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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

US seeks emergency TRO against SB8 (Updated)

Motion here. The piece I find interesting begins around p. 24, in which DOJ argues, in essence, that § 1983 and Ex parte Young preempt a law such as this. Section 1983 reflects a congressional choice to make federal civil rights litigation, including for injunctions, the preferred mechanism for litigating constitutional rights, thereby making offensive litigation the preferred posture for constitutional litigation.

I am not sure that is true. As I have been arguing here, many contexts force rights-holders into a defensive posture, outside of federal court. Sometimes those contexts come from Congress, such as the Anti-Injunction Act, or the courts, such as Younger. Sometimes that comes from states, such as in the creation of tort and contract law. The brief relies on Patsy v. Board of Regents, which held that a state cannot impose an admnistrative-exhaustion requirement on a public employee as a precondition to bringing a § 1983 action. But four years later the Court held that Younger applied to state administrative enforcement proceedings--that is, a rights0holder must defend the state administrative proceeding and appeal through the state system to SCOTUS, not run to district court. So federal court is not always paramount.

The brief repeats the refrain that SB8 thwarts "ordinary mechanisms of judicial review" or the "established process of judicial review." When did state courts, with SCOTUS review, cease to be an ordinary mechanism of judicial review? And is DOJ willing to follow that idea where it leads, so that an offensive option must be available in all cases, except perhaps where Congress creates the limits on § 1983? Must there be some mechanism for pre-enforcement challenges to constitutionally defective tort claims?

Finally, seems impossible to square this rhetoric with the limited scope of constitutional litigation. Imagine that SB8 followed California's prior consumer-protection law at issue in Nike v. Kasky, which allowed enforcement by "any person" regardless of injury as well as by governments and officials. A pre-enforcement EPY action would have been possible. But the injunction from that EPY action would have bound the executive, not the potential "any person." He would have been able to sue and perhaps win a state-court action, at least prior to the establishment of binding SCOTUS precedent. Same thing here. Some state-court actions would be possible and some providers would still have to defend in state court. They would have some precedent. But state courts are not bound by non-SCOTUS federal precedent unless they choose to be.

This is more complicated than the DOJ rhetoric acknowledges.

Update: The district court set a hearing for October 1. This fast-tracks the case. While framed as a motion for a TRO, the resulting order will be deemed a grant or denial preliminary injunction and immediately appealable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 15, 2021 at 03:16 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink

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