Due Process, Eldred, Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, Judges, New England Law Review, U.S. Supreme Court

Faculty Blog: The Psychology of Conflicts of Interest in Williams v. Pennsylvania

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Williams v. Pennsylvania, handed down during the turmoil in the presidential campaign over the heated rhetoric on judicial impartiality, adds to the Supreme Court’s growing jurisprudence on the due process requirements for judicial disqualification. The issue in the case—whether a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could properly adjudicate a death penalty case when he had previously been the prosecutor who authorized capital charges against the defendant—set the stage for a ruling that could have provided broad guidance on the due process parameters for judicial disqualification, especially in criminal cases. Yet the Court’s holding may end up having only limited impact. As others have already started to note, the test announced by the Court—“that under the Due Process Clause there is an impermissible risk of actual bias when a judge earlier had significant, personal involvement as a prosecutor in a crucial decision regarding the defendant’s case”—will be hard to prove and adds little additional guidance to what is already available under existing ethical standards for judicial recusal in most states. In addition, my guess is that there are few cases in which a prosecutor-turned-judge will be asked to rule on a case in which he or she was previously involved, so this test is likely to directly apply to only a narrow band of future situations.

Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, New England Law Review, Singer, U.S. Supreme Court

Faculty Blog: Spokeo v. Robins: Two Challenges to Identity

Even in the age of social media and internet searches, in which our public and private lives are increasingly (and often voluntarily) blurred, there is still something jarring about learning that your identity has been misrepresented or misconstrued. For Thomas Robins, that moment came when Spokeo, Inc., a “people search engine,” assembled an online profile of him that contained an array of incorrect information, including inaccurate statements of his age, family status, wealth, and education. Robins responded by filing a class action complaint against Spokeo in federal district court, alleging that Spokeo’s willful failure to check the accuracy of his personal information entitled him to statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA). The district court originally dismissed the case for lack of standing, finding that while the FCRA conferred a private right of action against reporting agencies like Spokeo that failed to comply with the Act’s statutory requirements, Robins himself had not suffered an “injury in fact.” In particular, Robins could not point to any concrete harm he had suffered as a result of the incorrect reporting. The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that the FCRA had conferred a right upon Robins to be free from false reporting, and that Robins had sufficiently alleged that Spokeo had violated his individual statutory rights by misreporting information. But on May 16, the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s opinion by a 6-2 vote, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Arizona, Due Process, Executive Power, Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, Federalism, Haynes, Judicial Review, National Security, Policy, President Obama, Separation of Powers, Statehood, U.S. Supreme Court

Faculty Blog: United States v. Texas

On April 18, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Texas. The case involves the arguments put forward by twenty-six states, challenging the President’s November of 2014 Executive Action, which could have made around 5 million parents of citizens and lawful permanent residents (known as DAPA) eligible to apply to have their deportation deferred. It would also have slightly expanded the class of pre-existing eligibility for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), already in effect since 2012. The mechanism through which executive action would take place is the President’s request that his subordinates within the prosecutorial arms of DHS to exercise their prosecutorial discretion in determining where and how to use and focus limited deportation resources. Congress enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act, tasking the agencies with enforcing immigration, but provides insufficient funds for the agencies to carry out their mandates. The Executive must then make decisions about how to prioritize those mandates. Neither DAPA nor the expanded DACA class confers anything other than the eligibility for certain persons to apply for time limited deferral from removal. With deferred action, under a different set of pre-existing regulations, passed under earlier Congresses and presidents, comes eligibility for work authorization.

Article II, Competency, Congress, Constitution, Executive Power, Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, Friedman, Judges, Judicial Elections, Judicial Performance Evaluation, Judicial Review, New England Law Review, Nominations, Policy, President Obama, U.S. Supreme Court

Faculty Blog: The Ninth Justice

At this writing, Senate Republicans continue to refuse even to hold a hearing on President Obama's nominee to succeed the late Associate Justice, Antonin Scalia, on the U.S. Supreme Court. The fullest explanation of their collective decision to ignore the Senate's constitutional role in the judicial appointment process has come from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch who, in a recent New York Times op-ed, spelled out their arguments. In that piece, Senator Hatch attacked President Obama’s judicial appointments for embracing “the sort of judicial activism Justice Scalia spent his career seeking to curtail.” Worse, in Senator Hatch’s view, when Democrats controlled the Senate they were complicit in this effort. Thus, he concludes, voters should decide what kind of Supreme Court they want through the 2016 Presidential election—which can happen only if the Senate delays confirmation proceedings on the President’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. He argues that considering a nominee today would be “irresponsible” and, he concludes, not “in the best interests of the Senate, the judiciary and the country.”

5th Amendment, 6th Amendment, criminal law, Criminal Procedure, Due Process, Equal Protection, Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, Federalism, Gideon, Miranda, New England Law Review, Police Interrogation, Policy, prosecutors, Right to Counsel, Siegel, Sixth Amendment, transitional justice

Faculty Blog: Luis v. United States and a Right to Counsel for the Rich

By: David M. Siegel The Sixth Amendment, which the Supreme Court has for over half a century interpreted to afford indigent criminal defendants a right to a lawyer at government expense, now also provides wealthy defendants something: protection from the government’s freezing their untainted assets (as opposed to those traceable to, or proceeds of, crime) to prevent retaining counsel of their choice. As principled—and protective of the Sixth Amendment—as this distinction may be, it reinforces something much more pernicious: there is now effectively a right of the rich to be free from impoverishment by the government, to protect their Sixth Amendment right to retain counsel of their choosing, while the identical Amendment does not provide an indigent defendant access to an actual lawyer of anyone’s choice. Luis v. United States, was quite simple: federal law permits pre-trial freezing of certain criminal defendants’ assets that are proceeds of the crime, traceable to the crime, or of equal value to either of the first categories. Ms. Luis allegedly obtained $45 million through health care-related fraud, but when indicted had only $2 million, which the government agreed was neither proceeds of nor traceable to the fraud. Freezing these funds, to satisfy what the government contended would be restitution upon conviction, would preclude her hiring counsel of her choice. If the Sixth Amendment truly conferred a right to hire counsel of one’s choice, then did it also prevent the government from vitiating this right by freezing all one’s resources with which to pay counsel? Yes, the Court found, although not for any reason that commanded a majority.

Equal Protection, Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, Fourteenth Amendment, Friedman, Judicial Review, U.S. Supreme Court, Uncategorized

Faculty Blog: Obergefell and the Future of Plural Marriage

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Professor William Baude suggested that, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges striking down prohibitions on same-sex marriage, the door may well be open to the argument that bans on plural marriage should fall as well. Baude takes as his cue the suggestion in the dissent of Chief Justice John Roberts that “[o]ne immediate question invited by the [Obergefell] majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people.” The answer is, of course, “yes.” Explaining why, though, may take some doing. As my colleague, Jordan Singer, has noted, the decision in Obergefell was, at a minimum, “befuddling.” One reason is because its author, Justice Anthony Kennedy, eschewed a traditional equal protection analysis for the kind of soaring rhetoric that has become a hallmark of his opinions in the area of individual rights. Though the respect he accords the subject matter is notable, at the end of the day, lower courts, state government officials and lawyers need a good deal more to be able to understand the limits of our constitutional commitment to equality.

Federal Courts, Judges, Judicial Elections, Singer, U.S. Supreme Court

Faculty Blog: Recent Supreme Court Term: The Supreme Court Openly Challenges Its Own Legacy

One of the more politically opportune reactions to the final week of the Supreme Court Term came from Senator Ted Cruz. His proposal: a Constitutional amendment that would replace life tenure for the Supreme Court with periodic retention elections. Under the Cruz plan, each Justice would face the voters in the second national election after initial confirmation, and every eight years thereafter. Justices would need a simple majority of “retain” votes to stay on the bench. Justices who are not retained would be replaced and would not be eligible for reappointment. The Senator couched his proposal as a response to “a long line of judicial assaults on our Constitution and the common-sense values that have made America great.” Offering some red meat for his conservative base, he added that retention elections would provide a remedy for “the decisions that have deformed our constitutional order and have debased our culture” by “giving the people the regular, periodic power to pass judgment on the judgments of their judges.”

Affordable Care Act, Federal Courts, Hyman, U.S. Supreme Court

Faculty Blog: Recent Supreme Court Term: King v. Burwell

“The issue in this case is whether the Act’s [the Affordable Care Act] tax credits are available in States that have a Federal Exchange rather than a State Exchange.” King v. Burwell, 576 U.S. __ (2015) (p. 5). The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires each state to create its own health insurance Exchange, however, if a state refuses to do so, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is authorized to “establish and operate such Exchange within the State.” Sec. 18041(c)(1).” (p. 5). Only sixteen States and the District of Columbia created their own Exchanges, while thirty-four States utilize the federal Exchange administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. (p. 6). The tax credits, which are authorized by IRC sec. 36B, are allowed to “applicable taxpayers” who obtain health insurance through “an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act….” (p. 5). The IRS addressed the availability of tax credits to individuals acquiring health insurance through an HHS Exchange by adopting the definition of “Exchange” as used in an HHS regulation, 45 CFR sec. 155.20, which provided that taxpayers are eligible for a tax credit if they are enrolled in an Exchange which serves the individual market, “regardless of whether the Exchange is established and operated by a State… or by HHS....” (p. 6).

Due Process, Equal Protection, Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, Fourteenth Amendment, Greenberg, Marriage

Faculty Blog: Recent Supreme Court Term: Obergefell v. Hodges: Equality and Constitutional Interpretation

On June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court decided the “same-sex marriage” case Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court held unconstitutional, by a 5-4 vote, state laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples. According to the Court, these limits violate both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court focuses on the crucial role that marriage, as a component of the liberty protected by the Due Process clause, plays both in individuals’ lives and in structuring society. Denying same sex-couples the opportunity to marry not only affects what type of society we live in, but also impoverishes the lives of a particular group of people in society. According to the Court, individuals define themselves through marriage. In addition, through marriage they access other “freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” (p. 13) Marriage is also a means for individuals to achieve the “highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” (p. 28) Furthermore, children in same-sex families are injured by having to endure the stigma of familial inferiority as a result of the non-recognition of their parents’ marriages. (p. 15)

Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, Hansen, Judges, Passports

Faculty Blog: Recent Supreme Court Term: Zivotofsky v. Kerry

In a recent blog my colleague Lawrence Friedman noted, “many cases implicating the Constitution do not turn on the document’s text.” He was writing in the context of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, but his observation is equally if not even more true in the context of foreign affairs and separation of powers. This is an area where the Court does not frequently tread for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Court is not keen to involve itself in what is usually seen as a turf battle between the two political branches. Nonetheless, this past term the Court did take up a seemingly mundane case that has potentially significant consequences in the foreign affairs and national security arenas, areas where the Framers purposely created vague lines of authority between the President and Congress. Zivotofsky v. Kerry involved the petition of the Zivotofskys to have the birth of their child listed on his U.S. passport and consular report as “Jerusalem, Israel.” However, since 1948, when President Truman recognized Israel, he and every subsequent U.S. president have never acknowledged any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Further, the Secretary of State has instructed State Department employees to record the place of birth for U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem as “Jerusalem,” with no further state affiliation.