrative order of January 2016, ordering all probate judges in the state that they had a ministerial duty not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending resolution of the mandamus action in the Supreme Court. This order was contrary to the statewide defendant class injunction in Strawser, the Eleventh Circuit's effective affirmance of that injunction (the Court rejected a challenge to the injunction as being inconsistent with the SCoA mandamus ruling, insisting that the SCoA ruling was abrogated by Obergefell), and Obergefell itself.
I know nothing about judicial ethics, particularly in Alabama. But it seems to me the first charge--that Moore ordered the probate judges to ignore a federal court's injunction--is fair game (although the fact that the Eleventh Circuit had weighed in on the issue seems beside the point). The rest--that Moore decided substantive legal issues, including in ways that conflicted with his role deciding cases as a member of the Court--seem a bit shakier, at least to the extent they suggest an ethical conflict between the Chief Justice's role as administrative head of the state judiciary and as a member of the courts. The last five charges assume that SCOTUS's decision in Obergefell is the last constitutional word and a state judge, even one acting in an administrative capacity, cannot second-guess or disagree with that.
I welcome comments from this with a background in Alabama judicial ethics.
Tuesday, May 03, 2016
"And a question everyone here should ask . . . " "Are you Canadian?"
I'm making this brief return to Prawfs (thanks Howard!) to plug an article by Christopher Schmidt and me on the issue of Senator Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president. The issue got a lot of play earlier in the primary season when Donald Trump said that Cruz's Canadian birth was a problem for the Senator's campaign, and numerous constitutional law profs weighed in on the issue. (See, e.g., Larry Tribe, Akhil Amar, Einer Elhauge, Eric Posner, Michael Ramsey.) The debate centered around originalism: would Cruz be eligible under an originalist understanding of the natural-born citizen clause? Tribe, Elhauge and Posner said no, while Ramsey said yes. Commentators debated the original understandings of the Constitutional language, as well as certain 18th Century English and American statutes -- but they also asked whether originalism was the appropriate constitutional interpretive method. Tribe, for example, argued that Cruz was ineligible under originalism but perfectly eligible under a "living constitutionalist" approach.
In our article "The Natural-Born Citizen Clause, Popular Constitutionalism, and Ted Cruz's Eligibility Question," Chris and I focus on the role of popular constitutionalism in the modern conservative movement and discuss the ramifications of a popular constitutionalist approach to the natural-born citizen clause. Drawing on Chris's terrific earlier work on the Tea Party and popular constitutionalism, the article makes the case that the popular understanding of "natural-born" would likely exclude Cruz from eligibility, as the common understanding has been that a candidate must have been born in the United States. However, Cruz's campaign has emphasized that this question is "settled law," and has looked to elite constitutional opinion to nail down the issue. In particular, an article by Neal Katyal and Paul Clement -- published in the Harvard Law Review Forum, and timed to come out just before Cruz's presidential announcement -- claims that Cruz is eligible, and that any other conclusion is "specious" and "spurious." Cruz has not left the clause's meaning open to voters, and he has not asked them to draw upon their "conservative constitutional principles" to decide whether he is eligible. On other matters, however, Cruz has been very much a popular constitutionalist -- to an underappreciated extent. Cruz's political campaign consistently refers to the people's role in defending the Constitution, and he has been a Tea Party constitutionalist since at least 2012, when he brought Sarah Palin and other Tea Partiers on board for his senate campaign. In fact, Cruz has even advocated for amending the Constitution to allow for retention elections for Supreme Court justices.
Although the national media has largely moved on from the question of Cruz's eligibility, the issue still burbles below the surface. The snappy comeback from a Trump supporter yesterday shows that Cruz's Canadian birth still matters to some. If Cruz fails to get the Republican nomination, there are myriad reasons why voters might have settled on a different candidate. But popular constitutionalism in action might be one reason that voters cast their ballot for someone else.
Monday, May 02, 2016
Nothing new on the federal constitutional or succession front. The story is settling in for a recount under Nevada law--although I welcome election-law folks to offer thoughts about the state process, under which a sample of votes are recounted and if it is closer than a certain margin--Meyer needed t0 pick-up 512 votes--there would be a statewide recount.
The great lawyerly moment was over the effect of a comma on a ballot on which the voter had scrawled "Fuck Selina Meyer." The O'Brien people insist it is an O'Brien vote, the voter expressing disdain for Meyer; the Meyer people insist it is a Meyer vote because there is a comma in there ("Fuck, Selina Meyer"), the voter expressing "earthy but unambiguous enthusiasm for Selina Meyer." The election official counts it for Meyer. [Update: Courtesy of one of my students]:
Actually, I read it a third way--indicating resignation ("Fuck, nothing better, [throwing up hands], might as well vote for Meyer"), which still would have produced the same result of a vote for Meyer.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Old injunctions and new statutes
The recently enacted anti-LGBT legislation in Mississippi includes a provision allowing public officials to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if doing so conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. On Monday, lawyers for the Campaign for Southern Equality ("CSE"), an LGBT-rights organization, sent a letter to Mississippi's governor, attorney general, and registrar of vital records , arguing that this opt-out provision potentially conflicts with the permanent injunction barring all state officials from enforcing the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs interpret this to require state officials to "treat any gay or lesbian couple that seeks to marry the same as any straight couple that seeks to do so." The letter demands a "full and complete explanation" of the steps that will be taken to "ensure that gay and lesbian couples are not impeded or delayed when seeking to marry." Slate's Mark Joseph Stern praises this "clever exercise in civil procedure," enabling the organization to challenge the new law without a formal lawsuit.
But does it?
The injunction only protects the named plaintiffs. The named plaintiffs include two female couples, who presumably already received their licenses; the caption does not indicate this was a class action. Formally, the injunction does not obligate the defendants to do anything as to anyone else. If the plaintiffs are trying to use the injunction and enforcement (or threatened enforcement) of the injunction as a shortcut to halting the new law, it should not work because the injunction does not formally obligate state officials to do or not do anything as to anyone else. The twist is that CSE is also a named party, presumably having sued on behalf of its members, which theoretically includes every LGBT person in the state who wants a license. If so, this procedural move has a better chance, since CSE (and its members) is protected by the injunction and since state officials are prohibited from enforcing the law against CSE (and its members).
My best guess is that the state, the plaintiff, and the court will find a way to resolve this by creating reasonable opt-out methods, as has happened in other states. Still, this move requires careful consideration of the proper scope of civil-rights injunctions, something that is often overlooked.
Additional thoughts on Heffernan
SCOTUS on Tuesday decided Heffernan v. City of Paterson, holding 6-2 that a public employee stated a First Amendment claim when he was demoted on supervisors' erroneous belief/perception that he was engaged in protected political activity, even if he was not. Justice Breyer wrote for the Chief, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan; Justice Thomas dissented, joined by Alito. I analyzed the opinion for SCOTUSBlog.
A few additional thoughts on the decision and the case after the jump.The line-up makes sense, given the First Amendment predilections of the Chief and Kennedy, as well as those of Alito, in the other direction. I had some doubt following argument, especially in light of how the Chief and Kennedy both have voted in First Amendment cases touching on the government's institutional interests. (This discussion between Geoff Stone and Adam Liptak explores this institutionalist tendency).
The unspoken feature of this case is qualified immunity--I do not see how any First Amendment right was clearly established at the time of Heffernan's demotion, just given the divide within the Court. Yet it has not come up. I thought that Heffernan might have sought reinstatement to his previous position as detective, an equitable remedy to which immunity would not attach. But both the majority and the dissent spoke of this only as an action for damages. The Court remanded for further consideration of other First Amendment issues, but did not mention immunity as a continuing issue for the lower courts. [Update: Duh. There is no discussion of qualified immunity because the claim is against the City, which cannot assert immunity. As to any claim against the individual, Anon's suggestion would be an intriguing way around the problem]
Finally, the latter part Thomas's dissent, distinguishing harm from violation of a right, seems to illustrate how standing and causes of action have been improperly conflated. Thomas insists that a plaintiff states a § 1983 claim only if the government "has violated Heffernan's constitutional rights, not if it has merely caused him harm." Unconstitutional conduct alone does not violate an individual's rights, even if that individual is injured, unless the conduct violates her rights.* Thomas offers an example of a blatantly unconstitutional law permitting police officers to stop motorists arbitrarily to check for license and registration. Such a law would violate the Fourth Amendment. And attempts to enforce the law may harm an individual, such as by causing her to deal with traffic delays. But if police do not stop that individual, she would not have a § 1983 claim, because any injury (traffic delays) did not amount to a violation of her Fourth Amendment right not to be unlawfully detained.
[*] Thomas frames this as whether that plaintiff falls within § 1983's zone of interests, citing Lexmark and confirming that zone of interests is now unquestionably a merits inquiry.
Thomas is right in that analysis. But it seems to me we ordinarily would talk about this as a matter of standing, not the merits of the § 1983 cause of action. For example, in Clapper, the Court found the plaintiffs lacked standing because they could not show that the challenged search program would be used to search the plaintiffs themselves. In Susan B. Anthony, standing was present because the plaintiffs had shown that the challenged law might be enforced against the plaintiff's speech. And if that same motorist brought a preemptive challenge to enforcement of the traffic-stop law, Thomas almost certainly would agree that she lacked standing because she cannot show that she will be stopped. So why did Thomas (who joined the "it's standing" majorities in SBA and Clapper) speak of it here as part of the § 1983 cause of action, a merits inquiry?
Perhaps it turns on the difference between prospective and retroactive relief. Thus, harm goes to the cause of action when the plaintiff seeks a remedy for harm that already has occurred, while it goes to jurisdiction when the plaintiff seeks a remedy for ongoing harm or harm that may occur in the future. Indeed, mootness only applies to prospective, but not retroactive, claims. But that is unsatisfying for two reasons. First, the distinction is not supported by the text of § 1983, which allows an individual who has been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution to bring an"action in law" (i.e., a claim for legal relief) or a "suit in equity" (i.e., a claim for equitable relief). The requirements for stating a cause of action under the statute do not vary with the type of relief sought, nor should the relief sought affect whether a statutory requirement is suddenly constitutionalized. Plus, prospective relief may be available for past harms in a case such as this one--there is no reason to believe Thomas's analysis would change had Heffernan sought reinstatement to remedy his previous demotion.
Alternatively, the distinction between harm/injury and right already is prominent in standing doctrine. For example, a party asserting third-party standing (e.g., doctors challenging abortion restrictions) must show their own injuries, although seeking to vindicate others' constitutional rights. On this view, whether the plaintiff has suffered an injury goes to standing, while whether the plaintiff's right has been violated goes to the cause of action and the merits of the claim. Thus, Heffernan did not present a standing problem because his injury (demotion) was clear; it only presented a statutory cause of action problem, because he had not been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution. But this seems an artificial distinction. And it is one that Thomas himself appears to disavow. He speaks of the plaintiff needing to show the "right kind of harm" to state a § 1983 claim, meaning harm resulting from a constitutional violation. In other words, Thomas defines actionable harm as harm occurring from violation of a constitutional right.
Monday, April 25, 2016
As I indicated last week, I am going to blog about VEEP's storyline of an Electoral College tie. Mild spoilers (and direct quotations from the show's unique dialogue) after the jump.We pick up the morning after Election Day, still facing the Electoral College tie.
Early on, Selena asks "Didn't those Founding Fuckers ever hear of an odd number?" And while many a living constitutionalist has wanted to utter that phrase, this tie, per se, cannot be laid at the Founders' feet. The number of electors is based on congressional representation, which was last set by Congress in 1913. It might be more accurate to blame the Twenty-third Amendment, which, by adding three electors from D.C., turned an odd number into an even number. Or blame Nebraska and/or Maine, which allocate their electoral votes by district. The one time we see an electoral map, all five NE votes are red, although we do not see the split in Maine. Did O'Brien (Selena's opponent) win one district in Maine, giving him a vote he otherwise would not have, thereby creating the tie?
The big plot move is that Nevada, which had been called for O'Brien, is closer than 0.5%, kicking-in review of votes and a possible recount (Richard, who had been Jonah's crony all last season, is revealed to be an expert in Nevada recount procedure). So it appears that, at least initially, the show is going to satirize Florida 2000, rather than House of Representatives 1800. But just wait.
Finally, apparently con law experts are the new math/science/computer nerds. Amy returns from a conversation with the campaign's consultants and says "I don't know what's getting their dicks harder-an Electoral College tie or talking to a girl."
Friday, April 22, 2016
VEEP returns amid constitutional chaos
VEEP returns to HBO on Sunday night (with a new showrunner) where it left off--an Electoral College tie; a likely tie in the House of Representatives; Selena Meyer's running mate, Tom James, likely to win in the Senate, then become acting President with the House in stalemate; and the running mate/new VP/new acting President asking Meyer to become his VP. This commentator argues that the show cannot narratively go back to Meyer as VP, although it can draw the uncertainty out well. In advance of the episode, I repeat my argument that the show cannot constitutionally go back to Meyer as VP, because James will only act as President and will not have the power to appoint a Vice President.
I hopefully will have some comments on the episode on Monday. Maybe I will try bloggging the constitutional and succession issues for the season.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
The (still) irrepressible myth of Klein
SCOTUS on Wednesday decided Bank Markazi v. Peterson, rejecting, 6-2, a challenge to a federal statute under the separation of powers principles of U.S. v. Klein. My broadest takeaway from the case is that it makes clearer what probably was true before--short of the proverbial statute explicitly providing "In Smith v. Jones, Smith wins," nothing Congress would realistically enact (and the President sign) can ever violate Klein's prohibition on Congress deciding a case.Justice Ginsburg wrote for Justice Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. She hit a few key points.
1) She appeared to limit Klein's meaning to the idea that Congress cannot dictate constitutional meaning to the Court (what Larry Sager has called the prohibition on compelling the Court to speak "constitutional untruths"). Klein's additional statement that Congress also cannot dictate rules of decision in pending cases--from which SCOTUS, lower courts, and commentators had derived the "no dictating outcomes" principle--cannot be taken at face value. Instead, Ginsburg looked to the various non-Klein limitations on retroactive legislation and insisted that, outside of those limits, the Court had twice affirmed that "Congress may indeed direct courts to apply newly enacted, outcome-altering legislation in pending civil cases." At a minimum, this marks a change of course, since "no dictating outcomes" had become Klein's central point in sub-constitutional cases.
2) Ginsburg rejected the Bank's two main, related arguments that the statute was unprecedented in applying to only one case and in not leaving anything for judicial resolution, since the factual questions to be resolved (whether the asset was in the United States, was blocked, and was equal in value to a financial asset of Iran) were foregone conclusions. As to the second, she rejected the argument that the facts were foregone conclusions, requiring "plenty" of particular judicial determinations. And, in any event, that facts are undisputed does not mean a court is not applying new law to those facts. As to the first argument, Ginsburg insisted that § 8772 is not limited to only one case; while the enforcement proceedings were consolidated for administrative purposes, they reflected efforts to execute on 16 different judgments involving more than 1000 victims. Moreover, she rejected that idea that there is something inherently wrong with particularized legislation. While legislation often is of general applicability, bills governing one or a small number of subjects are permissible and common (citing, inter alia, Wheeling Bridge, a case upholding a statute designating a single particular bridge as a post road, a case Klein reaffirmed and distinguished).
3) Finally, Ginsburg emphasized the statute's national-security context as an additional reason for deference to the political branches. Since Congress and the President creating foreign sovereign immunity, they also have broader power to create exceptions. This struck me more as a cherry-on-top argument good for this case. I expect the next Klein case, arising in a purely domestic context, to deemphasize that piece.
The Chief dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor (which may be the most distinctive feature of the case), insisting that "there has never been anything" like this statute. No previous statute had singled out only a single pending case or a single defendant in this way. No statute had turned on such basic, already-undisputed facts.
To some extent, the divide in the Court turned on how they view several hypotheticals. The first is the "Smith wins" statute, which the Court had previously insisted (and the plaintiffs conceded at oral argument) would be invalid. The Court split over just how close § 8772 came to this paradigm. Roberts insisted they were the same, since creating a factual fait accomplii is no different that declaring a winner. Ginsburg, again deemphasizing this part of Klein, argued that such a law would be irrational, thereby violating Equal Protection. In any event, such a law would not be establishing a new legal standard, only compelling a result under old law. But Roberts had an interesting response: Such a statute would create new substantive law--old law did not necessarily determine that Smith wins, the new law does. Congress only can act by "changing the law" and anything Congress does (at least in exercising its power to enact statutes) is changing the law. It is necessary to take the next step of asking whether that new law that Congress enacted constitutes an invalid judicial act, something the majority fails to do.
The dissent offered a second hypothetical--a law declaring that a letter from a neighbor is conclusive proof of property boundaries, applicable only to one pending property case. But Ginsburg insisted this was the wrong analogy; the right analogy is a law clarifying which of two inconsistent maps should be used to establish the property boundary in the case. Notably, the statute declared invalid in Klein was problematic, in part, because Congress was dictating the effect to give a particular form of proof in the case.
A third Roberts hypothetical responded to the majority's position (used by many lower courts) that, as long as the result depends on some legal and factual determinations from the court, the law does not dictate the outcome. Imagine that the new law provided that Smith wins so long as the court finds that Jones was properly served and Smith's claim was within the statute of limitations, both of which are undisputed when the new law is enacted.* The majority's response, I suppose, is that those factual determinations do not go to the substantive merits of the claim being brought, while § 8772's factual determinations (whether the judgment debtor owns some enforceable assets) go to the heart of an action to execute a judgment.
[*] Then, just because, Roberts quoted Porgy and Bess.
Roberts closed by criticizing the opinion for offering a blueprint for how Congress can pick winners and losers in particular pending (or even threatened) cases going forward. In reality, it was clear before today that Klein would not have offered much resistance to most such efforts. Bank Markazi puts an exclamation point on that, particularly in arguably reading the "no dictating outcomes" principle out of Klein.
At the same time, Roberts did not offer a line between legislative and judicial conduct, "readily conced[ing], without embarrassment"** the difficulty in drawing such a line. Moreover, subject to due process retroactivity limits, Congress must be free to change the law in statutory cases, even where that alters who prevails in the case. After all, every law benefits one side or the other and Congress drafts the law to benefit the side Congress wishes to benefit. So even if Roberts is correct that § 8772 oversteps, he does not leave a sense of what Congress can, or should be able, to do.
[**] What might we craw from the "without embarrassment" language? And how might it relate to judges calling balls and strikes? Is Roberts acknowledging--and telling the public and the other branches--that constitutional decisionmaking is not so simple as he (and they) often make it out to be?
Friday, April 15, 2016
Attorneys' Fees and Departmentalism
The model of departmentalism, judgments, and precedent that I have been urging carries an obvious risk of recalcitrant officials enacting all sorts of blatantly unconstitutional laws (based on their independent constitutional judgment) or refusing to alter their conduct unless and until compelled to do so by new litigation producing a new injunction. The answer is a number of doctrines that incentivize voluntary compliance. Chief among these is attorneys' fees--in theory, if the state compels enough litigation rather than voluntary compliance, it will get expensive for the state and, perhaps, politically unpopular.
Another case in point: North Dakota enacted a "fetal heartbeat" law (no abortions after a heartbeat can be detected), which effectively banned abortions from the middle of the first trimester. The Eighth Circuit declared the law invalid, obviously, in light of SCOTUS precedent. And the state just agreed to pay $ 245k in fees for that litigation.
Will that sufficiently deter the legislature from enacting the next piece of "we think this is constitutional, no matter what the activist Court says" legislation? Hard to say.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
The new median Justice
Geoffrey Stone appeared on Dahlia Lithwick's Amicus podcast to criticize the Republican refusal to move on the Garland nomination. I agree with Stone's basic point that this is politics dressed up as neutral principles that do not hold water.
But Stone made another point, which may be more compelling: Yes, appointing Garland would move the Court to the left of where it is currently, but only to put the Court roughly back to where it was before Justice Alito replaced Justice O'Connor in 2005. His underlying argument goes like this:
• When Alito replaced O'Connor, Justice Kennedy became the median justice and he is much more conservative than O'Connor, particularly on issues such as affirmative action and reproductive freedom (see, e.g., the Court reversing course on both issues almost immediately after Alito joined the Court).
• Replacing Souter with Sotomayor and Stevens with Kagan moved the liberal side of the Court further left, creating a broader gap between the two sides, but leaving the median--Kennedy--in the same place.
• If Garland joins the Court, Breyer or he becomes the new median justice, depending on who is further to the right. That moves the Court to the left because the median moves to the left, from Kennedy.
But to conclude that this only brings us back to 2004 (as opposed to, say, 1967), Breyer or Garland (whoever is the new median) would have to be in roughly the same place ideologically as O'Connor. Instinctively, this seems wrong--both are to the left of O'Connor, even substantially so. But on closer review, it is not so clear. After 80 cases together (about one term), Breyer agreed with O'Connor as to at least a judgment 83 % of the time, more than he did with anyone other than Ginsburg. And the chart in this piece places Breyer as more liberal than O'Connor (who is at the midpoint of the Martin-Quinn Score), although only slightly so. And if Garland is more conservative than Breyer, he must be similarly close to O'Connor on these scales. So maybe Stone is right that it will move the Court left, but not back to the days of a bloc of six reliably liberal Justices.
None of which is going to move the Senate majority, which finds anything to the left of the current Court unacceptable. But is interesting evidence for a counter-intuitive point.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Bartnicki, Alvarez, and Hulk Hogan
Amy Gajda argues that Gawker (which, following Monday's punitive damages verdict, is on the hook for $140 million*) may not find the success it expects on appellate review, including if/when the case gets before SCOTUS. Amy tries to read the tea leaves from the various votes in Bartnicki v. Vopper, the Court's most recent privacy/First Amendment balance case; she concludes that the reasoning of five Justices in that case suggests a majority might have gone for Hogan. But we can do more with the vote-counting by looking at a more recent case--United States v. Alvarez (the Stolen Valor Act case). And all of it may tie into the Court's ongoing vacancy.
[*] Almost certain to be remitted, even if the liability decision stands.
Bartnicki applied the principle that government cannot punish the publication of truthful, lawfully obtained information on a matter of public concern except to serve a government need of the highest order. Although formally a 6-3 decision, in reasoning it was more of a 4-2-3. Justice Stevens wrote for a plurality of Kennedy, Souter, and Ginburg, applying that principle to its fullest. Justice Breyer, joined by O'Connor, argued for a much more even and flexible balance that, while supporting the free-speech position in that case, might not in different circumstances. Chief Justice Rehnquist, along with Scalia and Thomas, dissented. Gajda argues that, facing Hogan in 2001, a 5-4 majority may have affirmed the verdict.Of course, Bartnicki was a 2001 decision and only four Justices remaining on the Court. But Alvarez might provide a hint of where the current Court might go as to Gawker. Although not a privacy case, Alvarez involved a category of speech (knowingly false statements of real-world fact) that many believed was entirely without First Amendment value or any meaningful contribution to public debate. This was explicitly a 4-2-3 case with a similar line-up: Kennedy, with the Chief, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor; Breyer concurring with Kagan; and Alito, with Scalia and Thomas, dissenting. The two decisions are of a piece. The plurality in both cases adopted a strong speech-protective position, demanding a compelling government interest and finding that interest wanting. And Breyer's concurrences are of a piece--a call to avoid the rigidity of strict scrutiny in favor of the greater flexibility of intermediate scrutiny. In both, Breyer found the statute to violate the First Amendment as applied, while hinting that a different case might come out differently. (I was surprised that Kagan would go along with Breyer here).
To the extent we can read anything from prior case, I would argue that the voting in Alvarez and Bartnicki together suggests the following. At least four Justices--the Chief, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor--would be receptive to Gawker's First Amendment defense. Two Justices--Thomas (who dissented in both cases) and Alito (who dissented in Alvarez)--are generally unreceptive to most free-speech claims--will not be receptive. And two Justices--Breyer and Kagan--might apply less-exacting scrutiny to reject the First Amendment defense, given the greater privacy interests and the shakier news and information value of the video. And were Scalia still alive, Amy would be right that we might have a 5-4 Court affirming the jury verdict against Gawker.
Instead, we face a 4-4 Court. So like everything nowadays, it comes down to Maybe-Justice Garland or Justice Trump-Appointee. And what the Supreme Court of Florida does as the last court to hear the case before SCOTUS.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Parliamentary politics and judicial apppointments
Sen. Orrin Hatch has said he would be open to holding a hearing, and confirming, Merrick Garland during the lame-duck session in November/December, should Hillary Clinton wins the election. Ryu Spaeth at TNR reads this to mean it is not really about The People, at least if The People choose Hillary Clinton*--then we should accord the appointment power to the lame duck the Senate has been ignoring for eight months.**
[*] This is not to endorse this The People argument. The people spoke in 2012 when they re-elected Barack Obama and vested in him the executive power for a four-year period from January 20, 2013-January 20, 2017. Suggesting that this power should not be exercised during the election cycle defies that constitutional fact.
[**] I believe the President spoke with Clinton prior to making the nomination, on the chance that some late-year activity would fill the vacancy before Clinton, if elected, took office--whether through a recess appointment or through a lame-duck confirmation.
Hatch's position shows how far we have descended away from a separation-of-powers system and into a partisan/parliamentary system. It is not really about the new President making the appointment; it is only about some Democrat making the appointment, once the voters have indicated that they want a Democrat as new President. There is no difference between Obama and Clinton occupying the White House and making the appointment; the point is only their party affiliation. Of course, this ignores the reality that individuals matter--Obama at the end of two terms (although more popular than he has been since just after his reelection) is situated very differently in terms of power and politics from a newly elected President Clinton (something Hatch almost certainly recognizes). But this also shows why the system is so dysfunctional right now--the key to a party-based system is that the executive must have a workable/working legislative majority, so he can exercise his constitutionally vested powers.***
[***] This lends a different perspective to this piece by Dahlia Lithwick discussing the meeting between Obama and new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who ran on a similar "hope" theme, but who seems to be getting more slack from the public. Part of it is that Trudeau has a working legislative majority and while he no doubt faces criticism from the opposing party, it cannot stop him from doing anything. Obama has not had a working legislative majority (because of the filibuster) since February 2010.
Update (3/20): After the jump is video of Sen. Al Franken challenging what he calls the "absurdity" of the lame-duck-session confirmation argument. But, as described above, the Republican position is based on the idea that all Democratic presidents are the same--the election of Hillary Clinton represents The People approving of Barack Obama exercising the appointment power. Franken is right that this is absurd, but the absurdity is consistent with this new model of understanding partisan government.
Monday, March 14, 2016
This should not be surprising
Mark Joseph Stern at Slate reports on Republican-activist "smears" against Jane Kelly,* an Eighth Circuit judge believed to be on the short-list for Obama's not-to-be-acted-upon SCOTUS nomination, through ads attacking her past work as a public defender representing a child molester. Stern decries this as an "attack on the Constitution itself," since it basically makes defending an accused and vindicating his constitutional rights into a disqualifying act.
[*] Some believe Kelly, being from Iowa and having a connection to, and support from, Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, is the one Obama nominee for whom the committee will move off its promise of non-action.
But this should not be surprising. It was only two years ago that Republicans, and a number of Democrats, blocked President Obama's nominee for the Civil Rights Division explicitly because he had represented convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. This line of opposition is even more expected for a judge, given that it allows for the "soft-on-crime/return-of-the-Warren-Court" attack. Given that, I am surprised that a former PD would even get this far (judges with criminal experience appointed over the past two decades have overwhelmingly come from the prosecutor side).
Tuesday, March 08, 2016
Nixon, Burger, and timing of nominations
In an earlier post and comments, I predicted that there would not be someone in Justice Scalia's seat, ready to hear arguments, until the beginning of OT 2017. That prediction, which I discussed on a Fed Soc panel this afternoon, rests on three assumptions: 1) The Senate will not confirm an Obama nominee; 2) The new president will not nominate someone on Day 1 or 2 of her presidency and it may take a few weeks or months; and 3) confirmation, even with a Senate majority of the same party, will take about 2-3 months from nomination. This means it is highly unlikely we will have someone confirmed by the end of April, the date of the Court's final sitting for OT 2016. The next opportunity for the new Justice to participate in arguments and conferences is September (with the Long Conference) and October (the new term).
The second assumption may seem contestable. After all, this vacancy is going to be an explicit issue in the campaign and the new president takes office aware of the opportunity to save or shift (depending on who is president) the ideological/philosophical balance on the Court. But it seems to me the new President has to deal with too many more pressing issues, particularly executive-branch appointments, that take precedence over even a Supreme Court appointment.
Moreover, we have precedent for this situation--Richard Nixon. Nixon took office in January 1969 knowing that he could replace Earl Warren as Chief whenever he wanted.* Nixon campaigned against the Warren Court, so he certainly was no less aware of this opportunity than President Trump or Clinton will be. Yet Nixon did not nominate Warren Burger until May (he was confirmed a month later). True, there is a distinction--the current nomination fills a vacancy and gets us away from a rump Court, while the Court in spring 1969 was working with the statutorily established membership, which may add some urgency to the former.. But Nixon no doubt wanted Warren off the Court as soon as possible, so he had as much of an incentive to make the appointment as soon as possible.
[*] Warren had tendered his resignation to Pres. Johnson in spring 1968, effective upon appointment of a successor. This meant that Warren would leave office as soon as a President--Johnson, Humphrey, or Nixon--appointed a successor.
Does anyone know the story of the dynamics in the White House regarding the Burger appointment? Does anyone have thoughts on why it might have taken so long? If it is simply that other things take priority, is there any reason to believe it would be so different this time around?
Monday, March 07, 2016
Jurisdiction, merits, and same-sex marriage
SCOTUS today granted cert and reversed the Supreme Court of Alabama, holding that under the Full Faith & Credit Clause, Alabama must recognize a Georgia second-parent adoption between same-sex partners.
SCoA had held that F/F/C was not required because the Georgia courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction to do a second-parent adoption for an unmarried couple, where the biological parent's rights were not terminated. But the propriety of the adoption was a matter of the merits, not jurisdiction. Georgia trial courts have general jurisdiction over "all matters of adoption," which this clearly was. The Court then turned to its usual jurisdictionality touchstones--the relevant statute does not speak in jurisdictional terms, does not refer to jurisdiction, has never been interpreted (by Georgia courts) as jurisdictional (Georgia courts recognize the line between whether a court has power and whether to grant relief), and the fact that the provision is mandatory does not make it jurisdictional. Georgia's rule of decision as to whether to allow an adoption does not speak to or limit the power of the state court to decide this type of case. SCoA thus was wrong (yet again, when it comes to marriage equality--it's been a bad week) in trying to squeeze this into the lack-of-jurisdiction exception to F/F/C.
Sunday, March 06, 2016
TRAP laws, rump SCOTUS, and the shadow docket
1) Based on arguments, one possible resolution in Whole Women's Health is a remand to build a better record as to 1) whether the state law caused the the clinic closures in the state and 2) whether the remaining clinics can meet the demand in the state. This would buy another year or more on the case, with enforcement halted in the meantime.
2) On Friday, the Court stayed enforcement of Louisiana's admitting-privileges laws (specifically--the district court had enjoined enforcement and declined to stay the injunction pending appeal; the Fifth Circuit had stayed enforcement of the injunction pending appeal, making the laws immediately enforceable even as the appeal proceeded; and SCOTUS vacated that stay, rendering the laws not enforceable.
3) WWH is one obvious candidate for a 4-4 split producing an affirmance by an evenly divided court, leaving in place the Fifth Circuit judgment declaring the state laws constitutional. Justice Kennedy has ruled in favor of the constitutionality of every abortion restriction the Court has considered since Casey and he is willing to buy even scientifically unsupported state justifications for restrictions (e.g., that women regret terminating pregnancies and the state can protect them against that regret by restricting their reproductive health options). Kennedy seemed at least somewhat skeptical of these laws during last week's arguments, although it is not clear whether he was skeptical enough to declare invalid these laws or the general concept of TRAP laws.
4) There will be no one in Justice Scalia's seat until, at the earliest, October 2017. And perhaps beyond, depending on how the November election goes. That means that this 4-4 split may remain for several years (unless, of course, one of the remaining three 75-and-over Justices leaves the Court).
5) This issue has the potential to reflect, in procedural terms, the marriage equality litigation: Many states enacting near-identical laws for similar reasons and purposes, such that a single SCOTUS decision necessarily knocks out the constitutionality of all laws, triggering a large state-by-state litigation campaign seeking that final decision.
So might the Court take the following out in the short-term?Remand WWH to the Fifth Circuit for further factfinding on causation and/or capacity of remaining clinics. Kennedy (and maybe even the Chief) might like the out. And faced with the alternative of affirming an adverse lower-court judgment, Ginsburg/Breyer/Sotomayor/Kagan might be willing to go along. Meanwhile, bar enforcement of the laws from other states as they are challenged, which has the effect of maintaining the status quo (clinics remain open); eventually, the lower courts themselves will get the hint and take steps to halt enforcement pending appeal. Eventually, a case will be teed-up for merits resolution by a fully staffed Court--again, depending on who wins the presidency, who replaces Scalia, and who else leaves the Court in the first two years of the new administration.
Friday, March 04, 2016
Alabama Supreme Court dismisses SSM mandamus
The Supreme Court of Alabama today dismissed the pending motions and petitions in the larger mandamus action filed by several advocacy groups to stop probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I have not had a chance to read it yet; it includes a lengthy opinion from Chief Justice explaining why he is no longer recusing himself from the action and why Obergefell is evil.
Update: The upshot is that there is no longer any state-court order obligating probate judges to act inconsistently with Obergefell. Some still might, of course, but they cannot rely on the state court to justify doing so. Marty Lederman's analysis captures the continuing confusion, given the seeming disconnect among the Order, the Certificate of Judgment, and the various concurring opinions, as well as the likely practical consequences (not many). Adding to the confusion--if the March 2015 mandamus order remains in effect, then what "petitions" (as distinct from various motions) were dismissed by Friday's order? [Further Update: Marty points to several separate petitions filed since March, including one by a probate judge asking the court to declare his entitlement to religious objections to issuing licenses to same-sex couples, in light of the jailing of Kim Davis.]
The interesting question is whether anyone can or will appeal the Alabama order. I expect it is unnecessary. If necessary, the federal court will enforce its injunction against any recalcitrant probate judges without regard to the continuing state order. To the unlikely extent Judge Granade refuses to enforce, plaintiffs can appeal the federal order and get the Eleventh Circuit (or SCOTUS, if things really go sideways) to enforce Obergefell and ignore the state court. All of which further supports Marty's point that SCoA's order will sit there, ignored but embarrassing in its existence.Finally, a quick comment on Justice Shaw's concurrence. He is dubious of departmentalism, which he calls "silly" and "rather nonsensical hairsplitting," since, even if Obergefell is not directly applicable, a later decision applying Obergefell will be. And he is correct in the sense that departmentalism rests on formalism--an executive official can resist Supreme Court precedent until that precedent is quickly applied in a case to which he is a party. At the same time, Shaw unwittingly captures the basic ideas behind what I have been calling "judicial departmentalism"--whatever executive officers can do, lower courts (including state courts) are bound by SCOTUS precedent (whether 5-4 or 9-0, whether the lower-court judges agree with it).
The IRS Needs to Pay Attention to Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2016
In just over eight months, we'll be voting for our new president. Irrespective of who's on the ballot--and, for that matter, irrespective of who ultimately wins--one thing is for certain: in seven months or so, a bunch of church-goers are going to hear their spiritual leader endorse a candidate.
Sometime during the month leading up to the presidential election,[fn1] the ADF will sponsor its annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an act of civil disobedience by churches[fn2] and an attempt to challenge the campaigning prohibition in court.
Basically, in 1954, Congress added a short phrase to section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. That phrase prevents an organization from qualifying for a tax exemption unless it
does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
The ADF believes that this campaigning prohibition is unconstitutional, at least as applied to churches. So for the last eight years, it has encouraged pastors to flout the rule, to include an explicit endorsement of a candidate in their sermons leading up to Election Day, and then to send a copy of the sermon to the IRS.
During the last presidential election, more than 1,500 pastors apparently participated. And how many churches lost their tax exemptions? None.
The ADF has organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday deliberately to create a test case that it can take to the courts. It expects the courts to strike the campaigning prohibition down as unconstitutional. But it's not just the ADF that wants the test case: Americans United for Separation of Church and State also wants the IRS to enforce the campaigning prohibition.
Clearly, the two groups think the case will turn out differently. Which is right? It's unclear. Scholars (including me!) have argued extensively about whether the prohibition is constitutional as applied to churches. But the question has only been adjudicated once, by the D.C. Circuit. The D.C. Circuit upheld the prohibition as constitutional, and, for whatever reason, the church didn't appeal to the Supreme Court.
Note that, for various procedural reasons, nobody has standing to challenge the prohibition unless and until the IRS revokes a church's exemption.
Why hasn't the IRS acted until now? Probably because there's really no upside to revoking a church's tax exemption; it's not going to significantly increase the government's revenue, and it would likely be unpopular at best in a world where politicians run against the IRS as a central part of their platform.
But at some point, the reticence becomes too much, as it has here: in 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS for not enforcing the prohibition, and eventually settled with the understanding that the IRS would eventually start enforcing it.[fn3]
And, as I lay out in my recent University of Colorado Law Review article, now's the time. Pulpit Freedom Sunday has reduced the search costs to nearly nothing--pastors send their sermons in to the IRS. I mean, the IRS has to actually look at the sermons, because there's no guarantee that participating pastors fully understand how to violate the campaigning prohibition. (Check out this sermon, for instance: the pastor makes a strong case for religious involvement in politics, but churches aren't prohibited from being involved in politics. Just from endorsing or opposing candidates, which the pastor doesn't do here.)
So what should the IRS do? It should announce, today, that is will revoke the tax exemption of every church that endorses or opposes an candidate for political office as part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Then it can sit back and wait for the sermons to arrive, follow through, and get ready to litigate.
That way, both the ADF and Americans United will be happy, and we can have closure on the constitutional status of the campaigning prohibition, at least as applied to religious organizations.
[fn1] I'm pretty sure that I read that the ADF is expanding Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year to encompass the whole month of October, but I can't currently find anything that gives a date or dates.
[fn2] Also, presumably, synagogues and mosques and other religious organizations. But honestly, the ADF seems to be thinking Christian-centric, with its choice of Sunday as the relevant day.
[fn3] BTW, though this has nothing to do with this post, isn't the perma.cc thing awesome? The link is already broken, but the University of Colorado Law Review has given it a permanently-findable home.