This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 23

by Ed Whelan

1971—In Calvert Cliffs’ Coordinating Committee v. Atomic Energy Comm’n, D.C. Circuit judge J. Skelly Wright enthusiastically welcomes “what promises to become a flood of new litigation—litigation seeking judicial assistance in protecting our natural environment”:

Several recently enacted statutes attest to the commitment of the government to control, at long last, the destructive engine of material “progress.” But it remains to be seen whether the promise of this legislation will become a reality. Therein lies the judicial role. In these cases, we must for the first time interpret the broadest and perhaps most important of the recent statutes: the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. We must assess claims that one of the agencies charged with its administration has failed to live up to the congressional mandate. Our duty, in short, is to see that important legislative purposes, heralded in the halls of Congress, are not lost or misdirected in the vast hallways of the federal bureaucracy. [Emphasis added.]

In a 1983 law-review article, then-D.C. Circuit judge Antonin Scalia will identify Calvert Cliffs as having “beg[u]n the judiciary’s long love affair with environmental litigation” and will contrast Wright’s nearly boundless conception of the judicial role with the much more modest understanding set forth in Marbury v. Madison. Further, as Scalia observes, Wright doesn’t even bother to explain what the Calvert Cliffs’ Coordinating Committee is and how it has standing to challenge the agency’s action:

From reading the opinion, one is unable to discern whether the Calvert Cliffs’ Coordinating Committee, which brought construction of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear generating plant to a halt, was composed of environmentalists, or owners of land adjacent to the proposed plant, or competing coal-generating power companies, or was even, perish the thought, a front for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is reputed to prefer dams to atoms.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 22

by Ed Whelan

2004—Continuing their unprecedented campaign of judicial filibusters, Senate Democrats exert their minority power to prevent cloture on President George W. Bush’s nominations of Richard A. Griffin, David W. McKeague, and Henry W. Saad to supposed Michigan seats on the Sixth Circuit. Griffin, first nominated in May 2003, and McKeague, first nominated in November 2001, are finally confirmed in June 2005. Saad, never confirmed, finally withdraws his nomination in March 2006.

Richard A. Posner’s The Federal Judiciary—Part 3

by Ed Whelan

In his preface, Richard Posner says that his new book “is a big book, though not huge—not in a class with Moby Dick.” True enough. But, like Moby Dick, Posner’s book provides, if unintentionally, an intriguing account of one man’s obsession. Perhaps it should have been titled Mopey Dick.

One of the most striking features of Richard Posner’s new book is his incessant carping about praise for Justice Scalia. It’s really something to behold.

Posner begins his very long chapter on the Supreme Court by complaining for some five pages (pp. 65-70) about praise that Justice Elena Kagan and others offered for Scalia, both before and after his death. He tries to couch his complaints as an observation on “the absence of realism, or … the absence of a culture of frank discourse, that characterizes public discussion of the American legal system,” but it would sure seem that something else is driving him to make these comments:

Justice Kagan’s statement that she had “boundless admiration and affection” for Scalia, that she “loved” him and “miss him every day,” was, Posner states, “fulsome” and “hard-to-believe” and (a page later) “mawkish.” He wonders if she might have been speaking “tongue in cheek.” Her statement that Scalia “will go down in history as one of the most significant of Justices” is “dubious,” and her reference to his “splendid prose” is “over the top.”

Posner contests a former law clerk’s statement that Scalia “had a contagious laugh that spread pure joy to those who heard it. He reports that he “did not find [Scalia’s] laughter contagious or react with pure joy.”

Posner says that he “was stunned to read” Cass Sunstein’s praise for Scalia as “one of the greatest justices in the Court’s history, and among its three best writers.” He finds it “difficult to believe” the first half, and he says that nine justices he names “and many others” “outclassed” Scalia as a writer. As for Sunstein’s “To know him was to love him”: “I knew him too, I liked him well enough, but love him? Ridiculous!”

One page later, Posner complains about praise that Kagan offered for Scalia (“one of the most important” justices) before his death. “Colorful, outspoken, disruptive, yes,” says Posner, but “unlikely” to be recognized as one of the most important justices. Even in saying that Scalia “deserves credit” for discrediting legislative history, Posner contends that Scalia “was pushing against an open door.” Posner then turns to petty quibbling over praise for Scalia, including by Kagan, at the renaming of the George Mason law school after him.

After a respite (perhaps the bile ducts needed time to refill), Posner then spends four pages (pp. 95-98) complaining about praise for Scalia by members of the Harvard law faculty. The “liberals” “fairly tripped over themselves in lauding a deceased ultraconservative Justice of whom they had doubtless strongly disapproved.” One professor who was a former clerk “gave no examples” in stating that Scalia followed his principles. Another says that Scalia “changed our framework,” but Posner says he doesn’t understand what that means. The observation by yet another that Scalia was a “superb” justice leads Posner to allege various weaknesses of Scalia’s (for example, “his aggressive religiosity”) that “placed him well below the most illustrious of his predecessors.” On yet another professor’s statement that “I stand sometimes almost in awe” of Scalia, Posner replies: “It never occurred to me to ‘stand sometimes almost in awe’ of him.” Posner then complains that the “ultraliberal Martha Minow … raved about Scalia.” (His emphasis.) And, in contesting her praise, he claims that Scalia had “rages” that were “legendary” (not something I ever heard of) and even baselessly insinuates that Scalia might not actually have co-authored (“whether nominally or not I don’t know”) the treatise with Bryan Garner that was the target of Posner’s woefully incompetent attack five years ago.

Posner tops it off by saying that a “more dignified” reaction of the Harvard law school faculty “would have been to say nothing” about Scalia’s death. But perhaps someone who spends pages carping about praise for a deceased person shouldn’t be offering lessons on what is dignified.

Okay, Posner’s tiresomeness is tiring me out, so I’ll sweep more broadly.

Barely ten pages later, Posner is at it again, with a four-page section that criticizes Justice Kagan and D.C. Circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh “for their exaggerated conception of Scalia’s significance.”

Then Posner devotes 2+ pages to block-quoting Jeffrey Toobin’s nasty and ill-informed attack on Scalia.

Then another three pages in which Posner finds “unfathomable” Justice Kagan’s praise for Scalia and reprints an insipid New York Times op-ed that he and law professor Eric Segall wrote attacking Scalia. Weirdly, Posner modifies the op-ed to add in some jabs at Kagan for her “love” for Scalia.

Then a block quote of two more pages of what Posner aptly calls a “caustic assessment” of Scalia by Segall.

Then, in discussing the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, Posner says he finds “hard to believe” an article that states that Gorsuch cried on hearing the news of Scalia’s death. As I pointed out (in my “What a jerk” post) when this passage was reported some months ago, Gorsuch himself, in his much-publicized speech in praise of Justice Scalia’s legacy, recounted his crying. So, as a minute of research would have revealed, Posner didn’t have to attribute the supposedly “hard to believe” claim to a secondary source and could simply have taken Gorsuch’s word for it.

Then two pages criticizing the Georgetown law school dean for having “out-Kaganed Kagan, out Minowed Minow” in his praise of Scalia.

Then three more pages of a block quote by Segall criticizing Scalia.

Another respite, then a block quote from an unnamed correspondent, said to be a law school classmate of Scalia’s, offering a cartoonish account of him.

And, finally (though I’ve probably missed some of Posner’s slams), five pages in the epilogue endorsing, and piling on, Emily Bazelon’s laughably incompetent account of Scalia’s views on science, and citing and quoting other criticisms of Scalia. (I will probably have more to say on the science stuff.)

Richard A. Posner’s The Federal Judiciary—Part 2

by Ed Whelan

See Part 1.

“The dominant theme” of Richard Posner’s new book, he tells us, is “standpattism—more precisely, the stubborn refusal of the judiciary to adapt to modernity” (p. 376). But “the stubborn refusal of the judiciary to adapt to modernity” turns out to be a vapid umbrella label for just not embracing Posner’s positions. Consider:

1. Posner complains that traditional modes of judicial decisionmaking are “excessively backward-looking” (p. x) because they focus heavily on legal text and precedent. Instead, judges should simply decide what policy is best and work to find a path to get there:

My approach in judging a case is therefore not to worry initially about doctrine, precedent, and the other conventional materials of legal analysis, but instead to try to figure out the sensible solution to the problem or problems presented by the case. Once having found what I think is the sensible solution I ask whether it’s blocked by an authoritative precedent of the Supreme Court or by some other ukase that judges must obey. If it’s not blocked (usually it’s not—usually it can be got around by hook or by crook), I say fine—let’s go with the commonsense solution.

Further: “The time to look up precedents, statutory text, legislative history, and the other conventional materials of judicial decision making is after one has a sense of what the best decision should be for today’s society” (p. 82 (emphasis in original)).  

Or, as Posner put it recently, most legal “technicalities are antiquated crap.” Far better for judges to indulge “common sense” than to have a decision “supported by ‘reason,’ whatever that means exactly.”

So, in Posner’s view, laws are obstacles for the pragmatist judge to work his way “around by hook or by crook.”

If Posner’s own description of his pragmatism doesn’t suffice to discredit it, I’ll refer readers to my review of Posner’s How Judges Think (especially Parts III and IV) for my critique. I’ll also note (as I spelled out in this post) that his “common sense” leads him in this new book to argue that Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (allowing racial segregation in public facilities) and Korematsu v. United States (1944) (upholding internment of Japanese Americans) were “‘right’ for [their] time” and that Buck v. Bell (1927) (allowing the involuntary sterilization of supposedly “feeble-minded” individuals) was a model of pragmatic reasoning. So perhaps having judges adapt their decisions to the times isn’t as rosy a prospect as Posner’s “forward-looking” rhetoric might have you think.

But whatever your views on judicial pragmatism, for purposes of this post I’ll simply observe that it’s quite deceptive to cast the jurisprudential battle between pragmatism and legalism as a battle over whether or not the judiciary should “adapt to modernity.”

Posner heaps special scorn on the originalist version of legalism. “How,” he asks, can eighteenth-century thinkers be thought to have foreseen twenty-first century conditions?” (p. 30). The question is an obtuse one. The Framers set up a system of representative government that has broad play to adapt to changing conditions, and they carved out specific protections to guard against known and feared abuses. In addition, they set up a process by which the Constitution could be (and has been) amended. Together these features make it unnecessary for the Framers “to have foreseen twenty-first century conditions,” and I’m not aware of anyone who advocates originalism on the assumption that the Framers did have such foresight.

2. Posner’s first item of complaint, believe it or not, is that hardly any judges “tell their law clerks to call them (the judges, that is) by their first name” (p. 4). This, he says, is somehow “illustrative of the general problem of inefficient judicial management of staff.”

Uh, okay. Whatever you say, Dick! (Unlike many twenty-somethings speaking to much older bosses, Posner’s clerks might find it especially apt to call him by his first name.)

3. Posner says that an “important reform, though hopeless, would be to require the judges to write their own opinions.” But, wait: Much as I might have some sympathy for that proposal, isn’t that backward-looking? Posner acknowledges that “nowadays U.S. presidents and other prominent people usually delegate the writing of their speeches to anonymous staff.” Why doesn’t he want judges to “adapt to modernity” in this respect?

Posner gives some reasons (the “principal benefit” is to “winnow out the weakest judges”). But it would seem that his desire to have the judiciary “adapt to modernity” is malleable enough to accommodate whatever he favors.

4. Posner complains:

[A] number of common practices of federal appellate courts could easily be abandoned and should be. One is a court’s announcing in advance (often months in advance) who the members of a panel will be that will hear a particular case. Such a preannouncement is likely to cause the lawyers in the case to focus on the particular leanings of the panel members . . . .” [P. 226 (emphasis added)]

What? This struck me as an inaccurate description of current practices, so I doublechecked with a few friends who are appellate experts. They confirm that no federal appellate court announces “months in advance” who will be on a panel (though the D.C. Circuit did so until 2014). According to this Mayer Brown analysis from 2015, three circuits (including Posner’s Seventh) reveal the panel on the day of argument, six do so a week or so before, two do two weeks before, and two do a month before. No court typically announces the panel before submission of the briefs, which would present the prime opportunity “to focus on the particular leanings of the panel members.”

5. Posner asserts that the Supreme Court’s “refusal even to experiment [with televising its hearings] casts gave [sic; read “grave”] doubts on its competence, and specifically on the managerial ability of the Chief Justice” (pp. 190-191). But Posner reveals a page later that his own court, for which he was chief judge from 1993 to 2000, doesn’t televise its hearings and that the current chief judge only very recently appointed a committee to look into the question. So why doesn’t Posner direct his suggestion of incompetence, and failure to adapt to modernity, against himself?

6. Displaying his supposed common sense, Posner argues that a “more realistic alternative” to term limits for judges

might be to require every judge—including the Justices of the Supreme Court—upon reaching eighty or eighty-five to have a mental-acuity test, geared to the type of oral and written materials germane to the judicial task at the particular judge’s level.

A moment’s reflection might have led Posner to realize how unrealistic such a proposal is. Does he really imagine that it would be possible to design and implement such a test—and to dislodge justices and judges from their seats on the basis of such a test—in a way that would be accepted as legitimate?

7. Given his incessant spewing of proposals, it’s no surprise that Posner can’t keep them consistent. He argues, for example, that “every appellate judge,” including “the eminences of the Supreme Court,” “should have trial-court experience as a judge.” Maybe so. But how can he reconcile that position with his separate position that “[a] brilliant businessman, a brilliant politician, a brilliant teacher might make an excellent judge or justice”?

* * *

Some of the passages I’ve criticized in this post aren’t particularly significant in and of themselves, but they’re illustrative of defects that pervade Posner’s book. I don’t mean to deny that Posner’s stew has a few tasty morsels here or there, but rare will be the reader who will have the appetite to hunt for them.

More to come.

Richard A. Posner’s The Federal Judiciary—Part 1

by Ed Whelan

You sure shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Seventh Circuit judge Richard A. Posner has just published another book—or, perhaps more accurately, another pretense of a book, with a grand title, stylish cover, and the imprimatur of Harvard University Press. But when you open it up, things quickly turn bad. Indeed, The Federal Judiciary: Strengths and Weaknesses may well be the worst-edited book that I have ever tried to wade through.

This, alas, is nothing new for Harvard University Press, which seems happy to serve as a vanity publisher for whatever mishmash of ideas Posner slops together. Nine years ago, in my broadly unfavorable review of Posner’s How Judges Think, I observed that the book was “at least one thorough redraft short of being ready for publication” and “reads like a hasty copy-and-paste compilation, with little attention to harmonious coherence.”  Ditto, four years ago, for Posner’s Reflections on Judging. (Posner has in lots of other ways amply earned my low regard; here’s just one of many examples.)

This time, Posner gives a warning of sorts, as he states in his preface that the book “is more a macédoine than a treatise” and “contains a good deal of quoted material.” Macédoine, it turns out, is a fancy word for a confused mixture, a hodgepodge, a jumble, though I’m guessing that Posner intended a more favorable meaning (a mix of fruits or vegetables).

By “a good deal of quoted material,” Posner refers to his countless block quotes, many running for pages. He quotes the opinions in one of his cases for twenty pages, and another order of his for twelve pages. He includes the entirety of a favorable review of Reflections on Judging (3 pages); a journal’s explanation (crediting Posner) of its reasons for abandoning the Bluebook system of citation (2+ pages); his own written advice to his law clerks on citation (3-1/2 pages); repeated long excerpts from his buddy, law professor Eric Segall (too many to count, but I’d be surprised if fewer than ten pages); Jeffrey Toobin’s Scalia-bashing (2 pages); a long Slate exchange with Akhil Amar (5+ pages); a tendentious letter from an unnamed correspondent; and an “open letter” from liberal academics to Donald Trump (4+ pages). (I’ve made no effort to be exhaustive and have probably omitted some other glaring examples.)

Worse, when Posner’s not dumping copy-and-paste excerpts on the reader, he’s bouncing around from scattered thought to disjointed observation to tiresome repetition. “Moving on” and “Enough …” are feeble transitions that he resorts to on multiple occasions.

The book is also very poorly organized. You’d think that its three chapters on the three tiers of the federal judiciary would provide a sensible way for Posner to structure his thoughts. But he instead begins with a rambling 41-page introduction and then, in his first chapter, thrusts the reader into the minutiae of Round Five (or is it Round Four?) of a back-and-forth that he’s been having with a law professor on various topics. When he does finally turn to his first tier (the Supreme Court), he spends about six pages complaining about Justice Kagan’s praise for Justice Scalia and then fourteen pages on an “edited and somewhat amplified” version of transcribed remarks that he made off the top of his head at a conference. Posner then divides the rest of the 150+-page chapter into a Part One and a Part Two, but if there’s any sense to the division, I missed it. (Part Two begins: “I have at times drifted from the subject of this chapter, which is the Supreme Court, and let me return to it.”) After his chapter on the third tier (the district courts), he tosses in a chapter whose material, if worth including at all, could sensibly have been divided among the tiers. And his conclusion is followed by a 30-page epilogue that might as well have been titled “Some Other Things I’ve Just Thought Of”: far from being confined to new events, it includes his criticism of President Obama’s praise of Elena Kagan in 2010.

As I said four years ago of Reflections on Judging, Posner’s new book is too wildly undisciplined for me to attempt a comprehensive survey and critique of its arguments. But I will offer some further observations in follow-up posts.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 20

by Ed Whelan

 1990—After nearly 34 years of liberal judicial activism on the Supreme Court, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. announces his retirement. As Jan Crawford describes it in Supreme Conflict, “For conservatives, Brennan’s retirement gave George H.W. Bush the chance of a lifetime.… It was that rare moment when a conservative president was positioned to replace a liberal giant.… It would give conservatives a dramatic opportunity to cement their majority and firmly take ideological control of the Court.” But “the president did not want the kind of bruising fight over the Supreme Court that Reagan was willing to endure.” Five days later President Bush nominates … David H. Souter to fill Brennan’s seat.

Scalia Speaks, Forthcoming Book of Scalia Speeches

by Ed Whelan

As I mentioned in late April, at the invitation of the Scalia family, Christopher J. Scalia (son of Justice and Mrs. Scalia) and I have been reviewing and selecting Justice Scalia’s best speeches for publication in a single-volume collection. I am very pleased to pass along that, as announced earlier today on the Corner, Crown Forum has arranged with the Scalia family to publish Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived. Even better, Scalia Speaks will be available very soon—on October 3, the Tuesday after the next Supreme Court term opens.

Scalia Speaks is designed for a general audience and is replete with Justice Scalia’s characteristic wisdom, clarity, and humor. There are a lot of great speeches on legal topics, all readily accessible to the non-lawyer. As the subtitle suggests, we’ve included many speeches on other topics: for example, faith, character, tradition, ethnicity, education, turkey hunting, and even the games and sports that a young Nino Scalia played on the streets of Queens in the 1940s. The book also features several of the Justice’s moving, and often funny, tributes to friends. Only a small handful of the dozens of speeches in the book have ever been published before.

My hopeful expectation is that a very broad swath of readers will find the book a delight—a joy to read and a great gift for family, friends, and colleagues. Here’s a take from one non-lawyer who reviewed the manuscript:

Skimming through the speeches is like being bathed in a world of goodness, truth, and beauty. The humor, generosity, friendship, and love that shines from them is a balm in what is too often an ugly world.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—dear friend to Justice and Mrs. Scalia and subject of one of the Justice’s tributes—has generously volunteered a wonderful foreword, and Chris Scalia has written a poignant introduction.

Pre-order the book now. You’ll be very glad you did.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 19

by Ed Whelan

2014—In Wood v. Ryan, a divided Ninth Circuit panel relies on the First Amendment as it awards Joseph Wood a preliminary injunction against his impending execution for the murders 25 years ago of his estranged girlfriend and her father. Specifically, Judge Sidney R. Thomas concludes in his majority opinion that Wood “has raised serious questions as to the merits of his First Amendment claim” that the public has a right of access to information regarding the source and manufacturer of the drugs to be used in his execution, the qualifications of the execution personnel, and the manner in which the state of Arizona developed its lethal-injection protocol.

In dissent, Judge Jay S. Bybee marvels that the majority’s “newfound access is a dramatic extension of anything that we or the Ninth Circuit have previously recognized,” and he points out that the majority’s remedy of enjoining the execution is “equally novel,” as Wood “would have no more right to the information than any other member of the public.”

Two days later, eleven members of the Ninth Circuit (including Obama appointee John B. Owens) will dissent from the court’s failure to grant en banc review of the panel ruling. And on July 22, the Supreme Court will issue a unanimous order vacating the preliminary injunction.

No, Chief Justice Roberts Did Not ‘Embrace’ Obergefell

by Ed Whelan

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes posed what he called a “Supreme Court mystery”: “Has Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. embraced the court’s same-sex marriage decision that he so passionately protested two years ago?” But the clear answer to Barnes’s question is no.

To be sure, it is an open question whether the Chief Justice joined the recent per curiam opinion in Pavan v. Smith, which held that the Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges justified summary reversal of a ruling by the Arkansas supreme court. But let’s assume that the Chief Justice did join the per curiam majority. All that such joinder would necessarily signal, as Barnes acknowledges only towards the end of his pseudo-mystery, is that Roberts thought that “Obergefell as precedent … covered the Arkansas case, whether he liked it or not.” It certainly wouldn’t signal that he now suddenly thought that it had been rightly decided, or that it shouldn’t be overruled, much less that he “embraced” it.

I’m reminded of Jeffrey Toobin’s bizarre suggestion a few years ago (see my point 2 here) that Justice Scalia’s joinder in Justice O’Connor’s unanimous opinion in Ayotte v. New Hampshire (2006) meant that he had “embrac[ed]” her undue-burden standard for abortion regulations.

Barnes also errs in asserting that the dissenters in Pavan said the court should have accepted the case for full briefing and argument because the outcome wasn’t nearly as clear-cut as the majority claimed.” (Emphasis added.) No. Justice Gorsuch’s dissent (which, in the face of an unhinged attack, I explained here) says only that summary reversal was improper. It does not address whether the Court should instead have granted or denied review.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 18

by Ed Whelan

2014—In State v. Gleason, the Kansas supreme court rules by a 5-2 vote that the Eighth Amendment requires a capital-sentencing court to instruct a jury that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

In January 2016, in the consolidated ruling styled Kansas v. Carr, the Supreme Court will reverse the Kansas ruling. In his opinion for eight justices, Justice Scalia “doubt[s] whether it is even possible to apply a standard of proof to the mitigating-factor determination” and explains that the Court’s case law does not require any such jury instruction. (Justice Sotomayor, in dissent, does not disagree on this point but instead opines that the Court should not have reviewed the Kansas ruling.)

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 17

by Ed Whelan

2007—Campaigning for president, then-Senator Barack Obama delivers a speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in which he states that what really counts in a Supreme Court justice is “what is in the justice’s heart.” Obama promises that “the criterion by which I’ll be selecting my judges” is “who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old.”

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 16

by Ed Whelan

2014—Federal district judge Cormac J. Carney issues an order (in Jones v. Chappell) that the death penalty in California violates the Eighth Amendment. According to Carney (a Bush 43 appointee), a death sentence “carries with it the implicit promise from the State that it will actually be carried out”—a “promise” that is made to (among others) the “hundreds of individuals on Death Row.” But that promise has become “an empty one,” as “[i]nordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few” individuals are ever executed and in which “arbitrary factors … determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

In short, Carney believes that California has failed to live up to its “promise” to Ernest Dewayne Jones to execute him—and Carney’s remedy for that supposed failure is to prevent California from ever living up to that imagined  promise to Jones. Never mind, further, that it is judicial intervention and the natural death of inmates that, as Orin Kerr observes, are the primary causes of the low odds that any particular Death Row inmate will be executed and that neither cause is attributable to state officials responsible for administering the death penalty.

In November 2015, a Ninth Circuit panel, without reaching the substantive merits of Carney’s ruling, will reverse his order on procedural grounds.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 15

by Ed Whelan

2005—More mischief from the Wisconsin supreme court. This time, the same four-justice majority as in Ferdon (see This Day for July 14, 2005), in an opinion by associate justice Louis B. Butler Jr., rules in Thomas v. Mallett that the “risk-contribution theory”—which essentially shifts the burden of proof on key issues from the plaintiff to defendants—applies in a product-liability action against manufacturers of lead pigment.

As the dissent puts it, the “end result is that the defendants, lead pigment manufacturers, can be held liable for a product they may or may not have produced, which may or may not have caused the plaintiff’s injuries, based on conduct that may have occurred over 100 years ago when some of the defendants were not even part of the relevant market.”

In April 2008, Wisconsin voters, presented the opportunity to alter what one commentator aptly called the “4-3 liberal majority [that had become] the nation’s premier trailblazer in overturning its own precedents and abandoning deference to the legislature’s policy choices,” defeat Butler’s bid to remain on the court.

In 2009 President Obama will attempt to re-impose Butler on the citizens of Wisconsin by nominating him to a federal district judgeship, but Senate Democrats’ unwillingness to push for a floor vote and the election in 2010 of a Republican senator from Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, will lead to the demise of the nomination.

Four Judicial Nominees Clear Committee

by Jonathan H. Adler

Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared four of President Trump’s judicial nominees. The committee approved Kevin Newsom for the Eleventh Circuit, 18-2, John Bush for the Sixth Circuit and Damien Schiff for the Court of Claims,, 11-9, and TimothyKelly for the U.S. District Court in D.C. by a voice vote. Progressive activist groups have been actively opposing Bush and Schiff, alleging that past statements made in blog postsor social media should disqualify them from the bench.

Meanwhile, yesterday President Trump also announced eleven additional judicial nominees, all for district courts. This continues the Administration’s effort to put forward a new batch of judicial nominees each month. Notably, however, the latest set of nominees does not include any appellate nominations, even though a significant number of appellate vacancies remain. As of this morning, there are 18 current and pending vacancies on federal circuit courts without nominees.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 14

by Ed Whelan

2009—In the opening day of questioning of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy tells Sotomayor that her critics “have taken a line out of your speeches and twisted it, in my view, to mean something that you never intended.” Leahy then proceeds to misquote Sotomayor’s notorious “wise Latina” line to eliminate the very elements of the comment that render it controversial: “You said that you ‘would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach wise decisions.’”

Here’s what Sotomayor actually said (in a prepared text that was turned into a law-review article and that she repeated, in substantially similar form, on other occasions):

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Not to be outshone by Leahy in the category of brazen mendacity, Senator Schumer accuses Sotomayor’s critics of “selectively quot[ing]” an April 2009 speech by Sotomayor “to imply that you will improperly consider foreign law and sources in cases before you.” Schumer then selectively misquotes Sotomayor’s speech to obscure her blanket defense of freewheeling resort to foreign and international legal materials in determining the meaning of American constitutional provisions. Sotomayor colludes with Schumer in an effort to bamboozle Republican senators and the public about her views on this controversial issue.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 13

by Ed Whelan

2006— In United States v. McCotry, federal district judge David F. Hamilton invokes “substantive due process” to suppress evidence of marijuana and crack cocaine found in the apartment of a criminal defendant, Tamica Hollingsworth, charged with possessing marijuana and knowingly making her apartment available for the unlawful storage of controlled substances. One year later, a unanimous Seventh Circuit panel will reverse Hamilton’s ruling.

In March 2009, Hamilton, a former ACLU activist, will become President Obama’s first nominee to an appellate seat.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 12

by Ed Whelan

2009—In an interview in the New York Times Magazine, Justice Ginsburg offers this, er, interesting comment why she was “surprised” by the Court’s 1980 decision in Harris v. McRae, which ruled that the Hyde Amendment’s exclusion of nontherapeutic abortions from Medicaid reimbursement was constitutionally permissible:

Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Gee, Justice Ginsburg, would you like to tell us more about your views on those “populations that we don’t want to have too many of”?

2016—Reversing the district court, a divided Tenth Circuit panel, with an Obama appointee in dissent, rules that Utah’s Planned Parenthood affiliate is entitled to a preliminary injunction preventing state agencies from discontinuing passing through federal funds to it. Utah governor Gary Herbert had directed state agencies to discontinue the funding in the aftermath of the Center for Medical Progress’s release of videos depicting various Planned Parenthood affiliates’ ugly involvement in harvesting body parts.

Judge Mary Beck Briscoe’s majority opinion reads much like a Planned Parenthood press release. It parrots the group’s deceptive claim that the videos were “selectively edited,” and refers euphemistically to “the health care provider’s fetal tissue donation program.” (Emphasis added.) Yeah, sure, in all its haggling over the prices of the body parts that its abortions—oops, “health care” services—generate, Planned Parenthood was just engaged in a “donation program.” Briscoe obscurely cites (“App.398”) a Huffington Post article as her support for these mischaracterizations.

Briscoe’s legal reasoning is even worse. She concludes that a jury “is more likely than not” to find that Herbert acted to “punish” the Planned Parenthood affiliate for exercising its constitutional rights (rather than for its supposed complicity in the conduct revealed by the videos). But this theory can’t account for why Herbert took no action against the entity during his first six years as governor and instead acted only after the videos were released. Nor does Briscoe accord the district court’s contrary assessment the deference it is owed under the “abuse of discretion” standard of review.

In October 2016, Tenth Circuit judge Neil M. Gorsuch and three colleagues will dissent from his court’s denial of rehearing en banc on the ground that Briscoe’s opinion departed from “this court’s previously uniform practice” on basic questions “concerning our standard of review and the burden of proof” on claims for preliminary injunctive relief.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 12

by Ed Whelan

2009—In an interview in the New York Times Magazine, Justice Ginsburg offers this, er, interesting comment why she was “surprised” by the Court’s 1980 decision in Harris v. McRae, which ruled that the Hyde Amendment’s exclusion of nontherapeutic abortions from Medicaid reimbursement was constitutionally permissible:

Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Gee, Justice Ginsburg, would you like to tell us more about your views on those “populations that we don’t want to have too many of”?

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 10

by Ed Whelan

2003—Under the Nevada constitution, the legislature cannot raise taxes except by a 2/3 vote of both legislative houses. Or so the constitution says.

But when Nevada governor Kenny Guinn can’t get the legislature to fund his education budget, he runs to the Nevada supreme court for help. By a vote of 6 to 1, the court (in Guinn v. Legislature of the State of Nevada) somehow orders the legislature to proceed “under simple majority rule” to raise taxes. Citing the “impasse that has resulted from the procedural and general constitutional requirement of passing revenue measures by a two-thirds majority,” the court orders that “this procedural requirement must give way to the substantive and specific constitutional mandate to fund public education.” (For more, see this analysis by Eugene Volokh, who describes the ruling as “one of the most appalling judicial decisions I’ve ever seen.”) Three years later, the Nevada supreme court quietly repudiates its ruling.

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—July 9

by Ed Whelan

1987—In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in California v. Ciraolo that a person growing marijuana in his back yard does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy that protects his premises against inspection by police lawfully operating an aircraft at an altitude of 1,000 feet. Exercising the illogic that will earn her an appointment by President Clinton to the Eleventh Circuit in 1993, Florida justice Rosemary Barkett (in State v. Riley) rules that surveillance of a back-yard greenhouse by a helicopter lawfully flying at 400 feet violates the Fourth Amendment because “[s]urveillance by helicopter is particularly likely to unreasonably intrude upon private activities.”

But the relevant question, as the Supreme Court makes clear in reversing Barkett (in Florida v. Riley), is whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the first place, and that question turns, under Ciraolo, on whether “helicopters flying at 400 feet are sufficiently rare in this country to lend substance to [the defendant’s] claim that he reasonably anticipated that his greenhouse would not be subject to observation from that altitude.”