Saturday, January 16, 2021
It’s no surprise that opinions regarding the constitutionality – and wisdom – of the death penalty vary greatly among judges, legal scholars, commentators, and the public.
Arguments concerning the death penalty consist primarily of the theoretical and the practical. Regarding the theoretical component, some may argue that the death penalty rightfully expresses society’s moral condemnation of and outrage toward heinous criminal acts, such as domestic terrorism (e.g., Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma, which killed over 160 people) and premeditated murder, particularly murders that involve torture, children, and multiple victims (e.g. Ted Bundy’s premeditated killings of dozens of women). Others may argue that the intentional murder of an individual by the government, particularly where less severe measures can ensure public safety and exact severe punishment (e.g., life imprisonment), is inherently wrong. Certainly, theoretical disagreements involve a variety of religious, philosophical, and moral perspectives, all of which lead to reasonable disagreements concerning the death penalty’s theoretical justifications.
The practical component, however, reveals facts that cannot arguably be disputed. For example, although the Supreme Court held decades ago that the death penalty must be reserved for the “worst of the worst,” the evidence suggests that executions do not even remotely adhere to this principle. First, innocent individuals have been executed; if there is any doubt about this fact, one need only consider the hundreds of death row inmates who, after convictions and pending execution, were freed when evidence surfaced to demonstrate their innocence. Second, many individuals who have been executed suffered from severe mental health issues, intellectual disability, and brain damage. Third, many individuals on death row were raised in horrifically abusive and impoverished families. Fourth, many young people, whose brains had not yet fully matured, have been executed. Fifth, the likelihood of receiving the death penalty depends in substantial part on a defendant's socioeconomic status, a defendant's state of residence, the quality of a defendant’s attorney, and a defendant's (and victim's) race. Sixth, empirical evidence suggests that the death penalty does not deter crime; in states that outlaw the death penalty, the murder rate is lower than in states that authorize the death penalty. Seventh, substantial evidence exists that the most common method of execution – lethal injection – leads to intolerable suffering.
The United States Supreme Court is well aware of these problems and the Court has repeatedly strived to limit the death penalty's application. For example, in Furman v. Georgia, the Court recognized that the death penalty was often arbitrarily imposed and required states to develop criteria that would lead to fairer and more standardized decisions regarding when and under what circumstances the death penalty would be imposed. Likewise, in Roper v. Simmons, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibited the execution of individuals for crimes committed while under the age of eighteen. Additionally, in Atkins v. Virginia, the Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibited the execution of intellectually disabled defendants. And in Hall v. Florida, the Court held that a defendant’s IQ score alone could not be the basis for determining intellectual disability.
However, the practical problems regarding the death penalty remain. As Justice Stephen Breyer emphasized in his noteworthy dissent in Glossip v. Gross, the death penalty continues – for a variety of reasons related to race, socioeconomic status, and geography – to be unfairly and often arbitrarily imposed. Justice Breyer was correct. These problems render the death penalty's administration troubling as a matter of law and policy.
Indeed, the time has long passed for the United States Supreme Court to address the death penalty’s constitutionality. But the Court has repeatedly refused to do so, whether through denying certiorari or refusing last-minute petitions to stay executions despite evidence that, at the very least, warranted further review. Nowhere was this more evident than recently, when the Court, over the vigorous dissents of Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, allowed the federal government to execute the thirteenth death row inmate in the last six months. In so doing, the Court made no attempt to address the persistent and ongoing issues relating to the fairness of imposing the death penalty. These issues exist – and they aren’t going away.
After all, if the likelihood of receiving the death penalty depends in substantial part on race, socioeconomic status, and geography, how can the death penalty be anything but arbitrary? And if the individuals executed are overwhelmingly poor, mentally ill, or cognitively impaired, how can we plausibly claim that they are the worst of the worst? We can’t.
Until the Supreme Court addresses these issues, the death penalty will be administrated under a cloud of illegitimacy and injustice. And when the Court finally does confront such issues, the death penalty will likely be relegated to the “graveyard of the forgotten past.”
 408 U.S. 238 (1972).
 543 U.S. 551 (2005).
 536 U.S. 304 (2002).
 572 U.S. 701 (2014).
 576 U.S. , 135 S. Ct. 2726 (Breyer, J., dissenting).
 See James Romoser (Jan. 16, 2016), available at: Over sharp dissents, court intervenes to allow federal government to execute 13th person in six months - SCOTUSblog
 In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967) (internal citation omitted).
Saturday, December 26, 2020
Law professors, lawyers, and judges have spent countless hours, whether in law review articles, textbooks, at conferences, or in continuing legal education sessions, providing advice regarding legal writing skills, legal analysis, brief-writing, and persuasive advocacy.
Yet, despite this helpful and practical guidance, law students often struggle to develop effective persuasive writing skills. Law graduates – and seasoned lawyers – frequently face criticism of their writing skills, and judges often lament the less-than-persuasive nature of many pleadings, motions, and briefs. And for good reason. Many trial and appellate briefs, for example, lack a cohesive structure, fail to tell a compelling story, lack precision and concision, violate grammatical rules, contain unnecessary repetition and information, and simply fail to convince the reader to rule in favor of the drafter’s argument.
Having said that, for law students and lawyers who seek to immediately and significantly improve the persuasive value of their briefs, there is one strategy that you should adopt from this day forward: The Rule of Three.
The Rule of Three is simple yet incredibly effective. In the Introduction (or Summary of Argument) section of your brief – and throughout your brief -- identify three specific reasons (and only three reasons) supporting the relief or outcome you seek. And state these reasons with specificity, clarity, and conciseness using First…Second…Third…
Here is an example:
Defendant – a well-known tabloid that lacks journalistic integrity – defamed the plaintiff when defendant published an article – to an audience of over one million readers – stating that the plaintiff “was a pathetic attorney who didn’t know the law, preyed on the vulnerabilities of unsuspecting clients, stole their money, engaged in unlawful hiring practices, and repeatedly made inappropriate advances to several clients.”
The defendant’s comments were defamatory for three reasons. First, the defamatory statements are false. Second, the defamatory statements damaged severely the plaintiff’s reputation and standing in the legal community. Third, the defamatory statements caused the plaintiff to suffer substantial, ongoing, and irreversible, harm.
After stating the three reasons supporting the remedy you seek, you should dedicate the next three paragraphs (in the Introduction or Summary of Argument) to relying on the relevant facts or evidence that support each reason. Thus, for example, you should draft one paragraph explaining why the statements were false. Then, you should draft a second paragraph explaining why the statements damaged the plaintiff’s reputation and standing in the legal community. Thereafter, you should draft a paragraph explaining why the plaintiff suffered reputational and economic harm. After that, draft a one-sentence conclusion stating “For these reasons, the defendant’s article was defamatory and thus entitles the plaintiff to damages.” Done.
Also, make sure that your point headings track the three reasons you identify at the outset of your brief. Doing so ensures that your brief will be cohesive, well-organized, and easy to read.
Why is the Rule of Three so effective?
1. The Rule of Three simplifies your arguments
Judges are very busy. They want to know – quickly – what you want and why you should get it. Briefs that confuse judges or make judges struggle to discern your legal arguments damage your credibility and reduce the persuasive value of your brief.
The Rule of Three avoids this problem. It makes it easy for judges to identify your arguments and evaluate the evidence in support of those arguments. As such, the judge will like you for making his or her job easier. The judge will view you as a credible attorney and give you the benefit of the doubt throughout the litigation. And, ultimately, your client will thank you when you win the case.
2. The Rule of Three organizes your arguments
The worst briefs are often those that go on…and on…and on…
The worst briefs read like a rambling manifesto that contains a barrage of loosely related thoughts that are jammed into long paragraphs with no separation of the concepts, arguments, or allegations. In short, it is chaos. It is easier to navigate one’s way out of a forest or maze than it is to navigate the arguments that such briefs present.
The Rule of Three eliminates this problem. It’s quite simple. Say, “First…” and state your argument. Say, “Second…” and state your argument. Say, “Third…” and state your argument. Then, in the next three paragraphs, explain each argument in a separate paragraph – and include each argument as a point heading. Doing so ensures that your arguments will be organized and presented clearly, understandably, and effectively.
3. The Rule of Three appeals to the audience’s cognition and psychology
Let’s face it: listening is hard. Paying attention for a prolonged period is difficult. Remembering what we have heard is often challenging. So how do you draft a brief or make an oral argument that will maintain the audience’s attention and convince the audience to adopt your position?
Studies in social and cognitive psychology demonstrate that people respond positively and attentively to arguments that are delivered in sets of three.
The rule of three is ubiquitous. Humans are both neurologically and culturally adapted to the number three and its combination of brevity and rhythm. We know from studies in neuroscience that our brains seek out patterns and finds the structure of three to be a complete set; it feels whole. Three is the least number of items in a series that make a pattern, and once you start looking for this pattern, you’ll see that it’s everywhere. In mathematics it’s a rule that allows you to solve problems based on proportions. In science there are three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. The Latin maxim omne trium perfectum (everything that comes in threes is perfection) echoes Aristotle and his Ars Rhetorica. There Aristotle posits that the most persuasive rhetorical appeals must rely on ethos, pathos, and logos. Extrapolate from that, and even simple storytelling and narratives have a simple structure of a beginning, a middle and an end.
Simply put, the Rule of Three embeds a cohesive structure into your arguments that enhance their readability, appeal, and persuasive value.
Ultimately, the Rule of Three reflects the principle that legal communication (and communication generally) is less complex than you think. It’s about common sense. Use the Rule of Three in your briefs and oral arguments. It’s that simple – and very effective.
Below are a few videos regarding the Rule of Three.
 Brad Holst, Want Your Presentation to Be Memorable? Follow the Rule of Three, available at: Want Your Presentation to Be Memorable? Follow the Rule of Three (mandel.com)
Sunday, December 13, 2020
Tired of online court, school, happy hour, family holidays, and more? Me too. However, we also know some form of virtual court is here to stay, and based on the number of great pointers judges from across the county have shared with us this month, we can all still improve.
Moreover, in reflecting on the tips I’ve seen lately, I was struck by how many of these pointers apply to any argument, in-person or virtual, and how they track what we have long told law students in moot court. As we evolve from a largely in-person court system, where we had some telephonic and online conferences, to our future, which could involve many more electronic appearances, we should not lose sight of those moot court pointers from law school. And for those of us teaching oral advocacy, we should remember to share best practices for preparation and professionalism which will serve our students in any argument, online or in-person.
Recently, Judge Pierre Bergeron shared helpful tips on preparing for oral argument. You can see his blog here: Judge Pierre Bergeron's Tips. He advises counsel to practice, with a moot court if possible, know the record and case law, provide a roadmap of argument points at the beginning, and be especially cognizant of the need to pause periodically “in an effort to invite questions.” Id. These tips apply equally to in-person arguments.
Similarly, Madison Alder’s piece for Bloomberg Law, Wear Pants, Sequester Pets: Five Tips From Judges for Zoom Court, has excellent advice from judges for online arguments and court appearances in general. See Madison Alder, Wear Pants, Sequester Pets (Bloomberg Dec. 8, 2020). As Alder notes, the “virtual venues have worked so well,” some “courts plan on using them long after the virus is gone.” Id. Therefore, all lawyers who appear in court need to be as proficient in online argument as they hopefully are for in-person proceedings.
Online court platforms vary (federal courts often do not use Zoom, for example), just like courthouses, and “’Lawyers should prepare themselves for venues they’re not familiar with,’” said Chief Judge William Johnson of the District New Mexico. See id. Thus, “preparing a presentation ahead of time is still crucial.” Id. Just as in traditional courthouses, counsel should practice standing at a podium or sitting and looking directly at a webcam. See id. I advise my students to distill their oral argument notes to just one piece of paper, supported by one binder of organized cases and record pages to take to the podium, and that format works well online, where paper shuffling can be magnified on Zoom.
Somehow, despite myriad reminders to dress professionally, we still hear frequent complaints from the bench about attorney attire. Alder recommends: “Dressing properly means wearing professional attire from head to toe, not just head to waist.” Id. “’You never know when you’ll need to stand up in a pinch, which can make for an embarrassing moment if you’re wearing shorts,’ Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke said.” Id. The key: “’Besides the same make-sure-you’re-communicating-well lessons that apply in a courtroom—is remembering that this is a courtroom and a formal proceeding. Zoom can make people less formal,’” Southern District of Texas Chief Judge Lee Rosenthal said. Id.
We teach law school moot court advocates not to read from notes, allowing them to “read the bench” and make eye contact with judges. This lesson matters even more for online arguments, where the format makes true eye contact impossible. To be as present as possible, online lawyers (and students) should “make sure they do things like keeping the dogs in the other room, closing the window if the lawnmower is going, and making sure their children aren’t there,” said Chief Judge Rosenthal. Id.
Finally, we all need to be more attentive to virtual context clues in online arguments. “The virtual platform makes it more important for lawyers to pay attention to the tone of a judge’s voice, Jed Rakoff, a senior judge in the Southern District of New York, said.” Id. Tuning in to a judge’s tone is important for lawyers “’because that’s the main remaining clue as to whether they’re scoring or not,’” Rakoff said. Id. As Eastern District of California Chief Judge Kimberly Mueller explained, “It’s as important as ever to pay attention to the judge’s signals, so if you are talking too long, be ready to wind up.’” Id. And, using Judge Bergeron’s point on pausing to allow questions, online advocates should watch for judges’ body language showing they are about to unmute or ask a question.
In my house, with two adults working full-time online and a high school student taking online classes while managing a Zoom social and extracurricular schedule, we are weary of an online-only world. I know many law students and lawyers feel the same way. But at least we can find a silver lining (in addition to the great commute) from the online court experience, as the skills we must hone for the best online arguments will make us better advocates in-person too.
December 13, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, November 29, 2020
In Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Cuomo, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn sought emergency injunctive relief, claiming that an Executive Order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding, among other things, capacity limits at houses of worship, violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The Free Exercise Clause provides citizens with the liberty to freely hold and practice religious beliefs without government interference. The right to freely exercise religion, however, is not absolute, and the United States Supreme Court’s jurisprudence has established several principles regarding the scope of religious liberty. First, although the government may not regulate religious beliefs, it may, in some circumstances, regulate religious practices. Second, the government may not enact laws that impose a substantial burden on religious practices. Third, courts may not assess the validity of particular religious beliefs when deciding if the Free Exercise Clause’s protections apply. Fourth, the government may not coerce individuals into acting contrary to their religious beliefs. Fifth, the government may not target or discriminate against religion generally or specific religious denominations.
In Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, the issue concerned whether Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order impermissibly targeted houses of worship for disparate treatment. By way of background, in response to the rising rates of Covid-19 infections in New York, Governor Cuomo adopted a color-coded microcluster model that designated areas of New York as red, orange, or yellow zones. These zones were defined as follows:
Red zones: areas where the seven-day rolling positivity rate was above 4% for ten days.
Orange zones: areas where the seven-day rolling positivity rate was above 3% for ten days.
Yellow zones: areas where the seven-day rolling positivity rate was above 2.5% for ten days.
In red zones, no more than ten persons were permitted to attend religious services, and in yellow zones, no more than twenty-five persons could attend religious services, regardless of the seating capacity of a particular house of worship. In these same zones, however, all businesses deemed “essential,” which included acupuncture facilities and liquor stores, were not subject to these capacity restrictions. Furthermore, in “orange” zones, even “non-essential” businesses were not subject to any capacity restrictions.
In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court held that Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on gatherings at various houses of worship in red and orange zones violated the Free Exercise Clause. To begin with, the Court held that these restrictions did not constitute “laws of general applicability” (i.e., the capacity limits applied exclusively to places of worship), and thus applied strict scrutiny, which required New York to demonstrate that the Executive Order furthered a compelling government interest, was narrowly tailored, and constituted the least restrictive means of achieving the asserted governmental interest.
Although holding that the interest in reducing the spread of Covid-19 was undoubtedly compelling, the Court held that the restrictions were not narrowly tailored. For example, the capacity limits could have been tied to the size of a church or synagogue, particularly given that, in the red and orange zones, fourteen churches could accommodate at least 700 people, and two could accommodate at least 1,000 people. Given these facts, the Court noted that “[i]t is hard to believe that admitting more than 10 people to a 1,000-seat church or 400-seat synagogue would create a more serious health risk than the many other activities that the State allows.” Moreover, as Justice Neil Gorsuch stated in his concurring opinion, these restrictions applied “no matter the precautions taken, including social distancing, wearing masks, leaving doors and windows open, forgoing singing, and disinfecting spaces between services.” This was particularly troublesome given that, as Justice Gorsuch stated, secular businesses deemed “essential” faced no similar restrictions:
[T]he Governor has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers “essential.” And it turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are all essential too. So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?
Additionally, Justice Gorsuch explained that the differential treatment of places of worship implicated precisely the type of discrimination that the Free Exercise prohibited:
People may gather inside for extended periods in bus stations and airports, in laundromats and banks, in hardware stores and liquor shops. No apparent reason exists why people may not gather, subject to identical restrictions, in churches or synagogues, especially when religious institutions have made plain that they stand ready, able, and willing to follow all the safety precautions required of “essential” businesses and perhaps more besides. The only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as “essential” as what happens in secular spaces. Indeed, the Governor is remarkably frank about this: In his judgment laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all “essential” while traditional religious exercises are not. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.
Thus, the restrictions, “by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”
Chief Justice Roberts dissented, arguing that, because Governor Cuomo had recently re-codified the areas in question as yellow zones, and thus removed the restrictions on the houses of worship in question, the issue was essentially moot. For this reason, although questioning the constitutionality of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order, Chief Justice Roberts did not believe that the Court needed to decide the issue at this juncture.
Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Kagan, also dissented, arguing that the restrictions treated houses of worship identically to other similarly situated businesses. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor relied on the Court’s prior decisions in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom and Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, where the Court held that the government may restrict attendance at houses of worship provided that comparable secular institutions faced equally restrictive measures. Based on these decisions, Justice Sotomayor argued that the Executive Order passed constitutional muster because it imposed equally stringent restrictions on other activities where “large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” such as “lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances,”  Put differently, the Executive Order treated differently “only dissimilar activities, such as operating grocery stores, banks, and laundromats, in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods.”
Regardless of what one thinks of the Court’s decision, the justices’ opinions were quite revealing for other reasons.
1. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch aren’t best friends
Based on the language and tone of their opinions, it appears that tension exists between Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch. For example, in his concurrence, Justice Gorsuch severely criticized Chief Justice Roberts’s concurrence in South Bay United Pentecostal Church, stating as follows:
What could justify so radical a departure from the First Amendment’s terms and long-settled rules about its application? Our colleagues offer two possible answers. Initially, some point to a solo concurrence in South Bay Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, 590 U. S. ___ (2020), in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE expressed willingness to defer to executive orders in the pandemic’s early stages based on the newness of the emergency and how little was then known about the disease. At that time, COVID had been with us, in earnest, for just three months. Now, as we round out 2020 and face the prospect of entering a second calendar year living in the pandemic’s shadow, that rationale has expired according to its own terms. Even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical. Rather than apply a nonbinding and expired concurrence from South Bay, courts must resume applying the Free Exercise Clause.
In fact, Justice Gorsuch went so far as to suggest that Chief Justice Roberts, by refusing the rule on the merits, was concerned more with political rather than legal considerations:
In the end, I can only surmise that much of the answer [to why the dissenters did not find the Executive Order unconstitutional] lies in a particular judicial impulse to stay out of the way in times of crisis. But if that impulse may be understandable or even admirable in other circumstances, we may not shelter in place when the Constitution is under attack. Things never go well when we do.
In Justice Gorsuch’s view, “[t]o turn away religious leaders bringing meritorious claims just because the Governor decided to hit the “off ” switch in the shadow of our review would be, in my view, just another sacrifice of fundamental rights in the name of judicial modesty.”
Chief Justice Roberts responded to Justice Gorsuch’s concurring opinion in an equally dismissive tone, stating as follows:
To be clear, I do not regard my dissenting colleagues as “cutting the Constitution loose during a pandemic,” yielding to “a particular judicial impulse to stay out of the way in times of crisis,” or “shelter[ing] in place when the Constitution is under attack.” Ante, at 3, 5–6 (opinion of GORSUCH, J.). They simply view the matter differently after careful study and analysis reflecting their best efforts to fulfill their responsibility under the Constitution.
The tone of both opinions suggests that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch are not the best of friends. The reason is likely that Justice Gorsuch, an originalist who strives to uphold the rule of law regardless of an outcome’s desirability, views Chief Justice Roberts as capitulating to, even prioritizing, political considerations over principled legal analysis.
2. Chief Justice Roberts is arguably prioritizing politics over the rule of law
Chief Justice Roberts’s approach to deciding cases has changed considerably from his previously expressed fidelity to originalism and to a modest judicial role that, in his words, was analogous to umpires calling balls and strikes.
Indeed, as Justice Gorsuch intimated, in some cases Chief Justice Roberts appears more concerned with preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy than with engaging in principled legal analysis. And the consequences are likely to cause precisely the result that Roberts seeks to avoid: the politicization of the judiciary. After all, what is the criteria by which to decide whether a decision will preserve the Court’s legitimacy? Little more than a justice’s subjective values. Put differently, concerns regarding what constitutes a “legitimate” decision are predicated on nothing more than prevailing political attitudes rather than principled legal considerations. Such an approach abdicates the judicial role and weakens the rule of law. As Justice Gorsuch stated, “we may not shelter in place when the Constitution is under attack.”
Additionally, Chief Justice Roberts’s jurisprudence suggests that he lacks a coherent judicial philosophy. On one hand, for example, in Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts voted to invalidate two provisions of the Voting Rights Act in (despite a vote of 98-0 to re-authorize these provisions), but on the other hand, in National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, Roberts went to great – and dubious – lengths to uphold the Affordable Care Act. This is just one of many examples where Chief Justice Roberts’s adherence to certain principles, such as deference to the coordinate branches, is inconsistent and unpredictable.
Simply put, Chief Justice Roberts’s focus on preserving the Court’s legitimacy is likely to cause the very result he so ardently seeks to avoid, namely, politicizing the Court and the judiciary.
3. Ideology continues to influence the justices’ decisions
It is not difficult to predict how the justices will rule in cases involving, for example, the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Indeed, the justices’ decisions in such cases often coincide with their perceived ideological preferences. For example, in cases involving affirmative action, it is all but certain that Justice Sonia Sotomayor will vote to uphold almost any affirmative action policy. In cases involving abortion, it is all but certain that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito will vote to uphold restrictions on abortion and argue for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Not surprisingly, the Court’s 5-4 decisions often predictably split along ideological lines. Some may argue that these decisions reflect the justices’ different judicial and interpretive philosophies, but the fact remains that such decisions almost always coincide with the justices’ policy predilections. And that is precisely what has politicized the judiciary.
These and other concerns lead to the conclusion that perhaps the best way for the Court to preserve its legitimacy is for it to deny certiorari in politically and socially divisive cases where the Constitution’s text is silent or ambiguous. Simply put, the Court should leave more disputes to the democratic process.
 592 U.S. (2020), available at: 20A87 Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo (11/25/2020) (supremecourt.gov).
 See Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878)
 See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972).
 See United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1044).
 See Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Ass’n, 485 U.S. 439 (1988).
 See Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc., v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993).
 See Lisa L. Colengelo, Yellow, Orange, and Red: How New York’s Covid-19 Microclusters Work (Nov. 24, 2020), available at: Yellow, orange and red: How New York's COVID-19 microclusters work | Newsday
 592 U.S. (2020), available at: 20A87 Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo (11/25/2020) (supremecourt.gov).
 See id.
 See id.
 See id.
 Id. (Gorsuch, J., concurring)
 See id.
 See id. (Justice Breyer also dissented on similar grounds).
 See id. (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).
 See id.; South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, 590 U.S. , (2020), available at; 19a1044_pok0.pdf (supremecourt.gov); Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, 591 U.S. , available at: 19a1070_08l1.pdf (supremecourt.gov)
 Id. (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).
 Id. (Gorsuch, J. concurring).
 Id. (Roberts, J., concurring).
 Id. (Gorsuch, J., concurring).
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Any ranking system contains elements of subjectivity and arbitrariness, and this is unquestionably true when attempting to rank the current justices on the United States Supreme Court. And it should go without saying that every justice on the Court is an incredibly accomplished and well-respected jurist, and among the brightest minds in the legal profession.
Notwithstanding, based on each justice’s jurisprudence, one can gain a general sense of their effectiveness, influence, and impact on the Court and the rule of law. The following rankings, which are admittedly subjective and unscientific, are predicated on the following factors: (1) the influence, if any, of ideology on a justice’s decision-making; (2) the quality of a justice’s written opinions and legal reasoning; (3) the extent to which a justice’s outcomes reflect a reasonable interpretation of a constitutional provision, statute, or regulation and thus preserve the rule of law; and (4) the degree to which a justice considers the pragmatic consequences of a decision, particularly as it affects the Court’s institutional legitimacy.
1. Elena Kagan
By all accounts, Justice Kagan is a brilliant legal mind. Justice Kagan possesses outstanding writing skills and the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively with lawyers and laypersons. Additionally, Justice Kagan’s decisions eschew ideology and reflect a balanced approach to constitutional and statutory interpretation, and fidelity to the rule of law.
One of Justice Kagan’s best opinions was a dissent in Rucho v. Common Cause, where Justice Kagan passionately and persuasively argued that partisan gerrymandering was anathema to the Constitution and democracy, and squarely within the Court’s adjudicatory powers. Regarding the partisan gerrymanders in Rucho, Justice Kagan emphasized that they “debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people.”
2. Neil Gorsuch
Justice Gorsuch has consistently demonstrated that he is a principled originalist. Originalism states that judges should interpret the Constitution’s text based on what the drafters of a particular provision understood those words to mean at the time such provision was ratified. In his opinions, Justice Gorsuch consistently places the rule of law above subjective values or personal policy predilections. Indeed, Justice Gorsuch’s opinions are very well-reasoned and grounded in a faithful interpretation of a constitutional or statutory text. Put simply, Justice Gorsuch is not guided by ideology and his jurisprudence reflects humility and respect for the democratic process.
3. John Roberts
Chief Justice John Roberts is among the most brilliant lawyers of his generation – and for good reason. Roberts’s intellect, advocacy skills, and writing ability are second to none. Additionally, Chief Justice Roberts is, by all accounts, a humble jurist who respects the rule of law, the separation of powers, federalism, and democratic choice. Furthermore, Chief Justice Roberts strives to achieve consensus among the justices (thus avoiding, to the extent possible, divisive 5-4 opinions) and is committed to preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy.
Importantly, however, the desire to preserve the Court’s legitimacy and status as an apolitical branch has led, perhaps inadvertently, to decisions that invite precisely the criticisms Roberts seeks to avoid. For example, in National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, Roberts wrote for a 5-4 majority, in which the Court held that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate passed constitutional muster under the Taxing and Spending Clause, despite substantial evidence that the mandate was an unconstitutional penalty. Roberts’s decision, which surprised many legal scholars, was seen by some as an attempt to avoid the negative political consequences that a ruling invalidating the Affordable Care Act would engender. However, Roberts’s decisions in McCutcheon v. FEC, in which the Court invalidated a limit on contributions that an individual could make to a national party over a two-year period, and in Shelby County v. Holder, where the Court invalidated Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Civil Rights Act (despite a Senate vote of 98-0 to reauthorize these sections) engendered significant criticism and the very charges of illegitimacy that Roberts ostensibly seeks to avoid.
Put simply, an overarching focus on preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy invariably involves precisely the element of subjectivity (and, to an extent, arbitrariness), that is anathema to legitimacy itself.
4. Stephen Breyer
Justice Breyer is a thoughtful and very intelligent jurist who balances fidelity to the rule of law with a consideration of the pragmatic consequences of decisions. And Breyer’s jurisprudence does not suggest that he is guided by subjective values or ideological considerations. Instead, Justice Breyer's decisions are almost always well-reasoned and balanced, regardless of whether one agrees with the outcome of such decisions. For example, in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt, Breyer wrote for a 5-3 majority that invalidated a requirement in Texas that abortion providers obtain hospital admitting privileges.[4}
The decision in Whole Women's Health was based on a reasonable review of the record and of precedent regarding abortion rights.
One criticism of Justice Breyer, however, is that he subscribes to a method of constitutional interpretation known as “living constitutionalism,” which states that the Constitution’s meaning evolves over time and that the meaning of a particular constitutional provision should reflect contemporary societal values. The problem with this approach is that it vests nine unelected and life-tenured judges with the ability to identify – for the entire nation – prevailing societal values and to impose those values through decisions that often disregard or manipulate the Constitution’s text.
5. Clarence Thomas
Justice Thomas is a faithful adherent to originalism. The principle undergirding originalism is that judges do not have the right to unilaterally disregard, manipulate, or change the Constitution’s meaning based on their subjective values or policy predilections. Doing so would be fundamentally anti-democratic and give judges the unfettered right to undermine the democratic process and identify unenumerated rights based on nothing more than their personal values. Justice Thomas consistently adheres to this philosophy.
However, Justice Thomas can sometimes be far too formalistic and eschew any consideration whatsoever of the pragmatic consequences of his decisions. This is not necessarily a criticism, although originalism does not – and should not – prohibit judges from basing decisions on pragmatic considerations where such decisions would be consistent with a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution’s text. For example, Justice Thomas has repeatedly advocated for reversing Roe v. Wade, where the Court held that the right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy under certain circumstances. Although the decision in Roe, particularly the reasoning, was arguably one of the worst in the last fifty years, the reliance that women have placed on Roe during this time, and the political and social divisiveness that would accompany overturning Roe, counsel in favor of adhering to Roe’s central holding. Thus, Thomas’s rather rigid position on Roe, and his overly formalistic legal analysis in other cases, leaves far too little room for pragmatic considerations.
6. Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Sotomayor is an incredibly accomplished jurist who has authored several passionate and well-reasoned dissents, particularly in the areas of abortion and affirmative action. And Justice Sotomayor’s personal story, in which her intellect and work ethic propelled her to Princeton University and Yale Law School, is truly inspiring.
However, in a number of decisions, Justice Sotomayor, whose jurisprudence reflects living constitutionalism, appears to be motivated more by ideology or policy preferences than a commitment to the rule of law. This is arguably evident in the Court’s affirmative action jurisprudence, such as in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, where Justice Sotomayor’s reasoning read more like a policy prescription than a legal opinion, and where Sotomayor ostensibly eschewed any workable legal standards for assessing the constitutionality of affirmative action policies. Regardless of one’s views on affirmative action, one gets the sense that Justice Sotomayor will, without exception, uphold any affirmative action policy irrespective of the merits of that policy. That approach is antithetical to the role of and limits on judicial decision-making.
7. Brett Kavanaugh
Justice Kavanaugh, a graduate of Yale Law School, had an extraordinarily impressive record as an attorney and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit where, by all accounts, Kavanaugh was a fair and principled judge.
Justice Kavanaugh’s ranking is not a reflection of his jurisprudence. Rather, he has not been on the Court for a sufficient time to adequately assess his jurisprudence, judicial philosophy, and impact on the Court and the law.
8. Samuel Alito
Justice Alito is extremely intelligent, and a well-respected and accomplished jurist.
However, one gets the sense from both oral arguments and Justice Alito’s written opinions that his decisions are motivated in substantial part by ideological considerations and policy preferences. Indeed, on November 12, 2020, Justice Alito delivered a speech to the Federalist Society in which he criticized the Court’s free exercise jurisprudence, its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (invalidating same-sex marriage bans), and the protections afforded to free speech.
Note: Amy Coney Barrett: Having been confirmed only a few weeks ago, Justice Barrett has not been on the Court for a sufficient time to justify including her in the ranking.
 139 S. Ct. 2484 (2019) (Kagan, J., dissenting).
 567 U.S. 519 (2012).
 572 U.S. 185; 570 U.S. 529 (2013).
 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016).
 Of course, originalism, like living constitutionalism, can also be used as a tool to impose a judge’s subjective values and policy preferences. However, principled originalists eschew such an approach and predicate their decisions on ascribing the meaning that the drafters intended at the time a provision was ratified.
 410 U.S. 133 (1973).
 572 U.S. 291 (2012).
 Sydney Bauer, Justice Alito Takes Aim at Gay Marriage in ‘Politically Charged Speech,’ (Nov. 13, 2020), available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/justice-alito-takes-aim-gay-marriage-politically-charged-speech-n1247772
November 15, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, November 1, 2020
In the wake of Amy Coney Barrett’s ascendency to the United States Supreme Court, several elected officials and commentators have suggested that the next president should pack the Court, namely, add more justices to ensure a political and ideological balance. These concerns are predicated, in part, on the belief that the Court has become too conservative and, under an originalist framework, will eviscerate various civil rights and protections. For example, some commentators contend that the Court will, among other things, invalidate the Affordable Care Act and restrict, if not eliminate, abortion rights and same-sex marriage. These arguments – and the unquestionable divisiveness that has characterized recent confirmation hearings – demonstrate that the Court has become an increasingly politicized institution. And the politicization of the Court threatens its institutional legitimacy and, ultimately, the rule of law itself.
In response to calls to pack the Court, presidential candidate Joe Biden recently announced that, if elected, he would form a commission to suggest reforms to the judiciary:
If elected, what I will do is I'll put together a national commission of — bipartisan commission of scholars, constitutional scholars, Democrats, Republicans, liberal, conservative. And I will ask them to over 180 days come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it's getting out of whack.
But packing the Court is not the answer. Adding additional justices will only further politicize the Court, as future presidents will continue to appoint justices whose interpretive philosophy suggests that such justices will reach decisions that comport with a president’s policy predilections. This does not mean, however, that reforms are unnecessary. Below are a few suggestions that would likely de-politicize the Court, preserve the judiciary’s institutional legitimacy, and protect the rule of law.
1. Require a 6-3 supermajority to affirm or reverse lower court decisions
Much of the Court’s politicization has resulted from controversial 5-4 decisions regarding socially and politically divisive issues, such as the rights to abortion and same-sex marriage, and the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. These decisions have often divided the Court along perceived ideological lines, the consequence of which has been to undermine the Court’s legitimacy and erode public confidence in the judiciary.
Requiring a six-vote supermajority would avoid substantially the problems that 5-4 decisions engender. Specifically, a supermajority requirement would promote moderation because it would require the justices to compromise and thus would reduce, if not eliminate, the influence of ideology on judicial decision-making. As such, the Court would likely avoid the types of decisions that cause a political backlash, either by refusing to grant certiorari in such cases or reaching narrower decisions that effectuate incremental, rather than sweeping, changes in the law. Additionally, this approach is arguably more democratic because it would prevent, at least in some contexts, nine unelected and life-tenured judges from deciding what the law should be for all fifty states.
2. Deny certiorari in cases where a legal issue is politically divisive and the Constitution is ambiguous.
In recent decades, the Court has decided cases involving politically divisive issues where the Constitution, either through silence or ambiguity, does not clearly resolve that issue. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that such decisions are often decided on a 5-4 basis and engender substantial criticism. For example, in National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, the Constitution provided no clear answer regarding whether the Affordable Care Act, particularly the individual mandate, violated the Commerce Clause. Given this fact, and given that the Act had been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama, why did the Court get involved? The result was a 5-4 decision that engendered more criticism than praise, and that undermined, rather than preserved, the Court’s legitimacy. Likewise, in Clinton v. New York, both houses of Congress and President George H. W. Bush signed into law the line-item veto. Notwithstanding, the Court invalidated the legislation, holding that it violated the Presentment Clause even though the Clause, largely because of its broadly worded language, did not provide sufficient, if any, guidance regarding its constitutionality. Again, why did the Court get involved?
Put simply, the Court should be reluctant to grant certiorari in politically or socially divisive cases unless the law or a lower court opinion plainly violates a provision in the Constitution (not the “penumbras” created in Griswold v. Connecticut). Instead, it should defer to the coordinate branches – and to democratic choice.
3. Allow the Supreme Court to issue advisory opinions
The conventional wisdom is that advisory opinions violate the “case or controversy” requirement in Article III of the Constitution. But the lack of a specific case does not mean that there is no controversy. The word “controversy” can be construed to enable the Court, in some circumstances, to issue advisory opinions regarding a law’s constitutionality.
Such an approach would have substantial benefits. To begin with, it would empower the Court to resolve important legal issues quickly and efficiently. Currently, cases challenging a law’s constitutionality typically take years to reach the Court and frequently involve alleged violations of fundamental rights. And during this time, the federal courts of appeals often reach opposite conclusions, which creates uncertainty and instability in the law. Perhaps most importantly, if the Court in such cases ultimately decides that a law violates a fundamental right, it means that, for the several years that it took to reach the Court, individuals were being consistently deprived of a particular constitutional protection. Furthermore, given the rapid pace at which technology is advancing, allowing the Court to issue advisory opinions in cases concerning the constitutionality of, for example, searches and seizures, would bring much-needed efficiency, clarity, fairness, and stability to the law. Of course, advisory opinions would be appropriate only in situations that are tantamount to a facial challenge to a statute and thus involve purely legal questions. Some may argue that this approach would likely violate the separation of powers by giving the Court impermissible authority to encroach on the lawmaking process. But if the Court is ultimately going to decide the question after protracted litigation, the argument regarding the separation of powers is unconvincing.
Ultimately, to the extent that reforms are needed, they should focus on giving the Court (and lower courts) less power to resolve politically and socially divisive issues, but more power to resolve other issues in an efficient manner. Part of the solution may involve requiring a six-vote supermajority, denying certiorari in particular cases, and enabling the Court issue advisory opinions. Court-packing, however, is not the answer. It should be rejected.
 Caitlin Oprysko, After dodging questions about court packing, Biden floats commission to study judicial reforms (Oct. 22, 2020), available at: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/22/joe-biden-court-packing-judicial-reforms-commission-431157.
 567 U.S. 519 (2012).
 524 U.S. 417 (1998).
 381 U.S. 479 (1965).
November 1, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Amy Coney Barrett will almost certainly be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court – and deservedly so. Judge Barrett is an extraordinary legal scholar and judge, and numerous former colleagues and students have emphasized that she is a person of outstanding character, integrity, and compassion.
Additionally, Judge Barrett is an originalist, which is a theory of constitutional interpretation that requires judges to interpret the Constitution’s words as they were understood by those who drafted its provisions. Yet, originalism has been criticized by many in the legal academy. For example, some scholars claim that originalism leads to unjust and often draconian results, and fails to account for societal changes that the Constitution’s drafters could not foresee. Some scholars also assert that the broad phrasing of many provisions in the Bill of Rights suggests that the Constitution’s drafters entrusted future generations with the authority to divine constitutional meaning based on contemporary societal attitudes. For these and other reasons, many scholars embrace “living constitutionalism,” which states that the Constitution is a “living document” and that judges have the power to create constitutional meaning based upon the evolving needs of contemporary society.
These assertions both misunderstand originalism and misrepresent living constitutionalism. The former is, when properly applied, intellectually honest and fundamentally democratic. The latter is neither. For the following reasons, originalism is, without a doubt, the most sensible and commonsense approach to constitutional interpretation.
Originalism does not lead to unjust outcomes. The notion that originalism leads to unjust outcomes is nonsense. This argument misunderstands both originalism and the nature of judging. First, judges should not – and usually do not – decide cases based on the outcome that a judge desires or the policy that a judge prefers. If judges predicated their decisions on subjective policy preferences – and manipulated or disregarded the Constitution’s text to achieve those preferences – democratic choice would be undermined in favor of nine unelected and life-tenured judges. In essence, originalists recognize that the process of judicial decision-making is critically important to ensure, among other things, individual liberty, de-centralization, bottom-up lawmaking, and the judiciary’s institutional legitimacy. Second, originalism does not lead to objectively unjust outcomes; rather, critics of originalism only object to outcomes with which they subjectively disagree. Of course, that is not a reason to criticize originalism. As Justice Neil Gorsuch explains:
Suppose originalism does lead to a result you happen to dislike in this or that case. So what? The “judicial Power” of Article III of the Constitution isn’t a promise of all good things. Letting dangerous and obviously guilty criminals who have gravely injured their victims go free just because an officer forgot to secure a warrant or because the prosecutor neglected to bring a witness to trial for confrontation seems like a bad idea to plenty of people. But do you really want judges to revise the Constitution to avoid those “bad” results? Or do you believe that judges should enforce the law’s protections equally for everyone, regardless of how inefficient or unpopular or old the law might be? Regardless of who benefits today—the criminal or the police; the business or the employee; immigrants or ICE?
Moreover, to the extent that an outcome is considered unjust, the remedy is to effectuate change by the people through the legislative process – or through a constitutional amendment.
Originalism is fundamentally democratic. Originalism restrains and limits the power of judges to change constitutional meaning. It requires judges to interpret the text honestly and in accordance with what the Constitution’s drafters understood the words to mean. In so doing, originalism promotes respect for the rule of law, prevents unelected judges from substituting their policy preferences for those of legislators and citizens, and preserves a constitutional structure predicated on federalism, separation of powers, and decentralization. As Judge Barrett stated during the hearings, constitutional law is not “the law according to Amy,” but the law as enacted by the people. And contrary to some scholars’ contentions, originalism is not a vehicle by which conservative justices seek to reach conservative results. As Justice Gorsuch explains:
[S]ome suggest that originalism leads to bad results because the results inevitably happen to be politically conservative results. Rubbish. Originalism is a theory focused on process, not on substance. It is not “Conservative” with a big C focused on politics. It is conservative in the small c sense that it seeks to conserve the meaning of the Constitution as it was written. The fact is, a good originalist judge will not hesitate to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution’s original meaning, regardless of contemporary political consequences. Whether that means allowing protesters to burn the American flag (the First Amendment); prohibiting the government from slapping a GPS tracking device on the underside of your car without a warrant (the Fourth Amendment); or insisting that juries—not judges—should decide the facts that increase the penalty you face in a criminal case (the Sixth Amendment).
The alternative – living constitutionalism – is fundamentally anti-democratic. As stated above, living constitutionalists believe that the Constitution is a “living document,” and that judges have the power to create constitutional meaning based upon evolving societal attitudes. The problem with living constitutionalism is that it enables judges to ignore or manipulate the Constitution’s text to achieve preferred policy outcomes. In so doing, living constitutionalism provides unelected judges with the power to decide issues that should be resolved through the democratic process (e.g., issues on which the Constitution is silent or ambiguous), and thus deprives citizens of the power to effectuate change democratically. As Justice Gorsuch stated:
I suspect the real complaint of living constitutionalists isn’t with old laws generally so much as it is with the particular terms of this old law. The Constitution is short—only about 7,500 words, including all its amendments. It doesn’t dictate much about the burning social and political questions they care about. Instead, it leaves the resolution of those matters to elections and votes and the amendment process. And it seems this is the real problem for the critics. For when it comes to the social and political questions of the day they care most about, many living constitutionalists would prefer to have philosopher-king judges swoop down from their marble palace to ordain answers rather than allow the people and their representatives to discuss, debate, and resolve them. You could even say the real complaint here is with our democracy.
Indeed, the anti-democratic and deleterious nature of living constitutionalism was on full display in Griswold v. Connecticut, where the Court invalidated an admittedly silly law banning contraception. The Court in Griswold acknowledged that the Constitution’s text, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment, did not provide a basis upon which to invalidate the law. However, the Court’s majority remained undeterred and decided to create an unenumerated right out of thin air. Specifically, the Court held that “[s]pecific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras … formed by emanations from those guarantees that give them life and substance.” In so holding, the Court concluded that a judicially-created, non-textual ‘right to privacy,’ which was implied from the judicially-created, invisible penumbras, supported invalidation of the statute. And in Roe v. Wade, the Court relied upon these very penumbras to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which was originally designed only to ensure that life, liberty, and property could not be deprived without due process of law, supported a right to abortion before viability. To be sure, I support abortion rights. But I could never support the reasoning in Roe. It is constitutionally indefensible.
Make no mistake: living constitutionalism is not the knight in shining armor that some would have us believe. In fact, it has led to some of the worst decisions in the history of American constitutional law. As Justice Gorsuch explains:
Virtually the entire anticanon of constitutional law we look back upon today with regret came about when judges chose to follow their own impulses rather than follow the Constitution’s original meaning. Look, for example, at Dred Scott and Korematsu. Neither can be defended as correct in light of the Constitution’s original meaning; each depended on serious judicial invention by judges who misguidedly thought they were providing a “good” answer to a pressing social problem of the day.
Indeed, Justice Gorsuch highlights the real and substantial harms that living constitutionalism can cause:
Even when it comes to more prosaic cases, leaving things to the moral imagination of judges invites trouble. Just consider the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test the Court invented in the 1960s to redefine what qualifies as a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. Oh, it sounded nice enough. But under that judge-made doctrine, the Court has held—and I’m not making this up—that a police helicopter hovering 400 feet above your home doesn’t offend a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The Court has even held that the government can snoop through materials you’ve entrusted to the care of third parties because, in its judgment, that, too, doesn’t invade a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” But who really believes that? The car you let the valet park; the medical records your doctor promised to keep confidential; the emails you sent to your closest friend. You don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy against the government in any of those things? Really?
Put simply, “the pursuit of political ends through judicial means will often and ironically bring about a far worse result than anticipated—a sort of constitutional karma.” In short, living constitutionalism is not a legitimate theory of constitutional interpretation.
Ultimately, Amy Coney Barrett will be confirmed because she is a brilliant jurist, a person of the highest character and integrity, and a judge who recognizes that “the law of Amy” should never be substituted for the law of the people. Originalists also recognize that – and originalism is, as Justice Gorsuch stated, “the best approach to the Constitution.”
 Justice Neil Gorsuch, Why Originalism is the Best Approach to the Constitution (Sept. 6, 2019), available at: https://time.com/5670400/justice-neil-gorsuch-why-originalism-is-the-best-approach-to-the-constitution/
 381 U.S. 479.
 Id. at 484 (emphasis added).
 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
 Gorsuch, supra note 1, available at: available at: https://time.com/5670400/justice-neil-gorsuch-why-originalism-is-the-best-approach-to-the-constitution/
Sunday, October 11, 2020
On the eve of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, members of the Republican and Democratic parties are preparing for what will likely be a difficult and highly partisan hearing. Republicans on the judiciary committee will likely contend that Judge Barrett’s qualifications, reputation, and character overwhelmingly support her confirmation. Democrats will likely contend that confirming Judge Barrett less than a month before the Presidential election is inappropriate, particularly given the Republicans’ refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland in the months preceding the 2016 election. Regardless of whether Judge Barrett is confirmed (the odds are solidly in her favor), few can doubt that the hearings will be contentious and reflect the partisanship and divisiveness that currently pervades the political arena. The consequences will not be insubstantial; rather, Judge Barrett’s hearing, like the hearing of then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh, will underscore how political the confirmation process – and arguably the Court itself – has become. And it will potentially undermine the public’s confidence in the Court and the rule of law.
To make matters worse, some members of the Democratic party have threatened to “pack the court” with additional (and arguably liberal) justices to counter the solidly conservative majority that Judge Barrett’s confirmation would likely create. But packing the Court will make the problem worse, not better. It would be predicated on the assumption that a President’s – and a justice’s – perceived ideology and policy predilections will lead to outcomes that one party deems politically desirable. And if the public perceived as such, the Court would become more politicized, the rule of law more trivialized, and the legitimacy of the Court’s decisions minimized.
So how can we preserve the rule of law, maintain the Court’s independence, and ensure confidence in the Court’s decision-making process? Not through a contentious and partisan confirmation hearing. Not by packing the Court.
Instead, require a supermajority. Specifically, require that to reverse or affirm a lower court decision (and, of course, change the law), six, not five votes, are required.
This solution would have several benefits that would preserve the Court’s legitimacy, protect the separation of powers, and promote democratic choice regarding issues upon which the Constitution is silent. First, 5-4 decisions have been and continue to be the source of substantial disagreement and division. The Court’s decisions in National Federation of Independent v. Sebelius, Obergefell v. Hodges, Shelby County v. Holder, and Bush v. Gore are perfect examples. A six-vote majority would reduce the frequency with which the Court issues controversial decisions.
Second, requiring a six-vote majority would almost certainly lead to incremental, rather than drastic, changes in the law and minimize the risk that the Court’s decisions will be perceived as political and illegitimate. To achieve a six-vote majority, the justices would be forced to compromise and reach a middle ground concerning decisions that affect, among other things, civil rights and liberties. As such, the influence of ideology or policy preferences in the decision-making process would be minimized.
Third, a six-vote majority requirement would likely affect the process by which the Court grants certiorari. The Court would be less likely to accept cases -- particularly those involving divisive social and political issues -- if the justices knew that there was little, if any, likelihood of obtaining a six-vote majority. The effect would be that many decisions concerning divisive policy issues would be resolved through the democratic process, not by nine unelected judges with life tenure.
Fourth, a six-vote majority might incentivize litigants to stop seeking social change through the courts and instead concentrate their efforts on effecting change through the legislature. Doing so would limit the Court’s power in a principled way. The Court would still decide cases that involved violations of specific constitutional or statutory guarantees, but a six-vote majority requirement would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Court to create rights based on implausible interpretations of the Constitution and thus engender public backlash. This is a good thing; after all, the Court’s decision in Roe. v. Wade, which was indefensible as a matter of constitutional law, has engendered so much backlash that the right to abortion will continue to be litigated for the foreseeable future.
Fifth, a six-member majority requirement would de-politicize the Court and the process by which justices are confirmed, preserve the Court’s independence, and protect the Court’s legitimacy. Simply put, packing the Court isn’t the answer. Requirement a six-vote majority is – and should be considered seriously.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
The Supreme Court of Ohio, Commission on Professionalism, has published Professionalism Dos & Don’ts: Legal Writing. Each Do and Don’t has several subpoints. Over the next few months, I plan to take a more in-depth look at some of these Dos and Don’ts and offer examples and suggestions for how appellate advocates can implement the Dos and avoid the Don’ts.
Do Maintain Proper Focus:
- Do keep your purpose in mind while writing.
Why are you writing what you’re writing? What are you trying to accomplish? While the purpose of most of the writing of appellate advocates is straightforward—persuade the court and win your client’s case—we also write for other purposes. We write to clients, opposing counsel, co-counsel, court staff, prepare CLE materials, etc. We are trying to achieve different things and thus have different purposes, in writing to, or for, each of those audiences. We need to keep that purpose in mind for each thing we write.
- Do tailor your writing to your primary audience, but be aware that others may read what you have written.
We must reach our audience. We are writing for our audience, not ourselves. It’s quite easy to get caught up in our own brilliance and the clever turn of a phrase, but if our audience can’t understand what we’re trying to communicate, we’ve failed as writers.
We must strive to make our writing clear for our audience. One thing that creates ambiguity and confuses readers is vague pronoun references. When a writer uses a pronoun, she knows who or what the pronoun refers to, but it may not be clear to the reader. Take this example: “Ed and Sonny went to dinner and he ordered the fish sandwich instead of a steak.” Who ordered the fish sandwich? Because I’m friends with Ed and Sonny, I know Sonny would always choose a steak over a fish sandwich, but my reader wouldn’t know that. To make the meaning clear to my reader, I should write, “Ed and Sonny went to dinner and Ed ordered the fish sandwich instead of a steak.”
We must communicate clearly to our primary audience while remembering that everything we write has a secondary audience. Sometimes we run into difficulties when we neglect or forget about, that secondary audience. Then our writing may end up as an exhibit, as did this email from plaintiff’s counsel in an insurance-claim dispute:
This is an extreme example—although not the most extreme, even from this twenty-page exhibit. But the point remains, we must anticipate and consider a secondary audience when we write.
So, do identify the purpose of your writing and do keep your primary and secondary audiences in mind while writing.
 Alexa Z. Chew and Katie Rose Guest Pryal, The Complete Legal Writer, 5 (Carolina Academic Press, 2d Ed. 2020).
Sunday, October 4, 2020
On September 18, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg unexpectedly died. Undoubtedly, Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant jurist and one of the most influential legal thinkers in recent history. After a period of mourning in honor of Justice Ginsburg, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Predictably, some senators vowed to oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation to the Court, citing both the timing of the nomination and the belief that Judge Barrett would reach decisions that would eviscerate abortion rights and invalidate the Affordable Care Act. In fact, three senators announced that they would not even meet with Judge Barrett before the confirmation hearings begin.
A review of the reasons offered in opposition to Judge Barrett’s confirmation, and an analysis of Judge Barrett’s background and experience, strongly suggests that Judge Barrett will – and should – be confirmed.
To begin with, Judge Barrett’s credentials are impeccable. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School – and an executive editor on the Notre Dame Law Review – Barrett clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and, thereafter, for former Justice Antonin Scalia at the United States Supreme Court. Thereafter, Judge Barrett joined Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, a prestigious Washington, D.C. firm before embarking on a career in academia and, ultimately, being confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Scholars of all political persuasions have offered effusive praise for Justice Barrett’s intellect and legal ability. As former colleague and Notre Dame law professor O. Carter Snead states:
She has an incandescent mind that has won the admiration of colleagues across the ideological spectrum. Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, a respected liberal legal commentator who, like Barrett, was a Supreme Court clerk during the October 1998 term, has observed that Barrett may well have been the smartest person in that year’s pool of top young legal talent. ‘Any Senate Democrat who tries to go toe to toe with Barrett over her legal abilities,’ he wrote in 2018, ‘going to lose. Badly.’ Barrett has confirmed her brilliance many times over as both a scholar and a teacher, for which she has been recognized three times by Notre Dame law students as professor of the year.
Notre Dame law professor Daniel Kelly echoed these sentiments, calling Judge Barrett “absolutely brilliant," and “one of the warmest open-minded people that anybody could meet.”
Furthermore, Judge Barrett is a jurist – and person – of great character and integrity. As Professor Snead explains, Judge Barrett’s “commitment to treating others with respect grows directly out of her religious convictions,” and “Barrett’s love of neighbor goes beyond merely treating others with dignity.” In fact, “[i]n all the time I have known her, I have never once seen Barrett place her needs above those of others.”
Additionally, neither ideology nor policy predilections appear to influence Judge Barrett’s jurisprudence. As Professor Snead explains, Judge Barrett “genuinely seeks to understand others’ arguments and does not regard them as mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to reaching a preferred conclusion.” To be sure, Judge Barrett is “not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth,” and “open-mindedness is exactly what we want of our judges,” particularly on the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, one of Judge Barrett’s former colleagues – and a former clerk to Justice Ginsburg – stated that Judge Barrett “is ‘not at all ideological’ and believes that she will ‘try as hard as anyone can to bracket the views she has as she decides cases.’”
For these and other reasons, Judge Barrett is admired and respected by her peers and former students – regardless of political persuasion. John Garvey, President of Catholic University and one of Judge Barrett’s former professors, stated that “Amy Coney is the best student I ever had.” While a professor at Notre Dame Law School, Judge Barrett was voted Teacher of the Year three times. Most importantly, Judge Barrett is a good person who has impacted meaningfully the lives of so many. Three of Judge Barrett’s former students state as follows:
Amy Coney Barrett is a woman of both profound intellect and depth of heart. We are better women, friends, and lawyers for having known and learned from her. She has enriched the lives of all who have come to know her at Notre Dame Law School, and we can only hope that the entire country also will be given the benefit of her example and service.
Indeed, as a group of her former students stated, “[w]hile we hold a variety of views regarding how best to interpret statutes and the Constitution, we all agree on this: The nation could not ask for a more qualified candidate than the professor we have come to know and revere.”
Of course, some legal scholars will oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation and her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary will almost certainly be contentious. Those opposing Judge Barrett’s confirmation will likely argue that Judge Barrett will fortify a conservative majority on the Court, vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, and invalidate the Affordable Care Act. Such concerns are purely speculative; as history reveals, lawmakers cannot know with any degree of confidence how a nominee will rule in a particular case. For example, Justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and John Roberts have reached decisions in numerous cases that defy their perceived ideological dispositions. Furthermore, disagreement with (or, in some cases, disdain for) a nominee’s political beliefs is not the constitutional standard upon which nominees should be evaluated. Such an argument shows no regard whatsoever for or faith in the rule of law and unnecessarily politicizes both the confirmation process and the Court. Put simply, it’s not enough to reject a nominee because you disagree with their political views; in fact, it’s the Senate’s job to confirm a nominee regardless of those views. And the fact that Judge Barrett recognizes that “judges are not policymakers” is a positive, not negative, characteristic.
Others may argue, as Senator Diane Feinstein did during Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearing for a vacant seat on the Seventh Circuit, that Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs suggest that her ideology will influence her decisions. However, concerns about Judge Barrett’s religion or religious beliefs should be entirely irrelevant. Article VI, Clause Three of the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Even living constitutionalists could not disagree that Article’ VII’s meaning: you cannot disqualify a judge based on their religious beliefs or affiliations. Also, to look unfavorably upon a nominee because of their religious belief is plain wrong and reflects precisely the type of bias and prejudice that all reasonable people should condemn.
Some senators will also likely argue that Judge Barrett’s interpretive philosophy – originalism – will lead to unjust and inequitable outcomes, and cause Judge Barrett to disregard principles of stare decisis when precedents conflict with the Constitution's original meaning. This concern, again, lacks merit. Originalism does not require judges to overturn precedent that violates originalism’s interpretive philosophy. Furthermore, based on Judge Barrett’s respect for the rule of law and the stability it provides, it is highly likely that pragmatic considerations would influence Judge Barrett’s decision-making process. And by all indications, Judge Barrett would do so in an honest and principled, not partisan and political manner. Moreover, outcome-based objections ignore the complexity of the judicial decision-making process, disregard the seriousness with which the justices take their responsibility to be fair and impartial, and serve to politicize the confirmation process in a manner that threatens the Court’s institutional legitimacy.
Additionally, many Senators will almost certainly object to Judge Barrett’s nomination on the ground that no nominee should be confirmed during an election year – a position that the Republican party embraced to block the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. This fact should not preclude her confirmation. Since 1900, six justices have been confirmed during election years. And sufficient time exists to confirm Judge Barrett; Justice Ginsburg, for example, was confirmed forty-two days after her nomination, and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed thirty-three days after her nomination. Of course, the Republicans’ refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland understandably angered Democrats and exposes Republicans to charges of hypocrisy in seeking to confirm Judge Barrett on the eve of a presidential election. But at some point, the partisanship and polarization that has characterized recent confirmation hearings must stop. In 1986, Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed by a vote of 98-0. In 1993, Justice Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96-3. In 2009, Justice Sotomayor was confirmed by a vote of 68-31. Judge Barrett should be confirmed too.
Put simply, Judge Barrett has impeccable credentials and is a thoughtful and conscientious jurist. Most importantly, as her former colleagues and students attest, Judge Barrett is a kind, humble, and caring person. As Professor Snead stated, “[a]t a time when there is so much to worry about in our troubled nation, having a Supreme Court justice who brings such honesty and integrity to her work should be the least of our fears.”
 See Ana De Liz, Which Democrats are Meeting With Amy Coney Barrett, and Which Are Refusing (Sep. 29, 2020), available at: https://www.newsweek.com/which-democrats-are-meeting-amy-coney-barrett-which-are-refusing-1534955
 See Zachary Evans, Several Senate Dems Refuse to Met With Barrett, Come Out Against Confirmation (September 29, 2020), available at: https://www.nationalreview.com/news/several-senate-dems-refuse-to-meet-with-barrett-come-out-against-confirmation/
 See Biography: Amy Coney Barrett, available at: https://www.biography.com/law-figure/amy-coney-barrett
 O. Carter Snead, I’ve Known Amy Coney Barrett for 15 years. Liberals Have Nothing to Fear (Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/
 WIBC, Notre Dame Colleagues Call Amy Coney Barrett ‘Brilliant, Honest, and Sincere’ (Sept. 25, 2020), available at: https://www.wibc.com/news/local-indiana/notre-dame-colleagues-call-amy-coney-barrett-brilliant-honest-and-sincere/
 Snead, supra note 4, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/
 Laura E. Wolk, Megan L. McKeown, Alyson M. Cox, Amy Coney Barrett Was Our Professor. She’ll Serve America As Well As She Served Her Students (Sept. 27, 2020), available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/09/27/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-notre-dame-students-column/3551971001/
 Christian Sheckler, Notre Dame Profs Push Back On Amy Coney Barrett Portrayals: Not Just an ‘Ideological Category,’ (Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/26/amy-coney-barrett-notre-dame-professors-push-back-ideological-portrayals/3546388001/
 Wolk, et al., supra note 10, available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2020/09/27/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court-notre-dame-students-column/3551971001/
 Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett, ‘Judges Are Not Policymakers,” available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/supreme-court-nominee-amy-coney-barrett-judges-not-policymakers/
 See New York Times, The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You Sept. 26, 2020), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/us/politics/the-dogma-lives-loudly-within-you-revisiting-barretts-confirmation-hearing.html
 U.S. Const., Art. VI, Cl. 3.
 See Zack Budryk, 22 GOP Attorneys General Urge Congress to Confirm Barrett As Supreme Court Justice (Oct. 1, 2020), available at: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/519130-22-gop-attorneys-general-urge-congress-to-confirm-barrett-as-supreme-court
 See id.
 See Dana D. Kelly, Scotus Scores (July 6, 2018), available at: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/jul/06/scotus-scores-20180706/
 See Linda P. Campbell, Ginsburg Confirmed to Court on 96-3 Vote (Aug. 4, 1993), available at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1993-08-04-9308040122-story.html
 See John Stanton, Senate Confirms Sotomayor on Bipartisan 68-31 Vote (Aug. 6, 2009), available at: https://www.rollcall.com/2009/08/06/senate-confirms-sotomayor-on-bipartisan-68-31-vote/
 Snead, supra note 4, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/26/ive-known-amy-coney-barrett-15-years-liberals-have-nothing-fear/
Sunday, September 20, 2020
Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College: An Analysis of the Future of Affirmative Action
In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the plaintiff, an organization that opposes affirmative action, filed suit against Harvard University in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging that Harvard’s affirmative action program unconstitutionally discriminated against Asian-American applicants. In September 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs rejected the Plaintiff’s claim, holding that Harvard’s affirmative action program neither engaged in racial balancing (quotas) nor placed an undue emphasis on an applicant’s race in the admissions process. Accordingly, although Harvard considered race as part of its holistic admissions process, its process did not discriminate impermissibly based on race and thus passed constitutional muster. Subsequently, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Harvard’s admissions process imposed a de facto “racial penalty” on Asian-American applicants.
On September 16, 2020, the First Circuit heard oral arguments and the three-member panel appeared skeptical of the appellant’s arguments. Judge Sandra Lynch, for example, stated that “[y]our argument seems to come down to ‘Harvard must admit based only on academic rating and may not consider anything else,’” an argument that would contravene the United States Supreme Court’s jurisprudence holding that race may be considered as part of a holistic admissions process. The oral argument suggests that the First Circuit is likely to uphold the district court’s decision, but that will almost certainly not be the end of the story. The Supreme Court will likely grant certiorari to consider the permissible contours of affirmative action programs and the extent to which colleges and universities may consider race in the admissions process.
II. Analysis of Affirmative Action Jurisprudence
The United States Supreme Court’s jurisprudence regarding affirmative action provides a reasonably justifiable basis upon which to uphold the constitutionality of affirmative action programs.
To begin with, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Court held that the value in promoting educational diversity was sufficiently compelling to justify the use of race in the admissions process. Indeed, few could gainsay that diversity confers a substantial benefit upon universities, students, and the community. A diverse student body exposes students to various perspectives, enables students to interact with others from different backgrounds and experiences, and facilitates an awareness of the obstacles and adversity that many minorities have overcome. As Judge Burroughs emphasized, “students who are admitted to Harvard and choose to attend will live and learn surrounded by all sorts of people, with all sorts of experiences, beliefs and talents,” and, as such, “race-conscious admissions programs have an important place in society and help ensure that colleges and universities can offer a diverse atmosphere that fosters learning.”
Importantly, however, the Court in Bakke emphasized – and rightly so – that a university’s admissions process must be narrowly tailored to ensure a holistic and individualized consideration of every applicant, such that race cannot the sole or even predominant factor in the admissions process. And in Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court reaffirmed this principle, invalidating the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions policy because it automatically awarded twenty points toward admission for minority applicants (100 points were required for admission, with a perfect score on the SAT earning twelve points). This approach permitted precisely what Bakke prohibited – an excessive emphasis on race in the admissions process.
Conversely, in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program, holding that, although the law school’s admissions process favored underrepresented minority groups, the admissions process was sufficiently holistic to ensure an individualized consideration of every applicant. Additionally, the Court held that the law school’s objective of obtaining a “critical mass” of minority students was sufficiently tailored to further the interest in achieving a diverse student body. The “critical mass” rationale makes sense; one could hardly argue that the benefits of diversity are achieved if the percentage of diverse students are so minuscule
Finally, in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Court upheld the University of Texas’s affirmative action program, although its decision brought uncertainty, rather than clarity, to the Court’s affirmative action jurisprudence. In Fisher, the University of Texas automatically admitted all high school students throughout Texas who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. Although this policy created substantial diversity among the University of Texas’s incoming classes, the university nonetheless included race as a factor in its holistic admissions process, which was reserved for students who did not graduate in the top 10% of their class. A white applicant who had been denied admission through the holistic process sued the University of Texas, arguing in part that, because the university already achieved substantial diversity through the top 10% program, the use of race in its holistic process was not sufficiently narrowly tailored.
The Court rejected this argument, holding that the university’s rationale for its diversity-related goals, which included the elimination of stereotypes, cross-racial understanding, and preparing students for a diverse workforce, were sufficiently measurable to enable judicial review, and that the university’s determination that the top 10% program was insufficient to ensure adequate diversity was entitled to substantial deference. On this basis, the Court upheld the university’s affirmative action program, although the Court’s decision, which failed to apply strict scrutiny (as had been the case in Bakke, Gratz, and Grutter), lacked a meaningful analysis of whether the university’s admissions process was appropriately tailored to ensure an individualized consideration of applicants outside of the top 10% program. Simply put, Fisher muddied the waters and brought confusion, rather than clarity, to the Court’s affirmative action jurisprudence, particularly regarding the legal standards governing the constitutional of affirmative action policies.
Notwithstanding, the Court’s decisions have established several broad principles that provide some guidance regarding the constitutionality of affirmative action policies. First, the interest in achieving a diverse student is undoubtedly compelling, particularly given that it exposes students to different perspectives, facilitates relationships with students of various backgrounds, and, as Judge Burroughs stated, this creates a “diverse atmosphere that fosters learning.” Second, the requirement that universities assess applicants holistically – and thus ensure an individualized consideration of every applicant – at least theoretically ensures that race will not be a predominant or, worse, deciding factor in admissions decisions. Third, it makes sense that courts would be reluctant to interfere in the internal policymaking decisions of universities absent evidence, as in Gratz, that admissions committees are preferencing minority applicants to such as degree (and thus discriminating against applicants of other races) that renders race, at least in some circumstances, dispositive in admissions decisions. Perhaps for that reason, as Justice Anthony Kennedy stated in Fisher v. University of Texas, universities are entitled to substantial deference in designing affirmative action program
Opponents of affirmative action, however, offer several arguments that are worthy of consideration. First, the consideration of race to any degree whatsoever is arguably contrary to the fundamental guarantee of equality and equal protection under the law. This argument, however, ignores the fact that for most of this country’s history, universities did consider affirmative action in the admissions process – to the detriment of minority applicants, particularly African Americans. Thus, the notion that we should embrace a color-blind admissions process – in the wake of, for example, segregation and Jim Crow – is untenable and unfair.
Second, opponents may assert the argument that the Court’s attempt to ensure a holistic and individualized admissions process is unrealistic because universities’ contention that race is only one factor in the admissions process is disingenuous. Put simply, in many instances, race is the sole determining factor in whether an applicant is admitted. To assess this argument, scholars would need to examine the grade-point averages and SAT (or ACT) scores of applicants admitted under universities’ affirmative action programs. If the scores of admitted minority applicants were substantially (not marginally) lower than those of non-minority applicants, one could reasonably argue that race was a predominant, if not determinative, factor. If that were indeed the case, then scholars must examine the percentage of minority applicants that were admitted with lower grade point averages and SAT (or ACT) scores compared to non-minority applicants with similar scores. If such analysis revealed a substantial disparity in the percentage of admitted minority and non-minority applicants, one could make a prima facie case that race was the deciding factor. That would lead to the conclusion that the Court in Bakker refused to countenance: the excessive emphasis on race in the admissions process.
Third, some scholars have argued that affirmative action policies harm minority applicants by admitting such applicants to colleges where they will struggle to succeed academically. Without detailed admissions data from universities and data regarding the academic performance and employment outcomes of minority students, this argument is difficult to assess.
What is certain, however, is that the Court’s decisions, particularly after Fisher, has failed to delineate a workable line between policies that will survive constitutional scrutiny and those that will not. As a result, the law concerning affirmative action remains unstable and unpredictable, resulting in a case-by-case approach that provides insufficient guidance to university administrators. That should change.
III. Conclusion – The Future of Affirmative Action
Affirmative action policies at universities are likely here to stay for the foreseeable future, and for good reason. Diversity enhances the educational experience for all students and provides underrepresented groups with access to educational opportunities that, for too long, have been wrongfully denied. But affirmative action alone is not sufficient. And there is some merit, based on relevant data, that affirmative action hurts the very groups that there are designed to benefit.
Rather, legislators, policymakers, and scholars should address the root cause of the problem, namely, educational inequality at the grade and high school levels, which results from poverty and affects children of all races. Indeed, after the Supreme Court’s decision in San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, where the Court held that a school district’s financing system could be based on local property taxes, educational inequality was an inevitable result. Specifically, the quality of education (and educational resources) in grade and high schools differed substantially, if not alarmingly, depending on whether a community was affluent or poor. For example, the difference between an education at Beverly Hills High School and an education at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles was like the difference between night and day.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that students at Crenshaw High School, or other high schools in impoverished communities, lacked many educational resources, such as access to academic support services, extracurricular activities, and SAT or ACT tutoring services. It should also come as no surprise that the standardized test scores of applicants from impoverished communities, which are disproportionately minority, are substantially lower than those of students in affluent communities, which are disproportionately white. The upshot is that students from impoverished communities, regardless of race, are less prepared for the rigors of university academics than their more affluent peers.
Consequently, although affirmative action policies rightfully increase the diversity of student bodies and enhance access to education, they do not address the fact that students from disadvantaged or marginalized backgrounds often perform poorly in college, have higher dropout rates, and substandard employment outcomes.
Given this reality, affirmative action policies, however well-intentioned, and as Sanders’ mismatch theory suggests, are not sufficient. Rather, universities should adopt and implement mandatory ‘bridge’ programs and mentorship programs for all students, regardless of race, who reside in poor communities and whose standardized test scores and grade point averages suggest that they may struggle to succeed academically. The goal would be to provide students from non-traditional or marginalized backgrounds with the preparation and support necessary to maximize their likelihood of achieving success in college, employment, and life. Such programs could occur in the summer before a student’s freshman year, be four or eight weeks in length, and focus on skills such as writing, analytical thinking skills, and life skills to facilitate the adjustment to university life. Additionally, each student who is considered “at risk” should be provided with faculty and student mentors who provide support to each student throughout the entirety of their undergraduate career.
Put simply, the debate regarding affirmative action misses the point. To truly benefit the groups that affirmative action targets, universities should focus on race and poverty as the driving forces undergirding educational inequality. In so doing, universities should implement programs that help to bridge the preparation and achievement gap, and that maximize the likelihood that students from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds will succeed academically and, ultimately, prosper economically.
*This article was co-authored with Daria Brown, an undergraduate student and aspiring law student at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia. Daria edited and drafted a portion of the article, and provided helpful insights regarding affirmative action policy.
 See Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, available at: https://admissionscase.harvard.edu/files/adm-case/files/2019-10-30_dkt_672_findings_of_fact_and_conclusions_of_law.pdf
 See id.
 Harvard Gazette, Judge Upholds Harvard’s Admissions Policy (Oct. 1, 2019), available at: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/09/appeals-court-panel-hears-oral-arguments-in-harvard-admissions-case/
 See id.
 438 U.S. 265 (1978).
 Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, available at: https://admissionscase.harvard.edu/files/adm-case/files/2019-10-30_dkt_672_findings_of_fact_and_conclusions_of_law.pdf.
 See Bakke, 438 U.S. 265.
 539 U.S. 244 (2003).
 539 U.S. 306.
 See id.
 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016).
 See id.
 See id.
 See id.
 See id.
 See id.
 See Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, available at: https://admissionscase.harvard.edu/files/adm-case/files/2019-10-30_dkt_672_findings_of_fact_and_conclusions_of_law.pdf.
 See, e.g., Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It (Basic Books, 2012).
 411 U.S. 1 (1973).
 See Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., The Painful Truth About Affirmative Action: Why Racial Preferences in College Admissions Hurt Minority Students – and Shroud the Education System in Dishonesty, (Oct. 2, 2012), available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/the-painful-truth-about-affirmative-action/263122/; Elizabeth Slattery, How Affirmative Action At Colleges Helps Minority Students (Dec. 2, 2015), available at: https://www.heritage.org/courts/commentary/how-affirmative-action-colleges-hurts-minority-students
 See Abigail Hess, Rich Students Get Better SAT Scores – Here’s Why (Oct. 3, 2019), available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/03/rich-students-get-better-sat-scores-heres-why.html
 See Slattery, supra note 21.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Every year, I ask my students to read a variety of articles on the use of language, especially passive voice. For the last few years, I’ve included a 2015 New York Times opinion piece on how Texas history books use passive voice to hide the acts of pre-Civil War enslavers and make slavery sound less horrific than it was. See Ellen Bresler Rockmore, How Texas Teaches History, New York Times (Oct. 21, 2015); see also Dana Goldstein, American history textbooks can differ across the country, in ways that are shaded by partisan politics, New York Times (Jan. 12, 2020)(explaining Texas has started to improve its discussion of enslaved people in its history books).
This year, several students assumed the Texas history article was new, given its timeliness for our national conversations on bias and race, and I realized the author’s points on passive voice really are timeless. Legal Writing teachers like me suggest removing passive voice because it muddies meaning and takes more words to say less. Passive voice either removes the actor from the sentence entirely, like “the car was driven,” or obscures the action unnecessarily, such as “the car was driven by Al.” But as we try to be ever more conscious of bias and strive for neutral language, we should also remove passive for substantive reasons.
As Rockmore explains, we stress good writing for clarity. She notes: “Whenever possible, use human subjects, not abstract nouns; use active verbs, not passive” and do not “write, ‘Torture was used,’ because that sentence obscures who was torturing whom.” Rockmore, How Texas Teaches History. Yet in the Texas textbooks she analyzed, the editors “employ all the principles of good, strong, clear writing when talking about the ‘upside’ of slavery,” but “when writing about the brutality of slavery, the writers use all the tricks of obfuscation.” Id. For example, “Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly,” but “Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery.” Id. Rockmore asks, “where are the [enslavers] who were actually doing the whipping and branding and torturing? And where are the slaves who were whipped, branded and tortured? They are nowhere to be found in the sentence.” Id. As one more example, Rockmore notes how the sentence “Families were often broken apart when a family member was sold to another owner,” hides the enslavers. Id.
As you read these sentences, hopefully you rewrote them in your mind to include the enslavers (without using the word, “owners,” please). We should all do the same with our own appellate documents, even when our use of passive is less insidious. We’ll save words for more content, and we’ll communicate more clearly.
Unless you want to hide the actor for positive reasons, like in some criminal defense situations, listen to your grammar school (and Legal Writing) teachers, and avoid passive voice.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
On January 1st, 2020, while on vacation with my family, I was pushed by a passing speadboat into a concealed piece of broken pipe while snorkeling, resulting in a quick trip to the emergency room and 18 stitches. At least I got my bad luck out of the way, I consoled myself, and the rest of 2020 would be better. Right?
I thought about that naivete while I was writing a motion for extension of time in an appeal yesterday. I sought the extension because, the week the clerk certified the record to the court, I was caring for my mother and eventually admitting her to the hospital. The next week, one of my partners at work tested positive for Covid-19, and we had to unexpectedly extend and tighten our work-from-home rules. This week, my wife is going to have surgery. And while I am trying to care for everyone and help my children with school, while keeping up with work, I am hobbling around on a broken foot that is not healing as it should.
Fortunately, the court I am preparing this appeal in has adopted a code of appellate practice, in this case, the Texas Standards for Appellate Conduct. Adopted in 1999, Texas was the first jurisdiction to adopt such standards specifically for its appellate practitioners. Since then, several courts have adopted similar standards and expect those practicing in the courts to follow them.
In many ways, these standards codify a practice of civility that has traditionally been followed by those who practice regularly in appellate courts. And while the standards are not mandatory, and cannot provide a basis for sanctions, following them is expected and deviation is strongly disfavored.
Being gracious with requested extensions is addressed twice in the standards. First, Standard 10 of a "Lawyer's Duties to Clients," requires that "Counsel will advise their clients that counsel reserves the right to grant accommodations to opposing counsel in matters that do not adversely affect the client's lawful objectives. A client has no right to instruct a lawyer to refuse reasonable requests made by other counsel." And again, Standard 2 of a "Lawyers' Duties to Lawyers," states that "Counsel will not unreasonably withhold consent to a reasonable request for cooperation or scheduling accommodation by opposing counsel."
These two rules are based on different stated principles. First, that the lawyer's duties to the client must be placed in the context of the system in which they work, which also involves duties owed to the courts and opposing counsel. And second, that only if opposing counsel treat each other with dignity and respect can the effectiveness and integrity of the system be preserved.
Some refer to these rules of comity as part of "the golden rule" You should treat opposing counsel as you would wish to be treated. By including this instruction in the section referencing client duties, and by requiring that the standards be given to clients, the rule is placed in the proper context and explained before any accommodations are sought.
If these general principles are not enough to convince you to act fairly with opposing counsel, then the potential loss of credibility should. Courts do not appreciate it when opposing counsel oppose reasonable requests for extension of time. As the Ninth Circuit explained, "Such uncompromising behavior is not only inconsistent with general principles of professional conduct, but also undermines the truth-seeking function of our adversarial system." Ahanchian v. Xenon Pictures, Inc., 624 F.3d 1253, 1263 (9th Cir. 2010).
If there is some reasonable basis for the extension, then it will likely be granted. Opposing such a request not only makes you look unreasonable, but can create a stigma for you to carry around the next time you appear in that court.
Coronavirus, murder hornets, ransomware attacks, fires, rioting, and whatever comes next have already made this an extraordinarily difficult year. Indeed, the practice of law is difficult even in the best of times. A bit of grace is always appreciated, even in good years, and is doubly appreciated now. Not just by opposing counsel, but also by the Courts.
(Image Credit: Andreas Praefcke, Wikipedia U. "Diogenes in Search of an Honest Man." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified August 06, 2014. https://www.ancient.eu/image/2908)
Sunday, September 6, 2020
In Jamison v. McLendon, District Judge Carlton Reeves drafted a powerfully written and compelling opinion that highlighted a law enforcement officer’s egregious – and unconstitutional – treatment of a suspect in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Then, Judge Reeves let the officer off the hook.
Specifically, Judge Reeves held that the qualified immunity doctrine shielded the officer from liability. That conclusion was wrong.
By way of background, in Jamison, a law enforcement officer stopped the plaintiff (Jamison) for an alleged license plate tag violation. The officer believed that Jamison had illegal items in his car, although this belief was not based on any facts whatsoever. Nevertheless, and based on a mere hunch, the officer repeatedly pressured Jamison for almost two hours to consent to a search of his car, including pleading with Jamison five times before he relented and permitted the search. To make matters worse, before obtaining consent, the officer allegedly “placed his hand into the car … patted the inside of the passenger door,” and “moved his arm further into the car … while patting it with his hand.”
Jamison sued the officer and alleged, among other things, that the officer’s conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. Judge Reeves ruled, albeit reluctantly, that the qualified immunity doctrine shielded the officer from liability. Specifically, and despite highlighting the officer’s egregious conduct, which certainly violated the Fourth Amendment, Judge Reeves held that the officer’s conduct did not violate “clearly established law” and thus applied the qualified immunity doctrine. In so doing, Judge Reeves vociferously criticized the qualified immunity doctrine (and relevant precedent), arguing that it had become tantamount to absolute immunity. Ironically, Judge Reeves’s decision afforded the qualified immunity doctrine precisely the absolutism he eschewed – and for no good reason.
To be clear, Judge Reeves is an outstanding writer and his opinion is a textbook example of how to draft a persuasive legal narrative. Law students – and lawyers – would benefit from reading Judge Reeves’s opinion.
The praise afforded to Judge Reeves’s opinion, however, should stop there. Specifically, the qualified immunity doctrine did not require Judge Reeves to reach this most unjust result because the officer’s conduct unquestionably violated Jamison’s Fourth Amendment rights. As Professor Orin Kerr explained, “the Fourth Amendment law of searching a car is a clearly established bright-line rule,” and “[b]ecause it's a bright-line rule, the violation becomes obvious even if there is no factually identical or closely similar case.” Professor Kerr further stated as follows:
My sense … is that McClendon did violate clearly established law. Sticking his arm inside the car and patting down the inside of the door was obviously a search. It was governed by the rule, long recognized in the Fifth Circuit as clearly-established law, that the officer needed some justification for that search—probable cause, or a warrant, or a safety concern, or a special needs concern. But there's no plausible argument I am aware of that any of those justifications could apply. To use the Fifth Circuit's language in Mack, this was ‘a random search of a vehicle where none of the above justifications apply.’
For these reasons, if Judge Reeves felt so appalled at the officer’s behavior – as any reasonable person would be – he should have held that the qualified immunity doctrine did not apply.
More broadly, Judge Reeves’s criticism of the qualified immunity doctrine is questionable. The doctrine is not necessarily the problem; rather, the courts’ interpretation of that doctrine, which has, as a practical matter, created near-absolute immunity for law enforcement officers, is where the problem lies. But in Jamison, the relevant precedent did not compel the result Judge Reeves reached because, as Professor Kerr stated, the officer’s conduct “did violate clearly established law.” Indeed, the opinion is quite ironic. On one hand, Judge Reeves criticized the qualified immunity doctrine for, among other things, being tantamount to absolute immunity. On the other hand, Judge Reeves applied the doctrine in a manner that arguably afforded the very absolute immunity he eschewed, despite conduct by a law enforcement officer that unquestionably violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights – and clearly established law. The idea that Judge Reeves’s hands were tied, and that he was forced to reach a conclusion that so profoundly contravened his beliefs, is unpersuasive. The decision was the legal equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, if the conduct Judge Reeves criticized so vociferously was not, in his view, sufficient to invoke the qualified immunity doctrine, what is?
Thus, although Judge Reeves’s opinion should be praised as an example of outstanding legal writing, it should be criticized for the reasoning upon which it was predicated. As a practical matter, Judge Reeves’s decision deprived an individual, who suffered an egregious violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, of a well-deserved legal remedy. As Professor Kerr stated, “[i]t seems to me that Judge Reeves likely was wrong, and that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity.”
Ultimately, as the saying goes, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Judge Reeves stated in his opinion, “[l]et us waste no time in righting this wrong.” But then Judge Reeves did the very thing he cautioned against by refusing to right a constitutional wrong.
Judge Reeves – and courts across the country – should interpret the doctrine to mean what it says – immunity is qualified, not absolute.
 Jamison v. McLendon, 2020 WL 4497723 (S.D. Miss. Aug. 4, 2020) (the opinion is also available at: http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2020/images/08/04/jamison-v-mcclendon.pdf)
 See Orin Kerr, Did Judge Reeves Reach the Correct Result in Jamison v. McClendon? (Aug. 6, 2020), available at: https://reason.com/2020/08/06/did-judge-reeves-reach-the-correct-result-in-jamison-v-mcclendon/?amp
 See id.
 See id.
 Id. (internal citation omitted) (emphasis in original).
 Id. (emphasis in original).
 Jamison v. McLendon, 2020 WL 4497723, at *29.
Saturday, August 22, 2020
The recent district court slip opinion in Jamison v McClendon, __ F. Supp. 3d __, 2020 WL 4497723 (S.D. Miss. Aug. 4, 2020), granting a police officer qualified immunity in a section 1983 action generated a great deal of discussion and analysis in the legal writing community. United States District Judge Carlton Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi used plain language and established rhetorical tools to craft a beautifully-written and compelling order. In substance, the order is a much-needed indictment of how far the qualified immunity doctrine has crept beyond its beginnings. In form, the slip opinion has a great deal to teach us about writing.
If you have not read the Jamison Qualified Immunity Order, I highly recommend you take the time to read the slip opinion. The introduction alone provides lovely lessons in style while thoughtfully advocating for us to increase justice for all.
Judge Reeves began with a traditional “hook” or interest-catching device, listing activities plaintiff was not doing:
Clarence Jamison wasn’t jaywalking.1
He wasn’t outside playing with a toy gun.2
He didn’t look like a “suspicious person.”3
. . . .
Jamison, 2020 WL 4497723 at *1-2. Each footnote reminds us of the tragic case connected to the quoted facts, such as footnote 1 regarding jaywalking, which explains, “[t]hat was Michael Brown,” and footnote 2, noting, “[t]hat was 12-year-old Tamir Rice.” Id. at *1 nn. 1-15. The court included fifteen examples, using the technique of repetition to paint a vivid picture of the vastness of police misconduct in recent years. Id. at *1-2.
Next, Judge Reeves succinctly and persuasively summarized the facts, mixing complex and simple sentence structure while using straightforward language:
Clarence Jamison was a Black man driving a Mercedes convertible.
As he made his way home to South Carolina from a vacation in Arizona, Jamison was pulled over and subjected to one hundred and ten minutes of an armed police officer badgering him, pressuring him, lying to him, and then searching his car top-to-bottom for drugs.
Nothing was found. Jamison isn’t a drug courier. He’s a welder.
Unsatisfied, the officer then brought out a canine to sniff the car. The dog found nothing. So nearly two hours after it started, the officer left Jamison by the side of the road to put his car back together.
Id. at *2.
The court finished the introduction with a traditional roadmap. Judge Reeves explained the overall role of precedent and stare decisis, stating: “This Court is required to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court. Under that law, the officer who transformed a short traffic stop into an almost two-hour, life-altering ordeal is entitled to qualified immunity. The officer’s motion seeking as much is therefore granted.” Id. at *3. But the court continued, “let us not be fooled by legal jargon,” because “[i]mmunity is not exoneration.” Id. Finally, the court previewed the rest of the opinion by explaining how the case demonstrated “the harm done to the nation by this manufactured [qualified immunity] doctrine.” Quoting the Fourth Circuit, the court ended the introduction: “This has to stop.” Id. (quoting Estate of Jones v. City of Martinsburg, 961 F.3d 661, 673 (4th Cir. 2020)).
In the body of the slip opinion, Judge Reeves used history, respected scholarship, and case law to explain why reviewing courts should consider limiting the application of qualified immunity. In other words, the court specifically illustrated precedent and aptly connected the law to this case and to the broader rules of qualified immunity. Then, ending the slip opinion with a specific call to action, Judge Reeves charged us: “Let us waste no time in righting this wrong.” Id. at *29. At least one court has already cited the slip opinion. See Peterson v. Martinez, 2020 WL 4673953 *5 n. 5 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2020) (“The reader is referred to the excellent opinion of the Hon. Carlton W. Reeves in Jamison v. McClendon . . . describing the unhappy development of qualified immunity jurisprudence.”).
Commentators’ opinions differ on whether the Jamison court should have found the underlying facts here outside the scope of qualified immunity. But the clear tone, repetition, common sense language, and strong use of authority make the order an especially nice example of persuasive writing.
Monday, August 10, 2020
In the Spring of 2018, Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited the University of Houston law center, where I teach, and inspired our entire community. She shared some of her life experiences, and included the struggles that she encountered in college as she received feedback on her writing. We came away understanding that much of her success in law school could be credited to the work that she put in to strengthening her writing skills during her undergraduate studies. She was a brilliant student, but needed support to achieve her goals at the next level.
That same summer, I taught legal writing in the University of Houston’s award-winning Pipeline program for the first time. The program selects forty to fifty historically underrepresented and first generation undergraduate students to spend the summer in Houston learning about law school and the legal profession. I was energized to have the chance to work with undergraduate students who could build their skills before having them tested in the competitive law school environment.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests and conversations around race that have happened this summer after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, I have been thinking about diversity in the legal field and the place of pipeline programs in increasing that diversity. Pipeline programs come in various forms. They target students earlier in the educational pipeline to try to give them educational support, information, and encouragement that will help keep them in the pipeline towards law school. This summer our pipeline programs moved online, as much of the rest of the education realm did. While students didn’t get to be in actual law school classrooms, they still experienced law professors, law classes, and virtual networking and mentorship.
How does this fit in with appellate advocacy? The same lack of diversity that affects the legal profession as a whole is magnified in the appellate bar and the judiciary. As an extreme example, those arguing before the Supreme Court are predominately white and male. The percentage of women arguing before the Supreme Court has hovered around 20% a term. When an African-American woman argues before the Supreme Court, it is newsworthy.
In the United States, 5% of attorneys are African American and 5% are Hispanic or Latino, while African Americans make up 13% of the overall population and Hispanic or Latino 18.5%. 2% of attorneys are Asian, while they make up 6% of the total population. On the other hand, 86% of attorneys are non-Hispanic Caucasian, while they make up only 60% of the overall population.
Pipeline programs are attempting to shift these numbers over time to have higher levels of representation of the underrepresented groups.
How can you be involved? There are several ways. First, many pipeline programs are free or low cost to the students, so programs need sponsors. The ABA provides resources related to various pipeline programs here.
Second, programs also need mentors and placements for their students. The ABA Diversity Site has a Pipeline Directory where you can find local pipeline programs and diversity initiatives.
Finally, when you have an opportunity to mentor a prospective law student, be a good mentor. Many of these students are first generation college students and your experiences can be valuable to them.
Pipeline programs are valuable tools to increase the diversity of our profession, and it has been fulfilling to get to work closely with students and encourage them along their educational journey. Many of us can demystify some of the law school process and help students identify areas to grow in as they prepare for law school.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Chief Justice John Roberts’s influence on the United Supreme Court’s jurisprudence has been substantial. Importantly, however, Chief Justice Roberts’s judicial philosophy and approach to constitutional interpretation have raised more questions than answers.
By way of background, when former President George W. Bush nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court, most commentators speculated that Roberts would be a reliably conservative justice and embrace an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation. Indeed, during his confirmation hearings, Roberts emphasized the limited role of the judiciary, analogized judges to “umpires,” and rejected any suggestion that judges decide cases based on policy predilections. As Roberts stated during his confirmation hearing:
A justice is not like a law professor, who might say, ‘This is my theory... and this is what I'm going to be faithful to and consistent with,’ and in twenty years will look back and say, ‘I had a consistent theory of the First Amendment as applied to a particular area.’ Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.
Based on these and other statements, legal scholars understandably expected that Chief Justice Roberts would decide cases based on the Constitution’s text and the original meaning underlying its provisions, and thus reach decisions that would favor conservative policy positions.
They were wrong.
Chief Justice Roberts’s jurisprudence has produced more confusion than clarity regarding his judicial philosophy and his approach to constitutional interpretation. To begin with, in National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, Chief Justice Roberts surprised many legal commentators when he relied upon Congress’s power to tax and spend to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. In so doing, Chief Justice Roberts held that the Court should defer to the coordinate branches when a statute can reasonably be interpreted to pass constitutional muster. Importantly, however, in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts authored the majority opinion in which the Court invalidated Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 even though the United States Senate had voted 98-0 to re-authorize the Act. And in McCutcheon v. FEC, Chief Justice Roberts authored the majority opinion in which the Court invalidated limits on contributions that individuals can make to candidates for federal office. The decisions beg the question of why deference to the coordinate branches is acceptable in some cases but not others.
In the Supreme Court’s recent terms, some of Chief Justice Roberts’s decisions have engendered confusion regarding his judicial philosophy and approach to constitutional interpretation. For example, in June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo, Chief Justice Roberts concurred in a 5-4 decision that invalidated a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges. In so doing, Chief Justice Roberts relied on principles of stare decisis to hold that the Court’s prior decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt, which invalidated a nearly identical statute in Texas, controlled the outcome. Chief Justice Roberts’s decision was surprising in many respects. Specifically, Chief Justice Roberts dissented from the Court’s decision in Whole Women’s Health and had previously stated in a brief drafted on behalf of the Department of Justice that Roe v. Wade – the foundation of the Court’s abortion jurisprudence – was “wrongly decided” because it had no “support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution.” Moreover, Chief Justice Roberts’s reliance on stare decisis in June Medical Services was troubling because in other cases, most recently in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council, Roberts rejected stare decisis as a basis upon which to uphold precedent that he believed was wrongly decided. Perhaps more surprisingly in Bostock v. Clayton County, Chief Justice Roberts joined a six-member majority that construed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which when enacted prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, to encompass a prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Although many would agree that the Court reached a favorable outcome, the legal basis for that outcome was questionable. And in joining the majority, Chief Justice Roberts appeared less like an umpire and more like a cleanup hitter.
Of course, there are ways in which to construe Roberts’s decisions as entirely consistent with his judicial philosophy of being an “umpire,” as these cases involved entirely different facts and legal issues. Moreover, most, if not all, judges would eschew labels such as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal,’ and assert that their decisions are predicated upon a faithful interpretation of the relevant constitutional or statutory text and a respect for precedent. Additionally, most, if not all, judges would state that it is improper to focus exclusively or even substantially on the outcomes that judges reach because doing so politicizes the judiciary and ignores the process by which judges decide cases.
All of this may be true. Notwithstanding, Chief Justice Roberts’s jurisprudence – at least in some cases – arguably deviates from his judicial philosophy, particularly his statement that the Court’s role is tantamount to an “umpire,” and his approach to constitutional interpretation, which prioritizes the text and history over contemporary societal attitudes. As Chief Justice Roberts stated in Obergefell v. Hodges:
[A] much different view of the Court’s role is possible. That view is more modest and restrained. It is more skeptical that the legal abilities of judges also reflect insight into moral and philosophical issues. It is more sensitive to the fact that judges are unelected and unaccountable, and that the legitimacy of their power depends on confining it to the exercise of legal judgment. It is more attuned to the lessons of history, and what it has meant for the country and Court when Justices have exceeded their proper bounds. And it is less pretentious than to suppose that while people around the world have viewed an institution in a particular way for thousands of years, the present generation and the present Court are the ones chosen to burst the bonds of that history and tradition.
Moreover, Chief Justice Roberts’s approach to deference and stare decisis has been inconsistent and unpredictable, thus casting doubt upon whether Chief Justice Roberts’s reliance on either doctrine was merely a vehicle by which to reach an outcome that had less to do with legal interpretation and more to do with political calculations.
So what is going on here?
The most likely explanation is that Chief Justice Roberts is striving to maintain the Court’s institutional legitimacy and credibility with the public. In so doing, Roberts may be particularly focused on avoiding decisions that are perceived as politically motivated or far removed from the mainstream of contemporary political attitudes. Although this approach is certainly understandable, it can have unintended consequences that cause the very problem that Chief Justice Roberts seeks to avoid. For example, if institutional legitimacy and the desire to be perceived as apolitical influences the Court’s decisions, those decisions will, by their very nature, be political because they will be guided by inherently political rather than legal considerations (e.g., the text of a statute or constitutional provision, and precedent). The unintended consequence is that the Court will become inextricably intertwined with, rather than removed from, politics, and further divorced from, rather than reliant upon, legal doctrine as the basis for judicial decision-making. Perhaps most importantly, the determination of precisely what decisions will maintain the Court’s legitimacy is invariably subjective, which risks rendering decisions that, in the name of legitimacy are, as a matter of constitutional law, illegitimate.
Ultimately, this is not to suggest that Chief Justice Roberts is deserving of criticism or has acted with anything but the utmost integrity when deciding cases. Indeed, before joining the Court, Chief Justice Roberts was one of the most influential, respected, and brilliant advocates in the United States, and by all accounts, is an extraordinary colleague and person.
It is to suggest, however, that Chief Justice Roberts’s view of judges as “umpires” was probably correct and should remain as the judiciary’s guiding principle. After all, “[n]obody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.”
 Chief Justice Roberts Opening Statement, Nomination Process, available at: https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/chief-justice-roberts-statement-nomination-process.
 567 U.S. 519 (2012).
 See id.
 570 U.S. 529 (2013).
 572 U.S. 185 (2014).
 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016).
 Dylan Scott, John Roberts is the Supreme Court’s new swing vote. Is he going to overturn Roe v. Wade? (July 9, 2018), available at: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/7/9/17541954/roe-v-wade-supreme-court-john-roberts
 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2017).
 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020).
 576 U.S. 644 (2015) (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).
 Chief Justice Roberts's Opening Statement, Nomination Process, available at: https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/chief-justice-roberts-statement-nomination-process.
Thursday, August 6, 2020
This is a post by the Hon. Pierre H. Bergeron, a judge on the Ohio First District Court of Appeals. Judge Bergeron will be joining us as a regular blogger.
We live in an era of instant replay. Every sports fan, when witnessing a close play in a game, reflexively thinks, “I wonder what the replay will show?” In our instant replay culture, with video coverage of almost every move we make, this begs the question of what standard of review should appellate courts use when assessing video evidence. In days gone by, several witnesses might have testified at trial as to what they saw when the crime occurred, and appellate courts rightly deferred to the jury or trial judge in their assessment of credibility of these witnesses. But now, in many cases, we have video evidence of the crime (or other critical events) that we can watch. As video evidence becomes an almost indispensable element of the modern trial, what does that mean for the modern appeal?
Some appellate courts apply a deferential standard of review to the trial court’s findings, rooted in how appellate courts historically have reviewed evidentiary matters, whereas other courts gravitate towards de novo review, as a pragmatic response to the power of video evidence. I would submit, though, that, more often than not, many courts do not squarely acknowledge the standard of review on this point and probably (maybe reflexively) default to a Potter Stewart-esque “know it when you see it” perspective. The debate on this point is real and legitimate but it is important to have it in the open. Our appellate courts should be asking the question of how should we review video evidence.
Courts applying deferential review generally do so on grounds that largely mimic accepted justifications for deferential review of a trial court’s credibility and factual determinations generally. Because video-recorded evidence may be susceptible to varying interpretations, reviewing courts typically highlight the trial court’s unique vantage point for resolving these conflicts. Courts also justify deferential review because it preserves a trial court’s role within the judicial system as the factfinder. Finally, appellate courts remain leery about the danger of making litigants essentially retry issues on appeal, needlessly squandering judicial time and resources. State v. S.S., 162 A.3d 1058, 1060 (N.J. 2017); Robinson v. State, 5 N.E.3d 362, 366 (Ind. 2014).
By contrast, when selecting de novo review over a more deferential approach, appellate courts begin their analysis with a cautionary tale about providing deference to a trial court’s factual determinations. Trailing closely behind this point is usually a caveat: when the appellate court sits in a similar position to review the content or significance of video evidence as the trial court below, the appellate court may independently evaluate that evidence under de novo review. Now what appellate courts deem a “similar” position is up for debate, but ordinarily courts consider whether the trial court primarily relied upon the video evidence, whether controlling facts contained within the video are in dispute, and the thoroughness of the trial court’s factual findings (some cases without factual findings pave the way for de novo review). See State v. Binette, 33 S.W.3d 215, 217 (Tenn. 2000); People v. Madrid, 179 P.3d 1010, 1014 (Colo. 2008).
I know there are at least a couple of cases during my tenure as an appellate judge when the video evidence swayed me from affirm to reverse (or vice versa). In these instances, the power of the video evidence was simply impossible to ignore, regardless of what standard of review governed. Even the staunchest supporters of deferential review would probably have allowed for such meddling with the trial results when the video paints a decisive picture. Powerful policy justifications certainly animate both sides of this debate. And, overall, there is some need for flexibility here. The important take-away is that, whatever side of this debate you prefer, courts need to be candid about this standard of review point. After all, the standard of review in a lot of these cases can prove dispositive. The parties need to understand what they have to work with, and the trial courts likewise need to internalize what is being asked of them (for example, if the appellate court faults the trial court for a lack of findings). I look forward to seeing this debate unfold, and to potential new and innovative ways to approach this evidence that is becoming prevalent in the modern appeal.
Saturday, August 1, 2020
Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.
US Supreme Court Opinions and News
- The Supreme Court refused to lift a July 2019 order that stayed a permanent injunction against the use of Pentagon funds to build the border wall. The Ninth Circuit had affirmed the injunction, finding that the administration’s “transfer of funds here was unlawful.” The Ninth Circuit reasoned that “the Constitution delegates exclusively to Congress the power of the purse” and that “[t]he executive branch lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds.” In July 2019, the Supreme Court stayed that injunction pending the resolution of the administration’s appeal. This order denies a request to lift that stay, allowing construction to continue. See the order here and reports from The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and Reuters.
- The Court rejected another church challenge to Covid-19 restrictions, this one to Nevada’s 50-person limit to religious services. The challenge argued that churches faced tougher restrictions than casinos. The decision was without explanation and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh dissented. See the order here and reports from The New York Times, The Associated Press, and Reuters.
- UCI held its 10th Annual Supreme Court Term in Review discussing the key cases from the Court’s October 2019 term. The event is available at this link.
- Justice Breyer spoke with ABA President Judy Perry Martinez on July 29 during the organization’s annual meeting. Find the discussion at this link.
Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News
- The First Circuit vacated the Boston Marathon bomber’s death sentence, finding that the lower court did not adequately consider the effect of publicity on the jury that recommended the sentence. The order affirmed most of the conviction but ordered a new trial over only the sentence of death. The order concludes: “But make no mistake: Dzhokhar will spend his remaining days locked up in prison, with the only matter remaining being whether he will die by execution.” See the order and reports from The Washington Post, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal.
- The D.C. Circuit ordered a rehearing en banc on the dismissal of the case against Michael Flynn and vacated a decision that dismissed the case. The order directs the parties to “be prepared to address whether there are ‘no other adequate means to attain the relief’ desired,” which presumably relates to the principle argument that the writ of mandamus that directed the trial judge to dismiss the case was unwarranted because an alternative was available. The court will hear argument on August 11. See the order and reports from APNews, The New York Times, Reuters, and Bloomberg News.
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reports that Louisiana is among the states that have granted diploma privileges in light of concerns about sitting the Bar exam during the pandemic. Diploma privileges allow recent law school graduates to practice without taking the Bar exam. States have handled the concerns in a variety of ways, including administering the exam as usual, postponing the exam, offering the exam online, and granting diploma privileges. For a full list of the status of the 2020 bar by state, see this link.
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Tired of seeing yet another post on how to ______ [fill in the blank: teach, write, argue, live] in our new virtual reality? Exhausted from never leaving your home and Zooming all day? Me too.
In fact, I was reluctant to write one more blog on online writing tools. However, my efforts to add new virtual tools to my teaching arsenal introduced me to two peer review software systems I believe can help us in the classroom: Peerceptiv, https://peerceptiv.com/, and Eli Review, https://elireview.com/. These peer review programs make anonymous online feedback easy, and encourage the writers to learn by editing others. They also reminded me how much any law practice can increase attorney writing skills by using peer review. See, e.g., Kwangsu Cho and Charles MacArthur, Learning by Reviewing, 103 J. of Ed. Psych. 73, 84 (Feb. 2011) https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ933615
As an of counsel appellate lawyer at a large law firm, I often had the chance to be an “intermediate editor” who reviewed junior lawyers’ briefs before sending them on to the partners. While I had been using informal peer review in my adjunct teaching for a few years at that point, I did not truly see how much editing others’ work makes us better writers until I experienced the phenomenon in practice. When I noticed I was making the same annoying mistakes I’d been correcting as an editor, I knew my work for the junior associates was making me a far better writer. Eli Review has a nice blog post on this “giver’s gain.” https://elireview.com/2017/03/28/givers-gain/.
My positive reviewing experience prompted me to add more ungraded peer review in my teaching and made me an advocate for the review process with clients and supervisors. Like in-house moot court, the practice of adding an intermediate editor is not possible in every situation. However, if you practice in a large firm or agency, consider adding a layer of review by mid-level writers to young attorneys’ work. This review can actually save fees, by shortening partner review time, and can help create better briefs across the board. And if you are in a smaller practice or have no budget for formal peer review, think about the techniques you like in your opponents’ papers, and incorporate those into your own writing.
In the digital classroom, we can use technology to enhance the peer review process. Many thanks to Prof. Tracy Norton of the Touro Law Center for introducing me to Peerceptiv and for being incredibly generous with her time by running a Peerceptiv demo for the LRW community. Similarly, I send thanks to Prof. Brian Larson of the Texas A&M University School of Law, who introduced me to Eli Review and also spent an incredible amount of time helping the LRW community with an Eli Review demo. Neither Prof. Norton or Prof. Larson have any connection to these products, and I also have no affiliation with these companies and am just sharing their information to help others.
From Profs. Norton and Larson, I learned both programs ask students to submit a writing assignment online and then provide feedback on other students’ writing for the same assignment. Students follow a set rubric in their reviews, and instructors can include the quality of the reviews students provide as part of their writing grades. The whole process can be anonymous. Professors using these programs raved about the technical support and positive student feedback from both. Peerceptiv costs students slightly less than Eli Review, and both can be “textbooks” for your classes at less than $30 a year.
The genius in each product is the science and math behind the assessment scores and review prompts. Each product truly helps students grow as writers by combining the established science on peer review and some neat online features. The math and engineering majors in my home called the programs “elegant.”
For example, Peerceptiv has the peers give a grade of 1-7 on the assignment and complete a four-part review. Then, each student grades the reviews he or she received on a 1-7 scale. Peerceptiv then assigns an overall rating for the assignment of 1-7 based on a combination of the student’s writing score and reviewing score. The professor can set the percentages each score is worth, and the prof can also give reviews him/herself and assign a higher level of credit in the grade to his/her review. Peerceptiv docs points when a review or assignment is late. See https://www.peerceptiv.com/why-peerceptiv-overview/#curriculum.
If the Peerceptiv number system seems too much like the dreaded undergraduate “peer grading” to you, consider Eli Review. Instead of assigning a number ranking to a student's writing and reviews, Eli Review asks students to pull the most helpful comments out of their peers’ reviews and make an express revision plan saying how they will incorporate the comments. Eli Review does ask students to rate the quality of the reviews on a 1-5 star basis, with only truly exceptional reviews earning five stars. See https://elireview.com/learn/how/. This level of assessment forces the writer to give better reviews and thereby learn more about writing, but can help avoid concerns about someone other than a professor grading work.
This fall, I will use Eli Review for short writing like simple case illustrations, and then will progress to peer-reviewed trial brief argument sections in the spring. I plan to use Eli Review only for anonymous, ungraded work. My goal is to give students the “aha” moment I had when reviewing briefs as an intermediate editor, and to help them gain the skill of self-diagnosing writing problems.
Thanks for reading another note on online writing tools. I wish you all good health, and a safe trip outside sometime soon too.