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Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Court enjoins enforcement of SB8 (Updated and moved to top)

Order here. I am beginning to go through it. I have already found some loose language about the US stopping states from enacting invalid laws, as opposed to enforcing. But it adopted the broad views of standing I expected.

OK, I am back. Nothing in here is too surprising. A few comments, mostly as it affects my interests in the procedure of the case. My overall conclusion is that the result is defensible in the unique context of a suit by the United States. But it is wrong in a number of points along the way, reflecting the common mistakes in the overall discussion of SB8.

• The order enjoins the state, including clerks and judges, but private individuals only to the extent their conduct causes clerks and judges to violate the injunction. This is wrong. The court cites no case law in which a federal district court has enjoined a state judge from receiving or adjudicating a case, as opposed to enjoining would-be parties from moving forward with that litigation. The court brushes aside the language in Ex Parte Young about not enjoining judges (as opposed to executives) by insisting the case is about sovereign immunity, which is not in play in a suit by the United States. But that portion of the opinion was not saying judges have sovereign immunity, it was describing the scope of the cause of action, limiting it to executives, not judges. It should follow that it does not apply to clerks.

• The court ignores the distinction between enforcement of a law and the creation and existence of a law, treating both as a source of a constitutional violation and something to be enjoined. This is wrong, as stated in Massachusetts v. Mellon, a case the court relies on in according the U.S. parens patriae  standing. The court compares this case to Cooper v. Aaron. But Cooper was about enforcement--the local officials sued were members of the executive branch who were executing the laws surrounding school admissions and thus were proper subjects for an injunction. The legislators who enact a law do not enforce it and the executive officers do not do anything here. The court ignores that distinction.

• Both of the above are unfortunate, because there is another way. The court points out that the state delegated enforcement authority to private individuals--that is, the act of delegation is state action. Delegation makes the private actor part of the state, so the "state" should include those private actors exercising delegated state power, separate from judges and clerks. An injunction against the state reaches everyone acting for the state, including all authorized private individuals. I think that is justifiable and consistent with the idea that courts enjoin executives from enforcing laws, no one else.

Update: I should clarify the above. A  court enjoins actors from doing certain things. It enjoins the executive from executing, but cannot enjoin the legislature from legislating and cannot enjoin judges from judging. If one enjoined party does all three things, then the order must be limited to enjoining that executive function, but not the other functions. The rough analogy is Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union, an action against the state supreme court and its chief justice over bar disciplinary rules. The court performed three functions--it legislated in enacting the rules, executed in initiating disciplinary proceedings, and adjudicated in ruling on those proceedings. The Court allowed the injunction, but only as initiating disciplinary proceedings. Similarly, the court could enjoin Texas from enforcing, capturing everything and everyone under Texas law authorized to enforce, including deputized private individuals.

• The court buys the United States argument that meaningful judicial review means federal judicial review that begins in a federal district court. Anything else--including SCOTUS review of state-court judgments in which constitutional rights are raised defensively--is constitutionally deficient, precludes individuals from vindicating their rights, and warrants federal judicial intervention before anything can happen in state court.. The court emphasizes how state procedure limits providers' ability to defend SB8 actions in state court through (the court implies) invalid restrictions, without considering that the validity of those restrictions can be challenged in state court and can form the basis for SCOTUS review. Everyone on the left is lauding this is "indisputable," as calling Texas out on a cynical and invalid ploy to avoid judicial review.

But this position means that state tort law is invalid, to the extent a tort is defined in an unconstitutional manner. To use the example we include in our papers: Imagine a state anticipates the overruling of New York Times and redefines its defamation law to not require actual malice. Since tort law can only be enforced in private litigation, would that procedure also be improper, justifying an injunction against state judges? And if not, what is the difference between this case and my hypothetical new tort law? The implicit answer is SB8 is not tort law, because the authorized plaintiffs have not been injured. But that begs the question of what "tort law" is and whether a state can adopt a broader understanding of what injuries are or should be sufficient for suit. The court never addresses this.  This case is different from ordinary tort law, but those differences go to why SB8 plaintiffs act under color when ordinary tort plaintiffs do not. But it should not change anything about the routine and proper nature of private civil litigation and of raising constitutional rights in a defensive posture.

• The court addresses Texas' concern that this opens the door to the United States suing states, insisting the U.S. will limit itself to the exceptional case. I have described this as the U.S. suing when it can get "more bang for the buck" through a single big case. The court identifies some features that make this a big case.

• I agree with the broad take on U.S. injury and an equitable cause of action even absent congressional authorization. And I agree that there is causation and redressability, but not for the reasons the court identifies.

• Texas filed a Notice of Appeal to the Fifth Circuit (PIs are immediately reviewable) and stated it as related to the pending appeal in the WWH case. The question is whether the Fifth Circuit or SCOTUS stays the injunction pending review. They should not stay it. This is a blatantly invalid law. Once a court finds the correct procedure to enjoin enforcement, the irreparable harm from actual or threatened enforcement means the injunction should be in effect until resolution of the litigation.

More to come, almost certainly.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2021 at 09:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink

Comments

I'm not an attorney, but the judges decision was so cleanly prepared and easy to read. I was impressed with the precedents from the early 1900s. I thought citing the federal regulations regarding members of the uniform services having access to abortions in the case of rape or incest was an innovative "hook" for federal standing. (Yes, Howard, I read your comments on standing often).

Posted by: Paul S | Oct 7, 2021 1:40:24 AM

Are the two paragraphs in Section I near duplicates of each other? It looks like he drafted the same content two slightly different ways and then forgot to delete the one he didn’t want to use.

Posted by: kotodama | Oct 7, 2021 12:09:45 AM

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