Monday, October 7, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Unanimous Jury Case

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Ramos v. Louisiana involving whether the Sixth Amendment confers a right to a unanimous jury verdict and whether that right is incorporated against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Thomas was not on the bench for the argument.

Recall that the issue of which rights in the Bill of Rights are incorporated to the states has received recent attention: in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010),  a 5-4 Court held that the Second Amendment is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with four Justices finding this occurred through the Due Process Clause and Justice Thomas stating the proper vehicle was the Privileges or Immunities Clause).  And just last Term, in Timbs v. Indiana, the United States Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. 

But embedded in Timbs was a dispute about whether the "right" and the "substance of the right" must be similar, a question that the Court did not address.  That dispute is at the heart of the incorporation doctrine surrounding the right to have a unanimous jury verdict.  Justice Alito explained the problem in footnote 14 of McDonald, after stating in the text that the general rule is that rights "are all to be enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment.”

There is one exception to this general rule. The Court has held that although the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury requires a unanimous jury verdict in federal criminal trials, it does not require a unanimous jury verdict in state criminal trials. See Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404 (1972).

Webster_County _Nebraska_courthouse_courtroom_3The precedential value of Apodaca, a case in which the Justices split 4-1-4, was at the center of the oral argument, although at times not as central as might be predicted.  The reliance of Louisiana on Apodaca in stare decisis considerations was certainly discussed at length,including the issue of how many inmates would be effected by the Court's ruling.  It was unclear how many persons were currently serving sentences under less than unanimous jury verdicts, although petitioner's counsel stated there were currently 36 cases on direct appeal.

However the Solicitor General of Louisiana largely advanced a different argument. She vigorously argued that the Sixth Amendment should not be read to require unanimous jury verdicts at all — whether or not in the context of incorporation. She stated that "nothing in the text, structure, or history of the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous jury verdicts." There seemed to be little support for this construction, although the Justices and opposing counsel did discuss the differences between unanimity and the "12" requirement which the Court has held is not constitutionally required.

There was little indication the Court was likely to revise its Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. And more indication that the Court would continue its trend of incorporating rights in the Bill of Rights as against the states, which would mean overruling Apodaca.

October 7, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Seventh Amendment, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Check it Out: Blackman and Tillman on Wall Funding, Emoluments, and Courts' Equitable Jurisdiction

Check out Josh Blackman and Seth Barrett Tillman's piece at The Volokh Conspiracy on why the federal courts lack equitable jurisdiction in the border wall funding case and the emoluments challenge. In short: The plaintiffs don't state a cause of action (that would have been available under the equitable jurisdiction of the High Court of Chancery in England in 1789).

Blackman and Tillman elaborate on the argument (and others) in this amicus brief, in the Fourth Circuit emoluments case.

Here's from Volokh:

In order to invoke a federal court's equitable jurisdiction, Plaintiffs cannot simply assert in a conclusory fashion that the conduct of federal officers is ultra vires, and, on that basis, seek equitable relief. "Equity" cannot be used as a magic talisman to transform the plaintiffs into private attorneys general who can sue the government merely for acting illegally. Rather, in order to invoke the equitable jurisdiction of the federal courts, plaintiffs must put forward a prima facie equitable cause of action.

***

A plaintiff's mere request for equitable or injunctive relief does not invoke a federal court's equitable jurisdiction.

***

[Otherwise, plaintiffs' approach] would open the courthouse door to every plaintiff with Article III standing, who asserts that a federal official engaged in illegal conduct.

August 14, 2019 in Courts and Judging, History, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

SCOTUS Remands Census Citizenship Case to Department of Commerce

In its highly anticipated opinion in Department of Commerce v. New York on the issue of whether the decision by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to include a citizenship question on the main census questionnaire for 2020 is lawful, the Court held that given the "unusual circumstances" of the case, the matter should be remanded to the agency to provide a "reasoned explanation" for its decision pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), thus affirming the district court on this point.

Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the Court is relatively brief — 29 pages — but the brevity is undercut by the shifting alliances within the opinion's sections and the additional 58 pages of opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. 

Recall the basic issue from oral argument: whether the challengers had standing, the actual enumeration requirements in the Constitution, Art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and Amend. XIV, § 2, and the nonconstitutional issues centering on the Administrative Procedure Act. The equal protection argument receded into the background on appeal, but has re-emerged in other proceedings.

After explaining the facts and procedural history, including the rather unusual question of whether the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, should be deposed, the Court unanimously held the challengers had standing, rejecting the government's contrary contention: "we are satisfied that, in these circumstances, respondents have met their burden of showing that third parties will likely react in predictable ways to the citizenship question, even if they do so unlawfully and despite the requirement that the Government keep individual answers confidential."

A majority of the Court, Roberts joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that the Enumeration Clause did not provide a basis to set aside the determination of Wilbur Ross. The majority held that the Constitution vests Congress with virtually unlimited discretion to conduct the census, and that Congress has delegated this broad authority to the Secretary of Commerce.  The majority stated that "history matters" so that "early understanding and long practice" of inquiring about citizenship on the census should control.

A notably different but numerically larger — 7 Justices — rejected the government's contention that the discretion given by Congress to the Secretary of Commerce is so broad as to be unreviewable. There is "law to apply" and the statute provides criteria for meaningful review.  Only Justices Alito and Gorsuch disagreed with this conclusion.

And yet another majority, the same majority as the holding for no claim under the Enumeration Clause — Roberts was joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — rejected the claim "at the heart of this suit" that Secretary Ross "abused his discretion in deciding to reinstate the citizenship question." Essentially, this majority held that because the statute gives the Secretary to make policy choices and "the evidence before the Secretary hardly led ineluctably to just one reasonable course of action."

That same majority rejected the claim of violations of the APA by Secretary Ross in the collection of information and data, and even if he did so, it was harmless.

Finally, the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court — this time with a majority of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, considered the district judge's conclusion that the decision of the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, rested on a pretextual basis. The Court's opinion reviewed the evidence presented to the district court:

That evidence showed that the Secretary was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process. In the District Court’s view, this evidence established that the Secretary had made up his mind to reinstate a citizenship question “well before” receiving DOJ’s request, and did so for reasons unknown but unrelated to the VRA.

After considering other evidence, the Court concluded:

Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency). And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.

We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process. It is rare to review a record as extensive as the one before us when evaluating informal agency action— and it should be. But having done so for the sufficient reasons we have explained, we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given. Our review is deferential, but we are “not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free.” United States v. Stanchich, 550 F. 2d 1294, 1300 (CA2 1977) (Friendly, J.). The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law, after all, is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.

In these unusual circumstances, the District Court was warranted in remanding to the agency . . . .

Thus the Court remanded the decision to the agency for further explanation.  To be sure, this conclusion and section seems inconsistent with the "abuse of discretion" section finding no "abuse of discretion."  And notably, Chief Justice Roberts is the only Justice supporting both of those conclusions.

Also notably, the Court's opinion does not comment on any of the recently revealed evidence or new proceedings - updates shortly.

500px-Seal_of_the_United_States_Census_Bureau.svg

 

June 27, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 21, 2019

SCOTUS Expands Takings Clause Challenges in Closely Divided Opinion

In its opinion in Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, a closely divided United States Supreme Court held that a person alleging that their property has been taken by state or local governments may sue in federal court without seeking compensation from state courts, overruling Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City (1985).

The case was reargued in February 2019 after Justice Kavanaugh joined the Court and his vote made a difference: the majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts is joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.  Justice Kagan wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.

The facts involve a regulatory taking challenge by the owner of land in rural Pennsylvania which includes a "family cemetery" in the Township of Scott, which had passed an ordinance requiring cemeteries be kept open to the public in daylight hours.  The land owner Rose Mary Knick challenged the ordinance as a taking in state court seeking only declarative and injunctive relief, but not "just compensation."  She thereafter went to federal court, which dismissed her action under the doctrine of Williamson County, which required seeking "inverse condemnation" (and thus "just compensation") in state court, and the Third Circuit affirmed.

Writing for the five Justice majority, Chief Justice Roberts holds that the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause is violated when the taking occurs and the property owner must be able to bring an action in federal court at that time. The effective establishment of an "exhaustion requirement" in Williamson County  relegates the Takings Clause to a "poor relation" among the Bill of Rights protections, which the majority finds must be remedied by eliminating the requirement to go to state court and therefore "restoring takings claims to the full-fledged constitutional status the Framers envisioned when they included the Clause among other protections in the Bill of Rights."  Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion explains the bad precedent of Williamson County as resulting from the particular procedural facts under which the "Court may not have adequately tested the logic" of the state-litigation requirement and did not anticipate the "preclusion trap" which later resulted (in which the state court findings would be given preclusive effect by the federal court).  The Court's opinion concludes that Williamson County should be overruled despite stare decisis given these "shaky foundations," adding that the state-litigation requirement has been subject to criticism and has "proved to be unworkable in practice."

Writing the dissenting opinion for four Justices, Justice Kagan argues that it is not simply Williamson County that is being overruled, but rejects longstanding understandings of the Takings Clause. For the dissenters, the text of the Takings Clause is vital: the Clause states that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. Thus, unlike other constitutional rights which the majority also discusses, Kagan argues that a Takings Clause violation has two necessary elements: "First, the government must take the property. Second, it must deny the property owner just compensation." The failure of the majority to recognize the distinctive aspects of the Takings Clause is is the basis of two of Kagan's four critiques of the Court's opinion. The third critique is based on the Court's reinterpretation of precedent, including under the Williamson County rule, which Justice Kagan states is "with a theory so, well, inventive that it appears in neither the petitioner’s nor her 15-plus amici’s briefs." This is an interesting nod to the amicus briefs filed on behalf of Knick which include briefs from Washington Legal Foundation and Congressman Steve King. Lastly, under the federal Tucker Act, involving claims against the federal government seeking just compensation for a taking. 

Perhaps most importantly, Justice Kagan's dissent argues that the consequence of the majority's decision will be to "channel a mass of quintessentially local cases involving complex state-law issues into federal courts." Kagan's opinion highlights the regulatory takings problems (as opposed to the less complex actual taking of property):

This case highlights the difficulty. The ultimate constitutional question here is: Did Scott Township’s cemetery ordinance “go[ ] too far” (in Justice Holmes’s phrase), so as to effect a taking of Rose Mary Knick’s property? Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U. S. 393, 415 (1922). But to answer that question, it is first necessary to address an issue about background state law. In the Township’s view, the ordinance did little more than codify Pennsylvania common law, which (the Township says) has long required property owners to make land containing human remains open to the public. See Brief for Respondents 48; Brief for Cemetery Law Scholars as Amici Curiae 6–26. If the Township is right on that state-law question, Knick’s constitutional claim will fail: The ordinance, on that ac- count, didn’t go far at all. But Knick contends that no common law rule of that kind exists in Pennsylvania. See Reply Brief 22. And if she is right, her takings claim may yet have legs. But is she? Or is the Township? I confess: I don’t know. Nor, I would venture, do my colleagues on the federal bench. But under today’s decision, it will be the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania that will have to resolve this question of local cemetery law.

Justice Kagan also points out that this is the second time in a month that a five member majority [and indeed, the same five member majority] of the Court has overruled "longstanding precedent," quoting from Justice Breyer's dissent in Franchise Tax Bd. of California v. Hyatt.  She writes that "the entire idea of stare decisis is that judges do not get to reverse a decision simply because they never liked it in the first place."

Gravemarker

[image via]

 

 

June 21, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Fifth Amendment, Interpretation, Supreme Court (US), Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Year-End Report by Chief Justice Roberts, 2018

For his 2018 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, the sexual harassment concerns which surfaced at the end of Chief Justice Roberts 2017 report (which we discussed here) occupied center stage. Opening with an anecdote about the importance of law clerks, the Chief Justice discussed the contribution that the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group has made, linking to its more than 140 page report issued in June. The Chief Justice noted that the report determined that "inappropriate workplace conduct is not pervasive within the Judiciary, but it also is not limited to a few isolated instances involving law clerks" and that "misconduct, when it does occur, is more likely to take the form of incivility or disrespect than overt sexual harassment" and frequently goes unreported.  The Chief Justice noted that committees have proposed changes to various codes of conduct and the employment dispute resolution plan.

Interestingly, the Chief Justice does not note that these codes exclude the United States Supreme Court itself, which is of continuing interest, and which the Chief Justice has alluded to in the past, as we last discussed here. Although he writes that "The Supreme Court will supplement its existing internal initiatives and experience of the other federal courts."

The Chief Justice again thanked judicial staff for working through numerous natural disasters, but again did not address the declining diversity of the federal bench, a lack we mentioned last year and which has seemingly only increased.

John_G._Roberts

image: John Roberts being sworn-in as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States by Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, 2005, via.

 

January 2, 2019 in Current Affairs, Gender, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

CFP: Kavanaugh Nomination

CFP from Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John's University School of Law.

JCRED

An America Divided: The Kavanaugh Nomination

The nomination and subsequent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States have sparked turmoil, outrage, and even more conflict to an already extremely divided America. Many agree, on the right and left, that the Senate hearings featuring Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh were historic, shocking and yet also affirming of deep-seated beliefs and fears. The hearings and subsequent events have revealed fundamental disagreement about fair and effective treatment of sexual violence survivors, about due process for those accused of sexual violence and about our collective expectations of the role, the demeanor, temperament and moral conduct of judges. . . .

We welcome full-length traditional law review articles with a maximum of 75 pages, as well as shorter essays and commentaries with a minimum of 10 pages. Authors will be selected based on brief abstracts of their articles, essays or commentaries. We aim to ensure an array of perspectives, methodologies and expertise.

SUBMISSION DEADLINES:
Abstract Deadline: November 12, 2018
Selected Authors Notification Date: November 30, 2018
Final Manuscript Submission Deadline:
January 15, 2019

full call and submission details here

 

 

October 23, 2018 in Conferences, Gender, Interpretation, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Check it Out: Huq on Kavanaugh and Originalism

Check out Aziz Huq's (U. Chicago) piece in PoliticoMagazine, Why You Shouldn't Care Whether Kavanaugh Is an "Originalist." Answer: The label has lost all but lost its meaning in public (non-scholarly) debates, and it just can't help us understand Judge Kavanaugh's approach.

Liberals and conservatives alike can do better [than focusing only on whether Judge Kavanaugh is an "originalist"]. The test of a judge's mettle is not whether they are an "originalist." That term just isn't as illuminating as many think. All judges, whether liberal or conservative, account for the Constitution's original understanding at times. All also rely on other sources of law. Even as legal scholars have refined precise definitions of originalism, the heat of partisan debate has reduced the term in public life into little more than code for substantive positions on abortion, gun control and the like.

August 9, 2018 in Interpretation, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Check it Out: Baude on Madison's Constitutional Liquidation

Check out William Baude's (U. Chicago) piece Constitutional Liquidation, forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review. Baude explores James Madison's idea that the Constitution's meaning could be "liquidated" and settled by practice. From the abstract:

Constitutional liquidation has three key elements. First, there had to be a textual indeterminacy. . . . Second, there had to be a course of deliberate practice. This required repeated decisions that reflected constitutional reasoning. Third, that course of practice had to result in a constitutional settlement. This settlement was marked by two related ideas: acquiescence by the dissenting side, and "the public sanction"--a real or imputed popular ratification.

Baude says that liquidation "provides a structured way for understanding . . . departmentalism," "could provide a salutary improvement over the modern doctrine of stare decisis," "is consistent with the core arguments for adhering to tradition," and "is less susceptible to some of the key criticisms against the more capacious use of historical practice."

August 8, 2018 in Interpretation, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Court Says Maryland, D.C. Plausibly Alleged Emoluments Claims Against President, Case Can Go Forward

Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) ruled today that Maryland and D.C. sufficiently alleged emoluments claims against President Trump. The court denied the President's motion to dismiss the case, and will allow the case to move forward.

We last posted on the case here, when Judge Messitte ruled that the plaintiffs have standing.

Recall that Maryland and D.C. sued President Trump for violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses for payments by foreign and federal and state governments in connection with the President and the Trump Organization's ownership of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. The President moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that indirect and direct payments to him aren't "emoluments." The court disagreed.

President Trump's motion required the court to define "emolument": Is it a broad term that could encompass the direct and indirect benefits that President Trump receives from his hotel (as the plaintiffs would have it), or is it much narrower, only prohibiting particular kinds of additional, outside compensation for the President? But before the court came to that question, it took a beat to broadly explain its options for constitutional interpretation. The court concluded that it should use text, original public meaning and executive branch practice as precedent to sort it out.

The court said that the text favored the broad interpretation of the term offered by the plaintiffs (and not the much narrower definition offered by the President):

As Plaintiffs point out, the Foreign Clause bans, without Congressional approval, "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever . . . . Use of such expansive modifiers significantly undermines the President's argument that this Clause was meant to prohibit only payment for official services rendered in an employment-type relationship. . . .

The phrase "any other Emolument" in the Domestic Emoluments Clause suggests the same broad interpretation of the term.

As to original public meaning, the court said that "[t]he clear weight of the evidence shows that an 'emolument' was commonly understood by the founding generation to encompass any 'profit,' 'gain,' or 'advantage,'" not limited to particular kinds of salary supplements. "Though the Court agreed that mere counting of dictionaries may not be dispositive, is nonetheless remains highly remarkable that "every English dictionary definition of 'emolument' from 1604 to 1806 relies on one or more of the elements of the broad definition DOJ rejects in its brief."

As to purpose, the court said that it "does not see how the historical record reflects anything other than an intention that the Emoluments Clauses function as broad anti-corruption provisions," and not a more limited purpose that would simply prohibit the President from receiving only "specifically identified categories of compensation."

Finally, the court said that executive branch precedent and practice also--and "overwhelmingly"--pointed toward a broad definition of "emoluments."

In conclusion,

With respect to the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Plaintiffs have alleged that foreign governments or their instrumentalities have patronized the Trump International Hotel, spending government funds to stay at the Hotel, eat at its restaurant, and sponsor events in the Hotel's event spaces. They have done so in some cases with the express intention to cater to the good graces of the President. . . .

[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that the GSA's abrupt about-face position [first concluding that the President was, and later that the President was not, in violation of his GSA lease for failing to divest] was and is in direct contradiction of the plain terms of the Lease and that, by determining that the Hotel was and is in compliance with the Lease, the Federal Government bestowed upon the President an emolument in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.

In addition to foreign governments patronizing the Hotel, Plaintiffs claim that at least one State--Maine--has patronized the Hotel, spending state funds for its Governor and his entourage to stay at the Hotel and to frequent its facilities during an official visit of those officials to Washington, including an encounter with the President where Presidential action of interest to the Governor good place.

[Plaintiffs plausibly plead] that, in connection with the Hotel, the President has received substantial tax concessions from the District of Columbia.

The court's ruling went to the President acting in his official capacity, not individual capacity. "The Court will address the President's Motion to Dismiss the individual capacity claims against him in a subsequent Opinion."

Before the court ruled on President Trump's motion, it took on Prof. Seth Barrett Tillman's argument that the Foreign Emoluments Clause doesn't extend to the President. The court said that the text, the original public meaning and purpose, and executive branch precedent and practice all point to the conclusion that the Clause does apply to the President.

July 25, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Declaration and the Constitution

We've posted several times over the years on the Declaration and its influence on constitutional interpretation; here are a few:

-Danielle Allen's Our Declaration

-Alexander Tsesis's For Liberty and Equality

-The Declaration in the OT 2010 Term

-The Declaration in Justice Kagan's nomination hearings

Happy 4th!

July 4, 2018 in History, Interpretation, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Check it Out: Rosenthal Measures How Originalist are Originalists

Check out Prof. Lawrence Rosenthal's (Chapman) piece, An Empirical Inquiry into the Use of Originalism: Fourth Amendment Jurisprudence During the Career of Justice Scalia. Rosenthal finds

that originalism played a small role in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence during the study period . . . . Despite Justice Scalia's professed commitment to originalism, he voted on originalist grounds in only 18.63% of cases. The Court's other professed originalist, Justice Clarence Thomas, voted on originalist grounds in only 15.71% of cases. . . . Voting patterns were not markedly different for justices who do not profess fealty to originalism.

June 29, 2018 in Interpretation, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SCOTUS Finds INA Deportation Provision for "Crime of Violence" Unconstitutionally Vague

In its opinion in Sessions v. Dimaya, the United States Supreme Court held that a portion of the definition of "crime of violence" in 18 U.S.C. §1, as applied in the deportation scheme of the Immigration and Nationality Act,  see 8 U. S. C. §§1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), 1229b(a)(3), (b)(1)(C), is unconstitutionally vague.

The Court's somewhat fractured opinion concluded that the residual clause, §16(b), which defines a “crime of violence” as “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense" is unconstitutionally vague.

Justice Kagan's opinion was joined in its entirety by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Gorsuch joined only Parts I, III, IV–B, and V, thus making these sections the opinion of the Court.

The Court's opinion relied on Johnson v. United States (2015), authored by Justice Scalia, in which the Court found a similar residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), defining “violent felony” as any felony that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another,” 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B) unconstitutionally “void for vagueness” under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

The Court in Dimaya ruled that

§16(b) has the same “[t]wo features” that “conspire[d] to make [ACCA’s residual clause] unconstitutionally vague" {in Johnson}.  It too “requires a court to picture the kind of conduct that the crime involves in ‘the ordinary case,’ and to judge whether that abstraction presents” some not-well-specified-yet-sufficiently- large degree of risk. The result is that §16(b) produces, just as ACCA’s residual clause did, “more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates.”

The United States and the dissenting opinions attempted to distinguish the INA provision from the ACCA provision in several ways. Kagan, writing for the Court in Part IV that "each turns out to be the proverbial distinction without a difference." 

34033716420_bd72e5fd56_zGiven Gorsuch's joining with the perceived more liberal-leaning Justices on the Court, his concurring opinion is sure to attract attention.  Gorsuch's substantial opinion (18 textual pages to Kagan's 25 page opinion for the Court and plurality), leans heavily on the foundations of due process, beginning

Vague laws invite arbitrary power. Before the Revolu­tion, the crime of treason in English law was so capa­ciously construed that the mere expression of disfavored opinions could invite transportation or death.

More importantly, Gorsuch disavows any notion that the context of immigration deportation merits any special consideration and that the Court's holding is narrow, stressing that the problem with the statute is the procedural one of failing to provide notice (and standards for judges) rather than the substantive choice by Congress.

Taken together with Johnson, the holding in Dimaya means that statutes must be much more precise when defining a "crime of violence" or risk being held unconstitutionally vague.

[image: caricature of Justice Neil Gorsuch by Donkey Hotey via]

April 17, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 9, 2018

District Court Upholds Massachusetts's Assault Weapons Ban

Judge William G. Young (D. Mass.) last week rejected a Second Amendment challenge to Massachusetts's assault weapon ban. Judge Young held that covered rifles fell outside the Second Amendment and thus enjoyed no constitutional protection.

The case, Workman v. Healey, tested the state's ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. The state ban was styled on the federal assault weapons ban, but, unlike Congress, the Massachusetts Legislature made the ban permanent. Plaintiffs sued in early 2017, arguing that the ban violated the Second Amendment.

The court disagreed. Judge Young wrote that the banned weapons fell outside the core of the Second Amendment and enjoyed no constitutional protection. He declined to apply any level of scrutiny and simply upheld the ban. The court explained:

Consequently, "Heller . . . presents us with a dispositive and relatively easy inquiry: Are the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines 'like' 'M-16 rifles,' i.e., 'weapons that are most useful in military service,' and thus outside the ambit of the Second Amendment?" The undisputed facts in this record convincingly demonstrate that the AR-15 and [large-capacity magazines] banned by the Act are "weapons that are most useful in military service." As a matter of law, these weapons and [large-capacity magazines] thus fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment and may be banned.

The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the AR-15 is a popular firearm, and therefore enjoys Second Amendment protection:

Yet the AR-15's present day popularity is not constitutionally material. This is because the words of our Constitution are not mutable. They mean the same today as they did 227 years ago when the Second Amendment was adopted. The test is not the AR-15's present day popularity but whether it is a weapon "most useful in military service."

Judge Young went on to quote Justice Scalia from Scalia Speaks.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the ban is vague (because it doesn't define what "copies or duplicates" of assault weapons means) and that enforcement violated the Ex Post Facto Clause (because the state attorney general issued a notice that could punish existing ownership of banned weapons).

April 9, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

More Challenges to Citizenship Question on Census

The United States Commerce Department's announcement that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950, continues to provoke litigation. Recall that soon after the late March announcement, California v. Ross challenged the constitutionality of the change as violating the Constitution's requirement of  “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every ten years for the sole purpose of apportioning representatives among the states. U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and amend. XIV, § 2.

An additional complaint filed in the Southern District of New York, New York v. United States Department of Commerce, raises the same constitutional objection on behalf of seventeen state plaintiffs, the District of Columbia, as well as six cities and the United States Conference of Mayors. The first count of the complaint is based on the "actual enumeration" requirement and avers that adding a citizenship question will "deter participation." The allegations in the complaint regarding the link between a citizenship demand and lower participation interestingly rely on the Census Bureau's own arguments and findings. The complaint alleges that consequences of lower participation is "an undercount" that will not reflect the accurate population of the plaintiffs, effecting their representation in the House of Representatives and the Electors.  Two additional counts are based on the Administration Procedure Act, with the second count regarding the government's decision as contrary to the constitution and law including arguments regarding the "actual enumeration" requirement.

Additionally, the NAACP has filed a complaint in the District of Maryland, NAACP v. Bureau of the Census, with one count based on the "actual enumeration" requirement. The NAACP complaint stresses the risks of an undercount of racial and ethnic minorities, and opens thusly:

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution imposes one of the few affirmative obligations on the federal government: to conduct an “actual Enumeration” of all residents every ten years. Despite this duty, the United States has undercounted people of color since the nation’s founding, starting with the decision to treat African American slaves as only three-fifths of a person. The Three-Fifths Clause appeared in the same constitutional provision that mandates a decennial census.

 

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April 4, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Interpretation, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Check it Out: Uzzell on LOC's Release of Madison's Notes, and Why We Should Care (or Not)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Three Judge Court Holds North Carolina Redistricting Unconstitutional

In an extensive and well-crafted opinion in the consolidated cases of Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters v. Rucho, a three judge court found North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.

Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford in the earliest days of this Term.  Recall also that in early December, the United States Supreme Court added another partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, Benisek v. Lamone. 

Fourth Circuit Judge James Wynn's almost 200 page opinion for the majority, joined by Senior District Judge Britt, first discusses the facts involved in the North Carolina redistricting, some incidents and players of which will be familiar from the Supreme Court's opinion in Cooper v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case challenging only two districts and arising from an earlier North Carolina redistricting.

This is the 2016 plan at issue in Common Cause and League of Women Voters:

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Judge Wynn's opinion carefully resolves the question of standing and justiability.  Important to the justiciability analysis is the issue of judicially manageable standards, and Judge Wynn writes a robust support for social science, noting that the "Supreme Court long has relied on statistical and social science analyses as evidence that a defendant violated a standard set forth in the Constitution" and citing cases under the Equal Protection Clause such as Yick Wo v. Hopkins, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co.  (It is interesting in this regard to (re)consider Chief Justice Roberts's statements during the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford disparaging social science.) 

Judge Wynn wrote:

To hold that such widely used, and relied upon, methods cannot provide a judicially manageable standard for adjudicating Plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering claims would be to admit that the judiciary lacks the competence—or willingness—to keep pace with the technical advances that simultaneously facilitate such invidious partisanship and provide an opportunity to remedy it.

On the merits of the Equal Protection Clause claim, Judge Wynn's opinion found that there must be an intent to discriminate on a partisan basis and that there was such an effect, and then the burden would shift to the governmental defendant to prove that a legitimate state interest or other neutral factor justified such discrimination. Here, Judge Wynn's opinion concluded that all were resolved in the challengers' favor.  On the First Amendment claim, Judge Wynn considered several strands of doctrine:

Against these many, multifaceted lines of precedent, the First Amendment’s applicability to partisan gerrymandering is manifest. How can the First Amendment prohibit the government from disfavoring certain viewpoints, yet allow a legislature to enact a districting plan that disfavors supporters of a particular set of political beliefs? How can the First Amendment bar the government from disfavoring a class of speakers, but allow a districting plan to disfavor a class of voters? How can the First Amendment protect government employees’ political speech rights, but stand idle when the government infringes on voters’ political speech rights? And how can the First Amendment ensure that candidates ascribing to all manner of political beliefs have a reasonable opportunity to appear on the ballot, and yet allow a state electoral system to favor one set of political beliefs over others? We conclude that the First Amendment does not draw such fine lines.

Nevertheless, with no clear framework for resolving the First Amendment issues, Judge Wynn found that the Equal protection framework was most applicable, and again satisfied by the plaintiffs.
 
Finally, the court found that North Carolina's "2016 Plan’s invidious partisanship runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in “the People.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 2," and to disfavor a class of candidates and dictate the outcome of an election as prohibited by  art. I §4.

In a brief separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part, District Judge Osteen, Jr., disagreed as the standard for proving intent in Equal Protection but concluded the standard was met; disagreed on the merits of the First Amendment claim; and agreed that there was a violation of Article I.

Judge Wynn's opinion gave North Carolina until January 29 to submit a new plan to the Court, but one wonders if North Carolina will also be aggressively pursuing remedies at the United States Supreme Court, especially given Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone. 

 

January 9, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Daily Read: Judicial "Supremacy" and Comparative Constitutional Law

While our recent attention has been focused on the character and the lack of  gender diversity of those who occupy judicial positions, the question of the role of the judiciary in a constitutional democracy is broader.  In an article entitled Judicial Review and Sexual Freedom published over a decade ago, I discussed the common conceptions that judicial review was the United States' most renowned legal export while exploring the ways in which it remained contested in the area of basic sexual equality. In his forthcoming article in Tulane Law Review, Judicial Supremacy in Comparative Constitutional Law, Manoj Mate "challenges the prevailing conception of judicial supremacy in comparative constitutional law as informed by U.S. and western models of constitutionalism, and argues for reconceptualizing judicial supremacy in a way that captures the broader range of institutional roles courts play globally." 

Mate seeks to reorient the discussion from "interpretative supremacy" ("the degree to which constitutional courts serve as the exclusive and final interpreter of the Constitution, or decisional supremacy") to "institutional supremacy" (the role of courts  in judicial review of constitutional amendments, entrenching constitutional norms and principles, and even structuring government and litigation).

140px-Emblem_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_India.svgMate takes as his central example the Supreme Court of India - - - which has one woman out of its 25 judges  - - - and  discusses in detail the cases and circumstances which lead to the present situation in which "India remains the only constitutional system in the world in which the Chief Justice of India (and the collegium of justices) enjoy primacy in judicial appointments."  The Supreme Court of India has also played a determining role in curbing government corruption and managing public interest litigation. 

Mate interestingly argues that the "supremacy of the Indian Supreme Court is not purely a product of the assertion of political power by political regimes who construct judicial review to advance political or partisan agendas and goals," but instead has operated in the particular conditions of India as a powerful force "for protecting constitutionalism and optimizing governance." In short, judicial review has not operated as anti-democratic but as staunchly democratic.

Mate concludes that India's "more pragmatic model of judicial supremacy" can be a model "for newer constitutional democracies across the globe." But Mate's article opens with a statement from Presidential advisor Stephen Miller in reference to judicial decisions regarding the constitutionality of the presidential travel ban as examples of judges taking "power for themselves that belongs squarely in the hands of the president of the United States."  When criticism of the judicial role is heightened, it does seem fitting that judges must act pragmatically to protect democracy.

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[Supreme Court of India building via]

January 2, 2018 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, International, Interpretation, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Daily Read: Can the President Pardon Himself?

Given recent reporting that raises the specter of a Presidential self-pardon, a few sources are worth considering.

First, there is the Constitutional text itself, which is not surprisingly inconclusive on this issue. Article II §2 begins by declaring that the President "shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" and ends by stating "and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."  What's clear is the exclusion of impeachment.  What's unclear is whether this power would extend to a self-pardon. 

Second, although there has never been a case of Presidential self-pardon in the United States, the possibility was contemplated with regards to President Richard Nixon.  An Office of Legal Counsel Opinion, Memorandum Opinion for the Deputy Attorney General, offered a succinct answer to the "question whether the President can pardon himself":

Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, it would seem that the question should be answered in the negative.

The Memo does raise several other possibilities, including one under the 25th Amendment involving the Vice-President, as well as the legislative actions.  The Memo, by Mary Lawton, was dated August 5, 1974; Nixon resigned a few days later.  A month later, President Gerald Ford issued a Proclamation with a full pardon to Nixon.

Third, a 1996 law review note article by now-Professor Brian Kalt of Michigan State University College of Law, Pardon Me?: The Constitutional Case Against Presidential Self-Pardons, springboards from the possibility that President George Bush, who had pardoned several people implicated in the Iran-Contra controversy would also pardon himself as he left office.  Kalt concludes that "the intent of the Framers, the words and themes of the Constitution they created, and the wisdom of the judges that have interpreted it all point to the same conclusion: Presidents cannot pardon themselves." 

The bedrock principle that "no one can be a judge in his own case" is the foundation of the Kalt article and its sources as well as the OLC memo, as well as providing a rationale for even the possibility not being excluded in the Constitutional text. 

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July 21, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, History, Interpretation, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, June 26, 2017

SCOTUS in Trinity Lutheran Finds Missouri's Denial of Funding to Church Playground Violates First Amendment

 In its opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, involving a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on Missouri's state constitutional provision, a so-called Blaine Amendment, prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations. 

Recall that at the oral arguments, most Justices seemed skeptical of Missouri's argument.  However, recall that the Eighth Circuit had concluded that Trinity Church sought an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church."  The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology."  For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.  

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Church Interior, Missouri, image via

In the Trinity Lutheran opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court characterized the Missouri policy as one that "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character."  Relying on the Free Exercise precedent it had discussed, it concluded that if such cases "make one thing clear, it is that such a policy imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny."  The Court added that "Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government program without disavowing its religious character."

Yet the question of subsidy or funding caused some consternation amongst the Justices who joined the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court.  Footnote 3, which provides in full "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination" is joined only by a plurality - - - Justices Thomas and Gorsuch explicitly exempted this footnote.  In two brief concurring opinions, one by Thomas joined by Gorsuch and one by Gorsuch joined by Thomas, the continued vitality of Locke v. Davey is questioned.

In the Court's opinion, Locke v. Davey is distinguished because "Davey was not denied a state-funded scholarship of who he was but because of what he proposed to do - to use the funds to prepare for the ministry." (emphasis in original).  For Gorsuch, this status-use distinction is not sufficient.

Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and almost twice as long as the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court, is rich with originalist history as well a discussion of Locke v. Davey and a citation to the 38 state constitutional provisions similar to the Missouri one.  For Sotomayor,

Missouri has recognized the simple truth that, even absent an Establishment Clause violation, the transfer of public funds to houses of worship raises concerns that sit exactly between the Religion Clauses. To avoid those concerns, and only those concerns, it has prohibited such funding. In doing so, it made the same choice made by the earliest States centuries ago and many other States in the years since. The Constitution permits this choice.

Sotomayor points to the possible ramifications of the opinion, including the troublesome footnote 3:

The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that—at least in this case and perhaps in others, see ante at 14, n. 3—it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program. History shows that the Religion Clauses separate the public treasury from religious coffers as one measure to secure the kind of freedom of conscience that benefits both religion and government. If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent.

It dies seem that Trinity Lutheran opens the floodgates for claims by religious entities that they are being "discriminated" against whenever there are secular provisions for funding.

June 26, 2017 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, History, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 19, 2017

SCOTUS Declares "Disparaging Trademarks" Provision Violates First Amendment

 In its opinion in Matal v. Tam, formerly Lee v. Tam, the United States Supreme Court has concluded that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.  Recall that the underlying controversy involves the denial of trademark registration to a band called "The Slants" on the ground that the mark would be disparaging.  Recall also that the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.  The en banc majority found that the disparagement provision constituted viewpoint discrimination and failed strict scrutiny.

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While all eight Justices participating in the decision agreed that the Federal Circuit should be affirmed, and all Justices agreed that the provision was subject to strict scrutiny as a viewpoint regulation, there was some disagreement regarding the applicability of other First Amendment doctrines as was apparent in oral argument.

Writing for the Court in most respects, Justice Alito's opinion concludes that the trademark disparagement provision applies to marks that disparage members of a racial or ethnic group (there was a statutory argument by Tam that this was not true) and is thus subject to the First Amendment. Justice Alito then proceeded to address three government arguments

  • that the trademarks are government speech and thus not subject to the First Amendment;
  • that trademarks are a form of government subsidy;
  • that trademarks should be subject to a new "government program" doctrine.

As to the first discussion on government speech, all the Justices joined Alito's opinion.  However, as to the second and third arguments made by the government, only Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Breyer joined.  In the concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Kennedy writes that the "viewpoint discrimination rationale renders unnecessary any extended treatment of other questions."  

The issue of whether First Amendment viewpoint discrimination doctrine applies to commercial speech has unanimous assent, with Alito's explanation for four Justices being a bit more extensive than Kennedy's explanation for four Justices, with the supplement of Thomas' additional concurrence to state that commercial speech should not be a separate First Amendment doctrine in cases content regulations.

The essence of the case is that the disparagement provision is viewpoint discrimination subject to strict scrutiny that it does not survive.  For Justice Alito (in a plurality portion of the opinion), the matter is resolved thusly:

the disparagement clause is not “narrowly drawn” to drive out trademarks that support invidious discrimination. The clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution. It applies to trademarks like the following: “Down with racists,” “Down with sexists,” “Down with homophobes.” It is not an anti-discrimination clause; it is a happy-talk clause. In this way, it goes much further than is necessary to serve the interest asserted.
[emphasis in original]

From the perspective of the other four Justices, Kennedy phrases the problem a bit differently in addressing the government's arguments that the disparagement clause was not actually a viewpoint discrimination.  Kennedy ends by stating

A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.

Is this a distinction without a difference?  Doctrinally, it makes little difference.  But it does convey a difference in the mood of the Court.

June 19, 2017 in First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Race, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)