Sunday, September 20, 2015
Deparmentalism, popular constitutionalism, and constitutional politics
Joey Fishkin writes at Balkinization about the race among GOP presidential candidates to undo birthright citizenship. Fishkin identifies several approaches--an "old school" departmentalism espoused by Mike Huckabee, in which the President can ignore Supreme Court precedent, a moderate approached advocated by Donald Trump (and echoed by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz) that acknowledges the Court's "ultimate authority" in constitutional interpretation, and pure judicial supremacy suggested by Carly Fiorina, under which only a constitutional amendment can challenge Supreme Court precedent.
Fioria to one side, I am not sure the distinction between Trump et al and Huckabee is as sharp as Fishkin suggests. In fact, either approach envisions both the power of the President and Congress to disagree with and disregard SCOTUS precedent and the interpretive role for SCOTUS.
President Trump must initiate birthright citizenship as a live constitutional issue--for example, signing a law providing that children of undocumented immigrants are not citizens and are subject to removal or commencing removal proceedings against U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Either move would be in so-called "defiance" or "disobedience" to (admittedly old) precedent on the meaning of "subject to the jurisdiction" in § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, based on President Trump's independent assessment (supported by constitutional "experts") of the meaning of § 1. That interpretive independence is a key feature of departmentalism, which holds that the President does not violate his "Take Care" obligations or his constitutional oath by acting contrary to even SCOTUS precedent. Either move also triggers a role for the Court, as the judiciary almost certainly will be called on to consider the issues, whether in reviewing a removal decision or in evaluating the constitutional validity of the statute in a pre-enforcement challenge, and render a judgment in a specific challenge, based on the court's own constitutional analysis.
The difference among the candidates may be what happens next. Under a middle-ground departmentalism, the President must abide by and enforce the judgment in those specific cases. But he can continue to act in disagreement with the opinion underlying that judgment (as by, for example, initiating new removal proceedings against new individuals), until a new judgment bars him from doing so as to particular individuals. Eventually, the repeated losing will become politically and financially expensive and he will stop the cycle. This does seem a middle ground between where Fishkin places Huckabee (who seems to believe obeying an individual judgment constitutes "judicial tyranny") and Trump (whom Fishkin seems to presume would fall in line with SCOTUS precedent after the first decision).
For present purposes, I would be content to hear Trump argue, in essence: "My constitutional vision, supported by constitutional experts, is that § 1 does not guarantee birthright citizenship to the children of non-citizens, I am unconvinced by the Supreme Court's 120-year-old decision to the contrary, and, as President, I will act on that constitutional vision in the following ways. I do not need a constitutional amendment in the first instance."
But Fishkin offers a way in which departmentalism and popular constitutionalism overlap. The judiciary can be influenced and ultimately swayed by "experts" whose advocacy (in and out of court) make heretofore unexpected constitutional positions seem reasonable and proper to the public and thus to the court. Those experts similarly can influence the popular branches in their departmental constitutional analysis and their subsequent actions (described above) to put the issues in play and in front of the courts. In other words, I describe above a process of the executive repeatedly losing. Fishkin suggests that departmentalism, girded by popular constitutionalism, may lead to an ultimate constitutional victory in the courts.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Lederman on Kim Davis
At Balkinization, Marty Lederman discusses whether Kim Davis is violating the district court order, issued when she was released from custody, prohibiting her from interfering with the efforts of deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples. Lederman questions whether some changes Davis has made to the forms--removing her name, the name of her office, the name of the county, and the position of the deputy clerk--constitute interference.
I trust Marty's analysis. But then we have two questions. The first is whether there is interference (and thus contempt) if the altered licenses are deemed valid, as the governor announced last week. The other is whether, even if Davis is interfering and thus is in contempt, Bunning will jail her, given the circus that surrounded it the last time.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Sixth Circuit denies Kim Davis another stay
The Sixth Circuit on Thursday denied Kim Davis a stay pending appeal of the order extending the original injunction to bar her from denying licenses to any eligible couples (the extended injunction was issued the same day Judge Bunning jailed Davis for contempt). (H/T: Religion Clause Blog and Josh Blackman) Davis never asked the district court for a stay pending appeal, as required by Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a)(1)(A), and the court of appeals refused to accept "extraordinary doggedness of the district court to expand the Injunction, without jurisdiction or fair notice and opportunity to be hearing" as basis for finding that it would be "impracticable" to move in the district court, as required by FRAP 8(a)(2)(A)(i).
The latter conclusion is fair, I suppose, since the argument basically accuses the district court of having it in for Davis. Nevertheless, there is something strange about asking a district court to stay an injunction that he just entered by finding that the defendant has a substantial likelihood of success on appeal--in other words, there is a substantial likelihood that the district court was wrong. We do not require trial courts to make a similar confession of likely error in any other context. It also seems like a waste here--Davis will now ask Bunning for a stay, he will deny it, and the issue will be back with the court of appeals in a week or two.
It is notable that the extension of the injunction was not, as plaintiffs requested and many (including me) assumed, in anticipation of class certification. Instead, the district court extended the injunction in recognition of two other individual actions challenging Davis' no-marriage policy. (H/T: Marty Lederman for the analysis). I am not sure that is a valid basis for extending the injunction (where as expanding in anticipation of class status would be), so Davis may actually have one small argument that is not doomed to total failure.
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
Kim Davis released from custody
Kim Davis has been released from custody and had the contempt sanction lifted, based on the plaintiffs' report that they had received marriage licenses and that deputy clerks were issuing licenses to "all legally eligible couples." The court furthered barred Davis from interfer[ing] in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples." (H/T: Marty Lederman).
As written, however, the new order brings us back to the recurring problem we have seen with most district court injunctions: This has not been certified as a class action, so the injunction was satisfied when the named plaintiffs received their licenses. Further, Davis cannot properly be held in contempt for interfering with the issuance of licenses to other couples; those licenses are not formally happening on the strength of the court's order, so Davis would not formally be defying the court's order. Of course, if she attempts to push that point, the plaintiffs will simply ask Judge Bunning to certify the class, thereby expanding the injunction to that scope. The wiser move is for Davis to stand aside and let her deputies voluntarily comply.
Monday, September 07, 2015
When Political Correctness Was, Well, Correct
It's a pleasure to join PrawfsBlawg as a September guest blogger. I thought I would use my first entry to indulge my fascination with language, more specifically with Lawtalk -- words and expressions that have both legal and cultural significance. So let's talk about 'politically correct' and its strange reversal of meaning. It's hard to resist something so thoroughly in the news. (HT to my Lawtalk co-author James Clapp, who is a master of digging out historic uses of language and who wrote our book's discussion of 'politically correct').
These days, some politicians are throwing around the term 'politically correct' like dirty Kleenex. Donald Trump has probably gotten the most headlines that way: "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either." Thus he invokes fears of Mexican immigrant rapists, expresses disdain for "anchor babies," mimics broken English in discussing Asian business people, and makes so many horrifying remarks about women that I've lost count. Those who question his accuracy, his policies, or his choice of words are easily dismissed with that easy insult: they are just being politically correct. And so a charge that something is politically correct becomes a charge that it undesirable and untrue.
It's not just politicians. Court cases reflect this dismissive use of the phrase by ordinary citizens. For example, a California court tells the story of a doctor who, while performing surgery in the presence of an African-American nursing instructor, kept up a running commentary on race that included appalling remarks such as this: "You don't see 'no colored allowed' signs posted on doors anymore. I hate all this politically correct crap. People are afraid to tell the truth. . . . A pure white race, that's how it should be." [Williams v. Vartivarian, 2003 WL 361274].
But did you know that the phrase goes back at least to the founding generation, and was once a compliment? James Wilson -- a signer of the Declaration of Independence and SCOTUS Justice -- put the words together as early as 1793. Arguing that the federal government derives its powers not from the states but from the people of all the states together, he bemoaned the sloppy use of language about the government:
Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our common, even in our convivial language. Is a toast asked? "The United States" instead of the "People of the United States" is the toast given. This is not politically correct. [Chisholm v. Georgia]
Wilson meant that the toast was not an accurate characterization of the government structure established by the Constitution. 'Correct,' or the alternative adjective 'right,' were also used to signal philosophical approval. Thomas Jefferson happily predicted that graduates of his new University of Virginia would carry forth into government service "the correct principles of our day." The most influential use of 'politically right' appeared in a 1786 oration dedicated to Benjamin Franklin: "Nothing can be politically right that is morally wrong; and no necessity can ever sanctify a law, that is contrary to equity." (This quote was later much used by anti-slavery crusaders to counter the argument that slavery must be tolerated as a politically expedient tool to maintain national unity). Being politically correct, then, was a Good Thing.
In a century that saw political conformity enforced by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, the phrase 'politically correct' lost its identity as a straightforward compliment. In the 1970s, the term 'politically correct' reappeared in the United States as a kind of wry lingo within progressive groups seeking greater inclusion and recognition of women and African-Americans. Although useful in internal debates (meaning something like 'consistent with our political ideals'), it was often used with self-mocking humor. In the 1980s, however, conservative politicians used this shorthand as a way to characterize the liberal positions as too dogmatic. By the 1990s, the media picked up the phrase, and opposition to 'political correctness' became the insult of choice for those who did not want to use inclusive language and did not want to reconsider the subjects or people taught in our schools. Any sense that 'correct' meant 'accurate' pretty much disappeared. [Scary experiment for today's pop-culture meaning: put "politically correct" into Google or Google Images, and see what you get.]
The reversal of meaning became particularly clear in the educational context in a statement by Lynne Cheney when she was chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (when George H.W. Bush was President). The NEH commissioned a group of educators to devise national standards for teaching history, but when the draft was released Cheney hated them. In a statement that would have puzzled both Jefferson (who used 'correct' to mean ideologically desirable) and Wilson (who used 'correct' to mean accurate), Cheney said, "I've received dozens of phone calls from people worried that the standards represent not only a politically correct version of history, but a version of history that's not true."
Here's my suggestion: let's lose "politically correct" from our collective vocabulary. It's a content-free insult, deflecting thoughtful debate -- a label that avoids both fact check and policy discussion. Let it go.
What if it doesn't pass and other questions about Lessig 2016
Larry Lessig successfully crowd-funded his $ 1 million and is running for President as a single-issue "referendum candidate"--he will serve as President only until passage of the Citizen Equality Act of 2017, after which he will resign and have his Vice President (preferably a liberal such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders) become President.
I generally think this is silly. And I say this while supporting pretty much all of the substantive provisions of the Act and as someone who might support a Lessig-type as a presidential candidate (if I thought he could win a general election, which I don't). But a few questions--none of them new or original, but I throw them out here:
1) What if the law does not pass in his first term? Would he seek reelection in 2020?
2) What does it mean for the law to "pass"? Must every piece pass? If not, how many pieces? Must it pass in the current form or are amendments permissible? If not, how watered-down can a version be to still constitute "passing" so as to trigger his resignation?
3) Does he resign after the legislation is signed? Or does he wait around for completion of judicial review? Nothing in the Act seems constitutionally questionable. Of course, in 2009, we all would have said that the health-insurance market affects interstate commerce. And what happens if some (or all) pieces are declared invalid.
4) If he fails to resign as promised, is that an impeachable-and-removable offense?
5) Accepting that legislation takes months even in a functioning Congress (which we surely do not have), how will Lessig handle all the other presidential responsibilities or who will he delegate them to? Will the VP be handling most of these other presidential duties? How will he fill judicial and executive vacancies? Is it fair to question whether he cares about these "mundane" aspects of the presidency and to be concerned that he doesn't?
6) Is it fair game during the election and "debates" to prod Lessig about his views and plans on other issues, accepting that he will have to do other things as President, at least for some period of time? Will he answer these questions and will he answer them well?
7) Are substantial numbers of Democratic voters this detached from political reality? At least part of the frustration with the Obama presidency involved the extraordinary (and unrealistic) expectations when he entered the White House, which he could not possibly meet.* And he began his presidency with substantial majorities in both houses and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. And he still could not get done everything he wanted or tried to do, at least not in the absolute way he wanted.
* No, that was not the only problem. But it has played a role in the perception of his achievements as President.
What makes Lessig (or those who would support him) think he will have any more success, especially since he definitely will not have a House majority and almost uncertainly will not have a Senate majority. Does he (or his voters) believe putting the word "referendum" into his candidacy will actually give him more of a mandate than Obama enjoyed despite having received 70 million votes and 365 Electoral votes? Does he (or his voters) believe Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or any of the representatives who might lose their seats under a non-gerrymandered proportional representation scheme will care?
8) Aren't all the incentives for Republicans to oppose and drag their feet on this (beyond even the ordinary perverse incentives of divided government)? The longer it drags on, the longer they keep in office someone who really does not want to be President. And the longer it drags on (or the legislation does not pass), the easier to run against Lessig in 2018 and 2020 as a failure who could not achieve his one (and only) presidential goal. "Presidential failure," not "congressional recalcitrance," is always the narrative on which the press, and thus the public, seize.
Sunday, September 06, 2015
Many other takes on the Kim Davis mess (Updated)
Both from Balkinization. Marty Lederman parses Kentucky law and suggests that either the deputy-issued licenses are invalid or there was no need to hold Davis in contempt it was improper to throw Davis in jail (the contempt order was proper). Mark Graber discusses a "class bias in rights" (which Paul already commented on), under which rights that inure, in whole or in part, to the wealthy are more easily implemented than those that inure largely to the less wealthy.
Both are worth a read.
Update: Mike Dorf adds his take, arguing that a district court has broad powers to remedy constitutional violations, even where those remedies might otherwise violate state law. Thus, even if Davis's name/consent ordinarily is necessary, once it became necessary for licenses to issue without her name (in order to ensure compliance with the underlying injunction), those licenses could be made valid. Note that Mike and Marty agree that it was unnecessary to put Davis in jail.
Further Update: More from Sam Bagenstos (Michigan) in The New Republic.
Friday, September 04, 2015
Out George Wallace-ing George Wallace
I was quoted (mostly out of context) in yesterday's New York Times on Kim Davis; I said that Davis was "out George Wallace-ing George Wallace." Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door, and accompanying speech, remain one of the signature moments of Massive Resistance to Brown and integration. But after making his speech, Wallace stood down when facing the Attorney General, rather than being hauled off by a federalized National Guard or facing a contempt charges (the University had been enjoined to allow Vivian Malone and James Hood to register and Wallace had been enjoined not to interfere with the prior injunction). Wallace made his point and had his moment, but in the end chose not to defy the forcible execution of a court order or to go to jail for a lost cause.
What does it say about society, this issue, current politics, and attitudes towards the judiciary that Davis believed it necessary or proper to take that next step? Is it that she believes she is fighting for conscience rather than secular principles such as federalism? Is her stand less popular locally or nationally than was Wallace's, necessitating the bigger step in order to be heard? Is her stand more popular locally or nationally, such that she garners more support and sympathy by going to jail than Wallace would have? How does the relative popularity of Obergefell as opposed to Brown affect the respective choices each make.
Does Davis go down as this generation's George Wallace? She might, if only because she is proving so rare. According to this WaPo story, citing the group Freedom to Marry, there are only a handful of counties (fewer than 20) in Southern states refusing to issue licenses, at least as a matter of formal office policies.*
* And 13 of those are in Alabama, where probate judges are waiting for the Supreme Court of Alabama to lift the mandamus prohibiting them from issuing licenses (or for SCOTUS to quickly reverse if the Supreme Court of Alabama refuses to lift the mandamus).
Marriage licenses issuing in Rowan County
Here and here. The first couple--William Smith and James Yates--were not parties to the litigation. No word on whether the license was issued in Kim Davis' name or whether it is valid if issued over her command not to. That probably is moot; it would arise only if a marriage officiant refuses to recognize the license or someone somewhere down the line refuses to recognize the marriage as valid, neither of which is likely to occur.
Davis remains in jail, probably until next week. It may come down to whether, if she returns to her job, she intends to order her staff to again stop issuing licenses.
By the way, note the rhetoric floating around here: Davis's husband is quoted as saying "Just because five Supreme Court judges make a ruling, it’s not a law." Now regardless of how silly that statement is on its own, it is notable that blame for his wife being in jail is being placed on the shoulders of the Supreme Court and Obergefell. But the problem is not that Davis ignored the Supreme Court, at least not directly; the problem is that she ignored a district court order directed at her.
Thursday, September 03, 2015
Kim Davis (not Jim or Garfield) jailed for contempt
Judge David Bunning has held Kim Davis in contempt and had her jailed. Bunning apparently pointed to the fact that members of the public are raising money to cover the fines (damn crowd-funding) as evidence that fines alone would not work. This is civil contempt, so she will be released as soon as she agrees to comply with the injunction and issue licenses.
So Davis is now a martyr to the cause, probably what she and her lawyers wanted. It raises a couple of questions: 1) Does this provide grounds for the governor or other state-level official to remove her from office (a question of Kentucky law)? 2) Is Davis now "unable" to issue licenses, opening the door for the county judge to do it, as a commenter to an earlier post suggested? 3) If the county judge begins issuing licenses, does that get Davis out of jail? 4) If the county judge begins issuing licenses, does it moot the case once the plaintiffs get their licenses from the judge (the answer to this one is probably not, because I expect Bunning to go back and certify a class).
For what it is worth, the judicial process is working as it should in all of this. No one said it should be pretty.
Update: Five of the six employees of the office (all but Davis's son) have promised to issue licenses beginning tomorrow, filling out the forms in Davis' name. Bunning also indicated he will lift the contempt order in a few days if employees issue licenses. Davis could have stayed out of jail by agreeing not to interfere with her employees issuing licenses, but she said she could not do so consistent with her conscience. There may be a question of whether those licenses can be valid if issued in defiance of office policy. But I suppose it will be enough that the form is properly completed with Davis' name on it by a duly employed clerk.
Monday, August 31, 2015
Gabilondo on the Cuba embargo
My FIU colleague Jose Gabilondo explores how the Obama Administration might unilaterally end the Cuba embargo, or at least set it up to be challenged by a private party. It is an elegant solution, tied to the connections between legislation and administrative rulemaking.
The standing question he mentions is interesting, but seemingly manageable. If the sole basis for the embargo is regulations enacted solely pursuant to a constitutionally defective statute with no inherent executive discretion and that statute is the only thing legally prohibiting a company from doing business in Cuba, then standing to challenge the statute seems plain. And after Zivotofsky and Bond (interestingly, both Kennedy opinions), it is clear that a private plaintiff can raise pure separation-of-power and federalism arguments in challenging the validity of federal statutes.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Marriage Ban Proponents Slept Through a Revolution: But Not the One You Think
In his last Sunday sermon, Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story of Rip Van Winkle. He went up the mountain during the reign of King George III of England and woke twenty years later during George Washington's presidency. Rip missed out on a lot of change. Dr. King stated that sometimes, "people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses - that new situations demand. [Like Rip], they end up sleeping through a revolution."
Marriage ban proponents did not sleep through the gay rights revolution, they slept through a revolution in the popular understanding and meaning of "family." In Obergefell v. Hodges, they dogmatically clung to a losing argument. Limiting marriage to a man and a woman, they insisted, is optimal for children. As explained in my previous post, the Obergefell majority disagreed. Marriage ban proponents' error was in their failure to acknowledge that "hundred of thousands of children [are] being raised by same sex couples."
Times have changed. Today, many communities, not just the LGBT community, understand that "family" does not have to be restricted by notions of marital status (or legitimacy), sex, biology, or proscribed gender roles. Marriage ban proponents had plenty of notice that the Supreme Court appreciated these societal changes. Barely two years prior to Obergefell, in striking down DOMA in United States v. Windsor, the majority made clear that the moral and sexual choices of same-sex couples were protected by the Constitution. The Court, without reference to biology or gender, also strongly emphasized that DOMA harmed same-sex couples and their children.
The failure of marriage ban proponents to recognize and adapt, or "develop new mental responses," to the changing social understanding of family is why they could not defend their position. That they offered no new justifications laid bare their simple preference that children of opposite-sex couples would be valued by law over children of same-sex couples. Their reliance on old tropes -- man-woman biology arguments and responsible procreation theories -- became the rhetorical sheep lulling them to sleep. And they have been asleep for a long time now. Fortunately, the Supreme Court did not join in the slumber.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Crazy in Alabama: Judicial Process and the Last Stand Against Marriage Equality
This puts together much of what I have been writing here about the mess in Alabama between January and the Court's decision in Obergefell. I reach the same basic conclusion--obnoxious Roy Moore rhetoric aside, everything that happened in Alabama in those six months was consistent with the judicial process and with the traditional scope of injunctions and district court precedent.
Friday, July 10, 2015
So it seems everyone thought Nebraska had a great idea on how to end marriage-equality litigation while avoiding attorney's fees. Arkansas and South Dakota have joined Nebraska in asking the Eighth Circuit to dismiss appeals as moot and vacate the various injunctions. Kansas is asking the Tenth Circuit District of Kansas to do the same. And now Alabama is asking the Northern District of Alabama (in a recognition suit that had not yet proceeded to even a preliminary injunction) to do the same.When I wrote about Nebraska's mootness argument, I explained why voluntary cessation from the state agreeing to abide by Obergefell should not be sufficient to moot the case, or at least not sufficient to justify vacating the district court judgment and order. But looking at these new motions, particularly from Alabama, I I think I have identified a more fundamental problem in their arguments. State officials are arguing that Obergefell conclusively resolved the constitutional question of same-sex marriage across the country, so there is nothing for the district courts to do here and no need for a district court judgment and injunction against officials in these states.
But that misunderstands what a Supreme Court opinion does and how precedent operates. The Supreme Court decision established the operative constitutional framework and analysis, but it it spoke only to the laws in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee and the obligations of officials in those states. As to any other state, it is necessary for another court to apply that constitutional framework, as precedent, to the laws and actions in that state. Even if the answer is obvious, since the precedent is binding and there is no way to distinguish it, that additional step is necessary, at least so long as there remains a genuine threat that this other state's anti-SSM laws might be enforced (and within the parameters of mootness doctrine).
In a sense, the states are trying to have it both ways. For months, many states and state officials insisted that a decision by a lower federal court was not binding on non-parties, did not require non-parties to do anything, and did not protect non-parties. This argument was, in fact, correct, although it happened to work to the state's advantage. Now states are trying to argue that a SCOTUS decision is, in essence, a nationwide injunction applicable to all bans on same-sex marriage and to all officials in all 50 states. This argument is, in fact, incorrect, although it also works to the state's advantage.
The most ironic example of this is Kansas. After the Tenth Circuit twice declared that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees a right to marriage equality (in cases from Utah and Oklahoma) the Kansas Attorney General initiated a state mandamus action to stop a Kansas county clerk from issuing licenses to same-sex couples until a judge in the District of Kansas decided a constitutional challenge to Kansas' ban. Clearly, in the AG's view, binding precedent was not alone sufficient to justify compliance; there needed to be a decision by a court expressly addressing Kansas law and its enforcement by Kansas officials. And never did Kansas officials suggest that the Tenth Circuit's constitutional decision mooted the challenge to Kansas' law. But the Tenth Circuit's decision on the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment is as binding on federal courts within the Tenth Circuit as a decision by SCOTUS. So if the extra step is necessary to apply circuit precedent, it must also be necessary to apply SCOTUS precedent.
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Same-sex couples in recalcitrant counties and states have a problem, as illustrated by this case in Hood County, TX. Recall what happened: The county dragged its feet in issuing license to same-sex couples, a couple sued for an injunction compelling the license, the county within a few hours relented and issued the license. As I said previously, the case is now moot, but the plaintiffs are not prevailing parties because they did not obtain a judicial decree guaranteeing that license, therefore they cannot recover attorney's fees (which would be small anyway--just the amount to draft short complaint and TRO motion and file the thing). But attorney's fees are the driving force for compliance--recalcitrance needs to become expensive in order for officials to fall in line.
One solution would be for the court to impose sanctions on the clerk. But then the question is from what source? Rule 11 only applies to papers and other things presented to the court; here, the case has become moot before the defendant clerk has even appeared, much less presented something to the court. Section 1927 only applies to attorneys, and then only for conduct that "multiples" proceedings. So that leaves the court's inherent authority to sanction, including through attorney's fees, in order to compensate, deter, or punish. So does inherent sanction authority reach the type of (mis)conduct we see here: Pre-litigation refusal to comply with precedent, forcing a lawsuit, and immediately acquiescing before the court has an opportunity to hear the case? (In contrast to forcing a lawsuit in order to argue for overturning Obergefell)?
Monday, July 06, 2015
What can plaintiffs sue for after Obergefell?
A same-sex couple sued the County Clerk of Hood County, TX in the Northern District of Texas on Monday, after they were denied a marriage license (purportedly because the office did not yet have appropriate forms). With several hours of the suit being filed, the office issued the license. Precisely how it should go.
Here is where it gets tricky: According to the above article, the plaintiffs want their attorneys' fees and say they will not drop the lawsuit "until the clerk’s office agrees to issue marriage licenses to 'all couples, gay and straight, without delay.'" But neither of those things should happen:
1) The lawsuit is now moot and should be dismissed as such, since the plaintiffs got what they sued for--their marriage license.
2) The plaintiffs lack standing to seek relief for all couples, gay and straight. So it sounds nice, but that is not how litigation works. Perhaps if they certify as a class action, although I need to see the complaint to know whether they are trying to do that. Of course, that does not resolve the mootness problem.
3) The plaintiffs probably will not get attorneys' fees, since they are not prevailing parties. The defendants complied without any judicial order or injunction. And even though compliance was obtained because of the lawsuit and the certainty of liability, the Supreme Court rejected the so-called catalyst theory of attorneys' fees, demanding that a party prevails only if they obtain some judicial decree in their favor.
4) The solution for the plaintiffs may be to sue for money damages for the inconvenience and humiliation caused by delay unique to same-sex couples. Assuming that short delay constitutes a violation, the claim only would be worth $ 1 in nominal damages, but it avoids mootness and prevailing-party issues.
Paul closed comments on his excellent post on the distinction between empathy and sympathy (and, as a third element, compassion). I will just second Paul's remarks by recommending Thomas Colby's 2012 article in Minnesota Law Review, which I reviewed for JOTWELL. As I wrote here, this exchange between Sen. Kyl and Elena Kagan during Kagan's 2010 nomination hearings both exposed the confusion many have over the terms and had the potential to explain the role empathy actually plays in judging, although I don't think anyone recognized it at the time.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
Marriage and Other Favored Unions
So we have a fundamental right to same-sex marriage. In the most obvious way, the Court’s holding was good: if the state is going to privilege a particular association (here, marriage), it should not discriminate against persons who try to take advantage of it. Fair enough. But in another way both the government’s favored treatment of marriage and especially the majority’s decidedly not-postmodern love letter to that particular form of association (Alito’s comment that the majority’s vision of liberty “has a distinctively postmodern meaning” notwithstanding) should give us cause for pause. There is another area where the state has favored a particular type of association over others: labor unions, which have been favored over other types of worker organizations. That preference has not worked out well for workers; we would do well to think more about whether the story of state preference for marriage will turn out the same.
Associations of Workers and the NLRA
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act years ago and, with it, enacted a particular vision of what worker associations should be and how they should operate. That vision included both (1) exclusive representation and (2) a commitment to the view that the interests of workers and employers are fundamentally opposed and antagonistic.
At first the NLRA benefited workers (if rapidly increasing unionization rates are any indication), but over time that has largely ceased to be the case. The government restricted covered labor organization activity and the Act stifled the ability of covered workers to develop innovative forms of worker organizations that could better help them achieve their particular interest. One example of this stifling (and one that I discuss in a forthcoming article) comes out of the Act’s prohibition on company “support” of labor organizations. This ban has in turn dramatically limited the development of mutually beneficial collaborations between workers and companies looking to sell themselves to consumers as “conscious capitalists.” As a result of the Act’s narrow vision of appropriate worker organization, it is not surprising that innovative forms of worker organization (the Fair Food Council being just one example) have only occurred among workers who are not covered by the NLRA at all.
In short, when the government favors a particular vision of worker association – even with good intentions – it also frustrates experimentation with other forms – forms that may in fact be better for at least some workers.
Associations of Individuals and Marriage
Something similar might be said about marriage. Like the vision of worker organization demanded by the NLRA, marriage (including same-sex marriage) is but one of the many forms romantic and family associations can take. And like a traditional labor union, a traditional marriage (same-sex marriage included) will work better for some than others. The government, however, does much to encourage traditional marriage. Spousal privilege and military, social security, and immigration benefits being just a few examples. And these benefits, like all incentives, serve to promote marriage over non-matrimonial forms of romantic and family association. Those benefits alone might already have been enough to stifle experimentation with other forms. But the majority opinion in Obergefell, if its love letter to marriage is read and its views adopted, imposes an arguably different and more potent type of cost on would-be experimenters: stigma. As the majority sees it, marriage is of “transcendent importance” and “promise[es] nobility and dignity to all persons”. It is marriage that “embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” Without it, “children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.” (emphasis added). Given all this, a reader would think marriage the sole means by which we come to flourish in relationships – that families and romantic relations structured without it truly are lesser. On that view, failure to get on board with the institution really does deserve to be stigmatized.
For those who think the Court’s substantive view on marriage’s importance right and the government’s subsequent promotion of it good, this all won’t seem bad. But for those who think the highest ideals of love and family might be better achieved – at least for them – through other forms of association, the majority’s reification of the centrality of marriage to the good life will strike them as yet another barrier to a future where those ideals can be realized. As with the story of worker associations, it might take us a long time to realize that the government’s “help” of our association of choice today won’t actually be so helpful tomorrow.
 A few argue exclusive representation was not required from the start but it certainly was treated as such soon afterward. Either way, my point is the same.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
An unusual role
During Monday's SCOTUSBlog opinion-announcement LiveBlog, a reader asked about how often Justice Thomas assigns opinions. And I realized that the answer is "not very often." Given seniority and the ideological/jurisprudential position of the various justices, Thomas only assigns the opinion if he is in the majority and the Chief, Scalia, and Kennedy (the three justices senior to him) are not. And that just does not happen very often. Thomas is in agreement (at least as to judgment) with the Chief 69% of the time, with Scalia 77 % of the time, and Kennedy 65 % of the time. And then he assigns only if he also has four of the justices who are junior to him (with whom, other than Alito, he agrees far less often) going along with him.
And I then realized that one of his rare assignments was Walker v. SCV. And he gave the opinion to Breyer, which is an interesting move. Ron Collins argued that Thomas's vote in this case may have been influenced by his unique perception of a racist symbol such as the Confederate Flag and how the First Amendment should treat such symbols. (Dahlia Lithwick and Garrett Epps made a similar point about Walker in a podcast and Epps wrote about it in the Atlantic). If so, one might have expected Thomas to keep the case for himself, precisely so he could talk about that unique symbol and how it might have affected the First Amendment analysis. Or we might have expected him to keep the case simply because he so rarely gets to assign.
Anyway, another unique feature of Walker, a case which could have some long-ranging effects.
Some movement in Alabama
1) Counsel for the plaintiff class in Strawser has taken the position that the stay on Judge Granade's class injunction lifted as soon as SCOTUS issued its opinion. Granade's order stated that the injunction was stayed "until the Supreme Court issues its ruling" in Obergefell, which happened at 10 a.m. Friday. Thus, the injunction--binding every probate judge in the state to issue a license to any same-sex couple who requests one and otherwise qualifies--is in force and readily enforceable by contempt. Unlike in Nebraska, there was no need for a motion to lift the stay.
2) Plaintiff counsel notified defense counsel of this view and asked defense counsel to notify each probate judge that they were subject to the injunction and could be subject to contempt proceedings if they failed to comply. Plaintiff counsel particularly noted the variance, including some probate judges waiting for SCOTUS to issue its mandate, others issuing licenses to opposite-sex but not same-sex couples, and others not issuing licenses at all.
3) The Association of County Commissions of Alabama, which provides probate judges with liability insurance, recommended "that probate judges begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the same manner and pursuant to the same requirements applied to traditional couples." Not sure about that "traditional couples" phrasing, but you get the point. This is just a recommendation. But since the ACCA is the one that indemnifies the probate judges if they get sued, hit with attorney's fees, or held in contempt for non-compliance, the recommendation might carry some weight.
4) The Supreme Court of Alabama issued an order in the mandamus case reminding probate judges that the parties in Obergefell have 25 days to seek rehearing and ordering new briefing and motions to be filed by July 6. Presumably, the briefing on two points: 1) arguing that the mandamus must be vacated because its underlying reasoning does not survive Obergefell and/or 2) arguing that each probate judge should be released from the mandamus because each is bound by the now-enforceable district court injunction.
This order sent everyone scrambling to figure out what it meant. The confusion was compounded (naturally) by Roy Moore, who apparently believes that SCOTUS decisions do not take effect until the period for rehearing has passed. Moore first argued that probate judges were prohibited from issuing marriage licenses until the period for rehearing lapsed; he then said that no probate judge was required to issue licenses within that period, insisting that the issue is "stalled" in Alabama until SCOTUS can no longer grant rehearing. Of course, that ignores the fact that the real work in Alabama is being done not by Obergefell, but by Judge Granade's injunction, which became enforceable immediately.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Two thoughts on Paul's post about the prose in Justice Kennedy's Obergefell opinion:
1) If you had asked me as of 9:57 a.m. Friday, I would have predicted the vote would be 6-3, with the Chief joining the majority. And at least part of the reason I thought he would join the majority was to keep the opinion away from Kennedy--either by writing it himself or giving it to Justice Ginsburg--so as to get a narrower, less flowery, clearer, likely more Equal Protection focus.
2) Judge Posner's opinion, while a blast to read (at least if you agree with his conclusions), was criticized in some circles as similarly not placing itself within the ordinary (he uses "conventional") doctrinal framework. He did not commit to a standard of review, not resolving the fundamental rights questions, using cost-benefit balancing analysis that was neither heightened nor strict scrutiny, while insisting that the difference was semantic more than substantive. Posner's opinion is noteworthy for the way it tears apart (and makes fun of) the state's arguments in support of SSM bans. But Posner departs from the typical judicial style as much as Kennedy does.
Texas responds to Obergefell
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued a non-binding opinion letter about implementation of Obergefell. Paxton concludes that 1) county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow them to opt-out of issuing licenses to same-sex couples, but it will be fact-dependent and 2) State judges and county justices of the peace may similarly seek an opt-out, depending on the facts. The county clerk in Bell County followed the letter to announce that her office would issue licenses to same-sex couples, with individual employees able to seek an opt-out. Josh Blackman has detailed thoughts; Josh argues that this becomes a matter of staffing, rising to a constitutional problem only if no one in the office is willing to issue licenses to same-sex couples or if there are excessive delays or administrative difficulties.
I believe Josh basically has it right, although I would offer a few caveats.
First, as Josh notes and as I argued in a listserv discussion, dignitary harms caused by discriminatory delays or by being sent to a special line or a different clerk (to say nothing of the extreme case in which the clerk gives a lecture against same-sex marriage before moving the couple to a different line), may be challenged in an action for damages, even if the couple gets the license. The claim probably is worth only $ 1 in nominal damages, but it could proceed and could produce a judgment against the clerk and/or the office. There is a qualified immunity question that goes to the scope of Obergefell--does it mean there is a right of same-sex couples to obtain licenses and to marry in all respects on the same terms (vis a vis the State) as opposite-sex couples. A supervisory or municipal liability claim also is likely if the delays and dignitary harms were caused by employees carrying out formal policies.
Second (and this may be because my religious beliefs do not cause me to oppose same-sex marriage), even recognizing the administrative need, this makes me uneasy because it smacks bit of separate-but-equal. It relies on separate lines and separate clerks. Only it now is being presented as the least restrictive means for the government to satisfy its compelling interest in issuing marriage licenses to qualifying couples. I suppose if it is done respectfully (and a listserv comment indicated this has been working well in Utah), there is not a problem. But if we all can agree that a clerk's office could not have a special line for mixed-race or interfaith couples (assuming we can), why are same-sex couples and same-sex marriages different? Alternatively, could that concern be resolved by broadening the opt-out to extend not only to opposition to same-sex marriage, but also to other religious objections to other licenses?
Third, what happens if there is only one clerk in the office who will issue these licenses? Can he never break for lunch? Must the office, at least for marriage licenses, shut down for that hour? I do not imagine the office could say "No licenses to same-sex couples from noon-1 p.m."
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Is the question moot?
Immediately following Obergefell, Nebraska moved in the Eighth Circuit to lift the stay of a district court injunction invalidating the state's ban. In its motion, Nebraska argued that the case is moot because the Attorney General has certified that he will comply with Obergefell and no longer enforce the Nebraska ban. The motion cites to cases (from the Eighth and Seventh Circuits) holding moot challenges to laws that had been declared unconstitutional in a separate case by a controlling court. It also argues that this case is not capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review, because the state's promise to comply with Obergefell means no one in Nebraska will be denied a license.
This argument seems wrong to me, at least as the state presents it. The government's promise not to enforce a law is generally not sufficient to moot a case (without implicating C/R/Y/E/R). A state can moot a case by repealing a state law, but Nebraska has not done so (and likely will not). The cases Nebraska cites are not on point, because Nebraska's marriage ban has not been declared unconstitutional. The bans in other states have been declared unconstitutional in a decision that, as binding precedent, likely will result in Nebraska's ban being declared unconstitutional. But that is different than a declaration as to Nebraska's law.
I did find one case (not cited by Nebraska), Christian Coalition of Alabama v. Cole (11th Cir. 2004), holding that a constitutional challenge to state judicial canons was moot as a result of precedent from a different state. There, the state judicial ethics commission represented that it would not enforce a canon in light of SCOTUS precedent declaring invalid a similar judicial canon from Minnesota, mooting a challenge because there was no threat of any judicial candidate being sanctioned. This case suggests that Nebraska is correct. Moreover, in asking whether voluntary cessation has mooted the case, courts link the possibility of a renewed enforcement back to standing. Given Obergefell and Nebraska's commitment to abiding by it, a new couple initiating a challenge to its ban likely would be held to lack standing (unless actually denied a license). In the absence of any indication that the plaintiffs in the pending action will be denied a license because of the AG's representation, perhaps the case has indeed become moot.
But this seems a dodge when litigation is already pending and when the district court already has entered an injunction prohibiting enforcement of this particular law. The point of Obergefell is to make clear that the district court decision and injunction both were correct. It seems appropriate to allow that declaration about Nebraska law and that injunction (which, as I have argued, only affects the plaintiff couples anyway) to take effect in light of Obergefell. Otherwise, wouldn't most cases become moot after many GVRs?
Of course, this just may be one more way in which marriage-equality litigation is unique. We have multiple states with identical laws all being challenged at the same time by plaintiffs seeking to engage in identical conduct, with one Supreme Court decision resolving the constitutional of every law in every state as to all possible sets of facts. That is not true of all constitutional litigation.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
More on SSM in Alabama
According to WSJ, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (who remains under a district court injunction not to enforce the state ban), announced "While I do not agree with the opinion of the majority of the justices in their decision, I acknowledge that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is now the law of the land." Although the Association of County Commissions yesterday recommended that probate judges wait for further word from either SCoA or Judge Granade, probate judges in many parts of the state declined to listen, including in Birmingham and Mobile. Four counties have refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples and eight are not issuing licenses at all.
More of what happens next (Updated)
A follow up to this post and more details:
1) According to this story, Roy Moore is being . . . Roy Moore. He said Obergefell was worse than Plessy; continued to insist that there is no such thing as same-sex marriage in the Constitution; and he "can't say" whether same-sex marriages will happen in the state. This story shows Moore going even further around the bend, now accompanied by his wife, a conservative activist: Moore insists the Court not only lacked authority to issue the ruling, but that Ginsburg and Kagan should have recused, calling into question the validity of the decision. There is a good chance that someone in Alabama is going to be held in contempt.
2) But the same story indicates that Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said he disagrees with the decision, but he would "uphold the law of the nation and this is now the law."
3) I want to say a bit more about the remarks by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood that "the Supreme Court's decision is not immediately effective in Mississippi until the Fifth Circuit lifts the stay" on a district court injunction. I said this was inartfully stated, but basically right. And it goes to the basic distinction at work here, between precedent and injunction (and the question of its scope).
The Supreme Court's mandate requires district courts in four states to issue injunctions against enforcement of the laws in four states by some defendants as to certain plaintiffs. None of them are in or about Mississippi. There is an injunction barring the Governor and A/G of Mississippi from enforcing that state's ban as to two couples; that injunction is presently stayed, meaning they are not obligated to comply with the injunction and to issue licenses to the two named couples until that stay is lifted. So Hood is correct as a matter of the law of injunction.
But Obergefell is precedent, binding on all courts, even those in Mississippi, that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. So any other couple in the state could have filed a new lawsuit against Hood seeking an injunction prohibiting continued enforcement of Mississippi's ban and compelling issuance of licenses; that court would have to issue the injunction, under the binding authority of a SCOTUS decision. The judge might be swayed by the continuing Fifth Circuit stay, but perhaps not; since the stay was in place pending Obergefell, the district court might feel free to issue a new injunction now that SCOTUS has spoken. So Hood is incorrect as a matter of the law of precedent.
The point is it is not as simple as saying Hood is wrong or issuing dangerous advice, as someone says in this article. Hood is right that the existing injunction does not take effect until the stay is lifted--but that only applies to two plaintiff-couples. He is wrong that SCOTUS precedent is not yet effective in the state, as a matter of influencing a court in a new case.
According to this story, Louisiana Governor (and GOP presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal essentially made the same argument as Hood--no mandate has issued for Louisiana to issue licenses, thus Louisiana officials are under no obligation to issue licenses to same-sex couples. And like Hood, he is right, unless and until a federal judge slaps an injunction on Jindal and others.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
“An Antidemocratic and Largely Foreign Conspiracy”
In my last post, which considered whether abolitionist sentiment should matter to the Justices’ decision-making in Glossip, I noted that part of that sentiment (a good deal of it, actually) is coming from nation-states that have long been abolitionist. Here I’ll expand on that theme, and connect it up with the title of my post, which unfortunately comes from one of the amicus briefs in Glossip.
As most people know, Europe is almost entirely abolitionist (indeed, in all of Europe, only Belarus still has the death penalty, and it’s so close to Moscow that it’s hard to think of it as Europe). And Europe isn’t abolitionist-light—it’s as committed to abolitionism as the United States is to its death penalty. Abolishing the death penalty is a requirement for EU membership, and in 1998, the EU made worldwide abolition a centerpiece of its human rights agenda, declaring that it would “work towards universal abolition of the death penalty as a strongly held policy view agreed by all EU member states.”
These guys are not fooling around. It was the EU that sponsored UN Resolution 62/149, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, which declared that “the death penalty undermines human dignity” and called for all nation-states to institute a moratorium as a first step towards abolition. The vote was 104 nations in favor, 54 against, with the United States leading the dissenters.
The point here is that European abolitionism has been around for a long time, a lot longer than the current snafu over lethal injection drugs, and these countries are Dixie Chicks serious about abolishing the death penalty worldwide. So when the market for thiopental experienced upstream supply problems, and when thiopental’s producer (Hospira) moved its production plant from North Carolina to Italy for reasons that had nothing to do with any of this, is it any wonder that Italy, then Great Britain, and then the EU as a whole, saw an opportunity, and seized it, to put the damper on death penalty drugs?
For decades, EU governments had tried, and largely come up short, to influence the United States with their anti-death penalty views. To borrow a line from my paper with Jim Gibson, it turns out that the best way for European governments to export their abolitionist norms was to stop exporting their drugs.
What’s wrong with that?
That brings me to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation’s amicus brief in Glossip. I originally wanted to do the Harry Potter “It that must not be named” thing—my attempt at that was yesterday’s post. But that approach has proven unsatisfactory. I’ve got to name it, because it named me, or rather the paper I just co-authored—all under the heading “The United States must not allow its justice to be obstructed by an antidemocratic and largely foreign conspiracy.” Wait, what?
That’s right, that section of the brief cites the paper, and quotes it, to show that foreign governments are “meddling” in our business—our execution business, which it alleges is of “no legitimate concern of European governments.”
I dissent. We are a sovereign state and so yes, we can execute if we please. If we can’t get the drugs to inject someone to death, we can hang them. Or shoot them. Or electrocute or gas them. We can double-down on death, no matter what the EU does.
But those European countries are sovereign states too, and they aren’t “meddling” in our affairs when they make their own decisions in response to ours.
The EU doesn’t have to sell us its drugs. We’re not entitled to them. It’s a free country (or countries, I suppose). If European countries, or nation-states anywhere else, want to use export controls to express their moral disapprobation of the death penalty, they can do that—just like we’ve done it countless times when other countries do things we find morally repugnant.
The CJLF amicus brief states in a footnote when citing the paper that “Amicus does not endorse the views of the authors, who seem to think that European government meddling in American criminal justice policy is a good thing.”
For the record, we don’t take a stand on whether these developments are a good thing, or a bad thing; they’re just a thing. I can say, however, that I don’t endorse the views of amicus any more than it endorses mine.
The US is sovereign, but no more sovereign than other nation states. Rather than fuming about foreigners meddling, we’d be better served to think about execution methods that don’t require the cooperation of nations that don’t want us to execute.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
In Anticipation of Glossip
I’m excited. Not like Harry Potter World excited, but excited in that geeky, purely academic way that sometimes feels inappropriate in the death penalty context. The Supreme Court will issue its ruling in Glossip any day now, and certainly within the next 7 days. What will the Justices do?
I posted a comment earlier titled why is Glossip hard? so yeah, you could say I have a point of view. In this post, I’ll pick up where I left off, and think a bit more about what seems to be making this easy case hard, at least for the Court’s conservatives: abolitionist sentiment.
The reason the Court is stuck considering the constitutionality of midazolam in lethal injection protocols is that the states are stuck using it. More effective drugs—sodium thiopental, pentobarbital (of the uncompounded variety), and propofol—have all been taken off the market, or at least out of executioners’ hands, by the companies that make the drugs.
Why? In part it’s because abolitionists have played the ‘name and shame’ game, calling out drug companies whose mottos include “advancing wellness” for selling their drugs to put people to death. And in part it’s because European governments, which have long been abolitionist, have tightened their export controls. So yeah, it’s fair to say abolition sentiment of one variety or another is behind the current shortage of death dealing drugs.
That led Justice Scalia to blame the “abolitionist movement” for the mess lethal injection is in nowadays, and for Justice Alito to ask whether it was “appropriate for the judiciary to countenance what amounts to a guerrilla war against the death penalty.” For the condemned, maybe those were lost votes anyway, but then Kennedy asked The Question: “What bearing, if any, should be put on the fact that there is a method, but that’s not available because of opposition to the death penalty?”
Now we’ve got everyone’s attention.
George Will says the success of abolitionists in convincing drug companies not to play merchants of death, and of European governments in enforcing their export controls, is of no moment. “Public agitation against capital punishment is not relevant to judicial reasoning,” he says, “and it is not the judiciary’s business to worry that a ruling might seem to ‘countenance’ this or that social advocacy.”
It’s worth noting that before abolitionists stumbled upon the lethal injection drug supply as a way to thwart executions, there was a shortage in the raw ingredients necessary to make those drugs. Indeed that and some other random events are what started the scramble for death drugs in the first place (as my colleague Jim Gibson and I detail in a recent article). So what if the coveted lethal injection drugs were unavailable because of problems in the upstream supply rather than downstream distribution?
I’m left wondering why it matters why the traditional drug protocol is unavailable; indeed, why abolitionist sentiment is in this at all. The ‘naming and shaming’ on the domestic side is free speech, and the export controls on the international side are a sovereign state’s prerogative (and one we’ve used to express our moral disapprobation numerous times).
I’m with George on this one, the reason for the shortage shouldn’t matter.
Policing False Speech in Political Campaigns
I'm working on the update memo for my Mass Media Law casebook while simultaneously working on a new edition, which means I'm coming across some interesting cases I missed when they came out. One of these is Eighth Circuit's decision in 281 Care Committee et. al. v. Arneson, No. 13-1229 (Feb. 13, 2014), which strikes down a Minnesota law attempting to assign administrative law judges and county attorneys the job of policing the truth of statements partisans make for or against ballot initiatives. Arneson involved a challenge by advocacy organizations to the constitutionality of a Minnesota law making it a gross misdemeanor for a person to prepare or publish a political advertisement or campaign materials supporting or criticizing “a ballot question, that is false, and that the person knows is false or communicates to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false.” Minn.Stat. sec.211B.06, subd. 1. Under the statute, any person can trigger an investigation by an administrative law judge to determine whether probable cause supports the complaint. Upon such a finding, the ALJ may refer the case to a panel of three ALJs for further determination or may refer the matter to a county attorney to prosecute.
A district court held that the statute served a compelling interest in preserving fair elections and preventing frauds on the electorate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed. The Eighth Circuit held that the advocacy organizations had standing to challenge the statute and that the statute was a content-based regulation of political speech that violated the First Amendment. The district court, citing the plurality and concurrences in United States v. Alvarez (striking down the Stolen Valor Act), determined that the appropriate constitutional standard was intermediate scrutiny, but the Eighth Circuit distinguished Alvarez because it did not involve core political speech; moreover, the court noted that the false assertion criminalized by the Stolen Valor Act--that one received a military honor one did not receive--is verifiable objectively. In contrast, the Minnesota law targeted "false" political speech that was likely to include opinion or other unverifiable political speech. The court therefore concluded that strict scrutiny was the appropriate standard to judge the Minnesota law.
Applying strict scrutiny the court determined that, regardless of whether Minnesota’s interests in passing the statute were compelling, the statute was neither necessary nor narrowly tailored but instead was “simultaneously overbroad and underinclusive, and [was] not the least restrictive means of achieving any stated goal.” The court bolstered this conclusion by observing that the State had failed to show “an actual, serious threat of individuals disseminating knowingly false statements concerning ballot initiatives.” Furthermore, and more central to the court’s analysis, was its determination that the statute “tends to perpetuate the very fraud it is allegedly designed to prohibit.” As the court cannily deduced, the Minnesota statute lends itself to use by political adversaries seeking to undermine the message of their opponents. Filing a complaint against one’s opponent can be used as a political tool to undermine the opponent’s message and force the opponent to “’to devote time, resources, and energy defending themselves.’” All of these strategic political goals can be accomplished by a complainant whether or not his or her complaint is meritorious. The filing of the complaint itself becomes a news item and casts doubt on the credibility of the speaker, and the investigation takes up time and money even if the investigation ultimately terminates in one’s favor.In light of this political reality, the court concluded that the mens rea requirement in the statute was not enough to render it constitutional. Most of the statute's chilling effect on political speech occurred because any person can file a complaint under the statute at any time: “[M]ost cynically, many might legitimately fear that no matter what they say, an opponent will utilize [the statute] to simply tie them up in litigation and smear their name or position on a particular matter, even if the speaker never had the intent required to render him liable.”
The court further explained that the statute’s exemption for news media made its unconstitutionality all the more apparent. Exempting the media from liability for false statements while targeting advocacy groups did not advance the state’s interests in policing election fraud. The underinclusiveness of the statute undermined the state’s claims that its speech restrictions were necessary to achieve its stated aims.
Ultimately, the court’s decision to strike down the statute stemmed from both its understanding of the political process and its embrace of the First Amendment ideal of the marketplace of ideas. Counterspeech, not criminalization, is the remedy that the US Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting the First Amendment precribe for false speech during political campaigns. Counterspeech is clearly a less restrictive alternative than criminalization, and “[t]he citizenry, not the government, should be the monitor of falseness in the political arena.”
The court's opinion thus relied on two central tenets (some would call them myths) of First Amendment jurisprudence. As I've previously described these tenets in an article called Nobody's Fools: The Rational Audience as First Amendment Ideal: "[t]he first is that audiences are capable of rationally assessing the truth, quality, and credibility of core speech. The second is that more speech is generally preferable to less." The problem, of course, is that these tenets, or assumptions, may be demonstrably wrong. False speech in political campaigns may bamboozle the electorate, if they're even paying attention. Nonetheless, the court in Arneson reached the right decision based on both Supreme Court precedent and democratic theory. An audience that is incapable of critically analyzing campaign speech is also incapable of participating in political discourse or engaging in democratic self-governance, and to abandon the ideal of the rational audience for political speech is to abandon the ideal of democracy. This is not (yet) something we're prepared to do.
Monday, June 22, 2015
Walker meets Wooley
In last week's Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, SCOTUS held that specialty license plates constitute government speech, meaning the state can exclude or include whatever groups or messages it wishes, regardless of how viewpoint discriminatory it is being. This basically resolves controversies currently pending in several states over pro-choice/anti-choice license plates--the state can do what it wants. It can allow for both messages, exclude both messages (albeit for different reasons than the Second Circuit relied on in upholding New York's blanket exclusion of messages relating to controversial political subjects, such as abortion), or exclude one and include the other. The Fourth Circuit is currently considering a challenge to North Carolina's program, which offers a "Choose Life" plate but rejected a plate in support of reproductive freedom. Walker ends that dispute and requires that the state's program be upheld The Fourth Circuit last year held invalidated North Carolina's program allowing for a "Choose Life" plate but not a corresponding plate in favor of reproductive freedom; a cert petition is pending.
So is there any way for a person in North Carolina to use a license plate to display a message in support of reproductive rights when the state refuses to allow that specialty plate? How about this: Pay for the "Choose Life" plate, then make a conspicuous show of placing tape or something else to cover the anti-choice logo. The First Amendment allows a driver to cover the state-speech motto on the plate, as the state cannot compel a driver to serve as a "'mobile billboard'" for the State's ideological message." Under Walker, "Choose Life" is the state's ideological message for Wooley purposes, which a driver cannot be compelled to display. The obvious way not to display the state's message is to not purchase the "Choose Life" plate, which the state does not compel (unlike New Hampshire's general "Live Free or Die" plate). On the other hand, if the state did compel that as its sole license plate, a person unquestionably could cover the logo.
It follows that First Amendment should also protect a person who combines those options: Pay the extra money for the specialty plate specifically so she can cover the state's message.* Covering a state-sponsored message with which a person disagrees involves a protected message that is different from declining to purchase and display that message in the first instance. Additional meaning flows from the person not just counter-speaking to the state message, but using the state message as the vehicle for the counter-speech. For a stark comparison, an individual is not obligated to purchase or display an American flag, although she may choose to purchase it so she can set it on fire. Each presents a different message that a speaker is entitled to put forward. Given that difference, the state should not be able to successfully argue that the driver lost her right to cover the slogan, a la Wooley, because she willingly paid extra for the plate with that slogan.
[*] There is a separate question of whether anyone would want to do this. My understanding is that in some states, a portion of the money for some specialty plates goes to the cause reflected on the plate. So a supporter of reproductive freedom will not buy the "Choose Life" plate, even to make the statement of covering the logo, if the money is going to anti-choice causes.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Oklahoma’s Latest Invention: Execution by Nitrogen Gas
In 1977, Oklahoma started a national trend when it adopted lethal injection as a new method of execution. This year, maybe it will do the same in adopting death by “nitrogen hypoxia” as a statutorily authorized alternative to lethal injection.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallon said she signed the bill to give the state “another death penalty option,” and if there’s one thing the state of Oklahoma likes about its death penalty (besides secrecy), it’s options. Whereas most death penalty states have one lethal injection protocol, maybe two, Oklahoma has five. And whereas most states have one method of execution, maybe two, Oklahoma has four. If for some reason lethal injection and nitrogen gas don’t work out, the state has the electric chair and firing squad also waiting in the wings. Little wonder Oklahoma has in the last several years edged out Virginia as the second most executing state since the revival of the death penalty in 1976—it’s nothing if not committed to the death penalty.
Oklahoma’s statute doesn’t say exactly how death by nitrogen hypoxia will be carried out, and it’s brand new so we’re all just guessing here, but the assumption appears to be that some sort of mask would be affixed to the condemned inmate’s head, which would then be used to pump in pure nitrogen. Nitrogen is already in the air we breathe so it’s not inherently toxic; it’s the lack of oxygen that does a person in, and that’s apparently painless. “You just sit there and a few minutes later, you’re dead,” the bill’s sponsor said. Rather than imposing death, nitrogen hypoxia “withholds life.” Sounds kinda brilliant when you put it that way.
But there’s always a hitch. Execution by nitrogen hypoxia is a one-off of Jack Kevorkian’s “exit bags” and similar techniques advocated by right-to-die advocacy groups. The problem is that its only use has been on people who wanted to die, so they weren’t trying to break the seal, or refusing to breathe, or doing whatever else one might do to gum up the works. “It requires the total cooperation of the person who is dying,” one euthanasia spokesman said of the process.
The other difference—and maybe this doesn’t matter—is that those groups use helium rather than nitrogen to get the job done, and that was off the table from the start. Indeed, even with nitrogen as the designated gas, some legislators worried that death by hypoxia would be accompanied by a brief moment of euphoria rather than pain.
In the end, we really don’t know how all this will work out, which I suppose is the case with most any innovation in execution methods. “I assume somebody must have done some research,” one state senator said—and that’s true, to an extent.
What data we have on forced inhalation of pure nitrogen comes from veterinary science, and in that experiment, the cats and dogs howled and convulsed. The American Veterinary Medical Association has taken the position that nitrogen asphyxiation is not appropriate for animal euthanasia, but that doesn’t seem to matter much. The AVMA has said the same thing about using paralytics during animal euthanasia by lethal injection, and we’ve done that to humans for decades.
All that brings me back to what the Oklahoma legislator who wrote the bill said about nitrogen hypoxia—“It’s foolproof.” I say maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But if we think know the answer to that on the front side, we’re fooling ourselves.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
If Not Lethal Injection, Then What?
With lethal injection on its heels (as a practical matter, maybe constitutional matter too), one question that’s on many a mind is—if not lethal injection, then what?
The electric chair is pretty gruesome—you’re stuck with the sound and smell of burning flesh and it occasionally catches the condemned person’s head on fire.
Hanging is pretty hard to get right—it’s supposed to kill by breaking the condemned person’s neck, but if the measurements are off (which is often the case), the person ends up either slowly strangling to death or getting decapitated.
And the gas chamber is reminiscent of Nazi death camps and pretty grisly in its own right—the cyanide pumped into the chamber causes the condemned to die by asphyxiation, but not before a significant amount of gasping, drooling, and retching first. Arizona got rid of its gas chamber in 1992 when an execution made the state attorney general vomit and the warden threaten to resign if he ever had to use it again. In 1999, the Ninth Circuit declared it a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishments” clause.
That leaves the guillotine (not a chance), the firing squad, and Oklahoma’s newest innovation: death by nitrogen gas. Today I’ll consider the firing squad. Tomorrow, nitrogen gas.
My thoughts on the firing squad bring me back to Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s dissent from the denial of a rehearing en banc in Wood v. Ryan. I quoted part of that dissent in a post last week, here’s the rest:
If some states and the federal government wish to continue carrying out the death penalty, they must turn away from this misguided path and return to more primitive—and foolproof—methods of execution. . . . The firing squad strikes me as the most promising. Eight or ten large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time. There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true. The weapons and ammunition are bought by the state in massive quantities for law enforcement purposes, so it would be impossible to interdict the supply. And nobody can argue that the weapons are put to a purpose for which they were not intended: firearms have no purpose other than destroying their targets. Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood. If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.
Again, I think Kozinski is on to something here. Execution by firing squad is fast (around 15 seconds as opposed to lethal injection’s 3-10 minutes, and that’s if done right). It’s effective (or at least less subject to mishaps than any other execution method—let’s not forget Wallace Wilkerson of 1878’s Wilkerson v. Utah, who cried, “My God! My God! They missed!” and then bled to death for nearly 30 minutes from shots in the arm and torso rather than heart). And it’s out in the open; no question here about what the state is doing in our name.
Two additional observations merit mention (along with a shout out to the Richmond Law student who recently published a comment advocating the firing squad in Virginia—I had nothing to do with it, by the way).
First, execution by firing squad scratches that retribution itch. This is why Robert Blecker likes it—you want blood, you’ve got it.
Second, execution has the unique feature of allowing executioners to absolve themselves from responsibility for the execution. One of them will fire a blank, and none of them knows who the non-shooter will be. Blecker doesn’t much like this aspect, but one could see how executioners might—and the states that employ them too.
Death by firing squad makes sense in so many ways. So why are we hesitant to go there? My only guess is our delicate palate, but that brings me back to Kozinski’s point. If we truly can’t handle quick, easy, low-risk executions that show us what executions are, maybe we shouldn’t be doing them.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Veep does the Constitution
Veep is a hilarious show, described by one former Obama adviser as the most accurate depiction of Washington and definitely the most hilariously profane (reflecting the sensibilities of creator, and departing showrunner, Armando Iannucci). The season finale, which aired on Sunday, takes place on Election Night and ends on a constitutional cliffhanger related to presidential elections and presidential succession, a common theme for political TV shows.
More (with spoilers) after the jump.
The election ends in a 269-269 Electoral College tie,* sending everyone scrambling to figure out, and discuss in expository dialogue, what happens; it became a mini Con Law lecture, although there did not seem to be a practicing lawyer in the room. The show explains that the House selects the President, voting by state delegation, and the Senate selects the Vice President, voting as a body of the whole; they get that part right. But then the narrative reveals uncertainty over numerous close House races** and over what the make-up of the House will be, with everyone raising the possibility of a tie in the House. What happens then? The show posits that the Vice President becomes President. This sets-up the dramatic twist that Meyer's running mate, Tom James (who is seemingly more popular and more competent than Meyer***), will "backdoor" his way into the top spot; one of the last beats in the episode has James asking Meyer to serve as his VP.
[*] This allows for a nice riff about the stupidity of having an even number of electors--blame the Twenty-third Amendment. The tie also results from a bizarre electoral map for current politics. Selina Meyer, whose party is unnamed but who seems to be a Democrat, wins Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin, but loses Minnesota and Ohio.
[**] Also unlikely in current politics, given gerrymandering practices creating vast numbers of "safe" seats.
[***] And ambitious. Earlier in the episode, James insists that, in addition to serving as VP, he wants to be Secretary of the Treasury. I do not believe there is a constitutional bar to the VP holding a cabinet position, although I cannot see the Senate going for it.
That last part seems both constitutionally wrong and factually unlikely, at least as presented. So the mini Con Law lecture did not quite get it right.
First, whatever the uncertainty of the makeup of the next House,the possibility that twenty-five state delegations will be controlled by one party and twenty-five controlled by the other seems like an implausible logical leap. It would be a fun narrative twist to actually show happening; it just seemed a strange place for Meyer's aides to go in predicting right then. Second, and related, why does nobody consider the possibility of a tie in the Senate (historically, a more likely occurrence) or even of James losing in the Senate (if the opposing party has a majority). It is not discussed, even to explain away that the Senate make-up is not unknown and that the Meyer/James party will control the Senate.
Third, under the Twelfth Amendment, if the House has not yet chosen a President by the appointed date (as further amended, January 20), "the Vice President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President." The Twentieth Amendment further provides that "[i]f a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified." In other words, contrary to what the show says, James would be Acting President, not President; he would not enjoy an inauguration, he would not be listed in the line of Presidents, and he certainly would not be able to appoint a Vice President.
He also would act as President only until "a President shall have qualified," that is, until the House is finally able to resolve any stalemate and pick the President. This presents the fourth problem with the show's constitutional narrative--the assumption that there would be one House vote, it would end in a tie, and that would be the end of the discussion. But the House may (and will) take multiple votes and engage in a lot of politics to resolve the question--it took 36 ballots and political pressure from Alexander Hamilton for the House to elect Jefferson over Burr in 1801. So even if the initial vote were tied (again, unlikely), the House likely would not stop at a tie and leave an elected VP to serve four years as acting President; the House would feel public and political pressure to continue negotiating and holding votes until someone is elected President from between the two**** top-of-the-ticket candidates for whom the public had just cast millions of votes.
[****] The Twelfth Amendment provides that the House may consider up to the top three Electoral College vote-getters, unnecessary here, since no third-party candidate received College votes. The show might have tried to really go all the way on E/C confusion by throwing in a third candidate who won two three-elector states (one from each candidate), producing a tie without a possible majority.
None of which is to dampen my enthusiasm for the show. But if the writers are deliberately showing a constitutional possibility, I just want them to get the small details right (especially when those details involve legal issues I am interested in).
Is Criticism of Lethal Injection Just a Front For Opposing the Death Penalty?
I had planned to follow last week’s post on lethal injection with a post about the firing squad as a method of execution. But I’m saving that for tomorrow in light of the numerous emails and conversations that have come my way about the relationship between one’s position on lethal injection and one’s position on the death penalty itself. Is criticism of lethal injection just a front for criticizing the death penalty?
My own experience over the past week suggests that most people think the answer is yes—if you have a problem with lethal injection, it’s because you must have a problem with capital punishment, so let’s be real about where the façade actually lies.
But the two don’t necessarily, or even logically, go together. There are plenty of people who support the death penalty on retributivist grounds (indeed, retribution is by far the most popular reason people support the death penalty today) who have a problem with lethal injection for the very reasons I mentioned in last week’s post. Law Professor Robert Blecker, an outspoken retributivist, is a prime example. Here’s what he had to say:
Lethal injection conflates punishment with medicine. The condemned dies in a gurney, wrapped in white sheets with an IV in his veins, surrounded by his closest kin, monitored by sophisticated medical devices. Haphazardly conceived and hastily designed, lethal injection appears, feels, and seems medical, although its sole purpose is to kill.
Witnessing an execution in Florida, I shuddered. It felt too much like a hospital or hospice. We almost never look to medicine to tell us whom to execute. Medicine should no more tell us how. How we kill those we rightly detest should in no way resemble how we end the suffering of those we love.
Others who support capital punishment might rightly oppose lethal injection for the endless litigation, delay, and bad press it has brought the administration of the death penalty in the United States.
On the flip side, some abolitionists support lethal injection under the theory that at least when done right, this method of execution inflicts the least amount of pain upon the condemned, and until the death penalty is abolished, that’s about the best they can do. Others in this camp like what lethal injection has done for the abolitionist cause—allowed drug companies to gum up the works, brought renewed salience to botched executions, and mobilized the medical profession to take a stand its involvement in the process.
Of course, abolitionists can also oppose lethal injection, just as death penalty advocates can support it. Years ago, one such abolitionist said this in making the point, “The worst sin of all is to do well that which should not be done at all.”
Given the recent litigation in Glossip v. Gross, I’m not so sure the shoe fits anymore, if it ever did. But it’s an open—and quite separate—question as to whether that’s so because lethal injection doesn’t “do well” in executing the condemned, or because executing the condemned is something we shouldn’t be doing at all.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Is Lethal Injection About Us or Them?
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about lethal injection, about the ways it is problematic regardless of what the Supreme Court holds in Glossip. I’m at the very early stages of a work-in-progress on the topic, and one of the things I’ve been quite drawn to is a passage from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s dissent from the denial of a rehearing en banc in Wood v. Ryan.
Here’s what he wrote:
Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful—like something any one of us might experience in our final moments. . . . But executions are, in fact, nothing like that. They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.
It’s worth noting that Judge Kozinski supports the death penalty (his essay “Tinkering with Death” presents a thoughtful and remarkably personal account of his views on the subject) so his position here can’t be written off as just another abolitionist trying to muck things up. The pain inflicted on victims and their families is tremendous, he says, and society has a moral right to respond accordingly. The point here is that we should at least be honest about what the death penalty is: brutality for brutality. And if we’re not willing to accept that, we shouldn’t be doing it.
So here’s my question: is lethal injection about us or is it about them? That is, is it about masking the brutality of executions so we don’t have to deal with the violence inherent in taking another life? Or is it about providing the condemned with a relatively painless death, something they don’t deserve (at least by the measure of their own crimes) but can expect from a civilized society?
Perhaps it’s both, but the history of lethal injection suggests it’s a lot about us. Oklahoma was the first state to adopt lethal injection, and its legislators did not ask how do we euthanize pets, how does physician-assisted suicide work, how can we do this as pain free as possible. It was 1977, and the Supreme Court had just brought back the death penalty the year before in Gregg v. Arizona, after having abolished it in Furman v. Georgia in 1972. Legislators worried that the American public wouldn’t have the stomach for executions the old fashioned way—hanging, electrocution, gas (firing squad made a famous appearance in 1977 but never really got off the ground). They needed something that wouldn’t jar the public, something that looked much more peaceful, civilized. The answer was what would become the standard 3-drug lethal injection protocol.
I’ve been chewing on the democratic accountability point Kozinski makes at the end of the above passage: “If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.” We should own it, and that means we shouldn’t be executing in a way that people associate with putting down a beloved pet. It seems to me he’s on to something here.
But how far do you want to take this? one of my colleagues asked. I mean, one could go all Hunger Games on this thing, and make people watch executions on a huge screen. The more blood the better.
That’s not what I have in mind, but there is something to recognizing that the death penalty is inherently violent. It has to be; it’s extinguishing life before the body would naturally have it end. And there is something to recognizing that lethal injection hides that fact, and indeed was designed for the very purpose of hiding that from us to make it more palatable.
Friday, June 05, 2015
Despite Nebraska’s repeal of its death penalty last week, Governor Pete Ricketts has vowed to execute the 10 inmates now on death row. Here’s the argument:
Nebraska’s repeal legislation states “It is the intent of the Legislature that in any criminal proceeding in which the death penalty has been imposed but not carried out prior to the effective date of this act, such penalty shall be changed to life imprisonment.”
The state AG’s office says the provision violates the state constitution, which gives the Board of Pardons exclusive power to change final sentences.
The repeal law’s defenders say it does not change the actual sentence of death, but rather removes the state’s ability to carry it out, just like repeal legislation in other states. And as for the intent provision, well that’s just an intent provision; it doesn’t carry the force of law.
In my mind, the issue is purely academic (which, I’m an academic, so fine by me) because Nebraska will never get the drugs to execute anyway (yesterday’s post).
But this one has me scratching my head. Other than the intent provision, the bill effectuates the repeal by simply amending the classes of felonies from 9 to 8 and striking out the death penalty as the highest class one felony. So there’s that change, and the intent provision. That’s it.
On the one hand, I think the constitutional claim has legs—it’s one thing to pass repeal legislation, and quite another to legislatively change someone's sentence. And the intent provision in the statute is the clearest indication of what the statute is intended to do, change the sentence.
On the other hand, the only operative language in the amendment is just removing the death penalty as the highest penalty, and functionally, that does change death sentences to life, which is clearly what intent statute, although perhaps inartfully drafted, is trying to communicate. Besides, once Nebraska repealed its death penalty, it has no need to literally change existing death sentences to life, because as a practical matter those death sentences cannot be carried out anyway.
Recognizing that, a literal reading of the intent provision can’t be the legislature’s intent, which is itself a sad state of affairs.
The return of summary adjudication?
For a long time, SCOTUS had a great deal of mandatory jurisdiction. Prior to 1976, actions to enjoin enforcement of constitutionally defective federal and state laws were heard by three-judge district courts with direct and mandatory review by SCOTUS. Prior to 1988, SCOTUS had appellate (mandatory) jurisdiction over state court judgments that invalidated federal statutes or upheld state statutes in the face of federal (usually constitutional) challenge. This obviously played some role (how much is an empirical question that I would like to explore someday) in the Court's docket being significantly larger from the '60s through the mid-'80s. One way the Court handled that larger docket was through summary and memorandum dispositions (both to affirm and to reverse) of some of these mandatory-jurisdiction cases (again, the numbers are for future exploration).
For now, I am wondering whether the Court's seemingly increasing practice of summary grant-and-reverse decisions--part of what Will Baude described as the Court's Shadow Docket and which Richard further discussed--reflects a return to this practice. Monday's decision in Taylor v. Burke (which I discussed Wednesday) is the latest example of the practice, which is especially prominent in certain types of cases (notably § 1983/qualified immunity and habeas) involving certain types of outcomes (predominantly, although not always, where the government/officer lost in the lower court). As before, summary procedures allow the Court to speak to and resolve a greater number of cases, even if not in the fullest fashion.
The difference is that the earlier practice was (at least arguably) necessary to handle the heavier caseload that Congress had imposed on the Court; the Justices could not address so many cases if they had to give plenary review to each of them. On the other hand, necessity does not dictate the current practice--the Court is not doing this because it has no other way to handle these cases or because it would be unduly burdened by giving plenary review to more cases. Instead, it reflects the Justices' strategic choice to reach more cases and issues, often towards a particular substantive end, but without expressly acknowledging an expansion of its jurisdiction or its certiorari practices and without, as Baude puts it, their "otherwise high standards of transparency and legal craft."
Thursday, June 04, 2015
Nebraska’s Governor said he did (or at least promised they were on the way) while trying to fend off the state’s repeal of the death penalty last week. For those who missed this nail-biter, Nebraska’s unicameral legislature had voted to repeal the death penalty, the governor had vetoed the repeal measure, and the legislature was gearing up to override the veto (they needed 30 votes, and pulled exactly 30).
Nebraska is the first Republican-controlled state in over 40 years to repeal the death penalty, a fascinating account in a number of ways. I’m not sure it’s “a Nixon-visits-Red-China moment” but it’s big. When it makes a John Oliver segment, you know it’s big (and messed up in some strangely entertaining way).
It’s fascinating that Governor Pete Ricketts responded with the tweet: “My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families.” I found myself shouting at my computer when I read this, like some crazy sports fan yelling at the TV. “Are you serious?” I asked (expletives redacted). “Are you aware that Nebraska hasn’t had an execution in almost 20 years? You do know that your death row of 11 just dropped to 10 because another guy died waiting to be executed, right?” Nebraska’s death penalty was a waste of time and money, which is part of the reason conservatives voted to repeal it.
But what I find especially fascinating is the role that lethal injection drugs—or more accurately, the lack thereof—played in Nebraska’s repeal. Here’s the backstory:
When drug manufacturer Hospira pulled out of the sodium thiopental market in early 2011, death penalty states scrambled to replace the supplier. They had to. Thiopental was the first drug in the then-standard three-drug lethal injection protocol.
Nebraska was memorable in this regard because it bought thiopental from a broker in India, who, as it turned out, had gotten the drug from a Swiss manufacturer that was adamantly opposed to the use of its product in executions. When the Swiss manufacturer found out, it demanded that Nebraska give its drugs back. Nebraska said no. (My colleague Jim Gibson and I detail this story and others in a forthcoming article on the international market for death penalty drugs).
Fast forward to 2015. Nebraska has been out of thiopental for years, everyone knows the drug isn’t gettable any longer, and the legislature is about to override the governor’s veto. On the eve of the vote, the governor makes an announcement: he’s got the drugs. $54,000 later, they’re on their way—from the same broker that sold the state someone else’s drugs in 2011. No need to repeal, Nebraska can start executing again. Maybe the rest of the country can too.
Except, hold up. The thiopental shortage wasn’t just about suppliers refusing to sell. It was also the result of a 2013 DC circuit court decision forcing the FDA to enforce its import controls, which basically put the kibosh on states’ efforts to import thiopental for lethal injection purposes, a “concededly misbranded” use.
The Nebraska Attorney General says the DC circuit decision doesn’t apply to it because it wasn’t a party to the case. I’m yelling at my computer again. Does the state AG really think Nebraska is exempt from FDA enforcement of import controls because it wasn’t a party to the case that started the enforcement?
The FDA said this in response: “With very limited exceptions, which do not apply here, it is unlawful to import this drug, and the FDA would refuse its admission into the United States.”
Nebraska says it’s going ahead with the executions, despite the repeal, as soon as the drugs come in—which I think means never, but its claim of authority for doing so is the topic of my next post.
In the meantime, I find myself wondering whether the administration’s actions here were just a political ploy, or whether the problems with procuring death penalty drugs have become a bona fide tipping point for repeal and/or retention. If the latter, then the international market for death penalty drugs has had an impact indeed.
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
Next Stop: Crazyville, AL
(H/T for the title: My colleague, Tom Baker)
As I believe I have written here before, my law school mentor, Marty Redish, used to tell us that when our legal analysis matched our political preferences, we should go back and rethink the legal analysis [ed: To be clear: The conclusion may remain the same, but we should do it again to be sure.] I thus can feel a slight sense of academic pride in defending the various moves by Roy Moore and other officials and advocates in Alabama--people with whom I agree on virtually nothing--trying to stop marriage equality.
But this move about ends that. The relators in the state mandamus action have moved for "Clarification and Reaffirmation" of the mandamus order, in light of Judge Granade's decision to certify and enjoin plaintiff and defendant classes, effectively making the federal injunction statewide. The relators argue that Judge Granade has made her injunction superior to the state mandamus, that she overruled the state supreme court, that she created an unnecessary conflict, and that her decision is a "direct assault" and "unprecedented attack" on the mandamus order and on the state judiciary. In other words, the identical criticisms that people on the other side leveled against the relators and the mandamus given the existing federal injunction--but if those arguments were wrong then (and they were), don't make them now.. They also argue that Judge Granade should have abstained in deference to the state proceeding, particularly under Burford. More problematic is the rhetoric in the motion, which uses some form of the word "legitimate" or "illegitimate" around fifteen times in seventeen pages, both in describing Judge Granade's decisions, as well as in describing the likely eventual decision from SCOTUS.
Ulimately, I am not sure of the point of the motion. No one doubts the mandamus remains in effect. And no one doubts that probate judges might find themselves under conflicting orders (once the stay on the class injunction is lifted), which is inherent in concurrent jurisdiction and not such an unusual occurrence (especially given that abstention is always discretionary). And the relators are genuinely deluded if they believe, as they suggest in a long footnote, that the mandamus will have any effect on SCOTUS's decisionmaking in Obergefell.
What hath Pearson wrought?
Michael Dorf and Scott Michelman comment on Monday's summary grant-and-reverse in Taylor v. Barkes, another qualified immunity case. The Court held unanimously that the right at issue (to have jails create and implement sufficient suicide screenings) was not clearly established; no SCOTUS precedent established such a right, the lower courts were divided, and Third Circuit precedent, even if it could clearly establish, was not on point. The analysis sounded very much like San Francisco v. Sheehan, which Richard discussed at the time.
I want to pull on a small thread that both Michael and Scott raise--how 2009's Pearson v. Callahan makes Taylor (and other cases) possible. Pearson overruled Saucier v. Katz, rejecting the rigid "order of battle" in which a court must first decide whether the plaintiff's right was violated on the facts at hand (on summary judgment or in the complaint) before considering whether that right was clearly established. Pearson unanimously held that, while this order of battle is typically appropriate, it is not required. A court may save judicial resources and time by deciding that a right is obviously not clearly established without getting into the weeds of a possibly difficult constitutional question. It is not surprising that lower courts have taken Pearson at its word and regularly assume a violation and reject the right as not clearly established (I discuss two examples from the Fifth Circuit, although with a focus on summary judgment analysis, here).
What is perhaps unexpected (I certainly did not anticipate it) is how the Justices themselves have used Pearson. It offers a simple, cheap, and powerful tool for protecting law enforcement officers and other government officials from judgments* the Justices regard as erroneous, without expending the time and resources on plenary review, necessitating substantive constitutional lawmaking (which Michelman discusses as something that can cut for or against civil rights plaintiffs), or violating the Court's self-imposed limit against granting plenary certiorari review solely for error correction. Pearson enabled the summary reversal in Taylor; the Court could get the defendants out from under the adverse decision in six pages, with little work and no need to engage in substantive Fourth or Fifth Amendment analysis. It similarly enabled Sheehan; the Court could hang onto and quickly resolve the "clearly established" issue, even while DIGing or avoiding the substantive issues and without having to really address the cert.-worthiness of that issue standing alone.
[*] Actually, not even judgments in most of these cases, but the erroneous denial of summary judgment or 12(b)(6) and the burden of having to litigate any longer.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Preclusion, ascertainability, and civil rights classes
On this post about class certification in the Alabama marriage litigation, commenter "Hash" began an exchange about the scope of that class, whether it was properly defined, whether it was "ascertainable," and whether it allows for some gamesmanship by class members to avoid preclusion.
The class of plaintiffs is defined, in relevant part, as "all persons in Alabama who wish to obtain a marriage license in order to marry a person of the same sex," with class members identifiable by their application for a license. Hash raises the following situation (I'm paraphrasing):
The plaintiffs lose and Judge Granade decides that Alabama's SSM ban does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. A same-sex couple goes to federal court seeking an injunction against enforcement of the ban; the government argues preclusion, that the couple were part of a class in an action that already decided that the ban was constitutional. In response, the couple will argue that they were not part of the (unsuccessful) class because, at the time of the district court's ruling, they did not wish to be married. They only decided to get married afterwards, so the decision in the class action cannot be binding on them.
The problem, Hash argues, is that this couple will have no qualms about relying on the injunction to obtain the license, creating a one-way opt-out, claiming the benefits of the injunction if they win but avoiding the drawbacks if they lose.
My fuller thoughts after the jump.
First, Hash raises a genuine issue. All else being equal, this is how a couple would try to get around preclusion. And he is correct that the class definition should and generally will be merits-blind. True, it probably wasn't in this case, in part because, as another commenter notes, the class action is a follow-up to two previous individual injunctions in the same action, so we know exactly how Judge Granade comes out on the constitutional question. But it will not always be so.
Second, I do not believe this is unique to the marriage case, but rather is endemic to FRCP 23(b)(2) classes in constitutional actions. At pp. 7-8 of the class certification order, Judge Granade cites several 23(b)(2) precedents, with classes defined as, for example, "female students who seek to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics" or "persons seeking abortions." These classes do not seem to be defined much differently than the class here, in that all are unspecified as to time. And I expect that, as Asher suggests in the comments to the earlier post, Judge Granade understood her injunction as applying to all people who wish to get married in the future. In fact, she cited one other case in which the class was defined as everyone who wished or expected to engage in some expressive activity in the future.
But does that raise due process concerns, in that someone will be bound in their future activity? Especially since 12(b)(2) requires neither notice nor opportunity to opt out of the class? I do not believe so for several reasons, somewhat tied to the nature of injunctive relief.
First, to the extent the government would argue issue preclusion, that generally does not apply to purely legal questions, such as the declaration that SSM bans do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.
Second, even if the denial of the class injunction has claim-preclusive effect on every couple who may seek to marry in the future, this hypothetical couple will not be left without an option. Rather than filing a new action for an injunction--likely before Judge Granade, if in the Southern District--and having to face a preclusion defense, they could go back to Judge Granade as part of this action and seek relief from the judgment denying the injunction, under FRCP 60(b)(6) or (b)(5). The couple's arguments would be the same in both--the ban is, in fact, unconstitutional and the probate judge should be enjoined from enforcing it. And the trigger to both actions would be the same--some change in the law (for example, a decision from SCOTUS or the Eleventh Circuit) renders Judge Granade's denial of the injunction erroneous and inequitable. This, of course, is the converse of what defendants do to get out from under continuing injunctions and what the Alabama probate judges will do in Strawser if Obergefell comes out the opposite of what everyone expects. But it also is what an individual plaintiff would do, so why would it not work for class members?
Does this resolve the problem?
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Class certifcation in Alabama SSM litigation
Judge Callie Granade of the Southern District of Alabama took a giant step towards establishing marriage equality throughout Alabama. Judge Granade finally granted the motion for class certification in Strawser. She certified a plaintiff class of
all persons in Alabama who wish to obtain a marriage license in order to marry a person of the same sex and to have the marriage recognized under Alabama law, and who are unable to do so because of the enforcement of Alabama's laws prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples and barring recognition of their marriages.
And she certified a defendant class of
all Alabama county probate judges who are enforcing or in the future may enforce Alabama's laws barring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and refusing to recognize their marriages.
In a separate order, she extended the preliminary injunction, previously entered against Probate Judge Don Davis, to Probate Judge Tim Russell and the rest of that defendant class, prohibiting them from enforcing the state's same-sex marriage ban and requiring them to issue licenses to any member of the protective class who follows the proper steps towards obtaining a marriage license. But Judge Granade then stayed the injunction pending SCOTUS resolution of Obergefell, which is "imminent."
Thoughts on the order and where this leaves us after the jump.Assuming (as everyone expects) Obergefell establishes Fourteenth Amendment protection for same-sex marriage, Judge Granade will immediately lift the stay, establishing a binding injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Alabama SSM ban effective throughout the state and guaranteeing every same-sex couple a marriage license. That injunction is necessary to put Obergefell into effect in the state, since that decision will have nothing to say directly to Alabama law or to any Alabama officials. And because it protects all possible couples and binds alll possible probate judges, it spares couples the trouble of having to initiate individual litigation against individual judges to obtain injunctions in light of Obergefell.
Judge Granade also swept aside various arguments that the federal court should defer to the state mandamus prohibiting probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Rooker-Feldman, the Anti Injunction Act, and every other abstention doctrine were inapplicable, since the plaintiffs were not parties to the state mandamus proceeding and, in any event, the federal injunction preceded the state mandamus.
Granade further insisted that, pursuant to the Supremacy Clause, the federal injunction enforcing the Fourteenth Amendment trumps state law and the state mandamus action, citing SCOTUS' discussion of the Supremacy Clause and Ex Parte Young from Armstrong. As she put it, the defendants "cannot be held liable for violating Alabama state law when their conduct was required by the United States Constitution."*
* I actually believe Judge Granade's analysis is wrong on this point. The conflict here is not between a state law and a federal injunction applying the Fourteenth Amendment against that state law. The conflict is between two judicial decisions and orders--one state, one federal--interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supremacy Clause does not raise the federal order above the state order. Judge Granade's view that the Fourteenth Amendment requires defendants to issuance of licenses does not trump the Alabama Supreme Court's view that the Fourteenth Amendment does not require, and in fact prohibits, issuance of those licenses. This analysis again reflects the erroneous view that one district court's declaration establishes the meaning of "the Constitution."
The correct answer is that there is, indeed, a potential conflict between the two orders. But the state mandamus expressly allows probate judges to show that they are under a conflicting federal obligation, offering a basis to be relieved from the state mandamus. In other words, the state court order itself eliminates any federal-state conflict, obviating the need for the federal court to avoid the conflict by staying its hand.
Of course, it would not be Alabama if someone did not misstate what is going on. Today, it was the Southern Poverty Law Center, which stated that this decision "ends the chaos and confusion that Attorney General Strange and Chief Justice Moore have intentionally caused through their reckless rejection of federal constitutional principles." As I have written and continue to write, I am not quite sure what "federal constitutional principles" Strange or Moore have rejected. That is, unless "any decision with which we agree, even a non-binding precedent from a single district judge, must be binding on everyone everywhere" is a federal constitutional principle.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Justice Scalia was not pleased
Justice Scalia was not pleased with Monday's decision or with the petitioners in San Francisco v. Sheehan. The Court dismissed certiorari as improvidently granted on one question, involving application of a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act to police affecting arrests, because petitioners ended up not briefing or pursuing that issue. The court then resolved the other question, holding that officers were entitled to qualified immunity for an incident in which officers entered the room of a mentally ill woman and shot her when she charged at them with a knife.
While agreeing with the decision to DIG the first issue, Scalia, joined by Justice Kagan, argued that the Court also should have dismissed the second question as improvidently granted, because the Court never would have granted cert on a fact-bound qualified immunity issue standing alone. Scalia argued that while non-independently certworthy issues often are decided alongside connected certworthy issues, where the certworthy issues is dismissed, the Court should not decide the otherwise unworthy subsidiary issue. And he placed the blame squarely on the city and county; he threw around terms such as "induce," "bait-and-switch tactics," and "reward[ing]" petitioners by giving them "all they seek" to describe what San Francisco did and what the Court was allowing it to do. Scalia worried that future litigants will be encouraged to "seek review premised on arguments they never plan to press, secure in the knowledge that once they find a toehold on this Court's docket, we will consider whatever workaday arguments they choose to present."
Otherwise, Justice Alito's opinion for six justices (Justice Breyer recused) was a straightforward restatement and application of the emerging modern law of qualified immunity, in all its unfortunate development. The Court again questioned, without deciding, whether binding circuit precedent or a "robust consensus of cases of persuasive authority" could clearly establish a right. And it showed how precedent-bound the analysis has become, with clearly established being all about how factually analogous or distinguishable prior cases are. At one point, the Court spoke of reasonable officers "carefully read[ing]" precedents and what officers could know from that precedent--giving voice to the fiction that police officers actually read case law and are put on notice and guided by the factual specifics of prior cases compared with the situation they currently face.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Muslim cartoons and Nazis in Skokie
Here is a nice post from Ron Collins (CoOp) on several different angles and issues in the controversy over Pam Geller and the cartoon contest. Interestingly, Collins compares this controversy to the Nazis marching in Skokie in 1977, which similarly divided the left on the appropriate protection for hateful, deliberately provocative speech that might provoke violence. Collins points out that the National ACLU has been unequivocal as to Geller, insisting that "it’s not even a tough question" that what she is doing is protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU famously lost money and members over its decision to represent the Nazis back in the day.
Collins also links to this piece in Reason comparing The New York Times' op-ed page position on Skokie with its position on the cartoons. It includes excerpts from last's week's editorial and from January 1, 1978's Nazis, Skokie and the A.C.L.U. The comparison reveals the shifting "yes, but" that Paul identified. Thirty-seven years ago, The Times never felt the need to suggest that Frank Collin's stunt was "not really about free speech," but instead was "an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom." Rather, that piece placed the burden on the People of Skokie to "demonstrate their respect for the law" by not engaging in violence.
Again, none of this affects the legal protection of anyone's speech. But there is a rhetorical and narrative difference that does make a difference.
Saturday, May 09, 2015
The First Amendment's Burden of Persuasion
In his post on that NYT editorial about Pam Geller and the cartoon contest. Paul says the following:
But their typical "yes, but" editorials on the subject would generally have ended with the civil libertarian point: yes, the speech is contemptible, but, followed by cut-and-paste quotes by Holmes and Brandeis. This is a "yes, but" editorial with the opposite orientation: yes, the speech is protected, but....
Of course, it is not only The Times that has long utilized that first "yes, but" structure; courts do it, as well. Consider Chief Justice Roberts in Snyder v. Phelps:
Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro's funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But . . .
Or Roberts' former boss, Chief Justice Rehnquist, in Hustler v. Falwell:
There is no doubt that the caricature of respondent and his mother published in Hustler is at best a distant cousin of the political cartoons described above, and a rather poor relation at that. If it were possible by laying down a principled standard to separate the one from the other, public discourse would probably suffer little or no harm. But we doubt that there is any such standard . ..
Several years ago, Erica Goldberg wrote at CoOp that she regretted the continued need for that "yes but" structure: "The day that I don’t have to disassociate myself from the speech that I am defending is the day that I can stop worrying so much about the state of free speech issues on campus." In fact, really, it always has been thus.
This is why I believe Paul is onto something that reflects a change in how we think and talk about the freedom of speech. In a comment to Paul's post, I described this as shifting the burden of persuasion. The first orientation acknowledges the speaker and the speech as contemptible, but celebrates First Amendment principle; the second orientation acknowledges the First Amendment, but focuses on condemning the speech and the speaker. Put another way: The first version focuses on celebrating First Amendment principle while accepting the speaker/speech as the cost of that; the second version focuses on condemning the speaker/speech while accepting the First Amendment as the cost, but one that demands the forceful condemnation as more necessary and more essential. Put a third way: The first structure seems to say "We don't like these speakers, but we have the First Amendment;" the second structure says "We're stuck with the First Amendment, but we really hate this speaker, he should not have spoken, and he may have even brought any injury on himself."
Compare that with how Roberts closed in Snyder: "As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case." That is different in tone, if not substance, from what The Times and others are saying about Charlie Hebdo, Pam Geller, the cartoons, etc. Now, I am not suggesting that it is not ok to criticize offensive speech and speakers even while defending their right to speak; the First Amendment does not immunize Pam Geller from criticism.
The point, I think, is a shift in which of those things we highlight. Perhaps this shifted burden will not make a difference doctrinally. But how we perceive the First Amendment affects how we talk about it, which perhaps affects how free speech controversies play out. If the focus is on condemnation, does the constitutional principle lose some of its luster? If the focus is on condemnation, will speakers be less willing to speak or less willing to pursue efforts to protect these principles? This, in turn, may affect how the courts eventually come to think and talk about the First Amendment.
Friday, May 08, 2015
Is public litigation better than private litigation?
The Obama Justice Department, first under Eric Holder and now under Loretta Lynch, is taking § 14141* out for a spin, opening broad investigations into an increasing number of local police departments. The most recent (and unsurprising) investigation is about to be opened in Baltimore.
* Update: Sidenote: How do you pronounce this section orally? Is it "one-four-one-four-one"? Is it "fourteen-one-four-one"? is it "fourteen-one-forty-one" (which is my preference)?
Section 14141 allows DOJ to file a civil action and obtain an injunction to stop patterns or practices of unconstitutional behavior by state and local law enforcement. In a sense § 14141 is a public counterpart to private actions under § 1983. The "pattern or practice" language of § 14141 mimics the judicially imposed standard for establishing municipal liability and the liability standards basically overlap. Both actions result in potentially broad structural injunctive relief (or a consent decree) requiring judicial monitoring of a local law enforcement agency and significant, sometimes costly changes to agency practices. Both may involve wide-ranging investigations; DOJ conducts a broad independent investigation pre-litigation, while a private investigation only can be conducted through post-filing court-supervised discovery. But this seems like a small difference. Yet there is much greater resistance to private than public litigation of this type, even though the result will be the same. Complaints about "government by judicial decree" are frequently leveled at § 1983 litigation, but not as much as at § 14141 claims.
So the objection, it seems, is not to federal injunctions against local police departments, but to injunctions entered through private litigation and at the urging/advocacy of private parties. Put differently, many people are opposed to (or at least less comfortable with) injunctions entered through the efforts of private attorneys general than through the efforts of the real attorney general. But why should that be? Both causes of action are established by Congress, so they have the same underlying political legitimacy. The resulting decree will not necessarily be different. Private attorneys general undertake the investigations for which DOJ may lack the resources, time, or political will. Consider that the amount of § 14141 activity in the Obama Administration is substantially greater than the activity during the GWB Administration.** And consider that DOJ is going into places--Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland--where long-simmering tensions created by longstanding (unconstitutional) police policies and practices finally exploded, creating the type of large problem that warrants intervention by the federal government. Perhaps, however, if private litigants had more leeway to pursue smaller systemic violations, they could stop them before they reach this breaking point.
** The head of the Civil Rights Division for several years of the Bush Administration is now my dean. His division preferred informal negotiated cooperative resolution or letters of understanding rather than the adversarial, confrontational approach entailed in litigation and formal decrees.
This expanded use of § 14141 makes some sense in historical context. It was enacted in 1996 1994 (sorry for the typo), so the law is less than 100 years old. The last four years of the Clinton DOJ was still trying to make heads or tails of the law. The Bush DOJ had other enforcement priorities and, as noted above, a different approach. The current Department understands how the law works, should work, and can work, along with a renewed interest on local policing that has become a flashpoint. But the question remains whether it would have become less of a flashpoint were more private litigation possible.
Thursday, May 07, 2015
Same-Sex Marriage: The (Ted) Kennedy Legacy
The odds-makers are generally in agreement that the deciding vote in Obergefell v. Hodges will be Justice Kennedy. While some have speculated that Chief Justice Roberts will find a way to join in a majority judgment (if not majority opinion) recognizing a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the more-prevalent view is that the liberal-conservative stalwarts on the Court will split 4-4 and that Kennedy will cast the decisive fifth vote one way or the other. If he sides with the proponents of same-sex marriage, the winners will have another Kennedy to thank, albeit posthumously, for that result: Senator Ted Kennedy.
The narrative goes like this:
In 1987, Justice Lewis Powell retired, leaving President Ronald Reagan his third Supreme Court vacancy to fill. (The first occurred when Potter Stewart retired, and President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor. The second occurred when Chief Justice Warren Burger retired, and President Reagan elevated William Rehnquist to the Chief Justice seat and appointed Antonin Scalia to fill the vacancy.) Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork of the D.C. Circuit, leading to the infamous confirmation hearing that ended with a Senate vote rejecting Bork, 58-42.
Bork’s greatest and first nemesis in that nomination process was Senator Kennedy, who took to the Senate floor and urged that “Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”
Notably absent from that floor speech was any notion of rights for gays and lesbians. Remember, this was 1987. Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case that permitted states to criminalize sexual conduct between members of the same sex, was fresh law (and remained on the books until 2002, when Justice Kennedy wrote the decision in Lawrence v. Texas that overturned it).
Kennedy's speech galvanized the Senate, and the nation. Vice-President Joe Biden, then a senator and chair of the Judiciary Committee, had his own field day during the committee hearings. I was a fresh-faced first-year law student, and the protests on my law-school campus made indelible impressions on me. When Bork was ultimately defeated, we knew we had won. We didn't quite know what we had won, but we knew we had won something.
President Reagan next nominated Douglas Ginsburg to fill Powell's spot, but Ginsburg withdrew after reports surfaced that he had used marijuana. (Remember, it was 1987.) So Reagan turned to Anthony Kennedy. And here we are today.
Bork died in 2012. Had he won confirmation and remained on the Court until his death, President Obama would have been in office at the time of the vacancy. Given the likelihood that Obama would have appointed a justice favorably disposed to same-sex-marriage rights, some might say that blocking the Bork nomination had no ultimate impact on this issue. But it’s important to remember that Obergefell did not materialize out of thin air. It comes following years of development of legal protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people: (1) the Kennedy opinion in Romer v. Evans, which in 1995 struck down a state constitutional provision banning anti-discrimination laws protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals; (2) the 2002 Kennedy opinion in Lawrence; and (3) the 2013 Kennedy opinion in United States v. Windsor, overturning a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
So some credit is due to Senator Kennedy, arguably responsible (at least in part) for the ultimate nomination of Justice Kennedy. And that Kennedy-Kennedy legacy may end up making a bigger mark on history when the Court announces the Obergefell decision at the end of June.
Sunday, May 03, 2015
During the break between the petitioner and Solicitor General arguments on the first issue in Obergefell, a protester began screaming about how the Bible tells us that supporters of gay marriage will burn in hell, it's an abomination, etc. After the guy was pulled out of the courtroom (apparently it took four officers), the Chief offered Donald Verilli an extra minute to compose himself; Verilli first accepted, then declined. As Verilli was moving to the podium to begin his argument, Justice Scalia said "It was rather refreshing, actually," which was met with laughter from the gallery. (The whole thing is at pp. 27-28 of the transcript and at the very end of the petitioner's argument on the audio).
Jeffrey Toobin argued that the real ugly part was not the outburst, but Scalia's "shameful" joke. According to Toobin's article, expanded upon in this Political Scene Podcast, what Scalia found "refreshing" was that someone inside the courtroom was finally making the real argument against same-sex marriage--moral condemnation of homosexuality and LGBTQ people--rather than the sterile and ultimately incoherent arguments about accidental procreation and "biological moms and dads." Scalia was not joking; he was endorsing the viewpoint expressed by someone intentionally disrupting the proceedings and regretting that viewpoint's absence from the actual proceedings. Toobin even suggested that the response was not real laughter, but shock at what Scalia had said.
Honestly, it never occurred to me that Scalia was suggesting that this was the "real" argument that he wished would be made in the case. I heard this as genuine laughter rather than shock at Scalia's provocativeness (the advantage to being able to hear the argument, not just read it). It certainly is unusual for a justice to comment on courtroom protests, much less through a joke--and perhaps it is inappropriate. Perhaps Scalia meant that the protest broke the tension of the argument. If so, we can note that Scalia never finds the anti-Citizens United protests "refreshing," suggesting he simply was reacting to the rare protester who is not on the opposite side of an issue as he is. And that, too, might be inappropriate.
But was Scalia really "endorsing" the views expressed? Is Toobin right about this? Or is this another example of simplistic and reductivist coverage of the Court? And am I being too forgiving of Scalia?
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Upon further review . . .
I am rethinking my two posts on what happens in the lower courts outside the Sixth Circuit if the Court rejects marriage equality in Obergefell. I stand by my earlier suggestion that state officials will go back to the district court to dissolve the injunction.
But on further consideration, I am not sure this is significant or even necessary. And the reason goes back to the limited scope of the actual injunctions. None of the cases involved class actions; all were individual plaintiffs (generally 3-4 couples). Thus, when SCOTUS denied cert., state officials were obligated by the injunction only to issue licenses to the named plaintiffs, which they did. They were not obligated by the injunction to issue licenses to anyone else and no one else was entitled by the injunction to a license. So it is not the injunction that obligates state officials in California, Illinois, Utah, etc., to issue licenses to same-sex couples--it is the circuit precedent and the knowledge that they will be sued, enjoined, and made to pay attorneys' fees if they do not issue the licenses to new couples.
So there is no pressing reason for Scott Walker to get the Wisconsin injunction dissolved after Obergefell, at least in avoiding issuing new marriage licenses, although he will do it anyway. The injunction is not imposing any current obligations on him.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
A new wrinkle on now-invalid injunctions
A colleague at an Oregon-based school offers a different twist on what happens to Article III-final injunctions if the petitioners lose in Obergefell: What happens if the relevant state actors (the Governor or the AG) favor same-sex marriage and decline to file the motion to dissolve the injunction? This would be most likely in Oregon and California, where state officials declined to defend the ban or appeal the district court's decision invalidating it. This, my colleague suggested, might offer state officials a "weird way" to get around their own state's laws.
I can see four possibilities, although I would like to hear more (or hear why my three are wrong).
First, the district court might raise the issue sua sponte and issue an order to show cause why the injunction should not be dissolved; the state officials will have to respond and either distinguish Obergefell (or the state laws at issue there) or acknowledge that changed legal circumstances require the injunction be dissolved. Judges are not obligated to raise merits issue in this way (contra subject matter jurisdiction). But they often will do so, especially when it means getting cases off their dockets. And the judge has incentive to do this, precisely to prevent state officials from not enforcing laws they do not like.
Second, someone might intervene in the district court and file the motion to dissolve. It might be a county clerk arguing that the injunction is compelling him to act in a way contrary to controlling Supreme Court precedent. Or it might be one of the sponsors of the voter initiative that produced the constitutional amendment (a Rule 24 intervenor need not have Article III standing).
This involves a couple of tricky FRCP 24 issues. First, it is not clear who would be able to intervene as of right under FRCP 24(a)--would a clerk or the initiative sponsor claim an "interest" relating to the case that will be impaired or impeded and is not adequately represented? If not, then intervention could only be permissive under 24(b) and subject to the court's discretion. In the initial Oregon litigation, the district court denied permissive intervention by the National Organization for Marriage, even on behalf of an anonymous county clerk who claimed a religious objection to having to issue licenses to same-sex couples. The question is whether the intervention analysis changes if the dispute is over the continuing validity of an injunction that is inconsistent with new Supreme Court precedent, as opposed to the validity of the underlying law. Certainly the district judge may be more willing to permit 24(b) intervention in this situation than in the underlying action.
Third, someone--again, probably a county clerk or the initiative proponents--goes to state court, themselves or on behalf of the state, seeking a mandamus ordering the Governor or AG to do their duty and file the motion to dissolve the federal injunction. Whether this option is available and depends on specifics of Oregon law.
Fourth, state processes in Oregon (another voter initiative or some other process to amend the state constitution) repeals the 2004 constitutional amendment, perhaps moving very quickly to do so. As my colleague argues, the political culture has so changed in Oregon in just a decade that no one wants to defend the ban or to reinstate it by taking steps to dissolve the federal injunction.
Thoughts? My original post assumed that state officials would be anxious to dissolve the injunctions. This example shows that there may be a few states where that will not be true.
Fontana and Braman empirically test the countermajoritarian difficulty
David Fontana and Donald Braman (both of GW) discuss their study showing that, on the question of marriage equality, people do not [ed: oops] care whether marriage equality is established by SCOTUS or by Congress. Opinions on same-sex marriage were unchanged by the institution that established it.