Category: Supreme Court

5

The Most Important Statutory Case?

Today I was thinking that King could be the most important statutory case decided by the Supreme Court.  How many other candidates are there?  The early cases under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act come to mind (Northern SecuritiesStandard Oil), and maybe one or two involving the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Anything else?

UPDATE:  I suppose Ex Parte McCardle was more important.

5

King v. Burwell

The blockbuster case of this Term (depending on the timing of the next cert. petition on same-sex marriage) is the case granted today that could cripple the Affordable Care Act.  I’ve always thought that the Supreme Court would take this (nice try–DC Circuit en banc) and that there is a good chance that the Administration would lose there.

What about the question of who should win?  The most plausible explanation of the contested language is that Congress did not intend to limit the subsidies to state exchanges.  Why does the statute say that then?  Because Scott Brown was elected in a special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat.  This deprived Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.  Thus, the final bill was passed in the Senate through the reconciliation process (which only requires a simple majority).  There was no conference committee or the usual procedures to fix errors in the bill.

What should a court do about this?  The language about state exchanges is not ambiguous.  The problem is that it is inconsistent with the rest of the statute, the intent of Congress, and could lead to an absurd result.  Supporters of the Act are trying to make that an ambiguity argument because that gets the IRS interpretation Chevron deference.  I am  skeptical about this argument.  And normally if the text is unambiguous then you do not look at the legislative intent or anything other than the possibility of an “absurd result.”  So this may end up being the point on which King turns.

0

The (Non)Finality of Supreme Court Opinions

I finally got around to reading Richard Lazarus’s draft paper (forthcoming in Harvard Law Review) on how the Justices revise their opinions after they are issued and before they are officially published.  This is well worth your time.  Lazarus identifies a significant problem, worked hard to identify opinion edits that are not made in a transparent process, and makes some sound suggestions for reform.  I also learned a lot about the role of the Supreme Court Reporter, which I’ve always found a bit obscure, and learned that there is a formal process to point out errors in opinions.

2

Predicting the Supreme Court Using Artificial Intelligence

Predicting Supreme Court Outcomes Using AI ?

Is it possible to predict the outcomes of legal cases – such as Supreme Court decisions – using Artificial Intelligence (AI)?  I recently had the opportunity to consider this point at a talk that I gave entitled “Machine Learning Within Law” at Stanford.

At that talk, I discussed a very interesting new paper entitled “Predicting the Behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States” by Prof. Dan Katz (Mich. State Law),  Data Scientist Michael Bommarito,  and Prof. Josh Blackman (South Texas Law).

Katz, Bommarito, and Blackman used machine-learning AI techniques to build a computer model capable of predicting the outcomes of arbitrary Supreme Court cases with an accuracy of about 70% – a strong result.  This post will discuss their approach and why it was an improvement over prior research in this area.

Quantitative Legal Prediction

The general idea behind such approaches is to use computer-based analysis of existing data (e.g. data on past Supreme Court cases) in order to predict the outcome of future legal events (e.g. pending cases).  The approach to using data to inform legal predictions (as opposed to pure lawyerly analysis) has been largely championed by Prof. Katz – something that he has dubbed  “Quantitative Legal Prediction” in recent work.

Legal prediction is an important function that attorneys perform for clients. Attorneys predict all sorts of things, ranging from the likely outcome of pending cases, risk of liability, and estimates about damages, to the importance of various laws and facts to legal decision-makers.   Attorneys use a mix of legal training, problem-solving, analysis, experience, analogical reasoning, common sense, intuition and other higher order cognitive skills to engage in sophisticated, informed assessments of likely outcomes.

By contrast, the quantitative approach takes a different tack:  using analysis of data employing advanced algorithms to produce data-driven predictions of legal outcomes (instead of, or in addition to traditional legal analysis).  These data-driven predictions can provide additional information to support attorney analysis.

Predictive Analytics: Finding Useful Patterns in Data

Outside of law, predictive analytics has widely applied to produce automated, predictions in multiple contexts.   Real world examples of predictive analytics include: the automated product recommendations made by Amazon.com, movie recommendations made by Netflix, and the search terms automatically suggested by Google.

Scanning Data for Patterns that Are Predictive of Future Outcomes

In general, predictive analytics approaches use advanced computer algorithms to scan large amounts of data to detect patterns.  These patterns can be often used to make intelligent, useful predictions about never-before-seen future data.  Many of these approaches employ “Machine Learning” techniques to engage in prediction. (I have written about some of the ways that machine-learning based analytical approaches are starting to be used within law and the legal system here).

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3

RBG revises opinion after professor flags error

How often does it happen that a law professor flags a factual error in a Supreme Court opinion and the Justice thereafter changes that opinion to correct the error? Answer: not that often.

So when it happens, some of us think that credit should be given. Okay? So, onto the story, albeit the brief version.

In a post on his Election Law Blog yesterday, Professor Rick Hasen wrote:

In Justice Ginsburg’s 6-page dissent in the Texas voter id case, she writes: “Nor will Texas accept photo ID cards issued by the U. S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”

A few people have pointed me to material from Texas which seems to suggest that these cards would be acceptable as a form of military identification. Veterans ID cards do not expire, and therefore they seem to meet the Texas requirement: “a United States military identification card that contains the person’s photograph that has not expired or that expired no earlier than 60 days before the date of presentation.” (my emphasis)

By way of an update, he added: The Texas Secretary of State’s office has responded via Twitter: “Veterans Affairs ID cards are an acceptable form of photo ID in TX.

In response, Justice Ginsburg revised her dissent, as noted by Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog:

In ticking off her objections, Ginsburg wrote that Texas would not even accept “photo ID cards issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”  On Wednesday, the Justice conceded that that comment was incorrect.  That kind of ID card, she said through the Court’s public information office, is “an acceptable form of photo identification for voting in Texas.”  So she simply deleted the sentence, and reissued the opinion.  The Court also said that she had made “small stylistic changes” on two pages of her opinion, and that the corrected version could be read on the Court’s website.

Nothing groundbreaking, but noteworthy nonetheless. Meanwhile, kudos to Professor Hasen (and his tipsters) for helping to get the official record straight.

Re correcting the official record, see: Adam Liptak, “Final Word on U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing,” New York Times, May 24, 2014 (“The Supreme Court has been quietly revising its decisions years after they were issued, altering the law of the land without public notice. The revisions include ‘truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning,’ said Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard and the author of a new study examining the phenomenon.”).

1

7 Member Supreme Court Votes 4-1 to Suspend One of its Own

This is ugly.  PA Supreme Court has voted to suspend one of its members for various infractions, including the dissemination of pornographic emails from work computers.  The suspension order issued per curium, but apparently only attracted the votes of 4 of 7 possible justices.  One justice, dissenting, would have sent the matter to a judicial conduct board. The suspended justice didn’t vote, and neither did a justice who just accused the suspended justice of trying to blackmail him over yet more pornographic emails.  One of the four votes comes from a justice appointed by Pennsylvania’s governor, to replace another justice who had been suspended after being indicted.

Still with me? Here’s where the fun starts.  Pennsylvania’s Chief Justice, who has been long-involved in a heated fight with the newly suspended justice over control over Philadelphia’s court system, concurred in the per curium opinion. His “concurring statement,” destined for the headlines, contains the following astonishing paragraph:

wowThat, friends, is what it means to vent your spleen.

1

“Unpublished” Supreme Court Orders

Supreme Court watchers are expressing some consternation about the Court’s willingness to take significant steps in recent cases (same-sex marriage, abortion, and voting rights) without explanation.  This is especially true with respect to granting or denying stays, though in the same-sex marriage cases that concern extends to the denial of certiorari.  What in blazes is going on here, they ask?  Doesn’t the Court owe us some explanation?

I wonder if the Justices should consider an option used in the circuit courts–an unpublished order–to provide more transparency in these situations.  One can understand why the Court would not want to use a published opinion to explain a decision about a stay (which is only a preliminary or tentative act) or the denial of certiorari (as that would set a precedent without the benefit of full briefing and argument).  I can, though, imagine doing so through an order that says “this may not be cited as precedent” if the Court felt an explanation was necessary.  Granted, people would still try to cite these orders (as a law clerk, I often saw attorneys citing unpublished orders), but a norm could develop that would make these statements non-binding.

Most of the discretionary actions that the Court takes would not warrant an explanation (certiorari denials, petitions for rehearing, original habeas petitions), but there is the occasional exception.  Right now only a dissenter can open a window into what goes on with respect to these important choices.  I’m not sure that is always good enough.

0

Marian Anderson & Justice Black, April 9, 1939

Harold Ickes & Marian Anderson

Harold Ickes & Marian Anderson

I was just watching a WETA segment on our national parks when I came upon the Marian Anderson story and how the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall, which they owned.

Upset by the incident, Eleanor Roosevelt urged Harold Ickes (the former president of the Chicago NAACP & then Secretary of the Interior) to arrange for the opera singer to perform at the Lincoln Memorial. Ms. Anderson performed there on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, to a crowd of 75,000 admiring onlookers. The event was also broadcast on national radio.

Of course, all of this and more are well known. What is far less known is that invitations were sent out to the all of the Justices of the Supreme Court.  (See Gerald T. Dunne, Hugo Black & the Judicial Revolution 304 (1977)). One Justice accepted, which brings me back to my public television story.

Justice Hugo Black, 9 April 1939

Justice Hugo Black, 9 April 1939

If you go to the YouTube clip of the Anderson concert, you will see Justice Black in the audience (1 minute & 19 seconds into it).

By that time in 1939 Justice Black had been on the Court for some 20 months — this 15 years before Brown. Most likely, word of Justice Hugo Black’s solo appearance made its way to Alabama, his home state. And yet, he was there (see pic) and the newsreels captured it all, too.

For an account of the concert and its historical significance, see Raymond Arsenault, The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, & the Concert that Awakened America (2009).

 

 

5

F.F. — Make of him what you will, but . . .

Felix Frankfurter

Felix Frankfurter

I want to recommend a relatively new article in the Journal of Supreme Court History. It is impressively researched, commendably thoughtful, and refreshingly balanced. Before doing so, however, permit me to say a few prefatory words.

It is hard to be fair when writing of those with whom we disagree, and harder still when we dislike their personal manner. Arrogant, argumentative, and devious – these are not the words that fair-minded scholars like to use unless the fit is fair. All of which takes us back in time to this man: Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965).

What to make of him?

As a Supreme Court Justice he was, in Mel Urofsky’s words, “a divisive figure whose jurisprudential philosophy is all but ignored today.” Others have been even less kind in their assessment of the temperament and jurisprudence of the Justice from Vienna. While Cass Sunstein has recently labored to revive respect for Justice Frankfurter and his judicial opinions, that effort may prove Sisyphean (save, perhaps, in a few discrete areas involving federal jurisdiction).

Still, there was more to Felix Frankfurter than the life he led on the Court between 1939 and 1962. The trajectory of his career (fueled by hard work, ambition, and brilliance) is an immigrant-come-to-America success story at its best. His work – first with Louis Brandeis and then on his own – to advance the cause of fair and humane labor practices exemplifies the Progressive movement in its glory. Then there was the role he played early on in helping to launch the ACLU. With a mix of courage and insight, he later called for a retrial for Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti by way of an impressive lawyer-like article he published in the Atlantic in 1927; the article was thereafter expanded into a small book. And, of course, there is more, much more, which brings me back to that article I alluded to earlier.

Sujit Raman

Sujit Raman

Sujit Raman (the chief appellate lawyer in Maryland’s U.S. Attorney’s office) has just published an engaging and highly informative article. Its title: “Felix Frankfurter and His Protégés: Re-examining the ‘Happy Hot Dogs.’” It captures Felix in all his complexity and does so with objective nuance. With skilled brevity Raman also sketches the story of the Jewish immigrant’s struggle to assimilate, the Harvard Law student’s meritocratic success, the progressive’s desire to improve government when he went to work for Henry Stimson (first in New York and then in Washington, D.C), and then the Harvard professor’s cultivation of the best and brightest, whom he invited to his Sunday teas.

Above all, Sujit Raman’s real story is about Felix Frankfurter’s “greatest legacy,” namely, the “legions of students he trained and nurtured at the Harvard Law School, . . . who, in their own right, shaped the age in which they lived.” Consistent with that objective, Frankfurter’s “avowed intent as a professor was to instill in his students an interest in public service, and from his earliest days, he began collecting recruits for his crusade.” In time, they would come to be known as Frankfurter’s “Happy Hot Dogs” as Hugh Samuel Johnson tagged them.MTE5NTU2MzE2MjE5NDc1NDY3

Could he be snobbish? Yes. Could he be petty? Yes. Spiteful? Yes. Did he delight in manipulating matters from unseen sidelines? Yes again.

Clearly, F.F. had his psychological warts. Yet, when one steps back and beholds the man and this patch of his life work at a detached distance, he stands rather tall. Why?

Now, to cut to the chase: “Frankfurter was one of the New Deal’s intellectual architects as well as one of its most accomplished draftsmen of policy – yet he had no legislative portfolio or any official position in the Roosevelt Administration.” Moreover, adds Raman, “Frankfurter was the New Deal’s principal recruiting agent. He placed his protégés in all levels of government, and consequently his vision was carried forth, albeit indirectly, by his able lieutenants.” In sum, “the New Deal was in many ways the embodiment and culmination of Frankfurter’s life work.”

James Landis

James Landis

In the span of 28 pages (buttressed by 127 scholarly endnotes), Sujit Raman fills in many of the blanks in the Professor-and-the-New-Deal story. While he is cautious not to exaggerate Frankfurter’s role and influence, Raman’s account makes it difficult to deny the remarkable magnitude of Frankfurter’s unique impact on public law and its operation at a crucial stage in our legal history.

True, the “Happy Hot Dogs” story has been told before and from a variety of perspectives (see, e.g.,  here and here). Even so, Mr. Raman does what others before him have not quite done: he tells the story in a concise yet authoritative way and with enough panache to draw the reader back in history for glimpses into the exciting world of F.F. and his adept protégés – the likes of Thomas G. Corcoran (video here), Benjamin V. CohenJames M. Landis, David Lilienthal, and Charles Wyzanski, among others. They were all part of Frankfurter’s network, all “elite lawyers” hand picked because of their ties to F.F. and their “reformist inclinations.”

Whatever your opinion of Felix Frankfurter, his star may yet brighten anew, though probably not in the universe of Supreme Court history and jurisprudence. His true galaxy was elsewhere – in that realm where the “minds of men” move the gears of government to places only once imagined in classrooms in Cambridge.

Ask your librarian for, or go online or order a copy of, Sujit Raman’s illuminating article in volume 39 (March 2014, #1, pp. 79-106)) of the Journal of Supreme Court History. Better still, join the Supreme Court Historical Society. Either way, it will serve you well.