Saturday, May 17, 2014
Jennifer raises a good point: There is too much law to know now. I can think of several subjects I would add to Texas Tech's upper-level requirments. So perhaps the solution is breadth over depth--expose students to a bit less of more areas and subjects. And if that is what we are after, what about a trimester/quarter system? Stanford and Chicago are the most prominent law schools to follow that calendar (Stanford switched about five years ago). And Northeastern uses a year-round quarter system, with students alternating quarters in the classroom and in field co-ops over the course of three calendar years. I did undergrad on a quarter system and really enjoyed the academic experience.
The trade-off in law school is obvious. Students can take 12 courses in an academic year rather than 8-10, so they can be exposed to more subjects and areas. But instead of 13 weeks/52 class hours of a four-hour course, they get 10 weeks/40 class hours; instead of 13 weeks/39 hours of a three-hour course, they get 10 weeks/30 class hours. In Civ Pro, for example, this means so long Erie and discovery.
Thoughts? For those teaching at/attending/attended Stanford or Chicago, how did you like the trimester system? Does the trade-off work and is it worth it? Do we need to trade depth to get additional breadth?
Friday, May 16, 2014
First Amendment problem?
A New York City cab driver who was seen driving around wearing an armband with a Nazi swastika has had his license suspended for 30 days by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. How does this not raise significant First Amendment problems?
The TLC is an agency of the New York City government. The driver, Gabriel Diaz, appears to be an independent contractor operating under a government license and not an employee of the city or the TLC. According to this report, the suspension was for violating § 54-12(e) of the regulations for medallion cab drivers, which prohibits commission of "any act that is against the best interests of the public." But the act at issue--wearing the arm band--is unquestionably expressive. There is no indication he ever refused to transport anyone. Is the issue that the armband effectively dissuades people from getting in his cab? But is that enough to overcome his First Amendment interests? Isn't it on him if he chooses to forego income by presenting an unwelcoming vehicle? Or is there an analogy to a licensed attorney who has a Nazi flag in his office--"I'm willing to represent anyone who comes through the door, sorry if you don't want to retain me because of this flag"? How is this different than if he were listening to neo-Nazi radio programs in his cab?
There is a Travis Bickle joke to be made here. But in the meantime, please tell me what I am missing here.
Update: The ADL's public statement praising the suspension made the "message of exclusion" argument, stating that Diaz "sent a frightening and offensive message to New Yorkers about who might be welcome – and unwelcome – in the taxicab he was driving." And this story summarizes Diaz's political beliefs, sarcastically describing him as a "[c]harming fellow all around." But that does not change the role of the First Amendment in prohibiting government from stripping even a "charming fellow" of a business license solely because he holds and wishes to express those reprehensible views.
Justice Scalia and the upper-level curriculum
Scalia also criticizes the absence of required upper-level classes, noting the curriculum from his Harvard days. I probably would be all for required upper-level classes, but do not see how it would happen. The problem is that the first-mover would be at too-great a disadvantage. Schools are now actively and competitively recruiting good students and students are playing schools against one another; one thing schools may try to offer is "flexibility" in the final two years and the chance to "create" an upper-level course package. School A thus can sell that flexibility as against School X and its mandatory post-1L classes (however limited they may be). School X is not going to win the battle for that student (all else being equal), even if its approach may produce better Scaliaesque lawyers-as-professionals.
On the other hand, is that move necessary? At least outside the super-elite schools, the pressure of bar passage causes schools to push students hard towards "bar-tested" courses, which likely are the same courses that schools would make mandatory in any event.
Justice Scalia on legal education
Justice Scalia delivered the law school commencement address at William & Mary earlier this week week and had a lot to say about two-year law schools, "carefully-structured skills-based experience," and the difference between law-as-trade and law-as-profession. Will Baude offers his thoughts. Apropos of my post last month about what every lawyer should know, Scalia specifically points to the First Amendment:
Can someone really call himself an American lawyer who has that gap in his compendious knowledge of the law? And can a society that depends so much upon lawyers for shaping public perceptions and preserving American traditions regarding the freedom of speech and religion, afford so ignorant a bar?
This all reflects a very Tocquevillian view of the law and lawyers as a learned intellectual aristoracy. And much of the resistance to proposals such as two-year law schools and all-experiential education rests on a similar view.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Faculty protest at Charleston Law
In the run-up to hearings and a vote (scheduled for next Monday) by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education regarding the sale of Charleston Law School to InfiLaw, the tenured faculty and untenured faculty (speaking through counsel and anonymously, for fear of retribution) have sent letters to the Commission urging denial of InfiLaw's request for a license to operate the school. The tenured-faculty letter notes the "culture of intimidation and fear--fear of reprisal for speaking out against the transaction or even voicing concerns" about the proposed sale and a desire not to "see the Charleston School of Law mirror the admissions practices, attrition rates, transfer rates, or educational programs of the InfiLaw consortium schools." (For an alleged picture of alleged life at an InfliLaw school, see this lawsuit by two tenured professors fired by InfiLaw-owned Phoenix School of Law).
The Commission has hearings scheduled for this Friday and next Monday morning, with a vote scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Web Series: "Approach the Bench"
The final installment of the web series Approach the Bench.
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Hear, hear. (From Feminist Law Professors) (H/T: Kerri Stone):
Friday, May 09, 2014
More on Tolan and summary judgment
At the Civ Pro & Fed Courts Blog, Ed Brunet and John Parry comment on SCOTUS's per curiam/summary reversal/some other strange procedure in Tolan v. Cotton, the § 1983 summary judgment case I wrote about earlier this week. Ed and John note that this is the first SCOTUS victory for a civil rights plaintiff in a summary judgment case in quite awhile. I would argue that the effect of the decision, and the meaning we should draw from it, is wrapped up in the strange process the Court used to decide the case (whatever we call it--GVR, summary reversal, per curiam decision, or something else)
One possibility they propose is that this represents a change in the Court's attitude, a sharp reminder to lower courts to take seriously the requirement to identify obvious factual disputes and to deny summary judgment when evidence genuinely goes in competing directions. Doing so in a per curiam opinion signals that this is nothing new legally, but simply a reminder of what it is well-established courts are supposed to be doing all along. On the other hand, by doing so in a per curiam opinion without full briefing, the Court removes some of the precedential weight of the decision.
Another possibility Ed and John propose is that the Court was just looking to correct grievous error in a very simple case, making this one of those one-off cases in which SCOTUS corrects egregious error without a broader rulemaking goal. But if that was the goal, the Court could have genuinely GVR'd the case or issued a summary reversal. By also writing an opinion--even per curiam--identifying the factual disputes and the conflicting evidence showing those disputes, the Court arguably is trying to do more: Demonstrating the appropriate analysis and trying to pull lower courts into line.
As I said earlier, I believe much depends on how the Court decides Plumhoff v. Rickard and the analysis the Court uses to get there. If the Court speaks, a la Scott v. Harris, about some testimony being "blatantly contradicted" by the record and thus insufficient to create factual disputes, that will remove a lot of the force from Tolan as a major summary judgment decision. If the Court rules for the defendant (as I expect) without a lot of focus on summary judgment, it may leave Tolan more room to do something.
Establishment and disagreeable speech
Let me try a slight twist on Rick's take on Town of Greece. I was struck by the following line from Justice Kennedy's plurality:
Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum, especially where, as here, any member of the public is welcome in turn to offer an invocation reflecting his or her own convictions.
The first clause is true, but too facile for two reasons. First, the disagreeable speech we encounter comes from private speakers, not from the government or with the government's imprimatur. Saying that the cost of citizenship is hearing another member of the polity utter disagreeable words is simply in the nature of free expression. And that carries over to other private expressions of religion, where any member of the public can express their own convictions.
Of course, sometimes that disagreeable speech comes from the government and we have to deal with that, even if it makes us feel excluded, much as we have to deal with disagreeable government policies (at least until the next election). But that leads to my second concern. Having an Establishment Clause means that religious speech is different, that government cannot express disagreeable or exclusionary ideas in this area. It is an open question when, exactly, an establishment occurs (which is Rick's point). The point is that it is not as simple as Kennedy suggests in saying "you can always express your own views"--the government's involvement changes the metric.
Thursday, May 08, 2014
Donald Sterling and free speech
There have been scattered rumblings about the problem of the NBA sanctioning Donald Sterling for protected, although offensive, speech. Obviously, this is not a First Amendment problem, since the NBA is a wholly private actor. But we might call it a free speech problem, in that Sterling did suffer a sanction for expressing his opinions. And because it may be difficult to draw the line between this case and people speaking on other matters of people controversy (marriage equality, gay rights, abortion, whatever) and possibly offending someone, the specter of league-imposed suspensions for political speech looms.
Mike Dorf looks for a principled line and finds it in a broad conception of harassment, such that once Sterling's racist views became public, his continued position as owner "created a kind of hostile work environment." While this is not enough to violate Title VII, Dorf argues that private firms often adopt prophylactic policies that go beyond what the law requires. He thus urges the NBA to defend the punishment on those grounds, rather than on his offensive speech simpliciter.
There is an appeal to this view, especially as a post hoc explanation for what the league did and as a way to isolate what Sterling did as something unique. But I wonder if the principle can be easily cabined. Any controversial policy could be recast as creating this sort of hostile environment--an openly LGBT player may find it hostile that the owner or a teammate contributes to anti-marriage equality causes, just as a devoutly religious player may find it hostile that a teammate opposes Christian prayer before public meetings, just as an Dominican player may find it hostile that a teammate supports heightened immigration enforcement. Maybe this is just the worst kind of slippery-slope anxiety--no league is going to suspend anyone for being involved in genuine social and political causes and we should not dignify what Sterling did by comparing it genuine political involvement. But I am not convinced Sterling (or to go back a longer time, former MLB pitcher John Rocker) only a difference of degree, not kind.
But if not Dorf's approach, then what?One possibility is to try to distinguish speech (and wrongful non-speech activities) that genuinely relates to one's part or role on a team and in the league from speech that does not, with only the former providing a basis for league sanction. I thought about a version of this in thinking about what the league should have done a decade ago with the various racialized civil actions Sterling was involved in.
Now, this may not be any better, since it does not necessarily avoid those same line-drawing problems. Just as a league always can say X's involvement in a hot-button political controversy "creates a kind of hostile work environment," so can a league always say X's involvement in a hot-button political controversy relaates to his role on the team (often by throwing out the buzzword of creating "distractions in the lockerroom"). This saves us having to define and develope a new concept such as "kind of hostile work environment." But we still have to figure out what "genuinely relates" to one's role on the team. Another approach is for private entities to import some kind of Pickering balance, although that remains squishy and malleable enough to still cause problems.
None of this changes my basic view that the NBA has the authority to force the sale (and probably to suspend) Sterling and that these sanctions should hold up if/when he challenges them in court. But Dorf is onto something about not what the league can do, but what it ought to do.
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
The end of roller derby names?
In the closing segment of this week's Slate Hang Up and Listen podcast (go to 57:55 mark), Slate's Josh Levin discusses efforts to make roller derby a more serious sport at the intercollegiate and international levels, also discussed in this Slate piece. Making the sport serious includes the demise of the roller derby nickname--Nun Meaner, Sigmund Droid, Haute Flash, Carmen Getsome, and my favorite, Stone Cold Jane Austen (that one belongs to Devoney Looser, an English professor at Arizona State). More players are going by their given names, at least in international competition, to make the sport seem less like professional wrestling. Occasional GuestPrawf Dave Fagundes, who wrote the definitive article on roller derby names, will no doubt be saddened to learn of this development.
And, since we all need a break from grading: What would you choose as your law- or law-professor-related derby name?
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Town of Greece and Iqbal
A funny thing about Town of Greece v. Galloway: I am not outraged or panicked about the future, as I somehow feel I should as a Jewish liberal Democrat. (Update: Perhaps I am not alone). I would have dissented were I on the Court, but I do not see the majority as tragically wrong. Maybe because Paul is right. Maybe because I know I am a religious minority and am not bothered by being reminded about that. Maybe because I do not attend town council meetings. Maybe because I have never lived in the type of community likely to use this decision as a reason to start those council meetings with pervasively sectarian or proselytizing prayers.
I do find troubling the utterly illusory nature of the (already small) opening the plurality left for challenging legislative prayers. Justice Kennedy stated this opening three different ways: "If circumstances arise in which the pattern and practice of ceremonial, legislative prayer is alleged to be a means to coerce or intimidate others, the objection can be addressed in the regular course." And "[c]ourts remain free to review the pattern of prayers over time to determine whether they comport with the tradition of solemn, respectful prayer approved in Marsh, or whether coercion is a real and substantial likelihood." And "[a]bsent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose," there is no constitutional violation.
But it seems unlikely that a plaintiff will ever be able to make this showing. More problematically, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that a plaintiff will even be able to even sufficiently plead this under Iqbal (perhaps not coincidentally, another Kennedy opinion over a four-Justice dissent) so as to have an opporuntity to make the showing. It is easy to imagine the Court sweeping the complaint aside by finding an “obvious alternative explanation” for the government practice that is more plausible than the conclusion of an Establishment Clause violation. So, as in Town of Greece itself, that decade-long streak of only pervasively Christian prayers are a result not of impermissible purpose, but of bureaucratic over-simplification (using the Chamber of Commerce's limited list of houses of worship) or the fortuity of geography (the synagogue is on the other side of the imaginary town line).
Update: Dahlia Lithwick reports that Al Bedrosian, a member of the Roanoke County (Va.) board of supervisors has announced that he will seek to impose a Christian-only prayer policy, admitting that he probably would not allow any other religions, because America is a Christian nation and adherents to other religions are free to pray on their own. Public statements such as this make it easy enough to state a claim. The problem is that most public officials are smarter, saner, or subtler than Bedrosian, or will quickly learn to be. Then, much as with employment discrimination, cases become more difficult to prove and plead.
Extraterritoriality, criminal law, and jurisdictionality
Here is a great opinion from the Second Circuit holding that the required nexus to the United States, necessary for extraterritorial application of the federal prohibition on providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations, did not affect the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction in a criminal prosecution. Citing Morrison v. National Australia Bank, the court recognized that whether Congress did or can reach overseas conduct with a particular statute was a substantive merits that does not implicate the power of the district court to hear and decide the case. The court held that Morrison abrogated several past decisions, while recognizing that other circuits have run into similar confusion, even post-Morrison.
Monday, May 05, 2014
Why not plenary review?
SCOTUS on MOnday GVR'd Tolan v. Cotton with a per curiam opinion (beginning on p. 13) holding that the lower courts failed to view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in granting the § 1983 defendant summary judgment (the case involved a police shooting). The analysis illustrates how a court should draw inferences in the non-movant's favor, identifying four or five facts and why the presence of contradictory evidence puts those facts in dispute. And the Court avoids the slicing-and-dicing of facts as in so many summary judgment cases. (The opinion could be a nice supplemental case for teaching summary judgment, showing how a court finds or does not find factual disputes).
But why did the Court GVR, rather than performing plenary review of the case and producing a precedential opinion? We certainly could use a precedential case from SCOTUS showing that sometimes there are factual disputes and summary judgment is not appropriate (especially given how Plumhoff v. Rickard likely will come out). Yes, the factual disputes were fairly obvious from the record, although probably not more so than in other cases. Moreover, most GVRs are done to give the lower court an opportunity to reconsider the case in light of new law or a recent decision, rather than, as here, to reconsider the decision because the lower court did it wrong the first time. The Court did produce a per curiam opinio analyzing the merits (unusual in GVRs), which should have some precedential effect. But it seems an odd approach.
Justice Alito, joined by Justice Scalia, concurred in the judgment (p. 24 of Monday's Order List). They argued that it was inappropriate to grant cert. (although they agreed with disposition of the case once cert. was granted), which only involved the routine consideration of the sufficiency of the record on summary judgment and possible factual error--routine work for courts of appeals, but not for SCOTUS.
Interestingly, Alito, joined by Scalia, cited his concurring opinion from Tolan in dissenting from denial of cert. in Beard v. Aguilar (p. 26 of Monday's Order List), a habeas case in which the Ninth Circuit found that the California Supreme Court had unreasonably Brady to the facts of the case. The point, I guess, is that if the Court is going do error correction in Tolan, it also should have done so there.
Friday, May 02, 2014
Churches and marriage equality, ctd.
Chanakya Sethi at Slate reads the North Carolina anti-SSM stautes the same way I did -- as prohibiting civil ceremonies, not purely religious ones having no civil effect -- as do an expert on North Carolina family law and religious law scholar Doug Laycock.
Laptops, redux, redux
A study by two psychologists showing students learn when taking notes by hand rather than on laptops, which I previously discussed, has been published in the journal Psychological Science and is beginning to draw some attention.
Interestingly, the authors leave open the question of handwriting notes on a tablet, which may be the best of both worlds--hand-writing and initial selectivity with a permanent electronic copy.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Two additional thoughts on the Sterling suspension
Yesterday I questioned the precise basis for the NBA's suspension of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On further reflection, I want to consider some additional interpretive points.
First, I noted that the NBA Constitution and By-Laws contain two provisions--Article 35A(c) allows for a fine of up to $ 1 million for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the league and Article 35A(d) allows for a suspension and/or a fine of up to $ 1 million for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the league. Commissioner Adam Silver must have relied on 35A(d), since 35A(c) does not allow for a suspension. But I questioned that usage. Sterling's misdeeds involved statements and the existence of distinct prohibitions--one regulating conduct and one regulating statements--suggests that the statement-specific provision should have been used here, which would make the suspension inappropriate.
But now I am wondering whether I am reading 35A(c) incorrectly. Perhaps the "statements" it prohibits are those that directly criticize the league or something about the league, for example game officiating (many a fine has been imposed on a coach or owner for doing that). But it does not reach statements about something else that, because of their viewpoint, happen to make the league look bad. That would instead be treated as "conduct" and pulled back within the more-general regulation of 35A(d).Second, I am wondering if Silver simply jumped to the catch-all power of Article 24(l) to make decisions and impose punishments in the best interests of the NBA for all three sanctions, ignoring anything in Article 35A. Article 24(l) allows for a range of penalties, including suspension and a fine up to $ 2.5 million. If so, it brings to even sharper light the question of how he could do that, since, again, 24(l) only operates when "a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This means Silver should have at least glanced at 35A(c) and/or (d), which do seem to cover this situation.
CFP: Legal Scholarship We Like, and Why It Matters
JOTWELL has issued a Call for Papers for Legal Scholarship We Like, and Why It Matters, to be held November 7-8, 2014, at University of Miami School of Law. The complete CFP is here and after the jump.
Legal Scholarship We Like,
and Why It Matters
University of Miami School of Law
November 7-8, 2014
JOTWELL, the Journal of Things We Like (Lots), is an online journal dedicated to celebrating and sharing the best scholarship relating to the law. To celebrate Jotwell’s 5th Birthday, we invite you to join us for conversations about what makes legal scholarship great and why it matters.
In the United States, the role of scholarship is under assault in contemporary conversations about law schools; meanwhile in many other countries legal scholars are routinely pressed to value their work according to metrics or with reference to fixed conceptions of the role of legal scholarship. We hope this conference will serve as an answer to those challenges, both in content and by example.
We invite pithy abstracts of proposed contributions, relating to one or more of the conference themes. Each of these themes provides an occasion for the discussion (and, as appropriate, defense) of the scholarly enterprise in the modern law school–not for taking the importance of scholarship for granted, but showing, with specificity, as we hope Jotwell itself does, what good work looks like and why it matters.
I. Improving the Craft: Writing Legal Scholarship
We invite discussion relating to the writing of legal scholarship.
1. What makes great legal scholarship? Contributions on this theme could either address the issue at a general level, or anchor their discussion by an analysis of a single exemplary work of legal scholarship. We are open to discussions of both content and craft.
2. Inevitably, not all books and articles will be “great”. What makes “good” legal scholarship? How do we achieve it?
II. Improving the Reach: Communicating and Sharing
Legal publishing is changing quickly, and the way that people both produce and consume legal scholarship seems likely to continue to evolve.
3. Who is (are) the audience(s) for legal scholarship?
4. How does legal scholarship find its audience(s)? Is there anything we as legal academics can or should do to help disseminate great and good scholarship? To what extent will the shift to online publication change how people edit, consume, and share scholarship, and how should we as authors and editors react?
III. Improving the World: Legal Scholarship and its Influence
Most broadly, we invite discussion of when and how legal scholarship matters.
5. What makes legal scholarship influential? Note that influence is not necessarily the same as “greatness”. Also, influence has many possible meanings, encompassing influence within or outside the academy.
6. Finally, we invite personal essays about influence: what scholarship, legal or otherwise, has been most influential for you as a legal scholar? What if anything can we as future authors learn from this?
Jotwell publishes short reviews of recent scholarship relevant to the law, and we usually require brevity and a very contemporary focus. For this event, however, contributions may range over the past, the present, or the future, and proposed contributions can be as short as five pages, or as long as thirty.
We invite the submission of abstracts for proposed papers fitting one or more of the topics above. Your abstract should lay out your central idea, and state the anticipated length of the finished product.
Abstracts due by: May 20, 2014. Send your paper proposals (abstracts) via the JOTCONF 2014 EasyChair page, https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=jotconf2014.
If you do not have an EasyChair account you will need to register first – just click at the “sign up for an account” link at the login page and fill in the form. The system will send you an e-mail with the instructions how to finish the registration.
Responses by: June 13, 2014
Accepted Papers due: Oct 6, 2014
Conference: Nov. 7-8, 2014
University of Miami School of Law
Coral Gables, FL
Symposium contributions will be published on a special page at Jotwell.com. Authors will retain copyright. In keeping with Jotwell’s relentlessly low-budget methods, this will be a self-funding event. Your contributions are welcome even if you cannot attend in person.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
This is kind of funny. It is a dramatization of a deposition in which the attorney and deponent go round and round over the definition of "photocopier." It is taken verbatim from the transcript, although there is likely some dramatic license with tone and delivery. The Times is making this a regular opinion feature and they are soliciting transcripts for future videos.
This also may be fun and useful as a Civ Pro teaching device, to illustrate something about depositions.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Sterling, Silver, and statutory interpretation
For those of you who like using sports rules to illustrate statutory interpretation, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's lowering of the hammer on Clippers owner Donald Sterling is a gold mine (forgive the precious metal puns). And it may be that, while Silver is being lauded for his moral and ethical stand, his legal footing is a bit shakier.
Silver on Tuesday imposed three punishments: 1) A lifetime ban from all involvement with the Clippers or the league; 2) a $ 2.5 million fine; and 3) a call for the owners to vote to terminate Sterling's ownership. The NBA had previously kept its governing documents secret; at the time of Silver's press conference, no one outside the league knew the precise bases for these punishments (when asked, Silver said he would "leave that to the lawyers"). The league finally released its Constitution and By-Laws (H/T: Deadspin), although they still have not announced the precise bases for these decisions, so we are guessing as to exactly what Silver relied on and why. We may only know if Sterling challenges his punishments (presumably through a breach of contract action). Either way, you probably could get a nice legal analysis exam out of this.
The lifetime ban is most likely pursuant to Article 35A(d), which empowers the commissioner to "suspend for a definite or indefinite period . . . any person who, in his opinion, shall have been guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Association." The fine seems to be pursuant to Article 24(l), which gives the commissioner catch-all authority to make decisions "as in his judgment shall be in the best interests of the Assocaition" when a situation is not otherwise covered; the maximum fine under that provision is $ 2.5 million. Finally, the call for termination of Sterling's membership triggers Articles 13, 14, and 14A. Article 13 enumerates ten bases for termination; the only one that might fit is (a), where an owner "Willfully violate[s] any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association," which brings us back to Article 35A(d)'s conduct prejudicial or detrimental or Article 24(l)'s "best interests." The power to terminate rests with the NBA's Board of Governors, comprised of the other 29 owners, and requires a 3/4 supermajority.
First, it is interesting that Silver apparently split the source for the first two punishments. The suspension seems to have been under Article 35A(d) for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA. But 35A(d) (already used as the basis for the suspension) also allows for a maximum $1m fine in addition to the suspension. Clearly Silver did not rely on Article 35A for the fine, however, since he imposed a fine 1 1/2 times larger than 35A(d)'s limit. Instead, the fine must have been under the Article 24(l) catch-all, given the amount. Why did he do it this way? Presumably to impose the larger fine under 24(l).
But there is a good argument that resort to the catch-all is inappropriate here. Article 24(l) expressly applies only "[w]here a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This situation is covered by another part of the Constitution--Article 35A(d), already used for the suspension. In other words, since Silver found that Sterling violated Article 35A(d) (in suspending him), that also should have been the basis for the fine. Silver thus was wrong to resort to the catch-all. Further complicating matters is Article 35A(c), providing for fines (again, maximum $ 1 m) specifically for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of the team, league, or basketball. That also seems to cover this situation--Sterling obviously said things contrary to the best interests of the NBA--again making resort to Article 24(l) inappropriate.
Second, and related: Why did Silver rely on Article 35A(d) for conduct prejudicial or detrimental rather than Article 35A(c) for a statement prejudicial or detrimental? Presumably because (c) does not allow for suspension, while (d) does. But Sterling is unquestionably being punished for statements, not conduct (whatever his racist views, he was not punished for acting on his views or operating his team in a way that implemented those views). While a provision prohibiting conduct could, standing alone, also reach statements, that argument does not work when there are distinct provisions, one regulating conduct and one regulating speech. Did the NBA Constitution intentionally set-up a situation in which conduct could be the basis for a suspension but statements only for a fine? If so, perhaps this means the suspension is improper.
Note that my analysis presumes a certain exclusivity--Article 24(l) by its terms cannot be in play if a different provision is; Article 35A(d) cannot be used to regulate statements because 35A(c) already does. Perhaps Silver would argue--and an arbiter would accept--that all of the provisions together allow for this range of punishments. But that is an odd form of statutory interpretation and would render many provisions of the NBA Constitution superfluous.
Third, expect some controversy when the owners attempt to terminate Sterling's ownership. The league would be basing termination on a willful violation of either of three broad, non-specific provisions (either "conduct prejudicial or detrimental," statements prejudicial or detrimental, or conduct judged not in the "best interests'); either seems a very generic basis for this ultimate sanction. (For a legal comparison, think of SCOTUS' efforts to make 18 U.S.C. § 241 work for catch-all Due Process violations in the face of vagueness concerns). The other nine bases for termination are fairly specific, going to gambling and fixing games (forever the cardinal sin) and extreme mismanagement of the franchise, although none is in play here. Perhaps Sterling could argue that either 35A(d) or 24(l) is not a specific enough rule in the Constitution & By-Laws as to be willfully violated as to form a basis for termination under 13(a). Failing that, termination of ownership, if the owners must the necessary supermajority (and I imagine they will, both to show support for Silver's leadership and to keep the players happy), appears proper and within league rules. Of course, under Article 14(j), owners waive any review of this decision (and a similar one in the franchise agreement), so it may not matter (unless, as David Hoffman suggests, the enforceability of this waiver-of-recourse clause is dubious).
[Update: A thought that just rolled around: One might read "willfully" in Article 13(a) to require specific intent (again, what the Court has done with § 241 to avoid vagueness concerns). That is, requiring a finding that Sterling not only specifically intended to make those statements (he did), but specifically intended to make them so as to be prejudicial or detrimental to the league. If that is what willfully does, termination of ownership may become tougher. Otherwise, any little violation of any rule could become a basis for termination.]
Finally, it will be interesting to see how the owners approach termination of ownership. Typically, terminating a franchise transfers control to the league, under Article 14A(c). But the media seems to be talking in terms of the owners giving Sterling an opportunity to sell the team outright to some outside owner. While not specifically provided for, that might be a potential negotiated resolution.
Marriage, religion, and good (and bad) arguments
A § 1983 action was filed Monday in the Western District of North Carolina, challenging North Carolina's prohibition on marriage equality. What is interesting here is that the plaintiffs include the General Synod of the United Church of Christ and a number of clergy of different faiths; they argue that state law violates Free Exercise by prohibiting them, under penalty of criminal prosecution, from performing religious same-sex marriage ceremonies that their religious teaching approves.
Proponents of marriage equality have responded to religious objections by emphasizing the difference between secular and religious marriage--that requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages (under the Fourteenth Amendment) does not obligate religious institutions to recognize or solemnize those marriages, to the extent it would contradict that religion's teaching. The plaintiffs here allege the opposite--that North Carolina, in prohibiting same-sex secular marriages, is prohibiting religious institutions from recognizing or solemnizing same-sex marriages where it is consistent with that religion's teaching.
While state legislatures enact a lot of blatantly unconstitutional laws, a law imposing criminal sanctions on clergy performing a sacrament seems way beyond the pale. But is that really what is going on here?Paragraphs 91a and 91b of the Complaint quote the relevant statutory provisions, which refer to any "minister, officer, or other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State" performing a marriage for a couple that does not present a valid marriage license (presumably a different provision prohibits issuance of a marriage license to a same-sex couple). It seems to me the appropriate reading of that language is that it only prohibits ministers and others from performing a marriage ceremony that requires a license from the state--in other words, a secular marriage that would be recognized by and binding in the state. But that does not extend to purely religious marriages--I do not need a marriage license from the state to obtain a Jewish marriage, only a ketubah. In addition, the language "minister, officer, or other person" includes clergy as well as non-clergy who perform only secular marriages (judges, notary publics). This suggests that the prohibition is on performing secular marriages, not religious ones, since secular marriages are the only things the people listed in the statute have in common. On this reading, there is no First Amendment problem, because state law does not, in fact, prohibit clergy from engaging in any purely religious ceremonies or otherwise prohibit anyone from practicing their religion.
Alternatively, perhaps the church and clergy plaintiffs are arguing that the state is unconstitutionally depriving these religious ceremonies of legal effect, meaning the state must recognize any marriage performed by clergy whose religion would recognize that marriage. But that seems such an obvious Establishment problem. And ¶ 106 states the claim as clergy being "prohibited under threat of criminal prosecution from performing any such religious ceremonies" and congregants being "prohibited from becoming married in the tradition of their respective faiths," all suggesting that it is only the religious element being challenged here.
So why raise this claim? Well, it allowed at least one commentator to seize on the case and rail about religious hypocrisy, so there is a political and rhetorical benefit. But when there are (in my, and every lower court's, opinions) so many good arguments to make as to why these laws violate the Fourteenth Amendment, why reach out for a bad one based on an unrealistic statutory reading?
Update: The point of this post was to consider the constitutional validity of one particular claim in this lawsuit. It was not to have a debate about theology and whether SSM is consistent with the will of god, a debate I am not competentto have here. There are many internet fora for such discussions; this post is not one of them. Please refrain from posting comments arguing such issues. I will continue removing them, which gets old quickly. At some point I simply will have to close comments, which I hate to do, since there are many relevant points to be made on the actual subject of the post.
Monday, April 28, 2014
People everywhere are looking for ways to protest the racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Clippers players used a silent pre-game protest, leaving their warm-up jackets on the floor at halfcourt and warming up with their shirts inside-out (hiding the "Clippers" logo). Two Golden State fans got creative with posters. And Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who was mentioned in the telephone conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend as someone who was OK to bring to games because he is of mixed race and ethnicity, used Michael Jackson's "Black or White" as the music when he came to the plate in Sunday's game. And some companies are now withdrawing from sponsorship deals with the Clippers.
It has become commonplace to protest high-level business people by economically targeting the businesses with which they are associated, by refusing to invest, work at, or shop at these companies. These include attempted or limited boycotts--see Chick-Fil-A or, going back further, Domino's Pizza--or threatened targeting with the hope of inciting change--see the ouster of RadiumOne's CEO following his guilty plea on misdemeanor domestic violence charges or Mozilla firing the CEO who supported Prop 8). Whether such efforts are effective, they have come to be seen as a strong means of political expression if not change.
For all that I have argued for the intimate connection between sport and free expression, however, it is ironic that those expressive weapons cannot work with respect to professional sports.
The first problem is the collective nature of leagues such as the NBA. Donald Sterling benefits from everything that happens as to every team in the league, not just what happens to the Clippers. He benefitted from Warriors fans who attended the game in Oakland on Sunday, since visiting teams receive a percentage of gate. He benefitted from every basketball fan of every team who watched any playoff game on television, because teams share revenue earned from the league's massive broadcast deals--that includes not only the Clippers-Warriors game, but all three games played yesterday. It is not enough to target the Clippers, in other words; it would take a massive fan movement against the NBA as a whole.
A second problem is the emotional connection and loyalty that fans feel to their teams. Clippers fans do not want to entirely abandon the team, because they want to see "their" team succeed. And that is not fungible--I can get a chicken sandwich from a lot of places, but I cannot just shift my team loyalties overnight. Moreover, fan loyalty runs to the players who represent them on the court, not to the owner in the background. And it still is about the league as a whole, not one team. Fans of the Warriors are not going to abandon their loyalties to their players and teams, and their desire to celebrate a championship, because the owner of the opposing team is a racist. Nor are the fans of the other playoff teams not currently playing the Clippers, who similarly want their teams to win and do not care about the racist owner of a team other than their beloved franchise. Even fans without another rooting interest are in a bind; the easy move is to root against the Clippers so Sterling does not enjoy a championship and to stop watching games. But that means rooting against the players who also want that success, which somehow seems unfair.
A third problem is that the players are unable to vote with their feet by seeking employment elsewhere, at least not right now. They want to win a championship right now--it is bound up in who they are and what they do, and the opportunity does not come around very often. To walk away from that opportunity in protest hurts them more than it hurts Sterling (who still profits from being part of the NBA money-printing aparatus). It is why Clippers players reportedly only briefly considered, then rejected, forfeiting Sunday's game. Again, it would take league-wide action--every team refusing to play until the NBA takes action against Sterling. And while the NBAPA is trying to get involved in the matter, I see no way that such a collective walkout is in the offing (not to mention whether it is even legal under the NLRA)--again, players must jump at the opportunity to win a championship, because it may not come around again.
Update: I forgot the most important point in all of this, so I'll add it here: The most obvious way for Clippers fans to express their anti-Sterling viewpoints without having to stop supporting their team is to show up with signs and clothes and chants doing just that. This doesn't change the team's ownership or anything, but it is the best outlet for fan expression. But this raises an important issue: Will the Clippers and/or the NBA try to control what fans say about Sterling or how they say it? On one hand, I believe Staples Center (where the Clippers play) is privately owned, so the First Amendment is not in play and fans are at the mercy of the arena's owners. Most pro teams are look to stop speech criticial of ownership when they can. On the other hand, both would take an overwhelming PR hit for censoring anti-Sterling speech at this point, so they might actually allow fans to get away with more than they ordinarily would in a situation that had not so boiled over.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Why I have spent so much time arguing about fan speech and stadiums as public forums--because it allows expression such as this. But I wonder two things: 1) Did ABC show this or did the NBAorder them not to? 2) Would the Warriors/the arena have taken the signs were the wave of public opinion not running so overwhelmingly against Sterling?
On animal rights
Sunday's New York Times Magazine reports on efforts by the Nonhuman Animal Rights Project and attorney Steven Wise to establish rights for certain breeds of autonomous animals (chimps, orcas, dolphins, etc.), using state habeas petitions in New York. It's an interesting read; Richard Epstein is interviewed for the competing position.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
The truth about justiciability
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Do you think this is a matter of standing or ripeness? The Sixth Circuit said ripeness.
MR. CARVIN: In all candor, Justice Ginsburg, I can't figure out the difference between standing and ripeness in this context. No question that we are being subject to something. I think the question is whether or not the threat is sufficiently immediate.
You have to admire the honesty. The Sixth Circuit, which analyzed this as a ripeness case (and held that the action was not ripe), similarly acknowledged that the ripeness prong of likelihood of harm overlap with the standing prong of real, immediate, non-speculative injury-in-fact. It always has been difficult to explain the distinction between standing and ripeness (mootness tends to more clearly be its own thing). And that has become worse over the past several years, as SCOTUS has ratched up the injury-in-fact requirement in its standing cases. In a pre-enforcement constitutional challenge, whether a plaintiff has suffered an injury for standing purposes necessarily includes whether the plaintiff faces a likely risk of immediate harm, which long had been the bailiwick of ripeness.
Perhaps the Court will take this as a chance to clarify, although I doubt it. It seems so obvious that the case is justiciable, and the justices all so obviously believe the Ohio law--which prohibits knowingly false statements made in support or opposition to a candidate for office--is unconstitutional. The Court is going to be racing to reverse and send the case back to give SBA its chance to argue the merits in federal court. I doubt the fine details of standing v. ripeness are going to be the central concern.
Update: Alert reader Sam Bray (UCLA) reminds me about footnote 8 in Medimune, Inc. v. Genetech, Inc., where the Court said that standing and ripeness "boil down to the same question."
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Web series: "Approach the Bench"
Approach the Bench is a new web series from Above Average, starring Bob Balaban as a judge holding a sidebar with the attorneys. The first episode involves discussion of whether actor Danny Aiello is one of the jurors. (Balaban is on a legal role--he recently played Melville Nimmer in a bad movie about the Supreme Court in 1971).
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
CFP: Seventh Junior Faculty Federal Courts Workshop
The University of Georgia School of Law will host the Seventh Annual Junior Faculty Federal Courts Workshop on October 10-11, 2014. The workshop pairs a senior scholar with a panel of junior scholars presenting works-in-progress. Confirmed senior scholars include, at this time, Janet Alexander (Stanford), A.J. Bellia (Notre Dame), Heather Elliott (Alabama), Evan Lee (UC-Hastings), Gillian Metzger (Columbia), Jim Pfander (Northwestern), Amanda Tyler (UC-Berkeley), and Steve Vladeck (American).
The workshop is open to untenured and recently tenured academics who teach and write in federal courts, civil rights litigation, civil procedure, and other associated topics. Those who do not currently hold a faculty appointment but expect to do so beginning in fall 2014 are welcome. The program is also open to scholars wanting to attend, read, and comment on papers but not present. There is no registration fee.
The conference will begin with a dinner on Thursday, October 9, then panels on Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11. Each panel will consist of approximately 4 junior scholars, with a senior scholar serving as moderator and commenter and leading a group discussion on the papers. Georgia Law will provide all lunches and dinners for those attending the workshop, but attendees must cover their own travel and lodging costs.
Those wishing to present a paper must submit an abstract by June 20, 2014. Papers will be selected by a committee of past participants, and presenters will be notified by early July. Those planning to attend must register by August 29, 2014.
JOTWELL: Effron on Glover on happenstantial federalism
The latest essay for JOTWELL's Courts Law comes from Robin Effron (Brooklyn), reviewing J. Maria Glover's Mass Litigation Governance in the Post-Class Action Era: The Problems and Promise of Non-Removable State Class Actions in Multi-District Litigation (Journal of Tort Law).
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Extreme views in the classroom
The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports that Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr., the white supremacist suspected in the shootings of three people earlier this week, was invited two years ago to speak in a class on "New Religions" at Missouri State University. (H/T: My colleague Tom Baker). The professor issued a statement yesterday defending the choice, saying he wanted to educate his students on white supremacist views (and their dangers) and that the students would not believe the true nature of these views just by reading a textbook or hearing the professor lecture about them. According to the article, it went about as you would expect--Cross yelled at the students, used racial slurs, and praised violence, and apparently the students yelled back at him. It sounded like a productive exchange.
I do not think there is any question that it is appropriate to present Cross' views in a classroom setting. And the alternative proposed by the ADL in the story--inviting experts who have studied the subject firsthand--are not sufficient. If the point is to get students to engage with and understand these views, then hearing them characterized and filtered through an expert (no doubt, since this is the ADL, an expert who believes these views are harmful and should be suppressed) is not a substitute for engaging with the primary materials. One can question whether white supremacy is a new religion, but I will defer to the instructor on that. The broader point is there are situations in which it is appropriate to present, in unfiltered fashion, even the worst and most offensive political, religious, etc., ideas.
There is a nice question about inviting him to speak in the classroom, as opposed to having students read his writings or hear his speeches--there were more than enough available on the internet (maybe this is what the ADL rep meant in the story by "multimedia tools," although that is such an inanely empty phrase). And this issue is more pedagogical than political. Some of this is my general objection to the use of guest speakers in the classroom. But some is the question of whether having him address the students directly was necessary to the pedagogical goal. They can experience and understand these views first-hand without having to experience him first-hand. Having him shout at the students (and having them shout back) shows that he is crazy and not to be taken seriously, but it does not really show his ideas or thoughts or require them to wrestle and deconstruct them, which is supposed to be the goal. It is the difference between a cable tv shoutfest and an academic discussion.
And I wonder if the visceral responses about "endorsing" and "providing a platform" goes away if students were reading his writing rather than seeing him in-person.
Standing and the proper defendants
To absolutely no one's surprise, a panel of the D.C. Circuit rejected the challenge to the constitutionality of the Senate's filibuster rule (shout-out to Josh Chafetz and Michael Gerhardt for the citation). The district court had found none of the plaintiffs (Common Cause, some members of the House, and some people who would have benefitted from certain filibustered bills, notably the DISCLOSE Act and the DREAM Act) lacked standing--none had not suffered any cognizable injury in fact, they could not show the bills would have passed but for the filibuster, and no injunction could have accorded them relief. Fed Courts 101 (and still a course everyone should take).
The circuit court took a different path: The problem was that the plaintiffs had sued the wrong defendants. The proper defendants were the Senate and the Senators who made, retained, and voted according to the filibuster rule with respect to the bills at issue. But all Senators would enjoy absolute legislative immunity, so they could not be sued. Nor could a court impose the remedy the plaintiffs wanted--an injunction prohibiting the 60-vote requirement and compelling the Senate to adopt a simple-majority rule.
To get around that, the plaintiffs sued Vice President Biden (in his role as President of the Senate) and a bunch of non-Senator Senate officers (Sergeant-in-Arms, Parliamentarian, and Secretary) as the people responsible for "enforcing" or "executing" Senate rules. (Powell v. McCormack being the obvious precedent). But that did not work here, because the named defendants did not do anything that caused the alleged injury, since the injury was the Senators' use of the 60-vote requirement.
This analysis adds a new wrinkle to the causation prong of standing by making the identity of the defendant an element of that prong. It requires not only that the defendants' action caused the harm, but also that these defendants caused that harm. Plaintiffs must show a link between conduct and harm and that they got the "right guys" in their suit. And causation--and thus standing--is absent if either one is absent.
But doing it this way shows-again-why standing makes so little sense as a jurisdictional rather than merits rule. In any other context--including constitutional claims, even constitutional claims for injunctive relief (where standing always comes up)--it is a merits dismissal when the plaintiff sues the wrong defendant. Moreover, had the plaintiffs sued the Senators--thus solving the standing issue as viewed by the court of appeals--the legislative immunity defense would have produced a merits dismissal, not a jurisdictional dismissal.
At bottom, however, this is all about how plaintiffs structure their lawsuits--who sues, who they sue, what they sue for, what remedy they seek. It should have nothing to do with federal structural jurisdictional concerns.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
What should every lawyer know?
It is schedule-selecting time again, particularly for 1Ls trying to map out the next two years. A colleague proposed a different way of thinking of this: Lawyers, as Tocqueville's American aristocracy, should have some core base of legal knowledge when they leave law school. Thus, there is some set of courses every law student should take--beyond classes targeting the areas in which a student wants to practice, bar-tested classes (although there is some overlap), and classes providing general skills and experiential practice. What is the law school canon? It must be a small portion of the 59 post-1L credits, thus leaving students room to 1) explore specific areas of interest and 2) do some skills/experiential stuff.
Accepting the underlying premise (and I understand that some people might not), what courses belong in that canon? If you were advising 1Ls on the doctrinal classes they should make sure to take before they graduate, regardless of anything else, what would they be? [Update: Just to clarify: This is for upper-level courses; I take as a given that the current 1L curriculum is unchanged] [Further Update and Clarification: I am not talking about career advice and what they should take for career/practice purposes, but general legal knowledge]
A tentative list:
• First Amendment
• Bus Orgs/Corps
• Federal Courts (at least if you are even thinking about being any type of litigator)
• Administrative Law
This is 19 credits, leaving another 40 for the student to play around with. What am I missing? Is there anything that should not be on the list?
Clarifying Again: Let me try to put the question this way. People would say you should not leave college without taking a basic course in some area of human knowledge and creation, such as, say, Shakespeare (even if your career is not going to involve his work in any way). So what are the legal equivalents of Shakespeare?]
Sunday, April 13, 2014
The best sports deal ever
That is how Sports Illustrated describes the deal struck between the NBA and the owners of the Spirits of St. Louis when the Spirits folded and four ABA teams joined the league, which had paid them $ 300 million over the past three-plus decades. The SI story does a good job of elaborating on the deal's business and legal details, the negotiations leading to the original deal, and the litigation and settlement that ended it.
Pursuant to a recent confidential settlement (disposing of a lawsuit to obtain rights to certain international and online revenues), the old deal is over; the former owners (brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna) will be paid more than $ 500 million, plus a small stake in the NBA's new TV contract. All told, the Silnas will make more than $ 1 billion (from a team they bought for $ 1 million in 1974).
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Law prawf letter on Adegbile nomination
A group of law professors is circulating this letter to Senators Leahy and Grassley [Updated verion] regarding the Senate's rejection Debo Adegbile to head DOJ's Civil Rights Division; several Senators expressly pointed to Adegbile's past representation of Mumia Abu Jamal as the basis for their opposition. While not asking the Senator to reconsider Adegbile's nomination, the letter expresses concern for what this rejection says about the right to counsel (issues I discussed), the obligations of lawyers to take-on pro bono representation, and what happens if lawyers are tagged with the sins of their clients (pointing not only to Chief Justice Roberts, as did several commenters to my earlier posts, but also to John Adams for his (successful) representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre).
The authors are looking for law professors to sign on to the letter. If interested, you can do so online at this link. The deadline for signing is April 17.
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
(Practical) learning experiences
FIU today hosted an oral argument of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, as part of the court's Project Outreach, a public and military education program. My colleague Eric Carpenter, who joined the faculty this year after twenty years in the Army, including a stint teaching at JAG School, arranged the visit. His Military Justice class wrote an amicus brief and one student was given ten minutes of argument. The court followed the argument with a public Q&A session for students, military lawyers and personel, and others.
It was a great learning experience; it would be great if other courts would so similar things in law schools and other public places.
Monday, April 07, 2014
Another (easy) procedure case
SCOTUS today granted cert in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, to resolve whether a Notice of Removal must include evidence in support of subject matter jurisdiction (as the district court held here and the ) or whether it is enough that the Notice contain a "short and plain statement" of jurisdiction (as seven circuits have held), with no evidence necessary until arguing the Motion for Remand. I concur with Scott Dodson that this is going to be a 9-0 reversal, likely written by Justice Ginsburg.
Many in the wave of procedure/jurisdiction cases from the Roberts Court have been unanimous or near-unanimous. And Dart fits a particular pattern--a lopsided circuit split, with most of the circuits getting it right and the Court granting cert to bring the outlier court into line.
Update: Scott points out two subsidiary issues in the case. First is how to treat an insufficient short and plain statement (assuming that is all that is required in the Notice)--whether it represents a jurisdictional defect, which can be the basis for a motion to remand at any time, or a procedural defect, which must be asserted within 30 days. Second is whether the court of appeals had jurisdiction over the case under the Class Action Fairness Act, whether the court complied with CAFA's timing requirements, and whether the defendant filed its cert petition in a timely manner. The latter potentially complicates things.
We always think we did better
Paul highlighted that New Yorker cartoon caption contest of an appellate bench watching two people (other judges?) playing ping pong. You all offered some pretty good responses and I shared some responses from my Civ Pro students. Frankly, I think some 0f what folks here came up with was better than the three finalists (#3 is the best of them).
• Nobody had a coin?
• I can see both sides.
• The Founding Fathers were clear. You must win by two.
Sunday, April 06, 2014
Unions, incentives, and change
In March, the regional director of the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern University were employees, entitled to form a union and to collectively bargain with the university over conditions. That vote is scheduled for April 25, although the votes would be impounded if, as expected, Northwestern appeals the decision to the full NLRB. Yesterday, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald publicly urged his players to vote against forming a union in a letter sent to players and their families. And at least a few players seem inclined to vote against it, at least based on quotations in the story.
What is interesting is the near-universal sense from everyone that things do need to change in college football in terms of benefits, hours, health care, and other conditions for student-athletes.--all the things supporters want to get through the union and collective bargaining. The dispute is over how those changes will or should occur. One player pointed to Fitzgerald and his activities with the American College Football Association (he is on the association's Board of Trustees); another said he hopes the NCAA will see the need for change. But what would cause anyone to believe either of those groups (or any other non-player group) is likely to act in the players' interests. Football coaches are control freaks (I say that as a control freak myself) who would see that control threatened by many of the changes the players might want. How likely is ACFA to support tighter limits on football hours--so players can spend more time being students--or tighter limits on contact practices--so players are subject to fewer hits? The NCAA is a dysfunctional organization that has never shown any inclination to truly protect and benefit players, especially when the changes transfer from it and its schools to the players. This is not an institution likely to change unilaterally or from within. Especially since the NCAA, conferences, and schools make massive amounts of money off football and men's basketball and may make less money if the system changes.Importantly, none of these organizations is structured or legally obligated to take player interests into account or even to hear their concerns. All the unfortunate anti-union sentiment in the United States obscures the real benefit of the NLRA and a union in this situation--the rules regarding the terms and conditions under which the players operate can only be made with consent from the players. Absent a union, the players are left hoping that someone else--ACFA, the NCAA, the Big Ten/Twelve, Northwestern--will deign to give them what they want or need. In other words, change comes because the same powers that be decide to throw the players a bone via the same paternalistic arrangements. Moreover, since Northwestern must follow NCAA regulations (as a condition of membership and maintaining eligibility of its teams), the only source of change really is the NCAA.
I thought of similar issues surrounding the union in doing an interview regarding this joint study by the Student Press Law Center and a journalism class at the University of Maryland (I am quoted in the report itself). The report describes some of the policies to which student-athletes are subject (either by the university, the athletic department, or the team) regarding social media and other speech activities; social, dating, and sexual activities; and privacy. For example, the University of Georgia men's basketball team has policies regarding monogamy (good) and visible hickeys (bad) and reserving the right to inspect a player's dorm room at any time. Obviously these policies would be unconstitutional as applied to an ordinary student at the University of Georgia. They probably are not much more constitutionally valid as applied to student-athletes--much depends on whether the court views student-athletes as akin to employees and thus subject to the tighter speech and conduct restrictions that government can impose on its employees. Of course, one still could argue that these policies are over the top even in that situation--seriously, telling a student-athlete how many girlfriends he can have or that he cannot use "offensive language" (whatever that means) on Twitter?
Of course, we never will find out whether these policies and rules are constitutionally valid because no player is ever going to challenge them in court, for fear of retribution from the powerful and in-control coach. Collective action eliminates that problem--the coach is not going to kick everyone off the team for objecting to these sorts of unconstitutional and offensive rules. Only the group, not the lone player, can resist the greater power of the coach, the school, and the NCAA.
Friday, April 04, 2014
JOTWELL: Yung on Steinman on stare decisis
The new essay for JOTWELL's Courts Law comes from Corey Yung (Kansas), reviewing Adam Steinman's To Say What the Law Is: Rules, Results, and the Dangers of Inferential Stare Decisis (Virginia Law Review). Adam's article, which is great, argues for an approach to stare decisis that looks to the core rule of a case, not to its result; Corey then discusses how this approach would control the use of Lawrence v. Texas on questions of sexual autonomy.
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Better to post your criticisms on Twitter, I guess
One law student's travails (from Above the Law).
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Orality in litigation
I previously have written about Daniel Meador's arguments (primarily in 1983 in Maryland Law Review) for greater orality in the appellate process. Now comes The Reappearing Judge (forthcoming in Kansas Law Review) by Steve Gensler (Oklahoma) and U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal (former chair of both the Committee on Practice and Procedure and the Civil Rules Advistory Committee). They argue for increased live contact between trial judges and attorneys, including many Rule 16 conferences (permitted but not required under the rules), premotion conferences for discovery and summary judgment motions (the district judge I clerked for would immediately get the parties on a telephone conference as soon as a discovery motion was filed), and increased oral argument on dispositive motions. The goal is at least some increase in the number of trials--the ultimate oral process.
The common theme is that more oral presentation of issues (an essential component of greater attorney/judge contact) makes for better, more efficient, and more functional process. Gensler and Rosenthal explicitly highlight premotion conferences as a way to avoid the multi-step "minuet" of motions briefing, saving lawyers the time and money of having to prepare all that briefing and supporting documentation and judges the time of having to review it all. They argue it is easier to get to the core of the issues and to separate the wheat from the chaff with oral presentation, controlled by questions from the court. By contrast, they argue, written motions alone become overly long and complex, with parties often talking past one another, thus they do not reflect the best way to present, understand, or resolve issues. Ironically, of course, their argument comes when written argumentation is becoming easier and faster (via computers, electronic filing, etc.).
Is it right that oral presentation is better than written presentation? Should the legal profession re-orient itself to more oral litigation, at least in the main run of cases that are not overly complex? And how might that affect what and how we teach in law school?
Monday, March 31, 2014
Video and public gatherings
Much is being written about the "riot" in Tucson near the University of Arizona campus on Saturday evening following the school's overtime loss in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The police department is defending its actions, although there are murmurings about coming lawsuits and a thorough internal investigation. However it plays out, the event illustrates a couple of problems involving public gatherings and the role of video.
First, according to one eyewitness (the owner of one bar), students were not destroying property or acting in a violent or "unruly" manner. Nevertheless, the police "declared" it an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order; the violence (people throwing beer bottles began after that order, once police began trying to clear the streets. So the question (which I have not heard asked or answered) is why this was an unlawful assembly or why it was necessary for people to disperse when, according to that bar owner, they were "more were hanging out in the street rather than trying to cause problems." Tim Zick (William & Mary) has written extensively on the collapse of public spaces under the First Amendment, as public gatherings become heavily regulated and, in this case it seems, presumptively unlawful, to be met with massive displays of force and immediate dispersal. This is not to excuse violent responses to the move-along order, as much as to question the need for, and propriety of, the order in the first instance.Second, people are talking about this video, in which a riot-gear-clad officer body-checks a woman over a bench (go to the :21 mark).
The video does not provide context, although the person who shot the video says the woman was walking to her car and talking on her cell when the officer ran over to her. It is hard to watch this without thinking about qualified immunity (is there Ninth Circuit case law about body-checking people talking on the phone?), the likelihood that this officer is going to have a job for much longer, and whether the plaintiff should get summary judgment under Scott v. Harris, because anything the officer can say to explain his actions will be "blatantly contradicted by the record" (i.e., this video). On the other hand, this case actually shows why video, while helpful, does not obviate the need for a factfinder; at the very least, there can be a dispute as to what the video shows and means and as to possible non-video explanations and reconciling any such conflicts is why we have factfinders.
Finally, this should render hollow the arguments against a public right to video record police conduct. This seems like exactly the situation in which we want people to be able to "check" police and the type of conduct that we want to expose with the more real and affecting (albeit not conclusive) evidence that video provides. The argument that police will behave differently if people with cameras are watching is incoherent, since this behavior is exactly what we hope officers will refrain from doing--and if the chance that they are being recorded provides that deterrence, great (it likely is more effective deterrence than § 1983 liability). And allowing people to record in no way "interferes" with this officer's work, other than by potentially exposing his misconduct.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Two lawyers walk into a bar . . .
Slate is running a multi-part series on humor, co-authored by a journalist and a professor at Colorado who has developed and is testing a new theory of what makes something funny. In the latest entry, they write that lawyer jokes are unique to the United States. One explanation: "No other country is so rooted in the sanctity of law—and in no other country are those who practice it so reviled."
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Wood: So many ways for the plaintiff to lose
The Court heard argument today in Wood v. Moss, a "bit-of-everything" case that I have written about previously both on Prawfs and as an early illustrator of Iqbal's dangers. There are all sorts of issues and reasons flying around the case, and while I do not see anyway the plaintiffs will win, I cannot tell why they're going to lose.
Justice Scalia seemed to be itching to hold that the First Amendment cannot be enforced through Bivens. Or, at least, not against Secret Service agents charged with protecting the President. Or, at least, subjective viewpoint-discriminatory intent is irrelevant if there also is a subjective security rationale (i.e., applying Whren to the First Amendment). The government wants to skip the merits and simply conclude that the right against viewpoint discrimination at a presidential appearance was not clearly established.
The pleading discussion came largely in the Respondent's argument. He and the Chief had an interesting exchange about how to read Iqbal--Respondent's attorney hit on the "plausibility is not probability" language, while the Chief hit on the "obvious alternative explanation" language. Lower courts have not done much with that language, at least not rhetorically, but the Chief may be trying to revive it. Respondent tried to read that as one of degree-only if the alternative is so clearly obvious and right that it renders the pled explanation implausible (which, of course, is not the case here). There is also a nice exchange about how discovery can or will work here and (implicitly) whether or not the district court can control it, including whether there are secrecy concerns with disclosing practices and policies regarding how the President is protected.
Justice Kennedy summed the case up best--"it seems to me that if this complaint doesn't survive, nothing will." Indeed. And that is the problem.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Clearing brush on standing and merits
While SCOTUS has successfully disentangled jurisdiction and merits over the past several years, it has not done much with standing and its unfortunate conflation with merits. Tuesday's decision in Lexmark int'l v. Static Control Components perhaps marks a first step toward drawing sharper distinctions. The issue in the case was whether Static Control could bring a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act against Lexmark, even though the companies are not competitors.
The parties and the lower courts framed this in terms of the "zone of interests" test for prudential standing. The Court unanimously rejected that framing (as well as the closely related "statutory standing"), saying it has nothing to do with subject matter jurisdiction or standing. Zone of interests goes to whether the plaintiff falls within the class of people whom Congress authorized to sue through the statutory cause of action. This is a pure merits inquiry, akin to whether a plaintiff is an "employee" under Title VII. The focus is on the pleading (citing Iqbal) and whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a claim that falls within the scope of the congressionally created cause of action.
Moreover, in footnote 3, the Court potentially cast doubt on all "prudential standing" as an "inapt" label. Prudential standing has historically consisted of three doctrines: Zone of Interest; No Third-Party Standing; and No Generalized Grievances. This case establishes the first as a merits inqury. In FN 3, the Court said that recent cases have treated the third as a matter of the Article III case-or-controversy requirement rather than as prudential. As for the second, the Court noted that some cases suggesting it is "closely related" to whether the plaintiff has a right of action, although most cases have not framed it that way. It expressly left that question for another day, although the tenor of this opinion and this footnote suggest a reluctance to keep this category alive. In other words, something is either a true Article III inquiry or a merits inquiry, with no fuzzy middle ground.
As an admitted adherent to the William Fletcher "it's all merits improperly constitutionalized" view of standing, this is a move in the right direction.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Students take on the New Yorker cartoon
I presented that New Yorker cartoon (the one Paul wrote about here) to my Civ Pro students; you can see some of their entries by paging through the course blog. Some of them are pretty good and even incorporate Civ Pro concepts, although they read the cartoon as depicting lawyers playing ping pong.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Think it was his law clerks?
This Fair Labor Standards Act case turned in part on the length of time it takes workers in a poultry processing plant to don and doff protective clothing. Judge Posner conducted an experiment, described on pp. 9-10 of the majority opinion--he purchased identical equipment and video-recorded "three members of the court's staff" taking the clothing on and off.
I guess a Posner clerkship really is a different type of clerkship.
A new justiciability puzzle
The Enforce the Law Act was introduced in the House earlier this month; it purports to allow one or both houses of Congress to sue the President or other executive officers for failing to enforce the laws. The focus is on executive-branch non-enforcement policies, rather than individual enforcement decisions. And it does not include policies of failing to defend laws is court (e.g., what happened with DOMA).
Assuming the bill solves the legislative standing problem (because a clear statement granting legislative standing is enough to solve the Article III issue), any action seeking an injunction compelling the executive to enforce the laws would seem to be barred by the Political Question Doctrine. Is there anyway to avoid that hurdle?
JOTWELL: Coleman on Reinert on meritless litigation
The new Courts Law essay comes from Brooke Coleman (Seattle), reviewing Alex Reinert's Screening Out Innovation: The Merits of Meritless Litigation (forthcoming in Indiana L.J.), which critiques a host of doctrines for not distinguishing meritless claims from frivolous claims. On a separate note, Reinert's article is terrific and I have tried to get my students to grasp that basic distinction, at least rhetorically.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Where are they now, St. Patrick's Day Edition
(or Winning by losing and losing by winning)
In 1995, SCOTUS unanimously held that the private organizers of Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade (a group called the Allied Veterans' War Council) had a First Amendment right to exclude LGBTQ groups from the parade. That decision laid some important free-speech groundwork, particularly in the idea that speech need not have a particularized message to enjoy constitutional protection (citing to works such as Pollock, Schoenberg, and Carroll's Jabberwocky). Although the gay-rights position lost, many advocates appreciated the opinion for (arguably for the first time) speaking in generally positive (or at least not harshly negative) terms about homosexuality.
Fast forward two decades. That same organization, armed with a First Amendment right to exclude, still runs the parade. But it is facing increasing political and economic pressure to allow some LGBTQ groups into the parade. The group had been negotiating to allow in the LGBT Veterans for Equality, although those stalled last week, with AVWC accusing a gay rights group of creating an ersatz veterans' group as a "Trojan Horse" to sneak into the parade. Now numerous corporate sponsors of the parade--including Gillette and Boston Beer Co. (makers of Sam Adams)--have withdrawn as parade sponsors.
So the AVWC has its constitutional rights. But so do other people and entities and they are exercising them in a very different direction and in support of very different ideas than they were in 1995. And so that hard-won constitutional victory may end up somewhat empty.