Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Lessons in Appellate Advocacy from the Supreme Court's Oral Argument in Trump v. United States

The recent oral argument before the United States Supreme Court in Trump v. United States, which concerns presidential immunity, provides several lessons about how to argue a case effectively and persuasively. Although the attorneys for the petitioner and respondent used their persuasive advocacy skills to varying degrees of effectiveness, both did so very competently and demonstrated why they are elite advocates. Below are a few lessons in advocacy that were on display at the oral argument.

1.    Have a strong introduction.

Make a great first impression with a strong introduction.  Begin with a powerful opening theme. Tell the court precisely what remedy you seek. And explain why, in a structured and organized way, the Court should rule in your favor. For example, use the Rule of Three, namely, provide the Court with three reasons that support your argument and the remedy sought.

In Trump, the lawyers for the petitioner and the respondent had effective and persuasive introductions. They opened with a strong theme. They got to the point quickly. They explained in detail and with specificity why the Court should rule in their favor. Doing so enabled both lawyers to, among other things, start strong, gain credibility with the Court, and frame the issues in a light most favorable to their side.

2.    Answer the Court’s questions directly and honestly.

Regardless of how persuasive your introduction is, the justices will express concerns about various legal, factual, or policy issues that impact the strength of your case. Thus, when the justices ask questions, particularly those that express skepticism of your argument, view it as an opportunity to address the justices’ concerns and present persuasively the merits of your position. In so doing, make sure to always answer the questions directly and honestly, as any attempt to evade the questions will harm your credibility. Additionally, if necessary, acknowledge weaknesses in your case (e.g., unfavorable facts or law), and explain why those weaknesses do not affect the outcome you seek. Also, be sure never to react defensively in response to a question; instead, act like you expected the question and use the question to enhance your argument’s persuasiveness.

During the oral argument in Trump, the lawyers for the petitioner and respondent were well-prepared, answered the Court’s questions effectively, and conceded unfavorable facts where appropriate. As a result, they maintained their credibility and enhanced the persuasive value of their arguments.

3.    Speak conversationally and confidently.

During oral argument with an appellate court, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, adopt a conversational tone and confident demeanor. Recognize that the Court is trying its best to reach a fair result that is consistent with the law and the facts. The law and facts, however, often do not dictate a particular outcome, and sometimes judges are left with little more than a desire to reach what they believe will be the best result. Indeed, judges are human, and when they return home after a long day, and their partner asks how their day was, the last thing judges want to say is “Well, I decided several cases that led to horrible outcomes. Other than that, it was a wonderful day.”

As such, your role, while advocating zealously for your client, should be to have a conversation with the Court in which you acknowledge the Court’s concerns and the policy implications of the outcome you seek, and convince a majority of the justices that the result you seek is fair and equitable. Put differently, while you must advocate zealously for your client, you should also display some degree of objectivity that shows an awareness of, among other things, opposing points of view and weaknesses in your case.

During oral argument, both advocates spoke conversationally and confidently and never appeared uncertain, surprised, or equivocal. Projecting confidence is critical to maximizing the persuasiveness of your argument, and speaking conversationally ensures that you can communicate your argument effectively.

4.    Be mindful of your pacing, tone, and non-verbal communication.

It is not just what you say. It is how you say it. Thus, when making an argument, be sure not to speak too quickly. Do not use over-the-top language or attack your adversary. Use strategic pauses to thoughtfully respond to the Court’s questions and transition effectively to different arguments. Never show frustration, surprise, or combativeness in response to a question. Instead, show that you are a composed and thoughtful advocate who listens well, and forms reasoned responses to difficult questions.

Also, be mindful of your non-verbal communication, including your appearance, body language, facial expressions, posture, eye contact, and hand gestures, as non-verbal communication can enhance or detract from the persuasiveness of your argument.

During the oral argument, both advocates avoided speaking too quickly and rushing through their points. They never displayed a combative and adversarial tone. They spoke clearly and articulately, and in a manner that made their arguments straightforward, organized, and easy to understand.

5.    Adjust your argument strategy based on the Court’s questions.

When you begin an oral argument, you know what points you want to emphasize. But the justices may want to discuss other things, and a good advocate recognizes this and adjusts accordingly.

Consider the following example:

Advocate: Your Honor, the warrantless search of the suspect’s house in this case did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the victim’s body was visible to the officer and therefore the search falls within the plain view exception to the warrant requirement.

Justice: But counsel, the officer was unlawfully on private property when she saw the victim’s body, rendering the plain view exception inapplicable. However, it seems that the exigency exception applies because the victim was still breathing, although gravely injured when the officer encountered the victim and entered the home.

Advocate: Your Honor, the plain view exception applies because the officer was on public, not private, property, and as a result, it applies squarely to this case.

Justice: Well let’s assume that I conclude that it was private property. Doesn’t the exigency exception apply?

Advocate: Your Honor, this was public property. The plain view exception is clearly applicable.

***

The advocate’s performance in this colloquy was simply awful.

The justice is unquestionably signaling to the advocate that he or she believed that the exigency, not the plain view, exception to the Fourth Amendment applied to justify the warrantless search. But the advocate, for some reason, did not perceive or simply ignored this and adhered rigidly to his or her argument. That can be a fatal mistake. As stated above, although you may want to emphasize specific points, the justices may not care about those points and instead want to discuss other issues that, in their view, may be dispositive. When that happens, adjust your strategy in the moment and respond to the justices’ concerns. Do not be afraid to abandon your oral argument strategy if, as the argument unfolds, it becomes clear that the case will be decided on facts, law, or policy considerations that you did not anticipate.

During the oral argument, nothing like this occurred because the lawyers for the petitioner and the respondent were far too skilled, intelligent, and experienced to make this mistake.

6.    Be aware of the dynamics in the room and realize that there is only so much you can do.

Judges often have opinions on how to decide a case after reading the parties’ briefs and before the oral argument. Although oral argument can, in some instances, persuade the justices to reconsider their views, oral argument sometimes consists of the justices trying to convince each other to adopt their respective positions, without much regard for what you have to say.

Put simply, sometimes the outcome is preordained. For example, in Trump v. Anderson, it was obvious early in the oral argument that the Court would overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision holding that former President Trump was not eligible to be on Colorado’s primary ballot. If you are faced with this situation, realize that all you can do is make the best possible argument, knowing that losing the case is not a reflection of the quality of your advocacy but rather a reflection of the justices’ predetermined views. In Trump v. Anderson, for example, Jason Murray, the attorney representing the respondents, did an excellent job of making a credible argument despite the obvious fact that the Court would not rule in his favor.

Also, realize that you are not a magician or a miracle worker. Judges can have strongly held views and the results that they reach sometimes have little, if anything, to do with what you said or did not say during an oral argument. If you are arguing that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided and should be reaffirmed, nothing you say is going to convince Justices Thomas or Alito to adopt your position. Likewise, you are not going to convince Justice Sotomayor that affirmative action programs are unconstitutional. You are also not going to convince Justice Alito that the substantive due process doctrine should remain vibrant in the Court’s jurisprudence. Knowing this, focus on the justices that are receptive to your argument, particularly the swing justices, and tailor your argument to their specific concerns. And, if they ask ‘softball’ questions, be sure to seize that opportunity to make your case persuasively because they are using you to convince the swing justices.

Surely, during oral argument, the lawyers for the petitioner and the respondent knew which justices were receptive to their arguments, which were hostile, and which were undecided. And they addressed swing justices’ questions effectively and persuasively.

7.    Be reasonable.

If you want to retain your credibility, make sure that your argument – and the remedy you seek – is reasonable. Advocating for an extreme or unprecedented result that departs significantly from the Court’s jurisprudence, or that leads to a terrible policy outcome, will get you nowhere. For example, during the oral argument in Trump, Justice Sotomayor asked counsel for Trump whether his argument for absolute presidential immunity would allow a president to assassinate a political rival. Trump’s counsel responded by stating that it would depend on the hypothetical and could constitute an “official act,” thus triggering absolute immunity. Most, if not all, judges would reject this argument because it is simply ridiculous to contend that a president could assassinate political rivals with impunity.

Thus, be reasonable when presenting your arguments and requesting specific remedies. Every argument has weaknesses that those with different perspectives will expose. As such, in most cases, avoid absolute or categorical positions that eschew nuance and that prevent the Court from reaching a compromise. Doing so will enhance your credibility and show that you recognize the complexities of the legal issue before the Court.

During the oral argument, the attorney for Trump, although very skilled, arguably advocated for an unreasonable outcome, namely, that the president is always immune from prosecution for official acts done while the president is in office. The problem with this argument, as Justices Sotomayor, Jackson, and Kagan emphasized was that it would allow a president to engage in a wide array of criminal conduct, including the assassination of a political rival, with impunity. That result is simply not reasonable and consistent with the principle that no person is above the law. A better strategy may have been to adopt a more nuanced argument that recognized when, and under what circumstances, presidential immunity should apply, and to give the Court a workable test to distinguish between official and private acts. Adopting an unreasonable position detracted from the persuasiveness of Trump’s argument, and the Court signaled that it would reject this extreme, all-or-nothing approach.

8.    Realize that nothing you do is as important as you think.

Whether you win or lose, the world will keep turning and the sun will rise tomorrow. Sure, there are incredibly impactful cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, Bush v. Gore, and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which significantly affect the rights and liberties of citizens. Your role in influencing that outcome, however, is often far more insubstantial than what you believe, and inversely correlated to the absurd amount of hours you spent litigating the case. Think about it: do you believe that the oral arguments (or briefing, for that matter) in Brown, Bush, or Dobbs caused any of the justices to change their minds? Why do you think that, in some cases, anyone familiar with the Court can predict how the justices will rule before oral argument even occurs? You should know the answer.

Of course, you should still work extremely hard and hold yourself to the highest standards when arguing before a court. Persuasive advocacy skills do matter, particularly in close cases. However, your ability to affect the outcome of a case or the evolution of a court’s jurisprudence is, in some instances, quite minimal, and your inability to reach the outcome you seek is often unrelated to your performance or preparation. So do not put so much pressure on yourself. Have humility and focus on what you can control – and ignore what you cannot. Doing so will help you to cope with the unpredictable and unexpected outcomes that you will experience in the litigation and appellate process. And remember that no matter what happens, life will go on. You should too. And I suspect that the lawyers for the petitioner and the respondent will do precisely that.

***

Ultimately, what matters is not how many cases you win or how much money you make. What matters is the relationships that you form with other people, which are more important than anything that you will do in the law. So don’t sweat the small stuff, because, at the end of the day, it’s all small stuff.

April 27, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Absolute Presidential Immunity as an Appellate Strategy

On April 25, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Trump v. United States, the case in which former President Trump’s lawyers will argue, among other things, that a president has absolute immunity from the criminal charges that covers every action of a president. In this instance, they claiming that Trump was advancing electoral integrity when he urged supporters to go to the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which resulted in violence that temporarily halted the tallying electoral votes so that Joseph Biden could take office as the incoming president.

The assertion of absolute immunity may seem incredulous as a strategic choice. Rare is the instance that an appellate advocate should elect to argue the most extreme position possible, particularly when the argument has no textual anchor, no precedential support, and obvious counterarguments. To place a president entirely above the law suggests that the American Revolution, the Constitution, and tradition renders the chief executive a king who wield every possible prerogative and can do no wrong, when we have been taught that the opposite is true.

During argument before the D.C. Circuit, one judge asked whether the president could order Seal Team 6, the elite unit of Navy Seals, to assassinate a political rival. Counsel responded that only impeachment and not criminal prosecution was available under that hypothetical. Judges and the public, expectedly, reacted harshly to that extreme and indefensible position.

The question then, from an advocacy perspective, is why adopt it? Certainly, there are times when a court splits the difference between the positions taken by the two parties, so that the party advocating the most extreme position, as in a negotiation, pulls the center closer to its view. Other times, a position is presented, not to prevail, but to plant a seed that may sprout at a later time. A powerful separate judicial opinion that seeks to justify the position in some instances provides an opportunity to fight another day and to generate more debate and scholarship in favor of the position.

In the Trump case, I doubt that either of these potential outcomes are what his counsel has in mind. Neither is likely to accomplish their client’s current need: the end of the prosecution. Instead, the argument fuels their delay stratagem, which hopes that the trials take place at a time when President Trump can make a triumphant return to the White House and order the Justice Department to drop the prosecutions, or that a defeated candidate who is no longer a threat receives a pardon or other beneficence from the victor to avoid the spectacle of a former president in prison. Still, the argument might produce language, helpful to a defense, about what constitutes the outer boundaries of official action, where the doctrine of qualified immunity provides some guidance.

I expect that this last point is why Trump’s counsel has argued that every act as president is an official act. This argument seeks to goad the Supreme Court into laying down criteria for evaluating when a president is engaged in an official act. Any guidelines are likely to be vague, creating room for exploitation when and if a case goes to trial. While election integrity sounds like official action, the presidency has no specific responsibilities on that issue and exhorting private citizens to march on the Capitol to keep an eye on Congress hardly sounds like official action in support of fair elections.

Still, it is worth noting that the absolute-immunity argument is not counsel’s untethered invention. It borrows from and seeks application of language adopted by the Supreme Court in Nixon v. Fitzgerald,[1] which held that former President Nixon was absolutely immune from private civil actions for “official conduct” even at the outer perimeter of presidential authority. In the case, a former air force employee sued the former president on a claim that Nixon had fired him over his whistleblowing testimony before Congress. The Court reasoned that a failure to immunize presidential actions would encourage lawsuits aimed at presidential actions to a degree that would distract a president from the duties of office and chill presidential choices to an extent that would “render an official unduly cautious in the discharge of his official duties.”[2] Although the Court took pains to distinguish criminal cases because of their greater public interest and importance, that type of marker can erode over time.

Notably, the Court found no distraction issue in 1997 when it held that then-President Clinton had no immunity from a lawsuit involving sexual allegations that predated his presidency in Clinton v. Jones.[3] Key to the decision was that the allegations concerned private actions unrelated to the exercise of presidential power, thus not creating a concern that it would induce hesitancy about official duties.

While I doubt that the absolute-immunity gambit will work in its purest form, Supreme Court decisions often create new issues that become fodder for future cases or arguments in the same case. In United States v. Nixon,[4] the Court unanimously held that the president could not claim executive privilege to avoid the Watergate special prosecutor’s subpoena for presidential audio tapes. Still, in the course of rejecting the executive-privilege argument, the Court gave executive privilege a firmer foundation than it had ever commanded before. Expect the same for presidential immunity in the opinions that come out of Trump v. United States.

 

[1] 457 U.S. 731 (1982).

[2] Id. at 752 n.32.

[3] 520 U.S. 681 (1997).

[4] 418 U.S. 683 (1974).

April 21, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 15, 2024

Book Review--A Promise Kept

As readers of this blog know, I love a good book.  If the book covers a Supreme Court case it is all the better.  And if it also concerns my maternal ancestors, well I am guaranteed to love it. A Promise Kept: The Muscogee (Creek) Nation and McGirt v. Oklahoma checked all three of those categories (and it had been sitting in my TBR pile for some time). Written by Robert J. Miller, a professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and Robbie Ethridge, a professor of anthropology at the University of Mississippi, the book is divided into two key parts.

The first part of the book concisely, yet thoroughly, covers the history of the Muscogee Nation, from the Mississippi “chiefdoms” to the towns and provinces that coalesced into the Creek confederacy. Professor Ethridge covers the divisions within the Nation, especially between the Upper and Lower Creeks, and how those divisions impacted the Nation’s removal (both voluntary and involuntary) from our ancestral lands in the South. Finally, the Nation’s history in Oklahoma is addressed, with detailed discussion of the relevant treaties, the allotment period, and ultimately Oklahoma statehood.

I read this part of the book with rapt attention. I was on the plane to Oklahoma City. In a few weeks I would be visiting the Muscogee Nation and the sites where my grandma and her ancestors lived. As I read, I jotted down notes to check when I had Internet service—I wanted to put my own relatives into this story and look at where they predominantly lived in Indian Territory.

The history was extremely easy to read and accessible to non-anthropologists (myself included). I plan on recommending the book to all my relatives.

The second part of the book covers the legal stuff.  It recounts the history of the McGirt case and the relevant precedents that address disestablishment of reservations. It also hypothesizes about issues that Oklahoma will face post-McGirt.  As a lawyer, I enjoyed this part. I especially appreciated the history surrounding the disestablishment cases, and I found the discussion of taxes on the newly re-recognized reservations interesting, especially given my pending trip to Tulsa. I also appreciated how Professor Miller stressed the importance of cooperation between the Nation and Oklahoma.  Shortly after McGirt was decided, I heard Muscogee Principal Chief David Hill speak about the case. From what I can tell, the Tribes in Oklahoma are ready to cooperate, but do want Oklahoma to honor and respect the Supreme Court’s decision and the promises made to the Tribes in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, they haven’t seen the same response from some elected officials in Oklahoma.

I highly recommend this book to all citizens of the Nation and those fascinated with Indian law, history, and sovereignty.

April 15, 2024 in Books, Current Affairs, Tribal Law and Appeals, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Adversary

During your legal career, whether in litigation, at trial, or on appeal, you will invariably encounter a “difficult” adversary. For this article, “difficult” does not refer to exceptionally talented adversaries. Rather, it refers to attorneys who, for lack of a better word, are jerks. They are the lawyers who, among other things, file numerous and borderline frivolous motions, call you on a Monday morning or Friday evening screaming at you, and file lengthy and incoherent briefs that leave you wondering how to respond. Dealing with these jerks is taxing and time-consuming. Below are a few suggestions to make your experience as painless as possible.

1.    Remain calm, professional, and patient.

When dealing with difficult adversaries, never let them affect you in a manner that causes you to react emotionally and get into a confrontation with them. Doing so will only exhaust you and will not in any way achieve your objectives in a particular litigation.

Instead, realize the type of person with whom you are dealing. In some (or many) instances, difficult adversaries are covert or malignant narcissists. Importantly, narcissists lack empathy, have a grandiose sense of self, display a sense of entitlement and a need for admiration, and consistently manipulate reality to make themselves the “victim” in every situation. When you react emotionally to these jerks and get involved in their drama, you are providing them with narcissistic supply, or the attention that they crave. Once you do this, the cycle of narcissistic abuse never ends because at the root of their problem is insecurity, which fuels their constant need for validation.

As such, never make the mistake of arguing with these people. In all interactions, remain calm, professional, and patient, and never let your emotions show. Once a narcissistic adversary realizes that they cannot provoke you and thus use you to feed their need for attention and validation, they will mediate their behavior. Furthermore, treating your adversaries with respect, even when they are difficult, reflects maturity and good judgment.

2.    Be kind and try to find common ground.

Good people exhibit kindness, cooperativeness, and humility even when it is difficult. Being combative with your adversary will get you nowhere and make it harder to accomplish your objectives. Thus, regardless of how repulsive your adversary is, you should always remain focused on achieving your objectives in a particular case, not on the adversary.

Remaining kind and respectful in the face of a difficult adversary is likely to disarm the adversary and make cooperation and compromise more likely. As they say, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

3.    When necessary, draw boundaries and command respect.

In some situations, particularly when dealing with insufferable narcissists, kindness and patience may not work because an adversary will continue incessantly with their abusive behavior, such as by filing frivolous motions or constantly calling you to scream and yell about some “injustice” that has made them a victim once again.

If, despite your best efforts, this behavior continues, you should draw a boundary and make it clear to your adversary that you will not tolerate such nonsense. That does not mean getting into a confrontation with your adversary because that will likely exacerbate the problem and their behavior. Rather, firmly make clear that their behavior is unacceptable and take measures to draw necessary boundaries, such as by refusing to take their calls and notifying the court of the adversary’s recalcitrant behavior. Put simply, sometimes you must look the bully in the eye and say enough is enough. Knowing when to accommodate and when to be assertive is critical to ensure that your adversary will respect your boundaries. And be sure to document every interaction with your adversary because they can – and will – distort reality (and even lie) to achieve their goals and paint you in a bad light.

4.    Change your strategy.

In some circumstances, an effective way to deal with an adversary is to change your strategy and take a more calculated approach. Indeed, difficult adversaries are often controlling people who will seek to control their interactions and conversations with you. Do not allow them to do that. For example, reframe a legal or factual issue that the adversary raises with you. Identify areas of common ground with your adversary, which may lead to increased collaboration. Ask the adversary to explain the basis for specific discovery requests, and to identify the factual and legal basis for their arguments. And if the adversary continues to be difficult, such as by filing motions and misrepresenting the facts, do not be afraid to hit back with motions or discovery requests in which you expose their duplicity. As stated above, sometimes you must look a bully in the eye and say enough is enough.

5.    Talk to your adversary on the phone (or in person) rather than via email.

Some individuals, particularly difficult ones, use email to send lengthy messages that contain baseless accusations and invective. Certainly, it is easier to hurl insults at people when you are typing on a keyboard in the privacy of your office. But it is not so easy to do so over the phone or in person. So if the adversary sends you an offensive email, do not respond, especially not immediately, when your emotions may affect your rationality. Instead, think carefully about how you want to respond, and then call your adversary. That will enable you to engage in a dialogue, ask questions, and respond in a mature and conciliatory manner, which can increase the likelihood of collaboration and a favorable outcome.

6.    Remember that it is not about you.

Difficult adversaries can affect you emotionally and psychologically, and cause immeasurable stress, because their strategy is to make you believe that you have perpetuated some wrong or injustice, and in some instances to personally attack you. Remember that difficult people frequently, if not always, need to see themselves as the victim.

Never let these ridiculous tactics affect you. A difficult adversary’s behavior has absolutely nothing to do with you. Rather, it reflects their need for control. It results from their insecurity and emotional immaturity. Do not fall for this ridiculous behavior because if you do, you will play right into their hands.

***

Sadly, most if not all lawyers will encounter jerks during their legal career. Knowing how to deal with these people will reduce the stress that they would otherwise cause you and keep you focused on achieving the best result for your client.

April 14, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 24, 2024

And or Or

Statutory construction figures in many appeals. Despite well-known canons that guide courts in interpreting statutes, advocates and courts frequently dispute a written law’s meaning. The overarching principle used in both federal and state courts seeks to read a statute to reflect the intent of the legislature that enacted it. To determine legislative intent, precedent advises that the law’s text, read as a whole, is the best indicia of what the enacting body intended. In taking a textualist approach, courts attempt to read the words of a statute in their ordinary meaning, absent some indication that the words have a technical meaning or are used as terms of art.

When a plain-meaning approach does not resolve ambiguities in the text, courts often resort to legislative history, hoping to derive an answer from hearings, reports, and legislators’ remarks. One example of particular contention is the legislative use of “and” or “or.” The controversy over their usage has given rise to what is called the conjunctive/disjunctive canon. The canon holds, as one might assume, that the use of “and” is conjunctive, which means that the items in a list are joined. The use of “or” is disjunctive, which tells you that the items in a list are alternatives. Yet, nothing is as simple as that might seem to make it because lists can include negatives, plurals, and other phrases that create ambiguities.

In 2018, Congress enacted a criminal justice reform called the “First Step Act.” Among other things, it created criteria that would allow avoidance of mandatory minimum sentences. To apply this safety valve, a court must, in addition to other criteria, find:

        the defendant does not have--

                (A) more than 4 criminal history points, excluding any criminal history points resulting from a 1-point offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines;

                (B) a prior 3-point offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines; and

                (C) a prior 2-point violent offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines.

In Pulsifer v. United States, decided on March 15, the Supreme Court grappled with what had baffled the circuit courts: must all three conditions be met as signified by the word “and,” or should the “does not have” that introduces the list indicate that A, B, and C are alternative qualifications.

The government argued to the Court that the requirements mean that a defendant with any one of the disqualifying criteria was ineligible for the leniency the law granted, as though it read A or B or C. The defendant arguing the use of and was conjunctive, argued that the law only disqualified a defendant if the record reflected all three at the same time.

A six-member majority sided with the government, but the line-up was a bit unusual. Justice Kagan wrote for a majority that included Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Justice Gorsuch authored a dissent, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Jackson.

The majority said that there were “two grammatically permissible ways to read” the provision, so that either the government’s or the defendant’s might be plausible. However, grammatical rules alone could not answer the Question Presented, because the language had to be read in context. In other words, reliance simply on the conjunctive/disjunctive canon would be misplaced.

Invoking an example from the children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Justice Kagan explained that sometimes in a series is joined by a single verb so when the caterpillar “ate through” a number of food items we understand that each listed food had a hole through which the caterpillar traveled. She then states that when a person says, “I’m not free on Saturday and Sunday,” . . . he most likely means “I’m not free on Saturday and I’m not free on Sunday.” What the person does not mean is that he is only available “one of those days,” but the entire weekend.

However, the inclusion of “does not have” at the top of the list “refers independently to crimes satisfying (1), crimes satisfying (2), and crimes satisfying (3)—not to whatever crimes manage to satisfy (1), (2), and (3) all at once.” Thus, even if Congress could have framed the criteria more clearly, the majority resolved the issue by determining that Congress could not have created an exception that swallowed the rule, but that recognized ineligibility for a more lenient sentence based on the seriousness of the offense. That sensible view, the majority surmised, is reflected in the government’s favored interpretation.

Justice Gorsuch’s lengthy dissent largely applies the conjunctive/disjunctive canon, refusing to rewrite the statute from its plain text where “or” must mean “or.”

Although the decision resolves the meaning of the First Step Act, both sides have provided advocates with ample argument points the next time legislation is less than translucent.

March 24, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 17, 2024

A Few Thoughts on Judge McAfee's Decision

On March 15, 2024, Judge Scott McAfee denied the defendants’ motion to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the case involving the prosecution of former President Donald Trump and other defendants.

Below are a few observations from Judge McAfee’s decision and the hearing.

1.    Judge McAfee should have disqualified Willis.

Given the facts and evidence, Willis should have been disqualified. Her conduct demonstrated an actual conflict of interest and the appearance of a conflict of interest.

First, on January 14, 2024, Willis gave a speech at an Atlanta church that all but accused Trump’s and the other defendants’ lawyers of racism – stating they would play the “race card” – and, in so doing, showed an alarming lack of judgment.[1] Although not mentioning the defense attorneys by name, it was clear who Willis was targeting, and her comments, which could taint the jury pool, were inappropriate and unethical.  It should come as no surprise that Judge McAfee suggested that a gag order may ultimately be necessary to ensure that such conduct does not occur again.[2]

Second, Willis and Wade likely provided untruthful testimony on the witness stand when they stated that their romantic relationship began in 2022. To begin with, Willis’s former friend Robyn Yeartie testified under oath that the relationship began in 2019, which was before Willis hired Wade as a special prosecutor. Additionally, Wade’s former attorney and law partner, Terrence Bradley, exchanged text messages in January 2024 with Ashleigh Merchant, one of the defendants’ attorneys, in which he responded “absolutely,” when Merchant asked him whether the relationship began before 2022 (and offered specific details regarding when it began).[3] It is incomprehensible why Bradley, who previously represented Wade in a divorce proceeding, would communicate with an attorney seeking Willis’s dismissal from the case. And it was equally troubling that, when testifying, Bradley evaded nearly every question, suddenly claiming that he did not recall when the relationship began. Bradley’s text messages, not his dishonest testimony, tell the story.[4]

Also, Wade’s testimony was inconsistent with the answers he provided to interrogatories in his prior divorce proceeding. As Judge McAfee stated, Wade’s “patently unpersuasive explanation for the inaccurate interrogatories he submitted in his pending divorce indicates a willingness on his part to wrongly conceal his relationship with the District Attorney.”[5] Well, if Wade’s explanation that the relationship began in 2022 was “patently unpersuasive,” then Willis’s testimony was too. As they say, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

Lest there be any doubt, the defendants provided evidence that, before 2022, Willis and Wade had exchanged thousands of text messages and that Wade was located near Willis’s residence approximately thirty-five times.[6] What’s more, after the hearing, two additional witnesses came forward with information that the relationship began before 2022, but Judge McAfee declined to hear their testimony.[7]

Third, Willis’s claim that she reimbursed Wade in cash for money that he expended on their numerous vacations – while Willis employed and supervised Wade – strains credulity. Indeed, Willis’s explanation for the reimbursements is quite convenient because it ensures that they cannot be traced. And it is odd that a district attorney, who, as a public servant, arguably has an obligation to disclose such reimbursements, would select a method for which no documentation would exist. One would think that, in the interest of disclosure and transparency, Willis would do the opposite.

Judge McAfee summarized Willis and Wade’s questionable conduct as follows:

Even if the romantic relationship began after … Wade’s initial contract in November 2021, the District Attorney chose to continue supervising and paying Wade while maintaining such a relationship. She further allowed the regular and loose exchange of money between them without any exact or verifiable measure of reconciliation. This lack of a confirmed financial split creates the possibility and appearance that the District Attorney benefited - albeit non-materially - from a contract whose award lay solely within her purview and policing.[8]

Judge McAfee almost certainly did not believe Willis and Wade, stating in his opinion that “the General Assembly, the Georgia State Ethics Commission, the State Bar of Georgia, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, or the voters of Fulton County may offer feedback on any unanswered questions that linger.”[9] That should tell you all you need to know.

Given his findings, how could Judge McAfee conclude that the defense had failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the relationship began before 2022, that Willis was not truthful on the stand, and that Willis should not be disqualified? No one can know the answer to this question, but a few explanations appear likely. Judge McAfee may have been afraid to disqualify Willis because of the far-reaching implications of such a decision. Doing so would have made it highly likely that Trump would not be prosecuted, and that McAfee would face a significant backlash from Fulton County’s legal community and voters. Additionally, considering that Judge McAfee is a new judge in an overwhelmingly liberal county, and married with two children, he may have feared that disqualifying Willis would have threatened his career and safety.

Alternatively, Judge McAfee may have honestly believed that he was reaching the right result because, despite Willis’s and Wade’s unethical conduct, no actual conflict of interest existed. But if the relationship began in 2019 or 2020, which the evidence overwhelmingly suggests, Willis had an actual conflict of interest when she hired Wade, when she chose Wade the lead the prosecution against Trump and the other defendants, when she continued to employ and supervise him, and when she paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars for his services. And Willis’s lack of candor on the stand is itself a conflict of interest because her and Wade’s personal interest in concealing the relationship conflicted with their duty to testify truthfully and disclose that relationship. Under these circumstances, disqualification should be the remedy for precisely the type of egregious and unethical conduct that Judge McAfee cited in his decision.

Whatever the reason, Judge McAfee showed himself to be a careful, thoughtful, and conscientious judge, and his findings regarding Willis’s and Wade’s unethical conduct will surely impact Willis’s ability to remain as the prosecutor going forward.

2.    The prosecution against former President Donald Trump is irreparably tainted.

In his opinion, Judge McAfee criticized Willis for her “tremendous lapse of judgment” and the “unprofessional manner of [Willis’s] testimony,” and concluded that the hearing had an “odor of mendacity” that created the appearance of impropriety.[10] Indeed, Willis’s speech at the church, her previously undisclosed relationship (and vacations) with Wade, her questionable theory of cash-only (and thus untraceable) reimbursements, and her combative testimony under oath, compromised irreparably her credibility and stained the prosecution with an unremovable taint.

For these and other reasons, Willis’s continued involvement in the prosecution will likely undermine the public’s faith in the legal system and the rule of law. As Judge McAfee stated:

As the case moves forward, reasonable members of the public could easily be left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some form of benefit to the District Attorney, or even whether the romantic relationship has resumed. Put differently, an outsider could reasonably think that the District Attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences … The testimony introduced, including that of the District Attorney and Wade, did not put these concerns to rest.[11]

It is deeply troubling that a district attorney, particularly one involved in the very public prosecution of a former president, would behave in this manner, rather than ensure that her conduct was beyond reproach.

In essence, Trump won this hearing even though he did not technically “win.”

3.    The weaponization of the law against Trump threatens to undermine the public’s faith in the rule of law.

If one honestly analyzes the cases and court decisions against Trump, one theme emerges: they are, at least to a degree, politically motivated and reflect personal animus against Trump.

For example, New York Attorney General Letitia James campaigned on the promise that she would target and prosecute Trump. And James brought a lawsuit against Trump under a rarely used statute – and before a decidedly liberal judge – that resulted in an arguably excessive $350 million dollar judgment against Trump.[12] We now live in a country where a prosecutor can openly campaign on and get elected to a position on a pledge to prosecute a specific individual.[13]

Additionally, Willis has been anything but shy about her hatred for Trump. Furthermore, the indictment against Trump – filed in Fulton County, which is overwhelmingly liberal – all but ensures a jury pool consisting of jurors who dislike Trump, much like the jury in Manhattan that awarded E. Jean Carroll eighty-three million dollars in damages for defamation, despite her attorneys seeking only a fraction of that amount.[14]

Likewise, the prosecution against Trump in the District of Columbia, which relates to his conduct on January 6, 2021, will, like in Manhattan and Fulton County, place Trump in an overwhelmingly liberal jurisdiction before an overwhelmingly liberal jury. Moreover, the prosecutors in the pending cases are desperately seeking to begin the trials in advance of the November election. That, again, should tell you all you need to know. The motive for these prosecutions is political, namely, to ensure that Trump loses the election in November.[15]

Regarding recent court decisions, the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, where four justices (all democrats) held, despite the unambiguous language in Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the ambiguous language in Section Three, that Trump was an “insurrectionist” and therefore barred from Colorado’s presidential primary ballot, was utterly ridiculous.[16] Not surprisingly, the United States Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision.

Also, some scholars and media personalities continue to make histrionic and laughable statements that defeating Trump is necessary to save democracy. Former Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Luttig, for example, consistently foments division and fear by making melodramatic statements, such as that the November election is a struggle for democracy and that democracy’s survival depends on defeating Trump.[17] Well, democracy is not threatened because voters elect someone that you do not like.

4.    Steve Sadow is among the best attorneys in the country. 

Steve Sadow, the lead attorney for Donald Trump, is incredibly talented and among the nation's top attorneys. If law students and young lawyers want to see an example of powerful advocacy, they should look no further than Sadow. Indeed, Sadow eviscerated Terrence Bradley with concise, impossible-to-evade questions that left no doubt that Bradley was being untruthful. And Sadow knows how to craft a question in which he subtly incorporates argument into the lead up to the question, and his forceful and confident tone makes it seem like any answer that a witness gives other than the one Sadow's question implicitly suggests is not credible. 

Additionally, Sadow's preparation is impeccable. His arguments are well-organized, to the point, and delivered with a confidence and authenticity that maximizes their persuasive impact. In short, it's not just what Sadow says, but how he says it, that is so impressive. 

 

***

When Wade resigned as the lead prosecutor, he wrote that he was doing so “in the interest of democracy.”[18] Wade did not resign “in the interest of democracy.” He resigned because he got caught. And when the defendants initially filed their motion to disqualify Willis, she called the allegations in the motion – while under oath -- a lie.[19]  Judge McAfee’s decision demonstrates that the allegations were anything but a lie.

The rule of law, not democracy, is at stake. If prosecutors continue to try to “get Trump,” it will erode public confidence in the rule of law and its leaders.[20] That, and an “odor of mendacity,” is the true threat to democracy.

 

[1] Timothy H.J. Nerozzi, Judge in Georgia Slams Fani Willis’ ‘Improper’ Church Speech, ‘Playing the Race Card,’ (March 15, 2024), available at: Judge in Georgia slams Fani Willis' 'improper' church speech, 'playing the race card' (fox5atlanta.com)

[2] See State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump, et al. (March 15, 2024), available at: 151-ORDER-03-15-2024 (fultonclerk.org)

[3] Srah Fortinsky, Ex-divorce lawyer Key Texts on Willis-Wade Relationship Were Speculation (Feb. 27, 2024), available at: Ex-divorce lawyer: Key texts on Willis-Wade relationship were speculation | The Hill

[4] See id.

[5] State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump, et al. (March 15, 2024), available at: 151-ORDER-03-15-2024 (fultonclerk.org)

[6] See Nick Wooten, Trump Attorney: Cell Phone Data Could Show that Fani Willis Nathan Wade Lied About Relationship Timeline Feb. 23, 2024), available at: Phone data calls into question Wade-Willis relationship timeline | 11alive.com

[7] See Jason Morris, et al., Georgia Judge Asked to Allow New Testimony from Witnesses Who Allegedly Have Information on Willis-Wade Relationship (March 5, 2024), available at: Georgia judge asked to allow new testimony from witnesses who allegedly have information on Willis-Wade relationship | CNN Politics

[8] See State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump, et al. (March 15, 2024), available at: 151-ORDER-03-15-2024 (fultonclerk.org)

[9] Id.

[10] Id. (brackets added).

[11] Id.

[12] See Adam Reiss and Dareh Gregorian, Judge Fines Donald Trump More Than 350 Million, Bars Him from Running Businesses in N.Y. for Three Years (Feb. 16, 2024), available at: Judge Engoron fines Trump more than $350M, bars him from running businesses in N.Y. for 3 years (nbcnews.com)

[13] See Associated Press, NY Attorney General Letitia James Has a Long History of Fighting Trump and Other Powerful Targets (Sept. 28, 2023), available at: NY Attorney General Letitia James Has a Long History of Fighting Trump and Other Powerful Targets (usnews.com)

[14] See Lauren Del Valle, Jury Finds Trump Must Pay 83.3 Million to E. Jean Carroll (Jan. 26, 2024), available at: Trump must pay $83.3 million to E. Jean Carroll, jury says (cnn.com)

[15] The case against Trump in Florida, involving Trump’s alleged refusal to turn over classified documents, is arguably the most meritorious of those brought against Trump.

[16] See Trump v. Anderson, 2023 CO 63, available at: 23SA300.pdf (state.co.us)

[17]  See Shauneen Miranda, Former Pence Legal Aide: Trump’s Hold on the GOP Puts Democracy ‘In Grave Peril’  (Aug. 9, 2023), available at: Former Pence legal aide: Trump’s hold on GOP puts democracy “in grave peril” (axios.com)

[18] The Hill, Nathan Wade’s Resignation Letter (March 15, 2024), available at: READ: Nathan Wade’s resignation letter | The Hill

[19] See Kaitlyn Lewis, Fani Willis Says Lawyer ‘Lying’ During Disqualification Hearing (Feb. 15, 2024), available at:  Fani Willis Says Lawyer 'Lying' During Disqualification Hearing (newsweek.com)

[20]  See Alan Dershowitz, Get Trump: The Threat to Civil Liberties, Due Process, and Our Constitutional Rule of Law (Hot Books, 2023).

March 17, 2024 in Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Lessons from the Fani Willis Disqualification Hearing in Fulton County, Georgia

Over the past few weeks, Judge Scott McAfee has presided over a hearing in which former President Donald Trump’s lawyers are seeking to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and attorney Nathan Wade from prosecuting Trump and his co-defendants for alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act. The hearing provided several lessons for litigators concerning persuasive advocacy.

1.    During direct examination, get to the point quickly and do not focus on irrelevant details.

At times, the direct examinations by some of former President Trump’s lawyers focused on irrelevant details, making the examinations unnecessarily long and reducing their persuasive impact.

In fact, Judge McAfee expressed frustration—and understandably so —with such questioning, particularly on direct examination. For example, during her direct examination of Willis, Ashleigh Merchant, who is an excellent lawyer, often focused on tangential details that detracted attention from the dispositive issues, such as the monthly rent amount that Willis paid to her friend Robin Bryant-Yeartie, whether Willis’s father remained at the house where Willis, for safety reasons, had moved from, and whether Willis’s children had returned to (and presumably resided) at the house after she had left. 

None of these questions had anything to do with the dispositive issues in the case, namely: (1) when the relationship between Willis and Wade began; and (2) whether Willis benefitted financially from hiring Wade as a special prosecutor. This is why Judge McAfee, obviously frustrated, stated, “Ms. Merchant, can we get to the relationship and financial benefit?”

The lesson is simple. Get to the point quickly. Focus on the issues and realize that less is more. Otherwise, you risk losing the judge’s (or jury’s) attention and diminishing the persuasive value of your direct examination. 

2.    Ask concise, direct, and closed-ended questions and organize them to maximize persuasive impact.

On direct and cross-examination, attorneys should ask concise, direct, and, in appropriate instances, closed-ended questions that are straightforward and that produce the testimony you seek to elicit. During the hearing, some of Ashleigh Merchant’s and the other attorneys’ questions were compound, open-ended, and confusing. This allowed Willis both to evade answering certain questions and, alternatively, to offer extensive explanations that had little, if anything, to do with the information that the attorneys sought.

Additionally, a fair amount of the questions that Trump’s lawyers asked were objectionable, causing needless delay and distracting from the relevant issues. And Trump’s lawyers’ responses to several objections, particularly concerning privilege, were unpersuasive. Indeed, the failure to draft a direct examination that is concise, to the point, and non-objectionable undermines the persuasive value of that examination and can, in some instances, negatively impact a lawyer’s credibility. When that happens, the likelihood of success diminishes substantially.

3.    Be prepared, and understand the effort needed to be truly prepared.

Preparation is everything, and in the legal profession, it often takes countless hours to be fully prepared for a hearing or trial. This includes, but is not limited to, researching effectively, knowing the facts and holdings of all relevant case law, having a thorough grasp of the facts, anticipating the adversary’s objections and counterarguments, preparing witnesses, and developing a cohesive and compelling theory of the case. When an attorney is inadequately prepared, it shows and affects the attorney’s credibility and the persuasive value of the attorney’s arguments.

At points during the hearing, some of the attorneys on both sides seemed unprepared. For example, they struggled to locate information in their files, often shuffling through papers or otherwise taking time to find the information needed to substantiate their points, and inquired into privileged information on direct examination. At other times, one or more attorneys appeared to not fully understand the holding of a particular case or, alternatively, slightly mischaracterize a prior court’s holding, which was evident to a degree during the state’s closing argument. 

As stated above, these mistakes can have a substantial, if not decisive, impact on a lawyer’s credibility and a client’s likelihood of succeeding on the merits.

4.    Slow down and articulate clearly.

During the hearing, particularly on direct and cross-examination, a few of the attorneys spoke too fast during direct and cross-examination and struggled to respond effectively to objections (and Judge McAfee’s questions), which affected the quality of their presentation. When attorneys speak too fast, they lose the opportunity to emphasize favorable points and risk confusing a judge or jury. As such, attorneys should strive to speak in a conversational tone, utilize strategic pauses, transition effectively between different topics (i.e., signposting), and where appropriate, use a witness’s answer to frame the next question (i.e., looping). When attorneys speak too quickly, they dilute the impact that favorable testimony will have on a judge or jury. 

This goes to the broader point that much of persuasive advocacy is reflected in the intangible and non-verbal qualities that an attorney brings into the courtroom. It is not sufficient, for example, to draft an outstanding oral argument if that argument is not delivered persuasively. In short, it is not just what you say; it is how you say it.

A textbook example of how to conduct a powerful cross-examination (or direct examination of a hostile witness) was attorney Steve Sadow’s examination of Terrance Bradley, Wade’s former law partner who had represented Wade in a divorce proceeding. Sadow got to the point quickly, asked clear and impossible-to-evade questions, and spoke with confidence and conviction. In so doing, Sadow severely, if not irreparably, damaged Bradley’s credibility.

5.    Maintain your credibility.

At all times, attorneys and witnesses must maintain their credibility. If a judge or jury doubts your credibility, they will disregard your substantive arguments and likely rule in the opponent’s favor.

During her examination by Merchant, Willis sometimes reacted with anger, emotion, and condescension in response to specific questions and sometimes offered superfluous explanations that had no relationship whatsoever to the question being asked. Such a demeanor risks alienating the judge (or jury) and losing whatever sympathy that you could have engendered through your testimony.

Most importantly, attorneys and witnesses must always be honest with the court. During the hearing, Trump’s attorneys called Bradley to the stand. Several weeks before the hearing, Bradley, for reasons that only he can know, had been texting Merchant about when the relationship between Willis and Wade began (Willis and Wade claimed that it began in 2022, after Willis hired Wade as a special prosecutor). In these text messages, Bradley responded “Absolutely” when Merchant asked him if the relationship began before 2022 and even volunteered specific details indicating that the relationship began in 2019 after Willis and Wade met at a continuing legal education seminar. When Bradley was called to the stand, however, he conveniently forgot—or did not recall—much of the information that he had conveyed to Merchant. When pressed, Bradley claimed that he was merely “speculating” about the beginning of the relationship (despite previously providing specific details to Merchant) and that he had no basis whatsoever to support this “speculation.” It should go without saying that Bradley had absolutely no credibility and, as such, severely undermined Willis’s and Wade’s claims regarding when their relationship began.

Maintaining credibility requires, among other things, that you keep your composure in the courtroom, control your emotions, refrain from making meritless objections, and tell the truth. 

6.    Do not make too many objections and avoid meritless objections.

Objections are a vital part of any hearing or trial, as attorneys must ensure that questions on direct and cross-examination comport with the rules of evidence. But sometimes, attorneys can make too many objections and, in so doing, damage their credibility.

This was evident during Trump’s lawyers' examinations of Terrance Bradley. After what seemed like every question, the attorneys for the state objected on various grounds, such as that the question was asked and answered, not relevant, and privileged. It was clear, however, that the questions Merchant and the other attorneys, such as Sadow, posed to Bradley were within the purview of Judge McAfee’s order allowing Trump’s attorneys to question Bradley about when Willis’s and Wade’s relationship began, despite prior claims of attorney-client privilege. Notwithstanding, the state’s attorneys continued to make questionable objections despite being repeatedly overruled, and Judge McAfee appeared quite frustrated.

The problem with this should be obvious: too many objections, particularly when they lack serious merit, undermine your credibility. It also suggests that you have something to hide, namely, that the damaging information the adversary seeks is, in fact, true. This is not to say, of course, that attorneys should not object frequently when the adversary consistently asks objectionable questions. It is to say that attorneys should not object when the basis for that objection is meritless and the likelihood of a judge sustaining it is minimal.

***

The above discussion is not meant to unduly criticize the attorneys or the parties in this case. They are exceptionally talented lawyers and, at many points during the hearing, they advocated admirably and persuasively on behalf of their clients. Furthermore, Judge McAfee showed that he is an outstanding judge who has impeccable knowledge of the law and rules of evidence and who is balanced, reasonable, and fair. Judge McAfee is certainly a jurist who represents the best of the legal profession.

Regardless of whether Judge McAfee disqualifies Willis, these hearings demonstrate the importance of exercising good judgment, being honest with the court and the public and, when prosecuting a former president, adhering to the highest ethical standards.

March 2, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Lessons in Advocacy from the Trump v. Anderson Oral Argument

Oral argument in Trump v. Anderson, the ballot eligibility case from Colorado pending in the Supreme Court, received enormous public attention – as well as attention from other contributors to this blog. Regardless of what you think of the merits of the case (I filed an amicus brief on behalf of Professor Kermit Roosevelt of the University of Pennsylvania Law School that I will describe at the end of this post), the pre-argument assessment of the University of Texas law professor Steven Vladeck seemed accurate: constitutional law was likely to give way to constitutional politics. In this post, however, I want to focus on the oral argument. Despite how well the advocates did on many levels, the difficulty of the case and the predisposition of the justices made some responses surprisingly insufficient.

Former President Trump’s counsel, Jonathan Mitchell, benefited from a heavy dose of softball questions – and little follow up as it became obvious early on that he would prevail, even if not on any ground he argued. He had chosen to rely heavily on the argument that the presidency is not an office subject to disqualification under the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Kagan prefaced one question by declaring that she could think of many good reasons why those who wrote Section 3 would want to cover the presidency, but wanted to know what rationale would support exclusion of it as a policy choice.

Mitchell’s response admitted that no good rationale exists to exclude the presidency but that the language probably represented some unknown compromise. He added, “In a compromise, everyone goes away miserable,” but that we have to follow the text, which he claims supports his view.

That response seems wholly unsatisfactory, built, as it is, on speculation that deserves no credit. As Mitchell otherwise conceded, “one would think, of all offices, the presidency would be the one you’d want to keep out the Confederate insurrectionists. That’s the commander-in-chief of the Army.” Amicus briefs from history scholars established that the presidency was covered – and that no one supported a different view. Yet, Mitchell’s shrugging response got no pushback or further exploration by any justice. For a majority on the Court that usually insists on original public meaning, Mitchell’s explanation should have sounded hollow. The justices were similarly uninterested in diving deeper into the claim that it was impossible to assign a meaning to the term “insurrection.”

Jason Murray, who represented the voters who sought to knock Trump off the ballot in Colorado, faced a hostile bench. It is always difficult to respond to a Court set on reaching a result contrary to your position, even when the judges struggle to find a common rationale. Yet, one premise behind questions raised by Justice Kagan and Chief Justice Roberts required a response, where none was given. Both members of the Court stated as a fact that it would seem odd that the Fourteenth Amendment, intended to restrict the States, would empower a State to disqualify a presidential candidate, which then led them to raise difficult questions about state authority, which provides the most likely ground for reversal.

Murray did not challenge the underlying premise of their questions, however – and he should have. Certainly, to the extent that the Fourteenth Amendment imposed the privileges and immunities of national citizenship on States, required them to observe equal protection and due process, and, eventually, comport their actions with the Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment can be seen as restricting on State authority. However, at the same time, the Amendment empowered the state courts to enforce those same rights. A state court does not require congressional approval before it finds that a law or government action, federal or state, violates equal protection or due process. Why would that expectation be any different for any other part of the Fourteenth Amendment, including its disqualification clause? The Constitution always expected state judges and state courts to abide by the supreme law of the land and enforce its requirements. The extension of rights in the Fourteenth Amendment also necessarily empowered state courts to enforce it.

Moreover, as amorphous as the concept of due process remains after centuries of precedent stretching back to Magna Carta, why would state courts have any greater difficulty interpreting “insurrection” and applying it without congressional guidance. Yet, if congressional guidance was needed to assist with determining whether January 6 and Trump’s role in it amounted to insurrection, ample expression of congressional thinking, both at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification and today, exist. Briefs detailed the legislative history of the provision. And the January 6 Committee report was evidence in the trial on that score in a Colorado courtroom. Finally, a majority of Congress found that Trump’s actions on January 6 constituted an impeachable offense, even if the 57 Senators who voted that way were short of the two-thirds necessary for removal from office. Since only a majority is needed for the type of legislative guidance, which Mitchell told the Court was necessary as a result of Griffin’s Case, that majority, specific to the question in this case, existed, having heard evidence more comprehensively than when legislation is usually considered.

I have no illusions that this type of pushback would likely change the result. Much of it existed in the amicus briefs filed. Instead, simply as a matter of appellate advocacy, it seems important to make points like that in response to a court’s assumptions. It may have no effect, but it also could create some hesitation on the part of the Court to make sweeping but erroneous declarations in the opinion that is issued and create a precedent for what is too facile a reading of the Constitution.

N.B.: The amicus brief I filed largely addressed two issues. First, that the debate over whether Section 3 is self-executing misunderstands the inquiry. The Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment sets standards to be implemented. No State shall deny equal protection or due process, for example. And no person who has taken an oath to support the Constitution (which logically includes those who took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution) and has engaged in insurrection shall hold office. The next question, then, is not whether Congress, which cannot enhance or diminish the Constitution’s command, puts it into effect, but whether a mechanism exists to bring an alleged violation before a court of law. Colorado election law provides such a mechanism, according standing to voters like the plaintiffs in this case.

Second, the brief addressed misunderstandings about Griffin’s Case. The case, in which Chief Justice Salmon Chase wrote the opinion while riding circuit, addressed whether a judge, who had served in the Confederacy and should not hold office under Section 3, could issue a valid criminal conviction and sentence. Chase’s narrow decision found that such a collateral attack on the judge’s authority could not be mounted in this case involving a manslaughter charge without congressional authorization. It did not suggest state law would suffice, likely because the case arose in Virginia which, at the time, had “no legal state government[]” under the First Reconstruction Act. Moreover, as was noted at oral argument and in other briefs, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as Chase, agreed that Jefferson Davis was disqualified without congressional action from public office, including the presidency. Congress believed so too, because it was argued that the Amnesty Act of 1872 was flawed because its removal of disqualifications would allow a party to nominate Davis to the presidency or vice presidency.

Moreover, claims made during the oral argument that Griffin’s Case served as the basis for the Enforcement Act of 1870 ignore that the Act was drafted before the decision in the case and that key provisions were reenacted from an 1862 Act that predated the case, thereby undermining Mitchell’s claim that the 1870 Act created statutory preemption for State enforcement (even though it was repealed in 1948).

Still, with the decision seemingly preordained, my hope is that whatever opinion is issued does not fracture the history or establish background principles that like early interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment skew its construction in ways that creates problems in the future.

February 25, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Oral Argument in Trump v. Anderson

The oral argument in Trump v. Anderson indicated that the United States Supreme Court would reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision disqualifying Donald Trump from the ballot.[1] In fact, the Court’s decision will likely be unanimous for three reasons.

1.    Affirming the Colorado Supreme Court's decision would enable states to disqualify different candidates and thus create a lack of uniformity among the states regarding which candidates voters could select. 

If the Supreme Court affirmed the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, then Texas and other conservative states could disqualify President Biden from the ballot based on whatever subjective definition of insurrection they adopted, while liberal states could likewise disqualify Donald Trump. Imagine living in a world where, for example, ten states prohibited its citizens from voting for Trump while eight states prohibited its citizens from voting for Biden. Such a result would disenfranchise millions of voters and, as Chief Justice Roberts stated, enable a handful of states to decide the presidential election. Nothing could be more anti-democratic, at “war with the thrust of the Fourteenth Amendment,” and anathema to a society that values free and fair elections.[2]

Indeed, the justices recognized that affirming the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision would be far-reaching and fundamentally anti-democratic. For example, Justice Alito asked Jason Murray, the respondent’s attorney (and an outstanding lawyer), whether a state court could exclude from the ballot a presidential candidate that the court did not prefer simply because the candidate was leading in the polls. Murray answered in the affirmative – and that all but sunk Colorado’s argument.

The justices also suggested that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment’s original purpose. As Chief Justice Roberts emphasized, the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to expand federal power and restrict state power. Thus, to conclude that the states have the power to disqualify federal candidates – particularly where the disqualification is predicated on an ambiguous provision – would be incongruous with the Fourteenth Amendment’s original purpose. For these and other reasons, Justice Kagan and Justice Barrett suggested that the question of whether a former president is disqualified for insurrection “sounds awfully national,” which is consistent with Section Five’s text, which gives Congress, not the states, the power to implement Section Three, and with the principle that there be uniformity among the states regarding who voters may select for president.[3]   

2.    Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment is ambiguous and should not be construed to frustrate democracy.

Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Jackson explained that, unlike the Constitution’s age and nationality requirements, which are categorical and unambiguous, Section Three was susceptible to different interpretations and therefore should not be construed in an anti-democratic manner. For example, Justice Kavanaugh noted that the word “insurrection,” is broad and that Section Three contained no information concerning the procedures needed to determine whether a president was an insurrectionist. Likewise, Justice Jackson expressed concern that the President of the United States may not be an “officer of the United States” because the plain language of Section Three does not include the word “President,” therefore suggesting that the president is not within Section Three’s purview.

Given the fact that Section Three is ambiguous, why, as Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Jackson emphasized, should the Court reach an outcome that frustrates rather than facilitates democratic choice? And how should the Court resolve the issue regarding a candidate’s disqualification if states adopt different definitions of “insurrection,” adopt different evidentiary rules, and adopt different standards of proof? Colorado’s attorneys had no satisfactory answer.

3.    Affirming the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision would enable one state to decide a presidential election.

Justice Kagan rightly emphasized that, if the Court affirmed the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, one state (or a handful, as Chief Justice Robers noted) could decide the presidential election. To be sure, some if not many states would subsequently disqualify Trump from the ballot, making the Colorado Supreme Court the primary decision maker in the presidential election. Additionally, imagine if a presidential election was remarkably close and would be decided by the outcome in one state, but that state had disqualified Donald Trump from the ballot. This would give the presidency to Trump’s opponent and disenfranchise every voter in that state who supported Trump. Of course, some state courts could decide to distinguish the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision and therefore keep Donald Trump on the ballot, but even under this scenario, there would exist precisely the disuniformity that would compromise democratic choice.

Ultimately, the oral argument in Trump v. Anderson suggests that the Supreme Court will unanimously reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s silly decision.

What was most disappointing was to see well-respected constitutional law scholars, such as J. Michael Luttig, a former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, so vehemently advocating for affirmance of the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision. Judge Luttig argued that the decision was unassailable, that Section Three’s text was unambiguous, and along with Professor Tribe, that affirming the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was vital to preserving democracy.[4] To make matters worse, these scholars relied heavily on the Report of the January 6 Committee, even though the January 6 hearings included only committee members that were biased against Trump and even though the committee adhered to none of the evidentiary standards that a trial – and due process – requires. The fact that Judge Luttig and Professor Tribe relied on this report and championed a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court that, given the text and history of Section Three, was so obviously wrong, is troubling.

Lest there be any doubt, imagine a world in which states could disqualify candidates based on different interpretations of Section Three, different evidentiary standards, and different burdens of proof. The result would be to allow one or more states to determine the presidential election based on nothing more than disdain for a presidential candidate, and to disenfranchise millions of voters by prohibiting them from voting for their preferred candidate. That would be as anti-democratic as you can get.

Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized this and is poised to unanimously reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s silly decision. Democracy depends on them doing so – and they will.

 

[1] See Trump v. Anderson, Oral Argument, available at: Trump's 2024 ballot eligibility being weighed by Supreme Court | full audio (youtube.com)

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See, e.g., Enormously Important Protection of Democracy: Tribe and Luttig on CO Barring Trump from Ballot (Dec. 21, 2023), available at: ‘Enormously important protection of democracy’: Tribe & Luttig on CO barring Trump from ballot - YouTube

February 18, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Allowing Inexperienced and Minority Attorneys More Oral Argument Time

When I was an experienced associate at a large appellate boutique, and then of counsel in a large law firm’s appellate department, attorneys at my level often offered trial court motion arguments and non-appellate brief writing to junior attorneys who were hungry for experience.  While our offers were not always completely altruistic—like when we offered “interesting” emergency weekend writs to others—we were genuinely invested in helping junior attorneys gain needed experience to better serve our clients.

In 2020, three U.S. District Judges for the Southern District of Illinois, Judge Nancy Rosenstengel, Judge Staci Yandle, and Judge David Dugan, issued orders encouraging the participation of "newer, female, and minority attorneys" in oral arguments.  As Reuters reported, under the orders, “parties can alert the judges if they intend to have a less-experienced, female, or minority attorney argue a motion.”  See Nate Raymond, Republican US Senators Seek Info on Illinois Judges' Diversity Policies, Reuters (Feb. 8, 2024).   The “judges in turn ‘strongly consider’ giving extra time for oral argument and allowing more experienced attorneys to provide the newer” counsel assistance.  Id. 

Last week, Reuters, Bloomberg Law, and Law360 all reported that a conservative legal group and two Republican U.S. Senators recently complained about the three judges’ efforts.  See Raymond, Republican US senators; Suzanne Monyak,

Courtroom Diversity Orders From 2020 Probed by GOP Senators, Bloomberg Law (Feb. 9, 2024); Courtney Buble, GOP Sens. Blast Ill. Judges' Moves For Diversity In Oral Args, Law360 (Feb. 7, 2024).  According to Stephen Miller’s organization, America First Legal, the three Southern District of Illinois judges committed misconduct by discriminating based on race and sex in the standing orders.  Here is America First Legal’s misconduct complaint to the Seventh Circuit.  Following the America First Legal complaint, two Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Cruz and Kennedy, wrote to the Chief Judge of the Seventh Circuit asking for more information about the standing orders.  Their letter is here.  The gist of both communications is that the three judges’ standing orders give an illegal preference through a facially discriminatory policy. 

As we wait for the Seventh Circuit to weigh in on the First America Legal complaint and the letter from the Senators, we might see other similar policies challenged.  For the past six years, the American Bar Association “has urged courts to implement plans to give new lawyers courtroom experience,” and in 2023 “passed a resolution calling on courts to allow two attorneys to argue for each client to foster that goal.”  Raymond, Republican US Senators.  Most court rules following the ABA’s resolution are facially neutral, but not all.  See generally Buble, GOP Sens

Whatever the fate of the three Southern District standing orders, experienced lawyers should  work to be stronger mentors.  We can offer argument and writing time to junior attorneys and underrepresented minorities whenever it’s possible to do so while still serving clients’ needs.  In this way, we’ll help the profession, and we might avoid some of those weekend emergency writ-drafting sessions at the same time. 

February 17, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Judicial Ethics Beyond the U.S. Supreme Court

Concerns about the absence of any applicable judicial ethics standards to justices of the U.S. Supreme Court grew into loud demands for an ethics code last year. The result was the adoption of a code largely consistent with the one applicable to federal judges generally, although it contained some important exceptions and also lacked any enforcement mechanism. As a result, recusal remains an individual decision for each justice with only vague and voluntary guidance.

Even though the rules may seem more clearly defined in other courts, surprisingly, issues remain. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Caperton v. Massey, which applied the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause to judicial recusal. Brent Benjamin had won election as a justice to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Substantial independent expenditures by a party in the case likely helped Benjamin’s candidacy. He nonetheless refused to recuse and argued that the money did not come to him, did not necessarily help his campaign, and did not affect his vote in favor of his so-called benefactor. Disagreeing, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the “risk of actual bias” was serious enough “based on objective and reasonable perceptions” that recusal was mandatory.

Although Caperton seemed to establish a standard that erred in favor of recusal, high court justices often determine for themselves whether they should be recused and adopt a personal standard. In one case I had in that same West Virginia court, I asked a justice to recuse himself after he had campaigned on a pledge to uphold the law I was challenging in remarks during his campaign to the group that had lobbied in favor it. He initially denied the motion for recusal, writing a statement about how he had First Amendment rights. Subsequent press coverage, quoting ethics experts who agreed that recusal was warranted, caused him to rethink his position and agree to recuse himself.

Today, the recusal issue is squarely presented in a case pending in the Ohio Supreme Court. Justice Joe Deters joined the Court a year ago after a career largely spent as a county prosecutor. The Court heard oral argument in State v. Glover on February 7. In a bench trial, a judge found Glover guilty of aggravated robbery and kidnapping after a crime spree in which he forced individuals at gunpoint to take him to an ATM, where he robbed them. The judge gave an aggregate sentence of 60 years for the multiple felonies with consecutive sentences. An appellate court found error in the sentence, ordering it reduced to an aggregate of 25 years. The State brought the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Justice Deters chose not to recuse himself, despite having served as lead counsel in the prosecution of Glover just two years ago. Ohio Rule of Judicial Conduct 2.11(a) requires a judge to “disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Among the specific examples of circumstances warranting disqualification are: (1) having “personal knowledge of facts that are in dispute in the proceeding” and (2) the judge “act[ed] as a lawyer in the proceeding.”

Even though the issue is now a larger one than the underlying case and concerns the criteria applicable to sentencing when multiple crimes are committed, any decision will determine the length of Glover’s incarceration. It seems clear that Justice Deters has “personal knowledge of facts in dispute” and “act[ed] as a lawyer in the proceeding.” Moreover, the case was argued by Deters’s former co-counsel, which also requires disqualification. Given that the appearance of impropriety suffices to disqualify, the decision against recusal comprises an affront to due process. At oral argument, only Deters asked no questions. His silence, however, does not cure the problem.

As with Caperton, the potential exists for this case to land in the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Ohio Court of Appeals is reversed, particularly if Deters’s vote is decisive, Glover’s appointed counsel could raise Fourteenth Amendment due process objections. No one should miss the irony of a Court where recusal is entirely voluntary deciding when it should be mandatory for others.

February 14, 2024 in Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Colorado Supreme Court's Silly Decision

Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, held that former President Donald Trump was not eligible to remain on the ballot for Colorado’s upcoming primary.[1] While this article will not dissect every aspect of the Court’s decision, it will focus on the principal grounds for the decision, its effect on democratic choice and, its impact on the judiciary’s institutional legitimacy.

The Colorado Supreme Court based its decision on three findings.

First, the Court held that, under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Trump was an “officer of the United States.”[2] A reasonable argument can be made, however, that Trump is not an “officer of the United States” because the Fourteenth Amendment, while mentioning “Senator” and “Representative,” never mentions “President,” and the text lists federal officials in descending order from “Senator” to “Representative” to civil or military office holder. Additionally, an earlier draft of Section Three included the word “President,” but it was deleted and not included in the final version. Furthermore, the historical record suggests that Section Three applies to appointed, not elected, positions.[3] At the very least, one can argue that Section Three is ambiguous concerning whether the president is included in that section.[4] The point is not to say that the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision holding that Trump is an “officer of the United States” is meritless. It is to say, however, that the text is susceptible to alternative interpretations. In such a situation, the Court should reach an outcome that furthers, not hinders, democratic participation, and that enhances, rather than reduces, democratic choice. The four justices in the majority, all appointed by Democratic governors, chose the opposite path.

Second, the Court held that former President Trump “engaged in” an insurrection. Surely, the events on January 6, 2020, were disgraceful and a sad moment in our country’s history. Thousands of citizens stormed the Capitol Building, destroyed property, threatened lawmakers, and caused harm that resulted in five deaths.[5] As despicable as this conduct was, however, a reasonable argument can be made that Trump neither incited this violence nor engaged in an insurrection. To begin with, in Trump’s January 6 speech, he told protesters to march to the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically.”[6] This language alone makes it difficult to assert, under Brandenburg v. Ohio, that Trump incited imminent and unlawful violence.[7] Additionally, what precisely did Trump do that constitutes “engaging in” an insurrection? Yes, Trump encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell,” but he also told his supporters to march “peacefully and patriotically" and he did ultimately call for the protestors to “go home.”[8] Thus, a credible argument can be made that Trump never “engaged in” an insurrection. Additionally, Congress has already codified insurrection in 18 U.S.C. 2383, which requires a criminal conviction before one can be deemed an insurrectionist. Trump has never been charged with, much less convicted of, insurrection, and on February 13, 2021, the Senate acquitted Trump of this charge.[9] If Trump had been charged, he would have, at the very least, been afforded the due process protections that were so conspicuously absent in the lower court in Colorado. Given the above facts, particularly the dearth of fair procedures in the lower court (e.g., no discovery, inability to subpoena documents, and no opportunity for a fair trial), how could the Colorado Supreme Court possibly hold that Trump “engaged in” an insurrection, the result of which was to eliminate the leading Republican presidential candidate from the Colorado primary and thus undermine democratic choice? The answer should seem obvious – and that answer has nothing to do with the law or the Constitution.

Third, the Colorado Supreme Court held that Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article,” was self-executing and thus enabled the Court to adjudicate whether Trump engaged in an insurrection and could be disqualified from the ballot.[10] Certainly, one could argue that, in mentioning Congress in Section Five, the drafters did not mean to give Congress exclusive authority to enforce Section Three. But one could also argue that the text could not be clearer: only Congress has the power to enforce Section Three, which it did when enacting 18 U.S.C. 2383 and which, as stated above, requires a criminal conviction for insurrection – a crime for which Trump was never charged. Yet again, the Colorado Supreme Court ignored these facts and, unlike every state court that previously considered this issue, made the unprecedented and decidedly undemocratic choice to hold that Trump was disqualified from the ballot.[11]

Does it seem correct that the Constitution’s drafters believed that a state court could adjudicate a matter where the liberty interest at stake was so substantial yet the procedures for determining whether to deprive a citizen of that interest were so truncated? Of course not. This is particularly true considering that the district court's decision that Trump had engaged in an insurrection was based largely on the findings of the January 6 Committee, which selectively called witnesses, admitted hearsay evidence, and otherwise observed none of the procedural safeguards that a trial requires. Yet, at every turn, whether it was deciding if Trump was an “officer of the United States” or had “engaged in” an insurrection, or whether Congress had the exclusive authority to enforce Section Three, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Trump. In so doing, the Colorado Supreme Court made originalism its best friend even though its justices are anything but originalist. Convenience obviously trumped conviction.

As stated above, this is not to say that a particular interpretation of Sections Three and Five is superior to another. It is to say that when reasonably alternative interpretations of a constitutional text or statute are possible, courts should reach outcomes that promote democratic choice and participation.[12] Viewed in this light, the Colorado Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment and resulting decision was entirely unreasonable. The courts in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Nevada, and Rhode Island, which dismissed lawsuits that could have resulted in Trump’s disqualification from their respective ballots, got it right.[13] 

The Colorado Supreme Court could not have honestly believed that its decision preserved democratic choice or protected democracy. Furthermore, like any rational person, the Colorado Supreme Court – whose justices were all appointed by Democratic governors – must have known that its decision would be controversial, invite chaos and uncertainty into the electoral process, engender charges of partisanship and election interference, foment division, further erode public trust in the judiciary and rule of law, and fuel the belief that it was motivated by the desire to prevent Trump from regaining the presidency. After all, if this case involved Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or Joe Biden, does anyone believe that the Colorado Supreme Court would have reached the same result? If you believe that the answer is yes, you probably also believe that Letitia James and Fani Willis (whose days prosecuting Trump may soon be numbered), acted impartially and with reverence for the law when they sought indictments against Trump based on tenuous legal theories, and in jurisdictions that are so overwhelmingly liberal that a fair trial is a fantasy.  Additionally, the Colorado Supreme Court surely must have known that the United States Supreme Court would almost certainly overturn its decision, particularly on due process grounds.

Given these facts, and given that the provisions upon which the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision was based were subject to alternative and equally reasonable interpretations, how could the four democratically appointed justices have thought this decision was a good idea? How could they believe that, in an era where some believe that democracy is “at risk” and “on the ballot,” this decision would not engender claims that it was an anti-democratic and politically motivated attempt to eliminate Trump from the presidential race? The truth is that the majority engaged in politics, not law, and was motivated by emotion, not reason. They were striving to find any path, however implausible, to reach an outcome that was pre-determined and fundamentally dishonest.

Not surprisingly, the usual suspects, including some law professors (the vast majority of whom are overwhelmingly liberal) and mainstream legal commentators, such as former Trump apologist George Conway, who believes Trump should spend the rest of his life in prison, have come out of the woodwork to support the Colorado Supreme Court.[14] Whether through law review articles, poorly written amicus briefs, or media interviews, these “experts” often use fancy words and legalese to create the veneer of objectivity and the pretense of neutrality when their motivations are anything but neutral or objective. And like the Colorado Supreme Court, these “experts,” who consistently criticize originalism in favor of “living constitutionalism,” have suddenly adopted originalism to support their arguments, even though they have spent much of their careers criticizing originalism – and Justice Antonin Scalia – as “racist,” “oppressive,” and a threat to those who value victimhood. Ultimately, one should be wary of individuals whose arguments so conveniently coincide with their personal beliefs.

Make no mistake: a political agenda that is rooted in a dysfunctional hatred of Trump and a disregard for the very democracy they claim to want to preserve and protect motivates these “experts.” As stated above, if this case involved Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or Joe Biden, does anyone really think that Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe or any of the law professors who submitted amicus briefs in support of the Colorado Supreme Court's decision would take the same position? Of course not. And for those liberal scholars who chastise Trump for claiming that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” recall how vehemently some of these scholars questioned the result in Florida after the 2000 presidential election, and how they trashed the Supreme Court when the majority did not rule in favor of Al Gore. Likewise, remember when Stacey Abrams said after her loss in 2019, “[d]espite the final tally and the inauguration … I do have one very affirmative statement to make. We won.”[15] Also, one cannot forget Hillary Clinton repeatedly claiming that Trump was an illegitimate president.[16] These comments sound eerily like Donald Trump, don’t they? 

It should come as no surprise that the public has lost faith in the judiciary and our academic institutions. Sadly, the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision is only the tip of the troubling iceberg. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to overturn a nearly half-century precedent – Roe v. Wade – because the political affiliations of the justices had changed, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy.[17] And in Students v. Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the Court, once again armed with two new Republican-appointed justices, suddenly discovered that affirmative action programs were unconstitutional.[18]  In both cases, the justices were neatly and predictably split along ideological lines. In other words, the Constitution’s meaning is contingent upon the party affiliations of the justices.

The health of this country and its institutions is deteriorating. Citizens used to revere our public institutions, including state and federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court, admire professors for teaching and mentoring young people, and look to the media to report accurately and objectively on public events. People used to believe that intelligence trumped ideology, and that integrity trumped indoctrination. That is no longer the case. Donald Trump has exposed what lies behind the curtain of the institutions and academies that we once considered hallowed ground: dishonesty, ideological uniformity, hypocrisy, and intolerance. If you doubt this, walk into some law schools, and ask to meet with a conservative professor. You might get arrested, charged with a microaggression, and ordered to undergo “anti-bias” training (which studies have shown does not work). Try to give a presentation about originalism at a law school and you might get shouted down by a mob of entitled, hyper-sensitive, and narcissistic students whose intelligence is eclipsed by their ideology. Indeed, some academic institutions focus more on indoctrinating students than teaching them critical thinking and writing skills, and welcoming diverse perspectives in the classroom.[19]

And they often show a shocking disregard for the very diversity, inclusion, and “safe spaces” that they claim to champion. For example, who would have thought that, at a congressional hearing in December 2023, the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania would fail to unequivocally and without hesitation condemn campus speech that called for the genocide of Jewish people? Who would have imagined that a law student at NYU – the president of the Student Bar Association – would be seen tearing down posters depicting the tragic loss of life to Israeli citizens and that administrators at various colleges would fail to immediately condemn Hamas’s despicable attack on Israel? Yet these are the same people who preach diversity and inclusion. It’s a disgrace, and the divisiveness that courts, the media, and academia have fomented in this country is nothing short of tragic. Civil disagreement is a vestige of the past, and collegiality is an aspiration, not a reality. Arrogance has taken precedence over humility, and hypocrisy has replaced honesty.

The United States Supreme Court will almost certainly overrule the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision – perhaps unanimously – and the Court will likely rely on, among other things, the lack of procedural due process afforded to Trump. In so doing, the Court should emphasize that the people, not the courts, should decide who becomes the next President of the United States. And if the people elect Donald Trump, so be it. It is preferable to have the people elect a candidate that you do not support than to have a court enable through dishonest means the election of a candidate that you do support.

After all, you believe in democracy, don’t you?

[1] See Anderson v. Griswold, available at: 23SA300.pdf (state.co.us)

[2] See U.S. Const., Amend. XIV, Section 3.

[3] See Trump v. Anderson, Amicus Brief, amicus brief of Johs Blackmun amicus brief) available at: 20240109145107356_23-719 Amicus Brief Professors Barrett and Tillman Final.pdf (supremecourt.gov)

[4] See Trump v. Anderson, Amicus Brief of Kurt T. Lash, available at: 20240116095552269_23-719 tsac Lash.pdf (supremecourt.gov)

[5] See Jack Healy, The Are the Five People Who Died in the Capitol Riot (Jan. 11, 2021), available at: These Are the People Who Died in the Capitol Riot - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[6] See Brian Naylor, Read Trump’s Jan. 6 Speech, a Key Part of Impeachment Trial (Feb. 10, 2021), available at: Transcript Of Trump's Speech At Rally Before Capitol Riot : NPR

[7] See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

[8] See Naylor supra note 6, available at: available at: Transcript Of Trump's Speech At Rally Before Capitol Riot : NPR

[9] See Anderson, supra note 1, available at: available at: 23SA300.pdf (state.co.us) (Samour, J., dissenting).

[10] See id.

[11] See id.

[12] See, e.g., Justice Stephen Breyer, Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution (Vintage, 2006).

[13] See Lawfare, Tracking Section 3 Trump Disqualification Challenges, available at: Trump Disqualification Tracker | Lawfare (lawfaremedia.org)

[14] See Ed Mazza, George Conway Slams Trump With All-Too-Blunt Prison Prediction (Jan. 10, 2024), available at: George Conway Slams Trump With Blunt Prison Prediction | HuffPost Latest News

[15] See Alex Schemmel, Tacey Abrams Says She ‘Never Denied the Outcome’ of 2018 Election Despite Past Claims (Oct. 5, 2022), available at: Stacey Abrams says she 'never denied the outcome' of 2018 election despite past claims | WPDE

[16] See CNN, Hillar Clinton Calls Trump ‘Illegitimate President,” available at: Hillary Clinton calls Trump 'illegitimate president' | CNN Politics

[17] 597 U.S. 215 (2022)

[18] 600 U.S. 181 (2023)

[19] See Eric Kaufmann, We Have the Data to Prove It: Universities are Discriminating Against Conservatives (March 5, 2021), We Have the Data to Prove It: Universities Are Discriminating Against Conservatives | Opinion (newsweek.com)

February 3, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 28, 2024

A Few Lessons from the Briefing in Trump v. Anderson, the Ballot Eligibility Case before the Supreme Court

Not just appellate eyes, but the eyes of the country, are likely to be trained on the Supreme Court on February 8, when the justices will hear Trump v. Anderson, the case from the Colorado Supreme Court that held former President Trump ineligible under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Section Three to be placed on the Colorado Republican Primary Ballot because of his actions in connection with the infamous January 6 assault on the Capitol as electoral votes were being counted in 2021.

The Petitioners’ briefs, along with their amici, were filed by January 18. Although the Respondent’s Brief was filed January 26, supporting amicus briefs are not due until January 31. In full disclosure, I am filing one on behalf of Professor Kermit Roosevelt of the University of Pennsylvania’s law school.

The briefs filed revealed interesting strategic choices and provide instructive examples of how to use the same  historical examples, same words spoken during the congressional and ratification debates, and same precedents to opposing effects.

For this post, I want to primarily focus on choices made by the advocates. As every appellate advocate knows, it is prudent to put your best argument first. If that argument is weak, it has an adverse effect on the subsequent arguments. So how did the parties open their briefs?

Trump’s brief begins with the argument that the “president is not an ‘officer of the

United States.’” If the Court accepts that view, the case is over. That might seem to make it a good choice as an opening argument. Yet, the Colorado Supreme Court treated it as an extraordinarily weak one. That court found it impossible to believe that those who framed the Fourteenth Amendment were determined to assure that minor officeholders did not return to their minor offices, but that it was of no concern that the most powerful figure in American government could violate an oath to the Constitution in precisely the same manner and still regain that office.

To explain more fully, Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment disqualifies those have “previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States.” The essence of disqualification, then, is that breaking an oath to support the Constitution disqualifies a person from office.

The argument his lawyers posit is that Trump can only be ineligible if the president qualifies as an “officer of the United States.” Members of Congress are mentioned, as well as other elected officials, but those not specified must be deemed “officers of the United States.” The brief argues that the term is a constitutional word of art that only applies to people the president appoints to office or commissions, as in the military – and the president cannot appoint or commission himself to an office.

In making the argument, Trump’s lawyers seek to appeal to the same justices who have were in the majority in decisions that cut back on the administrative state. In these modern precedents that found fault with the lack of accountability for independent agencies because their leaders could not be fired by the president, the Court has referred to “officers of the United States” as appointees, rather than as elected officials. Leading with this argument is a bid to use those precedents for another purpose, which is why it leads and takes up considerable real estate in the brief.

The Colorado State Republican Central Committee (CSRCC), another party on the same side as Trump, also begins its brief with this argument, apparently having made the same calculation. It, however, adds an additional twist. It argues that the president oath of office, which is prescribed by the Constitution, and requires a pledge to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” cannot have the same consequences as breaking an oath to support the Constitution. The difference between preserve, protect and defend and support seems like the proverbial distinction without a difference, but the CSRCC contends that it ties back to the fact that the oath-breaking that disables only a person who is an “officer of the United States.” As slim a reed as this is to hang upon, the CSRCC attempts to support its argument by making a concession. If Trump had served as a senator, representative, or governor before he became president, the result in this case could be different because those oaths trigger for Section Three’s application. But because he never held public office beforehand, the presidential oath is not one that gives rise to ineligibility. It remains to be seen if anyone salutes that flag.

The Respondents made several strategic choices in response. Just as the opening briefs should start with an advocate’s strongest points, the responsive brief should as well, rather than simply adopt the order of an opponent. It should be noted that there will be no reply briefs. Their first choice was to review the extensive evidence introduced at trial on why Trump’s conduct qualifies as fomenting an insurrection. (Trump’s brief follows his first point with an argument that he did not engage in insurrection, relying on his counterevidence.).

The choice to begin with the events of January 6 and Trump’s actions remind the justices of how serious the attack was that day and what it sought to accomplish, events and intentions that may have faded during the subsequent three years. The Respondents also intersperse color photographs from that day, enabling the justices to recall the seriousness of the attack.

Then, having established the factual predicate, the Respondents proceed to argue that an “insurrectionist president” is ineligible under Section Three. The use of that term, “insurrectionist president” is a calculated one. It establishes the abstract proposition that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment could not have intended that the presidency was available for someone of that ilk. Indeed, much of the debate around this provision had various members of Congress expounding on how it would keep the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis out of the presidency. The Respondents also remind the Court that the presidency is referred to as an “office” in the Constitution 20 times, so that office or officer need not be an exclusionary term.

It suffices to say that both sides have employed appellate advocacy tactics that this blog has discussed many times. I plan to be in the courtroom February 8 to see how those techniques are deployed during oral argument.

January 28, 2024 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Worth a Read

As the year ends, developments at the Supreme Court – the revelations about judicial behavior that resulted in the adoption of a Code of Conduct and anticipation about what appears to be a momentous term – have dominated the world of appellate advocacy.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published two fascinating pieces focused on the Court and its actions in Dobbs,[1] the 2022 decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.[2] One article, a revealing behind-the-scenes report on the acceptance and development of Dobbs, describes maneuvering undertaken by different justices to either accept or reject the case, including a calculation that delay will make the result more acceptable and a change of position on granting the petition. The article also covers the process of developing the opinion that leaked but remained largely intact when officially issued. The inside baseball described should interest any appellate advocate.

The second, a column by the inestimable Linda Greenhouse, discusses how Dobbs showed that the late Justice O’Connor erred in believing that judicial decisions are largely reactive and reflect an emerging social consensus. The op-ed also previews soon-to-be-published research about how the Supreme Court undermined its own reputation and authority by moving so far out of the mainstream in the same opinion. Both articles are well worth a read.

In many ways, the issues currently surrounding the Supreme Court do not have analogues among other courts, and the institutional concerns described in both pieces do not affect many of the decisions of even the Supreme Court. To be sure, some of the public’s flagging confidence and respect for the Court is a function of the ethics issues that have swirled around the Court, as well as growing public support for judicial term limits. Still, nothing dominates the public discussions like reactions to unpopular decisions.

What happens at the Supreme Court, unlike what happens in Las Vegas, does not stay there. It plainly affects the public view of the judiciary more generally. Recent surveys conducted on behalf of the National Center for State Courts show that the Supreme Court’s plunging public reputation has dragged down public confidence in all courts. The unfortunate result, though, is that discontent with the Court only fuels the current disrespect for the rule of law and our ability to function as a representative democracy at a time when democracy itself is threatened.

As officers of the court and as counsel familiar with the principles that undergird our system, we have an obligation to work to repair some of the damage done. Let’s dedicate ourselves with the approach of a new year to finding ways to restore respect and confidence in the rule of law.

 

[1] Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 597 U.S. 215 (2022).

[2] 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

December 31, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 25, 2023

A Big Christmas Present for Skills Professors?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Appellate Advocacy Blog.

The Council of the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar may be giving skills faculty at law schools a late Christmas present.  The Council is considering revisions to Standard 405 that would provide more job protections for skills professors. In short, the changes would require law schools to offer skills faculty tenure-like job protections. You can read a memo on the changes here. The Council is accepting comments on the revisions until January 8, 2024. Instructions for submitting comments are in the memo.

Overall, I am pleased with the changes, but as I explain in my comments to the Council, I don't think that the changes go far enough. Having left a tenure-track job for a job with clinical tenure, I have seen firsthand how clinical tenure can promote inequities at law schools. 

I encourage those interested in these issues to review the proposal and consider submitting a comment. My comments are below.

***

Dear Chair McCormack:

I am writing in support of the Council’s proposed revisions to Standard 405. While I do not think that the revisions go far enough, they represent a positive step in the right direction. As I will discuss further below, this step is consistent with other changes to the ABA Standards that recognize the value of legal writing and skills education.

I am writing this letter in my personal capacity. It represents my views and not those of the University of Arizona or the James E. Rogers College of Law. My views have naturally been informed by my decade-plus in legal academia—first as a tenure-track professor at Regent University School of Law and currently as a faculty member with continuing status (clinical tenure) at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

As a professor I have taught both skills and doctrinal courses, including Constitutional Law I & II, Federal Courts, Appellate Advocacy, and the first semester 1L writing course. My comments to the Council are based in part on a book chapter[1] I wrote about how I incorporate skills education into my doctrinal classes.  My comments will cover the importance of skills education, how the revisions are consistent with past Standards changes on legal skills education, and how the revisions don’t go far enough.

The Importance of Skills Education

Legal writing is one of the few skills taught in law school that all attorneys perform. According to a 2011–2012 study of newly licensed attorneys by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, 100% of surveyed attorneys reported that that they engaged in the skill of “written communication.”[2] In fact, of the 98 knowledge domains, 36 skills and abilities, 43 general tasks, and 13 specific practice area tasks that the study asked attorneys to rate as “significant . . . to [their] performance as a newly licensed attorney,” “written communication” had the highest significance rating and was the only item that 100% of attorneys said that they performed.[3]  The other highest rated items, both in significance and percentage performing, all fell into the skills domain. They represent skills taught in legal writing courses—“paying attention to details,” “listening,” “oral communication,” “professionalism,” “using office technologies,” “critical reading and comprehension,” “synthesizing facts and law,” and “legal reasoning.”[4]

Anecdotally, when I talk to judges and other legal employers, they often emphasize that they want to hire graduates with strong research and writing skills. These employers know that they can teach the substance to new hires, but teaching the skills of writing and research are time-consuming and difficult.

Given the importance of legal writing as a skill that law students must learn, it makes sense to offer tenure-like job protections to legal writing faculty. It seems counterproductive to treat educators who teach one of the most important skills students learn in law school as second-class citizens. It sends the wrong message to our students (and other faculty) about the importance of skills education. 

Further, offering more job protections, and the resulting higher salaries, to skills faculty will help law schools recruit and retain better skills professors, which will only improve the quality of legal writing and skills education.

The Revisions are Consistent with Past Changes Recognizing the Importance of Skills Education

Since the early 1980s, the ABA has slowly revised the Standards to recognize the importance of skills education. As I explained in my book chapter (apologies for the long block quote):[5]

In the early 1970s, as part of a major reform to the standards for approving law schools,[6] the ABA required that law schools teach, as part of their core curriculum, “‘the duties and responsibilities of the legal profession’” and “‘professional skills, such as counselling, the drafting of legal documents and materials, and trial and appellate advocacy.’”[7] In 1981, the ABA added the requirement that law schools “offer to all students at least one rigorous writing experience,” in addition to “instruction in professional skills.”[8]

Eight years later, the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar created a task force to study the “gap” between law schools and the legal profession.[9] Part of the task force’s work included examining what “skills” and “values” attorneys needed “to assume professional responsibility for handling a legal matter.”[10] In surveying newly licensed attorneys and their employers on this point, the task force found that “oral and written communication skills” were some of the most important skills for lawyers to possess.[11] It also found that while those surveyed thought that these skills could be taught in law schools, they also thought that law schools were doing a poor job teaching them.[12] For example, 77 percent of newly licensed Chicago attorneys thought that oral communication could be taught in law school, but only 39 percent thought sufficient attention was given to teaching it.[13] Similarly, 91 percent thought that written communication could be taught in law school, but only 55 percent thought that law schools devoted sufficient attention to teaching it.[14]

The task force published its report, known as the MacCrate report after its chairperson Robert MacCrate, in July 1992. The report included a statement of skills and values that “are desirable for practitioners to have.”[15] While the task force recognized that law school graduates may not acquire all of the skills in law school,[16] it saw the statement as something that could assist law schools in curricular development, including “[r]evisions of conventional courses and teaching methods to more systematically integrate the study of skills and values with the study of substantive law and theory.”[17] Among the ten skills identified by the report as “fundamental lawyering skills” were problem solving, legal analysis and reasoning, factual investigation, communication, and recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas.[18]

Despite its lofty goals, a 1995 survey of legal writing program directors indicated that the report did not significantly impact their programs.[19] The 1996 ABA standards, however, did see two changes to Standard 302 that seemed to flow from the MacCrate Report. The first change stated that law schools must offer “an educational program designed to provide its graduates with basic competence in legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem solving, and oral and written communication.”[20] The second change directed law schools to “offer live-client or other real-life practice experiences” that “might be accomplished through clinics or externships” but need not be offered to all students.[21]

. . . .

The 2001–2002 ABA Standards did make some significant changes to the teaching of lawyering skills—changes that impacted my law school experience. First, rather than simply requiring that law schools offer a writing experience and skills instruction, the standards were amended to require that students receive:

(1) Instruction in the substantive law, values and skills (including legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem solving and oral and written communication) generally regarded as necessary to effective and responsible participation in the legal profession; and

(2) Substantial legal writing instruction, including at least one rigorous writing experience in the first year and at least one additional rigorous writing experience after the first year.[22]

 . . . .

In the fifteen [now nearly nineteen] years since I graduated from law school, surveys of law students and recent graduates continue to recognize the importance of lawyering skills education and call for law schools to do a better job in teaching lawyering skills. The 2007 Carnegie Report Educating Lawyers called for law schools to adopt an “integrated curriculum” that included “legal doctrine and analysis,” lawyering skills, and professional identity.[23] This suggestion likely stemmed in part from student suggestions “that writing should be ‘more integrated into courses on doctrine’ in order to speed up [their] learning of legal reasoning.”[24] . . .

Despite the importance of these skills, the perception among practicing lawyers is that law schools still are not doing sufficiently teaching lawyering skills. A 2014 survey by BARBRI revealed that only 23 percent of practicing attorneys “believe recent law school graduates possess sufficient practice skills.”[25] While the ABA standards now require students to complete at least six credit hours of experiential learning to graduate,[26] there is still a need, as the Carnegie Report recognized, for an integrated curriculum in law schools that incorporates skills learning into the doctrinal classroom.

This lengthy history shows the Council’s support for skills education—support that is also demonstrated by the Council’s consideration of expanding the number of experiential credits students must earn to graduate. It also shows the importance of not just standalone skills courses, but also incorporating skills into the doctrinal classroom. 

Unfortunately, affording skills faculty a lesser status makes some doctrinal colleagues unwilling to listen to our suggestions for incorporating writing into the doctrinal classroom (or other suggestions for that matter). I recall discussing pedagogical methods in a committee meeting with tenured colleagues and having my suggestions dismissed because legal writing is just different. Ironically, the suggestions came from the doctrinal classes I taught, not my writing course. Sadly, this type of treatment is common.

Formal recognition from the Council and the ABA as a whole that skills faculty deserve tenure-like protections will help eliminate the status-based stratifications that have formed in legal academia. I hope that the result will be more collaboration and an overall better educational experience for our students.

The Revisions Do Not Go Far Enough

 While I appreciate the value of incremental change, and I recognize that law and legal education change at a snail’s pace, the revisions do not go far enough. I encourage the Council to consider requiring law schools to offer complete parity between doctrinal and skills faculty. While tenure-like protections are a good starting point, serving in a clinical tenure position for the past six years has shown me the flaws in a bifurcated system.

First, at many law schools skills faculty perform the same tasks as tenure-track faculty. We teach doctrinal classes, we conduct research, we write books and scholarly articles, we serve on college and university committees, we supervise student notes, and we present at conferences. Many of us are, in fact, national experts in our fields. To use a common adage, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, shouldn’t we call it a duck?

Second, while clinical tenure does provide job protections, it also promotes inequalities that negatively affect women and minorities. The University of Arizona offers a type of clinical tenure called continuing status. At the University as a whole, 57.5% of the faculty who hold continuing status or are on the continuing status track are women.[27] This is compared to the 33.3% of women who hold tenure and the 50.9% of women who are tenure-track. The racial disparities are also significant for some categories:

Race/Ethnicity

Continuing or continuing eligible faculty

Tenured faculty

Tenure-track faculty

American Indian or Alaska Native

3.3%

1.2%

1.5%

Asian

2.3%

13%

15.7%

Black or African American

1.4%

1.9%

3%

Hispanic or Latinx

19.2%

7.2%

10.1%

At the College of Law, 13 out of 23 tenure-track faculty are women (excluding faculty that also hold an administrative designation).  On the continuing status side, 21 out of 31 faculty are women.  The racial disparities are not present at the College of Law, with 10 tenure-track faculty and 13 continuing faculty identifying as minorities.

These distinctions between tracks are important, since the mean salary for tenure-track faculty at the College of Law is $190,503, while the mean for continuing status faculty is $119,198. The differential at the University is not as stark, but still present, with the mean salary for tenure-track faculty at $144,315 and continuing status faculty at $106,906.

Thus, while I do strongly support job protections for skills faculty, I encourage the Council to consider if these changes will give skills faculty the full recognition that they deserve, or will it continue to perpetuate disparities that often negatively affect women and minorities.  I would encourage the Council to be a leader on this issue and require schools to offer tenure to skills professors, or, at a minimum, require that the tenure-like positions offer similar compensatory prerequisites.

Thank you for the work that you have done and your consideration of my comments. I look forward to following the Council’s actions on this matter.

Warmly,

Tessa L. Dysart

Assistant Director of Legal Writing

Clinical Professor of Law

 

[1] Tessa L. Dysart, An Integrated Approach to Constitutional Law in Lawyering Skills in the Doctrinal Classroom: Using Legal Writing Pedagogy to Enhance Teaching Across the Law School Curriculum 181 (Tammy Pettinato Oltz ed. 2021).

[2] Susan M. Case, The NCBE Job Analysis: A Study of the Newly Licensed Lawyer, B. Examiner, March 2013, at 52–56.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Tessa L. Dysart, An Integrated Approach to Constitutional Law in Lawyering Skills in the Doctrinal Classroom: Using Legal Writing Pedagogy to Enhance Teaching Across the Law School Curriculum 181, 183–86 (Tammy Pettinato Oltz ed. 2021).

[6] ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, intro. at vi (2013-14) (Am. Bar Ass’n amended 2017–18).

[7]ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools § 302 (1978) (Am. Bar Ass’n amended 2017–18); see also Maccrate Report, supra note 1, at 233.

[8]ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools § 302 (1981) (Am. Bar Ass’n amended 2017–18).

[9] MacCrate Report, supra note 1, at xi.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 380.

[12] Id. at 381.

[13] Bryant G. Garth & Joanne Martin, Law Schools and the Construction of Competence, 43 J. Legal Educ. 469, 481 tbl.5 (1993).

[14] Id.

[15] MacCrate Report, supra note 1, at 123.

[16] Id. at 125.

[17] Id. at 128.

[18] Id. at 138-140.

[19] Lucia Ann Shilecchia, Legal Skills Training in the First Year of Law School: Research? Writing? Analysis? Or More?, 100 Dick. L. Rev. 245, 261-62 (1996).

[20] ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools § 302 (1996) (Am. Bar Ass’n amended 2017–18).

[21] Id.

[22] ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools § 302 (2001–02) (Am. Bar Ass’n amended 2017–18); see also Kenneth D. Chestek, MacCrate (in)Action: The Case for Enhancing the Upper-Level Writing Requirement in Law Schools, 78 U. Colo. L. Rev. 115, 121–22 (2007) (discussing the changes in the 2001 amendment).

[23] William M. Sullivan et al., Educating Lawyers: Summary 8 (2007).

[24] William M. Sullivan et al., Educating Lawyers 104 (2007). In sharing this paper at a faculty workshop at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, some of my colleagues noted that formerly, legal writing was taught as part of doctrinal classes and not as a standalone class. While I do think writing should be incorporated into the doctrinal classroom, I do not think that this incorporation should supplant existing first- and second-year legal writing courses, which teach the foundational aspects of legal writing to students.

[25] 2014 State of The Legal Field Survey, Barbri Group, https://www.thebarbrigroup.com/2014-state-of-the-legal-field-survey/ (last visited July 7, 2019).

[26] ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools § 303 (2014–15) (Am. Bar Ass’n amended 2017–18).

[27] The data contained in this letter was provided to me by the University of Arizona University Analytics & Institutional Research Department.

December 25, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Holiday Generative AI for Busy Appellate Lawyers

Happy Holidays!  

We have reached the fourth Saturday of December, the last possible day for me to post my monthly “Saturday” blog.  For the last four Saturdays, I have diligently worked to find time to write something sharp and fun on appeals and the end of the year.  But like so many of you, I found my time consumed with grading, other pressing work, kids home from college, and holiday obligations.

In my effort to post something meaningful and enjoyable, I started several essays discussing how trying to manage a December schedule as a parent and professional is like writing an appellate brief.  These posts were so cute in my mind, drawing all sorts of neat comparisons between making filing deadlines for multi-issue briefs and triumphing after nightly holiday events.  I also started some great (again, only in my mind) comparisons of Lexis+ AI and gift shopping for colleagues and family.  But just as I would start writing, a last-minute emergency or holiday engagement would take my time.  Alas, this will not be the nifty post connecting appellate writing and holiday stress that I had imagined.

Instead, I have realized my struggle to be fresh, creative, relevant, and thoughtful in a holiday blog while also trying to sleep during the holidays—even a little—just might not be possible for me this year.  Therefore, my gift to you this season is a poem on appeals and holidays ChatGPT helped me draft.  Hopefully, this makes you smile as we welcome more generative AI into our teaching and practice in 2024.  I plan to spend a fair amount of time next semester talking with my students about letting generative AI assist them while always “thinking like lawyers” and checking chatbots’ work.  I might even try to connect some of these lessons to holiday shopping and family time. 

Holidays and Appeals

In the court of appeal’s courtroom's hallowed halls we stand, A season of justice, a legal command.

Holidays approach, a festive cheer, Yet in the legal realm, the briefing schedule draws near.

Gavels echo, a rhythmic song, As our appeals dance along.

Beneath the twinkling lights of the law, Hope and reason, like ornaments, draw.

In the silent night, briefs are penned, Arguments woven, like wreaths descend.

Lawyers gather, minds ablaze, To navigate through the appellate legal maze.

Amidst the carols and joyous sounds, Legal battles on hallowed standard of review grounds.

A respite sought, an enforcement reprieve, In the holidays, justice we believe.

The scales of justice, like gifts exchanged, In opening and reply brief wrappings, fairness arranged.

Briefcases filled with legal might, As holiday spirits take their flight.

Jingles of high court precedent in the air, A legal dance, a record laid bare.

A yuletide plea, a solemn quest, To find justice, in holidays dressed.

Ornaments of statutes, hung with care, As legal appeals fill the festive air.

Holidays and justice, hand in hand, A legal season, a legal stand.

In the echoes of a reviewing courtroom's call, May fairness and merriment reign for all.

 

December 23, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Humor, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Do We Need a Supreme Court? The Case for Limited Judicial Review

The United States Supreme Court should stop deciding cases involving ambiguous constitutional provisions where reasonable people can differ regarding the meaning of those provisions. In such instances, the Court should defer to the legislature and thus only decide cases that involve clear violations of the Constitution. Otherwise, the Court – as it has done for years – will involve itself in deciding important issues that should be left to democratic choice.

When the Court decides cases where constitutional provisions are ambiguous (and subject to different interpretations), nine unelected and life-tenured judges impose law and policy on an entire nation, often based on nothing more than their policy preferences or the political affiliation of the justices’ current members. If you doubt that, consider Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, where the Court overturned Roe v. Wade and returned to the states the question of abortion’s legality.[1] What exactly changed from Roe to Dobbs? The justices’ political affiliations and policy preferences, as Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett (conservative jurists) replaced Justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (moderate and liberal jurists, respectively). After Dobbs, it appears that constitutional meaning doesn’t mean anything at all; rather it depends on whether a majority of the Court’s members, at any given time, are liberal or conservative. That reality, which Dobbs underscored, is a recipe for undermining democracy and politicizing the Court, which undermines its institutional legitimacy. If anyone questions how political the Court has become, look no further than the Senate’s confirmation hearings, which beginning with Robert Bork have more closely resembled an episode of Jersey Shore than a meaningful discussion of a nominee’s record and character.

For these and other reasons, the Court should not decide cases (i.e., it should deny certiorari), particularly those involving important social and political issues, when the Constitution provides no clear answer to the question presented. Indeed, the Court’s track record of deciding such cases has been deeply troubling. For example, in Citizens United v. FEC, the Court, by a 5-4 margin, invalidated a statute that restricted independent expenditures by corporations, labor unions, and other entities, and was intended to limit the deleterious and corruptive effect of money in federal elections.[2] Neither the text nor the original purpose of the First Amendment provided clear guidance on the statute’s constitutionality and reasonable people could – and did – disagree on its constitutionality. Why, therefore, did the Court get involved? And why, when the Court did get involved, did it issue a decision that all but ensured that money would continue to corrupt the political process? Your guess is as good as mine.

Likewise, in Clinton v. New York, the Court held by a 6-3 margin that the Line-Item Veto Act, which gave the president the authority, subject to congressional override, to veto certain portions of spending bills.[3] The Act, which was passed on a bipartisan basis, sought to reduce wasteful government spending, and thus promote fiscal responsibility. The Court, however, invalidated the Act, holding that it violated the Constitution’s Presentment Clause, even though the Presentment Clause is so broadly worded that it could arguably be interpreted in different ways. Yet, the Court got involved and invalidated the Act, which hindered Congress’s attempt to reduce wasteful government spending. The reason, again, is anyone’s guess.

To make matters worse, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court invented constitutional doctrine out of thin air to invalidate a Connecticut law that banned contraception.[4] Although the law was ridiculous, there was no language in the Constitution that could support invalidating the law. Instead of deferring the legislature, however, the Court held that the Constitution’s text contained invisible “penumbras,” which give life and substance to the text, and from which the justices – and the justices alone – could create unenumerated constitutional rights. Based on this reasoning, the Court created an unenumerated right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause even though the text of that clause could not possibly support creating this right. After Griswold, the Court showed no hesitation in “discovering” additional unenumerated rights in its invisible “penumbras,” such as the right to abortion in Roe, which the Court deemed, without any support in the text whatsoever, encompassed within the “right” to privacy. It should come as no surprise that Roe eventually met its demise in Dobbs; when Dobbs was decided, there were more conservative than liberal justices on the Court. That’s the problem with unwarranted judicial intervention and with creating rights out of thin air – it turns law into politics.

Additionally, in Snyder v. Phelps, the Court by an 8-1 margin held that the First Amendment permitted members of the Westboro Baptist Church to stand outside of a funeral honoring a soldier who had been killed in Iraq and hold signs stating, among other things, “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.”[5] As Justice Alito emphasized in his dissent, this degrading and demeaning speech had no social value whatsoever and contributed nothing to the marketplace of ideas. Furthermore, nothing in the text or the original purpose of the First Amendment compelled this result. Yet, the Court decided to intervene and reached an outcome that was as abhorrent as the speech it protected.

Similarly, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court held by a 5-4 margin that imposing the death penalty on a convicted child rapist violated the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.[6] What exactly in the Eighth Amendment’s text or based on its original purpose supported this result? Absolutely nothing. But that did not stop the Court from prohibiting legislatures nationwide from authorizing a punishment that many viewed as appropriate for such a heinous crime.

And, of course, one cannot forget the Court’s holding in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, where the Court, approximately forty-five years after Regents of the University of California v. Bakke was decided, suddenly discovered that affirmative action was unconstitutional.[7] Regardless of one’s views on affirmative action, it cannot be reasonably disputed that, like in Dobbs, the only reason that affirmative action met its demise was because the newest justices were appointed by a Republican president. Students for Fair Admissions also highlights the problem with “living constitutionalism”: you never know whether the Constitution will “evolve” a liberal or conservative direction.

These are just a few examples of the Court’s failure to respect the constraints on its power. At times, it appears that Chief Justice Roberts, to his credit, has been concerned about this problem. In National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, for example, Roberts provided the fifth vote to uphold critical portions of the Affordable Care Act, holding that such provisions were a valid exercise of Congress’s taxing power.[8] Now, does anyone think that Chief Justice Roberts truly believed that the Act’s individual mandate was a tax rather than a penalty? Whatever one’s answer, it was clear that Justice Roberts’ decision was predicated on a desire to protect the Court’s institutional legitimacy and for the Court not to be viewed as politically motivated in its decision-making process. Chief Justice Roberts did the right thing but went wrong when, in Shelby County v. Holder, he voted to invalidate sections of the Voting Rights Act even though the Senate had reauthorized those provisions unanimously.[9] It is precisely this type of inconsistency that undermines the very legitimacy that Roberts seeks to preserve.

Ultimately, the Court’s legitimacy depends on the public believing that the justices’ decisions are based on the Constitution’s text and free from political preference or policy predilection. When the Court intervenes to decide cases where the text is ambiguous and subject to reasonably different interpretations, it often does so, as in Dobbs and Students for Fair Admissions demonstrate, for no other reason than that the justices have the votes to invalidate a law or policy that they don’t like. That is wrong, and citizens of all political persuasions should object to a Court that reserves for itself the right to decide issues that belong to the people and democratic process.

After all, consider the justices themselves. Certainly, they are honorable and incredibly accomplished people. But they are not ordinary citizens. Most of them graduated from Ivy League law schools, grew up in upper-middle class to wealthy households, attended private high schools and elite undergraduate institutions, and enjoyed immense privilege. This does not make them bad people or warrant criticism of them, but it does not make them uniquely suited to decide for an entire country issues that matter so much to (and affect) ordinary citizens. Let the people decide. Give them a voice.

Of course, some may argue that the Court has the authority to say what the law is, particularly where there are circuit splits on important constitutional and public policy issues. That argument is not convincing. First, circuit splits are fairly common, and the Court only decides a fraction of cases where such splits are present, thus allowing many splits to persist. Second, the presence of a circuit split is not always or inherently problematic. Some courts interpret statutes and constitutional provisions differently, and this may lead to varying legal and constitutional protections based on the state or region within which you live. That fact alone does not necessarily lead to injustice or inequality. Some courts, for example, may uphold certain abortion restrictions and others may not, and some courts may hold that the death penalty is unconstitutional while other courts may not. Indeed, just look to state legislatures, where laws and the rights they confer (or restrict) differ substantially. That’s called democracy and sometimes, it’s better to be divided rather than united. People have different views and where the Constitution is silent or ambiguous, those views deserve a voice over those of nine unelected and life-tenured justices.

At the end of the day, when constitutional interpretation is nothing more than a political game, it is a game not worth playing. Without limiting judicial review, we may continue to be haunted by that ghost called “substantive due process,” or those invisible penumbras that lurk in the background, just waiting to strike when enough justices believe in their existence. And be ruled by nine unelected justices who think they can somehow divine the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”[10]

 

[1] 597 U.S. 215 (2022); 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

[2] 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

[3] 524 U.S. 417 (1998).

[4] 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[5] 562 U.S. 433 (2011).

[6] 554 U.S. 407 (2008).

[7] 600 U.S. 181 (2023); 438 U.S. 265 (1978).

[8] 567 U.S. 519 (2012).

[9] 570 U.S. 529 (2013).

[10] Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958).

December 9, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The New Rules for AI-Based Research

The Fifth Circuit has published for comment the first federal appellate rule on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in filings. It would require that the person filing “certify that no generative artificial intelligence program was used in drafting the document presented for filing, or to the extent such a program was used, all generated text, including all citations and legal analysis, has been reviewed for accuracy and approved by a human” as part of the certificate of compliance.

A number of recent incidents have highlighted the danger of reliance on AI. As has been widely reported, two New York lawyers were sanctioned for using AI to draft a brief that contained seemingly valid citations precisely making the point they wanted to for the court, but turned out to be entirely made up. Recently, the Washington Post reported that a young, overextended Colorado attorney relied upon AI for a brief that also included fictious citations, was sanctioned by the court, and fired from his position at the law firm. In another instance described in the same article, a Los Angeles law firm was called out for a similar offense by opposing counsel and fined $999 by the court; it blamed a young lawyer who resigned from the firm after the fictious cases were discovered.

The Washington Post article quoted a Brown University computer scientist that what is “surprising is that [AI programs] ever produce anything remotely accurate.” The scientist, Suresh Venkatasubramanian, explained to the Post that these programs are designed to mimic conversation by developing seemingly realistic responses to whatever inquiry is submitted. It realizes that a legal brief includes citations to precedent, but does not read or synthesize the actual cases, so it creates its own.

The topic was part of the discussion with state chief justices at a National Center for State Courts meeting I was privileged to moderate just before Thanksgiving. As one chief justice expressed to me in private conversation afterwards, she was surprised that it happens at all because she could not imagine a lawyer filing a brief that relies on a case that had not been read by the attorney.

The Fifth Circuit’s proposed rule appears to make that the standard. Within the Fifth Circuit, a judge, Brantley Starr of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, has already amended the rules for filings in his court, to require a certificate attesting that the filing contains nothing drafted by AI or that a human being checked any language drafted by AI for accuracy. The judge’s rule calls AI platforms “incredibly powerful” and useful for  and have many uses in the law for “form divorces, discovery requests, suggested errors in documents, anticipated questions at oral argument.” One thing he insists it is not useful for is legal briefs.

Judge Starr explains that, at least as currently devised, AI is “prone to hallucinations and bias.” To put it plainly, he says “they make stuff up—even quotes and citations.”

Judge Starr also worries about bias in the programming. He explains that “attorneys swear an oath to set aside their personal prejudices, biases, and beliefs to faithfully uphold the law and represent their clients.” Neither a computer program nor those who devised adhere to an oath. He states,”[t]hese systems hold no allegiance to any client, the rule of law, or the laws and Constitution of the United States (or, as addressed above, the truth).”

The judge is prepared to be convinced otherwise. He has put out a challenge: “Any party believing a platform has the requisite accuracy and reliability for legal briefing may move for leave and explain why.” Until that happens, the judge “will strike any filing from a party who fails to file a certificate” and is prepared to Rule 11 sanctions for an inaccurate filing.

These early rules proposals are likely to proliferate, particularly because online legal research systems, such as Westlaw, Lexis, and Casetext, now also offer AI-based research assistance that may blur the lines between lawyer and computer in ways that may not be predictable. Appellate practice is changing once again.

December 3, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Legislatures, Initiatives, and the Courts

Commentators have long likened the legislative process to sausage-making, something that those with weak stomachs should not observe too closely. Nonetheless, courts have respected legislative decision-making by providing outsized deference to that body as the policymaker most likely to enact laws in accordance with popular sovereignty. When voters object to the decisions rendered, they can throw the rascals out, and different policy choices can then prevail.

Yet, legislators often seem to disapprove of voters who bypass them to enact laws or constitutional provisions by initiative – especially when it supports ends that the legislators oppose. At the moment, we see this playing out in Ohio. In light of the Dobbs decision,[1] which overturned Roe v. Wade[2] and declared that abortion was an issue that could be decided state-by-state, pro-choice voters have sought to enshrine a right to abortion in state constitutions through the initiative process in several states. To date, all have passed.

In Ohio, the legislature attempted to put up an obstacle in advance of the vote. It sought approval of its own initiative on a quicker schedule that would have increased the requirement for approval from a simple majority to 60 percent, as well as from 44 to 88 the number of counties represented in signatures to qualify for the ballot. That initiative failed. Then the secretary of state proposed language, approved by the state ballot board, designed to make the proposed amendment less desirable.

Nonetheless, the amendment was approved by voters earlier this month. Immediately after the election, Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens claimed that “multiple paths” exist to prohibit abortion despite the constitutional amendment.”

Most troubling for those who believe in the rule of law and judicial independence is the proposal some Ohio lawmakers have advanced to strip the courts of the authority to review cases that would implement the newly passed constitutional amendment. They released a statement justifying this extreme measure by asserting, without demonstrating any basis for the claim, that “foreign election interference” tainted the vote. The election denialism that infected the last presidential election apparently provides fodder for undermining the courts.

Those courts are currently reviewing a constitutional challenge to a 2019-enacted six-week abortion ban that contains no exceptions for rape or incest. The constitutional amendment would appear to make invalidation of the ban a simple and straightforward inevitability. A jurisdiction-stripping bill, if valid, would prevent that possibility.

At stake is not only the status of abortion, but the authority of our courts – and the place of popular sovereignty in our representative democracy. Certainly, there are arguments against amending laws and constitutions through the initiative process. It can be overused, trivialize the law with popular but ill-considered or poorly drafted mandates, and has spawned an industry that raises and profits from the process. The same, however, can be said of the legislative process itself. While in place, the initiative, a product of progressives a century ago, still provides the rules that we are obliged to follow.

Ohio and the abortion issue is not the only time that legislatures have rebelled against voter initiatives. In 2018, Floridians approved an initiative to restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies and who had completed their sentences, excluding murderers and sex offenders. Months later, the legislature enacted a law that defined completion of a sentence as having repaid in full all fines and fees, even though that often could not be determined. The Florida Supreme Court, in response to a request of the governor while a constitutional challenge was working its way through the courts, read the new law as consistent with the amendment passed by initiative. Whatever one thinks of that conclusion, it conformed to a process that allowed the courts to determine the law.

My favorite example of a voter initiative and a legislature at loggerheads occurred in Massachusetts. In 1988, voters approved the Massachusetts Clean Elections Law, which created a system of public campaign funding for candidates who limited the private financing they accepted. The Massachusetts initiative provision required the legislature to fund it, but no appropriation was ever made. Plainly, legislators were not anxious to fund their challengers. Supporters of the initiative, including a candidate for governor, brought a lawsuit in 2001 to obtain the missing funding or void any election without public funding.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the initiative, unless repealed, required the legislature to a money judgment in the amount that would provide the public campaign funding promised by the law, while the court would retain jurisdiction with a single justice assigned to assure that other eligible candidates also receive the money.[3] When the legislature dragged its feet in providing the funding, that justice threatened to execute on the Commonwealth’s property to assure that the funding would be forthcoming. The threat proved sufficient, although the legislature exercised its right to repeal the Clean Elections Law a year later.

Ohio’s legislature cannot repeal a constitutional amendment on its own. It could argue that the amendment should not be interpreted to invalidate its 2019 statute. What it should not do, if the rule of law is to prevail, is block the courts from construing the state constitution and measuring legislative acts against its restrictions.

 

[1] Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022).

[2] Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

[3] Bates v. Dir. of Off. of Campaign & Pol. Fin., 763 N.E.2d 6 (2002).

November 19, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Welcoming Judge Ana de Alba to the Ninth Circuit

On Monday, the United States Senate confirmed President Biden’s nominee, Judge Ana de Alba, to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seat left open when Judge Paul Watford resigned in May 2023.  As the Ninth Circuit news release explained, “Judge de Alba has served as a district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California since July 2022, when she became the first Latina appointed to that court.”  News Release, Senate Confirms District Judge Ana de Alba to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 11/13/2023.  Before joining the Eastern District of California bench, Judge de Alba also served as a Fresno County Superior Court judge and a litigator in private practice.  Id. 

When she formally takes her seat at the Ninth Circuit, Judge de Alba will be the fourth Latina to serve on that court.  Senator Alex Padilla told Law360:  "The daughter of immigrants from Mexico, Judge de Alba's path to her confirmation to the Ninth Circuit today embodies the American Dream."  Courtney Buble, Eastern District Of Calif. Judge Confirmed To 9th Circ., Law360 11/13/2023.

Similarly, the Chief District Judge for the Eastern District of California, Kimberly J. Mueller, offered  “[h]earty congratulations to Judge de Alba! We are thrilled that the U.S. Senate has recognized her stellar qualifications and substantial experience as fully supporting her elevation to the federal appellate court.”  News Release, Senate Confirms District Judge Ana de Alba to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 11/13/2023.  Bloomberg Law reported that “three judges she served with on the Superior Court of California” found Judge de Alba “exceptionally well suited for appellate work” because “[s]he excels at research and writing, carefully and meticulously prepares for matters before her and approaches cases and issues with an open mind.”  John Crawley, Latina Judicial Trailblazer Elevated to Largest Appellate Court, Bloomberg Law, 11/13/2023.

Judge de Alba will maintain her chambers in Fresno, where she has deep ties to the community.  Born in Merced, California, Judge de Alba attended the University of California at Berkeley for her undergraduate and legal studies.  As the Ninth Circuit press release explained, Judge de Alba has served on the board of many public interest and bar association boards in the Eastern District and throughout California.  Judge de Alba has received service awards from the Rape Counseling Services of Fresno, Centro La Familia Advocacy Services, Central California Legal Services, and many more.  Id.; see also Ben Shatz, New 9th Cir. Judge de Alba!, http://socal-appellate.blogspot.com/2023/11/new-9th-cir-judge-de-alba.html, Southern California Appellate News, 11/14/2023. 

Welcome Circuit Judge Ana de Alba!

November 18, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)