Thursday, August 13, 2020

Birtherism 2.0 more insidious than Original Recipe

Counter-arguments from top-line conservative scholars will not be enough to slow this tide. Original Recipe was based on a provably false factual premise--Obama was not born in Hawaii--that allowed it to be dismissed as the ravings of people living in an alternative factual reality. But 2.0 is not about a fact--no one questions that Harris was born in California. Instead, 2.0 is based on a legal argument; however weak and contrary to every judicial and scholarly position the argument, editors (such as those of Newsweek) can rationalize it as a point of scholarly disagreement and a constitutional debate "unlikely to fall quiet any time soon." And the President, editors, and others will bolster the legal position--however descriptively incorrect--by argumentum ad verecundiam, pointing out that Eastman is "very highly qualified and talented" and that he clerked for Justice Thomas and used to be a dean.

Two thoughts on responding. First is to recognize that this is a legal rather than factual dispute. The response cannot be "Eastman is wrong and Harris is eligible because she was born in California;" no one disputes that.* Eastman's argument is that she is ineligible even thought she was born in California, because she was born to non-citizen parents. Second, the conversation must emphasize the difference between descriptive and normative arguments. Descriptively, the prevailing state of current law is birthright citizenship, which makes Harris eligible. Eastman (and soon Trump) is making a normative argument about what he believes the law should be. Any conversation must show why that vision is wrong.

[*] For the moment. Once the fever swamp gets hold of this, who knows where she will have been born or what explanation there will be for why California was not properly admitted to the Union.

Two questions. First, will we see a spate of lawsuits (as we did in 2008) challenging Harris' placement on the ballot, which will be dismissed for lack of standing. Second, if Biden/Harris wins, do they get an OLC opinion on the subject?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 13, 2020 at 09:08 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

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

More cancel culture and counter-speech

Efforts continue to define and defend criticisms of cancel culture, beyond "I know it when I see it" or "Canceling for me but not for thee." Jonathan Rauch takes a crack in Persuasion (free registration required), identifying six warning signs, the presence of some or all suggest canceling:

• Punitiveness, in that the goal or effect is to cost a job or other opportunities.

• Deplatforming, which includes disinvitations, demands for retractions, and shout-downs.

• Organization

• Secondary Boycotts

• Moral grandstanding, through "ad hominem, repetitive, ritualistic, posturing, accusatory, outraged" rhetoric.

• Truthiness

Punititiveness perhaps helps. But there must be circumstances in which someone's deeds or expression are so egregious that calling for his removal from a job or position or platform should be fair game, such that non-governmental actors can decide to remove him from their circle of discourse and engagement. The person remains free to speak, but private persons need not listen, nor provide him with a platform. And private companies can choose not to retain him as an employee, private consumers can choose not to do engage in business with him, and people and entities in general can elect not to associate with him. If that is permissible, then the dispute is not punitiveness or deplatforming, but where to draw the line. We can identify ridiculous overreactions. But some situations are not ridiculous overreactions.

Five of Rauch's categories involve forms or manners of expression and thus of counter-speech. These purportedly neutral rules perpetuate the problem of the preferred first speaker--they impose unique limits on the type of speech regarded as "legitimate" when used by those who object to a speaker. For example, Rauch does not call for an end to all "ad hominem, repetitive, ritualistic, posturing, accusatory, outraged" rhetoric, only that used in response to someone. He rejects shout-downs, thus obligating counter-speakers to engage civilly and openly through dialogue in a way that original speakers are not obligated to do. A categorical line between organizing (rallying many people to a cause, which is somehow a bad thing) and persuading imposes an obligation of reasoned discourse not placed on an original speaker.

Rauch does treat everyone the same as to truthiness--it is as problematic when President Trump lies and distorts as when left-leaning groups lie and distort. But then we are not talking about cancel culture as some unique threat to free speech. The threat is lying, whoever is lying and wherever that person stands in the exchange process.

These and other efforts bring me back to Chief Justice Rehnquist in Hustler v. Falwell: "If it were possible by laying down a principled standard to separate the one from the other, public discourse would probably suffer little or no harm. But we doubt that there is any such standard, and we are quite sure that the pejorative description [cancel culture] does not supply one."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 6, 2020 at 12:11 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

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)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Delaying the election

I expect the election to happen, if Steve Calabresi and Ari Fleischer are calling the President out for today's tweet and Kevin McCarthy insists on going forward. Nevertheless, some light reading if.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 30, 2020 at 05:37 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

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)

(Update) Grab your fedora, we are all journalists now and other thoughts on the Portland TRO

A federal judges issued a TRO preventing federal paramilitary force in Portland from targeting journalists and legal observers. An existing preliminary injunction, to which the City stipulated, does the same as to Portland police. Some thoughts and questions.

First, the TRO requires journalists and legal observers to identify themselves through badges or distinctive clothing (hats, press passes, etc.). Some concerns and questions.

Vintage-reporter-fedora-hat-camera-picture-id510580998First, it is about time we revived this look from His Girl Friday or The Brady Bunch.

Second, this seems to run afoul of the principle that the press does not have special status from other speakers when it comes to what they can say and their access to spaces. The key access cases speak of information-gathering by the press and the public. I expect that some non-press people in the mix of these protests are there to observe and record. And they possess or can possess the same equipment that allows a reporter to do her job--a device that takes photographs, moving pictures, and audio recordings. And I assume fedoras can be purchased online. Maybe the point should be to not have paramilitary forces using force and effecting arrests indiscriminately against anyone who happens to be in a crowd but is not engaging in unlawful activity, not only those with J.D.s or an institutional affiliation.

Second, the government tried to defeat the plaintiffs' standing with a string of cases making it difficult to challenge practices within the criminal-justice system (choke holds during arrests, discriminatory bail or sentencing); the cases rest on the refusal to speculate that the plaintiff will break the law and thus come in contact with the criminal-justice system and be subject to those policies. The court rejected that because threat to plaintiff arose not from breaking laws, but from engaging in protected First Amendment activity--"It is one thing to ask citizens to obey the law in the future to avoid future alleged harm. But it is quite another for the Federal Defendants to insist that Plaintiffs must forgo constitutionally protected activity if they wish to avoid government force and interference." Good call.

Third, the court orders wide dissemination of the order, including to Bill Barr and Ken Cuccinelli and those with supervisory authority over agents in Portland. The reason is that "the Court considers any willful violation of this Order, or any express direction by a supervisor or commander to disregard or violate this Order, to be a violation of a clearly established constitutional right and thus not subject to qualified immunity" in any Bivens action. This is odd. The violation of the order is not necessarily the same as a violation of the underlying constitutional rights protected by the order, but only the latter would be the basis for a Bivens action. The court seems to be couching its power to enforce its order with its power to award damages should an injury occur. That is, it will use its equitable power to enforce its equitable order by imposing a legal remedy. Equity cannot enjoin a crime, but can it enjoin a constitutional tort? Any way, I am troubled by the practice--made necessary by unwise qualified-immunity doctrine--of courts announcing that "henceforth, some right is clearly established.

Update: From a conversation with a Remedies colleague: A court can enforce an injunction through civil contempt, which can be compensatory. A court could order the violating defendant to pay money to the plaintiff in the amount of the injury suffered. And if that injury were physical (e.g., medical expenses from being shot), the remedy would look like compensatory damages. But Bivens and qualified immunity still have nothing to do with this. A plaintiff need not bring a Bivens claim if the remedy is contempt for an existing court order in an ongoing case. And qualified immunity should have no role to play in the court enforcing an existing order.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2020 at 08:26 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

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)

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The First Amendment and the preferred first speaker

Harper's has published online (and will publish in print) a letter on "justice and open debate" from a cross-section of journalists, authors, and academics, including several law professors. They decry a "new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity." They allude to  recent events involving fired editors and analysts, canceled books, investigated professors--what has come to be called, loosely, "cancel culture."

The authors claim to "uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters," but to fear that "it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought." Ken White (Popehat to those on Twitter and KCRW) sees the letter as drawing an untenable (or at least elusive) distinction between "silencing" and "more/responsive/critical" counter-speech. White labels this the "problem of the preferred first speaker," the " tendency to impose norms of civility, openness, productiveness, and dialogue-encouraging on a RESPONSE to expression that we do not impose on the expression itself." In other words, the original speaker is free to say what she wants however she wants; the response must listen to, engage with, and respond to that speech. "Shut up" is not acceptable counter-speech.

This is an extension and expansion of the problem of campus speech and "controversial" speakers. The invited speaker (Charles Murray, whoever) is the preferred first speaker, entitled to have his say; those who object or oppose his views are expected to sit quietly, listen to what he says, perhaps ask a question or make a comment during Q&A (if he deigns to call on them). Anything else (such as a noisy protest outside the hall) is the dreaded heckler's veto.

Both situations create a puzzle . We do not want people to lose their livelihoods for their speech, nor do we want speakers chased off campus. But we also should not hamstring one side of the debate--to paraphrase Justice Scalia, we should not allow the original speaker "to fight freestyle," while requiring counter-speakers "to follow Marquis of Queensberry rules." I do not know the right answer or correct balance either to the recent online issues or to campus speech (the latter will not be an issue for awhile, unfortunately). But this letter does not provide it.

Meanwhile, White provides a great title for the article I hope to write.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 7, 2020 at 01:39 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Rule of Four

We have been playing a weekly online pub trivia game. One of the questions this week asked how many votes were needed for SCOTUS to take a case (the formal question was whether it was more than, less than, or equal to four). 46 % got it right. I am trying to decide whether that is more or less than I should have expected.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 2, 2020 at 10:23 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Anti-racism and the First Amendment

Jaden McNeil is a student at Kansas State and the head of America First Students, an organization that believes Turning Point USA is too liberal. Yesterday, McNeil sent a tweet congratulating George Floyd on being drug-free for a month. The tweet drew responses and condemnation from several K-State football players, followed by further condemnation from the head coach, athletic director, and university president. Several players called on the university to do something to "handle" this, while another promised not to play for the school if it "tolerates ignorance such as this." The university president promised to review its "options."

But there do not seem to be any options for a public university to handle this. McNeil is an asshole and deserves (but probably does not care about) public opprobrium, but his tweet does not seem to fall within any unprotected category of expression. Universities are in a bind. They can develop anti-racism in their curricula and institutional activities, they can counter-speak to racist messages (as they have done), and they can adopt and promote anti-racist messages. But under current doctrine, they cannot stop individual students from being racist and from saying racist stuff in public spaces. And they cannot design codes of conduct and anti-discrimination policies that can stop individual students from being racist and saying racist stuff. Athletes are developing their voices and discovering their leverage, which is a good thing and a long time coming. But that leverage and the university's desire to field a football team cannot compel the university to ignore the First Amendment.

Like the 1960s, this period of protest and change could be remembered as much for the First Amendment activities and developments as for Fourteenth or Fourth Amendment developments (ideally all three). But that is a two-edged sword--the First Amendment may impose a barrier to some of the broadest intellectual goals of anti-racism and the broadest desires of those who want to stop racism. Unless the pressure of this moment compels a change in free speech doctrine, which seems unlikely and would be unfortunate.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2020 at 05:29 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Mootness, departmentalism, and universality

Here is an interesting mootness decision from the Third Circuit (written by Judge Bibas). A lot of good discussion of mootness, as it relates to my current interests in universality and departmentalism. I am not sure I agree with the conclusion, but the opinion is a great read.

The action is a challenge by a group of public-school teachers to Pennsylvania's agency-fee statute. While the action was pending, SCOTUS held in Janus that agency-fee schemes violate the First Amendment. The state and the union told school districts and other public employees to stop deducting fees and to refund fees collected to cover expenses from Janus forward. Although the state agency-fee law remains on the books and agency-fee provisions remain in the contracts, the union insists it has no intention to enforce either in the future. The district court held the case moot and the court of appeals affirmed.

• Bibas tweaks the common description of mootness as "standing set in a time frame," because they are not co-extensive. A plaintiff must show standing at the outset, but it is on the defendant (or someone else) to show mootness once the action has begun. Thus, under new circumstances, while the plaintiff might be unable to establish standing , that does not mean the defendant can establish mootness. As he puts it, "sometimes a suit filed on Monday will be able to proceed even if, because of a development on Tuesday, the suit would have been dismissed for lack of standing if it had been filed on Wednesday. The Tuesday development does not necessarily moot the suit." I am going to use that framing in class.

• He recasts "voluntary cessation" as "volitional cessation." Often, especially in constitutional cases, the government defendant continues to insist on the validity of its actions, even while agreeing to abide by an injunction or precedent knowing that the courts will rule against it. In other words, the cessation is not voluntary, because the government believes he can do something and should be able to do something, if not for some pesky hindrance (such as a court order). The issue is whether government can reasonably be expected to engage in the challenged behavior in the future. So the issue is not whether the cessation is voluntary but whether it is volitional, a deliberate act, regardless of its cause.

• The reasons for cessation are probative of the likelihood of re-engagement in the behavior. The court is more skeptical of a defendant who continues to insist on the validity of the conduct but yields in the face of a court order, while more forgiving of a defendant who yields to new precedent established in a different case. From a judicial-departmentalist standpoint, this gets it backwards. A defendant cannot ignore a court order in the instant case (without immediate consequence) even if it believes the basis for the order incorrect; that case should be moot because the defendant will not re-engage on pain of contempt. A defendant can ignore precedent from another case without immediate consequence, so a promise to abide by precedent should not moot the new case. I made this argument in using judicial departmentalism to justify voluntary cessation as a limit on mootness.

Moreover, if we accept particularity/non-universality as the norm for injunctions, there is no distinction between those situations. If the injunction binds the government only as to the plaintiff, then all future enforcement that is or is not likely to occur is in response to precedent rather than to a court order. There is no difference between Chicago promising not to enforce its law against Y following an injunction barring Chicago from enforcing against X and Chicago promising not to enforce its law against Y following a decision ordering Milwaukee not to enforce its identical law against M.

• Nonetheless, the court found this case moot. The unions conceded the invalidity of agency-fee requirements and forswore collecting fees and there was no indication they will not continue to abide by that position. That agency-fee provisions remain on the books and in the CBAs did not matter and did not create any  injury that a court could redress absent some indicia of intent to enforce.

The plaintiffs tried to avoid mootness by pointing to challenges to campaign-finance laws found not moot following Citizens United and challenges to marriage laws found not moot following Obergefell. The former was a complex decision targeting one campaign-finance provision, uncertain in its application to other laws and provisions. The latter did not address the incidents of marriage challenged in the other cases. Janus was simple--no agency fees allowed--and the case presented no additional issues not covered by Janus.

I think that is a cramped reading of the marriage case.The Eighth Circuit highlighted that Obergefell dealt with laws in states other than Nebraska (thus did not bind Nebraska in any way) and that the ban on same-sex marriage remained in the Nebraska constitution. The court understood, if implicitly, that there remained something for Nebraska to enforce and nothing, other than the state's voluntary (or volitional) acquiescence to stop that enforcement.

Perhaps the analysis is different when it is a private actor, such as the union, rather than a government with departmentalist powers. Others have argued that courts are too-quick to accept government representations of non-enforcement and moot cases. If so, this case gets the balance right--this case is moot based on the union's promise where it might not be moot if the government were making the same promises. Of course, perhaps that distinction collapses when the defendant arguably acts under color, as the unions likely do under these agreements.

• The plaintiffs argued that a live controversy remained based on their request for a declaratory judgment that Pennsylvania's statute is constitutionally invalid. But the union did not intend to enforce the law. And because the constitutional violation is the threat of enforcement rather than the existence of the law (or contract provision), the plaintiffs' rights were not violated and they had "nothing to fear."

The court captures this with a nice civics lesson:

It may seem odd that unconstitutional laws remain on the books. But until a party faces a real threat of enforcement, a statute is mere words on a page.

I like that framing (and added it to a current paper). We can go further: If this were not true, no constitutional action would become moot because no law declared constitutionally invalid disappears without further legislative action, so the threat of departmental enforcement remains.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2020 at 12:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

They didn't vote for you, they voted against the other guy

Republicans in and out of government have attacked the legitimacy of the last two Democratic presidents. To be clear, in talking about "legitimacy," I do not mean simple policy disagreements and opposition to proposals. I mean a rhetoric of "you do not legitimately hold the office or wield the legal authority; that is why you should not be able to appoint your preferred judges or executive officials and why your policies should not be enacted."

For Clinton, it was that he never won a majority of the popular vote (ironic, given how Bush II and Trump governed in their respective first terms despite losing the popular vote). For Obama, it was that he was never eligible for the presidency because he was not born in the United States, plus he was pushing an un-American agenda.

What will it be if Biden becomes president? Trump is obviously trying to lay the groundwork for claims of election fraud, although I do not believe that will stick for long, at least outside the fringe. I think it will be something along these lines:

The People did not vote for you, they voted against Donald Trump. You did not really win the presidency, the other guy lost it. So you do not legitimately wield presidential authority. Had you run against someone who was not so wildly unpopular (who we, of course, now disavow all connection to), you would not be President. So you lack the full legitimacy necessary to exercise the full powers of the office.

I am thinking of this after reading this Jonathan Chait piece arguing that Biden is doing a lot right in his low-key campaign. The reality is that the polls reflect at least some number of people supporting "Not Trump" (or "Any Functioning Adult," as my neighbor's law sign says) and translating that into reporting support for Biden in polls. This is not uncommon--some piece of Trump's support was "Not Hillary." But I can see it being weaponized for the next four years.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2020 at 05:22 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Justice Kavanaugh foresees 2020 Blue Wave and other thoughts on Bostock

I have asked my colleague Kerri Stone to write something about today's decision holding that LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination; I hope to post that later today. I add a couple of points/questions.

The open question will be whether this means discrimination based on LGBTQ status is sex discrimination for purposes of the 14th Amendment (triggering intermediate scrutiny) and other statutes such as Title IX, Equal Pay Act, public accommodations, etc. The answer would seem to be yes; Gorsuch's major premise is that one cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating against that person on the basis of sex. Even if the reason the employer targets the plaintiff because of who she is attracted to or her sex at birth, the mistreatment must pass through sex. And those other provisions protect individuals not groups, the other premise of Gorsuch's analysis.

That question could affect the outcome when an employer argues that the First Amendment or RFRA displaces Title VII, something the majority leaves for another day. If LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination deserving of greater scrutiny, does that mean the government's interest in preventing that discrimination (through Title VII) is compelling for RFRA purposes? Does it receive more deference than an interest in prohibiting a form of discrimination receiving rational-basis review? The assumption by even the SG in Masterpiece Cake Shop is that the religious-freedom argument could not fly as to race discrimination but it could as to LGTBQ discrimination because that received lower scrutiny. What happens in the middle?

Gorsuch's writing in this opinion reminds me of Kagan in its informality, with a lot of "imagine if you will" hypotheticals and illustrations.

A lot will be made of the Chief joining this opinion, especially in light of his dissent in Obergefell. He recognized the sexual-orientation-is-sex argument in that case, asking counsel about it during argument. But it did not persuade him with respect to marriage and he did not address it in his dissent. Did he change his mind? Does he see this statute as different than the Fourteenth Amendment (and perhaps other statutes)?

Two interesting theories floating around Twitter (which may fit together). Katherine Franke suggests that the original majority was the four liberals and Gorsuch and that the Chief joined so he could assign the case to Gorsuch and get a narrower opinion, rather than Ginsburg assigning the opinion to herself and producing something broader. Marty Lederman speculates (based on October case assignments) that the Chief kept this opinion for himself to rule against the plaintiffs, while Gorsuch was undecided; when Gorsuch would not join that opinion, he wrote his own going the other way and the Chief came on board. Both moves can be explained by the Chief's desire to hold the assignment. Of course, Ginsburg might have assigned the opinion to Gorsuch rather than keeping it for herself to reward him for the switch and to keep him on board (a very Brennan/Stevens move).

The Chief's switch from Obergefell to today may explain the final paragraph in Kavanaugh's dissent:

[i]t is appropriate to acknowledge the important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans. Millions of gay and lesbian Americans have worked hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law. They have exhibited extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit—battling often steep odds in the legislative and judicial arenas, not to mention in their daily lives. They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, however, I believe that it was Congress’s role, not this Court’s, to amend Title VII.

Compare this with the final paragraph of the Chief's Obergefell dissent:

If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

Finally, the piece that prompts the title of this post: Here is the first paragraph in the conclusion to Kavanaugh's dissent:

It was therefore easy to envision a day, likely just in the next few years, when the House and Senate took historic votes on a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It was easy to picture a massive and celebratory Presidential signing ceremony in the East Room or on the South Lawn.

This can be true only if "in the next few years" (meaning this year, really) the Democrats gain unified control of the political branches, including likely with a filibuster-proof Senate majority. No Republican-controlled body would pass and no Republican President would sign such a bill. I am certain Kavanaugh's does not want this to happen. But I hope he is right.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2020 at 02:24 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Second Lafayette Square Lawsuit

A second lawsuit has been filed over the clearing of Lafayette Square on June 1. Plaintiffs are three individuals who were at the protests and plan to protest in the future. They have the benefit of one additional week of presidential statements and other developments to support allegations of retaliation, viewpoint discrimination, and the unreasonableness of the use of force.

This complaint has another wrinkle: A claim for violation of the Posse Comitatus Act for bringing forth military police and national guard troops in clearing the park. They claim "a non-statutory right of action to enjoin and declare unlawful presidential action that is ultra vires," then seek damages, a DJ, and an injunction. This seems weak for three reasons: 1) Any implied injunctive right of action cannot support a claim for damages; 2) I am not sure how they can show damages from the violation of Posse Comitatus, which requires showing some incrementally greater injury from the fact that military personnel might have been involved in the injurious First and Fourth Amendment violations; and 3) It seems unlikely that Trump will try to use military force again--thris morning's tweets about Seattle notwithstanding, the military has pushed back on this. Still, it is a cute theory for public consumption.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 11, 2020 at 05:39 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 08, 2020

Calling the NFL's bluff

Roger Goodell is an incompetent liar. So I hesitated to rejoice over his video from last week in which he said, among other things, "We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all players to speak out and peacefully protest." It never mentioned the flag, kneeling, or Colin Kaepernick, so I wondered how much he was committing to and how much wiggle room he tried to leave the league and himself so as to avoid displeasing the President and a segment of the fan base.

We may find out. Just before midnight, the President* tweeted "Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?" Imagine the NFL returns and players kneel and the President and the Trumpier team owners object. I can envision Goodell insisting that he meant that players were encouraged to participate in the ongoing protests or to speak on Twitter and other outlets; he did not mean they were encouraged to bring it onto the field.

[*] Or someone working his account. The use of "intimating" suggests it was not the President himself.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 8, 2020 at 01:28 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 07, 2020

What does Cohen v. California clearly establish? (Updated)

The stories are confused and seem incomplete. But apparently the sheriff of Lowndes County, Georgia confiscated from a protester in Valdosta a sign reading "Fuck Trump." Georgia law prohibits profanity in the presence of children under 14. (Update: A woman was arrested for violating the law with a different sign the following day. The article indicates the sheriff intends to continue enforcing the law).

The enforcement of the ordinance violates the First Amendment. Profanity is constitutionally protected and, at least outside of sexually explicit material on TV, adult speech cannot be reduced to what is appropriate for children. So although the Georgia Supreme Court declared that law valid in 1973, it cannot stand under modern doctrine.

The question is whether the First Amendment right to display a "Fuck ____" sign is clearly established--the constitutional question is beyond dispute so no reasonable officer could have believed seizing this sign was constitutionally valid. Is this like Johnson and flag burning? Or might a court actually say a jacket in a courthouse is different from a hand-made sign at a protest rally where children might be present?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 7, 2020 at 11:17 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Lawsuit over clearing Lafayette Square

Complaint here. Plaintiffs are Black Lives Matter DC and five individuals who were at the protests on Monday and would like to return; defendants are Trump, Barr, Esper, the acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, director of Secret Service, commander of D.C. National Guard, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 100 John Does (federal law enforcement), and 20 John Poes (non-federal law enforcement). Claims are for violations of First and Fourth Amendments and conspiracy under §§ 1985(3) and 1986.

My prior post showed the problems the lawsuit faces. The Bivens and immunity problems do not go away. But the complaint finds cute ways to try show standing for prospective relief. It highlights plaintiffs' intent to continue demonstrating; the new W.H. perimeter prevents access to Lafayette Square or any protest space within view of the White House; and 3) statements by Trump and others to deploy violence against protesters--all of which establishes an imminent threat of future violence if they return to protest. The complaint also compares Trump's statements supporting protesters he likes (such as those who stormed statehouses in search of haircuts) and calling to "dominate" protesters he does not like, as a way to show that the actions against the protesters were viewpoint- and content-based.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2020 at 09:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

What about Bivens? What about prosecutorial immunity? (Updated)

Rep. Justin Amash, the House member who left the GOP because of Trump, announced plans to introduce a bill (co-sponsored with Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to eliminate qualified immunity. The bill would "explicitly not[e] in the statute that the elements of qualified immunity outlined by the Supreme Court are not a defense to liability." (Update: Draft text).

But what about Bivens, which has no statutory basis? Federal law enforcement officers assert qualified immunity in Bivens actions (over, for example, using definitely-not-tear-gas-irritant-agents to disperse peaceful protesters); many of the Court's early qualified immunity cases were Bivens rather than § 1983 actions. In Abbasi, the majority incorporated some immunity considerations (e.g., over-deterrence of officials) to the special factors counseling hesitation. But that will not apply in basic Fourth Amendment claims against domestic law enforcement; those officers still fall back on qualified immunity. I suppose that if Amash's bill were to pass, the Court might eliminate immunity to keep Bivens and § 1983 parallel.

And what of other extra-textual absolute immunities that the Court has super-imposed on § 1983 (and Bivens, by extension). Prosecutorial misconduct contributes as much as police misconduct to the racial problems in the criminal justice system (distinct from excessive-force); absolute immunity leaves prosecutors free to engage in blatant misconduct, often shifting the litigation focus back to the police, who then assert qualified immunity. In theory, appellate review, attorney ethics, and electoral checks remedy or deter such misconduct. It has done nothing in practice, given the high standards for showing constitutional violations on appeal, reluctance to sanction prosecutors, and the fact that elected prosecutors run on obtaining lots of convictions as a result of prosecutorial over-reach.

The point is that qualified immunity is bad and should go. But it is not the only cause within the constitutional-litigation framework. (And this does not consider causes outside of constitutional litigation, such as unions and employment practices). Targeting qualified immunity alone--and only in the specific context of § 1983--misses the bigger picture and the many moving pieces necessary for reform.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2020 at 10:54 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Suing over Monday's crowd dispersal

Here is what we know happened around 6:35 p.m. Monday next to Lafayette Square: Federal law-enforcement officials threw something (dispute whether it was tear gas or a smoke bomb) and pushed throw to move the crowd out of the area. Prior to that point, the crowd was lawfully gathered in a space that has been held to be a traditional public forum, was engaging in peaceful expressive activity, and not engaging in unlawful conduct. Attorney General Barr ordered federal officials to move the crowd, so the space was clear for the President to have his photo opportunity in front of the church. This was captured live on TV, as well as recorded on numerous phones. Federal officials also moved church personnel off of church property through tear gas or other device, presumably at the AG's command.

It looks like a significant violation of the First Amendment. But:

• We do not know the individual officers who threw the smoke/tear gas and there were too many officers in the phalanx. I suppose video forensics and FOIA might be able to identify. But any lawsuit would involve many Doe defendants and discovery to determine their identities.

• The plaintiffs could sue the AG on the theory that he directly ordered the unconstitutional behavior. This runs into Abassi and Iqbal, which seemed to limit if not foreclose Bivens claims against high-ranking officials on a supervisory theory. This case is different than Iqbal in that the supervisory conduct was a direct order to engage in First-Amendment-violative conduct in a specific situation, rather than enactment of general policies, making the causal connection more direct. I doubt that distinction would fly.

• It is not clear there is a Bivens action for free-speech violations. SCOTUS has assumed it several times, while most circuits have held there is. The Court may say that this is a different context (First Amendment, presidential security, massive protests) and thus find special factors counseling hesitation (presidential security, high-ranking official, etc.).

• Barr and any individual officers can claim that the security concerns provide a compelling interest justifying clearing the public forum of peaceful protesters, although any compelling interest in clearing space for a photo opportunity is a weaker argument. The talisman of national security may be sufficient to defeat any substantive First Amendment right.

• Even if this conduct violated the First Amendment, any defendant is likely to get qualified immunity. There is no precedent that places "beyond doubt" that the First Amendment is violated by the use gas/smoke to clear out peaceful protesters in a period of massive demonstrations so the president can do a photo opportunity. There certainly is no precedent making it beyond doubt that it is a violation for the AG to do it. The Court pays lip service to the legal rule that precise precedent is not required and that a right can be clearly established as a matter of general principle, but recent cases have, in practice, found immunity in the absence of substantially similar precedent. The two cases (Hope and Lanier) that have found rights clearly established on general principles involved egregious facts and were two decades ago. Is "gassing peaceful protesters in a public forum to allow a presidential photo op" the equivalent of selling foster children into slavery (Posner's famous example)? Probably not.

• Because the facts are unique and the absence of precedent obvious, a court likely would not touch the merits and would grant qualified immunity.

• No plaintiff would have standing to obtain declaratory or injunctive relief. They could not show imminent injury because they could not show both a substantial (or at least reasonable) likelihood that they would protest again and that the AG or federal officials would repeat their actions.

As someone said on a list serv, I hate writing this. But it is the law that we have at the moment. Maybe this case illustrates the urgency of the Court doing something about qualified immunity, outside the Fourth Amendment context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 2, 2020 at 06:56 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 01, 2020

"We have a different Court"

In an apparently unhinged Monday phone call with governors, the President urged states to enact new laws prohibiting flag burning. According to sources, the President said "We have a different court" and that "if you wanted to try a very powerful anti-flag burning law, we’ll back you.” (Not sure if that means the administration would not back a state that tried a moderately powerful law).

I know these are unserious ravings of an unserious person, but it does reveal how little he understands.

First, under judicial departmentalism, Trump's suggestion is lawful and consistent with his constitutional oath, as is action by any governor and legislature. If they believe these laws consistent with the First Amendment, they can act on that understanding.

Second, for what it is worth, new laws would be unnecessary in many states where anti-flag-burning laws remain on the books. They remain unenforced because state officials know what would happen if they tried.

Third, even if a logical solution to the problem of violent protests, it could not resolve the current situation (assuming these protests peter out after a few more days). Imagine a state enacted or announced plans to enforce a flag-burning law tomorrow. The law would be enjoined immediately by a district court and affirmed by a court of appeals, both bound by Johnson and Eichman. It would be awhile before it reached that "different Court." Alternatively, the right to burn a flag is one of the few clearly established rights, so no officer would attempt to enforce that law on pain of losing qualified immunity in a subsequent civil action.

But indulge the President's fantasies that "we have a different Court" (Kennedy was the last holdover from the Eichman Court) that would resolve the flag-burning question differently. Would it, writing on a clean slate? The Court has earned its reputation as extraordinarily speech-protective; no coherent theory of free speech can tolerate the viewpoint discrimination that would prohibit burning a flag in protest but allow wearing a flag as a shirt or altering a flag to create a different message. At worst, the Chief would join the liberals in another 5-4 decision. But Gorsuch appears as speech-protective as his former boss. Alito and Thomas have cited Johnson to support the principle of viewpoint neutrality (when other cases could have served the same purpose), which I would think they would not have done if they had the doctrine in their cross-hairs. Plus, this would provide an easy opportunity for Republican appointees to silence the "Court is political" voices by demonstrating that their jurisprudence does not inevitably and ineluctably lead to the Republican-preferred outcome. Justice Scalia got 30 years out of Johnson as pretty much the lone example of his originalism leading to a disfavored outcome. So perhaps the President is right--we do have a different Court and it would declare the law invalid by a 9-0 vote rather than a 5-4 vote.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 1, 2020 at 03:33 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, May 29, 2020

The remedy to be applied (Updated)

At the risk of spending more time taking seriously something fundamentally unserious.

As I am coming to understand it, § 230(c) does two things. (c)(1) says the ISP or web site is not liable as publisher or speaker for third-party content in actions for defamation, invasion of privacy, etc. (c)(2) accords immunity for "good faith" actions in restricting access or removing material that it believes unprotected or "otherwise objectionable" (although I am not sure what cause of action exists for an improper takedown). The premise of the "policy of the United States" reflected in the EO is that companies that engage in content- or viewpoint-based takedowns engage in "editorial conduct" do not act in good faith, thereby a) removing (c)(2) immunity and b) rendering them publishers who should be liable as such. Neither of these can be squared with the statutory text.

But what about what Twitter actually did in this case--engaging in its own speech by slapping a label on the post or promoting contrary messages. Section 230 is silent as to an ISP engaging in its counter-speech to the content it allow on its site. But no one doubts that a private bookstore or newsstand could allow content while labeling it or organizing it in a way that expressed the owner's distaste for that content and that it could not be liable for such actions. So even if the EO could remove an ISP's protection (which it cannot), it cannot stop it from doing what it did here.

And many comments about all of this (tweets by Trump, Ted Cruz, etc.) are about how Twitter is violating the First Amendment by its own counter-speech, treating it the same as enforced silence. Putting aside that these are private companies, this is a perverse take on free speech.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 29, 2020 at 10:13 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thoughts on the Twitter EO (Updated to include final Order)

Thoughts on the final new EO.

1) It cites Packingham and Pruneyard to support the proposition that social media has become the "functional equivalent of a traditional public forum" and the "modern public square." But Packingham was a case about how social media is so important that government cannot prevent people from accessing it; it does not support the proposition that social-media companies are bound by the First Amendment. It studiously avoids Manhattan Community Access, which rejected the idea that opening a private space for speech (a bulletin board, open mic at a comedy club) subjected the owner to First Amendment limitations. And part of the rationale was that the Constitution does not "disable private property owners and private lessees from exercising editorial discretion over speech and speakers on their property." To the extent the EO commands the FTC to try to impose those obligations on social-media platforms (Twitter mentioned by name), it will run into that limitation.

2) The irony (perhaps intentional) is that the EO was prompted not by restricting speech, but by engaging in counter-speech--exercising its own First Amendment right to label something Trump posted as bullshit. Even if Twitter were somehow obligated to treat its platform the way government is supposed to treat the public square and not bar any protected speech, it cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, be prohibited from speaking in its own voice. So the Twitter conduct the EO aims to stop is not the Twitter conduct that precipitated the EO.

3) The EO's goal seems to be to impose the platform/publisher distinction onto  statutory language that does not create and cannot bear that distinction. Eugene Volokh explains the platform/distributor/publisher distinction and § 230 as it stands. He explains that § 230 gives social-media companies the immunity of a platform (e.g., telephone companies) even when it acts like a distributor (e.g., a bookstore or newsstand). Congress could change that, but has not. The EO attempts to impose that interpretation as executive-branch policy, but I am not sure the text can bear it. I leave to others to parse this out.

4) To relate this to Adam's various posts, the EO and the discussion around § 230 reflects the conflation of descriptive and normative arguments, of "is" and "should." The EO argues that any "editorial conduct" makes the entity a publisher and outside the protection of (c)(1) and (c)(2). But that is not what the statute, as it is written, says or means. As Eugene argues, it could have said it and it could be amended to say it. In others, maybe Twitter "should" lose immunity and the law should be written to do that; under the law as it "is," Twitter does not lose immunity.

5) It is not clear what practical effect the EO has. It seems to want the FTC and FCC to undertake regulatory activities that neither may have the power to take in an area that typically is not subject to agency action. Section 230 immunity arises when a service is sued for defamation or for an improper take-down; neither of those has anything to do with the agencies. It prohibits federal spending on misbehaving sites. It seems to want the FTC and state AGs to consider unfair/deceptive trade practice proceedings against sites for controlling content, but that would seem to run into some First Amendment problems.

6) The press is going to spend the next several days talking about the this and not the 100,000 dead Americans. So this is more shit flooding the zone.

Update: I agree with the general consensus that, while this will have no legal effect, it will make life difficult and annoying for Twitter, under the threat of the federal government (including a corrupt AG) watching them and their users. Which is the point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 28, 2020 at 01:33 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, May 09, 2020

How many FLOTUSes?

We were watching the documentary on Michelle Obama. In one segment, she is introduced before a speech as the 44th First Lady. But there have been more FLOTUSes than POTUSes. I count 52*--two women served in the role for Jackson, three for Tyler, two for Cleveland's first term, two for Benjamin Harrison, and three for Wilson. So that would make Obama the 51st FLOTUS and Melania Trump the 52d FLOTUS.

[*] William Henry Harrison's wife was too sick to travel from Ohio to Washington. Harrison's daughter-in-law Jane Irwin Harrison performed the role for the month.

Do we designate and recognize other office holders as we do POTUS? Is it too confusing to have numbers for FLOTUS or VPOTUS (there have 48, not more because there was no mechanism for filling the frequent vacancies pre-1967) that depart from the POTUS number with which everyone is familiar?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 9, 2020 at 04:10 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 08, 2020

Reuters on qualified immunity

Reuters on Friday published a multi-part series on qualified immunity. The center of the study is a empirical look at how Pearson v. Callahan and the Court's recent string of summary reversals changed how courts of appeals handle qualified immunity. Its findings:

  • In 2005-07, plaintiffs in excessive-force cases prevailed 56 % of the time; in 2017-19, defendants prevailed 57 % of the time.

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• This graph shows that the flip in plaintiff success is a recent development. From 2014-16, plaintiffs prevailed 52.2 % of the time; for 2017-19, it dropped to 43 %. Some of that might be traceable to the influx of Trump appointees (recognizing that some, such as Don Willetts of the Fifth Circuit, have criticized qualified immunity), as well as the hint from SCOTUS's summary reversals.

• The dark blue represents cases in which the court found no excessive force; the medium blue represents cases in which the court found excessive force but that it was not clearly established that the force was excessive; the light blue represents cases in which the court  skipped the merits question and found that it was not clearly established that the force was excessive. That third category has expanded the past two years.

• Courts (including SCOTUS) increasingly demand factual overlap with precedent before finding a right clearly established. Case in point: The Ninth Circuit granted qualified immunity because no precedent held that the Fourth Amendment was violated by police stealing private property while executing a search warrant.

• The latter two colors (which, on the eyeball test, appear to represent a bit less than half of the defendant victories) establish the new problem: Courts demand factual overlap for a right to be clearly established, then refuse to provide a precedential opinion that can serve to clearly establish that right going forward.*

[*] Courts seem more willing to reach the merits--so the right now is clearly established--in non-police, or at least non-excessive-force, cases.

• SCOTUS will review multiple petitions involving qualified immunity at its May 15 conference. These include the stolen coins, an officer who deployed a police dog on a non-resisting suspect, an officer who shot a child while attempting to shoot the non-threatening family dog, and Kim Davis trying to avoid damages for ignoring Obergefell (I used this in Civil Rights in the fall). Justice Thomas called for reconsidering qualified immunity in his concurring opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi; this will be a chance to see if anyone else wants to follow him down that path.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 8, 2020 at 02:18 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 04, 2020

Oral argument

Aside from Justice Thomas asking two questions, the argument seemed typical. The exchanges between one justice and the attorney sounded the same. While the Chief was cutting people off after about 3-ish minutes, it seemed as if attorneys were better able to complete their answers before being moved to a different point. Individual justices let attorneys go a bit longer in answering their questions before following up or tweaking. Other than the Chief-controlled calling, I am not sure a case such as this would have sounded much different in-person.

The big difference is that the Justices were less the stars. Justice Breyer's questions were short and relatively coherent. And the argument lacked the practices of piling on and rescuing. The former is where one group of justices peppers one side with repeated questions; the latter is where a different justice helps an attorney who is struggling with an issue either with a softball  or a Jeopardy-style "Isn't the right answer  ____" question. The interesting thing is how it plays with other arguments this week and next, which involve more divisive issues that prompt a more-divisive Court to ask questions in this manner.

It also made clear that there is no rational reason not to have live audio (if not video) of regular arguments.

Update: I forgot about the best line of the argument, from Lisa Blatt arguing for Booking: Riffing off the government's argument that "Cheesecake Factory" is not a factory that makes cheesecakes, Blatt argued: "'Crab House' is not a little house where crabs live. They're actually dead and you eat them." I wonder if she lives in Maryland.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 4, 2020 at 11:44 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Why cross examination works--and doesn't work

USA Today columnist Michael Stern, a former federal prosecutor, explains how he would cross examine President Trump, keeping him from slipping away, generalizing, or lying, as he does in response to reporters' questions.

I share Stern's wish that reporters would do a better job of questioning Trump, beginning with asking shorter, non-multi-part, non-grandstanding questions. And I agree they have been doing a terrible job during these ridiculous briefings cum political rallies.

But the cross-examination analogy fails because of the different power dynamics. Cross examination is effective because a good attorney is in control and the witness is not. The witness must remain on the stand as long as the attorney wants to keep him there. The attorney can keep asking questions until the witness answers, she has the judge as a backstop to ensure the witness cannot sit there and not answer or try to leave the stand, and she has perjury as a legal backstop to keep him from lying. (We could say the same thing about oral argument, the other law analogy, where the judge as questioner similarly controls the event and the attorney subject cannot leave, refuse to answer, or lie).

WH reporters hold none of that power. Trump can answer or not answer whatever questions he wants however he wants, then move to another (more obsequious) reporter or unilaterally end the rally. He suffers no legal consequences for lying or not answering. Nor does he suffer political consequences. The best cross-examiner could not achieve anything with a witness who has neither a desire nor obligation to answer fully and obligation.

The best a good cross-examining reporter could achieve is causing Trump to bl0w up, lose his mind, and walk off the stage. Perhaps not a bad result.

[Update: This is why I do not watch presidential debates. There is similarly no obligation to answer the question or to answer the question honestly. The mechanics of the procedure do not allow the questioner to pin the answerer down]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 19, 2020 at 10:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The complexities of the Senate

David Super's piece about a canceled election, which I mentioned last night, revealed a math error in my original post on the topic. Option # 3 (Acting President Grassley) would be the result of a 49-48 Republican Senate rather than 50-47 (I think I coded Kansas as a state with a Republican governor). This is based on a 35-30 Democratic rump, 13 states with D governors who can appoint who they want, 18 states with R governors who can appoint who they want, and one state with a D governor forced to appoint a Republican. The result is the same--Acting President Grassley (or a more qualified person chosen by the Republican majority)

A series of email exchanges with David adds some new wrinkles and complications.

David proposes that Cooper could finesse the appointment situation by finding the most liberal Republican available, someone who would not allow Trump/Pence to return to the White House, even if he would caucus with the GOP. That might get us out of President Trump, although it leaves Acting President Grassley.

In any event, that option is blocked by North Carolina's Senate-vacancy law, amended by the GOP legislature after Roy Cooper became governor, which requires the governor to appoint from a "list of three persons recommended by the State executive committee of the political party with which the vacating member was affiliated when elected." So it is not just that Cooper cannot appoint who he wants; he cannot appoint the Republican he wants. I imagine the North Carolina Republican party will find someone pretty Trumpist.

The more interesting wrinkle is this (also suggested by someone on a Con Law listserv discussion). North Carolina law allows the governor to appoint when there is "a vacancy in the office of United States Senator from this State, whether caused by death, resignation, or otherwise than by expiration of term." The vacancy in the Senate occurring at 12:01 p.m. on January 3 is caused by the expiration of the prior term combined with the failure of a new Senator to qualify because of the failure to hold elections. There are two ways to read this.

One is that the governor cannot make an appointment in this situation, because the expiration of the current term created the vacancy. If so, Cooper cannot make an appointment, leaving us with a 48-48 Senate.

The second reading is that an appointment is allowed because the failure of a new Senator to qualify caused the vacancy, which is an "otherwise" cause distinct from expiration of the term. But then it is not clear how that party limitation can or should apply. The party limitation applies when "the Senator [whose departure created the vacancy] was elected as the nominee of a political party." But there is no such Senator in this situation. Current GOP Senator Thom Tillis is not the Senator chosen as of 12:01 p.m., the moment the vacancy occurs, because of expiration of his term. It is of no moment that Tillis most recently was elected to the seat; the significance of that election ended with his term. (Just as it is of no moment who most recently held a House seat as of the expiration of his term). On this reading, we have a vacancy created "otherwise" that allows a temporary appointment, but no  former "Senator . . . elected as the nominee of a political party" to trigger the party limitation to limit the appointment. Cooper thus can appoint a Democrat, producing a 49-48 Democratic Senate. There follows a nice question of who resolves any dispute about the lawfulness of this appointment: the Senate, through its power to judge qualifications, or the North Carolina Supreme Court as the last word on state law.

So now we have a new question about the remaining 31 states, their statutes, and how they handle this combination of expiration of term and failure to qualify. For example, Minnesota's law says the governor can make a temporary appointment to fill "any vacancy," with vacancy defined as any time the office is not occupied. I looked at Minnesoat because it faced a similar situation in 2009 when the Al Franken-Norm Coleman recount and election contest continued into July; Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty floated the idea of a temporary appointment until the contest resolved, reading the statute to mean an undecided election created a vacancy supporting an appointment. A vacancy because no election had been held should be the same. Perhaps only some subset of the 32 open states can make appointments, meaning Senate control depends on which combination of states are able to appoint.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 18, 2020 at 04:25 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, April 17, 2020

Even more January 20, 2021

Following my posts speculating about the effects of President Trump canceling the elections, David Super (Georgetown) games it out at Politico.

David plays out a few different scenarios than I did, to some interesting conclusions and ideas.

• He begins from the premise that Trump canceled the elections through an unlawful act, as opposed to states being unable to carry out the election because of COVID-19. This creates a greater possibility of a President Biden, because Democratic states are more likely to defy the President and hold elections. But he then says those states would not be sufficient to select a President because they would not equal 270 electoral votes, producing a stalemate. I disagree. The Twelfth Amendment requires someone obtain "a majority of the whole number of electors appointed." If the only elections are in Democratic states totaling (to pick a random number) 211 electoral votes, the President can be elected with 106 votes. He comes back to acknowledge that not someone can be elected with fewer than 270 votes, but having some states fail to appoint electors would cast a "cloud" over the process.

• David floats the idea that the current House could continue beyond January 3, despite the 20th Amendment. He argues that the availability of successors is an implied condition on the past Congress ending and that the most recently elected representatives could legitimately continue to serve, when the election was prevented by someone else's malfeasance. I am not sure I buy the argument. But it takes us down the road to a House contingency election (if no one gets an Electoral College majority) that could produce a 26-22 victory for Trump, given the split in state delegations. This could be confounded by the defying (Democratic) states electing some new members and perhaps changing the make-up of their state delegations.

• He argues that the rump Senate of 65 (if no new Senators are elected) may be unable to sit or select a President for lack of a quorum. He also gets a 51-49 Senate through new appointments. But, as I said in my first post, three states do not allow for appointments and North Carolina requires that the appointee be from the same party as the past seat-holder, which produces a 50-47 Republican Senate.

• He introduces an interesting wrinkle if we get into § 19 and the cabinet: § 19(e) states that a cabinet officer under impeachment at the time of the vacancy cannot act as president. A Democratic-controlled House could manipulate who becomes acting president by impeaching cabinet officers, especially those who they deemed complicit in Trump's cancellation of the elections. David puts it this way: "Democrats enjoy debating which Trump Cabinet member they think is worst; this could force them to decide which one they find most tolerable."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 17, 2020 at 08:38 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Class certification in felon-disenfranchisement case

In February, the Eleventh Circuit declared invalid a Florida law that required released felons to pay court-ordered financial obligations before their voting rights could be reinstated, affirming an injunction prohibiting enforcement as to the 17 named plaintiffs. At the time, I wrote:

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

We got the answer on Tuesday. The district court certified a 23(b)(2) class of all persons who would be eligible to vote but-for unpaid obligations and a sub-class of persons who would be eligible but-for unpaid obligations and who show a genuine inability to pay those obligations. The state opposed certification in part on the grounds that an injunction is unnecessary, because the state will abide by any ruling if the plaintiffs prevail on the merits. The district court responded:

Here, though, the Secretary’s promise to abide by any ruling is not enough. After entry of a preliminary injunction in favor of the 17 individual plaintiffs, the Secretary advised Supervisors of Elections throughout the state that the ruling applied only to the 17 individuals. The March 2020 elections went forward on that basiswithout any statewide effort to conform to the United States Constitution as interpreted by both this court and the Eleventh Circuit. Class members can hardly be faulted for asserting that, if the ruling on the merits ultimately is that they have a constitutional right to vote, the right should be recognized in an enforceable decision.

The district court properly nailed the state on its inconsistency--promises of future voluntary compliance with a particularized injunction are undermined by past refusal to voluntarily comply, making the next step of class certification necessary. This is perhaps how litigation should work--a particularized injunction for individuals, expanded to a class if the state chooses not to voluntarily change as to non-parties. This is how some of the marriage-equality litigation proceeded, notably in Alabama.

But the state's framing, at least as described by the district court, is circular: The state would "abide by any court ruling." But any court ruling is limited to the named plaintiffs, so not changing conduct towards non-plaintiffs is not a failure to abide by the ruling. We need a new concept to capture what we want the government to do in changing its enforcement behavior to persons not protected by the injunction. Perhaps we could think of it as abiding not by the injunction but by the law-declaratory aspect of the court's judgment--the signal from the court as to the state of the law, separate from the order compelling government to act or refrain from acting, that hints at what will happen if government continues (as it is free under the particularized injunction) to enforce its laws as to non-parties.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 9, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Universality in Texas

Following on Dan's post about the Tuesday's Texas abortion case and courtesy of Josh Blackman, there is FN 19 of the opinion:
 
Although not necessary to our decision, we note that the district court purported to  enjoin GA-09 as to all abortion providers in Texas. But Respondents are only a subset of  Texas abortion providers and did not sue as class representatives. The district court lacked authority to enjoin enforcement of GA-09 as to anyone other than the named plaintiffs. See Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 931 (1975) (explaining “neither declaratory nor injunctive relief can directly interfere with enforcement of contested statutes or ordinances except with respect to the particular federal plaintiffs”). The district court should be mindful of this limitation on federal jurisdiction at the preliminary injunction stage.
This is obviously dicta, given how the case came out. But it illustrates two points about the scope-of-the-injunction issue. First, it is not limited to cases involving ederal law and certainly not limited to federal executive orders and regulations. Because the real issue is injunctions extending beyond the parties, it is present regardless of the source of law. Second, had the court come out the other way on the merits, this is a good example of a case in which the practical effect would be universality, either because the government will fall in line and not enforce against anyone or because it would be easy for other providers to join and have the injunction extended to them.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 8, 2020 at 01:09 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 02, 2020

(Still) More on 12:01 p.m., January 20, 2021

I shared my thoughts on what happens if President Trump declares an emergency and tries to suspend the elections and stay in office. A reader raises an issue as to my seventh option, so I amend my earlier argument slightly. [Update: This conversation has taken off on a listserv, so I am putting in a page break and adding some additional points]

1) I suggested in my original post that, in the absence of elections, state legislatures would adopt a new method of appointing electors. But I suggested only states with unified legislative/executive control would be able to participate, because no agreement would be possible in a divided government--a governor would not agree to legislative appointment  by a legislature controlled by the other party and a legislature controlled by one party would not give power to the governor. This affects eight states with Republican legislative control and Democratic governors, four states Democratic legislative control and Republican governors, and Minnesota, which has a divided legislature.

A reader suggests that the reference to "legislature" in Art. II § 1 gives the legislature the power to act unilaterally to appoint electors, without passing a law requiring gubernatorial approval or subject to gubernatorial veto. Legislature means the legislature itself acting on its own; legislature is not a synonym for "by law" (which would mean via the appropriate state lawmaking process). If so, 12 of those states (everyone but Minnesota, I presume) will appoint electors committed to the candidate of the controlling party: eight Republican legislatures for 93 votes for Trump, four Democratic legislatures for 28 votes for Biden. Trump wins 310-223. That would be a landslide.

This still assumes there is a House of Representatives to open and count the electoral votes or that the Senate can do so without the House; otherwise, we fall to Option 10. It also assumes the state legislatures can function come January if there were no fall 2020 election or that they act before their sessions end.

2) (A point that a commenter made to my original post): The President Pro Tem need not be the senior-most member of the majority. Instead, as someone argued on the list, the Senate will look for someone who would make a good caretaker President, would not be missed in the Senate, and is from a state with a same-party governor. In other words, if it goes to the PPT, do not assume it will be Leahy (Vermont has a Republican governor) or Grassley. But that raises several alternatives: 1) PPT goes to Leahy or Grassley or someone similar as a career-capper, a last act before leaving public service (hopefully on the assumption the person also would make a good caretaker); 2) the PPT, whoever it is, declines because he does not want to surrender his Senate seat, leaving us with Acting President Pompeo; or 3) the PPT has confidence (if not an outright quid pro quo) that his same-party governor will reappoint him to his vacated seat once a President is selected.

3) Another list member offered this: The Speaker need not be a member of the House. This means her term as Spreaker is not constitutionally capped at two years and does not run with the term of the House. So the current House could, prior to January 3, name Hillary Clinton (although not a member) as Speaker with a term to run until the House selects a new Speaker, whenever that is. The current House also could extend the length of Pelosi's term as Speaker, allowing her to remain as Speaker after her term as representative ends on January 3. There thus is a Speaker on January 20 who can resign and act as president. This is a cute idea, but it raises several questions:

    Regardless of what a prior House did, can there be a Speaker of the House if there is no House (as there will not be come January 3 if the states cannot hold elections)?

    Can a Speaker who is not a member of the House qualify to act as president? Section 19(a)(1) says the Speaker acts as president "upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress." On one reading offered by a list member, only someone who holds both the Speakership and a seat in Congress can act as president because only someone who holds both can resign both. An alternative reading (which I prefer) is that it means the person must resign whatever positions she holds--if the Speakership and a seat, she must resign both; if only the Speakership, she resigns that. As another member argued, the "resign both" language likely was intended to avoid an Incompatibility Clause problem--make sure a person could not act as president while retaining her legislative seat. But that purpose does not support reading the text to limit the class of Speakers who can act as president.

All of which is to say that this does not begin and end with what states do with the electors. The range of legislative options is greater than I suggested in the original post.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 2, 2020 at 03:19 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, March 23, 2020

States can pirate and plunder copyrighted material all they want

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

Some additional points to draw out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 23, 2020 at 04:16 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Acting President Who?

This post is a lark, inspired by a question from my daughter, a question from a colleague, and general paranoia among liberals that President Trump will cancel or undermine the election so he can remain in office in 2021.

Whether the election can happen and how is a genuine concern given coronavirus. But there is no single "election;" there is a series of 51 simultaneous elections in 50 states and D.C., and it is unlikely Trump at his most nefarious can stop alll. Nevertheless, assume the worst-case scenario of no election in any state this fall. The possible results are infinite.

Let's have some fun.

Trump's term as President (and Pence's as VP) end at noon on January 20, 2021. This is non-negotiable. The failure to hold elections means there is "neither a President nor Vice President" due to "failure to qualify," putting us into the Presidential Succession Act.

Acting President Pelosi. The Speaker of the House is first in the statutory line, unconstitutionally so in the eyes of many and unwisely so as a policy matter in the eyes of most. But there is a problem: If there is no election in November, it will not affect only the President; presumably states would be unable to hold House elections. There thus would be no House come January 3, because no House members would have been elected.  If there is no House, there can be no Speaker. If there is no Speaker, the President pro tempore of the Senate becomes acting president. Meaning:

Acting President Patrick Leahy. The Senate is a continuing body, with roughly 2/3 of the body returning in the new Congress. Thirty-five Senate seats are up in 2020; if there are no elections, those 35 seats will not be filled. Thus, the Senate in the 117th Congress in January 2021 will consist of 65 returning Senators. The breakdown of that rump is 33 Democrats, 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 30 Republicans. The President pro tem is the senior-most member of the chamber majority--Patrick Leahy of Vermont. But:

Acting President Grassley. In 46 states, the legislature can empower the Governor to make a temporary appointment to a Senate vacancy, pending an election at a future point (timing varies by state). Three of the four (OK, OR, RI) that do not allow temporary appointments have a Senate seat up this year. Thus, of the 35 contested seats, appointments could be made for 32 of them; of those 32, 13 are in states with a Democratic governor and 19 are in states with a Republican governor. Three (Arizona, North Carolina, and Wyoming) require the appointee to be of the same party as the vacating Senator; North Carolina's Democratic governor would have to appoint a Republican to the seat vacated by Republican Thom Tillis. This means 12 Democratic appointees and 20 Republican appointees, creating a 50-47 Republican Senate. The President pro tem (as in the current Senate) would be Chuck Grassley of Iowa. But:

Acting President Mike Pompeo. Five of the states with contested seats that would need an appointment (Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia) have 2020 gubernatorial races. If the election for President, House, and Senate does not happen, neither can the election for governor. Absent a governor and lieutenant governor, succession would depend on the weeds of the organization of state government--is either house of the legislature a continuing body that would have a leader who could serve as governor? If not, no appointment is possible in those five states. This means loss of four Republican appointees (by Republican governors in New Hampshire, Texas, and West Virginia and cross-party appointment by a Democratic governor in North Carolina) and one Democratic appointee (by a Democratic governor in Montana). That leaves us with a 46-46 Senate. Absent some sort of compromise, there would be no President pro tempore of the Senate. The succession law takes us into the cabinet, beginning with the secretary of state. Unless:

Acting President Grassley. Suppose that anticipating these gaps, the Senators in the three states guaranteed a same-party replacement resign in December 2020 so the governor can make the appointment. Those would be Republicans in NC, TX, and WV. They would remain in those seats through January 3, 2021, making it a 49-46 Republican Senate that chooses Grassley as President pro tem, who becomes acting president. Or:

Acting Prsident Grassley. Alternatively, the terms for those five governors end after January 3, when the new Congress begins and the Senate vacancy becomes clear. Each thus could make an appointment then, before his term expires, adding four Republicans and one Democrat to a 50-47 Republican Senate. Unless:

President Trump. The Constitution empowers each state to appoint electors "in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct." Every state has directed electors be chosen by popular election. But facing such an emergency, states could change their laws to provide a different selection mechanism--legislative or executive appointment. A state presumably will enact a law changing its selection method only if both chambers and the governor are from the same party. Twenty-two states, for 219 electoral votes, have unified Republican control and will appoint electors to vote for Trump; 15 states + D.C., for 195 electoral votes, have unified Democratic control and will appoint electors to vote for Biden. Twelves states, for 124 electoral votes, have a Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic governor or vice versa, and one state has a divided legislature. Those states may be unable to agree on a selection method--the legislature will not give the governor of an opposing party the appointment power; the governor will veto any attempt to give the power to the legislature. So the electoral college votes for Trump over Biden, 219-195 (which Trump will call the greatest landslide in U.S. history). The Twelfth Amendment provides that the winner must obtain a majority of the whole number of electors appointed. Because those 13 states did not appoint electors (because there was no election and no alternative appointment mechanism), the whole number is 414; 219 constitutes a majority and Trump is reelected. Alternatively:

President Trump. Those 13 states, not wanting to be left out, could compromise and create a mechanism to split their electoral votes. Trump gets 281 electoral votes (219 + half of 124) while Biden gets 257 (195 + half of 124). Trump is reelected. Unless:

President Trump. The electoral votes must be opened and counted before a joint session of the House and Senate, presided over by the President of the Senate (i.e., the Vice President).  Because there was no election, however, there is no House. Is the Twelfth Amendment satisfied if only the Senate is present for the count? If yes, Trump is president. The answer to that question may depend on the composition of the Senate (see above). If no:

Acting President Grassley or Pompeo. If the votes cannot be properly counted, no one will have qualified as President or Vice President. We are back into the statute. There still is no speaker. Maybe there is President pro tem, depending on the composition of the Senate (see above). Or we are back in the cabinet. Unless:

President Trump or Biden? If coronavirus is the source of election interference, the answer may turn on how many states--and of what partisan composition--will take steps to enable meaningful, simple, and manageable vote-by-mail. The easy partisan answer is that Democratic-controlled states are more inclined to expand the franchise than Republican-controlled states; easy vote-by-mail is an expansion (enabling) of the franchise in this context. So the answer may be depend on who is willing and able to create better vote-by-mail systems.

I will close by saying this is a parlor game because I am bored right now. I do not expect Trump to interfere with the election. I do expect life to be normal enough come November to hold an election or that states will create mechanisms to handle it (one side effect of the current situation is the number of governors flexing their muscles in the absence of federal action). I believe there will be the usual transition of government power come January.

But blogs exist for these kind of parlor games. Feel free to weigh in.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 20, 2020 at 01:11 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Friday, March 13, 2020

Continuity of Government in a time of Cholera

Norm Ornstein writes in The Atlantic about the need for Congress to create some contingency plans in case the bodies are unable to meet or, worse, if substantial numbers of members become sick or die in the current pandemic. I had the privilege of doing some work with Norm on continuity issues following 9/11, with the Continuity of Government Commission that he chaired and several congressional hearings, as well as writing about this in several of my early articles. Then, it was a single catastrophic bomb (such as Flight 93) destroying Congress as a body of people; now it is the slow burn of Covid-19. But the failure to act 20 years ago--to allow for remote sessions, action by emergency rump bodies, and temporary House appointments--looms large.

In addition, a maudlin conversation with a colleague suggests that congressional continuity may not be the only concern. The President (who, despite the Surgeon General's sycophancy, is old, overweight, and not in great health) and Vice President were exposed to the virus by one individual. Nancy Pelosi is third in line. And no way would the House confirm a new VP nominated by Pence or Trump "in an election year," citing the McConnell Rule. (House Democrats dragged their feet on Nelson Rockefeller, and those were relatively normal times).

I have said  that the West Wing is the Trump presidency--I guess this is the next season of the show.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 13, 2020 at 02:14 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The procedure of frivolous political defamation actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

YouTube not a state actor (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Time for Congress to Codify Bivens?

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Bivens closer to death (and Thomas would kill it)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Fourth Vesting Clause and Explicitly Authorized Delegation

Beyond the cognate Article I, II, and III vesting clauses that parcel sovereignty into legislative, executive, and judicial powers, there is a fourth “vesting” clause that uses the language of “vest” to allow the grant of power to another branch of government. It is the “Excepting Clause,” or the excepting provision of the Appointments Clause. It is instructive for what it allows and how it allows it.

“But the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.” (Art. II, § 2, cl. 2, emphasis added.)

As far as I’m aware, it’s the sole clause in the Constitution to explicitly contemplate horizontal delegation of power, by which I mean legislative reallocation of initially granted authority to another branch. The Take Care Clause contemplates vertical subdelegation within the executive branch.

How is the delegation allowed? Initially, Article II grants the nomination and appointment power to the President upon the qualification that the Senate provides its advice and consent. The Senate and House acting together, however, can opt out of that default regime for inferior officers through ordinary legislation.

The policy basis for the delegation is convenience in light of the anticipated possibility of numerous officers requiring appointment. Notwithstanding that important value, the scope of authorized delegation is only a cabined one. The Clause authorizes only delegation of a portion of the appointment power—for inferior officers only—and only to particular recipients of delegated power, i.e. the Courts, in the Heads of (executive) Departments, or in the President alone. Finally, delegation ends formal congressional involvement in the appointment, at least until the legislative grant of appointing authority is repealed.

This instance of explicitly authorized delegation is instructive in at least two ways:

  1. It is evidence the Framers knew how to authorize delegation when they wanted to, and when they did, the scope of the delegation was authorized only limitedly.
  2. It recognizes that delegation is never just a horizontal choice. The Clause indicated concern over the anticipated recipients of the delegated power who were clearly identified too, recognizing delegation as a vector with "x" and "y" components. Inter-branch delegation is horizontal (from one branch to another, e.g. Article I to Article II) but also vertical in that Congress grants the power with a designated level of officer within the branch, e.g. President v. Attorney General. That anchoring of delegated functions more remotely from the President within the executive branch anticipated the modern trend toward presidential administration of power.

Of course, the Excepting Clause by its terms doesn't say anything about delegation of rulemaking authority and need not be read to disallow delegation of rulemaking. Those who eschew formalism can certainly resort to many functionalist, pragmatic justifications for delegation. Those, however, like myself, who find textualism and formalism persuasive should consider the existence of a fourth vesting clause as textual evidence that the Founders knew how to authorize and limit delegation when they intended to.

Posted by T. Samahon on February 19, 2020 at 02:53 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Trump Impeachment and Bad News for Federal Judges

The “Rules of Proceedings” Clause grants the Senate the power to frame the rules of its proceedings. And the impeachment trial clause specifies that the Senate has the "sole power to try all impeachments." "Sole" textually commits the impeachment trial power to the Senate, and "try" is a word that the Supreme Court claims, ironically enough, lacks any judicially discoverable and manageable standards. In Walter Nixon, Chief Justice Rehnquist enlisted fainthearted originalist votes to conclude there was a lack of discoverable standards to allow judicial review of Nixon's impeachment. Justices Scalia and Thomas joined the majority in consulting a 1971 Webster's dictionary to claim, due to a "variety of definitions" in conflict with ratification era dictionaries, ambiguity in the meaning of the word "try." Thus, the case was a political question unsuitable for judicial review. Of course, in the Seventh Amendment context, the Court regularly decides what a jury trial entails by looking to English common law at the time of ratification.

Walter Nixon's holding roped off the Senate's impeachment trial process from any judicial review. Effectively, it announced, to quote Justice Souter, "an unreviewable discretion in the Senate to ignore completely the constitutional direction to 'try' impeachment cases." Now, post Walter Nixon, we have just witnessed the Senate "trying" a case without any witnesses. That absence of witnesses (prosecution or otherwise) did not prejudice defendant Trump. Had he actually been injured rather than helped by the Senate majority, Trump might have attempted judicial review only to be confronted with Walter Nixon.

But Walter Nixon together with the new "Trump v. House Managers" no-witness precedent are swords that can cut offensively as well as defensively. One potential proposition from Trump that could serve as precedent is that the Senate need not allow any witnesses at any impeachment trial. What if a future accused wants defense witnesses yet the Senate majority finds no constitutional duty to hear from them in order to "try" an accused and instead it elects to convict on the basis of a "coin toss" or its view the accused is a really "bad guy," to invoke Souter's hypotheticals? And what if the impeachment target is not a President with comparatively greater legal resources and political allies, but a judge?

Consider that judicial impeachments are lower visibility events than presidential impeachments with less fanfare; politically, federal judges have a different relationship with senators than a President, as head of a party, enjoys; the resolution of judicial impeachments is relatively fast, entailing less opportunity cost for Congress, especially with subdelegation of evidence gathering functions under Senate Impeachment Rule XI; and judges are impeachable for whatever constitutes not "good behavior," which might be conceived as a more specific and higher Article III standard for appropriate judicial behavior—not simply a shorthand cross-reference to the very bad behavior embodied in Article II grounds as "treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

But isn't the 2/3 supermajority vote to convict a safeguard against a no-defense-witness impeachment trial? Institutionally, individual judicial targets have significantly fewer legal resources at the ready for their defense than incumbent Presidents. It's no wonder that threats of impeachment against federal judges frequently precipitate resignations in impeachment's shadow; impeachment's in terrorem effect reaches many more federal judges than those formally impeached and convicted.

Of course, we could try and "read" the Trump nonjudicial precedent more limitedly, i.e. the Senate can deny the House prosecution, but not a defendant, all witnesses. It's unclear, though, why that would be the case where the Senate holds the judicially unreviewable "sole power to try all impeachments." Told by the Court that the Senate can do what it wants when trying impeachments, we should be unsurprised when it does just that.

Posted by T. Samahon on February 15, 2020 at 01:22 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Will the Seila Case Provoke Bold Moves from the Roberts Court?

Originalist arguments may provoke bold moves from the Roberts Court this Term. In Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Court will decide whether an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau violates the Constitution. Leading originalist scholars have challenged the independent structures incorporated by the Bureau and a slew of other agencies as unconstitutional novelties. These agencies are independent, and arguably trammel on the President’s exercise of “the executive power” under Article II of the Constitution, because the President cannot remove their heads at will.

The originalist critique of independent agencies is no longer purely academic, thanks to a 2008 dissent that Justice Kavanaugh wrote as a judge on the D.C. Circuit. As he noted, the leading Supreme Court precedent supporting independent agencies, Humphrey’s Executor, has “long been criticized . . . as inconsistent with the text of the Constitution and the understanding of the text that largely prevailed from 1789 through 1935.” Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB, 537 U.S. 667, 694 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Then-Judge Kavanaugh conceded that he was unable to set aside Humphrey’s Executor, as it was “binding precedent.” Now that Kavanaugh is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, this constraint no longer applies.

Originalist arguments raise serious questions about the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a multitude of other independent agencies. I will be part of the discussion of Seila and agency independence in the ABA’s upcoming issue of Administrative and Regulatory Law News. My contribution, Alexander Hamilton’s Independent Agency, will highlight the independent structure of an obscure, founding-era agency known as the Sinking Fund Commission. (For more background on the Commission, please see my working paper and earlier post.) In the article for the ABA, I conclude that the independent structures of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission are much closer to founding-era practice than previously thought.

It will be interesting to see how these issues play out at oral argument on March 3 and in the Court’s ultimate resolution of the Seila case. Given the complexity of the issues and the magnitude of the case, I suspect that Seila will be one of the Court’s end-of-term blockbusters this June. 

Posted by Christine Chabot on February 6, 2020 at 09:25 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, February 01, 2020

The Administrative Law Dispute at the Heart of the Census and DACA Cases

It is an exciting time to study administrative law. The pillars of this field — cases such as Chevron, Humphrey’s Executor, and Whitman v. American Trucking — seem likely to be up for grabs at the Supreme Court. And the Court’s resolution of the controversial census and DACA cases has turned (or will likely turn) on applications of the Administrative Procedure Act’s “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review. Both cases involve decisions of enormous importance to the Trump Administration. What you may not know is that the arbitrary and capricious standard of review is also up for grabs. As explained in my recent paper (written with Barry Sullivan and forthcoming in the Connecticut Law Review), the Supreme Court has never formed a stable majority on the question of how much deference courts owe the executive branch under this standard of review. Should courts find a decision arbitrary and capricious where an officer implements the president’s preferred policies but omits expert analysis of relevant data? Or should courts ease up on analytical requirements and provide greater latitude for policies implemented at the behest of an elected president?

Unfortunately, the Court’s 2019 decision in Department of Commerce v. New York sends mixed messages on these questions. The Secretary of Commerce (Wilbur Ross)’s controversial decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census drew shifting coalitions of five Justices. Chief Justice Roberts provided the deciding vote and wrote the opinion for each coalition, and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas joined the part of the Chief Justice’s opinion that approved the Secretary’s general analysis. The Chief Justice granted great deference when he determined that the Secretary’s explanation need only lie “within the bounds of reasoned decisionmaking.” It was reasonable for Secretary Ross to conclude “that reinstating a citizenship question was worth the risk of a potentially lower response rate,” even though the Secretary bypassed routine testing designed to provide additional empirical evidence about response rates.

Had the Court resolved the case on this first issue alone, its decision may have signaled a shift to a more deferential version of arbitrary and capricious review. However, procedural irregularities led the Chief Justice to switch sides and invalidate the Secretary’s decision on grounds of pretext. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor joined the Chief Justice’s opinion on this issue. Roberts’s disapproval focused on the “significant mismatch between the decision the Secretary made and the rationale he provided.” While the finding of pretext turned on “unusual circumstances,” none of the opinions expressly discussed late-breaking evidence of a clandestine study conducted by Dr. Thomas Hofeller, a redistricting specialist. This evidence raises the possibility that Secretary Ross was aware of Hofeller’s findings (that a citizenship question would benefit “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites”) and that the Secretary declined routine testing to avoid collecting public evidence on these points. The Chief Justice’s finding of pretext implicitly addressed this concern, but it failed to articulate a manageable standard for future cases.  

The Court missed an important opportunity to mitigate similar concerns in future cases. Rather than a finding of pretext “good for this day” only, the Court might have achieved the same result by finding the Secretary’s analytical shortcuts arbitrary and capricious. The initial and more deferential standard of review applied by Chief Justice Roberts glossed over the fact that the Secretary chose to base his official decision on limited evidence about response rates when he bypassed testing routinely employed for new census questions. A less deferential approach would reflect Justice Scalia’s earlier suggestion, in FCC v. Fox I, that “failure to adduce empirical data that can readily be obtained” might render a policy change arbitrary and capricious. It would also align with Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in the same case. Justice Kennedy emphasized the importance of agency decisions that are “explained in light of available data,” “informed by the agency’s experience and expertise,” and “justified by neutral principles and a reasoned explanation.”

It is unclear whether the Court will have a chance to clarify the arbitrary and capricious standard of review when ruling on the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the DACA (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. While this case is extremely important, it involves a distinct set of humanitarian policy concerns, including reliance interests. Broader questions about the arbitrary and capricious standard of review seem likely to remain unanswered in 2020.

Posted by Christine Chabot on February 1, 2020 at 09:48 PM in 2018 End of Term, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

On Presidential Accountability and Running Out the Clock

There are really very few opportunities to meaningfully hold a modern American president personally accountable when his party stands behind him.

1. A sitting President can't be criminally prosecuted, at least according to the executive branch and notable executive branch alumni.

2. Civilly, the President is absolutely immune, even after leaving office, for official actions taken while President.

3. Electorally, since the 22nd Amendment, a President stands for reelection only once, but typically has enormous advantages as incumbent and head of a major political party. If the President prioritizes self-preservation over party, the subsequent political fallout for party is a non-check.

4. Then, there’s removal from office through impeachment and conviction.

That bicameral "hundred-ton-gun" is difficult to bring to bear against a President. And Congress has terrible aim. Congress: 0, POTUS: 2. And, no, we shouldn't count Nixon's in terrorem resignation. My inquiry is interested in holding a president accountable even when his party stands behind him. The GOP of Nixon's era was unwilling to support him. As the Post reported, "Mr. Nixon said he decided he must resign when he concluded that he no longer had 'a strong enough political base in the Congress' to make it possible for him to complete his term of office."

The slowness of impeachment and the 4-year-term clock is an acute problem.

Trump's trial team has pressed the procedural argument that the House should have (effectively) conducted all investigation and fact development prior to the Senate trial. Of course, this process argument against witnesses and additional evidence would suffocate most impeachment efforts that involve factual disputes. If the Democratically controlled House actually decided to go back and try and gather additional evidence now by litigating House subpoenas, the ensuing presidential assertions of executive privilege and litigation would drag on for months if not years.

Thus, if a President ran out the clock on the term of office, impeachment of Presidents (but not judges) effectively becomes a dead letter. The delay would not only blunt accountability, but deny it altogether.

That outcome's absurdity suggests that:

(1) the original impeachment process cannot effectively function in cases of presidential impeachment and requires amendment, for example, by (i) very clearly empowering a presiding Chief Justice to adjudicate disputes about privilege (as a substitute for satellite pre-trial litigation), and (ii) authorizing both chambers of Congress to legislatively commit to more detailed impeachment procedure--at a time not connected with a live impeachment controversy--to lessen the problem of partisan bespoke trial process; and

(2) the other legal and political methods of holding presidents accountable, such as #1, the executive branch's self-serving view of immunity against criminal prosecution of a sitting president, should be revisited.

A constitutional amendment may be the deus ex machina of intractable governance problems, but that feels like where we are now. Pragmatism about partisanship tells me, given current political realities, Article V would never be unsuccessfully invoked to address this particular impeachment or perhaps even this President. A prospective-only amendment, however, might prove a more successful strategy, particularly if partisans could, through futurity's uncertainty, come to look at the problem impartially.

Update (Feb. 6, 2020): Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) has proposed amending the impeachment process -- definitely not the constitutional amendment to the impeachment process I was proposing and principally offered as a partisan sally following acquittal.

Posted by T. Samahon on January 30, 2020 at 08:00 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, January 27, 2020

Thomas and Gorsuch on universal injunctions (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

Congressional design, Senate partisanship by class, and impeachment trial politics

Post-17th Amendment, both the House and the Senate are directly elected--a change from the earlier dual constituency of state legislative election of senators. Still, important differences remain that result in intra-branch friction such as we're seeing in the impeachment process.

By design, the House would be more democratically responsive than the Senate due to its shorter terms and its method of direct election. One perceived downside was the House would be "liable to err also, from fickleness and passion." This is consistent with the apocryphal explanation that the Senate was designed to "cool" the politically responsive House as a tea saucer cooled hot tea.  The chambers’ different characters were features, not flaws, such as the requirement that the more politically accountable House “hold the purse” by originating all tax revenue measures but requiring Senate concurrence for them. Like hot and cold faucets, the chambers could deliver warm, but non-scalding (and non-freezing) water to the public.

Beyond Senate direct election and the 17th Amendment, consider an important political development on the House side that makes the House's "water" even more scalding. Aggressive gerrymandering in the House effectively allows representatives to choose their voters rather than the other way around. This bipartisan opportunity has changed over time and is far more effective now than it was at the founding. The House has very heavily gerrymandered districts (except for 1 representative states with at large districts, e.g. Wyoming, Montana, etc.) with very low rates of incumbents losing those seats. The increase in polarized House districts maintains that body's penchant for fiery politics, but it also makes the seats securely partisan. The Framers were right the House would prove hot headed, but not because the body was being responsive to what Americans in the aggregate in the several states would want. In a sense, with the new gerrymandering, the House lost some of the feature but kept the flaw - the House now is only modestly politically responsive, but still subject to fits and passions from partisanly gerrymandered, center fleeing districts.

The House-side development is not a phenomenon that occurs in isolation, however. If the House's still scalding water temperature is to be cooled, it requires the Senate to be more removed from partisanship. But today's elected Senate seats, incapable of being gerrymandered, are more competitive than House races. Consequently, senators up for reelection must be more politically responsive to their states’ voters in the run up to an election as they try to capture the median voter for their state. In the continuous body of the Senate, different Senate classes of senators (I, II, or III) will weight their responsiveness to voters depending on their proximity to election. Senators temporally closest to Election Day will, relatively speaking, be most responsive to voters in their states and the donors who facilitate their reelection. As one unidentified senator reported to political scientist Richard Fenno, “[w]e say in the Senate that we spend four years as a statesman and two years as a politician.” Those most distant to election will be able to vote their independent judgments. The basis for acting with greater independence includes beliefs that voters have short memories, that time will vindicate the wisdom of a senator's vote, or that voters back home will find subsequent action that they approve to outweigh earlier displays of independence.

Steven Levitt modeled (JSTOR access required) how senators vote, estimating the relative weights of overall voter preferences of the state electorate, supporter preferences, the national party line, and the senator’s personal ideology. His research called into doubt the median voter theorem as it found the primary determinant of a vote was a senator's ideology (63%). Importantly, though, the effect of election proximity and Senate tenure did bear out Fenno's anecdote: “[a]s elections near [i.e. votes in the election year for non-retiring senators], the weight given to overall state voter preferences doubles [from 9% to 18%], with that increase being offset by a decline in the weight placed on the party line.” In short, senators in classes I (reelection in 2024), II (reelection in 2020), and III (reelection in 2022) can be expected to vote differently.

Turning to impeachment votes to be held prior to November 2020, I've noted the Senate was selected to act as the court of impeachment because it was considered to be "sufficiently independent." But the level of independence will differ across the body given senator proximity to election. There is no legal sanction for breaking one’s impeachment trial oath to "do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws." The only here-and-now sanction for oath breaking is the republican remedy of election. And the administering of that remedy lies in the hands of electorates back home.

So, on this account, laying impeachment law and evidence aside, it's unsurprising that Class II senators McConnell (KY, in state Trump net approval +14) or Graham (SC, Trump net approval +5) would coordinate with Trump or otherwise support a Trump acquittal; or that Collins (R-ME, Trump net approval -6) would position herself as independent; or that McSally would prove taciturn (R-AZ, Trump net approval -3); or that Jones would withhold judgment yet question whether there was enough evidence to convict (D-AL, Trump net approval +22); or that Coons would signal his approval of the case made by the House managers (D-DE, Trump net approval -15), etc.

This is not to say "it's all politics" in response to voter preferences or that all voter preferences are bad, especially if in the context of impeachment voters are demanding non-partisanship and the exercise of judgment. But it might mean Senate Classes I and III will need to be the segments of the continuing body willing to exercise "sufficient" independence.

Posted by T. Samahon on January 27, 2020 at 11:45 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

On Disappointed Presidents

President Trump’s response to impeachment proceedings seems more defiant than regretful. The President has expressed regret in other areas, however.  He “may[]” regret his appointment of Jerome Powell as Chair of the Federal Reserve. The President may also have reason to be disappointed in Chief Justice Roberts, a Republican appointee who has publicly countered the President’s attack on the independence of federal judges. Any disappointment suffered by the President would reflect Powell’s and Roberts’ independence and ability to remain in office while making decisions contrary to the President’s wishes. The independence of administrative agencies such as the Fed has been controversial. The independence of the federal judiciary is established by Article III of the Constitution.  

Supreme Court Justices have a long history of casting independent votes that disappoint the presidents who appointed them. President Eisenhower declared Justice Brennan one of his greatest “mistakes.” A disappointed President Theodore Roosevelt complained that he “could carve out of a banana a Judge with more backbone than” Justice Holmes. Historically, Justices’ voting records in non-unanimous cases reflect a strong tradition of independence, though there is reason to think that presidents have enhanced their ability to appoint ideologically compatible Justices in recent decades. As noted by Lee Epstein and Eric Posner, we may be on the cusp of a new era in which Justices’ votes align with the parties of their appointing presidents more than ever before. It seems unlikely that the Court will ever have another Justice like John Paul Stevens, a Republican appointee who generally sided with the liberal wing of the Court, or even a more moderate Republican appointee like Justice Kennedy.

Any shift to a more political court would still depend on Chief Justice Roberts, who may have a broader commitment to the Court’s institutional independence. And perhaps Justice Gorsuch’s commitment to originalism and textualism will lead to unexpected results in certain cases. The magnitude of any change would also depend on the types of cases that the Court chooses to decide. A Term in which the Court overruled Roe v. Wade and declared vast swaths of the administrative state unconstitutional would be very different than one in which none of these things occurred. 

Notwithstanding any increase in politicized voting, presidents ultimately lack power to create vacancies that allow them to appoint new Justices to the Court. Article III’s life tenure provisions instead allow Justices to choose when they will retire. In recent decades many Justices have chosen to remain on the bench and pass up politically opportune retirements. Justice Ginsburg declined to retire when President Obama was in office, and last year Justice Thomas declined to retire during President Trump’s first term in office. (Because it is an election year, none of the Justices are likely to retire voluntarily this year.) Both of these possible retirements would have maximized Justice Ginsburg’s and Justice Thomas’s odds of being replaced by like-minded successors who would remain on the Court for many decades to come. Justices’ autonomous retirement decisions present another facet of judicial independence that one would not expect to change any time soon.

Posted by Christine Chabot on January 25, 2020 at 09:48 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)