Friday, May 15, 2020
There are major political implications, obviously, but these decisions are all about appellate jurisdiction—the majority declines to review the district court’s denial of Trump’s motions to dismiss without addressing the substantive merits of those rulings. Stay tuned, of course: it’s quite likely that this case is headed to the Supreme Court.
In the first decision (In re Trump, No. 18-2486), the court denies Trump’s petition for a writ of mandamus. Here is the voting and opinion breakdown:
Judge Motz wrote the majority opinion, in which Chief Judge Gregory and Judges King, Keenan, Wynn, Diaz, Floyd, Thacker, and Harris joined. Judge Wynn wrote a concurring opinion, in which Judges Keenan, Floyd, and Thacker joined. Judge Wilkinson wrote a dissenting opinion, in which Judges Niemeyer, Agee, Richardson, Quattlebaum, and Rushing joined. Judge Niemeyer wrote a dissenting opinion, in which Judges Wilkinson, Agee, Quattlebaum, and Rushing joined.
Judge Motz’s majority opinion begins:
President Donald J. Trump, in his official capacity, petitions this court for a writ of mandamus directing the district court to certify an interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) or, in the alternative, ordering the district court to dismiss the complaint against him. The President maintains that the district court committed multiple errors that we should correct; however, this case is not on appeal. We recognize that the President is no ordinary petitioner, and we accord him great deference as the head of the Executive branch. But Congress and the Supreme Court have severely limited our ability to grant the extraordinary relief the President seeks. Because the President has not established a right to a writ of mandamus, we deny his petition.
One interesting question that has divided federal appellate courts is whether a writ of mandamus can ever be used to compel a district court to certify an issue for interlocutory appeal under § 1292(b). The majority opinion states that “[w]e do not foreclose the possibility that in an appropriate case a writ of mandamus may issue to order a district court to certify an interlocutory appeal under § 1292(b)”—for example, “[i]f the district court ignored a request for certification, denied such a request based on nothing more than caprice, or made its decision in manifest bad faith, issuing the writ might well be appropriate.” Here, however, “the district court promptly recognized and ruled on the request for certification in a detailed written opinion that applied the correct legal standards. The court’s action was not arbitrary or based on passion or prejudice; to the contrary, it was in its nature a judicial act.”
In the second decision (District of Columbia v. Trump, No. 18-2488), the court dismisses Trump’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Here’s the voting and opinion breakdown:
Judge Motz wrote the majority opinion, in which Chief Judge Gregory and Judges King, Keenan, Wynn, Diaz, Floyd, Thacker, and Harris joined. Judge Niemeyer wrote a dissenting opinion, in which Judges Wilkinson, Agee, Quattlebaum, and Rushing joined. Judge Richardson wrote a dissenting opinion.
This appeal involved Trump’s effort to assert immunity with respect to claims brought against him in his individual capacity, and he argued that a denial of immunity was immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine. Although the district court had not denied Trump’s motion to dismiss on that issue, Trump appealed on the ground that a seven-month delay in ruling was an effective denial. Judge Motz’s majority opinion rejected that argument:
It is axiomatic that a district court has wide discretion to prioritize matters among its docket. *** This discretion can be abused. But this seven-month delay provides scant justification for intrusion into the district court’s docket, particularly given the court’s express statements that it would rule on the President’s motion to dismiss and its diligence in attending to other important matters in the case. This was not an unreasonable or inexplicable delay tantamount to a denial of immunity.
Again, stay tuned!