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Requiem For ACA at SCOTUS & Legitimacy Of Court and Case

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise popularly known as “Obamacare” had a bit of a rough go of it this week at the Supreme Court. Jeff Toobin called it a train wreck (later upgraded to plane wreck). Kevin Drum termed it a “debacle” and Adam Serwer a “Disaster“.

Was it really that bad? Considering how supremely confident, bordering on arrogant, the Obama Administration, and many of the ACA’s plethora of healthcare “specialists”, had been going into this week’s arguments, yes, it really was that bad. Monday’s argument on the applicability of the tax Anti-Injunction Act (AIJA) went smoothly, and as expected, with the justices appearing to scorn the argument and exhibit a preference to decide the main part of the case on the merits. But then came Tuesday and Wednesday.

Does that mean the ACA is sunk? Not necessarily; Dahlia Lithwick at Slate and Adam Bonin at Daily Kos sifted through the debris and found at least a couple of nuggets to latch onto for hope. But, I will be honest, after reading transcripts and listening to most all of the audio, there is no question but that the individual mandate, and quite possible the entire law, is in a seriously precarious lurch.

Unlike most of my colleagues, I am not particularly surprised. Indeed, in my argument preview piece, I tried to convey how the challenger’s arguments were far more cognizable than they were being given credit for. The simple fact is the Commerce Clause power claimed by Congress in enacting the individual mandate truly is immense in scope, – every man, woman and child in the United States – and nature – compelled purchase of a product from private corporate interests. Despite all the clucking and tut tutting, there really never has been anything like it before. The Supreme Court Justices thought so too.

I have no idea what kind of blindered hubris led those on the left to believe the Roberts Court was going to be so welcoming to their arguments, and to be as dismissive of the challengers’ arguments, as was the case. Yes, cases such as Raich and Wickard established Congress could regulate interstate commerce and Morrison and Lopez established there were limits to said power. But, no, none of them directly, much less conclusively, established this kind of breathtaking power grant as kosher against every individual in the country.

Despite the grumbling of so many commentators that the law was clear cut, and definitively Read more

ACA at SCOTUS: Some Thoughts On The Mandate

As you likely know by now, we stand on the cusp of historic oral arguments this week in the Supreme Court on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise popularly known as “Obamacare”. The arguments will occur over three days, for a total of six hours, Monday through Wednesday. Yes, they really are that historic, as Lyle Denniston explains in SCOTUSBlog. The schedule is as follows: Monday: 90 minutes on whether the Anti Injunction Act (AIJA) prevents consideration of a challenge to the individual mandate until it takes effect in 2014; Tuesday: Two hours on the Constitutionality of the individual mandate; and Wednesday: 90 minutes on severability of the main law from the mandate and 60 minutes on state sovereignty concerns of Medicaid reform.

There are two areas of particular interest for me and which really are the meat on the bone of the overall consideration. The first is Monday’s technical argument on the AIJA, which I actually think may be much more in play than most commentators believe, because the Supremes may want to punt the politically sticky part of the case down the road until after the 2012 elections, and the AIJA argument is a ready made vehicle to do just that. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent in Seven Sky v. Holder explains how that would go should the Supreme beings decide to punt. This is by no means likely, but do not be shocked if it occurs; can kicking down the road is certainly not unknown at SCOTUS on politically sensitive cases.

By far, however, the biggest, and most contentious, kahuna of the healthcare debate is the individual mandate, and that is where I want to focus. The two sides, pro (predominantly liberal left) and con (predominantly conservative right), have been selling their respective wares since before the law was passed and signed by the President. As we truly head into the arguments, however, the pro left have crystallized around a matched pair of articles by Dahlia Lithwick and Linda Greenhouse, and the con right around response pieces by James Taranto and Ed Whelan.

Now this hardly seems like a fair fight, as Taranto has no degree, nor legal training, whatsoever; that said he and Whelan actually lay out the contra to Dahlia and Linda pretty well. Each side effectively accuses the other of being vapid and hollow in argument construct. I will leave aside any vapidity discussion because I think both sides genuinely believe in their positions; as to the hollowness, though, I think both sides are pretty much guilty. Which is understandable, there is simply not a lot of law directly on point with such a sweeping political question as presented by the mandate. “Unprecedented” may be overused in this discussion, but it is not necessarily wrong (no, sorry, Raich v. Gonzales is not that close; it just isn’t).

In short, I think both sides are guilty of puffery as to the quality of legal support for their respective arguments, and I believe both are guilty of trying to pass off effective political posturing as solid legal argument. Certainty is just not there for either side. This is a real controversy, and the Supreme Court has proved it by allotting the, well, almost “unprecedented” amount of time it Read more

SCOTUS and GPS Tracking: US v. Jones and Secret PATRIOT

As I read the transcript of the SCOTUS hearing in the US v. Jones yesterday, I was most interested in what the comments suggest about the government’s secret use of the PATRIOT Act to–presumably–use phone geolocation to track people. (Here’s Dahlia Lithwick, Orrin Kerr, Julian Sanchez, Lyle Denniston, and Kashmir Hill on the hearing itself.)

Mind you, the facts in Jones are totally different from what we think may be happening with Secret PATRIOT (I’ll borrow Julian Sanchez’ speculation on what Secret PATRIOT does for this post). In Jones, a suspected drug dealer had a GPS device placed on his car after the 10-day warrant authorizing the cops to do so had already expired. As such, Jones tests generally whether the government needs an active warrant to track a suspect using GPS.

Whereas with Secret PATRIOT, the government is probably using Section 215 to collect the geolocation data from a large group of people–most of them totally innocent–to learn whom suspected terrorists are hanging around with. Not only does Secret PATRIOT probably use the geolocation of people not suspected of any crime (Section 215 requires only that the data be relevant to an investigation into terrorists, not that the people whose records they collect have any tie to a suspected terrorist), but it collects that information using a device–a cell phone–that people consensually choose to carry. Moreover, whereas in Jones, the government was tracking his car in “public” (though Justice Sotomayor challenges that to a degree), Secret PATRIOT probably tracks the location of people in private space, as well. Another significant difference is that, in Jones, the government is doing the tracking themselves; in Secret PATRIOT they probably get tracking data under the guise of business records from cell phone companies.

Nevertheless, the concerns expressed by the Justices seem to be directly relevant to Secret PATRIOT. After all, Chief Justice Roberts almost immediately highlighted that the government’s argument–that the use of GPS to track cars on public streets was not a search and therefore it did not need probable cause to use it on anyone–meant that the government could also use GPS trackers on the Justices themselves.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You think there would also not be a search if you put a GPS device on all of our cars, monitored our movements for a month? You think you’re entitled to do that under your theory?

MR. DREEBEN: The justices of this Court?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yes.

(Laughter.)

MR. DREEBEN: Under our theory and under this Court’s cases, the justices of this Court when driving on public roadways have no greater expectation

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So your answer is yes, you could tomorrow decide that you put a GPS device on every one of our cars, follow us for a month; no problem under the Constitution?

[snip]

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, then you’re -you’re moving away from your argument. Your argument is, it doesn’t depend how much suspicion you have, it doesn’t depend on how urgent it is. Your argument is you can do it, period. You don’t have to give any reason. It doesn’t have to be limited in any way, right?

MR. DREEBEN: That is correct, Mr. Chief Justice.

Read more

Roberts Court Sticks Another Dagger In the Back Of Consumers

The Supreme Court today handed down its decision in AT&T v. Concepcion. From Reuters:

By a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that AT&T Mobility could enforce a provision in its customer contracts requiring individual arbitration and preventing the pooling together of claims into a class-action lawsuit or classwide arbitration.

The plaintiffs, Vincent and Liza Concepcion, filed their class-action lawsuit in 2006, claiming they were improperly charged about $30 in sales taxes on cellphones that the AT&T wireless unit had advertised as free.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service, was backed in the case by a number of other companies and by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group, while consumer and civil rights groups supported the California couple.

Companies generally prefer arbitration as a less expensive way of settling consumer disputes, as opposed to costly class actions, which allow customers to band together and can result in large monetary awards.

Well, yes, of course this was the decision of the Roberts Court; it was as predictable as the sun rising in the east. The conservative block in the Roberts Court – Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy rarely miss an opportunity to buck up big business and screw individuals and consumers when it comes to any issue involving class action law and/or standing. It is simply what they do, and they have no problem doing by politicized 5-4 majority opinion, which is exactly what occurred here.

The full opinion, including the dissent from Breyer, is here.

The dissent pointed out, correctly, that California law (the case was brought in California), known as the Discover Bank Rule for the main case setting it out, forbade such clauses and rendered them unenforceable as adhesion clauses that were forced down consumer’s throats. The majority simply dismissed the California provision as being inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act. The Roberts block sure don’t care much for state’s rights if said rights conflict with their pet causes, such as bucking up big business.

Irrespective of the California Discover Bank Rule, however, Breyer and the other dissenting judges pointed out an even bigger consideration: By forcing each individual to sue for a small sum (in Concepcion, it was $30), the majority was effectively denying consumers a viable remedy:

In general agreements that forbid the consolidation of claims can lead small­ dollar claimants to abandon their claims rather than to litigate. I suspect that it is true even here, for as the Court of Appeals recognized, AT&T can avoid the $7,500 payout (the payout that supposedly makes the Concepcions’ arbitration worthwhile) simply by paying the claim’s face value, such that “the maximum gain to a customer for the hassle of arbitrating a $30.22 dispute is still just $30.22.”

What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim? In California’s perfectly rational view, nonclass arbitration over such sums will also sometimes have the effect of depriving claimants of their claims (say, for example, where claiming the $30.22 were to involve filling out many forms that require techni­ cal legal knowledge or waiting at great length while a call is placed on hold). Discover Bank sets forth circumstances in which the California courts believe that the terms of consumer contracts can be manipulated to insulate an agreement’s author from liability for its own frauds by “deliberately cheat[ing] large numbers of consumers out of individually small sums of money.” Why is this kind of deci­ sion—weighing the pros and cons of all class proceedings alike—not California’s to make? (citations omitted)

Exactly right. Scalia and the others in the majority have effectively deemed big businesses – and any that do not yet have these clauses in their service and sales agreements will certainly incorporate them now – immune from accountability on systemic small dollar fraud. Which is a HUGE gift to companies with thousands to millions of customers. Now all we are waiting for is for the Supreme Court to finish gutting class action litigation altogether in the Wal-Mart v. Dukes case argued March 29th.

In a late breaking development, Representative Hank Johnson, and Senators Franken and Blumenthal have announced legislation to overcome the Supreme Court’s decision today in the AT&T v. Concepcion case:

After consumers were dealt a blow today when the Supreme Court ruled that companies can ban class action suits in contracts, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said today they plan to introduce legislation next week that would restore consumers’ rights to seek justice in the courts.

Their bill, called the Arbitration Fairness Act, would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases, and would allow consumers and workers to choose arbitration after a dispute occurred.

Many businesses rely on mandatory and binding pre-dispute arbitration agreements that force consumers and employees to settle any dispute with a company providing products or services without the benefit of legal recourse.

“This ruling is another example of the Supreme Court favoring corporations over consumers,” said Sen. Franken. “The Arbitration Fairness Act would help rectify the Court’s most recent wrong by restoring consumer rights. Consumers play an important role in holding corporations accountable, and this legislation will ensure that consumers in Minnesota and nationwide can continue to play this crucial role.”

This sounds wonderful but, of course, stands about zero chance of making it through the Republican controlled House of Representatives that serve as the daily lackey water carriers for big business.

With Kagan On SCOTUS, We Are Still Down A Justice

With the long anticipated retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, it was important for President Obama to appoint and get confirmed a new justice so there would not only be a full compliment of justices on the court, but to insure the ideological balance of the court was maintained. By selecting Elena Kagan, Obama certainly did not pick the most qualified person for the job, nor did he maintain the ideological balance particularly as Kagan undoubtedly moved the court to the right at least to some degree.

Now, it turns out, by appointing Kagan Obama did not even give the Court a full compliment of justices. From the Blog of Legal Times:

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan this week quietly recused herself in 10 cases that will be argued in the term beginning Oct. 4, bringing to 21 the number of cases in which she will not participate.

That represents more than half of the 40 cases the Court has already agreed to hear in the new term — a number that will grow in coming months as the justices agree to hear arguments in more new cases.

During her confirmation this summer, Kagan already indicated she would recuse in 11 cases in which she was counsel of record as solicitor general. The new batch appears to reflect a determination that her participation at earlier stages — even where her office did not file a brief — required her to step aside.

So, as it stands today, Kagan will not be participating in over half the cases on the Supreme Court docket for the coming term. Lovely. A full list of the cases Justice Kagan has recused on to date can be found at the BLT link.

What is more distressing, however, are the cases to come that Kagan will also undoubtedly be recusing on. For instance the al-Haramain, Jeppesen and Jewel cases from the 9th Circuit. There are a whole plethora of Executive/Unitary power, Habeas, Gitmo, Detainee and other critical war on terror cases Kagan either did have, or may have had, her fingers on as head of the Solicitor General’s office. At this point, it looks like she plans on recusing herself from anything and everything that was in her vicinity, no matter how nominally. As should be well known by now, there is no necessity for a justice to recuse from everything they have ever known about, no less an authority than Antonin Scalia proved that.

Now, quite frankly, I have no problem with Elena Kagan recusing from consideration of Vaughn Walker’s decision in al-Haramain, I think the case would be better off without her toadying for the Obama Administration’s view of supreme Executive power and covering of crimes through assertion of state secrets, but what about the Prop 8 Perry v. Schwarzenegger case? In case you have forgotten, a portion of that case (the cameras in the court issue) went to the Supreme Court; if Elena Kagan decides she has to recuse herself, or is looking for an excuse to avoid such a controversial matter, that is going to be a HUGE blow to the chances of success on appeal.

I wonder how many people really understood they would be getting a part time justice for such a critical period over the next couple of years? And for all those on the liberal end of the political spectrum that carped about the fundamental dishonesty of John Roberts when he swore he was just a “balls and strikes” kind of guy “respectful of precedent”, I wonder what they think of the same type of deception from Kagan when she ridiculously understated the depth of her anticipated recusal problem to the Judiciary Committee?

There were a lot of things needed from President Obama’s choice to fill the seat of Justice John Paul Stevens; none of them have been fulfilled so far by Elena Kagan.

Elena Kagan Will Be The Most Unqualified Justice In History

NBC News is reporting Elena Kagan is Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the liberal lion, Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan is a remarkably poor choice.The stunning lack of curiosity and involvement in the important legal issues of her age, not to mention the law itself, and remarkable absence of compelling written work and record on the part of Elena Kagan has been previously covered in detail by Glenn Greenwald.

I have previously explained the total lack of any experience – ever – of any kind – on Kagan’s part in the court system of the United States. Kagan has never set foot as an attorney of record into a trial courtroom in the United States, not even a small claims justice court; nor for that matter, any appellate court save for the literally handful of spoon fed cases she suddenly worked on as Solicitor General. Kagan has never been a judge in any courtroom, of any court, in the United States. Quite frankly, there is not even any evidence Elena Kagan has sat as a judge for a law school moot court exercise. I have had paralegals and secretaries with better experience than this. Does a nominee for the Supreme Court have to be Gerry Spence, Pat Fitzgerald or David Boies? No, but it would be nice if they had the passion, curiosity and commitment to their profession to go to court at least once. Never has there been a United States Supreme Court Justice with such a complete lack of involvement in the court system. Never.

Duke Law Professor Guy-Uriel Charles has damningly demonstrated a Kagan record of lily white hiring, and corresponding shunning of people of color, at Harvard Law under her guidance that, if considered under the seminal Batson standard of prejudice, would have netted Kagan a sanction from the court and a potential misconduct referral to the appropriate bar authority.

Curiously, and very notably, the only pushback by an Obama Administration, who has consistently gone beyond the call of duty in protecting and bucking up a patently poor nominee in Elena Kagan, has been on the racial hiring component exposed by Professor Charles. Here are the “talking points” memo the Obama Administration sent around to its acolytes and stenographic mouthpieces in the press and internet ether to counter the substantive criticism of Elena Kagan.

Notice anything missing in the official Obama White House talking points? I do. They are solely focused on the racial exclusion charge (and here is the response eating their lunch on that). Did you see what is NOT responded to, or addressed, in any way, shape or form by the White House? If you guessed “Elena Kagan’s complete lack of any record whatsoever of participation or accomplishment in the legal process of the United States”, take a bow, you are Read more