Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Standing and the proper defendants
To absolutely no one's surprise, a panel of the D.C. Circuit rejected the challenge to the constitutionality of the Senate's filibuster rule (shout-out to Josh Chafetz and Michael Gerhardt for the citation). The district court had found none of the plaintiffs (Common Cause, some members of the House, and some people who would have benefitted from certain filibustered bills, notably the DISCLOSE Act and the DREAM Act) lacked standing--none had not suffered any cognizable injury in fact, they could not show the bills would have passed but for the filibuster, and no injunction could have accorded them relief. Fed Courts 101 (and still a course everyone should take).
The circuit court took a different path: The problem was that the plaintiffs had sued the wrong defendants. The proper defendants were the Senate and the Senators who made, retained, and voted according to the filibuster rule with respect to the bills at issue. But all Senators would enjoy absolute legislative immunity, so they could not be sued. Nor could a court impose the remedy the plaintiffs wanted--an injunction prohibiting the 60-vote requirement and compelling the Senate to adopt a simple-majority rule.
To get around that, the plaintiffs sued Vice President Biden (in his role as President of the Senate) and a bunch of non-Senator Senate officers (Sergeant-in-Arms, Parliamentarian, and Secretary) as the people responsible for "enforcing" or "executing" Senate rules. (Powell v. McCormack being the obvious precedent). But that did not work here, because the named defendants did not do anything that caused the alleged injury, since the injury was the Senators' use of the 60-vote requirement.
This analysis adds a new wrinkle to the causation prong of standing by making the identity of the defendant an element of that prong. It requires not only that the defendants' action caused the harm, but also that these defendants caused that harm. Plaintiffs must show a link between conduct and harm and that they got the "right guys" in their suit. And causation--and thus standing--is absent if either one is absent.
But doing it this way shows-again-why standing makes so little sense as a jurisdictional rather than merits rule. In any other context--including constitutional claims, even constitutional claims for injunctive relief (where standing always comes up)--it is a merits dismissal when the plaintiff sues the wrong defendant. Moreover, had the plaintiffs sued the Senators--thus solving the standing issue as viewed by the court of appeals--the legislative immunity defense would have produced a merits dismissal, not a jurisdictional dismissal.
At bottom, however, this is all about how plaintiffs structure their lawsuits--who sues, who they sue, what they sue for, what remedy they seek. It should have nothing to do with federal structural jurisdictional concerns.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Law prawf letter on Adegbile nomination
A group of law professors is circulating this letter to Senators Leahy and Grassley [Updated verion] regarding the Senate's rejection Debo Adegbile to head DOJ's Civil Rights Division; several Senators expressly pointed to Adegbile's past representation of Mumia Abu Jamal as the basis for their opposition. While not asking the Senator to reconsider Adegbile's nomination, the letter expresses concern for what this rejection says about the right to counsel (issues I discussed), the obligations of lawyers to take-on pro bono representation, and what happens if lawyers are tagged with the sins of their clients (pointing not only to Chief Justice Roberts, as did several commenters to my earlier posts, but also to John Adams for his (successful) representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre).
The authors are looking for law professors to sign on to the letter. If interested, you can do so online at this link. The deadline for signing is April 17.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Wood: So many ways for the plaintiff to lose
The Court heard argument today in Wood v. Moss, a "bit-of-everything" case that I have written about previously both on Prawfs and as an early illustrator of Iqbal's dangers. There are all sorts of issues and reasons flying around the case, and while I do not see anyway the plaintiffs will win, I cannot tell why they're going to lose.
Justice Scalia seemed to be itching to hold that the First Amendment cannot be enforced through Bivens. Or, at least, not against Secret Service agents charged with protecting the President. Or, at least, subjective viewpoint-discriminatory intent is irrelevant if there also is a subjective security rationale (i.e., applying Whren to the First Amendment). The government wants to skip the merits and simply conclude that the right against viewpoint discrimination at a presidential appearance was not clearly established.
The pleading discussion came largely in the Respondent's argument. He and the Chief had an interesting exchange about how to read Iqbal--Respondent's attorney hit on the "plausibility is not probability" language, while the Chief hit on the "obvious alternative explanation" language. Lower courts have not done much with that language, at least not rhetorically, but the Chief may be trying to revive it. Respondent tried to read that as one of degree-only if the alternative is so clearly obvious and right that it renders the pled explanation implausible (which, of course, is not the case here). There is also a nice exchange about how discovery can or will work here and (implicitly) whether or not the district court can control it, including whether there are secrecy concerns with disclosing practices and policies regarding how the President is protected.
Justice Kennedy summed the case up best--"it seems to me that if this complaint doesn't survive, nothing will." Indeed. And that is the problem.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Clearing brush on standing and merits
While SCOTUS has successfully disentangled jurisdiction and merits over the past several years, it has not done much with standing and its unfortunate conflation with merits. Tuesday's decision in Lexmark int'l v. Static Control Components perhaps marks a first step toward drawing sharper distinctions. The issue in the case was whether Static Control could bring a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act against Lexmark, even though the companies are not competitors.
The parties and the lower courts framed this in terms of the "zone of interests" test for prudential standing. The Court unanimously rejected that framing (as well as the closely related "statutory standing"), saying it has nothing to do with subject matter jurisdiction or standing. Zone of interests goes to whether the plaintiff falls within the class of people whom Congress authorized to sue through the statutory cause of action. This is a pure merits inquiry, akin to whether a plaintiff is an "employee" under Title VII. The focus is on the pleading (citing Iqbal) and whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a claim that falls within the scope of the congressionally created cause of action.
Moreover, in footnote 3, the Court potentially cast doubt on all "prudential standing" as an "inapt" label. Prudential standing has historically consisted of three doctrines: Zone of Interest; No Third-Party Standing; and No Generalized Grievances. This case establishes the first as a merits inqury. In FN 3, the Court said that recent cases have treated the third as a matter of the Article III case-or-controversy requirement rather than as prudential. As for the second, the Court noted that some cases suggesting it is "closely related" to whether the plaintiff has a right of action, although most cases have not framed it that way. It expressly left that question for another day, although the tenor of this opinion and this footnote suggest a reluctance to keep this category alive. In other words, something is either a true Article III inquiry or a merits inquiry, with no fuzzy middle ground.
As an admitted adherent to the William Fletcher "it's all merits improperly constitutionalized" view of standing, this is a move in the right direction.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Where are they now, St. Patrick's Day Edition
(or Winning by losing and losing by winning)
In 1995, SCOTUS unanimously held that the private organizers of Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade (a group called the Allied Veterans' War Council) had a First Amendment right to exclude LGBTQ groups from the parade. That decision laid some important free-speech groundwork, particularly in the idea that speech need not have a particularized message to enjoy constitutional protection (citing to works such as Pollock, Schoenberg, and Carroll's Jabberwocky). Although the gay-rights position lost, many advocates appreciated the opinion for (arguably for the first time) speaking in generally positive (or at least not harshly negative) terms about homosexuality.
Fast forward two decades. That same organization, armed with a First Amendment right to exclude, still runs the parade. But it is facing increasing political and economic pressure to allow some LGBTQ groups into the parade. The group had been negotiating to allow in the LGBT Veterans for Equality, although those stalled last week, with AVWC accusing a gay rights group of creating an ersatz veterans' group as a "Trojan Horse" to sneak into the parade. Now numerous corporate sponsors of the parade--including Gillette and Boston Beer Co. (makers of Sam Adams)--have withdrawn as parade sponsors.
So the AVWC has its constitutional rights. But so do other people and entities and they are exercising them in a very different direction and in support of very different ideas than they were in 1995. And so that hard-won constitutional victory may end up somewhat empty.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Who will create an astute marijuana litigation and legal practice blog?
Regular Prawfs readers know that I have done some blogging here about marijuana laws, policies and reform because I see so many interesting general legal issues intersecting with the drug war generally and criminal justice approaches to marijuana specifically. Indeed, I felt compelled to start a new blog, Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, in part because I was interested in writing about broad issues of public policy implicated by modern marijuana reform efforts: as I have said in my marijuana seminar course description, "contemporary state-level reforms of marijuana laws have raised significant new constitutional, legal, political and practical issues; policy concerns relating to states' rights, local government law, race, gender, public health, crime, political economy, and bioethics intersect with modern marijuana law reform."
Now, as the title of this post suggests and largely thanks to some terrific guest blogging by Alex Kreit over at MLP&R, I think the time may be right for an enterprising lawyer and/or law firm to start a blog focused particularly on marijuana-related litigation and emerging legal practice issues surrounding this new industry. I say this based in part on these four new recent posts over at MLP&R which highlight the array of diverse issues and courts now dealing with dynamic marijuana-related litigation:
In this Prawfs post a few months ago, I speculated that green (i.e., young/junior) lawyers may have a uniquely important role to play in the emerging marijuana "green rush" industry: not only may veteran lawyers be cautious and concerned about representing persons actively involved in state marijuana business, but marijuana reform often seems a "young man's game" for which junior lawyers may be uniquely positioned to be of service to persons needing legal help in this arena. Now I am thinking, based in part on the posts above, that an especially effective way for a young lawyer or law firm to make a name in this arena (and to learn a whole lot) would be to start blogging astutely about the emerging challenges and opportunities that surround marijuana litigation and legal practice.
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Gambling v. PEDs and the Baseball Hall of Fame
Warning: Another sports-and-law post, this focusing on the internal rules of baseball as a business
Kostya Kennedy has a new book on Pete Rose, titled Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, excerpted in this week's Sports Illustrated cover story. Kennedy states that Rose's Hall-of-Fame worthiness has come under "renewed discussion" as players linked to PED use (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) come up for Hall consideration. TThe excerpt (and presumably the book) present the arguments that Rose' gambling is a lesser crime than PED use, so he should be a more worthy candidate for the Hall than a juicer. Will Leitch at Sports on Earth responds and basically blows up the argument, by pointing out the serious problems that gambling creates and the moral panic that surrounds PEDs.
But there is a different, more legalistic reason Kennedy's article gets Rose's Hall eligibility wrong, one I discussed eight years ago, just as the major PED suspects were beginning to retire. Rose is ineligible for the Hall because he voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban from baseball and placement on baseball's permanently ineligible list. Under Rule 3E of the BBWAA voting rules, "Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate." And that ends the inquiry. It actually does not matter whether Rose bet on baseball or on the Reds (he admitted gambling on baseball, although never on games involving his team)--he accepted the ban and thus the collateral consequence of the ban. On the other hand, no suspected steroid user has ever been assessed a lifetime ban or placed on the permanently ineligible list, thus none is subject to Rule 3E. Steroid users are being kept out of the Hall by the principled insistence (or priggish obstinance, depending on your perspective) of BBWAA members.
Of course, we might reconsider this ordering, which would require reconsideration of the comparative evil of steroid use and gambling. Under present rules, a person is banned for life for a third positive test or finding of PED use, but banned for life on one finding of having bet on games involving his team. Perhaps that should be flipped, or at least treated on equal footing. (On this, I agree with Leitch that we have the order right, that gambling is a far greater sin than taking drugs designed to help you play better and for longer). But none of that changes anything for Rose given the current rules and the rules under which he operated.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
More on the Civil Rights Division
Dahlia Lithwick basically gets it right: The "notion that the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division should have ever fought for civil rights has now become disqualifying."
But this is not anything new--Senate Republicans have been doing this to Democratic nominees to the Civil Rights Division for 20 years. As Bill Clinton's first nominee for the position, Lani Guinier famously faced strong Republican opposition based largely on her academic writings; Clinton withdrew the nomination when it became clear she could not be confirmed. And Bill Lan Lee served Clinton's entire second term without Senate confirmation--2+ years as acting head and one year as a recess appointee. Senate Republicans explicitly opposed Lee because he was and would be "activist" on civil rights. (And I would add that using that word to describe a lawyer and an executive-branch official reveals just how utterly meaningless it is).
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
More Honest Bob Casey
[But any attorney who seeks to help guarantee that right, in a case in which I believe the crime is sufficiently heinous, becomes per se unqualified for high public office. So, hey attorneys, feel free to help guarantee that right to citizens.]
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
More personal jurisdiction from SCOTUS
SCOTUS today decided Walden v. Fiore, unanimously (per Justice Thomas) holding that a district court in Nevada lacked personal jurisdiction in a Bivens action against a Georgia police officer who wrongfully seized money from plaintiffs at the Atlanta airport. Adam Steinman a the Civ Pro/Fed Courts blog has some excerpts.
No major new doctirnal ground broken. It does reframe the effects test to focus on the defendant's contacts with the forum, not with the plaintiff, although recognizing that they may be intertwined. But injury in the forum, even if the defendant knew the injury would be suffered there (arguably the case here), is not sufficient absent some conduct by the defendant that implicated the forum (physical entry, phone calls, affect on reputation or property there, etc.). Otherwise, the plaintiff otherwise controls where she lives and where she feels the harm, a unilateral act of the plaintiff that is insufficient to establish jurisdiction--the plaintiffs here were harmed in Nevada because they chose to live in Nevada when they wanted their money. At best, an injury felt in a state can show that the defendant formed a contact with that state.
The Court drops a footnote (n.9 on p. 13) that it once again is not deciding anything about internet-based contacts. The targeting that the opinion seems to demand could be read to mean that broad enough wrongdoing (say, a fraud scam over the internet) will not create jurisdiction in the victim's home, because the defendant targeted the world, not just that plaintiff's state.
Like Daimler v. Bauman, decided last month, this is another good teaching case, in that it simplifies things and discusses the doctrine as a whole. It shows clearly that the effects test is not a unique separate test (as some lower courts had suggested), but another way that a defendant creates minimum contacts. So my syllabus just got revamped (again) when I teach P/J in April--Daimler instead of Good Year or Helicol and Walden instead of Calder and Clemens v. McNamee (a 5th Circuit decision).
Sunday, February 09, 2014
Women and Title VII
From Slate, a brief history of the inclusion of protection for women in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sen. Howard Smith, a Virginia segregationist, introduced the provision 50 years ago Saturday (Feb. 8, 1964) as a poison pill.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
A decade of wardrobe malfunction
Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII. ESPN The Magazine offers In the Beginning, There Was a Nipple, a retrospective on the "controversy."
There is a lot of interesting stuff on the FCC, then-Chair Michael Powell, and the regulation and punishment of broadcast indecency. CBS' owner was fined a little over $ 500,000, fines that ultimately were successfully challenged in the Second Circuit. The story quotes Powell as saying, essentially, that the commotion over 9/16th of a second is really silly, suggesting his position of public outrage at the time was more for politics and show than any real concern for the health and safety of our children. But he said he felt bound by law and lacking discretion to not pursue this fully. Powell also describes this is as the "last gasp" of the old broadcast regime and "last stand at the wall" for people who believe government can successfully keep objectionable material out of the home.
There also is a nice discussion of the different effects this had on Jackson and Timberlake and the obvious race and gender narrative that presents.
Monday, January 27, 2014
Stephen Glass and the the California Bar
The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously denied the bar application of former journalist Stephen Glass (of Shattered Glass infamy), a case I wrote about a couple years ago. David Plotz of Slate, who watched this all up close (Plotz's wife, Hann Rosin, was an editor at TNR at the time) and who admittedly does not like Glass, has a sharp takedown of the decision. I am not surprised by the reversal (the lower panels had recommended admission, so I could not see the court taking the case just to affirm), although I am a bit surprised by the unanimity.
I don't do PR and I generally question many of the character-and-fitness rules as irrelevant to the practice of law, so I do not have a lot to say about whether the decision is right or wrong. There is a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't quality to the decision--the court dismisses many of Glass' efforts at rehabilitation and restitution as selfish, motivated by a desire to improve himself and taking place while he had pending applications to the New York or California Bars. As I said previously, lawyers and journalists do very similar jobs, so I understand the particular apprehension with this candidate. But Plotz has a good response, grounded in the adversariness of the legal system--what judge and what opposing lawyer is not going to keep the sharpest of watch when Glass is involved in a case, scrutiny sure to catch any efforts by Glass to repeat his sins.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Recognizing Race on Martin Luther King Day
Over at Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Ruthann Robson has an interesting post about the way judges quote Martin Luther King, Jr. The claim -- relying on a fascinating article by Jeremiah Goulka -- is that when judges quote MLK, they are usually doing so in the course of reaching a result that MLK would not support.
This discussion brought to mind a topic that I've discussed during my previous visit to Prawfs. In my article Racial Capitalism, which came out last June, I defined racial capitalism as the process of deriving value from racial identity. My article focused, in particular, on white people and predominantly white institutions deriving value from non-white racial identity. An easy example is a school that photoshops a black student into its admissions brochure, or -- as a less extreme measure -- overrepresents the percentage of non-white students in its promotional materials.
In the article, I identify a judicial variant of racial capitalism, influenced by Justin Driver's work Recognizing Race. (In Racial Capitalism, I discuss this on pages 2197-98.) In a nutshell, Driver's work uncovers substantial variation in the circumstances when courts do and don't choose to explicitly identify the race of people discussed in their opinion. In Ricci v. DeStefano, for example, the Supreme Court held that the New Haven fire department's decision to ignore standardized test results that disparately affected racial minorities violated Title VII. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion discussed the testimony of three experts on standardized testing, yet only identified the race of one of the three -- the one whose testimony best supported the majority's result -- by stating that he "is black." This is particularly striking because one of the other experts was also black, and yet the majority did not identify her by race. As Professor Driver trenchantly explains: "This identification is striking because, in a decision that cautions against the dangers of racially disparate treatment, it treats Lewis disparately by race."
Judges identify -- or ignore -- racial signifiers all the time, in ways that subtly buttress the result they reach. In Whren v. United States, for example, the Court held stopping a motorist did not violate the Fourth Amendment so long as the officer had probable cause to believe that the the motorist violated traffic laws, even if an objectively reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist in that situation. The holding also meant that it didn't matter whether the traffic stop was pretextual so long as there was probable cause to believe that a traffic violation of some sort had occurred. In the opinion, Justice Scalia identified the officer who arrested Whren as "Officer Ephraim Soto" and referred to him by name three times within the first two pages of the opinion. While I have not been able to discover Officer Soto's racial or ethnic identity -- or, perhaps more importantly, how others would have perceived his race or ethinicity -- it appears relatively uncontroversial that Soto is a Spanish surname. By emphasizing Officer Soto's surname, then, Justice Scalia implies that Soto might also be non-white, thereby distancing the events in Whren from the common pattern of white officers harassing black motorists that provoked outcry from civil rights advocates.
Of course, none of this is limited to judges. More generally, it's quite common for white people and predominantly white institutions using the words of deceased black leaders to gain legitimacy and shield themselves against claims of racism. Just today, Sarah Palin posted the following message on her Facebook page:
"Happy MLK, Jr. Day!
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card."
Although of course I can't be sure, my guess is that MLK probably would not want his words used by Sarah Palin to chastise our nation's first black president for "playing the race card" (whatever Palin means by that).
Of course, Palin is far from alone. Some conservatives have recently dubbed themselves "Frederick Douglass Republicans." As one forthrightly explained, if you invoke the name of a well-respected black family member like Frederick Douglass, "you can trump the race card."
These various examples are unified by the theme of white people and institutions invoking race -- whether that of a famous black person such as MLK, or that of a participant in a legal drama -- as a way of achieving moral legitimacy and shielding whatever argument they happen to be making from charges of racism. Whether this is effective is, of course, another story, although at least sometimes it appears to be. (When I last checked, Palin's post had over 32,000 "likes.") Whether sucessful or unsuccessful, however, this use of non-white identity by white people is worth evaluating critically. As Goulka says in the conclusion to his piece, "on this MLK Day and every other day, whenever a court invokes Dr. King," -- and I think this extends to invoking non-white people more generally -- "make sure to judge it by the content of their characterization."
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Lawsuit over George Washington Bridge closings
The first lawsuit arising from the politically motivated closing of the George Washington Bridge was filed last week and John Culhane explains how more could be coming. This one is a purported class action by six plaintiffs who claim they were stuck in traffic on the bridge and late for work, causing them to lose wages and suffer other economic harms. Defendants are Christie, his former aide, two Port Authority officials, the Port Authority, and the State of New Jersey. It's a really poorly drafted complaint and kind of hard to figure out, with a lot of boilerplate and legal conclusions signifying nothing.
It does not identify any of the rights or sources of rights asserted. The first three counts appear to be § 1983 claims for 14th Amendment Substantive Due Process, Right to Travel, and failure-to-supervise/failure-to-train by Christie and the two entities. But this creates problems a number of problems. The plaintiffs cannot sue New Jersey and the Port Authority, which are state entities not subject to suit under § 1983. I suppose the conduct is conscience-shocking, although I'm not sure the right to travel includes the right to travel quickly or to get there on time. I'm also not sure Christie is in a supervisory relationship to the Port Authority workers (as opposed to the former aide) for failure-to-train purposes. And as for qualified immunity, is snarling traffic as part of a political vendetta equivalent to selling foster kids into slavery (the Posnerian paradigm of an obviously clearly established right for which no prior case law is necessary)?
Culhane gives the suit a chance, at least as a matter of state tort law. Because the alleged conduct was intentional, the plaintiffs may get around the economic loss rule. But since most of the complaint seems to be making constitutional claims, I am not sure how much that matters.
Monday, January 06, 2014
HuffPost Live on Utah SSM case
I appeared on HuffPost Live with Mike Sacks on Monday afternoon discussing the Supreme Court stay of the injunction in the Utah marriage equality decision. Also on the show were Michael Dorf (Cornell) and Neomi Rao (George Mason). It was a good discussion that also got into the Little Sisters case, which has a stay application (of the district court denial of an injunction) pending before Justice Sotomayor.
After the jump, one additional thing I did not get a chance to say on the Utah case:
A lot is being made of the approximately 950 same-sex marriage licenses that Utah issued under the force of the district court injunction, which now are in limbo. (Dorf argues that Utah could ultimately recognize these marriages as permanent, but is not constitutionally obligated to do so. SCOTUSBlog reports that it is not known how many those couples actually got married and that the state is trying to figure out what to do about any marriages). Sacks drew the obvious camparison to California, which recognized the thousands of same-sex marriages performed between the Caifornia Supreme Court decision in summer 2008 recognizing marriage equality as a matter of the California Constitution and enactment of Prop 8 in November 2008.
An important distinction involves finality within the judicial branch. When the California Supreme Court rendered its decision in 2008, that was the final word on the meaning of California equal protection and due process from the judicial branch of California. The state of California law was finally established--as a a constitutional matter, same-sex couples had an unquestioned right to marry, California had an unquestioned obligation to grant those marriage licenses, and an unquestioned obligation to recognize those marriages as legal for all purposes and in perpetuity. The only reason those marriages came into question was because the state of established California law subsequently changed when Prop 8 amended the state Constitution.
But that seems fundamentally different from marriages occurring during the pendency of litigation, before the "federal judicial branch" (the Article III system as a whole) has spoken. Here, we have heard from one judge in the court of original jurisdiction and the case is pending before the next judicial level. The rights of same-sex couples to marry and the obligations of the state to recognize those marriages have not been finally established by the judiciary. And the state of the law can easily change not through the extraordinary efforts of a constitutional amendment, but by the simpler step of a higher court reversing a lower court. Thus, should the Tenth Circuit (or SCOTUS) reverse the district court, Utah is under less of a legal obligation to recognize those ineterregnum marriages than California was.
Stay in Utah SSM case
SCOTUS without comment stayed the permanent injunction against Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, pending disposition in the Tenth Circuit. So we are back to no marriage equality in Utah, at least for a few more weeks (the Tenth Circuit agreed to expedite the appeal). Probably the correct result, although Mike Dorf makes a good argument the other way. In particular, the lay of the land has changed since I first wrote about the case--hundreds or thousands of same-sex couples have gotten marriage licenses since around Christmas, when the district court and court of appeals denied the stay, and this morning. So the thing a stay is designed to prevent--chaos in the status quo that may be difficult to undo--already has happened to some extent.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
What effect pleadings?
The dueling decisions by two different federal district judges on the NSA surveillance program--one upholding it, one invalidating it--reminded me of a post I wrote in June comparing the two complaints. I argued that the complaint in ACLU v. Clapper (the Southern District of New York case) was better than Klayman v. Obama (the District of D.C. case). The latter had a lot of extraneous noise and "pleading as press release" nonsense, a number of legal mistakes, and asked for the ludicrous sum of $ 3 billion in damages; the former was cleaner, simpler, and legally sounder.
So what should we conclude from the fact that the plaintiff won in Klayman but lost in ACLU? Two possibilities jump to mind:
1) Pleading-as-press-release works not just publicly but legally as well. Heightened, overstated, politicized pleading does affect the judge by impressing the urgency of a constitutional claim. That is lost in a complaint that lacks the "passion" we see in Klayman.
2) Pleadings don't matter to the outcome, at least in constitutional cases. It's all about the legal arguments made in the subsequent motions related to injunctions, dismissal, or summary judgment.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
More on stays and injunctions, marriage equality edition
Last month, I wrote about when courts will or should stay negative injunctions ("this law is unconstitutional, stop enforcing it") pending appeal, pointing to marriage equality as a case in which a stay ordingarily would be appropriate. Well, perhaps not. Following last week's district court decision invalidating Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, both the district court and the Tenth Circuit declined, without explanation, to stay the injunction pending appeal. This means that, once state offices open after Christmas, same-sex couples will be able to get married in Utah.
Mike Dorf has a nice a take on this decision--he calls it legally and morally correct, but still wrong. Dorf makes the same argument I did about chaos and confusion (and, he adds, heartbreak) if marriages recognized in the interregnum are then declared invalid if the district court is reversed on the merits on appeal. In Dorf's view, this case came down to the likelihood of success on the merits prong--just as the Texas abortion case did last month--which here cut against issuing the stay. In light of Windsor, the state is not likely to prevail on the merits on appeal to the Tenth Circuit or SCOTUS; bans on same-sex marriage simply cannot stand. That overcomes any concerns for (or real risk of) chaos and heartbreak. Nevertheless, Dorf argues that decision not to stay still is wrong, just because one never knows what SCOTUS will do or when. I agree, which is why I would argue that risk-of-chaos should play a larger role than likelihood of success in cases such as this.
The next move could make for a fun Christmas. Step one is a petition to the Tenth Circuit Justice, Justice Sotomayor; she can either decide on the stay herself or refer the matter to the full Court. If she denies the stay, the state could file a renewed application with any Justice of their choosing. Since it is Christmas, Justice Kagan may be the easiest one to find.
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate.
Update 12/27: Andrew Koppelman adds this tidbit: The Utah AG did not request a stay as alternative relief in its original pleading, which has been common practice in marriage equality cases. (Koppelman's post links to a transcript of the stay hearing in the district court, where the court says he did not enter a stay because no one requested one and the AG seems confused that the court did not enter a stay sua sponte). This explains the procedural rush over the stay, although I doubt it ultimately would have made a difference.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
West on student censorship
Nice Slate essay by Sonja West (Georgia) on student speech, arguing that censoring students pervsersely teaches them that censorship is a good and acceptable idea, sort of the opposite of what we want future citizens and leaders to learn. She mentions that SCOTUS is considering the cert petition in the "I [heart] boobies] case from the Third Circuit, which, given the Court's history with student speech, may not be a good thing. Finally, she highlights the current life of Mary Beth Tinker, who retired from nursing recently to become a student-speech-rights advocate through the Tinker Tour with the Student Press Law Center.
Monday, December 02, 2013
SCOTUSBlog: Attorney's Fees and Final Judgments
I have a new SCOTUSBlog preview on next Monday's argument in Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund, which considers whether a district court judgment that leaves contractual attorney's fees unresolved can be a final and appealable judgment for purposes of § 1291 and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
More pleading/qualified immunity
The big news from SCOTUS today was the unexpected totally expected cert. grant on the constitutionality of the contraception mandate. But the Court also granted cert. in Wood v. Moss, which involves qualified immunity and pleading.
The case arises out of a street protest against President Bush, where police and Secret Service agents moved protesters several blocks away from where the President was having dinner, while allowing pro-Bush protesters to remain in place. Two months after Iqbal was decided, the Ninth Circuit found the complaint insufficient, a decision I argued illustrated the negative effects Iqbal was likely to have on civil rights litigation. The plaintiffs were given a chance to replead and a later Ninth Circuit panel held that the amended complaint sufficiently pled viewpoint discrimination.
That the Court took the case does not bode well, but I suppose I could be surprised.
§ 1983 and the 11th Amendment
I wrote last week about Tyler v. Commonewealth of Massachusetts, the lawsuit by a woman contesting a state court order forcing her to engage in family law matters with the convicted rapist who fathered her child. A federal district court dismissed the § 1983 action. One of the cited reasons was the Eleventh Amendment, a decision I said last week was wrong. Here is why.
It is true that the original complaint impermissibly named the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as defendant. But one overlooked aspect of this jurisprudence is that the inability to sue a state, at least on a constitutional violation, is a matter of the text of § 1983, not the Eleventh Amendment. SCOTUS has twice held that a state (or state agency) is not a "person" within the meaning of § 1983; the ordinary meaning of person does not include a sovereign and Congress did not provide any text or history to suggest differently. In fact, it seems clear that under either the prevailing congruence-and-proportionality analysis or Justice Scalia's "enforce means enforce" approach, § 1983 is valid § 5 legislation. There is perfect congruence-and-proportionality between § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment rights being enforced. And Scalia has acknowledged § 1983 as the main example of permissible legislation that creates a remedy for existing constitutional rights. So the reason the plaintiff could not sue the Commonwealth is that the Commonwealth is not a person subject to suit or liability under the applicable substantive law. This approach also has the benefit of making clear that this is all a defect in the merits of the claim--the plaintiff sued a defendant who is not subject to the duties or liabilities under that substantive law.
The other problem with the Court's analysis is more fundamentally wrong. The plaintiff moved to amend the complaint in response to the motion, seeking to substitute the justices of the Superior Court (the trial court) as defendant. And since the plaintiff sought an injunction preventing current and future enforcement of the state court orders, this seems like it would be permissible under Ex Parte Young as an action against a responsible officer seeking prospective relief from an ongoing violation.
Amazingly, however, the district court held that Young did not apply. Tyler was not seeking prospective relief because the "sentence complained of has been imposed and is now an historical fact." But this seems to misunderstand what it means for relief to be "prospective." Yes, the challenged order is already entered. But the plaintiff's argument is that the order is presently causing her constitutional harm and will continue to cause her constitutional harm in the future. The injunction she seeks is to halt future enforcement of that state-court judgment. If that is not prospective, I am not sure what is. Under the court's apparent definition, no relief is prospective--it would be just as easy for a court in an action challenging the constitutionality of a statute (the typical Ex Parte Young case) to say "the statute complained of has been enacted and is now an historical fact." The issue should not be the timing of the complained-of legal rule, but the effect of that rule and when the relief sought will take effect.
There are cases that distinguish "purely prospective" injunctions from other injunctions. But those are Younger cases; they hold that an action that seeks to enjoin future enforcement of a law without interfering with a pending prosecution are not barred by Younger. (Wooley v. Maynard is a good example). This has nothing to do with whether an injunctive is prospective for Ex Parte Young purposes.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
JFK and the CRA
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy (maybe you heard). Next summer will mark the 50th anniversary of passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The proximity in time of the events is not necessarily coincidental, of course. One of the recurring narratives is that the assassination enabled the legislation. LBJ used the assassination and JFK's legacy to push Congress and the public to support sweeping legislation. And LBJ's legendary facility with Senate procedure, something Kennedy lacked, is often credited with enabling him to push the ultimate bill through in that house.
Many people are playing counter-factual history this weekend--what if Kennedy had not been assassinated (the subject of a book by journalist Jeff Greenfield)? So for everyone familiar with the 1964 Act and its passage, the legislative politics and procedure, and the history of the era--Would some version of comprehensive civil rights legislation (touching on voting, employment, education, and public accommodations) have passed had JFK remained president after Nov. 22, 1963?
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Stay in Texas clinic litigation remains in place
By a 5-4 vote (divided along predictable lines), SCOTUS let stand the Fifth Circuit stay of the district court injunction prohibiting enforcement of the restrictions on reproduction health clinics. The law remains in effect and enforceable, and clinics must comply with the law, pending resolution of the appeal. The Fifth Circuit has expedited briefing and set oral argument for January. The main order was unsigned. Justice Scalia (to whom the original application was directed) wrote an opinion concurring in the denial of the application, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Breyer wrote a dissent for four.
The dissent focused, properly I believe, on preserving the status quo and properly balancing the harms. By enjoining enforcement of the law, the district court changed the status quo from what it would have been were the laws in effect and returned to the status quo before the law was enacted. The stay thus disrupts that status quo by putting the state laws into immediate effect, thereby forcing many clinics (advocates insist as many as 1/3 of the clinics in the state) to close and many women to have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain reproductive health services. And many of those clinics may be unable to reopen even if the district court is ultimately affirmed. The balance of harms is thus between the state being unable to enforce its laws for a few months against the permanent harm to women unable to exercise their constitutional rights without undue burden (which the district court found was imposed by these laws).
The dissent also found no public interest considerations that warranted a stay. Justice Scalia responded by insisting that "[m]any citizens of Texas, whose elected representatives voted for the law, surely feel otherwise." But this goes to the related point about harm to the state if it is barred from enforcing its laws and linking (as the Fifth Circuit and Justice Scalia both did) the public interest to harm to the state--it proves too much. The state always has an interest in enforcing its duly enacted laws and the public in the enforcement of the laws duly enacted in its name. If those two truly predominate and always run together, then injunctions should always be stayed pending appeal to preserve that interest in enforcing the law until any law is finally determined to be unconstitutional.
But not every negative injunction is stayed pending appeal; I would imagine that most aren't (this might be a nice empirical question to explore). And, if we focus on maintaining a status quo, most shouldn't be. Which suggests that what is really going on is a tip of the hand on the merits--that five-justice majority is convinced the Texas law is constitutionally valid and sees no reason to delay enforcement. And so we have a pretty good sense of what will happen if/when the case comes back to SCOTUS for full merits consideration.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Courts and Law Reviews
To pile-on the posts by Jack and Matt: Regardless of whether courts (particularly SCOTUS) are citing to law review articles, they are listening to and relying on the arguments of legal scholars. While these arguments are coming to them in amicus briefs rather than articles, that is a matter of format rather than substance. And many an amicus brief begins as, or eventually becomes, a law review article.
Take this month as an example. In argument in Madigan v. Levin, the justices asked several questions about an amicus brief authored by Steve Vladeck and signed by a number of Fed Courts scholars, including me. Steve made those same arguments in an article in Green Bag last winter. And in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. District Court, the Court expressly ordered the parties to discuss an amicus brief by Duke's Stephen Sachs and asked numerous questions about the brief during argument. Depending on how the Court decides Atlantic Marine, perhaps Stephen will turn those arguments into an article.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Law schools and the shutdown
Courtesy of Andrew Ferguson (UDC) is this story (registration required) on the effect of the shutdown on law schools, faculty, and students, including at UDC, the only public law school in DC. The story indicates that the school's clinics have been deemed essential. But the faculty has been talking about whether to continue teaching if/when the money runs out--are there ethical, legal, or other concerns by teaching during the shutdown?
Probably a moot point, as it appears this all will end with a whimper tonight (just in time for everyone to gather in DC for the meat market). But an thought game.
Monday, October 07, 2013
Cert. denied in Duke lacrosse
SCOTUS this morning denied cert. in Evans v. Durham, the § 1983 action by the three indicted-but-exonerated members of the 2005 Duke men's lacrosse team. The Fourth Circuit rejected (which I discussed here) claims against the city and the investigating police officers involved; the plainitffs tried to get to SCOTUS on the issue of whether the prosecutor's conduct (which enjoys prosecutorial immunity) breaks the causal chain and cleanses the officers' misconduct when they conspired together. Interestingly, they did not seek cert on the "stigma-plus" theory of liability for other officer misconduct (on which the causal chain was not broken).
The plaintiffs still have state-law malicious prosecution claims pending. The next question may be whether the district court declines supplemental jurisdiction over those claims or decides to keep them, seeing as how this litigation is now 6+ years old.
Monday, September 30, 2013
What just happened at the Naval Academy?
I have been following the military prosecution of several Naval Academy midshipmen for sexual assault, partly because news stories seem to reflect a yawning gulf between this case and our general understanding of the federal rape shield statute (which I just taught last week). I turned to my colleague Eric Carpenter, who writes on sexual assault in the military and had a long career in the Army JAG Corp.
The military just concluded a hearing at the Naval Academy into whether three midshipmen committed criminal sexual offenses against a female midshipman. According to the government, the woman attended a party and became drunk to the point of blackout and possibly passed out. Later, she heard rumors and saw social-media that led her to believe that these three men has sexually assaulted her while she was too drunk to be capable of consenting. The defense claims she was capable and did consent.
While the facts as reported by the media are disturbing, lawyers who read reports of the hearing should find something else alarming – the female midshipman was questioned by three defense counsel for over twenty hours, and the questioning went into areas that would often be off-limits due to rape shield rules. Reports are that she was cross-examined on whether she wore a bra or underwear, “felt like a ho” afterward, and how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex.
What’s going on here? What was that hearing and do rape shield rules apply to it? Why is a sexual assault victim testifying and subject to cross-examination in the first place?
What happened was something unique to the military – a hearing called an “Article 32.” This article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) requires that before charges can go to a general court-martial (the rough equivalent of a felony-level court), an officer must investigate the truth of those charges (reasonable grounds that the accused committee the offense, or roughly the same thing as probable cause) and make a recommendation to the convening authority (usually a two-star general) on how she should act on the charges.
Your first reaction to that might be, “That hearing sounds like a grand jury proceeding.” My answer would be, “Yes, but mostly no.”
An accused at an Article 32 has rights that a defendant at a grand jury doesn’t. The accused can be present; has a right to a military defense counsel; can cross-examine witnesses; and has full opportunity to present evidence to rebut the charges or to seek a lower disposition.
There is no jury – just an investigating officer, and that officer usually has no legal training (she gets her legal advice from a neutral judge advocate). In the most serious or high-profile cases, like capital cases, judge advocates and sometimes military judges serve as the investigating officer. In the Naval Academy case, the media reports that a military judge served as the investigating officer.
Unlike a grand jury’s finding, the investigating officer’s conclusions and recommendations are not binding: the convening authority can still make her own decision about the case.
Evidentiary rules apply. Not the full-blown Military Rules of Evidence (which are very similar to the federal rules), but rules nonetheless. Generally, if a military witness is within 100 miles, she needs to show up, and even if the witness cannot show up in person, she usually testifies over the phone. You can’t simply turn in the victim’s sworn statement. In the Naval Academy case, that is why the victim had to testify.
Contrary to what some of the news reports imply, the rape shield rule applies. The military’s rape shield rule is essentially the same as the federal rule, and the President made this rule apply to these hearings with Rule for Court-Martial 405(i). In the Naval Academy case, I would assume that the parties argued about what the defense was allowed to ask in cross examination, and I assume the investigating officer (in this case, a lawyer) found an exception—but that may be a faulty assumption.
If the investigating officer decided that this evidence fit one of the written exceptions to the rape shield rule, that conclusion may be suspect. Generally, evidence of past sexual behavior or sexual disposition is inadmissible in inadmissible except to show that someone other than the accused was the source of physical evidence; to prove current consent with the accused if the past sexual behavior was with that accused; or the exclusion would violate the accused’s constitutional rights. The attorney for one of the accused asked her the questions about oral sex because “This is an act that cannot be performed while someone is passed out.” According to reports, the lawyer further argued that “her client could not have had oral sex performed without the woman’s consent.” Most people would disagree with that. The victim had a prior sexual relationship with one accused, but his attorney asked her about what she was or was not wearing and whether she felt like a ho on this occasion. The rule is limited to evidence of past experiences between the two. The defense counsel could have argued that this evidence was constitutionally required because the accused were mistaken as to whether she consented. But from the news reports, it appears that their defense is that was capable of and did in fact consent, not that she didn’t consent and they misread the situation.
Again, I was not at the hearing and don’t know how the investigating officer analyzed the facts. If he was right, the cross examination she faced at this hearing may have been allowed at trial. A very real issue is that he may have been wrong, and if he was wrong, there is no remedy for his mistake. With few exceptions, none of the testimony at an Article 32 is admissible at the later trial, and even if the government closed down all of the exceptions, the victim has already gone through the experience.
So it appears that Article 32 is ripe for criticism. To understand why Article 32 is the way it is and to properly frame criticism of it, we need to understand its history and original function.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The customs, beliefs, or needs of a primitive time establish a rule or a formula. In the course of centuries the custom, belief, or necessity disappears, but the rule remains.” That is what happened here.
Service members don’t have a constitutional right to a grand jury, and what has developed was not because the military was trying to replicate one. Rather, the original purpose of the Article 32 was to conduct an investigation when it was very likely the only investigation that happened prior to trial. That function has now been subsumed by other features of the modern court-martial system but the investigative features of Article 32 still remain.
Prior to 1917, most charges were not investigated prior to going to trial. A commander would send charges to a court-martial, which would very often be held within a day. The accused had very few rights. There were no defense lawyers or judges or professional law enforcement investigators or appellate courts. This was quick trial before a board of officers. If you have seen the movies Breaker Morant or Paths of Glory, you will have a sense of how courts-martial worked back then.
The few cases that were investigated (because an officer demanded it) were sent to Courts of Inquiry. These courts were used to investigate a wide range of issues (the conduct of generals in combat, or to resolve allegations against character). These boards were used to resolve disputes and the procedures that developed for them reflected that purpose: the service member was present, the Court could compel witnesses, and the service member could cross-examine them.
Starting in 1917, in response to criticism that commanders had too much power and could push meritless cases through the system, commanders were required to conduct an investigation prior to sending the case to court-martial. The investigation would ensure that probable cause existed and would recommend an appropriate level of discipline. With this new requirement, commanders looked around for something familiar to model for this task and found the Courts of Inquiry.
Additional rights followed. In 1949, the accused gained the right to counsel. In 1951, Congress passed Article 32 as part of the new UCMJ, adding the right for the accused to make a statement and present evidence. In 1968, Congress required that the accused’s counsel be a real lawyer.
At the time, the rules were necessary because they provided a measure of due process that a service member did not find in the rest of the court-martial process. Since 1951, however, the court-martial process has steadily “civilianized,” with statutory requirements for independent military judges and legally qualified counsel who operate under the nation’s most liberal discovery laws (and so can marshal evidence for trial). The military’s law enforcement also became a professional, fully-functioning investigative community, complete with independent forensic laboratories.
The reasons to have an Article 32 investigation no longer exist, but the rule remains. That, I think, means it is time for change. Otherwise, we risk what we just saw.
Returning to the Naval Academy case, probably nothing new was learned at this Article 32 that could not have been learned by otherwise investigating the case, interviewing the witnesses, and conducting discovery under the military’s liberal rules. But while pursuing this now obsolete investigative function, we managed to take a service member through 20 hours of invasive testimony – which she may have to do again at trial. Twenty hours is more than enough. Forty hours is senseless.
We could have come to a probable cause determination without having this type of hearing. In a recent Op-Ed, Gene Fidell argued that it is time to get rid of this “trial before a trial” and instead have “a bare bones preliminary hearing” to determine probable cause.
A more measured response would be to modify the Article 32 so that it serves the functions that we want it to serve. We no longer need a formal investigation. Get rid of the investigative features – no more calling live witnesses, no more presentation of a defense case. This also takes care of the rape shield issue, because the defense is the party that presents that evidence.
We do need a probable cause hearing, and we can use the hearing as a discovery tool at no additional cost by allowing the accused and counsel to be present and to examine all materials presented. Make the probable cause determination binding on the convening authority (to protect the accused), but to do that, we need to make the Article 32 look more like a grand jury. Have a panel rather than one officer; have a judge advocate serve as a presiding officer. This won’t be a bare-bones hearing – knowing that the panel might kill the case should provide incentive enough to the government to produce a significant amount of information.
So what is next? Most of the current debate between Senators Gillibrand and Levin turns on who should make the disposition decision in a court-martial – the commander or the staff judge advocate. The Article 32 problem is on the radar, though. The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that the Secretary of Defense establish a panel (called the Response System Panel) to work on many of the difficult issues related to the military’s sexual assault problem. One of the mandates is to “[r]eview and assess those instances in which prior sexual conduct of the alleged victim was considered in a proceeding under [Article 32] and any instances in which prior sexual conduct was determined to be inadmissible.”
This is a good opportunity to decide what the modern functions of Article 32 should be and to revise it to promote those functions and only those functions. And I expect the Naval Academy case will be front in center in that debate.
(With thanks to Major Mike Kenna for shaping my perspective).
Monday, September 23, 2013
The post-hoc First Amendment
At some point in the future, I hope to write an article on the problems with enforcing First Amendment liberties through § 1983. One problem (not unique to free speech claims) is qualified immunity. Case in point is this recent Fourth Circuit decision involving sheriff's deputies in North Carolina allegedly fired for supporting the opposing sheriff candidate.
The case has drawn praise for recognizing that clicking "Like" on Facebook constitutes protected speech. And this certainly is a good thing from a court of appeals. Of course, the district court decision on this point reflected such a lack of understanding of how people can express themselves (quite apart from how technology works) that this was almost too easy. But lost in the celebration of a court getting technology right (for once) is that the deputies largely lost. The divided court held that the sheriff was entitled to qualified immunity from damages for the firings. The judges wranged over the scope and meaning of a particular divided en banc decision from a few years earlier; for the the majority, their wrangling shows precisely why the right was not clearly established, on the old "if three federal judges can't agree on the state of the law, then how can we expect a layperson to understand?" rationale. So it all ends up looking like a giant advisory opinion. Especially since this looks like a case in which it was entirely unnecessary to reach the merits--an obvious dispute about the meaning of circuit precedent made it obvious this was not clearly established. So why bother with the merits?
Interestingly, the plaintiffs' claims for reinstatement survive; that is prospective/equitable relief, to which qualified immunity does not apply and to which for Ex Parte Young does. This raises an interesting question--what if the plaintiffs sought front pay in lieu of reinstatement? Lower courts have all held that this is not available, because it is monetary relief paid for out of the state treasury. But this seems like it would fall within the Eleventh Amendment's prospective compliance exception, which provides that there is no sovereign-immunity bar to the state paying (out of the treasury) the ordinary costs of complying with prospective relief. If the plaintiffs prevail, the state has to pay them the same amount of money either way--either for actually working or for the work they would have done were reinstatement a viable option. And the latter will be paid out for less time. It seems incoherent to label identical payments in identical amounts for identical purposes differently.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Defining public law
What is public law, as distinct from private law? Has anyone come up (or can anyone offer) a good defintiion of the distinction, where the line is, and falls in which category? A student asked a question the other day, which rested on the premise that the Constitution (and constitutional claims against the government) was public law and everything else was private law (the issue was a plaintiff bringing claims under both § 1983 and Title IX or Title VII). But that doesn't reflect convention, where we typically speak of statutory anti-discrimination law (Title VII, Title IX, et al.) as public law, even when it involves claims against private entities.
So where is the line and why?One possibility is that anti-discrimination are like the Constitution, in that Congress was attempting to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. But that doesn't work because these statutes were actually enacted pursuant to either the Commerce or Spending powers, not § 5. It reflects the values of the Fourteenth Amendment, but it is not really enforcing that provision. Plus, a lot of other statutory areas (labor law comes to mind), though not touching on the Fourteenth Amendment or discrimination at all, are labeled public.
Another is to include all constitutional and statutory issues as public. But a lot of stuff that often gets called private (say, corporations, business formation, and business deals) involves statutes and statutory issues. Even contracts (which a Roman Law expert might call the quintessential private law issue) is somewhat displaced by the UCC in many areas.
Friday, September 06, 2013
What is the civil justice system for?
The general view seems to be that the NFL won and the players lost with the $ 765 million settlement of the head-trauma class action. An illustrative missive comes from Charles Pierce, who speaks of the NFL "buy[ing] silence," essentially copping a "nolo [contendere] plea" that should not happen in a just world, and having "bought itself out from under its responsibilities." I have not decided what I think about the settlement, largely because I do not know enough about the merits of the NFL's labor preemption arguments. But Pierce's article fundamentally misunderstands the purposes and operation of the civil justice system.
Settlement is part of the civil justice system, particularly in damages actions. The pressure to settle comes from multiple sources, often including the presiding judge (as was the case here, where Judge Brody ordered the parties to mediation and set a deadline for settling). The plaintiffs, who know more about the case than anyone sitting on the outside commenting, agreed to the settlement. There was a professional mediator involved, who worked to bring everyone to an ultimately mutually agreeable solution. And the judge still must sign-off on the agreement (and presumably will). So the ire at the NFL and the suggestion that it somehow has escaped justice by paying money seems misplaced, when the league did not settle unilaterally or in a vacuum, but only with the agreement of several other actors. And Pierce's comparison of the NFL to Texas fertilizer plants that uniltaerally refuse (presumably in violation of law) to allow inspections is, to say the least, overwrought. The NFL did nothing wrong in the context of litigation other than availing itself of its procedural rights and the settlement mechanism; it is troubling to tar an entity for doing that.
Even if we accept that too many cases settle and that "truth" is lost by over-settlement, Pierce still ignores what litigation is all about and how it functions. It is not some public auto-da-fe in which the NFL would have confessed its sins and had punishment imposed. Discovery, particularly depositions of present and former NFL officials, would have been conducted in private and likely placed under seal (as determined by the court, not the league acting unilaterally). At best, discovery might have driven-up the settlement value. But Pierce is angry about the fact of settlement, not the amount; the mythical $ 10 billion settlement that some predicted would still entail "buying silence." The only public component would have been trial. But trial occurs in so few cases (again, not the NFL's fault), and in this case might not have happened for years (followed by even more years of appeals). So the notion that settling short-circuited some immediate public accounting seems far-fetched.
Further, the NFL asserted several potentially meritorious legal defenses about assumption of risk, preemption by workers' compensation schemes, and, especially, arbitrability under the CBA. It was possible that, had the parties not settled last month, the complaint would have been dismissed as to many players. According to recent reports, Judge Brody hinted to the parties that she was inclned to find many of the claims subject to arbitration, which explains why the case settled when it and for the unexpectedly lesser amount. It also is possible that, even at trial on the ultimate merits of the tort claims, the league still would have won. Pierce's response, I imagine, would have been that the NFL somehow acts nefariously in asserting those legal rights or in demanding the plaintiffs prove their case. But again, this is not some public confession ritual; it is a judicial proceeding in which the court must apply controlling law (including legal defenses such as arbitrability) and the complaining party is put to its burden of persuasion.
Pierce sees this as a public-health issue, demanding that the truth about the inherent risks of football and what the NFL knows of those risks be aired so decisions about the game's future can be made. He is right about the public-health part. But damages litigation--designed to compensate injured players and perhaps impose a monetary punishment on the league--can only indirectly provide public-health solutions. What Pierce wants, really, is not litigation, but something like a congressional hearing--a free-standing inquisition supported by subpoena power into a public problem or issue, disassociated from particular legal rules, claims of right, defenses, or legal remedies. Of course, it is highly unlikely that Congress or any executive agency ever will undertake such an investigation, which probably is why Pierce sees litigation as the only hope.
Finally, not all change happens through formal legal and political processes. We also should not overlook the value of journalistic and scientific investigations into the problem. The upcoming documentary from PBS' Frontline, which is going to attract a larger audience after ESPN's sudden decision to take its name off the project, may do a lot to drive the conversation forward. Journalism, not litigation, moved the ball on the meat-packing industry a century ago. Perhaps that also will be the case here.
Which is not to say there is not value in Pierce's essay. It is hard to find good, short readings for the few minutes we spend on settlement in Civ Pro. This actually may be good for that, if only to move students into a more lawyerly understanding of how settlement fits in civil litigation.
Sunday, September 01, 2013
Seeking views on important under-appreciated lessons from US history with alcohol Prohibition
Hoping to generate many more comments in reaction to this recent post at my new Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, and because I consider the PrawfBlawg readership to be especially insightful and astute, I am reprinting below parts of the above-referenced post:As I explained via this prior PrawfBlawg post a few month ago, I thought it wise to devote at least a few early weeks in my Fall 2013 seminar on "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" to a review of the legal and social history of alcohol Prohibition. I am doing so because (1) public health scholars tell me that that use, abuse and addiction surrounding the drug of marijuana has more parallels to alcohol than to tobacco, and (2) there are many legal and social themes and lessons from the US temperance movement and the years during and surrounding the Prohibition era that merit significant coverage in my new class before we jump into modern marijuana law and policy.
I have kicked of my class activites by urging all my seminar students to watch with me the full wonderful 2011 Ken Burns' PBS documentary on Prohibition, as well as cruise around this terrific website from the History Department at Ohio State (which includes this especially interesting account with visuals concerning campaigns by the "drys" in Ohio). I also have urged students to read parts of the terrific 1970 article by Richard Bonnie & Whitebread, Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge - An Inquiry Into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition, 56 Virginia L. Rev. 971 (1970) (available here) (Hat tip to Prof Orin Kerr and others).
There are, of course, lots of important obvious lessons to take away from US history with temperance movements and alcohol Prohibition, and I suspect my students and others are quick to take away from the US history here that we should seek to avoid governmental cures that are worse than the disease and also avoid too much constitutional experimentation. But, as the title of this post suggests, I am eager to explore what might be deemed important under-appreciated (or at least under-discussed) lessons from not just Prohibition itself, but also from the broader alcohol temperance movements that stretch back many centuries and arguably still have some enduring echoes and impacts today.
A few related prior posts (here and eslewhere):
- Starting a summer series on the upper-level law school canon and my marijuana seminar
- How can/should I cover drug markets — black, gray, and white — in my marijuana seminar?
- Guest blogging on "Controlled Substances: Crime, Regulation, and Policy" by Professor Alex Kreit
- Seeking suggestions for "must-reads" for my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Tragic cases and Fed Courts
Dahlia Lithwick wrote last week about two cases--one in Montana, one in Massachusetts--demonstrating how unseriously many judges take rape and the tendency to blame even teen-age victims or to place victim and perpetrator on similar moral footing.
The Massachusetts case has lead to a § 1983 action in federal court. According to the complaint, a 14-year-old girl, identified as "H.T.", became pregnant as a result of her rape by a 20-year-old. The man pled guilty in 2011 and was sentenced to 16 years probation. He also was ordered to initiate proceedings in family court, declare paternity, and comply with the family court's orders regarding child support, visitation, etc. The victim opposed this, not wanting to have any sort of relationship or contact with her attacker; she attempted to challenge that order, but the SJC of Massachusetts held that she lacked standing. The family court ordered him to pay child support, whereupon he sought visitation, then offered to withdraw that request in exchange for not having to pay child support. The complaint seeks to enjoin the criminal-court order as violating a host of constitutionl rights, including substantive due process, procedural due process, First Amendment, and Equal Protection.
The case demonstrates that, for better or worse, within every horrific and gut-wrenching tale of wrong lies a course of legal doctrines to be navigated. No matter the tragedy, process remains part of the system for seeking justice. And for anyone looking for a Federal Courts/Civil Rights question or discussion topic, this case has a semester's worth of stuff.
• The named defendant is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Massachusetts (sorry--got my commonwealths mixed up), which is not permissible, since a state is not a person for § 1983 purposes (and state sovereign immunity lurks in any event, much as I wish it didn't). This is an overlooked aspect of the Court's 11th Amendment doctrine--it is not that states cannot be sued for damages, states cannot be sued by name for any relief. The case must run against the responsible state official, under Ex Parte Young. It is not clear who the plaintiff should sue her. One possibility is the state criminal-court judge who entered the order being challenged. But then the extra clause of § 1983 (added in 1996) kicks in; this requires a plaintiff suing a judge to first seek a declaratory judgment, only able to get an injunction if declaratory relief is either unavailable or ignored. Another possibility is the executive office responsible for enforcing court orders, such as the county sheriff. But a blanket suit of the state qua state (unfortunately, in my view) will not work. Although query whether the state will bother raising this issue, as the plaintiff would simply find the proper defendant and amend, so the issue only delays things.
• The obvious problem for the plaintiff is Rooker-Feldman, since the federal lawsuit is alleging a consitutional violation caused by the state-court judgment. The complaint anticipates this, insisting that RF does not apply because this is not a case in which a "losing-party [sic] seeks review of a judgment entered in state court." It is true that H.T. is not a state-court loser (the term used in these cases), since she was not a party to that litigation. But she is adversely affected by a state-court judgment, so this strikes me as quibbling semantics. The idea behind Rooker-Feldman is that the appellate process, not federal civil litigation, should be used for correcting erroneous or unconstitutional state-court judgments, regardless of whether we call the person challenging it a state-court loser or an adversely affected party. The obvious and proper move in light of Rooker-Feldman should have been to seek cert to SCOTUS from the SJC decision.
• But the SJC resolved the case on purely state-law grounds--that H.T. lacked state-law standing to challenge the order. So perhaps SCOTUS would not have jurisdiction here because the state-court decision rests on an independent-and-adequate state grounds (state-law standing is not the same as Article III standing). On the other hand, the complaint explicitly challenges the standing component as part of the basic order, alleging that the refusal to let her challenge the criminal-court order violates due process and the First Amendment. That argument would be available in a cert petition. Independent-and-adequate should not preclude review where the supposed I-and-A ground itself (lack of standing) is unconstitutional in this case. The cert. path seems to remain open.
• There is a potential argument that this case is not ripe. The injury to H.T. is the forced relationship with her attacker. But that forced relationship comes from the family court proceedings, and presumes that the family court orders or permits some relationship. But we do not know how that litigation will play out. Perhaps the family court would reject the man's efforts to establish a relationship with the child or with H.T., in which case the constitutional harm will not arise. H.T. also is worried about the rapist playing games in family court (such as threatening to seek visitation), although the family court might be equipped to handle any such abusive efforts. The point is that the harm results from what the family court does, not the criminal-court order. So we may just have to wait to see what the family court does. In addtion, publicity over the case also triggered introduction of legislation in Massachusetts that would prohibit rapists from having any contact with children resulting from the rape. The possibility of future legislation does not alone render a case unripe. But it does demonstrate that there are a lot of uncertainties about what will happen in family court.
• Of course, once the family court does make a ruling (such as the one ordering child support), Rooker-Feldman kicks back in and the family court order is challengeable only through the appellate process. And we are back where we started.
• H.T. also alleges a constitutional injury from the threat of potential family-court litigation, which requires time, money (to hire an attorney), and stress for the next 16 years. She is concerned that she will be running in and out of family court for the next 16 years to deal with his games. And this injury is caused by the criminal-court order. But is avoiding potential future litigation a cognizable constitutional right?
None of this is to minimize the harm H.T. has suffered and may continue to suffer. Nor do I doubt the sheer lunacy of a court ordering (much less allowing) a convicted rapist to potentially be involved with his victim and the child produced by the rape. But the case shows that the seemingly esoteric and theoretical issues floating around a standard Fed Courts or Civil Rights course actually have some teeth. And law students (as future lawyers) must know how to navigate them. And in a set of facts this disturbing, it helps us to remind students that they cannot get caught up in emotion, but often must keep their eyes on the procedural ball.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Settlement in NFL concussion lawsuit
The class action against the NFL by more than 4000 former players, alleging that the league knew and failed to disclose the risks of head trauma associated with the game, has tentatively settled. Players will receive $ 765 million (plus court-approved attorneys' fees to be determined later) for individual compensation (reportedly about $ 110,000 per plaintiff), plus funding for research and medical examinations. The settlement was reached following court-ordered mediation, although the agreement still must be approved by the court.
Much is being made in some sports-media circles about the size of the settlement relative to the NFL's wealth, but, of course, civil damages are tied to the harm to the plaintiffs, not to the defendant's ability to play. We might question whether the settlement figure provides sufficient deterrence that the NFL will take real steps (as opposed to the cosmetic ones it has been taking) to make the game safer--assuming such a thing is actually possible (I have my doubts).
Like many other cases, this one also highlights the question whether settlement, especially in money cases, furthers the civil justice system's goals of discovering the truth. There was no discovery, so we never really learned what the NFL knows and has known about the game's risks or about what those risks actually might be (the answer to both is "a lot," according to a forthcoming documentary). We also have not heard the plaintiffs' stories told in a judicial forum (although we might not have). Of course, discovery in a case like this almost certainly would have been sealed, a regular practice that presents a different problem in modern litigation. And the plaintiffs' willingness to settle this early makes sense, because this case would have been a ripe target for a Twiqbal-based 12(b)(6) and a motion to send the entire issue to arbitration under the CBA.
Update: The prevailing view among sports columnists is that the NFL won huge, although this seems to be because legal experts predicted settlements of between $ 5 and $ 10 billion, so a figure of less than $ 1 billion is so paltry that plaintiffs' attorneys must have caved. So did they cave? Or does this just show the limited ability of "legal experts" to predict anything?
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Seriously? quote of the day
From a public statement by the Fairfield County (OH) School District, announcing it would allow a 12-year-old girl to play football rather than defend its ban (which it never explained) in litigation that the ACLU threatened to bring on the girl's behalf:
"We have no intent of competing with the deep pockets of the ACLU in any litigation situation in order to secure a favorable judgment," the district said in a statement. "Therefore, we will allow female participation in contact sports."
Really? The ACLU has deep pockets? The ACLU's pockets for litigation are lined with the money it recovers from idiotic governments--like Franklin Fairfield County--when it successfully challenges pointless-but-unconstitutional like this one. Still, it's a nice piece of demagoguery that might play well with the public. And the school district is not necessarily alone--Justice Scalia expressed similar beliefs about public-interest groups wielding superior financial resources to overwhelm governments in § 1983 litigation.
I do agree with one commentator, who noted that such a statement indicates the district still does not support the girl's efforts, is not convinced she is legally entitled to play, and potentially not willing to give her the backing she needs (that is, the same backing as all other players get). We may not be done with this story.
Washington's letter and the American-Jewish experience
This is a few days old, but I still wanted to write about it. On Sunday, Justice Kagan gave the keynote at Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I. for the reading of George Washington's 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport. In the letter, written just after an official visit to Newport, Washington presented a vision of religious freedom in which "the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens." Whether the nation does or has lived up to those principles, they are stirring words, especially giving the (rather negative) Jewish experience as a separate community within a host country.
Kagan spoke about her family history and her experiences growing up as a Jew in the United States, which I appreciated because, as I wrote at the time of her nomination, we are on the same basic point in the curve of American Jewry. My family comes from the same area of Eastern Europe, which was sometimes in Russia and sometimes in Poland. Like hers, my grandparents primarily spoke Yiddish, worked laboring jobs (they owned a fruit stand in Brooklyn), and made sure their children got an education (usually at one of the schools in New York City, such as Hunter or City College), and broke into professions. By the time their grandchildren came around and moved into adulthood, there were no avenues that were closed off to Jews because they were Jews and little or no formal or institutional anti-Semitism. As Kagan said, all that is possible because of the commitment to religious and political liberty (even if purely rhetorical) reflected in Washington's letter.
Friday, August 16, 2013
For men only
A few weeks ago, I passed a highway billboard for a divorce law firm that was "men only," meaning they only represented the man in divorce and other family law proceedings. Quick googling shows that this is quite common. Some genuine questions from someone who knows nothing about family law:
1) Is this legal (or could there be an argument that it might violate a public accommodations law and, if so, is there a First Amendment response)? 2) Is this ethical? 3) Does this make sense? On this last point: Are men still treated so uniformly and identically in divorce/custody/family proceedings that one can develop a genuine expertise representing "the man," just as one develops expertise representing plaintiffs in slip-and-fall or employment discrimination cases? Is "the man" side genuinely the same in every family proceeding? Is representing "the man" in these proceedings a political position, in the way that representing the pro-speech position is for the ACLU or the pro-religion position is for the ACLJ?
And what happens when marriage equality comes to Florida? Does the firm's potential client base double?
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Jurisdiction, merits, and Dodd-Frank
A couple of years ago, tipped off by a partner at Wachtell and Prawfs reader, I wrote about a potential jurisdiction/merits confusion with respect to § 929P(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act. That provision sought to overturn Morrison v. National Australia Bank and expand the extraterritorial reach of the Securities Acts, but did so in jurisdictional terms by identifying two situations in which district courts "shall have jurisdiction over an action or proceeding brought or instituted by the [SEC]."
We now have a decision from the Northern District of Illinois wrestling with these issues, although ultimately declining to resolve them. The defendants filed a 12(b)(6), arguing that the SEC failed to allege sufficient facts to meet the Morrison standard and that § 929P(b), being solely jurisdictional, did not expand the law's substantive reach. Ultimately, the court denied the motion, finding that the complaint stated a claim, regardless of whether the controlling substantive standard came from Morrison or from § 929P(b) understood as a merits statute controlled.
Nevertheless, the court engaged on the jurisdiction/merits question and at least hinted that the better view is that § 929P is jurisdictional. On one hand, the plain language suggests § 929P is jurisdictional; it speaks in expressly jurisdictional terms and appears in the statute's jurisdictional section. On the other hand, the court acknowledged several competing considerations: 1) avoiding interpretations that render a provision superfluous--since the Securities Act already has a jurisdictional provision and since Morrison itself acknowledged that the district court had jurisdiction over that claim, § 929P serves no purpose if it is solely jurisdictional; 2) legislative history, particularly statements by a sponsor indicating a desire to expand extraterritoriality; 3) avoiding absurd results, namely the conclusion that Congress granted district court jurisdiction (jurisdiction they already had) over a class of claims that were going to be dismissed for failure to state a claim. But the court at least seemed inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the plain language.
Stay tuned. Perhaps a better case, one that actually will have to decide the question, is somewhere in the pipe.
Friday, August 09, 2013
State of public discourseFrom TV blogger Ken Levine.
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
It's the jurors, stupid (or it's the stupid jurors)
Jack quotes Prof. Andrew Ferguson, discussing the Zimmerman verdict: ". . . really the government tried a terrible case. I don’t know why there is not more focus on the prosecutors rather than the jurors."
But it seems to me that captures the frequent response to most high-profile, controversial acquittals: The jurors were stupid or didn't know what they were doing. People never (or rarely) fault the state for simply doing a bad job. Think of OJ, think of Casey Anthony--the prosecutors write books and go on TV, but the conversation is never about how badly they did their job or the mistakes they made.
Friday, August 02, 2013
Words and actions
Two mostly unrelated items about differences between words and conduct and about what we, as a public, do and should get outraged about.
1) The Republican strategy heading into the August recess is to counter the notion that the GOP is hostile to women (as indicated by the rash of state-level legislation designed to curtail all exercises of female reproductive freedom) by arguing that the Democrats are hostile to women because they are not denouncing Anthony Wiener for sexting or San Diego Mayor Bob Filner for alleged sexual harassment, nor calling for either one to resign/drop out of the race. This, the Republicans argue, is hypocisy, given Democrats' reaction to the statements about rape by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock during the 2012 election cycle. To absolutely no one's surprise, the lazy intellectual lightweights who constitute much of the political press have taken the bait. Worse, the AP suggests--while Akin and Mourdock were attacked for their words, the Democrats are not calling out Weiner and Fillner for their actions.First, I'm not sure the distinction is so clear here. Weiner's conduct, at least, involves words (or words and some pictures). On the other hand, while Akin and Mourdock were criticized for their words, they were words spoken in an electoral campaign, words that reflected or predicted actions--how they had voted or would vote in the future on matters such as Planned Parenthood funding and the scope of rape exceptions in abortion laws. In any event, it seems to me the important distinction is not between conduct and action, but between public and private behavior and between lawful and unlawful behavior. As David Weigel argues in Slate, the press (again, no surprise) proceeds as if sex scandals (especially those involving lawful-but-sleazy behavior) are more important than (or at least as equaly important as) actual laws that actual elected officials actually introduce and vote for. Perhaps Democrats should call on Fillner to resign. But that has no bearing on Democrats calling public attention to the words of a candidate for office, where those words lend insight to the beliefs that this candidate would attempt to enact into law.
2) Riley Cooper, a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, is in deep trouble because he was video-recorded using a racial epithet in talking about who he was ready to get into a fight with. Cooper apologized all over the place (and not the typical celebrity non-apology apology) and was fined (but not suspended) by the team. Cooper today left the team to seek counseling and at least one Philadelphia commentator has suggested that this will cost him his job (and, implicitly, that no team ever will touch him).
But the NFL (all big-time sports, actually) are notorious for giving players second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances for off-field misconduct. Players who have engaged in domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment, drunk driving, and other misconduct (again, involving action) are routinely welcomed back and allowed to continue playing for their teams, perhaps following a short suspension or fine. Without condoning, excusing, or minimizing what Cooper said, is dropping a racial epithet (in a context, by the way, where it was unquestionably lawful) really more unforgiveable than all of those things?
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Procedure of marriage equality, ctd.
If the wrangling over Prop 8 teaches us anything, it is that more students need to take Federal Courts and Remedies. In addition to the action filed by Prop 8 supporters in the California Supreme Court seeking clarification of the continued legal status of Prop 8, in light of another provision of state law requiring that state officials enforce state laws until there is a "definitive" decision invalidating the to-be-enforced law. Meanwhile, yesterday, the clerk-registrar of San Diego County filed his own petition seeking clarification, also arguing that, as an independently elected official, he is not bound by AG Kamala Harris' interpretation. (H/T: A commenter to my earlier Prop 8 post). The clerk asked the state court to stop the issuance of licenses to same-sex couples until a final determination (although the Supreme Court denied a similar request from Prop 8 supporters last week, so don't expect this one to have any more success). And the state's argument is that the Supreme Court should stay out of this altogether to avoid conflict with the federal court.
Has the state gone to the district court seeking to enjoin the state-court action under the "protect or effectuate its judgments" exception of the Anti-Injunction Act? And if not, why not? The state-court action, in part, functionally asks the court to interpret the scope and effect of the federal injunction (does it protect all couples? Does it apply to all officials in all counties)?, which seems like the district court's job. County officials (who have been working closely with Prop 8 supporters and similar organizations) have been very careful not to simply refuse to issue licenses, thus risking either a contempt citation in Hollingsworth or a new § 1983 action in which Hollingsworth might have either stare decisis or even (although less likely) preclusive effect. Clearly, they want to keep interpretation of the injuntion out of federal court, especially in light of the sense among many (including me) that the injunction is overbroad.
Of course, state-wide application depends on state officials (who were named as defendants) controlling unnamed county officials; faced with a motion under § 2283, might the district court have to certify that question back to the state supreme court? Or worse, abstain on a matter of ambiguous or complex state law?
Update: Kaimi Wenger (who was quoted in the linked article) expands on those comments. Kaimi discusses something I wanted to get into--whether the petition really is a request for procedural clarification or an act of conservative political theatre. He points out that the county clerk worked with a conservative religious organization and that the filing contains "broad social policy and political-usurpation language that seems extraneous to the procedural issues.' Actually, that complaint can be applied to the newspaper story itself, which intersperses discussions of the filing with heated rhetoric about the substance of marriage equality from both sides of the debate.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Let them wear towels
Last night, ESPN premiered Let Them Wear Towels, the third in its Nine for IX documentary series (nine films, all by female directors, marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX). Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, the film examines the experiences of the first generation of female sportswriters and their efforts to get equal access to lockerrooms and to post-game interviews with players. This one has a lot of law to it. For one thing, many of the early women sportswriters got those jobs because many of the major news outlets (including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Newsday) had been sued for employment discrimination and were looking to hire female sportswriters. The film also discusses Melissa Ludtke's successful 1978 lawsuit challenging Major League Baseball's exclusion of women from clubhouses as applied to Yankee Stadium,* which somewhat started the slow move toward league-wide equal-access policies in all four major sports.
* The district court found that MLB and the Yankees acted under color of law, because New York City owned the old Yankee Stadium. This decision is a big part of my arguments about the First Amendment rights of fans at publicly financed ballparks.
The film closes with the story of Lisa Olson, who in 1990 was sexually harassed by several players in the New England Patriots lockerroom, then suffered public harassment and vilification that pushed her to move out of the country for six years. The film's presentation of the Olson case illustrates something about the evolution of social movements. [ED: One TV critic argued that they should have built the film around Olson]. The early cohort of women reporters, who are the main subjects of the film, talk about turning a blind eye and deaf ear to offensive behavior. For them and their period of the mid-'70s to mid-'80s, the goal was simply access and getting inside the lockerroom so they could do their jobs; lewd comments and actions were the cost of that access. Olson's story is the second wave of the movement--having been granted access (a given by 1990), the demand was for a certain minimum level of behavior and treatment when they were there.
The one other thing I would have liked to have seen was some update on the views of the men who strongly opposed women's access back in the day--do they still hold to what they said 30 years ago or are they embarassed by it? Several of them are dead (former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former Patriots owner Robert Kraft Victor Kiam, whose public comments exacerbated the Olson situation). ESPN does have a short companion film in which male journalists and athletes of that era talk about the past and come across as largely supportive.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Much Worse than Making Sausages
When I first moved to North Carolina nine years ago, I remember being shocked when I learned that juvenile court jurisdiction ended at age 16 for all purposes and with no exceptions. This means that if your 16-year-old son or daughter were to intentionally push another kid in the hallway of a public school with a zero tolerance policy, the school resource officer (SRO) could bring assault charges against them in adult criminal court. I know because I have represented young people facing this very scenario.
It also means that the collateral consequences of a criminal charge and conviction are potentially borne by every 16 and 17 year old alleged to have violated a criminal offense -- misdemeanor or felony -- regardless of their criminal history, the nature of the injury or harm (if any), personal circumstances, etc. As you know, a criminal record makes it harder to get a job, to get accepted into college, to receive financial aid, to be licenced in such professions as nursing, and to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. 16 and 17 year olds held in adult prisons are more likely to be raped, assaulted, and to commit suicide than are adult offenders.
North Carolina is the only state in the country to have such harsh jurisdictional age caps. One other state ends juvenile court jurisdiction at age 16 -- New York -- which, unlike North Carolina, has mechanisms for "reverse waiver" or removal of a case from criminal court to juvenile court under specified circumstances. About ten states cap jurisdiction at 17, and the remainder -- the vast majority -- end it at 18. The numbers of teenagers impacted are significant -- over 65K 16 and 17 year olds are processed in the criminal courts of North Carolina each year, about 26K of whom are only 16. Stats show that only four percent of this cohort are convicted annually of felonies against people, with the remainder being property crimes or misdemeanors.I thought about all of this the other day when reading that Illinois raised the cap on its juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18, thereby joining the majority. The governor and the bipartisan contingent that supported the bill recognized its value -- that by giving original jurisdiction over all minors to the juvenile court, those who are amenable to its rehabilitative offerings will not be saddled with the burdens of criminal convictions and imprisonment with adults. Lawmakers also acknowledged that the change would bring significant cost savings in the long run, no small factor given the broken state of the economy and the overflowing numbers of those incarcerated.
The bill's passage is the second step in a reform process in Illinois that began in 2010 when 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors were moved from adult to juvenile courts. Earlier this year, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission released a 2-year study of the impact of the misdemeanor change that found a decrease in the recidivism rate, and it recommended that Illinois join the other states that place 17-year-olds charged with felonies in juvenile court. Of course, this does not mean that those minors charged with serious offenses cannot be transferred to adult criminal court -- only that all criminal cases against minors must originate in the juvenile forum. Connecticut has successfully raised the juvenile court age cap from 16 to 18 in recent years as well, also reducing recidivism rates.
Five years ago, I wrote an article on the history of the movement to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in North Carolina. I researched the legislative history, looked at reams of old newspaper accounts, studies on adolescent development, commission reports and committee minutes from the various periods during the past century when attempts to raise the age had failed. The pattern was clear -- with the powerful opposition of the sheriffs' lobby and the backing of state prosecutors, few bills had ever made it out of committee. The arguments that the cost was too much, that the juvenile court system was already overloaded, and that the result would be a mere "slap on the wrist" to young offenders consistently prevailed in the General Assembly.
Yet, I was naively optimistic that progress would soon be made in my state. I joined other advocates in writing op-eds, appearing before state legislative commissions, serving on task-forces, and protesting at rallies. With each step forward, however, we've had at least two steps back. During the past year, I was heartened that even when our General Assembly is in the grips of conservatives bent on tearing down the little that's left of the social safety net, there are still Republicans willing to sponsor yet another bill to raise the age -- incrementally, of course, but even just moving 16 year old first-offenders charged with misdemeanors into the juvenile system would be a victory. Now the bill has "run out of steam," and those in the know have shared that it doesn't look like anything will happen with it during this legislative session. In other words, the pattern continues, and this time I'm a (small) part of the narrative of failure.
So, what have I learned? Making sausages is, apparently, nothing like making laws. In sausage making, there is generally only one person -- the wurstmeister -- who's in charge of the business and makes all the decisions. Sausages are made according to a recipe that specifies the exact amount of pork, while the inedible parts are discarded. Everyone at the factory is committed to producing a good product, and they strive for uniformity. The bottom line? If I were a sausage maker, I'd be insulted by the comparison. As an advocate trying to bring about change, it only saddens me.
Your thoughts? Experiences with legislative reform (or with making sausages)? Please share in the comments.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Commenting on the merits
Andy Koppelman argues at Salon that by joining the Chief's majority in Hollingsworth, Justice Scalia functionally cast the deciding vote to allow same-sex marriage throughout California. Koppelman games out the internal workings of the Court to figure out why the Court did not comment on the (arguably erroneous) overbreadth of the district court's injunction. He writes the following:
Koppelman then wonders why Scalia did not insist on such language. He concludes that Scalia and Roberts both recognized it might have split the five-justice majority, since Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan might have gone off with a separate opinion, perhaps one reaching the merits and recognizing a broad right of marriage equality that might even have garnered five votes. It's an interesting theory on how the justices negotiate opinion drafting.
Roberts’ opinion could easily have included some language casually noting in passing that the district court’s decision properly applies only to the two couples who brought the suit, and that the more general question was not within the district court’s jurisdiction. (Even if there was no standing to appeal, Roberts was not obligated to describe without comment an overbroad injunction.) He could then direct further proceedings in the 9th Circuit consistent with this opinion. That would have forced the lower courts to refashion the injunction to have nearly no effect.
The problem, I think, is with Koppelman's underlying premise. Roberts could not have compelled the lower courts to refashion the injunction, while also finding no standing to appeal. The propriety and scope of the injunction was never properly before either SCOTUS or the Ninth Circuit because there was no party to properly present that issue to either court. So the Court could not make any comment that would be anything more than dicta or would in any way have compelled the district court to rethink the scope of the injunction. I would add the Scalia would be particularly attuned to this point, as he wrote the opinion in Steel Co. rejecting the doctrine of "hypothetical jurisdiction" and the notion that a court can have anything meaningful to say on the merits in the absence of standing.
So one additional reason Scalia did not insist on the language Koppelman suggests may be that, believing (whether genuinely or strategically) that standing was lacking, Scalia also recognized that the Court lacked any power to meaningfully comment on or alter the injunction.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
The NAACP and other groups are urging the Obama Administration and DOJ to file federal civil right charges against Zimmerman, which has right-wing sites abuzz and screaming about double jeopardy. But what law could he be charged under? Not § 242, because Zimmerman did not act under color of state law (thus depriving the right wing of its most obvious demagogic analogue--the LAPD officers who beat up Rodney King). Also not § 241, because Zimmerman acted alone (and I'm not sure a purely private conspriracy still is possible under current understandings of § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment). The only possibility is the federal Hate Crimes statute, which prohibits anyone, even if not acting under color of law, from willfully causing bodily injury because of the victim's race. If so, was that statute violated here? Assume Zimmerman followed and shot Trayvon Martin because Martin seemed "threatening" or "dangerous" and that Martin seemed "threatening" because of his race. Is that the same as following him "because of [his] actual or preceived race"? Also, how does federal law treat self-defense?
The other likely development is a civil lawsuit by Martin's family, which is being considered and was mentioned in the comments to Dan's first post. A civil action is, of course, governed by a lower standard of proof, involves more extensive discovery, and required testimony (deposition and trial) from Zimmerman himself. It also brings the state Stand Your Ground Law, and the pre-trial immunity it provides, back to the forefront. (By the way, if the civil suit were brought in federal court, this would be an interesting Erie hypo).
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Procedure in constitutional challenges, ctd.
Last week, I wrote about courts (arguably) misapplying Twiqbal in constitutional injunction action, using plausibility to avoid addressing questions of law head-on on a 12(b)(6) motion. The en banc Fourth Circuit gives us another example, in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy v. Mayor of Baltimore, one of two cases (the other decision, involving a similar regulation from Montgomery County, MD, is here) challenging local regulations requiring church-affiliated crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in their lobbies stating that they do not provide abortion or comprehensive birth control referrals, services, or counseling.
The district court in Baltimore Center granted a permanent injunction on summary judgment without giving the City an opportunity to take certain discovery. Without reaching the First Amendment merits, the majority (written by Judge King, who wrote an outraged dissent from the original panel decision) held that summary judgment was improper and the city should have been given an opportunity for discovery on a number of issues, primarily the status of the centers as commercial enterprises (which determines whether this is compelled commercial speech, which in turn affects the standard of First Amendment scruriny). Judge Niemeyer (who wrote the panel opinion affirming the district court and invalidating the regulations) dissented, insisting that all of this involved questions of law for which discovery is unnecessary and inappropriate. Whether speech is commercial or involves commercial and non-commercial speech inextricably intertwined is a question of law and, in this case, obvious, such that discovery should not enter the picture. As with 12(b)(6), this all illustrates of how procedures developed to handle fact-intensive cases apply to more law-intensive ones. And how should courts treat facts such as the legislative record for procedural purposes?
Political valences are nakedly obvious in this decision. Both dissents accuse the majority of using procedure to undermine the plaintiffs' rights and accuse the city of abusing discovery as a way to deny plaintiffs justice. This is, of course, a switch from the ordinary viewpoint (especially for judges such as these dissenters), where it is plaintiffs abusing discovery and judges protecting defendants from that abuse. Of course, the (likely) competing substantive views of reproductive freedom continually bubble to the service; this is prevalent in Judge Wilkinson's solo dissent, which accuses the majority of twisting in all directions to aid the choice movement and warns that compelled speech can be used against both sides in this debate. This is true, although again, attitudes about the topic seem to affect First Amendment analysis on all sides.The last noteworthy point is the disagreement about the effect of a preliminary injunction. In response to the abusive-discovery-denying-liberty point, the majority offered that the district court could have granted a preliminary injunction, thereby protecting the center against having to post the signs until discovery could work itself out. At the same time, the judges crossed swords over how much effect to give a preliminary injunction. The dissents both cited to the Montgomery County case (which involved a preliminary injunction) as establishing that the centers engaged in non-commercial speech to which strict scrutiny applied. But the majority insisted that a preliminary injunction is just that--preliminary--meaning it is subject to abuse-of-discretion review and does not firmly establishing constitutional principles. This is questionable; because the grant and denial of a preliminary injunction is immediately appealable as of right, much constitutional litigation (including appellate and SCOTUS review) occurs at the preliminary injunction stage.
I had thought these cases might be ripe for SCOTUS review (there are four First Amendment cases on tap for next year, one only indirectly--more than this past term, but less than in past terms). But the cases are so bound up in procedure, I wonder if either is the right vehicle, at least right now.