New Marquette Lawyer Spotlights the Role of Law Clerks — and Much More

Posted by:
Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

Marquette LawyerJudicial assistants or junior judges? That was the key question at a recent gathering at Marquette Law School of experts on the role of law clerks who work for judges in many courts, including U.S. Supreme Court justices. The Fall 2015 Marquette Lawyer magazine highlights excerpts from the presentations at that conference in a cover story that sheds light on the important but rarely spotlighted role of clerks (the full symposium is available in the Law Review).

Shedding light is also a prime goal of several other pieces in the new magazine.

Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law School Poll, examines the muted level of support that Gov. Scott Walker received from Wisconsin voters during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Weak support from independent voters receives particular attention from Franklin in his piece, “Downtown on the Home Front.”

Joseph A. Ranney, Marquette Law School’s Adrian P. Schoone Visiting Fellow, is working on a book about the role that states have played in the evolution of American law. In several pieces posted on the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog and printed in the new magazine, Ranney sheds light on the Badger state’s legal past, describing “Wisconsin’s Legal Giants.” Read more »

Print Friendly



Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: King v. Burwell

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Health Care, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

Obama_signs_health_care-20100323On October 5, I participated in an event at the Marquette University Law School entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Cato Institute Scholar Ilya Shapiro.  The event was sponsored by the Law School Chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  A previous post contained my remarks on Obergefell v. Hodges (the “Gay Marriage case”).  What follows are my prepared remarks on King v. Burwell (the “Obamacare case”).

The issue in this case was whether the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits are available in States that have a federal health insurance exchange rather than a state exchange. In Section 36A, the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obamacare”) states that tax credits “shall be allowed” for any “applicable taxpayer.” Then, in Section 36B, the Act provides that the amount of the tax credit depends in part on whether the taxpayer has enrolled in an insurance plan through “an Exchange established by the State.” (emphasis added).

In King v. Burwell, the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, held that Section 36B allows tax credits to be used for insurance purchased on any exchange created under the Act, including insurance purchased on a federal exchange.

I want to be clear.  I make the following statement with the intent to be as objective and non-partisan as possible.  This litigation was nothing more than a post hoc attack on the Affordable Care Act, using one isolated provision of the law read out of context in order to arrive at a nonsensical meaning, which then used a manufactured theory of legislative intent – a theory without a shred of contemporaneous support in the legislative history – in a desperate attempt to prop up the nonsensical meaning.

The background of how this case arose is illuminating. Read more »

Print Friendly



Supreme Court Roundup Part One: Obergefell v. Hodges

Posted by:
Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

b599a34c0d512e42e3f5277e172bbebcd745dd98Today marks the beginning of the United States Supreme Court’s 2015-2016 Term, and coincidentally it also marked my participation in an annual event at the Marquette University Law School entitled “Supreme Court Roundup.”  Along with Cato Institute Scholar and Supreme Court expert Ilya Shapiro, I was invited by the Law School Chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society to share my perspective on three cases from the Supreme Court’s docket last year.  The cases we discussed included Obergefell v. Hodges (the “Gay Marriage case”), King v. Burwell (the “Obamacare case”) and Yates v. United States (the “fish case”).  Thanks to the law students for the invitation and a special thank you to Mr. Shapiro for his participation.  What follows are my prepared remarks on the Obergefell case.

I call this case “Thurgood Marshall’s Revenge.”

In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court held that state laws denying marriage licenses to same sex couples violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell is notable for what it does not talk about. The majority opinion does not rely upon the theory that marriage is a fundamental right and that therefore state laws infringing upon the right to marriage must be subjected to strict scrutiny. Nor does the majority opinion rely upon the theory that homosexuals are a suspect class, thereby subjecting state laws that treat homosexuals different than heterosexuals to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

The methods by which the Court has traditionally determined whether to apply heightened standards of review to legislative acts – strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, heightened rational review – are what are known as “heuristic devices.” These are artificial aids to problem solving. The Constitution does not use the phrases “strict scrutiny” or “suspect class,” but by creating artificial rules that group cases under these headings, the Supreme Court has developed a methodology for defining the outer boundaries of state policing over individual freedom.

Instead of using the Obergefell case as an opportunity to develop and clarify how the concepts of strict scrutiny and suspect class inform the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, the majority opinion simply ignores these heuristic devices altogether. In doing so, the majority seems to be belatedly embracing the view of Justice Thurgood Marshall in a 1973 dissenting opinion. Read more »

Print Friendly



Access to Justice in a Civil Context

Posted by:
Category: Federal Civil Litigation, Human Rights, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Profession, Pro Bono, Public, Wisconsin Civil Litigation
Leave a Comment »

ATJ-reportIndigent defendants in criminal cases, and select civil matters (i.e., child in need of protective services petitions, termination of parental rights petitions, Chapter 51 petitions, and Chapter 980 petitions), are entitled to the appointment of counsel when they cannot afford representation. Either the state public defender’s office represents the individual, or an attorney is appointed by the county. It is imperative that individuals facing some form of deprivation of their individual liberty and freedom, as in the aforementioned scenarios, be represented.

But, what happens in other types of civil matters, where there is no right to counsel? What happens when a person or family faces a legal issue that will affect their rights, health, safety, economic security, and overall well-being? All people, regardless of socioeconomic status, should have access to the justice system. While some individuals may be able to handle a matter pro se, meaningful legal assistance or full representation is often needed to assist individuals in asserting and defending their rights.

The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission (WATJC) is one entity working toward “improving the administration of justice by supporting civil legal services to those who cannot afford them”. In 2011, Wisconsin became one of only four states nationally, and the only state in the Midwest, that failed to provide any state funding for civil legal services. The 2015-2017 budget appropriates $500,000 per year of the biennium for civil legal aid service to abuse victims. This sum is well below the other neighboring states. Minnesota, for example, appropriated over 12 million dollars per year of its biennium for civil legal services. According to WATJC, the average budget for indigent civil legal services in other Midwestern states is $7.6 million. While Wisconsin falls well below that average, it is at least an improvement that the current state budget appropriates some funding, albeit for a very specific class of litigants.

There are a variety of agencies that offer legal assistance and full-representation to indigent clients in civil matters. From my experience working at Centro Legal, I am aware that many more people were in need of assistance than that organization had the capacity to handle. While I cannot speak for other agencies, my best guess is that they also have more work than they can take on, and that as a result many people are turned away because there just isn’t the capacity to represent them. There are notable efforts to coordinate volunteer attorneys and to help people be matched with an attorney that would be willing to take on a case for a reduced rate. With low levels of funding from the state to support agencies already offering civil representation, the difference must be made up somehow. Whether it is volunteering to represent someone, participating as a volunteer at one of the several clinics offering brief legal advice, offering a reduced rate in certain circumstances, or offering support to practitioners that incorporate as a non-profit and offer reduced rates for indigent or modest means clients, all lawyers have a role to play in ensuring that access to justice and the legal system is not limited by one’s socioeconomic status. We all have a stake in improving access to civil legal service for people who cannot afford an attorney.

Print Friendly



Revisiting the Treatment of Unpaid Internships Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

Posted by:
Category: Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

The extent to which the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies to internships and other similar training programs was one of the cutting edge legal issues argued during last spring’s Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition.  In the months since the Jenkins Competition concluded, both the Second Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit have issued rulings that clarify the legal issues addressed in the Jenkins Competition.  The treatment of interns under the Fair Labor Standards Act is once again making news.

The fictitious respondent in the Jenkins Competition was a law student who participated in an unpaid internship at a large, for-profit law firm.  As part of this program, the student primarily worked on pro bono matters under the supervision of a senior attorney.  The student was also able to participate in a mock trial and attend weekly training lunches.  However, the student also volunteered to work on a number of projects that were not attached to any pro bono cases or training.  They were more of an administrative or secretarial nature.  After an unceremonious dismissal from the program (which was the basis for another claim in the case), the law student brought a suit against the firm, claiming that she was owed compensation for the work she did under her summer internship program because she qualified as an employee under the FLSA.  The law firm, as one would expect, challenged this assertion, claiming that the student fell under the “trainee” exception carved out by the Supreme Court in Walling v. Portland Terminal Co. (1947).

The Court in Walling clearly meant to provide an opportunity for individuals to be trained without pay by a for-profit business in an industry the individual hoped to enter later.  In its ruling, the Court ruled that the FLSA’s definition of an employee as someone who is “suffer[ed] or permit[ed] to work” was “obviously not intended to stamp all [working] persons as employees.”  The Court saw the benefit of internship programs for both those seeking to be trained as well as the businesses seeking to develop their future workforce; classifying all such individuals as employees under the FLSA, and thus requiring payment, would limit training opportunities and hurt both groups.  The problem with the Court’s ruling in Walling is that it did not establish a clear test for determining whether an individual is an intern or whether she is an employee covered by the protections in the FLSA. Read more »

Print Friendly



New Article on Federal Courts and Customary International Law

Posted by:
Category: Federal Civil Litigation, Federal Law & Legal System, International Law & Diplomacy, Public
Leave a Comment »

I just posted a draft of a new article that studies citations in published judicial opinions to evaluate how federal courts go about ascertaining customary international law. For those interested, it’s forthcoming in the Iowa Law Review and available here.

Special thanks to Alex DeGuire and Ami Regele for excellent research assistance.

Print Friendly



The Problem with Justice Thomas’s Dignity Argument

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

Justice Thomas, in his fervent dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate same-sex marriage bans, has some interesting things to say about the concept of dignity. His view of human dignity is that it is innate and therefore inalienable: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them.”

The punchline, of course, is that the majority’s reasoning, which relies heavily on a Constitutional reading that sees dignity at the heart of liberty and the Due Process Clause, is flawed – gays and lesbians are not deprived of dignity (and therefore liberty) by their inability to marry, because “the government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.” Essentially, Justice Thomas says, as long as the state leaves me alone, my liberty and dignity are intact.

Justice Thomas’s invocation of slavery and internment to illustrate his qualms about the dignity argument arguably undermines the moral force of his point. Moreover, it rests on a narrow and theoretical concept of dignity.   Read more »

Print Friendly



Rodriguez v. United States: Supreme Court Says No to Prolonged Traffic Stops

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

Last week, the Supreme Court decided City of Los Angeles v. Patel, the fourth and final of its search-and-seizure cases this term. In Patel, the Court overturned a city ordinance requiring hotel operators to share information about their guests with the police.

Patel confirmed this as a good term for Fourth Amendment rights, joining Grady v. North Carolina (GPS tracking of sex offender counted as search for Fourth-Amendment purposes) and Rodriguez v. United States (police improperly extended traffic stop to conduct dog sniff of car). Less favorable, though, was Heien v. North Carolina (no suppression of evidence obtained after traffic stop that was based on officer’s reasonable mistake of law).

The remainder of this post will focus on Rodriguez, which strikes me as the most interesting of the Fourth-Amendment series. Broadly speaking, at issue was the extent to which the police can go on a fishing expedition when they pull over a driver for a traffic violation.   Read more »

Print Friendly



Ohio v. Clark: The Supreme Court’s Latest Pronouncement on the Confrontation Clause

Posted by:
Category: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

By guaranteeing criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers, the Sixth Amendment limits the ability of the government to use hearsay evidence against defendants at trial. Importantly, though, the Confrontation Clause only limits the use of statements that are “testimonial” in nature. A pair of Supreme Court cases from 2006 clarified what makes a statement testimonial, but left an important question unanswered. Last week, the Court finally provided an answer (sort of) in Ohio v. Clark.

Clark featured an unusually unsympathetic defendant who was convicted of physically abusing his girlfriend’s two very young children.   Read more »

Print Friendly



ObamaCare Upheld . . . Again

Posted by:
Category: Health Care, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
1 Comment »

1024px-William_Hogarth_004Today the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in the widely anticipated case of King v. Burwell, ruling that the language of the statute authorizes tax credits for individuals who use health insurance exchanges set up by the federal government as opposed to the states.  The result of the ruling is that the Affordable Care Act continues to operate and that millions of previously uninsured Americans will continue to receive health insurance under ObamaCare.  Many observers had predicted an adverse ruling from the Court, and a period of uncertainty (if not chaos) if the use of federal health insurance exchanges was struck down.  Today’s ruling by the Court means that there will be no disruption in the workings of the Affordable Care Act.  Coupled with this week’s passage of “fast track authority” for a Pacific trade bill, the ruling also cements a record of legislative accomplishment for President Obama that will add to his legacy.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Court voted 6-3 in favor of the Administration’s proffered reading of the statute.  Some observers had predicted a narrower margin.  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority.  The Chief Justice’s opinion also was crucial in upholding the Affordable Care Act in the NFIB v. Sebelius case in 2012, and it therefore appears that future historians will inevitably evaluate John Roberts’ career as Chief Justice in light of his prominent role in the survival of ObamaCare. Read more »

Print Friendly



Predicting King v. Burwell: This Term’s Most Consequential SCOTUS Case

Posted by:
Category: Health Care, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
1 Comment »

 

I am just going to come out and say it:  I have been a long-time proponent of universal, single-payer style heath care for our nation. I am a firm believer that private insurance companies should play no role whatsoever in the provision of health insurance for Americans. It is for this reason that I was so dismayed when President Obama proposed a health care reform regime with the existing private health insurance infrastructure (and Medicaid) as its foundation. I was even among those political wonks who wanted Congress to vote down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) once it became apparent that the ACA exchanges were not going to offer a “public option” to exchange participants. In the years since the law’s passage, I have become an ardent supporter of the law because it is moving our nation in the direction of universal health insurance coverage.

As a law student and constitutional law scholar, I am surprised that the Supreme Court opted to take King on appeal. By the time SCOTUS granted certiorari, the circuit split had been resolved by an en banc ruling of the DC Circuit. What is more troubling is that the petitioners do not appear, by any objective standard, to have standing to bring this suit. Standing is a concept that all first year law students are well acquainted with; it is equally obvious that the petitioners have suffered no judicially cognizable injury by operation of the IRS regulation interpreting the exchange subsidies as applicable to state-run and federally-run insurance exchanges. I have read the petitioners’ standing argument — it is so ridiculous that it does not bear recital here.

Even if one is able to get past the standing issue, an interpretation of the challenged statutory language that petitioners claim limits the availability of subsides to state-run insurance exchanges runs contrary to the canons of statutory interpretation. A comprehensive law that regulates the health insurance system of an entire nation and affects a good portion of our nation’s economy should not hinge on the meaning of a term that is ambiguous in isolation, but definite and decisive when taken in the context of the statute. The term “state,” as used in the ACA, has a broad meaning that encompasses “state” in the scholarly sense of a nation-state and the customized meaning of “state” as a sub-national unit of government.

There are many moral and political arguments that one can make in favor of upholding the decisions of the DC and Fourth Circuits. As a law student writing from a legal perspective, I put these arguments to the side. What is unfortunate for the four (or more) members of the Supreme Court who voted to take up this silly challenge is that the law (and precedent) is not on their side. I predict that the Supreme Court will uphold the decisions of the DC and Fourth Circuits on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice Roberts joining the court’s four moderate justices.

Print Friendly



Elonis v. United States: SCOTUS Again Adopts Narrowing Construction of Criminal Statute

Posted by:
Category: Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
Leave a Comment »

As I noted in my post last week, the Supreme Court has a variety of interpretive tools at its disposal to rein in the ever-expanding reach of federal criminal law. Right on cue, the Court demonstrated the use of one of these tools this week in Elonis v. United States.

Elonis, a self-styled rapper, posted a variety of lyrics with violent themes on his Facebook page. Some of these lyrics related to his wife, some to coworkers, and some to law-enforcement personnel, among others. Elonis was eventually convicted under 18 U.S.C. §875(c), which prohibits individuals from transmitting in interstate commerce “any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.”

The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that Elonis’s jury had been improperly instructed.   Read more »

Print Friendly