Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Mootness and nominal damages

The Court on Tuesday heard argument in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, on whether a case becomes moot if the government repeals the challenged policy but a claim for nominal damages remain. A few thoughts.

• Chief Justice Roberts hammers everyone on justiciability and merits melding into one another. But he wants to find ways to draw magical lines, rather than recognizing that they collapse into one another because they are the same thing.

• Justice Kavanaugh recognizes that the real issue here is attorney's fees. A plaintiff cannot recover attorney's fees if the government moots the case by repealing the challenged policy; the real point of the nominal damages claim is to keep the case alive through a claim for retroactive relief on which the plaintiff can prevail.

• There was no discussion of qualified immunity, which also enters this picture. If the nominal damages claim keeps the case alive, it also is subject to an immunity defense. This helps the government avoid paying $ 1, which avoids attorney's fees.

• The case is a weird vehicle for this issue, because the challenged policy was never enforced against one of the plaintiffs prior to its repeal. The "injury" the plaintiff claims is for the past chilling effect of wanting to speak but not feeling able to for fear of enforcement. Chilling effect can be a basis for standing for prospective relief; it is strange to see it as a past injury.

• There was some confusion among a number of concepts--prospective v. retroactive relief, compensatory v. non-compensatory remedies, claims v. remedies. It seems to me the answer to this case is that a plaintiff can bring a claim for a past injury caused by the policy while the policy was in effect--a retroactive injury seeking a retroactive remedy. Having proved past injury, the question is one of remedy--actual damages (however small) or nominal damages in their stead. Counsel for the government seemed to acknowledge the last pairing, insisting that nominal damages is not a claim but a remedy once that claim has been proven. But that should cut against the government's position.

• The case highlights the problems with Buckhannon, in which the Court rejected the "catalyst theory" of attorney's fees, under which a plaintiff prevails if the lawsuit is the catalyst for the government repealing the challenged policy. A plaintiff does not prevail when the policy change is not reduced to a judgment. At the same time, Buckhannon left this case open--whether a claim for retroactive relief can keep the case, and thus fees, alive.

But counsel for Georgia made this point in his closing:

[T]he way that this case was resolved is a good thing. Litigation prompted college officials to review their policies, and just ten weeks later to revise them in a way that maximizes and respected First Amendment rights on campus, not just for Petitioners but for all students. And it even led to an enduring state-wide policy change for every public college in Georgia. That kind of early out-of-court resolution should be encouraged.

Except such a resolution requires that plaintiffs are able to obtain counsel to bring litigation. This is why Congress provides for fees in civil rights cases--to incentivize counsel to bring these cases. But there will be no such change if individuals are unable to bring litigation because they are unable to get counsel because counsel knows that the "good" solution for the government will be to repeal its policy, preempting fees, and thus will not agree to bring the case.

My best guess is that the Court reverses, at least where the plaintiff has suffered past harm from enforcement. But I am always wrong.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 12, 2021 at 08:55 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Universal universality (Updated)

The Fourth Circuit affirmed a universal injunction (mistakenly styled nationwide) prohibiting enforcement of the federal policy requiring state and local affirmative consent to accept refugees. The injunction protected six non-party resettlement agencies, in addition to the three plaintiffs.

In affirming as to scope, the court relied on Trump v. IRAP (the pre-Hawaii order that stayed various parts of the travel-ban injunctions) for the proposition that "a nationwide injunction may be appropriate when the government relies on a 'categorical policy,' and when the facts would not require different relief for others similarly situated to the plaintiff." This policy "by its nature" affects all immigrants assigned to all agencies operating throughout the country and a particularized injunction would produce "inequitable treatment of refugees and undermine the very national consistency that the Refugee Act is designed to protect."

One problem with the "universality only in certain cases where appropriate" is that any standards for determining when universality is appropriate collapse to allowing it in every case. This captures that. All policies are categorical and all policies by their nature affect all persons subject to those policies. All policies apply the same to similarly situated non-parties--that is what makes them similarly situated and also what would allow them to form a 23(b)(2) class, which the plaintiffs chose not to do here. Moreover, "inequitable treatment" follows in all cases in which a party obtains a non-class injunction--those who obtained the injunction enjoy a legal protection that those who did not obtain the injunction do not enjoy. That is the point and effect of obtaining an injunction.

If that is the standard, every injunction must be universal.

Update: Sam Bray reaches the same conclusion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 11, 2021 at 11:19 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Trump, Twitter, mootness, and attorney's fees

Josh Blackman raises a question about the government's cert petition in Trump v. Knight Foundation, holding that the President violated the First Amendment by blocking people on Twitter: Does the ban moot the case and will the Court issue a Munsingwear order vacating and remanding with instructions to vacate the judgment. But Josh's question is, so to speak, moot. The case always was going to become moot at noon on January 20 when Trump left office and any federal action disappeared. It is conceivable the Court waited on the case for that reason--had Trump won reelection, the case would have remained alive for another four years; when he lost, it was a matter of waiting out the extra few months.

A secondary question is whether the plaintiffs will be able to get attorney's fees under the EAJA if and when the judgment is vacated. Courts and cases are all over the map on whether a plaintiff is a prevailing party if it obtains interim relief that is dissolved on mootness grounds on appeal. Courts look to a number of factors, including whether the interim relief changed the defendant's conduct and gave the plaintiff what it asked for while it lasted and the length of time the interim relief was in place. Under that, Knight should be a prevailing party. The district court issued its judgment in May 2018 and the Second Circuit affirmed in 2019, meaning the plaintiffs have gotten what they wanted--being unblocked and able to read the President's tweets--for more than two years. More importantly, the plaintiff's desire and constitutional entitlement to continue doing so was always time-limited, ending whenever Trump's term ended (January 20 2025, at the latest). That sounds like a meaningful change in the relationship between the parties for the precise period the plaintiffs wanted.

Also relevant is that the district court granted declaratory, but not injunctive, relief against Trump (the aide who run his Twitter account was enjoined). Courts are again mixed as to whether a declaratory judgment alone is sufficient to make a plaintiff a prevailing party, especially where other relief is denied. Here, it should be relevant that a DJ is the only remedy the plaintiff could get from Trump, since courts will not, and perhaps cannot, enjoin the President (as opposed to All the President's Men).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 9, 2021 at 06:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 08, 2021

July ('74): District of Columbia

Reports are that Nancy Pelosi spoke with Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley about "precautions" against Trump starting a war. We are in July 1974 territory when military and DOD officials were informally telling one another to ignore potentially crazy orders from President Nixon, who was drinking heavily, sensing that the end was near, and a threat to lash out. Of course, Nixon was an intelligent person with some baseline respect for the constitutional order (yes, he committed crimes--there are obvious degrees).

We are not so fortunate at the moment.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 8, 2021 at 12:49 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

No on Brandenburg (Updated)

Updates at bottom.

Here is the full transcript of Soon-to-be-Ex President Trump's remarks to the pre-sedition rally. After reading it (and at this point hearing Trump's voice as I read his words), I will follow-up on this post by being more assertive: There is no way this is punishable incitement under Brandenburg.

The speech is largely a string of oral tweets from the past few weeks and months and no different than what he has said at rallies, most recently on Monday in Georgia: The press as enemy of the people and not telling the truth; fanciful and farcical nonsense stories about election misconduct; "sir" stories about the people who are nice to him; touting of his accomplishments as President;* crowd size; cancel culture and critical theory; and the usual airing of grievances 11 days to late. He also laid out a series of election-reform proposals. And he told lies about what the Constitution allows or requires.

[*] There is an amazing disconnect. Before Wednesday, Trump still had competition from Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan. That race is over. But Trump and his supporters continue to talk about him as one of the top Presidents.

The words spoken matter--they must explicitly or implicitly encourage lawless action, allowing for rhetorical hyperbole, overstatement, and even offensiveness. Second, and related, Eugene Volokh argues that modern doctrine is unlikely to treat as incitement words that do not on their face call for unlawful conduct (e.g., Antony's funeral oration or the often-misquoted "will no one rid me of this troublesome priest"). Third, context matters. The lawless action must be "imminent" and "likely." So the same words spoken in front of a large crowd determined to "stop the steal" two miles from the Capitol while votes are being counted is different than spoken at a rally in northern Georgia on a Monday night. Finally, whatever we may think we "know" about Trump's intent, it is hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The general content here is not incitement of anything; it is standard Trumpian fare. It does not matter that the speech is designed to get the crowd upset at the injustices visited upon Trump and upon them.  Nor does it matter that it is likely or foreseeable that some would act unlawfully upon hearing these words and becoming outraged. The point of moving to Brandenburg from the old clear-and-present danger test was that we punish conduct not speech and that we do not routinely punish speakers because of what unconnected third parties do. We also want to leave speakers free to engage in words--one man's vulgarity and all of that.

With that in mind, much of this speech does not call on or encourage anyone to do anything, much less something that is lawless and imminent.

Here are the only segments that might come close:

1)

All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by a bold and radical left Democrats which is what they are doing and stolen by the fake news media. That is what they have done and what they are doing. We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved.

Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about.

And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.

This is from the beginning of the speech. It is hard to see this as other than hyperbole.

2)

We will not let them silence your voices. We're not going to let it happen.

Not going to let it happen.

[This was followed by a chant of "Fight for Trump," for which Trump thanked the crowd].

He is urging the crowd to not let the silencing of their voices happen, not to engage in unlawful action.

3)

[Speaking of Pence doing the non-thing of sending the votes back to the states] That takes courage, and then we are stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot, and we have to live with that for four more years. We're just not going to let that happen.

This could be read as urging people to not to let happen the four years of the Biden Administration. But, again, allowance must be made for rhetoric and hyperbole.

4)

We're going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we're going to walk down to the Capitol--

And we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them.

Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.

We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated. Lawfully slated.

I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard. Today, we will see whether Republicans stand strong for integrity of our elections. But whether or not they stand strong for our country, our country. Our country has been under siege for a long time.

This was the segment that has been making the rounds in the media and that I quoted in my prior post. Note that last paragraph specifically speaks of marching to "peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard" after calling for strength. In rejecting tort claims against Trump arising from a 2016 rally, the Sixth Circuit emphasized that Trump followed his call to get the protester out, the alleged incitement to assault, by saying "don't hurt him" as mitigating the meaning of the words and the intent. Similarly, the call for strength is tempered by the call to do it peacefully. That call for peacefulness is perhaps tempered the other way by the subsequent insistence that the country has been "under siege"--peacefully talking is not the "strong" response when one is under siege.

In any event, again, fiery rhetoric is allowed.  Also, in terms of imminence, the above occurred less than 1/5 of the way into the speech. So does that mitigate the intent or likelihood of encouraging imminent lawlessness if he then keeps talking? Eugene Debs spoke for something like three hours in Canton.

5) This is the final 90 seconds-or-so:

I said something is wrong here, something is really wrong, can't have happened and we fight, we fight like hell, and if you don't fight like hell you're not going to have a country anymore.

Our exciting adventures and boldest endeavors have not yet begun. My fellow Americans, for our movement, for our children, and for our beloved country, and I say this despite all that has happened, the best is yet to come.

So we are going to--we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give--the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote but we are going to try--give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don't need any of our help, we're try--going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Again, not encouraging or hinting at lawlessness. "Fight like hell" lest we no longer have a country is troubling, but in context does not suggest fighting in the physical or unlawful sense as opposed to be speaking out--again, rhetorical hyperbole is fair game. Trump is talking about marching, not storming the Capitol. Urging people to give members of Congress "pride and boldness" could mean peacefully speaking or protesting in support of what the crowd wants and hopes they will do.

This analysis goes to a possible post-January 20 (or even post-January 12) criminal prosecution. It is a separate question whether this constitutionally protected speech could be the basis for impeachment-and-conviction. Josh Blackman and Seth Tillman argue that it cannot.

Without getting too far into the point (this post is already too long), otherwise-protected speech can be the type of abuse of office that impeachment exists to punish. As Volokh argued, the view that Trump's speech was unprotected comes from a gut feeling that POTUS should not engage in such talk, regardless of the Brandenburg line. As he outs it, "Trump's failure was a failure not as a speaker, of the sort that strips speakers of First Amendment protection. It was a failure, a massive and unjustifiable failure, as a public servant." Impeachment exists to remedy those failures. Update: Jonathan Adler and Ilya Somin agree that the First Amendment is not a bar to impeachment, grounded in the broader view that impeachable conduct need not be criminal.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 8, 2021 at 11:05 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, January 04, 2021

Court smacks down dumbest election lawsuit and its lawyers

The dumbest election lawsuit was the one in the District of D.C. against Pence, the Electoral College, Congress, and a bunch of state officials, alleging that Article II requires that a state legislature certify the results post-election so any electors appointed without that certification (i.e., all 538) were invalid and could not cast lawful votes. District Judge Boasberg initially gave the plaintiffs busywork of providing proof of service on all defendants, including the Electoral College (which, of course, is not a thing that can be sued). When no such service occurred after twelve days, the court declined to wait any longer and denied the motion for preliminary injunction.

And Boasberg was not messing around. The suit would have been "risible were its target not so grave: the undermining of a democratic electionfor President of the United States." Plaintiffs’ "theory that all of these laws are unconstitutional and that the Court should instead require state legislatures themselves to certify every Presidential election lies somewhere between a willful misreading of the Constitution and fantasy." And this is the closer:

Yet even that may be letting Plaintiffs off the hook too lightly. Their failure to make any effort to serve or formally notify any Defendanteven after reminder by the Court in its Minute Orderrenders it difficult to believe that the suit is meant seriously. Courts are not instruments through which parties engagei n such gamesmanship or symbolic political gestures.As a result, at the conclusion of this litigation, the Court will determine whether to issue an order to show cause why this matter should not be referred to its Committee on Grievances for potential discipline of Plaintiffs’ counsel.

Many have noted the absence of sanctions in these cases, despite all being patently sanctionable. One reason may be the details of FRCP 11 and the incentives of parties and courts. Rule 11(c) imposes a safe harbor--before seeking sanctions, a party must notify the opposing party of its intent to seek sanctions (by serving, without filing, a copy of the proposed motion for sanctions) and give the party 21 days to cure the sanctionable conduct, as by withdrawing or amending the challenged paper. But the defendants in these cases want these cases to go away, not to drag the cases out by giving the plaintiffs time to cure. And most courts have held that the safe harbor means that sanctions cannot be sought after dismissal, so post-dismissal sanctions are not possible. Meanwhile, judges have the same interest as defendants in making these cases go away and no desire to keep them around with additional rounds of satellite litigation.

This was was unique in several respects, so it makes sense that it might trigger sanctions activity. Because plaintiffs never bothered serving anyone, the case never reached an adversarial posture; the judge was on his own own. And the theory and construction of the case was uniquely loony. That combination raised the suspicion, more than the other Kraken cases, that this was a political show and nothing more.

One more thing, because it is something I expect to see in the coming months. The plaintiffs alleged that they had been "disenfranchised," which Boasberg said was not true since they had voted and their votes counted. But "disenfranchisement" means something different in the minds of these groups of voters and advocates. The "franchise" means not that I was able to vote or that my vote was counted, but that I was able to elect the candidate of my choosing; I am disenfranchised if my candidate loses. This framing is not new. Many of the early Tea Party rallies in 2009 and 2010 were covered as complaints of disenfranchisement--the protesters were disenfranchised because the person they did not vote for had one and he was pursuing policies they did not favor. That is certainly grounds for protest; it is not disenfranchisement and should not be accepted as such.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 4, 2021 at 03:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Political parties and notes on a broken process

A jumble of thoughts on the role of political parties in presidential selection and what happens next.

The Framers considered but rejected legislative selection of the executive, fearing that a president chosen by Congress would not be sufficiently independent of the body to which he owed his office. That is why the states were empowered to decide the methods of choosing electors and why the electors would act on their own. The House contingent election was a necessary fail-safe. At the same time, some believed that fail-safe would become the norm, at least once George Washington left the scene. They doubted one figure could attain sufficient national recognition and support to achieve an EC majority, especially in a race among multiple candidates representing different regions and interests. These figures expected the EC to become a screening mechanism to produce two or three candidates, from whom the House would select the President.

The unforeseen (or unaddressed) development of political parties and settlement into a two-party system allowed the Electoral College (as tweaked by the Twelfth Amendment) to function as a true selection mechanism, making the contingent election an unnecessary vestige. The one post-Washington election that operated as the EC was designed on paper was 1824--and it produced the contingent election that some Framers expected or feared. There were no competing political parties and multiple candidates represented different regions and interests within that party, none of whom had the national stature to gain a majority. Otherwise, the competition between two major national parties ensured sufficient support nationwide support for one candidate, absent a breakdown in state processes (as happened in 1876 but has not happened since, including this year, conspiratorial fantasies aside). The congressional role became ministerial and ceremonial--count the votes and confirm the winner of state-controlled processes.

The 140+ House Republicans and dozen Senate Republicans planning on making futile-but-dangerous mischief on Wednesday have clothed themselves in a vision in which Congress plays a substantive role in checking the limits of the EC and choosing the President. Ted Cruz has pointed to 1876 and the congressional commission; historical ignorance aside, Cruz argues that Congress can and should exercise meaningful power in looking under the hood of state and EC processes--the House as the ultimate arbiter of the election. Never mind that this vision has never controlled in 240 years of elections. On the other hand, the two-party system means that a congressionally selected President would not be dependent on Congress as the Frames feared when they rejected legislative selection. Party identification unifies the branches, so congressional Republicans support rather than attempt to control a Republican executive whom they chose. Another example of the Levinson-Pildes separation-of-parties-not-powers thesis.

The maneuvering will not give Trump another term in office nor stop Biden's inauguration on January 20th.* It further undermines Biden's presidency. And it lends further cover to the inevitable refusal of all Senate Republicans--not only these twelve, but the silent Rubios and McConnells--to cooperate in any way with the Biden Administration.

[*] The insistence by Peter Navarro on Fox News that Congress could move the inauguration is laughable. But it reflects the moving goalposts. Several people insisted that there was no reason litigation had to end by December 14, since that date did not appear in the Constitution; the implicit argument is that statutory deadlines are meaningless. Apparently, so are constitutional deadlines. Although Navarro may be correct that Congress could move the Inauguration as an event. But that will not keep Trump in office past noon on the 20th.

So what happens after the play-acting fails? Former Republican political consultant Steve Schmidt argues that January 6 will mark the beginning of the end of the modern Republican Party, as the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act marked the end of the Whig Party. Both brought to the fore fundamental divides that drove the party apart. As he puts it, the GOP's "Pro Democracy faction and Autocratic factions can no more exist together then could the Whig Party hold together [t]he abolitionist with the Slave master."

I want Schmidt to be correct, but I do not believe he is. Abolitionists and supporters of slavery could not exist within the Whig Party because that fundamental philosophical divide made it impossible to agree on policies or candidates and to do the things political parties are designed to do. The anti-slavery Whigs found a home in the new Republican Party.

But the GOP's factions can co-exist when the smoke clears because the divide is not so philosophical. They will unite around knee-capping Biden (again, has any President had zero judges confirmed) and retaking the House/retaining the Senate in 2022 around a platform of Biden's failure to unite the country as he promised to do. Schmidt imagines a '22 primary bloodletting (including an Ivanka Trump-Marco Rubio primary in my home state of Florida, for which I will buy popcorn and a ringside seat). But, again, GOP party identification unites the factions against the common Democratic enemy once those primaries end. GOP voters will vote for whichever candidate carries the Republican label, the  party's structural advantages means there will continue to be more Rs than Ds in both houses, and the unifying goal will be opposition to the Democrats.

And unlike 1854, there is no place for these pro-Democratic Republicans to go. They are not going to become Democrats. And there is no room in the system for a third party.

Moreover, Mitt Romney and a few others aside, I think Schmidt misidentifies the factions within the party, at least within Congress. There is not a pro-Democracy faction and an Autocratic faction. Instead, there is one windmill-tilting autocratic faction and one pragmatic faction that will not waste time on futile efforts but would be "fine with this effort actually succeeding" and likely would not "refrain[] from supporting it if they thought it could succeed." McConnell is not using or threatening to use any of the tools at his disposal to pull these Cruz, Hawley, et.al in line. Perhaps he knows it cannot work. More likely, he knows that he and the rest of the party benefit from these failed efforts. It is enough to shut up and reap the benefits.

I believe Mike Sacks has it right: "They’re playacting an attempt to overthrow democracy because they think fewer voters will get and stay mad at them for the historically irresponsible stunt than there will be voters who are way into it, don’t care, don’t understand, or don’t even know." Sack was talking about Gohmert, Cruz, Hawley, et al. But it is true of every member of the party's congressional caucus.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 3, 2021 at 10:35 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (14)

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Third-party universality

A judge in the Northern District of California has universally enjoined the President's Executive Order on diversity training. Plaintiffs are several non-profit LGBT education and advocacy organizations that do trainings and education programs for local businesses, governments, and health-care providers. These programs cover systemic bias, anti-racism, white supremacy, and other issues the EO attempts to stop. The court held that the EO violates the First Amendment.

The court made the injunction universal/nationwide, based on third-party effects. "Permitting Plaintiffs to provide training regarding “divisive concepts,or to promote those concepts,would do Plaintiffs little good if their sources of employment and funding remain subject to the Executive Order." Pointing to evidence of third-party cancellation of programs in which the plaintiffs were scheduled to participate, "[i]njunctive relief is necessary to allow third parties to hire and/or fund Plaintiffs without fear of violating the Executive Order."

Third-party effects can expand the scope of a particularized injunction, in the sense of protecting those with whom the protected plaintiff engages in its protected capacity. For example, the injunction stopping enforcement of the Muslim travel ban as to the University of Hawaii protected actual and potential students; the injunction stopping enforcement as to HIAS protected actual and potential HIAS clients. Similarly, the court is correct that protecting these plaintiffs requires protecting those who do business with them.

But it did not follow that the injunction stopping the travel ban should protect other state universities, other immigration organizations, or other potential immigrants who have nothing to do with those plaintiffs. Similarly, it does not follow that this injunction must protect other training providers who have nothing to do with these plaintiffs or other entities who do not and would never do business with the plaintiffs. Giving relief to other grantees/contractors, who have nothing to do with the plaintiffs, is not necessary to give the plaintiffs complete relief.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 24, 2020 at 01:04 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Godwin's Law of Standing

An intentionally provocative framing of Friday's standing decision: A mayor (to keep the numbers small) issues a memorandum ordering department heads to identify, "to the extent practicable or feasible," all Jewish municipal employees so they may be excluded from receiving annual raises. Jewish employees must be identified by December 31, the date on which annual raises are triggered.

Could it really be that a Jewish employee does not have standing to challenge that memorandum prior to being identified and denied a raise? That each employee must wait until he is denied the raise, then sue?

And if not, how is this different than the census case? Is it numbers--there are more undocumented immigrants in the United States than Jews working in my hypothetical municipality, so it is more likely that all Jews can be identified? Is it the certainty of harm--no raise as opposed to maybe a loss of money or seats?

I should add I know there is no logic or consistency in standing analysis. But it is worth thinking about.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2020 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Malevolence + Incompetence = No Standing

That is the gist of the Per curiam decision dismissing the challenge to exclusion of undocumented persons from the census for lack standing/ripeness (at this point they are the same and we should stop treating them as distinct). Government agencies are struggling to identify undocumented persons and exclude them from the count--in other words, struggling to implement the presidential memorandum--by the December 31 deadline. This creates "contingencies" and "speculation" as to the extent of the harm (how many millions of people will be identified and affected) that "impedes judicial review."

Breyer dissented for Sotomayor and Kagan. Money quotation:

To repeat, the President’s stated goal is to reduce the number of Representatives apportioned to the States that are home to a disproportionate number of aliens without lawful status. The Government has confirmed that it can identify millions of these people through administrative records. But if the Census Bureau fails to fulfill its man-date to exclude aliens without lawful status and reduce the number of Representatives to which certain States are en-titled, it will be for reasons not in the record. Where, as here, the Government acknowledges it is working to achieve an allegedly illegal goal, this Court should not de-cline to resolve the case simply because the Government speculates that it might not fully succeed.

Otherwise, we have a new principle: Plaintiffs lack standing if government is too incompetent to get its shit together and commit the violation it intends, as a matter of announced formal policy, to commit.

Oh, and I forgot to add: I presume folks in the Trump Administration now believe standing requirements are great and necessary constitutional bulwarks and not technicalities and dodges wielded by fearful Justices.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2020 at 10:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Departmentalism and the First Amendment

Last month I speculated that government officials might enact laws they know will not survive judicial review but that make good political and constitutional statements.

Case in point is the bill that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Wednesday. The bill prohibits the state from selling or displaying "symbols of hate," defined to "include, but not be limited to, symbols of white supremacy, neo-Nazi 10 ideology or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy." And it calls for the enactment of measures to prohibit the sale of symbols of hate on the grounds of the state fair or other fairs receiving public funds. The first clause is fine, although largely symbolic (not sure how many New York office buildings are flying swastikas). The second is almost certain to be declared invalid if challenged in court; the prohibition is a viewpoint-discriminatory restriction on speech that will occur in a limited public forum.

Cuomo acknowledged that constitutional questions surround the bill and promised to work with the legislature on "technical changes" to correct potential constitutional problems, although I am not sure what small change will save the fairgrounds portion. Eugene Volokh points out that the law likely cannot be challenged at this point because it does not ban anything; it orders a state agency to enact regulations. Perhaps this is why Cuomo believes there is an opportunity for changes that avoid constitutional problems.

Cuomo explained his reason for signing despite the constitutional questions:

This country faces a pervasive, growing attitude of intolerance and hate — what I have referred to in the body politic as an American cancer,” Cuomo wrote in his approval message.

“By limiting the display and sale of the confederate flag, Nazi swastika and other symbols of hatred from being displayed or sold on state property, including the state fairgrounds, this will help safeguard New Yorkers from the fear-installing effects of these abhorrent symbols.”

So did Cuomo act in an "unconstitutional manner" or violate his constitutional oath? It depends on whether he believes the law is valid, apart from what courts might conclude. And the concerns Cuomo describes--intolerance and hate is a problem--can be part of the legislative and executive calculus. He seems to be trying to thread a needle here--signing a broad law for show, then attempting to dial it back to address constitutional concerns. But in a broad departmentalist sense, what he did is fine.

Is there a difference between what Cuomo and New York did here and what other states have done with strict abortion bans? None of these laws will survive judicial review under current jurisprudence. One difference is that the abortion bans are designed to create litigation with the hope/expectation that a different SCOTUS majority will change its constitutional interpretation and render the laws valid. I doubt Cuomo expects SCOTUS to change its views on hate speech, viewpoint discrimination, or public forums. Should that matter to how we evaluate a departmentalist executive?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 17, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Not a technicality, still a distraction (Updated)

Standing is the word of the weekend, as the lame-duck President took to Fox to decry the reliance on "little technicalities, like a thing called standing," before expressing shock and awe that "the President of the United States does not have standing."

I prohibit my students from using the word "technicality" in class or in their work. Another word for technicality, I tell them, is "the law." It is not a technicality when evidence is excluded because police executed an unlawful search, because there are laws prohibiting police from doing that and those laws are no less important than the law prohibiting some action as a crime. And it is not a technicality when a court dismisses (or refuses to hear) case because it lacks the authority to hear it (as standing is understood), because the laws limiting the court's adjudicative authority is as important as the Electors Clause.

Update: Trump later tried his hand at textualism, insisting that SCOTUS' original jurisdiction is enumerated in the Constitution. But so is standing (descriptively derived as it is from the "case or controversy" language), in the prior clause of the same section of the same article.

Trump's complaint also ignores that one court found standing before rejecting all the merits arguments. The court's standing analysis is debatable. I agree that Trump was injured and that an injunction prohibiting certification would remedy that injury (subject to whatever happens next under state law). But any standing here would have been Third Party standing--Trump asserting the rights of the Wisconsin legislature to set election rules. The court either needed to find the other elements of third-party standing (close connection between Trump and the real right-holder and some barrier to the right-holder asserting its rights) or conclude that, as in Bond v. U.S., a party with standing can assert any alleged constitutional defect in a law.

All that said, I continue to believe that standing is jurisdictionalized merits. What courts have made a jurisdictional threshold is a merits determination: "Your constitutional/statutory rights have not been violated in this case because the law does not recognize those rights, so you lose on the merits." That is what standing measures--"perhaps the Constitution or law was violated in some way, but it did not affect you so you cannot be the one to pursue the claim and obtain a judicial remedy." Would we be better off if courts spoke about it in those terms, rather than as a threshold that can be waved away by non-lawyers as a technicality?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 13, 2020 at 01:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

New Fed Courts cases from SCOTUS (Updated)

As the Court wrestles with absurd original-jurisdiction cases, some procedure decisions from SCOTUS today, with some interesting twists and background points.

Carney v. Adams involved a challenge to Delaware law controlling party affiliation for judges; a unanimous Court, per Justice Breyer, held the plaintiff lacked standing because he failed to show he was "able and ready" to do something to be injured by the challenged law. Bare testimony that he "would apply" for a judgeship but for the party limitations was insufficient to establish a particularized harm, especially when balanced against the sequence of events (he never applied for any judgeship, retired as an attorney, read a law review article about the invalidity of these party limits, unretired, changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Independent, then filed the lawsuit about a week later). Basically, he got Lujaned--he did not have the judicial-application equivalent of a plane ticket. Justice Sotomayor concurred to comment on some issues that might arise on the merits of a future challenge to laws such as these.

Tanzin v. Tanvir, unanimously per Justice Thomas, held that federal officers could be sued for damages under RFRA; the action was brought against FBI agents who allegedly placed three Muslim men on the "No Fly List" when they refused to act as informants. A lot of discussion. RFRA provides an express cause of action against governments, which includes officials and other persons acting under color of law, terms which include personal-capacity claims against government employees. The Court uses § 1983 to establish background understanding for concepts such as under color and damages as a remedy for constitutional violations.

Qualified immunity lurked in the background in Tanvin in two interesting respects. First, the Court drops in a footnote that everyone agrees that the officers can assert qualified immunity, which pre-ordains what will happen in this action on remand (it will not be clearly established that placing someone on the List in retaliation for not spying on their neighbors violates religious freedom). I guess it makes sense as a policy matter that qualified immunity applies. But why does it work as a statutory matter. The logic of qualified immunity and § 1983 is that a qualified-immunity-type defense existed at common law in 1871 and was incorporated as background in § 1983 in the absence of a plain statement rejecting the defense. (The dissimilarity between modern QI and what existed at common law is the basis for Will Baude's criticisms). The logic of qualified immunity and Bivens is that Bivens is the federal counterpart to § 1983. But what is the source of qualified immunity to assume it was incorporated (again by silence) into RFRA? I guess the argument would be that RFRA displaced § 1983 and Bivens and was modeled after both, so any defense built into these was built and incorporated into the new statute. (Update: Doug Laycock confirms this, along with the belief that QI was a necessary concession to get a damages remedy in the statute. Thomas describes the scope of § 1983 at the time of RFRA as permitting "monetary recovery against officials who violated 'clearly established' federal law.").

Second, Thomas is the one Justice who expressed an interest in at least reconsidering QI. It thus is interesting that he incorporates into RFRA the broad understanding of under color to include suits against any official acting as an official in his personal capacity. One argument for broad QI (as Will discusses in his article) is as a counterweight to a broad conception of under color--Screws/Monroe were wrong, so QI corrects that imbalance without overruling those cases. But I wonder what Thomas' broad adoption of under color means for his views on QI.

United States v. Briggs unanimously held that certain rape prosecutions under the UCMJ were timely, an unfortunate loss for Steve. Justice Gorsuch concurred to express his continuing view that SCOTUS lacks jurisdiction to review decisions from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (an Article I Court).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2020 at 11:50 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 07, 2020

Kraken the 11th Amendment

Judge Parker of the Eastern District of Michigan denied a preliminary injunction in the Michigan Kraken suit. One basis for dismissal, which I had not seen in these suits, was 11th Amendment. The court held that Ex Parte Young did not allow the § 1983 claims against the individual officers because the requested injunction is retroactive rather than prospective. EPY requires that the plaintiff seek prospective relief to end a continuing violation of federal law. This is not the mine-run EPY action, in which the plaintiff seeks to stop continuing enforcement of a constitutionally invalid law; the plaintiffs seek to "undo what has already occurred"--the certification of the election and the slate of Michigan electors.

This does not seem quite right to me. This is not a completed past violation. Plaintiffs do feel the ongoing effects of the constitutionally defective election and certification--the wrong candidate was certified as winner and the wrong electors appointed, in violation of these plaintiffs' constitutional rights. The relief, if granted, would have prospective effect--they would be back in the place they would be had the violative certification not occurred and in a position to have their rights remedied prospectively by a proper future certification. The analogy is a reinstatement claim, which is allowed under EPY--the unlawful firing occurred in the past, the plaintiff continues to feel the ongoing effects of the firing, and the court order will restore the plaintiff to where she would have been had she not been unlawfully fired.

The plaintiffs cannot get the remedy sought for other reasons--I doubt the court could order decertification, not to mention that their rights were not violated to begin with. But that does not mean the remedy is not "prospective" or the violation not "ongoing." Another way that all of these doctrines conflate jurisdiction, merits, and remedies.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2020 at 01:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Botching jurisdiction and merits, Ex. No. 613

Here is an awful jurisdiction/merits decision from the Fifth Circuit, involving the treatment of state action/under color in a § 1983 action. (H/T: Jack Preis).

A public-school educational aide sues a contract sheriff's deputy assigned to the school, claiming excessive force from the deputy punching him. The district court denies qualified immunity, while noting in passing some doubt about state action but that the defendant conceded the issue. The deputy appeals the Q/I denial under the collateral order doctrine. The Fifth Circuit remands, on the ground that by failing to determine action under color, the district court failed to establish its subject matter jurisdiction before ruling on the merits.

This is many shades of wrong. State action/action under color is an element of a § 1983 action and has nothing to do with the court's subject matter jurisdiction. This is true as a logical matter--merits ask who can sue whom and for what conduct, which is what state action determines in a constitutional case (whether this defendant can be sued for this conduct because it was under color). But it is especially true after Arbaugh and Morrison, which labels as merits issues those affecting the "reach" of a law, meaning what the law "prohibits"--what conduct (under color or not under color) can form the basis for liability in a § 1983 constitutional claim. It has nothing to do with subject-matter jurisdiction, which is established because federal law "creates" the rights plaintiff is asserting (Fourth Amendment) and his right of action (§ 1983).

The court may have found itself bound by a 1980 circuit precedent saying state action was required to "invoke the district court's jurisdiction." But that case (both the majority and dissent) uses the term jurisdiction in the thoughtless way the Court (particularly Justice Ginsburg) has tried to rein in the past twenty years. And it is inconsistent with how Morrison and Arbaugh framed the definition of merits issues. A Third Circuit panel was willing to overrule circuit precedent that could not stand in light of those recent cases. Perhaps this panel was unwilling to do the same. But then perhaps tee this for en banc review.

One other note: This decision is a stew of bad Fed Courts doctrine. The only reason the court was in position to consider the issue at this point is the immediate appealability of qualified-immunity denials, which some have argued contribute to the over-protection of police. Immediate review is designed to speed litigation. Instead, the court avoided immunity to create a new round of district-court (and probably appellate) litigation of an issue that should not have been before the court of appeals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 04:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, November 28, 2020

More state universality (Updated)

A judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky enjoined a Kentucky executive order closing schools, finding it violated the First Amendment rights of a K-12 religious school. (H/T: Eugene Volokh). It is unsurprising in its analysis--the order was not generally applicable because it applied to K-12 schools but not preschools or colleges and universities. Whatever--I have given up reading these decisions as anything other than a sub silentio reading of the First Amendment to opt-outs for religious institutions and behaviors, no matter the societal costs. Update: The Sixth Circuit reversed.

More interesting to me is that the court made the injunction universal/non-particularized, prohibiting enforcement of the EO as to all religious schools, not only the plaintiff. The court did not use the words universal or non-particularized and did not acknowledge the ongoing scope-of-injunction controversy, while providing further evidence that this issue is not limited to challenges to federal law. I presume the key here is that the lawsuit was brought not only by the school, but also by the Attorney General on behalf of the Commonwealth. "Complete relief" for the AG must protect all members of the public.

In the Before Times of 2018, I spoke on universal injunctions before the meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. I suggested they might be of two minds on the issue. On one hand, universality works against them as the defendants to be enjoined from enforcing many state laws. On the other hand, they want universality when suing the federal government to stpp. This is a third hand--the AG suing the Governor to stop enforcement of a provision of state law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 28, 2020 at 12:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Evidentiary problems (Updated Again)

Election-law attorney Marc Elias has kept a running tally of the Trump Campaign's litigation record, which stands at 1-38 and has a chance of getting to 50 losses. As his litigation efforts flail, however, his political efforts have succeeded--not in keeping him in the White House (which may not even be the point), but in destroying public confidence in electoral and political processes, undermining the Biden presidency before it begins, and in creating space for an army of state-level mini-Trumps to make noise (even if unsuccessful) about overriding the results of the election.

The difference is evidence.

Trump has lost in court because courts have strict rules about what constitutes valid allegations and evidence (under oath, reliable, credible, based on actual understanding of things such as how elections work, and subject to testing) and they are bound by the allegations and evidence in making decisions. As Judge Bibas wrote, "calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof." On the other hand, Trump has won in hotel ballrooms and porn-shop-adjacent parking lots because evidence is whatever nonsense, however fantastical, can be spouted at the highest volume with the straightest face. And decisionmakers (the voters who believe the election was stolen) can base their beliefs on whatever they want.

Whither legislative bodies? They have rules about what constitutes valid evidence--witnesses are under oath and cannot lie. But no external rules limit what legislators can hear or use in reaching their decisions. Which leaves room for people like Pennsylvania Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is leading a legislative move to appoint the state's electors. And he can base his efforts on "findings" of "substantial irregularities and improprieties associated with mail-in balloting, pre-canvassing, and canvassing" based on "facts and evidence presented and our own Board of Elections data" that the presidential election (although, miraculously, no other elections within Commonwealth), was "irredeemably corrupted."

But where is the evidence of this irredeemable corruption? There is none, at least nothing that any court has taken seriously or could rely upon. So it must be that legislatures, or at least some legislators, believe they can and should base decisions not on what suffices in court, but on what suffices in ballrooms and parking lots. In a legislature, unlike in court, it is enough to call an election unfair and act on that call. And that is the problem.

This is not new. Legislators often make bad policy off bad evidence and bad findings. Policy can be undone. The votes of almost 7 million people cannot. And neither can a widespread belief that the system is corrupt whenever your preferred candidate loses. That Mastriano's effort will fail is beside the point. That he is making it and that it will be taken seriously suggests we have crossed some lines.

Updated: Phillip Bump at the Washington Post calls for the Republicans to release the evidence or shut up, then defines what is and is not evidence. But there is no agreement on what constitutes valid evidence, at least outside of court. So Trumpists will reject the premise of Bump's argument.

Second Update: Will Cain on Fox says it aloud: "There may not be enough evidence for a court system, but there should be enough evidence for state legislators to change their electors." Because Republican legislators do not need any evidence beyond "because it's true."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 28, 2020 at 12:09 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 23, 2020

Paying for vaccination and the First Amendment

I am intrigued by this idea making the rounds: Pay people (amounts thrown around are $ 1000-$1400) for getting the COVID vaccine. The plan achieves three things: 1) Ensures broader vaccination towards herd immunity (estimates say a 70% rate is necessary); 2) economic stimulus; and 3) support those suffering financial loss in the economic downturn.

A question: Would someone with a religious objection to vaccination have a First Amendment or RFRA claim? Is not receiving a widely available benefit, unavailable to you because of your religious beliefs, a violation of religious exercise? And, because that is all the rage these days, what would be the remedy if this is a violation? How would the Court level up--requiring the government give the religiously unvaccinated $ 1000? Or would the Court level down and prohibit the government from doing this?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 23, 2020 at 01:39 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trump campaign loses big in Pennsylvania (Updated)

Update: Just wanted to highlight a few things discussed below, as the Pennsylvania litigation continues apace. First, Trump's lawyers are as bad at appellate procedure as they are at civil procedure--the motion for expedited review insists that they are only challenging the denial of leave to amend to file a Second Amended Complaint, not the dismissal of the First Amended Complaint. And they have not asked for an injunction pending appeal, which means Pennsylvania could certify the results today and moot the case. Second, Trump's lawyers are being hoisted on their Twiqbal petards. They continue to insist they are entitled to discovery and the chance to present evidence at trial, ignoring the obligation to plead a plausible claim, including standing. Third, liberal delight in flaunting Twiqbal is disturbing.

Opinion here. This was always a weak case, so the result is unsurprising. Giuliani's involvement brought a brighter spotlight to it than its merits deserved, making it more farce than lawsuit. But the decision is as much of a smackdown as people are saying, with the court dropping occasional phrases suggesting annoyance. Some quick thoughts.

1) This case further convinces me that standing as a merits-independent threshold inquiry makes no sense. For the two voter plaintiffs, the court focuses on the fact that they sued the wrong people, people who did not violate their rights and thus injure them. That should be part of the merits--your county violated your rights by treating you poorly, but other counties do not violate your rights by treating other people favorably (as permitted by law). Similarly, redressability was framed in terms of remedy--the plaintiffs lacked standing because they requested the wrong remedy--which should be a post-merits determination. The goal seems to be to make what are effectively merits determinations while denying the case is about constitutional merits.

2) The Campaign asserted associational standing,which the court rejected. But it did not assert third-party standing on behalf of voters. Was this another pleading error? Political campaigns have always struck me as a classic example of third-party standing--their interests align with the voters and individual voters lack the incentive to bring broad-based litigation.

3) Given the GOP campaign against universal injunctions the past four years (with which I agree, of course), it is ironic that they requested the ultimate universal injunction. The plaintiffs asked the court to stop Pennsylvania from certifying the election--functionally nullifying every vote in the state--to remedy the violation suffered by two voters who were denied equal protection by the actions of a non-party. But it also would have been insufficiently universal, in that they only wanted to stop certification of the presidential election but no other election, although the voters were denied equal protection to cure their votes in those elections, as well (unless they could allege that they only voted in the presidential election).

4) The case illustrates the disconnect between litigation, which is often small-bore and centered on discrete violations of discrete people's discrete rights, and the vast international and technological conspiracy that Trump's lawyers sought to prove. Put aside that the evidence does not exist. There was no room for such evidence on the claims alleged. But does this create a catch-22? The Campaign will complain that it never had an opportunity to present its evidence in court (as people have been demanding), because the court never accepted its unsubstantiated allegations (which is all a complaint is supposed to be) and allowed it to find and present that evidence. At the same time, this is how much litigation works since Twiqbal--a state of affairs about which Civ Pro scholars have been complaining for almost 15 years.

5) I liked Judge Brann putting citations in footnotes, a practice I am surprised has not caught on more (some judges on the 5th and 6th Circuits do this). On that note, check out footnote 80, sure to go down in history as the new footnote 4.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 22, 2020 at 10:47 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Zombie statutes," non-universality, and judicial departmentalism

The opening paragraph of this Fifth Circuit opinion by Judge Costa accurately describes judicial review (H/T: Josh Blackman):

It is often said that courts “strike down” laws when ruling them unconstitutional. That’s not quite right. See Jonathan F. Mitchell, The Writ-of-Erasure Fallacy, 104 VA.L.REV. 933, 936 (2018). Courts hold laws unenforceable; they do not erase them. Id. Many laws that are plainly unconstitutional remain on the statute books. Jim Crow-era segregation laws are one example. See Gabriel J. Chin et al., Still on the Books: Jim Crow and Segregation Laws Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education, 2006 MICH.ST.L.REV. 457 (highlighting the segregationist laws still present in the codes of several states); see also Josh Blackman, The Irrepressible Myth of Cooper v. Aaron, 107 GEO.L.J. 1135, 1199 (2019) (noting that the Texas law criminalizing sodomy at issue in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), remains in the state code).

The opinion deals with what Costa calls "zombie statutes"--laws in one state that remain on the books but are unenforceable (at least judicially, more on that below) in light of SCOTUS precedent declaring an identical law from a different state invalid. The challenge here was to a Houston ordinance requiring initiative/petition circulators to be registered voters; SCOTUS in Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation declared an identical Colorado law to violate the First Amendment. The Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was not moot--there was sufficient threat of enforcement despite Buckley and the city's addition of an Editor's Note to its code--stating that it would accept petitions from non-registered voters and provided a form for such petitions--was not sufficient to moot the case.

This "zombie law" concept is interesting. I wish I had it in front of me (or had thought of the term myself) when writing about the link between non-universality and judicial departmentalism. Because those concepts inform what makes a zombie law.

Because of non-universality, the concept should not be limited to the situation at hand--State B's law is a zombie because of a decision involving State A's law. State B's law can be a zombie because of a decision involving that law as to non-parties to the prior litigation. It also means we could have federal zombie laws. The point is the same in all--the prior judgment spoke to the challenged law and the involved party, not to any other law or any other party.

Because of judicial departmentalism, it is arguably unfair to call any law a zombie law. Because if the government believes, in its independent judgment, that the law is constitutionally valid, it acts within the full scope of its constitutional power in enacting or enforcing it, regardless of contrary precedent. In that sense, the law is alive and enforceable. On the other hand, maybe zombie is the right term because the laws are undead--they are alive in remaining on the books and in remaining enforceable by a departmentalism government, but the actual or threatened enforcement is DOA in court, where SCOTUS precedent binds and determines the outcome. On a third hand, maybe we need distinct terms to capture distinct concepts--law on the books but no intention to enforce v. law on the books with intention to enforce--rather than lumping everything as a zombie.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 25, 2020 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Declaratory judgment of protected speech

ElDfrdHUcAEQYGkThe Lincoln Project erected these billboards in Times Square, suggesting lack of concern about COVID by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Attorney Marc Kasowitz sent the Lincoln Project a two-paragraph letter stating the billboards are "an outrageous and shameful libel" and that if they "are not immediately removed, we will sue you for what will doubtless be enormous compensatory and punitive damages."

Needless to say, the statements on the billboard are not libelous, regardless of whether they are outrageous or shameful. And it is doubtful that Javanka will recover compensatory and punitive damages, let alone enormous ones. The billboards imply callous disregard for COVID deaths, which is non-actionable opinion. The quotation from Jared comes from a Vanity Fair article about the administration's COVID response. The full statement is that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did not do enough to get PPE, so "his people are going to suffer and that's their problem." It is at least ambiguous whether "their" refers to Cuomo or "his people" (meaning New Yorkers); so even if it leaves a false impression, it does not rise to actual malice. The juxtaposition of their photos with body bags and death tolls is hyperbole. And, again, these are government officials.

Anyway, this letter is no different from the many bumptious letters that President Trump and other Republicans send to their human and bovine critics over plainly protected speech. They often give attorneys a chance to wave the banner of the First Amendment in their responses. But Popehat views these letters as a genuine threat to free speech when in furtherance of "abusively frivolous" defamation claims (which this letter is). So he offers a proposal:  The "'That's Not Defamation' Declaratory Relief Act:"

Under the statute, the Lincoln Project could send a demand to Kasowitz and the Kushners to withdraw the threat. If they don’t withdraw the threat, Lincoln Project can sue under the statute seeking a declaration that the speech is not defamatory. They can bring the equivalent of an anti-SLAPP motion immediately. If they prevail, they get an order that the speech is not defamatory ....AND they get attorney fees collectible from (this is key) either the Kushners or Kasowitz. If the judge finds the threat was frivolous, he or she can impose penalties on top of the fees. Would make legal threats have consequences.

White views attorneys as a big part of the problem. We expect people who believe they have been wronged to be angry and to lash out. We perhaps should expect more restraint from public officials and in the past we got it, but the human reaction is understandable. Attorneys are supposed to understand the law, to recognize the difference between hurt feelings and actionable defamation, and to talk their clients off the ledge, especially from throwing around money and power. An attorney who sends a letter such as this does the opposite; indeed, he exacerbates those money-and-power imbalances.

A declaratory judgment of protectedness is theoretically available under the current Declaratory Judgment Act, but defendants do not avail themselves of the option. Likely because most such letters are empty threats (Donald Trump has yet to sue over 2016 reporting of sexual-assault allegations) and the defendant's prefer avoid litigation, especially because attorney's fees are not recoverable under the current law. White's proposal makes the attorney demand part of the game.

There is an interesting Fed Courts angle to this. Under Skelly Oil, an action seeking a declaration that speech is constitutionally protected/non-defamatory does not arise under federal law, because the underlying enforcement action (a defamation suit) would not arise under federal law. It could only reach federal court on diversity. So if White wants these cases in federal court, the statute should include a jurisdictional grant that does not rely on the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2020 at 12:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Impementing SCOTUS term limits

I missed the introduction of this bill last week, which Eric Segall discusses. It provides for appointments in the first and third year of a presidential term. It also provides that the Senate shall be deemed to have waived its advice-and-consent authority if it does not act on a nomination within 120 days of the appointment and the nominee shall be confirmed. This is cute, designed to prevent the McConnell move of sitting on a nomination, although it does not stop a determined Senate majority of one party from blocking everyone a President of the other party nominates. I have seen other proposals for a statute or Senate rule that failure to confirm within a certain time shall be deemed confirmation.

The bill does not make the Balkin move of giving senior justices specific SCOTUS-related responsibilities. But current Justices are not required to retire from "regular active service," so there are no problems of changing the tenure of sitting Justices. But appointments will begin upon passage, with new appointees serving as active Justices for 18 years. Presumably, the Court will expand until current Justices retire.

But this creates some strange Court dynamics as the new system takes effect. Justice Srinivasan appointed under this law in 2021 would be active until 2039, then forced into senior service. Meanwhile, in 2039, six current Justices (seven if you include Barrett) would be in their early 80s or younger and likely still wanting to remain active. A big chunk of the current Court would form a "core" that might continue for another 30 years, while an "outer" Court changes around them. The demand for incrementalism due to non-retroactivity creates some difficulties.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2020 at 07:05 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Balkin solves the 18-year conundrum

Proponents of 18-year terms with regularized appointments biennial conflict over a procedural problem: Whether it can be done by statute without changing the nature of the position for current justices. Requiring a Justice to assume "senior" status and changing the nature of the job--no longer hearing SCOTUS cases--is arguably inconsistent with the life tenure that came with the original appointment.

Jack Balkin has solved the problem with an expansion of past proposals and his argument in his new book. Under Balkin's proposal, all Justices remain active until they leave the Court. Instead, Congress changes how the Court hears cases. Original-jurisdiction cases are heard en banc and all Justices decide cert. petitions.  But appellate-jurisdiction cases (i.e., all but one or two cases each year) are heard by a panel consisting of the nine junior-most Justices. More-senior Justices fill-in (in reverse seniority) if there is a recusal or vacancy among the 9-Justice panel and can sit on courts of appeals.

There should be no question that this can be done through ordinary legislation, because it does not change the job description. Rather, it changes the responsibilities of each Justice, akin to requiring circuit-riding that dates to the founding, and how the Court hears cases, unquestionably within Congress' power to structure and organize the Court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2020 at 12:31 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, October 05, 2020

Thomas and Alito defend Kim Davis

SCOTUS denied cert in Davis v. Ermold, which held that Kim Davis did not enjoy qualified immunity in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it offends her religious beliefs. Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, issued a cri du ceour respecting the denial of cert., lambasting Obergfell as creating a "novel constitutional right" having "ruinous consequences for religious liberty."

Three things.

First, Thomas proceeds as if Smith no longer is good law and that the First Amendment demands an opt-out from a generally applicable law or satisfaction of strict scrutiny. He cites Smith in a footnote, but to argue that Obergefell is more illegitimate because not done through the legislative process. This seems disingenuous. I doubt that if Kentucky had legalized SSM by statute with no religious accommodation, Thomas would be more willing to accept those ruinous consequences for religious liberty.

Second, I am waiting for a good argument for why having issue licenses to same-sex couples is more a violation of religious liberty than having to issue licenses to inter-racial couples or inter-faith couples. All can be, and have been, subject to religiously based objections by some people. Would Thomas be staking out this position if someone denied a marriage license to Noah Cohen and Mary-Margaret O'Reilly?

Third, whatever one believes about a private baker or photographer, it should not extend to a government official performing her official functions. Her job as a public employee is to carry out the law. If that law offends her religious or other sensibilities, then she should quit. We would not allow someone to enlist in the Army and then refuse to fight in a war; we would not allow an atheist police officer to refuse to conduct traffic at a church. There is no reason to allow a clerk to refuse to issue a marriage license.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 5, 2020 at 02:45 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Proving anti-Jewish discrimination

Eugene Volokh unearths a 10-year-old S.D.N.Y. decision in an action alleging co-workers in a government job referred to him as a "dumb Jew" or "fucking Jew."

Eugene focuses on one defense--that the plaintiff was not Jewish because his mother was not Jewish, he had not converted, and he was not practicing. The court rejected the argument, deeming it not the court's place to define who is Jewish and finding it sufficient that the plaintiff defined himself as being of Jewish "heritage," even if not practicing. One of Eugene's commentators nominates this as the new definition of chutzpah--calling someone a "fucking Jew," then arguing that he is not Jewish.

The rest of the decision is interesting apart from the chutzpah. The court denied summary judgment on a Title VII claim against the city. But the court dismissed a § 1981 claim, because the plaintiff alleged religious rather than racial discrimination. This seems like a pleading error. Courts will treat Judaism as more than a religion for § 1981 purposes. And that would have been an appropriate approach in this case, where the plaintiff did not practice Judaism and focused more on his "heritage" than his religion.

The court  granted summary judgment on claims against several harassing co-workers. Although there was evidence the co-workers had created a hostile religious environment, they were not state actors because they were not his supervisors. This is incoherent. The under-color question should be whether the defendant used his official position to engage in unconstitutional conduct and whether that position made the unconstitutional conduct possible. That should be satisfied here--the unconstitutional conduct is the religiously motivated harassment and they could engage in that harassment only because of their official positions in government. Harassment does not require a supervisory relationship, so it should be irrelevant to the under-color/state-action analysis.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2020 at 01:36 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Jamelle Bouie misunderstands judicial supremacy and other comments

Jamelle Bouie calls on Democrats to reject judicial supremacy. Unfortunately, he does not seem to understand what judicial supremacy is or what it means to fight it. Instead, he conflates challenges to judicial supremacy with court reform. He offers the historical example* of Jeffersonians undoing the Midnight Judges Act--eliminating judgeships, restoring a SCOTUS seat, and restoring circuit riding. But none of that had anything to do with judicial supremacy. That was a dispute between competing parties in the political process about the structure of the federal courts, which everyone agrees was and remains within congressional control. It has nothing to do with who, if anyone, gets the final word on constitutional meaning. And the Court had no say in either the original act or the Jeffersonian response. One can support court packing or other  proposals for reforming the structure of the courts while believing in judicial supremacy.

[*] Bouie's other example is Lincoln's First Inaugural, where he suggests ignoring Dred Scot as precedent as to the validity of the Missouri Compromise, while recognizing that he is stuck with the judgment in that case. This envisions judicial departmentalism--bound by the judgment, free to ignore precedent.

Kevin Drum comments on Bouie's column and understands the issues better, arguing for jurisdiction stripping as the answer. This hits on something I did not consider or address in my work on judicial departmentalism. Departmentalism collapses into judicial supremacy because many (most?) constitutional questions devolve into judicial ones, producing a court judgment that the executive must enforce and obey, on pain of contempt. The solution--for those who want one--is stripping the courts of jurisdiction to decide some constitutional issues. But not because it eliminates courts' power to make new precedent--since the the other branches can ignore that. But because it eliminates courts' power to produce new judgments, which the other branches cannot ignore.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2020 at 10:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Segall Court and a stopping point to Court-packing

As I was completing my prior post on the time passing for Eric Segall's eight-person partisan-divide Court, I thought of a way to save that plan and to put a check on infinite tit-for-tat Court expansion through mutual disarmament: Expand the Court to twelve with three Democratic appointees, then run the Segall plan with a 6-6 partisan divide.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2020 at 11:28 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Implementing the Carrington Plan (Updated)

With the prospect of attempted court-packing looming in the event of a President Biden and Democratic Senate, thoughts turn to alternatives involving 18-year terms and regularized appointments. The Carrington Plan, introduced in 2009, would achieve this by statute through the creation of the position of "senior justice," a Court of more than nine, but cases heard by a panel of the nine junior-most members.

The benefit of the Carrington Plan is that it could be done by statute. The 2009 version contained a sunrise provision, taking effect only with the first vacancy after passage and allowing current members to serve until death or retirement. This was to avoid constitutional objections to Congress violating Article III by changing the nature of the Justice's position--after 18 years, although still an Associate Justice, the person does not adjudicate cases. I was not, and am not, convinced by the constitutional arguments. If Congress can strip the Court of some (if not all) of its appellate jurisdiction, it can strip individual Justices of their role in exercising that jurisdiction. It is complicated and uncertain, but the constitutional problem is not obvious.

But the sunrise may be necessary to make it work across a full Court, because a President cannot make a regular biennial appointment if the junior-most Justice has not reached 18 years.

This was not the case in 2009, when Carrington and others presented the plan to Congress. Five Justices already had served 18 years and two more were close.Had it been implemented then, the Court could have turned over under the plan within 16 years: 2009 (Stevens), 2011 (Scalia), 2013 (Kennedy), 2015 (Souter*), 2017 (Thomas), 2019 (Ginsburg), 2021 (Breyer), 2023 (Roberts--who would have reached 18 years), 2025 (Alito, who gets a couple extra years on the Court). By 2025, we have an entirely new primary Court.

[*] Or Souter retires, as he did, in 2009 and everyone gets pushed back two years.

But the current Court structure prevents that clean implementation. In 2021, two Justices are beyond 18 years and four are close; those six would be replaced by 2031. But then it runs out. In 2033, the time for the next appointment, Gorsuch will have been on the Court for 16 years, two years short of the end of his term as active justice.

It would be unfortunate if the time for the best plan has passed, much as the time for Eric Segall's eight-person partisan-split Court passed in 2017.

Updated: Steven Calabresi (Northwestern) argues in The Times for a constitutional amendment and offers a solution to this problem: The eight current Justices would draw lots for the order in which their terms would end beginning in 2023, meaning some Justices may serve fewer than 18 years (e.g., if Kavanaugh drew short straw in 2023, he would serve five years). We could modify Calabresi's proposal and retain basic equity by going in reverse order through Alito Kagan, then drawing lots among Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett in 2033. This ensures everyone serves at least 15 years, which Calabresi argues is longer than the term on other constitutional courts.

Also, note this feature of Calabresi's proposal--he is not messing around:

Failure to confirm a justice by July 1 of a president’s first or third year should lead to a salary and benefits freeze for the president and all 100 senators, and they should be confined together until a nominee has been approved. The vice president would act as president during this time and the Senate would be forbidden from taking action whatsoever on any of its calendars.

By the way, with all of this in the news, I must rethink the order of my Fed Courts class for next semester. I save jurisdiction-stripping and the issues of congressional control over the Court, including proposals for term limits and other restructuring, for last--they are highly theoretical topics that my students are better able to handle at the end of the course. The problem is that I have not gotten to this the last couple of years. But the life tenure and term limits stuff now is too central to the political discussion. I may put SCOTUS structure, including term limits, up front (the class begins with SCOTUS jurisdiction), even if jurisdiction stripping and similar issues remain at the end.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2020 at 11:22 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, September 04, 2020

Getting qualified immunity wrong

This letter, from the lobbyist from the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs to an Oregon legislative committee considering a host of police-reform bills. Benefit of the doubt: The author (according to his LinkedIn page) is not an attorney and he might be talking about some state tort qualified immunity doctrine  rather than § 1983 federal qualified immunity. But presuming he is talking about § 1983, this is not good.

The letter says:

• "Qualified immunity is a legal principle that applies not only to law enforcement officers, but all public employees and officials" (emphasis in original): The only legally accurate statement in here.

• "It states that a public official cannot be sued . . . so long as those actions occur legally within the scope of the public employee's official duties. Qualified immunity is never a shield for illegal activity. It is not applicable if a public employee is acting outside the scope of their responsibilities." (emphasis in original). This is so wrong, which is why I was unsure whether he was talking about a state tort defense as opposed to § 1983. But as an explanation of § 1983, it conflates "under color of law" with immunity. A public official acts under color, and subject to liability, when performing his public job responsibilities; whether immunity applies is a second and distinct question. And the argument ignores the mounting cases in which courts find that an officer, under color of law, did something unlawful (e.g., making a prisoner sit in feces for four hours or stealing property in executing a warrant) but is not liable because no prior officer did the precise thing in the precise manner within that federal circuit.

• "The purpose of Qualified Immunity is to ensure that litigation does not completely place a public employee at the mercy of litigious counterparties." Sort of. It does not protect those employees just because. It protects them so that they will do a better job of policing when they can exercise judgment free from the fear of litigation. But when the result of a doctrine is that some (many?) officers acting as if they are unchecked, that doctrine may not be serving its intended purpose.

• I will not quote the whole thing, but the letter argues that qualified immunity also protects legislators. who are "uniquely and powerfully positioned to broadly deprive individuals of their rights." Again assuming he is talking about immunity from federal suit, he is wrong in the opposite direction. Legislators enjoy absolute immunity for their votes and legislative actions. But that distinction is based on the fact that individual legislators are less able to harm someone, there are political and electoral checks, and any violation is caused by the enforcement of legislation, remedied by a suit against the enforcing executive (who, of course, can claim qualified immunity). Executive immunity is (and should be) more limited than legislative immunity because executives interact with the public and can act individually to violate rights. Oh, and they can shoot people.

Again, if he is attempting to talk about state tort immunity, ignore the above--I know nothing about Colorado law so I do not know if what he says is correct. But if he is attempting to talk about federal claims under § 1983 or if he confused the two, this is a poor piece of advocacy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 4, 2020 at 01:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Universality, facial invalidity, and the First Amendment

I am a couple of days late to this Third Circuit decision declaring invalid as-applied, but not facially, the age-verification, labeling, and record-keeping requirements of the Child Online Protection Act. But the court reversed on scope-of-injunction, limiting the bar on enforcement to the named plaintiffs.

Two bits of good news. The court dropped a footnote that "nationwide" is the imprecise term, citing Justice Thomas' Trump v. Hawaii concurrence that the problem is not geographic scope but "universal character." And the court ended in the right place--with an injunction particularized to the individual plaintiffs.

The bad news is how it got there. These plaintiffs--journalists, commercial photographers, and producers of sex-education materials--were niche actors and different from typical players in the pornography industry. Given their unique facts and positions, the remedy protecting them should not protect differently situated actors. But that should not matter. Even if non-party pornographers were similarly situated to the plaintiffs, absent class certification, the injunction should not protect beyond the plaintiffs; it is unnecessary to accord complete relief or to remedy the violation of those plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

One point of confusion is that two associations--the Free Speech Coalition and the American Society for Media Photographers--were plaintiffs in the case, although their claims were dismissed for lack of associational standing. An injunction protecting an associational plaintiff can become broader, as in protecting the association it must protect its members (Michael Morley describes this as a de facto class action). But this injunction never protected the associations, who lacked standing. But that proves the point. There is no reason to consider the organizations' standing if the injunction protects them at the end of the day. Particularity in the injunction is more consistent with the other rules of civil litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2020 at 03:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Separation of powers, separation of parties, and subpoena enforcement

Following on Monday's post about the D.C. Circuit holding the House lacked a cause of action to enforce a subpoena: I mentioned that Congress could fix this by enacting a statute creating a right to sue. But that effort would offer an interesting test of the Levinson & Pildes "separation of parties, not separation of powers" thesis.

The President would likely veto any such bill. He will not want to subject himself and the executive branch to subpoena-enforcement actions. And he will want to retain control over subpoena enforcement actions, through DOJ.

The question then becomes whether Congress will override that veto. A legislature committed to separation of powers--and the Madisonian conception of ambition counteracting ambition--would override the veto, asserting its institutional prerogatives against executive recalcitrance. But Congress has been interested in checking the executive only when he is from the opposing party. So the question is whether sufficient Republicans in both houses would override a Trump veto or sufficient Democrats in both houses would override a Biden veto. And the answer to that is not clear. Perhaps each party will play a long game--"override my co-partisan President now so the power exists when the opposing party is in the White House." But the answer is not clear.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 1, 2020 at 09:22 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 31, 2020

D.C. Circuit has a busy day

As has been widely discussed, today is Judge Griffith's last day on the court, so it wanted to get some things out.

First, the en banc court in an 8-2 per curiam denied Sullivan's Michael Flynn's petition for writ of mandamus, concluding that Flynn had an adequate alternative remedy via district court proceedings on the motion (which may result in dismissal) or appeal or further mandamus of any district court decision. The court also declined to order the case reassigned to another district judge. Griffith wrote a short concurrence, emphasizing the purely legal (rather than political) nature of the dispute in the case.

Second, Griffith wrote for a 2-1 panel that the House (held by the en banc court to have standing to sue to enforce a subpoena against Don McGahn) could not sue to enforce because it lacked a cause of action to sue. Neither Article I (the source of the right to subpoena information), equity, nor the Declaratory Judgment Act provides an existing cause of action. Congress can fix the problem by enacting a statute creating a right to sue. This confirms why, as I wrote following the en banc decision, standing is such a colossal waste of time. It also reflects a D.C. Circuit (and perhaps Supreme Court) that seems determined to push the House to start fining and jailing witnesses who refuse to comply with subpoenas by cutting-off the civil-suit alternative. Like its predecessor, it may not withstand en banc review.

Judges Rogers dissented, arguing that Art. I and the DJA provide a right to sue. She continues to argue there is jurisdiction over the action under § 1331, a point the majority found unnecessary to address. McGahn argued there was no jurisdiction over an action by the House because no statute grants that jurisdiction, while  § 1365 grants jurisdiction over actions by the Senate. The implication is that § 1365 provides the sole basis for jurisdiction in actions by the Senate, superseding § 1331. And since there is no House counterpart to § 1365, the House cannot rely on § 1331. But this ignores the plain text of § 1331, which gives jurisdiction over anything that arises under, without Congress having to do more. As Rogers pointed out, § 1365 was enacted when § 1331 had an amount-in-controversy requirement, so a separate statute was necessary to give jurisdiction over all possible actions. Many separate jurisdiction grants were enacted for similar reasons. But since Congress eliminated the AIC requirement in 1980, none has been read as anything more than vestigial and certainly not as precluding § 1331.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 31, 2020 at 03:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2020

3d Circuit reveals division on union clawbacks

After Janus v. AFSCME declared invalid union agency-fee statutes as violative of the First Amendment , the next question became whether the non-members could clawback frees from within the past 2-3 years (within the statute of limitations). The Seventh, Second, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits said no and without dissent, relying on some form of good-faith defense to § 1983--because the unions believed the fees permissible under state law and judicial precedent.

The Third Circuit joined the chorus in an action against the Pennsylvania Teacher's Union, but  revealed the first deep divides. Judge Rendell adopted the prevailing view of a good-faith defense, along with principles of equity and fairness, to preclude liability where a private actor relied on prevailing law. Judge Fisher concurred in the judgment, relying on a historic principle that that judicial decisions declaring laws invalid or overruling precedent did not generate retroactive civil liability. And Judge Phipps dissented, arguing that neither defense existed at common law, so the actions to recover past fees should proceed.

Curious to see if this issue makes its way to SCOTUS before the Court fully pursues qualified immunity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 28, 2020 at 05:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Bad Legal Takes and the writ of erasure fallacy

Moderate Mentality reminds us that the federal flag-desecration law remains on the books, because a decision declaring a law invalid and unenforceable does not erase it from existence. So, yes, MM, federal officials could use closed-circuit TV and facial-recognition software to try to hold people accountable. As long as those officials do not mind losing in court and being made to pay damages and attorney's fees.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 27, 2020 at 06:27 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (11)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Nomenclature and judicial review (Updated)

The erroneous nomenclature that courts use in describing constitutional review contributes to common misunderstanding. Case in point: The Fourth Circuit decision affirming the convictions of two white-supremacist Charlottesville protesters under the Federal Anti-Riot Act, while declaring invalid certain portions of the statute as inconsistent with Brandenburg. The court talks about "invalidating" the statute, while commentators speak of the court "striking down" or "throwing out" the law, in whole or in part.

But the court did not do anything to the statute or those provisions of the statute--they remain on the books and they remain part of federal law, not erased or thrown out.

A more accurate description of what happens also would be cleaner: The court held that those provisions could not be enforced against these plaintiffs because doing so would violate their First Amendment rights, then affirmed the convictions because their conduct violated other provisions that could be enforced consistent with the First Amendment. The same is true of discussions of severability. The court does not sever some provisions from others--eliminating some and keeping others--because the entire thing remains on the books. I suppose what we call severability could be a way of asking whether the court can enforce some provisions and not others or whether the Constitution prohibits enforcement of all the language in the statute. Or it could be framed as Henry Monaghan described overbreadth--the presence of some constitutional defects means the statute cannot be applied, because there is a right to be convicted only under a constitutionally valid statute.

Either way, it would be cleaner to think about courts applying or not applying some provisions, rather than courts erasing them from existence.

Update: Zachary Clopton (Northwestern) reminds me that my discussion sounds in the debate between Justices Kavanaugh and Thomas described in a footnote in AAPC, which I wrote about after the decision and which Zach wrote about in Yale J. Reg. I think Thomas would agree with the approach I describe. Kavanaugh is correct in AAPC that future enforcement of the invalid provisions will be barred, at least in the Fourth Circuit, as a matter of precedent.

On further thought, this cases illustrates why injunctions should be particularized and why precedent does the real work. The constitutional issue arose in a government-initiated enforcement action--a criminal prosecution against these individuals, who then attempted to defeat enforcement by arguing that the law is invalid and thus cannot be enforced against their conduct. No one believes that the judgment in this case applies to anyone other than the defendants or that the government violates the judgment if it attempts to enforce the "invalid" provisions against someone else; in fact, the only thing the judgment does here is affirm their convictions. The prospective non-party effects of this decision come from the opinion, operating through precedent and stare decisis to require any court within the Fourth Circuit to dismiss a future attempt to enforce those provisions. So I return to my argument that a pre-enforcement injunction anticipates the enforcement judgment--and if the latter is limited to the parties, so is the former.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 25, 2020 at 03:55 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 21, 2020

After the Golden Age: The Fragility of the Fourth Estate

The period between 1964 and 1984 was the Golden Age of press cases in the United States Supreme Court. In that twenty-year span, the Court decided more landmark press cases than ever before or since. The press cases decided during this Golden Age contain some of the US Supreme Court’s loftiest rhetoric about the role the press plays in our democracy, and when read as a whole, the cases evince a strong commitment to the idea that the press serves as the Fourth Estate—the unofficial branch of government tasked with checking the other three. Though the Court never wholly embraces the terminology of the Fourth Estate, its foundational decisions contemplate the press playing a vital role in our constitutional scheme of separation of powers. This role makes the press the watchdog that informs us what the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are up to and continually replenishes the stock of news – real news – that enables informed public discussion and rational public policy. 

As I hope to show in an article I've been working on for some time now, the Court during the Golden Age implicitly recognized that the press was a powerful institution that could protect its role in fostering democratic discourse between government and its citizens. Although the Court recognized in dicta the special role played by the press in democracies, the Court was reluctant to grant special privileges to an institution that could leverage its power and resources to fight against incursions by the official branches of government. Thus, the Court granted the press (and often simultaneously individual speakers) strong constitutional protection from direct government censorship, such as prior restraints or compelled publication, but was reluctant to grant affirmative rights such as access to information in government hands (with press and public access to criminal trials being a notable exception).

At the time, the Court had before it impressive examples of the press performing its role of checking government abuse of power and informing citizens without any assistance from the government. The press had the resources and will to deploy investigative expertise, leverage public opinion, and pursue legal challenges to fend off attempts by the legislature or executive branches to limit press power. Moreover, the press of the day played a critical role as an intermediary, facilitating communications between and among the legislative, executive and judicial branches with the public.  In light of this, the Court's reluctance to grant "special rights" or exemptions from generally applicable laws to the media is understandable. It explains how the Court could lionize the press in its rhetoric but still reiterate that the First Amendment provided the press no rights beyond those granted to the public: the press of the Golden Age simply didn't need government assistance to fulfill its democratic functions. Just as the official branches of government must leverage their political power to win battles in the public arena, so, too, did the Court expect the press to leverage its power and resources to protect its ability to function as the Fourth Estate. 

What about now? The press of today bears little resemblance to the press of the Golden Age, and the assumptions about press power underlying the Supreme Court's Golden Age press cases deserve renewed scrutiny.

The institutional press is no longer the powerful juggernaut of the Watergate era, united by a set of professional norms and capable of uncovering corruption at the highest levels of government by deploying sustained and expensive investigative expertise. Instead, the institutional press has been beset by devastating competitive and economic forces. Advertisers have fled. Just since 2008, newsrooms lost half their employees--and that was BEFORE the pandemic, which promises further newsroom carnage. Traditional media continue to face a crisis of legitimacy, with public opinion about their performance split along partisan lines. The public increasingly turns to social media speakers rather than traditional media for information, further eroding traditional media’s roles as gatekeepers and translators of news and information. At the same time, the President of the United States has conducted a sustained campaign to undermine the credibility of traditional news media, branding them "fake news" and the "enemy of the people" in over 1,900 anti-press tweets between 2015 and 2019. He has also sued journalists for libel, has tried to bar critical reporters from White House press briefings, and has issued executive orders designed to silence other critics. (To be fair, the prior President wasn't great for the press, either). Meanwhile, money to hire media lawyers to litigate these issues is in short supply.

What seems clear is that traditional media's ability to play the role of Fourth Estate is declining, and there is no obvious successor stepping into the breach. Instead, we are faced with a diminishing supply of reliable information about what our government is up to, with serious consequences for our democracy.

In my new article, I expect to argue that at a minimum, this decline should lead us to reexamine the assumptions underlying the Golden Age press freedom cases. If the press is less able to use "self-help" to maintain the separation of powers”\ between itself and the official branches of government, than perhaps it is time to impose more affirmative constitutional obligations on government officials to enable an institution or individuals to play a watchdog role. Perhaps some "special rights" must be accorded to those willing and able scrutinize our officials and provide reliable information about what they're up to. Even though dicta in Roberts Court decisions suggests skepticism of, if not outright hostility to, the press, our democracy depends on an informed citizenry armed with facts and not just opinions about those who govern them.  From that perspective, analysis of whether the First Amendment might play a role in shoring up today's Fourth Estate seems overdue. 

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 21, 2020 at 05:15 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, August 17, 2020

Scholars' letter on Harris eligibility

Here.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 17, 2020 at 04:31 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, August 14, 2020

Wong Kim Ark Held That Children of Immigrants Were Natural Born Citizens

When Howard Wasserman and Ediberto Roman are right, they're right: Kamala Harris is a natural born citizen eligible to the presidency, and therefore to the vice presidency under the last sentence of the Twelfth Amendment. A fact perhaps not all students of the subject know: Presidential eligibility was specifically litigated in the Wong Kim Ark case, which held that the children of unnaturalized Chinese migrants born in the United States were U.S. citizens.  In the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice explained the importance of denying birthright citizenship to Chinese American children:

Are Chinese children born in this country to share with the descendants of the patriots of the American Revolution the exalted qualification of being eligible to the Presidency of the nation, conferred by the Constitution in recognition of the importance and dignity of citizenship by birth? If so, then verily there has been a most degenerate departure from the patriotic ideals of our forefathers; and surely in that case American citizenship is not worth having.

Brief for the United States at 34, United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) (No. 95-904), reprinted in 14 Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the United States Supreme Court: Constitutional Law 37 (Philip B. Kurland & Gerhard Casper eds., 1975).

Nevertheless, the Court found that American-born Chinese people were U.S. citizens.  Engaging in analysis which might fairly be called an example of Derrick Bell’s interest convergence thesis, the Court noted that a contrary conclusion “would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage, who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.” 169 U.S. at 694. So Wong Kim Ark put children of non-white immigrants in the same boat as the children of White immigrants. 

Another possibility, which I suggest should be considered just as seriously and respectfully as other notions running around, is that because the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment made only "citizens" and not "natural born citizens," no one is eligible to be President who was born after the effective date of the Amendment, July 28, 1868.  The law, after all, I think all would agree, is the law, and must be scrupulously followed regardless of any personal preferences we may harbor.

Posted by Jack Chin on August 14, 2020 at 12:26 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Birtherism 2.0 more insidious than Original Recipe

Counter-arguments from top-line conservative scholars will not be enough to slow this tide. Original Recipe was based on a provably false factual premise--Obama was not born in Hawaii--that allowed it to be dismissed as the ravings of people living in an alternative factual reality. But 2.0 is not about a fact--no one questions that Harris was born in California. Instead, 2.0 is based on a legal argument; however weak and contrary to every judicial and scholarly position the argument, editors (such as those of Newsweek) can rationalize it as a point of scholarly disagreement and a constitutional debate "unlikely to fall quiet any time soon." And the President, editors, and others will bolster the legal position--however descriptively incorrect--by argumentum ad verecundiam, pointing out that Eastman is "very highly qualified and talented" and that he clerked for Justice Thomas and used to be a dean.

Two thoughts on responding. First is to recognize that this is a legal rather than factual dispute. The response cannot be "Eastman is wrong and Harris is eligible because she was born in California;" no one disputes that.* Eastman's argument is that she is ineligible even thought she was born in California, because she was born to non-citizen parents. Second, the conversation must emphasize the difference between descriptive and normative arguments. Descriptively, the prevailing state of current law is birthright citizenship, which makes Harris eligible. Eastman (and soon Trump) is making a normative argument about what he believes the law should be. Any conversation must show why that vision is wrong.

[*] For the moment. Once the fever swamp gets hold of this, who knows where she will have been born or what explanation there will be for why California was not properly admitted to the Union.

Two questions. First, will we see a spate of lawsuits (as we did in 2008) challenging Harris' placement on the ballot, which will be dismissed for lack of standing. Second, if Biden/Harris wins, do they get an OLC opinion on the subject?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 13, 2020 at 09:08 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, August 10, 2020

Hate Speech Returns to Campus

Students are returning to campus soon, and with them they are sure to bring more controversies over where the lines are drawn between free speech and speech that may be censured and censored.

Just last week, a controversy broke out at Princeton about a student's use of the n-word in social media. A white Princeton student responded on Facebook to a Black Fordham graduate who posted "We know you hate n---s" by saying that the Black graduate had gone to prep school and could not "speak for the n---s." This incident followed publication by a Princeton classics professor of an op-ed questioning some of the racial justice proposals made in a faculty petition to Princeton administrators; in that op-ed, the Professor called one Black student group a "terrorist organization."

Inevitably, Princeton administrators issued statements deploring the speech used in both incidents. With regard to the white student's use of the n-word, administrators branded it “contrary to Princeton’s commitment to stand for inclusivity and against racism” but said that the speech nonetheless did not violate university policy. Similarly, the President of Princeton condemned the classics professor's labeling of the student group as a terrorist organization, calling it "irresponsible and offensive," but the President said the speech was nonetheless protected by university policy.  

Many students rejected these conclusions on the grounds that a university committed to inclusion cannot tolerate hate speech. Their views seem to mirror those found in a recent survey:  81 percent of students on college campuses said that colleges should not punish offensive speech, but when asked whether colleges should restrict racial slurs, 78 percent said yes.  Moreover, seventy-one percent of students surveyed believed colleges should be able to restrict the wearing of costumes that involve racial or ethnic stereotypes. 

Unlike other campus free speech controversies, Princeton's are not governed by the First Amendment, because Princeton is a private university. State universities like mine are forbidden by the First Amendment from punishing protected speech, but Princeton is not. Nonetheless, Princeton seems to have adopted policies that protect free speech on its campus to the same extent the First Amendment does.

In my experience, many students and faculty, among others, are often surprised to discover the First Amendment protects a great deal of deeply offensive and even hateful speech. Indeed, the Supreme Court has stated: "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Though many countries criminalize hate speech—that is, speech that demeans or dehumanizes a person or group based on their race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation—hate speech simply is not a legal category in the United States. Hate speech uttered within a classroom can be punished because it substantially disrupts the learning environment, but hate speech uttered by students speaking as citizens in public spaces—including online spaces--usually cannot. In that situation, state universities can only punish a student’s hate speech if it happens to fall into a recognized category of speech that is unprotected by the First Amendment. These categories include incitement, threats, defamation, discrimination against an individual, or fighting words.  The Princeton student’s Facebook post occurred in an online conversation about a public issue and did not fall into any of these categories. Had he been a public university student, the First Amendment would tie the hands of administrators seeking to censor or discipline him, leaving them to resort to counterspeech asserting that his speech did not comport with their values.

To many students today, the First Amendment's recommended response to hate speech is no longer satisfactory. Throughout our history, the First Amendment has asked us to put up with speech that evokes strong emotions based on a belief in the protective and healing power of discourse and the ability and willingness of citizens to come together and speak out against hate. What’s happening now in our country—with engaged students and other citizens speaking out and marching against racist violence, racist policies, and racist iconography—is exactly what our First Amendment envisions. In the long run, counterspeech is supposed to drown out hateful voices and sweep away repugnant ideas through the process of public discourse. 

Yet, to many critics, the victory of counterspeech over hate speech seems uncertain and counterspeech seems an insufficient remedy for the emotional wounds that hate speech causes. What they would prefer is an authoritative declaration that some speech, and some thoughts, are outside the bounds of civilized discourse and need not be tolerated. They take little solace from the arguments that I find compelling: that we have chosen this path because the power to censor is more often used to protect the powerful than the powerless, and we trust citizens more than we trust our governments to decide which ideas will prevail in the competition for adherents. Moreover, consensus formed through public discourse lends legitimacy to policy outcomes. Critics of the counterspeech cure would seemingly reject the lofty rhetoric of Justice Louis Brandeis, who once wrote that the First Amendment presumes “that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.” From their perspective, "evil counsels" have for too long drowned out good ones, and government power should be used to drive out the evil counsel of racists for good. The problem with this stance is that it depends on the benevolence and good faith of our government leaders or administrators in deciding whose views are so far out of bounds they can't be tolerated. Such benevolence or wisdom or restraint is certainly not something I take for granted, especially not now. 

Nevertheless, I know that in the war of generations, the younger always wins.  I just wonder what victory looks like.

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 10, 2020 at 01:25 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Standing for nothing

I agree with the majority of the en banc D.C. Circuit that the House has standing to enforce its subpoena against former W.H. counsel Don McGahn.

But it reaffirms how little sense standing makes as a threshold Article III inquiry. As Marty Lederman notes, more important questions remain about whether the House has a cause of action, whether there is testimonial immunity, and other executive-privilege objections to the subpoenas. But we now have spent 17 months fighting over this issue and are no closer to a resolution before January 3, when Congress ends, the subpoena expires, and the whole mess becomes moot.

Worse, some of the arguments and disagreement between majority and dissent conflate standing and merits, a common and unavoidable problem. For example, McGahn and Judge Griffith's dissent argue that the House lacks standing because the case raises separation of powers problems and separation of powers underlies standing (sort of). But those stand-alone S/P concerns go to the merits of the case--to whether the subpoena or something sought through the subpoena is valid or whether the executive/legislative balance protects against some disclosures. The result is an attempt at double-counting: Using the possible failure of the House subpoena on its merits with what is supposed to be, but is not, a distinct question.

The court also splits on questions of legislative/executive cooperation and bargaining and perverse incentives that arose in Mazars. The majority argued that without judicial enforcement, the executive would have no reason to bargain, because the House would have no alternative means to ensure compliance (the executive may not pursue contempt against itself and inherent contempt authority has fallen into disuse). The dissent argues that the House will run to the courts rather than negotiate (this is the same argument the Chief Justice used in Mazars).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 7, 2020 at 02:54 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Judge Reeves on qualified immunity

An opinion to behold from Judge Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi. (H/T: Michael Masinter). the 72-pager includes a lengthy history of § 1983 from passage in 1871 to the creation of qualified immunity; it calls out racial bias in policing and in society at large (especially in Mississippi) to explain why a search was not consensual. It calls out appellate judges for creatively interpreting Reconstruction statutes to protect older white men while failing to protect African-Americans against government misconduct. It calls directly and explicitly on the Supreme Court to do something (while admitting to not knowing what that should be). And it uses a cute three-point Star Wars allusion to organize the opinion ("§ 1983: A New Hope;" "Qualified Immunity: The Empire Strikes Back;" and "The Return of § 1983"). All while granting the officer qualified immunity for an egregious Fourth Amendment violation (traffic stop and lengthy search with no cause to be found) because he has no choice under current law.

For those who believe in such a thing (I don't), is this judicial activism? Does the judge's role, especially a lower-court judge, include railing against the state of the law, its horrific incorrectness, and its negative effects, especially in such sharp terms? Judge Reeves "applied the law rather than making the law," so he behaved consistent with that typical definition. An opinion is an essay having no direct force or effect. But should judges use these essays for such a cri de coeur?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 5, 2020 at 03:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (21)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Biskupic on the internal workings of the Roberts Court

At CNN, Joan Biskupic has the first of a series of pieces on the internal workings of the Court and the Chief's place in control, both as the Court's median vote--allowing him to piss off or appease both sides--and as the one who runs proceedings. Tidbits in the piece include: Roberts not providing an obvious fifth vote with the conservative wing on the Second Amendment; Roberts agreeing that DACA rescission was procedurally unlawful from the outside, while refusing to find any equal protection problems (thus losing Sotomayor from a complete majority); some negotiations with the liberal wing over the COVID-voting petitions; and pushing through the remote-argument process (including resisting the push from some to do it by Zoom). She also reports that Roberts began in the dissent in the Georgia copyright case, with Thomas assigning the original opinion and someone (she does not say who) switching during the drafting process.

I hope the coverage describing Roberts as the "swing" vote does not conflate that with him being a "moderate" or ideologically varied--he is not White, Powell, or O'Connor.

And a question: When was the last time the Chief was also the median Justice whose position defined the winner in most 5-4 decisions? Maybe Hughes, but Owen Roberts often moved with him.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 27, 2020 at 03:44 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-SLAPP law does not apply in Second Circuit

The Second Circuit has joined the chorus holding that state anti-SLAPP laws (in that case, California's) do not apply in federal court. The case arises out of a lawsuit against Joy Reid over two tweets with a photo of a woman in a MAGA hat interacting with a Latinx teen at a city council meeting; one tweet described the plaintiff as shouting epithets at the teen (who said their interaction was civil), while the other juxtaposed the infamous 1957 photograph of the screaming white teen in Little Rock.

The Second Circuit joins the Fifth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits in not applying them, compared with the Ninth and First that. The court followed the prevailing approach--FRCP 12 and 56 provide the standards for pre-trial resolution, leaving no room for state law. The court rejected the amici argument that the SLAPP law serves a "distinct function of protecting those specific defendants that have been targeted with litigation on the basis of their protected speech," supplementing rather than conflicting with the FRCP. But this is a policy argument, one that contradicts the policies underlying the FRCP themselves. The court also rejected the defendant's argument that she can recover attorney's fees under the statute for a 12(b)(6) dismissal; the statute allows fees when the defendant prevails on the statutory motion to strike, not on some other basis.

Tellingly, the four most recent cases have gone this way, while the First Circuit decision is from 2010 and the seminal Ninth Circuit cases is from 1999, with several Ninth Circuit judges calling for its reconsideration in 2013. The courts of appeals are congealing around the correct Erie answer and may not require SCOTUS resolution, one point of percolation.

But that might not be the correct answer as a matter of the First Amendment and the need to protect speakers, especially media, against frivolous lawsuits by powerful individuals designed to chill public criticism. (Query whether this is such a case, but bracket that for a moment). Many First Amendment advocates want a full federal anti-SLAPP statute. For the moment, I think a fee-shifting statute, combined with vigorous use of Twiqbal would be sufficient to get rid of cases early in the process and to protect defendants from the intentional imposition of litigation costs. But I need to look in greater detail at how federal courts have looked at defamation claims under that pleading standard.

SLAPP and Erie aside, this case may be more troubling for Reid going forward. The court held that the plaintiff (who spoke and was photographed at city council meetings advocating against sanctuary-city laws) was not a limited-purpose public figure; she lacked media access, did not thrust herself into a public controversy, and stepped forward for interviews only after the first alleged defamation. Thus, the plaintiff had to allege negligence, not actual malice. The court also rejected Reid's argument that the second tweet (juxtaposing the photos) was not an actionable assertion of fact, because a reasonable reader could understand it as equating the plaintiff's conduct with "archetypal racist conduct."

It is interesting that this case came to litigation. When the plaintiff's lawyer asked Reid to delete the posts, Reid did so and apologized, which would seem to suggest the absence of negligence. But the plaintiff sued anyway. And we continue forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2020 at 07:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide, Again

The Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction prohibiting enforcement of DOJ's sanctuary-city regulations as to California and the City and County of San Francisco. This comes after the Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc of a panel decision declaring the regulations valid. We now have a clear circuit split, although I imagine nothing will happen at SCOTUS if Biden wins and the regulations go away.

The Ninth Circuit did narrow the injunction to prohibit enforcement within California but nowhere else. It did so in terms that seem to contemplate the distinction between the injunction's who and where:

Plaintiffs here, a state and a municipality, “‘operate in a fashion that permits neat geographic boundaries.’” . . . Because Plaintiffs do not operate or suffer harm outside of their own borders, the geographical scope of an injunction can be neatly drawn to provide no more or less relief than what is necessary to redress Plaintiffs’ injuries. This is distinguishable from a case involving plaintiffs that operate and suffer harm in a number of jurisdictions, where the process of tailoring an injunction may be more complex.

The court distinguished a case involving asylum organizations that operate in California and other states, where an injunction limited to California would not address the harm from losing a client in Texas.

On the other hand, the court "acknowledge[d] the 'increasingly controversial' nature of nationwide injunction," a framing that confuses the point. There should be nothing controversial about nationwide injunctions, which the court faced here--injunctions that protect the plaintiffs wherever they operate. The controversy is over universal injunctions--injunctions that attempt to protect beyond the plaintiffs. Still, we are slowly getting there.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 13, 2020 at 03:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 10, 2020

The process of Mazars and Vance (Updated)

Some process questions following Mazars and Vance, less about what happens on remand in these cases* than about what happens in future cases.

[*] I agree with what I have seen as a prevailing consensus--Trump runs out the clock on these subpoenas for this term, but may be in for a world of hurt and embarrassment as a private citizen if he loses in November. If he wins in November, all bets may be off.

Mazars

1) Which way do the incentives cut following Mazars and how likely is litigation over future subpoena disputes? The Chief's premise is that these cases historically were handled through the hurly-burly of politics until inter-branch negotiation broke down here (with no mention of why inter-branch negotiation broke down during this administration and not before). But Congress' subpoena power cannot be too broad, otherwise "[i]nstead of negotiating over information requests, Congress could simply walk away from the bargaining table and compel compliance in court."

But then why had Congress never previously walked away from the bargaining table? The majority cites four examples--from Washington, Jefferson, Reagan, and Clinton--in which Congress has negotiated for and accepted some-but-less-than-all of what it requested. He cites no examples in which Congress walked away, despite precedent hinting at a broader subpoena power than what the Court recognized.

More importantly, what about presidential incentives? He holds the information and has no desire to give it up unless and until compelled to do so. Mazars offers a more beneficial standard (how beneficial is a subject of debate and must await future cases) that must be satisfied before he can be compelled to do so. So it seems to me that "instead of negotiating over information requests, [the President] could simply walk away from the bargaining table and compel [Congress to start the lengthy process to] compel compliance in court," where the President can try to avail himself of the new standard. Moreover, time is on the executive's side--if the litigation process takes a year or more (not unlikely if SCOTUS gets involved), the President can try to hold out to the next election or to the end of the Congress and the expiration of the subpoena.

2) The President's incentive to walk away is furthered by the Speech or Debate Clause, which prevents suit against Congress. The house or the committee must make the first move by bringing an action to enforce the subpoena or holding the President in contempt of Congress and seeking to enforce the contempt order (which requires the U.S. Attorney for D.C.). Either way, Congress is the first actor. The President's incentive is not to bargain, to run out the clock, and, perhaps, try to shift political blame onto Congress for escalating the political stalemate.

3) We see a stark contrast in what gets left to the hurly-burly of politics and what is appropriate for judicial refereeing. Whether members of the legislature can rig the design of legislative districts to (try to) ensure continuation in office of themselves and their party colleagues) is politics; how one branch engages in oversight of another branch requires judicial intervention. For present purposes, it does not matter which is correct; the point is an odd disparity.

Vance

4) The procedural issue in Vance involves Younger abstention. The state grand jury issued the subpoenas, Trump sued the DA in federal court, the district court abstained in deference to pending state proceedings, and the Second Circuit held that abstention was improper. Vance did not appeal the Younger ruling, so SCOTUS never had reason to decide it. But the Court said that a President could challenge in federal court a subpoena that attempted to influence or manipulate his official actions. Later, the Court says the President can raise "subpoena-specific constitutional challenges, in either a state or federal forum," such as claims of undue influence or undue interference.

But how does a case such as this fit into Younger? The typical framework for Younger goes as follows: 1) Whether the case falls within one of three classes of cases (including ongoing criminal proceedings; 2) consideration of the Middlesex factors of whether there is an ongoing proceeding, whether the proceeding implicates state interests, and whether the federal plaintiff can raise federal issues in state court; and 3) whether the case falls within an exception, such as bad faith, harassment, or "other exceptional circumstances."

The Second Circuit's analysis did not follow this framework. It instead held that Younger's underlying concerns for comity were not implicated in a case built around a federal-state conflict and raising "novel and serious" federal issues. It could have squeezed those concerns into the exceptions (this is what Trump argued in the complaint), but instead made them macro-level policy considerations that a court must consider before jumping into that framework.

5) What about Younger going forward, in this case or a future case? With respect to subpoenas for private documents, the President seems to be an ordinary citizen able to challenge a subpoena on state and federal grounds, including unique federal presidential grounds such as non-interference with Article II functions. Are those challenges automatically a basis for federal jurisdiction and non-abstention? Can ordinary state-law arguments against a subpoena, such as overbreadth, be a basis for federal jurisdiction? Do state-law arguments become Article II arguments when raised by the President? Must there be a federal forum for all Article II arguments, in a way there need not be a federal forum for First Amendment arguments?

6) The Court's resolution arguably alters the Younger analysis in this case. The Second Circuit rejected abstention because of the President's "novel and serious claims," specifically that the President is absolutely immune from state criminal investigation or that a unique standard applies. So the same questions apply: If the President is asserting micro challenges, many under state law, to specific pieces of the injunction, is a federal forum warranted? Can the lower court, having rejected Younger, find abstention appropriate given the changed nature of the case?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 10, 2020 at 03:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Teaching and evolving doctrine

I will teach 1L Constitutional Law (structure, powers, and basic 14th Amendment) for the first time this semester.

A friend who teaches the course at another school described the difficulty in this course as the rapid increase in the amount of law in a course whose time structure has not changed. Many major cases that occupied many casebook pages and many minutes of class time when he began are now one-paragraph or one-parenthetical notes. In the past two weeks, the Court has decided four cases--Seila Law, June Medical, Vance, and Mazars--that could be substantial cases in addition to or in lieu of what is in the casebook. (My momentary preference is to add Seila Law and maybe Mazars but not the others). And that is without cases radically altering the legal landscape (we are not living through either the Switch in Time or whatever we call Lopez).

Is this unique to Constitutional Law? Do other law school subjects (especially 1L course) have the same issues? Is Con Law unique because the focus is on SCOTUS decisions, so every new case seems important and necessary to the course?

I have experienced this a bit with personal jurisdiction in Civ Pro. I have moved several post-2011 cases (Nicastro, Walden, and Daimler and probably Ford when it comes out next Term) into the mix. During an early Civ Pro Unavailability Workshop someone raised which of the nearly ten recent P/J cases to include and which 1980s-era cases to replace, to say nothing of what to do with Pennoyer. Less so in Fed Courts and Civil Rights, where I use a treatise and new developments or applications (e.g., the legislative and policy move to eliminate qualified immunity) can be integrated into existing materials without displacing them.

But it feels pervasive and never-ending in trying to plan this course. Thoughts?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 9, 2020 at 01:01 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Justice Kagan’s Warring Views on the Religion Clauses

Today (Wednesday) the Supreme Court decided two cases involving questions of law and religious rights: Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (No. 19-267, consolidated with 19-348), which addressed the scope of the First Amendment’s “ministerial exception,” and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (No. 19-431, consolidated with 19-454), which determined the legality of regulations exempting employers from ACA-mandated contraceptive coverage for religious reasons. Justice Kagan joined the majority in both—in full in Our Lady and in the judgment in Little Sisters. But in what appears as case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, a footnote in her concurring opinion in Little Sisters misreads the majority opinion she joined in full in Our Lady. (Of course, she could be putting forth a revisionist reading.)

Our Lady grounds the so-called “ministerial exception” clearly in the broader doctrine of church autonomy. That doctrine, supported by the Religion Clauses, “protect[s] the right of churches and other religious institutions to decide matters ‘of faith and doctrine’ without government intrusion.” (Slip op. at 10) (quoting Hosanna-Tabor, 565 U.S., at 186). Further, “[s]tate interference in that sphere would obviously violate the free exercise of religion, and any attempt by government to dictate or even to influence such matters would constitute one of the central attributes of an establishment of religion. The First Amendment outlaws such intrusion.” (10).

Our Lady observed that “[t]he independence of religious institutions in matters of ‘faith and doctrine’ is closely linked to independence in what we have termed ‘matters of church government.’” (10) (quoting 565 U. S., at 186). The First Amendment “protect[s] [religious institution’s] autonomy with respect to internal management decisions that are essential to the institution’s central mission.” (11). What is more, “a component of this autonomy is the selection of the individuals who play certain key roles.” (11). The Court notes that the “‘ministerial exception’ was based on this insight.” (11). And the “constitutional foundation” for the Court first recognizing this exception in Hosanna-Tabor “was the general principle of church autonomy”—“independence in matters of faith and doctrine and in closely linked matters of internal government.” (12). To support this, the Court notes three earlier church autonomy cases, all of which had to do with the control of church property (though in some, but not all, “the authority and appointment of a bishops” was also at issue).

In other words, the ministerial exception is a sub-part (“component”) of the First Amendment’s church autonomy doctrine. It is sufficient to violate the church autonomy doctrine by violating the ministerial exception, but it is not necessary. One can still violate the doctrine even if the exception does not apply. Put another way, within the larger circle of the church autonomy is a smaller circle of the ministerial exception. Justice Kagan joined all of this without comment.

Now turn to her concurrence in Little Sisters. There she claims that “there is no general constitutional immunity, over and above the ministerial exception, that can protect a religious institution from the law’s operation.” (Kagan Concurrence at 3 n.1). Yet how can this be squared with Our Lady? There the Court clearly stated that the ministerial exception is a “component” of the church autonomy doctrine. It is not the entire doctrine. But Justice Kagan wants the “component” to swallow the hole. To put it differently, in Little Sisters Justice Kagan sees the ministerial exception circle and the church autonomy circle as having perfect overlap.

Actually, that may be understating it. Justice Kagan appears to view the ministerial exception as being the only way that the Religion Clauses “can protect a religious institution from the law’s operation” via a “general constitutional immunity.” But as I have noted earlier on this blog, that runs smack dab into Trinity Lutheran’s footnote 4, which notes categorical protection from laws or government actions that, among other things, specifically target religion as such. Justice Kagan joined Trinity Lutheran’s footnote 4 in full as well.

These warring views do not appear reconcilable. I guess we will have to see in future cases which version of the First Amendment Justice Kagan will endorse.

Posted by James Phillips on July 8, 2020 at 07:10 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Religion | Permalink | Comments (4)

Universal v. Nationwide

A good illustration of why the nationwide/universal and where/who distinction matters for the scope-of-injunction question. Here is footnote 28 in Ginsburg dissent in Little Sisters:

Although the Court does not reach the issue, the District Court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a nationwide injunction. The Administrative Procedure Act contemplates nationwide relief from invalid agency action. See 5 U. S. C. §706(2) (empowering courts to “hold unlawful and set aside agency action”). Moreover, the nationwide reach of the injunction “was ‘necessary to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs.’ Trump v. Hawaii, 585 U. S. ___, ___, n. 15 (2018) (SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 25, n. 13) (quoting Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc., 512 U. S. 753, 765 (1994)). Harm to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Court of Appeals explained, occurs because women who lose benefits under the exemption “will turn to state-funded services for their contraceptive needs and for the unintended pregnancies that may result from the loss of coverage.” 930 F. 3d, at 562. This harm is not bounded by state lines. The Court of Appeals noted, for example, that some800,000 residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey work—and thus receive their health insurance—out of State. Id., at 576. Similarly, many students who attend colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey receive their health insurance from their parents’ out-of-state health plans. Ibid.

Ginsburg is correct that protecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania is not bounded by state lines, given the number of employees, students, etc. likely to turn to the state for financial assistance. That is, the injunction should have been nationwide in where it protects the parties.  It should protect NJ and Pennsylvania and those people with some connection to NJ or Pennsylvania (on whose behalf NJ and Pennsylvania sued), regardless of where those people are.

But complete relief does not require that the regs be enjoined as to other states who may incur the same harm as NJ and PA or to individuals who might be denied coverage but have no connection to NJ and PA. That is, the injunction need not be universal (or non-particularized) in who it protects. Complete relief to NJ and PA does not require that the enforcement be enjoined as to California or those people who might turn to California for funding if denied coverage.

For what it is worth, the same should apply to the lawsuit Harvard and MIT filed to stop ICE from enforcing the rules with respect to student-visa holders and remote courses. Complete relief to Harvard and MIT does not require enjoining enforcement of the regulations as to other schools or students from schools other than Harvard and MIT. It only requires an injunction protecting Harvard and MIT and their students, regardless of where located. I recognize this is inefficient. But this is the scheme we have.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 8, 2020 at 01:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The First Amendment and the preferred first speaker

Harper's has published online (and will publish in print) a letter on "justice and open debate" from a cross-section of journalists, authors, and academics, including several law professors. They decry a "new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity." They allude to  recent events involving fired editors and analysts, canceled books, investigated professors--what has come to be called, loosely, "cancel culture."

The authors claim to "uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters," but to fear that "it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought." Ken White (Popehat to those on Twitter and KCRW) sees the letter as drawing an untenable (or at least elusive) distinction between "silencing" and "more/responsive/critical" counter-speech. White labels this the "problem of the preferred first speaker," the " tendency to impose norms of civility, openness, productiveness, and dialogue-encouraging on a RESPONSE to expression that we do not impose on the expression itself." In other words, the original speaker is free to say what she wants however she wants; the response must listen to, engage with, and respond to that speech. "Shut up" is not acceptable counter-speech.

This is an extension and expansion of the problem of campus speech and "controversial" speakers. The invited speaker (Charles Murray, whoever) is the preferred first speaker, entitled to have his say; those who object or oppose his views are expected to sit quietly, listen to what he says, perhaps ask a question or make a comment during Q&A (if he deigns to call on them). Anything else (such as a noisy protest outside the hall) is the dreaded heckler's veto.

Both situations create a puzzle . We do not want people to lose their livelihoods for their speech, nor do we want speakers chased off campus. But we also should not hamstring one side of the debate--to paraphrase Justice Scalia, we should not allow the original speaker "to fight freestyle," while requiring counter-speakers "to follow Marquis of Queensberry rules." I do not know the right answer or correct balance either to the recent online issues or to campus speech (the latter will not be an issue for awhile, unfortunately). But this letter does not provide it.

Meanwhile, White provides a great title for the article I hope to write.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 7, 2020 at 01:39 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)