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Last Pre-Argument Thoughts on King v. Burwell

I’ll have more to say after we see the transcript on Wednesday (evidently we will not get same-day audio of the argument), but beforehand I thought I’d offer some final pre-game observations.

1.  We’ll see if any of the Justices ask about standing.  Thus far, there is no sign that any are interested.

2.  To me, the problem in the case is that neither side’s story is compelling.  Petitioners are arguing that Congress intended that subsidies would be available only on state exchanges.  I think that is implausible.  Respondents are arguing that “established by the State” is ambiguous.  That is also not plausible.

Instead, I think what we have is a text that is unambiguous and erroneous.  What is the right response to that?  Some errors of this type (say, a typo that gives the wrong date) would not be followed.  Others would not be followed because of some sort of constitutional avoidance doctrine.  This case falls into neither of these categories.  You could say something like “if this was an error, then Congress must usually be held to the mistake to ensure better drafting in the future.” (The subtext here would be “Don’t use reconciliation to enact major legislation.”)  Or you could say, “if there is an error then it should be disregarded, but the burden is on those alleging that there is an error to prove that there is.”  Maybe the respondents cannot meet that burden here.  These are the right questions, though the answer is not so clear.

3.  I’ll be curious to see if the Justices focuses on remedial questions.  If you want to rule for petitioners, you may want to reassure the uncertain that such a decision will not blow up Obamacare.  Some states will create their own exchanges in response.  Others could (as I have suggested elsewhere) try just delegating their exchange responsibilities to the federal exchange.  The Court could delay the application of its order for, say, six months to avoid chaos when subsidies are terminated in many states.  If Kennedy and the Chief Justice ask a lot about this, then they would suggest to me that they will go against the Gov’t.

New Podcast: The Week in Health Law (TWIHL)

Nicolas Terry and I are starting a health law podcast, The Week in Health Law, and the first two episodes are posted here. We were honored to have Nicole Huberfeld on as our first guest. Check it out on iTunes, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.

Next week we’ll be talking with Abigail Moncrieff the day after King v. Burwell oral arguments. Later guests this month include Lindsay F. Wiley (on wellness programs) and Erin C. Fuse Brown (on health costs).

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Net Neutrality

Today the FCC voted to classify the Internet as a public utility and enforce net neutrality.  Kudos to Tim Wu (disclosure–I’ve known Tim for a long time).  Rarely has an academic had such a significant impact on public policy.  Congress may tinker with the regulatory framework in the coming years, but I suspect that the principle of net neutrality will remain a part of that framework.

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Barbara Babcock reviews new book on Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Professor Barbara Babcock

Professor Barbara Babcock

Over at SCOTUSblog, Standford Law Professor Emerita Barbara Babcock has a book review of Scott Dodson’s new The Legacy of Ruth Bader GinsburgCambridge University Press, 2015 (336 pp., cloth, $29.99), which he edited.

Babcock’s review is titled “Law Professor, Feminist, and Jurist” and draws on some of her own history with RBG.

As you may recall, in an earlier post on this blog Danielle Citron also wrote about Justice Ginsburg and the collection of essays in the Dodson volume.

In case you missed it, take a look at Gail Collins’ recent column in the New York Times titled “The Unsinkable R.B.G.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I also serve as the book editor for SCOTUSblog.)

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 62, Issue 2

Volume 62, Issue 2 (February 2015)
Articles

Judging Opportunity Lost: Assessing the Viability of Race-Based Affirmative Action After Fisher v. University of Texas Mario L. Barnes, Erwin Chemerinsky & Angela Onwuachi-Willig 272
Enforcing Rights Nancy Leong & Aaron Belzer 306
Milliken, Meredith, and Metropolitan Segregation Myron Orfield 364

 

Comments

David’s Sling: How to Give Copyright Owners a Practical Way to Pursue Small Claims Jeffrey Bils 464
Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences Jordan Cunnings 510
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There Are Many Fish in the Sea

For those of you who enjoy statutory interpretation, the Supreme Court’s long-awaited “discarded fish” opinion came out this morning.  Justice Kagan’s dissent probably marks the first Supreme Court reference to Mad Libs.

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FAN 49 (First Amendment News) ACLU “2015 Workplan” sets out narrow range of First Amendment Activities

When the ACLU was founded in 1920, its focus was on freedom of speech. — Wikipedia 

His expansive reading of civil liberties was arguably [Roger] Baldwin’s greatest contribution to American thought and practice.  It helped to redefine American liberalism and democracy and was propounded in the very period when others subscribed to a much narrower interpretation of First Amendment rights. — Robert Cottrell, Roger Nash Baldwin & the American Civil Liberties Union (2000)

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A few weeks ago I received the ACLU’s “2015 Workplan: An Urgent Plan to Protect our Rights.” The eight-page, single-spaced document was accompanied two-page letter from ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and a contribution form. The Workplan began: “At the beginning of each year, ACLU attorneys and advocates construct a Workplan outlining the major civil liberties battles we are facing. I am proud to share this year’s plan with you.” In that regard he added: “Your passion, energy and financial support are crucial to our ability to meet the challenges ahead and change the lives of millions whose civil liberties are in jeopardy.”

Walter Nelles was the co-founder and first chief legal counsel of the National Civil Liberties Bureau and its successor, the American Civil Liberties Union. He was an ardent defender of free speech rights. His First Amendment cases included Gitlow v. New York (1925) and Whitney v. California (1927).

Anthony Romero

Anthony Romero

As an ACLU supporter and one who has had the honor of writing several ACLU briefs over the years, I read the 2015 Workplan with great interest. As I read the eight-page document I was surprised to find nothing more than a passing reference to the First Amendment — a mainstay of the ACLU since its founding. There was no highlighted listing of free speech rights in the categories of activities to be protected. The following categories and subcategories were listed in the 2015 Workplan:

1.) Reproductive rights
2.) Discrimination Against Women (Hobby Lobby)
3.)  Anti-Choice Legislation
4.) Freedom to Marry
5.) Privacy & Due Process Rights re Technology
6.) Government Surveillance (4th Amend., Clapper v. Amnesty)*
7.) Third Party Doctrine (expectation of privacy)
8.)  Cell Phone Privacy & GPS Tracking (US v. Jones)
9.) Voter IDs
10.) Police Misconduct
11.)  Mass Incarceration
Harriet Pilpel (1911-1991), Nanette Dembitz (1913-1989), and Nancy F. Wechsler (1916-2009) — Among others places, you will find their names on the cover of the ACLU amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court on September 9, 1963 in New York Times, Co. v. Sullivan.
* The only reference to free speech freedoms came in connection with government surveillance: “[T]he bulk collection of American’s call records . . . [is] an infringement of the twin First Amendment liberties of free association and free expression.” (emphasis added)
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) — ACLU lawyer Allen Brown argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were ACLU lawyers Norman Dorsen, Melvin L. Wulf, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Bernard A. Berkman.

On February 2, 2015 I sent an e-mail to Mr. Romero. I expressed my concerns re the virtual absence of any real and comprehensive commitment to securing First Amendment free expression rights in any variety of areas beyond the one stated. I just heard back from his office this past Monday, this after having sent a follow-up e-mail earlier that day. I was informed that Mr. Romero “intends to respond.”

Liberty in America is better off because of Al Bendich (1929-2015) and what he did as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. He gave free speech life to poetry and lawful voice to comedy . . . and more. (January 7, 2015)

I welcome Mr. Romero’s response, if only to explain why protecting our First Amendment freedoms did not receive greater and more expanded attention in the national ACLU’s 2015 Workplan, the one sent out for fundraising purposes. I will post his response once it arrives.

Update: See Howard Wasserman, “Declaring Victory?, PrawfsBlawg, Fe. 26, 2015.

Invitation to Anthony Romero re a Q&A on the First Amendment 

Beyond his response, I extend a cordial invitation to Anthony Romero to do Question & Answer segment with me — much like the ones I have done with everyone from Professor Laurence Tribe to Judge Richard Posner — related to the ACLU and its views on protecting free expression rights under the First Amendment. I am sure our readers would have great interest in hearing from him. 

______________________________________________________________________________

 THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET Read More

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Committees in the Constitutional Convention

In reading David Stewart’s excellent new book on James Madison, I was surprised to learn that we have no idea why certain delegates to the Constitutional Convention served on some of the ad-hoc committees and not others. This fact is tucked into the Acknowledgements, which shows why should you read everything in a book (including endnotes) carefully.

Madison’s Notes simply name the people who serve on a given committee without explaining the process used to select the members.  Maybe this was a purely voluntary process, but maybe with some diligence another pattern can be discovered if one examines all of the committee assignments.

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FAN 48.1 (First Amendment News) Court Denies Cert in Two First Amendment Cases

 The Court’s latest order list was just made public. In it the Court denied cert. in Kagan v. City of New Orleans (re tour-guide licensing requirements) and in Clayton v. Niska (re a state statute banning false political speech).

  The Court is expected to hand down opinions tomorrow and Wednesday in one or more argued cases. 

 THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET

Review Granted

  1. Elonis v. United States (argued on 12-1-14)
  2. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (argued 1-20-15)
  3. Reed v. Town of Gilbert (argued on 1-12-15)
  4. Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (license plate case) (to be argued 3-23-15)

Pending Petitions

  1. Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (license plate case)
  2. Thayer v. City of Worcester
  3. The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York (see Becket Fund amicus brief of Michael McConnell)
  4. Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District (re Mary Beth Tinker amicus brief)
  5. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al.
  6. ProtectMarriage.com-Yes on 8 v. Bowen
  7. Apel v. United States (Erwin Chemerinsky, counsel of record)

Review Denied

  1. Kagan v. City of New Orleans
  2. Clayton v. Niska
  3. Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York 
  4. City of Indianapolis, Indiana v. Annex Books, Inc.
  5. Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. v. United States 
  6. Mehanna v. United States
  7. Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al  v. Federal Election Commission
  8. Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell
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What Do Contract Formalities Do?

In 1941, Lon Fuller published his classic Consideration and Form. Among other things, the article articulated three famous functional claims for consideration: it evidences bargains, channels parties’ behavior, and cautions signers by “check[ing] against inconsiderate action,” and “induc[ing] the circumspective frame of mind appropriate in one pledging his future.”  How? By signaling to prospective signers of contracts that the law was drawing near.  Thus, he hypothesized that seals (“symbol[s] in the popular mind of legalism and weightiness”), the “requirement of a writing,” “attestation, notarization,” and recitals of consideration all induce individuals to feel and behave in a more committed way to the underlying term supported by the formal recitation.

I’ve been studying what individuals think about contract formalities in a series of papers.  That work, combined with other recent scholarship about contracting behavior, made me skeptical that contract language reciting obligation — or disclaiming it — had the straightforward effects that Fuller proposed.  So, with Zev Eigen (Northwestern/visiting Yale), I decided to test Fuller’s foundational & empirical intuition.  In A Fuller Understanding of Contractual Commitment, Zev and I suggest that the conventional account is unrealistic:

“Contract recitals are ubiquitous. Yet, we have a thin understanding of how individuals behave with respect to these doctrinally important relics. Most jurists follow Lon Fuller in concluding that when read, contract recitals accomplish their purpose: to caution against inconsiderate contractual obligation. Notwithstanding the foundational role that this assumption has played in doctrinal and theoretical debates, it has not been tested. This Article offers what we believe to be the first experimental evidence of the effects of formal recitals of contract obligation — and, importantly too, disclaimers of contractual obligation — on individual behavior. In a series of online experiments, we found that participants were less likely to back out of an agreement, forgoing personal gain, when they were endowed with a small extra sum of money at the time of contracting, and when they acknowledged that they were not forming a contract. They were more likely to back out of their original commitment when their agreeing was accompanied by a recital of consideration, and in a control condition in which the natural consideration of bargained-for exchange prevailed. Younger, male respondents were generally more likely to back out of their agreements across all conditions than were women and older participants. The reported experimental results suggest both the descriptive weakness of theorized accounts of private control over contract enforceability and the general value of experimental work about contracting behavior.”
The paper suggests that to the extent that we think formal devices permitting private party control over enforceability are useful, we might want to think carefully about developing ones that signal “law” more clearly to 21st century eyes.  I’d love to get your comments — the paper is still in draft form.