Friday, April 19, 2019
Josh Douglas & Mike Solimine have published Precedent, Three-Judge District Courts, and the Law of Democracy, 107 Geo. L.J. 413 (2019). Here’s the abstract:
As recent partisan gerrymandering cases have shown, three-judge district courts play a unique and important role in how the federal judiciary considers significant election law disputes. Yet two somewhat quirky procedural questions involving these courts remain unresolved: first, is a Supreme Court ruling to summarily affirm a three-judge district court’s decision precedential on all future courts? That is, why should a one-line order from the Supreme Court, without explanation, formally bind all future courts on the issue, especially when it is unclear what aspect of the lower court’s decision was correct? Second, must a three-judge district court follow, as mandatory authority, circuit precedent in the circuit in which it sits, even though an appeal from the ruling of a three-judge district court will skip the court of appeals and go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court?
This Article tackles these problems and provides clear-cut answers, which will ultimately improve judicial decisionmaking for some of the most important cases that the federal judiciary hears given their effect on democracy. On the first question, we find that summary decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are entitled to zero or very little precedential value, and therefore that the Justices need not feel obliged to hear these cases in full if they want the issue to percolate in the lower courts first. Yet there should be a presumption in favor of the Court providing legal guidance on the issue, meaning that most of the time it should set the case for oral argument and provide a full written opinion. On the second question, we conclude that circuit precedent is not formally binding on three-judge district courts, although of course in many cases it will be highly persuasive.
Procedural questions stemming from three-judge district courts impact their substantive rulings, which mostly involve redistricting and campaign finance. Resolving these two questions on the procedures involving three-judge district courts will help to ensure that these special courts operate as Congress intended, ultimately improving our electoral system.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Now on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is my essay, When American Pipe Met Erie. I review a recent article by Steve Burbank and Tobias Wolff, Class Actions, Statutes of Limitations and Repose, and Federal Common Law, 167 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1 (2018).
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Frank v. Gaos (covered earlier here). The Court had initially granted certiorari to decide “[w]hether, or in what circumstances, a cy pres award of class action proceeds that provides no direct relief to class members supports class certification and comports with the requirement that a settlement binding class members must be ‘fair, reasonable, and adequate.’” Following oral argument, however, the Court ordered supplemental briefing on whether any plaintiff had Article III standing under the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Spokeo v. Robins.
Today’s per curiam opinion remands the case for the lower courts to consider the standing question:
After reviewing the supplemental briefs, we conclude that the case should be remanded for the courts below to address the plaintiffs’ standing in light of Spokeo. The supplemental briefs filed in response to our order raise a wide variety of legal and factual issues not addressed in the merits briefing before us or at oral argument. We “are a court of review, not of first view.” Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U. S. 709, 718, n. 7 (2005). Resolution of the standing question should take place in the District Court or the Ninth Circuit in the first instance. We therefore vacate and remand for further proceedings. Nothing in our opinion should be interpreted as expressing a view on any particular resolution of the standing question.
Justice Thomas dissented. He would have found that the plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to establish standing but that “the class action should not have been certified, and the settlement should not have been approved.”
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
The Federal Bar Association has announced its 4th Annual National Community Outreach Project for April 2019. This year's project focuses on educating youth about the judicial system by letting them see first hand how courthouses operate. Here's the FBA press release:
Arlington, VA – The Federal Bar Association announces its fourth annual National Community Outreach Project, reaching out to youth and other communities coast to coast to open the federal judicial system for the public to see. In these times when communities, especially youth, have lost confidence in our judicial system, the FBA’s NCOP seeks to instill confidence in the judicial system in middle and high-school students and other communities by bringing them into the courthouses, meeting with lawyers, observing court proceedings, and talking directly to federal judges.
In recent years, Federal Bar Association chapters across the United States participated, spreading the word throughout the country and involving the federal judiciary in districts throughout the nation. This program has made a lasting effect on the communities they serve.
The Federal Bar Association’s mission statement includes a commitment to the communities in which their members serve. With events like tours of the federal courts, viewing federal court proceedings, tours of federal agencies and providing citizens with free legal advice, the Federal Bar Association has reached out in a variety of creative ways to fulfill this commitment.
Sponsored by the Foundation of the Federal Bar Association, the NCOP is back this year, even bigger than last year, undoubtedly with an even bigger impact. Through the NCOP, the FBA is making every April the “National Community Outreach” month. The National Community Outreach Project of 2019 will kick off in April. For more information, please visit: www.fedbar.org/NCOP
More than 25 chapters and sections in multiple districts across the country have agreed to participate in the fourth annual National Community Outreach Project.
Main Website: www.fedbar.org
NCOP Link: www.fedbar.org/NCOP
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Friday, March 8, 2019
On Friday, April 5, 2019, the University of Colorado Law School’s Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law will host its 2019 Rothgerber Constitutional Law Conference, “National Injunctions: What Does the Future Hold?” The conference is free and open to the public. Register here by March 29.
From the announcement:
This year's conference will feature an exciting panel of diverse scholars and lawyers with remarks by Dean S. James Anaya, University of Colorado Law School; Phil Weiser, Colorado Attorney General; and Professor Suzette Malveaux, University of Colorado Law School.
Sessions will examine the past, present, and future of national injunctions and the remedy’s impact on immigration, civil rights, separation of powers, and more. Topics include court authority and policy considerations, lessons learned from various models, and other conceptions of national injunctions.
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
SCOTUS: Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline for class-certification appeals is not subject to equitable tolling
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, which involves Rule 23(f)’s 14-day deadline for seeking permission to appeal a district court’s class-certification ruling.
In Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, the Court makes clear that the 14-day deadline is not jurisdictional, which means that it “can be waived or forfeited.” [Slip op. at 3-4] Nonetheless, the Court found that it is not subject to equitable tolling:
“Whether a rule precludes equitable tolling turns not on its jurisdictional character but rather on whether the text of the rule leaves room for such flexibility. Here, the governing rules speak directly to the issue of Rule 23(f)’s flexibility and make clear that its deadline is not subject to equitable tolling.” [Slip op. at 4]
Howard Wasserman has a more detailed recap at SCOTUSblog.
Monday, February 25, 2019
Today the Supreme Court decided Yovino v. Rizo, issuing a per curiam opinion that begins:
A judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, died on March 29, 2018, but the Ninth Circuit counted his vote in cases decided after that date. In the present case, Judge Reinhardt was listed as the author of an en banc decision issued on April 9, 2018, 11 days after he passed away. By counting Judge Reinhardt’s vote, the court deemed Judge Reinhardt’s opinion to be a majority opinion, which means that it constitutes a precedent that all future Ninth Circuit panels must follow. See United States v. Caperna, 251 F. 3d 827, 831, n. 2 (2001). Without Judge Reinhardt’s vote, the opinion attributed to him would have been approved by only 5 of the 10 members of the en banc panel who were still living when the decision was filed. Although the other five living judges concurred in the judgment, they did so for different reasons. The upshot is that Judge Reinhardt’s vote made a difference. Was that lawful?
The answer is no. The opinion concludes:
Because Judge Reinhardt was no longer a judge at the time when the en banc decision in this case was filed, the Ninth Circuit erred in counting him as a member of the majority. That practice effectively allowed a deceased judge to exercise the judicial power of the United States after his death. But federal judges are appointed for life, not for eternity.
We therefore grant the petition for certiorari, vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Call for Papers: Eleventh Annual Junior Faculty Federal Courts Workshop (Arkansas-Fayetteville, September 6-7, 2019)
Here is the announcement:
The University of Arkansas School of Law will host the Eleventh Annual Junior Faculty Federal Courts Workshop on September 6-7, 2019. The workshop pairs a senior scholar with a panel of junior scholars presenting works-in-progress.
The workshop is open to untenured and recently tenured academics who teach and write in the areas of federal courts, civil rights litigation, civil procedure, and other related topics. The program is also open to scholars who wish to attend, read, and comment on papers but not present. There is no registration fee.
The conference will begin on the morning of Friday, September 6, and conclude by lunchtime on Saturday, September 7. Each panel will consist of three to four junior scholars, with a senior scholar commenting on the papers and leading a group discussion.
The workshop will take place on the University of Arkansas’s flagship campus in Fayetteville. The Law School will provide lunches and dinners for those attending the workshop, but attendees must cover their own travel and lodging costs. Those wishing to present a paper must submit an abstract to email@example.com by March 29, 2019. Papers will be selected by a committee of past participants, and presenters will be notified by the end of May.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Steve Burbank and Tobias Wolff have published Class Actions, Statutes of Limitations and Repose, and Federal Common Law, 167 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
After more than three decades during which it gave the issue scant attention, the Supreme Court has again made the American Pipe doctrine an active part of its docket. American Pipe addresses the tolling of statutes of limitations in federal class action litigation. When plaintiffs file a putative class action in federal court and class certification is denied, absent members of the putative class may wish to pursue their claims in some kind of further proceeding. If the statute of limitations would otherwise have expired while the class certification issue was being resolved, these claimants may need the benefit of a tolling rule. The same need can arise for those who wish to opt out of a certified class action. American Pipe and its progeny provide such a tolling rule in some circumstances, but many unanswered questions remain about when the doctrine is available.
In June 2017, the Court decided CalPERS v. ANZ Securities, holding that American Pipe tolling was foreclosed to a class member who opted out of a certified class in an action brought to enforce a federal statute (the Securities Act of 1933) that contained what the Court labeled a “statute of repose.” In June 2018, the Court decided Resh v. China Agritech, which held that American Pipe tolling is not available when absent members of a putative class file another class action following the denial of certification in the first action rather than pursuing their claims individually in subsequent proceedings.
In this Article we develop a comprehensive theoretical and doctrinal framework for the American Pipe doctrine. Building on earlier work, we demonstrate that American Pipe tolling is a federal common-law rule that aims to carry into effect the provisions and policies of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, the federal class action device. Contrary to the Court’s assertion in CalPERS, American Pipe is not an “equitable tolling doctrine.” Neither is it the product of a direct mandate in Rule 23, which is the source of authority, not the source of the rule. Having clarified the status of American Pipe tolling as federal common law, we explain the basis on which the doctrine operates across jurisdictions, binding subsequent actions in both federal and state court. We argue that the doctrine applies whether the initial action in federal court was based on a federal or state cause of action—a question that has produced disagreement among the lower federal courts. And we situate American Pipe within the framework of the Court’s Erie jurisprudence, explaining how the doctrine should operate when the putative class action was in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction and the courts of the state in which it was filed would apply a different rule. Finally, we discuss how CalPERS should have been decided if the Court had recognized the true nature of the American Pipe rule and if it had engaged the legislative history of the Securities Act rather than relying on labels.
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Today on the Courts Law section of JOTWELL is Pamela Bookman’s essay, Procedural Innovations to Address the Secrecy Problem in National Security Litigation. Pam reviews Shirin Sinnar’s recent article, Procedural Experimentation and National Security in the Courts, 106 Cal. L. Rev. 991 (2018).
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Today the Supreme Court issued an 8-0 decision in New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira. Justice Gorsuch authors the opinion (Justice Kavanaugh did not participate).
The case involves § 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides that “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” This provision
The Court addresses two questions. The first is: “When a contract delegates questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator, must a court leave disputes over the application of §1’s exception for the arbitrator to resolve?” [Op. at 1] The answer is no. “Given the statute’s terms and sequencing, we agree with the First Circuit that a court should decide for itself whether §1’s ‘contracts of employment’ exclusion applies before ordering arbitration.” [Op. at 4 (emphasis added)]
The second question is: “[D]oes the term ‘contracts of employment’ refer only to contracts between employers and employees, or does it also reach contracts with independent contractors?” [Op. at 1] The answer is that contracts with independent contractors can also be excluded from the FAA. Justice Gorsuch reasoned that “Congress used the term ‘contracts of employment’ in a broad sense to capture any contract for the performance of work by workers,” [Op. at 10 (emphasis in original)], and that the term ‘workers’ “easily embraces independent contractors.” [Op. at 10]
This part of Justice Gorsuch’s opinion emphasizes that statutory terms “generally should be interpreted as taking their ordinary meaning at the time Congress enacted the statute.” [Op. at 6 (citation omitted)]. Justice Ginsburg writes a brief concurring opinion to stress that there may be some exceptions to this interpretive principle, because Congress “may design legislation to govern changing times and circumstances” [Ginsburg Op. at 1]. Her opinion notes that “sometimes, words in statutes can enlarge or contract their scope as other changes, in law or in the world, require their application to new instances or make old applications anachronistic.” [Ginsburg Op. at 2 (citation omitted)]
Friday, January 11, 2019
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., requires plaintiffs to exhaust claims of employment discrimination with the EEOC before filing suit in federal court. Id. § 2000e-5(b), (f)(1).
The question presented is: Whether Title VII’s administrative exhaustion requirement is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit, as three Circuits have held, or a waivable claim-processing rule, as eight Circuits have held.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Today the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc. Justice Kavanaugh’s opinion—his first on the Supreme Court—begins:
Under the Federal Arbitration Act, parties to a contract may agree that an arbitrator rather than a court will resolve disputes arising out of the contract. When a dispute arises, the parties sometimes may disagree not only about the merits of the dispute but also about the threshold arbitrability question—that is, whether their arbitration agreement applies to the particular dispute. Who decides that threshold arbitrability question? Under the Act and this Court’s cases, the question of who decides arbitrability is itself a question of contract. The Act allows parties to agree by contract that an arbitrator, rather than a court, will resolve threshold arbitrability questions as well as underlying merits disputes. Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U. S. 63, 68−70 (2010); First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U. S. 938, 943−944 (1995).
Even when a contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, some federal courts nonetheless will short-circuit the process and decide the arbitrability question themselves if the argument that the arbitration agreement applies to the particular dispute is “wholly groundless.” The question presented in this case is whether the “wholly groundless” exception is consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act. We conclude that it is not. The Act does not contain a “wholly groundless” exception, and we are not at liberty to rewrite the statute passed by Congress and signed by the President. When the parties’ contract delegates the arbitrability question to an arbitrator, the courts must respect the parties’ decision as embodied in the contract.
Friday, January 4, 2019
Earlier this week, Chief Justice Roberts released his 2018 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. It focuses on the report and recommendations issued by The Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group earlier this year, and the steps the judiciary has taken toward implementing those recommendations.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Elizabeth Beske has published Rethinking the Nonprecedential Opinion, 65 UCLA L. Rev. 808 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
Nearly 90 percent of the opinions issued by the federal courts of appeal are unpublished and lack precedential effect, and where these cases lay out new legal rules, this phenomenon cannot be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s settled retroactivity jurisprudence. Harper v. Virginia Board of Taxation and Griffith v. Kentucky, both moored in Article III, require that any case’s new rule apply not only to future litigants but also to those whose cases are pending. A nonprecedential case by definition has no application beyond its litigants. This raises no problem where a case adds nothing new, as other litigants already have access to the precedents on which it relies. However, the majority of circuits allow nonprecedential opinions to break new ground, and these nonprecedential opinions frequently make law, command dissents, create or deepen circuit splits, and go up on certiorari to the Supreme Court.
Many commentators have debated the practical and legal implications of nonprecedential opinions, but this Article is the first to identify the inconsistency between groundbreaking nonprecedential opinions and settled principles of adjudicative retroactivity. This Article concludes that permitting nonprecedential opinions as an exception to adjudicative retroactivity threatens to drain Harper and Griffith of all but symbolic significance. Although a handful of circuits have guidelines for when an opinion must have precedential effect, this Article proposes use of the “new rule” construct, already familiar and well-developed in the context of habeas corpus and official immunity, as a mechanism for differentiating those opinions that may be designated nonprecedential from those that—under settled doctrine—may not.
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Lauren Bell has published Monitoring or Meddling? Congressional Oversight of the Judicial Branch, 64 Wayne L. Rev. 23 (2018). It concludes:
This Article has taken steps to remedy the disconnect between the literature on congressional oversight of the executive branch and oversight of the judicial branch. It has demonstrated that several of the theories that explain congressional oversight in the executive branch context also explain Congress’ interactions with the judicial branch. Moreover, this article has demonstrated that while Congress may be challenged in its capacity to provide effective oversight of the executive branch, it is able to effectively curb the courts. While traditional oversight activities, such as hearings and requests for information are likely to be more limited in the judicial context, when Congress turns its sights on the courts, it brings significant constitutional, statutory, and institutional authority to bear on reviewing judicial actions and offering correction.
In sum, if congressional oversight of the executive branch is political control of the bureaucracy, then it is hard not to view the totality of Congress’ efforts at monitoring and influencing the judicial branch chronicled here as attempts at political control of the judiciary. For this reason, it is unfortunate that the literature on congressional oversight continues to ignore almost completely Congress’ role in shaping the federal courts. Bringing the courts into the oversight literature will provide additional insights into the ways in which Congress approaches its oversight responsibilities, while allowing a fuller understanding of the impact of congressional oversight on the judicial branch.
Friday, November 30, 2018
Doron Kalir has published Artis v. District of Columbia—What Did the Court Actually Say?, 94 Notre Dame L. Rev. Online 81 (2018). It begins:
On January 22, 2018, the Supreme Court issued Artis v. District of Columbia. A true “clash of the titans,” this 5–4 decision featured colorful comments on both sides, claims of “absurdities,” uncited use of Alice in Wonderland vocabulary (“curiouser,” anyone?), and an especially harsh accusation by the dissent that “we’ve wandered so far from the idea of a federal government of limited and enumerated powers that we’ve begun to lose sight of what it looked like in the first place.”
One might assume that the issue in question was a complex constitutional provision, or a dense, technical federal code section. Far from it. The sole issue in Artis was the interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d), an obscure tolling provision dealing with the time period allowed for plaintiffs who filed their claims in federal court and were dismissed to refile their claims in state court.
Thursday, November 29, 2018
Fred Smith has published Abstention in the Time of Ferguson, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 2283 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
Of the roughly 450,000 Americans who are in local jails awaiting trial, many are there because they are poor. When people with economic resources are arrested, they can sometimes pay bail or fines and go on with their lives. Those who cannot afford to pay meet a different fate. Some remain in jail for days or weeks while waiting to see a judge. Some remain there for months because courts did not take their indigence into account when setting or reviewing bail. If they plead guilty in order to leave jail, this often triggers a new set of fines and fees that they cannot afford to pay. Failure to pay results in a new arrest. The cycle starts anew.
This Article is about federal lawsuits challenging various state and local regimes that criminalize poverty and a threshold barrier that has blocked some such federal suits. Under Younger v. Harris — and the doctrine of Younger abstention — federal courts may not disrupt a state criminal proceeding by means of an injunction or declaratory judgment. Federal courts’ reluctance to resolve such cases is predicated on federalism interests. Traditionally, however, federal courts have nonetheless entertained suits to stop or prevent irreparable harm, especially where an underlying state process provides an inadequate means to raise federal constitutional claims. When a state is engaging in a structural or systemic constitutional violation, federalism interests diminish and the risk of irreparable harm is grave.
This Article argues for an exception to Younger abstention when litigants challenge structural or systemic constitutional violations. “Structural” means a flaw that infects a judicial process’s basic framework in incalculable ways, such as denial of counsel at a critical stage or a judge’s financial interest in the outcome. “Systemic” means a flaw that routinely impacts litigants by way of a policy, pattern or practice, or other class-wide common set of violations. Because the United States Supreme Court has already made clear that “inadequate” state proceedings should not stand in the way of federal intervention, this exception can be adopted and implemented without major changes to existing Supreme Court precedent. No one should be in jail or punished because she is poor. Federal courts should ensure that this substantive right has practical effect.