Thursday, June 05, 2014

'Bring Back Our Girls' - Failure to Enforce the Rule of Law as a Crime Against Humanity

The media has been saturated with stories of violence against children and women in developing countries and the lack of meaningful action by government officials.  As a recent example, hundreds of girls in Nigeria were kidnapped from a boarding school and Nigerians have criticized the government for failure to sufficiently act.  In India, two girls were raped and hung from a mango tree while, villagers allege, the police stood by.  In Pakistan, a pregnant woman, while literally standing on the courthouse steps of a high court, was stoned to death by relatives even though such "honor killings" are illegal. 

Many developing countries have well-written laws dealing with such issues as violence against women and children, bonded labor, property grabbing, and the general administration of justice, but a large swath of the most vulnerable part of the population (the poorest, the women, and the children) fail to receive protection or justice.  No doubt, there is a rule of law problem.

Rule of law issues are complex.  Developing countries do not have the funds to enforce laws.  Citizens of developing countries are often unaware of their rights and protection under the law.  Corruption is a problem throughout law enforcement agencies and the justice system, from the police to the prosecutors and the judges.  The international community needs to do more to help battle this corruption (of course, this is not to say that we don't have our own major corruption problems on the domestic front).  The rule of law problem is so pervasive in some of these countries that all the good NGOs do by providing food, education and health care is overshadowed by the violence that the most vulnerable populations face daily.  Focus (and funds) should be shifted away from simply providing material aid, and instead more attention should be given to establishing the rule of law. 

It doesn't matter how healthy or educated a young girl is if she is raped without any recourse or murdered without any justice.  This is the subject of my current research project where I argue that the failure by high ranking government officials to enforce their countries' laws could establish a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute.  A systematic failure to protect a large portion of the population (i.e., women and children) from murder, rape and other inhumane acts fits the definition of a crime against humanity.  There are some potential problems with this analysis, though. 

Even if the failure to enforce laws (an act of omission) could constitute a crime against humanity, could anyone really be charged?  Many developing nations (including India and Pakistan) have not ratified the Rome Statute.  However, the U.N. Security Council has referred a few matters (Sudan and Libya) to the International Criminal Court.  In the Sudan matter, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the leader of Sudan under the Rome Statute even though Sudan is not a party member.  With enough international pressure, perhaps the Security Council would act again.  Even if it did not, some of the countries where gender and children violence is pervasive are parties to the Rome Statute (like Nigeria).

Second, and perhaps more important, even if a government official is charged with a crime against humanity, so what?  The ICC is struggling with number of issues, including the problem of enforcement.  Despite the issues surrounding the ICC, however, the shame brought upon an individual with a crime against humanity charge (or investigation) might send a strong message that the international community believes in the rule of law.

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 5, 2014 at 03:39 PM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Gender, International Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Please stop, Chief

From Bond v. United States:

"[T]he global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard." (in fairness, the kitchen cupboard language was in the Third Circuit's opinion). Earlier, Roberts posed a hypothetical about "[a]ny parent . . . when, exasperated by the children’s repeated failure to clean the goldfish tank, he considers poisoning the fish with a few drops of vinegar." (Seriously? Seems like extreme parenting).

I have wondered before whether Robert's penchant for these flourishes makes for good writing or whether it is incredibly distracting. I am still wondering.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 2, 2014 at 02:23 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Donald Sterling v. NBA: Your new Civ Pro exam

Donald Sterling sued the NBA to stop his league-imposed punishment and the forced sale of his team. A $ 2 billion offer from Steve Ballmar was accepted by Sterling's wife, Shelly on behalf of the trust that owns the team, having had Donald declared mentally incompetent; the NBA has approved that deal and canceled a planned hearing of the Board of Governors (the other 29 owners) to strip Donald of ownership. The lawsuit, with Sterling and the trust as plaintiffs against the NBA, asserts claims for a violation of the state constitution, federal antitrust, and various breach of contract claims; it seeks damages and an injunction halting the NBA-imposed punishments (a $ 2.5 million fine and lifetime suspension from the NBA) and the hearing to terminate his ownership.

Oddly, these claims are either not ripe or about to become moot, depending on what happens with the sale. The NBA has not yet held the hearing to terminate his ownership, so he has not yet suffered any damages from it. And since the league will cancel the hearing if the sale goes through, that claim becomes moot. If the sale goes through, expect the league to rescind the fine, mooting that element of relief. It might even lift the lifetime suspension--what involvement will Sterling have with the league if he is no longer an owner?--mooting that claim. And assuming the sale goes through, what damage will Sterling have suffered? Two billion dollars will be more than double the sale price of any NBA franchise and likely more money than he would have earned from continued ownership of the team. So, at best, maybe he can get the non-economic value of being an NBA owner--except he is such a pariah now among NBA owners that it would be hard to put any real value on this.

What Sterling really wants is an injunction halting the sale of the team, at least pending outcome of the litigation. But to get that, Shelly Sterling needs to be involved in the case, since she claims an interest in controlling the trust and pushing through the sale. So either she has to be joined under FRCP 19 or she will try to intervene under FRCP 24. (Note: I don't do much more than lecture on these two rules, just to show other ways of bringing parties into cases But Rule 19 confuses students, who think it applies more broadly to cover simple joint-tortfeasor situations; having a nice clear example, purely involving injunctive relief, is helpful).

Jurisidction here hinges on the antitrust claim and § 1331; there is supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims (although Sterling's lawyer--who in an ongoing media blitz has come across as the worst kind of slickster lawyer who does not actually care about things like law and procedure--did not mention that or any other basis for jurisdiction over the non-federal claims). But, here is where it gets fun. Antitrust experts generally agree that the antitrust claim is nonsense--Sterling signed a series of agreements and contracts to become owner of an NBA franchise and cannot claim harm if those contracts harm the public or competitors. Sterling really is arguing that, by violating its own Constitution and By-Laws in punishing him (arguments that are not entirely frivolous), the NBA has breached those agreements; in other words, this is really a state-law case. So perhaps the court declines supplemental jurisdiction under § 1367(c)(2) because the state claims predominate. Moreeover, the court is going to have to figure out who controls the trust (Donald or Shelly) and, perhaps, whether Donald is competent. Those sound like potentially complex issues of state law, warranting the court to decline jurisdiction under § 1367(c)(1). Finally, and most obviously, if the antitrust claim is that weak and the court dismisses it relatively early, it could decline jurisdiction simply for that reasons under § 1367(c)(3).

Update: An alert reader emails with another way Shelly Sterling could be brought into this case: She agreed to indemnify the NBA for any judgments arising from the sale of the team, including for lawsuits by her husband. So, having been sued, the NBA could now implead Shelly and the trust to enforce the indemnification agreement in the same action. Sterling then could assert claims against Shelly relating to any injunction of the sale.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 31, 2014 at 11:02 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

More statutory interpretation from Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling filed his Answer in the NBA's proceedings to force him to sell the LA Clippers. And as before, it involves a wealth of statutory interpretation questions.

Sterling leads off by challenging the NBA's reliance on the secretly recorded conversations as evidence, which gets interesting. He points to California Penal Code § 632(a), which prohibits recording confidential communications without consent, and § 632(d), which excludes "evidence obtained as a result of eavesdropping upon or recording a confidential communication . . .  in any judicial, administrative, legislative, or other proceeding." From this, Sterling insists he has a constitutional right not to have his private conversations recorded or having the evidence of his conversations used against him. That seems overstated--that the state offers a statutory protection against being recorded in furtherance of the constitutional right of privacy does not convert the right against being recorded into a constitutional right.

The interesting statutory question is whether internal dispute-resolution proceedings of a private organization constitute an "other proceeding" under § 632(d). On one hand, the language seems to contemplate public proceedings, since the three enumerated types of proceedings are all public in nature. So under ejusdem generis, that catch-all should be read to cover only similarly public proceedings. It also makes sense that the criminal code would regulate evidence in public but not private proceedings. On the other hand, are there any public proceedings that are not judicial, administrative, or legislative? If not, then "other proceedings" must mean something not public. Perhaps it refers to something like arbitration or mediation, which can be considered quasi-public--they are privately controlled processes to which parties agree to send otherwise-public disputes. But this proceeding still seems different. This is not a situation in which the NBA established an outside-but-private process (such as arbitration of appeals under the CBA with the players' union). This is the collection of 30 owners establishing their own internal processes controlled by the 30 owners, for regulating who stays within their own ranks. Even if § 632(d) goes beyond public proceedings, the NBA process still seems fundamentally different.

Finally, the answer may be affected by the 2001 decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper. Bartnicki held that Congress could not punish publication of an illegally intercepted and recorded phone call, where the publishers were uninvolved in the unlawful interception or recording. The First Amendment protects publication (and, implicitly, other uses) of truthful lawfully obtained information on matters of public concern, except where the government is serving a need of the highest order. So perhaps the NBA could argue that it is entitled under Bartnicki to use the laefully obtained (and thus constitutionally protected) recording in its private internal proceedings, meaning California law is limited only to public, California-established proceedings, but not to whatever private proceedings private persons and entities may adopt.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 29, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The awfulness of Wood v. Moss

OK, if Town of Greece did not get me too worked up, Tuesday's decision in Wood v. Moss (summary here), while not surprising, is so bad as to have me going the other way. And this was a Ginsburg opinion for a unanimous Court, so I am all alone on the island on this one. The Court held that two Secret Service agents enjoyed qualified immunity because no case law had held that agents engaged in crowd control were obligated to ensure that competing groups are at comparable locations or given equal access at all times when reasonable security concerns are in play. Sounds simple enough, but inside the opinion is a lot of really bad stuff.

First, the Court makes explicit (it previously was implicit) that the absence of qualified immunity is an element of the claim, rather than qualified immunity being an affirmative defense. The Court stated that the plaintiff must plead facts, under the Twiqbal standard, showing that the defendants violated a constitutional right and that the right was clearly established. So this means qualified immunity is the default starting point--a plaintiff must carry the burden of persuasion both as to the facts on the ground and the state of the law.

Second, for the third time, the Court assumed without deciding  that a Bivens could be used for First Amendment claims (the issue was not preserved below). Eventually some defendant will be smart enough to preserve this issue (the hints are there) and the Court will resolve it--and likely not in a good way.

Third, while the Court purported to resolve the case on the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis (no clearly established right ) rather than the first (no right violated), the analysis kept conflating the prongs and moving back and forth between them--there was a lot of discussion about why there was no violation here because the agents were motivated not by viewpoint discrimination but by security concerns. This is partly a consequence of the Court's insistence that the second prong must consider the right in the particular factual context and not at too high a level of generality, which invites entwinement of the two prongs. But the analysis (particularly at pp. 14-end) is all about why the agents were justified in moving the anti-Bush protesters (but not the pro-Bush protesters) in this case, not about anything having to do with prior case law. That sounds like the Court saying the plaintiffs did not sufficiently plead a violation.

Fourth, the decision does not leave any obvious room for protesters to ever challenge Secret Service decisions regarding crowd control (which is what Justice Scalia urged during argument). The Court pays lip service to the principle that "government officials may not exclude from public places persons engaged in peaceful expressive activity solely because the government actor fears, dislikes, or disagrees with the views those persons express." And it insists (as the defendants conceded) that the First Amendment might be violated if the agents moved some protesters with "no objectively reasonable security rationale." But that principle will virtually always be trumped by the overriding concerns for protecting the President and it is impossible to imagine a case in which a court would find that the Secret Service lacked an objectively reasonable security rationale while protecting the President. Indeed, the only purported security rationale in this case was keeping the protesters out of "weapons range" of the President (Ginsburg repeats that phrase four times), even though there is no indication on the facts pled that anyone had or planned to use a weapon. Someone being in range raises, per se, a valid security rationale.

But the Court then summarily dismissed any significance of allegations regarding the diners permitted to remain inside the restaurant--obviously in "weapons range" of the President--as undermining the security rationale. The justices simply accept the defendants' argument that the diners “'could not have had any expectation that they would see the President that evening or any opportunity to premeditate a plan to cause him harm,'" and thus were not a security risk, even if within weapons range. Of course,the anti-Bush demonstrators also did not expect to see the President in the open courtyard; they originally only expected to be able to stand along the path of the President's motorcade as it drove by (with pro-Bush protesters on the opposite sidewalk). So they, too, could not have had any opportunity to premeditate a plan. If the diners were not security threats because they were not expecting to be near the President, then neither should the protesters be security threats. Except for one difference--the protesters held anti-Bush views and were there to express those views. So is the Court saying that everyone who disagrees with the President is a security threat if in weapons range and thus can constitutionally be kept from getting "too close" to the President (at least when he is outside his secure car)?

Fifth, the Court does a lot of factfinding (without acknowledging as much, of course) on a case that remains at the pleading stage. The Court finds and accepts the defendants' security rationale, even though the defendants still have not answered the complaint or offered their own factual allegations or evidence. The Court makes determinations about what maps of the area, included as part of the Complaint, show (perhaps another example of plaintiffs pleading themselves out of court by providing the additional information needed to comply with Iqbal). And the Court rejects inferences about differential treatment of the protesters as compared with the diners. It appears to be apply Iqbal's "obvious alternative explanation," although without saying so. Otherwise, these at least should be matters for discovery and summary judgment, if not the factfinder.

Finally, the plaintiffs alleged past instances of viewpoint discrimination by other Secret Service agents; they were trying for an inference from these past instances to an informal agency policy of viewpoint discrimination to the individual defendants acting pursuant to that policy. The Court rejected this out of hand, insisting that Bivens liability can attach only to the officer's own misconduct and declining to accept the plaintiffs' inferences. Putting aside that reasonable inferences should be drawn in the plaintiffs' favor on a 12(b)(6) motion, this seriously cramps the ability to ever plead viewpoint discrimination in the absence of an agent dumb enough to announce that he is moving speakers because of their viewpoint. Moreover, the Court points to the agency's official policy--which expressly prohibits viewpoint discrimination--as evidence that the agents did not act improperly. But repeated past instances of ignoring official policy at least raise an inference that officers regularly ignore official policy, suggesting that these officers also ignored the policy. At the very least, that should be enough at the pleading stage.

As I pointed out previously, at oral argument Justice Kennedy mused that "it seems to me that if this complaint doesn't survive, nothing will." And given what the Court finally said in this case, nothing will.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 27, 2014 at 08:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Legal movie recommendation: "Shenandoah"

My wife's late father grew up in Shenandoah, PA (apparently, pronounced Shen'-en-doe-uh), a coal-mining town in east-central Pennsylvania populated (like many of these towns) by people of eastern European descent  (Poland, Lithuania, etc.). Back in the day, there was a small Jewish population in town that was received about as you would expect for the '40s and '50s; my father-in-law told of suffering anti-Semitic bullying (and worse) growing up and of rocks being thrown at the houses that were not decorated at Christmastime. My wife has not visited since she was a teen-ager (her family is gone from the area).

So she was struck to learn, belatedly, about a documentary called Shenandoah: The story of a working class town and the American dream on trial, released in 2012. It tells the story of the 2008 beating death of Luis Ramirez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico living in town, by six white members of the high school football team (who shouted ethnic slurs during the attack) and the ethnic, xenophobic, divisions it created in the community. Two players were tried on third-degree murder and related charges in state court, but acquitted on all but simple assault; they then were convicted of federal hate crimes (here is the Third Circuit opinion affirming those convictions). One player pled guilty to federal hate crimes and testified against the other two. And a fourth attacker was a juvenile and not tried as an adult; he cooperated and received probation. (Several police officers also were charged with various federal crimes for helping the players cover-up the crime, with mixed results).

The movie simultaneously tells the story of the murder and the subsequent state court proceedings, of the football's team's unsuccessful season following the attack (playing without several key players), and of a struggling industrial town and how it is dealing with changing demographics. It is definitely a film worth seeing. A couple of thoughts on the film and the story.

One is the role of narrative choice. A main participant in the film was Brian Scully, the juvenile who received probation for his role in the attack. Scully is portrayed very sympathetically in the film--he is remorseful and thoughtful about what they did and how wrong it was, and he is seen achieving some redemption in joining the school musical (the football coach would not allow him to play while charges were pending) and graduating. But the facts in the Third Circuit opinion describe Scully as being more centrally involved in the assault, including in shouting ethnic slurs. The movie shows that the state-court defendants tried to shift blame to Scully, but it portrays this as an unfair lawyer move (that was unfortunately successful).

Second the film portrays the ethnic tension as something new, a product of the town's relatively new economic struggles and the new wave of Mexican immigration. But my father-in-law's experiences suggest that this tension is nothing new; there always have been insiders and outsiders in this community and outsiders have not been treated well. And the smallness of the town (there was much "celebration" of the small town in the film) exacerbates those problems, because outsiders simply stand out more. One of the more disturbing events was a rally in support of the defendants, with attendees wearing shirts and carrying  signs with messages like "I'm American and I speak English" and singing "patriotic" songs. It degenerated into people shouting epithets and sexually offensive comments at the victim's (Anglo) fiancee, who was there as part of a counter-protest. The tenor of the rally was captured by a speaker who said something to the effect of "he didn't deserve to die, but if he had stayed in his own country, he'd be alive today." There concededly is no good way to protest on something like this without looking like a bigot. But you can help yourself by not saying and doing bigoted things.

Third, I did not know that the Fair Housing Act has a hate-crimes provision, which was the basis for the federal convictions of the two assailants. The provision criminalizes violence, threats, or intimidation because of the victim's race and because he is occupying a dwelling or with the intent to prevent him from occupying a dwelling. The goal would appear to be stopping cross burnings and other acts directed at keeping people from integrating neighborhoods. But in affirming the conviction, the Third Circuit made clear the statute reached all conduct motivated by dislike of particular people seeking to live in an area. Statements made during the attack about this being "our town" and telling the victim to go home to Mexico and that he did not belong in Shenandoah, along with evidence the defendants generally did not like the influex of Mexicans into town, all suggested an intent to intimidate him and other Mexicans from dwelling in Shenandoah.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 26, 2014 at 09:23 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Uncommon Law: Social Welfare and Corporate Governance in the Common-Law World

 

Reports of the uniformity of corporate governance among common law jurisdictions are greatly exaggerated (at least when it comes to shareholder rights and security, anyway).  This is an essential descriptive thesis of Chris Bruner's Corporate Governance in the Common-Law World: The Political Foundations of Shareholder Power.  It also is undoubtedly an engaging topic for a book--one that demanded my attention and resonated with me almost immediately.  In research I did a few years ago for what ultimately became a draft paper and book chapter, I had explored the validity of claims of international convergence in insider trading regulation and found much the same thing that Bruner finds in this book: facial similarities in legal structures and doctrine may mask more interesting and telling differences.

The descriptive account is important, but it is not the heart and soul of the book.  Rather, the core value of the book is that it strikes out beyond culture, history, and economics to politics--specifically, social welfare politics--to explain the differences among the corporate governance systems in the four jurisdictions studied--the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.  By demonstrating that changes in shareholder power and protections vary with social welfare dynamics, the book begs a far more significant conclusion: that corporate governance oppresses and empowers the populace in much the same way that state government does and that the corporation therefore may be an arm of or a substitute for state government in promoting or effectuating policy.  This take-away is unsurprising to me; it is intuitive and sometimes obvious in other contexts.  Nevertheless, the weight of proof is hard to come by, and I am grateful for Bruner's work in providing it.

Many elements of the story are compelling.

 In light of debates here in the United States about the role of shareholders in the corporate form, it was of particular interest to me that the U.K. Companies Act (which I have not independently studied to an significant degree) casts shareholders in the role of principals that can dictate the activities of corporate directors.  I had seen evidence of shareholder centrism in takeover regulation in the U.K. (which I teach in Comparative Mergers & Acquisitions, when I get the chance to teach that course), but the revelation that this shareholder-friendliness extends to the broader management function of the firm helped to explain and normalize the pro-shareholder mergers and acquisitions doctrine.  

This observation about the doctrine also demonstrates a fundamental difference between the doctrine in the United States and the United Kingdom:  in the United Kingdom, the board is an agent of the shareholders.  While folks try to make that argument under U.S. law, the agency is not complete given, among other things, the inability of shareholders to direct the board (in most cases).  In this aspect, the book's account of U.S. corporate governance offers support, at least from a comparative perspective, for the descriptive accuracy of Steve Bainbridge's evolving director primacy theory.  At the very least, as Bruner notes, it is "explicable as a rejection of strict shareholder primacy."  See p. 44.  On that note, for those who haven't watched the videos of the recent UCLA Lowell Milken Institute event, A Conference and Micro-Symposium on Competing Theories of Corporate Governance, I highly recommend them.

I wonder (and I do not mean for this to be a mere rhetorical question) what, in light of Bruner's observations on U.S. corporate law, he might have to say about the introduction of social enterprise entities into state corporate law in the United States.  In the past few years, we have seen in the United States the rise of benefit corporations, flexible purpose corporations, and the like (following on the introduction of  B Corp certification and low-profit limited liability companies--L3Cs).  This social enterprise entity movement (if you will) is in part a response to the lack of shareholder power under U.S. law to manage the business and affairs of the corporation--specifically, to ensure that the directors take into account social and environmental concerns in addition to traditional, financial shareholder wealth maximization.  Yet, that account differs from Bruner's assessment in the book on other-constituency statutes like those in Indiana and Connecticut, see p. 44, which he characterizes as a "marginalization of shareholders."  See also pp. 171-73.  (I see Andrew also picks up on this thread.)  The cultural, historical, economic, and political aspects of the emergence of social enterprise entities raise interesting questions that I would find to be a fruitful subject for further commentary.  To the extent they may affect public companies (who may become and are acquiring social enterprise entities), the matter deserves thoughtful consideration.  I can see how a treatment of this issue could both substantiate and challenge Bruner's observations about shareholder power under U.S. corporate law.

On a lighter note, as a securities law teacher and researcher, I also enjoyed the brief part of the book that explained the allocation of securities regulation authority in the various federal systems represented by the United States, Australia, and Canada.  See p. 78.  The issue of where authority in securities regulation resides in state governments outside the United States is always troublesome for those of us who desire to teach foreign law but have spent our time in the thickets of U.S. securities law.  In other words, it's always difficult to find securities law in a new jurisdiction when searching for it from an ethnocentric perspective . . . .  Here, I was admittedly a bit chagrined that U.S. securities law was classified as national law both as a default and in practice.  Although the book only purports to address public companies (which admittedly are largely regulated under federal securities law in the United States), I would argue that a lawyer for a public company who forgets to check on the applicability of state securities law for a particular transaction is committing malpractice.  This is true notwithstanding the breadth of constitutional power under the Commerce Clause and the resulting strong preemption provisions in the National Securities Markets Improvement Act of 1996.  But I may be misunderstanding Bruner's analysis here.

No matter.  The book is a good read (well written and provocative) and promises to generate much conversation here at Prawfs and elsewhere.  It conveys a lot of information in a relatable and accessible way.  I recommend it for your summer reading list.

Posted by joanheminway on May 13, 2014 at 03:09 PM in Books, Corporate, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Town of Greece and Iqbal

A funny thing about Town of Greece v. Galloway: I am not outraged or panicked about the future, as I somehow feel I should as a Jewish liberal Democrat. (Update: Perhaps I am not alone). I would have dissented were I on the Court, but I do not see the majority as tragically wrong. Maybe because Paul is right. Maybe because I know I am a religious minority and am not bothered by being reminded about that. Maybe because I do not attend town council meetings. Maybe because I have never lived in the type of community likely to use this decision as a reason to start those council meetings with pervasively sectarian or proselytizing prayers.

I do find troubling the utterly illusory nature of the (already small) opening the plurality left for challenging legislative prayers. Justice Kennedy stated this opening three different ways: "If circumstances arise in which the pattern and practice of ceremonial, legislative prayer is alleged to be a means to coerce or intimidate others, the objection can be addressed in the regular course." And "[c]ourts remain free to review the pattern of prayers over time to determine whether they comport with the tradition of solemn, respectful prayer approved in Marsh, or whether coercion is a real and substantial likelihood." And "[a]bsent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissible government purpose," there is no constitutional violation.

But it seems unlikely that a plaintiff will ever be able to make this showing. More problematically, it seems extraordinarily unlikely that a plaintiff will even be able to even sufficiently plead this under Iqbal (perhaps not coincidentally, another Kennedy opinion over a four-Justice dissent) so as to have an opporuntity to make the showing. It is easy to imagine the Court sweeping the complaint aside by finding an “obvious alternative explanation” for the government practice that is more plausible than the conclusion of an Establishment Clause violation. So, as in Town of Greece itself, that decade-long streak of only pervasively Christian prayers are a result not of impermissible purpose, but of bureaucratic over-simplification (using the Chamber of Commerce's limited list of houses of worship) or the fortuity of geography (the synagogue is on the other side of the imaginary town line).

Update: Dahlia Lithwick reports that Al Bedrosian, a member of the Roanoke County (Va.) board of supervisors has announced that he will seek to impose a Christian-only prayer policy, admitting that he probably would not allow any other religions, because America is a Christian nation and adherents to other religions are free to pray on their own. Public statements such as this make it easy enough to state a claim. The problem is that most public officials are smarter, saner, or subtler than Bedrosian, or will quickly learn to be. Then, much as with employment discrimination, cases become more difficult to prove and plead.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 6, 2014 at 05:36 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Sen Elizabeth Warren's New Memoir of Special Interest to Law Profs

There are a lot of reasons why law professors should read Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recently published memoir--“A Fighting Chance."  The top two are that it's well-written and frequently very funny.   (for full effect--I suggest the audio version that the Senator narrates herself).

Beyond that, not only is it a lucid explanation of the banking industry’s efforts to limit the ability of creditors to make a fresh start through declaring bankruptcy, it is an account of her extraordinary academic career--one that she achieved without any of the traditional criteria such as academic pedigree, powerful mentors, family connections, prestigious fellowships or judicial clerkships.  For those unfamiliar with her as Bankruptcy Professor-here are some posts she has made on the Credit Slips blog.

She also closely documents her struggles to balance family, both her children and elderly parents (and pets).   There is a lot for law professors to unpack here--including how her interest in the people behind the laws has shaped her career. 

But more generally, I look forward to discussing how critical it is for the future of legal education that Senator Warren succeed in convincing her colleagues of the need to reform the way higher education is financed.   Whether she herself has the best plan for fixing student loans—well different people have different views-including just eliminating them.   But unless we can stop the ever increasing cycle of debt that is making our students’ lives so difficult, any of the important changes that need to be made in legal education risk being about as effective as bailing out a sinking boat with a bucket that itself has a hole in it.

 As I will elaborate later, I’m very optimistic that we can all create a program about which students can say 5, 10, 15 years later that they are better off for having gone to our law school.  But we’re probably not there now.  Rather, we are in a situation similar to being attacked by a hive of bees.  Every individual bee, lack of job opportunities, bimodal salary distributions,  drop in state support for public institutions, lack of transparency about student outcomes, out dated curriculums, disconnect between the classroom and the practice of law, imposition of a value system that drives law students into disproportionate levels of depression that may well follow them  throughout their careers, is capable of inflicting painful or even lethal stings.   But the breach in the hive comes from a level of student loan debt that cannot be supported by any reasonably obtainable career path.  It’s not a perfect metaphor—student loan reform is necessary but not sufficient to developing a legal education that better prepares our students for the important role they will play in society. 

Posted by Jennifer Bard on May 3, 2014 at 01:33 PM in Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Law and Politics, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 02, 2014

Churches and marriage equality, ctd.

Chanakya Sethi at Slate reads the North Carolina anti-SSM stautes the same way I did -- as prohibiting civil ceremonies, not purely religious ones having no civil effect -- as do an expert on North Carolina family law and religious law scholar Doug Laycock.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 2, 2014 at 08:18 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Two additional thoughts on the Sterling suspension

Yesterday I questioned the precise basis for the NBA's suspension of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On further reflection, I want to consider some additional interpretive points.

First, I noted that the NBA Constitution and By-Laws contain two provisions--Article 35A(c) allows for a fine of up to $ 1 million for statements prejudicial or detrimental to the league and Article 35A(d) allows for a suspension and/or a fine of up to $ 1 million for conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the league. Commissioner Adam Silver must have relied on 35A(d), since 35A(c) does not allow for a suspension. But I questioned that usage. Sterling's misdeeds involved statements and the existence of distinct prohibitions--one regulating conduct and one regulating statements--suggests that the statement-specific provision should have been used here, which would make the suspension inappropriate.

But now I am wondering whether I am reading 35A(c) incorrectly. Perhaps the "statements" it prohibits are those that directly criticize the league or something about the league, for example game officiating (many a fine has been imposed on a coach or owner for doing that). But it does not reach statements about something else that, because of their viewpoint, happen to make the league look bad. That would instead be treated as "conduct" and pulled back within the more-general regulation of 35A(d).

Second, I am wondering if Silver simply jumped to the catch-all power of Article 24(l) to make decisions and impose punishments in the best interests of the NBA for all three sanctions, ignoring anything in Article 35A. Article 24(l)  allows for a range of penalties, including suspension and a fine up to $ 2.5 million. If so, it brings to even sharper light the question of how he could do that, since, again, 24(l) only operates when "a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws." This means Silver should have at least glanced at 35A(c) and/or (d), which do seem to cover this situation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 1, 2014 at 11:03 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cheering speech

BmQFxDMCAAI9Qni(H/T: Deadspin)

Why I have spent so much time arguing about fan speech and stadiums as public forums--because it allows expression such as this. But I wonder two things: 1) Did ABC show this or did the NBAorder them not to? 2) Would the Warriors/the arena have taken the signs were the wave of public opinion not running so overwhelmingly against Sterling?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 27, 2014 at 05:33 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

On animal rights

Sunday's New York Times Magazine reports on efforts by the Nonhuman Animal Rights Project and attorney Steven Wise to establish rights for certain breeds of autonomous animals (chimps, orcas, dolphins, etc.), using state habeas petitions in New York. It's an interesting read; Richard Epstein is interviewed for the competing position.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 27, 2014 at 04:56 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Standing and the proper defendants

To absolutely no one's surprise, a panel of the D.C. Circuit rejected the challenge to the constitutionality of the Senate's filibuster rule (shout-out to Josh Chafetz and Michael Gerhardt for the citation). The district court had found none of the plaintiffs (Common Cause, some members of the House, and some people who would have benefitted from certain filibustered bills, notably the DISCLOSE Act and the DREAM Act) lacked standing--none had not suffered any cognizable injury in fact, they could not show the bills would have passed but for the filibuster, and no injunction could have accorded them relief. Fed Courts 101 (and still a course everyone should take).

The circuit court took a different path: The problem was that the plaintiffs had sued the wrong defendants. The proper defendants were the Senate and the Senators who made, retained, and voted according to the filibuster rule with respect to the bills at issue. But all Senators would enjoy absolute legislative immunity, so they could not be sued. Nor could a court impose the remedy the plaintiffs wanted--an injunction prohibiting the 60-vote requirement and compelling the Senate to adopt a simple-majority rule.

To get around that, the plaintiffs sued Vice President Biden (in his role as President of the Senate) and a bunch of non-Senator Senate officers (Sergeant-in-Arms, Parliamentarian, and Secretary) as the people responsible for "enforcing" or "executing" Senate rules. (Powell v. McCormack being the obvious precedent). But that did not work here, because the named defendants did not do anything that caused the alleged injury, since the injury was the Senators' use of the 60-vote requirement.

This analysis adds a new wrinkle to the causation prong of standing by making the identity of the defendant an element of that prong. It requires not only that the defendants' action caused the harm, but also that these defendants caused that harm. Plaintiffs must show a link between conduct and harm and that they got the "right guys" in their suit. And causation--and thus standing--is absent if either one is absent.

But doing it this way shows-again-why standing makes so little sense as a jurisdictional rather than merits rule. In any other context--including constitutional claims, even constitutional claims for injunctive relief (where standing always comes up)--it is a merits dismissal when the plaintiff sues the wrong defendant.  Moreover, had the plaintiffs sued the Senators--thus solving the standing issue as viewed by the court of appeals--the legislative immunity defense would have produced a merits dismissal, not a jurisdictional dismissal.

At bottom, however, this is all about how plaintiffs structure their lawsuits--who sues, who they sue, what they sue for, what remedy they seek. It should have nothing to do with federal structural jurisdictional concerns.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 16, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Law prawf letter on Adegbile nomination

A group of law professors is circulating this letter to Senators Leahy and Grassley [Updated verion] regarding the Senate's rejection Debo Adegbile to head DOJ's Civil Rights Division; several Senators expressly pointed to Adegbile's past representation of Mumia Abu Jamal as the basis for their opposition. While not asking the Senator to reconsider Adegbile's nomination, the letter expresses concern for what this rejection says about the right to counsel (issues I discussed), the obligations of lawyers to take-on pro bono representation, and what happens if lawyers are tagged with the sins of their clients (pointing not only to Chief Justice Roberts, as did several commenters to my earlier posts, but also to John Adams for his (successful) representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre).

The authors are looking for law professors to sign on to the letter. If interested, you can do so online at this link. The deadline for signing is April 17.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 10, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (17)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wood: So many ways for the plaintiff to lose

The Court heard argument today in Wood v. Moss, a "bit-of-everything" case that I have written about previously both on Prawfs and as an early illustrator of Iqbal's dangers. There are all sorts of issues and reasons flying around the case, and while I do not see anyway the plaintiffs will win, I cannot tell why they're going to lose.

Justice Scalia seemed to be itching to hold that the First Amendment cannot be enforced through Bivens. Or, at least, not against Secret Service agents charged with protecting the President. Or, at least, subjective viewpoint-discriminatory intent is irrelevant if there also is a subjective security rationale (i.e., applying Whren to the First Amendment). The government wants to skip the merits and simply conclude that the right against viewpoint discrimination at a presidential appearance was not clearly established.

The pleading discussion came largely in the Respondent's argument. He and the Chief had an interesting exchange about how to read Iqbal--Respondent's attorney hit on the "plausibility is not probability" language, while the Chief hit on the "obvious alternative explanation" language. Lower courts have not done much with that language, at least not rhetorically, but the Chief may be trying to revive it. Respondent tried to read that as one of degree-only if the alternative is so clearly obvious and right that it renders the pled explanation implausible (which, of course, is not the case here). There is also a nice exchange about how discovery can or will work here and (implicitly) whether or not the district court can control it, including whether there are secrecy concerns with disclosing practices and policies regarding how the President is protected.

Justice Kennedy summed the case up best--"it seems to me that if this complaint doesn't survive, nothing will." Indeed. And that is the problem.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 26, 2014 at 04:59 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Clearing brush on standing and merits

While SCOTUS has successfully disentangled jurisdiction and merits over the past several years, it has not done much with standing and its unfortunate conflation with merits. Tuesday's decision in Lexmark int'l v. Static Control Components perhaps marks a first step toward drawing sharper distinctions. The issue in the case was whether Static Control could bring a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act against Lexmark, even though the companies are not competitors.

The parties and the lower courts framed this in terms of the "zone of interests" test for prudential standing. The Court unanimously rejected that framing (as well as the closely related "statutory standing"), saying it has nothing to do with subject matter jurisdiction or standing. Zone of interests goes to whether the plaintiff falls within the class of people whom Congress authorized to sue through the statutory cause of action. This is a pure merits inquiry, akin to whether a plaintiff is an "employee" under Title VII. The focus is on the pleading (citing Iqbal) and whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a claim that falls within the scope of the congressionally created cause of action.

Moreover, in footnote 3, the Court potentially cast doubt on all "prudential standing" as an "inapt" label. Prudential standing has historically consisted of three doctrines: Zone of Interest; No Third-Party Standing; and No Generalized Grievances. This case establishes the first as a merits inqury. In FN 3, the Court said that recent cases have treated the third as a matter of the Article III case-or-controversy requirement rather than as prudential. As for the second, the Court noted that some cases suggesting it is "closely related" to whether the plaintiff has a right of action, although most cases have not framed it that way. It expressly left that question for another day, although the tenor of this opinion and this footnote suggest a reluctance to keep this category alive. In other words, something is either a true Article III inquiry or a merits inquiry, with no fuzzy middle ground.

As an admitted adherent to the William Fletcher "it's all merits improperly constitutionalized" view of standing, this is a move in the right direction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 25, 2014 at 01:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where are they now, St. Patrick's Day Edition

(or Winning by losing and losing by winning)

In 1995, SCOTUS unanimously held that the private organizers of Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade (a group called the Allied Veterans' War Council) had a First Amendment right to exclude LGBTQ groups from the parade. That decision laid some important free-speech groundwork, particularly in the idea that speech need not have a particularized message to enjoy constitutional protection (citing to works such as Pollock, Schoenberg, and Carroll's Jabberwocky). Although the gay-rights position lost, many advocates appreciated the opinion for (arguably for the first time) speaking in generally positive (or at least not harshly negative) terms about homosexuality.

Fast forward two decades. That same organization, armed with a First Amendment right to exclude, still runs the parade. But it is facing increasing political and economic pressure to allow some LGBTQ groups into the parade. The group had been negotiating to allow in the LGBT  Veterans for Equality, although those stalled last week, with AVWC accusing a gay rights group of creating an ersatz veterans' group as a "Trojan Horse" to sneak into the parade. Now numerous corporate sponsors of the parade--including Gillette and Boston Beer Co. (makers of Sam Adams)--have withdrawn as parade sponsors.

So the AVWC has its constitutional rights. But so do other people and entities and they are exercising them in a very different direction and in support of very different ideas than they were in 1995. And so that hard-won constitutional victory may end up somewhat empty.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 15, 2014 at 10:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who will create an astute marijuana litigation and legal practice blog?

Regular Prawfs readers know that I have done some blogging here about marijuana laws, policies and reform because I see so many interesting general legal issues intersecting with the drug war generally and criminal justice approaches to marijuana specifically.   Indeed, I felt compelled to start a new blog, Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, in part because I was interested in writing about broad issues of public policy implicated by modern marijuana reform efforts: as I have said in my marijuana seminar course description, "contemporary state-level reforms of marijuana laws have raised significant new constitutional, legal, political and practical issues; policy concerns relating to states' rights, local government law, race, gender, public health, crime, political economy, and bioethics intersect with modern marijuana law reform." 

Now, as the title of this post suggests and largely thanks to some terrific guest blogging by Alex Kreit over at MLP&R, I think the time may be right for an enterprising lawyer and/or law firm to start a blog focused particularly on marijuana-related litigation and emerging legal practice issues surrounding this new industry.  I say this based in part on these four new recent posts over at MLP&R which highlight the array of diverse issues and courts now dealing with  dynamic marijuana-related litigation:

In this Prawfs post a few months ago, I speculated that green (i.e., young/junior) lawyers may have a uniquely important role to play in the emerging marijuana "green rush" industry: not only may veteran lawyers be cautious and concerned about representing persons actively involved in state marijuana business, but marijuana reform often seems a "young man's game" for which junior lawyers may be uniquely positioned to be of service to persons needing legal help in this arena.  Now I am thinking, based in part on the posts above, that an especially effective way for a young lawyer or law firm to make a name in this arena (and to learn a whole lot) would be to start blogging astutely about the emerging challenges and opportunities that surround marijuana litigation and legal practice.

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on March 14, 2014 at 11:41 AM in Current Affairs, Law and Politics, Workplace Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Gambling v. PEDs and the Baseball Hall of Fame

Warning: Another sports-and-law post, this focusing on the internal rules of baseball as a business

Kostya Kennedy has a new book on Pete Rose, titled Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, excerpted in this week's Sports Illustrated cover story. Kennedy states that Rose's Hall-of-Fame worthiness has come under "renewed discussion" as players linked to PED use (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) come up for Hall consideration. TThe excerpt (and presumably the book) present the arguments that Rose' gambling is a lesser crime than PED use, so he should be a more worthy candidate for the Hall than a juicer. Will Leitch at Sports on Earth responds and basically blows up the argument, by pointing out the serious problems that gambling creates and the moral panic that surrounds PEDs.

But there is a different, more legalistic reason Kennedy's article gets Rose's Hall eligibility wrong, one I discussed eight years ago, just as the major PED suspects were beginning to retire. Rose is ineligible for the Hall because he voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban from baseball and placement on baseball's permanently ineligible list. Under Rule 3E of the BBWAA voting rules, "Any player on Baseball's ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate." And that ends the inquiry. It actually does not matter whether Rose bet on baseball or on the Reds (he admitted gambling on baseball, although never on games involving his team)--he accepted the ban and thus the collateral consequence of the ban. On the other hand, no suspected steroid user has ever been assessed a lifetime ban or placed on the permanently ineligible list, thus none is subject to Rule 3E. Steroid users are being kept out of the Hall by the principled insistence (or priggish obstinance, depending on your perspective) of BBWAA members.

Of course, we might reconsider this ordering, which would require reconsideration of the comparative evil of steroid use and gambling. Under present rules, a person is banned for life for a third positive test or finding of PED use, but banned for life on one finding of having bet on games involving his team. Perhaps that should be flipped, or at least treated on equal footing. (On this, I agree with Leitch that we have the order right, that gambling is a far greater sin than taking drugs designed to help you play better and for longer). But none of that changes anything for Rose given the current rules and the rules under which he operated.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 8, 2014 at 04:43 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 06, 2014

More on the Civil Rights Division

Dahlia Lithwick basically gets it right: The "notion that the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division should have ever fought for civil rights has now become disqualifying."

But this is not anything new--Senate Republicans have been doing this to Democratic nominees to the Civil Rights Division for 20 years. As Bill Clinton's first nominee for the position, Lani Guinier famously faced strong Republican opposition based largely on her academic writings; Clinton withdrew the nomination when it became clear she could not be confirmed. And Bill Lan Lee served Clinton's entire second term without Senate confirmation--2+ years as acting head and one year as a recess appointee. Senate Republicans explicitly opposed Lee because he was and would be "activist" on civil rights. (And I would add that using that word to describe a lawyer and an executive-branch official reveals just how utterly meaningless it is).

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 6, 2014 at 08:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

More Honest Bob Casey

I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/capitolinq/Casey-opposes-Obama-nominee-tied-to-Mumia.html#3x14xEPlm86ZAfIj.99

"I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime."

[But any attorney who seeks to help guarantee that right, in a case in which I believe the crime is sufficiently heinous, becomes per se unqualified for high public office. So, hey attorneys, feel free to help guarantee that right to citizens.]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 5, 2014 at 02:48 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

More personal jurisdiction from SCOTUS

SCOTUS today decided Walden v. Fiore, unanimously (per Justice Thomas) holding that a district court in Nevada lacked personal jurisdiction in  a Bivens action against a Georgia police officer who wrongfully seized money from plaintiffs at the Atlanta airport. Adam Steinman a the Civ Pro/Fed Courts blog has some excerpts.

No major new doctirnal ground broken. It does reframe the effects test to focus on the defendant's contacts with the forum, not with the plaintiff, although recognizing that they may be intertwined. But injury in the forum, even if the defendant knew the injury would be suffered there (arguably the case here), is not sufficient absent some conduct by the defendant that implicated the forum (physical entry, phone calls, affect on reputation or property there, etc.). Otherwise, the plaintiff otherwise controls where she lives and where she feels the harm, a unilateral act of the plaintiff that is insufficient to establish jurisdiction--the plaintiffs here were harmed in Nevada because they chose to live in Nevada when they wanted their money. At best, an injury felt in a state can show that the defendant formed a contact with that state.

The Court drops a footnote (n.9 on p. 13) that it once again is not deciding anything about internet-based contacts. The targeting that the opinion seems to demand could be read to mean that broad enough wrongdoing (say, a fraud scam over the internet) will not create jurisdiction in the victim's home, because the defendant targeted the world, not just that plaintiff's state.

Like Daimler v. Bauman, decided last month, this is another good teaching case, in that it simplifies things and discusses the doctrine as a whole. It shows clearly that the effects test is not a unique separate test (as some lower courts had suggested), but another way that a defendant creates minimum contacts. So my syllabus just got revamped (again) when I teach P/J in April--Daimler instead of Good Year or Helicol and Walden instead of Calder and Clemens v. McNamee (a 5th Circuit decision).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 25, 2014 at 04:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Women and Title VII

From Slate, a brief history of the inclusion of protection for women in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sen. Howard Smith, a Virginia segregationist, introduced the provision 50 years ago Saturday (Feb. 8, 1964) as a poison pill.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 9, 2014 at 07:18 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A decade of wardrobe malfunction

Next month marks the ten-year anniversary of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction" at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII. ESPN The Magazine offers In the Beginning, There Was a Nipple, a retrospective on the "controversy."

There is a lot of interesting stuff on the FCC, then-Chair Michael Powell, and the regulation and punishment of broadcast indecency. CBS' owner was fined a little over $ 500,000, fines that ultimately were successfully challenged in the Second Circuit. The story quotes Powell as saying, essentially, that the commotion over 9/16th of a second is really silly, suggesting his position of public outrage at the time was more for politics and show than any real concern for the health and safety of our children. But he said he felt bound by law and lacking discretion to not pursue this fully. Powell also describes this is as the "last gasp" of the old broadcast regime and "last stand at the wall" for people who believe government can successfully keep objectionable material out of the home.

There also is a nice discussion of the different effects this had on Jackson and Timberlake and the obvious race and gender narrative that presents.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 29, 2014 at 05:03 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, January 27, 2014

Stephen Glass and the the California Bar

The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously denied the bar application of former journalist Stephen Glass (of Shattered Glass infamy), a case I wrote about a couple years ago. David Plotz of Slate, who watched this all up close (Plotz's wife, Hann Rosin, was an editor at TNR at the time) and who admittedly does not like Glass, has a sharp takedown of the decision. I am not surprised by the reversal (the lower panels had recommended admission, so I could not see the court taking the case just to affirm), although I am a bit surprised by the unanimity.

I don't do PR and I generally question many of the character-and-fitness rules as irrelevant to the practice of law, so I do not have a lot to say about whether the decision is right or wrong. There is a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't quality to the decision--the court dismisses many of Glass' efforts at rehabilitation and restitution as selfish, motivated by a desire to improve himself and taking place while he had pending applications to the New York or California Bars. As I said previously, lawyers and journalists do very similar jobs, so I understand the particular apprehension with this candidate. But Plotz has a good response, grounded in the adversariness of the legal system--what judge and what opposing lawyer is not going to keep the sharpest of watch when Glass is involved in a case, scrutiny sure to catch any efforts by Glass to repeat his sins.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 27, 2014 at 11:32 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, January 20, 2014

Recognizing Race on Martin Luther King Day

Over at Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Ruthann Robson has an interesting post about the way judges quote Martin Luther King, Jr.  The claim -- relying on a fascinating article by Jeremiah Goulka -- is that when judges quote MLK, they are usually doing so in the course of reaching a result that MLK would not support.

This discussion brought to mind a topic that I've discussed during my previous visit to Prawfs.  In my article Racial Capitalism, which came out last June, I defined racial capitalism as the process of deriving value from racial identity.  My article focused, in particular, on white people and predominantly white institutions deriving value from non-white racial identity.  An easy example is a school that photoshops a black student into its admissions brochure, or -- as a less extreme measure -- overrepresents the percentage of non-white students in its promotional materials.

In the article, I identify a judicial variant of racial capitalism, influenced by Justin Driver's work Recognizing Race.  (In Racial Capitalism, I discuss this on pages 2197-98.)  In a nutshell, Driver's work uncovers substantial variation in the circumstances when courts do and don't choose to explicitly identify the race of people discussed in their opinion.  In Ricci v. DeStefano, for example, the Supreme Court held that the New Haven fire department's decision to ignore standardized test results that disparately affected racial minorities violated Title VII.  Justice Kennedy's majority opinion discussed the testimony of three experts on standardized testing, yet only identified the race of one of the three -- the one whose testimony best supported the majority's result -- by stating that he "is black."  This is particularly striking because one of the other experts was also black, and yet the majority did not identify her by race.  As Professor Driver trenchantly explains:  "This identification is striking because, in a decision that cautions against the dangers of racially disparate treatment, it treats Lewis disparately by race."

Judges identify -- or ignore -- racial signifiers all the time, in ways that subtly buttress the result they reach.  In Whren v. United States, for example, the Court held stopping a motorist did not violate the Fourth Amendment so long as the officer had probable cause to believe that the the motorist violated traffic laws, even if an objectively reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist in that situation.  The holding also meant that it didn't matter whether the traffic stop was pretextual so long as there was probable cause to believe that a traffic violation of some sort had occurred.  In the opinion, Justice Scalia identified the officer who arrested Whren as "Officer Ephraim Soto" and referred to him by name three times within the first two pages of the opinion.  While I have not been able to discover Officer Soto's racial or ethnic identity -- or, perhaps more importantly, how others would have perceived his race or ethinicity -- it appears relatively uncontroversial that Soto is a Spanish surname.  By emphasizing Officer Soto's surname, then, Justice Scalia implies that Soto might also be non-white, thereby distancing the events in Whren from the common pattern of white officers harassing black motorists that provoked outcry from civil rights advocates.

Of course, none of this is limited to judges.  More generally, it's quite common for white people and predominantly white institutions using the words of deceased black leaders to gain legitimacy and shield themselves against claims of racism.  Just today, Sarah Palin posted the following message on her Facebook page:

"Happy MLK, Jr. Day!

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card."

Although of course I can't be sure, my guess is that MLK probably would not want his words used by Sarah Palin to chastise our nation's first black president for "playing the race card" (whatever Palin means by that).

Of course, Palin is far from alone.  Some conservatives have recently dubbed themselves "Frederick Douglass Republicans."  As one forthrightly explained, if you invoke the name of a well-respected black family member like Frederick Douglass, "you can trump the race card."

These various examples are unified by the theme of white people and institutions invoking race -- whether that of a famous black person such as MLK, or that of a participant in a legal drama -- as a way of achieving moral legitimacy and shielding whatever argument they happen to be making from charges of racism.  Whether this is effective is, of course, another story, although at least sometimes it appears to be.  (When I last checked, Palin's post had over 32,000 "likes.")  Whether sucessful or unsuccessful, however, this use of non-white identity by white people is worth evaluating critically.  As Goulka says in the conclusion to his piece, "on this MLK Day and every other day, whenever a court invokes Dr. King," -- and I think this extends to invoking non-white people more generally -- "make sure to judge it by the content of their characterization."

Posted by Nancy Leong on January 20, 2014 at 08:51 PM in Culture, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lawsuit over George Washington Bridge closings

The first lawsuit arising from the politically motivated closing of the George Washington Bridge was filed last week and John Culhane explains how more could be coming. This one is a purported class action by six plaintiffs who claim they were stuck in traffic on the bridge and late for work, causing them to lose wages and suffer other economic harms. Defendants are Christie, his former aide, two Port Authority officials, the Port Authority, and the State of New Jersey. It's a really poorly drafted complaint and kind of hard to figure out, with a lot of boilerplate and legal conclusions signifying nothing.

It does not identify any of the rights or sources of rights asserted. The first three counts appear to be § 1983 claims for 14th Amendment Substantive Due Process, Right to Travel, and failure-to-supervise/failure-to-train by Christie and the two entities. But this creates problems a number of problems. The plaintiffs cannot sue New Jersey and the Port Authority, which are state entities not subject to suit under § 1983. I suppose the conduct is conscience-shocking, although I'm not sure the right to travel includes the right to travel quickly or to get there on time. I'm also not sure Christie is in a supervisory relationship to the Port Authority workers (as opposed to the former aide) for failure-to-train purposes. And as for qualified immunity, is snarling traffic as part of a political vendetta equivalent to selling foster kids into slavery (the Posnerian paradigm of an obviously clearly established right for which no prior case law is necessary)?

Culhane gives the suit a chance, at least as a matter of state tort law. Because the alleged conduct was intentional, the plaintiffs may get around the economic loss rule. But since most of the complaint seems to be making constitutional claims, I am not sure how much that matters.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 14, 2014 at 11:35 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, January 06, 2014

HuffPost Live on Utah SSM case

I appeared on HuffPost Live with Mike Sacks on Monday afternoon discussing the Supreme Court stay of the injunction in the Utah marriage equality decision. Also on the show were Michael Dorf (Cornell) and Neomi Rao (George Mason). It was a good discussion that also got into the Little Sisters case, which has a stay application (of the district court denial of an injunction) pending before Justice Sotomayor.

After the jump, one additional thing I did not get a chance to say on the Utah case:

A lot is being made of the approximately 950 same-sex marriage licenses that Utah issued under the force of the district court injunction, which now are in limbo. (Dorf argues that Utah could ultimately recognize these marriages as permanent, but is not constitutionally obligated to do so. SCOTUSBlog reports that it is not known how many those couples actually got married and that the state is trying to figure out what to do about any marriages). Sacks drew the obvious camparison to California, which recognized the thousands of same-sex marriages performed between the Caifornia Supreme Court decision in summer 2008 recognizing marriage equality as a matter of the California Constitution and enactment of Prop 8 in November 2008.

An important distinction involves finality within the judicial branch. When the California Supreme Court rendered its decision in 2008, that was the final word on the meaning of California equal protection and due process from the judicial branch of California. The state of California law was finally established--as a a constitutional matter, same-sex couples had an unquestioned right to marry, California had an unquestioned obligation to grant those marriage licenses, and an unquestioned obligation to recognize those marriages as legal for all purposes and in perpetuity. The only reason those marriages came into question was because the state of established California law subsequently changed when Prop 8 amended the state Constitution.

But that seems fundamentally different from marriages occurring during the pendency of litigation, before the "federal judicial branch" (the Article III system as a whole) has spoken. Here, we have heard from one judge in the court of original jurisdiction and the case is pending before the next judicial level. The rights of same-sex couples to marry and the obligations of the state to recognize those marriages have not been finally established by the judiciary. And the state of the law can easily change not through the extraordinary efforts of a constitutional amendment, but by the simpler step of a higher court reversing a lower court. Thus, should the Tenth Circuit (or SCOTUS) reverse the district court, Utah is under less of a legal obligation to recognize those ineterregnum marriages than California was.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2014 at 09:41 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stay in Utah SSM case

SCOTUS without comment stayed the permanent injunction against Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, pending disposition in the Tenth Circuit. So we are back to no marriage equality in Utah, at least for a few more weeks (the Tenth Circuit agreed to expedite the appeal). Probably the correct result, although Mike Dorf makes a good argument the other way. In particular, the lay of the land has changed since I first wrote about the case--hundreds or thousands of same-sex couples have gotten marriage licenses since around Christmas, when the district court and court of appeals denied the stay, and this morning. So the thing a stay is designed to prevent--chaos in the status quo that may be difficult to undo--already has happened to some extent.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2014 at 11:23 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What effect pleadings?

The dueling decisions by two different federal district judges on the NSA surveillance program--one upholding it, one invalidating it--reminded me of a post I wrote in June comparing the two complaints. I argued that the complaint in ACLU v. Clapper (the Southern District of New York case) was better than Klayman v. Obama (the District of D.C. case). The latter had a lot of extraneous noise and "pleading as press release" nonsense, a number of legal mistakes, and asked for the ludicrous sum of $ 3 billion in damages; the former was cleaner, simpler, and legally sounder.

So what should we conclude from the fact that the plaintiff won in Klayman but lost in ACLU? Two possibilities jump to mind:

   1) Pleading-as-press-release works not just publicly but legally as well. Heightened, overstated, politicized pleading does affect the judge by impressing the urgency of a constitutional claim. That is lost in a complaint that lacks the "passion" we see in Klayman.

   2) Pleadings don't matter to the outcome, at least in constitutional cases. It's all about the legal arguments made in the subsequent motions related to injunctions, dismissal, or summary judgment.

Other possibilities?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 29, 2013 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

More on stays and injunctions, marriage equality edition

Last month, I wrote about when courts will or should stay negative injunctions ("this law is unconstitutional, stop enforcing it") pending appeal, pointing to marriage equality as a case in which a stay ordingarily would be appropriate. Well, perhaps not. Following last week's district court decision invalidating Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, both the district court and the Tenth Circuit declined, without explanation, to stay the injunction pending appeal. This means that, once state offices open after Christmas, same-sex couples will be able to get married in Utah.

Mike Dorf has a nice a take on this decision--he calls it legally and morally correct, but still wrong. Dorf makes the same argument I did about chaos and confusion (and, he adds, heartbreak) if marriages recognized in the interregnum are then declared invalid if the district court is reversed on the merits on appeal. In Dorf's view, this case came down to the likelihood of success on the merits prong--just as the Texas abortion case did last month--which here cut against issuing the stay. In light of Windsor, the state is not likely to prevail on the merits on appeal to the Tenth Circuit or SCOTUS; bans on same-sex marriage simply cannot stand. That overcomes any concerns for (or real risk of) chaos and heartbreak. Nevertheless, Dorf argues that decision not to stay still is wrong, just because one never knows what SCOTUS will do or when. I agree, which is why I would argue that risk-of-chaos should play a larger role than likelihood of success in cases such as this.

The next move could make for a fun Christmas. Step one is a petition to the Tenth Circuit Justice, Justice Sotomayor; she can either decide on the stay herself or refer the matter to the full Court. If she denies the stay, the state could file a renewed application with any Justice of their choosing.  Since it is Christmas, Justice Kagan may be the easiest one to find.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate.

Update 12/27: Andrew Koppelman adds this tidbit: The Utah AG did not request a stay as alternative relief in its original pleading, which has been common practice in marriage equality cases. (Koppelman's post links to a transcript of the stay hearing in the district court, where the court says he did not enter a stay because no one requested one and the AG seems confused that the court did not enter a stay sua sponte). This explains the procedural rush over the stay, although I doubt it ultimately would have made a difference.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 25, 2013 at 08:11 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 07, 2013

West on student censorship

Nice Slate essay by Sonja West (Georgia) on student speech, arguing that censoring students pervsersely teaches them that censorship is a good and acceptable idea, sort of the opposite of what we want future citizens and leaders to learn. She mentions that SCOTUS is considering the cert petition in the  "I [heart] boobies] case from the Third Circuit, which, given the Court's history with student speech, may not be a good thing. Finally, she highlights the current life of Mary Beth Tinker, who retired from nursing recently to become a student-speech-rights advocate through the Tinker Tour with the Student Press Law Center.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2013 at 08:36 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, December 02, 2013

SCOTUSBlog: Attorney's Fees and Final Judgments

I have a new SCOTUSBlog preview on next Monday's argument in Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund, which considers whether a district court judgment that leaves contractual attorney's fees unresolved can be a final and appealable judgment for purposes of § 1291 and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2013 at 04:32 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

More pleading/qualified immunity

The big news from SCOTUS today was the unexpected totally expected cert. grant on the constitutionality of the contraception mandate. But the Court also granted cert. in Wood v. Moss, which involves qualified immunity and pleading.

The case arises out of a street protest against President Bush, where police and Secret Service agents moved protesters several blocks away from where the President was having dinner, while allowing pro-Bush protesters to remain in place. Two months after Iqbal was decided, the Ninth Circuit found the complaint insufficient, a decision I argued illustrated the negative effects Iqbal was likely to have on civil rights litigation. The plaintiffs were given a chance to replead and a later Ninth Circuit panel  held that the amended complaint sufficiently pled viewpoint discrimination.

That the Court took the case does not bode well, but I suppose I could be surprised.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 26, 2013 at 02:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

§ 1983 and the 11th Amendment

I wrote last week about Tyler v. Commonewealth of Massachusetts, the lawsuit by a woman contesting a state court order forcing her to engage in family law matters with the convicted rapist who fathered her child. A federal district court dismissed the § 1983 action. One of the cited reasons was the Eleventh Amendment, a decision I said last week was wrong. Here is why.

It is true that the original complaint impermissibly named the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as defendant. But one overlooked aspect of this jurisprudence is that the inability to sue a state, at least on a constitutional violation, is a matter of the text of § 1983, not the Eleventh Amendment. SCOTUS has twice held that a state (or state agency) is not a "person" within the meaning of § 1983; the ordinary meaning of person does not include a sovereign and Congress did not provide any text or history to suggest differently. In fact, it seems clear that under either the prevailing congruence-and-proportionality analysis or Justice Scalia's "enforce means enforce" approach, § 1983 is valid § 5 legislation. There is perfect congruence-and-proportionality between § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment rights being enforced. And Scalia has acknowledged § 1983 as the main example of permissible legislation that creates a remedy for existing constitutional rights. So the reason the plaintiff could not sue the Commonwealth is that the Commonwealth is not a person subject to suit or liability under the applicable substantive law. This approach also has the benefit of making clear that this is all a defect in the merits of the claim--the plaintiff sued a defendant who is not subject to the duties or liabilities under that substantive law.

The other problem with the Court's analysis is more fundamentally wrong. The plaintiff moved to amend the complaint in response to the motion, seeking to substitute the justices of the Superior Court (the trial court) as defendant. And since the plaintiff sought an injunction preventing current and future enforcement of the state court orders, this seems like it would be permissible under Ex Parte Young as an action against a responsible officer seeking prospective relief from an ongoing violation.

Amazingly, however, the district court held that Young did not apply. Tyler was not seeking prospective relief because the "sentence complained of has been imposed and is now an historical fact." But this seems to misunderstand what it means for relief to be "prospective." Yes, the challenged order is already entered. But the plaintiff's argument is that the order is presently causing her constitutional harm and will continue to cause her constitutional harm in the future. The injunction she seeks is to halt future enforcement of that state-court judgment. If that is not prospective, I am not sure what is. Under the court's apparent definition, no relief is prospective--it would be just as easy for a court in an action challenging the constitutionality of a statute (the typical Ex Parte Young case) to say  "the statute complained of has been enacted and is now an historical fact." The issue should not be the timing of the complained-of legal rule, but the effect of that rule and when the relief sought will take effect.

There are cases that distinguish "purely prospective" injunctions from other injunctions. But those are Younger cases; they hold that an action that seeks to enjoin future enforcement of a law without interfering with a pending prosecution are not barred by Younger. (Wooley v. Maynard is a good example). This has nothing to do with whether an injunctive is prospective for Ex Parte Young purposes.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 26, 2013 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 23, 2013

JFK and the CRA

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy (maybe you heard). Next summer will mark the 50th anniversary of passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The proximity in time of the events is not necessarily coincidental, of course. One of the recurring narratives is that the assassination enabled the legislation. LBJ used the assassination and JFK's legacy to push Congress and the public to support sweeping legislation. And LBJ's legendary facility with Senate procedure, something Kennedy lacked, is often credited with enabling him to push the ultimate bill through in that house.

Many people are playing counter-factual history this weekend--what if Kennedy had not been assassinated (the subject of a book by journalist Jeff Greenfield)? So for everyone familiar with the 1964 Act and its passage, the legislative politics and procedure, and the history of the era--Would some version of comprehensive civil rights legislation (touching on voting, employment, education, and public accommodations) have passed had JFK remained president after Nov. 22, 1963?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 23, 2013 at 05:18 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stay in Texas clinic litigation remains in place

By a 5-4 vote (divided along predictable lines), SCOTUS let stand the Fifth Circuit stay of the district court injunction prohibiting enforcement of the restrictions on reproduction health clinics. The law remains in effect and enforceable, and clinics must comply with the law, pending resolution of the appeal. The Fifth Circuit has expedited briefing and set oral argument for January. The main order was unsigned. Justice Scalia (to whom the original application was directed) wrote an opinion concurring in the denial of the application, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Breyer wrote a dissent for four.

The dissent focused, properly I believe, on preserving the status quo and properly balancing the harms. By enjoining enforcement of the law, the district court changed the status quo from what it would have been were the laws in effect and returned to the status quo before the law was enacted. The stay thus disrupts that status quo by putting the state laws into immediate effect, thereby forcing many clinics (advocates insist  as many as 1/3 of the clinics in the state) to close and many women to have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain reproductive health services. And many of those clinics may be unable to reopen even if the district court is ultimately affirmed. The balance of harms is thus between the state being unable to enforce its laws for a few months against the permanent harm to women unable to exercise their constitutional rights without undue burden (which the district court found was imposed by these laws).

The dissent also found no public interest considerations that warranted a stay. Justice Scalia responded by insisting that "[m]any citizens of Texas, whose elected representatives voted for the law, surely feel otherwise." But this goes to the related point about harm to the state if it is barred from enforcing its laws and  linking (as the Fifth Circuit and Justice Scalia both did) the public interest to harm to the state--it proves too much. The state always has an interest in enforcing its duly enacted laws and the public in the enforcement of the laws duly enacted in its name. If those two truly predominate and always run together, then injunctions should always be stayed pending appeal to preserve that interest in enforcing the law until any law is finally determined to be unconstitutional.

But not every negative injunction is stayed pending appeal; I would imagine that most aren't (this might be a nice empirical question to explore). And, if we focus on maintaining a status quo, most shouldn't be. Which suggests that what is really going on is a tip of the hand on the merits--that five-justice majority is convinced the Texas law is constitutionally valid and sees no reason to delay enforcement. And so we have a pretty good sense of what will happen if/when the case comes back to SCOTUS for full merits consideration.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 20, 2013 at 07:20 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Monday, October 21, 2013

Courts and Law Reviews

To pile-on the posts by Jack and Matt: Regardless of whether courts (particularly SCOTUS) are citing to law review articles, they are listening to and relying on the arguments of legal scholars. While these arguments are coming to them in amicus briefs rather than articles, that is a matter of format rather than substance. And many an amicus brief begins as, or eventually becomes, a law review article.

Take this month as an example. In argument in Madigan v. Levin, the justices asked several questions about an amicus brief authored by Steve Vladeck and signed by a number of Fed Courts scholars, including me.  Steve made those same arguments in an article in Green Bag last winter. And in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. District Court, the Court expressly ordered the parties to discuss an amicus brief by Duke's Stephen Sachs and asked numerous questions about the brief during argument. Depending on how the Court decides Atlantic Marine, perhaps Stephen will turn those arguments into an article.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 21, 2013 at 10:41 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Law schools and the shutdown

Courtesy of Andrew Ferguson (UDC) is this story (registration required) on the effect of the shutdown on law schools, faculty, and students, including at UDC, the only public law school in DC. The story indicates that the school's clinics have been deemed essential. But the faculty has been talking about whether to continue teaching if/when the money runs out--are there ethical, legal, or other concerns by teaching during the shutdown?

Probably a moot point, as it appears this all will end with a whimper tonight (just in time for everyone to gather in DC for the meat market). But an thought game.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 16, 2013 at 04:51 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, October 07, 2013

Cert. denied in Duke lacrosse

SCOTUS this morning denied cert. in Evans v. Durham, the § 1983 action by the three indicted-but-exonerated members of the 2005 Duke men's lacrosse team. The Fourth Circuit rejected (which I discussed here) claims against the city and the investigating police officers involved; the plainitffs tried to get to SCOTUS on the issue of whether the prosecutor's conduct (which enjoys prosecutorial immunity) breaks the causal chain and cleanses the officers' misconduct when they conspired together. Interestingly, they did not seek cert on the "stigma-plus" theory of liability for other officer misconduct (on which the causal chain was not broken).

The plaintiffs still have state-law malicious prosecution claims pending. The next question may be whether the district court declines supplemental jurisdiction over those claims or decides to keep them, seeing as how this litigation is now 6+ years old.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2013 at 10:20 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, September 30, 2013

What just happened at the Naval Academy?

I have been following the military prosecution of several Naval Academy midshipmen for sexual assault, partly because news stories seem to reflect a yawning gulf between this case and our general understanding of the federal rape shield statute (which I just taught last week). I turned to my colleague Eric Carpenter, who writes on sexual assault in the military and had a long career in the Army JAG Corp.

The military just concluded a hearing at the Naval Academy into whether three midshipmen committed criminal sexual offenses against a female midshipman.  According to the government, the woman attended a party and became drunk to the point of blackout and possibly passed out.  Later, she heard rumors and saw social-media that led her to believe that these three men has sexually assaulted her while she was too drunk to be capable of consenting. The defense claims she was capable and did consent.

While the facts as reported by the media are disturbing, lawyers who read reports of the hearing should find something else alarming – the female midshipman was questioned by three defense counsel for over twenty hours, and the questioning went into areas that would often be off-limits due to rape shield rules.  Reports are that she was cross-examined on whether she wore a bra or underwear, “felt like a ho” afterward, and how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex.

What’s going on here?  What was that hearing and do rape shield rules apply to it?  Why is a sexual assault victim testifying and subject to cross-examination in the first place? 

What happened was something unique to the military – a hearing called an “Article 32.” This article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) requires that before charges can go to a general court-martial (the rough equivalent of a felony-level court), an officer must investigate the truth of those charges (reasonable grounds that the accused committee the offense, or roughly the same thing as probable cause) and make a recommendation to the convening authority (usually a two-star general) on how she should act on the charges.

Your first reaction to that might be, “That hearing sounds like a grand jury proceeding.”  My answer would be, “Yes, but mostly no.” 

An accused at an Article 32 has rights that a defendant at a grand jury doesn’t.  The accused can be present; has a right to a military defense counsel; can cross-examine witnesses; and has full opportunity to present evidence to rebut the charges or to seek a lower disposition. 

There is no jury – just an investigating officer, and that officer usually has no legal training (she gets her legal advice from a neutral judge advocate).  In the most serious or high-profile cases, like capital cases, judge advocates and sometimes military judges serve as the investigating officer.  In the Naval Academy case, the media reports that a military judge served as the investigating officer.

Unlike a grand jury’s finding, the investigating officer’s conclusions and recommendations are not binding: the convening authority can still make her own decision about the case. 

Evidentiary rules apply.  Not the full-blown Military Rules of Evidence (which are very similar to the federal rules), but rules nonetheless.  Generally, if a military witness is within 100 miles, she needs to show up, and even if the witness cannot show up in person, she usually testifies over the phone.  You can’t simply turn in the victim’s sworn statement.  In the Naval Academy case, that is why the victim had to testify.

Contrary to what some of the news reports imply, the rape shield rule applies.  The military’s rape shield rule is essentially the same as the federal rule, and the President made this rule apply to these hearings with Rule for Court-Martial 405(i).  In the Naval Academy case, I would assume that the parties argued about what the defense was allowed to ask in cross examination, and I assume the investigating officer (in this case, a lawyer) found an exception—but that may be a faulty assumption.

If the investigating officer decided that this evidence fit one of the written exceptions to the rape shield rule, that conclusion may be suspect.  Generally, evidence of past sexual behavior or sexual disposition is inadmissible in inadmissible except to show that someone other than the accused was the source of physical evidence; to prove current consent with the accused if the past sexual behavior was with that accused; or the exclusion would violate the accused’s constitutional rights. The attorney for one of the accused asked her the questions about oral sex because “This is an act that cannot be performed while someone is passed out.”  According to reports, the lawyer further argued that “her client could not have had oral sex performed without the woman’s consent.”  Most people would disagree with that. The victim had a prior sexual relationship with one accused, but his attorney asked her about what she was or was not wearing and whether she felt like a ho on this occasion.  The rule is limited to evidence of past experiences between the two. The defense counsel could have argued that this evidence was constitutionally required because the accused were mistaken as to whether she consented.  But from the news reports, it appears that their defense is that was capable of and did in fact consent, not that she didn’t consent and they misread the situation.

Again, I was not at the hearing and don’t know how the investigating officer analyzed the facts.  If he was right, the cross examination she faced at this hearing may have been allowed at trial.  A very real issue is that he may have been wrong, and if he was wrong, there is no remedy for his mistake.  With few exceptions, none of the testimony at an Article 32 is admissible at the later trial, and even if the government closed down all of the exceptions, the victim has already gone through the experience.

So it appears that Article 32 is ripe for criticism.  To understand why Article 32 is the way it is and to properly frame criticism of it, we need to understand its history and original function. 

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The customs, beliefs, or needs of a primitive time establish a rule or a formula.  In the course of centuries the custom, belief, or necessity disappears, but the rule remains.”  That is what happened here. 

Service members don’t have a constitutional right to a grand jury, and what has developed was not because the military was trying to replicate one.  Rather, the original purpose of the Article 32 was to conduct an investigation when it was very likely the only investigation that happened prior to trial.  That function has now been subsumed by other features of the modern court-martial system but the investigative features of Article 32 still remain. 

Prior to 1917, most charges were not investigated prior to going to trial.  A commander would send charges to a court-martial, which would very often be held within a day.  The accused had very few rights.  There were no defense lawyers or judges or professional law enforcement investigators or appellate courts.  This was quick trial before a board of officers.  If you have seen the movies Breaker Morant or Paths of Glory, you will have a sense of how courts-martial worked back then.

The few cases that were investigated (because an officer demanded it) were sent to Courts of Inquiry.  These courts were used to investigate a wide range of issues (the conduct of generals in combat, or to resolve allegations against character).  These boards were used to resolve disputes and the procedures that developed for them reflected that purpose: the service member was present, the Court could compel witnesses, and the service member could cross-examine them. 

Starting in 1917, in response to criticism that commanders had too much power and could push meritless cases through the system, commanders were required to conduct an investigation prior to sending the case to court-martial.  The investigation would ensure that probable cause existed and would recommend an appropriate level of discipline.  With this new requirement, commanders looked around for something familiar to model for this task and found the Courts of Inquiry. 

Additional rights followed. In 1949, the accused gained the right to counsel. In 1951, Congress passed Article 32 as part of the new UCMJ, adding the right for the accused to make a statement and present evidence. In 1968, Congress required that the accused’s counsel be a real lawyer. 

At the time, the rules were necessary because they provided a measure of due process that a service member did not find in the rest of the court-martial process.  Since 1951, however, the court-martial process has steadily “civilianized,” with statutory requirements for independent military judges and legally qualified counsel who operate under the nation’s most liberal discovery laws (and so can marshal evidence for trial).  The military’s law enforcement also became a professional, fully-functioning investigative community, complete with independent forensic laboratories.

The reasons to have an Article 32 investigation no longer exist, but the rule remains.  That, I think, means it is time for change.  Otherwise, we risk what we just saw. 

Returning to the Naval Academy case, probably nothing new was learned at this Article 32 that could not have been learned by otherwise investigating the case, interviewing the witnesses, and conducting discovery under the military’s liberal rules.  But while pursuing this now obsolete investigative function, we managed to take a service member through 20 hours of invasive testimony – which she may have to do again at trial.  Twenty hours is more than enough.  Forty hours is senseless. 

We could have come to a probable cause determination without having this type of hearing.  In a recent Op-Ed, Gene Fidell argued that it is time to get rid of this “trial before a trial” and instead have “a bare bones preliminary hearing” to determine probable cause. 

A more measured response would be to modify the Article 32 so that it serves the functions that we want it to serve.  We no longer need a formal investigation.  Get rid of the investigative features – no more calling live witnesses, no more presentation of a defense case.  This also takes care of the rape shield issue, because the defense is the party that presents that evidence.

We do need a probable cause hearing, and we can use the hearing as a discovery tool at no additional cost by allowing the accused and counsel to be present and to examine all materials presented.  Make the probable cause determination binding on the convening authority (to protect the accused), but to do that, we need to make the Article 32 look more like a grand jury.  Have a panel rather than one officer; have a judge advocate serve as a presiding officer.  This won’t be a bare-bones hearing – knowing that the panel might kill the case should provide incentive enough to the government to produce a significant amount of information.

So what is next?   Most of the current debate between Senators Gillibrand and Levin turns on who should make the disposition decision in a court-martial – the commander or the staff judge advocate.  The Article 32 problem is on the radar, though.  The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that the Secretary of Defense establish a panel (called the Response System Panel) to work on many of the difficult issues related to the military’s sexual assault problem.  One of the mandates is to “[r]eview and assess those instances in which prior sexual conduct of the alleged victim was considered in a proceeding under [Article 32] and any instances in which prior sexual conduct was determined to be inadmissible.” 

This is a good opportunity to decide what the modern functions of Article 32 should be and to revise it to promote those functions and only those functions.  And I expect the Naval Academy case will be front in center in that debate.

(With thanks to Major Mike Kenna for shaping my perspective).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 30, 2013 at 09:31 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, September 23, 2013

The post-hoc First Amendment

At some point in the future, I hope to write an article on the problems with enforcing First Amendment liberties through § 1983. One problem (not unique to free speech claims) is qualified immunity. Case in point is this recent Fourth Circuit decision involving sheriff's deputies in North Carolina allegedly fired for supporting the opposing sheriff candidate.

The case has drawn praise for recognizing that clicking "Like" on Facebook constitutes protected speech. And this certainly is a good thing from a court of appeals. Of course, the district court decision on this point reflected such a lack of understanding of how people can express themselves (quite apart from how technology works) that this was almost too easy. But lost in the celebration of a court getting technology right (for once) is that the deputies largely lost. The divided court held that the sheriff was entitled  to qualified immunity from damages for the firings. The judges wranged over the scope and meaning of a particular divided en banc decision from a few years earlier; for the the majority, their wrangling shows precisely why the right was not clearly established, on the old "if three federal judges can't agree on the state of the law, then how can we expect a layperson to understand?" rationale. So it all ends up looking like a giant advisory opinion. Especially since this looks like a case in which it was entirely unnecessary to reach the merits--an obvious dispute about the meaning of circuit precedent made it obvious this was not clearly established. So why bother with the merits?

Interestingly, the plaintiffs' claims for reinstatement survive; that is prospective/equitable relief, to which qualified immunity does not apply and to which for Ex Parte Young does. This raises an interesting question--what if the plaintiffs sought front pay in lieu of reinstatement? Lower courts have all held that this is not available, because it is monetary relief paid for out of the state treasury. But this seems like it would fall within the Eleventh Amendment's prospective compliance exception, which provides that there is no sovereign-immunity bar to the state paying (out of the treasury) the ordinary costs of complying with prospective relief. If the plaintiffs prevail, the state has to pay them the same amount of money either way--either for actually working or for the work they would have done were reinstatement a viable option. And the latter will be paid out for less time. It seems incoherent to label identical payments in identical amounts for identical purposes differently.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 23, 2013 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Defining public law

What is public law, as distinct from private law? Has anyone come up (or can anyone offer) a good defintiion of the distinction, where the line is, and falls in which category? A student asked a question the other day, which rested on the premise that the Constitution (and constitutional claims against the government) was public law and everything else was private law (the issue was a plaintiff bringing claims under both § 1983 and Title IX or Title VII). But that doesn't reflect convention, where we typically speak of statutory anti-discrimination law  (Title VII, Title IX, et al.) as public law, even when it involves claims against private entities.

So where is the line and why?

One possibility is that anti-discrimination are like the Constitution, in that Congress was attempting to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. But that doesn't work because these statutes were actually enacted pursuant to either the Commerce or Spending powers, not § 5. It reflects the values of the Fourteenth Amendment, but it is not really enforcing that provision. Plus, a lot of other statutory areas (labor law comes to mind), though not touching on the Fourteenth Amendment or discrimination at all, are labeled public.

Another is to include all constitutional and statutory issues as public. But a lot of stuff that often gets called private (say, corporations, business formation, and business deals) involves statutes and statutory issues. Even contracts (which a Roman Law expert might call the quintessential private law issue) is somewhat displaced by the UCC in many areas.

Further thoughts?

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 21, 2013 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Friday, September 06, 2013

What is the civil justice system for?

The general view seems to be that the NFL won and the players lost with the $ 765 million settlement of the head-trauma class action. An illustrative missive comes from Charles Pierce, who speaks of the NFL "buy[ing] silence," essentially copping a "nolo [contendere] plea" that should not happen in a just world, and having "bought itself out from under its responsibilities." I have not decided what I think about the settlement, largely because I do not know enough about the merits of the NFL's labor preemption arguments. But Pierce's article fundamentally misunderstands the purposes and operation of the civil justice system.

Settlement is part of the civil justice system, particularly in damages actions. The pressure to settle comes from multiple sources, often including the presiding judge (as was the case here, where Judge Brody ordered the parties to mediation and set a deadline for settling). The plaintiffs, who know more about the case than anyone sitting on the outside commenting, agreed to the settlement. There was a professional mediator involved, who worked to bring everyone to an ultimately mutually agreeable solution. And the judge still must sign-off on the agreement (and presumably will). So the ire at the NFL and the suggestion that it somehow has escaped justice by paying money seems misplaced, when the league did not settle unilaterally or in a vacuum, but only with the agreement of several other actors. And Pierce's comparison of the NFL to Texas fertilizer plants that uniltaerally refuse (presumably in violation of law) to allow inspections is, to say the least, overwrought. The NFL did nothing wrong in the context of litigation other than availing itself of its procedural rights and the settlement mechanism; it is troubling to tar an entity for doing that.

Even if we accept that too many cases settle and that "truth" is lost by over-settlement, Pierce still ignores what litigation is all about and how it functions. It is not some public auto-da-fe in which the NFL would have confessed its sins and had punishment imposed. Discovery, particularly depositions of present and former NFL officials, would have been conducted in private and likely placed under seal (as determined by the court, not the league acting unilaterally).  At best, discovery might have driven-up the settlement value. But Pierce is angry about the fact of settlement, not the amount; the mythical $ 10 billion settlement that some predicted would still entail "buying silence." The only public component would have been trial. But trial occurs in so few cases (again, not the NFL's fault), and in this case might not have happened for years (followed by even more years of appeals). So the notion that settling short-circuited some immediate public accounting seems far-fetched.

Further, the NFL asserted several potentially meritorious legal defenses about assumption of risk, preemption by workers' compensation schemes, and, especially, arbitrability under the CBA. It was possible that, had the parties not settled last month, the complaint would have been dismissed as to many players. According to recent reports, Judge Brody hinted to the parties that she was inclned to find many of the claims subject to arbitration, which explains why the case settled when it and for the unexpectedly lesser amount. It also is possible that, even at trial on the ultimate merits of the tort claims, the league still would have won. Pierce's response, I imagine, would have been that the NFL somehow acts nefariously in asserting those legal rights or in demanding the plaintiffs prove their case. But again, this is not some public confession ritual; it is a judicial proceeding in which the court must apply controlling law (including legal defenses such as arbitrability) and the complaining party is put to its burden of persuasion.

Pierce sees this as a public-health issue, demanding that the truth about the inherent risks of football and what the NFL knows of those risks be aired so decisions about the game's future can be made. He is right about the public-health part. But damages litigation--designed to compensate injured players and perhaps impose a monetary punishment on the league--can only indirectly provide public-health solutions. What Pierce wants, really, is not litigation, but something like a congressional hearing--a free-standing inquisition supported by subpoena power into a public problem or issue, disassociated from particular legal rules, claims of right, defenses, or legal remedies. Of course, it is highly unlikely that Congress or any executive agency ever will undertake such an investigation, which probably is why Pierce sees litigation as the only hope.

Finally, not all change happens through formal legal and political processes. We also should not overlook the value of journalistic and scientific investigations into the problem. The upcoming documentary from PBS' Frontline, which is going to attract a larger audience after ESPN's sudden decision to take its name off the project, may do a lot to drive the conversation forward. Journalism, not litigation, moved the ball on the meat-packing industry a century ago. Perhaps that also will be the case here.

Which is not to say there is not value in Pierce's essay. It is hard to find good, short readings for the few minutes we spend on settlement in Civ Pro. This actually may be good for that, if only to move students into a more lawyerly understanding of how settlement fits in civil litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 6, 2013 at 09:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Seeking views on important under-appreciated lessons from US history with alcohol Prohibition

Hoping to generate many more comments in reaction to this recent post at my new Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, and because I consider the PrawfBlawg readership to be especially insightful and astute, I am reprinting below parts of the above-referenced post:

As I explained via this prior PrawfBlawg post a few month ago, I thought it wise to devote at least a few early weeks in my Fall 2013 seminar on "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" to a review of the legal and social history of alcohol Prohibition.   I am doing so because (1) public health scholars tell me that that use, abuse and addiction surrounding the drug of marijuana has more parallels to alcohol than to tobacco, and (2) there are many legal and social themes and lessons from the US temperance movement and the years during and surrounding the Prohibition era that merit significant coverage in my new class before we jump into modern marijuana law and policy.

I have kicked of my class activites by urging all my seminar students to watch with me the full wonderful 2011 Ken Burns' PBS documentary on Prohibition, as well as cruise around this terrific website from the History Department at Ohio State (which includes this especially interesting account with visuals concerning campaigns by the "drys" in Ohio).  I also have urged students to read parts of the terrific 1970 article by Richard Bonnie & Whitebread, Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge - An Inquiry Into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition, 56 Virginia L. Rev. 971 (1970) (available here)  (Hat tip to Prof Orin Kerr and others).

There are, of course, lots of important obvious lessons to take away from US history with temperance movements and alcohol Prohibition, and I suspect my students and others are quick to take away from the US history here that we should seek to avoid governmental cures that are worse than the disease and also avoid too much constitutional experimentation.  But, as the title of this post suggests, I am eager to explore  what might be deemed important under-appreciated (or at least under-discussed) lessons from not just Prohibition itself, but also from the broader alcohol temperance movements that stretch back many centuries and arguably still have some enduring echoes and impacts today.

A few related prior posts (here and eslewhere):

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on September 1, 2013 at 12:27 PM in Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tragic cases and Fed Courts

Dahlia Lithwick wrote last week about two cases--one in Montana, one in Massachusetts--demonstrating how unseriously many judges take rape and the tendency to blame even teen-age victims or to place victim and perpetrator on similar moral footing.

The Massachusetts case has lead to a § 1983 action in federal court. According to the complaint, a 14-year-old girl, identified as "H.T.", became pregnant as a result of her rape by a 20-year-old. The man pled guilty in 2011 and was sentenced to 16 years probation. He also was ordered to initiate proceedings in family court, declare paternity, and comply with the family court's orders regarding child support, visitation, etc. The victim opposed this, not wanting to have any sort of relationship or contact with her attacker; she attempted to challenge that order, but the SJC of Massachusetts held that she lacked standing. The family court ordered him to pay child support, whereupon he sought visitation, then offered to withdraw that request in exchange for not having to pay child support. The complaint seeks to enjoin the criminal-court order as violating a host of constitutionl rights, including substantive due process, procedural due process, First Amendment, and Equal Protection.

The case demonstrates that, for better or worse, within every horrific and gut-wrenching tale of wrong lies a course of legal doctrines to be navigated. No matter the tragedy, process remains part of the system for seeking justice. And for anyone looking for a Federal Courts/Civil Rights question or discussion topic, this case has a semester's worth of stuff.

• The named defendant is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Massachusetts (sorry--got my commonwealths mixed up), which is not permissible, since a state is not a person for § 1983 purposes (and state sovereign immunity lurks in any event, much as I wish it didn't). This is an overlooked aspect of the Court's 11th Amendment doctrine--it is not that states cannot be sued for damages, states cannot be sued by name for any relief. The case must run against the responsible state official, under Ex Parte Young. It is not clear who the plaintiff should sue her. One possibility is the state criminal-court judge who entered the order being challenged. But then the extra clause of § 1983 (added in 1996) kicks in; this requires a plaintiff suing a judge to first seek a declaratory judgment, only able to get an injunction if declaratory relief is either unavailable or ignored. Another possibility is the executive office responsible for enforcing court orders, such as the county sheriff. But a blanket suit of the state qua state (unfortunately, in my view) will not work. Although query whether the state will bother raising this issue, as the plaintiff would simply find the  proper defendant and amend, so the issue only delays things.

• The obvious problem for the plaintiff is Rooker-Feldman, since the federal lawsuit is alleging a consitutional violation caused by the state-court judgment. The complaint anticipates this, insisting that RF does not apply because this is not a case in which a "losing-party [sic] seeks review of a judgment entered in state court." It is true that H.T. is not a state-court loser (the term used in these cases), since she was not a party to that litigation. But she is adversely affected by a state-court judgment, so this strikes me as quibbling semantics. The idea behind Rooker-Feldman is that the appellate process, not federal civil litigation, should be used for correcting erroneous or unconstitutional state-court judgments, regardless of whether we call the person challenging it a state-court loser or an adversely affected party. The obvious and proper move in light of Rooker-Feldman should have been to seek cert to SCOTUS from the SJC decision.

• But the SJC resolved the case on purely state-law grounds--that H.T. lacked state-law standing to challenge the order. So perhaps SCOTUS would not have jurisdiction here because the state-court decision rests on an independent-and-adequate state grounds (state-law standing is not the same as Article III standing). On the other hand, the complaint explicitly challenges the standing component as part of the basic order, alleging that the refusal to let her challenge the criminal-court order violates due process and the First Amendment. That argument would be available in a cert petition. Independent-and-adequate should not preclude review where the supposed I-and-A ground itself (lack of standing) is unconstitutional in this case. The cert. path seems to remain open.

• There is a potential argument that this case is not ripe. The injury to H.T. is the forced relationship with her attacker. But that forced relationship comes from the family court proceedings, and presumes that the family court orders or permits some relationship. But we do not know how that litigation will play out. Perhaps the family court would reject the man's efforts to establish a relationship with the child or with H.T., in which case the constitutional harm will not arise. H.T. also is worried about the rapist playing games in family court (such as threatening to seek visitation), although the family court might be equipped to handle any such abusive efforts. The point is that the harm results from what the family court does, not the criminal-court order. So we may just have to wait to see what the family court does.  In addtion, publicity over the case also triggered introduction of legislation in Massachusetts that would prohibit rapists from having any contact with children resulting from the rape. The possibility of future legislation does not alone render a case unripe. But it does demonstrate that there are a lot of uncertainties about what will happen in family court.

• Of course, once the family court does make a ruling (such as the one ordering child support), Rooker-Feldman kicks back in and the family court order is challengeable only through the appellate process. And we are back where we started.

• H.T. also alleges a constitutional injury from the threat of potential family-court litigation, which requires time, money (to hire an attorney), and stress for the next 16 years. She is concerned that she will be running in and out of family court for the next 16 years to deal with his games. And this injury is caused by the criminal-court order. But is avoiding potential future litigation a cognizable constitutional right?

None of this is to minimize the harm H.T. has suffered and may continue to suffer. Nor do I doubt the sheer lunacy of a court ordering (much less allowing) a convicted rapist to potentially be involved with his victim and the child produced by the rape. But the case shows that the seemingly esoteric and theoretical issues floating around a standard Fed Courts or Civil Rights course actually have some teeth. And law students (as future lawyers) must know how to navigate them. And in a set of facts this disturbing, it helps us to remind students that they cannot get caught up in emotion, but often must keep their eyes on the procedural ball.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 31, 2013 at 10:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Settlement in NFL concussion lawsuit

The class action against the NFL by more than 4000 former players, alleging that the league knew and failed to disclose the risks of head trauma associated with the game, has tentatively settled. Players will receive $ 765 million (plus court-approved attorneys' fees to be determined later) for individual compensation (reportedly about $ 110,000 per plaintiff), plus funding for research and medical examinations. The settlement was reached following court-ordered mediation, although the agreement still must be approved by the court.

Much is being made in some sports-media circles about the size of the settlement relative to the NFL's wealth, but, of course, civil damages are tied to the harm to the plaintiffs, not to the defendant's ability to play. We might question whether the settlement figure provides sufficient deterrence that the NFL will take real steps (as opposed to the cosmetic ones it has been taking) to make the game safer--assuming such a thing is actually possible (I have my doubts).

Like many other cases, this one also highlights the question whether settlement, especially in money cases, furthers the civil justice system's goals of discovering the truth. There was no discovery, so we never really learned what the NFL knows and has known about the game's risks or about what those risks actually might be (the answer to both is "a lot," according to a forthcoming documentary). We also have not heard the plaintiffs' stories told in a judicial forum (although we might not have). Of course, discovery in a case like this almost certainly would have been sealed, a regular practice that presents a different problem in modern litigation. And the plaintiffs' willingness to settle this early makes sense, because this case would have been a ripe target for a Twiqbal-based 12(b)(6) and a motion to send the entire issue to arbitration under the CBA.

Update: The prevailing view among sports columnists is that the NFL won huge, although this seems to be because legal experts predicted settlements of between $ 5 and $ 10 billion, so a figure of less than $ 1 billion is so paltry that plaintiffs' attorneys must have caved. So did they cave? Or does this just show the limited ability of "legal experts" to predict anything?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2013 at 06:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Seriously? quote of the day

From a public statement by the Fairfield County (OH) School District, announcing it would allow a 12-year-old girl to play football rather than defend its ban (which it never explained) in litigation that the ACLU threatened to bring on the girl's behalf:

"We have no intent of competing with the deep pockets of the ACLU in any litigation situation in order to secure a favorable judgment," the district said in a statement. "Therefore, we will allow female participation in contact sports."

Really? The ACLU has deep pockets? The ACLU's pockets for litigation are lined with the money it recovers from idiotic governments--like Franklin Fairfield County--when it successfully challenges pointless-but-unconstitutional like this one. Still, it's a nice piece of demagoguery that might play well with the public. And the school district is not necessarily alone--Justice Scalia expressed similar beliefs about public-interest groups wielding superior  financial resources to overwhelm governments in § 1983 litigation.

I do agree with one commentator, who noted that such a statement indicates the district still does not support the girl's efforts, is not convinced she is legally entitled to play, and potentially not willing to give her the backing she needs (that is, the same backing as all other players get). We may not be done with this story.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 21, 2013 at 09:13 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Washington's letter and the American-Jewish experience

This is a few days old, but I still wanted to write about it. On Sunday, Justice Kagan gave the keynote at Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I. for the reading of George Washington's 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport. In the letter, written just after an official visit to Newport, Washington presented a vision of religious freedom in which "the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens." Whether the nation does or has lived up to those principles, they are stirring words, especially giving the (rather negative) Jewish experience as a separate community within a host country.

Kagan spoke about her family history and her experiences growing up as a Jew in the United States, which I appreciated because, as I wrote at the time of her nomination, we are on the same basic point in the curve of American Jewry. My family comes from the same area of Eastern Europe, which was sometimes in Russia and sometimes in Poland. Like hers, my grandparents primarily spoke Yiddish, worked laboring jobs (they owned a fruit stand in Brooklyn), and made sure their children got an education (usually at one of the schools in New York City, such as Hunter or City College), and broke into professions. By the time their grandchildren came around and moved into adulthood, there were no avenues that were closed off to Jews because they were Jews and little or no formal or institutional anti-Semitism. As Kagan said, all that is possible because of the commitment to religious and political liberty (even if purely rhetorical) reflected in Washington's letter.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 21, 2013 at 04:40 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack