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Thursday, January 06, 2022

The spreading demand for offensive litigation

The demand/assumption that all constitutional and civil rights litigation must be offensive forms the core of the procedural complaints surrounding SB8. It is constitutionally and legally intolerable for there not to be a mechanism for offensive, pre-enforcement constitutional review, before anything happens. And it is constitutionally and legally intolerable to make a rights holder suffer a violation and seek defensive or retroactive remedies for the violation. And the insistence is spreading, which gives lie to the SB8-exceptionalism arguments. Consider:

Med mal plaintiffs unwilling to deal with the constitutional validity of the state's damages cap within the tort suits they brought, instead trying to carve the constitutional issues into a separate federal lawsuit.

Animal rights organizations suing to stop the filing of tort claims that might implicate the First Amendment. This one is particularly relevant to the SB8 debate. Critics of my arguments have insisted that the abortion right is different because of the large numbers affected, so that allowing the claims in WWH would not allow speakers to beat potential tort suits into court.

• In a case currently before the Fifth Circuit, United Airlines pilots allege that the company's vax requirement constitutes religious discrimination under Title VII and seek an injunction to stop the airline from placing them on unpaid leave for failing to get vaccinated. This lawsuit has no basis in Title VII, which requires an actual adverse employment action (such as placement on unpaid leave) that has not occurred; the expectation under the statute is that the plaintiffs suffer the adverse action, then sue for damages or to undo it. Nevertheless, two judges on the Fifth Circuit panel seemed receptive to the plaintiff's argument, accepting the view that retroactive remedies against a completed (as opposed to threatened) are insufficient.

• The First Circuit denied rehearing en banc in Equal Means Equal v. Ferriero, leaving a unanimous panel dismissing for lack of standing. Plaintiffs are women and women's organizations seeking an injunction compelling the U.S. archivist to declare the ERA ratified. The plaintiffs claimed that, without the archivist certifying and publishing the ERA as ratified, Massachusetts and state law did not do enough to stop or prosecute gender-based violence. The court held that the archivist did not cause plaintiffs' harm--that harm resulted from Massachusetts not vigorously protecting women from gender-based violence, including by punishing it as a hate crime (query whether the ERA would require states to bring hate-crimes charges in all gender-based violence cases, any more than the 14th Amendment requires hate-crime charges in all racist violence). The lawsuit also presumes that ERA-compelled hate-crimes charges would stop future gender-motivated violence. The whole thing reflects an insistence that legal questions--is the ERA valid--must be decided in the pre-enforcement ether, rather than on the ground where the state acts ex post and the question for the court is the state of the law in response to that situation.

• On this unfortunate anniversary, we can return to a question that was all the rage one year ago--what if Trump had self-pardoned and who would have standing to challenge that pardon and how. Everyone created all manner of fanciful lawsuits, ignoring the obvious--DOJ would prosecuted Trump, Trump would defend with the pardon, and the court would decide its validity. The idea that the constitutional issue would be resolved defensively never entered the conversation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2022 at 12:52 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

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