An opinion by the Fourth Circuit sees a big difference between legal representation of unions or complainants — idealistic, pro-rights, good in short — versus legal representation of businesses. Is that so? And should the role of the First Amendment apply equally across the two cases? I explore the case of Capital Associated Industries Inc. v. Stein, from North Carolina, in a new post at Cato at Liberty.
- Hosanna-Tabor sequel: Court agrees to review Ninth Circuit decisions taking narrow view of “ministerial exception,” which restricts court review of some decisions by religious employers [SCOTUSBlog, Eric Rassbach; Joseph Cosby on Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel]
- Once again the Court is being asked to green-light open-ended claims of disparate impact liability in mortgage lending. Proximate cause principles offer a way to hold the line [Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus, and Sam Spiegelman on Cato amicus in Bank of America v. Miami]
- Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution provides that the Chief Justice shall preside over an impeachment trial of the President in the Senate. Should it wish, however, the Senate will have wide latitude to overrule Roberts’s rulings [John Kruzel, The Hill]
- Regulatory agencies whose officials are unremovable amount to an unaccountable fourth (or fifth?) branch of government [Ilya Shapiro and James Knight on Cato amicus brief in Seila Law v. CFPB]
- Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, argued before the Court Nov. 13, originally appeared to hinge on the Ninth Circuit’s adopting a looser standard for allegations of race discrimination in contracting than did other circuits; as it has evolved, however, it may be decided on questions of pleading [Washington Legal Foundation and more from WLF’s Richard Samp, ABA Journal; Dominic Patten and Mike Fleming Jr., Deadline on underlying dispute; Howard Wasserman and followup]
- Nearly two years after joining the Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch now has a track record [Jacob Sullum, Michael Greve] Gorsuch may be joining Thomas in the position that a federal agency’s considered decision *not* to regulate should not be interpreted to pre-empt state regulatory power [James Beck on concurrence in Lipschultz v. Charter Advanced Services (MN), LLC]
From colleague Ilya Shapiro, writing in USA Today: “There were 67 decisions after argument in the term that ended in June. In those cases, the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents voted the same way 51 times, while the five Republican appointees held tight 37 times. And of the 20 cases where the court split 5-4, only seven had the ‘expected’ ideological divide of conservatives over liberals. By the end of the term, each conservative justice had joined the liberals as the deciding vote at least once.”
Meanwhile, those who decry supposed bloc control of Court outcomes are missing a story staring them in the face, namely that not in many decades have a single president’s appointees diverged as sharply from each other as have President Trump’s, with Neil Gorsuch typically taking a more libertarian line and Brett Kavanaugh more centrist as well as more deferential to government power. According to SCOTUS scholar Adam Feldman, “Kavanaugh agreed equally often with Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch, at 70 percent apiece.”
- If you regard Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh as “very decent, very smart individuals,” are tired of party-line confirmation bloc votes, and don’t favor adding to the line-up of nine Justices, you have a co-thinker at the Supreme Court [John McCormack, National Review; Nina Totenberg/NPR interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg]
- “Manhattan federal judges are getting fed up with notorious copyright ‘troll’” [Alison Frankel, Reuters; ABA Journal; Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Richard Liebowitz]
- Idaho, though far from California, still falls under the Ninth Circuit’s distinctive body of law protecting homeless encampments against municipal authority [Steve Malanga, City Journal, earlier here, here]
- “Liability for User-Generated Content Online Principles for Lawmakers” [53 individual and 28 institutional signers including many names and groups familiar in this space; TechFreedom] “Comments on Sen. Hawley’s ‘[Ending] Support for Internet Censorship Act'” [Eric Goldman] And the Missouri senator’s latest: “Josh Hawley Wants To Appoint Himself Product Manager For The Internet” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
- Jury convicts south Texas judge charged with bribery, conspiracy and other crimes [Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro, McAllen Monitor; Fred W. Heldenfels IV, Corpus Christi Caller-Times/Texans for Lawsuit Reform (“The fact that a judge under indictment for accepting bribes can run for higher office and win should be a major red flag for Texans.”)] Michigan Supreme Court removes Livingston County judge over long list of ethical violations, criminal charges also pending [Andy Olesko, Courthouse News]
- “Auction Winner Learns Why Property Was Such a Great Deal: It’s Only 12 Inches Wide” [Kevin Underhill, Lowering the Bar]
- Cato batted 12-4 in Supreme Court term that saw Kavanaugh agreeing nearly as often with Kagan as with Gorsuch [Ilya Shapiro; another roundup of the recently concluded term from Jonathan Adler]
- Not only is Alan Dershowitz wrong about Supreme Court review of impeachment, he’s wrong in a way that practically invites constitutional crisis [Keith Whittington]
- High court declines certiorari in challenge to Wisconsin butter grading law [Ilya Shapiro and Matt Larosiere, Mark Arnold, Husch Blackwell with update, earlier here and here]
- “The John Marshall Legacy: A Conversation with Richard Brookhiser” [Law and Liberty audio on new biography; Federalist Society panel with Brookhiser, Hon. Kyle Duncan, Hon. Kevin Newsom, and David Rifkin, moderated by Hon. William Pryor]
- I’m quoted on Gundy v. U.S., the improper-delegation case: “While the Court majority did not agree this time, the line-up suggests breakthrough imminent” [Nicole Russell, Washington Examiner] From some quarters on the Left, rage at the Supreme Court that got away [Ilya Shapiro at P.J. O’Rourke online magazine American Consequences]
- “Supreme Court Returns Constitutional Patent Case to Sender” [Gregory Dolin, Cato] on Return Mail v. U.S. Postal Service, earlier on dangers when federal agencies litigate before federal agency tribunals]
Crossing to join his four liberal colleagues, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion in yesterday’s Davis v. U.S., finding unconstitutionally vague a federal sentence-enhancement provision prescribing “harsher penalties for those who use guns ‘in connection with certain other federal crimes.'” [Jack Rodgers, Courthouse News] His opinion begins:
In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all. Only the people’s elected representatives in Congress have the power to write new federal criminal laws. And when Congress exercises that power, it has to write statutes that give ordinary people fair warning about what the law demands of them. Vague laws transgress both of those constitutional requirements. They hand off the legislature’s responsibility for defining criminal behavior to unelected prosecutors and judges, and they leave people with no sure way to know what consequences will attach to their conduct. When Congress passes a vague law, the role of courts under our Constitution is not to fashion a new, clearer law to take its place, but to treat the law as a nullity and invite Congress to try again.
It was the third rights-of-the-accused case this term in which Gorsuch took the liberal side, and put him at odds once again with Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In his dissent yesterday, after crediting tougher federal laws with at least partial responsibility for the drop in crime since the 1980s, Kavanaugh noted that the sentence enhancement has been applied without seeming difficulty in thousands of cases of violent offenses since its enactment:
The Constitution’s separation of powers authorizes this Court to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional. That is an awesome power. We exercise that power of judicial review in justiciable cases to, among other things, ensure that Congress acts within constitutional limits and abides by the separation of powers. But when we overstep our role in the name of enforcing limits on Congress, we do not uphold the separation of powers, we transgress the separation of powers….
The Court usually reads statutes with a presumption of rationality and a presumption of constitutionality.
While both were appointed by President Trump, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have been anything but in lockstep.
Yesterday’s biggest news from the Supreme Court was not its 7-2 upholding of the Bladensburg, Md. Peace Cross (American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association et al.; earlier). That outcome could readily have been foreseen given the result in earlier cases: Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, to say nothing of the five conservatives, are prepared to uphold “longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices” that may include religious content but do not impose any significant harms on those of other faiths or none. This World War I memorial qualifies.
Instead, the big news is the outcome in Gundy v. U.S. (earlier), a case over whether Congress can delegate to the Department of Justice the power to decide how severe the penalties will be in one application of the sex offender registration law. While the critique of excessive delegation did not carry the day this time (the vote was 4-3-1 with Justice Brett Kavanaugh not participating), Justice Samuel Alito indicated that he would be inclined to look at the issue in a future case, and Kavanaugh is thought (from his D.C. Circuit jurisprudence) to be similarly minded. If so, then a future case could establish the important principle that Congress must spell out penalties and prohibitions in law itself, rather than punt such issues to executive agencies, at least in criminal matters and perhaps also in some regulatory ones. That’s huge, since the Court has rejected improper-delegation theories since the New Deal.
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s dissent in Gundy, together with his scalding dissent (earlier) in the double jeopardy/dual sovereignty case Gamble v. U.S. on Monday, makes him the libertarian hero of the week.
- Gorsuch: “A free society does not allow its government to try the same individual for the same crime until it’s happy with the result.” And yet he and Ginsburg were the only dissenters from the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision Monday in Gamble v. U.S. to allow consecutive state and federal prosecutions over the same conduct, the so-called dual sovereignty exception to double jeopardy protection [Reuters, Ilya Shapiro, Cato brief (with ACLU and Constitutional Accountability Center) that had urged an end to the exception; and a conspiracy theory about Kavanaugh that wound up having absolutely no predictive value]
- “When Should Plaintiffs Be Able to Sue Anonymously?” [Eugene Volokh]
- 77-year-old antitrust consent decrees were designed for a music business that long since faded into history, DOJ’s decision to reconsider is welcome [Federalist Society podcast with Kristen Osenga and Mark Schultz, Osenga blog post]
- Clarence Darrow once boasted a cult following among American lawyers. His manipulative speech in the Leopold/Loeb case leaves you to wonder whether much will outlive the hype [Bryan Caplan]
- Federal aid-to-state programs have exploded in recent years, a good way to redistribute money and power into the hands of political elites with little taxpayer or voter accountability [Chris Edwards, Cato, new study and blog post]
- Dear Caterpillar: do you think there is much likelihood of consumer confusion about whether this coffee shop t-shirt is promoting earth-moving machinery? [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
Dissenting in the recent case of Nieves v. Bartlett, on the First Amendment handling of arrests motivated in part by retaliation for protected speech, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that criminal law in U.S. has expanded to a point where “almost anyone can be arrested for something.” And the implications? [Ilya Somin] Earlier on Nieves and the retaliatory-arrest case that preceded it last year, Lozman v. Riviera Beach, and more on the Nieves outcome from Tim Cushing at TechDirt.
- Will the liberal wing’s success at piecing together 5-4 majorities survive Justice Kennedy’s departure? [Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson, Bloomberg] Fundamental restructuring of Supreme Court becomes a popular campaign issue with Democrats, and the dangers in that [Ilya Shapiro, Washington Examiner] More: Gorsuch, Kavanaugh differ often, we can see clearly now [Jonathan Adler and update]
- Federalist Society video on stare decisis with Roger Pilon, and related by Pilon on constitutional stare decisis;
- The high court decides relatively few admiralty/maritime cases but has heard more than one of them this term; one artist’s whimsical illustration [@CourtArtist on Twitter]
- In writing opinions, “the justices should be careful about naming politicians, especially when they name in order to make a point about the political process.” [Josh Blackman, The Atlantic]
- A constitutional right to religious exemptions from otherwise applicable laws? Eugene Volokh still backs Scalia’s logic on that, but it’s looking as if Court’s conservative wing may not. Cleanup in the Lemon aisle: Michael McConnell on Maryland Peace Cross case [Volokh Conspiracy]
- New resource: database of all Supreme Court nomination hearing transcripts that are yet available (with Kavanaugh’s still to come) [Shoshana Weissmann and Anthony Marcum, R Street]