Analysis and Commentary on Courts and Procedure

The Constitution and Punitive Damages: A Ten-Year Anniversary Discussion of State Farm v. Campbell

For the ten-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in State Farm v. Campbell, Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp provides an overview of the Court’s jurisprudence on the constitutionality of punitive damages in civil lawsuits. He first explains the role of punitive damages in civil lawsuits and then goes on to discuss nine major Supreme Court cases dealing with punitive damages in different manners. He predicts, based on the pattern of punitive damages cases that have come before the Court in years past, that the Court will hear another such case in the not-so-distant future.

Serving Foreign Defendants via Facebook: Is A New York-Based Federal District Court’s Decision a Sign of the Times?

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a judge’s recent ruling that permitted the Federal Trade Commission to issue service of process on foreign defendants via email and Facebook. Kemp summarizes the facts of the case and the judge’s reasoning and provides a brief overview of the requirements of service of process. He argues that the ruling, while ostensibly narrow, may have broader implications for the use of Facebook in serving foreign defendants.

The First of Many Expected Five-Four Rulings at the Supreme Court this Term: Clapper v. Amnesty International USA Rejects Plaintiffs’ Standing to Challenge Foreign Surveillance

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Clapper case, which raised the question whether Amnesty International USA and other plaintiffs had standing to go to court to challenge a law passed by Congress in 2008 that permits the federal government to undertake additional surveillance and information-gathering with respect to persons outside the United States. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge that law; Amar explains the reasoning of the majority and that of the dissent, respectively.

The Supreme Court Takes on A Case Regarding “Arising Under” Jurisdiction: A Prediction as to How the Court Will Resolve Gunn v. Minton

Rodger Citron, a professor of Law at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, New York, comments on an upcoming Supreme Court case regarding “arising under” jurisdiction, a phrase that the Constitution and a number of federal statutes employ to authorize a party to assert a claim based upon federal law in federal court—and also, in limited circumstances, when a claim is based upon state law but cannot be decided without determining an issue of federal law. Citron discusses not only the concept of “arising under” jurisdiction, but also the Court's recent oral argument involving that concept.

Does BLAG Have Standing in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Case in Front of the Supreme Court?

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar discusses the question whether BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, has standing in the same-sex marriage cases now before the Supreme Court. Amar details the argument made by professor Vicki Jackson, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to brief questions as to whether BLAG has standing, and also whether the case is justiciable. Amar notes the role of the key precedent of INS v. Chadha, which concerned a legislative veto, and other important precedents that may prove significant to the Court.

Dealing With Aaron Swartz in the Nixonian Tradition: Overzealous Overcharging Leads to a Tragic Result

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the Aaron Swartz case—in which the brilliant young computer programmer was, according to many commentators, including Dean himself, overzealously prosecuted—and eventually chose suicide over the likely lengthy prison sentence that he faced, based on his downloading for free numerous journal articles that otherwise would have cost money to access, and using MIT facilities to do so. Dean recalls instances where others have proved more reasonable, such as the case of a Vietnam War demonstrator with which Dean was familiar, and deems the Swartz case an instance of blatant prosecutorial overcharging. Dean also warns that there is nothing unusual about Swartz's case, in that prosecutorial overcharging is rife.

Is the Supreme Court Ducking the Same-Sex Marriage Question, and If So, Is That Wrong?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on two questions involving same-sex marriage that the Supreme Court may or may not duck: First, there is the question whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—which defines marriage under federal law as opposite-sex marriage, even when state law recognizes same-sex marriage—is constitutionally valid. And, second, there is the question whether California violated the Constitution when it enacted Proposition 8, which prospectively eliminated the possibility of same-sex marriage, and thereby nullified an earlier California Supreme Court ruling that had found a state-constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Dorf considers why the Justices might—or might not—see the cases that raise these questions to be appropriate vehicles for Supreme Court review, and notes what might happen next if the Court does not take up a DOMA case.

A Federal Appeals Court Invalidates a Military Commission Conviction: Paying the Price for Circumventing the Civilian Justice System

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a recent decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, throwing out the conviction of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. Dorf chronicles Hamdan’s long legal journey, and the repercussions that it has had for U.S. law. Dorf also explains that while the most recent decision regarding Hamdan is narrow, it nevertheless carries symbolic significance, casting doubt on the Bush Administration’s and the Obama Administration’s respective, and similar, detainee policies.

Another Fine Mess: An Assessment of the Most Recent Supreme Court Oral Argument in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

Justia guest columnist and Touro Law Center professor Rodger Citron comments on the recent Supreme Court argument in an important case centering on the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). As Citron explains, the ATS, enacted by the first Congress in 1789, authorizes federal courts to hear “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the laws of nations or a treaty of the United States.” But can the ATS be applied to conduct based outside the U.S.? As Citron explains, that is the issue that the conservative Justices brought up at oral argument. Citron predicts, however, that in the end the Court will not limit the ATS’s reach to conduct that occurs within the United States, but that the Court will affirm the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ case.

A Supreme Court Admiralty Case Sheds Light on a Longstanding Debate

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on an admiralty case in which the Supreme Court will hear oral argument next week, on the first day of its new Term. As Dorf explains, the case raises a narrow question at first glance: whether a houseboat counts as a “vessel” under federal maritime law. But Dorf also notes that, upon closer inspection, the case has a much wider meaning, illuminating the relevance of longstanding jurisprudential debates to real-world litigation. In particular, Dorf relates the case to a famous debate between two major thinkers on jurisprudence, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. Hart was a positivist; Fuller hewed to a “natural law” view; and Dorf explains how each of these stances relates to the case before the Court. Dorf also parallels the Hart/Fuller disagreement with one between Justice Scalia and Richard Posner.

The Downside of Juries in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the roles that introverts and extroverts, respectively, may play on juries. Drawing on the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, Colb notes that the American legal system assumes that extroversion is optimal, and both law schools and the legal world, more generally, reward it. But, Colb asks, what if we’re wrong in our assumptions about introverts and extroverts? Colb describes some of the detrimental effects that our collective elevation of extroversion may be having on the criminal justice system, and on society more generally, especially as extroverts tend to have overly optimistic views, when more balanced views would ideally be better (as is, perhaps, illustrated by the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis). Meanwhile, studies also show that in groups, people's views tend to follow those of others in a group—in a tendency toward conformity. Thus, Colb asks us to consider our juries: Are we really getting twelve individual views of the case in jury deliberations, or are the influences of conformity and extroversion undermining that ideal? If, indeed, they are, Colb offers an intriguing solution.

Are We Our Co-Jurors’ Keepers? New Social-Media Jury Instructions Ask Jurors to Turn in Their Peers If They Break the Rules

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry discusses the problem of jurors’ using social media to research—or even communicate with others about—the trials on which they serve. Ramasastry offers statistics and examples regarding the nature and frequency of the problem of juror social-media use, and discusses the new model jury instructions addressing this issue. She also covers some egregious instances of jury misconduct in this area, and considers whether instituting a new rule of peer policing by jurors, of other jurors’ social-media use, will turn out to be a good idea in the end. In particular, Ramasastry expresses considerable concern about the propriety of judges’ mandating peer-to-peer juror policing regarding social-media use, and thus potentially altering natural jury dynamics.

Can A Lower Federal Court Effectively Provide Protection Against Prosecution? A Mississippi Abortion Law Raises the Question

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on an interesting and important issue regarding the power of federal courts. Specifically, Amar addresses the question whether a federal court can issue an injunction against future prosecution: If a district court tells you that the actions you are about to take are immune from prosecution, should you be able to rely on that immunity, even if it turns out that the district judge had provided it based on a flawed legal premise? As Amar points out, the Supreme Court precedent on this question is far from clear, and at least one of the Court’s liberals has suggested that reliance by a party on immunity that is wrongfully accorded to that party by a district court may be foolhardy. Amar also explains how this issue has arisen in a current controversy about Mississippi abortion services.

Was It Wrong for Chief Justice Roberts to “Flip Flop” on Obamacare?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb raises an intriguing question regarding the Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA or, more colloquially, as Obamacare. Colb notes that leaks from the Court have suggested that Chief Justice Roberts initially was inclined to vote with his four conservative colleagues to strike down the ACA, but later changed his mind to side with the Court’s liberals and uphold the legislation. Assuming for purposes of argument that (1) the leaked information is accurate, and (2) Chief Justice Roberts’s claimed flip-flop was based in part on public sentiment, did Roberts do anything wrong? Colb suggests, interestingly, that the correct answer to that question may be “No.” Using two hypothetical court scenarios, as well as the ACA case itself, Colb isolates the kinds of cases and issues in which a judge would be wrong—or right—to take public sentiment into account.

The Top 10 Things to Take Away From Last Week’s Supreme Court Obamacare Ruling

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the ten key takeaways from last week’s Obamacare opinion. Some of the lessons Amar suggests that the opinion teaches are not just about the Supreme Court, but, interestingly, also about the media, and about Intrade users. Moreover, when it comes to the Court and its Justices, Amar points out lessons that we might learn about Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts, respectively, from the opinion. Amar also points out lessons that we might learn from the opinion about Commerce Clause doctrine and doctrines regarding constitutional federalism.

It Does Not Matter Whether Congress Calls a Tax a Tax: Explaining the Dissenting Justices’ Misconceptions About the Taxing Power in the Affordable Care Act Case

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes aim at the arguments that the dissenting justices made regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and, more specifically, regarding the taxing power. Those taxing power arguments, Buchanan contends, proved to be a dangerous red herring. Buchanan makes his case to that effect by using some ingenious hypotheticals; he argues that it is perfectly logical to deem a certain measure a tax for some purposes, but not for others. It is substance, he says, rather than form, that ultimately matters. Moreover, Buchanan notes, a tax by its nature need not be motivated by the government’s aim to raise money, although the ACA will, indeed, raise some money. Often, Buchanan points out, taxes are meant not to raise money but to incentivize or penalize certain behaviors. Ultimately, Buchanan notes that it is of no import, legally, that the ACA is not characterized as a tax; the key is that it, in part, operates as a tax.

Why Chief Justice Roberts Dared Not Overturn President Obama’s Healthcare Plan

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on Chief Judge John Roberts’s role in the Supreme Court ruling upholding Obamacare. Dean anticipated that Roberts would vote, as he did, to uphold the healthcare statute, and Dean notes some other learned commentators who had also anticipated Roberts’s stance. A major factor in Dean’s prediction as to where Roberts would come down was Robert’s own testimony in the confirmation hearings that led him to join the Court. Describing himself in those hearings as an “umpire,” Roberts made clear that he would apply pre-existing, well-grounded legal rules, and not create new ones out of whole cloth. To show how Roberts did just that, Dean sums up the various Commerce Clause precedents that were relevant in the Obamacare case, and explains how Roberts dutifully followed them.

A Supreme Court Ruling on Jurisdiction Has Potential Implications for the Law Regarding Drone Strikes

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf discusses the Supreme Court’s decision in Elgin v. Dep’t of Commerce, which was just recently handed down. Dorf argues that the opinion, though not one of Term’s blockbusters, is still quite significant. That is, in part, because the decision may have implications for the U.S.’s controversial practice of using drone strikes to kill persons deemed to be U.S. enemies—including even U.S. citizens who are abroad. Moreover, Dorf notes that Elgin may have implications for the question whether the Obama Administration has been on firm legal ground when it has declined to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In addition to these more practical implications of Elgin, Dorf contends that the decision may also be significant as a matter of constitutional theory regarding the respective roles of each of the branches of government.

Obamacare and the Misguided Criticism of “Liberal Law Professors” Who Defend It

Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram Amar takes issue with Stanford law professor Michael McConnell’s critique of the arguments of liberal law professors who defend the constitutionality of Obamacare. In a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, McConnell took aim at such professors. In particular, McConnell argued that liberal law professors have failed to make “actual legal arguments, based on text, history, structure and precedent” to support Obamacare. Moreover, McConnell claimed that liberal law professors’ definition of judicial activism is one-sided—a charge that they only believe to be true when it applies to the conservative Justices. Amar counters McConnell’s arguments on both of these points, providing a very specific description of the constitutional-law basis for their view that Obamacare is constitutional.

What Does the Pew Research Center’s Recent Survey Showing an Historically Low Favorability Rating of the Supreme Court Tell Us?

Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on the results of a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, regarding the percentage of adult Americans who hold a favorable view of the Supreme Court. Amar notes that the current percentage is 52%, a 25-year low. After describing the details of the Pew Survey, Amar considers the possible reasons for this low rating, suggesting that factors that may play a role include (1) The perception that the Court is no better than Congress (which gets low favorability ratings and is, obviously, partisan); (2) The impressions of the Justices that have been conveyed by some recent confirmation processes, particularly when nominees have made embarrassing gaffes that were ceaselessly repeated in the media, or have constantly avoided questions about the law; and (3) Republicans’ displeasure with the Court on social-issues cases, despite the Court’s conservative track record in its cases generally—and in certain blockbuster cases—over the last dozen years, in combination with what seems to be the advent of a more radicalized Republican Party.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in con... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more