Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Pardons and Mootness

Judge Sullivan has dismissed the prosecution of Michael Flynn in light of the President's pardon.

Interestingly, Sullivan dismisses the cases as moot and I do not understand why. The opinion discusses the understanding that acceptance of a pardon implies a confession of guilt, while exempting the individual from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime committed. Because the pardon does not render Flynn innocent of the crime charged, the appropriate course is to dismiss as moot.

I do not see why that follows. Dismissal on the ground of actual innocence is not appropriate. But saying the pardon "exempt[s]" the individual from the usual punishment for a crime suggests a dismissal of the prosecution because the pardon has placed Flynn beyond the reach of the law. That sounds in the merits--not actual innocence, but the scope and application of a law to an individual and an individual's conduct, which Morrison says is the merits. It sounds in an immunity, which is usually (and properly) seen as merits. It does not sound in an outside change of circumstances depriving the court of its power to accord meaningful relief or resolution to a dispute. (contra a defendant dying while the case is pending).

Consider it from the other direction. Imagine Trump grants himself a pardon for all conduct violating federal law prior to January 20, 2021. The U.S. prosecutes, Trump moves to dismiss the indictment based on the pardon, and the court decides that a self-pardon is valid. It seems to me the court would dismiss that indictment, finding the prosecution cannot proceed because Trump is, by virtue of the pardon, exempt from that law and its ordinary consequences. I do not think that court would dismiss as moot. So it should not be different because the pardon came before the prosecution was initiated as opposed to after.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 8, 2020 at 02:59 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Botching jurisdiction and merits, Ex. No. 613

Here is an awful jurisdiction/merits decision from the Fifth Circuit, involving the treatment of state action/under color in a § 1983 action. (H/T: Jack Preis).

A public-school educational aide sues a contract sheriff's deputy assigned to the school, claiming excessive force from the deputy punching him. The district court denies qualified immunity, while noting in passing some doubt about state action but that the defendant conceded the issue. The deputy appeals the Q/I denial under the collateral order doctrine. The Fifth Circuit remands, on the ground that by failing to determine action under color, the district court failed to establish its subject matter jurisdiction before ruling on the merits.

This is many shades of wrong. State action/action under color is an element of a § 1983 action and has nothing to do with the court's subject matter jurisdiction. This is true as a logical matter--merits ask who can sue whom and for what conduct, which is what state action determines in a constitutional case (whether this defendant can be sued for this conduct because it was under color). But it is especially true after Arbaugh and Morrison, which labels as merits issues those affecting the "reach" of a law, meaning what the law "prohibits"--what conduct (under color or not under color) can form the basis for liability in a § 1983 constitutional claim. It has nothing to do with subject-matter jurisdiction, which is established because federal law "creates" the rights plaintiff is asserting (Fourth Amendment) and his right of action (§ 1983).

The court may have found itself bound by a 1980 circuit precedent saying state action was required to "invoke the district court's jurisdiction." But that case (both the majority and dissent) uses the term jurisdiction in the thoughtless way the Court (particularly Justice Ginsburg) has tried to rein in the past twenty years. And it is inconsistent with how Morrison and Arbaugh framed the definition of merits issues. A Third Circuit panel was willing to overrule circuit precedent that could not stand in light of those recent cases. Perhaps this panel was unwilling to do the same. But then perhaps tee this for en banc review.

One other note: This decision is a stew of bad Fed Courts doctrine. The only reason the court was in position to consider the issue at this point is the immediate appealability of qualified-immunity denials, which some have argued contribute to the over-protection of police. Immediate review is designed to speed litigation. Instead, the court avoided immunity to create a new round of district-court (and probably appellate) litigation of an issue that should not have been before the court of appeals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 04:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Federal Rules of Trumpist Procedure

I started to add this to my earlier post about Trumpist Procedure (great article title), but decided it needs to stand alone.

Powell's Wisconsin lawsuit, which includes a plaintiff who never agreed to the lawsuit, included a "Motion for Declaratory, Emergency, and Permanent Injunctive Relief." It had to be filed twice because the lawyers filed a draft. They filed both without saying whether they had provided notice to the defendants or otherwise complied with FRCP 65(b) and local rules or whether they wanted a hearing. The court issued an order refusing to do anything, which is the best kind of order. Brad Heath of Reuters put it well:

Just an amazing pattern of lawyers showing up with what they say are the most important cases ever filed and botching the basics. Even the President's lawyers screwed up the everyday rules for suing people. These are the mistakes you see when prisoners represent themselves.

Courts are going to have to figure this out. But I am not sure demanding that the Trumpist lawyers adhere to the rules, refusing to act if they do not is the solution, and issuing (rightfully) annoyed orders is the answer. First, doing so ignores that their point is to make official-sounding noise in any forum; a court with "rules" is no different than a Courtyard-by-Marriott without rules. Second, orders such as this one make the court, especially an Obama appointee, part of the expanding conspiracy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 01:13 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Judges, procedure, and Trumpist litigators (Updated Again and Again and Moved to Top)

We have seen some strangeness the past two days over one of Sydney Powell's Kraken lawsuits in Georgia. That lawsuit seeks, among other things, an order seizing and impounding voting machines in the state and allowing plaintiffs to perform a forensic inspection. On Sunday afternoon, the court issued a scheduling order that included a TRO prohibiting the state from scrubbing data from the machines. Later, the court issued a second order, rescinding the TRO, apparently because the state does not control the machines; counties do and the counties were not sued. On Sunday evening, the court issued a third order following a Zoom conference, reinstating the TRO prohibiting defendants from scrubbing or allowing scrubbing of the machines, limited to three counties, apparently on the understanding that plaintiffs will amend the complaint to add them as defendants. This morning came a fourth order, certifying the third order for immediate review under § 1292(b).

Why the insanity? I agree with several online lawyer-commenters. The judge issued a routine, non-adversary scheduling order that sought to preserve the status quo. And Powell, Lin Wood, etc. reacted by taking to Twitter to crow about a giant initial step towards exposing the massive international voter-fraud conspiracy, a substantive victory. Then the defendants pointed out the problems with the litigation and thus with even that routine order--the plaintiffs sued the wrong people and the machines probably cannot be subject to a plaintiff-run forensic audit, at least without more allegations and proof of wrongdoing. And the court sought a middle ground by allowing someone (not clear who) to appeal an otherwise-unappealable order. And questions remain about what the controlling question of law could--whether it was proper to issue a TRO before the amended complaint was filed? whether a forensic audit is available? It might be that the 11th Circuit could reject any appeal (the court of appeals must agree with the district court's certification that appeal is appropriate).

The lesson is that courts must be as cautious as everyone else in these waters. Routine litigation is not routine litigation with these lawyers or with their public followers, because they are not here for judicial resolution. The most innocuous order or statement by the court will be seized upon and trumpeted either further evidence of the vast international conspiracy of which the judge is a part or as a heroic step by a heroic judge to stopping the greatest evil in human history. (Recall Jenna Ellis's insistence that Giuliani had won the argument in the MDPa case, as evidenced by the judge recommending places for the lawyers to get a drink). But unless courts begin to use the tools at their disposal to stop these abuses, they must think twice about even the smallest procedural step or statement.

Updated on Tuesday: Politico has the full story based on the transcript of the Sunday conference, with commentary. The first two orders were proposed drafts circulated among the court and parties that were publicly disclosed and promoted by plaintiff counsel, thus far without consequence. The judge seems less unreceptive to these allegations than others; while stating that the allegations are backed by "precious little proof," he appears to take them as sufficiently plausible to warrant ordering limited preservation. The § 1292(b) order was entered in response to the state's desire to appeal, although still no word on the controlling question of law. No appeal has been filed.

My basis point in this post stands: Trumpist litigators are going to abuse the system. And judges have to be ready for it.

Updated on Wednesday: Instead, the plaintiffs appealed the TRO granting them narrow relief (no clearing machines in three counties). And they did not rely on the § 1292(b) certification, which appears to have been at the state's request. Instead, plaintiffs argue that this is an appeal as of right of an injunction under § 1292(a), based on Eleventh Circuit precedent from the Terri Schiavo litigation treating a TRO as an appealable preliminary injunction where the grant or denial "might have a serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence, and can be effectually challenged only by immediate appeal." In Schiavo, the consequence was that Schiavo would die; I doubt the consequences here are so grave.

Meanwhile, the notice of appeal argued that the appeal divests the district court of jurisdiction. This caused the district court to stay its scheduling order, including the briefing schedule (state briefs were due today) and a Friday hearing, both of which are off. This was unnecessary and probably unwise, because the district court must begin anew when the case returns (probably quickly) from the court of appeals. The district court was was not pleased, stating in the order that any delay in briefing and holding a hearing upon remand would be attributable to the plaintiffs and not the court.

Mike Dunford has more on how bad the lawyering has been in this case. Again, my basic point: This is about using the system to put on a show for a segment of the public. 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 2, 2020 at 08:32 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, November 28, 2020

More state universality (Updated)

A judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky enjoined a Kentucky executive order closing schools, finding it violated the First Amendment rights of a K-12 religious school. (H/T: Eugene Volokh). It is unsurprising in its analysis--the order was not generally applicable because it applied to K-12 schools but not preschools or colleges and universities. Whatever--I have given up reading these decisions as anything other than a sub silentio reading of the First Amendment to opt-outs for religious institutions and behaviors, no matter the societal costs. Update: The Sixth Circuit reversed.

More interesting to me is that the court made the injunction universal/non-particularized, prohibiting enforcement of the EO as to all religious schools, not only the plaintiff. The court did not use the words universal or non-particularized and did not acknowledge the ongoing scope-of-injunction controversy, while providing further evidence that this issue is not limited to challenges to federal law. I presume the key here is that the lawsuit was brought not only by the school, but also by the Attorney General on behalf of the Commonwealth. "Complete relief" for the AG must protect all members of the public.

In the Before Times of 2018, I spoke on universal injunctions before the meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. I suggested they might be of two minds on the issue. On one hand, universality works against them as the defendants to be enjoined from enforcing many state laws. On the other hand, they want universality when suing the federal government to stpp. This is a third hand--the AG suing the Governor to stop enforcement of a provision of state law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 28, 2020 at 12:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Evidentiary problems (Updated Again)

Election-law attorney Marc Elias has kept a running tally of the Trump Campaign's litigation record, which stands at 1-38 and has a chance of getting to 50 losses. As his litigation efforts flail, however, his political efforts have succeeded--not in keeping him in the White House (which may not even be the point), but in destroying public confidence in electoral and political processes, undermining the Biden presidency before it begins, and in creating space for an army of state-level mini-Trumps to make noise (even if unsuccessful) about overriding the results of the election.

The difference is evidence.

Trump has lost in court because courts have strict rules about what constitutes valid allegations and evidence (under oath, reliable, credible, based on actual understanding of things such as how elections work, and subject to testing) and they are bound by the allegations and evidence in making decisions. As Judge Bibas wrote, "calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof." On the other hand, Trump has won in hotel ballrooms and porn-shop-adjacent parking lots because evidence is whatever nonsense, however fantastical, can be spouted at the highest volume with the straightest face. And decisionmakers (the voters who believe the election was stolen) can base their beliefs on whatever they want.

Whither legislative bodies? They have rules about what constitutes valid evidence--witnesses are under oath and cannot lie. But no external rules limit what legislators can hear or use in reaching their decisions. Which leaves room for people like Pennsylvania Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is leading a legislative move to appoint the state's electors. And he can base his efforts on "findings" of "substantial irregularities and improprieties associated with mail-in balloting, pre-canvassing, and canvassing" based on "facts and evidence presented and our own Board of Elections data" that the presidential election (although, miraculously, no other elections within Commonwealth), was "irredeemably corrupted."

But where is the evidence of this irredeemable corruption? There is none, at least nothing that any court has taken seriously or could rely upon. So it must be that legislatures, or at least some legislators, believe they can and should base decisions not on what suffices in court, but on what suffices in ballrooms and parking lots. In a legislature, unlike in court, it is enough to call an election unfair and act on that call. And that is the problem.

This is not new. Legislators often make bad policy off bad evidence and bad findings. Policy can be undone. The votes of almost 7 million people cannot. And neither can a widespread belief that the system is corrupt whenever your preferred candidate loses. That Mastriano's effort will fail is beside the point. That he is making it and that it will be taken seriously suggests we have crossed some lines.

Updated: Phillip Bump at the Washington Post calls for the Republicans to release the evidence or shut up, then defines what is and is not evidence. But there is no agreement on what constitutes valid evidence, at least outside of court. So Trumpists will reject the premise of Bump's argument.

Second Update: Will Cain on Fox says it aloud: "There may not be enough evidence for a court system, but there should be enough evidence for state legislators to change their electors." Because Republican legislators do not need any evidence beyond "because it's true."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 28, 2020 at 12:09 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Reshuffling the Court? (Updated)

Josh Blackman offers an interesting proposal/prediction/speculation: Chief Justice Roberts should retire, allowing soon-to-be-President Biden to elevate Justice Kagan to chief and to fill a seat on the Court. Josh originated this proposal in September as the new way to save nine, when polls suggested a Biden presidency and Democratic Senate that would expand the Court. While Court-expansion is off the table, Josh renews the speculation in light of the Court's new shape and the Chief's role, as revealed in this week's decision enjoining New York gathering regulations, in which he dissented for himself. With the appointment of Justice Barrett, Roberts no longer is the median Justice and may be in the minority more often. At the same time, Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan have less incentive to join his opinions, because they cannot produce a majority. The result is a Chief Justice consistently voting alone.

In December 2016, I wrote that Roberts won and Kagan lost the Merrick Garland debacle. Roberts avoided being a Chief Justice consistently in the minority thereby retaining the power to assign and cultivate majorities, while Kagan lost the opportunity to be the Brennan-esque intellectual heart of a liberal majority. Josh argues that this moment passed with Trump's appointment of three solid conserbatives. This proposal would somewhat reverse what I described--Roberts leaves before his power wanes, while Kagan gets a promotion. Of course, Kagan would find herself where Roberts would have been had Garland been confirmed--a Chief Justice regularly in the minority (unless she proves even better than advertised at bringing the Court together in the middle). And the real winner of the exchange would be Justice Thomas, who regularly becomes senior Associate Justice in the majority with the power to assign opinions.

In fairness, I believe it is safe to say that Josh is no fan of the Chief and would shed no tears if he left the Court while leaving a secure, and young, conservative majority.

Update: One point I forgot: If this were to happen, it would give Biden three appointments in one term, as I expect Breyer to retire by spring 2022.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 27, 2020 at 04:00 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Dumping Rule 11

I have been thinking about dropping Rule 11 from Civ Pro. I have had trouble getting to Erie the past few years, a problem made worse  being remote (everything takes just a bit longer, which adds up over 13 weeks) and the likely addition of a new personal-jurisdiction case in Ford. I enjoy teaching it and it is a good source for essay questions. But I think Erie is more important.

The clown show that is the Trump Campaign litigation in the Middle District of Pennsylvania (and now the Third Circuit) confirms the choice. No one will be sanctioned for pursuing litigation violating 11(b)(1), (2), and (3). Even the great find precedent the Campaign has touted (they brought the plaintiff to last week's hearing) does not stand for the proposition they say it does. And beyond this single extraordinary case, the reality is that sanctions are imposed on the most-egregious behavior after four or five freebies. Against all of that, class time is better spent on other things.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 24, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (11)

Monday, November 23, 2020

Paying for vaccination and the First Amendment

I am intrigued by this idea making the rounds: Pay people (amounts thrown around are $ 1000-$1400) for getting the COVID vaccine. The plan achieves three things: 1) Ensures broader vaccination towards herd immunity (estimates say a 70% rate is necessary); 2) economic stimulus; and 3) support those suffering financial loss in the economic downturn.

A question: Would someone with a religious objection to vaccination have a First Amendment or RFRA claim? Is not receiving a widely available benefit, unavailable to you because of your religious beliefs, a violation of religious exercise? And, because that is all the rage these days, what would be the remedy if this is a violation? How would the Court level up--requiring the government give the religiously unvaccinated $ 1000? Or would the Court level down and prohibit the government from doing this?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 23, 2020 at 01:39 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Trump campaign loses big in Pennsylvania (Updated)

Update: Just wanted to highlight a few things discussed below, as the Pennsylvania litigation continues apace. First, Trump's lawyers are as bad at appellate procedure as they are at civil procedure--the motion for expedited review insists that they are only challenging the denial of leave to amend to file a Second Amended Complaint, not the dismissal of the First Amended Complaint. And they have not asked for an injunction pending appeal, which means Pennsylvania could certify the results today and moot the case. Second, Trump's lawyers are being hoisted on their Twiqbal petards. They continue to insist they are entitled to discovery and the chance to present evidence at trial, ignoring the obligation to plead a plausible claim, including standing. Third, liberal delight in flaunting Twiqbal is disturbing.

Opinion here. This was always a weak case, so the result is unsurprising. Giuliani's involvement brought a brighter spotlight to it than its merits deserved, making it more farce than lawsuit. But the decision is as much of a smackdown as people are saying, with the court dropping occasional phrases suggesting annoyance. Some quick thoughts.

1) This case further convinces me that standing as a merits-independent threshold inquiry makes no sense. For the two voter plaintiffs, the court focuses on the fact that they sued the wrong people, people who did not violate their rights and thus injure them. That should be part of the merits--your county violated your rights by treating you poorly, but other counties do not violate your rights by treating other people favorably (as permitted by law). Similarly, redressability was framed in terms of remedy--the plaintiffs lacked standing because they requested the wrong remedy--which should be a post-merits determination. The goal seems to be to make what are effectively merits determinations while denying the case is about constitutional merits.

2) The Campaign asserted associational standing,which the court rejected. But it did not assert third-party standing on behalf of voters. Was this another pleading error? Political campaigns have always struck me as a classic example of third-party standing--their interests align with the voters and individual voters lack the incentive to bring broad-based litigation.

3) Given the GOP campaign against universal injunctions the past four years (with which I agree, of course), it is ironic that they requested the ultimate universal injunction. The plaintiffs asked the court to stop Pennsylvania from certifying the election--functionally nullifying every vote in the state--to remedy the violation suffered by two voters who were denied equal protection by the actions of a non-party. But it also would have been insufficiently universal, in that they only wanted to stop certification of the presidential election but no other election, although the voters were denied equal protection to cure their votes in those elections, as well (unless they could allege that they only voted in the presidential election).

4) The case illustrates the disconnect between litigation, which is often small-bore and centered on discrete violations of discrete people's discrete rights, and the vast international and technological conspiracy that Trump's lawyers sought to prove. Put aside that the evidence does not exist. There was no room for such evidence on the claims alleged. But does this create a catch-22? The Campaign will complain that it never had an opportunity to present its evidence in court (as people have been demanding), because the court never accepted its unsubstantiated allegations (which is all a complaint is supposed to be) and allowed it to find and present that evidence. At the same time, this is how much litigation works since Twiqbal--a state of affairs about which Civ Pro scholars have been complaining for almost 15 years.

5) I liked Judge Brann putting citations in footnotes, a practice I am surprised has not caught on more (some judges on the 5th and 6th Circuits do this). On that note, check out footnote 80, sure to go down in history as the new footnote 4.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 22, 2020 at 10:47 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Procedure matters

Civ Pro is a spring class at FIU, so I do not get them until January. But I hope they are paying some attention to the Trump litigation campaign, particularly the case in MDPa. That mess shows how much procedure matters, if only to getting the court to take you seriously as a competent advocate and thus your claims seriously as presented. But Giuliani (and other's) complete lack of understanding of how litigation operates at the level of a basic Civ Pro class--when leave to amend must be sought, what claims and allegations are or not in a case, the meaning of pleading standards--has been stunning. Grasp of procedure also marks the difference between legal and political activities, which supports news reports that Giulian's gambit is entirely the latter and none of the former.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 18, 2020 at 08:38 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (4)

Departmentalism and virtue signalling

A mini controversy erupted at Northern Iowa in October, when the student government refused to recognize a chapter of Students for Life, calling it a "hate group." The university President reversed the decision and recognized the group.

From a First Amendment standpoint, the President's decision was correct. Had the initial denial stood, SFL would have sued and won, obtaining an injunction, perhaps (limited) damages, and attorney's fees. But that prospect arose during student-government debates, when one student senator "opined that recognizing Students for Life out of concern that refusal could subject UNI to legal liability was an 'extremely facile and weak' defense that 'privilege[d] . . . money and . . . admins over student well-being.'”

The university did not share the student's position, for obvious reasons. But suppose it did? And how does that position--"we are going to do (what we believe to be) the right thing, judicial defeat be damned"--square with judicial departmentalism? My assumption has been that executive/legislative departmentalism ends when the certainty of judicial liability and attendant consequences (particularly attorney's fees) begins. But suppose government adopts that student senator's ideal that it should promote "student well-being" even at the threat of legal liability. That is, the government takes the position that it is better to promote its constitutional vision even knowing that vision will lose in court, in exchange for the goodwill of some constituency. This may be especially appealing to a public university. It can do the "right" thing in the moment (such as promoting the anti-racism cause or protecting students from offending messages)--and if the court forces the university to change, so be it. The university might benefit from that approach--"we can't do what you want because we will lose in court" becomes "we really tried to do what you wanted but those unelected federal judges got in the way." I am glib in the title in labeling this virtue signalling, but it would allow the university to keep some groups happy. Ironically given the new anti-racist context, this is why governments often welcomed judicial involvement in the early days of reform for schools and other institutions post-Brown--they could make the necessary changes, while blaming the courts.

Returning to the UNI case, the president might let the student government decision stand, then recognize SFL once the court orders it to do so; a win-win situation for the university, which keeps a segment of the student body happy while ultimately doing what the Constitution compels.

I heard about the UNI story while thinking about FIU, which has seen two public incidents of students posting social-media videos of them using using racial epithets while singing and dancing. And to hear undergrads tell it, such expression is quite common in the community. Students would like to see the university take action, while the university has recognized what happens if it does. In an interview, a student from FIU's Black Student Union brought up the 2015 case in which the University of Oklahoma expelled two students and revoked a fraternity charter over a viral video. That Oklahoma case is unique in that the students never challenged their expulsions; they (perhaps wisely) accepted the punishment and escaped the limelight rather than trying to become public free-speech martyrs. Oklahoma's actions might serve as precedent that a university could take a stand if it is willing to take its chances in court. On the other hand, I remain convinced that had the students sued, they would have won. A university that follows the OU model thus will encounter one student who sues and the game will be over. The separate question is how many schools would take that path?

To be sure, I am not urging this situation. I hope a university adopts the First Amendment position that ideas, even hateful and offensive ones, are protected and that government cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination. And I hope the university is willing to defend that view in the face of student anger. But there is more than a little wiggle room for those schools that do not. And then what happens?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 18, 2020 at 12:42 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Zombie statutes," non-universality, and judicial departmentalism

The opening paragraph of this Fifth Circuit opinion by Judge Costa accurately describes judicial review (H/T: Josh Blackman):

It is often said that courts “strike down” laws when ruling them unconstitutional. That’s not quite right. See Jonathan F. Mitchell, The Writ-of-Erasure Fallacy, 104 VA.L.REV. 933, 936 (2018). Courts hold laws unenforceable; they do not erase them. Id. Many laws that are plainly unconstitutional remain on the statute books. Jim Crow-era segregation laws are one example. See Gabriel J. Chin et al., Still on the Books: Jim Crow and Segregation Laws Fifty Years After Brown v. Board of Education, 2006 MICH.ST.L.REV. 457 (highlighting the segregationist laws still present in the codes of several states); see also Josh Blackman, The Irrepressible Myth of Cooper v. Aaron, 107 GEO.L.J. 1135, 1199 (2019) (noting that the Texas law criminalizing sodomy at issue in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), remains in the state code).

The opinion deals with what Costa calls "zombie statutes"--laws in one state that remain on the books but are unenforceable (at least judicially, more on that below) in light of SCOTUS precedent declaring an identical law from a different state invalid. The challenge here was to a Houston ordinance requiring initiative/petition circulators to be registered voters; SCOTUS in Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation declared an identical Colorado law to violate the First Amendment. The Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs had standing and that the case was not moot--there was sufficient threat of enforcement despite Buckley and the city's addition of an Editor's Note to its code--stating that it would accept petitions from non-registered voters and provided a form for such petitions--was not sufficient to moot the case.

This "zombie law" concept is interesting. I wish I had it in front of me (or had thought of the term myself) when writing about the link between non-universality and judicial departmentalism. Because those concepts inform what makes a zombie law.

Because of non-universality, the concept should not be limited to the situation at hand--State B's law is a zombie because of a decision involving State A's law. State B's law can be a zombie because of a decision involving that law as to non-parties to the prior litigation. It also means we could have federal zombie laws. The point is the same in all--the prior judgment spoke to the challenged law and the involved party, not to any other law or any other party.

Because of judicial departmentalism, it is arguably unfair to call any law a zombie law. Because if the government believes, in its independent judgment, that the law is constitutionally valid, it acts within the full scope of its constitutional power in enacting or enforcing it, regardless of contrary precedent. In that sense, the law is alive and enforceable. On the other hand, maybe zombie is the right term because the laws are undead--they are alive in remaining on the books and in remaining enforceable by a departmentalism government, but the actual or threatened enforcement is DOA in court, where SCOTUS precedent binds and determines the outcome. On a third hand, maybe we need distinct terms to capture distinct concepts--law on the books but no intention to enforce v. law on the books with intention to enforce--rather than lumping everything as a zombie.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 25, 2020 at 11:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Declaratory judgment of protected speech

ElDfrdHUcAEQYGkThe Lincoln Project erected these billboards in Times Square, suggesting lack of concern about COVID by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Attorney Marc Kasowitz sent the Lincoln Project a two-paragraph letter stating the billboards are "an outrageous and shameful libel" and that if they "are not immediately removed, we will sue you for what will doubtless be enormous compensatory and punitive damages."

Needless to say, the statements on the billboard are not libelous, regardless of whether they are outrageous or shameful. And it is doubtful that Javanka will recover compensatory and punitive damages, let alone enormous ones. The billboards imply callous disregard for COVID deaths, which is non-actionable opinion. The quotation from Jared comes from a Vanity Fair article about the administration's COVID response. The full statement is that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did not do enough to get PPE, so "his people are going to suffer and that's their problem." It is at least ambiguous whether "their" refers to Cuomo or "his people" (meaning New Yorkers); so even if it leaves a false impression, it does not rise to actual malice. The juxtaposition of their photos with body bags and death tolls is hyperbole. And, again, these are government officials.

Anyway, this letter is no different from the many bumptious letters that President Trump and other Republicans send to their human and bovine critics over plainly protected speech. They often give attorneys a chance to wave the banner of the First Amendment in their responses. But Popehat views these letters as a genuine threat to free speech when in furtherance of "abusively frivolous" defamation claims (which this letter is). So he offers a proposal:  The "'That's Not Defamation' Declaratory Relief Act:"

Under the statute, the Lincoln Project could send a demand to Kasowitz and the Kushners to withdraw the threat. If they don’t withdraw the threat, Lincoln Project can sue under the statute seeking a declaration that the speech is not defamatory. They can bring the equivalent of an anti-SLAPP motion immediately. If they prevail, they get an order that the speech is not defamatory ....AND they get attorney fees collectible from (this is key) either the Kushners or Kasowitz. If the judge finds the threat was frivolous, he or she can impose penalties on top of the fees. Would make legal threats have consequences.

White views attorneys as a big part of the problem. We expect people who believe they have been wronged to be angry and to lash out. We perhaps should expect more restraint from public officials and in the past we got it, but the human reaction is understandable. Attorneys are supposed to understand the law, to recognize the difference between hurt feelings and actionable defamation, and to talk their clients off the ledge, especially from throwing around money and power. An attorney who sends a letter such as this does the opposite; indeed, he exacerbates those money-and-power imbalances.

A declaratory judgment of protectedness is theoretically available under the current Declaratory Judgment Act, but defendants do not avail themselves of the option. Likely because most such letters are empty threats (Donald Trump has yet to sue over 2016 reporting of sexual-assault allegations) and the defendant's prefer avoid litigation, especially because attorney's fees are not recoverable under the current law. White's proposal makes the attorney demand part of the game.

There is an interesting Fed Courts angle to this. Under Skelly Oil, an action seeking a declaration that speech is constitutionally protected/non-defamatory does not arise under federal law, because the underlying enforcement action (a defamation suit) would not arise under federal law. It could only reach federal court on diversity. So if White wants these cases in federal court, the statute should include a jurisdictional grant that does not rely on the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2020 at 12:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, October 23, 2020

Still getting jurisdictionality wrong

An unpublished Ninth Circuit opinion holds the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over a copyright dispute because, as alleged, all infringing acts occurred outside the United States. But this should be a merits rather than jurisdictional issue. That the infringement took place outside the United States means U.S. copyright law was not violated because it does not "reach" or "prohibit" non-U.S. conduct. And the plaintiff's rights under U.S. copyright were not violated. All of which, Morrison v. Australia National Bank tells us, are merits questions to be resolved on 12(b)(6), not jurisdictional questions under 12(b)(1). It is amazing that courts continue to get this wrong. Especially since the court cited Twiqbal and looked only to the allegations in the complaint, which lacked any facts showing U.S.-based conduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 23, 2020 at 08:26 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Breyer as assigning justice

A fun one-off thing to watch for this Term--will  Justice Breyer have an opportunity to assign a majority opinion as senior-most associate justice in the majority? It would take an odd line-up: TheChief and Thomas in dissent and Breyer leading a majority of himself and four of Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Trying to imagine the case that would produce that lineup with the Chief.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 18, 2020 at 08:02 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, October 09, 2020

Ford arguments

Here is the transcript from Wednesday's argument in Ford and here is my SCOTUSBlog story. A few additional thoughts:

The Justices do not seem to understand or recognize that the prevailing analytical approach has 3 parts (at least as it has developed): 1) Purposeful availment; 2) Relatedness; 3) Unreasonableness. A lot of the hypos conflated the three. The Chief's hypo about the small manufacturer in Maine could be resolved on the third prong (much like Justice Breyer's hypos about Egyptian shirts and Brazilian coffee in his Nicastro concurrence). Other hypos were about purposeful availment rather than relatedness. Justice Kavanaugh tried to disaggregate them in his colloquy with plaintiff counsel, giving him a chance to describe the differences between the first two steps and why they do not run together. But I do not know whether it will take. (There is an argument that the three-step approach is wrong and inconsistent with Shoe, but this is where we are until the Court changes it. So it would be helpful if they recognized their analysis).

Justice Kavanaugh explored the World Wide connections with both sides, including quoting specific language from the case. Counsel for Ford argued that the issue is open because Audi and VWA did not challenge jurisdiction. Counsel for plaintiffs argued that there is a reason for that--jurisdiction over a nationwide manufacturer for defects in its products forms the "core" of specific jurisdiction.

I am bad at predictions, so I will not make one. But the Justices were less hostile to the plaintiffs' position than I anticipated. I do not know what that means for the outcome.

On a different note, it was easier writing the argument recap (what I have found the hardest of the three SCOTUSBlog pieces for each case) under the new argument format because it was easier to take notes and to organize the piece--Intro and nine mini colloquies per side, with less need to scour many pages for common themes. Although I was raised in the Scalia-led free-for-all that also is reflected in law-school moot court, this format is growing on me and I am curious if they will maintain some version of this when the Court returns to face-to-face. And if Court membership expands.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 9, 2020 at 01:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Impementing SCOTUS term limits

I missed the introduction of this bill last week, which Eric Segall discusses. It provides for appointments in the first and third year of a presidential term. It also provides that the Senate shall be deemed to have waived its advice-and-consent authority if it does not act on a nomination within 120 days of the appointment and the nominee shall be confirmed. This is cute, designed to prevent the McConnell move of sitting on a nomination, although it does not stop a determined Senate majority of one party from blocking everyone a President of the other party nominates. I have seen other proposals for a statute or Senate rule that failure to confirm within a certain time shall be deemed confirmation.

The bill does not make the Balkin move of giving senior justices specific SCOTUS-related responsibilities. But current Justices are not required to retire from "regular active service," so there are no problems of changing the tenure of sitting Justices. But appointments will begin upon passage, with new appointees serving as active Justices for 18 years. Presumably, the Court will expand until current Justices retire.

But this creates some strange Court dynamics as the new system takes effect. Justice Srinivasan appointed under this law in 2021 would be active until 2039, then forced into senior service. Meanwhile, in 2039, six current Justices (seven if you include Barrett) would be in their early 80s or younger and likely still wanting to remain active. A big chunk of the current Court would form a "core" that might continue for another 30 years, while an "outer" Court changes around them. The demand for incrementalism due to non-retroactivity creates some difficulties.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2020 at 07:05 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Balkin solves the 18-year conundrum

Proponents of 18-year terms with regularized appointments biennial conflict over a procedural problem: Whether it can be done by statute without changing the nature of the position for current justices. Requiring a Justice to assume "senior" status and changing the nature of the job--no longer hearing SCOTUS cases--is arguably inconsistent with the life tenure that came with the original appointment.

Jack Balkin has solved the problem with an expansion of past proposals and his argument in his new book. Under Balkin's proposal, all Justices remain active until they leave the Court. Instead, Congress changes how the Court hears cases. Original-jurisdiction cases are heard en banc and all Justices decide cert. petitions.  But appellate-jurisdiction cases (i.e., all but one or two cases each year) are heard by a panel consisting of the nine junior-most Justices. More-senior Justices fill-in (in reverse seniority) if there is a recusal or vacancy among the 9-Justice panel and can sit on courts of appeals.

There should be no question that this can be done through ordinary legislation, because it does not change the job description. Rather, it changes the responsibilities of each Justice, akin to requiring circuit-riding that dates to the founding, and how the Court hears cases, unquestionably within Congress' power to structure and organize the Court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2020 at 12:31 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Relatedness" in personal jurisdiction--Ford and World Wide Volkswagen

SCOTUS on Wednesday hears arguments in Ford v. Montana Eighth Judicial District and Ford v. Bandemer, considering whether there can be specific jurisdiction over a defendant who sells and ships products into the forum state but not the specific unit involved in the events at issue. The Court must decide whether "give rise or relate to" reflects one concept or whether "relate to" is a distinct and broader concept and how much broader. I am covering the case for SCOTUSBlog. Larry Solum offers some thoughts.

This case is the spiritual successor to World Wide Volkswagen, answering questions that were unnecessary 40 years ago and reflecting recent doctrinal shifts. Audi and Volkswagen of America did not challenge personal jurisdiction, recognizing that they were subject to jurisdiction based on the large number of cars that they sold, marketed, serviced, and shipped to the state, although they did not sell or ship the Robinson's car to Oklahoma (they shipped that to NY). Whether this was general "doing business" jurisdiction or some broader conception of specific jurisdiction was unresolved, although it was the topic of academic debate between Mary Twitchell and Lea Brilmayer.

The Court's recent decisions (several authored by Justice Ginsburg) narrowing general jurisdiction to "home" (meaning principal place of business and state of incorporation for corporations) changes the calculus for Ford, which stands in the same position as Audi and VWA. There is no general jurisdiction, because Ford is not incorporated or headquartered in Montana or Minnesota, just as Audi and VWA were not incorporated or headquartered in Oklahoma. So this squarely presents how far (or not far) relatedness extends, including whether it reaches cases in which the defendant has contacts with the forum that are "identical" or "similar to" the out-of-state contacts that caused the accident.

This could be the most significant of the recent wave of P/J cases. If the Court narrows the relatedness standard and finds no specific jurisdiction, it could make it difficult for plaintiffs to sue manufacturers in the locus of the accident, which usually is the plaintiff's home. Instead, often-less-resourced plaintiffs will have to travel to the better-resourced defendant's home (having to sue Ford in Michigan) or to some third state where the defendant did have contacts (such as where Ford manufactured or made first sale of the car at issue). Either is less convenient and more burdensome for the plaintiff. Waiting to hear arguments, but I expect the Court to be more divided on this case than in most of the other recent PJ cases.

Finally, on a teaching point. I use World Wide to show the intersection between subject matter and personal jurisdiction and the strategic choices that parties must make. Depending on the outcome in Ford, everything about WW would be different if the case arose now.

The Robinsons sued Audi, VWA, World Wide (the regional distributor), and Seaway (the dealer) in Oklahoma state court in 1975. Audi and VWA recognized they were stuck in Oklahoma, but wanted to be in federal court. WW and Seaway, both from New York, destroyed complete diversity because the Robinsons were from New York (the accident in Oklahoma prevented them from reaching Arizona and establishing the new residence so as to change their domiciles). So Audi and VWA financed WW and Seaway to challenge personal jurisdiction through the OK courts and to SCOTUS. Following the SCOTUS decision and the dismissal of WW and Seaway in 1980, Audi and VWA removed. But that strategy is unavailable under current law. In 1988, Congress amended what is now § 1446(c)(1) to prohibit renoving later-becomes-removeablae diversity cases more than one year after filling. So Audi and VWA now gain nothing from financing WW and Seaway to get out of the case. Given the cost of litigation, would WW and Seaway thus decline to challenge personal jurisdiction, litigate in Oklahoma, and hope to shift the blame onto the manufacturers?

On the other hand, if the Court rejects jurisdiction in Ford, Audi and VWA would have a different strategy--join WW and Seaway in getting the case dismissed from Oklahoma.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2020 at 09:55 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Bad legal reporting yields bad legal takes

Over the weekend, media outlets reported that a federal judge had removed or ousted William Pendley Perry as acting director or as person functioning as director of BLM. This prompted ALittleRebellion to make Bad Legal Takes for insisting that "no judge has the power to remove any executive appointee." In fairness, he may have made it more for further insisting that Perry "must ignore any such diktats," a screed about constitutional determinations under Article V, and a later insistence that "advice and consent" does not mean approval, just informal consultation.

But this tweeter's basic point--judges cannot remove executive appointees--is correct. Fortunately, the judge did not remove an executive appointee. The court declared that Perry was serving in the role in violation of federal law, enjoined him from continuing to act in that capacity because any conduct in the office is unlawful, and asked the parties to identify actions that may be invalid because enacted by someone unlawfully serving a role. All of which is what judges have the power to do and are expected to do in resoling cases and controversies. The problem--that long predates the rise of Twitter Law--is that much of the mainstream media does an awful job of covering courts and judicial processes, resulting in in fundamentally inaccurate reporting and information such as this. Which the uninformed of Twitter Law can run with as proof of an out-of-control judiciary with power-abusing judges who must be stopped.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 29, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Proving anti-Jewish discrimination

Eugene Volokh unearths a 10-year-old S.D.N.Y. decision in an action alleging co-workers in a government job referred to him as a "dumb Jew" or "fucking Jew."

Eugene focuses on one defense--that the plaintiff was not Jewish because his mother was not Jewish, he had not converted, and he was not practicing. The court rejected the argument, deeming it not the court's place to define who is Jewish and finding it sufficient that the plaintiff defined himself as being of Jewish "heritage," even if not practicing. One of Eugene's commentators nominates this as the new definition of chutzpah--calling someone a "fucking Jew," then arguing that he is not Jewish.

The rest of the decision is interesting apart from the chutzpah. The court denied summary judgment on a Title VII claim against the city. But the court dismissed a § 1981 claim, because the plaintiff alleged religious rather than racial discrimination. This seems like a pleading error. Courts will treat Judaism as more than a religion for § 1981 purposes. And that would have been an appropriate approach in this case, where the plaintiff did not practice Judaism and focused more on his "heritage" than his religion.

The court  granted summary judgment on claims against several harassing co-workers. Although there was evidence the co-workers had created a hostile religious environment, they were not state actors because they were not his supervisors. This is incoherent. The under-color question should be whether the defendant used his official position to engage in unconstitutional conduct and whether that position made the unconstitutional conduct possible. That should be satisfied here--the unconstitutional conduct is the religiously motivated harassment and they could engage in that harassment only because of their official positions in government. Harassment does not require a supervisory relationship, so it should be irrelevant to the under-color/state-action analysis.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2020 at 01:36 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Segall Court and a stopping point to Court-packing

As I was completing my prior post on the time passing for Eric Segall's eight-person partisan-divide Court, I thought of a way to save that plan and to put a check on infinite tit-for-tat Court expansion through mutual disarmament: Expand the Court to twelve with three Democratic appointees, then run the Segall plan with a 6-6 partisan divide.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2020 at 11:28 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Implementing the Carrington Plan (Updated)

With the prospect of attempted court-packing looming in the event of a President Biden and Democratic Senate, thoughts turn to alternatives involving 18-year terms and regularized appointments. The Carrington Plan, introduced in 2009, would achieve this by statute through the creation of the position of "senior justice," a Court of more than nine, but cases heard by a panel of the nine junior-most members.

The benefit of the Carrington Plan is that it could be done by statute. The 2009 version contained a sunrise provision, taking effect only with the first vacancy after passage and allowing current members to serve until death or retirement. This was to avoid constitutional objections to Congress violating Article III by changing the nature of the Justice's position--after 18 years, although still an Associate Justice, the person does not adjudicate cases. I was not, and am not, convinced by the constitutional arguments. If Congress can strip the Court of some (if not all) of its appellate jurisdiction, it can strip individual Justices of their role in exercising that jurisdiction. It is complicated and uncertain, but the constitutional problem is not obvious.

But the sunrise may be necessary to make it work across a full Court, because a President cannot make a regular biennial appointment if the junior-most Justice has not reached 18 years.

This was not the case in 2009, when Carrington and others presented the plan to Congress. Five Justices already had served 18 years and two more were close.Had it been implemented then, the Court could have turned over under the plan within 16 years: 2009 (Stevens), 2011 (Scalia), 2013 (Kennedy), 2015 (Souter*), 2017 (Thomas), 2019 (Ginsburg), 2021 (Breyer), 2023 (Roberts--who would have reached 18 years), 2025 (Alito, who gets a couple extra years on the Court). By 2025, we have an entirely new primary Court.

[*] Or Souter retires, as he did, in 2009 and everyone gets pushed back two years.

But the current Court structure prevents that clean implementation. In 2021, two Justices are beyond 18 years and four are close; those six would be replaced by 2031. But then it runs out. In 2033, the time for the next appointment, Gorsuch will have been on the Court for 16 years, two years short of the end of his term as active justice.

It would be unfortunate if the time for the best plan has passed, much as the time for Eric Segall's eight-person partisan-split Court passed in 2017.

Updated: Steven Calabresi (Northwestern) argues in The Times for a constitutional amendment and offers a solution to this problem: The eight current Justices would draw lots for the order in which their terms would end beginning in 2023, meaning some Justices may serve fewer than 18 years (e.g., if Kavanaugh drew short straw in 2023, he would serve five years). We could modify Calabresi's proposal and retain basic equity by going in reverse order through Alito Kagan, then drawing lots among Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett in 2033. This ensures everyone serves at least 15 years, which Calabresi argues is longer than the term on other constitutional courts.

Also, note this feature of Calabresi's proposal--he is not messing around:

Failure to confirm a justice by July 1 of a president’s first or third year should lead to a salary and benefits freeze for the president and all 100 senators, and they should be confined together until a nominee has been approved. The vice president would act as president during this time and the Senate would be forbidden from taking action whatsoever on any of its calendars.

By the way, with all of this in the news, I must rethink the order of my Fed Courts class for next semester. I save jurisdiction-stripping and the issues of congressional control over the Court, including proposals for term limits and other restructuring, for last--they are highly theoretical topics that my students are better able to handle at the end of the course. The problem is that I have not gotten to this the last couple of years. But the life tenure and term limits stuff now is too central to the political discussion. I may put SCOTUS structure, including term limits, up front (the class begins with SCOTUS jurisdiction), even if jurisdiction stripping and similar issues remain at the end.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2020 at 11:22 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 21, 2020

Remembering Justices

Jack Balkin describes what Sandy Levinson and he call the "biography rule," dividing Justices between those whose primary achievement and notoriety derives from their service on the Court and those who would have had biographies written about them had they never served on the Court. Balkin places Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the second category, based on her advocacy for women's rights.

I wonder if we can sub-divide that second category: Whether their greater legacy is from their service on the Court or from their great pre-Court achievements. I think Taft is in the latter box, at least for non-lawyers; more lay people know he was President of the United States than know he was Chief Justice, even if he was better in the latter than the former role. I think Black and Warren go in the former box; Warren had a greater effect as Chief Justice than as Governor of California or unsuccessful VP candidate, Black a greater effect as a Justice than as a Senator.

What of Ginsburg? Balkin highlighted her opinion for the Court in U.S. v. Virginia and her dissent in Shelby County. She earned a reputation as a "great dissenter" (following in the footsteps of Holmes and Brennan), especially after Stevens left the Court in 2010 and she became the senior-most Justice in dissent. I would add her jurisdictionality opinions (she wrote numerous opinions narrowing the class of rules regarded as jurisdictional) and her opinions on personal jurisdiction (she wrote the opinions adopting and reifying the "essentially at home" standard for general jurisdiction).

The obvious comparator for Ginsburg is Thurgood Marshall. Both established significant equal protection law as litigators and their careers on the Court were similar (RBG served three years longer). But the prevailing view (rightly or wrongly) is that Marshall affected the law more as a litigator than as a member of the Court (putting aside the significance of being the first African American Justice) and authored relatively few canonical opinions that are remembered as "Marshall opinions." I expect that Ginsburg will be remembered more for her work as a Justice, if for no other reason than because a segment of pop culture adopted her in that role in a different cultural environment than Marshall worked. But time will tell.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 21, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

New Courts (Updated)

It is said that the change of one Justice changes "the Court." Not at the the obvious macro level of partisan/ideological divides and case outcomes, but in small and incalculable ways involving positions and interactions among Justices. The Court in October 2017 was going to be different that the Court in January 2016, whether Merrick Garland or Neil Gorsuch was junior-most Justice, even if case outcomes look more similar with Gorsuch than they would have with Garland.

On that metric, we are about to get our fifth and sixth different Courts since October Term 2015: A nine-Justice Court with Scalia until February 2016; an eight-Justice Court until April 2017; a nine-Justice Court with Gorsuch until October 2018; a nine-Justice Court with Kavanaugh until two days ago; an eight-Justice Court until someone (I continue to believe Amy Coney Barrett) is confirmed (I presume this will not happen by October 5, but I put nothing past Mitch McConnell); and a nine-Justice Court with Barrett (or whomever). And I am will make a weak prediction that Breyer retires by summer 2022 if Biden wins and the Democrats retake the Senate--making it seven Courts over about eight terms.

Which makes the period from 1994, when Breyer joined the Court, to 2005, when Roberts became Chief, unique. There was one Court for 11 years and one month, the second-longest-serving Court. The longest is an 11 1/2-year gap between the appointment of Justice Duvall in 1812 and the appointment of Justice Story in 1823--another universe in terms of the Court's prestige and power and the attention paid to it. Otherwise, there have been mulitple five-ish-year Courts throughout history, including one between Kagan's appointment and Scalia's death. I wonder if we will see this kind of stability any time soon.

I also wonder whether the recentness of this anomaly influences some of the new opposition to life tenure. Despite more individual Justices serving ever-longer terms and increasing life expectancies, there still is (sometimes rapid) turnover within the Court. Barrett is 48 and Barbara Lagoa, the other leading candidate, is 52. But even adding either to Kavanaugh and Gorsuch (both 55 or younger) and a hyp0thetical young Biden appointee, it leaves two Justices in their 70s and two over 65. It seems unlikely that we will see another decade-long Court.

The arguments against life tenure shift from longer-lasting Courts to the randomness of timing and who makes appointments. It seems insane that Donald Trump will make more appointments in one term as Obama, Bush II, and Clinton each made in two terms.* The real benefit of the Carrington Plan for 18-year terms is regulating the appointments process--every President gets the same number of appointments in the same time served and on the same regular schedule.* On the other hand, the notion of a "new" Court every two years supports critics of the plan, who worry about the instability the system would create. Of course, we have been getting a version of that system, accidentally and with the attendant political collisions and overreactions, for six years.

[*] Even FDR is prey to this temporal randomness. We accept that it makes sense that FDR appointed 8 Justices, since he was President for 12 years. But note the timing. He made zero appointments in his first term (during a 5+-year Court between the appointments of Cardozo and Black), five appointments in his second, and three in his third. Had FDR been a one-termer, he would have had the same effect on the Court as Jimmy Carter. Had he not violated the two-term norm (or had the 22d Amendment been in place in 1940), he still would have appointed the majority of the Court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 20, 2020 at 01:12 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, September 04, 2020

Getting qualified immunity wrong

This letter, from the lobbyist from the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs to an Oregon legislative committee considering a host of police-reform bills. Benefit of the doubt: The author (according to his LinkedIn page) is not an attorney and he might be talking about some state tort qualified immunity doctrine  rather than § 1983 federal qualified immunity. But presuming he is talking about § 1983, this is not good.

The letter says:

• "Qualified immunity is a legal principle that applies not only to law enforcement officers, but all public employees and officials" (emphasis in original): The only legally accurate statement in here.

• "It states that a public official cannot be sued . . . so long as those actions occur legally within the scope of the public employee's official duties. Qualified immunity is never a shield for illegal activity. It is not applicable if a public employee is acting outside the scope of their responsibilities." (emphasis in original). This is so wrong, which is why I was unsure whether he was talking about a state tort defense as opposed to § 1983. But as an explanation of § 1983, it conflates "under color of law" with immunity. A public official acts under color, and subject to liability, when performing his public job responsibilities; whether immunity applies is a second and distinct question. And the argument ignores the mounting cases in which courts find that an officer, under color of law, did something unlawful (e.g., making a prisoner sit in feces for four hours or stealing property in executing a warrant) but is not liable because no prior officer did the precise thing in the precise manner within that federal circuit.

• "The purpose of Qualified Immunity is to ensure that litigation does not completely place a public employee at the mercy of litigious counterparties." Sort of. It does not protect those employees just because. It protects them so that they will do a better job of policing when they can exercise judgment free from the fear of litigation. But when the result of a doctrine is that some (many?) officers acting as if they are unchecked, that doctrine may not be serving its intended purpose.

• I will not quote the whole thing, but the letter argues that qualified immunity also protects legislators. who are "uniquely and powerfully positioned to broadly deprive individuals of their rights." Again assuming he is talking about immunity from federal suit, he is wrong in the opposite direction. Legislators enjoy absolute immunity for their votes and legislative actions. But that distinction is based on the fact that individual legislators are less able to harm someone, there are political and electoral checks, and any violation is caused by the enforcement of legislation, remedied by a suit against the enforcing executive (who, of course, can claim qualified immunity). Executive immunity is (and should be) more limited than legislative immunity because executives interact with the public and can act individually to violate rights. Oh, and they can shoot people.

Again, if he is attempting to talk about state tort immunity, ignore the above--I know nothing about Colorado law so I do not know if what he says is correct. But if he is attempting to talk about federal claims under § 1983 or if he confused the two, this is a poor piece of advocacy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 4, 2020 at 01:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Universality, facial invalidity, and the First Amendment

I am a couple of days late to this Third Circuit decision declaring invalid as-applied, but not facially, the age-verification, labeling, and record-keeping requirements of the Child Online Protection Act. But the court reversed on scope-of-injunction, limiting the bar on enforcement to the named plaintiffs.

Two bits of good news. The court dropped a footnote that "nationwide" is the imprecise term, citing Justice Thomas' Trump v. Hawaii concurrence that the problem is not geographic scope but "universal character." And the court ended in the right place--with an injunction particularized to the individual plaintiffs.

The bad news is how it got there. These plaintiffs--journalists, commercial photographers, and producers of sex-education materials--were niche actors and different from typical players in the pornography industry. Given their unique facts and positions, the remedy protecting them should not protect differently situated actors. But that should not matter. Even if non-party pornographers were similarly situated to the plaintiffs, absent class certification, the injunction should not protect beyond the plaintiffs; it is unnecessary to accord complete relief or to remedy the violation of those plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

One point of confusion is that two associations--the Free Speech Coalition and the American Society for Media Photographers--were plaintiffs in the case, although their claims were dismissed for lack of associational standing. An injunction protecting an associational plaintiff can become broader, as in protecting the association it must protect its members (Michael Morley describes this as a de facto class action). But this injunction never protected the associations, who lacked standing. But that proves the point. There is no reason to consider the organizations' standing if the injunction protects them at the end of the day. Particularity in the injunction is more consistent with the other rules of civil litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2020 at 03:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Separation of powers, separation of parties, and subpoena enforcement

Following on Monday's post about the D.C. Circuit holding the House lacked a cause of action to enforce a subpoena: I mentioned that Congress could fix this by enacting a statute creating a right to sue. But that effort would offer an interesting test of the Levinson & Pildes "separation of parties, not separation of powers" thesis.

The President would likely veto any such bill. He will not want to subject himself and the executive branch to subpoena-enforcement actions. And he will want to retain control over subpoena enforcement actions, through DOJ.

The question then becomes whether Congress will override that veto. A legislature committed to separation of powers--and the Madisonian conception of ambition counteracting ambition--would override the veto, asserting its institutional prerogatives against executive recalcitrance. But Congress has been interested in checking the executive only when he is from the opposing party. So the question is whether sufficient Republicans in both houses would override a Trump veto or sufficient Democrats in both houses would override a Biden veto. And the answer to that is not clear. Perhaps each party will play a long game--"override my co-partisan President now so the power exists when the opposing party is in the White House." But the answer is not clear.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 1, 2020 at 09:22 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 31, 2020

D.C. Circuit has a busy day

As has been widely discussed, today is Judge Griffith's last day on the court, so it wanted to get some things out.

First, the en banc court in an 8-2 per curiam denied Sullivan's Michael Flynn's petition for writ of mandamus, concluding that Flynn had an adequate alternative remedy via district court proceedings on the motion (which may result in dismissal) or appeal or further mandamus of any district court decision. The court also declined to order the case reassigned to another district judge. Griffith wrote a short concurrence, emphasizing the purely legal (rather than political) nature of the dispute in the case.

Second, Griffith wrote for a 2-1 panel that the House (held by the en banc court to have standing to sue to enforce a subpoena against Don McGahn) could not sue to enforce because it lacked a cause of action to sue. Neither Article I (the source of the right to subpoena information), equity, nor the Declaratory Judgment Act provides an existing cause of action. Congress can fix the problem by enacting a statute creating a right to sue. This confirms why, as I wrote following the en banc decision, standing is such a colossal waste of time. It also reflects a D.C. Circuit (and perhaps Supreme Court) that seems determined to push the House to start fining and jailing witnesses who refuse to comply with subpoenas by cutting-off the civil-suit alternative. Like its predecessor, it may not withstand en banc review.

Judges Rogers dissented, arguing that Art. I and the DJA provide a right to sue. She continues to argue there is jurisdiction over the action under § 1331, a point the majority found unnecessary to address. McGahn argued there was no jurisdiction over an action by the House because no statute grants that jurisdiction, while  § 1365 grants jurisdiction over actions by the Senate. The implication is that § 1365 provides the sole basis for jurisdiction in actions by the Senate, superseding § 1331. And since there is no House counterpart to § 1365, the House cannot rely on § 1331. But this ignores the plain text of § 1331, which gives jurisdiction over anything that arises under, without Congress having to do more. As Rogers pointed out, § 1365 was enacted when § 1331 had an amount-in-controversy requirement, so a separate statute was necessary to give jurisdiction over all possible actions. Many separate jurisdiction grants were enacted for similar reasons. But since Congress eliminated the AIC requirement in 1980, none has been read as anything more than vestigial and certainly not as precluding § 1331.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 31, 2020 at 03:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Palin lawsuit against New York Times continues

Sarah Palin sued The Times over an editorial describing a link between the shooting of Gabby Giffords and Palin's PAC's publishing a map featuring gun sights "targeting" Democratic districts. The case has a convoluted procedural history. The district court held an evidentiary hearing on a 12(b)(6) motion seeking information to aid the plausibility analysis, then granted a 12(b)(6); the Second Circuit held that the evidentiary hearing was improper, then reversed the order granting the 12(b)(6).

The district court on Friday denied summary judgment to both parties. Palin had moved, arguing that stare decisis on constitutional issues is less rigid and that actual malice should not apply in the changed factual and media circumstances of the 55 years since New York Times. The court made quick work of rejecting that argument, explaining the difference between horizontal and vertical stare decisis and dropping the cute line that "binding precedent . . . does not come with an expiration date."*

[*] Usually.

The court denied the defendants' motion. It concluded that a reasonable jury could find the editor (and thus the paper) acted with actual malice as to alternative, defamatory meanings of the words in the editorial and actual malice as to the falsity of that alternative meaning. This is an unusually (although arguably appropriately) forgiving view of actual malice. The court sounds at several points as if it believes the evidence favors the defendants and does not believe (by clear-and-convincing evidence) they acted with actual malice. But the court is conscious that the weighing of evidence is not appropriate for summary judgment and must be the subject of a trial.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 29, 2020 at 02:41 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2020

3d Circuit reveals division on union clawbacks

After Janus v. AFSCME declared invalid union agency-fee statutes as violative of the First Amendment , the next question became whether the non-members could clawback frees from within the past 2-3 years (within the statute of limitations). The Seventh, Second, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits said no and without dissent, relying on some form of good-faith defense to § 1983--because the unions believed the fees permissible under state law and judicial precedent.

The Third Circuit joined the chorus in an action against the Pennsylvania Teacher's Union, but  revealed the first deep divides. Judge Rendell adopted the prevailing view of a good-faith defense, along with principles of equity and fairness, to preclude liability where a private actor relied on prevailing law. Judge Fisher concurred in the judgment, relying on a historic principle that that judicial decisions declaring laws invalid or overruling precedent did not generate retroactive civil liability. And Judge Phipps dissented, arguing that neither defense existed at common law, so the actions to recover past fees should proceed.

Curious to see if this issue makes its way to SCOTUS before the Court fully pursues qualified immunity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 28, 2020 at 05:25 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Nomenclature and judicial review (Updated)

The erroneous nomenclature that courts use in describing constitutional review contributes to common misunderstanding. Case in point: The Fourth Circuit decision affirming the convictions of two white-supremacist Charlottesville protesters under the Federal Anti-Riot Act, while declaring invalid certain portions of the statute as inconsistent with Brandenburg. The court talks about "invalidating" the statute, while commentators speak of the court "striking down" or "throwing out" the law, in whole or in part.

But the court did not do anything to the statute or those provisions of the statute--they remain on the books and they remain part of federal law, not erased or thrown out.

A more accurate description of what happens also would be cleaner: The court held that those provisions could not be enforced against these plaintiffs because doing so would violate their First Amendment rights, then affirmed the convictions because their conduct violated other provisions that could be enforced consistent with the First Amendment. The same is true of discussions of severability. The court does not sever some provisions from others--eliminating some and keeping others--because the entire thing remains on the books. I suppose what we call severability could be a way of asking whether the court can enforce some provisions and not others or whether the Constitution prohibits enforcement of all the language in the statute. Or it could be framed as Henry Monaghan described overbreadth--the presence of some constitutional defects means the statute cannot be applied, because there is a right to be convicted only under a constitutionally valid statute.

Either way, it would be cleaner to think about courts applying or not applying some provisions, rather than courts erasing them from existence.

Update: Zachary Clopton (Northwestern) reminds me that my discussion sounds in the debate between Justices Kavanaugh and Thomas described in a footnote in AAPC, which I wrote about after the decision and which Zach wrote about in Yale J. Reg. I think Thomas would agree with the approach I describe. Kavanaugh is correct in AAPC that future enforcement of the invalid provisions will be barred, at least in the Fourth Circuit, as a matter of precedent.

On further thought, this cases illustrates why injunctions should be particularized and why precedent does the real work. The constitutional issue arose in a government-initiated enforcement action--a criminal prosecution against these individuals, who then attempted to defeat enforcement by arguing that the law is invalid and thus cannot be enforced against their conduct. No one believes that the judgment in this case applies to anyone other than the defendants or that the government violates the judgment if it attempts to enforce the "invalid" provisions against someone else; in fact, the only thing the judgment does here is affirm their convictions. The prospective non-party effects of this decision come from the opinion, operating through precedent and stare decisis to require any court within the Fourth Circuit to dismiss a future attempt to enforce those provisions. So I return to my argument that a pre-enforcement injunction anticipates the enforcement judgment--and if the latter is limited to the parties, so is the former.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 25, 2020 at 03:55 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Standing for nothing

I agree with the majority of the en banc D.C. Circuit that the House has standing to enforce its subpoena against former W.H. counsel Don McGahn.

But it reaffirms how little sense standing makes as a threshold Article III inquiry. As Marty Lederman notes, more important questions remain about whether the House has a cause of action, whether there is testimonial immunity, and other executive-privilege objections to the subpoenas. But we now have spent 17 months fighting over this issue and are no closer to a resolution before January 3, when Congress ends, the subpoena expires, and the whole mess becomes moot.

Worse, some of the arguments and disagreement between majority and dissent conflate standing and merits, a common and unavoidable problem. For example, McGahn and Judge Griffith's dissent argue that the House lacks standing because the case raises separation of powers problems and separation of powers underlies standing (sort of). But those stand-alone S/P concerns go to the merits of the case--to whether the subpoena or something sought through the subpoena is valid or whether the executive/legislative balance protects against some disclosures. The result is an attempt at double-counting: Using the possible failure of the House subpoena on its merits with what is supposed to be, but is not, a distinct question.

The court also splits on questions of legislative/executive cooperation and bargaining and perverse incentives that arose in Mazars. The majority argued that without judicial enforcement, the executive would have no reason to bargain, because the House would have no alternative means to ensure compliance (the executive may not pursue contempt against itself and inherent contempt authority has fallen into disuse). The dissent argues that the House will run to the courts rather than negotiate (this is the same argument the Chief Justice used in Mazars).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 7, 2020 at 02:54 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Anti-SLAPP fee-shifting in federal court

I have argued in prior posts that the solution to SLAPP suits is not the  heightened standards from state laws (which cannot apply in federal court) but attorney fee-shifting. The paradox has been that most fee-shifting provisions apply to actions disposed of under the statutory standard, but not under a different standard. Thus, if the state statutory standard does not apply and the case is resolved on a simple 12(b)(6), the fee-shift does not apply.

But not so with the Florida anti-SLAPP law, according to Judge Martinez of the Southern District of Florida. Florida law provides for fees for any action that is "without merit" and based on constitutionally protected speech. The determination that the action is without merit can be made under any procedural device, such as 12(b)(6) (as in this case). In other words, the statute is a garden-variety fee-shifting provision serving substantive policy ends, the same as other fee-shifting provisions held to apply in federal diversity actions. So an action dismissed on a 12(b)(6) can provide the basis for an award of fees.

This is unique to Florida's anti-SLAPP statute. But it produces a conclusion that balances the requirements of the REA/Erie/Hanna against First Amendment interests.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 6, 2020 at 03:38 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Judge Reeves on qualified immunity

An opinion to behold from Judge Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi. (H/T: Michael Masinter). the 72-pager includes a lengthy history of § 1983 from passage in 1871 to the creation of qualified immunity; it calls out racial bias in policing and in society at large (especially in Mississippi) to explain why a search was not consensual. It calls out appellate judges for creatively interpreting Reconstruction statutes to protect older white men while failing to protect African-Americans against government misconduct. It calls directly and explicitly on the Supreme Court to do something (while admitting to not knowing what that should be). And it uses a cute three-point Star Wars allusion to organize the opinion ("§ 1983: A New Hope;" "Qualified Immunity: The Empire Strikes Back;" and "The Return of § 1983"). All while granting the officer qualified immunity for an egregious Fourth Amendment violation (traffic stop and lengthy search with no cause to be found) because he has no choice under current law.

For those who believe in such a thing (I don't), is this judicial activism? Does the judge's role, especially a lower-court judge, include railing against the state of the law, its horrific incorrectness, and its negative effects, especially in such sharp terms? Judge Reeves "applied the law rather than making the law," so he behaved consistent with that typical definition. An opinion is an essay having no direct force or effect. But should judges use these essays for such a cri de coeur?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 5, 2020 at 03:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (21)

Monday, August 03, 2020

Competing views on the Biskupic articles

Josh Blackman sees this as a threat to the institution that the Chief must repair (through some actions that I am not sure the Chief, as "first among equals," can do) or resign. Dan Epps argues that more transparency is a good thing. Take your pick or land somewhere in the middle.

I will share and concur in a comment from the Conaw List Serv that the Biskupic stories were interesting, but not earth-shattering--some of it could have been gleaned from the opinions themselves or from what we already knew about the Court's operations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 3, 2020 at 12:40 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Judicial departmentalism and particularity on Twitter (Updated)

In 2019, the Second Circuit held that Donald Trump could not ban people from following him on Twitter for viewpoint-discriminatory reasons, affirming a declaratory judgment. Trump and Daniel Scavino, the aide who runs his Twitter account, unblocked the plaintiffs and many others. But they did not unblock two groups--those who had been blocked before Trump became President (where there was no First Amendment problem with blocking them because he was not a government official at the time of blocking) and those who cannot point to a specific tweet that caused them to be blocked (where there is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination).

The Knight Foundation on Friday filed a new lawsuit on behalf of those two groups, asking for a declaratory judgment and injunction ordering the unblocking of these new plaintiffs.

Once again, inefficient but appropriate. Trump unblocked the plaintiffs, as we was obligated to do by the judgment. He negotiated with the Knight Foundation to unblock others, not out of an immediately enforceable legal obligation but a recognition of what would happen if he did not unblock--a motion to extend the existing judgment to additional individuals, which would succeed and which would impose that legal obligation. But he identified two groups differently situated than the plaintiffs who, in Trump's view, have not suffered similar violations of their First Amendment rights. This requires new litigation, a new analysis of the First Amendment, and a new declaration of First Amendment rights, duties, and relations.

Update: A further thought on the process: We know the plaintiffs recognized the particularized scope of the original judgment by the fact that they filed a new lawsuit on behalf of these plaintiffs. Had the original judgment protected these non-parties to that action, they could have moved to enforce the judgment, to hold Trump or Scavino in contempt, or to convert the declaratory judgment into an injunction.

For better or worse, this how the process should work. And Trump should not be accused of disobeying a court order or otherwise ignoring the court.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 1, 2020 at 06:41 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Biskupic, Part IV

All about the Chief cobbling together the largest possible majority in the subpoena cases. They were a contested 5-4 after conference, with Roberts assigning himself the opinion but no guarantee which of G/B/S/K would join his opinion and Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the other side.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 30, 2020 at 05:21 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Biskupic, Part III

Focuses on Justice Kavanaugh in June Medical, in which he tried to get people to go along with a remand for more fact-finding, and the subpoena cases, in which he raises the political-question issue. It also describes his efforts to adopt a softer tone towards the parties he rules against, such as DREAMERS or "gritty" LGTBQ individuals.

I think the spin on his moves in June is a bit disingenuous. Remanding for factfinding in these cases is often a delay tactic, a way to decide without deciding, when the trial court's fact-finding is clear and a remand serves no real purpose other than allowing the Justices to keep their hands clear (and make life less difficult for Susan Collins). The remand proposal recalls his dissent on the D.C. Circuit in the pregnant-unaccompanied-minors case, in which he called for giving the government more time to find a sponsor, as the 20-week state-law clock ran down.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 29, 2020 at 04:56 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Biskupic, Part II

Here. The focus is on Bostock and its internal deliberations. The reveals include that the 6-3 breakdown was clear from the beginning (so Roberts, not Ginsburg, assigned the opinion to Gorsuch; that Kagan joined Gorsuch's draft immediately and Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor followed soon after; and that Alito was angry. There also was a leak in November about how conference had gone, which prompted some op-eds directed to moving Gorsuch away from Kagan.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 28, 2020 at 02:14 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Biskupic on the internal workings of the Roberts Court

At CNN, Joan Biskupic has the first of a series of pieces on the internal workings of the Court and the Chief's place in control, both as the Court's median vote--allowing him to piss off or appease both sides--and as the one who runs proceedings. Tidbits in the piece include: Roberts not providing an obvious fifth vote with the conservative wing on the Second Amendment; Roberts agreeing that DACA rescission was procedurally unlawful from the outside, while refusing to find any equal protection problems (thus losing Sotomayor from a complete majority); some negotiations with the liberal wing over the COVID-voting petitions; and pushing through the remote-argument process (including resisting the push from some to do it by Zoom). She also reports that Roberts began in the dissent in the Georgia copyright case, with Thomas assigning the original opinion and someone (she does not say who) switching during the drafting process.

I hope the coverage describing Roberts as the "swing" vote does not conflate that with him being a "moderate" or ideologically varied--he is not White, Powell, or O'Connor.

And a question: When was the last time the Chief was also the median Justice whose position defined the winner in most 5-4 decisions? Maybe Hughes, but Owen Roberts often moved with him.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 27, 2020 at 03:44 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Lawyers and judicial departmentalism

One thing keeping judicial departmentalism from diverging too far from judicial supremacy is DOJ and the role of government attorneys in the judicial process. Obligations to respect judicial authority, of candor to the court, and of being the government face in court compel attorneys to comply with judicial processes and not yield to the lesser impulses of the executive (which does not have a similar legal or ethical obligation of candor).

Yesterday's letter from the US attorney for SDNY to Judge Furman offers an example.

The attorneys acknowledged and apologized for inaccurate and misleading statements in the litigation (over New York's exclusion from the Trusted Traveler Program), which supported the (erroneous) litigation position that the AUSA was required to take on behalf of DHS. Irina Manta simplifies it. DHS made false statements in furtherance of its policy positions (restricting immigration), which it can do. But its power runs out when things enter court. DOJ attorneys serve as the go-between, the persons and institutions who must counsel the executive to change conduct when confronted with the judicial process. And they do that because they bear the brunt of the judicial wrath when the executive pulls stunts such as this.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2020 at 09:30 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-SLAPP law does not apply in Second Circuit

The Second Circuit has joined the chorus holding that state anti-SLAPP laws (in that case, California's) do not apply in federal court. The case arises out of a lawsuit against Joy Reid over two tweets with a photo of a woman in a MAGA hat interacting with a Latinx teen at a city council meeting; one tweet described the plaintiff as shouting epithets at the teen (who said their interaction was civil), while the other juxtaposed the infamous 1957 photograph of the screaming white teen in Little Rock.

The Second Circuit joins the Fifth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits in not applying them, compared with the Ninth and First that. The court followed the prevailing approach--FRCP 12 and 56 provide the standards for pre-trial resolution, leaving no room for state law. The court rejected the amici argument that the SLAPP law serves a "distinct function of protecting those specific defendants that have been targeted with litigation on the basis of their protected speech," supplementing rather than conflicting with the FRCP. But this is a policy argument, one that contradicts the policies underlying the FRCP themselves. The court also rejected the defendant's argument that she can recover attorney's fees under the statute for a 12(b)(6) dismissal; the statute allows fees when the defendant prevails on the statutory motion to strike, not on some other basis.

Tellingly, the four most recent cases have gone this way, while the First Circuit decision is from 2010 and the seminal Ninth Circuit cases is from 1999, with several Ninth Circuit judges calling for its reconsideration in 2013. The courts of appeals are congealing around the correct Erie answer and may not require SCOTUS resolution, one point of percolation.

But that might not be the correct answer as a matter of the First Amendment and the need to protect speakers, especially media, against frivolous lawsuits by powerful individuals designed to chill public criticism. (Query whether this is such a case, but bracket that for a moment). Many First Amendment advocates want a full federal anti-SLAPP statute. For the moment, I think a fee-shifting statute, combined with vigorous use of Twiqbal would be sufficient to get rid of cases early in the process and to protect defendants from the intentional imposition of litigation costs. But I need to look in greater detail at how federal courts have looked at defamation claims under that pleading standard.

SLAPP and Erie aside, this case may be more troubling for Reid going forward. The court held that the plaintiff (who spoke and was photographed at city council meetings advocating against sanctuary-city laws) was not a limited-purpose public figure; she lacked media access, did not thrust herself into a public controversy, and stepped forward for interviews only after the first alleged defamation. Thus, the plaintiff had to allege negligence, not actual malice. The court also rejected Reid's argument that the second tweet (juxtaposing the photos) was not an actionable assertion of fact, because a reasonable reader could understand it as equating the plaintiff's conduct with "archetypal racist conduct."

It is interesting that this case came to litigation. When the plaintiff's lawyer asked Reid to delete the posts, Reid did so and apologized, which would seem to suggest the absence of negligence. But the plaintiff sued anyway. And we continue forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2020 at 07:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide, Again

The Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction prohibiting enforcement of DOJ's sanctuary-city regulations as to California and the City and County of San Francisco. This comes after the Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc of a panel decision declaring the regulations valid. We now have a clear circuit split, although I imagine nothing will happen at SCOTUS if Biden wins and the regulations go away.

The Ninth Circuit did narrow the injunction to prohibit enforcement within California but nowhere else. It did so in terms that seem to contemplate the distinction between the injunction's who and where:

Plaintiffs here, a state and a municipality, “‘operate in a fashion that permits neat geographic boundaries.’” . . . Because Plaintiffs do not operate or suffer harm outside of their own borders, the geographical scope of an injunction can be neatly drawn to provide no more or less relief than what is necessary to redress Plaintiffs’ injuries. This is distinguishable from a case involving plaintiffs that operate and suffer harm in a number of jurisdictions, where the process of tailoring an injunction may be more complex.

The court distinguished a case involving asylum organizations that operate in California and other states, where an injunction limited to California would not address the harm from losing a client in Texas.

On the other hand, the court "acknowledge[d] the 'increasingly controversial' nature of nationwide injunction," a framing that confuses the point. There should be nothing controversial about nationwide injunctions, which the court faced here--injunctions that protect the plaintiffs wherever they operate. The controversy is over universal injunctions--injunctions that attempt to protect beyond the plaintiffs. Still, we are slowly getting there.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 13, 2020 at 03:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 10, 2020

The process of Mazars and Vance (Updated)

Some process questions following Mazars and Vance, less about what happens on remand in these cases* than about what happens in future cases.

[*] I agree with what I have seen as a prevailing consensus--Trump runs out the clock on these subpoenas for this term, but may be in for a world of hurt and embarrassment as a private citizen if he loses in November. If he wins in November, all bets may be off.

Mazars

1) Which way do the incentives cut following Mazars and how likely is litigation over future subpoena disputes? The Chief's premise is that these cases historically were handled through the hurly-burly of politics until inter-branch negotiation broke down here (with no mention of why inter-branch negotiation broke down during this administration and not before). But Congress' subpoena power cannot be too broad, otherwise "[i]nstead of negotiating over information requests, Congress could simply walk away from the bargaining table and compel compliance in court."

But then why had Congress never previously walked away from the bargaining table? The majority cites four examples--from Washington, Jefferson, Reagan, and Clinton--in which Congress has negotiated for and accepted some-but-less-than-all of what it requested. He cites no examples in which Congress walked away, despite precedent hinting at a broader subpoena power than what the Court recognized.

More importantly, what about presidential incentives? He holds the information and has no desire to give it up unless and until compelled to do so. Mazars offers a more beneficial standard (how beneficial is a subject of debate and must await future cases) that must be satisfied before he can be compelled to do so. So it seems to me that "instead of negotiating over information requests, [the President] could simply walk away from the bargaining table and compel [Congress to start the lengthy process to] compel compliance in court," where the President can try to avail himself of the new standard. Moreover, time is on the executive's side--if the litigation process takes a year or more (not unlikely if SCOTUS gets involved), the President can try to hold out to the next election or to the end of the Congress and the expiration of the subpoena.

2) The President's incentive to walk away is furthered by the Speech or Debate Clause, which prevents suit against Congress. The house or the committee must make the first move by bringing an action to enforce the subpoena or holding the President in contempt of Congress and seeking to enforce the contempt order (which requires the U.S. Attorney for D.C.). Either way, Congress is the first actor. The President's incentive is not to bargain, to run out the clock, and, perhaps, try to shift political blame onto Congress for escalating the political stalemate.

3) We see a stark contrast in what gets left to the hurly-burly of politics and what is appropriate for judicial refereeing. Whether members of the legislature can rig the design of legislative districts to (try to) ensure continuation in office of themselves and their party colleagues) is politics; how one branch engages in oversight of another branch requires judicial intervention. For present purposes, it does not matter which is correct; the point is an odd disparity.

Vance

4) The procedural issue in Vance involves Younger abstention. The state grand jury issued the subpoenas, Trump sued the DA in federal court, the district court abstained in deference to pending state proceedings, and the Second Circuit held that abstention was improper. Vance did not appeal the Younger ruling, so SCOTUS never had reason to decide it. But the Court said that a President could challenge in federal court a subpoena that attempted to influence or manipulate his official actions. Later, the Court says the President can raise "subpoena-specific constitutional challenges, in either a state or federal forum," such as claims of undue influence or undue interference.

But how does a case such as this fit into Younger? The typical framework for Younger goes as follows: 1) Whether the case falls within one of three classes of cases (including ongoing criminal proceedings; 2) consideration of the Middlesex factors of whether there is an ongoing proceeding, whether the proceeding implicates state interests, and whether the federal plaintiff can raise federal issues in state court; and 3) whether the case falls within an exception, such as bad faith, harassment, or "other exceptional circumstances."

The Second Circuit's analysis did not follow this framework. It instead held that Younger's underlying concerns for comity were not implicated in a case built around a federal-state conflict and raising "novel and serious" federal issues. It could have squeezed those concerns into the exceptions (this is what Trump argued in the complaint), but instead made them macro-level policy considerations that a court must consider before jumping into that framework.

5) What about Younger going forward, in this case or a future case? With respect to subpoenas for private documents, the President seems to be an ordinary citizen able to challenge a subpoena on state and federal grounds, including unique federal presidential grounds such as non-interference with Article II functions. Are those challenges automatically a basis for federal jurisdiction and non-abstention? Can ordinary state-law arguments against a subpoena, such as overbreadth, be a basis for federal jurisdiction? Do state-law arguments become Article II arguments when raised by the President? Must there be a federal forum for all Article II arguments, in a way there need not be a federal forum for First Amendment arguments?

6) The Court's resolution arguably alters the Younger analysis in this case. The Second Circuit rejected abstention because of the President's "novel and serious claims," specifically that the President is absolutely immune from state criminal investigation or that a unique standard applies. So the same questions apply: If the President is asserting micro challenges, many under state law, to specific pieces of the injunction, is a federal forum warranted? Can the lower court, having rejected Younger, find abstention appropriate given the changed nature of the case?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 10, 2020 at 03:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide

A good illustration of why the nationwide/universal and where/who distinction matters for the scope-of-injunction question. Here is footnote 28 in Ginsburg dissent in Little Sisters:

Although the Court does not reach the issue, the District Court did not abuse its discretion in issuing a nationwide injunction. The Administrative Procedure Act contemplates nationwide relief from invalid agency action. See 5 U. S. C. §706(2) (empowering courts to “hold unlawful and set aside agency action”). Moreover, the nationwide reach of the injunction “was ‘necessary to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs.’ Trump v. Hawaii, 585 U. S. ___, ___, n. 15 (2018) (SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 25, n. 13) (quoting Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc., 512 U. S. 753, 765 (1994)). Harm to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Court of Appeals explained, occurs because women who lose benefits under the exemption “will turn to state-funded services for their contraceptive needs and for the unintended pregnancies that may result from the loss of coverage.” 930 F. 3d, at 562. This harm is not bounded by state lines. The Court of Appeals noted, for example, that some800,000 residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey work—and thus receive their health insurance—out of State. Id., at 576. Similarly, many students who attend colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey receive their health insurance from their parents’ out-of-state health plans. Ibid.

Ginsburg is correct that protecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania is not bounded by state lines, given the number of employees, students, etc. likely to turn to the state for financial assistance. That is, the injunction should have been nationwide in where it protects the parties.  It should protect NJ and Pennsylvania and those people with some connection to NJ or Pennsylvania (on whose behalf NJ and Pennsylvania sued), regardless of where those people are.

But complete relief does not require that the regs be enjoined as to other states who may incur the same harm as NJ and PA or to individuals who might be denied coverage but have no connection to NJ and PA. That is, the injunction need not be universal (or non-particularized) in who it protects. Complete relief to NJ and PA does not require that the enforcement be enjoined as to California or those people who might turn to California for funding if denied coverage.

For what it is worth, the same should apply to the lawsuit Harvard and MIT filed to stop ICE from enforcing the rules with respect to student-visa holders and remote courses. Complete relief to Harvard and MIT does not require enjoining enforcement of the regulations as to other schools or students from schools other than Harvard and MIT. It only requires an injunction protecting Harvard and MIT and their students, regardless of where located. I recognize this is inefficient. But this is the scheme we have.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 8, 2020 at 01:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, July 06, 2020

On invalidating laws and universal declaratory judgments

After the jump is FN 8 of Kavanaugh's plurality in Barr v. AAPC. As I said, I wanted to include this in its own post.

The term “invalidate” is a common judicial shorthand when the Court holds that a particular provision is unlawful and therefore may not be enforced against a plaintiff. To be clear, however, when it “invalidates” a law as unconstitutional, the Court of course does not formally repeal the law from the U. S. Code or the Statutes at Large. Instead, in Chief Justice Marshall’s words, the Court recognizes that the Constitution is a “superior, paramount law,” and that “a legislative act contrary to the constitution is not law” at all. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). The Court’s authority on this front “amounts to little more than the negative power to disregard an unconstitutional enactment.” Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U. S. 447, 488 (1923).

JUSTICE THOMAS’s thoughtful approach to severability as outlined in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn., 584 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (slip op., at 2–6), and Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ante, at 14–24, (joined by JUSTICE GORSUCH in the latter) would simply enjoin enforcement of a law as applied to the particular plaintiffs in a case. Under either the Court’s approach or JUSTICE THOMAS’s approach, an offending provision formally remains on the statute books (at least unless Congress also formally repeals it). Under either approach, the formal remedy afforded to the plaintiff is an injunction, declaration, or damages. One difference between the two approaches is this: Under the Court’s approach, a provision is declared invalid and cannot be lawfully enforced against others. Under JUSTICE THOMAS’s approach, the Court’s ruling that a provision cannot be enforced against the plaintiff, plus executive respect in its enforcement policies for controlling decisional law, plus vertical and horizontal stare decisis in the courts, will mean that the provision will not and cannot be lawfully enforced against others. The Court and JUSTICE THOMAS take different analytical paths, but in many cases, the different paths lead to the same place.

This is important in several respects.

It clearly explains that "invalidating" a law is merely "common judicial shorthand," that what the Court is really doing is holding that a provision "may not be enforced against a plaintiff." The Court does not say the law cannot be enforced at all or against all people, only against a plaintiff. But no matter what, the law remains on the statute books until Congress repeals it, a task only Congress can perform.

Kavanaugh perfectly describes judicial departmentalism: The injunction prohibits enforcement of the law against the plaintiff; the executive voluntarily respects decisional law in future enforcement efforts (but is not required to do so); and stare decisis means any enforcement fails in the courts. Under Kavanaugh's approach, by contrast, the declaration of a provision as invalid means it cannot be lawfully enforced against others. But Kavanaugh does not explain why this is so and I do not see why it should be. The statement conflicts with the Court's statement in Doran v. Salem Inn that a declaratory judgment does not stop a state government from enforcing a law against other persons and leaves government free to do so. And if declaratory judgment is a milder form of relief than an injunction, it should not have a broader party scope than an injunction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 6, 2020 at 02:05 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Assignments and female voices

Someone pointed out that June Medical produced six opinions on the right to reproductive freedom, all by male Justices and none by any female Justice. But who is responsible for that?

The first question is who assigned the majority to Breyer. Assignment is by the senior-most Justice in the majority for a judgment/outcome at conference; that means the Chief assigned the opinion to Breyer, then declined to join and wrote on his own, leaving Breyer to write a plurality. But how specific do they get during the conference? Could it be clear at conference that his reasoning was so far from Ginsburg/Breyer/Sotomayor/Kagan that he was not part of that group? For example, suppose G/B/S/K made clear the view that the Louisiana law was broadly invalid while Roberts made clear that he was going along with Whole Women's purely on stare decisis grounds. How does that affect the assignment? This would have made Ginsburg senior-most, meaning she assigned the opinion to Breyer rather than keeping it or giving it to one of her female colleagues.

All three also chose not to write a separate opinion, I presume to maintain a clear plurality (if not majority) voice. Even at the loss of a female voice.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2020 at 08:48 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

More on constitutional-litigation reform (Updated)

A law professor letter is circulating in support of the one-two punch of eliminating qualified immunity and overriding Monell  to make municipalities liable on respondeat superior. The move towards respondeat superior liability is in the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN)The letter is here, for those interested in signing.*

[*] I signed the letter, as it involves an issue on which I know something as a legal scholar, as opposed to as a citizen with a law degree.

Braun's bill also would revise, but not eliminate qualified immunity. He replaces it with a narrower immunity that protects an officer if he acts in good faith and either acted pursuant to a statute or regulation that had not been declared invalid or the conduct had not been declared invalid. In essence, the change to immunity flips the default--an officer is not immune if the law is uncertain, but becomes immune if the law is certain that his conduct is valid.

Full reform still requires two more steps. Section 1983 must be extended to states, which Congress can do by making clear that states are persons for § 1983 purposes. Otherwise, state police and sheriff's officers will be beyond these reforms, since they are not local officers. And something has to be done to codify the Bivens cause of action, otherwise federal officers will be beyond these reforms.

Update: A reader emails to offer another way to limit the effects of qualified immunity--overruling or overriding Mitchell v. Forsyth and eliminating collateral-order review of Q/I denials, which places Q/I at the heart of the case and moves cases quickly into the court of appeals and SCOTUS. Eliminating immediate review (or requiring judicial leave under § 1292(b)) would combine well with Braun's approach. I have not seen this as part of any proposals.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2020 at 01:11 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)