Sunday, September 22, 2019

Minding the abstention gaps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2019 at 07:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 16, 2019

FIU Bar Passage

I do not know if I have ever done this before, but I wanted to highlight that FIU Law grads had a 95.7 % pass rate (111/116) for the July 2019 administration of the Florida Bar. A ton of credit to Louis Schulze, assistant dean for academic support, who does an amazing job working with students on how to learn and study, and Raul Ruiz, who runs our bar-prep program.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 16, 2019 at 10:46 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Dorf on the irrepressible myth of the great scholar/bad teacher

My experience, as a student and faculty member, lines up with Mike's: I have had, as teachers and colleagues, many excellent scholars who also were also excellent teachers. And I would add another category: Great scholars who are not great teachers, but want to be  and, even well into their careers, think a lot about teaching and how to improve. The archetype of the "prof who can't be bothered with teaching" is not a thing--or no more of a thing than the insurance salesman who can't be bothered. There are always people who are not good at their jobs.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 12, 2019 at 04:48 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (13)

Asylum injunction stayed, everyone confused

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Root, root, root for the new citizens

Thoughts about nationalization ceremonies being held at baseball games? Too informal and non-serious? Does the "frivolity of hotdogs, peanuts and Cracker Jack" detract from the solemnity of the citizenship ceremony? Or is it a subtle recognition that baseball was, at least a century ago, the vehicle through which immigrants and new citizens became American (unfortunately, neither baseball nor welcoming new people to the American policy are as popular as they once were). And what if some jerks at the game decided to jeer or hold "go back where you came from" signs?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 10, 2019 at 02:36 PM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

I am not alone

Here.

I would add that, based on Ferguson's description of the examples Gladwell uses in the book, he is again trying to squeeze widely disparate examples into a single category. The issue with Chamberlain/Hitler, Madoff, Sandusky, and Cuban spies is that they successfully lied to people about their actions or intentions. The problem with Bland was--at best--a racially charged, power-imbalanced confrontation between a police officer and a person of color--the kind that happens too frequently.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 10, 2019 at 10:06 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 05, 2019

"We the People" on universal injunctions

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

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

Under color?

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

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

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

JOTWELL: Levy on Fisher and Larsen on virtual briefing

The new Courts Law essay comes from Marin Levy (Duke), reviewing Jeffrey L Fisher & Alli Orr Larsen, Virtual Briefing at the Supreme Court (Cornell L. Rev., forthcoming), exploring how online speech and writing affects SCOTUS decisionmaking.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 4, 2019 at 11:36 AM in Article Spotlight, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 30, 2019

Declaratory judgments and injunctions

The Fifth Circuit held that due process was violated by a system in which some portion of cash bail was used to fund court expenses and the magistrate deciding bail sits on the committee deciding how money should be spent. The remedies portion states as follows:

After recognizing this due process violation, the district court issued the following declaration: "Judge Cantrell's institutional incentives create a substantial and unconstitutional conflict of interest when he determines [the class's] ability to pay bail and sets the amount of [*8] that bail."

That declaratory relief was all plaintiffs sought. They believed that section 1983 prevents them from seeking injunctive relief as an initial remedy in this action brought against a state court judge. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("[I]n any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable . . . .").7

That statutory requirement reflects that declaratory relief is "a less harsh and abrasive remedy than the injunction." Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452 , 463 (1974) (quotation omitted); see also Robinson v. Hunt Cty., 921 F.3d 440 , 450 (5th Cir. 2019); Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 33 cmt. c ("A declaratory action is intended to provide a remedy that is simpler and less harsh than coercive relief . . . ."). Principal among its advantages is giving state and local officials, like Judge Cantrell, the first crack at reforming their practices to conform to the Constitution. Steffel, 415 U.S. at 470 .

One response to the declaratory judgment would be eliminating Judge Cantrell's dual role, a role that is not mandated by Louisiana law. In contrast, because Louisiana law does require that the bond fees be sent to the Judicial Expense Fund, LA. R.S. 13:1381.5(B)(2)(a) , the declaratory judgment cannot undo that mandate. Challengers did not seek to enjoin that statute, instead arguing only that the dual role violated due process. But given today's ruling and last week's in Cain, it may well turn out that the only way to eliminate the unconstitutional temptation is to sever the direct link between the money the criminal court generates and the Judicial Expense Fund that supports its operations.

I am unsure about the final paragraph. The challengers cannot "enjoin that statute" because courts do not enjoin statutes; they enjoin enforcement of statutes. The district court could have declared that the state-law mandate created the unconstitutional conflict of interest; to comply with that judgment, the defendants would have had to stop enforcing that statute, much as if they had been enjoined from enforcing.  The court issued a seemingly narrower declaratory judgment. Perhaps the point of the final sentence is that eliminating the defendant magistrate's dual role would not eliminate the constitutional violation, opening the door to an injunction because the defendants violated the declaratory judgment.

Two other cute procedural pieces in the case: It was certified as a class action, thus avoiding mootness when the named plaintiffs' criminal cases ended. The court also noted that it is not clear that the exceptions provision of § 1983 applies here, because it is not certain that the defendant judge was acting in a judicial rather than administrative capacity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 30, 2019 at 06:08 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Faculty Hiring: FIU (two tenure/tenure-track positions)

Assistant, Associate, or full Professor of Law (two positions)

Florida International University College of Law, Florida’s public law school located in Miami, invites applicants for two tenured or tenure-track Assistant, Associate, or full Professor of Law positions to begin in the 2020-21 academic year. Our primary curricular interests are Cyber Law (focusing on cybercrime/forensics, interconnected cities, infrastructure security, and general cybersecurity training and education), Environmental Law, Wills & Trusts, and Torts. The Cyber Law position may be a joint appointment with another FIU School or College.

Candidates must have a J.D. degree or its equivalent (or a Ph.D. for the Cyber Law position) and a strong academic record. In addition, applicants should demonstrate a track record or promise of outstanding scholarly achievement and effective teaching. Successful candidates will be expected to engage in scholarship, teaching and service. Rank as Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor will be determined based on qualifications and experience.

FIU Law is the only public law school in South Florida, established in 2001 on the idea that a high-quality legal education should be affordable and accessible to a broad, diverse community. In 6 of the past 8 administrations of the Florida bar exam, FIU Law has ranked first in bar passage among the 11 law schools in the State. In 2018, 84% of graduates secured full-time, long-term bar passage required and J.D. advantage jobs. FIU Law ranks as the most diverse law school in Florida, and the third most diverse nationally.

FIU is Miami’s public research university and in less than five decades has become a top 100 public university, according to U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges. The university is focused on student success and research excellence, with nearly $200 million in annual research expenditures. FIU is in the Carnegie R1 category (“highest research activity”), and was recently designated by the Board of Governors as an emerging preeminent university in the State’s public university system. FIU has 16 colleges and schools that offer more than 180 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, international relations, architecture, and medicine. FIU has awarded over 200,000 degrees and enrolls more than 54,000 students in two campuses and three centers. For more information about FIU, visit http://www.fiu.edu/.

Qualified candidates are encouraged to apply to Job Opening ID 519267 at https://facultycareers.fiu.edu and attach a cover letter and curriculum vitae in a single PDF file.

Prior to a campus interview, applicants will also be required to submit a list of references. For any questions related to the position, please contact Appointments Committee co-chairs Jan Osei-Tutu ([email protected]) or Scott Norberg ([email protected]). To receive full consideration, applications and required materials should be received by September 30. Review will continue until the positions are filled.

FIU is a member of the State University System of Florida and an Equal Opportunity, Equal Access Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or protected veteran status.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2019 at 10:01 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Faculty Hiring: FIU

Lecturer in Legal Skills and Values

Florida International University College of Law, Florida’s public law school located in Miami, seeks applicants for entry-level or lateral appointments for the position of Lecturer in Legal Skills and Values. The start date for the position is August 2020.

The College of Law’s Legal Skills and Values program consists of two required courses in the first year of law school and an additional required course by the end of a student’s fourth semester. We are seeking dedicated legal writing and skills teachers to teach legal research, analysis, and written and oral communication skills, all with a heavy emphasis on professionalism.

Lateral candidates should show a demonstrated record of teaching excellence. Entry-level candidates should show commitment to excellence in teaching and significant potential as law teachers. Experience in legal practice and/or judicial clerkships is preferred. JD required. This is a full-time faculty appointment, with an initial one-year term, with the possibility of successive three-year or five-year terms.

Qualified candidates are encouraged to apply to Job Opening ID 519269 at https://facultycareers.fiu.edu and attach a cover letter and curriculum vitae in a single PDF file.

Prior to a campus interview, applicants will also be required to submit a list of references. The Appointments Committee may request additional material such as teaching evaluations, writing samples, and letters of recommendation. To receive full consideration, applications and required materials should be received by September 30. Review will continue until position is filled.

Questions about the position can be directed to search committee co-Chairs, Scott Norberg ([email protected]) and Jan OseiTutu ([email protected]).

FIU is a member of the State University System of Florida and an Equal Opportunity, Equal Access Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or protected veteran status.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Merits, not standing

I have no idea whether the Eleventh Circuit is correct that a single unsolicited text violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. But it highlights the absurdity of treating standing as something other than substantive merits. The heart of the analysis is the scope of the TCPA and congressional intent--what should be questions of whether a plaintiff has stated a cause of action under applicable substantive law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 28, 2019 at 10:17 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, August 26, 2019

A real universal injunction

Equity famously cannot enjoin a crime. But can we agree that this injunction would be universal and not nationwide?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 26, 2019 at 11:02 AM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Qualified immunity and judicial departmentalism

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern vote Democratic (Further Updated)

• Isn't the President's problem that Denmark is finally governed by someone who can make up their mind (about Greenland not being for sale, if not about whether to kill Claudius). I am surprised (and somewhat disappointed) by the absence of Hamlet jokes in all of this.

• I have a different take on the President's "any Jewish person who votes Democratic shows great disloyalty." I don't think he was trafficking in the dual-loyalty stereotypes that Rep. Omar was accused of. Nor do I think he was accusing American Jews of disloyalty to the United States (at least more than he would say that anyone who votes Democratic is disloyal), although the latter risks giving crazies another reason to target Jews.

I think he was calling us "Bad Jews." But this shows his ignorance more than anything else. As Julian Zelizer put it, "Judaism has revolved around debate, disagreement and deliberation;" there is no official source defining who is a good or bad Jew based on their views and ideas. And certainly not an orange-tinted shaygets.

Update: The President reiterated his point today, saying "If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to the Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.” So he is saying "disloyal," because it is the only word he knows. But he is really saying we are bad Jews.

Further Update: Tying together this post and the news of the day: Denmark saved 90 % of its Jews during the Shoah.

Further, Further Update: Jordan Weissmann at Slate echoes my point that this is about labeling bad Jews. It would be an odd twist on the dual-loyalty trope to stay the problem is that Jews are insufficiently loyal to a foreign country. The problem is more tied to Jewishness:

[T]hey are implying that they are disloyal to their own ethnic interests, American interests, and even the almighty’s. It’s the 2019 version of calling liberal Jews a bunch of heretics. And we all know what happens to heretics in the end.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 21, 2019 at 10:45 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

MLS bans "political" signs

Deadspin destroys MLS's policy prohibiting "Using (including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior." The league and teams have interpreted that language to prohibit signs protesting racism, fascism, etc., as well as signs using racist language.

The question should be who owns the stadiums MLS teams play in and the terms of ownership and operation of these facilities. If they are publicly owned and leased to the teams or if there is a substantial public involvement in the financing, building, and operation, it might trigger arguments that MLS teams act under color of state law and thus are bound by the First Amendment. A ban on political signs in a public space opened for expression should not survive constitutional scrutiny. Particularly where, as the Deadspin piece argues, MLS has encouraged "European-style, community-minded soccer fandom," where fandom and expression about community matters (beyond the team) are intertwined.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 20, 2019 at 10:23 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

N.C. Court blows the mulligan

I was right that the withdrawal of the original opinion in the "flip-off-the-cop" case could have been for the majority to find a new basis to justify the traffic stop without having to accept that flipping the officer off was constitutionally protected. Which it did, although now with a dissent.

The court does recognize case law (it somehow missed the first time around) that the finger is protected and less likely to constitute fighting words when directed at an officer. But the  majority offers a new theory: The officer could not tell who the defendant was flipping-off: the officer (which would be constitutionally protected speech) or another driver (which somehow would not be; if the latter, the officer could have believed that the situation between the defendant and the other driver was "escalating" and, if left unchecked, might have become disorderly conduct. Importantly, the officer needed only reasonable suspicion, not probable cause, to make the initial stop and determine if the defendant was trying to provoke another motorist.

The dissent calls out the majority for, essentially, making up facts. The officer testified that he saw the driver wave at him, then turn the wave into the middle finger directed at him; there was no testimony about the situation escalating or about concern for a gesture at another car. The dissent insists that flipping a middle finger is protected by the First Amendment and thus cannot provide reasonable suspicion. Although he does not say it, that should be true regardless of at whom the gesture was directed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 20, 2019 at 01:51 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Malcolm Gladwell has chutzpah (too bad he does not know what it means)

You would think that after the first seven episodes of this season of Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, I would have learned my lesson. But the eighth episode was titled Chutzpah v. Chutzpah, so my interest in all things Jewish got the better of me.

The episode is about . . . I am not entirely sure.

Points of discussion include:

    • The difference between chutzpah as we use it "in America" (pronounced KHUTS-puh) and chutzpah as used in Israel (pronounced khoots-PAH). He says, interviewing his Israeli-born neighbor, that the former means audacity or nerve or guts, while the latter indicates a lowness or shamelessness.

    • Lots of anecdotes: 1) The creator of "Hogan's Heroes," Al Ruddy, walking into a meeting with CBS chair William Paley with no prior experience or qualifications, pitching a comedy about Nazi soldiers by acting out the roles and casting Jewish actors as Nazis; 2) Mafia boss Joseph Colombo founding the Italian-American Civil Rights League to counter stereotypes of Italians as criminals, extorting NBC to broadcast the Columbus Day Parade by threatening a hit on Johnny Carson (Carson had hit on Colombo's wife), and attempting to derail "The Godfather" until the producer, Ruddy, agreed to remove the word "mafia" from the script (which appeared only once in the original script, in any event).

    • Israel is a low-hierarchy, in-your-face society. This explains Abraham bargaining with Hashem over Sodom and Gomorrah, the Hebrew word "nu" as a conversation-rusher (a kind of "go on" or "get to the point already"), and Gladwell's neighbor confronting school administrators about closing the school because of snow (having the kids at home on these days made her life difficult).

    • Oral argument in the appeal of the Flores litigation, in which the DOJ lawyer argued that toothbrushes, soap, and decent sleeping conditions are not within the ordinary meaning of "safe and sanitary."

It does seem worth deconstructing how much is wrong here.

1) Gladwell never mentions that chutzpah originates in Yiddish; he repeatedly talks about how the word is used "in America," as if it is an American concept. American English absorbed the word and concept into Yinglish. That explains the different pronunciations. Yiddish places the emphasis  on the next-to-last syllable of words (SHA-bos); Hebrew places the emphasis on the last syllable of words ("sha-BAHT). English also places the emphasis on the next-to-last syllable, which is why Yiddish words slide into English so well. It makes sense that modern Hebrew (a language that did not exist until the late 19th century) would incorporate the Yiddish word, but with Hebrew pronunciation. So we are dealing with the same word, but in different languages having different pronunciation rules.

2) The bigger problem: I am not sure Gladwell understands what chutzpah means. Gladwell's premise is that the Al Ruddy story illustrates what we "in America" call KHUTS-puh, but would not be what Israelis call khoots-PAH; only the Joe Colombo stories qualify as the latter.

But would a Yiddish speaker call what Ruddy did chutzpah? Leo Rosten's "The Joys of Yiddish" offers several illustrations of chutzpah--the boy who kills his parents and pleads for mercy because he is an orphan; the man who shouts for help while beating you up; and the beggar who, given a choice between free challah and free black bread, chooses challah, and when told that it is more expensive, says "it's worth it." All reveal not simple audacity or guts, but shamelessness and self-servingness, perhaps with a touch of irony thrown in (what Gladwell says is khoots-PAH but not KHUTS-puh).

None of Rosten's examples is analogous to what Ruddy did. He was ballsy and audacious, because he had no business being in that room pitching a TV show. It also was potentially offensive for its time (this was a different era of comedy two years before "The Producers"), even though everyone in the room was Jewish. But it lacked that irony. Colombo, on the other hand, was a chutzpanik. Rosten would have been happy to include "Italian criminal forms group to protest media portrayal of Italians as criminals" in his definition.

In other words, KHUTS-puh (Yiddish) and khoots-PAH (Hebrew pronunciation) are the same: Neither would include Ruddy, both would include Colombo. Now some might disagree with this and argue that both do qualify. Fine. Then we are debating the meaning of one word (however pronounced), not the difference in meaning between two words.

3) Suppose Gladwell's premise is right: English-speakers in the U.S. would talk about Ruddy as chutzpah (even if Rosten would not), while Hebrew speakers in Israel would not. But that suggests that the Yinglish chutzpah has evolved and broadened to cover all instances of audacity or nerve or guts, without the shamelessness. Then, as my wife pointed out, we have a nice illustration of cultural appropriation, how a culture or language alters a word or concept by absorbing it. The lesson is not that Israel has a different word than we have "in America;" the lesson might be that American English altered or expanded the meaning of a word taken from a different language, while Israeli Hebrew maintained the original meaning. So talk about that. Or at least acknowledge a different explanation for the phenomenon.

4) The discussion of nu has the same problem. Gladwell describes it as a uniquely Israeli verbal push to move a conversation along. But, again, the word was part of Yiddish, was spoken in Eastern Europe, and was brought to America by millions of Yiddish-speaking immigrants a century ago. What is interesting (but not mentioned in the podcast) is that nu has not been absorbed into Yinglish as has, for example, oy vey. It thus died off as people stopped speaking Yiddish. Meanwhile, Hebrew has maintained the word.

5) As for his neighbor's tangles with the school administration over the inconvenience of snow days: I would describe them as obnoxious, inconsiderate, and selfish, to say nothing of clueless as to how broader institutions and the social compact operate. I can imagine the "are you kidding me" conversations school administrators had about her phone calls.

But not chutzpah. However pronounced.

I promise this will be my final Gladwell-related post. I think I am hate-listening at this point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 18, 2019 at 09:32 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (7)

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Hit Man Podcast

iHeart Radio has a new podcast titled Hit Man. It tells the story of the book "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors," the murder it supposedly inspired, and the lawsuit against publisher Paladin Press, in which the Fourth Circuit held that the book was not entirely protected by the First Amendment under Brandenburg. Also worth reading is Eugene Volokh's Crime-Facilitating Speech, which sought to develop a speech-protective framework for speech that provides information that can be used for bad purposes but that does not incite or advocate (under which I believe the book would have been protected).

It is in eight parts. The first episode, giving some background to the book, was quite enjoyable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 17, 2019 at 11:18 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Nomenclature and the real issue on the scope of injunctions

A Ninth Circuit panel refused to stay a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of new asylum regulations. But a divided court narrowed the injunction from its "nationwide" scope to the extent it applies "beyond the Ninth Circuit," because the district court had not found that beyond-the-circuit scope was necessary to remedy the plaintiffs' harm. The decision, while proper, illustrates the importance of the problems of nomenclature and the misunderstanding of what is at stake.

The plaintiffs in the action were four California-based organizations that represent asylum-seekers; the district court found they had organizational standing because they would lose clients and funding and be forced to divert resources as a result of the regulation.*

[*] The district court also found the organizations within the statutory zone of interest, although that no longer should be part of the standing analysis.

The focus of the scope-of-injunction analysis thus should have been the four organizations, not California. The injunction should have been limited to prohibiting enforcement as to these organizations. But it should have protected those organizations everywhere in the country--states within the Ninth Circuit as well as any other states in which they may represent (or seek to represent) asylum-seekers. Perhaps that means the injunction would reach California and Arizona only, if these organizations only represent clients in those states; outside-the-states application is not necessary to remedy their harm if they do not work outside those states. But to the extent they work outside California and Arizona, their harm is remedied only if the injunction protects them outside of Ninth Circuit states.

And that is why the term "nationwide" does not work. All injunctions should be nationwide in the sense of protecting the plaintiffs wherever in the nation they are--that is the only way to remedy their harm. The problem in this case (and others) is that the district court's injunction purported to prohibit the government from enforcing the regulation beyond these four organizations. The problem is that the injunction was not "particularized" to the parties to the case, but attempted to apply to the "universe" of people and organizations affected by the regulation.

The court thus should have "grant[ed] the motion for stay pending appeal insofar as the injunction applies" beyond the four plaintiff organizations in this action.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 16, 2019 at 02:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What about a tablet?

A question for those who do not allow laptops and do not allow students to type notes in class:

What about taking notes using a stylus and tablet (iPad, Surface, etc.)? On one hand, this is writing rather than typing, so the ability/temptation to stenography is absent; it is the same means of notetaking, with fewer dead trees. On the other, I presume the benefit is that the tablet program converts the handwritten notes into typeset notes, which can be cut-and-pasted into a study outline; this eliminates the need or use for retyping of notes, which is an important point at which learning and understanding occurs.

Thoughts? Does anyone familiar with the literature know of any studies comparing writing-on-tablet with writing-on-paper or typing?

(Note: I know many readers believe that my position on laptops is wrong. That is beside the point here, so please do not bother with comments to that effect. My question begins from the premise that laptops and typing for notes are out. Now what?)

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 15, 2019 at 05:51 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (4)

N.C. court recalls opinion on the bird (updated)

Earlier this month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that flipping-off a police officer provided probable cause to conduct a traffic stop; it was a "rude, distracting" gesture that could cause a reasonable officer to believe a crime was being committed, such as disorderly conduct. This opinion was inconsistent with federal courts that have held that it is clearly established that flipping the bird is protected by the First Amendment. I did not blog about the case, but I had some interesting email exchanges about the case, including how it interacted with last Term's Nieves v. Bartlett.

Today, the court of appeals withdrew the opinion, with the panel retaining jurisdiction to dispose of the case. No idea what that means. It could mean a majority will hold that the officer lacked probable cause to stop the case. Or it could mean a new opinion finding a basis for probable cause that does not involve constitutionally protected expression.

While this is good for the First Amendment, it is hard not to wonder how much the universal derision the opinion received on the interwebs affected the judges and their decision to reverse course (as to reasoning if not result). And it is hard not to think that this is not a good thing for the judicial process. There are processes in place for reconsidering a decision. Those processes should not involve Twitter.

Update: I was briefly Twitter-famous last week (despite not being on Twitter) when people found this post and criticized me for "bemoaning" the restoration of rights caused by Twitter saying mean things about the decision. Other then piled on to suggest I was trying to take away their right to criticize the government. And one commenter here--in a more-thoughful and less-character-constrained way--suggested that sometimes this is necessary, if imperfect, to snap courts out of the assumption that every case is the same and routine.

I see the latter point. But if rights can  (in a tweeter's view) be "restored" by Twitter pressure on a court, then rights can be taken away by Twitter pressure on a court. I cannot remember the judge or the case. But in 1995, a judge in the S.D.N.Y.  suppressed evidence in a criminal case, saying that a person running upon seeing a police officer does not give probable cause to stop, because people of color in New York have learned from experience not to trust the police and to avoid all interactions. The judge was lambasted and threatened with impeachment; he withdrew the opinion (not sure if it was in response to a motion to reconsider) and held the search was valid. Imagine the Twitter response, had it existed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 15, 2019 at 01:11 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Punishing female attorneys

The Supreme Court of Missouri suspended the licenses of two female former assistant prosecutors in St. Louis who helped cover up a police officer beating of a suspect in 2014. A third female prosecutor, who was more directly involved by filing false charges against the victim, was disbarred in 2016. The officer pleaded guilty to a § 242 violation and was sentenced to 52 months.This represents the exceedingly rare case in which police and prosecutors faced sanctions for their roles in misconduct within the criminal-justice system.

But it is difficult not to notice that this rare case involved three female prosecutors. It thus echoes the fallout from the Central Park Five, in which the only people facing professional consequences (informal, but still) were two female assistant prosecutors, but no man involved in the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 14, 2019 at 11:43 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Protest (and be punished) like it's 1968

At the Pan Am Games, fencer Race Imboden knelt on the gold-medal podium during the anthem and hammer-thrower Gwen Berry raised her first. Both face sanction, because not much has changed since 1968. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee offered this internal contradiction: "Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan-American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” although "[w]e respect his rights to express his viewpoints.” No, you clearly do not respect his rights to express his viewpoints when those viewpoints are political in nature. Because standing at attention during a national anthem while playing "for your country" is never political.

The USOPC (did not realize the "P" had been added) is not bound by the First Amendment and can restrict athlete speech however it wishes. But do not pretend that you also respect the athletes' rights to express their views.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 12, 2019 at 09:39 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

One inning, three runs, three true outcomes (non-law)

Thinking about baseball today, so that prompts this non-law post.

Baseball analysts emphasize the concept of "three true outcomes"--walk, home run, or strikeout. These are the possible results of a pitcher/batter confrontation that reflect the "true" results of that one-on-one encounter, unaffected by any other players. The focus on these outcomes drives recent concerns for style and pace of play. Batters look to hit home runs, are less willing to offer at pitches out of the strike zone, and accept increased strikeouts as a cost. All three true outcomes are up, creating a slower and (some believe) less exciting game.

In Saturday night's Braves-Marlins game, the Braves scored three runs in an inning featuring nothing but those three true outcomes. The inning went: Walk, Strikeout, Walk, Strikeout, 3-run HR, Walk, Walk, [pitching change], Strikeout. No fielder other than the pitcher and catcher was involved in any play. No baserunner was at risk of being put-out on the basepaths.

I have never seen anything like that.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 11, 2019 at 07:51 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

"The Grievance Studies Affair," purpose, and result

FIRE's So to Speak podcast interviewed the three authors (Jim Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian, the latter of whom is on the faculty at Portland State) behind the "Grievance Studies Affair." The three wrote and submitted a series of papers designed to show that certain humanities disciplines, which they call "grievance studies," lack scholarly rigor and feature a broken peer-review process. Seven papers were accepted, four were published, and seven were still in play when everything was exposed last fall. Boghossian was sanctioned by his university (subscription required) for failing to obtain IRB approval for a study on human subjects (the editors and reviewers who read the papers).

Critics of the the authors and their hoax accused them of  trying to get people fired and departments shut down, comparing them with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's efforts to ban gender studies at Hungarian universities. The authors reject this criticism; they insist they respect academic freedom and did not want to see anyone fired or any departments closed. Instead, they hoped universities would use the information they exposed to recognize the defects in these fields and thus discount scholarship in these fields and these journals when making tenure and hiring decisions.

But what is the difference between people being fired and people being denied tenure or not hired? The result is the same--scholars who publish this stuff in these journals should not be working as professors in these universities. And if these departments cannot (or should not) hire these scholars, the departments will close. The difference is motive. Orban want to control what academics write and wants to close gender studies because of political and ideological objections to the field; Lindsay, Puckrose, and Boghossian want these journals to do better in their peer-review and publication decisions and want these scholars to do better in their research and writing. One opposes academic freedom; the other protects academic freedom by ensuring that a university is place of intellectual rigor and serious truth-seeking--that academic freedom serves its purpose.

So Lindsay, Puckrose, and Boghossian would like certain people not to have jobs in academia--those who write what they believe (and what they believe they have proven to be) poor scholarship undeserving of publication and tenure. They claim to have a good reason for that goal and we can debate the means and ends (I am largely agnostic over the whole thing). But it is disingenuous to suggest that lost jobs and empty departments are not the logical conclusion of what they believe they have shown and what should happen.

For what it is worth, I am somewhat surprised that FIRE cared about this case, except perhaps for the sanctions imposed on Boghossian, which are somewhat specious. And I am surprised FIRE approached the hoax and this interview as the typical culture-war/tyranny-of-the-left/silence-the-right campus-speech issue. The authors wrote papers reaching (sometimes silly) left-leaning conclusions, which fits the ideology of the journals and the fields. But FIRE usually does not care if lefties say or write silly things and it generally does not care about the vigor of  discourse in scholarly journals. FIRE cares about viewpoint discrimination, when one position is allowed and the other shut down or when one position is foisted on unwilling listeners. But the hoax did not show such discrimination--that otherwise similarly rigorous scholarship reaching a right-wing conclusion was not published. One of the authors described this as his one regret in the project--they never wrote a paper reaching that reverse ideological result to see if it would be published. Had they done so and the piece been rejected, they would arguably have shown the sort of political biases about which FIRE cares. Without that, this really looks like a take-down of silly lefties and silly academics--fun for many, but not FIRE's typical bailiwick.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 10, 2019 at 02:17 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 09, 2019

Money talks

People are calling for a boycott of Equinox in the wake of disclosure that owner Stephen Ross is hosting a Trump fundraiser. Expect more of this following the release by Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro of a list of Trump donors. Ross issued a nonsense statement that first tries to shame critics for, unlike him, "sit[ting] outside the process and criticiz[ing]." He then insists that he supports the President's economic policies (read: big tax cuts for him) while supporting racial equality and inclusion, and that he is not ashful about disagreeing with the President or about expressing his opinions (although he did not specify whether he expresses those contrary opinions to Trump--given what we know about Trump, I doubt it).

One issue we discussed during a SEALS panel on expressive conduct is how we handle the fact that consumers increasingly base their choices on their politics and conscience--avoiding businesses that support certain causes or that are owned by individuals who support certain causes. Contrary to Ross's statement, that is a form of direct engagement and support for (or opposition to) the things one deeply cares about (since we can't all put on million-dollar fundraisers).

But if buyers can express their political preferences through their consumer choices, why not sellers? Is it the difference in power, since the seller often is the only game in town? Is it because a seller's choices would look not like political preferences but like identity-based discrimination, which customers are allowed but businesses are not? We did not reach any great theoretical resolution on the panel. The question shows that it is not as simple as "this is a business transaction," because so much more is involved in both sides of that transaction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 9, 2019 at 06:57 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

MAGA student speaks (with minor edits)

So now we know. The MAGA-hat-sporting student that Gonzaga Prawfs Jeffrey Omari described is Austin Phelps, a rising 3L who has taken to the pages of the same ABA Journal to give his side of the story.

Phelps' version differs from Omari's in two important respects. Phelps makes it sound as if the MAGA hat was not a late-semester sartorial one-off; it sounds as if he had worn the hat and a Trump-Pence 2020 shirt at various points in the semester and that his laptop was festooned with similar stickers.* He also says Omari did not call on him "with the frequency that left-leaning students enjoyed." Omari described a conservative student who participated in class (enough to make his views known) but how had to that point "not  . . . donned any political paraphernalia in the classroom."

[*] Yet another reason to ban laptops.

He also complains about called out for wearing a build-the-wall t-shirt to his "university-affiliated internship," which he attributes to Omari's op-ed. The internship enforced a neutral (although never-before-enforced) rule banning t-shirts with slogans while at work.

The rest of the piece combines a defense of free speech, with an explanation for his support for the President (including filling two SCOTUS seats "with conservative posteriors," so glad he writes like a serious future lawyer). All of which reflects "my struggle" as a conservative law student--which might not have been the best choice of phrase, considering the context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 9, 2019 at 06:23 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Second Circuit revives Palin defamation suit

Decision here. I wrote about the case here.

The court of appeals correctly criticized the district court's weird use of an evidentiary procedure (testimony from the primary author of the challenged editorial) to evaluate the complaint. When a court considers information outside a complaint, it either must exclude the information and continue as a 12(b)(6) or convert to summary judgment; it cannot use the information and continue to treat the motion as a 12(b)(6). The Times argued that the testimony was background information that was "integral to" the material in the complaint; but that could not be right, because the information was obtained after the complaint was filed, as opposed to information the plaintiff could have relied on in drafting the complaint.

The problem with the decision was in holding that Palin's Amended Complaint (drafted with the assistance of that testimony) was plausible. This is bad for First Amendment purposes but procedurally interesting in two respects.

The court found that the district court had credited the editorial writer above the allegations in the complaint, which was improper. The district court had stated that the author's conduct was "much more plausibly consistent" with a mistake than with actual malice. But it "is not the district court’s province to dismiss a plausible complaint because it is not as plausible as the defendant’s theory. The test is whether the complaint is plausible, not whether it is less plausible than an alternative explanation." Twombly and Iqbal contain language that a complaint is implausible where there is a reasonable alternative explanation for the conduct (in Iqbal, the alternative was "protecting the nation after 9/11" rather than "invidious discrimination"). Lower courts have generally ignored that language; here, the Second Circuit flatly rejects that analysis, at least in this type of defamation action.

The court closed the opinion as follows:

We conclude by recognizing that First Amendment protections are essential to provide “breathing space” for freedom of expression. But, at this stage, our concern is with how district courts evaluate pleadings. Nothing in this opinion should therefore be construed to cast doubt on the First Amendment’s crucial constitutional protections. Indeed, this protection is precisely why Palin’s evidentiary burden at trial—to show by clear and convincing evidence that Bennet acted with actual malice—is high. At the pleading stage, however, Palin’s only obstacle is the plausibility standard of Twombly and Iqbal. She has cleared that hurdle.

But this raises an important point. The clear-and-convincing evidence standard has been incorporated into summary judgment, because whether a reasonable jury could find for the plaintiff must account for the standard. Should the same be true for 12(b)(6)--must it be plausible by clear-and-convincing evidence? This would twist pleading from its purposes, but Twombly and Iqbal did that in trying to make it a weed-out point. The question is whether we follow that to its logical conclusion.

The standard of proof may define how much of a problem this case will be for The Times and the First Amendment. The bulk of the analysis defines this as a case of competing factual inferences--Palin's facts show actual malice, the author says it was a mistake; if so, then this case cannot go away on summary judgment, because the court is equally prohibited from deciding witness credibility as would be required in this case--only a jury could resolve those questions.* That last paragraph of the opinion, emphasizing the standard of proof that will apply at trial and summary judgment, may have been a signal to the lower court about what should happen next.

[*] The court declined to treat the district court decision as one for summary judgment because, even as a summary judgment decision, the court impermissibly made credibility determinations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 6, 2019 at 06:56 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 05, 2019

Judgments we like yielding precedent we hate

In a post on Friday, I mentioned Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia as a case in which a conservative victory (the Court held that the university could not deny student-activities funding to a religious organization) produced liberal victories in lower courts (holding that universities could not deny funding to LGBT organizations). In other words, the judgment in the case was great, but the judgment was accompanied by an opinion that established a principle that provided precedent for other courts to produce not-so-great judgments in later cases.

Consider this a bleg: I am looking for a particular situation--Case I established a general principle that yielded one outcome, then that general principle yielded a politically opposite outcome. Can people think of other examples of this, in either direction?  And are there examples outside of free speech/press? I think this would make an interesting study.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 5, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (10)

Sunday, August 04, 2019

More on Malcolm Gladwell

Mike Dorf critiques the fourth season of Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History, which contains several episodes relevant to law and legal education. In particular, the first two episodes criticize the LSATs as the gateway into legal education. The basic argument is that the test's tight time constraints favor "hares" who think and react quickly over "tortoises" who take longer to think and analyze a problem, while the practice of law is more for tortoises.

But at least the first two episodes (I am midway through Ep. 3) are worse than Dorf suggests. The problem is that Gladwell tends to pick a thesis, find evidence that undermines one variable in furtherance of that thesis, then conclude (or assume) that his thesis has been proven, without exploring the other variables or other obvious explanations for the result. Dorf describes this as Gladwell "overclaim[ing]." Three glaring examples in these episodes.

The first is the story of Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton. Sutton attended The Ohio State University for law school because he did not get into Michigan, because it is assumed (without stating) his LSAT scores were not high enough. From this, Gladwell assumes that Sutton is a tortoise. And Sutton might have been overlooked for a clerkship by Justices such as Scalia (to whom Sutton was assigned as a clerk for the retired Powell) who hire based on law school (which is based on hare-favoring LSAT), which rewards hares over tortoises. This despite the fact that Scalia praises the tortoise Sutton as one of his best clerks because clerking and judging are jobs that favor tortoises. So the LSAT--and thus law schools, judges, and law firms--fails to identify, benefit, and reward brilliant tortoises such as Sutton.

There are many gaps in this logical progression. First, poor LSAT performance does not necessarily mean Sutton is a tortoise; it may mean he is a hare who had a bad day (the episode does not say how many times Sutton took the test). Second, we do not know that his LSAT scores kept him out of Michigan, as opposed to his undergrad grades or quality of his essay (Gladwell relies on the strong inference from LSAT being such a significant part of the admission calculus). Third, Sutton has some hare-like qualities--he did extraordinarily well in law school, which (Gladwell argues in Ep. 1) is framed to favor hares by using time in-class exams (this was even more true when Sutton was in law school in the late-'80s, where it was one end-of-semester in-class exam).*

[*] The reliance on timed exams in the first year is why the LSAT predicts 1L performance--both rely on time constraints in testing.

The second is a story told by Bill Henderson (Indiana-Maurer-Bloomington) about a 3L who booked his class, which relied on a take-home exam (I think it was 8 hours); this was that student's highest grade in law. The horror, Gladwell says. The school had labeled this person as an average student  by giving hare-like exams, when he was just a tortoise who, given the chance to take his time, could write a beautiful, well-organized essay.

Again, however, note the gaps and assumptions. I agree with the basic idea that ideal grading combines times and untimed assessments and I try to give both kinds within any class. But I have not not noticed a massive divergence in performance on the two types--good students do within a small range of well on both, weaker students do within a range of less well on both. And the testing format does not necessarily alone explain this one performance. Maybe the student related to that course's material (Gladwell does not identify the course, although Henderson teaches corporations and bus-org classes). Maybe the student responded well to Henderson's teaching style and learned well from him, which might produce stronger exam performance. We do not know how other IU professors assess--whether Henderson was the only prof giving take-home exams--and we do not know how this student performed in any other classes that used something other than in-class exams.

The third story discusses law practice. Gladwell describes a study showing that success in big-firm practice (especially rainmaking) is not correlated to the law school attended--the most successful attorneys attended night law school and schools the person never heard of. But big law firms continue to hire based on law-school prestige to bring in people who "look like them" (what Gladwell's subject called "mirrorocracy"). But that assumes that the people doing the hiring at big firms are the t-14-grad partners rather than the most successful attorneys at those firms--the hiring partners are t-14 grads looking for more t-14 grads, while ignoring the success of their partners who are non-t-14 grads but do the best work. But why aren't those non-t-14-grads who are the best lawyers also doing the hiring? Gladwell does not say.

Finally, not a criticism but a question: Gladwell describes the high enrollments of the three most prestigious schools in Canada--Toronto has 70k undergrads, British Columbia has 50K+, and McGill (the small, intimate school) has 25k. How do they avoid the problems that plague similarly large U.S. pubic schools--not enough teachers, over-reliance on adjuncts, massive classes, limited writing assignments that do not prepare students for the next level, etc.?

At some level, criticizing a podcast for not following and tying down every argument is similar to doing that to a blog post or twitter thread (although not fully--the first two episodes ran 79 minutes, time enough to tie-up obvious loose ends). But Gladwell purports to uncover the real story and offer real understandings, theories, and solutions to problems. It seems fair to hold him to the obvious flaws or incompletions in his arguments.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2019 at 01:48 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (11)

Good guys with guns

I think Sunday's events should end the idea that the answer to bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.

Texas is an open-carry state and Wal Mart stores are happily open-carry. So there is a good chance that someone in the store was or could have been armed. No one shot back. The two "heroes" were the veteran in Wal Mart who reacted to the shooting by pulling children to safety and the guy in Dayton who wrestled the gun from the shooter. No one tried to get into a firefight with the guy. Which is smart, because the chances are that the policy would misidentify the good guy as the bad guy and shoot him (especially if he possessed certain traits).

Everyone is praising the police in Dayton for taking out the shooter in less than a minute. But in that minute, the shooter killed 9 and injured 27. The GGWG argument always has rested on the idea that some early victims will be sacrificed; we not know the BGWG until he starts shooting, so there will be a few victims until the situation reveals itself and the GGWG can spring into action. The GGWG prevents a small tragedy from becoming a big tragedy.  But in Dayton the GGWGs (the police) quickly sprung into action--and the casualties already were enormous. So the only way to prevent mass casualties is for the GGWG to act before the shooting starts, with police being hare-triggered in their suspicions about who might be a BBWG. And we know at this point that the people the police identify do not look like the people who did the shooting this weekend.

The early Republican talking point is that violent video games are causing these mass shootings, so they should be regulated (along with more compulsory school prayer and flag salutes). This is so stupid and vacuous that it should be embarrassing. And the reason I stopped watching mainstream media outlets is that they fail to challenge the stupidity and they keep inviting the same people to repeat the same vacuous talking points.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2019 at 12:17 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 02, 2019

Judicial immunity can be shocking (sorry)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free speech on campus

A random assortment of free-speech controversies on campus. Some were discussed in programs at SEALS.

• Complaints about MAGA hats (and other clothing) in the classroom are becoming a somewhat common thing for deans to deal with, complaints coming more from students than faculty. For the moment, everyone seems to conclude that the clothing is permitted as protected speech that, while offensive and derogatory to many, is tied to the sitting President and within the bounds of allowable public discourse. Although one colleague wondered about a time we could have said the same about a swastika, when that changed for the swastika, and when that might change for MAGA. The only true solution is a school or classroom dress code, which nobody seems to want.

• What is worse--the epithet or the offensive idea behind the epithet? Should it be impermissible for someone to use a derogatory word--even when that word is contained in course materials being discussed--but permissible for someone to use the precise language describing an idea we now regard as offensive? Is it possible to distinguish them?

For example, what is the difference between quoting from cases the derogatory words for African-Americans, people with mental disabilities, or undocumented immigrants, and quoting  the derogatory ideas about women in Justice Bradley's concurring opinion in Bradwell v. Illinois. For another example, what is the difference between one student calling another student a derogatory name and one student spouting, approvingly, derogatory ideas as part of the class discussion (e.g., minority populations causing more crime); the former should be sanctioned because students should not attack one another, but what about the latter?

On one hand, it seems odd that the word is worse than the idea. On the other, if you treat them the same and sanction (as opposed to challenging and exposing) the expression of "wrong" ideas in a class discussion, it really does interfere with the supposed academic mission of exploring ideas and seeking truth. And you can respond to, challenge, and demonstrate the wrong-headedness of an idea; you cannot do that with an epithet (this is the justification for the fighting-words doctrine).

• I learned about an ongoing controversy at the University of Tennessee. The state and the university have been trying to defund the student group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) and its signature event, "Sex Week." The legislature passed a law prohibiting state funds from being used for Sex Week. This was not a huge deal, because most of SEAT's non-private funds came from the student-activities fees program. Under Rosenberger, the university could not deny funds to SEAT because of disagreement with its sex-positive (and sex-provocative) viewpoint.*

[*] Rosenberger remains my favorite unintended-consequences case, in which a victory for one political position has been used as precedent to provide victories for the opposite political position. Religious conservatives cheered the decision, which held that the state could not deny activities funds to religious organizations. But the case's staunch prohibition on viewpoint discrimination has been used to stop university efforts to defund all manner of liberal student groups. I think this may make an interesting article, especially in showing the difference between judgment and opinion/precedent.

The university's solution, imposed after SEAT refused to "compromise with university administrators who have asked it annually to 'tone it down' and consider the impact of its language choices"** was to eliminate the student-activities fee pool, replacing it with a system in which the university approves and funds all speakers and programs. The university hopes this converts all student programs into the university's speech, allowing the university to pick and choose based on viewpoint or any other considerations. The new program has not been implemented, so it remains to be seen how it plays out.

I think it is a matter of allies. Right now, most student groups oppose the program; College Democrats and College Republicans both hate it. If many student groups do not get money under the new scheme, SEAT will continue to have many allies in the fight. If everyone gets money except SEAT (which is what the university and state hope will happen), SEAT may find itself alone in the fight.

[**] In other words, compromise by changing your speech to make it more palatable to the government.

• Last spring, three white University of Mississippi students posed holding weapons in front of an Emmett Till memorial the was riddled with bullet holes; the photo was taken by a fourth, unknown person, and posted on the private social-media page of one of the students. The identified students were suspended by their fraternity. The university referred the matter to the FBI, but did not continue its investigation because, it claims, it was unaware that the FBI had completed its investigation (the FBI concluded that the photograph was not a specific threat). News stories question how the university responded to that initial bias report in March, particularly whether the university knew the identities of the students at that time (they are Ben LeClere, John Lowe and Howell Logan). The university says it will resume its student-conduct investigation, although it initially said the photo did not violate the code of conduct because it happened off-campus in a non-school setting. And the story seems to be wrapped in broader discussions of removing Confederate monuments on campus.

Is there any doubt that the photo and posing in front of the monument are protected by the First Amendment? This is not an unprotected "true threat" because it is not targeted at "a particular individual or group of individuals." It occurred off campus and was posted to a private social-media page; so even if we allow a university greater leeway to regulate racist speech on the quad or in the dorm, it does not extend to these actions. The photo is racist and offensive and I am glad their fraternity expelled them. I would like to see the university take more seriously, in word and deed, its obligation to engage in counter-speech. And perhaps the three will crawl back into hiding. But a public university's speech code is limited by the First Amendment, which prohibits government from sanctioning someone for engaging in protected speech, no matter how much we hate what they say.

Update: An Ole Miss faculty member pointed to this 2016 story of two students who pleaded guilty to civil rights violations for hanging a noose and a Confederate flag around the campus statute of James Meredith. Other than one happening on campus and one off (which is irrelevant to the criminal charges), it is hard to see a meaningful distinction between this and the current case--they are equally threatening or equally non-directed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 2, 2019 at 10:25 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sherry on the "Kardashian Court"

Suzanna Sherry has a new piece on SSRN, Our Kardashian Court (and How to Fix It). Sherry argues that partisanship can be reduced on SCOTUS by a law prohibiting concurring and dissenting opinions and having the Court issue one per curiam opinion, with no indication of how many Justices joined that opinion. The goal is to eliminate the opportunity for Justices to become celebrities or to push personal agendas.

This is a fascinating idea. I had the privilege of reading and commenting on an earlier draft. Some of my comments are after the jump:

• Sherry brackets whether this should extend to courts of appeals. But note that the concerns for both celebrity (Posner, Kozinski, many of the Fed Soc people that Trump has appointed) and partisanship (especially with the attention given to many of Trump’s appointees) are present on these courts. Dissents on the courts of appeals may help SCOTUS identify which cases to take, which is a positive. Otherwise, they raise the same problems Sherry identifies--celebrity and pushing individual agendas--while adding new ones, such as auditioning for SCOTUS.

• On this point: At SEALS, Donald Campbell (Mississippi College) presented a paper trying to measure how dissents and separate opinions reflect or undermine collegiality on courts of appeals, where there often is a a "norm" that judges write separately only in extraordinary cases. If collegiality is affected by dissents, then Sherry's proposal would be a welcome change for those courts, ensuring and re-enforcing that norm and that collegiality.

• Sherry would impose this by statute, so she spends time considering the separation of powers objections to such a law, concluding the law would be valid. This would be another opportunity to test concepts of judicial independence and what it means for Congress to tell the Court how to decide a case.

• The key weakness to the proposal might be that it is too late. The partisan divide is too sharp and the identities and positions of the individual Justices too well-known. Everyone would know who did and did not join a per curiam opinion overruling Roe/Casey. Had this proposal come in 1973--when Stewart, White, and Powell were the median justices and appointing party did not align with judicial ideology--it might have helped prevent us from getting to where we are now.

As Larry Solum says, download it while it's hot.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 31, 2019 at 01:13 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

JOTWELL: Smith on Litman on remedial collapse

The new Courts Law essay comes from Fred Smith (Emory), reviewing Leah Litman, Remedial Convergence and Collapse, 106 Cal. L. Rev. 1477 (2018), exploring how recent doctrine has caused the exclusionary rule, habeas limits, and qualified immunity to converge, resulting in denial of all remedy for constitutional violation. Both are worth a read.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 31, 2019 at 10:36 AM in Article Spotlight, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Random snippets of law

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 26, 2019

"Amadeus" and the academy

Keith Humphrey (Stanford Medicine) discusses how the movie Amadeus reflects life in the academy--specifically, how fortunate one is to be Salieri even if he cannot be Mozart.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 26, 2019 at 10:03 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Meta Rankings of Law Reviews

Former guest Prawf Bryce Newell has updated his Law Journal Meta Rankings for 2019. This ranks mainline journals by combining US News ranking for the school, US News peer ranking for the school, Google Scholar rankings for the review, and W&L rankings for the review. It makes some of my recent or forthcoming pubs look better, others worse.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2019 at 09:53 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (1)

Classroom dress code?

In my post on the MAGA hat incident at Gonzaga, several commenters asked why the student was wearing a hat in the classroom. At some level, this is besides the point because the supposed problem is displaying offensive or provocative messages in class at a professor or colleague, not the medium. We would be having the same conversation over a MAGA t-shirt or whatever.

So the question is should we impose dress codes in the classroom (which would be dress codes in the building, since students are not going to change clothes all day)? As my daughter argued, we expect students to treat the classroom as a courtroom and to be prepared to engage at that level. If so, why allow them to dress in a way they would not be allowed in court. And if we do not go all the way to suits and dresses, at least "business casual."

I would not support such a move. They still are students and should be able to enjoy those comforts, even if we expect professionalism in other respects. But it is an interesting question, especially as politics get more divisive and people become more likely to be offended by the messages on someone's clothing. [Update: I should add that I wear shorts and a polo shirt on my non-teaching days, so I am not living what this would require of students]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2019 at 09:33 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The rise and fall of laptops in the classroom

A discussion on the Civ Pro ListServ on how attorneys take notes (by hand or computer) morphed into another discussion of laptops in the classroom. Based on people who posted, it was something like 6:2 in favor of the ban. I record classes and make the audio available for those who want to relive the class verbatim and a couple people do the same. Reviewing previous discussions of laptop bans among Perma-prawfs and guests, the results are more mixed.

The pervasiveness of laptop bans caused me to think about the rise and fall of laptops, which tracks with my life in legal education:

• I started law school in fall 1994. One student in my 100-person section used a computer to take notes and I recall one professor stopping mid-lecture to stare at the screen in wonder. I think the number was about to about 5 by the end of the year. Most students did not even have laptops for writing projects.

• I started teaching as a VAP in 2001 and probably 80-90% of students used computers to take notes. When I started at FIU in 2003, that number was probably at 100 %.

• In fall 2007, I “recommended” that students not use laptops and urged them to try to go the first month of class without them. No one in two Civ Pro sections took me up on the offer. Several students complained about my attempt in the end-of-semester evals.

• Around 2008, some law professors began writing about how much they disliked the prevalence of laptops in the classroom--citing concerns for students surfing, distraction of others, and ineffective note-taking. I recall a piece in the Washington Post by David Cole (Georgetown) as one of the first public arguments. Others quickly jumped on board.
• In Winter 2009, I prohibited them in all classes. (This was my first semester after my faculty tenure vote--I regret that I did not do it pre-tenure for fear of student blowback). There were slight murmurings, but nothing major. I was one of about five FIU profs who did this around that time, albeit without coordination. So I think the students had become used to it.
• Studies purporting to show that handwritten notes are better began cropping up around 2013-or-so. The big Oppenheimer/Mueller study appeared in early 2014. The studies over the past 5 years are mixed.
• I continue to ban them from my classroom and have no intention of changing. I believe, based on talk in the hallway, that about 1/3-1/2 my faculty bans them, including many professors teaching doctrinal courses in the first year. More generally, profs are all over the map; I cannot tell--either anecdotally or empirically--whether we have reached the point that a majority of profs ban them.
• None of my students complains or even questions it anymore.
• I allow laptops for students given that accommodation by our disability resource office (obviously). I have seen a slight uptick in students given laptop use as an accommodation--1-2 students a year in the past 2-3 years. I suspect the increase in professors banning laptops has triggered that increase in accommodation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 23, 2019 at 08:53 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ceremony and change

This week's Torah portion iincludes Hashem telling Moses that he would die before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, to which Moses responded that Hashem should select a new leader and there should be a public ceremony in which Moses lays hands on him and creates that new leader. This prompted a discussion of life-cycle ceremonies (Brit milah, baby naming, Bat Mitzvah, wedding) in which the person enters the ceremony as one thing and emerges as something else, changed by the ceremony.

Listening to it, my mind drifted to Obama's First Inauguration, in which the Chief and Obama together flubbed the oath, creating questions of whether the ceremony had successfully "changed" Obama into the President. And to questions of what are the details that define a ceremony sufficient to affect the change and how precisely must those details be followed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 20, 2019 at 11:24 AM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My civil rights course, in one case

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Remembering Justice Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens died Tuesday, at age 99. He is a big deal around Northwestern Law, where I went to school. The award for top GPA is named for him and his official Court portrait was on display in the library until his retirement. And in Chicago, where he was at Wrigley Field for Babe Ruth's "called shot" in 1932 and got to see the Cubs finally win the World Series in 2016.

On an instant reaction, how will Stevens be remembered as a Justice? He is the third-longest serving Justice, just shy of 35 years, trailing Douglas and Field. The easy political story is that he was a Republican appointee who became a leading liberal light on the Court, following in the shoes of Brennan and Blackmun, but on a more sharply divided Court. For purposes of one of my current projects, he spent 16 Terms as senior-most Associate Justice in frequent disagreement with the Chief, one of the longer such periods in the Court's history; this gave him the assignment power in divided cases in which a swing Justice (usually O'Connor and/or Kennedy) switched.

I wonder what opinions will define his legacy on the Court. We do not associate him with particular doctrines (as with Scalia) or particular opinions (as with Blackmun and Roe). He stuck us with Pacifica. He famously dissented in the flag-burning cases, "flipping" positions with Scalia, and in Citizens United, where the majority opinion outraged him. He wrote Reno v. ACLU, which, while not rhetorically memorable, was a more significant decision in allowing the internet to thrive as an open medium. He wrote Claiborne Hardware, which may gain new relevance in challenges to anti-BDS laws and attempts to use civil liability against Black Lives Matters protesters.

I did a Westlaw search for his most-cited opinions. He wrote Apprendi, the first move in the push to returning control over sentencing to juries. He wrote the opinion establishing Chevron deference, a doctrine in danger of overruling by the current Court, but not associated with him by name. He wrote the opinion in Sony v. Universal, which held that VCRs did not infringe copyrights. He wrote Clinton v. Jones for a unanimous Court, which had significant political consequences, but will not stick to him. And while not an opinion for the Court, his "ask me later" concurrence in Asahi means the Court did not, and still has not, solved the stream-of-commerce v. stream-of-commerce-plus problem for personal jurisdiction.

Update: In the realm of opinions that angered people, Linda Greenhouse's Times obit points out that Stevens wrote the majority in Kelo. She also suggests that Stevens' long period as senior-associate will be key to his legacy, elevating him from relative obscurity into a role that he enjoyed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 16, 2019 at 11:40 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Free speech: Change or leave?

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

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

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

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

Stupid rules, baseball edition

The independent Atlantic League (which used a Doppler radar plate umpire for its All Star game) has, with MLB support, implemented a new rule: Any pitch not "caught in flight" is a live ball, allowing a batter to run to first base or to be put out. People have described it as "stealing first," although that is not quite accurate. It happened in a game on Saturday. Others have described it as an extension of the uncaught third-strike rule, under which a batter becomes a runner if a third strike is not caught. I am not sure what the point is. I guess it adds excitement by offering a new way to reach first base, away from the home runs and walks that are increasing (and, some argue, making the game boring).

This seems stupid for several reasons.

The rule represents a departure from the game's basic structures. There are, famously, 7 (or 8, depending on how you count defensive interference) ways for a batter to reach base (unless you fine-grain it into 23). However you count, all are based on the batter putting the ball in play and the defense having to catch the ball to complete an out, or on the pitcher not being able to throw too many pitches out of the strike zone (there is no magic number, but it is not one). This rule introduces a new idea--reaching base on one pitch, not batted into play, that is not otherwise significant and would not otherwise produce an out.  I agree with the commentators who wonder whether the source of this rule actually likes or understands baseball.

The uncaught third strike analogy does not work. A batter becomes a runner on an uncaught third strike because that third strike is an otherwise significant pitch that would have produced an out had the catcher done his job. Moreover, the batter does not always become a runner on an uncaught third strike--he is out on strikes if first base is occupied with less than two out (for fear of creating Infield Fly-like perverse incentives). So there is a logic to when a batter does or does not become a runner. The new rule does not correspond to that logic and it is facile to label this a simple "extension" of that rule.

The new rule gives batters choices about when to try to reach base, which is otherwise unheard of in the game. A batter who hits the ball in fair play cannot "choose" whether to run--he must run. A batter cannot "decline" a walk to continue batting. The batter's choice begins and ends with whether to swing a bat. A batter cannot even decline to become a runner on an uncaught third strike--he must run. The game does not otherwise recognize the concept of a batter advancing "at his own risk"--at his option rather than forced; the batter is always forced to run when certain things happen. There is no logic to introducing this one optional situation.

The stories I have read do not explain what happens on a ball  that goes to the backstop with force-outs in effect on the bases (e.g., bases loaded or 1st/2d) and less than two out. Under ordinary rules, the runners can advance at their own risk on what would be a wild pitch or passed ball and they would have to be tagged. But if the batter attempts to run to first, that would force the runners to advance. Does this play now become a force on the lead runner at home? And how will anyone--the runners or the umpires--know? What if the runners do not plan to run (thinking the ball did not roll far enough away from the catcher) but the batter does run--now the runners are forced to advance but were not expecting to. There is no other situation in which everyone does not know in advance of the play what is a force-out and what is not, because the batter usually does not have a choice between running or not--this potentially adds some confusion. Or the new rule is limited to non-force-out situations--again, for no good reason.

This rule is part of a package that the Atlantic League and MLB are piloting. Two others are liberalizing what constitutes a check swing and allowing two foul bunts with two strikes before it is a strikeout. Again, all are designed to help batters and create offense, although at the risk of prolonging games that are already (it is said) too long. There is no obvious logic.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2019 at 09:25 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, July 12, 2019

MAGA in the classroom (edited)

This complaint from Jeffey Omari (Gonazaga) about a student wearing a MAGA hat in his classroom is absurd, as Jonathan Turley (GW) shows. I will leave aside whether "MAGA is an undeniable symbol of white supremacy and hatred toward certain nonwhite groups" or what this says about anti-conservative discrimination in legal education.*

[*] Although I cannot let this pass: Omari writes "Being a law professor, I understand the complexities of academic freedom and free speech. I respect students’ rights to freely express their political beliefs and values within the framework of the law. Yet, at the same time . . . " You could see that "yet" coming from a mile away.

I want to focus on classroom management, after the jump.

Omari writes:

law schools are inherently institutions of professional training. Just as faculty and staff are required to maintain professional formalities to aid the training and matriculation of their students, it seems only logical that students, too, should maintain similar businesslike etiquette. . . .  But when students fail to live up to such professional expectations, what are the professors’ options? . . . Surely, there must be protocol when African-American professors—whose presence is scarce in most law schools—find their authority defiantly undermined by an insensitive student.

In what way did this student fail to maintain businesslike etiquette or to meet professional expectations? A professor or school could prohibit baseball hats in the classroom (one of my colleagues does this), but neither Omari or Gonzaga has  done this. A professor or school could require students to dress in a professional or business-casual fashion in the classroom (i.e., no baseball hats or t-shirts with writing), but neither Gonzaga nor Omari requires this. I suppose a private school or professor at a private school could ban clothing with political messages or even conservative political messages in the classroom, although that would raise some concerns for academic freedom and basic common sense; but neither Gonzaga nor Omari has done this in any event.  So if, under the rules of the school and the professor, student can wear a baseball hat with any political message in this classroom, in what way did this student fail to meet his "professional expectations"? Other than by wearing a hat with a message the prof does not like.

As Omari describes his behavior, the student does not appear disruptive, disrespectful, unprofessional, or undermining. The student raised his hand to participate in class discussions, so he seems to be an engaged student who adheres to the rules of the classroom. Omari does not say the student's comments were unprofessional, provocative, or poorly thought out or expressed, or that the comments in any way interfered with the conversation or with the professor's authority. Since I expect Omari would have said so to support his case against the student, I infer from silence that the student's contributions were good, relevant, and well-stated remarks that furthered the classroom dynamic. Omari also says he "knew this student’s political leanings from our various class discussions throughout the course of the semester," without saying that this was revealed through prior irrelevant, disrespectful, or disruptive comments; again, his silence suggests an engaged student participating in the learning experience throughout the semester within the rules of the forum and not acting in an inappropriate or unprofessional way. Arguably, in fact, Omari, not the student, disrupted the class when he took the time from the substantive discussion to comment on the student's sartorial choices.*

[*] Turley makes a good point on this: The prof tells the student he likes the hat and the student smiles and says thank you. But the prof --who was untruthful in saying he liked the hat, describes the student as being the one using a mocking tone.

According to Omari, this incident occurred with three weeks left in the semester. He draws a lot from the fact that the student had not worn this hat or anything political to that point. But so what? No one wears the same hat or clothing every day. Moreover, I doubt Omari would be in less high dudgeon had the student done this on the first day rather than 75 % through the course. Which raises a more telling point. This was not the first encounter between professor and student, where this hat provided the professor's first impression of the student. This student had been in this class for most of the semester, participating  frequently enough that Omari knew his political leanings (which he obviously does not share) but without (apparent) incident. But none of that context comes through or affects Omari's telling. Regardless of anything that happened the previous weeks of the class, regardless of the student's overall performance and behavior, donning that hat, without more, rendered this person an "insensitive student" who "defiantly undermined" this professor.

Gonzaga dean Jacob Rooksby issued the following word salad: "The School of Law diligently works to provide a respectful and inclusive environment that welcomes all students, faculty, and staff. We respect the points of view of all members of our community. This situation presents an opportunity for our community to listen to and learn from each other." Frankly, I think the dean, who presumably knows something about law, has a bigger problem: One of his faculty members took to a national publication and called a student--unnamed but readily identifiable within a small institution (Gonzaga has about 350 students)--unprofessional, insensitive, disrespectful, and racist. For engaging in constitutionally protected speech supporting the sitting President.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 12, 2019 at 11:54 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (46)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

JOTWELL: Vladeck on Thomas on O'Connor

The new Courts Law essay comes from Steve Vladeck (Texas), reviewing Evan Thomas, First: Sandra Day O'Connor (Penguin Random House 2019) and arguing that the bio reveals O'Connor as likely the last true centrist on the Court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 10, 2019 at 10:05 AM in Books, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)