Supreme Court

  • February 6, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    by Lara Schwartz, Former ACS Director of Strategic Engagement and Professorial Lecturer, SPA Honors Program Director and Adjunct Professor, Washington College of Law at American University

    After Judge James Robart of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued an order halting enforcement of President Trump’s executive order on immigration, Trump took to Twitter, stating “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Opponents rightly sounded the alarm about this extraordinary disrespect for the judicial function and our Constitution. Sen. Chuck Schumer tweeted that it “shows a disdain for an ind. Judiciary that does not bend to his wishes & lack of respect for the Constitution.”

    This is not simply one more example of Trump’s thin-skinned attitude or his intolerance for dissent. It casts doubt on his capacity to fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate fair-minded, independent judges. Everything we know about Trump should lead us to believe he wants to nominate judges who will put loyalty to him above faithfulness to the law. This means any potential justice whom Trump would consider a satisfactory choice to fill the late Justice Scalia’s seat would be presumptively unfit.

    Trump introduced his nominee, 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch, to America just days after the executive order that “so-called” federal judges have halted. It is now incumbent upon Gorsuch to demonstrate that in spite of having earned Trump’s approval, he is an independent thinker who can keep his oath to uphold our Constitution and not, in the words of Molly Ivins, to “dance with them what brung” him.

  • February 3, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Carolyn Shapiro, Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law

    Now that President Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to the Supreme Court, we will be hearing a lot about the proper role of a Supreme Court justice. In introducing Judge Gorsuch, for example, Trump said that he had sought a nominee who would “interpret [the Constitution and laws] as written.” Praising Trump’s choice, Sean Hannity noted that Trump was fulfilling his promise to appoint someone who would “strictly adhere to the original meaning of the words of the Constitution” and claimed that Gorsuch is not someone who will “legislate from the bench.” Other conservatives have hailed him as a “textualist” and one who “espouses judicial restraint.”

    All of these statements are wrong. They are wrong not necessarily because they misdescribe Gorsuch’s jurisprudence, but because they misdescribe the job. The job of the judge – and especially the job of a Supreme Court justice – is much more complex and nuanced than catchphrases like “applying the law as written” suggest.

    The statements are also code. They are code for a particular type of judge – and make no mistake, it is a judge who conservatives believe will produce results that, by and large, they like. This is not to say that a judge has to do something illegitimate to reach those results. Rather, it is to say that such a judge is – like all judges addressing hard and indeterminate questions of law – making judgments, considering facts, weighing competing principles and taking account of precedent, history, and societal norms and expectations.

  • January 31, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Mark S. Kende, James Madison Chair in Constitutional Law, Director of the Drake University Constitutional Law Center

    Tonight, President Trump announced his nomination to the Supreme Court. In doing so, he ratified the inappropriate actions taken by Sens. McConnell, Grassley and others in the Republican Party who refused to give a confirmation hearing to the bi-partisan endorsed and highly credentialed nominee of President Obama, Judge Merrick Garland, Chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. During that refusal delay, the Senate also reduced the status of the judiciary as the Supreme Court only had eight members and could not fully function. The Senate trampled on the idea of three equal branches of government. Republicans further failed to comply with the federal law specifying that there be nine Justices. Ironically, President Trump and these same Republicans now expect the Democratic Party to proceed with confirmation hearings on this nominee. 

    To add to the irony, Republicans said that a Garland nomination was problematic during an election year and “the people” should decide. Though President Trump certainly won the Electoral College, almost three million more people voted for Secretary Hillary Clinton. Thus, if this was a true plebiscite, Chief Judge Garland should still be the nominee by the Republican’s own reasoning. Of course, the Republican statements about the people were little more than window dressing for a raw and unfortunately successful, political calculation that they could stall the Obama nomination (he was supposed to be President for a full eight years after all).

  • January 31, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece orignially appeared on Slate

    by Dawn Johnsen, Walter W. Foskett Professor of Constitutional law at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University

    As President Donald Trump’s nominee for the vacant Supreme Court seat receives public scrutiny in the coming days, it is incumbent for us all to remember one thing: This seat was not Trump’s to fill.

    In fact, the U.S. Senate should refuse to confirm anyone President Trump nominates to the Supreme Court—until Trump renominates and the Senate confirms Chief Judge Merrick Garland. On Monday, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said he would be leading a Senate filibuster of any Trump nominee until Garland is seated. This is the only correct approach.

    To recap: The Senate failed to fulfill its constitutional responsibility with its unprecedented refusal even to consider President Obama’s nomination of Garland. Obama made the nomination with about a year left in his presidency, but from day one the Republican Senate leadership insisted that it would permanently block the nomination.

    No one ever questioned Garland’s qualifications—an impossibility for this brilliant, dedicated public servant. The obstruction constituted an insulting challenge to Obama’s legitimacy, accompanied by calls for the people to decide via the election of the next president.

  • January 10, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law, the University of Texas School of Law and Author of the New ACS Issue Brief, “The Bivens Term: Why the Supreme Court Should Reinvigorate Damages Suits Against Federal Officers

    It is, of course, a coincidence that the very last oral argument the Supreme Court will hear during the Obama administration and one of the first it will hear during the Trump administration both involve remedies for constitutional violations by federal government officers. And yet, the fortuitous timing only underscores why these two cases—Ziglar v. Abbasi and Hernández v. Mesa—are, as my new ACS Issue Brief explains, likely the most important cases the Justices have heard in decades on the scope of so-called “Bivens suits,” and could well turn out to be among the most significant rulings the Court hands down this Term. [Full disclosure: I am co-counsel to the Petitioners in Hernandez. This post, like the Issue Brief, reflects my personal views, and not necessarily those of the Petitioners or their counsel.]

    The facts of Abbasi and Hernandez are sharply different. In Abbasi, a group of immigrants are seeking to challenge their allegedly unconstitutional treatment while detained as part of the post-9/11 roundup of Muslim and Arab non-citizens in and around New York City. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that senior government officials—including Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller—knew that they had no connection to terrorist activity and nevertheless chose to subject them to especially harsh, punitive and allegedly unconstitutional conditions of confinement otherwise reserved for terrorism suspects. Hernández, in contrast, arises out of a single Customs and Border Patrol agent’s allegedly unprovoked cross-border shooting of an unarmed 15-year-old Mexican boy. But whereas the cases raise different facts (and other legal questions, including, in Hernández, whether the Fourth Amendment even applies to such a cross-border shooting), both raise a basic question about remedies—and whether the courts can and should recognize damages claims for constitutional violations by federal officers even though Congress has never expressly authorized such suits.

    The “Bivens doctrine” is named after a 1971 case in which the Supreme Court held that, in at least some circumstances, the answer was yes—that courts could infer a cause of action for damages against federal officers directly into the Constitution, at least in the absence of adequate alternatives or what Justice Brennan called “special factors counseling hesitation.” But as the Issue Brief explains in more detail, Bivens was not a bolt from the blue. Going all the way back to the Founding, federal officers had routinely been liable for damages to victims of constitutional violations. It’s just that the pre-1971 practice was to leave such suits to the vagaries of state tort law—a practice that became increasingly incongruous as new constitutional protections lacking state law analogues were recognized and as federal courts more regularly asserted the similar (if not more coercive) power to enjoin unconstitutional federal official action without express statutory authorization. Bivens, then, reflected the Supreme Court’s conclusion that there would be circumstances in which prospective relief or retrospective state-law remedies would be insufficient to vindicate individuals’ constitutional rights—and so retrospective federal remedies would be necessary. In Bivens itself, that meant a cause of action for damages to vindicate Webster Bivens’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.