Monday, November 12, 2018

C.J. Cregg = Sarah Sanders (Updated)

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

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

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

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

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 12, 2018 at 08:44 PM in Culture, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Judicial departmentalism and birthright citizenship

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Flipping the burden on voluntary cessation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Might progressives adopt judicial departmentalism?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 08, 2018

Yes, please sue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Half measure on universal injunction in sanctuary cities case

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Slate discovers judicial departmentalism

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern contemplates the "full-blown constitutional crisis" that will arise if the Democrats regain control of the White House and Congress and attempt to resist an illegitimate Supreme Court. While finding the tools of segregationists "appalling," he suggests Democrats and progressives may find this the only option.

In reality, Stern is describing judicial departmentalism. But he fails to recognize the judgment/precedent distinction that makes this not a constitutional crisis but how the interbranch constitutional conversation should function. This conversation can produce two outcomes. One is that the judicial view will prevail because of the incentives (loss of qualified immunity, attorney's fees, repeated losses) for the executive to voluntarily comply. The other is that executive non-compliance with precedent (while following individual judgments) may cause the judiciary to change course.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 4, 2018 at 10:37 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"Nationwide" Injunctions Are Really "Universal" Injunctions and they are Never Appropriate (Final)

I am pleased that the final version of my article on universal injunctions has been published in Lewis & Clark Law Review. The editing process over the summer was quite adventurous. I added four or five different updates and sets of changes to account for new developments, including resolution of the travel ban (and Justice Thomas' concurring opinion), the court of appeals decisions on scope-of-injunction in both sanctuary-city cases, and the class action in the unaccompanied-minor abortion litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 29, 2018 at 09:00 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Arguing about the right issue

Bloomberg reports on oral argument in Hargan v. Garza, the challenge to HHS policy surrounding pregnant unaccompanied immigrant teens seeking abortions. (Marty Lederman analyzes the arguments). The district court certified a class of all pregnant immigrant teens in HHS detention, then issued a class-wide injunction. According to the report, the plaintiffs' attorney received some pushback on the scope of that class, because it includes pregnant teens who are not seeking abortions (counsel responded that the issue also was access to abortion counseling).

The point is that the plaintiffs in this action followed the right procedures--define and redefine the class, then have the injunction match the class. Universal injunctions in individual cases allow plaintiffs to skip that step--no one would take on the difficult work of defining and certifying a class if the court is willing to leap to an injunction that protects the universe based on a complaint by one person.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2018 at 08:40 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Can you say "Speech or Debate"?

I am a Democrat. But this may be the dumbest thing I have seen. Even if a court could enjoin executive branch officials to turn over documents (questionable on political question grounds), the Speech or Debate Clause makes about as clear as anything in the Constitution that a court cannot enjoin legislative officials from taking a fundamental legislative action such as a vote. As one commentator put it, that's just not how any of this works. I also doubt Merkley has standing to sue the executive, but there is no reason to even reach that issue.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 26, 2018 at 04:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kavanaugh and the burden of proof

In The Atllantic, Benjamin Wittes addresses the issues of burden and standard of proof with respect to Brett Kavanaugh, the allegations against him, and his confirmation. A lot of people have been talking about these issues (often under the catchphrase "presumption of innocence") in the abstract, without diving into what they mean or how they apply.

Wittes argues that Kavanaugh bears the burden of persuasion because he wants the factfinder (50 Senators) to do something--confirm him to the Court; he is not entitled to that unless he can affirmatively convince them that he should be on the Court. The burden of persuasion is understood as the risk of non-persuasion--who bears the risk of losing and of not getting something if the factfinder is not persuaded. In other words, what is the status quo, who must change the status quo to prevail, and who loses if the status quo remains the same. If Kavanaugh were being prosecuted for sexual assault or sued by Ford for sexual assault, the burden would be on the state or Ford to change the status quo and show that he did what is alleged. If Kavanaugh was impeached and facing a Senate trial to remove him from the D.C. Circuit, the burden would be on the impeachers to show that he should be removed from the bench because he committed the disqualifying act. In each of those, the status quo is that Kavanaugh is free, not liable, and on the court of appeals. Here, the status quo is that he is not on the Supreme Court, so he bears the burden of showing that he should be, including whatever relevance the incident in 1982 may have to his qualifications.

Wittes also considers the standard of persuasion as the more-interesting question, because there is no agreed-upon or meaningful standard for this proceeding. One possibility is there is none, that the standard is ideological and nothing more. Wittes suggests two standards from Kavanaugh's standpoint--"minimally convincing" (enough to convince the few Republican stragglers to join the already-declared Republicans to confirm him) or "no asterisks," meaning enough evidence that a reasonable person will not doubt Kavanaugh's integrity or fitness for the position. Wittes argues that meeting something somewhere in the middle will not be sufficient for Kavanaugh to not only serve on the the Court, but to serve meaningfully or effectively.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2018 at 05:16 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Guest Post: Would Appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court be Constitutional?

If the Senate votes Judge Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court, it seems pretty clear that he will solidify a staunchly conservative majority on the Court. This new majority will stake out firmly conservative positions on a range of critical issues, including voting rights, reproductive rights, and corporate rights. With a Justice Kavanaugh on board, the Supreme Court will bring a strong ideological bias to its decision making. While that is highly controversial, it’s one of the features of our judicial appointment process.

Or is it? We ought to consider the constitutional implications of ideological bias on the Supreme Court. In particular, principles of due process and the framers’ original intent provide good reason to think that neither a conservative nor liberal majority should be able to impose its views on the Court.  

The Due Process Clause promises litigants that they will receive an impartial hearing before a neutral court. And a neutral court decides cases without any personal, political, or other bias. Once Judge Kavanaugh joins the Supreme Court, it won’t be a neutral court. Any party promoting a liberal viewpoint before the Justices would not be able to count on a fair shot at prevailing.

Because it is unfair for litigants to have their cases decided by an ideologically-biased court, other countries and some U.S. states have designed their highest courts so decisions reflect a broad range of ideological views. Arguably, due process requires something similar for the Supreme Court.

A strong view of due process would demand ideological moderation for each Justice, an approach taken in some European countries. In Germany, for example, nominees to the Constitutional Court must receive a two-thirds vote of approval and therefore must appeal to legislators on both sides of the partisan aisle. Instead of getting judges who are either strongly conservative or liberal, German litigants get judges who are moderate. Like Germany, Portugal and Spain require supermajority votes for appointments to their constitutional courts. So we might say that due process requires restoration of a strong filibuster rule in the Senate or a strong supermajority on final voting for judicial nominations. That would force presidents to nominate Justices acceptable to both parties.

A less demanding view of due process would focus on overall balance on the Court rather than the ideologies of individual Justices. While there are different ways to achieve overall balance, the simplest path for the Supreme Court would be to follow the example of a couple of states and a number of countries. In many European countries, high court decisions are made by consensus or at least a supermajority vote, so justices on both sides of the ideological spectrum have to support the courts’ opinions. State constitutions in North Dakota and Nebraska also employ this path to ideological balance. The North Dakota Supreme Court can declare a legislative enactment unconstitutional only with the support of at least four out of the five justices.  In Nebraska, five out of seven justices are needed to hold a legislative act unconstitutional.

How large should a supermajority be? Since there may be times when six Justices are either conservative or liberal, it probably would be necessary to require more than a two-thirds supermajority to ensure that decisions always reflect the perspectives of both sides of the philosophical divide. Likely, it would make most sense to require decision making by consensus of the entire Court.

What would the framers think about this? On one hand, they didn’t include in the Constitution a requirement for ideological balance on the Supreme Court. On the other hand, they recognized the need to amend the Constitution with a Bill of Rights that includes the Due Process Clause’s guarantee of impartial courts.

With ideological balance, the Supreme Court would be more faithful to the framers’ intentions for our constitutional system. The founding fathers worried greatly about “factions” pursuing their self-interest to the detriment of the overall public good. Accordingly, the constitutional drafters designed a system that they thought would block factional control of the national government. But the framers did not anticipate the extent to which political parties would form dominant factions that could gain command of government power. For example, the framers did not anticipate how partisan ties between presidents and members of Congress would limit the legislative branch's checking and balancing of the executive branch. Similarly, the framers did not expect—nor did they want—a Supreme Court that would reflect the views of only one side of the political spectrum. Indeed, when Alexander Hamilton explained the Constitution’s appointment provisions in The Federalist Papers, he emphasized the need to avoid nominations that reflect partiality instead of the overall public interest.

Supermajority voting on the Supreme Court fits well with constitutional principle in other ways. As the Supreme Court regularly observes, legislation passed by Congress carries a strong presumption of constitutionality. Requiring a supermajority to override reinforces that presumption. The Court does not exercise the same level of deference to state government action, but in those cases, the Supreme Court is interpreting the Constitution and effectively amending our understanding of the Constitution. Accordingly, it makes sense for the Justices to do so by supermajority vote, just as amendments to the Constitution require supermajority support from Congress and the states.

To be sure, the Supreme Court has observed that constitutional concerns are not raised when a judge favors one or another ideological view. Anyone with the appropriate training and experience for the judiciary will have developed opinions on important legal issues. According to the Court, due process prohibits judicial bias against a party to a proceeding, not bias against a legal view that the party might advocate.

But the fact that we must accept individual judges with ideological leanings does not prevent us from seeking moderate rather than strongly ideological Justices or from ensuring an overall ideological balance on the Court. Under a fair reading of the Constitution, litigants ought to be able to ensure that their cases are decided in an ideologically-balanced way.

And ensuring balance might address the declining level of public approval of the Supreme Court. A majority of Americans once expressed strong confidence in the court. According to a July Gallup poll, only 37 percent do now.

Posted by David Orentlicher on September 16, 2018 at 02:41 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (24)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Mark up of Injunction Authority Clarification Act

The House Judiciary Committee marked-up the Injunction Authority Clarification Act, the bill that would eliminate universal injunctions. No word on what happened, although it did start a conversation on the CivProProf Listserv.

In addition, Jeff Sessions announced litigation guidelines for DOJ attorneys in litigating the scope of injunctions. Interestingly, Sessions' statement shows he still does not understood the issue fully, because he twice rails about "single (unelected) district judges" issuing these injunctions. But the problem of universal injunctions improperly protecting non-parties has nothing to do with the number of judges on the case or the level of court. SCOTUS cannot issue (or affirm) universal injunctions any more than a district court can enter universal injunctions. SCOTUS only can affirm a particularized injunction and thereby prohibit enforcement of the challenged law against the named plaintiff, on threat of contempt; the judgment and injunction go no further. SCOTUS's decision may halt future enforcement against non-parties, but purely as a matter of binding precedent, not as a matter of the injunction itself.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2018 at 04:56 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Yet evading review

Mootness can be overcome* if the claim is capable of repetition yet evading review. One important limitation on this doctrine, that often gets confused or overlooked, is that the harm must be reasonably likely to recur as to this plaintiff, not generally and not as to someone else.

[*] I do not like to speak of it as an "exception" to mootness because I subscribe to Scalia's argument that a case that is C/R/E/R is simply not moot.

The Eighth Circuit held that a an action by a Democratic elector challenging Minnesota's faithless-elector law was not C/R/E/R. The court held that it did not evade review because the plaintiff waited too long to file suit, thereby shortening the time period. Rather than suing on November 8 (right after the election) or November 29 (when the results were certified), he waited until December 19, the day his vote (for Bernie Sanders) was discounted and he was removed as an elector. That left only 2 1/2 weeks to litigate, whereas a lawsuit on December 8 would have allowed almost two months for expedited litigation in both the trial court and court of appeals.

But that assumes the court would have found standing and ripeness on November 8, which is not certain. The plaintiff would have argued then that he intended to vote for Sanders and that the faithless-elector law would disqualify his vote. But courts are so inconsistent about standing that it is hard to know whether that would work. Moreover, the evading-review applies when the time is too short to litigate the issue fully, which must included SCOTUS review. So while the "district court plainly was prepared to resolve the matter with dispatch (it convened a hearing within three days and ruled on the fourth), and this court has demonstrated that it can expedite appeals in time-sensitive cases," that does not account for SCOTUS, which may have wanted a crack at a case declaring invalid a faithless-elector law. The notion that two months would have been enough time to fully litigate this issue, had the plaintiff only not sat on his rights, seems dubious.

It also is unnecessary, because the better argument is that this is not reasonably capable of repetition as to this person. The plaintiff could not show a "reasonable expectation" that he would be subject to this law again. It is doubtful the Minnesota Democratic Party will appoint him as an elector. And he cannot show that he plans to vote for someone other than the popular-vote winner so as to have the law enforced against him; that is too unknown to constitute a remediable injury at this point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 13, 2018 at 07:22 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Injunction Authority Clarification Act of 2018

Introduced by House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (who miraculously discovered the constitutional command for particularized injunctions on January 20, 2017), the bill prohibits "an order that purports to restrain the enforcement against a non-party of any statute, regulation, order, or similar authority, unless the non-party is represented by a party acting in a representative capacity pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure."

Goodlatte's conversion of partisan convenience aside, it is a good bill. It addresses and eliminates the real problem of non-party protection, without conflating distinct and non-problematic issues of geographic scope (by controlling venue) or source (by pushing cases to three-judge district courts). It leaves broad relief available through 23(b)(2) injunctive class actions. And it does not purport to change the Court's standard for the scope of an injunction--commensurate with the violation and no more burdensome than necessary to provide complete relief; the bill thus should continue to allow broad systemic injunctions where remedies are indivisible (e.g., legislative redistricting or religious displays) or where relief to the non-party is necessary for the plaintiff to obtain complete relief.

And on one old scholarly note--I am glad the bill does not speak of jurisdiction but of remedy, which should be a non-jurisdictional merits-related issue.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 11, 2018 at 07:13 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (10)

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Elected Prosecutors and Non-Prosecution Policies

Rachel Rollins is likely to be the next district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts.  She recently won the democratic primary, and she is not facing a Republican challenger in the general election.  Rollins is a reform-minded candidate, and so her win has caused a bit of a stir.  Rollins is also causing a stir because she recently released a list of crimes that she says she will decline to prosecute if elected.  The list includes larceny under $250, receiving stolen property, disorderly conduct, and other charges.

If you had asked me ten years ago what I thought about a prosecutor making a public announcement about all of the crimes she would not prosecute, I would have been extremely critical.  In particular, I would have said that prosecutors have a duty is to enforce the laws, and policies of non-enforcement conflict with that duty.  Just as decisions about what to criminalize belong to legislatures, I would have said, so too do decriminalization decisions belong to legislatures, not prosecutors.  But having spent time studying the relationship between criminal justice institutions, I am much less critical of Rollins’ announcement.  In particular, I no longer think that decriminalization decisions are reserved for the legislature.

To be clear, my point about decriminalization is a descriptive one, not necessarily a normative one.  Legislatures have—to a significant extent—delegated the scope of criminal law to prosecutors.  Legislatures have done so by writing overly broad criminal laws.  Legislatures write overly broad laws knowing that prosecutors will not prosecute all behavior that falls within the statutory text.  Prosecutors will make their own decisions about the circumstances under which to prosecute crimes.  In other words, prosecutors are free to decide what conduct to treat as legal and what to treat as permissible.  We got a glimpse of that decision-making when James Comey explained to Congress that, even if Hillary Clinton’s behavior fell within the text of a federal criminal statute, it did not meet the criteria that DOJ uses for actually bringing charges in such cases.

The sheer number of crimes also delegates questions about the scope of criminal law to prosecutors.  Resource constraints make it impossible for prosecutors to bring charges against everyone who commits a crime.  As a result, district attorneys have to make decisions about which crimes to prioritize and which crimes to deprioritize.

Some might respond that there is a difference between making enforcement decisions in the context of individual cases and making enforcement decisions ex ante about an entire category of cases.  But I don’t see the appeal of that argument.  The elected district attorney is the individual who has been empowered to make these important decisions.  So one hopes that she is making those decisions in the context of a general office-wide policy, rather than leaving the decision to line prosecutors in individual cases.  Line prosecutors may have different priorities, and case-by-case decisions would doubtlessly lead to inconsistent decisions.

Some might also object that, even if an elected prosecutor has formal policies about what charges not to bring, she should not announce those policies to the public.  If I know, for example, that my district attorney is not going to prosecute larceny of goods under $250, then (so the argument goes) I will feel free to steal items that cost less.  (Meir Dan-Cohen fans will recognize that argument as one of acoustic separation.)

Even assuming that such public announcements decrease deterrence—and I am uncertain whether they do—public announcements have a significant benefits  :  For example, public announcements can help ensure that law enforcement won’t enforce these laws in an arbitrary or discriminatory fashion.  One major problem with overly broad laws or rarely enforced laws is that they can be used as a pretext for racial discrimination or other animus.  In this respect, overly broad laws and rarely enforced laws are similar to vague laws

Most importantly, public announcements make prosecutors democratically accountable for their enforcement policies.  Unannounced policies do not allow the public to make informed voting decisions or to give feedback to elected prosecutors about how they have chosen to enforce the criminal laws.  But in announcing this list of crimes, Rollins has ensured some measure of legitimacy and accountability for her decisions. 

I am sure that at least some people will read this post and think that it has failed to fully justify or defend a practice of categorical non-enforcement.  There are very intelligent people who have argued against categorical non-enforcement.   In an ideal world, I would probably agree that legislatures should make all criminalization and decriminalization decisions.  In such a world, legislatures would write narrowly targeted criminal laws and would not criminalize more behavior than the system could reasonably prosecute and punish.  But that is not the world we live in.  Since legislatures have decided to delegate significant questions about the scope of criminal law to prosecutors, prosecutors should answer those questions in a transparent and accountable fashion.  That is what Rachel Rollins has done here.

Posted by Carissa Byrne Hessick on September 8, 2018 at 09:37 AM in Carissa Byrne Hessick, Criminal Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (14)

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Ministerial exemption as a mandatory merits defense

I have thought much about the jurisdictional status of the ministerial exemption since SCOTUS decided (correctly) in Hosanna-Tabor that the exemption was a merits-based affirmative defense and not a limit on the court's jurisdiction.

But that makes footnote 4 of this Third Circuit case a bit strange. The court held that the ministerial exemption barred a pastor's breach-of-contract claim, granting summary judgment for the Church on exemption grounds, even though the pastor was the one who moved for summary judgment and the Church never raised the defense. The court noted the following:

The ministerial exception is an affirmative defense. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 565 U.S. 171 , 195 n.4, 132 S. Ct. 694 , 181 L. Ed. 2d 650 (2012) (stating that the ministerial exception "operates as an affirmative defense to an otherwise cognizable claim, not a jurisdictional bar"). Although the District Court, not the Church, first raised the ministerial exception, the Church is not deemed to have waived it because the exception is rooted in constitutional limits on judicial authority. See EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., 884 F.3d 560 , 581-82 (6th Cir. 2018) (holding that a defendant "has not waived the ministerial-exception by failing to raise it . . . because '[t]his constitutional protection is . . . structural'" (citation omitted)); Conlon v. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 777 F.3d 829 , 836 (6th Cir. 2015) (explaining that Hosanna-Tabor's rationale for recognizing the ministerial exception establishes that "the Constitution does not permit private parties to waive the First Amendment 's ministerial exception" because "[t]he constitutional protection is not only a personal one; it is a structural one that categorically prohibits federal and state governments from becoming involved in religious leadership disputes"). Moreover, Lee did not argue before the District Court that the Church waived the defense. Therefore, it was appropriate for the District Court to consider the ministerial exception.

Hosanna stated that the ministerial exemption is not a jurisdictional bar. But the second sentence contradicts that by describing it as "rooted in constitutional limits on judicial authority"--which is the definition of a jurisdictional bar. Rather, we should think of the exemption as a  mandatory merits defense--although a limit on substantive merits, it has a structural basis and thus cannot be waived. As Scott Dodson has argued, mandatoriness or non-waivability is a consequence, not a defining characteristic--some defenses can be so important as to be non-waivable, even if they go to merits and have nothing to do with adjudicative jurisdiction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 6, 2018 at 11:55 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (7)

In search of Deep Throat

The greatest disappointment about the anonymous NYT op-ed? We have a corrupt and scandal-plagued administration and an anonymous source talking publicly, but no good porn movies after which to name that anonymous source. Perhaps something off Stormy Daniels' IMDB page.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 6, 2018 at 08:52 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Judge Willett questions qualified immunity

Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett, a conservative and Trump long-lister for SCOTUS, "concurred dubitante" to question qualified-immunity doctrine in this case. (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy, HTing Josh Blackman). The court found that the Texas Medical Board violated the rights of the plaintiff doctor and two patients in issuing and enforcing administrative subpoenas, but that the right was not clearly established.

Willett derides qualified immunity as a deus ex machina that smacks of "unqualified impunity" by letting officers behave badly so long as they are the first to behave badly. He emphasizes two problems with current doctrine--the inconsistency over how factually similar precedent must be to clearly establish a right and the continued tendency of courts to skip merits and decide the right is not clearly established, thereby depriving plaintiffs of precedent that can be used to clearly establish the right. Requiring a plaintiff to produce identical precedent as courts create less precedent is a catch-22, an Escherian Stairwell, and a heads-defendans-win-tails-plaintiffs-lose situation. Willett joins the growing cross-ideological chorus of judges (including Justices Thomas and Sotomayor, as well as Judge Jack Weinstein) and scholars (Will Baude and Joanna Schwartz) urging recalibration of the doctrine.

On that cross-ideological consensus, it is telling that Willett's statement comes in an ideologically unique case--a regulatory body allegedly overstepping its authority in investigating a licensed professional sounding in the the regulatory over-zealousness that libertarian judges dislike. It does not come in the more frequent (and ideologically different) qualified immunity case case arising from a police officer using excessive force against an unarmed person of color.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 4, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, September 03, 2018

Two free expression stories for Labor Day

First, Nike is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its Just Do It campaign. Here is the opening image, with the tag line "Believe in Something. Even if it means sacrificing everything." Good for Nike, which has always mixed its product advertising with political messages. I assume the company calculated the lost sales from the more than half the country that seems to oppose the player protests. Or it has more corporate courage than the NFL. DmMfV2QV4AAF11z

 

Second, a group called USA Latinx raised almost $ 10,000 in one day to rent this billboard for about $6000. The fundraising effort was helped by Parkland survivor David Hogg, who tweeted about the campaign. The billboard is a response to President Trump's announced plan to come to Texas to hold a rally in a big stadium in support of Ted Cruz's re-election campaign. Several contributors to the GoFundMe campaign urged the group to raise more money to put these ads all over the state.

32614890_1535818206259214_rI presume USA Latinx believes that money is not speech, that corporations have no speech rights, and that Citizens United is the fourth-worst SCOTUS decision ever. Do its leaders realize that this is a campaign expenditure and that they are a corporation or other entity? Do they realize that if money were not speech, there would be no limit on government halting such expenditures? Do they realize that a $ 5000 expenditure limit or a bar on expenditures within 90 days of an election (all perfectly lawful if money is not speech) renders this unlawful?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2018 at 05:48 PM in Culture, First Amendment, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (5)

Lawyering up in the Kavanaugh hearings

I have no intention of watching the national travesty of the Kavanaugh hearings, because nothing he says or does this week will make any difference to his confirmation. (I have in the past employed the common description of this as Kabuki, but I was told by a Japanese scholar that Kabuki, while stylized, is not empty or devoid of meaning, which is what the term is used to describe with respect to hearing).

I am, however, intrigued by this idea of hiring counsel to handle questioning, getting a lawyer with the skill and expertise to ask meaningful questions of witnesses and force them to give answers, rather than the word salad that passes for dialogue between Senators who lack the knowledge, training, and skill to perform the task and witnesses with no desire (or practical obligation) to answer. The historical examples the article provides (Watergate, Iran-Contra, Army-McCarthy) were investigatory hearings rather than confirmation hearings, so the need for cross examination and adverseness was clear. But the point remains--hired counsel would be much better able to perform the task. How much better might the exchange be if the Democrats hired Marty Lederman or Seth Waxman or Republicans in the future were to hire David Bernstein or Paul Clement to have a genuine constitutional dialogue?

Update: The author of the article is David A. Kaplan, author of the new book The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court's Assault on the Constitution and a guest on this week's First Mondays podcast. Kaplan argues that the Court should be less interventionist (he interviewed several Justices, who referred to him as "Felix"), including urging the argument that the public should understood SCOTUS decisions as resolving a case for past parties but not necessarily for future parties. I like the second part of that.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 3, 2018 at 02:54 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Damnatio memoriae

This is an interesting case from the Sixth Circuit (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy). Plaintiff sued the recorders of deeds throughout Ohio, alleging that continued maintenance of deeds, plat maps, and other property documents containing (unenforceable) racially restrictive covenants violated equal protection and the FHA. The court held that the plaintiff lacked standing. He suffered no economic injury because he offered no evidence that he had been unable to purchase property. Any non-economic injury of a feeling of not belonging was not particularized to him, but undifferentiated and generalized.

The majority opinion, written by Judge Boggs, ends on the following:

In ancient Rome, the practice of damnatio memoriae, or the condemnation of memory, could be imposed on felons whose very existence, including destruction of their human remains, would literally be erased from history for the crimes they had committed. Land title documents with racially restrictive covenants that we now find offensive, morally reprehensible, and repugnant cannot be subject to damnatio memoriae, as those documents are part of our living history and witness to the evolution of our cultural norms. Mason’s feeling of being unwelcomed may be real. A feeling cannot be unfelt. But Mason’s discomfort at the expression of historical language does not create particularized injury. The language in question is purely historical and is unenforceable and irrelevant in present-day land transactions.

This prompted a two-paragraph concurrence from Judge Clay:

I concur in the judgment and, for the most part, in the opinion’s analysis, but I do not entirely agree with the majority’s suggestion that we cannot, under appropriate circumstances, modify or dispense with documents that are “part of our living history and witness to the evolution of our cultural norms.” Justice may require us to repudiate or revise elements of our “living history” if those elements—whether they be public records, flags, or statues—are shown to encourage or perpetuate discrimination or the badges and incidents of slavery; indeed, racial epithets that were once accepted as commonplace have not been preserved, and they have sometimes been stricken from our modern vernacular. We apply an even stricter standard where, as here, the government is the source of, or has ratified, language that has the purpose or effect of encouraging racial animus. We need not erase our history in order to disarm its harmful legacy, but victims of invidious discrimination who have suffered particularized injury as a result of the application of historical language should be able to seek redress, consistent with the context and the factual circumstances of their cases.

I also fear that the majority’s statement that “Mason’s discomfort at the expression of historical language does not create particularized injury” could be misunderstood or taken out of context to suggest that feelings of discomfort with racially discriminatory language could never create a cognizable injury. I do not, however, read the majority opinion as foreclosing a properly pleaded claim arising out of such racially discriminatory language, especially under circumstances that implicate governmental instrumentalities. Rather, I read the opinion to hold that the plaintiff in this action has simply failed to plead sufficient facts to demonstrate a legally cognizable injury. If and when a plaintiff shows such an injury, this Court will have to reconcile the importance of maintaining our recorded history with our vision of government speech that promotes—not hinders—a free and equal society. I do, however, respectfully concur.

 This dispute gets at an important piece of the model of my model of constitutional litigation. There is no judicially remediable constitutional harm coming from legal documents disconnected from actual or threatened executive or private enforcement. The dispute here is over real-estate documents. But the same arguments surround outmoded laws (e.g., anti-miscegination laws or prohibitions on same-sex marriage) that remain on the books but could not be successfully enforced in court. The legislature could repeal these statutes, while it would take much more to undo these sorts of legal documents. But the idea is the same--law (apart from enforcement) cannot and should not be erased by a court because of the "message" it sends from continuing to exist or having existed in the past. The court framed this as lack of standing; a good Fletcherian would call this the lack of remediable substantive constitutional rights.

Judicial departmentalism adds an extra wrinkle, because an executive could attempt to enforce such a law in the face of contrary precedent. That effort will fail once the dispute reaches a court, which is bound by precedent; it also will result in attorney's fees and potential Rule 11 sanctions. But it justifies recent efforts to get legislatures to repeal anti-miscegination laws. The arguments have focused on the symbolism of retaining these laws and the message they send. Departmentalism adds a substantive reason-- repeal avoids the spectacle of even unsuccessful efforts at enforcement. But this case confirms that the conversation must be a legislative one, not a judicial one.

There is a property question to which I do not know the answer. Could the legislature or recorder do anything about these documents or their problematic provisions? Can the government amend long-standing deeds to remove objectionable covenants? Can it issue a new, superseding deed, stripped of the objectionable covenants, controlling the property going forward?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 2, 2018 at 04:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Avoiding dueling universal injunctions

Judge Hanen of the Southern District of Texas* on Friday refused to preliminarily enjoin DACA, where such an injunction would have created a direct conflict with injunctions enjoining the Trump Administrations rescission of DACA. Although the court held that the states have standing and were likely to succeed on the merits (because DACA violates APA and the Take Care Clause), the balance of equities weighed against the injunction, as the injunction would undo the status quo by undoing rights and reliance interests that had attached to DACA recipients since 2012. So we again avoid the clash of injunctions and impossibly conflicting obligation only by a bit of restraint from one court.**

[*] Whose universal injunction in the DAPA litigation in 2015 was the starting point for the recent trend.

[**] Note the clash comes even if the injunction issued was particularized and non-universal. The existence of one universal injunction by definition collides with all future injunctions. A particularized injunction in this case would have forced the federal government to act inconsistent with the earlier universal injunctions prohibiting rescission.

In a separate order, Hanen certified the case for interlocutory review under § 1292(b), finding the validity of DACA is a novel and unique controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. This seems weird in two respects. First, while there is a controlling question of pure law within this order, the decision turned on the balancing of equities, an application issue that is not reviewable under § 1292(b). The court said that a Fifth Circuit declaration of DACA's validity would speed termination of the case, but it is not clear why, because that would not alter the purported balance of equities on which the district court denied relief, at least not at the preliminary injunction stage. I guess if the Fifth Circuit declares DACA invalid, the district court could summarily convert to a permanent injunction. But that assumes the Fifth Circuit takes on DACA directly and does not address the legal issue in context, saying only that DACA is likely invalid, but limiting the decision to the case's preliminary posture.

Second and in any event, certification was unnecessary to obtain review. A decision denying a preliminary injunction is immediately reviewable under § 1292(a)(1). Although the text of the statute only enumerates orders refusing to dissolve or modify an injunction as appealable, every circuit, including the Fifth, reads § (a)(1) to allow immediate review of the denial of the initial preliminary injunction. And § 1292(a)(1) appeals do not require leave of court and are not limited to controlling questions of law.

Update: Other conversations on the subject suggest that Hanen blew the procedure in another way. If he wanted to declare DACA invalid, tee-up the issue for appellate review, and avoid the chaos that would come with a preliminary injunction, he should have ordered the parties to file cross motions for summary judgment and issued a declaratory judgment. A D/J is a final judgment, appealable as such under § 1291. This stuff matters.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 1, 2018 at 08:18 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Flipping constituional litigation

Here is a move that could shake-up our expectations in constitutional litigation. A group of Kentucky filed suit in the District of the District of Columbia, challenging HHS' grant of a waiver for Kentucky to change its Medicaid program; Kentucky intervened in that action as a defendant. At the same time, Kentucky sued the D.C. plaintiffs for a declaratory judgment of the validity of the state's new Medicaid rules. The district court dismissed on standing grounds, concluding that Kentucky had not shown an injury and that any injury arose from the result in the D.C. litigation, not from any conduct of the defendants. The court did not resolve defendants' 12(b)(6) and first-to-file arguments.

This is an aggressive move, allowing a state to preempt constitutional litigation by rights-holders by running to a preferred court either before or during the rights-holders' litigation. At the very least, it forces rights-holders into a two-front war. On this logic, nothing would stop a state from the following: Prosecution of X for violating a law, with X arguing in the prosecution that the law is invalid. State runs to a different court against X, seeking a declaration that the law is constitutionally valid.

Perhaps the benefit of resolving this case on standing, rather than something discretionary such as first-to-file, is to signal that states lack standing to sue over an anticipated injury caused by someone else's lawsuit.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 21, 2018 at 10:59 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Every snowflake is different

How is this complaint about NFL player protests from the head of the Broward County PBA different from the complaints from liberals (on- and off-campus) who are derided as "snowflakes" for objecting to Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannapoulos, Chick Fil-A, et al. The PBA is calling on members to boycott and not do business with the team. It is demanding that the Dolphins no-platform the players, calling on an entity to deny a speaker the opportunity to present his message. And the complaint is that the speaker's message is a "slap in the face" to the complainer, who is offended by the speech. There is no practical difference between the two situations.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 12, 2018 at 02:44 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Flag protests and public employees

The assumption among supporters of protesting NFL players and critics of the NFL is that the league is trampling on the players' free-speech rights, that the players have a free-speech right to protest the anthem, save for the absence of state action. But the assumption is that if there were state action, the First Amendment would protect the players. Let's push on that question, with a hypothetical to which I genuinely do not know the answer:

The head of a government agency or office (it does not matter what level of government or what office) has decreed that the workday shall begin every day at 8:30 a.m. by everyone in the office standing before the flag with hands over hearts, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and sing America, the Beautiful. The director explains that this symbolic reaffirmation of America reminds public officers of their obligations to the Constitution and to the public they serve in performing their jobs. Must an objecting employer, who believes that America's criminal-justice policies are discriminatory, participate in this ritual?

There are several doctrinal paths competing for attention here.

1) Barnette says students cannot be made to participate in the flag salute. By extension, it should mean other people cannot be compelled to participate in other patriotic rituals. Certainly Jackson's rhetoric speaks of patriotic rituals, not only the Pledge in schools. There also is a nice question of how far the Barnette protection extends--to speaking the words of the Pledge or anthem or to all engagement in the ritual. In other words, does Barnette mean you can opt-out entirely by kneeling or sitting or leaving the room? Or does it only mean you cannot be compelled to utter the word, but can be made to stand there, even at attention?

2) Employee speech rights within the workplace are limited, under the Garcetti/Connick/Pickering line of cases. Workplace speech that is part of the job is per se unprotected, while Connick/Pickering ask whether speech (whether in or out of the workplace) is on a matter of public concern and whether the employer's interests outweigh the employee's expressive interests. But on-the-job core political speech, however offensive, that does not affect government operations is protected. Thus a deputy sheriff could not be fired for stating, in a conversation with co-workers, her hope that a second assassination attempt on President Reagan would succeed.

3) Janus can be read to accord public employees greater protection against compelled speech than they enjoy against restrictions on their own speech, a criticism Justice Kagan leveled in her dissent. Kagan also predicted that Janus was about limiting public unions, not compelled speech generally, so a rule compelling employees to speak in a way other than donating money to a union.

So what might be the answer to my hypo? There are a couple of threshold question. First is how we should understand what the protesting employee (or an NFL player) is doing. Is he seeking to opt out of having to utter the government's message? Or is he trying to make his own affirmative statement about something (e.g., police violence)? This makes a difference between whether we are in Barnette/Janus or Garcetti/Pickering. Second is how much deference the court owes the government in defining what speech is part of the job. So will the court buy the government argument that the pre-opening patriotic ritual is designed to remind employees of their public duties and obligations and thus part of their public jobs.  And, if not and we are in Connick/Pickering, how disruptive of the workplace the court deems non-participation to be. Third, if this is compelled speech, can it really be that children in school enjoy greater protection against compelled speech than adults in the workplace?

Again, I do not know the answers, although I know I believe it should come out. Thoughts?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 11, 2018 at 11:41 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (3)

Now returning: NFL games, player protests, and presidential tweets

As if on cue, Thursday's NFL preseason games included several players kneeling, standing with a raised fist, or remaining in the locker room during the national anthem. The President responded on Friday with a tweet 1) criticizing the players for being unable to define what they are outraged about, 2) urging them"be happy, be cool" because they make millions doing what they love, 3) urging them to find another way to protest, and 4) commanding "stand proudly or be suspended without pay." (capitalization, etc., corrected).

The first point is untrue because the small handful of players who protest have been very clear and explicit that they are protesting police violence and the criminal-justice system. As this piece points out, the President recognized that in a June statement asking players to talk to him about people they believe were treated unfairly by the criminal justice system so he could pardon them. I derided that statement as incoherent; I should have added not serious.

The second point skates close to the line of saying that rich people should not be allowed to complain. This is ironic coming from a rich man who ascended to the presidency by complaining. So what is it about these wealthy people that should cause them to lose the right to complain? I cannot put my finger on it.

The fourth point brings us back to that state action argument: When a public official continually talks about a specific private dispute and urges a private actor to take some action, do we get to some point where that encouragement becomes overwhelming or coercive? Is it a question of quantity and specificity--how often and how specific? Does it change when it is the President doing the urging? (By the way, hat tip to Rishi Batra (Texas Tech) for suggesting that specificity might matter during our SEALS discussion).

The third point is interesting and touches on something we discussed in the Thursday panel. During pregame warm-ups on Thursday, several Eagles players  wore t-shirts displaying various statistics about people of color and children in prison, one of the issues about which players have been protesting. Throughout this protest debacle, the NFL has been compared unfavorably with the NBA in terms of support for player protests, although the NBA has and enforces a rule requiring players to be on the court and standing at attention during the anthem. So why is the NBA not criticized, by the press or its players, for doing what the NFL is trying to do? Some of it is the perception of incompetence of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the expressly plantation mentality of some owners.

But one possible reason (H/T to dre cummings of Arkansas-Little Rock for this point) is that NBA players have worn message t-shirts and otherwise expressed themselves during their highly visible pre-game warm-ups.* NBA players have an at-the-game, high-profile, many-people-watching forum to express their political messages, therefore less need to use the anthem as a protest vehicle. NFL warm-ups are not watched in the same way and not as intimate, and players have not tried to take extensive advantage of the alternative forum. Perhaps if they do and can, it will remove pressure on the anthem as a necessary expressive moment.**

[*] Prominent examples include LeBron James and others wearing t-shirts reading "I Can't Breathe." WNBA players have made extensive use of this forum.

[**] Or, the NFL being what it is, the league will shoot itself in the foot by issuing a diktat about players having to wear team gear during all on-field warm-ups.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 11, 2018 at 07:52 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Ninth Circuit affirms less-than-universal injunction as to sanctuary-city funding

The Ninth Circuit on Thursday affirmed the injunction prohibiting DOJ from enforcing an executive order and regulations stripping federal law-enforcement funds from sanctuary cities, in an action brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara.

1) The case was justiciable, considering both standing and ripeness. The plaintiffs had standing because they had policies in place that, under the executive order, would be a basis for withholding funds. That the regs might not be enforced did not eliminate the injury; it was enough that the plaintiffs' interpretation of the regs was correct and could subject them to consequences or to having to change their policies. The action also was ripe. The court pointed to statements by various Trump Administration officials warning about enforcement, with California and its municipalities as an express target, as well as a history of federal grants conditioned on compliance with certain immigration laws. The ripeness point prompted a dissent. Focusing on the order's requirement that any federal action be "consistent with law," the dissent argued that the counties do not face any imminent threat of loss of funds because they have not shown an intent to violate § 1373 and the EO did not order DOJ to enforce the funding regulations in a manner inconsistent with the law.

2) The court affirmed the injunction, but limited it to prohibiting enforcement against the plaintiffs and the State of California. While rejecting DOJ's argument that universal injunctions are per se improper, the court found that the plaintiffs did not offer sufficient evidence of an effect beyond themselves and the State. The court's analysis was inexact but it did hit on a situation in which an injunction should protect beyond the named plaintiffs. Santa Clara and San Francisco offered evidence that their law-enforcement budgets depend on money from the State, which gets some of its money from the DOJ grant program; complete relief for the plaintiff counties thus depended on the regs not being enforced against California.

But while appropriate, this should be a narrow and unique exception to particularity. And the court showed it did not recognize that narrowness when it remanded for the district court to allow the plaintiffs to offer evidence of a universal effect. Although not a party, California was a unique non-party because some of the money it would get from DOJ (and which it would lose under the regs) would be passed to the plaintiffs. No other sanctuary jurisdiction would, if stripped of funds, have the same effect on the plaintiffs' budgets; therefore, stripping funds from no other jurisdiction could render their relief less than complete. For example, if San Francisco does not get money from the State of Oregon or the City of Boston, then enforcement of the funding regs against those cities does not deny San Francisco complete relief.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 1, 2018 at 04:35 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Dr. Richard Pan Sued for Blocking Users on Twitter

In early 2015, in response to the Disneyland measles outbreak in California, Dr. Richard Pan, along with other legislators,  sponsored SB277, which removed California’s Personal Belief Exemption. While Dr. Pan was not alone in authoring the law – Senator Ben Allen was the other Senate author, Assembly Woman Lorena Gonzales on the assembly side, and there were quite a few sponsors – he was a lead figure, and as a doctor, his views carried weight with many of his colleagues. He became a special target for anti-vaccine activists angry at him.

Dr. Pan was the subject of many attacks, including racial slurs, death threats, and other varieties of personal harassment. Part of his reaction was aggressive blocking of anti-vaccine activists on his social media, twitter and facebook.

On July 27, 2018 Dr. Pan was sued by two anti-vaccine activists – Suzanne Rummel and Marlene Burkitt - for blocking them on Twitter. The activists, echoing the arguments in Knight First Amendment  Institute v. Donald Trump, claimed that Dr. Pan’s twitter account is a public forum and that he discriminated against them based on his viewpoints.

As far as being blocked for being anti-vaccine, the suit likely has merit under Knight.While Knight is only a district court decision and is currently under appeal, it is thoughtful, and carries quite a bit of persuasive force. Dr. Pan is a public official, and should not block users based on content, even if he disagrees with them.

A counter argument is that there is a difference between political disagreement and scientific misinformation, but this is very murky grounds when it comes to public officials: most are not scientists, and at any rate, their twitter account is not where scientific truths are determined, and they should not be able to block users according to whether they see their views as truthful.

Dr. Pan does have a potential alternative argument, if the reason for blocking is not the plaintiffs’ anti-vaccine views. I have not seen the plaintiffs’ tweet: I have Ms. Rummel muted, and do not remember interacting with Ms. Burkitt on twitter. I have, however, seen Ms. Burkitt’s posts to Dr. Pan on Facebook, and they are often not only abusive, but actually threatening. Here are two examples:

Burkitt Slug

 

And:

Burkitt Garrotted

While a public official should not be able to silence an opponent in a public forum for a different viewpoint, there may be differences when someone is threatening the official. Even here, we need to be cautious. Public officials, by the nature of their role, should expect – and are expected to endure – a certain amount of abuse and attacks. But it’s not clear they need to interact with people who threaten them on Twitter. And there is a risk that preventing public officials from blocking those who harass and threaten can deter public officials from taking positions where the opposition is aggressive, and/or encourage direct harassment as a means of making public officials give up unpopular positions. That, too, can have negative implications for the public discourse.

At any rate, the lawsuit is worth following. Dr. Pan can, of course, solve the problem by unblocking the plaintiffs and muting them instead, something that Knight  suggested was acceptable, since it allows users to interact with an account’s followers and participate in the discussion without the public official having to interact. Whether Dr. Pan decides to do that, or litigate on the grounds of harassment, the lawsuit can have important and general implications for public discourse.

Posted by Dorit Reiss on August 1, 2018 at 08:58 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Radio discussion of NFL anthem policies (Updated)

Last week, I appeared on Gurvey's Law at KABC to discuss the NFL's national anthem policies; that discussion is in the first half-hour. I got pretty strident at points, although I am not especially strident in my position on this issue--as a matter of law, I accept that the NFL  can stop the players from kneeling (subject perhaps to CBA limitation). But one of the hosts insisted that anyone who refuses to stand for the anthem or God Bless America should leave the country, so I could not let that one go.

Update: Slate's Hang Up and Listen Podcast did a supplement (it starts around the 1:03 mark, although you may have to be a Slate-Plus member) to its prior discussion of US Soccer player Jalene Hinkle, apparently after numerous listeners wrote to ask how Hinkle differs from Colin Karpernick and other NFL players kneeling for the anthem. The hosts tried very hard to distinguish the situations, but basically landed on some version of: 1) Stop creating false equivalence between non-controversial messages against police brutality and messages of exclusion of historically disadvantaged groups; 2) teams and leagues can create their own messages, such as LGBT Pride, and compel players to go along with it. Number 1 is naked viewpoint discrimination--teams and leagues must allow player speech I agree with but not speech I disagree with. Number 2 swallows both situations--if teams can compel players to promote its preferred message, it always can do that, regardless of the message (pro-LGBT, pro-law-and-order, whatever).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 31, 2018 at 06:11 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Judge Leinenweber loves him some universal injunctions

Judge Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois made permanent his injunction in City of Chicago v. Sessions, prohibiting DOJ from enforcing regulations stripping federal law-enforcement funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. The new opinion mostly makes permanent the preliminary injunction entered last year and affirmed on the merits on appeal. The new element, as Ilya Somin explains, is the declaration of invalidity of a rule prohibiting jurisdictions from restricting communications with DHS and ICE, relying on Murphy v. NCAA (the NJ gambling case) for the proposition that federal law cannot restrict state or local lawmaking in this way.

The other issue is the scope of the injunction. The preliminary injunction was universal and accompanied by the most detailed judicial justification for universal injunction, but the question of scope is pending before the en banc Seventh Circuit.* Leinenweber made the permanent injunction universal (he continues to use "nationwide"), but stayed the universal scope pending the Seventh Circuit decision (so, for the moment, the injunction prohibits enforcement of the regs only as to Chicago). He recognized the conflict over universal injunctions, pointing to Justice Thomas' opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, as well as the scholarly work of Samuel Bray against universality and Amanda Frost in defense of it. The novelty of the question and the fact of the Seventh Circuit stay of the scope of the preliminary injunction satisfied the first prong (likelihood of success) of the stay analysis and none of the other prongs outweighed that.

[*] The Seventh Circuit panel affirmed the scope of the injunction, over a strong dissent on the scope question from Judge Manion. The court granted en banc review on universality.

Supporters of universal injunctions, including Judge Leinenweber and Prof. Frost, recognize that they should be rare and the exception rather than the rule. Even accepting (as I do not) that universal injunctions are sometimes proper, they should be limited to cases in which enforcement of a particularized injunction would be difficult--it could be easily circumvented,* individual plaintiffs face barriers to bringing individual cases, a particularized injunction leaves the plaintiff with less-than-complete relief, other mechanisms (class certification, organizational standing) would be ineffective. The paradigm would be Hawaii and the travel ban, which presented some unique problems, in that affected persons were all over the world and the plaintiff states could not identify all affected potential students or scholars.

[*] Think Texas and the DAPA injunction, because DAPA recipients could move to Texas.

But Chicago and sanctuary-city funding does not provide the appropriate case, something even Frost seems to recognize. An injunction particularized to Chicago remedies the constitutional violation as to Chicago (the invalid withdrawal of funds) and leaves Chicago with complete relief (it gets its money). Nothing that DOJ might do as to another city violates Chicago's rights or limits its relief, so there is no need for the injunction to go beyond Chicago.

This case shows why efforts to limit universality to unique cases fall flat. If a universal injunction is appropriate here, it is appropriate in every case challenging the constitutional validity of every federal law; there is no reason not to make all injunctions universal, something Leinenweber acknowledges is improper.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 28, 2018 at 11:23 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I am shocked, shocked to find that Court-packing is going on in here

I do not want Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, just as I did not want Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. But some of the complaining from my ideological compatriots is embarrassing. 

It starts with Charles Schumer's suggestion that Trump should have nominated Merrick Garland, which Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse endorsed as an example of a "really legitimate nominee," in contrast with whoever Trump is inclined to nominate. Now Dahlia Lithwick cannot believe that Kavanaugh believes that it is OK to pack the Supreme Court with justices who will not turn out to be ideological disappointments, as Warren, Souter, and O'Connor were. (Poor Justice Brennan has been forgotten on this list). She writes of Kavanaugh that "now the young lawyer who predicted that where there was a will, there was a way to pack the courts, has himself gone on to become the 'predictable' nominee who won’t let the party be Soutered or O’Connored again."

Well, yes. Of course Presidents can pack the Court with Justices they believe are ideologically simpatico and will remain so. FDR spent 12 years doing that. And imagine that Hillary Clinton had won and gotten a Democratic Senate, then renominated Garland and been handed Kennedy's retirement. I doubt Lithwick and other liberals would complain that Clinton had nominated Patricia Millett or Goodwin Liu, who would pack the Court with a six-Justice liberal majority inclined to protect and expand constitutional protection for abortion rights, racial minorities, etc. And liberals would be running around to ensure that either nominee would be predictable in their decisionmaking on key constitutional issues and that Democrats would not be "Whited" or "Frankfurtered" on major issues.

It is time to change the discussion around SCOTUS appointments by rethinking several things:

1) There are not going to be any more Warrens or Souters and we really need to stop talking about the possibility. Both appointments are, in political terms, ancient history. Republicans care too much about judicial appointments and the Federalist Society (which was in its infancy when Souter was appointed) is the incubator through which most conservative lawyers and judges come up; both guarantee that serious nominees will have a clear and obvious legal and constitutional vision. The polarization in the political parties now maps onto judges likely to be serious candidates under those parties. Republicans like David Souter or William Brennan do not exist anymore and neither to Democrats like Felix Frankfurter. As Mike Dorf puts it, a "mainstream Republican appointee and a mainstream Democratic appointee are ideologically quite distant." So a Republican President will appoint consistent judicial conservatives. As I Democrat, I hope the next Democratic President will appoint consistent judicial liberals.

2) Because of that polarization, new legal issues or regimes are unlikely to arise that shake-up the constitutional order or split constitutional allies. FDR packed Court with New Dealers because that is what mattered to him. In the late '40s and early '50s, the legal landscape shifted to a focus on civil liberties and individual rights. FDR appointees such as Black, Douglas, and Murphy went one way, Frankfurter another. I cannot envision any new, unthought-of issues that are going to become salient that will not have an obvious preexisting Federalist/Non-Federalist (or Democratic/Republican) alignment. No high-profile constitutional issues are suddenly going to unite Kagan and Kavanaugh.

3) Republicans are better at this and, polls from 2016 suggest, care more about it. But why is that? Perhaps because it is easier to create fervor to fight against something than to fight for it. The Federalist Society formed as a response to the perceived excesses of the Warren Court and liberal constitutionalism and the need to fight back against it. Republicans harvested support from religious activists over the need to push back against Roe and doctrines limiting religion in schools (and, soon, other places in society). There is a fear of attack and loss; control of the courts is essential to defending against that attack. By contrast, liberals view liberal constitutionalism as a failure, a Hollow Hope that did not and cannot achieve social change, at least not alone. But disappointment at not achieving full social change through the courts seems to have metastasized into apathy about the courts and the need to elect Democrats to the Senate and White House so they aggressively fill judicial vacancies.*

4) Much is being made of Trump filling vacancies at a record pace in the first two years of an Administration. This could represent GOP concern (represented by the roles of Leonard Leo, Don McGahn, and Senate Republicans more than Trump himself) in contrast to the apathy of Obama (who had a Senate majority for six years) and Bill Clinton (who had a Senate majority for two years). But the rules of Senate engagement are different than they were even four years ago. So we can wonder what the next Dem President with a Senate majority will try to do.

5) That Republicans are better at this should not be grounds for liberals and Democrats to say stupid things, such as suggesting that a Republican President appoint a Democrat to the Court or complaining that a Republican President is packing the Courts. I would hope that President Hillary Clinton would have laughed at a suggestion from Mitch McConnell. And I would hope that liberal journalists would laugh if someone in the National Review complained about Clinton packing the courts.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 22, 2018 at 04:23 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Lindgren and Stolzenberg on SCOTUS term limits

In the L.A. Times. They suggest a constitutional amendment is required, while recognizing that not everyone agrees. But they suggest the states would support an amendment, given that 49 of 50 states have term limits or maximum judicial ages. The problem, they suggest, is that members of Congress may not want to do this for fear that it would cause the public to demand legislative term limits, as well.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2018 at 08:47 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Massachusetts fears Justice Kavanaugh

Following on this post: Josh Blackman writes that Massachusetts is moving to repeal its criminal prohibitions on abortion, adultery, and fornication. Democratic legislators explained that the move anticipated the Court overruling Roe and other cases, after which those laws would become enforceable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 19, 2018 at 01:56 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Clopton on universal injunctions

At the Take Care Blog, Zachary Clopton (Cornell) argues that history, structure, and precedent "do not provide a once-size-fits-all answer" to the question of the propriety of universal injunction. Clopton's basic argument is that other doctrines, notably nonmutual issue preclusion and full faith and credit (and, I would add, precedent), protect non-parties. There is thus no blanket reason not to allow injunctions to do the same work, especially since all are grounded in policy concerns.

The difference is how hard we make non-parties work to gain those protections. Precedent and preclusion requires affirmative steps by the new party--file her own lawsuit and ask the second court to make use of the prior judgment or precedent. A universal injunction requires the non-party to do nothing more than request the first court to enforce the injunction and, perhaps, to hold the government in contempt. For reasons linked to Article III and the scope of constitutional claims, I favor requiring those non-parties to take those extra steps.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 18, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The return of Skelly Oil and the Well Pleaded Complaint

MGM Resorts and affiliated companies, owner of the Mandalay Bay Resort and the adjacent fairgrounds at which Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured 500 others in 2017, has filed two federal declaratory judgment actions (one in California, one in Nevada), arguing that they are not liable to the victims of the shooting. The basis for the D/J action is the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act (SAFETY Act) of 2002, a post-9/11 law designed to protect businesses from liability for acts of terrorism. Hundreds of injured or dead are named as individual defendants (the list of parties takes up the bulk of both complaints). The Nevada action is against Nevada citizens and asserts federal-question jurisdiction; the California action is against California citizens and asserts federal-question and diversity jurisdiction (MGM and its affiliates are Nevada and Delaware citizens). One lawyer for many  victims was typically calm and measured in describing this tactic as a "blatant display of judge shopping," verging on unethical, outrageous, and "really sad."

My thoughts, naturally, turned to federal jurisdiction. The news reports read as if MGM sought a declaration of non-liability based on federal law as against state negligence claims. If so, there would not have been federal-question jurisdiction under Skelly Oil, which provides that an anticipatory D/J action does not arise under when the underlying enforcement action would be a state-law claim with a federal defense that would not satisfy the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule. A D/J action arises under only if the hypothetical enforcement action would arise under, because the well-pleaded complaint asserts a claim in which the right of action and rule of decision are created by federal law. This means the California action could go forward based only on diversity jurisdiction but not federal-question jurisdiction, and the Nevada action must be dismissed..

Looking at the pleadings and the SAFETY Act, however, I think there is jurisdiction. MGM's argument seems to be as follows. Section 442 provides a federal cause action, with exclusive federal jurisdiction, "for claims arising out of, relating to, or resulting from an act of terrorism when qualified anti-terrorism technologies have been deployed in defense against or response or recovery from such act." The law of the state in which the acts occurred provides the rule of decision, unless inconsistent or preempted by federal law. MGM's argument, based on the statute and implementing regulations, is that this was an act of terrorism and because MGM hired a vendor to provide security services, any claim based on failure of those security efforts can be brought only under federal law and in federal court,  and can only be brought against the seller of services and not against it as the buyer. I think that solves the jurisdictional problem. The enforcement action would arise under federal law in federal court because federal law provides the right of action in § 442(a)(1) and federalized state law as rule of decision, so the mirror D/J action also arises under. I do not know whether the argument works under the statute, but that is a matter of merits, not jurisdiction.

One more jurisdictional puzzle in the California complaint. The pleading asserts supplemental jurisdiction with respect to claims against any victim/defendants whose claims would be for less than the jurisdictional minimum. But § 1367(b) should preclude supplemental jurisdiction over claims between multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants, because the first clause of (b) precludes supplemental jurisdiction over claims by plaintiffs against persons made party under Rule 20. Even accounting for the upside-down posture of the case, the D/J action involves claims against multiple defendants, all joined under Rule 20, which should prohibit aggregating amount in controversy this way.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 17, 2018 at 04:45 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Fourth Circuit on prosecutorial immunity

Prosecutorial immunity presents a problem. Immunity applies to all functions intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal-justice process, broadly defined. And it includes general office-wide policies relating to the judicial process, even if not to a specific prosecution. Courts have sought to draw a line between immune prosecutorial functions and non-immune administrative functions, namely employment decisions. But that distinction could collapse, because employment decisions may have some connection to a judicial proceeding or to judicial proceedings generally--for example, how to staff a case is an employment decision that implicates a prosecution and involves discretionary legal judgment. One way to avoid that collapse is to ask whether the § 1983 action requires that court to reconsider an underlying investigation or prosecution, a question that functionally turns on the identity of the plaintiff--immunity applies when the suit is brought by the target of the underlying prosecution, but it does not apply when the suit is brought by a non-target, such as an employee.

To take a simple example: Imagine the DA refuses to assign an African-American line prosecutor to a case because he believes the white prosecutor will be tougher on the African-American criminal defendant and push for a harsher sentence. If the defendant brings some sort of wrongful prosecution claim, immunity applies. If the passed-over line prosecutor brings a race-discrimination claim, immunity does not apply.

But the Fourth Circuit declined to accept that distinction. The plaintiff was a police officer who alleged that the state's attorney 1) subjected him to racial harassment by (gratuitously) reading aloud at a trial-preparation meeting letters and statements (that would be used as evidence) containing racial epithets and 2) retaliated against him for complaining about that conduct by refusing to call that officer as a witness at any future proceedings. The court held that trial prep and decisions about who to call as witness are immune prosecutorial functions, as they are intimately connected to the judicial phase of the criminal process, done while the attorney was acting as an advocate for the state. That this occurred in the employment context was irrelevant--"[t]hat a judgment about witness credibility or which cases to try has negative employment consequences - even readily foreseeable ones - does not change the underlying nature of that judgment."

This reasoning could broaden prosecutorial immunity in a way that swallows many employment claims. If discussing evidence and deciding what witnesses to call is prosecutorial, then it seems that an attorney could: sprinkle his trial-prep discussions with racial epithets; decide never to call any African-American police officer as a witness; decide never to prosecute a case in which the arresting officer is African-American; decide never to have an African-American police officer in the trial-prep meeting; decide never to assign a female attorney to work his cases or agree to work with a female attorney on his cases. There is no difference between creating a racially hostile environment and treating someone more poorly because of race or sex or whatever; all (if proved) violate Title VII and the Fourteenth Amendment. If they occur in the judicial phase, immunity should apply.

The court tried to avoid that end, insisting "it is only 'a certain kind of administrative obligation - a kind that itself is directly connected with the conduct of a trial.'" And "even in that context, if a prosecutor's alleged conduct cannot be connected to discretionary judgments about which witnesses to call and which cases to prosecute, then absolute immunity will not apply." But it is easy to connect employment acts to those immune discretionary judgments. The state's attorney can decide not to prosecute a case because the complaining officer is African-American or because the line prosecutor working the case is a woman. Either involves protected discretionary judgments. And the point of absolute immunity is that courts cannot look beneath the function and examine motive--if it is a prosecutorial decision (reviewing evidence, calling witnesses, pursuing cases), it is immune, even if the function is performed for no reason other than racial animus.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 17, 2018 at 01:41 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Alternative Facts from Court, the Anti-Vaccine Edition

In a very real sense, the anti-vaccine movement lives in an alternative reality. It’s a dark, frightening realitywhere there is a global conspiracy run by pharmaceutical companies that, apparently, controls most of the doctors, scientists, and health officials in the world, and every government. Where vaccines are poison and diseases are benign, and all that is bad in the world – or most of it – can be blamed on vaccines.

 

I want to use a recent FOIA stipulation to demonstrate how this is formed, how anti-vaccine  groups interpret reality to make it more sinister. This might also give some insight into the phenomenon of alternative facts more generally.

 

On July 9, 2018 a stipulation resolving a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case between an anti-vaccine group, Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), was filed. ICAN requested from HHS “reports transmitted to the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Labor and Human Resources of the Senate by the Secretary of HHS Pursuant to 42 U.S.C.  §300aa-27.” That section requires DHHS to work to improve vaccine safety and report on its efforts to the two congressional committees every two years.

 

The stipulation included DHHS’ statement that it conducted thorough searches and did not find any such documents. The natural implication is that such reports were never filed. Why they were never filed, I don’t know. It certainly may be a failure on the part of the DHHS – and on the part of the Congressional Committees that did not follow up – and the natural result would be for DHHS to start filing such reports. There may be more to it.

 

The interesting story is how the stipulation was described on anti-vaccine pages. To protect individual privacy and not shame private people, I will refer only to public pages and leading figures.

 

In a discussion of the case on an anti-vaccine web broadcast, anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – who was the lawyer signing the stipulation for ICAN - said: “what HHS has admitted here is that there is no scrutiny; there is no vigilance.And of course, the gravamen of their strategy has been to make sure that vaccines are never safety tested.” Kennedy did not quite say there are no studies, but he suggested there is no monitoring of safety.

 

The show includes a caption that says: Government concedes: There are no safety studies on vaccines...”

 

Del Bigtree No Safety Studies

 

 

In a discussion on a popular anti-vaccine page, the same heading was used: “HHS concedes no afety studies on vaccines.”

 

Many other anti-vaccine pages followed through. To give one example, the page Oregonians for Vaccine Choice said:

“[DHHS] DID NOT DO ONE SINGLE SAFETY STUDY IN THE LAST 30 YEARS OR AT LEAST THEY STATE THEY HAVE NO RECORD OF ANYTHING!!”

 

To be fair, a few sites have tried to pull back and be more accurate – The World Mercury Project, an anti-vaccine outfit created by, among others, Robert F. Kennedy – explained that this is about not filing reports. Though it did it in a post connecting to the inaccurate statements by Mr. Kennedy and the inaccurate caption I described above, so the nuance may be lost. Similarly, Oklahomans for Vaccine Choice, after initially saying HHS did not do one safety study, corrected it to saying they did not file reports. But the general message was “no safety studies!”

 

That is, of course, not what the FOIA request was about at all. It is also incorrect.

 

The CDC provides a useful central page with links to various collections of vaccines safety studies by itself and other parts of HHS. While not part of HHS, at HHS’s request the National Academy of Medicine – formerly the Institute of Medicine – created several reports on vaccines safety, reviewing abundant literature and synthesizing it. In 2014, the HHS commissioned another large report on vaccines safety by another group. There are several federal committees overseeing vaccines safety, and four monitoring systems looking at vaccines safety, all connected to HHS.

 

Saying HHS did not do safety studies or did not work on vaccines safety for 30 years is simply untrue, or, in today’s parlance, alternative facts. But this is how this simple, straightforward court decision has been read on anti-vaccine sites, and that is the message being distributed. Again, I do not want to shame or target individuals, including leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, so have limited this to public pages.

 

This is how fake news are born, even in the face of a simple three-page court document. It is likely, at least, to widen the gap between firm believers in the anti-vaccine reality and the rest of society that realizes this is untrue, creating even more mistrust. Whether it will go beyond that is unclear. It is relatively easily disproven, so it might actually help demonstrate how unreliable anti-vaccine claims generally are. We will have to see. 

Posted by Dorit Reiss on July 17, 2018 at 09:13 AM in Culture, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Colb on the presumption of innocence

This post by Sherry Colb is outstanding, helping to explain away a trap that I have fallen into in thinking about sexual-assault accusations, specifically acquaintance sexual assault.

Her explanation of presumption of innocence matches how I teach it in Evidence, as the assignment of the initial burden of production. The default conclusion is innocence, unless and until the party opposing innocence (the prosecution) introduces sufficient evidence of not innocent. And the competing stories of the victim and the defendant are two bits of evidence to be considered. Then, having carried that burden, the jury must be strongly convinced.

Colb is right that sexual assault is not the only type of so-called he-said/she-said; she gives the example of a mugging in which the evidence is competing testimony between the victim and the defendant's mother, but argues that we never would deride such a case as he-said/she-said. The difference is the underlying misogyny that Colb says permeates sexual-assault cases. Because that misogyny bad a particular evidentiary consequence--the allowance of evidence of victim character. We do not, and never have, allowed such evidence in the mugging case. And despite recent efforts such as rape-shield statutes, the use of such character evidence has not gone away.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 16, 2018 at 08:44 AM in Criminal Law, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (26)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

ACLU in the NYT (Updated)

I was traveling last week, so I was unable to read and comment on last week's New York Times Magazine feature on the ACLU. The story emphasizes two themes--its litigation against the Trump Administration across a range of issues and the way it has looked to the NRA's political and electoral strategies for guidance.*

[*] The headline on the article in the print edition was A.C.L.U. v. Trump. The headline in the online article was Can the A.C.L.U. Become the N.R.A. for the Left.

The article does not get into the controversy over the ACLU's First Amendment work, its role in Charlottesville, or the recent controversy over its policies on representing certain speakers in First Amendment cases. None of the political and litigation effects discussed in the piece involve the First Amendment. The article downplays the degree to which this reflects major changes to ACLU activities. It states this is "not the first time the A.C.L.U's mission has shifted," pointing to its birth in the 1920s to protect radicals and unionists and the slow discovery of the benefits of litigation in those efforts. But that was a shift in tactics, not a shift in mission. The print article describes the ACLU has having become a "rapid legal assault force against the Trump Administration." But the Administration's many sins have not involved limiting speech rights, so that role has required less work on free speech and more on immigration, due process, equal protection, and voting rights. All of which is important. But it is different than what the group has historically focused on.

Update: Marin Cogan in The New Republic explores how the ACLU's competing agendas and roles conflict in the Age of Trump. No mention of the Times Magazine story or of the representation guidelines, although it discusses the negative reaction by many affiliates to the organization's representation of Milo Yiannopoulos or the Charlottesville Nazis. Cogan offers an interesting conclusion--the NRA succeeded because of political polarization, in which certain issues (e.g., gun rights) are entirely associated with one political party. But resistance to sharp ideological boundaries is part of the ACLU's (First Amendment) DNA, so its continued desire to appear (and perhaps remain) non-partisan will frustrate and disappoint liberals hoping it will become the single organization to promote their interests.

I cannot tell if Cogan believes this is a good or bad thing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2018 at 07:28 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Two interesting civil rights puzzles (Updated)

No connection, other than being news stories while on a driving vacation.

1) A Cook County Parks District police officer resigned when video emerged of a drunk man harassing a woman renting a covered picnic area, while the officer watched and did nothing, despite requests from the woman. The drunk man, who was arrested when other officers arrived, was screaming about the woman not being American and should not have worn a Puerto Rico t-shirt in America.

The fun puzzle is imagining the woman's lawsuit against the officer (putting aside that she suffered minimal or nominal damages and a lawsuit may not be worth the candle). Under DeShaney, the officer cannot be liable under due process for failing to act to stop the drunk man or otherwise protect the woman. She would have to bring her claim either under equal protection, that the officer failed to act because she is Puerto Rican, or free speech, that the officer failed to act because he disagreed with the message on her t-shirt or, perhaps, because he agreed with and wanted to support the drunk man's anti-Puerto Rico speech directed against her.

Update: Erica Goldberg argues that much of what the drunk man did was pure speech, so the officer would have violated his First Amendment rights had he intervened sooner. I interpreted the video as being more in-your-face and threatening (and thus less purely protected expression), giving the officer leeway to step-in sooner than he did. But I see Erica's point that this can be read as obnoxious counter-speech.

2) Democratic-controlled states, anticipating overruling of Roe/Casey, are moving to update and enact protective abortion laws. Many progressive states still have on the books the restrictive abortion laws from the early 1970s that became unenforceable following Roe.

This shows the downstream effects of the reality of constitutional litigation. Roe declared invalid Texas' blanket ban and enjoined Texas from enforcing that law; it not remove the law from the Texas code. It also did not repeal the laws of any other state (nor did it enjoin other states from enforcing their laws, although most states declined to enforce, knowing they would lose when courts applied Roe. That's the idea of judicial departmentalism).

Those laws remained on the books, unenforced, a vestige of a past constitutional regime and a past policy position. States lack any incentive to go through their books and remove or update those laws, assuming that the past constitutional regime does not return and the laws remain unenforceable. Facing the return of that regime of no federal constitutional protection for terminating a pregnancy, meaning plenary legislative authority on the subject, states must legislate their preferred abortion policies. For states wanting to maintain liberal reproductive freedom, that means combing the books and eliminating old laws that no longer reflect current policies.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 13, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, July 09, 2018

Coase and Fireworks

493l4SRQTVOydKrgKSgSugIn my continuing effort to demonstrate what the mundane world looks like through the eyes of a nerdy law professor, today we will talk about Ronald Coase, recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics, and fireworks.

Before we had dogs, I liked fireworks, at least the professionally staged kind.  Up here in Charlevoix, Michigan, every year in late July the town has a week-long event called Venetian Festival.  The highlight on Friday night is a spectacular fireworks show out over the lake for which our deck is effectively a front row seat.  For the last seventeen years or so, however, I have not been out on the deck nor have I seen the fireworks.  No, I am back in a closet with the door closed, comforting our dog(s) who is/are going batshit crazy.

With the professionally staged fireworks, at least I know when to go into the closet and when I can come out.  It's the private ones that really drive me crazy.  In Massachusetts, where we live nine months of the year, I don't have worry.  Private fireworks are illegal, end of story.  

Here in Michigan, however, we have to deal with one aspect of the state legislature's Year of Living Stupidly.  In 2011, the same year it passed the law eliminating the requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets, Michigan first permitted the sale of fireworks in the state.  In 2013, it amended the law to permit local units of government to ban the use of consumer fireworks, but not on national holidays, the day before or the day after a national holiday.  (It also allows any city in the state with a population greater than 750,000 - there is only one - to ban them between midnight and 8 a.m. on such holidays, and only between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. on New Year's Day.)

The reasons for my sitting on the beach and, like a complete dork, reading Ronald Coase's The Problem of Social Cost follow the break. If he had the house next door, and had the same issues I do, what might he say about it?

Our local unit of government, the City of Charlevoix, and the surrounding Charlevoix Township each enacted ordinances banning the private use of consumer fireworks to the extent permitted by the Michigan statute.  Thus, for three of the days we are here during the summer (July 3-5), we have to deal with the possibility that some *)&(*^*^&$ is going to be responsible for random and unexpected fireworks activity that turns our dogs' brains into petroleum jelly and causes them to (a) howl madly, and (b) scurry around the house wildly under beds, couches, and other areas of perceived safety.  

The rest of the summer we can be fairly sure that our nearby neighbors won't be using consumer fireworks because of the local ordinance.  If they did out of a misunderstanding of the law, and they were to ignore our friendly suggestion that they obey the law, we would be within our rights to call out Charlevoix's Finest. Fullsizeoutput_de4

Here's the problem.  If you happened by my earlier discussion of riparian rights, you saw this Google Earth picture. It so happens that I took the above picture just about at the tip of the red arrow.  The city proper is largely to the left (west) of the tip of the arrow.  The township pretty much ends at the other end of the arrow.  Every thing else to the right, including that peninsula (known as Pine Point) that looks sort of like India, is in Hayes Township.  Hayes Township has never passed an ordinance banning fireworks.  So just after it gets dark, for much of the summer, we are treated to a fireworks display that carries very nicely, sound and otherwise, across the mile or so to our house.

Where our dogs, having dog-like senses of hearing and smell, proceed to have their brains turned into petroleum jelly and thereupon to (a) howl madly, and (b) scurry around the house wildly under beds, couches, and other areas of perceived safety.

Now, I know that the reason for all of this fireworks activity under the current legal regime is the result not of, as Coase might hypothesize, a railroad needing to run a railroad even if sparks cause crops to catch fire, or industries needing to burn fuel even if it causes air pollution nearby.  It is the product of market activity in which the total value of production exceeds the cost of such production, and consumer activity in which the utility engendered by playing with toys that make loud booms and bright flashes exceeds the cost of such activity, at least for those engaged in it.

The social cost occurs across the lake at my house, where I am contemplating the purchase of doggy Xanax.

The popular takeaway - the "Coase Theorem" - applied to my situation is this.  In a world of zero transaction costs, the total net social welfare of setting off fireworks, on one hand, and my distress in dealing with the dogs does not depend upon the initial allocation of rights.  Assuming that we valued noise and peace in the appropriate ranges, either the celebrants would pay me for the right to have the rockets' red glare or I would pay them to cease and desist. 

It works like this. Let's assume that the pricing system works costlessly and the only actors are A across the lake who wants to use fireworks and me.  The cost to me of insulating my house against fireworks noise is $100.  If the default rule is that the fireworks can't be used without my consent, and the value to A of his (and it's always a "he") activity is more than $100, then A ought to be willing to pay me up to $100 to shoot off fireworks (the cap being $100 because for that amount he can pay for the insulation of my house).  If there is no regulation against fireworks, and I value silence at more than $100, I ought to be willing to pay A up to $100 to have him stop.  In short, with a smooth and costless pricing system, you get the same result regardless of the initial legal entitlement. But, of course, the idealized world of zero transaction costs doesn't exist, and so even if the world only consisted of A and me, and the transaction costs of paying off A creates a total cost to me that exceeds the value of silence, I won't do it, even if without transaction costs it would have been the more efficient result.  And it's not just A and me.  It's many of the good citizens of Hayes Township and many of the good citizens of Charlevoix.

Is there a market solution to my problem?!!?  It turns out that Coase didn't articulate a theorem (or at least that wasn't his object in the article).  There were no helpful hints on how to articulate a default rule so as to minimize transaction costs with the aim of an optimal allocation of resources.  In fact, he never used the word "theorem" or the term "transaction costs."

I recommend Pierre Schlag's critique of the morphing of what Coase said in Social Cost into neo-classical law and economics.  At the beach the other day, I confirmed Pierre's statement that you can get the entire basis for what others now call the Coase Theorem by page 8 of Coase's original 1960 article and skip the remaining 36 pages (actually there's a piece of it at pages 15-16 as well).  Pierre's critique is not of Coase's article. His point was that the popular takeaways - mainly Chicago Law and Economics - have transformed Coase's point into something else entirely. It wasn't Coase who developed the L&E focus on using neo-classical economics to justify legal rules, or to focus on the reduction of transaction costs in pursuit of an idealized efficient solution.  Moreover, in a different piece, Pierre observed that the L&E approach to transaction costs itself is neither theoretically intelligible nor operationally applicable.

To the contrary, according to Schlag (and, by my reading of Coase, he is right), Coase had a far different goal in Social Cost. Coase wanted neo-classical economics to take account of the real world, in particular the effect of law and legal institutions on resource allocation.  Coase's main object was to criticize the prevailing acceptance among neo-classical economists of the idea of Pigouvian taxes.  He wanted to demonstrate the problem with Pigou's approach to externalities - namely, to impose taxes or bounties to the extent that the social cost of an activity exceeded the private cost to the actor.  

Coase was skeptical of Pigou's entire approach.  The bounties or taxes were likely to be overbroad.  Indeed, the focus on making an actor's private costs equal to the total social cost of the activity was misplaced.  In the foregoing example, suppose the social cost of fireworks noise is $200 to me.  Coase criticized the knee-jerk remedy merely of taxing the activity in the amount of $200, because it is possible, in an appropriately free market, that it would only cost $100 to achieve an optimal allocation of resources. In short, the appropriate way to judge externalities (Coase didn't use that term either) was to assess the total effect on social costs both for the actors and those affected by the actors and not simply to add costs to deter the unwanted activity.

But, wait. If the market is not going to work, am I out of luck?  I don't think so.

If Professor Coase lived next door and I were to walk over there and find him, like me, huddled in a closet with his batshit crazy dogs, I don't think, based at least on what he said in The Problem of Social Cost, that he'd rule out the idea of having government rather than the market decide how resources are to be allocated. Firms get organized when there are opportunities for value-enhancing transactions, but only under a scheme where less expensive intra-firm administrative costs substitute for higher costs of market transactions. And then there is the case of something like fireworks noise, "which may affect a vast number of people engaged in a wide variety of activities" and so "the administrative costs might well be so high as to make any attempt to deal with the problem within the confines of a single firm impossible.  An alternative solution is direct Government regulation."  Here, Coase observed that "[t]he government is, in a sense, a super-firm (but of a very special kind) since it is able to influence the use of factors of production by administrative decision."  Coase pointed out that the "government is able, if it wishes, to avoid the market altogether, which a firm can never do."

That is an interesting point up here along the lake. Yes, government regulation can be overbroad and inefficient. 

But equally there is no reason why, on occasion, such governmental administrative regulation should not lead to an improvement in economic efficiency. This would seem particularly likely when, as is normally the case with the smoke nuisance, a large number of people are involved and in which therefore the costs of handling the problem through the market or the firm may be high.

But you have to get down to cases and not deal in abstractions. Coase thought economists and policy-makers over-estimate the advantages of government regulation, but all that does is suggest that government regulation should be curtailed. "It does not tell us where the boundary line should be drawn. This, it seems to me, has to come from a detailed investigation of the actual results of handling the problem in different ways."  The problem even with local government regulation is that it doesn't fully account for all of the social costs, because the board of supervisors in Hayes Township has not enacted the same ordinances as Charlevoix and Charlevoix Township, and parts of Hayes Township are closer to my living room than parts of my own city.

So, here I am, 1,778 words into this blog post, and discovering that, if Ronald Coase were my neighbor, I might well get him to join me in an effort to get the county or maybe the state government to understand there is a social cost to fireworks.  Not everything needs to be dealt with in terms of markets.

In this article, the analysis has been confined, as is usual in this part of economics, to comparisons of the value of production, as measured by the market. But it is, of course, desirable that the choice between different social arrangements for the solution of economic problems should be carried out in broader terms than this and that the total effect of these arrangements in all spheres of life should be taken into account. As Frank H. Knight has so often emphasized, problems of welfare economics must ultimately dissolve into a study of aesthetics and morals.

I suspect he'd agreed with me that, for fireworks, as elsewhere, "[in] devising and choosing between social arrangements we should have regard for the total effect." We could gather up the dogs and all those suffering from PTSD and march on township hall to tell them just that.

Or maybe he would tell me that I had over-thought the issue and suggest reading more appropriate for the beach.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on July 9, 2018 at 09:54 AM in Deliberation and voices, Law and Politics, Legal Theory, Lipshaw, Property | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, July 06, 2018

How Susan Collins avoids being "disappointed" as abortion rights are eliminated

Kevin Drum predicts the Susan Collins path with respect to the confirmation of Justice Kennedy's successor (aka, the fifth vote to eliminate constitutional protection for a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy): Trump nominates a Justice certain to overrule Roe; Collins is convinced after an hour-long conversation that the nominee has "undying respect" for stare decisis; Collins declares herself satisfied and votes to confirm; eighteen month later, the Court overrules Roe; "Collins will announce that she’s disappointed." I have been saying much the same thing, which is why media coverage and interviews about Collins support for abortion rights are so mind-numbing, because it pretends that something other than what Drum says is a possibility.

But this piece by Leah Litman offers another way for Collins to avoid disappointment, by offering two paths by which the Court can eliminate the constitutional right to abortion without uttering the words "Roe is overruled." The first is by finding that the various state restrictions on abortion (short of an outright ban or criminalization) do not impose undue burdens and thus are subject only to rational scrutiny, which they survive. The second is by expanding the government interest in not "facilitating" abortion, which could be taken to its logical extreme that "allowing abortion under law facilitates abortion," so the state is justified in a ban. Either approach would eliminate abortion in many states and make the "right" impossible to exercise for many people, but without uttering the magic words.

And Collins will not be "disappointed." She can say, "well, the new justice did not overrule Roe, which is what I was concerned with." And she will not be smart enough (or care enough) to know what really happened.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 6, 2018 at 08:51 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Vaccines Mandates Win in Court


Thank you, Howard, for letting me contribute as a guest blogger this month. For the past five years, I have been involved in the vaccine wars.

Vaccines have tremendous benefits. In the United States, vaccines prevent tens of thousands of deaths and millions of hospitalizations each year. Their risks, while real, are very small. And yet, a misguided minority rejects vaccines, and in some communities, their numbers are disturbingly high. One place they made little headway in are courts - as this state example, mirroring the national jurisprudence, demonstrates.

In 2015, after a measles outbreak centered on Disneyland, California, in a contentious, high intensity legal process, passed Senate Bill 277 (SB277), a bill removing the personal belief exemption from California’s immunization law. SB277 became law on June 30, 2015 when Governor Jerry Brown signed it. Since California did not have a separate religious exemption, the effect of the law was to almost completely remove non-medical exemptions to California’s school immunization law. Unsurprisingly, opponents turned to the courts. After losing in three federal district courts and two state superior courts, two groups of plaintiffs appealed. On July 2, 2018, a California Court of Appeal released the first appellate decision upholding the law. This case was brought by eight plaintiffs seeking to send their children to school unvaccinated, represented by a lawyer who was openly anti-vaccine.

There is a large literature showing  that states with easier to get exemptions have lower vaccination rates and that higher rates of exemptions are associated with more outbreaks of preventable diseases. School immunization requirements work: they increase vaccine rates, and they reduce rates of outbreaks, sometimes completely eliminating them (other things that may lead to outbreaks even when vaccine rates are high. For example, we need a better pertussis vaccine. But even there, non-vaccinating increases the risk and makes things worse).

Opponents’ strongest arguments were that the mandate violated California’s constitutional right to education, violated the First Amendment’s freedom of religion guarantee, and impermissibly interfered with parental rights. Even these, as the Court of Appeals – correctly – pointed out, were not convincing.

The Freedom of Religion arguments runs into two related precedents - Employment Division v. Smith, under which generally applicable, neutral on their face laws do not have to provide religious exemptions, and Prince v. Massachusetts, which in a statement that is not part of the ruling but still persuasive found that religious freedoms do not exempt parents from vaccine requirements, because “[t]he right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”In a line of Federal Circuit courts mandates without religious exemptions were also upheld. There’s a question on how the recent religious freedom decisions by the Supreme Court will affect this jurisprudence, but that deserves a separate discussion (hint: right now, likely not at all, but it may be a warning for future).

Parental rights are not, and never have been, absolute. Even if they extend to the right not to vaccinate a child against a preventable, potentially fatal disease, they likely do not extend to a right to send that child to school unvaccinated and risk others.

I will address the right to education separately, but in short, the appellate court, following a previous federal district court decision, found that the leading case on the right to education in California – Serrano v. Priest– did not apply in this context, since it looked at a combination of the right to education and a suspect classification – wealth – and there was no such classification involved here. Even if strict scrutiny applied, the Court of Appeal said, the mandate would survive, since preventing diseases is a compelling interest and school mandates are the right means to serve it.

To repeat some of the language:

“…compulsory immunization has long been recognized as the gold standard for preventing the spread of contagious diseases. As is noted in the legislative history, studies have found that “when belief exemptions to vaccination guidelines are permitted, vaccination rates decrease,” and community immunity wanes if large numbers of children do not receive required vaccinations.”…. We agree with Whitlow’s conclusion: “The right of education, fundamental as it may be, is no more sacred than any of the other fundamental rights that have readily given way to a State’s interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens, and particularly, school children[.]”

 

Indeed.

At least in this area, so far, the courts stand solidly behind science and the public health.

Posted by Dorit Reiss on July 3, 2018 at 09:34 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (42)

Friday, June 29, 2018

(SCOTUS Term) Departmentalism and Kennedy's Hawaii concurrence

June guests Dan Epps and Leah Litman did a "Good Behaviour" edition of the First Mondays podcast to discuss Justice Kennedy's retirement (both clerked for Kennedy). They talked a bit about Kennedy's concurring opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, trying to make sense of it. Their discussion triggered a thought.

Judicial supremacy (to which Kennedy long has adhered) without judicial enforcement is incoherent. Kennedy argued that, even without judicial oversight, executive officials must "adhere to the Constitution and its meaning and its promise." It is an "urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs." But Trump  and his aides and officials believe they are adhering to the Constitution, as they interpret and understand it. Trump and his administration believe that the Constitution gives the President the broad discretion to enact and enforce the travel ban, because national-security concerns outweigh any disadvantages imposed on persons of a particular faith. And if the judiciary is unwilling to review the President's actions, that presidential interpretation becomes the last and controlling word on this piece of the Constitution.

So it must be that Kennedy was urging the President to adhere to the Constitution as the Court (or just Kennedy) understands it. But this is the key insight of judicial departmentalism--the other branches are bound by the judicial understanding of the Constitution only when that understanding is reduced to a binding judgment in an action to which the executive is a party. Or, short of a judgment, the executive prediction that he will be subject to a judgment unless he follows the judicial understanding. But when the judiciary decides that it cannot intervene, no judgment is possible, therefore the judiciary cannot impose its interpretation on the executive. And we return to the executive having the final constitutional word.

Kennedy was trying to have it both ways in his concurrence--no judicial involvement and so no judgment, but a push towards the judicial constitutional interpretation. But he cannot have it both ways. Either the judiciary gets involved or the judiciary's constitutional interpretation carries no weight.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2018 at 11:15 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Civility is the new unity

I criticized the demands last fall for "unity" in the face of various protests. The call for unity means speech that "divides"--which is to say all speech critical of the status quo or majority position--is divisive. And that is anathema to free speech.

The same can be said for recent calls for civility, to which Neil Buchanan responds at Dorf on Law, Vann Newkirk responds at The Atlantic, and Osita Nwanevu responds in Slate.  One problem is definitional. It is too easy too define criticism or protest, even measured criticism and protest, as uncivil. Another problem is New York Times v. Sullivan, "debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." That means debate and criticism of public official can, will, and should be uncivil, especially when it is the powerless attempting to be heard by the powerful who otherwise have no obligation or opportunity to listen or engage. A requirement of civility means a high-ranking public official can demand silence from those who serve her cheese or who stand near her in the restaurant, It effectively creates a right for public officials to be free from proximate speech that she deems unfriendly or uncomfortable--rather than averting her eyes or ears, she can demand civility, which means demanding silence.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 28, 2018 at 11:43 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (17)

(SCOTUS Term) Trying again with First Amendment retaliation

I wrote last week that the narrow and fact-specific decision in Lozman v. Riviera Beach reflected a vehicle failure--the Court wanted to consider the effect of probable cause on First Amendment retaliation claim, but took a case in which retaliatory intent rested with members of the city council, not the arresting officer. The Court on Thursday granted cert in Nieves v. Bartlett, a decision out of the Ninth Circuit (the court most willing to allow plaintiffs to show retaliatory intent even if there was probable cause) that squarely tees-up the issue without possible intervening factual issues.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 28, 2018 at 01:17 PM in 2018 End of Term, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

(SCOTUS Term) Janus

As I have said, the outcome in Janus was so over-determined, I am surprised it took this long to come out. It was decided--and everyone knew it was decided--on the night of November 8, 2016. I figured Alito and Kagan (who sparred in the two prior cases that set this up) had their respective decisions pre-written eighteen months ago.

My one take-away is that the opinion demonstrates why asking SCOTUS nominees about stare decisis is pointless. And so is looking at their decisions as lower-court judges. Stare decisis is too easy to pay lip-service to in a hearing and too malleable (to use the word that was all the rage in the opinion) to limit Justices determined to overrule precedent. And nothing that someone does as a  lower-court judge predicts what she will do when the only limits are prudence and rhetoric.

Kagan scores an important point by arguing that the only reason that Abood had become a First Amendment "outlier" was Knox and Harris, Alito decisions that included dicta attacking Abood that the majority then used to argue that Abood had been undermined. As Kagan wrote, "relying on them is bootstrapping—and mocking stare decisis. Don’t like a decision? Just throw some gratuitous criticisms into a couple of opinions and a few years later point to them as 'special justifications.'”

Time will tell if this decision hurts public-sector unions as much as advocates (and the dissenters) fear. I do not know labor law well enough to know. The majority says the union could charge nonmembers for representing them in arbitration or grievance procedures, although I do not know if that would be sufficient. Meanwhile, Aaron Tang offers a legislative solution to provide unions with sufficient resources (as have others). But Kagan is correct that there is now an enormous gap in the degree to which government can control employee expression when it comes to unions versus individual speech activities. It cannot compel non-members to pay for work-related speech (which the majority defines as being of public concern), but it can fire workers for making the same speech in and around the workplace. Kagan argues that this will prove to be a "unions-only" protection for government employees objecting to unions, who will otherwise find their at-work speech rights quite limited.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 27, 2018 at 01:24 PM in 2018 End of Term, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Enjoining family separation

A judge in the Southern District of California certified a Rule 23(b)(2) class of "[a]ll adult parents who enter the United States at or between designated ports of entry who (1) have been, are, or will be detained in immigration custody by the DHS, and (2) have a minor child who is or will be separated from them by DHS and detained in ORR custody, ORR foster care, or DHS custody, absent a determination that the parent is unfit or presents a danger to the child" and issuing a classwide preliminary injunction  prohibiting DHS from "detaining Class Members in DHS custody without and apart from their minor children," to release minor children from detention, and to take steps to reunite parents and children within 30 days. The court found that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on a substantive due process claim, as the zero-tolerance policies and their effects "shock the conscience.

The court followed appropriate procedures. It created a class that is a unique party to the case, then issuing an injunction that protects that party. This is not the sort of universal injunction Justice Thomas and others are criticizing, because it protects only parties and the parties are defined. The class is broad, but it is manageable and seems consistent with the nationwide class and classwide injunction allowed in Califano.

I would guess that the court (or the Ninth Circuit) is going to stay the injunction, at least the mandatory portions that give the government 30 days to release detained children.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 27, 2018 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

(SCOTUS Term) Preliminary Adjudication

Perhaps recognizing how many constitutional cases are coming to it on immediate interlocutory review of the grant or denial of preliminary injunctions, the Court has been couching its constitutional holdings in that preliminary posture. In NIFLA, the majority held that "petitioners are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the FACT Act violates the First Amendment." In Hawaii, the majority concluded that "plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim."

In both, the Court writes as if its constitutional decision was only for purposes of deciding whether to halt enforcement of the challenged law pendente lite. And in both the Court remands for further proceedings, seeming to suggest that this is not the final word on the constitutional validity of the challenged laws and that there may be further arguments to be made during further proceedings on remand.

This seems like something new. Significant constitutional cases have come to the Court on review of preliminary injunctions, at least where issued following a full and detailed hearing (if not a full "trial"). The Court's determination of constitutional invalidity, as part of the likelihood-of-success prong, was seen as the last word on the constitutional merits in that case, requiring only an after-notice conversion to a permanent injunction on remand. And maybe that is what the Court understands as further proceedings for these cases. But putting this in the language of the preliminary-injunction standard hints at a more interlocutory decision and the expectation that more detailed proceedings, including a full trial on the merits, may be required.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2018 at 06:05 PM in 2018 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)