Thursday, January 16, 2020

Impeachment and the Direct Election of U.S. Senators

My thanks to Prawfsblawg for permitting me this guest writing stint. As a long-time reader, I have enjoyed others’ insights and now hope to contribute a few worthwhile nuggets during the next few weeks.

What type of impeachment trial can we reasonably expect in a Senate constituted by directly elected senators? As other commentators have observed (e.g. Jonathan Adler and Carissa Byrne Hessick), Alexander Hamilton anticipated the possibility that the House process could degenerate into a partisan food fight where House members, laying all merits aside, rush to defend or rise to oppose, a President along party lines. Nonetheless, Hamilton thought the Senate, constituted as a court of impeachment, would act as "a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent" to save the process from a crassly partisan fate ruled by political bosses.

The impeachment of a President entails different political calculations than impeachment of a judicial officer, and the case of presidential impeachment probably more sorely tests the procedure's limits than the relatively lower stakes of a U.S. district court judge. It's unsurprising that many judicial impeachments, say, of an Alcee Hastings, a Walter Nixon, or a Thomas Porteous, occasion little partisan fanfare.

In contrast to lower court impeachments, we are about to witness a presidential impeachment trial where the Senate majority leader has publicly pledged “total coordination” with the White House Counsel’s office to kill the Trump impeachment. And House leadership, recognizing that reality, stalled transmitting the articles and attempted to secure an agreement on how the trial should proceed in the Senate. Political prognosticators regularly consult the Cook Senate Race report to guess which senators might be peeled away from the GOP majority and which Democratic senators might feel pragmatically obliged to side with Republicans due to close races. Notwithstanding oaths, senators today have strong structural incentives to behave as partisans, disappointing Hamilton's expectation of a sufficiently dignified, sufficiently independent process.

When Hamilton wrote Federalist No. 65, he didn't know that in the late 19th century, Oregon and other states would informally adopt popular direct election of U.S. senators by straw poll popular elections or that in 1913 we would formalize and lock in direct senatorial election with the 17th Amendment. As Todd Zywicki has explained (Hein online subscription required), this change had important consequences for bicameralism by making both chambers subject to direct election.

Importantly, direct election means the relevant voting audience is no longer a body of roughly 120 state legislators, conveniently gathered in a single location for a senatorial vote. Instead, voting is done by (rationally) politically ignorant voters who only variably show up to vote. Moreover, successful direct election campaigns now must reach millions of dispersed voters through costly campaigns. And these campaigns facilitate contributors gaining significant influence over their senatorial candidates. Of course, several indirect election pathologies, including corruption, were offered to justify direct election, but the direct election remedy entailed substantial tradeoffs.

My posts, while acknowledging a range of views about the 17th Amendment and its probable effects, will question skeptically whether the benefits were really worth the changes in how the Senate today discharges its constitutional functions.

Posted by T. Samahon on January 16, 2020 at 08:00 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Political grass is always greener . . .

Thursday morning, I read this Atlantic piece from Lee Drutman (New America Foundation) arguing that a pure ideological two-party system had broken the Constitution. It produced the situation that Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and others feared of the "alternate domination of one faction over another." Drutman urges Congress or states to institutionalize multi-party democracy and proportional representation; he argues that Madison's Federalist No. 10, "with its praise of fluid and flexible coalitions," envisioned some form of multi-party system.

Thursday evening, I read this Tablet piece from Neil Rogachevsky (Israel Studies and Political Thought at (Yeshiva), arguing that multi-party democracy and proportional representation is what has placed Israel in its current political predicament, with no party able to form a government. He hopes that Benjamin Netanyahu might be able to push first-past-the-post as a parting gift to the country.

There are no right answers.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 2, 2020 at 09:06 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Hate crimes charges in synagogue stabbing (Updated)

The United States has filed federal hate-crimes charges against Grafton Thomas, accused of stabbing five people at a shul during a Chanukah celebration. The charges were brought under § 247, which prohibits obstruction of a person's free exercise of religion through the use of force. According to the complaint allegations by FBI Special Agent Julie Brown, Thomas' handwritten journals and internet searches focused on some anti-Semitic content.

I have never been a fan of hate-crimes laws. I believe SCOTUS gave too-short shrift to the First Amendment concerns in upholding the concept in Wisconsin v. Mitchell. I am not convinced that Thomas' actions are "worse" because he targeted Jews as to require different crimes or punishments. Nor do I (as sort-of part of the "attacked" group*) feel safer or more protected that Thomas will be prosecuted for the specific crime of targeting Jews as opposed to the more general crime of attempted murder or assault-with-a-deadly-weapon or something like that.

[*] To be clear, in response to a reader email, I am not trying to separate myself from the victims of these attacks as "different" types of Jews. By sort-of, I was making the point that the attacks have been localized in insular Jewish communities in New York. So I am part of the group as a Jewish person; I am not part of that insular and localized group. For purposes of this post: If the attacks were taking place against Jews in Coral Gables, Florida (where my temple is located), I would not be in any greater favor of hate-crimes laws as the solution.

I did not know about § 247, distinct from § 249(a), which makes it a crime to willfully cause or attempt to cause bodily injury to a person because of, among other things, the victim's actual or perceived religion, race, or national origin. I am curious why the U.S. Attorney charged under § 247 rather than § 249. Is the difference that this attack occurred during religious exercise--a Chanukah celebration at a place of worship--rather than from encountering a Jewish person on the street? And if the US Attorney pursues others of the dozen-or-so attacks on Jews of the past eight days, which occurred on the street, would it use § 249 instead?

Update: Marty Lederman also wonders why the government used § 247 rather than § 249, because it would be easier to prove both the motive element and the jurisdictional elements under § 249 than § 247 (although Marty believes the government can prove both as to § 247).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 30, 2019 at 05:10 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Constitutional small claims court

Clark Neily at the Cato Blog proposes a constitutional small-claims court for low-level constitutional violations. Neily's starting example is a cop citing a woman for disorderly conduct for saying "bitch" in public, an obvious constitutional violation, then ordering away (on the silent threat of arrest) an attorney who attempted to intervene. Neily's proposal would create a small-claims-court/traffic-court hybrid, with small-money damage awards paid from an escrow fund established by each department. Neily acknowledges the major structural departure, but says it is better than the current approach, "which is to collectively shrug our shoulders at the vast majority of relatively low-level civil-rights violations committed by cops hundreds, if not thousands, of times a day across the country."

It is an interesting idea, of a piece with other proposals to enable recovery on small violations. In my Civil Rights class, I discuss Jim Pfander's proposal to allow plaintiffs to seek only nominal damages in exchange for eliminating qualified immunity.

There are a host of details to work out, as Neily acknowledges. They begin with whether this system is in federal or state court and what that choice says about our current assumptions about the federal judiciary and civil rights. If at the state (or municipal) level, recall that municipal traffic courts have become money-making institutions for themselves, their local governments, and their police departments, creating their own constitutional violations. We might worry about recreating that system, even with the different goal of compensating citizens against governmental overreach. Finally, should it be limited to police or should it extend to other executive officials who violate rights in a small, l0w-level way, such as the staffer in the Recorder of Deeds office?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 24, 2019 at 11:27 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Oaths, Impeachment, and Questions of Degree

Senator Lindsey Graham caused quite a stir last week when he said, regarding the impeachment of Donald Trump “I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”  Soon after, Senator Mitch McConnell said “I'm not an impartial juror . . . I'm not impartial about this at all.”  While we might all suspect that Graham and McConnell were never going to vote against President Trump in the upcoming impeachment trial, these statements are nonetheless controversial because they seem entirely at odds with the oath that both Graham and McConnell will have to swear at the beginning of the impeachment trial.

The U.S. Constitution states: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation.”  The oath itself is not written into the text of the Constitution, but the current Senate rules contain the following oath: ““I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of [name], now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.’’  Similar language about impartial justice has been used in the oath for a very long time, at least dating back to the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson.

While the text of the Constitution does not say anything about impartiality, it seems pretty clear why impartiality is included in the oath.  In Federalist 65, for example, Alexander Hamilton stated that the Senate was the optimal body to try impeachments because they were independent and thus more likely to be impartial:

Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel CONFIDENCE ENOUGH IN ITS OWN SITUATION, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an INDIVIDUAL accused, and the REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE, HIS ACCUSERS?

In other words, Hamilton wanted the Senate to make these decisions precisely because it was more insulated from political pressures.

Others have noted that the statements by Graham and McConnell are, on their face, inconsistent with the oath.  I agree.  But I wanted to write this post in response to a counterargument that I’ve seen—namely, that because impeachment is necessarily a political process, we cannot expect the Senators to actually be impartial.  Perhaps the oath is outdated, some say, and in a post-Seventeenth Amendment world,* we must expect that Senators will make their decisions solely on the basis of partisan considerations.  In other words, some are arguing that, the oath notwithstanding, we cannot expect political actors to behave impartially.

I am no impeachment expert, but I think that this issue raises a deeper question that is worth talking about.  The question is whether we can acknowledge that impeachment will necessarily include political considerations, while, at the same time, insist that it be something other than an exercise in rank partisanship. That politics will play a role in impeachment is, of course, inevitable because the task was assigned to Congress.   But even if politics has some role to play--or at least will play some role--in impeachment, that doesn’t mean we should throw away the idea of the oath or the principle of impartiality.  I think we can acknowledge some role for politics without saying that politics is the only thing that will or should matter. 

I see an analogy here to judges and the role of personal values and judgment calls. I know a number of people who insist that judges must adopt a methodology such as textualism or originalism in order to constrain them from making decisions based on their own values or policy preferences.**  Their argument seems to be that, if we acknowledge that a judge’s values should sometimes guide their decisions, then there is no stopping point—judges can simply substitute their preferences for all policy decisions by the political branches.

This argument about judges ignores hundreds of years of history during which judges routinely decided cases on the basis of their intuitions about right and wrong.  The common law process—in which judges would make modest decisions, and then later attempt to identify broader principles—required judges to consider policy outcomes.  And although the system was hardly perfect, it rarely (if ever) resulted in the parade of horribles recounted by those who counsel judicial restraint above all else.

In fact, I have sometimes wondered whether judges tended to issue modest decisions precisely because everyone understood that it was the judges themselves who were making important decisions.  Maybe it is easier for modern judges to make sweeping countermajoritarian decisions when they can say that the text or the history of the Constitution demands such a decision.  If judges today had to say they were making a decision because they personally believe it to be the correct outcome, would they, perhaps, make more narrow decisions?

Similarly, we could acknowledge that Senators are likely to be swayed by political considerations, but also expect them to observe certain norms of impartiality.  For example, what if the Senators openly tried to grapple with the inevitable pull of partisan politics? What if they were to say something like “I know that, as a Republican (or Democrat), people might worry that I am going to vote against (or in favor of) removal based only on politics, but here is why I think it is the correct decision . . .”?  In other words, Senators could embrace the idea that politics inevitably shape important decisions, but also try to explain the substantive, non-political reasons for their decisions.

In any event, the path that Graham and McConnell have taken seems untenable to me. I don’t see how either of them can say these things and then swear an oath to do “impartial justice.”  Whatever the phrase “impartial justice” means, it does not mean loudly declaring that you refuse to be fair.

 

* I find the role of the Seventeenth Amendment in all of this to be fascinating.  If anyone knows of some good writing on the Seventeenth Amendment and impeachment, please let me know!

** There are, of course, other reasons to adopt such methodologies. But a number of smart people I know have said that they prefer such methodologies because they constrain judges.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on December 19, 2019 at 02:36 PM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Legislatures creating universality

As I discuss in a forthcoming piece, the combination of remedial particularity (no non-particularized injunctions) and departmentalism (the executive can ignore judicial precedent about a law's constitutional validity, at least until the matter reaches court) leaves an essential role for the legislature. The only way to stop the executive from enforcing or threatening to enforce a constitutionally dubious law, even one declared invalid by SCOTUS, is to repeal that law.

That was the task of the Commission to Examine Racial Equity in Virginia, which last month released its Interim Report identifying dozens of state laws for repeal; these include the anti-miscegination law at issue in Loving, some education laws enacted during Massive Resistance to Brown, and some laws targeting the "feeble-minded." Josh Blackman comments.

The action is symbolic, because any enforcement effort would fail. Any government official attempting to enforce would be sued for damages (qualified immunity would be lost, because the invalidity of these laws is clearly established by SCOTUS precedent), injunctive relief, and attorneys fees. And the line attorney litigating the case likely would be sanctioned (although I doubt it would be by contempt, as Josh suggests). But there is a substantive component, if read as the legislature checking the executive in some manner.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2019 at 12:51 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 29, 2019

More state action and private vendettas

I wrote awhile back about a case in which police officers took private action against a citizen (trashing his car) based on a personal vendetta resulting from a professional dispute (the citizen filed a departmental complaint about them). The Seventh Circuit found no state action in an analogous case. A citizen shouted at a police officer while he was making an arrest and criticized the officer (and perhaps threatened his family) on Facebook, prompting the officer to file a criminal complaint with a fellow officer, prompting that officer to arrest the citizen. The court held that, although the original interaction came when the officer was on the job, he acted as a private citizen in filing a criminal complaint with another officer, who then pursued those charges.

The Seventh Circuit's analysis would reject the potential claim in the earlier case. I imagine the court would say the officers acted as private citizens in trashing the guy's car and it is not enough that the dispute traces to official police conduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 29, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bribery, Impeachment, and the Common Law

Earlier this morning I published an online essay with The Atlantic about how the crime of bribery fits into impeachment. The editors at The Atlantic made me take out a lot of nerdy stuff about legal treatises.  And while I totally understand why that level of detail probably isn’t appropriate for a general audience, I wanted to offer that level of detail to the other law professors and lawyers out there who care about how we ought to understand bribery as it relates to impeachment.

The Constitution specifically lists bribery as grounds for impeachment.  Article II, section 4 says: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  I’m intrigued by the use of the word “shall” in that Clause.  (Does that mean it's mandatory rather than a matter of discretion?!)  But I’m a criminal law professor, not a constitutional law expert, and so I want to try and stay within my area of expertise.

Because there is a credible argument that President Trump committed bribery when he withheld military aid to Ukraine in return for announcements of political investigations, the public obviously cares what the word bribery means in the Constitution.  I’ve seen a number of people offer opinions on the issue. And while I do not think that there are clear cut answers here, I think that the opinions that are being bandied about are insufficiently nuanced, if not wrong.  So here is my more nuanced take.

First, let’s be crystal clear that current federal bribery statute does not tell us what the word bribery means in the Constitution itself.  The current federal bribery statute, 18 U.S.C. 201, wasn’t enacted until well after the Constitution was adopted. That doesn’t mean that whether Trump committed statutory bribery is irrelevant to impeachment. It could most certainly establish that Trump committed a high crime or misdemeanor.  But it doesn’t tell us whether he committed constitutional bribery.

So what is constitutional bribery?  Ben Wittes said on Twitter a couple of days ago that the House of Representatives gets to define the term.

I have a ton of respect for Ben. But I don’t think that, as a legal matter, the House gets to adopt its own definition of bribery.  To be clear, Ben’s point may be that the House has the de facto power to define bribery. But if we are talking about what the Constitution *means*, then we should care about legal definition, not de facto power.  And it makes me a little queasy every time that I hear people say that impeachment is a purely political issue.  Maybe it is as a practical matter.  But as a law professor, I’m unwilling to accept that law has no role to play in Constitutional moments, such as impeachment.

So what does bribery mean in the Constitution as a legal matter?  After all, the Constitution specifically defines the only other crime that it lists as grounds for impeachment—treason.  Yet it doesn’t define bribery. 

Even though it isn’t defined in the Constitution, we still know what the people who wrote and ratified the Constitution meant by the word bribery.  As Justice Story said in his influential Commentaries on the Constitution, they meant the common law crime of bribery.  “For the definition of treason, resort may be had to the Constitution itself; but for the definition of bribery, resort is naturally and necessarily had to the common law; for that, as the common basis of our jurisprudences, can along furnish the proper exposition of the nature and limits of this offence.” 

So what was the common law crime of bribery at the time the Constitution was written?  In particular, does it include a President who solicits a bribe from a foreign official but never receives it?  Well, that’s complicated.  And, unfortunately, there are a few takes floating around out there right now suggesting that it is cut and dry.  It is not.

Here is the Wall Street Journal saying that the President’s behavior doesn’t qualify as common law bribery.  Apparently the folks at WSJ who wrote this relied on a “friend” to help them with the historical argument. But I don’t think that friend did them any favors.  More important, because these authors apparently aren’t lawyers, there are some real ambiguities in the two arguments they make.

One of their arguments is that this isn’t bribery unless President Trump sought something “specific and tangible” like money.  It’s a little unclear if the WSJ editors are making a statutory argument here, or if they are making a common law argument.  As a matter of statutory law, they are definitely wrong.  As Randall Eliason has explained the “thing of value” that the official tries to obtain in a bribery case is very broad:

It encompasses anything of subjective value to the official that would have the potential to influence his or her behavior. Offers of future contracts or employment, sexual favors, companionship, and other intangibles all have been held to be things of value for purposes of the bribery statute. Publicly-announced investigations that would benefit Trump politically would certainly qualify. Trump’s actions in seeking the investigations, both personally and through intermediaries such as his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, amply demonstrate how personally valuable he thought Ukraine’s actions could be.

As a question of common law, the WSJ doesn’t provide any historical support for the idea that bribery has to involve something “specific and tangible” like money.  In fact, the historical sources that the WSJ editors do provide—Blackstone and Jacob’s Law Dictionary—seem to undercut their argument.  Both of those sources talk about “any undue reward.”  The most obvious reading of that phrase is much broader than just money.

The Wall Street Journal op ed also argues that this isn’t bribery because the exchange never happened.  Trump released the aid, and the Ukrainian President never announced the investigation.  Of course, as a matter of statutory law, no exchange is required.  It is enough for someone to solicit a bribe or to offer one.  But what about as a matter of common law?

Well, that’s not entirely clear.  Ben Berwick and Justin Florence have an essay over at Lawfare that explains this in some detail why the common law probably did not require an exchange to have occurred. They cite a number of treatises which include the mere offer of a bribe in the definition of bribery.

However, I have some concerns about the Berwick/Florence essay.  I agree with them that the majority of relevant treatises include the *offering* of a bribe in the definition of bribery.  But the treatises don’t include the solicitation of or demand for a bribe in their definitions.  They speak in terms of the official accepting or receiving a bribe.

To be clear, it was still illegal for officials to solicit or demand bribes.  But if an exchange didn’t actually occur, then the official may have been charged with a different crime—like attempted bribery or extortion—rather than bribery itself.  As an old Harvard Law Review development explains: “At common law the distinction between bribery and an attempt to bribe was largely academic; both were misdemeanors, and equally punishable.”

So where does that leave us?  Is Laura Ingraham correct (at least as a constitutional matter) that this is only “attempted bribery”?

I don’t think so—especially not if we look at the fact that Trump’s actions could be seen not only as an official *seeking* a bribe, but also as someone who offered a bribe.

Think about this from Ukraine’s perspective.  Trump offered them hundreds of millions of dollars in return for the official act of launching an investigation.  Nobody is really talking about this because the federal bribery statute is concerned with bribing officials here in the U.S.  But common law bribery didn’t have jurisdictional limits. 

Looking at Trump as the person who offered the bribe, the common law case against him is incredibly hard to dismiss.  It fits in the definitions provided by Blackstone and other treatises. It’s also consistent with the actus reus of a bribery crime that Congress adopted in 1790.

So where does that leave us as a constitutional matter?  As I said in the Atlantic essay—it’s not entirely clear cut.  But the weight of the historical record is against the President’s defenders who are trying to say that this behavior doesn’t fall within the Constitution’s use of the word bribery.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on November 21, 2019 at 11:56 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Inexplicable decisions, in one post

The unifying themes of these decisions is that I heard about them yesterday and I do not understand.

• The Tenth Circuit held that officials of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine enjoyed qualified immunity from First Amendment claims arising from the school sanctioning a med student for "unprofessional" speech, because it was not clearly established that a professional school could not punish speech in the name of instilling professional values.

The court jumped to the second, "clearly established" prong of the qualified-immunity analysis, as it has discretion to do; but the court went beyond that, insisting that merits-first should be the exception, because of constitutional avoidance. But this seems problematic, generally and in this case. Generally, it will produce fewer opportunities for courts to develop constitutional law. In this case, skipping the merits no sense because the plaintiff also sought injunctive and declaratory relief, which is not subject to immunity and requires consideration of the constitutional merits. The court never explains what happened to those claims or why they do not compel the court to reach the constitutional question.

The case also reveals how courts, despite rhetoric to the contrary, demand factual overlap. As the court put it, the plaintiff “failed to identify a case where [a medical school administrator] acting under similar circumstances as [the defendants in this case] was held to have violated the [First] Amendment.” A" patchwork of cases connected by broad legal principles" is insufficient.

Also, note that the court ignored one factor weighing in favor of reaching the merits--the presence of amicus briefs from several First Amendment advocacy organizations, as well as Eugene Volokh. When the Third Circuit reached the merits and recognized a First Amendment right-to-record (while finding the right not clearly established at the time), it pointed to the presence of amici and the quality of the briefing in the case.

• The Fifth Circuit continues to be the only circuit to categorically reject state-created danger as a basis for substantive due process liability. The case involves  the mishandling of a 911 call--including waiting for officers to volunteer to respond and later refusing to help family members enter the victim's house unless they confirmed with local prisons and hospitals that she was not there, as well as the responding officers stopping at 7-Eleven before proceeding to the scene.

More standing/merits overlap (or confusion) in this Sixth Circuit affirmance of denial of a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs are parents of a child with autism, who placed him in a private therapy program instead of public school; although he improved in private therapy, the state convicted the parents of truancy. They then enrolled him in a state-approved private school. But they are concerned that he may regress, that they may want to pull him out, and that they again will be prosecuted for truancy. So they sued for an injunction. The court of appeals affirmed the denial, agreeing that the parents could not show irreparable harm without the injunction because the hypothetical threat of enforcement was not "certain and immediate," but "speculative or theoretical," dependent on ifs (if the son regresses, if they pull him out of the current school, if they cannot find a new option, if the state decides to prosecute).

Assuming the court is correct about imminence, why is that not a standing problem--the family is not suffering a concrete and particularized injury because they have not shown "an intention to engage in a course of conduct" proscribed by statute for which there is a credible threat of prosecution. The course of conduct (pulling him entirely out of school) may not occur, depending on too many variables. But that seems to be precisely what the injury-in-fact prong of standing asks. The answer should not be different at the standing analysis than at the injunction analysis--if the injury is sufficiently imminent to establish standing, it should be sufficiently imminent to satisfy the irreparable harm requirement. This is why irreparable harm is often assumed in constitutional cases--the violation of rights (or threatened violation, sufficient for standing) qualifies as irreparable harm unless the injunction issues.

As a normative matter, it is interesting to consider whether the plaintiffs might have fared better had they sought a declaratory judgment rather than an injunction. They would not have had to show irreparable injury (although the court almost certainly would have moved this immediacy analysis up to standing and dumped the case on that basis--see above). This illustrates the type of case Sam Bray argues is appropriate for a declaratory judgment--the plaintiffs need an explication of rights but do not need judicial oversight or supervision going forward. The plaintiffs wanted and needed  guidance and certainty--to know where they stood and what they could (and could not) do as they tried to create the best opportunities for their son; they did not need a court order prohibiting government officials from acting at this time.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2019 at 03:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 08, 2019

State-level universality

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Allen v. Cooper argument review

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Why not standing?

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Universal injunctions and mootness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 07, 2019

District court abstains in Trump subpoena case (Fast Update)

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

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

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

Further Update: The Second Circuit order states

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

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

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

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Minding the abstention gaps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Asylum injunction stayed, everyone confused

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 05, 2019

"We the People" on universal injunctions

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

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

Under color?

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

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

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Qualified immunity and judicial departmentalism

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 02, 2019

Judicial immunity can be shocking (sorry)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Random snippets of law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My civil rights course, in one case

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Free speech: Change or leave?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 04, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

More action on the census (Edited)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial departmentalism and overbroad injunctions in the news

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Another remedy in The Wall

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

This is how you establish broad injunctive relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The difficulty of civil rights relief

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

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

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

    • The judges who issued the warrants have judicial immunity.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Universal declaratory judgments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

What's Roe got to do with it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The new abortion laws and judicial departmentalism (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

SCOTUS overrules more precedent, no textual support to be found

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

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

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

Predicting SCOTUS on universal injunctions (Updated)

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Taking universality seriously (Updated)

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

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

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

The correct answers should be as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

President Trump meets the Speech or Debate Clause

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

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

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Judicial departmentalism and the rule of law

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

SCOTUSBlog preview: Accrual § 1983 actions

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

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

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

Monday, April 08, 2019

Thoughts on the Rothgerber Constitutional Law Conference-National Injunctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Free speech petards

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

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

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

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Constantineau returns again

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

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

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

Theme warning.

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

Friday, March 08, 2019

Even more on Judge Sutton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Thomas calls for reconsideration of NYT v. Sullivan

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Your new civ pro exam question

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The legal fiction of "clearly established"

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Impeachment as process

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What is a "State of the Union Address"?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Indivisibility, incidentality, and universality

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

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

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

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