Friday, November 08, 2019

State-level universality

Much of the controversy over "nationwide" or "universal" injunctions has arisen in suits challenging federal las and regulations. But the reason for finding and using the appropriate nomenclature is that the real problem--injunctions protecting beyond the plaintiffs--can arise in challenges to all laws at all levels.

A divided Eighth Circuit addressed this in Rodgers v. Bryant, a challenge by two individual beggars (their term) to Arkansas's anti-loitering law. The district court granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting all enforcement and the majority of the court of appeals affirmed, relying on the district court finding that the law is "plainly unconstitutional," so it should not be enforced against anyone. Even the courts most willing to issue non-particularized injunctions in challenges to federal law have advanced beyond "the law violates the Constitution, so it can't be enforced against anyone" rationale.

Dissenting, Judge David Stras gets it perfectly right--the district court granted a universal preliminary injunction, prohibiting state police from "enforcing the law against anyone, anywhere, at any time based on the harm faced by two individual plaintiffs." It is "universal" in that it protects the universe of people who might be subject to Arkansas law-as universal as the travel ban, only applicable to a smaller universe.

Stras examines the history equity to conclude that such non-particularized relief was not proper in individual actions and that equity's representative actions are now reflected in FRCP 23. Stras also hits the essential point that there is no reason to believe (and neither the district court nor the majority found) that "safeguarding Rodgers’s and Dilbeck’s right to speak somehow depends on preventing enforcement of the anti-loitering law against anyone else." The plaintiffs, he argued, sued to vindicate their own rights, so they obtain "complete relief" from an injunction protecting them from arrest under the statute.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 8, 2019 at 07:38 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Allen v. Cooper argument review

My SCOTUSBlog review of Tuesday's argument. It seems pretty clear the Court is going to reverse--only Justice Alito pushed petititoner's counsel and he seemed just as suspicious of the arguments from counsel for the state. Four justices--Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Kavanaugh--all expressed different versions of a suspicion that the state was asking for a license to violate rights.

A few interesting stray comments and exchanges from the state's side. The first was his assumption that sovereign immunity only bars claims for damages but no injunction relief; this is true in effect because of Ex Parte Young, but not true as a matter of formal sovereign immunity doctrine. The other was the Court's response to the state's argument that, even if the state cannot be sued, the individual infringing officers can be sued, while conceding they will be indemnified and may enjoy qualified immunity. That last point raised the Chief's hackles--he did not seem to buy an individual suit as an alternative if the officer would be immune; counsel for the state argued that the showing for an intentional infringement (and thus a due process violation) is the same as the showing for clearly established, so any officer claiming immunity likely did not violate due process. Anyway, that was the most exorcised the Chief has been about an officer enjoying qualified immunity.

And, of course, I could not resist some pirate jokes.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 6, 2019 at 11:52 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Why not standing?

The problem with standing is not only that it is an improperly constitutiuonalized merits inquiry. It also is the inconsistency in the movement between standing and merits. Take this unpublished Third Circuit decision. Plaintiffs are anti-choice advocates who with to engage in sidewalk counseling through one-on-one conversations with entering clinic patients. The court performed a limiting construction on the statute, reading it (as it had done a similar ordinance in another case) as not reaching one-on-one sidewalk counseling.

But then shouldn't the result have been that the plaintiffs lacked standing? The conduct in which they intended to engage was not prohibited or regulated by the statute (as interpreted), so they were not suffering an injury-in-fact fairly traceable to the conduct of enforcing that statute, since that statute could not be enforced against them. At least that is how some courts resolve similar cases. And if not standing (as, normatively, it is not), that should mean that all of this is a question of the scope of the challenged law and the scope of constitutional rights?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 23, 2019 at 04:26 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Universal injunctions and mootness

A divided Ninth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the new regulations regarding the ACA contraception mandate. One issue in the case, which the court ordered briefed, is whether a universal injunction issued by a different district court (and affirmed by the Third Circuit) moots this case. Because the plaintiffs are protected by the other injunction, a Ninth Circuit ruling will not change their situation. (H/T: Brian Cardile of the Daily Journal).

The majority held the case not moot, although some of its analysis does not capture the issue. The court began by discussing the risk of conflicting injunctions, which is not the issue here--the denial of the injunction in the Ninth Circuit would not conflict in the sense of creating competing obligations--the Third Circuit injunction obligates (or restrains) the government from acting as to anyone in the universe, so nothing the Ninth Circuit does changes that. The court also spoke about the territorial limits about its injunction, ignoring that the issue is not geographic where but party who. It said that the injunctions "complement each other and do not conflict." In fact, however, it is not that they complement--it is that they repeat one another, because the Third Circuit universal injunction, which protects the California plaintiffs, renders a second injunction unnecessary.

The majority avoided mootness by applying capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review. The Third Circuit injunction is preliminary (thus of limited duration) and before SCOTUS on a cert petition, both of which could result in the vacatur of its injunction or at least of its universality. The injury would not be capable of repetition only if the Third Circuit turned this into a universal permanent injunction, which is speculative and far off.

Judge Kleinfeld dissented on mootness, standing, and the merits. As to the different injunctions, he gets it:

That nationwide injunction means that the preliminary injunction before us is entirely without effect. If we affirm, as the majority does, nothing is stopped that the Pennsylvania injunction has not already stopped. Were we to reverse, and direct that the district court injunction be vacated, the rule would still not go into effect, because of the Pennsylvania injunction. Nothing the district court in our case did, or that we do, matters. We are talking to the air, without practical consequence. Whatever differences there may be in the reasoning for our decision and the Third Circuit’s have no material significance, because they do not change the outcome at all; the new regulation cannot come into effect.

This is correct and a proper recognition of what happens when courts take universality seriously.

I am not sure if the proper conclusion is that the appeal becomes constitutionally moot (I am not a fan of justiciability doctrines). Or, as Sam Bray argues, this is a good reason the Ninth Circuit should have stayed its hand.

Update: I took a quick look at the Third Circuit decision affirming the injunction. It misses the point, talking about people who work in different states than they live and the problem of geographic limitations. Again, however, the problem is not where. A protected plaintiff (including a state) is protected everywhere.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 22, 2019 at 04:33 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, October 07, 2019

District court abstains in Trump subpoena case (Fast Update)

The Southern District of New York abstained under Younger from a federal lawsuit by the President seeking to stop enforcement of a New York grand-jury subpoena seeking 8 years of Trump tax returns and financial records. The court abstained in a meticulous Younger analysis, then explained why the President did not enjoy immunity warranting a preliminary injunction even if it kept the case. The Younger analysis is almost certainly correct. The President's attempt to create an exceptional-circumstances exception by analogizing his immunity to double jeopardy (which some courts have held as a basis for not abstaining) was interesting, but I think properly rejected.

Given Steve's thesis that Trump and his DOJ cannot stand passing through the court of appeals, next step SCOTUS on a petition for cert before judgment?

Quick Update: The Second Circuit stayed the decision. But what did it stay and what does it mean to stay it? The district court abstaining? It makes no sense to "stay" a decision declining to hear a case. The denial of the preliminary injunction, which was arguably dicta? What does the stay of the denial of an injunction do--it can't create the injunction, which was never issued (because the district court lacked the power to issue it). What the Second Circuit wanted to "stay" is the state-court subpoena, but it has no power to do that. Ah, procedure.

Further Update: The Second Circuit order states

Appellant has filed a motion seeking an order temporarily staying enforcement of a subpoena to his accountant. Because of the unique issues raised by this appeal, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that a temporary administrative stay is granted pending expedited review by a panel of the Court.

So the court did stay the subpoena, not the district court order. I have had some conversations with Civ Pro colleagues and the general view is this makes no sense. Administrative stays are routine  as a precursor to turning the stay to a motions panel. But there is nothing to stay here. The court cannot "stay" a dismissal of an action or the denial of an injunction. Now there are mechanisms for the court to do this, namely under the All Writs Act as in aid of the court's appellate jurisdiction. But that is not what Trump asked for (it requested a stay) and the court did not do the (I expect) more complex analysis required before issuing a writ. It seems as if the court took the usual approach to an unusual case. In the routine case, the district court enjoins enforcement of a law or reg and the court of appeals stays that injunction; here, it rotely applied that procedure in a situation that does not match.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2019 at 11:18 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Minding the abstention gaps

I am trying to make heads or tales of this Third Circuit decision, which reveals some problems and holes in abstention.

A family court awarded custody of Malhan's children to Myronova, his ex-wife, ordered him to pay child and spousal support, and to give his ex rental income from their jointly owned properties. Malhan eventually received joint custody (and more than half of residential time) and the court ordered Myronova to return some money. But the court postponed a request to reduce child-support obligations until final judgment (which has not issued), although the children spend more time with Malhan and he earns less money than is ex. At one point Malhan stopped paying child support (in erroneous reliance on a comment by the judge), causing the court to garnish his wages. Malhan sued in federal court, challenging (among other things) the disclosure and administrative levy of his bank accounts, the garnishing of his wages (which order was vacated), and the refusal to allow the plaintiff to claim certain offsets and counterclaims in the state proceedings.

This type of case has been identified as the paradigm Rooker-Feldman case: A party claiming constitutional injury by the custody and similar orders of a state family court. And the district court dismissed the action on that ground. But the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the plaintiff was not a state-court loser because there was no "judgment" from the state court, no order that was final as a formal or practical matter over which SCOTUS might have jurisduction under § 1257. The state proceedings are ongoing--motions are pending, discovery has not closed, no trial is scheduled, and the court has declined to give Malhan relief until that final judgment.

There is a circuit split was to whether Rooker-Feldman applies to interlocutory state-court orders. The Third Circuit adopted the textual argument to say no. RF is based on § 1257 giving SCOTUS exclusive jurisdiction to review state-court judgments; a district court thus lacks jurisdiction to review a challenge to a state-court judgment, which should instead be appealed through the state system and then to SCOTUS. On that view, RF does not apply to state-court orders that could not be appealed to SCOTUS, such as non-final orders.

The argument for RF barring challenges to interlocutory orders relies on the policies underlying RF that federal district courts should not interfere with state-court proceedings or be a forum for obtaining review and relief from state-court decisions. That policy is as offended by an attempt to circumvent state appellate procedure on an interlocutory order as on a final order. One could identify a textual component, tying it to § 1331 granting district court "original" jurisdiction, leaving them without power to, in practice, exercise appellate jurisdiction over a state-court order, even an interlocutory order.

The court rejected an alternate argument that the three claims were barred by Younger. None of the three claims fit the third Younger category of involving "certain orders uniquely in furtherance of the state courts' ability to perform their judicial functions." Count 2 challenged the administrative rules for collecting non-final money judgments; Count 5 challenged orders that are more like final monetary judgments and less like orders (such as contempt or appeal bonds) in furtherance of other judicial orders and thus enabling judicial functions. And the garnishment orders in Count 6 are threatened but not pending, thus federal jurisdiction would not interfere with state-court adjudication of those issues. The Younger analysis probably is correct, although the analysis as to Count 2 seems strained and the analysis and the analysis as to Count 6 suggests the challenge is moot, although the court strains to explain why it is not.

But the case produces a large abstention gap. An ordinary state-court interlocutory order in private civil litigation, one that is not akin to a contempt or appeals-bond order (orders that SCOTUS identified as enabling the state court to operate, as opposed to resolving the particular case), can be challenged in a § 1983 action. But Younger and RF together should mean that state courts must be allowed to decide the cases before them, without interference from federal district courts, subject to eventual review through the state system and to SCOTUS under § 1257. This case may allow substantial number of such cases into federal court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2019 at 07:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Asylum injunction stayed, everyone confused

Sam Bray and I agree on the impropriety of universal injunctions--I am the NAIA version of Sam as opponent of universality. But I disagree with Sam's suggestion that Thursday's SCOTUS order staying the asylum regulations portends the end of universal/nationwide/whatever injunctions. This case is too confused and too much of a procedural and analytical mess to be that vehicle or even the canary in the coal mine.

First, the unstayed injunction that reached SCOTUS had been narrowed in the court of appeals to be circuit-wide rather than nationwide. So nationwideness should not have been an issue in this case. The court was staying a narrow injunction against a federal regulation.

Second, both lower courts had entirely conflated the issues and analysis, I believe because they continue to use the wrong nomenclature. The result was a mess. The modified-but-unstayed injunction that reached SCOTUS protected the named plaintiffs (immigration-rights advocacy organizations) within the Ninth Circuit, making it over- and under-broad. It was overbroad  because it purported to continue to protect non-plaintiffs; it was under-broad in focusing on geography, thus failing to provide sufficient protection to these plaintiffs by not barring enforcement against them everywhere they might operate and be affected by the challenged regs. In fact, Tuesday's order from the trial court reimposing the "nationwide" injunction (by supplementing the record that the Ninth Circuit found failed to support nationwideness) applied the appropriate analysis: It focused on the extra-circuit activities of the four named plaintiffs, that they operated and were injured outside the Ninth Circuit, and thus needed protection in other states; no mention made of protection for non-parties, which is the real problem. And the Ninth Circuit one day later limited that new injunction to the Ninth Circuit--inappropriately, as there were findings that the organizations work outside the Ninth Circuit and thus needed the protections of the injunction outside the circuit.*

[*] The result of this circuit-only approach is that one plaintiff who operates in multiple states must bring multiple actions to obtain complete relief. What should happen is that one plaintiff should have to obtain one injunction for itself, protecting everywhere. The further litigation should be by other plaintiffs, obligated to obtain their own judgment and remedy.

Instead, this seems an example of what Steve wrote about in his forthcoming Harvard piece (which Sotomayor cites in her dissental): The government increasingly seeking, and gaining, extraordinary relief from the Court in constitutional-injunction cases, rather than allowing litigation to proceed in the lower courts. It reflects the Court's general opposition to injunctions against federal regulations (a concern that seems to have begun on January 20, 2017 and likely will end on January 20, 2021). Scope had nothing to do with it.

Process aside, I am not sure the result--stay of the injunction--is not appropriate. I like to apply the chaos theory to the stay question--would allowing the injunction to take effect create irrevocable chaos if the lower court is reversed. On that theory, for example, stays of injunctions were appropriate in the marriage cases, lest the state have to either rescind marriages or have some same-sex couples married by the fortuity of the time that litigation takes. On the other hand, the stay of the injunction was inappropriate in The Wall case, since the harm is irreparable if government funds are unlawfully spent and an environmentally harmful wall is even partially built. As for this case, while the asylum-regs are enjoined, the government must allow this class of people to seek asylum. But there will be chaos in handling this group of people if the injunction is reversed on appeal because the regs are found to be lawful, yet some asylum-seekers are present when they should not have been and would not have been but for the erroneous injunction. I have to think more about that.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 12, 2019 at 07:44 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 05, 2019

"We the People" on universal injunctions

The new episode of the National Constitution Center's "We the People" podcast featured Amanda Frost and I discussing and debating universal injunctions. It was a great conversation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 5, 2019 at 11:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Under color?

An interesting under color question. The officers were in disguise (and thus out of uniform) and presumably off-duty. But their personal vendetta arose from their professional conduct as police officers about which the citizen-victim had complained. Could they have done this but-for their official position? Being police officers did not enable the conduct. But being police officers is the only reason they had to vandalize this guy's property.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 5, 2019 at 11:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Qualified immunity and judicial departmentalism

The Sixth Circuit on Friday held that Kim Davis was not entitled to qualified immunity from a claim for damages by same-sex couples denied marriage licenses in the early weeks after Obergefell. Obergefell clearly established the constitutional right the plaintiffs sought to vindicate--to receive marriage licenses and a reasonable official should have known about that right. And Davis did not show her entitlement to a religious accommodation, as the court said:

Davis provides no legal support for her contention that Kentucky’s Religious Freedoms Restoration Act required her to do what she did. Her reading of the Act is a subjective one and, as far as we can tell, one no court has endorsed. In the presence of Obergefell’s clear mandate that “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry,” and in the absence of any legal authority to support her novel interpretation of Kentucky law, Davis should have known that Obergefell required her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex coupleseven if she sought and eventually received an accommodation, whether by legislative amendment changing the marriage-license form or by judicial decree adopting her view of the interplay between the Constitution and Kentucky law.

Under judicial departmentalism, an executive official, such as Davis, is free to adopt and implement her "subjective" reading of the statute and judicial precedent. She does not need "legal authority to support her novel interpretation of Kentucky law"--the legal authority is her power as an executive official to act on her understanding of the law she is empowered to enforce. But qualified immunity is focused on precedent and the judicial understanding of precedent. So it could check executive officials going too far in a departmentalist direction, by tying them to judicial precedent on pain of damages.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 25, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 19, 2019

The street is never the place to argue the appropriateness of an arrest. That is what our courts are for.”

This, from the NYPD Commissioner, is scary. And it is wrong. Given modern Fourth Amendment doctrine, limits (to say nothing of arguments to eliminate) the exclusionary rule, and the expansion of qualified immunity, the courts rarely conclude that an arrest was inappropriate. And even when they find the arrest inappropriate, they more rarely provide a remedy beyond the dropping of charges, which provides nothing for the collateral consequences of the improper arrest.

What the Commish really should have said is "Don't argue the appropriateness of an arrest. Just give in to police power."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 19, 2019 at 07:03 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 02, 2019

Judicial immunity can be shocking (sorry)

In the judicial immunity section of my civil rights book, I use a puzzle that I blogged about years ago: A judge in Mississippi cited for contempt and jailed an attorney for refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance prior to court proceedings. I spun that off into several hypos (inspired by a comment from Jack Preis), including the judge ordering the bailiff to tase the lawyer and the judge tasing the lawyer himself. The question is where judicial immunity runs out.*

[*] The attorney did not sue the judge, so this never became a real issue. The judge was disciplined--one of many, many disciplinary actions against him.

This story discusses the use of stun belts to control unruly defendants in court. The problem, besides the extreme pain these devices inflict, is that some judges use (or threaten to use) them not to control security threats, but to get defendants to pay attention to the judge or to stand while addressing the court. States vary as to who controls the device--the courtroom deputy acting on the judge's order or the judge herself.

So here is my hypothetical, brought to life. The arguable immunity turns on  the nature of the judge's action: Ordering the bailiff to tase the attorney would be immune, tasing the attorney himself would not be (nor would Jack's example of the judge shooting the attorney for refusing to comply. Giving orders to maintain courtroom control is a judicial function, with bailiffs and deputies executing those orders; tasing someone to maintain order is not a judicial function because not something done by a judge as judge. But at least some jurisdictions give the judge (not the bailiff) control over this device, making its use--not merely ordering its use--something that the judge is doing in her role as a judge while on the bench.

The story linked above discusses the problems in the use of these devices and how they affect criminal trials, as well as efforts to enjoin their use. No one has yet sued a judge for damages for employing the device, which is where judicial immunity would kick in. Stay tuned.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 2, 2019 at 12:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Random snippets of law

Each too short for a stand-alone post. Maybe this is why we have Twitter.

Here is everyone's Evidence question for the coming semester: The government in the Roger Stone prosecution has moved in limine to admit the clip from Godfather Part II in which Frank Pantangeli recants his prior statement implicating Michael Corleone. The government argues this is relevant to explaining Stone's repeated references in his communications with Jerome Corsi and shows that Stone was urging Corsi to lie to Congress.

• This point is moot with the announcement by the House Judiciary Committee that it is investigating "possible impeachment." But following Robert Mueller's testimony on Wednesday, Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi stated that their preferred next step was to complete litigation over various subpoenas; if the President disobeyed an Article-III-final court order, that would be the last straw prompting a move to formal impeachment.

I did not understand why that is or should be the relevant line. Some have flagged this as the line that Nixon would not cross, so crossing it would make Trump worse than Nixon. But it is hardly the worst or most wrongful thing a President could do. And it is not obviously worse or more impeachable than the misconduct--some criminal, some representing abuses of office or prospective office--described in Mueller's report and testimony.

I would guess that Pelosi and Schiff believed that Mueller had not described, in sufficiently dramatic terms, a single flashing-red-light act that would rally the public. Or they bought the media spin that Mueller's testimony was too dull to do that. So the strategy became to wait for the next single flashing-red-light act. Or the one after that. Or . . .

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 27, 2019 at 09:02 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My civil rights course, in one case

This opinion by Judge Easterbrook is a fantastic encapsulation of most of my civil rights course.

Dad loses custody of kids because of state court decision, made in part on testimony of court-appointed psychologist; court strips custody, limits visitation to supervision-only, and twice declines to rescind supervision-only. Dad sues psychologist in her "official capacity," alleging that state child-custody law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Spot the many, many doctrinal problems with this lawsuit. I think I may use this as one grand, theory-of-everything hypo at the end of class.

(I especially like that, in rejecting plaintiff's argument that he has sued the state through an official capacity suit, Easterbrook talks about Will and states not being § 1983 "persons," rather than the Eleventh Amendment. Courts consistently get this wrong in § 1983 cases).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 17, 2019 at 06:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Free speech: Change or leave?

A fascinating thing about the President's remarks this weekend about four female Democratic reps of color, and of many responses from several congressional Republicans, is the model of free expression they represent. That model amounts to "if you don't like it, leave the country." This is not new. The President and Republicans have said similar things about Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, and other athletes who kneel during the national anthem.

In this vision, there is no room for someone to criticize government policies or actions with the goal of prompting change. Nor is there a need to respond to criticisms by explaining why those critics are wrong and that the current action is the proper course. There is no need or room for discussion or debate--critics should shut up or get out.

Of course, the President's critics are seeing something good (i.e., anything he does) and purposely writing or saying bad. That, we learned last week, is not free speech.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2019 at 11:11 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, July 04, 2019

It's the district court order, not the SCOTUS affirmance

On the eve of Friday's hearing on the next steps in the census case, more thoughts on nomenclature: The concern about the should not be framed as "The President is disobeying a Supreme Court decision."* The concern should be framed as "The President is disobeying a court order."

[*] Decision is an imprecise word, in any event. The court issues a judgment/order and the court issues an opinion explaining that judgment. I suppose a decision encompasses both of those. But when the judgment/opinion distinction matters, as it does, the specific words are preferable.

The key is that an injunction, entered by the district court, is in place and prohibits the printing and use of a census form with a citizenship question. That order prohibits the government from proceeding with a census containing that question and that order is what the President, Commerce, et al. violate if they proceed with the question.

That the Supreme Court affirmed the district court injunction is beside this point. SCOTUS affirmance means the government has nowhere left to turn within the judiciary. But it does not add greater force to the district court's injunction. Government officials violate the order by proceeding with the census-with-citizenship-question--whether they had proceeded the day before SCOTUS affirmance or the day after SCOTUS affirmance.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 4, 2019 at 12:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

More action on the census (Edited)

The citizenship-question case is heating up, following a tweet from the President denouncing as fake news reports that the administration had stopped pursuing efforts to place the citizenship question on the 2020 census. This despite DOJ attorneys having represented that fake news to plaintiffs' counsel and the district court as the government litigation position. This did not sit well with Judge Hazel (D.Md.), who held an on-the-record telephone conference to find out what is going on (as was the attorney for the government).

Judge Hazel questioned whether the government attorneys were speaking for their client at this point. He responded skeptically to the plaintiff's suggestion that he enjoin government officials (presumably including the President) from tweeting or otherwise speaking contrary to the government's litigation position or to requiring the Census Bureau or Commerce Department to publicly counteract any contrary tweets from the President.

The court gave the parties until Friday to submit either a stipulation that the citizenship question will not appear on the census or a scheduling order for litigating the equal protection issues (denying, with a sharp "no," the government's request to have until Monday). Meanwhile, Judge Hazel confirmed that the injunction prohibiting the government from printing questionnaires with a citizenship question remains in place, meaning the President is flirting with ignoring (or ordering underlings to ignore) a court order. On the other hand, government attorneys suggested they may go back to SCOTUS for a motion "clarifying" (or "undercutting," from the plaintiffs' standpoint) the Court's remand decision.

The court declined to do anything to get a firmer answer on whether June 30 (last Sunday) remains the drop-deadline by which the government must have the census form finalized (as the government has insisted throughout the litigation-he suspected "we're not going to get a useful answer to that question." But the court made clear that he did not blame the attorneys for this confusion.*

[*] Another way departmentalism remains in check, at least with a normal President. DOJ lawyers do not like getting yelled at when the executive officials they represent go off the rails. With a normal President, the attorneys can try to exert some control over the client. Or, with an abnormal President, they could resign or refuse to carry out his inappropriate wishes. Neither is happening here.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 3, 2019 at 08:58 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Judicial departmentalism and overbroad injunctions in the news

First, the Fifth Circuit reversed the contempt citation against a Carmen Alvarez and her attorneys for attempting to enforce the Department of Labor's overtime regs in a private action following a universal injunction prohibiting DOL from enforcing those regs in an action brought by Nevada and other states. The court held that there was no privity between DOL and Alvarez or her lawyers, because there was no evidence of an express or implied relationship among them that is necessary for one party to adequately represent the interests of another. The court stated that Chipotle's theory that "DOL represents every worker’s legal interests through its enforcement of the FLSA so as to bind every worker in the United States to an injunction where the DOL is the only bound party lacks authoritative support." Like Title VII, the private right of action under labor laws and regs leaves room for private persons to claim injuries and remedies distinct from those established in government enforcement.

Second, Texas GOP Representative Chip Roy took to Twitter to urge the President and the Commerce Department to ignore the lawyers "Completely. Print the census with the question - and issue a statement explaining why - “because we should.” Done." Such action could not be defended as judicial departmentalism, which allows executive disregard of precedent but not particular orders in particular cases; those most be obeyed unless reversed or modified. The President, the Commerce Secretary, and the other federal officials involved would be violating a court order prohibiting the use of the citizenship question* and would be subject to contempt and contempt sanctions for that action.

[*] Another example of indivisible remedies, giving an individual injunction universal scope. The government cannot print or use multiple census forms, so an injunction protecting individual plaintiffs spills over to protect everyone.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 3, 2019 at 07:57 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Another remedy in The Wall

Judge Gilliam of the Northern District of California issued two orders on Friday declaring invalid President Trump's efforts to divert funds for building The Wall. In Sierra Club v. Trump, the court permanently enjoined three acting cabinet officers and "all persons acting under their direction" from "taking any action to construct a border wall" in certain areas using certain funds. In California v. Trump, the court declared the use of the same funds for some of those sections unlawful, but declined to grant a permanent injunction. The court also ensured that the cases could be appealed together by certifying California for FRCP 54 appeal, along with the immediately appealable injunction.

Sierra Club does not speak to the scope of the injunction, because this is a case of indivisible relief and remedy. The court cannot enjoin the use of funds for the wall as to the plaintiffs but not to non-parties; any prohibition on the use of funds unavoidable inures to everyone's benefit, even if the injunction is formally particularized to the plaintiffs.

The court justified denying the injunction in California by pointing to the injunction in Sierra Club prohibiting use of funds on the same sectors of wall. California (and New Mexico, its co-plaintiff) would suffer no irreparable harm, because the injunction protects them in effect if not in name. This provides an interesting example of when declaratory relief may be sufficient and an injunction unnecessary--when an injunction protects the D/J plaintiffs, so the declaration is sufficient. It also answers the Ninth Circuit's question about whether a universal injunction in one case moots another--it does not moot the case because a declaratory remedy may be effective, although an injunction is not warranted. (Not that courts should issue universal injunctions--but this is the practical effect if they do).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2019 at 09:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Justice Gorsuch, standing, and the end of the Establishment Clause

Justice Gorusch, joined by Justice Thomas, concurred in the judgment in American Legion v. American Humanist Association. Gorsuch argues that the plaintiffs lacked standing, because "offended observer" standing should not exist (and really is a product of Lemon, which he reads as having been buried today). Offense is not a basis for standing in any other context and is inconsistent with the rule against generalized grievances. Recourse for offense is either averting one's eyes or resort to political solutions.

If Gorsuch is right, it is difficult to imagine who has standing to bring an Establishment Clause claim. He offers three examples: A student forced to recite a prayer in school, a person denied public office because of his religious affiliations (or lack thereof), and a person denied government benefits for not practicing a favored religion. This seems disingenuous. Two of those examples are not purely Establishment Clause issues--the government official, at least at the federal level, also has a claim under the Religious-Tests Clause; the government benefits claim also could be pursued under the Free Exercise Clause or, as in Texas Monthly (which Gorsuch cites) the Free Press Clause. But a student would not have standing to challenge the prayer if she were merely forced to watch others recite it or to leave the room to avoid it. And no one has standing to challenge any public religious displays. In fact, looking at those examples, it would appear that a state could establish an official church  and no one would have standing to challenge that as long as individuals are not forced to participate in that church or otherwise disadvantaged for their non-participation in the religion.

Gorsuch's rejection of offended-observer standing also is inseparable from the narrowing of Flast taxpayer standing. Gorsuch did not offer a taxpayer as an example of someone with standing, so it appears he does not consider that a viable route. But this further constricts the range of available plaintiffs. The core Flast case has remained narrow because there is usually someone who can show something other than a pocketbook injury--there has been no need for a taxpayer to challenge the use of public funds for the Christmas tree display at City Hall because someone who had to encounter the display in City Hall could bring the claim. That avenue is foreclosed. So I expect the next target will be the core Flast case, where Gorsuch almost certainly lines up with the Chief, Thomas, and Alito.

Gorsuch's argument illustrates, in two directions, the Fletcherian point that "injury" is inseparable from the constitutional right at issue and so is really a merits issue. First, the response to Gorsuch's offense-is-not-injury argument is that the Establishment Clause is different than the Free Speech Clause or the Free Exercise Clause or the Equal Protection Clause. The point of the Establishment Clause is to prevent the government from creating a state religion, either formally or in practice; it prohibits the government from elevating religion and from imposing that elevation on members of the public. Thus, individual constitutional rights are violated by that elevation and being confronted with that elevation, as by erection of a large cross. But there is no equivalent provision prohibiting the government establishing or elevating racist ideas, as by flying the Confederate Flag. Or, to put it in the school context: The Free Speech Clause is satisfied so long as a student need not recite the Pledge of Allegiance (put aside "Under God"); the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from sponsoring prayer, even if participation is not required.

Second, Gorsuch's apparent view of standing reveals the substantive scope of his Establishment Clause. Government elevation or promotion or sponsorship of religion is constitutionally permissible--even to the point of establishing the Church of Alabama or naming the Southern Baptist Convention as the official religion of the State of Alabama--so long as no one is forced to participate or loses out for non-participation. Certainly no one would have standing to challenge that action, because the only injury would be the offense and message of exclusion. In any event, that Establishment Clause does not do any work independent of the Free Exercise Clause.

I would add that I do not follow offended-observer standing wherever it leads. In the travel ban cases, I argued against standing for those individuals claiming offense from the existence of the ban and its application against other people. But the key was that standing (or constitutional violation, as I like to think of it) is tied to execution, not the existence, of a law. So one can claim offense from the erection of the cross, but not from the law authorizing erection; one can claim offense from being barred because of religion, but not from the law authorizing the barring.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 20, 2019 at 04:02 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, June 14, 2019

This is how you establish broad injunctive relief

The D.C.Circuit affirmed part of an injunction prohibiting enforcement of an ORR policy barring unaccompanied children from obtaining pre-viability abortions.

This is the type of case in which many courts have been issuing universal injunctions, despite that enforcement against non-plaintiffs does not affect individual plaintiffs. But the district court here took the procedurally appropriate approach--certifying a 23(b)(2) class of "all pregnant, unaccompanied immigrant minor children (UCs) who are or will be in the legal custody of the federal government," then enjoining enforcement of the policy as to class members. We get to the same place, but through appropriate procedures, as it should be for a system in which constitutional review occurs within the scope of civil litigation. This is why the Court enacted 23(b)(2).

The majority opinion (per curiam for two judges) runs more than 70 pages. It applies the "inherently transitory class" exception to avoid mootness and considers the effect of the "one-good plaintiff" rule in multi-party individual actions as opposed to class actions. It spends a lot of time on the appropriate scope of the class, as opposed to the appropriate scope of the injunction--which is where the focus should be.

There is an interesting interplay between the inherently transitory and capable-of-repetion-yet-evading-review doctrines as to mootness, in that the former justifies the limits on the latter. C/R/E/R requires that the harm be capable of repetition as to the plaintiff; it is not enough that someone else might be subject to the harm. Protecting beyond the plaintiff requires a class, which is when the former doctrine kicks in. That leaves a gap--mootness cannot be avoided in an individual action to prevent harm to a non-party who may be subject to enforcement of the challenged regulations. But that is the point--the court provides remedies for parties, through the procedural mechanisms for establishing parties.

The government faces a choice. Justice Kavanaugh is recused because he was on the first panel to consider this case (the majority opinion discusses and rejects the position Kavanaugh took as to allowing the government to delay the procedure). So review would almost certainly produce an evenly divided Court affirming the lower court. So the government's best option is to obey the injunction, stop enforcing the policy and/or come up with a new policy, and hope that Justice Ginsburg retires.

On that note, a question for judicial-recusal experts. Imagine the following: ORR amends its policy to something slightly less restrictive and threaten to enforce it; plaintiffs return to the district court with a motion to enforce the injunction and/or an amended complaint, arguing that the new policy violates the rights of the same class; district court grants the motion and modifies the injunction to prohibit enforcement of the new policy; D.C.Circuit affirms. Must Kavanaugh recuse? The challenge is to a different policy. But it is the same litigation in which he ruled as a lower-court judge. Thoughts?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 14, 2019 at 04:39 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The difficulty of civil rights relief

I may give my Civil Rights class the story of San Francisco police raid on a free-lance journalist seeking the identity of the journalist's source and unused material for a story on the death of the county public defender. The chief of the San Francisco police apologized on Friday, saying the search and seizure was wrong in several respects, that it would not use the materials seized, and that the matter was being referred to other agencies for further investigation. The journalist, Bryan Carmody, has moved to quash the warrants.

The case illustrates the difficulty of obtaining retrospective relief and remedies in federal court for constitutional violations and the way plaintiffs must threat a needle. It thus provides a nice puzzle for class discussion. Consider:

  • The constitutional merits are up in the air. The search may have violated California's shield law, which protects journalists against disclosure of sources and unpublished information, including by police; but state law cannot provide the basis for a § 1983 claim. Nor can the fact that the officers violated department policies. The First Amendment does not provide such protections. There could be a First Amendment retaliation claim, as the police who obtained and executed this warrant seem to have had it in for Carmody; that claim may depend on how the Court resolves Nieves v. Bartlett (if it ever does) on the connection between probable cause and First Amendment retaliatory intent.

    • The judges who issued the warrants have judicial immunity.

    • Police officers have derivative judicial immunity for carrying out the warrant. That immunity is lost if execution went beyond simple enforcement, as some stories suggest it did in using a battering ram and pry bar to get into the house and handcuffing Carmody during the search. Of course, the officers may enjoy qualified immunity, unless Carmody can find precedent involving an over-the-top search of a journalist's home.

    • There is a better claim that the officers did not disclose Carmody's status as a journalist in the warrant application, which the chief identified as a problem. But again, it likely is not clearly established by factually similar case law that not disclosing a search target's status as a journalist violates the First or Fourth Amendments. And even if clearly established, it may be hard to identify or establish damages arising from the omission on the warrant, independent of the search (which was authorized by warrant).

    • The city cannot be sued. The search violated departmental policy in several respects. There is no indication that any department or city policymakers were involved in the warrant application or search. And there is no indication that this has happened previously to put policymakers on notice that training  ("hey, don't search journalists looking for sources") was necessary.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 25, 2019 at 03:18 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Universal declaratory judgments

Chief Judge Saris of the District of Massachusetts entered a final judgment declaring invalid a Massachusetts law prohibiting surreptitious recording of government officials. This was two consolidated actions, one brought by two individuals and one brought by an investigative-journalism organization.

The court declined to issue a permanent injunction, finding that a declaratory judgment was sufficient, in part because:

Defendants have stated they will follow this Court's ruling, and the Court will take them at their word. . . .The Court "assume[s] that municipalities and public officers will do their duty when disputed questions have been finally adjudicated and the rights and liabilities of the parties have been finally determined . . ."

But what does it mean to follow the court's ruling? Does it mean not enforcing the law against the plaintiffs in these cases or does it mean not enforcing the law against anyone? That is, can a declaratory judgment be universal to protect beyond the named plaintiffs? Or must declaratory judgments be particularized, as injunctions must be (or so I argue). This affects what might trigger conversion of the D/J into an injunction-were the government to attempt to enforce the law against someone other than the plaintiffs.

The answer should be that a declaratory judgment must be as particularized as an injunction. Under the Article III/litigation-structure arguments from Sam Bray, Michael Morley, and me, the point is that any judicial remedy must be particularized because the remedy should resolve the dispute between the parties to the action and not beyond. In endorsing particularity in federal remedies, SCOTUS explicitly treated declaratory and injunction relief the same, as stopping enforcement of the challenged law only against the federal plaintiffs and leaving the state free to enforce against others who violate the statute. Moreover, declaratory judgments are a "milder" form of relief because non-coercive, compared with the "strong medicine" of an injunction. If so, it would not make sense for the milder remedy to have broader party effects than the stronger remedy. Finally, it would be odd for these plaintiffs to be able to convert to an injunction to stop enforcement of the law against someone else, just as one individual cannot ask a court to enjoin enforcement of a law against someone else.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 23, 2019 at 09:15 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (13)

Friday, May 17, 2019

What's Roe got to do with it?

Andrew Sullivan praises Elizabeth Warren's proposals to codify Roe-level protections through federal legislation, because it allows for a political debate and political compromise that Roe preempted. He also blames Roe for the "batch of truly extreme bills in red states outlawing" abortion, which are designed to gin up a Supreme Court case that, with Brett Kavanaugh on the Court, will overrule Roe and the constitutional right to reproductive choice. But neither premise makes sense.

Sullivan's argument seems to be that because public opinion has remained relatively static on abortion since 1973, that legislators would not enact such extreme laws that are bound to be unpopular. But that makes no sense.  Alabama did not enact this law to challenge Roe for the sake of challenging Roe. It enacted this law because officials want to stop women from having abortions in Alabama. Once Roe is overruled, this remains the law in Alabama; there is no reason to believe that the Alabama legislature, having had its law declared constitutionally valid and enforceable, will say "oh, let's find a compromise." This will be the law in Alabama and the governor will set about enforcing it with glee. And nothing about Alabama's political alignment suggests Republican officials would pay any sort of political price for these laws. Same with Georgia, Missouri, and other states following on this course.

Roe was decided in a world in which abortion was illegal in many states. Without Roe, many of those bans would have remained in place. Or, as some states liberalized reproductive choice (which was happening in the years prior to Roe), other states (likely the states that are in the news now) would have enacted the laws that they are enacting or seeking to enact now. Contra Sullivan, it seems as likely that, without Roe, we would have gotten where we are (or where we are headed), but would have gotten here 40 years ago.

I also wonder about the constitutional validity of Warren's proposals under current doctrine and given the current Court (putting aside that it would not pass).

In her Medium piece, Warren calls for federal legislation that would: 1) Prohibit states from interfering in the ability of a health care provider to provide medical care or from interfering in the ability of a patient to access medical care from a provider; 2) Preempt TRAP laws; 3) Guarantee reproductive-health coverage in health plans, including repealing the Hyde Amendment; and 4) general protections for women, in seeking care and elsewhere (such as at work).

Is this valid federal legislation and under what power? Not § 5. Without Roe, Due Process does not protect reproductive freedom, so a law designed to protect that freedom by prohibiting state-level bans would not be congruent and proportional as to constitute legislation "enforcing" the 14th Amendment. Perhaps it could be framed as a gender-equality provision, enforcing the equal protection rights of women. But is halting abortion discrimination against women or is it halting a particular medical procedure that happens to have a disparate effect on women? And if the latter, is a disparate-impact provision congruent-and-proportional to a constitutional right that only prohibits disparate treatment?

So the power source would have to be the Commerce Clause. But a law doing what Warren proposes would interfere with the traditional state function of regulating the medical profession, the doctor-patient relationship, the insurance industry, and local zoning. Might the same five Justices conclude that there is not a sufficient nexus to interstate commerce to allow federal law to supersede state law in this area of historic state power?

I welcome thoughts on these questions--not being a Commerce Clause scholar, I do not know the answer. But pinning this on Roe, or suggesting that the anti-choice craze that has taken hold in these states is simply a reaction to Roe, seems wrong.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 17, 2019 at 06:17 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The new abortion laws and judicial departmentalism (Updated)

Whatever I may believe about the new abortion restrictions in Ohio, Alabama, and Georgia as a matter of policy or validity under my normative understanding of the Constitution, the process is playing as it should in a judicial-departmentalism regime:

The political branches enact--and plan to enforce--laws that they believe are valid on their best constitutional understanding. That this understanding conflicts with prevailing judicial doctrine does not matter. In fact, it cannot matter. Judicial doctrine can change only if there are new cases for the courts to hear and decide; new cases arise only if governments enact laws that might be invalid under current doctrine, then are able to argue for reversing existing law or establishing new law in defending those laws in court (whether against a defense in an enforcement action or as defendant in a pre-enforcement Ex Parte Young action). The government then takes its chances. If it is right about the readiness of the Court to overrule precedent, it wins in court and gets the legal change it sought. If it loses in court, it is on the hook for (likely substantial) attorney's fees.  This is how the system, and the interplay among co-equal branches with interpretive authority, works.

Dahlia Lithwick argues that these new abortion restrictions put Chief Justice Roberts in a bind. Roberts, Lithwick, argues, wants to maintain the facade that judicial decisionmaking is more than raw politics; one way to do so is through incrementalism, rather than overruling the right to reproductive freedom in one fell swoop. The way to do that is to allow lower courts to declare these new laws invalid (as they are under existing doctrine) and enjoin their enforcement, then deny cert (all while deciding other cases involving other laws that allow the Court to limit the right without overruling precedent). The problem is that it takes four (Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh) to grant cert in one of these cases, which might force Roberts to forego his desired institutionalism or vote to retain Roe as precedent. Unless he can convince Kavanaugh or Gorsuch to join him in slow-walking things.

This argument works both ways politically. Imagine Hillary Clinton had won, appointed Merrick Garland and Sri Srinivasin to the Court, and now want to overrule Shelby County so DOJ can resume enforcing the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act. What would have to happen? DOJ would resume enforcement efforts, creating new litigation in which DOJ argues that Shelby County should be overruled. If it is right about the readiness of the Court to overrule precedent, it wins in court and gets the legal change it sought. If it loses in court, it is on the hook for (likely substantial) attorney's fees. But there would be no alternative way to set-up the judicial question.

Update: Gerard paints a different scenario, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan rush to grant cert (perhaps after the district court issues the inevitable injunction but before judgment in the 11th Circuit), daring their brethren (literally, given the gender divides on the Court) to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion in a case involving laws that allow for no narrowing construction, provide no exceptions, and are punitive in nature. And all in an election year.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 15, 2019 at 06:45 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, May 13, 2019

SCOTUS overrules more precedent, no textual support to be found

The buzzwords that Republicans and judicial conservatives insist make their approach the only legitimate and constrained are textualism and respect for stare decisis. It is hard to take that seriously after today's decision in Franchise Tax Bd. v. Hyatt, holding that the Constitution requires that a state enjoy sovereign immunity in the courts of another state and overruling 1979's Nevada v. Hall. Justice Thomas wrote for himself, the Chief, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh; Breyer dissented for the other four.

There is no textual basis for this (there really is none with all of state sovereign immunity); the majority instead relies on what is implicit in the structure and the "implicit ordering of relationships within the federal system." As for respect for stare decisis, the majority disposes of that in less than two full slip-opinion pages. Justice Breyer closes his dissent with a portentous "[t]oday’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 13, 2019 at 11:34 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Predicting SCOTUS on universal injunctions (Updated)

Noah Feldman predicts that SCOTUS will reject the Trump Administration's calls to reign-in universal injunctions, basically arguing that taking the power to issue non-particularized injunctions from lower courts makes more work for SCOTUS. Josh Blackman responds in a Twitter thread.

I agree with Josh that Noah makes his category error here:

If the justices were to hold that the lower courts lack the power to issue nationwide injunctions, then there would be only one way for the courts to block a law nationwide: The Supreme Court would have to issue the injunction itself. After all, it’s the only court with a truly national jurisdiction.

That wouldn’t give the justices any extra power, because they can already issue nationwide injunctions. But it would give the justices more work.

* * *

The upshot is that, if they prohibit nationwide injunctions by the lower courts, the justices will be agreeing to place themselves more in the spotlight, without the plausible deniability that allows them to leave injunctions in place.

SCOTUS does not have any greater power to issue a universal/non-particularized injunction than a district court. The limit on non-particularized injunctions comes from Article III's case-or-controversy requirement, which limits SCOTUS as much as it limits lower courts. If a lower court issues a particularized injunction and SCOTUS affirms, that does not create a universal injunction--it creates an Article-III-final particularized injunction, one that the executive no longer can avoid. As Josh notes, it also creates binding precedent that lower courts must follow to resolve other cases involving other parties and will use as the legal basis for later, also-particularized injunctions. But the SCOTUS decision in Case # 1 does not alone get us there.

Feldman envisions SCOTUS using the lower courts to avoid taking responsibility for universal injunctions--allowing some to remain in effect while overturning those they do not like. If lower courts cannot issue universal injunctions, SCOTUS would be forced to issue them. But this proceeds from several false premises, First, that a SCOTUS-affirmed injunction can have broader judgment (as opposed to precedential) effect than a lower-court injunction. Second, that if SCOTUS "really did not like" a particularized/non-universal injunction it would not overturn it just as quickly when asked to do so by the government.

Update: One additional point I neglected earlier: Noah begins by minimizing this as a legal-academic debate that had no practical resonance before Vice President Pence raised it in a Fed Soc speech last week. But that is not accurate. The scope issue was raised in U.S. v. Texas (DAPA) and was briefed, at the Court's request in Trump v. Hawaii, triggering a question from Gorsuch (his "cosmic injunction" line) and a concurrence from Thomas arguing that injunctions should remain particularized to the parties. He is write that legal scholars are playing a role here--but the government has been engaged on the subject at least as long.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 13, 2019 at 10:25 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Taking universality seriously (Updated)

One of the criticisms of universal/non-particularized injunctions is that they preempt percolation in lower courts, because the universal injunction by Court I short-circuits litigation in Court II, because Court I's injunction precludes the government from undertaking new enforcement efforts. Supporters of universal/non-particularized injunctions counter that the substantial amount of parallel litigation shows that percolation still occurs, as multiple parties bring multiple lawsuits in multiple courts. My reply has been that this shows courts are not serious about universality, in which case it would be better if each court kept its injunctions particularized and avoided the controversy over the scope.

Now comes this Ninth Circuit order in California v. HHS (involving repeal of the contraception mandate), in which the court requests briefing on whether the appeal of a particularized injunction has been rendered moot by a universal injunction issued by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and how the mootness analysis is affected by the universal injunction coming from a trial court in another circuit.

Update: Sam Bray argues that the court should think of this in terms of "equitable mootness" rather than Article III mootness--equity may weigh against an injunction in the 9th Circuit case because the 9th Circuit plaintiffs are protected as non-parties to the EDPa universal injunction.

The correct answers should be as follows:

• The EDPa injunction makes this case unnecessary. There is no possibility that the government could enforce the revised mandate in a way that would violate the rights of the California plaintiff, because doing so would violate that universal injunction and could be halted with a motion to enforce the injunction in EDPa. So California or those on whose behalf it is suing no longer are having their rights violated and no longer face a reasonable prospect of having the law enforced against them, because doing so would subject the government to contempt of court.

• It does not matter that the injunction came from a district court. A district court injunction, unstayed, carries the same force and effect as an injunction affirmed by a court of appeals. District court decisions carry less force as precedent in affecting future cases; they do not carry less force as judgments, unless and until stayed or reversed on appeal.

• It does not matter that the injunction was issued from a court outside the Ninth Circuit. This is where the nomenclature matters. All injunctions are (and should be) "nationwide," in that they protect everywhere a protected person goes. A plaintiff protected against enforcement of some law is protected against enforcement wherever he is and the bound government is prohibited from enforcing wherever the target is. It follows that if a court has the power to protect non-parties (to issue a non-particularized or universal injunction), then it protects those non-parties everywhere. If EDPa had the power to issue an injunction prohibiting enforcement against all targets of the regulation, then that injunction protects them everywhere those targets may be.

• The argument against mootness is that the EDPa injunction might be reversed on appeal, which would revive the current case or force the California plaintiffs to come back to court for their own injunction if the EDPa injunction goes away. This creates the individualized litigation that proponents of universality want to avoid--the individualized litigation that I argue the system requires (outside of class actions). Courts could avoid the uncertainty if they would simply keep their injunctions to themselves--limit them to the parties before them, but protecting those parties everywhere they go.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 30, 2019 at 07:10 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 22, 2019

President Trump meets the Speech or Debate Clause

With this complaint seeking to enjoin a subpoena directed towards the Trump Organization's accounting firm. The pleading tries to argue that there is no legitimate legislative purpose behind the subpoena, because "oversight" is not, in the vacuum, legitimate legislative activity. I cannot believe a court would be anything but highly deferential of a congressional committee's determination of what is within its legislative jurisdiction. Plus, Trump's argument basically amounts to "this subpoena is not legitimate because there are too many subpoenas," such that Congress loses the power of oversight when the President engages in too much misconduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 22, 2019 at 01:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (13)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Judicial departmentalism and the rule of law

President Trump has made two recent moves that some are labeling threats to the rule of law: 1) DOJ (at White House urging) declining to defend the Affordable Care Act and 2) Trump instructing the head of ICE to deny entry at the border and to disregard court orders to stop denying entry and promising to pardon officials held in contempt for disregarding court orders. Judicial departmentalism--under which the executive may reach independent constitutional conclusions and act on them, but must obey court orders--looks at these differently.

The first is constitutionally permissible, if politically fraught. From the premise that the executive can reach independent constitutional determinations it follows that the executive can make litigation choices consistent with those determinations, including declining to defend laws. DOJ guidelines on when to decline are just that--prudential guidelines for making controversial choices and avoiding defeat in court, but not constitutionally compelled and not inconsistent with an idealized rule of law.

The second is impermissible, as the President and the rest of the executive branch cannot disregard court orders that bind them or refuse to enforce court orders binding others. The promise to pardon any contempt convictions is inconsistent with that obligation and perhaps with due process. While troubling, this move reflects Trump's limited understanding of how law and judicial processes work. It would be a long way before any federal official who did what Trump suggested would be convicted of criminal contempt. So the pardon power would not be useful if any official did as Trump urged (and reports are that ICE supervisors immediately told officers not to do as Trump suggested).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 13, 2019 at 12:54 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

SCOTUSBlog preview: Accrual § 1983 actions

I have a SCOTUSBlog preview of next Wednesday's arguments in McDonough v. Smith, considering when a § 1983 fabrication-of-evidence claim accrues for statute of limitations purposes. The basic dispute is whether the limitations period starts running on favorable termination of the underlying criminal proceedings.

It is an interesting arrangement, with the United States supporting the petitioner/plaintiff position that the lawsuit (filed within three years of his acquittal on criminal charges that were based on fabricated evidence) was timely, but arguing that the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed on prosecutorial immunity grounds on remand. There are amicus briefs from criminal-defenses lawyers and fed courts scholars supporting the petitioner, urging the Court to maintain a scheme in which a criminal defendant is not forced to pursue § 1983 litigation until the criminal proceedings have resolved.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 10, 2019 at 04:19 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 08, 2019

Thoughts on the Rothgerber Constitutional Law Conference-National Injunctions

I mentioned that last Friday I had the privilege of attending the 27th Rothgerber Constitutional Law Conference at Colorado Law, on the subject of national injunctions.

I did not take comprehensive notes on all the papers, but here are a few highlights, ideas, and questions that I took away:

• Two of the eleven presenters--Michael Morley (FSU) and I--oppose universal injunctions. And Michael thinks my reliance on judicial departmentalism is monstrous (my word, not his). Ahmed White (Colorado) talked about the use of labor injunctions and the jailing of Eugene V. Debs to warn against reliance on injunctions to achieve progressive policy goals. Everyone else argued that universality is fine, although courts should exercise discretion in issuing them. (Part of my objection is that I have not seen grounds for discretion that are not satisfied in every case).

• Alan Trammell (Arkansas) made a cute rhetorical move, trying to shift the focus from Trump and Obama (which naturally provoke partisan reaction) to the case of Kim Davis and whether, once she disregarded Obergefell, the district court should have been able to order Davis to issue licenses to all couples. I say no (and suggested that Alan could use the pre-Obergefell mess in Alabama as another example). Alan also made a nice historical move, tying these injunctions as another example of procedural innovation, the predecessor to 1960s developments such as Monroe v. Pape, structural-reform injunctions, and 23(b)(2) classes.

• Charlton Copeland (Miami) offered a separation-of-powers perspective, arguing that universal injunctions may be uniquely appropriate against executive overreach to restore a balance among the branches, even if universality would not be appropriate against the same policy enacted by the legislature. In other words, the separation of powers arguments against executive policies (in addition to any substantive constitutional arguments) changes the nature of the remedy.

• Zach Clopton (Cornell) talked about how preclusion (if applicable against the government, as it should be) can provide an additional policy consideration for the court in deciding the scope of the injunction. This triggered a question I have to address in my contribution for the symposium and in another article--Would allowing non-mutual offensive preclusion against the government undermine judicial departmentalism? If the executive has the power to disagree with judicial precedent but not injunctions in a given case, does giving that judgment preclusive effect undermine that executive power.

• Mila Sohoni (San Diego) talked about the history of universal injunctions against state laws, including in some famous First Amendment cases such as Barnette and Hague v. CIO. She showed the language of several of these injunctions, some of which expressly prohibited application to the plaintiff and others, while others were silent as to who was protected. As to the latter group, that presents an interesting question of default rules--if the injunction is silent, should we presume that the injunction is particularized to the plaintiff or presume that it is universal? Sohoni's history shows that these injunctions are not new. The  response is whether it matters--perhaps we have been doing it wrong all along. Mila joins me in using universality as the proper term, which captures the expansive who of the injunction.

• Portia Pedro (BU) started from her experience working for an LGBT organization during the marriage-equality litigation. She argued that prohibiting universality treats government defendants more favorably than other defendants. Or functionally prohibits injunctions, turning everything into nothing more than a declaratory judgment.

It was a great program. And it gave me a lot to think about and a lot to add to some current projects.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 8, 2019 at 02:08 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Free speech petards

Last month I wrote about the controversy at UC-Davis, where people unearthed old tweets from an English professor calling for police officers to be killed, prompting introduction of a California House Resolution calling for the professor's firing. Last week, Davis rejected the call in a letter to Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, citing the First Amendment and President Trump's executive order purporting to require universities receiving federal funds to  promote free enquiry on campus consistent with the First Amendment. Gallagher today wrote a letter to President Trump, insisting that the professor's speech is what suppresses campus speech and asking the President whether: 1) the intent of the order was to protect speech such as this, 2) whether Gallagher's call to fire the prof is consistent with the order's intent to stop intimidation and violence, and 3) whether Davis would lose funding if it fires the professor.

The answers, in order: 1) Of course not; 2) Of course not; 3) Of course not. But the President's intent cannot overcome charges of viewpoint discrimination.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 3, 2019 at 05:07 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Constantineau returns again

Earlier this month, I highlighted an exchange in the American Legion argument in which Justice Kavanaugh seemed to adopt the idea that SCOTUS can avoid deciding federal constitutional issues in deference to a state supreme court applying the state constitution to the problem. Justice Gorusch made the same move in last week's argument in Rucho v. Common Cause (the North Carolina partisan gerrymander) in an exchange with the attorney for the League of Women Voters:

But -- but you also have the state supreme court option, as -- as Justice Kennedy -- Kavanaugh pointed out. And we often overlook that possibility in -- in our -- in our federal system.

Fortunately, and unlike  in American Legion, counsel here was ready with the right answer: "Other options don't relieve this Court of its duty to vindicate constitutional rights."

Theme warning.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 30, 2019 at 04:36 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 08, 2019

Even more on Judge Sutton

This seemed too long for a comment to Gerard's post, so I will lay it out separately.

The rights-violation prong in a qualified-immunity case is not treated as dicta. In Camreta v. Greene, the Court held that it would hear "winner's appeals" from officers in cases in which the lower court held that the right was violated but granted immunity because the right was not clearly established. In justifying the decision, the Court stated the "constitutional determinations that prevailing parties ask us to consider in these cases are not mere dicta or "statements in opinions. They are rulings that have a significant future effect on the conduct of public officials" The Court quoted a Scalia dissent from denial of cert in a similar case in which he argued that winner's appeals were proper because "[t]hat constitutional determination is not mere dictum in the ordinary sense, since the whole reason we require it to be set forth (despite the availability of qualified immunity) is to clarify the law and thus make unavailable repeated claims of qualified immunity in future cases."

So I wonder if the same could be said about the state constitutional decision in the cases Sutton has in mind. Both are grounded in concerns for clarifying the law. Both also have concerns and effects on appealability. Camreta ensures that unfavorable merits determinations are not rendered unappealable by the favorable judgment on the separate prong of the analysis. Sutton's proposal would better position state courts to immunize decisions from SCOTUS review under the independent-and-adequate doctrine.

One further, unrelated Sutton point: Justice Kavanaugh name-dropped Judge Sutton in argument in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, asking respondent whether the Court should avoid deciding the Establishment Clause issues here because the Maryland courts could handle this under the Maryland Constitution. Counsel missed the question, prompting  Justice Sotomayor to jump in three pages later to bail her out. Kavanaugh seemed to use Sutton's book to bolster Justice Rehnquist's Chief Justice Burger's dissent in Wisconsin v. Constantineau, in which he argued that a federal court should abstain under Pullman when the state courts have not addressed the issue under the state constitution.

And since we are on the subject, I will highlight Jim Pfander's JOTWELL review of Sutton's book from January.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 8, 2019 at 07:45 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Thomas calls for reconsideration of NYT v. Sullivan

In a solo opinion concurring in denial of cert in a defamation action brought by one of the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. It is typical Thomas fare--rejecting a precedent as an improper judicial policy choice that should be reexamined in light of history, convincing to no one else on the Court. But do not be surprised if it makes its way into a presidential tweet as part of his plan to "open up" libel laws--overruling Sullivan is the first, necessary step to that end.

In the final paragraph, Thomas writes "We did not begin meddling in this area until 1964, nearly 175 years after the First Amendment was ratified." But this seems like a rhetorical cheat. The Free Speech Clause was not incorporated against the states under the Fourteenth Amendment until 1925. So, to the extent time matters, it took less than 40 years for the Court to begin meddling in this area, a shorter period of time.

Update: Someone reminded me of an additional point. Another reason that the Court did not use the First Amendment to limit defamation until 1964 was because it was not until 1960 that public officials in Alabama began an organized campaign to use big-money defamation lawsuits to stop the northern press from reporting about segregation and Massive Resistance to Brown, revealing the similarity between seditious libel and defamation when brought to bear by public officials in this context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 19, 2019 at 12:07 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Your new civ pro exam question

A lawyer in Kentucky is threatening to sue a whole lot of people for defamation for commenting on the videos of the Covington Catholic students at the Lincoln Memorial. He was excited by the fact that, because the kids were initially not public figures, he only has to prove negligence rather than actual malice. I believe he is going to have a hard time showing falsity or negligence, since much of the commentary was based on the speaker's interpretation of multiple videos from multiple angles that painted an at-least ambiguous picture. There also is a group-libel angle--one group of potential plaintiffs are Covington Catholic alumni, who claim they have been defamed by the negative comments about their school.

For now, I have a different question: Is there personal jurisdiction in Kentucky (where I assume he plans to sue) over reporters and others on Twitter who saw and commented on the video? Under an effects test, the statements must be directed at Kentucky. That the plaintiffs are from Kentucky is not enough, standing alone. The events being commented on occurred in Washington. The statements were sent to the world, not specifically (or primarily) to Kentucky. Many of the potential defendants have never set foot in Kentucky, certainly not as part of these events.

The counter might be that the students' "Kentuckiness" was part of the public commentary about them--everyone quickly knew and talked about where they were from and where they went to school and the connection of their homes to their presence in DC. And criticism of the school and Covington was part of the criticism of the students. Perhaps that is sufficient to establish purposeful direction at Kentucky.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 23, 2019 at 01:08 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The legal fiction of "clearly established"

Orin Kerr flags this Third Circuit decision holding that a Fourth Amendment right was not clearly established where a binding circuit decision was handed down two days before the events at issue. That was too short a time for the government to read and understand the case, develop new policies to reflect that case, and communicate those policies to the officer. Kerr ponders some interesting questions arising from the case about determining how long it takes for a right to become clearly established and what the government and/or the officer must do to learn the law.

It seems to me this exposes two problems in qualified-immunity law. One is the essentially fictitious nature of tying qualified immunity to factually similar case law--law-enforcement officers do not read or follow case law and they do not perform their daily functions thinking about how the instant situation compares or contrasts with a situation in other cases. Talking about "the law of which the officer would be aware" in terms of case law does not reflect how law enforcement operates.

Second is how the Third Circuit's focus on policymakers establishing policy to reflect the new decision and communicating that policy to the officers. This appears to collapse into municipal-liability analysis (in a case involving a municipality, as opposed to the federal or state governments, such as this one)--government policy and government training of officers is necessary to clearly establish, both hallmarks of municipal liability. So does this suggest that a right is clearly established only if a municipality would be liable for having policies contrary to law or for failing to train on those policies?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 22, 2019 at 11:18 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Impeachment as process

Yoni Applebaum's piece in The Atlantic arguing for impeachment is getting much attention. At its core is the argument that impeachment is an investigatory and inquisitorial process and the only means for the legislature to keep the executive in check between quadrennial elections. It is not about whether the Senate convicts or even whether articles of impeachment pass the House; it is about the inquiry process. And, he argues, atomized committee investigations do not get the whole picture the way a full impeachment inquiry would.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 17, 2019 at 10:28 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What is a "State of the Union Address"?

Nancy Pelosi has disinvited President Trump from coming the House of Representatives to deliver the State of the Union Address, given the "security concerns" created by the government shutdown. She proposes that they find another suitable date once the government has reopened or that he deliver the address in writing (as Pelosi notes was done prior to Woodrow Wilson) on the planned date of January 29.

But what is required for the President to "give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union"? Must the address be presented to Congress through the President's personal appearance in Congress or delivery of a written message to Congress? If the President gives a televised address from the Oval Office (or Mar-a-Lago or anywhere else) about the state of the union that everyone in Congress sees, has he given Congress that information?

And what is the inevitable next step in this escalation? Does Speaker McCarthy choose not to invite President Warren to the House at all, forcing her to deliver the address in writing only?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 16, 2019 at 12:43 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Indivisibility, incidentality, and universality

A judge in the Southern District of New York universally enjoined Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from adding to the census a question about citizenship. The court addressed the government's attempts to squeeze the case into the debate over universal injunctions and to limit the injunction only to the plaintiffs, but found it an "odd fit." The court explained that "these cases do not involve the case-by-case enforcement of a particular policy or statute. Instead, it concerns a single decision about a single questionnaire, to be used on a single census throughout the nation." The alternative for Ross would be to use two census forms (one as to the people covered by the injunction, one as to everyone else), but that might violate both federal statutes and the Constitution and cause the harms (in terms of funding and representation) that the state plaintiffs complain about.

Without saying so, the court is describing a situation of an indivisible right and indivisible remedy. The only remedy protecting the named plaintiffs necessarily protects non-plaintiffs, because the proper census form is issued to everyone, plaintiff and non-plaintiff. This case is analogous to a gerrymander challenge to a congressional district--the remedy of redrawing the district cannot be limited to the plaintiff, but must protect everyone within the district. Or a challenge to a religious display--the remedy of removing the display cannot be limited to the plaintiff, but must protected everyone who also would come in contact with the display.

But such injunctions should not be understood as universal, in the sense of protecting non-parties. They are better understood as protecting the plaintiffs while incidentally benefiting non-parties. The difference may seem semantic, but it is procedurally significant. A person protected by an injunction can seek to enforce the injunction through a motion to enforce and a motion to hold the government in contempt. But that power should be limited to the parties who control the litigation. My framing does not change much about the injunction in this case--Ross is prohibited from issuing a census form containing a citizenship question. What changes is if Ross tried to make the two-form move: Only the parties could move to stop that as violating the injunction, not the non-parties incidentally protected.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 15, 2019 at 12:26 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Universal in name only

Sam Bray analyzes the recent split decisions over universal preliminary injunctions in challenges to the new ACA contraception rules--the Northern District of California limited the injunction to the plaintiff states, while the Eastern District of Pennsylvania made the injunction universal (labeling it nationwide, over course). Sam argues that the latter court offers the best justification for universality, with a particular focus on how the states cannot obtain complete relief from a limited injunction. For example, the court offered the problem of a NJ resident who works (and gets her insurance) from an entity in another state where the new regs apply and where the resident cannot get contraceptive coverage, causing her to turn to New Jersey to pay for it. Like Sam, I am not convinced by the analysis, although I agree it is one of the first courts to defend universality without defaulting to vague principles that make universality the norm.

I was struck by one thing at the end of the opinion. The court identifies the criticism that universal injunctions foreclose adjudication by a number of courts, but insists that is not a problem here, as shown by the contemporaneous N.D. California decision. And that has been true of much of the major constitutional litigation of recent years--multiple courts are adjudicating multiple challenges brought by multiple parties. We are getting percolation.

But that suggests that no court is serious in labeling its injunction universal. No court intends to enforce it as universal by holding the government in contempt, no court recognizes the purported universality of another court's injunction as a basis to stay its hand because its decision is unnecessary, and the government does not appear to treat any one injunction as the universal bar to enforcement. In other words, the government will not enforce the contraception regs in California because of the N.D. Cal particularized injunction, not the E.D. Pa. universal injunction. The latter is universal in name, but not in effect.

If I am right about that, the question becomes why bother. Why are courts going out on a controversial legal ledge to assert a controversial power with no intent to actually exercise it?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 15, 2019 at 11:46 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Judge in ACA case still needs to retake Fed Courts

District Judge O'Connor on Sunday paved the way for an appeal of his decision declaring all of ACA constitutionally invalid, issuing a Final Judgment on Count I in accordance with FRCP 54(b) and a separate Order of a Stay and Partial Final Judgment pending appeal. The latter document gives reasons for certifying partial final judgment and for granting the stay. As to the latter, the court goes to great lengths to explain why the intervenor-defendant states are unlikely to succeed on the merits on appeal, reiterating its standing, merits, and severability analyses from the original order, but concluding that the equities favor a stay.

As has been the case all along, Judge O'Connor continues to make jurisdictional errors.

Standing

Jonathan Adler has a good takedown of the expanded standing analysis, in which Judge O'Connor continues to find injury from the existence of a law absent any risk that the law could be enforced against the plaintiffs. The court relies on the correct principle that a person need not violate a law to have standing, but ignores that those cases required the plaintiff to show at least a genuine threat that the law would be enforced against him and that some penalty would result. He insists that no case requires an assessment of whether the plaintiff is injured by "disregarding" the law. It is true that courts do not put it in those terms, but that is implicit in the requirement of a threat of enforcement, which is triggered by someone disregarding the law.

O'Connor relies on Steffel v. Thompson, in which standing derived from Steffel's stated intention to resume handbilling and the express threat of the police to arrest him for trespassing (as they had his friend) if he did so. He also relies on Clements v. Fashing, in which the plaintiffs (challenging a state law that deemed candidacy for one office as resignation of an existing office) did not announce their candidacy for office, because that announcement would be deemed a resignation. That is, the plaintiffs in both cases would be subject to some mechanism for enforcing the law and it was that enforcement mechanism that caused the injury. In no case did the court find injury based on a statutory obligation that provided for no means of enforcement and no consequences.

O'Connor also tried to get cute, noting that "Chief Justice Marshall never asked whether William Marbury would be injured if he ignored the law and began serving as a justice of the peace without an official commission from James Madison." But that is because Marshall recognized that had Marbury done so, court personnel would have ignored him, not given him a courtroom in which to work, not carried out his orders, and perhaps asked the the Marshals physically remove him from the premises. All of which reflects the enforcement of the challenged law.

Two additional thoughts on standing. First, in a prior post, Adler analogizes the mandate-with-no-penalty to 4 U.S.C. § 8, which provides that "no disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America" and enumerates what civilians and civilian groups cannot do with the flag. Obviously, the law is unenforceable under Texas v. Johnson. But we never get there, because the U.S. Code provides no mechanism for enforcement and imposes no penalties for failing to follow those rules. No court would accord standing to a plaintiff who argues "I want to use the flag as a covering for a ceiling (prohibited by § 4(f)), but I am refraining from doing so because I do not want to break the law," because the plaintiff would suffer no enforcement and sanction for using the flag to cover the ceiling.

Second, standing was established in part because the ban, even if not enforced to keep these plaintiffs out of the United States, sent a message of religious exclusion and made them feel less than full members of the community because of their religion. Some critics of those decisions derided this as "snowflake standing"--the plaintiffs feel bad and are hurt in their delicate snowflake sensibilities. But that does not sound much different than what the plaintiffs are arguing here-they will feel bad (their delicate sensibilities undone) if they have to act contrary to what the written law, otherwise unenforceable, requires them to do.

Appellate Review

The point of these orders was to pave the way for immediate review of the declaratory judgment. All parties had asked for certification of interlocutory review under § 1292(b), but Judge O'Connor instead certified a final judgment on one-but-less-than-all claims. But on the Con Law listserv, Marty Lederman identified a problem--it is not clear that the court finally resolved even one claim. The plaintiffs asked for a declaration that the mandate is invalid and a permanent injunction prohibiting implementation or enforcement of ACA; the court granted the former, but never addressed or reached a conclusion as to the latter remedy. A judgment, even on one claim, may not be final if remedial issues remain on that count.

Another commenter on the listserv suggested two possible outs. One would be to deem the certification of finality as the denial of the injunction. A second would be to treat the improper Rule 54(b) certification as a § 1292(b) certification and proceed that way. Otherwise, the court would have to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and send the case back to the district court to enter the injunction (thereby creating appellate jurisdiction under § 1292(a)(1)) or to certify under § 1292(b).

One question is why Judge O'Connor proceeded this way, since the parties all requested a § 1292(b) certification and not a 54(b) certification. One thought is that he did not want to certify that there could be "substantial ground for difference of opinion" as to constitutional validity or severability. O'Connor has gone to great rhetorical lengths in all of his opinions and orders to make this seem like an obvious, not-at-all-close case with one obvious result, in which defendants can prevail only by demanding that courts acts in an invalid, unlawful, illegitimate, impermissible activist way. Section 1292(b) would require Judge O'Connor to declare that it might be possible for a court, acting in a legitimate way, to reach a different conclusion. That he does not want to certify.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 31, 2018 at 04:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Standing in the ACA case

Good analysis from Nicholas Bagley (Michigan) about the standing problems for the two individual plaintiffs in the ACA litigation. A few additional thoughts.

• This illustrates how enforcement is the trigger for constitutional litigation, not the existence of a constitutionally defective law. An invalid legal obligation that will not be enforced cannot be the subject of litigation. An invalid legal obligation that will be enforced through a tax penalty of $ 0 is, functionally, a legal obligation that cannot be enforced. It still would be better if we discussed this as a question of merits and not jurisdictional thresholds. If these plaintiffs are not injured because the law cannot be enforced against them in any way, then their substantive constitutional rights are not being violated.

• The plaintiffs' argument that they are injured because they believe following the law is the right thing to do (even when that law is not enforceable) is the flip side of requiring government officials to act lawfully  or refrain from acting unlawfully (e.g., reservists in Congress, non-natural born citizens serving as President). Neither is a basis for standing.

• I have not seen any good argument that the 20+ States have standing. But the court skirted that question through the "one good plaintiff" rule--because someone had standing, the case could proceed without having to consider anyone else's standing. Update: In a companion piece, Bagley doubts that the 20 states have standing, which should mean the court cannot enjoin the Administration from enforcing the law as to him; in Bagley's words, the judge has "tied his own hands."

• Standing and jurisdiction have always been dicey in the ACA litigation; this case represents the latest and weakest effort. I wonder if the Fifth Circuit (or SCOTUS if it gets that far) will use that as the basis to get rid of this case, without having to touch the bizarre merits.

• Bagley describes standing doctrine as "near and dear to the hearts of the conservative legal establishment," so that even conservative judges on the Fifth Circuit (and Roberts and Kavanaugh on SCOTUS) will be unlikely to allow this sort of case to go forward. But the doctrine developed when the conservative legal establishment was trying to stop environmentalists from preserving the Nile crocodile, lawyers from challenging unwarranted surveillance of their foreign clients, and atheists from challenging states' creative ways to give government funds to parochial schools. This is the ideological drift of standing--the doctrine may not be so near and dear when it prevents "two guys from Texas" from taking down the nation's health-care system.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2018 at 04:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A quick word on the remedy in the ACA case (Updated)

Sam Bray (as always) beat me to exploring the remedy issues in the district court's declaration on the constitutional invalidity of all of DACA. The court declared ACA invalid in its entirety, but declined to issue an injunction and provided only a declaratory judgment. Here is the wind-up to the post, with which I entirely concur.

In analyzing the effect of the declaratory judgment, then, there are two mistakes to avoid. One is saying the government can ignore it because it's "only" a declaratory judgment. That is incorrect; it is a real judgment, and unless stayed by the district court or an appellate court it deserves the adherence accorded to any other judicial judgment. The other is saying the government is bound to follow the judgment with respect to everyone, party or not. In effect, we would be treating the remedy as a "national declaratory judgment." That, too, is incorrect. To give such a remedy is beyond the judicial power.

The government is bound to follow the judgment (unless, as it should be, it is stayed pending appeal), but only with respect to the parties. *

I also want to flag this language from Marty Lederman's post: "[C]ontrary to almost every media account you've read in the past few hours (come on, New York Times!) Judge O'Connor did not "strike down" the "entire Affordable Care Act" (something he lacks the power to do, in any event) . . ." A federal court cannot erase or eliminate or remove a statute, so it would be wonderful if that term could be removed from the lexicon.

Update: The other procedural/remedial issue is what happens next. The court granted what it called partial summary judgment on one claim (or one issue in one claim) and entered a declaratory judgment, but no injunction (although that is what the first count of the complaint requested). But it is not clear what is appealable here and how. There is no injunction, so § 1292(a) is not in play. Section 2201 says a "declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and shall be reviewable as such," but the view among limited cases is that this assumes the decision is otherwise-final in the sense of disassociating the district court from the case and leaving it nothing to do but execute the judgment. With other claims remaining in the case, this D/J is not final. An appeal would seem to require certification under § 1292(b) or Rule 54(b).

Then there is a question of who can appeal. The United States agrees with the plaintiff states' basic constitutional argument about the zeroed-out penalty and that some provisions are not severable, so it is unlikely to appeal that; it disagrees with severability as to the rest of ACA, so it may appeal that. But what about the core constitutional issues? States were allowed to intervene to defend the parts of the law that DOJ would not, but under Hollingsworth an intervenor that would not be subject to the force of the order would not have standing to appeal. The House likely will intervene come January 3 and would have standing under Windsor, but that would be too late to appeal for § 1292(b), which requires appeal within ten days of certification. Maybe DOJ will appeal the declaration as a whole, then limit its legal arguments, with the states again intervening in the Fifth Circuit to pick up the slack.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2018 at 03:44 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Deepening split on SLAPP laws in federal court

Earlier this month, SCOTUS denied cert in a case out of the Tenth Circuit holding that a state anti-SLAPP law does not apply in federal court under an Erie/Hanna analysis. This week, the Eleventh Circuit weighed in, agreeing that Georgia's law does not apply in an action action CNN.

If you are scoring at home, that is three circuits (1st, 5th, 9th) holding that SLAPP laws apply in federal court and three circuits (DC, 10th, 11th) holding they do not. The Ninth Circuit position is why Stormy Daniels owes Donald Trump $ 300,000 in attorney's fees. But the most recent cases are the three rejecting application.

I was surprised SCOTUS denied cert in the Tenth Circuit case, which had the benefit of using such egregiously incorrect analysis that it begged for correction, even if the Court agreed on the conclusion as to application. Maybe the Court will see the new case as a better vehicle, although because it involves reporting by a major-media outlet, it is less the paradigm SLAPP suit. Regardless, SCOTUS must weigh-in on this at some point.

Update: I have not hit this point in many posts on the subject, but in response to a few email queries: I believe the non-application side has the better argument. Rules 12 and 56 provide mechanisms and standards for weeding-out insufficiently pleaded or supported claims; they "answer the questions in dispute," leaving no room for state law to operate. And both rules are valid because arguably procedural and not abridging, enlarging, or modifying substantive rights. The issue is close and therefore makes a good exam or class hypothetical (I have used it for both).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2018 at 11:43 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, December 14, 2018

9th Circuit taps the brakes (slightly) on universality

The ever-harrowed Ninth Circuit tapped the brakes slightly on district courts issuing universal injunctions. In affirming on the merits an injunction barring enforcement of religious opt-out rules from the contraception mandate in an action brought by five states, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in having the injunction extend beyond the plaintiffs.

The court hit a few important notes. It emphasized that universality is generally disfavored and especially disfavored absent class certification. It highlighted the problems with universal injunctions, including the loss of percolation of issues, the effects on non-plaintiffs, and the risks of forum shopping. And it applied the "complete relief" principle to conclude that a particularized injunction gives states complete relief from the economic harms the opt-out rule would impose on them. That other states may suffer similar harms did not affect the plaintiff states.

The court made clear that universal injunctions are not prohibited, but must be limited to cases in which broad relief is necessary. And it said the issue (as with an earlier case rejecting universality as to sanctuary cities) was a failure to develop the record as to other states, suggesting that building a better record may justify universality. 

But the court grappled with the scope question, a step back from recent hints from that court that universal injunctions were becoming the default, at least in certain cases.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 14, 2018 at 07:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Backing off universality, at least for sanctuary cities

Judge Ramos Southern District of New York enjoined DOJ's sanctuary-city policies in an action brought by New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York City.  (H/T: Ilya Somin, who analyzes the substance of the decision).

Ramos declined to make the injunction universal, although not per se rejecting universality. He emphasized that no sanctuary-city injunctions have remained universal through appellate review and that recent decisions have stayed any non-particular application. The court did extend the injunction to each state's municipal subdivisions, concluding that subdivisions suffer the same injuries described earlier, which necessarily flow to the States by virtue of the subdivisions’ position within the States’ geographic boundaries and political systems, and which are compounded insofar as the States must make and monitor compliance with subdivisions’ subgrants with unlawful conditions." This is the converse of the  Ninth Circuit extending an injunction from party San Francisco to non-party California, because some grant funds sent to California were then distributed to San Francisco. Here, I presume, the state would have to cover any budgetary shortfall caused by the municipality's loss of DOJ funds. Either direction is consistent with the complete-relief requirement. But the court did not accept or apply the broader argument that some states and cities have urged (and that one AG presented during Q&A) that because DOJ has a limited pool of money and the size of the grants varies with the number of applicants, the injunction must be universal so that funds are not disproportionately allocated to non-sanctuary jurisdictions in a way that leaves nothing for sanctuary jurisdictions by the end of litigation.

In any event, this court's approach is a far cry from that of the Ninth Circuit in the DACA litigation, where the court seemed to approach universality as the default.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 4, 2018 at 06:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 03, 2018

Guest Post: Come On, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh! Doctrinal (and Intemperate) Error in the Timbs v. Indiana Oral Argument

The following post is from Rory Little (UC-Hastings and SCOTUSBlog).

It’s bad enough when a Supreme Court Justice expresses sarcastic impatience with an advocate; even experienced advocates are on edge when they appear in the nation’s highest court. Perhaps even worse when the advocate is a sovereign state’s Solicitor General.  But it really is inexcusable when the sarcasm is based on doctrinal error and thus wrong.  Here’s why that happened in last week’s oral argument in Timbs v. Indiana.

Background on the Timbs case and the Doctrine of Incorporation

The State of Indiana sought to forfeit Tyson Timbs’ $42,000 Land Rover after Timbs use it to transport small amounts of heroin to drug deals.  The Indiana Supreme Court declined to consider whether this violated the Eighth Amendment’s “no Excessive Fines” clause, because the U.S. Supreme Court has never definitively said that that clause is “incorporated” against the states (via the Fourteenth Amendment’s “no state shall” deny Due Process clause).  Whether or not Timbs should lose his vehicle, the Question presented in Timbs may seem easy: the doctrine of incorporation, developed only in the 20th Century, is well-accepted. Most recently the Court ruled in 2010 in McDonald that the Second Amendment’s “right … to keep and bear arms” is incorporated and thereby governs state as well is federal actions.  Although it is surprising to many, the Bill of Rights was originally intended to apply only against the federal government, and for our first 100 years or more it was said to have no application to state actions.  However, after a century of litigation, all rights that are found to be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” “so as to be ranked as fundamental,” are now said (McDonald) to be “incorporated” against state action as part of due process.  This includes most – but see below, not all – of the Bill of Rights provisions.

The “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and traditions” test might be well-satisfied by the Eighth Amendment’s command that “excessive fines” shall not be “imposed” -- although the common practice in the early days of our Union of forfeiting entire ships used to run contraband might give an Originalist pause regarding whether a rule against the forfeiture of vessels of crime is in fact so “deeply rooted.”  (As Chief Justice Roberts noted at the Timbs argument “I certainly understand the argument that … with respect to forfeiting instrumentalities of the crime, … [i]t’s always proportionate since it’s the way the crime is accomplished.”)

But one thing is doctrinally clear: not all the rights specified in the Bill of Rights have been incorporated against the States.  For some rights, like the “no Excessive Fines” clause, this might merely be an accident of history.  (One can find a good discussion of “why hasn’t the excessive fines clause already been incorporated?” in the November 26 episode of “First Mondays” with Professors Beth Colgan and Dan Epps”)

The Fifth Amendment’s Grand Jury right has, and for good reason, not been incorporated

But for one Bill of Rights provision in particular – the Fifth Amendment’s right to be charged by a Grand Jury for any “capital or otherwise infamous crime” – the decision to not incorporate is long-standing and quite considered.  Every student and professor of Constitutional Criminal Procedure understands this intentional anomaly.  Yet, as recounted below, it appears to be a “blank spot” in the doctrinal understanding of the Court’s two newest Justices, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.

By way of quick summary, in 1884 in Hurtado v. California, the Supreme Court ruled in no uncertain terms that the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury provision need not bind the states.  The progressive 1879 Constitution of the young state of California had provided a new system, one viewed as more protective than the old grand jury system, permitting the charging of criminal defendants by a prosecutorial “information.”  California’s then-new Penal Code -- unlike secret, non-judicial, one-sided grand jury proceedings -- permitted the prosecution’s information to be immediately tested by a preliminary hearing, presided over by a judge, providing counsel for the defendant and allowing for cross-examination.  When Joseph Hurtado was charged with murder (and ultimately sentenced to death) based upon an information rather than grand jury indictment, the U.S. Supreme Court viewed it as a “question … of grave and serious import” whether the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury rule should be required, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to apply against the state.  In a thorough opinion (while certainly sounding different in some ways from today), the Court ruled that “progress [and] improvement” is not forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that California’s information system, with all its additional protections for a defendant, was at least as protective of “principles of liberty and justice” as the grand jury system.

Hurtado has well stood the test of time.  Critics of the federal grand jury system are many.  Meanwhile, over half the states allow criminal charging by information rather than grand jury; and two states (Pennsylvania and Connecticut) have abolished the use of criminal charging grand juries entirely.)  Thus the respected NACDL (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), which has filed amicus on Timbs’ behalf regarding Excessive Fines, would surely oppose (as would others on all sides of the criminal justice aisle) incorporation of the Grand Jury clause.

Intemperate Doctrinal Error at the Timbs oral argument

This brings us, finally, to Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh at the Timbs oral argument (transcript is here).  Justice Gorsuch lit into Indian’s Solicitor General Thomas Fisher (who I do not know) from the start.  He demanded agreement that “the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the states.”  When Fisher resisted (unsurprisingly, since that is the Question Presented), Justice Gorsuch persisted:

 I mean, most of the incorporation cases took place in like the 1940s.” [– this is an erroneous account in itself as virtually all the criminal procedure incorporation case were products of the 1960s Warren Court –]  And here we are in 2018 still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights.  Really?  Come on, General.

The audio on this last statement (audio of the argument is here) is undeniably harsh: Justice Gorsuch’s tone is, frankly, unbecoming.

Fisher politely stood his ground, and Justice Kavanaugh took up Gorsuch’s point -- although he at least had the courtesy to pose his view as questions, a fortunate method since in fact he and Justice Gorsuch were wrong:        

Isn’t it too late in the day to argue that any of the Bill of Rights is not incorporated? … [A]ren’t all the Bill of Rights at this point in our conception of what they stand for, the history of each of them, incorporated?

As you now know, these rhetorical questions and accusations – “Come on, General” -- are flatly, doctrinally, incorrect.  Hurtado stands in their way, fully and after 134 years of careful consideration. 

Conclusion

Why does any other this matter, you may wonder?  Errors must happen all the time even in Supreme Court arguments, right?  Why single these four pages of transcript out?

Two reasons.  First, my perhaps old-fashioned view is that a little bit of humility is a good thing for at least new Supreme Court Justices, especially regarding areas of the law in which they may not have deep experience.  Neither Justice Gorsuch or Kavanaugh has any substantial background in criminal law, and at the D.C. Circuit at least Justice Kavanaugh’s criminal law exposure was not extensive.

Second, and far more important, one must point out doctrinal errors if one can before they leak into published Supreme Court opinions, not after.  It would be a grave error to say, sarcastically or otherwise, that all the rights in the Bill of Rights have been incorporated.  And it would be a far more serious error to suggest that a carefully considered procedure such as criminal information-followed-by-preliminary-hearing charging is somehow in danger of being wiped out by slapdash dicta in a Supreme Court case not even presenting the question.  It is for that reason, and with all respect for the understandably challenging task of being elevated to the Nation’s highest court, that the foregoing is published.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 3, 2018 at 11:12 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 30, 2018

Incorporation and Government Structure

Inspired by this week's SCOTUS oral argument in Timbs v. Indiana, my colleague (and partner in crime) Andy Hessick and one of our talented UNC students, Elizabeth Fisher, wrote the following about incorporation.  I tend to think that they are wrong--especially about the jury trial right--but I'm having a hard time articulating precisely why.  They are looking for input (and I'm looking for help with counterarguments for the dinner table) so I'm posting it here for folks to weigh in with comments.

Earlier this week the Court heard argument in Timbs v. Indiana, which asks whether the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause against the states.  Questions for oral argument put the smart money on the Court saying it is incorporated.  If that’s right, then all of the first 8 amendments will be incorporated except for three provisions: the Third Amendment, the right to a jury in civil proceedings, and the right to a grand jury. The reason the Third Amendment is not incorporated is that the Court has never had the opportunity to consider the issue. Third Amendment claims are rare. But the non-incorporation of the other two provisions is harder to explain.

The extent to which the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates rights against the states has been a longstanding question. The text of the Fourteenth Amendment is vague, and the history surrounding its ratification is ambiguous.  Over the years, justices have floated various theories of incorporation.  Some have pressed for total incorporation; others argued for a fundamental-fairness test.  Today, the prevailing doctrine is the so-called “selective incorporation” test under which a right is incorporated if is fundamental or deeply rooted in our nation’s history. This test does not derive from either the text or the history of the Amendment.  Instead, it rests on the two principles of protecting individual rights while trying to avoid unduly constraining the states.

Under this selective incorporation test, incorporating the Excessive Fines Clause seems like a no-brainer. Prohibiting excessive fines is just as fundamental or deeply rooted as many of the other rights the Court has incorporated.  But it is hard to see why the grand jury and civil jury clauses are not incorporated under this test.  They are not obviously less fundamental or deeply rooted in our nation’s history than other guarantees in the Bill of Rights.  The inclusion of those rights in the Bill of Rights alone strongly suggests their importance. But the Court has repeatedly said that those rights are not incorporated, including in the 1970s after the Court started its modern wave of incorporation.

Questions from some of the justices in the Timbs argument suggest that they are prepared to incorporate all of the guarantees in the first 8 amendments based on a total incorporation theory.  But there are reasons not to incorporate the jury rights.  One reason—a reason we are developing in a new paper—is that incorporating these rights would more significantly interfere with the states’ sovereignty than the incorporation of other rights. Most rights impose substantive restrictions. For example, the First Amendment limits the government’s ability to regulate speech.  Other rights require the government to follow particular procedures.  For example, the Due Process Clause requires the government to afford process before depriving individuals of life, liberty, or property.  The grand jury and civil jury clauses do much more.  They require the government to adopt particular structures.  For example, the Seventh Amendment obliges the government to provide juries in common law cases over $20.

Requiring states to adopt government structures significantly intrudes on the states’ prerogative to arrange their own governments. Under the Constitution, states are sovereign except to the extent that the Constitution provides otherwise. An essential feature of sovereignty is the power to arrange government and distribute power among governing bodies.  The Framers deliberately protected that power of the states.  The only limitation they imposed is that states must have republican forms of government, but they left the states vast discretion in structuring their republican governments.  Not incorporating the grand jury and civil jury clauses avoids dictating to the states how to arrange their judiciaries.

Of course, the obvious objection to this structural rights theory is that the Court has incorporated the right to a jury in criminal proceedings.  But it may be that the Court took a wrong turn in incorporating that right.  Certainly, the incorporation of that right has resulted in doctrinal anomalies.  For instance, despite the Court’s insistence that incorporated rights apply in the same way to the state and federal governments, the right to a criminal jury does not apply the same way to the states and the federal government. Among other things, although juries must be unanimous in federal criminal cases, they do not need to be unanimous in state proceedings.  This inconsistency suggests at least some recognition that incorporating the right interferes with the states’ prerogative to operate its judiciary.

The idea is still in nascent form.  We still have much work to do on it, and we’d love any thoughts on it. 

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on November 30, 2018 at 11:17 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Constitutional thoughts | Permalink | Comments (6)