Tagged: Supreme Court

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Stanford Law Review Online: Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter

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.

He concludes:

“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.

Read the full article, Anticipating Patentable Subject Matter at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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The Stanford Law Review Online: Defending DOMA in Court

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.

He concludes:

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.

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Stanford Law Review Online: Politicizing the Supreme Court

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.

He concludes:

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.

Read the full article, Politicizing the Supreme Court by Eric Hamilton, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Starting to work beneath the surface of the Medicaid holding

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 More

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Preliminary thoughts on today’s decision splitting the proverbial baby

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 More

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Pre-postmortems

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.

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Stanford Law Review Online: Discrimination, Preemption, and Arizona’s Immigration Law

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.

He concludes:

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.

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Stanford Law Review Online: The Money Crisis

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.”

He concludes:

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

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Pondering the vehicle for change

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.

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Preparing for the Three Ring Circus (But Not Yet)

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?