Category Archives: Courts

SCOTUS Style Manual available for purchase

In Supreme Court’s Style Manual is Private No More, Tony Mauro reports that the US Supreme Court Style Guide, 2013 ed. can be purchased through Amazon without Court approval because a court aficionado named Jack Metzler is making it available for sale under his own imprint. Metzler reportedly photocopied the 200+ page long manual in the Supreme Court’s law library. The style manual “could be an important resource for brief-writing advocates as well as judges and clerks of other courts seeking to match the sometimes quirky style rules of the nation’s highest court,” writes Mauro. — Joe

LexPredict on SCOTUS cases that will be affected by Justice Scalia’s death

“LexPredict has developed an algorithm, {MARSHALL}+, that the company says can accurately predict Supreme Court cases. Using their algorithm, they’ve come up with predictions on which cases will be affected [by Justice Scalia’s death]” writes Bob Ambrogi. According to LexPredict, there are 14 cases whose decisions are likely to be impacted. “These changes will result in either reverse to affirm or vice versa switches, or by changing the opinions from precedential to non-precedential.” Details here. — Joe

End Note: On a related note, SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe examines whether there is a standard practice of not nominating and confirming Supreme Court Justices during a presidential election year. Read more about it. See also Lyle Denniston’s Is a recess appointment to the Court an option?, also on SCOTUSblog.

Justice Scalia

The fact that Justice Scalia passed away over the weekend from natural causes is, of course, all over the news.  There are any number of articles speculating on how nominating a successor would affect the coming presidential election; who are the potential nominees; how this changes the ideological make-up of the Court, and so one.  All are worthy questions for speculation.  I’d like to highlight what this event means for coming decisions.  The Court has had a certain stability despite the two appointments resulting in the confirmation of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.  As a side note on that, check out the CNN story by David Axelrod where Justice Scalia quietly expressed a preference for Elena Kagan to replace Justice Souter.  He got his wish when Justice Stevens retired.

Court watchers were always interested in Justice Scalia’s questions in oral argument given the Court’s ideological split, mostly 4-4 with Justice Kennedy in the middle.  While he was identified as a conservative, he didn’t always side with a conservative point of view.  I remember that he was fairly protective of the Fourth Amendment (See U.S. v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012) as an example) when the trend in Federal Courts seemed to find plenty of exceptions in its prohibitions).  Justice Scalia’s questions were as much a clue to his influence on the resulting decision as it was a bit of theater.  He certainly seemed to enjoy the intellectual banter with those presenting arguments.  CNN has another article listing six cases the site highlights as more significant cases than others.  How the Court will handle these and other issues will send Court watchers back to re-analyze the arguments.

The cases that concerns me is the potential appeal of the Google Books case and the Apple antitrust case, both affirmed by the Second Circuit.  The Authors Guild has filed a petition for cert which is pending.  Apple has yet to file its petition but has indicated that it intends to do so.  Justice Scalia will not be a participant in the case whether the Court accepts the cases or hears them.  These cases may stand if the Court splits 4-4 on the issues.  If it makes any difference, Justice Scalia joined Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. first sale doctrine case.

I have a minor personal story about Justice Scalia.  He came to DePaul several years ago and spoke to the faculty in our Rare Book Room.  Security was exceptionally tight.  I believe it was the first time ever I had to show multiple IDs just to get into the building.  I was sitting at the Reference Desk when the Justice was shuttled up to his engagement via the service elevator.  That was less than 100 feet from where I was sitting.  That is effectively the closest I will likely get to a member of the Court.  It was amusing to have security watch me while I answered the occasional reference question.

I have written pointed things about Justice Scalia in the past.  I’ll remember him as the Justice who rejected legislative history in all possible forms as a vehicle for interpreting statutes.  He did not join all of Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Kirtsaeng.  He skipped every section that mentioned legislative history, even if appearing only in a footnote.  His attention to original intent had him questioning whether the King could hide a sentry in a coach as an analogy to whether the government could place a tracker on a defendant’s car in some circumstances.  That’s from the Jones case mentioned above.

Goodbye Justice Scalia.  You were larger than life on the Court.  While you will be replaced, there will never be a Justice exactly like you.

Mark

Nebraska Courts To Drop Printed Opinions

From the Press Release:

Free online access to the official published judicial opinions of the Nebraska Supreme Court and Nebraska Court of Appeals will be available to the public beginning January 1, 2016.

Text-searchable opinions dating back to 1871 will be available for the Nebraska Supreme Court. The full collection of opinions of the Nebraska Court of Appeals, beginning with its establishment in 1992, will also be offered.

Previously, appellate court opinions were printed or were available online through various for-profit subscription services. All published opinions will be provided via the Nebraska Appellate Courts Online Library at ne.gov/go/opinions. Once printing of judicial opinions in the Nebraska Advance Sheets and the Decisions of the Nebraska Court of Appeals ceases in June 2016, opinions will be available exclusively online.

Newly released opinions of both courts will continue to be available for 90 days on the Nebraska Judicial Branch Web site athttps://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/ and from the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals upon request, and from any electronic provider of legal information choosing to provide them.

Official opinions in the online library will be accessible 24/7 using smart phones, tablets or computers from anywhere with Internet access. Access via the online library allows the appellate courts to make their judicial opinions more easily available to the public.

Nebraska joins Arkansas and Illinois in dropping printed opinions in favor of online access.  Hat Tip to Rich Leiter for the news.

Mark

End of Supreme Court Term Is Not The End of Controversy

I never got a chance to write about the end of the Supreme Court term.  Different commentators have called the term “historic.”  Given the major decisions at the end of term

and a few others, this term provided more controversy than previous terms.  The dissents were fast and furious, with emphasis on the furious.

Justice Scalia observed in the King case:

Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.

And that was one of the nicer passages.  He concluded with:

Perhaps the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will attain the enduring status of the Social Security Act or the Taft-Hartley Act; perhaps not. But this Court’s two decisions on the Act will surely be remembered through the years. The somersaults of statutory interpretation they have performed (“penalty” means tax, “further [Medicaid] payments to the State” means only incremental Medicaid payments to the State, “established by the State” means not established by the State) will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence. And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.

Justice Scalia called the Court a threat to democracy in his dissent in the Obergefell case.  He further stated:

Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.

Justice Thomas wrote in his dissent in the Arizona redistricting case:

The ballot initiative in this case, unlike those that the Court has previously treated so dismissively, was unusually democracy reducing. It did not ask the people to approve a particular redistricting plan through direct democracy, but instead to take districting away from the people’s representatives and give it to an unelected committee, thereby reducing democratic control over the process in the future. The Court’s characterization of this as direct democracy at its best is rather like praising a plebiscite in a “banana republic” that installs a strongman as President for Life. And wrapping the analysis in a cloak of federalism does little to conceal the flaws in the Court’s reasoning.

It’s almost as if the two Justices took personal offence at the outcome of each case.

There is no doubt that several of the cases the Court decided were highly charged political issues where the outcome did not end the debate.  Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was very displeased with the same-sex marriage decision.  The Oklahoma legislature is doing its best to opt out of Obamacare despite the ruling in King.

The Court, in theory, never acts politically—in theory. There are multiple stories suggesting that the Chief Justice is solidifying his legacy with successive rulings upholding the ACA.  Gallup reports that the reaction to the Court is dramatically split over political lines. The Court’s job approval rating by Republicans is 18%.  Democrats, on the other hand, give the Court a 76% rating.  Further polls show that support for same-sex marriage is stable after the Obergefell decision with 58% of the population in support.  A majority of Democrats support same-sex marriage at 74% while Republicans are opposed at 67%.  Politics and society have become more and more polarized over the years where it seems to be the norm at this point.  I personally regret that this is creeping into the Supreme Court.

Mark

Justice Scalia on Law Schools

The two stories I’ve read about Justice Scalia’s recent commencement address at William & Mary made me laugh.  He offered a few comments on law schools and their curriculum, including this quote from the Wall Street Journal:

It is something of an open secret now that the second and third years of school offer a student the chance to study whatever strikes his or her fancy—so long as there is a professor who has the same fancy… In more than a few law schools, including some of the most prestigious (the University of Chicago, for example), it is possible to graduate without ever having studied the First Amendment.

The follow-up appears in Business Insider:

“Can someone really call himself an American lawyer who has that gap in his compendious knowledge of the law?” he said. “And can a society that depends so much upon lawyers for shaping public perceptions and preserving American traditions regarding the freedom of speech and religion, afford so ignorant a bar?”

This is one of those shocking times when the Justice and I have agreed that law schools should place more emphasis on teaching substantive law throughout a student’s law school career. – Mark

Short Takes On The News: Tenure, Wikipedia, Campaign Finance, and Viacom Settles With Google

The ABA Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar met over the weekend.  The Council decided to leave the faculty tenure requirement in place.  The news that the Council had considered weakening it to a requirement of job security met with intense opposition from individual faculty and the Association of American Law Schools.  Readers will probably know that I was in favor of the change because I believe it would law school administrations more flexibility in dealing with law school costs in times of lower enrollment (like now).  The National Law Journal published details surrounding the decision as well as a few others made at the meeting.

Harvard is seeking a Wikipedian in Residence.  That person, according to an article in The Atlantic, is “someone who can serve as a kind of liaison between Wikipedia and the academic, cultural, and intellectual institutions whose source material its entries rely on.”  That would be Harvard and its collections in this case.  Other major institutions such as the British Museum have such a person in place.  I think it’s a great idea though I wonder how the Wikipedia community will take to the idea.  There have been situations in the past where pages became battlegrounds between historians and the editors.

Salon features a story about McCutcheon v. FEC which is an election case pending before the Supreme Court.  The question presented is:

Federal law imposes two types of limits on individual political contributions. Base limits restrict the amount an individual may contribute to a candidate committee ($2,500 per election), a national-party committee ($30,800 per calendar year), a state, local, and district party committee ($10,000 per calendar year (combined limit)), and a political-action committee (“PAC”) ($5,000 per calendar year). 2 U.S.C. 441a(a)(1) (current limits provided). Biennial limits restrict the aggregate amount an individual may contribute biennially as follows: $46,200 to candidate committees; $70,800 to all other committees, of which no more than $46,200 may go to non-national-party committees (e.g., state parties and PACs). 2 U.S.C. 441a(a)(3) (current limits provided) (see Appendix at 20a (text of statute)). Appellants present five questions:

1. Whether the biennial limit on contributions to non-candidate committees, 2 U.S.C. 441a(a)(3)(B), is unconstitutional for lacking a constitutionally cognizable interest as applied to contributions to national-party committees.

2. Whether the biennial limits on contributions to non-candidate committees, 2 U.S.C. 441a(a)(3)(B), are unconstitutional facially for lacking a constitutionally cognizable interest.

3. Whether the biennial limits on contributions to non-candidate committees are unconstitutionally too low, as applied and facially.

4. Whether the biennial limit on contributions to candidate committees, 2 U.S. C. 441a(a)(3)(A), is unconstitutional for lacking a constitutionally cognizable interest.

5. Whether the biennial limit on contributions to candidate committees, 2 U.S.C. 441a(a)(3)(A), is unconstitutionally too low.

If one hated Citizen United for striking down contribution limits, one will hate this case as well if the Court strikes down the remaining limits.  On the other hand, plutocrats with political interests everywhere should rejoice.

And finally, the Google/Viacom battle over alleged YouTube copyright violations was settled according to news reports.  Viacom lost twice at trial on the DMCA safe harbor provisions that YouTube claimed.  It took seven years to get to this point.  I’ve often said win, lose, or settle, the lawyers get paid.  CNET News has a good analysis of the case.  — Mark

Short Takes On The News: Justice Thomas, Big Law Money, Apple Appeal, and Firefox

Justice Thomas has made a few statements about race in the United States as reported in Salon and other sources yesterday.  Here are a few quotes:

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school,” Thomas said. “To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up.”

“Now, name a day it doesn’t come up,” he continued. “Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah.”

Here’s my favorite quote:

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites,” Thomas said. “The absolute worst I have ever been treated. The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me — by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”

Without further clarification, I would suggest that a good chunk of that criticism extends merely to the logic he uses in his opinions and their outcome.  That is fair game in my opinion, as it would be with any other Justice.  Justice Kennedy, for example, gets his share of criticism from religious organizations for his votes on same sex marriage and similar cases upholding privacy in sexual matters.  And don’t get me started on Justice Scalia!

The Atlantic is running an article called The Collapse of Big Law:  A Cautionary Tale for Big Med.  The article details how lawyers measure success in terms of money, not purely as a matter of greed, but in comparison to the competition.  Gone, apparently, are the days when doing something of value for society through law practice is a real metric.  The context of the article is the lack of jobs for recent law school graduates.  The rest of the article compares what’s happening in law to similar practices developing in the medical field.

I’ll give an anecdotal story about a law school application essay as related to me by the Admissions Director at one of the schools at which I have worked.  The Director told me that one student did not write an essay as such but drew a large dollar sign across the page.  I understand the applicant was admitted at least for being honest.  I have to believe there were other qualities that qualified the student for admission.  Anyone pulling that stunt today would be incredibly naive.  That shows how long ago I had that conversation.

Publishers Weekly reports that Apple lost its appeal at the Second Circuit on the limited issue of staying the order of Judge Denise Cote imposing the external compliance monitor on the company.  Apple has complained about Michael Bromwich, the appointee, being intrusive and expensive.  The article describes the Second Circuit’s order:

The court cited the government’s own statements that the monitor, Michael Bromwich, was “empowered to demand only documents relevant to his authorized responsibility” and to “interview Apple directors, officers, and employees” only on subjects relevant to his task. “We agree with that interpretation of the district court’s order,” the court held. “In addition, we take counsel’s statement as a formal representation that appellees also accept that interpretation.”

Oh well, better luck on the main appeal, or not, depending on one’s perspective.

Jonathan Band writes an interesting essay on the Future of Fair Use after Google Books in Project Disco.  That’s “Disco” as in disrupted competition.  Band wrote the amicus brief for the Library Copyright Alliance and was cited five times in Judge Chin’s decision.  The piece describes the ideas in the debate he had with Jon Baumgarten, former General Counsel of the Copyright Office.  I get the impression that the Authors Guild have an extremely limited view of fair use based on the exchange between the two.

And finally, ads in the Firefox browser?  ZDNet has the story. — Mark

What is government interest creep?

What is the government interest?

This simple query, even before one evaluates the interest (is it compelling? or even merely legitimate?), can be a vexing one for students, professors, litigators, and courts.   Legislative listing of such interests – – – whether in preambles, legislative history, or litigation – – – provides language but not necessarily meaning.

The above quote is Ruthann Robson’s (Professor of Law & University Distinguished Professor, CUNY School of Law) lead-in from her Constitutional Law Prof Blog post about San Diego law prof Dov Fox’s forthcoming George Washington Law Review article titled Interest Creep [SSRN].

From the abstract:

Judicial review has a blind spot. Doctrinal and scholarly focus on individual rights has crowded out alertness to the way in which legislatures and courts characterize the state interests on the other side of the constitutional ledger. This Article introduces and interrogates a pervasive phenomenon of judicial decisionmaking that I call interest creep. Interest creep is the uncritical expansion of underspecified interests like national security and child protection to capture multiple, distinct sources of government concern. By shielding such concerns from critical judicial appraisal, interest creep erodes the adjudicative duty to provide litigants, lawmakers, and lower courts with clear reasons for its decisions. Worse, interest creep generates incorrect legal outcomes when the discrete concerns that go by the name of a sweeping state interest cannot do the doctrinal work for which that shibboleth is enlisted. Only by disentangling the constellation of concerns that its reliance papers over will decisionmakers be able to assess the force with which those more particular concerns apply within diverse and dynamic contexts.

— Joe

Judge Posner Likes Cats, the Supreme Court Not So Much

There is an interview with Judge Richard Posner that was published on The Daily Beast last Thursday.  Judge Posner states the obvious when he says he likes to write.  We learn that he isn’t interested in being considered for the Supreme Court:

At this point in your career, would you like to sit on the Supreme Court?

No. First I’m too old. I’m 74 and they don’t appoint people my age.

But you sound peppy.

Well, I don’t like the Supreme Court. I don’t think it’s a real court. I think of it as basically…it’s like a House of Lords. It’s a quasi-political body. President, Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court. It’s very political. And they decide which cases to hear, which doesn’t strike me as something judges should do. You should take what comes. When you decide which case to hear it means you’ve decided the cases ahead of time.

Judge Posner’s view of the Supreme Court is interesting, but that’s not the real news for me.  As to the matter of pets he says:

Well, I’m a very big cat person. Used to like dogs, then I switched. I have a big crush on my current cat. I like animals generally. I’m very soft about animals. My cat is a Maine Coon named Pixie. What’s unusual about her, besides being beautiful and intelligent, but she’s affectionate. Very unusual in cats. She likes to give us nuzzles and be with us. Her little face falls if either of us leaves the house. She’s very social. She appears to recognize members of our families, kids and grandchildren. She’s a real sweetie. It’s one of the reasons I work at home a lot now. The nature of my work is such that I don’t really have to be in the office unless I’m hearing cases. I spend probably at least half the time at home working. Everything I need, I have with me or have electronic access to. One reason is that the cat wants us at home.

Well, meow.

Mark

Mining for taxpayer dollars after the collapse of California’s Court Case Management System

A new gold rush has come to California, with the state’s massive legal system open for mining as courts and lawyers move to new technology. Investor Warren Buffett’s right hand man has joined in the race along with enormous software and publishing companies from around the nation. “It’s truly the wild west here in California,” said an industry insider, “a land grab.”

They are scrambling for a mother lode of multi-million-dollar contracts for software and licensing, vast additional sums for upkeep, and the right to set up a toll booth on Court Road for 38 million people. — Maria Dinzeo, Courthouse News Service

Why? Dinzeo explains that “the rush of deal-making follows the collapse of a half-billion-dollar, ten-year state project to develop a Court Case Management System for all California’s 58 trial courts. Widely savaged by judges as a ‘fiasco” and a “boondoggle,’ the software developed by Deloitte Consulting was abandoned last year.” For much more see Tech Gold Rush Strikes CA Courts. — Joe

Annotating oral arguments

“It’s always interesting to see how a lawyer’s oral argument marries up to their briefing, and for me, it helps give greater context to the points,” wrote Jason Wilson at The Annotated Oral Argument: Tucker v. Thomas (#SCOTX). Check out his example of annotating an oral argument  conducted before the Supreme Court of Texas. (NB: the annotation links to open source texts of court opinions and statutory code sections.) He adds, “If y’all like these annotated arguments, I can start posting more here or on Annotations.”

I think Jason is onto something here. While I have little need for Lone Star State annotated oral arguments here in the Buckeye State, I think e-publishing high court annotated oral arguments by an editorial staff that actually knows something (and links to open or opened resources) is a great idea. Hell, that’s why I buy Jones McClure’s annotated federal codes instead of … well, you know.

I would be very interested in annotated US Supreme Court oral arguments, ditto for the Supreme Court of Ohio, if produced by a reliable publisher like Jones McClure. At the SCOTUS level, who might that be? Hint — who is the sponsor of SCOTUSblog and the publisher of USLW?

Joe

Avoiding the 404

In Link Rot within SCOTUS Opinions and Law Reviews [SSRN], Jonathan Zittrain and Kendra Albert found that 49% of URLs in surveyed SCOTUS opinions no long send the reader to the cited web source. Raizel Liebler and June Liebert’s recently published article, Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation: The Life Span of a United States Supreme Court Citation Containing an Internet Link (1996-2010), 15 YALE J.L. & TECH. 273 (2013), reports a SCOTUS link rot rate of 29%. Obviously there’s a problem. But it is not with the difference in survey findings. Clearly SCOTUS must get its act together by linking to a self-hosted openly accessible archive of the web content that was cited and currently only stored in the Court’s files. How about naming the archive “Last Visited On”?

Zittrain and Albert’s article is recommended but I found Liebler and Lieber’s much more informative. Here’s the abstract for Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation: The Life Span of a United States Supreme Court Citation Containing an Internet Link (1996-2010):

Citations are the cornerstone upon which judicial opinions and law review articles stand. Within this context, citations provide for both authorial verification of the original source material at the moment they are used and the needed information for later readers to find the cited source. The ability to check citations and verify that citations to the original sources are accurate is integral to ensuring accurate characterizations of sources and determining where a researcher received information. However, accurate citations do not always mean that a future researcher will be able to find the exact same information as the original researcher. Citations to disappearing websites cause serious problems for future legal researchers. Our present mode of citing websites in judicial cases, including within U.S. Supreme Court cases, allows such citations to disappear, becoming inaccessible to future scholars. Without significant change, the information in citations within judicial opinions will be known solely from those citations. Citations to the U.S. Supreme Court are especially important of the Court’s position at the top of federal court hierarchy, determining the law of the land, and even influencing the law in international jurisdictions. Unfortunately and disturbingly, the Supreme Court appears to have a vast problem with link rot, the condition of internet links no longer working. We found that number of websites that are no longer working cited to by Supreme Court opinions is alarmingly high, almost one-third (29%). Our research in Supreme Court cases also found that the rate of disappearance is not affected by the type of online document (pdf, html, etc) or the sources of links (government or non-government) in terms of what links are now dead. We cannot predict what links will rot, even within Supreme Court cases.

Hat tip to Adam Liptak’s In Supreme Court Opinions, Web Links to Nowhere (NYT, Sept. 23, 2013).

Joe