Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Smith’

Some recent comments by President Obama (later refined, but in some important respects legally erroneous) have induced a panel of Fifth Circuit judges to request (not order) a three-page, single-spaced letter from the Department of Justice. According to the transcript of the argument at ZiffBlog, the letter is to state “what is the position [of] the Attorney General and the Department of Justice in regard to the recent statements by the President, stating specifically and in detail in reference to those statements what the authority is of the federal courts in this regard in terms of judicial review.”

The entire episode is unfortunate on both sides. But I am less interested at the moment in assessing comparative fault than in lamenting how the dynamic of this episode, together with much of the spectacle surrounding the healthcare litigation, only serves to reinforce judicial supremacy (as compared with departmentalism). The way that President Obama framed his remarks, the way that Judge Smith framed his questions, and the way that the DOJ attorney answered Judge Smith’s questions all show a common commitment to the idea that one role of federal courts is to “strike” or “overturn” statutes. Other commentators discussing the healthcare litigation have described the question as whether the Supreme Court will “repeal” the healthcare law. (See, e.g., James Capretta, John Fund, and Avik Roy, writing in the same NRO symposium).

These notions of a power to “strike,” “overturn,” or “repeal” legislation are convenient shorthand.  In fact, it is often difficult to speak of what a court is considering doing without speaking of a constitutional challenge as being a challenge to a statute, which then brings along some notion that the court is being asked to do something to the statute (like strike it, overturn it, or repeal it). But this terminology can be misleading, and it is helpful every now and then to point out why.

The federal judicial power does not contain some unconditioned power of “judicial review” that results in the striking, overturning, or repealing of legislation. What we call “judicial review” consists of a negative power to refuse to execute an unconstitutional law and a positive power to enjoin someone properly before the Court from executing an unconstitutional law (as well as the power to accomplish the same result indirectly through a declaratory judgment). In short, “judicial review” consists of a power to order judicial remedies (including the remedy of non-execution), together with the giving of reasons in support of the judicial action taken. By dint of precedent and preclusion doctrine, the reasons provided may extend the scope of the judicial non-execution more  broadly. But there is no stand-alone “judicial review” power that operates directly on statutes.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Linda Greenhouse’s Opinionator column today addresses “the escalating conflict over the new federal requirement that employers include contraception coverage without a co-pay in the insurance plans they make available to their employees.” The most interesting aspect of the column is what is missing from its legal analysis: any consideration of all the other ways that the Administration could ensure widespread access to low-cost contraception without violating the religious liberty of religious objectors. Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that the “tags” for the column are “birth control” and “Roman Catholic Church,” rather than “religious liberty” or “conscience.”

After beginning by criticizing the rhetoric of mandate opponents and noting the silence of mandate supporters on the question of conscience, Greenhouse states that “the purpose of this column is to examine the conscience claim itself, directly, to see whether it holds up.” But Greenhouse’s framing of the analysis reflects a basic misapprehension of the legal protections for religious liberty already embedded in federal law. Greenhouse writes that objecting religious institutions claim “a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.” That is wrong: the objecting religious institutions claim that the mandate violates federal law. They do not argue that conscience “trumps law.” Far from placing conscience over law, the objecting institutions advance a claim under the law.

After misframing the issue as whether conscience trumps law, Greenhouse devotes two paragraphs to explaining why “that is not a principle that our legal system embraces.” These two paragraphs discuss the Supreme Court’s discussion in Employment Division v. Smith, a 1990 decision authored by Justice Scalia. Only after discussing Smith does Greenhouse turn to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). In the journalism business, this is known as burying the lede. The RFRA is where the principal legal action will be in the lawsuits challenging the contraceptives mandate.

Having submerged the real legal basis for the objectors’ claims, Greenhouse then leaves out the part of the RFRA‘s test that will be hardest for the Administration to satisfy. The RFRA provides that the federal government cannot substantially burden the exercise of religion unless doing so is the least restrictive means of accomplishing a compelling government interest. Yet Greenhouse’s discussion contains no mention at all of the “least restrictive means” part of the test. Instead, Greenhouse says that a RFRA challenge “would pit the well-rehearsed public health arguments . . . against religious doctrine.” The omission is telling, because the weakest part of the government’s case will be this least restrictive means requirement. There are so many other ways for the federal government to accomplish its objectives that it should lose the RFRA claims on precisely this point.

Earlier in her column, Greenhouse notes the lack of a “full-throated defense” of the contraceptives mandate, “except on pure policy grounds.” The best explanation for the silence of the mandate supporters with respect to religious liberty may be the simplest: nobody likes to pick a fight that they cannot win.

Read Full Post »

Federal law does not allow indirect purchasers to pursue damages under the antitrust laws. Many states follow this rule, and many do not. The Third Circuit’s en banc decision in Sullivan v. DB Investments affirms the certification of an indirect purchaser settlement class that treats indirect purchasers who can pursue damages claims under state antitrust law identically with indirect purchasers who cannot pursue damages claims under state antitrust law. Objectors to certification and settlement challenged certification based on commonality and predominance grounds, and challenged the pro rata distribution aspect of the settlement as unfair under Rule 23(e). I agree with the dissent that there are Rule 23 problems with the certification and the settlement. The best way to think about those problems, in my view, is as a failure of typicality.

Apart from the majority opinion by Judge Rendell and the dissent by Judge Jordan, there is also a concurring opinion by Judge Scirica, a leader among federal judges in analyzing class actions. Yet there is virtually no analysis of the typicality requirement in any of the opinions. This is an important omission from the analysis, because it is the typicality requirement that specifically calls for a claim to claim comparison. See Rule 23(a)(3) (requiring an assessment whether “the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class”).

Consider the following key paragraphs from the en banc majority’s opinion:

At bottom, we can find no persuasive authority for  deeming the certification of a class for settlement purposes improper based on differences in state law. The objectors and our dissenting colleagues nevertheless insist that, despite the prevalence of the shared issues of fact and law stemming from the defendant‘s conduct common as to all class members and each class member‘s resulting injury, states‘ inconsistent treatment of indirect purchaser damages claims overwhelms the commonalities. They advocate this because approximately twenty-five states have not extended antitrust standing to indirect purchasers through Illinois Brick repealer statutes or judicial edict; likewise, some uncertain number of states do not permit an end-run around antitrust standing through claims based on consumer protection and/or unjust enrichment statutes. (See Quinn Supp. Br. on Reh‘g En Banc 21-22.) It follows then, they argue, that a large proportion of the Indirect Purchaser Class lacks any valid claims under applicable state substantive law, and, therefore, cannot “predominantly” share common issues of law or fact with those Indirect Purchasers actually possessing valid claims.

In turn, they insist that a district court must undertake a thorough review of applicable substantive law to assure itself that each class member has “at least some colorable legal claim” (Dissenting Op. at 10) or “has a valid claim” (Quinn  Supp. Br. at 16) before certifying a settlement. But this focus is misdirected. The question is not what valid claims can plaintiffs assert; rather, it is simply whether common issues of fact or law predominate. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). Contrary to what the dissent and objectors principally contend, there is no “claims” or “merits” litmus test incorporated into the predominance inquiry beyond what is necessary to determine preliminarily whether certain elements will necessitate individual or common proof. Such a view misreads Rule 23 and our jurisprudence as to the inquiry a district court must conduct at the class certification stage. An analysis into the legal viability of asserted claims is properly considered through a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b) or summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, not as part of a Rule 23 certification process.

The problem with the majority’s analysis would have been evident if the clear divergence among the claims possessed by class members who have antitrust standing to seek damages and the claims possessed by class members who do not have antitrust standing to seek damages had been viewed through the lens of the typicality requirement.

By comparison, consider the following discussion of typicality in a Fourth Circuit opinion about a putative antitrust class action, Dieter v. Microsoft, 436 F.3d 461 (4th Cir. 2006):

The class action device, which is “designed as an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only,” Gen. Tel. Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 155, 102 S.Ct. 2364, 72 L.Ed.2d 740 (1982) (internal quotation marks omitted), allows named parties to represent absent class members when, inter alia, the representative parties’ claims are typical of the claims of every class member. To be given the trust responsibility imposed by Rule 23, “a class representative must be part of the class and possess the same interest and suffer the same injury as the class members.” Id. at 156, 102 S.Ct. 2364 (internal quotation marks omitted). That is, “the named plaintiff’s claim and the class claims [must be] so interrelated that the interests of the class members will be fairly and adequately protected in their absence.” Id. at 157 n. 13, 102 S.Ct. 2364. The essence of the typicality requirement is captured by the notion that “as goes the claim of the named plaintiff, so go the claims of the class.” Broussard v. Meineke Discount Muffler Shops, Inc., 155 F.3d 331, 340 (4th Cir.1998) (quoting Sprague v. Gen. Motors Corp., 133 F.3d 388, 399 (6th Cir.1998) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

The typicality requirement goes to the heart of a representative parties’ ability to represent a class, particularly as it tends to merge with the commonality and adequacy-of-representation requirements. See Amchem, 521 U.S. at 626 n. 20, 117 S.Ct. 2231Gen. Tel., 457 U.S. at 157 n. 13, 102 S.Ct. 2364. The representative party’s interest in prosecuting his own case must simultaneously tend to advance the interests of the absent class members. For that essential reason, plaintiff’s claim cannot be so different from the claims of 467*467 absent class members that their claims will not be advanced by plaintiff’s proof of his own individual claim. That is not to say that typicality requires that the plaintiff’s claim and the claims of class members be perfectly identical or perfectly aligned. But when the variation in claims strikes at the heart of the respective causes of actions, we have readily denied class certification. See, e.g.,Broussard, 155 F.3d at 340-44 (holding that plaintiffs could not sustain a class action based on a theory of collective breach of contract because variations in the claims undermined typicality); Boley v. Brown, 10 F.3d 218, 223 (4th Cir.1993) (affirming the district court’s denial of class certification when the resulting harm was dependent on considerations of each class member’s unique circumstances). In the language of the Rule, therefore, the representative party may proceed to represent the class only if the plaintiff establishes that his claims or defenses are “typical of the claims or defenses of the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(3) (emphasis added).

Thus, it follows that the appropriate analysis of typicality must involve a comparison of the plaintiffs’ claims or defenses with those of the absent class members. To conduct that analysis, we begin with a review of the elements of plaintiffs’ prima facie case and the facts on which the plaintiff would necessarily rely to prove it. We then determine the extent to which those facts would also prove the claims of the absent class members.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: