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Saturday, July 23, 2022

Undermining judicial review

In my post on California's SB 1327, I noted Ilya Somin's post . He quoted the ACLU's May letter objecting to the proposal, in which it said the bill "creates an end run around the essential function of the courts to ensure that constitutional rights are protected."

This criticism--and it is a common one--misunderstands the procedural point. These laws do not eliminate judicial review; they shift its posture. Pre-enforcement offensive review is unavailable, pushing rights-holders into a defensive posture. A rights-holder must violate the law, get sued, and raise her constitutional right as a defense to liability. This action will begin and remain in state court, with (discretionary) SCOTUS review at the end of the process. This is recognizable as judicial review--a court passing on the constitutional validity of a law and determining whether it can be enforced--and allows courts "to ensure that constitutional rights are protected." It is wrong to say otherwise.

The problem with these laws--if there is one--is not that they bar judicial review, but that they require a less-preferable or less-ideal form of judicial review. Those who reject parity between state and federal courts do not like that litigation will begin in state court and that SCOTUS's discretionary jurisdiction may mean no federal forum. Rights-holders must "act at their peril" by violating the law and getting sued to obtain review, something they may choose not to do out of fear of liability. That creates a substantive problem--the loss of constitutionally protected activity. And it creates a procedural problem--the absence of statutory violations means "any person" will not sue, which mean the rights-holder has no opportunity for judicial review. The rights-holder also may be unable to obtain necessary binding precedent when litigating defensively. If the trial court dismisses on constitutional grounds, "any person" may choose not to appeal, taking his loss and going home until the next lawsuit, while leaving the rights-holder free from liability now but fearing the next lawsuit. Doug Laycock argued that offensive litigation provides three unique benefits--preliminary relief, prospective relief (beyond precedent), and class-wide relief--not available in defending a single suit.

These are valid criticisms of SB8/SB1327-type laws. But critics and advocates do not capture them through the simplistic "this prevents judicial review." Critics must explain why the model of judicial review the law allows is inferior and insufficient to offensive pre-enforcement litigation. Further, they must explain not why offensive pre-enforcement litigation is better, but why it is constitutionally necessary. And they must explain not why defensive litigation is worse, but why it is constitutionally insufficient. Screaming about "end runs" around judicial review does not make that case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 23, 2022 at 04:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink

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