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FAN 130 (First Amendment News) “Porn Panic” Prompts Pushback

There is nothing new about the assault on sexual content.  What is new is the rubric of public health concerns over sex trafficking and child safety to justify broad restrictions on sexual content, private censorship of sexual expression, and citing health and safety of sex workers to justify onerous restrictions on producers and performers.

That is how the Free Expression Network described a recent panel discussion it hosted, one titled  “The Assault on Sexual Expression.” The panel was part of an October 17, 2016 program held in Washington, D.C. It was moderated by Ricci Levy (President of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation); the panelists were Larry Walters (partner, Walters Law Group), David Horowitz (Executive Director, Media Coalition), and Joan Bertin (Executive Director, National Coalition Against Censorship).

Item: Do you remember the group named Morality in the Media? In keeping with the times, in 2015 the group changed its name to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. The group’s mission: “Confronting sexual exploitation.” Apparently, morality has taken a backseat to concerns such as:

unknownConsider also this item from the Republican Platform for 2016: “The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography, which is closely linked to human trafficking.”

It all sounds so liberal, so modern, and so unobjectionable. Exit the old Anthony Comstock mindset, enter the new pro women, pro children, and pro health mindset. But just as the anti-pornography movement hoists its new flag,  opposition to it is mounting in psychological and legal quarters.

Enter Lawrence Walters  and Dr. Marty Klein — a seasoned First Amendment lawyer and certified sex therapist.

War on porn over?

First, Mr. Walters with these exclusive statements to FAN: “For decades, the “War on Porn” was justified on the grounds that viewing explicit material is immoral, and masturbation is a sin. As time passed, and erotica became mainstreamed, these hackneyed claims wore thin. Now, all the top celebrities have a sex tape, the Adult Video News Awards are broadcast on Showtime, and porn sites get more visitors than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter, combined. Moral acceptability of porn is rising, particularly among women who now make up 24% of the largest porn site users. The federal government has essentially given up on prosecuting obscenity prosecutions, with no new cases being filed since President Obama took office. In 2014, thinkprogress.com declared that the War on Porn was over, and the censors had lost.”

Larry Walters

Larry Walters

“The prior justifications for opposing sexually explicit media,” he added, “needed a 21st Century face lift if they were to survive. Thus was born the idea of porn as a ‘public health crisis.’ Health and fitness is all the rage, so the new battle cry had a nice ring to it. To give the campaign a boost, ‘experts’ began claiming that porn was also “addictive”, and generated harmful “erototoxins” that changed the chemical makeup of the brain. Naturally, Congress held hearings to explore this new flavor of porn panic.”

“One issue that unites virtually all lawmakers,” argues Mr. Walters, “is the fight against sex trafficking. In overwhelming majority votes, the House and Senate passed the controversial SAVE Act in 2015, imposing potential life imprisonment on anyone who advertises acts of sex trafficking. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has recently called upon the Justice Department to be more proactive in enforcing the law. Now sex trafficking is being used as another justification for the renewed War on Porn? A recent, comprehensive report funded by the DOJ concluded that pornography contributes to sex trafficking. The report, entitled; Identifying Effective Counter-Trafficking Programs and Practices in the U.S.: Legislative, Legal, and Public Opinion Strategies that Work, concludes that consumption of sexually explicit media ‘contributed to a more laisse-faire attitude toward [sex trafficking].'”

In sum, “labeling pornography as a public health crisis, addictive, and supportive of sex trafficking, fits the modern agenda. It’s a far cry from claiming that looking at nudie mags is immoral.”

Porn & anti-social behavior

51shpu5r-jl-_sx313_bo1204203200_Next, there is Dr. Marty Klein, author of a just-published book titled His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic with Honest Talk About Sex (Praeger, 2016). Here are a few items of interest from the book:

  • “Does porn lead to anti-social outcomes? Since free, high-quality porn flooded America 16 years ago, the rates of sexual violence, child molestation, and divorce [in the United States] have declined.”
  • “The overwhelming majority of Internet porn shows happy, smiling people enjoying playful, consensual sex.  Critics who focus only on the violent depictions on the fringe — which most people don’t watch — aren’t talking about porn, they’re using porn to talk about other things.”
  • “Women don’t have to compete with porn actresses any more than men have to compete with John Wayne, George Clooney, or Shia LaBeouf.  Remember, men aren’t relating to the women in porn, they’re relating to the characters the actresses play.”
  • “To say that porn demeans women is to deny the reality of some women’s passion, lust, and desire.  It’s to say that women never enjoy what men enjoy.  It’s to say that women don’t enjoy playing games with their sexuality, including power games.  It’s to say that women shouldn’t be who they are or enjoy who they are, but that they can only enjoy ‘authentic’ sexuality within limited (and historically stereotypical) bounds. This is not feminism.”

> > > See also Jerry Barnett, Porn Panic!: Sex and Censorship in the UK (Zero Books, August 26, 2016)

Next, enter Larry Walters, the First Amendment lawyer.

See also Jacob Gersen & Jeannie Suk, The Sex Bureaucracy, California Law Review (2016):

Professor Jeannie Suk

Professor Jeannie Suk

“We are living in a new sex bureaucracy. Saliently decriminalized in the past decades, sex has at the same time become accountable to bureaucracy. In this Article, we focus on higher education to tell the story of the sex bureaucracy. The story is about the steady expansion of regulatory concepts of sex discrimination and sexual violence to the point that the regulated domain comes to encompass ordinary sex. The mark of bureaucracy is procedure and organizational form. Over time, federal prohibitions against sex discrimination and sexual violence have been interpreted to require educational institutions to adopt particular procedures to respond, prevent, research, survey, inform, investigate, adjudicate, and train. . . . An object of our critique is the bureaucratic tendency to merge sexual violence and sexual harassment with ordinary sex, and thus to trivialize a very serious problem. We worry that the sex bureaucracy is counterproductive to the goal of actually addressing the harms of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.”

* * * *

→ See also David Post, A setback for First Amendment protection for anonymous speech, The Volokh Conspiracy, Oct. 31, 2016 (“the Illinois Supreme Court has upheld the provisions of the Illinois sex offender statute compelling disclosure of all “Internet identifiers” just a few weeks after the district court in Florida struck down, on First Amendment grounds, a virtually identical provision in the Florida statute.)

* * * *

→ Related items:

Ruthann Robson: Supreme Court Grants Cert. in First Amendment Rights of Sex Offenders to Access Social Media Read More

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Swallowing the Whistle

Some of the criticism being directed against FBI Director Comey strikes me as a version of an argument that you hear in sports (especially basketball). The argument is that towards the end of a close game the referees should “swallow their whistles.”

What do people mean by that?  I think they mean that a higher standard of proof must be met before the ref makes a call that might determine the outcome.  Why?  One thought is that we want the players to determine the outcome themselves.  Or another thought is that if the call is close it should not be made because the consequences of an erroneous call are too great (as opposed to say, something called earlier in the game).

But there are difficulties with this line of thought.  First, you might say that the rules should be enforced in the same way throughout the game. Second, you could argue that “swallowing the whistle” rests on an action/inaction distinction that is weak.  By not calling something that would ordinarily be called, the ref is determining the outcome–and in the wrong way.

I’m not sure how well the whistle analogy works for what the FBI Director did. Perhaps he just made the wrong decision to disclose–it doesn’t matter that we are close to the election. Perhaps he swallowed his whistle by not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton in the first place.  Or perhaps so-called “October Surprises” that involve law enforcement are not outcome determinative because of things like early voting or the not-unjustified belief by many voters that news at the end of a campaign should be heavily discounted as political noise. Anyway, we’ll know soon.

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Major Contracts Symposium at GW

qtq80-Sh2bmhDivergence and Reform in the Common Law of Contracts is the title of this year’s GW Law Review Symposium and anyone interested in contracts and/or comparative law will want to join us for it on  Saturday November 19.  Here is a summary from the official web site for the event (RSVP here):

This Symposium continues a tradition of biennial conferences that began at the University of Sheffield, UK in 2011, followed by a conference held at the University of Edinburgh in 2013. But this 2016 Symposium is not your grandfather’s contract law. Instead, this conference takes a 21st Century approach to comparative issues in contract law, examining the most pressing controversies, debates, and challenges currently shaping the United States and United Kingdom’s shared legal tradition in the area of common law contracts.

Symposium papers from the previous two gatherings have been published as books by Cambridge U. Press and Oxford U. Press; papers from the current symposium will be published in the GW Law Review.

Topics include: Comparative Law and Reform; The Share Economy; Remedies; The State of the Interpretation Debate; Good Faith; and Consumer Contracts

Participants include:

Miriam Cherry, St. Louis U.

Lawrence Cunningham, GWU

Larry DiMatteo,  U. Florida

Hon. Lord Hodge, UK Supreme Court

Martin Hogg, Edinburgh

Geraint Howells, City U. Hong Kong

Judge Barbara Keenan, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

Judge Carlos Lucero, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Blake Morant, GWU

James Nehf,  Indiana U.

Robert Stevens,  Oxford U.

Matthias Storme, KU Leuven

Rolf Weber, U. Zurich

 

 

 

 

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FAN 129 (First Amendment News) A 10-year chronology: Trump’s lawsuits & threatened ones involving freedom of speech & press

In light of Donald Trump’s continued threats of lawsuits implicating First Amendment rights, I thought it might be useful to begin to collect news stories and other information related to such matters. The editors at USA Today did something similar, albeit on a much larger scale, when they listed and analyzed some 3,500 legal actions by and against Mr. Trump (June 1, 2016). “Say something bad about Donald Trump and he will frequently threaten to go to court. ‘I’ll sue you’ was a Trump mantra long before ‘Build a wall.'”

Threats rarely realized: In a July 11, 2016, story, USA Today also reported that “an analysis of about 4,000 lawsuits filed by and against Trump and his companies shows that he rarely follows through with lawsuits over people’s words. He has won only one such case, and the ultimate disposition of that is in dispute.” (Itals added)

“The Republican presidential candidate,”added the USA Today story, “has threatened political ad-makers, a rapper, documentary filmmakers, a Palm Beach civic club’s newsletter and the Better Business Bureau for lowering its rating of Trump University. He’s vowed to sue multiple news organizations including The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and USA TODAY. He didn’t follow through with any of those, though he did sue comedian Bill Maher, an author over a single line in a 276-page book, and Miss Pennsylvania.”

Earlier threats: “In 1978, the Village Voice reported Trump threatened to sue one of its journalists. In 1990, the Wall Street Journal said the same happened to reporter Neil Barsky for reporting on Trump’s business record.”

“Trump’s lawyers threatened to sue USA TODAY in 2012 over a column by newspaper founder Al Neuharth which branded Trump a ‘clown,’ noted his casino bankruptcy and said his Trump-branded skyscraper in Tampa never materialized and was a ‘parking lot.’ At the end of the column was a response from Trump because, as was Neuharth’s custom, he sent his columns to those mentioned and gave them a chance to respond right next to his words. In this case, Trump’s ended with a trademark: ‘Neuharth is a total loser!’ Still, a Trump attorney threatened a lawsuit over a series of telephone calls. Trump never sued.” [Source here]

Last lawsuit against a media outlet: “The last time [Mr. Trump] sued a news organization for libel was apparently in 1984. Trump filed the case after the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic called his proposed 150-story Manhattan skyscraper an ‘atrocious, ugly monstrosity.’ In 1985, a federal judge in Manhattan dismissed the suit, ruling the critic had a First Amendment right to express his opinion. The skyscraper was never built.” [Source: Reuters, October 14, 2016] (See below re September 2016 lawsuit filed by Ms. Melania Trump) 

The threat of litigation by “well-funded plaintiffs” 

Here is a recent comment from Floyd Abrams: “If a bar association article critical of Mr. Trump must be watered down for fear of litigation, what impact on those who do not have lawyers at hand to defend them can be expected?”

“The costs of defending litigations against well-funded plaintiffs can be overwhelming. And the risks of losing such litigations in an atmosphere in which the nation is so deeply divided are accentuated. These are dangerous times.”

Countersuits: Suing Trump for Defamation? 

Diana Falzone, Donald Trump’s accusers could countersue candidate for defamation, lawyers say, Fox News, Oct. 25, 2016

* * * *

In the weeks and months ahead, I plan to post more on this matter with the hope that it will prompt dialogue and debate. Meanwhile, the items listed below provide some backdrop.

___________________

Despite his advocacy for restricting freedom of speech in the United States, Trump said his is a “tremendous believer of the freedom of the press.” (Think Progress, Oct. 24, 2016)

(Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

October 23, 2016: Donald Trumps threatens to sue sexual misconduct accusers: “All of these liars will be sued once the election is over,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “I look so forward to doing that.” (video here)

“It’s a way to defend himself, and remind everybody what he has said many times, which is none of this is true,” campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press. “They’re fabrications, they’re all lies.”

Also, in a recorded interview (video here) Mr. Trump declared: “Our press is allowed to say whatever they want and get away with it. And I think we should go to a system where if they do something wrong . . . . I’m a big believer tremendous believer of the freedom of the press. Nobody believes it stronger than me but if they make terrible, terrible mistakes and those mistakes are made on purpose to injure people. I’m not just talking about me I’m talking anybody else then yes, i think you should have the ability to sue them.”

Pro Bono Offers to Defend Against Defamation Suits Read More

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Donald Trump as an Anti-Precedent

One way in which constitutional law makes lemonade out of lemons is through the concept of an anti-canon. In other words, lawyers and judges hold up certain cases or events as precedents for what NOT to do.  Law is unusual in emphasizing these disasters. In an English class, students don’t read bad books to understand how to write good ones.  In law classes, though, we spend a lot of time thinking about cases such as Dred ScottPlessyLochner, and Buck v. Bell  to understand how they went so wrong and what we can learn from them.

I wonder if Donald Trump will become a sort of anti-precedent for politics.  In other words, people may look back on this election and say for years to come things like “You can’t say that–you’ll end up like Trump” or “That guy is just like Trump,” or “that proposal sounds just like Trump.” In part the meaning of Trump’s candidacy will depend on how much he loses by and what he does after the election, but my point is that he might end up reinforcing or strengthening many of the norms that he is now flouting.

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FAN 128.1 (First Amendment News) Tribe & others form pro bono phalanx to defend against Trump’s threatened defamation lawsuits

It is about time that the use of lawsuit threats by a bully, like Trump, should be met, and met strongly. — Laurence Tribe 

Theodore Boutrous, Jr.

Theodore Boutrous, Jr.

It all began with Theodore Boutrous, Jr. According to Law Newz, “on October 13, Boutrous sent out a tweet promising to a pro bono defense to the Palm Beach Post newspaper after it published a story from one of Trump’s alleged accusers.” And then on October 22, he tweeted: “I repeat: I will represent pro bono anyone  sues for exercising their free speech rights. Many other lawyers have offered to join me.”

Shortly afterwards one of those who offered to form pro bono phalanx to defend against Trump’s threatened defamation lawsuits was  Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe.

Professor Laurence Tribe

Professor Laurence Tribe

Last evening Professor Tribe appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC). Tribe was on the program to talk about recent threats by Donald Trump to sue his sexual misconduct accusers: “All of these liars will be sued once the election is over,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “I look so forward to doing that.” (video here)

Here are some transcribed excerpts from Professor Tribe’s comments in response to that threat:

Offer of pro bono assistance

“Ted Boutrous and Ben Wittes, and many other leading lawyers, have [offered to represent pro bono those alleging sexual misconduct against Donald Trump]. And I did it because it is about time that the use of lawsuit threats by a bully, like Trump, should be met – and met strongly – because a lot of people, a lot of women, might be deterred by his threats even though he often doesn’t carry them out. They might be afraid to come forward; it’s not only them, it’s all kinds of groups. A group that I am also ready to defend pro bono, although it may sound a little bit strange, is the American Bar Association, which was frightened into suppressing its own report by a free-speech watchdog group, which concluded that Trump used the threats of libel suits to bully people into submission. And they ended up censoring themselves because they were afraid of being sued.” [See Adam Liptak, Fearing Trump, Bar Association Stifles Report Calling Him a ‘Libel Bully’, New York Times, Oct. 24, 2016; see also Susan E. Seager, Donald J. Trump Is A Libel Bully But Also A Libel Loser, Media Law Resource Center, Oct. 21, 2016]

“It’s really about time that people who know what they are talking about in the law tell this guy what an idiot he is and how unfair it is for him to use his power. . . . He says that he can just sue the hell out of anybody. [But] he’s gonna learn better than that when he tries. . . . “

“[T]he women who are afraid to come forward should know that lawyers like me are going to be willing to defend them and the journalists who reported their stories without charge. . . .”

Possible defamation suits against Trump

“All of the people [Trump] threatens to sue, without any real ground and in the face of the First Amendment, have strong grounds to sue him for deliberately and falsely labeling them as liars and as people who simply want – I think he called it — their ten minutes of fame . . . .”

Course of action if Trump wins

“Justice Brennan in a case called Garrison, pointed out that the way the Nazis, early in their rise to power, silenced their enemies and their opposition was to threating to use defamation lawsuits against them. But I do want to want to add, quite apart from these lawsuits, if Trump loses (as I hope he will) we won’t have to take the next step. But if he should happen to win (heaven forbid!) . . . then lawyers around the country, who are joining me in this effort, are going to do all we can, pro bono, to prevent him from abusing executive power by violating the First Amendment and much else in the Constitution. Because if he wins, he’s likely to take a Congress with him; he’s not likely to have the usual checks-and-balances. So, the legal profession has a challenge that I hope it can meet. I think that people who are lawyers . . . , in the best sense of the word, need to step up and call this tyrant for what he is.”

Coming: Tomorrow’s FAN post is titled: “A 10-year chronology: Trump’s lawsuits & threatened ones involving freedom of speech & press”

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Should President Clinton Nominate Merrick Garland for the Court?

With all due respect to Yogi Berra, I’m going to talk about one of the first major decisions that President Clinton will have to make. (I say “have to make” because I doubt that the Senate will confirm Judge Garland in the lame-duck session.  If they do, though, then never mind.)

One factor is whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate next year.  If the GOP retains control, then the argument for nominating Garland again gets stronger, as he is easily confirmable in a non-election year.  If Democrats win the Senate, though, then the choice is more difficult.  The President could nominate a younger and more liberal judge, or perhaps go for younger and more diverse in some sense.  Why stick with Garland?

I suppose one answer is that Judge Garland is being treated badly and not nominating him next year would be, well, treating him even worse. Nevertheless, there is no vested right in a nomination of this sort from President to President (even of the same party). There is also the thought that even with a Democratic Senate the President may not want her first Supreme Court nomination to cause a fight.  She is almost certain (you would think) to get at least one more vacancy, and maybe that is the time for a different pick.

A contrary case could be made, though, that by making that different pick now the President would discourage Senators from repeating the Garland precedent. Picking Garland again basically says to the Senate that there is no real cost to imposing a presidential election year blockade. If someone else gets picked who is worse from the Senate’s point of view, future Senators might say “See, that strategy backfired. Don’t do that again.”

But is this true?  By the time another Justice dies in a presidential year when the Senate and White House are controlled by different parties, we might all be dead.  Will anyone really care about the Garland precedent except for some historians?  Seems doubtful.

Anyway, let’s revisit this after Election Day and see where the Senate stands.

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Advice on Legal Book Publishing

Opinion Poll on Behalf of Younger Colleague Ready to Publish First Casebook in First Year Course.

Suppose offers of publication by the following publishers. What’s the order of ranking, assuming all terms are equal?

Aspen, Carolina, or West?

Please feel free either to leave comment or send me an email [lacunningham@law.gwu.edu]

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FAN 128 (First Amendment News) Ten States Buttress High School Students’ Press Rights — Extend Protection Beyond Hazelwood Ruling

The majority opinion written by Justice White . . . announced a new category of speech — “school sponsored” — and a new [and] highly deferential standard for evaluating censorship of that kind of speech. . . . Justice White had originally wanted to go even further in expanding school officials’ authority. A draft opinion he circulated among the Justices would have permitted censorship unless it was “wholly arbitrary . . . .”  –Catherine J. RossLessons in Censorship (2015) 

Many who follow free speech law probably think a student journalist’s rights begin and end with the Court’s ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988). In his majority opinion in Hazelwood ( the vote was 5-3), Justice Byron White declared that “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” Of course, by that judicial norm the power to censor was virtually unlimited.

But that is changing thanks to our brand of rights-enhancing federalism by which states can often recognize a greater measure of rights than those accorded under federal law.

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-9-59-16-pm

Enter the New Voices campaign (FB page), a student-powered grassroots movement spearheaded by the Student Press Law Center. The campaign’s objective is to “give young people the legally protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern. To that end, the Center has worked “with advocates in law, education, journalism and civics to make schools and colleges more welcoming places for student voices.”

Jonathan Peters, How a new campaign is trying to strengthen the rights of student journalists, Columbia Journalism Review (Feb. 19, 2016)

“New Voices USA is a network of state-by-state campaigns to pass anti-censorship legislation that will grant extra protections to student journalists. The movement is inspired by the success in North Dakota, where in 2015, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill that ensures the free-speech rights of journalism students in public schools and colleges.”

Ten States Expand Student Press Rights (statutory rights)

  1. North Dakota (public colleges & high schools)
  2. Colorado 
  3. Pennsylvania 
  4. Iowa
  5. Kansas
  6. Arkansas 
  7. California
  8. Oregon
  9. Maryland (public colleges & high schools)
  10. Illinois (public colleges & high schools)

“It’s anomalous that high school students in a number of states have greater statutory protection than college students. That is a product of the initial belief post-Hazelwood that the ruling could never realistically be applied at the collegiate level; the first wave of statutory fixes logically addressed itself only to K-12 schools. Little did anyone suspect that four circuits (so far) would embrace Hazelwood as applying at all levels of schooling, and so the succeeding generation has addressed that “rights gap.” — Frank LoMonte

Related 

  • Oregon (protection for public college students)
  • California (protection private college students)
  • New Jersey (pending legislation: public colleges & high schools)

 Ryan Tarinelli, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp speaks on the Senate floor in support of student free speech, New Voices, March 11, 2016 (YouTube video here)

→ American Society of News Editors Resolution in Support of Legal Protection for Student Journalists and Advisers (2016)

→ Society of Professional Journalists: Resolution No. 4: In support of enhanced protections for student journalists (2015)

Is downloading hacked Clinton e-mails a crime? Read More

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Recess Appointments for Supreme Court Justices

Here’s a puzzle I was thinking about.  Suppose the President makes a recess appointment to the Supreme Court.  The appointment is challenged by someone with standing who cites Noel Canning.  During the pendency of the litigation, odds are that the challenged person would sit on the Court (you could conjure a scenario where there’s an adverse decision and no stay, but that seems doubtful).  Suppose at the end of that process, the remaining eight Justices rule that the recess appointment was invalid.  What would happen to the decisions made in which the recess Justice was the decisive vote?  Moreover, wouldn’t the recess appointment likely expire before the Supreme Court could even rule?  Would that make the case moot?

UPDATE: Here’s another problem. Wouldn’t all of the Justices have to recuse from deciding on the eligibility of someone that they had sat on cases with?