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Saturday, February 10, 2024

Thoughts on the disqualification case

• The prevailing wisdom seems to be reversal on the ground that states lack the power to adjudicate eligibility, at least without congressional approval. Many of the exchanges about that lack of power took a procedural focus--the process by which state courts would do this; differing evidentiary rules and standards of proof; the risk of disuniformity; the absence of federal control; etc.

None of these is real--or at least each is answerable and resolveable. But the justices never seemed inclined to hear those resolutions. Consider:

    • Disuniformity can arise in any adjudication in any court system in any posture, unless the Court exercises original jurisdiction over all cases, which it cannot and will not do. But we could get disuniformity from one process the justices accepted--prosecution for insurrection. Imagine Trump committed separate allegedly insurrectionary acts--January 6 and, then after leaving office, he pulls an Aaron Burr. That prompts separate prosecutions in separate federal districts in separate circuits, perhaps under different interpretations of the rules of evidence--and perhaps disuniform rulings as to his eligibility. (Admittedly slightly different because it is two distinct insurrectionary acts--but we could imagine a link between the two or a single conspiracy with acts in two places).

    • SCOTUS exists to resolve disuniformity. But the Court demurred from control over this issue contra most other current legal issues. And it did so in a way that placed the plaintiffs and states in a catch-22. An exchange between Justice Barrett and Jason Murray illustrates. Barrett expressed concern for being stuck with the record from the lower court; Murray responded that the Court could adopt independent factual review as it does under New York Times and for other "constitutional facts;" Barrett replied by complaining about having to decide without deference from lower-court fact finding. Which is it--SCOTUS must control the lower courts or SCOTUS must have lower courts to defer to? We could find a similar solution to Justice Alito's concerns for different evidence and proof rules--NYT dictates, as a matter of substantive constitutional law, the standard and burden of proof for defamation. Why not for § 3?

    • A system in which constitutional enforcement occurs in courts must account for enforcement mechanisms. Nothing "just happens." Accepting that the "self-executing" nature of § 3 means Trump became ineligible as soon as he engaged in insurrection (as Murray argued), that ineligibility still must be enforced through some mechanism. And, Murray argued, the only available mechanism once someone occupies the office is impeachment (accepting, from Griffin's Case, that collateral attacks on presidential action are impossible). But Gorsuch would not hear it, insisting that is a separate question. But that separate question is one of the issues at the heart of the case--how to enforce § 3.

• The President is a national officer. But he is not selected nationally--he is selected by some combination of 50 states and D.C., potentially through 51 selection mechanisms. I have not heard a good argument for why § 3 is different from other things states can consider and use to control ballot access and selection of federal offices, including the presidency.

• An unfortunate narrative has developed about "how could all these supposedly brilliant law professors have been wrong." Most legal scholarship is normative rather than predictive--scholars do not predict what the Court will do, they write about what the Court should do and what the law should be. That the Court disagrees does not make the  scholars "wrong" and the Court "right," other than in the (Robert) Jacksonian sense in which infallibility follows from finality and from actually having power to impose their constitutional views on others.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 10, 2024 at 06:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink


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