Monday, July 03, 2023

303 and SB8 (Update)

I have not gotten around to reading 303 Creative or commenting on the First Amendment analysis. I want to address the standing issues not addressed in the case but which have entered the conversation.

Liberal critics have decried this as a "fake" case because no same-sex couple asked Lorie Smith to design a web site for their wedding. The record includes a declaration about one same-sex couple that did request a wedding page, but that story appears false--one of the men is married to a woman and played no role in the case. Thus, the argument goes, Smith and 303 lacked standing, but the Court (as its liberal conservative (interesting mistake) majority is wont to do) ignored that to reach out on an issue and hand a victory to a religious-conservative cause.

Apart from my usual views about standing, this should be a non-issue. Smith brought an offensive pre-enforcement challenge, so she need not show actual violations of the law or actual enforcement of the law against her--the whole point is to be able to challenge the law without violating it or risking legal sanction. She had opened a web design business and intended to do wedding sites; state law proscribed her desired conduct (decline business from same-sex couples and announce that intent); and the state was likely to enforce the law against her if she announced and followed that practice. That should be enough for a pre-enforcement action, especially in a free speech case (where courts apply standing in a more-forgiving way). Moreover, this looser approach benefits minors challenging state prohibitions on gender-affirming care--I do not want courts hanging those cases up on "this plaintiff alleges that she wants gender-affirming care, but has not yet seen a doctor or has not yet been prescribed puberty blockers."

Some link 303 and SB8 and find political motivations in the Court's differential treatment--303 dramatically expanded a species of free-speech right through an expansive approach to pre-enforcement litigation, while the Court's restrictive approach as to SB8 eliminated all pre-enforcement challenges to an abortion restriction. But the cases are not comparable. 303's supposed standing problem involves injury--because Smith had never been asked to make a wedding web site for a same-sex couple, she incurred no injury (no genuine risk the state would enforce the law against her). The standing problem in SB8 went to traceability and redressability--the lack of public enforcement meant no public official caused that injury and the court could not enjoin anyone to stop enforcement. 303 does not reflect a distinct approach to pre-enforcement litigation. Had Colorado adopted purely private enforcement for its public-accommodations laws,* there is no reason to believe the Court would not have rejected the case for the same reasons it rejected Whole Women's Health.

[*] Perhaps Blue states seeking to mimic SB8 for liberal causes and against disfavored constitutionally protected activity should consider this issue, rather than obsessing about guns. I wonder what Jonathan Mitchell, Texas officials, and conservative commentators would say.

Update: I do not intend to minimize the issue of the false evidence. If that turns out to be the case, Smith and her lawyer should be on the hook for sanctions. It does not change the appropriateness of the case, because the case was sufficiently real and live without that further evidence.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 3, 2023 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Mootness and jurisdiction in Moore

I am late to the conversation about Moore v. Harper, where the Court found the case alive (over the dissent of Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch) and (mostly) rejected the independent state legislature doctrine. Three thoughts on the jurisdictional issues. (Long post ahead).

1) I still am not sure where I land on mootness. I do not believe--contra Justice Thomas and Josh Blackman-- that the Chief fell into the writ-of-erasure fallacy. Thomas fills Part I of his dissent with (correct) descriptions of how courts enjoin actors from taking action, do not act against laws themselves, and "do not render 'judgments' that toggle statutes from 'operative' to 'inoperative' and back again, as if judicial review were some sort of in rem jurisdiction over legislative Acts."

Here is the procedural history: The state trial court held that partisan gerrymandering is a political question under the state constitution. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed; it made three legal determinations--1) partisan gerrymandering is justiciable; 2) ISL is nonsense; and 3) the 2021 electoral maps were invalid partisan gerrymanders--and entered a judgment prohibiting use of those maps. The state legislators appealed that decision to SCOTUS. Following SCOTUS' cert grant, NCSCt affirmed the trial court's decision rejecting a remedial map. On rehearing (and following a change of court personnel), NCSCt withdrew its opinion affirming rejection of the remedial maps, "overruled" its original decision (the one sitting before SCOTUS), and dismissed the action with prejudice. But, the majority says, the state court never reinstated the original maps; its decision started everything over, allowing the NC legislature to enact whatever maps it chose. That includes enacting a new law adopting the 2021 maps.

Despite some loose language in the Chief's opinion about "presently operative statutes," I do not believe he made the mistakes Thomas accuses him of making. Rather, I think the point of departure is what happens to a preliminary injunction when the action is later dismissed. NCSCt issued an order--do not use the 2021 maps; that order was on review to SCOTUS. The court overruled the basis for that order in concluding that partisan gerrymandering is a political question and allowing the legislature to do what it wants going forward. But it did not authorize use of the 2021 maps authorized by the 2021 law.

Does that matter?

2) While I agree with Thomas' explanations for the role of courts (while remaining unsure of his conclusion), I question this:

[A]n unconstitutional provision is never really part of the body of governing law,” for “the Constitution automatically displaces [it] from the moment of [its] enactment.” Collins v. Yellen, 594 U. S. ___, ___ (2021) (slip op., at 35) (emphasis added). Thus, when a court holds a statute unconstitutional, it is emphatically not depriving it of any legal force that it previously possessed as an Act. The court is only deciding “a particular case” “conformably to the constitution, disregarding” a statute that cannot “govern the case” because it is already “void.” Marbury, 1 Cranch, at 178; accord, Bayard v. Singleton, 1 N. C. 5, 7 (1787) (holding that the unconstitutional “act on which [a party’s] motion was grounded . . . must of course, in that instance, stand as abrogated and without any effect”). “That is the classic explanation for the basis of judicial review” set forth in Marbury and Bayard, and it remains “from that day to this the sole continuing rationale for the exercise of this judicial power.” Mackey v. United States, 401 U. S. 667, 678 (1971) (Harlan, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part).

That works for defensive litigation. When the state prosecutes Johnson for burning a flag, the court disregards the law of prosecution and refuses to allow it to govern the case, thereby requiring dismissal of the prosecution. It does not work for offensive pre-enforcement litigation, in which the federal plaintiff seeks to avoid the case in which the challenged law would govern, by enjoining an official from enforcing that law in the future. A federal court in an offensive action does not disregard the challenged law; it prevents future conduct by a government official with that law. And that conduct may occur outside of court--such as administering elections under particular maps.

3) Mootness aside, Moore also presented issues of SCOTUS jurisdiction under § 1257(a), which is limited to "final" judgments or decrees. Although the state court had decided that ISL does not apply (a federal issue), the case remained ongoing in state court as the parties worked to create new maps consistent with the state constitution.  Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn treats as final cases in which the "highest court of a State has finally determined the federal issue present in a particular case, but in which there are further proceedings in the lower state courts to come." Cox identified four circumstances in which a state supreme court order is final despite ongoing state-court proceedings. The majority relied on the second category--"the federal issue, finally decided by the highest court in the State, will survive and require decision regardless of the outcome of future state court proceedings."

This is the wrong category. Cox defined this category by citing to Radio Station WOW and Brady v. Maryland. In WOW, the state supreme court ordered the transfer of property from a federal license holder and ordered an accounting; the ongoing accounting did not affect the federal issue (interference with the license), which was tied to the transfer. In Brady, Maryland's highest court* upheld Brady's conviction but ordered a new sentencing hearing; that proceeding did not affect the federal due process rights that Brady argued were violated by a conviction without disclosure of evidence. The key to this category is that the remaining state-law proceedings do not affect the federal issue; nothing that happens eliminates the federal issue, regardless of who wins or how the state courts resolve those future issue. Brady believes his conviction violates due process; that remains alive regardless of the ultimate sentence. The radio station believes the loss of property affects its federal license; that remains alive regardless of the outcome of the accounting.

[*] Then called the Maryland Court of Appeals, changed to Maryland Supreme Court in 2023.

That is not this case. Whether the federal issue remains alive depends on what happens in state court. Imagine (as was the case when SCOTUS granted cert) ongoing state litigation to draw new maps that comply with the state constitution. If the state court approves the legislature's preferred maps, the federal issue (ISL) goes away. The state will not appeal the maps or argue they have unfettered power, because they won and so the scope of their power does not matter; the plaintiffs will appeal the maps on independent-and-adequate state constitutional grounds, but would not argue ISL because it does not help them. if the state court rejects the legislature's preferred maps, the federal issue remains alive--the state will return to NCSCt, NCSCt approves the maps, and the state challenges those maps on ISL grounds. Of course, that takes time and energy, leaving the federal issue unresolved. And that is, in fact, where the case landed: The state won on state-law grounds (partisan gerrymandering is non-justiciable) and any appeal the plaintiffs might have rests on state law, not federal law.

Thus, this case better fits the fourth category, created in Cox:

Lastly, there are those situations where the federal issue has been finally decided in the state courts with further proceedings pending in which the party seeking review here might prevail on the merits on nonfederal grounds, thus rendering unnecessary review of the federal issue by this Court, and where reversal of the state court on the federal issue would be preclusive of any further litigation on the relevant cause of action, rather than merely controlling the nature and character of, or determining the admissibility of evidence in, the state proceedings still to come. In these circumstances, if a refusal immediately to review the state court decision might seriously erode federal policy, the Court has entertained and decided the federal issue, which itself has been finally determined by the state courts for purposes of the state litigation.

That is this case. The appealing party (legislators) might prevail on nonfederal grounds (as, in fact, they did), depriving SCOTUS of the opportunity to review the federal issue; immediate reversal on the federal issue precludes further state litigation--had SCOTUS adopted ISL, the state wins without having to do anything more. And the delay or elimination of the ISL issue "seriously erode[s] federal policy" by leaving unresolved whether state legislatures can do whatever the hell they want--sure to be an issue in the coming presidential election.

I am not sure why the Chief went with # 2 rather than # 4.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2023 at 01:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why "universality" better captures the scope-of-injunction problem

Everyone will be talking about the death(?) of affirmative action, but I do not have much legal to add to that conversation. So I am going to use and a few other posts to catch up on some things.

First up, Judge Hale of the W.D.Ky. declared invalid that state's ban on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors, joining district courts in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida. These cases trigger anew the scope-of-injunction problem-- and not well. Judge Hale issued what he called a "facial injunction" and said the following:

The Commonwealth suggests that any injunction should be limited in scope to cover only those plaintiffs who are already taking the drugs in question. (D.N. 47, PageID.514-15) But the fact “that some minors experiencing gender dysphoria may choose not to pursue the gender transition procedures covered by the Act and therefore would not be harmed by its enforcement” does not mean that a facial injunction would be overbroad. Brandt, 47 F.4th at 672; see id. (“The proper focus of the [facial] constitutional inquiry is the group for whom the law is a restriction, not the group for whom the law is irrelevant.” (alteration in original) (quoting City of Los Angeles v. Patel, 576 U.S. 409, 418-19 (2015))). The Commonwealth notably “fail[s] to offer a more narrowly tailored injunction that would remedy Plaintiffs’ injuries,” id., and as Plaintiffs point out, it would be virtually impossible to fashion one. (See D.N. 52, PageID.1678-79) A facial injunction is therefore appropriate.

This is nonsense. An obvious narrower injunction remedies plaintiffs' injuries--the state cannot enforce the law to prevent these seven minors from continuing and/0r begin receiving treatments, as they choose. That remedies their injuries, regardless of what the state can or does do as to any other trans person who seeks or intends to seek treatment.  Protecting these plaintiffs need not help non-plaintiffs (compare an order compelling a school to return a book to the library). Nor is this a case in which the court cannot identify plaintiffs from those similarly situated. Because the trans kids sued on their own behalf (rather than through some organization or a doctor or a state asserting third-party or associational standing), we can easily identify who the injunction protects and who falls outside the injunction.

This and other cases illustrate why it has been a mistake to use "nationwide" to describe beyond-the-plaintiff injunctions. The problem never was confined to challenges to federal laws and regulations. States always could enact broad discriminatory laws and regulations simultaneously affecting large numbers of people, triggering the same issue of who an injunction protects after a court declares those laws constitutionally invalid. But no one would label this injunction "nationwide," while "statewide" adds another term and thus more confusion. That is why universality works best--it captures the idea of an injunction (improperly) extending to everyone who might be subject to enforcement of the challenged law, regardless of the breadth of that universe.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2023 at 11:48 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Florida Supreme Court displeased with federal judicial overreach

Andrew Warren wants his job as state's attorney back, following his specious and politically motivated suspension by Presidential Candidate (and not-for-several-weeks Governor) Ron DeSantis. But he also wants to avoid the constitutionally mandated process for doing so--a Senate trial--fearing (not without reasonable cause) that the Senate will rubber-stamp DeSantis's decision. He failed in federal district court, in a case I believed never should have gotten as far as it did. And he failed in the Florida Supreme Court, which denied his writ of quo warranto.

The latter was a longshot, as the court explains. Under the Florida Constitution, the Senate is the appropriate "court" for challenging suspension. The Florida Supreme Court exercises limited review to determine that the suspension is facially valid. But court never reached that much, instead denying the writ as untimely, because Warren went through five months of federal proceedings before filing in state court.

In rejecting the writ, SCoFL expressed its displeasure with the federal court and Warren for, in essence, derogating SCoFL and state institutions generally.

As to the district court, the state court said:

Inexplicably, despite having previously dismissed Petitioner’s state-law claim—a claim that challenged the facial sufficiency of the suspension order—the federal district court proceeded to reach various “conclusions” regarding the propriety of the suspension under Florida law. Indeed, the federal district court twice stated that the suspension “violated the Florida Constitution,” id. at D115, D125, and the federal district court purported to decide certain “factual issue[s],” including whether “Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent,” id. at D117. The federal district court did so even though its “jurisdiction over [Petitioner’s state-law] claim [was] barred by the Eleventh Amendment,” Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 121, and even though “[i]t is the function of the [Florida] Senate, and never that of the Courts, to review the evidence upon which the Governor suspends an officer,” Sullivan, 52 So. 2d at 425. At one point, the federal district court challenged the Governor to “simply rescind the suspension.” Warren, 29 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. at D124. And at another point, the federal district court seemingly questioned the ability of the Florida Senate to dutifully carry out its constitutional role in suspension matters, referring to that legislative body as “heavily partisan.” Id.

I made similar points following the district court's decision--there was no reason to decide the suspension's state-law validity to decide that DeSantis had a non-pretextual state-law reason for the suspension that defeated the First Amendment claim.

Warren worsened the situation by arguing that the district court's state-law musings should have issue-preclusive effect. Rejecting the argument, the court stated that issue preclusion cannot turn a loser into a prior winner on discrete issues, while noting that the federal case is on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit and thus not final. I would add that the federal court's conclusions about the suspension were not necessary to the federal judgment, another element of claim preclusion.

Finally, the court points to, and does not dismiss, DeSantis's suggestion that Warren invoked SCoFL as a "backup plan," an unfavorable forum to which he ran late and as a last resort. It does not buy Warren's explanation--state law sets no time limit on a quo warranto application and he filed about one month after the district court dismissed that action--because it does not like the idea that he ran to federal court in the first place.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2023 at 09:25 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Getting particularity right, legally and practically

Chris Geidner reports on a Northern District of Florida decision declaring invalid Florida's prohibition on Medicaid coverage for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. Reading the order page (declaring the regs invalid; enjoining the named defendant, Jason Weida; and extending the injunction to other officers per FRCP 65(d)(2)), Chris argues that the decision is not only about the plaintiffs, because the first point applies to the law and regulations. This is wrong as a legal matter, although not as a practical matter. It also illustrates where everyone gets the universality/particularity analysis wrong.

As a legal matter, the court's order affects four named plaintiffs--two adults, two minors. That's it. Yes, the court declared Florida's Medicaid laws and regs invalid. But courts do not make legal declarations in the abstract; they declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party. SCOTUS reaffirmed last week (as to defendants) in Haaland v. Brackeen that a DJ "conclusively resolves '‘the legal rights of the parties.’'" That is, they declare the law and regs invalid as to the plaintiffs. Declaratory judgments are no more universal than injunctions, absent certification of a 23(b)(2) civil rights class , which plaintiffs did not seek or obtain. The court's order binds the named defendant (the secretary of the state health-care agency) and everyone else who might enforce those Florida laws against them--any attempt to enforce against these four people violates the order.

This order does not prohibit anyone bound by the injunction--Weida or other officers--from enforcing these regulations against anyone other than those four plaintiffs. They could deny to John Smith Medicaid coverage of his prescription for puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, without violating the current court order or risking contempt. But suppose they did that. Smith would join as a plaintiff in the current action and ask the court to extend the DJ and injunction to him; because he is identically situated to the original plaintiffs, the court would quickly grant the request. Or Smith would file his own lawsuit and quickly obtain a preliminary injunction on the strength of the prior decision. Either approach produces a court order that protects Smth as a named plaintiff, such that enforcement of the regs against him violates the order and risks contempt. But it requires that additional step of making Smith a party to the litigation and bringing him under the court's protection.

As a practical matter, on the other hand, Chris is correct--Florida officials will not enforce these regs against anyone; Florida Medicaid will cover these procedures for all recipients, barring a stay or appellate reversal. But the court order, as framed, does not compel that result as a matter of law. Rather, Florida officials will cover the procedures for non-parties because declining to do so wastes everyone's time and money* by triggering the further litigation--certain to succeed--described in the prior paragraph.

[*] Plaintiffs brought this action under § 1983, so § 1988(b) authorizes attorney's fees for prevailing plaintiffs. And each time a plaintiff obtains a new or extended injunction, the state will pay the fees for that process.

Does this matter, if we end up in the same place? In my view yes, because process matters.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2023 at 05:50 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Haaland: Standing, or why didn't the entire case have to come through state court

Haaland v. Brackeen rejected (7-2) a constitutional challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act. The relevant plaintiffs were the State of Texas and three sets of adoptive, foster, or birth parents; the defendants were the Secretary of the Interior and various federal officials; the lawsuit was filed in federal district court. The Court rejected the challenge to the placement-preference provision for lack of standing, finding that an injunction or DJ as to the validity of that provision would not redress the plaintiffs' injuries; any injuries arose from the action of state judges applying ICWA and state officials enforce state-court orders, none of whom were parties to the case and none of whom were bound by any judgment. That the state officials likely would follow the federal court's opinion does not establish standing; in  music to my ears, Justice Barrett wrote "[i]t is a federal court’s judgment, not its opinion, that remedies an injury."

But the Court reached, and rejected, the merits of challenges to the entire statute under the Indian Commerce Clause and under Tenth Amendment anticommandeering to the requirements in involuntary proceedings; to placement preferences; and to certain record-keeping requirements. At least as to the latter two, the Court relied on anticommandeering's unique non-application to state courts, which must apply federal law in all cases before it as the supreme law of the land.

What I do not understand is how these plaintiffs had standing to bring a federal suit in federal district court to challenge any of these provisions on any grounds. All claims suffer the same redressability problems--the plaintiffs suffer an injury when non-party state judges apply ICWA to decide cases and non-party state officials enforce those judgments. So it seems to me this entire case should have had to come through state court--a state family court decides an adoption/placement case applying ICWA; the parents (and the State, if so inclined) argue that ICWA is constitutionally invalid and cannot be applied; the loser(s) appeal through the state system and ultimately to SCOTUS, which decides these constitutional issues in the course of reviewing a state judgment applying that law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2023 at 06:34 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Brown or Briggs?

The descendants of the plaintiffs in Briggs v. Elliott, the companion to Brown out of South Carolina, have petitioned SCOTUS to redesignate it as the lead case for that opinion. I was not aware of the story behind how the five cases reached the Court and formed that case, or of the historical debate over whether Brown became lead case because of bureaucratic choice or various political calculations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 11, 2023 at 02:48 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 10, 2023

What is a slippery slope argument?

The Freakonomics podcast did an episode on slippery slope arguments. It featured Eugene Volokh, Dahlia Lithwick, and a philosophy professor. Eugene wrote a great article on this; his post links to two versions of the article and blog posts serializing it.

I agree with Eugene that episode was interesting. But it went off the rails for me by spending a lot of time on distinct argument that I do not believe qualify as slippery slope. It features the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids discussing opposition to early smoking bans, which featured arguments that prohibiting indoor smoking would destroy the restaurant industry or that prohibitions on smoking on planes would lead to plane crashes and violence by tobacco-addicted pilots and passengers.* Lithwick talks about CRT bans and book bans as descending into "feelingsball"--people support the bans because learning CRT will make white children feel bad about themselves or reading books about queer kids will lead to bad behaviors. She blames yellow journalism for the monetization of scaring people, even affecting how we discuss weather ("bomb cyclones" and "thunder snow").

[*] The initial ban applied to short (90-minutes-or-less) flights, on industry arguments that tobacco addicts could not last any longer without a smoke.

These are arguments about bad consequences--Policy/Law/Practice A will produce bad results or results I do not like. We can argue they are "catastrophizing"--warning of extreme (and unlikely) and scary consequences ("reading these books will turn your kids queer," "banning smoking will cause pilots to crash planes"). We can even argue they are examples of moral panics, which goes a step beyond catastrophizing bad consequences. Historic yellow journalism and modern-day "clickbait" journalism trade in these arguments--look at all the bad things that will happen from this practice or this law. And the weather example has nothing to do with anything--making weather sound dramatic does not really cause any conduct.

None is a slippery slope argument, at least as I understand the phrase and as Volokh uses it in his article. Slippery slopes argue that allowing Policy/Law/Practice A leads to Policy/Law/Practice B--if we allow gun registration, then government will confiscate guns; if we allow prohibitions on swastikas, then government will prohibit the Confederate flag or BLM flag. That is different from arguing that prohibiting swastikas will anger Nazis and cause them to riot or that gun registration will create a dangerous black market in illegal guns. Slippery slopes are about "slippage" from one set of rules or conduct to new rules or conduct, not from one rule or conduct to the consequence of that rule or conduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 10, 2023 at 02:41 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 09, 2023

§ 1983 enforcement survives, for the moment

The Court decided HHC v. Talevski Thursday, seven months to the day after argument. Here is my SCOTUSBlog analysis. The Court held 7-2 (by Jackson) that Spending Clause enactments are enforceable through § 1983 and that Federal Nursing Home Reform Act ("FNHRA") can be enforced through § 1983. I suppose I understand the delay. Thomas wrote a 36-page dissent tracing the history and evolution of the Spending Clause to argue that spending enactments do not "secure" legal statutory rights, only contractual rights, otherwise such rights violate anti-commandeering. Alito (joined by Thomas) dissented to argue that FNHRA is not enforceable because Congress intended to preclude § 1983 enforcement. Gorsuch and Barrett (with the Chief) joined the majority but added short concurrences.

The title of the posts suggests the reprieve to private enforcement may be temporary. Five justices wrote various things suggesting a narrow approach to private enforcement of Spending Clause laws, if not an intent to eliminate it. Thomas made his position clear. Gorsuch's one-paragraph concurrence spoke of "issues lurking" that petitioners failed to develop--namely, the anti-commandeering concerns Thomas discussed. In other words, Gorsuch might agree with Thomas in a different-and-better-litigated case. Barrett and Roberts went out of their way to remind courts to "tread carefully before concluding that Spending Clause statutes may be enforced through §1983." And Alito believes that a combination of state law proceedings and internal grievances sufficient to preclude federal litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 9, 2023 at 09:33 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 02, 2023

JOTWELL: Levy on George, et al. on SCOTUS Clerks

The new Courts Law essay comes from Marin Levy (Duke), reviewing Tracey E. George, Albert Yoon, & Mitu Gulati, Some Are More Equal Than Others: U.S. Supreme Court Clerkships, an empirical study of who clerks for SCOTUS, where they come from, and where they go.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 2, 2023 at 08:57 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 01, 2023

What is the Court planning for § 1983 "and laws"

My SCOTUSBlog case for this term is Health & Hosp. Corp. v. Talevski, asking the Court to reconsider precedent allowing enforcement of Spending Clause enactments through § 1983 "and laws" actions. The Court held arguments on November 8 and still has not issued an opinion. My reading on the argument was that there was no appetite for doing that. But the long delay suggests either 1) they are going to do it or 2) someone is writing separately to argue why they should do it. The case is not, all things considered, that controversial; I would not expect the Court to take seven months (and counting) or to hide it in the end-of-Term document dump.

The delay has created bigger problems for the in-progress third edition of Understanding Civil Rights Litigati0n. The discussion of "and laws" actions covers the state of the law from 1980 (Maine v. Thiboutot) through summer 2023. It includes a paragraph that there is "doubt" about § 1983 and Spending Clause enactments, mentioning that the Court granted cert to decide the issue in Talevski this Term. I wrote that as a placeholder in January, expecting to change it during the editing process. But the final round of of galley edits passed; the only remaining piece of the process is indexing, if we hope to have the book available in August. If the Court does something crazy, it renders several pages obsolete (how obsolete depends on how crazy), with no opportunity to correct it.

We could say the same about Mallory and establishing general personal jurisdiction through business registration, argued the same day as Talevski--this is a long time to spend on this case, suggesting division and someone doing something wild.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 1, 2023 at 11:18 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

What is the trouble with SCOTUS reporting (and with SCOTUS)?

Slate's Amicus Podcast hosted a live conversation with Dahlia Lithwick, Mark Joseph Stern, Jay Willis, and Elie Mystal. The conversation centered on the failures of the SCOTUS press corps. Press failures include: too much focus on the law of the opinions (they liken it to how science reporters cover NASA); failing to identify the "reality" beneath those opinions, whether by exposing the Court's misleading presentation of facts (Kennedy) or by positioning one case within a larger political, ideological, and jurisprudential trend; failing to write about the real-world consequences of the decisions; failing to report on and follow individual justices (compared with the extensive coverage of members of Congress and even small legislative actions); and failing to write about the behind-the-scenes influences on the Justices (Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo, ADF, et al.).

I enjoyed the program, although I did not agree with a lot of it. Some reactions after the jump.

• There is an electoral/public accountability component to how the press covers Congress (and members of Congress) absent in covering the Court. The press provides information to the public which, we hope, the public uses in deciding whether to keep that person in office. By contrast, there is (I think) continued acceptance that no one (not Congress, not the public) should remove or sanction judges for their decisions. Those (including me) who would like some form of term limits do not want those limits to turn on agreement or disagreement with substance of decisions. Broader (i.e., beyond the opinion) coverage of the Court allows for public awareness and criticism of the Court, with whatever effects public opinion might have on the Court. It perhaps pressures Congress to do something about an out-of-control Court. But that something is not removal of individual members, unless progressives have abandoned the conclusion that the Senate properly acquitted Samuel Chase and that "Impeach Earl Warren" campaigns wrong.

• One SCOTUS decision resolves one case involving one dispute between discrete parties (e.g., whether Mississippi's law can be constitutionally enforced against Jackson Women's Health patients or whether this school could sanction this football coach for these activities). The decision includes an opinion that affects other real-world actors. But the opinion's effects on other actors and its consequences as to them are diffuse, prospective, unknown, and contingent at the time. It thus is impossible for reporters to write about them in covering argument or decisions. At best, reporters in the moment can speculate (and report speculative cases) about what could/might happen (subject to accusations of engaging in unreasonable parades of horribles). Reporting on consequences beyond the parties before the Court requires subsequent follow-up reporting. That reporting should happen, although we might question whether Totenberg, Liptak, Biskupic, et al., should do it and when. In other words, no one knows the specific effects of a SCOTUS case in the moment--it depends on what governments and lower courts do in response. Of course, we could raise the same argument as to congressional reporting--no one knows the specific consequences of a piece of legislation and someone should report on the on-the-ground effects of the enacted law, although the question is who and how and when.

Take Dobbs. States' race to impose the strictest laws was predictable and that prediction should have been part of the coverage (and might have been--I avoid most popular coverage of the Court). But the press could not have written specific stories about specific instances by specific states affecting specific people, as the panelists seem to demand. No one knew which states would enact or enforce which laws as to which people and in which circumstances. When Dobbs leaked in May or issued in June, no one could have written about Mifepristone or about Indiana sanctioning a doctor for performing an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio or about Idaho outlawing travel to other states.

Relatedly, lower courts--thousands of judges on hundreds of courts spread across the U.S.--determine the broad on-the-ground effects. By focusing on how media coverage of SCOTUS fails as opposed to how media coverage of of the judiciary fails, they perhaps commit the error people accuse legal educators of committing. In any event, the handful of SCOTUS reporters cannot cover the entire judicial system, although that is the locus of the large practical effects the panelists want covered.

• They spend a lot of time on the media's failure to report on the supposed outside influences on the Court and the Justices. Put Crow to one side--if that reporting bears out, it may reflect the sort of not-good behaviour warranting impeachment or resignation. The speakers criticize failure to report on the ADF and other conservative advocacy groups spending money (from specific wealthy people with an ideological goal) and operating campaigns to find plaintiffs and bring cases with the goal of overruling affirmative action, creating religious exceptions to LGBTQ+ protections, weaken environmental protections, etc. Criticizing that failure to report implicitly criticizes these groups' litigation efforts--they engage in nefarious conduct and the press commits journalistic malpractice by not writing about and exposing them and their nefarious conduct.

But much of the constitutional law that progressives cheered was created through similar litigation campaigns--advocacy organizations sought out plaintiffs to bring lawsuits challenging various laws with the goal of obtaining SCOTUS review and decisions establishing their favored constitutional provision. And the right resisted those efforts by attacking the groups bringing the cases and trying to bring them to heel. Virginia applied its laws against soliciting legal business to the NAACP's efforts to recruit parents to bring anti-discrimination suits. States investigated and prosecuted advocacy groups under anti-Communist laws, amid questions about who funded these organizations and their advocacy efforts. Lithwick and company would not argue (I presume) that the press failed 60 years ago in not exposing whether "communists" funded the NAACP and its efforts to overrule Plessy and invalidate Jim Crow.

Once again, progressives criticizing conservative impact litigation must distinguish these efforts from prior movements. "I disagree with current efforts but like past efforts" is not a principled distinction.

• Stern offers an interesting take on press coverage of 303 Creative as the latest step in an advocacy organization's campaign to carve religious exceptions into public-accommodations laws. Past cases pitted competing "rights-holders" receiving media coverage--e.g., Jack Phillips on one side and the same-sex couple who ordered the wedding cake on the other. But the posture of 303--Lorie Smith has never created a wedding web site and never been asked by a same-sex couple to create a wedding web site (Stern said it's because she sucks as a web designer). So the designer is the only person the media can cover and they have done so, in the usual soft-focus way; no specific person sits on the other side. I doubt that affects the Justices or the outcome; it affects how the public perceives the case and its consequences.

Stern suggests the one-sidedness shifting media coverage in Smith's favor illustrates why the case is bullshit. Smith lacks standing* because she faces no meaningful, imminent, or non-speculative threat of having state law enforced against her. No one--least of all two gay men, according to Stern--has or is likely to ask her to design their wedding web site or to complain to the state civil rights commission about her failure to do so, both of which are necessary to trigger any enforcement of the law against her. This is a good line, although LGBTQ+ people keep ordering from Jack Phillips.

[*] Or suffers no constitutional violation, in my preferred framing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 30, 2023 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Thick-skinned judges

From Judge Joshua Wolson (E.D. Pa., with whom I clerked on that court), dismissing a lawsuit by a state judge against the Daily Beast for describing her as "QAnon-linked:"

Being a Judge is a great job. But it comes with downsides. What we do, we do in public, and we subject ourselves to public discussion and criticism of our decisions, both fair and unfair. Federalist No. 78 noted the importance of Judges being independent of the “effects of those ill humors, which are the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures [that] sometimes disseminate among the people themselves.” The Federalist No. 78 (Alexander Hamilton). That remains just as true today as it was in the 18th Century. Being a judge requires a thick skin and a willingness to make decisions in the face of criticism, even unfair criticism, and to remember that sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.

That view of judges needing thick skin and the ability to handle even unfair criticism and continuing to do the job departs from the attitude expressed by Justice Alito, Judge Duncan, Judge Ho, and others, demanding sanction for or defense against their critics. Is it easy to say this when discussing another judge reacting to criticism (in rejecting that other judge's efforts to silence those criticism) than when handling unfair criticism directed at oneself? (Note that I am not attributing that position to Judge Wolson or suggesting he would react differently to criticism targeting him).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 24, 2023 at 06:48 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

(Guest Post) Judicial Politics and Legal Scholarship in Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith

I meant it when i said I have no idea who had the better of Warhol. So the following is from my FIU colleague Hannibal Travis, who does.

The majority opinion in Warhol carries forward certain recent trends in decisionmaking at the Supreme Court.  As others have noted, there is a "David and Goliath" quality to the ruling that photographer Lynn Goldsmith, breaking barriers as a woman in the male-dominated rock-n-roll photography field and earning a modest living from selling photographs to magazines for around $400, was entitled to compensation for Andy Warhol making an unauthorized tracing and silkscreen of her photograph of the rock star Prince and licensing it to Vanity Fair for $10,000.  It is reminiscent of the celebrated ruling in NCAA v. Alston (2021) that college athletes had been unlawfully exploited when colleges conspired to limit their education-related benefits for playing, and that the NCAA had no right to define intercollegiate athletics as a market in which cost-of-attendance scholarships are the fundamental cap on scholarships to ensure amateur play.  The majority also attempts to return fair use doctrine to what it sees as first principles, contrary to certain lower court rulings that supposedly overemphasized one aspect of one fair use factor.  This continues a trend of swatting away overly formalistic or innovative circuit court tests, some of the more notorious being "design marketability," "likelihood of dilution," the "machine-or-transformation" test for concrete patentable ideas, and the "teaching-suggestion-motivation test" for obvious improvements to existing technologies for patentability purposes.

Henry Mistry suggests that judicial opinions -- including dissents -- are a kind of performative ritual that is intended to alter social perceptions and bolster the legitimacy of the ritual's practitioner.  From this point of view, decisions like Warhol that make up the trend of Supreme Court decisions against various "Goliaths" are not only norm-clarifying but legitimacy-building.  As a related form of performative judicial politics, a dissent calls aspects of the legal system into question while underlining the system's legitimacy as a responsive and "dynamic" one.  In this instance, the majority mobilizes a constituency for its view from the factual background of Goldsmith's craft to its attempt to reassure artists that not much will change in the last paragraph. 

One of the critical points of contention in Warhol is the relationship between the defense of fair use and the exclusive right of Goldsmith and other copyright holders to prepare "derivative works."  As Justice Sonia Sotomayor's opinion for the Court explains:

[T]he owner has a right to derivative transformations of her work. Such transformations may be substantial, like the adaptation of a book into a movie. To be sure, this right is “[s]ubject to” fair use. § 106; see also § 107. The two are not mutually exclusive. But an overbroad concept of transformative use, one that includes any further purpose, or any different character, would narrow the copyright owner's exclusive right to create derivative works. To preserve that right, the degree of transformation required to make “transformative” use of an original must go beyond that required to qualify as a derivative.... See ... Authors Guild v. Google, Inc., 804 F. 3d 202, 214 (CA2 2015) (Leval, J.) (“The more the appropriator is using the copied material for new, transformative purposes, the more it serves copyright's goal of enriching public knowledge and the less likely it is that the appropriation will serve as a substitute for the original or its plausible derivatives, shrinking the protected market opportunities of the copyrighted work”). A use that shares the purpose of a copyrighted work, by contrast, is more likely to provide “the public with a substantial substitute....” [Id.] at 207....

Similarly, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Ketanji Brown Jackson state in their concurring opinion:

[T]he copyright statute expressly protects a copyright holder's exclusive right to create “derivative works” that “transfor[m]” or “adap[t]” his original work. §§ 101, 106(2). So saying that a later user of a copyrighted work “transformed” its message and endowed it with a “new aesthetic” cannot automatically mean he has made fair use of it. Contra, post, at 1–2, 22–23, 34–36 (Kagan, J., dissenting). To hold otherwise would risk making a nonsense of the statutory scheme—suggesting that transformative uses of originals belong to the copyright holder (under § 106) but that others may simultaneously claim those transformative uses for themselves (under § 107). We aren't normally in the business of putting a statute “at war with itself ” in this way. United States v. American Tobacco Co., 221 U.S. 106, 180 (1911).

The opinion in American Tobacco was not about a contradiction between two provisions, however, but between a reasonable reading of a single provision and another proposed reading that would seemingly undermine the legislative objective (freedom of interstate commerce).  In Warhol, the justices were at loggerheads over whether presumptively vesting the ability to adapt, recast, or transform a work in its original author would thwart the very creativity that copyright is deemed to promote.  For dissenting Justice Elena Kagan and Chief Justice John Roberts, there is no tension between finding a work to be an infringing derivative yet favored under fair use as having a "purpose or character" that is akin to comment, criticism, research, or scholarship.  The derivative work right is not eliminated despite this approach because the amount and importance of material taken and any economic harm to the original author can outweigh the purpose factor.  Even more importantly, the derivative work right is "[s]ubject to" section 107 (the fair use statute) and other defenses/limitations.  In 2013, for example, the Court found that even though copyright infringement includes unauthorized distribution of copies, the first-sale (or resale of a lawful copy) defense applied.  The strength of the argument that an unlawful distribution occurred could not eliminate the first-sale doctrine's role (because distribution exclusivity is subject to it).  Thus, ruling against Goldsmith on the question presented (that the unauthorized Prince art based on a Goldsmith photo was "transformative" under the fair use doctrine) would conflict with neither the fundamental goal of copyright nor with the derivative work language.

The legislative history of the Copyright Act further illustrates why allowing fair uses of some derivative works would not make nonsense of the statute.  Both the definition of a derivative work, and that of fair use, refer to a "portion of [the] ... work" being used.  Unlike the majority opinion in Warhol, which defines fair use as necessarily excluding "plausible derivatives," the legislative history states that "no real definition" of fair use even exists.  Several of the examples of fair uses in the legislative history amount to a "recast[ing]" of the original work, and are therefore "plausible derivatives," including: "illustration or clarification of the author’s observations" and "summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report."  Both of these examples are captured in the preamble to the fair use statute under "comment," "research," or "scholarship," so that criticism or parody does not exhaust the world of fair uses.  Nevertheless, the majority opinion starkly contrasts comment and criticism, and greatly disadvantages commentary and research in comparison to "target[ing] an original work."

By excluding illustrative or summative commentary and other plausible derivatives from the scope of the first factor of the fair use doctrine, the majority opinion will confine fair use to a very minor domain because it did not want to "narrow" the derivative or adaptation right.  As the dissent points out, the first factor ensures a "'breathing space' for artists to use existing materials to make fundamentally new works, for the public's enjoyment and benefit."  Courts formerly utilized the first factor to outweigh aspects of the new work that might otherwise negate a fair use, such as use of the entire work or use of the "heart" of the work such as a song's refrain.  The dissent goes on to criticize the majority's move here:

[T]he preamble ... gives examples of uses often thought fair: “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching[,] ... scholarship, or research.” § 107. As we have explained, an emphasis on commercialism would “swallow” those uses—that is, would mostly deprive them of fair-use protection.... [¶]  [Yet o]n the majority's view, an artist had best not attempt to market even a transformative follow-on work—one that adds significant new expression, meaning, or message. That added value (unless it comes from critiquing the original) will no longer receive credit under factor 1. And so it can never hope to outweigh factor 4's assessment of the copyright holder's [economic] interests.

The dissent in Warhol recalls on earlier dissent on an even weightier issue.  In 1984, the Court ruled 6-3 that paraphrasing and selectively quoting choice passages from the memoirs of a former president and potential presidential primary candidate Gerald Ford were consumptive and exploitive uses of his manuscript, rather than fair news reporting with a more beneficial purpose of conveying uncopyrightable facts without scooping a new book.  Building on this approach, courts  ruled that even liberally quoting unpublished letters could result in a copyright ban on a biography.  Justices William Brennan, Byron White, and Thurgood Marshall issued one of the great First Amendment dissents in the Ford case, warning that news reporting, which was a "prime example" of fair use according to the statutory text, had been disfavored by the majority, threatening open discussion and debate on public figures and official measures.  Scholars  have often confirmed that this danger has indeed materialized.

The Warhol dissent takes a minimalistic approach.  The First Amendment right to make art of a postmodern or even simply a "pop art" variety is not discussed, despite effective briefs on the topic by art law professors and copyright law professors.  Even the legislative history, which contains important discussions of the scope of fair use and of the derivative right, makes no appearance.  Cass Sunstein conceived of judicial minimalism as different from judicial restraint in that it promotes core principles on which supposedly everyone can agree, while striking down laws when necessary to shield traditional rights.  It is not "skeptical" of the judicial role so much as committed to a broad scope of political branch discretion, and confident that judges committed to various ideologies and legal theories can agree in reasonable and circumscribed decisions.  In this way, the Warhol majority explains its ruling as an interative development of existing precedents and a straightforward application of statutory text.  The dissent invites readers to review the precedents and read the text differently.  Neither opinion returns to first principles and opens a destabilizing inquiry into their contemporary implications.

Sunstein noted that a minimalistic opinion may fail to provide "justification or guidance for the future" in "wider judgments."  The majority does not even draw much of an explicit distinction between submitting art to a magazine for a fee -- where the art is based on a photograph to illustrate a magazine article or cover about the photograph's subject -- and either displaying similar art in a nonprofit museum or art history textbook.  Thus, Justices Gorsuch and Jackson wrote a concurrence to point out that the first fair use factor might favor such a use in an appropriate case.  The majority is unwilling even to state that a critical book review necessarily benefits from the first factor, because certain quoted passages might satisfy consumer demand for part of the book and therefore lose the benefit of the first factor. 

The majority does offer guidance on a number of important topics.  It concedes that when a creator uses only a tiny portion of what came before or hides whatever is created in the classroom or private quarters, the "plausible derivatives" test may support a fair use under the first factor.  It approvingly cites cases stating that reproducing a photograph that is "the story" unaltered alongside a news article could be a fair purpose, as could altering a photograph for parodic effect.  It reaffirms a decision from 2021 that it could be a fair purpose to make use of "primarily functional" computer software elements to create a new programming "environment" with "shared interfaces" and the ability to attract programmers from earlier coding environments.  It even analyzes Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans from 1962 (part of a series continuing through at least 1969) as having a purpose and character consistent with a fair use because advertisements have a different purpose and the series "target[ed]" the ads, presumably for being "ordinary."  Finally, the majority declares -- with no precedential or theoretical support -- that film adaptations are unfair uses. (The Court ruled in 1911 that a film could be an infringing dramatization of a book under the copyright act of 1891, but fair use did not come up.)

There can be no presumption that a particular type of work is a fair use or even has a fair "purpose and character," for the majority.  As noted above, even book reviews are now at risk even though they were one of the first types of fair uses recognized, alongside abridgements.

The dissent argues that despite the guidance provided, the majority's minimalism and solicitude towards authors' commercial aims will leave subsequent authors and musicians in a very uncertain position as to quoting others' original work.  Were Warhol's Marilyn Monroe series of paintings and screenprints all infringements?  The dissent is unsure, althugh the majority notes that Warhol paid to license the photographic source material of some of his works, so the scope of said licenses might be important.  How could future artists or musicians possibly rely on fair use if even an "avatar" of a bracing and revolutionary form of recontextualizing art worthy of museum exhibition and inclusion in art history's pantheon, had an insufficient legal justification for the "purpose and character" of (at least some of) his works?  No matter, say the majority and the concurrence: a narrow question was asked, and answered.

The majority opinion, like the Campbell case it applies, adopts an analysis from a Harvard Law Review article by Judge Pierre Leval.  Leval argued that the further removed the purposes of the user are from those of the original author, the more excusing an unauthorized use will advance the aims of copyright law .  On the other hand, subsequent authors who share purposes or characteristics of their work with the original author's work threaten to divert income from him or her and harm the mechanism with which copyright adds to knowledge via incentives. 

The central question under this approach is whether an interference with a "plausible derivative" is made by the subsequent author.  As Leval's article put it, any "reasonably substantial" loss of revenue due to the substitutionary effect of a use may negate its fairness. In the Google Books decision, Leval expanded on the proposal:

Even if the purpose of the copying is for a valuably transformative purpose, such copying might nonetheless harm the value of the copyrighted original if done in a manner that results in widespread revelation of sufficiently significant portions of the original as to make available a significantly competing substitute....

There must be a meaningful or significant effect "upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work." 17 U.S.C. § 107(4).

However, Leval's discussion of derivative substitution in his article and in the Google Books opinion dealt with the fourth fair use factor.  The Warhol majority's use of significant-impact-on-plausible-derivatives to inform the first factor will lead to confusion between the purpose and character factor and the effect on value of markets factor, the dissent argues.  The majority denies this, leading to various skirmishes in the footnotes.  The most clarifying statement by the majority is that a significant effect on derivative markets may be correlated with but is not a cause of a purpose and character that is unfair (for being too close to that of the original work).

This analysis by Leval, mediated by its reception in Campbell, is about the sum total of the influence of legal scholarship on the majority opinion.  As with the First Amendment issue and the postmodern art briefs, this was a minimalist move, as legal scholarship is rife with theories about the history and optimal development of fair use. 

In the Warhol concurrence, however, legal scholarship makes a tantalizing appearance.  It is suggested that while fair use may not be viable for the Warhol foundation due to losing the first factor, a defense of outright noninfringement may have had more success.  The Nimmer on Copyright treatise appears for the proposition that "even when two works are substantially similar, if both the plaintiff’s and the defendant's works copy from a third source (reworking, say, a traditional artistic or literary theme), a claim for infringement generally will not succeed."  This, for me, evoked an opinion by then-judge Gorsuch on copyright infringement, in Meshwerks, Inc. v. Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. (10th Cir. 2009).  There, the plaintiff digitally sculpted lines and frames initially derived from Toyota vehicle measuresments, for purposes of painstakingly generating all the fine nuances of a vehicle's appearance in a computer-based model.  Its infringement claim against Toyota for subsequent unauthorized uses ran up against a "bedrock" principle of copyright law that aspects of the plaintiff's model attributable to copying the underlying object had to be ignored, and could not form the basis of a claim.  The shape of a vehicle was unprotected or owned by Toyota, not owned by the plaintiff who first traced it.  Analogously, the concurrence seems to suggest that the Warholized image of Prince (which the dissent describes as resulting in "isolated and exaggerated ... differently-colored, out-of-kilter lines around Prince's face and hair") might be noninfringing once Prince's features are ignored.  Scholars (who unfortunately the Court does not engage with to provide more guidance to those using images of people for various purposes) explore this as the "photograph as database" theory, with the photograph as a mirror, repository, or taking of data points preexisting in the world. 

It is, in a way, appropriate that Warhol's work should cause us to reevaluate the dynamic between the creator as generator of meaning and the creator as consumer of meaning.  The majority opinion paints Warhol and similarly situated artists (like Richard Prince or Jeff Koons) as grabbing value from others, as being engaged in "wholesale takings."  Warhol described what he was doing as driving the seemingly strong meaning of ordinary images to a vanishing point.  Repetition, iconography, discoloration, and the like produce a distancing or alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt or priyom ostraneniya).  The comforting and community-binding aura around popular images takes on a different hue.  Richard Prince and Koons achieve something similar in cases they lost in pertinent part, in the rulings on Graduation and the String of Puppies.  This kind of art will continue to be possible to release without a license, but perhaps only if the source images are obscured in such a way that the alienation effect is not really achieved.  Thus, Richard Prince and Koons prevailed (under pre-Warhol standards) as to works jumbled up or covered over in larger collages and the like.  Warhol, in this way, bans a type of Warholist art. 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 23, 2023 at 09:31 AM in Intellectual Property, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The presence of Justice Kagan

Gerard suggests Justice Breyer's absence explains the nastiness of the exchanges in Warhol (and deteriorating relationships among the Justices generally)--he "was a senior and avuncular person who liked to broker compromises. You can't easily replace the social function that sort of person fulfills." Josh Blackman says the same.

But wasn't the ability and desire to broker compromises one of Kagan's selling points, based on her time and efforts as HLS dean? Is she too young? Too junior to play that role on the Court (she is the median justice in seniority)? Too caustic a writer? Or does this involve a different type of compromise--not across ideological lines but across temperament, between two people who generally align.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 20, 2023 at 12:27 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Kagan on Velazquez and Bacon (and Lain on Cortada)

 Justice Kagan devotes the final ten pages of her Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith dissent (begin at p. 25) to illustrating the "dramatic" effects of the majority's (narrow?) approach to the first fair use factor. Using examples in literature, music, and art, she discusses historic examples of work building on prior work; her premise is that that the majority's approach would not see the later work as transformative and thus as fair use, because both create something to be sold.

On pp. 32-34, she compares Velazquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X with Bacon's "Study After Velazque's Portrait of Pope Innocent X" (commonly known as "Screaming Pope").

Miami artist Xavier Cortada's May It Please the Court depicts ten SCOTUS cases originating in Florida; the paintings hang on the walls of FIU College of Law. Here is the piece for Proffitt v. Florida, which riffed on Bacon's painting:

CortadaproffittIn Painting Constitutional Law (edited with my colleague Matthew Mirow), Corinna Lain (Richmond) wrote a wonderful essay on Proffitt and how Bacon's painting and Cortada's painting explore "pain, imprisonment, isolation and obfuscation," which constitute "larger themes of the death penalty as well."

If Kagan is right that Bacon's painting cannot happen, then neither can this.

 

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 18, 2023 at 01:57 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on FIRE

I hope I am premature in my anticipatory criticism of FIRE; time will tell. I follow FIRE's statements pretty closely and will update (and eat crow) if it says anything. But two further points:

1) FIRE recently changed its name from Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to "Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression." This does not strike me as mission creep; this represents an intentional branching and rebranding beyond the educational context. As I understand it, FIRE and its supporters believe the ACLU has wavered in its commitment to free expression in the face of contrary commitments to equality and The Trump Resistance; they see themselves filling the gap in protecting free speech throughout society. So this is, in fact, something on which they might weigh in.

2) FIRE's Twitter thread on the Chappelle story reveals not-happiness with the comedy club's choice--dropping everyone's favorite word and wondering whether the club would have "canceled Prince because Tipper Gore and the PMRC didn’t like ‘Darling Nikki’." That is, the thread takes the club to task for "canceling" a speaker in deference to lefty critics, where it would not have done the same to conservative critics of a lefty icon such as Prince. (The answer is probably not. But private actors get to make such choices and distinctions in the name of their expressive preferences).

But if it is wrong as a matter of a "culture of free speech" (their words) to reject Chappelle but include Prince--as FIRE clearly believes--it is wrong to criticize the club for rejecting Chappelle while ignoring the Dodgers rejecting Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. FIRE might argue that a comedy club, as an "artistic and culture venue[]," carries a unique mission. That seems a thin reed, putting aside that sports teams and stadiums should qualify as "culture venues" that draw a lot more people than comedy clubs.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 18, 2023 at 01:32 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sotomayor and Kagan

I do not know enough copyright law to comment on Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith (I hope one of my colleagues will write something on it). But what is happening between Sotomayor (for a 7-person majority) and Kagan (dissenting with Roberts)? Their exchanges seem uniquely sharp and direct and personal (each accusing the other of being, essentially, clueless about the law), especially for a non-political case between two justices who tend to agree on things.

The majority refers to "the dissent" more than 40 times and responds to points in 11 footnotes.

Kagan ends the intro to her dissent with the following footnote:

One preliminary note before beginning in earnest. As readers are by now aware, the majority opinion is trained on this dissent in a way majority opinions seldom are. Maybe that makes the majority opinion self-refuting? After all, a dissent with “no theory” and “[n]o reason” is not one usually thought to merit pages of commentary and fistfuls of come-back footnotes. Ante, at 36. In any event, I’ll not attempt to rebut point for point the majority’s varied accusations; instead, I’ll mainly rest on my original submission. I’ll just make two suggestions about reading what  follows. First, when you see that my description of a precedent differs from the majority’s, go take a look at the decision. Second, when you come across an argument that you recall the majority took issue with, go back to its response and ask yourself about the ratio of reasoning to ipse dixit. With those two recommendations, I’ll take my chances on readers’ good judgment.

I also wonder how much Roberts influenced the dissent's style. The opinion is loaded with references and allusions, a common feature of Roberts' writing (even more so than Kagan). The two together cannot help themselves. Unsurprisingly, the dissent is a fun read (again, I pass no judgment on the correctness of its analysis).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 18, 2023 at 01:03 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Preclusion in the news (Update)

In his CNN-sponsored political rally, held the day after a jury found him liable to E. Jean Carroll for sexual abuse and defamation, Donald Trump  called Carroll a "whack job" and her allegations a "fake story." Carroll is contemplating bringing new claims for defamation.

Any lawsuit will continue Trump's trend of introducing the public to otherwise-obscure legal concepts--this time, issue preclusion. Trump in the new litigation will be bound by the jury's necessary conclusion that he did sexually abuse Carroll in that dressing room; the parties must litigate the remainder of the case (were his denials opinion, is "whack job" opinion, what are her new damages) in light of that established fact. But all the elements are satisfied--the jury found that he abused her, the finding was necessary to the verdict, Trump had a full-and-fair opportunity to litigate, and we actually have mutuality.

It plays an unusual role here. Kyle Rittenhouse has made noise about bringing defamation actions against those who continue to call him a murderer. Those claims fail for several reasons, including that these speakers are not bound by the jury's conclusion that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense and can speak contrary to that. Trump--as a party to the case--loses that luxury.

Update: Ken White on Serious Trouble discusses a different wrinkle (while calling the entire thing a law school exam)--whether Carroll can sue CNN for airing Trump's comments and whether she can establish actual malice based on the jury verdict. Again, issue preclusion does not apply to CNN--as a non-party to the original suit, it never had a full-and-fair opportunity to litigate and cannot be bound by the prior decision. But it presents an interesting fact question (White believes sufficient to survive 12(b)(6) and probably summary judgment) of how much pause a verdict holding a fact to be true must give a future speaker. And that question perhaps interacts with the standard of persuasion underlying that verdict--whether CNN is less reckless in disagreeing with a verdict finding it more likely than not Trump assaulted her as opposed to a verdict finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump assaulted her.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 16, 2023 at 03:44 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Snap removal swallows everything

An odd, but probably not unusual, phenomenon--one weird rule affects and infects application of other, related rules and processes. Snap removal seems to act as one such rule, with parties arguing that all sorts of removal is proper so long as it happens before service on a local defendant. I wrote last summer about a district court reading snap removal to override the time-of-filing rule for jurisdiction, allowing Tesla to remove a California case when it moved its headquarters post-filing but pre-service. (I tested on the case this semester). The defendant tried a similar move in this case, arguing that snap removal was proper when the diverse defendant removed before the non-diverse local defendant was served. Fortunately, Judge Stras was having none of it; even recognizing snap removal (the 8th Circuit has never weighed in), that cannot overcome the complete diversity requirement.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 3, 2023 at 08:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Challenging private enforcement

Rocky and I discussed this in our SMU piece, but I have been thinking about it more of late.

B8 and other exclusive-private-enforcement (or "vigilante federalism") draw two related-but-distinct objections. They force rights-holders to litigate their rights defensively, cutting off most offensive litigation; while offensive litigation is not constitutionally required, it offers certain advantages, notably not forcing rights-holders to "act at their peril" as a condition of litigating their rights. And they force rights-holders to litigate in state court.

The second objection arises from two limits on federal jurisdiction--the Well-Pleaded Complaint Rule and Article III standing. Both prevent the defendant/rights-holder from removing a state-court action to federal court. Under the WPC, federal jurisdiction requires the federal issue to appear in the complaint; the rights-holder's federal defense does not provide a basis for federal jurisdiction and thus for removal. And laws allowing "any person" to sue cannot be in federal court even absent the WPC, because a random "any person" plaintiff likely does not have Article III standing (even if he might have standing under more forgiving state law).

Of course, both judge-made limits on federal jurisdiction suffer from significant problems. The WPC arguably undermines the purposes of federal question jurisdiction (uniformity, expertise, respect); those needs are present regardless of the procedural posture in which the federal issue arises. A defendant needs expertise for a federal defense as much as a plaintiff needs expertise for a federal claim. Standing is stupid and not really jurisdictional, as I have argued. And even if jurisdictional, Andy Hessick argues that federal courts should apply state standing rules in diversity cases. Without both stupid doctrines, the defendant could remove the vigilante-federalism action and litigate in federal court, where she has a (perhaps) fairer and less-captured forum and a shorter path to SCOTUS.

This does not address the first objection--rights-holders should not be forced into defensive litigation. But the question is what is the real objection?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 30, 2023 at 11:09 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Harry Belafonte and the First Amendment

Harry Belafonte died Tuesday, at the age of 96. Belafonte was one of the celebrity signatories to Heed Their Rising Voices, the editorial advertisement seeking support for MLK and the civil rights movement that gave rise to New York Times v. Sullivan.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 25, 2023 at 06:40 PM in Culture, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 24, 2023

Social media and state action

The court granted cert in a case from the Ninth Circuit (finding state action) and a case from the Sixth Circuit (finding no state action and taking a very different analytical approach).

Beyond the conclusion, I am concerned for how the Court approaches this. Some lower courts apply a "close nexus" test, which usually applies to purely private actors engaging in private conduct having some government connection or requirement. The analysis here should be different, where the defendant is a government employee/official and the question is whether that official status enabled his conduct. These cases should look more like rogue or off-duty cops, as opposed to labor unions collecting fees through a government-controlled process. It is a subtle difference, but it is more than semantic.

On the other hand, dammit--the publisher said no substantive changes on these edits.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 24, 2023 at 10:57 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

District Court gets defensive/offensive right--standing still sucks

In 2021, I wrote about an Eighth Circuit case in a challenge to Arkansas' exclusive-private-enforcement ag-gag law. An animal-rights organization brought an offensive challenge to the law against several farm owners/potential plaintiffs. A divided court found the chilling effect of the law and the threat of suit established injury-in-fact for standing. I criticized this focus on standing, because the plaintiffs had no § 1983 cause of action against non-state actors; the court did not address that issue because it went to the merits and standing serves as a threshold.

The district court corrected that on remand. It granted defendant's motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiffs cannot satisfy § 1983 because the would-be state-law plaintiff does not act under color. The court further rejected plaintiff's argument that in finding an injury the court found state action. While the issues can be "one-and-the-same," the finding of a threshold does not necessarily satisfy the element. Nevertheless, that the plaintiff raised and thought the argument could work shows how far the law of standing has constitutionalized an essentially merits inquiry and needlessly complicated constitutional litigation.The court also explains offensive and defensive litigation and when only one is available--why state action allowing a defense does not equate with state action/under color allowing an offensive action, why every case plaintiff cites arose defensively and thus does not support the § 1983 argument it attempts to make, and why a Fourth Circuit offensive action against a state agency with state-law enforcement power does not support an offensive action against a private would-be plaintiff.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 4, 2023 at 02:47 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 26, 2023

SG to the Court: Originalism Requires Jury Lawfinding

A month ago, the Solicitor General reported to the Court that defendants have been denied the right to the full jury trial intended by the Framers in every case, state and federal, which has been tried at least since the end of the 19th century. Smith v. United States  is a venue case; I wrote about the venue issue at SCOTUSBlog. But in addressing the venue question, the SG revived a controversy with comprehensive implications. The SG explained that one of the “original purpose[s]” of venue, and “one at the center of the Framers’ debates on the issue, was to allow the jurors to serve as the conscience of the community through interpretation of law.” (Br. at 9) Quoting Drew Kershen’s work Vicinage Part II, the SG explained that venue provisions were designed to “enable the jury to ‘serve as the conscience of the community.’ That concept included ‘not simply [the jury’s] interpreting the law’ to apply to the facts, but the jury’s potential ‘to disregard clearly applicable law’ with which it disagreed.” (Br. at 29). The Framers’ juries, in the SG’s view, had not only the raw power of nullification against the law, but the institutional duty and responsibility to mitigate application of laws which would otherwise be unduly harsh. To be sure, as the SG pointed out, the Supreme Court rejected that role for the jury in the 7-2 decision in Sparf & Hansen v. United States, 156 U.S. 51 (1895). But while the majority marshalled much judicial authority, it was the dissent which was most interested in the views of the Framers and the leading authorities at the time the Constitution was adopted. The SG’s brief declared, in effect, that the dissenters were right.

The SG’s position is consistent with the view that many academics have taken in scholarship over the last several decades. Joan Larsen asserts that “the jury of the founding generation had powers and rights that went beyond the fact-finding power of the modern jury. The Founders' jury also had the right to judge the law, a right that criminal juries would not lose until well into the nineteenth century.” Jenia Iontcheva Turner claims that “[t]he authority of the criminal jury to determine law as well as facts was taken as self-evident in many colonies.”  According to Rachel Barkow, “there is evidence that, both before the Framing and for a time thereafter, juries were deciding questions of law.” Darryl Brown claims that “juries at one time explicitly possessed the power to judge the law as well as the facts.”

To be sure, some scholars disagree or find the evidence more mixed: William E. Nelson seems to report variation among colonial jurisdictions, and Stanton Krauss doubts what he calls the “conventional wisdom” about early jury authority. However, the point of originalism as I understand it is not to assess colonial practice, but to ascertain what the Framers intended. The SG has supplied a specific answer to that question.

I am in no position to opine on the ultimate issue. But this is a Court which believes the proper method of interpreting the Constitution is originalism. It is not fanatical about following existing precedent which was, in its view, erroneously decided.  The Court is also willing to dig deep; the Court quite recently rejected the non-unanimous jury based on a careful examination of historical practice. And few would deny the Solicitor General’s insight and influence on the interpretation of the Constitution. Accordingly, every criminal defense attorney in the United States should take this as a command, starting now, to contend that the Solicitor General is absolutely right, and that faithful application of the original public meaning of the jury trial right requires instructing jurors that it is up to them to determine not only what happened, but whether it was wrong. The Solicitor General may recant or the Supreme Court may ultimately read the history differently. But it is difficult to overstate the transformation of the criminal justice system which would ensue if juries were allowed to acquit simply because they, functioning effectively as a legislature for a particular case, did not find that a person should be convicted. The Solicitor General’s brief makes jury law-finding a live issue that must be addressed.

Posted by Jack Chin on March 26, 2023 at 07:03 PM in Criminal Law, Judicial Process, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, March 24, 2023

How else are you supposed to do it?

Journalist Jason Garcia is upset that the Speaker of the Florida House acknowledged that the bill altering state defamation law is "intentionally unconstitutional" and designed to trigger litigation and provide SCOTUS an opportunity to overrule New York Times and other defamation precedent.

Put aside that "intentionally unconstitutional" should mean, at most, "unconstitutional as judicial precedent understands the First Amendment" and that a legislature can hold and act on competing constitutional understandings. But even at the most judicial supremacist, what else is a legislature supposed to do if it believes judicial precedent wrong and wants to challenge (and change) it? If a state cannot do what Florida is trying here,  judicial supremacy means the popular branches lack the power to disagree with the judicial understanding or to create mechanisms to express that disagreement and urge the court to change path. The Court's word is not only final but unchanging and irrevocable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 24, 2023 at 06:03 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 10, 2023

Judicial immunity and other civil rights hurdles (Update)

Steve Lubet (Northwestern) writes in Slate about Judge Robert Benitez (S.D. Cal.), who ordered the marshall to handcuff the 13-year-old daughter of a defendant in a parole-revocation hearing and have her sit in the jury box; his intent, he explained, was to send a message: “So your dad’s made some serious mistakes in his life, and look at where it’s landed him. … And if you’re not careful, young lady, you’ll wind up in cuffs, and you’ll find yourself right there where I put you a minute ago.”

Lubet expresses concern that Benitez will incur no sanction for his actions. Life tenure means he cannot be removed from the bench other than by impeachment. The case was transferred to another, who reduced the 10-month sentence Benitez imposed. A judicial-misconduct complaint has been filed, but the sanctions are minimal--censure and perhaps an interruption of newly assigned cases.

As for civil remedies, Lubet says "He cannot be sued for damages, because he has judicial immunity for conduct on the bench."

But is the immunity issue that obvious? Immunity attaches to "judicial functions," performed not in the "complete absence of jurisdiction." That captures most conduct on the bench. But the conduct must relate to the conduct of judicial proceedings and control of the courtroom. But this may exceed even the broadest understanding of those concepts. Benitez was not maintaining order in the courtroom or ensure the proper conduct of judicial proceedings. He admits to "hoping" to get to the girl--not a party, witness, or other participant and only tangentially related to the proceeding--a "message" about how she should live her life. Above the Law called it a "bush league Scared Straight, which, despite the source, is a pretty good descriptor. Warning random teens about the danger of crime is not a judicial function; that it happens in court should not matter. The motive behind a function does not affect immunity--a judicial function performed for a racist purpose remains a judicial function. But the purpose of an action can affect whether it qualifies as a judicial function--an action that does not reasonably affect judicial proceedings cannot be judicial, even if a judge performs it.

Of course, judicial immunity is not the only hurdle the girl faces. Benitez is a federal judge, so any damages action falls under Bivens--and we know what that means. This presents a new context and thus an extension of Bivens since SCOTUS never allowed a claim against a federal judge. And the usual special factors will counsel hesitation before allowing the action--Congress never created a cause of action, the judicial-complaint system allows for alternate remedies, and a Bivens court will not want to chill other judges in managing their courtrooms in the future. And after Bivens comes qualified immunity and the absence of any precedent clearly establishing that judges should not order the handcuffing of courtroom observers without probable cause and for no legitimate judicial reason. Is the violative nature of this as obvious as leaving a detainee in a cold, feces-strewn cell or placing a prisoner on a hitching post for 7 hours? Who knows.

So Lubet is right that civil damages remedy are unlikely. But judicial immunity is the tip of that iceberg.

Update: Steve responds:

The leading SCOTUS case is Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991), which I considered when writing the essay (space limitations did not allow me to get into it). Mireles holds there is no immunity for actions taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. But the trial judge in Mireles had ordered the abusive seizure of a public defender who had missed a court call, and SCOTUS found that was not beyond all jurisdiction. I could be wrong, but my conclusion was that Benitez likewise had some jurisdiction over spectators in his courtroom, and especially over someone who had been invoked by the defendant as a reason for leniency – and thus as sort of a witness. She was in the courtroom to influence the outcome. Puente told the court that his daughter was in danger of drug use, so the judge had some jurisdiction to question or interview her about it, if only to determine whether to believe Puente’s assertion. Of course, his questioning was abusive, but that alone does not defeat judicial immunity.

Well, I would prefer being wrong about that, but as the abstract of the Mireles opinion put it, “That he may have made a mistake or acted in excess of his authority does not make the act nonjudicial.”

My reply (hey, my blog, my final word): We might distinguish Mireles because the order to the bailiff had a closer connection to courtroom management--the judge needed the attorney to get to court for things to proceed. I agree that Benitez could have questioned the girl, even in an abusive or threatening fashion; that would be judicial. Handcuffing her--for the purpose of teaching her a lesson rather than for determining whether to believe the defendant as part of the proceeding--is a difference in kind.

Finally, the cases distinguish actions "in excess of authority" from actions "in the clear absence of authority;" the former maintains immunity (as in Mireles), but the latter does not. Steve makes the best argument for why this is the former--she was there to influence the outcome of a proceeding and the judge can question that attempt. But the judge's statements of his purpose, to me, push this into the latter.

To be clear, I am not saying Lubet is wrong about judicial immunity. Only that it is more complex than the typical case of a judge misbehaving while conducting proceedings from the bench.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 10, 2023 at 02:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 02, 2023

It's all about the precedent

Jonathan Adler comments on universal vacatur in the student loan case. He gets at the fundamental (and overlooked) insight in this debate: The prospective non-party effects of a decision arise from precedent, never from the judgment. SCOTUS does not issue (or affirm) universal injunctions; its opinion affirming a particularized injunction in Case1 binds other courts in future cases involving similar issues. The DC Circuit does not issue universal judgments; its opinion in Case1 binds the circuit in future cases involving similar issues (where, Adler argues, Congress gives the D.C. Circuit exclusive jurisdiction). To the extent that disables regional circuits from imposing broader consequences, Congress chose that effect by creating a regional and hierarchical judiciary.

Departmentalism (not mentioned in the arguments or in Adler's piece) makes this compliance practical rather than legal. The executive follows precedent (at least within the circuit) because it chooses to do so, knowing it will otherwise lose when non-compliance returns to the D.C. Circuit.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 2, 2023 at 06:54 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 27, 2023

Florida redefines defamation law

Continuing my discussion of horrible new Florida laws. Rocky and I discussed DeSantis' 2022 never-reduced defamation-reform plan. It has been introduced in the current session. I describe some of the provisions after the jump.

Two things remain from the original proposal (and why we discussed it in our SB8 articles): The bill has serious and obvious First Amendment defects (many First Amendment people would call it "blatantly unconstitutional"). And those constitutional defects cannot be raised or adjudicated in offensive pre-enforcement litigation, because they define the elements of a private right of action for damages; speakers must sue and raise the First Amendment as a defense. Some defamation defendants might have the option of removing the private action to federal court on diversity grounds, an option unavailable to SB8 defendants.

Here are the bill's lowlights, all of which should raise serious First Amendment problems.

• Statewide (or near-statewide) venue for defamation actions. One of the key ways SB8 supposedly stacked the deck.

• Fee-shifting for prevailing defamation plaintiffs, plus removing defamation action from offer-of-judgment fee-shifting. This runs against the trend of granting fees to prevailing defendants to deter performative defamation actions (even absent full application of a state SLAPP in federal court).

• Limits on when someone can become an accidental, involuntary, or limited-purpose public figure. In particular, non-elected public officials (read: cops)  do not become public officials solely by virtue of employment and no one becomes a public figure by denying accusations of wrongdoing. This is enables police officers involved in excessive-force incidents to use defamation suits to silence critics--they can go on a media tour to deny the allegations and neither their government job nor media access renders them public figures.

• Identifies situations in which actual malice is presumed. These include relying on "unverified anonymous reports," repeating something that is "inherently implausible," and failing to validate. The irony, of course, is DeSantis seeks to target the people who picked on Nick Sandmann, Kyle Rittenhouse, etc. But this language is more likely to enable claims by Dominion against election deniers and other conspiracy theorists who repeat nonsense that only a crazy person or reckless person could believe.

• An allegation that someone discriminated on all sorts of bases constitutes defamation per se, with statutory damages of $ 35k. This should not fly because such an allegation or report of an allegation may be opinion or hyperbole, either of which is protected.

• Where that allegation of discrimination is because of sexual orientation or gender identity, a plaintiff cannot prove truth if the defendant relied on religious or scientific beliefs. This exacerbates the viewpoint-discriminatory nature of most defamation. But it shows how the accusation of discrimination is non-provable opinion--both involve competing, non-falsifiable "beliefs" rather than facts. Nevertheless, it may have a chilling effect in reporting and reporting on widespread discrimination--especially around LGBTQ+ status--in the state.

• A statement by an anonymous source is presumptively false. And where the defendant refuses to disclose the identity of the anonymous source, the plaintiff (including a public figure or official, it appears) need only prove negligence.

As I said, each bullet point will draw serious First Amendment scrutiny and many should be declared invalid. Much depends on how much of the First Amendment defamation edifice is constitutionally compelled. That is, how much leeway does a state have to define the scope and application of actual malice in its defamation law and what limits does the First Amendment impose from above. For example, can a state shift the burden to prove truth in anonymous-source cases or does the First Amendment place the burden on the plaintiff? Can a state define who qualifies as a public official/public figure required to prove actual malice or does the First Amendment control?

Regardless, it again demonstrates that what Texas did with SB8 was not new; it reflected a specific application of a state's longstanding ability to define torts and private rights of action. Again, decry Florida's blatant disregard for free speech. Do not treat the process as unprecedented or problematic.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 27, 2023 at 10:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Making a hash of pre-enforcement offensive litigation

In Fund Texas Choice v. Paxton, a First Amendment challenge to three sets of Texas laws a purporting to prohibit funding and facilitating legal out-of-state abortions--SB 8, HB 1280 (a trigger law that took effect 30 days after Dobbs), and pre-Roe zombie laws. Some blame for the hash rests with justiciability doctrine, some rests with the district judge.

To demonstrate the hash, I will identify the key legal or mixed principles, then identify the court's holding in the case, then show where (I believe) it goes off the rails.

Legal Principles and Findings:

    • No public enforcement of SB8.

    • The attorney general lacks power to enforce pre-Roe laws; enforcement rests with local DAs. Nevertheless, Paxton made numerous public statements about his intent to enforce those laws.

    • The attorney general has the power to enforce HB 1280 and made numerous statements indicating an intent to enforce the law with respect to out-of-state abortions.

    • HB 1280 has no extra-territorial effect and the attorney general's public-but-informal hints and suggestions, falling short of a full statement of intent, do not overcome the law's text.

    • Texas repealed its pre-Roe laws by implication. Based on binding Fifth Circuit precedent and undone by legislative findings in SB8, the post-Roe regulatory scheme for legal abortion cannot co-exist with the pre-existing bans on virtually all abortions.

    • The court never analyzed whether enforcement of the pre-Roe laws violates either the First Amendment or the right to travel.

Conclusions:

    • Claims against Paxton dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on lack of standing and sovereign immunity. Although the court does not specify, it appears to be for lack of standing and/or sovereign immunity. Because Paxton cannot enforce any of the challenged laws against plaintiffs' desired conduct (he cannot enforce pre-Roe laws and cannot enforce HB 1280 as to the plaintiffs' desire conduct), he is not a responsible executive officer and plaintiffs lack traceability and redressability.

    • Preliminary injunction granted against several named local DAs (although the court has not certified the defendant class of all DAs) from enforcing pre-Roe laws as to funding or facilitating out-of-state abortions.

Why this is all such utter nonsense:

    • Bickel defended standing and the "passive virtues" as eliminating unnecessary constitutional adjudication. But consider how much and how detailed the adjudication necessary to dismiss this case for lack of jurisdiction--to say that the court lacked the power to consider the constitutional validity of Paxton's conduct or the scope of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. The court analyzed the attorney general's power under three sets of laws, the effect of the attorney general's grandstanding and bumptious threats, and the extra-territorial scope of new state law. But the real meaning of these conclusions (putting aside their normative correctness) should be substantive--Paxton's conduct does not and cannot violate the plaintiffs' rights because he lacks the power to impose any legal consequences on their conduct. No constitutional violation means no injunction. But the court had jurisdiction to analyze all of this.

    • Were this accurately treated as merits, plaintiffs could tailor a lawsuit such as this one. Paxton has been running around hinting about enforcing HB 1280 extra-territorially, even if he lacks the power to do so. It would benefit the constitutional system if plaintiffs could react to those hints by obtaining an express declaration that he cannot do so, whether because he lacks power under state law or because doing so would be constitutionally invalid. Instead, they have that analysis and those determinations, but without legal effect. (It might have precedential effect, as it is essential to the holding; but district courts cannot create binding precedent and jurisdictional holdings tend to carry less substantive precedential force as to any underlying constitutional issues.

    • The court drops the following footnote in dismissing the claims against Paxton:

While the Court dismisses Plaintiffs’ H.B. 1280 claims without prejudice, it recognizes that there may be certain situations where the statutory analysis changes. For example, the analysis might change if a local prosecutor imminently threatens charges for funding out-of-state abortions or an opinion from the Attorney General’s office declares it illegal. 

The court did not dismiss the claims against Paxton for lack of imminence, so I do not see why imminence has entered the mix. He dismissed them because HB 1280 unambiguously does not allow extra-territorial application. I do see why either of those events changes that conclusion. The court recognizes that Paxton is hinting at extra-territorial enforcement "for the deliberate purpose of deterring funds from facilitating out-of-state abortions." But if those hints and threats do not overcome unambiguous text, a local DA's more imminent and specific threat or a formal AG opinion should not do so. Either the executive position can overcome unambiguous text (in which case these claims against Paxton should proceed, based on his posturing) or they cannot (in which case the footnote is wrong).

    • If pre-Roe laws were repealed by implication, the claims against the DAs should have been dismissed on the same bases as the claims against Paxton. Repealed laws no longer exist as law, leaving the DAs nothing to enforce. A court cannot enjoin an executive from doing something he lacks the authority to do. DAs can no more enforce pre-Roe laws than Paxton can enforce HB 1280--in either case, no existing state law prohibits funding or facilitating out-of-state abortions and thus the target executives have nothing to enforce. In fact, the argument for lack of jurisdiction as to the DAs is stronger than as to Paxton. Paxton has an extant law he could enforce in the abstract, but the court interpreted it to be unenforceable in the current circumstances; the DAs have nothing but air.

    • Making even less sense, the court uses implied repeal as the sole basis to find likelihood of success on the merits and to grant the injunction. The court never discusses whether the pre-Roe laws violate the First Amendment or the right to travel; that the laws were repealed by implication makes them invalid and unenforceable.

    • The last point arises from the court treating impliedly repealed laws differently from expressly repealed laws, a unique category subject to unique analysis. But that framing makes no sense. Had the legislature repealed pre-Roe laws, the court would have dismissed for lack of standing (what I think should be merits, but same result); again, the lack of a law on the books leaves nothing to enforce and the court cannot enjoin the executive from what he cannot do. Had the law not been impliedly repealed, it would be a Dobbs-dezombified law; the court must consider whether the living law applies extra-territorially (the court says it does) and whether it violates the First Amendment or the right to travel (the court never says). Instead, impliedly repealed laws create a third thing--extant (thus potentially enforceable, giving plaintiffs standing) but per se invalid (thus obviating analysis of their constitutional validity). I have never seen anything like this and the court does not explain or justify this category of law.

How the case should have been resolved:

    • The court should have reached the merits as to Paxton enforcing HB 1280, a live law. There ought to be consequences for executive saber-rattling, even when ungrounded in state law, having the purpose and effect of deterring conduct that is lawful under state law and constitutionally protected. The court should have addressed whether the law, if applied extra-territorially as Paxton has threatened, violates the Constitution.

    • If pre-Roe laws were impliedly repealed, it should not have enjoined the DAs. If implied repeal remains an open question, then the court should have analyzed their constitutional validity before entering the injunction.

    • Someone in the comments to Volokh's post on the decision suggests the Fifth Circuit will certify the question of implied repeal to the Texas Supreme Court. That may be a good idea. But the district court's analysis cannot stand regardless of that court's decision. If the laws were impliedly repealed, the district court erred in enjoining enforcement. If the laws were not impliedly repealed, the district court never addressed or resolved the substantive constitutional issue, which the reviewing court ought not do for the first time.

Pretty bad all around.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 25, 2023 at 12:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 10, 2023

Visitors sue Air and Space Museum, encounter Fed Courts doctrine?

Visitors to the Air and Space Museum sued the museum, agency, and several Doe officers, alleging that the officers forced them to remove hats with the logo "Rosary Pro Life" while visiting the museum; they allege free speech, equal protection, and RFRA violations and seek damages and injunctive relief. Eugene Volokh reports that the Museum admits this happened and that it should not have. He also argues that the free speech analysis is obvious here--the museum is a non-public forum in which officials can make reasonable content-based distinctions but not viewpoint-based distinctions (such as not promoting "equality").

But I am not sure we reach those merits:

    • Plaintiffs should lack standing for an injunction. The plaintiffs cannot show this will happen again in the immediate future. Not only is it unlikely they can show concrete plans to return to the museum. And they cannot show they will suffer this injury if they do return, given the museum's response and the seeming randomness of the officers' conduct.

    • This is an extension of Bivens--the Court has never allowed a free-speech claim. And the usual special factors arise--Congress should create causes of action and has not done so and, post-Egbert, agency disciplinary-complaint procedures offer sufficient mechanism for deterring misconduct. This is not a national-security case so that over-arching factor is absent. But lower courts emphasize the new single question of "Isn't Congress is better suited to balancing the costs and benefits of causes of action?" (to which the answer is always "yes") to reject actions outside national security.

    • RFRA provides a cause of action for suits against government officials, so plaintiffs do not need Bivens for their religion claims. But plaintiffs must show this was religious rather than speech discrimination--does the word Rosary on the hats mean the officers knew the message was religious and forced them to remove the hats because of that religious (as opposed to political or ideological) message?

    • If this is religious discrimination and/or they convince the Court that no special factors counsel hesitation, they must overcome qualified immunity. There is almost certainly no case law about making someone remove a hat because of its religious or political message in a museum. The court must fall back on general First Amendment principles, the sort of high-generality analysis courts usually reject. It might be interesting to see how the court uses the museum's mea culpa--does that show that it was clearly established that officers could not make visitors remove hats and other clothing because of the message?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 10, 2023 at 04:03 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (14)

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Younger strikes again

Florida (naturally) leads the pack of red states trying to stop (likely First Amendment protected) drag shows. It is pursuing the Orlando Philharmonic Foundation in an administrative action for producing "A Drag Queen Christmas" in December; it seeks to revoke its business and alcohol licenses, premised on a drag show involving lewd, lascivious, and sexual activity. The state is threatening a similar action against the Broward County Performing Arts Center for a similar program. The Foundation should win, because drag show should be constitutionally protected, including for children. The pleading includes photos of the event, but it is hard to take the pleading's descriptions of the event seriously when comparing it to the photos.

But the case offers yet another example of the commonality of defensive litigation, including where the constitutional invalidity of the state's enforcement efforts is obvious. An administrative proceeding, subject to state judicial review, triggers Younger abstention; this case squarely fits the second Sprint category of a quasi-criminal civil action. And while politically motivated and designed to score cheap populist points (towards a presidential run), I doubt this qualifies for Younger's bad-faith exception.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 7, 2023 at 10:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2023

More on Warren-DeSantis and the court's ill-advised analysis

I wrote last week about the district court decision in the lawsuit between the Hillsborough (FL) County DA and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, arising from the latter suspending the former. I argued that the court made two legal mistakes: 1) Framing the case as DeSantis violating Warren's First Amendment rights in considering protected speech where he would have reached the same conclusion based on something other than protected speech and 2) Pronouncing that the suspension was inconsistent with state law while refusing on Eleventh Amendment grounds to issue an injunction ordering reinstatement. I also suggested Hinkle--whether intentionally or otherwise--provided Warren a weapon in the political controversy.

That last thing happened more quickly than I anticipated. Warren last Wednesday sent (and publicized) a letter to DeSantis urging the governor to voluntarily reinstate him. Warren frames the situation as follows: The court found as a matter of fact and law that the suspension violated the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Although not ordering Warren's reinstatement "in deference to federalism," the court called on DeSantis to "easily set [that violation] right" by recognizing that "the facts matter" and that he should not have removed Warren. DeSantis thus should follow his oath and obey the law by rescinding the suspension. This is a political stunt (as was the entire lawsuit), leading with the court's words as if they provide the final answer on these issues.

I explained where the court went wrong. But Warren's tendentious framing raises that error to another level.

The Eleventh Amendment (as courts apply it) does not create discretionary deference to federalism allowing a court to offer binding legal conclusions while declining to issue any legal remedy. It imposes a jurisdictional bar to adjudicating state-law issues. The court had no power or basis to consider the state-law validity of the suspension. It dismissed Warren's state-law claim as improper under § 1983/Ex parte Young. Nor were the state-law issues built into the federal issues. Adjudicating the First Amendment claim did not turn on the accuracy of the state law grounds--for purposes of whether DeSantis' decision rested on something other than Warren's protected speech, the question is whether DeSantis believed Warren adopted blanket non-prosecution policies, not whether DeSantis' beliefs were true or accurate.

Warren's letter treats the court's state-law analysis as akin to a declaratory judgment--the court issuing a jurisdictionally appropriate order that DeSantis violated state law, but finding that declaration sufficient and declining to issue further relief in deference to competing values. That is, the court provided a valid statement of law designed to persuade the defendant to change his behavior going forward, while reserving the "strong medicine" of an injunction for discretionary reasons and with faith that DeSantis will comply with the decision. DeSantis must "follow the law" as the court declared it.

This is wrong.  The Eleventh Amendment strips courts of jurisdiction to issue all remedies, not only injunctions. The court had no more power to issue a DJ based on violations of a state-law rights than to issue an injunction based on a violation of state-law rights. That bar precludes any consideration of state law or whether DeSantis' conduct comported with the state constitution--the court acted beyond its power in making these pronouncements and they should have no legal force. Again, this goes beyond dicta--it is a court speaking words without the power to act as a court.

But those words provide Warren's first line of attack in the press and in politics.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 30, 2023 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 27, 2023

Jack Phillips loses on defense, no one cares

Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop provide the response to complaints about SB 8 (and other "vigilante federalism" laws) that resist pre-enforcement offensive federal-court challenge and consign rights-holders to defensive litigation in state court--expecting the state court to properly vindicate federal rights or hoping for SCOTUS review at the end of the multi-stage process.

Phillips finds himself in that position, facing a private civil action under Colorado law from a transgender customer denied a custom cake. Phillips lost in the trial court and the court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the cake (pink on the inside, blue on the outside) carried no intrinsic message apart from how the customer planned to use it (a celebration of the anniversary of her m-to-f transition).*

[*] And Masterpiece did not know about that use when the customer ordered the cake and the store initially agreed to make it.

Phillips believes his constitutional rights are as obvious and as violated as those seeking reproductive care in the face of SB8 or trans athletes seeking to compete. Yet no one complains about Autumn Scardina using civil litigation against his (perhaps) protected conduct or acting as vigilante against Phillips. The difference remains that the people opposing SB8 and other vigilante laws disagree with his legal position and do not mind people suing him into oblivion. Procedure cannot turn on such substantive differences.

On the merits, this case bolsters my thoughts after the 303 arguments: These cases superimpose a complicity element on compelled speech. The messages made by the challengers--"Jack and Jack are getting married," "pink-and-blue cake"--carry no political message. It is what the customers do and say with that message after it is made--something untouched by the challengers--that matters. So the First Amendment argument must be that an anodyne, identical message is put to an end with which I disagree. That differs from the core compelled-speech case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 27, 2023 at 09:14 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2023

Bizarre (and arguably advisory and ultra vires) opinion in Warren v. DeSantis (Slight edit)

The case arises from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspending Hillsborough County (Tampa) State's Attorney Andrew Warren. The court held that DeSantis considered six things in suspending Warren--three impermissible under the First Amendment and three permissible under the First Amendment. DeSantis would have suspended Warren based on the latter permissible grounds had he not considered the former impermissible grounds; therefore Warren's retaliation claim fails under Mt. Healthy. DeSantis violated Florida law in suspending Warren, because those federally permissible grounds were impermissible under state law, because the facts did not show incompetence or neglect-of-duty. But the Eleventh Amendment* prohibits federal courts from granting relief against state officials for state-law violations. Thus, although the court makes a big production of announcing that DeSantis violated state and federal law, it grants no remedy and dismisses Warren's claims.

[*] Really the limits of § 1983, but that ship sailed.

This is a bizarre decision.

• I doubt it is proper for the court to say DeSantis "violated the First Amendment." Constitutional violations occur with adverse enforcement action, not with thoughts or ideas not acted upon. The adverse action here was suspending Warren. If DeSantis would have taken that adverse action regardless of anything related to Warren's protected speech, he did not violate Warren's constitutional rights, at least as we define the scope of the First Amendment in this context. Compare a racist cop who arrests a Black person on a charge for which he has probable cause; the arrest is valid because of probable cause, regardless of any racist ideas or statements the officer makes. We may disagree with that doctrine. But it, for the moments, defines when a government official violates someone's constitutional rights.

• The court should not have declared the state-law validity of the firing. This goes beyond mere dicta or even an advisory opinion. Warren brought a state law claim, which the court dismissed under Pennhurst (again, better if § 1983, but whatever). The propriety of the state-law reasons were not before the court. Worse, if the Eleventh Amendment, as elaborted in Pennhurst, strips courts of jurisdiction over state-law issues, the court pronounced on issues beyond its jurisdiction.

I said the court should have abstained under Pullman and Hinkle's approach to the opinion confirms this. The case always turned on the suspension's state-law validity; the First Amendment provided a sideshow. The court did what Pullman seeks to avoid--passed on unnecessary federal constitutional issues in the face of controlling state-law issues.

• It is hard not to read this as a political shot for Warren to use in the media. He can wave the opinion and say a federal court backs his view that DeSantis ran roughshod over his First Amendment rights. It also represents a political shot at the Florida Senate, which will hold a "trial" on the state-law propriety of the suspension, affirming DeSantis' decision or reinstating Warren. Hinkle has created a detailed legal and factual record, particularly finding that DeSantis' insistence that Warren had a blanket non-prosecution policy was nonsense and that he knew (or at least should have known, had he looked) it was nonsense. This helps Warren in the press and in the public should he lose before the Senate. Warren can compare this opinion to any Senate decision finding the suspension warranted and use it to argue that the Florida Senate made an incorrect, politically motivated decision--"see, we know the Senate made a politically motivated decision, because here is a federal judge showing why the suspension violates federal state law." Hinkle hints at this motive by referring to the "heavily partisan Florida Senate."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 20, 2023 at 03:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, January 14, 2023

GEICO can intervene over sex-in-car case

The story of the woman who sued her former partner for infecting her with HPV during a sexual encounter in his car gained attention in June. I offered the case as the latest example of journalistic malpractice in covering the court, where stories snickered about the prospect of a multi-million judgment over car sex, ignoring that the case involved a narrow procedural question--whether GEICO should have been allowed to intervene in the state action to affirm the arbitration award, without (at this point) considering whether sex is an ordinary use of a car triggering coverage..

The story returned to the news last week, when the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled that the trial court erred in denying intervention. GEICO moved within 30 days of receiving notice that it (rather than its insured) was the litigation target and before the trial court entered judgment; state law grants intervention as of right.

The case returns to the trial court, with GEICO able to argue that it is not required to cover. GEICO's federal DJ action, also seeking to avoid coverage, remains pending. Both courts must decide whether sex constitutes an ordinary-and-expected use of a car triggering insurance. Let the snickering resume.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 14, 2023 at 02:41 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 09, 2023

The Trustworthiness of American Lawyers (Part I)

The following post comes from Michael Ariens (St. Mary's), the first in a series about his new book, The Lawyer's Conscience A History of American Lawyer Ethics (University of Kansas Press).     

In my book The Lawyer’s Conscience: A History of American Lawyer Ethics (2023), I assess the ways in which lawyers have justified the power they possess and the manner in which they exert such power. The most important justification given by lawyers is the claim that lawyers are in the marketplace but not of the marketplace. Though lawyers were in the marketplace offering their legal expertise for fees from paying clients, they were not of the marketplace because they exercised power subject to some ethical constraints. The Lawyer’s Conscience traces the history of American lawyer ethics from 1760 to the early twenty-first century. My goal in this and following posts is to provide a brief sketch of this history.

How do we decide whether American lawyers are sufficiently trustworthy to continue the work they undertake? First, “we” needs to be disaggregated. “We” includes, among other possible inquisitors, the general public, current and prospective clients, and American lawyers themselves. The demand of trustworthiness made by each of these disparate groups may end in contradiction. To satisfy the demands of a client may conflict with the demands made by the public or other lawyers. And demands made by other lawyers may conflict with the general public’s requirements. Second, some trust in lawyers is necessary because lawyers possess extensive power and authority in American society.

In a series of essays written in spring 1786 for the Boston Independent Chronicle, Benjamin Austin Jr., writing as Honestus, argued Massachusetts lawyers were a “useless” and “dangerous” body that should be “annihilated.” Ten of his essays were published under the title, “Observations on the Pernicious Practice of the Law.” In subsequent editions of “Observations” he modified his call. By the 1819 edition, Honestus’s Prefatory Address concluded the work of lawyers was now “more congenial to the happiness of society,” in part due to his earlier excoriation of professors of the law. They no longer needed annihilation, but “regulation.”

Honestus’s 1786 attacks were joined by some, and rejected by others, most vociferously by lawyers. One of the lawyers responding to Honestus was the well-respected James Sullivan, writing as Zenas. Zenas made several arguments in defense of Massachusetts lawyers. First, they were necessary to a free government. Second, the written Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and the Commonwealth’s laws also made lawyers necessary. Third, lawyers were subject to effective “checks on their conduct,” making improvident the call for annihilation. In expanding on this last point, Zenas admitted some lawyers were “men of bad morals and dishonest hearts.” But no profession could ever keep itself pure. Overall, most lawyers in the Commonwealth were honorable. They acted honorably for instrumental reasons: their “bread as well as the character of the practitioners of the law depends on their integrity and uprightness.” Zenas also pointed to the 1701 oath of admission subscribed to by all Massachusetts lawyers: it required the oath taker to act “so as to do honour to Court and bar.”

It was unclear whether Zenas believed the 1701 oath had some constraining effect on lawyers of bad morals and dishonest hearts. It was also unclear whether Zenas meant to tie tightly the lawyer’s interest in making money and in fostering an honorable character with honor.

Honestus offered a piercing response to both Zenas and another correspondent, “A Lawyer.” Both had offered “a few bad apples” argument, charging Honestus confused the immoral actions of a few with the good work of most lawyers. Like Zenas, A Lawyer had admitted some “abuses in the profession, productive of private distress and public uneasiness,” had occurred. Honestus, noting that Zenas had pointed to some of the language in the 1701 lawyer’s oath to defend lawyers, mentioned a provision in the oath ignored by his opponents: a lawyer was to inform the General Court (which supervised lawyers admitted to the bar) if another lawyer had spoken falsely. If A Lawyer knew of some abuses in the profession, why had he not informed the Court of these abuses and urged the Court to strike the names of those abusers from the roll, disbarring them? No answer was forthcoming.

Honestus was the most prominent but not only writer vociferously attacking the trustworthiness of lawyers and the work they did. Other events (Shays’s Rebellion, the 1787 Constitutional Convention) soon displaced published antilawyer sentiment. Such sentiment did, however, rise and fall during the next half-century. Lawyers continued to refer to honor as the touchstone of appropriate lawyer conduct. But relying on honor alone as providing sufficient evidence of trustworthiness among lawyers was fading. Its last defender, writing in 1836, seemed to understand he was fighting a losing battle.  

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 9, 2023 at 09:31 AM in Books, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 01, 2023

2022 Chief Justice Annual Report

From 6 p.m. Saturday (continuing the practice since 1978). The history lesson tells of District Judge Ronald N. Davies of the District of North Dakota, who received a special appointment to serve on the Eastern District of Arkansas, oversaw the Little Rock desegregation case, and faced death threats for his decisions. That leads to this year's "theme" of the importance of judicial security--"the law requires every judge to swear an oath to perform his or her work without fear or favor, but we must support judges by ensuring their safety. A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear."

Some thoughts.

• Some have criticized Roberts for not writing about the issues surrounding SCOTUS--the Dobbs (and other) leaks, the forgotten leak investigation, attempts to use Historical Society donations to peddle influence, the Thomas' political misdeeds, dissension within the Court, the race to overrule precedent, etc. I will defend the Chief on that, because any expectation or hope that he might do so was fanciful. First, these reports are generally anodyne; no Chief has ever taken on real issues in a real way. Second, this is the Report on the Federal Judiciary, not the Report on the Supreme Court; Roberts' reports center lower courts and de-center SCOTUS.

• This Report differs in a number of ways. It is short--about 3 1/4 pages in the two-column format he adopted in 2019. The history occupies the majority of the Report--almost three full pages on Judge Davies, with three or four brief paragraphs (depending on how you count) on the modern. And the modern says noting beyond thanking Congress for enacting a law to enhance judicial security and privacy (not mentioning, of course, that the privacy protections immunize the Thomas' political shenanigans) and the agencies that protect the courts. He does not mention the man arrested outside Justice Kavanaugh's house (but see above, about de-centering SCOTUS).

• Telling the story of Judge Davies and Little Rock reveals the reality of desegregation litigation and constitutional litigation more generally. Brown of its own force did not compel integration in Little Rock. It required affirmative steps from the School Board, followed by a new lawsuit and Judge Davies' new orders and injunctions to compel school officials to integrate, stop state officials from interfering with local efforts, and prohibit local officials from using "extreme public hostility" as an excuse to delay integration.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 1, 2023 at 11:42 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 09, 2022

No state standing in SB8 suit

Press release on the judge's ruling from the bench that standing requires a plaintiff directly affected by the provision of abortion services. This is remaining lawsuit of the three filed by "colorful" actors; the plaintiff is Felipe Gomez, a suspended Illinois lawyer who purports to support abortion rights.

This is largely moot, since Texas post-Dobbs banned abortion through criminal penalties and government enforcement. But it provides a nice coda to the SB8 story that has ended with a whimper. Rocky and I called the result, although we argued that Texas has a history of statutorily authorized private enforcement that complicates the analysis more than in federal court. It also reveals an irony in the debate over "bounty-hunter" laws--legislative efforts to deter disliked-but-constitutionally-protected conduct through the chill of random private litigation fail in the face of state judiciaries that interpret their constitutions to ape Article III. Further irony: California--which tried to create a "blue-state SB8" on firearms--allows broader "any person" standing than Texas (at least according to one trial judge) and other states that are trying this.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 9, 2022 at 08:03 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Changing arguments

 Mike Dorf and Will Baude discuss changing dynamics at SCOTUS arguments--including an increase in justices cutting off attorneys, demanding yes-or-no answers to nuanced questions, and not letting them give reasonable answers and making long arguments in the form of questions. Baude argues they increasingly sound like congressional hearings and attributes a number of possible causes, including the new round-robin format, increased polarization, and live-streaming. For what it is worth, at least they sound like they know what they are talking about in their questions, unlike most legislators.

While listening to the 303 argument and before seeing Will's post, I had the idea that the individual-justice questions portion sounded different, with lawyers not bothering to answer many "questions." At one point,the Colorado SG expressed "hope" that he might be able to answer someone's question, because that did not seem to be the point of the exchange.

I hope the blame does not lie with livestreaming. Many of us spent many years arguing for televising arguments, believing the Justices would not undermine their institution.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 8, 2022 at 02:33 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Which side of the bench?

Here is a different way of studying SCOTUS arguments--which side of the bench is most active in questioning and draws the most attorney attention? For right now, the answer seems to be to Chief's left/attorney's right--Alito, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Jackson.

This is of limited long-term use (as opposed to looking at individual justices) because seating changes frequently. It might have been of interest with the long Breyer-juniormost Court (1994-2005). On the other hand, I would not be surprised to see the current Court remain for the next 7-10 years, so maybe that will give us a longer sample.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2022 at 02:05 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Uvalde lawsuit

Complaint here. I have been thinking about this inevitable lawsuit and the problems it will face--and I am not sure this complaint, as pleaded, avoids those problems. The main claim is substantive due process/bodily integrity. There are two ways to plead this claim based on third-party harms--state-created danger and special relationship. The complaint alleges both and both encounter problems.

As to the former, the Fifth Circuit (so far) refuses to recognize state-created danger as a basis for due process liability (the only circuit never to do so), although the complaint does not mention this fact.Maybe this is the case that would prompt a change, but I doubt it. So to the extent they premise liability and remedy on "Uvalde officials did a horrible job and allowed Salvador Ramos to do what he did," that theory is unavailable in the Fifth Circuit.

As to the latter, special relationship does not apply between schools and teachers and students, because their presence in school (unlike, e.g., prisons) is not involuntarily coercive. And law enforcement does not have a special relationship with the public or a general duty to protect. Plaintiffs offer two ways around this. First, by showing up and establishing a perimeter, police created a special relationship that did not previously exist. This raises tricky line-drawing problems. The theory is that police lack a general duty to protect but at some point they take enough affirmative steps to establish a special relationship and create that duty to protect--where, exactly, is that point? But this seems to be the best thing they have. The second theory is that police affirmatively prevented parents and others from helping out while police did nothing. But this does not describe inaction within a special relationship; it describes affirmative action to worsen a third-party-harm situation, which sounds in state-created danger (still unavailable in the Fifth Circuit) rather than special relationship.

Plaintiffs include claims for municipal liability against the school district for a custom or practice of noncompliance with safety regulations and against the city for failing to follow existing active-shooter protocols and failing to train/supervise officers on those protocols, which they "magnificently failed" to follow. Two things. First, there is an interesting puzzle here over the concept of policy and policymakers Uvalde had protocols--formal policies established by government policymakers--that police ignored; municipalities avoid liability when they can show that officers ignored or acted contrary to official policy. Plaintiffs attempt to avoid that by alleging that the acting police chief, the policymaker for law enforcement, created new policy by ignoring existing policy. Second, municipal liability depends on an underlying constitutional violation and injury to which municipal policy, custom, or failure-to-[blank] contributed. The immediate cause of the injury is the private shooter, which returns us to state-created danger (policies and failures as affirmative acts enhancing the shooter's ability to kill) not recognized in the Fifth Circuit or to special relationship that, as described above, does not fit seem to fit here.

Finally, they ask for an injunction basically compelling the school and the city to get its shit together as to school safety and active-shooter responses. They also ask to certify a class to get around the obvious standing problems. We will see if that works, given the unlikelihood of another shooting situation, no matter how bad the city's customs and practices.

I am putting the final touches on the third edition of my civil rights treatise, including new case-based problems. I may need to add this one.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 1, 2022 at 10:32 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Holmes and Alito

Paul has offered detailed comments on the NYT story about the Hobby Lobby leak and the broader anti-choice campaign to, as Paul puts it, "meet, cultivate, and influence the justices through friendship and other contacts." Some regard the latter as the greater scandal.

Some of the hand-wringing about the "influence peddling" sent me to Justice Holmes, the House of Truth, and Holmes' many about free speech with Learned Hand, Harold Laski, Walter Lippmann, Zachariah Chafee, Felix Frankfurter, and others in 1919, during the eight months between Holmes' majority opinion in Schenck and his dissent in Abrams. Put differently, progressive activists and other non-parties and non-colleagues engaged with Holmes in-person and by mail in social, non-judicial settings, attempting to influence and change (ultimately successfully) his First Amendment views; those changes reflected in subsequent opinions, which the Justice's supporters praised and celebrated. This effort spread beyond free speech to bigger progressive causes such as labor organizing and workers' rights (with which Holmes was on board).

What, if anything, provides a meaninful difference between Holmes' engagement with Hand, et al. and Alito's engagement with Schenck, et al.? (Note I am focused not on the Hobby Lobby leak but on the broader campaign to kibitz with the Justices).

The money presents the obvious variance. Some people donated substantial sums (including to the Supreme Court Historical Society) for the access Alito (as well as Thomas and Scalia), which was not the case with Holmes and his clique. But I do not know how important money is to this story. Donors did not give money to the Justices. The money placed them in the room with Alito, just as participating in 1910s progressive politico-legal circles put people in the room with Holmes.

Many of Holmes' conversations (especially his exchanges with Hand) were general and philosophical, less overtly ideological, partisan, or political; Holmes was talking to academics (Laski, Chafee, Frankfurter), judges (Hand), and journalists (Lippmann). The people engaging with Alito are activists, part of a large, coordinated political and social movement revolving around these issues. Again, however, many of those in the House of Truth were activists committed to political causes who joped to sway Holmes to their positions (some of which Holmes shared, others of which he had to be convinced).

The difference may be "times change." Paul discussed the different ethical norms of the early-and-mid-2oth-century Court and the Justices' deeper immersion in politics. But a colleague with knowledge of this period on the Court offers another difference--political, social, and impact-litigation movements of the '10s and '20s wielded less influence on the Court as an institution and thus were smaller and less well-organized. Brown demonstrated how these movements can succeed on the Court on a massive scale. Subsequent movements--including Schenck and the anti-choice movement--are larger, better organized, better funded, and more committed to wielding power to political ends. Laski and company played minor-league ball, a difference in kind from modern social-movement machines.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 22, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Effective v. Enforceable

Further thoughts on the Georgia trial court and the idea that a law enacted contrary to binding judicial precedent never became a law:

The problem may be one of nomenclature and the conflation of two terms--when a law is effective and when a law is enforceable. My view is that a law is effective on the date the legislature indicates in the enrolled and signed bill. Constitutional litigation concerns whether a law is enforceable--and the judicial remedy from constitutional litigation is to stop enforcement of the challenged law, not to cause the law to cease being effective. Thus the Georgia court's fundamental error. Pre-Dobbs precedent did not cause the law to lack effect; it causes the law to be unenforceable. This, again, goes back to the source of the constitutional violation--the law itself or its enforcement.

The same nomenclature problems arose in the S.B.8 discussions in September 2021. People complained about SCOTUS' denying emergency relief allowing S.B.8 to take effect. But that is wrong. S.B.8 took effect on September 1, 2021, per the law's text. Denying emergency relief allowed S.B.8 to be, and remain, enforceable (through private lawsuits).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2022 at 01:32 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Georgia trial court rejects judicial departmentalism

A Georgia trial court declares Georgia's heartbeat ban constitutionally invalid underGeorgia's "void ab initio" doctrine--a law enacted contrary to binding judicial precedent never had any force or effect. While "on the books," the law never carried any force or effect. It "'is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office.'" It is "'in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.'" The court adds that "an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void." There can be no zombie laws that "spring back to life" when precedent changes.

Obviously I disagree with this framing. The legislature did enact a law that is in effect in the state of Georgia. The law is not enforceable--or at least enforcement is certain to fail once the issue reaches the judiciary and the judiciary applies then-existing constitutional doctrine. Moreover, this approach presumes that a law violates the Constitution (in this case, the rights of pregnant people) by existing and thus the legislature violates the Constitution by enacting it. But the constitutional violation arises from the actual or threatened enforcement of the law, not from the law itself; the legislature does nothing wrong in enacting a  law. Put differently: The court says that the heartbeat ban "exist[ed] only on paper." But all laws exist only on paper. Their force and effect comes from actual or attempted enforcement--at which point the judiciary and controlling precedent come into play.

Here is the topper:

What does this ruling mean? Most fundamentally, it means that courts -- not legislatures -- define the law. This is nothing new, but it seems increasingly forgotten (or ignored): “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177 (1803); see also Beall v. Beall, 8 Ga. 210, 219–20 (1850). If the courts have spoken, clearly and directly, as to what the law is, as to what is and is not constitutional, legislatures and legislators are not at liberty to pass laws contrary to such pronouncements. This does not, as the State protests, leave the legislative branch powerless in the face of “judicial supremacy run amok.” (Defendant’s Response at 1). To the contrary, “[t]he inherent powers of our State General Assembly are awesome.... [It] is absolutely unrestricted in its power to legislate, so long as it does not undertake to enact measures prohibited by the State or Federal Constitution.” Sears v. State of Ga., 232 Ga. 547, 553–54 (1974) (citation omitted). The void ab initio doctrine and its application to something like the LIFE Act properly cabins that broad legislative authority to set policy for our State and for the people who comprise it: do what you will, only do so within the bounds of the constitution that the courts have established.

If I were looking to give my students a definition of judicial supremacy, I could not do any better--the courts define the law, the Constitution means what the courts say it means, and the legislature must yield to the judiciary's constitutional understanding. The legislature's power is unrestricted unless the judiciary restricts it.

One criticism of judicial departmentalism (as Kevin Walsh framed it and as I have applied it to disputes about SB8 and universal injunctions) is that it collapses into judicial supremacy--because every dispute reaches court, the judicial view prevails at the end of the day. This case demonstrates the difference--judicial departmentalism leaves the legislature a modicum of power to engage in the legislative process and to define the state's statute books--however the laws on those books may or may not be enforced.

Besides being a bad approach to constitutional law, this approach may prove to much and raises a number of open issues:

    • Must legislatures repeal zombie laws and ensure the statute books are consistent with the state of judicially declared constitutional law? Alternatively, must they reenact zombie laws when the Court changes its constitutional understanding? If a new law contrary to judicial precedent never gains legal effect, does an existing law contrary to new judicial precedent lose all legal effect? The court's logic is yes--the zombies never "spring back to life." So a new law is required for any effect.

    • How can the political branches seek to change judicial precedent? There must be a law and actual or threatened enforcement to present a case in which the judiciary could change precedent. So Mississippi succeeded in getting the Court to overrule Roe by enacting a new law and triggering the litigation through which the Court changed precedent. But if the new law is void ab initio, the court never reaches the substantive constitutional question (or must reach out to do so when unnecessary, which we say courts should not do) because the new law never was law. And that will be the case for any new law. And if I am right about the prior bullet point, the state cannot use existing laws for the challenge, because those lost all force and effect.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2022 at 10:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, November 11, 2022

Argument in Talevski

Here is my recap of Tuesday's argument in HHC v. Talevski, considering whether any Spending Clause enactments can be enforced through § 1983 litigation. I remain bad at predictions, but best guess: The Court will not categorically reject § 1983 enforcement, perhaps unanimously. But a majority will hold that FNHRA precludes private enforcement (the SG's position) because of the statute's comprehensive administrative scheme.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 11, 2022 at 02:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2022

SCOTUS questioning

What should we call the Justice-by-Justice questioning tacked onto the open questioning in SCOTUS arguments. (This is a vestige of the process from telephone arguments during COVID). During Tuesday's Mallory arguments, Justice Sotomayor called it "round-robin," a term I have used informally. But that does not seem accurate--a round-robin is a tournament format in which every team faces one another. Obviously the Justices do not face one another. And round-robin does not describe one competitor facing each of nine opponents.

In a more formal writing, I used  "serial questioning" or "sequential questioning," either more accurate. This is a series of questions by a series of Justices, asked sequentially.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 10, 2022 at 07:08 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

(Guest Post) The Mallory Argument on Personal Jurisdiction via Corporate Registration

The following is by Rocky Rhodes (South Texas) and Andra Robertson (Case Western); this is the latest in a series of posts on the case. I have been focused on elections and Tuesday's other argument, but I hope to add something  to this discussion later this week.

The Supreme Court heard argument yesterday in Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., which addresses the constitutional limits on states asserting jurisdiction over a nonresident corporate defendant that registers to do business in the state. Under 42 Pa. C.S. § 5301, state courts obtain “general jurisdiction” over a nonresident corporation registering to do business. Mallory claims that this statute supports Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction over his FELA claim against his employer Norfolk Southern Railway because the railroad is registered to business in the state—even though Mallory is a citizen of Virginia, the railroad is incorporated with a then-principal place of business in Virginia (now in Atlanta, Georgia), and his claim arose from his alleged exposure to carcinogens in Virginia and Ohio. The railroad counters that the exercise of personal jurisdiction violates the Due Process Clause and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. We had a series of posts on this case on Prawfs shortly after certiorari was granted last April (see here, here, and here), and Howard invited us back to report on the oral argument and the briefing in the case. We’ll highlight the primary positions of the parties, the Justices who pushed back, and some interesting tidbits for our fellow jurisdictional aficionados.

Originalism and the Historical Archival Brief

Mallory’s primary argument is that the Pennsylvania statute is constitutional under the original public meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. His merits brief includes an exhaustive compilation of state statutes during the 1800s tying corporate registration to a state’s adjudicative jurisdiction, with the first of these statutes appearing in the 1820s. This listing is not a surprising strategy for a plaintiff confronting a Court that has a reputation for being sympathetic to business interests while also (at least sometimes) singing the praises of originalism. Such historical archival compilations may become as commonplace in constitutional cases before the Roberts Court as the Brandeis brief was during the Lochner era.

But several Justices questioned the impact of these statutes, as did the railroad. Justice Barrett doubted that all the listed statutes were on point—some involved questions of service of process and others did not authorize all claims against the registering defendant, but rather only claims brought by a resident of the forum. The railroad also argued that most of the statutes were distinguishable and that nineteenth century cases did not support that jurisdiction was appropriate under these statutes when the plaintiff was a nonresident and the cause of action arose outside the forum. Mallory responded that all the statutes were relevant, while admitting that there were very few cases that employed these statutes in “foreign cubed” cases, where neither the defendant nor the plaintiff was a resident of the forum and the events giving rise to the claim occurred outside the forum. The statutes were more commonly applied in “foreign squared” cases, where at least the plaintiff was a resident of the forum. But in response to Justice Alito, Mallory maintained that the existence of the statutes was enough—he did not have to show a tradition of those statutes being applied by the courts to establish original public meaning.

Justice Thomas asked a question that he was able to avoid (by discounting the many proffered analogies to gun restrictions in the Founding and Reconstruction eras) in his opinion this summer in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen—how many state statutes are necessary to establish the original meaning? Mallory responded that was a difficult issue, but thought the compilation of statutes in the brief satisfied the requirement. But that would not be the case, of course, if the Court views the statutes as distinguishable.

Registration as Consent?

Justice Thomas also embarked on questioning that became a consistent theme throughout the argument—is the Pennsylvania statute really evidence of consent? Justice Kagan queried whether the registration-to-do-business form could be a form of actual consent when it does not specify the consequences of the registration: “All the piece of paper does is comply with a state law requirement that everyone who does business in the state has to make their identities known . . . [s]o where is the consent to jurisdiction in that?” Wasn’t any such “consent” therefore fictional, and how would that differ from a statute providing that intrastate business activities would subject a nonresident corporate defendant to general jurisdiction? The railroad also hammered this point, arguing that ex ante consent was only permissible in a private contract (apparently like the adhesion contracts corporations force on consumers with arbitration agreements or forum selection clauses), but not in an agreement with the state.

Mallory responded that pieces of paper matter—incorporation is a matter of filing papers that grants the state general personal jurisdiction, and the same should occur when a nonresident corporation registers to do business and the state by statute specifies the jurisdictional consequences of that registration. This was supported, Mallory continued, by the longstanding history and tradition of statutes and judicial decisions recognizing registration to do business as a constitutionally permissible method to obtain consent to personal jurisdiction.

Chief Justice Roberts replied that “history and tradition move on” and indicated that the minimum contacts analysis in International Shoe Co. v. Washington dispensed with these older cases. But Mallory maintained that International Shoe recognized jurisdiction based on “consent to be sued or authorization to an agent to accept service of process.” He continued that consent was a traditional basis of jurisdiction—like the tag jurisdiction upheld in Burnham v. Superior Court—and could exist side-by-side with the minimum contacts standard (although no one discussed how Shaffer v. Heitner might impact that possibility). Justice Gorsuch also rallied to Mallory’s defense, arguing that, if tag jurisdiction can exist alongside International Shoe, so can consent jurisdiction through registration.

Justices Kagan and Kavanaugh were concerned that this would effectively undercut the “at home” standard for general jurisdiction from Daimler AG v. Bauman and Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown. Justice Kavanaugh noted that, if the Court found in favor of Mallory, “every state could have a statute like this,” meaning “that every business would be at home throughout the country.” This would, as the Second Circuit colorfully maintained, rob Daimler of meaning “by a back-door thief.”

Corporations v. Natural Persons

Justice Gorsuch answered this concern by returning to tag jurisdiction, reiterating a question from his concurrence in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court: why should corporations have special protections from jurisdiction based on registration when individuals in a forum state can be tagged? Mallory agreed that there was no basis for such a distinction: “Obviously, the language of the Fourteenth Amendment speaks to persons, and it doesn’t create . . . a person that’s entitled to better constitutional rights because they were birthed by filing a piece of paper in Virginia as opposed to . . . being birthed by a mother at a hospital.”

The railroad, of course, had a different view. Tag jurisdiction against natural persons, the railroad contended, was supported by a longstanding historical tradition, while there was only a smattering of statutes and almost no cases indicating that registration could support general jurisdiction. The railroad maintained that the old service of process statutes referenced in Mallory’s brief were simply not enough. And tag jurisdiction was also different since a person can only be in one state at a time, while a corporation might be coerced to consent to jurisdiction simultaneously in each and every state.

The Unconstitutional Conditions Doctrine and State Sovereign Interests

In addition to the argument that its registration was not a form of consent, the railroad pushed the argument that any consent would be an unconstitutional condition. The railroad claimed a right to be free from general jurisdiction when it was not “at home” in the forum, urging that coercing its agreement to jurisdiction to secure its right to conduct business in Pennsylvania would be unconstitutionally coercive. Although its brief was more nuanced, acknowledging the possibility without agreeing that consent through a registration statute might be permissible for claims by state residents, the railroad insisted on a bright line during oral argument that any consent outside the contours of specific jurisdiction was an unconstitutional condition.

Mallory countered that the unconstitutional conditions doctrine did not apply. He said that the history and tradition of these registration statutes removed them from scrutiny as an unconstitutional condition. Also, the greater power of a state to totally shut down a market includes the lesser power to obtain a consent to jurisdiction.

Mallory had immediate pushback from Justices Kavanaugh and Alito on whether a state today could shut down a market under the dormant Commerce Clause. Mallory urged that under the original meaning a state could do so, while recognizing the tension with the Court’s dormant Commerce Clause cases. Here Mallory may have missed an opportunity to distinguish between intrastate and interstate business activities, although it was alluded to by Justice Jackson—while precedent establishes a state cannot bar a nonresident corporate defendant’s interstate activities, it might (at least arguably) have the ability to exclude a corporation for failing to register when it performs a sufficient quantum of intrastate business activities, as we discuss in a prior writing.

And speaking of our writings, Justice Sotomayor asked Mallory about the amicus brief that we co-authored with Robin Effron, Jack Preis, Jeff Rensberger, and Aaron Simowitz. She referred to our position that consent through registration to do business could be constitutional, but only if the state has a sovereign interest in the dispute. And, if our argument was accepted, what would be the sovereign interest in this case? Mallory urged that historically a sovereign interest was not required (which we dispute in our brief). He then continued that even if a sovereign interest was necessary, Pennsylvania had a state interest in opening its courthouse doors to everyone. He pointed to state constitutional right-to-remedy and open-courts provisions, urging they established a foundational understanding that a resident should have a forum, with states also having a sovereign interest in treating residents and nonresidents the same. But the Court’s past cases, as we point out in our brief, have distinguished between a state’s sovereign interests with respect to residents and nonresidents.

In a lengthy follow-up question, Justice Kagan seemed skeptical that Pennsylvania had a sovereign interest. The railroad also pointed out that Pennsylvania had not asserted a sovereign interest in the case by trying to defend the constitutionality of the statute. Yet perhaps there is an interest in the case due to the amount of business that the railroad does in Pennsylvania. Indeed, it appears the reason the suit was filed in Pennsylvania is that the union lawyer soliciting these carcinogenic exposure cases was based in Pennsylvania and then referred Mallory to Pennsylvania counsel, which is not surprising when more of the railroad’s employees work in Pennsylvania than in any other state.

Daimler Revisited?

Justice Sotomayor expressed her continued disagreement with Daimler, using this case as an illustration. Even though it was not in the record, an amicus brief detailed that the railroad operates more track and has more employees in Pennsylvania than it does in any other state in the union. While recognizing the possibility of coercion in registration in cases of smaller companies, there was no injustice here when the railroad was conducting that much business in the state. The only reason it was not “at home” in Pennsylvania was that it had its corporate offices in Virginia and identified Virginia as its corporate headquarters and principal place of business.

It’s not clear, though, that any other Justice desires to revisit Daimler. Justice Jackson appears to favor Mallory on a waiver theory—the railroad waived any ability to assert its due process rights by registering to do business. Justice Gorsuch (perhaps joined by Justice Thomas) seems willing to uphold jurisdiction based on the original meaning of consent-by-registration statutes and a comparison to tag jurisdiction for natural persons, with the unequal treatment “due process Lochnerism for corporations.”

But the remainder of the Court appears disinclined to hold for Mallory. Some Justices discussed our intermediate position of requiring a state sovereign interest, and the United States also recognized that there could be situations where a registration statute might support jurisdictional consent when specific jurisdiction is not present. But historically, the United States continued, these registration statutes were limited to claims either by a forum resident or that had some other relationship to the dispute, echoing the position we took in our amicus brief.

Oral argument showed that the Justices had very different views about the basis for constitutional limits on personal jurisdiction. Justices suggested approaches for resolving the case that ranged from due process to principles flowing from the dormant Commerce Clause to unconstitutional conditions—a set of topics where each one, on its own, has given rise to a thorny doctrinal tangle. Clearing a path to five votes won’t be easy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 9, 2022 at 01:37 PM in Civil Procedure, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 07, 2022

§ 1983 and the Spending Clause

SCOTUS hears argument Tuesday in Health & Hospital Corp. v. Talevski, considering whether Spending Clause enactments (there, the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 ("FNHRA")) can be enforced in damages actions under § 1983. I am covering the case for SCOTUSBlog; here is my case preview.

This is the latest in the Court's move to limit private rights of action, but with an important twist. The supposed separation of powers arguments driving limits on Bivens and implied statutory rights of action--Congress, not the courts, should make the policy choices and balancing of interests in creating private rights of action and Congress has not done so--do not apply. Congress made that choice in enacting 1983 as a free-standing cause of action and including the phrase "and laws" to allow plaintiffs to enforce statutory rights beyond constitutional rights. Not that I do not expect the Court to find some new means to its preferred end of limiting private litigation. Just that the recitation of separation of powers will not do it in this case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 7, 2022 at 06:55 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Showing off or good writing and telling the difference

Third Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas warned of "judges gone wild" in a speech before Harvard Fed Soc. He called out "the show off, [for whom] it seems to be all about the judge's musings, even the judge's ambitions to be notice." Jonathan Adler comments.

Coincidentally, Eleventh Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan presented FIU's Judicial Lecture on Wednesday. The conversation turned to writing style and when a "turn of phrase" is warranted and useful. As an example, Jordan wrote the majority opinion declaring invalid Florida's "Docs v. Glocks" law prohibiting doctors from inquiring about the presence of guns in their patients' homes. Speaking of the plaintiffs' reasonable fear of discipline, he wrote that doctors "who are looking down the barrel of the Board's disciplinary gun, are not required to guess whether the chamber is loaded." Is that showing off and playing to Twitter? Or is it good writing? Is the answer, as Jordan added, you can't force it or overdo it?

Update: Richard Bales (Northern Kentucky) shares a piece he wrote some time ago on prudence in using references--use references and in ways that are self-explanatory and remember that the point is to "lead your reader to a deeper understanding of your topic-not to impress the judge with your wit or your knowledge of cultural arcana."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 3, 2022 at 11:28 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)