Tuesday, April 16, 2024

SCOTUS stays (in part) injunction Idaho transgender-care ban, justices debate (Updated)

SCOTUS stayed the injunction prohibiting enforcement of Idaho's ban on gender-affirming care for minors, to the extent the injunction applied beyond the plaintiffs. We end up in the right place--no enforcement against the plaintiffs pending appeal--but by the wrong process.

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Thomas and Alito, spends 12 pages on the evil and error of universal injunctions. He ends on this:


Lower courts would be wise to take heed. Retiring the universal injunction may not be the answer to everything that ails us. But it will lead federal courts to become a little truer to the historic limits of their office; promote more carefully reasoned judicial decisions attuned to the facts, parties, and claims at hand; allow for the gradual accretion of thoughtful precedent at the circuit level; and reduce the pressure on governments to seek interlocutory relief in this Court. A return to a more piecemeal and deliberative judicial process may strike some as inefficient. It may promise less power for the judge and less drama and excitement for the parties and public. But if any of that makes today’s decision wrong, it makes it wrong in the best possible ways, for “good judicial decisions are usually tempered by older virtues.”

That last sentence shoots at Justices Jackson's dissent, criticizing the Court's early involvement. The rest, including as to the inefficiency of constitutional litigation is, as far as I am concerned, spot-on. Note this is the first time Justice Alito has taken a public stance against universal injunctions.

Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Justice Barrett, concurs to ponder a standard for SCOTUS early involvement, especially the need to consider likelihood of success on the merits on emergency stay and injunction-pending-appeal motions. He links the rise in universal injunctions to the rise of shadow docket activity. And he continues Barrett's hobbyhorse about determining the "status" quo for interim and emergency relief--whether the status quo is prior to enactment of the law, prior to the injunction, or something else. He expresses skepticism of universal injunctions, although noting APA as a separate issue.

Justice Jackson, joined by Sotomayor, dissented from the stay. She primarily focused on reducing the Court's early involvement in cases. She emphasized the split of scholarly and lower-court authority, suggesting the issue is not as clear as Gorsuch suggests, but also criticizes Gorsuch for "reach[ing] out" to resolve an unsettled remedial issue on less-than-full presentation. She also argued the injunction was not universal--it was a "party-specific, fact-specific" expansion to ensure full protection to the named plaintiffs--another reason not to resolve the universality question. Justice Kagan dissented from the stay but did not join Jackson's opinion.

Update: Sam Bray has more. Including the point that no one on the Court endorsed universality--at best Jackson says it is unresolved and difficult.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 16, 2024 at 10:42 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 01, 2024

Briefplaints, press releases, and long-shot lawsuits

A woman indicted and jailed for murder over a medication abortion brought a § 1983 action against the DA and ADA who pursued the charges. The ADA obtained the indictment and the arrest; the woman spent three days in jail until the DA dropped the charges. The DA was hit with ethics charges for bringing the case, which is unheard of.

There is a lot here related to what I teach.

Prosecutorial Immunity. Prosecutors are immune for presenting a case to a grand jury, including intentionally lying about facts or misstating law in doing so. The complaint tries to reframe the relevant conduct as the pre-grand-jury investigation of the case, which the DA'ss office ran without the sheriff or local PD; prosecutorial immunity does not attach to investigations or to a prosecutor performing law-enforcement functions. It combines that with an exception to the independent intermediary doctrine--because prosecutors played both the "police" and "prosecutor" roles, the prosecutor was not independent of the police so the immune prosecutorial conduct does not break the causal chain between the non-immune investigation and the injury.

Entity Liability. The complaint names the DA and ADA. Although the ADA ran the case, the complaint alleges the ADA ran everything through the DA (the office policymaker) and the DA ordered the arrest. But the Fifth Circuit has long held that county prosecutors act as arms of the state, not the county, in enforcing state penal law. So the County is not a person and enjoys sovereign immunity.

Briefplaints and Press Releases. Two terms I use in class in explaining how many attorneys approach pleading. I found the term "briefplaint" on Twitter to describe a complaint in which the plaintiff's lawyer anticipates and responds to affirmative defenses and legal arguments, filling the complaint with case citations and the arguments she will make in response to a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. Beth Thornburg (long at SMU) coined the term "pleading as press release" to describe a complaint aimed at the public and the media rather than the court and opposing party--loaded with flowery language and rhetoric and designed to be quoted. The concepts fit together. A briefplaint is more likely in a high-profile case in which the attorney knows people are watching and feels the need to get ahead of defenses and arguments, knowing that the people watching do not understand the difference between a pleading alleging facts and a brief presenting legal arguments. It thus is not enough to provide a short-and-plain statement of the claim (the plaintiff's best version of events) and let everything else happen in time. The plaintiff feels the need to show everything she knows or anticipates about the case.

    This complaint exemplifies that. Part V (the complaint is numbered oddly) lists applicable statutes and constitutional provisions and Part VI lays out a fully cited legal argument for why prosecutorial immunity--an affirmative defense--does not apply. The case has (unsurprisingly) drawn national press attention, so the attorney may believe she has to show the public and the media that she has considered these issues and has a strong case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 1, 2024 at 05:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 18, 2024

SCOTUS narrows when officials act under color online

SCOTUS on Friday decided  when public officials can block people from their social-media pages. Lindke v. Freed (from the Sixth Circuit, a claim against a city manager) became the lead case; O'Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier (from the Ninth Circuit, claims against school-board members) was vacated-and-remanded for reconsideration in light of Lindke.

Justice Barrett wrote Lindke for a unanimous Court, describing the standard as:

a public official’s social-media activity constitutes state action under §1983 only if the official (1) possessed actual authority to speak on the State’s behalf, and (2) purported to exercise that authority when he spoke on social media. The appearance and function of the social-media activity are relevant at the second step, but they cannot make up for a lack of state authority at the first.

A few thoughts:

• The court properly recognized that the question is not when a nominally private person acts under color, but when a state official engages in state action or functions as a private official. While SCOTUS has had few cases on the latter issue, it ignores the obvious analogy to off-duty officers who use the badges of authority to engage in misconduct; there is a wealth of lower-court precedent, typically (although not exclusively) involving law enforcement. The court emphasizes (and this arose a lot during argument) that public officials retain private lives and First Amendment rights when they are "off duty." The Court thus repurposes the idea that "the state-action requirement 'protects a robust sphere of individual liberty;'" rather than grounds for not subjecting private actors to constitutional liability, it limits the scope of a public official's job responsibilities., a requirement that the official have some "off-duty" time to engage in his own First Amendment activities.

• The Court takes a narrower approach to state action than I would have liked to see. The official "must have actual authority rooted in written law or longstanding custom to speak for the State. That authority must extend to speech of the sort that caused the alleged rights deprivation. If the plaintiff cannot make this threshold showing of authority, he cannot establish state action." If maintaining and posting content to the site is not part of the official job functions and responsibilities that bind the government, the official does not act under color, no matter how much the site appears to be official. The open question is how courts apply this to sites that an elected official uses to "further" her job duties or as a "tool of governance" but which are not required by state law and not a formal part of her job duties. Perhaps custom gets there, except courts do not easily find something so persistent, permanent, and well-settled as to have practical force of law. It seems unlikely social media (10-years-old) and even web-based communications (maybe 25 years old) reach that level.

Davison v. Loudon Cty. and Knight Foundation v. Trump--the leading cases finding state action in a public official maintaining an official or quasi-official for purposes of communicating and interacting with constituents about government business--must come out the other way. Both courts focused on the appearance and function of the activities on the site--the discussion of public content, the indicia of official status. But that is step two under Lindke. The courts now never reach that issue if the official does not have  actual authority to speak on the government's behalf about the matters at issue. For example, even on her official "chair" site, the chair of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors does not have actual authority to speak on the government's behalf about, say, a recent school-board meeting. And her web site site is not the only space in which that information appears--the city likely posted it to the government's official site. The chair uses the site to engage with constituents and keep them informed about government events as an elected official, which is not a formal part of her job on behalf of the government. Maybe the President is different, although he still lacks formal speaking authority about a lot of what he posts on social media. Along those lines, I doubt a legislator or member of a multi-member body can ever be a state actor. As individuals, they do not speak for or otherwise bind the government and are not authorized or required to speak for the government or the body. Future litigation in O'Connor-Ratcliff might tell us more--that case involves elected officials who used their campaign sites to discuss public matters after taking office.

• I think the opinion downplays the importance of engagement between the public and officials (especially elected officials) within formal official-controlled channels, even where such engagement does not bind the government and does not constitute a legally authorized or compelled part of the job. Yes, an official should be able to maintain a private site that touches on public matters, just as an official should be able to discuss public issues with friends at a barbecue. But when an official opens a site and invites the public to communicate with her about public affairs, that looks like something other than a barbecue with friends. The Court could have concluded that Freed's site is private without erecting the additional hurdle that renders many job-adjacent functions--those that "further" the job without being legally authorized--not state action.

• I will link to this Will Baude post trying to make heads or tails of the Court's odd mandate in the case--vacating the Sixth Circuit "[t]o the extent that this test differ from the one applied by the Sixth Circuit." My best guess is that this is sloppy language, reflecting that the Justices ignore (if they even grasp) the procedural nuances, the differences between judgments and opinions, etc. The Court uses more expected language-vacating and remanding for further proceedings consistent with this opinion--in O'Connor.

• The Court at one point gives us this: "'editorial control over speech and speakers on [the public employee’s] properties or platforms' is part and parcel of it. Thus, if Freed acted in his private capacity when he blocked Lindke and deleted his comments, he did not violate Lindke’s First Amendment rights—instead, he exercised his own." Is editorial control also part and parcel of Facebook's First Amendment rights and control of its site immune from government command? Or will the Court give us the farce that a government official exercises editorial control to keep citizens from speaking to them but that private entities lack the same editorial control to control who speaks on their spaces?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 18, 2024 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 08, 2024

Amendment gaps

Gerard's post about near amendments and search for sources reminded me of my similar request to a listserv a few months ago. I had been thinking about the 61-year gap between the 12th (1804) and 13th (1864) Amendments, the longest period between amendments in history. More recently, I was thinking that we are closing in on that record, at 53 years and counting since the 26th Amendment and no amendment likely to be ratified any time soon. But I forgot about the 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992, although proposed in 1789. Resetting the clock, we are at 32 years--about half the record and a decade short of the 43-year gap (to the day--February 3) between the 15th and 16th.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 8, 2024 at 08:53 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Universality and litigation procedure in the social-media cases (Updated)

Universality reared its head in the social-media cases, especially the Florida case. The plaintiffs brought a facial challenge, which perplexed the Justices who found some applications of the law that would be valid (e.g., DMs and email services). Michael Dorf offers one solution. In trying to avoid this problem, Paul Clement (arguing for the providers) tried to emphasize the particularity of the preliminary injunction--it protects his clients but does not prohibit enforcement against anyone other than his clients and it should remain in place to protect his clients from a wave of statutorily authorized $ 100,000 civil actions while litigation continues on remand to the trial court.

Clement is half right on this. The injunction protects only his clients, so the state could enforce against violators not within the NetChoice consortium. But the injunction does not (or at least should not) protect his client from civil suits. The unknown random people who might sue are not parties to the action and do not work in concert with the state, therefore the injunction cannot bind them. They likely do not act under color and thus could not be sued or held liable in an offensive § 1983/EpY action--they are not exclusive enforcers and sue to enforce their own rights to be on the platform, making them ordinary litigants pursuing an ordinary (if constitutionally dubious) state-law cause of action.

The case thus illustrates another limitation on offensive litigation in a mixed enforcement regime--any pre-enforcement injunction cannot stop private enforcement as a matter of the judgment, only as a matter of precedent. (Edit: My initial post said we forgot to mention this in our Cornell piece--turns out we did talk about it at 151-52. Mea culpa).*

[*] Anyone else experience the feeling of writing so much on a topic you forget what you've said?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 28, 2024 at 11:14 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Jurisdictional confusion never goes away

This decision from the District of Delaware has everything from every class I ever teach 8 pages from a frivolous case--courts with Eleventh Amendment immunity, judges with judicial immunity, § 1983 claims against private actors, absence of a private right of action, incomplete diversity, declination of supplemental jurisdiction, and perhaps Rooker. Everything. The case seems to be an elderly couple lashing at after their adult children moved them off of some property.

The case caught my attention because of footnote 1. After dismissing for failure to state a claim the claims against several private individuals (family members, two private practice attorneys, a law firm, a legal aid organization, and the electrician who cut off the power to their property) for lack of action under color, the court drops this footnote:

See Itiowe v. Trentonian, 620 F. App’x 65, 67 n.2 (3d Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (noting that dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be appropriate where a plaintiff brings constitutional claims against non-state actors without plausibly alleging that they acted under the color of state law); see also Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974).

Jurisdiction/merits confusion will never go away. State action/under color presents one of the early examples of conflation (along with Title VII's numerosity requirement) and an easy case for merits treatment. One of my early cases clerking on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania involved a defense 12(b)(1) motion for lack of state action* and us writing an order instructing the parties to treat this as a merits/12(b)(6) issue, citing a published opinion from Judge Becker on the Third Circuit. How much we forget. Or it is continued malign influence of Bell v. Hood, under which courts find lack of jurisdiction if an otherwise obviously federal claim is sufficiently weak. See also Judge Newsom's take.

[*] I don't recall all the details and we did not publish anything. But the case arose from an assistant DA assaulting a defense attorney in open court. I used it as a class problem for years--how seriously should we take the idea of a state position "enabling" conduct for under color purposes?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 15, 2024 at 12:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit and favorable termination

I wrote in December about the Fifth Circuit decision in Wilson v. Midland Cty., about the application of Heck to a claim by a woman convicted of crimes in Texas where an ADA was moonlighting as the judges' law clerk. Judge Willett's panel opinion held the claim Heck-barred because Wilson was no longer in custody (she completed her sentence a decade ago), while decrying the injustice of the result.

The court granted rehearing en banc and scheduled argument for May. As I wrote, there is a circuit split on whether Heck applies to a person who no longer is in custody. No matter the result here, the issue seems to be teeing up for SCOTUS resolution.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 15, 2024 at 09:40 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 08, 2024

The constitutional validity of the Presidential Succession Act

Following on Steve's point: The Presidential Succession Act does not permit someone to simultaneously serve as a House and act as president. Section 19(a)(1) states the "Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President." Section 19(b)(1), should it devolve to the PPT, states "the president pro tempore of the Senate shall, upon his resignation as President pro tempore and as Senator, act as President." The West Wing producers did not have the character do this for the good of the country--the statute requires resignation. And it does so to avoid the Incompatibility Clause problem.

Legislative succession may raise other constitutional problems. Article II § 1 cl.6 empowers Congress to provide by law for a double vacancy by "declaring what Officer shall then act as President." This raises two possible problems. There is some question whether the Speaker or PPT, while legislative officers, qualifies as an officer of or under the United States; legislative officers may not qualify for succession, incompatibility aside. Alternatively, in the moment he resigns the Speakership and his House seat, the person ceases to be an officer--the condition to act as president--who can then take the oath to act as president.

So there may be constitutional problems with § 19. It is not the problem Calabresi identifies because the statute does not say what he suggests it says. And the statute, by requiring resignation, does not prove the larger point about whether the President is an officer.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 8, 2024 at 10:50 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Reining in the lower courts

The Tenth Circuit rejected a Bivens claim against U.S. Marshals who beat a man unconscious outside his home while executing a warrant. The Court noted, but did not rely on, the fact that the plaintiff was assaulted outside his home, whereas officers attacked Bivens inside his home. The Court relied on the differences between deputy marshals and ATF agents and the availability of USMS grievances against the officers. The case reveals how absurd Bivens has become. And the court uses language that seems to acknowledge that absurdity while blaming SCOTUS for forcing lower courts to reach such absurd results.

SCOTUS often grants cert to pull lower courts back into line when decisions get to far afield, even if SCOTUS forced them there through its decisions and the language of its decisions. That is, SCOTUS pulls lower courts back when they take the doctrine too far, even if the lower courts' decisions reflect natural extensions of SCOTUS precedent. Some cases allow the Court to say "we didn't mean that." This arguably explains Taylor v. Riojas, where the Court held (in a summary reversal) that leaving a prisoner in a cold, barren, feces-strewn cell obviously violated the Eighth Amendment without precedent. It arguably explains HHC v. Talevski, where the Court ensured of the continuing vitality of  § 1983 "and laws" actions.

Might the Court take this case or a similar case--in which the basic logic is "no Bivens claim because this guy is not named Bivens"--to pull back from the worst nonsense? Or is Bivens so doomed that the Court's next move will be to overrule it?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 6, 2024 at 03:26 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Every animal who, under color . . .

Fun case from the Eighth Circuit: Whitworth v. Kling (8th Cir.), arising from a K-9 (named Dutch) biting a guest in his off-duty handler's house. The court rejected a Fourth Amendment unreasonable-seizure claim against the handler, because the bite was unintentional and not part of the officer's official efforts. The court treated the K-9 as the officer's weapon used to engage in force--in this case, the sort of unintentional force that does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

But the court ignored two other paths to the same result.

One is that Dutch did not act under color because he did not pretend to perform his official duties----he was playing fetch in his yard off-duty, got distracted, and ignored commands to disengage--or use his position to enable his conduct. That is obviously silly. Section 1983 precludes that approach--"[e]very person" under color. And cases treat K-9s as an officer's tool rather than as the officer. But the thought is fun. And consistent with my use of the pleadings in Naruto v. Slater (the "monkey selfie" case) in Civ Pro.

Another path is that the officer--off-duty, playing fetch in the yard, and not attempting or appearing to perform any job-adjacent acts through Dutch--did not act under color. The dog bite is analogous to an off-duty officer's service revolver accidentally discharging and injuring a visitor to his house. I wonder why the court did not pursue this.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 20, 2024 at 05:03 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 19, 2024

The law of Trump and easy cases

I mentioned previously that people have proposed classes on "Law of Trump"--a discussion of the many, many legal issues that have arisen in litigation involving Trump and those in his orbit. A lot of it has touched on Civ Pro and Fed Courts, hence my interest.

Much of the Law of Trump involves not new law, but easy application of established principles, applied to a new, often-unprecedented context receiving outsized attention. Take Clifford Frost, one of Trump's fake Michigan electors, now facing eight state felonies over the scheme. Frost filed a federal action to enjoin the prosecution, although he does not assert a constitutional defense; he recasts a sufficiency-of-the-evidence defense as a 14th Amendment violation and as bad faith. This was, and should be, an easy case for Younger abstention.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 19, 2024 at 12:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

A new Bivens Catch-22

After federal officials attempted to strip Michael Cohen of his home confinement and placed him in solitary confinement in retaliation for his public statements, Cohen obtained habeas relief. He then sought Bivens damages against Donald Trump, Bill Barr, and a bunch of officials in the corrections system. The Second Circuit affirmed dismissal of the Bivens action, to no one's surprise (except perhaps Cohen and his attorneys)--this is a new context (because the cause is not called Bivens or Carlson) and there are always special factors counseling hesitation. The court relied on the special factor or availability of alternative remedies--the habeas relief that Cohen sought and received.

But note the double work habeas does here. Because Cohen challenged, in part, the terms of his sentence (imprisonment rather than house arrest), a successful damages claim would have implied the invalidity of that part of the sentence. Such a claim is Heck-barred unless he can show "favorable termination" of the criminal proceedings, such as through habeas relief undoing the sentence. But his success in satisfying that preliminary requirement to pursue damages means he has no Bivens claim at all. On the other hand, had he failed in obtaining habeas relief, he might have been able to pursue the Bivens action, only to find it Heck-barred because he failed to show favorable termination.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 3, 2024 at 09:16 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Times, Dobbs, and SB8

The New York Times had a big piece Friday on the behind-the-scenes events leading to Dobbs. I want to comment on SB8's cameo in the story.

The piece describes the SB8 case as the beginning of the fall of Roe and the failure to stay enforcement before the law took effect as the point at which "Roe was partially undone." I saw one surprising bit in this section--that Justice Gorsuch was incommunicado except through Justice Alito on the evening of August 31 (the law took effect at midnight September 1). He expressed no view until the next day (which Alito relayed to the rest of the Justices), then voted to deny any injunction the following day. Beyond that weirdness, everything the Justices said in internal memos (as quoted in the Times) appeared in the opinions in the stay order--Roberts' view that the existence of the law might create an independent violation and Justice Sotomayor's view that it was a "pity that we cannot do the right thing."

The problem with giving SB8 a meaningful role in the drama leading to Dobbs is that the outcome of the case should have been obvious. The Court had never said the mere existence of the law violates the Constitution independent of enforcement. The Court cannot stop the law from taking effect, because the Court cannot enjoin a law, independent of its enforcement. And the Court could not, in a § 1983/EpY action, enjoin unknown private actors from doing anything. All of this should have been obvious when the private case reached the Court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2023 at 12:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 15, 2023

Favorable termination and miscarriages of justice

Case out of the Fifth Circuit, written by Judge Willett, on Heck v. Humphrey and the so-called Heck bar or habeas exception to § 1983:

A former county ADA in Texas moonlighted for two decades as law clerk to the judges of that district. He was discovered in 2019 and disbarred. Erma Wilson was convicted of cocaine possession in 2001 and received an 8-year suspended sentence. Wilson learned about the conflict when a capital conviction was overturned on habeas (she was not among the many people who received written notice from the DA about the conflict) and brought a § 1983 action, more than two decades after her conviction and more than a decade after completing her sentence.

Heck precludes § 1983 damages actions that would functionally call into question the validity of a conviction or sentence; habeas provides the sole federal vehicle for challenging state convictions. A § 1983 plaintiff must show "favorable termination" as an element of her claim. The problem arises when, as in Wilson, an individual no longer is in custody and thus cannot challenge the conviction or sentence through habeas. The Heck majority adopted favorable termination as an absolute rule. Justice Souter concurred in the judgment to argue that favorable termination should apply only at the "intersection" of habeas and § 1983, where both vehicles might be available; it should not apply when habeas is unavailable because the plaintiff no longer is in custody. Souter illustrates with a hypo that basically matches this case--a procedurally compromised conviction where the person does not learn about the compromise until after his release from custody. In Spencer v. Kemna, five Justices in three separate opinions adopted that position. This precipitated a circuit split--five circuits, including the Fifth, hold that Heck always applies; six allow for some exceptions; the answer depends on whether lower courts can count noses to find binding precedent or whether SCOTUS creates binding precedent only through a single majority opinion. Because the Fifth Circuit requires favorable termination, Wilson's claim was Heck-barred.

Judge Willett was outraged. He described the conduct and the outcome as "utterly bonkers," "difficult to explain," "hard to take in," and "underscor[ing] that the American legal system regularly leaves constitutional wrongs unrighted." He footnotes the last with references to prosecutorial immunity, Monell, and qualified immunity, stating "Upshot: Many Americans’ rights are violated but not vindicated."

Two questions of interest going forward:

1) What happens next. Willett emphasizes that the en banc court or SCOTUS could overrule its precedent on this point. Which avenue will and should the plaintiff pursue?  En banc Fifth Circuit review (and overruling) allows Wilson to avoid Heck and pursue her claim. But it does not resolve the broader circuit split; even if the Fifth Circuit changes its position, five other circuits continue to deny relief to plaintiffs in Wilson's shoes.* Much depends on what Wilson and/or her attorneys want to achieve--a remedy for her in this case or a broader change in the law. I guess this case may offer an interesting example of the occasional gap between cause lawyering and individual representation.

[*] The Seventh Circuit went the other way--it moved to the  "Heck applies" position in 2020 after years of allowing plaintiffs to avoid Heck where they diligently pursued the federal issues diligently and lost the opportunity to pursue habeas through no fault of their own.

2) Wilson's Other Options. The court fails to mention that Wilson had other options or whether she attempted to take advantage of them. Heck lists several ways to obtain favorable termination, including where the conviction has been "expunged by executive order, [or] declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination." Lower courts have held the former to include pardons and executive clemency, at least where the pardon makes clear the basis and why it reflects favorable termination. Did Wilson seek a pardon? Alternatively, did she ask the state trial court to vacate the conviction? Neither the complaint, magistrate report, district court opinion, or Fifth Circuit opinion say so. Either would provide the needed favorable termination, mooting the question in this case of when favorable termination applies.

From the standpoint of § 1983's history, those options are unacceptable because they require plaintiffs to rely on state-law processes, whereas § 1983 reflects congressional distrust of state courts and state institutions; Souter makes this point in his Heck concurrence. At least in this case, however, I would expect even Greg Abbott to be receptive to a pardon; the optics and politics seem obvious.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2023 at 03:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Harvard Hillel responds to President Gay

Harvard Hillel was not pleased with university President Claudine Gay's testimony, especially her answer about "context" to Stefanik's question. It sent the following email:*

[*] For those wondering, since I did not go to Harvard: I donated to Harvard Hillel in Dan's memory years ago. One cannot escape their mailing list.

Here is the key paragraph:

We are appalled by the need to state the obvious: A call for genocide against Jews is always a hateful incitement of violence. President Gay’s failure to properly condemn this speech calls into question her ability to protect Jewish students on Harvard’s campus. Chants to “globalize the intifada,” an endorsement of violent terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli civilians, and “from the river to the sea,” an eliminationist slogan intended to deprive Jews of their right to self-determination in Israel, have become tragically routine at Harvard. President Gay’s testimony fails to reassure us that the University is seriously concerned about the antisemitic rhetoric pervasive on campus. We call on President Gay to take action against those using threatening speech that violates our community standards. 

Again, this errs as matter of basic U.S. free speech law. And note the move--in the first sentence it is incitement of violence, in the second it is threatening. But with more--- context---nothing in this paragraph is legally accurate.

In fairness to Hillel, its mission is different than that of members of Congress or attorneys; it acts on commitments other than free speech. But if politics is the art of the possible, Hillel would be better served by recognizing and working within the limitations that free-speech commitments impose, rather than denying they exist and thus demanding what a university or government cannot give.

I reprint the email in full after the jump.

Dear Harvard Hillel Community,

 

Earlier today, Harvard President Claudine Gay testified before Congress about rising antisemitism at Harvard. When pressed during her testimony, President Gay repeatedly equivocated, refusing to characterize calls for the genocide of Jews as a breach of Harvard’s code of conduct, instead saying the offense “depends on the context.” 

 

President Gay’s refusal to draw a line around threatening antisemitic speech as a violation of Harvard’s policies is profoundly shocking given explicit provisions within the conduct code prohibiting this kind of bullying and harassment.

 

We are appalled by the need to state the obvious: A call for genocide against Jews is always a hateful incitement of violence. President Gay’s failure to properly condemn this speech calls into question her ability to protect Jewish students on Harvard’s campus. Chants to “globalize the intifada,” an endorsement of violent terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli civilians, and “from the river to the sea,” an eliminationist slogan intended to deprive Jews of their right to self-determination in Israel, have become tragically routine at Harvard. President Gay’s testimony fails to reassure us that the University is seriously concerned about the antisemitic rhetoric pervasive on campus. We call on President Gay to take action against those using threatening speech that violates our community standards. 

 

We do agree with President Gay’s testimony that education on antisemitism is urgently needed at Harvard. Harvard Hillel is ready to work with the administration to bring robust education and training on the history of the Jewish people and the evolution of antisemitism to every audience at Harvard — administration, faculty, staff and students.   

 

We will continue to hold the University administration accountable to make Harvard a place that Jewish students can learn, live, and thrive without fear and intimidation. 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 6, 2023 at 10:16 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

PJ as a chilling tool

I wrote earlier this month about the Tennessee lawsuit against Kathy Griffin and how the many who believed personal jurisdiction was lacking allowed their substantive views to affect their jurisdictional views. It was possible, of course, that forcing a speaker to defend nonsense defamation claims in a distant forum adds to the chilling effect and the goal of silencing speakers.

Thank goodness Elon Musk and Twitter (never X) can illustrate the point with this tortious interference lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas against Media Matters and reporter Eric Hananoki, over an investigation into Twitter allowing ads to run next to antisemitic content, after which several major advertisers withdrew (for the moment) from Twitter.

Twitter is a Nevada corporation with its principal place of business in California. Media Matters is a D.C. not-for-profit with its PPB in D.C. Hananoki is a Maryland citizen. The speech was directed to the world via the MM website and other online and traditional media outlets. The complaint identifies several advertisers who withdrew, none incorporated or having PPB in Texas. The best it can do is that many Twitter users are in Texas and many of the advertisers do business in Texas. Unless they have something else, that will not cut it--there was no "Texasness" to the Media Matters report or to any criticism of Twitter. This is what speech-chilling personal jurisdiction in a speech-chilling BS lawsuit looks like.

Putting a cherry on this as a Civ Pro exam: The Fifth Circuit has held that state anti-SLAPP statutes do not apply in federal court, whereas the Ninth Circuit holds that California's statute does apply in Federal Court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 22, 2023 at 01:17 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 06, 2023

Judicial Process and Vigilante Federalism

Judicial Process and Vigilante Federalism, Rocky's and my latest on private enforcement, has been published in Cornell Law Review Online. The essay responds to Jon Michaels & David Noll's Vigilante Federalism.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2023 at 11:02 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 09, 2023

The Procedure of Trump (Updated)

Someone on the Civ Pro listserv suggested that one could structure a Civ Pro/Fed Courts course around Donald Trump and his orbit. Today's lesson: Removal and Remand.

1) Judge Jones remanded the Georgia prosecution of Mark Meadows, concluding that Meadows did not satisfy the requirements  of federal-officer removal because neither the charged conduct nor the alleged overt acts related to his office or his official duties (the court never reached colorable federal defense). The court emphasized the absence of an executive role in state elections and the Hatch Act's limitations on federal employees' partisan activities; these defined the outer limits of Meadows' job. Because Trump, and thus Meadows, cannot play a role in state elections, everything Trump did post-election (the Raffensberger phone call, etc.) involved the campaign and his efforts as a candidate, which the Hatch Act places beyond Meadows' official functions. Remand of a § 1442 removal is appealable, and Meadows has appealed.

2) A group of citizens, represented by C.R.E.W., filed suit in Colorado against Trump and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, seeking to exclude Trump from the ballot under § 3 of the 14th Amendment; Trump removed. Derek Muller and Will Baude agree on the predicted outcome--the federal court will remand because, while there is arguably jurisdiction under § 1331,  plaintiffs lack Article III standing. I will add the following:

    • I think the § 1331 argument is pretty strong. To arise under federal law under Grable & Sons, the federal issue must be necessarily raised, actually disputed, substantial (meaning important to the federal system at a whole), and capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress. The first three seem obvious here. The last prong looks, in part, to how often the type of case will arise and how many similar cases will land in federal court. So a quiet title action turning on the validity of a federal tax lien will not come up that often; negligence claims based on drug misbranding and attorney malpractice arising from patent work will come up frequently. A dispute over candidate qualifications, especially whether a candidate engaged in insurrection or rebellion, seems more analogous to the tax lien case.

    • The case will be remanded on standing. An individual voter does not have more than a generalized grievance as to who appears on the ballot. Discussions of how to enforce § 3 never mention the several unsuccessful 2008 lawsuits by random citizens seeking to declare Obama ineligible as not born in the U.S.; all were dismissed for lack of standing.

    • The removal problem arises because of the plaintiff's procedural choice to include Trump as defendant. Why did they do that? The relief sought--a declaration of ineligibility and an injunction preventing his inclusion on the ball0t--runs against the secretary, not Trump. Trump has an interest in the case that the secretary may not adequately protect and he may be entitled or permitted to intervene to protect that interest. But there does not seem to be any reason to include him as a defendant in the first instance, which also gave him the power to remove.

Update: Trump filed an unopposed motion to remand after consulting with plaintiffs and recognizing that they lack standing and that removal was procedurally improper (Griswold did not join or consent to removal but had been served, contrary to Trump's initial representation).

3) Paulsen/Baude argue that § 3 is self-executing. The responses/critiques have confused effectiveness with enforcement. Their point is that § 3 creates an extant and enforceable legal obligation--one that does not require congressional action and has not been rendered a nullity by past congressional action or by desuetude. But, as with any legal provision, someone has to enforce that obligation, which usually leads to court; Paulsen/Baude do not claim otherwise. The question is how that occurs, which forms a big piece of Akhil Amar's two-part discussion with Baude and Paulsen). Paulsen in Part II gets to what I believe the right answer--some enforcement action by a state official, followed by some state-law proceeding in state court, followed by (often expedited) review to the state supreme court, followed by SCOTUS review. SCOTUS will get the last word, but the case arrives from state court (as Bush v. Gore did); none of this will begin--or be removed to--federal district court. And, again, that is perfectly fine and consistent with ordinary litigation. As with the controversy around S.B. 8, it is simply not true that the sole or necessary process for constitutional adjudication is an offensive EpY action in federal court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 9, 2023 at 07:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 08, 2023

Maybe it is the Handmaid's Tale

Mary Ziegler (UC-Davis, having deliberately escaped Florida) writes in Slate about the impossibility of enforcing the new Texas ordinances against using local roads to leave the state for an abortion. She hits similar themes to what I wrote:

Among the problems with enforcement is the question of how the ordinance and others like it could ever be enforced. How would anyone know if a driver on a road in or out of Texas is driving an abortion-seeker? By setting up a roadblock? Investigating everyone of reproductive age? None of that would be politically palatable—or financially feasible—for a state with a big budget, much less a small town like Llano or a rural county with limited resources.

The possibility, she suggests, is circuitous: "[E]ven if you’re not going to be stopped and arrested while driving a friend to an abortion clinic across state lines, a vindictive partner could find your texts setting up the drive, sue you, and attempt to use geo-tracking data to collect in a civil suit."

That line reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale (the TV show). A flashback (I think from season one) depicts June and Luke trying to escape into Canada. They hire a man near the border, who takes and destroys their phones so Gilead officials cannot follow them. That, Ziegler suggests, is what a woman (and the friend or person who drives her) must do when driving through Llano, Texas on the way to New Mexico.

The Handmaid's Tale outfits at protests and rallies make for fun theater, but I have thought they were overstated. Maybe not, at least in some small details.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 8, 2023 at 02:05 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Fugitive abortion seekers

The Washington Post reports on the latest exclusive-private-enforcement efforts from Mark Lee Dickson and Jonathan Mitchell--county and city ordinances prohibiting the use of local roads to obtain a legal out-of-state abortion, enforced through private lawsuits. I have questions.

How does private enforcement work here and how does a plaintiff have the basic information to bring suit? How can a plaintiff know what roads someone took to leave the state? Is he going to follow the woman and her driver through town (and when does that become stalking)? Are they given interdiction authority to find out where someone is heading (which strengthens the argument that "any person" acts under color)? Will local law enforcement help (which provides a target to sue in an offensive pre-enforcement action)? How can a plaintiff know they took these roads on the "abortion trip" as opposed to some other time. What constitutes one trip and how do you identify the purpose of that trip--if a person drives on those roads on Monday but does not leave the state for the procedure until Wednesday, has she used the roads to obtain the abortion?

The hard part for rights-holders facing these laws is creating litigation and the opportunity to challenge the law as a defense. Anti-choice activists do not want to sue, because they do not want to provide that opportunity, since the law is clearly constitutionally invalid. Someone needs to be Estelle Griswold. A friendly plaintiff action should be easy heree--"any person" includes anyone anywhere who knows the route a woman took out of state, including any person who supports abortion rights. Or how about a caravan of cars driving through town at once, daring someone in town to sue. Again, it takes time. But these ordinances seem to impose less of a chill than S.B. 8 did.

These private-enforcement laws (what Jon Michaels and David Noll call "vigilante federalism" and "subordination regimes") have, thus far, remained the province of red states. Despite suggestions about the rights blue states could target (something Rocky and I look at in a potential new paper), only California has done something, a half-hearted regulation of ghost guns and assault weapons. This story reminds of another feature of performative cultural-war legislation--the divide between states and municipalities. Red states (notably Florida and Texas, of course) use state law to override the local laws and policies of blue municipalities within the state--Ron DeSantis suspended two elected Democratic states attorneys; Florida's various anti-woke laws aim to override local school-board policies; Texas has stripped cities of the power to establish immigrant sanctuary cities. The Post article mentions blue-state conservative cities near a red-state border (for example, New Mexico cities near the Texas border or Illinois cities near the Missouri border) prohibiting abortion clinics from operating there, thus eliminating a destination for out-of-staters seeking services. Yet Democratic state governments have not taken similar steps to strip municipalities of their local power.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 2, 2023 at 02:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Judicial departmentalism in Tennessee (Updated)

In June, a judge in the Western District of Tennessee declared the state's drag-show ban constitutionally invalid and enjoined the Shelby County D.A. from enforcing the law. The D.A. of Blount County, located in the Eastern District of Tennessee, announced intent to enforce the law there with the help of police, including against the organizers and hosts of an upcoming pride event. Organizers of the upcoming event and a drag performer sued local officials and the state A.G. Chris Geidner and FIRE are dismissive of and outraged by the actions of the Blount County officials.

Update: A judge in the Eastern District issued a TRO that includes prohibiting defendants from interfering with Blount Pride Fest, scheduled for Saturday. More below.

Let's break this out.

On the surface, this is an easy case, without full-bore judicial departmentalism. The W.D. Ky. order "ENJOINS District Attorney Steven J. Mulroy from enforcing the AEA within his jurisdiction in SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE." The Blount County prosecutor was not a party to that case and not bound by the injunction. Nor should he be bound by the declaratory judgment, which declares the rights of "the parties." Accepting that non-judicial actors must adhere to judicial precedent (i.e., rejecting departmentalism in favor of judicial supremacy), district court opinions do not establish binding precedent, within the district and certainly not outside the district. The district court's declared the law invalid in general. But the law of precedent dictates the effect of its declaration beyond the parties; the law of precedent says district court decisions are persuasive on other courts. There is no good argument that a district court opinion should have greater effect on executive officials than on other courts. And in a judicial-departmentalist world (where judicial precedent does not bind non-judicial actors), the fact that the precedent comes from an out-of-district trial court means the Blount County DA does not even face the guaranteed judicial loss (and attorney's fees) as if he pursued new enforcement in the face of binding judicial precedent.

On the surface, things are proceeding as they should. One group of rights-holders successfully sued to stop enforcement by one official against them; a second executive official pursued enforcement against a second group of rights-holders; the second group of rights-holders sues the second executive and raises the same (strong) constitutional arguments, including pointing to the prior district court opinion as persuasive authority; and we see what happens. My guess is they would get a TRO or preliminary injunction allowing this weekend's event to occur, have the law declared invalid (because First Amendment law is clear, even without the prior district court opinion on this law), and recover attorney's fees.

Here is where the case gets complex. Blount Pride, the plaintiffs in the second action, argue (¶¶ 85-90 in the Complaint) that the Blount County DA and all state executive officials are bound by the prior DJ. They argue that county DA's act as the state in enforcing state laws, thus the DJ against the Shelby County DA binds all state officials who enforce this law on behalf of the state--the AG (who litigated the first case, although not named as a party) and every county DA. Although they do not specify, I think they are using this for a preclusion argument.

But the scope-of-judgment problem is not about the defendants bound in the first case--it is about the plaintiffs protected in the second case. The first action declared the rights of and protected that plaintiff, Friends of Georges. Although the injunction used typically sloppy language, we know that DJ's declare the rights of "the parties" and injunctions should extend no further than necessary to protect the plaintiff--again, so long the plaintiff (and its members*) are protected, the injunction goes no further. The plaintiffs thus argue that the prior DJ as to Friends of George dictates to every official who enforces the anti-drag law that it is constitutionally invalid and cannot be enforced against Blount Pride.

[*] See also Michael Morley and Andrew Hessick's forthcoming piece arguing against associational standing.

This argument fails on three points:

    1) If Blount Pride believes it is protected by the existing WD Tenn. judgment, its move should be to return to that court for further relief where the DJ has been ignored. My guess is Blount Pride knows its rights had not been declared.

    2) Given # 1, this lawsuit attempts to use non-mutual preclusion--a new plaintiff, not party to the prior case, using preclusion against a prior party. But governments (and government officials sued in their official capacities) are not subject to non-mutual preclusion.

    3) The preclusion argument ignores Doran--"[N]either declaratory nor injunctive relief can directly interfere with enforcement of contested statutes or ordinances except with respect to the particular federal plaintiffs, and the State is free to prosecute others who may violate the statute." That is this case. The prior DJ and injunction stops enforcement of the anti-drag law "with respect to" Friends of George and its members; it cannot directly interfere with enforcement of the anti-drag law against anyone else, such as Blount Pride. Even if every DA and the AG were parties to the first case, that judgment has no direct effect on the efforts to enforce the law against new individuals.

Michael Dorf wrote a post considering what it means to say § 3 is self-executing:

However--and this is an obvious but crucial point--that does not mean that it is literally self-executing. State and local election officials who attempt to place Donald Trump's name on a primary or general election ballot will not find their hands stayed by a mysterious force field or a lightning bolt.

Section 3 is self-executing in the way that other self-executing provisions of law are, not in the way that laws of nature are. To say that Section 3 is self-executing is to say only that government officials can and indeed must give it effect even absent implementing legislation.

I would add that effect will be given when disputes--likely multiple disputes--over attempted application reach court for the court to resolve.

We can say the same about the First Amendment. No mysterious force field or lightning bolt stops the Blount County DA from attempting to enforce the anti-drag law, even if the First Amendment protects drag performance. When the DA and a drag performer dispute whether the law is valid, the case must move to court to resolve that particular dispute. That is what happened when Friends of George disputed with the Shelby County DA. It now happens separately when Blount Pride disputes with the Blount County DA.

Again, things in Tennessee are playing as they should within the judiciary--certainly if you are a judicial departmentalist and even if you are a judicial supremacist. Adjudicating constitutional rights requires litigation. That process is long and cumbersome and not as clean as the First Amendment "protects your right to dress and perform in drag" and "First Amendment protections apply everywhere." But it gets where we are supposed to be.

Update: Two words on the new TRO. First, as always, the court overdid the order, prohibiting defendants from "enforcing, detaining, arresting, or seeking warrants or taking any other action to enforce or threaten to enforce T.C.A. § 7-51-1407 pending further order of this Court," without limitation to the plaintiffs (the festival organizers and one drag performer). This is not a class action and such breadth is not necessary to protect these plaintiffs.* Second, the court in no way believed that the prior district court opinion controlled. The court called the opinion "well-written, scrupulously researched, and highly persuasive," "well-reasoned," providing "an adequate basis for [a] decision," and reflected the analysis "the Court is likely to adopt" in this case. But--contrary to plaintiffs' arguments and shouts from FIRE, Geidner, and others--defendants' enforcement threats did not violate or ignore that order, nor did defendants do anything a priori wrong in threatening enforcement.

[*] A few years ago, I spoke (with Suzette Malveaux) to the National Association of Attorneys General about universal injunctions. A point I thought of, but did not get a chance to make, is that they, among all litigants, should be circumspect on this. While they may love universality when suing the federal government, universality could and would come back to bite them as defendants in challenges to state law. That point, unmade, stands.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 31, 2023 at 10:44 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

303 Creative as "fake case" (Updated)

I have never understood the "fake case" criticism of 303 Creative. The fact that Smith had never designed a wedding site or been asked to do so and the supposed fake email request from a same-sex couple struck me as red herrings.

In attempting to write (without success, thus far) on the case, I looked at the lower-court orders. The district court denied standing because Smith could not show that any couple, much less a same-sex couple, would seek her services (this is where the notorious email comes in). The court of appeals reversed, relying on Susan B. Anthony List, the controlling case on pre-enforcement First Amendment challenges that the district court did not cite. SBA adopts a forgiving approach, at least in First Amendment cases--plaintiff must show "an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but proscribed by a statute, and there exists a credible threat of prosecution thereunder." Smith satisfied the first prong because "[a]lthough Appellants have not yet offered wedding website services, Ms. Smith has been employed as a graphic and web designer in the past. Appellants have also provided clear examples of the types of websites they intend to provide, as well as the intended changes to 303 Creative's webpage." The court would not assume that, if Smith offered the intended wedding-site services, no customer would request her services or that only opposite-sex couples and no same-sex couples would do so. To require the latter proof would eliminate pre-enforcement challenges, requiring rights-holders to violate the law and create active enforcement situations. That all seems right to me.

Standing's ideological drift increases daily--the left wants to ratchet it up and the right wants to swing open the federal courthouse doors. But imagine A wants to open a drag club in Tennessee--she has not begun business, but has run clubs in the past and lays out her business plan for the club. I imagine critics of 303 who support LGBT+ rights would want that business owner to be able to file a pre-enforcement action and not be forced to open the business, put on a show, and have some unknown customer complain.

Update: As if on queue , Richard Re has an essay (forthcoming in Notre Dame Law Review Reflections) showing why the criticisms are wrong, if one accepts pre-enforcement litigation, and how the case indicates an ideological realignment on standing.

Posted by Administrators on August 23, 2023 at 01:57 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Page Limits?

At SEALS last week, I watched an interesting panel on SCOTUS credentials. Panelists were Ben Barton (Tennessee, author of The Credentialed Court) and Renee Knake Jefferson (Houston) and Hannah Brenner Johnson (Cal Western), co-authors of Shortlisted). Ben mentioned the absurd lengths of recent SCOTUS opinions, which he attributed to the changing (and homogeneous-in-some-respects) identities of the justices and their workloads. Ben suggested the need for word-or-page limits on SCOTUS opinions, just as the Court imposes word-or-page limits on the parties.

I agree there might be some merit to this. Here is the question: Could Congress impose that requirement?

Obviously Justice Alito would say no. Now how about the rest of us who actually work with the Constitution's text and structure. Does the "judicial power" and Klein's principle that Congress cannot tell the Court how to decide a case include how the Court writes and structures its opinions resolving those cases? Is opinion length akin to the sources of law the Court can rely on (e.g., requiring originalism or prohibiting international law)?

Leaving comments open for thoughts.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 2, 2023 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, July 31, 2023

Peak scope-of-injunction confusion

Judge Presnell (M.D. Fla.) may have produced the singularity of scope-of-injunction confusion in refusing to narrow-and-stay his injunction prohibiting enforcement of Florida's anti-drag law. The plaintiff is the owner of an Orlando restaurant that presents drag performances; the court preliminarily enjoined state officials (properly) from bringing "any enforcement proceedings" (improperly). The state sought to stay the injunction to the extent it went beyond the plaintiff--which Presnell describes as "neuter[ing]" the injunction.

Presnell emphasizes the law's facial invalidity in justifying the scope of the injunction. In doing so, he commits several category errors.

• The court relies on overbreadth cases allowing rights-holders to challenge a statute because of the statute's broader effects. But First Amendment overbreadth does not expand the scope of the court's order. It allows a rights-holder whose speech could be constitutionally regulated by the challenged law to raise the law's constitutional invalidity because it would be constitutionally invalid as to someone else's speech. Overbreadth allows a party to make constitutional arguments and to gain judicial relief based on those arguments about how the law affects non-parties. But nothing in that doctrine extends the judicial remedy to those non-parties; it merely gives the party additional arguments.

    Many overbreadth cases are not § 1983 offensive pre-enforcement actions; they are enforcement actions in which rights-holders raise the First Amendment as a defense (despite the defendant engaging in unprotected activities). Although the overbreadth arguments are the same, no one believes that an order dismissing a state enforcement action (e.g., a prosecution of the corporation or an attempt to strip its liquor license) protects anyone beyond that party.

    Here lies the benefit of Henry Monaghan's justification for overbreadth--valid law due process. Due process requires that any law be constitutional valid before it can be enforced against anyone, even if those constitutional defects do not affect the party to the case. This explains why an Carol Anne Bond could raise federalism defects in a chemical-weapons ban.

• I am not entirely sure why the court went the overbreadth route here. Nothing the plaintiff wants to host in its restaurant falls outside constitutional protection--it is not obscene or obscene-as-to-older-minors; this is not a case of a plaintiff arguing "my speech is unprotected but the law reaches other people's protected speech." The law is overbroad in the sense of not narrowly tailored, but that is a different thing.

• The court relies on Califano v. Yamasaki as to the availability of facial challenges. But it ignore the parts of Califano that the injunction should provide "complete relief to the plaintiffs." However constitutionally invalid the law might be or however broad the constitutional arguments he can make, the remedy benefits the plaintiff. And allowing continued enforcement of this law against others does not deny the plaintiff complete relief.

• The court conflates, in the most explicit language I have seen, geographic and party scope. The court says the following:

    • Responding to Eleventh Circuit doubts about so-called nationwide (but really universal) injunctions, the court says this "injunction is neither nationwide, nor does it pertain only to a limited class of individuals."

    • This law is not limited to a discrete universe of plaintiffs; it could apply to the vast majority of Floridians.

    • "To limit Defendant’s enforcement of the Act only to Plaintiff would subject everyone else in Florida to the chilling effect of a facially unconstitutional statute. Consequently, a statewide injunction which includes non-parties accords with the extent of the violation established."

The court expressly conflates nationwide/statewide and university. Every injunction as to a federal law is nationwide and every injunction as to a state law is statewide--the injunction prohibits enforcement of the law against the plaintiff every place in the nation/state that plaintiff goes.* Thus, of course this injunction is and should be  statewide--Florida cannot enforce this law against any restaurant that HM Florida, LLC owns and operates. But Presnell issued a universal injunction, one that protects everyone everywhere; that is the problematic piece of this.

[*] And out of state, but the protection against that comes from the limits of a law's extraterritoriality, not the injunction.

Again, this is why nomenclature matters and why the wide adoption of "nationwide" confuses the analysis. This injunction suffers the  identical defect as the Mifepristone or student-loan or sanctuary-city injunctions against federal laws and regs--it protects beyond the plaintiffs without class certification. But because we have used "nationwide" to describe those, Presnell could purport to distinguish those cases and thus the doubts about those injunctions--"those were nationwide injunctions, whereas this injunction is statewide."

• On the court's reasoning, the more people subject to a law, the more people whose rights the law infringes, and thus the more proper a universal injunction. That means that universal injunctions should be the norm, at least for laws of general applicability. But that would undermine the principle that enjoining a prosecution as to one person leaves the state free to prosecute others. And it renders FRCP 23(b)(2) useless--if a state can enjoin enforcement against everyone subject to a law when one person sues, no plaintiff would ever need or want to certify a civil-rights class.

• This also demonstrates how universal injunctions allow individual judges to arrogate a great deal of power, at the expense of other courts--to play constitutional hero. Yes, this law chills the speech of many, many people. The remedy for that is for any chilled speaker to sue and obtain an injunction protecting itself against enforcement (as the plaintiff did here) and for the opinion in one case to guide future courts handling future lawsuits from other speakers asserting their rights and seeking a remedy that protects them. If Presnell is right about the law's validity, his opinion in this case will persuade other judges to reach the same conclusion and issue injunctions protecting future plaintiffs. Moreover, if Presnell is wrong about the law's constitutional validity, his single order deprives any other judge or court from the opportunity to address that question.

Bad all around. While I hope the 11th Circuit affirms that the drag laws are constitutionally invalid, I also hope it corrects as to the scope of the injunction. Meanwhile, I wish courts would get this stuff right so I do not have to keep defending the authoritarians in Florida's government.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 31, 2023 at 02:41 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Belkin & Tushnet endorse judicial departmentalism

Aaron Belkin and Mark Tushnet authored an open letter urging Pres. Biden to pursue "popular constitutionalism" where "if and when they issue rulings that are based on gravely mistaken interpretations of the Constitution that undermine our most fundamental commitments, the Administration will be guided by its own constitutional interpretations." They explain:

The central tenet of the solution that we recommend—Popular Constitutionalism—is that courts do not exercise exclusive authority over constitutional meaning. In practice, a President who disagrees with a court’s interpretation of the Constitution should offer and then follow an alternative interpretation. If voters disagree with the President’s interpretation, they can express their views at the ballot box. Popular Constitutionalism has a proud history in the United States, including Abraham Lincoln’s refusal to treat the Dred Scott decision as a political rule that would guide him as he exercised presidential powers.

Belkin and Tushnet are describing what Kevin Walsh labeled and I have pursued as "judicial departmentalism." The President can and should pursue a constitutional interpretation at odds with the Court's precedent. The Dred Scott reference is the tell. Lincoln argued not that Dred Scott was free or that he could disregard the judgment in that case, but that he could act contrary to the Court's opinion about the rights of enslaved persons or the constitutional validity of the Missouri Compromise.

The recent equivalent would be continuing to pursue affirmative action in higher education (outside Harvard and UNC) and elsewhere. Belkin and Tushnet push that point:

President Biden could declare that the Court's recent decision in the affirmative action cases applies only to selective institutions of higher education and that the Administration will continue to pursue affirmative action in every other context vigorously because it believes that the Court's interpretation of the Constitution is egregiously wrong.

They lose me on that last point. I like the idea that the President should explain his intention and why, so the public sees and measures the competing constitutional approaches. But I do not agree that the President can (or should) do this only where the Court's interpretation is "egregiously wrong." That retains a whiff of judicial supremacy--the Court gets the last word except in some unique and extraordinary circumstances.

Better to say the President can pursue his competing interpretation in all cases where he believes appropriate. The limiting principle on the power (which Ilya Somin argues is absent) is not the egregiousness of the case. The limiting principle comes from the inevitable litigation challenging the President's actions and the likelihood that the Court will adhere to its view and reject the President's view in issuing a new judgment in a new case. And I do not read Belkin and Tushnet to argue that the President can ignore a judgment in a specific case.

Of course, while Democrats talk about whether to do this, Republicans do it. The Alabama legislature enacted  a new legislative map that, like the map declared invalid Allen v. Milligan, contains one (rather than two) majority-Black districts. This has liberals up in arms about a return to the 1960s and Alabama ignoring the Supreme Court. But isn't this what Belkin and Tushnet argued for?

Accepting that government can ignore an opinion but not a judgment, the answer depends on what we understand as the "judgment" in Allen. Was the judgment that Alabama must enact a map with two majority-Black districts because § 2 requires two such districts, given the population in Alabama? Or was the judgment that Alabama's prior map violated § 2 and that Alabama must enact a new map that conforms with § 2, even without a second majority-Black district (the enacted map has a second district that is about 40 % Black)? If the latter, Alabama is within its power (as Biden is under the Belkin/Tushnet argument) in enacting what it believes to be a proper map and triggering a new round of litigation. Alabama might (will?) lose that litigation, if the Court believes Allen's logic and reasoning requires a second district. But that does not mean Alabama crossed the line into defying the injunction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 22, 2023 at 12:32 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Stupid bigots, smart(er) bigots, and 303

The owner of a Michigan hair salon announced that she would not serve trans customers, advising them to go to a pet groomer. The public response caused her to take her social media private.* From the left, the theme is "what hath 303 wrought?" From the right, the theme is "stop overreacting or misconstruing 303--the plaintiff there and the Court disavowed refusal to serve based solely on identity."

[*] The public exercising their First Amendment rights to criticize someone's offensive speech and conduct? Or censorship and cancel culture? You decide.

As framed, this falls outside any possible good-faith application of 303, because she described it in terms of the customer's identity as trans--a categorical refusal to serve a person because of that person's identity that the Court disclaimed. Some respond with, essentially, "Lower Court Judges Gone Wild"--forget what 303 said, this is what crazy business owners will try to do and what courts in red states will allow them to get away with.

But I do not believe this case depends on a parade of horribles. Instead, it requires a smarter bigot with a better framing. Imagine: "Through my hair styling customized to each client, I use my unique expressive artistry and work closely with each client to help them express themselves and the image they wish to present to the world. And by giving a feminine hairstyle to a trans woman (whom I believe a man as a matter of biology and biblical teaching), I am compelled to send a message that this person is a woman, something I reject." That does not sound meaningfully different from Lorrie Smith making a web site telling the marriage story of a same-sex couple and thereby being compelled to send a message that two people of the same sex can marry.

Dale Carpenter offers a hopeful take on 303: It applies to products and services that are custom-made and expressive where the objection is to the message sent within the product or service. That seems to cover hair styling--it is creative and thus expressive and every hair cut is unique to that person. Perhaps it depends on whether the stylist insists that her styling match perceived gender--she will not give a "male" haircut to a cis person; this might separate the refusal of service from the client's trans identity. Or on the fact that once the client leaves the salon, the stylist's participation is not presented to the world, contra the web site that identifies 303 as the creator.

I appreciate Dale's attempt to read the decision narrowly and agree that the demand for line-drawing in hard cases is not unique to this case. I think this case shows that intelligently framed objections could cut a large swath.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 12, 2023 at 01:18 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Fighting universality

Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit has been a leading critic of universal injunctions. He returned to that in an order staying the injunction barring enforcement of Tennessee's prohibition on gender-affirming medical care. The majority held that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on appeal on their equal protection or due process claims. The "fraught task of justifying" universal relief reenforced the need for the stay:

District courts “should not issue relief that extends further than necessary to remedy the plaintiff’s injury.” Commonwealth v. Biden, 57 F.4th 545, 556 (6th Cir. 2023). The court’s injunction prohibits Tennessee from enforcing the law against the nine challengers in this case and against the other seven million residents of the Volunteer State. But absent a properly certified class action, why would nine residents represent seven million? Does the nature of the federal judicial power or for that matter Article III permit such sweeping relief? A “rising chorus” suggests not. Doster v. Kendall, 54 F.4th 398, 439 (6th Cir. 2022); see, e.g., Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392, 2424–29 (2018) (Thomas, J., concurring); Dep’t of Homeland Sec. v. New York, 140 S. Ct. 599, 599–601 (2020) (Gorsuch, J., concurring); see also Samuel Bray, Multiple Chancellors: Reforming the National Injunction, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 417, 457–82 (2017). Article III confines the “judicial power” to “Cases” and “Controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. Federal courts may not issue advisory opinions or address statutes “in the abstract.” California v. Texas, 141 S. Ct. 2104, 2115 (2021) (quotation omitted). They instead must operate in a party-specific and injury-focused manner. Id.; Gill v. Whitford, 138 S. Ct. 1916, 1934 (2018). A court order that goes beyond the injuries of a particular plaintiff to enjoin government action against nonparties exceeds the norms of judicial power.

The scope issue has arisen in other district court decisions declaring invalid these care bans. District courts have issued broad injunctions despite obvious opportunity for narrower relief. The order universally prohibiting enforcement of Kentucky's ban is in obvious trouble for this and for substantive reasons.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 9, 2023 at 12:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Injunctive absurdity

Judge Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana found that federal jawboning of social media sites with respect to COVID, the 202 election, and Hunter Biden likely violates the First Amendment and enjoined hundreds of federal officials (including all of State, HHS, and DOJ) from engaging in a whole range of speech urging social-media companies to remove material. Some thoughts:

• He finds that Missouri and Louisiana have standing, in part, on behalf of their citizens' speech rights, even though states cannot exercise parens patriae standing against the federal government. The court also cannot say that the sites removed speech because of government coercion or that they would not have removed the speech without government action, which should be essential to traceability and redressability. And to the extent the evidence is unclear, the plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing standing so the uncertainty should go against standing.

• The line between lawful government speech and problematic jawboning or coercion is difficult. Judge Doughty makes no effort to engage that question or draw that line. He offers pages of examples of communications between government social-media companies in Newsmax-level conspiratorial tones, but does not explain where the line is or when some communications cross the line. Some examples lack any direct communication between government and the companies. For example, the court offers Anthony Facui's public media statements and congressional testimony criticizing hydroxychloroquine as a COVID treatment followed by social-media sites removing certain videos. Apropos the point above, the court says Facui may have spoken with sites, but does not remember. Again, however, the plaintiffs bear the burden of showing communication and causation.

• The court finds coercion, in part, because much of the targeted speech is "conservative." But viewpoint discrimination is irrelevant to the coercion line. Coercion is coercion regardless of any viewpoint preference--government engages in impermissible jawboning regardless of whose speech it targets. On the other hand, non-coercive government speech can be as viewpoint discriminatory as the government wants to be.

• The injunction is absurd in its breadth. From the binding side, it binds hundreds or thousands of officials. It prohibits officials from "urging" or "encouraging" social-media companies to adopt or change content-moderation guidelines or to do anything with "protected free speech" on their sites.

• The injunction is internally inconsistent; it swallows itself, in a way one commentator describes as the judge wanting to have his cake and eat it. After listing all the "protected" speech the government cannot encourage or urge sites to remove, the court limits the injunction to not reach "permissible government speech promoting government policies or views on matter of public concern" (such as appearances on TV to discuss the effectiveness of medical treatments, perhaps?). And it does not reach speech "informing" social-media companies of "threats that threaten the public safety or security of the United States;" "postings intending to mislead voters about voting requirements and procedures;" and  efforts to "detect, prevent, or mitigate malicious cyber activity." The line between "informing" and "urging" or "encouraging" is illusory and the court never attempts to define it. In any event, much of the speech covered by the injunction falls within the categories excluded by the injunction and vice versa.

For example, speech threatening the public safety of the United States retains constitutional protection unless it is a true threat or incitement, which most of the speech on these sites is not. So at the same time the injunction allows officials to inform social media companies of speech that threatens public safety, it cannot urge companies to do anything about that speech.

• I guess Republican officials now like universal injunctions, because this defines the concept. The plaintiffs are two states and about five individuals; the injunction prohibits government from taking steps to urge sites to remove the speech of any person on any site from any source. As always, the injunction could have been particularized to these speakers, those two states, and the citizens of those two states.

• Compounding the universality problem, the court refused to certify a 23(b)(2) class, because the plaintiffs had not presented a "working class definition." This demonstrates, from two directions, how universality undermines Rule 23(b)(2). Class certification is pointless and unnecessary if individual plaintiffs can obtain relief for an entire class of possible speakers. And if the court cannot define an appropriate class of speakers, it should not issue an injunction protecting every would-be member of that class.

Some free-speech advocates have argued that the federal government's conduct--from both the Trump and Biden Administrations--has crossed some lines. But this absurd injunction is not the answer.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 5, 2023 at 03:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 03, 2023

303 and SB8 (Update)

I have not gotten around to reading 303 Creative or commenting on the First Amendment analysis. I want to address the standing issues not addressed in the case but which have entered the conversation.

Liberal critics have decried this as a "fake" case because no same-sex couple asked Lorie Smith to design a web site for their wedding. The record includes a declaration about one same-sex couple that did request a wedding page, but that story appears false--one of the men is married to a woman and played no role in the case. Thus, the argument goes, Smith and 303 lacked standing, but the Court (as its liberal conservative (interesting mistake) majority is wont to do) ignored that to reach out on an issue and hand a victory to a religious-conservative cause.

Apart from my usual views about standing, this should be a non-issue. Smith brought an offensive pre-enforcement challenge, so she need not show actual violations of the law or actual enforcement of the law against her--the whole point is to be able to challenge the law without violating it or risking legal sanction. She had opened a web design business and intended to do wedding sites; state law proscribed her desired conduct (decline business from same-sex couples and announce that intent); and the state was likely to enforce the law against her if she announced and followed that practice. That should be enough for a pre-enforcement action, especially in a free speech case (where courts apply standing in a more-forgiving way). Moreover, this looser approach benefits minors challenging state prohibitions on gender-affirming care--I do not want courts hanging those cases up on "this plaintiff alleges that she wants gender-affirming care, but has not yet seen a doctor or has not yet been prescribed puberty blockers."

Some link 303 and SB8 and find political motivations in the Court's differential treatment--303 dramatically expanded a species of free-speech right through an expansive approach to pre-enforcement litigation, while the Court's restrictive approach as to SB8 eliminated all pre-enforcement challenges to an abortion restriction. But the cases are not comparable. 303's supposed standing problem involves injury--because Smith had never been asked to make a wedding web site for a same-sex couple, she incurred no injury (no genuine risk the state would enforce the law against her). The standing problem in SB8 went to traceability and redressability--the lack of public enforcement meant no public official caused that injury and the court could not enjoin anyone to stop enforcement. 303 does not reflect a distinct approach to pre-enforcement litigation. Had Colorado adopted purely private enforcement for its public-accommodations laws,* there is no reason to believe the Court would not have rejected the case for the same reasons it rejected Whole Women's Health.

[*] Perhaps Blue states seeking to mimic SB8 for liberal causes and against disfavored constitutionally protected activity should consider this issue, rather than obsessing about guns. I wonder what Jonathan Mitchell, Texas officials, and conservative commentators would say.

Update: I do not intend to minimize the issue of the false evidence. If that turns out to be the case, Smith and her lawyer should be on the hook for sanctions. It does not change the appropriateness of the case, because the case was sufficiently real and live without that further evidence.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 3, 2023 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 30, 2023

Final orders list

The Court released its clean-up order following the release of opinions, granting cert in several cases. Several things of note:

• No decision on the NetChoice cases (challenges to Texas and Florida content-moderation laws). This is somewhat surprising, since the circuit split and the First Amendment implications make a grant inevitable.

• The Court denied cert. in Cooper Tire & Rubber v. McCall, a Georgia case raising the Mallory issue of consent-by-registration personal jurisdiction. Our guest bloggers on Mallory--Rocky Rhodes and Andra Robertson--discussed the Court's perhaps-strategic choice to use Mallory rather than Cooper as the vehicle to resolve the issue. But what to make of the Court denying cert in Cooper rather than GVRing. As Rocky and Andra explained, Georgia had a stronger interest in Cooper than Pennsylvania had in Mallory--the defendants in Cooper were from Georgia, whereas no one in Mallory had any case-related connection to Pennsylvania. So if consent jurisdiction is valid in Mallory, it must be valid in Cooper. At the same time, the Court did not see fit to allow the Georgia Supreme Court to address the dormant commerce clause issue that Justice Alito emphasized in his (controlling??) concurrence-in-the-judgment.

• Justice Sotomayor called for reexamining qualified immunity in two dissentals (Justice Jackson would have granted cert in one, although she did not join the statement) from the Eighth Circuit. She raises the usual litany of criticisms of the doctrine and how lower courts have applied it.

I hope to write about 303 Creative and the standing in the student-loan cases this weekend.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 30, 2023 at 03:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Mootness and jurisdiction in Moore

I am late to the conversation about Moore v. Harper, where the Court found the case alive (over the dissent of Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch) and (mostly) rejected the independent state legislature doctrine. Three thoughts on the jurisdictional issues. (Long post ahead).

1) I still am not sure where I land on mootness. I do not believe--contra Justice Thomas and Josh Blackman-- that the Chief fell into the writ-of-erasure fallacy. Thomas fills Part I of his dissent with (correct) descriptions of how courts enjoin actors from taking action, do not act against laws themselves, and "do not render 'judgments' that toggle statutes from 'operative' to 'inoperative' and back again, as if judicial review were some sort of in rem jurisdiction over legislative Acts."

Here is the procedural history: The state trial court held that partisan gerrymandering is a political question under the state constitution. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed; it made three legal determinations--1) partisan gerrymandering is justiciable; 2) ISL is nonsense; and 3) the 2021 electoral maps were invalid partisan gerrymanders--and entered a judgment prohibiting use of those maps. The state legislators appealed that decision to SCOTUS. Following SCOTUS' cert grant, NCSCt affirmed the trial court's decision rejecting a remedial map. On rehearing (and following a change of court personnel), NCSCt withdrew its opinion affirming rejection of the remedial maps, "overruled" its original decision (the one sitting before SCOTUS), and dismissed the action with prejudice. But, the majority says, the state court never reinstated the original maps; its decision started everything over, allowing the NC legislature to enact whatever maps it chose. That includes enacting a new law adopting the 2021 maps.

Despite some loose language in the Chief's opinion about "presently operative statutes," I do not believe he made the mistakes Thomas accuses him of making. Rather, I think the point of departure is what happens to a preliminary injunction when the action is later dismissed. NCSCt issued an order--do not use the 2021 maps; that order was on review to SCOTUS. The court overruled the basis for that order in concluding that partisan gerrymandering is a political question and allowing the legislature to do what it wants going forward. But it did not authorize use of the 2021 maps authorized by the 2021 law.

Does that matter?

2) While I agree with Thomas' explanations for the role of courts (while remaining unsure of his conclusion), I question this:

[A]n unconstitutional provision is never really part of the body of governing law,” for “the Constitution automatically displaces [it] from the moment of [its] enactment.” Collins v. Yellen, 594 U. S. ___, ___ (2021) (slip op., at 35) (emphasis added). Thus, when a court holds a statute unconstitutional, it is emphatically not depriving it of any legal force that it previously possessed as an Act. The court is only deciding “a particular case” “conformably to the constitution, disregarding” a statute that cannot “govern the case” because it is already “void.” Marbury, 1 Cranch, at 178; accord, Bayard v. Singleton, 1 N. C. 5, 7 (1787) (holding that the unconstitutional “act on which [a party’s] motion was grounded . . . must of course, in that instance, stand as abrogated and without any effect”). “That is the classic explanation for the basis of judicial review” set forth in Marbury and Bayard, and it remains “from that day to this the sole continuing rationale for the exercise of this judicial power.” Mackey v. United States, 401 U. S. 667, 678 (1971) (Harlan, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part).

That works for defensive litigation. When the state prosecutes Johnson for burning a flag, the court disregards the law of prosecution and refuses to allow it to govern the case, thereby requiring dismissal of the prosecution. It does not work for offensive pre-enforcement litigation, in which the federal plaintiff seeks to avoid the case in which the challenged law would govern, by enjoining an official from enforcing that law in the future. A federal court in an offensive action does not disregard the challenged law; it prevents future conduct by a government official with that law. And that conduct may occur outside of court--such as administering elections under particular maps.

3) Mootness aside, Moore also presented issues of SCOTUS jurisdiction under § 1257(a), which is limited to "final" judgments or decrees. Although the state court had decided that ISL does not apply (a federal issue), the case remained ongoing in state court as the parties worked to create new maps consistent with the state constitution.  Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn treats as final cases in which the "highest court of a State has finally determined the federal issue present in a particular case, but in which there are further proceedings in the lower state courts to come." Cox identified four circumstances in which a state supreme court order is final despite ongoing state-court proceedings. The majority relied on the second category--"the federal issue, finally decided by the highest court in the State, will survive and require decision regardless of the outcome of future state court proceedings."

This is the wrong category. Cox defined this category by citing to Radio Station WOW and Brady v. Maryland. In WOW, the state supreme court ordered the transfer of property from a federal license holder and ordered an accounting; the ongoing accounting did not affect the federal issue (interference with the license), which was tied to the transfer. In Brady, Maryland's highest court* upheld Brady's conviction but ordered a new sentencing hearing; that proceeding did not affect the federal due process rights that Brady argued were violated by a conviction without disclosure of evidence. The key to this category is that the remaining state-law proceedings do not affect the federal issue; nothing that happens eliminates the federal issue, regardless of who wins or how the state courts resolve those future issue. Brady believes his conviction violates due process; that remains alive regardless of the ultimate sentence. The radio station believes the loss of property affects its federal license; that remains alive regardless of the outcome of the accounting.

[*] Then called the Maryland Court of Appeals, changed to Maryland Supreme Court in 2023.

That is not this case. Whether the federal issue remains alive depends on what happens in state court. Imagine (as was the case when SCOTUS granted cert) ongoing state litigation to draw new maps that comply with the state constitution. If the state court approves the legislature's preferred maps, the federal issue (ISL) goes away. The state will not appeal the maps or argue they have unfettered power, because they won and so the scope of their power does not matter; the plaintiffs will appeal the maps on independent-and-adequate state constitutional grounds, but would not argue ISL because it does not help them. if the state court rejects the legislature's preferred maps, the federal issue remains alive--the state will return to NCSCt, NCSCt approves the maps, and the state challenges those maps on ISL grounds. Of course, that takes time and energy, leaving the federal issue unresolved. And that is, in fact, where the case landed: The state won on state-law grounds (partisan gerrymandering is non-justiciable) and any appeal the plaintiffs might have rests on state law, not federal law.

Thus, this case better fits the fourth category, created in Cox:

Lastly, there are those situations where the federal issue has been finally decided in the state courts with further proceedings pending in which the party seeking review here might prevail on the merits on nonfederal grounds, thus rendering unnecessary review of the federal issue by this Court, and where reversal of the state court on the federal issue would be preclusive of any further litigation on the relevant cause of action, rather than merely controlling the nature and character of, or determining the admissibility of evidence in, the state proceedings still to come. In these circumstances, if a refusal immediately to review the state court decision might seriously erode federal policy, the Court has entertained and decided the federal issue, which itself has been finally determined by the state courts for purposes of the state litigation.

That is this case. The appealing party (legislators) might prevail on nonfederal grounds (as, in fact, they did), depriving SCOTUS of the opportunity to review the federal issue; immediate reversal on the federal issue precludes further state litigation--had SCOTUS adopted ISL, the state wins without having to do anything more. And the delay or elimination of the ISL issue "seriously erode[s] federal policy" by leaving unresolved whether state legislatures can do whatever the hell they want--sure to be an issue in the coming presidential election.

I am not sure why the Chief went with # 2 rather than # 4.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2023 at 01:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why "universality" better captures the scope-of-injunction problem

Everyone will be talking about the death(?) of affirmative action, but I do not have much legal to add to that conversation. So I am going to use and a few other posts to catch up on some things.

First up, Judge Hale of the W.D.Ky. declared invalid that state's ban on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors, joining district courts in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida. These cases trigger anew the scope-of-injunction problem-- and not well. Judge Hale issued what he called a "facial injunction" and said the following:

The Commonwealth suggests that any injunction should be limited in scope to cover only those plaintiffs who are already taking the drugs in question. (D.N. 47, PageID.514-15) But the fact “that some minors experiencing gender dysphoria may choose not to pursue the gender transition procedures covered by the Act and therefore would not be harmed by its enforcement” does not mean that a facial injunction would be overbroad. Brandt, 47 F.4th at 672; see id. (“The proper focus of the [facial] constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant.” (alteration in original) (quoting City of Los Angeles v. Patel, 576 U.S. 409, 418-19 (2015))). The Commonwealth notably “fail[s] to offer a more narrowly tailored injunction that would remedy Plaintiffs’ injuries,” id., and as Plaintiffs point out, it would be virtually impossible to fashion one. (See D.N. 52, PageID.1678-79) A facial injunction is therefore appropriate.

This is nonsense. An obvious narrower injunction remedies plaintiffs' injuries--the state cannot enforce the law to prevent these seven minors from continuing and/0r begin receiving treatments, as they choose. That remedies their injuries, regardless of what the state can or does do as to any other trans person who seeks or intends to seek treatment.  Protecting these plaintiffs need not help non-plaintiffs (compare an order compelling a school to return a book to the library). Nor is this a case in which the court cannot identify plaintiffs from those similarly situated. Because the trans kids sued on their own behalf (rather than through some organization or a doctor or a state asserting third-party or associational standing), we can easily identify who the injunction protects and who falls outside the injunction.

This and other cases illustrate why it has been a mistake to use "nationwide" to describe beyond-the-plaintiff injunctions. The problem never was confined to challenges to federal laws and regulations. States always could enact broad discriminatory laws and regulations simultaneously affecting large numbers of people, triggering the same issue of who an injunction protects after a court declares those laws constitutionally invalid. But no one would label this injunction "nationwide," while "statewide" adds another term and thus more confusion. That is why universality works best--it captures the idea of an injunction (improperly) extending to everyone who might be subject to enforcement of the challenged law, regardless of the breadth of that universe.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2023 at 11:48 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Florida Supreme Court displeased with federal judicial overreach

Andrew Warren wants his job as state's attorney back, following his specious and politically motivated suspension by Presidential Candidate (and not-for-several-weeks Governor) Ron DeSantis. But he also wants to avoid the constitutionally mandated process for doing so--a Senate trial--fearing (not without reasonable cause) that the Senate will rubber-stamp DeSantis's decision. He failed in federal district court, in a case I believed never should have gotten as far as it did. And he failed in the Florida Supreme Court, which denied his writ of quo warranto.

The latter was a longshot, as the court explains. Under the Florida Constitution, the Senate is the appropriate "court" for challenging suspension. The Florida Supreme Court exercises limited review to determine that the suspension is facially valid. But court never reached that much, instead denying the writ as untimely, because Warren went through five months of federal proceedings before filing in state court.

In rejecting the writ, SCoFL expressed its displeasure with the federal court and Warren for, in essence, derogating SCoFL and state institutions generally.

As to the district court, the state court said:

Inexplicably, despite having previously dismissed Petitioner’s state-law claim—a claim that challenged the facial sufficiency of the suspension order—the federal district court proceeded to reach various “conclusions” regarding the propriety of the suspension under Florida law. Indeed, the federal district court twice stated that the suspension “violated the Florida Constitution,” id. at D115, D125, and the federal district court purported to decide certain “factual issue[s],” including whether “Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent,” id. at D117. The federal district court did so even though its “jurisdiction over [Petitioner’s state-law] claim [was] barred by the Eleventh Amendment,” Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 121, and even though “[i]t is the function of the [Florida] Senate, and never that of the Courts, to review the evidence upon which the Governor suspends an officer,” Sullivan, 52 So. 2d at 425. At one point, the federal district court challenged the Governor to “simply rescind the suspension.” Warren, 29 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. at D124. And at another point, the federal district court seemingly questioned the ability of the Florida Senate to dutifully carry out its constitutional role in suspension matters, referring to that legislative body as “heavily partisan.” Id.

I made similar points following the district court's decision--there was no reason to decide the suspension's state-law validity to decide that DeSantis had a non-pretextual state-law reason for the suspension that defeated the First Amendment claim.

Warren worsened the situation by arguing that the district court's state-law musings should have issue-preclusive effect. Rejecting the argument, the court stated that issue preclusion cannot turn a loser into a prior winner on discrete issues, while noting that the federal case is on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit and thus not final. I would add that the federal court's conclusions about the suspension were not necessary to the federal judgment, another element of claim preclusion.

Finally, the court points to, and does not dismiss, DeSantis's suggestion that Warren invoked SCoFL as a "backup plan," an unfavorable forum to which he ran late and as a last resort. It does not buy Warren's explanation--state law sets no time limit on a quo warranto application and he filed about one month after the district court dismissed that action--because it does not like the idea that he ran to federal court in the first place.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2023 at 09:25 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Getting particularity right, legally and practically

Chris Geidner reports on a Northern District of Florida decision declaring invalid Florida's prohibition on Medicaid coverage for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. Reading the order page (declaring the regs invalid; enjoining the named defendant, Jason Weida; and extending the injunction to other officers per FRCP 65(d)(2)), Chris argues that the decision is not only about the plaintiffs, because the first point applies to the law and regulations. This is wrong as a legal matter, although not as a practical matter. It also illustrates where everyone gets the universality/particularity analysis wrong.

As a legal matter, the court's order affects four named plaintiffs--two adults, two minors. That's it. Yes, the court declared Florida's Medicaid laws and regs invalid. But courts do not make legal declarations in the abstract; they declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party. SCOTUS reaffirmed last week (as to defendants) in Haaland v. Brackeen that a DJ "conclusively resolves '‘the legal rights of the parties.’'" That is, they declare the law and regs invalid as to the plaintiffs. Declaratory judgments are no more universal than injunctions, absent certification of a 23(b)(2) civil rights class , which plaintiffs did not seek or obtain. The court's order binds the named defendant (the secretary of the state health-care agency) and everyone else who might enforce those Florida laws against them--any attempt to enforce against these four people violates the order.

This order does not prohibit anyone bound by the injunction--Weida or other officers--from enforcing these regulations against anyone other than those four plaintiffs. They could deny to John Smith Medicaid coverage of his prescription for puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, without violating the current court order or risking contempt. But suppose they did that. Smith would join as a plaintiff in the current action and ask the court to extend the DJ and injunction to him; because he is identically situated to the original plaintiffs, the court would quickly grant the request. Or Smith would file his own lawsuit and quickly obtain a preliminary injunction on the strength of the prior decision. Either approach produces a court order that protects Smth as a named plaintiff, such that enforcement of the regs against him violates the order and risks contempt. But it requires that additional step of making Smith a party to the litigation and bringing him under the court's protection.

As a practical matter, on the other hand, Chris is correct--Florida officials will not enforce these regs against anyone; Florida Medicaid will cover these procedures for all recipients, barring a stay or appellate reversal. But the court order, as framed, does not compel that result as a matter of law. Rather, Florida officials will cover the procedures for non-parties because declining to do so wastes everyone's time and money* by triggering the further litigation--certain to succeed--described in the prior paragraph.

[*] Plaintiffs brought this action under § 1983, so § 1988(b) authorizes attorney's fees for prevailing plaintiffs. And each time a plaintiff obtains a new or extended injunction, the state will pay the fees for that process.

Does this matter, if we end up in the same place? In my view yes, because process matters.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2023 at 05:50 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The inanity of "Debate Me"

Phillip Bump critiques the new demand for "debate," calling it a lazy cop-out and "a cudgel meant not to inform but to entertain, to validate our skepticism and to feed our dislike of our opponents."

As if on cue, we have L.M. v. Town of Middleborough, denying a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the school dress code as to a shirt reading "There are only two genders." The opinion includes this gem at the beginning of the analysis portion of the opinion:

One can certainly argue (particularly with hindsight) that the actions taken by the Defendants were not in the best interest of the students Defendants were seeking to protect. Had Defendants permitted L.M. to wear the Shirt, perhaps he would have listened to and heard other students’ explanation as to why they viewed his message as hostile. Perhaps he would have learned from those students that they do not use the word “gender” to refer to chromosome pairs or anatomy but to identity. As a seventh-grader — a time when students are beginning to consider views of the world that differ from those of their parents — he may have been more open to that understanding if the discussion occurred in school and was not drowned out by the megaphone of the media and the adult protesters outside the school. And in that event, perhaps LM. would have chosen voluntarily to cease wearing the Shirt and the students Defendants were seeking to protect would not have had to enter the school past protesters amplifying L.M.’s words.

This is nonsense.

First, this kid is not open to changing his views, nor is he parroting his parents' views. We know this because the opinion quotes his long social-media post defending the t-shirt as expressing his views and not "targeting" anyone, comparing it to how he feels seeing Pride flags and diversity posters. (Put aside the specious comparison between a message with which you disagree and a message that targets someone's existence and identity). L.M. is locked in and is not going to change his mind if other students "debate" him or civilly challenge his views. In fact, I expect he would scream that he had been targeted (if not canceled) if many students challenged him. Relatedly, I think L.M. has pretty good reason to be pissed at the judge for that statement, which basically suggests that he is parroting his parents views and does not really believe or share them and could be swayed with a bit of the right discussion.

Second, the school does not want to become a debate society--math class is for teaching math and gym class is for sports, not for debating the finer points of gender identity. So the judge's proffered solution--students engaging with L.M. about the error in his views on gender--disrupts the educational process. And even Tinker allows the school to limit student speech to avoid disruption. So the school should allow L.M. to wear the shirt, then allow the educational process to be disrupted--therefore justifying prohibiting him from wearing the shirt.

Third, accepting some essential constitutional commitment to debate, what is the purpose of that debate and who does the debate convince--my interlocutor or my audience? In challenging L.M. on issues of gender, does little Sally seek to convince L.M.? Or does she seek to convince other students that L.M. is wrong? The judge assumed # 1. But that reflects a different understanding of debate and speech, distinct from the marketplace and more-speech visions of Holmes and Brandeis. The question for them was whether a speaker's bad message could be countered and what message the public would accept--neither care whether Abrams or Whitney changed their minds.

Fourth, rather than giving students a chance to debate-and-persuade the Unpersuadable L.M., allowing the t-shirt gives students the opportunity to decide (if they so choose) that L.M. is a provocative jerk and that they want nothing to do with him. Or to criticize him for these views. While I expect L.M. and his supporters would shout "cancel culture," this case illustrates why much of what people deride as cancellation is "more speech." L.M. has a right to express his views--including, I believe, on a t-shirt in school. He does not have a right to speak free of other people adopting negative views of him and acting on those views.

Fifth, the result surprises me. I thought there had been a sea change in t-shirt cases, in which "people feel offended" and "people are talking about and objecting to the kid's t-shirt" was not sufficient. That is, the Tinker framework does not authorize an actual heckler's veto--the school silencing speech because it offends or angers the audience. But the court relied on First Circuit precedent allowing restriction on a showing of disruption or that the speech invades the rights of others. Although the shirt did not target any identifiable person, the shirt invaded the rights of students who identify differently to attend school without being confronted by messages attacking their identities.*

[*] Going back to my first point and to this post, does the judge believe it better for students who identify differently to allow the shirt and compel them to debate their identities, hoping to convince L.M. to change his mind about their humanity?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 21, 2023 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Trump is not a legislator engaged in legislative speech or debate

Republican Rep. Thomas Massie decided that the best way to support Donald Trump was to tweet that "under the Constitution, no member of Congress can be prosecuted for reading aloud on the floor any of the documents Trump allegedly has copies of." Naturally, people jumped on this. So let's be clear:

First, he is correct. The leading Speech or Debate precedent arises from a Senator and his aide reading portions of the Pentagon Papers at a subcommittee meeting and entering 47 volumes into the public record. The Court said "[w]e have no doubt that Senator Gravel may not be made to answer either in terms of questions or in terms of defending himself from prosecution -- for the events that occurred at the subcommittee meeting." That principle applies, even more so, to events on the House floor.

Second, what is Massie's point? The Speech or Debate Clause speaks of Senators and Gravel extends protection to senatorial aides; Trump is neither. And Gravel held that immunity did not protect possession publication of the papers outside of the legislative process--such as in bathrooms at Mar-a-Lago or conversations with reporters in New Jersey. So whatever Massie can do on the House floor is irrelevant to whether Donald Trump mishandled classified documents.

Maybe Massie knows that. He definitely knows that Trump supports do not know that. And that is the point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2023 at 07:17 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haaland: Standing, or why didn't the entire case have to come through state court

Haaland v. Brackeen rejected (7-2) a constitutional challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act. The relevant plaintiffs were the State of Texas and three sets of adoptive, foster, or birth parents; the defendants were the Secretary of the Interior and various federal officials; the lawsuit was filed in federal district court. The Court rejected the challenge to the placement-preference provision for lack of standing, finding that an injunction or DJ as to the validity of that provision would not redress the plaintiffs' injuries; any injuries arose from the action of state judges applying ICWA and state officials enforce state-court orders, none of whom were parties to the case and none of whom were bound by any judgment. That the state officials likely would follow the federal court's opinion does not establish standing; in  music to my ears, Justice Barrett wrote "[i]t is a federal court’s judgment, not its opinion, that remedies an injury."

But the Court reached, and rejected, the merits of challenges to the entire statute under the Indian Commerce Clause and under Tenth Amendment anticommandeering to the requirements in involuntary proceedings; to placement preferences; and to certain record-keeping requirements. At least as to the latter two, the Court relied on anticommandeering's unique non-application to state courts, which must apply federal law in all cases before it as the supreme law of the land.

What I do not understand is how these plaintiffs had standing to bring a federal suit in federal district court to challenge any of these provisions on any grounds. All claims suffer the same redressability problems--the plaintiffs suffer an injury when non-party state judges apply ICWA to decide cases and non-party state officials enforce those judgments. So it seems to me this entire case should have had to come through state court--a state family court decides an adoption/placement case applying ICWA; the parents (and the State, if so inclined) argue that ICWA is constitutionally invalid and cannot be applied; the loser(s) appeal through the state system and ultimately to SCOTUS, which decides these constitutional issues in the course of reviewing a state judgment applying that law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2023 at 06:34 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 09, 2023

§ 1983 enforcement survives, for the moment

The Court decided HHC v. Talevski Thursday, seven months to the day after argument. Here is my SCOTUSBlog analysis. The Court held 7-2 (by Jackson) that Spending Clause enactments are enforceable through § 1983 and that Federal Nursing Home Reform Act ("FNHRA") can be enforced through § 1983. I suppose I understand the delay. Thomas wrote a 36-page dissent tracing the history and evolution of the Spending Clause to argue that spending enactments do not "secure" legal statutory rights, only contractual rights, otherwise such rights violate anti-commandeering. Alito (joined by Thomas) dissented to argue that FNHRA is not enforceable because Congress intended to preclude § 1983 enforcement. Gorsuch and Barrett (with the Chief) joined the majority but added short concurrences.

The title of the posts suggests the reprieve to private enforcement may be temporary. Five justices wrote various things suggesting a narrow approach to private enforcement of Spending Clause laws, if not an intent to eliminate it. Thomas made his position clear. Gorsuch's one-paragraph concurrence spoke of "issues lurking" that petitioners failed to develop--namely, the anti-commandeering concerns Thomas discussed. In other words, Gorsuch might agree with Thomas in a different-and-better-litigated case. Barrett and Roberts went out of their way to remind courts to "tread carefully before concluding that Spending Clause statutes may be enforced through §1983." And Alito believes that a combination of state law proceedings and internal grievances sufficient to preclude federal litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 9, 2023 at 09:33 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Policy and Identity

In an article on cancel culture in the Journal of Free Speech Law, Thomas Kelly illustrates cancel culture by arguing that a

"relevant test for today’s college students would be the extent to which they are willing to tolerate speakers who earnestly argue for propositions such as the following:

  1. (1)  That people who are currently in the United States illegally should be deported to their country of origin.

  2. (2)  That affirmative action should be abolished because it unjustly discriminates against whites and Asians.

  3. (3)  That for any adult person, having been born biologically female is both a necessary and sufficient condition for being a woman.

  4. (4)  That the fact that different racial groups are incarcerated at different rates does not primarily reflect racial injustice in the criminal justice system but rather that the groups commit serious crimes at different rates, something that is not itself due to racial injustice.

According to Kelly, these reflect four contestable questions. And college students' intolerance for their expression reflects cancel culture--disrespect for free speech and intolerance for competing ideas. Except one of these things is not like the other. Numbers 1, 2, and 4 involve questions of public policy--how government and government institutions should address particular problems (unlawful entry to the country, crime, opportunities to participate in institutions), the best policy choices, and what those choices tell us about those institutions. Number 3 involves a pure question of identity--it denies that trans people exist. A person's existence should not be debatable and should not be a question of policy.

I do not suggest that # 3 enjoys less constitutional protection or that a speaker should be barred from campus for expressing # 3. I do suggest that debating identity cannot be conflated with debating immigration policy or even debating the policy consequences of identity, such as athletic participation. The constant failure to distinguish these--especially as to LGBTQ+ people--is telling.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 8, 2023 at 10:07 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Kagan on Velazquez and Bacon (and Lain on Cortada)

 Justice Kagan devotes the final ten pages of her Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith dissent (begin at p. 25) to illustrating the "dramatic" effects of the majority's (narrow?) approach to the first fair use factor. Using examples in literature, music, and art, she discusses historic examples of work building on prior work; her premise is that that the majority's approach would not see the later work as transformative and thus as fair use, because both create something to be sold.

On pp. 32-34, she compares Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X with Bacon's "Study After Velazque's Portrait of Pope Innocent X" (commonly known as "Screaming Pope").

Miami artist Xavier Cortada's May It Please the Court depicts ten SCOTUS cases originating in Florida; the paintings hang on the walls of FIU College of Law. Here is the piece for Proffitt v. Florida, which riffed on Bacon's painting:

CortadaproffittIn Painting Constitutional Law (edited with my colleague Matthew Mirow), Corinna Lain (Richmond) wrote a wonderful essay on Proffitt and how Bacon's painting and Cortada's painting explore "pain, imprisonment, isolation and obfuscation," which constitute "larger themes of the death penalty as well."

If Kagan is right that Bacon's painting cannot happen, then neither can this.

 

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 18, 2023 at 01:57 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Challenging private enforcement

Rocky and I discussed this in our SMU piece, but I have been thinking about it more of late.

B8 and other exclusive-private-enforcement (or "vigilante federalism") draw two related-but-distinct objections. They force rights-holders to litigate their rights defensively, cutting off most offensive litigation; while offensive litigation is not constitutionally required, it offers certain advantages, notably not forcing rights-holders to "act at their peril" as a condition of litigating their rights. And they force rights-holders to litigate in state court.

The second objection arises from two limits on federal jurisdiction--the Well-Pleaded Complaint Rule and Article III standing. Both prevent the defendant/rights-holder from removing a state-court action to federal court. Under the WPC, federal jurisdiction requires the federal issue to appear in the complaint; the rights-holder's federal defense does not provide a basis for federal jurisdiction and thus for removal. And laws allowing "any person" to sue cannot be in federal court even absent the WPC, because a random "any person" plaintiff likely does not have Article III standing (even if he might have standing under more forgiving state law).

Of course, both judge-made limits on federal jurisdiction suffer from significant problems. The WPC arguably undermines the purposes of federal question jurisdiction (uniformity, expertise, respect); those needs are present regardless of the procedural posture in which the federal issue arises. A defendant needs expertise for a federal defense as much as a plaintiff needs expertise for a federal claim. Standing is stupid and not really jurisdictional, as I have argued. And even if jurisdictional, Andy Hessick argues that federal courts should apply state standing rules in diversity cases. Without both stupid doctrines, the defendant could remove the vigilante-federalism action and litigate in federal court, where she has a (perhaps) fairer and less-captured forum and a shorter path to SCOTUS.

This does not address the first objection--rights-holders should not be forced into defensive litigation. But the question is what is the real objection?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 30, 2023 at 11:09 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 27, 2023

More on write-in ballots

Building on Gerard's post, I wrote this in 2016 and this in 2014 about limitations on write-in voting under Florida law (the later post has some useful reader comments addressing Gerard's question). F0rmer Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wanted to write-in Jeb Bush for president in 2016; I wanted to avoid voting for Ros-Lehtinen in 2014. Florida law requires "write-in candidates" to qualify in advance (so they are not really write-in candidates in the sense Gerard describes). Florida excludes uncontested elections from the ballot because the voter has no choice but the unopposed candidate. Both reflect a prohibition on "let me write in a random name on election day."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 27, 2023 at 02:06 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Roberts to Durbin: Drop Dead

Chief Justice Roberts "respectfully decline[d]" Sen. Durbin's "invitation" to appear before a Senate committee to discuss the wave of ethics concerns surrounding the Court. The letter included a new statement of ethics principles, signed by the nine Justices. Citing "separation of powers concerns and the importance of judicial independence," Roberts (ever the wannabee-but-incomplete-historian, as per his Year-End Reports) recites a laundry list of the times in which the Chief Justice or President has testified before congressional committees, as all were on "mundane matters of judicial administration." Imagine a student whose answer begins and ends with "this has not happened before on a matter this serious, therefore it cannot happen now."

Of course, my students take class assignments more seriously than the Chief Justice of the United States takes a request from the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee about a public controversy that undermines the Court's shaky reputation. Roberts' statement rests on a series of unspoken principles that capture the political and constitutional moment.

• Because the Supreme Court is constitutionally required, it is not subject to any congressional control or oversight. Roberts could put off Durbin on the barest of reasons. Durbin declined to "invite" Justice Thomas because he knew Thomas would refuse to accept. Steve Vladeck has a thread on this, arguing for considering the separation-of-powers issue in its full historical context, not of the uniquely modern-and-unchecked Court.

• I do not know how the Court would react if Congress tried to bring back some control--for example, expanding the Court's mandatory docket or reinstating circuit riding (whatever that might mean without the old circuit courts). Would the Justices push back against this rejection of the Court as a complete government in itself, despite the historical pedigree?

• A subpoena is not coming, which is why Roberts does not fear escalation. Committee Republicans will not agree to a subpoena and Durbin lacks the political will to try. Anyway, Roberts would sue to challenge it, arguing that it lacks any legitimate legislative purpose (because of separation of powers and SCOTUS's special place and the historical fact that no CJ has been subpoenaed). At worst, he ties it up until the end of the Congress. At best, no district judge would deny that injunction. Recall Roberts' opinion in Mazars and the deep distrust of congressional (as opposed to judicial) subpoenas. (Side point: I remain unable to square Speech or Debate immunity with the right to pre-enforcement challenges of subpoenas).

• The triumph of the Levinson/Pildes separation-of-parties thesis, introduced in 2006 (another lifetime) but truer than ever. Madison and Hamilton's assumed that Congress would destroy a Chief Justice and Court that rejected Congress' constitutional role in this way--Congress acted as an institution to check other institutions. But the introduction of organized--and ideological--parties destroys that framework. Senate Republicans do not see the (Republican-appointed) Justicses' actions as the problem to be investigated and checked; they see their Senate colleagues' actions as the problem to be resisted, making life difficult for their ideological compatriots in the other branches.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 26, 2023 at 10:46 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 24, 2023

Social media and state action

The court granted cert in a case from the Ninth Circuit (finding state action) and a case from the Sixth Circuit (finding no state action and taking a very different analytical approach).

Beyond the conclusion, I am concerned for how the Court approaches this. Some lower courts apply a "close nexus" test, which usually applies to purely private actors engaging in private conduct having some government connection or requirement. The analysis here should be different, where the defendant is a government employee/official and the question is whether that official status enabled his conduct. These cases should look more like rogue or off-duty cops, as opposed to labor unions collecting fees through a government-controlled process. It is a subtle difference, but it is more than semantic.

On the other hand, dammit--the publisher said no substantive changes on these edits.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 24, 2023 at 10:57 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Viewpoint discrimination in synagogue protests (Updated)

I have written the past couple years about ongoing anti-Israel (drifting many descending into blatant anti-Semitic) protests outside an Ann Arbor synagogue. Several congregation members brought a tort claim against the protesters. The claim (rightfully) failed in the Sixth Circuit. Ronald Lewin, a veteran religious-liberty litigator, sought cert, arguing that protest (at least the sort of obnoxious protests at issue here) should be prohibited outside houses of worship, as obnoxious protests are prohibited outside reproductive-health facilities. SCOTUS denied cert.

But then we have this story-- a gay Orthodox Jew has protested outside a Florida Orthodox shul every Shabbat and holy day, after the rabbi asked him and husband not to return because homosexuality violates Jewish law. I cannot identify a more appropriate place for this protest, showing the problem with Lewin's categorical bar. And if this protest is ok, we encounter obvious and egregious content (if not viewpoint) discrimination.

Update: An Ann Arbor resident suggests I understated the anti-Semitic nature of some of the protesters and signs (such as "Jewish power corrupts"), so I amended my language accordingly.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 19, 2023 at 11:43 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 17, 2023

FIRE adopts preferred first speaker

According to FIRE Executive VP Nico Perrino, in an op-ed endorsed by the Chief of the LAPD. Here is the central basis for the claim:

Protesters have every right to engage in peaceful, nondisruptive protest. But they do not have the right to take over someone else’s event and make it their own. This is a basic point, and we understand it in almost every other context. Nobody argues that you have a free speech right to stand up during a Broadway musical and sing along with the actors or to scream at a public library book reading.

Just because the public is invited to attend an event — and sometimes to speak during a Q&A period — does not make it the public’s event to disrupt or transform as it pleases. Your distaste for a speaker doesn’t grant you a right to prevent a willing audience from listening to that speaker.

There must be places in a free and pluralistic society where groups can freely associate and share ideas without first seeking approval from a crowd of hecklers. Colleges are such spaces. It’s the very reason they exist.

The first speaker has full First amendment rights and can say or not say what he wants. Counter-speech is proscribed--peaceful (must all speech be "peaceful') and not interfering with the first speaker (who presumably can speak over the counter-speaker). Maybe the counter-speaker has a right to speak during Q&A. But the first speaker controls who gets to speak in that window and presumably can ignore any counter-speaker or any audience member who wants to challenge what he says.

Perrino works off the paradigm of the Judge Duncan/Stanford debacle--invited speaker in a reserved speaking space on a college campus with an audience space that likely is a non-public forum.I see three big problems with Perrino's argument. But he draws from that paradigm a general principle: counter-speaking to and over a speaker in the moment is not protected speech.

I see several problems with that focus and that conclusion.

 

1) Perrino may be broadly right about that paradigm. He tries to bolster the point that "[n]obody argues that you have a free speech right to stand up during a Broadway musical and sing along with the actors," bolstered by a recent story about audience members singing "I Will Always Love You" during the finale of the show The Bodyguard.

Rather than "heckling is never protected speech," a better framing is "heckling is protected speech, but it yields to content-neutral rules in a forum." This may seem semantic, but semantics matter. A rock concert is protected speech, although it may have to follow neutral noise regulations; driving around town playing music and speaking through a speaker is protected speech, although it may yield to neutral noise regulations. If heckling is never free speech,  it remains unprotected when the forum-and its rules and expectations--changes. While the audience should not sing along at a musical, the audience does (and the performers expect the audience to) sing along at a rock concert in the same theatre. Cheering speech at a soccer match looks different than cheering speech at golf tournament.

2) The premise that "heckling is never protected speech" affects what counter-speakers must do and the form of counter-speech FIRE's solution is the alternative program--find a room elsewhere and express your ideas to a separate audience. But that is not counter-speech or protest, as it does not allow counter-speakers to be heard by, respond to, or protest their target.

Counter-speakers could instead take to a nearby public forum (e.g., a public campus space near the building containing the reserved space) and protest there. But Perrino's view forecloses that option. If heckling is never protected speech, then counter-protesters cannot heckle in a traditional public forum; the original rally or demonstration remains s "someone else's event" that counter-speakers "take over" (at least to the extent they are loud and can be heard). That traditional public forums allow for competing groups to be heard or that the rules account for "prolonged, raucous, boisterous demonstrations" does not appear to matter.

Worse, it carries to speakers and counter-speakers occupying the same public forum. Thus, counter-protesters on the of the U Va sidewalks cannot outnumber and outspeak the Proud Boys walking on the campus streets chanting "Jews will not replace us." Pro-equality protesters on the sidewalks around city hall cannot outnumber and outspeak the Klan or Nazis holding a rally on the steps. Students at FIU cannot outnumber and outspeak the bigoted "preacher" using the quad. This is an impoverished view of the role of counter-speech.

3) Perrino's analysis is incomplete within his reserved-classroom paradigm because he does not define "peaceful" or "nondisruptive." If peaceful means non-violent, the word does nothing--neither original nor counter speech can be violent. If peaceful means silent or nonverbal, that proves too much. Audience members can react out-loud to speech--booing, hissing--up to some undefined point of disruption. (Stanford Dean Jenny Martinez recognized this in her post-Duncan letter). No one has defined disruption--whether it means preventing the reserved event but does not include momentary reactions that cause the speaker to pause or delay but that do not undermine the event.

Positive non-silent reactions--applause, laughter, cheers, snaps--may cause the speaker to pause or delay; speakers build those delays into their speeches. If the forum rules prohibit non-silent reactions, they must prohibit positive and negative reactions. Otherwise, the rules cease to be viewpoint neutral, as required in a non-public forum.

4) Perrino doubled-down in a Twitter thread, arguing "[i]f you take over someone else's event, call it what it is: punishable civil disobedience, not free speech." On this point, I would recommend Jenny Carroll's (Alabama) forthcoming Yale L.J.  article arguing for a First Amendment civil-disobedience affirmative defense to crimes (e.g., trespassing) arising during protests; the idea is to allow juries to consider the expressive nature of the person's (prohibited) conduct and acquit accordingly. I wonder how the defense would apply in the context of a disruptive counter-protester.

5) That the police chief seized on the simplest version of Perrino's argument--based on the headline that Perrino may not have written--raises further red flags.

6) Perrino (and FIRE) overuse "heckler's veto." Perrino criticizes those who argue that hecking is "'more speech,' not an attempt to carry out a 'heckler’s veto' on the speaker." A heckler's veto occurs when government silences a speaker out of fear of the audience reaction to speech. It might extend to a complete prohibition on a speaker (e.g., the speaker must cancel the event) where government officials fail to enforce a forum's regulations against a hostile audience; Duncan could have become a heckler's veto had the students pushed further. Absent government action and the speaker being prevented from speaking, it is neither fair nor appropriate to call counter-speech a heckler's veto. This framing accepts and instantiates the preferred speaker. It assumes a  "first" speaker and gives him preferred status. It assumes that one speaker has priority, that anyone on the other side is a heckler rather than a speaker, and they censor, rather than counter-speaking or presenting competing ideas, censor. The Proud Boys at U Va have priority over their critics, their critics are not speakers, and their critics do something wrong by appearing in larger numbers and  uttering their message more forcefully.

7) I have made this point before. Under Perrino's argument, the pro-Ally/anti-Nazi patrons of Rick's engaged in a heckler's veto or acted as censors here. Or the rules of Rick's as a forum are different than the rules of a classroom at Stanford Law School. But the "heckling is not free speech" cannot stand as a blanket principle.

 

I plan to return to the preferred first speaker this summer, although I have been struggling to figure out how to approach the problem. This offers some organizational ideas.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 17, 2023 at 10:01 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Preemption Procedure: A Comment on the Shugerman-Kovarsky Debate in People v. Trump

Is People v. Donald J. Trump, No. 71543-23 (N.Y. Co. Sup. Ct.) preempted? This question has generated much debate, but is unlikely derail the ongoing state prosecution, at least procedurally.

The defendant is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. The offense is raised to the level of a felony, the indictment charges, because the “intent to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.” The issue is that underlying facts may involve a federal election offense. Prof. Jed Shugerman has pointed out that the federal election law has an express preemption provision, and New York State election law has a separate provision acknowledging the primacy of federal law. Accordingly, there is a potential preemption problem which, according to Prof. Shugerman, might mean that “the case is headed to federal court for a year.” Prof. Lee Kovarsky responded with a persuasive argument that states can sometimes use even preempted federal offenses for their own purposes. No one questions, for example, that a New York attorney convicted of an offense within exclusive federal jurisdiction could nevertheless be disbarred. Prof. Kovarsky writes: “To my knowledge, in no case has a court even suggested that a federal crime can't be an element of a different state offense just because the federal crime falls within the scope of preemptive federal authority.” This seems a hard question. If I were in the NY Co. DA's Office, I would strive mightily to elide it and find safe, state crime.

Nevertheless, whatever the ultimate merits, I do not see how the defendant gets an injunction. True, earlier proceedings related to this very matter, namely, a New York grand jury subpoena, were subject to a prolonged stay as the Supreme Court considered the case. On the merits, the Court ultimately allowed the subpoena. Critically, the stay was based on a circumstance no longer present: Trump was then President. The Court explained: “The Supremacy Clause prohibits state judges and prosecutors from interfering with a President's official duties. . . . federal law allows a President to challenge any allegedly unconstitutional influence in a federal forum, as the President has done here.” Trump v. Vance, 140 S. Ct. 2412, 2428–29 (2020). Vance is not precedent for an injunction to protect a private citizen. There was also the stay of enforcement of a House of Representatives subpoena. But there, the question was not preemption, but “whether the subpoenas exceed the authority of the House under the Constitution.” Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, 140 S. Ct. 2019, 2029 (2020).

Instead, the case now seemingly presents an ordinary claim of preemption in a state prosecution of a private citizen. In that context, 28 U.S.C. § 2283 provides: “A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.”

The possibility that a state prosecution is preempted, standing alone, is not a ticket to federal court:

[A] federal court does not have inherent power to ignore the limitations of § 2283 and to enjoin state court proceedings merely because those proceedings interfere with a protected federal right or invade an area pre-empted by federal law, even when the interference is unmistakably clear. Rather, when a state proceeding presents a federal issue, even a preemption issue, the proper course is to seek resolution of that issue by the state court.

Bess v. Spitzer, 459 F. Supp. 2d 191, 201–02 (E.D.N.Y. 2006), as amended (Jan. 30, 2007) (quoting Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140, 149–50 (1988)). 

Another judicially recognized exception exists where the defendant proves that a prosecution was “brought in bad faith or is only one of a series of repeated prosecutions,” or that there is otherwise “irreparable injury, above and beyond that associated with the defense of a single prosecution brought in good faith.” Schlagler v. Phillips, 166 F.3d 439, 442 (2d Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). See also Jordan v. Bailey, 570 F. App'x 42, 44 (2d Cir. 2014). “Bad faith” in in this context means “without hope of obtaining a valid conviction.” Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 85 (1971).

No exception seems to exist. There appears to be no act of Congress providing for federal judicial intervention, and no past or present litigation of these facts for a federal court to protect. Although there is debate about what is required to convict of the offense of falsifying business records, and even more mystery about what the People plan to prove, there is no indication that the prosecution has no chance of success, or is the latest in a series of failed, harassing prosecutions. Accordingly, any preemption issue should be addressed “by the state court.” State rulings would be "subject, of course, to review by . . . [the Supreme] Court or, in a proper case, on federal habeas corpus." 401 U.S. at 85.

One circumstance which neither constitutes bad faith nor tends to support a separate defense is the selective prosecution argument which may be in the offing. Federal constitutional law precedents allow selection of prominent individuals for prosecution. As Wesley Snipes learned to his dismay in a tax case, “[s]ince the government lacks the means to investigate and prosecute every suspected violation of the tax laws, it makes good sense to prosecute those who will receive, or are likely to receive, the attention of the media.” United States v. Snipes, No. 5:06-CR-22-OC-10GRJ, 2007 WL 2572198, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 5, 2007) (quoting United States v. Catlett, 584 F.2d 864, 868 (8th Cir.1978)). See also United States v. Edenfield, 995 F.2d 197, 200 (11th Cir. 1993) (“For law enforcement officers to choose to investigate prominent offenders is nothing unusual or evil.”)

The limited New York authority on prosecuting celebrities I could find is to the same effect: “assuming the decision to prosecute was based on the fact that the defendants were prominent and newsworthy, this is also not an impermissible basis for selection . . . Publication of the proceedings may enhance the deterrent effect of the prosecution and maintain public faith in the precept that [others] are not above the law.” People v. DiLorenzo, 153 Misc. 2d 1021, 1029–30, 585 N.Y.S.2d 670, 675 (Crim. Ct. Bx. Co.1992) (citing People v. Barnwell, 143 Misc.2d 922, 541 N.Y.S.2d 664 (Crim. Ct. N.Y. Co. 1989)). There is also one lower court case more or less endorsing the the proposition that it is permissible to target individuals for enforcement because they are suspected of other crimes. See People v. Mantel, 88 Misc. 2d 439, 443, 388 N.Y.S.2d 565, 569 (Crim. Ct. N.Y. Co. 1976) (citing United States v. Sacco, 428 F.2d 264, 271 (9th Cir. 1970) (“selection of this defendant for intensive investigation was based on his suspected role in organized crime”) Stuart Green has written thoughtfully about whether prosecuting celebrities and the prominent is consistent with criminal law principles, but the doctrine seems to allow it. Stuart P. Green, Uncovering the Cover-Up Crimes, 42 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 9, 42 (2005).

If the defendant could show that other, similarly-situated offenders who were members of different political parties were not prosecuted by the same office, then that would raise a substantial issue. United States v. Hastings, 126 F.3d 310, 313 (4th Cir. 1997) (citing, inter alia, United States v. Berrios, 501 F.2d 1207, 1211 (2d Cir.1974)). But such claims have historically proved difficult to establish. United States v. Lazzaro, No. 21-CR-0173 (PJS/DTS), 2022 WL 16948157 (D. Minn. Nov. 15, 2022); United States v. Woods, 319 F. Supp. 3d 1124, 1141 (W.D. Ark. 2018), aff'd sub nom. United States v. Paris, 954 F.3d 1069 (8th Cir. 2020), and aff'd, 978 F.3d 554 (8th Cir. 2020); United States v. Young, 231 F. Supp. 3d 33, 43 (M.D. La. 2017); United States v. Cameron, 658 F. Supp. 2d 241, 243 (D. Me. 2009).

Posted by Jack Chin on April 9, 2023 at 09:53 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

District Court gets defensive/offensive right--standing still sucks

In 2021, I wrote about an Eighth Circuit case in a challenge to Arkansas' exclusive-private-enforcement ag-gag law. An animal-rights organization brought an offensive challenge to the law against several farm owners/potential plaintiffs. A divided court found the chilling effect of the law and the threat of suit established injury-in-fact for standing. I criticized this focus on standing, because the plaintiffs had no § 1983 cause of action against non-state actors; the court did not address that issue because it went to the merits and standing serves as a threshold.

The district court corrected that on remand. It granted defendant's motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiffs cannot satisfy § 1983 because the would-be state-law plaintiff does not act under color. The court further rejected plaintiff's argument that in finding an injury the court found state action. While the issues can be "one-and-the-same," the finding of a threshold does not necessarily satisfy the element. Nevertheless, that the plaintiff raised and thought the argument could work shows how far the law of standing has constitutionalized an essentially merits inquiry and needlessly complicated constitutional litigation.The court also explains offensive and defensive litigation and when only one is available--why state action allowing a defense does not equate with state action/under color allowing an offensive action, why every case plaintiff cites arose defensively and thus does not support the § 1983 argument it attempts to make, and why a Fourth Circuit offensive action against a state agency with state-law enforcement power does not support an offensive action against a private would-be plaintiff.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 4, 2023 at 02:47 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 24, 2023

How else are you supposed to do it?

Journalist Jason Garcia is upset that the Speaker of the Florida House acknowledged that the bill altering state defamation law is "intentionally unconstitutional" and designed to trigger litigation and provide SCOTUS an opportunity to overrule New York Times and other defamation precedent.

Put aside that "intentionally unconstitutional" should mean, at most, "unconstitutional as judicial precedent understands the First Amendment" and that a legislature can hold and act on competing constitutional understandings. But even at the most judicial supremacist, what else is a legislature supposed to do if it believes judicial precedent wrong and wants to challenge (and change) it? If a state cannot do what Florida is trying here,  judicial supremacy means the popular branches lack the power to disagree with the judicial understanding or to create mechanisms to express that disagreement and urge the court to change path. The Court's word is not only final but unchanging and irrevocable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 24, 2023 at 06:03 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)