Grilling By Judges? It’s Not Just for Moot Court.

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Legal Practice, Legal Research, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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NSAPerhaps it is because I just spent an enjoyable few weeks judging the Appellate Writing and Advocacy class moot court rounds, that lately I have taken a few detours while doing research. While reading some of the NSA phone data cases, I watched an enlightening and very entertaining appellate argument online. We may wait a long time to see video recordings of U.S. Supreme Court arguments, but the Circuit Courts of Appeal oblige us for some of their cases, which is a bonus for everyone including students.

Several plaintiffs’ lawsuits that challenge the National Security Administration’s phone records surveillance program are making their way through the federal courts. Plaintiffs in these cases have claimed the NSA data grab violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment or that Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the original basis for the surveillance under President George W. Bush, cannot reasonably be interpreted as allowing the program. For students who participate in a moot court competition, or are considering it in the future, video of the oral arguments in these cases provides an opportunity to learn something about the privacy issues and also to see the types of questions and atmosphere an attorney might expect from a federal appellate panel.

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Discerning the Relationship Between Bankruptcy Judges and Article III Judges

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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supreme courtThis summer, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Executive Benefits Insurance Agency v. Arkison that changed how bankruptcy judges, covered under Article I (the Executive Branch) of the Constitution, and district court Article III judges work together. Arkison helped clarify nagging procedural issues between district and bankruptcy courts. At the same time, Arkison verified a significant reduction in the ability of bankruptcy courts to resolve common claims arising in bankruptcy proceedings.

Arkison began as a seemingly conventional case. In 2006, Bellingham Insurance Agency filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Peter Arkison was assigned as the trustee. Mr. Arkison filed a fraudulent conveyance complaint against Bellingham, something not uncommon in a bankruptcy proceeding. In fact, Title 28 specifically grants bankruptcy courts the ability to hear and determine such claims. The bankruptcy court granted summary judgment on Mr. Arkison’s claim.

The black letter language in Title 28 and Supreme Court precedent contradict each other. Read more »

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President Obama’s Executive Orders are Constitutional

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Category: Constitutional Law, Immigration Law, President & Executive Branch, Public
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452px-Barack_Obama_basketball_at_Martha's_VineyardA “head fake” is a basketball move where the player holding the ball feints as if starting a jump shot, but never leaves his feet.  Done correctly, it causes the defender to jump off of their feet in anticipation of the shot, arms flailing helplessly.  Meanwhile, the shooter calmly resets and scores a basket while the defender is harmlessly suspended in the air.

Just over two weeks ago, the mid-term elections supposedly signaled the end of President Obama’s ability to drive the policy agenda in Washington.  Last Thursday night, the nation’s “Basketball Player in Chief” executed a brilliant head fake on immigration policy, disproving this conventional wisdom.  Hints that the President intended to “go big” and use his executive authority to conduct an overhaul of the Immigration and Nationality Act had generated anticipatory paroxysms of outrage by Republicans, who hit the airwaves with charges of constitutional violations and threats of impeachment.  However, the executive actions that the President actually announced last Thursday were more modest in scope than what Latino groups and reform advocates wanted, and far less provocative than congressional Republicans feared.

The executive actions on immigration fall well within the Executive Branch’s established authority to set priorities in the enforcement of Immigration Law and clearly within the constitutional power of the President.  Meanwhile, the President’s Republican critics have already committed themselves to a campaign of outrage and indignation, even though it is increasingly evident that they lack a legal basis to attack the President’s actions or a political strategy to undo them.  The President’s head fake is evident when the details of the Executive Orders are examined. Read more »

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Five Oral Argument Tips

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Seventh Circuit
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This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to intern with the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (thank you, Professor Hammer, for organizing such a rewarding internship program). I would highly recommend this internship to anyone. For me, the internship was truly a once in a lifetime experience since, as many of you may know, I am a major moot court nerd. While interning at the Seventh Circuit, I observed upwards of seventy oral arguments, including a rehearing en banc, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act case, and a death penalty case. During these arguments, I would take notes on attorney conduct, questions from the judges, and the overall atmosphere of the courtroom. I would like to share with you the top five oral arguments tips I learned while at the Seventh Circuit.

(1) Answer the Judge’s Question Directly

Questions are a gift because they allow you to know exactly what is bothering the judge. Too often, people see questions as an interruption or a nuisance and, thus, fail to take full advantage of the opportunity the question presents. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “You’re not answering my question,” and the follow-up phrase, “It’s a simple yes or no answer.” The best way to handle questions is to answer directly—preferably with a yes or no when appropriate—and then say, “Let me explain.” This answers the judge’s question and also signals that further explanation is necessary. When you dodge a judge’s question, you lose credibility and frustrate the judge.  Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

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Category: Business Regulation, Constitutional Law, Corporate Law, First Amendment, Health Care, Public, Religion & Law, U.S. Supreme Court
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the bosses of senateOn October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the second of three blog posts on the presentation.  Readers can find the first post here.  What follows are my prepared remarks on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

The legal issue in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores can be described simply.  Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services requires employers to provide health insurance plans making contraception available to their female employees at no cost.  In the NFIB v. Sebelius decision in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ power to pass the Affordable Care Act as an exercise of its taxing power.  But even if Congress has the power to pass the law, can a for profit corporation nonetheless avoid following the law by arguing that the contraception provisions burden the corporation’s free exercise of religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)?

The rights of the individual shareholders that own the corporation were not at issue.  The law does not act on the individuals, and does not require these human beings to do anything.  The only legal requirement imposed by the law is imposed on the corporate entity.

So what did Congress intend to do when it passed RFRA in 1993?  As I will explain, the Hobby Lobby case presents two opposing views as to what Congress attempted to accomplish by passing that law.  The dissent by Justice Ginsburg argues that the intent of RFRA was to create a statutory remedy for burdens on religious expression that adopted the standard for evaluating First Amendment violations prior to the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case. The majority opinion by Justice Alito argues that by passing RFRA Congress created a statutory remedy that protected more “persons” than the pre-Smith caselaw protected and that granted them greater protections than the pre-Smith caselaw granted. Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part One: McCutcheon v. FEC

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, First Amendment, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court
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Boss_Tweed,_Thomas_NastOn October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and for sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the first of three blog posts on the presentation.  What follows are my prepared remarks on McCutcheon v. FEC.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court considered whether campaign finance laws imposing annual aggregate contribution limits violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.  A plurality of the Court answered “yes,” without reaching the issue of whether limits on contributions to individual candidates also violated the Constitution.  Justice Thomas concurred with the plurality opinion, but would have gone further and overruled the 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld individual contribution limits.  Four Justices dissented.

The plurality opinion in McCutcheon, written by Justice Roberts, reasoned that legal limits on aggregate contributions violate the First Amendment unless the government has a compelling interest to regulate such spending.  But the only possible compelling interest available to the government is the avoidance of quid pro quo bribery, which aggregate contribution limits do nothing to prevent.

The reasoning of the plurality is not a surprise.  In one sense, this reasoning is unobjectionable on the grounds that it is simply a logical application of the rationale adopted by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which struck down campaign finance laws prohibiting independent expenditures by corporations and unions.  The problem is that Citizens United was a sharp and unjustified break with prior precedent. Read more »

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SCOTUS Arguments Can Become “Must-See Television”

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CaptureThe United States Supreme Court prohibits cameras during its oral arguments, although each argument is audio-recorded. But, as Last Week Tonight host John Oliver points out, audio recording makes television coverage of those arguments “basically unwatchable” because television must present its coverage of the arguments by using artist renderings of the proceedings with audio clips.

Yet, as Oliver also points out, what happens at the United States Supreme Court is important and the public should pay attention. Oliver has a solution: the real dogs, fake paws Supreme Court. (Warning: some language is Not Safe For Work (NSFW).) Read more »

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Justice Ginsburg on Empowering Oral Argument

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Legal Practice, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Justice GinsburgAn interview with Justice Ginsburg appears in the October issue of Elle magazine.  In the article, Justice Ginsburg describes her first oral argument before the United States Supreme Court.  Any advocate could relate to her story:

I had, I think, 12 minutes, or something like that, of argument.  I was very nervous.  In those days, the court sat from 10 to 12, and 1 to 3.  It was an afternoon argument.  I didn’t dare eat lunch.  There were many butterflies in my stomach.  I had a very well-prepared opening sentence I had memorized.  Looking at them, I thought, I’m talking to the most important court in the land, and they have to listen to me and that’s my captive audience.

Justice Ginsburg argued on behalf of Sharon Frontiero in Frontiero v. Richardson.  In that case the Court held that the United States military could not differentiate on the basis of gender in how it provides benefits to service members’ families.

In the interview, Justice Ginsburg recounts that as she spoke before the Court during oral argument her confidence grew:

I felt a sense of empowerment because I knew so much more about the case, the issue, than they did.  So I relied on myself as kind of a teacher to get them to think about gender.

 

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Wisconsin to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

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Category: Civil Rights, Human Rights, Public, Seventh Circuit, U.S. Supreme Court, Western District of Wisconsin
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wedding cakeOn Monday, the United States Supreme Court quietly denied certiorari on cases from three federal courts of appeals (the 4th Circuit, the 7th Circuit, and the 10th Circuit) that found bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The Court’s denial leaves those federal decisions standing, thus making same-sex marriage legal in five states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The decision is also likely to mean that the other states covered by those federal appellate court districts—Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming—will also allow same-sex marriage. Or at least, they can’t ban it.

Most surprising to many SCOTUS observers was that the Court made no comment about its decision to deny certiorari. Read more »

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Third Circuit Rules on Use of GPS Technology

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Category: Federal Criminal Law & Process, Public
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This short post is not the promised second part of my intended series on what the Seventh Circuit did during your summer vacation. But, it may interest those of you who follow developments in the criminal law.   In a much-anticipated decision with parallels to United States v. Brown, 744 F.3d 474, 476 (7th Cir. 2014), the en banc Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held today that pre-Jones warrantless use of GPS to collect data about a suspect did not require suppression of the GPS-evidence under the exclusionary rule.  The case is United States v. Katzin, No. 12-2548 (3d Cir. Oct. 1, 2014).

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Thoughts on Mwani v. Al Qaeda

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, International Law & Diplomacy, Public
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A federal magistrate judge issued a noteworthy decision yesterday in Mwani v. Al Qaeda—a case filed several years ago by victims of the 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Six Kenyan nationals alleged jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and asserted claims for wrongful death, assault, and battery. The court found Al Qaeda liable on two of the claims and awarded compensatory and punitive damages.

Two aspects of the decision seem significant. First, the court reaffirmed a prior holding that jurisdiction was appropriate even under the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which established that ATS jurisdiction is available only for claims that “touch and concern the territory of the United States” with “sufficient force” to displace the presumption against the extraterritorial application of U.S. law. The magistrate judge concluded that Mwani satisfied Kiobel because Al Qaeda carried out part of the planning within the United States and directed the attack against the U.S. Embassy and its employees. It’s fairly common for an ATS case not to survive Kiobel these days, but the conclusion here seems reasonable. Read more »

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7th Circuit Affirms District Court Ruling Invalidating Wisconsin’s Marriage Amendment

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Public, Seventh Circuit, Western District of Wisconsin
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same sex hand holdingJudge Richard Posner minces no words. In an opinion dated September 4, Judge Posner wrote for a unanimous 7th Circuit panel, affirming the Wisconsin district court’s decision invalidating Wisconsin’s so-called marriage amendment. (I reviewed the district court decision here.) Wisconsin’s case—Wolf v. Walker—was heard with its equivalent from Indiana—Baskin v. Bogan—and both states saw their prohibitions on same-sex marriage crumble.

The court confines its analysis to equal protection, avoiding the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process argument (marriage as a fundamental right) that both sides pressed. As an equal protection analysis, the court sets up the legal question as one that requires heightened scrutiny because, as the court determined, sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic rather than a choice (and, Judge Posner added, “[w]isely, neither Indiana nor Wisconsin argues otherwise” (*9)).

Because heightened scrutiny applied, the state needed to provide an important state interest for treating same-sex couples differently when it came to marriage, and the discriminatory means chosen (denying same-sex couples the right to marry in Wisconsin and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that sanction such unions) must be substantially related to achieving that important state interest. In true Posnerian style, Judge Posner discussed the equal protection analysis in terms of costs and benefits. (See **4-7.) That is, “in a same-sex marriage case the issue is not whether heterosexual marriage is a socially beneficial institution but whether the benefits to the state from discriminating against same-sex couples clearly outweigh the harms that this discrimination imposes” (*6).

The court found no important state interest to satisfy the heightened scrutiny analysis. As Judge Posner noted, “[T]he only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously” (*7). In fact, the court found none of the arguments proffered by either state as rational, much less serving important state interests. “The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subject to heightened scrutiny . . .” (*8). Because the court found an equal protection violation (whether it used heightened scrutiny or rational basis analysis), the court avoided the due process argument. Read more »

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