Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Impementing SCOTUS term limits

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Balkin solves the 18-year conundrum

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 05, 2020

Thomas and Alito defend Kim Davis

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

Three things.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Proving anti-Jewish discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Jamelle Bouie misunderstands judicial supremacy and other comments

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

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

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

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

The Segall Court and a stopping point to Court-packing

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

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

Implementing the Carrington Plan (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 04, 2020

Getting qualified immunity wrong

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

The letter says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Universality, facial invalidity, and the First Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Separation of powers, separation of parties, and subpoena enforcement

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 31, 2020

D.C. Circuit has a busy day

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 28, 2020

3d Circuit reveals division on union clawbacks

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Bad Legal Takes and the writ of erasure fallacy

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Nomenclature and judicial review (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

After the Golden Age: The Fragility of the Fourth Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2020

Scholars' letter on Harris eligibility

Here.

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

Friday, August 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Birtherism 2.0 more insidious than Original Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 10, 2020

Hate Speech Returns to Campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 10, 2020 at 01:25 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Standing for nothing

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Judge Reeves on qualified immunity

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

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Biskupic on the internal workings of the Roberts Court

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-SLAPP law does not apply in Second Circuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 10, 2020

The process of Mazars and Vance (Updated)

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

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

Mazars

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

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

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

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

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

Vance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Teaching and evolving doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Justice Kagan’s Warring Views on the Religion Clauses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Universal v. Nationwide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The First Amendment and the preferred first speaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 06, 2020

On invalidating laws and universal declaratory judgments

After the jump is FN 8 of Kavanaugh's plurality in Barr v. AAPC. As I said, I wanted to include this in its own post.

The term “invalidate” is a common judicial shorthand when the Court holds that a particular provision is unlawful and therefore may not be enforced against a plaintiff. To be clear, however, when it “invalidates” a law as unconstitutional, the Court of course does not formally repeal the law from the U. S. Code or the Statutes at Large. Instead, in Chief Justice Marshall’s words, the Court recognizes that the Constitution is a “superior, paramount law,” and that “a legislative act contrary to the constitution is not law” at all. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). The Court’s authority on this front “amounts to little more than the negative power to disregard an unconstitutional enactment.” Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U. S. 447, 488 (1923).

JUSTICE THOMAS’s thoughtful approach to severability as outlined in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn., 584 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (slip op., at 2–6), and Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ante, at 14–24, (joined by JUSTICE GORSUCH in the latter) would simply enjoin enforcement of a law as applied to the particular plaintiffs in a case. Under either the Court’s approach or JUSTICE THOMAS’s approach, an offending provision formally remains on the statute books (at least unless Congress also formally repeals it). Under either approach, the formal remedy afforded to the plaintiff is an injunction, declaration, or damages. One difference between the two approaches is this: Under the Court’s approach, a provision is declared invalid and cannot be lawfully enforced against others. Under JUSTICE THOMAS’s approach, the Court’s ruling that a provision cannot be enforced against the plaintiff, plus executive respect in its enforcement policies for controlling decisional law, plus vertical and horizontal stare decisis in the courts, will mean that the provision will not and cannot be lawfully enforced against others. The Court and JUSTICE THOMAS take different analytical paths, but in many cases, the different paths lead to the same place.

This is important in several respects.

It clearly explains that "invalidating" a law is merely "common judicial shorthand," that what the Court is really doing is holding that a provision "may not be enforced against a plaintiff." The Court does not say the law cannot be enforced at all or against all people, only against a plaintiff. But no matter what, the law remains on the statute books until Congress repeals it, a task only Congress can perform.

Kavanaugh perfectly describes judicial departmentalism: The injunction prohibits enforcement of the law against the plaintiff; the executive voluntarily respects decisional law in future enforcement efforts (but is not required to do so); and stare decisis means any enforcement fails in the courts. Under Kavanaugh's approach, by contrast, the declaration of a provision as invalid means it cannot be lawfully enforced against others. But Kavanaugh does not explain why this is so and I do not see why it should be. The statement conflicts with the Court's statement in Doran v. Salem Inn that a declaratory judgment does not stop a state government from enforcing a law against other persons and leaves government free to do so. And if declaratory judgment is a milder form of relief than an injunction, it should not have a broader party scope than an injunction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 6, 2020 at 02:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Notes on Barr v. AAPC

There is a lot in the Court's decision in Barr v. AAPC, declaring invalid the government-debt exception (enacted in 2015) to the ban on robocalls to cell phones (enacted in 1991), but holding that the remedy is to allow government to enforce the original 1991 ban on everyone. Kavanaugh writes for the Chief, Thomas, and Alito that the exception is unconstitutionally content-based and does not survive strict scrutiny and for the Chief and Alito that the remedy is to level everyone down. Sotomayor finds the law constitutionally invalid under the less-rigid scrutiny proposed by Breyer and severable. Breyer writes for Ginsburg and Kagan that the law is constitutionally valid under less-rigid scrutiny, but that, since everyone else disagrees, they agree that the 2015 exception is severable. Justice Gorsuch agrees the 2015 exception invalid on a different analysis, but that the proper remedy is prohibiting enforcement of the entire robocall ban. So one 6-3 on the First Amendment issue, a largely different 7-2 on severability.

• The First Amendment portion is Reed redux. Five Justices (Kavanaugh's four + Gorsuch) say that the statute is content-based and requires strict scrutiny because it distinguishes based on subject matter--robocalls about government debt are ok, everything else (non-government debt, political speech, sales calls about baseball tickets) are prohibited. Breyer continues the squishier balancing he proposed in Bartnicki and then in Reed. The First Amendment is designed to protect political speech, public forums, and an airing for all viewpoints, but is not designed to interfere with commercial regulatory schemes that incidentally affect speech and that do not affect meaningful public discourse. Such incidental regulation should be subject to a less-rigid balancing of the seriousness of the speech-related harm, the importance of countervailing government objectives, the likelihood the regulation will achieve those objectives, and whether there are less-restrictive ways of doing so. Applying that, Breyer argues that the speech disadvantaged (non-government debt collection) is commercial and highly regulated, while the government has an interest in protecting the public fisc by enabling collection of government debts through calls made solely to collect government debt.

• Sotomayor argues the statute fails even under that test, because the government has not explained how collection calls about government debt are less intrusive and less privacy-invading than collection calls about private debt.

• Breyer (and the government) remain concerned that the application of strict scrutiny threatens regulatory schemes such as the SEC, FDCPA, and FDA, all of which limit what regulated entities can say in order to protect consumers. Kavanaugh dismisses the slippery-slope arguments, insisting that "courts have generally been able to distinguish impermissible content-based speech restrictions from tradition or ordinary economic regulation of economic activity."

• People have argued that the severability analysis shows that it is unlikely that the Court will declare invalid the entire ACA next Term, even if the individual mandate is invalid as a tax. Perhaps, although do not underestimate irrational hatred for the ACA. Plus, this case was as much a leveling case as a severability case--the 2015 exception was invalid because it treated the plaintiffs less favorably than collectors of government debt. The majority resolves that problem by "leveling down," leaving the 2015 exception unenforceable and placing all speakers in the same position of being unable to use robocalls. Gorsuch (joined by Thomas in this part) rejects this, arguing that the Court fails to remedy the violation of the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights--they want to be able to speak, not to have others prevented from speaking. The result of the case is that no one can make robo calls, which does not give the plaintiffs anything and harms non-plaintiffs.

The point of departure is what provision is invalid in this case. For Gorsuch, it was the original 1991 ban, whose invalidity is shown by the 2015 exception. Thus, the proper remedy for the violation is to make the 1991 ban unenforceable against the plaintiffs. But that, Kavanaugh argues, harms a different group of strangers--the millions of people who will be bombarded by robocalls.

• Kavanaugh's opinion includes a discursive footnote engaging Thomas on the  what it means to "invalidate" a law and what courts should do. I save that for a second post.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 6, 2020 at 01:35 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Espinoza's Recasting of Trinity Lutheran Raises Religious Liberty Questions

On its surface, Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue (No. 18-1195) appears to be a complete victory for religious liberty. A 5-4 majority held that discriminating on the basis of religious status in the context of school funding violated the Free Exercise Clause. As the majority declared, “once the a State decides to [subsidize private education], it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” Slip op. 20. And the decision cast serious doubt on the discriminatory Blaine Amendments found in a majority of state constitutions. The outcome clearly belongs in the win column for Free Exercise Clause fans.

But perhaps more so than case outcomes, it is the doctrinal seeds down in the pages of the U.S. Reports that steer the course of the law. And the seeds sown in Espinoza raise unanswered questions for religious freedom. Specifically, Espinoza recasts a little discussed but significant point in Trinity Lutheran in such a way as to call into question the chances that some future religious discrimination claims will prevail.

First, a little conceptual background. The Court’s free exercise jurisprudence has three tiers of protection. In the lowest tier—laws deemed neutral and generally applicable under Employment Division v. Smith—the government must only satisfy rational basis (if even that), the least protective doctrinal test of the Court. Needlessly to say, free exercise challenges never win in this tier.

The middle tier of free exercise jurisprudence applies a strong version of strict scrutiny. The government must not only demonstrate that a law or action “advance[s] interests of the highest order,” but also that the law or action is “narrowly tailored in pursuit of those interests.” Slip op. 18 (cleaned up). Not surprisingly, government infringement of religious liberty “will survive strict scrutiny only in rare cases.” Lukumi, 508 U.S. at 546.

However, there is a third tier—the most protective—in the Court’s free exercise pantheon. Sometimes the Court is unwilling to engage in any balancing with government interests, so the state’s infringement of religious liberty is categorically barred. The ministerial exception is one example of this: once a religious organization demonstrates that someone is its minister, no government interest of any kind can authorize interference with the organization’s constitutional right to control its ministers. See Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 565 U.S. 171, 181 (2012) (“Both Religion Clauses bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.”) See also id. at 196 (“When a minister who has been fired sues her church alleging that her termination was discriminatory, the First Amendment has struck the balance for us. The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way.”). No judicial balancing of government interests and free exercise freedoms required.

It is not just the ministerial exception that applies this categorical prohibition. Religious tests, whether for public office or otherwise, also trigger this categorical bar, with the Court grounding this prohibition in the Free Exercise Clause (admittedly the Test Oath Clause would do the same work regarding federal office). See Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 (1961); Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 U.S. 565, 621 (2014) (Kagan, J., dissenting) (“[G]overnment, in its various processes and proceedings, imposes no religious tests on its citizens.”). No judicial balancing here either.

Finally, there is a third instance that gets tier-3 categorical protection: “government mechanisms, overt or disguised, designed to persecute or oppress a religion or its practices.” Lukumi, 508 U.S. at 547. Thus, “a law targeting religious beliefs as such is never permissible.” Trinity Lutheran, 137 S. Ct. at 2024 n.4 (emphasis added) (quoting Lukumi, 508 U.S. at 533). Strict scrutiny does not apply to such a law. Id. Rather, “[t]he Free Exercise Clause categorically prohibits government from regulating, prohibiting, or rewarding religious beliefs as such.” McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618, 626 (1978) (plurality opinion) (emphasis added). And the Court has referred to this as a “rule.” Trinity Lutheran, 137 S. Ct. at 2024 n.4.

Chief Justice Roberts’s majority opinion in Trinity Lutheran recognized the existence of tier-3 protection, wherein the government is categorically prohibited from infringing religious liberty. While much attention has been paid to Trinity Lutheran’s footnote 3, it is footnote 4 that contains a real nugget. There Roberts declared on behalf of a majority of the Court that “[w]e have held that ‘a law targeting religious beliefs as such is never permissible.’” 137 S. Ct. at 2024 n.4 (quoting Lukumi, 508 U.S. at 533) (emphasis added). He also cites McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618 (1978). But, he observes, “[w]e do not need to decide whether the condition Missouri imposes in this case falls within the scope of that rule, because it cannot survive strict scrutiny in any event.” In other words, in Trinity Lutheran, a state’s discrimination in funding based on religious status may fall under the categorical bar (tier 3) or it may fall under strict scrutiny (tier 2), but because it fails the lesser test (tier 2), the Court saw no need to decide which tier applied.

Now, fast forward to the Espinoza decision. Repeatedly, Chief Justice Roberts relies on Trinity Lutheran for something that case did not actually decide: that discriminating in public funding based on religious character triggers strict scrutiny—

  • Trinity Lutheran distilled these and other decisions to the same effect into the “unremarkable” conclu­sion that disqualifying otherwise eligible recipients from a public benefit “solely because of their religious character” imposes “a penalty on the free exercise of religion that trig­gers the most exacting scrutiny.” (quoting Trinity Lutheran, slip op., at 9-10). Slip op., at 8.
  • The Free Ex­ercise Clause protects against even “indirect coercion,” and a State “punishe[s] the free exercise of religion” by disqual­ifying the religious from government aid as Montana did here. Trinity Lutheran (slip op., at 10–11). Such status­ based discrimination is subject to “the strictest scrutiny.” (slip op., at 11). Slip op., at 11-12.
  • It is enough in this case to conclude that strict scrutiny applies under Trinity Lutheran because Montana’s no-aid provision discriminates based on religious status. Slip op., at 12.
  • [T]he[] dissents follow from prior separate writings, not from the Court’s decision in Trinity Lutheran or the decades of precedent on which it relied. These precedents have “repeatedly confirmed” the straightforward rule that we apply today: When otherwise eligible recipients are disqualified from a public benefit “solely because of their religious character,” we must apply strict scrutiny. Trinity Lutheran (slip op., at 6-10). Slip op. at 17.
  • Because the Montana Supreme Court applied the no-aid provision to discriminate against schools and parents based on the religious character of the school, the “strictest scru­tiny” is required. (quoting Trinity Lutheran, slip op., at 11). Slip op., at 18.

This is a re-characterization of Trinity Lutheran. That case saved for another day the question of whether that religious discrimination fell “within the scope of [the categorical] rule, because it c[ould not] survive strict scrutiny in any event.” 137 S. Ct. at 2024 n.4. But in Espinoza the Chief unequivocally cites Trinity Lutheran for the proposition that religious discrimination based on funding requires the application of strict scrutiny. Whether accidental or not, this is a revisionist reading. And this revisionist reading makes even less sense when Espinoza points out that “the infringement of religious liberty” there “is far more sweeping than the policy in Trinity Lutheran,” and “burdens not only religious schools but also the families whose children attend or hope to attend them.” Slip op., at 19.

This recasting of Trinity Lutheran has raises important questions for religious liberty down the road. For instance, is it no longer an open question as to whether specific targeting of religious status in the context of public funding fits under the rule of categorical prohibition (tier 3) or under strict scrutiny (tier 2)? After Espinoza, it certainly seems such discrimination fits under the latter. Though it is odd to answer that question by claiming it was decided by a previous case that refused to answer that question.

Likewise, what implications does Espinoza have for the scope of this categorical prohibition? Is it narrower? After Trinity Lutheran, the rule was that “a law targeting religious beliefs as such is never permissible.” Trinity Lutheran, 137 S. Ct. at 2024 n.4. And Trinity Lutheran relied on McDaniel, which declared that “[t]he Free Exercise Clause categorically prohibits government from regulating, prohibiting, or rewarding religious beliefs as such.” 435 U.S. at 626. After Espinoza, though, one has to wonder whether this “rule” now does not apply to the context of public funding? What about other contexts? Is Espinoza the start of a trend to narrow the scope of the categorical prohibition? Time will tell.

The devil is in the details, they say. It is especially so in doctrine. While Espinoza is at some level a gift for religious liberty, and one hates to look a gift horse in the mouth, some legal victories can contain a Trojan horse hidden in plain sight.

Posted by James Phillips on July 2, 2020 at 11:10 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Religion | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Law prof letter on constitutional-litigation reform

As I mentioned, A law professor letter is circulating in support of the one-two punch of eliminating qualified immunity and overriding Monell  to make municipalities liable on respondeat superior. The letter is here. Signatures close at 3 p.m. EDT (Noon PDT) today, for those who have not signed but wish to do so.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 1, 2020 at 12:52 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Third Circuit: Tinker does not apply off-campus

The Third Circuit held Tuesday that Mahanoy (PA) Area H.S.* violated the First Amendment by suspending a student (identified as B.L.) from the J.V. cheerleading squad for a snap showing the girl and her friends flipping the bird above the caption "Fuck Cheer." This is a great First Amendment decision.

[*] My wife's grandmother grew up in Mahanoy, which is why I bother to mention it.

The majority hit several important things.

    • The speech was off-campus. The student created the snap off-campus, on a weekend, on a non-school platform, and the fact that the comments were about the school or school personnel did not change its nature.

    • The First Amendment does not apply differently to extra-curricular activities or to students who participate in extra-curricular activities (unlike the Fourth Amendment or Due Process). Suspension from an extra-curricular activity (the punishment the school imposed) is not a lesser punishment subject to less-rigorous First Amendment scrutiny. Student-athletes are not subject to punishment for off-campus vulgarity to a greater extent than non-athletes would be.

    • Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech. This is huge, as this is the first court of appeals squarely to hold. Tinker is a "narrow accommodation" of the unique context of school, but makes little sense outside that context. School officials can control the spillover effects that make their way into school. But that has been true of off-campus real-world speech, so should be true of on-campus online speech. And while this leaves schools unable to regulate some crude, vulgar, or offensive speech, that is the point of the First Amendment, as Tinker recognized.

    • Outside of school and online, students have virtually full First Amendment rights, including to use profanity, which cannot be dismissed as "low value" or as expressing no message. "Fuck cheer," uttered by a frustrated high-school sophomore, has a meaning.

    • The student did not waive her First Amendment claims by agreeing to be subject to certain codes of student-athlete conduct.

The majority expressly does not resolve off-campus speech threatening violence or harassing particular students or teachers. Some such speech may be unprotected and subject to sanction and the school may have a sufficiently weighty interest in regulating that speech. The question of Tinker's applicability caused Judge Ambro to concur in the judgment. insisting there was no need to address the issue because the speech was obviously protected even under Tinker. Ambro is concerned about a broader swath of off-campus speech, such as  racially tinged speech or snaps reenacting and mocking victims of police violence.

The case does suggest that "Tinker" as a standard is different from the public school's regulatory authority. That is, the inapplicability of Tinker to off-campus speech does not divest a school of all authority to regulate that speech, leaving any sanction to government at large. The suggestion is that a public school has authority to sanction students for off-campus expression, but it must satisfy a different, more rigorous standard (strict scrutiny or a showing that the speech falls into an unprotected category). So perhaps a school could sanction a student for out-of-school true threats, rather than leaving it to the police and the courts. Perhaps a school could punish a student for out-of-school (constitutionally protected) racist speech, claiming a compelling interest in teaching racial justice or maintaining racial peace within the schoolhouse gates that society at large cannot claim. I have presumed that schools should have no power to regulate speech off-campus, that a student becomes an ordinary person outside of school. While affirming broad student rights, this opinion suggests otherwise.

And if that is true, what does it mean for universities, who generally are not governed by Tinker? Can a university claim a compelling interest in campus racial peace that might give it more power than society at large to sanction racist-but-protected speech?

Finally, an empirical question that I have not researched but that I would be curious if anyone knows the answer. The Third Circuit in the past half-decade has broadly protected student speech in several significant case, a seeming departure from the late-'90s/early-oo's, when schools routinely won cases involving online speech and t-shirts. Is the Third Circuit an outlier or have other courts come around?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 30, 2020 at 01:31 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Assignments and female voices

Someone pointed out that June Medical produced six opinions on the right to reproductive freedom, all by male Justices and none by any female Justice. But who is responsible for that?

The first question is who assigned the majority to Breyer. Assignment is by the senior-most Justice in the majority for a judgment/outcome at conference; that means the Chief assigned the opinion to Breyer, then declined to join and wrote on his own, leaving Breyer to write a plurality. But how specific do they get during the conference? Could it be clear at conference that his reasoning was so far from Ginsburg/Breyer/Sotomayor/Kagan that he was not part of that group? For example, suppose G/B/S/K made clear the view that the Louisiana law was broadly invalid while Roberts made clear that he was going along with Whole Women's purely on stare decisis grounds. How does that affect the assignment? This would have made Ginsburg senior-most, meaning she assigned the opinion to Breyer rather than keeping it or giving it to one of her female colleagues.

All three also chose not to write a separate opinion, I presume to maintain a clear plurality (if not majority) voice. Even at the loss of a female voice.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2020 at 08:48 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on constitutional-litigation reform (Updated)

A law professor letter is circulating in support of the one-two punch of eliminating qualified immunity and overriding Monell  to make municipalities liable on respondeat superior. The move towards respondeat superior liability is in the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN)The letter is here, for those interested in signing.*

[*] I signed the letter, as it involves an issue on which I know something as a legal scholar, as opposed to as a citizen with a law degree.

Braun's bill also would revise, but not eliminate qualified immunity. He replaces it with a narrower immunity that protects an officer if he acts in good faith and either acted pursuant to a statute or regulation that had not been declared invalid or the conduct had not been declared invalid. In essence, the change to immunity flips the default--an officer is not immune if the law is uncertain, but becomes immune if the law is certain that his conduct is valid.

Full reform still requires two more steps. Section 1983 must be extended to states, which Congress can do by making clear that states are persons for § 1983 purposes. Otherwise, state police and sheriff's officers will be beyond these reforms, since they are not local officers. And something has to be done to codify the Bivens cause of action, otherwise federal officers will be beyond these reforms.

Update: A reader emails to offer another way to limit the effects of qualified immunity--overruling or overriding Mitchell v. Forsyth and eliminating collateral-order review of Q/I denials, which places Q/I at the heart of the case and moves cases quickly into the court of appeals and SCOTUS. Eliminating immediate review (or requiring judicial leave under § 1292(b)) would combine well with Braun's approach. I have not seen this as part of any proposals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2020 at 01:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Anti-racism and the First Amendment

Jaden McNeil is a student at Kansas State and the head of America First Students, an organization that believes Turning Point USA is too liberal. Yesterday, McNeil sent a tweet congratulating George Floyd on being drug-free for a month. The tweet drew responses and condemnation from several K-State football players, followed by further condemnation from the head coach, athletic director, and university president. Several players called on the university to do something to "handle" this, while another promised not to play for the school if it "tolerates ignorance such as this." The university president promised to review its "options."

But there do not seem to be any options for a public university to handle this. McNeil is an asshole and deserves (but probably does not care about) public opprobrium, but his tweet does not seem to fall within any unprotected category of expression. Universities are in a bind. They can develop anti-racism in their curricula and institutional activities, they can counter-speak to racist messages (as they have done), and they can adopt and promote anti-racist messages. But under current doctrine, they cannot stop individual students from being racist and from saying racist stuff in public spaces. And they cannot design codes of conduct and anti-discrimination policies that can stop individual students from being racist and saying racist stuff. Athletes are developing their voices and discovering their leverage, which is a good thing and a long time coming. But that leverage and the university's desire to field a football team cannot compel the university to ignore the First Amendment.

Like the 1960s, this period of protest and change could be remembered as much for the First Amendment activities and developments as for Fourteenth or Fourth Amendment developments (ideally all three). But that is a two-edged sword--the First Amendment may impose a barrier to some of the broadest intellectual goals of anti-racism and the broadest desires of those who want to stop racism. Unless the pressure of this moment compels a change in free speech doctrine, which seems unlikely and would be unfortunate.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2020 at 05:29 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Mootness, departmentalism, and universality

Here is an interesting mootness decision from the Third Circuit (written by Judge Bibas). A lot of good discussion of mootness, as it relates to my current interests in universality and departmentalism. I am not sure I agree with the conclusion, but the opinion is a great read.

The action is a challenge by a group of public-school teachers to Pennsylvania's agency-fee statute. While the action was pending, SCOTUS held in Janus that agency-fee schemes violate the First Amendment. The state and the union told school districts and other public employees to stop deducting fees and to refund fees collected to cover expenses from Janus forward. Although the state agency-fee law remains on the books and agency-fee provisions remain in the contracts, the union insists it has no intention to enforce either in the future. The district court held the case moot and the court of appeals affirmed.

• Bibas tweaks the common description of mootness as "standing set in a time frame," because they are not co-extensive. A plaintiff must show standing at the outset, but it is on the defendant (or someone else) to show mootness once the action has begun. Thus, under new circumstances, while the plaintiff might be unable to establish standing , that does not mean the defendant can establish mootness. As he puts it, "sometimes a suit filed on Monday will be able to proceed even if, because of a development on Tuesday, the suit would have been dismissed for lack of standing if it had been filed on Wednesday. The Tuesday development does not necessarily moot the suit." I am going to use that framing in class.

• He recasts "voluntary cessation" as "volitional cessation." Often, especially in constitutional cases, the government defendant continues to insist on the validity of its actions, even while agreeing to abide by an injunction or precedent knowing that the courts will rule against it. In other words, the cessation is not voluntary, because the government believes he can do something and should be able to do something, if not for some pesky hindrance (such as a court order). The issue is whether government can reasonably be expected to engage in the challenged behavior in the future. So the issue is not whether the cessation is voluntary but whether it is volitional, a deliberate act, regardless of its cause.

• The reasons for cessation are probative of the likelihood of re-engagement in the behavior. The court is more skeptical of a defendant who continues to insist on the validity of the conduct but yields in the face of a court order, while more forgiving of a defendant who yields to new precedent established in a different case. From a judicial-departmentalist standpoint, this gets it backwards. A defendant cannot ignore a court order in the instant case (without immediate consequence) even if it believes the basis for the order incorrect; that case should be moot because the defendant will not re-engage on pain of contempt. A defendant can ignore precedent from another case without immediate consequence, so a promise to abide by precedent should not moot the new case. I made this argument in using judicial departmentalism to justify voluntary cessation as a limit on mootness.

Moreover, if we accept particularity/non-universality as the norm for injunctions, there is no distinction between those situations. If the injunction binds the government only as to the plaintiff, then all future enforcement that is or is not likely to occur is in response to precedent rather than to a court order. There is no difference between Chicago promising not to enforce its law against Y following an injunction barring Chicago from enforcing against X and Chicago promising not to enforce its law against Y following a decision ordering Milwaukee not to enforce its identical law against M.

• Nonetheless, the court found this case moot. The unions conceded the invalidity of agency-fee requirements and forswore collecting fees and there was no indication they will not continue to abide by that position. That agency-fee provisions remain on the books and in the CBAs did not matter and did not create any  injury that a court could redress absent some indicia of intent to enforce.

The plaintiffs tried to avoid mootness by pointing to challenges to campaign-finance laws found not moot following Citizens United and challenges to marriage laws found not moot following Obergefell. The former was a complex decision targeting one campaign-finance provision, uncertain in its application to other laws and provisions. The latter did not address the incidents of marriage challenged in the other cases. Janus was simple--no agency fees allowed--and the case presented no additional issues not covered by Janus.

I think that is a cramped reading of the marriage case.The Eighth Circuit highlighted that Obergefell dealt with laws in states other than Nebraska (thus did not bind Nebraska in any way) and that the ban on same-sex marriage remained in the Nebraska constitution. The court understood, if implicitly, that there remained something for Nebraska to enforce and nothing, other than the state's voluntary (or volitional) acquiescence to stop that enforcement.

Perhaps the analysis is different when it is a private actor, such as the union, rather than a government with departmentalist powers. Others have argued that courts are too-quick to accept government representations of non-enforcement and moot cases. If so, this case gets the balance right--this case is moot based on the union's promise where it might not be moot if the government were making the same promises. Of course, perhaps that distinction collapses when the defendant arguably acts under color, as the unions likely do under these agreements.

• The plaintiffs argued that a live controversy remained based on their request for a declaratory judgment that Pennsylvania's statute is constitutionally invalid. But the union did not intend to enforce the law. And because the constitutional violation is the threat of enforcement rather than the existence of the law (or contract provision), the plaintiffs' rights were not violated and they had "nothing to fear."

The court captures this with a nice civics lesson:

It may seem odd that unconstitutional laws remain on the books. But until a party faces a real threat of enforcement, a statute is mere words on a page.

I like that framing (and added it to a current paper). We can go further: If this were not true, no constitutional action would become moot because no law declared constitutionally invalid disappears without further legislative action, so the threat of departmental enforcement remains.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2020 at 12:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 22, 2020

No qualified immunity (updated)

The Court denied cert in Cooper v. Flaig, the 12th of the 13 petitions that were pending in mid-May. The remaining case is Davis v. Ermold, the sole case not arising from police misconduct. Not sure what they are waiting for on that one.

SCOTUSBlog's Petitions We're Watching includes three qualified immunity cases. One asks whether an appellate court can raise QI sua sponte and whether to overrule Pearson and another asks for clarification of the standard for how analogous precedent must be to clearly establish a right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2020 at 09:59 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

No TRO/Injunction against Bolton book

Judge Lamberth denied the government request for a TRO and preliminary injunction stopping publication of John Bolton's memoir. The court found that the government is likely to succeed on the merits because Bolton "likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information in violation of his nondisclosure agreement obligations." But the distribution process is so far along that the court refused to stop it. The court was especially reluctant to order Bolton to, as the government requested, "'instruct his publisher to take any and all available steps to retrieve and destroy any copies of the book that may be in the possession of any third party.'" As the court put it, "for reasons that hardly need to be stated, the Court will not order a nationwide seizure and destruction of a political memoir."

The government likely will appeal, but I cannot imagine the D.C. Circuit reaching a different conclusion in four days. The complaint in this case requested a constructive trust to seize proceeds from the book and there is noise about a criminal prosecution. Lamberth was confident that Bolton had opened himself to both of those.

Some passing thoughts:

1) Another entry in the standing makes no sense chronicles: After finding no irreparable harm, Lamberth pivots to standing, pointing out that he could "reframe" the irreparable-harm factor in the equitable analysis as the redressability factor in the Article III standing analysis, while declining to do so. But it illustrates, even in passing, how standing really is constitutionalized merits and thus unnecessary.

2) He also did not address any First Amendment prior-restraint issues, again because unnecessary given the equitable analysis.

3) The irony of Bolton (likely?) losing the proceeds of the book: He was criticized in anti-Trump circles for refusing to present this material to the House or Senate during the impeachment proceedings and for choosing instead to tell the story when it is too late to help the country and when it will put money in his pocket. It looks like he may lose the money.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 20, 2020 at 12:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Avoiding universality, again

The DACA decision again avoided the scope-of-injunction issue and the propriety of universal/non-particularized injunctions, in a clever way. The Court consolidated three cases--two (from New York and the Second Circuit and California and the Ninth Circuit) had entered universal injunctions prohibiting enforcement of the rescission order, while one (from the D.C. Circuit) had vacated the DHS order rescinding DACA. Only the Ninth Circuit decided the appeal and affirmed the injunction (the others were taken on cert before judgment) and the Ninth Circuit was the "lead" case in the caption. But the majority focused its review on the D.C. case that vacated the rescission under the APA without issuing an injunction. Affirming vacatur of the rescission order meant there was no rescission order, therefore nothing to enjoin. It became unnecessary to consider the propriety of the "nationwide" (unfortunately) scope of the injunction.

This may mean that resolution of the scope-of-injunction question is not on imminent, as I am not aware of any cases on SCOTUS's horizon squarely presenting the question. A reader points out that scope-of-injunction is at issue in Little Sisters of the Poor. If--as happened today and in the census case--the Chief joins the four liberals to hold that the Trump Administration messed up the APA, universality may be unavoidable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 18, 2020 at 12:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Bostock: What took so long?

The following post is by my FIU colleague Kerri Stone, who teaches and writes on employment discrimination.

Civil rights champions everywhere rejoiced on Monday morning as the Supreme Court decided Bostock v. Clayton County, holding that an employer who terminates an employee because she is homosexual or transgender violates Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination “because of” sex.

The simplicity and clarity of this analysis makes one wonder, as so many have, how this question could possibly have remained open for debate and disagreement for the past 56 years since the statute’s enactment. And yet, as the Court observed, those who drafted and enacted Title VII “might not have anticipated [that] their work would lead to this particular result.” For, despite the fact that the plaintiffs’ arguments were undergirded by a long history of jurisprudence that made clear that evidence of sex stereotyping is, in fact, evidence of sex discrimination, this country has seen longstanding and widespread discriminatory animus and callous indifference towards the LBGTQ community.

As the Court noted, however, the evolution of antidiscrimination jurisprudence made this conclusion more or less inevitable. With the advent of so-called “sex-plus” claims that have been recognized as viable, whereby a distinct group within a protected class—like mothers of small children—can claim protection, has come the recognition that “because of” subsumes sometimes nuanced traits and actions of groups within groups that have been viewed through a different lens than they otherwise would have been because of their sex. With the Court’s recognition—more than two decades ago—that a viable claim for sexual harassment could lie where the victim and the harasser were both members of the same sex, came the understanding that no artificial, spurious bars would be placed upon protection where the “because of sex” requirement was concerned. And so decades of social and ideological momentum simply outpaced decades of irrational denial because, as the Court posited, “When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extra textual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest.”

Considering how rare it is that the Supreme Court addresses itself the scope and contours of Title VII, when it does so, its words are parsed vigorously.  There is much in this opinion that remains, over the coming days, weeks, and years to be parsed and harnessed to address still open questions. For now, it is enough to mention but a few highlights. The Court made much of the capaciousness of the term “because of,” and thus of the concept of causation to be read into the statute. This is, of course, due to Congress’s 1991 declaration of a “more forgiving standard,” whereby plaintiff could “prevail merely by showing that a protected trait like sex was a ‘motivating factor’ in a defendant’s challenged employment practice.”

The Court also takes pains to break down the query before it to define prohibited sex discrimination as occurring when “an employer . . . intentionally treats a person worse because of sex such as by firing the person for actions or attributes it would tolerate in an individual of another sex.” It takes this approach to looking at the individual and what would have befallen her but for her sex, reminding us that the statutory language, itself, uses the work “individual” no fewer than three times. And it takes this approach even as it rejects the conception of actionable discrimination as only consisting of an “employer’s treatment of groups rather than individuals,” and Title VII as “simply with ensuring that employers don’t treat women generally less favorably than they do men.” The law has wrestled with these dual conceptions of its protections since its inception, despite, among other things, a Supreme Court case that explicitly rejected a “bottom line defense” for an employer who, after using discriminatory tests and criteria in its employee selection, claimed to have nonetheless ultimately recruited an amply diverse set of candidates. Excepting the “bottom-line defense” would have permitted the favorable treatment of a protected class to excuse individual instances of discrimination and accordingly provide a shield against a disparate impact suit. The message was crystal clear: Title VII does not merely protect entire classes from exclusion; it protects individuals from being winnowed out at any stage of the game because of their protected class status.

The Court is explicit about laying out the lessons that it extracts from precedent that makes its holding an inexorable conclusion. First, the Court peeled back the characterizations of discrimination. How often have we heard, “It’s not about sex; it’s about homosexuality/pregnancy/motherhood?” Discrimination is discrimination, irrespective of “what an employer might call its discriminatory practice, how others might label it, or what else might motivate it.” Second, the Court says, “the plaintiff ’s sex need not be the sole or primary cause of the employer’s adverse action.” Lastly, “an employer cannot escape liability by demonstrating that it treats males and females comparably as groups.”

The Court is thus led to the inexorable conclusion that it is “impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.” And it deftly answers the employers’ and dissents’ arguments that range from the textual (these are not enumerated protected classes), to the legislative-intent-based (Congress opted not to amend the statute), to the logical (an employer could, theoretically, discriminate against a job candidate based on homosexual or transgender status whose sex she didn’t even know).

The majority fires back, noting that, groups within enumerated protected classes can still be distinctly discriminated against because of sex, highlighting the example of mothers of young children. Moreover, it asserted, speculation about why Congress failed to act to amend the statute, whether it did so out of a belief that a broad construction of the statute obviated amendment or out of complacency, “offers a ‘particularly dangerous’ basis on which to rest an interpretation of an existing law a different and earlier Congress did adopt,” and also because legislative history is only to be consulted where an ambiguity presents itself in the course of statutory construction.

But the Court is strongest in its robust mental jousting with the dissents as to what makes for the soundest jurisprudence. Essentially, it says, though an employer may explicitly disavow sex discrimination, this doesn’t mean that when you unpack the implicit discrimination inherent in the larger rationale, (“Women are fine; it’s just pregnant people that are a problem”) you don’t find sex discrimination:

Title VII doesn’t care. If an employer would not have discharged an employee but for that individual’s sex, the statute’s causation standard is met, and liability may attach. Reframing the additional causes in today’s cases as additional intentions can do no more to insulate the employers from liability. Intentionally burning down a neighbor’s hose is arson, even if the perpetrator’s ultimate intention (or motivation) is only to improve the view. No less, intentional discrimination based on sex violates Title VII, even if it is intended only as a means to achieving the employer’s ultimate goal of discriminating against homosexual or transgender employees.

          Finally, the Court rails against the notion that just because one could discriminate against a candidate because of sexual orientation or transgender status without knowing the candidate’s sex, this discrimination cannot possibly be discrimination because of sex. This is essentially a restatement of the argument that an employer can discriminate against a homosexual man and a lesbian at the same time and essentially be discriminating against no one because of sex. As the Court recites, this is simply not true; that would actually be properly viewed as two cases of sex discrimination. This is because the individual’s sex, known or not, and the way that they are being treated when their trait or action is viewed through the lens of their sex, is integral to the thought process that is occurring. As the Court says, it is an impossible task to explain sexual orientation or transgender discrimination, unpacking what it actually means to be gay or transgender, without making reference to individuals’ sex status.

From a social justice perspective, the implications of this opinion cannot be overstated. This express conferral of rights is so widely seen as overdue that even Justice Kavanaugh, who dissented because he could not get to the holding jurisprudentially, and felt that it would be incumbent upon Congress only to expand the construction of the statute as the majority did, reaffirmed:

the important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans. Millions of gay and lesbian Americans have worked hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law. They have exhibited extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit—battling often steep odds in the legislative and judicial arenas, not to mention in their daily lives. They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result.

As with all monumental Supreme Court opinions, this one leaves us with more questions than answers, and more thoughts about its potential reach than surefire predictions and applications. Other statutes that regulate discrimination in things like housing and education also prohibit discrimination because of or on the basis of sex. Justice Alito admonishes in his dissent that the case’s holding may very well “threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety.” Indeed, the majority acknowledges that some now posit that “under Title VII itself . . . locker rooms, and dress codes will prove unsustainable after our decision today.”  Moreover, as the Court said, “employers fear that complying with Title VII’s requirement in cases like ours may require some employers to violate their religious convictions.” Irrespective, the Court responded, these concerns are not attendant to the cases decided now, and these questions are thus best left for another day.

At the end of the day, a look back on this opinion after having read it takes one back to its perhaps initially cryptic opening lines about how “sometimes small gestures can have unexpected consequences,” but “[major] initiatives practically guarantee them.” This was Justice Gorsuch’s way of stating, from the outset, that this holding would not necessarily resemble anything ever necessarily contemplated by Title VII’s architects or the Congress that passed it. And this, Justice Gorsuch wants us to know, will be no impediment whatsoever to a result that is clear and readily derived from the statute, its treatment by courts for over fifty years, and common sense. This opinion enshrines in the law what had already been called for, derived and intuited by jurists, scholars, and advocates nationally for decades.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 16, 2020 at 12:25 PM in Constitutional thoughts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Justice Kavanaugh foresees 2020 Blue Wave and other thoughts on Bostock

I have asked my colleague Kerri Stone to write something about today's decision holding that LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination; I hope to post that later today. I add a couple of points/questions.

The open question will be whether this means discrimination based on LGBTQ status is sex discrimination for purposes of the 14th Amendment (triggering intermediate scrutiny) and other statutes such as Title IX, Equal Pay Act, public accommodations, etc. The answer would seem to be yes; Gorsuch's major premise is that one cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating against that person on the basis of sex. Even if the reason the employer targets the plaintiff because of who she is attracted to or her sex at birth, the mistreatment must pass through sex. And those other provisions protect individuals not groups, the other premise of Gorsuch's analysis.

That question could affect the outcome when an employer argues that the First Amendment or RFRA displaces Title VII, something the majority leaves for another day. If LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination deserving of greater scrutiny, does that mean the government's interest in preventing that discrimination (through Title VII) is compelling for RFRA purposes? Does it receive more deference than an interest in prohibiting a form of discrimination receiving rational-basis review? The assumption by even the SG in Masterpiece Cake Shop is that the religious-freedom argument could not fly as to race discrimination but it could as to LGTBQ discrimination because that received lower scrutiny. What happens in the middle?

Gorsuch's writing in this opinion reminds me of Kagan in its informality, with a lot of "imagine if you will" hypotheticals and illustrations.

A lot will be made of the Chief joining this opinion, especially in light of his dissent in Obergefell. He recognized the sexual-orientation-is-sex argument in that case, asking counsel about it during argument. But it did not persuade him with respect to marriage and he did not address it in his dissent. Did he change his mind? Does he see this statute as different than the Fourteenth Amendment (and perhaps other statutes)?

Two interesting theories floating around Twitter (which may fit together). Katherine Franke suggests that the original majority was the four liberals and Gorsuch and that the Chief joined so he could assign the case to Gorsuch and get a narrower opinion, rather than Ginsburg assigning the opinion to herself and producing something broader. Marty Lederman speculates (based on October case assignments) that the Chief kept this opinion for himself to rule against the plaintiffs, while Gorsuch was undecided; when Gorsuch would not join that opinion, he wrote his own going the other way and the Chief came on board. Both moves can be explained by the Chief's desire to hold the assignment. Of course, Ginsburg might have assigned the opinion to Gorsuch rather than keeping it for herself to reward him for the switch and to keep him on board (a very Brennan/Stevens move).

The Chief's switch from Obergefell to today may explain the final paragraph in Kavanaugh's dissent:

[i]t is appropriate to acknowledge the important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans. Millions of gay and lesbian Americans have worked hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law. They have exhibited extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit—battling often steep odds in the legislative and judicial arenas, not to mention in their daily lives. They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, however, I believe that it was Congress’s role, not this Court’s, to amend Title VII.

Compare this with the final paragraph of the Chief's Obergefell dissent:

If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

Finally, the piece that prompts the title of this post: Here is the first paragraph in the conclusion to Kavanaugh's dissent:

It was therefore easy to envision a day, likely just in the next few years, when the House and Senate took historic votes on a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It was easy to picture a massive and celebratory Presidential signing ceremony in the East Room or on the South Lawn.

This can be true only if "in the next few years" (meaning this year, really) the Democrats gain unified control of the political branches, including likely with a filibuster-proof Senate majority. No Republican-controlled body would pass and no Republican President would sign such a bill. I am certain Kavanaugh's does not want this to happen. But I hope he is right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2020 at 02:24 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

SCOTUS not helping on qualified immunity

Eliminating qualified immunity does not alone solve the problem of police misconduct or within the criminal justice system, although it is a good start. It appears that start will not come from the Court. As of early May, 13 petitions challenged qualified immunity in application or in concept. The Court denied cert in three last month and denied cert in another eight on Monday. Baxter v. Bracey drew a solo dissent from Justice Thomas, repeating the arguments from his Ziglar concurrence on how neither the objective "clearly established law" or subject good faith matches 19th-century common law. Not even Justice Sotomayor, who has offered other objections to qualified immunity, joined Thomas or expressed disagreement with the denial.

Two cases remain from the original 13--police killing an unarmed man by tasing him nine times during an acute mental-health episode and Kim Davis refusing to follow Obergefell.

I wonder if the recent events and the introduction of legislation prompted the Justices to wait. Although they made this mess, Congress is moving to clean it up, letting the Court off the hook.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2020 at 10:24 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 05, 2020

Last act of a desperate man (or first act of Henry V)?

Many have pointed to the differences in how police responded to the George Floyd protests compared with the anti-shutdown protests. It is especially glaring to see police respond with resistance, impatience, and ultimately often-discriminate force and arrests of largely peaceful Floyd protests on public parks and sidewalks, while calmly de-escalating or ignoring heavily armed people in paramilitary gear in a space (the halls of the statehouse) they did not have a right to be in. Photos and videos show the latter protesters being as shouty and as in the officers' faces. And there were more explicit threats of unlawfulness, given that some protesters had military-grade weapons and were threatening government officials. Yet police stayed calm, used little force, and made few (if any?) arrests.

This is not new. In January 2017 (boy, does that seem like decades ago), I wrote about the lack of force and arrests in the first women's march and the airport protests following the first Muslim Ban. At the time I wondered why--whether it was as simple as the race of the protesters (or at least the racial valence of the protests, since many of the protesters and victims of police violence have been white).

One commenter suggested that the subject of the protests mattered: Police do not remain neutral and play peacekeeper when they and their misconduct are the targets of the protests, as opposed to President Trump or governors and their shutdown orders. Events of the past two weeks support that idea. Police in Minnesota were loaded for bear from the outset, prepared for confrontation and looking to stifle the assembly, before anything turned violent and before it spread to other cities; when people in other cities began protesting, police started from a confrontational, escalatory pose with the goal of clearing the streets. We have seen little of the patience and leeway accorded to other protesters. Videos making the rounds show police looking for an excuse to get physical and, once things have become physical, to clear the crowd. One video from Seattle shows a bike officer riding on the sidewalk and trying to squeeze into a narrow space between a person and the pushes; when he and the citizen unavoidably bump, the cop uses that as an excuse to make an arrest. Videos I have seen from yesterday in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and elsewhere show police determined to clear a space and taking out anyone in that space, regardless of whether they are peaceful and whether they are doing anything wrong.

It is telling that we have seen so many incidents of indiscriminate, unnecessary, and arguably excessive police force in response to protests against excessive force by police. And it is significant that we have seen so many incidents of police force despite officers knowing they are being filmed by every protester with a phone, not to mention media covering these events. One explanation is that police do not care; they are confident that nothing in the videos will cause them to lose their jobs or their qualified immunity. Another is that they are, intentionally or not, asserting power by showing what real excessive force looks like--"stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about"--and proving the protesters' point.

A third, more speculative explanation is that we are at the end of an era, that significant changes to policing and police impunity are coming. And at least some officers are trying to get in their last shots before it is too late. I hope reform is coming.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 5, 2020 at 12:42 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Lawsuit over clearing Lafayette Square

Complaint here. Plaintiffs are Black Lives Matter DC and five individuals who were at the protests on Monday and would like to return; defendants are Trump, Barr, Esper, the acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, director of Secret Service, commander of D.C. National Guard, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 100 John Does (federal law enforcement), and 20 John Poes (non-federal law enforcement). Claims are for violations of First and Fourth Amendments and conspiracy under §§ 1985(3) and 1986.

My prior post showed the problems the lawsuit faces. The Bivens and immunity problems do not go away. But the complaint finds cute ways to try show standing for prospective relief. It highlights plaintiffs' intent to continue demonstrating; the new W.H. perimeter prevents access to Lafayette Square or any protest space within view of the White House; and 3) statements by Trump and others to deploy violence against protesters--all of which establishes an imminent threat of future violence if they return to protest. The complaint also compares Trump's statements supporting protesters he likes (such as those who stormed statehouses in search of haircuts) and calling to "dominate" protesters he does not like, as a way to show that the actions against the protesters were viewpoint- and content-based.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2020 at 09:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

What about Bivens? What about prosecutorial immunity? (Updated)

Rep. Justin Amash, the House member who left the GOP because of Trump, announced plans to introduce a bill (co-sponsored with Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to eliminate qualified immunity. The bill would "explicitly not[e] in the statute that the elements of qualified immunity outlined by the Supreme Court are not a defense to liability." (Update: Draft text).

But what about Bivens, which has no statutory basis? Federal law enforcement officers assert qualified immunity in Bivens actions (over, for example, using definitely-not-tear-gas-irritant-agents to disperse peaceful protesters); many of the Court's early qualified immunity cases were Bivens rather than § 1983 actions. In Abbasi, the majority incorporated some immunity considerations (e.g., over-deterrence of officials) to the special factors counseling hesitation. But that will not apply in basic Fourth Amendment claims against domestic law enforcement; those officers still fall back on qualified immunity. I suppose that if Amash's bill were to pass, the Court might eliminate immunity to keep Bivens and § 1983 parallel.

And what of other extra-textual absolute immunities that the Court has super-imposed on § 1983 (and Bivens, by extension). Prosecutorial misconduct contributes as much as police misconduct to the racial problems in the criminal justice system (distinct from excessive-force); absolute immunity leaves prosecutors free to engage in blatant misconduct, often shifting the litigation focus back to the police, who then assert qualified immunity. In theory, appellate review, attorney ethics, and electoral checks remedy or deter such misconduct. It has done nothing in practice, given the high standards for showing constitutional violations on appeal, reluctance to sanction prosecutors, and the fact that elected prosecutors run on obtaining lots of convictions as a result of prosecutorial over-reach.

The point is that qualified immunity is bad and should go. But it is not the only cause within the constitutional-litigation framework. (And this does not consider causes outside of constitutional litigation, such as unions and employment practices). Targeting qualified immunity alone--and only in the specific context of § 1983--misses the bigger picture and the many moving pieces necessary for reform.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2020 at 10:54 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 18, 2020

Cert denied in three qualified immunity cases

In a post about the Reuters stories on qualified immunity, I mentioned that SCOTUS had multiple cert petitions in the May 15 conference dealing with qualified immunity. Monday's Orders List included denials in three: Kelsay v. Ernst (police officer slams woman to the ground), Jessop v. City of Fresno (officers stole $ 225,000 in cash and rare coins while executing search warrant), and Clarkston v. White (retaliatory denial of charter-school application, where real issue was proper defendant rather than whether right was clearly establish). No noted dissents from any of the cases, even the truly egregious Jessop. Ten other petitions remain with the Court, including several that ask the Court to rethink the entire doctrine.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 18, 2020 at 09:47 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

§ 1983 or the 11th Amendment

One of my pet peeves is confusion about why states cannot be sued in § 1983 actions: It often is short-handed as being about sovereign immunity depriving a court of jurisdiction, when doctrinally it is about states not being "persons" subject to suit under the statute and there being no cause of action against a state (or state agency).

This arose in Colorado Dept. of State v. Baca (over "faithless elector" laws)  through questions by Justices Breyer and Gorsuch suggesting that the parties colluded to maintain a meritless action in order to obtain a judicial ruling. It appears Baca sued the Secretary of State, then the parties negotiated to have the Department be named defendant and to not challenge its non-suability under § 1983. I would guess that proceeding against the state rather than the secretary was necessary for Baca to proceed with a claim for nominal damages, which was essential to establishing and maintaining standing. Counsel for both sides argued that the Court should not concern itself with this, that the availability of a cause of action is a non-jurisdictional issue that the parties can waive.* Gorsuch suggested that, even if waivable, it might be a basis to DIG the case.

[*] Scott Dodson blanched when he heard that.

I am glad both Justices used the appropriate terminology and framework and wish lower courts would follow suit. But it reveals how nonsensical it is to think of sovereign immunity (which has nothing to do with the text of the Eleventh Amendment) as a jurisdictional rather than merits limitation. Where Congress lacks power to abrogate (e.g., ADEA), the limitation is jurisdictional; where Congress has the power but declined to exercise it (e.g., § 1983), it is merits. Even if in both cases, a state is willing to be sued eo nomine.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 14, 2020 at 12:50 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, May 08, 2020

Reuters on qualified immunity

Reuters on Friday published a multi-part series on qualified immunity. The center of the study is a empirical look at how Pearson v. Callahan and the Court's recent string of summary reversals changed how courts of appeals handle qualified immunity. Its findings:

  • In 2005-07, plaintiffs in excessive-force cases prevailed 56 % of the time; in 2017-19, defendants prevailed 57 % of the time.

EXfriNtWkAEsfGi

• This graph shows that the flip in plaintiff success is a recent development. From 2014-16, plaintiffs prevailed 52.2 % of the time; for 2017-19, it dropped to 43 %. Some of that might be traceable to the influx of Trump appointees (recognizing that some, such as Don Willetts of the Fifth Circuit, have criticized qualified immunity), as well as the hint from SCOTUS's summary reversals.

• The dark blue represents cases in which the court found no excessive force; the medium blue represents cases in which the court found excessive force but that it was not clearly established that the force was excessive; the light blue represents cases in which the court  skipped the merits question and found that it was not clearly established that the force was excessive. That third category has expanded the past two years.

• Courts (including SCOTUS) increasingly demand factual overlap with precedent before finding a right clearly established. Case in point: The Ninth Circuit granted qualified immunity because no precedent held that the Fourth Amendment was violated by police stealing private property while executing a search warrant.

• The latter two colors (which, on the eyeball test, appear to represent a bit less than half of the defendant victories) establish the new problem: Courts demand factual overlap for a right to be clearly established, then refuse to provide a precedential opinion that can serve to clearly establish that right going forward.*

[*] Courts seem more willing to reach the merits--so the right now is clearly established--in non-police, or at least non-excessive-force, cases.

• SCOTUS will review multiple petitions involving qualified immunity at its May 15 conference. These include the stolen coins, an officer who deployed a police dog on a non-resisting suspect, an officer who shot a child while attempting to shoot the non-threatening family dog, and Kim Davis trying to avoid damages for ignoring Obergefell (I used this in Civil Rights in the fall). Justice Thomas called for reconsidering qualified immunity in his concurring opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi; this will be a chance to see if anyone else wants to follow him down that path.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 8, 2020 at 02:18 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)