Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Sunday, November 13, 2022

A Focus on the Facts

Sometimes the law wins a case; sometimes the facts do. Yet, even when the case presents a purely legal question, it pays to shape the factual narrative to make sense of the applicable law.

In its first-of-the-term oral argument, the Supreme Court heard Sackett v. EPA, No. 21-454, a case that turns on the meaning of “navigable waters” in the Clean Water Act. The long running litigation, returning to the Supreme Court a decade after its first trip there demonstrates the importance of the factual narrative, even if what constitutes navigable waters under the Act seems not to depend on the underlying facts.

The Plaintiff-Petitioners have portrayed the case as one where a couple seeks to build a modest home on their land in a residential zone for near the Canadian border in Idaho and some 300 feet from a nearby lake. Because they failed to seek a permit, they told the Court the EPA stopped the construction and threatened “crushing fines” because the land contains “navigable waters,” even though there are no streams, rivers, lake, or similar waters on the property. Instead, in the Sacketts’ telling of the story, the EPA has made a highly attenuated connection between the lake, which is navigable, through a connected “non-navigable creek” that itself is attached to a ”nonnavigable, man-made ditch” connected to wetlands that are separated from the property by a thirty-foot-wide paved road. Who, the Sacketts ask, could possibly anticipate that this property would be covered by the Clean Water Act. The narrative, which Justice Neil Gorsuch picked up in oral argument, attempts to portray EPA’s definition of navigable waters as unjustifiable based on both text and its attempt to apply to these facts.

The EPA provides a different narrative. In that story, the Sacketts’ property, which was, historically, part of a fen complex that still exists and drains directly into the lake. The property connects to the wetlands and lake through “shallow subsurface flow.” The Sacketts received information about obtaining a site-specific permit that would have covered home construction, but chose to proceed without a permit, using their own commercial construction and excavation business to dump 1700 cubic yards of gravel and sand to fill the wetlands in order to commence construction. Federal officials inspected the site in response to a complaint, finding “soils, vegetation, and pooling water characteristic of wetlands.” The Sacketts own expert then inspected and confirmed that the property was located on wetlands. Because the Sacketts’ wetland property affected the lake’s water quality through sediment retention, contributed base flow to the Lake with beneficial effects to fisheries, and provided flood control, the EPA ordered the Sacketts to remove the gravel and sand they added and restore the wetlands.

The Sacketts’ narrative suggests innocent and sympathetic landowners attempting to build a home, a story that supports the idea that bureaucrats have gotten out of hand. The EPA’s narrative counters that tale by showing that the Sacketts operate a highly relevant business and were informed about how to comply with the law but chose to flout it to challenge the order, pre-enforcement.

 The first narrative portrays a sympathetic set of facts, while the counterstatement undermines that status, while generating some sympathy for EPA’s actions in trying to avoid a problem by providing the means to obtain a permit.

 Ultimately, the decision may turn on what Congress intended to include within EPA’s regulatory ambit. And, at oral argument, the Court seemed divided on that question. Nonetheless, experienced appellate advocates understand that law cannot be determined in a vacuum and will a factual lens from which to read the applicable law.

November 13, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Shortcomings in Arguing Original Public Meaning

From questions posed at the confirmation hearings of now-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the decisions at the end of the most recent Supreme Court term and the lower court decisions that soon followed, the rapid recent embrace of “original public meaning” as the metric for constitutional interpretation now dominates appellate argument. Some judges even somewhat crassly pose the question: is there an originalism argument to support your position?

Originalism’s shortcomings are apparent. James Madison, rightly recognized as the Father of the Constitution, described records of the Constitutional Convention as “defective” and “inaccurate.” Justice Robert Jackson critically explained that “[j]ust what our forefathers did envision, or would have envisioned had they foreseen modern conditions, must be divined from materials almost as enigmatic as the dreams Joseph was called upon to interpret for Pharaoh.” Judges commonly rely on a highly selective use of history that allows the invention of intent, rather than its discovery, as Professor Ronald Dworkin wrote. And, however illuminating the historical inquiry can be, even Justice Antonin Scalia, a leading advocate of this interpretative methodology, described himself as a “fainthearted originalist” in order to avoid the absurd results it could bring about.

Certainly, many underlying assumptions of the society the Framers lived in no longer undergird modern society. Just as their attitudes about gender and race, land ownership and the common good influenced their attitudes about a host of issues of constitutional dimension, modern sensibilities about these topics must look at deeper meanings to understand contemporary application. Even advances in transportation, communications, and science more generally have profound implications for constitutional understandings. And, the Constitution, written in the language of the common law, is capable of sensible application unforeseen by its progenitors. Even the most faithful originalist can only see the past through the eyes of the present.

However, the revolutionary nature and adventurism of the Constitution seems missing from the debate over originalism and its application to current issues. Ideas from the Enlightenment and idealized versions of what good government means animated the effort, even if myopic about how those ideals contradicted slavery and other institutions left unaffected. Still, those who framed the Constitution and supported its instigation publicly sought two things: a government with the energy to prove Montesquieu wrong about the viability of an extended republic by enabling an experiment in self-government across vast territory and a regime capable of respecting rights grounded in ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. They imagined continuing change toward a “more perfect union,” never believing that their efforts had achieved that goal. And they imagined continuing debates on what they had wrought. As Madison stated during the debate on the Jay Treaty in the First Congress, the Framers were not of one mind about the words of the Constitution. Instead, “whatever veneration might be entertained for the body of men who formed our Constitution, the sense of that body could never be regarded as the oracular guide in expounding our Constitution.”

Indeed, the change of attitude he and others adopted about the authority of the federal government to charter a national bank reveals that understandings can change based on arguments and experience that demonstrate greater flexibility than some thought the words portended. Notably, on the issue of a national bank, respected constitutional framers divided on its legality from the start.

We see the same indeterminacy in the affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court tomorrow. Contradicting amicus briefs by historians explain why one side or the other should prevail. The opposing parties also invoke Brown v. Board of Education, claiming it supports them and not the other side. All of it confirms that advocacy is about argument – and no side has a monopoly on any mode of interpretation.

There is a lesson to be drawn. The appellate advocate must enter the courtroom clear-eyed, aware of the outsized role that history now plays in constitutional interpretation while cognizant of its shortcomings. The advocate must address that thirst for historical support while also understanding that other tools exist to reach a result faithful to the Constitution with an equal claim to grounding in history. Anyone who tells you only a single path exists to reach the right result misunderstands the interpretative exercise.

November 1, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The New World of Constitutional Appellate Advocacy

Appellate decisions may decide a dispute between opposing parties and articulate a rule of law, but they often create new issues that can flood the courts. The Supreme Court’s newly energized reliance on history and tradition, rather than balancing tests and levels of scrutiny, has opened the door to arguments that that previously had little chance of success. And, advocates, unsurprisingly, have shown no hesitation to take up the cudgel now available to them.

Take the new attacks on gun regulations. At the end of last term, in New York St. Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, the Supreme Court struck down New York’s 1911 law that required proper cause or special need to obtain an unrestricted gun license. It held that the Second Amendment, no less than any other constitutional right, does not require the demonstration of a special need to justify its exercise. Instead, regulations and restrictions on guns had to fit within historical traditions. Under that approach, the 6-3 majority stated in an opinion by Justice Thomas, “sensitive places,” like courthouses and polling places, might legitimately impose restrictions on carrying firearms, but the urban character of a place could not. Public safety considerations, the opinion established, do not outweigh the constitutionally recognized right.

As predictably as night follows day, other gun regulations came under attack as inconsistent with historical traditions. Courts have now struck down a variety of gun regulations. For example, in Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc. v. McCraw, a Texas law prohibited persons under twenty-one from carrying a gun off their premises except in limited situations. The district court, which stayed its decision pending appeal, held that the “Second Amendment’s text, as informed by Founding-Era history and tradition, . . . protects [18-to-20-year-olds] against this prohibition.” The court reasoned that the Second Amendment included no textual age restriction, the historical analogues that Texas produced to meet its burden to uphold the law lacked the necessary specificity, and that examples from the 19th century failed because they were not from the founding era.

A federal law that restricted handgun purchases to those under indictment for crimes that involve at least one year of imprisonment suffered a similar fate when a federal judge found insufficient evidence that it “aligns with this Nation’s historical tradition.” In United States v. Quiroz, the court acknowledged “valid public policy and safety concerns,” but found the Bruen’s historical tradition analysis swept those aside.

In New York, a federal judge limited New York’s post-Bruen statute that attempted, among other things, to define “sensitive” or “restricted” locations” by declaring unconstitutional its application to places that lacked historical precedent. In Antonyuk v. Hochul, the court struck down restrictions that applied to summer camp, public transportation, places of entertainment or amusement where alcohol is served, Times Square, and a generally defined sensitive or restricted places.

To this list, in the past week another decision came down. In United States v. Price, a federal district court struck down the federal law that prohibits possession of a firearm with an altered, obliterated, or removed serial numbers because it lacked historical analogue. The court notes that it is “undisputed that serial numbers were not required, or even in common use, in 1791,” but came into effect only with the mass production of firearms. Even then, serial numbers became mandatory only after passage of a 1968 federal law. Those facts were determinative under Bruen’s mandatory mode of analysis.

These examples demonstrate the limited value of the type of rigid analysis adopted by the Court. Even so, an advocate pressing an issue cannot forego utilizing the Court’s new-found fondness for historical tradition when advancing arguments under other constitutional provisions. And, under that approach, settled law can become unsettled. It may even be a form of malpractice to accept precedent not based on historical conventions without making new arguments that place the advocate’s position within that accepted tradition. Welcome to the new world of constitutional appellate advocacy.

October 16, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Why Judicial Deference Matters Now More Than Ever

As the United States Supreme Court begins a new term, its approval among the public is alarmingly low[1]. Whether driven by the Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the fact that the justices’ decisions often conveniently coincide with their political beliefs, or the fact that the Court’s composition, rather a principled interpretation of the Constitution, seems to determine whether a right is fundamental, there can be no doubt that the Court’s legitimacy is at stake.[2] Put simply, the Court is now viewed by many as a political institution, where constitutional meaning changes based on whether its current members are conservative or liberal.  

So how can the Court’s legitimacy remain intact and the public’s confidence in the Court be restored?

Certainly not by expanding the Court, which is liberals’ way of saying that they want to put more liberal justices on the Court to reach outcomes that they like. 

Certainly not by endorsing living constitutionalism, which basically means that the justices can manipulate or ignore the Constitution to reach decisions that comport with their subjective policy predilections.[3] Certainly not by having an on-again, off-again relationship with stare decisis, in which the Court’s adherence to precedent depends on whether a majority of the justices are Republicans or Democrats.

And certainly not by listening to the media or, worse, academics’ criticism of the Court, which is as blatantly partisan and equally unprincipled as the Court it so consistently criticizes. Indeed, and quite amazingly, some academics have complained that they now struggle to teach constitutional law, stating that they are ‘traumatized’ by the Court’s recent decisions, which they view as partisan and “results-oriented.”[4] Some have even asserted that decisions such as Dobbs “have unsettled the foundational premises of [their] professional lives,” left them “deeply shaken,” and required their “own personal grieving period” where they look to students to keep them “afloat in darker moments."[5]  

No, this is not a joke. Law professors actually made these statements.

Thankfully, Professor David Bernstein has called out this nonsense:

[T]he fact that the Court is solidly conservative, and the constitutional law professoriate overwhelmingly liberal or further left, is exactly the problem. In the past, the left could count on the Court for sporadic big victories: same-sex marriage, affirmative action, [and] abortion. Now they can't, so they have turned against the Court. We all know that left-leaning lawprofs would be dancing in the streets if SCOTUS were equally aggressive to the left. And indeed, while [Mark Joseph] Stern portrays discontent with the Court as a question of professional standards rather than ideology, he does not manage to find a single right-leaning professor to quote in his article.[6]

That’s because they are practically no conservative law professors in academia – or even the pretense of viewpoint diversity at many law schools.

In any event, how can the Court preserve its institutional legitimacy?

By embracing a more robust form of judicial deference. Put simply, the Court should not invalidate a statute unless it clearly violates a provision in the Constitution, and it should not create a right unless it is based on or reasonably inferable from the Constitution’s text. Thus, when the Constitution is ambiguous and subject to reasonably different interpretations, the Court should defer to the democratic process and not get involved. In so doing, the Court can reduce, at least to some degree, the perception that the existence of constitutional rights and the outcomes of cases depend on whether a majority of the justices are conservative or liberal.

Below are several examples of cases where the Court should have never intervened and where its intervention harmed its legitimacy.

1.    National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius

In National Federation of Independent Investors, the Court addressed whether the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate to obtain health coverage, violated the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the broad power to regulate commerce.[7] The answer to this question, particularly given the Clause’s broad language, is anybody’s guess, and reasonable arguments could be made in favor of and against upholding the Affordable Care Act.  What is known is that both houses of Congress passed and the president signed this legislation. So why did the Court get involved? After all, given that reasonable people could disagree on the Act’s constitutionality, why didn’t the Court simply defer to the coordinate branches and democratic process? That’s anybody’s guess too.

Unfortunately, the Court intervened, and, in a 5-4 decision (predictably divided on partisan lines), the Court upheld most of the Act’s provisions. And Chief Justice Roberts, ostensibly concerned with the Court’s legitimacy, somehow determined that the individual mandate constituted a tax, not a penalty. This reasoning was, to put it mildly, troubling. If the Court was concerned with its legitimacy, it should have never heard the case.

2.    Kennedy v. Louisiana

In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court addressed whether a Louisiana law that authorized the death penalty for child rape violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.[8] To be sure, the Eighth Amendment, among other things, was intended to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain when punishing convicted offenders and prohibit sentences that were disproportionate to the severity of the crime. Given this backdrop, the Eighth Amendment’s text, and the Court’s precedent, did the Louisiana law violate the Eighth Amendment?

Who knows. Reasonable jurists can – and did – disagree on this question. What we do know is that Louisiana passed this law democratically.

Accordingly, why did the Court get involved and, in a predictably verbose and wishy-washy 5-4 opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, invalidate the law?

3.    Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC

In Citizens United v. FEC, the Court held in a 5-4 decision that the First Amendment prohibited Congress from restricting independent expenditures by corporations, labor unions, and other associations.[9] And in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court held, in another 5-4 decision, that limits on individual expenditures to federal and state candidate committees violated the First Amendment right to free speech.[10]

Did the Constitution compel this result? Of course not. The First Amendment protects, among other things, freedom of speech. But does giving money to a political candidate or committee constitute speech? And if so, is the government’s interest in ensuring that wealthy corporations and individuals do not unduly influence elections sufficiently compelling to justify a restriction on this speech? Yet again, reasonable people can disagree.

As such, why did the Court get involved and invalidate legislation that was designed to reduce undue influence by corporations and wealthy individuals in the electoral process?  

4.    Roe v. Wade

There is no need to discuss Roe in detail. Nearly all legitimate constitutional law scholars agree that Roe was a terrible decision. It had no basis in the Constitution’s text, was not inferable from any provision in the text, and was not rooted in history and tradition. Notwithstanding, in Roe, like in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court invented an unenumerated right out of thin air, thus imposing the subjective values of nine unelected justices on an entire country.[11] And the doctrine upon which Roe was based – substantive due process – was equally as indefensible.

The Court should have never gotten involved. It should have allowed the people to decide whether, and under what circumstances, abortion should be allowed. Although the Court corrected this error in Dobbs, the decision to overrule Roe, which had been the law for nearly fifty years and was affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, was troubling. Indeed, the only thing that changed since Planned Parenthood was the Court’s composition. Notwithstanding, the fact remains that Roe was the original sin and the product of the Court’s unnecessary meddling in the democratic process.

5.    Clinton v. New York

In Clinton v. New York, the Court addressed whether the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, which authorized the president to repeal portions of statutes that had been passed by both houses of Congress (particularly spending provisions) violated the Constitution’s Presentment Clause.[12] The Clause states in pertinent part that “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.”[13]

The Line Item Veto Act, some argued, violated the Presentment Clause because it allowed the president to unilaterally and without Congress’s approval repeal specific provisions of duly enacted legislation. At the same time, however, Congress, on a bipartisan basis, passed the Line Item Veto Act to, among other things, reduce wasteful government spending. Given these facts, and considering the Presentment Clause’s broad language, was the Line Item Veto Act constitutional?

Certainly, reasonable people could disagree on this question. Thus, why not defer to the coordinate branches and to the democratic process? Unfortunately, the Court yet again intervened and, in a 6-3 decision, invalidated the Act. In so doing, it prevented Congress from addressing the problem of wasteful government spending.

6.    Shelby County v. Holder

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which includes a coverage formula that determines which states (based on a history of discrimination) must seek preclearance before enacting changes to their voting laws.[14] Importantly, in 2006 the Senate reauthorized the Act, including Section 4(b), by a unanimous vote.  

Notwithstanding, the Court decided to get involved and, by a 5-4 vote, invalidated Section 4(b). But was it clear that Section 4(b) violated any constitutional provision? No. So why did the Court get involved? Why didn’t the Court defer to the democratic process and to the Senate’s unanimous vote to reauthorize the Act? Again, it’s anybody’s guess.

***

The above cases are just a sample of those in which the Court’s intervention was unnecessary and unwarranted. Unless a statute clearly violates a provision in the Constitution’s text, the Court should defer to the democratic and political process, and it should not create a right unless it is based on or reasonably inferable from the Constitution’s text.

After all, intervening in such circumstances makes the Court appear political and undermines its legitimacy. The Court’s decision in Dobbs highlights this problem. Although the Court was technically correct to overrule Roe, that doesn’t mean that it should have done so. Why? Because the only thing that changed between Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the Court reaffirmed Roe’s central holding, was the composition of the Court. Specifically, the Court in 2022 had more conservative members than in 1992, and its decision sent the message that the existence of constitutional rights depends on whether the Court has a majority of conservative or liberal members. It's difficult to understand how Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barret could not grasp this fact.  

To restore its legitimacy, the Court should defer more often to the coordinate branches and adhere to stare decisis on a more consistent basis. That can only happen if the Court stops invalidating laws that do not clearly violate the Constitution, refuses to create rights out of thin air, and does not reverse precedent simply because it has a majority of conservative or liberal jurists.

 

[1] See Jeffrey M. Jones, Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historic Lows, (Sept. 29, 2022), available at: Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historical Lows (gallup.com)

[2] No.19-1392, 597 U.S.     , available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf

[3] See, e.g., Neil Gorsuch, Why Originalism is the Best Approach to the Constitution (Sep. 6, 2019), available at: Why Originalism Is the Best Approach to the Constitution | Time

[4] Mark Joseph Stern, The Supreme Court is Blowing Up Law School, Too (Oct. 2, 2022), available at: Supreme Court: Inside the law school chaos caused by SCOTUS decisions. (slate.com)

[5] Id.

[6] See David Bernstein, Why Are Constitutional Law Professors Angry at the Supreme Court? (Oct. 3, 2022), available at: Why Are Constitutional Law Professors Angry at the Supreme Court? (reason.com) (emphasis added).

[7] 567 U.S. 519 (2012).

[8] 554 U.S. 407 (2008).

[9] 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

[10] 572 U.S. 183 (2014).

[11] 410 U.S. 113 (1973); 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[12] 524 U.S. 417 (1998).

[13] U.S. Const., Art. I, Section 7.

[14] 570 U.S. 529 (2013).

October 8, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 2, 2022

When to Make a Bold Argument

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court launches into a new term that promises to be momentous. A no longer hesitant majority of the Court flexed their muscle last term to launch new approaches to constitutional law and overturn or impair venerable precedent addressing abortion, gun, and religious rights. Seeing the indisputable writing on the wall, some advocates have taken a hefty swing for the rafters on a range of other issues – and it seems likely to pay off because the court’s current membership has signaled its willingness to entertain bold requests, rather than incremental change, despite potential damage to the public’s trust in impartial justice divorced from politics. When a court signals its interests that appear to align with political ideologies, advocates should listen and act accordingly.

 In anticipation of this term, advocates have listened. A cluster of cases have arrived at the Court seeking a pure version of Justice Harlan’s phrase, color-blindness, in civil rights and applying the concept to voting, affirmative action, Native American adoption, and non-discrimination in business dealings. While discussions about the upcoming term often begin and end with the potential of Moore v. Harper to skew our democracy so that parties in power could perpetuate their control regardless of what voters choose by invoking the “independent state legislature theory,” other earth-shaking cases populate the docket as well.

Today, I want to focus on another election law case that the Court will hear this week, which has received far less notice than it deserves and demonstrates the go-bold strategies being brought to the Court. In Merrill v. Milligan, the Court returns to the Voting Rights Act to determine whether Section 2 remains a viable basis for challenging racial gerrymandering. The plaintiffs challenged Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan, which, consistent with longstanding reapportionment decisions in the state, again drew a single majority-Black district out of the state’s seven seats, even though Blacks represent a quarter of the state’s population. The plaintiffs argue that by dispersing Black voters among the other districts the legislature diluted Black voting strength and diminished their opportunity to elect candidates who would represent their concerns and interests. Plaintiffs prevailed on that theory before a three-judge court.

The court below reached its decision by relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Thornburg v. Gingles, which requires a vote-dilution claim to show a sufficiently large and compact minority group that is politically cohesive and who suffer an inability to elect the candidate of their choice because of non-minority bloc voting. After that determination, a totality-of-the-circumstances assessment then takes place to determine if the minority voters have a lesser opportunity to elect their preferred candidate than the majority voters.

Alabama, however, has asked the Court to change the test. A major part of its proposal asks that courts require plaintiffs to establish that racial discrimination provides the only explanation for the alleged racial gerrymander. In other words, Alabama’s test would authorize states to overcome the accusation by showing that some other purpose, such as party politics, provides at least part of the rationale for the districts drawn.

Without such a test, Alabama contends that Section 2 is unconstitutional because it requires race to be considered. With similar issues raised in affirmative action and Native American adoption cases this term, the Court’s interest in reconfiguring civil rights law seems apparent. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring preclearance of certain election law changes, was neutralized in 2013 by Shelby County v. Holder. Similar damage was previously done to Section 2 in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee last year by reading the statutory provision narrowly.

If Alabama’s argument prevails, Merrill may mark the demise of the Voting Rights Act and vindicate the very bold approach Alabama has taken to defending its gerrymandering with a clear eye on signals sent by members of the Court. Margo Channing’s observation in All About Eve seems to sum up anticipation of this Supreme Court term: “Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy [and long] night.”

October 2, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

History Rewritten to Serve Selfish Ends – and Serve an Argument

 

Quite appropriately, Moore v. Harper, the upcoming Supreme Court case that tests the validity of the “independent state legislature” theory, has set off alarm bells about the future of democracy in the United States. The theory holds that state legislatures hold exclusive authority to make decisions about congressional elections, unless overridden by Congress, based on the Constitution’s Elections Clause, Article I, Section 4, Clause 1. The Clause designates Congress and the states as holding responsibility to set the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives.” Restrictions on state legislative authority imposed by a state constitution, including judicial enforcement of equal voting and non-discrimination mandates, the theory holds, must give way, rendering the state legislative determinations immune from judicial review, under the theory. When combined with Article II, Section 1, which assigns the manner for appointing presidential electors to state legislatures as well, the election denialism that has become a standard feature of the Trump political era could gain a permanent constitutionally blessed footing, potentially allowing state legislatures to overturn voters’ choices and name its majority party’s candidates the winners.

Today, however, one day after the Constitution’s 235th anniversary, my topic is not how the “independent state legislature” theory realizes Justice Robert Jackson’s fear that the courts would read the Constitution in such a rigid insensible way that it becomes a “suicide pact.”[1] Instead, I want to focus on the North Carolina legislature’s use of history to support its argument as petitioner in the case. Given the originalist outlook that dominates the Supreme Court, it is unsurprising that parties appeal to history to support their desire outcome. What separates this brief from the usual attempt to invoke history, is its reliance on a widely debunked document to advance its cause.

The Petitioner’s opening brief tells the Court not to look at James Madison’s Virginia Plan for how to conduct federal elections because it is silent on the issue. Instead, it invokes the “alternative ‘Pinckney Plan,’” which contains remarkably similar language to what the Constitution says and is denominated in the brief as the “progenitor” of the Elections Clause. Because no other document that the Committee of Detail may have reviewed contained any plan similar in kind, the brief calls the Pinkney Plan confirmation of a deliberate choice to cede authority to the legislature.

The brief overlooks the fact that the original Pinckney Plan did not survive the Constitutional Convention and is lost to history. In a new article in Politico, Ethan Herenstein and Brian Palmer of the Brennan Center for Justice, explain that the “Pinkney Plan” is actually an 1818 draft by Charles Pinckney that was a revisionist attempt to claim more credit for the Constitution than Pinckney deserved.[2] As Herenstein and Palmer put it, during the Constitutional Convention, the records show that “the framers hardly discussed Pinckney’s plan and, at key moments, rejected his views during the debates.” They go on to cite James Madison’s reaction as “perplexed” by the document Pinckney released in 1818 “because he was ‘perfectly confident’” the new document “was ‘not the draft originally presented to the convention by Mr. Pinckney.’”

Madison noted that the similarity of language to the Constitution’s final text could not have been part of a plan at the Convention because framers hammered out its wording through long running internal debates that would not have occurred if a plan had already spelled them out. Moreover, Pinckney’s well-known positions at the Convention were at odds with what he now claimed to have proposed. For example, at the Convention, Pinckney argued that state legislatures should elect members of the House, but his 1818 document purports to show he favored popular election.[3]

Herenstein and Palmer assert that “nearly every serious historian agrees that the 1818 document is a fake.” They quote historian John Franklin Jameson’s statement in 1903 that the so-called draft was “so utterly discredited that no instructed person will use it as it stands as a basis for constitutional or historical reasoning.” Another researcher they quote called it “the most intractable constitutional con in history.”

Substantial additional support exists to doubt the veracity of the Pinckney Plan. Madison suggested that Pinckney rewrote his own plan weaving in passages from the Constitution, and that the intervention of 30 years made Pinckney’s memory of what was his and what was not flawed. Others put it less kindly. Historians, more than a century ago, described the document as a “pseudo draft” that “should be relegated to the depository of historical lies.”[4] Clinton Rossiter’s respected history of the Constitutional Convention written in 1966 simply dubbed it a “fraudulent document.”[5]

The reason the 1818 document exists is because Congress overrode the Framers’ own decision to keep their deliberations secret. President Monroe dispatched Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to assemble the records. While he found mention of a plan by Pinckney, no such document existed. He asked Pinckney for a copy, In Pinckney’s response, he claimed to have four or five drafts of the Plan but did not know which most accurately reflected his original plan and how much his re-writes changed the plan as his own views had changed over time.[6] The Petitioner’s brief recounts none of this history, but instead treats the document as authoritative.

Every state has adopted the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires candor to the tribunal. It prohibits a lawyer from making “a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail[ing] to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer.”[7] The lack of candor in this brief may violate the Rule.

Will there be consequences to the use of this document or a failure to suggest its questionable providence? I doubt it. Will a member of the Court or even a majority cite it as authoritative as the petitioner has? Unfortunately, that seems likely. In responding to the historical basis for the end-of-the-term abortion decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org.,[8] the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians expressed dismay that their amicus brief’s description of the relevant history was not taken “seriously” and that the Court instead “adopted a flawed interpretation of abortion criminalization that has been pressed by anti-abortion advocates for more than 30 years.”[9] Similarly, in SCOTUSblog, Saul Cornell, a Fordham University historian, called the history relied upon by the majority in the Second Amendment case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen,[10] “a version of the past that is little more than an ideological fantasy, much of it invented by gun-rights advocates and their libertarian allies in the legal academy with the express purpose of bolstering litigation.”[11]

Regardless of whether these assessments are over-the-top or shaded by a predisposition on the underlying issue, the concern that history is manipulated to achieve an end applies with greater force to the courts.  Even as strong an advocate of originalism as Justice Scalia was worried that selective use of past events could predominate because “history, as much as any other interpretive method, leaves ample discretion to “loo[k] over the heads of the [crowd] for one’s friends.”[12] The danger is not just that an important issue is settled by a skewed view of history. It is also that the re-written history appears in an authoritative text that now controls future precedent and even the nature of future issues as though settled.

If, for example, a majority of the Court were to rely on Charles Pinckney’s 1818 document as reflecting what the framers of the Constitution might have thought, not only could they reach the wrong result, it would create an even greater schism in this country on the essential form of our republic, reading the Constitution as mandating what would surely be a suicide pact. And when a future, indisputably valid election is overturned, the courts may have nothing to say about the legislative coup that took place.

More trivially, another consequence would be to achieve the project that Charles Pinckney set for himself: a revision of history that would make him the true father of the Constitution – and a title he did not desire as the Constitution’s grim reaper.

 

[1] Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 37 (1949) (Jackson, J., dissenting).

[2] Ethan Herenstein and Brian Palmer, “Fraudulent Document Cited in Supreme Court Bid to Torch Election Law,” Politico Mag. (Sept. 15, 2022, available at https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/09/15/fraudulent-document-supreme-court-bid-election-law-00056810.

[3] 9 The Writings of James Madison 553-54 (Gaillard Hunt ed., 1910).

[4] Dotan Oliar, The (Constitutional) Convention on IP: A New Reading, 57 UCLA L. Rev. 421, 479 n.39 (2009).

[5] Id. (quoting Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention 331 n.* (1966)).

[6] Id. (citing Letter from Charles Pinckney to John Quincy Adams (Dec. 30, 1818), in 3 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 427-28 (Max Farrand ed., 1911).

[7] Model R. of Prof. Conduct 3.3.

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

[9] History, the Supreme Court, and Dobbs v. Jackson: Joint Statement from the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians (July 2022), available at https://www.historians.org/news-and-advocacy/aha-advocacy/history-the-supreme-court-and-dobbs-v-jackson-joint-statement-from-the-aha-and-the-oah-(july-2022).

[10] New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022).

[11] Saul Cornell, Cherry-picked history and ideology-driven outcomes: Bruen’s originalist distortions, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 27, 2022, 5:05 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2022/06/cherry-picked-history-and-ideology-driven-outcomes-bruens-originalist-distortions/.

[12] Antonin Scalia & Bryan Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 377 (2012).

September 18, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 16, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, September 16, 2022

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

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

  • After granting a temporary stay last week, the Supreme Court denied an emergency petition by Yeshiva University and refused to block a state court ruling that requires the university to recognize a L.G.B.T. student group. The university made the emergency motion to the Supreme Court before fully pursuing the appeal in the state court. The Court’s decision is based on the procedural posture, not the merits, and requires the university to pursue the challenge in state court. In the underlying case, the university argues that it should not be required to recognize the L.G.B.T. student group because doing so would violate the university’s Constitutionally protected free exercise of religion. The state court ruling rejected the university’s argument and entered an injunction that requires the university to grant the student group the “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities[,] and privileges afforded to all other student groups.” See the ruling and reports from The NY Times and The Washington Post.

  • Justice Kagan spoke this week at Northwestern Law School and commented on the risk to the Court’s legitimacy if it is seen as an “extension of the political process.”  The event will be available on demand here.  See reports on Justice Kagan’s comments from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg Law.

  • Justice Roberts announced that the court will reopen to the public when the new term begins this fall. In his comments, he also defended the Court’s legitimacy, saying “simply because people disagree with opinions, is not a basis for questioning the legitimacy of the court.” See reports from USA Today CNN, and Bloomberg News.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Ninth Circuit upheld a Washington state ban on conversion therapy. The court rejected a Constitutional challenge by a therapist that argued that the ban undermined the therapist’s free speech and targeted his Christianity. The Ninth Circuit rejected the challenge, finding that the state legislature acted rationally and, thus, did not violate the First Amendment when it imposed the ban to protect the “physical and psychological well-being of children.” See the ruling and reports from Reuters and Bloomberg Law.

September 16, 2022 in Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Providing Fresh Perspective at Oral Argument

Common wisdom holds that an advocate can lose a case at oral argument, but rarely prevails at the argument. By providing a wrong or weaker answer than expected, an otherwise allied judge might rethink support of a position. However, it is rare that an advocate can provide an unexpected basis to win over a judge committed to the other side. Even as he claimed that oral argument makes a difference, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist admitted that only in a “significant minority of cases” had he changed his mind after hearing argument.[1] A recent personal experience in oral argument has made me think about the difficulty of breaking through to judges whose minds were made up before argument.

In this instance, in a trial court hearing a motion to dismiss, one question from the judge indicated that he had misunderstood the pleadings and our brief. He explained that the scenario contemplated by this declaratory judgment action would never come up in real life. Even though I responded with an entirely different fact pattern consistent with the pleadings and past experience, it had no impact. The argument ended with the judge picking up a sheet of paper and reading his pre-typed ruling from the bench. Whatever doubt I may have planted with my unanticipated response evaporated as the preconceived result, memorialized on paper without regard to the oral presentations, prevailed.

I’m convinced that nothing I might have said at oral argument would have made a difference. The “crutch” of a written decision prepared in advance was too much to overcome. Still, it demonstrated the importance of briefing to make oral argument worthwhile. Anticipating the judge’s confusion about the practicalities of our position with a more pointed explanation would have provided at least a fighting chance to change the judge’s mind when it was still open to how the challenged statute and the plaintiffs’ dilemma operated in real life. However much I thought our brief made that plain, it was only as I prepared for oral argument that I realized a better way of framing the factual predicate to my legal argument – and that’s what I explained before the judge.

On the other hand, another recent case provided greater confidence that oral argument can have influence. Lengthy majority and dissenting opinions struggled with crediting or rebutting a point made during the argument. What was said had an obvious impact and forced judges of vastly different views to contend with it.

Judges may have strong reactions in some cases or even in all cases to their understanding of what the case is about, making the job of dissuading them from a view that works against your position difficult, if not impossible. Nonetheless, an advocate should always assume that judges have sufficient impartiality so that oral argument can help shape the opinion, if not persuade, even while crafting a brief that lays out the argument clearly. That is one reason I like a hot bench. Rather than give an oration, I am more interested in arguing about what the judge indicates is important – and perhaps providing a new insight that wins the day.

 

[1] William H. Rehnquist, The Supreme Court 243 (2001).

August 21, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Saturday, August 20, 2022

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

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 issued an emergency order siding with voters challenging a Georgia voting system for electing public service commissioners. The decision reinstates a district court ruling that the system diluted the power of black voters and violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The Eleventh Circuit had stayed that order based on Purcell v. Gonzalez, a case that disfavors election challenges that occur too close to those elections. However, the Court agreed with a dissenting Eleventh Circuit judge who recognized that during the lower court case, Georgia had repeatedly and clearly waived an appeal based on Purcell; the Court found that the appeals court had “applied a version of [Purcell] that respondent could not fairly have advanced himself in light of his previous representations to the district court that the schedule on which the district court proceeded was sufficient to enable effectual relief as to the November elections should applicants win at trial.” See reports from The New York Times and CNN.

  • Colorado has filed a Brief for the Respondents in a case challenging Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The Court agreed to hear the case in the next term. The petitioner is a web-designer who wishes to design wedding websites but not for same-sex couples. The petitioner wants to be able to deny services to same-sex couples and wants to include a message explaining the reason. Colorado law prohibits such discriminatory practices by public businesses and prohibits a business from declaring the intent to discriminate. The petitioner claims that the law is a violation of free speech. Colorado’s attorney general urges the Court to uphold the anti-discrimination law, arguing that “discrimination is not expression, it's illegal conduct.” See reports from the Colorado Sun and Colorado Public Radio.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The DC Circuit decided that rules that limit the political speech of employees of the Administrative Offices of the US Courts are unnecessary and violate the First Amendment. The ruling applies only to the two employees who brought the challenge and not generally to other employees. The court recognized the legitimate goal of maintaining the reputation of the judiciary for independence from politics while workers are at work but held that the offices “cannot prohibit political speech by [employees] when they are away from work and in no way affiliating themselves with the Judiciary.” See the ruling and reports from The National Law Journal and Reuters.

  • In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the Fourth Circuit ruled that gender dysphoria is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, reversing a Virginia court’s dismissal of claim brought by a transgender woman. The woman had been denied care for her gender dysphoria while she was incarcerated and was harassed by both inmates and prison staff. The court held that “[g]iven Congress’ express instruction that courts construe the ADA in favor of maximum protection for those with disabilities, we could not adopt an unnecessarily restrictive reading of the ADA.” See the ruling and reports from The Washington Post, The National Law Review, and The National Law Journal.

  • The First Circuit ruled that taxpayers can sue the IRS over its tactics for obtaining information even if those tactics would enable to government to assess and collect taxes. A crypto trader challenged the IRS’s use of a tactic to obtain trading records from cryptocurrency exchanges arguing that the tactics violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The IRS had argued successfully below that the suit violated the Anti-Injunction Act of the Internal Revenue Code because the aim of the suit was to avoid the collection of taxes. The First Circuit overturned the dismissal below and will allow the suit to heard on the merits of the constitutional claims.  See ruling and report from Reuters. 

August 20, 2022 in Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Agency Deference and Statutory Interpretation

Courts often defer to administrative agencies on matters that require the agency’s specialized expertise. Yet even the embattled Chevron deference doctrine[1] puts the brakes on judicial deference sensibly when Congress has spoken on the matter. After all, the statute’s meaning must reflect legislative intent.[2]

Still, in defending the constitutionality of a statute, States will ask courts to read the statute more narrowly than its language supports, to avoid invalidation as applied to common situations. The Supreme Court has supplied advocates with precedent that should overcome these attempts to recast legislative language, particularly where free speech concerns predominate.

For example, in consolidated lawsuits in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus,[3] two organizations brought facial and as-applied challenges to an Ohio statute that prohibited certain false statements made during a political campaign. The plaintiffs alleged that they intended to make statements that could be deemed false and then “face[] the prospect of its speech and associational rights again being chilled and burdened,” as it had when a complaint about their speech was previously filed.[4]

In holding that pre-enforcement standing existed, the Court found Babbitt v. Farm Workers[5] instructive. There, the plaintiffs challenged a law that proscribed “dishonest, untruthful, and deceptive publicity.”[6] The plaintiffs alleged that they feared prosecution because erroneous statements are “inevitable in free debate,” that they had engaged in past consumer publicity campaigns and any future campaign would be scrutinized for truthfulness, and that they had “an intention to continue” campaigns like the ones they had mounted in the past.[7] Notably, they did not claim that past campaigns were dishonest or deceptive or that future campaigns would be, or that any official action against them was likely or imminent. Still, Babbitt concluded that the “plaintiffs’ fear of prosecution was not ‘imaginary or wholly speculative’” given the statute’s language and allowed the case to proceed.[8]

Two other cases also informed the Susan B. Anthony Court’s analysis. Virginia v. Am. Booksellers Ass’n Inc.,[9] found a credible threat of enforcement to a law that criminalized the commercial display of printed material deemed harmful to juveniles. At trial, the plaintiff booksellers named “16 books they believed were covered by the statute” and how compliance to avoid prosecution would be costly.[10] In defense, Virginia contended that the statute was “much narrower than plaintiffs allege” and even conceded that the law would be unconstitutional “if the statute is read as plaintiffs contend.”[11] Nonetheless, the Court found no reason to believe the “newly enacted law will not be enforced” and that one plain harm is “self-censorship; a harm that can be realized even without an actual prosecution.”[12]

In the end, a reasonable reading of a statute based on its language and the lack of discretion an agency (or a court) has to re-write a statute, a purely legislative act, requires the appellate advocate to push back on agency attempts to recast plain language into a more defensible posture.

 

[1]  Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 468 U.S. 837 (1984).

[2]  Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108 (1980).

[3]  573 U.S. 149 (2014).

[4]  Id. at 155.

[5]  442 U.S. 289 (1979).

[6]  Id. at 302.

[7]  Id. at 301.

[8]  Susan B. Anthony, 573 U.S. at 160 (quoting Babbitt, 442 U.S. at 302).

[9]  484 U.S. 383 (1988).

[10] Susan B. Anthony, 573 U.S. at 160 (describing American Booksellers)

[11] Am. Booksellers, 484 U.S. at 393-94.

[12] Id. at 393.

August 7, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Tackling a New Area of Law on Appeal Without Fear

Subject-matter specialists might seem to have an advantage over a generalist on appeal. They would seem to have unmatched familiarity with the underlying statutes and caselaw. In specialty courts, such as the Federal Circuit, focused advocates may stand on a firmer footing than a newcomer in the field.

In most courts, however, the judges are generalists. They hear appeals on a wide range of subjects and cannot keep up with developments in every area of law. For them, the complexities and nuances that a specialist brings to the table may be less important than an experienced lawyer’s ability to boil the complicated down to familiar principles. Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Wood has noted that the “need to explain even the most complex area to a generalist judge . . . forces the bar to demystify legal doctrine and to make the law comprehensible.”[i] Make the unfamiliar familiar by utilizing language a judge will understand.

Moreover, the specialist may rely on memory of a frequently cited case that, over time, becomes little more than code words that only the cognoscenti appreciate. The generalist, however, is certain to find the case, read it freshly, and expose the imprecision while finding legal analogies that point in a different direction than the specialist argued.

A specialist’s command of policy arguments often relies upon the gloss of repetitive usage, twists to conform to his clients’ preferred results, and the dullness of repeated use, a generalist can look at legislative history and intent with fresh eyes that can be revelatory to a judge. Moreover, a generalist will draw from other areas of law enabling the judge to appreciate analogies that the specialist would never consider.

In some ways, the difference is comparable to the difference between an appellate lawyer and a trial lawyer. Trial counsel knows the record from having lived though the case and having pursued key objectives that yielded the desired result. The appellate lawyer looks at the case more dispassionately and often finds that the formula for victory is either an issue quite different from the one that may have dominated trial or a route that may even have been unavailable at an earlier stage.

The bottom line is that tackling a new area of law should not generate fear that the specialist opponent holds all the cards. The well-prepared appellate lawyer should appreciate the advantages that a generalist can bring to the table.

 

[i] Diane Wood, Generalist Judges in a Specialist World, 50 SMU L. Rev 1755, 1767 (1997).

July 24, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Too Many (Foot)Notes

In the play and movie, Amadeus, Mozart proudly debuts one of his new compositions for the emperor. The emperor's verdict took Mozart by surprise. The composition was fine, the emperor intoned, but it suffered from "too many notes.” In providing some "helpful" criticism, the emperor advises, “cut a few and it will be perfect.”

While briefs do not approach the timelessness or artistry of a Mozart opera, courts and judges sometimes offer the same critique: “too many (foot)notes.” The judicial critique can have more validity than the emperor's issue in Amadeus. The federal court in the District of Columbia, as well as several other courts, warn brief-writers against too many footnotes, instructing that these drop-down asides “shall not be excessive.” Recently, lawyers defending Meta Platforms (formerly, Facebook) in an antitrust action ran afoul of the DC court's rule this month according to an order from Judge James E. Boasberg. The offending brief contained 19 footnotes, including several lengthy ones, including a footnote that topped 150 words. In striking the brief for violating the rule and attempting “to circumvent page limits” by taking advantage of the single-spacing that footnotes use, the judge ordered counsel to file a new brief immediately “with no more than five footnotes containing no more than 20 aggregate lines of text.”

Scholars commonly use lengthy and extensive footnotes in law review articles, but that practice provides no guidance to counsel filing briefs. Justice Scalia often remarked that he did not read footnotes. In Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, Scalia's co-author, Bryan Garner, proselytizes for putting citations in footnotes but warns against using footnotes for substantive text. The justice dissented from that view in the book because he wanted to know the authority behind a statement while reading along, rather than having to dart his eyes to the bottom of the page. Still, Scalia's hostility to footnotes did not extend to his own writing, where he apparently wanted his footnotes read. In Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644, 720 n.22 (2015) (Scalia, J., dissenting), he reserved his most unjudicial and quotable criticism of the majority's decision to a footnote, where he said, if forced to make certain statements in an opinion to obtain a fifth vote, he "would hide my head in a bag" and not allow the Court to descend “from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

Scalia's inconsistency suggests that footnotes have their place. In my own briefs, I tend to use footnotes to advise the court of factual or legal points that it should know but placing them in the body would detract from the flow of the narrative I constructed. I also consult any expressed views on footnotes by the judges on the court because, after all, you never want to offend your intended audience.

Perhaps counsel's new knowledge of Judge Boasberg's abhorrence of footnotes explains why, in the Meta Platform case, their refiled brief contained no footnotes.

July 10, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Music, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 2, 2022

A Few Thoughts on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health

On June 24, 2022, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and, in so doing, sparked impassioned reaction in the United States.

Below are a few thoughts on the decision.

1.    The majority was correct.

In today’s climate, particularly in some academic institutions, it’s not advisable to publicly criticize Roe – or praise Dobbs – if you want to advance in your academic career.

But the truth is the truth.

Roe was a terrible decision. The majority got it right.

The right to abortion was not based on any reasonable interpretation of the Constitution’s text. And it was not inferable from the text, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, unlike, for example, the right to effective assistance of counsel, which can be inferred from the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. It was not rooted in the nation’s history or traditions, which is a critical factor that constrains the Court’s power and prevents justices from creating whatever “rights” they subjectively deem desirable. Instead, the Roe Court created a constitutional right out of thin air, divining such right from the invisible “penumbras” that the Court in Griswold v. Connecticut likewise created out of thin air.[1] And the nonsensical doctrine of substantive due process, which the Court invoked in Planned Parenthood v. Casey to uphold Roe’s central holding, is a legal fiction.[2] Not surprisingly, constitutional scholars of both conservative and liberal persuasions, along with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, have recognized that Roe was incredibly, if not irredeemably, flawed.

The Court’s decision reflected a principle that is vital to a functioning democracy and the valuers of federalism, de-centralized governance, and bottom-up lawmaking: nine unelected and life-tenured judges should not have to right to decide for an entire country what unenumerated rights should or should not be recognized when such “rights” are neither contained in nor inferable from the text, or not deeply rooted in history and tradition. The reason for these constraints is obvious: without them, the justices would have the unfettered authority to create – or take away – whatever rights they wanted, whenever they wanted, and for whatever reason they wanted, which would reflect nothing more than their subjective policy predilections.  That is antithetical to a democracy that vests power in the people, not philosopher kings. And for those who claim that the Ninth Amendment is a source of unenumerated rights, they are correct. But where in the Ninth Amendment does it state that the Court has the authority to create those rights, particularly where there is no basis in the Constitution to do so?

Ultimately, Roe was the perfect example of a raw exercise of judicial power. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the right to abortion lacked a textual basis in the Constitution. As stated below, to the extent that there is a constitutional basis to support a right to abortion, it is through the Equal Protection Clause (or possibly the Privileges and Immunities Clause).

2.    Justice Roberts’ approach was sensible but not principled.

Chief Justice Roberts’ concurrence strikes a sensible but not necessarily principled balance between recognizing the fatal flaws in Roe yet respecting the fact that Roe has been the law for nearly half a century. For this reason, Roberts would have upheld the Mississippi law, which banned abortions after fifteen weeks, but not entirely overturned Roe and Casey.

This approach, although understandable given the practical impact of overturning Roe (and, as Roberts put it, the “jolt” to the legal system), is akin to taking a band-aid off slowly rather than ripping it off. Moreover, given the Court’s on-again, off-again relationship with stare decisis, with both liberal and conservative justices selectively applying the doctrine, Roberts’ concurrence appears more as a misguided attempt to preserve the Court’s legitimacy. Indeed, in this and other decisions, Roberts appears to lend more weight to perceptions about the public reaction’s reaction to a particular decision than the text of the Constitution itself. But basing decisions primarily on how the Court’s legitimacy will be affected invariably leads to political decisions and the precise result – a decline in the Court’s legitimacy – that Roberts is so intent on protecting. It should come as no surprise that the public opinion of the Court is now at twenty-five percent.

Put simply, interpreting the Constitution’s text reasonably is the key to the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

3.    Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence was surprisingly misguided.

In his concurrence, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the decision in Dobbs returned the Court to a position of neutrality on abortion. It is difficult to believe that Kavanaugh believes this to be true.

The Court did not return to a position of neutrality.  Roe was decided 7-2, and in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court by a 5-4 margin affirmed Roe’s central holding. Thus, the Court had previously – and in numerous other cases – affirmed Roe and protected the fundamental right of women to access abortion services.  In other words, it had already taken a position – repeatedly – on whether the Constitution protected abortion.

So, what changed since Planned Parenthood? Nothing – except the composition of the Court, namely, the confirmation of three conservative justices.

This is not to say that appointing conservative justices – and originalists – is a bad thing.  Given the Court’s abortion precedent, however, and the known political affiliations of Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett, the notion that the Court returned to a position of “neutrality,” without acknowledging that, since Casey reaffirmed Roe, nothing changed but the Court’s composition, is ridiculous. That’s why Chief Justice Roberts’ approach was arguably the most sensible, although not the most principled, way to decide Dobbs.

Of course, this does not change the fact that, as a matter of constitutional law, Roe was one of the worst decisions in the twentieth century (not as bad, though, as Plessy and Korematsu), that Casey too was profoundly wrong, and that the Court was correct as a matter of constitutional law. The original sin was Roe itself, and the flaws in Roe were compounded by Court’s decision in Casey, which reaffirmed Roe based on untenable constitutional grounds, and on nonsensical justifications such as, “[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”[3] That’s what you get when you subscribe to “living constitutionalism," which makes about as much sense as substantive due process or the belief that Elvis is still alive.

Having said that, the optic is not good – Dobbs suggests that constitutional rights change based on the political ideologies of the current justices. Kavanaugh’s concurrence displayed a startling disregard of this reality.

4.    Justice Thomas went too far.

With all due respect, Justice Clarence Thomas went too far in his concurrence. Yes, Thomas is correct that substantive due process is a nonsensical legal doctrine, and that Roe and Griswold were constitutionally indefensible decisions.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you revisit and overrule every flawed legal precedent that substantive due process produced. The truth is that, in many instances, the justices must consider the practical consequences of their decisions, and if the Constitution’s text can be reasonably interpreted to support a particular outcome, the Court should reach outcomes that will expand rights and promote, among other things, equality and the equal dignity of all persons. And in some instances, even if a precedent is irreparably flawed, the resulting “jolt” to the legal system and the material harm to citizens that may result can support letting the precedent stand on stare decisis grounds (or, as in the case of abortion, justifying it based on the Equal Protection Clause).

This analysis applies directly to Griswold, which was equally, if not more, flawed than Roe, because the majority, despite recognizing that the text didn’t support invalidating Connecticut’s ridiculous contraception ban, nonetheless decided to invent invisible “penumbras” from which it could single-handedly invent unenumerated constitutional rights.[4]

But that doesn’t mean that Griswold should be overruled. If it was, you can be sure that misguided legislators would try to outlaw contraception. After all, imagine a world where women cannot access contraception and cannot access abortion services.  That’s not a world that most reasonable people want to imagine.

Additionally, Thomas is wrong about Obergefell, which was defensible – and rightly decided – because, like the Seventh Circuit held in Baskin v. Bogan, same-sex marriage bans (and interracial marriage bans) violate the Equal Protection Clause.[5]

Thankfully, there is no support for Thomas’s position on the Court, as the majority explicitly and repeatedly stated that precedents such as Griswold and Obergefell were not implicated by the decision because they did not involve the state’s interest in protecting fetal life. And there is reason to believe the justices in the majority because their reputations would be forever tarnished if they betrayed what they had explicitly written in a prior opinion.

5.    Justice Ginsburg was right – if abortion can be justified by any provision in the text, it is in the Equal Protection                 Clause.

Despite Roe’s indefensible reasoning, there is arguably a basis, as Justice Ginsburg argued, to justify a right to abortion under the Equal Protection Clause. Abortion bans relegate women to second-class citizens. If a woman gets pregnant, she – and she alone – must often bear the financial, emotional, and psychological burdens of pregnancy, not to mention the medical issues (perhaps life-threatening) that some women may face if they are forced to carry a pregnancy to term. The burden on men, however, is not comparable and, in many cases, non-existent. Think about it: a woman who gets pregnant while in college, while pursuing a graduate degree, while starting a job, or while impoverished, must now bear the financial, emotional, and psychological burden of an unwanted pregnancy, which may cause that woman to drop out of school, lose her job, or sink further into poverty. The result is that some women will be prohibited from participating equally in the economic and social life of this country. That is wrong – and that is why the Equal Protection Clause arguably provides a basis to justify a constitutional right to abortion.

The problem is that neither Roe nor Casey was based primarily on the Equal Protection Clause. They were based on a right to privacy found nowhere in the Fourteenth Amendment and, later, on a substantive liberty interest that no reasonable interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment can support. That is in part why Roe created such a backlash and, ultimately, was overruled.

6.    Imagine where we’d be if the Court had embraced judicial restraint and deference.

If liberals had embraced the concept of judicial restraint, and of deferring more frequently to the decisions of federal and state legislatures, the world might look very different now.[6]

New York’s law regulating who could carry a gun in public would still be on the books. The high school coach who prayed on the fifty-yard line after his high school’s football games would still be fired (although he shouldn’t have been fired). And abortion would still be accessible in every state, albeit with a fifteen-week limitation. For liberals, that sounds like a much better situation than they are in now.

That highlights the problem with judicial activism, which both conservative and liberal justices have embraced at various periods in the Court’s history. As stated above, when you rely on the Court to effectuate social change and disregard the constraints on judicial power, you give nine unelected judges the power to identify and define unenumerated rights for an entire nation based on their subjective policy preferences. And what the Court gives, it can certainly take away. In other words, advocates for an activist Court – conservative or liberal – will see their luck run out when the Court’s composition changes. That is precisely what happened in Dobbs.

7.    Stop criticizing the Court

Predictably, after Dobbs was released, some in the media, and even some scholars, brought out all the usual buzzwords, such as characterizing the decision as misogynistic, white supremacist, racist, and the like.[7] Even President Biden made disparaging comments about the Court that undermined his and the Court’s legitimacy.  Biden had the audacity to state during a conference in Madrid, Spain, that “[t]he one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States, in overruling not only Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy.”[8] He should be ashamed.

Few, if any, however, including Biden, defended Roe on its merits. How could they? As Laurance Tribe stated, “one of the most curious things about Roe is that, beyond its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”[9] Ultimately, the Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, not reach the outcomes that you like. And even when you disagree with a decision, it’s wrong to hurl insults at the justices. At this juncture, time would be better spent lobbying state legislatures across the country to protect women’s bodily autonomy and provide access to abortion services.

 

[1] 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[2] 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

[3] Id.

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

[5] 576 U.S. 644 (2015); 766 F. 3d 648 (2014).

[6] See Opinion, How Liberals Should Rethink Their View of the Supreme Court (June 21, 2022), available at: Opinion: Liberals should rethink view of Supreme Court - CNN

[7] See, e.g., Ramesh Ponnuru, The Times Distorts Alito’s Draft Opinion, (May 5, 2022), available at: New York Times Distorts Alito's ‘Dobbs’ Opinion | National Review

[8] Alex Gangitano, Biden Calls Supreme Court Overturning Roe v. Wade ‘Destabilizing’ (June 30, 2022), available at: Biden calls Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade ‘destabilizing’ | The Hill

[9] See, Opinion, Roe Was Wrong the Day It Was Decided. The Supreme Court Did the Right Thing (June 24, 2022), available at: Roe Was Wrong the Day it Was Decided. The Supreme Court Did The Right Thing | Opinion (newsweek.com)

July 2, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Miranda Warnings Are A Right Without A Remedy

Last week’s decision in Vega v. Tekoh did not, on its own, monumentally change the Miranda warnings made famous in pop culture for half a century. Government investigators should still provide the same basic recitation of rights to a suspect in custody before conducting any interrogation, just as they have in the past. But Vega continued a pattern of Supreme Court decisions that have slowly undermined the value of those warnings, largely by declining to provide any meaningful remedy when investigators fail to provide them.

In 2010, Barry Friedman argued that the Supreme Court was engaged in the “stealth overruling” of precedent, with Miranda v. Arizona at the forefront of the trend. He claimed that the Court had slowly chipped away at Miranda’s doctrinal core until almost nothing remained, leaving it so weak that it could even be formally overruled under stare decisis factors that examine the workability of a decision and its alignment with subsequent legal developments. That has largely been achieved by permitting more and more statements taken after a violation of Miranda to be introduced at trial. As Vega noted, the Court has already permitted the introduction of non-Mirandized statements to impeach a witness’s testimony, if the statements are merely the “fruits” of the improper statement, or if officers conducted un-Mirandized questioning to respond to ongoing public safety concerns.

Vega appeared different from those decisions, because on its surface it did not directly implicate the constitutionality of the Miranda warnings or the use of un-Mirandized statements in criminal courts. The case concerned a criminal defendant who was later acquitted, then filed a civil suit against an officer who failed to provide the Miranda warnings. The civil suit sought monetary damages under 41 U.S.C §1983, which allows a citizen to sure for the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” Thus, the case concerned whether a violation of Miranda’s rules was a sufficient deprivation of rights to give rise to a section 1983 suit.

Justice Alito’s majority opinion held that it did not. Alito noted that Miranda is only a prophylactic rule to protect Fifth Amendment rights, even if the Supreme Court has subsequently confirmed Miranda as “constitutionally based” and a “constitutional rule” in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 440, 444 (2000). Although the Miranda rule is of constitutional nature and could not be altered by ordinary legislation, not all Miranda violations also violate the Fifth Amendment—such as when a technical Miranda violation does not result in a compelled statement. Alito also highlighted the myriad ways in which Miranda has been weakened over time—or, as Friedman would argue, has been stealthily overruled. Given Miranda’s weak pedigree, Alito claimed that section 1983 suits based upon Miranda should only be permitted if their value outweighed their costs. He then discounted any value to such suits at all, claiming that they would have little deterrent effect upon officers that might otherwise violate Fifth Amendment rights. The decision thus rejected section 1983 suites based upon Miranda violations.

Alito’s claim that civil liability for Miranda violations would do little to deter officers only makes sense if Miranda is a robust constitutional protection for Fifth Amendment rights. But the Court has already weakened the value of Miranda by limiting its application in the criminal context. As Alito admitted, prosecutors can readily introduce un-Mirandized statements during a criminal trial for a myriad of reasons related to public safety or the limited constitutional nature of Miranda itself. The modern Miranda rule thus provides little deterrent against Fifth Amendment violations. In that context, a civil remedy that likely would add some deterrence while providing a real remedy for those subject to Miranda violations. Allowing section 1983 suits based on Miranda violations would meaningfully change that status quo, despite Alito’s claim that those suits lack any real deterrent value.

What Vega demonstrates is not that Miranda rights have disappeared from the criminal justice landscape, but instead that they have become rights without any practical remedy. Statements obtained in violation of Miranda are routinely introduced in criminal court without any sanction against the violators, and now Vega signals that violators are not likely to face civil penalties either. In light of Miranda’s lack of remedies, it may even be good police practice to avoid Mirandizing suspects in the name of ensuring that incriminating statements emerge. Evidentiary consequences can seemingly always be worked around, and civil penalties are no real threat.

Vega is another step in the same course the Court has been taking for decades. It limits the remedies for a Miranda violation even further—this time in the civil context—ensuring that officers will face few consequences for those violations. Miranda’s place as a “constitutional rule” may not be under threat from Vega, but that is little salve. “Constitutional rule” status seems to afford no real remedies for those who suffer a violation.

June 29, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Arguing History

In writing today’s post, it is difficult to overlook the Supreme Court’s predictable rulings on abortion and guns, with a less certain but likely precedent-shattering decision on coach-led public-school prayer. Others will critique the decisions, extrapolate their consequences for issues beyond the cases decided, and speculate about new doctrinal implications. For today, I want to focus solely on the tools it suggests appellate advocates must use.

Dobbs and Bruen place a heightened emphasis on history. It is not the history that originalists who look to the Framers’ intent utilize, but whether an asserted constitutional liberty is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” In Dobbs, the majority rejected a constitutional right of access to abortion because it held that no historical tradition, common law or otherwise, enabled women to have abortions regardless of the legislative policy choices, before the Constitution’s framing or in its aftermath or even following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Bruen, similarly, the Court held text, history, and tradition informed the meaning of the Second Amendment, with the Court holding that history without consideration of possible countervailing government interests dictates the result.

While the decisions fail to take account of constitutionally significant differences in the principles that animate modern society, including, for example, the equal status of women and minorities or the contemporary principle of religious tolerance, an essential approach to argument emerges from the decisions. First, advocates must focus on the relevance of historical analogy. Are historical restrictions on the exercise of a right animated by the same considerations that underlie a modern restriction? Thus, for example, it is well-accepted that online publications receive the same type of free-press protections that publications that emerged from hand-operated printing presses issued in large measure since the time of John Peter Zenger.

Even though Justice Breyer’s Bruen dissent criticized the majority’s use of “law office history,” the majority’s reliance upon it constitutes the order of the day. Justice Thomas’s majority opinion rejects contrarian historical examples as “outliers,” unworthy of bearing constitutional significance. Similarly, Justice Alito’s history of abortion in Dobbs seems to be selective about what history counts.

The two decisions, then, place a burden on an advocate to make the history that favors a position compelling and part of an unbroken narrative (except for insignificant outliers). Messy renditions of history open too many doors to predilection. That historical advocacy, then, also reflect timeless principles consistent with constitutional understandings.

A pure historical approach is not a complete stranger to constitutional law. The Seventh Amendment’s right to trial by jury has long adopted that approach, defining the scope of the right by how it was practiced at common law when the Bill of Rights was ratified. Thus, then-appellate advocate John Roberts won a unanimous victory, written by Justice Thomas, where the Court recognized that jurors have always served as the “‘judges of the damages,’” even under the English common law that predated the Constitution in Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., 523 U.S. 340, 353 (19978) (quoting Lord Townshend v. Hughes, 86 Eng. Rep. 994, 994-995 (C.P. 1677)). The decision hinged, in large part, on close 18th-century analogues to the statutory copyright damages at issue in the case. Similarly, in invalidating administrative procedures utilized by the Securities and Exchange Commission the Fifth Circuit in Jarksey v. SEC, No. 20-61007, 34 F.4th 446, 451 (5th Cir. 2022), relied upon historical analysis to find that “[c]ivil juries in particular have long served as a critical check on government power,” so that the civil enforcement at issue could not be assigned to agency adjudication.

Where constitutional rights are at issue, history has become destiny.

June 26, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 24, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, June 24, 2022

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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

  • Today was the penultimate opinion issuance date on the Court calendar. As the term winds to a close, the Court has issued a number of highly anticipated opinions this week, perhaps the most anticipated came today.

    As foreshown by last month’s leaked opinion, for the first time, the Supreme Court has taken away a basic right, a right that has existed for nearly 50 years. Today’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturns Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey and claims that the right to abortion is not “implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including . . . the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” because the right to abortion is not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” (quoting Washington v. Glucksberg.) The dissent of Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan characterizes the right protected by Roe and Casey as “a woman’s right to decide for herself whether to bear a child.” The dissent defends the rationale of Roe and Casey and questions today’s decision, stating: “It eliminates a 50-year-old constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station. It breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law. In doing all of that, it places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the Court’s legitimacy.” The dissent closes: “With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent.” See the decision and dissent and a sampling of the many reports, which cover the decision and dissent and discuss the consequences of the decision: NPR, The Associated Press, Reuters, and The New York Times.

    Earlier this week, the Court struck a New York law that required a gun-owner to show proper-cause to obtain an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm. The Court held that the law violated the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The decision protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home and announced a standard for courts to judge restrictions on gun rights: “The government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” See the decision and reports from New York Times, The Washington Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR.

    Also this week:

    • The Court rejected a Maine ban on tuition programs for religious schools, holding that the state cannot exclude religious schools from a state tuition program. See the decision and reports from The New York Times and USA Today.
    • The Court limited Miranda rights, holding that suspects who are not warned about the right to remain silent cannot sue police officers for damages. See the decision and reports from CNN and Bloomberg Law.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Fourth Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that stuck as unconstitutional a North Carolina charter school rule that required girls to wear skirts. The court ruled that the rule, based on the view that girls are "fragile vessels" deserving of "gentle" treatment, is unconstitutional and that it violated students' equal protection rights as a policy based on gender stereotypes about the "proper place" for girls in society. See the ruling and reports from Reuters and The New York Times.

June 24, 2022 in Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 3, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, June 3

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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.

Supreme Court News and Opinions:

This was a relatively quiet work at the Supreme Court, as the Court did not issue any opinions this week.  Nonetheless, the Court faces a substantial task in completing its work as the end of the term approaches.   As of now, the Court has more than 30 decisions still outstanding in argued cases.  The Roberts Court has traditionally gotten all of its cases out by the end of June.

On Tuesday, the Court issued a brief order in which it blocked a controversial Texas law that sought to bar large social media platforms from removing posts based on the viewpoints expressed.  Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kavanaugh, Barrett, Breyer, and Sotomayor joined together to vote in favor of putting the law on hold, while Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kagan dissented.

Also on Tuesday, the Court issued a brief order in which it rejected a request from three Texas lawmakers to delay giving depositions in lawsuits challenging redistricting plans in the state.  No dissents were noted.

State Appellate Court Opinions and News:

On Wednesday, the presiding justice of the California appeals court in Sacramento retired as part of punishment announced for his delays in resolving 200 cases over a decade.  The Commission on Judicial Reform in the state said that the Justice "engaged in a pattern of delay in deciding a significant number of appellate cases over a lengthy period."

Appellate Jobs:

The Washington State Attorney General's Office is hiring an Assistant Attorney General for its Torts Appellate Program.  The division defends state agencies, officials, and employees when sued in tort and in some civil rights matters.

June 3, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Whither (wither?) Strict Scrutiny?

Professor Gerald Gunther once memorably described strict scrutiny as “‘strict’ in theory and fatal in fact.”[1] And, courts have employed that strict scrutiny to content-based restrictions on free speech,[2] as well as burdens on fundamental rights under both due process[3] and equal protection.[4] It is easy to suppose, even if wrong, that strict scrutiny applies to all fundamental rights.

However, the Supreme Court has adopted different standards for different constitutional rights that make such a knee-jerk response to the presence of a fundamental right the wrong move. For example, the free-exercise clause in a much-criticized decision written by Justice Scalia limited the scope of this protection by requiring the state action to target religion or a religion for different treatment, as opposed to being a valid, neutral law of general applicability.[5] The Seventh Amendment’s jury-trial right also eschews strict scrutiny in favor of a historical test.[6]

Recently, a concurring opinion (to his own majority opinion) by Eleventh Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom speculated on the proper test for the Second Amendment.[7] He rejected one based on levels of scrutiny because the majority in District of Columbia v. Heller[8] expressly shunned any type of “judge-empowering ‘interest-balancing inquiry.’”[9] 554 U.S. at 634.

Newsom instead endorsed a view he credits to a Justice Kavanaugh dissent written when Kavanaugh sat on the D.C. Circuit. That opinion stated that “courts are to assess gun bans and regulations based on text, history, and tradition, not by a balancing test such as strict or intermediate scrutiny.”[10] Newsom, though, is not entirely happy with that formulation. He questions its inclusion of “tradition” as a metric.[11] As he explains, if tradition represents the original public meaning, it duplicates what history provides.[12] If it “expand[s] the inquiry beyond the original public meaning—say, to encompass latter-day-but-still-kind-of-old-ish understandings—it misdirects the inquiry.”[13]

Newsom adds a “bookmark for future reflection and inquiry than anything else” to his opinion.[14] He states that it is problematic to reject balancing tests in the context of the Second Amendment, yet still apply it to other fundamental rights. Using the First Amendment as an example, he criticizes the balancing tests adopted there as “so choked with different variations of means-ends tests that one sometimes forgets what the constitutional text even says.”[15] He says that the “doctrine is judge-empowering and, I fear, freedom-diluting.”[16] He suggests that “bigger questions” need to be raised to decide whether applying scrutiny at any level should continue.

The concurrence is provocative and suggests that the roiling of doctrine in other areas of law may extend to how courts should view fundamental rights. However, there is no holy grail that reduces judicial discretion in favor of assuring liberty. Construing constitutional rights is no less subject to manipulation based on a judge’s views if the judge subscribes to the original public meaning school of interpretation, rather than balancing tests. Newsom appears to agree that Heller “was perhaps ‘the most explicitly and self-consciously originalist opinion in the history of the Supreme Court.’”[17] Yet, Heller adopted a historical analysis others have criticized as skewed to obtain a result.[18] Those who expect the pending SCOTUS decision in N.Y. St. Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen[19] before the Supreme Court to invalidate New York’s century-old restrictive gun law recognize that history supporting the type of government authority the statute represents is likely to make little difference to the majority. And, original public meaning cannot reflect our rejection of ideas about race and gender from the founding period.

So, what should we make of Newsom’s concurrence? The opinion seems further evidence that nothing about our approach to constitutional law is settled – and the questioning of strict scrutiny as an interpretative tool is only beginning.

 

[1] Gerald Gunther, The Supreme Court, 1971 Term - Foreword: In Search of Evolving Doctrine on a Changing Court: A Model for a Newer Equal Protection, 86 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 8 (1972).

[2] See City of Austin, Texas v. Reagan Nat’l Advert. of Austin, LLC, 142 S. Ct. 1464, 1471 (2022); Ark. Writers’ Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 481 U.S. 221, 231 (1987).

[3] Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720-21 (1997).

[4] See Massachusetts Bd. of Ret. v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 312 (1976).

[5] Emp. Div., Dep’t of Hum. Res. of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 879 (1990).

[6] Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 376 (1996).

[7] United States v. Jimenez-Shilon, No. 20-13139, 2022 WL 1613203, at *7 (11th Cir. May 23, 2022) (Newsom, J., concurring).

[8]  554 U.S. 570 (2008).

[9] Jimenez-Shilon, 2022 WL 1613203, at *8 (Newsom, J., concurring).

[10] Heller v. District of Columbia (Heller II), 670 F.3d 1244, 1271 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting).

[11] Jimenez-Shilon, 2022 WL 1613203, at *8 n.2 (Newsom, J., concurring).

[12] Id. (Newsom, J., concurring).

[13] Id. (Newsom, J., concurring).

[14] Id. at *9 (Newsom, J., concurring).

[15] Id. at *10(Newsom, J., concurring).

[16] Id. at *11 (Newsom, J., concurring).

[17] Id. at *8 (Newsom, J., concurring) (quoting United States v. Skoien, 614 F.3d 638, 647 (7th Cir. 2010) (en banc) (Sykes, J., dissenting)).

[18] See, e.g., J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Of Guns, Abortions, and the Unraveling Rule of Law, 95 Va. L. Rev. 253, 254 (2009); Mark Anthony Frassetto, Judging History: How Judicial Discretion in Applying Originalist Methodology Affects the Outcome of Post-Heller Second Amendment Cases, 29 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 413 (2020).

[19] No. 20-843.

May 29, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, May 27, 2022

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

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

  • On Monday, the Court surprised many when it unanimously ruled against a mandatory arbitration clause. Specifically, the Court overturned a specific rule that had allowed a defendant to invoke an arbitration clause even after having participated in litigation. The suit sought overtime pay from a Taco Bell franchise. The defendant participated in the litigation for over eight months before finally moving to compel arbitration. The Court ruled that by waiting, the defendant had waived the right to compel arbitration. The decision is rooted in the Federal Arbitration Act, which requires courts to put arbitration contracts on “equal footing” with other kinds of contracts. Thus, the Court rejected the argument that arbitration should be favored and held “a court must hold a party to its arbitration contract just as the court would to any other kind.” Further, the Court ruled that “a court may not devise novel rules to favor arbitration over litigation. … [F]ederal policy is about treating arbitration contracts like all others, not about fostering arbitration.” See the decision in Morgan v. Sundance and reports from Bloomberg, Slate, and The Des Moines Register.

  • The Supreme Court ruled against two death row inmates and sharply limited a prisoner’s ability to challenge a conviction in federal court based on a claim of ineffective counsel in a state proceeding. The Court held that a federal court considering a habeas corpus petition “may not conduct an evidentiary hearing or otherwise consider evidence beyond the state-court record based on ineffective assistance of state post-conviction counsel.” The dissent criticized the ruling, arguing that the majority “all but overrules two recent precedents that recognized a critical exception to the general rule that federal courts may not consider claims on habeas review that were not raised in state court[: that] that a federal court may consider a habeas petitioner’s substantial claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel (a “trial-ineffectiveness” claim), even if not presented in state court.” See the decision in Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez and reports from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and SCOTUSBlog.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Eleventh Circuit struck part of a Florida law that required social media platforms to display posts by political candidates and “journalistic enterprises,” even if such posts violate the platforms’ rules of conduct. The court held that the law was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The court held that  it is substantially likely that social media companies — even the biggest ones — are private actors whose rights the First Amendment protects" and ruled, "[p]ut simply . . . the government can't tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it.” See the decision and reports from NPR, Bloomberg News, and The Washington Post.

  • The Fourth Circuit has ruled that a candidate who takes part in an insurrection may be barred from holding public office under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. The decision came in a case that sought to bar Madison Cawthorn’s candidacy. See decision and report from Bloomberg News.

May 27, 2022 in Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 16, 2022

Do as I do....

Not too long ago I was driving in the car with both junior associates. I was talking to my spouse on the phone (safely via hands free), and in the course of the conversation I used the "s" word--"stupid." An adorable little 4 year old voice called out from the back seat, "Mommy, we don't say 'stupid.'" To which I said, "you are right, I am so sorry." 

This little episode, which has sadly happened more than once, got me thinking about the advice that judges give attorneys. Judges are often very quick to give excellent advice to attorneys, but then fail to follow their own advice in writing opinions. Now, I know that opinions are different from briefs, but despite these differences, I think that there are some pieces of their own advice that judges should follow.

Advice #1: Be Brief

Just last week I read a story that included advice from Chief Justice John Roberts on keeping briefs brief. When I teach appellate advocacy, I tell my students that the one thing that ALL judges agree on is briefs are too long. But what about judicial opinions? Oh my! I decided to do an informal survey of the most recent opinions posted on appellate court websites. Here is what I have for published or precedential opinions:

While this endeavor is highly unscientific (I am sure the empiricists are cringing), my purpose was to get just a random snapshot. This snapshot produced an average of 31.7 pages. Half of the opinions were over 20 pages. Another snapshot would have different results--easily higher, perhaps lower.

What is the problem with long opinions? Well, Luke Burton, a career clerk on the Eighth Circuit has discussed them here. The problems he lists include increased (1) litigation costs, (2) misinterpretation of opinions, and (3) difficulty for the parties in understanding the decision. While all of these are real problems, I think that two and three should especially catch the attention of judges, which leads me to my second piece of advice that isn't always followed.

Advice #2: Write for your audience.

Judges like to remind brief writers to write for judges and their clerks, not the client and not the partner. Likewise, judges need to remember their audience--the parties. Sure, judicial opinions, especially at the highest court in a jurisdiction, can introduce rules that inform and impact others, but at its core, a judicial opinion seeks to resolve a dispute between two (or more) parties. And while these parties may be sophisticated, they might not be lawyers. Therefore, judicial opinions should be written in a clear, concise manner that is largely devoid of legalese. 

Have you ever visited a doctor and had that person explain your ailment in medical terms that you could not understand? I have, and it is really frustrating. Doctors and lawyers deal with some of the most private, trying, and important matters in a person's life. Just like people should be able to understand their diagnosis from a doctor, parties should be able to read judicial decisions and understand the outcome and reasoning.

Advice #3: Don't hide the ball.

Based off of advice in Winning on Appeal, I always tell my students that their appellate briefs should not be like the latest show they are binge watching on Netflix.  It isn't a murder mystery where we wonder whodunnit or a Regency romance where we ponder who the protagonist will marry. In a brief the error being appealed, the proper legal standard, and the desired result should be perfectly clear and upfront in the brief. Some judges encourage advocates to use a well-written introduction to present these issues. 

Likewise, judges can and should use a well-written introduction to set out the key issues being resolved and the outcome. I remember when NFIB v. Sebelius was decided. When one starts reading that decision the result is not immediately apparent. It takes some deep reading (and nose counting) to figure out what is going on. And while that might be an extreme example, a good trial or appellate opinion sets out clearly in the beginning the issues in the case and the result before diving into the facts and reasoning.

Advice #4: About those footnotes.

Last, but not least, judges need to follow their own advice about footnotes. Just like textual footnotes detract from briefs, they also detract from opinions and contribute to the three problems identified above. Incidentally, I am also team #nocitationfootnotes, but I know that reasonable minds disagree on that point.

I get that many judges, especially trial judges, are working on huge caseload and tight deadlines. I also get that when attorneys don't follow this advice it makes it even harder for judges to do their jobs. But, perhaps modeling this advice will help slowly move the profession into following it as well.

May 16, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (3)