Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Standing in the ACA case

Good analysis from Nicholas Bagley (Michigan) about the standing problems for the two individual plaintiffs in the ACA litigation. A few additional thoughts.

• This illustrates how enforcement is the trigger for constitutional litigation, not the existence of a constitutionally defective law. An invalid legal obligation that will not be enforced cannot be the subject of litigation. An invalid legal obligation that will be enforced through a tax penalty of $ 0 is, functionally, a legal obligation that cannot be enforced. It still would be better if we discussed this as a question of merits and not jurisdictional thresholds. If these plaintiffs are not injured because the law cannot be enforced against them in any way, then their substantive constitutional rights are not being violated.

• The plaintiffs' argument that they are injured because they believe following the law is the right thing to do (even when that law is not enforceable) is the flip side of requiring government officials to act lawfully  or refrain from acting unlawfully (e.g., reservists in Congress, non-natural born citizens serving as President). Neither is a basis for standing.

• I have not seen any good argument that the 20+ States have standing. But the court skirted that question through the "one good plaintiff" rule--because someone had standing, the case could proceed without having to consider anyone else's standing.

• Standing and jurisdiction have always been dicey in the ACA litigation; this case represents the latest and weakest effort. I wonder if the Fifth Circuit (or SCOTUS if it gets that far) will use that as the basis to get rid of this case, without having to touch the bizarre merits.

• Bagley describes standing doctrine as "near and dear to the hearts of the conservative legal establishment," so that even conservative judges on the Fifth Circuit (and Roberts and Kavanaugh on SCOTUS) will be unlikely to allow this sort of case to go forward. But the doctrine developed when the conservative legal establishment was trying to stop environmentalists from preserving the Nile crocodile, lawyers from challenging unwarranted surveillance of their foreign clients, and atheists from challenging states' creative ways to give government funds to parochial schools. This is the ideological drift of standing--the doctrine may not be so near and dear when it prevents "two guys from Texas" from taking down the nation's health-care system.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2018 at 04:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, December 17, 2018

"The End of a Walking Dead Doctrine?"

Here is my contribution to a symposium sponsored by the good folks at SCOTUSblog on the upcoming memorial-cross case.  Here are the opening grafs:

About four and a half years ago, here at SCOTUSblogcommenting on the Supreme Court’s then-recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, I noted that it had been a while since the justices “had shared with us their intuitions, impressions, aruspicies, and auguries – that is, what Justice Breyer calls their ‘legal judgment’ – in a clean-and-straightforward Establishment Clause case involving ‘religion in the public square.’” Well, they have been asked to do it again.

One of the questions presented in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association is “whether a 93-year-old memorial to the fallen of World War I is unconstitutional merely because it is shaped like a cross.” That the question is posed this way says a lot, but not much that is complimentary or edifying, about the state of First Amendment doctrine. After all, and obviously, the monument at issue in Bladensburg, Maryland’s Veterans Memorial Park does not just happen to be “shaped like” a cross any more than the name of California’s largest city just happens to “sound like” one of the titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is, in fact, a cross – a 40-feet-tall Latin cross that, for nearly a century, has recalled and honored 49 local soldiers who, as its original donors put it, “have not died in vain.” The memorial is constitutional not because its troubling resemblance may be excused but because – the lower court’s speculations about the semiotics of shrubbery-placement notwithstanding – it is not an “establishment of religion.” A judicial doctrine, precedent or “test” that says otherwise is, for that reason, unsound. . . . 

Stay tuned!

Posted by Rick Garnett on December 17, 2018 at 08:50 AM in Religion, Rick Garnett | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sad law-prof blogging news

Concurring Opinions is shutting down at the end of the year. This is sad news. CoOp spun out of Prawfs in its earliest days and I experienced them (as reader and then as author/guest-author) as companion sites, covering similar issues of law and legal education with a similar sensibility. The posts containing the table of contents from new issues of law reviews will be missed. And this closing reflects the broader migration of this sort of legal writing to Twitter and Facebook.

Gerard indicated that there would be some farewell posts over the next two weeks.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 16, 2018 at 10:31 AM in Blogging, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (7)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A quick word on the remedy in the ACA case (Updated)

Sam Bray (as always) beat me to exploring the remedy issues in the district court's declaration on the constitutional invalidity of all of DACA. The court declared ACA invalid in its entirety, but declined to issue an injunction and provided only a declaratory judgment. Here is the wind-up to the post, with which I entirely concur.

In analyzing the effect of the declaratory judgment, then, there are two mistakes to avoid. One is saying the government can ignore it because it's "only" a declaratory judgment. That is incorrect; it is a real judgment, and unless stayed by the district court or an appellate court it deserves the adherence accorded to any other judicial judgment. The other is saying the government is bound to follow the judgment with respect to everyone, party or not. In effect, we would be treating the remedy as a "national declaratory judgment." That, too, is incorrect. To give such a remedy is beyond the judicial power.

The government is bound to follow the judgment (unless, as it should be, it is stayed pending appeal), but only with respect to the parties. *

I also want to flag this language from Marty Lederman's post: "[C]ontrary to almost every media account you've read in the past few hours (come on, New York Times!) Judge O'Connor did not "strike down" the "entire Affordable Care Act" (something he lacks the power to do, in any event) . . ." A federal court cannot erase or eliminate or remove a statute, so it would be wonderful if that term could be removed from the lexicon.

Update: The other procedural/remedial issue is what happens next. The court granted what it called partial summary judgment on one claim (or one issue in one claim) and entered a declaratory judgment, but no injunction (although that is what the first count of the complaint requested). But it is not clear what is appealable here and how. There is no injunction, so § 1292(a) is not in play. Section 2201 says a "declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and shall be reviewable as such," but the view among limited cases is that this assumes the decision is otherwise-final in the sense of disassociating the district court from the case and leaving it nothing to do but execute the judgment. With other claims remaining in the case, this D/J is not final. An appeal would seem to require certification under § 1292(b) or Rule 54(b).

Then there is a question of who can appeal. The United States agrees with the plaintiff states' basic constitutional argument about the zeroed-out penalty and that some provisions are not severable, so it is unlikely to appeal that; it disagrees with severability as to the rest of ACA, so it may appeal that. But what about the core constitutional issues? States were allowed to intervene to defend the parts of the law that DOJ would not, but under Hollingsworth an intervenor that would not be subject to the force of the order would not have standing to appeal. The House likely will intervene come January 3 and would have standing under Windsor, but that would be too late to appeal for § 1292(b), which requires appeal within ten days of certification. Maybe DOJ will appeal the declaration as a whole, then limit its legal arguments, with the states again intervening in the Fifth Circuit to pick up the slack.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2018 at 03:44 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Deepening split on SLAPP laws in federal court

Earlier this month, SCOTUS denied cert in a case out of the Tenth Circuit holding that a state anti-SLAPP law does not apply in federal court under an Erie/Hanna analysis. This week, the Eleventh Circuit weighed in, agreeing that Georgia's law does not apply in an action action CNN.

If you are scoring at home, that is three circuits (1st, 5th, 9th) holding that SLAPP laws apply in federal court and three circuits (DC, 10th, 11th) holding they do not. The Ninth Circuit position is why Stormy Daniels owes Donald Trump $ 300,000 in attorney's fees. But the most recent cases are the three rejecting application.

I was surprised SCOTUS denied cert in the Tenth Circuit case, which had the benefit of using such egregiously incorrect analysis that it begged for correction, even if the Court agreed on the conclusion as to application. Maybe the Court will see the new case as a better vehicle, although because it involves reporting by a major-media outlet, it is less the paradigm SLAPP suit. Regardless, SCOTUS must weigh-in on this at some point.

Update: I have not hit this point in many posts on the subject, but in response to a few email queries: I believe the non-application side has the better argument. Rules 12 and 56 provide mechanisms and standards for weeding-out insufficiently pleaded or supported claims; they "answer the questions in dispute," leaving no room for state law to operate. And both rules are valid because arguably procedural and not abridging, enlarging, or modifying substantive rights. The issue is close and therefore makes a good exam or class hypothetical (I have used it for both).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2018 at 11:43 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, December 14, 2018

9th Circuit taps the brakes (slightly) on universality

The ever-harrowed Ninth Circuit tapped the brakes slightly on district courts issuing universal injunctions. In affirming on the merits an injunction barring enforcement of religious opt-out rules from the contraception mandate in an action brought by five states, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in having the injunction extend beyond the plaintiffs.

The court hit a few important notes. It emphasized that universality is generally disfavored and especially disfavored absent class certification. It highlighted the problems with universal injunctions, including the loss of percolation of issues, the effects on non-plaintiffs, and the risks of forum shopping. And it applied the "complete relief" principle to conclude that a particularized injunction gives states complete relief from the economic harms the opt-out rule would impose on them. That other states may suffer similar harms did not affect the plaintiff states.

The court made clear that universal injunctions are not prohibited, but must be limited to cases in which broad relief is necessary. And it said the issue (as with an earlier case rejecting universality as to sanctuary cities) was a failure to develop the record as to other states, suggesting that building a better record may justify universality. 

But the court grappled with the scope question, a step back from recent hints from that court that universal injunctions were becoming the default, at least in certain cases.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 14, 2018 at 07:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)