Monday, March 23, 2020

States can pirate and plunder copyrighted material all they want

So said the Court in Allen v. Cooper, holding that states cannot be sued for copyright violations. Congress cannot abrogate under its Article I powers other than Bankruptcy Clause, which has "good-for-one-clause" support and the copyright act is not congruent-and-proportional because it reaches all infringements, not only intentional infringements for which states fail to provide adequate remedies. My SCOTUSBlog analysis is here. I got this one wrong after argument and need to stop making predictions based on questioning. I went lighter on the pirate puns because the Justices did it for me.

Some additional points to draw out:

Justice Kagan writes for a clear six (herself, the Chief, Alito, Sotomayor, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh). Justice Thomas writes an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Ginsburg) writes an opinion concurring in the judgment. But the labels on the separate opinions are confusing. 

Thomas labels his opinion  "concurring in part and concurring in the judgment," while saying in the first paragraph that he "cannot join the Court’s opinion in its entirety."

A concurrence in the judgment usually means agreement with the result but not the legal analysis leading to the opinion. A concurrence means, in this context, that the author joins the opinion except for a few legal points that do not affect the majority's reasoning and path to the judgment.

Thomas identifies three points of disagreement and pieces with which he does not join: 1) The standard for stare decisis (the majority demands a special justification, while Thomas believes precedent can be overruled if is demonstrably erroneous), although everyone agrees that controlling precedent should not be overruled under either standard; 2) the majority's advice to Congress about how it can enact a valid abrogation, which is dicta; and 3) whether copyrights are property for due process purposes, a point the parties stipulate in this case. None of these points affected how the majority reached its conclusion. It thus makes no sense to label this a concurrence in the judgment; Thomas joined (or appears to have joined) all the parts of the opinion that led to the judgment. This should be a concurring opinion, with Thomas providing a seventh vote for the majority.

Breyer labeling his opinion as concurring in the judgment seems strange for a different reason. He agrees that Florida Prepaid resolves the case, although he disagrees with the Court's sovereign-immunity doctrine (for reasons described in his dissents in several of those cases, which he string cites). And writing on a clean slate, he believes abrogation is proper. But the majority opinion resolves the case as Breyer believes it must be resolved--applying Florida Prepaid. It thus seems the appropriate approach would have been to join the Kagan opinion but to write the opinion he did as a concurring opinion (not concurring in the judgment). It seems odd to concur in the judgment but not provide an alternative explanation or analysis for that judgment beyond "what the majority said, with which I disagree but with which I am stuck."

This seems like a half-measure version of Justices Brennan and Marshall in death-penalty cases. They dissented from every summary disposition and cert. denial on the grounds that capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment, refusing to follow established precedent and insisting the case should come out the other way. Breyer wants to follow precedent, even precedent he sees as wrong. But that means he agrees with the majority's analysis applying controlling precedent, even if he would prefer to reject that precedent.

So at the end of the day, this is a 9-0 case--everyone agreeing that the statute is invalid in light of Florida Prepaid and three Justices expressing different views about the doctrine or pieces of the majority's analysis.

Finally, during SCOTUSBlog's live blog of opinions, Tom Goldstein identified a "generational divide" among the Court's liberals. The old guard of Ginsburg and Breyer--who were on the Court and dissented when this abominable line of precedent developed--continue to reject the doctrine. The new guard of Sotomayor and Kagan (who wrote the opinion) accept the current legal regime as correct. It is an interesting idea. Although query whether they regard it as correct as much as they recognize they are stuck with it and do not have the skin in the game to point to past dissents, as Breyer does.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 23, 2020 at 04:16 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The procedure of frivolous political defamation actions

The Donald Trump Campaign today sued the Washington Post in the District of D.C. over a June 2019 column by Greg Sargent. This follows the campaign's suit in New York state court against The New York Times. Meanwhile, Devin Nunes is up to seven lawsuits against various persons, bovines, and business entities.

This rash of lawsuits has many First Amendment advocates calling for more states and the United States to enact anti-SLAPP statutes. These suits represent the modern analogue to Southern officials' defamation campaign against northern media outlets in the 1950s and '60s. But I have been slow coming to the "anti-SLAPP is necessary" position; if the protections of New York Times were sufficient to stop the barrage 60 years ago, they should be sufficient now.

The answer comes from the latest episode of the All the Presidents Lawyers podcast. First Amendment advocate Ken (Popehat) White explains that the purpose of these lawsuits is not to win, because most of the suits are garbage under NYT and the plaintiffs and their lawyers know that. Rather, the purpose is to drag people into court and impose the time, burden, distraction, and cost of having to defend themselves, with the added benefit that it may make people and the press less willing to criticize these people. In theory, only an anti-SLAPP law--with its attorney's fees provision and expedited dismissal--addresses that problem. The alternative (in federal court) is sanctions under FRCP 11 and attorney's fees against counsel under § 1927. But courts may be reluctant to impose sanctions against a congressman, president, presidential campaign, or other powerful and famous plaintiff--especially to award attorney's fees as a sanction, which is the way to address the financial cost to the plaintiff that the lawsuit is intended to impose. Perhaps Nunes' seven nonsense lawsuits would indicate a sufficient pattern that a judge might find attorney's fees necessary for deterrence of client and attorney. But not in the mine run of cases.

Some commentators have suggested that the availability of an anti-SLAPP statute affects litigation choices. Nunes sued Twitter (a California company) and McClatchy Newspapers (publisher of the Fresno Bee) in Virginia, which lacks a strong anti-SLAPP law, rather than California, which has one. Both courts have declined to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, with analysis revealing confusion over the newly narrowed scope of general jurisdiction. Some commentators have suggested that the choice of forum (federal over state court) or the choice of parties depends on whether the federal court would apply the state's anti-SLAPP law.

But we should be more nuanced on the question of anti-SLAPP laws in federal court. I have argued that the special SLAPP motion should not apply in federal court (the position of the D.C. Circuit, in which the new Trump Campaign action was field), because FRCP 12 and 56 cover the issue. (And a 12(b)(6) dismissal, in which the court considers whether the statements as pleaded are opinion, can get the defendant out of the case quickly enough). By contrast, the SLAPP attorney's fees provision should apply in federal court. Under the "relatively unguided Erie analysis," not applying the fee provision would cause a plaintiff to choose federal over state court and the attorney's fee provision is bound up with substantive state policy concerns for protecting the free speech rights of its citizens. If the real concern is the cost of having to defend even a nonsense suit, an attorney's fee provision addresses that.

Finally, it is notable that the Trump Campaign, rather than Trump, brought these two suits. I am not sure how the campaign can claim injury from statements about Trump. One commentator suggested the Campaign sued to get the WaPo case in federal court. The Campaign is a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in New York; Trump, the commentator implies, is a D.C. domiciliary and thus not diverse from the Post.

This returns us to Where In the World Is Donald Trump? Trump was a New York domiciliary prior to January 20, 2017. In October, he (and Melania) renounced his New York citizenship and filed a Declaration of Domicile in Palm Beach County, Fla., establishing Mar-a-Lago as their permanent residence. Trump thus appears to be a Florida citizen--he has a residence there and expressed his intent to remain. Although Trump resides in D.C., he has not manifested an intent to remain there (unless he manages to get Republicans to repeal the 22d Amendment). So it is wrong to say the case could not be in federal court were Trump the named plaintiff--it would be an action between a citizen of Florida (alone or with a citizen of New York/Virginia) and wherever the Post is.

On that point, this case offers a different procedural lesson, because plaintiff counsel screwed up the jurisdictional statement with respect to the Post. Paragraph 10 reads:

On information and belief, defendant WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post is a District of Columbia limited liability company with its principal place of business in Washington, D.C.

An LLC is a citizen of every state in which one its members is a citizen. So identifying an LLC as a party cannot establish jurisdiction because the LLC has no independent citizenship; you have to dig into the LLC's structure to identify individuals or corporations whose citizenship does not depend on someone else. Plaintiff did not bother doing that. I assume that some digging will lead to Jeff Bezos, who is a citizen of Washington state and/or some D.C. corporation. But the complaint, on its face, does not establish federal jurisdiction. And reflects the sort of bad (or disinterested) procedural lawyering I warn my students about. Curious if the Post will raise that or move on, knowing what jurisdictional discovery would reveal about its structure.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 3, 2020 at 04:35 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Judge Sutton hates Rooker and Feldman--So now what?

The Sixth Circuit reversed a Rooker-Feldman dismissal of a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act action, challenging the interest rate included in state writs of garnishment. (H/T: Volokh's Short Circuit round-up). Judge Sutton writes a concurrence begging district courts to stop applying RF except to cases in which the district court is asked to rule that a final state supreme court judgment violates the Constitution.

Sutton insists that RF cannot be used to stop federal actions seeking to second-guess all state court rulings, such as an unappealed state trial-court ruling (whether interlocutory or final-and-appealable). Some courts had justified RF not only on § 1257, but also on § 1331's grant of original (rather than appellate) jurisdiction to district courts. If that also explains RF, then limiting it to final state supreme court decisions is too narrow, at least where the federal plaintiff truly claims constitutional injury arising from a state judgment.*

[*] The majority supported its no-RF conclusion in part because a writ of garnishment is not a judgment.

Sutton argues that such a case be handled by issue and claim preclusion. So does that work? Take the paradigm case of a state trial-court judgment stripping a father of visitation rights. If the father does not appeal to the state intermediate appellate court but instead runs to federal court, Sutton would say RF does not apply. But would preclusion bar that claim, as it must if district courts are not to become reviewing courts for state trial-court judgments.

I also would be concerned that the doctrine that will rise up to replace RF is not preclusion but Younger. A number of lower courts have used that doctrine halt these sorts of challenges where the state proceeding is pending. Except Younger should be limited to challenges to the underlying state law being challenged rather than to complaints about the state court decision itself.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 29, 2020 at 10:38 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

YouTube not a state actor (Updated)

When SCOTUS decided Halleck last term and held that a private company managing public-access cable channels is not a state actor, it was obvious that this meant online platforms such as YouTube or Twitter were not state actors. And so the Ninth Circuit held on Wednesday in PragerU v. Google, a challenge to YouTube policies restricting or demonetizing certain videos. The court rejected the argument that YouTube performed a traditional-and-exclusive public function in managing a speech forum (the argument rejected in Halleck) or that YouTube's public declaration that it is committed to free expression changes its private nature.

This was easier than Halleck. There was something to the position that Justice Sotomayor took in her Halleck dissent that it was a delegation case rather than a public-function case--the government took on a responsibility then delegated it to a private entity. YouTube is an electronic version of the private comedy club discussed in Halleck.

This part of the opinion ended on an interesting point, telling everyone, in essence, to calm the f*&^ down:

Both sides say that the sky will fall if we do not adopt their position. PragerU prophesizes living under the tyranny of big-tech, possessing the power to censor any speech it does not like. YouTube and several amicus curiae, on the other hand, foretell the undoing of the Internet if online speech is regulated. While these arguments have interesting and important roles to play in policy discussions concerning the future of the Internet, they do not figure into our straightforward application of the First Amendment.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 26, 2020 at 06:00 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Time for Congress to Codify Bivens?

Bivens and its implication of a remedy to sue officers directly under provisions of the U.S. Constitution are on life support (see Howard's post). After Hernandez, is Congress ready yet to codify Bivens?

It’s a gross understatement to say that I’m no legislative lawyer. Nonetheless, here’s a quick draft based on the language of 42 U.S.C. § 1983:

Unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, every person who, under color of any statute, regulation, order, custom, or usage, of the United States government, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction of the United States, or at its territorial borders, to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. The availability of alternative remedies shall not preclude relief under this provision.

In any action to enforce the provisions of this section, the court may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fees as part of the costs.

For purposes of this section, “person” includes any natural person.

* * *

It would seem desirable too for any legislation to insist on a court first addressing the issue of whether there was a constitutional violation before reaching the question of any officer immunity. And while we're dreaming perhaps the bill could address the widespread dissatisfaction with current qualified immunity doctrine. Perhaps our commentariat can propose suitable language.

As for political realities, Howard notes conservative distaste for Bivens actions, but I can easily see federal employees unions being equally testy about the prospect of civil liability for their abuses. My sense is that conservative opposition principally originates from two places: (i) institutional concerns about competency for implying that right to sue, which a statutorily enacted right to sue addresses; and (ii) balancing security over individual liberty in security sensitive functions, including external relations. I could imagine compromise legislation conservatives could accept if they had carve outs.

What interesting coalitions could emerge to support this legislation? In 1946, the U.S. government felt enough public pressure to enact the Federal Tort Claims Act to waive federal sovereign immunity. Short of a bomber crashing into a skyscraper or citizens deluging Congress with private bills for wrongs suffered at the hands of federal officials, what would actually get Congress to address this problem?

P.S. I recognize the comparison to the FTCA and waivers of federal sovereign immunity is not on all fours with suits against officers and the creation of a federal statutory right to sue them for their actions, but it seems less remote than the circumstances motivating the enactment of 1983.

Posted by T. Samahon on February 25, 2020 at 02:21 PM in Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Bivens closer to death (and Thomas would kill it)

In one of the (unfortunately) least surprising decisions of the Term, SCOTUS held Tuesday in Hernandez v. Mesa that a Bivens claim was not available against a border-patrol agent who shot a Mexican national standing on the Mexico side of the border.

Justice Alito's opinion for five adopts the most restrictive view of Bivens, defining a new context to include virtually any identifiable factual distinction (here, the fact that the plaintiff was injured outside the U.S.), despite the right (Fourth and Fifth Amendment) and basic facts (excessive force by law enforcement standing on U.S. soil) being the same. Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, goes bigger--having cabined Bivens scope and limited its precedential value, the Court should "abandon the doctrine altogether." Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent for Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

One notable point of departure between majority and dissent is how each reads Abbasi. The majority reads it as the latest in a 40-year line of cases rejecting Bivens claims, reaffirming the narrowness of past factual contexts and the newness (and thus inappropriateness of a Bivens suit) in other contexts.. The dissent emphasizes that Abbasi, while rejecting a Bivens action against high-level policymaking officials for national-security policy choices, "cautioned" against reading it to eliminate or limit core Bivens claims against rank-and-file law enforcement officers for unreasonable seizures.

If any case not on all factual fours with Bivens repesents a new context, the majority gets where Justice Thomas wants to go, without the political cost of overrulings. The "special factors" analysis will come around to congressional failure to authorize such a cause of action by pointing to § 1983 and the fact that it is limited to state (not federal) officials and plaintiffs within in the United States; that congressional failure will require judicial hesitation. The dissent's response--Congress enacted § 1983 in the middle of Reconstruction with a specific concern in mind and was not thinking about federal officials shooting people across borders--does not sway the rest of the Court. This factor always comes to conflicting views of what to do with congressional silence: The majority reads inaction as congressional intent not to reach the situation, while the dissent reads it as leaving the situation to Bivens (lest it create a situation in which it is "damages or nothing").

This decision is unsurprising, as conservatives have long hated Bivens. On the other hand, conservatives increasingly resort to the courts and constitutional litigation. What happens when conservative groups want to challenge ATF agents raiding their compounds?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 25, 2020 at 01:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Scope of the felon-enfranchisement injunction

The Eleventh Circuit last week affirmed a district court judgment declaring invalid a Florida law that required released felons to pay restitution and other "legal financial obligations" before their voting rights can be reinstated.

For my purposes, the injunction is limited to the 17 named plaintiffs in several consolidated cases. The Eleventh Circuit describes the district court preliminary injunction as "requiring the State to allow the named plaintiffs to register and vote if they are able to show that they are genuinely unable to pay their LFOs and would otherwise be eligible to vote." And it ends the opinion as affirming "the district court’s preliminary injunction enjoining the defendants . . . from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations." No matter how some sources have read the order, the court of appeals is clear that this is a non-universal/particularized injunction, entitling the seventeen plaintiffs, but no one else, to vote.

The question is what happens next. The state remains free to decline to enforce the payment law against anyone while it continues to fight this litigation, even if not enjoined from doing so. That avoids either new litigation and a new injunction involving new plaintiffs or the court certifying a 23(b)(2) class of all felons unable to pay LFOs and extending the existing injunction to the class.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 22, 2020 at 02:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Access to the Court

For the last ten years, I’ve taken groups of Villanova Law students to the Supreme Court of the United States almost annually to watch oral argument in cases, some relatively low profile, some blockbusters. We leave VERY early in the morning from Villanova Law (located in the greater Philadelphia area) to drive to 1 First Street NE in order to arrive by no later than 4:30 am. That timing is important because you need to secure a decent place in the public line to get in. The first 50 get in, 51 and later get rotated through for a few minutes of arguments.

Nowadays getting into the Court through the public line can be a bit like trying to get into a rock concert, especially with all the paid line standers — the going rate is about $50/hour, except when demand really surges  — camped out early on lawn chairs with blankets to cut the early morning chill. The line standers are often for interested lawyers who are not Supreme Court bar members. The Court polices the much shorter Supreme Court bar line, but only spontaneous order governs the public line -- a social norm of first in time with reasonable allowance for a tardy friend. Test that norm by bringing 10 friends, however, and you’re likely to risk triggering a Hobbesian state of nature. (During the U.S. v. Texas DAPA case, I witnessed a large group of uniformed private school students cut in line to join an adult claiming to "hold" a place for them. Those behind them were exceedingly unhappy; it almost escalated to violence.)

Once upon a time you could call the Marshal’s Office to ask for advance tickets, but in recent years I’ve had no success. Authoring an amicus brief or serving as counsel below doesn’t cut it for reserved seats - you get either the SCOTUS bar line or the public line. Still, when my bedraggled students and I finally get access to the courtroom (I typically remain with them in the public line in solidarity), we are always stunned at the (relatively) large number of people who arrive inside the Court at 9 am with ticketed seating and who are then seated preferentially. I’ve asked on occasion who these late ticketed arrivals are. Some have identified themselves as guests of the Justices and friends of friends of people connected to the Justices, such as students of prominent lawprofs who have clerked at the Court. Clerking on the Court confers big advantages that last a long time. It’s a nice privilege for those in the Club. For the have nots, though, access is stingy and ultimately discretionary. Perhaps, then, physical access to the Court isn't that different from legal access to it. It too is very limited, mostly discretionary, but greatly eased by knowing someone on "the inside."

UPDATE (March 2, 2020): The House has introduced legislation to make virtual Court access easier. Read the story at SCOTUS Blog.

Posted by T. Samahon on February 21, 2020 at 10:00 AM in Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

More on Dane on law clerks

Inspired by Paul's post, I read Perry Dane's piece on law clerks and their role in drafting opinions. And it seems to me that Dane's discussion meshes with Suzanna Sherry's argument for eliminating signed opinions (all majority opinions must be per curiam, no concurrences or dissents).

Both worry about the judge's-name-as-icon; the no-signed-opinions solution addresses their common worries. For Dane, the attachment between opinion and name is "why the contributions of law clerks to that work product raises such deep and uncomfortable questions."  For Sherry, the attachment between opinion and name creates the judge-as-celebrity culture that, she argues, has broken the Court. Eliminating signed opinions (which are neither required, inevitable, nor essential outside the U.S.) reduces the opportunities for judges to trade on their celebrity and play to their base. And it renders clerk ghost-writing less problematic because readers no longer read and interpret the opinion--the law--as the work of a named judge with an iconic identity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 19, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Model of Constitutional Litigation

My new piece on universal injunctions has been published in Lewis & Clark Law Review. Precedent, Non-Universal Injunctions, and Judicial Departmentalism: A Model of Constitutional Litigation joins three threads that I have been writing and blogging about here--the requirement of particularized injunctions, the distinction between precedent and judgment, and a model of departmentalism in which all branches are bound by judgments but only courts are bound by judicial precedent. The result is a model of how constitutional litigation functions in fact and should function in our understanding.

Abstract after the jump.

This Article proposes a model of constitutional adjudication that offers a deeper, richer, and more accurate vision than the simple “courts strike down unconstitutional laws” narrative that pervades legal, popular, and political discourse around constitutional litigation. The model rests on five principles:

1) an actionable constitutional violation arises from the actual or threatened enforcement of an invalid law, not the existence of the law itself;

2) the remedy when a law is constitutionally invalid is for the court to halt enforcement;

3) remedies must be particularized to the parties to a case and courts should not issue “universal” or “nationwide” injunctions;

4) a judgment controls the parties to the case, while the court’s opinion creates precedent to resolve future cases; and

5) rather than judicial supremacy, federal courts operate on a model of “judicial departmentalism,” in which executive and legislative officials must abide by judgments in particular cases, but exercise independent interpretive authority as to constitutional meaning, even where those interpretations conflict with judicial understanding.

The synthesis of these five principles produces a constitutional system defined by the following features:

1) the judgment in one case declaring a law invalid prohibits enforcement of the law as to the parties to the case;

2) the challenged law remains on the books; and

3) the challenged law may be enforced against non-parties to the original case, but systemic and institutional incentives weigh against such enforcement efforts and push towards compliance with judicial understandings.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 10, 2020 at 07:15 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 31, 2020

Appellate argument (and law school), encapsulated (Updated)

From the Sixth Circuit argument in Higgins v. Kentucky Sports Radio, a lawsuit brought by a college referee who was attacked online by Kentucky basketball fans (particularly through harassing phone calls and negative reviews of his roofing business) following some controversial calls in a game UK lost. The defendants are the radio station and announcer who reported on and promoted the efforts, in a way the plaintiff alleges constitutes incitement and conspiracy to defame. (H/T: Regular reader and commenter Asher Steinberg).

In an argument that otherwise went well for the radio station, I loved this exchange (around 19:00) between the station's attorney and one judge (not sure who turns out to have been Judge Sutton), when the judge asked whether a more direct instance of incitement would have survived 12(b)(6):

Attorney: Your Honor, I'm hesitant to comment on hypotheticals. The point is that is not this case.

Judge Sutton: OK, wait. I hate to break it to you, particularly with some law students here. That is all we do. *** You want to win for your client today. And we do not want to issue a ruling that we will have to denounce tomorrow for the next case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 31, 2020 at 08:33 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, January 27, 2020

Thomas and Gorsuch on universal injunctions (Updated)

SCOTUS stayed pending appeal the injunction prohibiting enforcement of the Trump Administration's public-charge regulation, another example of the government seeking and the Court granting extraordinary relief to allow the administration to continue enforcing policies pending litigation where the lower court found the policies defective. Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Thomas, concurred in the stay, to take aim at universal injunctions (with citation to the work of Sam Bray and Michael Morley), properly defining them as injunctions protecting beyond parties rather than in geographic terms.

Unsurprisingly, I agree with Gorsuch's basic point against universal injunctions. I am not sure what it has to do with this case. Gorsuch would have granted this stay regardless of the injunction's scope. And I am sure he is waiting for the government to challenge a particularized Illinois injunction that (he acknowledges) remains in effect so he can stay that, as well.

Update: I wanted to come back to the question of whether the stay was proper. Given the make-up of the Court, it seems clear that, when the case comes to the Court on the merits, the majority will declare the policy valid. That aside, what about the stay? Where the district court granted an injunction, the question should be what will create more permanent and long-lasting chaos--staying the injunction (thus allowing enforcement of the underlying policy) or allowing the injunction to remain in effect (thus stopping enforcement of the underlying policy, allowing continuation of the primary conduct the regulation is designed to stop.

Today's order means the U.S. can deny status to certain people for the moment, although should the reg be declared invalid at the end of the day, those people could then reapply and be considered without the now-unlawful policy. Had the Court not stayed the injunction, people otherwise subject to the order could enter and/or gain status; if the order ultimately is declared valid, the government would have people in the U.S. or with status who otherwise should not have been permitted. It does not seem that the government could retroactively apply the regulation to remove presence or status already granted under the old rules. So as abhorrent as I find the policy, it seems a stay was appropriate. Where am I going wrong?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 27, 2020 at 01:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Judge Easterbrook does judicial departmentalism

People are talking about Judge Easterbrook's opinion for the Seventh Circuit in Baez-Sanchez v. Barr, taking the BIA to task for not following the court's instructions on remand. Easterbrook is outraged about executive conduct that "beggars belief.' The court has "never before encountered defiance of a remand order,and we hope never to see it again. Members of the Board must count themselves lucky that Baez-Sanchez has not asked us to hold them in contempt, with all the consequences that possibility entails."

Easterbrook then says the following:

A judicial decision does not require the Executive Branch to abandon its views about what the law provides, for the doctrine of offensive non-mutual issue preclusion does not apply to the United States. United States v. Mendoza, 464 U.S. 154 (1984). The Attorney General, the Secretary, and the Board are free to maintain, in some other case, that our decision is mistakenthough it has been followed elsewhere, see Meridor v. Attorney General, 891 F.3d 1302, 1307 & n.8 (11th Cir. 2018). But they are not free to disregard our mandate in the very case making the decision. That much, at least, is well established, not only in Plaut but also in many other cases. See, e.g., United States v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 464 U.S. 165 (1984). The Solicitor General did not ask the Supreme Court to review our decision, and the Department of Justice is bound by it.

Although he does not use the term, this is a nice and succinct encapsulation of judicial departmentalism: The executive can disagree with and disregard a judicial decision it regards as mistaken in some other case. But the executive cannot disregard the court's mandate in the current case when that mandate has become final and unreviewable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 25, 2020 at 10:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Immigration, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Defining a show trial

Some people are decrying-in-advance the upcoming Senate impeachment as a "show trial." At some level the term is apt. The factfinder seems to have its mind made up; the procedures in place do not seem calculated to discover the truth; and the proceeding will bear the cover of a judicial proceeding but serve as little more than a cover for the political decision of those in power.

But  think of "show trials" in the context of the Soviet Union or other totalitarian regimes, where the government uses the sheen of judicial process to purge and execute an enemy of the state, where a conviction is the pre-ordained result. This is going the opposite way--an acquittal is the pre-ordained result. The comparator is not Soviet or authoritarian show trials of ordained enemies. The comparator is state criminal proceedings against Klan members and other Southern whites charged with crimes against African-Americans (e.g., Byron De La Beckwith).

Does the term "show trial" still apply?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 21, 2020 at 03:10 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, January 17, 2020

Two from the Fifth Circuit

From John Ross' invaluable weekly round-up of federal court of appeals decisions at Volokh Conspiracy come two from the Fifth Circuit.

• In U.S. v. Varner, a trans female prisoner moved the court to amend the judgment of confinement to reflect her new name, while asking the court to use her new name and preferred pronoun. My interest in the case is that the majority held that the motion to amend should have been denied for lack of jurisdiction, because no statutory or rule basis for amending a judgment applied. The dissent properly accuses the majority of issuing a "drive-by jurisdictional ruling;" what the majority labels a lack of jurisdiction is better understood as a failure of the petition on the merits, because Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 allows for correction of clerical errors; the problem is that a clerical error is not at issue here. That is, the failure of the petition to satisfy the rule defeats the petition, but not for lack of jurisdiction.

I will not say much about the dispute between majority and dissent about the pronoun request, except that the dissent has the better reading of the request and I cannot imagine a court being more dismissive of the preferred-pronoun issue.

• In Horvath v. City of Leander, the court affirmed a grant of summary judgment against a firefighter on a claim that the city violated the First Amendment by insisting that he take a different job or wear a respirator because he claimed a religious objection to the TDAP vaccine. The majority found that the city offered a reasonable accommodation, which the plaintiff refused.

Judge Ho concurred in the judgment in part and dissented in part. Ho would affirm the judgment on the clearly established prong of qualified immunity, but then proceeds to rail against qualified immunity as unjustified by common law, the Constitution, or § 1983. He argues that the concerns justifying qualified immunity can be addressed if courts do a better job with the merits prong; the current problem "stems from misuse of the first prong of the doctrine. Simply put, courts find constitutional violations where they do not exist." If courts did a better job with the constitutional analysis, police would not be chilled or over-deterred.

But then he gives the game away about where this would take us. After all, "the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit reasonable efforts to protect law-abiding citizens from violent criminals--it forbids only unreasonable searches and seizures." Unspoken is the view that police can do whatever they believe necessary in the moment against someone they believe poses a threat to law-abiding citizens--it would be open season on anyone perceived as a threat. Unless, of course, those police officers speak rudely to a white woman who wants to pray while the officers are searching her house.

Look, I agree with Judge Ho that we should get rid of qualified immunity and let the Constitution do the work. But his opinion shows that the cross-ideological opposition to qualified immunity will give way to ideological splits on substantive rights--lots of Free Exercise violations when officers are mean t0 Christians, few Fourth Amendment violations when officers shoot African-Americans.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 17, 2020 at 07:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Universal consent decrees

Two U Conn students who were prosecuted and sanctioned by the university for violating the school policy against "disruptive behavior" for uttering a racial slur have filed suit in the District of Connecticut, claiming the school sanctions violate the First Amendment. (H/T: Eugene Volokh). The case should be easy as a First Amendment matter--the students seem to have shouted the slur into the ether, not directed at anyone and not accompanied by any threatening conduct.

But it is procedurally interesting, potentially complicated, and seemingly wrong. After the jump.

In 1990, U. Conn. entered a consent decree in a lawsuit brought by a then-student named Nina Wu, who was sanctioned for saying "no homos" on a board on her dorm-room door. The consent decree permanently enjoined U. Conn. from enforcing a provision of its student code "against this plaintiff or any other student." This is a universal injunction, protecting the universe of U. Conn. students (or it is at least non-particularized). I would argue the court cannot and should not issue such an injunction. The completeness of Nina Wu's remedy is unaffected what might happen to do students 30 years later--that is, students who were not born at the time of the injunction. On the other hand, U. Conn. could have entered the consent decree with Wu, then voluntarily altered its conduct and declined to enforce the provision against any other student (which is what usually happens). But this case offers a third option--U. Conn. voluntarily bound itself to non-enforcement as to non-parties as a matter of an enforceable judicial order. Can a defendant do this? Can the court do it if the defendant agrees? Can a court enforce it as it would a properly scoped injunction?

The plaintiffs frame their case, at least in part, as an attempt to enforce the consent decree. They allege in ¶ 8 that they have standing to enforce the decree because of its stated scope. But then the procedural posture makes no sense--why (and how) can a plaintiff file a new lawsuit to enforce a judgment in a different action, even if in the same district and assigned (under a local related-case rule) to the same judge. It seems to me that the proper course have been to move to intervene or join as plaintiff in Wu and to move the court with jurisdiction over the injunction to enforce or modify. Filing a new lawsuit before a new judge is proper if asking for a new injunction protecting these plaintiffs as to these defendants.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 16, 2020 at 04:47 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 13, 2020

Why not just have oral argument?

Bloomberg has a story (behind paywall) Judge Alan Albright of the Western District of Texas and some of his standing orders and practices. Among them: The use of "audio briefs," recordings of briefs longer than 10 pages, which the judge listens to while driving and biking.

I am in favor of greater orality in litigation. But part of the benefit of more orality is more bench presence and more contact between the court and the advocates. This seems to provide the worst of both worlds--the looser argumentation of oral compared with written advocacy, but without the presence and contact.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 13, 2020 at 11:02 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

C.J. Roberts and the Year-End Report

At SEALS next summer, there will be a discussion group to mark fifteen years of the Roberts Court and the Court's renewed engagement in civ pro (something I wrote about at the six-year mark). For a topic, I was considering the way that Roberts has used his Year-End Reports to talk about civil procedure and the FRCP, in ways both good and bad, proper and less so.

Adam Feldman on Empirical SCOTUS looks at the particular words Roberts uses in these Reports to talk about the power and role of judges and the judiciary. Although about the judiciary broadly and not only civ pro, it offers a good starting point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 8, 2020 at 11:50 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Constitutional small claims court

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Marvin Miller and the Hall of Fame (Updated)

Marvin Miller--the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and the creative force behind the modern economics of baseball and all professional sports--was elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday. The election comes seven years after Miller's death. And, although I did not know this, against his express wishes.

Miller was passed over several times by various committees between 2003 and 2010, likely because the powers-that-be wanted to deny Miller the honor, at least while he was alive. In 2008, Miller, askedtthe Baseball Writers Association of America, the main selection body, not to nominate him again; he declared himself "unwilling to contemplate one more rigged veterans committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering the pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players." Miller was no doubt especially angry that in 2007, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Miller's chief antagonist, was elected just before his death. Despite the request, Miller was nominated in 2010, then posthumously in 2014, 2018, and this year.

There is an interesting debate about how the Hall should handle those wishes. On one hand, it is a museum designed to tell the history of baseball and to recognize those who made the game--that history cannot be told without Miller. On the other hand, the Hall of plaques does more than tell a story; it singles people for a unique honor, an honor that should be bestowed only if both parties wish. Miller's children have made clear they will not attend and accept induction in their father's place. And it is hard not see the election as one final power play against Miller--selecting him against his wishes, but when he could no longer decline appear and make his own case.

Speaking of Miller and Kuhn, Slate's Hang Up and Listen uses Miller's election as an excuse to parse Flood v. Kuhn, especially the bizarre Part I in which Justice Blackmun rattles off a laundry list of historic players from a bygone era. Several tidbits on this.

That part of the opinion was written for only three of the five Justices who formed the majority (Blackmun, Stewart, and Rehnquist). Chief Justice Burger and Justice White refused to join that part of the opinion, White expressly because an paean to baseball and a recitation of players had nothing to do with the case and no place in a judicial opinion.

The list includes only two African-American players--Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. And they are from a different baseball era. The white players all played in the 1900s-1930s. Based on a quick glance, it appears no one on the list began his career beyond the early '30s. The latest player is Hank Greenberg, who retired in 1948, but debuted in 1930. Robinson and Campanella played from the late-'40s to mid-'50s. Blackmun's original draft did not include any African-Americans; he added Robinson, Campanella, and Satchel Paige at the insistence/request of Justice Marshall. But Blackmun could not (or did not bother to) match anyone to the era that is the focus of the rest of the list, although several historically great Negro League players (e.g., Josh Gibson) were contemporaries of Ruth, Gehrig, etc.  Marshall then dissented in the case, so he did not join the list at all.

Finally, there was some horse-trading among the Justices about who to include. That still does not explain how Moe Berg made the list.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2019 at 03:01 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Sports | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Legislatures creating universality

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

A pleading question

The Comcast argument from two weeks ago featured competing hypotheticals designed to show proximate cause under § 1981, but instead showed the problem of pleading oneself out of court. Following some comments on my prior post, I have been thinking about both (which I would like to use in Civ Pro next semester).

Hypo # 1: African-American not hired by law firm; receives letter saying "You're African American and we don't hire non-lawyers."

Option # 1: Complaint quotes the "You're African-American" language of letter but nothing else. I think the Complaint passes muster, although the defendant may be able to offer the full letter on a 12(b)(6), which would change the analysis.

Option # 2: Complaint quotes entire letter (or attaches letter as written instrument). Complaint fails unless plaintiff alleges fact rebutting the non-lawyer piece of the letter. We would say P has pleaded himself out of court, but including a fact that undermines his claim.

Hypo # 2: Hotel refuses to rent room to African-American, telling him "We don't rent to African-Americans and we are out of rooms."

Option # 1: Complaint only quotes the first statement. Again, I think the complaint passes muster.

Option # 2: Complaint quotes both statements. I think the Complaint would fail for the same reason as the first case. A commenter suggests otherwise, because it may be that the hotel was lying about there being no rooms. But must the plaintiff allege a fact rebutting the statement that there are no rooms, at least on information and belief, to show that it might be false? Just as the lawyer-applicant must allege facts rebutting non-lawyerness as the basis for not hiring? If the "reasonable alternative explanation" language of Iqbal does any work, this would be it--the complaint provided the alternative explanation. Or does drawing all reasonable inferences for the plaintiff allow for the inference that the hotel is lying about the adverse fact?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 24, 2019 at 11:15 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pleading yourself out of court and other thoughts on Comcast

Some thoughts after listening to arguments in Comcast, where the question was the causation standard ("but-for" or "motivating factor") for a § 1981 action.

• I did not understand the  argument from respondent (represented by Erwin Chemerinsky) that the standard could be motivating factor at pleading and but-for at trial or summary judgment. A motion under 12(b)(6) is supposed to ask whether, if everything the plaintiff alleges is true, the plaintiff can prevail--under whatever the controlling legal standard will be. It makes no sense--especially given the spin in Twiqbal--to allow a pleading to pass scrutiny when its facts could not meet the applicable standard.

The argument and questions seemed to conflate this with the distinct, and unremarkable, proposition that a plaintiff need not plead all the evidence she will have or use to prove her or claim. Or that a plaintiff should only be expected to plead what she can know or learn pre-discovery (an idea to which Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, as well as Kagan, seemed receptive). Or that a plaintiff can prove her case with different evidence and different rationales than she pleads it.

• There were competing hypotheticals that illustrate the idea of a plaintiff pleading herself out of court, but that do not necessarily grapple with the problem here. The first, proposed by ASG Morgan Ratner, involves a law-firm applicant who receives a rejection letter saying "you're African-American and we're not hiring you because you never went to law school;" Ratner argued there would be no plausible claim of discrimination, because it was not plausible that the law-firm plaintiff could have been hired in any event. The second, proposed by Chemerinsky, is a plaintiff told by a hotel that it will not give him a room because no rooms are available and the hotel does rent to African-Americans; he argues that those allegations should be sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.

The problem is that the hypos do not reflect how pleading works, because the fundamental nature of pleading and 12(b)(6) motions is that they are one-sided--only the facts alleged by the plaintiff are considered and the plaintiff can limit her pleading to those true facts (or facts she believes supportable on reasonable inquiry) that support her case. There is no obligation to plead adverse facts. And, as several justices and Chemerinsky reiterated during the argument, no need to anticipate and rebut the contrary facts the defendant may present.

So how would a plaintiff plead each of those cases? I imagine the rejected lawyer would plead that he was denied a job and the rejection letter mentioned his being African-American; the hotel guest would plead that they told him they do not rent rooms to African-Americans. A motion to dismiss would be denied, because those facts, if true and without more, could plausibly show that race was a but-for cause.

Both complaints are incomplete, as they withhold facts favorable to the defendant. But the defendant cannot introduce those facts at 12(b)(6). It must wait for summary judgment. Or maybe it could answer, add the additional facts (not a lawyer or no room at the inn), then move under 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings. It could prevail at either stage, because there is a non-discriminatory reason for its action and the result would have been the same--a point Chemerinsky seems to concede.

Had either plaintiff pleaded complete information (or had the law-firm plaintiff attached the rejection letter to the complaint), I think both complaints should be dismissed, because the plaintiff had "pleaded himself out of court." A defendant could move under 12(b)(6) and say "look at the four corners of the complaint, it shows the plaintiff cannot state a claim because it is not plausible that discrimination, as opposed to his not being a lawyer, caused his non-hiring, because the facts in the complaint show he was not hired because he is not a lawyer." Which, again, is as it should be. If the plaintiff offers and does not contest facts of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the action, his claim should fail.

Here is a different, interesting procedural question: Suppose the law-firm plaintiff just pleaded that the rejection letter contained racially motivated language. Could the defendant on a 12(b)(6) present the letter to give full context to what the plaintiff was told and still have it be treated as a 12(b)(6) (rather than converted to summary judgment)? The letter is not part of the four corners of the complaint. But the complaint references the letter, so the letter itself provides context. The Twombly Court did this with the magazine feature on Dick Notebaert in which Notebaert said competition was a way to turn a quick buck, but that didn't make it right.

• There was some discussion of Summers v. Tice (the two-hunters case from torts) for the idea that a claim can succeed when two plausible causes are presented showing liability, either of which was a but-for cause. But Summers does not seem the appropriate analogue here. The issue in Summers was that either of two people engaged in unlawful actions that might have caused the plaintiff's death--because either could have unlawfully caused the death, either could be liable, so both could be liable (and we will leave it them to sort out liability between them). The issue in the hypos is that one person engaged in two actions that caused the non-hiring or non-rental--one of those acts was lawful, the other was unlawful. So in Summers, the result (death) was the same and someone must be responsible because it resulted from one of two unlawful acts. In the hypos, the result (not hired/not given a room) was the same, but it resulted from one of two acts, one of which was lawful.

• Breyer and Gorsuch pushed that a plaintiff can satisfy 8(a)(2) by pleading mental state on information and belief. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh also suggested that discrimination cases should not be easily dismissed at the pleading stage. Such comments suggest a potential opinion loosening pleading standards. I wait to see if it is something that might become part of the Civ Pro course.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 17, 2019 at 11:50 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Inexplicable decisions, in one post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Daily Northwestern gets pummeled--some thoughts (Updated)

I am a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, although I never worked at The Daily Northwestern and never pursued journalism as a career. I am following and interested in the scorching negative reaction to the paper's apology for its coverage of a campus speech by Jeff Sessions last week, at which protesters gathered outside and some protesters attempted to force their way into the lecture hall, where they were confronted and restrained by campus police.

It appears the paper overreacted and that its reporting, including the photographs it took and posted online, followed appropriate journalistic standards. It also appears that some of the sharp reaction to the apology reflects the "these damn snowflakes" annoyance with millenials, such as the paper's suggesting that it harmed and "retraumatized" student protesters by reporting on them (which is what the protesters seem to charge). And the paper seemed to be motivated by the possibility that its photographs and reporting could be used as a basis to identify and sanction student protesters--Northwestern does not provide amnesty for protesters who violate university rules (such as sneaking into the reserved lecture hall) and students are not excused from attendance policies because they were out protesting.

On the other hand, I would like to see more criticism of NU President Morton Schapiro, who uttered the following (according to The Daily) in a speech he gave to visitors over parents-weekend (my friend whose kid goes to Northwestern did not attend the speech).

Although Schapiro said he supports Sessions’ right to speak on campus and NUCR’s right to invite him, he questioned whether the former attorney general was “the right speaker” for NU. He said that on a campus as liberal as Northwestern’s, there is little opportunity to share conservative thought in a way that starts dialogue.

Schapiro — who said he is personally “not a fan” of Sessions — said NUCR missed a chance to do so by inviting him rather than a different conservative speaker.

“They had an opportunity and they didn’t use it,” he said. “All it was was polarizing. All it was was making the campus more unhappy. All it did was blow up and make things even worse.”

I await Schapiro's list of conservative speakers who would be "right" for NU, sharing conservative thought in a way that starts a dialogue but that does not make the campus unhappy. Say what you will about Sessions--and he apparently criticized the protesters in his speech, while paying lip service to freedom of speech. But Sessions was Attorney General of the United States and compared with the current occupant of the office, he looks like Nicholas Katzenbach. So what speaker would have been more acceptable to this crowd?

Finally, a thought on civil disobedience. Part of the debate is whether students should be sanctioned for breaking rules or obligations when protesting--skipping class to attend the lecture, sneaking into the closed hall in an attempt to interrupt Sessions' speech, etc. NU does not excuse such violations, taking the position that there are trade-offs and that students must make choices and bear responsibility for their actions. The Associated Student Government called on the university to change those policies, at least for "students with marginalized identities."

It seems to me the dispute here is over what civil disobedience means. NU students (the protesters, the ASG, the Daily editors) appear to believe that there is a free-speech opt-out from the rules--that if you are protesting, then university rules about attendance or closed spaces do not apply. But the idea of civil disobedience is that you peacefully violate a law--and accept the consequences for that violation--to call attention to the injustice of that law or something else. There is no right to interrupt the speech within the reserved hall; if you believe it is important to interrupt anyway, civil disobedience means you will do it anyway--and you accept the consequences.

The fascinating thing is how much has changed in 30 years. I would not have described NU as a particularly liberal place when I was there.

Update: A statement from Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. It is a strong statement that: Defends the Daily's coverage of the protests as consistent with journalistic standards; takes student activists to task for threatening paper staff and insisting that journalists should not have covered disadvantaged communities in a public protest; criticizes the editors for apologizing which, while well-intentioned, sends a chilling message about journalism; and calls on angry alums to give them a break, reminding them that these are students who are learning and dealing with a unique firestorm.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 12, 2019 at 06:52 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, November 11, 2019

John Oliver on SLAPP suits

John Oliver's Last Week Tonight did a long piece on SLAPP suits, including his experience as the target of one by coal baron Bob Murrary in state court in West Virginia (a state that lacks a SLAPP suit). And Devin Nunes sued Twitter in Virginia (which refused to dismiss) because its SLAPP statute is weaker than the one in California (the natural forum for that suit). The video is embedded after the jump.

The piece is funny, although too simplistic in a blanket call for statutes with a call for coordination. A federal statute cannot define the pleading standard in state court, although it perhaps could require attorney's fees.* So a federal statute would not have jelped State statutes cannot define the pleading standard in federal court (the subject of a circuit split, where the "does not apply" position seems to be winning) but can require attorney's fees in federal court.

[*] This would be an interesting § 5 question. Are procedural protections such as a pleading standard and fee-shifting congruent-and-proportional to protecting the First Amendment rights of the targets of these suits?

Also, the show missed a great irony. It discussed a $ 5 billion SLAPP suit that Trump brought against journalist Bob O'Brien, admittedly for the point of hurting O'Brien. But the story did not mention that Trump prevailed in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit--a suit designed to criticize the President of the United States--under California's SLAPP law and recovered six-figures in attorney's fees.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 11, 2019 at 07:00 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 08, 2019

State-level universality

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Allen v. Cooper argument review

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 01, 2019

Fun with diversity (Updated)

Two fun news stories on diversity.

1) President Trump announced yesterday that he was changing his domicile from New York to Florida, although he insists he enjoys living in the White House and plans to continue to do so for another five years. The jurisdiction essay for spring 2017 had Trump attempting to remove Summer Zervos' lawsuit; the best answer was despite having moved to Washington and owning property in Florida at which he spent a bit of time, he remained a New York citizen and was barred from removal by the Forum Defendant Rule.

So has Trump affected a change of domicile with his announcement, seeing as how he owns property and spends some part of the year in Florida? Or does he need to be present there more permanently after leaving the White House? Better still, does his stated desire to remain the White House five more years suggest an intent to remain (and thus a change to DC), at least for now?

2) I got a call from a journalist about this one. An insurance company filed suit against a Washington, D.C.-based law firm (a limited partnership). The firm moved to dismiss because it has a London office and a partner a U.S. citizen) who moved to London to staff the office, has been there for five years, and intends to remain in London for the foreseeable future, while keeping his U.S. citizenship. Because that London partner is domiciled in the U.K. while remaining a U.S. citizen, he is "stateless" for diversity purposes. And because a partnership takes on the citizenship of all partners, the partnership is stateless for diversity purposes. Thank you, Elizabeth Taylor.

I could not tell the reporter whether this was unusual or whether it was an increasing trend. The firm's motion cites a 1990 case from the Second Circuit holding that Sullivan Cromwell could not be sued in diversity because of its U.S.-citizen partners staffing overseas offices.

What I cannot figure out is why the firm (which filed its own suit in state court) would rather be in NC state court against a NC-based insurer. It is both an outsider to the state and a defendant, the two groups who generally want to be in federal court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2019 at 01:58 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Why not standing?

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Universal injunctions and mootness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 07, 2019

Virginia has jurisdiction over Twitter in Nunes suit

It must be awful procedure day. In addition to whatever the Second Circuit did, a Virginia trial court denied Twitter's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction Cong. Nunes' suit against Twitter, a Twitter user, and Devin Nunes' Cow.

The court found "general personal jurisdiction" over Twitter, based on its being registered to do business in Virginia, having a registered agent in Virginia, deriving a large amount of revenue from there, and having many users in Virginia, "sufficient minimum contacts to confer jurisdiction." Perhaps in 2005, but not since Good Year, Daimler, and BNSF did away with general jurisdiction based on a company doing a lot of business in a state and seemed to limit general jurisdiction to state of incorporation and principal place of business. The court discussed BNSF to distinguish it based on the injury occurring in the forum state, but ignored the other two cases. It also emphasized that Nunes suffered an injury in Virginia (because that is where the tweets were sent from and read), while not mentioning that locus of injury is not sufficient and Twitter did not direct any activities (not deleting the tweets) at Virginia in relation to this case. Even if knowledge of the plaintiff's location were sufficient (it is not, after Walden), Twitter's assumption would have been that Nunes was in California or Washington, D.C., not Virginia.

The court also rejected a forum non conveniens argument, because it was not clear there was an alternative forum. It was not clear there would be jurisdiction in California, even though both Nunes and Twitter are from there and the individual defendant consented to jurisdiction there. (Nunes does not want to be in California, where he must deal with its SLAPP statute).

Someone said the judge has a reputation as being pretty good. This is not his best work.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2019 at 06:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

District court abstains in Trump subpoena case (Fast Update)

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

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

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

Further Update: The Second Circuit order states

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

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

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

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Minding the abstention gaps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Asylum injunction stayed, everyone confused

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Declaratory judgments and injunctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Merits, not standing

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

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

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Qualified immunity and judicial departmentalism

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 24, 2019

More on SLAPP laws in federal court

The Fifth Circuit on Friday held that Texas's SLAPP law does not apply in federal court on diversity, following the (correct) analysis from the D.C., 10th, and 11th Circuits that the state law conflicts with FRCP 12 and 56 by adding an additional hurdle to trial. This decision complicates the circuit split because the 5th Circuit had held in 2009 that Louisiana's SLAPP law applies in federal court. The panel held it was not bound by circuit precedent. It was pre-Shady Grove, which the panel says sharpened the proper analysis. And the Texas law is different than the Louisiana law; the latter uses standards that look like summary judgment, while Texas imposes higher standards that more "manifest[ly]" conflict with the Federal Rules.

I doubt this will be the case on which SCOTUS will resolve the question, at least not immediately. The first move will be en banc reconsideration on the Fifth Circuit to resolve its internal split.

My conclusion on the overall Erie question is that the "special motion" provisions should not apply in federal court but fee-shifting provisions should. The question is whether that sufficiently protects free-speech interests, by allowing litigation to last a bit longer (until the protections of NYT can do their work in an appropriate case), but allowing the defendant to recover attorney's fees, which recoups the defendant's major financial burden.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 24, 2019 at 11:26 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

N.C. Court blows the mulligan

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

Nomenclature and the real issue on the scope of injunctions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Second Circuit revives Palin defamation suit

Decision here. I wrote about the case here.

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

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

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

The court closed the opinion as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 05, 2019

Judgments we like yielding precedent we hate

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

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

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

Friday, August 02, 2019

Judicial immunity can be shocking (sorry)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sherry on the "Kardashian Court"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My civil rights course, in one case

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 04, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

More action on the census (Edited)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial departmentalism and overbroad injunctions in the news

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

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

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

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