Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

Environment roundup

In the mail: Supreme Court Haiku

Now out: Supreme Court Haiku paperback makes a perfect fun gift for your literary or contemplative lawyer friend.

Ted Frank argues at SCOTUS

“Mr. Frank [former Overlawyered blogger Ted Frank] argued his own case on Wednesday, a rarity in the Supreme Court, and he exhibited comprehensive knowledge of the law and an only occasionally halting style.” [Adam Liptak, New York Times] The transcript of oral argument, in which several Justices expressed doubt that the lower court had adequately pinned down standing issues, is here. More on Frank v. Gaos and the cy pres issues it raises: Richard Wolf/USA Today, Daniel Fisher, Jim Copland, SCOTUSBlog, Federalist Society SCOTUSBrief video; earlier here, etc.

O’Connor: “I am no longer able to participate in public life”

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has released a letter to the public about her declining health. O’Connor is rightly admired for her inspiring life story and unswerving loyalty to the highest civic principles as well as the ideals of the judiciary. Even at this difficult moment of her life, as the letter shows, she is intent on advancing the res publica.

That O’Connor was the swing Justice of her day did not mean that her role on the Court came down to trimming or compromise. Together with fellow Arizonan Rehnquist, no one was more central in the Court’s reinvigoration of federalism, drawing on her record as the only Justice of our era with extensive service in a state legislature. She has led public discussion in the right direction on issues ranging from professional responsibility and race and redistricting to judicial elections.

And as I noted in 2005, if a single jurist deserves our thanks for helping turn back what had seemed like an irresistible trend toward ever more litigiousness in the civil justice system, it is she. “More vocally than any of her present colleagues, Justice O’Connor sounded the alarm against what she’s termed ‘the increasing, and on many levels frightening, overlegalization of everyday life in our country today.'” Her leading role on such issues as due process review of punitive damages reflected that view. For that, as well as for her notice of my work along the way, count me among the grateful.

Supreme Court roundup

Environment roundup

Ted Frank to argue cy pres at the Supreme Court

Congratulations to Ted Frank, profiled Oct. 15 by Adam Liptak at the New York Times for arguing his own case (Frank v. Gaos, on class action settlements) before the U.S. Supreme Court. The article does not mention one of Ted’s most salient public roles, namely co-blogging for years as my most inspired recruit at Overlawyered and at Point of Law.

Frank v. Gaos is a challenge to the cy pres elements of a privacy class action against Google [Federalist Society podcast with Ted, NLJ via CEI]. Ilya Shapiro at Cato (which has filed an amicus brief) describes some of the factual background:

Attorneys’ fees of $2.125 million were awarded out of the settlement fund, amounting to 25 percent of the fund and more than double the amount estimated based on class counsel’s actual hours worked.

But no class members other than the named plaintiffs received any money! Instead, the remainder of the settlement fund was awarded to six organizations that “promote public awareness and education, and/or…support research, development, and initiatives, related to protecting privacy on the Internet.” Three of the recipients were alma maters of class counsel.

This diversion of settlement money from the victims to causes chosen by the lawyers is referred to as cy pres. “Cy pres” means “as near as possible,” and courts have typically used the cy pres doctrine to reform the terms of a charitable trust when the stated objective of the trust is impractical or unworkable. The use of cy pres in class action settlements—particularly those that enable the defendant to control the funds—is an emerging trend that violates the due process and free speech rights of class members.

James Beck at Drug and Device Law writes that the settlement in question “features just about everything we don’t like about cy pres.” Quoting:

  • Excessive counsel fees – class counsel stands to walk away with fully 38% of the settlement as fees. 869 F.3d at 747.
  • Lack of classwide recovery – the court declared the entire settlement “non-distributable” because, even without opposition, neither the class members nor their damages could be determined. Id. at 742.
  • Excessive cy pres – nothing is more excessive than 100% ? six uninjured charities took 100% of what class counsel left behind, and the 129 million supposedly injured class members took nothing. Id. at 743.
  • Rampant conflict of interest? Three of the charities were law schools – and they all had ties to counsel in the case.
    Litigation industry self-perpetuation – cy pres recipients were expected solicit more lawsuits by “educat[ing]” the public and “publiciz[ing]” privacy issues. Id. at 746-47.

Oral argument before the Court will be held Oct. 31.

“Packing the Supreme Court Is a Terrible Idea”

“Democrats paid a political cost for decades after F.D.R. tried it in the 1930s. They probably would again.” [Julian E. Zelizer, New York Times]

Some writings on the left applauding or backing the idea: Ian Samuel, Guardian; E.J. Dionne, Washington Post; Mehdi Hasan/The Intercept; Jed Shugerman; Michael Klarman, Take Care Blog. Charlie Savage at the New York Times rounds up more pro and con. And as Josh Blackman noted in April 2017, similar ideas were already floating around then; see also Mark Tushnet later last year.

Critics of the idea: Megan McArdle (recalling “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards), Charles Cooke (“fringe fantasy”), Adam White, Ilya Somin. A constitutional amendment to prevent packing? [Jim Lindgren, Ilya Somin]

18,000 Facebook shares later: a tale of legal misinformation

How efficient is social media in spreading viral-junk misinformation about the law? Well, the following post about Tuesday’s two-page Supreme Court ruling in Brakebill v. Jaeger, a case about voting procedures in North Dakota, has gotten more than 18,000 shares as of this morning:

screen capture of Facebook post
Let’s take a look at its errors, or at least the first four biggies:

1. Brakebill was not Justice Kavanaugh’s first ruling. If you so much as glance at the Court’s opinion, it’s hard to miss its second sentence: “JUSTICE KAVANAUGH took no part in the consideration or decision of this application.”

2. There is no indication that the vote was 5 to 4. Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer did not join the dissent.*

3. Justice Ginsburg’s dissent contains no language even remotely like that put within quotation marks here. Her tone is technical rather than indignant, and she does not challenge anyone’s motives as illegitimate.

4. The Court did not issue a decision upholding the laws. It was a denial of an application to vacate a stay, not a ruling on the merits.

And we haven’t even gotten to the merits! Three and a half days after posting, its author has not seen fit to correct any of his errors.

Here’s a rule of thumb about social media: the more anger, the less accuracy. More on viral junk and thinking before you share here.

* A reader on Twitter points out that in the absence of a signed majority opinion, we can’t know for sure that the vote against vacating the stay necessarily came out 6-2; we know only that if there were other Justices who wanted to vacate the stay, they declined to join the Ginsburg-Kagan dissent. I’ve corrected the text above accordingly.

Gamble v. U.S.: conspiracy theory edition

Ken at Popehat has an explainer on how the case of Gamble v. U.S. before the Supreme Court, on the operation of the dual-sovereignty exception to double jeopardy protection, is 1) not the subject of some fiendish plot to give Trump pardons universal effect by way of a Kavanaugh fifth vote; 2) not a conventional left-right issue either, Ruth Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas having joined in an opinion questioning the current doctrine. (Cato has joined in an amicus brief with Brianne Gorod of the left-leaning Constitutional Accountability Center to support the Ginsburg-Thomas position as more consistent with both originalism and civil liberties.) Earlier here (cert stage of Gamble) and here (similar Tyler case).