Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Check it Out: Tang on How to Undo Janus

Check out Aaron Tang's piece on SSRN, How to Undo Janus: A User-Friendly Guide. In response to Janus, where the Court ruled that fair-share violated the First Amendment, Tang argues that "lawmakers can amend state law to permit government employers to reimburse unions for their bargaining-related expenses directly."

July 17, 2018 in First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Check it Out: Adler on Kavanaugh's Administrative Record

Check out Jonathan Adler's piece at the NYT, Will Kavanaugh Curb Sloppy White House Deregulation? Adler argues that Judge Kavanaugh "has expressed concerns about the Chevron doctrine," and "is not one to give [agencies] a pass." Still, Adler argues that "Judge Kavanaugh's concern about overbroad applications of Chevron should not be misinterpreted as hostility to regulation."

July 16, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trump Excepts ALJs from Competitive Hiring

President Trump issued an executive order earlier this week that created a new hiring process for administrative law judges, excepting them from competitive hiring rules and examinations and authorizing their appointments to the newly created "Schedule E" of the excepted service by department heads. (H/t to conlaw student Sahil Malhotra.)

The move abolishes the centralized process currently in place for the competitive selection of ALJs and places their appointments in department heads. The move has been criticized because it could politicize the appointments of ALJs, and thus politicize their work.

The EO says that the move is in response to the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Lucia. Recall that the Court held that SEC ALJs aren't mere employees, but instead are "officers" subject to the Appointments Clause. This means that they need to be appointed by the President or the department head (or the courts). It doesn't (necessarily) mean that they need to be excepted from competitive hiring altogether, though. Still, the EO appears to take the position that competitive hiring might be a violation of the Appointments Clause, and, for that reason, excepts ALJs from competitive hiring altogether. From the EO:

As evident from recent litigation, Lucia may also raise questions about the method of appointing ALJs, including whether competitive examination and competitive selection procedures are compatible with the discretion an agency head must possess under the Appointments Clause in selecting ALJs. Regardless of whether those procedures would violate the Appointments Clause as applied to certain ALJs, there are sound policy reasons to take steps to eliminate doubt regarding the constitutionality of the method of appointing officials who discharge such significant duties and exercise such significant discretion.

The EO applies Lucia to all ALJs across the Executive Branch, even though Lucia doesn't necessarily reach that far (which the EO itself recognizes). (Lucia was based on the roles and functions of SEC ALJs, which may be different than other agencies' ALJs.)

The EO doesn't apply to current ALJs. Under Lucia, some or all of these will require re-appointment by their agency head--again, depending on how similar they are to the SEC ALJs in Lucia (an question that agencies are currently working out). And notably the EO only changes ALJs' appointment, not their removal.

July 12, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Check it Out: Stone on How Senate Moderates Should Vote on Kavanaugh

Check out Geoff Stone's piece at The Huffington Post, It's Now Up To Senate Moderates To Save The Supreme Court.

If Trump's nominee is confirmed on an essentially party-line vote in the Senate, especially in the aftermath of Republicans' unprincipled refusal to confirm Merrick Garland in order to bring about precisely this situation, this will mark the end of even the pretense of a nonpartisan, nonpolitical Supreme Court. It will undermine the credibility and integrity of the court and its decisions for decades to come. . . .

So, what should the principled, moderate and wise Republican and Democratic members of the Senate to whom this essay is addressed do? They should refuse to confirm this nominee or any successor nominee unless a majority of both Republican and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee supports confirmation.

July 12, 2018 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Daily Reads: SCOTUS Nominee Kavanaugh's First Statement and Men's Interest in Abortion

There is obviously much to read and discuss regarding the President's nomination of D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh but two pieces from the Washington Post today stand out.

Brett-kavanaughFirst, Aaron Blake considers Kavanaugh's comment, made immediately after thanking the president for the nomination, “No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination." Banks characterizes this statement as "thoroughly strange and quite possibly bogus." As Banks notes, it is a "completely unprovable assertion — and one that would require a basically unheard-of level of research to substantiate," although perhaps it is also "difficult, if not impossible, to disprove."  It seems, Banks concludes, a "thoroughly inauspicious way to begin your application to the nation's highest court, where you will be deciding the merits of the country's most important legal and factual claims."

Second, law professor Nancy Leong in her op-ed argues essentially that men need to enter the conversation surrounding abortion in a more honest manner: "Mathematically speaking, millions of men have such [abortion] stories. The one-in-four women who have had an abortion did not get pregnant on their own." Leong references the amicus brief by women attorneys regarding abortions as an effective communication with (soon to be former) Justice Kennedy and implies that a similar brief by men is long overdue.  "For decades, men have benefited from the availability of safe and legal abortion. It’s time for men to start taking threats to reproductive freedom personally." 

 

 

July 10, 2018 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Daily Read: The Fourteenth Amendment (on its 150th Anniversary)

The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868. 

Here's the text:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

 

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[images National Archives via]

 

July 9, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, History, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Procedural Due Process, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 6, 2018

District Judge Enjoins FDA Health Warnings for Cigars on First Amendment Appeal

In a brief opinion in Cigar Association of America v. United States Food and Drug Administration, Judge Amit Mehta has enjoined the FDA's warning requirements regarding cigars under 21 CFR 1143.5, such as the statement "Cigar smoking can cause lung cancer and heart disease" pending appeal.

In a previous opinion in May, Judge Mehta had sustained the FDA rule against a First Amendment challenge (as well as other challenges), finding that "Because the warning statements are factual and uncontroversial disclosures aimed at informing the public about the risks of cigar and pipe tobacco use and at correcting the public’s misperceptions about such products’ use, and because the [FDA] Rule does not impose these requirements in an “unjustified or unduly burdensome” manner, the Rule is constitutional" under Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio (1985).

Nevertheless, Judge Mehta's conclusion regarding the "likelihood of success on the merits" prong of the preliminary injunction analysis was that the Cigar Association raised "serious legal questions going to the merits, such as

whether Defendants’ asserted governmental interest in imposing the health warnings regime is a substantial one; the precise burden the government bears under Zaudererto compel purely factual and uncontroversial government speech; and whether a disclosure of the size and appearance mandated by the warnings requirements is so “unduly burdensome” as to chill protected speech. These are difficult legal questions, and the D.C. Circuit might well disagree with this court’s resolution of them.

Most interestingly, however, Judge Mehta relies on the Supreme Court's June decision in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra holding California's FACT Act requiring of disclosures by "pregnancy crisis centers" violated the First Amendment. Judge Mehta states that Becerra "only adds to the substantiality of the issues Plaintiffs intend to raise on appeal," even as Judge Mehta writes

This court does not concur that Becerra requires an outcome different than the one the court reached— Becerradiffers from this case in multiple, material ways—but that disagreement does not diminish the merits of Plaintiffs’ motion. Becerra makes clear that Plaintiffs’ appeal raises serious legal questions.

Yet while an important aspect of the Court's opinion in Becerra as we discussed was that abortion was not "uncontroversial," it does seem as if the cigar association cannot make the same claim as to the links between tobacco and cancer. Or can they?

A case to watch as it goes to the D.C. Court of Appeals in the continuing saga of First Amendment challenges to government mandated warnings and disclosures by industries as in the 2014 DC Circuit en banc  American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture and panel opinions in National Association of Manufacturers v. SEC (conflict minerals) and  R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. FDA (cigarette labeling). 

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[image via

 

July 6, 2018 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

District Court (Mostly) Validates California's Sanctuary Jurisidiction Laws

Judge John A. Mendez (E.D. Cal.) yesterday granted part, but denied most, of the federal government's motion for a preliminary injunction against California's sanctuary-jurisdiction laws. The ruling is only preliminary--so goes only to the likelihood of success on the merits, and not the actual success on the merits--but it nevertheless signals the court's likely approach if and when it gets to the actual merits.

This is just the latest ruling where a state promoting a progressive immigration agenda draws on conservative-Court-created structural features of the constitution (here, federalism). In particular, Judge Mendez writes that Section 1373 (the federal prohibition on states prohibiting their officers from communicating with the feds about detained individuals in order to determine their immigration status) likely violates the Court-created anticommandeering principle in Printz and (just recently) Murphy.

The case, United States v. State of California, is the federal government's challenge to California's several sanctuary laws. Here they are, with the court's analysis, one at a time:

Assembly Bill 103's Direction for State AG Review of Detention Facilities. This provision directs the state attorney general to review and report on county, local, and private locked detention facilities used by the federal government to house detainees in civil immigration proceedings in the state. The court rejected the government's argument that this provision interfered with the federal government's exclusive authority in the area of immigration detention (and was thus preempted), because the provision amounted merely to funding an authority the state AG already had. "The Court finds no indication . . . that Congress intended for States to have no oversight over detention facilities operating within their borders. Indeed, the detention facility contracts [California] provided to the Court expressly contemplate compliance with state and local law."

Assembly Bill 405's Prohibition on Consent. This provision prohibits (on pain of fine) public and private employers from providing voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to enter nonpublic areas of a job-site or to access an employer's records on its employees. The court said that the consent prohibition violated intergovernmental immunity, because "[t]hese fines inflict a burden on those employers who acquiesce in a federal investigation but not on those who do not."

Assembly Bill 405's Notice Requirement. This provision requires employers to provide notice to their employees "of any inspections of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records conducted by an immigration agency within 72 hours of receiving notice of the inspection." The court said that this prohibition was likely valid: Federal immigration law "primarily imposes obligations and penalties on employers, not employees. . . . [T]he Court finds no indication--express or implied--that Congress intended for employees to be kept in the dark."

Assembly Bill 405's Reverification Requirement. This limits an employer's ability to reverify an employee's employment eligibility when not required by law. The court said that it likely "stand[s] as an obstacle" to federal immigration law and is thus preempted.

Senate Bill 54's Prohibition on State Law Enforcement Providing Immigration Information to the Feds. This provision prohibits state law enforcement from providing certain information to federal immigration officials relating to a detained person, except as required by federal law. The court wrote that Section 1373 (which prohibits states from prohibiting their officials from sharing this kind of information) likely violates the anticommandeering principle under Murphy (the Court's most recent foray into the principle, in the New Jersey sports-gambling case), because that case held that anticommandeering applies equally when Congress tells states what they may not do. But ultimately the court dodged the anticommandeering question by giving Section 1373 a narrow reading and recognizing that SB 54 contained an exception for complying with federal law--and thus holding that the two are not in conflict. The court went on to say that SB 54 also does not create an obstacle to federal enforcement, because it merely means that state officials don't cooperate with federal enforcement (and not that they actively stand in the way of federal immigration enforcement).

July 6, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Check it Out: The Deregulatory First Amendment

Check out the conversation at Take Care on the deregulatory First Amendment. Charlotte Garden and Nikolas Bowie have posted so far. Posts to come from Caroline Mala Corbin and Catherine Fisk.

July 5, 2018 in First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Declaration and the Constitution

We've posted several times over the years on the Declaration and its influence on constitutional interpretation; here are a few:

-Danielle Allen's Our Declaration

-Alexander Tsesis's For Liberty and Equality

-The Declaration in the OT 2010 Term

-The Declaration in Justice Kagan's nomination hearings

Happy 4th!

July 4, 2018 in History, Interpretation, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Check it Out: Blackman on Trump v. Hawaii

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Federal District Judge Enjoins Tennessee's Revocation of Drivers License for Failure to Pay Court Debt

In an opinion in Thomas v. Haslam, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, Aleta Trauger, has held unconstitutional Tennessee Code §40-24-105(b) which revokes the driver's license of any person who has failed to pay court debt for a year or more.

Judge Trauger had issued an extensive opinion in March, appended to the current opinion, detailing the issues, holding the plaintiffs presented a justiciable claim, certifying the class, and allowing for additional briefing on the summary judgment motions on the constitutional issues.

The constitutional challenge to the driver's license revocation is grounded in Griffin v. Illinois (1956) and its progeny, which, as Judge Trauger explained "implicates both Due Process and Equal Protection principles in ways that defy an easy application of the Court’s more general precedents involving either constitutional guarantee alone" and should not be subject to a "pigeonhole analysis" of either strict scrutiny or rational basis review. However, Judge Trauger ruled that under Sixth Circuit precedent, rational basis must be applied, "which asks only whether the challenged policy is rationally related to a legitimate government purpose." Yet in the context of distinctions based on indigence, this rational basis should be one of "extra care" if "a statute treats the rich better than the poor in a way that will affirmatively make the poor poorer."

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Judge Trauger reasoned that while the state has a legitimate interest in seeking to recoup court debt, revoking the driver's license of a person unable to pay the debt is not "effective." Moreover,

 the law is not merely ineffective; it is powerfully counterproductive. If a person has no resources to pay a debt, he cannot be threatened or cajoled into paying it; he may, however, become able to pay it in the future. But taking his driver’s license away sabotages that prospect. For one thing, the lack of a driver’s license substantially limits one’s ability to obtain and maintain employment. Even aside from the effect on employment, however, the inability to drive introduces new obstacles, risks, and costs to a wide array of life activities, as the former driver is forced into a daily ordeal of logistical triage to compensate for his inadequate transportation. In short, losing one’s driver’s license simultaneously makes the burdens of life more expensive and renders the prospect of amassing the resources needed to overcome those burdens more remote.

Thus, while a lenient standard, Judge Trauger held that the lack of an indigent exception in the driver's license revocation penalty for failure to pay court debt fails rational basis scrutiny

Additionally, Judge Trauger held that the Tennessee statute does not afford procedural due process and that a "driver facing revocation for nonpayment of court debt is entitled to a pre-revocation notice and determination related to his indigence," to be developed by the state.

While issuing an injunction against the statute's future enforcement, Judge Trauger ordered the state to "submit a plan, within 60 days, for lifting the revocations of drivers whose licenses were revoked under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(b) and providing an appropriate process for reinstatement."

Or, of course, Tennessee could appeal.

July 3, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Daily Read: SCOTUS Justice Retirements and Political Goals

 In a recently updated and forthcoming article, Do Justices Time Their Retirements Politically? An Empirical Analysis of the Timing and Outcomes of Supreme Court Retirements in the Modern Era, by Christine Kexel Chabot (pictured) of Loyola-Chicago, she set out to explore whether or not Justices timed their retirements for political effect. 

Christine_chabotWith Kennedy's announced retirement, her empirical research of past retirements is quite relevant. She concludes:

Justices’ political retirement goals have often turned out to be wishful thinking. Some Justices found that they were relatively far removed from ideologies of party leaders (and potential successors) by the time they retired, and Justices who timed their retirements politically had limited success in obtaining like-minded replacements.

A fascinating read.

July 2, 2018 in Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Judge Dismisses Complaint Seeking Access to Literacy by School Children

In his opinion in Gary B. v. Snyder, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed a complaint alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit.

After finding the plaintiff students had standing and that the complaint against Governor Snyder and other officials was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, Judge Snyder dismissed the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause claims.

On the Due Process Clause claim, Judge Snyder noted that the constitutional right at issue is framed as "access to literacy" which "speaks to an opportunity" rather than simply literacy which is an "outcome of education." Using this definition, Judge Snyder distinguished the complaint from landmark cases such as San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), rejecting "education" as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, applying the "standard" test to determine a fundamental right from Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) — "fundamental rights are only those 'objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed'"— even through the lens of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Judge Snyder reasoned that fundamental rights are generally only "negative rights."

Conceivably, a case like this one could be argued on either positive- or negative- right theories. As a positive right, access to literacy (i.e., a minimally adequate education) is so important that the state is compelled to provide it. As a negative right, access to literacy is so important that the state may not hinder Plaintiffs' attempts to secure it.  ***

But a violation of negative rights is not what the Complaint truly seems to argue. The Complaint explains, in great detail, that the instruction and resources in Plaintiffs' schools are inadequate.

  256px-Paul_Constant_Soyer_-_Little_Girl_Reading_-_Walters_371621Judge Snyder reasoned that the Supreme Court's understanding of a "fundamental right," requires finding that neither liberty nor justice would exist absent state-provided literacy access, which would be "difficult to square with the fact that '[t]here was no federal or state-run school system anywhere in the United States as late as 1830.'" Thus, for Judge Snyder, the "ordered liberty" prong is tantamount to historical roots:

School districts at the time of the Constitution's ratification were formed 'when a group of farms came together and decided to construct a public building for schooling, where their children could gather and be taught reading, writing, and moral codes of instruction.' [citation omitted]  The history evinces a deep American commitment to education, but runs counter to the notion that ordered society demands that a state provide one.

Thus, he concluded:

The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs' schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury—and so does society. But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy? Based on the foregoing analysis, the answer to the question is no.

Judge Murphy concluded that the Equal Protection Clause claim was similarly not founded. The court repeats that there is no fundamental right and further finds that there is no racial classification because there to be a "relevant comparator school" requires not only that the school in question have a different racial composition that the 97% African-American schools in Detroit but also that the school "experienced relevant state interventions" like the schools in Detroit. Thus, rational basis scrutiny applies at its most deferential — whether "there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification" — and the plaintiffs did not plead "specific decisions Defendants made concerning Plaintiffs' schools that could have been made differently" and were thus irrational.

The dismissal of the complaint makes it ripe for appeal.

[image: Paul-Constant Soyer, Little Girl Reading (1864) via]

 

July 2, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Case Shows What it Takes to Succeed on a Municipal Liability Failure-to-Train Claim

The Fifth Circuit last week declined to dismiss a case against the Houston School District for failure to train its employees on Fourth Amendment student-search standards. The ruling shows the kind of outrageous constitutional violation, coupled with a complete failure to train employees, that could give rise to an unusual and "fortunately rare" failure-to-train constitutional case against a municipal government. Plaintiffs in these cases face a high hurdle, but this challenge shows the facts and legal arguments that just might be able to jump it.

The case, Littell v. Houston Independent School District, arose when a school assistant principal took twenty-two sixth-grade girls to the school nurse for strip searches in order to find $50 that went missing during a choir class. The searches failed to turn up the cash. Two of the girls' mothers sued the District, arguing that its failure to train its employees on Fourth Amendment search standards violated their constitutional rights. "To be clear, the argument is not that the school district's written search policies are facially unconstitutional or that they caused the alleged constitutional violation by themselves. Rather, the 'official municipal policy' on which Plaintiffs attempt to hang Monell liability is the school district's alleged policy of providing no training whatsoever regarding its employees' legal duties not to conduct unreasonable searches." The district court dismissed the case, but the Fifth Circuit reversed.

The Court applied City of Canton v. Harris, the 1988 case setting the standard for failure-to-train cases against municipalities. As applicable here, the municipal government must have "fail[ed] to train its employees concerning a clear constitutional duty implicated in recurrent situations that a particular employee is certain to face." Here,

the school district . . . allegedly provides "no training whatsoever" as to how to conduct a lawful search. This straightforward factual allegation carries straightforward doctrinal consequences. . . . [W]e must credit Plaintiffs' factual allegations and proceed on the assumption that the school district has made the conscious choice to take no affirmative steps to instruct any of its employees on the constitutional rules governing student searches--even though at least some of those employees are regularly called upon to conduct such searches. In short, this case presents an alleged "complete failure to train" of the kind we have found actionable.

The court warned, however, that "in the thirty years since Canton issued, actual cases reaching those extremes have proved fortunately rare"--and that the plaintiffs still may face this uphill challenge on the merits.

July 2, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Clarifies: Nonfinal Decisionmaker Can Be Liable for Retaliation for Free Speech

The Fifth Circuit ruled last week in Sims v. City of Madisonville, that a nonfinal decisionmaker can be liable for a retaliatory discharge against an employee in violation of the First Amendment.

The ruling clarifies the law in the Fifth Circuit and aligns the court with all the other circuits to have addressed the issue. It also means that future nonfinal decisionmakers in the Fifth Circuit are now on notice (and the law is clear, for qualified immunity purposes): You may be liable for actions you take against employees in retaliation for their protected First Amendment speech.

The case involved a police officer's lawsuit against the city and another officer (but not the final decisionmaker) for retaliatory discharge in reprisal for his speech about the defendant-officer's official conduct. The defendant-officer sought qualified immunity.

In a somewhat unusual move, the court took up the first prong of the two-part qualified immunity test in order to get to its holding on the plaintiff's right. Qualified immunity shields an official from a constitutional tort unless (1) the official violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights and (2) the right was clearly established at the time. Because courts can address either prong  first, they often (or almost always) address the second prong first, and grant qualified immunity because a right wasn't clearly established. But this means that they don't get to the first prong--whether there was a constitutional violation in the first place. That leaves the law unsettled, which then invites qualified immunity on the second prong in future like cases. Or as the court said: "Continuing to resolve the question at the clearly established step means the law will never get established."

That's exactly what happened here. Fifth Circuit law took a detour on the issue after courts misread an earlier ruling. That led to confusion in the circuit about what the law was. And that, in turn, led to a string of dismissals on qualified immunity grounds because, well, the right wasn't clearly established.

So the court joined all the other circuits to have addressed the issue and ruled that nonfinal (mid-level) decisionmakers can be liable for retaliatory action, so long as their actions were a "causal link" in the retaliatory action.

As numerous courts of appeals have recognized, individual liability for a government official who violates constitutional rights, including First Amendment ones, turns on traditional tort principles of "but-for" causation. If an individual defendant's animus against a coworker's exercise of First Amendment rights is a link in the causal chain that leads to a plaintiff's firing, the individual may be liable even if she is not the final decisionmaker.

The ruling did nothing for the plaintiff in this case, though. That's because at the time of the action (before the court ruled in this case), the law was still unsettled in the circuit--there was no clearly established right--and so the court granted qualified immunity to the defendant under the second prong.

The court also rejected the plaintiff's due process claims.

July 2, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sixth Circuit Narrows Window for State Failure-to-Warn Claims Against Generic Manufacturers

The Sixth Circuit ruled last week in McDaniel v. Upsher-Smith Labs, Inc., that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act preempted a plaintiff's state failure-to-warn claims against a generic drug manufacturer for failure to include a Medication Guide with the prescription drugs.

The case narrows the already wee-bit window left open for plaintiff claims against generic manufacturers by the Supreme Court in PLIVA v. Mensing. That case held that the FDCA preempted state tort law that required manufacturers to use a stronger label. As the McDaniel majority explained:

In Mensing, patients who had taken generic metoclopramide and developed tardive dyskinesia sued the generic manufacturers for failing to update the warning labels to adequately advise of the medication's risks. They claimed that state tort law obligated these manufacturers to use a stronger label. But FDA regulations require sameness between the warning labels of a brand-name drug and its generic counterpart. The generic manufacturers were in a bind. If they strengthened the label to satisfy state law, they'd run afoul of their federal duty of sameness; if they retained the label to satisfy federal law, they'd fall short of their state-law duty to provide adequate labeling. Finding it impossible for the generic manufacturers to comply with state and federal law, the Supreme Court held that state law must give way and the tort claims were preempted.

Mensing left a narrow opening for plaintiffs' state failure-to-warn claims: They have to be based on conduct that violates the FDCA, but can't be a critical element of the claim. Chief Judge Cole explained in partial concurrence, partial dissent:

Implied preemption leaves open a narrow gap for state failure-to-warn claims against generic drug manufacturers that resides between its two forms--impossibility and obstacle preemption. The claim must be premised on conduct that violates the FDCA to avoid impossibility preemption. This is so because the FDCA requires a generic drug to have the same warnings as its brand-name counterpart (under the federal duty of sameness), so that simultaneous compliance with any state duty to supply different warnings would be impossible. At the same time, to avoid obstacle preemption, the violation of the FDCA cannot be "a critical element" of the claim [because the FDCA authorizes only the federal government, not individual plaintiffs, to enforce the FDCA].

Circuit law recognizes that a plaintiff can thread this needle: in Fulgenzi v. PLIVA, the court held that a plaintiff's failure-to-warn claim survived preemption, because the claim "relie[d] upon the adequacy of the warnings and the causation of her injuries," and not the "[f]ailure to update from one adequate warning to another." "On the merits, whether PLIVA ha[d] violated its federal duties [was] irrelevant to the adequacy of its warnings."

But the court distinguished Fulgenzi here: "But here, as explained above, adequacy of the warnings is not the issue. Rather, it is Upsher-Smith's alleged failure to ensure the amiodarone Medication Guide's availability for distribution--the failure to comply with a federal regulation that only the Federal Government may enforce--that is the ballast steadying McDaniel's claim." The court pointed to repeated references in McDaniel's complaint that the defendant failed to meet FDCA standards.

Chief Judge Cole argued that Fulgenzi applied:

McDaniel's Tennessee failure-to-warn claims are no different. In her complaint, she alleges that Upsher-Smith violated the federal duty of sameness by failing to provide warnings in the form of a medication guide. But she cannot be faulted for doing so [in order to avoid impossibility preemption, described above]. . . .

McDaniel's claims are premised on a violation of an independent Tennessee duty to warn, not federal law. "The alleged breach arises from the same act"--namely, the failure to provide a medication guide. Indeed, it must arise from the same act to avoid impossibility preemption. "[B]ut the legal basis is different." McDaniel's claims depend on whether the warnings provided were inadequate and proximately caused her late husband's death. Because the fact of a federal-law violation is not a necessary element of those claims, they are not subject to obstacle preemption . . . .

July 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Check it Out: Stern on Kennedy, Gerrymandering, and Redistricting Commissions

Check out Mark Joseph Stern's piece in Slate, Partisan Gerrymandering Is About to Get Much Worse. Stern writes that Justice Kennedy's retirement will mean more than just that the Court likely won't hear partisan gerrymandering challenges; it likely will reverse its OK of independent and other kinds of redistricting commissions:

If voters approve the independent redistricting commission [in Michigan's ballot initiative], Republican state legislators are almost certain to challenge it in court. And if their lawsuit reaches the Supreme Court, Roberts will have the opportunity to turn his 2015 dissent [in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission] into law. In the process, he could strike down not only Arizona's commission, but also California's, which similarly removes legislators from the business of redistricting.

Depending on how broadly the court rules, it could put other progressive electoral reforms on the chopping block as well. If the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures near-absolute control over redistricting, then bipartisan commissions could also be doomed.

July 1, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Check it Out: Liptak on Free Speech's Right Turn

Check out Adam Liptak's piece in The NYT, How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment.

The Roberts court does more than hear a larger proportion of cases concerning conservative expression. It is also far more likely than earlier courts to rule for conservative speech than for liberal speech.

The piece draws on Lee Epstein, Andrew D. Martin, and Kevin Quinn's 6+ Decades of Freedom of Expression in the U.S. Supreme Court.

July 1, 2018 in First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Ninth Circuit Boots Environmental Case Against Ex-Im Bank for Lack of Standing

The Ninth Circuit ruled this week that environmental non-profits lacked standing to sue Ex-Im Bank for its failure to follow statutorily prescribed procedures before authorizing loans to private corporations for two liquid natural gas projects near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The case is a cautionary tale for environmental groups (or others) suing for statutory procedural violations: Develop the record.

The ruling means that the case is dismissed.

The case, Center for Biological Diversity v. Export-Import Bank of the U.S., arose when Ex-Im Bank approved funding for two liquid natural gas projects near the Great Barrier Reef. Environmental organizations sued, arguing that Ex-Im Bank failed to consult as required by the Endangered Species Act and failed to take into account environmental impacts as required by the National Historical Preservation Act.

The Ninth Circuit dismissed the case for lack of standing. The court said that the plaintiffs didn't sufficiently connect the Bank's procedural failures to the harm to the Reef, especially given that the projects had begun by the time the Bank provided funding, and therefore failed to show causation and redressability. For one, the plaintiffs couldn't show "what action could be taken by the Ex-Im Bank to alter the course of the Projects, if the Bank were to perform the procedures" under the Acts. For another, the plaintiffs "have not established that the Ex-Im Bank was a necessary party without whom the Projects would not have been realized." Both problems resulted from the plaintiffs' failure to develop the record--the funding contracts themselves (to show what Ex-Im might do if the procedures were followed) and evidence of alternative project funding (to show the significance of Ex-Im's loans on the projects).

At the same time, the court held that the case was not moot. That's because the record didn't show whether Ex-Im continued to have some leverage over the borrowers, even though the project is now complete and at least some of the loans are fully repaid.

June 30, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)