Monday, October 20, 2014
Whose job is it, FRE edition
I finally got around to reading the argument in Warger v. Schauers, dealing with whether FRE 606(b) prohibits inquiry into jury deliberations in trying to show that a juror was untruthful during voir dire. During the argument, counsel for respondent (the defendant, who won at trial) repeatedly argued that, if the Court believes it would be better to allow juror testimony on such claims, then it is a job for Congress to change the rule. Counsel repeated this point several times, always mentioning Congress as the source of any change.
But it is not Congress's job, at least not primarily--it is the Court's job, under the Rules Enabling Act. It is true that the original 606(b) from 1973 (it was amended once, in 2006) was affirmatively enacted by Congress as part of the original Federal Rules of Evidence. But since then, changes to the FRE follow the same procedure as changes to the FRCP or FRCrP, with the advisory committees and the Court taking the lead and Congress merely exercising a power to disapprove a submitted rule. And while Congress can always amend the rules through ordinary legislation, that is not the primary or presumptive way to make a change. When litigants talk about the meaning of the FRCP or the need for amendment, it is always discussed primarily in terms of the Court and the committees. I am wondering why it should be different with the FRE.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Supremacy and uniformity
I generally have been understanding, if not sympathetic, to the Court's odd behavior with respect to marriage equality of late. I understood the underlying idea that the Court need not act if the circuits are taking care of business. And I am ok with the Court dropping hints in one direction (as it arguably did in denying the five cases at the beginning of the term). But two things give me some pause.
The first is this post by Mike Dorf arguing that the Court's refusal to get involved is not a problem at the inter-circuit level, but at intra-state level, where a federal court of appeals and state high court might disagree, creating some confusion. He offers an interesting example: A federal circuit court recognizes the right to marriage equality and the executive responds by ordering clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But then a spousal privilege dispute arises in a state proceeding and the state supreme court refuses to recognize the privilege because, in its view, same-sex marriages are not constitutionally required. (The case has an added wrinkle--the state supreme court also disregarding the state executive's decision to issue the marriage license, which ought to be controlling). Nevertheless, it illustrates the multiple contexts and postures in which these issues arise.
The second was re-reading the justiciability discussion in Windsor in preparation for it (and Hollingsworth) in Fed Courts this week. I had forgotten how much Kennedy emphasized "the Supreme Court's primary role in determining the constitutionality of a law" and the Court's duty to address its constitutionality (what Scalia in dissent rejected as a "jaw-dropping . . . assertion of judicial supremacy"). Despite that rhetoric, the Court now seems in far less of a rush to perform that role.
Think about proposing programming for the annual meeting, or participating in a junior scholars workshop. And if you are ever interested in serving on a committee, let Russ Weaver (the executive director) know. The appointments usually happen in the summer, but he keeps track of volunteers all year long.
Posted by Marcia L. McCormick on October 14, 2014 at 11:00 AM in Civil Procedure, Corporate, Criminal Law, Employment and Labor Law, First Amendment, Gender, Immigration, Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, International Law, Judicial Process, Law and Politics, Legal Theory, Life of Law Schools, Property, Religion, Tax, Teaching Law, Torts, Travel, Workplace Law | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, October 10, 2014
More on prosyletizing police
On Wednesday, I discussed a lawsuit brought by an Indiana woman who alleges that a police officer, at the end of a traffic stop, asked her about accepting Jesus as her lord and savior and gave her literature about an area Baptist ministry.
In my Civil Rights class on Thursday, we had an extended discussion of the case (the timing of the suit was perfect--we were finishing Qualified Immunity) that drove home for me the real chance that the officer will be able to successfully argue that the right was not clearly established. There probably is no case law on factual point--a police officer distributing religious material during a traffic stop without an explicit threat or punishment. Cases about proselytizing teachers are analogous (the complaint repeatedly alleges that the plaintiff did not feel free to leave, setting up a similar captive-audience situation combined with an implicit threat of punishment), but perhaps distinguishable in context. While there likely were department regs setting out proper conduct during a traffic stop, there likely was not an express prohibition on proselytizing. And there is a question of whether the stop was still ongoing. Is this the equivalent of selling foster children into slavery (Judge Posner's favorite example), so obvious that general anti-establishment principles are sufficient to clearly establish? Can we say the officer was "plainly incompetent" in believing it was constitutionally permissible to do this?
Update: On speaking with a colleague, I may be slightly more optimistic, as he points to two more avenues through which this right might be clearly established. First, officers are trained and should know that they cannot exceed the scope of a traffic stop in a way that is explicitly or implicitly coercive--to ask the driver on a date, to ask the driver for money, to sell their daughter's girl scout cookies, or to discuss who the driver is going to vote for in the next sheriff election; what the officer did here is not different in any meaningful way. Second, officers should know generally that they cannot stand in the public square and proselytize while in uniform and on-duty; that should put them on notice that they cannot do it during a traffic stop. Again, it all involves moving from general principles, so much depends on how willing the court is to see those general principles as establishing broad obligations of which a reasonable officer should have been aware.
Ultimately, it may not matter, as my guess is the officer (indemnified and represented by the city) will settle, as the case is not worth much money. But it reflects just how difficult life can be for § 1983 plaintiffs.
Monday, October 06, 2014
Is it unseemly for SCOTUS to wait? (Updated)
Calvin Massey tries to figure out why SCOTUS declined to take a marriage-equality case. One possibility he offered is that "the Court is just avoiding the issue, hoping that the circuit courts will do the job for them," a possibility Massey calls "unseemly."
But is it unseemly and, if so, why? One reason to have "One Supreme Court" is to ensure uniformity of federal law. But if that uniformity comes anyway, is it really necessary that SCOTUS speak (or, as Dahlia Lithwick put it, lead) on any particular issue? Is there anything inherently wrong with SCOTUS waiting for a circuit split or for a circuit to get it "wrong"? Especially when the denial of cert. drops such a big hint to lower courts (particularly the Sixth Circuit, which seemed, based on oral argument, to be most inclined to uphold a state ban) to fall in line or risk being reversed later in the term?
Update: Neil Siegel frames the denials in line with the halfway decision in Windsor, as a Bickelian Court deciding as little as possible while dropping hints to direct the further conversation. Pivoting off that, it shows that our understanding of Bickel and passive virtues must be court-specific. Whereas Bickel likely imagined leaving the national conversation to the political branches and outside the Article III judiciary, here, it is unlikely any states will be suddenly motivated to legislate marriage equality. Instead, the conversation that SCOTUS is encouraging is in the lower federal courts, tasked with reading tea leaves (in Windsor and now in the cert. denials) and moving the discussion forward.
But is that what Bickel had in mind? Certainly multiple regional districts and circuits allow more "national conversation" and evolution than one final-and-thus-infallible decision of one Supreme Court. But these decisions still are being made by the same body of unelected-and-unaccountable life-tenured federal judges, drawn from the same pool and sharing the same orientation as the members of SCOTUS. That seems a very different conversation from the one Bickel imagined in promoting, for example, standing (which applies to all federal courts).
Thursday, October 02, 2014
Another Disappointing Sign of Our Political Times
As the campaign season heats up, demagogic appeals to the voters are starting to crowd the airways. So when NPR ran a story yesterday about the seemingly lax oversight by Federal Reserve officials over Goldman Sachs, it wasn’t surprising to hear a U.S. Senator condemn the cozy relationship between the Fed and financial institutions and talk about the need for “regulators who understand that they work for the American people, not for the big banks.” Nor was it surprising that the senator did not offer any specific proposals to make the Federal Reserve work better.
But what was surprising is that the U.S. Senator was Elizabeth Warren, who has given much consideration to the ways in which we might make financial regulation more effective in this country. It would have been far more enlightening to have a discussion about what we should be doing.
As a former state representative, I understand the difference between academic discourse and political discourse, but Senator Warren was being interviewed on NPR, not delivering a stump speech at a county fair. The listening audience would likely have been quite receptive to a more nuanced discussion of the issue. Unfortunately, our political system drives even the most thoughtful elected officials to play politics as usual.
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
The Electorate and Attorneys
Thanks to the PrawfsBlawg folks for letting me join in again. Dan Markel's loss has been devastating, but I hope we can keep his mission alive here by going full speed ahead. As an Iowa-based law professor (Director of the Drake Constitutional Law Center), we have one of the key U.S. Senate elections occurring between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley. They are battling to replace Democrat Tom Harkin. Some of you may know, from national new stories, that Braley got into trouble when he was filmed at an out of state fundraiser explaining, in part, that popular incumbent Senator Grassley is a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school. Moreover, Braley elaborated that Grassley may become leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Braley's statements were not good politics to say the least. In addition, the fundraiser apparently involved trial lawyers and Braley himself is a trial lawyer. Joni Ernst supporters have run that film clip often on television. On the other hand, Ernst has at times advocated abolishing the Department of Education, privatizing social security, and has not opposed impeaching President Obama. During a recent debate, she appeared to move to the center on some issues as would be expected. Braley did a good job in the debate but did not press her hard on certain matters.
What's fascinating though is that the Braley team has made no effort on television to defend the view that lawyers can play valuable roles in society, even though his campaign Web site does just that. The Web site mentions several instances of Braley helping the underdog against various powerful interests. Certainly, former Presidential candidate John Edwards used his work as a plaintiff's attorney at times to promote his candidacy. Presumably Braley's political consultants (who may know more than me) think the "attorney" word should go virtually unmentioned in television advertisements. But that has handed over the issue of who is the better person to Joni Ernst, as her campaign has run effective ads about her leadership in the National Guard. Moreover, she presents well on television. The polls show Ernst with about a 6 point lead. Whatever happens, it's sad to see the Braley team essentially abandon any defense of some of the good work that Braley likely did as an attorney, even if their strategy is not totally unexpected.
Monday, September 22, 2014
Addressing the Unmet Need for Civil Legal Representation--and the Legal Employment Market
It’s my privilege to hang out with present and future health care providers almost every day through teaching at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's brand new Public Health School and being an adjunct faculty member at our terrific medical school and on the advisory board of our awesome nursing school. One of the issues that always surprises them is how little access most individuals have to legal services as compared to medical services. We are used to hearing the bad about access to health care—and there is still plenty of bad—but unless a person faces criminal charges, brought by the government, there is no right to legal representation for those who cannot afford it and very few public or private sources of insurance.
The primary source of federal funding for individuals involved with a civil dispute—child custody, divorce, land-lord tenant, employment, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), estimates that 80% of “low income Americans who need civil legal assistance to do not receive any, in part because legal aid offices in this country are so stretched that they routinely turn away qualified prospective clients.” See report, Documenting the Justice Gap in America. Individual states also have some subsidized civil aid programs. Although the current president is about as sympathetic to LSC as any in recent history, demands for help still far outstrip demand.
Risa Kauffman of Columbia Law School reported to a U.N. Human Rights Committee examining how the U.S. complies with the an international covenant on civil and political rights reported that: "In the United States, millions of people are forced to go it alone when they're facing a crisis….It's a human rights crisis, and the United States is really losing ground with the rest of the world."
And if anyone is wondering why, given this size of this unmet need and given the existing federal investment in student loans for legal education and the downturn in legal employment opportunities, there hasn’t been federal action to increase staffing at LSC and other organizations—that’s a good question.
If, however, your first reaction here is to laugh and tell a lawyer joke, browse through these state reports, complied by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and usually commissioned by state courts and chief judges, documenting the unmet need for civil representation in our 50 states. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association has helpfully put together a 50 state survey of reports. The ABA has a Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services that considers access as well as other issues.
The “why” of this situation is interesting--it probably comes from a combination of factors including a lack of demand for legal insurance-perhaps because most people have little understanding of how much they might need a lawyer at crucial junctures in their life, let alone what such a lawyer would cost. Here’s some history from Prof. Alan Housman at Penn. Certainly at least one of those factors is the strong lobby of corporate interests who benefit from the often David and Goliath like disparity in disputes between individuals and corporate entities. Although here’s an argument from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law explaining why civil legal aid would be economically beneficial for the states providing it. Here, too, is some very interesting work by Professor Victoria Shannon at Washington & Lee Law School about the emergency of “third-party funding” of civil law suits.
Stone on sex discrimination and professional sports
The internet has most recently been ablaze with news of a lawsuit filed against the New York Mets by an ex-employee who claims that she was chastised and then fired due to her status as an unmarried pregnant woman. On the heels of other notorious stories of discrimination to come out of the sports world this past year, like Donald Sterling’s racist comments, Richie Incognito’s racially tinged bullying of a teammate, and the Atlanta Hawks’ general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence after coming under fire for his racially-stereotyped comments about a player, this latest story has many clamoring for justice—whatever that will mean in this scenario.
Recently, my colleague, Howard Wasserman, blogged about various incidents of discrimination in the sports world, taking note of their wildly varying upshots and reactions generated. He asked whether we could “find anything resembling consistent and appropriate responses to possibly improper or unlawful employment practices,” and posited that factors that might be in play could include, among others, whether formal, legal action had been initiated, whether it is sexism or racism that is alleged, and whether video or audio recordings of the discriminatory sentiments exist. These observations are astute. I would add that the role of shame in these incidents has become central. Some years ago, I blogged about the role of shame in accomplishing the eradication of discrimination in a way that even the law could not, but I pointed out that the shame has to be public, even viral, in order to move most employers to act. From what we have seen in the sports world as of late, the ability of those involved or even of those who know about the discriminatory sentiments expressed by sports players, managers, and executives to stir up outrage on the part of the public appears to be central to whether or not those in a position to discipline or dismiss these individuals will act.Title VII prohibits racial, sex-based, and other discrimination in the workplace. It is clear that while the statute’s goal is to eradicate the erosion of individuals’ terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of discrimination, it is not supposed to function as a general civility code, requiring anyone to change the way they think, feel, or express themselves when that expression is not anchored to workplace-based harassment or deprivation. In other words, as the Supreme Court has put it, “discrimination in the air,” unmoored from some adverse action or campaign of workplace harassment, is not actionable; it is only when discrimination is “brought to the ground and visited upon an employee,” that it becomes something for which we permit legal recovery.
It is interesting, then, that there has been such pressure on sports teams and leagues to undertake voluntarily to do what the law does not require them to do—to distance themselves from those who espouse racist, sexist, or other offensive views. To be sure, if the Mets executive who alleges that she was taunted and fired for being an unwed mom-to-be persuades a trier that these things did, indeed, happen, she will prevail in court. But what about the rest of the outrage? The offenses unaccompanied by legal harm? What if the executive had not been fired and her teasing had not risen to the rather high threshold of intolerability and consistency needed to render it actionable harassment as opposed to mere, permissible incivility? The public needs to understand that the law does not necessarily comport with public sentiment on these issues. “Discrimination in the air” is not actionable.
Moreover, the public needs to appreciate the fact that while high-profile shaming and pressure on professional sports organizations may effectuate the kind of personnel and cultural changes that the law cannot, discrimination—both in the air and grounded upon employees—is rife in all kinds of workplaces. There are no high profile campaigns of shame at a typical truckstop diner or even in a big box store chain. But the same sense of “humor” that allegedly compelled the Mets higher-up to continually joke about the morality of single motherhood or fuels racially stereotyped depictions, contempt, or observations in the upper echelons of the NBA or Major League Baseball also pervades everyday workplaces. And often, employees are either not believed when they report it, or even if they are, it does not matter because the hostility or microaggressions, as they have been termed, are not anchored to an adverse action or part and parcel of actionable harassment. The difference is that in these lower-profile cases, no one cares. The highers-up who harbor these views are often high up enough on the ladder to be valued and thus retained, unscathed, by employers, but anonymous and uncared-about enough to elude public shaming or outcry. The law’s gaps and holes allow us to be selective about how and when we, as a society, can demand justice in the form of the censure or termination of those who express discriminatory, stereotyped, or just plain hateful beliefs, and that selectivity breeds inconsistency and randomness even more dramatic across workplaces than that decried by Professor Wasserman in his sports blog.
Is it time for the law to come into line with the wishes and expectations of society as evinced by the decrying of “discrimination in the air” that we have seen in the media in response to what is going on in professional sports? Or is it the case that if all of those who demand the firing of high profile racists or sexists wouldn't really want the law to require what they are demanding if they thought it through? It is wholly inconsistent for us to say that we demand the ouster of a team coach or manager on the basis of his sentiments unmoored from action, but that we wish for less glamorous, less known, but perhaps as well compensated bosses in the private sector to retain an absolute right to their private dealings and expressions, with no job consequences?
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Cameras and unintended consequences
In the rush to video record everything so we always know for sure "what happened," it is important not to lose sight of the risk of unintended consequences. Two studies, not directly involving police and body cams, illustrate the point.
In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that one major cause of the drop in offense and scoring over the past 5+ years is introduction in 2006 of video systems to review and evaluate umpire performance in calling balls and strikes. The intended effect was to teach umpires the "correct" strike zone and produce more accurate umpiring (indeed, several umpires were fired when video showed their ball/strike calls to be inadequate). But that accurate strike zone was a lower strike zone, with more pitches around the batter's knees now being called strikes, causing pitchers to learn to throw low in the strike zone. Low pitches are harder to hit, especially with power, so they produce more ground balls and more strikeouts (Thompson says the increase in strikeouts since 2008--called and swinging--is entirely on pitches lower in the zone). As a result, this more-accurate zone produces less scoring. The problem is that this lower-scoring game is not as popular nationally (based on game-of-the-week ratings and national fan recognition of star players) as the power-driven game of the late '90s and early '00s. And there is your unintended consequence--MLB used video to successfully increase accuracy, but accuracy fundamentally changed the game. And arguably made it less popular.
On the Harvard Business Review Blog, Ethan Bernstein (a professor in the B-school) argues that the increase in transparency that video brings may stifle worker creativity. He explains that "[k]nowing that their managers and others will closely evaluate and penalize any questionable recorded behavior, workers are likely to do only what is expected of them, slavishly adhering to even the most picayune protocols." In an article, Bernstein found such lack of creativity in assembly-line workers, who avoid potentially useful time-saving methods in favor of doing everything precisely by the book. And while supportive of body cams, Bernstein is concerned that they will have a similar effect on law enforcement.With respect to public officials such as police (the people who will be wearing cameras), official immunity (especially qualified immunity) is driven by similar concerns for over-deterrence. Officials enjoy immunity so they can exercise their learned judgment and discretion vigorously; immunity also encourages creativity in job performance that may be beneficial. We do want officials to play it overly safe, avoiding any risk of liability by steering so far away from the constitutional line, where doing so may leave significant performance and enforcement gaps.* Perhaps we should at least be aware that, in equipping officers with cameras, we may be creating the same disincentives that immunity was designed to eliminate--officers will play always play it "safe" and steer clear of the line for fear that, even if not unconstitutional or unlawful, their behavior "looks bad" to the people who are going to see the video and reach conclusions based on nothing more than the video. Bernstein's solution is to promote video and transparency in the use of body cams, but to create some "zones of privacy," in which video is used for education and training rather than punishment, thereby providing officers the needed "breathing space."
* I would argue that current qualified immunity strikes the wrong balance, too heavily weighting over-deterrence at the loss of accountability. But I recognize that both need to be taken into consideration.
The point is that police body cameras are as likely to produce unintended consequences as video in baseball or video monitoring of UPS drivers and assembly-line workers. Those unintended consequences must be considered and addressed by departments in establishing careful and clear rules and policies for camerause. And they should ring as another reason to treat cameras as one good idea, not as a complete solution.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Spot the differences, if you possibly can
Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry used racist stereotypes in evaluating and describing player Luol Deng. The comments were unquestionably tasteless and offensive; they might form the basis for an employment-discrimination action, although Deng did not suffer any harm (he signed with another team and there is no indication he was dying to sign with the Hawks) and courts are often quick to dismiss remarks like these as "stray comments" (as my colleague Kerri Stone has written) The remarks were audio-recorded and written in a report. Ferry has been placed on indefinite leave of absence, basically meaning he's on his way to being fired (likely as part of an ownership change). The team published a public apology to its fans, basically confessing to multiple incidents of racist comments and actions by the team "over a period of years" and its failure to stop or punish them. The league is holding off on punishment, probably because the team took the matter off its hands.
Isiah Thomas engaged in a pattern of sex- and gender-based harassment of a Knicks executive named Anucha Browne Sanders, for which he was found personally liable by a jury; the case settled, following a jury verdict awarding more than $ 10 million in punitive damages. Thomas never lost his job and suffered no team- or league-imposed penalties. The league expressly said it does not get involved with "civil matters," not even civil matters directly affecting the team. The Knicks never publicly apologized for anything or even acknowledged having been found liable.
A former executive with the New York Mets has sued the team and the COO (the principal owner's son) for harassing and then firing her over becoming pregnant and having a child without being married and complaining about the harassment. So far, silence from MLB. The Mets blandly insist that they have policies against harassment and discrimination (which obviously means nothing if those policies are ignored by the owner's son, general counsel, and other team officials, as the complaint alleges).
So can we find anything resembling consistent and appropriate responses to possibly improper or unlawful employment practices? One answer is that mere accusations are insufficient and teams must wait for the civil litigation process to play out. But then neither the non-action by the Knicks against Thomas nor the action by the Hawks against Ferry makes sense. Worse, accepting the facts alleged in each case as true, the Hawks case is probably the least likely of the three to produce legal liability, yet that is the only one in which the team responded. A more cynical answer is teams/leagues will jump to act when it comes to race discrimination involving players, but do not care about sex-based discrimination against non-players. An intermediate explanation is Ferry was captured on audio and the Mets COO wasn't, which just brings us back to the problem that audio and video are overtaking our ability to judge evidence and proof. But that, in turn, says some troubling things about our ability or willingness to rely on judicial processes, not just recordings, to resolve disputes and determine legal rights and wrongs.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Privacy v. Justice
William Saletan at Slate argues that the benefits of having video and audio in evaluating legal disputes (in court or out) outweigh the privacy concerns raised by the possibility of everyone and everything being recorded. As he says, "privacy, broadly interpreted, can shield injustice."
Saletan's big mistake is assuming the absolute certainty of video--"with video, everyone knows." Only after everyone had seen the Ray Rice video did the NFL "know" what happened. And because everyone else "knew," the NFL lost deniability and Rice lost what Saletan calls the "presumption of innocence." But, as I have written repeatedly, video is not that certain and we do not necessarily know in every case or with every video. Some video is clearer or easier than others. Rice seems especially obvious (although the video is grainy and one looking to see mutual aggression might see her moving towards him for reasons that cannot be known from the video). But not every video will be so clear and thus not every video case will be so easy.
Which is not to say that Saletan is wrong about the privacy/justice balance; I think he has it right. But the reason is that this provides additional evidence with which to evaluate (in court and out) disputes controversies--and more evidence is better than less. But it still is a mistake to rely on the idea that video is unquestionably, always, and in all cases conclusive.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Federal control of all police prosecutions?
Having St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch decide whether to prosecute Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown raises several concerns, notably related to his comments and actions during the Ferguson protests/riots (depending on your perspective) and a generally poor track record with such cases. But McCulloch and the question of a Wilson prosecution illustrate a general problem for even the best-of-faith DAs having to prosecute local police officers. The relationship is too close and often too cozy. Alternatively, the decision to pursue charges against one officer may harm a prosecutor's relationship with the police going forward, with negative consequences to law enforcement.
But this seems like the wrong solution to the problem: Moving charging decisions exclusively into the hands of federal prosecutors, apparently even for state prosecutions in state court. The author extrapolates from the successful federal prosecution of Rodney King following his state-court acquittal; it "would have been more efficient and confidence-inspiring, however, if the federal lawyers had been in charge from the start."First, the problem in the King case was not with the county prosecutor's office, which brought and vigorously pursued state charges. The federal government (and federal lawyers) became involved only after the jury acquitted and only pursuant to specific policies governing successive prosecutions. The federal government never would have gotten involved (efficiently or not) if the state jury had gotten the case "correct" (as that is commonly understood in that case). So to jump from an (arguably) erroneous acquittal in King (or in a lower-profile, non-death case such as this one, that just shows how hard it is to convict cops even in the most-vigorous prosecution) to a blanket condemnation of the ability or willingness of all state prosecutors to prosecute police seems extreme. Similarly, it is extreme to go from one arguably conflicted prosecutor in Ferguson to that same blanket condemnation.
Second, how are federal prosecutors competent or appropriate to make charging decisions under state law? I guess the argument is that they are smart lawyers who can figure it out. But federal prosecutors prosecute federal crimes, not state crimes, leaving them with no special knowledge of the law and procedure of that state (or even any knowledge the law of that state--an AUSA need not be a member of a local Bar). This will be exacerbated if the decision is taken on not by the US Attorney Office for that district, but by Main Justice. So in gaining "independence," we potentially lose expertise in the applicable law.
So this proposal makes sense only if the idea really is that police shootings should be prosecuted exclusively as federal civil rights violations, never as state crimes (such as murder or attempted murder or aggravated assault). That certainly resolves the efficiency concerns--everything goes straight to federal prosecutors, federal substantive law, and federal court, and we need never wait around to see what state officials do or what happens in state court. But it comes at the expense of some federalism considerations. I am no big believer in federalism, but an across-the-board assumption that crimes should go automatically and exclusively to federal law--not an as one option but as the only choice--seems excessive. Which is not to say federal prosecution is n0t appropriate in many of these cases, including in the Brown shooting; only that it should not be the sole option. I also wonder if § 242, which requires specific intent to deprive a person of their constitutional rights, can be proven in many of these shootings. Finally, there might be resource limitations preventing the federal government from investigating and prosecuting every single police shooting. All of which means the net result could actually be fewer prosecutions or convictions against police.
The federal-prosecutor proposal unfortunately distracts from some good ideas in the piece, namely requiring that police shootings be investigated by a special prosecutor brought in from another county. Better still, I would argue, bring in the state attorney general, which can better (not perfectly, perhaps) bring distance from all local passion and politics, while retaining expertise in state law and state prosecutions.
Oddly, Levine points to the George Zimmerman prosecution as a positive example in which a special prosecutor was brought in after the local prosecutor refused to charge. Of course, Zimmerman was acquitted, in part because the special prosecutor overcharged and generally put on a terrible case. Moreover, Zimmerman was not a police shooting. So it appears Levine really is arguing that no local prosecutor should ever handle a high-profile or controversial case. But if those cases also should be taken from them, then why have local prosecutors at all--just to handle cases no one cares about?
Thursday, September 11, 2014
The Video Effect?
A problem with the increasing ubiquitousness and (perceived) power and accuracy of video is that we (the public, judicial fact-finders, prosecutors making charging decisions, everyone) are no longer moved by testimony and descriptive evidence, by verbal descriptions of events. Only video will influence, persuade, or even trigger a response.
We got a sense of this during the Ferguson protests, where video, especially television reporting, was the topic of conversation. The Ray Rice story, as it has developed this week, is driving this point home.
The Ravens (who cut Rice) and the NFL (who suspended Rice indefinitely) did not act with any sense of seriousness (the original two-game suspension was a joke) until the video from inside the elevator was released on Monday. NFL Commissioner (for now) Roger Goodell said he felt compelled to act because"what we saw yesterday was extremely clear, it was extremely graphic, and it was sickening." But reports indicate that the story Rice told Ravens officials was consistent with what was shown on the video--he did not tell a story of self-defense or of her hitting him first or of both people throwing punches (Ravens officials seem very proud that Rice did not lie to them, although he apparently lied to his teammates). Goodell insists that Rice's story to them was more ambiguous, although we can ask why the NFL never compared notes with Ravens officials and draw conclusions from the inconsistency. [Update: According to this report, four people with knowledge of conversations state that Rice told Goodell in June that Rice had "hit"or "punched" his fiancee and that there was no "ambiguity" about what he said or what happened].
The point is that the video released Monday provided the Ravens with exactly no new information, and the NFL with little that it should not already have known. The "sickening" acts were known to everyone on the inside. Yet Goodell did not feel compelled to act until confronted with video images; a narrative would not do the trick. Of course, some of that can be blamed on the media and the public, which responded with renewed outrage only after seeing the video themselves, thus backing Goodell into a corner. Josh Lewin has a nice satirical take on this.
The old saw is that a picture is worth 1000 words and perhaps video is worth twice that. But the relative value of visual compared with verbal evidence should not be taken to render verbal evidence entirely worthless. I would be quite concerned if we begin to see--in court and in public debate--a video-evidence version of the CSI Effect.
Friday, September 05, 2014
Destroying marriage to save it
Have efforts to defend marriage-equality bans crossed over into Ben Tre territory, where they are destroying the town to save it? States' legal efforts to "preserve" marriage as a heterosexual institution have denuded that institution. They no longer defend it as a sancrosanct and powerful institution reflecting long-term intimate arrangements by committed adults who love and care about one another; instead, it has become a metaphorical prison to place fornicators who unintentionally produce a pregnancy. As Posner put it: "Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure." Opponents of marriage equality insist, without evidence (a point Posner nailed Wisconsin on), that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause heterosexuals not to marry. But speaking as a heterosexual, I am not sure I would really want to join the marriage club that most states claim to have established.
Wednesday, September 03, 2014
The myth of body cams
This Slate piece by two criminology professors who have studied the issues. They doubt cameras will prevent another Ferguson shooting, which is almost certainly true. But they also found (from studies of police in Mesa, AZ) found changes in police behavior--officers with cameras conducted fewer stop-and-frisks and arrests, although they wrote more citations. They also initiated more contacts with citizens, perhaps after observing behavior for longer to ensure themselves they were seeing wrongdoing before initiating contact.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Video Chutzpah, defined
Stories have begun circulating about an incident in Minneapolis in January, in which officers seemed to escalate a situation in which a man was sitting in a restricted area near a public space, then used a TASER when he refused to give his name and attempted to walk away. Charges (trespass and "obstruction of the legal process") were dropped in July. Yesterday, the chief of the St. Paul Police defended the officers, beginning with: "As is often the case, the video does not show the totality of the circumstances."
He is right, of course. But that is certainly not going to be his line or the officers' line when they inevitably move for summary judgment in the inevitable § 1983 action.
Another SCOTUS counter-factual: Justice Posner?
Many sites are talking about Wednesday's Seventh Circuit arguments in challenges to same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin. Judge Posner was in rare form in shredding the states' arguments in support of the bans, particularly in the Wisconsin case (several of the links have either the full audio or audio clips). As usual, there is the debate about whether this is Posner being a bully (Josh Blackman says yes) or Posner being Posner and attacking bad legal arguments and bad lawyering (in fairness to Josh's viewpoint, Posner does not give the lawyers room to answer in real detail).
But the argument highlights Posner's uniqueness as a conservative-but-iconoclastic judge. And sparks this question: What if Posner had been the nominee for the late Reagan/Bush I openings--Scalia, Kennedy (after Bork and Ginsburg both went down), or Souter (replacing Brennan, a fitting seat, since Posner famously clerked for Brennan)? Was he ever truly in the running for any of those seats? Would his academic writings have done him in (thus, making the term "Posnered")? Alternatively, assuming Posner has become more iconoclastic over the years, would he have gone the other direction had he reached the pinnacle (as some say Scalia has gone)?
More importantly, would things be different? And, if so, how? Replace Scalia or Kennedy with Posner and Carhart (upholding Nebraska's ban on D&X abortions) Gonzales v. Carhart (upholding the federal ban on D&X abortions) comes out the other way. In spring/summer 1998, while still living in Chicago, I attended arguments in the challenge to Wisconsin's D&X ban; it sounded an awful lot lot like Wednesday's arguments. Not sure what Posner would have done on Bush v. Gore had he actually been there on the ground and not writing about it ex post. On the other hand, replace the speech-protective Kennedy with Posner and the First Amendment might look somewhat different.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Two from Dorf on policing and body cameras
Two posts from Mike Dorf--one supporting use of body cams and one considering the effect and future of broken-windows policing, which necessarily increases the number of police-citizen law-enforcement encounters, which necessarily means increasing recording of those encounters. Mike share my view that cameras are a good idea but not a panacea.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
NPR on police body cams
I was interviewed for an NPR Weekend Edition story on police body cameras and whether they represent any sort of great solution to the problem of figuring out what happens in police-public encounters. As expected, I provide the "no, video is not some all-showing neutral observer" perspective.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Talking about free speech or talking about racial justice?
The focus of public and media conversation on Ferguson has shfted. We are talking less about the triggering events--the possible murder/possible unconstitutionally excessive police shooting of Michael Brown,(*) the underlying racial atmosphere that made that shooting more likely, and systematic constitutional problems within the Ferguson Police Department--than about the First Amendment problems with how police have responded (and continue to respond) to peaceful protests in a public forum.(**) This has become a miniature of the Civil Rights Movement. When protesters hit the streets in the South and Bull Connor, et al., responded as they did, the legal conversation, at least in the courts, turned to the First Amendment and away from the underlying racial problems and racist policies that the protesters were attacking and seeking to change. The cases that reached SCOTUS arising from the events on the ground largely dealt with First Amendment rights to protest, sit in, crticize, organize, and advocate against the racist and discriminatory policies and practices in the South, without real discussion or resolution about their legality, constitutionality, or morality. Certainly these all were important victories for the movement and its members (as well as for society as a whole), but they can feel sterile when the underlying injustices are forgotten or pushed below the surface. The Court itself never directly tackled the underlying constitutional validity of most pieces of Jim Crow (primarily because Congress did it for them).
(*) Although the competence and commitment of the county prosecutor to vigorously prosecute a police officer has moved to the front of the line for the moment. Since the grand jury might take two months, this will go away soon, unless the governor preemptively appoints a special prosecutor.
(**) While somewhat overstated, Dahlia Lithwick makes some good points comparing police responses to these protests (which, unfortunately, likely will not be successfully litigated after the fact) with what the Supreme Court said in McCullen v. Coakley was constitutionally required, particularly about potential distinctions between protest and counseling.
On one hand, this is appropriate for the First Amendment. The whole point of free speech is that constitutional protection for protest, advocacy, and criticism of government should not turn on the subject of that protest, advocacy, or criticism or its underlying morality. It does not matter whether protesters are complaining about racism, police misconduct, the minimum wage, or United States's tolerance of homosexuality bringing about God's wrath--what matters is that their peaceful protest enjoys First Amendment protection. On the other hand, as Harry Kalven and Burt Neuborne both have argued, the concerns about ending discrimination silently informed the free speech jurisprudence of the early '60s--without necessarily saying so, the Court protected free speech precisely so the underlying system of racism and segregation could be attacked and, hopefully, changed.
But that leaves a nice question whether we (courts, the law, and the public) miss something by not talking more explicitly about the underlying issues leading to the protests and the First Amendment violations. And, more cynically, whether the national outrage over Ferguson that has latched onto the First Amendment concerns (because everyone feels and cares about "their" First Amendment rights personally) frees us to ignore the underlying racial injustice (which is personally disconnected from most people).
Would “Pattern or Practice” Litigation Work in Ferguson?
The following guest post is by Stephen Rushin, a VAP at Illinois.
Earlier this week, Howard wrote an interesting post about the possibility of DOJ intervention into the Ferguson Police Department under 42 U.S.C. § 14141. This statute gives the Attorney General authority to initiate structural reform litigation against local police agencies engaged in a “pattern or practice” of misconduct.
This post raised some important questions. How might the DOJ use § 14141 to reform the Ferguson Police Department? And would it work? Over the last two years, I've been empirically studying the DOJ’s use of § 14141 litigation in American police departments as part of my doctoral dissertation. I am in the process of converting this dissertation into a book (in contract with the Cambridge University Press) that argues that § 14141 is the most effective legal mechanism available to combat police misconduct. So it is safe to say that I am a strong proponent of § 14141 litigation. But this regulatory mechanism is not without its limitations. After the jump, I’ll breakdown what we know about § 14141, and I’ll describe how this sort of structural reform litigation could work in Ferguson.
Let me start with a little background. Since Congress passed § 14141 in 1994, the DOJ has used the measure to reform police departments in cities all across the country, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Seattle, Detroit. One of my earlier articles documents all of the formal DOJ action under § 14141. Below is a map showing all DOJ action under this statute (this doesn’t include DOJ action in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands). That same article also describes trends in DOJ enforcement of § 14141 over time.
In practice the DOJ has settled virtually all § 14141 cases through largely extrajudicial negotiations. One notable exception is the recent litigation in Alamance County, North Carolina. In a forthcoming article, I draw on original interviews to describe and evaluate this largely “off-the-books” process and theorize on its effectiveness. Scholars like Mary Fan (UW Seattle) have argued that this sort of bargaining of constitutional reforms in the shadow of the law “may yield smarter and farther reaching reforms.” And as Howard alluded to in his earlier post, Rachel Harmon and Kami Chavis Simmons have made valuable contributions in this field by describing how the federal government could use § 14141 to bring about more widespread and effective change in local police departments.
Studies in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati have suggested that § 14141 litigation can help police departments reduce misconduct. In my research, I argue that federal intervention via § 14141 helps reduce misconduct in several ways. For one thing, it forces municipalities to prioritize investment in police reform. Preventing unconstitutional misconduct is expensive. Take New Orleans as an example. There, estimates place the annual cost of the consent decrees facing the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Prison at around $18 to $33.5 million. In confronting such an immediate financial burden, communities are left with two options: reallocate scarce municipal resources to the cause of police reform, or generate more revenue through higher taxes. While this might seem troubling, interview participants in my study suggest that municipalities can recoup some of this cost through future reductions in civil suits for officer misconduct. As one city official in Detroit told me, “the amount of money that we have saved on lawsuits that we had endured for years … have paid for the cost of implementation of the monitoring two or three times” over.
Federal intervention via § 14141 also commonly spurs municipalities to bring in outside, reform-minded leadership to their police department. Federal intervention arms these local police leaders with legal cover to implement potentially unpopular, but necessary reforms. And it utilizes external monitoring to ensure that frontline officers substantively comply with top-down mandates.
That is the good news. But this regulatory method is far from perfect. For one thing, virtually all interview participants that took part in my study acknowledged that § 14141 litigation is most effective when the local police and political leadership are supportive of the reform. In 2010, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Perez announced that the Civil Rights Division was again “open for business” and would aggressively use its authority under § 14141 to reform local police departments. Even so, real questions remain about whether the DOJ can effectively use § 14141 to force reform in a municipality that defiantly and obstinately opposes federal intervention.
There are also serious questions about the sustainability of reforms achieved via § 14141. For example, in Pittsburgh, Police Chief Robert McNeilly oversaw the city’s Bureau of Police throughout the implementation of § 14141 reforms. During his process, McNeilly was an ardent supporter of federal intervention, despite fierce backlash from his own officers. After federal oversight ended, though, the newly elected Pittsburgh mayor removed McNeilly from his post. Since then, the Bureau “is now sliding back towards where it was” before federal intervention. One of McNeilly’s successors, Chief Nathan Harper, is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence on corruption-related charges. And the current Pittsburgh mayor recently acknowledged that the Bureau had regressed so much that it may be “on the verge of another consent decree.”
All of this is to say that § 14141 is not a silver bullet. If a full DOJ investigation finds evidence of a pattern or practice of police misconduct in Ferguson, the use of § 14141 may help facilitate organizational change. At the end of the day, though, long-lasting reform in the Ferguson police department will require more than § 14141. It will require dedication by local politicians, supportive leadership in the police department, and organizational buy-in by frontline officers.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Chokeholds and clearly established rights
This is a tragic story and has all the trappings of yet another racially polarized split involving police, city government, and the public. Plus, we have video, with all the confusion and false certainty that goes along with visual images of police-public encounters gone bad. The NYPD, the City, and the DA all are investigating, and I would not be surprised if DOJ jumped into the mix at some point (likely depending on what the City and DA do).
I want to skip ahead to several interesting issues that likely will arise in the inevitable § 1983 action:
1) What will the court do with the video on summary judgment? As I wrote in a draft paper for a SEALS discussion group, the Court last term in Plumhoff v. Rickard, just as in Scott v. Harris, was all too willing to interpret the video for itself and identify its single meaning (in favor of the defendant officer) as a basis for granting summary judgment. Will courts be similarly bold with potentially more damning video or will they be less willing to find a single message and leave it all to the jury? On that note, check out the lede of The Times article describing the officer "holding him in what appears, in a video, to be a chokehold." (emphasis added). That is the proper way to report on video, since it is about appearances and what different viewers will or might see. But it is veery different than what everyone (press, government officials, and courts) has done in, for example, describing video of high-speed chases.
2) According to The Times, chokeholds are expressly prohibited by NYPD regulations. How will that affect the qualified immunity analysis? In Hope v. Pelzer and Wilson v. Layne, the Court looked at department regulations and whether they endorsed or prohibited some conduct as indications of whether theright at issue is clearly established. While not conclusive, administrative regs can support a doctrinal consensus or demonstrate the absence of that consensus. Absent case law holding that chokeholds always violate the Fourth Amendment or violate the Fourth Amendment when in furtherance of arresting non-violent offenders, what will the court do with this officer violating clear departments regulations in dealing with a non-violent offender (they were trying to arrest the victim for selling loose cigarettes on the street).
3) What happens when the plaintiff tries to make his Monell claim against the city? On one hand, the express prohibition on chokeholds in department regs would seem to weigh against any argument that the city had a policy of allowing its officers to utilize such holds, since the very opposite is true--he really is the "bad apple" expressly disobeying how we told him to behave. On the other hand, according to The Times, more than 4% of excessive-force complaints to the Civilian Complaint Review Board involve allegations of officers using chokeholds, a number that has gone up in the past decade; this could support an argument that the city is failing to train its officers on its own policies or that the city is being deliberately indifferent to the actual practices and actions of officers who are employing chokeholds despite department prohibitions. (Note that many of those complaints never go anywhere or are unsubstantiated--the point is that many citizens are talking about officers using chokeholds).
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
Determining the effect of video
Just coincidentally, three stories are simultaneously in the news involving potential police misconduct caught on video. The recordings are after the jump (these are partial, although fuller recordings of some are available):
1) A California Highway Patrol officer (Erik Estrada never did this) takes a woman to the ground on the side of the highway.and repeatedly punches her, including in the head. The video was taken by a passing driver. The matter is under investigation.
2) A South Carolina state trooper arrests Sam Montgomery, an NFL player, for driving more than 25 m.p.h. over the speed limit. The officer threatens to TASE Montgomery for not cooperating. This is dashcam video. The trooper was suspended for failing to treat Montgomery with the expected courtesy.
3) A Lafayette, Indiana police officer shoves a man in a wheelchair with two hands, causing the chair to tip over and the man to go sprawling on the sidewalk. The shove occurred after the man rode over the officer's foot while departing an encounter with the officers, who had been called to the scene when the man allegedly told officials at a school that he had a gun. The department sought to fire the officer, but a civil service board reduced the punishment to a 30-day suspension without pay, demotion, and probation. This is dashcam video.
These three stories tell us a few things about video and its role in parsing events.
First, it should call into doubt the argument that allowing citizens free-range to video police in action will change officer behavior, making them over-cautious because of how things will "appear" on the video and the snap judgments people might reach. But video in two of these cases came from the officers themselves and, even knowing they were being filmed, they still engaged in some, at least, questionable behavior. So if officers are threatening and shoving people knowing they are being filmed by their own cars, there is no reason to believe that thei behavior will change by the possibility of being filmed or recorded by someone else. And that is before any argument that we want the chilling effect that the threat of video might have on officers.
Second, these videos show why the Supreme Court was wrong in its treatment of video on summary judgment in Scott v. Harris and this past term in Plumhoff v. Rickard. The videos do not "speak for themselves," as demonstrated by the wide range of responses to them, responses that seemingly confirm the Kahan thesis about how personal characteristics and political preferences affect perception of video. There likely is more that each video does not show or fully contextualize. If we would not grant summary judgment in favor of the arrestees in any of these cases (and I doubt we would), then we should not grant it in favor of the police in other video cases.
Third, I have to admit to feeling some sympathy for the trooper in # 2. Reading press accounts, it sounded like the officer simply started out acting in an overbearing and overofficious manner. But in watching the video, Montgomery is not following the officer's instructions to put his hands behind his back with his palms up in the air, keep his feet apart, and face away from the officer. The reason appears to be not resistance but confusion about what the officer wanted and how to do several things at once (try putting your hands behind your back with palms up--it's not a natural position). So while the officer perhaps jumpted to the TASER pretty quickly, it sometimes is hard to distinguish confusion from disobedience. Of course, given my political and social views, my viewing the video in that way flies in the face of everything Kahan, et al. would have predicted.
And now the videos. Draw your own inferences as if you are a juror, think about inferences if you are a judge on a motion for summary judgment.
Thursday, July 03, 2014
Federalism, RFRA, and Free Exercise in the next Hobby Lobby
Someone please tell me if I am wrong on the following points in the potential next round of Hobby Lobby-type litigation.
A major concern after Hobby Lobby is that similar closely held corporations will raise similar objections to legal obligations to hire (and not create hostile environments for) women, racial minorities, pregnant women, religious non-believers and other-believers, LGBTQ people, etc., as well as obligations to serve and do business with those groups.
Here is the thing. Protections for LGBTQ employees and customers are, at this point, not federal; they exist only in some states and/or some municipalities. But RFRA and strict scrutiny does not apply to state or local laws under City of Boerne. So any such claims to avoid those state or local obligations must be brought under the Free Exercise Clause and are likely to fail under Smith, since laws prohibiting discrimination in employment or public accommodations appear to be neutral laws of general applicability. The only way around that is if the company can tie some other constitutional liberty in (such as Free Speech in the wedding photographer case). So, ironically, LGBTQ people may be better off in this realm than women, since the corporation can rely only on the First Amendment, not a statutory strict scrutiny, to avoid its non-discrimination obligations.
Pushing it a bit further: Every state has a prohibition on race, gender, etc., discrimination that parallels federal law. So even if a hypothetical company could claim an opt-out from Title VII's ban on sex discrimination in hiring based on RFRA, that company still must comply with the state ban on sex discrimination in hiring, which, if challenged, again would only receive Smith-level Free Exercise scrutiny and the challenge likely will fail.
On the other hand, many states have their own RFRAs, which would require strict scrutiny of state anti-discrimination laws and might require analysis similar to Hobby Lobby. But that case at least would be litigated in state court, with the state's highest court having the last word; that court would not be bound by Hobby Lobby, may be less solicitous of accommodation demands (depending on the state), and might adopt the Ginsburg view on the question. Such a case would not be reviewable to SCOTUS, because a decision applying state RFRC would be an independent and adequate state ground for the decision. So the future of Hobby Lobby may produce some interesting federalism angles.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Principles and political preferences in the First Amendment
Implicit in these comments is the suggestion that conservatives on SCOTUS are using the First Amendment as a "weapon" to further the conservative political agenda, a "trojan horse" swallowing every other right we cherish. Thus, supposedly speech-protective decisions such as McCullen, McCutcheon, and, everyone assumes, Quinn are wrong, if not illegitimate.
Some of the cricitism is fair, particularly as to Justice Alito, who is highly selective as to the free speech interests he votes in favor of and when. Emily Bazelon correctly points out the striking difference between how solicitous Alito was for the emotional fragility of funeral-goers faced with unwanted offensive speech in his dissent in Snyder v. Phelps, which did not carry over to women seeking access to reproductive health care. But this has always been true of Alito on many issues. During his confirmation hearings, he spoke at length about the difficulties his Italian-immigrant family suffered, although he has rarely voted in the direction of ethnic minorities dealing with, for example, voter suppression. On the other hand, the criticism is less warranted as to Justice Kennedy and, it increasingly appears, the Chief.
In any event, does that inconsistency mean the decisions are wrong? In the case of McCullen and, to hit the big one, Citizens United, I (and at least a few other people) would say no, as a matter of First Amendment principle. Alternatively, can we hurl the same inconsistency criticism at these critics, who are "breaking up" with the First Amendment because it now is being used to protect speakers and interests that they don't like? Alito is striking a balance among "cherished" rights, just as these critics are. But Sam Alito strikes the balance differently than Emily Bazelon or Dahlia Lithwick. Fair enough. But neither should be deemed more legitimate than the other.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
McCullen and intermediate scrutiny
The Court in McCullen v. Coakley invalidated Massachusetts' 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. The Court was unanimous in the judgment, but not in the reasoning--the Chief (surprisingly, sans pithy quips) wrote for the Court; Justice Scalia concurred (angily) in the judgment, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas; and Justice Alito separately concurred in the judgment.
The point of departure was whether the buffer zone was a content-based restriction subject to strict scrutiny or whether it was content-neutral subject only to intermediate scrutiny. The majority held the latter, because on its face the legislature was concerned with public safety, patient access to clinics, and the unobstructed use of public sidewalks and roadways, none of which have anything to do with the content of the (anti-abortion) speech regulated; the majority did not rely on the rationale from Hill v. Colorado of a state interest in protecting clinic patients from having to deal with unwanted speech. Justice Scalia insisted the law was content-based, largely for the reasons he insisted the buffer zone upheld in Hill was content-based (Scalia is still fighting that case rhetorically). The law did not survive intermediate scrutiny, because there were alternative ways to ensure safety and access that would have been less speech-restrictive.The Court stated at several points that the plaintiffs here were not abortion protesters, which it defined as people with signs and bullhorns, chanting and shouting about the evils of abortion. The plaintiffs were "counselors," who want to have a calm, quiet, compassionate, consensual conversation and to hand-out literature "informing" women of their options. Thus, the adequate alternative means of communication they needed were different. It was not enough that they could stand across the street beyond the buffer zone in order to speak as they wanted; they needed the time and space to have a calm, intimate, within-arms-reach conversation, which the buffer zone did not allow.
This marks just the fourth time since the creation of the modern content distinction that the Court has invalidated applied intermediate scrutiny to invalidate a content-neutral law (the others were Bartnicki, Gilleo, and Watchtower). Intermediate scrutiny requires that the regulation be narrowly tailored and leave open ample alternative channels of communication, as opposed to being the least restrictive means to serve the interest. But the majority seemsed to demand more than it typically does on the narrow-tailoring prong. It pointed to all the other legislative strategies that Massacusetts could have tried (and that the United States and other states have tried); it pointed to the state's failure to prosecute anyone for violating the old buffer-zone laws before moving on to this more-restrictive approach; it pointed to the fact that the law regulates all clincs, although there was a record only of problems at one Boston clinic on Saturday morning; and it pointedly rejected the justification that a blanket buffer zone is easier for the state to administer than a law requiring a showing of harassment or intent to obstruct. Such close review strikes me as an analyitcally correct approach to the First Amendment; it just does not sound like typical intermediate scrutiny.
The dispute between the majority and the Scalia concurrence arguably was less about this case and more about where we go from here. Scalia is still enraged by what he sees as an "abortion-speech-only jurisprudence," which has manifested in the failure to recognize as content-based restrictions that, whether facially or practically, only regulate anti-abortion speech. He made a similar point in his Hill dissent about the deck being stacked against those who oppose abortion rights. (Of course, it is similarly odd to see Scalia suggesting that the Court would and should vigorously scrutinize a law barring protesters from the streets and sidewalks outside the Republican National Convention). On the other hand, there are good arguments that courts place too much weight on the content-distinction, where identifying something as content-neutral seals the case for the government because intermediate scrutiny is so easily satisfied. Perhaps the majority opinion, while too easily concluding that the law was content-neutral, reflects a renewed vigor in reviewing content-neutral laws, rather than giving the government a free-ish pass once it is found that a regulation is not content-based. (Mike Dorf wonders how this might affect so-called "ag-gag" regulations prohibiting recording of conditions and treatment of animals on farms, which are similarly directed at a type of speech but also can be justified in terms of privacy, safety, and property).
The majority suggestsed that an alternative to this sort of blunderbuss legislation is to regulate clinic access through "targeted injunctions" once clinic blockage has become a problem; courts can better demand a record of a problem based on people's actual conduct and tailor the remedy to the specific clinic and its geography and needs. But such a stated preference for injunctions over legislation seems to fly in the face of established First Amendment doctrine, which generally abhors prior restraints on speech, even prior restraints based on a showing of past misconduct.
Finally, lower courts are left with the task of reconciling McCullen with Hill; although the parties briefed whether to overrule Hill, the majority did not address that issue (or even discuss that case). Justice Scalia suggested (and urged future parties to argue) that Hill has been sub silentio overruled. He emphasized that the majority here refused to rely on the avoiding-unwelcome-speech government interest (going for public safety, access, and avoiding obstruction instead) and that the majority acknowledged that a law is not content-neutral if the undesirable effects result from reactions to speech. Since that is the essence of the analysis and holding of Hill, it must not be good law.
Update: One last question to add: Under a principled application of today's decision, can the anti-Westboro funeral buffer zones be constitutionally valid? Most of those are much larger than 35 feet.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Standing and defendants
In affirming the district court and invalidating Utah's ban on marriage equality, the Tenth Circuit considered standing sua sponte. But, as with the D.C. Circuit's decision on the filibuster, the standing issue was not about the plaintiffs (who want to get married and are prevented from doing so, thus obviously have standing), but about the defendants--whether the governor and attorney general were proper defendants in this Ex Parte Young action. (This was necessary as a preliminary to whether the governor and A/G could appeal, since the county clerk of Salt Lake County, a named defendant who is directly responsible for issuing marriage licenses to four sets of plaintiffs, declined to appeal).
Under Ex Parte Young, the named defendant must be the executive officer responsible for enforcing the challenged law. And the plaintiffs should lose if they sue an officer who is not responsible for enforcing that law. But the Tenth Circuit did not explain why this should be a component of the plaintiffs' standing, as opposed to the merits of the constitutional claim.
In fact, the unique position of the governor and A/G in this case illustrates why treating this as standing makes no sense. Under Utah law, the governor and A/G are not directly responsible for issuing marriage licenses (that rests with county clerks) or for doing things that require recognition or non-recognition of out-of-state marriages (not giving spousal benefits, not allowing joint tax returns, not giving marital deductions, etc.). But they are responsible for advising, supervising, and compellling the clerks and other state officials who refuse in recognizing same-sex marriages, which made them responsible defendants subject to suit. In essence, the court accepted "supervisory" Ex Parte Young liability (which makes sense, since executives delegate all the time).
But we regularly deal with supervisory liability in § 1983 damages actions, without ever invoking standing. For example, imagine Officer Y uses excessive force against A; A sues Supervisor X for failing to supervise Y, but it turns out that X is not Y's supervisor under state law. Without question, A loses. But the court would not say that A lacks standing; instead, that claim fails on the merits. Or compare this Eighth Circuit decision holding that an officer violated a person's rights by enforcing a flag-burning ordinance. The plaintiff also brought a Monell claim against the city for failing to properly train the officer, which the court rejected because, under Missouri law, cities are not responsible for training police officers. So the city could not be liable and the Monell claim failed on the merits. Again, no mention of standing.
So why if "you got the wrong guy" is a merits matter in these actions for retroactive relief, it makes no sense whatsoever for it to become a standing matter in Ex Parte Young actions for prospective relief.
At this time of year, oral arguments are long over at the Supreme Court, but the justices nonetheless convene to announce opinions from the bench. This practice is unusual in the US judicial system. Federal courts of appeals, for example, do not orally announce their opinions. Moreover, the parties whose interests are being adjudicated have no way of knowing when their cases will be announced and so are rarely in attendance. Yet, tomorrow, the justices will ascend the bench anyway in order to read summaries of the Court's published opinions and, perhaps, salient dissents. Why would they do this? One important reason is to influence the public. Through opinion announcements, the normally apolitical Court sometimes acts much like a political institution -- with all the benefits and risks that that role entails.
On the surface, the Court's opinion announcements are simply wholesome celebrations of America's civic religion. There is pomp ("Oyez!"), circumstance (regal curtains), and grandeur (an array of somber marble facades). On each opinion day, a very small slice of the public gets to see a bit of history being made. Visitors also enjoy the unusual experience of having a direct impression of the justices, particularly those who happen to speak that morning. This traditional and generally banal picture is especially apt during early and mid-term announcements, which are typically free of the most controversial cases. To the extent that opinion announcements function this way, they are a cross between a civics lesson and the ceremonial turkey pardoning at Thanksgiving. Consistent with that view, Justice White often announced the judgment of the Court in a matter-of-fact style, without rhetorical embellishment or even significant explanation.
From another standpoint, however, the opinion announcements are canny press conferences. They give the justices a chance to gather members of the Supreme Court press corps and speak directly to them all at one moment. This gives those justices who speak a chance to accentuate certain details and shape media coverage. As if to ensure that the bench announcement garners attention, the Court releases full opinions online only after a short delay. The results can be interesting. Consider the Chief Justice's announcement of the healthcare case, NFIB v. Sebelius. Because of the way the Chief explained the opinion of the Court, the unusually A-list audience of in-court attendees was initially led to believe that the healthcare act had been invalidated. The audience had the experience of thinking the Act was doomed, and then of realizing that the Chief had sustained it.
Earlier this week, Justice Scalia used an opinion announcement to cut to the heart of a technical decision. While explaining the Court's opinion in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, Scalia made a prominent declaration that appeared nowhere in his opinion: "It bears mention that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case." This statement shaped early media coverage, which painted the decision as largely a victory for the EPA, even though the Court had struck down part of the agency's regulation in a 5-4 ruling. To similar effect, the Chief Justice (for the Court) and Justice Breyer (in dissent) went out of their way in their oral statements in McCutcheon v. FEC to emphasize their respect for one another's opinions -- thereby helping to preserve the Court's public image in the face of yet another 5-4 campaign finance decision.
Using the same technique, dissenting justices sometimes speak from the bench in order to alert and rally public opposition to the majority's opinion. These oral dissents -- which aren't typically shared in advance with other justices -- can diverge from the written dissents in marked ways. For example, in Parents Involved v. Seattle School District, only Justice Breyer's dissent from the bench included the memorable line: “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.” This unpublished remark likely surprised other justices, and some accounts indicate that members of the majority reacted to it with consternation. (For more, see Lani Guinier's magisterial treatment of oral dissents here.) Remarks like these illustrate the special tensions that sometimes result from uncoordinated joint press conferences.
It's hard to shake the sense that opinion announcements, particularly the high-voltage ones near the end of the term, resemble political events. This is not to say that the opinion announcements are partisan. Rather, opinion announcements are political in the sense that they offer a uniquely powerful opportunity for the Court to interface more directly with the polity, through the media. And though the justices increasingly engage the public through speeches and books, those avenues of communication are no substitute for immediate commentary on the decisions that form the heart of what the justices do. Opinion announcements give the justices a special opportunity to be heard outside their marble palace.
The virtue of opinion announcements depends in part on their goal. To the extent that the justices aim to educate the public and help it to understand and evaluate the business of the Court, opinion announcements are all for the good. And success at that educational mission will inevitably entail persuasion, as well as (one hopes) lively writing. But it's possible to take a good thing too far. To the extent that the justices use their bully pulpit not just to advance legal arguments but to take an active role in public debate, they risk casting the judicial branch as just another part of the political scene in DC -- to the detriment of the Court's long-term image. So when the justices read from the bench this week, they won't just be addressing discrete cases of great importance. They'll also be helping to define the Court's distinctive institutional role.
The above is cross-posted from Re's Judicata.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
A victory for the rule of law - apparently not
I had to edit this blog because literally as I posted it, the news changed. Monday, Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese mother of two young children who was facing a death sentence for adultery for marrying a Christian man and apostasy after refusing to denounce her faith was released by court order. As I previously wrote, her imprisonment violated Sudanese law. Her release was a victory for the rule of law. International pressure influenced this outcome. But the victory was very short (less than 24 hours). The breaking news is that she was rearrested at the airport and was taken into custody along with her two children and husband.
Unfortunately, Ibrahim is only one of many who have suffered (and are suffering) in this way. There are many who endure tremendous human rights violations because of the lack of rule but who do not receive media attention. Ibrahim's story illustrates my previous point - international pressure is one way to help bolster rule of law in developing countries, however, that may not be enough as evidenced by the re-arrest of Ibrahim. Perhaps governmental officials who are threatened with a charge of a crime against humanity for failure to enforce their countries own laws will feel the weight of international shame and act to uphold the rule of law.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Goldstein on journalism and SCOTUSBlog's press credential
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Standing is easier when you're Younger
An open issue in the standing discussion in SBA List is the extent to which the threat of an administrative proceeding, a la a complaint about false electoral speech before the Ohio Elections Commission, constitutes sufficient harm to allow standing for a preenforcement challenge to the underlying statute. The Court emphasized that adminstrative proceedings impose burdens on time, cost, and distraction to possible speakers and that a Commission finding that some speech was false may be viewed by the public as a state-imposed sanction--all genuine injuries-in-fact. The Court cited Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Dayton Christian Schools for the proposition that "If a reasonable threat of prosecution creates a ripe controversy, we fail to see how the actual filing of the administrative action threatening sanctions in this case does not." But the Court ultimately punted on the question because Commission proceedings might be followed by criminal prosecution, presenting an additional element of harm in this case.
But the Court's hesitancy or ambiguity on this point is unwarranted and potentially troubling. There should be no question that genuinely threatened administrative enforcement proceedings should be sufficient for preenforcement standing.
Dayton was a Younger case, which held that federal courts must abstain in deference to ongoing coercive enforcement proceedings before a state civil rights commission. The portion of Dayton quoted in SBA List was from Footnote 1, in which the Court quickly disposed of any ripeness concerns, citing two other Younger decisions, both of which involved threatened criminal prosecutions, Steffel v. Thompson and Doran v. Salem Inn.
The key is recognizing that connection between standing and Younger. Younger requires abstention in deference to three types of pending state proceedings, including civil enforcement proceedings, especially those in which the state is party to the proceeding and in which the state initiates the formal process following some other preliminary investigation. The Sprint Court expressly recognized the administrative proceedings in Dayton as of the type to which a federal court must abstain. And the Court has never suggested that administrative proceedings must be supported by criminal prosecution to trigger abstention; a purely civil administrative proceeding is enough. Younger does not require abstention where those civil-enforcement proceedings are threatened but not pending. The issue then is one of standing or ripeness (or both)--whether there is a sufficiently credible threat (how sufficient is the point of Marty's post) that any such proceeding will be initiated. This creates a window for individuals to get into federal court--in the time between when the threat of initiation becomes real and when proceedings actually have been initiated.
So now we can frame the standing question for preenforcement challenges in those terms. If there is a credible threat of initiation of any proceeding and it is a proceeding from which Younger would require federal abstention once that proceeding is initiated, then the plaintiff has standing (or the action is ripe, whatever) for a preenforcement challenge. This now preserves that window for getting to federal court. Otherwise, if a genuine threat of a purely administrative proceeding is not sufficient to trigger standing, then a plaintiff is forever blocked from that federal forum--he cannot bring a preenforcement challenge and Younger kicks-in once the government initiates the administrative proceeding. In SBA List, it seems obvious that a federal court would abstain once Commission proceedings were pending against a speaker--that is what the district court initially held in the case (before other things happened procedurally). Therefore, the real threat of those Commission proceedings alone--whether or not supported by criminal prosecution--should be enough to establish standing.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
IRS: "sorry, can't produce" or a bad example of hiding the ball?
Last week, the IRS stated that it lost numerous emails from Lois Lerner concerning the targeting of conservative groups for tax exempt status because her computer crashed. And this week, the IRS is now revealing that it has lost numerous additional emails from key IRS officials. Politics aside, it is interesting to think how this discovery issue involving electronically stored information (ESI) would be addressed in a federal court under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).
The facts surrounding this issue almost read like a law school exam hypothetical. The IRS received a subpoena to produce emails between key IRS officials and other government agents that might suggest targeting. The IRS knew months ago, in February, that it could not produce the emails, but failed to inform Congress that the emails were lost until just the last few days. The IRS has taken the position that the emails were lost during a computer crash in 2011 but that the IRS has made a "good faith" effort to find them having spent $10 million dollars (of tax payer money) to deal with the investigation including the cost to piece together what could be found. The IRS does not deny that the recipients, other government officials, may still be in possession of the emails. The IRS, however, maintains that because the subpoena was only directed at the IRS, not other government agencies, the non-IRS recipients of the emails are not required to produce them.
If this issue arose in federal court, under FRCP 26, parties are required at the outset to submit a "discovery plan" that includes how ESI will be retained and exchanged in order to prevent unnecessary expense and waste. The FRCP requires the parties to take reasonable steps to preserve relevant ESI (a litigation hold) or face possible sanctions. Under Rule 37's so-called safe harbor provision, however, "absent exceptional circumstances, a court may not impose sanctions ... for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system." The IRS is hanging its hat on this safe harbor rule by arguing that, despite a good-faith effort, the emails were lost. Did the IRS, in fact, make a good faith effort?While there is confusion among the courts on how to apply the good faith standard, there is precedent for a court to monetarily sanction the IRS if the court found that the IRS acted negligently when it lost the emails. The court would also have the authority to issue an adverse inference instruction (inferring that the lost evidence would have negatively impacted the IRS's position), if it determined that the IRS acted grossly negligent or willful.
An important fact which will probably be discussed during the next few hearings is whether the IRS violated its own electronic information retention policy. The IRS was put on notice of the investigation last year, and so had a duty to put a litigation hold on the emails at that time (the very essence of what "good faith" means). It seems that the general IRS retention policy of ESI was six months (although now it is longer), but emails of "official record" had to have a hard copy which would never be deleted. Whether these emails constituted an "official record" is hard to determine since Lerner won't testify to their content.
Even assuming the emails were lost before a litigation hold could be placed (or despite a litigation hold being in place), at the very minimum, it seems "good faith" means that the IRS should have notified Congress in February that it lost the emails. Rule 26 would have required Congress to do so. Indeed, such notice would have brought this issue to the forefront and could have saved a lot of money - the money it apparently has already cost to piece together some of the emails, and the money it will cost as the parties argue over whether the IRS negligently or willfully destroyed evidence. If the IRS had been upfront from the beginning, then subpoenas could have been issued months ago to other agencies who, as employers of the lost email recipients, might have copies of the missing emails.
If this discovery issue had arisen in federal court, the IRS would have likely been subject to monetary sanctions and possibly an adverse inference instruction. Shouldn't the IRS be held to these standards?
Monday, June 16, 2014
Standing, ripeness, and SBA List
Not surprisingly, SCOTUS in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus reversed the Sixth Circuit and held that the First Amendment challenge to Ohio's prohibition on knowingly or recklessly false campaign speech was justiciable; Justice Thomas wrote for a unanimous Court in a challenge brought by a group that wanted to run ads suggesting that supporting the Affordable Care Act means supporting taxpayer funded abortions. A few things of note (in addition to Richard's comments).
Injury-in-fact is established for purposes of a preenforcement challenge when the plaintiff alleges an intention to engage in some conduct "arguably affected with a constitutional interest" that is prohibited by the challenged statute where there is a credible threat of prosecution. That threat be shown by past prosecutions against similar conduct by the plaintiff or others similarly situated and by the absence of any disavowal of intent to prosecute. Threat may also include bringing administrative proceedings (such as those at issue here), at least when combined with a threat or risk of criminal enforcement (the Court left open whether administrative proceedings alone is enough of an injury to create standing).Although this is a free speech case and the Court relied on many free speech cases (especially Steffel v. Thompson and Babbitt v. United Farm Workers), the Court spoke about all preenforcement challenges generally. It did not suggest, as some lower courts have said, that there is a lesser standard or reduced burden for free speech cases, but that more is required as to other constitutional rights. This arguably could change lower-court analysis of challenges to, for example, some abortion regulations.
At the same time, the Court did not demand the certainty of injury (i.e., state enforcement of the law) that the Court appeared to require just last year in Clapper v. Amnesty International. The Court did cite Clapper's statement that "allegation of future injury may suffice if the threatened injury is 'certainly impending,' or there is a 'substantial risk’ that the harm will occur," but it focused more on substantial risk and did not demand a similar level of certainty. Although the Court does not discuss it, I think the difference lends support to my idea that the Court silently treats standing differently when the challenged law regulates primary conduct of individuals (i.e., whether they can engage in some political expression) as opposed to laws regulating what law enforcement officers can do in investigating oro pursuing criminal activity (i.e., whether they can surveil calls or use chokeholds).
Note that the Sixth Circuit had also analyzed the imminence of the threat of prosecution, concluding it was not sufficiently imminent. But it held that the lack of imminence meant the case was not ripe, while SCOTUS addressed the same question in standing terms. Justice Thomas noted Medimmune's footnote 8 that both standing and ripeness "boil down to the same question," and insisted on speaking in standing terms because that is what prior cases have done.
But the Court did not explain what is the proper realm for these doctrines and how litigants and courts are to know. To the extent standing and ripeness remain distinct aspects of justiciability, how are we to know which to argue? Lea Brilmayer long ago argued that standing arose when the plaintiff wanted to challenge a no-lawn-sign ordinance because his neighbor wants to post the sign, while ripeness arose when the plaintiff did not want to post the sign until next year. But standing cases (certainly since Lujan and including SBA) have focused on plaintiff's present intent and immediate plans to engage in some conduct (such as going to see the Nile crocodile), which sounds like ripeness as Brilmayer has defined it. Or we might say that the plainiff's immediate intent to engage in some conduct goes to standing, while the likelihood that the government will act to enforce goes to ripeness. But SBA discussed both of those as distinct elements that together went to standing.
The Sixth Circuit did consider two additional "prudential" elements for ripeness beyond imminent threat of prosecution--whether the factual record is sufficiently developed and the hardship to the plaintiffs if judicial relief is denied at this stage. SCOTUS cited its decision in Lexmark to suggest that such prudential factors no longer are part of any justiciability analysis, including ripeness (the focus of Richard's post). And even if they were, the Court disposed of both in a short paragraph, hinting that, at least where there is a legitimate threat of prosecution (creating standing), a preenforcement challenge to the constitutionality of a law always will be ripe.
So what role, independent of standing, if any, does ripeness continue to play in constitutional litigation?
Friday, June 13, 2014
The Two Newest Faces of the Problem with the Lack of the Rule of Law - a Newborn and a 20-month Old
As a tangential follow-up to my previous post concerning the use of a crime against humanity charge as a way to bolster the rule of law, another heart-wrenching story is gaining international attention.
Meet Maya, the first U.S. citizen to be born in a Sudanese prison while her mother was shackled to prison walls. Meet Martin, Maya's twenty-month old bother, who is probably the second youngest U.S. citizen to be sitting in a Sudanese prison. Their father is a U.S. citizen. Their mother is Meriam Ibrahim, a doctor and a Sudanese citizen, who has been sentenced by a Sudanese court to 100 lashes for adultery because she married a non-Muslim man and to death by hanging (once Maya is weaned) for apostasy for refusing to denounce her Christian faith. Ibrahim was found guilty of apostasy because it was determined that she was Muslim even though she testified she was Christian and raised by her Christian mother when her Muslim father abandoned the family. The trial raises due process issues since three of Ibrahim's witnesses were not allowed to testify.
There are clear human rights violations and violations of Sudanese law. Ibrahim's imprisonment violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, since Sudan has ratified the treaty, guarantees that all Sudanese citizens "have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and due process of law. Sudan has also ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights which also guarantees freedom of religion and due process. Indeed, Sudan's own 2005 interim constitution specifically guarantees the "right and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties" ratified by Sudan. Ibrahim's case (and the impact on her children) graphically illustrates the rule of law problem - the laws are in place but not enforced.The pressure from the international community caused some movement, albeit ineffectual as it currently stands. A few weeks ago the Sudanese government pledged Ibrahim's release, but recanted a few days later. This probably is not surprising given the government is headed by Omar al-Bashir who has an outstanding ICC warrant for CAH for his actions in Darfur. What can be done? What should be done? Perhaps with continued and more world-wide pressure (which should be headed by the U.S. given that some of the youngest U.S. citizens - Maya and Martin - are sitting in deplorable conditions), there might be another small step forward even if it simply means more discussion about and attention given to the lack of the rule of law and the consequential human rights violations of women and children. More legal attention and monetary support should be put in place to uphold the rule of law.
Thursday, June 05, 2014
'Bring Back Our Girls' - Failure to Enforce the Rule of Law as a Crime Against Humanity
The media has been saturated with stories of violence against children and women in developing countries and the lack of meaningful action by government officials. As a recent example, hundreds of girls in Nigeria were kidnapped from a boarding school and Nigerians have criticized the government for failure to sufficiently act. In India, two girls were raped and hung from a mango tree while, villagers allege, the police stood by. In Pakistan, a pregnant woman, while literally standing on the courthouse steps of a high court, was stoned to death by relatives even though such "honor killings" are illegal.
Many developing countries have well-written laws dealing with such issues as violence against women and children, bonded labor, property grabbing, and the general administration of justice, but a large swath of the most vulnerable part of the population (the poorest, the women, and the children) fail to receive protection or justice. No doubt, there is a rule of law problem.
Rule of law issues are complex. Developing countries do not have the funds to enforce laws. Citizens of developing countries are often unaware of their rights and protection under the law. Corruption is a problem throughout law enforcement agencies and the justice system, from the police to the prosecutors and the judges. The international community needs to do more to help battle this corruption (of course, this is not to say that we don't have our own major corruption problems on the domestic front). The rule of law problem is so pervasive in some of these countries that all the good NGOs do by providing food, education and health care is overshadowed by the violence that the most vulnerable populations face daily. Focus (and funds) should be shifted away from simply providing material aid, and instead more attention should be given to establishing the rule of law.
It doesn't matter how healthy or educated a young girl is if she is raped without any recourse or murdered without any justice. This is the subject of my current research project where I argue that the failure by high ranking government officials to enforce their countries' laws could establish a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute. A systematic failure to protect a large portion of the population (i.e., women and children) from murder, rape and other inhumane acts fits the definition of a crime against humanity. There are some potential problems with this analysis, though.
Even if the failure to enforce laws (an act of omission) could constitute a crime against humanity, could anyone really be charged? Many developing nations (including India and Pakistan) have not ratified the Rome Statute. However, the U.N. Security Council has referred a few matters (Sudan and Libya) to the International Criminal Court. In the Sudan matter, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the leader of Sudan under the Rome Statute even though Sudan is not a party member. With enough international pressure, perhaps the Security Council would act again. Even if it did not, some of the countries where gender and children violence is pervasive are parties to the Rome Statute (like Nigeria).
Second, and perhaps more important, even if a government official is charged with a crime against humanity, so what? The ICC is struggling with number of issues, including the problem of enforcement. Despite the issues surrounding the ICC, however, the shame brought upon an individual with a crime against humanity charge (or investigation) might send a strong message that the international community believes in the rule of law.
Monday, June 02, 2014
Please stop, Chief
From Bond v. United States:
"[T]he global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard." (in fairness, the kitchen cupboard language was in the Third Circuit's opinion). Earlier, Roberts posed a hypothetical about "[a]ny parent . . . when, exasperated by the children’s repeated failure to clean the goldfish tank, he considers poisoning the fish with a few drops of vinegar." (Seriously? Seems like extreme parenting).
I have wondered before whether Robert's penchant for these flourishes makes for good writing or whether it is incredibly distracting. I am still wondering.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Donald Sterling v. NBA: Your new Civ Pro exam
Donald Sterling sued the NBA to stop his league-imposed punishment and the forced sale of his team. A $ 2 billion offer from Steve Ballmar was accepted by Sterling's wife, Shelly on behalf of the trust that owns the team, having had Donald declared mentally incompetent; the NBA has approved that deal and canceled a planned hearing of the Board of Governors (the other 29 owners) to strip Donald of ownership. The lawsuit, with Sterling and the trust as plaintiffs against the NBA, asserts claims for a violation of the state constitution, federal antitrust, and various breach of contract claims; it seeks damages and an injunction halting the NBA-imposed punishments (a $ 2.5 million fine and lifetime suspension from the NBA) and the hearing to terminate his ownership.Oddly, these claims are either not ripe or about to become moot, depending on what happens with the sale. The NBA has not yet held the hearing to terminate his ownership, so he has not yet suffered any damages from it. And since the league will cancel the hearing if the sale goes through, that claim becomes moot. If the sale goes through, expect the league to rescind the fine, mooting that element of relief. It might even lift the lifetime suspension--what involvement will Sterling have with the league if he is no longer an owner?--mooting that claim. And assuming the sale goes through, what damage will Sterling have suffered? Two billion dollars will be more than double the sale price of any NBA franchise and likely more money than he would have earned from continued ownership of the team. So, at best, maybe he can get the non-economic value of being an NBA owner--except he is such a pariah now among NBA owners that it would be hard to put any real value on this.
What Sterling really wants is an injunction halting the sale of the team, at least pending outcome of the litigation. But to get that, Shelly Sterling needs to be involved in the case, since she claims an interest in controlling the trust and pushing through the sale. So either she has to be joined under FRCP 19 or she will try to intervene under FRCP 24. (Note: I don't do much more than lecture on these two rules, just to show other ways of bringing parties into cases But Rule 19 confuses students, who think it applies more broadly to cover simple joint-tortfeasor situations; having a nice clear example, purely involving injunctive relief, is helpful).
Jurisidction here hinges on the antitrust claim and § 1331; there is supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims (although Sterling's lawyer--who in an ongoing media blitz has come across as the worst kind of slickster lawyer who does not actually care about things like law and procedure--did not mention that or any other basis for jurisdiction over the non-federal claims). But, here is where it gets fun. Antitrust experts generally agree that the antitrust claim is nonsense--Sterling signed a series of agreements and contracts to become owner of an NBA franchise and cannot claim harm if those contracts harm the public or competitors. Sterling really is arguing that, by violating its own Constitution and By-Laws in punishing him (arguments that are not entirely frivolous), the NBA has breached those agreements; in other words, this is really a state-law case. So perhaps the court declines supplemental jurisdiction under § 1367(c)(2) because the state claims predominate. Moreeover, the court is going to have to figure out who controls the trust (Donald or Shelly) and, perhaps, whether Donald is competent. Those sound like potentially complex issues of state law, warranting the court to decline jurisdiction under § 1367(c)(1). Finally, and most obviously, if the antitrust claim is that weak and the court dismisses it relatively early, it could decline jurisdiction simply for that reasons under § 1367(c)(3).
Update: An alert reader emails with another way Shelly Sterling could be brought into this case: She agreed to indemnify the NBA for any judgments arising from the sale of the team, including for lawsuits by her husband. So, having been sued, the NBA could now implead Shelly and the trust to enforce the indemnification agreement in the same action. Sterling then could assert claims against Shelly relating to any injunction of the sale.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
More statutory interpretation from Donald Sterling
Sterling leads off by challenging the NBA's reliance on the secretly recorded conversations as evidence, which gets interesting. He points to California Penal Code § 632(a), which prohibits recording confidential communications without consent, and § 632(d), which excludes "evidence obtained as a result of eavesdropping upon or recording a confidential communication . . . in any judicial, administrative, legislative, or other proceeding." From this, Sterling insists he has a constitutional right not to have his private conversations recorded or having the evidence of his conversations used against him. That seems overstated--that the state offers a statutory protection against being recorded in furtherance of the constitutional right of privacy does not convert the right against being recorded into a constitutional right.The interesting statutory question is whether internal dispute-resolution proceedings of a private organization constitute an "other proceeding" under § 632(d). On one hand, the language seems to contemplate public proceedings, since the three enumerated types of proceedings are all public in nature. So under ejusdem generis, that catch-all should be read to cover only similarly public proceedings. It also makes sense that the criminal code would regulate evidence in public but not private proceedings. On the other hand, are there any public proceedings that are not judicial, administrative, or legislative? If not, then "other proceedings" must mean something not public. Perhaps it refers to something like arbitration or mediation, which can be considered quasi-public--they are privately controlled processes to which parties agree to send otherwise-public disputes. But this proceeding still seems different. This is not a situation in which the NBA established an outside-but-private process (such as arbitration of appeals under the CBA with the players' union). This is the collection of 30 owners establishing their own internal processes controlled by the 30 owners, for regulating who stays within their own ranks. Even if § 632(d) goes beyond public proceedings, the NBA process still seems fundamentally different.
Finally, the answer may be affected by the 2001 decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper. Bartnicki held that Congress could not punish publication of an illegally intercepted and recorded phone call, where the publishers were uninvolved in the unlawful interception or recording. The First Amendment protects publication (and, implicitly, other uses) of truthful lawfully obtained information on matters of public concern, except where the government is serving a need of the highest order. So perhaps the NBA could argue that it is entitled under Bartnicki to use the laefully obtained (and thus constitutionally protected) recording in its private internal proceedings, meaning California law is limited only to public, California-established proceedings, but not to whatever private proceedings private persons and entities may adopt.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
The awfulness of Wood v. Moss
OK, if Town of Greece did not get me too worked up, Tuesday's decision in Wood v. Moss (summary here), while not surprising, is so bad as to have me going the other way. And this was a Ginsburg opinion for a unanimous Court, so I am all alone on the island on this one. The Court held that two Secret Service agents enjoyed qualified immunity because no case law had held that agents engaged in crowd control were obligated to ensure that competing groups are at comparable locations or given equal access at all times when reasonable security concerns are in play. Sounds simple enough, but inside the opinion is a lot of really bad stuff.
First, the Court makes explicit (it previously was implicit) that the absence of qualified immunity is an element of the claim, rather than qualified immunity being an affirmative defense. The Court stated that the plaintiff must plead facts, under the Twiqbal standard, showing that the defendants violated a constitutional right and that the right was clearly established. So this means qualified immunity is the default starting point--a plaintiff must carry the burden of persuasion both as to the facts on the ground and the state of the law.
Second, for the third time, the Court assumed without deciding that a Bivens could be used for First Amendment claims (the issue was not preserved below). Eventually some defendant will be smart enough to preserve this issue (the hints are there) and the Court will resolve it--and likely not in a good way.
Third, while the Court purported to resolve the case on the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis (no clearly established right ) rather than the first (no right violated), the analysis kept conflating the prongs and moving back and forth between them--there was a lot of discussion about why there was no violation here because the agents were motivated not by viewpoint discrimination but by security concerns. This is partly a consequence of the Court's insistence that the second prong must consider the right in the particular factual context and not at too high a level of generality, which invites entwinement of the two prongs. But the analysis (particularly at pp. 14-end) is all about why the agents were justified in moving the anti-Bush protesters (but not the pro-Bush protesters) in this case, not about anything having to do with prior case law. That sounds like the Court saying the plaintiffs did not sufficiently plead a violation.
Fourth, the decision does not leave any obvious room for protesters to ever challenge Secret Service decisions regarding crowd control (which is what Justice Scalia urged during argument). The Court pays lip service to the principle that "government officials may not exclude from public places persons engaged in peaceful expressive activity solely because the government actor fears, dislikes, or disagrees with the views those persons express." And it insists (as the defendants conceded) that the First Amendment might be violated if the agents moved some protesters with "no objectively reasonable security rationale." But that principle will virtually always be trumped by the overriding concerns for protecting the President and it is impossible to imagine a case in which a court would find that the Secret Service lacked an objectively reasonable security rationale while protecting the President. Indeed, the only purported security rationale in this case was keeping the protesters out of "weapons range" of the President (Ginsburg repeats that phrase four times), even though there is no indication on the facts pled that anyone had or planned to use a weapon. Someone being in range raises, per se, a valid security rationale.
But the Court then summarily dismissed any significance of allegations regarding the diners permitted to remain inside the restaurant--obviously in "weapons range" of the President--as undermining the security rationale. The justices simply accept the defendants' argument that the diners “'could not have had any expectation that they would see the President that evening or any opportunity to premeditate a plan to cause him harm,'" and thus were not a security risk, even if within weapons range. Of course,the anti-Bush demonstrators also did not expect to see the President in the open courtyard; they originally only expected to be able to stand along the path of the President's motorcade as it drove by (with pro-Bush protesters on the opposite sidewalk). So they, too, could not have had any opportunity to premeditate a plan. If the diners were not security threats because they were not expecting to be near the President, then neither should the protesters be security threats. Except for one difference--the protesters held anti-Bush views and were there to express those views. So is the Court saying that everyone who disagrees with the President is a security threat if in weapons range and thus can constitutionally be kept from getting "too close" to the President (at least when he is outside his secure car)?
Fifth, the Court does a lot of factfinding (without acknowledging as much, of course) on a case that remains at the pleading stage. The Court finds and accepts the defendants' security rationale, even though the defendants still have not answered the complaint or offered their own factual allegations or evidence. The Court makes determinations about what maps of the area, included as part of the Complaint, show (perhaps another example of plaintiffs pleading themselves out of court by providing the additional information needed to comply with Iqbal). And the Court rejects inferences about differential treatment of the protesters as compared with the diners. It appears to be apply Iqbal's "obvious alternative explanation," although without saying so. Otherwise, these at least should be matters for discovery and summary judgment, if not the factfinder.
Finally, the plaintiffs alleged past instances of viewpoint discrimination by other Secret Service agents; they were trying for an inference from these past instances to an informal agency policy of viewpoint discrimination to the individual defendants acting pursuant to that policy. The Court rejected this out of hand, insisting that Bivens liability can attach only to the officer's own misconduct and declining to accept the plaintiffs' inferences. Putting aside that reasonable inferences should be drawn in the plaintiffs' favor on a 12(b)(6) motion, this seriously cramps the ability to ever plead viewpoint discrimination in the absence of an agent dumb enough to announce that he is moving speakers because of their viewpoint. Moreover, the Court points to the agency's official policy--which expressly prohibits viewpoint discrimination--as evidence that the agents did not act improperly. But repeated past instances of ignoring official policy at least raise an inference that officers regularly ignore official policy, suggesting that these officers also ignored the policy. At the very least, that should be enough at the pleading stage.
As I pointed out previously, at oral argument Justice Kennedy mused that "it seems to me that if this complaint doesn't survive, nothing will." And given what the Court finally said in this case, nothing will.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Legal movie recommendation: "Shenandoah"
My wife's late father grew up in Shenandoah, PA (apparently, pronounced Shen'-en-doe-uh), a coal-mining town in east-central Pennsylvania populated (like many of these towns) by people of eastern European descent (Poland, Lithuania, etc.). Back in the day, there was a small Jewish population in town that was received about as you would expect for the '40s and '50s; my father-in-law told of suffering anti-Semitic bullying (and worse) growing up and of rocks being thrown at the houses that were not decorated at Christmastime. My wife has not visited since she was a teen-ager (her family is gone from the area).
So she was struck to learn, belatedly, about a documentary called Shenandoah: The story of a working class town and the American dream on trial, released in 2012. It tells the story of the 2008 beating death of Luis Ramirez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico living in town, by six white members of the high school football team (who shouted ethnic slurs during the attack) and the ethnic, xenophobic, divisions it created in the community. Two players were tried on third-degree murder and related charges in state court, but acquitted on all but simple assault; they then were convicted of federal hate crimes (here is the Third Circuit opinion affirming those convictions). One player pled guilty to federal hate crimes and testified against the other two. And a fourth attacker was a juvenile and not tried as an adult; he cooperated and received probation. (Several police officers also were charged with various federal crimes for helping the players cover-up the crime, with mixed results).
The movie simultaneously tells the story of the murder and the subsequent state court proceedings, of the football's team's unsuccessful season following the attack (playing without several key players), and of a struggling industrial town and how it is dealing with changing demographics. It is definitely a film worth seeing. A couple of thoughts on the film and the story.One is the role of narrative choice. A main participant in the film was Brian Scully, the juvenile who received probation for his role in the attack. Scully is portrayed very sympathetically in the film--he is remorseful and thoughtful about what they did and how wrong it was, and he is seen achieving some redemption in joining the school musical (the football coach would not allow him to play while charges were pending) and graduating. But the facts in the Third Circuit opinion describe Scully as being more centrally involved in the assault, including in shouting ethnic slurs. The movie shows that the state-court defendants tried to shift blame to Scully, but it portrays this as an unfair lawyer move (that was unfortunately successful).
Second the film portrays the ethnic tension as something new, a product of the town's relatively new economic struggles and the new wave of Mexican immigration. But my father-in-law's experiences suggest that this tension is nothing new; there always have been insiders and outsiders in this community and outsiders have not been treated well. And the smallness of the town (there was much "celebration" of the small town in the film) exacerbates those problems, because outsiders simply stand out more. One of the more disturbing events was a rally in support of the defendants, with attendees wearing shirts and carrying signs with messages like "I'm American and I speak English" and singing "patriotic" songs. It degenerated into people shouting epithets and sexually offensive comments at the victim's (Anglo) fiancee, who was there as part of a counter-protest. The tenor of the rally was captured by a speaker who said something to the effect of "he didn't deserve to die, but if he had stayed in his own country, he'd be alive today." There concededly is no good way to protest on something like this without looking like a bigot. But you can help yourself by not saying and doing bigoted things.
Third, I did not know that the Fair Housing Act has a hate-crimes provision, which was the basis for the federal convictions of the two assailants. The provision criminalizes violence, threats, or intimidation because of the victim's race and because he is occupying a dwelling or with the intent to prevent him from occupying a dwelling. The goal would appear to be stopping cross burnings and other acts directed at keeping people from integrating neighborhoods. But in affirming the conviction, the Third Circuit made clear the statute reached all conduct motivated by dislike of particular people seeking to live in an area. Statements made during the attack about this being "our town" and telling the victim to go home to Mexico and that he did not belong in Shenandoah, along with evidence the defendants generally did not like the influex of Mexicans into town, all suggested an intent to intimidate him and other Mexicans from dwelling in Shenandoah.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Uncommon Law: Social Welfare and Corporate Governance in the Common-Law World
Reports of the uniformity of corporate governance among common law jurisdictions are greatly exaggerated (at least when it comes to shareholder rights and security, anyway). This is an essential descriptive thesis of Chris Bruner's Corporate Governance in the Common-Law World: The Political Foundations of Shareholder Power. It also is undoubtedly an engaging topic for a book--one that demanded my attention and resonated with me almost immediately. In research I did a few years ago for what ultimately became a draft paper and book chapter, I had explored the validity of claims of international convergence in insider trading regulation and found much the same thing that Bruner finds in this book: facial similarities in legal structures and doctrine may mask more interesting and telling differences.
The descriptive account is important, but it is not the heart and soul of the book. Rather, the core value of the book is that it strikes out beyond culture, history, and economics to politics--specifically, social welfare politics--to explain the differences among the corporate governance systems in the four jurisdictions studied--the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. By demonstrating that changes in shareholder power and protections vary with social welfare dynamics, the book begs a far more significant conclusion: that corporate governance oppresses and empowers the populace in much the same way that state government does and that the corporation therefore may be an arm of or a substitute for state government in promoting or effectuating policy. This take-away is unsurprising to me; it is intuitive and sometimes obvious in other contexts. Nevertheless, the weight of proof is hard to come by, and I am grateful for Bruner's work in providing it.
Many elements of the story are compelling.In light of debates here in the United States about the role of shareholders in the corporate form, it was of particular interest to me that the U.K. Companies Act (which I have not independently studied to an significant degree) casts shareholders in the role of principals that can dictate the activities of corporate directors. I had seen evidence of shareholder centrism in takeover regulation in the U.K. (which I teach in Comparative Mergers & Acquisitions, when I get the chance to teach that course), but the revelation that this shareholder-friendliness extends to the broader management function of the firm helped to explain and normalize the pro-shareholder mergers and acquisitions doctrine.
This observation about the doctrine also demonstrates a fundamental difference between the doctrine in the United States and the United Kingdom: in the United Kingdom, the board is an agent of the shareholders. While folks try to make that argument under U.S. law, the agency is not complete given, among other things, the inability of shareholders to direct the board (in most cases). In this aspect, the book's account of U.S. corporate governance offers support, at least from a comparative perspective, for the descriptive accuracy of Steve Bainbridge's evolving director primacy theory. At the very least, as Bruner notes, it is "explicable as a rejection of strict shareholder primacy." See p. 44. On that note, for those who haven't watched the videos of the recent UCLA Lowell Milken Institute event, A Conference and Micro-Symposium on Competing Theories of Corporate Governance, I highly recommend them.
I wonder (and I do not mean for this to be a mere rhetorical question) what, in light of Bruner's observations on U.S. corporate law, he might have to say about the introduction of social enterprise entities into state corporate law in the United States. In the past few years, we have seen in the United States the rise of benefit corporations, flexible purpose corporations, and the like (following on the introduction of B Corp certification and low-profit limited liability companies--L3Cs). This social enterprise entity movement (if you will) is in part a response to the lack of shareholder power under U.S. law to manage the business and affairs of the corporation--specifically, to ensure that the directors take into account social and environmental concerns in addition to traditional, financial shareholder wealth maximization. Yet, that account differs from Bruner's assessment in the book on other-constituency statutes like those in Indiana and Connecticut, see p. 44, which he characterizes as a "marginalization of shareholders." See also pp. 171-73. (I see Andrew also picks up on this thread.) The cultural, historical, economic, and political aspects of the emergence of social enterprise entities raise interesting questions that I would find to be a fruitful subject for further commentary. To the extent they may affect public companies (who may become and are acquiring social enterprise entities), the matter deserves thoughtful consideration. I can see how a treatment of this issue could both substantiate and challenge Bruner's observations about shareholder power under U.S. corporate law.
On a lighter note, as a securities law teacher and researcher, I also enjoyed the brief part of the book that explained the allocation of securities regulation authority in the various federal systems represented by the United States, Australia, and Canada. See p. 78. The issue of where authority in securities regulation resides in state governments outside the United States is always troublesome for those of us who desire to teach foreign law but have spent our time in the thickets of U.S. securities law. In other words, it's always difficult to find securities law in a new jurisdiction when searching for it from an ethnocentric perspective . . . . Here, I was admittedly a bit chagrined that U.S. securities law was classified as national law both as a default and in practice. Although the book only purports to address public companies (which admittedly are largely regulated under federal securities law in the United States), I would argue that a lawyer for a public company who forgets to check on the applicability of state securities law for a particular transaction is committing malpractice. This is true notwithstanding the breadth of constitutional power under the Commerce Clause and the resulting strong preemption provisions in the National Securities Markets Improvement Act of 1996. But I may be misunderstanding Bruner's analysis here.
No matter. The book is a good read (well written and provocative) and promises to generate much conversation here at Prawfs and elsewhere. It conveys a lot of information in a relatable and accessible way. I recommend it for your summer reading list.
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Town of Greece and Iqbal
A funny thing about Town of Greece v. Galloway: I am not outraged or panicked about the future, as I somehow feel I should as a Jewish liberal Democrat. (Update: Perhaps I am not alone). I would have dissented were I on the Court, but I do not see the majority as tragically wrong. Maybe because Paul is right. Maybe because I know I am a religious minority and am not bothered by being reminded about that. Maybe because I do not attend town council meetings. Maybe because I have never lived in the type of community likely to use this decision as a reason to start those council meetings with pervasively sectarian or proselytizing prayers.
I do find troubling the utterly illusory nature of the (already small) opening the plurality left for challenging legislative prayers. Justice Kennedy stated this opening three different ways: "If circumstances arise in which the pattern and practice of ceremonial, legislative prayer is alleged to be a means to coerce or intimidate others, the objection can be addressed in the regular course." And "[c]ourts remain free to review the pattern of prayers over time to determine whether they comport with the tradition of solemn, respectful prayer approved in Marsh, or whether coercion is a real and substantial likelihood." And "[a]bsent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose," there is no constitutional violation.
But it seems unlikely that a plaintiff will ever be able to make this showing. More problematically, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that a plaintiff will even be able to even sufficiently plead this under Iqbal (perhaps not coincidentally, another Kennedy opinion over a four-Justice dissent) so as to have an opporuntity to make the showing. It is easy to imagine the Court sweeping the complaint aside by finding an “obvious alternative explanation” for the government practice that is more plausible than the conclusion of an Establishment Clause violation. So, as in Town of Greece itself, that decade-long streak of only pervasively Christian prayers are a result not of impermissible purpose, but of bureaucratic over-simplification (using the Chamber of Commerce's limited list of houses of worship) or the fortuity of geography (the synagogue is on the other side of the imaginary town line).
Update: Dahlia Lithwick reports that Al Bedrosian, a member of the Roanoke County (Va.) board of supervisors has announced that he will seek to impose a Christian-only prayer policy, admitting that he probably would not allow any other religions, because America is a Christian nation and adherents to other religions are free to pray on their own. Public statements such as this make it easy enough to state a claim. The problem is that most public officials are smarter, saner, or subtler than Bedrosian, or will quickly learn to be. Then, much as with employment discrimination, cases become more difficult to prove and plead.
Saturday, May 03, 2014
Sen Elizabeth Warren's New Memoir of Special Interest to Law Profs
There are a lot of reasons why law professors should read Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recently published memoir--“A Fighting Chance." The top two are that it's well-written and frequently very funny. (for full effect--I suggest the audio version that the Senator narrates herself).
Beyond that, not only is it a lucid explanation of the banking industry’s efforts to limit the ability of creditors to make a fresh start through declaring bankruptcy, it is an account of her extraordinary academic career--one that she achieved without any of the traditional criteria such as academic pedigree, powerful mentors, family connections, prestigious fellowships or judicial clerkships. For those unfamiliar with her as Bankruptcy Professor-here are some posts she has made on the Credit Slips blog.
She also closely documents her struggles to balance family, both her children and elderly parents (and pets). There is a lot for law professors to unpack here--including how her interest in the people behind the laws has shaped her career.
But more generally, I look forward to discussing how critical it is for the future of legal education that Senator Warren succeed in convincing her colleagues of the need to reform the way higher education is financed. Whether she herself has the best plan for fixing student loans—well different people have different views-including just eliminating them. But unless we can stop the ever increasing cycle of debt that is making our students’ lives so difficult, any of the important changes that need to be made in legal education risk being about as effective as bailing out a sinking boat with a bucket that itself has a hole in it.
As I will elaborate later, I’m very optimistic that we can all create a program about which students can say 5, 10, 15 years later that they are better off for having gone to our law school. But we’re probably not there now. Rather, we are in a situation similar to being attacked by a hive of bees. Every individual bee, lack of job opportunities, bimodal salary distributions, drop in state support for public institutions, lack of transparency about student outcomes, out dated curriculums, disconnect between the classroom and the practice of law, imposition of a value system that drives law students into disproportionate levels of depression that may well follow them throughout their careers, is capable of inflicting painful or even lethal stings. But the breach in the hive comes from a level of student loan debt that cannot be supported by any reasonably obtainable career path. It’s not a perfect metaphor—student loan reform is necessary but not sufficient to developing a legal education that better prepares our students for the important role they will play in society.
Friday, May 02, 2014
Churches and marriage equality, ctd.
Chanakya Sethi at Slate reads the North Carolina anti-SSM stautes the same way I did -- as prohibiting civil ceremonies, not purely religious ones having no civil effect -- as do an expert on North Carolina family law and religious law scholar Doug Laycock.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Two additional thoughts on the Sterling suspension
Yesterday I questioned the precise basis for the NBA's suspension of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On further reflection, I want to consider some additional interpretive points.
First, I noted that the NBA Constitution and By-Laws contain two provisions--Article 35A(c) allows for a fine of up to $ 1 million for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the league and Article 35A(d) allows for a suspension and/or a fine of up to $ 1 million for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the league. Commissioner Adam Silver must have relied on 35A(d), since 35A(c) does not allow for a suspension. But I questioned that usage. Sterling's misdeeds involved statements and the existence of distinct prohibitions--one regulating conduct and one regulating statements--suggests that the statement-specific provision should have been used here, which would make the suspension inappropriate.
But now I am wondering whether I am reading 35A(c) incorrectly. Perhaps the "statements" it prohibits are those that directly criticize the league or something about the league, for example game officiating (many a fine has been imposed on a coach or owner for doing that). But it does not reach statements about something else that, because of their viewpoint, happen to make the league look bad. That would instead be treated as "conduct" and pulled back within the more-general regulation of 35A(d).Second, I am wondering if Silver simply jumped to the catch-all power of Article 24(l) to make decisions and impose punishments in the best interests of the NBA for all three sanctions, ignoring anything in Article 35A. Article 24(l) allows for a range of penalties, including suspension and a fine up to $ 2.5 million. If so, it brings to even sharper light the question of how he could do that, since, again, 24(l) only operates when "a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This means Silver should have at least glanced at 35A(c) and/or (d), which do seem to cover this situation.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Why I have spent so much time arguing about fan speech and stadiums as public forums--because it allows expression such as this. But I wonder two things: 1) Did ABC show this or did the NBAorder them not to? 2) Would the Warriors/the arena have taken the signs were the wave of public opinion not running so overwhelmingly against Sterling?
On animal rights
Sunday's New York Times Magazine reports on efforts by the Nonhuman Animal Rights Project and attorney Steven Wise to establish rights for certain breeds of autonomous animals (chimps, orcas, dolphins, etc.), using state habeas petitions in New York. It's an interesting read; Richard Epstein is interviewed for the competing position.
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.