On Politico, Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, calls out PACER: “I’m here to tell you that PACER—Public Access to Court Electronic Records—is a judicially approved scam. The very name is misleading: Limiting the public’s access by charging hefty fees, it has been a scam since it was launched and, barring significant structural changes, will be a scam forever.” Read The Federal Courts Are Running An Online Scam (Mar. 20, 2019) here.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts published its Judicial Business 2018 report. This year filings in the U.S. courts of appeals dropped 2 percent to 49,276. Total filings in the U.S. district courts increased 7 percent to 370,085 as civil case filings rose 6 percent to 282,936 and filings for criminal defendants grew 13 percent to 87,149. Petitions filed in the U.S. bankruptcy courts fell 2 percent to 773,375. The number of persons under post-conviction supervision went down 4 percent to 129,706. Cases opened in the pretrial services system climbed 13 percent to 99,931.
Law.com is reporting that seven retired federal judges, including former Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, filed an amicus brief in a class action over PACER fees now on appeal. The brief argues that PACER fees harm the judiciary’s credibility and pro se litigants.
Joshua Kastenberg has posted Safeguarding Judicial Integrity During the Trump Presidency: Richard Nixon’s Attempt to Impeach Justice William O. Douglas and the Use of National Security as a Case Study, Campbell Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 1, 2018. Here’s the abstract:
In April 1970, Congressman Gerald Ford called for the impeachment of Justice William O. Douglas. Although Douglas had been accused by anticivil rights Southern Democrats of unprofessional conduct in his association with a political foundation as well as his four marriages, Ford reasoned that, in addition to the past allegations, Justice Douglas had become a threat to national security. Within two weeks of Ford’s allegations, United States military forces invaded Cambodia without the express consent of Congress. Nixon’s involvement in Ford’s attempts to have Justice Douglas impeached give rise to the possibility that, in addition to trying to reshape the judiciary and further architect the “Southern Strategy” by bringing conservative Southern Democrats into the Republican Party, the impeachment would serve as a means to divert attention away from the Cambodian invasion. Ford’s irresponsible conduct in this matter (and Justice Douglas’s overall conduct) have never been historically addressed and, as a result, did not leave to future political leaders and judges a means by which to gauge behavior that can undermine the independence of the judicial branch. This Article is intended to provide a historical model of accountability.
Here’s the abstract for Andrea L. Roth, Machine Testimony, 126 Yale Law Journal ___ (2017):
Machines play increasingly crucial roles in establishing facts in legal disputes. Some machines convey information — the images of cameras, the measurements of thermometers, the opinions of expert systems. When a litigant offers a human assertion for its truth, the law subjects it to testimonial safeguards — such as impeachment and the hearsay rule — to give juries the context necessary to assess the source’s credibility. But the law on machine conveyance is confused; courts shoehorn them into existing rules by treating them as “hearsay,” as “real evidence,” or as “methods” underlying human expert opinions. These attempts have not been wholly unsuccessful, but they are intellectually incoherent and fail to fully empower juries to assess machine credibility. This Article seeks to resolve this confusion and to offer a coherent framework for conceptualizing and regulating machine evidence. First, it explains that some machine evidence, like human testimony, depends on the credibility of a source. Just as so-called “hearsay dangers” lurk in human assertions, “black box dangers” — human and machine errors causing a machine to be false by design, inarticulate, or analytically unsound — potentially lurk in machine conveyances. Second, it offers a taxonomy of machine evidence, explaining which types implicate credibility and how courts have attempted to regulate them through existing law. Third, it offers a new vision of testimonial safeguards for machines. It explores credibility testing in the form of front-end design, input and operation protocols; pretrial disclosure and access rules; authentication and reliability rules; impeachment and courtroom testing mechanisms; jury instructions; and corroboration rules. And it explains why machine sources can be “witnesses” under the Sixth Amendment, refocusing the right of confrontation on meaningful impeachment. The Article concludes by suggesting how the decoupling of credibility testing from the prevailing courtroom-centered hearsay model could benefit the law of testimony more broadly.
From the EFF report: “the Federal Circuit has changed its policies to give the public immediate access to briefs. Previously, the court had marked submitted briefs as “tendered” and withheld them from the public pending review by the Clerk’s Office. That process sometimes took a number of days. EFF wrote a letter asking the court to make briefs available as soon as they are filed. The court has published new procedures that will allow immediate access to submitted briefs.”
From the abstract for Sheila Jasanoff, Science, Common Sense & Judicial Power in U.S. Courts, Daedalus 147(4), 15-27 (2018):
In this essay, I focus not on the reliability of expertise, but on the judge’s role in articulating and reinforcing prevailing cultural attitudes toward science. This topic has received relatively little attention from legal practitioners and scholarly commentators. Yet judicial thinking is of paramount importance in three ways. First, judges consider and ratify how scientific and legal authority should work vis-à-vis each other, for instance by determining whether an issue does or does not demand expert testimony. Second, judges play the part of epistemological gatekeepers. The judge’s eye determines which expert claims are entitled to consideration in the courtroom, or not, thereby privileging certain ways of knowing above others. Third, and perhaps least visibly, judges exercise ontological power by deciding how to classify and categorize things for purposes of legal decision-making.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced H.R.6714, Electronic Court Records Reform Act of 2018. The legislation would require that the federal courts make PACER documents available for download free of charge.
H/T to Ars Technica. — Joe
From Questioning Judicial Nominees: Legal Limitations and Practice (R45300, Aug. 30, 2018):
The U.S. Constitution vests the Senate with the role of providing “advice” and affording or withholding “consent” when a President nominates a candidate to be an Article III judge—that is, a federal judge entitled to life tenure, such as a Supreme Court Justice. To carry out this “advice and consent” role, the Senate typically holds a hearing at which Members question the nominee. After conducting this hearing, the Senate generally either “consents” to the nomination by voting to confirm the nominee or instead rejects the nominee.
The Trump administration disclosed on Saturday a previously top-secret set of documents related to the wiretapping of Carter Page, the onetime Trump campaign adviser who was at the center of highly contentious accusations by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that the F.B.I. had abused its surveillance powers. Here’s the documents. — Joe
Here’s the abstract for Stephen Matthew Feldman’s Nothing New Under the Sun: The Law-Politics Dynamic in Supreme Court Decision Making, 44 Pepperdine Law Review 43 (2017):
Recent events have seemed to inject politics into American judicial institutions. As a result, many observers worry that the Supreme Court, in particular, has become politicized. According to this view, the Justices should decide cases in accordance with the rule of law and be unmoved by political concerns. These worries arise from a mistaken assumption: that law and politics can be separated and independent in the process of judicial decision making. But at the Supreme Court (as well as in the lower courts, for that matter), decision making arises from a law-politics dynamic. Adjudication in accord with a pure rule of law is a myth. Both law and politics shape legal interpretation and adjudication. Yet, it is worth emphasizing, the ongoing debate over whether Supreme Court decision making is either law or politics is thoroughly political. This Essay elaborates on these assertions and explores their ramifications.
H/T bespacific. — Joe
The Trump administration has installed a record-breaking number of judges, reshaping the courts for decades. Senate Republicans spent the end of Barack Obama’s term running out the clock on his picks for federal judges. So when Trump took office, he faced a nearly unprecedented number of vacant judgeships—and an opportunity to roll back gains in diversity and remake the federal courts for decades as evident in these charts, created by Mother Jones, which show white, male, and conservative Trump’s judicial nominees have been. — Joe
Tara Grove has published The Origins (and Fragility) of Judicial Independence, 71 Vand. L. Rev. 465 (2018). Here’s the abstract:
The federal judiciary today takes certain things for granted. Political actors will not attempt to remove Article III judges outside the impeachment process; they will not obstruct federal court orders; and they will not tinker with the Supreme Court’s size in order to pack it with like-minded Justices. And yet a closer look reveals that these “self-evident truths” of judicial independence are neither self-evident nor necessary implications of our constitutional text, structure, and history. This Article demonstrates that many government officials once viewed these court-curbing measures as not only constitutionally permissible but also desirable (and politically viable) methods of “checking” the judiciary. The Article tells the story of how political actors came to treat each measure as “out of bounds” and thus built what the Article calls “conventions of judicial independence.” But implicit in this story is a cautionary tale about the fragility of judicial independence. Indeed, this account underscores the extent to which judicial independence is politically constructed and historically contingent. Particularly at a time when government officials seem willing to depart from other long-standing norms, federal judges should take none of their current protections for granted.
H/T to Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog. — Joe
U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations During President Trump’s First Year in Office: Comparative Analysis with Recent Presidents (R45189 May 2, 2018) provides statistics related to the nomination and confirmation of U.S. circuit and district court nominees during the first year of the Trump presidency as well as during the first year of each of his three immediate predecessors—Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
Here’s the abstract for Katherine Shaw’s Beyond the Bully Pulpit: Presidential Speech in the Courts, 96 Texas Law Review ___ (2017):
The president’s words play a unique role in American public life. No other figure speaks with the reach, range, or authority of the president. The president speaks to the entire population; about the full range of domestic and international issues we collectively confront; and on behalf of the country to the rest of the world. Speech is also a key tool of presidential governance: for at least a century, presidents have used the bully pulpit to augment their existing constitutional and statutory authorities.
But what sort of impact, if any, should presidential speech have in court, if that speech is plausibly related to the subject matter of a pending case? Curiously, neither judges nor scholars have grappled with that question in any sustained way, though citations to presidential speech appear with some frequency in judicial opinions. Some of the time, these citations are no more than passing references. Other times, presidential statements play a significant role in judicial assessments of the meaning, lawfulness, or constitutionality of either legislation or executive action.
This Article is the first systematic examination of presidential speech in the courts. Drawing on a number of cases in both the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts, I first identify the primary modes of judicial reliance on presidential speech. I next ask what light the law of evidence, principles of deference, and internal executive-branch dynamics can shed on judicial treatment of presidential speech. I then turn to the normative, arguing that for a number of institutional reasons, it is for the most part inappropriate for a court to give legal effect to presidential statements whose goals are political storytelling, civic interpretation, persuasion, and mobilization—not the articulation of considered legal positions. That general principle, however, is not absolute. Rather, in a subset of cases, a degree of judicial reliance on presidential speech is entirely appropriate. That subset includes: cases in which presidential speech reflects a clear manifestation of intent to enter the legal arena; cases touching on foreign relations or national security; and cases in which government purpose constitutes an element of a legal test. In light of the rhetorical strategies of President Donald Trump, the question of the impact of presidential statements in the courts is quickly becoming a critical one.
Interesting. — Joe
Paul J. Manafort, Jr., of Alexandria, Va., and Richard W. Gates III, of Richmond, Va., were indicted by a federal grand jury on Feb. 22, 2018, in the Eastern District of Virginia. The indictment contains 32 counts: 16 counts related to false individual income tax returns, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, and four counts of bank fraud. Text of the indictment in U.S. v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., and Richard W. Gates III (1:18-cr-83, Eastern District of Virginia). — Joe
From the introduction to The Federal Grand Jury (May 7, 2015 95-1135):
The federal grand jury exists to investigate crimes against the United States and to secure the constitutional right of grand jury indictment. Its responsibilities require broad powers.
As an arm of the U.S. District Court which summons it, upon whose process it relies, and which will receive any indictments it returns, the grand jury’s subject matter and geographical jurisdiction is that of the court to which it is attached.
As a general rule, the law is entitled to everyone’s evidence. Witnesses subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, therefore, will find little to excuse their appearance. Once before the panel, however, they are entitled to benefit of various constitutional, common law and statutory privileges including the right to withhold self-incriminating testimony and the security of confidentiality of their attorney-client communications. They are not, however, entitled to have an attorney with them in the grand jury room when they testify.
The grand jury conducts its business in secret. Those who attend its sessions other than witnesses may disclose its secrets only when the interests of justice permit.
Unless the independence of the grand jury is overborne, irregularities in the grand jury process ordinarily will not result in dismissal of an indictment, particularly where dismissal is sought after conviction.
The concurrence of the attorney for the government is required for the trial of any indictment voted by the grand jury. In the absence of such an endorsement or when a panel seeks to report, the court enjoys narrowly exercised discretion to dictate expungement or permit distribution of the report.
From the abstract of Jeremy Kidd and Ryan Walters’ Searching for Scalia in 2018: Measuring the ‘Scalia-ness’ of President Trump’s Supreme Court Shortlist (Jan. 20, 2018):
With rumors of a retirement this summer on the Supreme Court, President Trump may have another chance to fulfill his campaign pledge to nominate justices “in the mold of Justice Scalia.” By initial accounts, he fulfilled that promise with the nomination of Justice Gorsuch, whose early tenure on the Court has been described as rather Scalia-like. Subsequently, the President has expanded his list of potential nominees to twenty-five. However, not all on that shortlist may be similarly “in the mold of Justice Scalia.” We thus updated our previous study measuring the Scalia-ness of the potential nominees. We added Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Amul Thapar. We improved the three original measures: originalism, textualism, and writing separately. We also added three additional measures that were characteristic of Justice Scalia: ghostwriting (the degree clerks play a role in writing a judge’s opinions); years as a law professor; and percentage of one’s life outside of D.C. Finally, for comparison’s sake, we included the lower court records of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Sotomayor, and Gorsuch.
We then used these variables to create two versions of the Scalia-ness Index. The simple version merely includes originalism and textualism, the most important and defining of Scalia’s traits. The complex version includes all six variables, but with originalism and textualism weighted significantly more than the other two process-based variables, and with the two background-based variables weighted the least. The results confirmed that as far as being a judge like Justice Scalia, the Trump short-listers are not created equal. In fact, there is a wide gulf between the top six and the rest. And of those top six, third through sixth place were lumped together, followed by a significant gap to second place, and then a rather hefty distance to the most Scalia-like of the short-listers.
Given the abstractness of the Scalia-ness Index Scores, using percentiles we translated the scores into 2017 income and IQ scores. For example, for the complex Index, then-Judge Gorsuch would have been third with a 2017 income of $60,008, followed closely by three other judges ranging from $58,016 to $60,001. (The trailing short-listers ranged from $21,381 to $32,157, with then-Judge Roberts bringing up the rear.) As to the two judges ahead of Gorsuch, they were the equivalent of a 2017 income of $75,597 and $292,372, respectively. The simple Index produced similar results. If Scalia-ness had been an Olympic speed skating race, it would have been a boring one: the gold medal winner finishing all by himself, followed sometime later by the silver medalist all by himself, followed by a pack of four fighting for bronze, followed by everyone else lagging rather far behind.
President Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify.” Under the assumption that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, some judges empirically appear that they’ll be more Scalia-like than others if placed on the Supreme Court. Past Republican Presidents have often relied on too much trust and too little verification in judicial nominations, with disastrous results, including but not limited to David Souter and John Paul Stevens. We strongly recommend the White House demand proof of Scalia-ness. Here is some. Additionally, and more broadly, we argue that since data-driven decision-making has transformed the rest of the world, it should begin to play a more prominent role in decisions about judicial nominees. Doing so will provide more predictive power to the vetting process. The methodology we employ here provides an example of what could be done going forward.
The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued Formal Opinion 478 that provides the nation’s judicial branch guidance related to the ethical boundaries of independent factual research on the internet.
The guidance is consistent with the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, but notes that judicial notice is governed by the law of evidence in each jurisdiction. The opinion draws a bright-line distinction between independent investigation of “adjudicative facts” and research of “legislative facts” of law and policy. Formal Opinion 478 also provides guidance on internet research by judges of the lawyers and the parties involved in the case.
“Stated simply, a judge should not gather adjudicative facts from any source on the Internet unless the information is subject to proper judicial notice,” Formal Opinion 478 said. “Further … judges should not use the Internet for independent fact-gathering related to a pending or impending matter where the parties can easily be asked to research or provide the information. The same is true of the activities or characteristics of the litigants or other participants in the matter.”
H/T to beSpacific. — Joe
As of this writing, 49 individuals have been nominated by President Trump to U.S. circuit and district court judgeships and have also received a rating from the ABA. Of the 49, 4 (8.2%) received a rating of “not qualified,” 17 (34.7%) received a rating of “qualified,” and 28 (57.1%) received a rating of “well qualified” (including 11, or 78.6%, of 14 circuit court nominees who received a well qualified rating).
The number of nominees, as of this writing, who have received a not qualified rating during the Trump presidency is not notably high (when compared to the number of nominees who received such a rating over the entirety of each of the previous 11 presidencies).
What is distinctive, however, at least when compared to other presidencies, is that both a U.S. circuit court nominee and at least one district court nominee have received a rating of not qualified during President Trump’s first year in office (which last occurred in 1961 during the first year of the Kennedy presidency).