Monday, February 22, 2016

Court Denies Stay in North Carolina Districting Case

The Supreme Court on Friday denied a stay of a three-judge district court order requiring North Carolina to redraw two congressional districts because they violated equal protection.

The brief denial (without opinion) came after the state developed a new districting plan--which wouldn't have gone into effect if the Court granted a stay, but which will now go into effect for the state's primaries.

Recall that the lower court ruled that North Carolina impermissibly used race to draw the districts, by packing black voters into these two districts. The court rejected the state's claim that it used race in one of the districts to comply with preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. The court said that even assuming (without deciding) that compliance with the VRA is a compelling government interest, the state failed to show that its use of race was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

February 22, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Loyola's Colloquium 2016

Loyola University Chicago just announced the dates for its very popular--and very good--annual Constitutional Law Colloquium: November 4 and 5, 2016. Mark your calendars! Click here for more info.

February 22, 2016 in Conferences, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Symposium: Does Quebec Need a Written Constitution?

Check out this symposium on March 31, 2016, at Yale:  Does Quebec Need a Written Constitution? Organizers have assembled a terrific line-up, with a key-note by Jean Charest, 29th Premier of Quebec (2003-2012).

February 18, 2016 in Conferences, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Abbott's Case Against the CFPB

Check this out: Alden Abbott outlines the case against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over at Heritage.

The CFPB, an independent regulatory agency created under Dodd-Frank that's charged with doing just what its name says, has been subject to a non-stop barrage of attacks from the right ever since its creation--for policy reasons, and for violations of separation of powers. Abbott summarizes the latter, drawing on Free Enterprise Fund:

The Free Enterprise Fund case strongly indicates that the CFPB's degree of independence goes beyond constitutionally acceptable norms.

First, the CFPB is more than one level removed from presidential oversight. Its director is independent from management supervision by the institution within which the bureau sits--the Federal Reserve System--and the Federal Reserve System is independent from presidential control.

Second, the bureau's independence from congressional appropriations or budgetary review prevents Congress from exercising its key means of oversight: the power of the purse.

Taken as a whole, these features grant the bureau greater autonomy than is allowed to any regulatory institution whose structure has been reviewed by the Court.

But neither feature of the CFPB is problematic. As to supervisory independence, Abbott's claim is simply wrong, on his own terms. He earlier says, correctly, that the head of the CFPB serves for five years, and can be removed by the President for cause. This isn't the kind of double-insulation that the Court found offensive in Free Enterprise Fund; instead, it's a direct line of accountability to the President that the Court has long approved. It doesn't matter that the CFPB sits within the Federal Reserve System, because the head of the CFPB answers to the President.

As to financial independence, it's hardly novel for an agency to self-fund outside the regular appropriations process, through fees or fines. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service says (correctly) that CFPB's funding--which comes from the Fed's combined earnings (and not regular appropriations)--"give the Bureau less flexibility than the OCC, FDIC, and other banking regulators that are able to increase assessments on the institutions within their jurisdiction to raise revenue, as needed to carry out their responsibilities." And Congress still has oversight: the CFPB reports regularly and is subject to audits by the Comptroller General, and the director must testify at least twice a year before Congress.

We'll continue to see challenges to the CFPB in the courts. But unless the Court changes its approach to independent agencies, or unless Congress changes things, don't expect the CFPB to go away.

 

February 18, 2016 in News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Morley on Injunctive Relief in Election, Voting, and Constitutional Cases

Check out Prof. Michael T. Morley's (Barry) just-posted and timely piece, De Facto Class Actions? Injunctive Relief in Election Law, Voting Rights, and Constitutional Cases.

Morley provides a framework for courts deciding whether to award plaintiff-oriented injunction (limited to the plaintiff in the case) or defendant oriented injunction (applying more broadly, to the defendant's actions anywhere) in these kinds of cases:

First the court should assess whether granting the requested relief solely to the individual plaintiffs would create unconstitutional disparities concerning fundamental rights in violation of Equal Protection principles, although this seldom, if ever, should be the case. Second, after confirming that limiting relief solely to the individual plaintiffs would be constitutional, the court should then determine whether such a Plaintiff-Oriented Injunction would be proper under the challenged statute or regulation itself by applying traditional severability principles. If the challenged provision can be applied coherently, and the entity that enacted the provision still would have intended for it to be enforced, even with the plaintiffs excluded from its scope, then a Plaintiff-Oriented injunction would be the proper remedy. Otherwise, a Defendant-Oriented Injunction is required.

February 16, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Union Fair Share Fees Probably Spared, For Now

One of the more significant implications of a now (likely) equally divided Supreme Court is that public-sector-union fair-share requirements will almost surely stay on the books. That's because a 4-4 tie will affirm the lower court's ruling upholding the requirements, without setting a precedent, or because the Court could hold the case over until next Term, maintaining the status quo. Either way, California's fair-share requirement, and Abood (and other state fair-share requirements) will stay on the books--unless and until a new Justice, hostile to fair share, is appointed.

The Court heard oral arguments in the First Amendment challenge to California's public-sector fair-share requirement, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, last month. And the arguments confirmed predictions going in--that the Court was almost certain to strike fair-share requirements by a 5-4 vote, along conventional ideological lines.

But with Justice Scalia's death, and without a replacement, the Court will almost surely split 4-4. That will leave the Ninth Circuit ruling in place, upholding the fair-share requirement, and leaving Abood on the books.

Alternatively, the Court might hold the case over until next Term. If so, California's requirement will stay in place, and Abood will stay on the books--unless a Justice hostile to the requirement is appointed in the meantime.

All this means that public-sector fair-share is spared for now. And if a new Justice sides with the progressives, it may be spared for a while longer.

February 16, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Three-Judge Court Orders North Carolina to Redraw Districts

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Steven D. Schwinn,  John Marshall Law School

A three-judge federal district court last week ruled in Harris v. McCrory that two of North Carolina's congressional districts violated equal protection, because the state impermissibly used race as a predominant factor in drawing them.

The state claimed that it used race in one of the districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the court rejected that claim, saying that even if compliance with the VRA is a compelling government interest, the state failed to demonstrate that it used race in a narrowly tailored way.

The court ordered the state to redraw the districts quickly, within two weeks, although the state has already asked the Supreme Court for a stay pending appeal.

North Carolina is notorious for its shenanigans with elections and voting. Recall that the state moved quickly to tighten voting requirements after the Supreme Court in Shelby County released it and other covered jurisdictions from the preclearance requirement in Section 5 of the VRA.

The case raises an important question, yet unanswered by the Supreme Court (but assumed for the purpose of further analysis in its cases), whether compliance with the Voting Rights Act (avoiding Section 2 liability, and avoiding the Section 5 non-retrogression rule in previously covered jurisdictions) can be a compelling government interest that could justify race-based redistricting. If so, the problem, addressed last Term in Alabama State Legislature, is that a state might then use race to pack black voters into districts in a way that dilutes their influence in other districts. The Supreme Court in Alabama gave four principles for courts to use in evaluating these kinds of claims (and remanded that case for further proceedings), but it didn't categorically answer the question whether and when states might use race to comply with the VRA (even if only putatively).

The case challenges North Carolina Congressional Districts 1 and 12. These were not majority-minority districts (majority-Black Voting Age Population, or "BVAP," districts) going into the 2010 census, but "African-American preferred candidates easily and repeatedly won reelection under those plans."

After the 2010 census, legislators engaged Dr. Thomas Hofeller, who served as redistricting coordinator for the Republican National Committee for the 1990, 2000, and 2010 redistricting cycles, to design and draw the 2011 Congressional Redistricting Plan. On instructions from legislators (which, they said, were based on VRA concerns), the 2011 plan increased the percentage of the BVAP in districts 1 and 2 so that they became majority-minority districts. DOJ precleared the plan, in the days before Shelby County, when preclearance was still a thing.

A prior state supreme court ruling held that race was the predominant factor in drawing CD 1, but that the state had a compelling government interest in using race to draw CD 1 to comply with the VRA. It also held that race was not a factor in drawing CD 12. The state high court thus found no violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Plaintiffs in this federal case argued that the state used compliance with Section 5 as a pretext for packing black voters into CDs 1 and 12 in order to reduce those voters' influence in other districts.

The court ruled that "plaintiffs have presented dispositive direct and circumstantial evidence that the legislature assigned race a priority over all other districting factors in both CD 1 and CD 12." The court went on to say that even if compliance with the VRA is a compelling government interest for CD 1 (a point the court assumed, without deciding), the legislature's use of race in drawing the districts was not narrowly tailored to meet that interest: "Evidence of narrow tailoring in this case is practically nonexistent." (The state didn't give a compelling government interest or argue narrow-tailoring for CD 12.)

The next word on the case will come from the Supreme Court, which should rule soon whether to the stay the three-judge court's ruling pending North Carolina's appeal.

February 11, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wadhia on Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration

Check out the ACSBlog, where Prof. Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia (Penn State) writes about her new book, Beyond Deportation: The Role of Prosecutorial Direscretion in Immigration Cases. With the Court's review of DAPA looming, Prof. Wadhia writes, "As law students and scholars grapple with the wave of headlines or latest litigation question faced by the courts on the question of prosecutorial discretion, my hope is that they gain a better understanding of the historical role of and legal foundation for prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases and the extent to which compassion has served as the foundation for how such decisions are made."

 

February 10, 2016 in Executive Authority, News, Scholarship, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fourth Circuit Applies Strict Scrutiny to Maryland Assault Weapon Ban

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

A sharply divided panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled this week that Maryland's assault-weapon ban is subject to the most stringent constitutional test, strict scrutiny. The ruling all but ensures that the ban will fall when the Second Amendment challenge, Kolbe v. Hogan, goes back to the district court on remand.

The ruling is a dramatic split from similar rulings in other circuits. The D.C. Circuit and the Second Circuit both applied intermediate scrutiny to similar bans; the Seventh Circuit applied its own test (distinct from a traditional tier of review), and the Supreme Court declined to review that ruling just this past December.

Given this trend, the Fourth Circuit's ruling is a little more than surprising. But the majority said that Maryland's flat ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines cut to the core of the Second Amendment (self-defense within the home) and left no room for possession of these kinds of weapons. That was enough to justify strict scrutiny, said the majority.

The dissent, in contrast, noted that Heller itself left room for this kind of regulation, and that sister circuits have applied a lower level of scrutiny.

The ruling is not final: the panel sent the case back to the district court for application of the strict scrutiny standard. Still, this all but guarantees that the courts will strike the ban, handing a significant victory to gun-rights advocates, dealing a blow to advocates of gun regulations, and throwing a wrench into the jurisprudence on assault-weapon bans in the circuits.

 

February 6, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Arizona Governor Seeks a Split from the Ninth

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Senator Jeff Flake, and Representative Matt Salmon last week called for removal of Arizona from the Ninth Circuit.

Why? Because it's the most "overturned and overburdened court in the country," according to their statement.

(Governor Ducey wrote to Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell late last year with a similar call.)

Matt Ford over at The Atlantic gives some more history and context, and notes that "the state's continuous record of defeat [at the Ninth Circuit] couldn't have been far from their minds."

February 5, 2016 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Judge, Clerk Immune From Damages for Ordering Jail Time to Pay Off Court Fines

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Sixth Circuit ruled today that a state-court judge and clerk were immune from a suit for monetary damages for jailing plaintiffs for failure to pay their fines and court costs for low-level misdemeanors.

The case, Ward v. City of Norwalk, arose when Norwalk Municipal Court Judge John Ridge issued bench warrants for the plaintiffs' arrests for failing to pay their fines and court costs. (Ohio law authorizes this and sets a $50 per day rate.) Judge Ridge directed Clerk Pamela Boss to issue the warrants; Boss complied; and the plaintiffs were arrested and served time.

The plaintiffs sued for monetary damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief on a couple theories under 1983. (They also sued under state law claims, not at issue on appeal.) The court dismissed all but one--the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief, and that probably will go away on remand.

The court held that the Eleventh Amendment barred the plaintiffs' suit for monetary damages against Judge Ridge and Clerk Boss, because they're employees of the Municipal Court, a state agency. (The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that municipal corporations within the Municipal Court's jurisdiction are responsible for monetary damages, and so the court is identical to a municipality and not an arm of the state.) The court held that Judge Ridge and Clerk Boss enjoyed judicial immunity against claims against them in their official capacity.

As to injunctive and declaratory relief: the court pointed to the plain language of 1983, which requires the plaintiffs to show that a judicial officer violated a declaratory decree, or that declaratory relief was unavailable, before getting an injunction. The court thus dismissed the plaintiffs' request for an injunction. But it recognized that the plaintiffs' claim for declaratory relief could go on under Ex Parte Young, so it remanded to the district court to determine whether abstention, Rooker-Feldman, or the mootness doctrine barred the case from proceeding.

February 3, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Eleventh Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

No Standing to Challenge Inoperative Sewer Lines

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

A divided panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled today that a county lacks standing to challenge the construction by another municipality of a sewer line, because the new line didn't compete with the old one, as prohibited by federal law.

The case involves an obscure federal statute, 7 U.S.C. Sec. 1926(b), that says that any sewer provider that owes money to the U.S. Department of Agriculture is protected from competition with other sewer providers. Trumbull County, as it turns out, owes money to the Department for its sewer lines, and so is protected from competition under the statute. And when the Village of Lordstown constructed sewer lines that could serve GM's Lordstown plant and a neighboring trailer park, in competition with the County's sewer lines, the County sued.

But there was one problem: Lordstown's lines aren't (yet) operative.

The lower court ruled against the County on the merits, concluding that Lordstown's lines didn't compete, because they weren't operative.

The Sixth Circuit went in a different direction, and said that the County lacked standing--because it couldn't allege an injury (competition) under the statute.

Judge Rogers said the whole thing stinks. He dissented, writing that "[i]f a neighbor increases the risk to your property, e.g., by removing a floodwall, you have standing to challenge the removal, even if the flood is not impending and indeed may never occur." So too here: "The plaintiff by winning would obtain insurance against a costly albeit uncertain hit to its tax base, the very possibility of which would at some level immediately reduce confidence in the long-term financial health of the county."

February 2, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Plaintiffs' Standing Means that EPA will Issue Financial Assurance Regs

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in In Re: Idaho Conservation League that environmental organizations had standing to challenge EPA's failure to issue financial assurance regulations under CERCLA, and that the court could therefore grant the parties' joint motion for an order establishing an agreed upon schedule for rulemaking.

The upshot is that the court now approved the parties' agreement that the EPA will commence rulemaking to issue financial assurance regulations for the hardrock mining industry, and that the agency will consider whether other industries should be involved with financial assurance rulemaking.

The standing part of the ruling hinges on financial incentives: The plaintiffs had standing not because new regs would certainly redress their injuries, but because they created a financial incentive to.

The case involves a CERLCA requirement that EPA issue "financial assurance" regulations--so that entities potentially responsible for the release of hazardous substances can put aside funding, or demonstrate that funding is available, for cleanup. But despite the statutory requirement, EPA never got around to issuing the regs.

Enter the plaintiff environmental organizations. They sued, seeking a court order to force EPA to commence rulemaking. After oral argument, the parties agreed on a schedule for rulemaking for the hardrock mining industry, and a timetable for EPA to determine whether to engage in financial assurance rulemaking for any of three other industries under consideration.

But the court had to satisfy itself that it had jurisdiction before it would sign off. In particular, the court said it had to determine if at least one of the plaintiffs had standing.

The court said at least one did. The court said that at least one of the plaintiff organizations had at least one member who suffered harm, because the member was affected by hazardous releases from hardrocking mining. The court went on to say that EPA's financial assurances regs would redress that harm, because the regs would create a financial incentive to decrease pollution. Here's the court:

With respect to mitigating ongoing hazardous releases, the lack of financial assurance requirements causes mine operators to release more hazardous substances than they might if such financial assurance requirements were in place. . . . . In view of [mine operators' common practice of dodging cleanup costs by declaring bankruptcy and sheltering assets], financial assurances would strengthen hardrock mining operators' incentives to minimize ongoing hazardous releases. By making it more difficult for mine operators to avoid paying for the cleanup of their hazardous releases, basic economic self-interest means the operator will take cost-effective steps to minimize hazardous releases in order to minimize their environmental liabilities.

According to the court, it "has long relied on such economic and other incentives to find standing," and "[t]his incentives-based theory of standing is further supported by congressional and agency assessments." This is so, said the court, even though hardrock mining is already subject to some financial assurance requirements. That's because the new regs will fill the gaps in protection.

The court said that the regs would also expedite cleanup efforts, thus reducing the time that plaintiffs are exposed to hazards.

The ruling gives the force of a federal court order to the parties' agreement that EPA will commence rulemaking on financial assurances for hardrock mining, and will consider adding other industries.

 

January 29, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Park Service Inauguration Regs Don't Violate Free Speech

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Steven D. Schwinn,  John Marshall Law School

Judge Paul Friedman (D.D.C.) ruled today in ANSWER v. Jewell that the National Park Service regs setting aside a portion of the Presidential inauguration route for the inauguration committee and banning sign supports do not violate free speech.

The case challenged NPS regulations that set aside 18% of the sidewalk and park space along the inauguration parade route for the Presidential Inauguration Committee, a private, non-profit that represents the interests of the President-Elect, and requires other groups that wish to protest or speak to get a permit. Judge Friedman upheld the regulation against a First Amendment challenge, ruling that the PIC was government speech (under the factors in Walker v. Texas and Pleasant Grove City v. Summum), that the set-aside for PIC therefore did not constitute viewpoint-based discrimination against other groups that wished to speak against PIC's message, and that the set-aside and permit requirement were content neutral and otherwise satisfied the test for speech in a public forum.

Judge Friedman also ruled that the ban on sign-supports was content-neutral and satisfied the public forum test. (The government's interests were safety--sign-supports could be used as a weapon--and marshaling parade viewers through security checkpoints quickly and efficiently.) Judge Friedman noted that this ruling conflicted with the Ninth Circuit in Edwards v. Coeur d'Alene, however: the Ninth Circuit said in that case that a ban on sign-supports failed to leave open ample alternative channels of communication, because "there is no other effective and economical way for an individual to communicate his or her message to a broad audience during a parade or public assembly than to attach a handle to his sign to hoist it in their air."

The plaintiff in the case, the anti-war and anti-racism group ANSWER, may have inadvertently contributed to the result: Judge Friedman wrote at several points in the opinion that ANSWER had touted its previous protests, under similar restrictions, as successful--apparently demonstrating that ANSWER can get its message out effectively (that it has ample alternative channels for communication) even with the NPS regs.

January 28, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Election Integrity Measures, with a Pro-Voter Bent

Check out Myrna Perez's (Brennan Center) report Election Integrity: A Pro-Voter Agenda, arguing for sensible election regulations that both protect integrity and make it easy to vote.

January 26, 2016 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Constitutionality of (Western) Federal Lands

William Perry Pendley, writing at the National Review, sets out the constitutional case against federal land ownership in the West.

He writes that "[t]he Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold," and that "[p]lacement of the Property Clause in Article IV demonstrates the Founder's intention to not provide Congress with absolute power over federal lands; otherwise the provision would have been in Article I." He also points to the Enabling Acts under which states were admitted to the Union.

And he points to Chief Justice Roberts's "equal state sovereignty" in Shelby County:

Something about [the disparities in federal land ownership between the states] seems unfair. After all, in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, declared: "Not only do States retain sovereignty under the Constitution, there is also a 'fundamental principle of equal state sovereignty' among the States. . . . Over a hundred years ago, this Court explained that our Nation 'was and is a union of States, equal in power, dignity and authority.'" Where--one wonders, considering the fate of Josephine County, which after all is but an arm of the state of Oregon--is the "dignity in what has befallen its residents?

January 21, 2016 in Federalism, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

No Damages for Enforcing State Residency Requirement for Petition Circulators

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Sixth Circuit ruled this week in Citizens in Charge v. Husted that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted enjoyed qualified immunity against a damages claim that arose out of his enforcement of Ohio's law that prohibits out-of-staters from circulating petitions within the state to propose new legislation and constitutional amendments.

The court granted immunity because it said that Ohio's law didn't clearly violate the Constitution. In support, it pointed to a circuit split on the question whether a state law that requires in-state residency to circulate a petition violates the First Amendment.

In so ruling, the court came close to saying that an official's enforcement of a state statute is per se reasonable, if no court has (yet) ruled the law unconstitutional--a result that puts a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of qualified immunity (and against plaintiffs who seek to recover damages for constitutional torts). The outer boundary is only when a law is "grossly and flagrantly unconstitutional." (The court gave as one example separate-but-equal racial discrimination.) The court explained:

So far as the parties' research has revealed and so far as our own research has uncovered, the Supreme Court has never denied qualified immunity to a public official who enforced a properly enacted statute that no court had invalidated. This indeed would seem to be the paradigmatic way of showing objectively reasonable conduct by a public official.

. . .

Any other approach would place risky pressures on public officials to second-guess legislative decisions. When faced with a statute of questionable validity, executive actors would find themselves forced to choose between applying the law (and subjecting themselves to monetary liability) or declining to do so (and subjecting themselves to a mandamus lawsuit). When personal liability is added to the mix, one could well imagine the balance tipping toward non-enforcement in close cases, all the while sacrificing the legislature's considered judgments about a statute's unconstitutionality. That is not a recipe for good government or for encouraging public officials to act independently.

January 21, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Court Rebuffs Pick-Off Tactic in Class Action Suits

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Supreme Court ruled today that a plaintiff's case does not become moot when the plaintiff rejects an offer of settlement for complete relief. The ruling means that a case can go on, even after a plaintiff rejects an offer of complete relief.

The ruling is a huge victory for plaintiffs, especially plaintiffs who might lead a class-action. It's also a sharp rebuke of the defense-side tactic to moot out a case or class action by offering full relief to the lead plaintiff--a tactic known as pick-off. By ruling for the plaintiff, and by rejecting the pick-off tactic, today's ruling is also a victory for access to justice, and stands in contrast to the spate of other Court rulings limiting access and favoring corporate defendants.

The case arose when Jose Gomez received an unwanted Navy recruitment text on his cell phone from Navy contractor Campbell-Ewald. Gomez sued Campbell-Ewald under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Before Gomez could move for class certification, however, the defendant offered complete relief; Gomez rejected the offer; and the defendant moved to dismiss the case as moot.

The Court ruled that the case was not moot. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, wrote that under basic contract principles, Campbell-Ewald's offer, once rejected by Gomez, had no continuing effect. With no settlement offer on the table, the parties retained the adversity necessary for an Article III case or controversy--so the rejected offer didn't render the case moot.

Justice Thomas concurred separately to argue that the result should "rest instead on the common-law history of tenders," not contract principles.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia and Alito, dissented. The Chief wrote that the rejected settlement offer meant that there was no longer any real dispute in the case:

If there is no actual case or controversy, the lawsuit is moot, and the power of the federal courts to declare the law has come to an end. Here, the District Court found that Campbell agreed to fully satisfy Gomez's claims. That makes the case moot, and Gomez is not entitled to a ruling on the merits of a moot case.

January 20, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eighth Amendment Does Not Require Mitigating Circumstances Instruction or Separate Sentencing

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Supreme Court ruled today in Kansas v. Carr that the Eighth Amendment does not require capital-sentencing courts to instruct juries that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt or that capital defendants who committed a joint crime be sentenced separately.

The ruling reversed a Kansas Supreme Court decision in favor of the criminal defendants.

The 8-1 ruling (Justice Sotomayor in dissent) reflects both the relatively simple questions in the case and the brutality of the crimes (described by Justice Scalia, for the Court, as "acts of almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity")--which made it easy for the Court to conclude that the sentencing proceeding wasn't unfair. (As to the joint sentencing, Justice Scalia wrote that "[i]t is beyond reason to think that" any prejudices that arose in the joint sentencing led to the death sentences: "None of that mattered. What these defendants did--acts of almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity--was described in excruciating detail by [a victim], who relived with the jury, for two days, the Wichita Massacre. The joint sentencing proceedings did not render the sentencing proceedings fundamentally unfair.").

As to the instructions on mitigating evidence, the Court said that the defendants' preferred instruction (that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt) was not only unnecessary under the Eighth Amendment, but would only lead to greater juror confusion in considering mitigation.

As to joint sentencing, the Court said that the Eighth Amendment doesn't require separate sentencing hearings for defendants in the same crime; and in any event, the errors or prejudices that the defendants alleged here couldn't possibly have actually prejudiced them, given the brutality of the crimes.

Justice Sotomayor filed the lone dissent. She argued that the Court shouldn't have taken the case in the first place, and that the Court's ruling could interfere with states' experimentation "with how best to guarantee defendants a fair trial."

January 20, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Split Decision On Executive Privilege in Fast-and-Furious Investigation

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

Judge Amy Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) yesterday ordered the Attorney General to turn over certain post-February 4, 2011, documents generated in the executive branch over how to respond to congressional inquiries into the Fast and Furious program.

But don't chalk this up as a win for Congress. Judge Jackson ruled that the documents had to be turned over because the government had already revealed much of the content, in the publicly-available DOJ Inspector General report on the program, and not because they weren't otherwise protected by executive privilege.

If anything, this ruling is a win for the administration. That's because Judge Jackson ruled that documents related to how the government would respond to congressional and press inquiries were covered by deliberative process privilege--even if they failed the balance (but only because the government had already released their content).

In the end, though, maybe "split decision" best describes the ruling.

We posted most recently here, with links to earlier posts, rulings, and documents.

Judge Jackson's ruling is just the latest in the long-running dispute between the House Committee on Oversight and the administration. Recall that the Committee sought administration documents related to the Fast and Furious program, including post-February 4, 2011, documents discussing how the administration should respond to congressional requests for documents. (February 4, 2011, is significant, because that's the date when DOJ denied that it used the gun-walking tactic. DOJ later acknowledged the program. The Committee then expanded its investigation to include the circumstances of DOJ's initial denial, and why it took so long to tell Congress that its initial denial was wrong.)

Judge Jackson ruled that post-February 4, 2011, documents related to how the government would respond to congressional inquiries were protected under the deliberative process prong of executive privilege. (Under D.C. Circuit law, deliberative process covers communications between executive branch officials other than the President that are "crucial to fulfillment of the unique role and responsibilities of the executive branch." (Traditional executive privilege covers communications only between executive branch officials and the President.)) That's because they were both predecisional and deliberative, and fell within the kinds of communications that were covered under other circuit rulings. She also said that DOJ's list of those documents sufficiently showed that they were covered by the deliberative process privilege.

But coverage doesn't end the inquiry. The deliberative process privilege (like its parent executive privilege) is a qualified privilege, which means that the courts balance the government's interest against any counter-veiling interest in obtaining the privileged material. Here, Judge Jackson ruled that the Committee had an undisputed counter-veiling interest in oversight and investigation, and that DOJ had already released the content through the publicly-available OIG report:

What harm to the interests advanced by the privilege would flow from the transfer of the specific records sought here to the Committee when the Department has already elected to release a detailed Inspector General report that quotes liberally from the same records? The Department has already laid bare the records of its internal deliberations--and even published portions of interviews revealing its officials' thoughts and impressions about those records. While the defense has succeeded in making its case for the general legal principle that deliberative materials--including the sorts of materials at issue here--deserve protection even in the face of a Congressional subpoena, it can point to no particular harm that could flow from compliance with this subpoena, for these records, that it did not already bring about itself.

Judge Jackson also ordered DOJ to turn over eight documents over which DOJ asserted no privilege. She declined to order DOJ to turn over yet other post-February 4, 2011, documents that the parties are still wrangling over. (They can't agree on the scope of the Committee's request, and the court declined to intervene.)

January 20, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Privilege, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)