Category: Courts

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Jamal Greene on How the World Would Not End if the Supreme Court Did Not Tell Congress What to Do on ACA

Jamal Greene has an insightful essay over at Slate on the Supreme Court’s role in ruling on ACA’s constitutionality.  I thought I’d add his essay to the mix for the superb round up of guests my co-blogger Gerard gathered together this week.  Here is Professor Greene’s essay:

This week, challengers to the Affordable Care Act are asking the Supreme Court to say that the Constitution does not permit the government to require Americans to purchase health insurance. Lawyers for the government are asking the court to say the opposite. The court should say neither. Read More

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Prelude to Next Week’s Oral Argument: Henry and Stearns on Commerce Games and the Individual Mandate

In preparation for Monday’s oral argument on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate (and our online symposium), I wanted to recommend an insightful article written by my colleagues Leslie Meltzer Henry and Maxwell Stearns (both of whom I’ve blogged about here, here, and here) entitled Commerce Games and the Individual Mandate, 100 Georgetown Law Journal 1117 (2012).  I’m going to include the abstract below.  Yesterday, Professors Henry and Stearns published a terrific op ed in the Baltimore Sun arguing for the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

While the Supreme Court declined an early invitation to resolve challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or the Act), a split between the United States Courts of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (sustaining the ACA’s “individual mandate”) and the Eleventh Circuit (striking it down) ultimately compelled the Court to grant certiorari in a series of cases challenging the constitutional validity of the new federal health care law. In addition to deciding the fate of this centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s regulatory agenda, the Court’s decision will likely affect Commerce Clause doctrine—and related doctrines—for years or even decades to come.

Litigants, judges, and academic commentators have focused on whether the Court’s “economic activity” test, as set forth in United States v. Lopez, permits the individual mandate. This Article approaches the constitutionality of that provision from a novel perspective, one that proves essential in applying past Commerce Clause decisions, including Lopez, to the ACA and in appreciating the real stakes involved in upending the individual mandate. By analyzing the Court’s Commerce Clause jurisprudence through the lens of game theory, we expose common features of games that have resulted in limiting state powers on the dormant side of Commerce Clause doctrine, and in sustaining and restricting congressional powers on the affirmative side. Applying such games as “the prisoners’ dilemma,” “the driving game,” and “the battle of the sexes” yields critical insights about the nature and limits of state and federal regulatory powers.

Our game-theoretical analysis shows that although debates have centered on the role of the individual mandate in solving a micro-level separating game among low-risk individuals who do not purchase insurance and high-risk individuals who cannot afford it, a more compelling account focuses on the Act’s role in solving a macro-level separating game played among the states. By comparing the ACA to several important historical policy splits among states—public accommodations laws, abortion funding, the death penalty, civil remedies for violent crimes against women, and same-sex marriage—we demonstrate that the Act, including the individual mandate, fits well within those cases for which congressional commerce power is justified to avoid the risk that competing state policies will force other states into a problematic separating game, thereby undermining the selected regulatory policy. Our analysis reconciles congressional power to implement the ACA with the post-New Deal expansions and recent retrenchments of Congress’s Commerce Clause powers, and compellingly reconciles the dormant and affirmative sides of the Supreme Court’s Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

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Stanford Law Review Online: Animus Thick and Thin

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online recently published an Essay by Nan D. Hunter entitled Animus Thick and Thin: The Broader Impact of the Ninth Circuit’s Decision in Perry v. Brown. Professor Hunter argues that the Perry decision will have a more far-reaching impact than most commentators have suggested, both in defining the role of animus in equal protection analysis and in establishing the courts’ role in checking popular initiatives that deny rights to minorities:

The only problem with this analysis for marriage equality supporters is that, despite the principle that courts should resolve constitutional disputes on the narrowest possible grounds, the “taking away” portion of the rationale strikes some as too outcome driven and transparently invented for the goal of providing the Supreme Court with a plausible rationale for denying certiorari. From this view, the opinion’s political strength will also be its greatest doctrinal weakness.

I disagree on two counts. First, I read the opinion as being far more nuanced than it has been given credit for, and believe that its elaboration of the role of animus in judicial review is an important contribution to equal protection doctrine. Second, critics are missing a deeper point: the greatest political strength of the Perry opinion lies not in the short-term question of whether the Supreme Court will accept review, but in its contribution to the more enduring issue of how courts can balance their role of serving as an antimajoritarian check on populist retaliation against minorities while also preserving the values of popular constitutionalism.

She concludes:

[A]lthough initially the panel opinion in Perry would affect only Proposition 8, its larger contribution may be the creative way that it addresses the persistent, intractable conundrum of America’s countermajoritarian difficulty. The opinion does this in part by taking animus seriously as one of the criteria for heightened rational basis review and in part by creating a modest curb on popularly enacted state constitutional amendments. If the Ninth Circuit grants rehearing en banc, the opinion will be vacated, but one hopes that its contribution to the evolution of equal protection law will endure.

Read the full article, Animus Thick and Thin: The Broader Impact of the Ninth Circuit’s Decision in Perry v. Brown by Nan D. Hunter, at Stanford Law Review Online.

1

Kovarsky on Martinez and the Roberts Post-Conviction Project

Lucky for us, my brilliant colleague Lee Kovarsky took some time out of his whirlwind schedule to help walk us through the Supreme Court’s post-conviction decision in Martinez v. Ryan.  I’ve blogged about Professor Kovarsky before–he is an expert on habeas corpus whose newest work, entitled “A Constitutional Theory of Habeas Power,” will be published by the Virginia Law Review.  He is also amidst writing a textbook  for Foundation Press entitled “Federal Habeas Corpus: Executive Detention and Post-Conviction Litigation” (forthcoming 2013) (with Brandon Garrett).  Professor Kovarsky recently argued a habeas case before the Fifth Circuit and helped write the ABA Amicus Brief in Martinez.

Martinez and the Roberts Post-Conviction Project*

I. Overview

Almost under the radar, the Roberts Court has reconfigured the way this country conducts post-conviction review. Years from now, we may consider a case decided this Tuesday, Martinez v. Ryan, a seminal entry in that shift. Perhaps Martinez was reported so sparingly because it was so complicated, but its complexity shouldn’t obscure its importance. (Stephen Vladeck has a characteristically insightful explanation of Martinez up on SCOTUSBLOG.)

The “Roberts Post-Conviction Project” has two moving parts. First, the Project involves a series of decisions promoting state collateral review as the “main event” for post-conviction challenges. Second, and at the same time, the Project has generated incentives for states to provide more process and better lawyers in those proceedings. The Project is hardly a return to thick, Warren-era habeas review of state criminal procedure, but it does slightly moderate one rhetorical excess of Rehnquist post-conviction jurisprudence—the proposition that state judges are always as good as their federal counterparts at enforcing federal constitutional rights.

Criminal process for convicted state prisoners subdivides roughly into the following phases: (1) direct appellate review of the conviction; (2) a state post-conviction disposition subject to state appellate review; and (3) a federal habeas proceeding with federal appeals. For decades, Congress and the Supreme Court have been recalibrating federal habeas review to defer to state post-conviction outcomes. Most recently, in Cullen v. Pinholster (2011), the Supreme Court held that (generally) federal habeas relief could issue only on evidence presented to a state post-conviction court.

The problem is that, for decades, state post-conviction review—the first place that a prisoner may assert many important constitutional challenges to a conviction—has been a legal swamp of vague rules, spotty process, and substandard representation. Many prisoners litigate state post-conviction claims pro se, and many counseled prisoners enjoy no constitutional entitlement to competent representation. Even for strong constitutional claims, forfeiture often follows a state prisoner’s failure to successfully navigate unthinkably complex state post-conviction law either (1) without representation or (2) with a bad lawyer that the state underpays.

And federal habeas law imposes all sorts of severe penalties when state post-conviction representation goes predictably awry. For instance, the federal limitations statute was—until recently—unforgiving about lost portions of the limitations period attributable to even the most appalling state post-conviction representation. Moreover, at least pre-Martinez, when incompetent state post-conviction representation forfeited a claim on a state procedural ground, that claim would be inexcusably defaulted on federal habeas review.

The Court heard Martinez v. Ryan on October 4, 2011. Twenty-four State Attorneys General signed an Amicus Brief in support of Arizona, as did the United States. By mid-March 2012, the Court had still failed to announce a decision. It was clear that something serious was happening, but nobody had a good sense of what that something was. As it turns out, the prisoner won pretty big. Although the opinion stopped short of announcing a constitutional right to a state post-conviction attorney, its decision will nonetheless improve the representation provided at that phase of criminal process.

Kennedy wrote, and was joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. (Scalia and Thomas dissented.) The head count is a pleasant surprise for those who remain skeptical that Roberts and Alito are willing to break meaningfully from Scalia and Thomas on the harsh application of procedural rules on federal habeas review. Read More

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Stanford Law Review, 64.2 (2012)

Stanford Law Review

Volume 64 • Issue 2 • February 2012

Articles
National Security Federalism in the Age of Terror
Matthew C. Waxman
64 Stan. L. Rev. 289

Incriminating Thoughts
Nita A. Farahany
64 Stan. L. Rev. 351

Elective Shareholder Liability
Peter Conti-Brown
64 Stan. L. Rev. 409

Note
Harrington’s Wake:
Unanswered Questions on AEDPA’s Application to Summary Dispositions

Matthew Seligman
64 Stan. L. Rev. 469

Comment
Boumediene Applied Badly:
The Extraterritorial Constitution After Al Maqaleh v. Gates

Saurav Ghosh
64 Stan. L. Rev. 507

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Stanford Law Review Online: Physical and Regulatory Takings

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Richard A. Epstein entitled Physical and Regulatory Takings: One Distinction Too Many. In light of Harmon v. Kimmel—a case challenging New York’s rent control statute on petition to the Supreme Court—Epstein provides a succinct economic takedown of uncompensated regulatory takings in four distinct areas: rent control, support easements, zoning, and landmark preservation statutes. In suggesting a unified approach to eminent domain whether the taking is physical or regulatory, he writes:

Unfortunately, modern takings law is in vast disarray because the Supreme Court deals incorrectly with divided interests under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which reads: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Supreme Court’s regnant distinction in this area is between physical and regulatory takings. In a physical taking, the government, or some private party authorized by the government, occupies private land in whole or in part. In the case of a per se physical taking, the government must pay the landowner full compensation for the value of the land occupied. Regulatory takings, in contrast, leave landowners in possession, but subject them to restrictions on the ability to use, develop, or dispose of the land. Under current law, regulatory takings are only compensable when the government cannot show some social justification, broadly conceived, for its imposition.

Thus, under current takings law, a physical occupation with trivial economic consequences gets full compensation. In contrast, major regulatory initiatives rarely require a penny in compensation for millions of dollars in economic losses. . . .

The judicial application of takings law to these four different partial interests in land thus destroys the social value created by private transactions that create multiple interests in land. The unprincipled line between occupation and regulation is then quickly manipulated to put rent control, mineral rights, and air rights in the wrong category, where the weak level of protection against regulatory takings encourages excessive government activity. The entire package lets complex legal rules generate the high administrative costs needed to run an indefensible and wasteful system. There are no partial measures that can fix this level of disarray. There is no intellectual warrant for making the categorical distinction between physical and regulatory takings, so that distinction should be abolished. A unified framework should be applied to both cases, where in each case the key question is whether the compensation afforded equals or exceeds the value of the property interest taken. The greatest virtue of this distinction lies not in how it resolves individual cases before the courts. Rather, it lies in blocking the adoption of multiple, mischievous initiatives that should not have been enacted into law in the first place. But in the interim, much work remains to be done. A much-needed first step down that road depends on the Supreme Court granting certiorari in Harmon v. Kimmel.

Read the full article, Physical and Regulatory Takings: One Distinction Too Many by Richard A. Epstein, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Openings

Sometimes, opening sentences tell you exactly what you need to know about what’s to follow.  That’s certainly true of literature.  Consider the beginning of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground (translation Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky): “I am a sick man . . . I am a wicked man.  An unattractive man.  I think my liver hurts.”  Genius, really.  And this notion is definitely true of opinions.  Take, as an example, Wal-mart Stores v. Dukes: “We are presented with one of the most expansive class actions ever.”  Justice Scalia, from the get go, made clear that the class was doomed.  I imagine that readers have other humdingers of beginnings, do tell.

4

Civil Trial Judge Excesses and Leo Strine’s AIG Slur

Should civil trial courts describe the pleadings alleging wrongdoing in criminal terms? In reading large numbers of opinions in corporate cases over the years, I can recall only one judge who did so.  The judge was Leo Strine, an otherwise-obscure figure known among corporate law devotees because of his seat on the Delaware court that hears many business disputes among corporate interests.

In a shareholder lawsuit, Strine was evaluating whether the plaintiffs’ lawyers had alleged a link between their general claim that a corporation lacked adequate internal controls and their further claim that two corporate directors, in particular, knew of this.  Strine acknowledged that making the link between a general failure of internal control and someone’s personal knowledge, and therefore culpability, requires a fair amount of detailed specifics.  The defendants had challenged the plaintiff’s complaint as deficient in this regard.  Strine then wrote the following (the snide style appears in the original, as I am quoting this literally):

“But here? Really? The Complaint fairly supports the assertion that AIG’s Inner Circle led a—and I use this term with knowledge of its strength—criminal organization.”

The prejudicial quality of this calculated and intemperate statement is obvious. It was also gratuitous, because it is beyond the relevant jurisdiction, experience and pleadings.  According to lawyers and participants in the case, the statement crystalized Strine’s biased attitude throughout the case and others he oversaw involving the same people.  All arose out of the corporate power struggle of March 2005 in which the board of American International Group, under pressure from Eliot Spitzter, ousted Hank Greenberg, its chairman and chief executive of forty years (and leader of what Strine maliciously called the “Inner Circle”).

In addition to being substantively inflammatory, Strine’s gratuitous comment was dangerous because of its timing. Strine published that statement in February 2009, in a case that was trivial in terms of the stakes for Greenberg.  It was just four months before a civil trial would begin in New York federal court where Greenberg fought his former company over $20 billion worth of property. 

As it turned out, Greenberg won the $20 billion case, following a three-week jury trial, though the jury deliberated for only half a day and the judge, Jed Rakoff, said the plaintiffs did not come close to making out a case. Even so, Strine’s reckless comments could have biased those jurors too.  Strine should not have written those words.  It would have sufficed to say the pleadings met the required standard.  He should expunge the invective from the record or at least apologize for it.  Strine would also do well generally to abandon the snide, malicious, gratuitous style of writing on display in this opinion, which is injudicious and unbecoming.

The case was In re American International Group Shareholders’ Derivative Litigation, 965 A.2d 673 (Strine, Delaware Chancery, February 10, 2009).

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Stanford Law Review Online: The Ninth Circuit’s Perry Decision and the Constitutional Politics of Marriage Equality

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Yale’s William N. Eskridge Jr. entitled The Ninth Circuit’s Perry Decision and the Constitutional Politics of Marriage Equality. Eskridge provides an accessible summary of the opinion and defends the judgment against detractors who claim it went too far—or didn’t go far enough:

In the blogosphere, Judge Reinhardt’s Perry opinion has come under heavier fire from commentators favoring marriage equality than from those opposed to equality. Some gay-friendly commentators have lamented that the Ninth Circuit did not announce a general right of lesbian and gay couples to marry all over the country and have criticized the court’s narrow reasoning as “dishonest,” analytically “wobbly,” and “disingenuous.” In my view, the court got it right, as a matter of law and as a matter of constitutional politics.

Start with the role of federal courts of appeals in our rule of law system: their role is a limited one, a point these pro-gay commentators have neglected. Such courts (1) are supposed to address the particular factual context presented by the parties, (2) must follow the binding precedent of their own circuit and of the Supreme Court, and (3) ought usually to choose narrow rather than broad grounds for decision. Judge Reinhardt’s Perry opinion is exemplary along all three dimensions. . . .

Should Judge Reinhardt have gone further, to rule that lesbian and gay couples in all states enjoy a “fundamental” right to marry, resulting in strict scrutiny that would be fatal to the exclusion of such couples in the laws of the more than forty states now denying marriage equality? For two decades, I have maintained that the Constitution does assure lesbian and gay couples such a fundamental right. But I am not a court of intermediate appeal. As such a court, the Ninth Circuit panel was right, as a matter of standard legal practice, not to engage this broader argument.

He concludes:

Marriage equality is an idea whose time has come for California, as well as for New York, whose legislature recognized marriage equality last year. But has its time come everywhere in the country? I fear not. The nation’s constitutional culture is much more accepting of lesbian and gay couples today than at the turn of the millennium, but much of the country is still hostile to gay people generally and marriage equality in particular.

Does that mean the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court should cower behind a constitutional heckler’s veto? Of course not. But when the hecklers are the bulk of the audience, the constitutional speaker needs to tread more carefully. Courts can help put an issue on the public law agenda, and they can channel discourse into productive directions. They can also help create conditions for falsification of stereotypes and prejudice-driven arguments, such as the canard that gay marriage will undermine “traditional” marriage. But courts cannot create a national consensus on as issue about which “We the People” are not at rest. And nationally, the people are not at rest.

In the United States, as a whole, marriage equality is an idea whose time is coming. And Judge Reinhardt’s decision in Perry v. Brown advances the ball just a little, and not too much.

Read the full article, The Ninth Circuit’s Perry Decision and the Constitutional Politics of Marriage Equality by William N. Eskridge Jr., at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Did Spitzer and Levitt Stoke the Financial Crisis?

Many are to blame for the financial crisis and plenty of reports and analyses have been written detailing assorted causes and assigning responsibility.  Overlooked in accepted versions of events are two fateful decisions and their context: Eliot Spitzer’s overzealous drive to oust Hank Greenberg from heading AIG, and Arthur Levitt’s governance reforms implemented at AIG shortly thereafter.

The ouster of Greenberg and transformation of AIG are pivotal events because before the ouster and reforms, AIG wrote few of the credit default swaps that became the centerpiece of the crisis, but wrote increasingly risky and unhedged swaps thereafter.  Many informed people consider it extremely unlikely or nearly impossible to imagine that, had AIG still been run by Greenberg under its traditional governance structures, the swap business at AIG could have gotten so out of hand. 

In that telling, Spitzer’s aggressive tactics to have Greenberg ousted and Levitt’s ambitious reforms were at least indirect contributing causes of the crisis and its severity.  The actions and ideas therefore deserve greater scrutiny than they have been given.  

In Spitzer’s case, it’s important to highlight how he took many steps that were at least dubious as a matter of prosecutorial ethics; in Levitt’s case, the reforms were extreme departures from traditional corporate governance. Potential lessons include the importance of prosecutors not overstepping their bounds and the value of adhering to some traditions in the development of corporate governance. Read More