Friday, May 17, 2019

What's Roe got to do with it?

Andrew Sullivan praises Elizabeth Warren's proposals to codify Roe-level protections through federal legislation, because it allows for a political debate and political compromise that Roe preempted. He also blames Roe for the "batch of truly extreme bills in red states outlawing" abortion, which are designed to gin up a Supreme Court case that, with Brett Kavanaugh on the Court, will overrule Roe and the constitutional right to reproductive choice. But neither premise makes sense.

Sullivan's argument seems to be that because public opinion has remained relatively static on abortion since 1973, that legislators would not enact such extreme laws that are bound to be unpopular. But that makes no sense.  Alabama did not enact this law to challenge Roe for the sake of challenging Roe. It enacted this law because officials want to stop women from having abortions in Alabama. Once Roe is overruled, this remains the law in Alabama; there is no reason to believe that the Alabama legislature, having had its law declared constitutionally valid and enforceable, will say "oh, let's find a compromise." This will be the law in Alabama and the governor will set about enforcing it with glee. And nothing about Alabama's political alignment suggests Republican officials would pay any sort of political price for these laws. Same with Georgia, Missouri, and other states following on this course.

Roe was decided in a world in which abortion was illegal in many states. Without Roe, many of those bans would have remained in place. Or, as some states liberalized reproductive choice (which was happening in the years prior to Roe), other states (likely the states that are in the news now) would have enacted the laws that they are enacting or seeking to enact now. Contra Sullivan, it seems as likely that, without Roe, we would have gotten where we are (or where we are headed), but would have gotten here 40 years ago.

I also wonder about the constitutional validity of Warren's proposals under current doctrine and given the current Court (putting aside that it would not pass).

In her Medium piece, Warren calls for federal legislation that would: 1) Prohibit states from interfering in the ability of a health care provider to provide medical care or from interfering in the ability of a patient to access medical care from a provider; 2) Preempt TRAP laws; 3) Guarantee reproductive-health coverage in health plans, including repealing the Hyde Amendment; and 4) general protections for women, in seeking care and elsewhere (such as at work).

Is this valid federal legislation and under what power? Not § 5. Without Roe, Due Process does not protect reproductive freedom, so a law designed to protect that freedom by prohibiting state-level bans would not be congruent and proportional as to constitute legislation "enforcing" the 14th Amendment. Perhaps it could be framed as a gender-equality provision, enforcing the equal protection rights of women. But is halting abortion discrimination against women or is it halting a particular medical procedure that happens to have a disparate effect on women? And if the latter, is a disparate-impact provision congruent-and-proportional to a constitutional right that only prohibits disparate treatment?

So the power source would have to be the Commerce Clause. But a law doing what Warren proposes would interfere with the traditional state function of regulating the medical profession, the doctor-patient relationship, the insurance industry, and local zoning. Might the same five Justices conclude that there is not a sufficient nexus to interstate commerce to allow federal law to supersede state law in this area of historic state power?

I welcome thoughts on these questions--not being a Commerce Clause scholar, I do not know the answer. But pinning this on Roe, or suggesting that the anti-choice craze that has taken hold in these states is simply a reaction to Roe, seems wrong.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 17, 2019 at 06:17 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The new abortion laws and judicial departmentalism (Updated)

Whatever I may believe about the new abortion restrictions in Ohio, Alabama, and Georgia as a matter of policy or validity under my normative understanding of the Constitution, the process is playing as it should in a judicial-departmentalism regime:

The political branches enact--and plan to enforce--laws that they believe are valid on their best constitutional understanding. That this understanding conflicts with prevailing judicial doctrine does not matter. In fact, it cannot matter. Judicial doctrine can change only if there are new cases for the courts to hear and decide; new cases arise only if governments enact laws that might be invalid under current doctrine, then are able to argue for reversing existing law or establishing new law in defending those laws in court (whether against a defense in an enforcement action or as defendant in a pre-enforcement Ex Parte Young action). The government then takes its chances. If it is right about the readiness of the Court to overrule precedent, it wins in court and gets the legal change it sought. If it loses in court, it is on the hook for (likely substantial) attorney's fees.  This is how the system, and the interplay among co-equal branches with interpretive authority, works.

Dahlia Lithwick argues that these new abortion restrictions put Chief Justice Roberts in a bind. Roberts, Lithwick, argues, wants to maintain the facade that judicial decisionmaking is more than raw politics; one way to do so is through incrementalism, rather than overruling the right to reproductive freedom in one fell swoop. The way to do that is to allow lower courts to declare these new laws invalid (as they are under existing doctrine) and enjoin their enforcement, then deny cert (all while deciding other cases involving other laws that allow the Court to limit the right without overruling precedent). The problem is that it takes four (Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh) to grant cert in one of these cases, which might force Roberts to forego his desired institutionalism or vote to retain Roe as precedent. Unless he can convince Kavanaugh or Gorsuch to join him in slow-walking things.

This argument works both ways politically. Imagine Hillary Clinton had won, appointed Merrick Garland and Sri Srinivasin to the Court, and now want to overrule Shelby County so DOJ can resume enforcing the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act. What would have to happen? DOJ would resume enforcement efforts, creating new litigation in which DOJ argues that Shelby County should be overruled. If it is right about the readiness of the Court to overrule precedent, it wins in court and gets the legal change it sought. If it loses in court, it is on the hook for (likely substantial) attorney's fees. But there would be no alternative way to set-up the judicial question.

Update: Gerard paints a different scenario, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan rush to grant cert (perhaps after the district court issues the inevitable injunction but before judgment in the 11th Circuit), daring their brethren (literally, given the gender divides on the Court) to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion in a case involving laws that allow for no narrowing construction, provide no exceptions, and are punitive in nature. And all in an election year.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 15, 2019 at 06:45 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The end of the Warren Court (Reposted and Updated)

Elsewhere, Steve  notes that today marks the 50th anniversary of Abe Fortas' resignation from SCOTUS, making it the last day that the Court had a majority of Democratic appointees.

But it is more than just the appointing party.

In his history of the Warren Court, Lucas Powe argues that what we label "The Warren Court" lasted about 6 1/2 years. It began in the fall of 1962 with the appointment of Arthur Goldberg, which provided a consistent five-person liberal/civil libertarian majority. Goldberg was replaced by Fortas three years later, continuing that five-person majority on mostly the same terms (save for perhaps a few outlier votes). And the appointment of Thurgood Marshall in 1967 solidified that majority by providing a one-vote cushion--the liberal position could afford one defection (such as Justice Black in some crim pro cases) and still retain the majority. Because of Fortas' forced resignation, that six-Justice majority became a four-Justice minority within four months of Nixon's inauguration.

This presents two fun what-ifs. First, Fortas was 58 when he resigned and lived another 13 years. How different might the jurisprudence of the 1970s have been had he remained on the Court with Douglas (replaced by Stevens in 1975), Brennan, and Marshall  as a starting point. And maybe Fortas retires prior to 1980 and gives Jimmy Carter the appointment he never had. Second, how might Nixon's Court appointments have differed? If Fortas does not resign, Blackmun remains on the Eighth Circuit in 1971 when Black and Harlan retire within days of one another. Does Nixon nominate Blackmun for one of those spots, since he appears to have been Nixon's "next" nominee, or had his time passed? Does Powell or Rehnquist, who were commissioned simultaneously, get the other? And if Powell, how does Rehnquist get on the Court and, more importantly, still become Chief?

Update: SCOTUSBlog has an interview with author Michael Bobelian about his new book Battle for the Marble Palace, which examines Fortas' failed nomination as Chief, marking it as the starting point for the "modern" Supreme Court and "modern" appointments process.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 14, 2019 at 04:50 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ginsburg wields the assignment power

A 5-4 majority in Apple v. Pepper held that iPhone users can sue Apple for anti-trust violations resulting from its App Store monopoly. Justice Kavanaugh wrote for himself, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. People will be talking about that line-up and Kavanaugh splitting on a text-based antitrust case.

That line-up means Ginsburg assigned the opinion as senior-most associate justice in the majority (the Chief and Thomas, the two more senior to her, dissented). This is the second time Ginsburg assigned the opinion, the first coming last Termin Sessions v. Dimaya. Note that Ginsburg made the strategic assignment move here-she gave the opinion to the unexpected member of the majority as a reward and to keep him in the fold.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 13, 2019 at 12:00 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

SCOTUS overrules more precedent, no textual support to be found

The buzzwords that Republicans and judicial conservatives insist make their approach the only legitimate and constrained are textualism and respect for stare decisis. It is hard to take that seriously after today's decision in Franchise Tax Bd. v. Hyatt, holding that the Constitution requires that a state enjoy sovereign immunity in the courts of another state and overruling 1979's Nevada v. Hall. Justice Thomas wrote for himself, the Chief, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh; Breyer dissented for the other four.

There is no textual basis for this (there really is none with all of state sovereign immunity); the majority instead relies on what is implicit in the structure and the "implicit ordering of relationships within the federal system." As for respect for stare decisis, the majority disposes of that in less than two full slip-opinion pages. Justice Breyer closes his dissent with a portentous "[t]oday’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 13, 2019 at 11:34 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Empathy, LGBT rights, and employment discrimination

Rick Bales (Ohio Northern) predicts that SCOTUS will hold 6-3 that Title VII prohibits discrimination against LGBT employees as a form of sex discrimination. He predicts that the "defectors" will be the Chief and Kavanaugh--the Chief to avoid the institutional damage from a high-profile decision that appears politically motivated and Kavanaugh as a way to show himself as less political and because such a decision might reflect the empathy he espouses.

Posted by Administrators on May 9, 2019 at 08:18 PM in Employment and Labor Law, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

More on Kavanaugh and empathy

Thanks to Paul for parsing Kavanaugh's Senate testimony. I stand corrected as to Kavanaugh--his comments on Monday were consistent with his testimony, suggesting a sincere belief that judges should think about and understand all sides of an issue and the effects of judicial decisions. My mistake in lumping Kavanaugh in with the standard reaction to the idea of empathy among Republicans in Congress and many conservative commentators.

Working off what Paul provides, let me add the following:

• "Empathy" as a concept in judging is non-ideological. One can listen to all sides and consider the effects of decisions and reach a range of results across an ideological spectrum. It does not reflect or demand a commitment to any party or position. It is surprising that the concept continues to generate so much opposition.

• The questions from Sasse and Graham show a continued inability (or refusal) to recognize the distinction between empathy and sympathy (Graham even uses the wrong word).

• I am not surprised that no Democrats addressed this in either direction, because they have run from empathy from the minute Obama mentioned the concept and the public discussion immediately misunderstood the word and what he meant.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 9, 2019 at 01:13 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Taking universality seriously (Updated)

One of the criticisms of universal/non-particularized injunctions is that they preempt percolation in lower courts, because the universal injunction by Court I short-circuits litigation in Court II, because Court I's injunction precludes the government from undertaking new enforcement efforts. Supporters of universal/non-particularized injunctions counter that the substantial amount of parallel litigation shows that percolation still occurs, as multiple parties bring multiple lawsuits in multiple courts. My reply has been that this shows courts are not serious about universality, in which case it would be better if each court kept its injunctions particularized and avoided the controversy over the scope.

Now comes this Ninth Circuit order in California v. HHS (involving repeal of the contraception mandate), in which the court requests briefing on whether the appeal of a particularized injunction has been rendered moot by a universal injunction issued by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and how the mootness analysis is affected by the universal injunction coming from a trial court in another circuit.

Update: Sam Bray argues that the court should think of this in terms of "equitable mootness" rather than Article III mootness--equity may weigh against an injunction in the 9th Circuit case because the 9th Circuit plaintiffs are protected as non-parties to the EDPa universal injunction.

The correct answers should be as follows:

• The EDPa injunction makes this case unnecessary. There is no possibility that the government could enforce the revised mandate in a way that would violate the rights of the California plaintiff, because doing so would violate that universal injunction and could be halted with a motion to enforce the injunction in EDPa. So California or those on whose behalf it is suing no longer are having their rights violated and no longer face a reasonable prospect of having the law enforced against them, because doing so would subject the government to contempt of court.

• It does not matter that the injunction came from a district court. A district court injunction, unstayed, carries the same force and effect as an injunction affirmed by a court of appeals. District court decisions carry less force as precedent in affecting future cases; they do not carry less force as judgments, unless and until stayed or reversed on appeal.

• It does not matter that the injunction was issued from a court outside the Ninth Circuit. This is where the nomenclature matters. All injunctions are (and should be) "nationwide," in that they protect everywhere a protected person goes. A plaintiff protected against enforcement of some law is protected against enforcement wherever he is and the bound government is prohibited from enforcing wherever the target is. It follows that if a court has the power to protect non-parties (to issue a non-particularized or universal injunction), then it protects those non-parties everywhere. If EDPa had the power to issue an injunction prohibiting enforcement against all targets of the regulation, then that injunction protects them everywhere those targets may be.

• The argument against mootness is that the EDPa injunction might be reversed on appeal, which would revive the current case or force the California plaintiffs to come back to court for their own injunction if the EDPa injunction goes away. This creates the individualized litigation that proponents of universality want to avoid--the individualized litigation that I argue the system requires (outside of class actions). Courts could avoid the uncertainty if they would simply keep their injunctions to themselves--limit them to the parties before them, but protecting those parties everywhere they go.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 30, 2019 at 07:10 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Electing women

A question asked over dinner: Why are so many nations ahead of the United States in electing women to the highest national office?

A possible answer: The influence of a nation's political system. Many (most?) of the women in these countries have been elected as prime minister (or its equivalent), the head of government who is not also the  head of state. So they are not elected nationally, at least not as a formal matter; they are elected in legislative districts and assume national office by virtue of leadership in a political party that attains a legislative majority (or leads a legislative coalition). This seems true of many of the European and Commonwealth countries that most Americans think of as having elected high-profile women leaders, although there are counter-examples in South American and Asia.

Note that the United States has elected a woman in this manner--Nancy Pelosi. But the U.S. political system does not give her the same power that Germany or Norway or New Zealand does.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 29, 2019 at 08:00 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Special Counsel’s Decision Not To Prosecute Donald Trump Jr.

Since Robert Mueller’s report was released on April 18, a number of people have commented on the Special Counsel’s decision not to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” about whether President Trump obstructed justice and thus committed a crime.  But the Mueller Report contains other decisions not to prosecute.  And I’d like to focus on one of them here.

Mueller decided not to prosecute a person who violated 18 U.S.C. 1030, a section of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  Although the person’s name has been redacted for “personal privacy,” it seems obvious to me that the person in question is the President’s son, Donald Trump, Jr.  The portion of the report that describes Don Jr.’s conduct is not redacted (it is described on page 60 of the Mueller Report), and Orin Kerr published this helpful article over at LawFare last year explaining how Don Jr.’s conduct falls within the criminal prohibition in section 1030(a)(2).  The partially redacted declination decision appears at pages 179-80.

I assume that the decision to redact Don Jr.’s name from the declination analysis is grounded in the same “fairness concerns” that prompted Mueller not to reach a judgment on whether the President obstructed justice:

The ordinary means for an individual to respond to an accusation is through a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case. An individual who believes he was wrongly accused can use that process to seek to clear his name. In contrast, a prosecutor's judgment that crimes were committed, but that no charges will be brought, affords no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator.

It isn’t immediately clear to me why those fairness considerations would shield only a legal determination of guilt and not a recounting of underlying facts.  But that appears to be what happened here.  (Those who are interested in the law and norms surrounding decisions not to identify people who aren’t being charged might be interested in this essay by Ryan Goodman on unindicted coconspirators.)

I am less interested in the decision to redact than I am the decision not to prosecute.  Although much of the text is redacted, it appears that the decision not to bring charges against Don Jr. was not a decision about weak facts or uncertain law.  Instead it appears to have been a policy decision—specifically a decision that the crime was not serious enough to warrant prosecution.  Here is the key passage:

Applying the Principles of Federal Prosecution, however, the Office determined that prosecution of this potential violation was not warranted. Those Principles instruct prosecutors to consider, among other things, the nature and seriousness of the offense, the person's culpability in connection with the offense, and the probable sentence to be imposed if the prosecution is successful. Justice Manual 9-27.230.

I don’t disagree with the decision not to prosecute Don Jr.  The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is, in my opinion, an overly broad statute.  That is to say, I believe that the text of the statute sweeps in far more conduct than it ought to.  In particular, it includes unauthorized password sharing.  So if, for example, I were to allow my friend to use my Netflix password so that she did not have to pay for her own, separate account, I have likely committed a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The CFAA is far from the only overly broad criminal statute on the books.  There are plenty of overly broad federal and state crimes.  We allow our representatives to pass these laws because we rely on the good judgment of prosecutors not to bring charges in all cases that fit within the language of these statutes.  But there are many problems with this state of affairs.  For one thing, we rarely know what criteria prosecutors use in deciding when not to bring charges.  So long as we do not know what criteria prosecutors are using, we do not know the real content of the criminal law.  For another thing, there is no requirement that prosecutors adopt generally applicable criteria to decline prosecutions or that they use the same criteria in all cases.  To the extent that declination decisions are made on an ad hoc basis, people are not getting equal treatment, and prosecutors may make prosecution decisions for arbitrary or discriminatory reasons.

Finally, the fact that we allow prosecutors to decline prosecution under overly broad statutes doesn’t mean that they are under any obligation not to bring charges in trivial cases.  There are plenty of cases in which prosecutors have decided to file charges against defendants whose conduct does not resemble harm that the legislature was trying to prevent when it enacted a criminal law.  But, as I argue in a forthcoming paper, the modern embrace of textualism leaves defendants with essentially no recourse if their behavior fits within the incredibly broad statutory language.

While I agree with the decision not to charge Don Jr., I wish that the report had redacted less of the analysis associated with the declination decision.  We do not know whether the Department of Justice has adopted an internal policy not to charge all defendants in these sorts of cases, or whether this was a one-off decision based on the unique facts and circumstances surrounding this case.  What is more, because most of the analysis is redacted, we do not have a statement from a respected group of federal lawyers – including not only Robert Mueller, but also Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben – explaining why such a case is so trivial that it does not warrant prosecution.  Such a statement could have potentially helped defendants who have been threatened with charges for similar conduct.  It also could have prompted a national conversation about whether we should rewrite the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on April 29, 2019 at 08:10 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

About that New York Times cartoon

Hypo: A cartoonist wants to make the point that Vladimir Putin and Russia are dictating U.S. policy and that President Trump is following without thought or consideration and without knowing where he is going. The cartoonist depicts Putin as a guide dog, leading a sightless Trump; the guide dog has Putin's face and a collar with the Russian flag, while Trump is shown as a sightless man with dark glasses, with the guide dog on a lead taking him he knows not where.

I presume the meaning of that cartoon would be clear and that such a cartoon would be ok. If so, I do not understand why this cartoon becomes filled with anti-Semitic tropes when making what I believe to be the same point about Netanyahu and Israel. And any answer must not reduce to a prohibition on criticizing Israel in the same terms and using the same tools, including cartoons and satire, that would be used without objection against other nations and other political leaders.

What is anti-Semitic about this cartoon? (FWIW, my wife--who is more likely to find something anti-Semitic than I am and was less forgiving of Rep. Ilhan Omar than I was--is similarly confused).

   • Is it depicting a Jewish person as an animal, particularly a dog?  Anti-Semitic literature and cartoons (both old-fashioned European and modern Islamic) have depicted and described Jews as animals. But there also is a long history of depicting political leaders as animals. I interpret the picture depicting Netanyahu as the leader of a nation rather than as a Jew or a representation of Jews and the Star of David as the central piece of the Flag of Israel rather than as a Jewish symbol. Is my interpretation wrong? Can Israeli (or all Jewish) leaders not be depicted as animals because of the historic link to anti-Semitism?

   • Is it having Trump dressed like an Orthodox Jew, wearing a yarmulke, black suit, and white shirt? I find that piece out of step with what (I believe) the cartoon is trying to show. Unless Trump represents not only the U.S. but also American Jewry (or a segment of American Jewry). Either way, I do not see why this is anti-Semitic.

   • Is it the overall message that Israel dictates U.S. policy, recalling the ideas of secret-and-nefarious Jewish influence? That reduces to an argument that a common political critique--one country or one leader unduly influencing another country or leader--cannot be made against Israel or Israeli leaders. Or that criticism of Israel must be even-handed and reasoned ("Israel is wielding undue influence over U.S. policy, as do other nations") to avoid the charge of treating Israel differently because it is a Jewish State. Which precludes political cartoons criticizing Israel or Israeli leaders, as the "art of the cartoonist is often not reasoned or evenhanded, but slashing and one-sided."

I end with this: Describe a political cartoon making the criticism discussed at the top of the post--Netanyahu and Israel are dictating policy or action to a blindly following Trump--that would not be anti-Semitic.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 28, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (22)

Monday, April 22, 2019

President Trump meets the Speech or Debate Clause

With this complaint seeking to enjoin a subpoena directed towards the Trump Organization's accounting firm. The pleading tries to argue that there is no legitimate legislative purpose behind the subpoena, because "oversight" is not, in the vacuum, legitimate legislative activity. I cannot believe a court would be anything but highly deferential of a congressional committee's determination of what is within its legislative jurisdiction. Plus, Trump's argument basically amounts to "this subpoena is not legitimate because there are too many subpoenas," such that Congress loses the power of oversight when the President engages in too much misconduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 22, 2019 at 01:01 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (13)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

SCOTUS argument recap: Too many metaphors

My SCOTUSBlog recap of Wednesday's argument in McDonough v. Smith is now up. This was the most metaphorical argument I have read, with everyone returning to heads spinning and constitutional rights swimming to and from conclusions (this all seemed to appeal to Justice Gorsuch).

It appears that the petitioner is going to win and that the Court will find the § 1983 claim timely because filed within three years of the favorable termination of criminal proceedings. Counsel for respondent had a rough time. He declined to dispute Justice Ginsburg's contention that the claim is one for procedural (rather than substantive) due process, triggering a suggestion from Justice Sotomayor that he had given the game away. And he received an avalanche of questions--including from the Chief and Justice Kavanaugh--showing sympathy for the argument that favorable termination should be required for policy reasons of avoiding collapse and confusion between criminal and civil proceedings.

The real question is going to be how the Court gets there--whether by focusing on the elements of a § 1983 claim (as the United States urges) or at the level of judicial policy (as petitioner urges). And what happens on remand, where the government argues that, while timely, the claim is barred by prosecutorial immunity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 18, 2019 at 12:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"profane past participle form of a well-known word of profanity"

Anyone else find absurd the Court's refusal to use or allow the use of profanity in a case that is all about profanity and the ridiculous (if clever) work-around the government's lawyer found? Melville Nimmer rolls over in his grave.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 16, 2019 at 05:44 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Judicial departmentalism and the rule of law

President Trump has made two recent moves that some are labeling threats to the rule of law: 1) DOJ (at White House urging) declining to defend the Affordable Care Act and 2) Trump instructing the head of ICE to deny entry at the border and to disregard court orders to stop denying entry and promising to pardon officials held in contempt for disregarding court orders. Judicial departmentalism--under which the executive may reach independent constitutional conclusions and act on them, but must obey court orders--looks at these differently.

The first is constitutionally permissible, if politically fraught. From the premise that the executive can reach independent constitutional determinations it follows that the executive can make litigation choices consistent with those determinations, including declining to defend laws. DOJ guidelines on when to decline are just that--prudential guidelines for making controversial choices and avoiding defeat in court, but not constitutionally compelled and not inconsistent with an idealized rule of law.

The second is impermissible, as the President and the rest of the executive branch cannot disregard court orders that bind them or refuse to enforce court orders binding others. The promise to pardon any contempt convictions is inconsistent with that obligation and perhaps with due process. While troubling, this move reflects Trump's limited understanding of how law and judicial processes work. It would be a long way before any federal official who did what Trump suggested would be convicted of criminal contempt. So the pardon power would not be useful if any official did as Trump urged (and reports are that ICE supervisors immediately told officers not to do as Trump suggested).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 13, 2019 at 12:54 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, April 08, 2019

Your [Office holder]

President Trump likes to refer to himself as "Your President," as in "This is outrageous harassment of Your President by the Democrats." Over the weekend, speaking to a group of Jewish Republicans, he referred to Benjamin Netanyahu as "Your Prime Minister."

Has any previous President used this framing? It sounds new to me. It also has a ring of monarchism or authoritarianism--"Your Majesty," "Your King," "Your Dear Leader."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 8, 2019 at 01:25 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Free speech petards

Last month I wrote about the controversy at UC-Davis, where people unearthed old tweets from an English professor calling for police officers to be killed, prompting introduction of a California House Resolution calling for the professor's firing. Last week, Davis rejected the call in a letter to Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, citing the First Amendment and President Trump's executive order purporting to require universities receiving federal funds to  promote free enquiry on campus consistent with the First Amendment. Gallagher today wrote a letter to President Trump, insisting that the professor's speech is what suppresses campus speech and asking the President whether: 1) the intent of the order was to protect speech such as this, 2) whether Gallagher's call to fire the prof is consistent with the order's intent to stop intimidation and violence, and 3) whether Davis would lose funding if it fires the professor.

The answers, in order: 1) Of course not; 2) Of course not; 3) Of course not. But the President's intent cannot overcome charges of viewpoint discrimination.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 3, 2019 at 05:07 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Time to Channel Madison

MadisonAlexander Hamilton has been fashionable of late, but for a solution to our extreme political polarization, we should look to James Madison. As Madison recognized, people are not angels. We cannot rely on the virtue of government officers to do the right thing. Rather, we need to design our political system in a way that creates the proper incentives for public-spirited conduct by elected officials.

To be sure, Madison didn’t get it all right. While he was correct on theory and many of the practicalities, he came up short on implementation. The critical structural flaw in our political system lies in its “winner-take-all” nature. That feature does much to fuel our high levels of partisan conflict. My experience as a state legislator made this clear.

Like many first-time candidates, I pledged to judge ideas by whether they were good or bad, not by whether they were Democratic or Republican. And as a three-term legislator, I worked across party lines regularly. But I also found that try as one might to stay above the partisan fray, one inevitably gets sucked in. That’s because each side understands that if it gains control of the levers of government power, it can promote its agenda, while if the other side gains control of government power, there is little that can be done to achieve one's own goals or to stop the other side from achieving its goals. Recent Supreme Court appointments are illustrative.

Our political system has many winner-take-all features. For example, whoever prevails in the battle for the presidency gains 100% of the executive power even if the victor triumphs by the barest of margins. This denies meaningful representation to half of the public in the most important policymaking office in the world, and as a result, it invites levels of competition and conflict that are intense, excessive, and harmful to social welfare. Winner-take-all politics also dominates elections for Congress and a judiciary where major decisions can be decided by a conservative or liberal majority.

Instead of cooperation for the overall good, we get tit-for-tat politics that escalates rather than resolves conflict. Thus, for example, Senate Democrats eliminated the filibuster for lower court appointments, and Republicans responded by eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments. 

In a winner-take-all world, we also see candidates increasingly promoting agendas that will mobilize their bases rather than appeal across party lines. It’s no surprise that U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg concluded that a more moderate campaign would face stiff headwinds in a race for the Democratic nomination.

To address winner-take-all politics, we should look across the Atlantic to countries where power is shared across partisan lines, and elected officials from both sides of the political spectrum have a say in the making of governmental policy. For example, in Switzerland, all of the major parties hold seats in the executive branch (the cabinet), and the cabinet ministers decide by consensus. Power-sharing makes for better representation and less conflict. It also makes for better policy—two heads really are better than one. If we want to bridge societal divides, we need to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard in the halls of power.

Posted by David Orentlicher on March 19, 2019 at 10:28 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 18, 2019

More right-wing snowflakes are outraged

This story about calls by some UC-Davis students and California Republicans for the firing of a Davis professor who called (on Twitter, several years ago) for the killing of police officers reminds me of a comment I made last summer about calls by the Broward County Police Benevolent Association to boycott the Miami Dophins for not forcing players to stand. The political right, on and off campus, has as little patience for objectionable speech as the political left and is as ready to call for boycotts and firing of speakers who say mean things they do not like.

The Davis situation and the Dolphin situation share another similarity (as does the ongoing controversy at Sarah Lawrence College, which has gotten far greater attention but is still a call to sanction a professor for "expressing his views"). As one person put it on Twitter: "[T]erms that absolutely no one in the media has used so far to describe this episode include snowflakes, call-out culture, victimhood culture, outrage culture, cancelled, coddled, PC run amok, censorship, self-censorship, fragility, identity politics, or micro-aggressions."

And just to head-off a response: The prof's speech, while obnoxious, is constitutionally protected and comes nowhere close to incitement.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 18, 2019 at 06:14 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Another right is clearly established--flipping cops the bird

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

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

Friday, March 01, 2019

Michael Cohen and Prosecutorial Overreach

As the House Oversight Committee hearing this week reminded us, Donald Trump has given special counsel Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice plenty of reason to investigate him and his aides for misconduct. The Trump campaign’s ties with Russia may have compromised the integrity of our elections. Trump’s business dealings in Russia may have led him to sacrifice U.S. foreign policy interests in favor of his personal financial interests. And Trump’s efforts to hide all of this may constitute obstruction of justice.

But while we should welcome efforts to hold the President accountable for his misdeeds, we should reject the prosecutorial overreach that has occurred in the plea agreement with Michael Cohen. It was wrong for federal prosecutors to use campaign finance law to bring charges over the “hush money” payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. And it would be wrong to go after the President because of the payments.

The prosecutors’ campaign finance allegations are dubious. Indeed, similar charges were unsuccessful when filed against John Edwards after his failed bid for the presidency in 2008.

Under the prosecutors’ theory of the case, Trump should have made the payments directly to Daniels and McDougal and disclosed the payments on his campaign finance reports. That would have been legal.

But if Trump had taken that path, it would have become clear very quickly that he paid the two women not to reveal his affairs with them. Trump needed to funnel his payments through Cohen to keep his intimate relationships private. So while the charges against Cohen alleged violations of campaign contribution limits, the charges ultimately boiled down to the idea that Trump could not maintain his privacy about his sex life once he announced his candidacy.

Prosecutors should not interpret election law in a way that requires candidates to open for public scrutiny their consensual, intimate relationships. Candidates lose much of their privacy when they run for office. Their financial status and their health status are fair game. But hiding Trump’s affairs did not deny voters any information that was a legitimate matter of public concern during the 2016 presidential campaign. Neither Daniels nor McDougal has alleged sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other abuse by Trump. This was not a #MeToo moment. Voters do not have a meaningful interest in knowing about a candidate’s consensual, intimate relationships.

Some observers have argued that we were entitled to know whether Trump cheated on his spouses because it spoke to his fitness to serve. But there is no good evidence connecting marital infidelity with quality of service. Jimmy Carter was faithful, JFK was not.

In any event, we do not have to worry that the public was misinformed about Trump regarding his sex life. Anyone who cared about his marital infidelity already knew he cheated on his spouses. They also already knew he engaged in much worse sexual conduct—the sexual assaults that he described in the Access Hollywood tapes. Voters who cared about marital fidelity knew what they were getting in Trump, and they either voted against him for that and other reasons, or they voted for him because they felt the advantages of a Trump presidency outweighed his personal failings.

There are serious downsides to prosecuting candidates who try to hide information about consensual, intimate relationships. When the government starts policing the bedroom, it does more harm than good. Suppose a candidate for office is running in a community unfriendly to the LGTBQ community, and the candidate is secretly gay. A former lover threatens to disclose their relationship, and the candidate pays hush money. Is it a good idea to bring criminal charges against the candidate for violating campaign finance laws?

These kinds of charges may discourage many desirable candidates from running. It is already true that many worthy candidates do not run for office because of the intrusive scrutiny on their personal lives. Potential candidates with an adulterous affair in the past may decide against a campaign to spare their spouses and children of the publicity that will ensue.

We should know lots more information about President Trump’s relationships with Russia and how their ties may have influenced our elections and our foreign policies. But we should not turn consensual intimate relationships into criminal violations.

Posted by David Orentlicher on March 1, 2019 at 11:12 AM in Criminal Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (20)

Lawyers, counselors, and wrongdoing

Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice takes strong issue with Adam Benforado's criticism of the lawyers in "hiding abuse, silencing + further harming victims, and protecting abusers." Greenfield cannot understand how a law professor does not realize that "even members of the clergy accused of abuse are entitled to constitutional rights, including the right to effective assistance of counsel." To "decide beforehand that a defendant is unworthy of lawyers honoring their oath and respecting the constitutional rights of their clients . . . is to make the ends justify the means."

It seems to me that this is too narrow a view of the lawyer's role, particularly the lawyers for the Church, as opposed to the lawyers for any priests charged with a crime. Greenfield is right with respect to the lawyers representing priests charged with crimes and defending them in a criminal prosecution.

The scandal was the Church's failure to do stop the misconduct by its priests--moving them to different parishes, allowing them to continue working with children, threatening and manipulating would-be accusers. The scandal was the institution's internal management where it identified and recognized wrongdoing and not only did not stop or punish it, but affirmatively enabled it to continue. And the lawyers for the Church helped that. I read  Adam as criticizing those lawyers. One vision of the attorney role is as counselor, helping that institutional client do the "right" thing in response to that identified wrongdoing, rather than helping the institution to further enable it. If for no other reason than that when the wrongdoing is exposed--and it always is exposed--the fallout for the client will be even worse and more costly, so helping the client do the right thing also protects the client's interests.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 1, 2019 at 09:01 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Everyone needs a lawyer

So argues Ken White (of Popehat fame) about yesterday's Michael Cohen hearing. Everyone needed the unique skills that trial lawyers provide about how to behave as a witness (Cohen), how to handle a sleazeball witness who helps you (Committee Democrats), and how to conduct cross examination without just loudly attacking the witness (Committee Republicans). It dovetails with this argument that real oversight requires the hiring of skilled lawyers to conduct the questioning, not grandstanding political figures.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 28, 2019 at 08:56 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Paying for Public Records

Much to the delight of legal reporters and researchers who study the courts, PACER fees are under attack.  A lawsuit challenging the fees is pending in the Federal Circuit, and the media coverage of the suit is decidedly in favor of the plaintiffs. PACER allows the public to electronically access motions, complaints, briefs, and other documents filed in federal cases.  It charges a fee of $0.10 per page, which is far more than what it costs the courts to store these documents and make them available to the public.  By one estimate, “the cost of retrieving a document from PACER—including the cost  of  data  storage with a  secure  service  used  by many  federal  agencies—[is] only $0.0000006 per page.”  As the New Republic reported: “The PACER system itself brought in more than $146 million in fees during the 2016 fiscal year, even though it cost just over $3 million to operate.”  The courts use the extra money to fund other projects, such as courtroom technology needs, that would otherwise be paid for by funds appropriated by Congress.

It appears that the PACER litigation will ultimately turn on a question of statutory interpretation involving the legislation that created the program and allowed for the collection of these fees.  But I’m interested in the case because it raises larger issues about access to public documents.

You see, for the past year, I’ve been conducting a massive research project in which I collect the campaign finance documents for every candidate who ran for district attorney and enter information about the campaign contributions into a database.  (You can learn more about the project here. You can see a summary of our data here.  And our raw data is being compiled here.)

Because we are collecting information from all 46 states that elect their local prosecutors, I’ve been dealing with dramatically different public records regimes while collecting this data.  Some states are fantastic—they put this information online in a centralized state database.  Some even fully digitize that information, allowing you to search not only by candidate, but also by donor.  Other states have decided to leave the collection of campaign finance information to the counties.  And some counties do a terrible job providing access to that information.

More than one county has informed me that they have been unable to locate these records.  Some can’t find the records because they do not have a formal filing system.  Some can’t find them because they keep only paper copies of these records, which were damaged through some sort of accident.

Other counties do a perfectly good job retaining these records.  But they refuse to allow access to the records without significant payment.  For example, one county in North Dakota insisted that I send a check for $50 before they would even look for the responsive documents.  And while I can understand why counties would need to charge for making physical copies and mailing those copies, some counties insist on charging fees for emailing documents—treating email pages no differently than physical copies for fee purposes.  (Here is a recent op ed that I co-authored with a student that describes some specific problems in Kansas.)

I have even encountered counties that charge fees higher than what is permitted by their state open records laws.  One county has a posted fee schedule of $1.00 per page, even though state law only permits charges of 25 cents.  When I asked about the discrepancy, the county clerk responded by waiving the fee.  Another county in different state with a 25 cent per page cap invoiced me for 50 cents per page.  When asked about the cap, the county insisted it had made a mistake—of course they only meant to charge me the statutorily-permitted fees. 

Because I work for a public institution, I routinely asked that these fees be waived.  A small number of counties granted those requests.  But most didn’t.

The responses that I received when I asked for a waiver were interesting.  Some counties said that they never grant waivers—even though the state statutes specifically give them the power to waive—because they want to treat everyone the same.  Several county officials told me that they were unable to grant waivers because their offices depended on these fees to stay operational.  Their state and local governments have cut their tax revenues to such a degree that they cannot afford to operate their county offices without charging people fees.  In other words, the offices were charging these fees not only to support the time an effort of responding to individual requests, but also to offset the ordinary costs of running their government office.  They were using these fees to make up the shortfalls in their budgets.

I find that state of affairs very troubling.  I appreciate that user fees are quite popular, and that they are touted as an efficient way to ensure that those who are actually benefiting from services are the ones paying for them. But even if you might ordinarily support user fees for some government services, I don’t think it is a good idea to depend on fees to run your government.  Governments aren’t business; they are governments.  And we should make sure that they operate even when people don’t “buy” their goods and services.

I am especially troubled at the idea of charging fees for information like campaign finance data.  That is because we make campaign finance data publicly available in order to ensure transparency and accountability.  For example, if my DA failing to indict officers involved shootings of civilians, I need to know if she is also taking money from police unions.  I need to know because it helps me to evaluate her charging decisions.  And if I disagree with my DAs charging decisions, my only recourse is to vote her out of office.  But I need to understand those decisions in order to make an informed decision at the ballot box.  But if my county clerk is going to charge me $50 before even trying to locate those documents, then I am less likely to request them and thus less likely to find out about the donations.  What’s worse, the people who aren’t going to spend $50 to check the campaign finance records of their elected officials are also the same people who are unlikely to be donating to campaigns.  Put differently, it seems bizarre that one of the most important checks we have on money in politics—transparency about that money—can be frustrated by requiring people to pay additional money in order to get access to that transparency.

I am glad that PACER fees are facing scrutiny.  And I am hopeful that they will be lowered.  But I hope that our conversation about document access fees can extend beyond the federal courts.  Some state courts charge even higher fees than PACER.  More importantly, if we decide to deal with issues like corruption through disclosures rather than direct regulation—i.e., making campaign finance information publicly available rather than outlawing campaign contributions—then we shouldn’t charge fees to see those disclosures.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on February 13, 2019 at 11:15 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, February 07, 2019

More personal jurisdiction on the internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Your new civ pro exam question

A lawyer in Kentucky is threatening to sue a whole lot of people for defamation for commenting on the videos of the Covington Catholic students at the Lincoln Memorial. He was excited by the fact that, because the kids were initially not public figures, he only has to prove negligence rather than actual malice. I believe he is going to have a hard time showing falsity or negligence, since much of the commentary was based on the speaker's interpretation of multiple videos from multiple angles that painted an at-least ambiguous picture. There also is a group-libel angle--one group of potential plaintiffs are Covington Catholic alumni, who claim they have been defamed by the negative comments about their school.

For now, I have a different question: Is there personal jurisdiction in Kentucky (where I assume he plans to sue) over reporters and others on Twitter who saw and commented on the video? Under an effects test, the statements must be directed at Kentucky. That the plaintiffs are from Kentucky is not enough, standing alone. The events being commented on occurred in Washington. The statements were sent to the world, not specifically (or primarily) to Kentucky. Many of the potential defendants have never set foot in Kentucky, certainly not as part of these events.

The counter might be that the students' "Kentuckiness" was part of the public commentary about them--everyone quickly knew and talked about where they were from and where they went to school and the connection of their homes to their presence in DC. And criticism of the school and Covington was part of the criticism of the students. Perhaps that is sufficient to establish purposeful direction at Kentucky.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 23, 2019 at 01:08 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The legal fiction of "clearly established"

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What is a "State of the Union Address"?

Nancy Pelosi has disinvited President Trump from coming the House of Representatives to deliver the State of the Union Address, given the "security concerns" created by the government shutdown. She proposes that they find another suitable date once the government has reopened or that he deliver the address in writing (as Pelosi notes was done prior to Woodrow Wilson) on the planned date of January 29.

But what is required for the President to "give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union"? Must the address be presented to Congress through the President's personal appearance in Congress or delivery of a written message to Congress? If the President gives a televised address from the Oval Office (or Mar-a-Lago or anywhere else) about the state of the union that everyone in Congress sees, has he given Congress that information?

And what is the inevitable next step in this escalation? Does Speaker McCarthy choose not to invite President Warren to the House at all, forcing her to deliver the address in writing only?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 16, 2019 at 12:43 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Indivisibility, incidentality, and universality

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

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

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

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

Universal in name only

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2018 Year-End Report

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 31, 2018

Judge in ACA case still needs to retake Fed Courts

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

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

Standing

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

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

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

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

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

Appellate Review

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Standing in the ACA case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Deepening split on SLAPP laws in federal court

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

9th Circuit taps the brakes (slightly) on universality

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The limits of civil litigation for exposing truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backing off universality, at least for sanctuary cities

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 03, 2018

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

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

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

Background on the Timbs case and the Doctrine of Incorporation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intemperate Doctrinal Error at the Timbs oral argument

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"10,000 mostly drunk people" and "contempt of cop"

Here is my SCOTUSBlog recap of Monday's argument in Nieves v. Bartlett. I genuinely am not sure how this comes out, as no one on the Court was blatantly leaning in one direction and everyone seemed determined to find a middle ground between the government's extreme that would let no claims go forward and the respondent's extreme that would let too many claims go forward.

The argument will be best remembered for the Chief describing Arctic Man as "10,000 mostly drunk people in the middle of nowhere," a description that thrilled the journalist who wrote the leading story about the festival.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 27, 2018 at 11:55 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

SCOTUSBlog Preview: First Amendment retaliatory arrests

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The limits of Spiderman

Ilya Somin has an interesting post wielding the Spiderman Principle--"With great power comes greats responsibility"--to argue against judicial deference to the executive and supposed executive expertise in those areas, such as immigration and national security, in which the executive is believed to have the greatest power. Under the Spiderman Principle, the fact that executive power is so great in these areas requires greater judicial scrutiny and greater justification from the executive, to ensure that this power is used responsibly and not abused.

I agree with Ilya that excessive judicial deference is a problem. But it seems to me the Spiderman Principle does not get us very far, because it cuts both ways. The courts would argue that deference and referral to expertise is compelled by the Spiderman Principle--it is how they bring some responsibility to temper the exercise of their great power to declare invalid the executive's conduct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 18, 2018 at 10:32 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, November 17, 2018

What sovereign immunity has wrought (Update)

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2018

White House must return Acosta credentials

According to news reports, District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled from the bench, granting a TRO based on the failure to provide process, without reaching the First Amendment question.

It will be interesting to see if the White House appeals. Although the order was styled as a TRO, the court would treat it as an appealable preliminary injunction should the government choose to appeal. But the court never reached whether the First Amendment in any way limits control over press access. And the due process focus means that, in theory, the White House and Secret Service could give him process tomorrow and reach the same decision. There is a motive to return the credential and let the litigation play out in the district court first.

Update: Garrett Epps (Baltimore) at The Atlantic ties Kelly's decision to the unsung decision in Island Trees v. Pico, in which SCOTUS held that the school district had unfettered power to select books to place on the shelves, but the First Amendment imposed limits on the district removing books already placed (based on objections to content. I highlighted Pico as an important example of why Brennan was the heir to Holmes in protecting free speech, although a decision that gained little traction, including in debates over internet filters in libraries. I agree with Garrett that it would be nice to see a revival of the decision, including in a new context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2018 at 10:48 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, November 12, 2018

C.J. Cregg = Sarah Sanders (Updated)

Attorney David Lurie argues in Slate that CNN should sue the Secret Service over revocation of reporter Jim Acosta's press credentials. He argues that CNN has a good case. D.C. Circuit precedent holds that reporters must receive process in the denial or revocation of credentials and that the basis for revocation cannot be that the reporter criticized the President or anyone else in the White House. And the President admitted that Acosta's credentials were revoked because he did not treat the presidency with "respect" and that he might do the same to other reporters.

Update: CNN and Acosta, represented by Gibson Dunn, has filed suit, claiming violations of the First and Fifth Amendments and the APA; named defendants are Trump, Kelly, Sanders, William Shine (Deputy Chief of Staff, the Secret Service, and the head of the Secret Service.

The incident brought to mind S3E4 of The West Wing, titled "On the Day Before." Press secretary C.J. Cregg gets pissed at a reporter who inaccurately reported on something that C.J. had done. C.J. tells the reporter that she is having the reporter's credentials revoked and that the reporter must call C.J.'s office every day so C.J. can decide if the reporter will be allowed into the press room. And this was played with C.J. as the hero, standing up and justly sanctioning the vapid, dishonest, and unethical reporter.

This is another illustration of Aaron Sorkin writing the Trump Administration in the Bartlet Administration,  with much of the behavior and norm-breaking that we have seen the past two years; the difference is that Sorkin's characters did it in service of a liberal Democratic agenda, while the Trump Administration has done it in service of a very different agenda. There is no difference between Trump and Sarah Sanders stripping Acosta of his credential and C.J. doing the same to that fictional reporter--both are mad because the reporter treated them unfairly.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 12, 2018 at 08:44 PM in Culture, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Judicial departmentalism and birthright citizenship

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Flipping the burden on voluntary cessation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Might progressives adopt judicial departmentalism?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 08, 2018

Yes, please sue

Where to begin with this suggestion that Justice Kavanaugh should sue Christine Ford and the Washington Post for $ 20 million each and that the suit would be successful? This is a new talking point among conservative commentators.

I go point by point after the jump, because there is so much wrong here.

Ford has clearly libeled Kavanaugh. Libel is a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation. Ford gave uncorroborated information to the Washington Post, which published it and damaged Kavanaugh’s reputation.

Uncorroborated does not mean false. Perhaps Ford's allegations are false; that they are uncorroborated has nothing to do with their falsity.

This has been a recurring theme. There is no requirement in the legal system (putting aside whether a confirmation process should be treated as a legal proceeding) that a claim be corroborated; the plaintiff's testimony is evidence. Whether it is sufficient to prove a case depends on the type of proceeding and the standard of persuasion. Perhaps a victim's statement is not alone enough to satisfy beyond a reasonable doubt, but this never was a criminal procedure. On a lesser standard such as what governs whether a person should receive a lifetime appointment to a powerful job (whatever that standard may be), uncorroborated testimony may be sufficient, depending on whether the factfinder believes that uncorroborated statement.

In a court of law, . . . the burden of proving the truth of a derogatory statement is on the defendant.

No. Kavanaugh is a public official and Ford's speech was a on a matter of public concern, whether that public figure engaged in criminal or inappropriate conduct. The burden of persuasion is on the plaintiff to prove the statement was false. And he must do so by clear and convincing evidence.

New York Times Company v. Sullivan is ripe for being overruled. Yes, the Supreme Court can overturn prior cases. See Plessy vs. Ferguson.

Justice Antonin Scalia said he abhorred the New York Times case:

NYT is not going anywhere. Not least because Justice Scalia no longer is on the Court--the event that has pushed us down the current hole. Justice Kavanaugh certainly would never vote to overrule NYT because, as Sen. Collins reminds us, he reveres precedent. So does Justice Gorsuch, who wrote a book about it. Unless NYT is not "settled law." Anyway, NYT is a cornerstone of the modern First Amendment and exists precisely so public officials cannot use civil suits to silence critics.

This belief/assumption/preference that NYT be overruled might explain the above error about the burden of persuasion as to truth. NYT shifts the burden from common law (where statements are presumed false and truth is a defense); if NYT is overruled, that shift goes with it. Which is why NYT will not be overruled.

A court should hold that Ford, dredging up a 36-year-old uncorroborated claim, is guilty of constructive malice — reckless disregard of the truth.

Reckless disregard of the truth is the NYT actual-malice standard that the author just said should be (and will be) overruled. So what he is really saying is that Ford is liable even under NYT. Maybe she is, but this contradicts the prior paragraph. And, again, I am not sure why the age of the claim or its lack of corroboration say anything about Ford's statement of mind.

(There is an interesting question whether actual malice has any place with respect to the first-person source of information talking about her own experience, as opposed to the media republishing it. Ford either believed her statement true or knew it false; I doubt there is an in-between.)

It would be poetic justice if Justice Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote — on his own case!

It would be the height of irony, actually. The author begins the piece decrying the Democrats' abandonment of the presumption of innocence, "a hallmark of Anglo-American jurisprudence and of Western Civilization." Putting aside whether the presumption of innocence (which is merely about the allocation of burden of production) has a meaningful role in a job interview, I doubt it is more of a jurisprudential hallmark than nemo iudex in sua causa--no one should be a judge in his own case.

Anyway, the real reason Kavanaugh will not sue (and that perhaps Ford,WaPo, or others might wish he would) is not that it would be "unseemly for a judge to sue." It is unseemly for a judge to spew conspiratorial Fox News talking points, but that did not stop Kavanaugh from writing and giving that prepared statement. Kavanaugh will not sue because a lawsuit will trigger a meaningful discovery process designed to get at the truth of Ford's statements. Kavanaugh would be subject to a sworn deposition taken by a competent questioner. Discovery would include depositions and interviews of numerous witnesses, not limited by the preferences of the White House or an artificial one-week deadline. The author assumes Ford is lying (and WaPo knowingly reprinted a lie). I do not know, because I have not seen anything resembling a fact-finding process. Kavanaugh suing would create that very process.

President Trump is famous for threatening to sue critics (even thought it would appear equally unseemly for the President to sue) and never following through. Even after some outlets egged him on. Apparently some members of conservative media have decided to make the same move on behalf of Justice Kavanaugh.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 8, 2018 at 09:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Half measure on universal injunction in sanctuary cities case

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

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

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

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

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