Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Trump v. CNN

Donald Trump has sued CNN for reporting and op-eds comparing him to Hitler and using the term "Big Lie;" he seeks $ 475 million in damages.

This lawsuit demonstrates something I have argued for awhile--the call to overrule New York Times as shorthand for rejecting or limiting actual malice is a red herring, distracting from a broader attack on political speech, criticism of government and other influential persons, and the First Amendment's broader speech-protective superstructure. A host of First Amendment principles destroy this case, regardless of actual malice. Everything the suit complains about is political speech and criticism, opinion, and rhetorical hyperbole--all at the core of First Amendment protections; it points to no provable and verifiable statements of fact that can form a basis for defamation liability. The suit would overrule the "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." It is difficult to imagine a clearer example of caustic and sharp rhetorical hyperbole than comparing a political leader to Hitler.

The suit also suggests that because CNN purports to be a news organization, it enjoys less First Amendment protection--including the loss of protections of actual malice--than other speakers. It argues that actual-malice protection should not apply

where the media defendant is not publishing statements to foster debate, critical thinking, or the 'unfettered interchange of ideas' but rather seeks to participate in the political arena by offering propaganda.

This is insane on several levels. It suggests there is something called "propaganda" entitled to less protection; it allows government to define and draw the line between that and fostering debate; and it insists there is a distinct category called "news" (never defined) and limits certain media speakers to that category. The irony of this media/other speaker distinction is that it turns NYT on its head. The Court has long debated but never resolved whether NYT applies to nonmedia defendants. Trump's suit goes the other way--media defendants enjoy less protection than other speakers.

This is an absurd suit that should go down in flames at the 12(b)(6) stage and should result in sanctions for the ethically challenged lawyers who filed this. In addition, Florida's anti-SLAPP statute could rear its head. The statutory dispositive motion does not apply in federal court. But Florida's statute contains a unique fee-shifting provision--fees are available for any action that is "without merit," not limited to actions  rejected under the special anti-SLAPP motion (as in most anti-SLAPP laws). One judge in the Southern District of Florida has applied the statutory provision (which should apply in federal court) to award fees where the action was dismissed on an ordinary 12(b)(6). Trump thus could be on the hook for attorney's fees for this abuse of process.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 4, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 03, 2022

The Fried Curse?

A potential Jews-in-Baseball moment on the horizon this week.

The Braves lead the Mets by two games in the NL East with three games to play; the Braves' magic number is one. The Braves also own the tiebreaker--if the teams finish tied, the Braves win the division. But suppose the Mets win the next two games and the Braves lose the next two; the teams are tied entering the final game of the season, to be played at 4:10 p.m. on Wednesday--Yom Kippur.* Braves ace Max Fried would be scheduled to pitch and would be the guy the Braves want in a seeming must-win game. Will he pitch? And if he does, can he overcome the Koufax Curse?

[*] It could be a very Jewish game. The Marlins feature two Jewish relief pitchers--Jake Fishman and Richard Bleier.

Unsurprisingly, I am not a fan of MLB's bloated post-season. But I do like that it set the system to incentivize teams to win the division. The NL East winner gets a first-round bye and will not play until next Tuesday or Wednesday. The loser plays a best-of-3 series this weekend, then would face the 110-win (with three games left) Dodgers in the next round. A team may want to use its best pitcher in this game. If they win, he can be fully rested to start Game 1 after the bye. If they lose, he misses the short weekend series. Will Fried be the man, even on Yom Kippur day?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 3, 2022 at 03:01 PM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Maybe Dobbs is different

During the period between the Dobbs leak and the opinion, I wrestled with the arguments that Dobbs is unique because it overrules precedent to eliminate a recognized individual right, as opposed to reinstating or establishing a new right. I was not sold on the argument because the Court has "eliminated" rights--overruling Lochner and overruling some crim pro stuff. In any event, I was not convinced that the difference matters for the Court's "legitimacy."

But here is a thought that might change my mind. There is an open question whether conduct that was constitutionally protected when performed at T1 can be punished or sanctioned at T3 after precedent changes and that conduct loses its constitutional protection at T2. This can happen in two ways. 1) An existing law,de-zombified, is enforced against a rights-holder; the rights-holder's pre-new-precedent conduct violated the law, so she becomes subject to successful enforcement of the law following the change ; or 2) Following the change, government enacts a new law, imposing civil (not criminal) sanctions and made expressly retroactive, and the law is enforced against a rights-holder's pre-new-precedent conduct. Jonathan Mitchell (the source of S.B. 8 and its imitators) argues that either is permissible. Precedent functions as a judicially imposed non-enforcement policy; when that non-enforcement policy changes because judicial precedent changes, the rights-holder can be liable for conduct that violated the statute.

If Mitchell is right,decisions eliminating a right (Dobbs) are different from one that does not eliminate a right (Brown). The former imposes new consequences on rights-holder for old conduct; the latter does not. Or the difference triggers some forward-looking due process concerns.

I would not frame this as legitimacy. But it implicates an additional layer of constitutional concern going forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 3, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 02, 2022

The Misguided Law Review Note Preemption Checks

It is that time of year that law review students are writing their student notes - choosing their topics, scoping and outlining. I've been struck by how worried they are about being preempted -- many of the students seem to hold this idea - passed on by their law review senior editors - that if someone else is writing or has published an article somewhere on the same topic, then it is redundant. I try to disabuse them from this idea that there can only be one scholarly article on the topic and that originality = novel topic or even novel argument. Originality is an original analysis and an original voice. Seriously, some students do a search, find another article that was written about say, cap and trade energy regulation and decide it is preempted for them. Indeed, I advise my students that when choosing a paper topic - they will encounter one of two problems (always): they will either feel there has been too much written about their issues or too little. I  tell them that normally the first problem is the better one - because it means this is an area of significance, an issue that is of public debate, that people care about the topic and that writing in this sphere - say, content moderation or major questions doctrine or new frontiers of tech antitrust policy - will mean you are joining a vibrant conversation. Finding an original angle, building an original analysis, bringing in interesting and surprising and counter-intuitive arguments, evidence, comparative insights, analogies, methodologies, histories,  to support the discussion are ways to contribute something original to an important legal debate.

Posted by Orly Lobel on October 2, 2022 at 08:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Legal Realism Sometimes

The New York Times editorial today marking the impending start of its term is unexceptional. That is unsurprising; this is the role of newspaper editorials. The only surprise is that I read any of it. But having done so, I was struck by one line: "It is precisely during times like these that the American people need the Supreme Court to play the role Chief Justice Roberts memorably articulated at his own confirmation hearing — that of an umpire calling balls and strikes, ensuring a fair playing field for all."

I am not sure anyone, possibly including the Chief, believes this line. Certainly mockery of Roberts's line is standard-issue for most observers and critics of the Court. Among those observers and critics we can count the editorial page of the New York Times. In the past, it has called the line "simplistic" and suggested that it had been subjected to a "brilliant demolition" in a speech by then-Justice Souter. Another time, it referred sympathetically to criticism of "the notion that constitutional interpretation is merely a robotic task of calling balls and strikes." They may be mistaken or misled by by professional duty and self-conception, but I would guess with some confidence that every member of the current Supreme Court believes in the concept of "calling balls and strikes" more sincerely than any member of the New York Times editorial board. 

I have no quarrel with today's editorial in general, although I also have no interest in it. (To be uninteresting and unquarrelsome is, again, is the role of newspaper editorials.) I do find interesting the degree to which many people and institutions slip in and out of legal realism, at one moment scoffing at the idea that law could be other than political and, in various senses, interested, partial, and policy-oriented, and at other times invoking various clichés, previously "brilliantly demolished," to praise, condemn, or urge a judge or court, or appeal to the public, according to the needs of the moment or the state of their sentiments. Critical thinking is a fair-weather habit.  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 2, 2022 at 12:35 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2022

Certification by the United States Supreme Court

Quick question for federal courts folks. Has the U.S. Supreme Court ever certified a question of state law to a state Supreme Court that permits such a certification? I think that the answer is no. But before I discuss why the Justices should certify more often, I want to be sure if they have done so before.

UPDATE: Thanks for the comments sent directly to me with a few examples where the Court has done this.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on September 30, 2022 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

SCOTUS to continue livestreaming arguments

SCOTUS announced it will continue audio livestream for all scheduled arguments, with the live audience back in the building. This is very good, if surprising. I expected the Justices to treat livestream as a substitute for an in-person gallery and to drop the substitute once the gallery returned, so I am happy to be wrong. It will be interesting to hear the differences when the audio include live-audience laughter.

Note that this announcement limits it to argument, not opinion announcements. Will the Court resume announcing opinions and reading summaries in front of an audience or will it continue to post them in 10-minute intervals on the web site? And if it resumes live announcements, what is the possible argument against livestreaming those as well?

Also noteworthy is that the parade of horribles associated with live media (there is no distinction between video and audio for these purposes) have not come to pass.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 28, 2022 at 04:47 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

VAPs and Fellowships 2022-2023

On this thread, comments can be shared regarding news of appointments to VAPs or similar fellowships (for example, the Climenko and Bigelow).  Here is last year's thread.

You may also add information to the spreadsheet.

Posted by Sarah Lawsky on September 28, 2022 at 03:40 PM in Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Absolutely, Law Schools--and Their Faculty--are Responsible for the Actions of Law Reviews

I take no position on most of the issues discussed in this post about an author's dispute with the Iowa Law Review, which was brought to my attention by Brian Leiter's blog--except that, as Brian writes, it is hard to imagine any scenario where the correct response is publishing an article over the author's own objections. (The older I get, the fewer strong positions I take on anything, except the subjects of anti-inflammatory medicines and arch supports--and I am striving to be more open-minded on those subjects as well. It seems to me that one of the many problems with social media is not that so many people share foolish or dangerous opinions, but that so many people share opinions, full stop. Having opinions has become our most popular and least productive leisure activity.)  

But I want to highlight one aspect of the post. In an update, the author, Prof. Ramsi Woodcock of Kentucky, writes, "When I wrote the forgoing last spring, I had assumed that the buck stopped with the student editors, and that apathy and avoidance explained why the Iowa Law administration had not stepped in to put this right." He then recounts communications with Iowa's dean suggesting greater, albeit post-hoc, decanal involvement.

A very small number of student-run law reviews--I can think of only one for sure, although there may be others--are officially and financially independent of their law schools. The rest are part and parcel of the institution and, generally, are folded into students' education officially through credits and other mechanisms. (Even the independent law review(s) are typically intertwined with their law schools in all sorts of ways.) And that leads to the bottom line: of course law schools are responsible for their law reviews, and for the action of those journals and their editors. Insofar as they purport to be scholarly journals, it could not be otherwise; likewise insofar as they purport to exist for pedagogical purposes. And this is not simply a matter of decanal responsibility, although I think it would be a good thing if every law dean read every issue of every journal published at his or her school and sent "Grizzer-grams" to the editors after every one. The same responsibility attaches equally--if not primarily, as a matter of faculty governance and scholarly duty--to every faculty member. We own our schools' journals, morally and professionally as well as otherwise. 

Of course "apathy and avoidance" are a part of why we generally act otherwise. So are the fact that we become accustomed to particular structures, such as the assignment of a single faculty advisor to each journal (which I suppose we could file under "avoidance"), as well as less tangible structures, such as the fact that not every school distributes every issue in print to every faculty member as soon as it is published, announces its publication choices to the faculty when they are made, and so on. There are also reasons that are less blameworthy decisions than mere apathy or avoidance. When I was a faculty advisor, I gave the new editors some general views and goals, but I also told them that this was their work to be proud of, that the decisions and learning were theirs, and that I was there more to support them and run interference when necessary than to intrude into their choices. Some of that approach had to do with a recognition that within the overall scholarly mission of the journal, different years' editors might have different emphases: sometimes editors were more interested in national prestige, for instance, while sometimes they were more interested in making sure that Alabama law and practice were given due attention. But although that was my backstop position--and a convenient one it was, to be sure--in important senses I, and not just I but my colleagues and my dean, were and are still ultimately responsible for our journals. Not doing anything about it most of the time, or talking in general terms about how it's really the student's journal, doesn't alter that ultimate responsibility in the least; those are just decisions about faculty and journal policy for which we, the faculty, are responsible.

I emphasize this in light of the many interesting choices and positions taken by various law reviews over the past several years. (Those choices are admittedly not necessarily vastly different from similar decisions made by faculty-run or professional-society-run journals in other disciplines, lest we lay all this at the feet of the American legal academy's strange reliance on students to do the work of overseeing the place where one third of our work as professors, scholarship, appears.) If a law review decides to issue a statement about one of the articles it publishes, for instance, and if there are questions about such a decision, all of this is ultimately the responsibility of that law school's faculty. If a law review decides to take a position on the BDS movement, one that extends not just to questions of funding but to specific positions taken by scholars in scholarly work, that is not a decision independent of the parent institution, but one in which the law school's faculty and administration must be involved and for which they ultimately must take responsibility--including the responsibility to reject it, if they conclude it is not consistent with the duties of a journal and the obligations of scholarship. Keeping in mind that some law reviews specifically restrict themselves to particular subjects or openly have particular orientations, while mainline law reviews explicitly exist to serve the general and viewpoint-neutral mission of scholarship, if a journal explicitly or implicitly adopts a particular politics or set of viewpoints that alter or depart from its mission and, among other things, affect its publication decisions, who it invites to symposia, or other matters, that is a matter for which the law school and its faculty are ultimately responsible. They might endorse it, in which case they should do so publicly. They might conclude it is indeed an improper departure, in which case they have every right and obligation to stop it. Either way, the responsibility ultimately lies with the law school, not just institutionally or with the faculty advisor but with respect to the individual faculty members. As long as we claim to be a scholarly discipline, the responsibility is indefeasible.

Perfectly reasonable arguments can be made about sub silentio decisions in the past that, one might insist, were not neutral but in fact championed and enforced particular positions and values; not all decisions that might be seen as departing from a law review's proper role are new and not all of them are about today's hot-button issues or share today's consensus. Those, too, were ultimately the responsibility of the faculty and not just the journal. And one might note that there are times when the departure is not something initiated by the law review but by a faculty member. When a faculty member leans on a journal to publish a piece that the journal thinks it ought not publish, for instance, that's a failure of responsibility on the part of the faculty member--and one in which the dean and other faculty must support the journal's resistance. But it does seem to me that a number of mainline journals, at least on a year-to-year basis, have, sometimes explicitly but more often implicitly, made a variety of decisions of late that are not necessarily consistent with their specifically, officially general scholarly mission and obligations. Those decisions might be praised or criticized, defended or questioned. But they ultimately must be supervised by the journals' faculty, including appropriate intervention when it is called for. This is not a violation but a meeting of our obligations as scholars and teachers, both of which surely sometimes includes the duty to say "no" and to make people unhappy. It's a part of the job I don't think we pay enough attention to. The buck always stops with us.       

Posted by Paul Horwitz on September 27, 2022 at 01:08 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink | Comments (0)

JOTWELL: Vladeck on Codrington on Purcell

The new Courts Law essay comes from Steve Vladeck (Texas), reviewing Wilfred U. Codrington III, Purcell in Pandemic, 96 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 941 (2021), exploring the use of Purcell to avoid challenges to COVID-related voting restrictions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 26, 2022

Situation-Altering Invocations of "Legitimacy"

There have been a lot of interesting interventions in the discussion of the "legitimacy" or "illegitimacy" of the Supreme Court recently. Some of them are simply collecting on my to-read list, so perhaps I should say interesting-looking interventions. But I am looking forward to reading recent pieces by Thomas Donnelly and, especially (based on the abstract), Or Bassok, among others. I think the general question is legitimate, so to speak. But I would add one note of caution about the broader universe of discussions of Supreme Court legitimacy.

At least post-Fallon, legal scholars are already accustomed to parsing the word "legitimacy" into several possible senses, including moral, legal, and sociological legitimacy. I would add one more distinction, which refers less to the meaning of the word and more to the nature of its invocation. There are good-faith descriptive invocations of "legitimacy," of course. There are also performative or situation-altering invocations of legitimacy. They take at least two forms. One is the deliberate invocation of the term in order to create concerns about legitimacy. Sometimes--perhaps often--the phrase "I have concerns about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court," like the injunction not to think about an elephant, is a way of attempting to create concerns about legitimacy.

The speaker may or may not also have genuine concerns of his or her own about Supreme Court legitimacy. But that is not necessarily the point of the invocation and may be quite separate from it. The point is to cause or encourage the proliferation of public concern about legitimacy, so that it takes on a life and momentum of its own, for electoral, political, fundraising, legislative, discursive, purely self-serving, or other purposes. (In a society that treasures and monetizes prestige and commodifies every "creative" or discursive act, self-interest should almost always be a factor in considering even the most sincere actions. One gets more attention for calling a court or decision "illegitimate" than "bad" or "wrong.") The speaker's own concerns about legitimacy may be nuanced and specific; the invocation is not, is perhaps not intended to be, and encourages the generation of non-nuanced concerns about legitimacy. 

No doubt it has ever been thus. I'm reading Brad Snyder's enjoyable Frankfurter bio right now (more on that, and on incipient Frankfurter revivalism, later, I should hope), and one striking thing about it is just how much pretty well everyone named in the book was concerned with naming and capturing the agenda. Capturing it by naming it in many cases: anyone who took con law when I did, and perhaps still today, will not be surprised to see just how much of the received narrative about its history, accurate or otherwise, was crafted on someone's typewriter and went on to become a free-floating, situation-altering "reality." But the phenomenon has certainly not slowed down and, I think, is changed and enhanced by the combination of wicked social media and the modern academic's ambition and language of "public engagement." And that in turn leads to a related but somewhat separate second form of situation-altering invocation of "legitimacy" or "illegitimacy." Invoking legitimacy doesn't just encourage others to have concerns about legitimacy; it encourages them to put any concerns they may have about the Court, or about particular decisions, into the language of legitimacy. Even if the initial invocation is strategic, ultimately that language shapes and constrains our thinking, just as Bakke's invocation of "diversity" created a half-century of diversity-talk, even if we could have been talking and thinking about the same issue through other and perhaps better lenses. 

We are accustomed enough in other areas of politics to attempting to distinguish between genuine grassroots sentiment and astroturfing. The astroturfing may ultimately succeed in creating grassroots sentiments that we should take seriously, but at least at the outset we are accustomed to treating those efforts skeptically, knowing that some sort of game is afoot. I would say the same thing about the profusion of invocations of concern about the Court's legitimacy, first from professionals and then from everyone else. Some of them are entirely sincere. But not all of them, even by ostensibly reputable people, are. And the second-order invocations of legitimacy concerns that they encourage may be sincere, but may also just be a case of people fitting a different concern--say, about hating a particular decision or wanting a different political lineup on the Court--into the only, or most prevalent, or most convenient, language that is available to them. That is so even if the actual concerns were or are somewhat different, such that we would think more clearly and be better off talking in terms of good or bad decisions or outcomes, or about who we want to have and exercise power. I am focusing in particular on efforts to encourage the belief that the Court is illegitimate, because that involves changing a perceived baseline and because it involves adopting a particular linguistic frame. But surely something similar can be said about language that treats the Court as legitimate or reassures others that it is and that there's nothing to see here. I believe there is a real legitimacy issue here, and probably that there is always such a concern, at least along some dimensions of the word. But we should approach invocations of legitimacy and illegitimacy with some skepticism, recognizing that some first-order invocations are astroturfing, and some subsequent invocations are a matter of adopting language that has been foisted upon the subsequent speaker with the intent of shaping, harnessing, and, in some ways, limiting their vocabulary and worldview. We should remember that when people say "legitimate" or "illegitimate," they may actually care about something else, or at least that they did before they were chivvied into adopting a particular linguistic framework.  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on September 26, 2022 at 12:44 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink | Comments (0)