Erwin Chemerinsky

  • September 19, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law

    *This post is part of the ACSblog symposium: Constitution Day 2016

    After the country observed Constitution Day this past weekend, there remains the simple reality that the outcome of the November presidential election almost surely will determine the meaning of the Constitution for decades to come. Since 1971, when Richard Nixon’s third and fourth justices for the Supreme Court were confirmed, until Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, there always have been five and sometimes as many as eight justices appointed by Republican presidents. Now there are four justices appointed by Republican presidents (Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito) and four justices appointed by Democratic presidents (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan). Who replaces Justice Scalia will tip the ideological balance on the Supreme Court in countless areas – such as campaign finance, gun control and separation of church and state – where he has been in the majority in 5-4 decisions.

    But it is not only Justice Scalia’s seat that is at stake. Since 1960, 78 years old is the average age at which a Supreme Court justice has left the bench. There are now three justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer -- who are 78 or older. Especially if the next president serves two terms, he or she will have several picks for the Supreme Court. This will determine the ideological composition of the Court, likely for decades.

    Picking Supreme Court justices is one of the most long lasting legacies of any presidency. William Rehnquist was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon in 1971 and served until his death in 2005. John Paul Stevens was nominated by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and served until he retired, at age 90, in 2010. Clarence Thomas was 43 when he was confirmed in 1991 and if he remains until he is 90, he will be a justice for 47 years until the year 2038.

    If a right-leaning president replaces Justice Scalia and say Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, these justices, together with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito – all of whom are in their 60s – will be a conservative majority for years to come. But if a left leaning president fills these vacancies, the new justices, along with Justices Sotomayor and Kagan will be a progressive majority for a long time.

  • September 14, 2016
    Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:
     
    We, as professors who specialize in constitutional law, write to urge you and your colleagues not to approve the fast-tracked resolution to impeach John Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
     
    When it comes to impeachment, the Constitution leaves many open and difficult questions. Whether the alleged conduct of John Koskinen is impeachable is not one of them. There is simply no credible case for impeachment.
     
    The Constitution is designed to reserve the impeachment and removal from office for conduct that inflicts the most serious harms on society and that critically compromises the ability of an officer to govern. The Constitution limits the availability of impeachment in two ways. First, the Constitution provides a very limited definition of the scope of impeachment. Second, the Constitution erects significant procedural protections against impeachment and removal from office.
     
    I. The Constitution defines the scope of the impeachment power narrowly.
    An officer is subject to impeachment and removal from office only on the grounds of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is true that the phrase “other high crimes and misdemeanors” is open-ended. It is nonetheless clear that the phrase charts a narrow scope. The text explicitly links the phrase – by employing the term “other” – to definite terms treason and bribery. The familiar canon of construction, ejusdem generis, tells us that it is proper to understand the open-ended term as limited to conduct that involves the attributes common to the definite terms. Treason and bribery each involves an immediate and elemental threat to our constitutional system; an officer who commits either of these offenses is indisputably unfit for office. Thus, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” refers not to any misconduct but to misconduct that harms the nation as seriously as treason or bribery and that renders an officer as indisputably unfit to serve as an officer who commits treason or bribery.
  • July 11, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law

    *This post is part of the ACSblog symposium: Members of the ACS Board of Academic Advisors reflect on the 2015-2016 Supreme Court Term.

    On Tuesday, March 29, 2016, the impact of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was apparent when the Supreme Court, by a 4-4 tie, gave public employees unions a huge victory. For decades, foes of unions have wanted the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the requirement that non-union members must pay their share of the union dues that go to support the collective bargaining activities of the union. After Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was argued on January 11, it seemed certain that there were five votes against the unions.   But Justice Scalia’s death on February 13 occurred before the Court released its opinion and the Court was left deadlocked 4-4.

    In 1977, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that no one can be forced to join a public employees’ union. But the Court held that non-union members can be required to pay the share of the union dues that support the collective bargaining activities of the union. Non-union members benefit from the union in terms of their wages, their hours, and their working conditions. The Court explained that they should not be able to be free riders and benefit without paying their “fair share.” But the Court held that non-union members do not need to pay the part of the dues that support the union’s political activities. The Court explained that it would be impermissible compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment to force non-union members to support political activities with which they disagree. Both government entities and unions have relied on this for decades in entering into thousands of contracts governing the workplace. 

    In recent years, the five most conservative justices on the Court – Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito – have limited Abood and indicated a likely desire to overrule it. For example, in Harris v. Quinn, in 2014, Justice Alito, writing for these five justices, referred to Abood as an “anomaly” and inconsistent with the First Amendment. The Court did not go so far as to overrule Abood, but certainly suggested that the majority would be willing to do so in a case that directly presented that issue to the justices.

    Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was filed in federal district court in Orange County, California with the goal of it being a vehicle for the Supreme Court to overrule Abood and hold that non-union members do not have to pay their “fair share” of the union dues that go to support collective bargaining. The federal district court and the federal court of appeals obviously cannot overrule a Supreme Court precedent and dismissed the lawsuit. But the Supreme Court granted review on the question of whether it should overrule Abood and the many decisions based on it.

  • February 19, 2016

    by Nanya Springer

    In the week following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, confusion and misinformation became widespread with regard to U.S. leaders’ constitutional obligations to fill the vacant seat. To explain what the Constitution requires of President Obama and the U.S. Senate, as well as the ramifications of a prolonged vacancy on the high Court, noted professor and legal expert Erwin Chemerinsky on Wednesday joined ACS for a discussion about what comes next.

    Chemerinsky immediately dispelled the myth that a president should not nominate a Supreme Court justice in an election year by simply reading the text of the Constitution. He explained, “What it says in Article II, Section 2, paragraph 2, is that the president ‘shall appoint Ambassadors, other Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States . . . with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.’ So, the Constitution creates a duty for the president to appoint Supreme Court justices by using the word ‘shall.’ There is no clause in Article II that says, ‘but not in an election year.’” He added that “presidents throughout American history have nominated in an election year, the last year of their term.”

    Chemerinsky provided historical data, noting that "over the entire course of American history, 24 times presidents have nominated individuals in an election year . . . and in 21 of 24 instances, the nominee has been confirmed by the Senate. That’s 87.5 percent. If you look at the entire course of American history, and all presidential nominations to the Supreme Court, 86.9 percent have been conformed. So there’s no statistical difference between nominations in the last year of presidency and nominations that come at any other time of the presidency.”

    Clearly, there are consequences that result from having an eight-member Supreme Court, particularly in the event of a 4-4 split. In that situation, Chemerinsky explained, the Court may choose to reconsider the case and seek a resolution on narrow or procedural grounds, put the case over for reargument the next term, or affirm the lower court’s decision without opinion. The latter situation would create complications in the presence of a circuit split because “the same federal law will have varying meanings in different parts of the country.”

    To listen to the full discussion, click here.

  • February 19, 2016

    by Nanya Springer 

    In The Huffington Post, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson urges the U.S. Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty and “give fair and prompt consideration” to any Supreme Court nominee.

    ACS Director of Strategic Engagement Jill Dash comments to Paul Waldman in The Washington Post about the improbability that a new Supreme Court would immediately overturn high-profile decisions. “The four more liberal justices currently on the Court take precedent and stare decisis seriously,” adds ACS Issue Brief author Samuel Bagenstos.

    Perry Cooper at Bloomberg BNA says class actions may see a Renaissance in the near future and notes ACS Board member Erwin Chemerinsky’s prediction that Spokeo Inc. v. Robins will result in a 4-4 split decision.

    In the Emory Corporate Governance and Accountability Review, Caroline Poplin examines the pharmaceutical industry’s misuse of First Amendment doctrine, and ACS Board member Reuben Guttman, with Paul J. Zwier, examines wrongful marketing and pricing practices.