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Monday, November 01, 2021

More thoughts on the SB8 argument

Additional random thoughts on the SB8 argument after the jump.

Assuming I (and the prevailing wisdom) are correct that the Court affirms the denial of dismissal in WWH and allows it to proceed, the big question is what happens to United States. Everyone, including the Texas AG, seemed to sense where the Court might go in WWH, arguing that this obviates the federal sovereign interest and thus the federal suit. One issue involves interim relief. Note where things stand. If SCOTUS reverses in US, the case goes back to the Fifth Circuit to review the district court decision that the heartbeat ban is invalid under Roe and Casey; it would make sense for SCOTUS to lift the stay of the district court's preliminary injunction, barring enforcement of the law pending review. If SCOTUS reverses in WWH, the case goes back to the district court for further litigation, including of a motion for a preliminary injunction. To the extent there is concern for enforcement of the law between the SCOTUS decision and the district court ruling in WWH, it may be necessary to keep US alive for the interim relief. The Court can resolve that by enjoining enforcement in WWH pending litigation; WWH counsel asked for such relief if the Court believed appropriate.

A few random further random thoughts:

    • Judicial departmentalism is dead. During his round-robin questioning  in WWH, Roberts asked about language from an amicus (I believe it was Jonathan Mitchell's) that "states have every prerogative to adopt interpretations of the Constitution that differ from the Supreme Court's." Stone said "other officers within Texas are bound likewise to . . . take the interpretations from this Court and federal law and to faithfully implement them." But that is true only if we accept judicial supremacy. A state legislature or executive can do what it pleases until it reaches court and encounters a judge who is bound by SCOTUS interpretations and the state's case goes up in flames. But saying the state will lose in court is not the same as saying all state officials are bound. Stone could offer no other answer, I suppose. But that is too bad--it shows how far down the judicial-supremacy hole we have gone and how unable we are to speak about constitutional litigation and adjudication with some precision.

    • There was distrust of state-court litigation that has never been part of the doctrine here. The following points were argued explicitly or as foundational assumptions, although none has ever been the case.: 1)  Having to litigate and defend against a claim under an invalid law is a constitutional injury and violations, regardless of whether the person is held liable or sanctioned for protected conduct; 2) Procedural due process limits rules of venue, preclusion, and other procedures; 3) It is not sufficient for a defendant to be able to raise due process challenges to state procedures in state court; there must be a federal forum for it; 4) a state-court forum is insufficient to litigate federal constitutional rights, at least if the state chooses certain procedural rules. I thought Stone did a good job of pushing back on these, but to no avail.

    • The potential copycat laws (guns, religion, etc.) reared their heads from several Justices. I thought Stone did as good a job as he could pointing to other non-hypothetical examples in which rights-holders have been pushed into state court and no one questioned it, including New York Times and Masterpiece Cakeshop in the face of a similar chilling effect.

    • No one acknowledges the process in which Shelley v. Kraemer was decided and how that affects what the case stands for. Several Justices asked whether Shelley overrides the can't-sue-judges language of EPY, because the Court in Shelley spoke repeatedly of how state judges "enforce" the law. But it matters that Shelley was not an offensive action against the judge and did not enjoin the judge; it was a defensive action in which the constitutional limitations on restrictive covenants provided a basis for SCOTUS review and reversal. Broad language about enforcement was unnecessary to the holding or principle of that case. The Court applied the same principle in New York Times, without the inaccurate language about enforcement. But NYT and Shelley involved the same idea--private plaintiff sues for a remedy under state law, the federal constitution limits the state law as applied in court; neither rests on the judge being the "enforcer" or a proper subject for a lawsuit.

A more accurate way of framing it would be that some enforcement occurs through the judicial process, but the enforcer is the person who initiates the process and seeks to establish liability, not the court who adjudicates. When the state prosecutes someone for a crime, that enforcement occurs within the judicial process and it is up to the judge to adjudicate the case; we all would say the AG or DA, not the judge, "enforced" the law by seeking to convict and punish the defendant. Shelley should be framed the same way--Kraemer enforced the restrictive covenant by suing to divest Shelley of the property. The litigant enforces the law; the enforcement occurs within litigation.

    • The WWH attempts to make SB8 seem unique by arguing that it lacks the elements of an ordinary tort claim or ordinary private civil litigation and that it imposes special litigation rules. But that begs the question (yes, I am using that term correctly) of what constitutes the essence of ordinary civil litigation or ordinary tort law or what are "ordinary" litigation rules so we can tell when the state has departed them. Otherwise it is impossible to limit SB8 in any principled way. And that is before we get into why the state's choice of venue or preclusion rules is constitutionally proscribed (see above).

        WWH counsel and Breyer came up with six: Anyone can sue; anywhere; no preclusive effect; Atty fees (heavy and one-way); damages heavy; limits on defenses; Damages not tied to harm; Mandatory injunction to prevent further violations. But no one explains what is problematic about any of those, individually or as a whole. Unless another unspoken point is true--Art. III is constitutionally required in state court, which no one has ever suggested.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2021 at 03:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink

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