Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Another right is clearly established--flipping cops the bird

So says the Sixth Circuit (h/t: Volokh). At least for the moment--the court only affirmed denial of defendant's 12(c) motion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 13, 2019 at 06:09 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, March 08, 2019

Even more on Judge Sutton

This seemed too long for a comment to Gerard's post, so I will lay it out separately.

The rights-violation prong in a qualified-immunity case is not treated as dicta. In Camreta v. Greene, the Court held that it would hear "winner's appeals" from officers in cases in which the lower court held that the right was violated but granted immunity because the right was not clearly established. In justifying the decision, the Court stated the "constitutional determinations that prevailing parties ask us to consider in these cases are not mere dicta or "statements in opinions. They are rulings that have a significant future effect on the conduct of public officials" The Court quoted a Scalia dissent from denial of cert in a similar case in which he argued that winner's appeals were proper because "[t]hat constitutional determination is not mere dictum in the ordinary sense, since the whole reason we require it to be set forth (despite the availability of qualified immunity) is to clarify the law and thus make unavailable repeated claims of qualified immunity in future cases."

So I wonder if the same could be said about the state constitutional decision in the cases Sutton has in mind. Both are grounded in concerns for clarifying the law. Both also have concerns and effects on appealability. Camreta ensures that unfavorable merits determinations are not rendered unappealable by the favorable judgment on the separate prong of the analysis. Sutton's proposal would better position state courts to immunize decisions from SCOTUS review under the independent-and-adequate doctrine.

One further, unrelated Sutton point: Justice Kavanaugh name-dropped Judge Sutton in argument in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, asking respondent whether the Court should avoid deciding the Establishment Clause issues here because the Maryland courts could handle this under the Maryland Constitution. Counsel missed the question, prompting  Justice Sotomayor to jump in three pages later to bail her out. Kavanaugh seemed to use Sutton's book to bolster Justice Rehnquist's Chief Justice Burger's dissent in Wisconsin v. Constantineau, in which he argued that a federal court should abstain under Pullman when the state courts have not addressed the issue under the state constitution.

And since we are on the subject, I will highlight Jim Pfander's JOTWELL review of Sutton's book from January.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 8, 2019 at 07:45 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Mandatory-but-non-jurisdictional FRCP 23(f)

SCOTUS on Tuesday decided Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, holding that FRCP 23(f)'s 14-day time period for seeking permission for interlocutory appeal of a class-certification order is a mandatory claim-processing rule not subject to equitable tolling. My SCOTUSBlog analysis is here. The Court was unanimous, per Justice Sotomayor.

It appears that the Court is approaching something like clear lines, at least in how to approach questions if not the answer with respect to any particular rule. Anything appearing in an REA-established rule must be a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule. That leads to the second question of whether that claim-processing rule, while non-jurisdictional, possesses similar characteristics, such as non-tolling, based on the text, structure, and history of that rule.

On the other hand, under Scott Dodson's approach (which the Court expressly considered but declined to adopt in Hamer) this would have been jurisdictional, as it marked the line between courts. Of course, Dodson then would have required the Court to consider tolling, because rules can be jurisdictional but still subject to equitable exception.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 26, 2019 at 03:12 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Thomas calls for reconsideration of NYT v. Sullivan

In a solo opinion concurring in denial of cert in a defamation action brought by one of the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. It is typical Thomas fare--rejecting a precedent as an improper judicial policy choice that should be reexamined in light of history, convincing to no one else on the Court. But do not be surprised if it makes its way into a presidential tweet as part of his plan to "open up" libel laws--overruling Sullivan is the first, necessary step to that end.

In the final paragraph, Thomas writes "We did not begin meddling in this area until 1964, nearly 175 years after the First Amendment was ratified." But this seems like a rhetorical cheat. The Free Speech Clause was not incorporated against the states under the Fourteenth Amendment until 1925. So, to the extent time matters, it took less than 40 years for the Court to begin meddling in this area, a shorter period of time.

Update: Someone reminded me of an additional point. Another reason that the Court did not use the First Amendment to limit defamation until 1964 was because it was not until 1960 that public officials in Alabama began an organized campaign to use big-money defamation lawsuits to stop the northern press from reporting about segregation and Massive Resistance to Brown, revealing the similarity between seditious libel and defamation when brought to bear by public officials in this context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 19, 2019 at 12:07 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Cert before judgment

SCOTUS granted cert before judgment under § 1254(1) in Dept. of Commerce v. New York, the challenge to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census format. The Court added it to the April sitting. This is the first time it has done this with a stand-alone case since Dames & Moore in 1982. Other high-profile examples were Youngstown Steel and Nixon.

Presumably the Court sees the case as uniquely time-sensitive because DOC must complete the census form by the end of spring/beginning of summer.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 15, 2019 at 02:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Right result, mess of an analysis

Erie can be complicated. But a lot of that complication comes from courts conflating different strands of the analysis. Pappas v. Philip Morris from the Second Circuit illustrates that problem.

At issue is whether an executrix suing on behalf of an estate can proceed pro se; Connecticut law says no, while Second Circuit precedent interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1654 says yes. The court then went into several disconnected aspects of Erie--whether rules of practice are procedural or substantive, § 1654 and precedent, local rules and inherent power to regulate practice before a district, and the twin aims of Erie.

But this should have been a pretty easy case and I am not sure why the court took such a complicated route.

• At times the court says the issue of whether a representative plaintiff can proceed pro se is controlled by § 1654 and judicial interpretations of that. If so, the only question should have been whether § 1654 was valid under the Necessary and Proper Clause and the power to constitute the federal courts. Under the RDA, state law controls except where "Acts of Congress otherwise require or provide." Section 1654 is an Act of Congress that provides (as interpreted) that a representative can proceed pro se in certain circumstances; if valid (which it is), it controls. There was no need to ask whether it was procedural or substantive, to mention the twin aims of Erie, or to ask whether the statute "encroaches" on federal law, except to the extent that encroachment renders § 1654 constitutionally invalid. When the conflicting federal rule comes from a congressional enactment, the rule controls so long as Congress had the power to enact the rule. This is the separation-of-powers gloss on the constitutional issues in Erie--the issue is not that state law had to control, it was that the source of superseding federal law had to be Congress.

• At other times the court says the issue is a matter of local rules and inherent power. If so, the court needed to do a full Erie analysis--asking about forum shopping and inequitable administration of laws. But the sum of this analysis was the statement that there was "no reason to believe" it would lead to forum shopping or inequitable administration. If this is a true conflict between state law and federal common law, a lot more is required.

As I said, the right result. But a convoluted way to get there.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 13, 2019 at 10:16 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 07, 2019

More personal jurisdiction on the internet

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the threatened defamation lawsuits by the students at Covington Catholic against journalists who tweeted about the incident. I wondered whether there would be personal jurisdiction in Kentucky--whether there was enough Kentuckiness (beyond the plaintiffs being from there) to satisfy Walden/Calder.

An analytical hint (from within the Sixth Circuit) comes from the Eastern District of Michigan in an action brought by two men wrongly reported as the driver and owner of the car that struck and killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville in 2017; defendants were a news organization and bunch of individuals who tweeted or circulated the news reports. Three individuals (one in California, one in Wisconsin, and one in Indiana) challenged personal jurisdiction. The court explored cases (including Clemens v. McNamee) to establish the principle that the defamatory statements must involve the forum state in some way other than being about someone from that forum.

The California defendant was subject to jurisdiction because she had doxed the plaintiffs, republishing information about their physical home in Michigan. This allowed the inference that she was attempting to cause action in Michigan or to catch the attention of people in Michigan.* By contrast, the two defendants who had merely retweeted or circulated a news article identifying the plaintiffs as the driver did not satisfy the effects test, because there was "nothing 'Michigan'" about circulating the article identifying a Michigander as the driver.

[*] The "traditional notions" prong carried some heft as to the California defendant, a disabled elderly woman living on social security. The court recognized the hardship, but found the state interest to prevail in the balance.

So where does this analysis leave the potential defendants as to Covington Catholic? Were the tweets identifying the students as from Kentucky, criticizing and calling on the Kentucky-based school to take action "sufficiently 'Kentucky'"? That will be the question.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 7, 2019 at 07:46 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The legal fiction of "clearly established"

Orin Kerr flags this Third Circuit decision holding that a Fourth Amendment right was not clearly established where a binding circuit decision was handed down two days before the events at issue. That was too short a time for the government to read and understand the case, develop new policies to reflect that case, and communicate those policies to the officer. Kerr ponders some interesting questions arising from the case about determining how long it takes for a right to become clearly established and what the government and/or the officer must do to learn the law.

It seems to me this exposes two problems in qualified-immunity law. One is the essentially fictitious nature of tying qualified immunity to factually similar case law--law-enforcement officers do not read or follow case law and they do not perform their daily functions thinking about how the instant situation compares or contrasts with a situation in other cases. Talking about "the law of which the officer would be aware" in terms of case law does not reflect how law enforcement operates.

Second is how the Third Circuit's focus on policymakers establishing policy to reflect the new decision and communicating that policy to the officers. This appears to collapse into municipal-liability analysis (in a case involving a municipality, as opposed to the federal or state governments, such as this one)--government policy and government training of officers is necessary to clearly establish, both hallmarks of municipal liability. So does this suggest that a right is clearly established only if a municipality would be liable for having policies contrary to law or for failing to train on those policies?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 22, 2019 at 11:18 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, January 21, 2019

SCOTUS does Civ Pro, confusedly

I just listened to last week's argument in Home Depot v. Jackson, which showed how confused the Justices get about Civ Pro. The issue is whether a third-party claim brought under CAFA can be removed by the third-party defendant. In the case, Citibank brought a debt-collection against against Jackson in state court; Jackson filed a counterclaim and impleaded Home Depot on an unfair trade practices class action. Home Depot wanted to remove the third-party claim under CAFA, which allows for removal of class actions with an amount-in-controversy over $ 5m on minimal diversity. The Court has held that a counterclaim defendant (otherwise known as the original plaintiff) cannot remove; the question is whether that is true of a third-party defendant.

Some thoughts:

• There was a lot of confusion about the distinction among counterclaims, cross claims, and third-party claims, even among the advocates. That confusion affected the question of whether Home Depot is a "defendant" or a "third-party defendant" and whether there is a difference between those two things. Does "any defendant" in § 1453(b) include third-party defendants as well as original defendants? Or, to put it in dueling metaphors, is a third-party defendant a black rabbit compared with all other defendant/rabbits? Or is a defendant a rabbit and a third-party defendant a weasel.

• Jackson's lawyer made what I think should be the key point, although I am not sure the Justices saw it this way (Justice Breyer hinted at the point in his own unknowing way). If Home Depot can remove here, then any third-party defendant can remove if he is diverse from the defendant/third-party plaintiff. (He gave an example of a generic tort action against a corporation, with the corporation then impleading its diverse insurer, which then removes). I do not see a relevant difference between CAFA removal of a class action and § 1441 removal of that, or any other, individual action. I did not hear Home Depot's counsel or any Justice suggest one. So if a third-party defendant is a defendant, then all third-party claims must be removable, not only those removable under CAFA.

• I kept thinking that it also would allow removal of a federal claim brought as a third-party complaint. There was some discussion about that being limited by the Well Pleaded Complaint rule, which applies to § 1331 but not § 1332. But I always have understood the WPC as implicitly applying to § 1332, as well, by placing the focus on the identities of the parties and claims named in the WPC--we determine diversity by looking at the parties named and the amount sought in the complaint. The point being that unless Congress says otherwise (as in America Invents), the "civil action" removable under § 1441 is the one established in the complaint and removal cannot be based on additional claims filed by different parties against anyone.

• Justice Alito came across as disrespectful of advocates who urge positions he disagrees with and law reviews. Consider this exchange

JUSTICE ALITO: . . . somebody came up with this idea of using this sort of proceeding as a way of getting around CAFA. And there's a law review article that actually says, after CAFA, well, look, we found a way to get around CAFA so thatwe can keep these things in state court. Is that not correct?

PAUL BLAND:  . . .There was a law review article by an advocate. It's not really a law review article and a peer-reviewed article. I think it's more like a blog. But, anyhow, a guy writes an article saying -

* * *

JUSTICE ALITO: Since when are law review articles peer reviewed?

MR. BLAND: You know, that's a good point.

JUSTICE ALITO: Who are they reviewed by?

(Laughter.)

MR. BLAND:

You're totally right. I-- I'm so sorry. I -- I should never have said that, you're right.

JUSTICE ALITO: They should be -- maybe they should be peer reviewed.

MR. BLAND: Law review articles are student reviewed, they're not peer reviewed. I -- I -- I withdraw. That was --

JUSTICE BREYER: I'm fine on law review articles.

The law review stuff is a funny exchange. But the underlying premise is that Jackson's argument to keep the case in state court is somehow illegitimate because it originated on the pages of law reviews. This is troubling for a couple of reasons. Justice Alito does not express similar concerns with the creative, scholar-driven theories urged (and continuing to be urged) against the Affordable Care Act. If you believe Chief Justice Roberts, the problem with legal scholarship is that it is not sufficiently helpful to lawyers and courts. Now, an idea urged in court is somehow questionable because it was presented in scholarship as a way to convince lawyers and courts on an issue. This is not the first time that Justice Alito has cast aspersions on advocates urging positions towards a legal goal--he similarly questions death-penalty abolitionists for their advocacy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 21, 2019 at 01:26 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Indivisibility, incidentality, and universality

A judge in the Southern District of New York universally enjoined Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from adding to the census a question about citizenship. The court addressed the government's attempts to squeeze the case into the debate over universal injunctions and to limit the injunction only to the plaintiffs, but found it an "odd fit." The court explained that "these cases do not involve the case-by-case enforcement of a particular policy or statute. Instead, it concerns a single decision about a single questionnaire, to be used on a single census throughout the nation." The alternative for Ross would be to use two census forms (one as to the people covered by the injunction, one as to everyone else), but that might violate both federal statutes and the Constitution and cause the harms (in terms of funding and representation) that the state plaintiffs complain about.

Without saying so, the court is describing a situation of an indivisible right and indivisible remedy. The only remedy protecting the named plaintiffs necessarily protects non-plaintiffs, because the proper census form is issued to everyone, plaintiff and non-plaintiff. This case is analogous to a gerrymander challenge to a congressional district--the remedy of redrawing the district cannot be limited to the plaintiff, but must protect everyone within the district. Or a challenge to a religious display--the remedy of removing the display cannot be limited to the plaintiff, but must protected everyone who also would come in contact with the display.

But such injunctions should not be understood as universal, in the sense of protecting non-parties. They are better understood as protecting the plaintiffs while incidentally benefiting non-parties. The difference may seem semantic, but it is procedurally significant. A person protected by an injunction can seek to enforce the injunction through a motion to enforce and a motion to hold the government in contempt. But that power should be limited to the parties who control the litigation. My framing does not change much about the injunction in this case--Ross is prohibited from issuing a census form containing a citizenship question. What changes is if Ross tried to make the two-form move: Only the parties could move to stop that as violating the injunction, not the non-parties incidentally protected.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 15, 2019 at 12:26 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Universal in name only

Sam Bray analyzes the recent split decisions over universal preliminary injunctions in challenges to the new ACA contraception rules--the Northern District of California limited the injunction to the plaintiff states, while the Eastern District of Pennsylvania made the injunction universal (labeling it nationwide, over course). Sam argues that the latter court offers the best justification for universality, with a particular focus on how the states cannot obtain complete relief from a limited injunction. For example, the court offered the problem of a NJ resident who works (and gets her insurance) from an entity in another state where the new regs apply and where the resident cannot get contraceptive coverage, causing her to turn to New Jersey to pay for it. Like Sam, I am not convinced by the analysis, although I agree it is one of the first courts to defend universality without defaulting to vague principles that make universality the norm.

I was struck by one thing at the end of the opinion. The court identifies the criticism that universal injunctions foreclose adjudication by a number of courts, but insists that is not a problem here, as shown by the contemporaneous N.D. California decision. And that has been true of much of the major constitutional litigation of recent years--multiple courts are adjudicating multiple challenges brought by multiple parties. We are getting percolation.

But that suggests that no court is serious in labeling its injunction universal. No court intends to enforce it as universal by holding the government in contempt, no court recognizes the purported universality of another court's injunction as a basis to stay its hand because its decision is unnecessary, and the government does not appear to treat any one injunction as the universal bar to enforcement. In other words, the government will not enforce the contraception regs in California because of the N.D. Cal particularized injunction, not the E.D. Pa. universal injunction. The latter is universal in name, but not in effect.

If I am right about that, the question becomes why bother. Why are courts going out on a controversial legal ledge to assert a controversial power with no intent to actually exercise it?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 15, 2019 at 11:46 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Thank goodness I have a law license" so I should know about jurisdiction

Above the Law reports on a lawsuit filed in Texas state court by a Texas attorney against Ticketmaster, after a technical glitch caused him to purchase Hamilton tickets for the wrong day. The Plaintiff, represented by his law firm, claims fraudulent inducement, breach of contract, and Sherman Act violation (the latter based on the fact that the only recourse was to sell the tickets back through Ticketmaster at inflated prices and for an administrative fee). The plaintiff is quoted as saying "thank goodness I have a law license."

But am I wrong that there is a jurisdictional problem here that he ignores or does not see, despite having a law license? There is exclusive jurisdiction over antitrust claims. I am not sure it is should be exclusive, since § 1337 gives district courts jurisdiction but does not make it exclusive. But a 1922 antitrust decision, accepted in Marrese v. Orthopedic Surgeons in 1985, makes the point clear, as does a 1976 case from the Fifth Circuit.

In any event, there is a separate removability question. Ticketmaster is an LLC and unless one of its members happens to live in Texas (doubtful, as it seems everyone associated with the organization is in California), it is not from Texas, creating diversity jurisdiction over the state claims are removable and the case is headed to federal court. (Update: Oops--forgot about amount in controversy--I doubt this case is worth more than $ 75k on the state claims and the complaint does not expressly ask for punitive damages. So maybe the case will remain in state court, just without the antitrust claim.)

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 10, 2019 at 05:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2018 Year-End Report

Chief Justice Roberts issued his 2018 Year-End Report. This year focused on the results of the investigation Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group into the working conditions for law clerks and other judiciary employees and what is happening to implement those proposals with the Judicial Conference. As is his wont, the Chief began with a historical anecdote--the influence that law clerk Henry Friendly had on Justice Brandeis' dissent in Olmstead--and a paean to the work of law clerks and the symbiotic relationship between judges and clerks ("relationship is one of close association, candid intellectual exchange, and confidentiality"), on the centennial of Congress allocating funds for "legally trained assistants" for federal judges.

The report also briefly thanked court employees for keeping the courts operating in the face of another years of natural disasters--flooding in Florida and North Carolina, a typhoon in the Northern Marianas Islands, an earthquake in Alaska, and California fires.

The report closes with workload statistics for the year. Filings in the courts of appeals dropped two percent, while civil filings in district courts rose six percent. District courts saw a 17 percent increase in diversity cases with a 23 percent increase in personal-injury cases--the report does not say, but it would be interesting to see how much of the increase is tied to mass-tort cases going to federal court under CAFA's minimal-diversity requirement.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 1, 2019 at 12:43 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Judge in ACA case still needs to retake Fed Courts

District Judge O'Connor on Sunday paved the way for an appeal of his decision declaring all of ACA constitutionally invalid, issuing a Final Judgment on Count I in accordance with FRCP 54(b) and a separate Order of a Stay and Partial Final Judgment pending appeal. The latter document gives reasons for certifying partial final judgment and for granting the stay. As to the latter, the court goes to great lengths to explain why the intervenor-defendant states are unlikely to succeed on the merits on appeal, reiterating its standing, merits, and severability analyses from the original order, but concluding that the equities favor a stay.

As has been the case all along, Judge O'Connor continues to make jurisdictional errors.

Standing

Jonathan Adler has a good takedown of the expanded standing analysis, in which Judge O'Connor continues to find injury from the existence of a law absent any risk that the law could be enforced against the plaintiffs. The court relies on the correct principle that a person need not violate a law to have standing, but ignores that those cases required the plaintiff to show at least a genuine threat that the law would be enforced against him and that some penalty would result. He insists that no case requires an assessment of whether the plaintiff is injured by "disregarding" the law. It is true that courts do not put it in those terms, but that is implicit in the requirement of a threat of enforcement, which is triggered by someone disregarding the law.

O'Connor relies on Steffel v. Thompson, in which standing derived from Steffel's stated intention to resume handbilling and the express threat of the police to arrest him for trespassing (as they had his friend) if he did so. He also relies on Clements v. Fashing, in which the plaintiffs (challenging a state law that deemed candidacy for one office as resignation of an existing office) did not announce their candidacy for office, because that announcement would be deemed a resignation. That is, the plaintiffs in both cases would be subject to some mechanism for enforcing the law and it was that enforcement mechanism that caused the injury. In no case did the court find injury based on a statutory obligation that provided for no means of enforcement and no consequences.

O'Connor also tried to get cute, noting that "Chief Justice Marshall never asked whether William Marbury would be injured if he ignored the law and began serving as a justice of the peace without an official commission from James Madison." But that is because Marshall recognized that had Marbury done so, court personnel would have ignored him, not given him a courtroom in which to work, not carried out his orders, and perhaps asked the the Marshals physically remove him from the premises. All of which reflects the enforcement of the challenged law.

Two additional thoughts on standing. First, in a prior post, Adler analogizes the mandate-with-no-penalty to 4 U.S.C. § 8, which provides that "no disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America" and enumerates what civilians and civilian groups cannot do with the flag. Obviously, the law is unenforceable under Texas v. Johnson. But we never get there, because the U.S. Code provides no mechanism for enforcement and imposes no penalties for failing to follow those rules. No court would accord standing to a plaintiff who argues "I want to use the flag as a covering for a ceiling (prohibited by § 4(f)), but I am refraining from doing so because I do not want to break the law," because the plaintiff would suffer no enforcement and sanction for using the flag to cover the ceiling.

Second, standing was established in part because the ban, even if not enforced to keep these plaintiffs out of the United States, sent a message of religious exclusion and made them feel less than full members of the community because of their religion. Some critics of those decisions derided this as "snowflake standing"--the plaintiffs feel bad and are hurt in their delicate snowflake sensibilities. But that does not sound much different than what the plaintiffs are arguing here-they will feel bad (their delicate sensibilities undone) if they have to act contrary to what the written law, otherwise unenforceable, requires them to do.

Appellate Review

The point of these orders was to pave the way for immediate review of the declaratory judgment. All parties had asked for certification of interlocutory review under § 1292(b), but Judge O'Connor instead certified a final judgment on one-but-less-than-all claims. But on the Con Law listserv, Marty Lederman identified a problem--it is not clear that the court finally resolved even one claim. The plaintiffs asked for a declaration that the mandate is invalid and a permanent injunction prohibiting implementation or enforcement of ACA; the court granted the former, but never addressed or reached a conclusion as to the latter remedy. A judgment, even on one claim, may not be final if remedial issues remain on that count.

Another commenter on the listserv suggested two possible outs. One would be to deem the certification of finality as the denial of the injunction. A second would be to treat the improper Rule 54(b) certification as a § 1292(b) certification and proceed that way. Otherwise, the court would have to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and send the case back to the district court to enter the injunction (thereby creating appellate jurisdiction under § 1292(a)(1)) or to certify under § 1292(b).

One question is why Judge O'Connor proceeded this way, since the parties all requested a § 1292(b) certification and not a 54(b) certification. One thought is that he did not want to certify that there could be "substantial ground for difference of opinion" as to constitutional validity or severability. O'Connor has gone to great rhetorical lengths in all of his opinions and orders to make this seem like an obvious, not-at-all-close case with one obvious result, in which defendants can prevail only by demanding that courts acts in an invalid, unlawful, illegitimate, impermissible activist way. Section 1292(b) would require Judge O'Connor to declare that it might be possible for a court, acting in a legitimate way, to reach a different conclusion. That he does not want to certify.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 31, 2018 at 04:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A tale of two appeals

The Ninth Circuit accepted the district court's § 1292(b) certification in the climate-change litigation, paving the way for review of the denial of motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim, lack of standing, and other bases. This after a series of failed attempts by the government to get the Ninth Circuit or SCOTUS to grant mandamus, stay the case, or provide other relief. Dissenting, Judge Friedland suggested that the district court did not genuinely believe the requirements of § 1292(b) were met and did not "so state," especially as to whether immediate review would "materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation," and the the district court was strong-armed by the government's repeated attempts to bypass normal litigation procedures.

The thing that has bothered me all along is I do not see how the first prong of § 1292(b) is satisfied--that the interlocutory "order involves a controlling question of law," which should be limited to purely legal questions such as the meaning of a law, not to questions of application of known law to fact. The court found that plaintiffs have standing and that the plaintiffs stated a claim, accepting as sufficiently pleaded a creative application of the state-created danger theory of substantive due process. Standing is not purely legal--the requirements of standing are well-known, the issue here is whether they were satisfied. Perhaps the allowance of  the state-created danger theory would qualify. But then what about the non-legal issues? dDoes everything else (such as standing) go with it on pendent appellate jurisdiction? Is the standing question "inextricably intertwined" with the constitutional question over which the court of appeals has jurisdiction?

Meanwhile, all sides are urging the district court in the ACA litigation to certify its decision under § 1292(b). This reads as a more appropriate case for interloctuory review, as the court decided an obvious question of law as to the constitutional validity of the individual mandate and the severability of the rest of the statute. And then does the standing decision (which should be the appropriate basis for getting rid of this case) similarly go along for the ride on pendent jurisdiction?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 29, 2018 at 08:34 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 28, 2018

Tenth Circuit offers an interesting mix of Younger, Rooker, and jurisdictionality

An area of seeming confusion for courts is the collision between Younger abstention and lack of jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman. The doctrines are similar, as they both limit the power of federal courts to interfere with state adjudicative proceedings. In theory, the line is sharp--RF prohibits actions that formally or functionally ask the federal court to review the state decision, while Younger prohibits federal courts from halting ongoing state proceedings. In practice, they seem to run into one another, especially when courts use Younger as the basis for dismissing challenges to non-final state orders.

This Tenth Circuit case offers a different side of the collision.The federal plaintiff, the defending party in a state attorney-disciplinary proceeding, argued in federal court that the state bar lacked jurisdiction to discipline him, since he is not barred in that state (he maintains an office in the state, but practices only in federal court and federal immigration proceedings there). The district court abstained under Younger. But by the time the federal case reached the Tenth Circuit, the Colorado Supreme Court had suspended the plaintiff, ending the disciplinary proceeding. So the Tenth Circuit reversed the Younger dismissal, because the end of the state proceedings means the first prong of the Younger analysis (ongoing proceeding) is not satisfied, so the plaintiff can bring an action for a D/J action that the state tribunal lacked jurisdiction over him (because he is not barred in Colorado). The Tenth Circuit explained:

Consider our options. On the one hand, "if we were to reverse the dismissal," Plaintiff could (obviously enough) renew his already-filed claim before the district court. Id . On the other hand, "if we were to affirm the dismissal," Plaintiff could immediately refile in any event "because the dismissal was without prejudice." Id . "In these circumstances, we vacate dismissal . . . and remand these claims to the district court so that it can reconsider them without the need to abstain now that the state proceedings have ended." Id

This seems wrong on several levels.

First, the point of Younger is to eliminate federal interference with state proceedings; that interference remains after the state proceeding ends, if the federal action seeks to undermine or undo the results of that state proceeding. This is the point of Wooley v. Maynard (the "Live Free or Die" license plate case). Maynard had been convicted of traffic offenses three times for covering the motto on his plate; all three proceedings were over. The Court held the federal suit not Younger-barred only because he did not challenge or affect the results or consequences of those prior convictions and sentences; he sought only to prevent future enforcement of the law against him. The implication is that had Maynard sought to undo the past convictions, Younger would have barred the action. This federal action seeks to do what Maynard did not--invalidate the result of the state proceeding; that seems  inconsistent with "Our Federalism."

Second, even if Younger does not bar the federal action, Rooker-Feldman should. The plaintiff challenges the order of a state court suspending him from the practice of law and a federal judgment in his favor would declare that order as erroneous. In fact, attorney discipline is one of the most common situations for RF. And there is no "state court lacked jurisdiction" exception to RF.* The Tenth Circuit may have wanted to punt that issue to the district court. But this action should not go forward.

[*] In any event, I would argue that the plaintiff's argument as to the state proceeding is not that the state courts lacked jurisdiction, but that state law (attorney regs) does not apply to him because he is not barred in Colorado. That is a merits challenge to the reach of state law, not a jurisdictional challenge to the power of the court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 28, 2018 at 01:30 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Standing in the ACA case

Good analysis from Nicholas Bagley (Michigan) about the standing problems for the two individual plaintiffs in the ACA litigation. A few additional thoughts.

• This illustrates how enforcement is the trigger for constitutional litigation, not the existence of a constitutionally defective law. An invalid legal obligation that will not be enforced cannot be the subject of litigation. An invalid legal obligation that will be enforced through a tax penalty of $ 0 is, functionally, a legal obligation that cannot be enforced. It still would be better if we discussed this as a question of merits and not jurisdictional thresholds. If these plaintiffs are not injured because the law cannot be enforced against them in any way, then their substantive constitutional rights are not being violated.

• The plaintiffs' argument that they are injured because they believe following the law is the right thing to do (even when that law is not enforceable) is the flip side of requiring government officials to act lawfully  or refrain from acting unlawfully (e.g., reservists in Congress, non-natural born citizens serving as President). Neither is a basis for standing.

• I have not seen any good argument that the 20+ States have standing. But the court skirted that question through the "one good plaintiff" rule--because someone had standing, the case could proceed without having to consider anyone else's standing. Update: In a companion piece, Bagley doubts that the 20 states have standing, which should mean the court cannot enjoin the Administration from enforcing the law as to him; in Bagley's words, the judge has "tied his own hands."

• Standing and jurisdiction have always been dicey in the ACA litigation; this case represents the latest and weakest effort. I wonder if the Fifth Circuit (or SCOTUS if it gets that far) will use that as the basis to get rid of this case, without having to touch the bizarre merits.

• Bagley describes standing doctrine as "near and dear to the hearts of the conservative legal establishment," so that even conservative judges on the Fifth Circuit (and Roberts and Kavanaugh on SCOTUS) will be unlikely to allow this sort of case to go forward. But the doctrine developed when the conservative legal establishment was trying to stop environmentalists from preserving the Nile crocodile, lawyers from challenging unwarranted surveillance of their foreign clients, and atheists from challenging states' creative ways to give government funds to parochial schools. This is the ideological drift of standing--the doctrine may not be so near and dear when it prevents "two guys from Texas" from taking down the nation's health-care system.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 18, 2018 at 04:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A quick word on the remedy in the ACA case (Updated)

Sam Bray (as always) beat me to exploring the remedy issues in the district court's declaration on the constitutional invalidity of all of DACA. The court declared ACA invalid in its entirety, but declined to issue an injunction and provided only a declaratory judgment. Here is the wind-up to the post, with which I entirely concur.

In analyzing the effect of the declaratory judgment, then, there are two mistakes to avoid. One is saying the government can ignore it because it's "only" a declaratory judgment. That is incorrect; it is a real judgment, and unless stayed by the district court or an appellate court it deserves the adherence accorded to any other judicial judgment. The other is saying the government is bound to follow the judgment with respect to everyone, party or not. In effect, we would be treating the remedy as a "national declaratory judgment." That, too, is incorrect. To give such a remedy is beyond the judicial power.

The government is bound to follow the judgment (unless, as it should be, it is stayed pending appeal), but only with respect to the parties. *

I also want to flag this language from Marty Lederman's post: "[C]ontrary to almost every media account you've read in the past few hours (come on, New York Times!) Judge O'Connor did not "strike down" the "entire Affordable Care Act" (something he lacks the power to do, in any event) . . ." A federal court cannot erase or eliminate or remove a statute, so it would be wonderful if that term could be removed from the lexicon.

Update: The other procedural/remedial issue is what happens next. The court granted what it called partial summary judgment on one claim (or one issue in one claim) and entered a declaratory judgment, but no injunction (although that is what the first count of the complaint requested). But it is not clear what is appealable here and how. There is no injunction, so § 1292(a) is not in play. Section 2201 says a "declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and shall be reviewable as such," but the view among limited cases is that this assumes the decision is otherwise-final in the sense of disassociating the district court from the case and leaving it nothing to do but execute the judgment. With other claims remaining in the case, this D/J is not final. An appeal would seem to require certification under § 1292(b) or Rule 54(b).

Then there is a question of who can appeal. The United States agrees with the plaintiff states' basic constitutional argument about the zeroed-out penalty and that some provisions are not severable, so it is unlikely to appeal that; it disagrees with severability as to the rest of ACA, so it may appeal that. But what about the core constitutional issues? States were allowed to intervene to defend the parts of the law that DOJ would not, but under Hollingsworth an intervenor that would not be subject to the force of the order would not have standing to appeal. The House likely will intervene come January 3 and would have standing under Windsor, but that would be too late to appeal for § 1292(b), which requires appeal within ten days of certification. Maybe DOJ will appeal the declaration as a whole, then limit its legal arguments, with the states again intervening in the Fifth Circuit to pick up the slack.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2018 at 03:44 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Deepening split on SLAPP laws in federal court

Earlier this month, SCOTUS denied cert in a case out of the Tenth Circuit holding that a state anti-SLAPP law does not apply in federal court under an Erie/Hanna analysis. This week, the Eleventh Circuit weighed in, agreeing that Georgia's law does not apply in an action action CNN.

If you are scoring at home, that is three circuits (1st, 5th, 9th) holding that SLAPP laws apply in federal court and three circuits (DC, 10th, 11th) holding they do not. The Ninth Circuit position is why Stormy Daniels owes Donald Trump $ 300,000 in attorney's fees. But the most recent cases are the three rejecting application.

I was surprised SCOTUS denied cert in the Tenth Circuit case, which had the benefit of using such egregiously incorrect analysis that it begged for correction, even if the Court agreed on the conclusion as to application. Maybe the Court will see the new case as a better vehicle, although because it involves reporting by a major-media outlet, it is less the paradigm SLAPP suit. Regardless, SCOTUS must weigh-in on this at some point.

Update: I have not hit this point in many posts on the subject, but in response to a few email queries: I believe the non-application side has the better argument. Rules 12 and 56 provide mechanisms and standards for weeding-out insufficiently pleaded or supported claims; they "answer the questions in dispute," leaving no room for state law to operate. And both rules are valid because arguably procedural and not abridging, enlarging, or modifying substantive rights. The issue is close and therefore makes a good exam or class hypothetical (I have used it for both).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 15, 2018 at 11:43 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, December 14, 2018

9th Circuit taps the brakes (slightly) on universality

The ever-harrowed Ninth Circuit tapped the brakes slightly on district courts issuing universal injunctions. In affirming on the merits an injunction barring enforcement of religious opt-out rules from the contraception mandate in an action brought by five states, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in having the injunction extend beyond the plaintiffs.

The court hit a few important notes. It emphasized that universality is generally disfavored and especially disfavored absent class certification. It highlighted the problems with universal injunctions, including the loss of percolation of issues, the effects on non-plaintiffs, and the risks of forum shopping. And it applied the "complete relief" principle to conclude that a particularized injunction gives states complete relief from the economic harms the opt-out rule would impose on them. That other states may suffer similar harms did not affect the plaintiff states.

The court made clear that universal injunctions are not prohibited, but must be limited to cases in which broad relief is necessary. And it said the issue (as with an earlier case rejecting universality as to sanctuary cities) was a failure to develop the record as to other states, suggesting that building a better record may justify universality. 

But the court grappled with the scope question, a step back from recent hints from that court that universal injunctions were becoming the default, at least in certain cases.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 14, 2018 at 07:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The limits of civil litigation for exposing truth

The past week has brought to light the story of Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire hedge-fund manager and alleged sexual predator and child rapist. Epstein pleaded guilty to two state felony counts and served 13 months in unusually forgiving conditions, with a federal investigation and prosecution stopped in its tracks by a broad non-prosecution agreement.*

[*] Full disclosure; The former US Attorney at the center of the controversy, now Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, was my dean from 2009-17.

The story has exploded now for two reasons. First is the Miami Herald's multi-part in-depth reporting on the case. Second is ongoing civil litigation--one case  by Epstein's victims in federal court claiming the federal settlement violated the Crime Victims Rights Act (which gives crime victims certain notice and other rights) and one case in state court by attorney Bradley Edwards. The latter began as a suit by Epstein against Edwards and his former partner, claiming the latter committed fraud, racketeering, and other crimes in investigating Epstein; Edwards filed a counterclaim for malicious prosecution, which remained alive after Epstein dropped his lawsuit. Trial on the counterclaim was scheduled to begin today, with Edwards expected to call at least seven of Epstein's victims to testify. But the case settled as the jury was being selected, with Epstein paying an undisclosed sum, conceding that he attempted to damage Edwards' professional reputation, and apologizing.

This illustrates the limits of civil litigation for exposing misconduct and revealing truth. The victim stories were tangential to this case, which was really about Epstein's conduct in filing the original lawsuit and Edwards' professional reputation. A settlement offer that resolves that central dispute is irresistible, even if it denies the victims the opportunity to tell their stories (the opportunity they claim they were denied by the actions of the U.S. Attorney's office). One perhaps might criticize Edwards for accepting the settlement rather than giving the victims the chance to testify, since that is what he was promoting as the point of the suit. (Following the settlement, he held a press conference outside the courthouse standing in front of the boxes of evidence he said he planned to present). But I doubt there was any way to avoid that. The judge would have pushed Edwards to accept a settlement that included the defending party admitting wrongdoing (as to Edwards, not as to the women) and apologizing. And had Edwards refused to settle, Epstein might have confessed judgment, rendering a trial on liability, and the women's testimony, unnecessary.

The next step is the federal action by the victims themselves. News reports indicate the plaintiffs hope the court will revoke the federal plea deal and allow the government to prosecute Epstein.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 4, 2018 at 09:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Backing off universality, at least for sanctuary cities

Judge Ramos Southern District of New York enjoined DOJ's sanctuary-city policies in an action brought by New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York City.  (H/T: Ilya Somin, who analyzes the substance of the decision).

Ramos declined to make the injunction universal, although not per se rejecting universality. He emphasized that no sanctuary-city injunctions have remained universal through appellate review and that recent decisions have stayed any non-particular application. The court did extend the injunction to each state's municipal subdivisions, concluding that subdivisions suffer the same injuries described earlier, which necessarily flow to the States by virtue of the subdivisions’ position within the States’ geographic boundaries and political systems, and which are compounded insofar as the States must make and monitor compliance with subdivisions’ subgrants with unlawful conditions." This is the converse of the  Ninth Circuit extending an injunction from party San Francisco to non-party California, because some grant funds sent to California were then distributed to San Francisco. Here, I presume, the state would have to cover any budgetary shortfall caused by the municipality's loss of DOJ funds. Either direction is consistent with the complete-relief requirement. But the court did not accept or apply the broader argument that some states and cities have urged (and that one AG presented during Q&A) that because DOJ has a limited pool of money and the size of the grants varies with the number of applicants, the injunction must be universal so that funds are not disproportionately allocated to non-sanctuary jurisdictions in a way that leaves nothing for sanctuary jurisdictions by the end of litigation.

In any event, this court's approach is a far cry from that of the Ninth Circuit in the DACA litigation, where the court seemed to approach universality as the default.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 4, 2018 at 06:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 03, 2018

Guest Post: Come On, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh! Doctrinal (and Intemperate) Error in the Timbs v. Indiana Oral Argument

The following post is from Rory Little (UC-Hastings and SCOTUSBlog).

It’s bad enough when a Supreme Court Justice expresses sarcastic impatience with an advocate; even experienced advocates are on edge when they appear in the nation’s highest court. Perhaps even worse when the advocate is a sovereign state’s Solicitor General.  But it really is inexcusable when the sarcasm is based on doctrinal error and thus wrong.  Here’s why that happened in last week’s oral argument in Timbs v. Indiana.

Background on the Timbs case and the Doctrine of Incorporation

The State of Indiana sought to forfeit Tyson Timbs’ $42,000 Land Rover after Timbs use it to transport small amounts of heroin to drug deals.  The Indiana Supreme Court declined to consider whether this violated the Eighth Amendment’s “no Excessive Fines” clause, because the U.S. Supreme Court has never definitively said that that clause is “incorporated” against the states (via the Fourteenth Amendment’s “no state shall” deny Due Process clause).  Whether or not Timbs should lose his vehicle, the Question presented in Timbs may seem easy: the doctrine of incorporation, developed only in the 20th Century, is well-accepted. Most recently the Court ruled in 2010 in McDonald that the Second Amendment’s “right … to keep and bear arms” is incorporated and thereby governs state as well is federal actions.  Although it is surprising to many, the Bill of Rights was originally intended to apply only against the federal government, and for our first 100 years or more it was said to have no application to state actions.  However, after a century of litigation, all rights that are found to be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” “so as to be ranked as fundamental,” are now said (McDonald) to be “incorporated” against state action as part of due process.  This includes most – but see below, not all – of the Bill of Rights provisions.

The “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and traditions” test might be well-satisfied by the Eighth Amendment’s command that “excessive fines” shall not be “imposed” -- although the common practice in the early days of our Union of forfeiting entire ships used to run contraband might give an Originalist pause regarding whether a rule against the forfeiture of vessels of crime is in fact so “deeply rooted.”  (As Chief Justice Roberts noted at the Timbs argument “I certainly understand the argument that … with respect to forfeiting instrumentalities of the crime, … [i]t’s always proportionate since it’s the way the crime is accomplished.”)

But one thing is doctrinally clear: not all the rights specified in the Bill of Rights have been incorporated against the States.  For some rights, like the “no Excessive Fines” clause, this might merely be an accident of history.  (One can find a good discussion of “why hasn’t the excessive fines clause already been incorporated?” in the November 26 episode of “First Mondays” with Professors Beth Colgan and Dan Epps”)

The Fifth Amendment’s Grand Jury right has, and for good reason, not been incorporated

But for one Bill of Rights provision in particular – the Fifth Amendment’s right to be charged by a Grand Jury for any “capital or otherwise infamous crime” – the decision to not incorporate is long-standing and quite considered.  Every student and professor of Constitutional Criminal Procedure understands this intentional anomaly.  Yet, as recounted below, it appears to be a “blank spot” in the doctrinal understanding of the Court’s two newest Justices, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.

By way of quick summary, in 1884 in Hurtado v. California, the Supreme Court ruled in no uncertain terms that the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury provision need not bind the states.  The progressive 1879 Constitution of the young state of California had provided a new system, one viewed as more protective than the old grand jury system, permitting the charging of criminal defendants by a prosecutorial “information.”  California’s then-new Penal Code -- unlike secret, non-judicial, one-sided grand jury proceedings -- permitted the prosecution’s information to be immediately tested by a preliminary hearing, presided over by a judge, providing counsel for the defendant and allowing for cross-examination.  When Joseph Hurtado was charged with murder (and ultimately sentenced to death) based upon an information rather than grand jury indictment, the U.S. Supreme Court viewed it as a “question … of grave and serious import” whether the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury rule should be required, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to apply against the state.  In a thorough opinion (while certainly sounding different in some ways from today), the Court ruled that “progress [and] improvement” is not forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that California’s information system, with all its additional protections for a defendant, was at least as protective of “principles of liberty and justice” as the grand jury system.

Hurtado has well stood the test of time.  Critics of the federal grand jury system are many.  Meanwhile, over half the states allow criminal charging by information rather than grand jury; and two states (Pennsylvania and Connecticut) have abolished the use of criminal charging grand juries entirely.)  Thus the respected NACDL (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), which has filed amicus on Timbs’ behalf regarding Excessive Fines, would surely oppose (as would others on all sides of the criminal justice aisle) incorporation of the Grand Jury clause.

Intemperate Doctrinal Error at the Timbs oral argument

This brings us, finally, to Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh at the Timbs oral argument (transcript is here).  Justice Gorsuch lit into Indian’s Solicitor General Thomas Fisher (who I do not know) from the start.  He demanded agreement that “the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the states.”  When Fisher resisted (unsurprisingly, since that is the Question Presented), Justice Gorsuch persisted:

 I mean, most of the incorporation cases took place in like the 1940s.” [– this is an erroneous account in itself as virtually all the criminal procedure incorporation case were products of the 1960s Warren Court –]  And here we are in 2018 still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights.  Really?  Come on, General.

The audio on this last statement (audio of the argument is here) is undeniably harsh: Justice Gorsuch’s tone is, frankly, unbecoming.

Fisher politely stood his ground, and Justice Kavanaugh took up Gorsuch’s point -- although he at least had the courtesy to pose his view as questions, a fortunate method since in fact he and Justice Gorsuch were wrong:        

Isn’t it too late in the day to argue that any of the Bill of Rights is not incorporated? … [A]ren’t all the Bill of Rights at this point in our conception of what they stand for, the history of each of them, incorporated?

As you now know, these rhetorical questions and accusations – “Come on, General” -- are flatly, doctrinally, incorrect.  Hurtado stands in their way, fully and after 134 years of careful consideration. 

Conclusion

Why does any other this matter, you may wonder?  Errors must happen all the time even in Supreme Court arguments, right?  Why single these four pages of transcript out?

Two reasons.  First, my perhaps old-fashioned view is that a little bit of humility is a good thing for at least new Supreme Court Justices, especially regarding areas of the law in which they may not have deep experience.  Neither Justice Gorsuch or Kavanaugh has any substantial background in criminal law, and at the D.C. Circuit at least Justice Kavanaugh’s criminal law exposure was not extensive.

Second, and far more important, one must point out doctrinal errors if one can before they leak into published Supreme Court opinions, not after.  It would be a grave error to say, sarcastically or otherwise, that all the rights in the Bill of Rights have been incorporated.  And it would be a far more serious error to suggest that a carefully considered procedure such as criminal information-followed-by-preliminary-hearing charging is somehow in danger of being wiped out by slapdash dicta in a Supreme Court case not even presenting the question.  It is for that reason, and with all respect for the understandably challenging task of being elevated to the Nation’s highest court, that the foregoing is published.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 3, 2018 at 11:12 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A funny thing happened on the way to the court of appeals

Here is my SCOTUSBlog recap of Tuesday's argument in Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, considering whether the 14-day period for seeking interlocutory review of a class certification order is subject to equitable tolling.

The most notable part of the argument was the humor--the transcript shows eight breaks for laughter, seven during petitioner's argument. Which makes sense, given stated concerns for Martian invasions. I await Jay Wexler's analysis of the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 28, 2018 at 11:17 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Universal injunction in asylum-point-of-entry (corrected)

These are coming too quickly to process. The District Court for the Northern District of California issued a universal preliminary injunction (styled a TRO, but done adversarially and scheduled to last more than 14 days) prohibiting the government from enforcing new regulations denying asylum to any persons who present themselves at places other than lawful points of entry.

Unlike the Ninth Circuit in the DACA case, which Sam Bray analyzed, the court did not explain its scope ruling, other than by pointing to three things: facial unconstitutionality; the cert grant in the second travel ban case that allowed the preliminary injunction to stand as to people "similarly situated" to the plaintiffs (before the whole thing became moot); and the relevance of the APA. Sam discusses (with links) the third point and whether the APA really demands universality. The first point relies on Califano v. Yamasaki's "extent of the violation" language, ignoring that Califano involved a nationwide class (and thus a violation of the rights of the class), not the permissible scope of an injunction in an action brought by an individual. The second point continues to get far too much mileage out of loose language in a decision on a stay and granting cert. I have been accused of undervaluing that language, and perhaps I have. But courts are treating it as SCOTUS precedential imprimatur for universal injunctions, which is wait it cannot bear.

Sam argues that courts are close to making universal injunctions the default remedy in cases under APA, immigration cases, and cases with entity plaintiffs. This case supports that position.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 20, 2018 at 11:20 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

SCOTUSBlog preview: Equitable exceptions to claim-processing rules

I have a SCOTUSBlog preview of Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert (to be argued Nov. 27), considering whether the time period for taking a Rule 23(f) interlocutory appeal of a class-certification order is a claim-processing rule subject to equitable exception.

The case was the main topic on this week's First Mondays, live from Duke Law School and featuring Marin Levy and Stephen Sachs, who had fun with the underlying facts  of the suit involving the allegedly fraudulent sale of "Cobra Sexual Energy."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 20, 2018 at 10:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, November 19, 2018

SCOTUSBlog Preview: First Amendment retaliatory arrests

I have a SCOTUSBlog preview of  Nieves v. Bartlett (to be argued November 26), considering whether a plaintiff seeking damages for a First Amendment retaliatory arrest must show absence of probable cause. The Court last term punted on the question in Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, because the case involved a retaliatory municipal policy, not only one officer's single retaliatory decision

I describe this as a sneaky-important case, because it involves a collision of two Roberts Court commitments--protecting First Amendment rights and immunizing law enforcement from damages suit and liability. The last part of the petitioner's brief downplays the constitutional importance of talking back to, challenging, criticizing, or insulting police officers performing official functions, insisting it is not speech on matters of public concern that should be protected against retaliatory motives; this eliminates the need for damages liability to vindicate that speech. The brief also argues that police departments will discipline rogue officers who engage in retaliatory arrests, especially in an age of body cameras and citizen video, when departments are more committed to internal accountability. The second point is laughable as an empirical matter. The first is correct on free-speech principle only if the First Amendment does not extend to the rough-and-tumble of ugly public protest or if police officers, the public officials with whom the public has the most direct contact, are above rhetorical challenge and criticism. But both are ideas I could see this Court majority buying, with the second commitment prevailing over the first.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 19, 2018 at 03:02 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

What sovereign immunity has wrought (Update)

Steve writes at SCOTUSBlog about a motion in a pending cert case asking the Court to decide on the validity of Matthew Whitaker's appointment as AG, in order to figure out who should be substituted (for Jeff Sessions) as respondent in the petition. This is happening while lower courts consider the validity of the Whitaker appointment in more substantive contexts. (Gerard Magliocca believes that a Court order compelling briefing will compel Whitaker to withdraw or compel the President to nominate a new AG).

This is another example of how much time is wasted by sovereign immunity, rather than being honest about the fact that the government, and not any individual officer, is the real defendant in a challenge to a constitutionally invalid law.

Update: There is a discussion on the Civ Pro/Fed Courts Prof listserv about why plaintiffs ever sue the officer by name rather than office. FRCP 17(d) provides that "A public officer who sues or is sued in an official capacity may be designated by official title rather than by name, but the court may order that the officer's name be added," so it is permissible to sue the title. And since an EPY action is against the officer in his official capacity, it is against the office/title, so we end up in the same place. This gets me to my original point--if we just sued the office (and thus the U.S.), it would remain more straight-forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 17, 2018 at 03:15 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Judicial departmentalism and birthright citizenship

The President announced plans to issue an executive order that would deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents. Assume: 1) Trump (or the attorneys and aides advising him) genuinely believes this is constitutionally valid, on the best understanding of § 1; 2) § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees birthright citizenship (i.e., Trump and his attorneys are wrong); and 3) the Court has given no signals of intent to move from its current interpretation of § 1.

So how should we speak about what Trump is proposing? Should we say he is acting unconstitutionally? Is that fair, given that he is an independent constitutional actor who believes in the validity of what he is doing? How might we otherwise describe it? If we accept the President's independent constitutional interpretive authority, can he exercise it even if he knows he will lose once the dispute reaches court? Or is his power more limited, to those situations in which he has reason to believe (from some judicial hints) that the Court may move off the judicial interpretation, so defeat in court is not guaranteed?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 30, 2018 at 11:29 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (14)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Flipping the burden on voluntary cessation

This decision from the Fifth Circuit seems wrong, at least in its analysis. The court found moot a challenge to the New Orleans Public Defender's wait list for non-capital cases, because the state legislature allocated the PD's office sufficient funds and the office eliminated the wait list. The court stated:

we are justified in treating a voluntary governmental cessation of possibly wrongful conduct with some solicitude." Absent evidence to the contrary, we are to presume public-spiritedness, says the Supreme Court. Government officials "in their sovereign capacity and in the exercise of their official duties are accorded a presumption of good faith because they are public servants, not self-interested private parties." So, "[w]ithout evidence to the contrary, we assume that formally announced changes to official governmental policy are not mere litigation posturing.

But this seems to flip the burden of persuasion on voluntary cessation, presuming the government will not resume unlawful conduct (because the government is public-spirited) absent evidence from the plaintiff to the contrary. But this seems inconsistent with SCOTUS' insistence that "the defendant claiming that its voluntary compliance moots a case bears the formidable burden of showing that it is absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur."

It does not seem possible to reconcile this case with Nike, at least in terms of the stated standard. The unprincipled explanation is that the Fifth Circuit was suspicious of the entire case and so was looking for a way to dump it. The plaintiffs and the defendant (the PD Office) agreed that the wait list was constitutionally invalid and the PD enacted the policy only because the lack of legislative funding tied its hands. The court hints that the entire action is "a coordinated public-relations effort to force funding" rather than a genuine attempt to enforce constitutional rights.

Suspicion aside, this agreed-upon conclusion meant it was unlikely that the PD would reenact the challenged policy on its own. Which may be true and may justify finding the case moot. But the burden remains on the PD to show that, not on the plaintiffs to rebut the assumption.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 12, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Might progressives adopt judicial departmentalism?

Slate is running a debate between Daniel Hemel (Chicago) and Christopher Jon Sprigman (NYU) about whether progressives should abandon judicial supremacy and a belief in the Court and what it should replace that with. Hemel is more in favor of retaining faith in a (modified) Court, while Sprigman is more pessimistic.

Sprigman points to a clause in the Canadian Constitution that allows a national or provincial legislature to override a Supreme Court decision, by allowing a law to operate "notwithstanding" a court decision to the contrary. He proposes a law that allows Congress to override a Supreme Court decision (made in its appellate jurisdiction), then strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear cases resisting the overrides.

But I wonder if judicial departmentalism, which allows the other branches to ignore precedent and act on their own constitutional interpretations, gets us to the same place. Under a judicial departmentalist regime, Congress could reenact and the executive could continue to enforce a law that the Court had declared constitutionally invalid against anyone other than the party to the original case (who is protected by a judgment). Under judicial departmentalism, there is no need for an "override" of SCOTUS's decision, because the only binding effect of SCOTUS' decision on the other branches is its judgment prohibiting enforcement against the plaintiffs in that case. The problem remains that the courts must apply SCOTUS precedent in the challenge to the new law or subsequent enforcement efforts, so the result of new litigation over the same constitutional issue will be the same. But Sprigman's jurisdiction-stripping proposal may address that concern. Or the executive's repeated reassertion of the law's validity may cause the Court to yield to the other branches in the exchange, as happened during the New Deal (although for slightly different reasons, the idea remains the same).

I would also note Hemel's post arguing that "the court’s worst moments have been moments of weakness, not overexertions of strength." This echoes the argument by Suzanna Sherry (and subsequent micro-symposium) that the Court's greatest failures are when it is inactivist, standing by and declaring laws constitutionally valid.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 11, 2018 at 07:19 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Half measure on universal injunction in sanctuary cities case

On Thursday, District Judge Orrick of the Northern District of California enjoined enforcement of DOJ regulations denying law enforcement funds to sanctuary cities. Judge Orrick previously enjoined enforcement of a presidential order denying funds to sanctuary cities. Judge Orrick made that prior injunction universal, although the Ninth Circuit narrowed it to protect only San Francisco and non-party California, concluding that the record did not support universality.

Undeterred, Judge Orrick made this injunction universal, although with several pages of analysis and justification. That analysis ultimately comes down to this--when a narrow law or regulation (or at least a federal law or regulation) is constitutionally invalid, a universal injunction is proper. And despite the rhetoric of "careful consideration," that principle is unbounded and always applicable.

The court acknowledges (and purports to share) the concerns that universality preempts percolation of issues. But then he offers two points in response: 1) the issues here are the same as in the Seventh and Third Circuits, so percolation is occurring and 2) this is a "narrow constitutional issue," so it "does not seem to be the type of situation in which allowing more cases to percolate in federal courts would be of much benefit." The second point is simply wrong. Pure and narrow legal issues benefit from percolation, from multiple sets of eyes considering and analyzing legal questions; this is the first time I have heard it suggested otherwise. The first point misses the main issue: The first court to enter a universal injunctions ends (or should end) all litigation on the issue,; this renders litigation in other courts either moot (because any party to the second action is already protected by the original universal injunction) or dangerous (because the second court issues an order conflicting with the original universal injunction, potentially imposing conflicting obligations on the defendant).

But the court hedged slightly, staying the universality pending appellate review of a narrower alternative holding about the scope of the underlying federal statute (which applied only to the parties and thus did not warrant universality). This may become a common move between district courts, who seem to like universality, and courts of appeals, who are more circumspect about scope--make the injunction universal, but stay it. Judge Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois made the same move.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2018 at 10:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Slate discovers judicial departmentalism

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern contemplates the "full-blown constitutional crisis" that will arise if the Democrats regain control of the White House and Congress and attempt to resist an illegitimate Supreme Court. While finding the tools of segregationists "appalling," he suggests Democrats and progressives may find this the only option.

In reality, Stern is describing judicial departmentalism. But he fails to recognize the judgment/precedent distinction that makes this not a constitutional crisis but how the interbranch constitutional conversation should function. This conversation can produce two outcomes. One is that the judicial view will prevail because of the incentives (loss of qualified immunity, attorney's fees, repeated losses) for the executive to voluntarily comply. The other is that executive non-compliance with precedent (while following individual judgments) may cause the judiciary to change course.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 4, 2018 at 10:37 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Jurisdictionality confusion lives

I have not been writing or reading about jurisdictionality of late, so I was surprised to see that courts seem to be making the same mistakes. In this case from the Third Circuit, the district court had held that so-called statutory standing of a non-U.S. plaintiff under RICO was jurisdictional; the court of appeals affirmed, although shifting the framing to merits rather than jurisdiction. It said:

Because this case does not involve Article III standing, but rather presents an issue of statutory standing, subject matter jurisdiction is not implicated, and the parties incorrectly relied on Rule 12(b)(1) . Our precedent makes clear that "[c]ivil RICO standing is usually viewed as a 12(b)(6) question of stating an actionable claim, rather than as a 12(b)(1) question of subject matter jurisdiction." [*5] 38 Moreover, given that Rule 12(b)(6) provides a plaintiff with "significantly more protections,"39 and because we may affirm on any ground supported by the record and "there is no prejudice to appellants in our reviewing the district court's dismissal as if it were grounded on Rule 12(b)(6) ,"40 we will review this matter under Rule 12(b)(6) . Accordingly, we "consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record."41 In evaluating whether the complaint adequately pleads the elements of standing, we accept as true all material allegations set forth in the complaint and construe those facts in favor of Plaintiffs, the nonmoving party.42

I would have thought that Morrison, which held that extraterritoriality is merits, and Lexmark, which held that statutory zone of interest is merits, would have made this obvious. But Circuit precedent distinguishes Article III standing from statutory standing and lets the merits/jurisdictionality distinction turn on that. So whether standing is Article III or statutory often becomes a point of dispute between the parties and in the case. All of which reveals why Fletcher continues to be right and the best understanding is that is all about the cause of action and who can sue whom for what--and thus should be about the merits.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 2, 2018 at 10:29 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"Nationwide" Injunctions Are Really "Universal" Injunctions and they are Never Appropriate (Final)

I am pleased that the final version of my article on universal injunctions has been published in Lewis & Clark Law Review. The editing process over the summer was quite adventurous. I added four or five different updates and sets of changes to account for new developments, including resolution of the travel ban (and Justice Thomas' concurring opinion), the court of appeals decisions on scope-of-injunction in both sanctuary-city cases, and the class action in the unaccompanied-minor abortion litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 29, 2018 at 09:00 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Arguing about the right issue

Bloomberg reports on oral argument in Hargan v. Garza, the challenge to HHS policy surrounding pregnant unaccompanied immigrant teens seeking abortions. (Marty Lederman analyzes the arguments). The district court certified a class of all pregnant immigrant teens in HHS detention, then issued a class-wide injunction. According to the report, the plaintiffs' attorney received some pushback on the scope of that class, because it includes pregnant teens who are not seeking abortions (counsel responded that the issue also was access to abortion counseling).

The point is that the plaintiffs in this action followed the right procedures--define and redefine the class, then have the injunction match the class. Universal injunctions in individual cases allow plaintiffs to skip that step--no one would take on the difficult work of defining and certifying a class if the court is willing to leap to an injunction that protects the universe based on a complaint by one person.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2018 at 08:40 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Mark up of Injunction Authority Clarification Act

The House Judiciary Committee marked-up the Injunction Authority Clarification Act, the bill that would eliminate universal injunctions. No word on what happened, although it did start a conversation on the CivProProf Listserv.

In addition, Jeff Sessions announced litigation guidelines for DOJ attorneys in litigating the scope of injunctions. Interestingly, Sessions' statement shows he still does not understood the issue fully, because he twice rails about "single (unelected) district judges" issuing these injunctions. But the problem of universal injunctions improperly protecting non-parties has nothing to do with the number of judges on the case or the level of court. SCOTUS cannot issue (or affirm) universal injunctions any more than a district court can enter universal injunctions. SCOTUS only can affirm a particularized injunction and thereby prohibit enforcement of the challenged law against the named plaintiff, on threat of contempt; the judgment and injunction go no further. SCOTUS's decision may halt future enforcement against non-parties, but purely as a matter of binding precedent, not as a matter of the injunction itself.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2018 at 04:56 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Yet evading review

Mootness can be overcome* if the claim is capable of repetition yet evading review. One important limitation on this doctrine, that often gets confused or overlooked, is that the harm must be reasonably likely to recur as to this plaintiff, not generally and not as to someone else.

[*] I do not like to speak of it as an "exception" to mootness because I subscribe to Scalia's argument that a case that is C/R/E/R is simply not moot.

The Eighth Circuit held that a an action by a Democratic elector challenging Minnesota's faithless-elector law was not C/R/E/R. The court held that it did not evade review because the plaintiff waited too long to file suit, thereby shortening the time period. Rather than suing on November 8 (right after the election) or November 29 (when the results were certified), he waited until December 19, the day his vote (for Bernie Sanders) was discounted and he was removed as an elector. That left only 2 1/2 weeks to litigate, whereas a lawsuit on December 8 would have allowed almost two months for expedited litigation in both the trial court and court of appeals.

But that assumes the court would have found standing and ripeness on November 8, which is not certain. The plaintiff would have argued then that he intended to vote for Sanders and that the faithless-elector law would disqualify his vote. But courts are so inconsistent about standing that it is hard to know whether that would work. Moreover, the evading-review applies when the time is too short to litigate the issue fully, which must included SCOTUS review. So while the "district court plainly was prepared to resolve the matter with dispatch (it convened a hearing within three days and ruled on the fourth), and this court has demonstrated that it can expedite appeals in time-sensitive cases," that does not account for SCOTUS, which may have wanted a crack at a case declaring invalid a faithless-elector law. The notion that two months would have been enough time to fully litigate this issue, had the plaintiff only not sat on his rights, seems dubious.

It also is unnecessary, because the better argument is that this is not reasonably capable of repetition as to this person. The plaintiff could not show a "reasonable expectation" that he would be subject to this law again. It is doubtful the Minnesota Democratic Party will appoint him as an elector. And he cannot show that he plans to vote for someone other than the popular-vote winner so as to have the law enforced against him; that is too unknown to constitute a remediable injury at this point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2018 at 07:22 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Damnatio memoriae

This is an interesting case from the Sixth Circuit (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy). Plaintiff sued the recorders of deeds throughout Ohio, alleging that continued maintenance of deeds, plat maps, and other property documents containing (unenforceable) racially restrictive covenants violated equal protection and the FHA. The court held that the plaintiff lacked standing. He suffered no economic injury because he offered no evidence that he had been unable to purchase property. Any non-economic injury of a feeling of not belonging was not particularized to him, but undifferentiated and generalized.

The majority opinion, written by Judge Boggs, ends on the following:

In ancient Rome, the practice of damnatio memoriae, or the condemnation of memory, could be imposed on felons whose very existence, including destruction of their human remains, would literally be erased from history for the crimes they had committed. Land title documents with racially restrictive covenants that we now find offensive, morally reprehensible, and repugnant cannot be subject to damnatio memoriae, as those documents are part of our living history and witness to the evolution of our cultural norms. Mason’s feeling of being unwelcomed may be real. A feeling cannot be unfelt. But Mason’s discomfort at the expression of historical language does not create particularized injury. The language in question is purely historical and is unenforceable and irrelevant in present-day land transactions.

This prompted a two-paragraph concurrence from Judge Clay:

I concur in the judgment and, for the most part, in the opinion’s analysis, but I do not entirely agree with the majority’s suggestion that we cannot, under appropriate circumstances, modify or dispense with documents that are “part of our living history and witness to the evolution of our cultural norms.” Justice may require us to repudiate or revise elements of our “living history” if those elements—whether they be public records, flags, or statues—are shown to encourage or perpetuate discrimination or the badges and incidents of slavery; indeed, racial epithets that were once accepted as commonplace have not been preserved, and they have sometimes been stricken from our modern vernacular. We apply an even stricter standard where, as here, the government is the source of, or has ratified, language that has the purpose or effect of encouraging racial animus. We need not erase our history in order to disarm its harmful legacy, but victims of invidious discrimination who have suffered particularized injury as a result of the application of historical language should be able to seek redress, consistent with the context and the factual circumstances of their cases.

I also fear that the majority’s statement that “Mason’s discomfort at the expression of historical language does not create particularized injury” could be misunderstood or taken out of context to suggest that feelings of discomfort with racially discriminatory language could never create a cognizable injury. I do not, however, read the majority opinion as foreclosing a properly pleaded claim arising out of such racially discriminatory language, especially under circumstances that implicate governmental instrumentalities. Rather, I read the opinion to hold that the plaintiff in this action has simply failed to plead sufficient facts to demonstrate a legally cognizable injury. If and when a plaintiff shows such an injury, this Court will have to reconcile the importance of maintaining our recorded history with our vision of government speech that promotes—not hinders—a free and equal society. I do, however, respectfully concur.

 This dispute gets at an important piece of the model of my model of constitutional litigation. There is no judicially remediable constitutional harm coming from legal documents disconnected from actual or threatened executive or private enforcement. The dispute here is over real-estate documents. But the same arguments surround outmoded laws (e.g., anti-miscegination laws or prohibitions on same-sex marriage) that remain on the books but could not be successfully enforced in court. The legislature could repeal these statutes, while it would take much more to undo these sorts of legal documents. But the idea is the same--law (apart from enforcement) cannot and should not be erased by a court because of the "message" it sends from continuing to exist or having existed in the past. The court framed this as lack of standing; a good Fletcherian would call this the lack of remediable substantive constitutional rights.

Judicial departmentalism adds an extra wrinkle, because an executive could attempt to enforce such a law in the face of contrary precedent. That effort will fail once the dispute reaches a court, which is bound by precedent; it also will result in attorney's fees and potential Rule 11 sanctions. But it justifies recent efforts to get legislatures to repeal anti-miscegination laws. The arguments have focused on the symbolism of retaining these laws and the message they send. Departmentalism adds a substantive reason-- repeal avoids the spectacle of even unsuccessful efforts at enforcement. But this case confirms that the conversation must be a legislative one, not a judicial one.

There is a property question to which I do not know the answer. Could the legislature or recorder do anything about these documents or their problematic provisions? Can the government amend long-standing deeds to remove objectionable covenants? Can it issue a new, superseding deed, stripped of the objectionable covenants, controlling the property going forward?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 2, 2018 at 04:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Avoiding dueling universal injunctions

Judge Hanen of the Southern District of Texas* on Friday refused to preliminarily enjoin DACA, where such an injunction would have created a direct conflict with injunctions enjoining the Trump Administrations rescission of DACA. Although the court held that the states have standing and were likely to succeed on the merits (because DACA violates APA and the Take Care Clause), the balance of equities weighed against the injunction, as the injunction would undo the status quo by undoing rights and reliance interests that had attached to DACA recipients since 2012. So we again avoid the clash of injunctions and impossibly conflicting obligation only by a bit of restraint from one court.**

[*] Whose universal injunction in the DAPA litigation in 2015 was the starting point for the recent trend.

[**] Note the clash comes even if the injunction issued was particularized and non-universal. The existence of one universal injunction by definition collides with all future injunctions. A particularized injunction in this case would have forced the federal government to act inconsistent with the earlier universal injunctions prohibiting rescission.

In a separate order, Hanen certified the case for interlocutory review under § 1292(b), finding the validity of DACA is a novel and unique controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. This seems weird in two respects. First, while there is a controlling question of pure law within this order, the decision turned on the balancing of equities, an application issue that is not reviewable under § 1292(b). The court said that a Fifth Circuit declaration of DACA's validity would speed termination of the case, but it is not clear why, because that would not alter the purported balance of equities on which the district court denied relief, at least not at the preliminary injunction stage. I guess if the Fifth Circuit declares DACA invalid, the district court could summarily convert to a permanent injunction. But that assumes the Fifth Circuit takes on DACA directly and does not address the legal issue in context, saying only that DACA is likely invalid, but limiting the decision to the case's preliminary posture.

Second and in any event, certification was unnecessary to obtain review. A decision denying a preliminary injunction is immediately reviewable under § 1292(a)(1). Although the text of the statute only enumerates orders refusing to dissolve or modify an injunction as appealable, every circuit, including the Fifth, reads § (a)(1) to allow immediate review of the denial of the initial preliminary injunction. And § 1292(a)(1) appeals do not require leave of court and are not limited to controlling questions of law.

Update: Other conversations on the subject suggest that Hanen blew the procedure in another way. If he wanted to declare DACA invalid, tee-up the issue for appellate review, and avoid the chaos that would come with a preliminary injunction, he should have ordered the parties to file cross motions for summary judgment and issued a declaratory judgment. A D/J is a final judgment, appealable as such under § 1291. This stuff matters.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 1, 2018 at 08:18 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Lindgren and Stolzenberg on SCOTUS term limits

In the L.A. Times. They suggest a constitutional amendment is required, while recognizing that not everyone agrees. But they suggest the states would support an amendment, given that 49 of 50 states have term limits or maximum judicial ages. The problem, they suggest, is that members of Congress may not want to do this for fear that it would cause the public to demand legislative term limits, as well.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2018 at 08:47 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, July 06, 2018

Compliance & Diversity

All of the Supreme Court speculation circulating this week took my mind to places that I suppose are pretty atypical.  When I was a law student, I really wanted to clerk, but the University of Chicago had guidelines requiring each student to limit their clerkship applications to fifty judges or less.  As a result, I poured over my list of judges meticulously and asked many people advice about who should be on the list.  One of the people who looked at my list said quite bluntly – “Most black clerks are hired by black judges; keep all of the black, appellate court judges on your list.”  So I basically did.  As it turns out, I had two judges (a white woman and a black man) call me for interviews, and I did ultimately clerk for a judge who is amazing, kind, smart, organized, generous, and also black.  When I went for the circuit-wide clerkship training, I did note that the only two black people in attendance were one of my co-clerks and me.  And a black classmate emailed me shortly after his circuit-wide clerkship training to comment on the fact that he was the only black clerk in attendance. 

Thus, while all the interests groups are lining up to make their pitches about what the important qualities are in a Supreme Court Justice, my mind has turned to the fact that the small number of black appellate court clerks leads to a paucity of black, Supreme Court clerks (how many black, appellate feeder judges are there?), which narrows the field of those persons of color who might one day be on one of these lists.  Clearly, I digress and in doing so have skipped some pertinent intellectual and factual steps in the interest of writing a short-ish post.

My digression, nonetheless, has some relevance in that it may help to connect my interest in diversity to my interest in compliance.  I think sometimes people read my work and feel like the articles I have written on diversity in the profession are unrelated to my compliance work.  They are not.  Individuals attempting to create diverse organizational cultures and those attempting to create compliant organizational cultures and those attempting to create ethical organizational cultures are all addressing the same basic question. One could state the question in a few ways, but here is one:  How does one create a culture that promotes a particular set of values—diversity, compliance, ethics—and actually get buy-in of the organizational members in an effort to achieve the culture one has set out to create?  The question has no easy or simple answer.  Instead, the question requires step by step consideration of the external and internal forces that contribute to the creation of organizational cultures.  When one considers the questions as related, it opens up a number of scholarly approaches.  For instance, in a forthcoming article discussing antidiscrimination efforts within the bar, I rely on literature about the damaging effects created when an employee feels like s/he must remain silent.  I could just as easily use that same literature when talking about sexual harassment at Fox News or internal whistleblowers at Wells Fargo. 

There are certainly very good reasons to think about diversity, compliance, and ethics on their own, but there are upsides to approaching the concepts as if they are one, although perhaps not in the same law review article.  Happy weekend! 

Posted by Veronica Root on July 6, 2018 at 07:58 AM in Corporate, Culture, Judicial Process, Workplace Law | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

SCOTUS Term: Chavez-Mesa and Sentencing Appeals

Yesterday, Supreme Court decided another federal sentencing case, Chavez-Meza v. United States. In 2013, the defendant pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and he was sentenced to 135 months in prison.  That sentence was at the very bottom of the relevant Federal Sentencing Guideline range.  After the defendant’s sentencing, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reduced the relevant sentencing guideline range from 135-168 months to 108-135 months.  The defendant sought a resentencing under the new, lower range.  The judge agreed to lower his range, but imposed a sentence of 114 months, rather than the 108 month sentence the defendant had requested.  The judge did not provide any explanation for the new sentence.  Instead, the judge merely checked a box granting the motion for a sentencing reduction on a form that stated that the judge had considered the defendant’s motion and taking into account the relevant Guideline’s policy statement and statutory sentencing factors.  (A copy of the form can be found at the end of the opinion.)

The defendant was entitled to appeal his new sentence, and he did.  Sentencing decisions are subject to abuse of discretion review on appeal, and so one might wonder how the appellate court was supposed to review the defendant’s sentence without any explanation for the judge’s decision.  As Judge Posner put this point in United States v. Cunningham, 429 F.3d 673 (7th Cir. 2005)

[W]henever a district judge is required to make a discretionary ruling that is subject to appellate review, we have to satisfy ourselves, before we can conclude that the judge did not abuse his discretion, that he exercised his discretion, that is, that he considered the factors relevant to that exercise. A rote statement that the judge considered all relevant factors will not always suffice; the temptation to a busy judge to impose the guidelines sentence and be done with it, without wading into the vague and prolix statutory factors, cannot be ignored.

But in a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court Justices nonetheless affirmed the sentence in this case.  Writing for the majority, Justice Breyer failed to explain how an appellate court is supposed to conduct abuse of discretion review if there is no explanation of a lower court’s decision.  Instead, he pointed to the Court’s decision in a prior case which had affirmed a sentence that was supported by nothing more than the sentencing judge’s statement that the within-Guidelines sentence it imposed was “appropriate.”

I have no doubt that if this sentence had been outside of the Guidelines, then a majority of the Court would have said that an explanation was absolutely required. But instead we see this from the majority:

[T]he Guidelines ranges reflect to some degree what many, perhaps most, judges believed in the pre-Guidelines era was a proper sentence based upon the criminal behavior at issue and the characteristics of the offender. Thus, a judge's choice among points on a range will often simply reflect the judge's belief that the chosen sentence is the “right” sentence (or as close as possible to the “right” sentence) based on various factors, including those found in § 3553(a). Insofar as that is so, it is unsurprising that changing the applicable range may lead a judge to choose a nonproportional point on the new range. We see nothing that favors the one or the other. So, as is true of most Guidelines sentences, the judge need not provide a lengthy explanation if the “context and the record” make clear that the judge had “a reasoned basis” for reducing the defendant's sentence.

I think this may be the most blatant statement from the Court that we need only subject non-Guidelines sentences to appellate review.  Previous decisions had been more circumspect about the idea that within-Guidelines sentences ought to receive essentially no appellate scrutiny.  The Court’s decision to overtly embrace the idea in Chavez-Meza was not accompanied by any real attempt to reconcile differential appellate review with the holding in United States v. Booker, which rendered the Federal Sentencing Guidelines “advisory” in order to protect them from Sixth Amendment challenge.

What is more, the idea that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines represent what most judges think is an appropriate sentence is demonstrably false.  (See pages 1490-91 of this article and pages 6-14 of this article for thorough explanations of why that statement is false.)  As one of the original members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Justice Breyer knows that this statement is false.  And he knows that the statement is especially untrue when it comes to sentencing ranges for drug crimes.

Chavez-Meza v. United States is yet another demonstration that the Supreme Court has utterly abandoned appellate review principles in its post-Booker sentencing cases. 

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on June 19, 2018 at 11:48 AM in 2018 End of Term, Carissa Byrne Hessick, Criminal Law, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Time to Reconceive the Supreme Court

If Justice Anthony Kennedy decides to retire as rumored, we can expect another pitched battle over a nomination to the Supreme Court--the ideological leaning of the Court has a huge impact on so many important constitutional and regulatory issues.

But why allow a conservative or liberal majority to dominate judicial decision-making when both perspectives should inform judicial reasoning? It’s time to learn from other countries that strive for ideological balance on their highest courts. In a forthcoming article (draft available here), I discuss three models for ideological balance on the Supreme Court that also could be extended to the lower courts.

We could seek a Court made up of Justices each of whom is politically moderate, as is typical for the European constitutional courts. That could be achieved by ensuring that all nominees secure the support of both Democratic and Republican elected officials.

Alternatively, we could seek a Court that has an overall ideological balance between conservative and liberal Justices. There could be an even number of Justices, with half reserved for Democratic nominees and half for Republican nominees. With this approach, we would make permanent the balance that existed between the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch, with its four-four split between conservative and liberal Justices. Delaware and New Jersey do something similar. Each political party gets at least two out of the five state supreme court seats in Delaware and at least three out of seven in New Jersey.

A third approach would be to seek ideologically balanced decisions rather than ideologically balanced Justices or an ideologically balanced Court. For example, we could require the Court to issue decisions that are supported by a supermajority of Justices. Or to be even more confident of ideological balance, we could require the Court to operate on the basis of consensus. Some constitutional courts in Europe seek ideological balance by requiring both the appointment of moderate Justices and the making of decisions on the basis of consensus.

After considering the advantages and disadvantages of the different models, I suggest an approach that combines an ideologically balanced Court with ideologically balanced decisions. Congress would increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court to twelve and designate four seats for conservative Justices, four for liberal Justices, and four for politically moderate Justices. A Republican nominating committee in the Senate could identify candidates for the conservative seats, a Democratic nominating committee in the Senate could identify candidates for the liberal seats, and the two nominating committees could come together as a bipartisan committee to identify candidates for the moderate seats. Supermajority voting would be included by requiring support for Court decisions by all twelve Justices, or at least a supermajority of ten Justices. With a minimum of ten for the supermajority, at least two Justices would have to come from each of the three ideological blocs. Intermediate courts of appeal could do something similar.

As I discuss in the article, European courts have shown that cases can be decided by consensus rather than majority vote. It just means that Justices or judges have to compromise more.

At the district court level, where a single judge decides, we should ensure the appointment of ideologically moderate judges so neither side of the political spectrum is favored when judges render their decisions. These moderate judges could then feed into the moderate seats on the higher courts making sure that appellate courts always have judges or Justices with trial court experience.

Posted by David Orentlicher on May 27, 2018 at 11:21 AM in Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (19)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Judicial Nomination Cascades

Earlier this month, University of Colorado law professor Melissa Hart was sworn in as the newest Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. Her appointment to that seat was made possible when Allison Eid left the court to join the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which itself was made possible when Neil Gorsuch left the Tenth Circuit to join the Supreme Court of the United States.

This is an example of a nomination cascade – the opening of a position on the bench made possible when a sitting judge is nominated for another court. These vacancies are almost always filled by appointment; even in state courts where judges are elected, governors typically have the ability to make interim appointments.

The Gorsuch-Eid-Hart example is in fact a double cascade, with the Gorsuch nomination leading to two further openings. That fact alone makes it unusual: usually the first or second opening is filled with a nominee who is not already a judge. But it is also unusual because of its speed: three seats were filled, in cascading order, in less than one calendar year. 

To get a sense of how frequently judicial cascades occur, I took an admittedly quick look at all federal appellate court (including Supreme Court) nominations for the Trump, Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton administrations. I focused on appellate nominations because they seemed most likely to trigger cascades, although it is certainly the case that a federal district nomination or a state appellate court nomination can trigger them as well. A few interesting things jumped out.

First, one might expect double (or even triple) cascades to follow U.S. Supreme Court nominations, given that most of the current Justices were elevated from the U.S. Court of Appeals. In fact, Gorsuch was the only Supreme Court nominee in the last 25 years to trigger a double cascade. George W. Bush did not even get a chance to start a cascade for his two Supreme Court nominees: although John Roberts and Samuel Alito were both appointed and confirmed in 2005 (the first year of Bush’s second term), neither of their seats was filled until well into the Obama Administration. There were a number of double cascades early in each of the Obama, Bush, and Clinton Administrations, but all started with an opening at the U.S. Court of Appeals.  Some cascades were entirely federal (court of appeals-district-court-magistrate or bankruptcy), while others were a state-federal mix.

Second, most presidents took the opportunity to create cascades (by appointing lower federal and state judges) early in their first term. This makes some intuitive sense: a president coming off of an election vistory, with a significant amount of political capital, should be more willing to create additional openings in the federal judiciary with the expectation of filling them with his own nominees.  Presidents in their second terms clearly adopted a different strategy: Obama and Clinton largely nominated government and private practice attorneys for federal appellate positions, while George W. Bush went with a heavier dose of state judges. Both strategies avoided the possibility of creating a vacancy in the federal district courts which might remain open until the next administration.

I found one triple cascade in my early review, which occurred late in the Bush Administration.  In May 2008, G. Steven Agee was confirmed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which opened a seat on the Virginia Supreme Court. That position was filled by Leroy Millette, which opened a seat on the Virginia Court of Appeals. That position was filled by Cleo Powell, which opened a seat on the Virginia Circuit Court. (I’m not sure who filled that seat –yet.)

One might ask whether nomination cascades are a good or bad thing for the judiciary and the public. One clear advantage is that nominees have a proven level of judicial experience, and are less likely to need time to get up to speed on the nature of judging. At the same time, looking only to existing judges creates a pipeline effect, in which judicial aspirants have to start at lower levels of the state or federal judiciary in order to get noticed for a higher court nomination. That would seem to be a mixed blessing.

My guest-blogging month is up, but I am going to continue to play with the historical data. I’ll post any interesting new findings in the comments. Thanks to the entire Prawfs crew for letting me hang out here once more.

Posted by Jordan Singer on February 28, 2018 at 12:00 PM in Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Judging Access to the Court System

A very curious lawsuit is currently playing out in Chicago, involving four different state and federal courts. It should be of interest to anyone who teaches or follows developments in First Amendment law, federal court abstention, or court administration. It’s also a fascinating example of judges being asked to decide what obligations the courts themselves owe to the public.

The case involves a First Amendment challenge to records access in the Cook County court system. Last November, the Courthouse News Service (CNS) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Cook County clerk’s office and clerk Dorothy Brown, alleging that the clerk’s office was not immediately disclosing certain electronically filed complaints that were a matter of public record. The gist of the allegations is that lawsuits filed in hard copy are immediately accessible to journalists or any member of the public, but e-filed lawsuits must first be administratively processed, which can delay public access for days. CNS sought injunctive and declaratory relief.

The lawsuit came as Cook County was already struggling to bring its civil case filing system into alignment with the rest of the state. The Illinois Supreme Court set a date of January 1, 2018 for the county to make its system fully compatible, but granted a six-month extension at the end of December when it became apparent that the county and its vendor were nowhere close to meeting that deadline. (The county asked for a one-year extension, which was rejected.)  In granting the extension, the state supreme court announced that its own administrative staff would attend future implementation meetings to assure that the project was completed in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, Brown’s office responded to the CNS lawsuit by arguing that it has no First Amendment obligation to make any document public until it is “accepted for filing,” citing a standing order requiring the clerk’s office to remove certain categories of documents from the public domain. That argument was evidently unpersuasive. In early January, the federal district court granted a preliminary injunction to CNS, and gave Brown 30 days to create a system to allow the press to obtain immediate access to e-filed complaints. The district court held that “In the absence of an injunction, CNS will continue to be deprived of its First Amendment right of timely (immediate and contemporaneous) access to e-filed complaints."

From that point, it started to get really interesting.

Over the past several weeks, Dorothy Brown’s work life must have felt positively Shakespearean. In late January, she petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court again, asking for leniency with respect to the deadline for e-filing integration, and explicitly seeking permission to comply with the federal court order by making e-filed documents (including documents filed under seal) immediately available to the public. When the Supreme Court did not respond right away, Brown twice asked the federal district court to stay the injunction. Twice the court rejected her request, the second rejection coming on February 13.

Brown again took the offensive. Moments after the district court’s denial of her second motion, she filed a motion with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the district court should have declined to hear the case under the abstention doctrine in Younger v. Harris (1971), and instead should have referred the matter to an Illinois state judge. Brown also argued that her office had been wrongly sued, and that the proper defendants were the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts and the Office of the Cook County Chief Judge.

The Seventh Circuit has yet to rule on the Brown's motion. But the Illinois Supreme Court weighed in again on February 14, curtly denying Brown’s January petition without further comment.

What to make of this?

In some ways I feel bad for Dorothy Brown, who has portrayed herself (with some success) as a mere bureaucrat who is trying to follow conflicting sets of orders. There seems to be no question that her office is simply incapable of complying with the federal court’s e-filing order at this juncture. And the irony of Cook County’s paper filing system (which is by any account remarkably byzantine and chaotic) being more accessible than its e-filing system should not be lost on the observer.

But we should not pity Ms. Brown and her colleagues too much. While the causes of her office's dysfunction on this matter are not entirely clear, it would come as no surprise if they boiled down to some combination of inadequate resources, poor management, ordinary negligence, and politics. At the same time, if her office had shown expended half the time, energy, money and creativity in implementing a competent e-filing system as it has in defending this lawsuit in multiple courts, the issue probably would have been resolved long ago.

Posted by Jordan Singer on February 21, 2018 at 04:10 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Information and Technology, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Counting on the Low Information Voter

The LSE Blog features some interesting new research by University of Texas Professor Brent Boyea on the intersection of partisan elections, campaign contributions, and professionalized courts. Looking at 12 years’ worth of data from state high court elections, Boyea found that campaign contributors are nearly twice as generous, on average, in states with partisan judicial elections than they are in states with nonpartisan judicial elections. He also found that “contributors support candidates more actively in states with professionalized courts where judges have higher salaries, advanced resources, and courts have freedom to decide their agenda.” And contributors are most generous when elections are partisan and courts are professionalized. This suggests, to me at least, that campaign contributors expect to get the most "bang for the buck" in states where a candidate's election is all but assured on partisan grounds, and the elected judge will later have some freedom to act in a manner consistent with the contributor's own agenda.

Somewhat related is this story out of Illinois, discussing how attorney Phillip Spiwack legally changed his name to Shannon O’Malley in advance of his campaign for a Cook County judgeship. Spiwack/O’Malley appears to be conceding to a stubborn reality of Chicago judicial elections: having an Irish woman’s name is an extraordinarily valuable commodity at the polls—more valuable, it seems, than professional experience, skill, or judicial temperament.

These items add to a growing body of evidence that in judicial election states, candidates and their financiers virtually expect citizens to come to the polls armed with no more information than a candidate’s party affiliation or surname.  How this advances the integrity, efficiency, or legitimacy of the judicial system is beyond me, but I welcome sincere and robust defenses of this system in the comments.

(Cross-posted at The Interdependent Third Branch.)

Posted by Jordan Singer on February 13, 2018 at 12:02 PM in Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, February 05, 2018

The Limits of “Executive Principle” in the Judiciary

Today marks the resolution (perhaps only temporarily) of an extraordinary, weeks-long public dispute in the Supreme Court of India. On January 12, the second- through fifth-most senior justices of the Court held a press conference, at which they divulged the contents of a letter they had written to Chief Justice Dipak Misra. In the letter, the four senior justices accused Misra of abusing his assignment powers by allocating particularly sensitive cases to courts headed by relatively junior justices. A public uproar ensued, with some criticizing the four senior justices for airing the Court’s internal affairs in public, and others chastising Misra for lack of transparency or accountability. After three weeks of speculation, the Chief Justice responded last week, publicly announcing that as of February 5, cases would be allocated so that all cases of one type would be assigned to the roster of a particular justice. Misra kept for his own roster a number of high-profile case types, including public interest litigation, election matters, and matters concerning the appointment of constitutional officers.

At first, this saga (which I describe more fully below) might not seem to have much relevance for American courts. But the larger question it presents—how executive power is exercised within the judiciary—is deeply salient for those of us stateside.

For the past one hundred years, American courts have deliberately structured their administrative processes to promote centralized decision-making and internal control, and to permit transparency only when it is necessary to maintain legitimacy. At the federal level, the Judicial Conference of the United States and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts have been repeatedly expanded from their pre-WWII foundations. The Chief Justice in particular has enormous and virtually unchecked power in committee assignments, and further has a bully pulpit within the federal judiciary to promote or bury administrative agenda items. Chief judges at the circuit and district level have lesser authority, but still maintain considerable administrative power—especially through the Judicial Conference and their respective circuit conferences. Chief justices at the state level, too, can set administrative agendas both by their tone and by their appointments.

The values of vigorous executive control and limited transparency are the intellectual descendants of “executive principle,” William Howard Taft’s notion that the judiciary requires a strong internal administrative force to maintain efficiency and adjudicative quality. Traditionally, judges have embraced these values, because strong internal administration tends to increase the courts’ organizational autonomy. Centralized management, internal control, and low transparency also tend to reinforce public perceptions of the court system as a serious, dignified, and apolitical actor. Put differently, a robust exercise of executive principle usually bolsters the legitimacy of a court system both internally and externally.

But a commitment to a strong internal executive can also backfire. Sometimes judges grow frustrated with a chief’s agenda, and make their disputes public. (Judge Posner’s self-published assault on the Seventh Circuit’s staff attorney program readily pops to mind.)  Sometimes the public itself demands more transparency and participation in matters of court administration, and the courts must address that demand in order to contain a possible public backlash. (Consider here the opening of federal procedural rulemaking to greater public input and scrutiny in the 1970s and 1980s.) Finding the level of internal control sufficient to maintain internal and external legitimacy is an ongoing process for any chief judge.

Back then, briefly, to what happened in India. The January 12 letter and press conference from the four senior judges appears to have been sparked by Chief Justice Misra’s assignment of a particularly sensitive case to the roster of a junior justice. The case in question involved an investigation into the death of another judge, who at the time of his death was presiding over a murder case in which the party chief of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a defendant. Foul play has been suspected. Misra's assignment of such an important case to the roster of a low-ranking justice was, for the four senior justices, an unacceptable assault on the internal legitimacy of the assignment process. In their letter, the four senior justices acknowledged that the Chief Justice had the right to allocate cases as he wished, but that the process could not be abused:

 “The convention of recognising the privilege of the CJI to form the roster and assign cases to different members/benches of the Court is a convention devised for a disciplined and efficient transition of business of the Court, but not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues.”

This internal challenge to the court’s legitimacy was followed by fresh external challenges, as the press and pundits decried the lack of transparency in the case assignment process. Within days, Misra found himself under attack for keeping a procedure of obvious public interest under wraps. To preserve some credibility for himself and the institution, the Chief Justice had to develop a new, transparent roster system. It seems that the new system he has announced has sufficiently assuaged both internal and external fears, at least for the moment.  But stay tuned: the Chief Justice’s assignment of public interest litigation cases (among others) to his own roster is already raising eyebrows.

American courts are unlikely to have to deal with a legitimacy crisis over the specific issue of case assignment, but the pressures that led to the Indian crisis are nonetheless illustrative. For one thing, India’s experience underscores the importance of having a chief judge who is as skilled at administration as he is at adjudication. For another, it warrants broader reflection as to how the benefits of strong central administration in the courts can be accomplished without eroding internal or external legitimacy. And it provides a cautionary lesson for those chief judges tasked with balancing their own vision of the courts with that of their colleagues and the public.

Posted by Jordan Singer on February 5, 2018 at 02:32 PM in Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Corpus Linguistics Re-Redux

Since my last post on Corpus Linguistics two weeks ago, several things have happened in the corpus linguistics world that I’d like to discuss:  Stephen Mouritsen posted a significant and substantive response to several of my questions.  (His response can be found in this thread, and it is dated September 20).  Neal Goldfarb wrote two lengthy and important posts on his blog. And a new corpus linguistics paper about the likely meaning of the word “emolument” as it is used in the Constitution was posted on SSRN.  All three of these things have helped me further refine my views on corpus linguistics.  But I remain deeply concerned about using corpus linguistics as a methodology to interpret criminal statutes.

First, let me begin by saying that many law professors have not yet made up their minds about corpus linguistics.  They haven’t made up their minds because it is not clear what corpus linguistics and the law aims to do.  A number of people—especially those who consider themselves textualists—tell me that they see corpus frequency analysis as potentially useful for identifying possible or permissible meanings of an otherwise unclear statutory term.  But that is not what those who are advocating for corpus linguistics in the law say.  They tell us that, while dictionaries can help us identify permissible meanings, corpus linguistics can do more.  Specifically, they say it can help judges identify the ordinary or plain meaning of the statute.  In fact, they (at least occasionally) tell us that the frequency with which a word is used a particular way is information that *must* be taken into account in determining the ordinary meaning of a statutory term.

It is this aspect of corpus linguistics that has led me to characterize it as a method of statutory interpretation.  In his comment on my last post, Stephen Mouritsen offered some thoughts on whether he thinks that corpus linguistics is a methodology/theory of statutory interpretation.  While I recommend that you read his entire comment, I want to respond to a few of the things that Mouritsen said on this question.  Among other things, he said the following:

I disagree with your description of the approach that I (and my co-author) have described. I think corpus linguistics can be a very useful tool for providing information that can be relevant to some of the linguistically oriented questions that the law sometimes asks. I don’t think that it should be used to foreclose consideration of other evidence of meaning. While there may be methodological differences among the very few papers that apply a corpus approach, I disagree with the suggestion that what Justice Lee and I have advocated treats corpus linguistics as more than a tool that can provide useful information when the law asks certain linguistically oriented questions. In short, I don’t believe, and haven’t advocated, corpus linguistics as a “new twist on textualism.”

. . .

I think the dichotomy between, on the one hand, corpus linguistics as an interpretive methodology on par with textualism and purposivism (or even as you characterized it as “a new twist on textualism”), or, on the other hand, corpus linguistics as a source of “marginally” useful information, may not be an accurate way to frame the utility of linguistic corpora for interpretive problems. I think corpus linguistics can be a source of “very” useful information that can provide helpful insight in many cases in which the question that the law poses is a linguistically oriented question. Applications of the ordinary meaning canon are one example. And I don’t think that they are a necessarily “textualist” example. I can’t imagine that there is any jurisdiction in the United States that doesn’t use some variety of the plain or ordinary meaning canon of statutory interpretation, regardless of whether the judges who invoke it are textualists, purposivists, Dworkinian moralists, Sunsteinian minimalists, or fans of Nickelback.

I can’t be sure, but these passages suggest that Mouritsen would like corpus linguistics to be something more than an interpretive tool, but something less than a fully formed theory of interpretation.  But in saying that corpus linguistics ought to be considered “a source of ‘very’ useful information” for *any* method of statutory interpretation, including “purposivists, Dworkinian moralists, Sunsteinian minimalists, or fans of Nickelback,” I find it difficult to understand how Mouritsen sees corpus linguistics as something *less than* a theory of statutory interpretation.  A methodology that ought to be used no matter what your theory of interpretation is bigger than a “tool.” 

To try and get at what, precisely Lee and Mouritsen are trying to accomplish, I asked a question in my last post about whether they think that a frequency analysis is required in statutory interpretation.  Specifically, I asked whether Mouritsen was “backing away from a statement that he and Lee made last month on the Volokh Conspiracy that ‘a complete theory of ordinary meaning requires us to take into account the comparative frequency of different senses of words’”

Mouritsen responded:

[T]hat is not, in fact, what we said. We said: “[A] complete theory of ordinary meaning requires us to take into account the comparative frequency of different senses of words, the (syntactic, semantic and pragmatic) context of an utterance, its historical usage and the speech community in which it was uttered.” When you take into account each of these factors you may often find that a highly specialized, infrequent sense of a word is the most likely candidate for ordinary meaning. You may find that the context clearly eliminates some or all but one of the senses of the word as possibilities. You may also find that the word or phrase in question has many potential uses in that same context, in which case it is difficult to make the case that any of the potential senses is the ordinary meaning. So the characterization of the approach in your prior post that “if the database says a term is more often used as X than Y, then corpus linguistics tells us that is the ‘ordinary meaning,’” to me doesn’t capture the approach we have outlined in our paper. Yes, I think that the frequency with which a word gets used in a particular way, in a particular syntactic, semantic and (sometimes) pragmatic context that is similar to the legal text in question, in the speech community or linguistic register that is similar to the one of those subject to the statute, and from a similar time frame is a relevant consideration when determining the “ordinary meaning” of the words of a statute. As I noted before, “[t]o the extent that you find that a given sense of a word is overwhelmingly more common in a particular context similar to that of the statute, in a relevant speech community or register, and from a similar timeframe, I don’t think it is an extraordinary leap to conclude that the people subject to that statute would have understood the word in a way that is consistent with its most common meaning in those circumstances.” To the extent you have such evidence, I think it would be useful in resolving the question of ordinary meaning.

Mouritsen is, of course, correct that the sentence he and Lee wrote for the Volokh Conspiracy included more than just frequency as a requirement for ordinary meaning.  I thought I’d sufficiently acknowledged that by putting the period to end my sentence outside of the quotation marks.  But in retrospect I should have indicated the additional text with an “. . .”  

But I’m still left with my original question:  Do Lee and Mouritsen think that a determination of ordinary meaning should *always* include a corpus frequency analysis?  After all, Lee and Mourtisen presented the list of factors with the word “and”—that is to say, suggesting that *each* of the factors is necessary for what they called a “complete theory of ordinary meaning.”  But in his response, Mouritsen talks about frequency as “a relevant consideration” and “useful in resolving the question of ordinary meaning.”  So I’m afraid that I still don’t know whether Mouritsen thinks corpus linguistics is something that judges can consider if they feel like it, or if it is something judges ought to consider in every case (even if it isn’t dispositive).

This is the question I am trying to get at in my post (and to some extent in my paper)—What role do corpus linguists see frequency playing in statutory interpretation? I understand that corpus linguistics do not think that frequency will always tell us the meaning of a statutory term—though as I explain in the paper, if that frequency analysis is used by textualists, it may keep the courts from using other tools I think are better.  But in order to understand corpus linguistics as a legal methodology rather than as a linguistic methodology, it is important to know the precise role that Lee, Mourtisen, and others think that frequency data should play.  Is corpus linguistics a method for determining permissible/possible meanings, simply one tool that could be used to help determine ordinary meaning, or something that judges should always consider when choosing between various possible meanings?  After Mouritsen’s comments on my previous posts, I’m just not sure. I don’t see him saying that corpus linguistics should be used merely to determine possible or permissible meanings.  He thinks it can do more.  But how much more is unclear. 

Next, I want to return to the claim that corpus linguistics is a superior tool for discerning meaning because it is objective and scientific in nature.  In my last post, I took issue with Mouritsen’s statements that corpus linguistics “findings are replicable and falsifiable.”  Mouritsen responds:

You disagree with the characterization that the corpus linguistics approach to ordinary meaning is scientific. You acknowledge that the search that gathers the language data is replicable, but argue that “it is the analysis that matters” and different parties can draw (and have drawn) different conclusions from the same data. I simply don’t agree that the idea that people drawing different conclusions from the same data, or subjectively interpreting objective data, undermines the scientific nature of a corpus-based the inquiry. If we are going to classify as “unscientific” any form of inquiry where two people interpret the same data differently (and even subjectively), then we would have to condemn economics and every social science as “unscientific.” We may, in fact, have to shut down many upper level, theoretical courses in the “hard sciences” where subjective interpretation of data may lead different people to different theoretical conclusions. Disagreement about the interpretation of data is part of what Thomas Kuhn called the “route to normal science.” As I noted in my prior comment, corpus data won't “tell you what to do with th[e] information or whether that information is helpful for resolving certain types of questions. Shared standards, practices, and methods emerge when people in the relevant field start using the tool and start debating where it is useful and where it is not useful (or even harmful).” The fact that two parties look at the same data and interpret the data differently doesn’t render the enterprise unscientific.

I am afraid that I have to object to how my argument is being characterized. My complaint is not that corpus linguistics is unscientific, but rather that the use of the terms “replicable and falsifiable” suggests that the method connotes the same objectivity as an experiment in the hard sciences.  My post said:

I want to push back on the scientific/objective language that Mouritsen uses in his comments (and elsewhere) to advocate for corpus linguistics.  He tells us that “one of the chief benefits of the corpus approach is transparency. When corpus linguists are wrong about ordinary meaning, they are transparently wrong, because their approach and their findings are replicable and falsifiable.”  I see the rhetorical value of this language, but I have a very hard time understanding the analytical work that it does. 

In the hard sciences, we place great stock in findings that are replicable and falsifiable.  If, for example, someone conducts the same physics or chemistry experiment that I conducted, and their measurements are the same as mine, then we can be reasonably confident that my experiment was conducted appropriately and that its findings tell us something about the physical world.  But that hard sciences model does not map onto corpus linguistics—at least not corpus linguistics as a method of statutory interpretation.  That is because a corpus *search* is replicable, but the search itself doesn’t tell us anything about usage/meaning.  It is the *analysis* that matters.  To say that someone could conduct the same corpus search and obtain the same results is no different than saying someone could consult the same dictionary that I consult and find the same entries.  But just as I might draw different conclusions from those dictionary entries, so too are people likely to draw different conclusions based on their corpus analyses.

I don’t think that it is fair to characterize this objection to corpus linguistics as a claim that an enterprise is “unscientific” if “two parties look at the same data and interpret the data differently.”  Instead, my criticism is that while a corpus search is objective and replicable, the frequency analysis itself is highly subjective.  And the subjective nature of the analysis undercuts the promise of corpus linguistics as an objective method for determining ordinary meaning—something that Mouritsen has claimed in the past. 

Let me give an example of how non-objective a frequency analysis can be using the new corpus linguistics paper on the meaning of the word “emoluments” in the Constitution.  In their methodological section, the two authors explicitly note that the analysis of corpus search results is subjective, and thus they realized that they were likely to code results differently. In order to facilitate consistent coding, they practiced: that is to say, they independently coded material and then met to discuss why they had arrived at particular decisions.  After multiple rounds of these practice coding sessions, they were only agreeing on how to code a particular result 70% of the time.  This 30% disagreement rate after several rounds of practice, in my mind, severely undercuts the claim that corpus linguistics frequency determinations are “replicable and falsifiable” findings.

To be fair to Mouritsen, he backs away from the idea that corpus linguistics can tell us when a judge is “transparently wrong.” But he sticks to his guns about the benefits of corpus linguistics.  He says

the corpus data gives some content to these differing conceptions of ordinary meaning. It forces the judges to show their work and gives a transparent account of what each opinion appears to mean by “ordinary meaning.” This is in contrast to what happens when a court fails to explain what they mean by ordinary meaning and merely invokes the canon and it is not what happens when courts simply cite a dictionary (given that dictionaries don’t typically provide information about ordinary meaning and are typically cited, as James Brudney and Lawrence Baum pointed out in their article “Oasis or Mirage,” merely as window dressing).

I am unconvinced that we need corpus linguistics in order to ensure that judges engage with each other and transparently explain why they think a particular term ought to be read to have a particular meaning.  We already see a significant amount of back and forth between judges when they disagree about meaning—far more than we saw in the mid-twentieth century.  So I don’t think that we need corpus results in order for judges to explain their interpretive decisions; we just need a culture of reasoned explanation in judicial opinions. 

But even if Mouritsen is right that corpus linguistics will cause judges to engage with each other more, that does not make corpus linguistics more attractive to me. That is because I don’t think that a dispute over how to interpret frequency results of a corpus search would improve the quality of an interpretive dispute.  For one thing, as I explained at length in my essay , I don’t think that frequency is a good measure or method for determining the ordinary meaning of criminal laws.  For another, (also explained at length in the essay) I think that judges have a significant constitutional role to play in the interpretation of law—at least the criminal law—and that role is likely to be neglected if judges get caught up in how to appropriately categorize and count database results.  And given that corpus linguistics analysis is so subjective, I don’t see what we add to the enterprise by having judges fight about how to analyze the results of a corpus search.  I’d rather they engage directly with the statute and how the scope of the statute affects individual rights.

Although this post is already long enough, let me address some of the comments that Neal Goldfarb made in his response to my paper.  I (of course) agree with Neal that usage is not distinct from meaning, but rather meaning arises from usage.  But while usage is what determines permissible or possible meanings, those who advocate for corpus linguistics in the law go a step further: They tell us that frequency of usage can help us determine the meaning of an otherwise unclear term.  Here is how Neal explains the argument in his blog post on meaning:

It seems reasonable to expect that the higher the frequency with which a particular sense is associated with a particular type of context, the more likely it is that when the word is used in similar contexts in the future will be understood to have the same meaning. In this way of looking at the issue, the corpus data is seen as a rough representation of the input—what people hear and read—that shapes people’s understanding of word meanings.

It is known that the frequencies with which specific patterns and constructions occur has an effect on how language is learned and mentally processed. It doesn’t strike me as a big leap from that to the conclusion that the strength of the association between the use of a word in a particular type of context will depend at least in part on how frequently one encounters that word being used, in that type of context, to express that meaning. Or at least that seems reasonable if the idea of “types of context” can be adequately defined.

I will get to that, but first I need to note that I’m extrapolating from what I know of the literature, not reporting on what it says; I can’t point to any work that has been done on this specific question. Nevertheless, the assumption I’m discussing is, as far as I know, consistent with the fact that frequency effects are so widespread.

Importantly, Neal tells us that the linguistics literature does not speak to the fundamental premise of corpus linguistics and the law—namely, whether the frequency with which a particular word is used a particular way will affect how a listener is likely to understand the term when it appears in a statute.  Neal admits that he is making a leap from the literature and relying on his own common sense, and I sincerely appreciate Neal’s transparency about the assumptions that he is making.  But I will add that the assumptions that Neal makes do not address my concerns about notice.  Simply put, why would we think that frequency data would capture an average citizen’s intuitions about a statute’s meaning, but not a judge’s?

I can guess that Neal would say that my concerns about notice fail to appreciate the difference between interpretation and comprehension—the subject of his first response to my paper.    As he explains in that post “nobody is suggesting that corpus linguistics be used for investigating those kinds of intuitions. The whole purpose of using corpus linguistics is to learn things that aren’t accessible to intuition.”  But here is why I base my critique of corpus linguistics in the criminal law:  The criminal law does care about an average person’s ability to read a statute and articulate what it allows and what it prohibits.  If corpus linguistics is going to give us a different answer to the question “what does this criminal statute prohibit” than the answer we expect, then there are real problems under the Due Process Clause.  That is because one of the fundamental limitations on criminal statutes in modern America is that they must give people sufficient notice about what a particular law covers and what falls outside of it.  If corpus linguistics is valuable precisely because it gives us different answers than our intuition about statutory meaning, then I think it poses a significant threat to the need for notice in the interpretation of criminal laws.

Now maybe Neal and other corpus linguists would like to argue about what the Due Process Clause requires for the interpretation of criminal laws. Maybe they do not think that judges ought to ask how an ordinary citizen is likely to interpret the scope of a criminal statute.  I’d be quite happy to have that discussion.  Frankly, if lawyers, judges, and law professors are going to say that corpus linguistics ought to play a role in statutory interpretation, I think that they need to have these discussions.  We aren’t linguists. Our inquiry is not simply how might we better understand how people use words.  Our inquiry is how should we interpret statutes.  In advocating for the use of corpus linguistics in the law, that is what we need to be most focused on.  We can’t push that question down the road and say that “best practices” will develop over time. 

While I find much to disagree with in what Stephen and Neal have written, I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate them taking the time and effort to respond to my paper and my blog posts.  The engagement has allowed me to better understand and articulate the problems that I see with corpus linguistics and the criminal law. And it represents the best type of scholarly interaction—fair, dispassionate, and substantive.  And because of their helpful and thoughtful comments, I hope to have another post soon about context and corpus linguistics.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on September 25, 2017 at 09:56 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Criminal Law, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thompson v. Arkansas and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel at Sentencing

Earlier this summer, I helped write a cert petition for the US Supreme Court. The case involves an ineffective assistance claim out of Arkansas.  The petitioner, Mario Thompson, was represented at trial by a lawyer who didn’t do very much on his behalf. Among other things, the lawyer failed to investigate or prepare any sort of meaningful mitigation case for sentencing.  On collateral attack, a state judge held that the lawyer failed to provide effective assistance of counsel at sentencing. But the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed.

Arkansas has a rule that a defendant who is claiming a violation of her Sixth Amendment right to counsel cannot show prejudice if she did not receive the maximum available sentence.  This rule is inconsistent with the reasoning of Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198 (2001). And although Arkansas is the only jurisdiction to have adopted this particular rule, there is a split over the appropriate prejudice standard for ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing claims.  The Second, Third, Sixth, and Tenth Circuits have adopted what I think is the correct legal standard.  The courts of last resort in Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have adopted that same standard.  But Arkansas and the Fifth Circuit have adopted different prejudice standards. And several federal district courts have started to question how they ought to assess these claims.

Even though there is a clear split and a strong case that the Arkansas Supreme Court has adopted an unconstitutional standard, the Supreme Court is unlikely to grant the cert petition. For one thing, the petition will be considered at the so-called “long conference,” which will take place on September 25th.  That is when the Court will consider hundreds (if not thousands) of cert petitions that have piled up over the summer.  Petitions that are considered at the long conference are less than half as likely to be granted than petitions considered during the Term. 

For another thing, although this case involves an important issue of federal constitutional law, it comes out of state court.  State criminal cases vastly outnumber federal cases—I’ve seen estimates that federal felony filings make up less than ten percent of all felony filings in the country.  But that is not reflected in the cases that the Supreme Court takes.  In the 2016 Term, for example, the Court decided 28 cases that involved criminal law, criminal procedure, or closely related topics (like Bivens actions involving law enforcement). Almost half of those cases (13 of the 28) involved federal law or federal prosecutions.

Of course, any cert petition faces an uphill battle.  The Supreme Court hears fewer than a hundred cases per year, and it receives thousands of petitions. But it is more than a little disheartening to know that these other, seemingly irrelevant issues, make a cert grant in the Thompson case so much less likely.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on September 18, 2017 at 09:04 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)