Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Trump, UC Berkeley, and the Federal Funding Whip

A President may not find it simple or straightforward to use direct executive orders to cut off funds to universities that tolerate disruption of speech or exclude speakers based on the content of their speech. (That’s this morning’s Presidential tweet story, if you slept in.) But the power that the Department of Education and allied agencies have gathered to themselves over university life has steadily mounted, often against feeble resistance from the universities themselves, as in the Title IX instance. That gives an administration plenty of handles to make its will known, a process previewed in October, as to Trump, by Chronicle of Higher Education correspondent Steve Kolowich, who also spoke to me for the story. He quotes Alexander Holt, an education-policy analyst at New America, saying: “I could see a Trump administration going crazy on these ‘Dear Colleague’ letters.”

Two years ago I cited several examples of rule by Dear Colleague letter, as I called it, in this area. (More here.) And I noted one big problem with invoking judicial oversight to check the federal government’s power:

It may be difficult to persuade a college to serve as a test case, given the annihilating possibility of a federal funds cutoff as the penalty of its presumption.

University administrators have submitted meekly for years now to rule by federal “Dear Colleague” letter. Now it will be Trump appointees writing those letters. If the administrators wish to retain some measure of independence from control by Washington, D.C., they may need to grasp that the hour is growing late – and that it wasn’t such a good idea to grow dependent on the federal dollar in the first place. (adapted from Overlawyered). 

Neil Gorsuch Will Make a Fine Justice

My first choice from the president’s fabulous list of terrific judges – they’re all winners, believe me (no really, solid list) – was probably the judiciary’s twitter laureate, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, but Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit was right up there. As you can see by my statement to CNN, I’m pleased as punch with the selection. 

There’ll be time enough to analyze Judge Gorsuch’s work, but after reading a stack of his opinions over the weekend, the most salient parts of his judicial record are as follows:

  1. A keen appreciation for constitutional structure as a guarantor of our rights and liberties.
  2. A real devotion to originalism – probably more than the self-described “faint-hearted originalist” Antonin Scalia – and textualism.
  3. Strong support for the freedom of speech and religion, and the First Amendment more broadly.
  4. Skepticism of the administrative state.
  5. Like Scalia, he construes criminal statutes narrowly, so people aren’t convicted and punished without the government’s meeting its evidentiary burden or establishing that it didn’t violate constitutional rights in arresting and prosecuting defendants.
  6. Really, really good writing, which even Justice Elena Kagan has praised.

Gorsuch also maintains a good relationship with Cato and has published a Policy Analysis with us. In short, Donald Trump has managed to pick a nominee who should please everyone other than progressives: social conservatives, libertarians, legal elites, and I imagine the populists who trust him to pick “the best judges.” Left-wing activists are already talking about how Gorsuch is extreme and is anti-women, workers, yada yada – they have to raise money somehow – but I find it hard to see how Senate Democrats will muster 40 votes to sustain a filibuster against someone who was unanimously confirmed in 2006, particularly with a tough 2018 map.

For more analysis, see my short piece in the New York Post, plus Andrew Grossman and David Rivkin in the Wall Street Journal, as well as these excellent essays by Ramesh Ponnuru and Ed Whelan.

An Executive Order On LGBT Issues? Religious Exemptions? Both?

Following a day of feverish rumors to the contrary, the White House has flatly denied that it plans to reverse an Obama administration directive extending nondiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender federal workers. “ ‘President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, just as he was throughout the election,’ the White House said in a statement. “The president is proud to have been the first ever G.O.P. nominee to mention the L.G.B.T.Q. community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression.”

The White House did not rule out revisiting other decisions by its predecessor administration on gay rights, such as an order requiring federal contractors to adopt nondiscrimination policies, which pointedly did not provide conscience exemptions for private religious agencies. A year and a half ago in this space I myself took issue with what the Obama administration was up to on this front.

The effect of a contractor ban without religious objector provisions, I argued, would be to kick various religious agencies out of social service work in public settings in adoptions and foster care, as well as some prison, drug rehab, and various other settings. Ousting conservative religious groups from participation in social service adoption is likely to cut down on the number of successful placements made of children in public care, which would hurt the taxpayer, hurt adoptive parents, and, not least, hurt kids. The more genuinely pluralist approach, I argued, would be to acknowledge conscience exemptions while fully opening these systems to participation by contractors that gladly serve gays, persons of no given sect, religious unbelievers, and so forth. 

Further reaction is probably best postponed until things get past the rumor stage.

Sizing Up Trump’s Excellent Short List

People have been asking me about the final few people President Trump seems to be considering for Supreme Court nomination. I know them and especially their work to varying degrees and am confident that they’re each worthy of elevation. Here’s a summary of their judicial profile.

Neil Gorsuch is probably the most like Scalia. He has a well thought out conception of constitutional interpretation and the way that structure protects liberty. He’s most known for his opinions supporting religious liberty and pushing back on the administrative state. In a Trumpian world, his biggest weakness is that he went to Harvard Law. He was confirmed unanimously to the Tenth Circuit and should not face significant opposition.

Thomas Hardiman is a judge’s judge. He decides the issues before him generally in a way that should be pleasing to conservative legal elites and does not go beyond the four corners of the case. He brings no ideological agenda to his tasks and so may be less like Scalia in that respect—and also he’s probably more deferential to law enforcement that Scalia was. He also was confirmed unanimously and should face no significant opposition except that some activists will glom on to his strong defense of the right to keep and bear arms.

William Pryor is a courageous and forthright judge. He would generate the most controversy because of his extra-judicial writings and speeches, most notably in stern opposition to Roe v. Wade. He has been attacked from both the left and the right (unjustly in my view) and his previous confirmation was itself not without controversy. He is best known for his writings on religious liberty and the proper judicial role.

It would be impolitic of me to name my preference, but let’s just say that the American people would be served well by any of them (or the others who’ve been mentioned).

Trump Looking to Local Police for Immigration Enforcement

Last Friday, President Trump issued a misguided executive order affecting migration from seven majority-Muslim countries. In December 2015 Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” until (as his fans never tire of pointing out) elected officials “can figure out what is going on.” News from last week confirms that Trump’s rhetoric related to Muslims was not just campaign bombast; it was a serious policy proposal. Another immigration proposal touted during the campaign was also codified into policy by executive order last week, with Trump directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand an interior immigration enforcement program that will grow the federal government’s role in state and local law policing while harming police departments’ relationships with the communities they are tasked to serve. 

Under §287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, local and state police departments can enter into agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce federal immigration laws. Thirty-four law enforcement agencies in 16 states are now taking part in the 287(g) program. Up until 2013 this program included “task force” agreements, which allowed participating officers to arrest suspected immigration law violators in the field, and “jail enforcement” agreements. Under “jail enforcement” agreements officers at state and local correctional facilities can seek to identify aliens via interviews and checking their biographic details against DHS databases.

Currently, only jail enforcement agreements are in place. The Obama administration abandoned the “task force” agreements at the end of 2012 amid worries about their negative effect on police-community relationships and accusations of racial profiling.

Trump said that he would “expand and revitalize” 287(g) during a speech last August. An executive order signed last week makes it clear that the Trump administration is serious about such a revitalization and expansion, including a reinstatement of “task force” agreements.

Stop California’s Attack on Charitable Giving

Privately funded efforts to address social problems, enrich culture, and strengthen society are among the most significant American undertakings and have been for hundreds of years. The United States is among the most generous nations in the world when it comes to charitable giving, with gifts by individuals (including bequests) totaling over $298 billion in 2015—a record-breaking sum. Over one million nonprofit organizations benefited from those donations, including religious groups, schools, hospitals, foundations, social-welfare organizations, and, yes, think tanks. This number includes approximately 118,000 registered charities in California alone.

America’s culture of charitable giving has flourished because its legal framework—including the national individual deduction for charitable donations and income-tax exemption for charitable organizations—marks a critically important boundary between government and civil society, one enshrined in our Constitution. Regrettably, the state of California has pushed to collect, in bulk, the names of charitable donors who choose to give anonymously—without any immediate need. Nearly an eighth of all U.S. charities are registered to solicit donations in California, so the stakes for donor privacy and freedom in this case implicate donors and charities across the country.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation is resisting this request, but a district court ruled against them. Now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Cato has joined the Pacific Research Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute on an amicus brief.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in NAACP v. Alabama (1958), that “freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the ‘liberty’ assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” As a result, the state of Alabama could not compel the NAACP to reveal the names and addresses of its members because doing so would expose its supporters “to economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility” and thereby restrain “their right to freedom of association.”

This case implicates the same concerns. It cannot seriously be questioned that many donors simply will not give unless they can keep their donations confidential. Many donors, for example, give anonymously out of deeply held religious or political convictions. Some do so to live a more private life. Others do so for the same reasons articulated by the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama—to avoid “economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility” associated with supporting unpopular or controversial causes. Others may fear public or private retaliation and harassment, while still more do so to avoid unwanted solicitations by other groups.

Forced disclosure of donor names to state governments threatens serious consequences for both donors and charitable organizations. At the same time, California already has ample tools for carrying out its proper role in protecting the public from fraud and deceptive solicitation practices, including targeted use of the attorney general’s supervisory authority and subpoena power.

In Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Harris,* the Ninth Circuit should reject the attorney general’s policy of unfettered donor disclosure and its chilling effect on constitutionally protected activity. This bulk disclosure policy—which has no statutory basis, serves no compelling state interest, and could be accomplished by less restrictive means—adversely affects the rights of all donors and nonprofit organizations operating in the nation’s largest state.

*For some reason the change hasn’t yet been made, but with Kamala Harris’s departure to the U.S. Senate and Xavier Becerra now California’s attorney general, the case will very soon be known as Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra.

TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods: Will the Court Curb Patent-Law Forum Shopping?

Twelve years ago Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, much of whose point was to curb the then-rampant practice in class actions of national forum-shopping, that is, filing a lawsuit in whichever of many possible courts around the U.S. was most favorable to the plaintiff, whether or not the state or district associated with that court had a natural link to the underlying controversy (such as being the place where the alleged misconduct occurred or where its defendant had its base of operations). But forum-shopping remains rampant and damaging in some other areas of litigation, such as product liability: thus pharmaceutical cases get taken to California and asbestos cases to Illinois and New York even if plaintiffs have never set foot in those states. And in perhaps the best-known litigation bazaar of all, a large share of patent cases (44% in 2015) are filed in the Eastern District of Texas, centered on Marshall, Texas, a rural community far from most defendants and their headquarters, and known for its exceedingly plaintiff-friendly judges and juries. The result has been a series of large verdicts even on dubious claims of infringement, coupled with enormous pressure on defendants to settle cases they would have resisted with confidence if filed in a different, randomly chosen district.

This scandalous situation has cried out for reform for years, and much of the tech and corporate community is hoping that the vehicle for doing so will be T.C. Heartland v. Kraft Foods, a case to which the Supreme Court granted certiorari last month on appeal from the Federal Circuit. The dispute turns on rather dry questions of statutory interpretation, both in its ultimate origins – the Federal Circuit opened the floodgates to forum-shopping in 1990 when it adopted an ultra-liberal interpretation of where a defendant business “resides” – and in the proposed solution, which is to interpret Congress’s 2011 amendments to a general venue statute as having implicitly overruled the 1990 ruling. The Federal Circuit declined to interpret the 2011 amendments that way. In favor of its position, it can be said that had it been widely noised about in 2011 that the amendments under consideration would close down the E.D. Tex. litigation gravy train, they would have been much more politically hard-fought. But then, it’s not as if the original green light for forum-shopping, 27 years ago, had resulted from clear Congressional deliberation or guidance either.