Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The politics of abortion (Update)

Lindsay Graham introduced the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act. The bill bans abortions after 15 weeks, with rape, life, and health exceptions. It provides for prosecution of the provider but not the pregnant person and for civil actions by the pregnant person or minor parents but not the pregnant person.* It also provides that it does not preempt or limit any law imposing greater limits on abortion--in other words, it does not yield to a Red-State complete ban but does override Blue-State laws allowing Roe-level abortions until viability. The bill identifies the Commerce Clause and § 5 as the power sources, although the substantive sections do not contain an "affecting commerce" element and I am not sure a bill recognizing fetal rights (how this is framed) is congruent-and-proportional to current 14th Amendment doctrine.

[*] Federal standing law prevents a full-on HB7 private right of action, although I am surprised they did not try and force providers to defend.

I wonder about the partisan politics of this. Two months prior to an election in which polls show Democratic voters mobilized around opposition to Dobbs and the loss of reproductive freedom, extreme state laws, and the consequences of banning medical procedures, the bill places the issue in the public eye and forces a public vote on that issue. Why, the argument goes, would Senate Republicans want to increase that energy and engagement?

So what do Graham and Senate Republicans hope to get out of this?

    1) Energize the base by showing a willingness to fight to stop abortion when it makes a difference (unlike performative pre-Dobbs legislation). The bill gives a restrictive baseline--like Mississippi and more limited than under Roe--and leaves states free to legislate greater restrictions, all the way to a complete ban. It gives the anti-choice voters something to get excited about at the federal level. The questions, I guess, are whether the GOP was in danger of not having those voters and whether they will be outnumbered by enraged pro-choice voters.

    2) It provides a grand bargain on abortion, finding the middle ground that some (David French comes to mind) believe is inevitable. But the preemption clause undermines that conclusion--the bill expressly allows Idaho to ban all abortions but stops California from providing greater access. That is not a grand bargain under which the entire country falls--this is setting a federal ceiling while letting states go as low as they want.

    3) Polls shows that a good percentage of the public would set the line at 15 weeks. Graham et al believe they have a political winner in forcing Democrats to vote against a bill that resolves the abortion debate where many people would like it drawn. They also can emphasize that 15 weeks is a larger window than Europe** and count on the press to misreport it (always a good bet). Again, I think the preemption clause undermines this, for those who read the bill. But it may help create a narrative of "Democrats want extreme ranges for abortions, beyond even what those European Socialists allow."

[**] True but misleading. Some European countries stop abortions sooner than this. But it is much easier to get the procedure within 10-12 weeks than in most U.S. states--more places to go, less costly, public support for the poor, no waiting periods and other hurdles delaying and forcing multiple trips to the doctor.

    4) Check the bill title--"Late-Term Abortions Act." They are counting on the press reporting this as a ban on "late-term abortions"--which most people support but which most people think of as something like post-32 weeks (or certainly post-viability), not two months pre-viability. Mississippi did not defend its 15-week ban in Dobbs as "late-term." But the narrative "Democrats voted against stopping late-term abortions"--rather than 15 weeks--may work for the Republicans. Again, it depends on media malpractice, but that is a good bet.

    5) Distract from Donald Trump, Mar-a-Lago, etc. Graham carries Trump's water, but that is a bit too conspiratorial.

Update: Looks like # 3, with perhaps a bit of # 4). Graham wrote this thread in response to Nancy Pelosi's response to the bill. He hits the expected points: This bill is to the "left" of those in Europe; opposition means Democrats want abortion on demand; and  hoping "voters are paying attention to the radical nature of the Democrat party when it comes to abortion."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2022 at 04:18 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 09, 2022

The queen is dead, long live the king (Updated)

Three thoughts, as someone who, when my wife and kid woke up early to watch William and Kate's wedding, joked "didn't we fight a war so we didn't have to do this?"

• TIL they change the words to the British national anthem. It makes sense, but I had never gotten confirmation (since hardly anyone is alive who remembers anyone other than a queen).

• The combination of the events in the U.K. and ongoing political events here highlights something Gerard has written about--the possible gains from separating the roles of head of state and head of government. The U.S. is unusual in being a stable liberal democracy that combines those roles. Perhaps a central executive of some stature, disengaged from partisan competition and policymaking, can help lower the political temperature and avoid things such as one side's refusal to accept electoral defeat. On the other hand, Elizabeth's statute came from serving for 70 years and becoming indistinguishable from the nation. A figurehead HoS also presumes unified legislative/executive control. So maybe our system is too far gone.

Update: David Frum frames it around two interesting points. One is separating the trappings of wealth and power and actual power--the person with the trappings has no power, the person with power has no trappings, lives in a small house, and regularly encounters rudeness (think of Question Time). The other is how accidental both systems are. The Constitution modeled presidential power after monarchical power as it existed in in 1787, only for the British to organically limit that power in the following years. The British couch an evolving system in long tradition, while the U.S. tries to pull an ancient system into the modern world.

• Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote in Hustler that "our political discourse would have been considerably poorer without" political cartoons--not only for the caustic (and sometimes tasteless) satire and criticism that brings down the powerless (as Rehnquist emphasized), but for their ability to wordlessly capture a moment and an emotion. Behold:

1500x500

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 9, 2022 at 02:45 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 05, 2022

Does lawyering matter?

Perdue v. Kenny A. limited when judges could increase an award of attorney's fees beyond the lodestar for "superior performance and results." Chief Justice Roberts doubted the claim during argument; he posited that there was a knowable right answer in the case and that good attorney performance cannot change what that answer is. That "answer" likely is whatever the judge believes to be the right answer.

But that raises the question of whether lawyering matters at all. If the judge will do what she is inclined to do, does the quality of the lawyering matter? Case in point--Judge Cannon granted Donald Trump's motion (while acknowledging how "convoluted" this collateral-ish proceeding is) to appoint a special master and enjoined DOJ from continuing to review the seized documents for prosecution (although not for national-security) purposes. No one can objectively compare the papers by each side in this case and conclude that Trump's lawyers did a better job lawyering the case--making and supporting legal arguments with precedent, adhering to rules and procedures, not sounding like a Twitter fight, not throwing around random concepts ("fruit of the poisonous tree"), and focusing on the actual relief at hand. None of it mattered--the judge (for whatever reason) was inclined to rule a particular way and did so. Of course, she did so without any legal analysis--no explanation of how executive privilege applies against the executive branch; how equitable jurisdiction is not barred by laches; how 41(g) is the correct vehicle when executive-privilege documents still do not belong to Trump and thus are not returnable personal property; and why former presidents suffer greater "stigma" constituting irreparable injury than any other target of a search warrant. She also called her order a "temporary injunction," which is not a thing under FRCP 65--there are (non-appealable) temporary restraining orders and (appealable) preliminary injunctions; so getting the law right does not seem to be her strong suit. Of course, Cannon did a better job than Trump's lawyers--making something coherent (if wrong) of the nonsense they submitted.

The injunction is immediately appealable, without needing mandamus. Some knowledgeable folks are wondering whether DOJ will bother appealing or whether it will ride out the special-master process and deal with the few-week delay or appealing later problematic rulings from the special master.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 5, 2022 at 01:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Bad lawsuits from the left

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County (Fla--includes Tampa) state's attorney Andrew Warren from office, pursuant to his constitutional power to suspend any state officer not subject to impeachment. The basis for the removal is Warren's intention not to prosecute for receiving or providing abortions and gender-affirming healthcare, which DeSantis described as a refusal to enforce state law.  Warren filed suit in federal court; he alleges the suspension violates the First Amendment (because Warren has merely spoken about exercising his discretion not to prosecute, but has not been presented with or done anything with any live cases) and the Florida Constitution (because DeSantis did not establish proper grounds for suspension).

This is a bad lawsuit. Like many lawsuits from the right, it is partly for show, to look strong in standing up to the other side. Warren gave a press conference talking about how DeSantis abused his power and acted undemocratically in removing a twice-elected official who received more votes in Hillsborough County than DeSantis had. That rhetoric does not differ from Republican cries during Trump's impeachments. It seems to me there are two problems with the suit, at least in federal court.

The First Amendment claim fails under Garcetti and the patronage cases. Accepting that DeSantis retaliated for Warren's expression and nothing he did in office, Warren is a policymaking official and he spoke as part of his formal job duties; the First Amendment does not protect such speech from employment consequences. DeSantis is not Warren's "boss" and that Warren owes his job to the county voters and not to DeSantis or anyone under DeSantis' control. But DeSantis enjoys a (limited) supervisory role over Warren. Job-related speech--a promise as to how he intends to perform his official functions--is not protected as a basis for suspension if it constitutes misfeasance, neglect of duty, or incompetence. If a policy-level employee can be fired for cause for job-related speech without First Amendment recourse, a person can be suspended for job-related speech that provides a legal basis for removal without First Amendment recourse.

Warren's real argument is that his speech cannot constitute misfeasance, neglect, or incompetence. That is a question of state law that a federal court will not (and arguably should not) touch. This is a paradigmatic Pullman abstention case--if there were a good First Amendment claim, it can be mooted by an open-and-unresolved state law issue of whether Warren's conduct met the state-constitutional standard* for removal, which a state court should resolve in the first instance. At worst, I would expect the district court to certify the state issue to the Florida Supreme Court. Pullman abstention and certification are disfavored in First Amendment cases because of the chilling effect in the litigation delay, but Warren's First Amendment claim is  weak and the state issues are uniquely central and dispositive. Of course, Warren does not want to be in state court, especially not the Florida Supreme Court. But that is why we have these doctrines.

[*] Federal courts do not abstain from federal constitutional issues in deference to a parallel state constitutional issue. They do abstain in deference to a unique state constitutional issue.

I do not know much about Warren, but he appears to have political aspirations and is willing to take on the current state power. Which is great. But political fights are no more proper in federal court when undertaken by a politician I agree with for a cause I support.

Update: A reader offers another reason the Court cannot hear this case--a plaintiff cannot bring a § 1983 or Ex parte Young claim for a violation of state law and a federal court cannot order state officials to follow state law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 18, 2022 at 09:10 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Abortion and state-created danger

Imagine a pregnant person in a state (Missouri and Ohio seem the current leading examples) in which doctors and hospitals have interpreted  state law to require an emergency to escalate before an abortion can be performed under a life or extreme-disability exception. The doctor believes that an abortion is necessary but the situation is not emergent and as she understands the law, abortion is permitted to handle imminent death or disability, not likely; the doctor waits until the woman suffers further complications, then performs the procedure. Could the woman make a claim against state officials for any harm in waiting for her condition to worsen?

State-created danger establishes substantive due process liability for third-party harms where government takes affirmative action that subjects an individual to new or greater danger at the hands of third persons or circumstances, in a way that shocks the conscience (either because done with intent to injury or deliberately indifferent to an injured person's rights). Here we have government action in the enactment and potential enforcement of state laws against doctors who perform abortions. That state action increases the danger to patients at the hands of circumstances (their medical condition) by affecting treatment--doctors do not act on their medical judgment out of fear of prosecution, causing  the patient's condition to worsen. Causing doctors to allow patients' condition to worsen before treatment shocks the conscience. Threatening enforcement shows deliberate indifference knowing that enforcement affects doctors' actions in a way that endangers patients. Going one step further, could a doctor (using third-party standing) sue for injunctive relief, showing that these laws affect their medical judgment, causing harm to many women, and therefore the state law is constitutionally invalid?

My (imperfect) analogy is lawsuits challenging municipal ordinances that impose consequences on landlords (fines, loss of license) whose tenants have too many disturbing-the-peace 911 calls (including calls from domestic-violence victims). Plaintiffs have argued that the laws make them more vulnerable to abuse by domestic partners because less willing to call 911 out of fear that their landlord will evict them to avoid the consequences for multiple calls. The suits that have been brought have settled, so no court has passed on the theory.

I admit this would be a tough sell, especially in a pre-enforcement action. It might be tough to limit to abortion/health care. Would it open the door to a claim against the state for raising the speed limit to 70, on the theory of "you knew people would drive faster and less safely, making me more vulnerable to a reckless driver." State officials could argue that they are not deliberately indifferent to the pregnant women but trying to protect fetal life.

Still, as abortion-rights activists look for legal theories to avoid the worst effects of Dobbs, it might be a theory worth pursuing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 7, 2022 at 11:57 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Britney Griner and WNBA pay

I am sure someone has written this, but I will throw it out again. Britney Griner was in Russia playing basketball because the WNBA does not pay its star athletes enough money to build the type of financial nest that will carry her when her career ends at age 35-40. WNBA stars have been doing this for years because the overseas money--especially in Russia, where oligarchs own several teams and use sports to amass and show wealth and influence--dwarfs WNBA money. Russian teams and leagues also treat players better in terms of travel, accommodations, schedule, etc.

Nor is this the first time WNBA players have gotten caught up in Russian political intrigue. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi played for Spartak Moscow Region; the mobbed-up team owner, Shabtai Kalmanovich, was murdered.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 4, 2022 at 06:10 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

You need 5 to do anything

An interesting discussion on the Con Law Prof listserv this week about Justice Brennan's famous "rule" for his clerks that you need five to do anything. There are several ways to interpret that statement, suggesting different things about the Court and its actions.

The first is "if we have 5, we can do whatever we want." This suggests judicial lawlessness, power politics to impose policy preferences without regard to text, precedent, or law. It also reflects the accusation some have leveled against the current majority--they are doing what they want as policy because they can. And defenders of the Court respond that they are following Brennan's rule. And as Eric Segall would say, there is no law to be found anywhere.

The second, urged by several former Brennan clerks on the listserv, is "it takes 5 to do anything." Stated differently, you only can do anything with 5. This suggests humility in working within a multi-member Court--you need to get 5 on board, which might mean compromising and settling for less than you would like. But Brennan remained committed to lawyerly tools and did not advocate pure policy goals.

The third, from another clerk, was a statement of resignation in a case he lost--"well, they have 5, they can do what they want." Again, thsi does not suggest judicial lawlessness or accusing the other side of ignoring law in favor of personal goals. It reflects reality--"they have a different view than I do, but they have 5 and I do not."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 26, 2022 at 03:19 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Better Call Saul--when Jimmy becomes Saul

Better Call Saul hit a significant story milestone last night. I want to consider a question (with spoilers) after jump: How bad a guy is Saul Goodman and is he qualitatively worse than Jimmy McGill?

Better Call Saul tells the story of how Jimmy "becomes" Saul, the "criminal lawyer" of Breaking Bad. Two strands make the story. The first is that Kim Wexler, the love of Jimmy's life, grounds him and keeps him from losing himself in his alter-ego. In mathematical terms, Jimmy-Kim=Saul. The second is that Saul Goodman represents a difference in kind, not degree, from Jimmy McGill. Jimmy is a fundamentally decent person and lawyer, committed to his clients and to doing justice; while he crosses ethical and legal lines, it is in service of a higher ideal and he always comes back around. Saul Goodman, by contrast, is an immoral, unethical criminal, engaging in all manner of wrongful conduct and out only for himself.

The story reached its point of no-return last night. Kim leaves Jimmy, wracked with guilt over the human costs of their scheme. The last seven minutes time-jumps some period for a montage of a Day-in-the-Life of Saul Goodman--he wakes up in a garish mansion next to a sex worker; has a horrible comb-over; wears loud suits; offers his companion a cereal bar on her way out the door; drives his Cadillac with LWYRUP plate; decorates the office with columns and the Constitution and an inflatable Statue of Liberty on the roof; and is fast-talking on the phone at all times. The idea--in reviews and interviews with show-runners--is that Kim bailed because she lacked Jimmy's complete moral flexibility, while Jimmy could compartmentalize and embrace his immorality, as Saul.

This story requires that Saul Goodman is truly worse than Jimmy McGill--that Saul exceeds the typical low-rung, fast-talking, as-seen-on-TV lawyer into outright criminality. Saul did illegal stuff on BB--arranging meth sales, money laundering. But we have watched Jimmy do illegal stuff on BCS. The story tells us that Saul is worse than Jimmy; the seven-minute montage is supposed to show us he is. But to my ear, they have not done it. Style aside, Saul in these seven minutes does not lawyer any differently than Jimmy.

Here is the substance of the phone snippets we hear from Saul:

    • Hard-ball negotiation in some type of PI case, emphasizing that soft-tissue damage gets his client paid regardless of X-rays and that it is better for the defendant to pay now or "bleed to death" in court.

    • Extended conversation with his secretary who updates him on new stuff. Here is Saul's side:

        • Something about telling his "my Zanex guy" "yes and today." It could be that he is representing someone charged with selling Zanex or it could be about getting drugs illegally; hard to say.

        • A new client charged with public masturbation; the joke is that Saul has multiple clients charged with that.

        • Ambulance-chasing to represent victims in a bus accident, obtaining victim names by leaning on a hospital employee he had represented on a DUI and planning a dramatic photo-op and media statement to try the case in public.

        • Scheduling matters for court for his convenience.

        • Listening to, and complaining about the sound quality of, a "Better Call Saul" radio spot. The ad is purely PI--insurance companies that will not pay for accident repairs, defrauded by brother-in-law, surgery gone wrong. He wants to stop the check for the spot and threaten the station with a lawsuit, preparing to stand for freedom of speech.

The montage and episode ends with Saul walking through a packed waiting room and into his office, then calling his secretary to send in the next client with "let justice be done, though the heavens fall."

This did not show us the so-called criminal lawyer. It showed an (exaggerated) version of the fast-talking smarmy, mostly-PI lawyer we have watched for six seasons.

My point, I think, is that, reviews and interviews are insisting on a premature conclusion. We have not reached the story's endpoint--fundamentally decent Jimmy has not become irredeemable Saul. The show has four more episodes, at least one featuring Walter White and Jesse Pinkman and likely showing further interactions between Saul and Gus' meth operations. My guess is some of these final episodes will show genuine Saul wrongdoing, something Jimmy did not and would not do. We are not (yet) there.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2022 at 05:54 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2022

The limits of swearing cheerleaders and an obviouly hollow victory

Free speech folks were watching this Tenth Circuit case, arising from the expulsion of a high school student for a private, out-of-school Snapchat post saying "Me and the boys bout to exterminate the Jews" with a photo of them wearing WW-II-era foreign military hats. In other words, it raised the open question from Mahanoy--out-of-school online speech not about school but raising concerns for in-school bullying, harassment, threats, and discrimination. The court reversed the grant of a 12(b)(6), holding that Mahanoy applies, the school did not have an interest in regulating this speech (despite its content), and there was no showing of substantial disruption. Good all around-and perhaps a hint that lower courts will follow Mahanoy to a sharper in-school/out-of-school line.

But the court remanded for consideration of qualified immunity, which will almost certainly be granted. The events underlying this case occurred in 2019, two years prior to Mahanoy and during a period in which courts allowed schools greater power to reach out-of-school speech that found its way into school and that could be perceived as threatening or discriminatory. Certainly there is no SCOTUS or Tenth Circuit precedent establishing that similar speech cannot be punished. So this is a small victory for the plaintiff that will not last long.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 11, 2022 at 02:06 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Cue the converse abortion ad hoc nullification machine

The Times considers the First Amendment implications of abortion being legal in some places and illegal in others. And individual news reports about how Dobbs is being received and applied with respect to other rights and issues suggest this will not be limited to abortion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2022 at 04:50 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Pedantry

Is it overruled Roe or overturned Roe? I say "overrule," which is the term the Court used. Shepard's (ah, the days) used that term--courts "overrule" precedent and "reverse" lower-court judgments." I do not believe courts "overturn" anything in the formal (as opposed to colloquial) sense.

Now that we have the opinion and not only the draft, do we have any better sense of whether Roberts or Thomas assigned the opinion? And why would either give it to Alito? Roberts must have known Alito would produce a toxic opinion. And it seems Thomas would want to keep the opinion (this and the gun case would have made the Fed Soc two-fer). Did Thomas know he wanted to call all SDP into question so he needed to write separately rather than lose a majority on a small piece?

How should we describe the vote count? I went with 5-1-3 (majority, concurrence for result but not reasoning, dissent). I have seen others offer two related framings as a pair--6-3 for judgment (MS law valid, MS wins), 5-4 for overruling Roe.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 25, 2022 at 10:45 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 24, 2022

Thoughts on fearing for the darkness

Some random thoughts on a legal earthquake.

• The opinion appears substantively unchanged from the leaked draft, other than responding to the other opinions and obvious proofreading. Clearly Kavanaugh was the Chief's target. We can read his concurrence as trying to carve a gentle and less-provocative middle ground between the majority's muscular overruling and the Chief's decide-nothing-more.

• This day has been coming like a slow-moving train since Election Night 2016, if not Election Night 2014 (when the Republicans regained the Senate and Justice Ginsburg had not resigned). I recommend Orin Kerr's Twitter thread that captures how Democrats/abortion-rights supporters went from "Garland-as-fifth-vote-to-secure-Roe" to Dobbs in less than a decade. Anyone (*cough* Susan Collins) who did not recognize this day as inevitable since Election Night 2016--or at least since Kennedy's resignation--is naive or ignorant (or, as someone suggested, lying about believing those assurances).

• Did the leak work? If the goal was to hold a shaky majority, yes; if the goal was to pressure someone to leave the majority, no. If the goal was to soften the opinion's effects by creating a distracting process story or softening the sting of the opinion, no; people seem pretty worked up and ready to protest and act, even if they saw this coming. It depends on if we find out who the leaker is and why they leaked.

• There is no easy answer to what happens next, but some things to watch:

    1) How much did this decision embolden anti-choice states? Do they ban abortion without exception or do they allow exceptions (life, health, rape, incest, a month of leeway)? Do they resume enforcing restrictive pre-Roe zombies? Do they go after pregnant people or only providers? Do they go after those who provide information and funding? How aggressively will prosecutors investigate and prosecute miscarriages and other "bad" behavior by pregnant people?

        Consider Arkansas' (now-valid) trigger law banning abortion with only a life-of-the-mother exception. Governor Asa Hutchinson suggested the state might add a rape-and-incest exception if Roe is overruled. This is a version of the dog-catching-the-car. States have performatively enacted extreme laws that would hurt millions, knowing they were unenforceable but allowed for political points. Now that those extreme laws are enforceable, Hutchinson realizes the immorality or unpopularity of the extreme and might walk it walk it back. Do other states follow suit and show restraint when their choices have real effects on real people or do they continue the race to the bottom because they can?

    2) Relatedly, does Dobbs embolden those states to go after the other rights that conservatives hate as much as abortion--same-sex marriage, contraception, sex? The assurances from Alito and Kavanaugh (and many who criticized Steve Vladeck and Leah Litman) focus on the wrong actors at the wrong time, at least for the moment. The action occurs in two other forums first: 1) Will states push the envelope in other areas--will they enact and enforce new laws banning purchase and use of contraception or whether states will begin enforcing existing zombie laws prohibiting sodomy (the Texas law at issue in Lawrence remains on the books) or same-sex marriage (same in many states); 2) What will restless lower-court judges do with the signal from Dobbs and from Thomas' concurrence if states get frisky--it is not hard to imagine a panel of the Fifth Circuit declaring valid a Louisiana ban on certain contraception. These steps are necessary before we see what the Justices will do. And that process could take several years, during which the make-up of the Court changes or people stop paying attention to Dobbs' "abortion-is-different" promises.

    3) It is nonsense to believe the courts are out of this area. The dissent shows why, as does this paper by David Cohen, Greer Donley, and Rachel Rebouche. These controversies extend beyond substantive due process to free speech, the right to travel, and other non-disfavored rights implicated in an abortion context. Scalia warned about the "abortion ad hoc nullifcation machine," in which the connection to abortion limits other, supposedly stronger rights (he complained about restrictions on clinic protesters). Will we see that in reverse--will the connection of other rights to the no-longer-favored abortion context limit those other rights? For example, will the Court allow states to sanction political expression concerning illegal-in-a-state abortions, remaining "scrupulously neutral" about abortion and allowing states to limit certain speech in the name of limiting (unprotected) abortion? Alito and Thomas have supported restrictions on speech with which they disagree; will others follow suit?

    4) How much teeth does rational-basis review have here, if a state goes to the extreme? Is it unreasonable to make a pregnant woman endanger her life or health in favor of a fetus? Is there any other context in which the law requires an ordinary person to risk her life for another?

• Biden's statement attempted to create a campaign issue. He called on Congress to codify Roe (whatever that means). He add that if Congress lacks the votes to do that (which it does), people must elect representatives who will, making. The question is how politically salient this is for the (apparent majorities) who support reproductive freedom--can the issue galvanize supporters to turn out in large numbers in the way it galvanizes opponents? Supporters have had Roe as the guardrail for 50 years. Does its actual loss awaken everyone to the ballot in a way its threatened loss (which was obvious in 2016) did not?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2022 at 04:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Maybe there isn't a big difference between mostly dead and all dead

Like Westley in The Princess Bride, Bivens is mostly dead following today's decision in Egbert v. Boule. Unlike with Westley, I deny any big difference between being mostly dead and all dead. Here is my SCOTUSBlog recap[Update: And a short interview on All Things Considered] I did not expect this from the argument. While not friendly to the plaintiff's claim, the quesioning did not reflect  a desire from six justices to winnow Bivens to nothing--especially after declining to grant cert on whether to overrule Bivens.

But it may as well have. If the new single question in the Bivens analysis is whether there is any reason to believe that Congress is able to decide whether to recognize a cause of action outside of identical facts to Bivens, no new Bivens action is possible, because the answer is always yes. Credit to Gorsuch for being honest about where the analysis and conclusion leads. Meanwhile, without saying so, the Court has essentially granted virtually all federal officers at all levels in virtually all agencies more-or-less absolute immunity from suits for damages for constitutional violations. Maybe something identical to Bivens survives going forward--Fourth Amendment violation, pure law enforcement, no connection to immigration and national security. But not for long. And perhaps not if the agency has (as all agencies do) some internal disciplinary system.

So it is up to Congress to enact something like § 1983 for action under color of federal law, that also keeps in place the many statutory schemes (e.g., CSRA) that operate adjacent to Bivens. Could the changing nature and increased ideological diversity of constitutional claims--e.g., an increasing number of religious-liberty claims--create sufficient bipartisan support for enacting something? Probably not. But that will be the new focus.

I am working on the third edition to my civil rights treatise. The second edition was written in 2017 and published in 2018. I am stunned (and a bit frozen) by how much has changed in that short a period and how much the Bivens and immunity chapters must be rewritten.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 8, 2022 at 10:15 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

SCOTUS vacates stay of Texas social-media law (Updated)

SCOTUS vacated the Fifth Circuit unexplained stay of the district court injunction of HB20, Texas' social-media law; in other words, the law cannot be enforced pending appeal. This leaves the Texas law in the same place as Florida's, following  last week's 11th Circuit decision affirming the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of that law. Justice Kagan would have denied the stay application, without explanation. Alito dissents for Thomas and Gorsuch.

Alito's dissent hits all the conservative Twitter talking points about social media that misapply or misunderstand First Amendment doctrine. Plus he adds a gratuitous footnote about § 230 requiring neutrality or creating a platform/publisher distinction. Special mention for accepting this verbal sleight-of-hand: "Texas contends that § 7 does not require social media platforms to host any particular message but only to to refrain from discrimination against a user's speech on the basis of viewpoint"--as if prohibiting a site from rejecting speech on the basis of viewpoint does not compel the site to carry that speech by eliminating one basis for the site to remove that speech.

Presuming the Fifth Circuit declares the law valid when it reaches the merits to create a circuit split and presuming Justice Kagan's position is based on posture and not First Amendment substance (she did not join Alito's opinion), the vote should be 6-3 that a state law violates the First Amendment in attempting to compel private entities to carry speech and speakers they would prefer not to carry.

Besides pushing troubling First Amendment arguments, Alito pushes a troubling procedural argument. He suggests that a pre-enforcement federal action is inappropriate because HB20 is enforceable for prospective relief (injunction, plus ancillary attorney's fees and costs) but not the sort of harsh retroactive relief (imprisonment or severe fines and penalties) as with the law in Ex Parte Young; a social-media site therefore can raise the First Amendment as a defense to a state suit for injunctive relief, also allowing the state court to interpret the law's vague provisions. But the Court has never held that EPY actions are limited to laws that impose retroactive sanctions for past conduct, especially where attorney's fees may impose greater financial consequences on rights-holders than retroactive damages or fines.

Although he did not cite it, I think Alito drew the wrong conclusion from WWH and SB8. The WWH Court was correct that re-enforcement offensive EPY actions are not constitutionally required and defensive litigation can be constitutionally sufficient. That does not mean an EPY action is improper whenever defensive litigation is available (which is always). The question is whether EPY's other requirements--an identifiable responsible executive officer whose enforcement can be enjoined--are met. SB8 could not be challenged offensively because the absence of public enforcement meant no responsible officer and no one to enjoin. HB20 is publicly enforced (while also allowing private enforcement), satisfying this element of EPY.

Update: On this last point about Alito's hostility to EPY actions, he includes this line: "While I can understand the Court's apparent desire to delay enforcement of HB20 while the appeal is pending, the preliminary injunction entered by the District Court was itself a significant intrusion on state sovereignty and Texas should not be required to seek preclearance from the federal courts before its laws go into effect." Putting aside the misuse of laws "go[ing] into effect," Steve Vladeck shows that since November 2020, Alito has voted publicly ten times on emergency-relief requests in offensive pre-enforcement actions that would stop enforcement of state laws pending resolution of federal pre-enforcement litigation. Of those cases, one challenged a Maine law; the others challenged New York or California laws. He never suggested those state courts should have a crack at interpreting the law. I do not believe he is trying anymore.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 31, 2022 at 07:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Misplaced anger over precedent: The example of DeShaney

Campaign-finance regulation advocates and much of the public regard Citizens United as one of the Court's worst decisions, responsible for the electoral mess that has followed. I find this unique attention on CU strange, as the Court built on a 30+-year-old framework that treated expenditures as protected speech, recognized corporations as equal speakers with individuals, and generally rejected equalizing and preventing drown-out as compelling government interests. CU did not break much new ground, yet it has become the alpha-and-omega of bad campaign-finance doctrine.

We are seeing this play out again amid reports that Uvalde police stood around and did nothing for almost an hour while the shooting continued. Everyone points to Castle Rock v. Gonzalez as establishing the (awful) principle that police have no constitutional duty to protect from third-party harms. But as with CU, Castle Rock broke no new ground. It built on the real culprit, DeShaney v. Winnebago County, which everyone is ignoring in the Twitter debate.

Castle Rock arose from a father who kidnapped his three daughters in violation of a restraining order. Despite pleas from the mother, officers did nothing to enforce the restraining order by looking for the father or the kids. About 10 hours later, the father appeared at the police station with the girls' bodies in his truck and committed suicide-by-cop. The mother sued the department on a theory that the failure to take steps to enforce the TRO deprived her of procedural due process; a 7-2 Court rejected the claim. Scalia (for 7) said the mother lacked a protected property  interest in enforcement of the TRO because the police had inherent discretion in when and how to enforce the order and enforcement had no inherent monetary value; Souter concurred (with Breyer) to argue that enforcement of the TRO is a process and there is no due process right to an underlying process.

The real constitutional injury should have been that the girls ls were kidnapped and murdered because the police did nothing--a substantive claim for deprivation of their life and liberty, not about the failure to provide process. That is, the injury was in the result (the girls were murdered), not by the failure to provide process. But DeShaney foreclosed that claim when it held that government action, never government inaction, violates substantive due process; government failure to protect people from third-party harms cannot be the basis for an SDP claim. The plaintiff in Castle Rock tried to use PDP to get around that limitation. DeShaney did not involve cops. But it, not Castle Rock, is the source of the problem and the reason there can be no constitutional liability for the Uvalde officers' failure to act.

DeShaney established or hinted at two exceptions. It acknowledged that the government has a duty to protect those with whom it has a "special relationship," typically where government has assumed involuntary custody over a person and thus an obligation to provide for his well-being. But every circuit holds that school does not constitute such a special relationship--school officials have no affirmative duty to protect students, which necessarily means police officers have no such duty when they are called to the scene.

DeShaney also stated that the government had not created the danger to the plaintiff or done anything to make him more vulnerable to it. From this language, lower courts developed the "state-created danger" theory, imposing SDP liability where the government takes some action that creates or worsens a plaintiff's vulnerability to third-party harms. Unfortunately for the families, the 5th Circuit is the lone court of appeals to reject this theory; short of the court changing its mind or using the case to get to SCOTUS, this is a non-starter in Texas.

If it were available, I am trying to figure out whether a claim is possible. An affirmative act is required--not mere inaction of doing nothing but some affirmative steps. So standing in the hallway waiting for a key cannot state a claim, nor can the failure to transmit or act on 911 calls showing kids alive in the classroom. Reports suggest the Uvalde police affirmatively stopped parents from entering the school (including cuffing one person) and affirmatively stopped federal agents from entering the school; that could do it, although plaintiffs must show causation (that their children might have been saved had local police not stopped others from helping) and that preventing help was conscience-shocking. Some courts have found liability on an inaction-as-message theory--the failure to act sent a message to the wrongdoer that he could act with impunity; I doubt that works here, because the shooter was not aware of or reacting to the inaction.

The facts of this case keep changing, so expect to learn more. But the police-critical narrative taking hold is "police get impunity for their actions, but have no obligation to act to protect the public" makes no sense as a democratic bargain. But the second piece of that narrative derives not from Castle Rock, but from DeShaney.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 29, 2022 at 09:58 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Judge Newsom in the news

Three weeks of grading and a round of edits have limited my writing here. Let me jump back in with a short ode to the recent work of Eleventh Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom.

Everyone is talking about Newsom's opinion for a unanimous panel declaring every significant provision of Florida' social-media law constitutionally invalid. Although a few disclosure provisions survive, the opinion is an overwhelming win for the web sites--content moderation is First Amendment-protected editorial decisionmaking; social-media sites are not common carriers (and slapping that label on them is meaningless, anyway); and the state has no legitimate, much less substantial or compelling, interest in telling the sites what speakers or speech it must keep on the site. The decision creates an interesting procedural bind. A district court declared Texas' similar law constitutionally invalid and enjoined enforcement, but the Fifth Circuit stayed the injunction without explanation following oral argument. The plaintiffs in that case have asked SCOTUS to lift the stay and reinstate the injunction; that is pending. We are left with this weird sort-of splitt--all reasoned opinions (one Eleventh Circuit and two district courts) declaring the laws invalid against tea leaves (the unexplained stay and the tenor of argument) hinting at the Fifth Circuit coming out the other way. Is that enough for the Court to take the case?

Equally interesting is two Newsom concurrences. U.S. v. Jimenez-Shimon, written by Newsom for a unanimous panel, declared valid a federal law criminalizing firearms possession by undocumented immigrants and affirmed a conviction. He then concurred in his opinion to question the use of tiers of scrutiny for the Second Amendment (which should be based on text and history) and generally, with a nice thumbnail sketch of the many pieces of First Amendment doctrine that he calls "exhausting," "judge-empowering," and "freedom-diluting." Resnick v. KrunchKash reversed a jurisdictional dismissal, finding that a § 1983 action against a creditor for using state garnishment proceeding was not wholly insubstantial and frivolous. Newsom concurred for the panel to reject Bell v. Hood and the idea that a case is so frivolous as to deprive the court of jurisdiction; calling it an issue that had bothered him since law school, Newsom argued that a claim that pleads a federal issue on its face gives the court jurisdiction, even if the claim is an obvious loser. These are of a piece with his concurrence from last year adopting the Fletcher view that standing is merits, wrongly mischaracterized, and arguing that any limits on Congress' power to create new private rights comes from Article II rather than Article III.

I unsurprisingly agree with Newsom on standing and Bell and have written as much. It is interesting to wonder about Newsom's broader agenda. He is young (49) and conservative. Is this a way to position himself as potential SCOTUS pick? He does it not through outward insanity in destroying the administrative state and Commerce Clause, as with the Fifth Circuit folks. Instead, he is thoughtful and scholarly, pondering important-but-not-hot-button issues that have "bothered" him since he sat in Fed Courts as a law student and that he is trying to work out 25 years later.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 24, 2022 at 10:41 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Random reactions to some items in the news

My response to some random news items.

Leah Litman and Steve Vladeck argue discuss the constitutional rights that could be on the chopping block if the Dobbs draft becomes the Court's opinion, with the provocative headline "The Biggest Lie Conservative Defenders of Alito's Leaked Opinion Are Telling." Conservative commentators and others have taken umbrage, especially to the headline and to the implication, pointing to Alito's efforts to distinguish abortion from other unenumerated rights and the supposed "popularity" of these other rights. As Leah and Steve argue, there are distinct pieces to this: 1) What GOP legislatures and executives might try to do and 2) How SCOTUS will respond to litigation over such efforts.

The lens of judicial departmentalism sharpens what is happening here. Legislative and executive officials have never been bound by SCOTUS precedent; they have been free to enact and enforce/threaten to enforce laws that run afoul of Roe/Casey, Griswold, Obergefell, etc. Those efforts fail in the lower courts, which are bound by SCOTUS precedent, and likely fail in SCOTUS in the absence of willingness to overrule precedent. If the Alito draft becomes the Opinion of the Court, it does not authorize previously unauthorized conduct in the political branches. It emboldens them to pursue these laws, believing that these efforts will be less pointless (because having a better chance of success) and less costly (because defeat in court means attorney's fees). One commentator (not sure who) argued that Roe is unique because it never gained broad acceptance, unlike Brown. Describing Brown as widely accepted is so ahistorical that whoever said it should no longer be taken seriously. But Brown illustrates how judicial departmentalism operates. The Southern Manifesto and pieces of "Massive Resistance" exemplified how political branches can continue to follow their own course.

The issue always comes returns to SCOTUS and how ready it is to overrule precedent. Massive Resistance failed when courts smacked them down (as happened in Cooper and elsewhere), except courts did not do that often enough. Similarly, if a majority of SCOTUS does not follow Alito where his opinion leads, fears from the left are unfounded. But it is disingenuous, as Litman/Vladeck critics do, to say that GOP politicians cannot and will not attempt to push the envelope--they always have been able to do so and always have done so. Just as it is disingenuous to argue that the Dobbs draft does not lay the rhetorical and precedential groundwork to overrule other cases because the Justices may choose not to do so.

Vice tells the story of Romana Didulo, a Candian Q-Anon person who convinced followers (who believe she is Queen and running Canada behind the scene) to stop paying their utility bills because water and electricity are free. The consequences to her followers, many of whom are financially vulnerable, should be obvious. This is a consequence (ironic? unfortunate? inevitable) of our approach to free speech. Because it is almost always impossible to stop or punish the bad speaker, consequences fall on those who listen to the bad speaker and engage in criminal (1/6 insurrectionists) or unwise (the people who stop paying their utility bills) activities. We hope the negative consequences prompt listeners to turn away from the speaker, who, deprived of an audience, stops speaking. But that is a long process and one that often harms those who cannot afford it, while the powerful remain insulated.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 11, 2022 at 04:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

More confusion on legislative immunity

I wrote a few weeks ago about a Ninth Circuit case allowing a state legislator to pursue a First Amendment retaliation claim against legislative leaders who restricted his access to the capitol, wondering how this was not governed by legislative immunity. Further confusing matters, the Sixth Circuit holds that legislative immunity bars a First Amendment retaliation claim against the heads of a party caucus for expelling a member from the caucus (and denying her party resources). Unless there is a meaningful distinction in the legislative nature of "you no longer get to hang out with us in the legislative process" and "you must notify us before enter the chamber," both decisions cannot be correct.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 10, 2022 at 08:44 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Who assigned this and why? (Update)

Who assigned Dobbs to Alito--the Chief or Thomas?

Assume the following at conference: Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett want to overrule Roe, declare the MS law valid, and enter judgment for the state; the Chief wants to declare the MS law valid as not imposing an undue burden  and enter judgment for the state. Who is the senior-most Justice in the majority? What is the "majority" when in Conference and before any opinions have been written--is it a majority for the judgment ("the law is constitutionally valid, plaintiffs lose, state wins") or is it majority for a rationale or an answer to a QP (Roe/Casey are overruled)? If the former, the Chief keeps the assignment; if the latter, Thomas gets the assignment.

I raised this question (without a satisfactory answer) over the now-meaningless June Medical, where four Justices (Breyer for Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan) declared the law invalid by balancing burdens and benefits under Casey and the Chief agreed the law was invalid but on the logic of WWH and considering only the burdens; did the Chief assign or did Ginsburg? Does the assignment work differently when there is a majority for a result but not for a rationale, as in June, as opposed to where there is a majority for a rationale plus extra votes for the result?

My best guess is Thomas assigned it. If so, I am impressed (and a bit curious) that he chose not to keep it for himself. Casey was decided during Thomas's first Term, meaning he has been waiting his entire time on the Court for this opportunity.

If Roberts assigned it, the choice of Alito creates all sorts of Kremlinology. If Roberts  (presumably) wanted to make the least noise, he would not have assigned it to Alito, knowing the likely tenor of the opinion. Or he assigned it to Alito intentionally, knowing he might draft an opinion (what my colleague called a "nuclear bomb overruling") that might scare off Kavanaugh or Barrett. In which case the "conservative leaker" theory makes sense as a counterpunch to that. Anyway, I doubt anyone thinks this way, which is why I believe the relevant majority was to overrule Roe and Thomas gave the opinion to Alito.

Update: This question was raised on the Con Law Prof listserv. No one knew for sure, although one former clerk says his understanding is that the majority is for the bottom-line disposition. This make some sense, the person argued, because some justices only have identified a conclusion but not a reason at conference. Alternatively, many cases may have a bottom-line majority but competing reasons, none garnering the initial support of any 5; the only way to identify a seniormost-in-the-majority is to go by majority for the judgment, meaning the Chief assigned Dobbs. It also would follow that the Chief, rather than Ginsburg, gave Breyer June Medical.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 3, 2022 at 11:37 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Of leaks and legitimacy

I am not as outraged by the leak as Paul is, although I agree it suggests something about the elevation of individual personalities over the institution. I want to weigh in on a couple points. (Update: Mark Graber argues that leaks, especially from the Court to the executive but also to the press, were common during the 19th century).

• Regardless of the source--Justice, clerk, court personnel--there are plausible arguments for the source coming from either side of the divide over reproductive freedom. A critic of the decision might leak hoping that public outrage might sway someone off the Alito opinion or, seeing that as a lost cause, to get an early start on generating political activism to prompt Senate action (a law codifying the right to reproductive freedom passed the House but is stuck behind the Senate filibuster*) or to get Democrats to the polls. A supporter of the decision might hope publicity surrounding the prospective opinion would shore-up Alito's majority; soften the public outrage when the opinion issues (closer to the election), so that the anger has dissipated by November; and distract from the story of the Court eliminating reproductive freedom (and perhaps other rights, more on that below) by offering the story of the leak, failed processes, and the Court-as-institution as a competing narrative. As a couple people have put it, the leak is a story, but not the story; the source might have hoped to make it the story, especially in the right-wing noise machine (which will suggest the source is from the other side). One person on the ConLawProf Listserv suggested Alito might be the source--knowing he will be forced to soften the language in the published opinion, he gets his raw thoughts into the world and becomes a Fed Soc rock star.

[*] Putting aside whether such a law is valid under the Commerce Clause or § 5, a question that the same five-Justice majority would likely answer in the negative two years from now.

• I do not understand the insistence that the decision is "illegitimate." I think it is wrong, uses (typically) bad history, and written with the usual Alito arrogance and causticity that grates on me (even when I agree with him). But it does not say anything that Roe/Casey critics have not been saying for years; it reads as the opinion overruling Roe that we have feared for years, at least as written by Alito or Scalia. But that should not make it "illegitimate" any more than Roe/Casey are illegtimate, as Alito suggests throughout the opinion.

What makes it illegitimate as a judicial decision--as opposed to wrong as a matter of substantive constitutional law--for people who do not subscribe to Eric Segall's view that the entire SCOTUS enterprise is illegitimate?

    1) It overrules precedent. No, because the Court has overruled or changed precedent in the past. It has standards for doing so. And disagreeing with how Alito applies those principles is a critique on the merits.

    2) It eliminates an existing constitutional right. That has never been part of the stare decisis or constitutional analysis. While perhaps a worthwhile constitutional principle (a judicial presumption of liberty, if you will), that again goes to correctness on the merits rather than structural legitimacy.

    3) Everything that went into how the five-Justice majority was formed--GWB and Trump losing the popular vote (such that 4/5 of the majority was appointed by a President who, at least initially, was a minority President); McConnell holding Gorsuch's seat open for more than a year; Kavanaugh perhaps perjuring himself; McConnell ramming the Barrett nomination through, Susan Collins Susan Collinsing, etc. But it seems to me that proves to much, rendering "illegitimate" any decision from this Court for the foreseeable future. And many might agree with that conclusion. But we cannot ignore the role of politics, a less "clean" process than the judicial is supposed to be, in the appointment process. Other Presidents and Congresses have gained or sought to gain political advantage through the Court. What makes this uniquely illegitimate.

I am not trying to downplay how bad this opinion is. I am concerned that "illegitimacy" is the new "judicial activism"--an illegitimate decision is any decision I disagree with written by a justice I do not like. That is not helpful to the discourse or to the functioning of any institution. Or it is the new obscenity--I know an illegitimate or judicial activist opinion when I see it (usually because I disagree with it).

• I cannot tell how much mischief the opinion can do in the future--whether it also takes out marriage equality, freedom of intimate association, contraception. Alito tries in several places to distinguish those rights as not involving potential life, although query whether that holds true for contraception, given some religious views about what constitutes abortion and the misunderstanding of how some contraception works. The rigid historical approach to substantive due process does not bode well for rights and interests that have developed in a modern, more open, more technologically advanced, and more accepting society.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 3, 2022 at 10:29 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Everything wrong with qualified immunity

in this Sixth Circuit decision granting qualified immunity to two police officers who arrested and commenced prosecution of a man for creating a Facebook account parodying the local police department. To wit:

• The court skips the merits, ignoring the obvious First Amendment concerns and doing nothing to establish or further the meaning of the First Amendment.But the panel does not want to be seen endorsing obvious overreach implicating the First Amendment, so they suggest "doubts"that what the government did was worth the time and effort And they urge police, quoting Bari Weiss (!) to "say 'No.'" This seems like the worst of all worlds. The court recognizes and calls out the wrongfulness of government conduct, but not in a way that has any effect on the next cop to pull this stun (and there will be a next one). Instead, the court does something that I would have expected Fed Soc judges to abjure--issuing lectures to other branches of government having no force or effect.

• This was not a fast-moving, emergency requiring snap judgments in a life-threatening situation that courts should not second-guess. These officers had time and space to think and consider what they did with respect to an obvious parody and knew why they did it. Whatever the need for qualified immunity in the former case, it should not apply in the latter. And, again, because the court skipped the merits, there remains no Sixth Circuit precedent on these facts to move the right towards being clearly established.

• The court also rejected municipal liability, again on a narrow conception of who is a policymaker and what qualifies as failed training. Municipal liability is unfortunately and unnecessarily narrow, so I am not sure the decision is wrong based on prevailing doctrine.

This case again illustrates the problem of defining what it means to vindicate one's rights. Is it enough to avoid liability for enforcement of a law in a constitutionally invalid way (as the plaintiff did here)? Or should there be some retroactive, substitutionary remedy such as damages for making an individual deal with that process? Section 1983 exists, in part, to ensure the latter. Limits such qualified immunity and narrow municipal liability render that a less-effective weapon for that purpose.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 30, 2022 at 01:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Abstention is down on its luck these days

(Thanks to Gerard for the title):

Another district court has declined to abstain from an action to enjoin a state proceeding to remove a 1/6 insurrectionist from the ballot under § 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. This time it is the Northern District of Georgia in a suit by Marjorie Taylor Greene. The court does a better job than the Eastern District of North Carolina in Cawthorn. In fact, I think the court got it right. The state  ballot-challenge proceeding is a private dispute--between a challenging voter and the candidate--in a state-run proceeding, rather than a state-initiated and state-enforced proceeding. That resembles the PUC proceeding at issue in Sprint and does not fit the second category of a quasi-criminal civil enforcement action. And it does not fit the third category of a uniquely important judicial order (akin to contempt or pre-trial sequestration or post-trial appellate bonds), lest all private proceedings and all orders within those proceedings fall within Younger. (The Georgia court reached the correct result on the merits and refused to enjoin the state proceeding).

A distinct question is whether some other abstention doctrine should be in play, to keep state defendants from running to federal district court just because, as the EDNC court held, really important federal interests are in play. One possibility is Colorado River, which allows abstention to avoid parallel litigation. A better candidate Burford, which requires abstention in deference to state proceedings that are part of an integrated state regulatory scheme. Do elections qualify? Are they the equivalent of Texas regulating oil drilling?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 19, 2022 at 11:13 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Judge Sutton on universal injunctions

Judge Sutton wrote a concurrence (begins at p.18) critiquing the power to issue universal injunctions, both from an Article III and remedial prospective. Along with Judge Manion's concurrence, this is the best judicial explanation for why universal injunctions are improper and why arguments for them collapse under their own logic. Sam Bray reprints the whole thing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 17, 2022 at 12:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 01, 2022

"Don't say gay suit" filed

Complaint here (my wife is friends with two of the plaintiffs). I am trying to figure out whether this runs into some standing/11th Amendment/EPY problems from not having the correct defendants.

The law prohibits schools and teachers from discussing certain topics in and out of class and requires schools to report LGBT+ students to their families; it subjects teaches, administrators, and school boards to suit by random objecting parents. Plaintiffs are a collection of advocacy organizations, students, parents, and one teacher; defendants are DeSantis, State Board of Ed, BoE members, Commissioner of Education, and several school boards.

Despite the similarity of the private-enforcement scheme Florida adopted, most plaintiffs do not have the SB8 problem. Their rights are violated because teachers, administrators, schools, and school boards--fearing private suit and liability under the law--follow this invalid law in allowing or not allowing certain speech and in doing or not doing certain things. In essence, the state legislature compels local governments to violate students' rights by siccing parents on those local governments for failing to violate students' rights. Although limiting speech and discriminating out of fear of suit rather than (necessarily) a desire to stifle expression or to discriminate, teachers and school boards in following this law in the classroom act under color of state law and violate students' and parents' rights. So I think a violation is sufficiently imminent if a student can allege "I have two mothers and it is clear that teachers will not allow any discussion of my parents in class because this law exists and they are worried about being sued."

The one plaintiff who might have a problem is the teacher, who is subject to enforcement only by a private suit by an as-yet unidentified parent, but no government sanction; that teacher is similarly situated to an abortion provider under SB8, in that he protected speech is chilled by the threat of suit by an unknown rando. The teacher's claim might depend on how the BoE or a local school board implements the law and whether they impose governmental sanction on a teacher apart from any private lawsuit. For example, does the school threaten to fire or sanction teachers who violate the law and gets sued? Or does the school threaten not to indemnify-and-defend a teacher who gets sued for violating this law? That would constitute further government action disadvantaging that teacher because of her constitutionally protected conduct and in furtherance of an invalid law.

That said, jurisdictional/procedural questions remain. Although DeSantis is the villain in the complaint's narrative (and really any narrative in this verkakte state), I doubt he is a proper defendant, because he plays no role in enforcement. I also wonder if a court might find some claims, although against a proper defendant, premature. Perhaps the necessary imminent harm to the plaintiffs depends on further action by someone  to put the statutory limits into action--a school or board imposing regulations with some penalties or a teacher actually silencing that student with two mothers who wants to draw a picture of her family.

I have focused on the procedure and jurisdiction rather than the substantive constitutional violations at this point. Some seem iffy. There is a First Amendment claim based on a right to receive information. But a student or parent does not have a First Amendment right to dictate the curriculum, so cannot base a violation from the school refusing to teach certain matters in the classroom. The question is whether equal protection adds something when that curricular decision is motivated by discriminatory animus (there are 14th Amendment and Title IX claim in the mix for that purpose). Or whether vagueness adds something because no one can figure out what the curriculum is.

The complaint makes noise (although does not base a claim) on the use of "diffuse" private enforcement as nefarious and invalid. I obviously reject the argument here for the same reasons I reject it as to SB8.

Update: And just like that: A parent in St. John's County complained about a teacher wearing a "Protect Trans Kids" t-shirt at school, and the school administration asked the teacher to change shirts (which she did). This is not directly about the new law; district policy prohibits teachers from wearing clothing or apparel with written messages. But I wonder if the regulation was honored more in the breach and that this (and other) teachers wore message-bearing clothing without incident. And if the new law empowered the parent to complain, where most parents let it go. The story illustrates a couple of things. First, it shows how we get state action from civil enforcement, unlike in SB8--legally empowered parent complains, school takes action, school's actions violate rights. Second, it shows what the legal arguments might look like. If teachers regularly wear message-bearing clothing but only the teacher with the pro-LGBTQ+ message is asked to change out of fear of suit under the new law, it helps plaintiffs establish standing by showing that having to change shirts was not caused by the neutral policy (which is ignored anyway) but by the school's actions in response to the new law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 1, 2022 at 03:03 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Double it

The Utah legislature overrode Governor Spencer Cox's veto and enacted a law banning trangender girls from participating in girls sports. Cox garnered national attention last week in vetoing the bill while pointing out statistics on mental health and suicidality in transgender youth compared with the one transgender girl seeking to play sports in the state. The legislature also passed a bill allocating $ 500,000 for schools to cover the costs of defending the ban.

But that amount misses by a half. If the bans are declared constitutionally invalid, the boards are going to be on the hook for the plaintiffs' reasonable attorney's fees in successfully challenging the law, beyond whatever they spent to defend it.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 26, 2022 at 11:46 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

More offensive SB8 actions

Abortion-funding organizations have filed lawsuits against the Thomas More Society (ND Ill) and the America First Legal Foundation (DDC), seeking to enjoin them from bringing actions to declare SB8 constitutionally invalid and to enjoin them from enforcing the aiding-and-abetting provisions of SB8. Both defendants have initiated pre-suit discovery proceedings in Texas court, seeking to gather information about the organizations' funding efforts; they use that as the basis for standing, arguing that it shows an intent to enforce.

There should not be a Younger problem. The target of a pre-suit discovery proceeding cannot challenge the constitutional validity of the underlying law that might be the basis for the suit; the organizations therefore lack the adequate opportunity to raise their federal constitutional rights in that proceeding.

The complaints have several potential problems as pleaded. First, they lack allegations that the defendants act under color, which is necessary to state a constitutional claim. Second, I wonder if they may be subject to a § 1404 motion to transfer venue. Plaintiffs went to the defendants' "homes" to get out of Texas. But if the purpose of a suit is to challenge the validity of Texas law and to stop the initiation of suits in Texas courts under Texas law, it seems as if a district court within Texas would be a more proper forum. I had not considered this issue until now and I have to give it more thought. Third, the fourth claim alleges SB violates due process by expanding who can bring state-court suits beyond Article III; that is nonsense.

As an abortion-rights supporter, I am glad to see the community moving past the simple approach of WWH (which was bound to fail) and identifying real, if more complicated, ways to challenge the validity of the law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 23, 2022 at 01:53 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Legal Misunderstanding March Madness

Via Mike Masnick at TechDirt. Here is the Spreadsheet for downloading.

Have fun. And watch for Fire in a Theater, underseeded at a 6.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 21, 2022 at 09:44 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Exclusivity and personal rights in bounty litigation

Those insisting that SB8 is unprecedented and those warning of every new law "modeled" on SB8 ignore that we have been leaving in a similar world for some time. Two Ninth Circuit cases show the prevalence of such laws and the broader implications of the surrounding procedural arguments.

California law requires businesses to post signs when their produces contain certain carcinogens. "Any person in the public interest" may bring suit against a business that fails to post signs; the penalty is $ 2500 per violation per day, with "any person" keeping 25 % plus attorney's fees. Like California's former false-advertising laws, private enforcement is not exclusive and the AG and other public officials can initiate enforcement actions.

In B&G Foods, the target of a state enforcement action brought a § 1983 action against the "any person" state plaintiff (a serial enforcer). The court assumed the "any person" was a state actor, then held the lawsuit barred by Noerr-Pennington, under which a person cannot be liable under federal law (including a § 1983 constitutional action) for the petition activity of seeking relief in state court. In California Chamber of Commerce, the court declared the state law constitutionally invalid as violating business' First Amendment rights against compelled expression; it enjoined the AG and an intervenor environmental organization from future enforcement.

The federal plaintiff in B&G did what Rocky and I proposed--sued the "any person" state plaintiff as a state actor to enjoin that enforcement action and to establish precedent about the constitutional validity of state law. I think the court was correct in rejecting the claim, although for the wrong reason. I would say the state plaintiffs did not act under color because their enforcement authority is not exclusive and they do not keep the entire public-serving penalty. If these plaintiffs act under color, then every private A/G and qui tam plaintiff acts under color; it should not be that broad. At the same time, although seemingly consistent with Ninth Circuit precedent, this expands Noerr-Pennington by giving state and local governments petition rights. It thus protects private persons who act on behalf of the government, as opposed to petitioning on behalf of their personal/private interests, which was the original basis for NP. We may have to explore that more in-depth.

Chamber did not address whether the advocacy group acts under color, which should have been necessary to enjoining them from future enforcement. On the other hand, I credit the court with self-restraint in not enjoining non-party private persons from bringing new enforcement actions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 21, 2022 at 04:31 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Younger analysis was not much better

Gerard explains why the district court in Cawthorn was wrong on the merits. Here is why the court was wrong in not abstaining under Younger.

    1) The court held that the federal proceedings had gone further and faster than the state proceedings, therefore the federal proceeding did not interfere with the state proceedings. This reverses the presumption that a state proceeding be allowed to continue and that the district court stay its hand. Courts consider the relative progress of the proceedings where the federal action is filed first; courts abstain if the federal action had not gone very far. (This is problematic, because it creates perverse incentives for prosecutors, but it is what we are stuck with). It does not work in reverse; if the state proceeding is filed first, the federal court cannot proceed, full stop.

    2) The court also said the relative progress and the multiple layers of state proceedings meant Cawthorn did not have an adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional arguments i. But adequate opportunity is about whether the party has an opportunity to raise and have resolved issues in the state proceeding, including on subsequent state judicial review of an administrative proceeding. Federal courts do not superintend (otherwise-constitutional) state processes and decline abstention if those state proceedings do not move to the liking of the district court.

    3) The court said this case iimplicates "federal interests in interpreting federal law and the U.S. Constitution." As stated, this swallows Younger. All Younger cases require interpretation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution; if the state proceeding involved only state law, the federal court would not have jurisdiction from which to abstain. So if interpretation of federal law is sufficient, no court would abstain. The whole point of Younger is that any "federal interest" in interpreting federal law is not exclusive or can be satisfied by SCOTUS review of the state proceedings.

The Fourth Circuit should not reach the merits, as Gerard suggests, because abstention, as defined, is warranted here.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 16, 2022 at 11:15 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 11, 2022

No offensive challenges to SB8 against licensing bodies

In Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson, an offensive challenge to SB8, eight Justices (all but Thomas) held that litigation could proceed against state licensing bodies (medical, nursing, pharmaceutical, etc.) to enjoin them from "indirectly" enforcing the heartbeat ban by using performance of a prohibited abortion as the predicate for an administrative sanction. The Court remanded to the Fifth Circuit, which certified to the Supreme Court of Texas whether state law allowed such indirect enforcement. The state court on Friday answered that certified question "no," holding that making private civil litigation the "exclusive" enforcement mechanism meant that no state body had any power to regulate or sanction any person for any SB8 violations in any way.

This is a setback, although a relatively minor one because the action against the medical board could have limited effect. An injunction would have stopped the boards from pursuing licensure actions against providers. It would not have protected those aiders-and-abetters (advocates, Uber drivers, etc.); the state does not license or regulate them or their behavior. And it would not have stopped private "any persons" from bringing civil suits. The suit and injunction would have provided federal precedent declaring SB8 constitutionally invalid and a speedier path to SCOTUS review of the merits. But it would not have stopped the main enforcement mechanisms or cleared the way for providers to return to medical practice as usual.

There may be a way to salvage this action and push federal litigation. One plaintiff, Alan Braid (the doctor who announced having performed a prohibited abortion in the Washington Post), is a defendant in two state-court actions over that abortion, one brought by the Texas Heartbeat Project and one by a disbarred Arkansas lawyer under house arrest. Braid could amend the complaint to name them as defendants acting under color and seeking to enjoin them from pursuing their civil actions. (Braid also has a § 1983 and interpleader action in federal court in Illinois against a third SB8 plaintiff who nonsuited).

Meanwhile, Braid can move to dismiss the pending state actions on the ground that SB8 is constitutionally invalid and proceed to litigate the constitutional issues defensively in state court.

In a bizarre way, this might help judicial challenges to SB8. As Rocky and I argue, this offensive challenge was dubious, given how SB8 was drafted and how it operates. Unable to pursue any "ordinary" mechanism, providers and advocates can focus on unusual-but-available mechanisms on which they are more likely to succeed.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 11, 2022 at 01:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 28, 2022

Quick thoughts on the Jackson nomination (Update)

1) The new attack appears to be "high reversal rate." Steve Vladeck shows some (noisy) numbers which suggest her reversal rate is lower than average. But why does this matter? Reversal means two or three randomly assigned court of appeals judges disagreed with her. It does not mean she was "wrong" or "incorrect" or "bad" in some platonic sense, so as to make her unqualified. This argument should run aground on the statement by (appropriately) Justice (Robert) Jackson--"we are not final because we are infallible, we are infallible because we are final." The court of appeals reversal is "right" because we have a hierarchical judiciary. It should not suggest anything about the wisdom or qualifications of either the trial judge reversed or the appellate judges reversing. I suppose someone could try to make a point about reversals suggesting someone outside the mainstream, whatever that means. But R. Jackson's comment works for mainstream as much as for correctness--the court of appeals defines the mainstream because it is final.

2) Jackson's trial-court experience will be a plus because the widest range of experiences among members of a multi-member body is a good thing. I am not sure of its broad doctrinal effects. I have been trying to think of recent major procedural decisions that made life difficult or easy for district courts and how having a former trial judge might have changed the Court's decision. Twiqbal was decided by a Court without trial experience (Sotomayor joined the Court a few months later), but but the Court has not done much with it in recent years. The 2015 discovery amendments empowered trial judges to manage cases, but those came about through the REA rather than through case resolution. Sotomayor was the lone dissenter on the narrowing of general jurisdiction, but I cannot tell how her judicial experience affected her position.

Jackson's trial experience may be less about forward-looking doctrine than about resolution of individual cases, especially those on the shadow docket. The increased activity in emergency relief and cert grants before judgment reflect a certain distrust of trial-court judges. SCOTUS gets to decide, not one district judge somewhere. Cares therefore should not remain in the trial court for long, the rhetoric of appellate deference disguises close review, and the trial court's decision (granting or denying relief) should not have real effect; the trial judge is a quick step for parties to clear before the real work begins on appeal, not owed real deference. Perhaps Jackson will push back on this trend and push her colleagues to show actual deference to trial courts.

3) The meaningful point is her experience as a public defender and defending Guantanamo detainees, about which Andy Koppelman writes.

4) Jackson will be confirmed, probably with 2-3 Republican votes (I read the over-under is 56; take the under). Everything around it will be noise, although with some "soft on crime" demagoguery to spice things up.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 28, 2022 at 04:29 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Breyer to retire

Story here. I presume Ketanji Jackson will be the nominee, which was part of the point of her elevation to the D.C. Circuit. Any chance Sinema or Manchin will throw a fit on this one?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 26, 2022 at 12:38 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Henry Ford apologized?

I had no idea until a link in this article on the long history of antisemitic conspiracy theories took me to Ford's 1927 written public apology following negotiations with Louis Marshall, president of the American Jewish Committee. Ford said he did not know about the content in the Dearborn Independent or The International Jew because he turned management to others; was "shocked" and "mortified" by their content; retracted the statements; withdrew the publications from circulation (although they were, and remain, out there); and asked for forgiveness from the Jewish community for unintentional harm. Marshall responded with a promise to further the request for forgiveness "so far as my influence" can reach, because "there flows in my veins the blood of ancestors who were inured to suffering and nevertheless remained steadfast in their trust in God." Of course, the apology did not prevent Ford from receiving a medal from Nazi Germany.

The apology arose as an effort to resolve a defamation lawsuit against Ford and the Independent by a Jewish lawyer named Aaron Sapiro that exposed Ford's antisemitism. Although the alleged defamatory statements had nothing to do with Sapiro's being Jewish, defense counsel struck two Jewish jurors, plaintiff counsel struck an ex-Klansman, and the judge asked during voir dire whether "any of you, by blood or by marriage, connected with the Jewish race." The case ended in a mistrial when Ford accused Sapiro of bribing a juror and a juror gave a newspaper interview. Ford reached his deal with Marshall to avoid a new trial, wanting to avoid continued bad publicity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 22, 2022 at 10:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

SCOTUS denies mandamus in SB8, Sotomayor remains pissed

The Court without comment refused to grant mandamus ordering the Fifth Circuit to remand to the district court, which means the case now goes on certification to the Texas Supreme Court. Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented--Breyer in a short opinion, Sotomayor in a longer one.

Sotomayor recognizes this as a nonsense delay tactic and calls the majority out for not standing behind its words in WWH. She also acknowledges the limited relief that an injunction of the medical board would provide, saying she had hoped the district court could enter some "mitigating relief," although without describing what that would or could have been. She did up her rhetorical game, calling this a "disaster for the rule of law."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 20, 2022 at 06:40 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, January 06, 2022

The spreading demand for offensive litigation

The demand/assumption that all constitutional and civil rights litigation must be offensive forms the core of the procedural complaints surrounding SB8. It is constitutionally and legally intolerable for there not to be a mechanism for offensive, pre-enforcement constitutional review, before anything happens. And it is constitutionally and legally intolerable to make a rights holder suffer a violation and seek defensive or retroactive remedies for the violation. And the insistence is spreading, which gives lie to the SB8-exceptionalism arguments. Consider:

Med mal plaintiffs unwilling to deal with the constitutional validity of the state's damages cap within the tort suits they brought, instead trying to carve the constitutional issues into a separate federal lawsuit.

Animal rights organizations suing to stop the filing of tort claims that might implicate the First Amendment. This one is particularly relevant to the SB8 debate. Critics of my arguments have insisted that the abortion right is different because of the large numbers affected, so that allowing the claims in WWH would not allow speakers to beat potential tort suits into court.

• In a case currently before the Fifth Circuit, United Airlines pilots allege that the company's vax requirement constitutes religious discrimination under Title VII and seek an injunction to stop the airline from placing them on unpaid leave for failing to get vaccinated. This lawsuit has no basis in Title VII, which requires an actual adverse employment action (such as placement on unpaid leave) that has not occurred; the expectation under the statute is that the plaintiffs suffer the adverse action, then sue for damages or to undo it. Nevertheless, two judges on the Fifth Circuit panel seemed receptive to the plaintiff's argument, accepting the view that retroactive remedies against a completed (as opposed to threatened) are insufficient.

• The First Circuit denied rehearing en banc in Equal Means Equal v. Ferriero, leaving a unanimous panel dismissing for lack of standing. Plaintiffs are women and women's organizations seeking an injunction compelling the U.S. archivist to declare the ERA ratified. The plaintiffs claimed that, without the archivist certifying and publishing the ERA as ratified, Massachusetts and state law did not do enough to stop or prosecute gender-based violence. The court held that the archivist did not cause plaintiffs' harm--that harm resulted from Massachusetts not vigorously protecting women from gender-based violence, including by punishing it as a hate crime (query whether the ERA would require states to bring hate-crimes charges in all gender-based violence cases, any more than the 14th Amendment requires hate-crime charges in all racist violence). The lawsuit also presumes that ERA-compelled hate-crimes charges would stop future gender-motivated violence. The whole thing reflects an insistence that legal questions--is the ERA valid--must be decided in the pre-enforcement ether, rather than on the ground where the state acts ex post and the question for the court is the state of the law in response to that situation.

• On this unfortunate anniversary, we can return to a question that was all the rage one year ago--what if Trump had self-pardoned and who would have standing to challenge that pardon and how. Everyone created all manner of fanciful lawsuits, ignoring the obvious--DOJ would prosecuted Trump, Trump would defend with the pardon, and the court would decide its validity. The idea that the constitutional issue would be resolved defensively never entered the conversation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 6, 2022 at 12:52 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Chief Justice Year-End Report

This ball still drops, even during a pandemic.

This year's theme is the Judicial Conference (which marks its centennial in the coming year) and the importance of the judiciary's "institutional independence," as the "power to manage its internal affairs insulates courts from inappropriate political influence and is crucial to preserving public trust in its work as a separate and co-equal branch of government." The opening historical ditty is about Taft and the origins and development of the Conference. Roberts then analyzes three topics flagged by Congress and the press as requiring the Conference's attention: Recusal obligations (in light of the recent WSJ report), judicial misconduct (implementing the Working Group's recommendations), and venue in patent cases.

I have an article coming in early 2022 in Stetson Law Review on the history of the Year-End Reports and how the chiefs have used them to address and push for changes in civil procedure and civil litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 31, 2021 at 06:23 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

What does it mean to have gone to law school?

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (D) announced a bill defining as a public nuisance (subject to public and private litigation) the promotion of "harmful, false, or unlawful" speech. It targets social-media sites whose algorithms promote or prioritize such "hateful or violent" content, treating it as an affirmative act (compared with passive hosting of third-party speech) not subject to § 230 protection. The obviously problematic piece is making actionable "a false statement of fact or fraudulent medical theory that is likely to endanger the safety or health of the public," a rule that would 1) empower the government to determine medical truth and 2) lacks the required imminence.

First Amendment scholars, lawyers, and commenters jumped to identify the obvious problems with the law under existing precedent and the likelihood its enforcement would be enjoined shortly after it takes effect. They also have pointed out that Hoylman graduated from Harvard Law School, a shot at HLS ("what the hell are they teaching there?") or at Hoylman ("did he not take a First Amendment class or did he just not pay attention?") or at both.

But consider three other possibilities.

    1) One must know the law to ignore it. HLS did a good job of teaching the First Amendment and Hoylman learned it well. But in his new position he does not care, choosing to score political points rather than adhere to the constitutional law that he was taught and knows well.

    2) One must know the law to find ways around it to serve (what one believes are) greater societal goals. HLS did a good job of teaching the First Amendment and Hoylman learned it well. And Hoylman is using that knowledge to find ways around that law in pursuit of a higher purpose or social goal. Whether one shares that goal tells us nothing about how well the law is taught and learned at HLS.

    3) Stop being judicial supremacist. HLS taught and Hoylman learned the First Amendment as interpreted by the courts. As a legislator, he is not bound by judicial precedent or that judicial interpretation and can proceed on his own understanding in drafting, introducing, and pushing legislation. His position may lose in court, but he has the departmentalist authority and discretion to pursue his competing vision within the legislative process. On this last point, perhaps we test the "HLS taught and Hoylman learned the First Amendment" hypothesis by whether Hoylman knows that his position will lose and chooses to pursue it anyway (a defensible position in a judicial-departmentalist world) or whether he believes what he proposes is consistent with prevailing judicial precedent.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 28, 2021 at 03:01 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 27, 2021

A different Court contingency

Orin Kerr offers a Twitter thread on the contingency of how we got to the current Supreme Court from Obama's nomination of Garland in early 2016--how we went from Garland as Scalia's replacement to the expectation of Hillary Clinton replacing Scalia, Ginsburg, and maybe Kennedy and Breyer to create a Court on which Kagan is the median Justice to what we now have. Orin writes: "Not only was there good reason in 2016 to think the future Court was going to be left of center, there was good reason to think it would be really solidly so. . . . Can you imagine being on the left and having that expectation of the future in 2016 -- and then seeing the center of the Court instead shift hard to the right instead, from AMK to Roberts, and then Robert to -- who -- Gorsuch? Barrett? Kavanaugh? That's a shock."

I have thought much the same--it is the main reason I was so broken up on November 9, 2016. While I did not foresee RBG dying, it was obvious what would happen with the Court over the next four years. As a citizen and political liberal, I watched the prospect of a left-leaning Court--for the first time in my conscious lifetime, Fortas having resigned when I was less than a year old--evaporate.

But consider another contingency that is as interesting. Imagine Clinton wins but the Senate remains in Republican hands, which I saw as a likely outcome as of early October 2016. McConnell and Grassley--having tasted success and incurred no costs (in fact, having been rewarded) for blocking Garland--would not have allowed Clinton to appoint anyone to the Court.* So we would have had two, and probably four, more years of an evenly divided Court--a genuine and sufficiently long experiment in the workability of Eric Segall's proposed permanent evenly divided Court.

[*] Grassley is making noise about the same steps should the Republicans gain control of the Senate next years, based on the "principle" that a Senate of one party does not confirm Justices for a President of the other party.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 27, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, December 10, 2021

SCOTUS gets SB8 right

Contrary  to my reading at oral argument, the Court (per Justice Gorsuch) basically adopted our position: 1) Unanimously reject claims against state judges; 2) 5 (Gorsuch, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, Barrett) reject claims against clerks; 3) same 5 reject claims against the AG because he lacks enforcement power, including the attempt to reach private plaintiffs through the AG; 4) 8 Justices (all but Thomas) allow claims against licensing boards; 5) Unanimously reject claims against Dickson because there is no indication he intends to sue. Gorsuch explains perfectly that: some constitutional issues are raised as defenses;  there is no constitutional right to pre-enforcement federal review; the existence of SB8 does not create an actionable constitutional injury; and if states enact copycat laws, they can be addressed in the same ways.

The Court dismissed U.S. v. Texas as improvidently granted, over Sotomayor's dissent. That case returns to the Fifth Circuit.

The Chief and Justice Sotomayor dissented. Both, particularly Sotomayor, continue the theme that Texas is undermining the Court's authority over the Constitution and undermining constitutional rights and the constitutional system of government. The Chief pushed claims against the AG (who has enforcement power co-extensive with the boards) as a way to get at individual enforcers, just as one can sue an AG to reach individual DAs.

Now what? The case returns to the district court for the claims by the providers (but not advocates) against the licensing heads.  The Court rejected the Fifth Circuit's insistence that "exclusive means exclusive"--the absence of public enforcement extended to indirect enforcement. At this point, the Court says, it appears the licensing board have authority to sanction licensees for failing to enforce "all laws" governing medical practice, including the heartbeat ban, thus a provider can obtain a DJ and injunction preventing administrative action against them. This claim is subject to a possible state law claim (which Gorsuch acknowledges) that boards cannot use SB8 violations as a predicate act. The best claim rests with Dr. Braid (the TX doctor who announced performing a post-heartbeat abortion in the Washington Post), because an anti-choice group submitted a complaint against him to the Medical Board,

No injunction against the boards stops private plaintiffs from bringing SB8 actions. Any injunction will protect providers against administrative proceedings seeking to sanction, suspend, or revoke licenses. But it creates federal litigation and a federal judgment that can be fast-tracked to SCOTUS for conclusive precedent on the heartbeat ban's validity. (Query whether SCOTUS might grant cert before judgment again and consider the merits of the heartbeat ban alongside Dobbs). And the district court opinion can have persuasive effect in the meantime.

Meanwhile, providers likely will continue to refrain from performing abortions, at least until they get that district court judgment of the law's constitutional invalidity to use as a defense. That is bad. But the reality is that constitutional litigation takes time. The NYT did not cover Alabama for more than a year prior to Sullivan.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2021 at 11:05 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 05, 2021

What we mean by "let the states decide"

Neil Buchanan is taking bets on how quickly after Dobbs overrules Roe/Casey congressional Republicans propose a federal prohibition on abortion. Buchanan sets the over/under at two days after the start of the next Congress with Republican majorities. I will take the under--a bill will be introduced in this Congress the day after Dobbs, although the first bill with a chance will be when Buchanan suggests.

But is it fair to label this Republican hypocrisy? Yes, the anti-choice mantra has been "let the states decide," a phrase repeated during the Dobbs argument. But the mantra has not been about states v. federal government; it has been about popular/democratic branches (at whatever level) against the court. The objection to Roe and Casey is that it removed the decision from political debate and lawmaking; it did not mean to identify the level of government at which that debate and lawmaking will take place. What they mean by "let the states decide" is "let the majority (as reflected in representation) decide."

I believe a potential ban is a bad idea. I do not necessarily see it as hypocritical.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 5, 2021 at 07:58 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 05, 2021

More on academic freedom at UF (Updated)

Updated: The university backed down, at least for the moment. The president convened a task force (including Clay Calvert, an excellent First Amendment scholar who teaches in the journalism school, and law dean Laura Rosenbury) to develop policies for "how UF should respond when employees request approval to serve as expert witnesses in litigation in which their employer, the state of Florida, is a party." That framing is problematic, still conflating the university with the state of Florida, but we have to see. The president also ordered the university conflict's office to reverse recent decisions and allow faculty to testify, for compensation, in cases to which Florida is an adverse party.

The University of Florida Chapter of United Faculty of Florida issued a list of demands. After the jump, I summarize and comment.

1) Allow the three faculty members to provide paid expert testimony in the voting-rights litigation, as well as allowing other faculty to do the same in other cases. They also want the university to issue a formal apology. Makes sense. This is what started this whole thing, which has brought to light other academic-freedom concerns at the university, such as state laws requiring schools to conduct "intellectual environment" surveys and limiting what faculty can speak to students about.

2) Affirm the right of faculty to "conscience, academic freedom, free speech rights, and expertise in an expert witness context, regardless of whether they receive payment for their expertise." Obviously.

3) Affirm its support for voting rights and commit to opposing ongoing efforts to suppress voting rights in the state of Florida. This is stupid, over-grasping, and unnecessary. There are good arguments (from scholars across the political spectrum) that academic institutions should not take institutional positions on public issues, no matter how obvious the issues. This demand says "it is not enough that we be able to express our preferred position, you also must tell us that we are right in our position." It also plays into the narrative of liberal academics controlling the university and silencing those who oppose their messages by insisting that their views be the institution's views.

4) Formally declare that the University's mission to serve the public good is independent of the transitory political interests of state officeholders. Instead, UF should uphold its mission statement as the prime directive for all University activities. Good.

5) Donors should withhold donations unless UF complies with the four main demands, including explaining why they are withholding. Interesting, but unlikely to do much. One of the faculty members at the press conference announcing these demands said he had donated to the school in the past and would stop doing so. But I doubt that the donors the university cares about--those who build buildings and endow centers and chairs--would follow suit.

6) Officials at other schools should tank UF in their US News and other assessments, because of this, as well as its response to COVID, its "poor commitment to environmental sustainability," and broader attacks on employees' speech, academic freedom, and labor rights. This is trying to hit UF where it hurts. The university made a big deal about becoming the #5 public university in the 2021 US News (trailing UCLA, Berkeley, Michigan, and Virginia and tied with UNC and UC-Santa Barbara)--there is a photo circulating of DeSantis with university officials, holding a # 5 Gators jersey. Again, though, why drag an unrelated political issue such as the environment into this?

7) Professional associations should call out UF.

8) Accrediting agencies should investigate, since failing to protect academic freedom undermines its ability to provide a world-class education.

9) Artists, scholars, and intellectuals who are invited to perform at the University of Florida should decline these invitations until the University complies with our academic freedom demands. When declining an invitation to appear at the University, invitees should clearly specify why they are declining the invitation and, if they are active on social media, should use the hashtag #NotAtUF.

I asked Steve Lubet (Northwestern) for his thoughts, as he criticizes calls for academic boycotts. He writes:

Academic boycotts are bad in principle because they undermine the free exchange of ideas. I understand the impulse here, which is to exert maximum pressure on the administration, but it would be performative and counter-productive. Desantis and his acolytes don’t care much about artists or visiting scholars appearing at UF, so only the students and faculty will be hurt. They should try demanding that other universities drop UF from their sports schedules, which might actually have an impact.

I would add that it would create a political imbalance in the exchange of idea, because conservative speakers will be happy to speak at UF, not only for the opportunity to speak but also to own the libs.

10) Call for a UF Faculty Senate resolution affirming these demands.

11) Employees should refuse to disclose outside activities and conflicts of interest via the UFOLIO system. Until the University can be trusted to use this information responsibly, it should not be trusted with this information at all. Nothing like some civil disobedience as a topper. But they might consider Tracy v. Florida Atlantic University, a different conflict between an SUS entity and faculty speech. Tracy, a professor of communications and media studies, ran a blog that questioned Sandy Hook; the university asked him to disclose the blog as an outside activity, Tracy refused, and the university fired him for insubordination. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the university, concluding that the disclosure policy was not constitutionally invalid and thus firing him was not inappropriate. That one does not trust the university to use information responsibility, divorced from any apparent constitutional violation in the disclosure rules, does not excuse the obligation to comply with the disclosure obligations. I suppose if enough people stop complying the university cannot fire everyone for non-compliance, so maybe it works in the short term.

I presume the university will back down on this; it does not want this to remain a national story. I remain focused on how this trickles down to my school.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 5, 2021 at 12:11 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 01, 2021

More thoughts on the SB8 argument

Additional random thoughts on the SB8 argument after the jump.

Assuming I (and the prevailing wisdom) are correct that the Court affirms the denial of dismissal in WWH and allows it to proceed, the big question is what happens to United States. Everyone, including the Texas AG, seemed to sense where the Court might go in WWH, arguing that this obviates the federal sovereign interest and thus the federal suit. One issue involves interim relief. Note where things stand. If SCOTUS reverses in US, the case goes back to the Fifth Circuit to review the district court decision that the heartbeat ban is invalid under Roe and Casey; it would make sense for SCOTUS to lift the stay of the district court's preliminary injunction, barring enforcement of the law pending review. If SCOTUS reverses in WWH, the case goes back to the district court for further litigation, including of a motion for a preliminary injunction. To the extent there is concern for enforcement of the law between the SCOTUS decision and the district court ruling in WWH, it may be necessary to keep US alive for the interim relief. The Court can resolve that by enjoining enforcement in WWH pending litigation; WWH counsel asked for such relief if the Court believed appropriate.

A few random further random thoughts:

    • Judicial departmentalism is dead. During his round-robin questioning  in WWH, Roberts asked about language from an amicus (I believe it was Jonathan Mitchell's) that "states have every prerogative to adopt interpretations of the Constitution that differ from the Supreme Court's." Stone said "other officers within Texas are bound likewise to . . . take the interpretations from this Court and federal law and to faithfully implement them." But that is true only if we accept judicial supremacy. A state legislature or executive can do what it pleases until it reaches court and encounters a judge who is bound by SCOTUS interpretations and the state's case goes up in flames. But saying the state will lose in court is not the same as saying all state officials are bound. Stone could offer no other answer, I suppose. But that is too bad--it shows how far down the judicial-supremacy hole we have gone and how unable we are to speak about constitutional litigation and adjudication with some precision.

    • There was distrust of state-court litigation that has never been part of the doctrine here. The following points were argued explicitly or as foundational assumptions, although none has ever been the case.: 1)  Having to litigate and defend against a claim under an invalid law is a constitutional injury and violations, regardless of whether the person is held liable or sanctioned for protected conduct; 2) Procedural due process limits rules of venue, preclusion, and other procedures; 3) It is not sufficient for a defendant to be able to raise due process challenges to state procedures in state court; there must be a federal forum for it; 4) a state-court forum is insufficient to litigate federal constitutional rights, at least if the state chooses certain procedural rules. I thought Stone did a good job of pushing back on these, but to no avail.

    • The potential copycat laws (guns, religion, etc.) reared their heads from several Justices. I thought Stone did as good a job as he could pointing to other non-hypothetical examples in which rights-holders have been pushed into state court and no one questioned it, including New York Times and Masterpiece Cakeshop in the face of a similar chilling effect.

    • No one acknowledges the process in which Shelley v. Kraemer was decided and how that affects what the case stands for. Several Justices asked whether Shelley overrides the can't-sue-judges language of EPY, because the Court in Shelley spoke repeatedly of how state judges "enforce" the law. But it matters that Shelley was not an offensive action against the judge and did not enjoin the judge; it was a defensive action in which the constitutional limitations on restrictive covenants provided a basis for SCOTUS review and reversal. Broad language about enforcement was unnecessary to the holding or principle of that case. The Court applied the same principle in New York Times, without the inaccurate language about enforcement. But NYT and Shelley involved the same idea--private plaintiff sues for a remedy under state law, the federal constitution limits the state law as applied in court; neither rests on the judge being the "enforcer" or a proper subject for a lawsuit.

A more accurate way of framing it would be that some enforcement occurs through the judicial process, but the enforcer is the person who initiates the process and seeks to establish liability, not the court who adjudicates. When the state prosecutes someone for a crime, that enforcement occurs within the judicial process and it is up to the judge to adjudicate the case; we all would say the AG or DA, not the judge, "enforced" the law by seeking to convict and punish the defendant. Shelley should be framed the same way--Kraemer enforced the restrictive covenant by suing to divest Shelley of the property. The litigant enforces the law; the enforcement occurs within litigation.

    • The WWH attempts to make SB8 seem unique by arguing that it lacks the elements of an ordinary tort claim or ordinary private civil litigation and that it imposes special litigation rules. But that begs the question (yes, I am using that term correctly) of what constitutes the essence of ordinary civil litigation or ordinary tort law or what are "ordinary" litigation rules so we can tell when the state has departed them. Otherwise it is impossible to limit SB8 in any principled way. And that is before we get into why the state's choice of venue or preclusion rules is constitutionally proscribed (see above).

        WWH counsel and Breyer came up with six: Anyone can sue; anywhere; no preclusive effect; Atty fees (heavy and one-way); damages heavy; limits on defenses; Damages not tied to harm; Mandatory injunction to prevent further violations. But no one explains what is problematic about any of those, individually or as a whole. Unless another unspoken point is true--Art. III is constitutionally required in state court, which no one has ever suggested.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2021 at 03:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Walen on Ahmaud Arbery

The following post is by Alec Walen (Rutgers).

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery was a horrific tragedy. It is natural to want justice for him. And perhaps the evidence will show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the three men who chased him down and eventually killed him had no legal right to do what they did. But from what I can see, it seems plausible that they did have a legal right to do what they did. If so, then convicting them of murder, assault, and kidnapping—the three basic charges they face in an 8-count indictment—would turn them into sacrificial lambs, punished to make up for our collective guilt as a racist society. That might make some people feel better, but it would not do justice.

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery was a horrific tragedy. It is natural to want justice for him. And perhaps the evidence will show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the three men who chased him down and eventually killed him had no legal right to do what they did. But from what I can see, it seems plausible that they did have a legal right to do what they did. If so, then convicting them of murder, assault, and kidnapping—the three basic charges they face in an 8-count indictment—would turn them into sacrificial lambs, punished to make up for our collective guilt as a racist society. That might make some people feel better, but it would not do justice.

By way of background: On Feb. 23, 2020, Mr. Arbery was jogging through the Satilla Shores neighborhood, about 2 miles from his home. As video from the scene indicates, he took a detour to peek into a house under construction, as he had done several times before. The New York Times reports that:

Gregory McMichael, a former investigator in the local prosecutor’s office, saw Mr. Arbery in the house and thought he looked like a man suspected of several break-ins in the area. He called to Travis, his son, a Navy veteran and boat-tour operator. The elder Mr. McMichael grabbed a handgun; his son, a shotgun. The two jumped into a truck and gave chase and were eventually joined by Mr. Bryan, who drove his own truck. Mr. Arbery, a former high school football player, tried to run from them.

Eventually, the pursuers had Mr. Arbery caught between them. Travis McMichael got out of his truck and stood near its door with his shotgun. Mr. Arbery ran around the truck and then at him. They wrestled over the shotgun and it went off three times, killing Mr. Arbery.

It’s not hard to see how this was fundamentally a tragic, racially tinged, misunderstanding. Think of it, first, from Mr. Arbery’s point of view. He went out for a jog and was curious to see how things were coming in this house under construction. I have been that sort of trespasser before, peeking into houses under construction. It’s fascinating to see how they come together. I never stay long, I never touch anything; I’m just looking. It seems this was the case for Mr. Arbery too.

After spending about four minutes in the house, Mr. Arbery left and continued jogging on his way. But a few minutes later he saw that he was being followed by some white guys in a pickup truck, and by another white guy in a car. Now we don’t know what the McMichaels or Mr. Bryan might have said to Mr. Arbery, but it’s easy to imagine that he was afraid that they were aiming to harm him. 

He did what anyone might do: he tried to escape danger. He changed directions and then changed directions again, trying to escape pursuit. Finally, finding himself between the two vehicles, he saw the driver of the truck get out and presumably he saw that he was armed with a shotgun. He heard the word “STOP” but presumably—and we’ll never know—it occurred to him that the best chance he had to avoid being shot by these lunatics was to try to disarm the guy with the shotgun. So, he ran towards him to try to wrestle it away. But he failed to wrest the gun free, got shot in the chest, and died.

Now view the same situation from the point of view of the McMichaels. There have been break-ins in the area, and they see this Black guy emerge from a house where he was trespassing, and he looks like the guy suspected of burglaries in the area. They called the police. But they did more. They knew the law—Gregory was an investigator and had worked in the prosecutor’s office. They knew that the law allows them to make a citizen’s arrest and so they proceeded to do that, to ensure that this trespasser and suspected burglar would not get away before the police came.

Here’s exactly what the law said (it has since been repealed): “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”

The McMichaels presumably thought that they had immediate knowledge that this Black guy was trespassing. It’s a misdemeanor in Georgia to enter “upon the land or premises of another person … for an unlawful purpose.” They can’t know his purpose, but what lawful purpose could he have had? Moreover, if he is a burglar, then maybe he was engaged in more than trespassing; maybe entered the property with the intent to take something. Burglary is a felony and he was fleeing. They only needed “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion”—in other words, they only needed to reasonably suspect—that he entered the building without authority and “with the intent to commit a felony or theft therein” to arrest him.

It’s not that they did nothing wrong. But to appreciate what they did wrong, and how it is significant, you need to take seriously the idea that citizens in Georgia were supposed to act, essentially, like the police in making arrests. Imagine, then, that you are a police officer and you are chasing a fleeing felon. You see a man running from a house and you have reasonable suspicion that he was not only engaged in criminal trespass, but that he was engaged in a burglary. You give chase. You see that he’s faster than you and so you pull your gun and yell STOP.

What you’ve done is exercise your “constructive authority” as a police officer. You’ve also done so wrongly. You know that under Supreme Court precedent (Tennessee vs. Garner) you have no right to shoot a fleeing felon unless you have probable cause to believe that he poses a significant threat of death or serious injury to yourself or others. You have no probable cause to believe that, but you think you’re still operating within the law because you pulled your gun to intimidate, not to shoot. In New Jersey—where I teach and where retired Police Captain Brian Donnelly, with whom I consulted, also teaches—that sort of act runs counter to policy issued by the Attorney General. It also was stupid, because it risked escalating the conflict. And indeed, that’s what happened.

So, to continue with the case, suppose the suspect you were chasing sees your gun and turns on you and tries to disarm you. You would have a right to shoot in self-defense. It was, in a way, your fault that the situation reached that point. You never should have pulled your gun. But having made that mistake, it’s not your fault that you need to use lethal force to defend yourself. Your provocation of a conflict would not cause you to lose the right of self-defense because you had the authority to arrest him, and your misuse of your firearm to threaten does not cause you to forfeit that authority.

In Georgia, the McMichaels and Mr. Bryan can say that they likewise had the authority to arrest Mr. Arbery. Moreover, even if it was stupid to brandish a shotgun to try to intimidate Mr. Arbery and cause him to submit himself to their authority, that by itself did not cause them to forfeit the right to arrest him, and it did not cause them to lose the right to use lethal force if necessary to act in self-defense.

Both sets of actors, in other words, plausibly had perfectly understandable reasons to act as they did. If this is how the jury sees it at the end of the presentation of evidence, then they must acquit the McMichaels and Mr. Bryan of the charges brought against them.

Indeed, if this is how the prosecution sees the case, then the prosecutor has violated basic prosecutorial ethics by bringing this case. It would then be a cowardly act of putting the burden of doing the right thing on the jury because the prosecution doesn’t want to stand up to the political pressure to bring the case.

But one can ask: Is there nothing that can be done? Well, what was done was important: the citizen’s arrest law was repealed. That’s good because police and citizens have a different impact on others. If Mr. Arbery had seen police officers telling him to stop, it is likely that he would have obeyed rather than going for one of their guns. He would likely have presumed that they had the authority to arrest him and were exercising that authority rather than coming to harm him. Without an obvious sign of authority, citizens who seek to wield authority may instead seem to be merely trying to assault a fellow citizen. And in an area beset by racial mistrust, there is all the more reason to think someone would react as Mr. Arbery did in his situation.

In the longer term, we need to address our racist culture. I have no doubt that if I, a middle-aged white guy, had been seen peeking into the house, no one would have called the police on me. I might have been approached to see what I was up to if I wasn’t from that neighborhood. But I would have been approached politely. Even if I resembled someone suspected of burglary in the neighborhood, I presume the encounter would have gone more smoothly; I would have explained who I was and that I was indulging my idle curiosity, and no one would end up dead. Likewise, as a white guy, if I had been pursued by other white guys in a truck flagging me down, I’d be less likely to assume that the intent was hostile. I’d be more likely to stop, and talk, and resolve the matter peacefully. Racism creates fear and misunderstanding on both sides, and it was fear and misunderstanding that seems most likely to have led to Mr. Arbery’s death.

If this is right, the jury should acquit. That will be problematic. Many will think that racism caused the death of Mr. Arbery and then caused his killers to go free. But if they committed no crime, they may not be punished. They may not be sacrificed for our collective, racist past. We need, rather, to work, collectively, on doing the hard work of coping with tragedy, fixing bad laws that encourage citizens to pull guns on each other, and trying to get people to understand that all people, no matter their race, deserve respect.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 28, 2021 at 01:16 PM in Criminal Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Braid v. Stilley in federal court

This happened Tuesday, but a busy teaching day and other events make it moot, at least for now. Dr. Alan Braid, the Texas doctor who performed a prohibited abortion and announced it in the Washington Post, was named in three state-court actions. Braid filed suit against those SB8 plaintiffs in the Northern District of Illinois (where one of the three lives).

The lead claim is an interpleader action. This is a claim allowing a federal court to resolve competing claims over a res (usually a limited pool of money). Braid alleges that the $ 10,000 judgment is a limited pool and the three SB8 plaintiffs (as well as any other potential plaintiffs) make competing claims. Interpleader requires minimal diversity and allows for nationwide service of process. It then seeks declaratory judgments about the validity of SB8, complete with allegations about the plaintiffs acting under color of state law (although without citing § 1983 or identifying § 1331 as a basis for jurisdiction).

Teddy Rave (Texas) floated the interpleader idea on the Civ Pro Listserv and it generated some discussion. The better view, I believe, is that it does not work. A potential judgment in an ongoing litigation is generally not the type of res or limited fund that can be the basis for an impleader--otherwise, anyone facing a state-court suit for breach of contract and liquidated damages would file an interpleader action over the liquidated damages as a limited fund, creating a federal forum. The res in this case has not come into existence. And there is no definite limited fund because there is no definitive judgment. Braid deposited $ 10,000 with the court, but that is the minimum damages available under the statute (the Arkansas-tax-cheat plaintiff asked for $ 100,000), not the settled res. The three SB8 plaintiffs do not have competing claims on a single pot of money. Rather, all have state-law claims against him of at least $ 10,000 and are in a race to a judgment of some as-yet-undetermined amount, with the first entitled to recover and the others out of luck. Again, to compare a tort: If I injure three people in a car accident, I cannot use interpleader to go to federal court and say "I have $ 250,000, adjudicate which of the three injured people get it." I also believe Colorado River abstention may kick-in, with federal courts denying this attempt to create parallel federal litigation to an ongoing state case involving the same issues.

Plus, why is this necessary? Braid's attorneys recognize and make the arguments and factual allegations for constitutional claims against SB8 plaintiffs as state actors to get a DJ about SB8's validity and an injunction stopping those state lawsuits. Why not make that the core of the argument (with jurisdiction under § 1331) and avoid the messy procedure? Yes, they have to deal with Younger. But the arguments for getting around Younger are stronger than the arguments that this is not what interpleader looks like and for Colorado River abstention. The only benefit I see from this move is being in in federal court in Illinois (because of nationwide service of process--two of the defendants have no connection to Illinois) and the Seventh Circuit. Some federal district judges in Texas are receptive to creative procedural arguments to get to the substance of SB8's invalidity, so that is a wash. My guess is Braid wants review to be in the Seventh Circuit rather than the Fifth. Which is understandable.

I continue to not understand the insistence that this is some strange case requiring strange procedures. There are ordinary mechanisms for litigating these issues, including in federal court. There are tremendous costs to these processes in this case and they are not the ones that reproductive-rights supporters (of which I am one) would prefer. But that is different than insisting, as the district court did last night, that this law eliminates judicial review and so requires extraordinary procedures.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2021 at 11:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

SB8 and SCOTUS politics

SB8 is getting caught up in debates over SCOTUS politics, whether the justices are partisan hacks, and the shadow docket. This is skewing some of the discussion of the validity of the law and how providers and advocates should navigate it.


The Court was right to deny emergency relief. The WWH lawsuit was bad, given the law. No public official was a proper defendant--executive officials do not enforce the law, regulatory agencies disclaimed indirect enforcement, and you do not sue judges to stop adjudication. The individual defendant had not sued or indicate an intent to sue; the complaint alleged that he made public statements in support of the law and of people suing to stop abortion, but never that he intended to bring his own suits. So the Court could look at this law and this complaint and say the plaintiffs (the ones seeking relief) have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits because they have not found anyone suable at this time.


SB8 critics--in the media, in academia, and in the WWH dissent offer three basic arguments. The first is that the Court can enjoin SB8 itslef (and keep it from taking effect) because it is so clearly invalid and it hid intended to avoid preenforcement reveiw, so it does not matter who the defendants were. That, of course, is not how constitutional litigation works. Court enjoin enforcement, not laws. The Constitution does not dictate that states adopt any enforcement mechanism or that offensive litigation be an option in challenging a law.

The second is that the usual target (AG or governor) was unavailable, so WWH sued everyone it could think of (true), therefore the Court should have enjoined enforcement because someone in that mix must be a proper defendant. That would have given some court time to dig through and find that proper defendant. But that is not how this works. It is on the plaintiffs to identify proper defendants. And there may not have been a proper target for offensive litigation at this moment. Dickson or another individual could be subject to a federal suit, but he must make some move towards bringing an SB8 suit that he has not yet made. Sometimes (e.g., defamation) state law is enforced only through private litigation and challenged only defensively.

The third argument is that the outcome in SCOTUS would have been different if the political valence of the law had been different--that five-Justice majority would have granted relief, despite the glaring procedural problems, if California banned gun purchases and allowed private suits against gun owners. This assertion is neither provable nor disprovable. But accept it as true (it probably is). So what? Granting emergency relief in that situation would be wrong and it would expose the Justices as the results-oriented partisans they insist they are not. But the solution to that problem is not that the Court should have granted relief here --that it should have been wrong when the case carried a different political valence.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 5, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Constitutuionalizing constitutional litigation

The district court held argument Friday on DOJ's motion for a TRO (which will be treated as a preliminary injunction) in its lawsuit against Texas over SB8. Reports suggest the judge was skeptical of the law. I could see the judge granting the injunction because the irreparable harm is so great. Then we see how faithful the Fifth Circuit is to the standard for stays.

Many stories about the hearing focus on one question from Judge Pitman to Texas: If it was "confident" in the constitutional validity of SB8, why did it "go to such great lengths" to avoid direct enforcement. The question presumes that the purpose of private enforcement is and that this is constitutionally problematic. Accepting the first, point which is probably true, the second point presumes two further, erroneous things.

The first is that states are limited in the power to decide what laws to enact and how to enforce them. That has never been the case. States create substantive rights and can choose to have those rights enforced through private tort- or tort-like litigation. The Constitution limits the substantive rights, not the enforcement process. If those state substantive rights abridge federal constitutional rights, rights-holders can raise that as a defense. This is what happened in New York Times and its progeny and in Shelley v. Kramer and what is happening now to Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop. And the tort analogy is important because tort law uses exclusive private enforcement--the state will not sue or prosecute a newspaper for defamation.

The response, of course, is this is not tort law because tort law is about remedying personal injuries, where as an SB8 plaintiff can be any random person who need not show any personal effects. That leads to the second false premise--that Article III's personal-injury requirement is incorporated into Fourteenth Amendment due process. The Constitution limits state power to decide who can sue to enforce the state-law rights it creates, allowing states to authorize private suits only by those who have suffered a personal injury. But this also has never been the case. For example, the Court never considered or raised the possibility that California law violated the Constitution by authorizing non-injured, disconnected "any persons" to sue Nike for false advertising.*

[*] The Court dismissed cert as improvidently granted in Nike, avoiding an important First Amendment issue about the meaning of commercial speech. The possibility that the state-law authorization of private litigation was invalid would have given the Court an additional reason not to dismiss.

News reports suggest the district court will grant the injunction. I will be curious to see the grounds for the injunction, envisioning a "right-result-for-the-wrong-reason" opinion. The DOJ lawsuit runs into the same problem as private offensive actions. SB8 does not violate the Constitution by existing, so the constitutional violation and thus the injunction must focus on stopping enforcement of the law. But "Texas," in the sense of Texas executive officers, does not enforce this law. "Texas" includes state judges. But anti-suit relief from a federal court does not run against the courts or judges (as opposed to litigants) to keep them from adjudicating cases before them; capturing judges within "Texas" does not change that the injunction would prevent adjudication rather than enforcement. A proper injunction in the DOJ lawsuit depends on"Texas" including the millions of deputized "any persons" who do enforce the law. It must be that suing Texas reaches this entire group, even if an individual rights-holder plaintiff could not prove that any particular person intended to sue. I believe that argument works, in the unique and rare context of sovereign-to-sovereign. I doubt the district court can parse the issue that well. And no one will care if he reaches the "right" (in the eyes of reproductive-rights supporters, of which I am one) result.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 2, 2021 at 11:20 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Easy First Amendment cases

I wrote last week about a Sixth Circuit decision holding that the First Amendment protects a group of anti-Israel protesters who have protested outside an Ann Arbor synagogue every Shabbat since 2003 from an intentional-infliction claim by two members of the congregation. My post focused on the stupidity of standing and how it got in the way of the case--the district court dismissed for lack of standing (emotional injury insufficiently concrete) and the concurring judge agreed with that conclusion, while the majority said there was standing (obviously) but the claim fails under the First Amendment.

I did not write about the First Amendment issues because the case was (or would have been, if the district court had not injected standing into the mix) so obvious and easy. The protesters are on the public sidewalk in front of and across the street from the synagogue, both traditional public forums. They do not block the entrance, nor do they attempt to approach people entering the synagogue (so this does not look like the activity outside clinics). Their signs and chants are obnoxious and hateful. Protesting Israel in front of a synagogue is anti-Semitic, the paradigm conflation of Israel with Judaism and Jews. But nothing described in the opinion comes close to falling outside First Amendment protections or the source of liability.

But this Jewish News Syndicate column by Nathan Lewin sees this case as the first step towards enactment of Nuremberg Laws and a program of organized murder. He likens this to spray-painting a swastika on a temple. And to the cross-burning in Virginia v. Black, ignoring that Black and his fellow defendants won because the state had not (and in Black's case could not) prove intent to intimidate. He insists that these messages in this location are not trying to persuade, so they must be trying to harass and intimidate. But speech can do a lot in the vast space between pure rational persuasion and unprotected intimidation. I doubt Paul Cohen (to keep it mischpacha) or Brandi Levi (who is not, but everyone thought she was) was trying to rationally persuade anyone.

Lewin insists "there are solid reasons in federal and Michigan law o sustain the Jewish worshippers’ claim that gatherings and placards designed to harass and intimidate Jewish worshippers are not shielded by the Constitution." He does not  identify those reasons; the best he has is that the majority acknowledged that the case is not frivolous (and thus not dismissable for lack of jurisdiction), which is not much to hang onto. He is right that placards designed to harass and intimidate are not protected. The problem is that no facts show an intent to harass or intimidate and likely cannot, given how intimidation is understood in Black. Nor does he mention Skokie, which would seem to defeat any suggestion that parading anti-Semitic messages in a space with a lot of Jews loses constitutional protection.

Lewin is a well-known First Amendment attorney who litigated several significant religious-liberty cases. (He does not seem to like Judge Sutton, who wrote the majority, taking the time to point out that Sutton argued City of Boerne, as if to suggest Sutton is opposed to religious liberty). But this screed disregards basic free-speech principles, although I am not sure towards what end.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 24, 2021 at 01:31 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

(Update) Suing Texas State Senate Bill 8 Plaintiffs under Federal Law for Violations of Constitutional Rights

 Anthony Colangelo (SMU) will be publishing this post in SMU Law review, so we have pulled it off here. The post is available at SSRN.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 7, 2021 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, September 05, 2021

The judicial departmentalism of SB8

On an emergency episode of the Divided Arguments podcast, Will Baude and Dan Epps discuss SB8 and SCOTUS's refusal to stop enforcement pending litigation. Dan attempted to distinguish a longstanding law whose constitutional validity was newly called into doubt by a change in Court personnel and constitutional doctrine from a new law enacted in the face of contrary precedent and designed to change precedent against long-protected rights-holders. The former includes the handgun restriction declared invalid in McDonald or the abortion law declared invalid in Roe; the latter includes SB8 and other new abortion restriction. Rights-holders should be protected and free to exercise their rights during litigation. But that problem arises in the latter class but not former class. In the former, rights-holders have not been exercising their rights (which had not existed), so they lose nothing having to wait for resolution of litigation. In the latter, rights-holders have been exercising recognized constitutional rights for years, so they bear a risk of losing long-recognized rights in the interim.

It is an interesting distinction, especially for how we understand zombie laws.

The problem is that--regardless of the source, timing, or nature of the law--constitutional decisionmaking must follow regular judicial processes. That need not and cannot always entail offensive pre-enforcement litigation in which a federal court preliminarily enjoins enforcement pending the completion of litigation. And such offensive litigation remains limited to the parties to the action--any further compliance is voluntary.

It may be, as Dan argues, that the Court would have responded differently to a law prohibiting gun ownership and allowing "any person" to sue a gun owner. But the Court's inconsistency (hypocrisy?) should not obscure the procedural rules. The answer is that the Court should act appropriately as to the guns law, not that we should urge the Court to act inappropriately as to the abortion law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 5, 2021 at 02:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 02, 2021

SCOTUS denies interim relief in SB8 litigation (Updated)

SCOTUS denied interim relief in the SB8 litigation, emphasizing the uncertainty of whether there is a proper defendant in the case. The Chief, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented. I will have some thoughts once I get out of class.

Update: OK, done with class. I actually discussed this in Fed Courts, something I ordinarily don't do--we have not gotten to standing or EPY yet, although we were in the middle of SCOTUS review of state courts and I was about to talk a bit about the shadow docket. It was a pretty good discussion. I think I will use this law and this case as a case-study when we come back to later topics.

Thoughts on the order:

• Justice Sotomayor offers some judicial supremacy, calling the law "a breathtaking act of defiance--of the Constitution, of this Court's precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas." She is 1/3 right--it defies the Court's precedents. But I presume the Texas legislature believed the law was valid under its reading of the Constitution, under which women do not have a right to seek abortions. Agree or disagree with that position, but it is an interpretation of the Constitution that the Texas legislature is entitled to make, if it wants to live with the consequences of being wrong about what the Court will do.

• I think the procedural discussion reduces to this question: Is Ex Parte Young/pre-enforcement offensive litigation required by the Constitution. Breyer cites Marbury for the proposition that when a right in invaded, the law provides "'a legal remedy by suit or action at law." This is true when the right is invaded outside of court--defaming me, hitting me with a car, or not giving me my commission. But here the right is invaded inside court, when someone attempts to enforce a law against me. In that case, I have a legal remedy in the form of a defense. If that is not sufficient, then Younger, limitations on habeas, and other doctrines that channel certain federal issues into defensive state-court litigation are invalid. Maybe that is true, but I do not know that Breyer is going that far.

• The related problem is whether the existence of a law equals a constitutional violation. Again, I think Breyer assumes it does. Which explains his demand for offensive litigation--the "injury" is the existence of the law, so there must be an offensive remedy. But if the existence is not a violation until enforcement, it does not work.

• Breyer says a case could proceed against "those particularly likely to exercise the delegated powers." This is correct. The problem is no such person has been identified. When has has been, I think a § 1983 action can proceed, including enjoining any pending state proceeding. At the same time, that does not really help--even if WWH identified likely enforcers and got interim relief against them, that interim relief cannot stop anyone else from enforcing in the interim. Not sure Breyer recognized that.

Michael Dorf has a good post and discussion on some issues.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 2, 2021 at 06:53 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (15)