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Supreme Court

A few more notes on the case already covered yesterday in tweet form:

Scalia sets the stage beautifully: “[In this] jurisprudential twilight zone… we confront a frighteningly bizarre question: does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbid what its text plainly requires?” The drama, however, is not destined to play out on that rhetorical stage, since all eight Justices, even Sotomayor and Ginsburg, claim to believe that the Equal Protection issue is only whether Michigan citizens chose a constitutionally valid method by which to end preferences.

To me, this much increased the interest of the case. The constitutionality of racial preferences as such has been thrashed out for years in so many high-profile Court decisions that anyone who cares has had ample chance to think about the issue. There has been far less attention to the unprincipled, un-administrable, substance-masquerading-as-procedure Reitman/Hunter/Seattle line of cases, by which the Court occasionally and selectively intervenes to reverse democratically arrived-at processes when they come out with the “wrong” policy answer. Scalia and Thomas are ready to overrule this bad line of cases directly; the plurality, for better or worse, are not (yet) willing to do so, and instead limit the cases’ reach in ways that neither Scalia nor Sotomayor find logically compelling.

Sotomayor’s mantra “Race matters” is likely to thrill some readers — it has already been in use for a while as a catch-phrase in academia and elsewhere — but as a device for organizing a legal opinion, it’s at best … imprecise. All the other Justices agree that race matters, but disagree on how. As Ilya Somin and David Bernstein point out at Volokh Conspiracy, Sotomayor also gerrymanders “race” in a way convenient to her purposes, using it to include Hispanic-Americans (who aren’t a race) while breathing not one word about Asian-Americans (a more genuine racial classification whose situation of being both historically disadvantaged *and* discriminated against in university admissions cries out for recognition). “Race matters,” indeed. More thoughts: Roger Pilon and Ilya Shapiro, Cato.

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Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court, over two dissents, ruled that the voters of Michigan were within their rights under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause to enact an amendment to the state constitution barring racial preference in public university admissions. (Earlier here, here, etc.) Justice Kennedy wrote a plurality opinion for three Justices, while Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, Justice Breyer, and Chief Justice Roberts wrote separate concurring opinions. Justice Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Kagan was recused. Both sides maintained that the core controversy was not over whether Michigan was obliged to keep racial preferences as such, but rather over whether the state’s way of banning them (through voter constitutional amendment) had fallen afoul of the Court’s holding in earlier cases that the Equal Protection Clause requires that the political process itself not be arranged in ways unfavorable to minority interests.

I sent out tweets and retweets summarizing highlights of the Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and plurality opinions and reprint them here, earliest first (starting with the Roberts and Scalia opinions).

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“…Yet”. Daniel Fisher explains yesterday’s 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC, which may be more significant as a clue to the direction of future Court thinking on campaign finance and the First Amendment as for its actual direct effect. Cato submitted an amicus brief on the side that prevailed, and my colleagues Trevor Burrus and Ilya Shapiro have flash reactions (earlier). More: Ilya Shapiro now has a longer treatment out at SCOTUSBlog.

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The humorist speaks out on the now-famous amicus filing: “Cato did not ask me to write their brief for the same reason that you do not ask me to perform your appendectomy. … I was asked to read it and give it my endorsement because I am an expert on being run out of Ohio. Ask my mother.” He goes on to give Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus kinder treatment than he does President William Howard Taft. [Daily Beast, earlier, the brief in Susan B. Anthony List v. Steven Driehaus, more on case from SCOTUSBlog]

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The rest of government, from Congress to the White House to prosecution to the regulatory agencies, is already rife with grandstanding. We don’t need or want it in the branch that’s supposed to be best insulated from popular passions. [Tamara Tabo, Above the Law] Earlier on cameras in the courtroom here.

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Suppose an enterprise has an 81-year-old executive who’s currently able to perform well, but has had recent health problems and faces a significant actuarial risk of disablement or worse within a few years. Suppose the continued tenure of this executive complicates the enterprise’s future, through sheer uncertainty (since an unforeseen departure crisis might come at just the wrong time) and because certain high-quality potential successors available to step in now might not be available two or three years hence.

Is it somehow illegitimate or invidious even to think through considerations like these, because the absolutely only relevant factor is how well the person can perform the job right now?

If you say, “yes, it’s totally illegitimate and invidious, you should be ashamed of thinking this way” then congratulations: current federal workplace law is on your side. Disabled-rights law makes it legally hazardous for an employer, in the course of pretty much any action — say, career counseling of existing employees — to consider the risk of future recurrence of a disabling condition now in remission. Age-discrimination law makes it unlawful to treat an 81-year-old as lacking any advantage that a 46-year-old might bring to an enterprise with long time horizons — and again, just evidence that an employer has been thinking along these lines is a lawsuit risk whether or not it actually proceeds to send hints to an individual employee about passing on the torch. In the Mad Men era, employers routinely had policies expecting their executives to retire at a certain age; now the law bans such policies, whether the age in question be 65, 75, or 85.

If on the other hand you say, “no, it’s not illegitimate, it’s just common sense to acknowledge factors associated with age and disability as part of life and we all take them into account whether we admit it or not,” then come on over and join the unlikely duo of me and, more importantly, the distinguished Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky, who applies all this logic to the situation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now as it happens, on the particulars of this one case, I don’t go along with Chemerinsky’s conclusion; I find myself more swayed by Prof. Garrett Epps’s rather more gracious argument that Ginsburg has good reason to stay, especially as the intellectual firepower of the Court’s left wing might well take a hit if she leaves.

It’s great to know, though, that Prof. Chemerinsky sees through the flimsy rationale that underlies these sectors of discrimination law. I was afraid he was going to turn out to be some kind of big liberal.

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The Supreme Court, 8-1 with Sotomayor dissenting, agrees with a Cato Institute brief (earlier) and disagrees with the government: the feds can’t conjure away landowners’ rights as part of the “rails-to-trails” program. Trevor Burrus explains.

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Fifty years ago yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its greatest tort reform decision — just for you. [Related 2003 Baseball Crank post on federalism.]

Trevor Burrus on the serious side of the case that elicited Cato’s humorous amicus brief the other day [Forbes]:

Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus… will be argued [before the Supreme Court] in April. The case is a challenge to Ohio’s bizarre statute prohibiting knowingly or recklessly making “false” statements about a political candidate or ballot initiative. In other words, the Ohio Election Commission (OEC) essentially runs a ministry of truth to which any citizen can submit a complaint. Amazingly, twenty other states have such laws.

Laws against lying in political speech are not administered by disinterested truth seekers, but by people with their own political convictions. They chill large amounts of truthful speech and deprive the public of hearing a robust debate on the issues. And, as we will see, they are used by political opponents to turn campaigning into litigation.

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Andrew Grossman reports on yesterday’s oral argument in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, which “may be the biggest business case of the term. …Basic [Basic v. Levinson, 1988, in which the Court dispensed with the reliance requirement in favor of the "fraud on the market" theory] came at the tail-end of the Court’s decades-long experiment in policymaking by creating and defining the contours of civil actions. … The chief barrier to overturning Basic may not be its logic, its wisdom, or even its correctness as a matter of law, but instead stare decisis.” Earlier here, here, here, and here.

More: Kaye Scholer (possible “midway position” with impact on stock price considered at stage of class certification).

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The rules for class actions seeking injunctive relief against unlawful conduct are looser in key respects than those for actions in which monetary relief is the object, in part because the consequences for absent class members are less serious. But what happens when shrewd counsel institute an action that is injunctive on its face, but actually crafted to tee up an entitlement to class damages? The Montana Supreme Court approved such a maneuver in a case now called Allstate Insurance Co. v. Jacobsen; now Cato has filed a brief seeking certiorari review of that decision, which raises important issues of class action fairness and practicality leading on from such recent high court decisions as Wal-Mart v. Dukes and Comcast v. Behrend. Read a summary here and the full brief here. More: Legal NewsLine (on Washington Legal Foundation brief).

It’s actually on a serious subject: can a state (Ohio) purport to ban false, exaggerated or “truthy” speech about candidates, or does that impermissibly chill speech protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment? My colleagues Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus and Gabriel Latner co-authored it on behalf of political humorist/Cato fellow P.J. O’Rourke in the pending SCOTUS case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus. Read it here, alongside Ilya Shapiro’s summary, and here’s David Lat of Above the Law calling it the “Best Amicus Brief Ever.

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Radley Balko has a roundup of critical reactions to what he calls the “astonishingly awful” 6-3 Supreme Court decision last week. Cato had filed an amicus brief on the side that did not prevail, urging recognition at least of an opportunity to challenge the seizure after the fact. Earlier here.

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“…by allowing them to proceed with class-action lawsuits alleging that millions of front-loading washing machines they bought suffered from mold or musty odors.” Thus Reuters’ Lawrence Hurley and Jonathan Stempel. Can you spot the two buried assumptions here? One is that moving forward with a class action on behalf of the many millions who bought washers, rather than a narrower class action of those who actually reported problems with their washers, constitutes a “victory” for consumers. That is to presuppose one of the points in dispute, since the defendants argued that consumers as a group would be ill-served that way. (Nor did the Supreme Court resolve the question either way, since it turned away the cases without explanation.) The second buried assumption is that the “consumers” themselves, most of whom have never shown any interest in participating, were the ones who were going to be proceeding. In reality, of course, the ones moving forward, and the ones who won a victory yesterday, were lawyers.

Although organized business worked hard to win Supreme Court review for the cases, and was duly disappointed by yesterday’s denial, the impact on the Supreme Court’s rapidly evolving class action jurisprudence is uncertain at best and perhaps negligible. So many other class actions raise likely issues of typicality, representativeness, or unity of interest among represented classes that the Court is sure to have the chance to visit the area before long, if it wishes, in other cases bubbling up from the lower courts; of the variety of fact patterns these new cases will present, some may be more compelling for the defense side.

More on the mandatory-conservation element of the washing machine saga here.

  • New Yorker legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin as unreliable narrator, part 483 [Damon Root, Pejman Yousefzadeh re: attack on Justice Clarence Thomas]
  • Background of Halliburton case: Lerach used Milwaukee Archdiocese to pursue Dick Cheney grudge [Paul Barrett, Business Week] More/related: Alison Frankel, Stephen Bainbridge (rolling out professorial “big guns”), Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (paper, “What’s Wrong With Securities Class Action Lawsuits?”)] & update: new Chamber paper on extent of consumer losses;
  • Roger Pilon on NLRB v. Canning recess-appointments case [Cato]
  • States’ efforts to tax citizens of other states stretch Commerce Clause to breaking point [Steve Malanga]
  • Richard Epstein on his new book The Classical Liberal Constitution [Hoover, more; yet more on why Epstein considers himself a classical liberal rather than hard-core libertarian]
  • Corporate law and the Hobby Lobby case [Bainbridge]
  • Some state supreme courts including California’s interpret “impairment of contracts” language as constitutional bar to curbing even future accruals in public employee pension reform. A sound approach? [Sasha Volokh first, second, third, fourth, fifth posts, related Fed Soc white paper]

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As we’ve been saying, the Obama Department of Justice has been taking a licking at the Supreme Court, managing to lose some decisions by a 9-0 margin. Damon Root compiles greatest hits and quotes me (thanks) on the Hosanna-Tabor case. [Reason]

Only 1,999 unclarities left to go. I explain yesterday’s decision in Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., the “don/doff” case, at Cato at Liberty (& welcome SCOTUSBlog readers).

  • SCOTUS to hear case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, First Amendment challenge to state laws regulating truth of political speech [IJ/Cato amicus cert brief]
  • Groups of law professors file amicus briefs in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. arguing that retreat from “fraud on the market” theory is consistent with modern scholarship on capital market efficiency [John Elwood] and sound statutory construction [Elwood, Bainbridge]
  • Behind the Michigan affirmative action plan in Schuette, including colorful background of litigant BAMN (“By Any Means Necessary”) [Gail Heriot, Federalist Society "Engage"]
  • Court dismisses Mulhall v. UNITE HERE (challenge to employer cooperation agreement with union as “thing of value”) as improvidently granted [Jack Goldsmith, On Labor, earlier]
  • Affordable Care Act saga has taken toll on rule of law [Timothy and Christina Sandefur, Regulation]
  • Lol-worthy new Twitter account, @clickbaitSCOTUS, with content like “The nine words no appellate advocate wants to read” [re: Madigan v. Levin]
  • Drug War vs. Constitution at Supreme Court, 1928: Drug War won by only one vote and you might not predict who wrote the most impassioned dissent [my Cato post]