Friday, October 16, 2020

Prawfs' moment in the sun

One drawback to paying zero attention to the Barrett confirmation hearings: I missed that Barrett did a guest stint here in March 2008 (I was doing a semester-long guest stint at that time that led to Dan inviting me here permanently). Her six posts are listed among her "Opinion, Editorals, and Letters" section in her CRS bio. One post, about potential retroactivity problems in eliminating the crack/powder distinction, was the subject of an exchange with Sen. Booker; Booker asked why she did not discuss the injustice of the distinction--a stupid question justifying the amount of attention I devoted to the hearing. (H/T: Josh Blackman, who pays more attention than I do). (If you want to subject yourself to it, it is around the 7:17:00 mark).

Booker described us as a "well-known legal academic" blog, which is nice. Barrett called us "LawPrawfsBlawg." Oh, well.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 16, 2020 at 08:16 AM in Blogging, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Impementing SCOTUS term limits

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Balkin solves the 18-year conundrum

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 05, 2020

Thomas and Alito defend Kim Davis

SCOTUS denied cert in Davis v. Ermold, which held that Kim Davis did not enjoy qualified immunity in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it offends her religious beliefs. Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, issued a cri du ceour respecting the denial of cert., lambasting Obergfell as creating a "novel constitutional right" having "ruinous consequences for religious liberty."

Three things.

First, Thomas proceeds as if Smith no longer is good law and that the First Amendment demands an opt-out from a generally applicable law or satisfaction of strict scrutiny. He cites Smith in a footnote, but to argue that Obergefell is more illegitimate because not done through the legislative process. This seems disingenuous. I doubt that if Kentucky had legalized SSM by statute with no religious accommodation, Thomas would be more willing to accept those ruinous consequences for religious liberty.

Second, I am waiting for a good argument for why having issue licenses to same-sex couples is more a violation of religious liberty than having to issue licenses to inter-racial couples or inter-faith couples. All can be, and have been, subject to religiously based objections by some people. Would Thomas be staking out this position if someone denied a marriage license to Noah Cohen and Mary-Margaret O'Reilly?

Third, whatever one believes about a private baker or photographer, it should not extend to a government official performing her official functions. Her job as a public employee is to carry out the law. If that law offends her religious or other sensibilities, then she should quit. We would not allow someone to enlist in the Army and then refuse to fight in a war; we would not allow an atheist police officer to refuse to conduct traffic at a church. There is no reason to allow a clerk to refuse to issue a marriage license.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 5, 2020 at 02:45 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Bad legal reporting yields bad legal takes

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

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

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 29, 2020 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Jamelle Bouie misunderstands judicial supremacy and other comments

Jamelle Bouie calls on Democrats to reject judicial supremacy. Unfortunately, he does not seem to understand what judicial supremacy is or what it means to fight it. Instead, he conflates challenges to judicial supremacy with court reform. He offers the historical example* of Jeffersonians undoing the Midnight Judges Act--eliminating judgeships, restoring a SCOTUS seat, and restoring circuit riding. But none of that had anything to do with judicial supremacy. That was a dispute between competing parties in the political process about the structure of the federal courts, which everyone agrees was and remains within congressional control. It has nothing to do with who, if anyone, gets the final word on constitutional meaning. And the Court had no say in either the original act or the Jeffersonian response. One can support court packing or other  proposals for reforming the structure of the courts while believing in judicial supremacy.

[*] Bouie's other example is Lincoln's First Inaugural, where he suggests ignoring Dred Scot as precedent as to the validity of the Missouri Compromise, while recognizing that he is stuck with the judgment in that case. This envisions judicial departmentalism--bound by the judgment, free to ignore precedent.

Kevin Drum comments on Bouie's column and understands the issues better, arguing for jurisdiction stripping as the answer. This hits on something I did not consider or address in my work on judicial departmentalism. Departmentalism collapses into judicial supremacy because many (most?) constitutional questions devolve into judicial ones, producing a court judgment that the executive must enforce and obey, on pain of contempt. The solution--for those who want one--is stripping the courts of jurisdiction to decide some constitutional issues. But not because it eliminates courts' power to make new precedent--since the the other branches can ignore that. But because it eliminates courts' power to produce new judgments, which the other branches cannot ignore.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2020 at 10:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Segall Court and a stopping point to Court-packing

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

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

Implementing the Carrington Plan (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 21, 2020

Remembering Justices

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 20, 2020

New Courts (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Structural principles and SCOTUS appointments (Updated Again)

Two preliminary points.

First, for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may the memory of the righteous  be a blessing (zekher tzadik livrakha). It is said that a tzadik (a righteous person, particularly one who is humble in life and whose righteousness becomes fully known only after her death) dies on Rosh Hashanah. I write this on the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my father-in-law, a truly righteous person.

Second, I expect Trump to nominate and the Senate to confirm Amy Coney Barrett (Seventh Circuit),* although it is not clear whether the confirmation will be prior to or following the election. Ilya Somin's proposal (both sides stand down--no confirmation until after January 20 in exchange for a Democratic promise not to expand the Court) is a brilliant compromise that he recognizes is unlikely to happen. And McConnell, Lindsey Graham, et al., do not care about being accused of hypocrisy in any shift in their views of confirming Justices during an election year.

[*] The alternative name appears to be Barbara Lagoa, a former Justice on the Supreme Court of Florida and recent appointee to the 11th Circuit; Lagoa is Cuban-American and the appointment might be an attempt to shore-up support among the Cuban-American community in Florida. Lagoa was in the majority holding that Florida did not violate the 14th or 24th Amendments in requiring ex-felons to repay unknown fees before their voting rights could be restored.

After the jump, I want to think about the "shift" in these positions.

In an early publication, I argue that the Constitution's structural questions can be understood and answered by resort to one, some, or all of three competing principles--democracy, separation of powers, and partisanship. The principles may conflict. Or they may undermine original structures--the system was supposed to be based on separation of powers because political parties were unknown and conceptions of democracy limited. Or emphasis on one principle may lead to a different conclusion than emphasis on another principle. Any conclusion is presumptively constitutionally valid; the question is choosing among several valid options, depending on choice of principle.

In 2016, McConnell could have framed the refusal to hold hearings and a vote on Merrick Garland's nomination in separation-of-powers terms. The Senate is required to provide "advice and consent" and the Senate establishes its rules of proceeding. It thus can exercise that advice-and-consent power through whatever rules of proceeding the majority of the body sees fit, including by withholding advice or consent through inaction. This would have gone against historical norms and practices. But it would have fit the model of an independent Senate doing what it believes best. It also would have preserved separation of powers as to the executive--not suggesting that the President's constitutional power runs out earlier than the four years enumerated in the Constitution.

Instead, McConnell framed his "rule" of no election-year confirmations in terms of democracy--the People should have a say in who makes this appointment. And several Senators, notably Graham in fall 2018, have affirmed the "rule" in those terms and on that principle. This framing is problematic on its own terms. The People had a say when they re-elected President Obama in 2012 with the understanding that he would be President, and exercise executive power, for four years. On this understanding, democracy was forward-looking to what the coming popular majority might do, not backward-looking to what the prior, still-controlling popular majority had done. In any event, that rule, based on that democratic principle, is absolute: No confirmation during the final year of a presidency.

Here is McConnell's statement on Ginsburg's death and the new vacancy:

In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.

By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise.

McConnell has shifted the controlling principle from democracy to partisanship (or partisanship reframing democracy). The right of the coming majority to pick the new President and influence the new justice yields to unified party control of the Senate and White House. A Senate controlled by one party does not confirm nominees of a President of another party in an election year. But the same restriction does not apply when the Senate and President are of the same party--party control is more important than forward-looking democracy. One can agree or disagree with McConnell's conclusion or plan, but it does reflect proper application of that principle. Alternatively, the partisan outcome of backward-looking democracy reaffirming unified party control is more important than unknown forward-looking democracy. Either way, this represents the explicit triumph of the Pildes/Levinson thesis that we have a system of separation of parties rather than powers.

McConnell also shifts the segment of the People that matters. The segment of the public that elected 1/3 of the Senate is more democratically important than the segment who re-elected Obama in 2012 or who will decide the presidency in November. This produces a strange vision of democracy, in which the popular will of a small sub-part prevails over the will of the whole.*

[*] Compare statutory presidential succession, the issue on which I described these principles. Congress put the Speaker and President Pro Tem at the top in the name of democracy. The line should pass to officers elected by some popular segment and placed in their positions by fellow officers elected by different popular segments, thus representing some national majority. But critics of legislative succession justify their conclusion in democratic terms by resort to a different majority--cabinet officials enjoy "apostolic democratic legitimacy (Akhil Amar and Vik Amar coined the term) by virtue of their appointment by, and in service of, a nationally elected officer.

McConnell's conclusion--OK not to vote on Garland, OK to confirm Barrett)--represents a plausible argument from these competing principles. But that is neither the rule nor the principle on which he relied four years ago. Any charge of hypocrisy (which, again, McConnell does not care about) derives not from the change in conclusion but from the change in controlling principle to justify divergent conclusions.

Update: For the first time, President Trump said something I agree with: McConnell did not want to consider Garland, but the current situation is difference because Republicans now have the Senate and can do what they want. Yes. Whether framed as separation of powers or partisanship, there is a distinction and Republicans can run with that distinction. But, again, the problem, and the hypocrisy charge, comes from framing the Garland move as a matter of democracy, no doubt out of a felt need for a "neutral principle." Trump feels no such need.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 20, 2020 at 12:10 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dorf on ending the anthem at sporting events

Michael Dorf considers the argument, floated by former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy, for eliminating the national anthem from sporting events. We do not do it at any other public or entertainment gatherings (movies, plays, concerts); it is not the type of event requiring public ritual (compare, e.g., a government proceeding); and it is creating more problems than it solves. It also is an historical accident--a band played it spontaneously during the Seventh Inning Stretch at a game in the 1918 World Series (in the closing month of World War I)--that caught on.

I confess that I enjoy the anthem as part of the game. But I see Dorf's and Van Gundy's point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 14, 2020 at 09:58 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (18)

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Ornstein on filibuster reform

Norm Ornstein argues in The Atlantic that even in a best-case scenario, Democrats in 2021 would be unable to eliminate the filibuster. And, he suggests, perhaps they should not eliminate it, lest the Senate become a mini House in which the majority always gets its way and the minority lacks formal power. Ornstein's solution is to flip the default on continuing debate:

Instead of 60 votes required to end debate, the procedure should require 40 votes to continue it. If at any time the minority cannot muster 40 votes, debate ends, cloture is invoked, and the bill can be passed by the votes of a simple majority.

The committed minority would have to be at the Senate around the clock, ready to hit the floor for a vote to continue debate. It would impose a physical and political cost on the minority prolonging debate rather than on the majority seeking to end it and get to a simple-majority vote. He hopes that would limits its use to the extraordinary case.

This also offers a nice example of how default rules operate and how altering a default alters conduct and procedure.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2020 at 11:25 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Separation of powers, separation of parties, and subpoena enforcement

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

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

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

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

How to Cover Protests and Crime (*slightly updated)

I just finished reading this thought-provoking article from Arc Digital about media coverage of protests and political implications.  It is a good reminder that media have to make substantive decisions about which stories to cover.   But it also is basically a microcosm of a lot of coverage that I've seen about how the lawlessness at protests and crime more generally is likely to play out in the presidential election.

Implicit (and sometime explicit) in this article is the idea that, although the political arguments about crime and the protests that are being leveled against the Biden/Harris ticket are wrong a a matter of fact and as a matter of logic, the arguments might still succeed.  The author notes that conservative media outlets and prominent Republicans keep saying that Biden and Harris haven't condemned looting and violence at the protests.  But of course they both have.  The author also seems to acknowledge that it's illogical to blame Joe Biden for things that are happening while Trump is president or to say that crime will get worse if Biden is elected.  Even if we think presidents are responsible for crime--which is a silly thing to assume--crime rates dropped when Biden was vice president, and similar protests and violence in Ferguson were handled much more effectively when Obama was president.  Yet this author is quick to tell Biden and Harris that they need to do more to reassure voters that they don't support violence, and that they have to be careful not to be more forceful in condemning vigilantes than antifa because that might give voters the wrong impression.

In short, the article adds to the pile of commentary that seems to assume the current violence in American cities will hurt Democrats, and thus focuses on how the Biden/Harris response could be *better* while largely ignoring that the Trump/Pence response has been pretty awful. 

That same double standard appears in the discussion of media coverage.  The article notes how the mainstream media has ignored some stories that gained traction in the conservative media.  And it argues that these omissions could make people think that Democrats support rioting.  But there’s no similar critique of the conservative media.  There is no detailed catalogue of what stories didn’t get coverage on Fox News or in the National Review.  There’s no concern about stories from these outlets that seem to support vigilantism or turn a blind eye to police violence.  Nor is there an explanation about why alienating voters is only something for mainstream media or left-leaning outlets to worry about.

Don't get me wrong.  I think that the concern and the critique offered in this article are based in good faith.  The author seems to support Biden/Harris and I suspect she wrote this story because she is worried that they might lose.  But I worry about the cumulative effect of stories such as this on criminal justice politics in this country—stories that focus on whether law & order issues will hurt Democrats and that assume they will help Republicans.  This country has only recently started to recover from decades of the two parties trying to out-do each other as tough on crime.  Framing "law & order" as something that Democrats always need to be afraid of could undermine the small reforms that have been made.

My biggest criticism of this reporting and lots of other commentary that I’ve seen is that it doesn’t attempt to put questions about crime and disorder at the protests into a larger context that includes actual empirical evidence about what’s happening (rather than just anecdotes).  For example, I’ve seen dozens of commenters talk about the “sense” or “perception” that the protests are not peaceful, but are instead riots filled with lawlessness and violence.  Isn’t that something that could actually be tested?  How many protests do we see across the country every day where there is no looting or burning of buildings?  A political commentor who is tempted to write another "crime is bad for Biden/Harris" story could do some independent research to provide additional factual context to whatever "there's a sense" conjecture that she wants to write.

For example, I haven't seen very much in-depth reporting about what arrests police are making at these protests.  A quick glance at the Portland Sheriff’s booking database showed me that law enforcement in Portland are still arresting a significant number of people for not following police orders.  That information about arrests in Portland is especially newsworthy given the wide spread coverage about the Portland DA refusing to prosecute people arrested at protests unless they were looting or engaged in violent behavior.  It’s fair to ask why the police are continuing to arrest these people who are literally protesting police aggression.  Similarly, a sheriff from just outside Portland* recently released a statement saying that judges are contributing to the lawlessness in Portland by releasing protestors on their own recognizance, claiming that police are arresting the same people over and over again.  This statement is gaining tons of traction on Twitter, but local reporting makes clear that the statement is factually incorrect:  "Court and jail records show that few people have been arrested multiple times at protests and that the majority of arrests have been for non-violent crimes."**

Finally, it would be nice if critiques of media coverage about crime during these protests seemed to have some appreciation about the ordinary problems associated with media coverage of crime—the disproportionate coverage of serious crime, the uncritical repetition of law enforcement statements, the effects of the availability heuristic on the public.  This article, for example, chides the media for not giving complete accounts of the criminal history of Jacob Blake.  Is that really what we want the media to do?  Do we really think that the fact a person has been accused of a crime makes it more likely that they were violent towards the police? And if so, where is the outrage that the media doesn’t have access to the disciplinary records of the officer who shot Blake?  Or do we assume prior bad acts are only relevant for people who police are shooting and not for the police themselves.

In any event, the article is worth reading because it does a good job highlighting questions about content decisions that those in the media have to make.  But this author had to make similar decisions for this very article, and it’s far from clear that her decisions are more evenhanded or less biased than the decisions she is criticizing.

* Previous version of this post mistakenly said that it was the sheriff of the country that includes Portland.

** This paragraph has been updated to include the information from local media contradicting the sheriff's statement

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on September 1, 2020 at 09:17 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, August 31, 2020

D.C. Circuit has a busy day

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 28, 2020

3d Circuit reveals division on union clawbacks

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

NBA players try a different peaceful protest (Updated Aug. 28)

Vice President Pence's RNC speech this evening was to include criticisms of professional athletes for kneeling during the National Anthem. The criticism has always been disingenuous nonsense--critics demand peaceful protest, then tell the players they are peacefully protesting the wrong way.

So the players will try something new tonight: Not playing. The Milwaukee Bucks announced a boycott of this evening's Game 5 of their opening-round series. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors discussed doing the same in their second-round game scheduled for Thursday. So the NBA canceled all games. No word on whether the Milwaukee Brewers (who have a home game Wednesday evening) or MLB will follow suit, although I doubt it. Update: I spoke too soon and happily stand corrected. The Brewers canceled their game. Other MLB teams are discussing doing the same, including the Mariners, who have the most African American players in MLB.

So what will be wrong with this form of peaceful protest? Does not playing disrespect veterans and troops? Is it wrong to politicize sports? Will Pence change his speech to decry cancel culture while calling for boycotts of this "politicized" NBA? Will everyone admit that the objection is to the message--that police are behaving badly--and nothing more neutral than that? Stay tuned. (Updated: No way on that last one).

August 28 Update: The NBA playoffs will resume Saturday. The league and union agreed to establish a social-justice coalition focused on voting, civic engagement, and criminal-justice and police reform. It also calls on teams that own their arenas to work with local election officials to convert the arena into a polling place. It is interesting that the push for racial justice has swerved into voting rights--recognition that voting rights are as endangered and that everything else happens only if people can vote and vote for officials who will pursue that agenda.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 26, 2020 at 05:23 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (14)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Nomenclature and judicial review (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Birtherism 2.0 more insidious than Original Recipe

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

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

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

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

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 13, 2020 at 09:08 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, August 07, 2020

Standing for nothing

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 06, 2020

More cancel culture and counter-speech

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

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

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

• Organization

• Secondary Boycotts

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

• Truthiness

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 03, 2020

Competing views on the Biskupic articles

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

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

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

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Delaying the election

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Biskupic on the internal workings of the Roberts Court

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 24, 2020

Lawyers and judicial departmentalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anti-SLAPP law does not apply in Second Circuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Universal v. Nationwide, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 10, 2020

The process of Mazars and Vance (Updated)

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

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

Mazars

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

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

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

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

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

Vance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The First Amendment and the preferred first speaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Rule of Four

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

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

Friday, June 26, 2020

Anti-racism and the First Amendment

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

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

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

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

Mootness, departmentalism, and universality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The court captures this with a nice civics lesson:

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 15, 2020

Justice Kavanaugh foresees 2020 Blue Wave and other thoughts on Bostock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Second Lafayette Square Lawsuit

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

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

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

Monday, June 08, 2020

Calling the NFL's bluff

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 07, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Lawsuit over clearing Lafayette Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Suing over Monday's crowd dispersal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 01, 2020

"We have a different Court"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 29, 2020

The remedy to be applied (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 28, 2020

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

Thoughts on the final new EO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 09, 2020

How many FLOTUSes?

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 08, 2020

Reuters on qualified immunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 04, 2020

Oral argument

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Why cross examination works--and doesn't work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The complexities of the Senate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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