Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Over the last week, three separate lawsuits have been filed against President Trump and administration officials arguing that the government violates due process, the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Anti-Deficiency Act in ordering certain federal workers to work without pay. In short, the plaintiffs collectively argue that compelled work amounts to a taking of property without due process; that compelled work without pay amounts to involuntary servitude; that the government violates the FLSA by failing to provide on-time payments of overtime wages; and that the government violates the Anti-Deficiency Act by ordering federal employees to work, even if their services aren't needed "in connection with an imminent threat to human life or property" (as required by the Act). (The plaintiffs argue that the government's interpretation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, based on OLC memos, is at odds with the 1990 amendments to the Act. They also argue that this interpretation, and the Act itself, unconstitutionally encroach on Congress's appropriations authority.)
The plaintiffs (again, collectively) seek declaratory relief, back pay and overtime pay, and an injunction prohibiting the government from ordering them to work without pay, among other things.
The Fifth Circuit dismissed the free-speech claim of a state-court staff attorney who suffered reprisal for reporting judicial misconduct. The court ruled that the defendant, the court's chief justice, was entitled to qualified immunity, because the First Amendment law wasn't clearly established at the time of the reprisal.
The case arose when a "briefing attorney" for a state-court judge reported judicial misconduct on the part of the court's chief justice. The chief justice then arranged for the attorney not to be hired for a staff-attorney position in another judge's chambers. The attorney sued, arguing that the chief's actions amounted to retaliation for his free speech in violation of the First Amendment. The chief argued that the attorney's actions were governed by the state code of judicial conduct (which requires state judges and their staff to report judicial misconduct), that the speech was therefore pursuant to the attorney's "official duty," and that it was therefore unprotected.
The Fifth Circuit ruled that circuit law says that required disclosures are not part of an employee's "official duty" (and therefore are protected by the First Amendment), but that caselaw established this principle only after the chief's retaliation. As a result, the law wasn't "clearly established" when the chief retaliated, and he was therefore entitled to qualified immunity.
The court also ruled that the attorney's suit dodged Eleventh Amendment immunity problems under Ex Parte Young, because he sought only injunctive relief for an ongoing violation. But the relief he sought--appointment as a staff attorney for a judge on the court--was unavailable, because his original judge (the one who withdrew a job offer in light of the chief's retaliation) was no longer on the court, and because other judges selected their own staff attorneys. "There is no ongoing violation of federal law in the failure to hire Anderson for a different staff attorney position with a different judge."
The Sixth Circuit ruled today that a school district's exclusion of a non-preferred vendor from "Band Night" did not violate the First Amendment. In so ruling, the court rejected the vendor's sweeping free-speech claim that could have turned many contract disputes into First Amendment violations.
The case involved the Coopersville Area Public Schools' decision to limit participation at the District's "Band Night" to a single musical-instrument vendor. (The District previously opened Band Night to any vendors.) After conducting a competitive process, the District selected Meyer Music, and rejected a competitor, West Michigan Band Instruments, which had previously participated in Band Night. WMBI sued, arguing that its exclusion violated the First Amendment, because the exclusion meant that it couldn't promote its viewpoint (that it was the best musical-instrument vendor for band students and parents) at Band Night.
The court ruled that Band Night was either a limited public forum or nonpublic forum, and that the exclusion did not amount to viewpoint discrimination. The court said that WMBI failed to allege viewpoint discrimination, but, even if it did, "WMBI is a vendor who was excluded from a school forum, not because of its viewpoint, but because of its status as a non-preferred vendor who lost to Myer Music in the bidding process."
The court recognized that school districts put out bids for any number of different projects, and that a ruling in favor of WMBI could have transformed contract awards into First Amendment claims for the losing bidders.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Judge Wendy Bettlestone (E.D. Pa.) yesterday issued a preliminary injunction halting the government's final rules that provide sweeping exemptions to the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act.
Judge Bettlestone's ruling is the second in two days halting the rules. But unlike Sunday's ruling, which applied just to the plaintiffs, Judge Bettlestone's injunction applies nationwide. The ruling strikes yet another significant blow against the administration's efforts to eviscerate the contraception mandate and means that the government can't enforce its new rules unless and until it successfully appeals or wins a stay. The second ruling also makes it more likely that the issue will sooner-or-later end up at the Supreme Court.
The court held that the religious and moral exemptions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, for both procedural and substantive reasons. As to procedure, the court held that the government's earlier failure to apply APA procedures to the interim rules "infected" its adoption of the final rules. As to substance, the court ruled that the final rules "exceed the Agencies' authority under the ACA" and cannot be justified by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The court recognized the controversies around nationwide injunctions, but wrote that a nationwide injunction was justified here for three reasons:
For one, anything short of a nation-wide injunction would likely fail to provide the States "complete relief." . . .
Second, it is far from clear how burdensome a nation-wide injunction would be on Defendants, given that when "agency regulations are unlawful, the ordinary result is that the rules are vacated--not that their application to the individual petitioners is proscribed."
Third, one of the risks associated with a nation-wide injunction--namely, "foreclosing adjudication by a number of different courts"--is not necessarily present here, as the parallel litigation in the Ninth Circuit evidences.
Fundamentally, given the harms to the States should the Final Rules be enforced--numerous citizens losing contraceptive coverage, resulting in "significant, direct and proprietary harm: to the States in the form of increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, as well as increased costs associated with unintended pregnancies--a nation-wide injunction is required to ensure complete relief to the States.
Monday, January 14, 2019
Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois District 1 has introduced a Resolution in the House of Representatives to censure Congressman Steve King of Iowa, listing specific incidents beginning in 2006 and ending with the January 10 remark by Steve King to the New York Times: "White nationalist, White supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?’’ Interestingly, the NYT article was profiling King as a precursor of the president's current demand for a "wall" on the southern border of the nation. In a subsequent television interview Steve King stated he rejected white supremacy.
In November, a coalition of civil rights groups wrote a letter to the then-Speaker of the House and the then-House Majority Leader seeking censure of Representative King, detailing some of the same incidents in the Rush Resolution (and providing citations) as well as including others.
Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., issued a preliminary injunction yesterday that halts the government's implementation of its sweeping exemptions to Obamacare's contraception requirement in the plaintiff states.
The ruling is a blow to the administration's attempts to allow organizations to opt-out of the contraception requirement on their own say-so, and without informing the government.
Recall that just last month the Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction barring the government from enforcing interim exemptions, but limited the injunction to plaintiff states.
Yesterday's ruling halts the final rules (not the interim ones). But as Judge Gilliam noted, they're more or less the same, except that the final rules went through notice-and-comment procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act. Those rules include a religious exemption and a moral exemption that permit any organization that has a religious or moral objection to unilaterally opt-out of the contraception requirement, without filing an exemption or even noting an objection to the government.
The court ruled that the religious exemption likely violated the APA, because it's contrary to the ACA's contraception mandate. (The court rejected the government's position that the ACA's mandate is really just a suggestion.) The court also held that the government's final rule isn't required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because no authority says that simply informing the government of a religious objection (by writing a letter, for example) is a substantial burden. The court noted that there's much work to be done on these issues, however, when the case goes forward.
The court also ruled that the moral exemption likely violated the APA, also because it's contrary to the ACA. Among other problems, the court noted that the Senate rejected a statutory moral exemption when it passed the ACA.
The ruling temporarily halts enforcement of the government's new final rules in the plaintiff states--California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
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.
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.
Friday, December 21, 2018
The Sixth Circuit ruled that a group of Iraqis couldn't bring a habeas petition to challenge their removal to Iraq, and that the district court erred in granting class-wide relief over their detention claim. The ruling sends the case back for further proceedings, but it leaves no room for the lower court to halt their removal. This means that the petitioners will have to follow normal channels available to them to challenge their removal (if any), but that they may be able to obtain injunctions related to their detention one-by-one.
The case arose when a group of Iraqis brought a putative class action habeas petition on behalf of "all Iraqi nationals in the United States with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE as a result of Iraq's recent decision to issue travel documents to facilitate U.S. removal." They then brought a second claim, to challenge their continued detention during the pendency of their cases.
The district court ruled that while Congress had vested jurisdiction in "executing removal orders" exclusively in the AG (and thus divested the courts of jurisdiction over those claims), the "extraordinary circumstances" here created an as-applied constitutional violation of the Suspension Clause. As to the detention claims, the district court granted a class-wide preliminary injunction requiring bond hearings.
The Sixth Circuit reversed on both counts. As to the Suspension Clause ruling, the Sixth Circuit called the district court's approach "a broad, novel, and incorrect application of the Suspension Clause" and held that "the type of relief Petitioners seek is not protected by the Suspension Clause":
As the government states, "[t]he claims and relief requested here are fundamentally different from a traditional habeas claim." Petitioners' removal-based claims did not challenge any detention and did not seek release from custody. Rather, they sought "a stay of removal until they . . . had a reasonable period of time to locate immigration counsel, file a motion to reopen in the appropriate administrative immigration forum, and have that motion adjudicated to completion in the administrative system, with time to file a petition for review and request a stay of removal in a federal court of appeals." "[T]he nature of the relief sought by the habeas petitioners suggests that habeas is not appropriate in these cases" because "the last thing petitioners want is simple release" but instead a "court order requiring the United States to shelter them." Munaf. And the relief ordered by the district court--a stay of removal--did not result in Petitioners' release from custody. Because the common-law writ could not have granted Petitioners' requested relief, the Suspension Clause is not triggered here.
Moreover, the court said that Congress provided an adequate alternative to habeas to the petitioners: a motion to reopen followed by a petition for review filed in a court of appeals.
As to the detention claims, the court held that the statute grants courts the power to issue injunctive relief only as to "an individual alien against whom proceedings under such part have been initiated"--and not class-wide relief.
Thursday, December 20, 2018
Bill Barr, President Trump's nominee to be AG, earlier this year issued a sweeping criticism of Robert Mueller's investigation into obstruction of justice by the President that further reveals his views on executive authority. (We previously posted on Barr's views on the unitary executive here.) The memo, penned on June 8, 2018, was directed to Deputy AG Rosenstein and Assistance AG Steve Engel, and addresses Mueller's investigation into obstruction based on President Trump's statements to James Comey related to Michael Flynn (that he hoped Comey could eventually "let . . . go" of the Flynn investigation) and his firing of Comey.
The memo--including Barr's constitutional claims, and his prejudgment of Mueller's investigation--will undoubtedly become an issue during his confirmation hearings.
This may become an issue, too: Barr wrote a detailed, 19-page legal analysis on a difficult and hotly contested legal question, even as he acknowledged that he was "in the dark about many facts." (Indeed, Barr doesn't seem to have any particular insider knowledge of Mueller's investigation at all, yet he builds his analysis on remarkably detailed assumptions or guesses about Mueller's legal positions and arguments.) Congress might take note that other attorneys, when "in the dark about many facts," might pause and reflect a little before issuing a 19-page memo with detailed legal analysis--and that Barr's willingness to do so might reflect on his judgment and professionalism.
In short, Barr argues that Mueller is playing loose with the federal law that criminalizes obstruction, and that as a matter of constitutional law the President can't be convicted of obstruction for acting within his authority just because he had a bad motive. In other words, according to Barr the President has inherent Article II authority to do what he did (make the statements to Comey, and fire Comey), and those acts can't become illegal just because he did it with a bad motive.
Barr acknowledges that there are some acts a president might take that would constitute obstruction--for example, by "sabotaging a proceeding's truth-finding function" by "knowingly destroy[ing] or alter[ing] evidence, suborn[ing] perjury," etc.--stopping just short of a Nixonian conclusion that "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." But under his theory, there seems to be no way to prevent a president from interfering with or entirely halting an investigation or prosecution into any of these illegalities (aside from whether a sitting president can be prosecuted).
Here's the thumbnail version of the constitutional argument:
Second, Mueller's premise that, whenever an investigation touches on the President's own conduct, it is inherently "corrupt" . . . for the President to influence that matter is insupportable. In granting plenary law enforcement powers to the President, the Constitution places no such limit on the President's supervisory authority. Moreover, such a limitation cannot be reconciled with the Department's longstanding position that the "conflict of interest" laws do not, and cannot, apply to the President, since to apply them would impermissibly "disempower" the President from supervising a class of cases that the Constitution grants him the authority to supervise.
Third, defining facially-lawful exercises of Executive discretion as potential crimes, based solely on subjective motive, would violate Article II of the Constitution by impermissibly burdening the exercise of core discretionary powers within the Executive branch.
The details begin on page 9 of the memo. (Earlier portions of the memo argue that Mueller is misreading and misapplying the obstruction statute.)
An individual and three gun-rights groups filed suit this week in the D.C. District to halt the government's new bump-stock ban. The lawsuit seeks to stop the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from implementing and enforcing its final rule redefining "bump-stock-type" devices as "machineguns" under the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act and thus outlawing them.
The lawsuit alleges an illegally abrupt about-face on the definition (reversing the prior agency position that bump-stocks were not machineguns), without sufficient explanation, and a variety of "irregularities" in the rule-making process under the Administrative Procedure Act; and violations of the tax code.
It also alleges that the ban violates the Takings Clause, the Ex Post Facto Clause, and the Contracts Clause--all kind of a stretch, to be way too generous. (There's no Second Amendment allegation.)
Finally, the complaint alleges that acting AG Whitaker lacks authority to enforce the ban, because (wait for it) . . . his appointment was invalid.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Judge Jon Tigar (N.D. Cal.) today turned his temporary restraining order against the Administration's policy that makes anyone who crosses the southern border ineligible for asylum into a preliminary injunction. (Recall that the court issued a temporary restraining order late last month. It expired today.)
The ruling halts--or continues to halt--the Administration's ban on southern-border-crossing asylum claims. Still, the Administration's request to the Supreme Court to intervene in Judge Tigar's earlier temporary restraining order is still pending.
After hearing arguments, Judge Tigar wrote that "[t]he harms to those seeking asylum are also even clearer, and correspondingly the public interest more plainly supports injunctive relief."
This was the second ruling today against Administration asylum policies. We covered the earlier one, striking DOJ and USCIS rules largely banning victims of domestic violence and gang violence from asylum, here.
Judge Emmet Sullivan (D.D.C.) today ruled that several aspects of the DOJ's and USCIS's standards for "credible fear" determinations by asylum officers in expedited removal proceedings violated the Immigration and Naturalization Act or were otherwise arbitrary and capricious and therefore invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Judge Sullivan vacated the credible fear policies; permanently enjoined the government from applying those policies and from removing plaintiffs who are currently in the United States without first providing a valid credible fear determination; and ordered the government to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with a new credible fear determination. (At the same time, the court identified portions of the standards that were not inconsistent with the INA.)
The ruling means that the government cannot implement its sweeping and unilateral restrictions on asylum claims at the credible fear stage based on domestic violence and gang violence. It follow by just a couple weeks another significant ruling against Administration asylum restrictions.
The ruling is a huge victory for asylum claimants, and a serious blow against the Trump Administration's efforts to restrict the bases for asylum at the credible fear stage by unilateral agency action.
The case tested then-AG Sessions's ruling in Matter of A-B- and a USCIS Policy Memo, both of which had the effect of denying asylum to victims of domestic violence and gang violence. The court ruled that most of the standards in these administrative documents violated the INA and the APA.
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
The Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit today tossed out the scores of complaints against Justice Kavanaugh on the ground that as a Supreme Court justice he is no longer subject to the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act. Thus, the Council lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the complaints.
Chief Justice Roberts referred to the Tenth Circuit 83 complaints, alleging that Justice Kavanaugh testified falsely to Congress in his confirmation hearings about his role in the Bush administration, that he testified falsely about his personal conduct, and that he displayed partisan bias and lack of appropriate judicial temperament--all in violation of various canons of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.
But the Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit ruled that the Act "effectively precludes action against an individual who is no longer a circuit, district, bankruptcy or magistrate judge." "In conclusion, Congress has not extended the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act to Supreme Court justices."
Still, this might not end the matter. As the ruling states,
The importance of ensuring that governing bodies with clear jurisdiction are aware of the complaints should also be acknowledged. Accordingly, we request that the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States forward a copy of this Order to any relevant Congressional committees for their information.
. . .
As with any misconduct complaint . . . any complainant has a right to seek review of this Order by filing a petition for review by the Judicial Council . . . .
Friday, December 14, 2018
Judge Reed O'Connor (N.D. Tex.) today issued a sweeping and breathtaking ruling striking the entire Affordable Care Act. Judge O'Connor ruled that the individual mandate could no longer be supported by Congress's taxing power; that the individual mandate is not severable from the rest of the ACA; and that therefore the entire ACA must fail.
The case, Texas v. United States, arose after Congress passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which set the tax-penalty for noncompliance with the ACA's individual mandate at $0. Texas, a handful of other states, and a couple individuals sued, arguing that the individual mandate could no longer be supported by Congress's taxing power (as the Court held in NFIB), and, because it also couldn't be supported by Congress's Commerce Clause power (also as the Court held in NFIB), it was unconstitutional. Moreover, they argued that it was non-severable from the non-discrimination and community rating provisions of the ACA, and so therefore those provisions needed to fall, too.
The court agreed. Judge O'Connor ruled that the tax-penalty of the individual mandate could no longer be supported by Congress's taxing authority (in light of the $0 penalty in the 2017 tax act, which means that the penalty no longer raises money for the government, the touchstone for the taxing power). And because the mandate couldn't stand alone, without a tax penalty, because it can't be supported by the Commerce Clause, it is unconstitutional. But Judge O'Connor went a step farther and ruled that the individual mandate was non-severable from the entire ACA. The court looked to the statutory language (including congressional findings, which stated that the individual mandate was an essential part of the integrated ACA in order to ensure broad health insurance coverage and low costs), and the Court's ruling in NFIB to concluded that the entire Act was non-severable. As a result, the court struck the entire Act.
The ruling came as a declaratory judgment and summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, despite the fact that the plaintiffs originally sought only declaratory relief and a preliminary injunction.
Unless stayed pending appeal (not in this ruling), the ruling gives cover to the government to start to dismantle the entire ACA (or at least those provisions that it hasn't already started to dismantle).
The Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court's preliminary injunction barring the government from enforcing its interim final rules allowing employers and organizations more freely to exempt themselves from the Affordable Care Act's contraception requirement. But at the same time, the court narrowed the nationwide injunction to just the plaintiff states.
The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs. But it may be short-lived, as the government moves to implement final rules (the same as the interim rules, published in November) in January.
The case, California v. Azar, involves several states' (California, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, and New York) challenge to the government's 2017 interim final rules substantially loosening the exemption standard for organizations and persons to get out from under the Affordable Care Act's contraception requirement. (Recall that the Supreme Court declined to rule on the government's prior exemption in Zubik v. Burwell.) The two IFRs categorically exempted certain religious employers and essentially made the requirement optional for anyone else who has a "sincerely held moral conviction" to contraception.
The plaintiffs argued that the IFRs violated the Administrative Procedure Act (because the agencies didn't use APA notice-and-comment procedures in implementing the IFRs), equal protection, and the Establishment Clause. The Northern District of California held that they were likely to succeed on their APA claim, and issued a nationwide injunction.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed, but limited the injunction to the plaintiff states.
The court first held that the case wasn't moot. The court said that while the agencies published final rules in November, those rules won't go into effect until January 14, 2019. In the meantime, the IFRs are in effect. And because the plaintiffs challenge the IFRs, their case isn't moot.
The court next held that the plaintiffs had standing, based on their increased costs for their already-existing contraception programs. "The states show, with reasonable probability, that the IFRs will first lead to women losing employer-sponsored contraceptive coverage, which will then result in economic harm to the states" because the states will have to fill the coverage loss through their existing free or subsidized contraceptive programs.
As to the APA, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed--that HHS violated notice-and-comment rulemaking under the APA. The court held that the government's interests in eliminating regulatory uncertainty, eliminating RFRA violations, and reducing the cost of health insurance were insufficient to bypass notice-and-comment procedures. As to regulatory uncertainty, the court said it "is not by itself good cause" to bypass APA procedures. As to RFRA, the court said that "the agencies' reliance on this justification was not a reasoned decision based on findings in the record." And as to reducing health insurance costs, the court said that "[t]his is speculation unsupported by the administrative record and is not sufficient to constitute good cause." The court also said that the agencies lacked statutory authority to bypass notice-and-comment procedures.
But the court narrowed the district court's nationwide preliminary injunction, and applied it only to the plaintiff states.
Judge Kleinfeld dissented, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing, because "their injury is what the Supreme Court calls 'self-inflicted,' because it arises solely from their legislative decisions to pay" for contraception-access programs.
Thursday, December 13, 2018
The Fifth Circuit dismissed Texas's case seeking a declaration that its anti-sanctuary-city bill, SB4, did not violate the Constitution. The ruling follows its opinion earlier this year upholding most of the law.
The upshot: SB4 mostly stays on the books.
In this most recent case, Texas v. Travis County, the state sought declaratory relief that SB4 did not violate various provisions of the Constitution. (Recall that SB4 is a state law that requires jurisdictions within the state to comply with federal immigration detainer requests--and, to that extent, not be sanctuary jurisdictions.) The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of standing. But the court held that under Franchise Tax Board it lacked federal-question jurisdiction (and therefore didn't reach the standing question). Here's why (quoting Franchise Tax Board):
States are not significantly prejudiced by an inability to come to federal court for a declaratory judgment in advance of a possible injunctive suit by a person subject to federal regulation. They have a variety of means by which they can enforce their own laws in their own courts, and they do not suffer if the [constitutional questions that] such enforcement may raise are tested there.
[U]ntil Congress informs us otherwise, such a suit is not within the original jurisdiction of the United Sates district courts.
Because of the earlier ruling upholding SB4--and because this case merely dismisses Texas's suit for lack of jurisdiction--this case has no effect on SB4. As the court said, "[M]ost of SB4 is now in effect."
The Second Circuit ruled that a case challenging New York officials' eviction-settlement practices can move forward in federal court, despite the fact that a state-court judge ratified the settlements. The ruling is a victory for victims of the practices, and says that a civil-rights defendant can't side-step federal jurisdiction by having a state-court judge merely ratify the defendant's actions.
The case, Cho v. City of New York, arose when New York officials coerced individuals and businesses into signing settlement agreements waiving various constitutional rights in order to avoid eviction. The settlement agreements were subsequently "so-ordered" by state-court judges.
Plaintiffs sued in federal court under Section 1983, but the defendants won a district court ruling dismissing the case based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (That doctrine says that a federal district court can't hear an appeal of a state-court judgment.) The Second Circuit reversed.
The court ruled that the state-court judges' acts of "so-order[ing]" the settlement agreements didn't turn the plaintiffs' federal-court case into a de facto appeal (that would have been barred by Rooker-Feldman). Instead, the state-court judges merely ratified the settlements. Moreover, the plaintiffs' harm was caused by the coerced settlement agreements themselves, not by the state-court ratification. The court explained:
The instant case thus does not entail the evil Rooker-Feldman was designed to prevent. Plaintiffs are attempting to remedy an alleged injury caused when, prior to any judicial action, they were coerced to settle, not an injury that flows from a state-court judgment. By allowing an action such as this to go forward, we do not risk turning our federal district courts into quasi-appellate courts sitting in review of state-court decisions.
The ruling only allows the case to move forward in federal court; it says nothing about the merits.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Judge Jon S. Tigar (N.D. Cal.) ruled that San Francisco lacked standing to challenge the Trump Administration's rescission of administrative guidance documents related to various federal civil rights and immigration statutes. The ruling is a victory for the Trump Administration and its deregulatory agenda.
The case, San Francisco v. Whitaker, arose out of President Trump's executive order instructing agencies to identify regulatory actions that were "outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective" as candidates for repeal, modification, or replacement. Then-AG Sessions issued a memo stating that DOJ would no longer "issue guidance documents that purport to create rights or obligations binding on persons or entities outside the Executive Branch (including state, local, and tribal governments)." DOJ subsequently announced that it would rescind 25 guidance documents.
San Francisco sued to stop the DOJ from rescinding eight of those, arguing that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. (The eight relate to the ADA, the FHA, the INA, and various fee and fine practices.)
The court ruled that San Francisco lacked standing. While the court said that San Francisco could assert procedural standing or organizational standing, it still needed to show a harm--and it didn't. The city's theory of harm varied depending on the particular guidance document, but in general the court held that it failed to show that rescission would interfere with its interest in regulation, or increase the risk of enforcement action against it, or that it failed to show a sufficiently tight connection between the rescission and any harm to the city.
The ruling means that the rescission can move forward, ultimately curbing federal regulation of these provisions. Establishing standing to challenge a roll-back on regulations is always trickier than establishing standing to challenge regulations themselves, and it's not clear if or how another plaintiff might show a harm to challenge these or other rescission documents.
In the wake of the government's release of sentencing memos for Michael Cohen--and their fingering of President Trump for unlawful acts during the campaign--there's renewed interest in whether a president can be criminally charged.
Marty Lederman has an op-ed in today's NYT, where he argues that President Trump could be indicted, but that there are bigger fish to fry in the Mueller investigation:
Perhaps Mr. Trump will become the first president to face criminal charges. Perhaps not. But that's the least of it. We'd be wise to shift our attention from the unlikely possibility of a trial to the much more important matter of what the Mueller investigation might tell us about Mr. Trump's relationships with Russia and whether they compromise his ability to protect and defend the nation.