Thursday, October 18, 2018

Check it Out: Liptak on Judicial Clerk Training by Heritage

Check out Adam Liptak's piece in the NYT on the Heritage Foundation's closed-door "training academy" for federal judicial clerks. Here's from the article:

"Generous donors," the application materials said, were making "a significant financial investment in each and every attendee." In exchange, the future law clerks would be required to promise to keep the program's teaching materials secret and pledge not to use what they learned "for any purpose contrary to the mission or interest of the Heritage Foundation."

October 18, 2018 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

High Court Declines to Intervene in ND Voter-ID Dispute, Allows Law to Go into Effect

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to intervene in a case challenging North Dakota's voter-ID law. The move allows the law to go into effect for the upcoming elections.

We previously posted on the case--on the Eighth Circuit's ruling--here.

The action (or lack of it) is significant, because of the nature of the law. As Pema Levy explains at Mother Jones, the ND law requires ND voters to show proof of a residential address in order to cast a ballot. But it says that PO boxes don't count. That matters, because Native American voters in ND often lack street address, and instead use PO boxes, because the U.S. Postal Service doesn't provide residential delivery in rural Native American communities.

The legislature enacted the law after the state elected Heidi Heitkamp to the Senate by a very slim margin, and with the strong backing of Native American voters. Heitkamp is the only statewide elected Democrat in the state.

Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Kagan, dissented. She wrote that not intervening in the case and vacating an Eighth Circuit stay risks voter confusion (because the law was halted by a lower court for the primaries), and that "the risk of disfranchisement is large."

October 10, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin's Butter-Grading System

The Seventh Circuit last week upheld Wisconsin's butter-grading system against Dormant Commerce Clause, due process, and equal protection challenges. The ruling means that Wisconsin's butter-grading system stays on the books.

The case, Minerva Dairy v. Harsdorf, took on Wisconsin's law for grading butter, which makes it unlawful "to sell . . . any butter at retail unless it has been graded." To satisfy this requirement, butter may be graded either by a Wisconsin-licensed grader, or by the USDA voluntary butter-grading program. The plaintiff, an Ohio butter producer, argued that the law violated the Dormant Commerce Clause, due process, and equal protection.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that the law didn't discriminate against interstate commerce, and so didn't violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. (The court didn't even apply Pike v. Bruce Church balancing, because the law didn't discriminate on its face or in effect.) The court also said that Wisconsin's butter-grading-licensing standards, which require a person to come to Wisconsin to test to be a Wisconsin-certified butter-grader, didn't discriminate, either (even though a would-be butter-grader who lives in or close to Wisconsin can get there easier than a would-be grader who lives farther away).

The court rejected the due process and equal protection challenges, too, because the law satisfied rational basis review.

October 9, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Non-Delegation Challenge to Sex Offender Statutes Faces Uphill Battle at Court

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Gundy v. United States, the case testing whether the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act delegated too much authority to the Attorney General to determine the Act's application to pre-Act offenders. Our preview is here.

If the arguments any any predictor, the Non-Delegation Doctrine challenge to the Act faces an uphill battle. Indeed, there was only one Justice, Justice Gorsuch, who seriously went to bat against the Act. And his problems with the Act sounded more in due process (void-for-vagueness), and not in the separation of powers or non-delegation.

The question for the Court was whether SORNA's delegation to the AG to determine the applicability of the Act to pre-Act offenders provided an "intelligible principle" to guide the AG's decision. If so, there's no delegation problem; if not, there's a violation of the Non-Delegation Doctrine. (That Doctrine seeks to preserve the separation of powers by preventing Congress from delegating too much law-making authority to the Executive Branch.)

The Court's approach will likely turn on two considerations. First, can the Court look to the Act in its entirety in determining whether Congress legislated with an "intelligible principle," or is it restricted to the particular provision that delegates authority to the AG to determine its application to pre-Act offenders? (Related: Should the Court seek to interpret the Act to avoid a delegation problem?) Court precedent and most of the Justice who spoke seemed to favor the former approach; only Justice Gorsuch spoke out forcefully in favor of the latter approach (and, again, his objections really sounded in due process, not the separation of powers). Next, does the Non-Delegation Doctrine apply differently to legislation that provides more serious enforcement than to legislation that provides less serious enforcement? In particular, is the Doctrine more rigorous when the delegation goes to the AG (as chief federal prosecutor of federal crimes, as opposed to an ordinary regulatory agency), because a vague delegation would put both the power to interpret the law and the power to prosecute the criminal law in the hands of one executive officer? Again, precedent and questions seemed to say no, and, again, only Justice Gorsuch seriously pushed back.

As far as the separation of powers goes, it's worth noting that if the Court rules that SORNA violates the Non-Delegation Doctrine, this is a net gain for the judicial branch: it means that the courts can play a more aggressive role than they have played in determining the authority of executive agencies in interpreting and executing the law. To that extent, we might consider this case alongside other challenges to the administrative state (challenges to the Chevron doctrine, challenges to Morrison v. Olson and independent agencies, etc.).

It's certainly possible that the Court might do some refining around the edges of the Non-Delegation Doctrine. (Maybe that's why the Court granted cert. Otherwise, the grant seems a mystery.) But it seems quite unlikely that the Court will hold the SORNA's delegation to the AG unconstitutional.

October 3, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Check it Out: Tribe on All the Ways a Justice Kavanaugh Would Have to Recuse Himself

Check out Laurence Tribe's piece in the NYT, All the Ways a Justice Kavanaugh Would Have to Recuse Himself. Tribe argues that given Judge Kavanaugh's "intemperate personal attacks on members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, his partisan tirades" last week, and "his stated animosities and observation that 'what goes around comes around,'" he'd have to recuse himself from a whole lot of cases:

Judge Kavanaugh's attacks on identifiable groups--Democrats, liberals, "outside left-wing opposition groups" and those angry "about President Trump and the 2016 election" or seeking "revenge on behalf of the Clintons"--render it inconceivable that he would "administer justice without respect to persons," as a Supreme Court justice must swear to do, when groups like Planned Parenthood, the NRDC Action Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America or the American Civil Liberties Union appear as parties or file briefs on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants.

 

October 2, 2018 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Court to Hear Arguments in Nondelegation Doctrine Challenge to Sex Offender Registration Act

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Gundy v. United States, the case testing whether Congress violated the separation of powers by delegating too much authority to the Attorney General to determine whether the Sex Offender and Registration and Notification Act applies to pre-Act offenders. Here's my preview for the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases (with permission):

FACTS

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

In 2006, Congress enacted SORNA to “establish a comprehensive national system for the registration” of sex offenders. Before SORNA, every state had its own registration system, and the federal government required states to adopt certain unifying measures or lose certain federal funds. SORNA strengthened these baselines, but it also did more.

In particular, SORNA created—and required states to create, as a condition of receiving certain federal funds—criminal penalties for individuals who fail to comply with its registration requirements. SORNA created a federal three-tier system for classifying sex offenders based on the significance of their offense, and made it a federal crime to fail to register for a specified number of years (depending on the tier of the crime). (This was different than the classification system that many states previously used, which set requirements based on individualized risk assessments of the offenders.) The Act states that a person who (1) “is required to register under” SORNA; (2) “travels in interstate or foreign commerce”; and (3) “knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required by” SORNA is guilty of a federal crime punishable to up to ten years in prison. 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). It also requires states (again, as a condition of receiving certain federal funds) to “provide a criminal penalty that includes a maximum term that is greater than 1 year for the failure of a sex offender to comply with” SORNA’s registration requirements.

But Congress didn’t specify whether these new criminal provisions would apply to pre-Act offenders. (The question was important: legislators estimated that there were more than 500,000 pre-Act offenders when Congress passed the law.) Instead, Congress left it to the Attorney General. SORNA says: “The Attorney General shall have the authority to specify the applicability of the requirements of this subchapter to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter . . . and to prescribe rules for the registration of any such sex offenders . . . .” 34 U.S.C. § 20913(d).

This gives the Attorney General quite a bit of discretion. It allows the Attorney General to apply SORNA to pre-Act offenders immediately, or later, or not at all. It also allows the Attorney General to make a decision at one time, but to change course later, or under any new President, with regard to whether and how SORNA’s registration requirements would apply to pre-Act offenders.

In fact, the Attorney General exercised this discretion, at least to some extent. Attorney General Alberto G. Gonzales issued an interim rule about six months after Congress passed SORNA stating that SORNA would apply to pre-Act offenders. Since then, different Attorneys General issued different guidelines as to how it would apply, particularly with regard to offenders who had been released from prison for longer than SORNA’s maximum registration periods (for example, a person who was released more than 25 years before Congress enacted SORNA, but who would be subject to a maximum 25-year registration period under SORNA). As relevant to this case, Attorney General Eric Holder issued guidance in 2010 that SORNA credit pre-Act offenders with their entire prior period in the community, regardless of what a local jurisdiction might decide.

Gundy’s Conviction

In 2005, Herman Avery Gundy pled guilty in Maryland to sexual assault of a minor. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with ten years suspended and five years of probation.

In November 2010, Gundy completed his state sentence and was transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to serve a related federal sentence. The Bureau of Prisons transferred Gundy from Maryland to a prison in Pennsylvania. In July 2012, it transferred him from Pennsylvania to a halfway house in New York to complete his sentence. Gundy was released on August 27, 2012. He remained in New York.

In October 2012, Gundy was arrested in New York and charged with violating SORNA’s federal criminal provision. The indictment alleged that Gundy (1) was “an individual required to register” under SORNA based on his 2005 Maryland sex offense, (2) traveled in interstate commerce, and (3) “thereafter resided in New York without registering” as required by SORNA.

Gundy moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing, among other things, that SORNA could not constitutionally apply to him, because Congress delegated too much authority to the Attorney General to make a fundamentally legislative decision about whether SORNA applied to pre-Act offenders. The district court initially dismissed the indictment, but later, on remand from the Second Circuit, rejected Gundy’s constitutional argument. The Second Circuit affirmed, and remanded the case for trial. Gundy was convicted, and the district court sentenced him to time served and five years of supervised release. Gundy appealed, again arguing that SORNA could not constitutionally apply to him. The Second Circuit again rejected this argument. This appeal followed.

CASE ANALYSIS

In order to protect Congress’s lawmaking authority within our separation-of-powers system—and to ensure that Congress does not cede this authority to the Executive Branch—the Court has set a standard for congressional delegations: it requires Congress to provide “intelligible principles” whenever it delegates authority to enforce the law to agencies within the Executive Branch. This is called the “Nondelegation Doctrine.”

Historically speaking, the Nondelegation Doctrine has been loose and quite permissive, giving Congress wide berth. Thus, the Court has said that a congressional delegation satisfies the Nondelegation Doctrine “if Congress clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of th[e] delegated authority.” American Power & Light Co. v. SEC, 329 U.S. 90 (1946). To date, the Court has found only two statutory delegations that violated the Doctrine, and both of those provided almost no guidance to the Executive.

Still, Gundy contends that SORNA’s delegation to the Attorney General to determine the Act’s application to pre-Act offenders violates the Doctrine. Gundy argues first that SORNA provides no intelligible principles to the Attorney General, because it doesn’t say “whether he should make any pre-Act offenders register; which offenders should be required to register; or even what he must (or must not) consider in deciding these questions.” He says that even the government concedes that SORNA allows the Attorney General to take no action at all, to wait years before taking action, and to reverse course at any time. Gundy claims this unbridled authority “can only be characterized as ‘legislative’ power[]” in violation of the separation of powers.

Gundy argues next that the Court should apply a heightened nondelegation standard in this context, and that SORNA violates the heightened standard, too. In particular, Gundy claims that SORNA delegates “significant power” to the Attorney General “to make policy decisions that bear directly on an individual’s liberty . . . ; disturb settled expectations of law . . . ; and infringe states’ sovereign interests (by regulating purely intrastate conduct and dictating to states, as a condition of federal funding, how they must regulate and criminalize conduct within their own borders).” Gundy contends that these features of SORNA require a heightened nondelegation standard, and that SORNA fails, because “the statute gives the Attorney General no meaningful guidance as to how to exercise these vast powers.”

The government counters that SORNA satisfies the traditional Nondelegation Doctrine. The government says that the Act identifies the official to whom it delegates authority (the Attorney General), and that SORNA’s text and history sufficiently provide a “general policy” that the Attorney General should pursue in making the determination. The government claims that SORNA thus easily satisfies the deferential traditional nondelegation standard.

To illustrate its point, the government contends that SORNA provides the Attorney General the exact same discretion as a hypothetical (and valid) statute that required all pre-Act offenders to register but authorized the Attorney General to grant waivers. Under this hypothetical (and, again, valid) statute, “the scope of [the Attorney General’s] authority . . . would be the same.” The government says that if Congress can enact this hypothetical statute (which it can), then it can also enact SORNA.

The government argues next that the Court need not address Gundy’s argument about a heightened nondelegation standard. The government contends that SORNA does not raise especial concerns that would justify a heightened standard, that the Court has already rejected a heightened standard, and that SORNA would satisfy any standard, anyway.

SIGNIFICANCE

This case addresses a key question left open the last time the Court took on SORNA, in Reynolds v. United States. 565 U.S. 432 (2012). In that case, the Court ruled that pre-Act offenders do not have to register under SORNA until the Attorney General validly specified that the Act’s registration provisions applied to them. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, noted that SORNA potentially raised a nondelegation problem:

it is not entirely clear to me that Congress can constitutionally leave it to the Attorney General to decide—with no statutory standard whatever governing his discretion—whether a criminal statute will or will not apply to certain individuals. That seems to me sailing close to the wind with regard to the principle that legislative powers are nondelegable.

This case picks up that cue. That’s notable, because the Nondelegation Doctrine has been all but dormant since 1935. In that year, the Court ruled in Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan, 293 U.S. 388 (1935), and Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, 295 U.S. 495 (1935), that two different statutes were unconstitutional. Since then, the Court has not ruled a single act of Congress unconstitutional under the Doctrine. This case could resurrect this long-dormant doctrine.

This could be especially significant in the broader context of a Court that seems increasingly skeptical, even hostile, to aggressive agency rule-making—what some describe as impermissible “lawmaking”—within the Executive Branch. This hostility comes out in the increasingly common arguments from some quarters against judicial deference toward agency rule-making under so-called “Chevron deference.” Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Chevron deference says that the courts should defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute, so long as the interpretation is reasonable. Opponents of Chevron deference call for greater judicial scrutiny of agency interpretations, in order to rein them in. (As this piece goes to print, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is fielding questions on this precise topic from Senators on the Judiciary Committee.) Arguments against Chevron deference share this feature with arguments against the deferential Nondelegation Doctrine: They both seek to control an Executive bureaucracy that some see as an unaccountable, lawmaking “fourth branch” of government.

Within this context, the Court’s ruling could contribute to a more general move by the Court to rein-in Executive agency actions. Such a move could shift power away from Executive agencies to Congress.

But on that point, it’s important to remember that in our separation-of-powers system there’s a third independent branch of government, the judiciary. And if the Court exercises its prerogative to shift power in this way—by tightening up the Nondelegation Doctrine, by doing away with Chevron deference, or by otherwise reining in agencies’ actions—it looks more like the Court is the branch that gets a boost in power.

October 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Nondelegation Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court to Consider Death Penalty for Condemned Prisoner who Can't Remember Crime

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Madison v. State of Alabama, the case testing whether the Eighth Amendment prohibits a state from executing a person whose medical condition prevents him from remembering his crime. Here's my preview from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases (with permission):

FACTS

In April 1985, Vernon Madison visited the home of his ex-girlfriend, Cheryl Green. Madison, who until a few days earlier had been living with Green, was there to collect some personal items.

At the same time, police officer Julius Schulte came to Green’s home in order to investigate a report that Green’s 11-year-old daughter was missing. Green’s daughter came home before Schulte arrived. Nevertheless, Schulte, at the request of Green’s neighbors, stayed at Green’s home to protect Green and her daughter until Madison left.

Madison at one point left Green’s property. But he returned with a pistol and shot Schulte twice in the head, killing him, as Schulte sat in his car. Madison also shot Green twice in the back.

Madison was convicted of capital murder, and the trial court sentenced him to death. The state appeals court reversed, however, concluding that Madison showed that the prosecutors excluded black veniremembers in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). After a second trial, Madison was again convicted of capital murder and again sentenced to death. But the appeals court again reversed his conviction, this time because the prosecutors introduced inadmissible evidence. Finally, after a third trial, Madison was again convicted and sentenced to death, and state appeals courts affirmed.

Madison pursued a series of state and federal post-conviction, collateral challenges. Each of these was ultimately denied. The Supreme Court declined to intervene. Madison v. Thomas, 135 S. Ct. 2346 (2015).

During this period (and while he was in prison), Madison suffered multiple strokes that left him severely impaired. In May 2015, he suffered a basilar artery occlusion, which caused bilateral cerebral and occipital infarctions and resulted in increased brain pressure, white matter attenuation, and possible temporal lobe damage. In January 2016, he suffered a thalamic stroke, which left him disoriented, appearing “very confused,” and with significant memory loss. (Madison suffered other strokes, too, which “negatively impacted his cognitive and body functioning,” but the details are less clear.)

Madison now suffers from encephalomalacia, meaning that there are some areas of his brain where the tissue is dead. He also suffers from vascular dementia, cognitive deficits, severe memory loss, and other chronic conditions that have decreased his capacity to “rationally understand[] his circumstances.”

After the state Attorney General asked the Supreme Court of Alabama to set an execution date, Madison filed state-court post-conviction petitions claiming that he was incompetent to be executed. At a hearing to evaluate his competence, Madison presented evidence of his cognitive injuries, dementia and memory loss, and diminished capacity for understanding his circumstances. In particular, Madison’s expert, Dr. John Goff, a neuropsychologist, testified that Madison’s memory had significantly declined, that he could not remember important events and facts, that he had a borderline-intelligence IQ of 72, and that he could not perform basic cognitive functions. The court-appointed expert, Dr. Karl Kirkland, agreed that Madison suffered physical and cognitive decline as a result of his strokes, but that Madison remembered the details of his court cases and had “a rational understanding that he is to be executed for killing a police officer in 1985.”

The state court found Madison competent to be executed. Under state law, Madison could not appeal this finding. So he brought a federal habeas corpus suit, raising the same claims that he raised in the state-court proceedings. The federal district court denied Madison’s application, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court summarily reversed in Dunn v. Madison, 138 S. Ct. 9 (2017), although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in concurrence that “[t]he issue whether a State may administer the death penalty to a person whose disability leaves him without memory of his commission of a capital offense is a substantial question not yet addressed by the Court.”

After the state set Madison’s execution date, Madison filed a second state-court petition challenging his competency to be executed. The court rejected Madison’s petition, writing that it “did not provide a substantial threshold showing of insanity . . . sufficient to convince this Court to stay the execution.”

This appeal followed.

CASE ANALYSIS

The Supreme Court ruled in Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930 (2007), that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a state from executing a person whose mental capacity prevents him or her from comprehending the reason for his or her punishment or rationally understanding the punishment. Moreover, the Court held that the state must provide a minimum process for a convicted person to show that he or she lacks this mental capacity. The Court so ruled because important purposes of capital punishment—retribution against a person who recognizes the severity of his or her offense, and “community vindication”—are ill-served by executing a person who lacks this fundamental mental capacity.  

At the same time, however, the Court has never said whether Panetti applies to individuals, like Madison, who, because of cognitive impairments, simply cannot remember his or her crime. And it’s never said whether, independent of Panetti, the Eighth Amendment and its “evolving standards of decency” prevent a state from executing a person who cannot remember the crime. These issues are what this case is about.

Madison argues first that his cognitive impairments render him unqualified for the death penalty under Panetti. He claims that because of his impairments he cannot “understand the circumstances surrounding a scheduled execution,” and thus falls squarely within the Panetti rule prohibiting his execution.

Madison argues next that his execution would not serve the penological objectives of the Eighth Amendment. He contends that his impairments—including both his inability to understand why he will be executed and his inability to remember his crime—mean that his execution would not serve any retributive purpose, or any other penological objective, for that matter.

Finally, Madison argues that “advances in neurological science now make clear the nature of this incompetency.” This means that condemned prisoners can’t simply fake a cognitive impairment to cleverly get out from under the death penalty, and that a ruling in his favor will not open the floodgates to false claims of memory loss.

The state counters that the state court’s conclusions satisfy Panetti. It says that Madison’s cognitive impairments do not preclude him from understanding that he is being punished for killing Officer Schulte, “or from sharing the community’s understanding of crime, punishment, retribution, and death.” The state contends that while Madison may not remember his crime, understanding his punishment is different. And the state court properly concluded, under Panetti, that Madison understood his punishment (even if he cannot remember his crime) and thus qualified for the death penalty.

The state argues next that nothing about the Eighth Amendment prohibits a state from executing a person who cannot remember his or her crime. The state asserts that neither the common law, “objective indicia of society” and professional associational standards, nor the retributive and deterrence purposes of the death penalty would counsel against a state executing a person who does not remember the crime. The state writes, “Madison’s mental condition does not preclude him from understanding that he is being punished for murdering a police officer or that such a murder is a grave moral wrong,” and “Madison’s execution will serve as an example to others that the intentional murder of a police officer will be punished.”

Finally, the state argues that Madison’s approach would increase the potential for false claims of cognitive impairment and manipulation of the death-penalty system. The state says that Madison’s argument gives undue weight to a diagnosis of dementia; that Madison’s argument would open the door to incompetence claims due to other cognitive impairments; and that “a person’s assertion that he cannot remember his crime is not objectively verifiable.”

SIGNIFICANCE

This case addresses an important unanswered question in the Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence: Does the Eighth Amendment prohibit a state from executing an individual who cannot remember his or her crime?

The question comes on the heels of a series of rulings in the last couple decades that restrict the application of the death penalty and mandatory lifetime imprisonment. Thus, the Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment forbids imposing the death penalty for nonhomicide crimes, Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008), and on mentally retarded defendants. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). The Court held that the Amendment bars capital punishment for children, Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), and life sentences without parole for children who commit nonhomicide offenses. Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). Most recently, the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a state from imposing a mandatory life sentence without parole for a juvenile defendant. (Bryan Stevenson, Madison’s attorney, argued that case.)

These were all closely divided, 5-4 rulings along traditional ideological lines (save for Graham and Atkins, which were both 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts concurring in Graham). Justice Kennedy not only sided with the majority in each of these cases, he also wrote the majority opinions in Miller, Kennedy, Graham, and Roper. In other words, Justice Kennedy was not only the swing vote on these issues, he was the Court’s leader on them.

Without Justice Kennedy on the Court, there may not be a majority to overturn the state court ruling here. (Among the Court’s conservatives, Chief Justice Roberts is probably the closest to the progressives on these issues, and yet he is probably less willing than Justice Kennedy to restrict the death penalty.) If Chief Justice Roberts joins the conservatives, the state court ruling will stand, whether or not the Senate confirms Judge Brett Kavanaugh in time for this case. (A Justice Kavanaugh seems likely, though not certain, to side with the conservatives, creating a likely 5-4 split against Madison. But even without a Justice Kavanaugh, a 4-4 split (along conventional ideological lines) would uphold the lower court ruling, without producing a precedential opinion.)

More generally, Justice Kennedy’s replacement seems likely to go against Justice Kennedy on any of these cases that carve out categorical exceptions to the death penalty and mandatory life sentences under the Eighth Amendment. If so, a new, conservative 5-4 majority could restrict or even undo much of the work that Justice Kennedy did on these issues.

October 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 28, 2018

District Court Says Members of Congress Have Standing to Sue President for Emoluments Violations

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) ruled today in Blumenthal v. Trump that members of Congress have standing to sue President Trump for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. At the same time, Judge Sullivan declined to rule on the President's other three arguments for dismissal--that the plaintiffs lack a cause of action, that they've failed to state a claim (because the President's business interests aren't "emoluments" under the Clause), and that injunctive relief sought is unconstitutional. Thus, the ruling is a set-back for the President, but Judge Sullivan may yet end up dismissing the case on other grounds.

We posted here on the earlier district court ruling that another Emoluments case, brought by Maryland and D.C., can move forward.

The Congressmembers' case alleges that President Trump's overseas business holdings and properties generate income and benefits for the President, without the consent of Congress, in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. That Clause says:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

The 201 plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They claimed that they were harmed (for standing purposes) because the President, by failing to seek congressional consent, denied each of them a "vote on the record about whether to approve his acceptance of a prohibited foreign emolument."

The court agreed:

[E]ach time the President allegedly accepts a foreign emolument without seeking congressional consent, plaintiffs suffer a concrete and particularized injury--the deprivation of the right to vote on whether to consent to the President's acceptance of the prohibited foreign emolument--before he accepts it. And although the injury is an institutional one, the injury is personal to legislators entitled to cast the vote that was nullified.

The court went on to say that standing didn't violate the separation of powers. The court held that the plaintiffs lacked an alternative legislative remedy, and that the case was appropriate for judicial review.

September 28, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Check it Out: The Atlantic Asks if Our Democracy is Dying

Check out The Atlantic's October Issue, Is Democracy Dying?, with a half-dozen or so takes on the question, including one by Justice Breyer.

September 27, 2018 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Senator Merkley Sues to Halt Kavanaugh Confirmation Process

Senator Jeff Merkley today sued President Trump, Senate colleagues, and others in federal court (D.D.C.) to halt the confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Merkley argues that the defendants' actions violate the separation of powers and the Senate's constitutional role in providing advice and consent on Judge Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.

The lawsuit relates to the defendants' failure to produce documents, not the more recent sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. The government will surely file a motion to dismiss based on the political question doctrine (itself a separation-of-powers matter), among others. The outcome of the case (and the confirmation process more generally) will set the standards for document release and Senate advice-and-consent for future judicial nominations, by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Here's the gist:

This case arises from the direct and substantial interference by President Trump and other agents of the executive branch in the ability of the Senate to examine the record and evaluate the fitness of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the President's nominee for a lifetime appointment as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. President Trump and agents of the executive branch interfered in the ability of Senator Merkley and the Senate to provide advice and consent by, inter alia, imposing a broad and unprecedented blockade on the Senate's and public's access to reams of key documents that directly bear on Judge Kavanaugh's views, experience, and character. This improper process regarding the production of relevant documents prevents Senator Merkley and his colleagues from properly exercising their constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent on the qualifications of the nominee and deprives them of the ability to fully assess the nominee's fitness to assume the position of an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

***

The President and officers of the executive branch have interfered in the Senate's advice and consent responsibility in three critical ways: encouraging the Senate Majority to not request documents related to Kavanaugh's time while serving as Staff Secretary to George W. Bush; blocking access to an extensive set of documents related to the nominee's views and actions while serving in President George W. Bush's Office of White House Counsel; and blocking full access by all Senators and the public to documents delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee but marked "Committee Confidential."

Senator Merkley asks the court to order that

(a) Defendant Trump withdraw his excessive invocation of executive privilege and produce a privilege log for documents truly subject to executive privilege;

(b) Defendants McConnell, Grassley, Adams, and Stenger not hold or permit a vote on the nominee's confirmation, or otherwise act to advance the confirmation process, until the National Archives releases his records, including the records requested by Senator Grassley regarding the nominee's work at the Office of White House Counsel, and there is sufficient time for the U.S. Senate to review the documents and conduct a careful review of the newly released documents;

(c) National Archives expedite the production of the documents to the earliest date practical;

(d) Defendant Burck cease and desist from usurping the traditional role of the neutral professionals at the National Archives.

September 26, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (3)

Check it Out: Bazelon on Felon Disenfranchisement in Florida

Check out Emily Bazelon's feature in the New York Times Magazine, Will Florida's Ex-Felons Finally Regain the Right to Vote?, on the history of felon disenfranchisement in the state, and the referendum effort to re-enfranchise 1.5 million ex-felons.

September 26, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ninth Circuit Rules No-Fly Challenger's Case Not Moot

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Fikre v. FBI that the plaintiff's due process challenges to his inclusion on the government's no-fly list were not moot, even though the government took him off the list during the litigation. The ruling means that the plaintiff's case challenging his inclusion on the no-fly list can move forward.

The case arose from Yonas Fikre's inclusion on the no-fly list and his several and significant resulting harms. Fikre alleged that his inclusion violated substantive and procedural due process, and he sought declaratory and injunctive relief. During the litigation, the government removed Fikre from the list, however, and moved to dismiss the case as moot. The district court granted the motion.

The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that Fikre's case came under the voluntary cessation exception to mootness--that signs pointed to the government opportunistically removing him, and that the government could reinstate him at any time. The court explained:

To begin, the FBI's decision to restore Fikre's flying privileges is an individualized determination untethered to any explanation or change in policy, much less an abiding change in policy. . . .

Moreover, the government has no assured Fikre that he will not be banned from flying for the same reasons that prompted the government to add him to the list in the first place, nor has it verified the implementation of procedural safeguards conditioning its ability to revise Fikre's status on the receipt of new information. . . .

Finally . . . we note that Fikre's removal from the No Fly List does not "completely and irrevocably eradicate[] the effects of the alleged violation[s]."

The ruling sends the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

September 20, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Court Declines Stay in Crossroads Campaign Finance Disclosure Case

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to stay a lower court ruling that struck an FEC reg that created a disclosure loophole for 501(c)(4) organizations.

We posted on the district court ruling, CREW v. FEC, here.

The reg allowed 501(c)(4)s and cooperating super-PACs to avoid statutory disclosure requirements. The district court ruled that the reg was at odds with statutory disclosure requirements.

Chief Justice Roberts last week issued an order (without opinion) staying the district court ruling, but yesterday the full Court vacated the Chief's order and denied the stay (also without an opinion).

Under the (now not stayed) district court ruling, the FEC has 45 days to come up with new regs that comply with the statute.

September 19, 2018 in Campaign Finance, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Call for Participation: UNLV Symposium on Dignity, Tradition, and Constitutional Due Process

The UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law is calling for presenters and commenters for this exciting symposium, Dignity, Tradition, & Constitutional Due Process: Competing Judicial Paradigms, March 14-15, 2019, in Las Vegas.

The Court's determination regarding which paradigm to apply [a "deeply rooted" historical paradigm, or a "dignity" paradigm] depends, of course, on which receives at least five affirmative votes in any given appeal. Until his recent retirement, Justice Anthony Kennedy usually was the deciding vote. The probable confirmation of Hon. Brett Kavanaugh to Kennedy's seat may portend severely limited use of the dignity paradigm, if not its effective demise.

Our symposium . . . explores which of these two seemingly irreconcilable standards is correct, or whether there are one or more alternative approaches the courts should use.

Here's the full call; proposals are due by October 8, 2018, to Professor Peter B. Bayer, peter.bayer@unlv.edu.

September 12, 2018 in Conferences, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Check it Out: Serwer on the Court's Return to the 19th Century

Check out Adam Serwer's piece in The Atlantic, The Supreme Court is Headed Back to the 19th Century. Here's a taste:

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court today is similarly blinded [like the Court in the late 19th century] by a commitment to liberty in theory that ignores the reality of how Americans' lives are actually lived. Like the Supreme Court of that era, the conservatives on the Court today are opposed to discrimination in principle, and indifferent to it in practice. Chief Justice John Roberts's June 2018 ruling to uphold President Donald Trump's travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries, despite the voluminous evidence that it had been conceived in animus, showed that the muddled doctrines of the post-Reconstruction period retain a stubborn appeal.

September 10, 2018 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Check it Out: Kruse on the Birth of the Federalist Society

Check out Michael Kruse's The Weekend at Yale That Changed American Politics on the founding of the Federalist Society, at Politico.

September 1, 2018 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

ACS Call for Papers: Junior Scholars Public Law Workshop at the AALS

The American Constitution Society is calling for papers for its Junior Scholars Public Law Workshop at the 2019 AALS Conference. The official call for papers is here; here are the details:

The American Constitution Society is pleased to announce a call for papers for a workshop on public law to be held the afternoon of Thursday, January 3, 2019, at the 2019 AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans. A committee composed to ACS's Board of Academic Advisors will select approximately 10 papers, and each selected author will have the opportunity to discuss his/her paper, as well as the paper of another author, in depth with two experienced scholars from the ACS network, which includes Erwin Chemerinsky, Pamela Karlan, Bill Marshall, Reva Siegel, Mark Tushnet, and Adam Winkler.

Papers can be on any field related to public law, including but not limited to: constitutional law, administrative law, antidiscrimination law, criminal law, environmental law, family law, federal courts, financial regulation, public international law, society welfare law, and workplace law.

The deadline for submissions is 11:50 p.m. on October 19, 2018. Submissions should be works that will not be published as of January 1, 2019.

Submissions should be emailed in Microsoft Word or PDF format to juniorscholarsworkshop@acslaw.org. Please indicate in the subject line "Submission for ACS Junior Scholars Public Law Workshop" and include the author's name, school, and contact information in a cover email. The cover email should also identify the field(s) in which the paper falls.

Tenure-track and tenured faculty, or faculty with similar status, who have been full-time law teachers for 10 years or less as of December 31, 2018, are eligible to participate. Co-authored submissions are permissible, but each of the coauthors must be individually eligible to participate in the workshop.

Authors are limited to one submission each. Selections will be made by November 16, 2018. Authors must arrange their own travel to the AALS Annual Meeting.

Inquiries may be sent to Kara Stein, at kstein@acslaw.org.

 

August 28, 2018 in News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

District Court Says Trump EOs Violate Federal Labor Law

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday in American Federation of Government Employees v. Trump that President Trump's executive orders sharply curtailing federal employees' collective bargaining and labor rights violate federal labor law. The ruling means that most of the EOs' limitations are invalid.

Together, the EOs set a timeframe for completion of collective bargaining negotiations; removed certain matters from the bargaining table completely; set certain procedures for negotiations; limited the extent to which federal employees could engage in union work during business hours; limited the government resources that union members could use for union activities; made it easier for the government to dismiss federal employees for unsatisfactory performance.

The court recognized that the EOs are subject to restrictions in statutory law, but that "the President could always theoretically claim that he possesses the inherent constitutional authority to take a given action, regardless of any conflict with a congressional statute and his resulting lack of statutory authority." "But Defendants have made no such assertion in the instant case; instead, they have 'expressly recognized statutory limitations on the President's authority to act in this area.'" The court, therefore, didn't rule on the constitutional question.

The government's omission of a constitutional argument might seem surprising, given the President's recent constitutional extrapolation from the Court's ruling in Lucia in an EO designed to rein in control over executive branch ALJs. That move seemed like an attack, under cover of Lucia and claimed plenary Article II authority over the executive branch, on civil service laws that in any way restrict the President's claimed authority to hire and fire whomever he wants. That attack would seem to apply equally here. But the government didn't press it.

On the statutory questions, Judge Jackson summarized:

[T]he Order provisions concerning matters such as the reduction of the availability of and support for official time activities [to engage in union-related work], and the specific prohibitions against bargaining over [certain matters], or hte unilateral narrowing of any negotiated grievance procedures, dramatically decrease the scope of the right to bargain collectively, because, in the [Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act], Congress clearly intended for agencies and unions to engage in a broad and meaningful negotiation over nearly every "condition of employment." Likewise, the Orders' requirements, such as the directive that agencies should "ordinarily" seek to conclude collective bargaining negotiations within five to seven months, or should limit the applicability of grievance procedures "[w]henever reasonable[,]" effectively instruct federal agencies and executive departments to approach collective bargaining in a manner that clearly runs counter to the FSLMRS's expectation of good-faith conduct on the part of negotiating parties. . . .

[T]he only challenged provisions of [the EOs] that can stand are those that neither contribute to a reduction in the scope of the collective bargaining that Congress has envisioned nor impede the ability of agencies and executive departments to engage in the kind of good-faith bargaining over conditions of federal employment that Congress has required.

August 26, 2018 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Check it Out: Zengerle on How Trump is Remaking the Courts

Check out Jason Zengerle's feature in the NYT Magazine, How the Trump Administration is Remaking the Courts. Zengerle examines how President Trump, with the help (or "ruthless discipline") of Senate Republicans, is shaping the courts. And how he's doing this at a blistering pace. And how this compares to the gummed-up Senate in the Obama Administration.

August 25, 2018 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Check it Out: Bazelon on a Right-Lurching Court

Check out Emily Bazelon's piece in the NYT Magazine, When the Supreme Court Lurches Right: What happens when the Supreme Court becomes significantly more conservative than the public?

Bazelon traces the history of politics and the Court, and writes,

Maybe a mobilized Democratic Party can somehow overcome all the barriers of Republican entrenchment as it did in the 1930s . . . . If a new dominant national alliance emerges to the left of the Roberts Court, maybe the justices will find a way to become a part of it. Or the Republicans could remain in power because they make a persuasive case to the voters, not because the court aids in eroding the democratic process. In other words, maybe Dahl turns out to be right. Let's hope so. The democracy may be riding on it.

August 25, 2018 in Courts and Judging, News | Permalink | Comments (0)