Friday, August 20, 2021

It's good, even if not ideal, to be back

FIU began classes on Monday, so I taught my first in-person classes since March 2020. As a Florida institution, we cannot require vaccinations, masking, or contact tracing, although we can encourage it. I am masked and there is a big plastic shield in front of the podium (although old habits dying hard, I am still walking the front of the room). All but one or two students are masked, at least in the classroom, so most people are doing what is necessary to keep this going. One colleague put it to students in self-interested terms: The best approach for personal and public health is to continue remote learning, but in-person provides a better education. The implication is that masks are a low cost for a high educational benefit.

I  am not saying anything earth-shattering, but I had forgotten how much fun in-person teaching is. There is an energy level that comes with real human interaction of a classroom. The exchanges with and among students are sharper because in realer time; the conversation moves because people need not pause to unmute; and student reactions, such as laughter, are more immediate. Online provides a rough simulacrum, but does not come close to duplicating the experience. I did not appreciate how wide the gap is until I was able to experience a live class again.

Hopefully it will last.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 20, 2021 at 10:59 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Solving the Procedural Puzzles of Texas' Fetal-Heartbeat Law

Posted to SSRN (corrected version) and appearing in a law review submissions box near you. Charles (Rocky) Rhodes (South Texas Houston) joined me with his expertise on Texas law and procedure. The paper expands on my posts on the subject to game out what providers and advocates can (and cannot) do offensively in federal court and defensively in state court. Here is the abstract:

The Texas Fetal-Heartbeat Law enacted in 2021 as Senate Bill 8 prohibits abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat, a constitutionally invalid ban under current Supreme Court precedent. But the method of enforcement in the Texas law is unique—it prohibits enforcement by government officials in favor of private civil actions brought by “any person.” Texas employed this enforcement mechanism to impose potentially crippling financial liability on abortion providers and advocates and to stymie their ability to challenge the law’s constitutional validity through offensive litigation in federal court to enjoin enforcement of the law. Texas lawmakers sought to confine abortion providers and advocates to a defensive litigation posture in state court.

This article works through the procedural and jurisdictional obstacles that SB8 creates for abortion providers and abortion-rights advocates seeking to challenge the constitutional validity of the fetal-heartbeat ban. While Texas has created a jurisdictional and procedural morass, the law does not achieve the ultimate objectives. Providers and advocates can litigate in federal court, although it requires creativity as to timing and proper litigation targets. They also should find greater success defending in state court than legislators expected or hoped. Other avenues remain to vindicate the rights of abortion providers and advocates—and the pregnant patients they serve--that accord with the traditional operation of and limitations upon the federal and state judiciaries in adjudicating constitutional rights.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 18, 2021 at 04:15 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Misha and the Wolves

I watched Misha and the Wolves on Netflix over the weekend. I had not known this story. From the mid-'90s to 2008, Misha Defonseca told the world that she was  a Belgian-born Jew hidden with a Catholic family (and given a name change) when her parents were deported and that beginning in 1941 (at the age of 7) she walked across Germany and into Poland looking for her parents, killed a German soldier, escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto, and hid in the woods, taken care of by a pack of wolves. The story unraveled in 2008 when multiple investigations revealed that the story, including Defonseca's identity, were fabricated.

According to the movie, Defonseca's story fell apart following a falling out with the small publisher, Mt. Ivy Press, owned by Jill Daniel, that published the book (which did not sell in the U.S.) and sold overseas rights (where it was a huge bestseller in Europe, spawning a French-language film adaptation). Defonseca won a $ 22.5 million judgment against Daniel. Trying to figure out how to challenge that judgment, Daniel stumbled across a document that caused her to question Defonseca's story; she brought in outside experts to investigate and eventually get to the truth. In 2008, Defonseca acknowledged that she fabricated the story. Daniel successfully sued for vacatur of the Defonseca judgment.

The movie does a poor job covering the litigation. This is unsurprising. The movie is about Defonseca's story, not the litigation, so the details of what happened in court are unimportant, other than the outcome and how Daniel responded to the outcome. The film's theme is "Defonseca conned Daniel, then Daniel exposed the lies because she was looking to get out from under an unjust judgment." Defonseca's lawyer hints at serious wrongdoing. Daniel's description of the trial suggests the jury was swayed by the heartbreaking (and false) testimony of a purported Holocaust victim and Daniel was perceived as the monster who ripped her off despite having extensive records of making payments.

Three cases with several written opinions arose from this mess: 1) Trial and appellate opinions in the underlying royalties dispute; 2) two appellate opinions from Daniel's lawsuit to vacate the prior judgment; and 3) Daniel's bankruptcy proceeding. Reading through the published opinions offers a different story that is relevant to how we view Daniel and the entire thing. A more accurate and detailed discussion of the litigation might have produced a movie with a different tone.

First, the original dispute was not between Defonseca and Daniel/Mt. Ivy. Daniel brought in her then-friend Vera Lee to work with Defonseca (who is neither a writer nor a native English speaker), then pushed Lee off the book. Lee initiated the original litigation naming Mt. Ivy, Daniel, and Defonseca as defendants, as well as the company Daniel hired to sell the book in Europe. Lee won an $ 11 million+ judgment that stands--the court in the second action declined to vacate that judgment and the bankruptcy court in 2017 denied discharge. Lee receives little or no mention in the film, even though Daniel's fallout with Lee, not Defonseca, precipitated the proceedings that precipitated the unraveling of Defonseca's lies. Also, Defonseca's $ 22 million+ judgment  against Daniel and Mt. Ivy came on a cross claim, not an original dispute between Defonseca against Daniel. Civ Pro remains your friend.

Second, the state trial court described "the totality of the defendants' conduct as having been infused with a high enough level of rascality to have raised an eyebrow, even to those inured to the 'rough and tumble' of the marketplace." The findings of wrongdoing in the trial court opinion and the first court of appeals opinion are detailed. They include undisclosed side contracts, unmet promises about capacity, self-dealing, an offshore foreign subsidiary to which rights were assigned, agents exceeding the scope of their authority, and ceasing domestic marketing efforts within a few months of publication. The film makes a lot of Daniel's efforts to get the book into Oprah's book club; in the film, Daniel says Defonseca refused to go on Oprah when invited, while the court of appeals says Daniel canceled. Anyway, this sounds like more than  "Defonseca played to the jury's sympathies and the jury ignored all the evidence because I looked like a monster."

On a side note, the Oprah-appearnace-that-never-was gets a lot of play in the film. The show recorded a segment (which never aired, of course) of Defonseca at a nearby wolf preserve, and the movie spends a lot of time with the wolf-expert/owner of the preserve. The owner makes much of Defonseca's rapport with the wolves during that segment, I guess to suggest they had found one of their own, thereby verifying her story. Daniel expresses disbelief that Defonseca refsued to go on Oprah when it could have meant millions in sales. The suggestion is that this refusal undercut Daniel's marketing efforts and was a first red flag--Defonseca canceled because she knew the story could not stand up to scrutiny and did not want to expose herself to Oprah's withering interrogation. The latter point is belied by Defonseca making TV appearances in Europe, including to promote the film adaptation.

Third, in the opinion affirming vacatur of Defonseca's judgment, the court of appeals concluded:

This case has had a legal life of over fifteen years; All involved have been bloodied. Defonseca's story has been shown to be false. As for Daniel, she also has been shown to have acted highly inappropriately, as evidenced by the still valid multimillion dollar judgment against her in favor of Vera Lee, the one least blameworthy person in the entire affair. Hopefully the saga has now come to an end.

Again, this is a different message than what the film presents.

Finally, one film review questioned the motives of various actors in this drama. It argues that Defonseca's motives remain unknown but that Daniel was motivated by greed and a desire for publicity. From the movie alone, this criticism makes no sense. Daniel is a book publisher--her job is to find good stories, help tell them to the world, publicize them, and make money. Daniel did just that, or at least tried. The film mentions but downplays two things that give the greed point more resonance: the underlying business relationship before the fraud was exposed as found by the courts and Daniel's failure to investigate pre-publication suggestions that Defonseca's story did not seem credible. The film mentions the latter a few times in passing, but does not emphasize it in the way it comes out in the opinions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 17, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Culture, Film, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The distraction of standing

One problem with standing is that it is constitutionalized merits. A second problem, that derives from the first, is that it provides courts and defendants an easy way to dismiss cases at the threshold, to the exclusion of other issues.

Case in point is this Eighth Circuit challenge to Arkansas' ag-gag law, which creates a private right of action for unauthorized access to commercial property. Plaintiffs are animal-rights organizations that planned to send undercover testers onto two agriculture businesses and claimed they were chilled by the threat of suit. They sought a declaratory judgment that the ag-gag law violates the First Amendment and that the farms cannot sue them. The district court dismissed for lack of standing, then declined to address other issues. A divided Eighth Circuit reversed, concluding that the plaintiffs were chilled in their desire to send investigators by the threat of being sued. The dissent argued that any injury was speculative and dependent on a chain of uncertain events.

The standing analysis seems right to me. But there is much more wrong here. I cannot identify the plaintiffs' cause of action. Defendants raised this in the court of appeals, but the court said this is a merits issue for remand. It cannot be § 1983, because the defendants do not act under color in bringing or threatening to bring authorized private civil actions. It might be § 2201 itself, although this is supposed to be a remedy for an independent cause of action than a distinct cause of action. But  if § 2201 provides a cause of action, there is no subject matter jurisdiction. This is a Skelly Oil case--jurisdiction over the federal DJ action is determined by jurisdiction over the hypothetical enforcement action the DJ plaintiff wants to stop and whether it could have been brought in federal court. If the enforcement action would not arise under federal law, then the pre-enforcement DJ action does not arise under federal law; the hypothetical federal defense cannot be converted into a federal claim in the DJ action. Here, the enforcement action would be a claim by the business for violating the state statute, with the animal-rights organizations defending on First Amendment grounds. That enforcement action would not arise under, thus neither does the DJ action. There might be diversity jurisdiction, which would give federal jurisdiction, although the absence of a cause of action remains a problem); neither the district court nor court of appeals discussed any party's citizenship.

Allowing the case to make an up-and-down trip to the court of appeals focused on nothing but standing, when obvious defects in the case remain, seems like a waste of time.

This case is comparable to the potential cases under Texas' fetal-heartbeat law. State law gave private individuals a cause of action that might be constitutionally invalid, but rights-holders are unable to get into federal court in an offensive pre-enforcement posture. Instead, they must assert those rights in a defensive posture once the businesses have filed suit. They may not like it, but there is not a way around it.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 14, 2021 at 08:17 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 13, 2021

It's not the law, it's the enforcement

From the Eleventh Circuit in Support Working Animals v. Governor. Florida voters amended the Constitution to outlaw gambling on greyhound racing. At the time of the lawsuit by a racing business against the Attorney General, that was all there was. The court held that there was no standing, because the AG's lack of enforcement authority means the plaintiff's injury is not traceable to the AG and an injunction against the AG would not remedy the injury. (By resolving on standing, the court does not reach the "wrong-defendant" argument that Ex Parte Young does not overcome sovereign immunity). The court summarizes well the problem:

[T]heir  “immediate gripe” isn’t with the Florida Attorney General, who neither has the authority to enforce § 32 nor has done anything else to cause the plaintiffs’ harm. The plaintiffs’ real problem, as we understand their complaint, is with § 32 itself—its existence—and the economic consequences that its passage has visited or will  visit on their businesses. None of that, though, appears to be due to any past, present, or likely future conduct of the Attorney General.

Subsequent to the filing of the lawsuit, the Florida legislature created a gaming commission charged with regulating gambling beginning in 2022; gave the Department of Business and Professional Regulation civil-enforcement authority over the ban; and made it a crime to partake in gambling on greyhound racing effective in October. The court noted that the claims were dismissed without prejudice, so the plaintiff could refile "against the proper parties at the appropriate time." That last piece suggests the court will not allow a case to go forward pre-effective date because effectiveness is inevitable--the plaintiff must wait until October, when criminal penalties take effect, to proceed against the AG and until next year to proceed against the regulatory department.

That seems excessive, making the plaintiff wait longer than necessary when the shape of the controversy is now clear. But it well illustrates the point that the existence of a law, no matter its chilling effect, is not sufficient for pre-enforcement litigation. Enforcement of the law must be legally possible. Smart plaintiffs and attorneys must avoid wasting time.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 13, 2021 at 07:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 07, 2021

A parade of stupid over "Fuck Biden"

Not content to let Roselle Park, NJ be the epicenter of First Amendment stupidity, Blue Rapids, KS, a town of about 1000 people, has taken aim at a yard sign reading "Fuck Biden and Fuck You For Voting for Him" (a cute addendum that makes the political the personal). As in Roselle Park, the town has cited him for a violation of its obscenity ordinance, following a citizen petition objecting to the sign. This story mentions that Evansdale, IA managed to resist the urge to be equally stupid with the same sign.

This is becoming a recurring theme, so a primer for small-town mayors and their lawyers who should know better:

• Bad words such as "fuck" are not obscene as that word is understood in the First Amendment, therefore a municipal obscenity ordinance cannot be the basis for regulating such a sign. There is nothing about the message "fuck ____" that is erotic (to say nothing of prurient) or that depicts or describes sexual activity. And if the thing the sign wants to "fuck" is the President of the United States or his voters (or the draft or cheerleading or anything else), that sign has serious political value. It does not matter that people "think" the sign is obscene and a lot of people signing a petition expressing their view that it is obscene does not establish "community standard" (both of which feature in the Blue Rapids debate).

• "Fuck ____" as a non-sexual political message is constitutionally protected speech under Cohen, reiterated in Mahanoy. There is no community-standards piece to this. Community offense at a political message does not strip that message of protection. Quite the opposite--the message needs protection because of the community opposition.

"Think of the children" is of limited value where speech reaches a mixed audience of adults and children, especially for a person speaking to the world from the unique forum of her home. Government cannot limit adults to seeing what is fit for children. It follows that government cannot limit a speaker to uttering what is appropriate for children on the chance that some children might happen upon her message.

• Blue Rapids Mayor Jerry Zayas says "the matter belongs in the hands of the court" and "'Whatever the court decides, that is our justice system.'" This is an absurd statement from an elected official. The court decides only because Zayas lacks a rudimentary understanding of free speech and gets the courts involved by attempting to enforce this ordinance in a way at odds with the First Amendment. He could have followed the lead of the town in Evansdale, which, politics aside, recognized what the First Amendment commands. Of course, Zayas can be a good departmentalist and follow his (erroneous) constitutional understanding to enforce the law and force the court to rule.. But it would be nice if the public was aware that the mayor was costing it money it probably does not have on a cause that he (or the town lawyer) should will lose badly once the court does decide.

• The ACLU is involved, so, as in Roselle Park, this will be over quickly.

• How many cases like this will we see?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 7, 2021 at 10:47 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 06, 2021

A day in the year

One Year is a Slate podcast hosted by Josh Levin telling various stories from 1977. (I find it interesting because I turned 9 and it was in many ways the first year I was really aware of the world). This week's episode, Elvis, the Pledge, and Extraterrestrials, tells three stories tied to August 16, 1977. Two touch on interesting speech stuff.

The first is about the National Enquirer's coverage following Elvis Presley's death on August 16. The big focus is its practice of paying sources (such as Elvis' girlfriend and the paramedics who responded to the scene) for exclusive stories and to obtain photos of Elvis' body in the casket. Ian Calder, later of Calder v. Jones fame, features prominently. I remember that around this time People Magazine went on a TV advertising kick with the tagline "If it's in People, you know it's true," an effort to separate itself from the Enquirer.

The second (beginning around 16:30) is about Deborah Lipp, a New Jersey high-schooler who sued the school over the right not to stand for the Pledge (New Jersey law required students to stand at attention, even if not reciting the words). The district court ruled from the bench on August 16 that the law requiring students to stand was invalid. Levin notes that SCOTUS has never ruled on whether the First Amendment protects the right to remain seated, presenting that as an ongoing problem for students through clips of recent school efforts in Texas and Florida (of course) to compel student participation. Lipp tells the story of receiving a call from her daughter's teacher asking for her permission for the daughter to sit, telling the teacher that her daughter does not require parental permission, and the teacher taking that as an expression of permission.

The focus on whether SCOTUS has spkoen leaves out some things. First, less than a year later, the Third Circuit affirmed in Lipp in a short per curiam, agreeing that the state cannot "requir[e] a student to engage in what amounts to implicit expression by standing at respectful attention while the flag salute is being administered and being participated in by other students." So there is binding precedent in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania (as well as the Virgin Islands) that schools cannot compel any participation, verbal or non-verbal. Second, SCOTUS precedent does not matter much when most of these cases follow a similar pattern. The school tries to push the student around, a district court tells the school to cut the crap, and the school does not appeal or push further. Alternatively, the school backs off in the face of the threat (often in the form of a letter from the ACLU or FIRE) that a court will tell it to cut the crap. This is not to minimize the costs and burdens on students when school districts become over-officious; I wish they would do a better job at this. It is to say that a SCOTUS decision (which the school also can ignore if it wants to deal with the political, legal, and financial fallout) would not make a difference.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 6, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Culture, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Jack Phillips goes on defense and no one complains

I stumbled across this while doing research for my SB8 paper. I think it illustrates my point that the partisan valence of the rights and rights-holders at issue influence the complaints and hand-wringingabout SB8's procedural and jurisdictional rules.

In June 2017, the day SCOTUS granted cert in Masterpiece Cakeshop, a trans woman ordered a cake from Phillips to celebrate her birthday and her male-to-female transition--it would be pink on the inside and blue on the outside; Phillips refused and the woman filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found probable cause. In August 2018, a few months after SCOTUS' decision in Masterpiece, Phillips filed a federal action challenging the P/C finding and enforcement of state law as violating the First Amendment. In January 2019, the district court declined to abstain under Younger, applying the bad-faith exception. The Commission dismissed the administrative enforcement action, mooting the federal action. So the woman sued Phillips in state court for violating the state public-accommodations law. In June, following a bench trial, the state trial court rejected Phillips' First Amendment defense and found that he had violated the ordinance, imposing damages of $ 500. Phillips plans to appeal to the state court of appeals (and to the Colorado Supreme Court and then to SCOTUS).

The case illustrates that it is not unheard-of for rights-holders to be forced to assert federal constitutional rights in a defensive posture and in state court. Phillips is similarly situated to abortion providers and advocates who are the likely targets of SB8 suits, forced to defend private statutory actions for damages rather than government-initiated enforcement proceedings. Colorado courts likely are as hostile to the First Amendment rights Phillips asserts in defense as Texas courts are to the reproductive-freedom that providers and advocates will assert in defense in SB8 actions. The difference is that Phillips faces one action by one denied customer, whereas abortion providers face a tidal wave of lawsuits by random Texans across the state. But imagine that dozens or hundreds of LGBTQIA people order cakes, knowing they will be refused, then sue for damages; the similarity sharpens (although the amounts of money are very different). And both cases show why the well-pleaded complaint rule is such a bad idea--Phillips and Whole Women's Health should be able to gain that federal forum for their federal defenses.

Once again, many people complaining about abortion providers having to defend in state court would be happy to see Phillips sued into oblivion. But the procedural and jurisdictional propriety cannot turn on the rights involved.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 5, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Embrace the judicial departmentalism (Updated)

I do not know enough to say whether the CDC's new eviction moratorium is constitutionally valid, although if Steve believes it is at least an open question, I am inclined to think it must be.

I would have loved for Biden to own the judicial departmentalism underlying the new policy: "Most constitutional law professors believe the policy is constitutionally invalid, but we have found some who disagree. Lawyers within the executive branch disagree. The courts may rule against us, as is their power. But for the moment we believe the policy is valid and will pursue it. And if it turns out we are wrong, we have bought ourselves some time. And in this case, we are willing to risk the attorney's fees and political fallout." I have no problem with the executive taking that position, regardless of my sympathy for the policy at issue.

Update: Mark Tushnet makes a similar argument, framing it in terms of norms v. law v. constitutionalism. But he gets at the same point: Biden and the CDC are not not enjoined from stopping evictions and can continue to pursue what they view as the best course until such injunction comes. And they can balance the benefits of even temporary relief against the cost of being liked to Orval Faubus.

Another Update: This Washington Post op-ed shows how far into judicial supremacy much of the commentariat fallen. The unexplained votes of four Justices to vacate a stay of an injunction pending appeal plus the view of one Justice--announced without full briefing or argument--that the policy is unlawful means any effort by the administration disregards the courts, the rule of law, and the Constitution. The possibility that the one Justice whose views we know might change his mind is "unlikely," therefore the CDC is acting in a constitutionally violative manner in trying. This eliminates Holmes' bad person (which Tushnet references), who is no longer entitled to try to predict what the courts might do.

The piece ends on this note:

If the Trump administration had ignored a direct warning from the Supreme Court, Democrats would rightfully line up to condemn the president. Mr. Biden does not get a pass on the rule of law because his heart is in the right place.

Nothing like some uninformed both-siderism to complete the puzzle. But note how this moves the line. The problem here is not that the executive ignored an injuncti0on, which the cannot do. The problem here is not that the executive ignored binding precedent created by a Court majority, which he can do. The problem here is that the executive ignored a "direct warning" (is there any other kind?), which the Post regards as an equivalent affront to the courts and the Constitution.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2021 at 08:45 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Defamation procedure II

Devins Nunes is not the only new defamation action raising interesting procedural issues. Alan Dershowitz sued Netflix and others for defamation over the documentary Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. Defendants answered yesterday; here is Netflix's Answer.

Netflix has good lawyers (the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine). But the Answer does many of the things that are inconsistent with the FRCP, that I try to teach students not to follow, but that are common in practice because no one--not plaintiffs, not defendants, and not judges (since Milton Shadur died)--cares about the content of the Answer. This would make a good final exam next spring.

Here are some problems:

    • Netflix responds to numerous allegations as it "lacks information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the
allegations and "on that basis, denies each and every allegation in" the paragraph. This is wrong. FRCP 8(b)(5) allows a party to "state" that it "lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of an allegation," which has the "effect of a denial." That is, a defendant can respond to an allegation by saying "I don't know" and the court will treat that as a denial. But Netflix said "I don't know and therefore I deny." That is not logically possible and not what FRCP 8(b)(5) authorizes. This might reflect a disconnect between FRCP 8(b)(5) and FRCP 11(b)(4), which requires a defendant to certify that denials "specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information." But if 11(b)(4) allows a denial based on lack of knowledge, 8(b)(5) is superfluous.

    • This is one I had not seen before: After responding to 138 numbered paragraphs, the Answer has a subject-heading "General Denial" and states:

Each numbered paragraph in this Answer responds to the identically numbered paragraph in the Amended Complaint. Netflix denies all allegations, declarations, claims, or assertions in the Amended Complaint that are not specifically admitted in this Answer. To the extent the headings contained in the Amended Complaint constitute allegations, such allegations are denied.

        This is unnecessary. FRCP 8(b)(3) allows general denials of the entire complaint or a general denial of everything not admitted. But the Answer admitted and denied facts paragraph-by-paragraph. This blanket statement is unnecessary.

    • The Answer asserts 24 affirmative defenses. But most of these are not affirmative defenses--where the defendant admits the allegations in the complaint but raises new facts and law that cause those facts not to have their ordinary effect. These are expressly stated failure-of-proof defenses--defendant arguing that the plaintiff cannot prove the truth of the allegations in the complaint. For example, the sixth defense is that Dershowitz is a public figure and cannot prove actual malice by clear-and-convincing evidence. That is a failure-of-proof defense--Dershowitz will fail to prove his claim because he cannot carry his burden of persuasion on an element. The defendant is not required to plead the absence of malice. The twenty-third defense is that Dershowitz's reliance in his fraud claim was not reasonable. Again, this argues that Dershowitz cannot prevail on an element on which he bears the burden of proof--the reasonableness of any reliance. The defendant does not have to prove unreasonableness.

            Again, this is common. If the complaint alleges the plaintiff spoke with actual malice, denying the allegation is equivalent to saying  "we did not act with actual malice," which puts the plaintiff to the task of proving the disputed fact of the defendant's state of mind. If the complaint alleges the plaintiff reasonably relied on false statements, denying the allegation is equivalent to saying "his reliance was not reasonable," which puts the plaintiff to the task of proving the disputed fact of the reasonableness of his reliance. But defendants are afraid that will be lost to whomever reads the pleading. So they affirmatively state the failure of the element, even though that is not what the rules imagine.

    • The Answer includes a counterclaim under New York's new Anti-SLAPP law. I have written before about how the procedural defenses of anti-SLAPP laws should not apply in federal court. But New York's law creates a counterclaim that the claim is a SLAPP (as defined), allowing for recovery of attorney's fees and compensatory and punitive damages. It functions something like the tort of abuse of process, often raised as an affirmative defense to a questionable tort claim. This is a nice example of how one legal rule can be an affirmative defense and a counterclaim and the different roles each plays. The SLAPP issues will not defeat Dershowitz's claims (that will happen under New York Times), but they provide basis for Netflix to recover money apart from the resolution of the original claim. By establishing a new claim, New York found a way to allow federal defendants to pursue anti-SLAPP arguments and recover anti-SLAPP remedies, in a slightly different posture.

    • Netflix alleged supplemental jurisdiction over the counterclaim because Dershowitz's claims arise from the same set of facts. This is a legal and strategic mistake, although another common one.

        Why not allege diversity jurisdiction? That is the basis for jurisdiction over Dershowitz's original claims (defamation, fraud, and other torts) over the defendants. If there is diversity over the claims Dershowitz and all defendants, there must be diversity over counterclaims between the same parties. The fees and damages sought almost certainly will exceed $ 75,000. So § 1332(a)(1) is satisfied. Supplemental jurisdiction is supposed to be limited to cases in which there is no "independent" basis for jurisdiction. My guess is this practice derives from habit established in the paradigm case--plaintiff brings federal claims against non-diverse defendants and the defendants assert state counterclaims; supplemental jurisdiction is necessary in those cases. But it is not necessary when the basis for original jurisdiction is diversity and the same parties are involved in claims and counterclaims.

        There is a second problem--there may not be supplemental jurisdiction here. The best conclusion is that the SLAPP counterclaim is permissive rather than compulsory, because it does not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence as the claim. This case reflects a common posture--defendant does something to injure plaintiff, plaintiff seeks a remedy for the injury, defendant alleges that plaintiff's remedial efforts violate defendant's rights, defendant brings counterclaim based on those injuries. For example, courts generally hold that an abuse-of-process counterclaim is not compulsory to an original tort claim--the tort claim is based on the real-world events that caused the injury to the plaintiff, while the counterclaim is based on the action of filing the lawsuit. Or take Jones v. Ford Motor Credit. Plaintiffs believed the terms of their auto loans were racially discriminatory and brought ECOA claims while also stopping payment on the loans, prompting counterclaims to recover the money owed on the loans; the court said the counterclaims were permissive because the claims were based on the mark-ups in the loan agreement while the counterclaims were based on subsequent non-payment. Dershowitz's claims arise out of the documentary, while the counterclaim arises out of Dershowitz's subsequent lawsuit itself seeking a remedy for that injury; these are distinct real-world facts and events. There is a but-for connection--but-for the false statements in the doc, Dershowitz would not have sued, which would not have caused the alleged injury to Netflix. But such a but-for connection is generally insufficient.

        That matters because most courts treat "same transaction or occurrence" in FRCP 13(a)(1)(A) as meaning the same thing as "same case or controversy" (which courts interpret to mean "common nucleus of operative fact") in § 1367. That is, a counterclaim that is not sufficiently related to satisfy 13(a)(1)(A) is not sufficiently related to satisfy § 1367. That is why it makes sense for defendants to plead diversity jurisdiction when they can--it provides a basis for jurisdiction over the counterclaim independent of the original claim, jurisdiction that the district cannot decline to exercise. Some courts, including the Second Circuit in Jones, treat "same case or controversy" as broader than "same transaction or occurrence," allowing jurisdiction over a non-compulsory counterclaim where there is a "loose factual connection" among claims, including the sort of but-for connection we see here. At least to this point, however, the Eleventh Circuit has not treated them differently.

None of this matters, of course. Dershowitz is not going to push back on improper responses or bad affirmative defenses and I doubt he will both moving to dismiss the counterclaim for lack of SMJ (since Netflix can replead to establish diversity). Any errors  are harmless because the court and the parties treat them as such. The FRCP often is observed in the breach in the name of moving forward, for better or for worse.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2021 at 02:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Defamation procedure I

Yesterday saw developments in two stupid defamation lawsuits brought by two stupid people, but with some procedural fun thrown in.

First, Devin Nunes filed another defamation suit (how many is this?), this one against NBC Universal in the Eastern District of Texas over packages Nunes received from a Russian agent. This has the usual problems for a Nunes defamation suit--some of the challenged statements are opinion and rhetoric and there are no allegations showing actual malice. But as always, I am here for the procedure:

    • What the hell is the case doing in Texas? Nunes is from California and works in D.C; NBC Universal is a Delaware LLC with its PPB in New York. There is no connection between these statements and Texas, other than that they were heard in Texas along with every other place in the United States where MSNBC telecasts and Maddow tweets can be heard. The statements are not "about" Texas, Texas people, or Texas activities. Weird forum choice has been a common feature of Nunes' lawsuits; the first suit (against Twitter, Liz Mair, and Devin Nunes' Cow) went into state court in a remote spot of Virginia. But Virginia made some sense, since Mair lives there and it is close to D.C. Texas just seems random. Keeton v. Hustler is still out there (and the complaint, which for reasons of bad lawyering shifts into making legal arguments, cites it). But the recent jurisdictional trend in defamation cases is that there must be more of a connection between the statements and the forum, even for nationally distributed publications.

    • ¶ 10 states "MSNBC is at home in Texas and is subject to general personal jurisdiction in Texas," a statement which does not reflect the law as it has been for at least seven years and should be sanctionable. If that is the hook Nunes' lawyer plans to use, this should be over quickly.

    • Even if jurisdiction (and therefore venue) is proper, this case again seems ripe for transfer. No one and nothing central to this case occurred or is located in Texas. NBC has a good argument that its witnesses and evidence are located in New York, where it engaged in its reporting and broadcasting activities.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2021 at 01:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

August Guests: Joseph Kearney and Thomas Merrill on "Lakefront"

We are pleased to welcome Joseph Kearney (Dean, Marquette) and Thomas Merrill (Columbia) to blog about their excellent new book Lakefront: Public Trust and Private Rights in Chicago (Cornell University Press).

This is their third stop on a blogging book tour.

Posts at Volokh Conspiracy here:

Posts at Faculty Lounger here:

They will begin posting on Thursday.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2021 at 12:31 PM in Books, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

FIFA as state actor and other bad arguments

Another entry in the "Bad § 1983 Takes" File: Siasia v. FIFA in the Southern District of New York. Samson Siasia is a U.S. citizen and international soccer coach who got caught up with a match-fixer while trying to land a coaching job in Australia; FIFA imposed a lifetime ban from coaching, which the Court for Arbitration of Sport in June reduced to five years, backdated to 2019. The Complaint alleges a due process violation in the FIFA proceedings and that FIFA acted under color by performing the traditional and exclusive government function of investigating and adjudicating bribery and imposing a sanction (the complain says "punishment" over and over).

This fails on so many levels.

First, FIFA is a Swiss association with its PPB in Switzerland, so it does not seem possible for it to act under color of the law of any state of the United States; it does not act in or as a replacement for any one state. The U.S. Soccer Federation is one of the 200+ national federations that comprise FIFA, providing a U.S. hook. But USSF is not a defendant (and was not involved in the Siasia case). Getting at FIFA through USSF runs afoul of Tarkanian v. NCAA, where SCOTUS said the NCAA did not act under color of law of any state when it was comprised of schools from multiple states.

Second, private entities can make internal decisions concerning the enforcement administration of internal rules, including by investigating alleged violations and rendering decisions through adjudicative processes. Sometimes the conduct violating those internal rules also violates a society's criminal laws. A private entity does not become a state actor when enforcing its internal rules and imposing internal sanctions, where it imposes no societal consequences (conviction and imprisonment). If it did, no private organization could maintain and enforce internal rules for conduct that also could be criminal. Under this theory, MLB is a state actor with respect to the investigation and suspension of Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer for sexual assault, because sexual assault is a crime.

The Complaint argues that FIFA should have followed the NCAA as to former basketball coach Lamont Evans. Having received information that Evans was accepting bribes to route players towards certain financial advisers, the NCAA turned the information to the federal government, which prosecuted Evans. The NCAA punished Evans with a 10-year ban after Evans had been convicted and sentenced in the federal criminal proceeding. But the distinction is incoherent, at least as it affects becoming a state actor. The NCAA cooperated with the government to allow it to prosecute and jail the person, something FIFA chose not to do. But the NCAA and FIFA otherwise engaged in identical conduct--imposing internal sanctions on someone for conduct that also violated a criminal law. The decision to also assist the government in having the person convicted and jailed should not affect the nature of the organization's internal proceedings and thus of the organization.

Alternatively, the argument means that a private entity cannot enforce internal rules and impose internal sanctions if the government declines to press criminal charges or if the person is acquitted. This has never been how the law requires private organizations to operate.

Third, I am not sure FIFA is subject to the 14th Amendment (or the 5th Amendment, as the complaint also cites for no reason) or to U.S. due process requirements for proceedings in Switzerland, even as they apply to a U.S. citizen. A U.S. citizen subject to foreign proceedings must abide by the rules of the foreign proceeding. At best, he might limit the domestic effects of those proceedings.

State action aside, there are some fun jurisdiction and venue issues here. Siasia is a Georgia citizen, while FIFA is a Swiss citizen. The Complaint alleges that venue is proper in the Southern District because FIFA is "an alien corporation and has significant contact in this District and is currently organizing the 2026 FIFA World Cup in this District." The Complaint does not cite the correct provision, but I believe it is basing venue on § 1391(b)(1) (where any defendant resides) as developed in (c)(2) (association resides where it is subject to personal jurisdiction) and (d) (in states with multiple districts, determine jurisdiction in the district as if it were a state).

Is FIFA subject to personal jurisdiction in the Southern District as if it were a state? The "significant contacts" language sounds in the pre-Daimler/pre-Good Year general jurisdiction, which no longer exists; FIFA is neither created in nor has its PPB in the Southern District, so is not subject to general jurisdiction there. Organizing the 2026 World Cup in the Southern District* and other contacts with the district have nothing to do with Siasia or his suspension, at least as indicated in the complaint; the complaint does not allege that anything related to Siasia occurred in New York or the Southern District. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has a location in New York City, so that might have been where Siasia appealed the FIFA decision; the complaint does not say. I doubt that is enough, since the alleged violation is the FIFA proceeding, not Siasia's partially successful appeal.

[*] A separate question is whether the 2026 World Cup will be in the Southern District as to be a contact. One of the eleven U.S. cities under consideration is "New York/New Jersey." Games would be played at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey (in a different district), although FIFA will pitch people to stay in and visit New York while in town for the games. What is the relevant place for jurisdiction based on FIFA's "organizing" activities--where the game is played or all the places that fans and teams will use?

Based on the complaint, there is specific jurisdiction in Georgia under Walden and Calder. The emails that formed the basis for the alleged bribery were sent to Siasia while he lived in Georgia. The emails notifying Siasia of the charges against him (which he alleges he never received, part of the due process violation) and of his sanctions were sent to his emails in Georgia. FIFA investigated a Georgia citizen about actions taken in Georgia, thereby directing its actions at Georgia. Because Siasia is an Atlanta citizen, venue is proper in the Northern District of Georgia.

Even if SDNY is proper, there is a good argument that NDGa is better and a § 1404(a) transfer is in order. Siasia does not reside in SDNY, so he cannot claim venue privilege. The relevant acts as to Siasia, to the extent they occurred in the United States, took place in NDGa, which is where the one relevant witness--Siasia--is located. Other than Siasia's lawyer being from Connecticut and barred in SDNY, I am not sure why the suit was filed there.

Alternatively, FIFA could try to get the case out of the U.S. and to Switzerland on forum non conveniens grounds. FIFA's actions in initiating and holding the proceedings and suspending Siasia's license occurred in Switzerland, so that would be the situs of the actions and location of witnesses and evidence concerning the propriety of the proceedings.

Fun stuff.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 3, 2021 at 12:19 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Terms limits and judicial reputations

At last week's hybrid SEALS, I moderated an excellent discussion group on court reform. Tom Metzloff (Duke) raised an issue for term-limits proponents--what do we lose or gain by cutting long-serving Justices' careers in half. Among historically great or significant Justices who served way more than 18 years, how much of their greatness or significance occurred within the first 18 years and how much in the back end of their tenure? Alternatively, how much did their later years add or detract from their achievements in those first 18 years?

Tom plans to do more with this, but I wanted to muse on a few names in skeletal fashion; there is a lot more to say in a lot more detail. Two observations. First, how we remember any Justice depends in part on historical vagaries and how those changes alter that Justice's role on the Court. Second, politics and partisan preferences affect whether we see those latter-half achievements or actions as good or bad.

Justice Brennan (1956-90; would have retired in 1974): Brennan's 34-year career divides almost cleanly in half. Until 1969, he was Warren's consigliere on a liberal (later overwhelmingly liberal) Court; for the last 20 years, he was the most influential (and beginning in 1975 senior-most) Justice in a liberal minority. How would we remember Brennan if he only had that first half as the intellectual leader of the liberal majority rather than the second half as great dissenter? This split is historically contingent--had Johnson succeeded in replacing Warren and/or had Fortas not been forced to resign, the Court would not have shifted as much as it did in the first three years of Nixon, leaving Brennan more in the Court's majority for at least a few more years.

Justice Stevens (1975-2010; would have retired in 1993): His first eighteen years were largely non-descript, mostly part of a large middle with an occasional individual voice. His final 15 years were among the longest periods as senior-most Justice in the minority of an evenly divided Court, which is the role for which history will remember him.

Justice Holmes (1902-32; would have retired in 1920): Retires the year after his Abrams dissent. He loses 12 years of continued First Amendment dissents, as well as Buck v. Bell, which remains a stain on his record.

Justice Thomas (1991-Present; would have retired in 2009): Thomas's last twelve years (and counting) have been a more confident and aggressive version of his first 18--solo opinions staking out iconclastic positions, unbound by precedent, and willing to challenge many jurisprudential sacred cows. Is he doing this more than he did prior to 2009? Again, how you feel about this depends on how you feel about the positions Thomas stakes out.

Chief Justice Rehnquist (1972-86; 1986-2005; would have retired in 199o): Like Brennan, Rehnquist enjoyed two quite distinct careers of almost equal length--Most conservative member of the Burger Court authoring many separate opinions and influential Chief Justice. Probably never gets the latter job, because Reagan would not have elevated him if he was four years from retirement.

Chief Justice Taney (1836-64; would have retired in 1854): Off the Court three years before Dred Scott.

We can play this game with a lot of Justices who served 25+ years and this is only intended as an outline. I think Tom is onto something good.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 3, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 02, 2021

SB8, racist speech, and partisan presumptions

Concerns about the process of SB8--privatizing enforcement, preempting offensive pre-enforcement litigation, and pushing rights-holders into a defensive posture--come from the left. So do fears that this could catch on. In urging the invalidity of this enforcement framework, the Whole Women's Health Complaint argues:

18.The answer to that question must be no. Otherwise, states and localities across the country would have free rein to target federal rights they disfavor. Today it is abortion providers and those who assist them; tomorrow it might be gun buyers who face liability for every purchase. Churches could be hauled into far-flung courts to defend their religious practices because someone somewhere disagrees with them. Same-sex couples could be sued by neighbors for obtaining a marriage license. And Black families could face lawsuits for enrolling their children in public schools. It is not hard to imagine how states and municipalities bent on defying federal law and the federal judiciary could override constitutional rights if S.B. 8 is permitted to take effect.

But is this limited to conservative attacks on liberal rights-holders, as the complaint offers (other than the gun-rights example)? Could liberals use private enforcement and would the political alignments and arguments flip?

Imagine a state wants to eliminate racist speech. It prohibits the oral, written, non-verbal, or symbolic expression degrading or dehumanizing a person based on race and creates a private tort action for damages and attorney's fees for "any person" offended or bothered by such expression. This law violates the freedom of speech as currently judicially interpreted to the same degree that SB8 violates the right to reproductive freedom. But a would-be racist speaker (e.g., someone who wants to burn a cross on his own lawn or  display a "White Lives Matter" sign or stand on the corner and shout that only white people should be allowed to vote) could not bring an offensive action to declare the law invalid or stop its enforcement. As with SB8 actions, there is no one causing the racist speaker an injury, no one to sue, and no one for the court to enjoin. Such a racist speaker must continue to engage in his racist speech, get sued by that random "any person," and raise the First Amendment as a defense. Or he will refrain from speaking from fear of suit and liability. Either way, the point of the law is to chill or sue racist speakers into silence.

Would those on the left objecting to SB8 object to this strategy of silencing racists and racist speech? If not, is the reason that liberals favor the right to reproductive freedom affected by SB8 while opposing or wanting to limit the right to engage in racist speech? And can that be an acceptable distinction?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 2, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Putting racists in a bind

The new Olympic sport for the Crazy Coalition is rooting against the men's basketball and women's soccer teams ("too woke and anthem-kneeling") and Simone Biles ("weak," "selfish socipath," "shame to the country," not tough). The other sport is waiting for that "true champion  . . . who perseveres even when the competition gets tough." That true champion who reflects what makes America great and in whom real Americans can be proud.

Fortunately, they found someone to do what Biles could not in the Women's All-Around, someone strong whom these real Americans can get behind.

Or not.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 29, 2021 at 04:02 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Hunters" is back in production

Hunters, an Amazon show about Nazi hunters in 1977 New York, is in Season 2 production. The Forward; many Jewish leaders, educators, and advocates; and I are not happy to hear this news.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 29, 2021 at 08:24 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"Fuck Biden" summons dismissed; now what?

A New Jersey Superior Court vacated obscenity charges against Andrea Dick after Roselle Park withdrew the summons.

So now what?

• Do Dick and the ACLU bring a § 1983 action for damages and/or for an injunction prohibiting future enforcement of the obscenity ordinance as to signs? The mayor and city attorney struck a defiant tone. The mayor decried the "sad reality" that the city cannot regulate decency. The city attorney insisted the original decision was correct but that "the continued attention garnered by the inappropriate display and the escalating costs to the taxpayers of continuing to litigate the matter causes far greater harm to the borough, as a whole, than good.” In other words, the city continues to argue that these signs violate its obscenity ordinance, suggesting both the possibility of future enforcement (perhaps when the nation is no longer paying attention) and the need for the deterrence that comes with an action even for minimal damages and attorney's fees.

• The Times reports on similar stories elsewhere in the U.S. Punta Gorda, Florida (on the Gulf Coast) enacted an indecency ordinance and is considering whether to issue a summons to a resident displaying a similar "Fuck Biden" sign. Punta Gorda appears smart enough to realize that profanity is indecent rather than obscene, so it is using the right legal theory. But a proper ordinance does not change that profanity is protected speech and so cannot be banned in most contexts.

• Roselle Park plans to amend its code to limit the amount of signage people can have in their property, although the mayor said the rules would not be retroactive and would not affect Dick's signs. It will be interesting to see what the township comes up with. City of Ladue v. Gilleo emphasized that one's home is a special medium that creates a unique message. Depending on the scope and details of the proposed ordinance, the city's interest in controlling visual clutter may not be sufficient to overcome the unique interest in speaking from one's own home.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 27, 2021 at 09:32 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 26, 2021

NBC has learned nothing

Bela Karolyi earned fame as the coach of U.S. gymnastics because of his outsized reactions to the athletes' performances, which NBC cameras showed and commentators discussed, elevating his profile above that of his female athletes. We now know what was going on behind the scenes.

Apparently, NBC has learned nothing. Australian swimmer Arirne Titmus won the 400-free style, beating American Katie Ledecky. NBC cameras showed, repeatedly, her coach, Dean Boxall, losing his shit celebrating Titmus' win from the stands. As with Karolyi and the gymnasts, cameras and announcers focused on his sideline histrionics more than the athlete. I am not suggesting that Boxall mistreats Titmus or other athletes or that his well-documented intensity crosses lines. But it is hard not to notice the parallel focus on the male coach with an intense personality over the female athlete.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 26, 2021 at 10:31 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Framing constitutional violations

The New York Times op-ed board discusses the "Fuck Biden" signs in Roselle Park, NJ as an example of "a growing sense among many Americans that the United States cannot afford to maintain the full measure of its foundational commitment to free speech." It concludes that "The right to hang banners is a small thing, but the value of free speech inheres in acts of individual expression just as much as in grand statements of collective purpose." The authors are correct and show why the township is going to regret doing this.

I take issue with the introductory paragraph, less for how it affects this than for what it says about the SB8 lawsuit and my current project on the process of constitutional litigation. Here is the opening:

There is little question that Gary Bundy, a municipal court judge in New Jersey, violated the constitutional rights of Andrea Dick this month by ordering her to remove three banners emblazoned with crude messages about President Biden.

In constitutional litigation, we would not say Judge Bundy violated Dick's rights through his order. We would say Roselle Park (or some responsible municipal officer, whoever it might be) violated Dick's rights by issuing the citation and prosecuting the code violation over protected speech. Judge Bundy could have halted the violation by upholding Dick's First Amendment defense. But in failing to do so, Bundy did not violate her rights. Rather, his (IMO) incorrect decision allowed the municipality's violation to continue. But his decision is subject to appellate review and reversal--stopping the municipality's constitutional violation--including by SCOTUS if this ridiculous thing makes it that far.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2021 at 04:41 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 22, 2021

JOTWELL: Re on Varsava on judicial opinion-writing

The new Courts Law essay comes from guest Richard Re (Virginia), reviewing Nina Varsava, Professional Responsibility and Judicial Opinions (Hous. L. Rev., forthcoming), on judges have (too much?) fun in their opinions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 22, 2021 at 12:36 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

What you call us, what we call you

Daniel Drezner explains why he has students call him "Professor" rather than by his first name and why he recommends that students default to calling professors by the title unless the prof tells them otherwise. He justifies this, in part, because hierarchy and power imbalances are inherent to academia, since the professor's job is to educate, mentor, and evaluate students. Pretending the hierarchy does not exist or obscuring it by "keeping it casual" does not eliminate it.

I have used my title with students since I began teaching, whereas Drezner explains how he has evolved on the issue. But Drezner's explanation for what I do anyway resonates.

Within law school, there is an additional question--what professors should call students in class. I use first names, partly because I believe it puts students more at ease when being called on, partly because I believe I am less likely to botch a first name than a last name. Others favor using last names in the name of parity and mutual respect--if students express respect by calling the professor by title and last name, the professor should do the same. And to the extent a typical law school classroom functions something like an argument colloquy, everyone in court is using titles and last names, even if an obvious hierarchy remains.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 21, 2021 at 07:55 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

More on Fuck Biden signs in NJ (Updated)

The worst thing happened to Roselle Park (NJ) in its efforts to get homeowner Andrea Dick to remove "Fuck Biden" signs from her yard--the story is in today's New York Times (including comments from Thomas Healy of Seton Hall). This will end badly for the township and a smart lawyer for the municipality would cut bait now.

A lot of bad stuff can happen in municipal court--the matters are small, many people appear pro se, and the judging and lawyering may not be top-tier. But the key is that no one knows about it, allowing some absurd cases and outcomes to fly under the radar. But this has become a national (or at least regional) story. Every First Amendment lawyer in and around New Jersey is about to come out of the woodwork offering to represent Dick* And when a knowledgeable lawyer gets this case before a knowledgeable court, the outcome will be quick and obvious.

[*] I am surprised the ACLU has not entered the mix. Facing continued suggestions that the organization is more committed to liberal causes than to free speech, this would be an easy win in support of a Trump supporter.

Of course, getting Dick out from under the fines is the beginning. The next step is a § 1983 action against the township, the code enforcement officer who issued the citation, and perhaps the mayor (the Times story suggests that the mayor pushed the enforcement officer to issue the citation), which will cost the township some real money. Politics aside, the municipal attorney should recognize this.

Update: The ACLU of New Jersey has taken the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 20, 2021 at 10:36 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Bernstein on sport and speech

David Bernstein argues in Persuasion that sporting bodies should allow athletes to speak in non-disruptive ways around events, targeting the IOC, UEFA, and the NFL and considering players taking a knee, wearing expressive items on their uniforms, etc. Here is his key point:

No matter how much professional sports and sports fans may wish to separate sports from politics, it cannot be done. The debate re-emerges again and again with no resolution in sight, and you can bet it will kick into gear once the medal ceremonies start at the Tokyo Olympics.

So, rather than attempting to extricate itself from politics, sports should adopt a laissez-faire posture: Let everyone—owners, players, and fans—make political statements at sports matches.

I would supplement with the point I made last week after English fans heaped racist abuse on the three Black players who missed penalty kicks in the Euro finals: If fans are going to respond to sports in political terms, the athletes should be able to express themselves in political terms in the first place.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2021 at 08:47 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Best Jewish teammates?

Joc Pederson was traded from the Cubs (as part of an impending firesale by a cheap-and-mismanaged organization) to the Braves, where he teams with lefty starter Max Fried. In their first game together last night, Pederson went 2-for-5 with a two-run homer and Fried struck out seven in seven shutout innings (and had three hits, raising his season average to .333).

Are Fried and Pederson the best pair of Jewish players on one team? What other teams have had two (or more) top-tier Jewish players at once? Going backwards in history:

    • Third-baseman Alex Bregman and catcher Garrett Stubbs have been teammates on the Astros for most of the past three seasons. Bregman is a star and MVP runner-up in 2019, but has been hurt much of the past two seasons. Stubbs is a back-up and rarely plays.

    • Outfielder Danny Valencia and pitcher Richard Bleier were teammates on the 2018 Orioles. Bleier was an effective situational reliever, going 3-0, striking out 4 batters per nine innings. Valencia played in 78 games in his final season in the Majors. And the Orioles went 47-115.

    • Kevin Youkilis and Gabe Kapler were teammates on the Red Sox from 2004-06. Both were bench players for the first two seasons. Youkilis became a starter in 2006, but Kapler played in only 72 games.

    • Ken Holtzman and Elliott Maddox (African American, converted to Judaism) were teammates with the Yankees for part of 1976, a season in which the team reached the World Series.  Holtzman was part of the starting rotation and won 9 games, but was on the downside of his career; Maddox was a spot outfielder.

    • On the 1972 World Champion A's, Holtzman won 19 games and made the All Star team, while Mike Epstein was the starting first baseman who hit 26 home runs and garnered some MVP votes. In 1973, Holtzman won 21 games and made the All Star team, but Epstein was run out of town after playing in 118 games.

    • The Dodgers had pitcher Larry Sherry from 1958-63; his brother Norm, a catcher, from 1959-'62; and a lefty named Koufax. Norm was a career backup. Sherry was primarily a reliever, although an effective one; he won 14 games in 1960 and 7 games and World Series MVP in 1959. Koufax did not become KOUFAX until 1961, at which point both Sherry brothers were less key players.

So I think the Holtzman/Epstein duo, although it lasted only one year, is the one to beat, accounting for team and individual performance. Pederson has not hit well this season, but he still has power and will be the everyday right-fielder for a team trying to get back into the pennant race. Fried has been inconsistent this season, but has won his last two games and is the best pitcher on the staff. Can they (and the team) get hot in the second half and pass them?

Did I miss other good examples?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 18, 2021 at 02:21 PM in Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Random free speech items in the news (Update)

Random free-speech items for a weekend morning.

A

A municipal court judge in New Jersey ordered a woman to remove "Fuck Biden" lawn signs or face fines of $ 250 per day (unable to post photo, but can be found in the article).* This is an absurd ruling, in which no one-- the judge, the town's attorney, or the reporter covering the story--understands the First Amendment. The town proceeded under its obscenity ordinance, even though: 1) the written word is almost never obscene in modern doctrine; 2) nothing about "fuck Biden" describes sexual conduct because the point of the message is not that this woman wants anyone to have sex with Joe Biden; 3) nothing about this appeals to the prurient interest, as opposed to angry and hostile politics; 3) Cohen establishes that the word "fuck" is protected as a verbal intensifier; and 4) even without Cohen, using the word as part of an anti-Biden message gives it serious political value, removing it from the definition of obscenity.

* The story includes the photo with the signs on full display, then uses "f-word" throughout. We have weird standards.

Everything about this is wrong on the law. The news report paraphrases the ordinance as defining obscenity as "material that depicts or describes sexual conduct or lacks any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." But either this ordinance is facially invalid or the reporter should not be covering courts. Merely describing sexual conduct is not enough; it must do so in a "patently offensive" way that also appeals to the prurient interest. And Miller is conjunctive--it must describe sexual conduct and lack SLAP merit. Again, however, obscenity should not be part of this discussion--Cohen makes clear that profanity as part of a political message is protected.

The woman's lawyer did not help through his comments to the media, showing that he may not understand what this case is about. He tries to argue the signs are not obscene because obscenity has changed, pointing to how people treated women's knees in the 1920s. He then railed about burning books and burning people (?!) in Nazi Germany. No mention of Cohen, fuck the draft, or recent cases holding that flipping someone off is protected, all of which is more doctrinally relevant than Nazi book burning. Maybe he is doing a better job in court than outside of it. But it would be nice if the ACLU or someone with the expertise to show the court and the public why this is nonsense were in the mix.

Update: Forgive me for not emphasizing enough the wrongness of the court's decision and her lawyer's seeming approach to the case. SCOTUS less than one month ago issued an opinion, binding precedent, saying the following: "And while B. L. used vulgarity, her speech was not obscene as this Court has understood that term. See Cohen v. California, 403 U. S. 15, 19–20 (1971). To the contrary, B. L. uttered the kind of pure speech to which, were she an adult, the First Amendment would provide strong protection." Anyone believing an obscenity ordinance could apply to these signs, in the wake of that opinion, should be disbarred and/or kicked off the bench.

Two final points. First, this shows why (as one of my colleagues argues) First Amendment should be required or overwhelmingly encouraged. Lawyers qua lawyers should know the First Amendment. And it is important enough that a municipal court judge or suburban township attorney should know the area, however rare it might be that it comes up in their work. Second, this illustrate the point made in this article by Norman Spaulding (Stanford), reviewed on JOTWELL by Suzette Malveaux: The Civ Pro taught as the ideal in law school is a far cry from the real procedure applied in local courts, such as this one.

B

President Biden and Press Secretary Jen Psaki are taking heat for criticizing Facebook and others for allowing bullshit vaccine information (my words) on their sites. Biden went so far as to say the sites are killing people, while Psaki acknowledged conversations urging the sites to do a better job of policing misinformation and providing. Several critics noted that this plays into the narrative of the Trump lawsuits that Democrats in government have coerced or compelled the sites to ban certain speakers and speech, making the sites into state actors.

Government officials, especially the President, speak to private actors; push preferred policies, issues, and ideas; and encourage those actors to act or not act in a certain way.  Government "speaks" and attempts to persuade; successful persuasion does not create a public-private conspiracy. In fact, we expect the President to "lead" in this way from the bully pulpit, by rallying the public to agree with them and criticizing those who do not. It is part of governing and part of public dialogue. And saying that allowing the speech is "killing people" is the sort of rhetorical hyperbole protected in that dialogue, no less so when uttered by a government official.

As David Frum argues, "'Please stop spreading anti-vaccine misinformation on your platforms' is a request very much in line with long traditions of presidential leadership challenging corporations to accept basic norms of social responsibility." On the other hand, Kevin Drum questions Biden's failure to include Fox News as among those killing people, as more influential (and I would add more direct) purveyor of vaccine falsehoods.

C

In twelfth grade, we read Swift's A Modest Proposal, then were assigned to write an essay in that style. I proposed that sober people should not be allowed to drive, leaving the roads to drunk people who, in time, would kill themselves or others. It feels as if that is where we are headed with unvaccinated people using public spaces.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 17, 2021 at 12:21 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 16, 2021

Congress and universal injunctions

My latest, published at Cardozo Law Review De Novo. The essay analyzes the role of Congress in ending the controversy over universal/non-particularized injunctions. It considers the details, wisdom, and efficacy of five legislative proposals to eliminate or limit universal/non-particularized injunctions; it concludes that one approach resolves the problem—a flat and unequivocal prohibition on injunctions that protect anyone other than the plaintiffs.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 16, 2021 at 04:04 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Who gets to cancel?

Four people have been arrested (and more arrests appear likely) over online racist abuse directed at the three members of the English soccer team who missed penalty kicks in Sunday's Euro finals.

Such arrests would be impossible in the U.S>, because racist speech is protected. (Or likely protected--we would need to know more about what exactly these people said and did and whether the context pushes it into an unprotected category such as harassment or fighting words). Instead, these speakers would have been subject to a range of private consequences. Their identities might have been exposed and they might have been ridiculed, criticized, shunned, and dismissed from jobs and other positions. That is, private people would have expressed their disagreement with and criticism of the original speakers and their racist speech, in the face of more limited government power to do so.

So two points. First, this illustrates the problem with the derisive label "cancel culture." What I described above is counter-speech, the Brandeisian remedy for evil counsels; to write it off is to leave some able to speak but not others or to control how speech is exercised. Second, this illustrates the divide between the U.S. and Europe over hate speech and presents the question of which approach is superior--privately administered consequences or government-imposed consequences.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2021 at 12:15 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Constitutional rhetoric meets constitutional litigation

In an email exchange, someone highlights ¶¶ 17-19 of the SB8 Complaint:

17. At bottom, the question in this case is whether Texas may adopt a law that sets about to “do precisely that which the [Constitution] forbids.” Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 469–70 (1953) (striking down a Texas law attempting to insulate white-only political primaries from federal court review). 

18.The answer to that question must be no. Otherwise, states and localities across the country would have free rein to target federal rights they disfavor. Today it is abortion providers and those who assist them; tomorrow it might be gun buyers who face liability for every purchase. Churches could be hauled into far-flung courts to defend their religious practices because someone somewhere disagrees with them. Same-sex couples could be sued by neighbors for obtaining a marriage license. And Black families could face lawsuits for enrolling their children in public schools. It is not hard to imagine how states and municipalities bent on defying federal law and the federal judiciary could override constitutional rights if S.B. 8 is permitted to take effect. 

19.Plaintiffs urgently need this Court to put a stop to Texas’s brazen defiance of the rule of law and the federal constitutional rights to which Texans are entitled.

That sounds nice in the abstract. But it does not describe how constitutional litigation works. Federal courts do not stand ready to strike down invalid laws (because they do not, in fact, "strike down" anything) whenever a plaintiff asks. Nor are federal courts the only forum in which constitutional litigation occurs. There is a process, beginning with someone enforcing the law. Where that enforcer is a state actor and enforcement is imminent, rights-holders can go to federal court in what is (in this case) essentially an anti-suit injunction. When enforcement is not imminent or when the enforcer is not a state actor, it must follow a different process of defensive litigation in state court. The plaintiffs' argument is that the former process is constitutionally required as a matter of due process; that has never been the case.

Here is the analogy I have been using: A state enacts a defamation statute that is inconsistent with New York Times v. Sullivan (e.g., allows liability for any plaintiff on simple negligence). That law is invalid under prevailing First Amendment doctrine. But pre-enforcement litigation would be impossible, because there is no one under color charged with enforcing that law. The First Amendment would be available as a defense if and when a speaker is sued for his protected speech. And that is true of the parade of horribles in ¶ 18. The Constitution does not require anything more.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 14, 2021 at 03:13 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

SB8 lawsuit

I am in the early days of a co-authored piece on Texas' fetal-heartbeat law, including why pre-enforcement federal litigation may be impossible. Complicating that argument, reproductive-health providers in Texas on Tuesday filed suit in federal court. Much of this will become part of the article. But some analysis after the jump.

A

The law's main feature is the prohibition on public enforcement of the law in favor of reliance on private enforcement through actions (by any person) for statutory damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees. That made pre-enforcement litigation impossible, because there was no responsible executive officer to sue to enjoin enforcement. This left them in state court and having to raise constitutional issues as a defense. These plaintiffs tried different targets.

    • State court judges (through a defendant class action), who would rule on the cases. I do not think this works because the judges have not done anything or threatened to do anything. They wait for someone to file suit, then rule on it, bound by oath and the Supremacy Clause to adhere to federal law. That is, the "enforce" the law, but only in the sense that someone else takes the executive action of initiating litigation. Plus, I think parity--the assumption that state judges follow federal law and are equal to federal courts in protecting federal rights--weighs against a federal court enjoining state judges before state judges have had an opportunity to do anything.

    • Clerks of court (through a defendant class action), who would accept the filings. This does not work because the clerks perform a ministerial function--accepting the filing--that does not alone cause any injury or constitutional violation. The mere filing of a lawsuit does not violate anyone's rights. Otherwise, a plaintiff could sue the clerk as a joint tortfeasor in an abuse-of-process claim.

    • Mark Dickson, the head of East Texas Right to Life. They allege he acts under color because he has been "deputized" to bring lawsuits enforcing SB8. This is the traditional-public-function theory I argued could work--by surrendering all public enforcement in favor of private litigation, private plaintiffs perform the traditional public function of enforcing the law. This does not place all private attorneys general under color; but the complete surrender of enforcement authority goes one step further. The problem is that it is not clear that Dickson (or anyone else) will bring or plans to bring a lawsuit; he (and everyone else) is empowered to do so, but we do not know anything beyond that. So there may be an imminence problem. The complaint also alleges that Dickson pushed for this law; basing a state action finding on that conduct raises serious First Amendment problems.

    • The heads of the state medical board and board of nursing. This one is cute. The argument is that the boards are responsible for enforcing laws governing medical and nursing practice through administrative and licensing proceedings. Those proceedings can be instituted against a doctor or nurse who violates any state laws related to medical care--including the provisions of SB8. In other words, licensed professionals must adhere to all laws and regulations governing the practice of medicine, including SB8, and the boards can institute disciplinary proceedings for failing to follow any laws or regulations, including SB8.

        This offers a partial solution for some plaintiffs, but only goes so far. Some plaintiffs are not providers, but non-profits who provide information, guidance, and funding to women seeking abortions and are worried about being sued under the broad aiding-and-abetting provisions (which would likely violate their First Amendment rights). But they are not subject to regulation by these Boards and so they cannot bring claims against the board.

        Also, note the scope of any injunction that issued. The Boards would be enjoined from bringing licensure or other actions against providers for violating the fetal-heartbeat law. But that injunction would not protect other plaintiffs from private suit, nor would it stop other actors (such as the many deputized individuals) from bringing lawsuits nor would it stop future use of anything else in the statute.

B

SB8 includes a provision allowing for recovery of attorney's fees to any defendant who prevails in a challenge to the validity of any abortion restriction or regulation. This is intended to deter plaintiffs from filing suit. It cannot apply in federal court, where § 1988 (an Act of Congress) controls and allows defendants to recover fees only if the claim is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. But SB8 creates a state law cause of action to recover fees. Plaintiffs argue that § 1988 preempts state law, because it conflicts and would frustrate congressional policy (which was to incentivize § 1983 suits without the chill from a true loser-pays system). I think the preemption argument is a good one, but I am not sure it is proper in this case because we do not know who would be responsible for bringing that action and thus who could be enjoined. Preemption could be a defense if someone attempts to bring a state-law claim for attorney's fees in the future, but I do not think it is up for pre-enforcement review because we again do not know the enforcer.

C

The complaint generally complains about the unfavorable procedures built into SB8--anyone can sue anyone involved or advocating for abortions, statewide venue, attorney's fees and high statutory damages, providers cannot raise the constitutional rights of pregnant women as a defense; the complaint describes the enforcement proceedings as "rigged."

The complaint attempts to constitutionalize certain legislative judgments about the structure and organization of the judiciary, such as venue and fee-shifting, that are ordinarily not subject to constitutional limitations. As a due process argument, it fails. But they frame it as an equal-protection argument--these unique procedures applied to one category of favored claim against disfavored defendants for a disfavored activity; that could work. The question is what level of scrutiny would apply, which doubles back to whether the right to choose is a fundamental right. If it is fundamental, then strict scrutiny would apply; otherwise, it would be rational basis.

The providers do have a due process argument against the provision preventing providers from raising the constitutional rights of women as a defense. Several scholars have described a "valid-rule due process" defense--a law must be valid to be enforced against anyone and anyone subject to enforcement of a law has the right to raise any constitutional defect in that law, even if involves someone else's rights. While abortion providers are described as asserting third-party standing to enforce their patients' rights, it looks more like first-party standing when the providers are the targets of the law.

But these arguments remain defenses that can be raised in the state-court enforcement action and nothing indicates that state judges will not follow federal law in adjudicating them. There is still no basis for a pre-enforcement challenge.

 

SB8, and the attempts to frame litigation to challenge it, illustrates the procedural framework within which judicial review operates. Federal courts do not issue free-standing pronouncements that a law violates the federal Constitution and the mere existence of even a blatantly unconstitutional (according to judicial precedent) law is not enough to get into federal court or to ask a federal court to rule. Sometimes constitutional litigation remains in state court, no matter how strong the federal arguments, and goes from there. It may not be how we like it. But that is how it functions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 14, 2021 at 12:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ron DeSantis says the quiet part out loud, undermines anti-protest laws

Protesters opposing the Cuban government blocked several Miami-area roadways Tuesday, including a major highway. Police responded by shutting down the highway, creating buffers a great distance from the protesters in either direction and routing cars off the road, allowing protesters to do their thing. They "negotiated" an end to the protests and reopened the roads around 11 p.m. last night, almost twelve hours after the protests began.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis famously signed an "anti-riot" bill. A protester can be cited for "willfully obstructing the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road." Penalties are enhanced if someone blocks a roadway during a protest that comes to destroy property. And the bill provides immunity for anyone who runs over a protester in the street. But  police attempted to negotiate and keep the protesters safe, but never issued a dispersal order. No one was cited yesterday and police made sure no drivers got anywhere near the protesters by blocking the roadway.

DeSantis was asked about this; the Miami Herald describes his answer:


Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article252766758.html#storylink=cpy

“What is going on in Cuba in particular, those are not simply normal, run-of-the-mill protests like we see here in the United States. They don’t have freedoms respected there, whereas in the United States, you have a panoply of freedoms that are respected,” DeSantis said. “They are seeking an end to the regime itself.”

He added: “They are trying to end the regime. So that is fundamentally different from what we saw last summer where people were burning down buildings — and this was fortunately not happening in Florida to a large extent — burning down buildings, looting, breaking windows and targeting law enforcement and all those things.”

This is incoherent. The extraordinary measures that people in Cuba are taking to end the regime and their lack of a "panoply of freedoms" has nothing to do with protesters in Miami, who have that panoply and are able to engage in "normal, run-of-the-mill protests." They chose this method of protesting, apparently to draw maximum attention to the cause (which, logic suggests, is what every group wants to do). Many BLM protests got out of hand when police confronted protesters, issued dispersal orders (often very quickly and simply because the gathering was large), and attempted to clear the protesters--that never happened yesterday. Finally, the BLM protests "target[ed] law enforcement" only in the sense that their protests criticized and sought to change the behavior of law enforcement, just as Tuesday's protests criticized and sought to change the Cuban regime. So the difference, according to DeSantis, is the subject of the protest--targeting law enforcement is bad and grounds for mass arrests for blocking highways, targeting the Cuban regime good and grounds for law-enforcement to allow a major roadway to be shut down for half a day.

The anti-riot law, which is the subject of several ongoing First Amendment lawsuits, is an example of a law written in content-neutral terms but has a content-based motivation and is likely to be enforced in a content-based manner. Yesterday's events illustrated that point. We saw how police responded to similar actions during the 2020 protests, before the new law was enacted. And we saw how police responded yesterday, with the new law in place. Combined with DeSantis' statements distinguishing anti-Cuba protests from anti-police protests, the lawyers challenging these laws have a new piece of evidence for arguing these laws are content- (if not viewpoint-) discriminatory.

Just to be clear: I am not criticizing the protesters; breaking laws to protest injustice is a storied free-speech tradition. And police should give protesters a certain amount of leeway for spillover. But the response of police and the governor illustrate First Amendment problems with Florida's vaunted laws enacted less than three months ago.


Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article252766758.html#storylink=cpy

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 14, 2021 at 07:44 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Will Jacob Steinmetz play on Yom Kippur?

Jacob Steinmetz, an Orthodox Jew and recent high-school graduate, was drafted in the third round (77th overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks, putting him on path to possibly/maybe/perhaps/if-everything-breaks-right being the first Orthodox Jew to play in the Major Leagues.

Here is the rub: Steinmetz keeps Kosher and observes Shabbat. But he plays on Shabbat (although he walks to the ballpark) and on Jewish holy days. I would love to hear Steinmetz explain this as a matter of Jewish law. (Update: An emailer says that some Orthodox rabbis allow recreational sports on Shabbat, which justifies his playing as an amateur; it becomes work if he gets paid. Of course, rabbis told Hank Greenberg that he could "play," but not "work" on Rosh Hashanah).

But does that mean, if he were to make the Show, that the most-observant Jewish player in MLB history would play on Yom Kippur, while less-observant players sit or make public displays of deciding to sit? It would be consistent with the sense that we focus on Yom Kippur because the more-secular/less-traditional American Jews, for whom that day (especially the fast) marks the pinnacle of the Hebrew calendar, drive the conversation around Jews in baseball. For Orthodox Jews, other parts of the calendar and other practices form the core of worship. If he does make the Show, it will be interesting how he approaches that one holy day (as opposed to the many, many other Jewish holy days and festival days throughout the year that he observes but that do not make a blip for most American Jews).

Steinmetz has a baseball scholarship to Fordham, so it is not clear if he will play college ball or sign with the D-Backs and accept a minor-league assignment. Stay tuned.

Update: The Washington Nationals drafted Elie Kligman, a Nevada high-schooler who does not play on Shabbat or holy days, in the 20th (final) round. Kligman was a pitcher and infielder in high school who plans to convert to catcher to allow himself days off for Shabbat. The Times wrote about Kligman in March, but I cannot get a sense of how good a player he is or where he is going to land.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 13, 2021 at 05:50 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 12, 2021

A textual defense of the diversity theory of the 11th Amendment

Eric Segall discusses everything wrong with the Court's 11th Amendment/sovereign immunity jurisprudence, discussing its evolution and incoherence. I agree with just about everything, particularly the point that states should not have sovereign immunity from federal-question actions because states are not sovereign as to federal law.

I depart on one point: Eric argues that the only truly "textualist" interpretation is that the 11th Amendment prohibits all suits against a state by a citizen of another state, regardless of the nature of the case, but is silent as to suits against a state by its own citizens, regardless of the nature of the case. He argues that the diversity theory--a state cannot be sued by a citizen of another state on diversity, but could be sued on some other basis, such as federal question--is not textualist. This makes Gorsuch, who adopted that view in PennEast, is a "fake textualist."

I disagree with Eric at my peril. But I want to try to make a textualist defense of the diversity theory.

There are two key issues here. One is whether textualism requires us to read all relevant provisions or one provision in isolation, especially when dealing with amendments--do we read the 11th Amendment alone or must we also look at the text of Article III § 2, which was the target of the amendment. The other is how we understand a constitutional amendment--how much of the prior provision does it amend and do we look to a specific clause within a provision or to the provision as a whole in figuring that out.

Article III § 2 enumerates the jurisdiction that federal courts can exercise if authorized by Congress. Each basis for jurisdiction stands alone as a distinct and independent ground for a federal court to hear a case; a case need only satisfy one ground, although it could satisfy more than one. The list includes controversies "between a State and Citizens of another State" and between "a State . . . and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects." These provisions grant diversity or alienage jurisdiction--jurisdiction over the controversy because of the identity of the parties. These  grants are distinct from the grants earlier in § 2 to hear "all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States" or to hear "Cases of Admiralty."

Thus imagine a suit by a citizen of South Carolina against Georgia for violating a federal statute. Prior to 1795, a federal court would have had two constitutional bases for exercising jurisdiction over that case--it arises under the Laws of the United States and it is between a State and a Citizen of another State.

The Eleventh Amendment strips courts of jurisdiction over "any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." The amendment's text copies the text of the diversity and alienage clauses of § 2, carving out one half of those grants. Given the linguistic overlap, we can read the 11th Amendment as amending the diversity clause, but not all of Article III. For example, the diversity clause and the 11tm Amendment together say the judicial power extends to "controversies between a State and Citizens of another State, but not to a suit commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State." (This is a long way of saying the grant of judicial power in diversity cases is limited to controversies commenced by a State against Citizens of another State). But the diversity clause is one part of § 2, independent of the other, unamended jurisdictional grants, such as the grant of federal-question jurisdiction or the grant of admiralty jurisdiction.

So return to the suit by a citizen of South Carolina against Georgia for violating a federal statute. After the 11th Amendment, there is no diversity jurisdiction, because this case falls within the 11th Amendment's exception to the diversity clause (stated differently, the case no longer falls within the amended clause granting diversity jurisdiction). But the case still satisfies a distinct-and-independent jurisdictional grant, in that it arises under the Laws of the United States. The 11th Amendment did not amend that clause of Article III, which provides a  stand-alone basis for the court to hear this case. By its plain terms, the amendment jurisdiction because the suit is one "commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by a citizens of another State," but is silent as to another basis for jurisdiction (such as arising under).

It seems to me this reading is not atextual or fake-textual. It relies on the text the 11th Amendment, read in conjunction with the text of the clause it amended, without pulling in extra-textual historical, purpose, or policy considerations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 12, 2021 at 10:21 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sports and politics

England lost the European championship to Italy on Sunday, losing 3-2 in a penalty shootout. England's three misses were by Black players. English fans did not take the loss well; fans vandalized a mural dedicated to one player (for his philanthropic work) and took to social media to criticize the three players in the way you would expect to happen on social media.

Calling sports apolitical is nonsense, given the trappings of patriotism and politics, especially (as here) in an international competition when one plays for one's country. But without those trappings, this highlights the unavoidable politics. A loss is expressed in political terms--racist language and ideas about them as people (not merely as footballers) or denying that they are true Englishmen. If the players know how they will be criticized for poor performance, they cannot be blamed for making their own political statements, whether in anticipation or response.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 12, 2021 at 09:22 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 09, 2021

Texas continues race to bottom with Florida

Texas and Florida are locked in a bizarre race to the bottom in enacting the most stupid and constitutionally problematic laws. Florida jumped into the censor-social-media-in-the-name-of-stopping-censorship and was smacked down in federal court.

Texas decided to follow suit, proposing its own absurd law (nice summary here). It includes some new features, including record-keeping, notification, public-disclosure, and process requirements surrounding how sites moderate content that I expect the state will justify in the name of consumer protection but which might be vulnerable to challenge. It tries to learn from Florida's mistakes--no Disney exception and targeted sites are not defined by size. And Texas does not prohibit sites from appending statements, comments, criticisms, or warnings to posts; it does not attempt to stop sites from engaging in counter-speech in response to user content.

But the same problems remain The definitions exclude news sites and others that "preselect" content and for which user content (such as comments) is incidental to presentation of that preselected material; the news-organization exception was one of the content-based defects Judge Hinkle noted in Florida. It defines censorship as to "block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression," which limits the order and manner in which sites can have material presented--any listing of sites puts one thing over another, which treats some material better than other; chronological or alphabetical would be the only options. And it prohibits that "censorship" on the basis of viewpoint, which means sites cannot  prohibit any expression--Nazis, racists, anyone--because of disagreement with an otherwise constitutionally protected message.

Expect a carbon-copy opinion from a court in Texas soon.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 9, 2021 at 05:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Scope of discovery

A recurring theme with Donald Trump lawsuits is a stated hope that he will sue and the case will go forward, subjecting him to discovery and the exposure of all the things he has been trying to hide all these years about his taxes, his private conduct, his dishonesty and corruption, etc. This is especially true for his many threats to sue for defamation, where the need to prove the falsity of the allegedly defamatory statements makes relevant inquiry into his conduct underlying those statements.

Some have floated that same idea with respect to his latest lawsuits, expressing the hope that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube will not get the actions dismissed, but will let the case proceed into discovery and a deep-dive into Trump's secrets. But filing a lawsuit does not open a plaintiff to discovery about anything and everything in his life; it has to be relevant (meaning calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence) to the claims and defenses in the case. The only issues in this case will be whether the companies act under color based on their relationship to the government and whether the speech that Trump engaged in was constitutionally protected. Whether Trump paid taxes, sexually assaulted women, or self-dealt as President is not relevant to those claims or defenses.

So this will not happen, not because Facebook has no incentive to do it, but because it has nothing to do with the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 8, 2021 at 03:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Today in dumb lawsuits

Coming to my neck of the woods in the Southern District of Florida: Class action lawsuits by Trump against Twitter and Jack Dorsey; YouTube and Sundar Pichai; and Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg; all allege violations of the First Amendment and the constitutional invalidity of § 230 (I guess because by protecting private actors, it incentivized their censorship or improperly delegated censorial power).

I think we can agree that this is stupid, for many of the reasons that this lawsuit was stupid. But wait, this one gives us more:

• There may not be personal jurisdiction here. Some of the named defendants are not Florida citizens. Trump was still President and residing (if nor domiciled) and tweeting from D.C. when Twitter and Facebook banned him. So the act of banning him was not "aimed at" Florida.

• Venue may not be proper. My understanding is that terms of service agreements include forum-selection clauses that funnel these cases to California. I have to look into that further. Update: Yep. Brad Heath of Reuters reports that Twitter and Facebook both require that federal lawsuits be in the Northern District of California]

• I do not know how you get a declaratory judgment that a law is invalid without suing the person charged with enforcing that law. Facebook, Twitter, et al., do not "enforce" § 230. They enforce their private terms of agreement and the rules for their sites. If § 230 has the effect of converting them into state actors (it does not, but work with me) in banning Trump and others, they still are enforcing their own private terms of service; but those terms of service have been converted into public regulations subject to First Amendment limits. The companies are not enforcing § 230. Enforcement of § 230 rests with someone in the executive branch. But no government officials have been sued. Update: Another problem with this issue that has been raised: Challenges to the constitutional validity of all provisions of the CDA of 1996, including § 230, must be heard by a three-judge district court.

• The purported class is everyone banned since June 1, 2018 within the United States, which includes a whole of people engaged in unprotected speech (as opposed to Trump's protected-but-false-and-offensive speech), That may be too broad to certify.

• The captions list the first plaintiff as "DONALD J. TRUMP, the Forty-Fifth President of the United States," which might be one of the saddest things in any pleading. And I teach the case brought by "NARUTO, a Crested Macaque." This is worse.

• Yes, the lawyers who filed this nonsense should be held up to public ridicule and potential clients should take this into account in deciding whether to retain them.  Also, referring to "Democrat lawmakers" works on Twitter and the Republican echo chamber; in real life, it is disrespectful. This tells us one of two things: 1) The lawyers are talking to the public rather than the court or 2) The lawyers assume the judge will be as hacky as they are; neither is likely to play well with the judge. Whether that warrants sanctions or PR consequences is another story.

Update: A point I saw raised: Trump spent four years arguing that he was not a state actor when blocking people from his Twitter and Facebook pages, while now arguing that those who created the site he was using are state actors. Are those positions reconcilable? If Twitter and Facebook are state actors, how does that affect the people who use those sites in their relationships to other users? If the site is state-run, does that make every piece of the site state-run, such that the individual user also is a state actor?

Another Update: How does the invalidity of § 230 affect the under-color argument? The defendants act under color (allegedly) because § 230 gives them immunity from suit and delegates censorial power and because the threatened repeal coerced/compelled/induced them to censor certain messages. But if § 230 is invalid (facially, according to the complaint), would it not be a good thing that Congress sought to amend or repeal? Alternatively, if the court declares § 230 invalid, does that eliminate the close nexus, so the defendants no longer are under color?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 7, 2021 at 12:28 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 02, 2021

Reconsidering doctrine

From the final Orders List: Justice Thomas again calls for reconsidering qualified immunity (p.30 of List), including that it makes no sense to us the same standard for police officers making split-second decisions as for a college administrator making deliberate and calculated choices about enacting and enforcing policies (here, creating free-speech zones  on campus). Thomas again calls for reconsidering New York Times (p.41 of doc) and Justice Gorsuch has joined as a wingman (p.44), which suggests this campaign might begin to have legs.

The assault on NYT is notable because it runs opposite to the trend among  free-speech advocates and scholars--their view is that NYT, while great, is insufficient and requires additional protection through anti-SLAPP statutes to stop the filing of bad lawsuits (those that fail under NYT) to bankrupt and silence defendants. Gorsuch adds an odd bit about how few defamation cases go to trial, ignoring that few cases go to trial on any topic because of how 12(b)(6) and summary judgment have been interpreted and applied.

The danger of the emerging Thomas/Gorsuch position is figuring out what it means to "reconsider" NYT. Does it mean eliminating the entire First Amendment edifice (standard of proof, burden of persuasion, protection for parody and satire, protection for anything other than provable statements of fact) and leaving everything to state law? Or does it mean eliminating actual malice as the state-of-mind requirement but leaving the rest in place? And how much of the difficulties that Gorusch decries for defamation plaintiffs derives from actual malice as opposed to the rest of that constitutional edifice? Neither Thomas nor Gorsuch says.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 2, 2021 at 01:12 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

On Americans for Prosperity

SCOTUS on Thursday declared invalid a California law requiring not-for-profits to file with the state their Schedule B's revealing major donors. It was another largely 6-3, with Roberts writing for the majority, Thomas joining in all but a few parts, Alito and Gorsuch joining in all but a few parts, and Sotomayor writing the dissent. A couple of points aside from the First Amendment merits

First, the majority declared the California law facially invalid because of its overbreadth, while Thomas questions overbreadth and facial unconstitutionality. Thomas seems to use that departure to fight about universality, making two points. First, while speaking of facial invalidity, "the Court does not say that it is 'provid[ing] relief beyond the parties to the case'"--that is, it is not expressly making the judgment universal. Second, Thomas argues that the judgment does not depend on facial invalidity, only the opinion--"One can understand the Court’s reasoning as based on the fundamental legal problems with the law (that are obvious in light of the facts of this suit) that will, in practice, prevent California from lawfully applying the disclosure requirement against a substantial number of entities, including petitioners."

This is the right way to understand facial invalidity, within the distinction between judgments and opinions. The Court's judgment/injunction remains particularized to the parties. The reasoning in the opinion explaining the judgment establishes judicial precedent that the law is invalid when applied to anyone else. That precedent binds courts in future cases, compelling the court declare the law invalid and to reject new enforcement efforts against others.  If California attempts future enforcement, the new targets must go to court for a new or expanded injunction. They will get it, because SCOTUS precedent establishes that the law is invalid as to all persons. But they must take that step. And California does not violate the injunction in this case by attempting future enforcement against others.

Second, I am intrigued by Zachary Price's model of "symmetrical constitutionalism, which I discuss in a forthcoming essay. Price proposes that justices should favor "when possible, outcomes, doctrines, and rationales that distribute benefits across major partisan divides, as opposed to those that frame constitutional law as a matter of zero-sum competition between competing partisan visions." The idea is to focus on the principle at issue, rather than on who won the immediate case, where the principle will protect politically distinct people and entities

On its own, AFP fits Price's  model, as shown by the range of groups--ACLU, NAACP, PBS--that filed amicus briefs in favor of the plaintiffs. But the Court divided across ideological/partisan lines and the case is being reported and analyzed as a victory for wealthy conservative groups and their wealthy conservative donors. One reason for many is a belief that the "other side" does not follow the principle as much as the outcome--Justice Alito would be less solicitous of the First Amendment concerns if, say, Texas tried to do a deep-dive into Planned Parenthood's donor base. Another is the fear of this case as a stalking horse for further limits on campaign-finance regulation by imposing the same protections for contributions as for expenditures, which plays into a zero-sum competition between competing partisan visions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 2, 2021 at 09:22 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Erroneous political statement of the day

I have seen a version from multiple sources: Thursday's decisions in AFP and Brnovich are a direct result of Mitch McConnell's ploy with Merrick Garland, that but for that, the Court would have a 5-4 liberal majority rather than a 6-3 conservative majority.

This is wrong because Donald Trump still would have filled two seats (Kennedy and Ginsburg). Had Garland been confirmed, there would have been a 5-4 liberal majority until October 2020, when the majority flipped when Barrett replaced Ginsburg. So some cases during the Trump years probably come out differently--the travel ban, for example. The Court might have done more to stop the worst of Trump's abuses in starker terms. But not Thursday's cases or any of the 6-3 cases of this Term--they are closer (5-4 rather than 6-3), but the outcomes do not change.

The other question in this counter-factual is who the Trump appointees would have been: Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, Gorusch and Barrett, Kavanaugh and Barrett?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 1, 2021 at 11:36 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some thoughts on Cosby

I do not do criminal procedure, so I cannot pass on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Cosby. I want to raise some issues that touch on what I do study.

• Could Pennsylvania seek review in SCOTUS? That is, did the majority rely on federal or Pennsylvania principles of due process and estoppel? It cites state and federal cases and discusses both sources of law, moving between them. In an unclear case, Michigan v. Long requires the conclusion that the state court relied on federal law rather than independent-and-adequate state grounds, giving SCOTUS jurisdiction (although I doubt SCOTUS will touch this case). I think the better reading is that this is a decision on federal due process, but it requires parsing.

• Accepting that a constitutional violation occurred, I agree with the two-justice concurring-and-dissenting opinion that the proper remedy is a retrial without his deposition statements rather than dismissal of the case and a bar on a new trial. The former DA promised not to prosecute and the breach of the promise was the violation, but Cosby was injured only because he answered deposition questions rather than asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege (which the court accepts as the purpose behind the promise) and those statements were used against him. Imagine the former DA had made the promise and the current DA ignored the promise, but Cosby had never testified in the civil action or the new prosecution had not used his statements--in other words, had Cosby not relied. Would the court have found a violation? Reading the opinion, it does not appear so, specially since the former DA likely lacked authority to make this binding promise in this form. If a prosecution would have been allowed ab initio, then the remedy for the violation should be to allow a re-prosecution as if Cosby had not testified (i.e., without his statements).

• The majority is unclear as to who violated Cosby's rights--the former DA who made the promise or the current DA who brought the prosecution? The court is inconsistent about that, although at the end of the day seems to define it as the promise that induced Cosby to waive his Fifth Amendment privilege in the civil action (which would seem to suggest that Castor committed the violation).

If that is the violation, how does that affect the underlying civil case against Cosby? It settled for more than $ 3 million and was dismissed, after Cosby sat for multiple depositions and made inculpatory statements. It does not appear that any judgment was entered. Could Cosby attempt to open the settlement, arguing that it was a product of the DA's constitutional violation--he settled because negative information came out in his depositions, but he would not have made those inculpatory statements (and thus would not have settled) had he not been stripped of his Fifth Amendment rights by Castor's promise? That might be an equitable "other reason" to reopen a judgment; not sure it does the same for a settlement.

• Might Cosby sue the current and/or former prosecutors, claiming a due process violation and seeking to recover some or all of the $ 3 million settlement that resulted from the violation? We will not find out because it seems pretty clear that decisions to prosecutor or not are protected by prosecutorial immunity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 1, 2021 at 03:49 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida social-media law (unsurprisingly) violates the First Amendment

Judge Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida declared that the law violates the First Amendment and preliminarily enjoined its enforcement. This result was over-determined from the start. The court adopts the views  that speech-protective commentators had been arguing from the beginning, which seemed clear from the argument on Monday.

    • Social-media sites are not state actors and cannot violate the First Amendment. So the law cannot be justified as a way to vindicate users' First Amendment rights.

    • Social-media platforms look more like the newspaper in Tornillo and the parade in Hurley and the state has no interest in "balancing the debate." They look less like the shopping mail in Pruneyard or the interviewing classrooms at Harvard Law School; allowing speakers onto your property is different from controlling the owner's speech or dictating how the owner must provide that access.

    • The law is "as content-based as it gets" and subject to strict scrutiny (which Florida conceded at argument it could not survive). This seemed obvious. It treats political candidates and speech by or about candidates different from other speakers and speech. It regulates large platforms but not smaller ones. It is viewpoint discriminatory, motivated by a desire to protect conservative speech and speakers. And that is before the court reached the Disney carve-out.

All-in-all, a slam dunk. And it is hard to envision a different outcome in the 11th Circuit. It would be cheaper for Florida to go back to cut bait and start over. But it will not, because Ron DeSantis has judges to run against in 2024.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 1, 2021 at 03:03 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

New CNN Survey of Presidents

Here. Top 10: Lincoln, Washington, FDR, TR, Ike, Truman, Jefferson, JFK, Reagan, Obama (this is unchanged from the prior survey in 2017 except for Obama, who moves up from 12). Bottom 5: William Henry Harrison, Trump, Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Buchanan.

How about monosyllabic presidents? They had a rough four years: Polk (18, down from 14), Grant (20, up from 22), Papa Bush (21, down from 20), Taft (23, up from 24), Ford (28, down from 25), W (29, up from 33), Hayes (33, down from 31), Trump (debuting at 41), Pierce (42, down from 41). I expected Grant to show improvement. I am shocked that three Presidents are deemed worse than Trump, given everything that has happened the past six months and everything we learn daily; could participants have over-corrected for recency bias?

Update: Jeremy Stahl at Slate argues that what it takes to be worse than Trump is to botch the run-up (Piece and Buchanan) or aftermath (Johnson) of the Civil War. Outside those three who failed to deal with extraordinary times, Trump is the worst. And the guy immediately ahead of Trump was in office for 31 days.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 30, 2021 at 06:02 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Understanding "cancel culture" and "offense"

It is obvious beyond peradventure (as Justice Brennan used to say) that conservative cries of "cancel culture," "liberal snowflakes," and "offended at everything" are bullshit projection. But nothing illustrates the point better than this Fifth Circuit case.

According to the complaint, a public-school teacher got pissed off that a student was excused from reciting the Pledge; he assigned the class to write the pledge (which the plaintiff refused to do); made in-class speeches offering to pay her to live in a better country and railing about Sharia law, sex offenders, etc.; and generally treated the plaintiff less favorably than her classmates. The district court denied summary judgment, finding issues of fact about the teacher's motive and actions (he insists that writing the pledge was a class assignment rather than a way to require a statement of loyalty). The teacher immediately appealed under the collateral order doctrine to challenge those findings but not to argue that the law was not clearly established. The Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction; only legal issues are immediately reviewable under the COD, not factual findings or the finding of factual disputes.

Judge Duncan dissented, with a strange conclusion that emphasized that "[w]e live in an easily offended age. Even Dr. Seuss is controversial," while imagining cases in which students are compelled to pledge written ideas contrary to their religious beliefs and students refuse to recite the words of the Declaration and King's "I Have a Dream" speech (or the one line from the speech Judge Duncan knows).

But Duncan's outrage is laughable for several reasons, showing the lack of real commitment to the First Amendment. First, it seems odd to complain about how easily offended everyone is in a case that alleges that a teacher was offended by a student's constitutionally protected right to refuse to salute the flag and retaliated against that student in a number of (unhinged, unprofessional, and arguably unconstitutional) ways. When one objects to Dr. Seuss or a Confederate monument or the Pledge, one is an easily offended snowflake; when one objects to Critical Race Theory or wokeness or other liberal-but-protected speech, it is standing up for principle or some other noble cause. Second, Duncan would be the first person to support the long-standing conservative project to allow students to opt-out of an assignment requiring a student to write "Praise be Quetzalcoatl." So it is odd to see that as a slippery-slope example while dissenting in a case allowing a student to opt-out of an assignment.

There is an interesting qualified immunity question that the teacher did not properly tee-up on appeal: Assuming he gave the written assignment as a form of pledge (the disputed fact in question), is it clearly established that this violates the First Amendment? The dissent says no, pointing out that no case has ever found a violation from a written pledge. The majority quotes Barnette: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." (emphasis in case). What wins out--the absence of a factually identical case or the clear statement of general principle in the controlling SCOTUS opinion?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 30, 2021 at 12:58 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Zuckerberg and Facebook do not act under color

Nor surprising, but quite definitive.

Facebook cannot be sued because entities, as opposed to individuals, are not proper targets of Bivens actions. The stupidity of this case aside, this is problematic, because it creates another way in which Bivens is not parallel to § 1983--the company could be sued if a state or local government coerced or conspired with it to do something, but not if the federal government does that.

The claims against Zuckerberg failed in part because the complaint did not plead facts showing direct involvement by Zuckerberg with respect to the plaintiff organization's page, as opposed to running Facebook generally. The court refused to infer direct involvement from allegations of Zuckerberg being a "hands-on CEO" making it "highly likely" that he was. Any coercion or encouragement government officials gave Facebook to limit vaccine misinformation did not connect to any specific actions against the plaintiff. And § 230 immunity did not encourage or coerce this conduct, because that immunity does require Facebook or Zuckerberg to do anything and immunity does not hinge on Facebook doing anything.

The court dismissed without prejudice and denied leave to amend. The plaintiffs moved to "supplement" the controlling complaint with new information about the Biden Administration's efforts to stop online vaccine misinformation. The court treated this as a preview of what new allegations plaintiffs would put in a new pleading and concluded they would be insufficient for the same reason the current allegations are insufficient. So the case is over and the next stop is the Ninth Circuit.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 30, 2021 at 12:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Executive v. Legislative and Twitter blocking

Judge Domenico of the District of Colorado held that Rep. Broebert did not act under color and thus did not violate the First Amendment in blocking a viewer from her @laurenboebert account on January 6 (but not from her official @RepBoebert House account). According to the court, Broebert started this account before she was elected to Congress and uses this account to discuss political issues, her legislative agenda, and bills she has introduced. This case is analogous to a Tenth Circuit decision from January finding no state action in blocking people from an account started during an initial campaign and containing more campaign-related material than office-related.

The court did a few things I believe are incorrect and problematic along the way and may confound these cases going forward, even if the result is probably correct.

First, Domenico went on a brief discursive about why there might not be a cause of action, citing Ziglar v. Abbasi and noting the recent retrenchment of Bivens, although he does not resolve that issue because Boebert did not raise the issue. This is wrong. In shrinking Bivens actions for damages, the Court has never suggested that it also wished to shrink Ex Parte Young actions against federal officials. In fact, Ziglar recognized the availability of injunctive relief, despite the absence of an express cause of action authorizing injunctive relief, as a special factor counseling against recognizing the Bivens claim. He rejects the plaintiff's assumption that the court's equitable powers provide the cause of action because "equity follows the law." But that ignores SCOTUS' statement in Armstrong: "The ability to sue to enjoin unconstitutional actions by state and federal officers is the creation of courts of equity, and reflects a long history of judicial review of illegal executive action, tracing back to England." Not sure what Domenico is aiming at, but that is a pretty clear statement that equitable actions are not the same as Bivens actions and do not require an express right of action.

Second, Domenico adopts a very cribbed understanding of the official actions of legislators. As he puts it, "legislators legislate. Their state-created powers are to propose legislation and to voteand little else." Later he says that "Individual legislators do not have the constitutional power to either make law or abridge speech, and thus their individual actions are not within the First Amendment’s coverage." But legislators do a lot more as part of their jobs. One thing they do is communicate with their constituents. If an individual legislator held a press conference, gave a speech, or convened a constituent town hall and excluded certain people from the event because of their viewpoints, that legislator acts under color and could be subject to a First Amendment suit. I have never heard anyone question this. This is the social-media version of that. It may be, as the court later says, that it is impossible to distinguish a legislator's statement as legislator from her statements as candidate for reelection. But that is different from saying a legislator's public statements are never under color of law.

It seems to me Domenico conflates legislative functions (proposing and voting on legislation) and official functions performed by a legislator, such as public communications. The latter are covered by legislative, or Speech-or-Debate, immunity, while the former are not. But the under-color question is supposed to be whether the defendant's conduct was made possible by his public position and authority. Legislators can do a lot more than purely legislative functions as a result of their office, some of which could violate the First Amendment. Domenico tries to reframe the question as authority to act on behalf of the state, but that has never been the standard. Domenico relies on West v. Atkins, which was about when private individuals are under color, a different inquiry.

Third, Domenico argues that the First Amendment says "Congress" shall make no law, which means "Congress, not its individual members, commands the federal government, and it is that body that the First Amendment sought to constrain." But the First Amendment has not been limited to formal legislative enactments. This would mean that the First Amendment does not "constrain" an executive officer (e.g., an FBI agent) from arresting someone because he did not like the person's speech or because of his religious views. I presume Domenico did not mean to say that.

Fourth, Domenico's approach draws a sharp line between legislative and executive officials. Because the executive's actions have practical legal effects that an individual legislator's actions do not, the former act under color in running their Twitter feeds in ways the latter do not. The factors that governed in Trump and Davison (content, appearance to the public, ways of operating the feed) are irrelevant to legislators. Again, that works if the standard is whether an official's actions "bind" the government as policy; it does not work if the question is (as it should be) whether the actions are "made possible" by the official position, because legislators do a lot of things made possible by their positions.

Again, I am not sure Domenico did not reach the correct result, because the Davison/Trump factors make this look like a private rather than official feed. But his analysis misses the mark in many ways that would have bad and far-reaching effects on the First Amendment and constitutional litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2021 at 06:58 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 27, 2021

SCOTUS, standing, and HB8

SCOTUS decided two significant standing cases this Term, both with implications for challenges to Texas's HB8 fetal-heartbeat law.

California v. Texas (ACA) reaffirms that it will be impossible to bring a pre-enforcement suit against state officials. California held that individuals had no standing to challenge the zeroed-out mandate, because the government had nothing to enforce, there is "no one, and nothing, to enjoin." "[N]o unlawful Government action 'fairly traceable' to §5000A(a) caused the plaintiffs’ pocketbook harm. Here, there is no action—actual or threatened—whatsoever. There is only the statute’s textually unenforceable language." Similarly, "no unlawful government action is fairly traceable" to HB8 that injures the plaintiffs. The reason differs. In California, the provision of ACA was unenforceable. HB8 is enforceable--it provides for damages and injunctive relief against those who provide or facilitate abortions--but not by the government. The end point--no government enforcement and no government official to enjoin--is the same.

TransUnion v. Ramirez sparked some conversations about HB8, which accords a private statutory right to people who can point to no historically recognized "real" and "concrete" injury. Likely HB8 plaintiffs have suffered less of an actual or threatened injury than the class members in TransUnion. But TransUnion controls standing in federal court under Article III; it says nothing about standing in Texas courts under the Texas Constitution. So it has no direct effect on the validity of the procedures in HB8. The question is whether it could have indirect or persuasive effect. As I wrote (citing an expert on the Texas Constitution), Texas courts follow Article III but accord greater deference to legislative authorizations of suit. The defendant in the first HB8 suit will raise lack of standing and argue that Texas courts should (but are not required to) follow TransUnion and impose the same limits on the legislative power to create new rights. Stay tuned.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 27, 2021 at 03:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Standing up to standing

SCOTUS held Friday in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez  that most of a class lacked standing to sue over inaccurate information under the Fair Credit Report Act. Justice Kavanaugh wrote for five; Justice Thomas dissented for Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan; and Kagan wrote a shorter dissent for Breyer and Sotomayor. This marks another case (the third, I believe) in which Barrett replacing Ginsburg presumably changed the outcome of the case.

The result is not surprising, given the direction of standing cases, but it is the most explicit the Court has been. The majority makes explicit that "under Article III, an injury in law is not an injury in fact," a violation of a statutory right is not sufficient for standing, and Congress cannot create new private statutory rights that provide a basis to sue unless they are the same or analogous to historically recognized legal rights (physical injury, monetary loss, or recognized intangible harms) as determined by the Court. Purely procedural rights, even for an individual, are not sufficient.

Thus, the 1800+ class members whose false information was disseminated (including the named plaintiff) and included information about being on a list of "specially designated nationals" who might be drug dealers or terrorists had standing to sue. The 6000+ remaining class members, whose reports contained false information but were not disseminated, did not have standing; although the false information in the report violated the statute, it was speculative whether or when the information would be disseminated. The entire class lacked standing to challenge the failure to provide them with accurate information and information on how to correct inaccurate information, because the information was provided but in the wrong manner (split into two incomplete mailings); while violative of the statute, it caused no concrete harm.

According to Thomas' dissent, the problem with today's decision is it fails to distinguish public and private rights. Standing limitations make sense when Congress creates a public right and allows for private enforcement; it makes sense to require the plaintiff to show a direct injury from the public statutory violation. This explains Lujan and Laidlaw, for example. It makes no sense when Congress creates a private right for an individual and allows that individual to sue, as in Spokeo and here; and that should include informational and procedural injuries.

Kagan's separate dissent emphasizes an analytical point I make in class: We must "rewrite" the story that standing is being about the "single idea" of separation of powers and limiting the judicial power when the Court can and does override congressional creation of a legal right and remedy. That is, if Congress decides that some conduct should be unlawful and the target of that unlawful conduct should be able to sue and recover for her injury, it is inconsistent with separation of powers and a limited judicial power for the Court to override that decision and require plaintiffs to show, in addition to the statutory violation, something extra that the Court demands. This decision impairs Congress' Article I power to regulate and stop conduct it deems harmful and aggrandizes the Court's power. This goes to the other aspect of the Fletcher argument--not only is standing a merits concern, but the Court should defer to Congress' choice as to statutory merits.

The case also exposes the fault lines around the role of common sense in standing analysis. According to the majority, the risk of disclosure for the 6000+ was speculative because there was no evidence of disclosure or attempted disclosure, and there was no harm from the inaccurate reports because people may not have opened the envelopes and may not have bothered to correct them. But "tap[ping] into common sense," it should not be speculative that a company in the business of selling credit reports will sell those credit reports or that someone who requests their credit report will open it and seek to correct erroneous information.

Interestingly, the Kagan trio departed from Thomas over whether a congressional cause of action is always sufficient. Thomas says it is, at least for private rights. Kagan says Congress is limiting to recognized rights that are "real" and "concrete" but that the Court should override a statutory right to sue " when but only when Congress could not reasonably have thought that a suit will contribute to compensating or preventing the harm at issue," which practically means never.

One final point: It seems to me that the Thomas and Kagan opinions should have been designated as "concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part." They agreed with the majority as to the result (standing existed) for the 1800+ class members whose information was disclosed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 25, 2021 at 11:21 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thoughts on Mahanoy

SCOTUS decided Mahanoy Area Sch. Dist. v. B.L. on Wednesday. Justice Breyer wrote for eight, holding that the school violated the plaintiff's First Amendment rights in suspending her from the J.V. cheerleading team. Justice Alito concurred for Justice Gorsuch. Justice Thomas dissented, unsurprisingly. Some thoughts after the jump.

• Kudos to Justice Breyer for using the word "fuck" in describing B.L.'s messages rather than expurgating, saying "F-word," or using some stupid euphemism.

• The Court rejected the Third Circuit's approach creating a three-tier structure: 1) In-school speech subject to Tinker; 2) out-of-school speech potentially regulated by the school under ordinary First Amendment standards; 3) out-of-school speech beyond the school's regulatory power. Instead, it is two tiers: Tinker is the standard whenever schools have the authority to regulate speech, in or out of school, while some speech may be beyond the school's power to regulate.

Because of that rejection, the school district framed this as a victory, as "vindication of schools’ authority to protect students and staff and to fulfill schools’ educational missions." Sure, it owes Brandi Levy $ 1. But the school sees this decision as endorsing its power to regulate a good deal of student speech, perhaps more speech than Breyer believed he was allowing in writing the opinion. This framing shows that we can expect much litigation in the coming years over attempts to punish out-of-school speech, especially online. Many district courts adopted a more capacious understanding of disruption than Breyer suggests.

The school did not mention that it also owes the ACLU substantial (liekly upwards of $ 750,000, given three layers of review) in attorney's fees. Uzuegbunam, which held that a claim for nominal damages avoids mootness, may prove to be the most significant case of the Term. Brandi Levy just finished her freshman year of college; if nominal damages were not sufficient to keep a case alive, this whole thing would have been moot.

• The Court identified three principles off-campus speech that usually, but not always, place it beyond the school's regulatory power: 1) The school is not in loco parentis; 2) Schools have a heavy burden to justify regulating speech outside of school or a school program or activity, lest students be left with no opportunity to speak; 3) Schools should respect, rather than restrict, student's efforts to express unpopular ideas. As a result, "the leeway the First Amendment grants to schools in light of their special characteristics is diminished."

The Court emphasized that the speech was otherwise constitutionally protected and entirely outside of school, so the school was not I/L/P; that there was no evidence of disruption; and that negativity and undermining team morale are not sufficient disruptions. Breyer closes with an acknowledgement that this was a teen's snap of a profanity and a vulgar gesture, "but sometimes it is necessary to protect the super-fluous in order to preserve the necessary."

• Justice Alito's concurrence attempted to reframe the majority. It staked out a more speech-protective approach in several ways (surprising, given the source).

    • Alito said he could not see this applying to college students, given their age, independence, and living arrangements. Their has been a split about whether and when Tinker applies to colleges; the better answer is it should not apply. It was good to see someone make it explicit.

    • Alito attempted to create a taxonomy of student speech. On one end is off-campus extensions school programs and activities. At the other is speech "not expressly and specifically directed at the school, school administrators, teachers, or fellow students and that addresses matters of public concern;" this lies beyond the school's reach, even if offensive, because Tinker does not create a heckler's veto under which offensiveness equals disruption equals power to regulate. In the middle is off-campus speech that disrupts the school, such as threats, bullying, and harassment (however difficult to define). B.L.'s snap was about the school but did not criticize or deride individuals, and it did not disrupt the school beyond affecting team morale.

• Alito being Alito, it is hard not to look for an ulterior motive. He emphasizes the school's power being grounded on ILP and the limits on ILP from parents' primary control over the children. Might that be used to expand the right of parents to opt their children out from assignments and programs they deem objectionable?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 25, 2021 at 10:06 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Another bad universal injunction decision

A new exhibit in the MUIGA (Make Universal Injunctions Great Again) campaign: Judge Howard (a GWB appointee) of the Middle District of Florida universally enjoined (even though she says nationwide, because judges cannot get this right) the socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers provision of the American Rescue Plan Act. That provision sets money aside for loan forgiveness and other aide for farmers and ranchers from historically disadvantaged groups. The lawsuit was brought by one white farmer in Florida.

The scope portion followed the usual pattern: Hand-wringing about the "great caution" required before issuing a universal injunction, plus citations to Thomas and Gorsuch questioning the authority to do so. Then this is the complete analysis:

Plaintiff has shown a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that Section 1005 is unconstitutional and, if implemented, would deprive him of his right to equal protection under the law. The implementation of Section 1005 will be swift and irreversible, meaning the only way to avoid Plaintiff’s irreparable harm is to enjoin the program.

Once again, the justifications offered for universality cover every case--what program, that appears to violate someone's equal protection rights, is not implemented in a "swift and irreversible" manner? This would mean that any program that would deprive a plaintiff of his rights must be universally enjoined, unless the program someone will not be swiftly implemented. Is there something uniquely swift and irreversible here, where other programs will be implemented slowly and reversibly? The court never explains.

The bigger problem is that there is an obvious non-universal remedy that would accord complete relief: Give the plaintiff--and only the plaintiff--access to the program. That remedies the constitutional violation of treating him differently because of his race and the injury of his exclusion from the program. Nothing more need be done to protect or vindicate the plaintiff's rights.

There might be an argument that universality is necessary because the pool of money is limited and affected by the number of applicants; there is $ X to be distributed, divided by the number of applicants, so universality is necessary until we can determine the number of constitutionally eligible applicants. If money continues to be distributed, that will reduce the amount plaintiff can recover. This was the theory behind universality in the sanctuary-cities cases: Requiring that San Francisco receive funds but allowing Chicago to continue to be denied funds does not allow a proper determination of amount and would mean that, upon final resolution, there might be no funds left for Chicago. But that does not appear to be the case here--the pool is not limited and funds are means-tested, so the amount recovered is determined by each applicant's circumstances, not the number of applicants. In any event, the court never discusses this or offers this as the explanation.

Compounding what appears to be the judge's misunderstanding of universality, she adds a footnote saying she "reaches this conclusion without regard to any incidental benefit to other similarly situated White farmers." This is nonsense. By making the injunction universal, she accords more than incidental benefit to other white farmers--she has made them direct beneficiaries of the injunction, on par with the plaintiff.

There is another way of looking at this case: The plaintiff does not seek the debt relief available under this section, but seeks to stop the government from giving that relief to anyone else. On that understanding, complete relief comes not from making the plaintiff eligible for the funds, but from stopping the award of funds to anyone.

But the plaintiff should not have standing to seek that remedy--he is not injured by some people receiving a benefit that he is not interested in receiving. The court cites Gratz  to identify the equal-protection injury as "the inability to compete on an equal footing." But if the plaintiff's injury here is the inability to compete for the funds on an equal footing, it can be remedied by allowing him to compete for funds; an injunction stopping everyone else from receiving funds is not commensurate with the violation. This case looks like a lawsuit by someone who has no interest in attending the University of Michigan seeking to enjoin the University of Michigan from considering race of people who are interested in attending the University of Michigan. Equal protection standing should not extend that far.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2021 at 09:46 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)