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 (3)

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 (0)

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)

Nationwide Injunctions at the National Association of Attorneys General

Yesterday, I appeared with Suzette Malveaux (Colorado) for a panel on nationwide injunctions at the fall meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. It was a fun discussion. Time ran short, so I did not have the chance to make one point: State AGs stand in a unique position because they are the only class of litigants who may be both beneficiaries and victims of universal injunctions--beneficiaries when they sue the federal government, victims when they defend the validity of their state laws.

I will post a video link if one becomes available.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 30, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The limits of Spiderman

Ilya Somin has an interesting post wielding the Spiderman Principle--"With great power comes greats responsibility"--to argue against judicial deference to the executive and supposed executive expertise in those areas, such as immigration and national security, in which the executive is believed to have the greatest power. Under the Spiderman Principle, the fact that executive power is so great in these areas requires greater judicial scrutiny and greater justification from the executive, to ensure that this power is used responsibly and not abused.

I agree with Ilya that excessive judicial deference is a problem. But it seems to me the Spiderman Principle does not get us very far, because it cuts both ways. The courts would argue that deference and referral to expertise is compelled by the Spiderman Principle--it is how they bring some responsibility to temper the exercise of their great power to declare invalid the executive's conduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 18, 2018 at 10:32 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

What sovereign immunity has wrought (Update)

Steve writes at SCOTUSBlog about a motion in a pending cert case asking the Court to decide on the validity of Matthew Whitaker's appointment as AG, in order to figure out who should be substituted (for Jeff Sessions) as respondent in the petition. This is happening while lower courts consider the validity of the Whitaker appointment in more substantive contexts. (Gerard Magliocca believes that a Court order compelling briefing will compel Whitaker to withdraw or compel the President to nominate a new AG).

This is another example of how much time is wasted by sovereign immunity, rather than being honest about the fact that the government, and not any individual officer, is the real defendant in a challenge to a constitutionally invalid law.

Update: There is a discussion on the Civ Pro/Fed Courts Prof listserv about why plaintiffs ever sue the officer by name rather than office. FRCP 17(d) provides that "A public officer who sues or is sued in an official capacity may be designated by official title rather than by name, but the court may order that the officer's name be added," so it is permissible to sue the title. And since an EPY action is against the officer in his official capacity, it is against the office/title, so we end up in the same place. This gets me to my original point--if we just sued the office (and thus the U.S.), it would remain more straight-forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 17, 2018 at 03:15 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 16, 2018

White House must return Acosta credentials

According to news reports, District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled from the bench, granting a TRO based on the failure to provide process, without reaching the First Amendment question.

It will be interesting to see if the White House appeals. Although the order was styled as a TRO, the court would treat it as an appealable preliminary injunction should the government choose to appeal. But the court never reached whether the First Amendment in any way limits control over press access. And the due process focus means that, in theory, the White House and Secret Service could give him process tomorrow and reach the same decision. There is a motive to return the credential and let the litigation play out in the district court first.

Update: Garrett Epps (Baltimore) at The Atlantic ties Kelly's decision to the unsung decision in Island Trees v. Pico, in which SCOTUS held that the school district had unfettered power to select books to place on the shelves, but the First Amendment imposed limits on the district removing books already placed (based on objections to content. I highlighted Pico as an important example of why Brennan was the heir to Holmes in protecting free speech, although a decision that gained little traction, including in debates over internet filters in libraries. I agree with Garrett that it would be nice to see a revival of the decision, including in a new context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2018 at 10:48 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, November 02, 2018

Packers fan finds counsel for First Amendment claim against Bears

I have written about Beckman v. Chicago Bears, a lawsuit by a Bears season-ticket holder and Packers fan who was prevented from going onto the field in Packers gear. Proceeding pro se (although with some informal guidance for a time), Beckman survived a 12(b)(6) by a very forgiving district court. It now appears Beckman has obtained counsel for the long-haul--the First Amendment Clinic at Duke and a Chicago attorney named Michel Lieber.

I think his First Amendment claim is a good one, if he can get past the state action problems. I remain surprised it took him this long to find counsel, but I am glad he found someone. This could get interesting.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 2, 2018 at 02:38 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Judicial departmentalism and birthright citizenship

The President announced plans to issue an executive order that would deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents. Assume: 1) Trump (or the attorneys and aides advising him) genuinely believes this is constitutionally valid, on the best understanding of § 1; 2) § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees birthright citizenship (i.e., Trump and his attorneys are wrong); and 3) the Court has given no signals of intent to move from its current interpretation of § 1.

So how should we speak about what Trump is proposing? Should we say he is acting unconstitutionally? Is that fair, given that he is an independent constitutional actor who believes in the validity of what he is doing? How might we otherwise describe it? If we accept the President's independent constitutional interpretive authority, can he exercise it even if he knows he will lose once the dispute reaches court? Or is his power more limited, to those situations in which he has reason to believe (from some judicial hints) that the Court may move off the judicial interpretation, so defeat in court is not guaranteed?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 30, 2018 at 11:29 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (14)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

On the Georgia voting case

A district judge in the Northern District of Georgia on Wednesday preliminarily enjoined enforcement of certain regulations, specifically the "exact match" requirements for absentee ballots. Plaintiffs were three voting-rights organizations and a number of individual voters. A few thoughts:

• This is the type of case that Amanda Frost highlights as appropriate for universal* injunctions--time-sensitive and on a large scale. But this case also shows ways to extend the scope of the injunction by extending the scope of litigation. The court found that the voting-rights organizations had direct standing, given the burdens the regulations placed on them in having to notify the public of this problem. The organizations also argued associational standing on behalf of their members, although the court did not address that. The case also would have been perfect for a 23(b)(2) class and the court could have entered a classwide preliminary injunction prior to certification.

[*] Another reason "universal" works better as a term--an injunction halting enforcement of state law can be universal in extending beyond the parties, but not nationwide in any sense. And to then have nationwide and statewide injunctions would add a layer of nomenclature to the identical problem.

• It is interesting that no political party or campaign sued and attempted to assert third-party standing on behalf of voters (the typical path to broad injunctive relief against voting restrictions). This illustrates the way in which the franchise has become a partisan issue--one party wants to make voting more demanding (put aside whether the reasons are valid or not), the other party wants to make voting easier and available for more people (again, put aside whether for valid reasons or not). So a party jumping into a lawsuit, even to protect a neutral principle such as the right to vote, will appear to be acting for partisan advantage. This is especially true in Georgia, where the person making and enforcing the restrictions is a candidate for governor.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 25, 2018 at 11:10 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

SLAPP dismissal of Stormy Daniels' defamation suit

Judge Otero of the Central District of California dismissed Stormy Daniel's defamation action against President Trump under the Texas anti-SLAPP statute, holding that the President's tweets were rhetorical hyperbole and imposing attorney's fees under the statute.

Three quick thoughts.

The basic point about rhetorical hyperbole is correct as a matter of the First Amendment. I think the basic premise of this defamation suit is problematic--"A accuses X of doing something, X denies it, so A sues X for defamation for calling her a liar."

Anti-SLAPP suits are swallowing the First Amendment  as a defense to defamation, in a way I do not believe the statutes were intended to do. SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation." The paradigm that motivated these laws was Wal Mart bringing a defamation suit against a citizen who spoke at a city council meeting against a proposal to build a Wal Mart in town--where the lawsuit is designed to deter citizens from engaging in the public discussion. The statutes were geared towards situations with power and money imbalances (hence the fee-shifting), where the point of the suit is to make people think twice about engaging in public discussion over these matters. Not every defamation suit is a SLAPP suit. It certainty does not fit this suit--a defamation claim against the wealthy President of the United States over his obnoxious tweets, with no realistic prospect that anyone will be deterred from public participation. This seems a case that should be left to the First Amendment (especially given the court's focus on rhetorical hyperbole, a First Amendment concern).

The circuit split continues over whether SLAPP statutes apply in federal court. But this case offered several wrinkles. Texas law applied, so C.D. Cal. was applying the Texas SLAPP statute, which the Fifth Circuit has not yet determined applies in federal court. And because the case was transferred from the Southern District of New York to the Central District of California, Second Circuit precedent (which has not determined the Erie issue) applies rather than Ninth Circuit (which holds that the SLAPP laws do apply). A cert petition in the Tenth Circuit case is pending; I wonder if the Court will be more interested in the issue.

An additional wrinkle is that the district court arguably gave the game away at one point. In explaining why the SLAPP motion could be resolved without discovery, the court analogized it to a 12(b)(6). But if this is the same as a 12(b)(6), then there is a controlling federal statute that should be applied over any state law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 17, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (11)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Flipping the burden on voluntary cessation

This decision from the Fifth Circuit seems wrong, at least in its analysis. The court found moot a challenge to the New Orleans Public Defender's wait list for non-capital cases, because the state legislature allocated the PD's office sufficient funds and the office eliminated the wait list. The court stated:

we are justified in treating a voluntary governmental cessation of possibly wrongful conduct with some solicitude." Absent evidence to the contrary, we are to presume public-spiritedness, says the Supreme Court. Government officials "in their sovereign capacity and in the exercise of their official duties are accorded a presumption of good faith because they are public servants, not self-interested private parties." So, "[w]ithout evidence to the contrary, we assume that formally announced changes to official governmental policy are not mere litigation posturing.

But this seems to flip the burden of persuasion on voluntary cessation, presuming the government will not resume unlawful conduct (because the government is public-spirited) absent evidence from the plaintiff to the contrary. But this seems inconsistent with SCOTUS' insistence that "the defendant claiming that its voluntary compliance moots a case bears the formidable burden of showing that it is absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur."

It does not seem possible to reconcile this case with Nike, at least in terms of the stated standard. The unprincipled explanation is that the Fifth Circuit was suspicious of the entire case and so was looking for a way to dump it. The plaintiffs and the defendant (the PD Office) agreed that the wait list was constitutionally invalid and the PD enacted the policy only because the lack of legislative funding tied its hands. The court hints that the entire action is "a coordinated public-relations effort to force funding" rather than a genuine attempt to enforce constitutional rights.

Suspicion aside, this agreed-upon conclusion meant it was unlikely that the PD would reenact the challenged policy on its own. Which may be true and may justify finding the case moot. But the burden remains on the PD to show that, not on the plaintiffs to rebut the assumption.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 12, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Might progressives adopt judicial departmentalism?

Slate is running a debate between Daniel Hemel (Chicago) and Christopher Jon Sprigman (NYU) about whether progressives should abandon judicial supremacy and a belief in the Court and what it should replace that with. Hemel is more in favor of retaining faith in a (modified) Court, while Sprigman is more pessimistic.

Sprigman points to a clause in the Canadian Constitution that allows a national or provincial legislature to override a Supreme Court decision, by allowing a law to operate "notwithstanding" a court decision to the contrary. He proposes a law that allows Congress to override a Supreme Court decision (made in its appellate jurisdiction), then strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear cases resisting the overrides.

But I wonder if judicial departmentalism, which allows the other branches to ignore precedent and act on their own constitutional interpretations, gets us to the same place. Under a judicial departmentalist regime, Congress could reenact and the executive could continue to enforce a law that the Court had declared constitutionally invalid against anyone other than the party to the original case (who is protected by a judgment). Under judicial departmentalism, there is no need for an "override" of SCOTUS's decision, because the only binding effect of SCOTUS' decision on the other branches is its judgment prohibiting enforcement against the plaintiffs in that case. The problem remains that the courts must apply SCOTUS precedent in the challenge to the new law or subsequent enforcement efforts, so the result of new litigation over the same constitutional issue will be the same. But Sprigman's jurisdiction-stripping proposal may address that concern. Or the executive's repeated reassertion of the law's validity may cause the Court to yield to the other branches in the exchange, as happened during the New Deal (although for slightly different reasons, the idea remains the same).

I would also note Hemel's post arguing that "the court’s worst moments have been moments of weakness, not overexertions of strength." This echoes the argument by Suzanna Sherry (and subsequent micro-symposium) that the Court's greatest failures are when it is inactivist, standing by and declaring laws constitutionally valid.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 11, 2018 at 07:19 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Half measure on universal injunction in sanctuary cities case

On Thursday, District Judge Orrick of the Northern District of California enjoined enforcement of DOJ regulations denying law enforcement funds to sanctuary cities. Judge Orrick previously enjoined enforcement of a presidential order denying funds to sanctuary cities. Judge Orrick made that prior injunction universal, although the Ninth Circuit narrowed it to protect only San Francisco and non-party California, concluding that the record did not support universality.

Undeterred, Judge Orrick made this injunction universal, although with several pages of analysis and justification. That analysis ultimately comes down to this--when a narrow law or regulation (or at least a federal law or regulation) is constitutionally invalid, a universal injunction is proper. And despite the rhetoric of "careful consideration," that principle is unbounded and always applicable.

The court acknowledges (and purports to share) the concerns that universality preempts percolation of issues. But then he offers two points in response: 1) the issues here are the same as in the Seventh and Third Circuits, so percolation is occurring and 2) this is a "narrow constitutional issue," so it "does not seem to be the type of situation in which allowing more cases to percolate in federal courts would be of much benefit." The second point is simply wrong. Pure and narrow legal issues benefit from percolation, from multiple sets of eyes considering and analyzing legal questions; this is the first time I have heard it suggested otherwise. The first point misses the main issue: The first court to enter a universal injunctions ends (or should end) all litigation on the issue,; this renders litigation in other courts either moot (because any party to the second action is already protected by the original universal injunction) or dangerous (because the second court issues an order conflicting with the original universal injunction, potentially imposing conflicting obligations on the defendant).

But the court hedged slightly, staying the universality pending appellate review of a narrower alternative holding about the scope of the underlying federal statute (which applied only to the parties and thus did not warrant universality). This may become a common move between district courts, who seem to like universality, and courts of appeals, who are more circumspect about scope--make the injunction universal, but stay it. Judge Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois made the same move.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2018 at 10:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Slate discovers judicial departmentalism

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern contemplates the "full-blown constitutional crisis" that will arise if the Democrats regain control of the White House and Congress and attempt to resist an illegitimate Supreme Court. While finding the tools of segregationists "appalling," he suggests Democrats and progressives may find this the only option.

In reality, Stern is describing judicial departmentalism. But he fails to recognize the judgment/precedent distinction that makes this not a constitutional crisis but how the interbranch constitutional conversation should function. This conversation can produce two outcomes. One is that the judicial view will prevail because of the incentives (loss of qualified immunity, attorney's fees, repeated losses) for the executive to voluntarily comply. The other is that executive non-compliance with precedent (while following individual judgments) may cause the judiciary to change course.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 4, 2018 at 10:37 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"Nationwide" Injunctions Are Really "Universal" Injunctions and they are Never Appropriate (Final)

I am pleased that the final version of my article on universal injunctions has been published in Lewis & Clark Law Review. The editing process over the summer was quite adventurous. I added four or five different updates and sets of changes to account for new developments, including resolution of the travel ban (and Justice Thomas' concurring opinion), the court of appeals decisions on scope-of-injunction in both sanctuary-city cases, and the class action in the unaccompanied-minor abortion litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 29, 2018 at 09:00 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Arguing about the right issue

Bloomberg reports on oral argument in Hargan v. Garza, the challenge to HHS policy surrounding pregnant unaccompanied immigrant teens seeking abortions. (Marty Lederman analyzes the arguments). The district court certified a class of all pregnant immigrant teens in HHS detention, then issued a class-wide injunction. According to the report, the plaintiffs' attorney received some pushback on the scope of that class, because it includes pregnant teens who are not seeking abortions (counsel responded that the issue also was access to abortion counseling).

The point is that the plaintiffs in this action followed the right procedures--define and redefine the class, then have the injunction match the class. Universal injunctions in individual cases allow plaintiffs to skip that step--no one would take on the difficult work of defining and certifying a class if the court is willing to leap to an injunction that protects the universe based on a complaint by one person.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2018 at 08:40 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Can you say "Speech or Debate"?

I am a Democrat. But this may be the dumbest thing I have seen. Even if a court could enjoin executive branch officials to turn over documents (questionable on political question grounds), the Speech or Debate Clause makes about as clear as anything in the Constitution that a court cannot enjoin legislative officials from taking a fundamental legislative action such as a vote. As one commentator put it, that's just not how any of this works. I also doubt Merkley has standing to sue the executive, but there is no reason to even reach that issue.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 26, 2018 at 04:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Guest Post: Would Appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court be Constitutional?

If the Senate votes Judge Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, it seems pretty clear that he will solidify a staunchly conservative majority on the Court. This new majority will stake out firmly conservative positions on a range of critical issues, including voting rights, reproductive rights, and corporate rights. With a Justice Kavanaugh on board, the Supreme Court will bring a strong ideological bias to its decision making. While that is highly controversial, it’s one of the features of our judicial appointment process.

Or is it? We ought to consider the constitutional implications of ideological bias on the Supreme Court. In particular, principles of due process and the framers’ original intent provide good reason to think that neither a conservative nor liberal majority should be able to impose its views on the Court.  

The Due Process Clause promises litigants that they will receive an impartial hearing before a neutral court. And a neutral court decides cases without any personal, political, or other bias. Once Judge Kavanaugh joins the Supreme Court, it won’t be a neutral court. Any party promoting a liberal viewpoint before the Justices would not be able to count on a fair shot at prevailing.

Because it is unfair for litigants to have their cases decided by an ideologically-biased court, other countries and some U.S. states have designed their highest courts so decisions reflect a broad range of ideological views. Arguably, due process requires something similar for the Supreme Court.

A strong view of due process would demand ideological moderation for each Justice, an approach taken in some European countries. In Germany, for example, nominees to the Constitutional Court must receive a two-thirds vote of approval and therefore must appeal to legislators on both sides of the partisan aisle. Instead of getting judges who are either strongly conservative or liberal, German litigants get judges who are moderate. Like Germany, Portugal and Spain require supermajority votes for appointments to their constitutional courts. So we might say that due process requires restoration of a strong filibuster rule in the Senate or a strong supermajority on final voting for judicial nominations. That would force presidents to nominate Justices acceptable to both parties.

A less demanding view of due process would focus on overall balance on the Court rather than the ideologies of individual Justices. While there are different ways to achieve overall balance, the simplest path for the Supreme Court would be to follow the example of a couple of states and a number of countries. In many European countries, high court decisions are made by consensus or at least a supermajority vote, so justices on both sides of the ideological spectrum have to support the courts’ opinions. State constitutions in North Dakota and Nebraska also employ this path to ideological balance. The North Dakota Supreme Court can declare a legislative enactment unconstitutional only with the support of at least four out of the five justices.  In Nebraska, five out of seven justices are needed to hold a legislative act unconstitutional.

How large should a supermajority be? Since there may be times when six Justices are either conservative or liberal, it probably would be necessary to require more than a two-thirds supermajority to ensure that decisions always reflect the perspectives of both sides of the philosophical divide. Likely, it would make most sense to require decision making by consensus of the entire Court.

What would the framers think about this? On one hand, they didn’t include in the Constitution a requirement for ideological balance on the Supreme Court. On the other hand, they recognized the need to amend the Constitution with a Bill of Rights that includes the Due Process Clause’s guarantee of impartial courts.

With ideological balance, the Supreme Court would be more faithful to the framers’ intentions for our constitutional system. The founding fathers worried greatly about “factions” pursuing their self-interest to the detriment of the overall public good. Accordingly, the constitutional drafters designed a system that they thought would block factional control of the national government. But the framers did not anticipate the extent to which political parties would form dominant factions that could gain command of government power. For example, the framers did not anticipate how partisan ties between presidents and members of Congress would limit the legislative branch's checking and balancing of the executive branch. Similarly, the framers did not expect—nor did they want—a Supreme Court that would reflect the views of only one side of the political spectrum. Indeed, when Alexander Hamilton explained the Constitution’s appointment provisions in The Federalist Papers, he emphasized the need to avoid nominations that reflect partiality instead of the overall public interest.

Supermajority voting on the Supreme Court fits well with constitutional principle in other ways. As the Supreme Court regularly observes, legislation passed by Congress carries a strong presumption of constitutionality. Requiring a supermajority to override reinforces that presumption. The Court does not exercise the same level of deference to state government action, but in those cases, the Supreme Court is interpreting the Constitution and effectively amending our understanding of the Constitution. Accordingly, it makes sense for the Justices to do so by supermajority vote, just as amendments to the Constitution require supermajority support from Congress and the states.

To be sure, the Supreme Court has observed that constitutional concerns are not raised when a judge favors one or another ideological view. Anyone with the appropriate training and experience for the judiciary will have developed opinions on important legal issues. According to the Court, due process prohibits judicial bias against a party to a proceeding, not bias against a legal view that the party might advocate.

But the fact that we must accept individual judges with ideological leanings does not prevent us from seeking moderate rather than strongly ideological Justices or from ensuring an overall ideological balance on the Court. Under a fair reading of the Constitution, litigants ought to be able to ensure that their cases are decided in an ideologically-balanced way.

And ensuring balance might address the declining level of public approval of the Supreme Court. A majority of Americans once expressed strong confidence in the court. According to a July Gallup poll, only 37 percent do now.

Posted by David Orentlicher on September 16, 2018 at 02:41 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (24)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Yet evading review

Mootness can be overcome* if the claim is capable of repetition yet evading review. One important limitation on this doctrine, that often gets confused or overlooked, is that the harm must be reasonably likely to recur as to this plaintiff, not generally and not as to someone else.

[*] I do not like to speak of it as an "exception" to mootness because I subscribe to Scalia's argument that a case that is C/R/E/R is simply not moot.

The Eighth Circuit held that a an action by a Democratic elector challenging Minnesota's faithless-elector law was not C/R/E/R. The court held that it did not evade review because the plaintiff waited too long to file suit, thereby shortening the time period. Rather than suing on November 8 (right after the election) or November 29 (when the results were certified), he waited until December 19, the day his vote (for Bernie Sanders) was discounted and he was removed as an elector. That left only 2 1/2 weeks to litigate, whereas a lawsuit on December 8 would have allowed almost two months for expedited litigation in both the trial court and court of appeals.

But that assumes the court would have found standing and ripeness on November 8, which is not certain. The plaintiff would have argued then that he intended to vote for Sanders and that the faithless-elector law would disqualify his vote. But courts are so inconsistent about standing that it is hard to know whether that would work. Moreover, the evading-review applies when the time is too short to litigate the issue fully, which must included SCOTUS review. So while the "district court plainly was prepared to resolve the matter with dispatch (it convened a hearing within three days and ruled on the fourth), and this court has demonstrated that it can expedite appeals in time-sensitive cases," that does not account for SCOTUS, which may have wanted a crack at a case declaring invalid a faithless-elector law. The notion that two months would have been enough time to fully litigate this issue, had the plaintiff only not sat on his rights, seems dubious.

It also is unnecessary, because the better argument is that this is not reasonably capable of repetition as to this person. The plaintiff could not show a "reasonable expectation" that he would be subject to this law again. It is doubtful the Minnesota Democratic Party will appoint him as an elector. And he cannot show that he plans to vote for someone other than the popular-vote winner so as to have the law enforced against him; that is too unknown to constitute a remediable injury at this point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2018 at 07:22 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Injunction Authority Clarification Act of 2018

Introduced by House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (who miraculously discovered the constitutional command for particularized injunctions on January 20, 2017), the bill prohibits "an order that purports to restrain the enforcement against a non-party of any statute, regulation, order, or similar authority, unless the non-party is represented by a party acting in a representative capacity pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure."

Goodlatte's conversion of partisan convenience aside, it is a good bill. It addresses and eliminates the real problem of non-party protection, without conflating distinct and non-problematic issues of geographic scope (by controlling venue) or source (by pushing cases to three-judge district courts). It leaves broad relief available through 23(b)(2) injunctive class actions. And it does not purport to change the Court's standard for the scope of an injunction--commensurate with the violation and no more burdensome than necessary to provide complete relief; the bill thus should continue to allow broad systemic injunctions where remedies are indivisible (e.g., legislative redistricting or religious displays) or where relief to the non-party is necessary for the plaintiff to obtain complete relief.

And on one old scholarly note--I am glad the bill does not speak of jurisdiction but of remedy, which should be a non-jurisdictional merits-related issue.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 11, 2018 at 07:13 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Thursday, September 06, 2018

In search of Deep Throat

The greatest disappointment about the anonymous NYT op-ed? We have a corrupt and scandal-plagued administration and an anonymous source talking publicly, but no good porn movies after which to name that anonymous source. Perhaps something off Stormy Daniels' IMDB page.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 6, 2018 at 08:52 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Judge Willett questions qualified immunity

Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett, a conservative and Trump long-lister for SCOTUS, "concurred dubitante" to question qualified-immunity doctrine in this case. (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy, HTing Josh Blackman). The court found that the Texas Medical Board violated the rights of the plaintiff doctor and two patients in issuing and enforcing administrative subpoenas, but that the right was not clearly established.

Willett derides qualified immunity as a deus ex machina that smacks of "unqualified impunity" by letting officers behave badly so long as they are the first to behave badly. He emphasizes two problems with current doctrine--the inconsistency over how factually similar precedent must be to clearly establish a right and the continued tendency of courts to skip merits and decide the right is not clearly established, thereby depriving plaintiffs of precedent that can be used to clearly establish the right. Requiring a plaintiff to produce identical precedent as courts create less precedent is a catch-22, an Escherian Stairwell, and a heads-defendans-win-tails-plaintiffs-lose situation. Willett joins the growing cross-ideological chorus of judges (including Justices Thomas and Sotomayor, as well as Judge Jack Weinstein) and scholars (Will Baude and Joanna Schwartz) urging recalibration of the doctrine.

On that cross-ideological consensus, it is telling that Willett's statement comes in an ideologically unique case--a regulatory body allegedly overstepping its authority in investigating a licensed professional sounding in the the regulatory over-zealousness that libertarian judges dislike. It does not come in the more frequent (and ideologically different) qualified immunity case case arising from a police officer using excessive force against an unarmed person of color.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 4, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, September 03, 2018

Lawyering up in the Kavanaugh hearings

I have no intention of watching the national travesty of the Kavanaugh hearings, because nothing he says or does this week will make any difference to his confirmation. (I have in the past employed the common description of this as Kabuki, but I was told by a Japanese scholar that Kabuki, while stylized, is not empty or devoid of meaning, which is what the term is used to describe with respect to hearing).

I am, however, intrigued by this idea of hiring counsel to handle questioning, getting a lawyer with the skill and expertise to ask meaningful questions of witnesses and force them to give answers, rather than the word salad that passes for dialogue between Senators who lack the knowledge, training, and skill to perform the task and witnesses with no desire (or practical obligation) to answer. The historical examples the article provides (Watergate, Iran-Contra, Army-McCarthy) were investigatory hearings rather than confirmation hearings, so the need for cross examination and adverseness was clear. But the point remains--hired counsel would be much better able to perform the task. How much better might the exchange be if the Democrats hired Marty Lederman or Seth Waxman or Republicans in the future were to hire David Bernstein or Paul Clement to have a genuine constitutional dialogue?

Update: The author of the article is David A. Kaplan, author of the new book The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court's Assault on the Constitution and a guest on this week's First Mondays podcast. Kaplan argues that the Court should be less interventionist (he interviewed several Justices, who referred to him as "Felix"), including urging the argument that the public should understood SCOTUS decisions as resolving a case for past parties but not necessarily for future parties. I like the second part of that.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2018 at 02:54 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Damnatio memoriae

This is an interesting case from the Sixth Circuit (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy). Plaintiff sued the recorders of deeds throughout Ohio, alleging that continued maintenance of deeds, plat maps, and other property documents containing (unenforceable) racially restrictive covenants violated equal protection and the FHA. The court held that the plaintiff lacked standing. He suffered no economic injury because he offered no evidence that he had been unable to purchase property. Any non-economic injury of a feeling of not belonging was not particularized to him, but undifferentiated and generalized.

The majority opinion, written by Judge Boggs, ends on the following:

In ancient Rome, the practice of damnatio memoriae, or the condemnation of memory, could be imposed on felons whose very existence, including destruction of their human remains, would literally be erased from history for the crimes they had committed. Land title documents with racially restrictive covenants that we now find offensive, morally reprehensible, and repugnant cannot be subject to damnatio memoriae, as those documents are part of our living history and witness to the evolution of our cultural norms. Mason’s feeling of being unwelcomed may be real. A feeling cannot be unfelt. But Mason’s discomfort at the expression of historical language does not create particularized injury. The language in question is purely historical and is unenforceable and irrelevant in present-day land transactions.

This prompted a two-paragraph concurrence from Judge Clay:

I concur in the judgment and, for the most part, in the opinion’s analysis, but I do not entirely agree with the majority’s suggestion that we cannot, under appropriate circumstances, modify or dispense with documents that are “part of our living history and witness to the evolution of our cultural norms.” Justice may require us to repudiate or revise elements of our “living history” if those elements—whether they be public records, flags, or statues—are shown to encourage or perpetuate discrimination or the badges and incidents of slavery; indeed, racial epithets that were once accepted as commonplace have not been preserved, and they have sometimes been stricken from our modern vernacular. We apply an even stricter standard where, as here, the government is the source of, or has ratified, language that has the purpose or effect of encouraging racial animus. We need not erase our history in order to disarm its harmful legacy, but victims of invidious discrimination who have suffered particularized injury as a result of the application of historical language should be able to seek redress, consistent with the context and the factual circumstances of their cases.

I also fear that the majority’s statement that “Mason’s discomfort at the expression of historical language does not create particularized injury” could be misunderstood or taken out of context to suggest that feelings of discomfort with racially discriminatory language could never create a cognizable injury. I do not, however, read the majority opinion as foreclosing a properly pleaded claim arising out of such racially discriminatory language, especially under circumstances that implicate governmental instrumentalities. Rather, I read the opinion to hold that the plaintiff in this action has simply failed to plead sufficient facts to demonstrate a legally cognizable injury. If and when a plaintiff shows such an injury, this Court will have to reconcile the importance of maintaining our recorded history with our vision of government speech that promotes—not hinders—a free and equal society. I do, however, respectfully concur.

 This dispute gets at an important piece of the model of my model of constitutional litigation. There is no judicially remediable constitutional harm coming from legal documents disconnected from actual or threatened executive or private enforcement. The dispute here is over real-estate documents. But the same arguments surround outmoded laws (e.g., anti-miscegination laws or prohibitions on same-sex marriage) that remain on the books but could not be successfully enforced in court. The legislature could repeal these statutes, while it would take much more to undo these sorts of legal documents. But the idea is the same--law (apart from enforcement) cannot and should not be erased by a court because of the "message" it sends from continuing to exist or having existed in the past. The court framed this as lack of standing; a good Fletcherian would call this the lack of remediable substantive constitutional rights.

Judicial departmentalism adds an extra wrinkle, because an executive could attempt to enforce such a law in the face of contrary precedent. That effort will fail once the dispute reaches a court, which is bound by precedent; it also will result in attorney's fees and potential Rule 11 sanctions. But it justifies recent efforts to get legislatures to repeal anti-miscegination laws. The arguments have focused on the symbolism of retaining these laws and the message they send. Departmentalism adds a substantive reason-- repeal avoids the spectacle of even unsuccessful efforts at enforcement. But this case confirms that the conversation must be a legislative one, not a judicial one.

There is a property question to which I do not know the answer. Could the legislature or recorder do anything about these documents or their problematic provisions? Can the government amend long-standing deeds to remove objectionable covenants? Can it issue a new, superseding deed, stripped of the objectionable covenants, controlling the property going forward?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 2, 2018 at 04:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Avoiding dueling universal injunctions

Judge Hanen of the Southern District of Texas* on Friday refused to preliminarily enjoin DACA, where such an injunction would have created a direct conflict with injunctions enjoining the Trump Administrations rescission of DACA. Although the court held that the states have standing and were likely to succeed on the merits (because DACA violates APA and the Take Care Clause), the balance of equities weighed against the injunction, as the injunction would undo the status quo by undoing rights and reliance interests that had attached to DACA recipients since 2012. So we again avoid the clash of injunctions and impossibly conflicting obligation only by a bit of restraint from one court.**

[*] Whose universal injunction in the DAPA litigation in 2015 was the starting point for the recent trend.

[**] Note the clash comes even if the injunction issued was particularized and non-universal. The existence of one universal injunction by definition collides with all future injunctions. A particularized injunction in this case would have forced the federal government to act inconsistent with the earlier universal injunctions prohibiting rescission.

In a separate order, Hanen certified the case for interlocutory review under § 1292(b), finding the validity of DACA is a novel and unique controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. This seems weird in two respects. First, while there is a controlling question of pure law within this order, the decision turned on the balancing of equities, an application issue that is not reviewable under § 1292(b). The court said that a Fifth Circuit declaration of DACA's validity would speed termination of the case, but it is not clear why, because that would not alter the purported balance of equities on which the district court denied relief, at least not at the preliminary injunction stage. I guess if the Fifth Circuit declares DACA invalid, the district court could summarily convert to a permanent injunction. But that assumes the Fifth Circuit takes on DACA directly and does not address the legal issue in context, saying only that DACA is likely invalid, but limiting the decision to the case's preliminary posture.

Second and in any event, certification was unnecessary to obtain review. A decision denying a preliminary injunction is immediately reviewable under § 1292(a)(1). Although the text of the statute only enumerates orders refusing to dissolve or modify an injunction as appealable, every circuit, including the Fifth, reads § (a)(1) to allow immediate review of the denial of the initial preliminary injunction. And § 1292(a)(1) appeals do not require leave of court and are not limited to controlling questions of law.

Update: Other conversations on the subject suggest that Hanen blew the procedure in another way. If he wanted to declare DACA invalid, tee-up the issue for appellate review, and avoid the chaos that would come with a preliminary injunction, he should have ordered the parties to file cross motions for summary judgment and issued a declaratory judgment. A D/J is a final judgment, appealable as such under § 1291. This stuff matters.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 1, 2018 at 08:18 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

More on the ACLU's conflicting principles

The internal disputes over the ACLU's First Amendment activities is back, this time over the National Office's amicus brief in the NRA lawsuit challenging New York's practice of pressuring insurance companies, banks, and other regulated businesses not to do business with the organization. This Slate story describes some of the internal conversations responding to Legal Director David Cole's explanation for writing the brief, including a memorandum in response by three people in the New York affiliate. That memo made three points--this is not a novel case or a straight-forward free-speech issue; the NRA has the resources to litigate and the ACLU should consider whether to spend its limited resources helping litigants with "enormous resources at their disposal" as opposed to less-resourced groups, such as Black Lives Matter; and representing the NRA has negative effects on the ACLU's representation with "important allies." Several people objected to the National Office's argument that New York's tactics could be used against groups such as BLM, rejecting the use of BLM as a "shield" to justify representing groups that are causing the very problems, such as gun violence, in the African-American communities that BLM is trying to address. The article closes by suggesting that such disputes may cause the ACLU to "soon abandon its adherence to formal neutrality—and adopt a vision of liberty that openly favors the oppressed over the oppressors."

Regardless of the merits of whether BLM might be targeted, it is beside the point in this brief. A more salient and ongoing example, which the brief included, is states targeting Planned Parenthood, which stands for some in the same position the NRA does for others.

As to the article's final point, that vision of First Amendment liberty is no vision at all. A Muslim should not have less religious liberty than a Christian, nor should government be able to disadvantage powerful organizations but not powerless organizations in retaliation for their speech. And an organization committed to civil liberty should not approach liberty questions that way.

The resources argument (putting aside whether it has any merit) strikes me as inaposite in this case. The ACLU is not representing the NRA in this case, so any expenditure of ACLU resources does not relieve the NRA of the burden to spend money on its own lawyers to make its own arguments. The benefit of the ACLU's brief, on which it did expend some of its limited resources, is to the NRA's legal position, not to its wallet. An argument that the ACLU not only should not represent well-resourced parties* but should not provide amicus support for well-resourced parties seems over-inclusive, tying the merits of a party's constitutional position to the money in its bank account.

[*] This argument remains strange for another reasons--representation makes the ACLU eligible to recover attorney's fees if it prevails. So it should recover at least some of the resources.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 28, 2018 at 07:24 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Flipping constituional litigation

Here is a move that could shake-up our expectations in constitutional litigation. A group of Kentucky filed suit in the District of the District of Columbia, challenging HHS' grant of a waiver for Kentucky to change its Medicaid program; Kentucky intervened in that action as a defendant. At the same time, Kentucky sued the D.C. plaintiffs for a declaratory judgment of the validity of the state's new Medicaid rules. The district court dismissed on standing grounds, concluding that Kentucky had not shown an injury and that any injury arose from the result in the D.C. litigation, not from any conduct of the defendants. The court did not resolve defendants' 12(b)(6) and first-to-file arguments.

This is an aggressive move, allowing a state to preempt constitutional litigation by rights-holders by running to a preferred court either before or during the rights-holders' litigation. At the very least, it forces rights-holders into a two-front war. On this logic, nothing would stop a state from the following: Prosecution of X for violating a law, with X arguing in the prosecution that the law is invalid. State runs to a different court against X, seeking a declaration that the law is constitutionally valid.

Perhaps the benefit of resolving this case on standing, rather than something discretionary such as first-to-file, is to signal that states lack standing to sue over an anticipated injury caused by someone else's lawsuit.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 21, 2018 at 10:59 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Masterpiece Cakeshop redux

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop has filed a federal civil action against the members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, challenging the constitutionality of a new threatened enforcement of the state's public-accommodations law. This case arises from his refusal to sell a cake with a blue exterior and pink interior to a lawyer (clearly doing this as a test case) celebrating her birthday and her male-to-female transition. The lawyer complained to the Civil Rights Commission; the Director of the Commission found probable cause to believe a violation occurred (sex and transgender status) and order edthe parties to mediation, but Phillips instead filed suit. Some thoughts after the jump.

• The parade-of-horribles comparison I thought of was a person requesting a cake that was white on the inside and black on the outside to celebrate his biracial identity or the biracial identity of his child, which conflicted with a baker's belief that "the fact that God separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

• There is language in the Complaint about Colorado ignoring SCOTUS's decision in Masterpiece. But here is where judicial departmentalism kicks in. The judgment in Masterpiece (if there was one--the Court was cryptic about this) was that the Commission's sanction for refusing to bake the wedding cake violated the First Amendment. At best, that should have meant a reversal of the injunction the Commission entered against Phillips for refusing to bake that cake. That judgment does not preclude the Commission from pursuing a new case based on a new refusal to bake a different cake with a different message for a different customer. A government entity does not violate the judgment in a prior case by attempting to enforce the law against the same person on a new set of facts arising from a new transaction or occurrence.

As for the precedent of Masterpiece, I do not believe control the Commission' s actions, other than to the extent it does not want to lose in a court that is bound. Even than, that precedent does not squarely answer this case. The problem in the previous case was the purportedly anti-religious remarks by Commission members, which may not be present here; a majority of the Court did not hold that a baker enjoys a First Amendment opt-out from public accommodations laws.

• There is a Younger problem here. A government-initiated administrative enforcement action is an ongoing proceeding that triggers abstention. The question is whether a finding of probable cause commences that proceeding. It triggers a statutory conciliation process, including compulsory mediation, leading to an adversary proceeding if unsuccessful. It may depend on what the court defines as the proceeding--the conciliation element or the entire thing. In any event, the Complaint recognizes this, including allegations of bad faith by the Director in finding probable cause and a "rigged" process, given the make-up of the Commission. These seem designed to move the case into the Younger exceptions for bad faith or unusual circumstances, such as biased decisionmakers.

On the bad-faith point, this presents an additional way that judicial departmentalism pushes towards judicial supremacy. Bad faith for Younger purposes is defined as a prosecution undertaken without hope or expectation of securing a valid conviction. If a government official initiates an action to enforce a law in the face of SCOTUS precedent declaring that law constitutionally invalid, he has no realistic hope of securing a conviction--he knows he will lose the prosecution. So an attempt to pursue that prosecution, while consistent with his oath, may mean the target of the prosecution could seek to enjoin the prosecution even though pending and argue the bad-faith exception. I had not considered that possibility.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 16, 2018 at 11:04 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (16)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Now returning: NFL games, player protests, and presidential tweets

As if on cue, Thursday's NFL preseason games included several players kneeling, standing with a raised fist, or remaining in the locker room during the national anthem. The President responded on Friday with a tweet 1) criticizing the players for being unable to define what they are outraged about, 2) urging them"be happy, be cool" because they make millions doing what they love, 3) urging them to find another way to protest, and 4) commanding "stand proudly or be suspended without pay." (capitalization, etc., corrected).

The first point is untrue because the small handful of players who protest have been very clear and explicit that they are protesting police violence and the criminal-justice system. As this piece points out, the President recognized that in a June statement asking players to talk to him about people they believe were treated unfairly by the criminal justice system so he could pardon them. I derided that statement as incoherent; I should have added not serious.

The second point skates close to the line of saying that rich people should not be allowed to complain. This is ironic coming from a rich man who ascended to the presidency by complaining. So what is it about these wealthy people that should cause them to lose the right to complain? I cannot put my finger on it.

The fourth point brings us back to that state action argument: When a public official continually talks about a specific private dispute and urges a private actor to take some action, do we get to some point where that encouragement becomes overwhelming or coercive? Is it a question of quantity and specificity--how often and how specific? Does it change when it is the President doing the urging? (By the way, hat tip to Rishi Batra (Texas Tech) for suggesting that specificity might matter during our SEALS discussion).

The third point is interesting and touches on something we discussed in the Thursday panel. During pregame warm-ups on Thursday, several Eagles players  wore t-shirts displaying various statistics about people of color and children in prison, one of the issues about which players have been protesting. Throughout this protest debacle, the NFL has been compared unfavorably with the NBA in terms of support for player protests, although the NBA has and enforces a rule requiring players to be on the court and standing at attention during the anthem. So why is the NBA not criticized, by the press or its players, for doing what the NFL is trying to do? Some of it is the perception of incompetence of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the expressly plantation mentality of some owners.

But one possible reason (H/T to dre cummings of Arkansas-Little Rock for this point) is that NBA players have worn message t-shirts and otherwise expressed themselves during their highly visible pre-game warm-ups.* NBA players have an at-the-game, high-profile, many-people-watching forum to express their political messages, therefore less need to use the anthem as a protest vehicle. NFL warm-ups are not watched in the same way and not as intimate, and players have not tried to take extensive advantage of the alternative forum. Perhaps if they do and can, it will remove pressure on the anthem as a necessary expressive moment.**

[*] Prominent examples include LeBron James and others wearing t-shirts reading "I Can't Breathe." WNBA players have made extensive use of this forum.

[**] Or, the NFL being what it is, the league will shoot itself in the foot by issuing a diktat about players having to wear team gear during all on-field warm-ups.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 11, 2018 at 07:52 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Ninth Circuit affirms less-than-universal injunction as to sanctuary-city funding

The Ninth Circuit on Thursday affirmed the injunction prohibiting DOJ from enforcing an executive order and regulations stripping federal law-enforcement funds from sanctuary cities, in an action brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara.

1) The case was justiciable, considering both standing and ripeness. The plaintiffs had standing because they had policies in place that, under the executive order, would be a basis for withholding funds. That the regs might not be enforced did not eliminate the injury; it was enough that the plaintiffs' interpretation of the regs was correct and could subject them to consequences or to having to change their policies. The action also was ripe. The court pointed to statements by various Trump Administration officials warning about enforcement, with California and its municipalities as an express target, as well as a history of federal grants conditioned on compliance with certain immigration laws. The ripeness point prompted a dissent. Focusing on the order's requirement that any federal action be "consistent with law," the dissent argued that the counties do not face any imminent threat of loss of funds because they have not shown an intent to violate § 1373 and the EO did not order DOJ to enforce the funding regulations in a manner inconsistent with the law.

2) The court affirmed the injunction, but limited it to prohibiting enforcement against the plaintiffs and the State of California. While rejecting DOJ's argument that universal injunctions are per se improper, the court found that the plaintiffs did not offer sufficient evidence of an effect beyond themselves and the State. The court's analysis was inexact but it did hit on a situation in which an injunction should protect beyond the named plaintiffs. Santa Clara and San Francisco offered evidence that their law-enforcement budgets depend on money from the State, which gets some of its money from the DOJ grant program; complete relief for the plaintiff counties thus depended on the regs not being enforced against California.

But while appropriate, this should be a narrow and unique exception to particularity. And the court showed it did not recognize that narrowness when it remanded for the district court to allow the plaintiffs to offer evidence of a universal effect. Although not a party, California was a unique non-party because some of the money it would get from DOJ (and which it would lose under the regs) would be passed to the plaintiffs. No other sanctuary jurisdiction would, if stripped of funds, have the same effect on the plaintiffs' budgets; therefore, stripping funds from no other jurisdiction could render their relief less than complete. For example, if San Francisco does not get money from the State of Oregon or the City of Boston, then enforcement of the funding regs against those cities does not deny San Francisco complete relief.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 1, 2018 at 04:35 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Dr. Richard Pan Sued for Blocking Users on Twitter

In early 2015, in response to the Disneyland measles outbreak in California, Dr. Richard Pan, along with other legislators,  sponsored SB277, which removed California’s Personal Belief Exemption. While Dr. Pan was not alone in authoring the law – Senator Ben Allen was the other Senate author, Assembly Woman Lorena Gonzales on the assembly side, and there were quite a few sponsors – he was a lead figure, and as a doctor, his views carried weight with many of his colleagues. He became a special target for anti-vaccine activists angry at him.

Dr. Pan was the subject of many attacks, including racial slurs, death threats, and other varieties of personal harassment. Part of his reaction was aggressive blocking of anti-vaccine activists on his social media, twitter and facebook.

On July 27, 2018 Dr. Pan was sued by two anti-vaccine activists – Suzanne Rummel and Marlene Burkitt - for blocking them on Twitter. The activists, echoing the arguments in Knight First Amendment  Institute v. Donald Trump, claimed that Dr. Pan’s twitter account is a public forum and that he discriminated against them based on his viewpoints.

As far as being blocked for being anti-vaccine, the suit likely has merit under Knight.While Knight is only a district court decision and is currently under appeal, it is thoughtful, and carries quite a bit of persuasive force. Dr. Pan is a public official, and should not block users based on content, even if he disagrees with them.

A counter argument is that there is a difference between political disagreement and scientific misinformation, but this is very murky grounds when it comes to public officials: most are not scientists, and at any rate, their twitter account is not where scientific truths are determined, and they should not be able to block users according to whether they see their views as truthful.

Dr. Pan does have a potential alternative argument, if the reason for blocking is not the plaintiffs’ anti-vaccine views. I have not seen the plaintiffs’ tweet: I have Ms. Rummel muted, and do not remember interacting with Ms. Burkitt on twitter. I have, however, seen Ms. Burkitt’s posts to Dr. Pan on Facebook, and they are often not only abusive, but actually threatening. Here are two examples:

Burkitt Slug

 

And:

Burkitt Garrotted

While a public official should not be able to silence an opponent in a public forum for a different viewpoint, there may be differences when someone is threatening the official. Even here, we need to be cautious. Public officials, by the nature of their role, should expect – and are expected to endure – a certain amount of abuse and attacks. But it’s not clear they need to interact with people who threaten them on Twitter. And there is a risk that preventing public officials from blocking those who harass and threaten can deter public officials from taking positions where the opposition is aggressive, and/or encourage direct harassment as a means of making public officials give up unpopular positions. That, too, can have negative implications for the public discourse.

At any rate, the lawsuit is worth following. Dr. Pan can, of course, solve the problem by unblocking the plaintiffs and muting them instead, something that Knight  suggested was acceptable, since it allows users to interact with an account’s followers and participate in the discussion without the public official having to interact. Whether Dr. Pan decides to do that, or litigate on the grounds of harassment, the lawsuit can have important and general implications for public discourse.

Posted by Dorit Reiss on August 1, 2018 at 08:58 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Judge Leinenweber loves him some universal injunctions

Judge Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois made permanent his injunction in City of Chicago v. Sessions, prohibiting DOJ from enforcing regulations stripping federal law-enforcement funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. The new opinion mostly makes permanent the preliminary injunction entered last year and affirmed on the merits on appeal. The new element, as Ilya Somin explains, is the declaration of invalidity of a rule prohibiting jurisdictions from restricting communications with DHS and ICE, relying on Murphy v. NCAA (the NJ gambling case) for the proposition that federal law cannot restrict state or local lawmaking in this way.

The other issue is the scope of the injunction. The preliminary injunction was universal and accompanied by the most detailed judicial justification for universal injunction, but the question of scope is pending before the en banc Seventh Circuit.* Leinenweber made the permanent injunction universal (he continues to use "nationwide"), but stayed the universal scope pending the Seventh Circuit decision (so, for the moment, the injunction prohibits enforcement of the regs only as to Chicago). He recognized the conflict over universal injunctions, pointing to Justice Thomas' opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, as well as the scholarly work of Samuel Bray against universality and Amanda Frost in defense of it. The novelty of the question and the fact of the Seventh Circuit stay of the scope of the preliminary injunction satisfied the first prong (likelihood of success) of the stay analysis and none of the other prongs outweighed that.

[*] The Seventh Circuit panel affirmed the scope of the injunction, over a strong dissent on the scope question from Judge Manion. The court granted en banc review on universality.

Supporters of universal injunctions, including Judge Leinenweber and Prof. Frost, recognize that they should be rare and the exception rather than the rule. Even accepting (as I do not) that universal injunctions are sometimes proper, they should be limited to cases in which enforcement of a particularized injunction would be difficult--it could be easily circumvented,* individual plaintiffs face barriers to bringing individual cases, a particularized injunction leaves the plaintiff with less-than-complete relief, other mechanisms (class certification, organizational standing) would be ineffective. The paradigm would be Hawaii and the travel ban, which presented some unique problems, in that affected persons were all over the world and the plaintiff states could not identify all affected potential students or scholars.

[*] Think Texas and the DAPA injunction, because DAPA recipients could move to Texas.

But Chicago and sanctuary-city funding does not provide the appropriate case, something even Frost seems to recognize. An injunction particularized to Chicago remedies the constitutional violation as to Chicago (the invalid withdrawal of funds) and leaves Chicago with complete relief (it gets its money). Nothing that DOJ might do as to another city violates Chicago's rights or limits its relief, so there is no need for the injunction to go beyond Chicago.

This case shows why efforts to limit universality to unique cases fall flat. If a universal injunction is appropriate here, it is appropriate in every case challenging the constitutional validity of every federal law; there is no reason not to make all injunctions universal, something Leinenweber acknowledges is improper.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 28, 2018 at 11:23 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Lindgren and Stolzenberg on SCOTUS term limits

In the L.A. Times. They suggest a constitutional amendment is required, while recognizing that not everyone agrees. But they suggest the states would support an amendment, given that 49 of 50 states have term limits or maximum judicial ages. The problem, they suggest, is that members of Congress may not want to do this for fear that it would cause the public to demand legislative term limits, as well.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2018 at 08:47 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Massachusetts fears Justice Kavanaugh

Following on this post: Josh Blackman writes that Massachusetts is moving to repeal its criminal prohibitions on abortion, adultery, and fornication. Democratic legislators explained that the move anticipated the Court overruling Roe and other cases, after which those laws would become enforceable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2018 at 01:56 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fourth Circuit on prosecutorial immunity

Prosecutorial immunity presents a problem. Immunity applies to all functions intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal-justice process, broadly defined. And it includes general office-wide policies relating to the judicial process, even if not to a specific prosecution. Courts have sought to draw a line between immune prosecutorial functions and non-immune administrative functions, namely employment decisions. But that distinction could collapse, because employment decisions may have some connection to a judicial proceeding or to judicial proceedings generally--for example, how to staff a case is an employment decision that implicates a prosecution and involves discretionary legal judgment. One way to avoid that collapse is to ask whether the § 1983 action requires that court to reconsider an underlying investigation or prosecution, a question that functionally turns on the identity of the plaintiff--immunity applies when the suit is brought by the target of the underlying prosecution, but it does not apply when the suit is brought by a non-target, such as an employee.

To take a simple example: Imagine the DA refuses to assign an African-American line prosecutor to a case because he believes the white prosecutor will be tougher on the African-American criminal defendant and push for a harsher sentence. If the defendant brings some sort of wrongful prosecution claim, immunity applies. If the passed-over line prosecutor brings a race-discrimination claim, immunity does not apply.

But the Fourth Circuit declined to accept that distinction. The plaintiff was a police officer who alleged that the state's attorney 1) subjected him to racial harassment by (gratuitously) reading aloud at a trial-preparation meeting letters and statements (that would be used as evidence) containing racial epithets and 2) retaliated against him for complaining about that conduct by refusing to call that officer as a witness at any future proceedings. The court held that trial prep and decisions about who to call as witness are immune prosecutorial functions, as they are intimately connected to the judicial phase of the criminal process, done while the attorney was acting as an advocate for the state. That this occurred in the employment context was irrelevant--"[t]hat a judgment about witness credibility or which cases to try has negative employment consequences - even readily foreseeable ones - does not change the underlying nature of that judgment."

This reasoning could broaden prosecutorial immunity in a way that swallows many employment claims. If discussing evidence and deciding what witnesses to call is prosecutorial, then it seems that an attorney could: sprinkle his trial-prep discussions with racial epithets; decide never to call any African-American police officer as a witness; decide never to prosecute a case in which the arresting officer is African-American; decide never to have an African-American police officer in the trial-prep meeting; decide never to assign a female attorney to work his cases or agree to work with a female attorney on his cases. There is no difference between creating a racially hostile environment and treating someone more poorly because of race or sex or whatever; all (if proved) violate Title VII and the Fourteenth Amendment. If they occur in the judicial phase, immunity should apply.

The court tried to avoid that end, insisting "it is only 'a certain kind of administrative obligation - a kind that itself is directly connected with the conduct of a trial.'" And "even in that context, if a prosecutor's alleged conduct cannot be connected to discretionary judgments about which witnesses to call and which cases to prosecute, then absolute immunity will not apply." But it is easy to connect employment acts to those immune discretionary judgments. The state's attorney can decide not to prosecute a case because the complaining officer is African-American or because the line prosecutor working the case is a woman. Either involves protected discretionary judgments. And the point of absolute immunity is that courts cannot look beneath the function and examine motive--if it is a prosecutorial decision (reviewing evidence, calling witnesses, pursuing cases), it is immune, even if the function is performed for no reason other than racial animus.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 17, 2018 at 01:41 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

ACLU in the NYT (Updated)

I was traveling last week, so I was unable to read and comment on last week's New York Times Magazine feature on the ACLU. The story emphasizes two themes--its litigation against the Trump Administration across a range of issues and the way it has looked to the NRA's political and electoral strategies for guidance.*

[*] The headline on the article in the print edition was A.C.L.U. v. Trump. The headline in the online article was Can the A.C.L.U. Become the N.R.A. for the Left.

The article does not get into the controversy over the ACLU's First Amendment work, its role in Charlottesville, or the recent controversy over its policies on representing certain speakers in First Amendment cases. None of the political and litigation effects discussed in the piece involve the First Amendment. The article downplays the degree to which this reflects major changes to ACLU activities. It states this is "not the first time the A.C.L.U's mission has shifted," pointing to its birth in the 1920s to protect radicals and unionists and the slow discovery of the benefits of litigation in those efforts. But that was a shift in tactics, not a shift in mission. The print article describes the ACLU has having become a "rapid legal assault force against the Trump Administration." But the Administration's many sins have not involved limiting speech rights, so that role has required less work on free speech and more on immigration, due process, equal protection, and voting rights. All of which is important. But it is different than what the group has historically focused on.

Update: Marin Cogan in The New Republic explores how the ACLU's competing agendas and roles conflict in the Age of Trump. No mention of the Times Magazine story or of the representation guidelines, although it discusses the negative reaction by many affiliates to the organization's representation of Milo Yiannopoulos or the Charlottesville Nazis. Cogan offers an interesting conclusion--the NRA succeeded because of political polarization, in which certain issues (e.g., gun rights) are entirely associated with one political party. But resistance to sharp ideological boundaries is part of the ACLU's (First Amendment) DNA, so its continued desire to appear (and perhaps remain) non-partisan will frustrate and disappoint liberals hoping it will become the single organization to promote their interests.

I cannot tell if Cogan believes this is a good or bad thing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2018 at 07:28 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Two interesting civil rights puzzles (Updated)

No connection, other than being news stories while on a driving vacation.

1) A Cook County Parks District police officer resigned when video emerged of a drunk man harassing a woman renting a covered picnic area, while the officer watched and did nothing, despite requests from the woman. The drunk man, who was arrested when other officers arrived, was screaming about the woman not being American and should not have worn a Puerto Rico t-shirt in America.

The fun puzzle is imagining the woman's lawsuit against the officer (putting aside that she suffered minimal or nominal damages and a lawsuit may not be worth the candle). Under DeShaney, the officer cannot be liable under due process for failing to act to stop the drunk man or otherwise protect the woman. She would have to bring her claim either under equal protection, that the officer failed to act because she is Puerto Rican, or free speech, that the officer failed to act because he disagreed with the message on her t-shirt or, perhaps, because he agreed with and wanted to support the drunk man's anti-Puerto Rico speech directed against her.

Update: Erica Goldberg argues that much of what the drunk man did was pure speech, so the officer would have violated his First Amendment rights had he intervened sooner. I interpreted the video as being more in-your-face and threatening (and thus less purely protected expression), giving the officer leeway to step-in sooner than he did. But I see Erica's point that this can be read as obnoxious counter-speech.

2) Democratic-controlled states, anticipating overruling of Roe/Casey, are moving to update and enact protective abortion laws. Many progressive states still have on the books the restrictive abortion laws from the early 1970s that became unenforceable following Roe.

This shows the downstream effects of the reality of constitutional litigation. Roe declared invalid Texas' blanket ban and enjoined Texas from enforcing that law; it not remove the law from the Texas code. It also did not repeal the laws of any other state (nor did it enjoin other states from enforcing their laws, although most states declined to enforce, knowing they would lose when courts applied Roe. That's the idea of judicial departmentalism).

Those laws remained on the books, unenforced, a vestige of a past constitutional regime and a past policy position. States lack any incentive to go through their books and remove or update those laws, assuming that the past constitutional regime does not return and the laws remain unenforceable. Facing the return of that regime of no federal constitutional protection for terminating a pregnancy, meaning plenary legislative authority on the subject, states must legislate their preferred abortion policies. For states wanting to maintain liberal reproductive freedom, that means combing the books and eliminating old laws that no longer reflect current policies.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 13, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Court’s Religious Jurisprudence and Vaccines

 

The Court’s Religious Jurisprudence and Vaccines

In my last post, I pointed out that for over a century, for good reasons, courts have upheld school immunization mandates, including in the face of challenges based on the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. Two federal Court of Appeals cases in 2011and 2015reaffirmed this. The courts’ approach is based in part on powerful dictum in Prince v. Massachusetts, and in part on Employment Division v. Smith. All the courts upholding California’s new school vaccine legislation, SB277, echoed that view.

An important qualification is that states that do provide an exemption face constitutional limits that seemed designed to make the exemption hard to police and easy to abuse (though each by itself can be justified). States cannot require a clergy lettersupporting an exemption claim, because that discriminates in favor of organized religion. States cannot refuse an exemptionto a member of a religion that supports vaccines – for example, a Catholic or Jew – on the basis of that alone, if she claims a personal religious objection to vaccines. And when state law, itself, does not require evidence of sincerity, several courts have ruled that officials cannot add that requirement. State officials must accept any claim of religious objection at face value.

This makes a religious exemption very hard to monitor. Most of the users of this exemption are likely refusing vaccines for non-religious reasons. Having a religious exemption – when courts have consistently found it is not required – is likely a poor policy choice.  

One question is whether the recent Supreme Court jurisprudence will change the current judicial consensus that a religious exemption is not required in vaccine mandates. This is a narrow application of these decisions (and far from inclusive, because I want this post reasonably short); but this exercise can highlight some potential risks of the court’s recent religious jurisprudence even the supporting justices seem not to desire.  The current Supreme Court majority has been fairly cautious in its handling of the religious cases. But we are facing a potentially different composition of the court – and who knows? (For more detailed discussions of the religious jurisprudence on this blog, seehere,here,hereand here, for example. For a recent discussion of a paper on appointments on this blog, see here).

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, HHS actually raised a concern about negative effect on vaccines coverage by employers, and Justice Ginsburg’s dissent raised that as well. However, since the case focused on a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) question and not a first amendment question, it did not directly address school immunization mandates. The majority referred to Smith as the standard for applying the First Amendment, and took pains to distinguish its discussion of RFRA from that context. However, the majority’s extremely narrow reading of what is an acceptable least restrictive means to address a religious issue can affect the way federal district cases and state courts influenced by the Supreme Court approach immunization mandates if they apply strict scrutiny. The majority may have seen this as unlikely, but it’s a possible outcome. That said, two courts in California addressing this after Hobby Lobby – a federal district court in Whitlowand the Second Appellate District’s  opinion inBrown– found that immunization mandates meet the least restrictive means test to achieve the compelling interest of disease prevention, each on a different basis. Whitlowfound that since the goal of the law in question was “total immunization”, any non-medical exemption would not achieve it, and the law was the least restrictive means to it. The Court of Appeal in Brown v. Smith, on the other hand, found that immunization mandates are the “Gold Standard” for preventing diseases.

 

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Right Commissionwas also carefully and narrowly decided, based on a finding that the Colorado Commission in question was hostile to the baker’s religious objections. It did not overturn Smith, and did not touch on immunization mandates. However, it could be used by opponents in the right circumstances to try and claim hostility to their religious claims. For example, in a case attacking Michigan’s requirement that people seeking exemptions have a discussion with the Department of Health’s personnel – with a plaintiff with religious objections to vaccines -  the Sixth Circuit’s rejectionof her claim was in part based on the lack of a constitutional right to an exemption. If plaintiff claimed special hostility to her religious objections, and it wasn’t unlikely she would, Masterpiece Cakeshopcould be used in support.

In short, so far, the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on religion does not undermine the existing jurisprudence upholding school immunization mandates without a religious exemption. However, it creates potential arguments that plaintiffs can use to challenge the mandates in court. More than that, the growing religious jurisprudence – which should include the recent Becerracase overturning California’s law requiring pregnancy centers to provide information about abortion services – suggests a possible change in the Supreme Court’s general approach to religious arguments. This, in turn, could increase the protection of religious claims in many contexts, including school vaccination mandates, potentially putting the public health of communities at substantial risk.

Posted by Dorit Reiss on July 10, 2018 at 11:57 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Religion | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, July 06, 2018

How Susan Collins avoids being "disappointed" as abortion rights are eliminated

Kevin Drum predicts the Susan Collins path with respect to the confirmation of Justice Kennedy's successor (aka, the fifth vote to eliminate constitutional protection for a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy): Trump nominates a Justice certain to overrule Roe; Collins is convinced after an hour-long conversation that the nominee has "undying respect" for stare decisis; Collins declares herself satisfied and votes to confirm; eighteen month later, the Court overrules Roe; "Collins will announce that she’s disappointed." I have been saying much the same thing, which is why media coverage and interviews about Collins support for abortion rights are so mind-numbing, because it pretends that something other than what Drum says is a possibility.

But this piece by Leah Litman offers another way for Collins to avoid disappointment, by offering two paths by which the Court can eliminate the constitutional right to abortion without uttering the words "Roe is overruled." The first is by finding that the various state restrictions on abortion (short of an outright ban or criminalization) do not impose undue burdens and thus are subject only to rational scrutiny, which they survive. The second is by expanding the government interest in not "facilitating" abortion, which could be taken to its logical extreme that "allowing abortion under law facilitates abortion," so the state is justified in a ban. Either approach would eliminate abortion in many states and make the "right" impossible to exercise for many people, but without uttering the magic words.

And Collins will not be "disappointed." She can say, "well, the new justice did not overrule Roe, which is what I was concerned with." And she will not be smart enough (or care enough) to know what really happened.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 6, 2018 at 08:51 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Vaccines Mandates Win in Court


Thank you, Howard, for letting me contribute as a guest blogger this month. For the past five years, I have been involved in the vaccine wars.

Vaccines have tremendous benefits. In the United States, vaccines prevent tens of thousands of deaths and millions of hospitalizations each year. Their risks, while real, are very small. And yet, a misguided minority rejects vaccines, and in some communities, their numbers are disturbingly high. One place they made little headway in are courts - as this state example, mirroring the national jurisprudence, demonstrates.

In 2015, after a measles outbreak centered on Disneyland, California, in a contentious, high intensity legal process, passed Senate Bill 277 (SB277), a bill removing the personal belief exemption from California’s immunization law. SB277 became law on June 30, 2015 when Governor Jerry Brown signed it. Since California did not have a separate religious exemption, the effect of the law was to almost completely remove non-medical exemptions to California’s school immunization law. Unsurprisingly, opponents turned to the courts. After losing in three federal district courts and two state superior courts, two groups of plaintiffs appealed. On July 2, 2018, a California Court of Appeal released the first appellate decision upholding the law. This case was brought by eight plaintiffs seeking to send their children to school unvaccinated, represented by a lawyer who was openly anti-vaccine.

There is a large literature showing  that states with easier to get exemptions have lower vaccination rates and that higher rates of exemptions are associated with more outbreaks of preventable diseases. School immunization requirements work: they increase vaccine rates, and they reduce rates of outbreaks, sometimes completely eliminating them (other things that may lead to outbreaks even when vaccine rates are high. For example, we need a better pertussis vaccine. But even there, non-vaccinating increases the risk and makes things worse).

Opponents’ strongest arguments were that the mandate violated California’s constitutional right to education, violated the First Amendment’s freedom of religion guarantee, and impermissibly interfered with parental rights. Even these, as the Court of Appeals – correctly – pointed out, were not convincing.

The Freedom of Religion arguments runs into two related precedents - Employment Division v. Smith, under which generally applicable, neutral on their face laws do not have to provide religious exemptions, and Prince v. Massachusetts, which in a statement that is not part of the ruling but still persuasive found that religious freedoms do not exempt parents from vaccine requirements, because “[t]he right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”In a line of Federal Circuit courts mandates without religious exemptions were also upheld. There’s a question on how the recent religious freedom decisions by the Supreme Court will affect this jurisprudence, but that deserves a separate discussion (hint: right now, likely not at all, but it may be a warning for future).

Parental rights are not, and never have been, absolute. Even if they extend to the right not to vaccinate a child against a preventable, potentially fatal disease, they likely do not extend to a right to send that child to school unvaccinated and risk others.

I will address the right to education separately, but in short, the appellate court, following a previous federal district court decision, found that the leading case on the right to education in California – Serrano v. Priest– did not apply in this context, since it looked at a combination of the right to education and a suspect classification – wealth – and there was no such classification involved here. Even if strict scrutiny applied, the Court of Appeal said, the mandate would survive, since preventing diseases is a compelling interest and school mandates are the right means to serve it.

To repeat some of the language:

“…compulsory immunization has long been recognized as the gold standard for preventing the spread of contagious diseases. As is noted in the legislative history, studies have found that “when belief exemptions to vaccination guidelines are permitted, vaccination rates decrease,” and community immunity wanes if large numbers of children do not receive required vaccinations.”…. We agree with Whitlow’s conclusion: “The right of education, fundamental as it may be, is no more sacred than any of the other fundamental rights that have readily given way to a State’s interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens, and particularly, school children[.]”

 

Indeed.

At least in this area, so far, the courts stand solidly behind science and the public health.

Posted by Dorit Reiss on July 3, 2018 at 09:34 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (42)

Friday, June 29, 2018

(SCOTUS Term) Departmentalism and Kennedy's Hawaii concurrence

June guests Dan Epps and Leah Litman did a "Good Behaviour" edition of the First Mondays podcast to discuss Justice Kennedy's retirement (both clerked for Kennedy). They talked a bit about Kennedy's concurring opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, trying to make sense of it. Their discussion triggered a thought.

Judicial supremacy (to which Kennedy long has adhered) without judicial enforcement is incoherent. Kennedy argued that, even without judicial oversight, executive officials must "adhere to the Constitution and its meaning and its promise." It is an "urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs." But Trump  and his aides and officials believe they are adhering to the Constitution, as they interpret and understand it. Trump and his administration believe that the Constitution gives the President the broad discretion to enact and enforce the travel ban, because national-security concerns outweigh any disadvantages imposed on persons of a particular faith. And if the judiciary is unwilling to review the President's actions, that presidential interpretation becomes the last and controlling word on this piece of the Constitution.

So it must be that Kennedy was urging the President to adhere to the Constitution as the Court (or just Kennedy) understands it. But this is the key insight of judicial departmentalism--the other branches are bound by the judicial understanding of the Constitution only when that understanding is reduced to a binding judgment in an action to which the executive is a party. Or, short of a judgment, the executive prediction that he will be subject to a judgment unless he follows the judicial understanding. But when the judiciary decides that it cannot intervene, no judgment is possible, therefore the judiciary cannot impose its interpretation on the executive. And we return to the executive having the final constitutional word.

Kennedy was trying to have it both ways in his concurrence--no judicial involvement and so no judgment, but a push towards the judicial constitutional interpretation. But he cannot have it both ways. Either the judiciary gets involved or the judiciary's constitutional interpretation carries no weight.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2018 at 11:15 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)