Category Archives: Procedure

Should Reversals on Qualified Immunity Vacate Lower-Court Merits Decisions?

The Supreme Court is becoming increasingly accustomed to reversing lower court rulings that deny qualified immunity to police. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, the Court attracted a lot of media attention in Mullenix v. Luna, which summarily sided with a police officer accused of using excessive force.

But for all the attention that Mullenix and similar decisions have garnered, the discussion has overlooked a critical procedural issue: when the Court reverses on qualified immunity because relevant law is unclear, what happens to the lower court’s separate determination that the Constitution was violated?

Under the Court’s qualified-immunity cases, there is a strong argument that lower-court merits determinations should remain intact even after the Court reverses on qualified immunity. This conclusion, if adopted, would substantially alter the implications of the Court’s vigorous enforcement of qualified immunity, including its recent use of summary reversals.

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Filed under Immunity, Nuts and Bolts, Procedure, Supreme Court

Does Fisher I Establish Jurisdiction For Fisher II?

Fisher v. University of Texas, raises an important question about the constitutionality of affirmative action in university admissions, but it also poses a jurisdictional riddle. When Fisher came to the Supreme Court a few years ago, there was fairly extensive debate, including at oral argument, as to whether the Court had jurisdiction to hear the case. But in ruling in favor of the plaintiff and remanding the case, the justices said not a word about jurisdiction. Last year, I wrote a post asking whether Fisher I should be understood as a precedent on jurisdiction. Now the case is back at the Court, and UT is again pressing jurisdictional arguments. Will these renewed arguments have any sway, and should they?

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Filed under Judicial Decision-making, Jurisdiction, Procedure, Supreme Court

Barkes, Sheehan, and The Qualified-Immunity Docket

Last week, the Supreme Court summarily reversed a denial of qualified immunity in Taylor v. Barkes, a tragic case involving an alleged failure to implement adequate suicide prevention protocols in prison. As Howard has already notedBarkes follows on the heels of the Court’s recent qualified-immunity decision in San Francisco vSheehan and offers further evidence of the Court’s growing determination to protect officials from civil liability. Of special note, Barkes seems like the latest application of a new and more general claim put forward in Sheehan: erroneous denials of qualified immunity are so important as to justify error correction by the Supreme Court.

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Filed under "Lower Courts", Jurisdiction, Procedure, Supreme Court

Could Outsourcing the Judicial Power Strengthen the Federal Judiciary?

Last week, the Supreme Court issued Wellness International Network v. Sharif, an important case on the federal judicial power, particularly in the bankruptcy context. There is a lot to say about Sharif, and, over at SCOTUSBlog, there are illuminating posts by both Ronald Mann and my colleague Dan Bussel. In this post, I’d like to set aside a lot of important issues in this area, including arguments from constitutional text, precedent and history, and instead explore a pragmatic question that’s central to the Court’s jurisprudence: is the federal judiciary threatened to the extent that Congress can outsource the federal judicial power to non-Article III judges? The answer is surprisingly unclear.

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Filed under Administrative law, Articles and Letters, Jurisdiction, Procedure, Supreme Court

Talking about Standing in Zivotofsky & Robins

Over at PrawfsBlawg, I’ve posted a conversation between Steve Sachs, Chris Walker, and myself on standing issues in Zivotofsky and Robins. The conversation was prompted by Will Baude’s NYT column on the subject. If you check it out, please feel free to add your own comments!

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Filed under Jurisdiction, Procedure, Supreme Court

“Clearly Established” Circuit Law in Good-Faith Suppression Cases

This week, I’ve been posting on the evolving connection between circuit precedent and “clearly established law” in both qualifiedimmunity and AEDPA cases. To round out the discussion, this post discusses related issues posed by a third doctrine: the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Appropriately enough, the circuit courts themselves have recently had interesting things to say about circuit precedent in this area. The upshot is a remarkable convergence between qualified immunity and a rapidly growing exception to the exclusionary rule.

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Filed under Fourth Amendment, Habeas, Immunity, Procedure

Should Circuit Precedent Deprive Officers of Qualified Immunity?

I recently posted on Carroll v. Carman, which assumed arguendo that circuit precedent could constitute clearly established law. My earlier post discussed some of the case law raising this important and fascinating issue.

In this post, I’ll discuss whether it makes sense for circuit law to deprive officers of qualified immunity.

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Filed under Immunity, Procedure, Stare Decisis

Does Circuit Precedent Deprive Officers of Qualified Immunity?

In Carroll v. Carman, one of this week’s summary reversals, the Supreme Court held that officers violated no clearly established federal law in conducting a “knock and talk” and so were protected by qualified immunity. Almost as an aside, the Court assumed arguendo that circuit law could constitute clearly established law. In other words, the Court reserved the possibility that officers could defy on-point circuit precedent and still retain qualified immunity. This issue is both important and fascinating.

In this post, I’ll assess relevant cases to shed light on how the doctrine reached its current shape and where it might be going. In my next post, I’ll discuss whether the apparent trend in qualified immunity doctrine makes sense.

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Filed under Immunity, Procedure

Should Lower Courts Facilitate Supreme Court Review?

Last week’s oral argument in Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens featured a lot of discussion about whether a circuit court had erred by insulating a legal ruling from further review. This possibility raises an interesting question: Do the courts of appeals generally have a responsibility to facilitate Supreme Court review?

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Filed under "Lower Courts", Judicial Decision-making, Procedure

What Standard of Review Did the Court Apply in Wheaton College?

The Court’s recent order in Wheaton College v. Burwell raises a lot of questions about religious liberty, but it also raises a basic procedural question: what standard of review did the Court apply? Justice Sotomayor’s powerful dissent takes the Court to task for not applying a very high “indisputably correct” standard, but the Court appears to go even further. Whereas a district court must normally find a likelihood of success on the merits before issuing preliminary relief, the Court (or, at least, a plurality) declares that “this order should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits.” This apparent agnosticism is quite anomalous.

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Filed under Procedure