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)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Mueller Report: The Play (Updated)

What started as a joke and emerged as parody was done as a serious piece of theater , titled The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts. It features A-list actors including John Lithgow, Joel Grey,* Annette Benning, Kevin Kline and Justin Long; it was written by award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan. A video of the show (running about 1:15) is embedded in the LawFare piece and at the Law Works site.

[*] "Willkommen! Dobro Pozhalovat! Welcome!"

The author of the LawFare piece (Mikhaila Fogel) explains how dramatization shows how members of Congress should (and should not) approach next week's hearing. In short: Do ask "deliberate, narrative-driven questions about the text of the report [that] will tell a powerful and credible story;" do not rely on "[s]entiment, indignation and pontification." In other words, act like trial lawyers or judges, not grandstanding politicians.

Update: Having watched watched the performance (from late June), I see Fogel's point about melodrama. But if House Dems see themselves as speaking to the American People--specifically those portions of the American People who are neither convinced of Trump's culpability nor unpersuadable that Trump did anything wrong--there is a nice legal question of how to understand that audience. Is it a jury or a panel of judges? And does that affect how you ask the questions to present the case? And should it?

Also: If a similar reading  of the Starr Report had been staged in 1998, imagine the accompanying soundtrack.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 5, 2019 at 02:43 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

French defamation (Corrected)

Three groups of Michael Jackson fans (sorry, writing in a train station) have sued the men featured in Leaving Neverland accusing Jackson of sexual assault. The lawsuit was filed in France, which, the article repeats, recognizes defamation of a dead person.

But the story does not discuss what to me should be the real issue about French law: How have fan groups suffered a compensable injury, or using unfortunate U.S. terminology, how do fan groups have standing? Even if a dead person can be defamed under French law, how is a group of people who like his music (perhaps too much) injured by that?

Anyone familiar with French tort law?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 5, 2019 at 09:22 AM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, July 04, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day is not military

The President has added military elements (including tanks that may damage the bridges into the district) to the Independence Day celebration on the National Mall. Many argue that this reflects the ostentatious military parades staged in the former Soviet Union, North Korea, and other authoritarian regimes trying to convince their people and the world of their power and greatness (which they usually lack in reality).* Unfortunately, these are the governments and leaders the President likes and respects and wishes to emulate.

 [*] As Tom Nichols puts it in The Atlantic, Trump "has blown through the romance of Bastille Day and past the stodgy opera of the Soviet May Day reviewing stand, and is now squarely in the North Korean 'Because I feel like it' mode." 

I want to offer a different criticism: A  military display does not reflect what we commemorate and celebrate on Independence in the U.S. The signing of the Declaration was an expressive and political act. And it was nominally grounded in theoretical and philosophical terms of consent of the governed, the law of nations, the purposes of government, and human rights--all decidedly non-militaristic ideas. This holiday should not be celebrated in militaristic terms because it does not mark an historic military action.** I reacted the same way several years ago when the m.c. at the small-town celebration I attended announced that the day was about the men and women in the military.  The evolution of the world from 2011 to 2019 can be seen in the evolution of this militaristic conception from the uninformed remarks of the speaker at a celebration at the Delaware beach to the President commandeering the Capitol concert and fireworks for his own display of military force, while threatening to ignore court orders.

[**] France's historic act of independence was a military event, so it makes some sense to celebrate with a parade. The equivalent for the U.S. might be commemorating Yorktown, the culmination of the military force that was necessary to secure what we mark on the 4th of July. But we do not do that. Or it might be Lexington and Concord, somewhat analogous to the storming of the Bastille. But Boston celebrates that by running a long race and playing a baseball game.

Rather than tanks and planes, the best move would be to return to Mark Twain's suggestion that public celebrations include a reading of the Declaration.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 4, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

More action on the census (Edited)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial departmentalism and overbroad injunctions in the news

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Another remedy in The Wall

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Democracy and judicial review

Chief Justice Roberts' decision for the Court in the partisan gerrymandering cases accepts that partisan gerrymandering is a bad thing, but insists that it must be left to popular and political processes. He emphasizes the numerous bills introduced in Congress over the years that would address this. Justice Kagan's dissent nails him with the obvious: "[W]hat all these bills have in common is they are not laws" and not likely to become laws, because the politicians who would make these bills into laws are not going to undo the partisan gerrymandering from which they benefit.

I am going to give Roberts a small credit for implementing a neutral theory: These bills have not become law because legislators have not acted because the courts were available as a backstop against the problem. This is a version of the criticism that judicial review worsens the legislative process, because legislators need not take their obligations seriously knowing that the courts will clean up their mess. With the federal courts out of this game, Congress will now take seriously its obligation to address what everyone recognizes is a problem.

Of course, this credit assumes that Roberts would not read "Legislature thereof" in Article I, § 4 to preclude federal action limiting districting just as he read the term to prohibit redistricting commissions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 27, 2019 at 01:05 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Balls, strikes, and ground-rule doubles

In his opinion concurring in the judgment in Kisor v. Wilkie and arguing for overruling Auer deference, Justice Kavanaugh gave us this:

Umpires in games at Wrigley Field do not defer to the Cubs manager's in-game interpretation of Wrigley's ground rules. So too here.

I know analogies are only analogies and never exact. But they should be close enough to be helpful and this one is not. The problem is that the role of the Cubs and the role of an administrative agency, such as the VA, are not the same in one critical respect--an agency is charged with enforcing the regulations that it enacts, the Cubs are not.

An agency is charged with enforcing a statute, including making regulations to assist with that enforcement. Auer deference thus makes sense for the same reason that Chevron deference makes sense--give the enforcing agency some room to carry out its enforcement obligations, so long as its interpretations are reasonable. The Cubs' responsibility is to enact ground rules unique to their park--e.g., a ball that sticks in the outfield-wall ivy is a dead ball, the batter awarded second base, and runners awarded two bases--but not to enforce those ground rules, a power that rests with the umpires in the first instance.

It seems to me that this makes a difference, rendering the analogy pointless. There may be good reasons not to defer to an agency's interpretation of the regs it is charged with enforcing. One of those reasons is not that we do not defer to a different "agency's" interpretation of the regs it enacts but is not charged with enforcing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2019 at 06:06 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Sports | Permalink | Comments (7)

Mueller Report: The Movie

Ask and ye shall receive.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2019 at 08:29 AM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Questioning "Yesterday" (non-law)

The movie Yesterday is about a world in which a power-outage causes everyone but one person to forget that Coca-Cola and the Beatles existed, so that person (an otherwise-unsuccessful singer-songwriter) becomes a world-famous star by "writing" the Beatles songs.

This review questions the musical premise, arguing that what makes the Beatles music special was their evolution. "She Loves You" was a sensation because the world had not yet heard "Hey Jude" or "Let It Be"--or better still, "A Day in the Life," which everyone seems to rank as their greatest song (not sure if it appears in the film). And it is musically impossible for those songs to be released simultaneously--and for the earlier song to catch on against the later song.

I question the premise from a different point: The movie assumes the Beatles songs sang themselves. The songs made the Beatles great, not how well the band played them. So any schmuck could perform a Beatles song (if no one had ever heard the Beatles sing it) and become as big as the Beatles were.

For more, here is a conversation at the Ringer on the broader implications of the film's idea.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 25, 2019 at 04:38 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (10)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Whither Cohen?

In Iancu, Justice Alito's concurrence and the Chief's partial dissent both assert that Congress could constitutionally prohibit trademarks for vulgar or profane words (The Chief argues that Congress did so in the word "scandalous," while Alito argues Congress must amend the statute to do so). Alito goes so far as to argue that the word fuck, as hinted at in the F-U-C-T mark, "is not needed to express any idea and, in fact, as commonly used today, generally signifies nothing except emotion and a severely limited vocabulary."

But neither Alito nor the Chief cites Cohen. (Neither does Justice Kagan's majority opinion, because "scandalous" is not limited to vulgarity or profanity, so it does not matter to her analysis). And Cohen answers Alito's argument that profanity signifies nothing except emotion--emotion is an essential and inseparable part of the message.

Only Justice Sototmayor's partial dissent (joined by Justice Breyer) addresses that case. She argues that, at best, Cohen means that a restriction on profanity is viewpoint-neutral content discrimination. Profanity "tweaks" or "amplifies" the viewpoint, such that the message is without the profanity is "not quite the same" as with it. But targeting profanity does not target the viewpoint expressed in the message--California would not have allowed a jacket with "Fuck Draft Protesters."

I see Sotomayor's point, although I am not sure I agree. First, consider Justice Alito's plurality (which Sotomayor did not join) in Matal v. Tam, in which Alito argued that the "disparaging-mark" provision was viewpoint-discriminatory. Alito called it a "happy-talk clause" that prohibited registering any mark that criticized, whether the target was racists or anti-racists. A "clean-talk clause" should be equally problematic.

Second, if Sotomayor is correct, it gives short shrift to the possibility of the trademark program as a public forum, specifically a "limited public forum." A limited public forum is supposed to be a designated public forum (government space, opened for speech), although limited to specific speech or speakers. The limitations on the forum must be defined in viewpoint-neutral terms, although the terms can be content-discriminatory (e.g., a forum can be limited to political speech, but not to conservative political speech). Once that forum is established, any content-based restrictions on speech otherwise within the forum must survive strict scrutiny. Unfortunately, the Court has never explained well how to identify the definition of the limited public forum (which merely must be viewpoint-neutral) and exclusions from the established forum (which must be content-neutral, unless able to survive strict scrutiny). Sotomayor believes that, if the trademark system is a forum, the prohibition on "scandalous" (interpreted as "profane") marks makes it a limited public forum for non-scandalous (meaning non-profane) marks. But it as reasonable to see the trademark system as a limited public forum for "marks related to products offered for sale in interstate commerce." In that case, the limitation on scandalous/profane marks, being content-based under Cohen, must survive strict scrutiny.

Maybe this issue comes back around when Congress amends the trademark law to expressly prohibit profane marks.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2019 at 01:57 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Justice Alito takes on SJWs and foreigners

From the first paragraph of Justice Alito's concurrence in Iancu v. Brunetti:

Viewpoint discrimination is poison to a free society. But in many countries with constitutions or legal traditions that claim to protect freedom of speech, serious viewpoint discrimination is now tolerated, and such discrimination has become increasingly prevalent in this country. At a time when free speech is under attack, it is especially important for this Court to remain firm on the principle that the First Amendment does not tolerate viewpoint discrimination. We reaffirm that principle today.

It is impossible to read that as anything other than an attack on progressives who would like hateful and discriminatory speech prohibited, especially on campus. Or an attack on Twitter and Facebook for their supposed anti-conservative bias in banning certain users. Or a potshot at European countries such as France and Germany, which maintain democracies committed to free speech while prohibiting viewpoints such as Holocaust-denial.

The idea that "free speech is under attack" has migrated from the Intellectual Dark Web to the U.S. Reports.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2019 at 01:14 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Basketball trumps football for UConn

News that UConn is leaving the AAC to return to the Big East (now as the lone non-private-Catholic school and one of two non-Catholic schools, with Butler (ed.)) reminds me of this post about whether to preference basketball or football. The original Big East dissolved because the schools with football history and ambition wanted more, causing three early members (Pitt, Syracuse, and BC) to eventually leave for the ACC and the Catholic schools that did not want to have big-time football to break away (rebranding as the new Big East). UConn was the one original/early Big East school without a good home when the music stopped--still wanting big-time football but not good enough at it (or in a big-enough market) to attract the ACC or Big 12.

This move shows UConn prioritizing its non-football teams, especially men's and women's basketball. No team in the AAC could compete with UConn in women's basketball--the women never lost a conference game. And the AAC was a lower-profile conference from which it was harder for the men to build a national-championship-level team (although it is impossible to know if the problem was the conference or being unable to replace Jim Calhoun as coach). UConn plans to maintain FBS football, so it is considering options for that team--staying in the AAC as a football-only school (Navy holds the same status), becoming a football independent, or joining another conference as football-only, perhaps C-USA (which is where FIU plays).

But this is the rare example of a school doing something to benefit its basketball teams at the expense of its football team.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2019 at 07:15 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Pozen on video review and soccer

A nice takedown by David Pozen of how VAR alters the "rules" of soccer, for the worse. Pozen's argument echoes this piece on how body cameras affect policing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 21, 2019 at 12:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On professional decline (Update)

This Atlantic essay from Arthur C. Brooks, until this week the president of the AEI, is fascinating. I am the age (51) that Brooks was when he overheard the conversation that launched him on this project four years ago.

I was especially interested in the mid-essay discussion of fluid v. crystallized intelligence and its connection to scholarship as opposed to teaching for academics (Brooks spent about seven years as a professor of public policy). Creative and scholarly highs (which rely on fluid intelligence) top-out about 20 years into our careers, because fluid intelligence diminishes in our 30s and 40s. Teaching effectiveness relies on the knowledge gained in the past and our ability to share that knowledge and can last much longer into a career and a life (Brooks uses the example of J.S. Bach, who moved from composing to teaching late in life). This lends a new angle on the discussion over how schools should treat faculty who are effective teachers but not productive scholars--it may be a product of age and time in the academy that, Brooks suggests, schools could use to their advantage.

Brooks offers one point that, given my age and career choice, I take as a source of optimism from the piece: "No matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life."

Update: One academic-specific thought that occurred to me after I hit "publish": One must care about teaching, enjoy teaching, and want to be a good teacher early in a career, during that creative heyday. Because I imagine the transition is easier when teaching is something a prof enjoys and can be proud of--the loss of "prestige" will be felt less.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 19, 2019 at 11:35 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 17, 2019

No state action in administering public-access cable channels (Updated)

In Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, SCOTUS held that the private non-profit corporation designated by New York City to manage state-required public-access cable channels was not a state actor, so not subject to First Amendment limitations in banning a speaker from the channels. Justice Kavanaugh wrote for the Chief, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch; Justice Sotomayor dissented for four.

The opinions seemed to look at different facts triggering different analyses.

The majority applied the public-function cases, which hold that a private actor only performs a public function if it is traditionally and exclusively performed by government; "operation of public access channels on a cable system" has not been exclusively performed by government. The majority rejected a more general description of the function as managing a public forum; merely hosting speech does not create state action. And the city's designation of the corporation to operate the channels was equivalent to granting a license or to regulating the private entity, neither of which is sufficient.

The dissent argued that this was not a case of public regulation of a private entity, but of government delegation of a constitutional obligation to an entity created (with government assistance) for purposes of assuming that obligation. The city retained an interest in transmitting certain content (whatever goes on the public-access channels) over the privately owned cable or in regulating the transmission of content over that cable; Sotomayor analogized the cable to a privately owned billboard where the government contracted to access to space on the billboard in exchange for allowing the private company to place it. Given this property interest and the nature of the space as a forum for speech, the case was controlled not by the regulated-entity cases, but by the cases in which government delegated a constitutional obligation to a private entity. Managing a designated public forum is akin to providing medical care for prisoners--government is not required to designate public forums or imprison people; having done so, it incurs constitutional obligations in how it does so; and private persons assume those responsibilities when government delegates its constitutional responsibilities. The distinction is between a private entity entering the marketplace to do a job and the government hiring a private agent to perform its tasks; in the latter situation,the question is not whether the task is traditional and exclusive, but whether the government had an obligation to perform that function.

The majority attempted to narrow its decision, emphasizing that this was not a case of a delegated constitutional obligation, of the city maintaining a property interest in the channels, or of the city managing the channels itself. But the majority did not address or hint at the case the dissent believed this case to be--the government opening a public forum, then delegating management to a private entity (created for that purpose). It also is worth watching whether some municipalities in New York cease managing the P/A channels and delegate to private entities.

In an event, this decision should, for the moment, take care of people complaining about being banned from Twitter and YouTube. Update: Ken White of Popehat has a Twitter thread on why the arguments in favor of regulating platforms have no support on the Court--all nine Justices accept the starting proposition that a private actor who opens private space for speech does not become a state actor.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 17, 2019 at 04:51 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, June 14, 2019

This is how you establish broad injunctive relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A dramatic reading of the Mueller Report

In 2012, PBS aired a documentary called The Central Park Five, produced by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah, and David McMahon. It was excellent and thorough (although produced while the civil rights suit was pending and before the $ 41 million settlement). And it produced no public reaction--Linda Fairstein kept publishing books, Elizabeth Lederer kept adjuncting at Columbia, and Donald Trump was on a path to being elected President. But mere weeks after Netflix dropped DuVarney's docudrama When They See Us, Fairstein no longer has a publisher and no longer is on several boards and Lederer no longer teaches at Columbia.

The difference, it seems to me, is the drama of the docudrama compared with the reality sought in the documentary. When They See US depicts Fairstein as the big bad,* determined to get these rapists and stubborn to the point of arrogance when confronted with evidence of their innocence.** Lederer is depicted as plagued by doubts about the case, but charging ahead and being tough in her cross examination, including bringing out negative or embarrassing information about the defendants.*** The drama, the pathos, creating heroes and villains--you get that in a docudrama but not in a documentary.

[*] Along with the cops, who we expect to behave badly.

[**] It probably does not help Fairstein at this moment to have been played by Felicity Huffman.

[***] As, of course, she should as a good lawyer representing a client.

Which brings me to the Mueller Report. A press conference will not do it (obviously). Neither will congressional testimony, even if the point is just to have Mueller read the report live on camera.

Instead, we need a dramatic reading. Get James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep, Dame Maggie Smith, Nancy Cartwright (the long-time voice of Bart Simpson), and any other great-sounding actors and actresses. Put them on TV and have them read or perform the report in the most dramatic fashion possible.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 13, 2019 at 10:34 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

The first thing we do, let's fire all the lawyers

The fallout from When They See Us, the Netflix series on the Central Park Five, continues.

Linda Fairstein, the attorney who led the DA's sex crimes unit, was dropped by her publisher and forced to resign from several boards, including the Board of Trustees of Vassar College. Elizabeth Lederer, the attorney and lead prosecutor, will not return as an adjunct at Columbia Law School, amid student protests and calls from the Black Law Students Association not to renew her contract. On the other hand, none of the police officers who engaged in the coercive questioning has been sanctioned in any way--none has been fired or lost current non-policing gigs. Nor have other top city or DA officials (if any are alive--former DA Robert Morganthau is still active at 99). And the prominent NYC citizen who took out a full-page ad calling for their execution? Well, we know where he is.

One conclusion is that, as lawyers, Fairstein and Lederer must be held to a higher standard. We expect cops to do whatever it takes to get a confession to clear a case. But we expect lawyers to be justice-seeking "Men for  All Seasons," stepping back from the heat and passion of the moment to cast a thoughtful and rational eye and to slam on the brakes when they spy injustice, such as improper police questioning. So when prosecutors barrel forward and do their best to represent their client, they are excoriated, and must be sanctioned, for being part of the problem in the criminal-justice machine barreling over communities of color. Of course, had either stood up at the time, they would have been excoriated for not supporting law enforcement, creating further rifts in an already-tenuous relationship between police and prosecutors.

Is there anything either could have done to avoid the fallout? Would it have been enough had each apologized and acknowledged that they had the wrong person but that they went forward with what they had in 1989? (Fairstein has dug in her heels, I am not sure what Lederer has said about the case or the exoneration). Is it enough to acknowledge mistakes? Or are both tainted by association with a racially charged wrongful conviction, such that neither she be allowed to continue in polite society or in the business of teaching law? To the extent any scorn might be heaped on Morganthau for allowing the prosecution to go forward, he says he his proud of the exoneration.

The obvious analogy is with the recent controversy over Harvard dismissing Ronald Sullivan as a res college dean (although not as a member of the HLS faculty) following student protests over his involvement in representing Harvey Weinstein. Those who defended Sullivan and criticized Harvard (and the students who pushed for Sullivan's dismissal) emphasized the Sixth Amendment and the need for lawyers to zealously represent the worst of the accused. The possible distinction is that prosecutors are supposed to have a different obligation--not to a client who enjoys certain constitutional rights, but to doing justice. But once prosecutors decide, in their best justice-directed judgment, that they have the right defendants, they are supposed to just as zealously represent their clients (in this case, the People of the State of New York). It seems perverse to punish a prosecutor, who considered justice but reached a good-faith conclusion, for being too good a lawyer. I am curious how people reconcile opposition to what Harvard did to Sullivan with what Columbia did with Lederer--is it the lack of contrition?

Finally, we should not overlook that the only people involved in the case from the government's side suffering any adverse professional or personal consequences are women. Not the man who supervised them or the men who mistreated the kids and coerced their confessions. And not the man who called for their execution. Make what you will of that.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 13, 2019 at 10:13 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Reacting to "Chernobyl"

I finished watching HBO's wonderful mini-series Chernobyl. It is interesting to see the distinct messages drawn from opposing political sides--the same show being watched in different universes.

For many conservatives, the message is "Soviet Union/Communism/Socialism is bad." The insight of the series is how bad things are when the state owns things like nuclear power plants, as well as the scientific institutes that investigate accidents. The current relevance is how much better we are because there is no Soviet Union and how bad it would be if one of those socialists became President.

For many liberals (and for the producers of the series), the message is "the cost of lies," the line with which the lead scientists begins and ends the series. The insight is the lies (or false denials) surrounding the fact and severity of the accident and the lies surrounding the cause of the accident. The current relevance is that we have similar problems of governmental lies and secrecy and willingness of people to lie to protect the government or its leaders. People will lie on behalf of many leaders, not only a communist state.

For what it is worth, showrunner Craig Mazin says it is both: "It’s anti­–Soviet government, and it is anti-lie, and it is pro–human being."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2019 at 02:51 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Television | Permalink | Comments (8)

JOTWELL: Wasserman on multiple authors on the problems with SCOTUS term limits

I have the new Courts Law essay, reviewing Christopher Sundby & Suzanna Sherry, Term Limits and Turmoil: Roe v. Wade's Whiplash (forthcoming in Tex. L. Rev.) and Daniel Epps & Ganesh Sitaraman, How to Save the Supreme Court (forthcoming in Yale L.J.). The first article shows the doctrinal instability that might arise from 18-year term limits, using an empirical study of Roe; the second offers two alternatives to term limits.

One of the Epps/Sitaraman proposals would have a fifteen-person SCOTUS comprised of ten permanent Justices (five from each major party) and five lower-court judges sitting for one term, chosen unanimously by the permanent members. Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has endorsed that proposal, but Elie Mystal believes it is unconstitutional and naive, if exciting.

I somewhat like the other Epps Sitaraman proposal of the Supreme Court Lottery--the "Court" consists of every court of appeals judge and each sitting two-week sitting features a randomly selected panel of nine. This would have the interesting effect of making SCOTUS more like an ordinary federal court, which might not be a bad thing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2019 at 11:26 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 03, 2019

Amar on exam-writing

Vik Amar at Above the Law offers some thoughts about writing good exam/assessment questions. He hits on four ideas: Offering more and different assessment opportunities; having a balance of open- and closed-book assessments (the latter to account for the need to prep for the Bar); using real cases or events (good idea, but be careful how you write it); and proper notice of the rules. Interestingly, on the third point, Amar does not warn about students being upset, offended, or traumatized by the real-world situations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 3, 2019 at 08:30 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (3)

It's all claim-processing rules

In a decision surprising no one, a unanimous Court,, per Justice Ginsburg (of course), held in Fort Bend County v. Davis that Title VII's administrative-exhaustion requirement was a mandatory, but non-jurisdictional, claim-processing rule.

The opinion adds a bit to its framework, stating that jurisdictional is "generally reserved for prescriptions delineating classes of cases a court may entertain (subject-matter jurisdiction) and the persons over whom the court may exercise adjudicatory authority (personal jurisdiction)." Other prescriptions can become jurisdictional if Congress includes them in a jurisdictional provision, such as an amount-in-controversy. The opinion also hints at an overwhelming presumption that a provision is non-jurisdictional. Congress must "clearly state" something as jurisdictional, otherwise courts must treat is as non-jurisdictional, pointing to a growing list of non-jurisdictional claim-processing rules and preconditions for relief.

The Court then makes quick work in classifying this as non-jurisdictional. It does not appear in either § 1331 or Title VII's statute-specific jurisdictional grant; it appears in separate (although nearby) provisions that do not speak to jurisdiction or the court's authority. Instead, they speak to a plaintiff's procedural obligations--what it must do prior to commencing civil litigation--submit papers to the EEOC and wait a specified period; this is kindred to raising objections or registering a copyright before filing suit. That the exhaustion requirement serves important purposes--encouraging conciliation and giving the EEOC first crack at enforcement--did not affect the jurisdictionality question (although it could affect whether a provision is mandatory.

Finally, it is worth noting that the list of non-jurisdictional claim-processing rules and preconditions to relief includes Arbaugh's numerosity requirement. I would have said that this is neither, but a merits rule--the scope of the statute and who is covered by it. I am not sure what to make of this conflation. But I am most interested in the merits/jurisdiction line, so it is worth following.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 3, 2019 at 01:27 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Florida supports free speech in universities . . . sometimes

I wrote last month about the free-expression statement adopted by the Florida State University System. I described it as a good statement, emphasizing  the importance of not stifling ideas because some find them offensive or abhorrent and of not allowing stated concerns for civility or respect be a cover for stifling expression.

Yesterday, the state took a giant step backward when the governor, at a cabinet meeting in Israel (which may be unlawful under state sunshine laws) signed into law a broad prohibition on anti-Semitism at public educational institutions. It defines as anti-Semitism a broad range of protected (if heinous) speech about Jewish people and about Israel. The law does include a clause that it shall not be construed to "diminish or infringe" upon protected constitutional rights. But the point of the April statement was to emphasize the special role of free expression on college campuses. It said not that the First Amendment applies there (because, duh), but that free speech plays a special role there and members of those communities must be especially tolerant of even repugnant ideas. Unless those ideas are anti-Semitic. FIRE is not happy.

This law does tie back to the discussion over that New York Times cartoon from April. The law defines as anti-Semitism certain criticism of Israel, while allowing "criticism of Israel that is similar to criticism toward any other country." But comments to my post and Steve Lubet's separate Faculty Lounge post argue that criticism of Israel may be anti-Semitic even if it is similar as that leveled at other countries, if the criticism plays on historic anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 30, 2019 at 04:27 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Politics and sports, again

The Fresno Grizzlies, the Washington Nationals' AAA affiliate, is being criticized for a video it showed on the scoreboard during its Memorial Day game. Images were shown over the sound of Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural; when the speech turned to "enemies of freedom," the video showed Kim Jong-un, Fidel Castro, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and various protesters holding ANTIFA and "NO TRUMP NO KKK" signs. The team has apologized to Ocasio-Cortez specifically and to fans generally; the official team line is that the video was produced by a third party and found online (it seems to be available on You Tube) and no one with decisionmaking authority within the organization watched the whole thing.

This piece of an article, quoting Grizzlies General Manager Derek Franks is interesting:

Franks said it wasn’t a deliberate attack by the employee or the Grizzlies organization on the congresswoman.

“No, no, no, not at all,“ Franks said. “There was no ulterior motive. Our goal is never to mix baseball and politics and in this case, this was not an exception that was made. It was simply a careless mistake that we will make sure never happens again.”

First, bullshit as to the employee's intent. I can believe it was not a deliberate attack by the organization; I buy the excuse that no one with real authority in the organization watched the whole video. That is gross negligence, but not necessarily  deliberate. But some low-level lackey must have watched the entire thing and put it forward, probably figuring no one above him was going to check his work.

Second, bullshit on the team not wanting to mix baseball and politics. It is impossible to not mix baseball and politics because baseball is loaded with politics. Otherwise the Grizzlies never would have shown the video. To suggest otherwise defines politics to mean partisanship--the National Anthem or a patriotic video is not political because both parties sing and like it. This is nonsense (even allowing that a speech by Ronald Reagan is non-partisan). There is nothing wrong with mixing baseball and politics--we have been doing it for 100+years--although it makes sense to keep your political message as anodyne as possible to avoid situations like this. But own the political nature of it.

Third, I am less troubled by the inclusion of Ocasio-Cortez (although I appreciate  her complaint that things like this ramp-up the barrage of hate mail and threats she receives*) than I am by the inclusion of images of protesters. The idea that protesting--including protesting fascists, an unpopular President, and the KKK--makes someone an enemy of freedom to be defeated is, unfortunately, telling about where we have landed.

[*] And some morons cannot resist making things worse even when purporting to defuse the situation. Fresno Councilman Gary Bredefield called the video inappropriate, but could not stop himself from adding that socialism "is the exact opposite of our founding principles and traditional values"--in other words, that Ocasio-Cortez's political ideas, and thus Ocasio-Cortez, are un-American. Think that might set-off a few crazies with Twitter accounts?


Read more here: https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article230903884.html#storylink=cpy//www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article230903884.html#storylink=cpy

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 29, 2019 at 10:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Mitch McConnell and neutral principles

Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a Chamber of Commerce luncheon that the Senate would fill a Supreme Court vacancy that should arise in 2020, contra his arguments in 2016 that the Senate should not fill Justice Scalia's seat in an election year but should let the people decide who should fill the vacancy. Asked to explain the seeming inconsistency, McConnell spokesman David Popp said the difference is that in 2016, the President was a Democrat and the Senate was controlled by Republicans, while now the Republicans control both.

Obviously that is nowhere close to what McConnell argued three years ago. But what would McConnell say about the converse of 2016--would not filling the seat be similarly proper when the President was a Republican and the Senate controlled by Democrats? That is, was Popp's point about split partisan control (a nonsense argument, but at least neutral) or was it specifically Democratic President and Republican Senate that made it ok, while the converse would not be?

I would have expected a different disingenuous argument, one that would sound slightly more neutral: The difference is that in 2020 the incumbent is seeking reelection and so is in the prime of his executive power, whereas the Democrat presented to the voters was not the current President. Again, a stupid argument. But it at least pretends to rest on some principle besides "now my party has the White House."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 28, 2019 at 10:56 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

We have Nieves (finally)--now what?

After six months, the Court finally decided Nieves v. Bartlett. My SCOTUSBlog analysis is here.

I am guessing the long delay owed to five opinions flying around with different combinations of ideas. Eight Justices agreed that the plaintiffs should lose here on summary; only Sotomayor would affirm, because the defendants did not challenge the way the Ninth Circuit applied the standard. Eight Justices agreed that that the presence of probable cause does not automatically defeat all retaliatory-arrest claims; only Justice Thomas made that argument. Two Justices (Ginsburg and Sotomayor) argued that the Mt. Healthy burden-shifting framework should apply; two Justices (Sotomayor and Gorsuch) argued that any direct evidence of improper motive, not only comparison of similarly situated persons, should be sufficient to show improper motive. A five-Justice majority (the Chief for Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Kavanaugh) said probable cause is required unless the plaintiff can show objective evidence that he was arrested when similarly situated persons who did not engage in his speech were not. Both Sotomayor and Gorsuch feared this standard was insufficiently protective of First Amendment interests--Sotomayor's solution was to challenge the standard as wrong, while Gorsuch's was to work the lower-court refs and convince them that the majority's approach is broader than its language would suggest.

I am surprised by two things, First, Ginsburg was not able to cobble together a majority with Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch, given the concerns that Kagan raised during argument. Second, no one emphasized proposed limitations as between serious and petty crimes or as between probable cause for the immediate charge at the time of arrest or probable cause based on a months-long scouring of the statute book.

Also, note the way Sotomayor's dissent engages with recent scholarship exposing the reality of police/public interactions and the litigation that results. This includes noting that any defendant police officers likely were indemnified and that most encounters are recorded by both police and members of the public, producing more evidence to prove (or disprove) improper motive.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 28, 2019 at 10:09 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The difficulty of civil rights relief

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

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

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

    • The judges who issued the warrants have judicial immunity.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Universal declaratory judgments

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

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

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

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

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

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