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Supreme Court

Making hash of Halbig

by Walter Olson on August 25, 2014

We live in a golden age of Supreme Court coverage, and then there’s Linda Greenhouse [David Henderson on Michael Cannon]

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In the upcoming case of Yates v. United States, the Supreme Court will decide whether a fisherman can be prosecuted under Sarbanes-Oxley’s prohibition on destroying or concealing “any record, document, or tangible object” to impede an investigation. The records, documents, or tangible objects in question were undersized fish, which Mr. Yates threw overboard instead of bringing back to the dock as instructed by inspectors. Cato has filed an amicus brief urging the Court to rule that Mr. Yates was not adequately put on notice of the reach of “tangible object” to include not just business items such as hard drives, but small marine creatures, lest the law “potentially criminalize an unfathomable range of activities.” [Trevor Burrus, earlier]

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July 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 15, 2014

  • “Cato Went 10-1 at Supreme Court This Term” [Ilya Shapiro; on merits cases] Yesterday I spoke to a private policy gathering in Annapolis, Md. with a retrospective on the Supreme Court term, especially its lessons for state government. If you’re looking for a speaker on Court issues, I or one of my colleagues at Cato’s Center for Constitutional Studies may fit the bill;
  • “CrossFit Sues ‘Competitor’ For Revealing Its Injury Rates” [DeadSpin]
  • New Jersey court rules for casino in unshuffled baccarat deck case [Elie Mystal/Above the Law, earlier]
  • Family rescued from 1000 miles offshore plans to sue over nonworking satellite cell phone [ABC 10 News]
  • Tartly worded response to third-party-subpoena demand in Sherrod/Breitbart case [attorney Robert Driscoll]
  • Legal academia: Prof. Bainbridge takes on law-and, empirical legal studies crowds [Bainbridge, TaxProf and reactions] George Leef on reforming law schools [Pope Center]
  • “Uber Agrees to End Surge Pricing During NY Emergencies, And Why That Means You’ll Never Find a Ride” [Gary Leff; Peter Van Doren, Cato]

In more than a dozen states in recent years, governors, legislators or both have arranged through law or regulation to install unions to represent the fast-growing ranks of home health and child care workers, who in many instances are family members receiving a state stipend for looking after their own loved ones. In Harris v. Quinn, a five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it violates the First Amendment rights of these recipients to require them to pay dues to a union of whose views and activities they may not approve. It did not alter — for now, at least — the 1977 Abood precedent under which full-fledged public workers can be required to pay such dues, instead recognizing a new category of “partial public employees.”

I explore some of the implications in this Cato podcast with interviewer Caleb Brown. Earlier on Harris v. Quinn here.

P.S. A tip-off from SCOTUS on where it intends to take Harris logic? One view from the Left [In These Times] Ruling is rebuke to various governors, including Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, who have employed executive orders to unionize home health carers [Marc Kilmer, MPPI; related, George Leef] Eugene Volokh dissents on the underlying “bedrock” First Amendment issue [Volokh Conspiracy] Will a teacher’s case called Friedrich v. CTA be the vehicle for revisiting Abood? [Jason Bedrick, Cato] And some clues that the first draft of Harris v. Quinn might have overturned Abood, before the majority reconsidered and pulled back [Jack Goldsmith, Sachs, Homer, at On Labor]

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I wrote two posts at Cato on yesterday’s major Supreme Court decisions:

* Why Harris v. Quinn is a bigger deal than Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (spoiler: constitutional vs. statutory interpretation).

* if you like what today’s Supreme Court conservatives just did, thank yesterday’s liberals, and vice versa. By the way, I suspect the abortion buffer-zone cases also fit this pattern. For several decades (down through the 1990s, maybe?) liberals would have generally been the ones relatively sensitive to the rights of street protesters, while conservatives were relatively sensitive to the case for a legitimate police-power role in protecting property owners/tenants from ongoing sidewalk occupation that might deprive them of peaceful enjoyment of their premises.

Earlier on Hobby Lobby here, etc., and on Harris v. Quinn here, etc. Welcome readers from SCOTUSBlog, Steve Stanek/Heartland, etc. And Virginia Postrel makes the case for making contraception over-the-counter, which would largely remove employers from the equation while widening access greatly.

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Hobby Lobby prevails

by Walter Olson on June 30, 2014

The Court has ruled that under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress cannot require closely held corporations to provide contraception coverage as part of ObamaCare when there are readily available alternatives to serve the government’s objectives that would not tread on conscience rights. So said a five-Justice majority led by Justice Alito, including a whittle-it-down concurrence by Justice Kennedy emphasizing the narrowness of the ruling. Why narrow?

* “Closely held” is important — private corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are closer to surrogates for the owning family than are publicly traded corporations.

* The available alternatives are important — in many closely related situations it won’t be as easy to devise a workaround that serves the government’s policy objectives, and in those situations the claims of conscience may lose out.

* And the basis of the decision in RFRA, that is to say, statutory rather than constitutional law, is important. Congress is free to tinker with RFRA, Obamacare law, or both if public opinion is dissatisfied with the outcome. Although objectors may later raise First Amendment arguments, today’s decision in no way decides those issues.

Earlier coverage here. Cato’s brief is here, and Ilya Shapiro is out with a statement for Cato (“Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate had to [fail under RFRA] because it didn’t show – couldn’t show – that there’s no other way of achieving its goal without violating religious beliefs.”)

P.S. My colleague Julian Sanchez argues that the outcry against Hobby Lobby had almost nothing to do with whether any actual female employees will gain or lose access to contraception, and was instead was almost entirely a matter of cultural signal-sending.

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Cross-posted from Cato at Liberty, a guest post from my Cato colleague Andrew Grossman:

Enough is enough, the Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn regarding the power of government to force public employees to associate with a labor union and pay for its speech. Although the Court did not overturn its 1977 precedent, Abood, allowing states to make their workers contribute to labor unions, it declined to extend that principle to reach recipients of state subsidies—in this case, home-care workers who receive modest stipends from the state of Illinois’ Medicaid program but are not properly considered “employees” of the state.

The Court is right that Abood is “something of an anomaly” because it sacrifices public workers’ First Amendment rights of speech and association to avoid their “free-riding” on the dues of workers who’ve chosen to join a union, the kind of thing that rarely if ever is sufficient to overcome First Amendment objections. But Abood treated that issue as already decided by prior cases, which the Harris Court recognizes it was not–a point discussed at length in Cato’s amicus briefAbood was a serious mistake, Harris concludes, because public-sector union speech on “core issues such as wages, pensions, and benefits are important political issues” and cannot be distinguished from other political speech, which is due the First Amendment’s strongest protection. A ruling along those lines would spell the end of compulsory support of public-sector unions, a major source of funds and their clout.

It was enough, however, in Harris for the Court to decline Illinois’ invitation “to approve a very substantial expansion of Abood’s reach.” Illinois claimed that home-care workers were public employees for one purpose only: collective bargaining. But these workers were not hired or fired by the state, supervised by the state, given benefits by the state, or otherwise treated as state workers. And for that reason, Abood’s purposes, which relate only to actual “public employees,” simply do not apply. Were the law otherwise, the Court observed, “a host of workers who receive payments from a governmental entity for some sort of service would be candidates for inclusion within Abood’s reach.”

While Harris is not a watershed opinion that remakes labor law consistent with First Amendment principles, it does put an end to the forced unionization of home-based workers, a practice that has spread to nearly a dozen states and had provided a substantial number of new workers to the labor movement in recent years. Harris also lays the groundwork for a challenge to what it calls “Abood’s questionable foundations.” If recent Roberts Court precedents like Shelby County and Citizens United are any guide, Harris is a warning shot that the Abood regime is not long for this world and that the next case will be the one to vindicate all public workers’ First Amendment rights.

In January Andrew published a thorough preview of the issues of the case. Earlier coverage here.

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Justice Scalia on statutory interpretation, dissenting in Aereo [via Legal Ethics Forum]:

It is not the role of this Court to identify and plug loopholes. It is the role of good lawyers to identify and exploit them, and the role of Congress to eliminate them if it wishes. Congress can do that, I may add, in a much more targeted, better informed, and less disruptive fashion than the crude “looks-like-cable-TV” solution the Court invents today.

What a morning at the Supreme Court. Unanimous free-speech ruling that Massachusetts went too far with a law creating a 35-foot zone banning protests on public streets outside abortion clinics. [McCullen v. Coakley, SCOTUSBlog case page] Unanimous 9-0 ruling rebuking the Obama administration’s broad claims of recess appointment power, though the Court split 5-4 on rationale. [NLRB v. Noel Canning et al, SCOTUSBlog case page]

This now makes about a dozen cases in which the Supreme Court has *unanimously* rejected Obama administration claims of broad government power. In case after case, the Department of Justice can’t even win the votes of the President’s own appointees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. This is an extraordinary rebuke.

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In yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, the Court unanimously agreed to narrow procedural relief for the corporate defendant, but declined 6-3 to revisit its 1988 mistake in creating from whole cloth the “fraud on the market” theory in Basic, Inc. v. Levinson. I have more at Cato at Liberty. Earlier on Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund here. More: Kevin LaCroix, & welcome Stephen Bainbridge, SCOTUSBlog readers.

More: Alden Abbott and Thom Lambert at Truth on the Market; Bainbridge with roundup of commentary; Beck, Drug & Device Law, on implications for concept of reliance in that area.

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In a complex decision yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down in part and upheld in part the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to regulate large emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) [McClatchy/Federalist Society]. A key portion of the holding, writes Jonathan Adler at Volokh, is the finding that the EPA

is not permitted to rewrite the applicable statutory emission thresholds. The latter conclusion, in particular, is an important reaffirmation that agencies are not allowed to rewrite the statutes that they administer. But today’s decision was not a total loss for the EPA, however, as the Court also concluded that it was reasonable for the EPA to interpret the Act to allow for the regulation of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from sources already subject to regulation under the PSD and Title V [large stationary source] program. What this means is that large stationary sources (think big power plants and industrial boilers) that are already regulated as major stationary sources under these programs will have to control GHG emissions when they control other emissions. But sources that only emit large amounts of GHGs will not become subject to EPA’s regulatory authority under these provisions.

From my colleague Andrew Grossman at Cato:

At issue was one of the Obama Administration’s earliest efforts to skirt Congress and achieve its major policy goals unilaterally through aggressive executive action….

Autocrat tea bag
The Court, in a lead opinion by Justice Scalia, called it “patently unreasonable—not to say outrageous.” EPA, it held, must abide by the statute: “An agency has no power to ‘tailor’ legislation to bureaucratic policy goals by rewriting unambiguous statutory terms.” And if such tailoring is required to avoid a plainly “absurd result” at odds with congressional intentions, then obviously there is obviously something wrong with the agency’s interpretation of the statute. To hold otherwise, the Court recognized, “would deal a severe blow to the Constitution’s separation of powers” by allowing the executive to revise Congress’s handiwork. …

The Court’s decision may be a prelude of more to come. Since the Obama Administration issued its first round of greenhouse gas regulations, it has become even more aggressive in wielding executive power so as to circumvent the need to work with Congress on legislation. That includes recent actions on such issues as immigration, welfare reform, and drug enforcement.

Four liberal justices dissented, while Justices Alito and Thomas argued that the Scalia-led plurality were too accommodating of the EPA’s assertion of power.

If they’d kept their promise, we wouldn’t keep our distance. [Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Cato; Stephen Bainbridge, earlier]

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled this morning in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that a lower court challenge can proceed against Ohio’s law purporting to ban untruthful campaign speech. [decision, SCOTUSBlog, earlier Overlawyered coverage] The ruling was widely expected: “not a single amicus brief was filed on behalf of the state of Ohio, and even liberal groups conceded that allowing the state to arbitrate truth or falsity in political campaigns was troubling. During oral argument, the Justices seemed profoundly skeptical of the law’s underlying constitutionality.” [MSNBC]

The Court did not decide the First Amendment merits. Its ruling instead turns on the cluster of issues relating to standing: was there injury in fact from the law sufficient to support a challenge even though the original complaint had been dropped? While the two wings of the Court often divide on standing, they united in taking an expansive view this time. Here and there Justice Thomas’s opinion for the 9-0 Court does brush up against the underlying First Amendment problem of the chilling of speech, which will now move front and center as the lower court again takes up the case. A passage of particular interest from pp. 15-16 (footnotes omitted):

As the Ohio Attorney General himself notes, the “practical effect” of the Ohio false statement scheme is “to permit a private complainant . . . to gain a campaign advantage without ever having to prove the falsity of a statement.” “[C]omplainants may time their submissions to achieve maximum disruption of their political opponents while calculating that an ultimate decision on the merits will be deferred until after the relevant election.” Moreover, the target of a false statement complaint may be forced to divert significant time and resources to hire legal counsel and respond to discovery requests in the crucial days leading up to an election.

Here’s the entertaining and hilarious amicus brief (what a concept) filed by my Cato colleagues Trevor Burrus, Ilya Shapiro, and Gabriel Latner on behalf of humorist and Cato fellow P.J. O’Rourke (who explains his involvement; more from Ilya and Trevor). And Ilya has a reaction to the opinion at Cato at Liberty (“Chilling speech is no laughing matter… today was a banner morning for free speech and judicial engagement.”)

A jealous wife’s attempt to poison a rival gave the Supreme Court a splendid chance to detoxify a pernicious constitutional law doctrine about the scope of the treaty power, but yesterday the Court passed up the chance. [Earlier.] My colleague Ilya Shapiro explains. Chief Justice Roberts, for the majority: “The global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the federal government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon.”

P.S. Congratulations to my colleague Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz and the Cato Institute amicus program (i.e. Ilya Shapiro) for the way Justice Scalia in his concurrence picks up whole chunks of argumentation from Nick’s 2005 HLR article on the treaty power and Cato’s recent amicus brief based on the same line of argument. Also, for those keeping score, this is another embarrassing 0-9 goose-egg defeat for the Obama administration, which once again took a position totally aggrandizing of federal government power and once again could not win for it the vote of even a single Justice. [piece slightly revised for style Tues. a.m.] More: Cato podcast with Ilya Shapiro.

  • Supreme Court tackling patent law in several cases this term [Sartori and Aga, WLF; Richard Epstein; Kristen Osenga/Prawfs] New fee-shifting regime announced in Octane Fitness already bringing relief to litigants [Ars Technica on Lumen View/FindTheBest case]
  • Copyright claims on intrinsically newsworthy material: curious claim concerning suicide note [Eugene Volokh] “Is it copyright infringement to post a lawyer’s cease-and-desist letter?” Australian university seems to think so [same]
  • Fate of Prenda Law model spirals downward [Ars Technica, Volokh, EFF]
  • Comedian Adam Carolla has “decided to make himself the focus of the Personal Audio suit against podcasters.” [Steven Malanga]
  • Why, as a textbook author, Alex Tabarrok has concluded copyright law is out of control [Marginal Revolution]
  • Remembering when patent examiners were celebrities (in the 19th Century) [Slate]
  • Someone sends Jim Harper a dubious DMCA takedown notice, and this is his response [Cato]

The concluding-frenzy stage of the Supreme Court term is upon us; my colleague Ilya Shapiro handicaps the remaining big cases including Bond (treaty power), Hobby Lobby, Harris v. Quinn, SBA List, Canning and others.

Still pretty much the Litigation Lobby’s number one target, and still worth defending with appropriate vigor. [Andrew Pincus, American Lawyer]

The things you find on Craigslist (via Gregory Angelo):

Join us in a civil litigation against a well-known Bank on behalf of o (Midtown)

Join us in a civil litigation against a well-known Bank on behalf of over a dozen Clients!

Bringing suit against a well-known bank who constantly fails to provide fair and timely services to their customers not only brings excitement and glory to your litigation career, but also benefits both parties.

Extraordinarily experienced litigators familiar with banking laws and settlement negotiations are greatly welcomed to join us to fight for dozens of clients on contingency basis.

If interested, please send your resume and cover letter to : [redacted]

Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
do NOT contact us with unsolicited services or offers

On the other hand, this one (“a lawyer is needed to take a case to the united states supreme court. … appeal was declined on 3/27/14″) is kind of sad. It seems unlikely that many Supreme Court advocates sift through Craigslist to find cases, but I guess it only takes one.