It seems I’m Justice Stephen Breyer. [humor, Kyle Graham]
By a 6-3 vote yesterday, the Supreme Court decided that agencies deserve deference in determining the scope of their own jurisdiction. Bad move, argues Ilya Shapiro at Cato:
…why should courts defer to agency determinations regarding their own authority? … Whether a government body uses its power wisely or not, it cannot possibly be the judge of whether it has that power to begin with. Yet Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, essentially says that there’s no such thing as a dispute over whether an agency has power to regulate in a given area, just clear congressional lines of authority and ambiguous ones, with agencies having free rein in the latter circumstance unless their actions are “arbitrary and capricious” (what lawyers call Chevron deference, after a foundational 1984 case involving the oil company).
That makes no sense. As Cato explained in our brief, since the theory of deference is based on Congress’s affirmative grant of power to an agency over a defined jurisdiction, it’s incoherent to say that the failure to provide such power is an equal justification for deference. Furthermore, granting an agency deference over its own jurisdiction is an open invitation for agencies to aggrandize power that Congress never intended them to have. One doesn’t need a doctorate in public choice economics to recognize that we need checks on those who wield power because it’s in their nature to husband and grow that power.
Read the whole thing here.
Is ICWA, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, unconstitutional, bad policy, both, or neither? Does it impermissibly hand out rights in domestic relations disputes based on forbidden grounds of race and lineage? My new Reason piece on SCOTUS’s adoption heartbreaker is now out. ICWA advocates have argued that the law should be read generously as an effort to remedy a long earlier history in which Indian kids had been improperly been taken out of their homes. More on the case: SCOTUSBlog (I recommend in particular the amicus brief on behalf of family law experts Joan Heifetz Hollinger and Elizabeth Bartholet), ABA, oral argument transcript. And for a viewpoint extremely different from mine, Matthew Fletcher and Kate Fort write up the case at the Indian law blog Turtle Talk (first, second).(& SCOTUSBlog, How Appealing)
This morning’s big Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum was a huge win for good sense. While splitting 5-4 on reasoning, the nine justices unanimously rejected the lefty view of the Alien Tort Statute that had been popular on campus, in the foundation world, and so forth. Here’s my Cato take:
Just as the United States should not play policeman to the world, so our courts should not play tort-suit venue to the world. Today the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously and decisively buried the misguided, decades-long hope of some lawyers and academics that they could turn the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) into a wide-ranging method of hauling overseas damage claims into American courts. All nine Justices agreed with the Second Circuit that the statute does not grant jurisdiction for our courts to hear a controversy over alleged assistance in human rights violations outside the U.S. against non-U.S. plaintiffs by a non-U.S. business. A majority of five justices reiterated and relied on our law’s strong traditional presumption against extraterritoriality, that is to say, presumption against applying the law to actions that take place in other countries. While parting from this reasoning, four concurring justices nonetheless endorsed a view of ATS as applicable extraterritorially only to very extreme misconduct comparable to piracy, and also as sharply limited by considerations of comity with foreign sovereigns.
It is a good day for a realistic and modest sense of what United States courts of justice can successfully do, namely: do justice within the United States.
Notably, all nine Justices sidestepped the issue that had caused extensive angst among many popular commentators, namely whether the statute could be applied to corporations as distinct from natural persons. Other views: Ilya Shapiro, Cato (“an exceedingly complicated case with a relatively simple solution”); SCOTUSBlog; Julian Ku/Opinio Juris (“this means that the ATS wars over corporate liability are almost over…. A theory that the ATS can be justified in universal civil jurisdiction cases has been rejected, 9-0.”) and more (death of “universal civil jurisdiction” idea, and speculation that Breyer’s shift of ground to a narrower ATS rationale was an unsuccessful attempt to pick up Kennedy); Sarah Altschuller (reading opinions, “struck by amount of time that must have been dedicated to debate re: pirates and shipdecks”); Josh Blackman (getting all nine justices to agree on a personal jurisdiction question isn’t easy, but it happened here); Hans Bader; Roger Alford (ATS “as we know it is dead… [Kiobel] has destroyed an entire cottage industry”; transnational state-court torts and choice of law likely to rise in importance as replacement); Eugene Kontorovich (academics scoffed when “foreign-cubed” ATS lawsuits were called into question, yet all nine justices have now embraced that position); earlier here; Cato’s amicus brief. Disapproving reactions on the left from Alliance for Justice, Center for Constitutional Rights (which unsuccessfully invoked the ATS to sue bulldozer maker Caterpillar Tractor over the death of anti-Israel protester Rachel Corrie, a story mentioned in Schools for Misrule, which discusses law-school and foundation enthusiasm for the ATS), and Human Rights First. More on the recent ATS defense by Judge Pierre Leval, cited by Justice Breyer in his concurrence for the four liberals.
An inmate filing pro se gets certiorari, then follows through with a unanimous nine-Justice SCOTUS win, Thomas, J., correcting the Third Circuit. Credit Justice Alito? [Max Kennerly]
As I noted in this morning’s roundup, the Supreme Court spoke on Wednesday about class certification in an antitrust case from Philadelphia. Although a rather narrow and technical ruling it was not devoid of interest, or so I argue in a new post at Cato at Liberty.
I’ve got a flash reaction op-ed up at the New York Daily News site.
P.S. @gideonstrumpet: “I was indeed joking.“
On Tuesday and Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8, and U.S. v. Windsor, the challenge to Section 3 (federal definition of marriage) of the Defense of Marriage Act. A Ninth Circuit panel, with liberal Judge Stephen Reinhardt writing, had invalidated Prop 8 on relatively narrow grounds; a Second Circuit panel, with conservative Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs writing, had invalidated Section 3 of DOMA on Equal Protection grounds.
The range of possible outcomes for the two cases is quite wide. At one end, the Court could reverse both appellate decisions, restoring the California ban on gay marriage and confirming the legal definition of marriage as opposite-sex-only for purposes of federal programs such as taxation (at issue in Windsor) and federal employee pensions. At the other end, the Court could apply Equal Protection Clause principles to declare that marriage licenses must be available in all states to all otherwise qualified couples regardless of sex. In between are many intermediate outcomes. Both cases, especially Perry, raise issues of litigant standing that might enable or require the Court to set aside the ultimate merits and render a decision with little or no precedential impact on future cases.
[click to continue…]
Justice Scalia and the Ninth Circuit, cats and dogs lying down together? The conservative justice was the only dissenter the other day in a 7-1 Supreme Court decision overturning the Ninth Circuit in the consolidated cases of Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center and Georgia-Pacific West, Inc. v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center. In doing so, the Court upheld (as the Ninth Circuit had not) the entitlement of the Environmental Protection Agency, and by implication other federal agencies, to deference in interpreting the meaning of its own regulations — so-called Auer deference, as distinguished from Chevron deference in the interpretation of Congressionally enacted statutes. Roger Pilon at Cato sorts it out and concludes that there is nothing paradoxical about the line-up: Scalia is distinctively vigilant against the dangers of excessive delegation of legislative power to executive-branch regulators, and deference tends to intensify the effects of such delegation. (Update: omitted link included now)
The Supreme Court ruled that the first-sale doctrine of copyright law protects the rights of someone who buys books abroad for resale here, whether or not the publisher approves. [Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons: Joe Mullin/Ars Technica, SCOTUSBlog, Margot Kaminski/Concur Op ("this is all statutory interpretation" and subject to change by Congress; conflict with existing international trade agreements), earlier here and here] More: Chris Newman.
The decision in Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles was 9-0, Justice Breyer writing for the Court, and signals’ Justices’ impatience with lawyerly gamesmanship intended to evade CAFA (the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005). I’ve got a short commentary at Cato, which filed an amicus brief on the side that prevailed [decision in PDF, background at SCOTUSBlog, earlier here etc., my new Cato post; more on stage hooks](& SCOTUSBlog, Ted Frank/PoL (“Miller County [Arkansas] trial lawyers had collected hundreds of millions of dollars of legal fees from forum-shopped class-action settlements; the class members whom they purportedly represented likely didn’t even get 10% as much.”))
More: Andrew Trask (“The Supreme Court is envisioning the class action as a procedural aggregation device, rather than a corporate deterrent or a trust-like entity. This is good news for defendants.”); Alison Frankel, Reuters. And I’m quoted on the case in Alex Daniels’ account in the March 20 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (sub-only).
Yesterday by a 9-0 vote the Supreme Court agreed with a Cato amicus brief that the Securities and Exchange Commission has no power to seek fines or penalties after the statute of limitations has expired on challenged conduct by arguing that it did not discover the conduct until recently. I’ve got a discussion at Cato at Liberty. (& SCOTUSBlog, which also hosts this opinion analysis by Jonathan Macey)
Max Boot, who has written a new book on the history of guerrilla movements, tells how Shamil, firebrand leader of a celebrated 19th-century Muslim insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan, began to lose the allegiance of “many ordinary villagers who balked at his demands for annual tax payments amounting to 12 percent of their harvest.” Instead, they switched their allegiance instead to the rival Russian czar, whose demands were more modest.
Compare the pending case of Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, where, as my Cato colleague Ilya Shapiro explains,
the USDA imposed on the Hornes (long-time California raisin farmers Marvin and Laura Horne) a “marketing order” demanding that they turn over 47% of their crop without compensation. The order — a much-criticized New Deal relic — forces raisin “handlers” to reserve a certain percentage of their crop “for the account” of the government-backed Raisin Administrative Committee, enabling the government to control the supply and price of raisins on the market. The RAC then either sells the raisins or simply gives them away to noncompetitive markets—such as federal agencies, charities, and foreign governments—with the proceeds going toward the RAC’s administration costs.
The U.S. government denies that it owes anything to the Hornes under the Takings Clause, and also says that to contest the legality of what has been done to them, the Hornes are obliged to pay the USDA what it demands — $438,000 for the raisins not handed over, plus $200,000 or so in penalties — and then sue in the Court of Federal Claims to get it back. The Supreme Court has granted certiorari and will hear oral argument March 20.
Roger Parloff at Fortune is out with a great piece on the Texarkana, Ark. shenanigans that led up to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case challenging evasion of the reformist Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). I discuss at Cato at Liberty.