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Posts Tagged ‘as-applied challenge’

Writing at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick criticizes what she describes as Ken Cuccinelli’s “war on consensual sodomy in the commonwealth.”  I have criticized Cuccinelli before myself, but it is a mistake to view Cuccinelli’s actions here as an attempt to “employ the federal courts to advance a personal moral agenda.” Although Lithwick’s piece makes some good policy arguments about the advisability of revising Virginia law, I disagree with Lithwick’s criticism of the Attorney General of Virginia for seeking Supreme Court review of a federal habeas corpus decision that incorrectly held a state law partially facially unconstitutional notwithstanding the strictures of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Before getting into some fairly dense discussion of things like facial challenges and severability that explains why Virginia’s position makes good legal sense, it is fitting at the outset (before I have lost both of my readers) to criticize Lithwick’s piece from the standpoint of legal journalism. It is, of course, fair to criticize a discretionary choice to seek discretionary review, and reasonable people may disagree about whether Virginia should have sought certiorari. But Lithwick’s characterization of the arguments advanced by Virginia in its petition for certiorari is inaccurate and misleading. Virginia is not asking the Supreme Court to “interpret [Virginia’s] terrifyingly broad sodomy law to apply only to sex involving 16- and 17-year-olds,” as Lithwick puts it. Rather, Virginia is asking the Supreme Court to hold that Lawrence v. Texas invalidated Virginia’s statute only insofar as the statute is applied to criminalize consensual, private, non-commercial, adult conduct of the sort at issue Lawrence. According to Virginia’s petition, that is the view of Lawrence adopted by virtually every other court in the country. And asking the Supreme Court to rein in the Fourth Circuit’s outlier reading hardly amounts to “begging out-of-touch, elitist, liberal federal courts to make ad hoc decisions about which private sex acts are ‘unnatural’.” I realize that there can be many legitimate ways of characterizing legal arguments. But in this piece, Lithwick trades precision for sensationalism. Moreover, the version of the piece that is up as I write contains seventeen links, but not one of these is to Virginia’s actual legal arguments. At a minimum, Slate should immediately include a link to Virginia’s petition so that its readers can judge for themselves. And Slate should probably also add a link to the Fourth Circuit’s opinion itself. (The closest the piece comes now is a link to a post at Constitutional Law Prof Blog. Happy for them to get the traffic, go read!, but there’s nothing like going straight to the source.)

Okay, now for the technical legal stuff of a sort that I find interesting but that has the proven capacity to bore my family (and probably almost anyone else stuck with me on long car trips) to tears. (more…)

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The papers from the “Everything But the Merits” symposium on the healthcare litigation held at the University of Richmond School of Law last November (11/11/11) will be published in the March 2012 issue of the University of Richmond Law Review. Draft versions of several are now available on SSRN. The paper with the most immediate relevance to the ongoing litigation is Edward Hartnett’s, which addresses the topic of facial and as-applied challenges.

Here are links to the currently available SSRN versions of the papers:

A. Christopher Bryant (Cincinnati), Constitutional Forbearance

Tobias A. Dorsey (Federal Practice), Sense and Severability

Edward A. Hartnett (Seton Hall), Facial and As-Applied Challenges to the Individual Mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Elizabeth Weeks Leonard (Georgia), The Rhetoric Hits the Road: State Resistance to Affordable Care Act Implementation

Kevin C. Walsh (Richmond), The Anti-Injunction Act, Congressional Inactivity, and Pre-Enforcement Challenges to Section 5000A of the Tax Code

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What should a federal court do when a plaintiff brings a facial challenge to a legal provision, but can show only that the legal provision is invalid as applied in certain circumstances? That is one of the questions raised by the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Scherer v. United States Forest Service.

A common response is to deny relief on the facial challenge and leave open the possibility of an as-applied challenge in a later case. That is what the Tenth Circuit did in Scherer.

Another option available in some cases is to convert the facial challenge into an as-applied challenge and to craft relief tailored to the as-applied violation. That is what the Supreme Court did in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of N. New England, 546 U.S. 320 (2006).

I have not studied the matter in detail, but my impression is that “Ayotte conversions” remain rare. Regardless of whether that descriptive observation is correct, it is an interesting question whether such conversions ought to be more common. I am inclined to think that the answer is yes, although this inclination is only that at this point.

The question is an important one given its consequences not only for the development of the law, but also for how its resolution affects the parties in any particular case. If the court converts and grants relief, then the plaintiff may be entitled to attorneys’ fees, whereas no such entitlement even arguably exists if the court simply denies relief. In Ayotte, for example, the district court on remand needed to decide whether to award fees. New Hampshire argued against an award of fees on the ground that the plaintiffs brought a facial challenge and lost. The district court rejected this argument and awarded fees, reasoning that the plaintiffs had prevailed even though they had not obtained relief as broad as originally sought.

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