Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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."
Monday, July 16, 2018
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."
Thursday, July 12, 2018
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.
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.
Friday, July 6, 2018
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).
Thursday, July 5, 2018
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
We've posted several times over the years on the Declaration and its influence on constitutional interpretation; here are a few:
Monday, July 2, 2018
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.
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.
Sunday, July 1, 2018
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 . . . .
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.
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.
Saturday, June 30, 2018
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.
Check out Victoria Nourse's American Constitution Society Issue Brief on The Special Counsel, Morrison v. Olson, and the Dangerous Implications of the Unitary Executive Theory.
The unitary executive theory is dangerous. . . . Once taken from the law journals and legal societies and handed to political agents, [it] appears to grant presidents license to dismiss the law, all based on a lonely dissent.
With all the musings about what the post-Kennedy Court will do, Garrett Epps argues at The Atlantic that we already know--because we already have it.
In the 2016-2017 term, conservatives won 33 percent of . . . ideological casts. Between 2005 and 2016, the highest "conservative victory" percentage was 73 percent.
In 2017-2018, the "conservative victory" percentage was 100 percent.
The only times the four liberals picked off a win was in the "mixed cases," in which they won over a justice like Chief Justice Roberts rather than "swing vote" Kennedy. In other words, the tilt to the right has already occurred. And that tilt coincides with a fundamental, historic, and irreversible change in the court itself and its role in American life.
Friday, June 29, 2018
Judge T.S. Ellis III (E.D. Va.) earlier this week rejected a motion by Paul Manafort to dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller's superseding indictment for bank fraud and tax charges.
Recall that Judge Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) earlier rejected a similar move by Manafort. The D.C. court's earlier ruling came in Manafort's civil challenge to Mueller's authority. In contrast, Judge Ellis's ruling this week came as a defense in Manafort's criminal case.
Judge Ellis ruled that the superseding indictment fell squarely within DOJ special-counsel regulations and Rod Rosenstein's memo authorizing Mueller's investigation and prosecution.
Judge Ellis also ruled that Mueller's appointment was valid, and that he had legal authority to issue the indictment. (This analysis came in response to Manafort's argument that Manafort had standing to challenge Mueller's indictment, notwithstanding the fact that DOJ regs specifically do not "create any rights . . . by any person . . . in any matter, civil, criminal, or administrative," based on the theory that Mueller lacks legal authority.)
The Special Counsel's legal authority is not grounded in the procedural regulations at issue here, but in the Constitution and in the statutes that vest the authority to conduct criminal litigation in the Attorney General and authorize the Attorney General to delegate these functions when necessary. And because the Special Counsel was appointed in a manner consistent with both these sources of legal authority, there is no basis for dismissal of the Superseding Indictment.
Along the way, Judge Ellis gave something of a (often highly critical) tutorial in the constitutional issues--Appointments Clause and separation of powers--involved in independent counsel and special counsel authorities, offering some scathing comments about the design of the special counsel office (though not about Mueller in particular). Here's just a flavor:
The Constitution's system of checks and balances, reflected to some extent in the regulations at issue, are designed to ensure that no single individual or branch of government has plenary or absolute power. The appointment of special prosecutors has the potential to disrupt these checks and balances, and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into the investigation of matters of public importance. This case is a reminder that ultimately, our system of checks and balances and limitations on each branch's powers, although exquisitely designed, ultimately works only if people of virtue, sensitivity, and courage, not affected by the winds of public opinion, choose to work within the confines of the Law. Let us hope that the people in charge of this prosecution, including the Special Counsel and the Assistant Attorney General, are such people. Although this case will continue, those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions.
Check out Prof. Lawrence Rosenthal's (Chapman) piece, An Empirical Inquiry into the Use of Originalism: Fourth Amendment Jurisprudence During the Career of Justice Scalia. Rosenthal finds
that originalism played a small role in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence during the study period . . . . Despite Justice Scalia's professed commitment to originalism, he voted on originalist grounds in only 18.63% of cases. The Court's other professed originalist, Justice Clarence Thomas, voted on originalist grounds in only 15.71% of cases. . . . Voting patterns were not markedly different for justices who do not profess fealty to originalism.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
The Seventh Circuit earlier this week narrowed the nationwide injunction against AG Sessions's crackdown on Chicago's sanctuary-cities practices so that it now only applies "as to the imposition of the conditions on the City of Chicago," and not the "geographic areas in the United States beyond the City of Chicago pending the disposition of the case by the en banc court."
The ruling means that the injunction now applies only to Chicago, and not nationwide.
The ruling gave no reasons for restricting the injunction. Recall that on Tuesday, in the travel ban case, the Court declined to address the issue of whether a lower court can issue a nationwide injunction. (It didn't have to rule on this, because it upheld the travel ban.)
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Senate would move quickly to confirm President Trump's pick, while Senator Schumer said that it was the "height of hypocrisy" for McConnell to schedule a vote before the November elections, given that McConnell held up Judge Garland's nomination to replace Justice Scalia in order to allow "the people to decide" in the 2016 presidential election. (Remember that both the President and the Senate have a role in placing a person on the Court, and the fall elections obviously include a third of the Senate.)
Here's the White House short-list of possible replacements.