Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Nature of Judging at the United States Supreme Court

This week, the United States Supreme Court issued rulings in two cases – Bostock v. Clayton County and Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California ­– that surprised some court observers. In Bostock, the Court held by a 6-3 margin that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[1] In so holding, the Court, per Justice Neil Gorsuch, held that discrimination on either basis necessarily entailed discrimination on the basis of sex.[2] In Department of Homeland Security, the Court held, by a 5-4 margin (with Chief Justice Roberts joining the Court’s four liberal members), that the manner in which the Trump administration terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) violated the Administrative Procedure Act.[3]

The decisions surprised some court observers. For example, in Bostock, some scholars expected that Justice Gorsuch, who embraces a form of statutory interpretation known as textualism, would hold that the word “sex” as contained in Title VII referred only to discrimination on the basis of biological sex. After all, when Title VII was enacted, legislators neither expressly nor implicitly suggested that sexual orientation or gender identity came within the purview of sex-based discrimination. Likewise, in Department of Homeland Security, some scholars expected that Chief Justice Roberts would uphold the Trump administration’s decision.

So what is going here? In short, the answer is that the justices rely on extralegal factors when making decisions and those factors explain why decision-making at the Court is not, as Justice Elena Kagan once stated, “law all the way down.”[4]

Below is a brief summary of several factors that may – and likely do – influence the Court’s decision-making process.

I.    Concerns for institutional legitimacy matter – particularly for Chief Justice John Roberts

The Court is undoubtedly – and rightfully – concerned with its institutional legitimacy. Indeed, inspiring public confidence in the Court’s decision-making process, which includes cultivating the perception that the justices are neutral arbiters of the law, is essential to maintaining the Court’s legitimacy and credibility. For that reason, the Court is understandably reluctant to issue decisions that are inconsistent with precedent, overly broad, politically unpopular, and unnecessarily divisive. Put simply, the Court is dedicated to preserving its status as an independent legal institution that is neither influenced by nor concerned with political ideology.

Some court observers posit that Chief Justice Roberts is particularly concerned with preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy. For example, Roberts’s desire to avoid 5-4 decisions (to the extent possible) and refrain from deciding socially and politically divisive cases underscores his commitment to the Court’s legitimacy. In fact, concerns for institutional legitimacy arguably motivated, at least in part, Chief Justice Roberts’s decision in National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, where he upheld the Affordable Care Act on the basis that the Act’s individual mandate constituted a permissible tax.[5]

But the desire to protect the Court’s institutional legitimacy is a questionable basis for judicial decision-making. Simply put, it is difficult to identify the criteria or circumstances in which a specific outcome will preserve, rather than undermine, the Court’s legitimacy. For example, in Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts voted with the Court’s conservative members to invalidate portions of the Voting Rights Act, which was a politically and publicly unpopular decision.[6] And despite the increasing public and political support for same-sex marriage, Chief Justice Roberts dissented in Obergefell v. Hodges, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not encompass a right to same-sex marriage.[7] Reasonable people would certainly disagree regarding whether these decisions protected the Court’s legitimacy.

Such disagreement highlights the problem when placing emphasis on institutional legitimacy as a basis for rendering decisions. To begin with, the concept of institutional legitimacy can be defined differently. For example, does a decision further the Court’s institutional legitimacy if it is consistent with public opinion or the policy predilections of legislators? Do concerns for institutional legitimacy require the Court to adopt an originalist philosophy or, at the very least, ensure that its decisions are consistent with a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution’s text? Does the Court’s institutional legitimacy depend on whether the outcome is considered just and fair? These questions highlight the problem: preserving institutional legitimacy depends on each justice’s subjective view of what decisions (and interpretative) methods achieve that goal. For that reason, an exclusive or predominant focus on preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy can inadvertently undermine the very legitimacy that the justices seek to preserve.

II.    Ideology matters – for conservative and liberal justices

For both conservative and liberal justices, ideological considerations and policy predilections influence their decision-making process. Of course, this is not true in every case, as many cases do not implicate ideological considerations to a significant degree or require the application of other principles, such as stare decisis, that constrain a justice’s ability to predicate a decision on ideology alone.

However, in politically or socially divisive cases, such as those involving affirmative action, abortion, the death penalty, or the right to bear arms, ideology arguably plays a role. Indeed, a substantial body of research suggests that the justices render decisions that are consistent with their political beliefs. Perhaps for this reason, in some cases, lawyers and scholars can accurately predict how the justices will rule. For example, the Court’s four liberal justices will almost always abortion restrictions. The Court’s most conservative justices will often be unreceptive to arguments that the imposition of the death penalty in a given case violates the Eighth Amendment. Justice Sotomayor will almost certainly be hostile to challenges to affirmative action programs and Justice Alito will almost certainly be receptive to such challenges. Justice Ginsburg will almost certainly invalidate restrictions on abortion access while Justice Thomas will almost certainly uphold such restrictions. Not surprisingly, these outcomes align perfectly with the justices’ policy and political preferences.

Of course, a substantial portion of the Court’s cases are decided unanimously, and, as stated above, in many cases, ideology is not implicated to a substantial degree. But make no mistake: ideology does influence at least a portion of the Court’s decisions.

III.    Bias matters – for both liberal and conservative justices

Social science research suggests that bias affects liberal and conservative justices and that this bias reflects, in part, each justice’s personal background and experience. For example, gender bias is prevalent in criminal sentencing, as men often receive harsher sentences than women.[8] In fact, “the sentencing disparities among gender are some of the most visible and persistent sentencing disparities in this country.”[9] Additionally, African-American defendants often receive harsher sentences than white defendants.[10] As one scholar explains:

[T]he body of research on the potential for invidious biases in judges arising from reliance on emotion or implicit stereotypes supports a troubling conclusion: Judges do not easily set such extralegal matters aside. The feelings and biases that influence most adults seem to also affect judges.[11]

Of course, this research should not suggest that the justices are motivated primarily or even secondarily by explicit or implicit bias. It does suggest, however, that the justices, like all individuals, are susceptible to confirmation bias, which is an “effort to seek out information that is consistent with one’s prior beliefs, while ignoring or avoiding information that could refute them.”[12] In so doing, the potential for reaching an improper result increase substantially.

IV. `Emotion matters – it’s not, as Justice Elena Kagan once stated, “Law all the way down”

Empirical research demonstrates that a judge’s emotions matter in the decision-making process. To be sure, a “series of experiments with hundreds of judges from numerous jurisdictions concluded that emotions influence how judges interpret law when evaluating hypothetical cases.”[13] As researchers explain:

[J]udicial reliance on emotion in decision making can be defensible. Judges should temper their application of law and logic with expressions of compassion and empathy. Indeed, one set of studies finds that judges seem to largely ignore apologies in both civil and criminal cases, making the judges seem overly dispassionate. [Studies in other contexts], however, go well beyond a sensible level of compassion. No one can defend taking a football loss out on juveniles, setting lower bail for more attractive litigants, or treating Muslim litigants differently after 9/11. Nevertheless, these studies show judges to be vulnerable to several such untoward influences.[14]

Emotion would certainly seem relevant because, in many cases, a constitutional or statutory provision is susceptible to different interpretations, and because judges probably want to reach what they believe is the most equitable and fair result.

V.    Intuition matters

Studies show that, in some instances, judges base decisions in large part on intuition, rather than on evidence or empirical data. Indeed, “[i]n one study, 160 federal judges evaluating a hypothetical case neglected statistical evidence in favor of intuition in the assessment of negligence.”[15] As one study demonstrated, “judges rely heavily on intuitive reasoning to evaluate legal disputes,” “use simple mental shortcuts to guide how they think about legal materials,” and “do not improve with experience or specialization.”[16] In fact, the “excessive reliance on an intuitive response” is responsible in substantial part for the prevalence of confirmation bias.

***

Ultimately, the relevant research on judging suggests that judges strive to achieve what they believe is the fairest and most just result. Put differently, judges do not necessarily reach decisions based on what they are compelled to do but based on what they are able to do in a given case. This supports the proposition that judging is strategic and personal, not merely legal. For that reason, law students and advocates should consider the influence of the above factors when developing and making legal arguments. Judges, including the justices on the Supreme Court, are human beings and judging is a human enterprise.

 

[1] See 590 U.S. ___ , 2020 WL 3146686.

[2] See id.

[3] See 590 U.S. ___, available at: https://d2qwohl8lx5mh1.cloudfront.net/Xpikua_BIGWtET0SEU1fDQ/content.

[4] Josh Blackmun, Kagan- Law All The Way Down, Stephen Hawking- Turtles All The Way Down (2010), available at: http://joshblackman.com/blog/2010/06/30/kagan-law-all-the-way-down-stephen-hawkingng-turtles-all-the-way-down/.

[5] 567 U.S. 519 (2012).

[6] 570 U.S. 529 (2013).

[7] 576 U.S. 644 (2015).

[8] See id.

[9] Id. at 28 (internal citation omitted).

[10] Id. at 29.

[11] Id. at 32.

[12] Id. at 16.

[13] Id. at 24.

[14] Id. at 27.

[15] Id. at 14.

[16] Id. at 21.

June 21, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Saturday, June 20, 2020

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d274d5bd970c-pi (960×720)

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

  • Earlier this week, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision ruled that the plain language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. Widely seen as a landmark decision, the ruling applied textualist principles and found that the plain language unambiguously protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees because decisions discriminating for those reasons are—at their core—decisions discriminating because of sex. The opinion recognizes that "[i]t is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating ... based on sex.”  See the opinion and a sampling of the many reports from NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg Law.
  • On Thursday, in another much-anticipated case, the Court ruled 5-4 that the administration’s attempt to end DACA is impermissible. Justice Roberts writes, “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. ‘The wisdom’ of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’ [citation omitted.] We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.” See the opinion and a sampling of the many reports including from The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, and NPR.  

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • Last week, the Fourth Circuit invoked the murder of George Floyd in its opinion reversing a lower court and refusing to apply qualified immunity to dismiss a lawsuit again police officers who shot a black American 22 times after the victim had been subdued. The opinion found that if the victim “was secured, then police officers could not constitutionally release him, back away, and shoot him. To do so violated [his] constitutional right to be free from deadly force under clearly established law." The opinion also states that, “[a]lthough we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives. Before the ink dried on this opinion, the FBI opened an investigation into yet another death of a black man at the hands of police, this time George Floyd in Minneapolis. This has to stop.” See the opinion and reports from CNN, The Washington Post, and The National Law Journal.
  • Today, a federal court denied an emergency request from the Justice department block former national security adviser John Bolton's book from being published. The court held that, “while Bolton's unilateral conduct raises grave national security concerns, the government has not established that an injunction is an appropriate remedy.” See reports from The Hill, CNN, and NPR (find order at NPR link).   

June 20, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2020

Addressing Bias in Our Briefs and in the Legal Writing Classroom: If You Want Peace, Work for Justice

Like so many of us, I have spent the last few months worrying.  I have been very worried about my law students’ physical and mental well-being.  As a parent, I’m losing sleep over concerns for my high-school and college-aged children.  But for the last two weeks especially, I have been incredibly anxious about the lack of justice in our country. 

As a teen, I loved the statement, “if you want peace, work for justice.”  I did not know then the phrase has roots in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but I knew it made sense.  See, e.g., Ronald C. Smith, If You Want Peace, Work for Justice, 16 Crim. Just. 1, 2 (ABA Fall, 2001) (using the phrase to call for justice after 9/11 and discussing the role of the criminal justice bar in ensuring freedoms and liberties to bring peace); Samuel J. Levine, The Broad Life of the Jewish Lawyer: Integrating Spirituality, Scholarship and Profession, 27 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 1199, 1206-09 (1996).  To me, one small way we can all start to make changes for more justice is by being more intentional in discussing bias in our writing, practice, and teaching. 

As appellate lawyers, we often have a good overview of problems in the trial court, and sometimes we can see racism and bias as well.  While we cannot present something beyond the record in a brief, we can do better at discussing what the record supports, and in having painful conversations with our trial counsel and clients.  Our courts have been increasingly willing to discuss bias, and one recently stressed the need to take “teachable moments” to end bias.  See Briganti v. Chow, 42 Cal. App. 4th 504, 510-13 (2019); Debra Cassens Weiss, “Appeals court sees lawyer's reference to 'attractive' judge in brief as a 'teachable moment' on sexism,” http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/appeals-court-sees-lawyers-reference-to-attractive-judge-in-brief-as-a-teachable-moment-on-sexism (Nov. 27, 2019).   We too should advocate for professionalism, and against bias, in our practice.  Of course, this is easier said than done, and our obligation is to our client, but if we start more conversations about what happened at trial and seize more opportunities to start a dialogue on professionalism, we will be working for justice.

Moreover, as legal writing teachers, we have great opportunities to include discussions of racism in our work.  In doing so, we need not stray from our “assigned” role as writing teachers, since we also have an obligation to teach ethical practice as part of legal writing and analysis.  In fact, we already stress important topics of professionalism in myriad ways.  For example, many of us use cases on disbarment when we teach case briefing, and discuss the results of missed deadlines or failure to follow court rules as part of our teaching for memos and briefs.  Additionally, I used problems on curing attorney errors for my trial brief problems for years.  Now, we can include cases leading to discussions of bias as well.  Using problems based in some legal areas, like Fourth Amendment pretextual stops and Title VII discrimination, will easily lead to discussions of racism and how writers and lawyers can address injustice.  Using problems based in other substantive areas, like false imprisonment or real property, can create wonderful openings for discussing implicit bias and raising awareness, all while teaching crucial legal analysis and writing skills.  I am not suggesting professors should or should not share their own views in these discussions, I am just noting a discussion of bias in the law and legal profession is a logical and important part of the ethical issues we already teach. 

As Ronald Smith said of working for justice to bring peace:  “think of another saying, ‘It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’ [When] we seek justice each of us lights candles, [and] light[s] the way for others to see how they . . . can light candles and work for justice, too.”   Smith, If You Want Peace, Work for Justice, 16 Crim. Just. at 3.

I wish you all good health and less worry, with hopes for a more just future.

June 12, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Few Thoughts on Achieving Equality in the Wake of George Floyd’s Tragic Death

The death of George Floyd was tragic and appalling. The video that showed Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes was disturbing. Sadly, many unarmed African-Americans have been fatally shot by law enforcement, and although most officers have been acquitted of criminal conduct based on these events, they have been tragic and involved the questionable, if not unnecessary, use of force.

This is not to say that the majority of law enforcement officers are bad people. Most strive to – and do – protect their communities. But the events this past week have rightfully renewed a call to address problems in the law enforcement community and issues related to inequality. Below are a few thoughts regarding how to address the broader issue of inequality and achieve a society where equal opportunity exists for all citizens.

I.    Focus on Institutional Corruption, not merely Institutional, or Systemic, Racism

There can be no doubt that racism and discrimination exist throughout the United States. Indeed, the legacy of, among other things, slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow have caused incalculable social and economic harm to African-Americans that continue to this day. As such, achieving equality and eradicating discrimination in all of its forms is a moral and categorical imperative.

To do so, however, it is not sufficient to rely upon an overly general assertion that the United States is currently an institutionally or systemically racist society.[1] Although institutional racism certainly existed for much of this country’s history, it does not exist to nearly the same degree in contemporary society. For example, federal and state laws outlaw discrimination. Public universities have prioritized diversifying their student bodies and faculty. Private employers have made laudable efforts to diversify their workforces. Affirmative action programs have increased access to education for traditionally disadvantaged groups. This is merely a representative sample of the efforts reflecting a commitment to equality of opportunity and evincing a condemnation of practices that, by design or in effect, discriminate against particular groups.

Of course, although institutional racism is no longer ubiquitous, there can be no doubt that some institutions remain racist or, at the very least, retain policies that disparately impact traditionally marginalized groups. Accordingly, the best path to achieving equality would be to identify, at the county, state, and federal level, the specific institutions that remain institutionally or systemically racist – and to develop workable policy prescriptions to remedy the infirmities in these institutions. Put differently, it does little, if any, good to recite the proposition to institutional or systemic racism exists because these terms are overly broad and thus make it difficult to develop workable and sustainable remedies for specific problems.

Additionally, scholars and policymakers place insufficient emphasis on institutional corruption. This concept, which was developed by Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, states as follows:

Institutional corruption is manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including, to the extent relevant to its purpose, weakening either the public’s trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness.[2]

Simply put, institutional corruption does not involve violations of the law. Rather, it refers to the degradation of an institution’s underlying values, and how the institution’s actions, although not illegal, undermine the public trust.

The United States Department of Justice’s investigation into the tragic death of Michael Brown – and the Ferguson Police Department – is instructive. The Department cleared Officer Darren Wilson of wrongdoing but, in so doing, found that the Ferguson Police Department was institutionally corrupt.[3] That is, although the Ferguson Police Department did not engage in illegal activity per se, its policies and practices disproportionately and unfairly impacted African-American residents, thus highlighting the need for principled reforms.

II.    Focus on Crime Prevention by Addressing the Underlying Causes of Criminality

There can be no doubt that reforms to policing practices (and legal doctrines, such as qualified immunity) are necessary in some jurisdictions to ensure that police brutality ends and that the lives of African-American suspects (and all suspects) are not needlessly lost. This may include eliminating specific physical restraints, making changes to police training methods, and revisiting the qualified immunity doctrine.

But such reforms are not enough.

Legislators and policymakers must address a critical issue that has nothing to do with law enforcement – the underlying causes of criminality in the African-American community (and all communities, for that matter) – and strive to reduce criminal behavior.

Regarding this issue, the landmark report of former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is also instructive, albeit controversial.[4] In that report, Senator Moynihan found that, by the mid-1960s, nearly half of African-American families were in the middle class. In subsequent years, however, that progress stalled. Senator Moynihan posited that the decline of the nuclear family and the increase in single-parent families contributed to this problem as part of a “tangle of pathology,” which included “delinquency, joblessness, school failure, crime, and fatherlessness.”[5] These factors, Moynihan concluded, created a “self-perpetuating cycle of deprivation, hardship, and inequality.”[6] Decades after its publication, the Urban Institute revisited Senator Moynihan’s report and concluded that African-Americans “still suffer from the intersecting disadvantages that Moynihan called a ‘tangle of pathologies,’ with each negative factor reinforcing the others.”[7] Specifically, the Urban Institute noted that children “born into single-mother families [approximately 72% of African-American children] are far more likely to be poor and persistently poor than children born into two-parent families,” and that “[h]igh-poverty neighborhoods suffer from high rates of crime and violence, poor schools, and weak connections to the labor market.”[8] Consequently, these factors may be responsible, in part, for criminality and inequality of opportunity.

But the Moynihan Report’s findings do not tell the whole, or even most important part, of the story. Perhaps the most deleterious effect of the systemic discrimination that continued until the mid-twentieth Century was the disparity in the quality of education at the grade and high school levels. To make matters worse, in San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, the United States Supreme Court held that the funding of public schools based on property tax revenue did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.[9] The practical effect was far-reaching and long-lasting: children from wealthy neighborhoods received a better education than children from poor neighborhoods. That, in a nutshell, made equality of opportunity illusory for poor children of all races. As the Urban Institute noted, “[y]oung people from high-poverty neighborhoods are less successful in school than their counterparts from more affluent communities: they earn lower grades, are more likely to drop out, and are less likely to go on to college.”[10]

Make no mistake: racism is and continues to be part of the problem. Indeed, the Urban Institute noted that “race remains a factor in determining economic opportunities and outcomes,” and that “aggressive enforcement of antidiscrimination statutes as well as affirmative action policies are required to ensure equal opportunity.”[11] Police brutality, of course, is also a problem, and the recent protests are a testament to citizens’ rightful anger, at such brutality although those citizens who engaged in violence and other criminal activity should not be considered protesters in any sense whatsoever.

But the path to equality requires policymakers and scholars to do far more than focus on law enforcement. For the promise of equality to become a reality for all citizens, researchers and scholars must develop policies that address community and family issues, and that remedy the disparities in education at the grade and high school levels.

III.       Reform Federal and State Sentencing Guidelines – and Reentry Programs

At the federal and state level, sentencing guidelines often authorize the imposition of unnecessarily long and unprincipled sentences. Additionally, during incarceration, the criminal justice system often provides inadequate support and treatment for mentally ill inmates. And upon release, these individuals, many of whom are members of traditionally disadvantaged groups, have deteriorated substantially and lack the social and economic support to successfully reintegrate into society. Not surprisingly, they frequently engage in criminal conduct and return to prison, where the cycle continues.

Thus, reforming sentencing law to enhance rehabilitation-based programs for inmates – and prioritize support for inmates upon release – is critical to reducing crime.

IV.    The Millennial Sequence

The path to the middle class – and away from criminality – is attainable for citizens of all backgrounds. Specifically, the American Enterprise Institute has found that, among millennials, “getting at least a high school degree, working full-time, and marrying before having any children,” facilitates upward mobility into the middle class:

[The] divergent paths toward adulthood are associated with markedly different economic fortunes among Millennials. Young adults who put marriage first are more likely to find themselves in the middle or upper third of the income distribution, compared to their peers who have not formed a family and especially compared to their peers who have children before marrying … This pattern holds true for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as young adults from lower-income families. For instance, 76% of African American and 81% of Hispanic young adults who married first are in the middle or upper third of the income distribution, as are 87% of whites.[12]

In fact, this sequence is almost certain to reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood that an individual will live in poverty:

97% of Millennials who follow what has been called the “success sequence”—that is, who get at least a high school degree, work, and then marry before having any children, in that order—are not poor by the time they reach their prime young adult years (ages 28-34). The “success sequence,” so named by Brookings Institution scholars Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, has been described as the path into adulthood that is most likely to lead towards economic success and away from poverty.[13]

The problem, however, is that “young adults aged 28 to 34 from lower-income families are about half as likely to have completed the success sequence, or be on track with the sequence, compared to their peers from upper-income families.”[14]

                                                                                                                            ***

This short article cannot capture in sufficient detail the many issues relevant to inequality. Ultimately, however, and perhaps most importantly, the solution to this problem requires citizens of all races and backgrounds to come together in a spirit of reconciliation, with a commitment to eradicating racism and discrimination, and with an openness to diverse perspectives. It does no good to maintain an almost-exclusive focus on, for example, white privilege (the extent of which cannot be quantified and differs based on intersectional factors), and implicit bias (which evidence suggests does not correlate with biased behavior). These arguments rightfully identify problems impacting inequality, but without more, they have no practical impact on improving the day-to-day lives of African-Americans. If anything, now is the time to come together and recognize that what we have in common far outweighs that which we do not, and to collectively devote our efforts to achieving equality – and equal protection of the law – for all citizens. After all, what happened to George Floyd, and many others, should never happen again. The United States Constitution guarantees equality for all citizens and whenever the effects of inequality manifest – as they did in Minneapolis – the Founders’ vision for a more perfect union vanishes.

 

[1] Institutional racism is generally defined as state-sponsored policies that discriminate against or disproportionately impact traditionally marginalized groups.

[2] Edmond J. Safra, Institutional Corruption, available at: https://ethics.harvard.edu/lab

[3] See United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department (March 4, 2015), available at: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf

[4] Kay S. Hymowitz, The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies, (2005), available at: https://www.city-journal.org/html/black-family-40-years-lies-12872.html

[5] Id.

[6] Gregory Arcs, The Moynihan Report Revisited (June 2013), available at: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/23696/412839-The-Moynihan-Report-Revisited.PDF

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] 411 U.S. 1 (1973).

[10] Arcs, supra note 6, available at: available at: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/23696/412839-The-Moynihan-Report-Revisited.PDF\

[11] Id.

[12] W. Bradford Wilcox, The Millennial Success Sequence: Marriage, Kids, and the ‘Success Sequence’ Among Young Adults (June 2017), available at: https://www.aei.org/research-products/working-paper/millennials-and-the-success-sequence-how-do-education-work-and-marriage-affect-poverty-and-financial-success-among-millennials/

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

June 7, 2020 in Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Reviewing the United States Supreme Court’s Decision in Kahler v. Kansas

In Kahler v. Kansas, the United States Supreme Court confronted the question of whether a state could effectively eliminate the insanity defense.

I.    The Court’s Decision

By way of background, in criminal prosecutions nearly all jurisdictions provide an insanity defense that enables defendants to prove that they are not legally responsible for a charged offense. Although the elements of the insanity defense differ somewhat among the states, most follow or closely track the M’Naghten rule, which requires defendants to demonstrate that: (1) they suffered from a diagnosed mental illness; and (2) due to such illness, they did not appreciate the wrongfulness or of their conduct (i.e., could not distinguish between right and wrong). The insanity defense is used in approximately one percent of criminal cases and only succeeds in about one-quarter of those cases.

In Kahler, the State of Kansas did not eliminate the insanity defense per se. Instead, Kansas adopted a different approach in which defendants could be absolved of criminal responsibility if they could demonstrate that their mental illness negated the intent element of a particular crime.[1] Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan held that state laws regarding criminal responsibility are only unconstitutional if they violate "some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience our people as to be ranked as fundamental.”[2] Applying this rather vague and subjective standard, the majority held that the Fourteenth Amendment does not require states to adopt an insanity defense that focuses on moral wrongfulness.  Rather, the insanity defense is “substantially open to state choice” and “animated by complex and ever-changing ideas that are best left to the States to evaluate and reevaluate over time.”[3] Thus, the majority rejected the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment required states to adopt a particular test for insanity, including a test that focused on whether defendants knew that their actions were morally wrong. Indeed, as the majority stated, “no single version of the insanity defense has become so ingrained in American law as to rank as ‘fundamental.’”[4]

II.    Analysis

The Court got it wrong.

There should be a constitutional minimum – a baseline – that ensures the fair and just treatment of mentally ill defendants at both the adjudicatory and sentencing stage. Indeed, the Court – and state legislatures - should recognize that severe mental illness reduces culpability and in some cases, criminal responsibility, regardless of whether a defendant knew that the conduct in question was legally proscribed or morally wrong.  Doing so would demonstrate that Kansas's approach, and the standard used in most jurisdictions (the M’Naghten rule), is woefully inadequate. It leads to grave injustices. And it demonstrates an alarming indifference to the direct and indirect consequences that mental illnesses exact on individuals' ability to reason and make informed choices.

Indeed, although some mental illnesses do not necessarily negate the intent element, these illnesses often cause a person to act with an ‘intent’ that is not culpable or even worthy of criminal responsibility. In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer highlighted the flaw in Kansas’s approach. Justice Breyer explained that “Kansas has not simply redefined the insanity defense,” but instead “has eliminated the core of a defense that has existed for centuries: that the defendant, due to mental illness, lacked the mental capacity necessary for his conduct to be considered morally blameworthy.”[5]

Justice Breyer explained as follows:

A much-simplified example will help the reader understand the conceptual distinction that is central to this case. Consider two similar prosecutions for murder. In Prosecution One, the accused person has shot and killed another person. The evidence at trial proves that, as a result of severe mental illness, he thought the victim was a dog. Prosecution Two is similar but for one thing: The evidence at trial proves that, as a result of severe mental illness, the defendant thought that a dog ordered him to kill the victim. Under the insanity defense as traditionally understood, the government cannot convict either defendant. Under Kansas’ rule, it can convict the second but not the first.[6]

That, in a nutshell, is the point – and the problem. To hold that the second individual in Justice Breyer’s hypothetical acted with the requisite intent is to reduce intent to a standard that is divorced from context and deliberately indifferent to empirical evidence demonstrating that, in some circumstances, mentally ill individuals do not – and cannot – act rationally. They act impulsively. They act under a false set of beliefs that influence their decisions and motivate their actions.

III.       Broader Problems With the Insanity Defense

The problems with Kansas's approach represent only the tip of the constitutional iceberg. The standards governing insanity in many jurisdictions, which largely track the M’Naghten rule, are deeply troubling.[7] Specifically, requiring defendants to show that they could not appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions (i.e., distinguish right from wrong) ignores the deleterious effects of mental illness on human behavior. Severely mentally ill individuals may know that an action is legally proscribed or morally wrong, but that fact is irrelevant to such individuals because, in some instances, they form a distorted set of beliefs, experience an inability make rational decisions, and struggle with an emotional state that can allow impulse to trump reason. By ignoring or failing to sufficiently account for this, the extant approaches make it all but certain that severely mentally ill individuals will be found guilty of various criminal offenses, face substantial periods of incarceration where they will receive inadequate treatment (and inevitably decompensate), and struggle to reintegrate into society upon release.

As a policy matter, this is problematic, if not fundamentally unjust. Mentally ill individuals often deteriorate while incarcerated, as they lack the support and structure necessary to effectively treat their illnesses. Upon release, such individuals frequently find it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully transition into the community, obtain meaningful employment, and achieve the stability necessary to lead functional lives. These deleterious consequences result in part from instituting a narrow and underinclusive insanity defense at the adjudication stage, and defaulting to incarceration rather than treatment at the sentencing phase, notwithstanding that there is little, if any, evidence that incarcerating mentally ill individuals serves any purpose of criminal punishment (e.g., deterrence). Simply put, the manner in which mentally ill individuals are treated in the criminal justice system is a national disgrace.[8]

IV.    Reforms

Principled reforms should include broadening the insanity defense to eliminate the moral wrongfulness requirement (i.e., that defendants lack appreciation of the wrongfulness of their conduct), recognizing the mitigating effects of mental illness on culpability and, in some cases, criminal responsibility, providing convicted but mentally ill defendants with treatment rather than incarceration (or at least ensuring a competent treatment protocol), reducing sentences, and establishing effective reentry programs to facilitate mentally ill defendants’ transition into society upon release.

Put simply, states, like Kansas, should no longer be allowed to ‘experiment’ with the insanity defense. A uniform approach at the adjudication and sentencing phase is necessary to ensure that mentally ill defendants receive equal protection under the law.

 

[1] See Kahler v. Kansas, No. 18–6135, available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-6135_j4ek.pdf

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. (internal citation omitted).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] A minority of states have adopted broader versions of the insanity defense and thus provide defendants with fairer and more just opportunities to demonstrate that their mental illnesses substantially reduce, if not eliminate, responsibility for a particular crime.

[8] This is not to say, of course, that mentally ill individuals are more likely to commit crimes. It is to say, however, that when individuals with severe and diagnosed mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, engage in criminal conduct, the law should provide a remedy, at the adjudication and sentencing stages, to ensure that such individuals receive treatment for such illnesses.

 

May 23, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Toast to Those in the Courts Who Were Ready for This Pandemic

 

This blog post might provide you with information you already know.  The information is new to me, which made me think sharing it might assist others as well.  As I was looking at the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website recently, a reference caught my eye.  That reference was to the publication, “Preparing for a Pandemic: An Emergency Response Benchbook and Operational Guidebook for State Court Judges and Administrators.”  The publication can be downloaded here: https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/facilities/id/194

A team from the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators worked on a Pandemic and Emergency Response Task Force to create this document, which was published by the National Center for State Courts in 2016!  That date caught my eye because, like so many of you, I have been stunned over the past few months (yes, months that sometimes feel like years) by what has been going on in the world: stunned by the magnitude of this pandemic.  And now, I am stunned by the fact that this group created this resource four years ago that is so relevant to what the world is experiencing in 2020.

The benchbook/guidebook urges state courts to create their own books tailored to their states in which they include both federal and state laws that will be relevant should a pandemic occur.  It raises issues to be considered in a pandemic, such as maintaining constitutional protections during a pandemic; operating courts during a pandemic; searches, seizures, and other government actions to maintain public health; and jurisdiction of public health issues.  It suggests that courts create certain model orders and court rules to use in the event of a pandemic.  It also provides a resources list that includes citations to state courts that already had such plans back then.  From back in 2016, it discusses and suggests many of the things that we are now discussing and suggesting.

I highly recommend you review this document, if you have not already seen it.  Perhaps it will be helpful to you in your law practice, in your law school, in your court, and even in your personal life as you grapple with and consider issues that do not often present themselves.  Thank you to the National Center for State Courts https://www.ncsc.org/, the Conference of Chief Justices https://ccj.ncsc.org/, and the Conference of State Court Administrators https://cosca.ncsc.org/ for thinking ahead.  I only wish we did not need your good book. 

May 13, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system’s treatment of mentally ill offenders is woefully inadequate and alarmingly ineffective. Indeed, the treatment of such offenders – from arrest to conviction – often exacerbates their psychiatric disorders and enhances the likelihood that they will re-offend – or die while trying to reintegrate into society.

Below is a summary of various aspects of the criminal justice system that highlight the inadequate treatment provided to mentally-ill defendants.[1]

I.    Before trial

First, criminal defendants with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, often languish for many months in state prisons while awaiting trial.[2] During this time, many mentally ill defendants, some of whom have been declared incompetent to stand trial, fail to receive adequate psychiatric care and often receive little to no counseling or other support services. As a result, their mental health frequently deteriorates substantially while awaiting trial in overcrowded and underfunded prisons, or in psychiatric hospitals where the primary, if not exclusive, objective is to restore the defendant to a minimum level of competence. The deleterious effects of these substandard and, in some cases, inhumane conditions are debilitating and long-lasting.

II.    During trial

At a criminal trial, mentally-ill defendants often find it difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate that their respective mental illnesses were a substantial or proximate cause of a crime's commission and that, accordingly, they are less culpable (or not responsible at all).[3] Although defendants may plead the insanity defense, this defense is only used in approximately one-percent of cases and is unsuccessful in approximately seventy-five percent of those cases. The reason is that most jurisdictions follow the M'Naghten rule, which requires a showing that a defendant was mentally ill or impaired at the time of the crime’s commission and that the defendant did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct (i.e., could not distinguish between right and wrong).

The latter prong of the M’Naghten test makes it extremely difficult for defendants to prove insanity. Simply put, a mentally ill defendant may technically or abstractly understand that particular conduct is unlawful but, due to the deleterious effects of mental illness (e.g., impulse control, irrationality, delusions), the defendant may lack the intentionality necessary to comport with the law.

III.      Incarceration after conviction

Many mentally-ill defendants are found guilty and sentenced to lengthy periods of incarceration in an environment that is highly likely to exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, their respective mental illnesses. Specifically, being confined for prolonged periods of time without meaningful social interaction, receiving insufficient psychiatric care and evaluation, and having little to no support services (e.g., counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy) all but guarantee that mentally-ill inmates will deteriorate, if not decompensate, while incarcerated.[4] The result is that, upon release, mentally-ill defendants struggle to reintegrate into society and achieve emotional and financial stability.

IV.    Inadequate post-release support

Upon release, mentally ill defendants often receive insufficient mental health treatment. Although mental health courts in some states have improved the type and quality of care provided to some defendants, particularly those convicted of minor crimes, many defendants with mental health issues who have deteriorated substantially while incarcerated receive substandard care upon release.[5]

Indeed, courts are often reticent to approve a post-release in-patient treatment program for mentally-ill defendants. Thus, these defendants, some of whom are suffering from severe mental health issues, typically receive only out-patient care, and the compliance rates for these defendants vary substantially. Furthermore, the outpatient care that mentally ill defendants receive is often woefully inadequate, consisting of only periodic psychiatric assessments, including regarding the efficacy of medication, and only a modest degree of individualized counseling at state-run hospitals of dubious quality. Moreover, in some cases, the implementation of an outpatient program is delayed upon release, which leaves mentally ill defendants without any care whatsoever for days, if not weeks.[6]

V.    The results – recidivism and suicide

Not surprisingly, upon release, and lacking adequate mental health support, a substantial portion of mentally ill defendants fail to successfully reintegrate into society:

Once in jail, many individuals don't receive the treatment they need and end up getting worse, not better. They stay longer than their counterparts without mental illness. They are at risk of victimization and often their mental health conditions get worse. After leaving jail, many no longer have access to needed healthcare and benefits … Many individuals, especially without access to mental health services and supports, wind up homeless, in emergency rooms and often re-arrested. At least 83% of jail inmates with a mental illness did not have access to needed treatment.[7]

And in some instances, these defendants commit suicide. This was precisely the result that occurred when my brother, Marc Lamparello, committed suicide three weeks ago by jumping off the Verrazano Bridge in New York.[8]

On April 17, 2019, Marc, who had previously been diagnosed as schizophrenic, was arrested and charged with attempted arson after entering St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City with four gallons of gasoline. For the next year, Marc spent most of his time at Riker's Island prison in New York, with an intermittent stay at a psychiatric hospital in New York before he was transferred back to Riker’s Island while he awaited trial.

During his time at Riker's Island, including in the last five months, Marc received psychiatric medication but was provided with no therapy or other support services whatsoever. Incarcerated in an overcrowded and underfunded prison, Marc’s condition continuously deteriorated while it took the state criminal court months to approve a plea bargain and effectuate his release. As part of his release, Marc was required to immediately undergo intensive outpatient therapy – five times per week for six hours per day. And by the time of his release in mid-March, Marc's condition had deteriorated so substantially that immediate and sustained treatment was necessary to save his life.

But that never happened. For thirty days, Marc did not receive any treatment whatsoever. At first, Marc’s caseworker and psychiatric hospital explained that, due to coronavirus concerns, Marc had to quarantine for fourteen days. Subsequently – and without explanation – Marc was dropped from the treatment program.

Only days later, on April 10, 2020, Marc attempted to jump off of the George Washington Bridge in New York City. His life was saved when law enforcement officers rescued him before he could jump. In the next few days, Marc’s family implored doctors at the psychiatric hospital to which he was admitted to enroll Marc in the hospital’s in-patient program. They declined.

Instead, the hospital released Marc only five days later.

Two days after his release, Marc jumped off of the Verrazano Bridge in New York and died. Marc's death highlights the woefully inadequate treatment that he received during and after incarceration. In short, the manner in which Marc was treated during and after incarceration was disgraceful.

This is not to say, of course, that incarceration is neither necessary nor desirable for many defendants, including those with mental illnesses, particularly those convicted of violent crimes. It is to say, however, that the criminal justice system's approach to treating mentally ill defendants is glaringly inadequate. Given this fact, scholars, practitioners, and public policy experts should continue to emphasize before courts and legislatures the need to reform the criminal justice system’s substandard treatment of mentally ill defendants.

The current paradigm is fundamentally unjust.

*This post is dedicated to my younger brother Marc Lamparello, who died on April 17, 2020, at the age of 38. Rest in peace, Marc.

 

[1] See The Sentencing Project, Mentally Ill Offenders in the Criminal Justice System: An Analysis and Prescription, available at: https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Mentally-Ill-Offenders-in-the-Criminal-Justice-System.pdf

[2] See Paul Tullis, When Mental Illness Becomes a Jail Sentence (Dec. 2019), available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/12/when-mental-illness-becomes-jail-sentence/603154/

[3] See Natalie Jacewicz, 'Guilty But Mentally Ill' Doesn't Protect Against Harsh Sentences (Aug. 2016), available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/08/02/486632201/guilty-but-mentally-ill-doesnt-protect-against-harsh-sentences

[4] See Human Rights Watch, Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness (Oct. 2003), available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2003/10/21/ill-equipped/us-prisons-and-offenders-mental-illness

[5] See Jo Sahlin, The Prison Problem: Recidivism Rates and Mental Health (May 2018), available at: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/prison-problem-recidivism-rates-mental-health-0520187

[6] See generally, Released inmates need programs to meet basic mental health needs, study shows (Jan. 2014), available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140106103737.htm

[7] National Institute of Mental Health, Jailing People with Mental Illness, available at: https://nami.org/Advocacy/Policy-Priorities/Divert-from-Justice-Involvement/Jailing-People-with-Mental-Illness

[8] See Jan Ransom, An Arrest at St. Patrick's, a Struggle for Help, Then a Suicide (April 30, 2020), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/30/nyregion/marc-lamparello-suicide-st-patricks-arson.html

 

May 10, 2020 in Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Phantom Precedents in Ramos v. Louisiana

If stare decisis really is for suckers, the Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana[1] was an unremarkable end to the anachronistic Apodaca v. Oregon[2] decision permitting states to convict criminal defendants without unanimous jury verdicts. But for those that have argued for a strong stare decisis tradition and defended the doctrine’s importance, the Ramos opinion’s sustained discussion of when to overrule a precedent is a fascinating read.

First, Ramos reiterated that a relatively weak tradition of stare decisis is in vogue on the Supreme Court. In a process that culminated in 2018’s Janus v. AFSCME opinion,[3] the Court has recently moved towards a version of stare decisis that focuses on the poor quality of a precedent’s reasoning, even permitting the Justices to overrule on that basis alone. In contrast, a strong stare decisis tradition sets “poor reasoning” as a condition precedent to stare decisis analysis, not a ground for reversal; such reversals occur only if there is a special justification, such as unworkability, strong reliance interests, new legal developments, or vastly changed facts. Writing for the Court, Justice Gorsuch quoted the weak version of stare decisis in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt—which in turn relied upon the formulation in Janus—to emphasize that the quality of a decision’s reasoning is the primary consideration within stare decisis analysis.[4] His argument against Apodaca then focused on its “gravely mistaken” reasoning, which made it an outlier in the Court’s Sixth Amendment and incorporation jurisprudence and engendered the reliance of only two states.[5] In addition to the three Justices that joined Gorsuch’s opinion in full, two concurring Justices, Cavanaugh and Thomas, would likewise make the quality of a precedent’s reasoning the primary consideration, if not the singular consideration, in the stare decisis tradition.[6] And even the three-Justice dissent made its argument in defense of Apodaca on the weak stare decisis tradition’s terms. The dissent—an unexpected alignment of Justices Alito, Roberts, and Kagan—argued that Apodaca was not nearly as poorly reasoned as the majority would have it, but was silent on whether such poor reasoning should be a reason to overrule.[7] The dissent’s silence on that point was even more thunderous given Kagan’s prior insistence that “it is not enough [to overrule because] five Justices believe a precedent wrong.”[8]

Second, Ramos introduced a new facet to the stare decisis debate. Can some precedents be so fractured and incomprehensible as to be no precedent at all, becoming a “phantom precedent?”[9] Three Justices that joined the primary opinion in full argued that Apodaca was just such a jurisprudential apparition. For that trio, Apodaca failed to supply a “governing precedent” because its controlling opinion came from a single Justice, Powell, supporting a theory of “dual-track” Sixth Amendment incorporation that a majority of the Apodaca Court itself rejected.[10] And while Sotomayor wrote separately without adopting that portion of the primary opinion, her own view was remarkably similar. She claimed Apodaca was a “universe of one” that was so “irreconcilable with . . . two strands of constitutional precedent” that its precedential value was minimal, if not evanescent.[11]  

Those opinions offered little insight into how to identify the phantom precedents within the many fractured opinions the Court issues each term. Perhaps Apodaca was uniquely unable to generate precedential value; without any guiding principles to identify why that decision was a phantom, it is hard to tell. Perhaps the view that Apodaca is a phantom precedent merely expresses discomfort with the rule in Marks v. United States that the Court’s holding in a fractured opinion is “that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.”[12] Powell’s Apodaca opinion seems to fit that bill, but perhaps the Ramos Court marks the start of a new method to measure the holding of fractured opinions. Or perhaps Ramos intimates the Supreme Court’s desire to allow some of its opinions to have little or no precedential effect, much like the now commonplace unpublished decisions that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Ramos is a complex decision with many layers to unpack beyond the few I’ve mentioned here. But its take on stare decisis is utterly fascinating. In future years, it may mark an important turning point for a doctrine whose death has been reported with great exaggeration.

 

[1] 590 U.S. ___ (2020).

[2] 406 U.S. 404 (1972).

[3] 585 U.S. __ (2018).

[4] Ramos, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) (slip op., at 20).

[5] Id. (slip op., at 20-22).

[6] Id. (slip op., at 7-8, 10-11) (Kavanaugh, J., concurring) (suggesting that the first factor in stare decisis analysis is whether the precedent is “grievously wrong,” which Apodaca was); Id. (slip op., at 2-3) (Thomas, J., concurring) (claiming that “demonstrably erroneous” decisions must be overturned irrespective of any practical stare decisis considerations).

[7] Id. (slip op., at 13-15) (Alito, J., dissenting).

[8] Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. __ (2019) (slip op., at 16) (Kagan, J., dissenting) (citing Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC, 576 U.S. __ (2015) (slip. op., at 8)).

[9] Ramos, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) (slip op., at 7) (Alito, J., dissenting).

[10] Id. (slip op., at 16).

[11] Id. (slip op., at 2) (Sotomayor, J., concurring).

[12] 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977).

April 22, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Supreme Court Argument Postponement amid Pandemic


Yesterday, the Supreme Court postponed two weeks of Oral Arguments, releasing this statement:

In keeping with public health precautions recommended in response to COVID-19, the Supreme Court is postponing the oral arguments currently scheduled for the March session (March 23-25 and March 30-April 1). The Court will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances.

The Court will hold its regularly scheduled Conference on Friday, March 20. Some Justices may participate remotely by telephone. The Court will issue its regularly scheduled Order List on Monday, March 23 at 9:30 a.m. The list will be posted on the Court’s Website at that time: https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/ordersofthecourt/19.

The Building will continue to be open for official business, and filing deadlines are not extended under Rule 30.1. The Court is expanding remote working capabilities to reduce the number of employees in the Building, consistent with public health guidance. The Building will remain closed to the public until further notice.

The Court’s postponement of argument sessions in light of public health concerns is not unprecedented. The Court postponed scheduled arguments for October 1918 in response to the Spanish flu epidemic. The Court also shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreaks.

****************************************************************************

As has been well-documented, those older than 60 are at greater risk of serious complications and death from COVID-19. Currently, 7 of 9 justices are over 60. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, are over 80. Some are already calling for an increase in technological solutions, rather than just postponing to later live hearings.

There are significant numbers of other court closures and scheduling changes happening around the country. As every day brings new announcements, it’s a rapidly changing situation.

March 17, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 13, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, March 13, 2020

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d274d5bd970c-pi (960×720)

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 Supreme Court will hear a case from Mississippi that looks at the constitutional limits of sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole, specifically whether it is a constitutional violation to impose the sentence absent a finding that the defendant is incapable of rehabilitation. See report from the Hill and the NY Times.

  • This week, the Supreme Court granted an emergency request to lift a Ninth Circuit block on an administration immigration policy. The ruling leaves in place the policy that requires thousands of people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico while their claims are adjudicated. See Reuters report.

  • A recent study from Yale looks at the practice of the Supreme Court that gives the solicitor general oral argument time as a “friend of the court.”  The study looks at the history of the practice and its effect on the adversarial process.  See the study and a report in the NY Times.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News:

  • The US District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the lower court and held that the Justice Department must release the secret grand jury evidence lawmakers are seeking in the ongoing investigations into the president. See the opinion and a sampling of the reports from the Washington Post, the NY Times, Bloomberg, the Hill.

  • The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Led Zepplin in the appeal of a copyright suit claiming the ever-popular “Stairway to Heaven” copied a song by the band Spirit. The en banc opinion of the 11-judge panel affirmed the jury decision that the songs were not substantially similar. The court also took “the opportunity to reject the inverse ratio rule, under which [the Court has] permitted a lower standard of proof of substantial similarity where there is a high degree of access.” The Court ruled that this “formulation is at odds with the copyright statute and we overrule our cases to the contrary.” Some claim that this may be a “precedent-setting win for musical acts accused of plagiarism.” AP News. See a sampling of the many reports here: Rolling Stone, the LA Times, the NY Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, Law.com’s site “The Recorder” (subscription), the Wall Street Journal (subscription).

  • The US District Court for the District of Columbia determined that it lacked the expertise to evaluate a Guantánamo Bay prisoner to determine whether he qualifies for medical repatriation in consideration of his writ for habeas corpus. Instead, in a first for federal courts, the Court ordered a mixed medical panel of American and foreign physicians to evaluate the mental health of the prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi Arabian man held at Guantánamo for more than 18 years. See the ruling and reports from the NY Times, the Washington Post (subscription), and the ABA Journal.

COVID-19 and the Courts

COVID-19 is, of course, affecting court operations. Many courts are closing or restricting public access. The Supreme Court has closed its doors to the public as of March 12; the closure will not extend case filing deadlines under Supreme Court Rule 30.1.  For general information about other court closures and restriction, Law360 has an updating list of closures and restricts here. For specific courts, see individual court websites, many of which include statements specific to COVID-19 procedures.

March 13, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Oral Argument Recap: June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo

On March 4, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, an important case concerning the states’ ability to regulate abortion providers and access to abortion services. Specifically, the Court will decide the constitutionality of a law in Louisiana that requires abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of where the providers perform abortions.

By way of brief background, in Roe v. Wade, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to privacy, which the Court recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut (and other cases), encompassed a right to abortion.[1] In so holding, the Court established a trimester framework. Under this framework, laws restricting access to abortions during the first trimester were presumptively unconstitutional. During the second trimester, states could only regulate abortion to protect a woman’s health and, in the third trimester, states were generally permitted to prohibit abortions, except to save or preserve the life of the mother. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court upheld Roe but rejected the trimester framework. In so doing, the Court adopted an “undue burden” test. Under this standard, the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion depends on whether such laws unduly burden a woman’s right to access abortion services. After Planned Parenthood, several states enacted legislation to regulate and, arguably, restrict abortion access, and the Court, applying the undue burden standard, addressed the validity of these laws on a case-by-case basis. As a result, the nature and scope of the right to abortion remains unresolved.

The Court’s decision in June Medical Services will be among the most significant in the Court’s abortion jurisprudence. To begin with, the Court’s decision will clarify the precedential value of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt, where the Court invalidated – by a 5-4 margin – a nearly identical law in Texas.[2] In Hellerstadt, the Court held that the law in question conferred no material benefit on women and would likely lead to the closure of several abortion clinics, thus constituting an undue burden on the right to obtain abortion services. Additionally, the Court’s decision will likely impact the states’ ability to restrict abortion access in future cases and may clarify the scope of the right to abortion. Third, although not likely, the Court may adopt a new or, at least, modified standard by which to assess the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion, particularly because the “undue burden” standard has arguably been difficult to interpret and apply with any degree of consistency or predictability.

At oral argument, the justices appeared divided.[3]

Justice Samuel Alito raised the issue of third-party standing and questioned whether physicians who provided abortions could challenge the law on behalf of women. Specifically, Justice Alito appeared concerned that the physicians’ interests (i.e., avoiding unnecessary or burdensome regulations) conflicted with the interests of women seeking abortion services (i.e., safety and continuity of care). The majority of justices, however, did not appear to find this argument persuasive.

Chief Justice Roberts focused primarily on whether the benefits (and burdens) of laws requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers may differ on a state-by-state basis. Justice Brett Kavanaugh also questioned whether these laws would be considered constitutional if abortion providers could easily obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Roberts’s and Kavanaugh’s questions suggested that the Court may be considering whether these laws are facially constitutional or whether their constitutionality depends on the facts of each case.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with Justices Sonya Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, appeared skeptical of the law. For example, Justice Ginsburg questioned the utility of requiring that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges within thirty miles of where abortion serves are provided. As Justice Ginsburg stated, since the relatively small number of women who experience complications from medical or surgical abortions go to a hospital nearest to their residence, which almost always outside of the thirty-mile radius, the admitting privileges requirement arguably served no legitimate purpose.

Justice Sotomayor questioned whether, given the various requirements for obtaining admitting privileges at Louisiana’s hospitals, abortion providers could realistically obtain such privileges. For example, one factor is whether the physician has admitted a sufficient number of patients to the hospital to which the physician is applying. Given the fact that women rarely experience complications from abortions and thus are not admitted to a nearby hospital, abortion providers would not, in most instances, meet this requirement. This and other questions suggested that the law in Louisiana, like the law in Texas, reflected an attempt to restrict or even prohibit abortions, rather than to safeguard women’s health. The attorneys for Louisiana disagreed, arguing that most of the physicians who challenged the law had not made reasonable attempts to obtain admitting privileges and thus could not reasonably claim that they were unable to obtain such privileges.

Justice Breyer also questioned whether the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn a portion of the district court’s factual findings satisfied the “clearly erroneous standard.”

And Justice Kagan appeared skeptical of the argument that the law served a “credentialing purpose,” particularly because hospitals could deny admitting privileges to a physician based on factors having no relationship to the quality of that physician.

Ultimately, Justice Breyer expressed a concern that has arguably plagued the Court’s abortion jurisprudence: the difficulty in adopting a reliable, predictable, and workable rule.

I understand there are good arguments on both sides. Indeed, in the country people have very strong feelings and a lot of people morally think it’s wrong and a lot of people morally think the opposite is wrong. And in Casey, and the later cases, I think personally the Court is struggling with the problem of what kind of rule of law do you have in a country that contains both sorts of people.[4]

Based on the oral argument, the Court’s decision in June Medical Services is difficult to predict. The difficulty of applying the nebulous “undue burden” standard, the politically divisive nature of this issue, principles of stare decisis, and concerns for the Court’s institutional legitimacy may certainly influence one or more of the justices.

Notwithstanding, based on oral argument, it seems that the Court may decide June Medical Services by a 5-4 vote, and if the Court invalidates the law, the most likely scenario would involve Chief Justice Roberts joining Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer in the majority. However, it is uncertain how Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh will vote, or how the majority decision will be written. It appears unlikely that the Court will simply overturn Whole Women’s Health; rather, if the Court upholds the law, it will likely do so by distinguishing Whole Women’s Health on the facts. The problem is that, if the Court chooses this option, it will fail to effectively guide lower courts and lawmakers, thus inviting additional litigation in the future. As such, the Court may hold that laws requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges are facially unconstitutional because, regardless of the state in which such laws are enacted, they confer no benefit to women.

[1] 410 U.S. 113 (1973); see also Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[2] 579 U.S.             ; 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016).

[3] See June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, Transcript of Oral Argument (March 4, 2020), available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2019/18-1323_d18e.pdf.

[4] Id. at 61:24 to 62:9.

March 8, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Friendship Between Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – A Lesson in Professionalism, Civility, and Respect for Diverse Viewpoints

Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg were, as Justice Ginsburg stated, “best buddies.”[1]

Some might find their friendship surprising. After all, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg embraced very different views regarding constitutional theory and interpretation. Justice Scalia was an originalist and thus believed that the Constitution’s words were fixed and should be interpreted based on what the drafters intended those words to mean.[2] Justice Ginsburg is arguably a “living constitutionalist" and believes that the Constitution’s meaning may change over time to comport with contemporary understandings and present-day realities.[3]

Not surprisingly, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg disagreed – often strenuously – in many significant and controversial decisions, such as in Lawrence v. Texas, where the Court invalidated a statute banning same-sex sodomy, Atkins v. Virginia, where the Court held that the execution of intellectually disabled defendants violated the Eighth Amendment, National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, where the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Obergefell v. Hodges, where the Court invalidated same-sex marriage bans, and Bush v. Gore, where the Court overturned the Florida Supreme Court’s decision ordering a statewide recount of votes cast in the Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.[4]

Despite these disagreements – and despite fundamentally different approaches to constitutional interpretation – Justices Scalia and Ginsburg were, as Justice Ginsburg stated, “best buddies.”[5] As Justice Ginsburg explained:

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: “We are different, we are one,” different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots — the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his “energetic fervor,” “astringent intellect,” “peppery prose,” “acumen,” and “affability,” all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp. Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as a working colleague and treasured friend.[6]

Justice Scalia was similarly complimentary of Justice Ginsburg, describing her as an “intelligent woman and a nice woman and a considerate woman — all the qualities that you like in a person.”[7] Indeed, when asked about their friendship, Justice Scalia replied: “what’s not to like?”[8]

In fact, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg “frequently dine[d] and vacation[ed] together,” and “[e]very Dec. 31, they [rang] in the new year together.”[9] As one commentator described:

They and their families spent New Year's Eve together every year. They rode together on an elephant in India (Scalia joked that Ginsburg betrayed her feminism by sitting behind him), and Scalia watched Ginsburg go parasailing in the south of France (“She's so light, you would think she would never come down. I would not do that”).[10]

Ultimately, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg demonstrate that it’s ok to disagree – even strenuously – on various issues and still be friends. After all, people come from different backgrounds and experiences. They see the world differently and have different perspectives. This doesn’t mean that one person’s viewpoint is more ‘right’ than another’s. It simply means, as Justices Scalia and Ginsburg sang in a duet, “[w]e are different, [but] we are one.”[11]

Lawyers and law students should remember the example set by Justices Scalia and Ginsberg. Put simply, “[t]hey weren't friends despite their divergent interpretations of the Constitution … [t]hey were friends, in part, because of it.”[12]

[1] Pete Williams and Elisha Fieldstadt, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Justice Antonin Scalia: We Were Best Buddies’ (Feb. 2016), available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-justice-antonin-scalia-we-were-best-n518671 (emphasis added).

[2] See Lawrence B. Solum, Originalism Versus Living Constitutionalism: The Conceptual Structure of the Great Debate, 113 Nw. U. L. Rev. 1243 (2019); see also Justices Ginsburg and Scalia, A Perfect Match Except for Their Views on the Law (Feb. 2015), available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/02/13/386085342/justice-ginsberg-admits-to-being-tipsy-during-state-of-the-union-nap

[3] See id.

[4] 539 U.S. 558 (2003); 536 U.S. 304 (2002); 567 U.S. 519 (2012); 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015); 531 U.S. 98 (2000).

[5] Williams supra note 1, available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-justice-antonin-scalia-we-were-best-n518671 (emphasis added).

 [6] Id. (emphasis added).

[7] Joan Biskupic, Scalia, Ginsburg Strike a Balance (Dec. 2007) available at: https://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=4053142&page=1

[8] Ariane de Vogue, Scalia-Ginsburg Friendship Bridged Opposing Ideologies (Feb. 2016), available at: https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/14/politics/antonin-scalia-ruth-bader-ginsburg-friends/index.html

[9] David G. Savage, From the Archives: BFFs Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia agree to disagree (June 2015), available at: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-na-court-odd-couple-20150622-story.html (brackets added).

[10] Dara Lind, Read Justice Ginsburg’s Moving Tribute to her “Best Buddy” Justice Scalia (Feb. 2016), https://www.vox.com/2016/2/14/10990156/scalia-ginsburg-friends.

[11] Williams and Fieldstadt, supra note 1, available at:  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-justice-antonin-scalia-we-were-best-n518671 (brackets added).

[12] Sasha Zients, Justice Scalia's Son: Washington Can Learn From Dad's 'Rich Friendship' with RBG (Aug. 2018), available at: https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/23/politics/scalia-son-rbg-podcast-cnntv/index.html (emphasis added).

March 1, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Remarkable audio from the Third Circuit

I write this as I prepare to help administer the San Francisco regional tournament of the 2020 American Bar Association's National Appellate Advocacy Competition. Thirty-two teams from law schools around the country will participate, and on Saturday we'll emerge with four regional champions who will punch their tickets to the national finals in Chicago. 

This year's problem is about prosecutors: the advocates are arguing two issues about the scope of prosecutors' obligation under Brady v. Maryland to disclose exculpatory evidence. And, lately, when I think about prosecutors, I think about the remarkable piece of audio I reference in the title of this post.

It is oral argument audio. But there is no argument. As Matthew Stiegler describes in this post to his excellent CA3blog, the case is Fisher v. Commissioner, a habeas matter arising out of a forty year-old murder. Robert Fisher was convicted (after a retrial) of first-degree murder in 1991 and sentenced to death (after a resentencing) in 1996. His habeas action, which dates back to 2003, asserted constitutional infirmities at both the guilt and sentencing phases.

And he won. Last July, the district court granted Fisher's petition. The state appealed to the Third Circuit. The case was briefed, and the Third Circuit granted oral argument. And then, at oral argument in mid-January, this happened:

JUDGE RESTREPO: This is Fisher versus Commissioner. Sir, my understanding is that you wanted to tell us something?

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: May it please the court, my name is Bob Falin. I'm with the Montgomery County D.A.'s office.

I no longer believe that the lower court committed error. I spent the past few days working on the case, reading the briefs, doing research, and as the hours passed the less and less comfortable I became with our position. And it dawned on me that if I, as a career prosecutor, was not feeling good about these arguments, then perhaps it was not appropriate to come and stand before the Court and argue and advocate for them. So I am conceding that, I now believe there was no error below.

At this point—and please do listen—one can almost hear the panelists' jaws drop and eyes go wide.

COURT: You're asking us to affirm the district court?

COUNSEL: Yes, your Honor.

COURT: Across the board?

COUNSEL: Yes, your Honor. 

And then the apology:

COUNSEL: And I apologize to the court for the inconvenience. I know the court put many hours into it. But sometimes, in prepping for arguments, I get to have a deeper understanding of the case, and sometimes, at least this case, I came to a different conclusion than I had. And I felt compelled to ... take a different position.

COURT: Your position, just to be clear, Mr. Fisher is entitled to a new trial.

COUNSEL: Yes.

Pause. The panel recesses to confer. Returns. Promises to quickly affirm (and, two days later, the judges delivered). Plaudits issue to Robert Falin, including this from Judge Bibas:

I think it’s in Berger v. United States, the Supreme Court talked about the prosecutor’s obligation not to be winning cases but to see that justice is done. It’s not easy to come in and confess error. But we don’t reject wisdom when it comes late. And we thank you very much for your candor in bringing this to us. 

What strikes me about Mr. Falin's concession is this: if one reads the district court's thorough, nuanced opinion, one can see that the state has colorable arguments here, particularly because of the hellscape that is the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act: deference under § 2254(d),  failure to develop the record under § 2254(e), harmless error, and so on. Colorable. But not ... just.

Here is a link to the Montgomery County D.A.'s Facebook page. It shows Robert Falin receiving the office's highest honor. It's five years old, but apparently it's an award that Mr. Falin keeps earning.

February 26, 2020 in Appellate Justice, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Resolving the Tension Between Religious Liberty and Equality

In Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Court confronted the issue of whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment permits a business owner to refuse service to individuals – in violation of a state anti-discrimination statute – if providing such service would violate the business owner’s religious beliefs.[1] By way of background, the Petitioner, a small business owner in Colorado, refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because doing so would have violated the business owner’s religious beliefs.[2] The Respondent, Colorado Civil Rights Commission, later held that the business owner’s refusal to serve the same-sex couple violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. In so holding, the Commission rejected the Petitioner’s religious liberty claim.

Unquestionably, Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. implicated the tension between liberty (i.e., permitting individuals to freely exercise their religious beliefs) and equality (i.e., the statutory and, in some situations, constitutional right to freedom from discrimination), and underscored the difficulty in balancing these competing interests. Indeed, how should this tension be resolved and what standard or criteria should be adopted to guide lower courts in future cases?

In its decision, the Court did not answer these questions. Instead, the Court issued a narrow decision in which it held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s decision was procedurally unfair because the Commission displayed impermissible hostility toward religion during the hearing.[3] Thus, the underlying legal issue remains unresolved, although it will likely only be a matter of time before the Court again confronts this question.

The purpose of the Free Exercise Clause, and the Court’s jurisprudence, has established several principles that may help to address the question presented in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. and guide lower courts in future cases.[4] To begin with, a core purpose of the Free Exercise Clause is to ensure that individuals can freely exercise their religious beliefs without undue interference, and absent coercion or fear of reprisal. Indeed, the right to religious freedom is essential to safeguarding individual liberty. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated in City of Boerne v. Flores, “[g]iven centrality of freedom of speech and religion to the American concept of personal liberty, it is altogether reasonable to conclude that both should be treated with the highest degree of respect.”[5]

Importantly, however, the right to religious freedom is not absolute. In limited circumstances, laws infringing on religious liberty will be upheld if they further compelling government interests, are narrowly tailored, and constitute the least restrictive means of achieving the stated interests.[6] The Court’s jurisprudence has established several principles that clarify the extent to which the government may restrict religious liberty.

First, the Court distinguishes between religious beliefs and practices, the latter of which is subject to restriction. As the Court held in Reynolds v. United States, “[l]aws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices.”[7]

Second, any law that coerces individuals into acting contrary to their beliefs violates the Free Exercise Clause. In Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Ass’n, the Court emphasized that states “may make it more difficult to practice certain religions,” provide that state laws “have no tendency to coerce individuals into acting contrary to their religious beliefs do.”[8]

Third, states may not enact laws that target specific religions or religious practices. For example, in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, the Court invalidated a law banning the ritual sacrifice of animals because the record indicated that the law was aimed at suppressing core aspects of a worship service conducted by the Santeria religion.[9] As Justice Anthony Kennedy explained, states “may not devise mechanisms, overt or disguised, designed to persecute or oppress a religion or its practices.”[10]

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, in Employment Division v. Smith, the Court held that generally applicable laws do not violate the Free Exercise Clause if they only incidentally burden religious practices.[11] Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia stated that “[i]t is a permissible reading of the text … to say that if prohibiting the exercise of religion … is not the object … but merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended.”[12] The Court’s holding in Smith overruled its prior decision in Sherbert v. Verner, where the Court held that individuals may seek exemptions from laws that infringe on their religious freedom.[13]

In response to Smith, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that any law resulting in a “substantial burden” on religious practices violates the Free Exercise Clause unless it furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means to achieve that interest.[14] However, in City of Boerne, the Court held that the Act does not apply to the states.[15] Thus, in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Act was not relevant to the Court’s decision.

Ultimately, it is difficult to predict how the Court will rule when, in all likelihood, it is confronted with this or a very similar issue in the future. In Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd., Justice Kennedy suggested that “while … religious and philosophical objections are protected … such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”[16] However, Justice Kennedy retired from the Court in 2018 and it is by no means certain that his replacement, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or the majority of justices, would agree with this proposition.

If the Court does decide this issue in the future, Smith will be highly relevant. Specifically, the justices will likely address whether Smith should be overruled or modified. If the justices decline to overrule Smith, they will probably consider whether the law at issue only incidentally burdens religious liberty or is sufficiently burdensome that it violates the Free Exercise Clause. Additionally, the Court will likely examine whether the law coerces individuals into violating their religious beliefs or impermissibly targets specific religious practices.

As stated above, it is difficult to predict how the Court will rule. Whatever the result, the Court will hopefully adopt a workable standard that clarifies the appropriate balance between liberty and equality, and that effectively guides lower courts, thus avoiding confusion regarding how these interests are balanced in future cases. However, given the fact-specific nature of cases in this area, the Court’s desire to maintain institutional legitimacy, and its understandable reticence to issue broad and sweeping decisions, the Court will most likely issue a narrow ruling that leaves to the lower courts the task of clarifying and developing the law in future cases.

[1] 138 S. Ct. 1719 (2017).

[2] See id.

[3] See id. (Specifically, the Court highlighted the following language as evidence of the Commission’s hostility toward religion: “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others”). 

[4] U.S. Const., Amend. I (providing in relevant part that “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise [of] religion”).

[5] 521 U.S. 507, 564-65 (1997).

[6] See id. at 555 (O’Connor, J., dissenting) (“[T]he right to free exercise was viewed as generally superior to ordinary legislation, to be overridden only when necessary to secure important government purposes”).

[7] 98 U.S. 145, 166 (1878).

[8] 485 U.S. 439 (1988).

[9] 508 U.S. 520 (1993).

[10] Id. at 547.

[11] 494 U.S. 872 (1990).

[12] Id. at 878.

[13] 374 U.S. 398 (1963).

[14] 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(a)(2012).

[15] 521 U.S. 507.

[16] 138 S. Ct. 1719 (2017).

February 16, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Religion, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 3, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, January 3, 2020

6a00d8341bfae553ef01b8d274d5bd970c-pi (960×720)

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.

Happy New Year!  Wishing the readers of the Appellate Advocacy Blog (and everyone else!) a happy and healthy 2020!

 

Looking for what to watch in your practice area in 2020?  On January 1, Law360’s Appellate News posted a series of what to watch in 2020 in various practice areas. Check it out on the Jan 1 postings here.

US Supreme Court Opinions and News:

  • Chief Justice Robert’s 2019 Year-End report on the Federal Judiciary was published Tuesday. Find it here.  In it, he calls on his judicial colleagues to “each resolve to do our best to maintain the public’s trust that we are faithfully discharging our solemn obligation to equal justice under law.”

  • The Hill’s John Kruzel and Harper Neidig posted a report on the 2020 Supreme Court cases to watch. Find it here.

  • The Supreme Court will hear arguments this year in a First Amendment free exercise of religion case concerning the use of public funds in religious schools. The appeal from Montana will ask the court to consider “whether states are free to erect a wall between church and state high enough to exclude religious groups from some state benefits.” See Adam Liptak’s report in the New York Times.
  • Court will also hear a decades-long legal battle over water between Florida and Georgia.  Listen to (or read the transcript of) the NPR report here

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News:

  • The Second Circuit has raised privacy questions over the government’s warrantless searches of NSA surveillance data.  Although recognizing that the gathering of data is lawful, the court questions the searching of that data, characterizing it as more like under a “general warrant.”  The court wonders, “[i]f such a vast body of information is simply stored in a database, available for review … solely on the speculative possibility that evidence of interest to agents investigating a particular individual might be found there, the program begins to look more like a dragnet, and less like an individual officer going to the evidence locker to check out a previously-acquired piece of evidence against some newfound insight.”  See order and reports from Reuters and Washington Post.

  • The Appeals Court for the DC District upheld the designation of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, a national monument off the coast of New England.  Fishing groups had objected to the monument because it restricted their fishing area. See ruling here and reports by Maine Public Radio and Cape Cod Times.

  • The Second Circuit ordered resentencing for a “shockingly low” 17-year sentence for an ISIS supporter who attempted to kill an FBI agent.  See reports from NYT, Washington Post, the AP, and Reuters.

  • Finally, the Ninth Circuit has ruled that the label “diet” on a soft drink is not a promise to help you lose weight or keep it under control. The Court refused to allow fraud claims (by the same plaintiff) against both Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper. According to the Dr. Pepper decision,  “[t]he prevalent understanding of the term in (the marketplace) is that the ‘diet’ version of a soft drink has fewer calories than its ‘regular’ counterpart.” However, “[j]ust because some consumers may unreasonably interpret the term differently does not render the use of ‘diet’ in a soda’s brand name false or deceptive,” the court ruled.

Other Appellate News

The NAAG announced the winners of Winners of 2019 Supreme Court Best Brief Awards. Check out the list here

 

January 3, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Persuasion Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The Value of Giving the Audience What It Wants, Not just What You Think It Needs

Being a persuasive advocate depends on many things, including the strength and appeal of the message, the delivery, and the audience. This post focuses on the value of considering audience preferences to increase persuasiveness. People are persuaded the most by what they value or what resonates with them. We know from systems like Emergenetics1 and Myers Briggs2 that people have preferences in what types of information they value in decision making. To generalize, some people focus on data to drive their decisions, so an argument that would most resonate with such a person would be an argument that is grounded in data. Others value the impact that a decision might make on a group of people, so an argument that explains the impact of a decision on that group would be best. Others value process and consistency, and still others focus on the big picture, such as moving the law forward for the most people. While the advocate will not have a psychological profile on each judge or audience member in advance of an argument, the advocate would be wise to learn about and recognize the different personality types and ensure that arguments are given that provide a little bit of everything to appeal to the various preferences identified. Moreover, as the advocate learns what motivates the decision maker, the advocate should adjust arguments accordingly.

When an advocate appears before a judge frequently, the advocate may learn what the judge tends to value. Just as important, if not more, the advocate must use listening skills to learn what a judge or judges value during an argument. Listening to questions coming from a judge or other decision maker, the advocate can identify and then address the judge’s concerns. When a judge asks a question, the judge is identifying to the advocate his or her concerns or the concerns of other audience members. Too many times, advocates prepare and deliver arguments without adjusting to address these concerns, missing the opportunity to provide the information that will most resonate with the judge. Agility by the advocate can pay dividends in persuasiveness.

For example, some of the most agile advocates are teenagers who become expert at reading their parents’ unspoken reactions and adjusting their arguments to address their parents’ concerns. The teenager wants to attend a party on a Friday night and begins the argument to the parent by explaining that the parent should allow the teenager to attend the party because everyone will be there. The parent reacts negatively to this argument. The savvy teenager then pivots to an argument based on how attending the party will give the teenager an opportunity to get to know some of the parent’s friends’ children. If this argument works, the teenager closes. If this argument does not work the teenager shifts to an argument based on how attending the party will put the teenager in a better position to get elected to a school position the teenager knows the parent would like the teenager to hold. This dance continues until either the teenager persuades the parent or the parent ends the conversation. The teenager is not likely trained in advocacy; the teenager instinctively realizes that he must appeal to what the parent values to get his way.

In the same way, the advocate needs to listen and be attentive to judges’ concerns and cues. After all, the advocate wants to provide the information the judge needs to find for the advocate’s position. Research shows that decision makers are most persuaded when “requests are congruent with our values, self-image, and future goals. In other words, people are easily persuaded of that which they wanted to do in the first place.”3 

Therefore, to increase persuasiveness, advocates need to speak to the judge in the language that will most resonate with that judge. Advocates can benefit from studying the personality systems referenced herein, which provide information on how best to give each judge or audience member what he needs to make decisions.

1See Emergenetics International, www.emergenetics.com.
2See The Myers & Briggs Foundation, https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/home.htm?bhcp=1.
3Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Persuasion Depends on the Audience, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2015/06/persuasion-depends-mostly-on-the-audience (June 2, 2015).

December 18, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Law School, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Do Federal Courts Make Decisions Based on Ideological Considerations?

It is no secret that, over the past thirty years, the nomination of judges to the federal courts, particularly to the United States Supreme Court, has become increasingly contentious and partisan. The nominations of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh underscored how divisive and polarizing this process has become, with confirmation decisions often split along party lines. The likely reason is that members of the United States Senate form opinions regarding how a potential justice is likely to interpret the Constitution and rule in critical cases, such as those involving abortion, executive power, immigration, and the death penalty. These opinions arguably reflect beliefs regarding a nominee’s ideology, and how that ideology will influence a justice’s decisions in specific cases.

But does ideology really motivate judicial decision-making, such that judges make decisions based primarily on their policy predilections?

Based on numerous studies and a large volume of data, the answer depends on: (1) the judge’s placed in the judiciary hierarchy (e.g., federal district court versus the United States Supreme Court; (2) the specific legal issue under consideration; (3) institutional considerations, including a desire to maintain a court’s institutional legitimacy; (4) a judge’s approach to constitutional interpretation and beliefs concerning the value of precedent; and (5) the composition of a court. In short, ideology does not play nearly as significant a role as many politicians believe because judges decide cases under internal and external constraints that render ideology-based decision-making infeasible. Put simply, courts are not as political as many believe.

First, empirical evidence reveals that a judge’s place in the judiciary hierarchy directly correlates with the likelihood that ideology will motivate decision-making. For example, studies have shown that federal district court judges do not decide cases on the basis of ideology. However, in the appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court, some evidence exists that ideological considerations are relevant, although not dispositive, considerations. This is not surprising. After all, district court judges would be ill-advised to made decisions based on ideology because the likelihood of reversal by a circuit court of appeal would be high. At the appellate level, though, judges are less constrained because the Supreme Court only grants certiorari in a small number of cases. Thus, because appellate courts are, as a practical matter, often the courts of last resort, and because their decisions typically involve important policy matters, ideology is more influential, although certainly not the sole motivation underlying case outcomes.

Second, the extent to which ideology matters depends on the legal issue before the courts. Some issues, such as those involving patent law, admiralty law, and the bankruptcy code, do not implicate ideological considerations and thus render ideology irrelevant. In addition, in many cases, it is difficult to ascertain precisely how a specific legal issue or outcome fits neatly into a particular ideology. For example, cases involving the Commerce Clause or the level of deference that should be afforded to administrative agencies do not depend or even involve ideological considerations. Furthermore, it is challenging to operationalize and accurately characterize a particular judge’s ideology; thus, attempting to label judges as liberal or conservative fails to account for the nuances in that judge’s ideology and judicial philosophy. And in many instances, judges’ decisions are inconsistent with their perceived ideology. Indeed, in Texas v. Johnson, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority and held that prohibitions on desecrating the American flag violated the First Amendment, even though Scalia openly admitted that he despised such acts. Moreover, the fact that many cases are decided by votes of 9-0, 8-1, or 7-2 suggests that ideology alone is not the driving force underlying most decisions at the Supreme Court.

Third, institutional considerations, particularly at the Supreme Court, influence the justices’ decision-making process. When making decisions, the Court must consider the effect of a particular ruling on its institutional legitimacy and on principles of federalism, separation of powers, and the degree of deference afforded to the coordinate branches. As such, in many cases, ideology cannot – and is not – the sole or even primary factor underlying the Court’s decisions.

Fourth, many decisions, including those that involve divisive social issues, result from differences among judges regarding interpretive philosophies and the value they place on precedent. On the Supreme Court, for example, some justices embrace originalism, which broadly speaking (and without going into depth about originalism’s variations) means that the Constitution’s words should be interpreted based on the Founders’ understanding of those words when the Constitution was ratified. Other justices embrace an approach known as living constitutionalism, which generally states that the meaning given to the Constitution’s provisions may change based on contemporary norms, circumstances, or problems that did not exist when the Constitution was ratified. Likewise, judges assign different values to precedent based in part on the recency of a particular precedent, the degree to which they adhere to stare decisis, and their view of whether a prior case was rightly decided.

Fifth, the composition of a court is likely to have a substantial impact on the outcomes judges reach. Not surprisingly, a court composed of mostly liberal judges is likely to issue more progressive decisions, while a mostly conservative court is likely to issue more conservative decisions. Often, however, the dynamics are more complicated. Judges may, for example, issue narrow decisions in particular cases to ensure a majority or to placate judges who might otherwise issue highly critical dissenting opinions. The point is that judicial decision-making results not from strictly legal considerations, but from the political dynamics among a court’s members.

Ultimately, therefore, the claim that judges base decisions on ideological considerations is overly simplistic and largely inaccurate. The truth is that judges make decisions based on many factors and, in the vast majority of cases, particular outcomes cannot be attributed solely or even significantly to ideology. Simply put, courts are not as political as some might believe.

November 17, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Kahler v. Kansas – Should States Be Permitted to Abolish the Insanity Defense?

On October 7, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kahler v. Kansas, where the Court will consider whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments permit states to abolish the insanity defense. Currently, Kansas does not allow defendants to plead insanity; instead, a defendant may argue that a mental illness negated the mens rea element of a crime.[1]

By way of background, forty-six states permit defendants to plead insanity as a defense. Only four states – Kansas, Montana, Idaho, and Utah – have abolished the defense.[2] The legal standard for proving insanity, however, varies depending on the state within which the crime was committed. Some states apply the M’Naghten rule, which requires a defendant to demonstrate that, due to mental illness or defect, the defendant did not appreciate the wrongfulness of the conduct at issue or understand that the conduct constituted a crime.[3] Other states have adopted the Model Penal Code’s standard, which states that a defendant with a diagnosed mental illness is absolved of criminal responsibility if the defendant either failed to understand the criminality of his or her actions or, due to such illness, was unable to act within the confines of the law.[4] A few states have adopted the irresistible impulse test, which states that a defendant is absolved of criminal responsibility if the defendant was unable to control his or her actions, even if the defendant knew that such actions constituted a crime.[5] Finally, at least one state has adopted the Durham test, which absolves a defendant of culpability if the crime was considered to be the product of mental illness.[6]

Importantly, however, regardless of the legal standard that is adopted in a particular jurisdiction, the insanity defense is rarely used and, in most instances, is not successful. Indeed, some studies report that defendants plead insanity in one-percent of felony cases and are only successful in approximately twenty-five percent of those cases.[7] The reason for such a low success rate is arguably due, at least in part, to the fact that it is extremely difficult for defendants to demonstrate that they did not know the difference between right and wrong (i.e., that their actions were criminal), that they could not control their actions, or that their actions were exclusively the product of mental illness. Put differently, a defendant may suffer from a serious mental, psychological, or cognitive impairment, but if the defendant nonetheless knew that a particular action was a crime, those impairments, regardless of their severity, will not preclude a finding of guilt. Not surprisingly, therefore, prisons throughout the United States are occupied by many prisoners who suffer from diagnosed mental illnesses.[8] Additionally, even where a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the result is often worse than the punishment that a defendant would have faced upon conviction. In New York, for example, an individual found not guilty by reason of insanity may spend years in a psychiatric institution and, in some instances, for a period of time that exceeds the maximum sentence of imprisonment to which the defendant may have been subject if convicted.[9]

This is not to say, of course, that the standards used to prove insanity are without justification. Arguably, the law should not allow defendants to claim that having a mental illness entirely absolves them of culpability and punishment for criminal conduct. Doing so would allow scores of defendants to escape responsibility for culpable criminal behavior. And such an approach would likely stigmatize the mentally ill and perpetuate the empirically disproven belief that individuals with mental illnesses are more likely to commit crimes.[10] It is to say, however, that the issue before the Supreme Court in Kahler – whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit states from abolishing the insanity defense – will not consider the broader problem with the insanity defense, namely, that the M’Naghten, irresistible impulse, and Model Penal Code standards make it difficult, if not impossible, to prove insanity and, in so doing, leave defendants with mental, psychological, and cognitive impairments without meaningful legal protections at the guilt and sentencing phases.

Put differently, defendants with severe mental illnesses who fail to satisfy the insanity defense’s exacting standard are often subject to lengthy periods of incarceration that are similar to defendants who have no history of mental illness. Also, since the insanity defense is rarely used and, when used, is not likely to succeed, the issue in Kahler – whether a state may abolish the insanity defense – is, as a practical matter, inconsequential. Moreover, the Court’s decision will almost certainly not address the broader problems with the criminal justice system, namely, how it considers mental illness in culpability determinations, how it treats mentally ill prisoners once incarcerated, and how it assists mentally ill prisoners to reintegrate into the community upon release. The manner in which states confronts these issues will directly impact the criminal justice system’s efficacy, particularly regarding recidivism rates.

Ultimately, therefore, the answers to these difficult issues will likely require resolution through legislation at the state and federal level. And allowing states to adopt alternative approaches to adjudicating insanity – as Kansas has done – may reflect a productive starting point. Other proposals may involve embracing a middle ground in which courts recognize that defendants with diagnosed mental illnesses, although culpable in some, if not many, circumstances nonetheless warrant reduced sentences that incorporate a rehabilitative component and an increased focus on facilitating a successful re-entry into the community upon release. Another approach would be to recognize, as some states already do, that the concept of mens rea includes a moral, not merely a volitional component.  This would require proof that the defendant intended to commit a criminal act, that the defendant understood that the act was morally wrong, and that the defendant consciously, and without mental, psychological, or cognitive impairment, chose to commit the act.  This will lead to an understanding of mens rea that includes moral culpability within the definition of legal culpability. In any event, do not expect Kahler to resolve much, if anything, regarding the insanity defense, even though the defense is long overdue for principled reforms.

[1] See Amy Howe, Argument Analysis: Justices Open New Term With Questions and Concerns About Insanity Defense (Oct. 7, 2019), available at: https://www.scotusblog.com/2019/10/argument-analysis-justices-open-new-term-with-questions-and-concerns-about-insanity-defense/.

[2] See id.

[3] See The Insanity Defense Among the States, available at: https://criminallaw.uslegal.com/defense-of-insanity/the-insanity-defense-among-the-states/.

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6] See id.

[7] See Christopher Liberati-Constant and Sheila E. Shea, You’d Have to Be Crazy to Plead Insanity: How an Acquittal Can Lead to Lifetime Confinement, available at: https://www.nysba.org/Journal/2019/May/‘You_Have_to_Be_Crazy_to_Plead_Insanity’/ (“While research varies widely, some studies conclude that the defense succeeds in only one out of four cases, while others have found a success rate as low as one in 1,000”).

[8] See Inside the Massive Jail that Doubles As Chicago’s Largest Mental Health Facility (June 2016), available at: https://www.vera.org/the-human-toll-of-jail/inside-the-massive-jail-that-doubles-as-chicagos-largest-mental-health-facility/the-burden-of-mental-illness-behind-bars.

[9] See Mac McClelland When ‘Not Guilty’ Is a Life Sentence, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/27/magazine/when-not-guilty-is-a-life-sentence.html.

[10] Ghiasi, N. & Singh, J. (2019). Psychiatric Illness and Criminality. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537064/.

November 2, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

AI and Free Legal Research, Annotated

   Fall is in the air (well, maybe not here in Los Angeles), and that means we are in the part of the 1L year when many law students across the country are doing their first in-depth legal research.  Thus, we are also at the time when many writing professors, like me, are looking for a great list of new, preferably free, AI research tools.  Our students see plenty of services affiliated with the legacy databases, but too many do not learn much about the world beyond Lexis and Westlaw, except possibly GoogleScholar.  As new lawyers, especially if they start in small or solo practices, they will need access to free tools. 

   Similarly, appellate practitioners with firm or agency affiliations might have access to Casetext, which will scan briefs and suggest missing case authority, Ravel (now part of Lexis), which uses AI to create “case law maps,” Fastcase, and more.   Some solo practitioners, however, cannot afford even the lower-priced Casetext, and need free AI assistance.  See generally Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSblog is partnering with Casetext, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 28, 2019, 12:00 PM), partnering-with-casetext (noting benefits and low cost of Casetext).

   There are many excellent lists and comparisons of fee-based (and even some free) AI programs for law firms, far beyond the early comparisons of document scanners for discovery.  See, e.g., Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen, EVOLVING RESEARCH:  Habits, Skills, and Technology, 98 Mich. Bar. J. 41 (May 2019); https://www.lawsitesblog.com.  For free AI services, however, some excellent explanations are in the amicus briefs in Georgia v. Public.Resource.org, Inc., 906 F.3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2018), cert. granted, __ U.S. __, 139 S. Ct. 2746 (June 24, 2019). 

   In Georgia v. Public.Resource.org, the Eleventh Circuit ruled the state-created annotations to Georgia’s statutes are not protected by copyright law, and reversed summary judgment for the State on its copyright claims against a public interest provider of free legal content, Public.Resource.org.  According to the Eleventh Circuit, the annotations to the Code were “created by Georgia’s legislators in the exercise of their legislative authority,” and therefore “the people are the ultimate authors of the annotations.”  Id. at 1233; see Jan Wolfe, U.S. High Court to Rule on Scope of Copyright for Legal Codes, June 24, 2019, Wolfe.  The United States Supreme Court will hear argument in Georgia v. Public.Resource.org in December, and could rule that no state can copyright annotated statutes, opening the door for more AI content creators to provide annotated statutes online. 

   Many of the amicus briefs in support of Respondent Public.Resource.org explain the need for free access to statutes and other legal documents among law students, scholars, solo attorneys, and visually impaired counsel.  See https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/georgia-v-public-resource-org-inc/.  A great many of the amici are, themselves, providers of free AI research, and their briefs give the excellent lists of resources I mentioned. 

   For example, in their brief supporting a grant of certiorari, Next-Generation Legal Research Platforms and Databases describe themselves as:  “[N]onprofit and for-profit creators and developers of next-generation legal research platforms that provide innovative tools and services for the legal community and the public. These tools serve the public interest by dramatically transforming the ways in which the public, courts, law firms, and lawyers access, understand, and utilize the law.”  Next-Gen. Lgl. Res. Platforms, ACB.  In addition to the for-profit AI services like Ravel and Casetext, the brief’s amici include these three providers:

(1)  “Amicus Judicata ‘maps the legal genome’ and provides research and analytic tools to turn unstructured case law into structured and easily digestible data. Judicata’s color-mapping research tool fundamentally transforms how people interact with the law: it increases reading comprehension and speed, illuminates the connections among cases, and makes the law more accessible to both lawyers and nonlawyers.”  Judicata has free and subscription-based services.

(2) “Amicus Free Law Project is a nonprofit organization seeking to create a more just legal system. To accomplish that goal, Free Law Project provides free, public, and permanent access to primary legal materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes. Its work empowers citizens to understand the laws that govern them by creating an open ecosystem for legal materials and research. Free Law Project also supports academic research by developing, implementing, and providing public access to technologies useful for research.”

(3) “Amicus OpenGov Foundation produces cutting-edge civic software used by elected officials and citizens in governments across the United States. The Foundation seeks to ensure that laws are current, accessible, and adaptable. Everything the Foundation creates is free and open source, allowing the public to use, contribute to, and benefit from its work. Its software, coalition-building activities, and events are designed to change the culture of government and boost collaboration between governments and communities.”

   I plan to share these three resources with my students, and to encourage them to watch Georgia v. Public.Resource.org and stay abreast of other developing AI platforms.  I hope these sources are helpful to you as well.  Happy research, everyone!

November 2, 2019 in Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, United States Supreme Court, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Who Really Drives the Appellate Litigation Bus?

No offense to this blog’s readers, but appellate advocates in general are a narcissistic bunch. We like to think of ourselves as the drivers of legal change in our system. We assume that the arguments we present before appellate courts are the impetus for new opinions that will have far-reaching practical effects in law and society. I feel confident in ascribing this self-important attitude to appellate advocates because I held it dearly when I practiced as an appellate public defender. Nothing could be more meaningful, I assured myself, than a worthy struggle in the arena of ideas that is an appellate courtroom, with the eventual victor illuminating the legal path forward for decades.

When I began wearing an academic hat, I was forced to reexamine my assumptions about the role appellate advocates plays in shaping the law. And that reexamination was sobering. Our judicial system carries a deeply embedded faith in the procedural justice of adversarial litigation—the idea that when parties compete in a fair process for adjudicating disagreements, they will produce the most just results possible. But when I examined both my own experiences as an appellate clerk and the available data on high court adjudication, I was disappointed to realize how often judges themselves, rather than litigants, drive the outcomes in our supposedly adversarial courts.[1] Take the United States Supreme Court, for example. Supreme Court litigants and their attorneys play a diminishing role in actually shaping the direction of the law, while the “umpire” Justices themselves take greater control over the direction of jurisprudence. The Justices have lowered the demands of their discretionary dockets by consistently granting certiorari in fewer than 100 cases per year, while simultaneously increasing the length and originality of their opinions; their written work is both longer and contains less borrowed language from the parties’ briefs than ever before.[2] In those opinions, Justices themselves often participate in a kind of top-down lawmaking. An opinion in a case decided today often ghost-writes the brief the Justice would like to see presented in future appeals, allowing that Justice to shape the law according to their preferences in future case they have transparently invited litigants to file.[3]

Oral arguments are little different. For several decades preceding this term, oral arguments have left less and less space for the advocates themselves to shape opinions. Attorneys in the Supreme Court instead play the role of straight man in conversations dominated by the Justices, who appear disinterested in the responses from the lectern. In a comparison of oral arguments in the 1958–1960 Terms and the 2010–2012 Terms, Barry Sullivan and Megan Canty noted the myriad ways in which Justices have come to dominate the direction of oral argument over the last half-century, including an increase in the ratio of Justice-spoken words to advocate-spoken words, a near doubling of the average number of words spoken by the Justices per oral argument, and far shorter opening monologues by counsel.[4]

It was thus tempting to celebrate the Supreme Court’s recently-announced rule permitting the advocates approximately two minutes of uninterrupted monologue at the start of oral arguments. Perhaps this would mark a sea-change for appellate advocacy, revitalizing the role of advocates in Supreme Court litigation. Yet there is reason for hearty skepticism. Justices have long taken a guiding role in the direction of the law through use of the discretionary docket; invitations for specific arguments in future appeals; and techniques to slowly undermine, or even stealthily overrule, the reasoning in precedent cases.[5] The two-minute rule will not cabin any of those techniques that permit the Justices, rather than the litigants, to drive the appellate litigation bus.

One well-worn trope holds that cases are seldom won at oral argument, but can readily be lost if one is insufficiently prepared to defend their brief’s arguments against a barrage of troubling hypotheticals and slippery slopes. If anything, the new rule only erodes that trope at the very extreme margins. Advocates may have slightly greater opportunity, in increments usually measured by a kitchen timer, to shape the direction of the law in their presentation to high courts. But this offers little salve when the hypotheticals come cascading down, with little interruption for actual answers, during the bulk of the argument. For appellate advocacy to meaningfully change, and for advocates to play a more determinative role in shaping the law, the justices themselves must approach their job with greater humility, aspiring to resolve the controversies actually presented rather than those they have hoped to see and invited to come before them. Without that change in attitude and approach, the two-minute rule may be little more than a procedural fig-leaf from a court that has drifted further and further away from the judicial system’s adversarial ideals.

This is all not to say that appellate advocacy has lost its value in today’s world. Preparing for an appeal remains one of the most demanding, rewarding, and fruitful exercises any attorney or law student can undertake. Nothing helps an attorney refine their legal arguments more than planning for the crucible of hypotheticals they might face from a high court. And the history of our nation’s highest courts still suggests that some advocates, through either sheer intellectual brilliance or perfectly-timed moments of inspiration, play a guiding role in shaping the direction of the law. But a clear-eyed evaluation of the appellate advocacy process suggests that Justices are the real drivers of case outcomes. Of course, appellate attorneys must still ensure that their clients receive vociferous representation and a prepared, skilled advocate at the podium. But that podium’s power is limited, and it is not often the driver’s seat for appellate litigation.

 

[1] Michael Gentithes, Check The Invitation: The Trouble with Appeals Invited by Supreme Court Justices, 82 Mo. L. Rev. 339 (2017).

[2] See, e.g., Ryan C. Black & James F. Spriggs II, An Empirical Analysis of the Length of U.S. Supreme Court Opinions, 45 Hous. L. Rev. 621, 630, 634–35 (2008); Adam Feldman, A Brief Assessment of Supreme Court Opinion Language, 1946–2013, 86 Miss. L.J. 105, 137 (2017).

[3] See Michael Gentithes, Check The Invitation: The Trouble with Appeals Invited by Supreme Court Justices, 82 Mo. L. Rev. 339, 341-43 (2017).

[4] Barry Sullivan & Megan Canty, Interruptions in Search of a Purpose: Oral Argument in the Supreme Court, October Terms 1958–60 and 2010–12, 2015 UTAH L. REV. 1005, 1042.

[5] See Barry Friedman, The Wages of Stealth Overruling (with Particular Attention to Miranda v. Arizona), 99 Geo. L.J. 1 (2010).

October 29, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)