Tuesday, October 27, 2020
When the Supreme Court heard argument recently in Torres v. Madrid, the Justices considered a wide range of interpretive approaches that might help them interpret the meaning of a Fourth Amendment seizure. In a heated discussion of stare decisis, the Justices debated how closely they should hew to their prior decision in California v. Hodari D., which seemed to hold that officers seize a suspect at the moment they apply physical force to him, whether they successfully subdue him or not. The Justices then debated both the import and meaning of founding-era cases that involved seizures through physical force, though not in the context of criminal investigations. No matter how the Justices seemed to divide on those questions, there was broad agreement across the ideological spectrum that the Court should generate bright constitutional lines for officers to follow in the high-stakes, rapidly-evolving circumstances of an arrest. For instance, Justice Gorsuch spoke of the “clear administrable lines” in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that require actual physical control to seize a physical object; Justice Breyer urged counsel to argue for a clear bright line, suggesting that the decision in Hodari D. provided “as good a line as any.”
The “bright lines for confused cops” theme is common in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence from a variety of interpretive perspectives. At least one purported aim of originalist interpretation is to limit judicial discretion by binding judges to a rule that fits with some conception of the original intent or meaning behind a textual provision. For instance, Justice Thomas has decried “the hallmarks of subjective policymaking” found in some Fourth Amendment precedents, calling instead for a return to clearer originalist principles. Justice Gorsuch has similarly claimed that the original understanding of the Fourth Amendment “do[es] not depend on the breach of some abstract expectation of privacy,” but instead applies only to “your protected things . . . Period.”
Originalists are not alone in this aim to generate clear Fourth Amendment rules. In 1981’s New York v. Belton, Justice Stewart claimed that Fourth Amendment doctrine should “regulate the police in their day-to-day activities” by providing “a set of rules which, in most instances, makes it possible to reach a correct determination beforehand” as to whether police conduct is constitutional. The Court’s support for clear rules guiding police conduct continued in 2001’s Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, where Justice Souter argued that “a responsible Fourth Amendment balance is not well served by standards requiring sensitive, case-by-case determinations of government need,” arguing instead that “the object . . . is to draw standards sufficiently clear and simple to be applied with a fair prospect of surviving judicial second-guessing.”  Justice Kennedy similarly noted in 2010’s Berghuis v. Thompkins the need to avoid ambiguity in a rule defining the point at which a defendant invokes their Miranda rights.
This pressure to create bright Fourth Amendment lines is enhanced by the specter of the exclusionary rule. Because an officer’s mistaken interpretation of search jurisprudence will likely lead to the suppression of evidence under the exclusionary rule, and in turn may lead to the dismissal of charges against a guilty criminal, the Court sees the stakes of search jurisprudence as particularly high. To avoid frequently exonerating otherwise guilty defendants, the Court prioritizes clear, easy-to-implement rules that will guide officers’ conduct.
In an era where polarization grips most of the country, it is useful to highlight one area where Justices across the ideological and interpretive spectrum can all agree on the goal their jurisprudence should serve. At least in the Fourth Amendment context, it seems that the Justices are not so far apart after all in our interpretive differences. Clear rules are desirable, especially when officers have to make split-second decisions in the field with potential life-or-death consequences. Perhaps, then, there is reason for optimism that the Justices can agree upon a clear definition of a Fourth Amendment seizure without descending into rancorous philosophical debates about constitutional interpretation.
 Jeffrey Bellin, Argument analysis: Justices spar over stare decisis, originalism, text and what counts as a Fourth Amendment “seizure,” SCOTUSBlog.com, Oct. 16, 2020, https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/10/argument-analysis-justices-spar-over-stare-decisis-originalism-text-and-what-counts-as-a-fourth-amendment-seizure/.
 499 U.S. 621 (1991).
 Transcript of Oral Argument at 35, Torres v. Madrid (No. 16-292), https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2020/19-292_i426.pdf.
 Transcript of Oral Argument at 52, Torres v. Madrid (No. 16-292), https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2020/19-292_i426.pdf.
 See, e.g,, Antonin Scalia, Originalism: The Lesser Evil, 57 U. Cinn. L. Rev. 849, 864 (1989) (“Originalism does not aggravate the principal weakness of the [Constitutional] system, for it establishes a historical criterion that is conceptually quite separate from the preferences of the judge himself.”); Robert Bork, Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems, 47 Ind. L.J. 1, 35 (1971) (“The Supreme Court's constitutional role appears to be justified only if the Court applies principles that are neutrally derived, defined and applied.”); Michael J. Perry, The Constitution, The Courts, and Human Rights 9 (1982); Raoul Berger, Ely’s Theory of Judicial Review, 42 Ohio St. L.J. 87, 87 (1981) (“activist judicial review is inconsistent with democratic theory because it substitutes the policy choices of unelected, unaccountable judges for those of the people’s representatives.”); Mark Tushnet, Heller and the New Originalism, 69 Ohio St. L. J. 609, 610 (2008) (originalism aims to “minimize the role contested judgments play in constitutional interpretation.”).
 Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206, 2244, 2246 (2018) (Thomas, J., dissenting).
 Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206, 2264 (2018) (Gorsuch, J., dissenting).
 “[T]he feeling persists that fourth amendment doctrine should be expressed in the form of clear, precise rules that are easily applied by the police in routine law enforcement activities.” Gerald G. Ashdown, Good Faith, The Exclusionary Remedy, and Rule-Oriented Adjudication in the Criminal Process, 24 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 335, 336 (1983); see also David E. Steinberg, The Original Understanding of Unreasonable Searches and Seizures, 56 Fla. L. Rev. 1051, 1094 (2004) (citing Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 347 (2001) and New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 458 (1981)).
 New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 458 (1981) (quoting Wayne R. LaFave, “Case-By-Case Adjudication” Versus “Standardized Procedures”: The Robinson Dilemma, 1974 Sup. Ct. Rev. 127, 141-42); see also United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 821 (1982).
 Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 347 (2001) (citing United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 234–235 (1973)).
 560 U.S. 370, 381-82 (2010) (quoting Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 458-59 (1994)).
 Orin S. Kerr, Four Models of Fourth Amendment Protection, 60 Stan. L. Rev. 503, 527-28 (2007) (citing Gerald G. Ashdown, Good Faith, the Exclusionary Remedy, and Rule-Oriented Adjudication in the Criminal Process, 24 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 335, 336-37 (1983)).
Monday, October 26, 2020
For the past month I have been meaning to blog on the McGirt case from last term. As a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, I had been watching McGirt and another case raising similar issues from the October 2018 term for some time. The case was set to answer a key question--whether much of Oklahoma was still "Indian Country" for purposes of the Major Crimes Act. Or, had Congress disestablished the Creek reservation.
A divided Supreme Court held that the Creek reservation still existed. Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. In short, the Court held that, while Congress can disestablish a reservation, it must do so clearly. And, with respect to the Creek reservation, it hadn't acted to clearly disestablish the reservation.
This case, I think, represents Justice Gorsuch's strong views on separation of powers. In a book review that I wrote of his recent book, A Republic, If You Can Keep It, I noted,
Justice Gorsuch devotes a significant portion of his book to discussing the need to protect the separation of powers and the institutional design of our government as set forth in the Constitution. He also carefully discusses how judges should interpret the Constitution, with a strong emphasis on originalism. In fact, in reading these parts of the book, I wondered if Justice Gorsuch will be an even stronger vote for separation of powers than his predecessor. Time will tell.
Although the review was only recently published, I wrote it much earlier this year, before Justice Gorsuch's opinions in Bostock and McGirt, both of which evidence Justice Gorsuch's theory of separation of powers and statutory interpretation. In that respect, McGirt is not just significant as a matter of Indian Law, it is significant for helping us understand how Justice Gorsuch will approach these issues.
For those interested in McGirt, I moderated a webinar on the case that features my excellent colleagues Prof. Rebecca Tsosie, Prof. Melissa Tatum, and Prof. Barbara Atwood.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Few words strike more terror into the hearts of appellate practitioners than the word "waiver." It is the monster that lurks under the bed and hides in the closet of those who strive to have issues resolved substantively on appeal rather than simply dismissed.
Waiver can occur at two primary levels: at trial and on appeal. But whenever it rises, it can cause nightmares for you and your client.
Waiver at Trial - The Monster Under the Bed.
At trial, waiver can arise in a variety of ways. It often arises from a failure to preserve error meticulously. Did you get a ruling but fail to make an offer of proof so the court knows what was excluded? Waived! Did you think that the ruling on your motion in limine was good enough, so you didn't renew the objection at trial? Waived! Did you object to an improper or omitted instruction but fail to offer an accurate instruction in its place? Waived! The list goes on and on.
And then there is the infamous Rule 50. Federal of Civil Procedure 50 was practically written by the boogeyman. Rule 50(a) provides that, at the close of evidence, a party challenging sufficiency of the evidence must move for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) by specifically pointing out the law and facts that entitle that party to judgment. This is presumably so that the challenged party has an opportunity to correct any defect in proof. Rule 50(b) then provides that, after judgment, the sufficiency argument must be renewed if it was not granted the first time.
The traps caused by this two-step requirement have left many appellate practitioners with little to argue. If you did not move for JMOL at both points in the trial, your sufficiency challenge is waived. If your 50(b) points do not match your 50(a) points, many circuits will also find any differing points waived.
Recently, the Fifth Circuit recognized an entirely new Rule 50 monster. In Edwards v. 4JLJ, L.L.C., --- F.3d ---, No. No. 19-40553, 2020 WL 5628689 (5th Cir. Sept. 21, 2020), the appellant filed a JMOL and Motion for New Trial (MNT) on March 12, 2019. The trial court entered judgment March 27th without addressing that motion. The appellant then filed another JMOL/MNT after the judgment that was identical to the first, which was denied on May 20, 2019, and then filed a notice of appeal on June 12, 2019.
Appellants thought they had filed everything on a timely basis. They had filed the JMOL appropriately and avoided the Rule 50 traps. And they thought that filing the second JMOL/MNT had extended their deadline to file the notice of appeal until 30 days after it was decided under Rule 4. They even filed their notice of appeal a bit early.
But not early enough, according to the Fifth Circuit. Instead, the court held that the JMOL/MNT had been implicitly overruled by the trial court when it had entered judgment. Then, since the JMOL/MNT filed after judgment was identical to the implicitly-overruled motion, it was really a motion for reconsideration, and did not extend appellate deadlines. As such, the notice of appeal was not timely, and the court did not have jurisdiction over most of the issues in the case.
Waiver on Appeal - The Monster in the Closet.
Waiver on appeal can be even more insidious. In federal court, the issue technically becomes one of waiver (an intentional relinquishment) versus forfeiture (an unintentional omission). See Wood v. Milyard, 132 S. Ct. 1826, 1832 (2012). But whatever they call it, waiver can arise not only because the issue was not addressed at trial, but because it was not adequately addressed in the brief. Thus, some courts have found waiver where the issue was raised but only in a footnote, or in a page or less of briefing, or without citation to supporting authority. See Barry A. Miller, Sua Sponte Appellate Rulings: When Courts Deprive Litigants of an Opportunity to Be Heard, 39 San Diego L. Rev. 1253 (2002).
This is the type of waiver that can catch even the most astute legal writer. As professionals writing to a very specific audience, we listen closely when that audience speaks. And that audience repeatedly tells us that they are tired of reading our work. "Shorter is better" seems to be the recurring theme. I have even attended conferences where a justice will admonish the audience to stop citing them to authorities everyone knows, like the standard of review.
Shorter is better, but there is a shadowy place where short and concise transitions over into waiver. In the quest to cut the argument down to its finest form, we must not cut too deeply, lest the court determine there is not enough flesh left on the bones. See United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991) ("A skeletal 'argument', really nothing more than an assertion, does not preserve a claim. . . . Especially not when the brief presents a passel of other arguments . . . . Judges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs.").
Indeed, this is part of what makes briefing waiver (or forfeiture) so terrifying. What one justice finds pleasing may cause another justice to find waiver.
And then there is the timeliness of the argument. We consider it a general rule that issues not raised and decided in the trial court should not be considered on appeal, or that issues raised for the first time in a reply brief are forfeited. But the Supreme Court has been careful to preserve the discretion of courts to take up issues, and refuses to pronounce any such "general rule." See Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 121 (1976).
As a result, one can never be sure when an issue that seems to be dead will suddenly lurch back to life. See Melissa M. Devine, When the Courts Save Parties from Themselves: A Practitioner's Guide to the Federal Circuit and the Court of International Trade, 21 Tul. J. Int'l & Comp. L. 329 (2013). If the court decides that the issue is important, or is required by justice, or involves "basic" issues of pure law, it can resurrect a dead argument sua sponte. Id. Even worse, if you did not address an issue because you considered it waived, you can be deemed to have "forfeited the forfeiture" or "waived the waiver." Cook v. Rockwell Int’l Corp., 618 F.3d 1127, 1139 (10th Cir. 2010).
Waiver and forfeiture really are boogeymen. They can ambush you at trial, trick you into making mistakes in your briefing, and even raise dead issues back to life. If you want to sleep well, keep the above issues in mind when preserving error or writing your next brief.
(Image credit: National Gallery of Art: Death and the Miser, c.1485/1490. Bosch, Hieronymus, Netherlandish, c.1450-1516).
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Amy Coney Barrett will almost certainly be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court – and deservedly so. Judge Barrett is an extraordinary legal scholar and judge, and numerous former colleagues and students have emphasized that she is a person of outstanding character, integrity, and compassion.
Additionally, Judge Barrett is an originalist, which is a theory of constitutional interpretation that requires judges to interpret the Constitution’s words as they were understood by those who drafted its provisions. Yet, originalism has been criticized by many in the legal academy. For example, some scholars claim that originalism leads to unjust and often draconian results, and fails to account for societal changes that the Constitution’s drafters could not foresee. Some scholars also assert that the broad phrasing of many provisions in the Bill of Rights suggests that the Constitution’s drafters entrusted future generations with the authority to divine constitutional meaning based on contemporary societal attitudes. For these and other reasons, many scholars embrace “living constitutionalism,” which states that the Constitution is a “living document” and that judges have the power to create constitutional meaning based upon the evolving needs of contemporary society.
These assertions both misunderstand originalism and misrepresent living constitutionalism. The former is, when properly applied, intellectually honest and fundamentally democratic. The latter is neither. For the following reasons, originalism is, without a doubt, the most sensible and commonsense approach to constitutional interpretation.
Originalism does not lead to unjust outcomes. The notion that originalism leads to unjust outcomes is nonsense. This argument misunderstands both originalism and the nature of judging. First, judges should not – and usually do not – decide cases based on the outcome that a judge desires or the policy that a judge prefers. If judges predicated their decisions on subjective policy preferences – and manipulated or disregarded the Constitution’s text to achieve those preferences – democratic choice would be undermined in favor of nine unelected and life-tenured judges. In essence, originalists recognize that the process of judicial decision-making is critically important to ensure, among other things, individual liberty, de-centralization, bottom-up lawmaking, and the judiciary’s institutional legitimacy. Second, originalism does not lead to objectively unjust outcomes; rather, critics of originalism only object to outcomes with which they subjectively disagree. Of course, that is not a reason to criticize originalism. As Justice Neil Gorsuch explains:
Suppose originalism does lead to a result you happen to dislike in this or that case. So what? The “judicial Power” of Article III of the Constitution isn’t a promise of all good things. Letting dangerous and obviously guilty criminals who have gravely injured their victims go free just because an officer forgot to secure a warrant or because the prosecutor neglected to bring a witness to trial for confrontation seems like a bad idea to plenty of people. But do you really want judges to revise the Constitution to avoid those “bad” results? Or do you believe that judges should enforce the law’s protections equally for everyone, regardless of how inefficient or unpopular or old the law might be? Regardless of who benefits today—the criminal or the police; the business or the employee; immigrants or ICE?
Moreover, to the extent that an outcome is considered unjust, the remedy is to effectuate change by the people through the legislative process – or through a constitutional amendment.
Originalism is fundamentally democratic. Originalism restrains and limits the power of judges to change constitutional meaning. It requires judges to interpret the text honestly and in accordance with what the Constitution’s drafters understood the words to mean. In so doing, originalism promotes respect for the rule of law, prevents unelected judges from substituting their policy preferences for those of legislators and citizens, and preserves a constitutional structure predicated on federalism, separation of powers, and decentralization. As Judge Barrett stated during the hearings, constitutional law is not “the law according to Amy,” but the law as enacted by the people. And contrary to some scholars’ contentions, originalism is not a vehicle by which conservative justices seek to reach conservative results. As Justice Gorsuch explains:
[S]ome suggest that originalism leads to bad results because the results inevitably happen to be politically conservative results. Rubbish. Originalism is a theory focused on process, not on substance. It is not “Conservative” with a big C focused on politics. It is conservative in the small c sense that it seeks to conserve the meaning of the Constitution as it was written. The fact is, a good originalist judge will not hesitate to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution’s original meaning, regardless of contemporary political consequences. Whether that means allowing protesters to burn the American flag (the First Amendment); prohibiting the government from slapping a GPS tracking device on the underside of your car without a warrant (the Fourth Amendment); or insisting that juries—not judges—should decide the facts that increase the penalty you face in a criminal case (the Sixth Amendment).
The alternative – living constitutionalism – is fundamentally anti-democratic. As stated above, living constitutionalists believe that the Constitution is a “living document,” and that judges have the power to create constitutional meaning based upon evolving societal attitudes. The problem with living constitutionalism is that it enables judges to ignore or manipulate the Constitution’s text to achieve preferred policy outcomes. In so doing, living constitutionalism provides unelected judges with the power to decide issues that should be resolved through the democratic process (e.g., issues on which the Constitution is silent or ambiguous), and thus deprives citizens of the power to effectuate change democratically. As Justice Gorsuch stated:
I suspect the real complaint of living constitutionalists isn’t with old laws generally so much as it is with the particular terms of this old law. The Constitution is short—only about 7,500 words, including all its amendments. It doesn’t dictate much about the burning social and political questions they care about. Instead, it leaves the resolution of those matters to elections and votes and the amendment process. And it seems this is the real problem for the critics. For when it comes to the social and political questions of the day they care most about, many living constitutionalists would prefer to have philosopher-king judges swoop down from their marble palace to ordain answers rather than allow the people and their representatives to discuss, debate, and resolve them. You could even say the real complaint here is with our democracy.
Indeed, the anti-democratic and deleterious nature of living constitutionalism was on full display in Griswold v. Connecticut, where the Court invalidated an admittedly silly law banning contraception. The Court in Griswold acknowledged that the Constitution’s text, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment, did not provide a basis upon which to invalidate the law. However, the Court’s majority remained undeterred and decided to create an unenumerated right out of thin air. Specifically, the Court held that “[s]pecific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras … formed by emanations from those guarantees that give them life and substance.” In so holding, the Court concluded that a judicially-created, non-textual ‘right to privacy,’ which was implied from the judicially-created, invisible penumbras, supported invalidation of the statute. And in Roe v. Wade, the Court relied upon these very penumbras to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which was originally designed only to ensure that life, liberty, and property could not be deprived without due process of law, supported a right to abortion before viability. To be sure, I support abortion rights. But I could never support the reasoning in Roe. It is constitutionally indefensible.
Make no mistake: living constitutionalism is not the knight in shining armor that some would have us believe. In fact, it has led to some of the worst decisions in the history of American constitutional law. As Justice Gorsuch explains:
Virtually the entire anticanon of constitutional law we look back upon today with regret came about when judges chose to follow their own impulses rather than follow the Constitution’s original meaning. Look, for example, at Dred Scott and Korematsu. Neither can be defended as correct in light of the Constitution’s original meaning; each depended on serious judicial invention by judges who misguidedly thought they were providing a “good” answer to a pressing social problem of the day.
Indeed, Justice Gorsuch highlights the real and substantial harms that living constitutionalism can cause:
Even when it comes to more prosaic cases, leaving things to the moral imagination of judges invites trouble. Just consider the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test the Court invented in the 1960s to redefine what qualifies as a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. Oh, it sounded nice enough. But under that judge-made doctrine, the Court has held—and I’m not making this up—that a police helicopter hovering 400 feet above your home doesn’t offend a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The Court has even held that the government can snoop through materials you’ve entrusted to the care of third parties because, in its judgment, that, too, doesn’t invade a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” But who really believes that? The car you let the valet park; the medical records your doctor promised to keep confidential; the emails you sent to your closest friend. You don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy against the government in any of those things? Really?
Put simply, “the pursuit of political ends through judicial means will often and ironically bring about a far worse result than anticipated—a sort of constitutional karma.” In short, living constitutionalism is not a legitimate theory of constitutional interpretation.
Ultimately, Amy Coney Barrett will be confirmed because she is a brilliant jurist, a person of the highest character and integrity, and a judge who recognizes that “the law of Amy” should never be substituted for the law of the people. Originalists also recognize that – and originalism is, as Justice Gorsuch stated, “the best approach to the Constitution.”
 Justice Neil Gorsuch, Why Originalism is the Best Approach to the Constitution (Sept. 6, 2019), available at: https://time.com/5670400/justice-neil-gorsuch-why-originalism-is-the-best-approach-to-the-constitution/
 381 U.S. 479.
 Id. at 484 (emphasis added).
 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
 Gorsuch, supra note 1, available at: available at: https://time.com/5670400/justice-neil-gorsuch-why-originalism-is-the-best-approach-to-the-constitution/
Monday, October 12, 2020
It has been a few months since I blogged about the University of Arizona's acquisition of the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process. But, I am pleased now to share the Journal's new website: www.appellatejournal.com. Eventually, this website will contain the full archive of the Journal, including the material published while the Journal was at UALR. For now, it just contains the articles published in Volume 20, Issue 2, including an article by Judge Dillard and Justice McCormack entitled, "The Robed Tweeter: Two Judges' Views on Public Engagement."
I must give a shout-out to NITA, who is helping us edit the Journal and has also done significant work on the website. I also want to thank the University of Arizona Libraries for providing an excellent platform to publish the Journal online.
We are working away on our inaugural issue. If you are interested in receiving a notification when the issue is posted online, please sign up here. We are also accepting submissions for our December 2021 issue. Feel free to email me with any questions.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
On the eve of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, members of the Republican and Democratic parties are preparing for what will likely be a difficult and highly partisan hearing. Republicans on the judiciary committee will likely contend that Judge Barrett’s qualifications, reputation, and character overwhelmingly support her confirmation. Democrats will likely contend that confirming Judge Barrett less than a month before the Presidential election is inappropriate, particularly given the Republicans’ refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland in the months preceding the 2016 election. Regardless of whether Judge Barrett is confirmed (the odds are solidly in her favor), few can doubt that the hearings will be contentious and reflect the partisanship and divisiveness that currently pervades the political arena. The consequences will not be insubstantial; rather, Judge Barrett’s hearing, like the hearing of then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh, will underscore how political the confirmation process – and arguably the Court itself – has become. And it will potentially undermine the public’s confidence in the Court and the rule of law.
To make matters worse, some members of the Democratic party have threatened to “pack the court” with additional (and arguably liberal) justices to counter the solidly conservative majority that Judge Barrett’s confirmation would likely create. But packing the Court will make the problem worse, not better. It would be predicated on the assumption that a President’s – and a justice’s – perceived ideology and policy predilections will lead to outcomes that one party deems politically desirable. And if the public perceived as such, the Court would become more politicized, the rule of law more trivialized, and the legitimacy of the Court’s decisions minimized.
So how can we preserve the rule of law, maintain the Court’s independence, and ensure confidence in the Court’s decision-making process? Not through a contentious and partisan confirmation hearing. Not by packing the Court.
Instead, require a supermajority. Specifically, require that to reverse or affirm a lower court decision (and, of course, change the law), six, not five votes, are required.
This solution would have several benefits that would preserve the Court’s legitimacy, protect the separation of powers, and promote democratic choice regarding issues upon which the Constitution is silent. First, 5-4 decisions have been and continue to be the source of substantial disagreement and division. The Court’s decisions in National Federation of Independent v. Sebelius, Obergefell v. Hodges, Shelby County v. Holder, and Bush v. Gore are perfect examples. A six-vote majority would reduce the frequency with which the Court issues controversial decisions.
Second, requiring a six-vote majority would almost certainly lead to incremental, rather than drastic, changes in the law and minimize the risk that the Court’s decisions will be perceived as political and illegitimate. To achieve a six-vote majority, the justices would be forced to compromise and reach a middle ground concerning decisions that affect, among other things, civil rights and liberties. As such, the influence of ideology or policy preferences in the decision-making process would be minimized.
Third, a six-vote majority requirement would likely affect the process by which the Court grants certiorari. The Court would be less likely to accept cases -- particularly those involving divisive social and political issues -- if the justices knew that there was little, if any, likelihood of obtaining a six-vote majority. The effect would be that many decisions concerning divisive policy issues would be resolved through the democratic process, not by nine unelected judges with life tenure.
Fourth, a six-vote majority might incentivize litigants to stop seeking social change through the courts and instead concentrate their efforts on effecting change through the legislature. Doing so would limit the Court’s power in a principled way. The Court would still decide cases that involved violations of specific constitutional or statutory guarantees, but a six-vote majority requirement would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Court to create rights based on implausible interpretations of the Constitution and thus engender public backlash. This is a good thing; after all, the Court’s decision in Roe. v. Wade, which was indefensible as a matter of constitutional law, has engendered so much backlash that the right to abortion will continue to be litigated for the foreseeable future.
Fifth, a six-member majority requirement would de-politicize the Court and the process by which justices are confirmed, preserve the Court’s independence, and protect the Court’s legitimacy. Simply put, packing the Court isn’t the answer. Requirement a six-vote majority is – and should be considered seriously.
Friday, October 9, 2020
Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.
US Supreme Court Opinions and News
- The 2020-21 Supreme Court term began this week on Monday, October 5. Why does the new term begin on the first Monday of October? Well, it’s a congressional mandate. For more on how the Court’s sessions were set and what happens on the first day, see The National Constitutional Center. Here’s the list of cases for the October, November, and December sittings. And for commentary on the new term, see reports from NPR, CBS, LA Times, The Hill, The ABA Journal, and CNN.
- The Court refused to hear the appeal of the former Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, who gained national attention after she refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples citing her religious convictions. Two of the affected couples sued her for violating their constitutional rights. A lower court ruled the suit could go forward because the couples made a plausible allegation that Davis violated their established right to marry and because Davis was not entitled to qualified immunity as a city official. Although the Court rejected the petition without statement, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, published a statement reasserting their objections to the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that found a Fourteenth Amendment right to same-sex marriage; the Justices reassert the claim that recognizing a right to marriage could have “ruinous consequences for religious liberty.” See the statement here, and reports from The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Hill, and The New York Times.
- The Court refused to reinstate a federal requirement that women appear in person to a medical facility to receive medication to end their pregnancies. The requirement was suspended by a lower court that issued a nationwide injunction in light of the pandemic because needless trip to a medical facility during a health crisis likely imposed an undue burden on the constitutional right to abortion. The Court returned the case to the trial court for a ruling within 40 days, opining that “a more comprehensive record would aid this court’s review.” See the order. For more on this, see The New York Times, The Hill, and Reuters.
Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News
- The Second Circuit ruled that the Manhattan district attorney can enforce the subpoena seeking Donald Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. The court rejected the arguments that the subpoena was too broad and that it qualified as harassment. The decision will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. See the order and reports from The New York Times, AP News, and Bloomberg.
- The Ninth Circuit ruled that AT&T must face a lawsuit alleging its affiliate DirectTV violated consumer protection laws by making robocalls to a consumer's cell phone, rejecting an argument that the suit belonged in arbitration. The court ruled that the customer was not bound by AT&T’s arbitration clause, which requires its customers to submit to arbitration any claims against AT&T or its affiliates, because AT&T had not acquired DirectTV when the customer had signed the agreement. See the order and reports from Bloomberg Law (subscription required) and Digital News Daily.
- The Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court decision allowing the 2020 census count to continue through October. The administration had attempted to end the count on September 30. See order and reports from the San Francisco Chronicle and AP News.
State Appellate Court Opinions and News
The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is unconstitutional and has allowed a suit against gun manufacturers and sellers to continue. The suit alleges a gun that accidentally killed a teenage boy discharged due to a manufacturing defect. Under the Act, the manufacturer and seller would be immunized against the suit. The decision, a first in the country, found that that Act is “constitutional overreach” and violates the Tenth Amendment, which gives power, such as the tort reform intended by the act, to individual states. The court ruled the Act an overreach because it immunizes “the gun industry from every conceivable type of joint and comparable liability known to the common law” even if a product is faulty and causes harm and “regardless of how far removed from interstate commerce the harm arises.” See the order and reports from Reuters, CNN, and The Hill.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
The Supreme Court of Ohio, Commission on Professionalism, has published Professionalism Dos & Don’ts: Legal Writing. Each Do and Don’t has several subpoints. Over the next few months, I plan to take a more in-depth look at some of these Dos and Don’ts and offer examples and suggestions for how appellate advocates can implement the Dos and avoid the Don’ts.
Do Maintain Proper Focus:
- Do keep your purpose in mind while writing.
Why are you writing what you’re writing? What are you trying to accomplish? While the purpose of most of the writing of appellate advocates is straightforward—persuade the court and win your client’s case—we also write for other purposes. We write to clients, opposing counsel, co-counsel, court staff, prepare CLE materials, etc. We are trying to achieve different things and thus have different purposes, in writing to, or for, each of those audiences. We need to keep that purpose in mind for each thing we write.
- Do tailor your writing to your primary audience, but be aware that others may read what you have written.
We must reach our audience. We are writing for our audience, not ourselves. It’s quite easy to get caught up in our own brilliance and the clever turn of a phrase, but if our audience can’t understand what we’re trying to communicate, we’ve failed as writers.
We must strive to make our writing clear for our audience. One thing that creates ambiguity and confuses readers is vague pronoun references. When a writer uses a pronoun, she knows who or what the pronoun refers to, but it may not be clear to the reader. Take this example: “Ed and Sonny went to dinner and he ordered the fish sandwich instead of a steak.” Who ordered the fish sandwich? Because I’m friends with Ed and Sonny, I know Sonny would always choose a steak over a fish sandwich, but my reader wouldn’t know that. To make the meaning clear to my reader, I should write, “Ed and Sonny went to dinner and Ed ordered the fish sandwich instead of a steak.”
We must communicate clearly to our primary audience while remembering that everything we write has a secondary audience. Sometimes we run into difficulties when we neglect or forget about, that secondary audience. Then our writing may end up as an exhibit, as did this email from plaintiff’s counsel in an insurance-claim dispute:
This is an extreme example—although not the most extreme, even from this twenty-page exhibit. But the point remains, we must anticipate and consider a secondary audience when we write.
So, do identify the purpose of your writing and do keep your primary and secondary audiences in mind while writing.
 Alexa Z. Chew and Katie Rose Guest Pryal, The Complete Legal Writer, 5 (Carolina Academic Press, 2d Ed. 2020).
Sunday, October 4, 2020
On September 18, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg unexpectedly died. Undoubtedly, Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant jurist and one of the most influential legal thinkers in recent history. After a period of mourning in honor of Justice Ginsburg, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Predictably, some senators vowed to oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation to the Court, citing both the timing of the nomination and the belief that Judge Barrett would reach decisions that would eviscerate abortion rights and invalidate the Affordable Care Act. In fact, three senators announced that they would not even meet with Judge Barrett before the confirmation hearings begin.
A review of the reasons offered in opposition to Judge Barrett’s confirmation, and an analysis of Judge Barrett’s background and experience, strongly suggests that Judge Barrett will – and should – be confirmed.
To begin with, Judge Barrett’s credentials are impeccable. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School – and an executive editor on the Notre Dame Law Review – Barrett clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and, thereafter, for former Justice Antonin Scalia at the United States Supreme Court. Thereafter, Judge Barrett joined Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, a prestigious Washington, D.C. firm before embarking on a career in academia and, ultimately, being confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Scholars of all political persuasions have offered effusive praise for Justice Barrett’s intellect and legal ability. As former colleague and Notre Dame law professor O. Carter Snead states:
She has an incandescent mind that has won the admiration of colleagues across the ideological spectrum. Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, a respected liberal legal commentator who, like Barrett, was a Supreme Court clerk during the October 1998 term, has observed that Barrett may well have been the smartest person in that year’s pool of top young legal talent. ‘Any Senate Democrat who tries to go toe to toe with Barrett over her legal abilities,’ he wrote in 2018, ‘going to lose. Badly.’ Barrett has confirmed her brilliance many times over as both a scholar and a teacher, for which she has been recognized three times by Notre Dame law students as professor of the year.
Notre Dame law professor Daniel Kelly echoed these sentiments, calling Judge Barrett “absolutely brilliant," and “one of the warmest open-minded people that anybody could meet.”
Furthermore, Judge Barrett is a jurist – and person – of great character and integrity. As Professor Snead explains, Judge Barrett’s “commitment to treating others with respect grows directly out of her religious convictions,” and “Barrett’s love of neighbor goes beyond merely treating others with dignity.” In fact, “[i]n all the time I have known her, I have never once seen Barrett place her needs above those of others.”
Additionally, neither ideology nor policy predilections appear to influence Judge Barrett’s jurisprudence. As Professor Snead explains, Judge Barrett “genuinely seeks to understand others’ arguments and does not regard them as mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to reaching a preferred conclusion.” To be sure, Judge Barrett is “not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth,” and “open-mindedness is exactly what we want of our judges,” particularly on the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, one of Judge Barrett’s former colleagues – and a former clerk to Justice Ginsburg – stated that Judge Barrett “is ‘not at all ideological’ and believes that she will ‘try as hard as anyone can to bracket the views she has as she decides cases.’”
For these and other reasons, Judge Barrett is admired and respected by her peers and former students – regardless of political persuasion. John Garvey, President of Catholic University and one of Judge Barrett’s former professors, stated that “Amy Coney is the best student I ever had.” While a professor at Notre Dame Law School, Judge Barrett was voted Teacher of the Year three times. Most importantly, Judge Barrett is a good person who has impacted meaningfully the lives of so many. Three of Judge Barrett’s former students state as follows:
Amy Coney Barrett is a woman of both profound intellect and depth of heart. We are better women, friends, and lawyers for having known and learned from her. She has enriched the lives of all who have come to know her at Notre Dame Law School, and we can only hope that the entire country also will be given the benefit of her example and service.
Indeed, as a group of her former students stated, “[w]hile we hold a variety of views regarding how best to interpret statutes and the Constitution, we all agree on this: The nation could not ask for a more qualified candidate than the professor we have come to know and revere.”
Of course, some legal scholars will oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation and her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary will almost certainly be contentious. Those opposing Judge Barrett’s confirmation will likely argue that Judge Barrett will fortify a conservative majority on the Court, vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, and invalidate the Affordable Care Act. Such concerns are purely speculative; as history reveals, lawmakers cannot know with any degree of confidence how a nominee will rule in a particular case. For example, Justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and John Roberts have reached decisions in numerous cases that defy their perceived ideological dispositions. Furthermore, disagreement with (or, in some cases, disdain for) a nominee’s political beliefs is not the constitutional standard upon which nominees should be evaluated. Such an argument shows no regard whatsoever for or faith in the rule of law and unnecessarily politicizes both the confirmation process and the Court. Put simply, it’s not enough to reject a nominee because you disagree with their political views; in fact, it’s the Senate’s job to confirm a nominee regardless of those views. And the fact that Judge Barrett recognizes that “judges are not policymakers” is a positive, not negative, characteristic.
Others may argue, as Senator Diane Feinstein did during Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearing for a vacant seat on the Seventh Circuit, that Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs suggest that her ideology will influence her decisions. However, concerns about Judge Barrett’s religion or religious beliefs should be entirely irrelevant. Article VI, Clause Three of the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Even living constitutionalists could not disagree that Article’ VII’s meaning: you cannot disqualify a judge based on their religious beliefs or affiliations. Also, to look unfavorably upon a nominee because of their religious belief is plain wrong and reflects precisely the type of bias and prejudice that all reasonable people should condemn.
Some senators will also likely argue that Judge Barrett’s interpretive philosophy – originalism – will lead to unjust and inequitable outcomes, and cause Judge Barrett to disregard principles of stare decisis when precedents conflict with the Constitution's original meaning. This concern, again, lacks merit. Originalism does not require judges to overturn precedent that violates originalism’s interpretive philosophy. Furthermore, based on Judge Barrett’s respect for the rule of law and the stability it provides, it is highly likely that pragmatic considerations would influence Judge Barrett’s decision-making process. And by all indications, Judge Barrett would do so in an honest and principled, not partisan and political manner. Moreover, outcome-based objections ignore the complexity of the judicial decision-making process, disregard the seriousness with which the justices take their responsibility to be fair and impartial, and serve to politicize the confirmation process in a manner that threatens the Court’s institutional legitimacy.
Additionally, many Senators will almost certainly object to Judge Barrett’s nomination on the ground that no nominee should be confirmed during an election year – a position that the Republican party embraced to block the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. This fact should not preclude her confirmation. Since 1900, six justices have been confirmed during election years. And sufficient time exists to confirm Judge Barrett; Justice Ginsburg, for example, was confirmed forty-two days after her nomination, and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed thirty-three days after her nomination. Of course, the Republicans’ refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland understandably angered Democrats and exposes Republicans to charges of hypocrisy in seeking to confirm Judge Barrett on the eve of a presidential election. But at some point, the partisanship and polarization that has characterized recent confirmation hearings must stop. In 1986, Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed by a vote of 98-0. In 1993, Justice Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96-3. In 2009, Justice Sotomayor was confirmed by a vote of 68-31. Judge Barrett should be confirmed too.
Put simply, Judge Barrett has impeccable credentials and is a thoughtful and conscientious jurist. Most importantly, as her former colleagues and students attest, Judge Barrett is a kind, humble, and caring person. As Professor Snead stated, “[a]t a time when there is so much to worry about in our troubled nation, having a Supreme Court justice who brings such honesty and integrity to her work should be the least of our fears.”
 See Ana De Liz, Which Democrats are Meeting With Amy Coney Barrett, and Which Are Refusing (Sep. 29, 2020), available at: https://www.newsweek.com/which-democrats-are-meeting-amy-coney-barrett-which-are-refusing-1534955
 See Zachary Evans, Several Senate Dems Refuse to Met With Barrett, Come Out Against Confirmation (September 29, 2020), available at: https://www.nationalreview.com/news/several-senate-dems-refuse-to-meet-with-barrett-come-out-against-confirmation/
 See Biography: Amy Coney Barrett, available at: https://www.biography.com/law-figure/amy-coney-barrett
 O. Carter Snead, I’ve Known Amy Coney Barrett for 15 years. Liberals Have Nothing to Fear (Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/
 WIBC, Notre Dame Colleagues Call Amy Coney Barrett ‘Brilliant, Honest, and Sincere’ (Sept. 25, 2020), available at: https://www.wibc.com/news/local-indiana/notre-dame-colleagues-call-amy-coney-barrett-brilliant-honest-and-sincere/
 Snead, supra note 4, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/
 Laura E. Wolk, Megan L. McKeown, Alyson M. Cox, Amy Coney Barrett Was Our Professor. She’ll Serve America As Well As She Served Her Students (Sept. 27, 2020), available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/09/27/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-notre-dame-students-column/3551971001/
 Christian Sheckler, Notre Dame Profs Push Back On Amy Coney Barrett Portrayals: Not Just an ‘Ideological Category,’ (Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/26/amy-coney-barrett-notre-dame-professors-push-back-ideological-portrayals/3546388001/
 Wolk, et al., supra note 10, available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/09/27/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-notre-dame-students-column/3551971001/
 Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett, ‘Judges Are Not Policymakers,” available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/supreme-court-nominee-amy-coney-barrett-judges-not-policymakers/
 See New York Times, The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/us/politics/the-dogma-lives-loudly-within-you-revisiting-barretts-confirmation-hearing.html
 U.S. Const., Art. VI, Cl. 3.
 See Zack Budryk, 22 GOP Attorneys General Urge Congress to Confirm Barrett As Supreme Court Justice (Oct. 1, 2020), available at: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/519130-22-gop-attorneys-general-urge-congress-to-confirm-barrett-as-supreme-court
 See id.
 See Dana D. Kelly, Scotus Scores (July 6, 2018), available at: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/jul/06/scotus-scores-20180706/
 See Linda P. Campbell, Ginsburg Confirmed to Court on 96-3 Vote (Aug. 4, 1993), available at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1993-08-04-9308040122-story.html
 See John Stanton, Senate Confirms Sotomayor on Bipartisan 68-31 Vote (Aug. 6, 2009), available at: https://www.rollcall.com/2009/08/06/senate-confirms-sotomayor-on-bipartisan-68-31-vote/
 Snead, supra note 4, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/