Friday, June 24, 2016
Whole Women's Health
Three cases remain to be decided this term--Whole Woman's Health, McDonnell v. US, and Voisine v. US. Of these, only WWH seemed even remotely likely to be a 4-4 affirmance. The Court issued two 4-4 affirmances on Thursday, in DAPA and Dollar General. Can we conclude, therefore, that WWH is not going to be a 4-4 affirmance? Is there any reason the Court would issue two divided affirmances today but hold one out until next week?
If not a 4-4 split, the next likely result is a 5-3 opinion declaring the TRAP regulations unconstitutional, with Kennedy joining Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, and Kennedy assigning the opinion. If so, WWH will offer a nice counterpart to Fisher. As Steve pointed out, Fisher marks the first time Kennedy has declared valid a racial preference. WWH would mark the first time Kennedy has declared invalid a restriction on abortion since he co-authored the joined opinion in Casey.
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.]
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
O.J. and Rodney King
I hope people have had a chance to watch O.J.: Made in America, the spectacular five-part ESPN documentary that traces O.J.'s life from his college career to his current incarceration, while weaving his story into the story of racial bias in society and the LAPD and O.J.'s lifelong efforts to "rise above" race (the telling line is "I'm not Black, I'm O.J."). The film links O.J.'s acquittal (by a largely Black jury) to the acquittal of the officers who beat Rodney King (by an all-white jury). On this telling, O.J.'s acquittal was "revenge" for the officers' acquittal, the long-awaited chance for an African-American to benefit from mistakes in the system. One juror explicitly acknowledges this as her reason for voting to acquit.
But the film (and every conversation about the connection) omits something: Two of the officers in the King beating were convicted of federal civil rights violations and sentenced to 30 months in prison (the other two were charged and acquitted). So if justice means that a wrongdoer is convicted and punished under some criminal law for his misconduct, there was some justice in that case. It may not have been enough justice or the right kind of justice. Thirty months was arguably too short (the court departed downward from an expected Guidelines range of 70-87 months). Perhaps it somehow would have been "more just" for them to be convicted of assault, etc., in state court rather than civil rights violations in federal court. Indeed, that might prove the point. Congress enacted the Reconstruction-Era civil rights statutes because the states were incapable and/or unwilling to enforce the rights of African-Americans against whites and white public officials. Having to resort to those in 1992 demonstrated how far we had not come.* Some had a sense that the civil rights charges were illegitimate, more a result of the rioting that followed the state-court acquittals (which the Koon Court took time to call out) than legitimate prosecutorial decisionmaking or use of federal criminal law.
[*] And still have not come, where police-abuse cases now do not even make it past a grand jury and even the civil rights backstop is increasingly unavailable.
It seems too simple to say "Stacey Koon, et. al, got off, so O.J. should have gotten off." Because Koon and Powell did not get off, at least not entirely. By contrast, two people who had nothing to do with anything were dead in a horrific manner (I had never seen the photos of the bodies or the crime scene--they were stunning) and, on the definition above, they did not receive justice.**
[**] I bracket for the moment how we consider, in terms of assessing "justice," the civil verdict that necessarily included a jury finding that Simpson killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman but that did not impose criminal punishment, or the absurdly long sentence Simpson received in 2008 for the events in Nevada, which everyone sees as having impermissibily taken the murders into account. In one interview segment, attorney Carl Douglas points out that the Nevada judge held the jury until late into the evening to announce the verdict on the thirteenth anniversary of the murder acquittal and sentenced Simpson to 33 years, matching the $ 33 million in damages awarded in the civil case.
Monday, June 20, 2016
More on RJR Nabisco and extraterritoriality
It makes no sense for a statute's private right of action not to be coextensive with the substantive law being applied. Ginsburg is correct that there should be a link, not separation, between prohibited activities and authorized remedies. At the very least, that should be the presumption, unless Congress provides otherwise in the cause of action itself. And a statute that says "[a]ny person injured in his business or property by reason of a violation" of some substantive law--where that substantive law has been (and, per Congress, can be) violated by that extraterritorial conduct--should allow for a claim for extraterritorial violation. By applying the presumption of extraterritoriality to the cause of action, the Court now requires Congress to draft the cause of action not only to link the right of action to the substantive law being enforced, but also to include language dealing with extraterritoriality. For example, I presume this case now means that, even if the Fourteenth Amendment applies extraterritorially, a § 1983 claim will not lie for such a violation, since nothing in the statute speaks to extraterritoriality (indeed, the purpose of that statute was bringing states into line within their own borders following the Civil War and has nothing to do with foreign conduct).
The culprit in this is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (2013), where the Court applied the presumption of extraterritoriality to the Alien Tort Statute, a purely jurisdictional provision. But the ATS is unique in that it grants not only adjudicative jurisdiction, but also prescriptive jurisdiction to create federal common law based on the law of nations as of 1789 and its analogues; the question in Kiobel was whether the grant of prescriptive jurisdiction could include common law applying extraterritorially. In other words, the courts were not only creating the right of action, they also were creating the law that "directly regulate[s] conduct or afford[s] relief." The end result in Kiobel is that the substantive common law the courts could create did not reach extraterritorial conduct (because Congress did not grant the courts the power to establish such common law), so neither could the court-created right of action.
Under RICO, however, the law regulating conduct does apply to extraterritorial conduct, per Congress. The right of action should, as well.
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
Law, Psychology, and Impartiality
Donald Trump's suggestion that Judge Curiel should recuse himself seemed obviously wrong to me (and apparently to his own lawyers, who, as Neal Goldfarb pointed out in response to my prior post, did not even bother to raise the issue by motion). But today's Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Pennsylvania raises all the difficult questions that the Trump University lawsuit does not about when disqualification is required because a judge's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Richard Re also has more here at SCOTUSBlog.
On the face of it, the main questions are fairly straightforward. The District Attorney who personally approved the decision to seek the death penalty in Williams' case was later elected to be Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Decades after the original conviction, he was part of a panel that ruled against Williams' subsequent habeas petition. The Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct--based on the ABA's Model Code--forbids judges from acting in a case where they "served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, or w[ere] associated with a lawyer who participated substantially as a lawyer in the matter during such association." Chief Justice Castille participated in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling shortly before his retirement. After his retirement, the Court considered--and rejected--a motion for rehearing.
The first question before the Court was whether the violation of this rule would amount to a violation of constitutional due process. The Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, held that it did: "Where a judge has had an earlier significant, personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision in the defendant’s case, the risk of actual bias in the judicial proceeding rises to an unconstitutional level."
The second question that the Court had to decide was whether the judge's participation in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision amounted to harmless error, given that the ruling was unanimously decided by a multi-member court. This, to me, is a much more difficult question. The Court held that harmless-error review was not appropriate, as the disqualified judge could have influenced the other members of the panel, and " it is neither possible nor productive to inquire whether the jurist in question might have influenced the views of his or her colleagues during the decisionmaking process."
Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Alito, wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that due process does not require recusal when the petition does not allege that the judge had "any previous knowledge of the contested facts at issue in the habeas petition, or that he had previously made any decision on the questions raised by that petition." (emphasis in original).
Justice Thomas also wrote a dissenting opinion. He pointed out that the due process requirements of criminal proceedings are and should be different that those required by later habeas proceedings (a form of civil action), and argued in favor of greater deference to the relevant rules and legislative enactments. He also pointed out that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's earlier decision to deny rehearing in the case--a decision made after Chief Justice Castille had retired from the court--might have "cured" the alleged due process violation.
So what, in my mind, makes this case so hard? Some of it involves law, politics, and difficult recusal issues.
(1) The Commonwealth argued that it was unreasonable to think that Castille would be biased given the amount of time that had gone by and given his relatively limited participation in the case. The murder at issue occurred in 1986, and the Pennsylvania Supreme court decision was issued in 2014. And although Castille had to personally sign off on the decision to seek the death penalty, the Commonwealth's brief called that an "administrative act," as Castille would have deferred to the prosecutors who worked up the case. But, as Justice Kennedy points out in the Supreme Court's opinion, this characterization of Castille's role is at odds with how he portrayed his role as district attorney when he ran for judge, as "multiple news outlets reported his statement that he 'sent 45 people to death rows' as district attorney." Perhaps this was mere campaign puffing, but it is hard for the state to walk back Justice Castille's involvement at this point. I am also personally troubled that the death penalty has become so politicized that these decisions have become effective fodder for judicial campaigns.
(2) The Supreme Court's decision points to the possibility of unconscious bias, a topic very deftly argued in an amicus brief by Yale's Ethics Bureau (and spearheaded by Lawrence Fox). But if the Court takes seriously the risk that a judge, in the Court's words, "would consciously or unconsciously avoid the appearance of having erred or changed position" taken as a prosecutor, than isn't that doubly true of the current justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court? If we believe that Chief Justice Castille could have tainted the panel's decisionmaking, then wouldn't we expect the remaining judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to be subject to the same unconscious bias hindering a change of position? One of my favorite social science articles suggests that people are very bad at identifying their own biases--and, in fact, that further reflection upon possible biases only makes people believe even more strongly that their views are neutral and unbiased--even when the evidence would suggest otherwise. See Cynthia McPherson Frantz, I AM Being Fair: The Bias Blind Spot as a Stumbling Block to Seeing Both Sides, 28 BASIC & APPLIED SOC. PSYCHOL. 157 (2006).
(3) The underlying facts of the case are especially tragic, and show how various factors (including social stigma, overworked defense lawyers, and overly zealous prosecutors) can combine to create a miscarriage of justice. Williams, the defendant, was subjected to sexual abuse between the ages of 13 and 17. He later committed two murders--one at age 17 and one at age 18--and there was substantial evidence that both of the men he murdered were among those who had raped him. More importantly, the prosecutor's office knew that history, according to later-released notes stating that Williams' "relationship" to the two victims was "substantially similar." Williams' first attorney used that information as mitigation evidence in the trial for the first murder, and the jury returned a verdict of third-degree murder. In the trial for the second murder, however, Williams had new counsel and seemingly did not tell his attorney of this history. Perhaps a better attorney would have done a more careful job with the client interview and drawn out that information; certainly a better attorney would have examined the earlier proceedings. But for whatever reason, Williams' second attorney did not, and Williams himself testified falsely at trial that he had no earlier connection with the murder victim. All of this led to issues in the later habeas proceedings, including whether the defense attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel and whether the prosecutor committed a Brady violation by failing to turn over evidence of the prior sexual abuse. Justice Thomas notes, in footnote 2 of his dissent, that it's an interesting question whether "a prosecutor could violate Brady by failing to disclose information to the defendant about the defendant’s motive to kill." Clearly, Williams knew of the prior abuse. But the stigma surrounding that abuse--particularly in the 1980s--may have hindered his willingness to raise the issue even when faced with a potential death penalty. But untangling the web of responsibility here is a difficult one: Williams admittedly committed perjury in the second proceeding; his attorney, at a minimum, did a bad job investigating the facts of the case; and the prosecutor knew of relevant mitigating evidence that defense counsel did not.
(4) Finally, I have to note one of the most offensive items from the briefing in the case. The Commonwealth's brief to the Supreme Court, at page 10, gratuitously goes out of its way to describe Williams as "a double murderer who had sex with men for money." Given that he was between the ages of 13 and 17, Williams was below the age of consent for the majority of the time period at issue. Not only is this statement offensive (as has been repeatedly noted, "Sex without consent isn’t sex. It’s rape."), it is also terrible advocacy. Point out Williams' responsibility to testify honestly; point out that sexual abuse does not justify murder. But disparaging a child as young as thirteen for his own rape only perpetuates the stigma associated with sexual abuse and trafficking and stops other victims from coming forward before the tragedy cascades further.
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.
Friday, June 03, 2016
The new judicial ethics
So just so I understand this: If I make racist, sexist, etc., statements about groups of people, then a judge who who happens to be a member of one of the groups I criticized now has an "absolute conflict of interest." For a judge, of course, that absolute conflict of interest demands recusal.
And that is true not only in a case in which membership in that group might be salient, (e.g., the claim/charge is based on my discriminatory action or deals with the rights of members of that criticized group). It applies to any and all cases in which I am involved as a party, regardless of subject.
Or is it only a conflict if the statements were made by a presidential candidate? Or is it only a conflict if the statements were made by Donald J. Trump and everyone else is on her own?
As I have said before, at least opponents of marriage equality went out of their way to emphasize that it was not the judge's status as an LGBTQ person that warranted recusal. The argument was still nonsense, but at least they kept it as subtext. With Trump, everything is text.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Documents unsealed in Trump University lawsuit
On Friday, Donald Trump spent more than ten minutes of a campaign rally to criticize (and highlight the ethnic origin of) the judge in a class action against Trump University, mainly because the judge had issued various rulings against the defendant, a clear (according to Trump) indication that the judge was biased and should recuse. That same day, the judge has ordered unsealed a number of documents presented to the court on a class-certification motion. The court emphasized the public interest in the case (which suggested the need for public access to the documents), noting Trump's status as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and that Trump had "placed the integrity of these proceedings at issue" in that race.
I guess judges do have ways to protect themselves against political attacks.
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.
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.
Jurisdiction day at the Court
The Court decided two closely watched (by a segment of law professors) jurisdictional cases today. I now have to start thinking about whether to include them in Fed Courts next semester and what to keep or drop if I do add them.
In Merrill Lynch v. Manning, the Court held that the grant of exclusive federal jurisdiction over any action "brought to enforce any liability or duty created by" the Securities and Exchange Act means the same thing as the grant of general federal jurisdiction over civil actions "arising under" in § 1331. This means that the claim must either seek a relief under the act itself or assert a state law claim in which an issue under the act is necessarily raised, actually disputed and substantial, and placing the case in federal court would not disturb the balance of power between state and federal courts.
[**] I was surprised that the Court did not mention the jurisdictional statutes that use the phrase "brought under" (notably the grants for employment-discrimination laws) and also have been interpreted identically to § 1331.
Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Sotomayor (apparently the first time those two have gone off on their own) concurred in the judgment. Thomas insisted that the textual difference between "brought to enforce" and "arising under" must make a practical difference; thus, while "arising under" requires both a necessary federal issue and other considerations, "brought to enforce" requires only that claims "necessarily depend on establishing an Exchange Act violation."**
In Spokeo, the Court avoided the big question--whether a statutory violation, simpliciter, is sufficient for Article III injury-in-fact--by remanding to the Ninth Circuit to redo its standing analysis to consider not only whether the injury was particularized, but also whether it was "concrete," which is a distinct component of injury. According to the majority, the Ninth Circuit "failed to fully appreciate" this distinction. Along the way, the Court allowed a couple of points that may be significant for standing analysis going forward. First, a harm can be both concrete and intangible. Second, both history and congressional judgment play "important roles" in determining what intangible harms are sufficiently concrete. Third, the risk of harm may be sufficient to establish an injury and Congress can create procedural rights designed to avoid that risk. Finally, if Congress establishes a statutory intangible harm that is sufficiently concrete, a plaintiff need not allege any additional harm beyond the statutory violation itself. Thus, the ban on publishing false information could (presumably depending on what the information was) be sufficient to support standing.
[**] Note that Thomas does not like the Grable balancing test even as an interpretation of § 1331 and arising under. He has argued that the Court to return to the Holmes test that the claim arises under the law that creates the cause of action.
Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, dissented. She went out of her way to agree with much of the majority opinion. She dissented because this is far from a case of a simple procedural injury with no harm (the majority's paradigm was publishing an incorrect zip code). The plaintiff had alleged significant material misrepresentations about his age, marital status, wealth, education, and employment history, all of which he alleged would harm his job prospects. She argued that it was unnecessary to remand so the Ninth Circuit could simply underscore what is already obvious about the harm the plaintiff suffered (or was threatened with suffering) to his job prospects.
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.
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Two items worth checking with respect to federal judicial vacancies:
First is the new episode, The Hold Up, of the Life of the Law podcast, exploring the problem of vacancies in the lower federal courts. The piece focuses on Chief District Judge W. Keith Watkins of the Middle District of Alabama, who is the only active judge in the district (three are authorized) and is running the district with two senior judges (one of whom just had surgery) and six magistrates.
Second is this report from the Congressional Research Service, analyzing Merrick Garland's jurisprudence on the D.C. Circuit and trying to predict what he might do on the Supreme Court.
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.
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
Rump Courts: An Anniversary
Tomorrow, April 22, marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone. Stone's death left an already-rump Court even more short-handed. Justice Robert Jackson missed the entire October Term 1945 serving as lead Nuremberg prosecutor, so the Court already had only eight members; Stone's death left it with seven. Because it was so late in the Term, Stone's death affected only five cases decided after April 22 (Stone became ill and died immediately after reading his dissent in Girouard v. United States).
It is appropriate (or ironic) that we hit a landmark anniversary now. Due to Republican intransigence, we are in the midst of what I predict will be the longest rump Court since at least the turn of the Twentieth Century, likely lasting for 75% of this Term (as far as cases decided) and covering all of next. It also reminds that anything can happen, so that the possibility always looms (especially with three other Justices at or nearing 80) that we could face another seven-person Court, this time for more than five cases.
I imagine Stone's death played at least some role in Jackson's later belief that it was a mistake not to resign from the Court before accepting the Nuremberg appointment.
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 13, 2016
Jews, politics, and the next generation
I take no position on this opinion about the policy and politics of Bernie Sanders' appointment of Simone Zimmerman, a sharp critic of Israel's West Bank policies and supporter of the BDS movement, as director of Jewish outreach. Instead, let me offer the following:
Update: On Thursday, the campaign suspended Zimmerman, so it could investigate a year-old tweet in which she lambasted Netanyahu, then closed with "Fuck you, Bibi . . ."
1) It strikes me as surprising that the first serious Jewish presidential candidate (let's stipulate that Barry Goldwater no longer self-identified as Jewish) needs a director of Jewish outreach. Did Obama have a director of African-American outreach or Bush a director of Christian outreach? But Sanders' identity has not alone rallied the Jewish vote the way Obama's identity rallied the African-American vote. (Full disclosure: I am supporting Clinton because my desire to win the general election trumps both my religio-ethnic identity and my purest policy preferences).
2) It strikes me as even more odd (if not ironic) that there is a belief that a Sanders presidency would be bad for the Jews. Moreover, it seems entirely because of Sanders' apparent policy preferences with respect to Israel. This reflects what I believe is an unfortunate conflation of Judaism, Israel, and the policies of the Israeli government.
3) Michelle Goldberg's Slate piece argues that hiring Zimmerman reflects a division of policy and politics. It jibes with the preferences of the younger voters, including Jewish voters, who support Sanders and who are likely to oppose the Netanyahu government and its policies. It does not jibe with the preferences of older (and more numerous) Jewish voters, who tend to support Israel's policies, aligning more closely with AIPAC's positions on Israel (even while largely voting Democratic).
The dynamic feels roughly analogous to a similar evolution with respect to Cuba here in Miami. An increasing portion of the younger generations of Cuban-Americans (many of them first- and second-generation) are less hawkish as to Cuba and the Castro regime, and more open to normalizing relations, than their parents and grandparents, many of whom lived and suffered under that regime.
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 29, 2016
Misrepresenting the Employment Law Impact of HB 2
One of the most disappointing and infuriating things about the HB2 saga in North Carolina has been the persistent misrepresentation of its impact by Gov. McCrory and its supporters in the General Assembly. As an employment and civil procedure scholar (and former long time litigator), I take particular umbrage at the gross misrepresentations related to the elimination of the state law claim for employment discrimination (discussed in my last post, here).
The misrepresentations started in the General Assembly where the Republican sponsors repeatedly asserted that nothing in HB2 would take away existing rights. Even when directly questioned about the elimination of the state law wrongful discharge claim for employment discrimination, Republican legislators responded that it would have no effect. [I am basing the foregoing primarily on tweets from reporters on the scene as I was not in Raleigh for the “debate.”]
The misrepresentations continued when Gov. McCrory issued his statement announcing he had signed HB2 into law. In that statement, he stated “[a]lthough other items included in this bill should have waited until regular session, this bill does not change existing rights under state or federal law.” (emphasis added). Gov. McCrory doubled down on this misrepresentation in a document entitled “Myths vs Facts: What New York Times, Huffington Post and other media outlets aren't saying about common-sense privacy law” (here), which was posted on his official website on Friday, March 25. In this document, question #2 is “Does this bill take away existing protections for individuals in North Carolina?” Gov. McCrory’s answer: “No.”
Put simply, McCrory’s statements are clearly and undeniably false.
However, the most persistent voice in misrepresenting the impact of this provision of HB 2 has been (perhaps not surprisingly) HB 2’s author and sponsor, Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg). Rep. Bishop is an attorney. When pressed by a reporter on whether HB2 eliminated the longstanding state law claim for wrongful discharge, Rep. Bishop acknowledged that it likely did, but said “who cares” because you could get the same remedies under federal law. In a separate interview, Rep. Bishop said the elimination of the state law claim “is an exceedingly minor procedural difference."
Rep. Bishop graduated from UNC-CH law with high honors, so I will assume he does actually understand the differences between (1) substantive and procedural law; and (2) federal and state employment discrimination law. But assuming he understands the distinctions, one must conclude that he is intentionally misrepresenting the impact.
Whether the elimination of a state law claim is “substantive” or “an exceedingly minor procedural difference” is beyond rational debate. Having 28 days to respond to a motion instead of 30 days is an exceedingly minor procedural difference. Eliminating a state law claim that has existed for 34 years, is indisputably substantive and significant.
I’ll take up the substantive differences between federal employment discrimination claims under Title VII (or the ADEA) versus North Carolina’s now defunct claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy premised on EEPA in my next post.
Employment Law Easter Eggs in North Carolina’s HB 2
The vast majority of the commentary around and criticism of N.C.’s HB 2 [see the full text as enacted here] has, perhaps rightly, focused on the elimination of LGBT rights in North Carolina. The lawsuit filed early this morning by the ACLU, Equality NC, and others (including NC Central Law Professor and Assoc. Dean Angela Gilmore) focuses exclusively on the LGBT rights provisions of HB 2. [Read the Complaint here].
However, HB2 was not just about LGBT individuals. It also has some rather nasty Easter Eggs for all employees in North Carolina.
First, and most openly, it prohibits all local governments in North Carolina from enacting a local minimum wage that exceeds the federal minimum wage. No local government in N.C. had tried, but I guess the General Assembly figured it would rather be safe than sorry – especially when the LGBT provisions would tie up the news cycles.
Most importantly – and most sneakily – HB 2 eliminated (yes, ELIMINATED) the only state law cause of action available to private employees to redress employment discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, color, age, or biological sex. The General Assembly accomplished this profound change in North Carolina employment law via a single sentence in middle of page 4 of the five page bill. That sentence reads:
“This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.”To a lay reader (or legislator), this sentence would not seem terribly important. However, it was inserted into Article 49A of Chapter 143 of the NC General Statutes [here, before being amended]. Article 49A is called the “Equal Employment Practices Act” (“NC EEPA”) and contains the heart of North Carolina’s state law protection from employment discrimination. NC EEPA, which was enacted in 1977, is merely a statement of public policy. It declares that it is the public policy of North Carolina “to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination or abridgement on account of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap by employers which regularly employ 15 or more employees.” N.C. Gen. Stat. 143-422.2. Unfortunately, NC EEPA does not contain a private right of action. Thus, the only way to enforce it was through a common law tort action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.
Now, of course, you see the problem with the sentence inserted into Article 49A via HB 2. “[N]o person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.”
Poof. With that sentence, 34 years of state law protection for employment discrimination based on race, national origin, color, religion, sex, and age VANISHED. Millions of working North Carolinians (whether they knew it or not) relied on NC EEPA to help protect them from discrimination. Thousands – tens of thousands? – of North Carolina workers have asserted wrongful discharge claims premised on NC EEPA since our appellate courts officially recognized the claim in 1982.
As a management-side employment lawyer for more than 11 years, I never heard a single client complain about the existence of this claim. But now, it is gone.
I wonder how many members of North Carolina General Assembly knew it was in HB 2? I wonder how many of them knew the ramifications of that sentence?
Monday, March 28, 2016
Wednesday in North Carolina
It has been an interesting week in North Carolina. Last Wednesday, the ultra-conservative Republican super majority in the NC General Assembly called itself into a special “emergency” session to overturn an ordinance passed by the City of Charlotte on February 22. Charlotte (like many other cities) has long had a non-discrimination ordinance (section 12-58 of the Charlotte City Code), which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” The new ordinance simply added “sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression” to the existing list of protected categories. Additionally, the new ordinance deleted section 12-59 of the Charlotte City Code which prohibited sex discrimination in public accommodations but also provided as follows:
(b) This section shall not apply to the following:
(1) Restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities which are in their nature distinctly private.
(2) YMCA, YWCA and similar types of dormitory lodging facilities.
(3) A private club or other establishment not, in fact, open to the public.
This rather innocuous change in a long-standing provision of the Charlotte City Code became known as the “bathroom ordinance.” So vile was the bathroom ordinance that it was necessary for the legislature to convene a special session to overturn it before it took effect on April 1.Governor Pat McCrory (R) (who served has a member of the Charlotte City Council and as mayor for a total of 20 years, all without questioning the legality of the then-LGBT free non-discrimination ordinance), declined to call the General Assembly into special session because he feared (no doubt based on inside knowledge) that the General Assembly, if summoned, would pass legislation that was far broader than the “bathroom ordinance.”
The Republican legislature, not to be stymied, called itself into special session, which it scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Despite requests from members of the General Assembly and the media, the powers that be in the General Assembly refused to release a draft of the legislation that would be introduced on March 23 claiming that it was not yet complete. When the legislature convened around 10:00 am, the bill (House Bill 2 or “HB 2”) was introduced and made public for the first time. [The date stamp on the last page “(03/16)” makes fairly clear that the bill had been drafted at least in substantial part well in advance.] HB 2 was 5 single spaced pages of fairly dense statutory language. The first vote was held 5 minutes after it was introduced. There was a 30 minute public comment period for those who were able to get to Raleigh to testify. Then some limited debate. Then two more votes, culminating in final passage by the House at about 3:30 pm. The Senate took up the bill at about 4:45, had an initial vote and then another 30 minute public comment period. After it became clear that the Republican leadership was not interested in anything the other side had to say (according to Senate Democrats) all of the 15 Democrats walked out in protest. The chair called a final vote and HB 2 passed by a vote of 32-0. This was roughly 7:00 pm. Although Governor McCrory had 30 days to consider whether or not to sign HB 2 into law, he signed it at 9:57 pm that night.
In just under 12 hours from introduction to gubernatorial signature, North Carolina enacted what many have called the most aggressively anti-LGBT legislation in the country.
ALL local non-discrimination ordinances were banished. All local governments in NC were prohibited from protecting any group not protected by state law. In the place of inclusive local laws (passed by the duly elected representative of those local jurisdictions), the General Assembly created a statewide public accommodation law was passed which protects only race, national origin, color, religion, and BIOLOGICAL sex. It also mandated that all public restrooms in NC (including in public schools and universities) must be single sex and that a person may only use the restroom designated for his or her BIOLOGICAL SEX, as listed on his or her birth certificate.
Not content to stop there, HB 2 also contained a slew of EMPLOYMENT related provisions, despite the fact that Charlotte’s ordinance had nothing to do with employment. More on those later.
So, North Carolina – once the most progressive of southern states – is now, perhaps, the most regressive on LGBT rights.
Perhaps it was fitting that this special session that culminated in HB 2 was on Wednesday of Christian Holy Week, the day on which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. I cannot think of a bigger betrayal of the teachings of the Jesus I learned about in Sunday School than legalizing discrimination against a minority group.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Hulk Hogan and Complete Diversity
My best guess is that the $ 115 million verdict (likely to be substantially increased when the jury considers punitive damages next week) in favor of Hulk Hogan (ne, Terry Bollea) against Gawker will not stand. From what I have read, the judge made a number of questionable evidentiary rulings and gave a jury instruction that minimized the role of the First Amendment. And some facts will be subject to independent appellate review because they implicate the First Amendment.
But I want to discuss a different question that I missed two years ago--why the case was in a Florida state court at all, where Hogan seems to have gotten some home cooking. Hogan sued Gawker and Heather Clem, the woman in the video; Clem and Hogan are both Florida citizens, destroying complete diversity. Gawker removed anyway, but the district court remanded, rejecting Gawker's argument that Clem was fraudulently joined (as well as an argument that the First or Fourteenth Amendments were necessarily raised by Hogan's state tort claims, creating federal question jurisdiction).
The common defense of the complete diversity requirement, most recently reaffirmed in Exxon Mobil, is that the presence of non-diverse adverse parties eliminates the local bias that is the primary rationale for diversity jurisdiction; Hogan would not receive the benefit of local favoritism because a Floridian is on the other side of the case. But that argument ignores the risk of prejudice against the outsider (as opposed to bias for the local), which is not eliminated by the presence of a local co-party. This is exacerbated when there is disparity in the regard in which the locals are held in that community, such that one side is more of the local community than the other. And it is exacerbated when the outsider-defendant is the real target of the action, the deep-pocketed "big bad."
For jurisdictional purposes, this case looks very much like New York Times v. Sullivan: You have a well-known southern local plaintiff suing a New York-based media outlet, with a locally unpopular individual defendant thrown-in to destroy complete diversity and keep the case in state court. And you have a jury rendering a verdict that sends a pretty clear message about what it regards as outrageous speech. The problem for Gawker is that SCOTUS is unlikely to bail it out the way it did The Times. So Gawker will be relying on the Florida courts to get it out of this First Amendment bind (from all reports, paying anything close to this amount will bankrupt the company).
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.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Miguel Estrada on Merrick Garland
I’ve seen a number of pieces on the Garland nomination link to this dispiriting—and totally accurate—take on judicial nominations by my old boss Miguel Estrada (written with Benjamin Wittes). President Bush, you may recall, appointed Estrada, one of the greatest Supreme Court advocates of his generation and an influential conservative, to the D.C. Circuit. Senate Democrats successfully filibustered his nomination in 2003—a preemptive strike against a candidate widely viewed as a future SCOTUS pick.
Miguel is now speaking out in favor of confirming Judge Garland. Jan Crawford tweets, here, that he “look[s] forward to [Garland’s] service on the Court” and calls Garland "superbly qualified." (That’s also in keeping with the spirit of his take on the nomination process in this letter, written in support of Elena Kagan’s SCOTUS candidacy).
Quick news commentaries
Two completely unrelated items, in one post.
1) The Ferguson City Council reversed itself, voting 6-0 to accept all the provisions of the proposed DOJ consent decree. DOJ now will drop its § 14141 suit, pending judicial approval of the settlement.
2) Merrick Garland is an interesting choice for SCOTUS in a number of respects. His age makes him a good compromise candidate for the times--he is unlikely to serve for 30-35 years, which might be a selling point. Given that Bill Clinton appointed Garland to the court of appeals, Garland also might be particularly acceptable to Hillary and someone she would renominate if this nomination goes nowhere and she is elected in November (or if Obama makes a recess appointment in anticipation of a Clinton victory). I still do not believe Senate Republicans are going to change their minds (or at the very least, they will not confirm, even if they hold hearings). But this is the type of nomination that might increase the political pressure. Politically, I hope I am wrong.
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).
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Why does it matter (redux)?
In December, I wondered why it mattered whether Donald Trump was "a racist," as opposed to just a person who said racist things. That question is back, thanks to questions at last night's Democratic presidential debate. Both Clinton and Sanders were asked whether they consider Trump a racist; both condemned the things he said, while refusing to put a label on him.
But, again, how cares? If someone says racist things, I know not to vote for him for President. Why does it matter whether the label is formally attached to him? And, in particular, why does it matter whether his potential political opponents attach the label to him?
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?
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.
Tuesday, March 01, 2016
Read the text, Senator
If you want to score debater's points by claiming your fidelity to the text as against your interlocutor's atextualism, you need to make sure you actually get the text right.
Case in point: Republican Sen.. Charles Grassley's SCOTUSBlog commentary, responding to President Obama's own SCOTUSBlog commentary about his power and obligation to "appoint" a successor to Justice Scalia. Not so, Grassley insists--"The President has authority to nominate a candidate for the Supreme Court, and the Senate has the authority to consent or withhold consent." Obama thus is under a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the constitutional text, which shows that any justice he will put forward will similarly disregard the text.
Except: "he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court." So the President does not only nominate; he appoints, although with advice and consent of the Senate.
If Grassley's point is that both branches are involved in choosing a Supreme Court Justice, he is absolutely correct. And the Senate is perfectly within its constitutional power (if not necessarily its obligation to govern responsibly and effectively) to withhold that consent. But this is entirely a political calculation--the expectation that he (and the rest of the Senate GOP) will be ideologically opposed to any Obama Justice. Grassley was trying to avoid the politics by grounding his argument in constitutional text, as well as being a bit pedantic in the process. But if so, you cannot get the text wrong.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Claim: There is nothing wrong with politically motivated prosecutions (of genuinely guilty political candidates).
Here's an ethical hypo that isn't really a hypo at all. Suppose a U.S. Attorney from the opposite party has strong reason to believe that a leading---and very dangerous and scary---presidential candidate was guilty of a serious federal felony---if, for example, that candidate were currently embroiled in multiple lawsuits, including one by a major state Attorney General, alleging that the candidate in question had led a fraudulent scheme to bilk thousands of people of their hard-earned money with a fake "university"---allegations that, if true, would also clearly meet the elements of various criminal fraud statutes.
Should that U.S. attorney investigate, and, if s/he finds probable cause, prosecute? Even in an election year?
I'm inclined to think yes: even though it would lead to cries of "politically motivated prosecution," there's nothing particularly wrong with politically motivated prosecutions: if one wishes to run for the highest office in the land, one probably shouldn't go commit a bunch of felonies; if one does commit the felonies then run, one is fair game.* Plus, there's something grim about the idea that one can get de facto immunity from one's felonies by running for president. Especially when the candidate is, as noted, not just an ordinary political opponent, or even an extremist political opponent, but a terrifying, openly racist, demagogue.
edit: at least when the felonies are classic malum in se crimes like conning people out of their money. I might feel differently if we were talking about, e.g., victimless drug crimes.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The West Wing may not be the best source for resolving political problems
Let me begin by saying that I loved The West Wing while it was on, before I decided Aaron Sorkin's writing was unbearable and repetitious. I even wrote something (no longer available online) about the show's many story lines about presidential and vice-presidential succession, which has always been a constitutional fascination. And in broad strokes, the show kind-of predicted the four players in the 2008 Presidential race.
Lisa McElroy (Drexel) writes in Slate about The West Wing's apparent solution to our current Supreme Court dilemma: Presented with a chance to replace a deceased conservative justice but facing a Republican Senate, second-term President Bartlet creates a bargain by making two ideologically extreme appointments--a very liberal woman as Chief and a very conservative man, hoping the Senate will go for the trade-off. I recalled the episode when I heard about Scalia's death last weekend. I do not remember if I believed this was a good idea when the episode aired in March 2004; I believe it is a terrible idea now (although that might just reflect how I feel about Sorkin's work).
First, it required that White House staffers create a second vacancy by convincing/coercing/strong-arming the Chief Justice into retiring. We no longer applaud (or should applaud) Johnson-esque tactics when it comes to the President and the Court. But Sorkin loves the "honesty" of such straight-talking methods and ends-justify-means strategies, even if in real-life they come across as noxious. I would not want an Obama aide directly lobbying Ginsburg or Breyer to retire.
Second, what the show depicts seems to me a terrible trade for the Democrats. Yes, the Democrats get to appoint the Chief (which has not happened since Fred Vinson in 1946). And that is significant for assigning opinions and perhaps for the future direction of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. But an even trade does nothing for the Democrats in terms of the cases that matter, since it does not alter the judicial-ideological balance on the Court.* Sorkin was decrying an influx of "moderates" on the Court and wanting something on the poles. But the current Court is all poles, with no real middle at all. That means that a single appointment truly changes the ideological balance. To put it in modern terms: I would not want to see Obama appoint, say, Goodwin Liu and then replace Breyer with, say, Brett Kavanaugh.**
[*] Updated: Lisa tells me that the dialogue does indeed reveal the Court's make-up: six "centrists," two staunch conservatives, and one clarion voice articulating a liberal vision who may have been close to retirement. This basically reflects the Court in October Term 1990: Rehnquist and Scalia as the conservatives, Marshall alone as the liberal voice (Brennan had just retired), and White, Powell, Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, and Souter forming the middle.
[**] The resulting Court--Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, [ed: forgot him the first draft], Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Liu, Kavanaugh--would leave us exactly where we are, only with the clock reset by a conservative who would be on the Court for another 30 years joining three conservatives likely to serve for another twenty. As a Democrat, it certainly would undermine one of the reasons I have been happy to control the White House these past seven years and why I believe this election is so important.
Worse, the new liberal chief was a decade older than the new conservative associate justice (going by the age of the actors at the time--Glenn Close was 56, while William Fichtner was 47). In actuarial terms, he was likely to remain on the Court, and thus to wield influence, longer than she was.
Third, the episode celebrates across-the-aisle disagreement, engagement, and friendship as a practical solution. Some have offered the friendship between Ginsburg and Scalia as a model for what Obama and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan might follow. But lost in all this is that, despite their friendship, Scalia and Ginsburg rarely agreed on key constitutional issues. And their friendship did nothing to enable either to sway the other. Recall Ginsburg's moving tribute to her friend: "when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation." Not that Ginsburg was convinced or moved to change her mind; only that she made the arguments for her position stronger. Which is, perhaps, good for the development of the law (that is Lisa's take-away). It does nothing for political impasse--Obama and McConnell can sing duets all they want, that is not going to produce any actual legislation. And it does not change the dynamics that five conservative Justices always get their way in the face of four liberal Justices. (This is as legal realist as I get, I think).
Finally, the episode bothers me because, put in a room together, the two federal judges/prospective nominees begin arguing constitutional law--as if this is what judges do when they get together in social settings (this was, of course, necessary for President Bartlet to see the benefit of two smart opposites engaging one another). Worse (and ironically, given the show's obvious political views), the dialogue made the conservative judge seem like he was right and smarter than the liberal. It included the following exchange (this is paraphrasing somewhat, from memory):
Lang (Close): If we followed your way [presumably meaning Originalism], we would still have slavery and women couldn't vote.
Mulready (Fichtner): And hence the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Nineteenth Amendments.
Lang: Well, thank you for that.
But that actually is the answer--consider the text and its meaning at the time, but when an amendment overrides some provision, follow the amendment. Yes, slavery was part of the Constitution, until those parts of the Constitution were overridden by the Thirteenth Amendment. And saying otherwise just makes the position sound silly.
I know, I know--it is only a TV show.
Monday, February 15, 2016
The Peter Principle and the Supreme Court
I have not waded into the discussion of Justice Scalia's death and what happens next, although I commend what others have written here. I am in complete agreement with three things Richard Friedman (Michigan) wrote on the ConLawProf listserv: 1) This debate is entirely political and if the partisan institutional positions were flipped, so would the partisan institutional arguments; 2) The President can nominate whoever he wants before January 20, 2017, and the Senate can reject or refuse to act on any nomination within that time; 3) Senate custom is dead.
Given that (especially # 2), some thoughts/questions as we go forward:1) (The question that gives the post its title): Does it really matter that some potential highly-qualified-to-force-the-Senate's-hand nominee (notably Sri Srinivasan) was confirmed to a lower court 97-0? Putting aside that this is all politics. Is it truly irrational for a Senator to conclude that someone could be qualified for a lower federal court and not for SCOTUS? For constitutional purposes, there is no difference in qualifications. (In fact, nothing in Article III requires appointment to any particular court, as opposed to confirmation as a federal judge). But Congress having established a statutory regime in which a judge must be separately nominated and confirmed to every seat, can't a Senator believe that someone who is good enough to be a lower-court judge is not acceptable as a SCOTUS justice? I am not saying that is the case with Srinivasan. It's just that the suggestion that Senate Republicans would accept (or be politically compelled, or embarrassed into accepting) someone because of the prior vote does not follow.
A recess appointment would likely be construed by a Republican-controlled Senate, not to mention Republican candidates for President, as subverting the intention of the nomination process laid out by the Constitution. That’s an argument—with some merit—that Obama surely wants to avoid as the White House simultaneously looks to lean heavily on the president’s constitutional responsibility to choose a justice and the Senate’s constitutional duty to confirm a reasonable selection.
But couldn't the White House successfully frame it as follows: "The Senate Majority Leader announced, within less than one day of Justice Scalia's death, that it would not even vote on any nomination the President makes, despite his constitutionally established term continuing for another 11 months. Given this, the decision to make a recess appointment reflects not a subversion of the process, but taking the Majority Leader at his word that no confirmation could happen with the Senate in session."
3) Here is an imprecise historical analogue that, at least in counter-factual, captures a lot of what is happening politically (Michael Dorf wrote about this at Dorf on Law, although I cannot find the post). Thurgood Marshall retired in summer 1991.* And while Marshall reportedly did not want to give the appointment to George H.W. Bush, at that point it seemed certain that Bush would be re-elected, so there was no point in waiting (plus, all indications are that Marshall stayed too long, anyway and his health was failing). Of course, things had changed dramatically just one year later--it was clear the President was in trouble and he would go on to lose that November. The counter-factual is always what if Marshall could have hung around for just one more term, until say, June 1992; no one suggests he needed to stay until June 1993, after Clinton had taken office (Marshall died four days after Clinton was inaugurated). The implication is that by June 1992, no nominee would have been confirmed until after November--and once Bush lost, the nomination would await the new President. Of course, this would have put us in our current spot in reverse--a soon-to-be-leaving-office Republican President and a Democratic-opposition Senate refusing to confirm any nominee until we see what happens in November.
[*] Yes, not an election year. But surely the line cannot be January 1, especially when elections have already begun, particularly by the party out of power, by the previous summer.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Justice Scalia and Election Law
As someone who focuses primarily on election law, the implications of Justice Scalia's death are monumental. Virtually every aspect of election law might be different with an Obama appointee replacing Scalia. From redistricting, to campaign finance, to voter ID, to the next Bush v. Gore, here is a breakdown of the various areas that may be impacted by the next Justice:
First, there is the obvious impact on this Term's one-person, one-vote case, Evenwel, on whether states must use citizen-voting age population (a count of eligible voters), instead of total population, as the measure for achieving population equality between districts. I think this case was going to come down in favor of allowing the state to choose which measure to use, so Justice Scalia's death may not change this result. But if he was going to vote with the other conservatives and require states to use citizen-voting age population, that probably would have been a 5-4 decision. Now it will be 4-4, meaning that the lower court, allowing total population, will be affirmed. There could also be an immediate impact on North Carolina's request for a stay of recent a lower court decision striking down that state's congressional maps.
Second -- and this is a big one -- the federal courts might finally be able to police partisan gerrymandering. In a 2003 decision, Vieth v. Jubelirer, Justice Scalia wrote for a 4-Justice plurality that claims of partisan gerrymandering are nonjusticiable, because there is no manageable standard for a court to use to separate "good" politics from "bad" in the redistricting context. Four Justices -- the so-called "liberals" -- came up with various standards to use; Justice Kennedy did not like any of the standards but wanted to leave the door open to a potential standard in the future. (The Court in essence affirmed this split in 2006 in LULAC v. Perry.) Now, if a new Justice agrees with one of the standards (such as Justice Kennedy's invocation of the First Amendment for these cases), there would be 5 votes to police partisan gerrymandering. That is, the Court could become even more enmeshed in policing the worst political abuses in drawing district lines. The Court could go deeper into the "political thicket."
Third, there could be an effect on the scope of redistricting decisions involving race -- including the racial gerrymandering cases under the Equal Protection Clause and minority vote dilution claims under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In essence, a new Justice may be more willing to invoke the Equal Protection Clause or the Voting Rights Act to ensure greater minority representation in the drawing of district lines.
Voting Rights Act:
A new Supreme Court appointment may have major implications for the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively gutted the Section 5 preclearance mechanism, was a 5-4 decision. There has been some concern among the voting rights community that the Court could invalidate Section 5 further if the DOJ successfully places Texas under preclearance (under the "bail in" mechanism of Section 3), or that Section 2 (which prohibits discrimination in voting nationwide) could be in jeopardy. But now, with only 4 true conservative votes, these aspects of the Voting Rights Act may live on much longer. In addition, a new Obama-appointed Justice would likely uphold any new coverage formula for Section 5 that Congress could pass (although, of course, the likelihood of Congress acting is pretty slim).
In the 10 years of the Roberts Court, the conservative majority has struck down virtually every campaign finance provision it has considered, typically on a 5-4 vote. Of course, the most notable decision was Citizen United v. FEC. But there have been other significant cases as well, such as McCutcheon (striking down aggregate contribution limitations) and Arizona Free Enterprise (invalidating matching funds in public financing). Unless the new Justice holds stare decisis above jurisprudential considerations, these recent precedents are, all of a sudden, in question. In essence, the past 10 years have been marked by significant deregulation of money in politics. A new Justice may call the entire foundation of recent campaign law into question.
In 2008, in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the Court ruled, 6-3 to uphold Indiana's voter ID law, which then was considered the strictest in the nation. States around the country followed suit, passing their own strict voter ID measures.
Yet the vote breakdown of the 6 Justices in Crawford was important: Justice Stevens wrote the plurality, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, ruling on somewhat narrow grounds that the challengers did not have sufficient evidence to strike down Indiana's law in a facial challenge. Importantly, the plurality left the door open to as-applied challenges with a stronger evidentiary record of the burdens the law imposed on voters. Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, concurred in the judgment. He would have upheld all voter ID laws on their face; Scalia disagreed with the plurality's approach to invite further as-applied litigation. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Souter dissented.
It is quite possible that Justice Stevens voted with the conservative justices, and wrote the plurality opinion, because of what I have termed "strategic compromise." Justice Stevens may have been concerned that, if he did not write a more moderate opinion upholding the law and instead joined the dissent, then Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy may have instead joined Justice Scalia's opinion, foreclosing any possible challenges to voter ID laws in the future. That is, without Justice Stevens taking the lead for a more moderate view, Justice Scalia's opinion could have become the lead opinion for a 5-4 conservative majority.
Without Justice Scalia, and with Justices Sotomayor and Kagan on the Court, the consideration of a voter ID law could look very different. It is quite possible that, with an Obama appointee, there will be 5 Justices to strike down a strict voter ID law (such as Texas's, which the 5th Circuit invalidated; that court is currently deciding whether to take the case en banc).
In sum, a new Justice could create a new majority that will look much more skeptically at voter ID laws.
Other election administration issues:
One of the problems with the Court's recent election law doctrine, as I have argued, is that the Court unduly defers to states in how they run their elections. This means that state legislatures, the majority of which are Republican-controlled, have great leeway in enacting rules for election administration. Under heightened scrutiny, it is usually the state that has the burden of justifying a law that infringes on the fundamental right to vote. But the Court's recent jurisprudence has been backward on this point: it has deferred to a state's interest, usually agreeing that a general assertion of preserving "election integrity" justifies a law that impacts voting rights. That is, all states must do is say "election integrity," and the Court has accepted that justification at face value without scrutinizing more closely the real reason behind a law.
A new Justice will (hopefully) understand the fallacy of this approach, and instead require states to provide specific, detailed justifications for its voting rules. This is not to say that the Court should strike down every election regulation. Instead, it means that states must more carefully explain the precise rationale for a voting rule.
On a practical level, this might have an impact on cases about early voting, registration rules, provisional balloting, last-minute litigation (the so-called Purcell Principle), and scores of other issues. A change in the level of detail and evidence states must provide to justify their election laws could have a major impact on the scope of election litigation -- thereby affecting the manner in which we vote.
Trump v. Clinton:
Bush v. Gore was a 5-4 decision. What will happen if this year's presidential election goes into overtime, and the courts must become involved once again? Although not likely, it is not impossible either. Before Justice Scalia's death, the Court had 5 Republican appointees and 4 Democratic appointees. If Obama is successful in appointing a new Justice, that political split will be 5-4 in the other direction. For those who think that the Court's election law doctrine is influenced by the Justice's personal ideologies (a claim that is only partially true, in my opinion), then this shift could have huge implications on how the Court might resolve a disputed election.
A new Justice will have an obvious impact on the hot-button issues of the day: abortion, affirmative action, gun rights, etc. Add election law to the mix.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Does Donald Trump Have Standing to Keep Ted Cruz off of the Ballot?
The other day Donald Trump claimed, on Twitter, that he has standing to challenge Ted Cruz's eligibility to be president. The substantive question revolves around whether Cruz is a "natural born citizen" because he was born in Canada.
Rick Hasen, who should always be trusted when it comes to matters of election law, suggests that Trump would have standing based on the notion of "competitive standing": in essence, Cruz's (improper) appearance on the ballot makes the election more competitive for Trump. Trump is therefore injured by having to run a campaign against an opponent who might not be eligible for the office.
I'm not convinced.Most fundamentally, the cases invoking the "competitive standing" doctrine all involved the government providing some benefit on some candidates but not others, thereby putting the candidate at a "competitive" disadvantage in the campaign. In one case, Ralph Nader had standing because he objected to participating in a presidential debate sponsored by corporate donors. He suffered an injury, as compared to his rivals, because of the decision to hold the debate in a manner that was contrary to the message of his campaign -- making the election fundamentally less competitive for him because he could not reach voters who would watch the debate. In the cases giving "competitive standing" to political parties, there was direct evidence that the governmental action would directly cause added expenses: for example, when the Republican Party in Texas sought to remove Tom DeLay from the ballot and substitute a new candidate, the Texas Democratic Party suffered an injury-in-fact in the need to mount a completely different campaign against a different opponent. Courts have also found an injury to a political party when the party's nominee will face stiffer competition, i.e., leading to added expenses, but this relates to the general election, when ideological lines are clearer.
Here, the added expense to Trump seems fairly speculative. How can he demonstrate that Cruz's placement on the ballot has harmed him directly? Maybe all of Cruz's supporters would vote for Ben Carson. Can he point to any direct campaign expenses that he has incurred, and would not have, if Cruz were not on the ballot? That is, how does Cruz's placement on the ballot directly cause any injuries to Trump? Is it because he is the front runner, meaning that Jim Gilmore would not have had standing (before he dropped out, of course)? Further, this situation seems different from the government sponsoring a debate but having rules that effectively exclude one candidate, providing a clear competitive disadvantage to that candidate.
At a minimum, this does not seem to be a clear-cut case. To be sure, Trump could sue in state court under various state standing doctrines, or have a state's ballot commission rule on Cruz's eligibility. (Derek Muller is compiling these various lawsuits, brought by voters, here.) And he could sue after the election in each state, saying that his loss of delegates was caused directly by Cruz winning some of those ballots when Cruz was ineligible. But I think that a pre-election suit to try to take Cruz off of the ballot is a much harder road. Trump would need to show that this "competitive standing" doctrine should extend beyond political parties at a general election, beyond a conferral of actual benefits to some candidates but not others, but to the mere appearance of an additional candidate on the ballot, when the election has not yet taken place.
My guess is that a federal court will not want to wade into the murkiness of Trump's standing and will wait for the political process to play out, or for after the election in that state, to make a ruling. If it does reach the question of Trump's standing, then there are good arguments against his ability to bring this suit.
[Update: Rick Hasen responds here. We certainly agree on one point: Trump will lose this case one way or the other, whether it is on standing or the merits.]
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Ferguson consent decree falls apart, DOJ sues
The proposed consent decree between DOJ and the City of Ferguson has fallen apart, after the City Council on Tuesday night approved the deal, but demanded seven changes to the deal, mostly involving extended deadlines and limits on costs. DOJ wasted no team in filing a civil action today, alleging patterns and practices of various police abuses, in violation of § 14141 (via the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments) and Title VI. The complaint contains all the things we already knew from earlier DOJ reports.
I am somewhat surprised DOJ jumped to a lawsuit so quickly, rather than trying a bit of additional negotiation. My guess is DOJ was ticked that the Council would undermine seven months of negotiation in single night. Life imitating art imitating life?
Where do Republicans go?
The refrain among Democrats, liberals, and progressives on the eve of a presidential election is always "If [insert Republican candidate] wins, I'm moving to Canada." (Dahlia Lithwick offers guidance).
Where do Republicans and conservatives threaten to go if Bernie Sanders wins?
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Three-Judge Courts and Precedent: An Election Law Procedural Quirk
Must three-judge federal district courts follow the law of the circuit in which they sit?
Three-judge district courts are an anomaly, used mostly in certain election law disputes such as statewide redistricting claims and some campaign finance litigation. In these cases, the initial single judge refers a qualifying case to the chief judge of the circuit, who will constitute a three-judge district court. (The Supreme Court clarified, this term, that the single judge may not consider the merits, but must refer all qualifying cases to the chief judge for the creation of a three-judge district court.) The chief judge assigns a circuit judge and two district judges to serve as the three-judge court. The court sits like a normal trial court, making findings of fact and conclusions of law. Decisions of this court are appealable directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, skipping the court of appeals stage. Congress created this procedure for cases that will uniquely benefit from faster resolution and multiple minds at the outset, as the decisions are often seen as less biased and more legitimate. (For more on this process, see my article The Procedure of Election Law in Federal Courts.)
Sometimes, these courts face questions that the circuit court in which they sit have already decided. A circuit court ruling on a particular point of law would be binding on a single district judge. Are these appellate decisions also binding precedent on a three-judge district court? Although most three-judge district courts have said that they must follow circuit precedent, they are wrong. I explain why after the jump.
Assume that a plaintiff brings a redistricting case under the Voting Rights Act, arguing that the mapmakers did not create enough "influence districts," where minority voters, even though not a majority, can still have a meaningful impact on who wins. Assume further that the circuit court has ruled, in a separate case that does not go through the three-judge district court process, that the Voting Rights Act does not permit a claim for influence districts. Must the three-judge court, as a matter of binding precedent, follow that circuit court ruling?
Three-judge district courts considering this question have largely assumed that they must follow circuit law. But they have provided very little discussion on this point. The analysis has been conclusory, at best. Courts typically write something like "we are bound by precedent in this circuit," without more. Indeed, my initial research has found only one three-judge district court that has gone the other way, holding that, while certainly persuasive, it was not bound to follow circuit law as mandatory.
This minority view is correct if one thinks about the difference between superior and inferior courts. Put simply, because the circuit will never review the decision of the three-judge district court, it is not a superior court to that three-judge district panel. If it has no power of review, then its decisions cannot be binding precedent. To be sure, its decisions are highly persuasive, but the only court that has binding authority over the three-judge district court is the U.S. Supreme Court. That is the only court that could reverse the three-judge district court for not following its decisions.
Thus, if judges are bound by “higher” courts in the judicial hierarchy, than the converse also must be true: judges need not follow decisions of courts that are not directly above them. Indeed, this is the reason why one district judge need not follow the ruling of a prior district judge, and why one circuit court is not required to rule consistently with another circuit court. (The prior panel rule within a circuit, however, cuts the other way. I will address why the prior panel rule does not change the analysis in a future post--or at least in the article that will come out of this analysis.)
In sum, the circuit court is not directly above the three-judge district court -- even though that court is a district court sitting within the circuit -- meaning that the circuit court's decisions are not binding precedent. Although perhaps a seemingly minor problem, this analysis should change how three-judge district courts consider various issues that may arise. It also has important consequences for the U.S. Supreme Court, which I will address later.
Friday, February 05, 2016
Power or Participation? Consensus in Political Deliberation
How should we structure our democratic institutions? Do we worry about political power, and so seek to maximize the ways in which political authorities are accountable to the public? Here we might emphasize reciprocity as a core feature of political institutions. Or to maximize the public’s participation in the political process. On the one hand, accountability checks the unbridled power of the political elite. On the other hand, public opinion is likely to be ill-formed or easily manipulated, more the result of passion than reason or knowledge, as Madison worried in Federalist 10? If we are worried about an ill-informed public, then we might promote a form of participation that allows political representatives to discount public opinion, even while maximizing public participation in selecting those representatives or even canvassing opinion.
The debate about political process has become especially important in the policing context. The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing enthusiastically endorsed procedural justice as the best way for the police to build trust and legitimacy within their communities. Procedural justice has been endorsed on the other side of the Atlantic as a means of promoting consensus based policing. Drawing on research from organizations whose members share a common purpose, procedural justice argues that we ought to adopt procedures that encourage participation, and treat the participants respectfully, beneficently, and neutrally.We might think that fair procedures are ones that guarantee participation, but not influence. What matters is that authorities have a duty to allow participation, and convince participants that they are treated neutrally, respectfully, and as members of the same group, not that authorities must in practice so treat participants. We might think that while a fair procedure does not guarantee participation, it need not preclude it: a participative procedure would be one in which authorities and subordinates see each other as part of the same organization, with the same interests, and so would come to the same conclusions were everyone consulted. What matters most, however, is that the organization generate the right result, and that subordinates comply with that result. Because participative procedures maximize the likelihood of compliance, what matters is participation rather than influence or accountability (what we might call reciprocity). A version of this thesis can be found in Madison’s Federalist 10; and something like it has been described as unitary democracy by Jane Mansbridge. And it seems to be at the heart of procedural justice.
Consensus democracy is compatible with idea that authorities may be, for various reasons, justified in encouraging subordinate participation in the process of decision-making—giving subordinates a voice—while at the same time misrepresenting the amount of influence the subordinates wield in the process. If the goal is to ensure compliance or cooperation, and everyone would agree on the outcome if they were sufficiently well-informed and rational, then it does not undermine the subordinate’s interests in the right result that they are mistaken about the extent of their influence, particularly if they are more likely to reach that result without sanction (and, from the perspective of the authority, without expensive inducement).
But what of dissensus democracy, where there is no right result, or where there is a split authority (such as the tripartite structure of American government) or where the interests of the public conflict in certain ways with the interests of the government? Should we value compliance or cooperation with the authority and so accept as fair those procedures that more effectively produce these effects; or should we instead opt for a process that permits, not just participation, but also reciprocal accountability. That sort of procedure would not only require participation, but also power-sharing, among the members of the organization, or of the community, or of the country.
The debate is an old one, but it has practical urgency in the context of policing. The four-part procedure I described above—participant voice; authority neutrality, respectfulness, and beneficence—are the features of procedural justice which promise to reign in police use-of-force at the same time as more effectively ensuring compliance and cooperation than other methods, baed on inputs like law-abidingness, and outputs like crime reduction or even avoiding criminal sanctions. A core issue is whether compliance and cooperation with the police is a goal that we all share. For example, we have the right to terminate police encounters by walking away and refusing to answer questions; and even if arrested we have the right not to comply by declining to speak during an interrogation. Should we also have the right to challenge the police to justify taking us into custody or searching us by articulating their grounds for doing so? Should the police be dynamically responsive to our facts or reasons or can they ignore our input while still providing for our participation as a way of mollifying us and getting us to comply? Famously, police interrogations follow a two-part process in which the interrogator first determines whether the suspect is guilty or not (the unitary purpose) and then uses various psychological techniques to induce compliance, both at the waiver and at the confession stage of the proceedings. The technique is so powerful, studies show, that some suspects will not only confess, but actually convince themselves that their interrogator was right and they were mistaken about what actually happened.
How structure fair procedures to maximize participant power and participation presents difficult questions. Whatever the answer, procedural justice provides a fascinating account of the way in which the structural features of our interactions with authorities can have important psychological and behavioral consequences, consequences that are of deep democratic significance.
Thursday, February 04, 2016
Who is making the 700,000 FOIA requests the government receives every year?
The Freedom of Information Act has been making a bit of news recently, as Congress considers proposed reforms, and the House has even passed a bill that would effectuate the most significant changes to the statute in nearly a decade. Many of the proposals are excellent, and, if enacted, would certainly strengthen the public’s right to access government records.
But a more structural problem plagues FOIA, one that I explore in depth in my forthcoming article: it was designed to perform one function and, to a large extent, it is used to serve others. What purpose was it designed to serve? Mostly journalists’ interest in reporting the news to the public. In fact, it may even be fair to say that the news media essentially drafted the law. In 1953, Harold Cross wrote a book called “The People’s Right to Know” in his capacity as an advisor to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the most prominent journalism association at the time. After documenting the patchwork of existing access laws, most of which fell woefully short of journalists’ needs, Cross called on Congress to legislate a right to access public records. Because the book garnered interest in Congress, Cross himself subsequently become the legal adviser to the special subcommittee in the House of Representatives tasked with drafting the law, and journalists mostly staffed the committee. That is, journalists were crafting the very contours of the law, not just its vision.
And the vision was equally important to Congress. The whole idea of a public records’ access law designed for journalists was that the news media could use the law to inform the public about government activities, thereby enhancing the public’s ability to participate in democratic governance and hold elected officials accountable. The legislative history of FOIA is replete with references for the need to have an informed electorate as vital to a democratic society.
The reality today, though, is that news media make up a tiny fraction of requesters – in the single digit percentages at most agencies. Journalists find the law slow in operation and the fight for access to be resource intensive. They simply don’t have the time or legal budgets to take full advantage. Nonetheless, despite the loud complaints about FOIA’s failings, the federal government now receives over 700,000 FOIA requests a year, so FOIA must be serving someone’s interests at least well enough to keep them coming back for more.
In my study, I focus on one group of these other requesters: commercial requesters. Commercial requesting has previously been poorly or only anecdotally understood, and I thus seek in my paper to document an in-depth account of how commercial interests are served by FOIA. To that end, I conducted case studies of particular agencies with significant numbers of commercial requesters whose data on FOIA usage I obtained by filing my own FOIA requests, and at each of these agencies I ended up studying, the amount of commercial requesting is very significant.
I will leave you with those perhaps surprising statistics, and will elaborate in my next post on the various ways in which commercial entities are using FOIA as part of their profit making enterprise.
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Thanks to Howard for the invitation and the welcome. I am truly delighted to be guest blogging on Prawfs this month. For those of you I have yet to have the pleasure to know, I am a long-time die-hard proceduralist. I teach Civil Procedure, Administrative Law, and Federal Courts, and this semester for the first time, have added perhaps my first “substantive” course, National Security Law. Although any good proceduralist knows the substance/procedure dichotomy is murky, if not entirely false, I will admit that the move away from procedure has in fact felt uncomfortable, though certainly exciting.
In some ways, teaching National Security Law was the next, inevitable step for me. I have written about procedural aspects of government secrecy for essentially my whole (short) academic career. For a long time I fought full engagement with national security, hoping instead to address problems with procedural rights and remedies for all kinds of secrecy equally. But the truth is that our deepest government secrecy problems today concern security, and national security secrets are not treated the same as other secrets.
As you may have guessed by now, I am planning to use my time here to share my thoughts on the intersection between government secrecy, procedural justice, and national security. Before I get to national security, though, I will begin with a few posts on a slightly orthogonal topic: the corporate and commercial use of the Freedom of Information Act. I will share with you some of the findings I report in my forthcoming article FOIA, Inc., which is based on original data collected from six federal agencies’ records. While I think the findings are, in and of themselves, quite surprising and worthy of consideration, I hope by the end of my series, when I engage more fully with national security secrecy, I can make the connection between these two threads apparent.
I am looking forward to the month!
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Donald Trumps the 22d Amendment
have heard of the Twenty-Second Amendment?
The Supreme Court, On Demand
It has become almost a yearly rite: Congress introduces a bipartisan bill to require television cameras in the Supreme Court. The Justices express their concerns about the proposal. High-minded words are exchanged about the dignity of the courts versus the public’s right to know. Eventually the bill dies in committee.
The traditional arguments for cameras, such as public interest in following high-profile cases, or general appeals to transparency, are unlikely to resonate with the Court any more this year than in years past. But there is another case for Supreme Court cameras, and it stems from the federal judiciary’s own highly successful cameras program in the district courts.
In 2011, the Judicial Conference of the United States authorized a pilot program for periodically recording civil proceedings in fourteen federal district courts. The proceedings are then uploaded to the U.S. Courts website, where they are indexed and accompanied by additional information on the case. The entire process is conducted by the courts themselves, without media cameras or external video processing. The result has been a video library of hundreds of proceedings, ranging from pretrial conferences to summary judgment hearings to multi-day trials. The videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
The success of the district court pilot, which I explore in much more detail here, offers an excellent blueprint for a parallel Supreme Court program.
First, as the district court pilot has shown, both practicing lawyers and ordinary citizens stand to learn a great deal from actually watching Supreme Court proceedings. Watching the Court in action educates those in the legal profession about procedures before the Court, the issues of particular interest to the Justices, and ways in which an attorney might capture the interest and attention of the Court. For the public, watching the Court in action is all the more important: rather than allowing journalists and comedians define the Court’s work after the fact, the public can go straight to the source. Many studies suggest that watching an event on video (whether delayed or through live streaming) carries many of the cognitive benefits accrued from watching a live event. Whether the public would take advantage of this educational opportunity in any serious way is an open question, but at least that opportunity would exist.
Second, a recording (and/or live streaming) program would bolster the Court’s public legitimacy, by openly demonstrating the court’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Public support for the Supreme Court has been hovering at or below 50% for much of the past decade. At the same time, the public is increasingly seeking information through screen time. Watching the Court in action can demystify the judicial process and reduce public reliance in the messaging of politicians, reporters, and editorial writers. Supreme Court Justices, like all federal judges, are public servants. If they are proud of their work, they should welcome public viewing.
Finally, it suggests how the courts can achieve these educational and transparency goals without relying on the news media—the primary public concern of the Justices. Just as cameras have been placed in unobtrusive locations within district courtrooms, and the final recordings made available on the courts’ website, so too can recordings of Supreme Court proceedings be made available on its website, accompanied by rich contextual matter. The Supreme Court can also easily provide live streaming of oral arguments and case announcements without threatening the dignity or solemnity of the proceedings. Indeed, it may avoid the alternative, John Oliver-style, treatments. If the Court really wants to have some control over its own message, it cannot close its eyes and ears to the realities of the twenty-first century.
At least, we can hope.
N.B. -- The district court program has been an excellent resource for my teaching, and I recommend it highly for others whose students cannot as a practical matter visit the courthouse to observe proceedings.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Ferguson consent decree
DOJ has reached agreement with the City of Ferguson on a proposed consent decree resolving the threatened § 14141 action. It appears to attempt to address everything that went wrong there in 2014, as well as those practices that contributed to the general tension that had long existed. The order requires training and commitment to public First Amendment activity--peaceful protests, lawful public assembly, and video-recording of police activity--including a requirement that only the Chief of Police or Assistant Chief may declare an assembly unlawful and officers cannot disperse an assembly without that declaration. It limits and restricts "stop orders" or "wanteds," in which police initiate contact to enforce warrants. It requires the City to implement a body and dashboard camera program, with broad recording of most stops and interactions and public disclosure of recordings to the maximum extent allowed by state law. And it requires broad reform of municipal court practices and training and policies on use of force.
Monday, January 25, 2016
More judicial departmentalism
A few points in furtherance of the model of "judicial departmentalism" that Kevin Walsh coined and that I have been urging, beginning with the marriage equality litigation and its aftermath.
First, the law imposes a number of incentives for governments and government officials not to push the departmentalist boundary, chief among them attorneys' fees for prevailing plaintiffs. This story discusses the fee awards from the marriage-equality litigation, which have topped $ 1 million in a number of states. The fee request in Tennessee (one of the states who defended in SCOTUS) is $ 2 million. Texas was ordered to pay about $ 600,000 (in a case that had limited briefing and a summary affirmance in the court of appeals), which the state plans to appeal. The point is, it will get pretty expensive for states if many of their officials decide to follow Kim Davis or Roy Moore and force couples to bring inevitably successful new litigation to obtain marriage licenses. [Update: A new report says Montana settled for $ 100k, bringing the national total to $ 13.4 million).]
Second, SCOTUS today in a per curiam decision in James v. City of Boise (pp. 13-14) held that the Supreme Court of Idaho was bound by SCOTUS interpretations of federal law--in this case, the limitation on § 1988 that prevailing defendants may recover fees only if a claim is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. The state court had said that SCOTUS did not have the authority to limit the interpretive discretion of state courts, only of lower federal courts. The court made quick work of that argument, emphasizing the disuniformity it would engender (citing Justice Story in Martin) and insisting that "it is the duty of other courts to respect that understanding of the governing rule of law." Although I try not to read tea leaves, this looks like a shot across the bow of the Supreme Court of Alabama. That court seems itching to following Idaho with respect to Obergefell and is being urged to do so by the litigants and by Chief Justice Roy Moore. James suggests that SCOTUS will quickly and easily dispose of that effort.
Third, I like the way the Court described its authority--the Court says what a statute means and it is "the duty of other courts to respect that understanding." (emphasis mine). The Court did not say it was the duty of officers or offices other than courts. I am not suggesting this drafting was deliberate or that it reflects a sudden wave of departmentalism in the Court; more likely, it was written this way because that was how this case presented. Still, it captures what I believe is the appropriate scope of the Court's power to "say what the law is" and to whom.