posted by Christine Chabot
Do Justices vote independently of all political forces surrounding their appointments? My earlier post discusses how, even in recent decades, Justices’ votes have been surprisingly independent of the ideologies of Senates to which they were nominated. Even so, it may be that presidents fared better than the Senate and recently enhanced their ability to appoint ideologically-compatible Justices.
History is rife with examples of Justices who disappointed their appointing presidents. As recounted by Henry Abraham, Teddy Roosevelt complained vociferously about Justice Holmes’ ruling in Northern Securities, Truman called Justice Clark his “biggest mistake,” and Eisenhower also referred to Justices Warren and Brennan as “mistakes.” My earlier study finds frequent grounds for presidential disappointment, based on voting records for eighty-nine Justices over a 172-year period. Just under half of these Justices voted with appointees of the other party most of the time. Still, of the last twelve Justices, only two, Stevens and Souter, aligned most often with appointees of the other party. This low number calls into question whether the frequency of presidential disappointments has diminished recently.
My recent paper identifies change over time using regression analysis and more nuanced measures of presidential ideology. The analysis shows ideologies of appointing presidents did not significantly predict Justices’ votes before the 1970s, but they gained significant predictive power thereafter. This enhanced success coincides with Presidents Nixon’s and Reagan’s efforts to prioritize ideology in appointments to the bench. While earlier presidents did not uniformly ignore nominees’ ideology, they lacked modern technological resources. By the Reagan administration, computerized databases allowed presidential aides to quickly assemble and analyze virtually all of a nominee’s past writings. The improved information may have enabled presidents to better anticipate nominees’ future rulings.
July 10, 2013 at 11:22 am Tags: appointments, presidents, Supreme Court Posted in: Constitutional Law, Courts, Empirical Analysis of Law, Law Rev (Hastings), Politics, Supreme Court, Uncategorized Print This Post 5 Comments
posted by Christine Chabot
Thanks, Sarah, for the warm welcome. It is a pleasure to guest blog this month.
With pundits already speculating about President Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee, it seems a good time to discuss relationships between political forces surrounding Supreme Court appointments and Justices’ decisions. Justices sometimes disappoint their appointing presidents, and ideologically-distant Senates are often blamed for presidents’ “mistakes.” For example, David Souter and John Paul Stevens turned out to be far more liberal than the Republican presidents who appointed them (Bush I and Ford, respectively). These presidents both faced very liberal Senates when they selected Souter and Stevens.
Are nominees like Souter and Stevens anomalies or part of a larger pattern of senatorial constraint? My recent article in the Hastings Law Journal offers the first empirical analysis of the Senate’s role in constraining presidents’ choices of Supreme Court nominees over an extended period. It considers ideologies of Senates faced by nominating presidents and measures whether the ideologies of these Senates predict Justices’ voting behavior. The analysis substantially qualifies earlier understandings of senatorial constraint.
Earlier empirical studies consider only limited numbers of recent nominees (see article pp. 1235-39). They suggest that the Senate has constrained presidents’ choices, and many scholars theorize that the Senate has enhanced its role in the appointments process since the 1950s. Analysis of a larger group of nominees shows the Senate’s ideology has had significant predictive power over Justices’ votes in only two isolated historical periods. Senatorial ideology was last significant in the 1970s, shortly after the filibuster of Abe Fortas’s nomination to be Chief Justice, but then it actually lost significance after the Senate rejected Bork in 1987.
July 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm Tags: appointments, judicial selection, Senate confirmation process, Supreme Court Posted in: Constitutional Law, Courts, Current Events, Empirical Analysis of Law, Law Rev (Hastings), Politics, Supreme Court Print This Post 5 Comments
posted by David Schwartz
While patent law is my core area of scholarly interest, I have also studied the use of legal scholarship by the courts. My co-author Lee Petherbridge from Loyola-LA and I have conducted several comprehensive empirical studies using large datasets on the issue. More precisely, we have analyzed how often federal courts cite to law review articles in their decisions. We have empirically analyzed the issue from a variety of angles. We have studied the use of legal scholarship by the U.S. Supreme Court (available here), by the regional U.S. Courts of Appeals (study available here), and by the Federal Circuit (available here). I won’t recount the finding of those studies here. Instead, I will report some new information and ask readers for potential explanations of the data.
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Dan L. Burk entitled Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter. Professor Burk argues that the fact that something might be found in nature should not necessarily preclude its patentability:
The Supreme Court has added to its upcoming docket Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., to consider the question: “Are human genes patentable?” This question implicates patent law’s “products of nature” doctrine, which excludes from patentability naturally occurring materials. The Supreme Court has previously recognized that “anything under the sun that is made by man” falls within patentable subject matter, implying that things under the sun not made by man do not fall within patentable subject matter.
One of the recurring arguments for classifying genes as products of nature has been that these materials, even if created in the laboratory, could sometimes instead have been located by scouring the contents of human cells. But virtually the same argument has been advanced and rejected in another area of patent law: the novelty of patented inventions. The rule in that context has been that we reward the inventor who provides us with access to the materials, even if in hindsight they might have already been present in the prior art. As a matter of doctrine and policy, the rule for patentable subject matter should be the same.
“I can find the invention somewhere in nature once an inventor has shown it to me” is clearly the wrong standard for a patent system that hopes to promote progress in the useful arts. The fact that a version of the invention may have previously existed, unrecognized, unavailable, and unappreciated, should be irrelevant to patentability under either novelty or subject matter. The proper question is: did the inventor make available to humankind something we didn’t have available before? On this standard, the reverse transcribed molecules created by the inventors in Myriad are clearly patentable subject matter.
February 21, 2013 at 10:30 am Tags: biology, Intellectual Property, law and science, nature, patent law, patents, science, Supreme Court Posted in: Intellectual Property, Law Rev (Stanford), Supreme Court Print This Post No Comments
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Matthew I. Hall entitled How Congress Could Defend DOMA in Court (and Why the BLAG Cannot). Professor Hall argues that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group lacks standing to defend DOMA:
In one of the most closely watched litigation matters in recent years, the Supreme Court will soon consider Edith Windsor’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Court surprised many observers by granting certiorari, not only on the merits of Windsor’s equal protection and due process claims, but also on the question whether the defendants—the United States and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (the BLAG)—have Article III standing to defend DOMA. The United States has agreed with plaintiffs that DOMA is unconstitutional, prompting the BLAG to intervene for the purpose of defending DOMA’s constitutionality. No lower court has yet addressed whether the BLAG has standing, so the Supreme Court will have the first crack at the issue. But it turns out that the answer is straightforward: Under settled precedent, the BLAG lacks authority to represent either the United States or Congress, and having claimed no interest of its own, it therefore lacks Article III standing.
Congress could solve these problems by statute or resolution, but until it does so the BLAG is a mere bystander, with no stake in defending DOMA. This lack of standing may play a decisive role in the Windsor litigation. Both the BLAG and the executive branch defendants appealed the District Court’s judgment to the Second Circuit, and petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari. If the BLAG lacks standing, however, then it had no authority to appeal or to seek Supreme Court review, and the Court’s jurisdiction must turn on whether the United States, which has agreed with the plaintiff that DOMA is unconstitutional, has standing to proceed with the case. Interestingly, the BLAG itself has argued that no such standing exists—a controversial position that is beyond the scope of this short piece. But if the BLAG is correct, then there is no case or controversy before the Court, and the Court will have to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The widespread expectation that Windsor will be a significant decision appears to be well-founded. But it remains to be seen whether its significance will lie in the area of individual rights or in the areas of federal court jurisdiction and the separation of powers.
Read the full article, How Congress Could Defend DOMA in Court (and Why the BLAG Cannot) at the Stanford Law Review Online.
January 28, 2013 at 10:30 am Tags: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, same sex marriage, standing, Supreme Court Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Courts, Current Events, Law Rev (Stanford), Supreme Court Print This Post One Comment
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a Note by Eric Hamilton entitled Politicizing the Supreme Court. Hamilton writes that the Framers carefully constructed a Supreme Court independent from the political branches of government:
To state the obvious, Americans do not trust the federal government, and that includes the Supreme Court. Americans believe politics played “too great a role” in the recent health care cases by a greater than two-to-one margin. Only thirty-seven percent of Americans express more than some confidence in the Supreme Court. Academics continue to debate how much politics actually influences the Court, but Americans are excessively skeptical. They do not know that almost half of the cases this Term were decided unanimously, and the Justices’ voting pattern split by the political party of the president to whom they owe their appointment in fewer than seven percent of cases. Why the mistrust? When the Court is front-page, above-the-fold news after the rare landmark decision or during infrequent U.S. Senate confirmation proceedings, political rhetoric from the President and Congress drowns out the Court. Public perceptions of the Court are shaped by politicians’ arguments “for” or “against” the ruling or the nominee, which usually fall along partisan lines and sometimes are based on misleading premises that ignore the Court’s special, nonpolitical responsibilities.
The health care law’s closely watched journey through the three branches of government concluded in the Supreme Court, a rare opportunity in the sun for the Court. What would have been a shining moment for the Constitution in a vacuum was instead validation of the Framers’ apprehensions. Our Constitution is the longest-lasting in the world because of Americans’ enduring reverence for it. But when elected officials exploit Americans’ patriotism to score political points, they jeopardize the Framers’ carefully constructed balance of power. Instead, honest public discourse on the Constitution and the Court is the surest security for our government.
August 30, 2012 at 9:30 am Tags: constitution, Constitutional Law, Courts, founding, framers, history, Politics, Supreme Court Posted in: Constitutional Law, Courts, Current Events, History of Law, Jurisprudence, Law Rev (Stanford), Politics, Supreme Court Print This Post No Comments
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
Ok, folks, you read it here first. In December, I stated that I thought the Court would be inclined to solidify the coercion doctrine but would be likely to uphold the Medicaid expansion. I am still parsing the way in which the Court performed this legal novelty, because, as I noted yesterday, even though there were seven votes holding the Medicaid expansion to be coercive, five votes upheld Congress’s power to create the expansion but basically severed the remedy for noncompliance, thus effectively upholding the expansion while also expanding the coercion cause of action. Though I was surprised at which justices were willing to agree that Tenth Amendment limits exist on conditional spending (Breyer? Kagan?), I was not surprised that the Court expressed its federalism project through the vehicle of Medicaid’s expansion.
Although this was the first time the Court has struck down federal spending legislation as coercive, the Court still has not given us a theory to understand how it will decide future coercion cases. The Court refused to define coercion beyond assessing the Medicaid expansion as being “beyond the line” where “persuasion becomes coercion.” (p. 55) We do have two points of clarification, though. First, Florida’s brief was clearly persuasive to the Chief Justice, because he bought the states’ argument that too much money could be taken away if the states do not comply with the Medicaid expansion. This clarifies an aspect of South Dakota v. Dole’s coercion dicta, which could be read to mean either that Congress has offered too much money or that Congress threatened to take away too much money. Here, the Court accepted that Congress can offer the money for the Medicaid expansion, but it took issue with the fact that the Medicaid Act gives HHS the power to take away all Medicaid funding. So, Congress can offer a lot, it just can’t threaten to take it all away.
The second point of clarification is that the Court is willing to apply the Tenth Amendment as a limiting principle to conditional spending legislation under this newly solidified coercion doctrine based on the New York v. U.S. notion of “political accountability” (which I highlighted during oral arguments). But, the opinion relies on prior federalism opinions such as New York and Printz, which are heavy on dual sovereignty and light on cooperative federalism. Political accountability does not provide a framework for understanding how future coercion claims might play out.[more after the jump] Read the rest of this post »
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
Today, Chief Justice Roberts truly wore King Solomon’s crown. He managed to split the issue with regard to both the “individual mandate” requiring all Americans to have health insurance coverage by 2014 as well as the expansion of Medicaid making all Americans up to 133% of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid coverage. The Medicaid aspect of the decision is particularly confusing, given that one must count the votes twice to understand what has happened.
First, seven of the justices (Roberts, Breyer, Kagan, with Roberts writing in the majority; Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito, with Scalia writing for the joint dissent) voted that the Medicaid expansion was unconstitutionally “coercive” under South Dakota v. Dole. So, the first vote as to whether Congress has the power to require states to expand Medicaid was answered with a no; this is impermissibly coercive because the states have too much to lose if all of their Medicaid funds are at stake. This is the first time the Court has ruled that federal spending legislation is impermissibly coercive.
But, the second question is whether that historic vote for impermissible coercion means the Medicaid expansion fails in its entirety. [more after the jump] Read the rest of this post »
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
I was fortunate to hear Justice Ginsburg’s speech at the ACS National Convention on Friday evening, during which she reiterated her position about the value of dissents (to signal how Congress could change the law [think Ledbetter], and to make a point for historical purposes [think Gonzales v. Carhart]). Of course, everyone in the audience was abuzz that Ginsburg was hinting at a dissent in Florida v. HHS, even though many were Court watchers who know better than to act as Supreme Court soothsayers.
Every day brings more public speculation about the future of PPACA, and everyone seems to be making contingency plans. This phenomenon may speak more to the unpredicability of the Roberts Court than it does to the merits of the arguments. The current Court has been willing to revisit precedent, tweak it, sometimes even overrule it, and such willingness makes outcomes difficult to predict. I also wonder if this speaks to the undertheorization of the Rehnquist Court’s federalism revolution (with nods to Dan and Paul over at prawfsblawg). After all, Lopez is really a summary and categorization of existing commerce power precedent with a traditional state power overlay. The commerce power has a long history of interpretation, including the seminal “plenary power” description from Chief Justice Marshall. But, little tells us how the Roberts Court will read the Commerce Clause.
This is even more true for the spending power question in the case. The spending power is so undertheorized it basically has no theory. The Dole test for conditional spending is merely a Rehnquist-style summary and categorization of prior spending precedent, but none of that precedent provides a theory either, unless you believe the contract analogy from Pennhurst rises to the level of theory. The power to spend also has no early, foundational Marshall interpretation like Commerce or Necessary and Proper. Given that the federal government lacked significant ability to spend until the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913, the lack of early precedent is unsurprising. But, the first case to provide a heuristic (U.S. v. Butler ) merely affirmed that the Hamiltonian view of the power to spend was correct, that spending is an enumerated power. Not only did that case avoid expressing a theory for interpreting the General Welfare Clause, it went on to limit Congress by the Tenth Amendment, thus arguably producing a self-conflicting result. With no underlying theory, the federalism questions and topic-specific healthcare questions stand on a house of cards.
So, why all the pre-postmortems? Maybe because we still haven’t figured out what most advanced countries did a long time ago – we all do better when we are all well. I was speaking with someone from Scotland recently, and he was befuddled by the fight over achieving universal health insurance coverage in the United States. He asked a question that should have been rhetorical, “Isn’t healthcare a good thing?” If we haven’t decided that healthcare is both essential and good for all of our citizens, then no amount of preparation will facilitate the actual postmortems.
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Lucas Guttentag entitled Discrimination, Preemption, and Arizona’s Immigration Law: A Broader View. The author discusses the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070. He argues that discrimination must be a crucial consideration in the Court’s review of the federal preemption challenge brought by the United States:
The Supreme Court is expected to decide within days whether Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement statute, S.B. 1070, is unconstitutional. Arizona’s law is widely condemned because of the discrimination the law will engender. Yet the Court appears intent on relegating questions of racial and ethnic profiling to the back of the bus, as it were. That is because the Supreme Court is considering only the United States’ facial preemption challenge to S.B. 1070 under the Supremacy Clause. That preemption claim asserts that Arizona’s statute conflicts with the Immigration and Nationality Act’s federal enforcement structure and authority.
But discarding the relevance of discrimination as a component of that ostensibly limited preemption claim expresses the federal interest too narrowly. State laws targeting noncitizens should also be tested against another fundamental federal norm, namely the prohibition against state alienage discrimination that dates back to Reconstruction-era civil rights laws. In other words, the federal principles that states may not transgress under the Supremacy Clause should be defined both by the benefits and penalties in the immigration statute and by the protections embodied in historic anti-discrimination laws.
While the precise force and scope of the Civil Rights Laws with regard to non-legal resident aliens remain undetermined, and Arizona claims to be penalizing only undocumented immigrants, defining the federal interest solely through the lens of immigration regulation and enforcement is still too narrow. Federal law is not only about federal immigration enforcement—it is equally about preventing discrimination. Measuring state laws only against the intricacies of federal immigration statutes and policies misses this essential point.
Some Justices may recognize the broader non-discrimination interests presented in the federal government’s preemption claim. And even if the pending challenge does not enjoin any or all of the S.B. 1070 provisions, civil rights challenges will more directly raise the rights of immigrants, their families and communities. But that eventuality should not obscure the importance of understanding that the federal values transgressed by S.B. 1070 and similar laws encompass both immigration and anti-discrimination imperatives.
Read the full article, Discrimination, Preemption, and Arizona’s Immigration Law: A Broader View by Lucas Guttentag, at the Stanford Law Review Online.
June 18, 2012 at 8:00 am Tags: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, discrimination, Immigration, preemption, Supreme Court Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Immigration, Jurisprudence, Law Rev (Stanford), Supreme Court Print This Post No Comments
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold entitled The Money Crisis: How Citizens United Undermines Our Elections and the Supreme Court. Senator Feingold explains how the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United threatens the integrity of our political process:
As we draw closer to the November election, it becomes clearer that this year’s contest, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will be financially dominated by big money, including, whether directly or indirectly, big money from the treasuries of corporations of all kinds. Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.
[In Citizens United,] the Court was presented with a narrow question from petitioners: should the McCain-Feingold provision on electioneering communications (either thirty days before a primary election or sixty days before a general election) apply to this movie about Hillary Clinton? The movie, of course, was not running as a normal television commercial; instead, it was intended as a long-form, “on demand” special.
Yet Chief Justice Roberts clearly wanted a much broader, sweeping outcome, and it is now clear that he manipulated the Court’s process to achieve that result. Once only a question about an “on-demand” movie, the majority in Citizens United ruled that corporations and unions could now use their general treasuries to influence elections directly. Despite giving strenuous assurances during his confirmation hearing to respect settled law, Roberts now stands responsible for the most egregious upending of judicial precedent in a generation. As now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to the majority in Citizens United: “[F]ive Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
The Court has a clear opportunity. A new challenge from Montana could allow the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in Citizens United, and at least two justices have hinted that the 2010 ruling is untenable. In granting a stay of a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding that state’s anticorruption laws, Justice Ginsburg, writing with Justice Breyer, found the pulse of the chaos Citizens United has wrought: “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’”
Justice Ginsburg is correct. Today’s framework for corruption cannot stand.
Read the full article, The Money Crisis: How Citizens United Undermines Our Elections and the Supreme Court by Russ Feingold, at the Stanford Law Review Online.
Note: corrected for typos
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
I have just returned from the perennially-satisfying Health Law Professors Conference at ASU (where it was hot enough to singe your eyebrows). For folks interested in any aspect of healthcare law, this conference is highly recommended; the panels are strong on substance, the people are unfailingly collegial, and the event is bound to be near you at some point, as it moves to a different law school each June. This year I shared a panel entitled “Theories of Health Reform in the United States” with three excellent speakers, including CoOp co-guest blogger David Orentlicher (Rights to Health Care in the United States: Inherently Unstable), Abby Moncrieff (Healthcare Federalism, Healthcare Rights, and the ACA), and Christina Ho (Recursivity and Health Reform in the US: An Application of Niklas Luhmann’s Essays on Self-Reference).
I gave my talk the hilariously vague title “Healthcare as a Vehicle for Constitutional Change” when I submitted the abstract many months ago. It turned out, though, that this title was both useful and not a red-herring. I presented elements of an essay on Post-Reform Medicaid, including a point I mentioned here in December that the United States has not told a consistent story about Medicaid to the Court this term. In Douglas v. Independent Living Center, the Solicitor General articulated a deferential stance toward the states, a position consistent with longstanding states’ rights concerns in the Medicaid program. On the other hand, the federal government has advocated a very broad view of federal authority under the spending power to modify and expand Medicaid in Florida v. Health and Human Services. Adding to the confusion, Congress has acted in ways that are contradictory regarding Medicaid throughout the program’s history, and those conflicting attitudes have been accentuated by the executive branch’s dissonant litigation strategies this term.
I posited that these competing visions make it difficult for the Court to get the decision in Florida v. HHS “right.” If the United States cannot present a cornerstone of the universal health insurance design in a coherent manner, then the Court’s job is much harder in both Medicaid cases this term. It seems that the healthcare aspect of Florida v. HHS has been lost before the Court, making healthcare a sub-optimal “vehicle for constitutional change.” The pithy decision issued in Douglas provides an example. While the Breyer majority articulated concern for Medicaid as a program in enunciating the reasons to allow HHS to exercise primary jurisdiction, the Roberts dissent only described Medicaid as “spending legislation” and jumped right to federalism, spending power questions, and clear statement rules. It is easy to see how the Court could jump to the big constitutional questions in Florida v. HHS. (It also happens that the result in Douglas aligns with a study published in Health Affairs regarding political affiliation and attitudes toward healthcare access, but that is probably a topic for anther day.)
The Medicaid expansion is predicted to cover 16 million new lives; added to the existing 69 million Medicaid enrollees, Medicaid would become the nation’s largest health insurer covering some of our most medically-fragile and poorest citizens. Much is at stake on the ground, but healthcare may not be a very good vehicle for the change that could be approaching.
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
Many, many thanks to Dan and the other CoOp regulars for having me back this month. For Court watchers, June can feel like a vigil for the term’s final, big decisions, but this year that tension is heightened in anticipation of all that may occur in Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To wit, SCOTUSblog has issued what is effectively an emergency preparedness plan. I am working on a presentation and a workshop paper for two conferences related to the spending and healthcare action this term and will turn to my favorite topics soon. But, as Gerard noted recently, many are suffering from healthcare reform overload, malaise, exhaustion… . Accordingly, as I am coming up for air after grading 70 Constitutional Law essay exams (what is that, at least a thousand pages of grading?), I am thinking about the semester’s high and low points and ways in which I can improve my classroom performance.
There is nothing like the marathon of grading to initiate this kind of reflection, which I think is a useful exercise before diving into the pleasures of summer research and conferences. I imagine we have all experienced the gratification of seeing that our students have learned something well and rose to the challenge on an exam, and the disappointment of realizing that no one understood a word we said on a particular topic. It can be hard to self-correct during the semester except to clear up the immediate points of confusion (though I do make notes in my syllabus when topics don’t proceed as planned). But, the next year’s students can benefit from the prior year’s lessons, some of which can be learned from student evaluations, and some of which can result from ‘exam reflection.’ Taking a moment to reconsider can result in fruitful actions such as better exams, rewriting part of a syllabus, restructuring a class to introduce material better, considering supplemental materials, or revisiting casebook choices. Sometimes a deliberate choice not to act occurs to see if the issue is a blip or a trend.
In light of these musings, I have two questions, one general, and one more specific to Con Law:
1. Do you use exams to reflect on the success of the semester’s teaching? If so, how? What kinds of issues do you think warrant attention given the limitations of the law school exam structure?
2. Do you provide any background materials that are the equivalent of the civics lessons of yore? Every year I have students come to my office concerned that they will be left behind in Con Law because they know virtually nothing about American history, politics, civics, or the Constitution. My first assignment is always to read the Constitution, which levels the playing field a bit (funny how many poli sci majors think they know everything but have never actually read the document). But, I have yet to find a good, concise background reader for my nervous con law newbies. I don’t think this lack of background affects exam performance, but I would like to find a good resource. Suggestions?
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Eric Segall and Aaron E. Carroll entitled Health Care and Constitutional Chaos: Why the Supreme Court Should Uphold the Affordable Care Act. Professor Segall and Dr. Carroll explore the constitutional and practical arguments for upholding the ACA:
The Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will likely be handed down on the last day of this year’s term. If the Court finds that the ACA—either in whole or in part—violates the Constitution, the health care industry will be shaken to its core. And, no matter what legal justification the Court uses to invalidate the ACA, the structure of constitutional law will be severely undercut. The resulting medical and legal chaos will be expensive, divisive, and completely unnecessary. Nothing in the text, history or structure of the Constitution warrants the Court overturning Congress’s effort to address our national health care problems.
The leading academic proponent of a decision overturning the ACA has conceded that the law is an attempt to “transform a sixth of the national economy.” Whatever can be said about that economic plan as a policy matter, there can be no question that (1) it is a regulation of commerce among the states; and (2) there is no textual or precedential constitutional principle that suggests Congress can’t use all reasonable tools to regulate that commerce, including the use of an individual mandate.
Read the full article, Health Care and Constitutional Chaos: Why the Supreme Court Should Uphold the Affordable Care Act by Eric Segall and Aaron E. Carroll, at the Stanford Law Review Online.
May 29, 2012 at 8:10 am Tags: affordable care act, Constitutional Law, health care, health care reform, Supreme Court Posted in: Constitutional Law, Health Law, Law Rev (Stanford) Print This Post 2 Comments
posted by Robert Percival
I just returned from this morning’s oral argument in Department of HHS v. Florida, the challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This week the Court is devoting three full days (six hours) of argument to the case, the most in half a century. The case has been a constitutional law professor’s dream because it illustrates the application of so many issues we cover in the course, including standing, the commerce power, the tax and spending powers, and theories of constitutional interpretation. I have had my first year Con Law students read the decisions below and the principal briefs before the Court and we devoted two full days of class to a roleplaying exercise where the students argued the issues.
This morning when I arrived at the Court at 7:30am there was a very lengthy line outside the Court building even for members of the Supreme Court Bar. When I saw the line I figured that I would not have a chance to get a seat in the bar section, but I at least would be able to listen to live audio of the arguments in the Lawyer’s Lounge. However, many people in the bar line were members of the press and the line shrunk quickly when they were ushered into the building. Also the Court wisely decided for today’s session to entertain no admissions for new members of the Supreme Court bar, freeing up extra seats in the bar section. I received ticket #47 and by 8:45am I was seated in the courtroom with other members of the Court’s bar. Sitting next to me was a state legislator from Maine who had flown to D.C. for the argument. She reported that when she arrived at the Court at 5:20am she was the thirteenth person in the bar line and that many of the people in front of her had been paid to wait in line for other bar members.
I was seated directly in front of the press section, which was filled to overflowing by 9:30am. Being a fly on the wall to conversations among the veteran reporters who cover the Court was interesting. One mused that he could create a stampede from the bar section simply by announcing that he was looking for experts to comment on the case. Another vowed dire consequences “if one more public relations person from a fourth-tier law school calls me to insist that I have to talk to some associate professor about this case.” Considerable chatter occurred concerning which prominent officials were in the Court (“Justice said Eric Holder will be here, but I don’t see him.”).
When the Justices took the bench at 10am, Justice Scalia announced the Credit Suisse Securities decision on the running of a statute of limitations in securities litigation. He went into great detail about the case, taking ten full minutes and causing many in the press and bar sections to roll their eyes. Chief Justice Roberts then in three minutes succinctly explained the Court’s Zivotofsky decision, holding that the constitutionality of a statute requiring the State Department to list people born in Jerusalem as having been born in Israel is not a political question.
The argument then got underway. The Court has divided the three days of argument by subject matter. The main event will be tomorrow when the Court focuses on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance. This is the portion of the ACA that was struck down by the 11th Circuit as exceeding Congress’s power under the commerce clause. Today’s argument focused on whether the Anti-Injunction Act, a statute that dates from 1867, barred the Court from hearing challenges to the ACA because of its requires that taxes first be paid before their legality can be challenged in court. The only penalty the ACA provides for failing to purchase health insurance is that an extra payment must be made on one’s income tax return with the payment roughly designed to reflect what the cost of insurance would have been. Because the Solicitor General has taken the position that this payment is not covered by the Anti-Injunction Act, the Court appointed Robert A. Long, Jr. as special counsel to make that argument. Thus, today’s argument was divided into three parts.
Long argued first that the Anti-Injunction Act applied and deprived the Court of jurisdiction to hear the case until after payments for failure to buy insurance became due in 2015. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. then argued that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply to this case, but that in cases where it did apply it should be considered to be a jurisdictional bar. Gregory G. Katsas, representing the states challenging the constitutionality of the ACA, argued that the penalty was not a tax barred by the Anti-Injunction Act and that the government had properly waived any argument to that effect.
Based on the questions from the Justices, it seems most unlikely that the Court will use the Anti-Injunction Act rationale to postpone for a few years a decision on the constitutionality of the ACA. Several Justices noted that when the constitutionality of the Social Security Act was challenged 75 years ago in Helvering v Davis, the government waived application of the Anti-Injunction Act, something it could not do if the Act were a jurisdictional bar. Solicitor General Verrilli said the Court need not decide the jurisdictional issue if it agreed that Congress did not intend to subject the ACA to the Anti-Injunction Act. Justice Kennedy brought down the house when he replied, “Don’t you want to know the answer anyway?”
Thirteen minutes into the argument all Justices but Justice Thomas had asked questions. Thomas did not ask any questions. He has not asked a question at oral argument for six years, though some have speculated that tomorrow he may do so when the focus is on the constitutionality of the individual mandate. The Justices did not tip their hands today about how they felt concerning this constitutional issue. Justice Alito did chide the Solicitor General for arguing today that the sanction for failing to purchase insurance is not a tax, while arguing tomorrow that it is. In one exchange between Justice Kagan and the Solicitor General, Kagan kept referring to the “penalty” while Verrilli kept answering by referring to the “tax.” When the Chief Justice noted that they were using different terms, Verrilli switched to “tax penalty” as a compromise.
Tomorrow the government is making the argument that the individual mandate is constitutional as an exercise of both the commerce and the taxing powers. The tax power is implicated because the only sanction for violating the mandate is payment of a penalty on one’s income tax. Opponents of the mandate argue that it never would have been adopted by Congress if it had been advertised as a tax. However, there is precedent that even measures not specifically called “taxes” can be upheld under the taxing power in certain circumstances.
The upshot of today’s argument is that the Court is most unlikely to use the Anti-Injunction Act to duck a decision on the merits of the constitutional issues. Thus, tomorrow is the main event (Wednesday’s argument will be devoted to severability and the sleeper issue of whether the Medicaid expansion is unconstitutionally coercive of the states). I will not be attending the argument tomorrow because I have a morning class in Constitutional Law, but my class and I certainly will continue to follow this case closely.
posted by Brett Frischmann
There is one principle that I would add to the five that Marvin examines in the article: nondiscrimination. It seems to me that across public and private, physical and virtual ”space” contexts (and judicial opinions), one persistent principle is that nondiscriminatory approaches to sustaining spaces, platforms, … infrastructures are presumptively legit and normatively attractive — whether government efforts to “sustain” involve public provisioning, subsidization or regulation.
I recognize that this might seem to tread too close to the negative liberty / anti-censorship model, but in my view, it helps connect the anti-censorship model with the pro-architecture model. We should worry when government micro-manages speech and chooses winners and losers, but macro-managing/structuring the speech environment is unavoidable. A nondiscrimination principle guides the latter (macro-management) to avoid the former (micro-management).
This sixth principle is implicit is the other five that Marvin discusses. It’s not articulated as a stand-alone principle, uniform across situations, or even defined completely. Nonetheless, nondiscrimination of *some* sort is part of the spatial analysis for each principle. For example, in the paper, when Marvin discusses designated public spaces, he says that government can designate spaces–so long as it does so in a nondiscriminatory way. The nondiscrimination principle here is limited: government cannot discriminate based on the limited notion of “content.” Another example is limited public forums where government cannot discriminate on viewpoint, but can set aside a forum for particular speakers based on the expected content (say students / educational content). There are other examples that Marvin explores in the paper. In my view, there is something fundamental about nondiscrimnation and the functional role that it plays that warrants further attention.
Frankly, the idea of a nondiscrimination principle connects with my own ideas about the First Amendment being aimed at sustaining infrastructure commons and the many different types of spillovers from speech–or more broadly, sustaining a spillover-rich cultural environment; I explored those ideas in an essay and I expand on them in the book. It is important to make clear that government support for infrastructure commons — whether by direct provisioning or by common carrier style regulation — lessens pressure on both governments and markets to pick winners and losers in the speech marketplace/environment, and as Marvin argues, that is something that is and ought to be fundamental or core in any FA model.
posted by Brett Frischmann
Thank you to Marvin for an excellent article to read and discuss, and thank you Concurring Opinions for providing a public forum for our discussion.
In the article, the critical approach that Marvin takes to challenge the “standard” model of the First Amendment is really interesting. He claims that the standard model of the First Amendment focuses on preserving speakers’ freedom by restricting government action and leaves any affirmative obligations for government to sustain open public spaces to a patchwork of exceptions lacking any coherent theory or principles. A significant consequence of this model is that open public spaces for speech—I want to substitute “infrastructure” for “spaces”–are marginalized and taken for granted. My forthcoming book—Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources–explains why such marginalization occurs in this and various other contexts and develops a theory to support the exceptions. But I’ll leave those thoughts aside for now and perhaps explore them in another post. And I’ll leave it to the First Amendment scholars to debate Marvin’s claim about what is the standard model for the First Amendment.
Instead, I would like to point out how a similar (maybe the same) problem can be seen in the Supreme Court’s most recent copyright opinion. In Golan v. Holder , Justice Ginsburg marginalizes the public domain in a startlingly fashion. Since it is a copyright case, the “model” is flipped around: government is empowered to grant exclusive rights (and restrict some speakers’ freedom) and any restrictions on the government’s power to do so is limited to narrow exceptions, i.e., the idea-expression distinction and fair use. A central argument in the case was that the public domain itself is another restriction. The public domain is not expressly mentioned in the IP Clause of the Constitution, but arguably, it is implicit throughout (Progress in Science and the Useful Arts, Limited Times). Besides, the public domain is inescapably part of the reality that we stand on the shoulders of generations of giants. Most copyright scholars believed that Congress could not grant copyright to works in the public domain (and probably thought that the issue raised in the case – involving restoration for foreign works that had not been granted copyright protection in the U.S — presented an exceptional situation that might be dealt with as such). But the Court declined to rule narrowly and firmly rejected the argument that “the Constitution renders the public domain largely untouchable by Congress.” In the end, Congress appears to have incredibly broad latitude to exercise its power, limited only by the need to preserve the “traditional contours.”
Of course, it is much more troublesome that the Supreme Court (rather than scholars interpreting Supreme Court cases) has adopted a flawed conceptual model that marginalizes basic public infrastructure. We’re stuck with it.
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
Reporting results for its monthly Health Tracking Poll published today, the Kaiser Family Foundation introduced the summary of its findings thus: “As the Supreme Court prepares to hear legal challenges to the health reform law in March, most Americans expect the Justices to base their ruling on their own ideological views rather than their interpretation of the law…. Other key findings include: The public doubts the Supreme Court renders judgments based solely on the law. Three-quarters (75%) say they think that, in general, Justices let their own ideological views influence their decisions while 17 percent say they usually decide cases based on legal analysis without regard to politics and ideology….” Notable for a term that has the potential to render a few blockbuster cases. (The public’s opinion of the Court is worthy of its own conversation, but it’s best left for another post.)
It is not just the general public that believes politics will win out; amici supporting the states seem to be appealing to ideology. In reading all of the amicus briefs supporting Petitioners’ claim that the Medicaid expansion is unconstitutionally coercive, several themes reflecting this strategy emerge, such as:
- Rejection or non-acceptance of New Deal era programs and precedents (the foundation of spending programs such as Medicare and Medicaid).
- Asking the Court to invent a coercion doctrine to limit the power to spend and/or seeking a return to U.S. v. Butler, the 1936 decision that articulated a Hamiltonian understanding of the power to spend as a separate enumerated power but that also declared the provision of the act at issue to be unconstitutional as infringing on states’ rights. (One brief even seeks reversal of Butler’s adoption of the Hamiltonian view in favor of the Madisonian view that the power to spend only supports the other enumerated powers.)
- Eschewing precedent - paragraphs unfold with no cites (the Texas brief is a good example). Citations that do exist are often to concurrences, dissents, scholarship, or think-tank reports. Justice Kennedy’s concurrences and dissents are well represented.
- Providing a limited picture of the Medicaid Act and the expansion by failing to account for prior mandatory modifications to the program as well as the statutory architecture of the program (which contains both mandatory and optional elements).
- An assertion that states cannot leave Medicaid because the federal government somehow improperly taxes state citizens, therefore states cannot tax their populations enough to pay for a state-based Medicaid equivalent. (This reflects an argument articulated by Professor Lynn Baker in her spending power articles, though it is not always attributed.)
- Hyperbolic analogies (such as characterizing states as drug addicts).
A couple of additional thoughts come to mind in reading the amicus briefs:
- State dependence on federal funding speaks to state behavior, not federal.
- Coercion is too nebulous and perverse to be a coherent constitutional doctrine. This is illuminated by the amicus briefs, which essentially assert that the more money the federal government offers, the less control it should be able to exercise over either the money or the states.
- The Court has no standard by which to judge whether the federal government offers too much money to states. Too much money relative to what? If healthcare is expensive, then in a cooperative federalism arrangement the federal government must offer sufficient money to encourage a state to implement a program that will be costly. The sum of money speaks to the nature of the program, but it does not dictate whether the federal government may permissibly offer the money to the states.
- The tax argument is a distraction that denies the existence and purpose of the 16th Amendment as well as long-standing reliance on redistributive tax policy.
Despite the Medicaid expansion being the surprise question before the Court for many observers, it may dictate the outcome of the case. The Court could dodge the Commerce Clause question by virtue of the Anti-Injunction Act but still limit congressional authority by adopting the anti-federal spending position of the states and their amici. An additional theme - that Medicaid is essential to the minimum coverage provision – could make it so that Medicaid is the downfall of PPACA rather than the individual mandate. Such a result would fly in the face of severability jurisprudence; but, much about this litigation is unprecedented.
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
For those of you following the Medicaid expansion issue before the Court: Sara Rosenbaum and Katherine Hayes, experts on the Medicaid program and health policy at GW, have posted a thoughtful response on the Health Affairs blog to the states’ misleading discription of the Medicaid program (which I also mentioned in my initial impressions of the states’ merits brief). Briefs supporting the states’ coercion position were just filed, and I will post initial impressions of the amici soon.
posted by Nicole Huberfeld
Is the sky falling? According to Florida et al., which filed their brief regarding PPACA’s Medicaid expansion today, the answer is a resounding yes. In many respects, this brief rehashes the coercion arguments made in the district court and Eleventh Circuit. The states continue to argue that they cannot afford the Medicaid expansion that will occur in 2014 (which I discussed on this blog here, here, and here), even though the federal government will pay 100% of the cost initially; and, they cannot afford not to participate in Medicaid because the costs of their medical welfare populations would be too high. Thus, the states claim to be coerced into accepting this “onerous” new condition on federal funds. Again, these arguments are not new.
One aspect of the brief that was new was the inclusion of the severability arguments through describing the Medicaid expansion within the context of the universal insurance aspirations of PPACA (see especially fn. 18). The states essentially contend that the minimum coverage requirement (“individual mandate”) gives impoverished Americans no option but to be in Medicaid, which in turn makes it so that the states cannot opt out of Medicaid. The states further assert that this was Congress’s plan – to coerce the states by giving the poor no other options for obtaining minimum insurance coverage. The fallacious assumptions underlying this argument are too numerous to unpack at this late hour, but at least two thoughts can start the job: first, New York v. U.S. does not require the federal government to offer alternatives to conditional spending programs (unlike, say, when it exercises commerce authority – the insurance exchanges in PPACA, which are a point of contrast in the brief, are an exercise of Commerce Clause authority, and states can either create them with some federal funding or reject them and the federal government will create the exchanges in the states that choose not to act — all of this fits neatly within the New York architecture). Second, suffice it to say that the impoverished are not seeking private insurance alternatives to Medicaid.
Medicaid’s history is skewed by the brief more greatly than it was at lower court levels. For example, the brief ignores the fact that Medicaid has always contained mandatory elements; these mandatory elements were one of the major defining features of the program as it was amended from Kerr-Mills, its predecessor program. The brief also misrepresents the existence of mandatory eligibility and coverage standards and how they serve the aspirations of the program. Likewise, the brief either misunderstands or misrepresents the minimum essential coverage requirement, which is actually more flexible for states than the mandatory coverage provisions for other Medicaid populations. Additionally, the brief appears to misunderstand the statutory clarification that Medicaid provides both care and service (Congress here was responding to lower federal courts that had misconstrued certain language in the Medicaid Act).
Also, decisions such as Arlington, Dole, and Pennhurst that have required clear notice of conditions on spending are cited in the brief to support the states’ position that they have not voluntarily agreed to this condition on spending. Before this point, the states have not argued that any other Dole element was violated, but the states now seem to indicate that these conditions were not unambiguous and thus the ‘contract’ with the federal government is unconstitutional. In addition, the states offer a limiting principle that adopting their view of the coercion theory does not threaten other federal spending programs because Medicaid is by far the largest federal spending program (echoes of the federal government’s argument that nothing else is like healthcare).
Bottom line, the states want the Court to revive Butler and to expand the theory of coercion that the Court merely acknowledged in Dole and Steward Machine by relying heavily on Justice Kennedy’s concurrences and dissents that have expressed an interest in such an expansion. The question is whether a majority of the Court is interested in a new limitation on Congress’s power to spend.